What we salvage from the debris…

A long, long time ago, back in December 2014, I struggled to think of positives for a year that I thought was a particular low for me. How I laugh now at my innocence! Because, in the intervening years, my personal challenges grew and grew, while the world also seemed determined to go through one major crisis after another.

There are years that ask questions and years that answer‘, Zora Neale Hurston said once. 2020 has once again been the questioning kind: Are you focusing on the right things? If you were to die tomorrow, what would you leave behind? Is this how you want to be remembered? Tick tock!

So let me start by reminding myself of all the ways in which I’ve been fortunate this year. My children have managed to stay healthy, in spite of the start/infect/ stop/isolate/start again rhythm of schools this past term and the impact it might have on exams. But you know what, life and careers depend on so many things other than exams! They have learnt to be careful and think about others, they have been helpful and sweet… and only occasionally made me lose my temper. I asked them to give me Christmas presents that didn’t involve money but some care and thought, so the younger one baked a cake of my choice, while the older one created a symphony of lights for me in the living room.

I think I might leave this up until March…

My parents are safe, in spite of their age and underlying conditions and the huge distance separating us. Even my mother’s pointed arrows have stopped hitting their target as I get more sentimental at the thought that I might lose them.

I’ve kept my job, although universities are in dire financial straits and are asking for voluntary redundancies. I’ve been able to work from home, which seems particularly sweet when I get the occasional notification about train delays or cancellations on my phone. Even though the hours I’ve gained from commuting seem to have been lost to more and more work.

So no, I have not written King Lear, or baked my own bread, or learnt a foreign language or even worked out every day, but I’ve certainly not had a minute’s boredom either.

At our traditional Christmas party for my local writing group (a Zoom pub crawl this year, obviously), we typically reflect on the past year and see whether we’ve achieved our writing goals. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had done most of the things I had set out for myself.

  1. Submitting more: 25 submissions, of which 19 rejections, 2 acceptances and the rest in limbo.
  2. Invest in self – allow myself time and space to write. I was going to go on a writing retreat or two, but of course they got cancelled. However, I attended a few workshops, which really helped to kickstart my writing. And I started a daily accountability system with a writing buddy, we are now on Day 202!
  3. Start editing the novel. Yes, and loving it!
  4. Put together the poetry collection. Done – and have been sending it out to a few competitions.
  5. Start publishing company: launch three books in the first year, including my first full-length translation. Well, see below…

We started Corylus Books in one of the worst possible years for independent publishing. Despite no festivals, no big names, no budget, no distributor, we’ve managed to publish four books in our first year, while relying solely on word of mouth recommendations and reviews from those wonderful, blessed people known as book bloggers. A huge, huge thanks to you all! I am delighted to say that both Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu, which I translated from Romanian in a few feverish weeks at the start of 2020, and The Fox by Solveig Pálsdóttir, translated by Quentin Bates, have been praised and incorporated into ‘best of the year’ lists by connoisseurs of crime fiction such as Ian Rankin, Barry Forshaw, Sonja van der Westhuizen, Paul Burke, Ewa Sherman and Crime Fiction Lover.

I am as proud of the authors, readers and reviewers as if they were my family and can only hope that 2021, with its additional Brexit red tape and costs, will not prove to be our downfall. I hope Corylus can continue to focus on bringing good crime books from new authors from lesser-known European languages to the English-speaking world.

At the same time, I have to admit that I am anxious and exhausted, and that this year, on top of so many previous difficult years, has knocked the stuffing out of me a little. But that’s probably true for pretty much all of us, other than the entitled, privileged few who can’t or won’t or don’t need to face reality.

I’ve missed all the plays and exibitions, the literary events and crime festivals, the meeting up with friends, proper holidays somewhere further than thirty minutes away from my front door. These were the things that kept me going and gave me hope for the past six years, but were sadly absent this year. Luckily I’ve found some comfort in books, films and two beautiful cats, at least for a while. I’ve missed having a grown-up nearby to hug and talk to, although I’ve caught up with dear friends from all over the world on Zoom. But I’ve managed to sleep reasonably OK, haven’t had to go back on anti-depressants, haven’t been drinking every single day and have even chosen exercise over hibernation on many occasions. So I call that a HUGE win!

Some of my friends and their relatives have not been so lucky, so I hope that your year has been a reasonable one under the circumstances, and wish with all my heart that 2021 is much gentler, kinder and more hopeful.

30 thoughts on “What we salvage from the debris…”

  1. It seems to me you’ve had a tremendously productive year given our extraordinary circumstances! Delighted to hear that Corylus has met with such acclaim. Given today’s news of the Oxford Zeneca vaccine approval, I think we can all allow ourselves to hope for a brighter 2021

    1. I was feeling so despondent about Corylus and all the crime festivals we’d been invited to with our authors and couldn’t attend… but yes, to actually see people reading and enjoying our books, even considering them among their favourite reads of the year – it has been so rewarding!

  2. I’ll just comment on one of your achievements out of the many: well done on Corylus, that is so impressive! Let’s hope 2021 will bring you, your authors and fellow translators, more success and readership.
    My goal might have to be to learn how to do a ‘zoom pub crawl’ – an intriguing concept!

    1. Ah, I can tell you all about that. We started at 4 in a cultural venue (background), discussing goals and achievements, then at 5 we moved (with our backgrounds) to an over-the-top bar or glamorous circus-like setting (to mimic the 5 O’Clock Bar in Windsor) and played games related to fives – five line poems on Christmas-related words picked at random out of a hat. Then at 6 (we had short breaks after every hour, and people could come in and out whenever they pleased) we had elegant cocktails in a countryside hotel (again, based on a Windsor setting where we went last year) in front of a cosy virtual fireplace and played other parlour games. And so on.

  3. I think you’ve definitely had loads of successes this year despite the grim world situation, and obviously your lovely boys are a great part of that – definitely keep those lovely lights up! And getting Corylus going has been a real achievement in these circumstances. Here’s to a calmer 2021!

    1. Achievement or utter madness, not sure which at times, the Corylus thing! Of course, we had planned to get it going before the start of 2020 and I’m not sure what a delay would have achieved…

  4. I’m so glad you’ve had those good things to help keep you going during this year, Marina Sofia. I give you do much credit for getting the work done that you did, and for being as productive has you have been. I think that sort of creativity is part of what helps to keep us going at times like this. Wishing you a good 2021, and may it be kind to you.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and wishes, Margot, I wish the same for you. I think I’ve learnt to stop worrying about the next three years or even one year, but simply take each day as it comes. So today I feel lazy and want to stay in pyjamas and eat Lebkuchen and read all day in bed? Fine! Tomorrow I’ll have a more productive day instead of feeling guilty about it today. It’s been a gamechanger, this shift in perspective.

  5. Take away the idea (and, of course, it is a valid idea, but dismiss it anyway) that the isolation is imposed from the outside and replace it with the thought that this is self-imposed, and it’s actually been a rather glorious year.

    1. I’ve actually missed the social life far less than I expected – perhaps because so many of my friends are scattered all over the world and so I tend to catch up with them remotely anyway.

  6. Nothing but love coming from this corner. I loved this newsletter, loved everything about it, and I am so grateful to be one of your friends. Always, Jen

    1. Eh bien, on fait ce qu’on peut! I’m just grateful I managed to feed my two permanently starving teenage boys – you wait and see what that will be like!

  7. I love the gifts your sons came up with! Congratulations to all involved in getting Corylus started this year and how lovely to see its successes, long may it continue! Wishing you and all your family a safe, healthy and happy New Year!

    1. Thank you for all your kind wishes! Certainly Brexit does not make things any easier for a small business that would like to be able to print and ship books everywhere in the world…

    1. I’m truly grateful that 2020 hasn’t been worse for me, as it has been for so many people I know. Still, we could all do with a better year for a change…

  8. Always, always in awe of how many things you manage to do with your time: read a tremendous number of books, translate and promote one, work a time consuming job, raise two children and watch films with them and prepare their future, attend online festivals, write, blog, read others’ blogs, work out, chat with friends, stay in touch with your family, take care of two cats, a house…

    You should be proud of yourself and never, never question how you spend your time.

    Let’s hope that 2021 will be sweeter and I wish you the best.

    1. Alas, only one cat now… But yes, I’ve learnt to be a bit kinder on myself this year, even spending the day in pyjamas if I feel like it. I think we are all doing remarkably well to just survive it safe and relatively sane!

  9. It has been a strange and difficult year, but it sounds as if you’ve achieved a lot nevertheless! Congrats on the success of Corylus – are there more in the works?

  10. It’s been a real joy to get to know you and your writing better. I think 2020 has been a truly difficult year but you have managed to sail through the storm. Here’s the lesson for me!

    1. Ah, I’m so pleased we have got to know each other better – although it was even more fun when we kept bumping into each other at crime festivals as well!

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