As one year ends and another starts, I thought I’d share some reflections and exciting news.
Keep reading to discover some excellent reads from authors you probably haven’t heard about (but should), and to learn about my plans for Felix’s next adventure (because, yes, the blog’s title is no joke!)
Let’s start with reflections over the past year, in the Three-R’s that this blog normally covers: Reading, Writing, and Romans.
You might have noticed that I post a lot more book reviews these days. I read about the same amount, (OK, maybe a little more; but can you blame me for a little escapism?), but since I write less I naturally have less to blog about in that area.
So, here are my most notable new discoveries, starting with the indie ones.
First, I absolutely adored John Houlihan’s Mon Dieu! Cthulhu! You all know historical-fantasy is my weakness, and what could be better than a Napoleonic era hussar running afoul of elder things?
It’s funny, it’s charming, and it’s got scary monsters. Not things you’d thing go together, but Houlihan pulls it off remarkable well. See my full review here, and an interview with the protagonist here.
Next is Douglas Lumsden’s Alex Sutherland, P.I. series. It starts with the aptly named A Troll Walks into a Bar, and continues with A Witch Steps into my Office. Lumsden pulls an amazing feat: bringing the noir detective vibes (sans the rampant sexism and other issues) into modern urban fantasy, and simultaneously building an alternative history with anything from Meso-American influences to varied intelligent species and magic systems.
Both of those authors should be on the mailing list, should be reading this, and should know that I offered beta-reading because I bloody well can’t wait for the sequels! Get on with it!
On the traditionally published side, this year I started to read KJ Parker — which is the fantasy pen-name of Tom Holt. Brilliant novels, with excellent prose, Byzantine vibes (no magic), and packing a poignant social criticism punch. Speculative fiction at its best. I’ve also discovered P. Djèlí Clark‘s excellent blend of historical-fantasy novellas (a Steampunk-ish with magic djinn turn-of-the-century Egypt), where the only drawback is that they are short novellas. I want more!
There were many other works, from the non-fiction 1177BC by the new-to-me Eric H. Cline which I loved, to much better known authors who don’t need me to sing their praises. You can see my full year’s reading list on Goodreads. It’s a decent amount of books (for me), but might explain why I never got to a particular book — there’s just so much to read, and so little time!
I did collect trivia throughout the year, most notably (and hilariously) I’d direct you to the Smells like Classical Latin post, closely and festively followed by the cursed cookies. For non-fiction, between Cline’s work (above) and Matyszak I seem to have read more about the antiquity in general. Would that translate to Felix travelling outside of Egretia to meet those people? Time will tell.
I’ve also explored more ancient food. Though my one blog post was about the Russian Kulebyaka, I assure you that I do cook with various versions of fish-sauce and have dabbled with adding asafoetida as a replacement for sylphium. Considering the love the Kulebyaka post got, there will be more on the subject of cookery on the future. I’ve also taken a couple of highly-enjoyable courses about historical cuisines, and the reviews of them will be posted soon.
Ah, saving the ouchy part for last. I was on an amazing roll at the start of the year: I sent In Victrix to beta readers, and while I was waiting I breezed through the first five chapters of a non-Felix epic-fantasy novel. I got the feedback and settled down to address the comments… And that was around mid-March.
I got very little writing done since. I count myself lucky, where the main impact of the pandemic was on what is essentially a hobby (I haven’t cracked the “writing-pays-the-bills” riddle just yet, though I’m continually learning as that link shows). I did try to allocate time to write (well, edit), but could never make it stick. Work was busy and life was life. I even tried writing just flash-fiction, and have lots of started sentences to show but only one complete piece in the whole year.
I do plan on making the next year different, finish up editing In Victrix and publish it, finish up the first draft of “that troll book”, and generally resume regular writing. How? Well, glad you asked — it leads us to…
Now let’s move on to predicting the future. All things 2020 considered, you’ll probably understand why I titled this section with a branch of divination that involves bloody entrails.
Quitting my job
Yes, I did quit my job, and yes, I do expect to use that to write more books.
You see, I was writing mainly on the train commute to the office (about 45 mins, twice a day, equals lots of words!). Once we got into lockdown I couldn’t find the quiet time to write between balancing full-time work and homeschooling. Schools reopened three months later, but I have been working from home ever since and somehow couldn’t get the mental space to write. (Not that I’m complaining, mind you; “No time for my hobby” is hardly hardship.)
As things happen, I was headhunted for a new role and decided to accept the offer. Even though I like the place I work, after 8 years of building a product from the ground up I was ready for a new challenge. This new role is still in software product management, but it’s on a much bigger scale.
Side note: English is funny. The ‘so’ in “I quit my job so I could write” here isn’t ‘in order to‘ but rather ‘therefore‘. Life would be a lot more boring if everything had exactly one, clear meaning.
Part of taking on this new role will involve more commute (they did mention international travel — 🤣😂🤣 — but for now let’s focus on the train to the office). And this, in turn, should allow me to resume writing. Even if the role will have a large work-from-home component (likely), I will get a steady, regular time-slot to write. Plus, I hope to use this as an excuse to make more time to write regardless of commute.
Anyway, if I’m successful, you should see In Victrix hit the shelves late this year. Wish me luck.
… and everything else
After the above, there’s not much room for other news, is there? I do plan to keep on reading. Feel free to submit review requests or character interview requests. The latter is easy and fun. The former depends on my capricious reading whims and tastes at the time, and though I may start more books than I finish I still review plenty of indies.
In fact, since being invited to review on Booknest.eu, I — bizarrely enough, given my eclectic tastes — have become one of their top reviewers, and most of my recent reviews have been getting 3-4K views. Pretty cool achievement for this year.
My fitness goals were also mostly on track, taking very long walks including a 130m-high hill every week. That morphed into running, because being locked down with the kids made me realise that all my life I was wrong — running alone, at night, in the rain, is actually nice. I was doing great, until I got a torn meniscus… Oh well. Back to physio and a more cautious treadmill. Still, I’ll declare that a win. The injury was a setback, but before and after I was on a constant improvement trajectory.
2020 has been, for me, more weird than bad. I’m sure I’m not alone, and I know many people had it worse. Still, there is hope in the future (“hope” being that last and greatest affliction Pandora released), with promise of exciting things to come. The new role will be a challenge, but I’m confident I’ll settle in. I’ll certainly keep on cooking (as experimentally as my home audience will allow), read voraciously and capriciously, and blog here all about it. I’m eagerly anticipating finishing and releasing the third Felix adventure on unsuspecting readers, and I want to write, dammit, write so many more stories.
I’m sure everyone reading this has their own hopes and stories to tell — of the past year, of the future, and of wild, fantastical adventures. Why not leave some in the comments?