I have always loved the winter solstice. There is that sense of being at the bottom of the curve - the sine curve representing the rate of change of day length. This day (and its summer partner) are the times at which the curve flattens, when the rate of change is at it slowest. When nature stops, or so it feels at this end of the year, and gives us time to contemplate.
This Friday 21st December is a special day, too, on the Mayan calendar. I've just been reading about the Mayans and it seems they knew a fair bit about mathematics and made astronomical observations that were way ahead of their time. Not that we have any need to fear. Scientists assure us that there is no truth in the idea that some unusual planetary alignment or asteroid collision will bring the world to an end today - though I can't say I'm enormously relieved to hear this. Humankind is still more than capable of bringing civilisation to an end - and we have already caused the extinction of many species, with more, no doubt, to follow.
We are also, in some sad cases, willing to bring an end to innocent young human lives. I heard children singing Away in a Manger at a carol service in Peasholm Park, Scarborough, last weekend, and could not hold back my tears, thinking of those poor murdered children and their families in Connecticut.
It's been, for some, a dark, dark year. Many families, even in the relatively prosperous UK, are feeling the pain of increased energy, food and petrol bills, with large numbers out of work or earning barely enough to get by. In many countries, the situation is far worse. It's difficult to feel the hope in the Christmas message of goodwill to all people. It's difficult to go on believing, sometimes, in anything good at all.
Yet new buds are already forming on the trees. Nature struggles on, in spite of pollution, disease and climate change. People struggle on, because they have to. They do it for the sake of their children, their spouses, their parents and their friends.
Life has not been easy for many writers this year. I'm one of those who has had disappointing news from a publisher. I know that, on the overall scale of things, this is small beer. But it hurts, and I know many fellow writers who are hurting, too. School visits and other events have been severely cut back, because of lack of funding, and those writers who depend on these things to supplement their income are feeling the pinch. Advances have, by all accounts, almost disappeared for the bulk of writers. E-books are doing well in general and some authors are making a fortune, but many have failed to find the sales they hoped for.
It's difficult for readers, too. Libraries have closed or are threatened with closure. The big publishers seem mainly interested in blockbusters and celebrity memoirs and recipes. The supermarkets rule the sales and, where they go, the booksellers must follow. Lots of small, interesting, independent bookshops can no longer afford to carry on.
Meanwhile, small children like two-year-old Jacob, my partner's grandson, adore books. So does his one-year-old sister, Ava. They know nothing of the troubles in the world of writing, but they know what they like. There are wonderful new children's books, everywhere I look. And there are children's authors, slaving away, inspired, inspiring and inspirational - creating words (and objects) of wonder for the new generation to learn to love.
And while all that is happening, I have hope.
Please, fellow children's authors, don't stop. Jacob, Ava and all the others can't wait to get their chubby, sticky little hands on your latest work. Remember that... as you read the latest disappointing or infuriating email from your agent or publisher.
Times are hard but our children need you, more than ever. They need voices of sanity, sense and sensibility in this crazy world. Whatever happens in the cold out there, please go on creating your warm, sunlit little places where life truly begins. Don't, whatever you do, even think of stopping. The world, which will almost certainly still be here on the 22nd December and for a while beyond that, needs you, your vision, your pictures and your words.
Happy writing, and may the sun shine on your efforts as, according to the Mayans, the new age begins.
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