Six covers of books on my best of 2022 list.

Favourite reads of 2022

2022 went quickly, didn’t it?! As always, I’ve read some brilliant books this year, even though my MA studies and some health issues meant I didn’t read quite as many books as in 2021.

It’s been a very novel-heavy year, mainly because I’ve been looking for inspiration for my own novel-in-progress in terms of structure and themes. Did I find any? Sort of – but most importantly, I discovered MANY excellent novels and writers!

One thing I’ve noticed in compiling this list is that I haven’t read anywhere near as many fantasy and sci-fi books as usual, which is something to rectify next year and is probably because my own novel falls into the contemporary genre.

Also, I’m definitely going to read more short story collections and anthologies in 2023 – I can’t believe how few I’ve read this year! In my defence, most of my TBR books in this category have been under wraps for most of the year due to ongoing work to redecorate the living room, so I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with those next year.

Read on for my top picks, organised into three categories: novels and novellas, short stories and anthologies, and non-fiction. This year I’m linking to for most titles, as well as direct to indie publisher websites for some titles. As always, I don’t get any commission if you buy books using these links.

Novels and novellas

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead.Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

This book FLOORED me! Great Circle is an epic, gorgeously written historical novel about the dramatic, thrilling life of Marian, a female pilot, and Hadley, the present-day actress tasked with playing her in a film.

Shipstead digs into characters’ heads so well, bringing the reader as close to them as possible. I was hooked from the outset and, despite the fact that it’s almost 700 pages long, I honestly didn’t want to stop reading it.

I was most engaged with Marian’s story but I also thought Hadley’s contemporary plotline was really well done as a way of giving us an outside perspective on Marian’s life. Shipstead has done so much research into early female pilots and aviation that I honestly feel as if Marian was a real person! I still think about this story a lot, and about how it made me feel, which is a sign of a bloody good book if you ask me.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin.Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

I think this is my book of the year… What a beautiful, heart-rending novel this is! Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow follows Sam and Sadie from their meeting as children in the 80s through to their thirties, tracing the ups and downs of their friendship and game designing partnership in a non-chronological narrative peopled with a wonderfully drawn supporting cast of non-playable characters.

This is a warm, funny and sometimes sad love letter to video games and friendship that doesn’t require any prior knowledge of games at all, but is greatly enhanced if you too find yourself smiling at references to the likes of Harvest Moon and Maniac Mansion.

I’ve been looking for an excellent novel centred on video games and the people who make them for years, and I’m so glad that I’ve finally found it! It’s a gorgeous read and I’m so looking forward to reading it again soon.

Tell Me How To Be by Neel Patel.Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel

It feels like there are more and more novels being written by people from a similar background to myself, which is so very welcome! Tell Me How to Be is one of these novels and is a beautiful, gripping story of lost love and secrets among East African immigrants of Gujarati descent living in the US.

Tell Me How To Be follows two characters: Akash, a young gay would-be music producer and addict who has never come out to his family, and his widowed mother Renu, who seems to favour her eldest son over Akash and is keen to live in the way expected by the rest of the Indian immigrant community in Illinois.

I absolutely LOVED this novel! I was hooked from the outset and felt such an affinity with the family. The chapters are short and easy to whip through, and there’s plenty of humour despite the difficulties experienced by the characters. I also really enjoyed the references to 90s and early 00s music, a lot of which I remember from my teen years. 

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers.A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers

As you probably know, I’m a huge admirer of Becky Chambers and her wonderful brand of quietly devastating sci-fi, so I always pounce on her new releases as soon as I can. Happily, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy is a delightful, thoughtful follow-up to the excellent A Psalm for the Wild-Built, a solarpunk novella exploring a future world that’s a bit like ours.

We rejoin Sibling Dex and Mosscap as they continue their travels in a land where the news of Mosscap’s existence has quickly spread. Dex is no longer doing tea service for reasons that become apparent towards the end, and are a quiet nod to the limbo most of us endured when the COVID pandemic started.

Like the first book, this sequel gently encourages the reader to take joy in the small things when bigger events threaten to overwhelm us. A lovely read overall.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke.Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

A tantalising mystery in an eerily huge house that seems to go on forever…

I’m not going to say too much about Piranesi because the less you know, the more enjoyable it is (in my opinion anyway!). But it’s a cracking novel that’ll appeal to anyone who loves a possibly unreliable narrator in a wonderfully realised otherworldly setting.

I did wonder how on earth *anyone* could successfully follow up the wonderful Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but of course Susanna Clarke knows exactly what she’s doing!

Love Marriage by Monica Ali.Love Marriage by Monica Ali

A love story with a difference! It’s 2016 and London doctors Yasmin and Joe are engaged when their respective parents finally meet each other.

Yasmin’s parents are Indian immigrants with conflicting views on their Islamic faith (or lack thereof) while Joe’s white, divorced, glamorous mother prides herself on her close relationship with her son and her history of outraging people with her political and cultural views. That first meeting sets off a chain of events that uncovers a series of life-changing secrets, passions and frustrations…

I loved this book so much! The characters are memorable and human, and the plot compelling; this is very much accessible literary fiction. There’s plenty of humour alongside high emotion and mental turmoil, but above all, I loved the depiction of Yasmin’s family – they leap off the page and subvert the stereotypes of what is deemed a ‘typical’ Muslim/South Asian immigrant family. The depiction of the NHS doctors in both families is clearly very well researched and speaks so thoughtfully to the challenges faced by the NHS in current times.

Boulder by Eva Baltasar.Boulder by Eva Baltasar

Permafrost was one of my favourite reads of last year, so I was delighted when this translation of Boulder, the second book in Eva Baltasar’s triptych of woman-centred novellas, dropped on my doormat.

Boulder is another nameless protagonist who gets her nickname from Samsa, the woman she settles down with. Samsa is ambitious and knows exactly what she wants, while Boulder is looser in spirit; she misses her previous life as a ship’s cook but is genuinely in love with Samsa, so she goes along with her wife’s drive to have a baby even though she herself is ambivalent about the whole enterprise.

I won’t say too much more about the plot, which is simple yet compelling. Baltasar’s language and Julia Sanches’s excellent translation are, again, the stars of the show for me (again). As in Permafrost, Baltasar has a gift for turning everyday feelings and images into surprising, impressive pieces of poetic prose. Reading both books was like being violently yet pleasantly shaken awake for me, showing me how the most familiar things can be rendered anew. 

Appleseed by Matt Bell.Appleseed by Matt Bell

Appleseed is an ambitious, slow-burning and thought-provoking novel that explores climate change and the relationship between humans and the wild through three main point-of-view characters in three different time periods: Chapman, a faun roaming America with his human brother as European settlers arrive to populate the west; John, a scientist and activist in the near future who is disillusioned with the allegedly benevolent megacorporation he helped to found; and C-432, the lone inhabitant of an Earth that is undergoing another ice age in the far future.

What I appreciated most about Appleseed is the way that it avoids painting a black-and-white picture of the problems of and possible solutions to manmade climate change. In this respect, the novel reflects a lot of the discourse we see around the issue today, with differing opinions of what might help the world to avoid the sort of futures we see in Appleseed – rewilding, technology, new laws and governments, and so on. 

I also loved the blend of myth, history and science-fiction – it’s not something I’ve seen that much of before, and I think Matt Bell really pulls it off and creates a strong sense of wonder as a result. This is another book that I still think about from time to time.

Grown Ups by Marie Aubert.Grown Ups by Marie Aubert

Grown Ups is a story translated from Norwegian by Rosie Hedger, about a 40-year-old woman on a difficult holiday with her sister’s family.

Ida is single and yearning for a perfect life with a partner and children, a yearning that intensifies when she spends a few days with Marthe, her husband and his daughter in the family cabin – resulting in some secrets being spilled.

I loved Ida’s voice – she is clearly frustrated and wistful at the same time, jumping between despair and hope for her future. Her relationship with her sister is beautifully conveyed as a mixture of resentment and gentleness on both sides. Aubert has managed to do so much with so few words! This is a really good, short read that touches on some important truths about family and parenthood.

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden.Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden

I think this was my first read of 2022, and what a book to start the year with! Mrs Death Misses Death is a thrilling piece of experimental fiction in which death takes the form of an older black woman.

Godden uses prose, diary entries, poetry and transcripts to tell the story of Mrs Death and a young poet called Wolf who collects Mrs Death’s stories through what seems to be a magical desk. Wolf is orphaned and should have died in the same fire that took their mother, but Mrs Death chose not to take them too.

I don’t really know how to describe this book. Godden is a poet and it really shows in the writing, which is beautiful yet urgent. There’s not that much of a plot – the novel is definitely more of a polemic urging readers to seize life and remember the dead who were taken too soon. It was quite something reading this in a pandemic that has unnecessarily killed so many people.

For me, it was like a drink of ice cold water on a sweltering day, from the very first page. I didn’t know where the story was going to take me, and I’m still not quite sure where I ended up, but I loved the ride and wanted more!

You People by Nikita Lalwani.You People by Nikita Lalwani

You People is a gripping and evocative novel told from the point of view of two characters: Nia, a half-Bengali half-Welsh 19-year-old who has escaped from a brutal home environment to London, and Shan, a refugee from the war in Sri Lanka. Both are employed by Tuli, the owner of a pizza restaurant who seems to be in the business of helping estranged people like Nia and Shan.

Shan has the clearest plotline of the two POV characters; he left his wife and son in Sri Lanka with the intention of sending for them when he is settled in London, but instead loses touch with them and is worried that they have been caught up in the war. Nia is more of an observer than anything else, but she is compassionately painted by Lalwani nonetheless.

The first half of the novel was a it of a slow burn for me, but I was thoroughly gripped as the story headed towards the climax. This is such an important novel for opening readers’ eyes to the real problems faced by those escaping to Britain in search of a more stable life for their families, particularly in the sadly hostile environment that refugees are forced to endure when they get here. 

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart.Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

A devastatingly bleak but gripping novel about a young boy growing up with an alcoholic mother in 1980s Glasgow.

I found it had to settle into the book at first, purely because of the dark subject matter, but I was soon swept up in the complex and tenderly depicted relationship between Shuggie and his mother. This is definitely one for those who love to have their heartstrings tugged by an emotional story.

A deserving Booker winner!

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield.Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

I read this recently as winter started to bed in, and it was perfect for these cold, dark times: a thoroughly enjoyable and spooky Victorian mystery set on the banks of the Thames.

The mystery is set in motion when a strange man, photographer Henry Daunt, arrives at the Swan with a girl in his arms. He collapses and the girl is assumed dead – but then she comes back to life. Yet Henry doesn’t know who she is, or how exactly he came to rescue her. The child, who never speaks, exerts a strange pull on the local people and more than one claim is laid to her.

Surrounding all of this is the ebb and flow of stories – some true, some not, most somewhere in between – and the endless pull of the river itself…

I LOVED this book – it’s the perfect read for this time of year and the various characters are written so well. The multiple mysteries unravel in a highly satisfying manner while still leaving room for speculative musings like those of the regulars at the Swan. If you’re looking for an atmospheric novel to immerse yourself in during the winter, you can’t do much better than this one.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

A totally gripping read that fully deserves all the high praise!

Roy and Celestial are a newly married Black couple whose lives are overturned when Roy is convicted for a crime he didn’t commit, and sent to prison for 12 years. His conviction is overturned, but the consequences for Celestial and their marriage are not so easily reversed.

I loved this book – Jones must be a genius to pull off three different first-person narratives! She does such a great job of making them distinct from each other and making each character leap off the page. It’s a masterclass in understated writing that manages to pack an emotional punch.

More novels and novellas I enjoyed in 2022

Short stories and anthologies

Come Let Us Sing Anyway by Leone Ross.Come Let Us Sing Anyway by Leone Ross

I picked up this excellent collection with high expectations after absolutely loving Ross’s most recent novel, This One Sky Day, last year.

I’m happy to say that I wasn’t at all disappointed – her talent for creating unforgettable characters and putting them in weird, wonderful and sometimes tragic situations may have been rawer in Come Let Us Sing Anyway than in TOSD, but the stories are still engaging, funny, thought-provoking, sexy and so very clever.

I think my favourites were ‘Breakfast Time’, about a woman in hospital who has undergone surgery to help her lose weight, and the penultimate story ‘And You Know This’, which is a wonderful ode to female friendship set in a future where humans can live to 250. I always find it fascinating to see how novelists approach shorter forms, and Ross has demonstrated that she can master stories of all kinds of lengths.

Of Myths and Mothers.Of Myths and Mothers ed. by Isabelle Kenyon

I bought this after attending a launch event for the book, and it’s an *excellent* collection of distinct but connected stories.

Editor Isabelle Kenyon first read stories by award-winning author Gaynor Jones and poet Sascha Akhtar and saw a climate change theme emerging. However, stories from Clayton Lister, Helen Nathaniel-Fulton and Kenzie Millar also offered distinctive takes on motherhood and mythology.

Ranging from fairy tale retellings to haunting portraits of possible futures, all of the stories are compelling and deftly told – I really enjoyed reading such great tales from a diverse range of writers.

The Guts of a Mackerel by Clare Reddaway.The Guts of a Mackerel by Clare Reddaway

This is an excellent short story set in 1981. Eve is an English teenager on holiday in Ireland with her family. She’s excited about resuming a holiday romance with local boy Liam, but political events have changed the landscape, with consequences for Eve’s family.

It sounds a serious, grim read, but it isn’t – I enjoyed being in Eve’s head, unpredictable teenage-ness and all, and the political context (the Bobby Sands hunger strike) is treated sensitively. I’m really enjoying this series of shorts from Fly on the Wall Press and now need to read the rest!

Snapshots of the Apocalypse by Katy Wimhurst.Snapshots of the Apocalypse by Katy Wimhurst

This is an entertaining, thoughtful and sometimes dark collection of stories featuring characters striving to live in the aftermath of an apocalypse. 

I loved the strange, unsettling nature of many of the stories – some of the plots are really quite novel and I admire Wimhurst for coming up with such wonderful concepts! Everyday pursuits like knitting and gardening clash with the unreal feeling of living in a dystopia – something I think that a lot of us can relate to right now…

More short stories and anthologies I enjoyed in 2022

[Disclaimer: I have stories in both of the above anthologies, but I’m recommending these books for all the other pieces in them!]


Terry Pratchett: A Life in Footnotes by Rob Wilkins.Terry Pratchett: A Life in Footnotes by Rob Wilkins

A brilliant, heartbreaking insight into the life of one of our greatest authors…

Rob Wilkins was Terry Pratchett’s personal assistant and friend for many years, and therefore well-placed to use Pratchett’s notes for an autobiography to create this wonderful account of his formative years and early writing ambitions through to the final months of his life and career as a bestselling, much-loved author.

There is so much of Pratchett’s humour and personality throughout the book, even while we’re aware it has been written from the perspective of someone else. It’s right and proper that the book doesn’t focus on Pratchett’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and subsequent decline until close to the end of the book, because this is only one element of an incredibly rich life that gave joy to so many people, and it’s also right that Wilkins very much focuses on his own relationship with Pratchett rather than that of the family.

In the Shadow of the Mountain by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado.In the Shadow of the Mountain by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

This is a moving, inspiring memoir about one woman’s attempts to face up to the demons of her past by getting to the top of the world.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado grew up in a comfortable home in Peru with a strict father and loving mother. As the book opens, she’s on her way to summiting Mount Everest. She alternates between the climb and her past to show how she ended up attempting to scale the highest mountain in the world, beginning with the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a family friend as a child and going on to relay her adult life in the US, her struggle for acceptance as a gay woman and an almost life-long struggle with addiction.

I was totally gripped from the outset, although the parts about her abuse are really hard to read. Vasquez-Lavado’s writing is emotional and engaging, and she had all my sympathy from the beginning. Above all, this is a very human story about the ups and downs of life, and the impact of trauma on our sense of who we are. It’s incredible that she’s managed to salvage so much of herself after coming to terms with her losses. I’m just extremely admiring of her strength and will to keep going.

I would totally recommend this book if you’re in need of inspiration, even if – like me – you are very definitely not the mountain climbing type! It’s brilliant.

Mixed/Other by Natalie Morris.Mixed/Other by Natalie Morris

Mixed/Other is a thoughtful, nuanced exploration of the experiences of mixed people in Britain today. Morris draws on both her own life and the experiences of a variety of mixed contributors to show just how complex the mixed experience is, and how it’s impossible to lump all mixed people together to turn them into one homogeneous mass.

With chapters focusing on identity, family, romantic/sexual relationships, exoticisation, different ‘types’ of mixed backgrounds, passing, and work, the book draws on both research and anecdotes to make for an accessible, thought-provoking read.

The book has definitely led me, as a monoracial minority, to question my own assumptions about mixed people and look beyond stereotypes and physical appearance to consider individual experiences more. An essential companion to Afua Hirsch’s similarly excellent book Brit(ish).

Cold Fish Soup by Adam Farrer.Cold Fish Soup by Adam Farrer

Cold Fish Soup is a memoir in essays about Adam Farrer’s relationship with the seaside town of Withernsea, which is set on top of crumbling cliffs that are being gradually eroded by the sea.

The book is largely about Farrer’s fascination with the town, which his family moved to from rural Suffolk, and the people who live there. But Farrer puts a highly personal slant on the stories that he comes across, focusing on mental health through his own previous experiences and through the suicide of his older brother.

The results are moving and funny, but never overly sentimental or self-pitying. His tales of being bullied at school and never quite feeling like he fit in anywhere until he met his best friend at college are relatable, and his witty portrayals of his family, particularly his mother, are full of warmth and love. A really great, engaging read!

Once Upon a Time I lived on Mars by Kate Greene.Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars by Kate Greene

Kate Greene is a science journalist who took part in an experiment that recreated the experience of living on Mars with several other ‘astronauts’. This book, which takes the form of a collection of essays rather than a chronological narrative, is partly an account of the mission. But the story is also interweaved with Kate’s own thoughts and experiences as a queer woman who first became obsessed with space as a child.

It’s a brilliant, thoughtful hybrid memoir full of interesting facts about space missions and experiments gone by. It – along with the news of the incredible images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope – has reminded me of my own mild obsession with space and why I find it so fascinating. 

More non-fiction I enjoyed in 2022

Silver blister packs of tablets.

Living with migraine: my experience

This week marks Migraine Awareness Week, a campaign from The Migraine Trust. Although this year’s focus is on migraine in children and young people, in the spirit of raising general awareness of migraine I thought I’d write a little about my own experiences as an adult sufferer, in case this helps anyone else who suffers themselves, or knows someone who does.

Choose a headache, any headache

Anyone who has never really had them might associate migraines with an awful headache that requires the sufferer to immediately lie down in a darkened room while it passes; I’m pretty sure that I first picked up this connection from TV and films!

And that is definitely one type of migraine, but since getting my own diagnosis, I’ve learned that there are many different kinds of migraine with different triggers, warning signs (known as auras, which can be visual, auditory or physical), symptoms and treatments. It’s actually quite mind-blowing (no pun intended) how many forms migraine can take.

I’ve suffered with hormonal (or menstrual) migraines for a long time without really realising what they were until 2018, when I was also diagnosed with chronic migraine thanks to the sudden onset of two further kinds of headaches.

This means that I experience three different kinds of migraine – which, to be honest, seems slightly excessive! As well as the hormonal migraines I get twice a month, I have a constant low-level headache and other migraines that seemingly strike at random.

I can expect to get maybe 4 or 5 hormonal/random migraine attacks a month, lasting for anything from a few hours to a few days – and this is on top of the milder 24/7 headache. However, this has reduced a little as I’ve tried different treatments over the years, including headache prevention medication (more on that below).

I can’t emphasise enough how awful migraine can be. Not just in terms of physical pain, but also the mental toll it can take – sometimes I feel as if I’m locked in a constant war with my body.

It’s very frustrating that I can’t always make it behave the way I would like it to, and it’s hard not to dwell on the ‘beforetimes’ when I gleefully went through life migraine-free, totally unaware of what was going to hit me in early 2018.

I’m sure that anyone reading this who also suffers from chronic pain or any other kind of long-term/severe illness will know exactly what I mean (and, for most people, I suspect similar thoughts also come up in relation to COVID and the pre-pandemic days).

Scooby Doo in the bath with a monster appearing next to him.
Via Giphy.

On the bright side…

I’m one of the lucky ones – there are other chronic migraine sufferers out there who are in debilitating pain almost every day.

I can at least go about normal life most of the time if I plan around my hormonal migraines and try to avoid triggers for the random migraines – not enough sleep, not eating properly/regularly, too much screen time, stress, dehydration, extreme heat, poor/bright/flashing lighting… and probably others that I don’t know about.

For the random migraines, taking a type of medication known as triptans as soon as I start to feel one coming on can also make a huge difference in stopping them before they properly begin.

Due to other medical reasons, I’m currently unable to manage the hormonal migraines through things like the contraceptive pill, so I basically just have to put up with them.

However, I’ve been trying different headache prevention medications, and have settled on one that seems to have some positive effect. I take this every day and it seems to have helped shorten my hormonal and random migraines, which I’ll take over no improvement whatsoever! I’ve had to pretty much stop drinking alcohol because it exacerbates the side effects of the medication, but that honestly hasn’t been any great loss, and it probably means I’ve struck another potential migraine trigger off the list, too.

Exercise, especially cardio like running and other high-energy workouts, also helps the pain, at least temporarily, so I’ve made this a non-negotiable part of my routine (I’m a big fan of both the cardio and strength workout videos from Team Body Project, but obviously other exercising options exist). The hour or two of headache-free bliss that I get after a run is just pure joy.

A Muppet running.
Via Giphy

Living with migraine

A lot of the time, though, I have to accept that there’s not much I can do if all the usual things I try to prevent/treat a migraine simply don’t work. While researchers are still discovering potential new treatments for migraine, and I’ve spoken to some really helpful GPs and neurologists about managing migraine, no one actually knows exactly why people start to get certain kinds of migraine in the first place – which means there’s only so much I can do to help myself.

This has meant learning how to be a ‘patient patient’ instead of either pointlessly taking ineffective painkillers or continuing to work/write/try to do other normal daily activities throughout an attack – which really doesn’t come naturally to me!

I’m sure there are other things I could try to see if they help my migraines – acupuncture is suggested to me a lot, for example. And I’m sure I’ll get round to trying it and other things like cutting out all dairy and going vegan and whatever at some point. But it’s honestly *so* tiring trying new things only to realise that they don’t work and I’m back at square one.

It’s also tiring explaining to well-meaning people brimming with suggestions for miracle cures that I’ve tried this thing and that and there’s still no improvement (please read this great piece by one of my writer friends about the perils of constantly suggesting possible remedies to migraine sufferers!). It’s only been 4 and a half years for me – I can only imagine the suggestion fatigue experienced by those who’ve been getting migraines all their lives.

I guess the main takeaway from all of this is that migraine is such an individual experience – everyone who gets migraine will experience them slightly differently, for different (or unknown) reasons, and with different medications and practices that work/don’t work for them.

Also, it may not always be obvious to you who in your circle gets migraines, and you might not even know if you’re interacting with someone is having an attack right at that very moment. Migraine is more than just a bad headache – it can have profound effects on sufferers’ everyday lives and, when the symptoms are severe, it is really very sucky to go through.

If you want to learn more about migraines and how you can either seek help if you suffer from them, or how to help someone you know who gets them, The Migraine Trust’s excellent website has lots of info and a helpline where you can call or email health professionals and ask questions about migraine.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay.

A stand with copies of Into the Wilds.

Author events, publications and a holiday: yes, it’s another life update

It’s strange having things to update people on, but here I am!

It’s been a busy few months – the last module of my course finished in May, and now I’m working on my dissertation (a portfolio, basically) for submission in September. The MA has gone so, so quickly! Although it also feels like decades since starting the course online in 2020. I’ve already had some really useful feedback on the novel from my dissertation supervisor, although there’s still plenty of time for panicking/threatening to start all over again over the summer.

Events events events

The anthology that my fantasy story ‘The Shape of a Girl’ is in, Into the Wilds, was finally launched last week! It’s weird to remember that I wrote the first draft of this story in the first lockdown, before I even started my MA. My friend Jan wrote a beautiful, in-depth review of Into the Wilds and my story on her blog (which almost made me cry, I’m not going to lie), if you fancy having a read. I promise that no money was exchanged for the review!

Anyway, I took part in the Into the Wilds launch event at Waterstones Bradford for Bradford Literature Festival, along with the founders of Fox & Windmill and two other lovely contributors to the anthology.

A pre-event view from the balcony in Waterstones Bradford.

I was absolutely terrified, especially when we were told that almost 80 tickets had been sold! But the event went swimmingly, and I read a bit of my story and answered questions in what I hope was a vaguely literate manner. I even signed books like a proper author (so glad I practiced my author signature beforehand), and spoke to some south Asian writers afterwards who were inspired by the event to start or keep going with their writing – which is probably the best thing to come out of getting my story published, especially when I think about all the times I’ve come away from literary events feeling inspired!

I’m doing two more events for the anthology in Halifax and Huddersfield later this month – details are on my Events page (yes, I have an events page now!!!).

Me, Samina Bakhsh and Amaleena Damlé on stage.
Me, Samina Bakhsh and Amaleena Damlé on stage.

Other new publications

My retelling of a Hindu myth, ‘Tulsi’, is now up on Tasavvur for your reading pleasure. Tasavvur is a relatively new platform for SFF stories by writers from a south Asian background, and I was absolutely delighted to be published with them! I also got a lovely review of my story on, which pretty much made my week.

Another story that’s made its way online is a flash piece I wrote for National Flash Fiction Day, ‘The Eleventh Union’, which is available to read on The Write-In. I had great fun researching historical events for the prompt I chose (prompt 8) and the story itself slipped out quite easily (although the story/event it’s based on isn’t fun – sorry about that). I even read the story aloud at a local spoken word night the day before the Into the Wilds launch as a sort of test run. It should’ve made me more confident for Bradford, but I think I was equally nervous at both events…

Cover of Demos Rising from Fly on the Wall Press.

Then there’s another flash piece that’s going to be published in an anthology from the brilliant Fly on the Wall Press. FoTW is a Manchester-based small publisher that’s been doing great things for a while, and I’m so pleased to have a story in its upcoming Demos Rising anthology. The book is out in October and can be pre-ordered now if you so wish. If you do, you’ll be supporting both an amazing press AND Amnesty International, so please consider it! While you’re there, I really really recommend checking out some other FoTW books – I’ve read and loved Mancunian Ways, Fauna, Snapshots of the Apocalypse and Of Myths and Mothers, among others.

Other writing stuff

I’m doing #100DaysofWriting for the second time to spur me on with my dissertation. If you want to follow my progress (and maybe take part yourself…?) I’m posting updates on Instagram Stories.

The novel is going quite slowly at the moment, mainly because I’m refining a handful of chapters for my dissertation. I’m still relatively early on in the second draft. It’s hard to say when it might be totally finished – I think there may be at least one or two more drafts. It does feel like I’m still working out the plot and characters; I’m looking forward to getting all of that sorted so I can concentrate on polishing everything up for querying. But who knows how long that might take? I won’t have the motivation of an MA after September, and I’ll still be in a full-time job, so I’ve got to be really on it in terms of keeping myself going. Maybe I’ll start another #100Days after finishing the current run?!

Other bits

I had a big birthday in May! T’husband and I went to Scotland for a lovely week away to celebrate. We had a few days in Wigtown, where we bought many books between us. I would highly recommend a bookish break to Wigtown – there are LOADS of bookshops selling new and second-hand books, and it just so happens to be in a great location by the sea, too.

A sign outside New Chapter Books in Wigtown: 'It's not hoarding if it's books!'.

Then we went north to Arran, which was absolutely gorgeous. I even went up a big hill and didn’t complain (that much) about it!


At home, we’re in the throes of a downstairs renovation that began with our kitchen being ripped out in April. We’ve got new units and tiles in, and t’husband is laying a new floor at the moment. Then the living room is going to be refloored, repainted and refurnished, including extra bookshelves! It feels like we’ve been living in a state of chaos for ages now, but I know it’ll be worth it in the end. In the meantime, I’m grateful to be able to work upstairs and escape to a local cafe for writing at the weekends. I’ve discovered that cafe writing is really helping with the second draft of the novel; I wrote nearly all of the first draft on the sofa, in the mornings before work, but that doesn’t seem to work as well with this draft. It seems that a change of scene (and excellent coffee/chai) is really important to me!

Well, that was a rather big update. The last few months have been such a whirlwind. I keep saying to my friends that it feels like everything on the writing front has been happening to someone else – I have to keep pinching myself because it feels so unreal; undeserved, almost. But I know that there will be rougher periods to balance things out, so I’ve just got to be grateful until I hit the bad patch that’s no doubt going to come in the week before my dissertation deadline…

Into The Wilds postcards (cropped).

A brief update

Just a quick post to talk about what’s been going on with me recently, especially as I haven’t uploaded a 300 Days flash piece since February…

Life is busy with work, the MA and impending house renovations, but the biggest news is that I have another short story coming out in an anthology by a wonderful new indie press Fox & Windmill, which is based in Bradford and aims to highlight writing by authors from a south Asian background.

The anthology is called Into The Wilds and is out on 24 June 2022 (pre-orders are open!). I’m thrilled to have another publication so soon after securing a spot in Arachne Press’s anthology Where We Find Ourselves last autumn, and even more thrilled that my story in Into The Wilds has an accompanying illustration!

Some lovely limited edition postcards for Into The Wilds.

Other than that, I’m still chipping away at the second draft of my novel, which has changed shape since the first draft and has me swinging between feeling like One Amazing Writer and wanting to lie down and cry. Yet I’m determined to get it finished!

I’m workshopping parts of the draft on the MA and with an amazing Commonword writing group I joined last year, which has been so helpful for keeping me motivated. I’m hoping to submit a chunk of the novel for my dissertation over the summer, and finish this draft at the end of this year or early next year. But we shall see…

Other than that, we’re about to go through the trauma of having a new kitchen fitted (please send me all your positive thoughts because I am very stressed about the whole thing). But I also have a big birthday and two whole holidays coming up this year, so it’s not all writing chaos and builder’s dust!

A mug.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 41 story on ‘Cup of tea’

Here’s a piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 41 prompt, ‘Cup of tea’.

Didn’t quite manage to get to the end of this one, but never mind. Now I’m off to dunk a slice of lemon tart in my Horlicks…

An Outing

“For crying out loud. If you’re going to dunk that, do it in my tea. Not in coffee for goodness sake!”

Chetna ignored Jon and focused on dipping the Twix in her milky americano for just long enough. Too short a dunking would mean a dry biscuit, but leave it in for too long and the chocolate would melt away into her coffee.

“Honestly, I don’t know why I bother,” he said. 

Chetna looked up and around the café, carefully avoiding his face. 

“Look mummy!” a child said loudly. “That lady’s putting her chocolate bar in her drink!”

“Hush, Nathan,” his mother said tiredly. She looked at Chetna and their eyes met for a moment. Then the boy distracted her by banging a toy car on the table.

“See?” Jon said smugly. “Even the kids think you’re weird.”

“Oh, do shut up.”

Jon’s mouth hung open. Chetna hoped that a fly was nearby. She psychically willed the fly, if there was one, to head straight into Jon’s mouth.

“Well, that’s a fine way to talk to your husband.”

Chetna sipped her coffee before starting to dunk the other finger of her Twix. The coffee had taken on a slight chocolatey taste that she enjoyed.

“This is lovely,” she said. “What a nice idea it was to come out so you could shout at me.”

“I’m not,” Jon said. “Did I raise my voice at any point? No. Are you being weird and unreasonable? Yes.”

He sat back in his chair with his arms folded, as if he’d shattered the universe with a revelation of great importance. Chetna rolled her eyes.

“I’ve been dunking biscuits in coffee for the entirety of our three-year relationship,” she said. “It’s hardly a surprise. I’m not the unreasonable one here.” She finished sucking the chocolate and caramel from her Twix, and began to nibble at the biscuit. 

“It just doesn’t make any sense. Biscotti in your coffee, maybe. A Twix, though?” 

“Yes, I know, I know.” Chetna put the last of the biscuit in her mouth, then drained her coffee and shrugged her coat on. She made a decision, the one that she had been vacillating over ever since the start of the pandemic, since being trapped in the house with Jon for months on end.

“And where are you going? I haven’t even finished my tea!”

“Away,” she said, wrapping her scarf around her neck. “Somewhere, anywhere, that isn’t here.” She paused, taking in his look of confusion. “Perhaps I’ll go to that café down the road and dunk a slice of cake in my coffee.”

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by Bububácsi from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

A Lego man holding a map.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 40 story on ‘Nature’

Here’s a piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 40 prompt, ‘Nature’.

I didn’t get a chance to finish it, but maybe you can work out your own ending to this…

A Hike

“It’s just a little bit further. Just a few more minutes, then we’ll be at the top,” he said in the most encouraging tone he could muster, trying not to sound as worn down as he felt.

“You said that ten minutes ago,” she grumbled. She re-hoisted her backpack to sit further up her back and sighed dramatically. “At this rate the pub’s going to be closed by the time we get back down again.”

He didn’t reply. What could he say? It had been a bad idea from the start. He saw that now. It seemed like such a brilliant plan the day before. They would enjoy a hike up a scenic hill, take in the amazing views from the top, then amble back down towards a pint and a roaring fire in a dog-filled pub. It was his idea of heaven.

“Look, you can see the summit now.”

“Where?” She stopped and squinted in the direction that he pointed. “What, that little pile of stones? That’s the summit?”

“Yep,” he said as cheerfully as he could. 

“It doesn’t look like much.”

“Not from here. But trust me. When you get to the top, you’re going to be blown away.” He paused. “Not literally, of course.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me.”

They trudged on in silence. Eventually, they reached their destination. 

He walked around the summit in silence, checking the mountains he could see against the diagram in his battered old walking guide. He tried not to dwell too much on the fact that she only took a cursory look around before collapsing on the ground and getting her phone out.

“Look!” he said, pointing at two shapes wheeling in the sky. “Buzzards, I think.” 

She glanced up. “Oh yeah.” She immediately looked back at her phone.

He finally let himself feel annoyed. “Aren’t you even going to look at the view, now that you’ve come all this way?”

She shrugged. “I’ve seen it all before. I grew up in the countryside, don’t forget.”

“But I bet you didn’t have these kinds of views out of your window back then.”

“No, but it’s all the same isn’t it? Nature. It’s just greens and browns and sometimes there’s sheep. There’s a reason why I went to uni in Manchester.”

“Nature’s a bit more interesting than that. I mean, just look at that forest. And those hills! To think that they’ve been standing here for longer than humanity has existed.”

“I suppose.” She jammed her phone back in her pocket. “No signal up here.”

“What did you expect? A coffee shop with free wi-fi?”

She raised an eyebrow at him. He stood just behind her, his hands rammed into his pockets and his gaze fixed on a point far, far away.

“Alright, Mr Sarky Pants. Tell me. What’s so good about walking up a hill? Because at the moment I’m just absolutely knackered and really want to get in the bath.”

“It’s-” he began, then stopped. What was the point? 

“Go on.” But the bored tone to her voice had returned. She was never going to listen.

A screech sounded directly overhead. He looked up and stepped back quickly. “You’d better-” he said, but he didn’t get a chance to finish.

The buzzard swooped down on her. She let out a screech very similar to the bird’s own call as it tried to peck at her head.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by Ralf Ruppert from Pixabay.

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

Passengers on the top deck of a bus.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 37 story on ‘A conversation’

I’ve got off to a bit of a late start with (creative) writing this year, but here’s a piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 37 prompt, ‘A conversation’.

Talking to Strangers

Every day she goes out, gets on a bus – any bus – and listens, writing the words down in her notebook, the cheap one with the dogeared cover and a seemingly infinite number of pages.

She listens to the conversations that go on around her, even the ones where someone is only talking to themselves. Each day she records two pages of speech, real human speech inflected with markers of who the speaker is, where they’re from, where they live now.

She tries to record whole sentences, but people talk far too quickly for that, even after all these years. Once, she thought that learning shorthand was the answer, but there was something strange about all those symbols on the page, something alien.

Every day she returns home, has a cup of tea and whatever food she may have remembered to buy while she was out. Then she settles at the kitchen table with her notebook and copies that day’s words into another notebook, a bigger, more luxurious one with a black leather cover, smooth pages and a ribbon to mark the next blank page. She fills the blank pages with that day’s conversations, reading the words out loud as she goes, even though there isn’t so much as a cat to talk to. There hasn’t been for years.

She sits at the table and writes and reads out loud, strangers talking to her from the page, the only conversations she takes part in now.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

Composite image showing some of my favourite books of 2021.

Favourite reads of 2021

It’s been a brilliant reading year for me! I’ve read more books than ever, thanks to the hefty amount of reading I’ve done for my MA this year, and it feels like I’ve accumulated so many favourites that I’m bound to forget a few as I compile my favourites list for 2021.

This time I’ve split my picks into different categories: novels and novellas, short stories, and non-fiction.

Novels and novellas

Assembly by Natasha Brown.Assembly by Natasha Brown

I pre-ordered Assembly the moment I heard about its impending release, thanks to its intriguing blurb and a fantastic talk by Brown at an online event earlier in the year. It’s a short, stunning novella that says just as much about living as a Black woman in the UK as any full-length novel could.

I won’t say too much about what this book is about, but it’s breathtaking – the precise language, the cool observations of the structural inequality embedded into British life and culture, the undercurrent of anger and resignation that runs throughout. It’s absolutely brilliant and I’m now desperate to read more by Brown!

In The End, It Was All About Love by Musa Okwonga.In The End, It Was All About Love by Musa Okwonga

Oh my. What a book. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking and unforgettable read about navigating relationships, city life, loneliness, racism, creativity and job insecurity in Berlin. Written entirely in the second person, this short slice of introspective autofiction is told by an unnamed Black male narrator who goes on a physical and emotional journey to make peace with himself.

I absolutely loved everything about this book – the precise yet gentle language, the descriptions of Berlin and how loneliness seems even more pronounced in a big city, and the narrator’s drive to beat his inner demons. I came away from the story both a bit broken and determined to be kinder to myself.

Permafrost by Eva Baltasar.Permafrost by Eva Baltasar (translated by Julia Sanches)

I adored this novella! It’s a stunning, startling short novel translated from Catalan narrated by a woman who we learn is trying to kill herself. She takes us through moments in her life, from discovering her sexuality to her relationships with her family, to build a picture of an outside world that she does her best to keep out.

I loved the voice and the precise yet gleefully surprising language used throughout. The novel seems to end too soon, but fortunately it’s the first in a trilogy. If you’re intrigued, I read from Permafrost in an episode of a podcast put out by the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing.

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey.The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

This beautifully written and quietly devastating story about love and the power of friendship and family won the Costa Book of the Year award at the start of 2021, and for good reason!

The story begins with the capture of Aycayia, an ancient mermaid, by white Americans. She is freed by a local man she knows, and much of the narrative looks at the different ways in which Aycayia affects the lives of some of the local residents, covering issues ranging from race and the legacy of slavery to misogyny and jealousy.

I was completely gripped by Aycayia’s story and was left utterly bereft when I came to the end of it. I would have happily devoured another 200 pages of the story!

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr.Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

What a phenomenal novel! I really liked All The Light We Cannot See, but Doerr’s follow-up is my favourite of the two. It’s incredibly ambitious in scope, with multiple point-of-view characters spanning centuries and borders, all tied together with excerpts from a long-lost story about a shepherd’s quest to find a mythical kingdom.

The scale of the novel reminds me a little of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, but ultimately Cloud Cuckoo Land is a love letter to the power of stories and the sheer joy of libraries (making it an excellent shelf companion to Alix E Harrow’s Ten Thousand Doors of January). I fell headfirst into the book and didn’t want it to end, even after 600+ pages! I completely and utterly loved this novel.

Ghosted: A Love Story by Jenn Ashworth.Ghosted: A Love Story by Jenn Ashworth

Ghosted is an intriguing, gripping story about Laurie and the mysterious disappearance of her husband from their flat in a location that sounds a lot like Lancaster, where I went to university the first time round and where the author lives. There are also ghostly goings-on in the flat, and several fraught relationships to contend with, including with her ill father and his wonderfully written carer, Olena.

Ashworth really nails what it’s like to be in a long-term relationship and how weird it can sometimes be to be part of a couple. There’s a lot of dark humour, too, but there’s also a warmth at the centre of the novel, the kind where you can tell that the author genuinely cares for her creation. It’s a brilliant book all round!

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

The film is great, but the book is even better! I loved this suspenseful character study of the disturbed Tom Ripley so much that I’m writing an essay on it for my course at the moment.

It’s a great example of how deceptively simple, insightful writing can really make the reader empathise with someone who does hideous things. And it’s also nice to read about the delights of Italy while many of us still can’t go abroad at the moment.

The Country Will Bring Us No Peace by Matthieu Simard.The Country Will Bring Us No Peace by Matthieu Simard (translated by Pablo Strauss)

Another incredible novella from another incredible small press! The Country Will Bring Us No Peace is an eerie, dark story told from the points of view of Simon and Marie, a couple who move from the city to a small town in the countryside. We learn that they are trying to have a baby, but this goal masks a deeper tragedy that they are running from.

The creepiness of small town life really comes through, all while a mysterious antenna pulsates in the background. I can totally imagine this story as a dark, moody indie film!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The premise of this novel is so intriguing: a town populated by light-skinned Black people who ensure future generations are also light-skinned, twin sisters who leave the town for very different lives, and the impact of all of this on their respective daughters.

I loved pretty much everything about this novel – the writing, the characters and the thoughtful exploration of identity, race, gender and more. The narrative is compelling from the first page, and I found it difficult to put down!

Summer by Ali Smith.Summer by Ali Smith

An excellent, unforgettable read that wraps up Ali Smith’s ambitious quartet of novels seeking to shine a light on life in Britain today, as well as examining issues of global importance. The story revolves around a family, the Greenlaws, and their encounters with characters from the three previous books.

The novel continues the preoccupations with immigration and detention from Spring while also returning to climate change and activism, as well as the central concept of art and how it can reflect on changing times. Summer is now my favourite book of the quartet; I love how Smith brings together the characters and themes explored in the earlier books in this story of light and dark, of hope in despairing times. We’re very lucky to have Smith!

Planetfall by Emma Newman.Planetfall by Emma Newman

I won’t say too much about the plot of this excellent sci-fi novel, as the mysteries within it are carefully unravelled throughout the book. Planetfall is narrated by Ren, an engineer and geneticist who travelled from Earth to another world along with a group of other people all following the visions of Suh, who believed that God could be found there. The quiet life of the colony is disrupted twenty years later by the arrival of a man from outside the colony.

Planetfall is so completely up my street that it’s quite uncanny – first person narrative, a mysterious alien planet, an intriguing female protagonist, and lots of secrets to discover. I’m definitely reading the other books in this series!

This One Sky Day by Leone Ross.This One Sky Day by Leone Ross

This One Sky Day is an utterly transporting slice of magical realism set on the fictional archipelago of Popisho, where everyone has their own unique magical ability, whether it’s healing, knowing exactly what to cook for someone, or growing wings. We follow a cast of characters ranging from a master chef to the estranged son of the governor of the Popisho.

The writing is so beautiful and evocative, with its own rhythm that completely suits the characters and their stories. I loved every description of food and people and places – honestly, Leone Ross must be a genius! If you like magical realism or quirky fantasy in an unforgettable setting, this is the novel for you. It deserves to be shortlisted for all of the awards!

Guest by S J Bradley.Guest by S J Bradley

Set in the early 2000s, Guest tells the story of a young man, Samhain, who is an anarchist punk and squatter along with his best friend Frankie. His absent mother, Flores, was once part of the Green movement that blossomed in the 1980s, and Samhain discovers that the father he has never met was a spy cop – an undercover policeman who joined the movement and took up with Flores as part of his cover.

I absolutely loved this novel! Samhain is a compelling protagonist who seems immature in many ways, but who also has such an interesting story that it’s difficult not to empathise with him. I loved learning about the lives of punks in the 1980s, and Bradley’s writing is both accessible and singular. I was easily drawn into the story and could not put it down as I got into the second half.

The Sound Mirror by Heidi James.The Sound Mirror by Heidi James

The Sound Mirror follows the stories of three women – Tamara, whose narrative is set in the present day and revolves around a journey to her mother in hospital, Claire, who comes from a large, working class family and whose story is set in the mid-20th century, and Ada, whose story is set at a similar time to Claire’s, but is from the opposite end of the class spectrum as her family journeys to the UK from a newly partitioned India.

The story flits between each woman, and often moves back and forth in time. The narrative is held together by a peculiar ‘we’ voice – the voices of the ancestors of the three women. As the novel unfolds, we gradually learn how the three women are connected. It’s an incredibly compelling story – I absolutely loved the book and devoured it in a couple of days!

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers.A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

This lovely novella is a bit of a departure genre-wise from the Wayfarers series, but it’s still beautifully written and full of humanity.

We follow Dex, a tea monk who travels across an Earth-like world and sets up a tea stall in towns and markets where people can talk about their problems while Dex brews the perfect cup of tea for them. It’s an idyllic existence until Dex heeds an inner desire to go into the wilderness, where they meet one of the robots that withdrew from the human world after gaining consciousness way back when.

It’s an uplifting, thoughtful and gently humorous read for when you’re sick of the world and want a nice escape (along with a cup of tea, of course).

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

This haunting, gripping historical novel was my last read of 2021. It’s a beautifully written story based on real-life events involving a lethal storm and a witch hunt that took place on a remote island off the coast of Norway in the 17th century, with the narrative revolving around the friendship between two women.

Everything is done so well – setting the scene, explaining the historical, political and religious context, and most importantly, creating compelling characters that you have to root for. I’m going to be thinking about this novel for a while yet.

More novels and novellas I enjoyed in 2021

Short story/poetry collections and anthologies

Fauna by David Hartley.Fauna by David Hartley

I bought Fauna after seeing David Hartley read ‘A Panda Appeared in Our Street’ at an event held by the book’s publisher. I loved the absurdity and humour of that particular story and, happily, the other stories in this collection are just as weirdly delightful when they’re not being outright disturbing!

All of the stories are linked by animals of some kind, from an elephant made up of human performers to a rabbit who turns out to be much smarter than its owner thinks. There are some wonderful fantastical elements alongside the more mundane aspects of modern life – like a fishing boat that catches Poseidon himself, or an island populated only by birds of all kinds, all of which serve a particular being. All of the stories made me think about the complexities of humans’ relationships with different animals, and about how fascinating it would be if those relationships were flipped or otherwise changed in some way.

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez.Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez (translated by Megan McDowell)

This is an excellent collection of dark and compelling feminist short stories set in Argentina. It features girls and women who encounter the uncanny in various forms as they go about their daily lives. From unexplained grisly murders to mysterious disappearances and horrific visions, these stories are truly unsettling.

The title story, in which women begin to set themselves on fire in response to the men who purposefully burn the women in their lives, seems particularly relevant in this week of awful headlines. Despite the dark undercurrent to this book, I really enjoyed reading the collection and now have yet another author to read more by!

Her Body & Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.Her Body & Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

This is a brilliant collection of stories that blur the boundaries between realist and more fantastical fiction. I loved so much about it – the writing style, the characters, the unashamed focus on women’s desires and queer lives, the inventive plots.

I don’t think there’s a single weak story in this collection, which is really rare. I even wrote a 6,000-word essay on three of the stories and never got tired of re-reading them!

Mancunian Ways ed. by Isabelle Kenyon.Mancunian Ways ed. by Isabelle Kenyon

Mancunian Ways is a brilliant collection of poetry and photography on all things Manchester – its people, places, history and spirit. The book is divided into sections that each have a specific theme, like ‘Modern Manchester’ and ‘Manchester History’.

I really enjoyed this book. I’m not a big poetry reader but, as someone who has been living in Manchester on and off for 15 years, the collection spoke to me and made reading it extremely enjoyable. The photography is also excellent and much needed after hardly spending any time in Manchester city centre since the start of the pandemic. This would make a great present for the Mancunian/lover of all things Manchester in your life!

More collections/short stories I enjoyed in 2021


How We Met: A Memoir of Love and Other Misadventures by Huma Qureshi.How We Met: A Memoir of Love and Other Misadventures by Huma Qureshi

How We Met tells the story of how journalist Huma Qureshi, a Muslim, met her white husband, Richard, who converted to Islam so they could marry. It’s also a story about what it’s like to grow up as a second-generation immigrant, steeped in the culture and religion of your parents while also knowing that you don’t want your life to be completely dictated by this.

I absolutely loved this very readable memoir and tore through it in one sitting. I’m a Hindu, also the daughter of immigrants to Britain and also married to a white man, and could identify with so much of what Huma went through – especially as we seem to have grown up in the same period. Heartily recommended!

In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado.In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

In The Dream House is a stunningly inventive and moving account of Machado’s time in an abusive relationship with an another woman. Each chapter uses different forms of storytelling to paint a picture of what it was like to fall in love with someone who was then emotionally and verbally abusive. My favourite chapter was the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ section, which was both darkly funny and disturbing at the same time.

Machado also fills in some background about domestic violence in queer relationships in general, noting that people only really started talking about it in the 1980s. It was very enlightening to read about the differences in how queer and straight female victims of abuse are treated. It’s not the easiest to read in terms of the content, but it’s so wonderfully written that I zipped through it anyway. It’s both gripping and devastating!

(M)otherhood by Pragya Agarwal.(M)otherhood by Pragya Agarwal

Pragya Agarwal is a behavioural and data scientist who moved from India to the UK to study and has remained here ever since. (M)otherhood is a hybrid memoir and feminist science/history book that looks at the pressures of reproduction and motherhood/parenting, and the ways in which society assigns meaning to women’s biology and gendered roles from an early age. Agarwal writes about her own experience of pregnancy, childhood and motherhood as a brown woman, offering a much-needed and little-known minority perspective.

As a woman from a similar background to Dr Agarwal but with no children, I found this book intensely fascinating. As much as I’d like to think that I’m reasonably aware of the many issues affecting women today, I definitely don’t know nearly as much about pregnancy and motherhood as I’d like, and this book has certainly helped to fill the gap. It’s an accessible and interesting read that I think many other people would benefit from reading, whether they’re women or not, and whether they’re mothers or not.

Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family and Home by Nikesh Shukla.Brown Baby: A Memoir of Race, Family and Home by Nikesh Shukla

This is a wonderful, moving book that’s part memoir, part letter/guide to life to Nikesh Shukla’s daughter. Brown Baby takes in lots of themes as it explores the ups and downs of being brown in today’s turbulent world – not just race, but also grief, joy, relationships, climate change, work and parenting.

Yet the writing is very personal and (for me, at least) relatable – I was almost in tears over a section about Shukla’s grief for his mother and trying to work it out by cooking the same Gujarati food that he grew up with. This is a beautiful, warm and funny book that is the ideal companion text to Shukla’s novel The One Who Wrote Destiny (if you haven’t read that, please do!).

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot.The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

The Outrun is a beautifully told and gripping account of the author’s return to her childhood home in the Orkney Islands while recovering from an addiction to alcohol. While she recounts her often painful time in London as a twenty-something, the rest of the narrative focuses on her early years living with her manic depressive father and born-again Christian mother in Orkney, and what it was like to return to this remote part of Scotland while still very much haunted by her extreme life in London.

In particular, she focuses on the sights, sounds and smells of the natural world in Orkney – the sea, the wind, the wildlife and the skies. It’s by immersing herself in these elements that she eventually comes to a fragile peace with who she used to be, and the changed person that she becomes. I absolutely loved reading The Outrun. I was thoroughly enthralled by Liptrot’s observations of Orkney and how it changed her for the better. Her writing is easy to read and is always edged with the personal, so it never feels like you’re reading a dry natural history book.

Other non-fiction books I enjoyed in 2021

What were your favourite reads this year?

A game controller/joypad.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 32 story on ‘Video game’

Wow, it’s been a while since I last posted! I’ve been swamped with work and study of late, but I’ve also finally finished the first draft of my novel, so I can now turn my attention to other forms of writing before I attack the second draft.

On that note, here’s another piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 32 prompt, ‘Video game’.

What’s in a Game?

The video game was a birthday present. Ashok could tell from the size and shape of the parcel. 

Beaming from finally reaching double digits in age, Ashok carefully unwrapped it. He thought he would recognise it from the colours that gradually revealed themselves as he slid the paper away, but it was no game that he had ever heard of.

“I asked for the game you wanted, but they’d sold out,” his father said apologetically. “One of the staff recommended this game, though. He said it’s going to be big.”

Ashok shrugged. A game was a game. 

He started to play after returning from bowling and pizza. It was a strange, difficult game, but something compelled him to stick with it. His mother had to tear the controller from his fingers when she realised it was well past his bedtime.

The next day, Ashok tried to describe the game to his friends, but they shook their heads. They had never heard of the game’s title, and didn’t understand what sort of a game it was from Ashok’s vague descriptions. 

“It’s like a platformer, but there are puzzles too, and there’s a shooting bit, I think. But I can’t remember. And there’s something else. I can’t remember what… And the story is weird! But really cool. But I can’t remember now how it goes.”

Frustrated, he tried to find the right words to describe it precisely, but the words wouldn’t come. His friends looked bored and Ashok gave up. They didn’t even want to come over to play it themselves.

Day after day, Ashok tried his best to get to the end of the game, but new levels kept respawning. He bought every issue of his favourite video game magazine, but none mentioned the game.  

Desperate for someone to talk to about the game, he went into the shop where his father had bought the game, but no one had heard of it, and looked puzzled when Ashok tried to describe it. The right words felt just out of reach one more. Ashok took the cartridge into the shop, where one of the sales assistants turned it over and over in his hands with a look of confusion.

“This isn’t one of ours. Do you know who served your dad when he bought it?”

Ashok produced the crumpled receipt. The sales assistant frowned.

“Well, it’s one of our receipts alright. But this staff number definitely doesn’t exist.” He returned the game to Ashok and shrugged. “Maybe your dad bought it from another branch and there was a printing error?”

“No, it was this one! Can you try playing the game please? Just plug it in so you can see what it’s like. No one understands me when I try to describe it.” A pleading look entered Ashok’s eyes, and the assistant relented.

“Okay.” He disappeared through a door behind the till. Ashok waited.

And waited.

The shop was quiet. Ashok ducked under the counter and opened the door slowly.

The sales assistant sat cross-legged on the floor, a controller in his hands. He didn’t so much as stir as Ashok walked towards him.


The assistant still didn’t turn around or say anything. He continued to play the game, pushing the joystick this way and that while pressing buttons with his other thumb.

Ashok peered at the screen and gaped. 

There was nothing there.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by VanDulti from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.

A fancy dress mask.

#300DaysofFlashWriting: Day 29 story on ‘Dancing’

Here’s another piece for the #300DaysofFlashWriting challenge, where participants write for ten minutes only on a prompt posted online by my friend Shekina on her blog and social channels. This was written from the Day 29 prompt, ‘Dancing’.

A Dance With Death

He was a lord, and she was an assassin.

The ball was a masque and so everyone in attendance wore the skin of someone else. Still, the assassin knew who the lord was. She had tracked his every move for the last four days, and now here she was, dancing with him, poison hidden in the fingertips of her right glove.

The lord leaned down to whisper in her ear. She suppressed a grimace and simply nodded in reply. Satisfied, the lord continued to go through the movements of the dance, a smile lurking at the ends of his mouth.

The dance finished. The lord disappeared into the crowd, but the assassin kept her eyes on him as she went a slightly different way, lingering at the punch table for a moment and then following the lord out of the room. 

He seized her around the waist. “I can’t wait to find out who you are,” he murmured into her neck. She stared straight ahead and let him run his hands down her body, as she had seen him do with three different women over the past four days, as he had done with all the women he had led a merry dance with and then abandoned after he was finished with them. After he had extracted what he most wanted from them, which not all the women had been willing to give.

The assassin turned around and ran one finger over his chest. He wore an emerald on a spiked chain over robes meant to resemble those of a priest of the dead. 

The gloved finger caught on a spike, and she smiled. 

“Careful,” the lord said, bringing her gloved hand up to his face. “You might hurt yourself.” He took the finger into his warm mouth. 

“I might,” she said seriously, then smiled again as the lord’s face started to turn purple.

© 2021 Dipika Mummery

Image by 5598375 from Pixabay

See all of my pieces for #300DaysofFlashWriting.