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2022 Changed Me.

Richard Haywood

2022 was the most bitter, vicious, divisive year I have ever known. I had too many woefully poor tradespeople in my house who wanted money without doing the work. It was like the ability to use self-perception to check your own morals and ethics had ceased to exist, and been replaced by the Trumpwellian system of denial and misdirection. The amount of times I tried to gently point errors out to builders while the very idea that they didn’t do a good job flitted through their mind - only to immediately be followed by self-righteous bluster. “Hang on a minute, I’m doing you a favour here!” “But you’re not though, are you? Your taking money for a service. That’s not a favour.” They’d stare at me for a few seconds then simply ignore what I said and carry on telling me how they’re trying to help me out. I had two sets of builders rip me off. One lot were just drunk and useless. The other one was meant to fit a bathroom but took the money, did one day’s work, and then buggered off. I had to take him to court. It took ages. But I saw it through, and I won. The builder (that had formerly threatened to break into my house and attack me) burst into tears in the court and wailed “why are you doing this to me? I’m a nice guy. I was doing you a favour!” (Head thunk) Mate! You took money and ran off. What part of that confuses you? My dog died. Bear. The love of my life. I birthed him. I had his mother and father. I held him as soon as he came into this world and hand fed him because he was too weak to latch onto the teat. We were inseparable. He developed a mild limp. I took him for a routine X-Ray. He never walked again. The vet said yeah it does happen. No remorse. No apology. One of the most arrogant people I’ve ever met. I replay that day over and over in my head. Taking Bear to the vets. Dropping him off. Telling him everything would be fine. Then I picked him up and he couldn’t walk. They said it’s normal. It’s just the meds. It wasn’t. They’d messed something up in his spine. I got Bear into a wheelchair and he had surgery on his spine. The surgeons on the mainland told me how the vet on the island is heavy-handed and arrogant. I’ve just got this awful sinking sensation inside that Bear was handled too roughly while he was knocked out. He was a big dog, but he was getting on in years. It just should never have happened. But there’s no consequence. There’s no concern or care. I wished I’d never taken Bear there. Then Bear got pneumonia. He pulled through but he got it a few more times and each time left him weaker. He was losing muscle and strength because he couldn’t walk. He died in July in my arms in the garden. Then there are my publishers. I wrote a book over three years ago. I’d pitched it to my publisher. They said yes, write it. We love the idea. I wrote it and sent it in during which time they’d had a management change. It’s now been three years of gruelling edits and delays. I’ve been professionally edited many times before, but this was on another level. It was beyond anything I’d ever experie It was a stunning book. It took me ten years to plot it in my head. But every round of edits had editors telling me my humour wasn’t funny, or my action scenes weren’t good, or my dialogue was forced and fake. My characters weren’t believable. The plots were weak. Every part of my writing that I had confidence in was smashed to bits. I tried to edit to what they wanted. I did 99% of suggestions, but they wanted it changed again, then again, then again. It got to the point I felt sick just looking at the manuscript. I said I can’t do anymore. It was a fixed fee. There were no royalties and the time spent over how much they’d paid meant I was already on less than half of minimum wage. They immediately threatened me with the contract. They said they’d remove their branding. They said there was content in the book that had to be removed – but they wouldn’t say which parts it was. I begged them for clarity. They wouldn’t reply. I spent weeks working through it again, cutting lines and whole sections in pure fear of being blacklisted. When I sent it in, they said it was all fine now. They were breezy and cheerful like nothing had happened. I still don’t know what parts I changed that made it acceptable. I tried to ask. I was ignored. The book was meant to be out in early 2022. They keep putting it back. Summer, they said. Autumn, they said. Winter, they said. Now it’s Feb 2023. We’d agreed from the start that I’d be involved in choosing the narrator and have time with the manuscript so I could adapt dialogue and narrative to the narrator’s voice like I’ve always done. The book is being recorded right now but they won’t say who the narrators are. I don’t know why. And they have blacklisted me. They told me that in a cheery breezy tone too. All the way through I’ve tried to communicate. We always have conference calls at the start of edits to go through what changes are needed. I asked for it, but they never happened, and no matter how I tried to communicate they took an opposing stance. If I communicated in a serious tone, I was told to lighten up. If I showed humour, I was met with po-faced reactions. There was simply no way of communicating that achieved anything at all. And this is coming from someone who used to talk suicidal people down from bridges and buildings. People armed with weapons threatening to kill and hurt themselves and others. I could adapt my approach to match what they were feeling and empathise to achieve the aim and end it peacefully. I led teams and big operations. I took out drug suppliers and violent gangs. I handled informants and worked on major criminal investigations. But suddenly I was unable to communicate anything at all, or have a voice or an opinion. All of my self-published and previously published work was awful, and small, and only they, (London based middle-class editors) could say what was good in a book or not. I can’t even do anything legally. They’re huge. I’m just an author. My agent couldn’t cope with it and very quickly took to hiding and disappearing for days on end every time it went wrong. It really got to me. Everything did. I was backed into a corner with nowhere to go. Everything I said was wrong. Every tone I used was the wrong tone. I couldn’t sleep. But I had to keep getting up to look after Bear while my house was getting torn apart by these awful people that had no fear of consequence. Man. That was a dark period. From 2021 all the way through 2022. I kept thinking it’ll get better. Just keep going. Get up. Eat healthy. Exercise. Care for Bear. Look after Deli and Crusty. Work on the book. Be nice to the publisher. Be nice to the builders. Try and do the right thing. But it didn’t get better. Nothing did. It only got worse. Then Bear passed and something changed in my head. Not immediately. It took a good couple of months. But then, all of a sudden, I gained clarity and this overwhelming sense of perspective. It changed me and how I look at things. I sacked my builders. I sacked my agent. I told the publisher that our visions clearly differed and best of luck with the book, but I was stepping back. And I did. I stepped back. I’ve got to write two more books for that contract. I was all twisted up inside thinking I couldn’t do it because nothing I would write would be good enough. I’m not bothered now. I’ll write what I want. The emotional reaction inside isn’t there. Same with the builders. If I get someone in now and they do a bad job I’ll tell them straight to their face and trust me, I won’t lose a wink of sleep over it. Not with anything. Not with the publishers, or agents, or anyone else. Because when Bear died, I realised what truly mattered to me. I loved Bear. Bear loved me. He was part of my pack. Crusty. Deli. I had his mum and dad. They Mattered. That feeling between us mattered. But none of that other stuff mattered at all. Builders don’t matter. Fuck the builders. Publishers don’t matter. Millions of books get published each other. I’ve published over thirty bestsellers and made very good money (and they’ve made a fortune from me) and established myself as one of the UK’s leading indie sci-fi authors. One book has gone wrong. Fuck it. Go blow a goat. I wrote Fiction Land and sold it to the first publisher I emailed, and I’ve got twenty more original books in my head waiting to be written, and that small, silly, zombie series is one of the most successful self-published series in this country. I can even remember when I gained that clarity. It was when I asked myself if I would I do it all again with Bear? The answer came without hesitation. Yes. I’d have that pain a thousand times over for one more day with him. For one more hour. For one more minute. But would I give the same level of worry for builders or publishers or agents again? That answer also came without hesitation. Fuck no. My dogs give me happiness. They matter. Writing books gives me and lots of other people happiness. They matter. That’s the perspective I gained. So. In a way. While 2022 was the most bitter, vicious, divisive year I have ever known. I guess it had to happen to achieve this feeling of balance and calmness. That shit hardens you. It toughens the mind. It gives focus to what you truly care for. So yes, you gorgeous little word-consuming sausages, for 2023 and thereafter, I hereby pledge to give my time and attention, my effort and my energy, to those I love and care for. My dogs. My sister. My friends. My readers. And everyone else can go blow a goat. What’s your New Year Pledge? Much love!

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