Well, it hasn’t been the best of years. I’ve spent most of it heavily medicated, curled up in beds or baths at home or in hospital. However, there have been some highlights, and the extended period of time at home made me remember some stuff I’d forgotten, like how important philosophy is to me, and how much I enjoy spending time alone.
This picture sums up most of my year: Netflix in bed + the occasional drink on those happy days when I could consume liquids without my body rejecting them.
I saw in the new year alone – aptly, as it turned out – sitting on the back of my sofa drinking a bottle of champagne, with the cat curled up at my feet. I watched the fireworks people were letting off outside my window for a few minutes and went to bed at about 12.05. I fell asleep to the sounds of people having fun around me, which made me happy and started the year nicely.
In January I read Confessions by Jaume Cabré, which was so good that it changed my relationship with writing.
Previously I’d wanted to write a novel – any novel, really, as long as it was passably good. I’d written a couple which I’d thought were sort of OK, if not groundbreakingly amazing, and sent them off to publishers, and been unsurprised to get rejection letters in return.
After reading Confessions, I realised I didn’t want to just write a random novel, though. I wanted to write a good one, which brought together lots of different levels and layers and thought processes, and while I think one of those might come out of me at some point, I don’t think I’m ready yet. I don’t think I’ll be ready for quite a few years, actually; so maybe writing a novel is something I’ll revisit in later life, or something I’ll do as a side project along the way and then gradually layer more and more things into it, so that it turns into one of those projects that take decades to complete but are so very worthwhile.
I did land a book deal this year, though, surprisingly without even trying, and despite resisting it quite strongly at first.
Packt Publishing, probably the biggest publisher in the digital forensics arena, emailed me in January and asked me to write a textbook of Windows forensics. I said no. They asked again, and again, and I said no again and again. Then I thought about it for a while, and I decided it might be a good way to get my foot in the door of the publishing world, and that writing a book – even if it wasn’t one I’d been planning to write – would introduce me to the process and maybe prove helpful for other potential book deals in the future.
So I said yes, on the proviso that I could have a co-author. I found Oleg Skulkin via Twitter, and he and I wrote a book together this year. He ended up writing more than he’d originally planned, since I was so ill for so long, and I couldn’t have done it without him. But we did do it, and in August they sent me a copy of my very own book, with my name on the cover and everything, and in that moment I decided it had been worth it.
In February the wonderful June Eric-Udorie organised a day to take disadvantaged children to see Hidden Figures. It was a beautiful day, the kind that makes you have to force yourself not to cry as you realise how lucky you are compared to others. Most children turned up with their teachers: kids between the ages of 8 and 19, so quite a wide age range. One group turned up alone, with no supervising adult. They said their school was rubbish and had no resources; that most days the teachers didn’t bother turning up, and when they did they barely taught; that they went to school every day anyway and tried to teach themselves. There were about five of them, and they were desperate to see the film and be inspired by the amazing women featured in it. Of course we let them in.
At the end of the film there’s a frame where the actual women’s photos are shown. One little girl turned to her designated adult and went: “Wait… they’re real?” which made several of us choke up.
We also got to see what 500 tubs of popcorn look like.
It was a truly brilliant day and I’m so glad I did it.
Unfortunately later in the year I had to withdraw from my role as a volunteer counsellor at Childline because I was too ill to continue, but happily the doctor has cleared me to return in 2018, so fingers crossed I’ll be back there soon.
March the 3rd featured the final bit of socialising I did this year. I knew at the time that I wasn’t well; I’d been feeling increasingly worse over the preceding few months, and as I sipped my wine and ate my pudding, complete with decorative edible flower, I thought Yup, there’s something really wrong.
Shortly before I got ill, I went to see my mother and we looked through an old suitcase full of photos, diaries and other personal effects of my late grandfather. That was when I discovered he taught himself English from French porn books in translation.
With unusual and uncensored bold illustrations, no less.
Hospital, Home, Hospital, Home, Ad Infinitum
Then I got ill and couldn’t do much. I was signed off work for ten months, although being a small business owner I kept things running a bit, and also somehow managed to co-write a book whilst high on morphine.
Nothing much happened between the beginning of March and the beginning of December, because there wasn’t much I could do, beyond sleep, watch a lot of Netflix, pop pills and hope for a surgery date.
At one point, when my editor was being arsey and insisting they couldn’t extend the final book deadline, I made myself an ice hat so I could keep working even though I had a fever and it was obscenely hot outside.
Bolstered by my success in writing and publishing a book, I started planning a novel which is depressing as hell before it’s even begun.
But then I thought about what I’d been considering when I read Confessions at the beginning of the year, and I realised that I don’t think any novel I’d write now would be up to scratch. I need more time, perhaps more life, before I can write one I’ll like. Besides which, next year I want to work on another forensics textbook and at least one academic paper, which if done right will take up more than enough of my time.
I was also inspired because I finally completed the Notebook Archive, which involved typing up all of these notebooks and more besides. Now they’re digitised and I have no more excuse for procrastinating all the half-written things inside them.
My friends always feature in my end-of-year round-ups for being excellent, but being ill brings out the best and the worst in people, and I was pleasantly unsurprised by my friends this year. By that I mean I was pretty sure I had great friends, then I got ill, and it became obvious that I’d been right about that.
They sent me flowers and care packages and cards. Came through when I needed some recommendations of excellent / terrible music to listen to, and then made me a ten hour long playlist of 90s cheese to cheer me up when I came out of hospital. Picked me up from the hospital, brought me home, cleaned up the cat shit which was aaaalllll over the floor (the cat was also ill), did my shopping, brought me things I needed, insisted on making sure I was OK. Sent me nice scented bath oils because I was spending about 80% of my time in the bath at one point, and mugs to drink my plain water from, and autumn leaves, and books about cats and Star Trek and feminism and wine.
There have been a few people I haven’t been able to see this year, and I’m hoping next year to get back into social circulation a bit more and hang out with them again. Only a little bit, mind. I haven’t had a personality transplant.
No More Fifi
The saddest thing that happened all year was the death of my beloved Fifi. The best cat in the world was almost fifteen when she died; not a bad age, but no less sad for that. When she came to live with me she was nine years old, so I knew I wouldn’t have a huge amount of time with her, but I’m grateful for the time we did share.
I miss her a lot.
And Then… Back To Life?
(Me, not the cat. Even I can’t resurrect the dead.)
Finally, at the end of November, I was allowed to go outside and explore again. I wandered along the banks of the Thames and revelled in being outdoors.
Then I overdid it and ended up back in bed for two weeks.
After the initial burst of excitable ill-advised overdoing things, though, I became more sensible again and took things more easily. The doctors finally discharged me from the hospital’s care on the 4th of December, and told me my surgery wounds were healing very nicely and that by the 23rd I’d be allowed to do everything again, including lifting boxes and moving furniture. Lucky really, since that’s the week my grandparents decided to move house.
That’s where I am now, lying on a bed in the Scottish town I grew up in, typing in the dark. The other day I went for a very satisfying walk along the Falls of Clyde, which are beautiful and highly recommended.
Pretty as it is, however, I am pining for home and my own bed in my nice quiet corner of West London. I’m hoping to be back there by the 31st, just in time to pop some champagne and see in the new year with a bunch of friends.
A couple of weeks ago I was finally able to eat normal food again, and drink alcohol, so I celebrated with a visit to Huntsworth Wine in Kensington, where I found the perfect match for an excellent camembert. Then I passed the most wonderful weekend indulging my tastebuds whilst watching Dirk Bogarde films.
All that remains now is to finish planning next year, which is already almost done. I’ve created basic plans for each month, so I know roughly what I’ll be doing most weeks in 2018.
Other plans for next year include the next book, which I’ve already pitched to the publishers so if they like the idea then I’ll start working on that next month; some academic research projects focusing mainly on the psychology of modern Paganism;
continued renovations for the flat – next in line is the living room, with a wood burning stove hopefully being installed sometime in the next eight weeks;
and financial plans for myself and my business, including pensions for my employees which is now a legal requirement. This is what my Google Spreadsheets page currently looks like.
So that’s been my year. I hope yours has been better than mine, and I hope next year is better for all of us.