Well, that was definitely a year that happened
How do you sum up a year like 2020? (How do you solve a problem like Maria…?). How do you even begin to talk about a year that has been so warped out of shape by worldwide events? I’m not sure I know, and part of me wants to leave an ‘end of year’ post well alone, because everything has been overshadowed by Covid-19 – there has been so much darkness, so much isolation, and endless strangeness. There have been moments this year when I have felt that unnerving shivery sense of operating in a reality that is other, that my life (and all our lives) have skidded over some unseen boundary and we’re now in a story that belongs in a film – moments like scurrying across the road to the corner shop to see an electronic roadworks sign telling people to stay indoors; receiving anonymous parcels of food on our doorstep; queuing up to get into a supermarket, everyone’s face hidden. The Stand is one of my favourite books, and 2020 feels like we’ve taken half a step into Randal Flagg’s world. Not very reassuring.
But, other things have been happening, squished in alongside the virus, and for the sake of my own sanity I think it is useful to have a small look at those other things…
One of the last normal activities I did this year was launch Cursed alongside several other excellent writers at London’s Forbidden Planet. This brilliant anthology, put together by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane, collected stories inspired by the darker side of fairy tales. I don’t often write short stories these days as I’m usually sweating over a novel draft, so it was a lovely little anomaly to have a story in Cursed. ‘Listen’ was about a woman cursed to play music forever, and every song she played revealed the long dead secrets of those around her – it was fun to stretch those particular writing muscles again.
This year I also finished the first draft of my second thriller, which will hopefully be published in 2022 (wow that feels a long way off, doesn’t it?). It’s a book that, like Dog Rose Dirt, draws a lot on stories and folklore, and specifically in this case, urban legends. It’s also partly inspired by a lot of my childhood holidays – it turns out that out of season caravan parks can be very creepy locations… A first draft is a first draft, and it still needs a lot of work before it’s readable, but in a year of chaos it was very satisfying to get this one in the bag.
2020 was also the year that The Poison Song was nominated for best fantasy novel in the British Fantasy Awards – a lovely and exciting highlight of the year. Its sibling books, The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins, have taken home the award in previous years, so it feels like there’s a lot of pressure on The Poison Song to keep up with the rest of the family, but it’s thrilling enough that I’ve been nominated for a BFS award six years in a row. HUGE thanks to everyone who has voted over the years, you can’t know what it’s meant to me.
Thanks to suddenly having to spend a lot of time indoors alongside the procreate programme on iPad, this was the year where I seriously got back into drawing again, and even started doing commissions for people. The whole thing took off more than I was expecting, and I ended up completing a wide range of projects, from author portraits to Christmas cards, from gin labels to an illustration of Granny Weatherwax. Thanks to everyone who commissioned me, I feel like I regained a small part of my soul this year, and there’s no doubt that spending more time drawing has had a positive effect on my mental health.
Speaking of health, the biggest deal for us this year has been my partner’s journey back towards it – being healthy, that is. As most of you reading this blog will probably know, he’s been having treatment for cancer since July 2019, and the last 18 months or so have been challenging. I won’t say too much about it because it’s not really my story to tell, but in 2020 he had a very big operation as part of his treatment, and he is now well on his way to recovery – although it is a slow process. I can’t really say in words how fantastic the NHS has been, or how kind and patient and understanding every member of NHS staff we dealt with was. It’s an extraordinary, beautiful thing, and we must do our very best to protect it – especially at the moment. I have also been deeply moved this year by the support of our friends and family, who have reached out in every way they can in a time when we can’t be physically close. Everyone who sent me or Marty a message or a card or just checked up on us: you’ll never know how important it was to us, or how it kept us going.
So what are we looking forward to in 2021? Well, the main thing is obvious… I’m looking forward to a variety of vaccinations booting Covid out on its arse, please and thank you. In February I turn 40, and it’s likely I’ll be spending it at home, but that’s alright – any excuse for a knees up later on in the year is good with me. Speaking of celebrations, my first ever thriller comes out on the 22nd of July, and proofs will likely be winging their way to people in January. Exciting! Terrifying! Dog Rose Dirt (A Dark and Secret Place in the States) is, unsurprisingly, pretty different to my previous novels, and writing it taught me so much – I’m hoping readers will be willing to walk this darker path me with, and share in a few nightmares… I’m also working on a new fantasy novel, and I intend to see that draft finished in 2021; it’s about griffins, magical super soldiers, and several bloodthirsty queens.
Tonight, we’ll be getting smashed in front of the Hootenanny, as is traditional, and as we step into this shiny new year, I wish you all a better, more hopeful year, full of newly discovered joys, a fair dollop of healing, and a lot of happy reunions.