My Year in Books 2014

They say books hold up a mirror to who you are, as well as windows to other worlds. I thought I'd look back at what I read in 2014 to see where I've been!


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellEleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell was the first book I read in 2014. It is set in 1986 -  the year I met my husband, the year the Philippines had a revolution. The details are super authentic and made think: hey, Rainbow Rowell must be MY age! But when I looked her up, oh boy. She's just a baby compared to grizzled old me.

Here Lies Arthur by Philip ReeveHere Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve. I've got a proper version of this book of course. But I had a sudden longing to read the opening chapters again. So I got a Kindle version too. Anyone who loves good writing will adore this cross-dressing, re-envisioning of an epic tale.

Mister Pip by Lloyd JonesMister Pip by Lloyd Jones. Another re-reading! I am currently writing a historical novel, in which I'm crafting a massive culture clash not just between West and East, but between past and future. Because I write both for a Western and a Filipino audience, I am constantly aware that what one reader from one culture will find acceptable may be totally repulsive to another. I went back to Mister Pip to experience again how Lloyd Jones manages to be unflinchingly true to a painful setting.

Running Girl by Simon Mason
Running Girl by Simon Mason. This is a mystery of the hard-boiled kind - and its hero is a 16 year old genius / slacker named Garvie Smith, described by the Guardian as "sharper than Sherlock, more moral than Marlowe, and way too cool to be in school." Garvie solves a murder mystery while dodging his determined mum and Police Inspector Raminder Singh who is always just one step behind. Please let there be more Garvie mysteries.

Phoenix by SF SAID
I took forever writing Shine -- three years. But SF Said has to win the Endurance Prize, taking seven years to finish Phoenix. It's completely different from anything out there at the moment and don't miss the brilliant book trailer made by illustrator Dave McKean.


Then in February, I read three books that starred characters plagued by demons not of their own making. Unputdownable Salvage by Keren David takes a brother and sister separated by adoption and explores the painful realities of nature and nurture. In Close Your Pretty Eyes by Sally Nicholls you feel like a hapless companion to Olivia as she careens through her own emotional minefield. Tulip in The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine is in a similar predicament. I read it for the first time because I was speaking to some girls who'd just read it in class. We had a fantastic discussion about empathy.  

By March, the CILIP Carnegie shortlist was announced.

I read a couple of the happy ones first: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell  and Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead. Man, there is such warmth and kindness in Rebecca Stead's books. And I loved the fortune cookie bit. Katherine Rundell has an engaging, whimsical style -- I hope there are more Rooftoppers books because the world on the rooftops part ended too quickly for me. I wanted more!
Blood Family by Anne Fine, Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper, All The Truth That's In Me by Julie Berry, The Bunker Diary by Kevin BrooksThen I read Anne Fine's Blood Family, which was wow but pretty heartbreaking. Anne Fine is never the first to look away when a plot is playing chicken.

I read Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper of The Dark is Rising fame, not quite my thing but it had a twist right in the middle that jolted me right out of my seat! I love lyrical writing and debut Julie Berry of All the Truth That's In Me is definitely an author to watch! I started The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks, but I'm not a very brave reader and I had to stop fairly early on. I will try to finish it sometime. But with all the lights on.

Sadly, I got busy and didn't manage to read the other Carnegie books. The Bunker Diary won, and I was kicking myself for putting it down too quickly.


My friend Cliff McNish is known for his creepy, scary books. His latest, published in April certainly gave me a start ... but for other reasons. Going Home, about dogs in a rescue centre, was sweet and heartwarming. Sweet? Heartwarming? Cliff McNish?

Speaking of heartwarming, another favourite author who's somehow turned to the light side is Marcus Sedgwick. The brilliant She is Not Invisible had no beheadings and no gruesome deaths.  Marcus, Cliff, are you guys on heartwarming medication or something?
About that time, my author pal Jon Mayhew (Mortlock) messaged to ask me to stand in for him at a school visit in my area. Sure, I said. And then, as authors do, we got to talking about books.

You've got to read The Girl Who Had All the Gifts by M R Carey, Jon said. But it's a zombie novel! I said. You'll see, he said. So I read it. Ahhh! Wonderful - I had no idea that zombie novels could be so filled with pathos.


About May, someone asked me what I was going to do about my unpublished novel Volcano Child.

Well ... I've cannibalised so many ideas and characters from Volcano Child for Tall Story and Shine. Volcano Child needs a total reimagining. So I'm thinking of turning it into a fantasy adventure for younger readers.

To research fantasy fiction, villains, monsters and magical settings, I read Doomspell by Cliff McNishThe Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black. Brilliant stuff.

What did I learn? It's NOT going to be easy. I had thought I could write the adventure book in the afternoon and my historical work-in-progress in the morning. No, no, no. Focus, Candy. I got back to work on the historical book.


Spring was an explosion of graphic novels.

Line of Fire, Hilda and the Midnight Giant,

I took an evening course in graphic novels at the suggestion of my friend Bridget Strevens who, ever since we met, has been convinced that I'm an illustrator pretending to be a writer.

After the course (with Emily Haworth-Booth), I realised that Bridget might be right. I LOVED it.

I realised that I'd been suppressing my love of drawing maybe because I can barely keep up with myself now, why take up yet another interest?

I think it's too late now to train to become an artist of the caliber of Craig Thompson (Habibi), Stephen Collins (The Gigantic Beard that Was Evil), Isabel Greenberg (The Encyclopedia of Early Earth) and Jon McNaught (Dockwood).

I was very much intrigued though by the non-fictionish storytelling of Pyongyang by Guy Delisle and Line of Fire by Barroux (translated by Sarah Ardizzone) and Fun Home, Alison Bechdel's autobiographical reflections.

The graphic novelist I'd most like to emulate? Marjane Sartrapi who applies magical realism to true stories like Chicken With Plums.


Reading graphic novels reminded me that, before I became a novelist, I had wanted to write and draw picture books. I gave up when my picture book rejection pile outgrew its shoebox and turned to novel writing instead. Should I return to that dream?

In the summer I signed up for SCBWI's picture book retreat. What a joy to hang out with illustrators. They sit around scribbling in their sketchbooks all the time. It kind of re-orients your brain.

I've joined a picture book critique group to focus my mind. I'm writing picture books again. Fingers crossed, maybe this time I'll be more successful.

Meanwhile, oh the stories, oh the pictures, here are some picture books to fall in love with:

My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown, On Sudden Hill by Linda Sarah, Specs for Rex by Yasmeen Ismaili, Max the Brave by Ed Vere, How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens, There was a Wee Lassie Who Swallowed a Midgie by Rebecca Colby, The crocodile Who Didn't Like Water by Gemma Merino, No Such Thing by  Ella Bailey


Then I realised that I had to crack on with the novel I was writing. I had a big book tour in the Philippines in September and I had to make lots of progress before then.

So I went on a frenzy of research which involved buying obscure, out of print books from obscure out of print online bookstores, downloading lots of diaries and old government documents from Open Library and, sigh, lovely research time at the British Library.

It looks like hard work, but the truth is ... it's addicting. I have to physically force myself to stop researching and get on with writing the book!

Go, go, go!


In September, I had an incredible book tour in and around Manila to launch Shine in the Philippines. Nineteen events in ten days! It was tough but wonderful. Unfortunately it meant I didn't get a chance for my usual trawl of Manila's bookshops. 

I did manage to acquire some treasure.

The delightful school series Supremo by Xi Zuq, illustrated by Al Estrella is funny, sweet and totally Filipino. Woman in a Frame by Raissa Rivera Falgi is about a girl who discovers the story behind a painting.

Moymoy Lulumboy Ang Batang Aswang (Moymoy Boy Monster) by Segundo Matias opens with a strange creature clutching a baby passing unnoticed in a mall because people think he's part of a Cosplay event. Anina ng mga Alon by Eugene Evasco caught my eye because of its cover, and when I opened it, I was hooked by the lyrical prose (you can hear me reading passages from it here). Fish Hair Woman by Merlinda Bobis -- I haven't read it yet but there's a woman with 12 metres of hair who trawls the river for corpses ... what's not to like?

The coolest thing I spotted though had to be Jomike Tejido's new series Jepoy Dyip (that's Filipino spelling for Jeep). Not only is it a young fiction series with lots of stories and cool characters, its a build it yourself town! Each episode introduces a new vehicle character. I bought the whole series for my nephew. I mentioned Jomike's incredible Foldabots characters and low cost pop up books in a video about the Asian Festival of Children's Content back in 2012.


Yup, I've done a lot of reading this year. A lot of it work-related. Which is my excuse for not yet reading Shattered, the third book in my friend Teri Terry's trilogy. I've left it so long, I'm going to have to start from the beginning and read all three in one go.

Another series I've got to catch up with is Mo O'Hara's My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish. I blinked and three came out all at once! And there's going to be a picture book too! (Wait, was that a secret? I hope not)

One of Us by Jeannie Waudby
2015 is gonna be a delight though. I'm SO looking forward to the publication of my friend Jeannie Waudby's book One of Us. Go, Jeannie!

Another friend Jo Franklin just got a book deal in the United States. At last, I will be able to read her book Hilf Ich Bin Ein Alien (Help! I'm An Alien!) in English!

Chitra Soundar
The Secret Dog by Joe Friedman is out in May. Joe's in my fiction critique group and I've read all the early versions. Can't wait to see it in print!

Chitra Soundar is in my other critique group and she seems to be roaring away with her Farmer Falgu series -- Old Macdonald doesn't hold a candle to what Farmer Falgu gets up to! I just got a copy of her second Farmer Falgu and I can't wait to read it!

And what about Sarah McIntyre? I haven't seen my lovely illustrator friend all year except via her blog. She's published THREE books this year -- There's a Shark in the Bath, Jampires with David O'Connell, Cakes in Space with Philip Reeve  -- how will I ever catch up? The woman is a whirlwind!

And hey, Jane McLoughlin, is your new book out in 2015?

In related news, writing buddy Kathryn Evans has at long last been discovered - her book More of Me will be published by Usborne in 2016. I've been in critique groups with Kathy and she writes with a to die for voice. Look out, world, your favorite author is about to be published! You can read about her amazing book-to-be here and her inspiring blog post announcing the deal is here.

... that was MY Reading Year. I can't wait to see what books will be coming my way in 2015. What was YOUR reading year like?