My to-be-read pile is shameful. Ignoring my boyfriend’s Warhammer books, our shared bookshelf is positively drowning in stories that I’ve never read, with books stacked upon books as we struggle to make space for all the things I’ve not even touched since bringing it back from the bookshop.

My friend Charlotte, enabler of my book hoarding habit and all-round great gal, turned me on to a possible solution from My Reader’s Block: The Mount TBR Challenge. So excited by the possibility that I might finally crack through a few titles, I wrote a whole article about it for Nothing In the Rulebook — you can check it out here. The crux of it is that there are several different mountains to choose from, depending on how many books are in your pile and how many you feasibly think you’ll read. I went for Mount Blanc, which is 24 books.

So far, I’ve knocked two off the list — The Autobiography of James T. Kirk and The Lost Child of Lychford by Paul Cornell. They were, admittedly, not that long (although thoroughly enjoyable!) but they’re on the pile, so it’s not cheating.

Currently, I’m reading Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman on Kindle when on the bus, and The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells when at home. When flicking through my Kindle trying to find the next book to read, I realised that I had over 100 books sitting on there that had never been touched. Add the 50 or so on the bookshelf that have yet to be cracked open, and that’s a lot of bloody books. I can see myself aiming to scale up.

As I mention in the NITRB blog though, I’m hoping that this will help spur me on to keep writing myself. Although I’m not setting myself any hard and fast goals for the time being (New Year’s resolutions are always a waste of time for me as I end up breaking them fairly quickly), I am intending to at least produce a few things this year, and keep submitting to competitions. And if that helps me get a novel on the go, I’m all about that. But I’m also enjoying taking the time to discover some fantastic new worlds, as well as revisit others with a different point of view. So wish me luck — see you at the summit!

2016 has been a year. I think that’s all I can say about it. Brexit, Trump, the rise of Isis, the death of Carrie Fisher… it doesn’t get much more grim than that. However, there have also been lots of things to celebrate, and I intend to celebrate them as much as possible.

That whole ‘I used to run a music blog’ thing tends to rear its head around the end of the year, where I get an insatiable urge to create lists upon lists of all the things I’ve really liked in a given twelve month period. It starts off as just a little nugget of a thought in my brain before it gets to the point where I’m keeping my boyfriend awake with statements like “but what if the Childish Gambino album is one of the best records of 2016?” (Spoiler alert: it is.) So here’s a brief list of pop culture items I’ve rather enjoyed in 2016, and have all offered a brief twinkle of joy into what has otherwise been a fairly terrifying rollercoaster ride of a year.

Album of the year: Milk Teeth – Vile Child

I’m so proud of Milk Teeth. From seeing them (slightly nervously) rock tiny bars in Cheltenham to supporting Against Me! on their latest UK tour, I’ve never failed to be impressed by them, and Vile Child was a huge shock to the system. Putting Becky in the foreground as the lead vocalist and songwriter was the best decision for the band, because what you get is a record that’s uncompromising, heartwrenching and celebratory in one grunge-tinted hit. I was one of the first writers to take a chance on them back in the day, and I’m very glad I did. It’s easy, and lazy, to compare the record to Nevermind, but it’s difficult to deny that Vile Child has the same kind of instant spark of brilliance. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Honourable mentions: Blink 182 – California, Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me, Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love

Video game of the year: Rise of the Tomb Raider 20th Anniversary Edition

Okay, okay, I guess this is a 2015 release, but it only came out on PS4 in October so I’m counting it. This was the celebration that Lara has always deserved. 2013’s reboot was an excellent start, but Rise took everything that made the original Tomb Raiders great and updated it for a modern audience. Rhianna Pratchett’s writing is as sharp and incisive as ever, while reflecting on the nature of losing one’s father, and the emotional toll that brings for years and years afterwards. It’s so easy to start playing, but so difficult to master, and the addition of arcade scores and zombie nightmare rounds gives the game a whole new lease of life after the credits begin to roll.

Honourable mentions: Final Fantasy XV, Pokemon Moon, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Film of the year: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

Have we ever needed a film as much as we’ve needed Rogue One? On face value, it’s an epic battle in the struggle against the Empire with a sassy robot and a ragtag group of misfits taking centre stage. But Rogue One is also the message of hope that we need more than ever right now — we can fight, and we can win. We can take back control from the forces that would work to divide us, and we can come together in the hope of creating a better world. At the end of a long year, it was more important than ever to be reminded of that.

Honourable mentions: Captain America: Civil War, Ghostbusters, Finding Dory

 

TV series of the year: Stranger Things

Stranger Things was literally all I could have wanted from television this year, and it’s been a great year for it. It was the perfect 80s throwback to buddy movies like The Goonies, mixed with Alien and Twin Peaks for good measure. Although I’m always a sucker for 80s nostalgia, Stranger Things was so clever and so gripping that I even managed to get my boyfriend to watch at least two episodes in a row and that NEVER happens. While it’s important to look forward, Stranger Things showed that you can do a lot of good by looking back, and no doubt pushed the sales of Dungeons & Dragons handbooks up considerably.

Honourable mentions: Luke Cage, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, New Girl

Book (that I discovered) of the year: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

I’m awful with books. I have the biggest to-be-read pile in the world, and I’m probably not really exaggerating when I say that. So I can never do a ‘book of the year’, because nearly everything I read isn’t released in that given year. This year, I totally fell in love with the Johannes Cabal series by Jonathan L Howard. As many of my friends know, ‘cantankerous necromancer’ is a key consideration in my reading, and the Johannes Cabal books have that in spades. The first book in particular is hilarious, charming and ever so wonderfully British in places. Plus it’s about a haunted carnival with nary a mention of clowns, and I thoroughly appreciate that.

Honourable mentions: Witches of Lychford, The Relic Guild, Ancillary Justice

 

As ever, my resolutions for next year are to read more, write more and generally do more than play video games for several hours straight on a weekend, so hopefully I’ll have lots to say about 2017’s cultural output as time goes on. 2016, you were okay in parts — let’s hope for more of those bits next year, yeah?

This was submitted for a short story competition. I didn’t win, but it at least gave me the impetus to finish something. Therefore, I thought I’d share.

All of the trees were made of bones. Bleached in the sun’s harsh light, they gave off an eerie glow under the moon. Skulls, ribs, tibias and pelvises, all linked together in a macabre approximation of a forest, warning off all who approached.

The moon shone brightly over the bone lands that night. The blood moon, rare in its beauty, cast a strange blush over the trees, highlighting their cracks of age, the brittle nature of their being.

A girl stepped into the central grove of the bone forest, her pack weighing heavily on her slim shoulders. She heaved it off, sat cross-legged in the middle of the clearing, and hoped that the moon would be more benevolent this time.

“I just want my brother back. Please, just give me my brother back,” she intoned shakily, her breath forming misty spirals in the cold air. “I don’t want to be here without him any more…”

Hearing her call, the souls of the forest began their ritual. The bones began to creak and stir, their cruel branches shifting to form new paths in the woods. The light of the blood moon intensified, painting the trees crimson red. From the shadows, a figure started to emerge. She did not know whether it would be the right one this time.

I am tired. I always feel tired now. Even restful weekends, meant to help rejuvenate and rebuild, leave me feeling knackered. It’s silly, really — being 25 shouldn’t mean I’m forever worn out, forever battling against the tide, but lately, that’s been the case. I try and ignore it, tell myself that everything will be fine in a few months. I tell myself that it’s okay not to be okay.
 
Creatively, I’m drained. Ideas zip through my skull as I drop off to sleep, as I drive from place to place, but never make it to the page. I never used to be scared of the blank page, but now it seems like a void. Content, content, content. A constant need for content. Watching, reading, tweeting, twitching to ultimately end up cycled out of the dark recesses of the mind and into the mental recycling bin, replaced by the next relevant post the algorithm decides you need to read.
 
I know that I am loved. It is a comforting thought. But I sometimes wonder whether I am liked. I often know that I have been forgotten. I think that’s why I always wanted to write – I was so desperate to be acknowledged and to be remembered. I wanted my words to be tattoos, quotes scribbled on notebooks, phrases whispered in the dark. I wanted to be a friend, but I’ve never been very good at making friends. I tell myself that I want moments of peace, that I’m good with my own company, but I crave attention at the same time. I want nothing more than to be heard.

My anxiety continues to grow and gnaw at my soul. Like a virus, it courses through my blood and infects my sense of wellbeing, my sense of tranquillity. When anxiety bears down, it is never quiet. I play loud songs to drown out its carrion call, but music is no longer the escape it used to be. It has been around a year since I came down the stairs in tears and told my boyfriend that I had to give up my website, because I no longer felt worthy enough to keep its heartbeat going. Since then, I have felt like a fraud at every show. Even when music was my every breath, I still felt like an interloper in the scene, like I never truly belonged. I sometimes wonder if I will ever belong to something greater, whether I will ever gain a place in history. I hope that I will learn to be content with where I am, but I am ever reaching for the stars, and cursing everything but my own poorly engineered ship for not taking me there.

Believe it or not, I’ve not read that many books this year. It might not seem like a wildly shocking fact, but I used to read a book a week – sometimes two, if the mood struck. It’s not that I don’t have loads of books to read, it’s that I have a tendency to get a bit too attached to my 3DS or a show on Netflix. That’s the thing – with so much media to consume out there, when do I have time to do it? Something’s got to take a back seat, and sadly, it’s been books for most of this year.
 
However, with the weather getting colder, and the fact that I’d not joined the library service in this county yet weighing on my shoulders, I decided to pop up there and grab some books. I’ve now read more books in a month than I think I’ve read in about a year, which is great! Here are a few I’ve really enjoyed so far…
 
Barbara Hambly – Those Who Hunt the Night
 
God, I love vampires. I especially love vampire books with really 80s covers.
 
hambly
 
Set in Edwardian London, this is a mystery novel worthy of Conan Doyle, but with creatures that skulk in the darkness and a hero that rides an early Norton motorcycle. It’s not a huge book, but it’s gripping – I finished it off in just over a week. Although its main character is a human – the unlikely warrior James Asher, don at Oxford University with a secret past – the vivid nature in which the vampires are portrayed, particularly the dashing Don Simon Ysidro, won me over. Ysidro is a total babe.
 
Warren Ellis and Phil Jimenez – X-Men: Exogenetic
 
I’m a comic person too (Marvel pls), but I don’t have time to keep up with single issues, so I usually grab a few trade paperbacks when I can. Exogenetic, set in the events following M-Day, sees seemingly dead mutants revived with Sentinels lurking within their hollow husks of a body. It pits the X-Men against some of their biggest enemies, all at the hands of one particularly evil genius. It’s not Ellis’ most cerebral work, but it is great fun.  
 
Ann Leckie – Ancillary Justice
 
Where to start? I can’t believe this is a debut novel. It’s so elegantly crafted, a true tale of revenge but from the eyes of a ship’s AI, no less, stranded in an ancillary body and left to seek out its destroyer. Most interestingly, the novel’s main character (and the Radchaii in general) uses the pronoun ‘she’ to refer to people of all gender. Although it threw me to start with, it made me realise just how male-centric most sci-fi books are, and it was a refreshing change to visualise a character as female upon first instance, rather than male. I’m thoroughly looking forward to reading the next two books in the series.
 
On the to-read pile, I’ve got The Relic Guild by Edward Cox, of which I have heard Very Good Things.
 
What have you been reading lately? Please post your recommendations in the comments!
 
xoxo – Robyn