Coming Up For Air

In retrospect, there’s no surprise it’s been more than a year since I last posted here: I’m capable of quite astonishing bouts of laziness and could procrastinate for Great Britain at the Olympics. Still, life has comprehensively gotten in the way these last fifteen months, and I’m only recently starting to find some kind of equilibrium again.

After spending much of summer 2017 in hospital (and latterly, Edinburgh’s Marie Curie hospice), my beloved wife Caz passed away last October. Cancer is an awful disease, and she bore her burden for more than four years with little fuss or complaint. There’s no denying her last few months brought her significant pain and distress, and I thank the staff of the Marie Curie hospice from the bottom of my heart for making Caz’s last few weeks as comfortable and bearable as they could.

Despite everything, Caz remained cheerful, stoic and optimistic in the hospice, and was still knitting cuddly animals and tackling her formidable Listener Crosswords until the end. One evening, after narrowly losing our daily Times word-wheel competition (we adapted said newspaper’s puzzle by writing down the nine random letters on two separate pieces of paper, setting a ten-minute timer and competing to make as many words as we could), Caz suggested she had the strength to manage a few more weeks. Next morning her illness worsened at a frightening pace; twelve hours later she passed away with me and her mother by her side. As devastating as it was, I couldn’t help but feel relieved her suffering was finally over. After Caz’s death her family and friends raised just shy of £10,000 for Marie Curie and almost £1,500 for Beating Bowel Cancer, two utterly amazing amounts that still leave me stunned. Caz definitely would have approved.

The aftermath of Caz’s passing obviously floored me, and it quickly became clear that I couldn’t stay in our house without her. So, in 2018 I’ve bought a house, sold a house, left the Edinburgh suburbs behind and moved back to my childhood home, the Isle of Arran. It’s been almost twenty years since I last lived here full-time, and it’s simultaneously strange and wonderful being back. I’m still getting used to the slower pace of life, and after moving to a rather remote part of the island, the twenty-mile round trip to the shops! I couldn’t ask for a better view (on the clearest days I can see the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland, more than 93 miles away), although at more than 150m above sea-level on an exposed south-facing hillside, the winters are going to be rough and wild!

The night skies on my doorstep are truly spectacular: the nearest major source of light pollution is Belfast (!), and at a Bortle Rating of 3, you can’t get much darker in the UK. I’ve never seen the Milky Way shine so brightly, and I witnessed the Zodiacal Light for the first time in my life mere weeks after moving in. The only downside is the steep hillside to the north, blocking views of all but the most spectacular of Northern Lights displays. Can’t have everything, I suppose…

After a nervous start, Katie-cat utterly adores her new home. She has acres of farmland and hillside to explore, and has become a hunter of considerable guile, finesse and ambition. Voles, shrews, mice and songbirds are commonplace gifts; I occasionally find a dead rat under my bed, and her biggest trophy has been a fully grown rabbit. I found the poor creature by the bathroom door, still warm with bite wounds in its neck and belly; despite the wabbit being about 30% of Katie’s weight, she somehow managed to drag it through the cat-flap!

My new house is lovely, and it’s nice living closer to family and friends old and new. Much DIY has been done since arriving (mostly by my eager and willing Dad, to be fair); moving to a bigger house and living alone means extra rooms to play with, so I now have a proper library to call my own :-D44898625_10156507814786285_7735735862490562560_oIt’s been a simultaneously busy yet torpid year so far; after the stress of moving and selling the old place, a “normal” life eludes me yet. I still need to find a job (after spending so long caring for Caz full-time, the thought is rather daunting) and at times it’s hard to summon the motivation to do much at all. I’ve been reasonably good at going hillwalking, cycling, swimming and indulging in other outdoor activities, but late summer brought a period of extreme laziness I’ve yet to conquer. Thing is, I’m not very good at doing more than one thing at once, and it coincided with finally managing to get some kind of writing momentum back again. My NY resolution only took seven months to kick in…

So yes, what’s been happening on the writing front? I’ve been plugging away at a new book, provisionally titled The City On The Edge Of Forever, and what was originally meant to be a short fairy tale-esque story for youngish children has ballooned into a giant YA epic fantasy that could take five parts to fully tell. It’s been hugely difficult to write, given everything else that’s been going on these last couple of years, and I’ve struggled with the story in a way I’ve never struggled before. Still, I’ve almost reached the end, and I’ve partly written this blog post as a motivational exercise. After all, today is October 31st, which as most aspiring writers know, means NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow. Writing an entire book in a month is not my style (nor within my capabilities), but hopefully finishing the last 10,000 words and finally completing a first draft is. We shall see!

Elsewhere, I’m very pleased with the reception The Girl With The Sealskin Dress has gotten so far, especially since I haven’t had a single spare moment to publicise it in any shape or form. It’s not available just now (boo!), but that’s because a Highlands-based publisher is considering it for publication (hurrah!) More news on that soon, hopefully.

In retrospect, my NY writing resolutions were ridiculously optimistic (finish novel, redraft novel, successfully pitch novel and sign with a new agent), but given the difficult days that have passed, and the unforeseen complications that have lurked round every corner, hopefully I’ll at least achieve the first two. Maybe, with luck, I can sort out the rest of my life too…

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