We’re about to blast into 2019, but it doesn’t quite feel like it. 2018 was such a major year for me that it’s weird to think it’s going to be gone. I’m going to sum up the year the way I do best: as straight-forwardly as possible.
2018 was an unusual year for me. Some good, some bad. Mostly good. The highs were pretty high, and the lows were, well, pretty low.
The biggest and most significant thing is The Book Deal. I wanted 2018 to be the year I sold a novel. I ended up selling three of them to Gollancz, my first choice publisher. I’m still reeling about that. As far as I know, I’m the only author to have snagged a three-book deal with Gollancz this year, let alone a debut novelist. When you consider that the novel trilogy we sold is a space opera, in an industry dominated by epic fantasy, it’s quite the surprise. Not that it was easy. The road to getting that deal was winding, looping, rocky and filled with crevices and mudslides and angry, carnivorous goats, but we landed there in the end.
The same can be said for the year in its entirety. I spent the first six months punching out a novel I’d started in October 2017. It wasn’t going well. I was having doubts about it. Felt I was out of my depth, the world-building too grandiose, the characters too similar to things I’d done before. It was much larger in scope than anything I’d written, and I had a lot more wet clay to carve into something resembling a narrative. None of this is new to an author. But I had other issues along the sideline: I was frequently unwell with the flu. Hours with my day job were scant and unpredictable and hinged on unusual circumstances. Family tragedies happened. Then more of them. People I knew died. I had issues with friends. A few bad run-ins made me re-evaluate how I engage in social circles. Renovations meant to be done in my living space didn’t happen. Work hours changed and plans with them.This is all just life. But mental health issues stomped all over my mind-space and creative ability in mid-March, their engines fuelled by minor tragedies on the side. All of that bleed into my writing motivation.
See, whatever’s going on in my life, I’ve always used writing and story-telling to ground me. It takes the edge off things and gets me channelling my energy into getting work done, and at the end of the day I have something I’m proud of. Writing aside: I like accomplishing things. Having something to show for my efforts. Writing is one of the ways I make that happen.
Say I don’t have a good writing day. I fall short of accomplishing what I want. Then I have another bad day. And another. I start to lose the willpower to get that writing done. I feel bad because I’m losing the motivation. I won’t let myself take the day off or have me-time, because I know it’ll fuel my unease of not getting work done. I won’t be able to enjoy anything properly, I’ll feel guilty. So I double my efforts. Which makes me doubly worried I’ll have another bad writing day, and I’m twice as on edge before the writing day has even started. Which slowly, grardually, burns away at my energy, physically and mentally.
So imagine that mental state on a loop, piling up and doubling down for three months straight. One Monday, at the razor’s edge of 6 hours work and about 500 shoddy words to show for it, I, quite literally, couldn’t touch the keyboard. I couldn’t write another word. I couldn’t spend one more second in my world. If I did, I’d break something.
And looming over all of this like a dark, uncertain cloud, was my submission of STORMBLOOD to Gollancz. Not knowing if the novel would finally get picked up, or if it would crash and burn into a smouldering heap. The endless emails, check-ins, phone calls, editorials, etc, didn’t help, because at any moment it could all come crashing down into nothing.
It took me the better part of the year (and a very sore back, very sleepless nights and several raging headaches) to understand how important self-care is. And that it’s okay to have a bad writing session. It’s okay to take the day off, to take the week off. It’s okay to see a movie, to wake up late, to head to the park. It’s okay to step away from the keyboard, it’ll be there when you get back. Drawing on the mental health stuff, I’ve also understood that there’s certain things I need to do for myself and circumstances I need to set-up for my engines to be working at full capacity. It’s slightly depressing, knowing you’ve got oil leaks in your tank and have to regularly, perpetually, repair them. But I’ve always believed in honesty, and if you can’t be honest with number one you won’t be honest with others.
And because I’m a very driven, very go-get-it person, the idea of kicking back and allowing myself to put the tools down had to be pounded into my brain. I’m still working on de-compressing doing it effectively. Ploughing ahead, rain or sun, worked in 2017. It didn’t work this year. If it was anything but my writing, I’d be okay with taking breaks. But because it is, and because I use writing to improve my life, it hit hard. But it taught me an important lesson and helped me re-evaluate my work-ethic and my writing is all the better for it.
Because I’m all about giving the bad news first, I’ll now discuss the good. While I didn’t get much writing done in the short fiction department (I’ve not written a single non-flash piece the entire year), I did write a few flash pieces, and sold plenty more. I also had a few stories published for the first time, my favourite probably being Traumahead, and have scattered pieces upcoming next year and in 2020. I also got my work translated into two new languages: French and Spanish.
I also achieved my goal of reading more. To date, I’ve read 45 books this year. 15 short of my admittedly unrealistic goal of 60, but I’ve read more this year than any other year (and some of these were 650+ page monsters). I branched out into graphic novels. I narrowed down my tastes in both reading and watching, and trust myself pretty early on to bail out or not even bother if I’m bouncing off the material.
I did a bit of travelling, established a respectable gin collection (I stand at 15 now), got into shape, and generally improved my quality of life. Feeding off the mental health stuff I mentioned earlier, I have a much better understanding of the things I need to do for myself and what things set me off (which is why some people, website and types of media have been all but expunged from my life. I haven’t missed them). But overall, I’m all the more happier for it.
Then there’s the book deal. Undoubtedly the highlight of the year. I’m only starting to now wrap my grey-matter around the notion the book I furiously packed all my passions and loves and vulnerabilities into, won’t just be getting published, it’s been taken by Gollancz as their leading sci-fi title of early 2020, and will be the first of a trilogy. My job for the next few years is to write and plan two sequels to the favourite thing I’ve ever written. Worlds and species and characters and eccentricities I thought might never see the light of day are going to be launched out into the world.
It’s strange because I always believed the novel I snagged an agent with would sell, and STORMBLOOD would be something I’d sell later on, when I gained more reputation. I thought using first-person instead of a multi-PoV third wouldn’t work in space opera, a genre that’s commonly so sprawling and spectacle-heavy. I thought the voice was too rough for equal reasons. Having a protagonist perpetually feeling the bodily urges of addiction, focusing more on character and relationship than plot, having a emotionally raw protagonist, having some very dark moments happen, downplaying the space opera elements and going more The Expanse than Star Wars, all these things I feared would work against me. It wouldn’t make it unsellable, just harder. I was happy to be mistaken, because Gollancz were the first and only folks to offer, so STORMBLOOD literally never had a single rejection, from agent or editor.
After the mountain of binned novels, unfinished synopsises, dead-end creative writing classes, unbaked short stories, brutal rejections from agents and publishers, the dream has finally come true and I’m ecstatic. Sure, I could have self-published, but going solo isn’t my laneway. I’d never be happy, and I’d always feel like I fell miserably short. Being with Gollancz isn’t just about the money, but the reassurance that a book I’ve poured litres of my blood, sweat and tears into has ended up in secure, safe hands and will be treated as a professional piece of literature by folks who do this for a living, and they’re going to do everything they can to ensure the book is a success. Considering how many horror stories I’ve heard about failed books, shoddy contracts, botched cover art, rubbish sales, lazy and malicious editors, it’s a relief to be in safe hands.
It’s also a reassurance of where my writing career is going, and how I’d be spending it. Back in May-June, stuck in the swamp of Personal Issues and burned out from the weight of my exhaustation project, I thought my writing career was dead. That I’d lost the passion I’d had, that writing was a chore I had to manipulate myself into. Wind back a few years further, dusting off the residue of a lumpy book I hated writing, going to the store and rifling through all the space operas, the ones with spaceships, aliens, intergalactic politics, weird biotech and noir future cities and told myself never again. I’d only write exactly what I wanted to write and nothing less. And this is what I wanted to write. So I did. And here I am.
The journey’s just beginning. There’ll be several rounds of brutal edits, copyediting, covers, line edits, promotion, blog tours, emails, communications, and a big, endlessly barrage of self-promotion and helping to bring this book to life. And that’s between writing the next two novels, shorter projects, short fiction, editing, and managing my life. But I’m prepared for it. 2018 was a school of hard knocks, but it was one that allowed me to find my feet, and I’m a lot better equipped to manage my mindspace and balance my writing with my needs. It’s an on-going process, and I’m still learning how to navigate these waters. Thankfully, I’ve got a solid cornerstone of a publishing house backing me up. Hell, my editor is THE legendary Gillian Redfearn; the one who discovered Joe Abercrombie. The edits are going to be nothing less than brutal, as they should be, and I can’t wait to dig in.
Again, it’s been a life-long dream to get to this point. It’s not just a hobby that’s pair for, it’s now a job. A career change. And I’m going to love working it and I’m going to love getting STORMBLOOD (and the next two books!) out into the world. I do hope you’ll grab a copy, be it an ARC in 2019 or on wide release in Feb 2020.
And no matter what crops up, or what missiles life or my own mindspace will launch my way, I’m going to do my best. In the end, that’s all you can really ask for.