2013 in Review

December 31st, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me. Happy Birthday to Me. Happy Birthday dear MEEEE-EEEEE.  Three cheers, anyone?

Yes, indeed, another year has flowed beneath the bridge at ever-increasing speed and I am 39 today.  It’s round about 12 years since I started writing The Blade Itself back in 2001.  Some 9 years since I signed my first book deal, and 7 and a half years since The Blade Itself was published in 2006, would you believe.  Got a feeling it’s hard to argue that I’m new on the scene any longer…  An interesting year this has been.  Didn’t publish any new novels, but I made some big deals for three and wrote most of two of those.

Let’s break it down a little, shall we…?

A YEAR IN BOOKSELLING – In spite of all my complaints, I really can’t complain.  No new novels published, though I did have short stories in a couple of anthologies: Legends and Dangerous Women.  The Blade Itself continues to come out in languages and territories that have yet to be exposed to the sunny radiance of my literary presence – I think we’re up to nearly 30 translation deals now.  Partly due to the huge success of GRRM’s Game of Thrones, I’m sure, The First Law books, especially the trilogy, would seem to be selling better and wider than ever.  Which is nice.  I’m told all six books, in all languages and formats, have sold somewhere around 3 million copies now, which really does beggar belief for stuff I dreamed up in the middle of the night for my own amusement. Less travelling this year, but a much enjoyed second visit to my pals at Celsius in Spain, and my first trip to Russia saw 250 people in a bookstore in St. Petersburg and a sleeper train back to Moscow with a very nice man who works in oil and gas called Mikhail.  I spent most of June locked in negotiations for the publishing of my new YA (ish) trilogy which will be starting in July in the UK and US with Half a King, more detail on all of that over here.  It looks as if 2014 might be a very big year for me…

A YEAR IN BOOK WRITING – A strong year, especially at the start and end.  Quite possibly my most productive ever, certainly since 2007ish when I was finishing the First Law, long before I was a full-time writer and there were so many child-based and administrative demands on my time.  I wrote the second half of Half a King, revised and edited it, planned Half the World and drafted three quarters of it, and wrote three short stories.  Overall the move to a (slightly) different style of writing does feel like it’s done something to refresh my interest and recharge the batteries though, you know, it’s amazing how fast work becomes work again…

BOOKS – A level of reading that makes last year’s pitiful level look amazing, and most of what I did read was non-fiction about vikings. One thing that I did very much enjoy was Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles starting with The Last Kingdom.  Strongly written adventure stuff with some great battle scenes and a feeling of authenticity.  I burned through four of them while in Russia, then got stalled on the fifth.  Perhaps a slight sense of diminishing returns when read back to back.  Otherwise, my tottering to read pile just gets ever higher.  Don’t think that bad boy’s going to get any smaller, now…

TV and FILM – Boy it’s been slim pickens film-wise, I have to say, adding considerably to my ongoing conviction that the interesting stuff mostly happens on the small screen these days.  Can’t think of anything that really did much for me at the cinema since I squeezed into the most packed viewing ever to see Les Mis back in January.  Those big scifi and superhero blockbusters I saw didn’t do masses for me.  I liked Star Trek Into Darkness a hell of a lot more than its predecessor, but that isn’t saying all that much.  Kick-Ass 2 was entertaining but not exactly deep.  Pacific Rim I thought was mostly nonsense and, no, geekdom, not in a good way.  Man of Steel I didn’t even enjoy thinking about watching.  The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug was a good deal better than the first instalment but a long way short of the Lord of the Rings, with the story bloated up like a steroid-popping body builder losing all charm and personality in favour of ACTION and SPECTACLE.  Ah, well.  TV was a great deal more promising.  Breaking Bad got better and better (or possibly worse and worse) though I haven’t yet seen the final episodes so SHUT UP SHUT UP.  Game of Thrones Season 2 was good, sometimes very good, after a slightly wobbly oversexed start.  Hannibal was largely riveting stuff with some awesome design and some great performances, Vikings was an interestingly off-beat and authentic-feeling effort that I look forward to the continuation of, Hell on Wheels 1 and 2 were also promising.  Justified Season 3 continued to improve on the sparky character-led police hijinks of the previous two series.  Spartacus Vengeance was more of the same brilliant/awful lurid schlock.  The Danes offered us a great final season of Borgen, and a not-so-great final season of the Killing.  The French offered us the initially gripping and ultimately baffling The Returned.  Sons of Anarchy I find watchable enough in the main but I wouldn’t be that bothered if I saw no more.  Dexter still offers a few things to like but is really dribbling away by Season 6.  I enjoyed Season 2 of the Walking Dead in spite of many issues, however they’ve sorted out most of those by a storming Season 3, the end of which I haven’t quite got to.  Probably the most pleasure I got out of TV was soaking through my t-shirts with tears watching the full five season run of Friday Night Lights.  You wouldn’t think a show about a Texas High School football team would be my cup of tea at all but, heavens, the acting, the scripting, the storytelling, the commentary on american life, the raw emotions.  Brilliant Stuff.  I’m tearing up again!  Help me, coach, teach me how to be a man!  Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose…

GAMES – After a slightly disappointing 2012, 2013 will be remembered as an absolutely vintage year.  Good stuff often happens at the end of a hardware generation and some of this year’s releases were particularly noticeable not only for their technical strengths but for their strengths in character and narrative.  The White-Knuckle Tomb Raider Reboot then the Mind-Bending Bioshock: Infinite both delivered powerful central story lines.  For me, in spite of a far smaller budget, Telltale’s harrowing Walking Dead video game got closer to the holy grail of interactive drama than the fascinating yet flawed Beyond: Two Souls.  Grand Theft Auto 5 was pretty triumphant however you look at it.  The one player campaign may not quite have had the depth and thematic cohesion some of the previous outings offered, but for sheer quantity of content and realisation of a living, breathing, beautifully detailed free-roaming game world it is untouchable, and its multiplayer incarnation was rich and varied enough to get me finally playing something online for a significant chunk of time.  In spite of the fierce, fierce competition, though, my game of the year has to be the magnificently stark and uncompromising The Last of Us, which for boldness, characterisation, detail of setting, richness of experience, seamless fusion of action and story and sheer narrative drive from first frame to last set new standards for scripted games.

BEST REVIEWS – No new books means no significant splurge of reviews, and I must confess that I’m finding reviews as a whole just a lot less fascinating than I used to.  Partly it’s that you see the same points and arguments repeated over and over, partly it’s that I’m just not as fresh and interesting and review worthy as I once was, partly it’s that when you put together a hundred reviews of a book you tend to see pretty much every viewpoint expressed somewhere, and partly it’s that there seems to be less and less connection between the critical and commercial spheres and, I dunno, the commercial sphere just interests me a lot more.  It seems more honest in the main.  I get bored by the contempt for success and the celebration of obscurity you seem to get from a lot of ‘serious’ critics.  Still, no doubt when people start to react to Half a King I’ll be glued to the interwebs for every grain of opinion once again…

CONTROVERSIES – Ongoing criticism of cynicism and darkness in fantasy, not to use that elusive term ‘grimdark’, caused me to write a post on The Value of Grit early in the year, which prompted a fair bit of response, but in a way it’s a reheating and re-examination of a familiar circular argument.  There’s a degree to which, once you’ve spent a fair bit of time about the internet genre scene, you start to see the same comments and controversies coming up over and over in one guise or another and you’re forced to wonder whether you have any further substantial contribution, or even frothy outrage, to offer.  That, and the fact I’ve talked about pretty much every aspect of the publishing scene at one time or another has caused me to cut back on the blogging slightly this year.  I’m still going to be talking about TV, games, whisky, publishing, my forthcoming work, and all the other stuff I’ve always talked about when there are substantial posts to make, but I’m also reasonably active on Twitter these days (@LordGrimdark), and some of the smaller comments and announcements (not to mention arguments) are happening over there…

Happy new year, readers!

Posted in film and tv, games, opinion, process, progress, reading, reviews by Joe Abercrombie on December 31st, 2013.

24 comments so far

  • ColinJ says:

    THE WORLD’S END is easily my favourite movie all year. Incredible script, perfect performances and flawless direction. It’s a movie that demands multiple viewings to really appreciate the levels that make Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright such screenwriting geniuses.

    Best book of the year for me is Thomas Pluck’s BLADE OF DISHONOUR. It’s the perfect tough guy pulp novel, with a lightning-fast pace, memorable characters and witty dialogue.

    The best video game of the year was DEAR ESTHER; a formless ‘Tech demo’ that also happened to be the most unsettling and emotionally engaging game of the year. Once you find yourself finally ascending the last winding hill towards that beacon I defy anyone to not be completely transfixed and disturbed.

  • Alon says:

    Happy Birthday to you… looking forward to future whisky death-matches and I must say that apart from your books, the best thing I read all year was your live blogging of the Wimbledon men’s final. Happy New Year

  • Paolo says:

    Happy birthday Joe! Glad to see your books are being translated and published here in Italy, finally.
    While I follow your blog regularly, I don’t remember you talking about any of The Witcher games. Have you had the chance to give them a try? They look like something you might enjoy.
    By the way, I wish you a happy new year. Ciao!

  • Adrian Jones says:

    Happy Birthday! And thank you for writing such readable books.

    I have (this morning) just finished Red Country. (It’s been on the TBR pile for a while, waiting for some home time to read it. Hardbacks don’t make for good commuting books!)

    Thoroughly enjoyable, are you going to return to this world after your YA series? (I’m looking forward to that too next year.)

  • Prez says:

    Happy Birthday! Hope you enjoyed Yuletide! Looking forward to your new works (fave is still Heroes!).

  • Graham says:

    Happy Birthday Joe!

    Glad you enjoyed Frday Night Lights, after Sky running an episode a week for a year it has left a massive hole in our tele viewing. Whenever I see an actor from it turn up in something else I desperately want it to be good.

    Looks like you missed Gravity? Film of the year (although I think I enjoyed a lot of other films more than you did).

  • Happy name day Joe.

    Am re-reading BSC and Heroes as part of my early NY resolution (BSC – shockingly underrated). My guilty pleasure this year on telly was Strikeback Shadow Warfare which makes ‘Ultimate Force’ look like The Wire.

    I hope 2014 is your Grimdarkest yet.

  • RAMSAY says:

    Joe – If you’re only up to Dexter’s sixth season I strongly suggest you don’t bother watching any more. I’ve never seen a show I’ve loved so much go downhill with such a rolling boulder velocity, and the final season was absolutely atrocious. Don’t let the game changing end to Season 6 fool you into thinking the show is about to be reinvigorated, because all it does is steer the program further away from what was great about it in the first place. For people that have just started watching I always suggest leaving it at the end of the spectacular 4th series.

    As for me – best show of the year was the exceptional Fincher / Spacey reworking of House Of Cards with a brilliantly ruthless lead character, a great Macbeth / Lady Macbeth dynamic between him and his wife and some wonderfully dark humour.

    Film of the year – About Time. Surrender cynicism at the door and embrace the beautifully utopic world of Richard Curtis!

  • Kanchyo Ketsunonaka says:

    Happy Birthday Joe!

  • Christian the 1st says:

    Happy Birthday to you, Sire. Love your work. Can’t wait for more. A happy and healthy 2014 to you and yours.

  • Murray says:

    Happy Birthday and New Year Joe!
    I’m already looking forward to an Abercrombie Book Year – that’s the new name for 2014 right?
    I agree with your choice for game of the year – TLOU was mightily impressive. Film of the year for me has to be Gravity, it blew my socks off each time I watched it, twice in IMAX 3D and once in regular 3D

  • Zafri Mollon says:

    I couldn’t agree more with RAMSAY. The ending of Dexter is so horribly, ridiculously bad that frankly I wish I could go back in time and never watch any of it in the first place. By far the dumbest and worst end to a relatively likeable show in history. You will write nothing but pure garbage for a few days if you watch the ending, or be so infuriated that you’ll write nothing but pure brilliance afterwards (likely the latter, but I still can’t recommend you watching it).

  • weedypants says:

    As an aspiring writer myself, may I say how heartwarming it is to see a writer achieve considerable success while still under the age of 40. And indeed, have a productive year. I’m not envious. I’m gritting my teeth and clenching my fists in admiration.

    Tips for increasing my own writerly productivity, PLEASE!? This year I’ve read a lot more than you (inc Red Country, and lots of James Ellroy), but all the inspiring input isn’t translating into output – at least not volume of output.

    I think more confidence would be the thing. And being relaxed, eating well, sleeping; being less of an obsessive perfectionist. Maybe trying to work standing up? Or a talent transplant.

    Thanks and happy new year!!!

  • Angie says:

    Happy birthday!

    I have Half a King pre-ordered, and it’s one of the handful for which I’ll set aside whatever else I may be reading the moment I get my hands on it. You and Scott Lynch. I think that’s about it.

    So, I have not watched Breaking Bad. I keep hearing how great it is, but what I haven’t heard is how it’s different from Weeds. Have you watched Weeds? I really liked the first couple of seasons, but then the show seemed to go completely insane, the main character kept doing ridiculous things and really stopped being sympathetic at all. And generally, I’ve been given the impression that Breaking Bad is pretty much the same, but with meth instead of pot. But I actually don’t know a single person who has seen both shows.

    I’ve watched through season 7 of Dexter, and will not spoil anything, but I have some major complaints. I will still probably watch season 8 as soon as Netflix has it, just to see how it ends, but there are a number of things that I feel are just inconsistent characterization. I’m nervous about reading other comments in here for fear of being spoiled. But I’ll read them anyway.

    I hope you are enjoying your birthday.

  • AntMac says:

    Hip hip ! Happy Birthday, and many more, Joe.

    Interesting Grim-Dark fact not everyone knows. Hip hip, Hurrah ! was the only thing Julius Caesar found admirable about the Britons’ war fighting during his invasion of GB. He said their standing silently before the cheer, and furious onslaught immediately after it, was very effective psychological warfare that un-nerved his troops a little.

  • Tom says:

    Film-wise I’m surprised Lord Grimdark wasn’t a fan of Filth, which was adapted from the Irvine Welsh novel earlier this year. That and Alpha Papa were the only highlights for me. I’ve been off tv for a bit, but I can see there’s a lot to try above. 2014 is looking up , between Half a King by his lordship and the Red Queens War by Mark Lawrence. Now to just fit a life around all this reading…

  • Muzza says:

    Highlight of the year.

    Bought my wife Dangerous Women. Read some bloke Abercrombie. “Is this the guy you yabber on endlessly about that I should read”. Finishes story. Puts down the book. Goes to my book shelf and pulls out The Blade Itself.

    “”Ok you were right”. SUCCESS!

    We also watched Friday Night Lights on your recommendation. It is brilliant.

    Intouchables was the only movie I can remember worth really watching.

    Aside from Red Country (goes without saying) I have stared Brett Weeks Night Angel Trilogy. Only early going but it seems ok. Looking forward to seeing where it goes.

  • Deb E says:

    Well, Happy Birthday, my man. Hip ‘ray, hip ‘ray, hip ‘ray!

    Something tells me 2014 will be a good year for you. Looking forward to these new books – especially as I’m just about finished all your “old” ones!

  • Happy B’s.
    Sorry I missed the right day.
    Love your books, admire your charactership. Grim and darkish natural.

    Hope to listen to more of your books soon. The Audible narrator really does the trick!

    Have you tried the iOS app “Year walk”?
    It’s a Swedish game based on folklore by Siminogo. Mystics, puzzling. Played it with my wife via the Apple TV and our Beamer. Really good! The coolest thing is you need to have
    Companion app as well. 🙂
    It’s well worth the couple of bucks.

    Keep up the great work!

  • Alejandro says:

    Happy birthday Mr Abercrombie!

    Nice Review as usual. My game of the year has to be Tomb Raider so far. Bioshock Infinite has not impressed me tbh. Last of us has yet to be checked out.

    Doe Friday Night Lights share similarities with One Tree Hill? I really enjoyed OTH so this could be something for me to try as well.

  • Travis says:

    Why Joe? Why didn’t I listen?

    Just watched “Man of Steel” last night… Why!?

  • Kegogut says:

    Happy birthday,everyone always throws you the biggest birthday parties every year. My wife’s is July 4th so she always gets fireworks which is nice.

  • Thomas says:

    Hi all,
    Just saw that Subterranean Press has announced their edition of RC with with illustrations from Raymond Swanland. A very new and cool look to the front cover picturing Logens hands.

  • Thomas says:

    Hi Joe
    Are all of your forthcoming books going to be published by Subterranean Press?
    Greetings from Germany,

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