I’m starting to wonder, right, if I might be allergic to New Year’s Day. This year and the last I’ve spent throwing up, without any particularly obvious cause the day before to point to as a prompt. So, clearly an allergy then, I suppose.
Anyway, 2020. Easy to strike the wrong note with this one – too glib, too superficial, whatever. I’m conscious also that my experience of the year was a fairly insulated one, on the whole; I never caught the virus, the people I know that did catch it didn’t catch it especially seriously, so on, so forth. On the whole: not the best year of my life, certainly not the worst. (That’d be a toss-up between 2018 and 2019, I guess.) Basically, it was a middling one, which is something I am quite lucky to be able to say. Still, let’s set that aside for the moment – I have no particular insights to offer on those aspects of 2020, and anyway, it’s not like those aspects of 2020 are limited to that calendar year. So, you know, maybe next year I’ll have some thoughts on the pandemic. Maybe even with the benefit of hindsight!
Instead! The usual year in review. Looking back on what I wrote this time last year, about 2019, it’s striking to see how much I was on the cusp of winding everything down. Not unsurprising, exactly; like I said, 2019 was a mess, and if at any given point I don’t want to give this all up and retire then it’s likely been a pretty good fortnight. Still, it’s interesting to see it written out like that, because it’s usually a much more ephemeral, indeterminate thing.
The question at the end of that piece: how can I make this all work, what does it mean for this to work? By any reasonable metric, I think 2020 worked. Several of my highest profile interviews ever; I covered two film festivals (for this website, too, rather than another outlet, which confers a degree of legitimacy onto the whole thing); I wrote more, in terms of pure volume, and I was much happier with most of it as a general rule; I started doing some work with a new website, the Radio Times; I was a guest on my first podcast; this wordpress hosted version of my blog is finally starting to take off in terms of traffic. (Also think I had about a thousand more twitter followers by the end of the year compared to the start, which, you know.)
Obviously, there’s caveats and concerns and plenty of individual frustrations on a day-to-day basis – it still doesn’t pay as much as it used to, let alone as much as it should, for one thing – but, on the whole… 2020 worked, for me, in this one particular way that I’d hoped it would. Which is good!
Going into 2021, I think what I want to work out now is how to do this job – writer, critic, grudgingly maybe at a push “journalist” I suppose – in a way that feels consistent with and reflective of my own kind of personal-moral-ethical-political-whatever framework-and-or-outlook, as it were. I don’t mean, like, “Riverdale’s subtle polemic against the prison industrial complex, my latest for Tribune” – though, you know, if they’re interested – but more… More in terms of everything else, I guess: not just the content I’m writing, but the editorial lines it’d sit alongside, the chain of ownership it’s situated in, the voices it jostles up against. (You’ll be able to guess I suspect that I have quite specific ideas in mind, but I don’t quite want to commit them to writing yet.) I also want to try and be more helpful, I think; I’ve been doing this all for ages now, and I figure I know enough that I might be of some use to people who haven’t been doing it for ages. So, I’ll work that out too, somehow.
Anyway, preamble aside, here’s the bit I’m sure you’re all really interested in: a selection of my best/favourite/other pieces of work from across the past year, arranged broadly chronologically rather than due to any particular preference.
- January was quite a big month, with a run of several interviews. It’s interesting to look back on the interview with Michael B Jordan and Jamie Foxx – figuratively, I mean, I’ve never been able to bring myself to actually watch it – because I don’t think that’s the sort of thing I’ll get the opportunity to do again for a long time now. (Who’s going to want their celebrity to sit in an unventilated room for hours while a queue of people traipse in and out?) Glad I got the chance to do it while I could, anyway.
- That said, though, it was interviewing Captain Picard – or, rather, Patrick Stewart – actually, no, I do mean Captain Picard – that was the real highlight of the month. I think the interview with Alex Kurtzman and Michael Chabon was probably the better piece, as written, and the actual events of the day were a hassle in more ways than one, but hey: Captain Picard. How cool is that?
- Still very pleased with this piece on I Am Not Okay With This from February.
- Through the first few months of the year, I was reviewing Doctor Who Series 12; I think my piece on The Timeless Children was very good, being a bit more structurally creative than I usually am with these things. That’s something I’d like to do a bit more of, I think.
- In May, I published one of my best interviews, a conversation with Peter Bowker about his series The A Word (and a lot more too). I also interviewed one of the cast of The A Word, Christopher Eccleston, who – oh, he’s Doctor Who, I spoke to Doctor Who and I told him he was fantastic and he called me his pal, and honestly what more could you want from life.
- This piece on Space Force from June was pretty solid, I thought.
- Honoured to guest on the wonderful Galactic Yo-Yo podcast in October; lots of fun for lots of reasons, not least the chance to talk to another person for an hour or so after not really doing much of that for most of the year.
- My film festival reviews, which you can find here and here – the actual writing is all over the place, I suspect, but I was glad to have covered a film festival anyway. Two of them, in fact!
- Finally! This interview with Mandip Gill, which was special a) because it was my first piece with the Radio Times, and b) because she was lovely. The nicest person I’ve ever interviewed, I think.
And, hey, let’s also include a couple I would’ve done differently, because that’s always pretty interesting too.
- Segun Akinola was a very nice guy – I’ve nothing but good things to say about him, both on an individual level as someone to talk to, and on a critical level as the composer for a television show. My interview with him, though, was perhaps not my best. I’d planned lots of specific questions about the more granular details of his creative process, but across our conversation it became clear that he approaches his work more instinctively – I don’t think I did a great job of responding to that in the moment, to come up with new questions more well-tailored to what was saying. Still a reasonably solid interview, I think, but I wouldn’t say I was really able to draw out any particular insights from him.
- The Spitting Image piece is an odd one. Any 2020 roundup I might do would be incomplete without it – that article is the most viewed piece on my website, after all. I’m a little hmm on it though still; in part because I didn’t ever think it was brilliant (I nearly didn’t publish it at all), but also because I was a bit overzealous in sharing it. Hard to resist – I can spend a couple of hours sharing links on different forums across the internet to a couple of hundred views max, but link that piece in the replies to a Spitting Image tweet and suddenly I’ve hit nearly a thousand clicks in an hour – but I suspect a bit undignified at times. (As some people felt the need to say!)
- Something to learn from it, mind, in that I think a big part of the reason it did so well was that it was the first substantive left-wing critique of the show to publish. Worth thinking about while I try and work out how to do all this going forward, I suspect.
Anyway! That’s that for this year. No idea what 2021 holds, exactly; more interviews, more reviews, ideally more publications. I’m still trying to be as productive as I used to be, hitting multiple articles a week, which might just be too ambitious these days (in my old age!) – worth a try, though. Be good to try and rack up a few more bylines, maybe do some more podcasts. Hmm.
Tell you what I did work out, though. December 2020 was five years since my first piece was published at Yahoo (and January 2021 is four years since my first piece was published at Metro). In that time, I’ve written – give or take – four hundred professional articles (so, anything not on this website), which is roughly equivalent to an article and a half for a week. That’s pretty neat, I reckon. Pleased with that.
(Oh! There was another question at the end of the 2019 piece, I realise. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to figure out how to make it fun again.” I did, I think. Not consistently so, not quite yet, but there’s been an improvement. Pleased with that, too.)