Christmas

Festive highlights, week 1

The first of my two weeks off work is just about over, and as was inevitable I’ve done a pitiful amount of writing. I have, however, read most of Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams (bit gruesome in places, but then it is set in hell), eaten quite a few mince pies, a wedge of stollen and an awful lot of roast potatoes, and listened to some great radio.

The radio in question naturally includes the adaptation of the Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman novel Good Omens I’ve been looking forward to for months. Peter Serafinowicz and Mark Heap as Crowley and Aziraphale are fantastic, and it’s actually made me want to go back and re-read the novel, though I probably won’t as the To Read pile is teetering as it is.

I’ve also listened to the final ever Cabin Pressure, John Finnemore’s superb airline sitcom (I do like a series that ends properly instead of drifting on till they stop commissioning it), and the first episode of a fantasy series called Pilgrim (think old magic, think English countryside, think Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but more to the point). All of this has sent me scurrying off to half-finished stories of my own (mainly of the comic fantasy variety), all fired up and ready to type. Right after I’ve had another mince pie.

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The disorganisation before Christmas

Does the fact that I’ve missed two Wednesday posts without noticing tell you how well-organised I am at the moment? My body clock is still set to October, and waking up to Christmas morning next week is going to come as something of a shock. Last Wednesday I got to within 3 pages of the end of a book on the way home and picked up a fresh one for the morning commute, thinking I’d read those last few pages later. I still haven’t, and memories of the preceding story are beginning to fade. That’ll be one more item to add to the list of things to do during my two weeks off work; it’s already physically impossible to fit them all in.

Shiny red Christmas hat and bowls of nuts

As I wander off to make another cup of tea, grab a mince pie and look for the list that tells me where all my lists are, I’ll take the opportunity to wish my readers (both the regular and the just-stopped-by) a Merry Christmas, or other winter festival of choice, in case I don’t get round to the next two Wednesday posts either. I hope you get all the books you wanted, or a book token, or a new friend with a well-stocked library (not as a Christmas present, I more sort of meant making friends at a party or during a long wait at a cold bus stop).

Where did that month go?

Looks like I haven’t been here for a month, not sure how that happened. No doubt you all missed me and have been waiting for my return (it’s nearly Christmas, I’m allowed to dream). The sci-fi noir novel I was writing for NaNoWriMo (Sunrise Over Centrified City, as its working title goes) reached just over 25,000 words by midnight on November 30th. It’s now creeping slowly to 35,000 and I’m still working away reasonably steadily, still enjoying myself. Maybe that’s how come a month has passed without me noticing.

It is of course the season of mince pies and tinsel which heralds, apart from the imminent arrival of friends and family to scoff the aforementioned mince pies, the end of the year. All those writing goals I didn’t stick to! The craft projects I didn’t complete for the third year running! People I haven’t met up with, places I haven’t been, jumpers I haven’t fished out of the back of the cupboard. Yes, it’s time for the annual wallowing in negativity and despair. However, this is what tinsel was invented for – to shine its purple plastic positivity around the house and enable you to dust yourself off and start planning for the year to come. All those writing goals. And the craft projects I know I can finish if I just find the right time. Now where’s my 2014 calendar?

The highly predictable review of the year, and a preview of 2013

With one mince pie and a heel of stollen left in the tin, it’s time to turn our attention to the changing of the calendar. A moment to pause and reflect on the twelve months behind, and start planning the next batch.

2012 saw the release of my first novel Wasted Years, as an e-book costing £1.99. It also saw, back in January, the free electronic release of the graphic novel I wrote a few years ago, Boys Don’t Cry. If you’ve read those and are eager for further output, you might not have to wait too long: plans are afoot for a small collection of my short stories (I would call it a slim volume, but it’ll be an e-book), mostly unpublished ones, to be called The Little Book of Northern Women. I’ve been designing the cover this very morning.

In case anyone’s interested, my submission level for 2012 was higher than ever before, but since it mostly consisted of competition entries I have very little to show for it, at least in the way of publications. In the way of fun, friendships, silliness, and mentions in the Telegraph (here and here), there’s been quite a bit, thanks to Louise Doughty and the SSC. Apart from Kelvin and JulieT, I don’t think I can point you at any of my SSC comrades, I don’t even know most of their names, but I can point you at one of the best stories to win the monthly competition, which happens to have been written by possibly the most active member of the SSC: go read ’76 by Kipples, I’ll be here when you get back.

I hope you enjoyed that story, I did. Anyway, apart from SSC output, I’ve been reading the usual mix of Doctor Who novels, crime, fantasy, sci-fi, writing manuals, and literary fiction this year (and a history of British trade unionism). I got an e-reader for Christmas (Kobo mini, since you asked) and I’ve already started filling it with Anthony Trollope novels I haven’t yet enjoyed (he did write an awful lot of books). So many books, so little time, as ever.

May you all have a year filled with all the books you most want to read, all the story acceptances you warrant, and some understanding relatives for when the deadlines are looming. See you on the other side of midnight.

Welcome to the fastest week of the year

So, it’s Christmas week again. How did that happen? Today is already the second day of my long festive break and I haven’t done any writing yet. Thus the guilt begins. Looking at it positively though, I have made one submission so far (I’m aiming for a few more before the year finally sputters to a halt) and I’ve been reading (and enjoying) Castle Waiting vol 1 by Linda Medley, a hardback graphic novel that was a touch on the heavy side so didn’t get taken along on the commute. Once I’ve finished that I’ll probably move on to one of the hefty paperbacks that’s been waiting around for similar reasons, maybe Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

I have mixed views on the Festive Hiatus. No going to work till early January, all routines disrupted, and the chance to do what you want. On the other hand all routines disrupted includes writing routines, and then there are the family gatherings, seasonal films that absolutely have to be watched this week, attempts at baking, boxes of inviting chocolates… Distractions aplenty and no particular inclination to resist them. While I wouldn’t miss out on ridiculous conversations with Big Brother for anything, there are aspects of the festivities I could do without. I’ll be the one in the corner with a notebook during that long aftermath to Christmas dinner, when half the family’s asleep and not much is going on.

The festive excuse note

It looks like the post a week thing has finally crumbled, but I’ll let myself off because over the whole year I’ve missed very few weeks. It’s the festive season, specifically that weird bit between Christmas and New Year when everything’s on hiatus. Including, apparently, me.

I’ve been avoiding writing since I’ve been on holiday, too much like hard work. I’ve got the Debut Dagger entry to put together, which is frankly terrifying, and I should tidy up some mostly-finished stories to send off to places. Inevitably of course I’ve been eating mince pies, doing vastly important rearrangements of the newly reinstated bookcase, and generally filling up my days such that I go to bed wondering where the time went.

Thankfully, Neil Gaiman has set me back on track. Not personally, of course, and I haven’t even been reading his usually absorbing journal lately. I have been travelling on trains a lot though, and yesterday I picked up a book almost at random (it had a purple cover, which was enough to catch my eye) from the To Read pile. It was Smoke and Mirrors, a collection of stories and poems by Neil Gaiman, which has a long introduction with notes on each piece.

One of the things I like about Neil Gaiman’s journal is its feeling of honesty (I’m not saying it is honest, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t filtered and buffed up and slanted in particular ways); the illusion that here is this perfectly ordinary Englishman, with the same problems of self-doubt, occasional laziness, lack of inspiration, and looming deadlines as the rest of us. Here, we think, is something I could aspire to, it’s not entirely beyond my reach, no superhuman powers needed. Of course that’s glossing over the ability to write gripping stories well, but that’s not necessarily relevant at this point.

And so to Smoke and Mirrors. I’m about halfway through and though I confess I’ve been more puzzled than anything by the poems (I think I knocked my poetry Off switch a couple of years ago and I can’t seem to accidentally elbow it back into life), almost all of the stories so far have made me berate myself for letting such a book languish on my shelf for six months. Though if I’d read it immediately in the summer, it wouldn’t have been available to provide that much-needed spark of inspiration now. Which it has. The stories themselves have fired me up, but the notes in the introduction have been useful in an Ah, he does that too sort of a way, like a narrowly-focused version of his journal.

Not having a hat with me, I’ll raise my sister’s jaunty Christmas-pudding-shaped hat to Mr Gaiman and wish him a marvellous festive season and all the best for 2012. And that goes for you, too.