2013’s cultural highlights – and what I can’t wait for in 2014.

It’s the last day of the year – the crushed-up crumbs in the cereal box of 2013. As Twitter seems rather reflective, I thought I’d join in with a quick round-up of my cultural highlights of 2013… and a quick look ahead to the new year and the things I can’t wait for.

2013 has, on a personal level, been the year that I had my nose deep in a book – my own. I’ve spent the majority of the year grafting away on my obese behemoth of a historical novel, Point No Point. And when I haven’t been doing that, I’ve been working on my thesis and applying for postdocs. So in some respects it seems like I haven’t really had the time to get as fully stuck into the cultural smorgasbord as I would have liked. My theatre attendance has been particularly sorrowful. Still, for what it’s worth…


Mainly I’ve had my nose deep in academic books this year. I discovered E.P.Thompson’s ancient work on working-class crime and anonymity and it kind of blew my mind. William St. Clair, James Raven, Robert Hume and Peter Garside’s bibliographic overviews of the eighteenth-century book trade are a lot more exciting than they sound. On the recommendation of my friend James Baker I started poking around in Franco Moretti’s work on ‘distance reading’ and it got my brain whizzing and crackling like popping candy.

But I have had time for a few non-academic humdingers too. At the beginning of the year I loved Adrian Teal’s bawdy compilation of eighteenth-century smut The Gin Lane Gazette, and was mentally floored by Will Self’s Umbrella (that’s more complimentary than it sounds). While in Montreal for a few months I caught up on J.K.Rowling’s recent work – The Casual Vacancy was a brave, gritty departure from Harry Potter (marred by a few bizarre editorial decisions) and The Cuckoo’s Calling was a deeply enjoyable bit of crimey escapism. I love JK, and she’d probably be my novelist of 2014: I have undying admiration for the way she isn’t content to rest on her laurels and tries to reinvent herself with each new project. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was a cracking page-turner, even though I felt the near-perfection of the first half didn’t hold up in the second. Sophie Hannah’s The Carrier made me think much harder than a crime novel has any right to do. And Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon managed to drag me into the gloomy world of a care system I’d rather not know existed, and also be effortlessly readable. No mean feat.

In 2014 I’m looking forward to reading a few academic books – most prominently Married Women and the Law: Coverture in England and the Common-Law World by Tim Stretton and K.J.Kesselring; Hannah Greig’s The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London; my supervisor Harriet Guest’s Unbounded Attachment: Sentiment and Politics in the Age of the French Revolution and Helen Small’s The Value of the Humanities. I’ve been trying to avoid fawning ‘Up-and-coming novels of 2014!’ articles, mainly from reasons of fiery jealousy since in my experience trying to write a novel while getting up to speed on the competition isn’t a great work strategy; but I do feel obliged to mention that Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist looks absolutely fantastic and I’ll look forward to reading it once Point No Point is finished. I’d also like 2014 to be the year I read more poetry. After meeting Zafir Kunial at the Northern Writers’ Awards I looked up some of his work and thought it was stunning. (see here http://www.poetrysociety.org.uk/content/npc30/npc2011/kunial/ )It made me miss the clean, clipped brevity of poetry and I’d like to redress that. Reading suggestions welcome!

Films and TV

Tough one, this. I’m not the greatest film buff at the best of times (I have the attention span of a particularly flirtatious gnat when it comes to visual media) and I don’t go to the cinema that often. To add to that, I’ve mainly been trying to avoid engaging in watching anything too challenging on TV because my brain needs the fallow time after a long day’s writing. I’ve mainly been re-watching old favourites on Netflix like Buffy The Vampire Slayer – still the best show ever made to my mind, and I’ll fight anyone who says it ain’t so. Oh, and Downton Abbey. Comfort food for the weary brain. 2013 was also the year I watched the entire Leprechaun quintet and Sharknado. And The Room, a million times. Don’t hate.

In 2014, once I’ve handed my thesis in, I will be instantly chained to the sofa and forced to watch The Wire and Breaking Bad by my lad Rich, who routinely foams at the mouth with indignation that I’ve seen neither. I also really, really want to see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing – as far as I’m concerned, the man is God. Oh, and Alan Partridge Alpha Papa.


I have hardly been to the theatre this year, and it makes me sad. Early in 2013 I saw a cracking show called Detroit at the National, and a bit later I saw a brilliant revival of Simon Stephens’ Port, but that’s about it. Stewart Lee’s latest show Much A-Stew About Nothing was predictably caustic, intelligent and uncomfortable. In the upcoming year, I will mainly be weeping and gnashing my teeth that I couldn’t afford tickets for the RSC production of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies in Stratford-upon-Avon. I am a rabid admirer of Hilary Mantel’s books, and I’m pretty sure seeing the shows would be the zenith of my earthly existence. But a trip to see the shows (kindly staggered so you have to stay at least 2 nights in Stratford) meant it would have cost hundreds of pounds. So, no go. Exciting possibilities closer to home include Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, and Simon Stephens’ Blindsided at Manchester’s Royal Exchange – my favourite theatre in the world.


I’m shamelessly indiscriminatory when it comes to music, so look away now if you’re a snob. This year I’ve been listening a lot to Deerhunter, Chvrches, Vampire Weekend, Allo Darling, and Cosmo Jarvis. And Meatloaf and Cher. I really enjoyed my first visit to the Proms, lying up in the nosebleeds after a few pints gave the music a beautiful dreamy quality. Literally; I think I might have dozed off. It was lovely. And all for a fiver.

In 2014, my best amiga Rosa is taking me to see McBusted in Birmingham for my 30th birthday. Scorn me publicly if it makes you feel better; you’re crying inside.

Art and museums

I’ve hardly been to see any special exhibitions this year – much like theatre, the prices are just too astronomical for this student. I have enjoyed exhibitions at York’s According to McGee – Richard Barnes’s psychedelic Yorkscapes are absolutely stunning. Whenever in London, I like to tip my hat to the Tate Modern and the National Portrait Gallery. And I’ve spent wonderful mornings in the Imperial War Museum in Leeds and the Museum of London. My own art (such as it is) has generally revolved around silly acrylic portraits of historical or present celebrities who make me smile. I’d like to experiment more with silhouettes in the New Year – Jan Pienkowski style.

Speaker events

Back in March I had a grand old time seeing Will Self talk at the York Literature Festival. The York Festival of Ideas also had some brilliant speakers, particularly the panel of Ross Raisin, Jenni Fagan and Kamila Shamsie. It’s been a conference-lite year but I was absolutely blown away by Robert Hume’s plenary at the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies annual conference in January, and I also enjoyed going to my first Institute for Historical Research seminar in London. This year I’d like to make it to the Hay Festival (I’ve never been), and I’m looking forward once again to the York Literature Festival which features Germaine Greer and Roger McGough in 2014. I’m presenting a paper at BSECS again (panel entitled ‘The Fame Game’, paper entitled ‘O’ my life, I think he makes talk for the who;e county: Naming Caleb Williams’, but after that NO MORE CONFERENCES. Not until I am Doctor Coulombeau.

That’s pretty much it, though I’m sure I’ve left a lot out. Feel free to let me know your cultural highlights or what you’re looking forward to in 2014. And happy new year to one and all!