I had been waiting a few days into 2021 to post here, thinking there was plenty of time to wish people a better year. Then on January 4th, with Covid numbers skyrocketing in the UK and in many other countries, a new national lockdown was announced for England. Two days later the Capitol in Washington DC was stormed by Trump supporters, with five dead and democracy badly scarred. It is now hard for me to wish people a happy new year when it has started so badly.

At times in 2020 I questioned why I write historical novels when what is happening now seems so much more important. But I hold on to what a reader remarked when he wrote to me about the enjoyment he gets from my books. Kevin K. said, “Knowing that what exists today is an accumulation of what has preceded brings about a better appreciation of life as I am living through it.” Exactly, Kevin. Knowing about the past opens our eyes to patterns that both repeat and transform in the present.

We have had terrible leaders before and we have gotten past them. We have had pandemics before and survived them. I’ve been researching the various plagues that swept through Venice over the centuries, weaving one of the pandemics into the novel I’m writing, and was surprised to see that many of the responses we’ve had – quarantines, self-isolation, track and trace, special hospitals – were exactly what Venetians were doing 500+ years ago. What they didn’t have was a true understanding of how the virus spread, nor the possibility of a vaccine. And yet the city survived and recovered. We will too – from plagues and civil unrest and everything else this year throws at us.

I tend to think of my life being woven into a giant tapestry that extends backwards through my ancestors and forwards into the future. I am merely one small part – a single thread, if you like. That perspective makes me feel more hopeful about the future – about 2021 and beyond – because the tapestry has existed for so long. And so I hope we approach this year with our eyes open to the broader picture we are all a part of. Because in it we can see the way forward. 

Candle flames contain millions of tiny diamonds