Do big years sometimes connect?

Take a look at this from Volume 4 of the Paris Review Interviews, one of my heroes, Haruki Murakami:

When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.

Zap! Not a lot different to what I’m aspiring to in 2017, albeit with less of his “good amount of mental and physical strength.” When you spot interconnectedness like this, it’s tempting to infer a cosmic sign, but in this case I’m not quite sure how to make use of Murakami’s advice . . .

(1978 Murakami photo from that Paris Review Interview.)


Writing Big Year: My dirty secret

The broad 2017 timetable is scribbled on the accompanying image. With sixteen chapters to go, the next 5 quarter-years see the following numbers of chapters falling to my pen: 3 chapters in Q1; 2 chapters in Q2; 4 chapters in Q3; 4 chapters in Q4; 3 chapters in Q5.

Why only two chapters over April to June next year? Because I’m allocating four weeks to working through a couple of shelves of books documenting the rise and triumph of the antinuclear movement in the 1970s and 1980s. This research blitz will be tough but I look forward to it.

But something more insidious causes me much stress. Beyond those books to work through, I have unfinished note-taking to do with some slabs of research material. For a number of years from 2005, I kept folders of hard-copy newspaper clippings and journal articles, before I figured it was best to soft-copy everything and take my “writing-ready” notes as the material came in. This backlog of clipping folders needs to be processed. Ditto for some 500 articles (some profound, some useless) over the 2005-2010 period. I have unprocessed material about safety, waste, etc. A couple of long diaries are only partly processed. Old interview material needs to be dealt with.

In short, although nearly all my research material, the mounds of it, has been absorbed, there is still a ton of it to be covered. Much of this work is really quick and easy but the volume is non-trivial. And I’ve allowed no distinct time for it. I’m doing it “on the side,” amidst the more important wordsmithing.

I don’t begrudge this work, indeed it gives me great pleasure to finalise strands of longtime research. The issue is the anxiety. Day to day, hour by hour, what’s best to do: write or clean up note-taking? I can find no easy answer . . .

Writing Big Year: Our dreams buoy us . . .

Deep in a trench of work, let me share a couple of 2017 and 2018 plans with you, just to ease the intensity gripping me. Calling them plans is premature, they’re just wispy wishes, but take a look, I’m smiling . . .

Let me grab some eloquent friends and kick off a review blog. We cover “hot off the presses” novels, movies, and rock albums. We’re dead serious: we aim to honestly inform and excite. As newspapers keep dumbing down their review sections, isn’t it time for something new? Surely we’ll become rich and famous.

Let me tell the world about the history of the sixth and third-latest energy source, nuclear energy. (The first five energy sources were wood, coal, hydro, oil, and gas. The latest energy sources are wind and solar.) Sure, my book relates that history but I’ve so much material, I’d love to share rejected snippets. So far, three generations of pro-nuclear or antinuclear men and women have striven to promote or kill nuclear power – aren’t their stories worth hearing? Surely this blog will render me rich and famous.

2017 Writing Big Year: Research trip to UAE?

In 2006 I undertook a research trip to Finland. No power reactor had been contracted in the Western world for many years until a Finnish company ordered a brand spanking new French design. I had no cachet at all but the Finns welcomed me, gave me tours of the construction site and an operating reactor, and spoke freely. I interviewed those for and against the new reactor, I met politicians, businessmen, historians, antinuclear campaigners, and officials. Even beyond material for my book, the historical lessons imparted by that short visit still resound with me.

Cut forward a decade and there are three “hot spots” of power reactor development in the world. Over a dozen reactors are under construction in China but I decided a few years ago that getting into them would involve so much effort, so many repeat visits to establish relationships, that I wouldn’t even try. (Ditto for Russia: fascinating but impossible for me to gain access.)

In Georgia, down in the southeast of the United States, Vogtle 3 and 4 are the first American power reactors under construction over the last three decades. Clearly of immense historical significance, when building began in 2013, I considered trying to visit, but I felt I knew the U.S. market well and was not sure that the publicity-wary nuclear sector would grant me effective access.

More intriguing even than China and America is the tiny nation of United Arab Emirates. Nearly a decade ago, the oil-rich country tendered the construction of four large power reactors. Out of the 16 states in the Middle East, Israel has plenty of nuclear bombs and a small military reactor, and Iran has a power reactor, but otherwise there has been little momentum towards nuclear electricity. But the most stunning aspect of the UAE case is that South Korea won the reactor orders ahead of the giant Westinghouse and Areva companies. South Korea’s first export sale stunned the reactor world.

Last year I read a wonderful historical account of the development of South Korea’s power reactor sector and capability (“Nuclear Silk Road” by Byung-Koo Kim), and ever since then not a month has gone by without daydreaming a visit. Who knows if it would come off but I’m sure I could present good credentials, and my curiosity is genuine and forward-looking.

I close my eyes now and imagine writing emails, then flying to Abu Dhabi. I picture engrossing interviews. My head spins with the pleasure of trying to figure out the lessons of history, in this case very recent history, for the world’s energy future.

But no. Sidetracking to the latest mammoth construction site would turn this book – the Writing Big Year targets its completion – from the never-ending saga it has proven to be, into a never-to-be-ended quest.

Three big years: Week 1

Most important: I wrote and worked well . . . not quite as well as I should have, but I rose early on six days (slept in once but made up for it) and hunkered down. I rode a bike three days, only 76 kms not 100 kms, but enjoyed every moment and consider my launch a fine one. Jogging was, for some reason, horribly tough, and I dropped short on Wednesday, but I forgive myself. I listened to music all 7 days – carving out the time was irksome but I’m already getting used to that – andsuddenly I’m humming stuff in my head! All up, an encouraging start and the tension I imposed upon myself will, I’m sure, ease over the next few weeks as I get used to a very different way of focusing time.