2016 in retrospect

Yeah, I know; it’s almost February and I still want to talk about 2016. We’ve had enough of that monstrous year, I get it. But I want to ignore the political clusterfuck still smouldering in the UK and US, the hideous terrorist attacks in Paris, Berlin, Istanbul and the rest of the world, the rise of the alt-right (read: actual fucking Nazis), the permeation of fake news via social media, the gradual dissolution of political opposition in the UK, and the ever-increasing inequality our populace continues to vote for, like foxes voting Tory.

No – I want to talk about 2016 on a personal level. Because I’m a jabbering narcissist and assume I’m more important than our crumbling civilisation. It’s probably that narcissism that’s got us in this mess in the first place, but I’m a “Millennial” so I’ll do what I like, thanks.

So – 2016 was pretty mental.

For a start, I got married. I know, right?! I mean, who does that? Crazy stuff – but I have to say, it is rather nice. Actually, it’s almost exactly the same as before, but every now and then I mention “My wife” and I wonder whose brain I’ve taken control of, because that surely can’t be me, can it? With a wife? Like, I actually tricked someone into marrying me? And she PROMISED to stay with me, with no returns, and no backsies? Astonishing.

This is a bit greedy, I know, but, we had two honeymoons – one rather more successful than the other.

20160405_160714For the first – a so-called “mini-moon” – we spent a week in Sicily, in the beautiful hillside town of Taormina. Our hotel apartment’s balcony had a view of smoking Mount Etna, streets full of Vespas, and tree-lined slopes down to a distant sandy beach. We spent our days drinking delicious white wine, eating bruschetta and arancini, and checking out cool old things, like ancient hill-top theatres and a freaking volcano.

It’s bloody lovely over there, and in mid-April, pretty quiet too. Not the best for swimming, and some of the restaurants are yet to open for the season, but that’s how I like it, frankly. Quiet walks, local buses around mountain roads, little bars with breath-taking views. Altamente raccomandato.

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Travel bug

Our Honeymoon-proper was supposed to be two weeks in Costa Rica, travelling around the jungles and down the Pacific coast, playing with butterflies and eating fried plantain. Unfortunately, we chickened out quite last minute due to the Zika virus spreading through Central America. Problem was, our flights had been booked through lastminute.com, whose mantra apparently doesn’t involve decisions made on the spur of the moment. For three days we tried to change our flights, and for three days they told us conflicting messages about whether it was possible or not. In the end, it turned out to be the latter.

So, we kicked up a fuss on Twitter with the slightly melodramatic hashtag #nohoneymoon,  with accompanying photos of us wanly drowning our sorrows in pints of cider.

And that shit works, yo. I got a phone call a few hours later from their PR team saying they were looking into our case. A few days later, we got the flights refunded. By that point, though, we’d picked the closest, cheapest place to fly to in Europe for a week.

Ibiza.

More locally known as “BEEFA BEEFA”, the island in August is pretty rammed, and the only place we could find to stay was a large hotel near Cala Tarida. We had our niggling doubts as we passed the swimming pool aerobics amid pounding Euro pop music, but when we reached our dingy ground-floor room with a view of a chain-link fence and some bracken, the absence of a fridge and the fact we had two separate single beds made it a little too much budget and not enough honeymoon.

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They changed our room to the top floor, but we had to wait three hours for the privilege, so we took a drink by the bar and watched the hotel reps flirt, joke and cajole the fun out of the Spanish, German and Italian guests. I don’t know about you, but I prefer a hotel where they don’t employ people to enforce FUN ACTIVITIES, and the maddeningly loud disco-house doesn’t start until the evening.

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Beach near Cala Tarida, only accessible by sea

Still, hire a car and you can get out to visit less visited beaches (though, to be honest, if you want real solitude, you need to hire a boat and head round the coast until you find a spot inaccessible by land). Also, they have incredible green olives in Ibiza, and I can get used to bread with aioli as a starter for every meal. Delicious.

In a happy coincidence, my friend Roost was in Ibiza Town, where he’d been working the clubs as a VJ (video jockey, I think?), texture-mapping animations projected onto stages to create mind-juddering images for tripping ravers. He took us to one of the best restaurants I’d ever been to, and a couple of clubs to get a feel for the nightlife vibe. Fun times all round.

The music’s not for me, I’m afraid – I believe it would be categorised as progressive house, but there’s not enough meat to it, like you find in drum’n’bass or dubstep, or as much funky joy as the breakbeat I partied to in my uni days. Still, people seemed to like it, so who am I to judge?

Pen monkey

So, what about the writing, Tim? How did you get on with those author goals?

Well, I did finish the second draft of Citadel, which essentially meant rewriting the whole thing. But it still isn’t structurally quite right.

The funny thing with editing is, it might take you six months to a year to do something, but by the end, you’ve improved as a writer to such a degree you return to the beginning to find a load of garbage you no longer feel cuts the mustard.

A lot of that improvement has come from joining Scribophile, where I trade critique with the writers there. Having people you don’t know read your work is both slightly petrifying, but also incredibly valuable, because for the most part they are frank, honest and unforgiving (without being cruel). You need that kind of input.

cynwx4awiaasr5d-jpg-largeI wrote a number of short stories last year that I uploaded to that site, in the hope I could polish one or two of them enough to gain my first publication. Though I’ve not yet been accepted in a paid market, I do have a short story in the upcoming horror anthology, The Infernal Clock, which should be released in February. That’s quite exciting.

And I came very close to selling a story to a magazine in the US, but having passed the slush pile, I was ultimately rejected. That story, however, has been lengthened, improved and returned to the submissions grinder.

divine-allianceRegular readers will also know I took part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, the 50,000-word 30-day story challenge. And I only went and hit the target!

It was insane – writing 1,667 words every single day for 30 days. A proper slog. And don’t expect to get much done in December – burnout is a common after-effect.

All in all, quite a lot, right? Well, I can tell you empirically how much work that is, because I keep work journals. I am a data freak. Oddly, graphs and tables make me MORE creative. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 69,000 words on Citadel draft 2
  • 45,000 words in short stories
  • 50,000 words for #NaNoWriMo
  • 33,000 words in this here blog
  • 52,000 words of critique on Scribophile

That’s a little over 250,000 words of creative thought for the year. Or 683 words per day. I think that’s not bad, considering I’ve a full-time job.

2017 goals

Aside from breaking some pro-paying literary markets, I want to finish Citadel, so it’s polished and ready to send. I think it’s possible, now. I think I’m ready for the final push. Hopefully, I’ll have this novel-writing lark nailed when I come to my second book, and it won’t take another decade to finish.

With my NaNoWriMo project The Divine Alliance, and my post-sea-rising sci-fi The Plainface both bubbling away in the background, I feel I’ve got enough projects to keep me busy for the foreseeable.

Meanwhile, I’ll be fighting fascism where I find it, because it’s 2017 now, and that’s where we are.

Thanks for reading! And good luck with all your creative endeavours…

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