The year is coming to an end, another about to begin. In front of me lies a virgin diary. Its ruled divisions into days, weeks, months represent an uncharted future. Just as I did last year and the year before, I stare at the blank pages, wondering what will fill them. Will 2019 be good or bad or a balanced mix? Who will I meet? What unexpected events – personal or political – will mark it? Will my loved ones stay safe from harm? It sounds dramatic but can I even count on surviving the year? This year, amongst my friends, one was diagnosed with an already well-advanced cancer that came completely out of the blue to him. Another friend lost her partner, also due to an undetected cancer; he lived for only weeks from first diagnosis. But the future can also bring unlooked for miracles: hopes fulfilled, unexpected joys, triumphs over adversity.
The blank pages of a new diary have something in common with the blank page – whether on screen or paper – that faces a writer. The difference is one of agency. I have only partial control over what will happen in the year to come. World events, accidents, illness, freak weather, other people’s actions are beyond my personal control, whereas I can fill the blank page of my story, poem or novel with whatever I choose.
As I began to jot down the first entries for 2018 at the close of last year– a family reunion in Wales for New Year, my return flight to Granada, the resumption of classes, lunch with my publisher – I had no intimation of what would intervene to derail some of these arrangements. No idea that my house would catch fire, forcing me to move out for a month. Not an inkling that one of the absurdly expensive hearing aids I depend on for communication would fall out and be irretrievably lost. Nor the slightest intimation that the publishing contract I’d secured a month earlier would, halfway through the year, be cancelled. (Had I known in advance that three months later it would be reinstated, my summer would have been a good deal happier.) The accumulation of all these unexpected events made a big hole in my finances that I could not have anticipated.
2019 will, I hope, be better. On the personal level I have the publication of my novel, The Red Gene, to look forward to in April. Soon I will begin planning the launch and, hopefully, more talks, presentations and interviews in the UK and in Spain. Will the spark for a new novel strike? Of the various half-formed ideas in my mind will one compelling project emerge? Or will I continue with and perhaps complete the memoir I am currently working on?
On the global stage I am more fearful than at any time since the eighties, when the threat of nuclear war – by design or accident – appeared highly credible. I spent considerable amounts of my time during that decade campaigning against nuclear weapons. Now the dangers are multiple and I fear more for my children and grandchildren and their entire generations than for myself. I fear for the hungry and dispossessed of the world, the refugees and victims of war, of climate disaster and the poisoning of the environment. I am afraid in the face of rising fascism in Europe, east and west, and in America, north and south.
Those are depressing thoughts for the start of a new year but there is always hope in new beginnings, the renewed energy that comes with longer days and the budding of nature in all its forms. Change for the better is possible if we care enough and don’t give up the struggle.
To end on a lighter note, this coming New Year’s Eve I will make sure to don my red underwear – Spanish superstition deems it essential if you want to ensure good luck in the year to come. Needless to say, it slipped my mind on 31st December last year.
A HAPPY AND PEACEFUL NEW YEAR TO ALL