An old friend of mine always sends out a ’round robin’ letter with his Christmas cards, commenting on things that have happened to him over the past year. He’s a good amateur writer, so these are always fun, but it’s not something I tend to do, at least not in that way.
Sometimes, though, if I can drag myself off the powered recliner where I tend to hibernate over the festive season, I will prop my eyelids up and spend a bit of time dusting off my (oft-neglected) blog, reflecting on the fact that shit happens and there’s usually not much you can do about it. Occasionally there are, however, diamonds to be discovered in the rust (Judas Priest allusion there), but they can be tricky to find.
For me, the past year has been full of more ups and downs than the peaks and troughs on a heart attack patent’s monitor. Some of this has been family related, some work, some hobby or community-related, some in my new ‘speculative fiction’ writing career, and more. Some things have been a long time coming and expected, others have been surprises, sometimes happy, sometimes not. That’s life, as “Her with the teeth, London” used to say (showing my age there), and I won’t go into it all here…
When Time Ran Out
Particularly, 2014 was the year when I finally ran out of time to do a lot of the things which have happily occupied me in past years and sometimes over decades, caused most significantly of late by my mother’s health taking a nosedive and me becoming her carer. She became housebound, and in many ways we’ve reversed the roles we had when I was very young, and I have to do a lot more for her now than ever before. I love my dear old mum and I know my duty, but being a carer is hard and stressful work at times, and let nobody tell you otherwise. Especially when you’re holding down a full-time day job and also working on a second career as a writer in what little spare time you have left. I don’t begrudge that, but it’s left me very tired at times – and in the year in which my 55th birthday also hove into view, in September!
Part of what I’ve had to set aside, with much regret, has been my local journalism and local history writing in the way of ‘The Bloxidge Tallygraph’ and ‘Bloxwich Telegraph’ websites, which I’ve written, photographed, designed and published since 2006. I’ve also been obliged, very sadly, to cut back on my astro-historical activities with the Society for the History of Astronomy, which I co-founded in 2002 at Wadham College, Oxford. But I’m still keeping a finger in both pies, albeit at a much lower level. Hopefully I will be able to do more in future.
Then, when I thought things were bad enough, in November I was told to expect a massive upheaval in my life, redundancy from my day job of more than thirty years. This may yet come about for good or ill; I’m expecting to be informed of the final decision this month. In a weird way, I’m looking forward to to it, though it will make things difficult financially. Sometimes, life gives you a kick up the ass for a reason, though I have to say I wish it had been decades ago. At my age, making a new way in the world is not so simple, though I’m not one to give up, and I’m taking it as a challenge. I can’t honestly see any other way out. I’m starting to feel like one of my old pulp writer heroes, who didn’t eat if they didn’t write, and didn’t eat much then. Exciting in many ways, and I do need to lose weight, but it’s still frightening. I’m a pulpster at heart, I think, and have started collecting the old magazines again. Better get banging away on my 1925 Underwood, hadn’t I?
All in all, I’d have to categorise 2014 as the year the shit hit the fan – and gummed it up! There were also good things which happened to me during the year though, which is just as well.
Friends and family
I’ve made many new friends through writing, Twitter and Facebook in the past year, all over the world as well as locally, and I’ve also kept in close touch with old pals, most of whom I’ve known since the great days of the Serious Micro User Group and Walsall Astronomical Society in the 1980s-90s, others from my space and astro-historical activities with The Planetary Society and the Society for the History of Astronomy.
In April 2014, though, a new pal came to live with me and mum, by the name of ‘Jumble’ (after ‘Just William’s’ dog) – a two-year-old ‘Patterjack’ terrier (cross Patterdale/Jack Russell) whom we adopted from the Rosedene Rescue establishment in Rushall. A bouncy, slightly mad, stir-crazy little chap, he has a unique personality quite different from our previous four dogs, who were more laid-back Beagles and Bassets. He can be a tricky customer at times, but the term ‘loveable rogue’ certainly applies to Jumble Williams (who now also has the middle name ‘Short Round’!), and he’s (mostly!) a joy to have around. We’ve become very close, and he keeps mum good company when I’m at work or out and about. Jumble’s since become well-known to my Facebook friends and followers, who seem to like him.
Writing and Reading
2014 was the year when my writing moved up a gear, which is just as well as I need to get my act together fully on this front in 2015! I’ve had some short stories in science fiction, steampunk and horror genres published here and in the USA, and the most important important result of the latter is a book contract signed with my US publishers, the prominent New Pulp specialists Pro Se Productions. They’re aiming to have a book of my ‘hard-boiled space opera’ stories out around June, entitled ‘Rings Around The Sun’. This is based on characters and scenarios created by me in ‘Minor Planet Mambo’, which was published by Pro Se in June, in their excellent multi-genre anthology ‘Rat-A-Tat: Short Blasts of Pulp’. This is the book I’m working on at the moment, and it’s one of my biggest commitments in 2015.
I finally managed to get a lot more reading done in 2014, and in the summer I deliberately took a week’s holdiday to travel around the West Midlands and Staffordshire looking for classic science fiction books in June-July for my ‘Bookish Week Off’, which was great fun – see myseparate previous post about this.
I’m not yet prominent as a genre writer in the UK (as it says on my Twitter page, I’m famous in a parallel universe!), I’m still very much ‘paying my dues’, but I did at least put my head a little way above the parapet this past year when I had the good fortune to fall in with two really nice people who were following their own dreams, Scott Southey and Amy Carter, who opened their own independent bookshop, Southcart Books, in Lower Hall Lane, Walsall, in July.
As luck would have it, they were keen to support the writing community, and since by then I’d built up some useful contacts and a few friendships amongst local and regional writers by then, we became co-conspirators in a series of ‘Writers’ Gatherings’ which I then led in what has since become ‘The Reading Room’ at their shop. They have gone to a lot of trouble and no little expense to facilitate this, so it’s great that it’s given them useful publicity and advertising for their shop and made them a lot of friends as well as offering a valuable and unique showcase for mostly independent genre writers and publishers in the region to sell, read and promote their work in addition to networking and making new friends. We hope that success will be built on this year, and already the game’s afoot, in more ways than one…
On 8 November, Walsall Writers’ Circle’s book ‘Winter Festivals’ was launched (see below), including a story by yours truly.
That day was a busy one, as I was also privileged to be invited as a guest at ZZUB Fest in Wolverhampton, where I had the particular pleasure to be interviewed about my genre writing by Hayleigh Power, before an interested audience. I also had the pleasure of meeting the legendary Nikki Stormtrooper of Wolverhampton, whom some of you will know from Facebook and cosplay circles.
Like a circle, in a spiral
In 2014 I had much more to do with our local writing group, Walsall Writers’ Circle, than in past years. In fact, I ended up as Vice Chair, which is a privilege and has been fun!
I was also asked to become a a member of the Circle’s newly-formed Technical Committee, which came about due to a long-felt need to move the Circle into the publishing of members’ work.
The first result of that has been the publication of both a paperback and an ebook anthology of fact, poetry and fiction entitled ‘Winter Festivals’ (my contribution included designing the cover) which was the work of a large number of the members, then worked on by several members editing and proof-reading before being assembled and published by the Technical Committee. The book was launched at Southcart Books in November and has sold quite well locally. My Britpulp science fiction story ‘Christmas on Mercury’ was written especially for the book.
There’s a lot more going on now at Walsall Writers’ Circle and I’me giving a talk/workshop on ‘Plotto’ at the February meeting, which should be a lark.
Local history work
Last year was also the year in which I saw three of my local history books being sold at the same time! The Christmas 2013 volume Walsall Borough Past & Present – for which I’d held a successful signing session in the Walsall branch of Waterstones – was joined by Billy Meikle’s Window on Walsall and Reflections of Old Walsall, all published by Walsall Local History Centre and sold as a package during winter 2013/14 (they are still available, if you’re interested, at a small discount from the Centre!). As well as writing and typesetting these books I also took and reproduced all the photos and did design work on the covers. 2014 was also the 14th year of my writing local history articles for the Walsall Chronicle on behalf of the Centre, making me the longest-published local history journalist in the area. That particular well now looks like it’s run dry, but it’s been great fun, and has allowed me to raise the profile of a lot of local people who deserved to be better remembered in the town, for which opportunity I’m particularly grateful. In any case, all that basically set the seal on my local history writing.
As it stands I’m not expecting to do any more writing for the Centre, and possibly not for local papers either (but never say never) so it’s obviously time for something new. I don’t know if I’ll write any more local history now, but I often work such things into my steampunk stories, so that remains to be seen.
2015 – ‘watch this space’
So, what’s for the New Year? Well, as I mentioned earlier, there’s ‘Rings Around The Sun’ for Pro Se Productions around about the middle of the year with luck. There’s my homage to H.P. Lovecraft, ‘The Nameless’, which will be published in the KnightWatch Press anthology ‘New Tales of the Old Ones 2’ early this year. There’s my Lovecraftian Steampunk novel ‘Still Waters’, set in an alternate Victorian Walsall which is bubbling under…
And apart from numerous feelers I have out with various publishers, waiting in the wings there’s the rewrite of my first ever Steampunk story, ‘Gravship Turbinia’, which will be…
…the first publication from my own imprint, the new publishing company and bookselling emporium ‘Timewarp Books’ which I’m currently in the process of setting up. ‘Gravship Turbinia’ will be the first in a series of steampunk novellas/chapbooks, working title ‘The Gravship Quartet’, and will be the beginning of this new venture, which will also entail a specialist speculative fiction bookselling operation, mainly online but also in a small way at book fairs and conventions. Who knows where and how this will develop?
More about all that in due course, anyway. Everything will hang on the work I’m doing for Pro Se Productions and my own writing and publishing activities this side of the pond. I’m under no illusions that this is going to be easy, for all sorts of reasons, ad I am a small frog in a big pond, but at least it should be bloody good fun!
There should, all being well, be more Writers Gatherings as previously mentioned at Southcart Books in Walsall.
Oh, and of course I’m naturally having to get back into circulation at science fiction and related conventions again, after a gap of many years. That, I’m particularly looking forward to.
A sting in the tail
Anyway, to conclude this rambling retrograde rant, I must say that I’m only too pleased to see the back of 2014, but I’m not yet sure of whether to welcome in 2015 with open arms; we’ll have to wait and see on that. It will be a year of massive change, a lot of which will be out of my control, and even a science fiction writer can’t always predict the future.
The times they are a-changin’…
A. Stuart Williams