Wasted Years

This is a revised version of something originally written in 2022 for my newsletter; you can read it (and sign up for the newsletter) at this link.
— Antony


How to make an author feel old, #94 in an ongoing series:

A tweet from BlackMatrix that says: Just finished @OniPress #Wasteland, roughly 16 years after reading issue 1. Book 11 (53-60) is a masterpiece by creators @AntonyJohnston and @Chris_Mitten; the perfect capstone to a mostly sublime run of post-apocalyptic good(bad?)ness. Thank you all for the amazing journey!

Joking aside, this tweet reminded me of that final issue of WASTELAND, and made me realise there's a lesson here that I hope people can benefit from, especially those who may be at a point in their career where they're wrestling with self-doubt.

WASTELAND ran for sixty issues, published over nine years. So sixteen years since issue #1 means that when this tweet was written, it had been almost as long since the series finished as the whole thing took to produce.

That in itself is a sobering thought, considering the trials and tribulations we went through bringing that book into the world. For those nine years of publication, WASTELAND consumed my life. I did other things, of course – it was never a big earner, certainly not enough to make a living! – but I knew I'd never write another series that long or ambitious, so it was always a high priority for me. I regularly had carve-outs written into other contracts to ensure I'd be able to devote sufficient time to continue writing the series.

Such obsessive focus had an unfortunate side-effect. When the final issue of WASTELAND was released in 2015, and I knew my work on it was over, I entertained very serious thoughts that perhaps my career was too. I was 43 years old and had never really had a breakout hit, but was nevertheless already regarded in the comics industry as part of the old guard. I felt like I was still trying to get started, but was too much of a veteran to reinvent myself. Should I just give up? Stop writing altogether? What was the point?

It was... not a good time for me, mentally.

Sheer bloody-mindedness kept me going, as it has throughout most of my life; this wasn't even the first time I'd contemplated quitting, but it was the occasion when I came closest to following through. In terms of creativity and my career, though, I struggled to see what could possibly lie ahead. I felt like I'd had my chance, swung for the fences, and while I succeeded creatively I'd failed to make much impact. For months, the question 'Who on earth will care about anything new from me now?' rattled around and around in my head.

Well.

  • The Dog Sitter Detective
  • The Exphoria Code, The Tempus Project, The Patrios Network
  • The Organised Writer
  • Resident Evil Village
  • Silent Hill Ascension
  • Crossover Point
  • Returnal
  • Alex Rider: Scorpia, Ark Angel
  • The Assembly
  • Eight (!) SILENCAEON albums
  • Codename Baboushka
  • Iron Maiden: The Trooper
  • Soul Music, published in Interzone
  • Watching the Football, A Decent Country, Food by Hand
  • [REDACTED] screenplay
  • And a little movie you might have heard of called Atomic Blonde
  • Everything I've listed above happened after WASTELAND finished in early 2015. I've done a bunch of other spec work since then too, but this is what's actually been published/produced/bought. And of course it doesn't include life events like being elected vice-chair of the Crime Writers' Association, winning the Barker Book Award for The Dog Sitter Detective, or presenting the game narrative trophy at the Writers' Guild awards.

    You literally don't know what lies ahead.

    As I stared out my study window in 2015, dreading the thought of having to learn to write superhero slugfests for a living*, much of that list would have seemed impossible; a bad joke. Yet here we are, because I decided to keep going – to keep creating, and continue hammering away at the world.

    I may not know you. But if you're feeling stuck and struggling with doubt about your career, I do know what that's like, and I hope reading this might inspire you to keep going too. You just never know.

     

    *Some of my best friends write superhero slugfests for a living, etc


    Originally published July 2022.
    Last updated November 2023.

    « Go back to the ‘For Writers’ index