Happy New Year
A very Happy New Year to you one and all. I’ve been a lax blogger, I know, but to make up for it, here’s a (slightly coggly) gingerbread house. I can take no credit for its making – it’s entirely the work of my daughters. My one contribution was to attempt a halved chocolate button sombrero for the snowman, a move that resulted in the pinched, somewhat demonic look he’s sporting. I quite like it. He reminds me of Licht in John Banville’s Ghosts: ‘His eyes are brown and his brow is broad, with two smooth dents at the temples, as if whoever moulded him had given his big head a last, loving squeeze there between finger and thumb.’ The literary allusion cut no ice with the daughters, though, I was banned from all further tampering. Domestic goddess I am not (but then look at the trouble that can get you in…)
The truth is, it’s been a very busy few months. We moved out of temporary rented accommodation into our newly built house so for the past number of weeks, we’ve mostly had our heads in boxes saying, ‘I wonder where that would be…?’ At this stage, we’ve found all of the most urgent things but I must admit, after sixteen months without one, I’m very much looking forward to the first unspooling of tissue from a toilet roll holder that is fixed to the wall. That’s the true sign of a family who have no intention of going anywhere. It is, as Epicurus says, in the very small pleasures that we count our happiness.
There has also been some writing. There was a memorable November retreat to a house on a hill overlooking Cushendun Bay with good friends working on writing projects. We did our best to be tranquil and focussed and for the most part we succeeded, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the after-dark rescue of a car from a ditch on a narrow road above the bay, or the threat of night-time terrors and somnambulists, or the stories by the range (lit specially for us) in Johnny Joe’s in Cushendall, or the delights of the caves, or the encounter with a goat, tethered to a post by the hotel in a high-visibility jacket. We each of us came away with our heads a little busier, and with more words to show for it.
I’m not much of a one for resolutions (although I’m thinking of adopting Woody Guthrie’s ‘Rulins’ recently shared by a Facebook friend.) What I can say with a degree of certainty, is that 2014 will be the year that I finish the second novel. It’s been a difficult one to write (when is it not difficult to write?) but the thing has a shape now, I can see what it might be. Its completion has been made more imminent by some welcome late 2013 news – a letter from the Society of Authors to say I’ve been awarded a research grant. The Authors’ Foundation at the Society awards grants for work-in-progress to writers under commission from a British publisher (or to writers who have had one book published by a British publisher and whose next book is likely to be published in Britain). What this means for me, is that I can take some time out to travel to the Bodleian Library and to the Museum of the History of Science, both in Oxford, to research the Rathlin story. I don’t want to say too much about the book, I’m a little bit superstitious in that way, but I’m excited at the prospect of finishing it. That will be a very big pleasure and in the meantime, a wall-mounted toilet roll holder will do just fine, thank you. Bring on 2014. I'm ready for it.