That was the Year that was…

It’s early January, all the Christmas decorations have come down. Christmas presents received have been absorbed into the house and all the leftovers have been eaten or binned. I must admit to a sense of relief that it’s all over for another year, and I don’t know whether it’s my advancing years or just a general feeling of grumpy discontent, but Christmas no longer does it for me. In fact, if I’m brutally honest, it hasn’t done it for me for quite a few years now.

Not to be too much of a Grinch, but it all seems a monumental waste of time, money and energy for what is merely one day. All that food and drink. All those presents. All the cards and wrapping paper, ribbons and bows. And then there’s the money that’s frittered away on stupid, useless things that don’t seem to cost much at the time, but, in the cold light of the New Year, when your bank account is weeping and the credit card bills are thudding onto the doormat, you do wonder what you were thinking of, wasting your hard earned cash on such tut.

For me, I think the main problem is Christmas underlines how alone I am. Now, I’m not looking for sympathy or any such nonsense, it is what it is and most of the time I’m fine. Too busy to stop and think about the fact I’ve been single for well over a decade, my life is lived at a hundred miles an hour and, if asked, I’d say I was too busy for a relationship. But, at Christmas, it is brutally hammered home to me that there is no one to share the burden of all the shopping and decorating, the cooking and planning, the stress and expense. There’s just me.

I used to love decorating the house and the tree, now it’s just one more chore on the to-do list. Dragging out the boxes of decorations, manhandling home a tree and struggling to get it into a pot, then putting up fake festive cheer – well, it all seems a bit forced, if you know what I mean. What, precisely, as an adult, do we get out of Christmas? Well, there’s giving presents, that’s always nice, and I do enjoy spoiling my daughter, but then there’s the consequential poverty paying off the debts. And to be frank, what I receive in gifts in no way equals all the time, money, effort and thought I put into gifts for others. Apart from a bracelet from my daughter, which I love, all I received this Christmas was seven bottles of wine.

There’s the Christmas meal itself. Again, a lot of expense, work and stress for what is basically only a roast dinner and could be had at any other time of the year. There’s the time off work, which I’m sure is lovely for others, but I only get three days off over Christmas – less time than I have off in a normal week – so not a bonus for me then. Parties and other such celebrations? I wasn’t invited to any, so no joy there either.

I think Christmas only really works if you have a reasonably sized family, have space to accommodate them without people getting ansty from being cramped together, and have a good mix of ages. My family is now tiny, my parents are getting older and were never very much into celebrating anyway, and now they get ill and tired at Christmas and just want to go home early.

That leaves me and Miss F desperately wanting something more from the festive season, but not sure how to achieve it without causing hurt and upset to others. We’ve promised ourselves next year will be different, a promise we make every year, but this time I’ve even written a letter to myself to be opened in October reminding my future self just how awful Christmas is. Because you do forget. Christmas is like childbirth, in that time softens the pain and you don’t remember how truly bloody it really was. But all that is months in the future and who knows what events will have transpired by then. Ever the optimist, I am always hopeful of something better.

And now it’s a new decade, the teens are behind us and the Roaring Twenties are upon us, and I can’t help pausing for a moment to look back at the year just gone. Was 2019 a good year for me? Well, it was a year much like any other, and although it felt like one of the busiest of my life, I didn’t achieve all I set out to.

In January 2019 I posted my resolutions on Instagram. Not an ambitious list, I felt. Mostly comprising of pledges to write and read more, make more time for myself, rest more and get all my existing books re-edited, formatted, illustrated and re-launched before the year was out.

So, how did I do? Well the write more part of the pledge started out well and I wrote a whopping 100,000 words to finish book two of The Perennials trilogy – Chaining Daisy – in April. Then it all ground to a halt. What non writers very often fail to appreciate is just how long it takes from writing “The End” to publishing a book. There are months of proofreading and editing and sending it out to beta readers and waiting for them to get back to you with feedback. There’s the sourcing of appropriate interior graphics and, of course, designing the perfect cover. It all takes such a long time, far longer than you ever allow for.

Book one in the trilogy – Becoming Lili – had gone to my editor in March and then gone out to beta readers in April. Already published, it was basically fine, but I wanted it to be even better. Sharper formatting, a smart new font and, most importantly, beautiful illustrations throughout. Now, both Lili and Daisy are big girls – 175,000 and 155,000 words respectively – so of course everything to do with them takes longer than a shorter book. It was late June before Becoming Lili was finally republished and Chaining Daisy wasn’t released until early September.

It did well. Reaching number 51 in the Amazon rankings in its category and number 6 in hot new releases. To date, Daisy has gained nothing but rave reviews and there was even a Daisy Challenge started. A real tearjerker, the challenge is to read the whole book without choking up at least once. So far, no one has managed to pass. The new edition of Becoming Lili also did well, gaining some lovely reviews along the way.

Then we were into October and we began to be busy at work. I could have begun writing another book, but I still wanted to get the rest of my books freshened up and re-released. The Forest was already as good as it was going to get and in late 2018, I’d already updated and re-released Lifesong and Eclairs for Tea and other stories. That left Erinsmore, Lost & Found, Fixtures & Fittings and The Book of Eve.

Now, of all my books, The Book of Eve is the only one not self-published and I was eagerly awaiting regaining my copyright in December 2019. I decided that needed to be the book I tackled next, so went through it with a fine toothcomb until I was happy with it and sent it to my editor for her to work her magic on it. But, at the beginning of December I received a devastating blow. Copyright had been signed over to the publishers for six years, not the five I thought, and so I wouldn’t be getting Eve back until December 2020.

I was gutted. Five years ago, I was totally clueless as to how a book should be edited and presented and I now know there is much that needs to be fixed with Eve. Looking forward to getting it back and being able to bring it in line with all my other books, I’d even started to look at new cover designs, so this news was crushing. I immediately contacted the publisher again. Was there any way I could buy copyright back early? Yes, there was, for the sum of £120. That’s a sizeable amount of money to find, but it is doable and find it I must, because I can’t bear for my book to languish in the state it’s currently in for another year. So, I will be buying back copyright and am hoping for a re-release date of March or possibly April. That will leave just three books left to do. Fairly short, they have none of the girth of Lili and Daisy, and my editor and I are confident we can get them all out during the course of the year.

I must start writing again though, no matter that I wanted to have a clean slate before going forwards, I need to publish one if not two original pieces of work this year. For an indie writer, the old adage you’re only as good as your last performance, is achingly accurate. It’s not that I’m short of ideas either. Currently, I have the plots or partial plot lines of at least a dozen books whirling around in my imagination. It’s just a case of picking which one I write next and being brutally strict with myself about actually sitting my bum down in a chair and bloody well writing it!

What else did 2019 bring? Well, it was a very eventful and satisfying year for my daughter, Miss F. Her year kicked off with all the stress of revising for her GCSE’s and then having the hell of sitting over twenty exams during April, May and June. She did very well and kept cool under tortuous conditions and I’m very pleased to report that she sailed through them with outstanding grades – high enough to enable her to take up the place she’d been conditionally offered at our local college. Wanting to study animal management, we were very keen for her to get a coveted place on their diploma course because going to college locally would make life so much easier for both of us.

There was her prom to prepare for and those of you who’ve followed my blog from the beginning will remember the triumph of finding THE perfect dress at THE perfect price, much to her joy and my relief. Her prom went very well, a magical evening that she will remember for the rest of her life.

Turning sixteen in August, she decided to have a retro birthday party complete with games, balloons and party food that brought back memories of parties I’d attended in the seventies, complete with iced gems, sandwiches with the crusts cut off and cheese and pineapple hedgehogs. A beautiful sunny day, the whole of the house and garden rang with the sound of happy laughter and a good time was had by all.

Starting college in the September, she quickly found her feet and made two good friends. Adjusting to the pace of her new life, it has been wonderful watching her stretch her wings and grow in confidence, revealing the woman she is going to be. Loving her college course, I also enjoy hearing all her tales of the myriad of different animals she now looks after. From chinchillas to snakes, hamsters to goats, spiders to lizards, she has tackled each new task with enthusiasm.

Gaining an essential work placement in a livery stable and puppy breeding centre a forty minute drive away, I’ve found my own time seriously eaten into with all the driving around I now do, but as she must have this work placement in order to be able to continue her course, it’s something I’ve had to accept. She’s also got a part-time job in a trendy gastro pub just outside town, where she works two shifts a week and is enjoying having her own money for the first time in her life.

In October, I also had the thrill of meeting friends I’d previously only known through Instagram and I really enjoyed the change in my routine when an Australian author came to stay with me for a few days. During the Autumn, I also met several other indie authors who live locally and now love meeting once a fortnight with them for coffee and chat. I hadn’t realised how wonderful if is to be able to talk about books with someone and not have their eyes glaze over.

Then in November it was the Bury Christmas Fayre. The third biggest festive fair in the country, I and four other local authors decided to run a stall together selling our books in an attempt to connect with local people and perhaps build a following in our hometown. Thoroughly enjoyable, the outcome wasn’t perhaps as successful as we had all hoped, but I think that was more due to the poor position of our stall. Tucked away as it was, it took real dedication or blind luck to find us, and I think we were all slightly disappointed with our sales. However, there is talk of trying again next year in a more visible position, so who knows.

Then we were into December. The shortest and busiest month of the year, even though I tried not to let Christmas completely steal the month, it was inevitable that it would.

So, that was 2019. As you can see, a busy year full of challenges and new experiences. Yes, I didn’t achieve all I set out to do, but maybe those goals were a little unrealistic. One thing I am proud of though is this blog. I made a promise to myself that come hell or high water, I would blog every week and I’m glad to report that with the exception of Christmas week, this is a promise I have managed to keep. I won’t lie, sometimes it is a bind, and there are many weeks when I reach Saturday evening with no clue what to blog about, but, somehow, inspiration always strikes, and I find something to ramble about.

I think I have people following me. I don’t tend to look at or even understand the stats that WordPress kindly supply to me, so I’m not sure how many of you there are. Not many of you comment, but that’s alright, this blog is more for me than any of you. With such a busy year there has been little time for writing, so at least by being forced to write a couple of thousand new words every week I am stretching my writing muscle, so to speak. Or at least that’s the theory.

How has your year been? Did you achieve everything you set out to or did you fall by the wayside? Was 2019 a year you will remember fondly, or is it one you wish to draw a line under and move on from? Do you have big plans for 2020? Or are you content to let things take their natural course? Whatever your situation, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a fulfilling and satisfying 2020, filled with love, hope and happiness.

Happy New Year.

Julia Blake