I took some time off, for which I will not apologise. A new book - even post-completion - saps much from the author: vague efforts at marketing, bemused autographing sessions and the general sense of shocked vacuum that always follows the completion of a new work are exhausting taken in combination. But I have been using the time effectively: it's like a holiday, the gap between books, a respite from one's own unstoppable creative mechanism. You can't stop it running, but for a short while you can detach yourself from it and let it have its own fun for a bit.
I've been learning to drive. This is something I've eschewed, avoided and generally endeavoured to miss as urgently as humanly possible for about twenty years. There are several reasons for this - my teenage tutelage in driving skills at the hands of a talented but extremely aggressive police pursuit/intercept driver, my pervasive fear that I will kill several children by sneezing at the wheel, my lingering fear of worldwide oil supplies running out the very second I purchase a second-hand Fiesta - but in the end it came down to a simple matter of economics. Lots of job descriptions want a clean driving licence, even where no driving is required for the work. Sometimes you have to swallow your revulsion at the lack of sense in the world and just get on with it.
It's going surprisingly well, actually: I passed my Theory without issue and lessons are progressing well, aided in part (and I almost cringe saying this) by Forza Horizon. One of the many good things about Forza is that, as a franchise, it rewards work: automatic gearboxes, TCS, ABS, animated braking lines and steering 'help' all count as driver assists - to do without these grants lucrative bonuses upon winning races. To not only ditch the auto gearbox but to opt for manual-with-clutch is to join an exclusive club among Forza types, not merely to declare oneself a hardcore gamer but to be someone who gets cars. In the world of Xbox, clutchery constitutes only a properly-timed left shoulder-button press, but the rewards for this - for trying, for really trying to immerse yourself in the beautiful fiction of Forza - are disproportionately generous.
Forza 3 and 4 taught me to change gear at the correct juncture, something that being nagged by a copper in a Volvo 340 (in the most dreadful interpretation of 'petrel blue' I have ever been forced to endure - an offence to my sense of colour as well as my sense of fucking spelling) never managed to teach. I still have a tendency to stall at traffic lights, but that's more through social ignominy than a deficiency of driving ability.
Yes, gaming can genuinely impart useful real-world knowledge. Experience doesn't have to be direct or life-threatening to be useful - even Navy pilots use simulators, after all - and it's possible that novelists get this better than most. I don't think I've ever met a single writer who wouldn't make an excellent detective: to assume the lives of others, to extrapolate experiences not met into genuine reaction and story, to take a fiction and turn it into something true is our holy duty, and greatest pleasure.