Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pennines and pavements

My good friend John Pullan is dead. My oldest friend John Pullan is dead. He died a while ago now, on the morning of Sunday 30 November 2008. He had spent two years battling cancer - if that is the word I should use. Whenever there is talk about the way people deal with cancer the word always trotted out is "battle", but I'm not sure that describes what John did. Better to say that medicine and surgery helped him resist it with a courage that was admirable and an insouciance that was, at times, disquieting. Despite being progressively worn down by the most aggressive of brain tumours he tried to keep his life as normal as possible. For a long time, until the funeral, I didn't understand why that was. It was just one of John's traits that I didn't really get. Pity he had to die for me to come to terms with who he was and his reasons.

The funeral was held at the crematorium in Skipton and I arrived there the day before when scraps of snow littered the streets and a persistent drizzle wrapped everything in a obscuring mist. I didn't want to be there, didn't want my friend to be dead, wanted time to say all the things I should have done and did not want a chapter of my life to close with such finality.

That night, and the next as I was wandering about Skipton, my head was down to match my mood and all I saw was the untidy, gritty pavements passing beneath my feet. And then, I'm not sure why, I lifted my head and had a startling moment of clarity. People do not visit Skipton to look at its pavements. The town sits in an adverbially pretty part of North Yorkshire. The hills circling it are beautiful in any and every weather. Clad in deep frost, light snow and low winter light they looked picture perfect.

It was then that light dawned about why John stayed in Yorkshire; why he went back after studying at Newcastle. He only had to look out of the window - any number of times a day - to know he had chosen well. The way the hills looked on that cold December morning showed how smart John was to stay and what he had seen that I, and others, had missed. And left behind.

But John didn't. That was why he stayed, I think. He had everything he needed; family, friends, a sense of belonging. Enough for anyone. For someone as rootless and faithless as me the sense of his choice, why he did not want to change, was hard to appreciate. But not now. Now I know why. And it makes me miss him all the more. If that were possible. My good friend, my oldest friend, John Pullan is dead.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Back to the future

As is traditional I'll start with a look back at the last 12 months to see how I did. In December 2007 I set myself some big objectives for 2008 which included writing at least nine stories, making a pro-sale and joining the Codex Writing Group.

How did I fare?

I managed to write six in total and had two others almost finished by the end of the year - so I almost hit that target but not quite. And it is actual rather than almost that matters so I was way off. Given the lack of output I didn't make a pro-sale either. I got close. I've had nice rejection letters from some of the finest genre publications. Many, many times I've got the 'good, but not for us' letter or e-mail back with a rejection. It's rejectomancy to read too much into that but I'm looking for crumbs here so I'll take that as progress. No pro-sale meant no joining the Codex Group either.

On the upside I did have two stories published in 2008. One of which I'm getting paid for. And that is progress. In each of the three previous years I've only had one published. Both were accepted much faster when they were taken on too. That's definitely progress. I managed to put out the same number of stories despite only writing until August when work went crazy and the writing stopped.

I long ago realised that if I do anything well, it's start. And so last year proved. Though seven months of start is a sign of a certain amount of dedication.

Turning to this year. What can I do? I guess re-iterate my goals for last year. Try to write a story a month but do at least nine. Make a pro-sale. Join Codex. And I'll add another one. Don't quit.

See you in 12 months for the reckoning.