I've popped over to McVoices to write the post on account of the strong Scottish links here.
The biggest surprise to me came in the form of a poetry collection entitled How I Learned To Sing by Mark Robinson. Mark has quite a background in terms of writing and the arts. He was the producer of Scratch magazine and the executive director of Arts Council England North East for a number of years among many other interesting things related to creative projects. How I Learned To Sing was published by Smokestack Books in 2013. It's a hugely engaging read and is a real emotional roller coaster of a ride. To follow the circles of life through such a collection as this is a magical thing. Here's what I said back in the summer:
'I’m sure that all who come to read it will take their own versions and interpretations away with them. For me, I felt reassured about my own life somehow, as if the journey through the ups and downs helped me to work something through my system that needed shifting.
Totally engaging, hugely enjoyable and ultimately rather uplifting.'
You really don't have to love poetry to get a kick from this and I can't recommend it highly enough It's a treasure.
Next on the list, Cry Uncle by Russel D McLean. It's set in Dundee and really depicts the city wonderfully (unless you're looking it from the point of view of the tourist board). Here were my thoughts:
'I loved Cry Uncle and urge you to check it out. It works on so many different levels that I’m sure it has a broad appeal. Those who like a thriller, a PI novel, a police story or a brutal gangland battle should be fully engaged. As a bonus there are great character studies, curve-balls and tender moments. There’s even an ending that has something about the Count Of Monte Cristo to it and that’s saying something.'
Third on the list, Old Gold by Glasgow's Jay Stringer. This one's set in Jay's own roots in the Midlands. It came out in 2012, so I was a little late to the party, but I'm glad I eventually arrived
'What I think I particularly enjoyed is the subtlety of the writing. Nothing is overblown. Everything comes in the right measure. The pace is terrific, constantly building yet never rushing to get to the end. The hoods are very well-formed, but are far from being caricatures. The hard-boiled swipes are there, but are more like body-softening jabs than knockout punches. The Midlands works superbly as a backdrop, as a place that is at once familiar and new. Nothing is crammed into the plot for its own sake – everything, including the denouement, works effortlessly. Eoin is complex and interesting, but his facets are introduced and explored gradually rather than in one big bang. There’s also a gentle exploration of a range of issues relating to gender, race, inequality and politics that provide plenty of food for thought (the label I’ve seen given to the book is ‘social pulp’ and that goes some way to covering it).'
And last but not least, the wonderful Angels Of The North by Ray Banks.
It's a mystery to me that this book hasn't become a smash hit. It's so well put together that it really deserves to be on thousands of shelves and kindles around the country.
'This is a brutal book that speaks about a dark and troubled time that will be ever present as long as there are people on the planet. It doesn’t hold back in any way and, in that sense, if feels totally honest. Ray Banks hasn’t compromised at any point. He’s not ducked out of any of the big issues by diluting his work to suit a conservative audience. He’s not avoided peeling back the layers of humanity to leave a warts-and-all package. There are no contrived plot-twists and the developments feel organic and natural. This honesty serves to make the story all the stronger.
If that weren’t enough, Angels Of The North is written with a terrific style and voice. Best of all for this reader is the quality of the simile and of the amazing descriptive powers on show, for this is another area where I reckon Ray Banks truly excels.
Add to all of that a subtle humour and a great rhythm to the dialogue and you have yourself something rather special. '
I'd also like to throw in a mention for Number Thirteen press. They're a bit like the pop up shop of the writing world, aiming to put out thirteen books in as many months. Three I'll pick for now are Steve Finbow's Down Among The Dead, Paul D Brazill's Kill Me Quick (available for pre-order now) and Aidan Thorn's When The Music's Over. Pick any of those, and you'll be in for some solid story-telling.