2021 – My Year in Review- Best Books, Best People, Best Moments, Best Foot Forward

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A Round Up of 2021

How is it almost New Year’s Eve 2021? This year seems to have zipped by in a flash. For once, it genuinely feels like I have made real, solid progress towards my big life goals. Buckle up for my yearly rambling round up.

Health and Wellbeing

Mainly, the year has been about dealing with the emotional fall out from Chris’s stroke. For many reasons, recovery for Chris has been easier than acceptance of the future as someone who has had a stroke. What do I mean by that? Chris is a very positive person, very stoic. Chris is also very goal motivated, he was very fit before the stroke and when he came home from hospital in July last year, he set himself a series of goals to get him back to health, back to the gym, back to himself. He did phenomenally well. He’s a genuine inspiration. I recorded some of his home physio exercises, days after he came home, when he was spending most of his day on the sofa, exhausted from the stroke, hoarse from the damage to his throat, needing me to help him get up and down stairs. It’s an emotional thing watching the video footage of him from that time, it’s like watching another person. Now he is back to fitness, back at the gym, back at work and I guess that people look at him and think he is 100% recovered. But the truth is, like with most people who have experienced life changing physical and/or emotional trauma, he will never be 100%. He has recovered to around 90% which is excellent. There are so many places where the road to recovery could have diverged and things would be a lot different. He could easily not be here at all, and we are eternally grateful that he has done as well as he has. But that 10% is still felt keenly, in so many ways. once you reach the point at which no more recovery is possible, all that’s left is to live with it. And that is a real challenge. He struggles with the numbness down one side of his body and his face and hates the idea of needing so many medications. When something like this happens, you don’t return to the former you, you have to pick up the pieces and create something different. It has taken a lot of adjusting, a lot of acceptance, and with that acceptance comes grief. So that’s been a big overarching theme of the year. Layered with pandemic misery of course. We’ve still had some extraordinarily good times together this year, one of the highlights was staying in Great Ayton in a little lodge and walking up Roseberry Topping, another big thing was travelling to London for Chris’s graduation. While Chris was recovering from all this stuff, he was completing his business management degree. What an incredible achievement. I was so proud to see him up there in cap and gown. And we had a fab time in London, visiting the museums and parks and mooching around together. I am blessed to have Chris in my life, and it has been lovely to spend Christmas together watching films and playing board games and generally just enjoying each other’s company. A lovely, lovely Christmas.

When I look back at previous goals and roundups from around this time of year, I can see that pretty much every year I say I am going to cut back work, live a healthier lifestyle, live a ‘less chaotic life’ and have never quite managed it, until this year. My favourite mantra of this year, and one I’ll be taking with me into next year is ‘Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want different outcomes, make different choices.’ Changing habits, changing learned behaviour, thought habits, unhealthy coping strategies etc is not about will power. Will power plays its part, but rather than being a shield you use to protect you from cravings, will power is tool you can use to reinforce the positive habits, affirming to yourself that you are worth change, that you are worth nice things, good health, a happy work/life balance. This year I managed to over work myself to a point at which I triggered an underlying heart condition and very high blood pressure. In fact, what I’d thought was the menopause turned out to be my body struggling with what I was doing to it. The doctors I spoke to told me I needed to cut down caffeine, alcohol and stress to manage it. Reader, I did not know who I was without caffeine, alcohol and stress. I cut back caffeine consumption to just first thing in the morning and the occasional afternoon cup of tea. Knowing I could still get my Wendy strength coffee first thing meant I was happy to cut back for the rest of the day. The stress and the booze were much harder to cut down. I enlisted the help of a personal health trainer to help me change my terrible relationship with alcohol, which you can read about here and reader, it worked, it continues to work. I had my first hangover in four months this week. I’ve taken the brakes off a little over Christmas and drunk more than I have been doing and amazingly found that I don’t really want to drink much anymore. Which makes me a cheap date and a complete and utter lightweight. This is my biggest achievement of this year. I know there will be people who don’t really understand that cutting back booze is a big achievement, it’s not like I have gone Tee Total, but the change in my health, my happiness, my anxiety and my self confidence is noticeable. I’m not going back. I’ve done this before and never quite managed it because I gave booze up completely without changing my thought process around it. This time it really does feel different. I have altered my thinking, altered my motivations.

And then there was the over working. Oh, the chronic, chronic over working. I had to change my thought processes around this too. There was a simple solution, but it relied on me having increased self confidence and reduced anxiety to be able to take that step. The solution was to charge more; to value my own time more, and to make solid boundaries. That meant I was saying ‘no’ to low paid and free work. The aim was to work less hours. Essentially I had to stop being a people pleaser and start being the person I wanted to please. Which is what I did. To start with it felt like completely the opposite of what I should be doing. It felt intensely selfish to put my own needs first. But after a while I found that saying no meant more time which meant I was a more productive person, that the work I was able to do in the time I was able to allow for it was of a higher standard, a higher quality. I found that I was getting through my To Do list. I found that I was enjoying working with smaller groups of people, the anxiety around zoom was less, the anxiety around saying ‘no’ was less. I was able to offer more, because I wasn’t trying to tick a billion things off a list, I was no longer working from 6am to 9pm, I was getting weekends off to clean the house and walk the dog and do stuff I enjoy and rest. And that chance to recharge meant I was more focused, with more energy. Although I have been working weekends lately, It’s mainly to clear the backlog of work I’d taken on. I’ve started to change the way I run my courses, I’ve incorporated a bit more zoom, and some new styles of course and I can honestly say, hand on heart, I am loving it. I am loving my work, I am feeling enriched. From January I am going to be using a small grant for works in progress which I received from the Society of Authors to work on the new poetry collection, and I think with the new way of working, I should be able to fit writing time in every single day alongside that. My goal is to have two days a week to write, for the rest of the year, but we’ll see what happens once the grant runs out. I’d like to think that the new working strategy may get me at least one full writing day a week, but we’ll see. I’m very optimistic with my time, it doesn’t always work out the way I think it will.

Writing

My big things this year:

  • Receiving a grant from the Stephen Joseph Theatre to work on my novel which allowed me to travel to Haworth and do some on site research, as well as taking a month off work-work to really bed into it. This was fantastic. I got more work done in one month because of this, than I had in six months previously.
  • My Poetry Business International Book and Pamphlet competition winning collection, When I Think of My Body as a Horse was published and was received really well. I am immensely proud of this book and so very grateful for everything Smith/Doorstop have done for me and for the people who have read and bought the book. Thank you!
  • I received a Society of Authors work in progress grant to spend some time working on my next collection which will also be published by Smith/Doorstop. I don’t want to give anything away really as it’s very much in progress, but hope to be updating with some news in the next couple of months. Exciting!
  • I was long listed in the Nan Shepherd prize with my other work in progress: The Ghost Lake. This is a creative non fiction book, you can read about it by following the link above. This, alongside my new poetry collection, will be the project I spend 2022 working on.
  • I published three issues (fourth going to print in January) of my magazine, Spelt, we started running workshops and co ed Steve and I have big plans for Spelt 2022.
  • I ran my first ever Writing Retreat (read about it here) and I’m planning the next one in March. (book here)

I am very happy with this list and some of the things on this list are creating the structure to go further in 2022. This pleases me.

My Best New Habits

  1. I began starting the day on the patio or in the conservatory (currently I am in the living room with the windows open) listening to the world. This is an excellent way to start the day. I started doing this when we were away in Great Ayton, and carried on the habit when I returned home. I listen to the birds, smell the weather, feel the breeze on my skin. Even if it is just for ten minutes. Next year I’m hoping to start incorporating a brisk walk to the start of the day. I then write my journal, read ten pages of poetry and a chapter of whatever novel or non fiction i’m reading while I have my coffee. I used to have coffee at my desk or in bed, but this small sliver of quiet time is exactly what I need to start the day in a mindful place.
  2. I took up a bullet journal, alongside my passion planner. If you don’t journal, you won’t know what i’m talking about. If you know, you know. My bullet journal becomes a more creative brain dump, where as my passion planner is very much goal orientated. It works well. I may do a blog about time management and goal setting.

My Books of the Year

I read a lot of books this year. As usual, I set out to make a record, got bored and did not make a record. Next year I am going to try and do a twitter feed of the books I’ve read. Anyway, here we go. I realise these are very nearly all by white women, which isn’t great as a marker of diversity. I can absolutely promise you I did read books that weren’t by white women this year! But I obviously need to challenge myself to read more books by non white, non women writers. Challenge accepted.

Poetry

Small Collections/pamphlets/chapbooks

Alison Lock’s Lure, from Calder valley Press.

What a fantastic collection. I felt like I had been on a journey. Fluid, elegant writing and sustained power from start to finish.

Hannah Hodgson’s Where I’d Watch Plastic Trees Not Grow from Verve

Incredible pamphlet by Hannah Hodgson. Full of visceral, defiant, angry, necessary, challenging poems, poems that should be read by everyone. Highly recommend.

Rosalind Easton’s Black Mascara (Waterproof) from Smith/Doorstop

You’re going to want to keep an eye out for work by Rosalind Easton. She’s a new voice in the poetry world and a fellow winner of the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet competition. I was blown away by the accomplished, moving, witty, clever poems in this pamphlet.

Lynn Valentine’s A Glimmer o Stars from Hedgehog Press

I love it when poets take risks and bring something interesting and unique to their work. The idea of Scots alongside English translations works really well, and the poems in the pamphlet are beautiful. Highly recommend.

Angela Readman’s Cooking with Marilyn from Blueprint

Loved this beautifully written collection by Angela Readman. Every poem is a picnic of lush, dark imagery. Love the title poem in particular.

Full Collections

Jacqueline Saphra 100 Lockdown Sonnets from Nine Arches

Cheating a bit because I’ve not quite finished this one, but will have by the end of the year. I didn’t want to miss this one out as it is so very, very good. An incredible journey through the pandemic, wonderfully authentic poems within the structure of the sonnet form which manages to condense the emotion. It’s a brilliant achievement. Go buy it.

Steve Ely’s The European Eel from Longbarrow Press

Steve Ely ‘s book is a phenomenal achievement. It combines in depth scientific research with the creativity of a poet who knows how to tap into the ancient and incredible. Beautifully illustrated, absolutely fascinating. Incredible writing.

Katrina Naomi’s Wild Persistence from Seren

This collection from @KatrinaNaomi@SerenBooks is wonderful. I read it slowly, a few poems each morning, as I sat on my patio watching the seasons change. The poems are both vulnerable and bold, honest and playful, thoughtful and beautifully observed. I can’t recommend it enough.

Victoria Kennefick’s Eat or We Both Starve from Carcanet

I read lots of poetry collections, it’s my job. I can honestly say that this is one of the best I’ve read, certainly my book of the year so far. Fantastic, clear, cutting, clever poems. Incredible imagery, and the theme is woven so perfectly, I’m in awe.

Kim Moore’s All the Men I Never Married from Seren

Incredible collection from the super talented Kim Moore. It’s a difficult read in places, and absolutely should be, the content is challenging. But Kim manages to carry the poems along on perfect, precise imagery and an underlying wit. Every poem is excellent.

Fiction

Max Porter’s Lanny from Faber

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this book. It’s magnificent. Incredible writing. It’s strange and moving and I didn’t want it to end.

Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi from Bloomsbury

I enjoyed this book so much that I dreamt about it. It’s another one that I sank into, wanting to never to leave it. Wonderful.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun from Penguin Randomhouse

Kazuo Ishiguro is my favourite author. I absolutely loved this. Like a beautiful, mythical, sci fi folktale. Wonderful. Would highly recommend.

Non Fiction

Rebecca Wragg Sykes Kindred from Bloomsbury

Absolutely fascinating. A deep dive into the world of our Neanderthal cousins. No stone left unturned.

Professor Alice Roberts Ancestors from Simon and Schuster

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s a fascinating exploration of the human need to do ‘something’ with the dead, encompassing revelatory scientific methods in archeology around genomes. Prof. Alice Roberts has a beautiful writing style. It’s excellent.

Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead

An old book, new to me. Absolutely loved this book on writers and the writing process. Would recommend to any writers, teachers or those just interested in the purpose of, and drive to, write. Rich in resources, yet accessible and witty. Brilliant.

My 2022 Goals

I’m setting myself challenges rather than resolutions this year.

  1. To continue the good habits I built in 2021
  2. To walk 1000 miles
  3. To finish the Poetry Collection
  4. To finish the non fiction book

That’s it. I’d like to find a publisher for the non fiction and I’d like to get an agent to represent it. Mostly, I’d like to have a happy and peaceful life. I wish the same for you.

Thank you to the people who have continued to support me, especially in times when I have struggled with my mental health and been at my wits end. Thank you to the people who cheered for me and helped me have the confidence to move forward and go for my goals. Thank you to the people who have come to my classes and workshops, to the people who have read my book and told me about it, and told other people about it, thanks to the publishers who have published my work, thanks to Steve for being co ed at Spelt and putting up with me messaging at half six with crazy caffeine fuelled ideas, thanks to my husband for being himself and thank you to you, for reading these blogs.

Have a very happy New Year.

Until next time

Stay safe

Wendy

x

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