Taking a Break: Why I’m Not Doing Social Media

There was a window of about three years when Twitter genuinely seemed like an incredible, transformative force in my life. I’d connected with a number of people via Facebook, but that kind of thing always felt a bit ephemeral and distanced – Twitter was instantaneous, and immersive, like dunking your head in a bucket of conversation. It was addictive and compulsive, and between 2009–2012 it was wonderful. I made friends, I had unexpected conversations, and it genuinely felt like social media was making my life better.

Of course, things change. I had a rough patch in 2012, and social media played into that a little. It’s also sometimes rough when you’re trying to be a writer, and you’re following a lot of the writing/publishing world on Twitter, and every moment seems to deliver another example of someone doing better than you – getting a book deal, finishing a book, making lots of friends. Twitter started feeling more like being at a very crowded party where there’s plenty of conversations happening, but very few are actually happening to you.

Plus, the landscape of social media has changed a lot in the last few years. There are certain points where I’ll have things that I could say on social media, but I don’t because I don’t want the potential hassle. I’ve seen a lot of toxicity and weirdness, and most of the time I’ve ended up thinking that I simply don’t want it – I’d far rather be a little quieter and less controversial, and not be shouting my every opinion from the rooftops.

I trimmed down the list of people that I followed. Then I trimmed it some more. There were still points where it would make me unhappy – whether it was clicking on a depressing article being circulated on Facebook, or witnessing whatever outrage was being complained about on Twitter. And then, about two months ago, I reached a point where I said, “I’m taking a break.” I wasn’t going to make a big thing. I was just taking a break from Twitter and Facebook, and seeing how long I wanted to stay away.

It’s two months, and I’m not heading back yet. I’ve occasionally had a very quick check-in, especially over the last week – it’s rather like peering through a door at a room that you know is haunted by violent poltergeists – and I haven’t seen anything that’s made me want to go back. Especially in the wake of the EU Referendum, social media is just somewhere I don’t want to be right now. And that’s okay.

To the few genuine friends/acquaintances I’ve made on Twitter and Facebook – it’s nothing personal. This is just something I’ve got to do for my mental well-being. I’ll probably be back on them eventually – but right now, I’ve got enough to worry about in the world. Staying away from Twitter and Facebook is making my mental headspace just a little bit clearer, and making me happier. And right now, that’s all that matters.

Shiny and New (The Website Rises Again)

Greetings from the wilds of Nottingham!

There’s been radio silence for a while, but I’ve now finally managed to give my website a thorough overhaul, so it’s time to do a very quick blog and welcome you to the all-new, shinier version of saxonbullock.com. I’ll be posting over the next week to highlight some of the new stuff I’ve put on the site, and I’ll also be talking a little about what I’ve been up to in the long period that this blog has been inactive. The short version: WRITING WORKING NARROWBOAT FINISHING UNIVERSITY AAAAARRRGGGHHHH. The longer version isn’t quite so intense, but a lot has happened over the last year or so.

I am going to try and update this blog a little more frequently now, especially since I’m no longer as active on social media as I once was (and this is something I’ll be talking about soon).  Any posts that happen here will be pretty short  – I don’t have the energy to pull off 4,000 word treatises on analyses of Doctor Who at the drop of a hat like I once had – but hopefully they’ll be enjoyable ones, as well.

Thanks for dropping by. Look after yourselves. And hope to see you again soon.

After the Ball Is Over… (On Ending the Creative Writing MA)

It’s been a long time since I’ve done an update. In the meantime, a lot of things have happened. Including this:

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I ended up finishing my dissertation early, partly thanks to an incorrect assessment of how long it would take to bind (it turns out I was allowed to get it spiral-bound, which only takes ten minutes), partly because I had some proofreading work coming up and wanted a clear brain, and partly because sometimes you get to a point where you have to stop or go insane (or, alternatively, stop before you drive your partner insane). I’ll be handing it in on the 7th of September, and then that’s it. My MA Creative Writing course is done.

It’s a strange feeling being finished on the course, but I’m proud of the dissertation, and of how I’ve done. Especially in the last semester, I’ve gotten what I needed out of the course, and it’s given me a serious amount of knowledge to build on. There are plenty of articles out there saying why Creative Writing courses are a terrible idea, and I can’t say for certain that this kind of course would work well with everyone. But I was at a point where I needed to learn and gain some confidence, and it has really helped me. I know for certain that I’m a much better writer now than when I started. And much of that is down to the support I’ve had from Emma, especially when I was fretting about what to do for my second round of Fiction Workshop pieces and ultimate dissertation, and was convinced that I had to do something ‘with a bit more weight’, and she told me to not be so daft and submit Bradley & Hoyle, my romantic comedy fantasy adventure romp. I’m glad I did – it wasn’t necessarily the ‘typical’ thing to do on what’s a very well-respected course that’s strongly oriented towards literary fiction, but it got a lovely (and very helpful) response in the workshops, and it finally made me realise that I need to stop worrying about being taken seriously or doing the ‘right thing’, and just concentrate on entertaining people.

I’d never have come to that conclusion if I hadn’t gone ahead with Bradley & Hoyle, and concentrated on the kind of thing I really want to write. And that, in turn, has made me realise that that’s okay. There are things I’m good at, and there are things I’m not good at, and it’d be much more sensible for me to concentrate on my strengths than feeling somehow inferior just because I’m not writing something DARK and LITERATE and PROVOCATIVE. There are people out there who are great at that kind of thing. I’m not one of them. If you need me, I’ll be over in the corner having fun, blowing stuff up and coming up with the craziest ideas I can possibly manage. Hopefully it’s going to work out.

Future plans? Well, I went into the MA considering a PHd (to possibly go into teaching), but my struggles with longform literary essays taught me that maybe I don’t want to spend a large proportion of three years of my life doing that kind of thing. I am still bearing the teaching idea in mind, but at the moment it feels like the best thing I can do right now is work on getting myself published. There’s all sorts of stuff I can do and plans I can make which will ‘unlock’ if I can actually go from general all-purpose freelance writer/proofreader to ‘published novelist’. Even if the novel in question is blisteringly daft at times. There are no guarantees, of course, and I also know that getting published won’t solve all my problems and will also bring me an exciting collection of new problems, but that feels like the next step. I’ve got around 30,000 words of Bradley & Hoyle that feel pretty much finished – all I’ve got to now do is finish the rest of it.

(Before I started rewrites, it was weighing in at 135,000 words, which is far too long. I’m hoping to get it in at somewhere around 110,000. Which will still be the shortest piece of longform fiction I’ve ever managed…)

But in the meantime, I’m grateful for what the course has given me, and for the help I got from the fellow students in the fiction groups, and from the lecturers, especially Geoff Ryman (who was amazingly helpful with his feedback) and Jeanette Winterson (who is an amazing personality and one of the most scarily intelligent people I have ever met). It’s been a wild and fascinating ride. And now all I’ve got to do is sort out paying my Dad back for the money he lent me to actually do the course in the first place…

*gulp*

🙂

 

Update: (7/9/2015) – I wrote the above last week, but didn’t get around to posting it, mainly because despite my sunny conviction that the story was over, it wasn’t. I opened up the dissertation file last Friday to get the electronic submission out of the way… and discovered that the file was corrupted. It turns out that sometimes, using Track Changes on an MS Word document will completely nuke the formatting of the document and, in this case, left me with large stretches of the dissertation that was incomprehensible gibberish. Panic is too light a word for what happened next, and a difficult weekend followed – but it’s all finally been sorted, and after a lot of effort and struggle, the dissertation was submitted electronically late last night, and the physical hand-in will happen today on my return to Manchester. And once again, I have to say a massive thank you to Emma, who offered a tremendous amount of support and help throughout the weekend, and without her I wouldn’t have made it.

And at some point, I am actually going to get to rest…

 

 

News: The Sci-Fi Chronicles (or: Blimey, I’m In a Proper Book that’s ACTUALLY IN SHOPS…)

There is a book in bookshops that has words written by me in it (alongside words written by lots of other people). It exists. It’s in the world. And here it is, in the wilds of Waterstones:

The Sci-Fi Chronicles

I got asked to work on this last year by Guy Haley (one-time reviews editor of SFX who gave me my first break on the mag), as he was editing this massive book on SF and needed contributors. The Sci-Fi Chronicles was released at the start of this month – it’s a big, picture-heavy reference book featuring tons of infographics, timelines and articles on a whole variety of SF, from books and short stories to TV, films and animation.

I’m responsible for fifteen of the articles – I wrote about Battlestar Galactica, The War of the Worlds, John Carter, Christopher Nolan, George Lucas, Independence Day, the Riddick movies, The Thing, Predator, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Philip K. Dick, Doom, Batman, Cordwainer Smith and Flash Gordon. (The ones on the list that I’m most proud of are the Cordwainer Smith piece, the Philip K. Dick profile, and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen article, where I got to do a fictional timeline of the League’s world that was so much fun to write. Flash Gordon, on the other hand, almost broke my brain, as doing a timeline of the original Flash Gordon comic book was more difficult than I ever would have dreamed…)

It’s come out looking very nice indeed, and it’s great to know that there’s a book like this out there that has my words in it. Okay, it isn’t a novel yet, and my words only make up a small percentage of the total word count, but it’s a START, dammit…

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Podcast-a-Go-Go

Quick update time – so quick, if you blink you may miss it. The Schizopolitan podcast may have undergone an accidental six-week hiatus, but it’s back, and online with its fourth spectacular episode, in which my friend Jehan and I engage in wild speculation about the recently announced slate of DC superhero movies coming in the next six years, and what DC’s chances are of getting anywhere near matching Marvel. You can listen to the podcast at the link above, and we’re also now on iTunes, so you can catch up on previous episodes there, and subscribe (the new episode will be arriving there in the next forty-eight hours). We’re having a lot of fun doing these, and more episodes should be arriving soon!

Attack of the Living Podcast

News: my long dormant movie/comic/book/everything blog Schizopolitan is back, and this time it’s in the form of a podcast. I’ve teamed up with my very good friend Jehan Ranasinghe to venture into the murky depths of the podcasting world, and you can hear the results right now! It’s going to take us a while to get used to the whole process, so do excuse some awkward moments and epic rambling, but this first one has been fun, and we’re going to explore the idea and see where it takes us. So, for an hour and a half of me and Jehan talking about movies, comics, superheroes and more, head on over to Schizopolitan – an iTunes feed so you can subscribe to the podcast is in the process of happening, and hopefully we’ll have more content for you very soon…

My Legendary Girlfriend

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Five years ago, my marriage ended.

As a result, at the start of 2010, I wasn’t in the best emotional state. I was coping to a degree, I’d rebuilt my life in Manchester, I’d acquired a new and wonderful bunch of friends, and was doing my best to pick myself up after my first novel had gone through a very long process of consideration by a publisher, only to finally be turned down. Trouble was, I was only just really starting to deal with what my marriage ending had done to me, I was confused and lost about a lot of things in my life at that stage, but ultimately, I knew I had to get used to being on my own. This was how life was, and I needed to be happy with that before I stood a chance of anything else happening (however unlikely that appeared to the darker sides of my consciousness).

I had things to look forward to, though, and one of them was Eastercon 2010, which this time was taking place at the Raddison Edwardian in Heathrow – the same location the con had been in 2008, at my first Eastercon, when my life had been completely different. This time, however, I had the advantage that there were quite a few people I knew at the Con, thanks to the interesting strategy I’d utilised at Eastercon 2009 of getting up in front of a crowd of people and singing “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran as part of a Rock Band competition. It had netted me some friends and acquaintances, and made the whole thing seem a little less scary.

Fairly soon after arrival, I met a bunch of these new acquiantances – Kim and Del Lakin-Smith, Sam Moffat and Paul Skevington – and with them was someone I hadn’t met before, an interesting-looking and attractive girl with pink hair and one of the most aggressively sequinned hats I’d ever encountered. Her name was Emma Jane, we introduced each other, and she seemed like a nice person who’d be worth getting to know better.

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We ended up talking a few times, and were fairly quickly having the kind of fun, rambling conversations that cons are designed for, and which tell you that yes, you’re very probably destined to get on with this person. I did find out fairly soon that she had a boyfriend, who she’d been with for ten years, which caused me to internally shake a brief fist at the sky, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me being friends with her. We were both writers as well, so there was no shortage of stuff for us to talk about.

Friday night, there was a disco. I went wearing the loudest, most ridiculous shirt I own – it can only be described like an explosion in a playing card factory – and Emma was there was well, looking ridiculously sexy while wearing the kind of corset that can be filed under the heading “Immensely distracting”. I ended up dancing with her in that manner that one dances with girls who’ve got boyfriends, and enjoyed the experience immensely while also constantly thinking “She’s got a boyfriend, she’s got a boyfriend…”

We kept bumping into each other. At the big showing of Doctor Who on Saturday night, which was Matt Smith’s first episode, ‘The Eleventh Hour’, I ended up a fair distance back from the screen with a spare seat next to me. And then I saw Emma up ahead looking for a seat, and thought “There’s no way this can possibly work out, someone else will get to this seat first…” but I waved, and got her attention, and she sat next to me for what turned out to be a hugely enjoyable hour that, at least for a while, reignited my fervent love of Who.

There were plenty of other encounters over the remaining two days of the con – including a point where I drunkenly ended an evening by hugging her and telling her “Your boyfriend is a very lucky man,”, as well as on Monday morning, where she helped me out at a point when I’d managed to leave my bag (and my wallet) in Sam and Paul’s room but didn’t have a room number for them, and therefore couldn’t sort out the bill for my room which I was sharing with someone else, resulting in me rushing around in a total panic like a headless chicken. It all got sorted, and I got the chance to say goodbye to Emma, and was pretty sure this was going to be another case of a wonderfully attractive girl with a boyfriend who’d be forever leading me to wistful thoughts of “Ah, if only…”

She immediately friended me on Facebook and Twitter, and there then followed a lot of friendly messaging, as well as plenty of comments on my many blog posts (most of which were Doctor Who-related). We saw each other again fairly soon – at the end of April, we were both at the awards ceremony for the Arthur C. Clarke Awards in London, and got to once again hang out, have fun, and dance together in a way that was definitely appropriate in every single way. Honest. Yes, I may have had plenty of points where I’d call up the pictures I’d taken of Emma at Eastercon, look at them and generally go “Goddammit, why do girls like this *always* have boyfriends?” but I was okay with things. Frankly, I needed all the friends I could get, and if I had a friend who was a deeply attractive girl, well, that was just a bonus, as well as being good practice for the time when I finally did meet an attractive girl who was also, quite definitely, single.

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All was good and fine, and we already knew we’d be seeing each other at Alt Fiction, a literature event that was happening in Derby at the beginning of June. It was a few days before then – probably around a Tuesday or Wednesday – that I was undergoing one of my occasional bouts of melancholy sadness, which I of course dealt with in the most mature way possible by writing a whole load of self-pitying tweets along the lines of “WHY AM I SO ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE WAAAAHH!!” It was daft and silly, and things were nowhere near as bad as I thought they were, and I was in the process of just knuckling down and getting the hell on with it when I got a reply from Emma on Twitter, basically saying something along the lines of “You’re not alone in feeling like this. Details later…” I was wondering exactly what this was all about, when I got a couple of Direct Messages from her on Twitter, which told me that the reason she could sympathise with me was that her boyfriend of ten years – with whom she was living, and who she depended on due to health issues relating to the fact that she had a thyroid condition – had just decided that now was the right time to dump her.

It’s understandable that not everyone reading this might believe me, but my reaction to this was in no way whatsoever one of “NOW IS MY CHANCE!” My reaction was actually one of instant sympathy and concern – I’d only known Emma a couple of months, but we were getting on, she seemed really nice, and also I’d been through a version of the emotional minefield she was about to end up going through herself. I knew something of how rough this was going to get, and I didn’t want her to have to go through it, but if she was going to go through it, I figured I could be the best help I could possibly be.

I emailed her right away, saying how sorry I was, and I made a commitment that on Saturday, at Alt Fiction, my mission would be to look after her and make sure she had as good a time as possible. I’d also be the friend who she didn’t have to talk about stuff with – I remembered how exhausting it was, back when I was splitting up with my ex, having to go through the same rather emotionally gruelling conversation over and over again. So, I told her – she could talk to me about anything, but she didn’t *have* to talk to me about stuff. And that she was more than welcome to just hop on a train anytime to Manchester, and I would make sure she had a fun day out that’d take her mind off things. She was in a really vulnerable place, and I wasn’t going to do anything to take advantage of that – I was going to be a friend, and do my best to help her through this.

When I saw first saw her that Saturday, at the Quad arts centre in Derby, she looked extremely shaky and delicate, like she might shatter if someone breathed on her too hard. I looked after her as best I could – I stuck with her, got her talking, at one point zoomed out to get her water, and did my best to be the ultimate back-up guy. By early afternoon, I could see she was doing better, and starting to have genuine fun, and I also remember accompanying her to the Tesco Metro, and then watching her down a small carton of cream that she’d bought on the way back. It was one of the ways at that point that she’d get energy into her system (before she realised that anything cows-milk related wasn’t good for her), and I just couldn’t believe that she’d actually done it. But we continued having fun, and at the end of the evening before I had to head off to the train, she gave me a hug, said thanks, and I really felt like I’d done a good job.

We e-mailed and Skyped each other lots over the next couple of weeks. I shared details about the various trials and tribulations I’d gone through during my break-up, while she started to open up about how things hadn’t been going well with her ex for a long time, and how she was just going to have to sort out a plan for the future. We were helping each other out, and sharing lots, and going through this kind of common ground deepened the friendship that had already been going well, and we started messaging more frequently. I did kind of notice that I was replying to her e-mails really fast – often staying up late to write them, and then waiting with slightly baited breath for the reply, but I really wasn’t being anything other than a friend. Honestly, I knew it was going to be a long hard road for her, and I wasn’t going to think about anything other than helping her get through the next few months. She was going to need to get herself sorted out and on her feet, and frankly by then, she’d probably either not be wanting a relationship, or we’d be such good friends that actually doing anything to ‘further’ the friendship would just feel weird.

And then, the flirting started.

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It was really quiet at first, and sort of ended up like a War of Attrition – I saw something in one of her e-mails, and thought… well, that does seem like it’s a little bit of a flirt. But it probably isn’t. Getting carried away by that kind of thing wouldn’t be appropriate. But then, I’ve never been one to *not* respond to a flirt – so, in my next e-mail, I very carefully flirted back, in the manner of someone very gingerly dipping a toe in a hot pool of water, ready to yank it back the moment the temperature gets too much.

The temperature didn’t get too much. The flirting continued.

And then, one thing led to another, and about three weeks later, Emma was coming over to Manchester for a visit. Result? I was nervous as hell. This all felt like it was going very fast, and seemed utterly unbelievable, for the simple reason that this had never happened to me before. The one long term relationship I’d had before had started in a very, very different manner (I fell into bed with a girl I barely knew at a party, while dressed as a member of Kraftwerk). The whole “meet a girl you find attractive, get to know her, and then go on a date” thing had never, ever worked out for me – I’d seemingly specialised in finding attractive girls who were often good friends, but were never attracted back. It was just the way the world worked, and being in a situation where a girl I’d been genuinely attracted to for months and had been *certain* nothing would ever happen with was suddenly coming to Manchester for a visit… well, it was more than my brain could cope with.

I can still remember waiting for her on the train platform, that slight nervousness, that sense that we were about to go from ‘Friends’ to ‘A definite step beyond Friends’, along with a fear that maybe we wouldn’t be able to carry on the relationship we’d formed mainly over e-mail, Twitter and Skype. Maybe it wouldn’t be the same in person. I didn’t want anything to go wrong, or to feel the wrong things when I saw her – after all, I’d only actually seen her in person twice since meeting her in Eastercon. And then, among all the crowd disembarking from the Sheffield train, I saw her, walking carefully along wearing a gorgeous black tea-dress, looking nervous as hell but smiling that wonderful smile she had, and I felt like it was going to be alright. We hugged, and her first words after hello were “I need a coffee”, so I took her along to the nearest Cafe Nero, got her a coffee, and then hit the interesting problem that Emma was so nervous that she was barely talking. I coped with this my usual way, by talking nine-to-the-dozen, filling the silence and hoping to God that she wasn’t regretting coming all this way to listen to me blithering like a lunatic. Directly afterwards, I had the sensible idea of taking her to Afflecks, a crazy independant store in Manchester’s Northern Quarter that’s basically as if someone took the entirety of Camden Market in London and squashed it into one building. It’s packed full of crazy fashions, and it proved to be an effective icebreaker, giving Emma a chance to enjoy herself without having to talk too much, and things were a lot easier for the rest of the day.

That was also the day of our first kiss. All I knew was that I really needed to kiss her, and no matter how nervous I was about the idea of doing it, if the chance arose, I was going to take it. I was finding out that while I can be a bag of neuroses and jittery terror, there are also points where I’m prepared to be surprisingly daring. Anyway, we kissed, and it didn’t go hideously wrong. We ended the day back at the train station, and while we didn’t know exactly where this was going, I think we both knew that this hadn’t been a mistake, and that we wanted this to carry on. It was difficult for Emma, because it was so quick – she was still living in the same house as her ex, and would be for the next couple of months, and there was a brief point that evening, when we talked via e-mail, and I realised I might have come on a bit too strong, and I basically made it clear that I hadn’t meant to, and whichever speed she wanted to go at was fine by me. I liked this, I didn’t want it to go anywhere, but I was prepared to wait. What mattered was that she was comfortable with the situation – any raging hormones inside my own brain could damn well wait for a while.

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This is also the point where this telling is going to get less detailed, because one thing I have learned is that relationships gain their own momentum, and that things are sometimes going to happen whether it’s completely appropriate or what everybody thinks of as the ‘right time’. Emma still had plenty of emotional baggage and problems to get through, and I was still nervous about doing the right thing, but we were also pretty much head over heels for each other by that time, and there’s only so long that kind of thing can be held in check. It was around the middle of August when we ‘came out’ officially as a couple, and by then Emma had made plenty of trips over to Manchester, and things were suddenly getting serious and wonderful, and in September I abruptly found myself accompanying Emma to a wedding where I met her family, and one of my overriding memories of that time is simply not being able to believe that this was happening.

I’d gone through eighteen months of being alone, trying to cope with everything my marriage break-up had done to me – and it’s a special kind of emotional pain when you get up in front of the world to say “This is the person I want to spend the rest of my life”, and then four years later have to get up again and say “Sorry, looks like it isn’t going to work out after all.” It leaves you broken in a whole lot of ways, and considering my confidence in myself had never exactly been huge before I’d undergone a marriage break-up, things were not exactly healthy in my head, and the idea of getting to a point where anything could happen with someone new seemed so… unlikely. Going from that to a situation where I was suddenly in a relationship with a smart, sexy, incredibly cute girl with multi-coloured hair and a liking for vintage fashions and Cath Kidston gear, and who seemed to pretty much think I was fantastic – well, it felt like I’d toppled into an alternate universe, as if the laws of nature itself had gone IN-SANE.

I still had plenty of fragile areas in my brain. I was permanently ready for this all to fall apart – I knew I had to be careful, simply because I hadn’t been ready last time, and that had been one of the scariest aspects of the break-up, that I simply hadn’t known what to do for a while. I had insecurities, and Em had plenty of emotional problems of her own, but we stuck together. She moved into her own flat at the end of September, and soon I was visiting her in Sheffield as much as she’d been visiting me in Manchester, and we started talking about the idea of maybe finding somewhere to live together in Manchester once her first six months in the flat were up and she was onto a rolling contract, and while part of me was scared by the idea – my previous experience of living with only one other person hadn’t exactly ended well – the other part of me couldn’t help but think “Well, there doesn’t exactly seem to be a reason *not* to, does there?”

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Winding forward into 2011, and finding a place wasn’t easy. Once we found a flat, in Whalley Range, just a short distance from where I’d been living, every stage of the process seemed to be fraught with difficulty. On the day we moved in, an altercation with a neighbour due to parking our van in the wrong place ended up with me having to call the police, although it thankfully settled down before anything else dreadful happened, and we just had to settle for being jangling bags of nervous tension for the next few weeks. And then, later in 2011, just as Emma was finally in a position to start working on her freelance programming projects and get her income up, she started having a very bad reaction to her thyroid medication which set off a sequence of symptoms and problems that went on for almost an entire year, and incapacitated her for a very long time.

There were some tough times. 2012 wasn’t an easy year for either of us. Things went wrong, life was hard, and there were a handful of points where I started getting scared that maybe fate was trying to send me a message that this wasn’t supposed to work out. I didn’t want history to start repeating itself, and I didn’t want to end up feeling like “This shouldn’t be *quite* this much work,” the way I had done back during much of my marriage. There were plenty of happy times as well, but it’s easy sometimes to convinces yourself that things aren’t going to get better.

And then, much to my surprise, things got better.

Emma’s health mostly cleared up. Her earnings picked up. I helped out by assisting with the writing of an especially bonkers Superhero Name Generator. She helped me out by nudging me towards looking into the possibility of doing an MA in Creative Writing, and I then stunned the hell out of myself by actually getting a place on the course. We’ve had a 2013 that may not have been a spectacular improvement, but where things definitely got better, and we both set ourselves targets for the future. Despite any ups and downs during late 2011 and early 2012, I simply can’t imagine my life without her. The fact that I found her, that everything happened the way it did, that I was lucky enough to find someone who’d put up with me, support me and tell me when I’m being hopeless – it’s something I regularly find amazing beyond words.

There were points where I didn’t understand why the bad stuff had to happen to me – why I had to end up in a situation where I had to reboot my life, why I had to go through a lengthy relationship and struggle beyond all limits to make it work, only to discover that if a relationship is that much of a struggle maybe it isn’t really working. But if that’s what I had to go through to get here, then suddenly it makes sense. It was a learning curve. Because no matter how much things went wrong in my last relationship, part of it was simply because I wasn’t ready to be married, I wasn’t mature enough to be able to handle it right. I had to go through all that, and make mistakes, so that when I got this particular chance, I’d be able to get it right. I’d be able to fall head over heels for someone, and know that they love me as much as I love them, and that we function as a team, and support each other, and help each other through the bad times.

There will be ups and downs. There will be good times, and bad. I’m okay with that. But the last three years has changed me in countless ways, and there isn’t a day goes by that I’m not thankful beyond words that my path crossed with that pink-haired girl in the sequinned hat, and that I said hello to her, and got to know her, and tried my best to be a good friend.

It’s been easy at times to think that I’m the kind of person who doesn’t deserve good things to happen to them. It’s been easy to think that fate has it in for me, and that I’m not destined to be happy.

But I met Emma Jane, and I fell in love with her, and as long as I’m with her, my life feels like it makes sense. I may not be a published novelist, I may not be where I want to be professionally, but I’m with her, and I’m happy, and we’re already building a life together, and I want to carry on doing that for as long as we can, and have as much fun as we can, and make Emma as happy as I can manage.

Sometimes, good things really do happen.

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Fifty Years of Who: Random Thoughts on Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary

Doctor Who Day of the Doctor Matt Smith David Tennant John Hurt

One of the downsides of being so busy is that I haven’t been able to blog about Who’s 50th Anniversary at all. And now that I’ve got the time, it’s over a week later, and it all feels in the past now. So here’s just a chance to put down, in quick style, my thoughts:

In short, I’m happy. My love of Who has been through a very rough patch recently – this year’s clump of episodes was the weakest since the show’s return (I don’t even want to consider the trifecta of disappointment that was Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, The Crimson Horror and Nightmare in Silver), and Moffat’s approach to the series has a whole selection of problems that I feel may be a bit more entrenched and a larger issue than some of RTD’s flaws. However, The Day of the Doctor turned out to be overall great fun – it suffered from many of Moffat’s excesses, Clara is still a 2-D character mostly consisting of perkiness, and the plot frequently felt like it was in danger of falling to bits, and yet it never quite did. It managed to do something genuinely emotional with the multi-Doctor story rather than the understandable coolness of “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to get all the Doctors in a room together?”, and also managed to move the story on in a way that’s probably what the show needs right now. For better or worse, Who is able to keep going because it keeps changing. Sometimes that change is good, sometimes it isn’t, but The Day of the Doctor was a rambunctious bit of fun that mostly captured the best aspects of New Who, while summing up what makes Doctor Who truly unique.

There were also unexpected surprises – like the mini-episode The Night of the Doctor, with the unprecedented sight of Paul McGann returning to the role of the Eight Doctor on TV, and finally getting a regeneration scene (along with an awesome level of continuity references). There was also The Five-ish Doctors (Reboot), a wonderful half-hour slice of in-joke and comedy featuring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and which played like a cross between Galaxy Quest and Curb Your Enthusiasm. A little rough around the edges at times, but hilariously funny and weirdly touching at the same time.

However, for me, it didn’t matter that much how The Day of the Doctor turned out, because my 50th Anniversary needs had already been satisfied by the beautiful dramatisation of Who’s early years, An Adventure in Time and Space. I was misty-eyed within minutes (just the sight of David Bradley’s Hartnell staring with despair at the nearby Police Box was enough for me), and the whole thing was executed with a wonderful amount of style. There were occasional weaknesses early on – especially Brian Cox’s take on Sydney Newman, which felt a little *too* much like the classic cigar-chomping American – and some elements of the story just had to be folded together, or enhanced for dramatic purposes (the recording of the pilot episode was extremely rough, but it wasn’t that much of a disaster). But I can barely voice how wonderfully weird it is to see a story that I’ve known about for most of my life, which I first read about in articles in Doctor Who Weekly and books like Doctor Who: A Celebration, turned into an actual drama, and I was amazed at the way they managed to make it both a testament to the risk-taking that made Who possible, and a portrait of the tragic side of Who’s biggest strength – its capacity for change. From the farewell between Hartnell and Verity Lambert, pitched as a traditional Doctor/Companion farewell scene, to David Bradley being simply phenomenal as Hartnell finally comes to terms with what he’s losing, it was a stunning bit of drama, and the best tribute to the strange wonder of Who that they could possibly have managed.

And if you need me, I’ll be over in the corner, still trying not to think about how the 50th anniversary of Who means that the 20th Anniversary – which I can still remember – was thirty damn years ago… (*weeps for lost youth*)

Doctor Who Adventure In Space And Time David Bradley William Hartnell

The Obligatory (and Rather Belated) Thought Bubble 2013 Post

Thought Bubble was the weekend-bef0re-last – the Leeds Comic Convention that’s ended up a fixture in my yearly schedule – and this year certainly did nothing to make me change my mind about that. It’s the first time me and my girlfriend Emma actually did it as a proper weekend, going up on the Friday night (as the event itself is Saturday–Sunday), and I’m very glad we did, as it made life an awful lot easier. Comic Conventions are always a very different vibe to SF literary conventions, and this year was just as friendly, diverse and colourful as ever, with a large number of cosplayers, and a whole variety of comic folk, from small-scale indies to big-level Marvel/DC folk.

It was a great time, but I’ve got the worrying feeling that I didn’t quite make the most of it. It’s probably the curse of huge expectations – I’ve basically been looking forward to this since last year – and of peaking way too early, thanks to the first thing I did on Saturday being queueing for a while to get sketches from artists Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba – but the con did feel a little broader and less easy to take in this time. The three halls were huge, and packed full of stuff, which made it easy to miss things, and also I ended up frequently caught between considering whether or not I wanted to queue for other artists and potentially get sketches (the first year I’ve tried to do this seriously), or if I wanted to do other stuff like visit panels, just browse, or – rather more importantly – eat.

I’ve ended up feeling as if there’s an awful lot I missed. I did catch the writer’s panel on Sunday, with people like Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Brandon Graham talking wonderful sense about the writing life, and it’s once again left me feeling like I need to get off my arse and try to actually fit some comics writing into my already busy-as-hell life. That was the only panel I properly caught, unfortunately (which wasn’t helped by the awesomely user-unfriendly programme, which was a tabloid-sized newsprint-style magazine, and laid out in a way that made the programme hard to unravel), but while there may have been a bit of directionless drifting at times, I also took in some excellent comics, and got to catch up with a whole variety of friends as well.

It also didn’t help that the mid-con party, which last year was awesome, was this year somewhat marred by an organisational snafu that led to us having to queue for almost forty-five minutes in the freezing Leeds cold, thanks to them not having enough bouncers to cover the venue’s capacity. (We kept being told “the venue’s full” by certain people – only to find there was plenty of room once we got in). Thankfully, I’d brought wine with me that helped keep me warm (and slightly mitigated the fact that I wasn’t in any way dressed for cold weather, having not expected to queue at all), and we did end up having a brilliant time on the dancefloor once we got inside, but things didn’t always feel quite so smooth and effortlessly fun as they did last year, which was a small shame.

However, there were still plenty of highlights – like getting more comics from John Allison, the artist behind fabulous webcomic Bad Machinery, and getting to have a chat with artist Cameron Stewart while he signed and sketched in my copy of his fantastically creepy comic Sin Titulo. I also, in a moment of pure what-the-hell managed to get ace designer and artist Rian Hughes to sign a copy of his gorgeous art book Soho Dives, Soho Divas. And, on Sunday, after having given up on the plan of getting anything else major signed, especially by Brandon Graham, an independent artist who writes the bonkers SF saga Prophet, me and Emma had said our goodbyes and we were literally about to leave – I was in the entrance foyer to the main hall, waiting for Em – when I actually ran into Brandon Graham. Again, in one of those moments of mad impulsiveness, I grabbed the chance to just say “Hello, just wanted to say that I really love your work”, and he actually ended up doing a sketch for me there and then, which also gave me the chance to briefly geek out with him over the pleasures of mid-1970s Doctor Who (a big influence on Prophet) and Blake’s 7. The sketch was awesome, and the whole encounter left me in a complete daze for the rest of the evening – and while there may have been a few ups and downs for my personal Thought Bubble experience, overall it’s just made me even more determined to make sure I don’t miss out on stuff next year….

(I would have included some pictures, but I seem to specialise in taking the least interesting con photos ever. My iPhone 3GS has the magical capability of taking an environment packed with colour and fun, and turning it into nondescript shots of people milling around lots of tables. Next time, I shall do better…)

The Casanova Project: Adventures in Book Design

The minute I found out that custom book binding was a thing that actually existed, and that people were using it to create their own hardback collection of comic books, my first thought was: Uh-Oh. Because right then, I knew I was in trouble.

I’ve been a design geek for ages. I spent a big chunk of the 2000s doing CD mix discs as presents for friends and family – doing them incredibly lavishly, so that they weren’t just random mixes, they were themed experiences that had been tracklisted and mixed together to a boggling degree. (You can see some of my previous work over at my design Tumblr, Discs of Fury). The potential of taking some of the comics that I’d been collecting and turning them into a uniquely designed book that I could design how I liked, of maybe even adding a small section of extras at the back… well, it blew my mind. It gave me lots of ideas, and one of them was doing a collected edition of Casanova – the mind-melting comic book by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. It’s a saga of multi-dimensional espionage and action that’s massively influenced by 1960s cult movies like Danger: Diabolik, and is also one of the most out-there and experimental comic books I’ve ever read. It’s stuck with me a lot over the last few years, and I liked the idea of giving it the lavish edition it deserved. It’s always a bit vexxing when a comic I love gets a half-hearted presentation, or is given a nice presentation but other, lesser comics get something an awful lot better. This was the chance to redress the balance, with something deserving.

And of course, because this is me we’re talking about here, it all got a little out of hand.

Casanova Custom Bound Edition Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Fabio Moon - Front Cover

Casanova Custom Bound Edition Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Fabio Moon - Spine Casanova Custom Bound Edition Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Fabio Moon - Back Cover

 

This is what I ended up with, and it’s a bit of a monster. 12 issues, in all. An 8-page intro section. 4 page dividers between the first and second miniseries, and between the second and third. And then, at the back, 160 pages of extras (totalling the 60 pages of extras that appeared in the first two-colour run of Casanova back in 2006-2008, along with interviews with Matt Fraction, a script, and 30 pages of art by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon). All of which I designed myself, and tried to get looking as nice as possible.

(A note for anyone who’s thought “Hmm- looks like the graphics on the cover are a bit stretched” – you’re right. The bookbinders made a bit of an error with that, one they are hopefully (fingers crossed) going to be fixing very soon.)

I spent a huge amount of effort on this. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to design, and tried multiple versions of the cover before finally getting it right. The back cover took me almost as long, and while a few mistakes were made, a lot was learned, and I know a hell of a lot more about printing and book design than I ever did before.

One of the main reasons I did this was because Fraction, Ba and Moon were all going to be at the Thought Bubble comic con in Leeds that I was going to, which gave me a deadline and also resulted in me pulling out all the stops to make it as impressive as I could. The end result was being able to get it signed by Matt Fraction, and getting a bit overwhelmed with how amazed he was by it (I often get reduced to slightly embarrassed grinning and thinking “Don’t say anything stupid!” in these situations), and I also was able to get both artists to do quick sketches in the front and back of the book, which basically left me in a state of complete fanboy shock.

Casanova Custom Bound Edition Matt Fraction Gabriel Ba Fabio Moon - Sketch by Gabriel Ba

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I’ll definitely be doing this again. Despite some things not going according to plan, there’s nothing like having an idea and then being able to turn it into a physical thing you can hold in your hands – a unique object that isn’t quite like any other graphic novel or comic collection out there. I might just go a little easier on the extra material next time…

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