Well hello there and happy new year.
I happen to love new starts, new ideas, new moons. It’s all about possibility. Before I start this new year, I need to do a closing ceremony on the old. Bear with me, this is a long read…
While I can’t deny it’s a relief to wave goodbye to this year, I have to admit that as crappy as it was, our little triangle of three has come through it okay.
The way I figure it, everyone had events and holidays cancelled, and many people lost and missed out on a whole lot more than that. My heart goes out to all those who were unable to say either goodbye (or hello) to loved ones, who were unable to offer support to those who needed it, who had weddings and trips of a lifetime cancelled, who lost their income and their security, who haven’t been able to find their way home.
When you consider this, it really puts our year into perspective. Sure, airfares were cancelled and precious holiday days were used to stay at home and do nothing, and things we’d looked forward to didn’t transpire, but we’re all healthy, we all kept our jobs, we’re okay. Grant came out of retirement to take up a role, Sarah completed her university degree, and secured her first job as an occupational therapist, and as a result of border closures, we got to see more of our own state than we otherwise would have. More importantly, we got to leave our house – and that’s something I think few of us will take for granted in the future.
So, while 2020 was crap at a macro collective level, for us, as a family, it wasn’t the annus horribilis that 2016 was, and there were some bright spots and points of gratitude that I’m choosing to focus my attention on.
As for lockdown, here in Queensland, we were fortunate that it didn’t go on for too long. Besides, given that I work remotely anyway, it really was business as usual for me. When people talk about what they did in lockdown my answer is simple: I worked through it (even though a part of me wanted to make banana bread and sourdough and do jigsaws).
Anyways, rather than dwell on what we all know, let’s wrap up the year that was.
What did you do that you’ve never done before?
Snorkelled in the Great Barrier Reef – something I’ve wanted to do for what feels like ever. It was a day I’ll always remember.
I also took some Feldenkrais classes. I’d been urged to consider this by my osteopath last year but didn’t get around to it until a calf injury this year reminded me. How to describe it? Mindful motion is probably the best phrase. It’s not yoga and it’s not about stretching, it’s about re-learning to move in a way that your body is supposed to move. I think it helped, but, well…I didn’t fall in love with the practice enough to practice it if you know what I mean.
Another new activity was strawberry picking – which we did a couple of times during the Sunshine Coast picking season.
Camel cuddling was also a first – and a fabulous day out.
What was your word for the year? How did you go with that?
While I don’t choose a word of the year every year, I did for 2020.
I began 2020 with my astro hat on and a look at the themes of my year. Some words kept popping up – duty, responsibility, resilience, commitment. It felt like a heavy year that I needed to step up for. With all of this in mind, my word of the year was a phrase: “get real”. The post is here.
While I had no idea how the year would pan out, what I did know going into 2020 was what I’d committed to:
- my day job
- my (voluntary) role as President of Romance Writers of Australia (RWA)
- Finish the novels I’d started (Escape To Curlew Cottage and It’s In The Stars) and publish the novels I’d finished (I Want You Back and Careful What You Wish For)
I also knew that juggling it all was going to be tough so made a conscious decision to add structures to help me cope. I switched from casual to permanent part-time in the day job so I’d have a better idea of my schedule, structured my days and organised my email accounts. My diary and to-do list were meticulously maintained to prevent slippage.
2020 was, however, a year that wouldn’t be controlled. At times I felt too exposed, too overwhelmed, too responsible. It’s fair to say, though, that without the structures I put in place I would have floundered a lot more than I feel that I did.
I did what I said I’d do – I stepped up, took responsibility, and I put myself out there – and there were times where the weight of that was heavy indeed.
I also got real – and while a little reality is good, I don’t function well (in mind, body or spirit) when structures and boundaries leave no room for imagination and possibility. I am very Piscean in that way. Too much reality isn’t, I’ve found, either healthy for me or authentic to me. My creativity was stifled and rather than stripping back I layered up.
Where did you travel to in 2020?
This is a trick question, right? Weirdly I almost foreshadowed it in my closing ceremony for 2019 when I wrote that I intended to stay close to home in 2020 and that, for the first time in recent memory, we had no major holidays planned. In hindsight, we were so glad we’d taken our holiday to England when we did.
Aside from the usual monthly (or so) trips to Sydney for the day job and to see my parents, I had some long weekends planned – a couple to Melbourne, one to Queenstown and one to Wellington. I was also booked to go to Perth for RWA (Romance Australia) conference and had to be on the Gold Coast for a strategy and planning workshop in March for RWA.
Other than the weekend on the Gold Coast all of these airfares and hotels had to be cancelled. I was fortunate to get refunds for Perth, Queenstown and Wellington, and credits for the 2 return flights to Melbourne (speaking of which, I’d better check when they need to be used by…).
Grant’s mother fell ill towards the end of February and passed away in the first week of March. This meant we had a couple of trips to Canberra – thankfully one being to see her before she passed. We were also fortunate (if, indeed, one can use that word) to hold the funeral a matter of days before social distancing restrictions and the limits on attendance at weddings and funerals came into play and arrived back in Queensland mere days before the state borders were shut.
Likewise, the aforementioned strategy weekend, which also occurred immediately after the funeral – to the extent that Grant dropped me off in Tugun on our way home. It had been years since I’d visited the Gold Coast and while I had little free time to enjoy it, I did manage early morning walks on the beach.
Once lockdown lifted in June we took a few long weekends within our state, visiting:
- the South Burnett region in June
- Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef in July where we also visited Palm Cove and Kuranda
- Cairns, the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation at the end of October. We also went over the range for a peek at the Atherton Tablelands
While these weren’t holidays as such, we were grateful to be able to travel within our state and the mini breaks certainly were a welcome distraction.
Over the last couple of months, we’ve also had a couple of day trips and one weekend in Hervey Bay – where Sarah will be moving to in the next couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to spending more time there in 2021.
Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions?
Did anyone close to you give birth?
Did anyone close to you get married?
Did anyone close to you pass away?
Sadly yes. In March we lost Grant’s mother. It was relatively sudden – less than a month from diagnosis to her funeral – and deeply sad.
How did you spend New Year’s Eve 2019?
We were still in England and spent the day exploring Lacock in Wiltshire. We toasted happy new year at 11am to NZ, at 1pm to Sydney, and 2pm to Queensland. Our lovely Air BNB host at Wyck Rissington brought us over a bottle of red wine and we spent the evening with the Kiwi friends we were travelling with grazing on leftovers. We were, however, all exhausted so didn’t make it even close to midnight.
How did you spend your birthday in 2020 and how old were you?
I turned 53 in 2020 and was in Canberra preparing for the funeral of my mother-in-law.
My actual birthday was a couple of days before the funeral so the day itself was spent in the hotel we were staying at doing day job work, and meeting with the funeral director and celebrant to finalise arrangements.
One of my closest friends helpfully reminded me that the pandemic was actually declared on my birthday and that pretty much said it all. Delightful. We did, however, get out in the evening for a lovely meal at one of our favourite Canberra restaurants – one that we used to take my mother-in-law to for special occasions.
What would you like to have more of next year that you lacked in this one?
I’m not going to say hours in the day because I’d only find something else to fill them with. What I’d really like more of in 2021 is a restoration of our freedoms and the certainty to travel and connect safely. Oh, and I’d like to sell more books.
Did you tick anything off your bucket list this year?
Surprisingly yes: snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef and visiting the Daintree Rainforest. Also on my bucket list had been to have a posh tea at a posh place and we did that om early January on the last day of our English holiday – at Ellenborough Park in Cheltenham.
What dates from this year will remain etched in your memory and why?
I’ll always remember waking up on New Years Day in England to the news that family members had been caught up in the bushfire emergencies in Lake Conjola and Tumbarumba. There were other days in 2020 that I’d also prefer to forget.
One, though, that will be etched in my memory for all the right reasons was coming face to face with this massive fish – a Maori Wrasse – while snorkelling. I hope I never forget how awestruck I was by the colour, life, and wonder of the reef.
What was your biggest achievement of the year?
To be honest I don’t feel as though I achieved very much at all this year. For most of the year, I felt as though I was drowning under responsibilities and reacting to crises rather than being proactive or creative. It feels very much like the year I buried my personal goals under a whole heap of stuff to help others achieve their goals. Mind you, if ever there was a year to do just that, it was 2020.
I did, however, publish 2 novels – both of which I’d completed prior to 2020:
- I Want You Back
- Careful What You Wish For
I also (finally) finished editing Escape To Curlew Cottage – which is available for preorder now and, I think, my best book to date – and had the cover for Wish You Were Here revamped in the same style. I also finished the first draft of It’s In The Stars – something I began a couple of years ago. It is, however, still a rough draft.
As part of getting real about my author career, Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry were both finally released into print (available through Amazon or online from your favourite online retailer), I had my author website redesigned and I even managed a newsletter (albeit in December, but hey, that’s a tick in the box, right?).
In terms of new words, while I seemed able to edit and polish and finish, for the first time in my life I wasn’t forming stories and characters in my head. I forced myself to jot down ideas I’d previously had, but couldn’t seem to put colour or form around them. It felt as though there was a massive block the size of one of those shipping containers that I couldn’t see past or get over. In my attempts to get real, I’d made everything too real.
I needed to lose some of my reality to fire up my imagination again so in November I took a step back and made a couple of decisions. The shipping container in my head shifted a little, and then a little more. Some words got through and by the end of November I had 50,000 of them – and they’re good words. The first draft of The House By The Lake (the sequel to Wish You Were Here) is now almost done. It feels as though my energy has shifted and now that I’ve given my imagination permission to come back out and play there are other stories clambering for attention again.
As an aside, if you are interested in any of these, all the buy links are on my book page.
What did you learn this year?
This year my eyes were opened to the best and worst of people’s behaviour. Some examples of selfishness and stupidity took my breath away and at other times I found myself being a lot more “judgey” than I usually am. Other than that:
- How fortunate we are to live where we do.
- How essential my daily walks are to both my sanity and the scales – move it or lose it
- How essential creativity is to my mental health
- How essential it is to have a Plan B (and a Plan C, D, E and F)
- How much I need a proper break – at least a week away from emails. The day here and there has been good, but simply not enough.
- How I’ll never again allow us to run short on toilet paper, rice, pasta, and flour.
- How I’ll never again take travel and freedom of movement for granted.
- How it truly helps me to actively look for something good in a grey situation.
- How when you’re deprived of the big things you can find peace in the little things.
- How a little creativity helps you find that peace.
- How much I’d hate the job of any of our political leaders.
Did you suffer illness or injury?
I was the healthiest this year I’ve been in I can’t remember how long. Normally I get a head cold each winter – which usually coincides with a trip to Sydney and a visit to the office – but this year nothing. Not even a sniffle.
I did, however, have a very painful calf injury this year which disrupted my walking routine quite a bit. Having said that though, I set out to walk 1000 miles in 2020 and, according to my Fitbit, well and truly nailed that target, stepping over 3100kms (or 1900 miles) in the year. Given I spent the best part of 3 weeks being able to do little more than hobble, and another 2 weeks going back and forward from Canberra I’m pretty chuffed with that. Again, according to my Fitbit, I averaged just under 11,000 steps a day across the year.
What was the best movie you saw all year?
I didn’t go to the movies this year – nothing unusual in that. I did, however, indulge in some romcoms on Netflix – none of which have left lasting memories but which provided some much needed escape.
A new (to me) movie that I loved was Last Christmas, but other than that nothing really stood out.
What song was on high rotation this year?
While I listen to a lot of music, I didn’t listen to anything more than anything else this year.
Where did your money go this year?
Books. Again. One day I’ll learn to restrain myself…but where would be the fun in that?
Compared to this time last year, are you:
Happier or sadder?
About the same – despite what’s gone on this year. It might sound trite but every night before I go to bed, I’m grateful for our house and every morning when I walk I’m grateful for where we live.
Thinner or fatter?
Fatter – over the last few months I’ve regained almost 6 of the 11 kilos I lost in 2019. Watch out for a resetting of Excess Baggage in 2021.
Richer or poorer?
Richer – Grant went back to work so there’s more money coming in.
What do you wish you’d done more of?
Writing, exercising, marketing and selling more books.
What do you wish you’d done less of?
Beating myself up for spending too much, eating too much, drinking too much, not exercising enough, not being productive enough and not marketing enough to sell more books.
How did you spend Christmas 2020?
Grant was unable to take time off so, with continuing border uncertainty, we decided to spend Christmas here on the Sunshine Coast. As it turned out, that decision was the right one – although this year more than any other I truly missed family, probably because I couldn’t choose to spend it with them.
We took it easy with breakfast (potato scones, smoked salmon and champagne) at the beach, followed by a late and extremely relaxing lunch and afternoon in the country with friends. It was so different to last year in The Cotswolds but really really lovely.
What was the best book you read?
My 2020 bookish round-up will be out tomorrow. While it’s tough to narrow it down to a single book, I have listed my faves in there.
What TV shows did you watch?
I watched a lot of cooking shows (no surprises there) and loved Masterchef this year. I thoroughly enjoyed David Tennant and Michael Sheen in their lock-down show Staged. Great British Bake-off remains a fave and I can’t wait for the 2020 season to air in Australia. I also loved James Martin’s Islands To Highlands and (to round the year off) Nigella’s Cook, Eat, Repeat.
New seasons of Midsomer Murders, Agatha Raisin, Outlander and The Crown were lapped up and I’ve ended the viewing year on a high with Bridgerton.
Other high points were the remake of All Creatures Great and Small (Britbox), The Undoing (Foxtel), Collateral (Netflix), The Capture (Foxtel I think), and the CB Strike series (Foxtel).
During the year I also got some sweetness in my life with Virgin River and Sweet Magnolias (both on Netflix), and rewatched The West Wing and Shetland in their entirety – the writing in those is so good and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my writing mojo came back so soon after I finished watching these.
Who did I miss this year?
I really missed seeing family this year and only saw mt parents once – when they travelled to Canberra for my mother-in-law’s funeral. Because of border closures, I haven’t been able to get to Sydney. In my office (given that I work from home it feels weird even saying that) we have a strict covid safe plan which precludes anyone who doesn’t normally work in the office from “visiting”, so even if I had been able to get to Sydney to see my parents I wouldn’t have been able to go into the office. As such I haven’t seen any of my colleagues since last November, and that’s been weird. I never thought I’d say that I missed going to Sydney, but there you go.
What kept you sane this year?
My walks along the beach with hubby followed by coffee on weekday mornings are the highlight of my working day. It sounds trite but having the physical reminder of sunrise is actually a really positive thing.
What has 2021 got in store for you…so far?
We have a holiday optimistically booked – a Cunard cruise for Grant’s 60th October on the Queen Victoria out of Southhampton and up through Norway to see the Northern Lights. We do have the ability to cancel without charge by April should our borders not look like being open – and by this I mean both being allowed to leave the country (which is currently not permitted) or being allowed to return without undertaking expensive mandatory hotel-based quarantine. We’ve set ourselves a deadline of 31 March to make the call. If we can’t do this we’ll plan something else to celebrate his milestone birthday.
Speaking of borders, as soon as they open with NZ I want to get across there. I’ll also go to Sydney when the borders open and when our covid-safe plan allows my office to accept visitors. Other than that there is nothing travel related in the calendar.
The big news for 2021 though will be Sarah’s relocation north to Hervey Bay in a couple of weeks. This also means that our ability to take a long weekend here and there will be curtailed as we’ll no longer have a dog sitter.
In terms of novels, I hope to publish three: Escape To Curlew Cottage, It’s In The Stars and The House By The Lake. My aim is to write another two – at this point, these will be a return trip to Brookford for the follow-up to Escape To Curlew Cottage, and an Aussie Christmas novel starring Ainsley St James from I want You Back and Careful What You Wish For. Although last time I declared I was going to write a Christmas novel it became Escape To Curlew Cottage and actually had very little to do with Christmas, so don’t hold your breath on that one.
Okay, so that was my year. All that’s left to say is thanks for your support and for following along in 2020. Here’s cheers to 2021. Keep an eye out for my reading round-up tomorrow and my word of the year post on Monday.