2019 in Review
This, I believe, and I say it with a heavy heart, is my TENTH annual review. Ten years this blog has been (somewhat fitfully) running. Which means, and I say this with an even heavier heart, that I should probably be doing a review of the decade, but I flatly refuse to do that, since I can barely remember anything from over a week ago, let alone 9 years. It also means, and I say this with a still heavier heart, that I’m 45 years old today. I know, it seems impossible, I’m still an exciting young new recently-emerged voice who only just burst onto the fantasy scene. But I’ve checked the sums several times and it’s a fact. It’s been a great year in many ways – pretty stable at home and finally getting a new book out there after a long absence from the marketplace…
A YEAR IN BOOKSELLING – It was three years since I published anything with Sharp Ends, four years since I published a novel with Half a War, and, if you can believe it, nearly 7 years since I published a First Law novel with Red Country, but A Little Hatred was finally published in September! It takes some time for both the critical and commercial success of a novel to really become clear – there tends to be a rush of positivity initially that settles down to a more considered position over time. But reviews were good pretty much across the board. On Goodreads, for those who give a shit about such things, and it does remain one of the best sources going for aggregating reader opinion, the book’s got a 4.52 average, which is way the best out of anything I’ve written. Early sales were also the best I’ve ever done – the book made number 6 on the UK Times bestseller list at a very competitive time of year and, even more encouraging, crept into the New York Times list in the US at no. 13, which is way my best performance over there. Audiobook sales were even better than hardcover sales both sides of the pond as well – testament to the growth in that sector and the mad reading skills of Steven Pacey. So it’s a great foundation for the Age of Madness, and it seems that the long absence from the bookstores did no particular harm, but we will have to see how things develop when the paperback of A Little Hatred comes out – in March, I believe – and then when the sequel, The Trouble With Peace, appears in September.
A YEAR IN BOOK WRITING – After a couple of years of feverish full-tilt drafting this was much more of a completer/finisher year. Copy edits and final changes to A Little Hatred at the start, then lots of publishing meetings, cover consultations, writing of blurbs and finishing off. Then there was the whole process of second draft, revision and editing on The Trouble With Peace, and the second draft of the final book, The Beautiful Machine, the last part of which needed some pretty heavy rewrites and new scenes. Then of course there were interviews, touring and events for the release of the book in September – it was actually great to be out there again, reminding myself that there actually are readers for this nonsense…
TV AND FILM – I chugged through more films than usual lately. The Favourite wasn’t my favourite, though I did like it. The Irishman was good but it proved to me that digital de-aging doesn’t really work and in the end felt very much in the shadow of more dynamic Scorsese offerings like Goodfellas and Mean Streets. My kids liked Rise of Skywalker but I did not. The central cast remain highly likeable but, wow, what a jumble of undigested exposition, maguffin chasing and remixed greatest hits. I think the real disappointment with these recent Star Wars films is that they had such an opportunity to tell one coherent story in three parts and they clearly ended up cobbling it together hand to mouth with each instalment. Joker was good, I thought, way the best DC offering within recent memory and with a brilliant central performance but, I dunno, there wasn’t a huge amount to it after the hype. Avengers: Endgame was very endgame and awfully avengery, about as good as you could hope for weaving together so many plot threads. The latest Spiderman I quite liked. Captain Marvel I thought was a bit weak, really. Was that even this year? I feel like I’m ready for the onslaught of Marvel to subside, frankly, or at least take some interesting new direction. 1917 was really strong, though perhaps in the stonking technical achievement of doing the whole film in one vast shot a little emotional involvement was lost? I think my film of the year might be a very different take on war, Jojo Rabbit. A lot of reviewers seemed to hate it but I thought it was bloody great, so there you go.
On the small screen, I have sampled a weird and wonderful array of televisual treats, of which I am probably forgetting dozens, but warm memories abide of Billions, Bosch, Fleabag, The Good Fight, Warrior, The Virtues, Money Heist. Gomorrah continues to be brilliant. The Crown I felt had gone off the boil a bit. The Expanse is great though I did feel this forth season was spinning the wheels somewhat. Vinland Saga was a good watch if you’ve any interest in anime. Watchmen was an awesome surprise, I thought, ingeniously put together. I’d love to see another, different take on that material in future.
Closer to my own area of fantasy, it is of course impossible to avoid Game of Thrones. As a whole, the series was an amazing achievement which has done wonders for the field, no doubt. One of its great strengths was its faithfulness to some brilliant source material, so it was inevitable they’d face problems when they ran out of books, but I felt they’d done a pretty good job in seasons 6 and 7, considering. Season 8 was … not so great, though. My problem wasn’t necessarily where things ended up, but how they got there. Put very simply, the big problem was the loss of rigour. It felt like they’d spent so much time and energy in all departments creating this meticulous feel of a real world populated by real people. In the final season they really threw that away in a breakneck bid to link together various beats and visual metaphors regardless of whether they made any sense. I actually enjoyed the making of show a lot more than the show itself. From disappointing ends to promising beginnings with The Witcher, though, which took a few episodes to get going, was occasionally a bit confusing and naff, but I ended up really liking. Strong central cast and an interesting world. Very much looking forward to further episodes. While The Witcher had the heart but perhaps not quite the budget, Carnival Row had all the budget in the world and produced an amazing setting and spectacle (best fairy wings ever) but I found the dialogue and characters pretty uninspiring. They managed to make Jared Harris uninteresting, for pity’s sake.
I think my favourite TV of the year is split two ways. Chernobyl was a searing 5 part semi docu-drama all about organisational failure and horrific radiation burns that you couldn’t take your eyes off. Plus Jared Harris being superb where he belongs. And then Succession was also brilliant, bitter-sweet, tragicomic, you can’t decide who of its wonderful horrible cast you love to hate most.
GAMES – I actually played a lot less than in previous years. Don’t know if I was just busy with other things or if there just wasn’t much that piqued my interest. I enjoyed The Division 2 but those big multiplayer loot grabbers always end up feeling like slightly empty experiences for me. The Outer Worlds was fine I guess, but felt a bit clunky and limited after the great reviews. I actually really enjoyed Darkest Dungeon on the iPad – an original take on the dungeon crawler with bags of gloomy atmosphere. Borderlands 3 offered what I expect from a series I generally really like, but it didn’t feel like it added much new and perhaps had a bit less personality than the previous instalment. So probably my game of the year was Kojima’s bonkers Death Stranding. Occasionally wilfully weird and frustrating, and I don’t know that I’d ever pick it up again after finishing it, but you’d have to say that it was that rarest of things in gaming – a true original. Still, it says something that probably the most fun I’ve had gaming has been picking up the Witcher 3 again – four years after it first came out….
THE YEAR AHEAD – I’m gonna have a fair bit of travelling and events to do as A Little Hatred comes out in translation in various territories. I think I’m in Spain in february then Portugal in march, and there probably will be other trips. Looking back at last year’s review, I’d hoped to have The Trouble with Peace and The Beautiful Machine edited and complete so I could move onto whatever’s next. Well, that hasn’t quite happened. Book 2 is about to be line edited, with a final check over the prose before copy edit. But that’s probably a month’s work in all. UK and US covers are also well underway and looking promising. Book 3 has been edited but needs a few rounds of polishing. Maybe two or three months work altogether? So there’s still stuff to do, but nothing that should interfere with the publication of The Trouble With Peace in September 2020 and The Beautiful Machine in September 2021. Certainly by this time next year I expect to be well embarked on the planning stage of whatever comes next…
Happy New Year, you beautiful bastards!