2020: A strange review or a strange year

In Russia some people belief that the way you start your year will define how the rest of the year unfolds. Growing up, I’ve definitely witnessed (and myself participated in) many a strange ritual, domestic and public, aimed at welcoming a new year in just the perfect way, cheerfully and happily, so that the rest of the year would also pass in a perfect manner. But what does it say about us that we’d most likely spend the night of December 31st eating through dozens of salads and cold cuts, followed by *more* food, amidst endless toasts of sparkling wine and vodka while staring at the screen of a TV?

And what about those more supernatural-leaning beliefs, one of which had once moved my family members to feverishly ‘talk’ their bad emotions and feelings and grudges into a small water-filled glass vessel (formerly occupied by cough medicine) and then race outside right before midnight into the biting cold to accidentally empty said vessel at an unsuspecting neighbour who was out walking the dog?

Book display including Oasis at Books of Wonder

After immigrating to Australia in 2006, I’ve done my share of cheering on the fireworks exploding over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and I’ve braved the Melbourne crowds while trying to make my way to the Federation Square in the smouldering heat of Australian summer. But deep into my adulthood, now that I could make my own choices (e.g. leave a party if I was growing tired), I’ve found myself slowly losing interest in planning anything much for December 31st at all.

So when on 31 December 2019 I’ve found myself tucked away in a cosy NYC Novotel room overlooking the Times Square while drinking champaign from a miniature bottle and resting my head on my husband’s shoulder, I couldn’t be happier. If I were destined the spend the rest of my 2020 trapped in a nice hotel room somewhere, while eating delicious dinner and drinking wine, so be it.

A view on Times Square – Dec 2019/Jan 2020

If I truly knew what the rest of 2020 was going to be like, I’d probably have an extra drink that night…

I have returned home after that trip, having launched my second novel Oasis in NYC and then in LA, to find my adopted home country shrouded in flames and smoke. Australia was burning. Bushfires were consuming trees and livelihood, and killing our precious wild life. Watching the daily measurements of air quality quickly became the new normal.

I’ve still managed to do two local events somehow (in Canberra and Sydney) and was just planning my homecoming launch event in Melbourne when COVID-19 has reached our shores. After a very difficult few weeks of uncertainty and anxiety, I’ve cancelled my Melbourne event. Only a couple of days following that decision, all public events in Melbourne were pulled back, the first wave of the pandemic-related restrictions.

And then the rest of 2020 happened, with lockdown after lockdown, social distancing, work from home… All of it. Waking up daily to horrible statistics, heart aching over those sick and those we’ve lost, fearing for the safety and wellbeing of our frontline workers…

As I’m writing this, Melbourne has just seen some of its latest lockdown restrictions lifted, but the pandemic horror is far from over. Holding a ‘day job’ in higher education has become a daily source of low-key stress for me and my colleagues. Watching university after university announce their rounds of redundancies, and constantly living with fear of losing my main source of income, has been the kind of stress I’ve never before encountered. And I’m not even talking about the state of publishing – seeing so many publishing professionals lose their jobs and many imprints closing have been heart-breaking. My own imprint has met such sad fate. With both my contracted books already published, the closure hasn’t affected me as much as authors with forthcoming books, but it doesn’t make it any less sad. 2020’s casualties keep on coming, and the year is far from over yet.   

I should probably end this on a positive note. After all, this is only my second blog post appearing on my shiny new author website, and I don’t want this post to be a total downer. So I’ll conclude by listing the good things:

  • I have a brand-new shiny author website! Forever grateful to Tracy (check out her website/service) for making this happen. I’d still be using my old blogspot if not for you, my friend!
  • I have a short story forthcoming in The Only One in the World: A Sherlock Holmes Anthology, scheduled to come out later this year with Clan Destine Press. My story is called Solace Spring and it’s located in Russia during the times of perestroika on a set of a controversial movie directed by a political defector. (How this came to be: Never underestimate the power of chance encounters! I’m so glad I’ve met Lindy Cameron, author and publisher, when we were both invited panellists at Swinburne Writers Festival in 2019, and I’m so grateful that Lindy invited me to contribute to this anthology edited by Narrelle Harris. I’m also grateful to Narrelle for being the best editor this story could have. I can’t wait to share more about this anthology and my story – the cover art is being designed as I write this, and the concept is so mind-blowingly fantastic!)
  • I’m writing new stuff. Always! Hopefully, I’ll have news to share soon.
  • I’ve been reading a lot and across genres. As of late October, I’ve read nearly 50 books (which is on the big side for me, as I’m generally too busy writing to read as much as I probably should). The absolute standouts for me have been:

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, which is a creative non-fiction graphic novel. It’s PERFECTION.

Monster Nanny by Tuuittiki Tolanen, which was absolutely bizarre and wonderful.

Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik, which was my first space opera, at least the first in recent memory, and it’s now one of my favourite books ever. 5 blazing stars!!! 

The Possessed by Elif Batuman, which was freaking brilliant and also made me laugh at the quirky, dark humour (it’s nearly impossible to make me laugh based on written word, so congratulations, Elif.)

  • I’ve been doing lots of online events with friends I treasure.
  • I’ve started supervising a PhD in Creative Writing, and it’s going super well. I’m so excited that this opportunity came my way. As an academic, supervision of research students is one of the key aspects of my workload, and I already have one PhD completion on my record. I’m currently supervising two other PhDs, and one of them is specifically in genre fiction. It’s the most invigorating, enriching and rewarding work.
  • I’m always on the lookout for new things and opportunities. I’m slowly going back to short fiction (in addition to long form) and have been working on some projects which would fall under the category of creative non-fiction. I’ve lost my last living grandparent late last year and it’s been a heart-breaking shock that coloured the rest of my year in sad undertones. I’ve always wanted to write about my grandparents as they have all lived incredible, sometimes very difficult, lives, and I think I finally feel ready.

And that’s it from me for now. I’ll end this with a photo of me, wearing a mask and pretending to read my own book. 2020 has been hard on books, especially those by mid-list authors such as myself. If you feel like supporting my books, please buy Oasis or/and What The Woods Keep from your local indie. Bonus points if you shout about it online or post a review, or both.

Author featured pretending to read her own book