Slush Pile Limbo


A pandemic is a highly weird time to be doing anything significant, as we all well know, because we're smack in the middle of a strange kind of limbo. There was the time before COVID, there will be the time after COVID, but its a real struggle to comprehend the time during COVID because things are changing, right under our noses, and no-one is quite sure how, why, where, or what, and all we can reasonably do is bloody get on with it. This might explain some of the wilder theories, from 5G to mask-resistance - the current situation is just too massive and too nebulous for anyone to get any kind of steady hand on the tiller.

For me, the timing has coincided with two other limbo-states: the final six months of a PhD, and the process of submitting my novel into various agency and publisher slush piles. Both of these things are shot through with uncertainty and unease which seem, in an entirely egocentric-Hollywood- narrative way, to have been echoed by the wider limbo of the pandemic. My projects are, of course, entirely irrelevant and unimportant in the grander scheme, but I can't help but see the parallels. I suppose its not too unusual to look outside the windows seeking personal resonances, especially when those same windows morph into metaphors for lockdown.

Oddly, the novel is also about limbos. Quite literally, the core of it is about the afterlife, and the main character spends a lot of his time making his way through this version of limbo to find and rescue ghosts. This, in turn, is supposed to reflect the 'betweenity' of autistic lives (the idea that autism is neither here nor there, is never quite one thing or the other), and there are various tricks and turns in the style of the book that make it a deliberately unstable read. At least, I think that's what its doing. Reflecting on your own novel is another strange phenomenon of uncertainty.

But listen to me going on. I'm in a 'pitching' head-space, constantly trying to find ways to make the book sound zingy enough to tantalize an agent in the space of whatever is demanded: 250 words, or an elevator pitch, or one sentence, or three words, etc etc. I understand the need, of course, but I can get quite cynical about snappy pitching. Part of me resists the idea that we ought to be able to distill a large piece of work, with all its glorious messes, into a tiny, shiny, shop-front jewel with perfect edges. I've never been so sure about perfect edges. Perhaps that's another autistic echo; a large part of the condition's majesty is its resistance to neatness, even if that involves lining things up in size-order.

I've had a few rejections and a whole lot of silence, but I remain hopeful and positive-minded. My work has always been highly subjective marmite. I enjoyed this recent review, for example, of my story 'Pentameter' from the Shallow Creek collection which goes from hate to love in the space of a few words - I think that sums things up rather neatly. I'm reasonably confident there will be an agent or publisher out there who will click with the book. Just got to keep keeping on.

That's limbos for you. Places to keep on. By their very nature, they will change, eventually. It can't be an in-between state if there isn't a bookend at either side. I cling on to some hope that we'll emerge from this pandemic changed for the better. It might push us towards better community-mindedness, and better self-care. It may well force a few of us to confront our fragile lives and make a positive turn towards something more heavenly. It may be that our own experience with an aggressive sickness will better reflect the same sort of sickness plaguing the environment. Perhaps, after all, we're getting a little closer to the top of the slush pile. Fingers crossed.

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Phased into a weird 90s rave vibe lately while making edits to the PhD thesis. So here's some banging Underworld:

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