Friday 1 January 2021

Oath, Boast, Toast 2021


First off, is everyone alive? Everyone doing okay out there?

What the hell was that?

I'm sorry everyone, I think that might have been my fault. I jinxed it by raising a toast to 'a better year than the one before.' I apologise to everyone. Back then, I thought splitting up with my fella was bad (okay, that and the month-long bout of malaria, the kidney infection, and losing my cat).

I had no idea. 

I was planning to jet off round the world and get drunk with friends. 

How was I to know we'd all be stuck at home getting drunk with Netflix?

How were any of us supposed to know? (Shush Bill Gates, any of us except you).

Just, seriously...

Still, I've been a lot better off than many people.

Last year, I included a few downers in my annual oath, boast and toast. I'd never done that and was at a particularly low point. This year I'm going back to the traditional format of only focusing on the positive. 

What were the highlights?

  • Secure the Shadow is out in the world. I'd been writing that for a while, and I was never too sure about it, so it was wonderful to finally let go of it and to see it get such a positive reception. Even made somebody's 'Best books of 2020' list. You can catch up on the interviews here. I'm now head-first into a new book that I've wanted to write for a while, all about the Akkadian Empire. It was originally only going to focus on Enheduanna, but, to get to her, I've had to write the Legend of Sargon as well. Looks likely this will be two books. So, I'm entering the New Year with a writing project I absolutely love. 
  • One of my other works, The Children of Lir, inspired a lovely piece of art by Irish artist Jonathan McFerran.
  • Also on the writing front, a strange quirk of fate. I lost my job thanks to the disappearance of DFID. Twenty-five percent of my organisation's income disappeared overnight, and my salary was a casualty of those cutbacks. Thanks Borris! However, I ended up being brought on as head of the Writing & Communication course for a prominent university instead. I've spent the past six months designing and then delivering their foundation curriculum, training 36 first-year medical students in English grammar, technical writing and clear communication. As such, I've now been retained for a second semester, where I get to teach full-on creative writing. Try and inspire students to enjoy writing. It's rather a shift in pace from development work to academia, but I'm very much enjoying it. So far, everything's been taught online, but, restrictions allowing, I'll get to see the campus soon. It's really been quite an amazing ride so far.
  • Randomly, I've taken up boxing. With the pools closed and an ever-expanding waistline, I decided to try to fight the paunch, quite literally. My friend introduced me to her boxing trainer, Mike, and I've discovered I really like punching things. Turns out, I'm not too bad at it, either. I had no idea I'd actually enjoy this sport and wish I'd done it years ago.  
  • In the sheer boredom of lockdown, I turned to Duolingo. I'm useless at languages, but I've now got further with French than I ever have before. Part of this was that I wanted to understand my students better. Many of them have been taught English vocabulary but French word order, grammar and sentence construction, so I wanted to understand specifically why they were phrasing things in certain ways. It's also partly in solidarity. They work so hard in English, that I thought I should remind myself how hard it is to learn another language, just to stay humble. I've bought a copy of Les Medicines Redicules: En coulisse avec MoliĆ©re by Laura Bazire, which is a story for eleven-year-olds. Maybe by next year I'll be able to read it. I also took a little look at Korean after falling in love with Korean soaps during lockdown. I love their phonetic system, but - one language at a time.

For me, this year actually hasn't been as tough as last year. Certainly not on a personal level. I'm a very happy recluse and can spend days on my own without seeing anyone. I've been lucky enough to keep an income and my family are all well and safe. I'm very much looking forward to seeing them again one day, but I'm able to wait a while longer. Had to do dad's 70th virtually, and probably the same for my 40th, but we'll save it up for a proper reunion. Bit pissed off about Britain voting for Brexit and possibly requiring a visa to visit friends in Europe once we're free to do so.

So, last year I swore to take a holiday to go visit friends. Yeah... can safely assume that one didn't happen. I boasted about the two novels I'd published. And I toasted to a better year ahead. Again - sorry! Won't ever do that again.

This year...


I'm going to enter one writing competition a month via Almond Press for the next twelve months. Doesn't matter how big or small - just to keep my hand in and force me to write different things.




I have a strong left hook! (according to my boxing trainer)




To my friend Jean, who underwent a kidney transplant this year, and his girlfriend, Marie, who gave him that kidney. May they continue to be happy and well.


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