Here I am again, at the outset of the year, writing something for my public, with promises of more activity for the year to come. My public is small, as you would know if you are reading this. In fact, if you’re reading this, you probably are my public. Or a sizable chunk of it.
But enough of this triviality. I am still here, still doing this, and once again it is early January. If memory serves, this blog was begun on a first of January, or the next day, on a year I can’t remember, but it must have been after the invention of the personal computer.
This is for me, then, in a way: this blog post as the first of many more blog posts. It’s a demonstration or a promise or something perhaps weaker than that – a firm intention, possibly, or a flabby intention – to keep going.
It has been a year full of incident, and I’m not even referring to the catalogue of violence and tragedy in the celebrity culture and geopolitics which largely shapes our lives. Those sad events have been dealt with by other people in other places and there is no more that can be usefully added here. It has been very difficult indeed to accept that some artists have died – that’s all that need be said. On a personal level, there has been work and strain, both in very large helpings, consequent upon the assisting of some relatives with their clutter problem (known by the technical term “hoarding”).
So not as much writing has been done as the previous few years, because there was less time and bugger all energy to do it. But there is more time and more energy now, and so there will be more writing too. Despite all of these calls on free time and reserves of vitality some stories were completed (none published as yet, but hope remains) and a longer work was commenced, which I stuck at for months until interest waned a bit and end of year activities began to overtake. I will pick this up again. All it needs is to make a start and then do a small portion each day – that’s what I was doing before and it’s what I will do again.
The one story published in 2016 year was written the year before, so that doesn’t really count. And, in all the usual ways, it was dispiriting to receive rejections. It never becomes easy. But what did soften the blow was the attitude and care which some editors took in their correspondence. Yes, they were saying no, but they took the time to really explain why. To write as fellow writers and as editors with many competing decisions to make, to lay out their intertwined considerations and even offer genuinely helpful comments on the piece they had decided against including in their journal. A few really fascinating and very helpful email conversations resulted, which had the effect of allowing you to feel like you were collaborating, however briefly, with an editor, rather than just being dismissed by someone who may not have even read what you wrote.
It wouldn’t be right to name names or name journals, but friendly and constructive correspondence with editors from two established journals and one very new journal made me feel a lot better about what I was doing and what I will do. And there were numerous felicitous exchanges with others too. It’s almost always a positive process, if you allow it to be. (Of course there is still the possibility of being treated cursorily, and that happened too – but those experiences were in the minority, and I like to think they constitute examples of a communication breakdown.)
Some of the books I read this year:
A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James – won the Booker Prize, deals with events surrounding the Bob Marley assassination attempt, a big violent book about big ideas, with multiple points of view and several characters, such an ambitious undertaking and brought off with such aplomb
Pour Me, AA Gill – a memoir of the drinking life of the food critic who died in the latter part of the year, beautifully written and amusing
A Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez – a book I’d been meaning to read for some time, the writing exciting and voluptuous (if it doesn’t sound too wanky to say that), many parts will stay with me, as will the possibilities he shows to writers about where you can go with your work, clearly an excellent book, rightly loved by good judges, I did wonder if there was a point that I was missing, but in any paragraph chosen at random you may find a story, more than a vignette, an actual small story, and I love that sort of thing
The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead – the father annoyed me at first and then irritated me and I really didn’t like him, but at no point did the question “why did she write him like that?” occur, instead it was the man she invented who I didn’t like, and this must be a sign of very great quality that he seemed so real, the book dealt in some ways with dysfunctional families and this could have alienated me from the material when I was in the mood for some kind of relief from all that
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark – a short novel and one of the best I’ve read, about a teacher and her pupils, her influence on them and their influence on her, but about so much more than that, the writing precise and economical, allowing subtleties and inferences which could easily be missed due to the ease of reading, I shall read more of Muriel Spark
And so it begins again. The blow of January has been softened by rather intense reading. I should have known it would be a help. I will write about the books I have read at another point.