Reflection(s), not resolution(s)

Have you seen The Bed Sitting Room? A film where one of the survivors of ‘the shortest war in history’ attempts to collect all their required certificates—birth, marriage and death. If not, you should. Although it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it so this may be a tiny element and I may have misremembered.

I was thinking about this film because when I was younger I vowed to avoid simply drifting through life, as I believed a lot of people did and do. However, I didn’t want to have a ‘life plan’ set out with milestones ‘n’ all that either. Impossible? Not really. I came to the conclusion that having a vague direction in mind and knowing why I had made my decisions, even if they turned out to be wrong, was the way forward. Since then, twice a year I take time to think about how my life is going to make sure that whatever it turns out to be, it was a conscious choice.

This involves looking back and looking forward. Not for specifics necessarily, but patterns and direction for certain. I’m a great believer in knowing broadly where you want to go rather than the specific steps to get there. At times I’ve chosen to drift, but at least I knew that was what I was doing.

So, it’s now time for this winter’s reflection.

The past six months have been busy, most notably defined by becoming a full-time writer and deciding to shift from being an ‘indie’ author to the mainstream. I did both of these in July this year.

Naturally, I had and have concerns about this, mainly a mix of financial, creative and personal.

Can I be financially sustainable?

Having had a fairly hectic nine-to-five job, will writing be too solitary and will I find sufficient outside stimuli to continue being creative?

Will the impatient, two fingers up, ‘do-it-yourself’ attitude that led me to being indie prevent me from taking a long enough pause to allow agents and publishers to do their thing?

I’m pleased to say that I still believe I made the right decisions, and even if they eventually turn out to be wrong, I know why I made them.

Reflecting back on these six months, there have been some memorable moments.

Extracting Humanity, my forthcoming collection of short stories, was picked up by Orchid’s Lantern Press and I’m excited about working with them up to and beyond its release in the summer of 2023. I also had time to focus on completing my third novel which has the working title Machine Nations, and it’s now out and about looking for an agent.

More headspace has allowed me to step a bit further outside of my comfort zone, for example writing a story commissioned by 2Simple’s Serial Mash. It’s called Collection and consists of five chapters which will be published weekly for a considerable sized audience of eleven-year-olds. But, not for a year or so yet. I found that writing for a different aged audience was interesting in itself, but the most unusual part was having young people as my beta readers – they feedback differently to adults.

It’s also allowed me more space to let the other short stories I’ve been working on mature fully, which has been incredibly satisfying.

Generally, I’ve found that having more time to think has helped me. Pleasingly, resulting in an article in BSFA’s Focus magazine on the future of money titled The Programmable Pound. This thinking time has been invaluable as well for the behind the scenes work on guest-editing the special issue of BSFA’s Vector on Futures, which is due in the spring of 2023.

Speaking at events has benefited too. For example, I had the time to think carefully about the talks I gave at the Goethe-Institut Indonesien Digital Discourses Science/Fiction conference and the Royal Anthropological Institute conference on Anthropology, AI and the Future of Human Society.

And then there’s the bigger projects. The culmination of a year’s work with Cybersalon with the publication of 22 Ideas About the Future, and various public engagement events for the King’s College London project on exploring through storytelling how AI could be used in the future to predict which children will develop mental health problems.

So far, so good.

In the coming year I’m expecting to be as busy if not busier with another 2 years of funding for KCL project on AI and mental health, more with Utopia Now, and a project with Coventry University and the Defence Science and Technology Lab. Having enough headspace to consider whether I wanted to be involved with DSTL was incredibly important in making that decision, and this is one decision I’m watching closely to see if it was the right one.

And of course, there are other projects in the pipeline that I can’t talk about yet, but I’m very excited about.

On reflection then, were they the right decisions to take me in the direction I want?

Well, it’s great to be involved in so many things and it means I’m not too isolated. However, the danger is that I stray away from the main reason I became a full-time-writer, which is to write novels. So, tomorrow I begin the next one and I will do my best to carve out a good chunk of time each week to work on it.

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