Looking Back

2021 was a really strange year for me, filled with incredible highs and a strange frustration with the world that I think a lot of us have felt. There’s no point going into detail about the pandemic, we’re all in the same boat with that one and it’s been causing problems for all of us in some way or another, and in all honesty I’ve been lucky that it hasn’t effected me more than it has.

This time last year, I wasn’t in a good place with my mental health and in general things weren’t that great. My big holiday that I’d spent a year planning had been pushed back, and I’m still waiting to see when it can be reorganised, work reached new levels of stressful and I wasn’t getting very far with my writing. I’d been working on a short story, A Knock at the Door, that was supposed to be published in October of 2020, but I just didn’t have the motivation to finish it. I did get that finished later in 2021, and published it in July. It’s now one of my most read stories, second to the first one that I put up way back in 2012. I’m very happy with the response it got, and have had some very good feedback from it.

I spent the first half of 2021 practically glued to games. I played the whole of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which took me around 150 hours, Watch Dogs Legion, which took around 50ish, Cyberpunk 2077, which was another 100 hours. Just to put it in context of how long I was sucked into these worlds. There were a few others I played as well, and I did enjoy them, but it’s the only thing I did and it took up all my time to an unhealthy level. Looking at Letterboxd I watched 4 films in January and then nothing until March. It was all about games, and re-watching Buffy with Tabby as she hadn’t seen it.

Around May I then stumbled across a writer on Twitter, who was a self-published author, like me, who also had just been published by a film magazine. He had a similar number of followers on Twitter as me, and it sparked an idea, why am I not doing that? I’ve always said that my back-up plan for life is being a film critic, and I decided it was time to take that more seriously. There were two reasons for this, it would give me more things to write about on this blog, because I was struggling to post things that weren’t repetitive updates, and maybe it would actually get me somewhere. So I bought a book about writing reviews and read it cover to cover, and then I needed to start writing.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw – Review | Torture Horror | Heaven of Horror
The first review I wrote after taking it seriously was for Spiral, which I also really enjoyed and think is one of the best Saw films

With cinemas re-opening it was the perfect opportunity and after seeing Spiral, I made notes and wrote a review and then published it on here. I was a little nervous, and besides my mum I didn’t get any feedback, but it did get a few views, 22 in total, which was slightly more than my average at the time. I then posted a review for the next couple of days into June and once I got a notification saying that I posted 7 days in a row, I set myself a challenge to write a review every day throughout June, with the plan to then pitch to other websites and magazines in the hope to get something actually published. June ended, and I carried on into July, with that notification congratulating me on so many days in a row as the main motivation.

I did pitch reviews to websites, and from one I got some good feedback, made the changes they recommended and then they said they’d publish it, but they never got back to me once I re-submitted and ignored my follow-up emails. From the others I heard absolutely nothing and haven’t pitched since, mainly because I don’t want to write something that I pitch to somewhere else and then can’t post on my own blog, because I don’t hear back but might do at some point. I’ve set my schedule of writing 2 posts a day, and for the most part I’ve hit that, writing more on top of that would be difficult enough, without the added frustration of it never being read because I don’t hear back. It’s something I’m hoping to work towards in 2022.

To add into the mix I started emailing film companies and studios to be added to their press list and while most didn’t reply at all, some did get back to me and added me to their list. When I started hearing back I felt like I was really making it somewhere, slowly but surely. I was getting more views some weeks than I had received in some years. Then in August I applied for a press pass to London Film Festival, thinking nothing would come of it. I just thought what’s the harm, and they did get back to me very quickly and the next thing I knew I was planning a trip to London in October, which became my first outing since March 2020.

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Edgar Wright introducing Last Night in Soho is one of my absolute highlights of the last year

Being in London felt like the previous 18 months hadn’t happened. People were just out and about, and enjoying themselves. We had a lot of spare time and did a lot of walking around, which was great and a lot of fun. The festival itself was incredible, and one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. We managed to watch 4 films in a row in one day and then went back to the hotel for another. I loved it and I really hope I get to go again this year.

Since then the blog has been going from strength to strength. I’ve managed to keep up daily posts for 217 days in a row and counting. My follower numbers have tripled in a year, and the views are the highest they’ve ever been. My most popular review of 2021 was surprisingly Christmas is Cancelled, which has broken the 800 view barrier and still going strong. That may not be a lot to some, but it’s beyond the most read thing I’ve ever written.

Because of writing film reviews, I’ve been contacted by people I haven’t spoken to in years, one of them in over 10 years. Friends and former co-workers have contacted me to say they like reading them or to recommend new films to me, and that’s been incredible. Honestly one of the highlights of the year is reconnecting with people. I’m quite an introverted person, and I fall out of contact with people easily, so it’s always nice to speak to someone again.

In all honesty keeping up the schedule has been incredibly hard work, but also absolutely rewarding. It feels sometimes that I’m working 2 full time jobs, with my actual day job and then watching as many films as I can fit into a day, writing reviews, trying to come up with other posts to fill up the schedule, and trying to find new ways to expand and reach out. Sometimes I’m working on very little sleep and it’s been stressful. I’m not complaining at all, just trying to contextualise that I’ve been putting in the time. This is something I enjoy doing and it’s been a lot of fun so far.

I also don’t want it to sound like bragging at all, I’m just incredibly excited about how far I’ve come in the last year. In the last few months I’ve received online screeners to upcoming films, some physical DVD/Blu Ray screeners, a few advance copies of books, emails from directors/actors and writers thanking me for a review or offering me something new to look at. It’s been an incredible year and I can only hope that 2022 is even better.

Thanks for reading and until next time,

Ashley

About ashleymanningwriter

Young Adult Fiction writer. Horror and fantasy blended together.
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