We’ll turn it around

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I’ve spent quite of lot of 2017 being ill. The boomerang virus has hit me three times since New Year’s Eve. At the moment it’s manifesting in a hacking cough, set off by a) singing anything longer than a bar and a half in one breath; b) laughing; c) breathing in cold air. Previously it’s made itself known in extreme lethargy, fever, sniffles tending to nosebleeds, headaches, lack of sleep, a sore throat, and a cough. Not, fortunately, all at once. Or, at least, not for long.

Consequently, I’ve spent quite a lot of 2017 wrapped up in a blanket and occupying myself with things that haven’t needed much energy. In what is perhaps not a coincidence, I have fallen hard for Yuri!!! on Ice, which is a very sweet and optimistic anime about figure skating. This despite my having had no prior interest in either anime or figure skating. It just seems to appeal to the same part of my brain that likes epaulettes and grand opera and dark chocolate. And Ruritania.

It’s probably also significant that Yuri!!! on Ice takes place in a universe where there’s no homophobia and where the sport system can be trusted. By contrast, I have spent the last year writing in a universe where sport chews you up and spits you out, and several years before that writing in a universe where homophobia is depressingly and devastatingly real. So perhaps I just needed a break.

There are parts of my brain that think it is absolutely appalling of me to be watching anything at all light and fluffy (not to mention admitting to it in public) when As We All Know The World Is Going To Hell. (There are other parts of my brain that don’t like my admitting to liking anything at all, including epaulettes, grand opera, and dark chocolate, because that’s really embarrassing, apparently. And another one that’s pointing out that I promised myself several years ago that I’d never apologise for my reading or watching material, because if an English Lit degree doesn’t give you the right to read what you like without feeling guilty about it, what does? Brains, eh?)

The thing is, it’s not as simple as that. In the same way that one can’t (at least, I can’t) read The Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau without reflecting that Rudolf V is actually a pathetic excuse for a king who deserves everything he gets, and wondering whether there’s a Ruritanian Communist Party, it’s difficult to watch Yuri!!! on Ice without acknowledging that, sadly, Russia doesn’t work like that, and China doesn’t work like that, and probably skating doesn’t work like that either. Which makes for some genuinely interesting fanfic; but I’ve been reading a lot of fluff, too.

It’s a constant push and pull: between escapism and realism (but how real is the realism?), between optimism and pessimism; the tension between the world as one would like it to be and the world as one fears it is; the question of what truth looks like in fiction. I feel the urge to complicate the simple stuff; and to give the miserable stuff a happy ending; to question whether an ending that an author clearly intended as happy is as happy as all that; and to  It’s a question with which a consumer engages as much as a creator. Actually, I find that the lines are blurred, and that I’m arguing with something with everything I write: some other book, something someone else said, adding another layer to the debate.

On which subject: I’ve got back into the editing process for A Spoke In The Wheel this week, after spending all of January too knackered and too scared to look at it. It turns out that it’s neither as bad nor as miserable as my mind had made it out to be. (Again, I say, brains, eh?) And I find myself wondering, now, where it falls on that continuum between realism and escapism. I’ve tried to set it in the real world, where zero hours contracts and sexism and burnout exist. I’ve got a friend checking it at the moment for errors in my portrayal of the notoriously dreadful UK disability benefits process. It’s fairly cynical about sport, or, at least, the narrator is.

But I find, re-reading it, that on the whole it’s hopeful. And I’m glad about that. Apart from anything else, it occurs to me that if we can’t let ourselves imagine a better world, we’re unlikely ever to get one.

Delaying

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For me, the new year came in with a whimper, not with a bang. I was in bed long before the bangs started, knocked flat by this virus that everyone’s been getting. And it’s taken me a while to get up and running. There’s a lot to catch up with, or, at least, there could be, if I were thinking in terms of needing to catch up with things.

The crib should have gone away. It didn’t. It’s going to have to stay up until Candlemas now, and for once the Magi get to stay by the manger for more than a day. (The parrots were a present from a friend, who’d seen this crib and got ideas about how to improve mine.)

The printer is out of toner. Which means that I haven’t printed off the current draft of A Spoke in the Wheel. Which means that I haven’t read the current draft of A Spoke in the Wheel. And I’m aware that there’s more to it than the simple fact that the printer’s out of toner.

The snag is the usual one. I am scared of reading it because I am worried that I will come across a problem that is unfixable. Perhaps I have failed to do some essential bit of research and have made a mistake that’s going to kill the whole plot. Perhaps I have managed to be unintentionally yet monumentally offensive. It’s always a variation on one of those two. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.

There are two potential ways to deal with this. The first is to wait it out. I’ve lived with myself long enough to know that I do get things finished, eventually, and that if the book and I want to spend two months hiding for each other then perhaps that’s just what we need to do, and we’ll find each other in good time. The second is to get somebody else to read it for me. Sooner or later I would anyway, but this is a much earlier stage in the process, and I find myself reluctant to pass it out before it’s as good as I can get it unaided.

At the moment, while I’m still getting over this illness and blessed with a contented lack of urgency, I’m going with the first option. I spent far too much of last year worrying that I hadn’t done enough, that I wasn’t writing fast enough, and, now that feeling’s a long way off, I’m going to enjoy its absence. The book can wait.

December Reflections 30: thank you for…

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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 17: five years ago

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Five years ago, I was writing to December prompts for the first time, though I seem to have done a whole heap at once. This was Reverb 11.

Five years ago, I was beginning to come to terms with some things that I now accept as the price of admission for being who I am. That I’m not at my most energetic, creative or enthusiastic at this time of year. That winter will always be difficult. That uninterrupted good health is not, after all, something to be expected as a right.

Five years ago, my diary was much more colourful than it is today. This is actually one of the less exuberant pages: elsewhere there are stickers, collage, glittery pens, all sorts. I think the reason I’m not doing that so much at the moment is the fact that the chest of drawers wherein I keep all that gubbins is no longer in the same room as my diary; these days it’s much easier to write in black fountain pen, the book resting on my knees, with my feet up on the sofa.

And I was just learning the use of fandoms that take a while to get through. I was reading The Count of Monte Cristo and watching early Doctor Who. The book was probably a little less battered five years ago.

December Reflections 8: on the ground

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On the ground. Grounded. Down to earth with a bump.

This is new ground, or, rather, what is on top of the ground hasn’t been there long. Pavement and fallen leaves; much of the ground in London looks like this at the moment. It all feels a bit artificial: neat, and new, and even the trees have been put there by somebody.

It’s Thursday, and things are difficult again. It’s dark when I get up now, and it’s dark when I leave work, and in between it’s grey. I pour music into my ears and light into my eyes, and it helps a little bit, but not enough, and I’ve got to do it all again tomorrow. I’m taking comfort in the fact that, for the moment at least, I retain enough of a sense of humour to appreciate ‘Greenleaf 1’.

December Reflections 7: five things about me

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Five people I am:

  1. the Fairy Godmother. I’ve been the Fairy Godmother on and off for years, mostly at work. She’s the one who knows the answers, the one who gets things done on surprisingly limited resources.
  2. the Queen of Hearts. This is a very new persona and I’m still finding my way into being her. She’s the one who lives by love and not by guilt; she’s the one who’s managed to find a balance between living with integrity and not burning out.
  3. Black Pen and Red Pen, Writing and Editing, go hand in hand. I love them both and I’m counting them as one.
  4. the Pilgrim. Always on the way to somewhere, or looking at a map, working out where the next somewhere will be.
  5. the one who looks fantastic in hats, and bright red, and bright red hats, and knows it, and also doesn’t care what anybody else thinks.

December Reflections 4: circles

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I’ve had bicycles on the brain this year. No, I’ve had bicycles on the brain since I stepped out of Woking station one day in May 2011 and found myself in the middle of a cycle race – but this year in particular I’ve been thinking about bicycles, writing about cyclists, photographing bicycle wheels, watching cycle races – and riding bicycles.

This one’s new – well, new to me. I bought it from my brother in July. The great thing about it is that allows me to cycle at both ends of a railway journey, rather than just the home end – which, if I’m visiting someone who lives a fair distance from a station, for example, is handy.

Anyway, there are lots of circles in it, handily depicted on the diagram on the down tube. (Is it a down tube, on a Brompton?) Also in circle news of 2016, I had a poem called ‘Circles’ included in Purple Prose: bisexuality in Britain. And I thought a lot about spirals, about labyrinths, about recurrence, about finding oneself back where one started, about the other sort of cycle. I thought about experience, about how I can compare any experience that I have now to experiences that I have had previously, and to experiences that I can imagine having in the future.

Next year I’m intending to publish A Spoke In The Wheel. I’m going to return to Santiago de Compostela, completing a cycle of a decade. Apart from that? I don’t know, which is unusual for me. By this point in the year I tend to have a good idea of what’s coming up in the next one. As things stand at the moment, I have a very strong sense of having finished a lot of things I’ve been working on, of having achieved most of the goals I identified, of having resolved many of the challenges that arose in my twenties, and not being entirely sure what comes next.

I’ll definitely do some cycling, though.