Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Swimming Lessons

How are you all? First rains in six months here, and the view from the desk window (above), is green and beautiful. The rain has been and gone, a couple of days - but the migrating birds are back, cicadas singing at night, and the garden is blazing with colour. Here we are with the fullest of full moons I've seen for ages, half way through December - how did that happen, where did the year go? 

It's a good time to take stock, as you change your diary over for the new year - relatively blank and full of potential. Let's not think about the grimly determined hairshirt and porridge resolutions yet - what have been your successes this year? Give yourself a shout out in the comments box - post links to your favourite work. 

And what about reading? Which are the best books you have read this year? I retired from the Ahlan! Book Club column - reviewing five books a fortnight plus all the usual research for writing was leaving little time for reading for pleasure. But I hope it has given a few authors some new readers in the Middle East as it was the first column of its kind in the region. In terms of pleasure, in no apparent order, these are some wonderful books read this year:

Life is Meals - James Salter
Snow in May - Kseniya Melnik
The Shadow Year - Hannah Richell
Mrs Hemingway - Naomi Wood
How to Be a Good Wife - Emma Chapman
Fallout - Sadie Jones
An Omelette and a Glass of Wine - Elizabeth David (read all of ED this year - and this was my favourite)

There are lots more - but these have stayed in mind. I just totted up roughly how many books there are on the TBR shelves - about 100 conservatively. In the way an alcoholic might stash gin behind the cornflakes, in the event of an emergency situation here we might run out of water but there will always be something new to read.

It has been a great year, watching several writer friends hit new highs - film deals, new contracts, Richard & Judy picks. There have been highlights here, work-wise, in 2014 - shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year, writing a winning play:

(a bent piece of green card showed up, stuffed into a corner of the P O Box - does this count as 'award winning' play?)

There were #1s in Norway, European bestsellers, 'The House of Dreams' published in Germany as 'Das Sonntagsmadchen'. A stack of editorial published. And festivals, and workshops. And another book edited, and submitted, and another book begun ...

(If you ever wondered what the effect of being a Daily Deal is)


There was a photoshoot for a glossy's 'Qatar Hot 100' the other day (yes, the words Big, Fish and Pond spring to mind ...), and they wanted books for props - so for the first time I got all the editions together. A couple are missing, Serbia, Turkey I think. Three books published - all the work that a lot of people have put into them, the agents and editors and publishers, the translators. There is a lot to be grateful for. And it feels like it's just beginning. 

I'm about 60,000 words in to a new story, and as ever find myself reaching for books I've forgotten are in storage in the UK, in one of the two containers in Suffolk and Hampshire. Old copies of Elizabeth David, hand written recipe books. I'm not sure what I was thinking, packing up the house, our life, five years ago - but it certainly wasn't that I wouldn't see any of it for that length of time. Frankly I wasn't sure I'd last five months let alone five years. Still, day by day. That's the big resolution this year - find somewhere to unpack the containers. 

There are some exciting things coming up with the books next year, but there is always the sense looking back and thinking forward that you want to do better next time. To write the best book yet. To write the TV scripts and film scripts I keep on scribbling notes for every spare moment. To see the radio play produced. Those are the work resolutions - how about yours?

I'm ending the year feeling no more enlightened about a lot of the big things, indeed living where we are I feel less and less at home. It's not getting any easier - put it that way. Walking the dogs at night it's the same moon the world over, but here the scent of shisha perfumes the air as the call to prayer rings out - while in our home-for-now the Christmas tree is up and Kings' Carols are playing. Security is tightened - you're taking the kids to drama and guys with machine guns are patrolling the school campus - it is not relaxing. But you carry on, a little more cautiously. As I said in 'The Perfume Garden' - your home is within you, you carry your place in the world'.

If for you this isn't the easiest time of the year, perhaps that idea is some comfort. I don't have any advice to offer - I'm still trying to figure out how to navigate these uncertain times, but I have read some great thoughts this year, and will share three favourites below. That's what books do, I think - help you navigate. And that's why it's such a privilege to read, to write and be read. So thank you, to all of you who have read this year. Good wishes to you all for the festive season, and let's hope for a peaceful new year x

 Elizabeth David

'Every day holds the possibility of a miracle' Elizabeth David

'Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point' 
C S Lewis

and this:

Promise me
you will not spend
so much time
treading water
and trying to keep your
head above the waves
that you forget,
truly forget,
how much you have
always loved
to swim

Tyler Knott Gregson book here.

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