Best of 2011

The other week fellow author Douglas Jackson pointed out that we’d both been highlighted in The Scotsman as two of the stand out historical novelists of 2011.

So, it’s that time of year again, when newspapers are full of such lists and we start reflecting on what’s gone.  As I’m miserable with lurgy and chapter 41 is giving me jip, I thought I’d take a break and add my own bunch of “best ofs” to the pile.

BEST BOOK

As Meat Loves Salt, Maria McCann

Admittedly, I haven’t had time to crack open many novels this year, but this was the stand out for me.  Set during the English Civil War it revolves around Jacob, a servant forced by an act of murder to join the New Model Army.  The depth and authenticity of period detail makes it possible to believe McCann herself must have spent time on the mud-soaked battlefields and stinking streets of 17th century London.  The use of period dialogue, which was both convincing and engaging, was particularly impressive, as was the fact that while Jacob is not at all likeable as a protagonist, I somehow felt able to exist in his head for the whole novel, despite how discomforting it was.  Highly recommended.

BEST TV

Trueblood, Season 2.

I thought my love affair with vampires ended with the final episode of Buffy, until a friend convinced me to try Trueblood.

Sexy, sassy and packing a wicked sense of humour, this tale of vampires in America’s Deep South is an absolute treat.

BEST ALBUM

My One and Only Thrill, Melody Gardot.

A friend bought this for my other half and we can’t stop listening to it.  I can do no better than repeat what our friend said, “her voice just melts.”  A great album for any time, but especially on a Friday evening when the wine is cold in your glass and something good is cooking.

BEST BOOKSHOP

Goldsboro Books, Cecil Court.

OK, I count the owners, David and Daniel, as friends, but in truth I’ve loved the shop since I first set foot in there to sign a bunch of Brethren’s back in 2006.  In a time when we’re sadly losing so many independent bookshops they’ve managed not only to buck the trend, but to go from strength to strength this past year – opening a larger store, expanding into non-fiction as well as signed first edition fiction, organising a number of hugely successful events and sponsoring the HWA prize for debut historical fiction.

And, hey, it’s not just my opinion – Goldsboro has just been named by Time Out as one of London’s best shops.  Well done, boys!

BEST NON-BOOKSHOP

Resident, Brighton.

I have to give it up for Brighton’s best music shop, situated in the North Lanes.  I could spend hours (and hundreds of pounds) in here.  Think – the record store in High Fidelity, but with more helpful staff.  Best thing is that they do staff reviews of all the albums, making it easy to try new things.  I’ve tripled my music collection since shopping here.

BEST RESEARCH TRIP

Tomb of King Edward I, Westminster Abbey.

I’ve been meaning to visit the abbey for years.  Typically, it’s one of the sites nearest to me and I ended up going to all the furthest-flung places long before making it here.  I’ve read a great deal about it, but it’s not the same as entering those doors and walking beneath the epic vault, past the tombs of dead kings and nobles, among them Aymer de Valence and Edward II.

The shrine of the Confessor, where several scenes in Renegade are set, is normally closed off to the public, but I played the author card with one of the helpful ushers and got a private viewing.  The shrine itself was incredible, but the best part was walking up the steps past King Edward’s tomb, close enough you have to brush by it.  All the sepulchres around it, including Henry III’s and Queen Eleanor’s, are gilt and bronze, covered in gold effigies and cherubs.  Edward’s is a large, dark marble tomb with nothing but the inscription: “Edwardus Primus Scotorum Malleus. Pactum Serva” (Edward the First, Hammer of the Scots. Keep Troth), although this inscription didn’t appear until the 16thcentury.  It gave me chills.

BEST PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT

Planning – over a boozy 9 hour lunch – to go to France and write a WWII screenplay with two fellow authors.

And doing it.

BEST NEW DISCOVERY

Dalmore, Alexander III whisky.

I discovered this at my local Hotel du Vin one evening – and had to try it, of course.  It’s delicious; lots of spicy, smoky orange flavours.  Pricey at £13 a shot, but well worth it if you like your drams.  Could do with one right now.  Sniff.

BEST MEAL OUT

Porthminster Beach Café, St Ives.

I’ve been here before and loved it, so when staying in Cornwall over the summer the better half and I drove an hour just to return.  The Cornish crab soup and sticky Asian pork salad were heavenly.  It’s right on the beach, so perfect for sun-downing and moon rising.  The staff are great and the wine list awesome.  Can’t ask for much more.  Except to go back.

BEST BIT OF UNEXPECTED PUBLICITY

England rugby player Toby Flood writing an article in The Telegraph about the fact he was reading and enjoying Insurrection, before England’s match against Scotland. Cheers Toby!

And Happy New Year to all.

I hope 2012 brings you much health and happiness :)