Click Click Click

Click Click Click

I kidded myself into thinking I’d be more productive with a mechanical keyboard. It was cute, it had that kawaii aesthetic down, and I’ve always been a sucker for a more tactile experience. So I blew about £120 on a keyboard and mouse set, and another £110 on a printer stand to give myself more desk space… then when everything was set up and done, I thought “wow, that’s done. Great job, everyone. Now I’ll go play some Horizon: Forbidden West.”

The heart wants what it wants. 

The heart also wanted a Snorlax desk mat, in my quest for the perfect office space. So that’s another £20 on Etsy.

(In my defence, it’s very cute.)

Generally, I am trying to be gentler when it comes to my goals. I have a lot going on this year – to start with, a wedding – but I know the positive impact on my brain when I do things that are sometimes a challenge. I went to the gym today, and sure, it was two hours out of my day, but I feel much better for moving my body. So I look forward to giving my brain a workout, too. Last weekend, I managed to get my novel’s first draft up to 20,000+ words, which is probably the most I’ve contributed to one project in… shit, about 10 years? Inside, my rational inner voice is screaming “take the win” whereas the little gremlin that dictates my levels of dopamine is going “yeah, but it took you about 12 months, didn’t it?”

I’m not listening to the gremlin today. 

But maybe, I am listening to the part of me that wants to cosy up on the sofa under a blanket with a cup of tea and a PS5 controller. 

2022: A Retrospective

2022: A Retrospective

Christmas is nearly over so it’s time for my now yearly blog. I moved everything over to a new server a couple of months ago, so I figured I should probably do some kind of update on the state of my life, the world and everything to justify the hosting cost. 

This year has been a rollercoaster. Up and down and up and down again. I got engaged, at Disneyland Paris no less, which is pretty much all I could have asked for. If nothing or, indeed, everything else happened this year, then I have that. And next year, Charlie and I are finally getting married. I get to spend the rest of my life with my person, officially, and even though I never really bought into the whole idea of marriage when I was younger, there is a certainty in it that feels right. Plus, we plan on having a festival-themed wedding with all our friends’ bands playing. That sounds like a good party. 

Work was… I literally don’t even know how to describe it. All I can say is that my stress management techniques have been working extra hard over the past six months – I have a certain affinity for scented candles that I’d never even considered before. I hope that 2023 will be a little more settled. I’m not afraid of change, after all, but I don’t enjoy having panic attacks because there’s too much information swimming through my lizard brain. 

I set many goals, none of which I’ve really achieved in full, but lots of things I’ve worked towards, so I’m counting that as a win. I plotted a whole book, and have about a quarter of it written (the whole wedding planning thing and aforementioned work stress got in the way a bit). I started going to the gym and I’ve lost a whole stone throughout the year – halfway to my pre-pandemic weight. It’s slow progress, but with PCOS, weight loss always is. The good news is that it seems to be staying off, even over Christmas. I’m not necessarily limiting food by any means but I’ve gotten better at making healthier swaps. Also, Grenade bars are life. 

There have been lots of little wins, too. More than I can really count, but after almost two years of worrying about the future and how little of it we might have left, I’m trying to capture the joy in everyday a lot more. For example: I’ve learned how to bake brownies – finally! That’s something that’s been eluding me for about 15 years. I’ve laughed so hard I’ve cried at our weekly D&D sessions. I’ve tried my best to let go of cringe – if I want to write Deep Space Nine fan fiction to make my friend smile (or just because I want to), then I’m going to bloody do it. I saw Lady Gaga put on the show of a lifetime, and I danced. Because why just stand stock still at Lady fucking Gaga? 2000trees was back for the first time since 2019, and I had the time of my life watching bands again. I think the biggest difference I’ve made this year is that I’ve tried my hardest to say yes to things, instead of turning them down in favour of retreating back into my little shell. That said, I’ve also learned to recognise when I’m wiped and I need time to recharge. The past few years have been tough. But I’m learning who I am now, and I’m good with the person staring back out of the mirror at me. 

Anyway, the usual media roundup of things I have enjoyed follows, with the usual caveat that I am slow at discovering things and therefore, not all of it’s from this year. Hope you find something you like, too. 


GLOW ON by Turnstile; Rashomon by Ibaraki; Midnights by Taylor Swift; Cowboy Nights by Blaqk Audio; Eternal Blue by Spiritbox; Fever Daydream by The Black Queen


Silverweed Road by Simon Crook; Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir; The Splinter King by Mike Brooks; The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick; The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers; The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison


Everything Everywhere All at Once; Black Panther: Wakanda Forever; I Kill Giants; Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness; Turning Red


Andor; Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities; The Sandman; The Orville; Spy x Family; Laid Back Camp

Video games:

God of War: Ragnarok (PS5); The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch); Destiny 2: The Witch Queen (PS5); Disco Elysium (PS5); Cyberpunk 2077 (PS5)

So This is Christmas, What Have You Done?

So This is Christmas, What Have You Done?

I’ve survived. I think that’s a fairly accurate summary of 2021. It has not been the all-out catastrophe that was 2020, or even the minefield of 2019, but instead, more of a quiet struggle to keep on an even keel as the world continues to fall apart around me. But I’ve built up some resilience, thanks to NHS-funded therapy and a gradual acceptance that this is probably what life is now, so I’d better make the most of it while I can. 

So in that vein, there were a few things I accomplished this year and a few things to be proud of, believe it or not. 

I finished a D&D campaign that I had written completely myself, based around a dragon who’s poaching significant figures from their place in time and placing them in a living museum. Ironically, I did this about 12 months before the Fizban’s book came out, which would have been extremely helpful, but what’s done is done. I’ve had a lot of fun playing D&D over the years, but this is perhaps the most joyous campaign yet – ostensibly thanks to good company, even if we did have to do most of it over Discord. It also gave me purpose in a time that was sorely lacking it – I needed to write the next chapter of the adventure each week, I needed to be ready to run it every week. There was no time for losing myself in panic when I had shit to do. 

I also tentatively started a novel towards the end of the year. It’s very, very early stages and like many other projects, has the potential to peter out without significant deadlines in place but it’s a start. I took part in the Writer’s HQ Write a Tiny Novel challenge and that really gave me a kick up the arse – I’ve definitely been missing community when it comes to writing. My university days are almost 10 years behind me (and isn’t that terrifying) but I miss having that feeling of camaraderie. I’ve signed up to the 12-month WHQ membership in an effort to give myself some accountability, so we’ll see how that goes. Hopefully, that threat of wasting money (after all, I am of northern stock) will shift me into gear. 

Like many years, I’ve tried to read as much as possible, and this year, I’m up to 74 books, surpassing my original target of 60. Books have always been an escape – according to my mum, I was devouring books with words at the tender age of two – and I’ve needed that more than ever. I’ve mostly read new things, but a few old favourites have cropped up too. I can’t wait for the next Locked Tomb book to rear its head, and I’ve really been diving deep into my Star Wars Extended Universe, because I’m nothing if not predictable. 

Of course there are still things to aim for. We got a cross trainer and while I did pretty well with it in the summer, I’ve gone into hibernation mode this winter, so I really need to pick that back up. I actually need to continue writing the book, and setting myself appropriate deadlines – here’s hoping the aforementioned WHQ membership will help with that. I’ve got better at not staring at my phone, but there’s always more I can do. And it’s all too easy to slip out of connection with people – so I’m going to try my best to keep up with those important to me.

Also, I drastically failed at The Year of the Vamp. Maybe if we’d had more lockdowns and a better stock of videos on Amazon Prime, who knows. 

Of course, this wouldn’t be a round-up without me listing a few of the things I’ve enjoyed most this year, so here’s what I’ve been into in 2021. Obviously, not all of it is from 2021 (Type O Negative definitely) but it’s what’s been getting me through.

AFI – Bodies; Creeper – American Noir; Quicksand – Distant Populations; Hayley Kiyoko – I’m Too Sensitive for This Shit; Type O Negative – October Rust

Podcasts (yes, this is the year I discovered podcasts)
Take A Look Around; I Don’t Even Own A Television; Dragon Talk; SmartLess

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine; Nothing I Do Is Funny Anymore by Rose Damian; The Lady from the Black Lagoon by Mallory O’Meara; the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson; Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Video games
Ghost of Tsushima (PS5); Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (PS5); The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Switch); God of War (PS4); Mass Effect Legendary Edition (PS4); Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (PS5)

Black Widow; Dune; My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission; Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings; Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans

What We Do In the Shadows; Hawkeye; The Mandalorian; Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba; Future Man

The End of A Road

This weekend, I wrote the final encounter of the D&D campaign I’ve been working on since last year. It was a bittersweet afternoon – on the one hand, it feels great to finally reach the conclusion and it’ll be fun to actually put that on the table (in person!), but on the other, what the hell am I going to do with my time now that I’ve finished? 

It’s no secret that D&D has been a saving grace for me over the past two years. As my mental health took a deep dive off a cliff (more about that here), it was one of my key coping mechanisms. Regular routine plus a creative endeavour equals a somewhat happier Robyn. So, it’s understandable that a part of me is a little scared of the current phase coming to an end. Of course, it’s not the end of my group’s game nights – far from it. If anything, we’re finally moving back to in-person sessions, but I may well be taking a back seat from the DM duties to let someone else take a turn.

Throughout the last nine or so months, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that running a game on Discord does need you to step in more than you’d like to move the story along. I’ve learned that dropping story threads doesn’t really matter as long as everyone’s having fun. I’ve learned that it’s okay to throw RuPaul’s Drag Race UK queens in as random characters when your party needs you to invent yet another shopkeeper. (A’Whora, I hope I’ve done you proud as the town’s maverick tailor.) But most of all, I’ve finally found joy in creating things again. 

I’d started to get my mojo back a little bit before the pandemic began. I’ve dabbled in fanfiction since I was a teenager, and I wrote a few video game-inspired pieces before COVID rolled around, but then, it did, and any hope of me writing more – whether original fiction or otherwise – seemed very, very far away. But D&D gave me a deadline and a focus, while also giving me some flexibility, and absolving me of the need for my writing to be anything but fun. The pressure’s off – I only need to make sure the people at the table are having a good time, and as long as they are, then my work is done. 

The campaign may be over for now, but I’ve still got a good number of story threads we can pick up on, should we ever want to return to the city of Phlan. I’ve even figured out ways I could connect it to the new Feywild module, if we start playing that one. When it comes to D&D, the story is never truly over. 

The question still remains: what do I do with my time? Technically, there’s nothing stopping me writing a whole new campaign – I just don’t necessarily have a place to test it. I can world-build, craft NPCs and even write lore around the setting, and when you put it like that, it’s basically writing a story, right? So, maybe every Sunday, I can just sit down and write. It’s more intimidating than D&D, that’s for sure, but if I keep thinking “story” and not “novel”, it feels a lot less insurmountable. 

On the other hand, I have a lot of Assassin’s Creed still on my PlayStation hard drive. Send me creative vibes, please. 

An Open World: How Assassin’s Creed Kept Me Sane in Lockdown

Eivor from Assassin's Creed Valhalla

I’m standing on top of a hill in Gloucestershire – Cleeve Hill, in fact. It’s not the same as the one I see off in the distance every day as I head out for a government-sanctioned walk, but it’s older, more primal. I hear voices emerging from Belas Knap, an old barrow burial ground, so I put my hood up and stalk on over. Bandits are ransacking the graves, so I take my trusty axe from my belt, raise it high and go on to mete out my justice, Vikingr style. In this moment, I’m not Robyn – I’m Eivor of the Raven Clan, and England is mine to command.

Of course, I’m talking about Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. (Belas Knap is an English Heritage site now and probably has security up the wazoo – no bandits about these days.) I’ve racked up about 75 hours of gameplay since getting it for Christmas, and I’m nowhere near the end of the game. It’s virtually all I’ve played for the past three months, and I’m unlikely to stop any time soon. More than any other game series, Assassin’s Creed has been a saving grace throughout the endless disappointments of the 2020s, and without it, I would likely be in a very dark place indeed.

In January 2019, I was formally diagnosed with anxiety, but I’ve been plagued with it all my life in truth. I’m a worrier, and I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t. My anxiety got worse throughout the year as my parents split up and I finally got diagnosed with a thyroid condition after weeks of dismissals from the doctors. I got a virus in the following January that wiped out all my energy, but after I got over that, everything seemed like it was starting to settle down. I had higher hopes for the year.

Then COVID-19 rolled into town and it all went down the shitter. 

Suddenly, faced with this viral threat I couldn’t control, I started Googling every last little symptom I experienced. Work slowed down to the point where I was staring at a screen for hours with nothing to do, having gone through even imaginary bullshit tasks to keep myself occupied. These things combined do very bad things to one’s brain. I was convinced I was worthless, that I had some kind of life-limiting disease and at worst, I would pass it on to my partner who already has a weaker immune system thanks to his diabetes. After numerous panic attacks and a lot of sleepless nights, I finally got my shit together, spoke to my GP and started medication. I embarked on CBT sessions and started getting some semblance of myself back. I’m still not there, but I’m getting better. 

And when I start to fall back into that pit of endless despair, Assassin’s Creed is there to steer me back. I started with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in the summer, a game I hadn’t really clicked with before. It felt too overwhelming when I first started playing it – there were an insane amount of quests, many daily or weekly ones with relatively short timers on it, and an almost endless world to explore. As it turned out, all I needed was a global pandemic. I dove back into Odyssey’s version of the Peloponnesian War with aplomb, sailing from island to island to track down each little dot on the map until I could say with certainty I had seen it all. Each quest is designed to hit you in short, sharp fashion and you can complete a step of a quest, or one of the shorter side quests, in just a few minutes. The dopamine hit was real, and I found myself dipping in for half an hour here, a couple of hours there to feel as if I’d actually done something with my day. As Kassandra, I felt accomplished – a far cry from how I felt as myself. 

In a summer where travel was largely forbidden or dangerous, the chance to swan off to Greece and its glorious islands, even if through a screen, was more welcome than ever. And all the while, I was exploring ruins before they became ruined, strolling through squares and past landmarks that I had seen in real life (I often joke that I was able to navigate Florence and Venice thanks to my extensive knowledge of Assassin’s Creed II, but it’s also a hilarious truth) and soaking up the sunshine on beaches and hilltops inbetween stabbing people with my spear. It was the ideal escape. 

Fast forward to December, and I finally got my hands on a PS5. After blitzing through Spider-Man: Miles Morales and dabbling in Sackboy: A Big Adventure, I eventually got around to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla in January – just in time for Lockdown 3.0. This lockdown has felt different to the others. The first time, we didn’t know what was happening, and while it absolutely knocked me down and spat in my face, I at least had the summer months to look forward to. November’s lockdown was nothing in comparison and we had the promise of Christmas waiting in the wings, even if it turned out to be a smaller, quieter affair than most of us were hoping for. This time, it’s been dismal, cold and dark, so perhaps Valhalla proved to be the right tonic for that. The beauty of Norway in all its frigid glory gave way to a more untamed England, but one that’s still recognisable – so if I could only explore my back garden until Easter, then maybe I could rediscover my homeland from a different perspective. 

My favourite parts of Valhalla have been finding those places I know and love and seeing just how different they are. I delighted in raiding Evesham Abbey – the place I grew up – and seeing what would become my hometown burned to shreds. Traipsing around the Forest of Dean (or Denu, as it was known then) reminded me of how magical it still feels to this day, and gave me a desire to seek out the more hidden, pagan areas of Gloucestershire that I know I’m yet to find. Cumbria, the land of my birth, wasn’t really part of England as the Vikings knew it yet, but I galloped hard across Eurvicscire, seeking the breathtaking view of the dales. 

Some of the game’s most memorable bits are hidden in ‘world events’ – little sidequests that you stumble upon as you roam around the map. They have fixed locations, unlike the time-sensitive quests of Odyssey that could pop up anywhere, but through the world events, I’ve discovered an England like no other. I have met the 9th century equivalent of Keith Flint from the Prodigy, who proceeded to yell ‘smack my bishop’ as I pounded my fists into the face of a particularly obnoxious priest. I’ve brought a band back together after they fell out, springing one member from jail and using my poetry skills to give another her muse back. Axehead might be a favourite of the AC community but I much preferred meeting Degolas the archer, who smeared his arrows with pig shit and gassed out his entire family home, and then shoving him into a much needed bath. 

There have been gentler moments, too, like the game of hide and seek between Eivor and a rambunctious group of children, and the time when Eivor recovered a fellow (dead) warrior’s axe from children playing games with it, thus allowing him to enter Valhalla. Moreso than any other AC protagonist, Eivor carries a measured wisdom alongside her violent nature – the soul of a skald, you could say. It’s in these moments of empathy and care that I feel hopeful. Sure, it’s great fun to go smash some Saxon heads, but little vignettes like this keep drawing me back in for more, if only to distract myself from the cruel world outside. There is always more to find, always more to explore, and always more to lose myself in. 

I’ve already mentioned that excessive Googling of symptoms is one of the things I struggle most with in my battle against my anxiety, and Valhalla has proved an excellent distraction. Not only does it get me out of my head, but it means I’ve got something in my hands that isn’t a phone. The lightning-quick PS5 loading times mean that I don’t have the opportunity to search for anything, and I’ve fallen back on a physical notebook to jot down the requirements for any altar offerings. It’s not something I can do all the time – after all, I can hardly drop work to go and play the PlayStation if I’m feeling particularly twitchy – but knowing that I’ve got that escape ready when I need it is often comfort enough.

I am hoping that this lockdown will be the last one. While I know I’m going to struggle getting back into society when it finally does end, I know that at least there is a place I can go to when things get too overwhelming. Ninth-century England aside, there are numerous Assassin’s Creed games I haven’t tackled fully yet – Assassin’s Creed Revelations among them – so when the stresses of the present become too much, I can leap back into history and explore the world from a different view.