Sunday, 22 March 2020

Songs of self-isolation

Since people have been reaching out (thank you!), here's a quick update. As COVID-19 spreads, I've been working from home since 13 March, and my partner followed on 17 March, so we're basically self-isolating, only dashing out of the house for supplies, and we expect that to continue for the foreseeable future. Our hearts go out to everybody who can't work from home or who got laid off or people who are in the "at risk" categories - we're doing what we can to support small businesses and make sure the virus doesn't spread because of us.

Obviously, Salon du Livre in Paris was cancelled, so I didn't get to meet my French/Belgian/Francophone readers - I hope to get to Paris later in the year or, worst case, next year.

Amid dealing with the changed circumstances and reorganizing our days and routines, I've been focused on proofreading Mean Machine (was: Counterpunch, was Suckerpunch, was Southpaw), which is a 110k book and is scheduled, I believe, for June. I've gone through the book about ten times now so the very final pass is ironically the slowest because I'm now pretty blind to the actual text. I should finish tomorrow if I stay disciplined for a few days. I think what really strikes me now is how casually everybody in the book touches - that's probably the biggest cultural shift that we're going through.

On the positive side for me personally, my stress levels are actually way down. I'm an introvert, so skipping the cattle train to and from London, the shoulder-to-shoulder Tube, the busy open-plan office where I share a desk with chatty co-workers and a micromanaging boss just dropped my background stress level by at least 50%. It feels like I can relax, possibly for the first time in five years. Which is ironic in a global pandemic, but there goes. My pension fund got slaughtered, and we'll see how much will be left of the economy on the other side of this, but on the positive side (again), "leftist" or "extreme left" policies such as nationalisation and a universal basic income are now mainstream topics (I'm definitely in favour of UBI and think some things should be run and/or controlled by the state). If I received UBI, for example, I'd be freed up to write more books.

We're dealing with the isolation part by reaching out to friends on Skype and I've even signed up for a roleplaying game (which I haven't had the time for before) played via Roll20. Thank Gods for broadband (yet another basic utility that everybody should have). I've been pondering how to support the wider community - should I do "public writing" on Google Docs or maybe use some online streaming service to read my work? But I'm really not a great reader and I'm not currently writing (I will though, once Mean Machine is all wrapped up). I don't have anything fresh to publish that I could fast-track. Many authors are already offering free books - any contribution from me would just vanish in the masses being offered. Please comment if you have any ideas!

I was thinking to deal with the backlog of work - ie for once attempt to get my inbox to zero, do my tax filing and attack the piles of unread books for research, as well as make solid progress on one of the next books. I have online drawing and writing courses I want to get through. I've already completely reorganised my desk and caught up with the laundry.

I'm hoping you're all safe and sound; be kind to yourselves, take this thing at the speed you can cope with. This, too, shall pass. 

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Happy New Year!

Boy, it's been a ride.

I'm not sure how useful it is to look back over the whole decade; 34 to 44 is kind of the middle chunk of "adulthood", and the super big changes that seem to be so common didn't happen for me (no children, no major illnesses, no major life crisis). Still, here goes.

In 2010, I managed to jump from "journalist" to "editor" and switched from covering private equity in the DACH region to even weirder financial products: global exchange-traded derivatives. Wrote a few smashing articles (if I dare say so myself) and my first deed at the new day job was literally to call US lawyers and ask them what they made of the Wall Street Act. I'd just bought a house and was deliriously happy about the £5k/pa pay rise that still put me well below London average wage, and there were no benefits and the company was super-toxic with a weekly "name and shame the writer of this headline" culture.

I had a real sense of "growing up" when we moved into our house. I didn't write much that year, but Scorpion happened to me (or rather, I picked that 18k fragment back up and finished it). Finished that year by getting out of that toxic workplace to switch over to my Favourite Job Ever at an investment bank with a massive pay rise, much less stress and a much nicer office. This allowed me to spend money on courses and self-development, which I did. So yeah, 2011 was good, even great, though ended with us all getting fired again. That job gave me a lot of time to write and edit and look at this writing gig seriously, which continued for a few years. I was keeping my head down and focused on writing, meeting good people and other people who proved to be a complete waste of my time and energy, but I did put out a solid amount of work, which was the main investment and payoff. Laid off again from a super boring job in general financial services, and loathing Canary Wharf by that point.

Having dodged unemployment during the actual financial crisis, things caught up with me in mid-2014. Major reorientation; too much time to think, depressed, sleeping a lot, not very productive overall. Hopes I could live off writing. I did work for three months at an insurance magazine in a start-up - main lesson: if a start-up run by a former McKinsey consultant offers you a job, laugh, but not so much that you can't run hard. Miserable three months; holy hell, can office work be awful. Self-published Return on Investment, which did much better than expected - strong sense that self-publishing is the way forward. During ten months of "unemployment", I studied massage in a formalised setting, but worked out I love massage but don't want to ruin my hands/wrists for that kind of pay. Had a seriously mystical experience during massage practice. Finally decided to get Reiki attuned (level 1). Did the NLP Practitioner course after learning TFT and hypnosis. Used my new sharp skillz to get my current job in 2015.

Much of 2015 passed in a blur of work-related stress. Trying very hard to find a new balance between work and life, and failed for 6-10 months, until I slowly clawed back my creativity. 2016 - Witches of London happened when I asked the question, "What should I write and what do I actually know/care about?" and a lingering sense of deep burnout from erotic romance. Decision to let my freak flag fly. That book set me on the path to Asatru and astrology - nothing like writing a book as an offering to a divine entity, and learning astrology so I could work out how Julian thinks (I got things wrong there, but by now I think a lot more like Julian - funny how that works). Got Reiki level 2. Did the NLP Master Practitioner plus hypnosis. Still the question of "What do I want to be when I grow up?", with so many of my former  "dream careers" falling well short of expectations or being actively destructive of things I love and value, though I did work out I love coaching and hypnosis, and am actually great at hypnosis, and people found the coaching valuable.

Life at this point took a majorly spiritual turn; truly a year or two of The Hermit, as I go inside and look at the stuff I find. Meet my coven mates, and finding spiritual people so much more pleasant than my former associations. Deciding to get back into tarot seriously, dabbled in various magickal systems, work out I'm a total intuitive. Past-life regressions and dealing with old karma; conscious decision to "play white"; examined multiple spiritual orders and practices and worked out I'm not a Buddhist but love Buddhism, and occult orders very much aren't for me. Enjoying the writing of weird books, though it's a departure from the easy erotic stuff, though the Brexit referendum is decided and puts a dark cloud over everything.

2017 - getting my stuff back together and refocusing on writing/publishing. Eagle's Shadow gets published, as well as Exile and Shadow's Watching. Mostly I'm busy going through the old backlist, proofing and editing and then re-publishing books while the day job remains intense. I also translate Witches of London into German as a exercise to get my language skills back up and publish that. Part of the language thing is due to the thought that I might have to return to Germany and some translation experience might be good to have, just in case.

2018 - Spiritual questing continues, and I waste too much time following US/UK politics, but in happier news, I re-jig our overall diet towards being more plant-based. Several crises of faith about the day job, but can't seem to find a way out. Reached an agreement to split the rights of co-written books, freeing me to publish some stuff and getting most of my old books back out under the "new" branding after a spit and polish.

2019 - Moonstruck is the last of the old books that don't need major re-writes and gets published in April. Layoffs result in major stress increase at work; months spent trying to work out how to get to part-time lead to nothing. Have multiple job interviews but am not biting. Brexit a major stressor; I'm making more contingency plans in case I can't secure Settled Status. Southpaw (formerly Suckerpunch, formerly Counterpunch, and originally Untouchable) doubles in length and is acquired by Dreamspinner and now called Mean Machine. I waste too much time following US/UK politics. I apply my strong financial background to personal finance and re-jig our finances, putting an actual plan in place to quit the rat race.

Overall, I created a solid body of work and grown tremendously as a person. Financially, I went from really quite precarious to having a solid foundation in place. Struck it lucky multiple times when it came to job changes and salary increases. My partner's been my rock throughout. So glad to have my spiritual and witchy people, and a plan to go forwards. Some of my best experiences in publishing were about working with great voice talent, my foreign-language publishers Triskell and Juno in Italy and France respectively, and my translators, of course. It was great to sign translation deals for French, Italy, and Hungary over those past few years.

I also deeply value my writing friends, editors, cover artists and beta readers - all of those are relationships that happened in those past 10 years and I'm looking forward to taking those with me into the next decade. Some of my happiest times were relating to travel too (Lanzarote, France, Germany, New Zealand especially, though I also went to the US a few times, Russia, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands), and if anything, I want to travel more next year, though places right on the water are really the best for me. And there were so many fun and energising encounters with readers and clients. I'm hoping to make more time for those as well.

2020: 
I've really only set a few goals, and these will be adjusted and reprioritised as time goes on.
- Write/finish 2-3 books and publish them
- Maintain my overall spiritual practice
- Trim down/optimise possessions
- Contribute a certain amount to investments, pension plans and the mortgage
- Do more coaching work and consultations (writing, astrology, tarot, etc)
- Ignore politics unless I can actually do something about it - it's not like there will be many surprises from here

2030:
Just looking back over the past decade, it would have been impossible for me in 2010 to predict or plan for "me" in 2019 - though the seeds were there and the actions were there. I did harvest from work I put in during that time, and the overall trajectory is very much "up". Money, people, writing, spiritual wellbeing are all so much better now.

The one thing I can plan for is financial independence; by 2030 and with current cash flows, I should be able to have quit the day job and do something else. My date for that is 2025. I might work part-time because having a bit of structure helps me.  Maybe the consultation stuff actually pays my bills. It would be great to have found an actual structure/office hours for the stuff I love doing and get paid for it, while I keep writing. I can't tell where the spiritual quest will be leading me.