I never particularly thought of myself as an optimist, certainly not as a young man. The world was terrible, and most of those who sailed in her. But that was a front, an affront to the reality crafted out of some strange notion that despair was the cooler option.
There’s always been so much to find despair in, after all. Hope is the harder thing to find, especially in the face of such reckless hate as we’ve seen these last five years. Ten years. Twenty. And yet it was as the world took each of these dark turns, I found myself more buoyed by hope than I was before.
I’ve often wondered how much of the psychic scars faced by the western world start with the events of 9/11. Sure, there was plenty to despair of before then, but how much of the great divide, the schism that seems to have cleaved all discourse in two can be traced back to that moment, and the reaction to it? The reckless headlong rush to war in an orgy of flag waving and corporate contracts, and the normalisation of islamophobia that gave cover to the great reframing of the immigration debate.
In the years that followed, I had my first professional writing gig, first as a writer for an Asian magazine and then editor of an Asian newspaper covering Leeds and Bradford. If I think back to the roots of my own turn toward hope, I trace it back to that time, to seeing disparate Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh communities rally to each other, to seeing how different each of those communities and the people within them were to the people you saw in other papers, on the television.
In recent years, hope has been harder to come by. The schism widened, as did the gap between those who have, and those who have not. The former rallied enough of the latter to their cause with lies and fear, and we found ourselves sewn into chaos. Brexit. Boris. Trump. Fox. Tommy Robinson. National Rally. Nigel Farage’s grinning maw. Q-anon, and, finally, Covid.
Part of my own internal battle between hope and despair shifted when I started writing my first book, Blood on the Motorway. Strange that an apocalyptic thriller with a serial killer at its heart should prove that catalyst, but it wasn’t until I’d written the book and looked back at the central themes of it that I realised – I’d written a book about hope. About ordinary people overcoming despair to find a way forward. The same with the next book, and the next. When it came to my new series, The Sunset Chronicles – I found the same thing. I’m writing hopeful horror.
I’ll admit, for a few minutes last week, that hope faltered, and I thought all was lost. There’s not much about 2020 that any of us have been able to find much hope in, so far, and the thought that Trump might just have found his way around the will of the people once more, that he could have used all the levers of institutional power to cling onto power, that so many millions of people could look at such a clear liar and a fraud and think, yep that’s my guy… it was too much.
But then the votes kept coming. By the time the race was called I was stood in a supermarket aisle staring at videos of celebrations in the street, getting messages of joy from American friends, getting slightly misty-eyed in the bread aisle. And today news of a Covid vaccine, and the prospect of a world made normal (whatever normal is) by next year.
Sure, there’s a lot to despair about. The great schism remains. But so does hope, and as long as we have that, there’s nothing we can’t achieve if we don’t put our minds to it.
For the last six years, I’ve been a participant in something called NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, a global undertaking by thousands of authors worldwide, all striving to write 50,000 words in one day.
Almost all of my novels have had their first drafts conceived in the fiery cauldron of NaNo pressure, and it’s been one of my highlights of the year for many a long year. Not this year, however – my writing course is taking precedence, and given that it could last up to four years, I’m wondering if my NaNo days are over.
I miss it more than I thought – from the write-ins in coffee shops with handfuls of other writers, to the stickers each year that now adorn my laptop lid in a cluster thick enough to rival the laptop itself, to the sheer thrill of crossing the finish line. I’m sure it’s all very different this year, what with the whole nobody-leaving-their-home thing, but I do miss the community aspect of NaNo. Maybe I will be back, one day.