2016 was a hell of a year in all sorts of good and less good ways. Celebrities apparently dropping like flies and some seriously crazy political developments put my own experiences of the year into some pretty sharp relief. Be that as it may, I’ll run through what I did last year in the hopes that I might see from my contrail where I’m actually heading, and in case you might find it useful or interesting.
The year began well, with the publication of Advanced Longsword: Form and Function on February 10th. This was a big step because it finishes the set of my up-to-date Fiore interpretation, which began with The Medieval Dagger and continued with The Medieval Longsword. I’m quietly proud of the trilogy, and the readers for whom I wrote it seem very pleased with it.
I followed up with three instalments of The Swordsman’s Quick Guide. How to Teach a Basic Class came out on February 29th, Fencing Theory on April 21st, and Breathing on September 2nd.
As for writing, I also managed to bash out 49 blog posts this year, and have made great strides on the second editions of both Veni Vadi Vici and The Duellist’s Companion, and on my memoir, Sent.
The single biggest challenge of the year was moving with my household from Helsinki to Ipswich at the beginning of June; you probably know how much work it is to move house; factor in the kids, and then square it for the additional complication of moving countries, and in retrospect it’s a miracle I got any work done at all.
Other than that, the biggest departure was setting up my new online courses venture. I began it in the most obscure and geeky way possible with a course on how to research historical swordsmanship from historical sources, which went live on July 1st. This is a monumental course, and it’s far from complete; I’ve got enough material up there to keep most students busy for about a year, but I’ve got some serious work to do to get the final modules published. I followed that with a much simpler challenge; a 6 week course on breathing training (published in September), then one on Footwork (November) and another on the basics of Fiore’s dagger combat material (December).
All in all, that’s a pretty productive year. The work done in 2016 built the body of my next book, The Theory and Practice of Historical European Martial Arts. I completed the first full draft of that last week. It includes instalments 1-6 of The Swordsman’s Quick Guide, a great deal of content developed and edited from the Recreate Historical Swordsmanship from Historical Sources course, one or two blog posts, and some completely new material. This began in my head as a book that was too big to write, so I split it up and worked out the individual pieces separately, in exactly the way I describe in my article “How to Write a Book“. The book is with a couple of trusted friends now, and I’ll get it ready for test-readers in a week or so. I expect it to be out in the world by the end of May.
It seems, looking back and extrapolating forwards, that I’m going to be putting a lot more effort into courses, but at the same time, I need to get those second editions done and dusted. It’s a good thing I know how to prioritise!
One of the most useful tools to get me to hit my targets is my writing group, which meets at the Arlington brasserie every Wednesday from 7.30 (Come! all welcome). It’s very relaxed, but we do get some formal exercises done too. The pitch is just right- informal enough that I can file it under relaxation if I’m feeling overworked, and formal enough that I can file it under work if I’m feeling like I should be getting more work done. We state our goals for the coming week, and if we meet them, good; but if we don’t, then we have to put a pound in the Tardis (a tin shaped like, well, the Tardis). Money collected goes towards the wine for our annual Christmas dinner. Goals can be anything; write 1000 words of your first draft; edit one chapter; spend 10 minutes every day writing, or even (this was one of mine) take a whole day completely off! Whatever it is, it gets written down, and the next week you have to report whether you hit it or not. It’s surprisingly effective. I’ve barely missed a session since I started coming a couple of weeks after moving to Ipswich at the start of June.
Another major factor in getting stuff done has been renting desk space at Atrium Studios, which is part of the University here. For only £120 a month I have a spacious desk, use of the University library, access to the print shop, wifi, and so on. The Studio has all sorts of people working here; artists, sculptors, a brewery runs its office here (and bring samples in for product testing), plus graphic designers, start-up entrepreneurs, and so on. This means that it’s much less isolating than working from home, but because we’re all doing different things, there’s no pressure to join in with anything. You can just sit down and work. My desk is enlivened by art from Roland Warzecha (Dimicator), Jussi Alarauhio (who did the art for Audatia), Brian Kerce (who made the gladius) and Titta Tolvanen. The little metal squiggle was made by Neal Stephenson and me in his basement. He’s getting into blacksmithing, and this was our first attempt at ‘drawing out’. The tankard holding pens was given to me by PHEMAS to commemorate a seminar in 2012. I also have all my books and Audatia decks here. Why?
Because in the difficult times, seeing the things I have made, and the things my friends and students have made for me, can be the difference between getting something useful done, and quitting in self-disgust.
The main mural posters are reproductions of Lorenzetti’s stunning Allegoria frescoes in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. This serves many purposes- to keep me immersed in the art and culture of Fiore’s time. To remind me of how art is supposed to work. And to remind me of the breathless wonder that hit me when I entered that room and saw them for the first time.
And with that, I better get on and put 2017 to work!