It’s the final day of 2014: traditionally the watershed moment in this season of lists. What was best about the year that’s gone? What resolutions should one make for the year to come?
I am a great list-maker when they are a tool for getting things done; not so much when it comes to ranking experience. Or aspiration. I read sublime books this year; but the most valuable may have been the two I started and didn’t finish because, despite interesting ideas and potentially engaging characters, the writing was pedestrian and the editing was poor. No writer can hope to appeal to every reader, but those novels reinforced my commitment to make sure that if someone doesn’t finish reading one of my books it will not be because of a lack of care or craft on my part. Nor did I achieve everything I intended to when the year began, and the things I did accomplish happened at different times and in different ways than I anticipated. Priorities shifted. Plans changed. Life intervened.
On reflection, there is little that I could wish had happened differently.
This year my second novel was published here in the UK; my first was released in North America; and I finished writing my third and sent it off to my publisher. Given that on this date three years ago my first ever manuscript had not yet been put in the post for submission to potential agents – much less me actually having an agent, still less a publisher – that feels astonishing. Meteoric. It’s a thing to be proud of, and I am. But there is an interesting duality here, because it turns out that the flip side of being proud of what I’ve accomplished is to be profoundly humbled by its effects.
Much of my intellectual and emotional life has been bound up in books. I was lucky enough to be raised by loving parents in a stable and happy family, and my world was less conventional and narrow-minded than many. But it was still small, still constrained by the realities of the place and time in which we lived. There were limits to what was understood and expressed and aspired to by the people around me; but I was a precocious reader, and I learned early that the universe expanded within the pages of a book.
Other concepts of how to live and think and be; other truths and mysteries; other information about the world, other ways of understanding it, other times and places were there, in those volumes that were always bigger on the inside. Reading has been a transformative experience for me, over and over again. I learned the power books have to take you elsewhere, to touch the soul. I have collapsed in laughter, or in tears; had my perspective profoundly altered; and from the depths of a novel rethought what it means to be human, and to carry the weight of all our histories.
I never anticipated that I could ever have anything remotely like that effect on others. I never sought it out; I suspect few writers do. I had a story to tell and I wanted to do it as powerfully, as delicately, as sensitively and with as much of my own depth of feeling as I possibly could, knowing all the while that my best is unlikely ever to feel quite good enough. At least, not to me.
And yet the seminal events of this year for me have been the reactions of readers: in tweets and direct messages, online reviews and private emails, in person at conventions and signings. One by one, here and there, from places near and far, readers have told me that my stories touched and thrilled them. That they made them think, and see things differently. That they mattered, that they were important.
The bookseller from Illinois, who on a trip to London told me how much my stories meant to her, and to her friend at home who finds too few fictional characters whose lives speak to her own experience.
The woman I went to school with in Jamaica more than a quarter of a century ago, who contacted me through Facebook to tell me that her children are captivated by Gemsigns.
I want you to know that I did not expect this. It never occurred to me that one day something I wrote might be, for someone else, bigger on the inside.
Thank you. You are wonderful. You are amazing. I am immensely grateful to you, and for you.
I have been asked if living up to your expectations now feels like a responsibility. Yes it does, but it is also a very great privilege.
So here is my promise, readers, for next year and every year: I will do my best to deserve you.
Happy 2015. Let’s keep going.