Strictly speaking not actually a year in review–what is there to look back on?
When I started this dumpster fire of a year, I had been hoping, at most, to have a lot of parties and then deal with the hell-hangover of Brexit with a good solid bedrock of fun underneath me. I got off to a roaring start, flitting from one burlesque-themed but otherwise disappointing night at the Café de Paris (which appears to have changed its clientele a lot since the last time I went, into people significantly less familiar with the art form and mostly just interested in paying Central London prices for champagne), to an open-air street view of the city’s fireworks followed by several people arbitrarily letting off fireworks in the street freestyle (a bit hair-raising), to dragging my excellent companion for the night to Vauxhall to enjoy a proper party at Beef Mince’s NYE bash at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, where I danced so hard that most of my costume came off.
After that things floundered somewhat.
By the time I managed to extract my friends from under their winter rocks, the rumblings of global pandemic were already close to thunder. I managed to squeeze in a fantastic photography exhibition in Feb, a birthday bash in early March, a quick trip to the Beardsley exhibition followed by an extremely fancy afternoon tea at Dominique Ansel’s Victoria patisserie, and was booked in for delayed cabaret and a party in Paris when “yeah good luck with that” descended on us like a swarm of murder hornets.
Global events hardly need reiterating here; we’ve all sat around twiddling our thumbs, learning how to mute microphones in Zoom, and following the latest absolutely bullshit 2020 has had to throw. I experimented with learning to climb trees (free! outdoors! technically legal! challenging! a great way to get tetanus!), explored the interesting walking routes my area had to offer, and watched my country go into meltdown over and over.
I missed every single celebration in my personal calendar: Eurovision. Pride. Trans Pride. Halloween. All the great party occasions vanished like leaves in the wind. Museums which had already become increasingly unfriendly to visitors, with airport-esque security, barely-voluntary demands for “donations”, and decaying innards grew erratic in their opening hours, online-booking-only, and requiring set routes which would exhaust even those used to cheerfully yomping across the moors carrying a horse on their back. Restaurants closed, opened, closed, opened with outdoor seating which temporarily transformed Soho into Siena (one of the few upsides of this mess); memes came and went, celebrities and politicians went absolutely shitnuts insane, long-overdue rioting about racism flared up, prompting me to both quit Instagram and adopt a new charity to support (Black Minds Matter, who need your donations!) alongside my previously preferred two (Mermaids, MSF).
As the archives will show, I returned to craft projects to stave off boredom. Kimonos, doublets, home-dyeing with rust, terrible experiments in goth crochet, and a cautious dabbling with electronic music composition that was only enhanced by a birthday excursion to the Design Museum’s timely exhibition… shortly before Lockdown Number Whatever We Were Up To Now.
The important thing is that, despite having had no intentions of doing so when I set out, I started kicking Submission Fear in the balls.
- An acquaintance pointed me at Authors Publish newsletters, which led to an absolute inflorescence of options for submission.
- After failing angrily out of last year’s NaNo, a rest, some what-would-be-soul-searching-if-I-believed-in-such-things, I experimented with writing exercises, and settled back into a habit of writing 200-400 words a day on a long-form project in around February. The project has now surpassed 120k words, which suggests I overshot the mark a couple of times, but my maths has never been spectacular; the main thing is that, writing longhand as I did when I first started out at the tender age of 13 or so, and freed from anxieties of what people would think about it as I’d already decided it wasn’t for public consumption, I found it much easier to write other things…
- And to then submit them.
I haven’t kept a record of how many things I submitted or to how many places, but I do have a handy list of acceptances:
- Erato from New Smut Project took on the excerpt from “When Someone Speaks Your Language”. I’ve worked with NSP before, which may have been a factor in the acceptance.On The Premises Magazine’s 36th issue, Ooh, That Smell took “Weed”, a John Wyndham & Helen Cresswell-inspired plant comedy-horror.Dear Leader Tales from Feral Cat Publishers was the home for “The Scourge”, a comic-fantasy short about a plague.And Calyx, a writers’ collective, found a place in their And Lately, The Sun environmental sci-fi anthology for “Light From The Darkness”, a light-hearted look at the moral complexity of reliance on fungi.
- I’ve written a lot of other stories as a result of the Authors Publish Newsletter, some of which I hope to put into a collection at some point next year. What I’ve learnt from publisher feedback, patterns of acceptance and rejection, and the much-needed, often lightning-fast (just before a deadline) editorial comments of some very helpful friends:
- There is no knowing whether a story’s level of editorial oversight and polish will help or not. “The Scourge” and “Weed” were not particularly heavily buffed up or altered, whereas “Light From The Darkness” is probably the most edited, read-over and carefully-considered thing I’ve done all year.
- On the whole, pieces written specifically for the anthology are more likely to succeed than stories written on-spec or from inspiration (two taken from dreams, one from a friend’s highly inspiring musings on art and reproduction, have failed to land). This, once I’d grasped it, help to drive the large number of stories I’ve completed.
- I’m more likely to score a hit with humour than with anything else. I try to maintain a decent balance of amusement and serious subject-matter anyway, because leaning too far in either direction I find makes things harder to read.
- That said, a lot of rejections have noted that while the stories are amusing/interesting/enjoyable to read, they’re not hitting the note the anthology is looking for. This happens quite frequently with horror, one of the markets most hungry for new stories (romance and ghost stories are also high on the list, with fantasy and sci-fi trailing behind; there are a couple of calls for mystery stories–my favourite to read–but frankly that’s going to take work to approach at the level I want to work at). Comedy is easier at the moment because we are in a nightmare year, and distraction is the order of the day. One does feel like telling people if they’re that desperate for horror they can always open any given newspaper!
The good news is that relentlessly pursuing deadlines and constantly having stories out takes some of the sting out of rejections. Not all of it! But it’s becoming very commonplace now, and I have four more publishing credits in my standard bio than I had coming into 2020.
What will the new year hold? Probably a lot more lockdown, which means a lot more writing, reading, crafts, walks, and studiously avoiding Zoom because I absolutely hate it. Probably a short story collection, and hopefully some more acceptances to share with you all–stay tuned, etc., and enjoy the dregs of this godawful year.