23 January 2012
After years of saying ‘Sorry, I can’t spend time with you because I’m writing a book’ my sabbatical brought the long-awaited delight of visiting the people I’ve been missing. First, my big sister, Ruth, and her family, who are in a seriously happy place in East Yorkshire. Life there is dominated by Polly (eldest niece, five, red head, ancestors were rapacious Viking warlords) and Martha (youngest niece, two, a tub-sized engine of chaos).
Then I was off to Lincoln to see my oldest school buddy (and geophysicist big-gun), Dr Quintin Davies, followed by a trip to the west to visit: my uncle Pip and his family (and their menagerie of animals) in the rolling hills of Monmouthshire; my boar-hunting mates, Joanne and Martin Van, in the Forest of Dean; Patrick van Beek and family (see The Jolly Pilgrim, Part 10) in Bristol; an ex-client/new friend (you know who you are, Joh); and Zoe Joyce (The Jolly Pilgrim, Part 6, now pregnant by athlete boyfriend, and my new home-boy, Leggy) in Cardiff.
During that first phase of the sabbatical, I was trying to do everything at once: delivering review copies to publications across London; liaising with journalists; and making the case for my Jolly Pilgrim world view to people around the world. At one point I was holding simultaneous debates with some eco-warriors in Canada, an astrophysicist in Chicago, and the head of a UK-based think tank.
Unfortunately, multitasking was never my strong point, and I was getting bogged down. So I began picking off tasks one-by-one, on the basis that when things are done, they’re done.
I’d written a travel book which required 18,000 words of online appendices. It took three weeks to draft and post them all. Then: caption the photos; realign the website; acquire a literary agent; audition for the Olympics ceremonies; visit bookshops; give a couple of talks; deal with my late mother’s tax affairs (five forms, two letters and a £400 fine); and, finally, sorting out the garden at a house in Essex which I reluctantly manage.
By early December, I’d ruthlessly and systematically sorted out my life. Selling books is very difficult, but sales were ticking along, my marketing and distribution resources were in place, the team at my publisher were fantastic and I finally had the luxury of complete focus. Everything was in order. I was feeling tentatively confident and having tremendously fun. Four days later, the bombshell dropped.
An email from my publishing company, the HotHive.
They were going into liquidation.
A moment of stunned silence.
You are having a giraffe.
Cockney rhyming slang of the day: ‘giraffe’, meaning ‘laugh’.