So far it’s been a curate’s egg of a year. In the good news, my short story writing is going well. I’ve had some good sales, including Down and Out Under the Tannhauser Gate to ParSec magazine, which was then been selected for reprint in The Best of British SF 2021. Not only is this delightfully exciting, it’s the second year in a row this has happened. (The first time was for The Savages, published by Unsung Stories.) Just to get one story in an annual ‘Best of’ anthology was a huge lift to my confidence, a second one is kind of immense. I have no expectations of doing this a third time, but you never know.
I also have four, possibly five, stories accepted that I can’t talk about just yet. The reason for that is the same in each case – the publisher wants to give their anthology or magazine issue the best chance and use the publicity from us over-excited writers to good advantage when they are ready to announce the table of contents. What I can say is that three of the stories are UK publications, and the other two are to the same magazine in the USA. I don’t mind, it’s not as if these are secrets that can never be told. Watch this space.
On the other hand, my novels go nowhere, nobody seems interested. So it goes. This isn’t anything new. I keep trying to find an agent who likes my work, and submit to publishers that take direct submissions. Maybe my timing’s off, maybe my style isn’t what is wanted today, or maybe – and I think all writers need to ask themselves this question – they aren’t quite good enough. Of course, when I say this last out loud my wife grabs my collar in a two-fisted grip and tells me not to be so stupid.
I gave up the day job just over a year ago and have not regretted it for a single moment. It needed to be done, the time was right, the doctors told me I had, as best as they could tell, five years to live.
I think my writing has improved. I feel I’m just telling better stories in better ways. And here’s one of the great forever unknowns – would this have happened if I hadn’t had that advanced prostate cancer diagnosis. Once I’d begun to adjust to the new prospects in my life I wrote a couple of stories, in my own oblique way, about trying to process this news. I sold one of them too. Overall, I can’t help but feel there is a connection, but I can’t describe it.
That day job had to go. These days I marvel how I ever had the energy (hormone deprivation therapy does that to you). My leathercrafting has gone the same way, though I’m hoping this is temporary, but it’s turning into a long break. Running a successful little Etsy shop was feeling more and more like a burden than a pleasure. When I closed it to go on holiday for a couple of weeks I didn’t open it again, and this too felt like the right thing to do. I’d like to make a few beautiful or practical things at my own pace, and the fact I’m still thinking about this, about design and materials and finishes is, I think, a good sign I’ll come back to it.
Two months ago, my lovely daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. She acted on instinct, it was caught early and there’s no spread. Now she’s on chemo and she’s going through a treatment program far more intense than mine, with all the nausea, stress, hair loss and more that entails. I tell you, it’s bad enough having cancer yourself, but dealing with this at the same time. Man, it ain’t easy.
She’s going to get better. A year, and her oncologist says she be through this. I am pretty certain doctors don’t say these things unless they mean them.
My days usually begin with writing. An hour, two hours, maybe a little more. It all depends on how much energy and focus I have, and if I don’t do it then it’s unlikely I will at all. I exercise, quite hard and quite often. There’s increasing clinical evidence this extends cancer survival time and I’m motivated. And I garden.
The garden is beautiful. Truly, the more you put into a garden the more you get back. Nature will reward you ten times over for everything you do. I find so much pleasure in working in a garden humming with bees, butterflies, hoverflies, and the occasional dragonfly and incredible iridescent rose-chafer beetle, birds, and more. And there is nothing like food straight form the plant onto your plate. Nature is timeless. Lost in the moment, I am more than happy, I am content.
This Saturday I’ve an MRI scan, it’s not my first, the scan is no big deal, half an hour in a very clean room inside a very hi-tech and noisy machine. It sounds like an AI’s first attempt at Industrial Metal. I’m not going to stress about the scan, but I am about the result because it’s to see how well my meds are holding the cancer at bay. Is it still spreading? Has it been pushed back? What can I expect for the rest of the year?
I’ve been looking after myself well, better than in years. Food, exercise, and sleep. I feel well, I feel in good form, I hope this translates into a good outcome from the scan. What are my chances? Toss a coin.
Today the sun shines. Life is good, my daughter is going to get better.
It’s been a curate’s egg of a year so far.