2021 – A Look Back

2021, much like it’s bastard sibling 2020 is about to retreat into dust in the rear-view mirror. May it burn in hell.

That said, aside from the plague and the world burning up and the Tories, there have been a few really amazing pieces of literature brought out that have lifted me from out of the doomscrolling and misery. I thought I’d share a few books that have helped to make this year memorable. They’re in no particular order where possible please try to buy them locally and from an independent.

Hinton Hollow Death Trip – Will Carver

It’s no secret that I love Will Carver’s work. Sometimes you just click with an author. Nothing Important Happened Today is perhaps ironically, a very important book for me, so I was very interested to read Hinton Hollow Death Trip and see whether Carver could keep up his hit rate. Oh boy… What a read. A dark, funny, sardonic takedown of British small town life. Written from the perspective of Evil itself (seriously, it’s so well done), this book takes you places you don’t want to go and makes you look at the wreckage even when you want to turn away.

Deity – Matt Wesolowski

Six Stories is the best crime series out there at the moment. Bar none. Fight me. Deity is the sixth installment, the books are only connected by the central figure, podcaster Scott King so you can dip in and out at any point. Deity focuses on a titan of the pop world, his death in a fire and increasing rumours of not only his “habits” but his involvement in the occult. As ever, the narrative is deftly woven between horror and crime, all packaged into the wonderful podcast format. Definitely worth a read.

The Saturday Night Ghost Club – Craig Davidson

There’s so much to love about this book. The blurb mentions Stranger Things but there’s something more tender, more emotive in this book. You peel back the mystery and the layers reveal a broken heart. One of my standouts of the year. Superb writing.

The Last Thing to Burn – Will Dean

This is a stunning, daring novel. So tense it literally made grip the book tighter. There is an intense, claustrophobic feel to the text. A horror here beyond the reach of most horror books. To say too much about the plot is to spoil it, but the awfulness of this book stayed with me for a long time.

Conviction – Denisa Mina

There’s clearly a theme emerging here, I love a book that mentions podcasts! This is another belter in which a pair of characters get sucked into a mystery and podcast their way out of it. The protagonist is spiky and brittle, truly memorable writing.

True Crime Story – Joseph Knox

I told myself I wasn’t going to play favourites with this list but I lied. This is my book of 2021. Absolutely extraordinary. An epistolary novel about the disappearance of a Manchester university student. The author inserts himself into the narrative. Honestly, just read it. A stunner.

The Dying Squad – Adam Simcox

A recently deceased detective must solve his own murder. Yeah – that logline got you too, didn’t it? There’s so much to love here. A twisty plot, examination of the machinery of the afterlife and a smart-arse sidekick. I can’t wait to see where this series goes.

The Run Fantastic – Luke Kondor

This book is absolutely batshit in all the right ways. A man dies and effectively tries to run himself back to life. This book has it all – wild imagination, a few really touching insights on life and death as well as some proper belly laughs. The Mighty Boosh meets Stephen King’s The Long Walk.

The Apparition Phase – Will Maclean

I read this on holiday in a few quick gulps. It’s one of the best modern ghost stories I’ve read. Haunting and touching in equal measure, this one hits all the right notes of the classic ghost story. Two school-aged twins decide to fake a ghost to scare a classmate. What can go wrong…

Dead Relatives – Lucie McKnight Hardy

Another belter to finish this list with. The stories within this collection are all superb. There’s a real Shirley Jackson feel to them. The unsettling within the everyday. That air of dread in familiar situations. There are some gut punches here and some genuine horror. I can’t wait to see what Lucie writes next.

That’s it from me for the book recommendations. Do you agree with any of them? Do you have any of your own? Tweet me – @danhowarth20 and let’s talk books.


Just One Thing

I achieved a writer goal earlier this week by making an appearance on one of my favourite podcasts – Luke’s Massive Storytelling Podcast Thing. I’ve written about the show here before but it’s hosted by Luke Kondor, one of the head honchos at the magnificent Hawk & Cleaver who produce The Other Stories podcast.

I chatted with Luke about “writing like a pro” which considering I don’t make a whole lot of money from my writing might be slightly misleading on my part but the main feeling here is adopting a professional mindset. Just because I’m not earning big money from doing what I love doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take it seriously and treat it like a real job. After all, writing is real work as anyone who has ever finished a novel can attest.

One thing I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now is something that’s tangential to my writing routine. Every day I write a minimum of 1,000 words Monday – Friday. I give myself the weekends off as they’re often hectic (and unpredictable) and I like to spend as much time as possible with my wife and daughter.

I’ve previously posted about training myself to cram writing sessions into short time periods, it hasn’t come easily but it does work for me. Now it’s a routine and has been for years, it feels like it’s lost a bit of its impact. I used to get a real visceral rush from making 1,000 words in the early days, nowadays, it’s what I expected from myself so I’ve had to invent other ways to keep me going.

I’ve started trying to make sure that in addition to the 1,000 words, I’m doing one extra “writer” thing a day. I try to do something else on top of that that will add something to my writer’s toolbox. Some days I’ll listen to an author podcast or interview for some inspiration or tips, other days I’ll hunt down an article or watch a quick YouTube video to give the edge. My favourite days are when I can beta read stories for my friends.

Some days, simply reading extra is what gets me there. I read in bed every night like most of us but I’ve started sneaking extra in through audiobooks or reading while my daughter watches TV or when I get a quiet moment as she’s going to bed.

This isn’t something I necessarily record but it’s something I always strive to do. Quite often in the past, if I found myself with a spare ten minutes I’d put the TV on and catch up on the news or the football highlights. Those things are great but it really got me thinking about what they added to my life. They were like junk food for my time. Tasty and nice in the moment, but long-term they didn’t do anything good for me. So I chopped them out. Now I sneak podcasts or reading into those gaps and try to soak up as much knowledge or useful input as possible.

It doesn’t take much but trying to cram in one extra writing “thing” every day has made a real difference. That way, when I go to bed every night, I can point to that one thing beyond writing that I did today to try to help me improve as a writer. It all counts.

I’ve also included a link to a few things that have been helping me lately. Let me know if any of them work for you: –

Will Dean Author Channel on YouTube. Will’s channel is so helpful and generous with very candid advice about getting an agent, staying in the author mindset and finding out some great books to read.

The Failing Writers podcast. I’ve only just discovered this one but they’ve had some great interviews with Gillian McAllister and CJ Tudor (amongst others) about going from writing zero to hero.

Chuck Palahniuk newsletter. Chuck has just started a new newsletter through Substack (where he will eventually publish a novel) in which he discusses craft, resourcefulness and mindset for writers. So far, it’s been excellent.

Writer Unboxed. This one slipped off my radar for a while but it’s back in a big way. There are so many articles and columns on here to dig into, covering pretty much every writing topic you can imagine.

And of course, if you fancy checking out what I’ve been on about during my appearance on Luke’s show, click the mildly terrifying picture of my face below to get the podcast into your ears.

Until next time.