The first time I wrote historical fiction I had no idea what I was taking on. Even now, with one historical novel under my belt, and with a second on the way, I am filled with admiration for anyone who can craft a good period narrative. Of all the literary genres, historical fiction must be the toughest.
It's that time of year for looking back, so here are five of the books I most enjoyed reading in 2011. All of them received their first UK publication this year.
A bold novelist takes the big bite - life and death, the metaphors within, identity and symbolism. Lucy Caldwell grew up in Northern Ireland, a fertile ground for all of that. She was not tribal, yet not entirely free from the intersection of death, once the signpost to the province.
They say there's a book in everyone, and there's certainly no end to courses and guides that claim they can help us unleash
As the owner of a writers' retreat, I see all kinds of writing. And one of best answers to the "why do you write?" question, came from someone struggling to find an agent for her first novel. "Because I'd feel funny if I didn't," she said. There speaks a natural writer.
Novels with fractured narratives were once considered experimental and edgy but today they have become mainstream. Our complicated and increasingly uncertain lives seem to be mirrored by the fragmented structure of these often challenging novels.
It took the panel of judges just two hours to decide on the 13-strong longlist for this year's Man Booker prize - and there's