Monday 28 December 2020

A Year Like No Other


Crime writers trade in the fragility and unpredictability of human existence, and perhaps that's been quite good training for life in 2020. Like everyone else, I found that the year unfolded in a way that I'd never imagined. Across the world, everyone has had their own challenges to face and for me, these have been the inability to get together with loved ones and friends or to travel and take part in the many events I'd looked forward to. We've all had to find a way of coping which suits us as individuals. From the start of the pandemic it seemed to me that the key thing is to look after one's health: physical, mental, and financial. And also to hope that one isn't unlucky, because in truth, there's a limit to the extent that one can control things. Among other things, I've been fortunate to live in a lovely place and it's been no hardship to spend more time there than usual.  

I did manage a few events at the start of the year: a book club event in our local village, the Detection Club AGM and dinner in February (although with hindsight, the spooky emptiness of the train to London was a harbinger of things to come), and a lovely trip to Loughborough University, doing events with Professor Mike Wilson and his students, who were working on a theatrical performance of a Jefferson Farjeon story. 

In April, I celebrated (in a locked down sort of way!) 40 years as a qualified solicitor. I'd expected to retire, but in fact I've carried on working part-time as a consultant and in this strange year I've been glad to stay in touch, remotely, with my other working life. Two lecture trips on the Queen Mary 2 were scrapped, but their place has been taken by two weeks of online lecturing for Adventures Online, with more in the pipeline. I've got to know - again remotely - a fascinating chap called Simon Dinsdale, a retired superintendent with a fund of stories. We've started working together online and I hope this can continue next year. 

One decision I took at the start of the pandemic was to do as much writing and writing-related stuff as circumstances allowed. This has worked out really well. At the start of the year, I was fretting about whether I'd be able to meet various deadlines. As it turned out, I even managed to add a few more projects into the bargain. So despite the disappointment of not having personal contact with so many people whose company I wanted to share, technology has filled some of the gaps, and although Facetime and Zoom are definitely not the same, they are much, much better than nothing. As for those friends who have suffered this dreadful illness or the effects of 'long covid', my heart goes out to them. 

I'm full of admiration for the people who have worked tirelessly to make online events happen. I'm really grateful to Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen, Sarah Ward and Buxton International Festival, Manjiri and the team at Pune International Literary Festival, the lovely people at UK Crime Book Club, Nick Wells and Flame Tree Press, Dea Parkin, Antony Johnston, and the CWA, Bonnie MacBird and the CWA London chapter, and Giles Ramsay and the Adventures Online team. Inevitably it's a selective list, but doing online events with other people has brightened my year immeasurably. 

Reading has, as always, been highly therapeutic. I've also done quite a lot of comfort TV watching, including the Carmichael and Petherbridge Lord Peter Wimsey series, which stand the test of time pretty well, loads of Ruth Rendell Mysteries, and the utterly brilliant Spooks. But I've stopped watching the TV news! My travelling has been restricted to short covid-compliant breaks, but this at least enabled me to undertake quite a lot of research for the novel I recently started to write. Hardcastle Crags, Kinver Edge, and Calke Abbey all proved to be quite inspirational settings. Not to mention seeing the National Rhubarb Collection at Clumber Park - though I'm not sure how I could work that into a story! And before this extraordinary year ends, I'll reflect further on my writing life in 2020. 


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