2023 was my sabbatical year, a year for travelling, chilling, having fun. It’s been a long time since I could say I didn’t have at least one project on the go, but this was to be that year.
Then again, A Heart Full of Headstones was released in paperback, so there was a bit of promoting to do. The National Library of Scotland also hosted a small exhibition highlighting some of my writing archive. Later in the year there was an ebook and audiobook called The Rise (not published by Orion, so let us not linger on it) and publication of my script for the stage play Rebus: A Game Called Malice. Apart from that though, no work. Except I’m forgetting the TV reboot of Rebus, which was filmed on and off throughout the year. It has now been edited and I have to say it looks great – gritty and authentic and dark and very Scottish. No transmission dates as yet, but look out for it in 2024.
Travel though, travel was the big thing. I walked the Fife Coastal Path with my old school friend John (it nearly killed me or at any rate did for my feet – one of my toes is still black and another lost its nail entirely). Good fun though, and I saw bits of Fife I’d not seen before. Glorious weather, too (this was back in May). Though the best day of the whole year was probably when my wife, two friends and I arrived early doors at Mycenae in Greece (8am, since you ask) and had the whole sprawling site to ourselves for the best part of an hour before the other tourists started to converge. Later that same day we were in the ancient amphitheatre at Epidavros, watching Oedipus Rex being performed – no amplification required. It was absolutely riveting. That, my friends, was a good day. Though the most pleasant surprise of the year was probably Madrid. Apart from the Prado, I wasn’t sure what I’d expected. I fell in love with Parc Retiro, the vast city park uphill behind the Prado, and ended up going there every day, usually for a short run. And yes, the Prado was pretty good too.
We always try to go somewhere exotic for my birthday and this year it was Liverpool. (They were playing Spurs that weekend, hence the attraction.) Four of us took the ferry across the Mersey. It was chillier than I’d expected and I ended up buying a Beatles branded hoodie from the shop inside the ferry terminal, Beatles merch being all they sold. I couldn’t have looked more like a tourist if I’d tried. But Liverpool is a damned fine city and worth a visit, even if Spurs ended up losing…Oh, in the summer I traipsed to London for a meeting with the Princess Royal. One tap on the shoulder with a sword and suddenly I was a knight. So now, whenever I pass the Conan Doyle pub in Edinburgh, I can say ‘yes, me, too, bud’. Can’t say it has got me any freebies or upgrades, and when I go into the Oxford Bar someone always checks outside to see if I’ve tied up a horse. They know how to keep me grounded.
And what about Rebus? Well, maybe there’s a new book on the starting blocks. I am conscious that I ended A Heart Full of Headstones on something of a cliff-edge. Answers are coming.
Having a year off has meant more time for music and books. I was going to add films to that, but I don’t think I’ve been to the cinema much this year – not sure why. I did take my son to see Stop Making Sense and it as every bit as jaw-dropping as I remembered. Weeks on, I still have the tunes in my head. We also thoroughly enjoyed the gratuitously gory Finnish war film Sisu and the spectacle that was Oppenheimer. A few other films I’d been looking forward to proved a disappointment. No names.
Favourite reads of the year included Don Paterson’s Toy Fights, Nick Cave’s Faith, Hope and Carnage, Joanne Harris’s Broken Light, John Niven’s O Brother, Michael J Malone’s The Murmurs, Julie Hamill’s Frank, S. A. Cosby’s All The Sinners Bleed and Mick Herron’s The Secret Hours. If you twist my arm, I’d plump for Joanne Harris’s as my stand-out.
Albums of the year would include Lankum’s False Lankum, Cloth’s Secret Measure, Lloyd Cole’s On Pain, Dot Allison’s Consciousology, The Coral’s Sea of Mirrors, Teenage Fanclub’s Nothing Lasts Forever, The Bathers’ Sirenesque, King Creosote’s I Des, and Makushin’s Move Into the Luminous. KC just shades it (at time of writing) as my album of the year.
Gig of the year: Matthew Halsall? The Anchoress? Lloyd Cole? Or maybe Colin Steele and friends at the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh, paying homage to Miles Davis. Bonus points to my pal Colin (Baxter, not Steele), who got there early so we secured seats. I’m at an age where all-standing concerts are becoming an endurance test. But hey, if Tom Waits decides to play a small venue in Edinburgh any time in the future… I guess I’d be willing to put up with the discomfort…
Next year is all about the writing. If things go according to plan, there’ll be an autumn book and a tour (or tours) to go with it. Plus the TV of course. And I’m hoping we’ll see Rebus: A Game Called Malice hit a few theatres. More than a few, actually.
But for now, I hope you all have a great Christmas and New Year. See you in ’24, Armageddon notwithstanding…