It might seem hard to look forward to anything on a day like this – with heavy grey skies, wind and rain, several inches of snow turning to a watery slush and news of snowgates closed on major roads a few miles north of here.
These are the kind of January days that I remember from childhood as bringing with them an inescapable melancholy and listlessness, the feeling of being trapped in an enervating limbo with the spirit of Christmas well and truly gone and the return to boarding school starting to gnaw at the pit of one’s stomach.
But this January I’m starting the year with a sense of optimism that even the most vicious of Atlantic depressions can’t dent. Indeed, they’ve brought benefits. A week ago, thanks to the gales and an unscheduled overnight stay at Heathrow, we enjoyed a long and extremely boozy Dark Angels AGM at Terminal 5. John has written about it in his blog here so I won’t expound other than to say that following a memorable 2014, we have what’s promising to be a no less memorable 2015 ahead, with an exciting programme of courses as well as a lot of other, interesting avenues opening up. So if you happen to hear the rustle of passing wings one clear, starry night, it may be time to sharpen your pencil. Dark Angels are out there and flying strong.
On which subject, the other night Sarah and I were reflecting on what we considered to be our main achievements, now that we’re in our sixties. There was a time when I would have said without hesitation the novels I’ve published. Today my answer is different. It’s the knowledge that other people’s lives have been changed by coming on courses I’ve had a hand in running. It’s true of Dark Angels as it’s true of the workshops Sarah and I run together, The Stories We Tell – and 2015 is looking promising on that front too. This year, in addition to our programme of weekend workshops, we’ll be running our first full residential course, a four-day workshop in Sardinia, in September (dates being finalised as I write).
Of course, all this is simply about the desire to ‘put back’ that comes on in later life and there’s nothing exceptional in that. But as nature doubtless intends it to, it has altered the way I look at the world and invited me to rethink the things that most matter to me. For example, nothing could have prepared me for the pleasure, I’d go so far as to say the joy, that derives from seeing someone understand something new and liberating about themselves, something that allows them to be more fully who they are. And when this happens in a gathering of likeminded folk, the circle of connection – inner and outer – is complete, as is the satisfaction in witnessing it. The power of simple words and stories to bring this about never ceases to fill me with wonder.
Which brings me back to fiction and the urge to imagine other lives, which has not entirely deserted me. Some of you may remember my dilemma over whether or not to abandon the almost-completed third book in my sequence of young adult novels, The Artefact (see here). Last May, with a rush of blood to the head, I finally made it to the end of the first draft – a mere six years after starting out. On Monday I’m heading for the hills with laptop, printer and a box of provisions for a week of solitary polishing. My friend Annie is lending me her beautiful little cabin in the woods of Highland Perthshire, a secluded and magical place with a burn and birch trees and, in this weather, the decent prospect of getting snowed in.
It’s several years since I last did this and I feel a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Will I re-engage with the story? Will I like what I’ve written? Will I enjoy my own company? It’s a process that’s worked for me in the past and I must trust that it will work again this time. If I’m not written out by then, and the wi-fi is working, I’ll report from my hideaway this time next week.
Meanwhile, a Happy New Year to you, and if your cup feels half as full as mine does, it looks like we’re going to have a good 2015!