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A race to the finishing line, and 2018 highlights

Yes, I’ve fallen radio silent of late, necessarily so! I’ve been racing to the finishing line for my fourth novel, Bridge 108, which is set in the same world as my debut, A Calculated Life.

And I made it with several days to spare as it turned out. I emailed the manuscript to my editor as my first family visitors arrived for the holiday season. Bridge 108 is due to be published in early 2020.

I’ve completed this novel while unpacking at our new home on the Isle of Bute, Scotland, and embarking on some pretty disruptive house rejigging. A more sensible person would have avoided further complications. But I embarked on the finickity business of organising train tickets and visas for a month-long journey from Paris to Beijing, via Moscow, Astana and Almaty in Kazakhstan, and Ürümqi in north west China. Garry and I set off at the end of August, returning in early October after a remarkable and unforgettable adventure.

2019 will be a tad quieter! We plan to explore the west coast of Scotland in our free time, see the islands that we’ve not already visited.

Highlights of 2018:

Umm, well, I still pinch myself over the biggest news of all—Dreams Before the Start of Time won the 2018 Arthur C. Clarke Award. And my first novella, The Enclave, won the British Science Fiction Association’s Award for Best Short Fiction. These successes have brought me new opportunities, and I’m delighted that I am now represented by the Sarah Such Literary Agency.

The journey across Central Asia proved to be an exceptional experience, with many individual highlights. I’ve already posted about the amazing visit to the Eurasian Pole of Inaccessibility. However, I’d like to end 2018 by telling you about two wonderful writers who I met en route.

I arranged in advance to meet Zira Naurzbayeva in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

One the highlights of my year: meeting Kazach writer Zira Naurzbayeva, author of The Beskempir.

Zira and I met on a Saturday afternoon at the National Library, and our conversation was as memorable as any I can recall in all my travels either as a fiction writer or, in my earlier career, as a journalist. I had arranged to meet Zira after reading an extract from her non-fiction work The Beskempir, translated by Shelley Fairweather-Vega. The Beskempir translates as Dragon Grandmothers and the book relates the experiences of a generation of women who struggled with the transition from village communities in the Soviet era to modern-day urban life in Kazakhstan. You can read the extract, here.

Hopefully, one day soon, Zira will find an English-language publisher for this book, so we may glean a fascinating insight into the 20th century history of Central Asia.

Little did I know before meeting Zira, that her own family history mirrored the political upheavals and economic catastrophes endured by Kazakhstan—the confiscations of livestock by the Red Army during the Russian Civil War, the push by Joseph Stalin to collectivise farming and fishing, the decline of the fishing industry at the Aral Sea, and the impact of the Soviet nuclear testing programme in eastern Kazakhstan.

We chatted about the difficulty of writing family history, how members of a family can hold diverging recollections of important events. And how some people prefer to move on rather than rake up the past.

But I came away, wishing that Zira would write a family history. I’m so thrilled that we managed to meet and I’m grateful to Shelley Fairweather-Vega for making the introduction.

In Beijing, I was honoured to meet Lin Zhe, author of the brilliant novel Old Town. A wonderful end to my west-east journey.

In Beijing, I met the prolific author and scriptwriter Lin Zhe whose novel Old Town is a remarkable family saga set in the latter half of the twentieth century. It’s an eye-opening read, and it’s been a big hit both as a novel and as a popular TV series in China. We had a fun afternoon together, which involved much eating of cake! And it was fascinating to talk about the merging of fiction and memoir in Old Town.

In fact, I’ve read a good number of memoirs in 2019. It may seem odd, but when I’m drafting science fiction, I often prefer to read, by way of a mental break, either non-fiction or novels with a contemporary setting.

So, here’s my top memoir reads this year:

Self & I – A Memoir of Literary Ambition by Matthew De Abaitua

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

Good Children of the Flower by Hong Ying

Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

The Cost of Living and Things I Don’t Want to Know by Deborah Levy

This is the Place to be by Lara Pawson

 

Thanks for all your support in 2018!

Stay well in 2019, and happy reading, everyone!