9 December 2006

Is it really possible that I have been writing these annual notes for thirteen years? So what have been the highlights of the year of Thomas? What’s been the BIG news? Could it be bigger than what happened at 9.31pm on Wednesday 20 September, when I wrote the long-awaited and metaphorical words, ‘The End’. Conceived in August 2001; 105,745 words; 385 pages; 250 days in the writing; 5 years in the making. Blood & Fire is finished. I’ve already started the long process of revising the beast of many thousand words – and I am making it better – much better at every stage. I’ve also been handing bits out of it to friends, family and strangers (on online writing critique sites) for comment, and getting some encouraging noises in return.

In sadder news, after a lovely break down at my parents in the New Forest at Easter, during which time he had much fun cavorting round the garden, and scaring my parents’ dog, Barney, my cat Pepper died. Aged nine, he had been with me for three years, but had recently been diagnosed with heart disease and despite responding encouragingly to medication, on Saturday morning I came downstairs to find him a little more relaxed than he was when I had been stroking him the previous evening.
The house was never quite the same without a cat around, and so I started looking around for suitably adorable kittens to scamper around the place and make kittenish mischief. In June, I found them – or rather my Mum found them by way of some friends of some neighbours in a nearby New Forest village. I went to ‘look at them’ knowing full well that you don’t decide to go to ‘look at them’ but to ‘fall in love with them’. Bella and Arthur, as they have become known were the last two left of a litter, brother and sister and all black. I arranged to collect them after my holiday at the beginning of July…

…ah yes, holidays. This year, continuing to head round the Eastern side of Europe in a round and about way of coming back into western Europe, I ended up in Italy. More precisely the Venetia region, with a city break in Venice (and an affordable hotel just round the corner from St Mark’s Square), followed by two week’s in the Dolomites, on another conservation break. This time, staying in an old nursery school, and attending concerts and building dry stone walls 3000 feet up in the mountains, and constructing steps through a village nature walk. As ever, photos from my holiday can be found online (http://visuals.shepline.com/italy/), as can tales of my adventures (http://travelogues.shepline.com/italy2006/). The holiday coincided with the semi-finals of the Football World Cup, and on our last night, I watched my first ever football match, and celebrated into the night with some very happy locals!

I left Venice at the beginning of Venice, and on my first night back in Oxfordshire went – thanks to my contacts at a local theatre company – to the VIP night of an outdoor, and daringly contemporary version of The Merchant of Venice, performed in the old exercise yard of Oxford prison. Then on the following night, I headed down to the New Forest on a whistle-stop trip to collect Bella and Arthur. The summer, from then on, was spent between trying to finish my novel and bonding with new kittens. Arthur, on several occasions tried to help out with the creative process by taking it upon himself to sit on the laptop! Bella meanwhile, prefers the outdoors life, and climbing trees… 🙂

I now, not only play flute with Abingdon Concert Band, but, following a successful bidding session on ebay, also play piccolo. It’s actually helped my flute playing no end, because it forces you to play more confidently (you can’t play piccolo – the smallest and highest instrument in the band – tentatively!). I’ve continued to play in concerts throughout the year, and I am writing this letter after having got back from playing carols at Millets Farm on the crispiest and sunniest of midwinter days. Marvelous!
All that is left for me to say is that I hope that Your year has been as good to You as it has been for me. I look forward to hearing what kind of year that You have had had, and please, have yourself the bestest of Christmas of all time and make the new year the bestest ever again…!

With every best wish (and a smile),