Tag Archives: non-fiction

It’s 2019 and I’ve got Goals with a capital G

Happy New Year, everyone! My regular followers might have noticed that my output in 2018, and for that matter in 2017, hasn’t exactly been high. Part of that, I think, was fatigue around blogging and part was having quite a lot else on to worry about in my personal life. But 2019 is going to be different. Honest. While a lot of 2018’s worries haven’t gone away, with a new year comes a fresh outlook.

This is a quick update about my goals for the year and what I’ve got planned. So let’s get right to it.


Last year was a dismal year for me as far as reading was concerned. I barely read anything and didn’t review what I did read. This year I’ll do better. I’ve set a goal on Goodreads to read 24 books in 2019 – that’s two per month. And I don’t think I’ll have any trouble finding 24 books to read, between my “to read” pile (utterly massive) and the books coming out this year that I’m excited about (loads of them). I plan on reviewing any fantasy novels I read right here, but I’ll keep track of everything else – which is likely to include historical fiction and loads of non-fiction – with quarterly updates on my progress towards my 24 book goal, much like I did back in 2016.


I’ve been hard at work in the last few months working out what I want from my current novel. I now have a working title – Feud and Fire – as well as a general outline, a lot of notes about themes, particular plotlines, character and the world, and at the end of December I started the latest draft. I am happy with where I am with this story. My goal for 2019 is to write it, edit it and get it to a refined final state. Whether I then consider submitting for publication or decide there’s more work to be done is something I’ll decide when I get to that point.

I am also planning on writing some short fiction in 2019. I spend so much time working on these big novels, that a short break after finishing the Feud and Fire draft would be an ideal time to practice a shorter format, especially since I have enjoyed reading short fiction in 2018 (just about the only type of story where I have read more than previous years, thanks to the Daily Science Fiction emails I receive) and it’s been a while since I’ve written any.

Later this week I’ll be taking a look at how things stand for my One Million Words Challenge. I started it back in 2015 but stopped keeping track of it after a while. I have, however, continued to date each new document I create and each day of handwritten fiction in my notebooks, so it should only take an hour or two to get a fairly good idea of my overall total, by simply adding up the wordcounts of the numerous documents I have created since I started and adding an estimate of the handwritten stuff based on multiplying an average page wordcount by the number of pages.


Yep, this is something I’m planning on increasing this year. I can hardly do worse than last year, so I’ve got that going for me. But in fact I’ve got a few ideas planned out, and with all that reading I’ll be doing there are bound to be a few reviews at the very least.

So that’s the plan for this year.

What about you? Do you have reading and writing goals for 2019? What are they? How do you think you’ll do? Did you meet your 2018 goals?

Review: The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, by Mark Forsyth

I don’t know if you lot have noticed, but I’m a bit of a nerd. Last year I went to my local library and borrowed The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth and enjoyed it so much I bought a copy and then read it again. It now resides on my desk in my “reference” section. So when I spotted The Etymologicon by Forsyth in a bookshop a month ago, I had to go back on payday and buy it.

The Etymologicon is, as the title suggests, about etymology. Forsyth examines the roots of common words and how they connect to one another, in a familiar and engaging style that wanders this way and that through Latin, French, German, Chinese, Greek and all the way back to Proto-Indoeuropean. He fills his account with snippets and quotes that delight and amuse, such as this from the chapter “Dick Snary”:

I do love a pun, and I am impressed that Forsyth has found such an old one. And what better than some word-play to illustrate the history of a book that lists words in a book about the origins of words? Wonderfully approriate!

If you are looking for depth, this isn’t the book for you, since Forsyth lingers only long enough to impart the important information, plus perhaps a tangent or two and and an amusing story, before moving on to the next word. The benefit of this approach is that you never get bored and you’re always learning something new; if you want to delve a little deeper into a word, there’s nothing to stop you heading over to Google or Wikipedia, or Forsyth’s key sources (provided at the end of the book), to find out more.

I rate The Etymologicon 9/10. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and heartily recommend it to anyone who’s a bit of a word nerd. It’s easy to dip in and out of too, so it would do nicely on a coffee table – or in the bathroom.

2015: a year for more reading

I’ve been rather lax in my reading lately. I’ve let other things distract me, let games and forums soak up all my free time in mindless distraction. It’s not that I haven’t read, it’s just that it’s been rather background. I managed three books in six days in early December when I was cut off from my normal routine and my PC when travelling to France for my grandfather’s funeral, and that’s evidence enough for me that I can still devour books if I have the time for them and am enjoying them. So I’m going to make time by giving up Reddit from the 1st of January 2015, for at least a month, and setting aside half an hour before bed besides that for reading.

But more than that, I’m setting a goal: I’m going to read 26 books I otherwise wouldn’t have in 2015. Excluded from the list are the authors I’ve been reading for years, the books I’m currently eager to get my teeth into, the books I have on pre-order for when they are finally published in June. I figure it’d be cheating to set a goal to read a book when I know I won’t be able to resist it anyway – or to include a book I suspect I may just finish before this year is out.

My list is designed to help me widen my reading, expand my literary horizons. It includes both fiction and non-fiction, because there’s plenty I’d like to learn about the world as well. At the moment the list is incomplete; I welcome suggestions. Here it is:


To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee

I really should have read this by now; it’s been on my Kindle for months, ever since that whole thing about how hated Education Secretary Michael Gove wants to drop it from the curriculum. I did read a few pages, but didn’t get far into it. So now I’m giving myself a kick. It’s on the list, I have to read it.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I don’t know much about this book except that it comes highly recommended by my brother’s girlfriend, who told me it made her think and that it’s her favourite book. So I’m gonna see what all the fuss is about.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’ve been meaning to read this but haven’t quite gotten around to it. Now I’ve got it in paperback, a Christmas gift from my parents, to whom I mentioned it a while back. No more excuses.

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

My sister bought this for me last Christmas; it’s been sitting unread for a whole year, and author I hear mentioned a lot in fantasy forums but whom I have never read. So it’s time I rectified that.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I bought this second hand about a year ago and haven’t got round to it yet. I’ve been holding off seeing the film until I read the book.

Remembrance of the Daleks by Ben Aaronovitch

Another Christmas gift from last year that I’ve been ignoring on my bookshelf for a year. And I was so enthusiastic in thanking the friends who gifted it to me, it would make me disingenuous to not actually read it. I have seen the Doctor Who episodes it’s a novelisation of and I enjoyed that so there’s no reason I shouldn’t like this book.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis

Yes, I must admit to having never read this book. I have of course seen the film adaptation from a few years ago, and I think I saw the animated adaptation when I was a kid, but for a fantasy fan this is rather a big oversight.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

I’m not particularly up to speed on some of the “classics”, the “must-reads”. Yes, I’ve read Jane Austen and the Brontës, and, well, I was involved in a production of Oliver! once, does that count for Dickens? Well, anyway. Moby Dick has had a pretty big impact on popular culture so I figure I’d best include it.


I decided to include non-fiction in my reading goals both because I have an interest in learning about the Earth’s history and because I can use what I find in my own fiction, either as the inspiration for stories or to help me flesh out my worlds.

Did Moses Exist? The Myth of the Israelite Lawgiver by D M Murdock

I downloaded this after hearing about it and some of the stuff in it on the Thinking Atheist podcast, but it’s pretty academic in tone so I gave up after a little while and haven’t looked at it again since. Still, it is interesting and I do have an interest in how myth develops, so in 2015 I’m determined to get through it.

1177BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed by Eric H Cline

This one came recommended by historical writer and cricket enthusiast Tom Holland, who I follow on twitter. I downloaded the sample, enjoyed it, and asked for it for Christmas from my parents, who happily obliged.

China: A History by John Keay

This is probably the book I’ve had on my Kindle for the longest without having read it – a total of 2 years. Shameful, I know. Not even glimpsed inside the pages. But given that my knowledge of China’s history can be summarised as: “Great Wall, gunpowder, Ming vases, Mulan” it’s probably time I read up on it and found out something I didn’t know before.

1491 by Charles Mann

Just as I don’t know about China, I also know very little about pre-colonial Americas. I have been watching the Jago Cooper programmes on the BBC about Lost Kingdoms of South America and Lost Kingdoms of Central America, which I thought were really well put together and fascinating, and something I want to learn more about. This book came highly recommended on the /r/AskHistorians subreddit booklist so I figured I’d give it a go.

Pagan Britain by Ronald Hutton

Another book recommended by Tom Holland via twitter. In fact he’s been tweeting bits from it, little nuggets that have got me very interested indeed. I have studied pre-Roman Britain before, inclduing as part of my degree, but usually in the context of Roman Britain, and even then, not too deeply. Still, it’s a period of British history that really fascinates me and about which I’d like a more rounded understanding.

God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam

This is another /r/AskHistorians recommendation. It’s often asserted that Christianity set back scientific advancement, and while in some respects that has been true, the assumption that this was a blanket approach, even policy, is absurd, especially when it was the church itself, the monks in the monasteries, which deliberately preserved ancient manuscripts by Greek and Roman natural philosophers. This history of scientific and technological development is one that interests me, both from the historical perspective and from the perspective that I’m a writer, and learning about the past helps me shape the world of my fiction. I’m hoping this book will help me learn more about the development of science in the medieval period, both because it’s interesting and because I can use it.

So that’s my list so far.

It’s only 14 books, not the 26 I’m aiming for, but it is a solid start. If anyone happens to feel like recommending anything else I’m open to suggestions. I won’t be including authors I have read a lot of before in this list – so that rules out Terry Pratchett, David Gemmell, Diana Wynne Jones, Robin Hobb, Mark Lawrence, Patrick O’Brian, Bernard Cornwell and Ellis Peters. For fiction, I think stuff outside fantasy would be best, since I want to widen my reading, not just read more within my genre.

For non-fiction my initial thoughts tend towards the history of astronomy and astrology, because humans have been looking at the stars for millennia, trying to make sense of it and trying to see if it could give them insights into their own lives. I’m also interested in reading about mythology, and this ties back in with astrology, because I’ve always had an interest in what people believed about the world – and the universe – around them, trying to conjure up explanations for the things they’ve seen and heard but not understood.

I’ll keep my eye out for books I can add to my list over the next few days, and hopefully have a complete list for the start of 2015, but if there are still spots unfilled I don’t see it as a disaster; there’s bound to be something that catches my eye before the year is up.

In the meantime, I plan on blogging about each book on the list as I finish it. 2015 is not just a time for more reading, it’s a time for being more active in general, including on this blog.