Tag: progress

Farewell to 2023

Is it a cliché to write a round-up of the year on New Year’s Eve, or a tradition? I suppose the answer probably depends on how much you enjoy reading the round-up, and how much of it seems like poorly concealed bragging on the part of the writer. Either way, I’m doing it anyway, because I promised myself I would blog more this year and this is the kind of thing one blogs about. Bite me.

2023 has been a mixed year, as so many years are. In many ways, it was a vast improvement on 2022, primarily because I only moved house once, rather than five times in ten months, as was the case between Nov 2021 and Sep 2022. This offered some much-needed stability and gave me a chance to start recovering from the past few years: the profound isolation of living alone during extended lockdowns, and the disruption and trauma of my year of Constantly Moving House.

The year began with uncertainty, as I submitted my PhD funding application with no idea whether I would obtain funding and therefore whether I’d be doing a PhD at all. Actually obtaining said funding was far more complicated than anticipated and dragged on until August, but I did secure it, and I’m now a term into my PhD. The result is that the year is ending with a greatly increased level of stability and certainty: I know where I will be for the next three years, and I know what I will be doing. Summer 2026 is the earliest I will finish my PhD (it may well take longer), and since I know the main outlines of my publishing schedule until 2027 (more on that later), I can make plans for the next couple of years that don’t involve extended periods of job-hunting — a massive relief.

Me looking dapper in a garden wearing a waistcoat, suit trousers, shirt, and tie, leaning on my cane and holding onto a tree with the other hand.
Matriculation, October 2023

I can’t, of course, guarantee that I’ll stay in this house, even if I decide it’s worth putting up with its extortionately expensive electric heating and immersion heater for another year or two. My landlady might decide to sell, or to raise the rent beyond what I can manage; I might decide that with my diminishing mobility, it’s not viable to continue living four miles away from my department with only an electric bike for transport, and attempt to move somewhere closer. But I will be staying in this city, expensive and imperfect as it is.

There is a great relief in that, after moving so much last year. There’s something profoundly dislocating about being completely unable to put down roots or make IRL friends because as soon as you get to know somebody, you end up moving away and never seeing them again. My closest friends have been primarily internet friends for years, and I value those communities greatly, but there’s something alienating about having no friends at all in your local area. Recovering from top surgery last Spring, alone in a flat I’d only just moved into, made that very clear; starting to make friends and connections in North London in the summer and then being forced to move again and leave them behind emphasised it.

After repeated moves, some of which weren’t your choice, it’s hard to trust that you’ll stay somewhere long enough to make it worth putting down roots and building connections. It took me nine months in my last rental house before I could start thinking about improving my living space with a loo roll holder and some other small bits of DIY, because I was still constantly on edge and waiting to leave. (And since they put our rent up 11%, we did end up moving again after the year’s contract ended. But a year is much better than three months.)

But I have been sixteen months in Cambridge now, and I will be here until at least summer 2026. That is a level of stability I have not known for… well, arguably my entire adult life, since undergrad was characterised by being uprooted from college at the end of every term and returning to my hometown. Since turning 18, the longest I have lived in the same place (house/flat, but also city) is 14 months, in Cork — will 2024 be the year I beat that record? Maybe. Maybe, finally, I can start to hope as much.

(I am so very tired of moving house.)

Rectangular plastic planters against a brick wall with pansies and violas in flower.
Flowers alongside my house.

There have been challenges, though. Mentally, the last couple of years did a number on me, something which continued to affect my work life, my personal life, and my spiritual life for a solid chunk of 2023; recovery wasn’t linear. My health has continued to fluctuate, but with a general downward trend. Much of February was characterised by a bout of vestibular neuritis, an inner-ear infection which is deeply inconvenient for somebody who cycles everywhere and was, at the time, participating in a ballet show. Balance being essential to both ballet and bicycles, it made for a rough few weeks. That was, it turned out, the end of my dancing for the foreseeable: a recurrence of a knee injury from 2021 and a longstanding hip problem really made themselves known and got gradually worse. In July, I began using a cane almost all the time when walking, having previously only used it intermittently, and this proved to be a long-term fixture, lasting the rest of the year. Even with the cane, I’m not able to walk very much.

This loss of my mobility has been difficult to deal with. The first half of the year was substantially enhanced by being able to go for walks at Milton Country Park or to visit the bunnies at the Science Park, both a short cycle ride from my home in North Cambridge, and while I still occasionally make it there to look at the ducks, I can no longer enjoy tramping around the lakes the way I did before. In the summer, I went to Utrecht for the International Congress of Celtic Studies, and to Donegal for an Irish-language course, and found both experiences significantly marred by inaccessibility and the challenges added by my reduced mobility. This autumn, I’ve been unable to attend protests and demonstrations because I can’t walk or stand enough to participate. And not being able to dance — not knowing when I might be able to dance again — is its own kind of grief.

A whole-cast photo from a ballet production. I am in the front row, sitting cross-legged wearing red ballet tights and a loose black shirt.
I have a talent for being cast in a character role that means I get to be in the front of group pictures while actually not doing very much in the show itself.

I hope that 2024 will bring my mobility back to me. I’m seeing a physio, and I’m having an X-ray this month to try to get to the bottom of the hip problems, which are long-standing but dramatically worse than they used to be. It’s hard to imagine I’ll get better fully, when these injuries have already lingered so long, but I can’t let myself believe they’re permanent. Most realistically, this episode will be like the one that afflicted my hands in 2013: I’ll get very slowly better, enough to do most of the activities I used to do, but perhaps never to the same extent and always with the threat of pain. A compromise with my body. But we’ll have to see.

And there have been unexpected challenges of the smaller, less existential kind: three punctures in six days when my bike is my only means of transport was a bad week, especially as one involved replacing the entire motor wheel (£££); the general torment of potholes and terrible weather as a cyclist; being harassed by transphobes on Twitter (that’s one part of the site I won’t miss) after accidentally drawing the attention of Glinner; badly timed train strikes and storms disrupting journeys… all the usual challenges that are always skimmed over in the highlights reels of people’s lives. Well, maybe not the transphobes part. May was a complicated month.

There have been victories this year, too, particularly when it comes to publishing. The Hummingbird Killer was released in mid May, and though it’s hardly been a bestseller and reviews have trickled in very slowly and in small enough numbers to make me concerned for my sales, it seems to have mostly been well-received by fans of the first book. The French edition was released in November, with a gorgeous cover; I eagerly await receiving my own copy of this, and of the ‘poche’ edition of The Butterfly Assassin (a smaller, cheaper paperback format that the French publishers release around a year after the original large-format fancy paperback).

Me on stage with my cane and a microphone, wearing a green mask, a green corduroy jacket and brown corduroy trousers.
Accepting the YA Category award at the Sheffield Children’s Book Awards in November.

The Butterfly Assassin was shortlisted for the CrimeFest 2023 Best YA Crime Novel, although it didn’t win; it won the Silver Award at the Sussex Amazing Book Awards 2023, voted for by school students across Sussex; and it won the YA Category at the Sheffield Book Awards 2023, run by the Sheffield Library Service and voted for by readers. I’m extremely grateful for these awards, which show that my book does resonate with its target audience. I first wrote The Butterfly Assassin when I was 18, as the book I wanted to read and couldn’t find, but that was a long time ago, and I’m increasingly aware that I no longer know what it’s like to be a teenager. I think it’s very different in 2023 than it was in 2013! But clearly, if the teens are voting for my book, then I am tapping into something real and meaningful about that experience, and I’m extremely grateful for that validation.

Due to the British Library’s extended outage, I can’t access the PLR loans dashboard, but when I checked the figures earlier this autumn, I’d had something like 930 library loans between July 2022 and June 2023 — something that means more to me than sales or awards, since as a teenager, almost all of my reading was from libraries. We didn’t have a bookshop locally, and it would have cost a fortune to keep up with my reading speed, so that, for me, is the pinnacle of author life: to be in libraries, and to be read. These would be mostly The Butterfly Assassin, since The Hummingbird Killer was released at the end of the reporting period, but there were a few loans for THK in there too.

A bookshop mostly full of people sitting on folding chairs, and me at the front with my books on a table next to me, talking.
Waterstones St Neots, July 2023

I had the chance to do a couple of events, including a book club in St Neots which had a great turnout — a big improvement on last autumn, when I took a lengthy bus trip for an event nobody turned up to :| (It happens. It’s a rite of passage. Didn’t make it any more fun at the time.) I held the launch for The Hummingbird Killer at Housman’s in London, and manage to pressgang enough friends into coming to make up for those who couldn’t make it due to train strikes. I signed books in a variety of bookshops, with my favourite — for the novelty and surprise of it — being The Four Masters Bookshop in Donegal Town, because I didn’t expect them to have my books at all, but when I popped in en route to the Gaeltacht, there they were.

Me in the Four Masters Bookshop in Donegal Town, holding up copies of my books. I'm wearing a raincoat and a rainbow mask, and my hair is wet.
Donegal Town, August 2023

During the second half of this year, I edited Moth to a Flame, the third book in the trilogy. I finished my copyedits today, and am preparing to send them in, probably tomorrow, to meet my deadline of the third of January. This book has presented unique challenges, and I have no idea how it’ll go down with readers, but after a few existential wibbles about saying goodbye to a series I’ve been working on for my entire adult life, I think I’ve finally reached the point where I can be confident that I’ve told the story I was trying to tell to the best of my ability at this time. And maybe in three years I’ll look back on it with regrets or wish I’d written it differently. But that’ll mean I’ve improved as a writer, so if anything, that would be a good thing.

Moth to a Flame will be released in May, like the first two, and I hope to be able to share a cover with you soon. (I’ve seen it, it’s great, but it needed some tweaks and refinements before it can go public, so it’s not up yet. Soon, I hope. Just as soon as we can settle on a tagline.)

And what’s next? Well, something very different. Because one of this year’s victories was that I did secure another book deal, after an agonising sub process, and I can’t wait for the official announcement so I can tell you all about it. It’s a new direction for my career as a writer, on the publishing side, but it’s one I’ve been working towards for a long time on the writing side. Those who follow me on social media (and especially those who look at my Instagram Story) may have an idea of what this entails, based on what I’ve been researching and editing recently, but soon I’ll get to tell the rest of you, too.

And a year wouldn’t be complete without writing something new — ideally, something unplanned and spontaneous 😅 Last year, it was the accidental vampire romance novel. This year, in February-March, I drafted a brand new book, provisionally titled The Animals We Became. It’s a queertrans retelling of the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, the story of Blodeuwedd, exploring gender, sexuality, and trauma, with an unhealthy dose of animal transformations along the way. Although it’s only a first draft, I’m really proud of the book so far, and really excited to see what more I can do with it over the next year.

On the academic side, this year finally saw the publication of my “trans Cú Chulainn” article — an article that explores boundary-crossing, category crisis, gender, and Cú Chulainn, based on my undergrad dissertation and substantially revised in 2020-21, but lost in the academic publishing void for a while. It received some very gratifying attention from those who’d been waiting patiently for it, and I was glad of that. I was also asked to contribute an article about a conference I attended about The Lament for Art O’Leary in Cambridge earlier this year, based on a blog post I wrote about it, which was published in Dúchas II in the autumn. There’s more about both of these articles on the ‘Research‘ page of this site.

A photo showing my three published peer-reviewed articles so far: a copy of Quaestio Insularis 22, labelled "Láeg article"; a copy of Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 83, labelled "Maines article", and a copy of the Proceedings of the Association of Celtic Students VIII, labelled "Cú Chulainn article".

I also had another article accepted for publication, pending revisions — submitted in January and accepted in August, I haven’t yet managed to finish the revisions due to life getting much busier! But as long as the academic publishing void doesn’t catch me again, I can be reasonably sure that 2024 will see the publication of that one, which looks at the role of Láeg mac Ríangabra in different recensions of Táin Bó Cúailnge. This was my first time having an article accepted as though I were any academic — i.e., not a postgrad conference proceedings, not a prize for ‘young scholars’, but a standard, regular journal with peer reviewers who don’t know me or my age or anything else about me. So that was quite exciting. Or will be once I eventually get around to finishing it.

My year wasn’t as action-packed or full of travel as some people’s seems to have been — I’m not much of a traveller, and I’m still being very cautious about COVID. Still, it involved a few trips, mostly of the research variety. In the spring I went to Yorkshire with my parents, to visit York, Leeds, and “Espera” — or at least, the area where Espera would be if it were real. You’ll see some of the fruits of this research trip in Moth to a Flame.

Me grinning in front of a road sign for Weaverthorpe
“Espera”, April 2023

In July, as I mentioned above, I headed to Utrecht for the International Congress of Celtic Studies, my first time in the Netherlands. My paper went well and I made some great connections with others in my field, although I was also in the grip of profound PhD funding stress and also trying to do the paperwork / financial referencing for a house, so it was quite a stressful trip. In August, I went to Donegal again for two weeks to work on my Irish, and managed not to catch COVID there this time. Did buy rather more books than I meant to, though. (It doesn’t count if they’re in Irish…)

I left my library job at the beginning of September, and the autumn was dominated by starting my PhD, as well as edits and research for writing projects. This included trying to make the most of the library resources available to me, and to visit rare books / special collections as much as I can — I want to see all the manuscripts they’ll let me get my hands on! The autumn also included the readalong I hosted here for The Butterfly Assassin. I’m not entirely sure how successful this was as an effort to build community on this blog and encourage discussions and comments, but it was an interesting exercise for me, especially alongside book 3 edits.

I didn’t achieve everything in 2023 that I set out to do. For starters, I set a goal of trying to make a YouTube video about medieval Irish literature once a month, or at least 10 overall, but I haven’t made a single one since last December, despite getting halfway through a script for several. I also decided I was going to try to go to bed by 1am, and to work backwards to midnight; unfortunately, I remain entirely nocturnal and this has not happened. (Nor have I eaten vegetables five times per week, and as for “walk a bit more to improve stamina for knee/hip”… yeah, my knee and hip had other plans.)

But I think I rolled with 2023’s punches a little better than I took 2022’s, and they were lighter blows, too. Yes, there were moments when I was so stressed I wanted to throw up. Yes, I had my share of anxiety attacks and days when I called in sick because I couldn’t face getting out of bed. And no, I did not make it to Quaker meeting more than about four times the entire year — another legacy of 2022 and bad experiences, as well as a side-effect of my nocturnal habits making it hard for me to get up on a Sunday morning. But that’s okay. Not everything goes to plan all the time. We survive and we carry on.

I can’t predict what 2024 will bring, but I feel a little more confident making plans than I have done these last few years. And I’m trying to make the kinds of plans that will help me feel happier and more grounded in my life — plans that will help me put down roots, live a less chronically online life, and find more of a work-life balance. They may not succeed, but the trying is important.

If 2023 has been a good year for you, then I hope 2024 builds on those joys and brings you even greater ones, and if 2023 was terrible, then I hope that rock bottom proves a strong foundation for a much better and brighter future.