Around this time last year, I wrote a review of my year in numbers (an idea borrowed gratefully from my friend Suzanne at Inside, Outside and Beyond – thankyou again Suzanne). I enjoyed the format of reflecting on the year numerically, and so I have decided to use it again this year. It also avoids a post filled with my unfocused musings on the year that was (because: 2020 – and I think we all know how that played out).
If 2020 was anything, though, it was unforgettable.
So here they are, my numbers for the year.
I had to start with this one – the number of books I published this year. This could also be reframed as the number of dreams that came true in 2020, or the number of lifelong goals achieved in a twelve-month period, as I finally published my first novel, Castles of Steel and Thunder, at the tail end of the year. This was the fruition of two years of work, and a final flurry of activity galvanised by the events of the year; a sort of realisation that life is short and the things we take for granted are fallible. 2020 in many ways pushed me out of the realms of fear and into the uncertainty of being vulnerable (you can read more about that here if you’re so inclined). Castles of Steel and Thunder is an unashamedly sentimental tale about love, and the power of stories. That some people have connected with that has meant so much to me.
It’s also reminded me that if there was ever a year for being being unashamedly sentimental, 2020 was that year.
The number of words I’ve written of the sequel, which I started during the final editing stages of COSAT in the Autumn. I had set myself a target of reaching this word count before Christmas, and I finally managed it with just a couple of days to spare. Writing for me is about many small acts of perseverance, and putting myself in front of my keyboard on a daily basis rather than waiting for inspiration to strike – that sort of pragmatic approach seems to work best for me. Most days I only write 300 – 500 words, but 300 – 500 words soon add up if you write them often enough (that said, I would like to have this novel written within a year, so I may need to up the ante soon). I’ve left the story at a point where I’m excited to go back to it after the festivities, which always feels like a good omen. Two things I can tell you about the story are that Caithness will feature again, and Lavellan will have a much bigger role in book two.
The number of times my writing was published in a magazine or on another website this year. 2020 has been a hugely creative year for me, and although it makes me feel guilty to admit it, I know there are things I wouldn’t have achieved without this unprecedented time. Back in April, I gave one of my short stories to our local Community Trust to publish on their website – a Cinderella-style tale with a local flavour that I hoped might lift some early lockdown spirits (you can read it here, if you’d like to). A few months later, I was delighted to take runner-up spot in Best Magazine’s summer fiction competition with a short story about romance at a book fair (because what could be more romantic than a relationship cemented through a love of books?) Also back in the summer, a piece I wrote about my Nana, my Uncle Iain and my childhood memories of Mallaig (first published here on the blog), was published in West Word magazine. Finally, in November, my poem, This is Not a Beach, a piece inspired by Dunnet Beach and my childhood in Caithness was published by Northwords Now (you can read that poem right here).
The number of Facebook shares of my most popular blog post this year – an assessment of the North Coast 500 and a year marred by instances of irresponsible tourism here in the far north of Scotland. One of the low points for me this year was witnessing the disrespect shown to our local area by a minority of visitors. Unfortunately, as visitor numbers increased in the summer, so did the minority, and hardly a day went by without hearing news of some misadventure – including the breakage of the landmark John O’ Groats sign, the unconcealed disposal of human faeces, and a proliferation of so-called ‘wild camping’ in entirely unsuitable locations, often for days and days on end. As some of these events occurred at a time when local people couldn’t visit family members in their homes (and certain local beauty spots became effectively out of bounds to them as a result of wild campers), the resentment felt by many local people was tangible. I admit on several occasions to feeling this sense of resentment myself, and wondering about the real benefit of the North Coast 500 to the people who live along the route. For me, like so many, this place is more than a route, more than a tick-list. We have to hope that the summer of 2020 was an oddity – because sadly, the alternative for the North Coast 500 means ruining exactly what makes this place so special and unique.
Onto happier things, and the number of books I read this year (you can read about some of them in this post on my favourite books of 2020). Reading will always be a huge part of my existence, and I believe books are often the place from which empathy and understanding spring. In such a divided world, books always feel like an escape for me – and a way out of the narrow echo chambers of social media. I received a copy of Douglas Stuart’s booker-prize winning novel Shuggie Bain for Christmas and I can’t wait to get started on it soon.
Like many people, the number of holidays, weekends away and campervan trips we took this year amounted to zero. There’s no self-pity in this statement – we are fortunate to live in an area where staying at home never feels like a hardship (and I appreciate that for some other people, this is not going to be the case). I’m also a fairly anxious traveller, so in many ways the lack of travel (especially flights and travel abroad), actually made me feel much calmer. Given some of my points earlier, it also didn’t feel – for us – like the right year to be exploring in our campervan. After the heady days of summer we did finally manage to enjoy a couple of day trips in our local region, though. We also embraced 2020’s biggest travel trend – the staycation – with a couple of campervan-based tea parties in our drive.
The people (including my dog, who is of course ‘people’), I shared most of my time with in 2020 – my husband, our two sons and said Vizsla. Between homeschool, homeworking and Covid restrictions, like most families, we’ve spent almost all our time together in this year we’re ushering out. That actually worked out quite well for this little family of introverts, and the prospect of ever going back to ‘normal’ now seems quite distant. For both my husband and I, the most difficult part of the restrictions have been the lowered levels of contact with our parents, wider family and small friendship group. As for the rest, we have been fortunate, and for that I’m grateful beyond words.
So this year, I’ll close by thinking of those who have been less fortunate.
And offer three words for the year ahead of us.
A wish for health, happiness – and hope.
Enjoyed this reflection on your year Gail, some amazing achievements to celebrate!
Thanks so much Susan. Best wishes for 2021. x