December Reflections 30: thank you for…


Much has happened in 2016 for which I am grateful.

That was not going to be the opening sentence. I have just deleted an apologetic introductory screed in which I explained that I knew it had been a dreadful year on the large scale. I am not going to apologise for having had some things that were not unilaterally appalling happen to me. Some good things did happen.

Thank you, 2016, for:

  • the positive reception for Speak Its Name
    • No, it hasn’t sold thousands, but the people who have bought it have liked it a lot.
  • my new job
    • It is a huge privilege to witness people growing in skill and confidence through adult education, and I’m also grateful that my involvement in this is compatible with my introverted personality.
  • vastly improved levels of confidence
    • This time last year I would not have been contacting bloggers out of the blue to see if they were interested in reviewing my book, I’ll tell you that much.
  • glimmerings of progress in some other personal matters
    • Operation Safe House II? Operation Mission to Mars? Well, maybe.
  • walks along the river
    • Getting off Twitter has helped every time. Getting out of the house has helped most times. A brisk four miles (up to the lock, and back again) makes things an awful lot better.
  • time by the sea
    • A long weekend in Lyme Regis in April; a week in Ventnor in July, and then another few days there just now.
  • the love and support of friends and family
    • I really do have some excellent people in my life.
  • perspective
    • Even when things inside my head have been dreadful, I have never forgotten that this is not reality. I think this might have been the first year that this happened.
  • the music.

December Reflections 29: my wish for 2017


Today I was in Surrey, spending a day with some university friends and our various partners and children, as has become traditional for this week between Christmas and New Year. In the afternoon we walked out to the playground near Merstham station, and I was struck by the beauty of the winter sunlight.

Just on the other side of this bank is the M25. Walk up to the top of it (we didn’t, today, but I have in the past) and the noise of the traffic hits you, thousands and thousands of cars and lorries orbiting London on the country’s most notorious motorway.

And yet from this side you wouldn’t know. One hears the trains – two lines cross at Merstham, and even in these days of Southern Fail there are plenty of trains passing through to entertain the children – but the motorway doesn’t intrude itself upon one’s notice. It has its uses, of course: one party would have found it difficult to get there without it.

My wish for 2017 is to see clearly, to see what’s really there, to know about both the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad, to recognise that they’re intermingled in ways that I’ve yet to comprehend, and not to discount the one or to deny the other.

December Reflections 28: quiet moment


On a busy day, one has to take one’s quiet moments where one finds them. Waiting for the rest of the family to put their coats on and come out to the car. Guarding the bags in a shopping centre coffee shop while everyone else takes their half hour browsing the sales. On a slow train trundling through the Surrey hills at sunset.

There have been plenty of quiet moments, it turns out, when I’ve looked for them.

December Reflections 24: traditions


‘Anything done once is a tradition,’ my husband says. ‘Anything done twice is a very long-standing tradition.’ Traditions take root easily and, given the right circumstances, grow and grow. The Christmas crib is a genuinely long-standing tradition, having been invented by St Francis and therefore being Older Than Protestantism. This particular crib has been a feature of the Jowitt family Christmas for as long as I can remember, so that’s almost as old. The angel with the violin showed up at some point in the mid-nineties, and that began the tradition of adding things to the crib. Next came the dragon and the penguin; the other animals and mythical beasts found their way in gradually over subsequent years; and I’ll swear I’ve never seen that triceratops before today.

The one figure conspicuously not present is of course baby Jesus, who is placed there after midnight mass. The shepherds and kings are lurking out of shot, too.

Traditions can be comforting and meaningful and also fun. They can get a bit out of hand if you’re not careful, and sometimes it’s helpful to pull back a little. After all, they can be reinstated with little difficulty if it turns out it’s Not The Same without them.

December Reflections 22: this year was…


… a slog. I’ve got to a good place, objectively speaking, but getting here has been very tiring. I feel as if I’ve had to put a lot of effort into simply keeping things ticking over.

And does the road wind uphill all the way? Yes, to the very end.

In 2016, I have:

  • got a new job
  • published a novel (this feels like a little bit of a cheat, because most of the work happened in 2015 and earlier. But still!)
  • completed the first draft of another novel (and my goodness, that felt like a slog)
  • got my head around my finances

I’m in a better place financially than I was at the start of the year; I suspect I’m improved in terms of confidence and perspective. I know all that, but I don’t feel as if I’m in any sort of state to appreciate it.

I think the major lessons are, firstly, not to jump straight into the next novel, or, if I must, to only write when I feel like it; and, secondly, to book my holiday well in advance of any fainting in coils. When I say ‘holiday’ I mean, ‘annual leave’, but you know, an actual holiday wouldn’t hurt either.

Some pretty appalling stuff has happened this year on the world stage. I’ve dealt better with that than I would have done last year. A couple of bereavements – longstanding family friends – were more difficult.

It’s been a year of getting through things. I seem to have got through them. Here I am. That’s probably worth celebrating, but I don’t quite have the energy to celebrate.