Work is no longer a car journey away. It’s at the desk at the end of my bed. It’s hard to switch off sometimes – work and its worries have a way of attempting to follow you around. I think I’m doing better. I know I’m fortunate to be working – even more so to do it from the comfort from my home.
I’ve finished a scarf. It is a bit too short (even though it is taller than me) and is wibbly and wobbly, full of holes, different colours, and dropped stitches. I love it. I’ve worn it to the dentist today.
(Yes, the dentist. I have been to a different place and seen different people!)
Sometimes, I go for a walk in the park. The grass is growing muddy there now – too many footsteps of people not allowed to go far from their homes. The river was swollen, and the trees bare of leaves.
It is cold and it snows now and then. It rains too.
I’ve plunged into editing Project If. No. Wrong verb. ‘Paddled’ would be better. It’s two years old this month. Had a year to marinate. It’s on my calendar in big, bold letters scrawled across each week: X Character Must Die it says for one week. Dark Knight of the Soul is across another. (The ‘k’ is crossed out. I am very good at spelling.)
A Suffragist Abroad is with her editor. I am tempted with the idea of putting a care package for them. They’ll need it.
I’ve read a lot this past weekend. Recharged my batteries. There’s a short course in hieroglyphs I’m taking. I’ve realised that Turkish Delights are delightful. The birds sing earlier in the morning now. The days are getting longer.
Sometimes I catch myself – when I’m walking, masked and avoiding passing people too closely, when I read the news and see headlines with death tolls and vaccines and fishermen’s woes, when I’m talking with my family and wondering what the world will look like when it’s over and saying ‘Uncle X has had the vaccination’ – and I think: wow, this is bizarre.If I time-travelled and told past-me, she would have gaped.
I haven’t been to church in a year, I miss it, but God is not confined to a building. The world keeps spinning, and life keeps moving onwards. It doesn’t wait for us, and yet we can steal moments – in the garden, beneath the stars, or wrapped up warm, with a book in our hands – to breathe.
When I was a mere youngling, I wrote letters. My spelling was frequently off and my efforts could be optimistically termed as ‘mildly dismal’ but I knew all my pen-pals’ favourite colours and I enjoyed receiving the responses and writing mine after a long interval. (Procrastination has ever been a companion of mine.) (Unfortunately.)
I am now older, with grey hair and a back. (The grey hair was an expensive choice and the back is seeming to still function. I just wanted to mention that I had one. You probably have one too.) And in late-ish 2020, thanks to a friend who also thought it was a Good Idea, I plunged back into the world of letter writing.
My efforts could still improve, my spelling is as off as milk left in the Sahara desert for three months, and my handwriting takes inspiration from a beheaded and drunken chicken’s fevered scratchings.
(Sometimes it looks nice. Sometimes.)
And yet there’s nothing quite like receiving a letter in the mail – something that isn’t an advertisement, a bill, something from the bank, or a parcel that you paid for. No – this is for you. A piece of tangible snug cosiness formed of ink and paper, waiting for you to sit down with a cup of tea so that it can share its contents with you.
Here are some things that I’ve learned along the way:
MAKE A HABIT OF IT
My friend and I determined that for the month of December, we would write a letter a week to each other. And I really must say – making it a discipline to write regularly helped.
And it didn’t quite stop there. I realised that not only did I want to write to my friend, but I also wanted to write letters to other friends and family members. They have now been inflicted gifted with many, many letters. (I haven’t sent one to the Queen just yet but I can feel one coming.) (I should clarify that I’m not related to her.) (That I know of.) (The chances are sub-zero.) (Yes, that is a thing.)
Writing letters is as little or as much as you make of it. The heart is always the actual letter. However, you can also do some lovely window dressing. I looked at Pinterest and my word! There’s an entire world of letter writing. There are YouTube channels dedicated to the art of the PenPal. They layer up paper and stickers and stamps and drawings like an English person does clothes in a Canadian winter.
I love it. It’s insane and I am bewildered by it all but I love it.
I’m not touching calligraphy (see aforementioned description of my handwriting) but I can buy stickers! I can buy washi tape (or as I incorrectly called it: wasabi tape. The two are not the same, fyi)! It’s been a slow descent into madness but I have a basket of supplies. It’s enormous fun and quite relaxing to let my dubious creativity loose on paper and envelope. And then I seal it with a wax seal and oh my gosh in that moment I’m either a) Roman emperor completing a death warrant or b) an Austen heroine there is no in-between.
Writing letters is a way to time travel (a letter! sent last week! A voice from the past!) – in our world of instant instantness (just bear with me here) it’s delightful to send and receive something that isn’t saved on a cloud somewhere, but something that you can take out, hold and reread. (Or, for those receiving a letter from me: squint at my handwriting and ask ‘is that an ‘a’ or an ‘e’, why is that ‘i’ there and what on earth is she saying?) It’s a lovely way of connection – especially now, when it’s so difficult and many of us cannot meet with the ones we love.
It might be difficult, when faced with a blank page, to work out what to write. But have no fear! You can fill it with so many things:
interesting questions (contingency plans if zombies should attack … ohhh I haven’t used that one yet!)
descriptions of books you’re reading/media you’ve enjoyed
adventures you have had/would like to have
what you ate for breakfast
opinions on the weather (… it’s practically a law, I think)
quotes/interesting snatchings of poetry
etc etc etc
So, if you are pondering letter writing – enjoy it! Go for it! Take the plunge! Find someone to exchange letters with. (And be bitter with me about the way that there isn’t spellcheck for writing letters by hand.) (And lament when the Royal Mail somehow mislays a letter EVEN WHEN IT’S ONLY GOING TO A CITY FORTY-FIVE MINUTES AWAY.) (I love them really. Also: what a shame, I’ll just have to write another letter.)
By the by, what is your favourite colour? And have I overused brackets in this post? (No.) (If anything I underused them.)
I’ve read about 180+ books this year. Here are some of the highlights that I’d recommend:
THE AMELIA PEABODY SERIES
Seriously. All of them. Especially The Falcon At the Portal, The Ape Who Guards The Balance, and He Shall Thunder In The Sky – it’s important to read the books before these ones because my gosh, it will hit differently. Ramses! My poor heart. Torn! Cut out of my chest! Sold on the black market to- okay, too far? Too far. (Also: RAMSES.) Oh! And The Deeds of The Disturber which is a personal favourite.
If you want to read an entire book series which sort of embodies The Mummy, with an epic heroine, her husband, son, and a cast of characters who will soon become dear friends … if you want to read about murder! humour! Egypt! Archaeology! Romance! This is the series for you.
Amelia Peabody bravely strides in where angels fear to tread, parasol brandished and steel-grey eyes flashing. She’s the sort of role-model we need.
THE ELEMENTS OF ELOQUENCE BY MARK FORSYTH
If you are a lover of words, this is a brilliant book to discover the world of rhetoric – Forsyth makes it all very delightful. I’ve hooted with laughter (YES. HOOTED. I AM USING THIS VERB) when reading this book. 10/10 would recommend. It has increased my love of language. I’m rereading it for the second time.
MEDITATIONS BY MARCUS AURELIUS
Okay. I saw this mentioned on Twitter by Russell Crowe (though I prefer to think that I discovered this in the bowels of a dusty, mystery-ridden library) and I was like hmm, that sounds interesting.
(It was interesting.)
I underlined a lot. It read like a personal diary, which in a way it was. It was like Ecclesiastes if Ecclesiastes was written by a Roman Emperor. I enjoyed it. I recommend it etc etc etc.
A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS BY MARIE BRENNAN
Yes. It’s like the Amelia Peabody series in a way – but instead of mummies, she studies dragons. AHHHHHH. How could you not want to read that sort of thing? I haven’t read the rest of the series but this is one I would definitely continue.
The above are a few books that I read – I read *cough* quite a few romance novels (full of melodrama! pet penguins! very realistic circumstances!) and slipped in a few comics (Batman: White Knight was pretty good though it suffered from a lack of Catwoman.)
BOOKS I WANT TO READ NEXT YEAR:
I’ve got a list. Or at least, I had one mentally. Now I’ve got this one. Life is good. Here’s the list. Or part of the list:
My collection of Georgette Heyer murder mysteries (‘They Found Him Dead’ which honestly is up there with Falling In Love With His Wife levels of book titling)
One simply entitled ‘the nunnery book’ which I’ve been reading for approximately five years or more. It’s a history of nuns and it is very fascinating. So fascinating I’ve been spacing it out for … a long, long time.
Rereading a few favourites – the only zombie book I own and also Nine Coaches Waiting which is peek gothic lit as far as I’m concerned.
Finishing off a few books I started this year (Why We Sleep and Frankenstein which really are not related in the least.)
All in all, I have 45 books listed in my cramped hand. Of course, I may disregard some quite callously, and add a few more just for larks. Why not? Reading has, as ever, been a blessing this year – I’m sure it will be the same in 2021.
What books did you enjoy in 2020 / are looking forward to reading in 2021?
The stack of books by my bed is as tall as my bed itself. I’ve recharged my kindle and read it most every night. This year, I’ve managed to read 182 books. I’m not sure what I should do with that number. There were so many good ones, and some infamous ones which weren’t quite my cup of tea.
I’m knitting a scarf – it is hideously ugly and terribly done and I am enjoying it immensely. It’s quite refreshing to just do and not be anxious about getting it perfect or doing it well.
(I hadn’t put my finger on my striving to always do things correctly and the ludicrous amount of stress that entails, until I picked up the knitting needles.)
A Suffragist Abroad is still being editing – the final stretch, before it goes to a beta reader. I’m going through it as though I’m the reader instead of the author and it’s quite lovely. (Bonkers, weird, slightly mad – those words apply too). Let me tell you, I cant wait for you to meet Vi and Mr. Sorrow.
The UK is still in the clutch of Tier system and Christmas won’t be the same for many, many people. The stars are still shining though. I checked for you, last night. In spite of the clouds (‘the Milky Way is moving quickly’ was quipped with great humour) and the drizzle, the heavens peered down and two shooting stars streaked across the sky.
Work has been hectically busy. As the dad from Calvin & Hobbes would say ‘character building’. It’s gut-wrenchingly disappointing to discover that you can’t do everything and that you will, eventually, have a mild breakdown in your dressing gown one evening because there aren’t enough hours in the day and work has built up and up and your ability to cope has plunged like a heavy anchor in a turbulent sea.
(YOU WILL PRY PURPLE-PROSE METAPHORS FROM THE CLUTCHING FINGERS OF MY COLD DEAD HANDS.)
It’s because of that, the fact that you can’t really nip off to Mongolia and discover Genghis Khan’s tomb, and my brother having my sister-in-law dye his hair grey that … well, I’ve dyed my own hair. It’s now a slate blue-grey. Ta-da.
Granted, this is somewhat of an extreme reaction, but what can you do? (Dye your hair grey. Apparently. That’s what.) Sometimes, you react reasonably to things, you sit down, you contemplate life, and you sip tea. Other times, you simply don’t. You book a visit to the hairdresser’s and you agree for your hair to be more blue than you anticipated. Marcus Aurelius would probably be excessively disappointed.
I haven’t been a good Stoic. If I was a Stoic. Which I’m not. But if I was, I’d be a bad one. Life is full of disappointments and unmatched gloves.
The point of it all, I think, is just to keep going. To keep looking for the good. (And there is good. There’s so much of it.) To keep plodding on. To reach out if you do need help. (It’s not a weakness, you know. It’s wisdom.)
If you’re reading this (still?!) – I wish you a lovely Christmas. Even if it isn’t quite the usual sort.
I need to finish this current draft of my novel by Sunday the 11th. I know. I’ve got a deadline. ‘Ness,’ I hear you say. ‘Are you ready for that deadline?’
I laugh at your question. I howl with laughter. September was such a busy month that I don’t think I had the umph to touch my novel. And here I am – a week to get it finished off.
Join me? (Or exit this right now because I’m taking you with me – whether you like it or not. So. There.)
SUNDAY THE 4TH – RESOLUTION
I give myself a talking to in the mirror. As per my Plot Spreadsheet, I delete three chapters of Act One. I suddenly realised I haven’t introduced the key concept of the novel. I do that. Poorly. It’s getting late and tomorrow is going to be … a complex day at work, so I need sleep. And also to squeeze in a bit of reading. (Priorities.)
MONDAY THE 5TH – AHHHH
I think that working from home makes the work/life boundaries blur a little – it’s hard to know when to stop and also to not feel guilty about it. (There’s always so much to do!) But I’m trying to learn. I do a bit of 7 Minute Chi to stretch out a little, have a cup of tea, play the recorder, paint my nails, check reddit and … okay, listen, sometimes a girl has to chill. And then, finally, I’m ready to get down to business to defeat … the Huns. It’s 8:47 pm. Let’s do this.
It’s 10:46 pm and it’s time for bed – I conquered an entire chapter which … is not the pace I need to set! If I were a creature right now, I’d be a snail. Tomorrow? I need to mash three chapters into one. And then hopefully the pace will pick up and Act One will be complete by Wednesday.
I LAUGH IN THE FACE OF FUTURE NESS.
TUESDAY THE 6TH – AHHHHHHH
I was a fool. Work was crushingly busy and I worked late and missed Bible study because of it. Then I played the violin. Then I had a mental breakdown in the kitchen. Just your usual Tuesday activities. No writing was done.
WEDNESDAY THE 7TH – AHHHHHH
THURSDAY THE 8TH – HA.HA
FRIDAY THE 9TH – …
SATURDAY THE 10TH
Despite having a bit of a lie-in, I’ve tided my work space and am ready. Candles are flickering, my nature sound app is chirping out bird songs, and some soothing music plays. I’ve got blocking apps on my computer and phone to take away temptation to browse mindlessly.
It is time. The aim is not to have a completely polished draft – that isn’t going to happen over a weekend, no – the aim is to make sure that the story is legible. All three acts go into one word document. I attempt to crack my knuckles. I fail. It’s 12:00 and it’s on.
It’s 18:52 and I feel as though I am hitting my groove. I’ve no idea how far I’ve got to go but I have tea and a fresh candle. I have had breaks to:
do a spot of cleaning
watch youtube videos
browse the ‘net
But using blockers on my phone and internet is really useful for cutting out distractions. I work late into the night; determined to reach Chapter 28; I can do the rest tomorrow. I have to. It’s the deadline after all.
SUNDAY THE 11TH – THIS IS IT, WE ARE IN THE ENDGAME NOW
It’s 12:07 – music on, tea made, candle burning. This is it. I have to get this finished today and not into the wee hours of the morning; I have to go into the office tomorrow and that means driving early. Ain’t nobody got time for sleep-deprivation in this scenario.
So let’s get crackin’.
It’s all done. It’s finished. It’s sent off. I haven’t cried in relief, nor was it sent super late. I am rather impressed with myself; I’m always pleasantly surprised when I actually achieve something. And I did it. Life is glorious. I can now leave this project until November, when Editing/Feedback Week will happen.
Being a discovery writer instead of a plotter is a little tricky but I suppose as long as the end result is a definite ‘HA I KNEW WHAT I WAS DOING ALL ALONG’ that is what’s matters. I’m low-key excited. Right now A Suffragist Abroad is not at all perfect but by George, I’m going to make it so. Or at least, I’m going to make it so I’m happy with it.
Also: there’s slow-burn romance and unicorns and a Wizard and stoic scribe and a monster. It’s inspired by:
Norse mythology (though you’d never know)
A daydream I had whilst in a Moldovan church
And so on …
It’s zany and it’s weird but I had fun. So there we are! Watch this space, world! Something might be coming from it.