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I know these posts are annoying. So, in advance, I apologise. The reason I’m doing it is because I feel like I need to. I manage and understand my thoughts best through writing, and 2021 has been an incredibly hard year for me (and everyone) but I have also accomplished so many things I never believed I could. So I want to give myself a chance to look at them and what they mean to me, and maybe even offer inspiration and encouragement to other people who have dreams they want to see become reality.

These are the things I have accomplished. And I am insanely proud of each and every one of them:

The Table Read

The Table Read was a gamble. I have been creating writing advice style content for a long time now as part of my work with Siren Stories. I was writing a blog, Creative Writing Advice, I have written a book, How To Write A Story, and I have been making numerous video series on YouTube teaching creative writing to people. It was a huge and dominating part of my life, and something I have always taken immense pride in.

However, this year things changed. Not my passion for writing advice, but my connection to it. I was releasing three videos a week on YouTube and I started to get ill. The pressure of performance, which I am really not comfortable with (this will come up later too), was affecting me mentally. The need to speak constantly was leaving me with a sore throat and I kept getting ill. I needed to take a step back.

But I still wanted to connect with and support the writing community that I love so much. I started hosting authors on my creative writing blog, interviewing them and sharing their books with my audience, using that platform to try and benefit other writers directly. This sparked a conversation, what more could we do? How many other creatives could use that space to promote their work?

From there, The Table Read was developed. A space where writers, artists, actors, filmmakers, podcasters and so much more could share their work. I took on the job as editor and in June of 2021 we launched. Since then I have worked with hundreds of creative people, offered them a platform to share their work, celebrated their achievements, and helped them find more audience for their work.

It takes a lot of organisation and a lot of time. There are emails constantly back and forth sorting out what style of article would work for each contributor, gathering information for their promotion, and then the daily promotion of each piece, making sure each contributor is given the air space their product needs. I need to keep the content fresh for the readers who love to find these creatives to connect with, and I need to make sure they website itself stays fresh and attractive, otherwise the audiences won’t come and the people I feature won’t benefit.

It’s a lot of work. But I’m doing it. I’m connecting with incredible human beings who are creating things, putting themselves out into the world in the vulnerable way that only artists do, and I’m celebrating them every step of the way. And I am incredibly proud to be doing it.

What Ivy Wants

My fiction writing has always been in the urban fantasy genre. It’s a style I love, both in my own consumer of entertainment role, and in my creator. I love the flexibility and freedom afforded when you’re throwing magic and monsters at people, how you can explore humanity through something so outside of the normal human experience.

What Ivy Wants by JJ Barnes

In February I published my first book that wasn’t set in the fantasy world I usually write in. A book that was grounded in this reality. And a book that was personal to me in a way no previous book has ever been.

What Ivy Wants was a challenge to write in a lot of ways. I drew on experiences and emotions that I had learned to box off and contain, I relived events and held those feelings on the surface as I wrote. Ivy Rhodes is not me and her life is not mine. But I bled into her as I wrote.

My husband ending our marriage was a pivotal moment in my life. It changed everything. The life I was planning to lead in that house with that man and that future was immediately obliterated. With my daughter to raise, and no foreseeable way of making a living, I was thrown into a world I was unfamiliar with and had to try and find my way as an unemployed single mother. And it was scary, painful, and hard. I made a lot of mistakes. A LOT of mistakes. But I did it. I got through it.

Ivy wasn’t a mother, but she was thrown into that void of an unknown future and forced to make sense of it. She made a lot of mistakes. She hurt, she cried, and she struggled. But her story mattered, and her story was told. It wasn’t easy for so many reasons, but it was worth every tear I shed as I wrote it. And, despite everything, it’s a story full of laughter and love, just like my own life.

Blood On The Moon

I am not a performer. And, even more so, I am not a singer. At least not in public. One of my oldest and dearest friends Aimee has vivid memories of holding me up as we performed karaoke together at a pub quiz to try and win bonus points and I nearly fainted on the stage.

This year, despite everything, together with my partner Jon, my first single came out. We formed the band Blood On The Moon (named for one of my absolute favourite films Practical Magic) and we recorded our first song, ‘Til I Lose. I held a microphone, I sang lyrics, and I let people hear me.

It would never have happened if it wasn’t for my next section, Hollowhood. We wrote and recorded most of the songs on our soundtrack, either ourselves or with other incredible artists we produced music with, and we needed another one. We had contributors who had offered their own original work (INCREDIBLE artists you can listen to on Spotify now), and we had written songs with friends and performers we worked with (again on Spotify, well worth it) but we had a spot that needed a song. And that song would need vocals.

When Jon first suggested we do a song together I laughed at him. But he made me feel safe, and he made me feel confident. Or… at least less UNconfident. And I did it. I sang a song. This is something I would never have believed I would ever do in a million years. But now, I want to do it again. I want us to release more creepy gothic songs together. And I want to actually sing them. Never in public, never in front of people, but in the safe and fun way Jon created, I want to sing. And I will forever be incredibly proud, and shocked, that I can make that statement.


I don’t really know where to start with my feelings about Hollowhood. I suppose I should start at the beginning and ask you to picture a little girl who loves films so desperately that she obsesses over them, watches them all day and all night, reads books about the making of them. And then tell you that one day she got to make one herself.

For me, 2021 is most importantly the year my film came out. It’s not something that came out to big fanfare, it wasn’t made with a huge budget and a big crew, it wasn’t made in Hollywood or Pinewood Studios. It was made by us, with our friends, in our little town. It was made with no money, no time, and no experience. But it was made.

Together with Jon, that hairy fella I talk about so often, we wrote the script, directed the movie, and we even both acted in it. Again, performance anxiety was thrust aside because we had roles that needed filling and we were people capable of filling them. This film was made in that way. Are you a body able to hold this microphone? No experience with anything to do with sound equipment? Here, hold this microphone. Can you hold a camera and point it at at person? Do it. Terrified of acting, are you, JJ? Here, say these lines.

Look at our poster and try to tell me those beautiful faces don’t belong in a movie? These actors who, despite having no experience on screen before, showed up every day and acted their hearts out. Worked insanely long hours and put in performances that were just so gloriously perfect that I will never be able to thank them enough.

Between writing and working and life, I spent hours and hours and hours of 2021 editing the footage from our film. Shaving microseconds off different shots to make it snap faster, adjust the colour levels from shot to shot to try and make it look as perfect as possible, whilst also accepting it wasn’t made in a way that could ever look as glossy as the high-end movies I love to watch. And as I edited it, Jon scored it. Hours and hours of writing and recording music timed perfectly to each bit of footage I sent to him.

On October 10th, Hollowhood was released to the world. We had ideas of it being picked up and distributed by a professional company, and we even had interest, but everything was going so slowly. We had already put off release from 2020 due to not being able to finish filming during lockdown, and the idea of waiting for Halloween 2022 was just too painful. So, as we always do, we decided to go it alone. We premiered our film on YouTube, and cried tears of joy as we saw the numbers of people logging on to watch it.

Our little film. The film we wrote for our mates, that we all muddled together to get made, learning as we went, and driven by a sheer love and passion for stories and cinema. People watched it. And some of them even loved it.

We will hopefully get to make more films. Maybe even one day we’ll be making films with a big studio and a big crew and a big budget. But could anything we do ever top the feeling of knowing that we made Hollowhood and that people watched it with smiles on their faces? If anything comes even close then I am beyond excited to experience it. Because managing to make a movie is something I will forever hold in my heart as pride and joy.


This is an insanely long post. But 2021 had such huge moments for me that each one kind of deserves an entire post to itself. Between these incredible highs I experienced some lows that are truly agonising. It has not been easy. But I got through.

It’s New Years Eve. The end of 2021. And I get to look back on the year with these things as my focus. These gorgeous and wonderful achievements will always dominate my thoughts more than any pain I experienced. Not everybody is so lucky, and I know that, but I am and I can’t not be grateful for that. And proud. Because I have worked crazy hours and with a passion that meant I could achieve them.

May more of us achieve our dreams in 2022, because there are always more dreams to find, and always more things to work on.

Thank you for reading.

Happy New Years.

JJ x


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