12:34pm, 3rd January 2022
2021 in Stories
The lag in publishing is a funny old thing. To wit: I've not done any new writing since about Easter 2019, thanks to real life, and yet in 2021 I had four new originals come out, which were--in my estimation--probably my best work.
Clouds in a Clear Blue Sky
PodCastle 667, February 2021; 5989 words (short story); fantasy.
Probably my best ever, or at least, favourite ever story; certainly my best since The Bone Poet & God. Four lads in a sort-of-70s-Yorkshire come together to help one of their number grieve his dad, by brekaing into the cloud factory where he worked to create a cloud in his memory. A story about grief and loss, but also about community, and positive masculinity. Barely fantasy, to be honest--there's no magic, not even any slipstream stuff--but it is a story of my heart, possibly the most British thing I've ever written, and wonderfully narrated by Matthew James Hamblin for the podcast in a reet proper Yorkshire accent.
Energy Power Gets What She Wants
Diabolical Plots 72A, February 2021; 1929 words (short story); science fiction.
From something written to be an emotional punch to the gut to something written to be absurd and entertaining and as ridiculous as possible... whilst still trying to deliver that emotional punch by the end, of course. It starts from EDGE's infamous DOOM review, which opined "If only you could talk to these creatures...", piles through a couple of decades of gaming nostalgia and references, and then layers all that on top of an examination of toxic masculinity and the futility and stupidity of female-presenting folk limiting themselves in order to appear acceptable to and integrate with a patriarchal society. In VR Doom with a talking monster offering relationship advice. As you do!
An Infection of Priests in the Body of God
Translunar Traveler's Lounge #4, February 2021; 3027 words (short story); fantasy.
The weirdest thing I've ever written, and the hardest thing I've ever written. The first lines were put down at my father-in-law's hospital bedside as the cancer ate him away inside. That it morphed into something so strange and surreal is perhaps not unexpected: surrealism is often the last refuge of my stressed and tired mind, and so for that experience to come out as a mile-long living hospital of flesh and fluids, with an unnecessary priesthood as gatekeepers failing the needy, is not a surprise. The prose here is unlike anything else I've ever done, and I am deeply proud I managed to get this story out the door, and humbled it found a home.
Audio Recording Left by the CEO of the Ranvannian Colony to Her Daughter, on the Survival Imperative of Maximising Profits
Diabolical Plots 80A, October 2021; 2097 words (short story); science fiction.
Written with the incredible Cass Khaw. Content warning for coercive surgery. This started out as nothing more than idle entertainment between ourselves, trying to gross each other out, and then somehow someway got hammered into a plot-like shape, and became rather the scathing diatribe on capitalism and the culture of the ultra-rich. Delighted to have this collaboration out in the world at last.
2022 and on
I ended 2020's post with a look forward to the stuff I had coming in the new year, and while I'd love to do that again, the truth is... there's nothing forthcoming. There's no publications in the pipeline, there's no submissions out, there's no stories nearing completion, there's nothing. As you, a sensible and reasonable person might have easily foretold from the end of the 2020 post, the concluding line "this year, this year: I'm getting it all back on track and we're making the world we want to live in instead of waiting for it to happen. New stories, new happiness, new horizons." could lead to naught but a harder, tougher year.
Lo, did it come to pass: on the very day that my mother-in-law moved into the annexe, and the last of 2020's problems were laid to rest, my wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was not even given the grace of one afternoon pretending I could move forward again, before life dragged me back down into the mud and started kicking me in the liver again.
2021 was also the year that 2020 caught up with me, and the burnout hit me like it never has before: no simple "take it easy for a fortnight with video games and solitude", here, no--this one took therapy, and months of work. This one stole everything from me: even reading new books was too much effort.
And then I had an identity crisis as I finally realised, after going through the ASD diagnosis twice in two years with both my sons, that I'm damn near certainly autistic too, and my whole life I've been pretending to fit in when in truth I've been wired all wrong since the start. Still processing that.
Honestly, I give up on fighting this. I want to write, still: my brain still has that urge. But publishing seems to be getting harder, not better, more hostile not more welcoming. Life is clearly not getting easier. There is only so much of me to go around, and with two special needs children (and a third child just venturing into adulthood), a newly-disabled wife and a full-time job that has to pay for all of them... well, the line that always comes back to me is a well-known one: I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.
So who knows if there will be a 2022 post. There may well be nothing to report at all. I'll still be about--there's news tomorrow in just such a direction, as it happens--but will I be writing? I've given up making that promise to myself.