Saturday, 4 January 2020

2019: Is It Bad to Have Had a Good Year?

Looking back, it feels absurd to say that 2019 was a good year, even when I'm only trying to sum up my own experiences.  Whatever your stance, it's safe to assume you probably got as fed up as everyone did with the unremitting tire fire that was British and US politics, which increasingly looked like a cruel parody of how you might imagine modern democracies ought to be run.  And even all that seemed like nothing besides a messy sideshow to far more cataclysmic problems, as the world in general finally caught on to the fact that we're not centuries but decades away from irreparably trashing the only planet we have and then proceeded to go back to sticking its fingers in its ears and whistling.  In the face of all that, anything that's not screaming despair seems a bit silly.

Still.  Personally I had a pretty good year, all told.

To immediately row back from that glimpse of optimism, it's fair to say that probably had a lot to do with 2019 not being the horror show of 2018, and thus being better basically by default.  But it's also fair to say that, while it had its share of tribulations, nothing went horrifically wrong, and there were a lot of happier moments along the way.  On the writing front, I was convinced at the end of 2018 that I wouldn't still be in business by this point, and I am, and I have four books lined up, among them a project with one of my favourite publishers that came absolutely out of the blue.  In that sense, it's probably also true that 2019's biggest virtue is the extent to which it set up good stuff for 2020.  Okay, so I have no clue how I'm going to get through this one, either, the money hasn't exactly been rolling in and I can't keep on operating at a loss forever, but this time I'm determined to stick with the writing career for another twelve months at least.  Things have gone well enough to warrant that commitment, but even if they hadn't, there are a couple of novels I'm itching to write and I'd really like to get one of them out of my system.

And it's not as though 2019 didn't have a few legitimate high points.  I've had a couple more books released, that's certainly something.  With some doubts towards the end of last year as to the future of the Black River Chronicles, it was a tremendous relief to get book three, Eye of the Observer, out there, knowing I'd be wrapping up the series exactly as I was hoping to in the upcoming Graduate or Die.  And while the release of my standalone thriller A Savage Generation wasn't such a joyous experience - the reception has been on the decidedly quiet side - I was still glad to finally usher it into the world after a gestation period of nigh on a decade.  After all that time and so much revision, I was past the point where I could objectively say whether it was any good, so the fact that what reviews there have been are positive was a big weight off.  Sad to say, the under-performance of both my books with Flame Tree Press means that writing more thrillers in the foreseeable future feels like too big a gamble, but I hope it's something I'll return to eventually, since I feel like I didn't altogether suck at it.
Elsewhere, while the short story side of things didn't prove terribly profitable, a lot of what I had out was exciting in its own right.  After a desperately slow start, the year saw my first translations into Italian and Japanese, my first pick for a best-of anthology, a return to Interzone after too long a gap and my fourth appearance in those stunning hardback anthologies the other branch of Flame Tree have been routinely putting out.  Add to that a couple of new stories appearing and a couple more reprint sales upcoming for this year, and the short fiction front definitely offered up its share of treats, not to mention a reminder that it's something I really want to go back to devoting more energy to if I can possibly find the time.

And then there's the personal stuff, which hasn't been particularly dramatic and was all the better for that.  Mostly it was a case of plodding along, both figuratively and literally; most of my happiest moments were spent wandering in the wilds, and the highlight of my year was getting through all twenty-six miles of the Yorkshire Three Peaks on my own, an achievement I've been meaning to tick off my bucket list for an awfully long time but certainly didn't expect to enjoy half so much as I did, or to get such phenomenal weather for.  Oh, and I got to the end of my first fully fledged D&D campaign, which was an awesome experience ... thank you, Jimi, if you happen to read this, for the immense amounts of work you put into our crazy epic of an adventure, I'm about to wrap up a four book series and I still don't have a clue how you pulled it all together!

Now, I'm not much for new year's resolutions, and if I was going to make any, they'd mostly involve continuing stuff I've already started.  Foremost is a bid to stop working such nutty hours, which I've made some real advances with - yay for not hammering away until nine o'clock most nights! - but still have a way to go on.  Generally I've come to appreciate that you can't become a successful writer by simply throwing every waking hour at your career, or that maybe you can, but it's probably never going to be worth it in the long term from the point of view of not becoming a burned-out shell of a human being.  This job has demanded a lot of me over the last decade, and I don't resent that - I hope to have fourteen or fifteen books out by the end of 2020, and that seems a fair payoff - but there are other things I'd like to be devoting attention to, and it would be amazing to get to the end of a year and not feel ready to drop.  Actually, I think that maybe is my new year's resolution: to not put writing first to the extent that it totally kicks my ass.  That seems reasonable, right?  If I could pull that off, get these upcoming books out, and, I dunno, maybe make some proper headway with my snail-paced attempts to learn Japanese, then I reckon that'll be 2020 put to good use.

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