With Neither a Bang Nor a Whimper

With Neither a Bang Nor a Whimper

As I type this, my launch model PS4 is whirring unhappily in the background, attempting to reinstall all the data it just lost. Alas, I think the beast is now too old, and while it’s valiantly struggling to recover, it might be time to put it out to pasture and pick up a new one. But, with all that happening, it does mean that I’m typing up a blog for the first time in forever, rather than spending an evening in front of the box. 

2018 has been a fairly okay year. Not the best, but by no means the worst. Work has been fine, Charlie and I have had some nice holidays, I’ve had a great time playing Dungeons & Dragons and AFI brought out a new EP. So yeah, thinking of it that way, it’s not been too shabby. 

Have I really accomplished anything? Well, I DM’d a full D&D campaign over the course of a year! That was pretty rad. I did a bunch of stupid voices and had tons of fun. I actually wrote things for it, too – so, while I’m beating myself up about the lack of a novel draft, I just need to think about how I was developing my skills, working on character, and actually remembering how story structure works. Or something like that. 

Anyway, without further ado, here are the best bits of 2018 in consumable media for me.

 I’ve been reading a lot. My Goodreads count is at something like 50+ by now. Of course, around 10 of those are Hellblazer graphic novels, because I basically inhaled those a few months ago after developing a slight obsession with the ill-fated Constantine TV series (ie Matt Ryan’s pretty face). However, there’s a lot of novels in there – some outside my SFF comfort zone – so I’m pretty chuffed with that. Stuff I’ve loved this year includes The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan L Howard, The Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone, From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty, and Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee. 

As crappy as it is for someone that used to run a music zine, I’ve kind of not paid attention to most music this year, but there were still some gems out there that grabbed my attention. AFI’s The Missing Man is perfection, as always, and Holy Hell by Architects gives me FEELS. The first Good Charlotte album in a long time, Generation RX, is amazing, and Panic! At The Disco’s Pray For The Wicked is a certified banger. But these are all great new releases from bands I’ve loved for years and years. I’m sure there’s been some fantastic new stuff that I’ve heard from new bands somewhere, but it’s flown out of my head and into the ether. 

Video games? Those have been a thing this year. I’ve played less than I’d have liked, but probably more than I should have. Persona 5 was an EXPERIENCE, and I loved Ni no Kuni II’s wonderful fairytale land to bits. Rediscovering Spyro through the Reignited Trilogy was a joy, and basically everything I’ve played on Nintendo Switch this year has been nothing short of brilliant. From a storytelling point of view, video games have had a lot going on this year – let’s have more of that in 2019.

I’ve not watched a huge amount of movies this year, but Avengers: Infinity War made me gasp so loud that the people in the row in front of me actually turned around. Marvel have pretty much hit a home run with everything they’ve put out this year, but Infinity War was something truly special. I loved Coco with all my heart (2018 release date in the UK, okay?) and Pacific Rim: Uprising was big, dumb fun. On the telly, I’ve been ecstatic about getting Charlie to watch anime – particularly My Hero Academia and Aggretsuko – and Netflix did good with the new Chilling Adventures of Sabrina series. Also, Star Trek Discovery. It had its flaws, but holy shit was it great to have a new Trek series. 

For me, the year ends with neither a bang, nor a whimper, in the grand scheme of things. And that’s okay, really. Sometimes, it’s good to just keep ticking along. It’s taken a long time for me to learn that lesson, but my mental health has been all the better for it. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing what 2019 will bring.

New Moon Rising

New Moon Rising

I should probably be ringing in the new year in a pub, or a bar, or at a gig, but instead of dodging vomit and strangers, I’m sat at on the sofa in my fluffiest pyjamas, with The Walking Dead on in the background and nursing a glass of water. I’ve had better nights, but I’ve definitely had worse.

It’s usually about the time of night that I start to get reflective. 2017 has, for all intents and purposes, been a shitshow from an external point of view. Brexit is a load of wank, and the level of fear and loathing spreading throughout the world is something that we need to keep fighting as fiercely as we can. But on a personal level, I’ve accomplished enough to feel as though I made a difference this year.

One of my main goals was to read more books. The thought process was read more books, write more stuff. Well, I was an overachiever when it came to the first part of that — I hit 36 books in total this year, which is a huge increase on the 10 or so I read in 2016. Most of those were books that were in my to-be-read pile, but I delved into a fair few new ones as well. Admittedly, I didn’t stray too far from sci-fi/fantasy, but that’s something to concentrate on next.

I wanted to write more, and to a degree, I suppose I did. I wrote a few more blogs than the year before, drafted a few stories and entered a couple of competitions. I also edited the vast majority of my friend’s novelisation of our D&D campaign (still a few more chapters to go!), which was a great experience and a really worthwhile exercise.

I also branched out in terms of my social circle, joining said D&D group, which was possibly the best decision I’ve made since moving to Cheltenham. It’s the nerdiest shit I could even think about doing, but I’ve made some fantastic friends, laughed until I cried and started DM’ing a campaign, which has been brilliant for my improvisation skills. Our campaign’s still going strong, and I’m excited to see what comes this year.

There are still lots of things I’m working towards. We don’t own a house yet. I don’t have my own little writing nook. But those aren’t too far away. I haven’t written that book, or even finished the little pieces I started working on. Nevertheless, I have ideas, and I want to find my drive. I’m planning on taking up a diary for the first time in years to try and see if I can inspire myself some more. I’m not setting any resolutions as such, but the same applies as most years — read more, write more, do more stuff and take better care of myself.

I usually do a little yearly roundup of things I’ve enjoyed most throughout the year. I’m not doing anything quite so expansive as usual, but here’s a sample of stuff I’ve loved this year.

Records: Creeper — Infinity, In Your Arms; AFI — The Blood Album; Dreamcar — S/T; Kesha — Rainbow; Chelsea Wolfe — Hiss Spun

Video games: Persona 5; Destiny 2; Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age; Mass Effect Andromeda; Assassin’s Creed Origins

Movies: Thor: Ragnarok; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Power Rangers; Wonder Woman; Kubo and the Two Strings

Books: Raven Stratagem — Yoon Ha Lee; Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie; The Bone Key — Sarah Monette; Four Roads Cross — Max Gladstone; A Long Day in Lychford — Paul Cornell

Reaching the Summit

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Okay, so my goal of updating my blog at least once a month really went by the wayside, but that’s fine. While my writing may have taken a back seat for the past couple of months, I’ve managed to conquer a few other things of note, and I need to stop forgetting that.

First of all, I completed a first round of edits on James’ D&D novella-of-sorts. It was admittedly a copy cleanup more than anything else, but good to test my editing skills on proper fiction rather than functional copy (I’ve written and proofed enough websites over the last six months, after all). It was really fun to go back and rediscover our adventure, and a challenge to ensure that I was creating helpful suggestions. Hopefully, stuff I’ll bear in mind for my own drafts moving forward.

Keeping with the D&D theme, I’ve started dungeon mastering. And shit, it is HARD. It takes a lot more effort to guide the flow of the story and act as an enabler, rather than just acting on autopilot. And I’m very terrible at distances and remembering what everything does. All that aside, it’s really fun, and having to think on my feet and develop characters in a split second is a very valuable skill. I’m currently running the Out of the Abyss storyline, and we’re all having a good time. Although I hope that, with practice, it’ll get easier.

Most importantly though, I’ve conquered my initial TBR goal! I’ve read a grand total of 26 books off the backlog and I’m ploughing through even more. I set myself up for 40 before the end of the year, but I doubt I’ll hit that. Nevertheless, it’s been really nice to rediscover my love of reading — something that I felt I’d lost somewhat, and there’s good stress relief in being able to curl up in a quiet corner with a book. That’s something I’ve needed more often than not over the past couple of months. When everything turns into a maelstrom, it’s easy to find calm between the pages.

Plans moving forward? I’m toying with NaNoWriMo, but I just don’t know if I have the time to commit to the endeavour. I’ve still not found that safe space in which to write. More often than not, I just want to curl up with the TV when I get home from work. Winter is coming, and I can’t help but feel the need to hibernate, to insulate myself from the fear of churning out shit that won’t matter to anyone. I’ve less need for catharsis than before — after all, when you have a confidant, there’s no need to veil it all in metaphor. But perhaps winter’s a time for change, and it might be time to push that change up from within.

Currently reading: Godblind by Anna Stephens
Currently listening: Eisley — I’m Still Listening
Currently watching: Riverdale

Summer Daze

Summer Daze

Well, summer’s nearly over. August bank holiday weekend always feels weird as an adult — I guess because I’m not at Reading Festival like I might have been a long time ago? Also, sitting in your PJs on the Sunday burning through Ash vs Evil Dead isn’t really that different to any other night, except for the fact that it’s Sunday and you don’t need to be in bed.

How things change.

However, as the end of the summer approaches, it’s a good time to sit back and reflect. I’m currently 20 books deep in my To-be-Read challenge, which is pretty spectacular. I had a really good holiday, off on a cruise around the Adriatic with stop-offs at Venice and places where they filmed Game of Thrones. I’m also writing a D&D campaign properly (sort of — I started it last week, but hey, I started it) and it feels like I’m getting somewhere with that.

I’m half-contemplating NaNoWriMo this year, even if just to get a start on a book properly. I can’t stop thinking about vampires and superheroes, and I’m not sure that’s a good mix, but I’ll never know if I don’t get the words down on paper. It was great to have time to stop and not think about anything on the holiday, but now that I want to start thinking again, I’m struggling to figure out how to do it. I need to take more walks, listen to more music (and hey, isn’t that new Brand New album really bloody good) and give myself space. I don’t give myself enough space, really.

I still haven’t found a writing space, either. We figured that we need to cowboy up and actually buy a house in order for that to really be a thing. Three bedrooms means one actual bedroom, one music room, one study. I think I need that.

But alas, any thoughts of scribbling will go totally by the wayside over the next couple of weeks, because Destiny 2 is out soon, and so is new Star Trek, and I’m very excited to lose myself in daydreams of broken galaxies and kicking ass. Live long, shoot first and fucking prosper.

Learning to Love the Edit


Full disclosure: I’ve always been a bit of an arrogant shit. The problem is that when I was younger, I was smarter than all the other kids I knew. I’m not being a dick about it – it was simple fact. I was generally good at most things I turned my hand to, but especially anything to do with literature and writing. I’d get entered into harder exams, my teachers encouraged me to do extra reading and assignments, and on the whole, I’d come out swinging.

Of course, when I got to university, that all went by the wayside – no longer the big fish in the small pond, and all that. But that sense of having things come easily to me never really went away. I’d write something and my peers would tell me it was perfect. My tutors would have other ideas, but, on the whole, I was good. (Later on, I would realise that it was true, I was good, but I was never brilliant.) When I didn’t get the top grade, I wept like a spoilt brat. But then again, I had been spoiled. I’d been praised and built up for years, before having it all tumble down around me in a mess of tissues and snot.

I’m a bit more realistic these days. I know that I have to work at things in order to get them to be at the quality I’ve come to expect. However, there’s still one thing holding me back – I hate editing my own work. It’s been ingrained into me for years – I’m the kind of person that gets it right first time, why do I need to go and edit it? I tweak things as I go along, don’t I? Why should I sit down and read through everything when I’ve been reading it for days/weeks/months anyway?

There’s a simple answer to all those questions. You don’t get it right first time so sit down and work at it, you might tweak things as you go but it doesn’t mean it’s finished, and you’re not reading it in the same way when you edit it. So just do it.

Learning to love the edit is pants. It really is. But I also need to realise that my editing is different to someone else’s. I didn’t even realise that anyone had a lighter editing process until the second term of my MA, when David, my non-fiction tutor, revealed that he didn’t really edit much either. It’s pretty much there on the first draft and he just makes a few tweaks. I’m not a (widely) published and talented writer like David Vann and I know that I need to put more effort into my edits. It’s reassuring to know that not everyone needs to pull their work apart and stitch it back together, though. Like everything, it takes balance, and that’s what I’m now striving for.

I thought that I might get a bit better at it by editing someone else’s work, rather than my own, and my D&D compatriot James has kindly offered up a few of his latest blog posts over on Mining the Mindscape, covering our latest escapades (although I’m not sure how many of my edits have made it up there). So far, it’s been a much less painful process than sorting out my own raw drafts and, dare I say it, quite fun. I’m not at the ‘love’ stage yet, but I’m a lot closer to ‘like’ than I was before. It helps that I keep giggling at various bits of dialogue.

With regards to my own writing, I’m working on a few flash pieces – less than 500 words – for fun. Having such a low word count means that each sentence has to mean something, and no word can be out of place. It’s been a good challenge, although I’m still not quite ready to share, and I’m slowly regaining a sense of the joy of writing, rather than it feeling like a chore. I suppose that’s a good place to be in, for now. And eventually, the novel might possibly, hopefully, somehow, become a thing.