Posts Tagged ‘2011’

2011 involved unprecedented levels of book-related awesome. That’s a big call to make, because as you may have noticed by now, I read voraciously, constantly, and have done my whole life. ¬†Undeniably, one of the things that made 2011 so special was my discovery of Amazon – or, more specifically, the belated realisation that I am a grown woman with my own income and can, as such, buy books on the internet whenever I want. I can’t rightly explain why it’s taken me so long to realise this without delving into the twisted warren of personal psychology, but the practical upshot is that for the past few years, every time I’ve heard about an interesting book or author whose work I can’t find that the local bookshop – which, frankly, is most of the time – I’ve been tagging it on my Goodreads shelf and then sighing over its inaccessibility. Internets, I don’t know what to tell you: I am a complete moron, basically, but all of a sudden, it suddenly occurred to me that I could buy these books online.¬†Hallelujah! ¬†Huzzah! And so I did, and it was awesome.

It is worth pointing out that my husband is suddenly very, very keen on the idea of me getting a Kindle. Every time a new book finds its way into the house, he twitches. There are two good reasons for this, namely:

1. We are rapidly running out of shelving space; and

2. The next time we move, he’ll be the one hauling all my boxes of books down four flights of stairs.

The point being, it’s not just my consumption of books that went up in 2011, but the purchase of them, too. Not only was I trying new things, but suddenly I had a back catalogue of literally hundreds of books I’d been wanted to read for ages, plus the means and opportunity to buy them. And I am here to say, they did not disappoint. Of the 156 titles I read in 2011, only a very few rubbed me the wrong way, and even those still tended to be worth reading. The rest were, by and large, brilliant, which perhaps explains why I chewed through so many so fast. And here is where we come to the reason why 2011 was such a staggeringly awesome year, bookwise: because not only did I read many an awe-inspiring book, but in the process, I became infatuated with many an awe-inspiring author. Not since I was a teenager discovering SFF through the greedy acquisition of second-hand paperbacks has there been a time when so many new writers have instantly made the transition from ‘person whose books I enjoy’ to ‘canonical favourite author’, the latter state being distinguished by the fact that I must have their books, all of them, NOW.

There’s something very special about being made to feel that way again – as though a genre you’d thought you’d known had suddenly opened back up again, richer and even more awesome than ever. And thus I give you, in order of their discovery, my:

Top Ten Authors of 2011

1. China Mieville

A few years ago, I bought a beautiful but¬†unwieldy¬†copy of Perdido Street Station. Perhaps I was just too young for the book, or my expectations of it were such that I couldn’t get into the rhythm of it – either way, I ended up putting it aside. Not long after that, I tried again with Un Lun Dun, but despite enjoying the story, I was so distracted by its similarities to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere that, three quarters of the way through, I put it down and never remembered to pick it up again. And then, in 2010, I bought a copy of the newly-released Kraken – third time’s the charm, I thought – and decided to save it for just the right occasion. And then came Worldcon, during which time I actually ended up meeting China Mieville. Very kindly, he signed my copy of Kraken – and then I heard him read¬†a chapter of it aloud. All of a sudden, it was like a key had turned in my head: everything about his writing that had puzzled me locked into place, and though I was too overwhelmed and exhausted to tackle such a big book at the time, when I finally picked it up in January 2011, I devoured it in something close to a day. Mieville is powerfully, sometimes exhaustingly awesome: his intertwined language and concepts appeal to something deep in the brain, and once you’re inside his stories, it’s impossible to let go. Even better, he’s become an author whose work I can share with my husband: we both loved The City & The City, and were subsequently blown away by Embassytown. Since then, I’ve also finished Perdido Street Station and have a copy of its first sequel, The Scar, ready to go.

2. N. K. Jemisin

Back before its release, I read a free sample chapter of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms¬†somewhere online. I don’t remember who, if anyone, directed me towards it, but the story stuck with me, and when the novel hit shelves, I wasn’t surprised to see it getting great reviews. Not being able to find a copy locally, this was one I had to wait to get, during which time friends kept recommending it, amazing reviews kept cropping up, and I kept getting impatient. And then I finally bought a copy, and it was brilliant, and shortly devoured both sequel volumes, The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods, which were equally as good. Jemisin’s worldbuilding is exquisite, her style both poetic and gripping, but it’s her psychology that really sells me: ambition, need and culture all shape her characters as well as their innate, sometimes difficult personalities, and their interactions are a pleasure to read. She also writes an entirely awesome blog about entirely awesome things, thanks to which I’ve come to think about a lot of important issues I might not otherwise have considered. Her next novel, The Killing Moon, is out this year, and I absolutely cannot wait to lay hands on it.

3. Cory Doctorow 

Technically, this is a cheat, because I first read and loved¬†Little Brother way back in 2009. But for whatever reason, I didn’t follow through with more of his work until last year, when I ended¬†up reading For the Win and Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. Doctorow’s strong technology themes – and the ease with which he makes them not only interesting, but significant, to relative laypersons like me – are a large part of what makes his work so compelling; but it’s the social justice elements that get me in the chest. The rest of his books are now in my scopes, and hopefully I’ll get to one or more of them at some point in 2012.

4. Octavia E. Butler

I’d heard of her. I wanted to read her books. But I had no idea where to start, and I was tentative in the way I always am when it comes to science fiction greats, because so often I go in optimistic and then find out that really, these stories aren’t for me. But when I came across an omnibus edition of Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy in the local second-hand bookshop – Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago in a single volume¬†– I decided to plunge ahead. And oh, man. Look, internets: you don’t need me to tell you how amazing, how absolutely jaw-dropping Butler is, because you already knew before me. I was literally broken apart by these books, and though they’re still the only ones of hers I’ve read – stories that powerful need to be rationed, like absinthe or Belgian chocolate – they nonetheless burned themselves into me forever.

5. Paolo Bacigalupi

This is something of an odd one. I made sure to read The Wind-Up Girl after it won the Hugo, and when I did, my reaction was… mixed. (For the curious, my review is here.) There were parts of the story I loved, and others I hated; I came away with a lot of thoughts, but despite the more negative aspects I perceived in the book, I also couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s difficult to articulate why, but sometimes I can have a very Slap Slap Kiss relationship with certain stories: for all my criticisms, I’ll end up loving them more than other works with which I found no fault, because they challenge me. Uncharitably, this is just because I’m a deeply contrary person, but I also suspect it’s because when you see things you absolutely love laid alongside things that make you bristle, you’re forced to rip apart various narrative seams – both in the book and in your head – to find out why you’re reacting that way. This process cannot help but be informative, if not transformative, and the upshot of all my angsting was that the very next month, I ended up buying Ship Breaker. Which, flat out, I absolutely loved. Could not put it down. So not only is Bacigalupi an awesome author, he’s one who makes me think, too – and that is always good.

6. Catherynne M. Valente

The book I started with here was¬†Palimpsest, and – as with The City & The City and The Wind-Up Girl –¬†part of the reason I read it was the Hugo nomination. As is often the case with me, I was nervous: I’d picked up a copy in a bookshop once before, but due to whatever quirk of mood or temper that particular day, I’d decided against buying it. But during a trip to London that happened to coincide with my birthday, I’d decided to give Valente a try, and so set out to acquire a copy of In the Night Garden, which a friend had recommended. Alas, London did not yield me that particular book – but I did find Palimpsest, and so decided, on the basis of the Hugo nomination, that my younger self had no idea what she was talking about. Thus, I bought it, and read the whole thing in a single sitting, curled up in bed in an excruciatingly cheap hotel in the middle of the day. Valente is a poet, and the way she braids this skill with mythology and imagery and longing absolutely kills me. Later in the year, I won an ARC of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making in a Twitter contest. It quite literally moved me to tears, and my review of it is here. After that came¬†Deathless, which¬†was¬†unbelievably¬†good; and in my pile of books-to-be read for 2012 are copies of In the Night Garden and Myths of Origin, which I’m really looking forward to. And, like Jemisin, Valente also writes a kickass¬†blog.

7. Carrie Vaughn

I briefly met Carrie Vaughn at Worldcon in 2010. She was a really lovely person, and on the strength of that I decided to check out her work. This started with Kitty and the Midnight Hour, the first of her best-selling urban fantasy series: there was a lot to like in terms of writing and characterisation, but what really hooked me was Kitty’s job as a radio DJ. So often in UF, the heroines are kickass women doing kickass jobs from the get-go, and while that’s also a type of story I also adore, there was something really special about Kitty being (so to speak) an everywolf – a kind, competent woman doing something she loved, then rolling with the punches when things went sideways. Even so, I was intrigued by the variety of what Vaughn was writing, and so my next port of call were her stand-alone novels: Discord’s Apple, After the Golden Age, Voices of Dragons and Steel. Of these four, my far-and-away favourite was After the Golden Age, which is about a forensic accountant whose parents are both superheroes. What continually impressed me was Vaughn’s versatility: her willingness to play with different ideas to see what happened, and the fact that her heroines – much like Kitty – always feel like very real, relatable women, rather than untouchable action heroes.

8. Lois McMaster Bujold

Early in the year – on the same London trip where I bought Palimpsest, in fact – a writer friend strongly recommended I read some Lois McMaster Bujold. I stored his advice away, and then, during a particularly fulsome Amazon binge, ordered Shards of Honour, the first novel in the Vorkosigan saga. You may judge my reaction to this book by the fact that its heroine, Cordelia Naismith, is now one of my fictional rolemodels for 2012. I cannot even begin to describe how much I love these books. The politics are vicious, intricate and utterly believeable, the action is breathtaking, and the characterisation is pitch-perfect. In addition to¬†Shards of Honour, I managed to get through Barrayar, The Warrior’s Apprentice, The Vor Game, Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos and Brothers in Arms before the end of December; Mirror Dance and Memory are sitting in my to-be-read pile, and as of this afternoon, so are all three volumes of her Chailon series, fortuitously acquired at the second-hand shop. If I could marry her brain, I would. In a nutshell: squee!

9. Laini Taylor

I picked up a copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone at the local Waterstones. I’d been seeing it reviewed online, but for whatever reason, it hadn’t really registered. The fact that it was shelved with fantasy rather than YA is what made me notice it, because it’s not so often that you see a book that transitions like that; and besides which, it was a signed special edition. So I decided to give it a try, which ¬†turns out to have been one of the best decisions I made all year. As well as being an author, Taylor is also an artist, and her visual imagination comes across beautifully in her worldbuilding. And just, you guys: THE WORLDBUILDING. And the plot. And the characters. And the everything. Without wanting to give too much away – which is actually sort of impossible, so spoiler alert – this book is now my benchmark for any and all stories featuring:

1. Angels and demons;

2. Impossible romance; and

3. Reincarnation plotlines,

because Daughter of Smoke and Bone¬†manages all three like a boss. (End spoilers.) So then I looked up her other works, and was kicking myself when I realised I’d actually seen her Dreamdark books when they first came out, and hadn’t picked them up! Truly, Past Foz is an idiot. But this has now been rectified: both Blackbringer and Silksinger were¬†marvelous, and I cannot wait to see what she writes next.

10. Nnedi Okorafor

I can’t remember whether I first heard of Nnedi Okorafor because of Who Fears Death¬†or because I’d been seeing reviews of Akata Witch cropping up around the place, but either way, I wound up following her on Twitter. The more I heard about her ¬†talk about the themes in her books, the more I knew these were definitely stories I wanted to read, and so without having read anything more than a short story of hers, I ordered Who Fears Death, Akata Witch and Zahrah the Windseeker online. I read Akata Witch first, by way of easing myself in: at least one person had warned me that I might find Who Fears Death harrowing, and in case that were so, I wanted to have read some of her other work beforehand. As things turned out, though, I loved all three books. Okorafor’s constant themes are Africa, culture, feminism, and the power of the outcast, and all her books are breathtaking. Right now, there’s a copy of The Shadow Speaker sitting in my to-be-read pile, and I know that it won’t disappoint.

So, there you have it! Ten awesome authors, all discovered in the space of a year. Seriously though, this whole list should be subtitled How Foz Was Late To The Party, because these are all writers whose excellence has been well-known to other people for years. Only the stubborn idiocy of my younger self is to blame for not having discovered many of them earlier. Damn you, Past Foz! But then, if Past Foz hadn’t been an idiot, I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of finding them all in one go, and 2011 wouldn’t have been nearly so amazing. Nonetheless! To compensate for the fact that everyone on Earth was quicker off the mark than me, here is a secondary list of excellent books to see you on your way. In no particular order:

Five Awesome Books from 2011

1. Water to Burn, by Katharine Kerr

The second book in Kerr’s new urban fantasy series about the exploits of psychic agent Nola O’Grady, following on from by License to Ensorcell, with the third book,¬†Apocalypse to Go, which I was lucky enough to read in draft, about to be released. Rather than¬†rhapsodize¬†anew about why these books are amazing, I’ll direct you instead to my previous review, but in case you can’t be bothered to read the whole thing, just trust me: they are.

2. Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

This book is easily my favourite YA dystopia. The worldbuilding is brilliantly in-depth without being overbearing, the writing is excellent and the characterisation solid, but the sheer power of it is what works: a broken world disillusioned by the problems of 21st century romance, twisted into a passionless society from which only the young or mad can escape.

3. The Shattering, by Karen Healey

Three friends. Three dead brothers. A perfect town. A secret. Read this book; it’s amazing. My review is¬†here.

4. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

An incredible circus. A contest between magicians. Forbidden love. Beauty! Magic! Adventure! What more do you want? Exquisitely written and characterised, The Night Circus took my breath away.

5. The Cloud Roads, by Martha Wells

Shapeshifter Moon doesn’t know who his family were; he doesn’t even know what race he is. Finding out takes him on a journey across an amazing, vivid fantasy world, full of a gorgeous variety of cultures, peoples and magic. This is the sort of book you didn’t know you’d been yearning for until you picked it up – so trust me, and do.

So that’s it, folks – my year in books for 2011! What was your year like?

And here we are again, on the cusp of another new year and the end of the old. For me personally, 2011 has been momentous, challenging, crazy, wonderful, strange, and a whole host of other adjectives. This year, I turned 25 – a quarter-century! – and moved from Australia to Scotland. My second book was released. I made new friends, started new projects, worked new jobs in a new country, discovered cooking, threw a surprise birthday party for my husband, traveled to France and Germany, read over 150 books, got involved with the local Feminist Society, blogged a lot, took masses of photos and drank an extraordinary amount of cider. Without wanting to sound twee, it’s been a year when I’ve not only grown up a lot, but noticed myself growing, and in some instances consciously orchestrated the growth, as opposed to having random maturation thrust upon me by the eddying whims of adulthood. After so much blundering about, it does feel a little as though I’ve got myself together this year, or have, more specifically, got myself into a position from which next year can be confidently tackled – which, frankly, is a relief, because as the process has inevitably involved a certain amount of floundering, doubt and despair, it’s nice to have something to show for it, however hypothetically.

Politically and environmentally, though, the world has been in turmoil. It’s far from inaccurate to describe 2011 as a year of revolution: beginning with the myriad uprisings and calls for social justice known collectively as the Arab Spring, we’ve had rioting in the United Kingdom and the worldwide spread of the Occupy movement. There have been devastating earthquakes in New Zealand – the latest happening just this week – tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan, global financial instability, and the horrific rampage of Anders Breivik in Norway. At the level of society, 2011 has marked the passing of Steve Jobs, Anne McCaffrey and Amy Winehouse, among others – figures whose deaths have had an impact on both our landscapes cultural and emotional landscapes.¬†Even if it hadn’t already been notable as the first year of a new decade, 2011 has made its mark on history.

There are lots of reasons, then, to look forward to 2012 – social progress; political redemption; a fresh start; ongoing hopes for self-improvement; the challenge of unknown horizons; the simple satisfaction of peeling the first, crisp page off a new desk calendar. I have Ambitions, internets, and come tomorrow, I’d very much like to share them with you. But until then, I shall round out the year by sharing with you this picture of my husband dressed as a Doctor Who/Dalek hybrid. Because I can.

Happy new year!

I didn’t make it to Worldcon this year (as you can tell by the intolerable air of jealousy I’m suddenly generating) but thanks to John Scalzi, I’ve just had my attention directed towards this clip of Chris Garcia winning the Hugo Award for Best Fanzine. And as I watched it, all I could think was, this is why I love SFF; why genre pwns my soul. Because we give awards, not just to the people who make awesome things, but to the people who love awesome so much that they put time and effort and passion into intensifying, discussing and spreading the awesome. Because fandom is what continues to ensure that SFF isn’t just a label, but a community. And because a grown man can get up onto the stage on our biggest awards night in floods of tears, embrace everyone, forget not to swear, sit down crosslegged to hug his award and have a friend speak for him – and receive nothing but applause.

Because that is how we roll.

The dreadful ease with which a fire starts,

that match-head flick and short, sharp scratch

that brings the sparks like shrapnel shards

and sets the world ablaze.

  .

We choke on smoke, the London sky a failing lung

consumptive with the greed and deeds

of men who run, and men with guns,

and humankind who, hungry, hunt,

and wanting, wreak

 .

but do not speak

a language easy on the tongue.

 .

When rhyme and reason mount the curb

and see their foes, and will not swerve,

and better men who stood to save the things they loved

are knocked instead to early graves

we ask ourselves where parents were ‚Äď

what bridles checked might otherwise

have reined the rage and spared their lives ‚Äď

 .

when everything is going up in flames.

 .

Elsewhere, a po-faced banker knots his tie

and strangles like a Tyburn son

in auto-erotic ecstasy; but then he kicks the chair away

and jerks and spasms in the throes

of sex and death and ‚Äď look, who fucking knows?

But that’s the joy of double-dipping, chaps:

the money breaks, and and then its spenders snap.

 .

And everyone is asking why,

as though some word or magic curse

could tell them how to steer away from worse.

But in the rubble, born and grown by greed

that burns both ways, and fear, and hurt, and need

Dame Trickledown is turning deadly tricks

for stolen gold

 .

and newly-bloodied bricks.

Provoked by this news article.

The Key to Starveldt is here! My second novel is now a real, live thing that I can hold and flip through and poke! It’s due for release in October 2011, which is barely two months away, which is awesome – but which also means, alas, that my ability to launch said novel will be curtailed until sometime early in 2012, being as how plane trips from Scotland to Australia do not come cheap. But! That doesn’t mean I don’t have Special Things planned in lieu of a timely launch.

Oh yes, internets. Special Things, the nature of which shall be revealed between now and October. But until then: new book! Squee!

So, in terms of actual day job work, as opposed to being an author, I’ve been unemployed since the middle of December. Hopefully, that won’t be true for much longer, but it may go some way towards explaining how I’ve managed to read 33 books since the start of the year. This might also explain why I’ve gone hog wild on the bookshopping since we came to the UK: even taking into account my many birthday monies and vouchers, the fact that I spent all of them exclusively on books is noteworthy. Thus, my alphabetised shelf of Things I’ve Read In Scotland –

– and my current TBR pile:

That is all.

It’s still in rough at this point, but for those of you who are interested, behold: The Key to Starveldt!

(Apologies for the tiny graphic – the other images I have are all Adobe PDFs, and I can’t figure out how to make them into JPEGs for ease of use.)

As I type this, the edited pages for TKTS are sitting just to my left, and I am anticipating that a fully updated manuscript will be sent back to Ford Street ¬†– who now have a shiny new website – by the end of this weekend. I can’t give you a concrete release date yet, but right now, it’s looking to be sometime in August/September 2011. Apart from all the work involved in sending final edits back and forth, printing the actual books and organising promotions, the fact that I now live in Scotland means that physically getting myself to the launch has become a much more involved process than it was for Solace & Grief. However, while it would be nice to be on hand when the book hits shelves, I understand that certain of you are keen to see what’s been happening to Solace, Sharpsoft and the rest, so regardless of what happens with my travel plans, I’ll do my best to ensure the book comes out as soon as it reasonably can.

Prior to getting rid of my desktop computer this afternoon, I had to transfer a bunch of old files to my laptop. Mostly they were random photos, ancient word documents I wasn’t sure I’d archived anywhere else – and a folder of video diary entries I made throughout my second year as a college student, way back in 2005.

As memory serves, I first started making them as the end result of a thought process that went something like this:

1. What does my head really look like from the side? Whenever I see photos of me from that angle, I always look like a giant nose with a face attached. It’s sort of unflattering. I hope I don’t look like that all the time.

2. Can I see my sidelong profile in the mirror, ever?

*several failed attempts later*

3. No. Because my eyes are on the FRONT of my head. Because I am a PREDATORY MAMMAL, not a PARROT, despite my APPARENTLY GIANT NOSE. Also, I am an IDIOT.

4. But wait! I have a shiny new digital camera! I can take PHOTOS of my sidelong profile by holding the camera at arm’s length from the side of my head while looking in a different direction! Problem solved!

*several failed attempts later*

5. I AM STILL AN IDIOT.

*bing!*

6. Hey, I know! Why don’t I put the camera on top of my bookshelf and make a video of me moving around?

7. And if I’m going to go to all that effort, why don’t I talk about my life, too?

And thus, the video diary idea was born.

There are 33 entries, all taken between the 24th of April and the 28th of October 2005 – I saved each file according to time and date. The digital camera I used wasn’t particularly good, and I could only talk for about six minutes before the recording cut out, but despite all this, the results are fascinating. To me, anyway. I never posted them anywhere; they were only ever for my own enjoyment. It was a novel thing, being able to watch myself on film. My parents never owned a video camera when I was growing up, and until that point, I’d only ever seen stills of myself; or, if I were very lucky, a three-second cameo in some other family’s tape of a school event. When I rewatched each entry after making it, I remember being more interested in how I looked than what I was actually saying: not just on the level of a nineteen-year-old girl attempting to gauge her attractiveness, but how I moved, the way my eyes flicked sideways or down, how my mouth twisted or my hands moved. Even my voice, which always sounds deeper to me on tape than it ever does while speaking, was a source of interest. Trying to learn all the tricks of my own face – all the things that my friends and family must have known by heart, which in some ways defined me as much as my words or actions, but which were foreign to me – was both strange and compelling.

Now, almost six years later, my reactions to the entries have changed. I look at the girl I was then, and think:

I was so beautiful! What on Earth possessed me to think otherwise? Why did I constantly disparage myself?

I was so young! I look at teenagers now and there’s this freshness to them I sort of assumed was generational, but in those videos, I have it, too! Why do none of us realise it at the time?

I was so earnest! And awkward! But that self-conscious humour and weird, dreamy introspection, it’s all the seed of who I am now – I was still learning to be me. I just didn’t know it yet.

Did I really care about all those things that are so unimportant now, but which were so important then? How much of what’s important to me now will be just as unimportant in another five years? Or is it all important, always?

Did I have any inkling how significant that year would end up being? If I look hard enough, can I see it there? Could I ever have guessed?

This last is the thing that sticks with me most, which moved me to write this post. Because 2005 was, in many respects, the year that turned me into who I am now. I recorded the final entry the night I acquired my then-kitten, Quill, who crawls across my shoulders as I talk. I say that I’ve made the decision to defer my studies for 2006 in favour of finishing my novel, what I now refer to as the Great Unpublished Epic. Several times in earlier entries, I talk about Toby, the man who is now my husband, but who was then a friend and ex-roomate of my college boyfriend, Sean. I only watched a few entries tonight, but what struck me from that random selection was the number of times I mentioned doing something without Sean – usually karate lessons, which he’d started me on, but often seemed to ditch, at least by this subjective record – compared to the number of times I talked about doing things with Toby, like playing music or hanging out. A month later, beyond the scope of the video entries, Sean and I had parted ways.¬† By Christmas, Toby and I were living together. The next year, we saved our money and moved to Melbourne, where I finished my novel and, eventually, started the story that grew into Solace & Grief. The year after that, we were married.

I made a few more entries much later on, using the camera function on my laptopeleven in 2007, four in 2008 – but they weren’t the same. Lacking regularity or purpose, made in response to boredom and without the camera’s ability to cut me off if I waffled, they devolved into indulgent ramblings about whatever it was I thought interesting and profound at the time – topics which, in retrospect, usually weren’t. Given another few years, there’s every chance I’ll find them as interesting as the original 33, but right now, they’re just that little bit too recent for proper retrospect: the only lesson I can take from them now is that I’m not always as fascinating as I might think.

As I type this, I’m lying on a borrowed bed. The computer clock has just ticked on past 12AM: technically, it’s Wednesday already, which means that tomorrow night – Thursday night – we’ll board the plane for Scotland. Not a new life, because that implies escape, or erasure somehow, as though I were trying to forget Melbourne and what living here has meant to us. But a new start? Definitely. And with everything that entails – with the ghost of my teenage self still flickering in my vision – I think that, like 2005 before it, 2011 will be a year worth documenting, too. It just so happens that I received another new digital camera for Christmas: a belated replacement for the earlier model, which died some time ago. The new video function cuts out after eight minutes, not six. But then, I’m older now. Perhaps I’ll have that little bit more to say.

Something old. Something new. Something borrowed.

Something true.

This time last year, Toby and I were still in England. On New Year’s Day, we walked through the snow in Leatherhead, Surrey and talked about what we wanted most for 2010. Among the usual small hopes were two important ones: a successful debut for Solace & Grief, and a chance to come back to the UK. It’s taken a lot of hard work, but we’ve achieved both those things. The Key to Starveldt is due for release this year, and in just five days, we’re moving to Scotland for a minimum of eighteen months. It is thrilling, terrifying, wonderful. We worked hard for this, and the reward of actually getting it is monumental. And now we’ve crossed the threshold of another new year, and we get to do it all over again: more work, more plans, more effort and hope and sheer hard yakka, because both of us have the kind of dreams that are easy neither to achieve nor dismiss.

I want to be a professional writer. Toby wants to be a professional academic. In bald terms, we already are these things, but there are no laurels to rest on for being able to claim that much, and even if there were, I doubt we’d be content to do so. Stories are the blood in me, just as my husband breathes philosophy. We understand and love that about one another, the degree to which who we are cannot be readily separated from our aspirations. This year, we have a real chance to make something of ourselves in the ways that matter most to each of us. We have come this far, but the aim is to go much further. And I think – I hope – we can do it.

Beyond all that, I still want the same small things for 2011 that I want every year: to eat healthily and exercise regularly, to pay off our debts and live within our means, to try new things while reconnecting with old passions. It might seem repetetive and futile make the same resolutions each year – or at least, it would do, if any of them were finite achievements. The point of such things isn’t to find some magic, perfect level of successful compliance and declare yourself done, but to constantly look for improvement. This past year, my domestic skills have started to be worthy of the name, not because I suddenly woke up one morning with a desire to be tidy, but because I spent months telling myself that I needed to be. Because in a lot of ways, the biggest change of 2010 – and the one I’m most keen to uphold in 2011 – was the realisation that I could set goals for myself and reach them, even if they were difficult.

Maybe I’ve just grown up. But I hope not. I like having room for development.

Happy 2011, everyone!

I’ve read some truly awesome books this year: new releases, recent discoveries and old favourites alike. So as December draws to a close, and before I generate that glorious blank slate which will become the list of books I read in 2011, here are my favourite 10 books of 2010, recorded in the order of their reading.

(Warning: from memory, all linked reviews contain spoilers.)

Thirteenth Child ‚Äď Patricia C. Wrede

This book blew me away with its original mix of magic, family troubles, cultural upheaval and expansion in an alternate American west where steam dragons roam the wild, and where Eff, as a thirteenth child and natural magician, must struggle against superstition and ignorance in order to control her powers. I reviewed it here, and cannot wait for the next volume.

Liar ‚Äď Justine Larbalestier

It’s actually impossible to review this book without spoiling it, which is what you get when the premise of an unreliable narrator is taken to its most skillful extreme. Trust me: however you try to categorise this book, you’ll be wrong. Just read it and find out why.

Guardian of the Dead ‚Äď Karen Healey

A fast-paced, original novel that systematically addresses all the worst, most cliched tropes of the YA urban fantasy genre by replacing them with AWESOME. Magic based on the mythology of different cultures! A realistic heroine who is the exact polar opposite of Too Stupid To Live! Murder! Mystery! Shakespeare!

The Demon‚Äôs Lexicon ‚Äď Sarah Rees Brennan

You know how in a lot of YA love triangle stories, it’s blatantly obvious who the third wheel is from the outset, and how the bad boys aren’t actually bad so much as wearing leather jackets and brooding on how best to express their love? Well, Sarah Rees Brennan sort of kicks all that bullshit hard in the dates while simultaneously writing a story that is sexy, fierce and gripping.

Poison Study ‚Äď Maria V. Snyder

A fantastic exploration of why no culture is perfect, written around a unique premise and narrated by a singularly strong, compelling female lead. This is the book that rekindled my dormant love of epic, as opposed to urban, fantasy, and for that I am truly grateful. My review is here.

Cold Magic ‚Äď Kate Elliott

A truly amazing novel, based on the most interesting alternate history premise I’ve ever encountered and fleshed out by the enviable worldbuilding skills of Kate Elliott. Great characters, a compelling plot, and an all-round antidote to the claim that steampunk is only ever about rich, white aristocrats in Victorian times. My long review is here.

Skinned ‚Äď Robin Wasserman

An electric, confronting exploration of a classic cyberpunk scenario: what if a human mind were downloaded into a man-made body? Following in the footsteps of Motoko Kusanagi, Wasserman’s heroine Lia Khan lends an incredible narrative voice to a story that grips from the first page and never lets go.

White Cat ‚Äď Holly Black

This book is so skilfully written, it’s only when trying to write a condensed summary that you realise just how much is packed into it. From the perils of living with a family of confidence tricksters and criminals to a unique alternate, modern-day Earth where illegal magic is wielded through the bare touch of skin on skin, White Cat is an extraordinary novel.

Shadow Queen/Shadow Bound ‚Äď Deborah Kalin

I’m sort of cheating here, because these are two books, but events flow so smoothly between them that they read as a single offering. Deborah Kalin has managed the excruciatingly difficult task of writing a story which, despite the flawedness and bastardy of its characters, nonetheless remains grounded, human and deeply sympathetic. My review is here.¬†

Fire ‚Äď Kristin Cashore

A breathtaking exploration of romance, power, feminism and the morality of control set in a lush world of politics, betrayal and monsters. The sequel to Graceling, Fire cements Kristin Cashore’s place as a master writer of terrific characters, nuanced plots and the angelic devilry of ordinary people.

And now, bring on the awesome books of 2011!