You probably noticed, but 2020 wasn’t the best of years.
As someone who works predominantly from home, my working life was (technically) changed relatively little, but of course there were differences. Differences in how I interacted with colleagues and agents, differences in how travel (or the lack of) affected my work and more subtle differences in how I felt about the world — not on a conscious level, necessarily, but how the pervasive fug of 2020 affected me on a more basic level.
Despite being (mostly) healthy and working (mostly) normally, there was no getting away from the general feeling of despair that floated across the globe like a pungent fart in search of nostrils. I thought I was doing ok. In fact, I thought I was doing well, but in the autumn I finally admitted to myself that I was being dragged down by global events more than I’d realised. Don’t get me wrong — looking around I could see I was doing much better than the average, but it came as a surprise when I realised I wasn’t running on all cylinders, as I assumed I was. Come Christmas, when Publishing traditionally shuts down for at least a couple of weeks, I printed out only one manuscript to work on over the holidays, and I didn’t pick it up, once. I can’t remember the last time I genuinely switched off work for two weeks. And oh, boy! I can tell you the reset it afforded me has done me the world of good!
My 2020 Books
I had a stellar year in terms of (work-related) books, though there were fewer than usual.
Opening the year with a Wayward Children book by Seanan McGuire has become as much a part of my annual routine and Christmas/New Year celebration as, well, Christmas and New Year. Come Tumbling Down came out in January, and proved to be at least as popular as every other book in this phenomenal series.
Next (for me) came Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson. I knew of Eddie from his radio writing (he wrote both series of the hilarious Welcome to Our Village, Please Invade Carefully) and I followed him on Twitter. When he tweeted that he was finishing up a novella I contacted him to ask to see it. He sent it, I loved it, and it’s just the most charming story, told with humour, heart and not a small amount of surrealism.
The trade paperback of Seanan McGuire‘s Middlegame came next. I’ve said elsewhere how much I love this book, and continue to do so.
Network Effect by Martha Wells was the first novel in the Murderbot Diaries series, and was a New York Times bestseller, right out of the gate! Such a great book, and loved by everyone who has read the series.
I’d been wanting to work with Carrie Vaughn forever. Inspired by her re-bingeing of the Robin of Sherwood TV series, she crafted a wonderful tale of Robin and Marion’s later years, focussing on their three children. The Ghosts of Sherwood feels like a genuine part of the Hood mythos, and its follow-up The Heirs of Locksley was a perfect sequel.
One book that still has me pinching myself is City Under the Stars by Michael Swanwick and Gardner Dozois. A quarter of a century ago they co-wrote the acclaimed City of God and recently realised that there was more to tell, to round off and decided to finish that story. As well as being one of the finest editors our genre has ever fostered, Dozois was also a brilliant writer. He died in 2018, and I never got to meet him, except through his work. But I feel humbled to have been able to work on the last piece of fiction he ever wrote, and to have therefore played a minuscule role in his work. And it goes without saying that working with Michael was a dream, too.
Most of the books I work on come through agents, or through existing relationships with authors. Every now and then I get to work with someone new. An Unnatural Life by Erin K. Wagner is a book I found in our slush pile. Redolent of the classic ST:TNG episode “Measure of a Man, An Unnatural Life explores the relationship humanity has with technology, and asks whether we will ever be likely to accept artificial intelligence on its own terms and offer it rights and the protection of law. A great debut.
In the autumn, another book from Seanan McGuire — Over the Woodward Wall. This time writing under a new pseudonym, A. Deborah Baker. Baker is the fictional author that was created as a Baum contemporary in Middlegame. Extracts from Baker’s work were scattered throughout Middlegame and it would have been impossible for anyone to prevent Seanan from writing the whole book around the extracts, even if they wanted to! (And no-one would). On the surface it’s a middle grade fairy tale, but quite honestly, it’s a delight to read for anyone at any age. Because Seanan.
And rounding off the year, the fifth and final book in Paul Cornell‘s Witches of Lychford series, Last Stand in Lychford. A brilliant end to a great series, and one which loops back around to the first book to make an extremely satisfying conclusion. I’ll miss this series.
Additionally, I helped shepherd through Andrea Hairston‘s Master of Poisons, though the editorial duties on this were handled by my colleague, Ruoxi Chen.
My first box sets came out: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells (collecting the first 4 hardcover novellas) and Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children Series, Volumes 1-3 (you can guess how many books are in this one) and also an e-omnibus of all five Lychford books.
I also commissioned a lot of books, which are yet to come out. Five books (two new, three backlist) from the frankly amazing Andrea Hairston (I am so stoked I will get to work with her on some new novels, including the brilliantly-titled Archangels of Funk), two books from debut writer Joma West, whose Face is already getting some amazing attention, another four books from Seanan McGuire (two more Wayward Children, and two more Up and Under books), as well as a whole bunch of books I can’t talk about yet as the contracts are still going through.
So, in all, a great year for books. And this coming year is shaping up nicely, too!
January saw my only trip of the year — to New York (to see my colleagues) and on to Detroit for the ConFusion convention.
I was due to play Mister Toad in a great musical adaptation of The Wind in the Willows in April/May at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in York (with book by Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes), but COVID put paid to that. A shame, as the songs are great! Hopefully that will happen at some point.
In July I got a promotion at work. I’m now Tordotcom Publishing’s Executive Editor (levelled up from Senior Editor).
And I read some great books, too. The first two books in M.R. Carey’s Rampart Trilogy (The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli) and Claire North’s The Games House and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August were among the highlights.
Despite (*gestures around*) 2020 was another amazing year for TV. Favourites included the one-season-then-cancelled Teenage Bounty Hunters, which was so much more than its title suggests; the final season of Schitt’s Creek (a show that I avoided for years, as the title suggested a broad comedy a million miles away from what it actually is); Ted Lasso (which I watched twice); Mythic Quest (which contains the best COVID-inspired episode of anything I’ve seen); Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts; the final season of She-Ra; The Queen’s Gambit; Discovery (my favourite of the Star Trek franchises); the last of The Good Place; The Umbrella Academy; The Boys; Doom Patrol; The New Legends of Monkey (love, love love the new Pigsy and Sandy); The Haunting of Bly Manor (once I stopped expecting it to be Hill House, which is what its marketing suggested); Upload; the third season of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel; Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist; Doctor Who; The Mandalorian; Pennyworth; Picard; The Third Day; and much, much more.
Goodness, I watched a lot of TV! (This lst doesn
There were some lows, of course (my holiday apartment remained empty for much of the year due to the pandemic), but I’m not going to focus too much on those. Instead, I’m already planning how 2021 is going to be another stellar year.
So, that was much of my 2020. *raises a glass to the coming year*. I hope you all have a great 2021!