My Year in Review – 2021

29 Dec

It’s been an up and down sort of a year. It started during a miserable winter lockdown and has ended with lighter-touch restrictions back in force and the threat of more (thanks, Omicron), but there has been quite a lot of good stuff in-between. I found a lovely wee flat and moved back to Glasgow, which was great (because however nice East Kilbride is, it’s not Glasgow) but then got new neighbours with some seriously anti-social dogs. The year was bookended by failing to get two writing/editing jobs that I wanted and that would have paid decent money, but on the other hand I finished the novel I was working on and had a few smaller pieces published.

I lost a cousin to cancer and a cousin-by-marriage to Covid, my older sister lost her mother-in-law and my other sister’s mother-in-law has been seriously ill all year, but everyone in my immediate family is well, thank God.

I’m not really sure how I feel about this year, and maybe I won’t have a clear view on that for some time, but at least I can give an account some of the elements it was made out of.

Books

It’s not been a very impressive performance, reading-wise. Blame busyness if you like, or blame Twitter. I read 26 books, according to Goodreads (probably one or two more in reality) and they were a mixed bunch, much like the year. A few of them had a lot of promise that they failed to fulfil, for one reason and another (A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, The Binding, Shadowplay). Some of them were things that I would never normally read but they were available as audiobooks and I was doing a lot of walking (see Travel) so they passed the time (Grown Ups, The Clockmaker’s Daughter). In one case, I was stuck in Kilmarnock for hours on end with nothing to read, so I made my selection from the local charity shop (The Warning).

There’s a lot of non-fiction on the list this year, and much of it was very good. Perdurabo was a slog but On the Trail of the Serpent (which I read after the slick, classy BBC series) was an interesting read, and Trevor Yorke’s very affordable series of books on architecture was a great find.

There were a couple of re-reads, with differing results. Titus Groan was as weird, otherwordly and fascinating as ever. Live and Let Die, while still exciting and debonair, now seems racist and sexist enough to make me queasy. I also re-read The Hunger Games series again, for the nth time, because they are like a comfort blanket when things are difficult.

The book I enjoyed most this year was Ready Player One, which at times felt as if it had been written for me personally (a common experience, looking at other people’s reviews of it) read by Will Wheaton, who also features in the book, which was fun. I also loved The Midnight Library, read in Carey Mulligan’s warm contralto. However, the best book I read this year (on Kindle this time) was The Alchemist’s Apprentice (by Jeremy Dronfield – there are lots of books with the same title), which has nothing at all to do with alchemy and which I don’t even want to try to describe for fear of spoiling it. This book is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like mind-bending, clever fiction with turns of events so startling they will stop you in your tracks, then get a copy, go into it without knowing anything further, and enjoy a wild ride.

Travel

As someone with an ‘underlying condition’, I spend the first part of the year eagerly waiting to recieve my vaccination letter, and did a happy dance around the hallway when it finally came through the door. After that I was able to get out and about with much less danger, even if just around Scotland, so I have travelled the length and breadth of the central belt on interpreting assignments.

It’s mostly Kilmarnock, Dumfries, Dunfermline, Edinburgh and Ayr, all places I have been before, but I went to Greenock and Kirkcaldy for the first time. I didn’t see much of Greenock because I got ‘pinged’ and had to leave to self-isolate, but Kirkcaldy was not what I expected. I had always been sniffy about it, thinking it was nothing but Buckfast, shopping centres and run-down estates, but the centre of it is actually a very nice medieval town. There are no medieval bridges, but there is an old merchant’s house which is now a cafe, and still has the original ‘rigg’ garden behind it. So I apologise unreservedly to Kirkcaldy for my previous low opinion.

The Merchant’s House

I still haven’t been able to take my mega European interailing trip, but my ticket is valid until August 2022, so there’s a chance… I did manage to take leisure trips to a couple of less exotic places, my parents’ in Sheffield and my friend Christina’s in Northern Ireland. In both cases, it was just for a few days. It felt strange not to have any kind of ‘main’ holiday this year – just one of many strange things about this strange time.

But I did complete a very big virtual trip. My friend Judy decided to do a virtual 1,000-mile walk from Land’s End to John o’Groats (starting when we still weren’t allowed to leave our local authority area) and I agreed to join her. Life happened to Judy in the form of plantar fasciitis and various other traumas, meaning she couldn’t complete it this year, but I had started – so I finished. It was fun checking out where I was on Google maps (especially when I found myself at landmarks like Jamaica Inn) and virtually waving to friends as I passed. There weren’t many friends about for the last couple of hundred miles, through Caithness and Sutherland, but there was a great sense of satisfaction at the end – not least because I could delete Strava, which I had been using to track my progress.

You can see the route using the links below. There are two because you can only make a limited number of changes to any one Google map, and I had several tweaks that I wanted to make to the route.

Map One – Land’s End to Alston

Map Two – Alston to John o’Groats

Learning

I’ve learnt a lot about bridges this year – not because I am weird, but because I am trying to put together a proposal for a book about Glasgow’s history told through its bridges. A side-effect of this is that I get all excited when I spot a medieval bridge (there are still a few of them in Scotland, although not in Glasgow) and I know strange new words like ‘spandrels’, ‘bascule’ and ‘chamfered’. I learnt a wee bit about architecture and dating buildings as well, although I think my sieve-like mind has already jettisoned most of it.

My progress in calligraphy got slower and slower until I had to give it up altogether because I was paying a monthly fee for a course I wasn’t using. However, I have now learned bounce calligraphy and basic flourishing, skills that are very useful for making greetings cards and, as it turns out, decorating gingerbread structures. (See end.)

Writing

I wrote an article about bridges for Esperanto in Scotland magazine, and a couple of Christmassy pieces for Premier Christianity. I also did an article on Sojourner Truth, who was very interesting to learn about. Apart from that it’s mostly been boring ghost writing except… I finished writing Daughters of Fire, the second book in the Sarcophagus Scroll trilogy! I need to look over it with fresh eyes in the new year and then ask my wonderful editor friend Dayspring to check it for me.

Next year I would love to find the time to put together a proper structure and sample chapter for my planned book on Glasgow’s history told through its bridges. (Provisionally called Spanning the Clyde – let me know if you think that’s a good title or not.) Which leads me to:

New Year’s Resolution

My main hope for next year is to go on my big, much postponed interrailing adventure, but that’s largely out of my hands. The goal I have set for myself (all my NY resolutions are actually goals, which is why I always manage to keep them) is within my hands: to submit work at least 20 times. That can be a short story to a competition or a novel to an agent, or my bridges book proposal to a small publisher. One of the reasons there’s not much published this year is because I haven’t done much querying this year, so I intend to rectify that.

Twenty may not seem like much, but 50 would be pretty much every week, and I don’t think I would manage that. Twenty is reasonable, and will hopefully bear fruit. I’ll update you next year!

Crochet

I was intending to make a beautiful, complicated double-bed sized blanket this year, and asked for (some of) the wool for last Christmas, but with one thing and another (mostly misjudging how much work it would be), I’m only halfway through. Hopefully by next winter it will be keeping me warm. There hasn’t been a lot of crochet happening apart from the enormous blanket, but here’s a picture of a Santa hat I made for Christina’s newborn.

Pets

Roland sadly passed away from a liver problem, and little Esteban, his replacement, died from the stress of coming home from the pet shop, only lasting two days. However, Artemis, the new incumbent, seems much braver and stronger. She is hand-tame, but not very approachable yet. I think she will get friendlier but in the meantime she spends a lot of time watching me from the curtain rail and pooing on the windowsill.

For old time’s sake, here is Roland aggressively playing with a spoon.

Miscellaneous

COP26

The COP26 climate conference coming to Glasgow was fun (if you can call standing about in the rain for hours ‘fun’) even if the results were not what we might have hoped. Being back in the city, I was able to be quite involved, doing some venue hosting at my church (one of the fringe venues), attending a demo and going on The Big March. The city was full of nifty little electric buses during COP, which all disappeared shortly afterwards. I’m hoping we will get them back sometime – along with a joined-up public transport system. At least now, when public transport fails me, I can often walk to where I’m going.

At the Climate Justice March

Christmas baking

In honour of the guinea pigs, Socks and Squiggles, arriving last Christmas, this Christmas I made a gingerbread guinea pig hutch. It turned out pretty well (despite rolling the panels too thin) and, unlike the shop-bought kind, it also tasted amazing. You can see a wee video of it here.

So that was my year. A mixed bag, with less achieved than I would have liked. Never mind – onwards and upwards, and may 2022 be a year of fun, freedom and friendship for all of us!

Happy New Year!*


*If reading this before New Year, please mentally add “when it comes”. It’s a Scottish thing.

2 Responses to “My Year in Review – 2021”

  1. Stuart Danker December 30, 2021 at 1:17 am #

    Those are some pretty neat photos you took in the travel section. And calligraphy! I myself have an interest in penmanship in general, and am always working to improve that, but boy is it a tough skill. Anyway, wishing you all the best for 2022!

    • Karen Murdarasi December 30, 2021 at 9:20 am #

      Thanks, Stuart. I’ll never be brilliant at calligraphy because I don’t put in the practice, but it’s a useful skill to add to my collection. “Good enough” is good enough. All the best for 2022 and your next novel!

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