Reading goals and Whispering Knights

Delving into a childhood favourite, tips and tricks for completing your annual reading goals and the contents of my TRP!

Reading goals and Whispering Knights

Delving into a childhood favourite, tips and tricks for completing your annual reading goals and the contents of my TRP!

Late last week I finished reading my first book of 2024. It was a Christmas present from my buddy George Mann as seen in the photo above, a children's novel I remember fondly from my youth, The Whispering Knights by Penelope Lively.

Boy oh boy, did the memories come rushing back. I must have been ten when I first took that out of the library and reading it again some four decades later it's fascinating to see so much of present Cav's obsessions featured so heavily in the short adventure.

The story starts with a group of friends, two girls and a boy, conducting an occult ritual in a barn said to be haunted. Obviously never having seen a horror movie, they unwittingly summon the vengeful spirit of not just any witch, but the witch, Morgan Le Fey, who starts infecting the achingly nostalgic '70s village Steeple Hampden with her old, wild magic. Seriously, it's like a checklist of all my obsessions, a folk horror written long before we ever used the term.

Even better, it's set around a fictional version of one of my favourite places on the known Earth, the Rollright Stones located on the Oxford / Warwickshire border (incidentally, also the location of one of my top Doctor Who stories, The Stones of Blood!)

Posing amid the stones in May 2023

I visit the Stones at least once a year, usually with George, which is why he gifted me the book not knowing I'd already read it as a kid. In fact, ever seen George's author photo with him looking jolly in a red cardigan next to a neolithic rock? That was snapped by me during one of our regular pilgrimages to the standing stones.

So a nostalgic start to this year and one that has had me looking for more of Penelope's work, both old and new. And, best of all, it was a quick, enjoyable read to kick off 2024 which means I'm on the way to reaching my reading goal for the year!

Reading goal tactics

Even having a reading goal is a new experience for me. I set myself my first-ever reading challenge last year to mark my 50th birthday: one book for every year I've flying around the sun.

There was an ulterior motive. If I set myself a challenge, it would discourage me from mindlessly scrolling social media. When I felt the urge to pick up my phone, I’d pick up a book instead, or hit the Kindle app instead of Twitter / Instagram / whatever the hell we were all supposed to be using that week!

And I did it, clocking in 57 books in total by the end of 2023. Whoop! Let’s pop the kettle on and celebrate. But what of this year? Am I striving to read more? 60? 70? 183? Nope, I’d like to match the 50-mark, if possible. It seems a solid number, just over a book a week. Something good to aim for.

What about you? Do you give yourself a goal of the number of books you'd like to read before the years out? Why not let us know in the comments at the end of this week's newsletter?

And if you do, here are my tips for completing your challenge:

  1. Don't set your target too high?
    If you know you're going to be time-poor this year, why set yourself up to fail by pledging to read an unattainable number of books? Reading is supposed to be fun, the gamification of a reading goal adding to the sense of achievement. It shouldn't be a stick to beat yourself up with.
  2. If you hit a slump, pick up a magazine!
    Sometimes we hit periods when we just don't feel like reading. When you have moments like that, go for something quicker that could fire up your reading gene. Magazine articles. Newspapers. Comics. Anything that will get you turning pages again. I usually find physical media better for getting going again, as tablets and even my faithful Kindle a) seem too much like work and b) sometimes lead me down the rabbit hole of social media doom all over again.
  3. If all else fails, head back to an old favourite!
    Like a lot of people, I hit a reading slump in the middle of the pandemic. I just couldn't concentrate on anything, so I went back to one of my favourite Star Wars novels, Darth Bane: Path of Destruction by Drew Karpyshyn. Before I knew it, I'd been bitting by the reading bug all over again. Thanks Drew!
  4. Don't get hung up on whether a book counts or not!
    It's all too easy to obsess about whether a specific book counts towards your final goal. What about a chapbook containing just one short story? Or a trade paperback of a comic book mini-series you missed? Then there's that old Peanuts collection you've had on your shelf since childhood. Do they count? Who cares! This is your game and you make the rules! No one is keeping track, but you! The important thing is that you are reading!
  5. Don't be cross if you don't reach your target?
    Again, for those at the back, reading is supposed to be fun. Nothing will happen if you don't reach your goal. Sometimes life gets in the way, but if you read five books or fifty, you've already won as you've read books!

Do you have any tactics for reaching your reading goals? Or do you think reading goals are as useful as a chocolate frying pan? Let me know in the comments!


The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that this week's post is coming from a new host. Hopefully, all of my Substack subscribers have been transported over to the new list. If you're reading this in your inbox, you must have been! Phew, what a relief! Please let me know you're here by saying hi in the comment section!

I'm still getting to grips with the fresh site with its shiny new functions and will be gradually going through the old posts to make sure they're all updated and in order, but if you stumble upon a broken or missing link, or text that looks a bit all over the place, please let me know!

And if this is your first time reading my newsletter then welcome, I'd love for you to subscribe!


As always, I wanted to sign off by answering one of your questions:

Linked to the theme of this newsletter, subscriber Rachel asked:

What books are on your to read pile for 2024?

Oh, so, so many Rachel! Some have just been released, some I've had to read for a while. In no particular order, the ones I think I'll (probably) read first are:

  • The Other Side of Mrs Wood by Lucy Barker.
  • Pandora's Box: The Greed, Lust, and Lies that Broke Television by Peter Biskind.
  • Fearless by M.W. Craven.
  • What Kind of Mother by Clay McCleod Chapman.
  • Slewfoot by Brom.
  • Doctor Who: Star Beast by Gary Russell.

I say probably because I was all set to read The Other Side of Mrs Wood but got distracted by Neil McRobert's run down of his favourite horror novels of 2023 on the Talking Scared Podcast. Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi grabbed my attention so much that I found myself making an impulse buy and before I knew it, I'd started reading the book that Neil said was so good it overcame his possession phobia! Whoops!

Here's a link to the episode if you want to listen to Neil's list for yourself. Just don't blame me if your TBR pile gets even bigger as mine did!

‎Talking Scared: 176 – The Best Horror Novels of 2023 on Apple Podcasts
‎Show Talking Scared, Ep 176 – The Best Horror Novels of 2023 - 30 Dec 2023

Got a question of your own you'd like me to answer? Then pop it in the comments and I'll see if I can get to it in a future edition!


And that wraps up the first Cavletter from its new home. As always, if you enjoyed the newsletter, please share the love by forwarding it to someone you think would enjoy it, too, and don't forget to say hi in the comments!

Until next time, stay safe!