If life is a story – and it bears all the markers of one – then 2012 was my narrative collapse. Everything I used to be got chewed to pulp, spat out, and stamped on. Nobody to blame for that but myself, but it was not a pleasant year.
Still, it did give me an almost completely blank slate from which to create 2013, which has been the best for a while. For the most part, it’s been about transitions and looking forward. When the bells chime we’ll be in our final six months here in India, and already our thoughts are turned to Glasgow and starting again over there. After five years away I don’t think it’s possible to pick up where we left off, but I welcome that. I like new starts.
We were over in Glasgow this summer, buying the house which we’ll be moving into somewhere around July. That marked the start of the long process of returning. Kirsty has suddenly turned into a nest-featherer, for a house we’ve only spent a few hours inside. She is largely accomplishing this through the medium of online shopping and local melas. We now have a luxuriant rug, and a sideboard, and tea light holders, and cushion covers, and pictures for the kitchen, and many more things that I can’t think of off the top of my head. I can’t keep up. We’re both very excited about moving back though. India’s offered us a lot, but I’m tired of it now.
My own main transition has been from dayjobbery to writing full time. A separate post about all that I think, but it’s a very welcome change. It’s probably temporary, as there’s only so much momentum I can build over a year, but the chance to lay a lot of groundwork for the future is lovely. It really came about just after midnight on New Year, when I raised it with Kirsty. I could have kept working right up until we leave India, and sort of assumed I would do so because then we’d be even better set up when we return. It was Kirsty who shrugged and said I might as well use the opportunity. It’s something that can only be undertaken with support from the people you love, and that conversation was the start of it.
(she probably regrets it now, but in for a penny…)
We’ve had a very decent year of travel. Having started 2013 in a villa in Thailand, we also managed trips to Nepal where we flew around Everest and rode elephants (not at the same time), Sri Lanka to laze around on beaches, and the UK. We’ll spend xmas in the Philippines with friends, and then see 2013 out in Hong Kong. I certainly can’t complain on the travel front. The exploring we’ve done around this part of the world has been the best thing about our life overseas, and we decided right at the start to make the most of it regardless the cost. These are places we might never have the chance to spend time in again, and being able to make them all part of Eva’s childhood is something I’m very grateful for.
Boy, is she going to be disappointed when we get back to the UK. A weekend in Skegness isn’t going to compare.
We’ve also had the pleasure of playing host to other travellers this year, when a couple of friends from the US swung by for a long weekend and made me see Delhi through fresh eyes. That was very welcome, and a highlight of my Indian time in 2013.
It’s been a good year for storytelling too. I’ve had short stories in four anthologies released in the UK and US in 2013, and they’re all tales that I’m proud to have people read. Two of those came from Obverse Books, who produce unusual and exciting books that I’m always thrilled to be a part of (not just hyperbole – nothing make me happier than getting an acceptance from Obverse). The first was ‘Mystery of the Rose’ in More Tales From The City, a first person yarn from a very well known narrator stuck in a city at the end of the universe with everybody who ever lived and some who never did. It might be the most technically ambitious thing I’ve tried to write, and some people like it a lot. I did a video reading of the opening on this very blog, which is still there if you want to hear me butcher my own prose. You should, if you didn’t get it first time round. You can store it up and mock me about it when you next see me. I was also privileged to be able to contribute ‘The Devils Children’ to a unique little charity anthology called Storyteller – A Found Book. It’s a wonderful collection that’s both a lovely example of the sort of stories Obverse likes to bring you, and a neat way to painlessly slide some needed funds to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
Away from Obverse, my story ‘Skins’ saw print in Nightscapes from Nightscape Press, and introduced the Scottish selkie to startled readers in a very modern way. It’s a story about one of the grimmest travesties that humanity still perpetrates, as well as being an ode to lost innocence. Finally, The Four Horsemen gave my previously published story ‘Bulimia Daemonica’ a whole new lease of life by accepting it for Anthology Year II: Inner Demons Out. If you missed it the first time around (um… 2001, I think) then don’t repeat the error now. The title mostly speaks for itself, although there’s musical theatre in there too. You’ll understand when you get there.
And of course, there was the release of my third novel Craven Place, a piece of unfinished business from long ago that I really wanted to put into print before the Freelance Leap started, so I could spend this year on new things. My little mystery wrapped up in a ghost story has turned out to be a marmite of a book. Some people really love it. Others really loathe it (the most evocative Amazon review is simply titled YUK!, as though I had actually vomited on the reader). Most people really like it most of the way, and then get thrown by the ending. It’s been a bit disappointing – I’ve never had a story inspire such strong negative feeling before, and it rather surprised me when this did. No writer wants to fail a reader.
At the same time, the book sold better and faster than anything else I’ve had published or published myself. Ask ten writers whether if they had a choice they’d prefer good sales or top reviews and you’ll get a range of answers. We all want both, in the end. The negative reaction to Craven Place made the storyteller in me shrivel a bit, while the positive sales made the businessman do a happy dance. It was a very confusing summer. It’s an interesting contrast to Thy Fearful Symmetry, which (although it’s done well) has sold the least of all three novels, but inspired the most enthusiasm from those who did read it.
No point moaning about it though. Readers earn the right to dislike a book as soon as they pay for it. At least I can take solace from those who did enjoy it (in fact, just before I posted this, I stumbled on a much needed and very flattering positive review from an Obverse colleague – thanks Phil!).
Finally, my fitness. I started 2013 by running the Mumbai marathon. At that point I was probably as fit or fitter than I’ve ever been. Things have been inconsistent since then. I threw my back badly in April, and that kept me sedentary for three agonising months. I got back to running as soon as I was able, and was on track to run a half marathon in Delhi and another marathon in Mumbai. Unfortunately, my drive to complete two novels before xmas shattered my schedule, and I’ve pulled out of both races rather than do myself an injury through under training. Let’s call fitness a work in progress going into 2014. I need running. I’ve felt terrible the last few weeks, both physically and emotionally, and it’s running that fixes both. It’s the first thing I want to address when I get back from my holiday.
So yes, 2013 has been better. I was glad to have it. Transitions, especially long ones, can be a bit frustrating when they don’t move fast enough. There’s been an element of that this year, but when I consider what it is that I’m transitioning from, I consider myself lucky to be able to do so.
I’ll end my 2013 overview with thanks. Thank you to those of you who support my writing – it’s always gratifying, and I’m always humbled by it. I’ve no idea what I’ve ever done to deserve the kind of support I get, but will take it anyway. Thanks too to those who just drop by here to hang out every now and again. Your company has been just as welcome – voices from outside the bubble keep me grounded.
Right. Two more sleeps until my Philippines flight. If we don’t see each other before then, have a beautiful xmas and a very happy new year.
Currently reading (novel): Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons
Currently reading (novel): Jonny Alucard by Kim Newman
Currently reading (short stories): The Weird, edited by Jeff Vandermeer.
Currently reading (short stories): Gotrek and Felix: The Anthology, edited by Christian Dunn.
Tagged 2013, craven place, hong kong, inner demons out, marathon, marmite, more tales from the city, mumbai, nepal, nightscapes, philippines, running, scotland, sri lanka, storyteller, thailand, the flesh market