This time last year we’d just gone into lockdown again and I was busy home schooling. Just the other day my eleven-year-old son said that he’d forgotten all about that time, although I certainly haven’t! I remember the great tumult of emotions I was feeling at the time – the continued worry about Covid, frustration at having my own creative plans put on hold again, the desire to help both my children as much as I feasibly could (while clutching hold of a little time for myself), as well as a deep sense of rightness about the fact that I’d closed down my small press, Mother’s Milk Books, just the year before. It would’ve been incredibly difficult to keep the press going while facilitating my children’s learning from home (as I’d already found in 2020).
But, come end of April when both children returned to school, and with my debut poetry pamphlet, Russian Doll, published, I felt like life was regaining more of an even keel and that I’d be able to focus more on my writing.
And I did, so much so that I wrote a good number of short stories and poems, and managed to draw together two (micro) short story collections as well as a poetry pamphlet manuscript. And by the end of the year I was submitting my novel to agents confident that I’d edited it and polished it as much as possible. There’s no real news about any of these things as yet, but the main takeaway has been this: regardless of what the publishing outcome is, building a body of work is a valuable thing to do in of itself, and although I’ve now decided to rework/edit/continue to add to both short story collections, I feel as though I’m making progress.
Also, 2021 was the year I finally got my own newsletter up and running, and I’m very proud to see my list building and readers responding to it in a positive way. I just want it to be a little parcel of monthly writing and artistic loveliness, and I *think* that I’m sort of hitting that goal. Though, feel free to sign up below if you want to see if I actually am hitting that goal! (In January’s newsletter I’ll be reflecting on my submissions process.)
But when I look back at 2021, a couple of things really shine out. They were the two conventions, Fantasycon in September and Novacon in November, which I managed to get to (thanks to negative LFD tests and good health at the time). It had felt like such a long time since I’d seen many of my friends in the SFF scene and boy was it good to be with them again! Just the act of drinking a coffee with a writing friend, or having a meal together, was incredibly special. I think that every conversation I had was enriching, but at Fantasycon it was especially lovely to chat with Penny Jones, Dan Coxon, Francesca T. Barbini and Rob Malan, Kim Lakin-Smith, Donna Scott and Neil Bond, Lucie McKnight Hardy, Lorraine Wilson and David Stokes, Steve Shaw and Rob Shearman, Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle, Ashley Stokes.
Later, at Novacon, it was particularly good to catch up with Noel Chidwick and to have fascinating discussions with Christopher Priest and Chris Baker. It was also a pleasure to meet Rogelio Fojo who directed the excellent short film The Stooge (based on one of Christopher Priest’s short stories).
Another gem was becoming a member of the Northampton SF Crit Group, thanks to the kindness of Ian Whates, and getting to connect with some incredible people and writers on a regular basis thanks to Zoom. Of course it’s not quite the same as meeting in person, but it’s wonderful to be able to read the other members’ stories and to offer feedback (as well as getting feedback on my own work, though that’s a little more scary!). Likewise, Allen Ashley’s cosy SFF writers’ “get togethers” have been lovely.
Zoom has continued to be a really valuable way to connect with other people, especially if for health reasons they couldn’t get to cons, though I can also empathise with those saying they have “Zoom fatigue” – I particularly find that my eyesight suffers with too many online meetings.
Mentoring and freelance work
I love working with other writers to help them achieve their writing goals, and I’ve been doing this kind of work for years now, but last year one of my mentees finished the first draft of her novel – a goal she’d been working towards for some time – and I felt amazingly proud and happy for her. It really is such a special feeling to be able to help in this (albeit small) way, and I’m already looking forward to seeing my other mentees smash their goals this year.
Also… the two books that I commissioned for Valley Press last year will be published this year. I can’t say much about them now, but I can say that they are simply wonderful and I am in awe of these authors and their mastery of the short story form. Watch this space for more news on those two books!
A not-so-sparkling gem was getting Covid just before Christmas last year. But, in many ways it was sort of a relief to get it, because we’d been worried about it for so long, and then to get it (without it being as horrendous as it could be) kind of felt like a lessening of that fear. Also, I have a sense that getting some natural immunity to it (on top of the vaccinations) is a good thing. Of course, our Christmas plans with our wider family were rather derailed, but there’s really nothing like suddenly going into self-isolation to make one thankful for our (mostly harmonious) family unit, a well-stocked freezer, kind neighbours and internet shopping! Oh, and a flexible “make-do” kind of mindset is a must. (Something that those of us with a tendency to OCD can always do with practising and cultivating.)
Goals for 2022
More writing – obviously! – but also some deep thought about what it is that I want from my writing. The business of acquiring, publishing and selling books is a deeply subjective one and, as such, an individual writer has little control over what will happen to their writing once it is “out there” for the so-called gatekeepers to assess. Ultimately, the only thing you can do is focus on what you can control – the actual writing. Still, every writer needs to decide what to do with their work once it’s finished (send it out to agents or publishers, small indie presses, self-publish, leave it in a drawer…) and the choices to be made will depend on each writer’s personal situation and what’s most important to them: artistic integrity, time, energy, finances… there’s a lot to consider… and I think I need to spend a little more time thinking about all this.
Another goal of mine is to continue to make progress with the decluttering and doing-up of our house. I can’t quite believe that we’ve lived here, in Nottingham, for 12 years now, and yet I still go about our house spotting some clutter/room or area that needs redecorating and thinking I really need to do something about that… There really is a kind of psychic burden attached to all this “stuff” and “stuff to do”, so I’m aiming to do more to combat the clutter and to making our home environment a much more pleasing place to be.
Lastly, I would like to do a little more art than I did last year. Amidst all of last year’s busyness, I did create a few pieces that I’m pleased with (these were mainly for my family) but I know that I have many, many half-finished works that I really do want to complete, and so I’m going to make some more time to work on them. Also, last year, when my multi-talented friend, Sarah James, gave me the encouragement to share some of my illustrations on Facebook, I ended up getting some lovely comments about my work. It made me think that I really should share more of my work and (whisper it) even try to sell it. I have lots of prints sitting about, and the odd original I’d be willing to part with (like this new ‘Martian Cat’ below) so if anyone is interested, feel free to email me. (Note to self: reinstall my old art page…)
Do you have any writing goals for this year? Or are you, too, hoping to declutter your house? Or create art? I’d love to know.
Lastly, here’s that email newsletter sign-up box. This month I’m giving away a pretty notebook and a BIC biro (my pen of choice for making note of my writing submissions), in the hope that it will be of use in your own writing (or decluttering or arty) goals. Thanks for reading, and until next time!