The Bad, the Good, and the Indifferent: 2017 in review

The Bad, the Good, and the Indifferent: 2017 in review

The sands of time are trickling to the bottom bulb of the egg-timer of 2017. I’m not sure if it’s hard-boiled or burned-out, yet, so I am trying to do a review of the year. It’s worth remarking that this will be a rambling sort of post as I have a nasty chest infection, the kind that’s meant my ribs hurt from coughing and I’ve pulled some muscles trying to clear my lungs. I’ve also got a slight temperature, but that said, at university, one of my best ever essays was written trying to stay warm and stave off a similar illness, by drinking ginger wine. I was three sheets to the wind by the end but it earned me an A-. I can only conclude my professor was equally drunk when he marked it.

During the latter part of the year, we lost first a much-beloved guinea pig, and then, heartbreakingly, our ancient but mostly spry cat. He was eighteen and a half. I’m still so numb I cannot manage to articulate much on this; I still look for him on the Ikea chair we bought specially for him. The losses seemed to cap what has been for me quite a tough year. There have been some amazing things (family stuff that I don’t share here) but overall, the word, difficult seems to sum it all up. My day job has been affected (like most of the travel industry) by the continuing instability caused first by ongoing concerns about terrorism and second and more pervasively, by the insanity of the Leave vote. I can barely bring myself to mention this, because I rapidly become mute with anger and frustration.

In terms of writing, it’s a mixed bag. I managed to release three books this year. Two volumes of poetry and a novel. The poetry was a matter of collecting thematically poems I’ve written over a considerable period, and arranging them in an order that seemed pleasing. Hallowed Hollow has garnered 5 excellent reviews but sadly, A Box of Darkness hasn’t a single review to its name. It took a LOT of effort to get Little Gidding Girl out. I made daft mistakes with the formatting that I fought to correct, but I did eventually manage to get the book launched for midsummer. It was launched with what’s called a “puff quote”, from Caitlin Matthews, an author I had admired for (literally) decades before social media brought us into contact. Like any author, I hoped it would soar but it has not. It has, however, got 20 reviews since its launch, all but one of which were glowing. I sometimes feel that either my work is crap or it has such limited appeal that reaching the few folks who is would suit is a monumental task I no longer have the energy to attempt.

In terms of actual writing, apart from blog posts and some poetry, I completed a novel for the first time in over 4 years. This was such an achievement, I marked it by buying a perfume I’d been craving for several years. After sitting on it for a while, I sent it to a few beta readers. I’ve had little or no feedback and can only conclude one of several things: first, no one has had time or inclination to read it (which is fine, as we’re all busy) or have and have either forgotten to give feedback. Or they’ve read it and hated it, but didn’t like to knock me back by saying anything. Whichever it is, I cannot disguise my sadness. But as Locke would say, it is what it is. The novel will probably now sit on my hard drive and gather dust.

As well as the novel, I have managed to write some short stories, most of which are longhand in various notebooks. My levels of confidence in my writing is now so low that it seems better to go back to basics and write a first draft where no one but me will ever see it. I’ve done four or five in my proto-collection of fragrant fiction, short tales inspired by famous perfumes, and a few others. I did get as far as collecting and fiddling with an array of short stories that are basically modern fables for grown ups; I asked for a few volunteers from friends (largely on Facebook) to have a scan. About half of those who offered to read got back to me, and overall the collection passed muster, with some very helpful and uplifting feedback. My next task is to implement some small editorial changes before proofreading and the rest of the process of getting them published. It’s reminded me that I’m very good at the short form, even if short stories are not what people (apparently) want to read in collections from one author. Like poetry, like the literary-ish fiction I specialise in, it seems that another of my skills is in something hardly anyone wants. In a market that is totally saturated, getting noticed is now pretty much impossible unless you have a lot of money, time and energy to throw at it, as well as luck. My best plan is to continue to write what comes to me and therefore, one person is happy. The wonderful folk who read and enjoy and even review my books, may also be happy.

I often sit in awe at the people who write numerous books each year, and get them out there. I’m more than aware of the hard work and discipline involved. Bum in chair, social media disconnected, are but two of the steps needed. I’ve tried. Oh believe me I have tried, this year, to be more productive. Ideas flare, like matches in the darkness, and splutter out in the wake of “oh what’s the point?” It feels as if everything’s already been done, and done to death; I know that each author approaches an idea with their own voice. But I cannot overcome the inertia of the terrible feeling of pointlessness, when my own voice seems to die on the wind. Ill health (both mental and physical) and the invisibility, the sense of irrelevance of self, that seem to accompany middle age, have taken all the oomph out of me. I doubt that I have anything to offer the world, and increasingly, that there’s nothing the world can offer me, any more. Forgive me if this sounds depressing, but this is my reality at present.

I watch the world around me, and find that the microcosm of my back garden has brought me more joy than the wider world. I can barely watch the news any more. Yet seeing a charm of goldfinches bathing in the pond, or hearing the love songs of frogs on a spring night, or smelling the sweet fresh scent of hyacinths blooming in a forgotten corner, remind me that while wars and rumours of war go on, nature battles on, with beauty and sorrow balanced in an eternal cycle. When I go out, last thing at night, to put out food for errant hedgehogs and for the feral cat who lives at the bottom of the garden, I look up at the white stars twinkling in a frosty sky, and the vastness of the universe presses down on me, yet I can still say, “I endure. I am here, for a little while.”

I cannot make predictions for 2018. Or promises or hopes or ambitions. It will be whatever it is, whether I hope or don’t hope. But I wish that for you and for me, it may bring joy and meaning, healing and fulfilment, and understanding and forgiveness. All the rest is fluff that blows away on the winds of time like dandelion clocks when the seeds have been eaten.

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A Curate’s Egg ~ 2015 That was the year that was

A Curate’s Egg ~ 2015 That was the year that was

You probably know the term a curate’s egg and if you know its origins in a very old cartoon of a much-downtrodden young curate attempting to eat a boiled egg that is clearly so far past its sell-by (if they had such things when the cartoon was drawn) and saying in response to his employer sternly querying whether the egg was bad, “No, sir, it is excellent in parts!”, then you’ll also know that it’s about making the best of a bad job. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curate%27s_egg 

Personally, 2015 wasn’t a bad year, though. It was excellent in parts. The trouble is that the excellent bits don’t quite make up for the bad bits. The other trouble is that being honest about the bad parts tends to make people switch off. The whole positivity bull has become so engrained that a bit of plain speaking is dismissed as negativity and is demonised. So I’m in a quandary: if I write of the good things without mentioning the bad ones, I’m being dishonest to myself, and if I do mention the less than stellar bits, people dismiss it as moaning. I’m going to try to have a brief run through of some of both.

Good bits:

Books: I managed to get Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking (first in a series of themed collections from his blog) out. It took far longer because I’ve been in the grip of depression this year. It’s got some wonderful reviews and feedback but so far hasn’t reached as many readers as I believe it needs to. Other books have garnered more reviews, though sales have been fewer than previous years. But I am still selling, if slowly.

Travel. I rarely blog much about my travelling job, for a variety of reasons. While most trips go very smoothly and the people I work with are smashing, sometimes things don’t go as well; personality clashes happen, though it’s extremely rare. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and on extremely rare occasions things can go wrong. It would be unprofessional of me to talk about this type of thing. I often chuckle to myself that no-one would believe some of the things I’ve experienced and seen on trips, anyway. It truly is a job of absurd extremes. Needless to say, I make mental notes of it all and perhaps things might filter through in fictionalised form one day. This year I have done a goodly number of miles for the day job. Admittedly, it’s stressful and exhausting but it can also be fun. I go to interesting places and I meet interesting people. Some are absurdly demanding but charming. Some are kind, lovely people I’ve made friends with, like the lovely lady in the small Austrian town who gave me her finger-less gloves when I admired them. There are some truly fabulous people in this world.

Home. In the wake of losing Tiko the Magnificent, tiny tyrant of the kitchen (our guinea pig who loved watching costume dramas on the TV with us. Poldark will never be the same again) we adopted first Blackberry (a year old female guinea, an unwanted pet) and then babies Rosehip, Cinnamon and Anise. They have become possibly the best of mood enhancers, just as Tiko was.

Writing. I have managed to write at least 70 thousand words of fiction this year. Thirty thousand longhand for a sequel to Square Peg, about another thirty thousand for another work in progress, and perhaps ten thousand in short stories. I’ve done perhaps another five to ten thousand on another piece but since that requires me to be in a state of trance, I haven’t done that much. I’ve also published over 70 blog posts this year, according to the WordPress stats monkeys.

Bad bits

Health: despite my best efforts, I’ve been gripped by low mood virtually all year, sometimes paralysed by depression so entirely that simply staying alive has been a huge struggle. I’ve also been in a lot of pain, and fatigue has been crippling. I’ve done my best to stay fit and active, attending the gym several times each week, and having a weekly class of Tai Chi and doing as much walking as I can manage. There is no sense of improving fitness despite doing all this (as well as daily physio exercises) which is frustrating. I have replaced the core muscles I lost because of the parathyroid tumour (removed in 2014) which has been helpful, but I’ve had four quite bad injuries this year because of my wonky joints. I did my ankle on New Year’s Day, wrist in March, shoulder on April Fool’s Day (of course) and I damaged my hip doing the splits on a slippery floor (by accident I should add). Each injury took a long time to recover and caused a lot of pain. Fibromyalgia pain is debilitating at the best of times, and injury adds to it.

Writing: yes, I know I put this in my good bits. I’ve found it very, very difficult to write. I feel I have lost faith with myself, lost the ability to just trust my own inner processes that had served me so well in the past. I have lost connection with the me that basically says, “let’s see where this goes, shall we?” and charges off on an adventure, and is rewarded by a flood of narrative that sweeps me away. Part of the reason for this is I am no longer naïve about the publishing side of things; I’ve seen what sells and what doesn’t and it has seeped into my consciousness and has nibbled at my confidence in my own talent to the extent that I now doubt it entirely. There is an immense ocean of books out there that grows daily so why, oh why, does the world need more? I should add (to pre-empt comments about writing for myself etc) that I have never regarded writing as a hobby, a pass-time, or even a career, but as a kind of vocation, a raison d’etre, something that comes from beyond me as well as from within me. I harbour the probable delusion that my stories matter, that they are more than simple entertainment or diversion, and in this sea of books, what hope is there that mine might find homes? I might add also that my faith in there being a purpose, a destiny, in all this, has also taken a battering. My faith generally has never been at a lower ebb.

Family: seeing family (and close friends) with health issues that are crippling and horrible to live with.

The World: what can I say? There have been many, many terrible things this year that will never mend, never heal.

That’s enough to be going on with, though.

End of Year Report 2014

End of Year Report 2014

It’s been a year of huge contrasts, has 2014. As I come to the last few days of it, I look back and think, actually, a good year overall. I’ll have a brief run through the various high and low lights of it, but if you’ve been following this blog, I’d like to say simply a big thank you: for all the support, comments, shares and generally for being there.

Health: I began the year with hyperparathyroidism, which was rapidly worsening. Caused by a tumour that had turned one of my four parathyroid glands into a monster I called Dexter, the illness affected every aspect of my health from mental health to virtually every area of physical health. Over-active kidneys meant frequent(sometimes half hourly) loo trips were needed and I was constantly thirsty; the danger of kidney stones loomed as a constant. Brain fog, memory blocks and a general malaise meant I could often start a sentence but sometimes (often) got to the end without remembering what I was saying. For a writer this is unbelievably upsetting; to write anything was exhausting in the extreme. I had pain in my bones (caused in theory by tiny bleeds in the bone as calcium leached out; I was lucky to have very dense bones as the damage was minimal when I had a bone scan) that was like the pain you get when you whack your elbow. By February I was using slow release patches of opiates just to get by, knowing that the operation was scheduled for April. The operation was brought forward to the 29th of March, and I asked for photos so I could look at my enemy afterwards. Dexter turned out to be around the size of an olive, a huge change in size as a parathyroid is normally around the size of a grain of rice. Recovery after the operation was slower than I liked as I got a kidney infection. My scar still hurts, but it does look impressive, around three or four inches.

Nine months after the operation, I am forced to accept that my Joint Hypermobility Syndrome is going to be very hard to live with. Dexter had also caused muscle loss, and that has had consequences for my JHS. I’ve had a year of physio and of OT, which have both helped, and I use a local gym to try and build muscle and fitness, but the muscle pain, fatigue and general weakness are debilitating and demoralising. There has been some spinal damage from the JHS, nothing serious as such, but two areas I need to be careful about protecting. So, despite not enjoying gym work, I go regularly to make sure my core muscles are worked on. I have around 20 minutes of exercises from the physio to do daily as a base-line workout.

That said, I’ve had a year of relatively good mood. Dexter did cause depression, and after he was excised, I think mood generally improved. I’ve had sufficient crises though during the year to know that an illness persists, despite my best efforts, and that I will need to do more work (probably forever). On the advice of my lovely physiotherapist Helena, I contacted the local Well-being services but have been very dismayed by their lack of professionalism, compassion and common sense. I’d been led to believe that it might have been possible to access some level of support via either phone or email, but the process proved to be beyond complex and obfuscated and in the end, downright impossible. I bought myself a book on CBT and having read it (snarling slightly all the way) have concluded that the essence of the thought behind it is anathema to me. Long story, which I may elaborate on some time. There may be techniques that could be of use, but the overall theory is something I cannot accept.

Travel: thankfully, quite little this year. I did a two day Paris trip in March, about a fortnight before my operation. It was utterly gruelling, but due to the opiate patches, a lovely group and the fact that Paris that weekend had worse pollution that Beijing, I coped as no-one was rushing anywhere and frequent rest stops were needed for all of us. I spent much of the following week recovering. I had a trip to Bologne in June, which went very well, and it revealed the extent to which Dexter had wrecked my command of language. My French had been terribly halting for some years, and until I’d got the diagnosis I’d put this down to stress etc. That trip was fabulous because my French came flooding back and so too did my confidence; I felt so much more able to talk. Next year I have a number of trips already booked in, including Austria in February; I’m working to get my German a bit better before then.

Writing and Publishing: This year I managed to get some of my projects underway. I got The Bet out in paperback, published in both paperback and Kindle a little collection of poems called Accidental Emeralds. Emeralds made it to the number one spot in women’s poetry, something that amused me massively. My old friend the Mad Priest keeps telling me to give up the day job (novels) and concentrate on the poetry, but alas, poetry does not sell and nice as it was to get to number one, it didn’t take many sales to get there! In May I published Square Peg, in Kindle only so far. I have done a paperback but it’s not on sale yet as it needs some adjusting. It’s done quite well, has garnered 8 reviews (would love more) and I am making some notes for a possible further book focused on the main character Chloe. Away With The Fairies made it to number one in two categories this year: metaphysical literary fiction and metaphysical and visionary fiction. This was much more of a feat and I was very proud about this. Overall, sales have slumped dramatically, not just for me but for many authors and unlike others who are seeing this as a sign of the apocalypse, I think it’s simply the effect of a saturation of the market and a corresponding dip in individual market share. The sheer number of books out there makes it harder to find any level of visibility. It does depress me, though, so every time a new review pops up for any book, it gives me a lift as it means someone I don’t know found my books and liked them. I have been low enough to consider packing it in, pulling all my books and walking away. There are a few things that stop me: the fact that I do have loyal readers is a big one, but also, what else would I, could I do?

I also published The Hedgeway, a short novella, which was published for Hallowe’en, and which did nicely. Other books sell in fits and starts. My first novel to be published, Strangers and Pilgrims, still sells, but in lower numbers than before. I’d love to see the number of reviews increase; it’s stalled at 35, nearly all of them five or four star. I am making notes and writing scenes for a possible sequel for that too.

The Bet gathered some astounding reviews this year, something else that has given me a reason to carry on; to see that people got the book to the extent they did gave me hope. The only negative review it has so far gathered is actually quite funny. I have two sequels already written, the first needing a good cover and a polish, the second needing to have some level of communication with someone who knows a thing or two about how UK court cases are run (if you are such a person or know one, please get in touch).

In terms of new writing, obviously it’s been limited because of my illness. Dexter meant I was really struggling because my brain no longer had the facilities needed to write longer fiction. The Hedgeway was only 17k words long, and that was a struggle. My mind is clearing still, and I have been plugging away at a novel I began almost two years ago. It’s at around 50k words and I did hope to finish it this year but I’ve not managed that. I’m having to let myself work at whatever pace I can. The long term project begun as Lost, a serial, goes on when the right mood arrives, and is around 30k words long. Another stalled project is on my hard drive, from a good few years ago, before Dexter got his claws into me. As I said earlier, I have begun writing bits and pieces for the sequel to Strangers and Pilgrims, but that could be a while as I am finding it a slow process to let my writing return. There’s some ideas and notes for another book featuring Chloe and Isobel, but nothing more than rough writing in my free-writing notebooks.

I began doing some free-writing in September, the idea being to take any sense of pressure off myself. I can write whatever comes, whether scenes from stories yet to unfold, poetry, ranting, just ideas or phrases. It’s a good way to get a few things down to play with. I’ve always had this underlying belief that once I begin something “properly” it’s hard to change it, often impossible, so this makes any new project much harder because of the pressure to get it perfect first time. A free-writing draft notebook is proving very useful in letting ideas out without them getting set in stone. I’ve got a lot of Moleskine notebooks in readiness for this becoming more a part of my daily life.

Next year: well, I don’t like making resolutions. Book-wise, I have a second and longer collection of poetry being readied. A Box of Darkness will have 66 poems in. I’m still trying to find an easy way to construct an interactive table of contents for Kindle, which is slowing a lot down. I have also a collection of modern fables for grown-ups, provisionally entitled Méchant Loup ~ fables for grown-ups, that needs a cover and a polish. I’ve also put together a collection of essays from this blog, on depression, which needs a title (I have been playing with a few) and a cover. I intend to use some version of the picture I’ve been using here as a banner, and for this book to be part of a series of books of essays from this blog. There’s too many essays here to make a single book, and it’s got so large that any reader won’t easily find what they might need. So the first of the collections will be coming out as soon as I can manage it. Novel-wise, I want to release the first of the sequels to The Bet as plenty of people have been asking for it. I also want to finish the novel I began two years ago; I’ve got tired of it, really, because it’s been there unfinished too long and in some ways I began it for all the wrong reasons. I want to get myself to a point where I can say, there, it’s done.

Commercial success as a writer seems less and less feasible right now. There are undoubtedly things I could do to improve the odds, but most of them are either against my ethics or unaffordable, and one of the things I have learned this year is that I owe it to myself to be able to keep an easy conscience. There are a good number of authors out there who will use anyone and anything to claw their way to the top. I got blocked by one such on Facebook after I’d remonstrated about being added to groups without my permission; instead of apologising, she first insisted she’d done nothing untoward, and when I argued, I found myself blocked. Several years ago, the same author had used a private conversation between us as a basis for a blog post, so none of this surprised me. Some people have no sense of decency. So in regards to promoting my own writing, there are things I just won’t do. If that means my books languish in the doldrums, then so be it. There are far more important things in life than selling books and having a clear conscience is one of them.

Thanks: to all my readers, for everything from reading and commenting on this blog, buying and reviewing my books, sharing on FB and Twitter, and for being there. At times when I write here, or in my books, I feel very alone, as if I am hurling words into a void, but sometimes a voice comes back and then I know I am on the right path. Bless you all and may 2015 be wonderful for you all.

Low Resolution, High Resolution ~ New Year Thoughts

Low Resolution, High Resolution ~ New Year Thoughts

 

I considered calling this article, The Last Post, because it will be the last one to appear in 2013, but then I realised that this might sound as if I am giving up blogging. This year has been a huge struggle to keep going with lots of things and I confess that making sure I post a new piece once a week has sometimes been quite a challenge.

That makes me wonder who I am blogging for and why.

Blogging is almost by definition confessional, personal and yet very public. I share my thoughts because I believe that they are worth sharing, that those who read what I write may find it interesting, helpful or challenging. At times the conviction that this is so is shaken; a former colleague made various attacks on me on Facebook indicating that she found my outpourings tedious. It upset me more than is reasonable and made me question the worth of my writing, especially my poetry. In the end, I chose to ignore that viewpoint based on the torrent of support I received.

I wasn’t sure I had anything I could offer today as a hope-encrusted gem, making the best of the year gone by and projecting desires and wishes for the year to come. I don’t generally do the whole New Year’s resolution thing, not since teenage years when it usually consisted of one muddled wish to be thinner. Yet, here I am in middle-age, fatter than ever. Nothing ever works out quite how we desire it to.

2013 has been a hard year for me. I had to fight to get diagnoses of two conditions, one life limiting, the other life limiting AND life threatening. I knew there was something very wrong, and yet getting through to medical professionals with it has been terribly tough. I can’t help thinking that had I not been who I am, I might well be looking at a grim future and an early death. While I accept that neither condition is easy to diagnose or well-known, it seems criminal that blood test anomalies had been ignored and glossed over probably for some years. I have now seen my enemy on an ultrasound screen. 8mm by 5mm doesn’t sound that big but given that the gland the tumour grew from should be no bigger than the head of a pin (or thereabouts) it’s colossal. I’m hoping that the removal of it will give me new life. I’m sick of pain, sick of the fogginess and memory fuzziness, the feeling of being significantly impaired, of being woken 8 times a night because of the polyuria, of having a permanently dry mouth that means I need to sip water to stay hydrated. I’m tired of being tired, and of all the other nasty symptoms that doctors were originally ascribing to depression. I’m fed up of being sad and being unable to feel good about things. My real hope for 2014 is that I can start to live again.

The writer’s block I have wrestled with for as long as I’ve been blogging may well turn out to be a direct result of the malfunctioning parathyroid. It’s hard to carry ideas, plots, characters, dialogue, settings and descriptions when your short term memory is peppered with tiny holes. Much of my writing is brewed in the subconscious layers of my mind, but is filtered through the conscious strata and ordered by the logical, methodical processes that are affected by the illness. The continuation of writing during this long illness is something I feel I should be proud of, yet I fear that perhaps I’m actually a crap writer who’s burned out all her good stuff years ago.

I did some of the things I aimed at doing this year. I published The Moth’s Kiss, got it and The Wild Hunt out in gorgeous peachy-skinned paperbacks. I reviewed and re-uploaded the Kindle version of Strangers & Pilgrims, cleaning it of the typos that had marred it. You perhaps cannot imagine how very difficult and painful that was for me, or how cathartic it was. I spoke at the TAP conference in March. But I didn’t get The Bet out in paperback, and I didn’t put together the book I intended to release of the top posts from this blog, or the ones I wanted to do of my poetry.

I began a new novel in January, which has been hard work to write and I think I am roughly half way. I’m about half way through the story I began originally here as a serial, Lost. I’ve written some short stories, some poetry, and I’ve managed to blog here at least once a week, all year. It’s none of it been easy.

Things I want to do next year include delving ever deeper into the Grail lore I’ve been studying and writing about, mostly privately. I want to write more for myself. I’ve realised that while I have a niche for my writing, and I have a lot of wonderful readers, I’m not going to ‘make it’ as a best selling author, selling tens of thousands of books, or even millions. To have even one person read, enjoy and benefit from my writing is success. I’d rather stay small and stay myself than be lured into chasing the will o’ the wisp of commercial success. I can remain resolutely amateur and while I wish to present my work in as accessible and attractive a manner as possible, to invest money I don’t have in let’s say,cover art that aims to seduce the potential reader (and other stratagems) I’d rather be original and myself and risk being deemed ‘unprofessional’.

I do want to get my poetry out there and also the compilation of the best posts from this blog, but I don’t want it to be something to pressure myself with. I know now I am quite ill and the last thing I need is to stress myself with foolish self-imposed deadlines. I’d rather have the pleasure of using my clearer moments to write things, and enjoy writing, than spend the time on things I don’t enjoy. If my hopes for this illness are borne out, then once I begin to recover, then tasks I have hitherto found as hard as tap-dancing in quick drying cement, may flow more readily and take up less energy.

There’s books on my hard drive ready to be polished up for publishing; I’m about half way with Square Peg so if there are any of you who fancy being beta-readers or proof readers, I’d be happy to hear from you. There are two sequels to The Bet. And several other tales I’ve maybe never mentioned before, as well as the incomplete ones (two of which I have mentioned already, and another two I haven’t), and a longer short story I’d hoped to have out for Christmas and failed.

Anyway, I have meandered and muddled along through this article and I need to wrap it up by saying a huge thank you to everyone who has read this blog, either as a regular thing or as an occasional dip-in. I’d like to thank those who have bought and read my books: you do not know quite how much that means to me.

May the new Year of 2014 bring you blessings and challenges in a balanced measure, enough to grow and develop and also to have much joy to counter the sorrow that is woven through all of life. 

Janus, the two faced god ~ looking backwards and forwards at the same time

Janus, the two faced god ~ looking backwards and forwards at the same time

Anyone who knows me even a little knows how interested I’ve always been in Roman culture; indeed, that love of all things Roman led to me doing a joint honours degree, one half English, one half Latin.

Janus is of course the Roman god who gives his name to our first month of the year, January, and while I don’t want to dwell too much on the past it’d be a good thing to have a quick look at what 2012 brought me. I’m also not one for resolutions but in the spirit of Janus, I would like to take a peep ahead too.

In many ways, the year was a maelstrom of changes and of seeming chaos. March-time my mental health broke finally and for some weeks I was incapacitated and unable to face leaving the house alone. The trigger for this was a trampled bunch of daffodils but the reasons, the causes so much deeper. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the darkness those poor flowers revealed. What I told my GP a day or two after the meltdown meant he made me an emergency appointment with the mental health support team. I’m not going in to much detail but I feel disappointed in the process. In theory moving house ought not to have made any difference, but in fact, relocating meant that I lost my place on a waiting list for some help, and had I chosen to go to my new GP to restart the process I would have been obliged to go back to the very beginning and restart the whole thing from scratch. I’ve chosen not to do so (yet) simply because at present none of the options I may be offered would actually be of any benefit to me.

I was resistant to the idea of returning to a parish, hostile even, yet there were clear signs along the way that it was the right thing. We moved here in September, and I’m still finding my feet. I’ve left my teaching job behind, as it’s too far to travel back when work comes in for the money offered. A new job has yet to materialise, though I’ve been looking. I even had a careers interview which was very helpful in identifying my key skills, and suggesting looking for work in mentoring. I can only hope that something comes along.

Writing-wise, this has been a year of surprises. I’ve put out two new books this year. The Wild Hunt came out in February on Kindle, and The Bet came out in late September. My two previous books, Strangers and Pilgrims and Away With The Fairies had been ticking over, selling both on Kindle and in paperback, but from May onwards, sales saw a steady then meteoric rise, and from May both started to appear on several of the best-sellers lists for Kindle. Strangers has been consistently in the top 100 for personal transformation and often also the top 100 for self-help/ spirituality. The highest it rose to was 8. Away With The Fairies nudged its head onto the top 100 for women’s literary fiction a few times since its release but from May it landed there and has stayed there ever since, getting as high as 14 a few times. The Wild Hunt has in the last 3 months begun to climb steadily, getting into the top 100 for fairy tales and myths, consistently, then slipping off again. The weekend I launched The Bet, it shot into the top 100 for psychological fiction, but it didn’t stay there. I believe it will start to rise soon, judging from the pattern of the other books. I don’t write this to boast but rather to encourage other writers who may read this blog that if a book seems to be dead in the water, things can and do change. Word of mouth from readers seems to be vital, and also patience. Money is tight for everyone, and any sensible reader will download a sample, take time to read it before deciding to buy. Sometimes the gap between sample and buying is many months. I know it is for me. I have been told by some who downloaded the sample of The Bet that by the time they’d finished that, they hit the buy button. Modesty aside, it really is that good. I’m intending to do a paperback copy of that and The Wild Hunt quite soon, but as I want to try Createspace instead of Lulu, it may take a little while.

Next year, I am hoping to start a few more projects. I said last year I wanted to put out a book of poetry and one of the most useful essays here, and some short story collections. Poetry is not a big seller but enough people have asked and I’d like to have paperbacks too. My biggest worry for this is getting the Table of Contents for the Kindle version right. I go blank even trying to figure out the process. Likewise for a book of essays. But I’d like to try. I’ve got a squad of themed shorts lined up for another short story collection.

But real writing, the way I’ve been unable to do, to tackle a long project of a new novel, that’s been on hold for over 18 months is something I really want to do. I had a plot arrive in my head a few weeks back and I’ve been making notes and letting it brew every since. I have 3 other works at various stages of completeness too, that need digging out and kick-starting. I think subconsciously I have been hesitating, for those 18 months (or even 2 years, now I think about it) because I knew at a deep level our life would be changing dramatically within a certain space of time. The friendship I lost last year was a factor too as I can see now it was inhibiting me, as was both my location, my job and various other things. I feel more like myself in this house; I have a lovely room at the back of the house and a view I find pleasant. I also have more time and mental space.

So next year, I will spend more time on writing than I have for many years, unless a full-time job comes along. I still have my travel job, but that is sporadic and I have long spells without work. I’ve beaten myself up continually for my inability to use my down time for writing, but I’m going to try and quell that tendency. Writing takes a great deal more time away from the page; there’s a good deal of thinking, pondering and dreaming involved, not to mention the less easy to describe process of fermentation that alchemically transforms dross into gold, without the conscious mind being able to follow the deep and very hidden journeys the pain of experience can take. I’ve long wondered how I could work through and heal through the ordeals and betrayals of the last few years, and it’s a slow process. Yet I think the time is approaching when I will be able to do this through writing, to cauterise wounds that still hurt and break open.

Wishes for next year? Many. The Bet on not just the Kindle best-sellers lists but once it’s up in paperback, to see it sell well there too. This is a book that I love deeply. It’s got two sequels, written already but just needing the same process of getting a cover etc. But the themes of the novel are deep, powerful ones; you can’t read it without being moved and also, inspired. The reviews in so far have confirmed my own feelings about the book; I’ve been touched and delighted by all the book reviews that have come this year. I’d like to see the others continue to grow and reach a wider audience, especially the USA. I sell few books there but I do not know why. I guess I’m a very English writer. I’d also like to get back into my stride of exploration of my imagination and actually feel creative again. There is so much bubbling away inside me; to learn how to channel it effectively again is a real challenge. I think a lot of my creativity got siphoned off by the teaching job. Now I need to focus on words, both poetry and stories again, not on finding ways of teaching English that is fun and effective.

Health-wise, there’s other things. I’ve realised that neither medication nor the ubiquitous CBT would be at all helpful for me, and potentially both are harmful. I’d like to find a soul-friend locally who has the experience and training to help me work through things, a kind of free-range psychotherapy that cuts both ways, so that neither participant is client. It’s something I talked about in abstract with the friend who I lost, but never found a context to explore it further. I have no idea how to go about this but it seems like an important idea I can’t let go of. My involvement in the Dandelions and Bad Hair Days project, a book about mental health, has taught me that there are many, many ways of living with mental distress and each person needs to find their own.

Anyway, I have rambled a great deal. Time to stop and just say:

May 2013 be for you a wonderful year that brings more joy than sorrow.

New Year Meditation-Madonna Lily

 

New Year Meditation- Madonna Lily

This meditation is intended to help review the year that has just passed and prepare for the new one about to start. If you are a regular meditator, go through your usual routine of preparation. The fragrance for this meditation is that of the lily so if you are lucky enough to have a bunch of lilies to hand, place them somewhere close so you can inhale their lovely scent. This is not essential to the meditation but may help if you feel the need.

Find somewhere quiet and comfortable and sit down. Make sure your back is straight and your legs are uncrossed.

Close your eyes and breathe in slowly. Hold the breath for a moment and then let it out again slowly. Do this a few times until you feel calm and centred.

You are standing in an ancient building. The stone flags beneath your feet are worn to a sheen by generations of feet that have walked upon them and the walls are thick. The few windows are small and set quite high in the walls and as your eyes get used to the dimness, you see that you are in a tiny church or chapel. It looks to be at least a thousand years old and you are the only person present. Here and there, clusters of candles burn, giving a glow of golden light. The scent of lilies is heavy in the air and arrangements of the flowers are stationed around the church. Facing east, you see that the altar has a simple pottery vase containing a few stems of lilies, illuminated by the group of beeswax candles nearby.

As you walk towards the altar, you see a casket standing on trestles in front of the altar and you realise with a sense of shock that you are here for a funeral. The casket is open and as you draw near and steel yourself to look, you see that it is empty. This is the funeral for the year that has just passed, your year and you are here to review its life in its entirety. Next to the casket is a bag, and you reach inside. It is packed with snapshot photographs, each one representing a moment, a day, a memory from the year that has passed. Some you smile at, some you feel tears welling up. One by one, gaze at each photo and allow yourself to remember, but without judgement. When you feel ready, drop the photo into the casket.

When each photo reaches the floor of the casket, a transformation takes place. Each memory changes into a precious stone, a jewel. The bright joyful memories become stones like sparkling diamonds or light blue sapphires or golden amber; the darker, more painful memories become jewels like polished onyx, blood red rubies or perhaps sapphires so deep blue they seem almost black. Observe each memory as it is transformed; some may surprise you what they become.

Once the bag of photos is empty, look closely at the jewels that now cover the floor of the casket. Give the casket a little shake and see how the stones shift around and make patterns. They seem to form groups of related memories, and it seems also that the darker stones give the lighter ones a deeper shine and the lighter ones make the dark ones sparkle. You can still identify which memory is which; if you wish, you may pick a few up and examine them more closely now they are transformed.

The time has come to say goodbye and you must shut the lid of the casket. As you do so, you see now that it is not a coffin as you had thought, but rather a treasure chest made of polished cedar, with a domed lid carved with beautiful patterns. Take the chest now and carry it towards the altar. You will see that the altar bears symbols that are special to you, and you feel happy to place your treasure chest of memories beneath it. It will be safe here and you can revisit and ponder the meaning of your treasures any time you choose but now it is time to go.

Walk back down the nave. The worn stones under your feet feel comforting but you have a sense of emptiness as one so often does after a funeral. The old year is gone and the new one is yet to begin; you are suspended between times now, just for this short time. It’s a little uncomfortable because now you are starting to worry about what the new year will bring.

Close to the door there stands a great stone basin, a font of immense antiquity. The carvings around the bowl of it are worn but you can see patterns similar to those on the lid of your treasure chest. On the rim, flanked by groups of candles is another vase of lilies. You can smell their sweet fresh fragrance and as you watch, some of the powdery red pollen spills onto the surface of the water that fills the font. The powder spreads out and you watch fascinated as the play of candlelight and reflections make pictures come alive in the water and you realise that you are seeing scenes from what the new year may bring. Watch, but without judgement or attachment; these are things that may happen. Nothing is certain yet. Just as the previous year had good and bad in it, so too will the next one.

The great battered door, armoured with blackened iron swings open a little and the breeze scatters the pollen and the pictures cease. You walk towards the door and glance back. At the altar, the lilies still glow golden in the light from the candle flames and your treasure chest nestles beneath in the dancing shadows. The water on the font ripples with the wind that enters and shakes the flames like leaves on a tree and you know it is time to leave this place.

Outside, you can feel the changes that have taken place and the first rays of light of a new dawn turn the sky a heavenly pink, and you know that this new day heralds a new year full of joys and sorrows, and you step forth, determined to understand the treasure in both.