It seems strange to be writing this column already – the one I write at the end of one year which gets published at the start of the next.
Apart from the fact that it feels like only yesterday I submitted my thoughts on how 2020 would shape up (spoiler alert: I got it all wrong!), normally my January piece for The Dalesman provides the perfect space for reflection. For looking back over the past 12 months and anticipating the next.
To misquote Yorkshire’s most famous shopkeeper for the second time in A Writer’s Diary, however, it’s been a funny old year, Granville. And that’s putting it mildly.
Given the events of the previous 12 months and the fact that my calendar for 2020 is covered in red welts from mass cancellations, I’m not sure I have all that much to reflect on. Nor, with the understandable uncertainty facing us, am I brave enough to predict what 2021 holds in store – to date I have one event scheduled for next year and that’s the publication of my next novel on April Fool’s Day, which seems incredibly apt.
So, rather than dwell on what has been a difficult passage of time for most, I thought I’d see if I could draw encouragement from some fellow writers for those of us looking towards a new dawn.
My search didn’t start too well. I came across these pragmatic – but hardly inspiring in the current circumstances – words from the New York Times journalist Hal Borland: “Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on”.
Crikey! Hal must have been a right barrel of laughs come the stroke of midnight.
Not deterred by the grim images of determined perseverance his words conjure up, I kept looking and found this gem from the author Robert Clark: “I would say happy new year but it’s not happy; it’s exactly the same as last year except colder.”
While not much better than the previous example, replace “colder” with “wetter” and at least those of us living in the Dales could identify with this! But even so, it’s not exactly a sentiment to lift the spirits as we raise a glass when the bells toll.
Perhaps, given the year we are seeing out, columnist William E Vaughan’s words of wisdom will strike a better chord?
“An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.”
There’ll be a lot of us in the pessimist camp come New Year’s Eve, gladly holding the door open to encourage this troublesome time to make its exit.
Despite Vaughan’s wit, though, I still think we can aim higher in terms of our expectations for the coming year. Something a little more upbeat perhaps? After all, TS Eliot put it best:
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
Another voice. One to give us hope. The possibility of brighter days. Melody Beattie, in her book The Language of Letting Go, seems to offer just that. And as an author myself, I particularly like the sentiment she expresses: “The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written.”
Apart from the fact that any mention of chapters waiting to be written can conjure up deadline-day anxiety in us authors, this is a beautiful image. All I ask is that the next instalment is something light-hearted – a romcom perhaps? Definitely nothing dark because we’ve had enough of that.
Overall, I think the most consolation offered from the pen of a fellow writer comes from that of Tennyson, a surprise given that he wasn’t known for his joyous take on life in his later years. Also surprising is that it comes, not from his poetry, but from his play, The Foresters:
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘It will be happier’…”
Just what we need. Although personally, I’d quite like Hope to raise the volume a bit. And I’d also like it to be accurate in its predictions, definitely more accurate than my own attempts at foretelling what the future would hold.
After all that searching for some witty, uplifting words to adorn this first column of the year, it was a casual conversation with a friend from Settle that finally gave me what I feel is the best quotation in the circumstances. When discussing the turbulence of the past 12 months and the unpredictability of the coming year, he gave a dry laugh.
“Don’t worry, lass,” he said. “It’ll be reet.”
Trust a Dalesman to hit the nail on the head. Wishing each and all a ‘reet good’ 2021.
You can read Julia’s column every other month in The Dalesman.
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