The Parting of the Ways: Saying Goodbye (For Now) to Doctor Who

This is an odd sentence to write:
I’m not watching new episodes of Doctor Who anymore.

There aren’t any other shows that I’ve been watching my entire life. Some of my earliest memories are very fractured fragments of watching the night sequences in ‘Image of the Fendahl’ and thinking “Spooky!”, which was somewhere around 1977-78, when I was three. Doctor Who has almost always been there for me – even in the 1989-2005 Wilderness years, when it wasn’t on TV. It’s had more of an effect on my imagination (and my desire to get stories out of my head onto paper) than anything else I can think of.

So getting to a point where I’m saying “Nope – that’s it for me…” is somewhat unprecedented. 

But not entirely. One thing I was taught by my slightly nonplussed initial reaction to Doctor Who’s return in 2005 (I instinctively still want to call it ’New Who’ despite the fact that a show that’s been around for 15 years doesn’t qualify as new anymore) is that I don’t unreservedly love all of Who. In fact, in terms of quality roller-coasters and jumps between episodes I love and episodes I’ll happily never watch again, there are few shows as variable as Who, simply because of (a) its wildly shifting, experimental approach to what genre the show is, and (b) the fact that it’s being astonishingly ambitious on what is, even now, not a massively high budget.

I can’t think of a single season of Who that doesn’t feature one story I’d rank as at least a disappointment or a slight misfire, if not an outright mess. (Even the legendary ‘Gothic Horror’ era of producer Philip Hinchcliffe wasn’t immune to ups and downs). And of course, there’s also the fact that because of this wild variation in style and execution, every episode is someone’s favourite Doctor Who episode (except maybe ‘Fear Her’). There’s a very particular combination of storytelling flavours that I love, and that Who has sometimes been exceptionally good at – where the acting, the direction, the script and even the sound design all seems to click together, and suddenly what could have been absurd or ridiculous becomes gripping, thrilling and occasionally even profound. 

And it’s not a combination I’m getting anymore. 

There is also, of course, the problem that saying “I’m not watching Doctor Who anymore” at this point in history carries more weight and significance than it did, say, if you watched Sylvester McCoy’s first story back in 1987 and thought “This is rubbish, I’m out!” (For reference – ‘Time and the Rani’ is rubbish. Frequently entertaining and occasionally demented, but my goodness it’s a rough start for a new Doctor). With all the much-publicised online ‘rage’ about Jodie Whitaker’s casting as the Doctor, to the complaints about ’too much politics’ and ‘Who is too woke now’, it’s hard not to feel like I’m making a statement just by saying “Nope, I don’t want to watch this anymore.”

Honestly, it’s probably not a massive surprise that it came to this. Chris Chibnall’s appointment as showrunner was news I greeted with a hearty “Uh-oh…”, because having watched both seasons of Torchwood (aka, the seasons before it briefly became good with Children of Earth) and all his previous Who episodes, there was nothing there that made me remotely excited to see him taking the helm of the show. The previous Chibnall episode that I enjoyed the most was S3’s enthusiastic Alien/Sunshine rip-off ’42’, and I suspect much of that was down to fantastic direction from Who veteran Graeme Harper, and that it obviously got heavily rewritten by Russell T Davies. (He did this with virtually all the Who episodes he oversaw – apparently, aside from Steven Moffatt. There’s a bunch of details in RTD’s book The Writer’s Tale about the effect this had in terms of adding energy to an episode or scene.)

Chibnall was responsible for the Torchwood S1 episode ‘Cyberwoman’, which is genuinely one of the most misconceived and painful bits of Who-related media I have ever consumed. He was the man who thought a random, Godzilla-sized, pig-faced demon stalking the streets of Cardiff was a good season finale. And while Torchwood S2 was an improvement, and actually qualified as ‘watchable’, that was about as good as I could say for any Chibnall episode of Who. They’re watchable. They’re sometimes pretty good. There are some good ideas. Sometimes they hold together. Oftentimes they don’t. (S7’s The Power of Three is a good example – an episode that’s a collection of nice vignettes but which never becomes more than the sum of its parts.)

So, I went into S11 with very mixed feelings. And I watched it all. And after ‘Rosa’, which was an episode which I properly liked (while still having flaws), I waited for another example of an episode that clicked for me, and which felt like it was tapping into the flavour of Who that properly felt like Who. And I waited. And I waited. 

It was around last year’s New Year special, ‘Resolution’ – in which a supposedly dramatic confrontation with a Dalek is resolved with the aid of a household microwave oven that one character just happens to be carrying around – that I started to suspect that the show had broken for me. And the opening two-parter, ’Spyfall’, proved it. I was so disheartened, so annoyed, and so generally dispirited by what I’d watched by the end of episode 2 that I finally reached the point where there just didn’t seem any point going on. (Especially since Chibnall’s big overall idea for this series seems to be “Hey, remember when the Doctor was a traumatised lonely outsider without a home? Why don’t we just do that again?”) There’s fandom, and then there’s watching something out of habit when you know there’s an almost 95% chance that you’re simply not going to enjoy it.

The specific reasons why I’m bowing out of Who for now are:

1: The storytelling. It’s just *so* sloppy. Who has always had a pretty loose attitude to logic, but most of the episodes of Chibnall’s era have fallen into the pattern of being a collection of interesting ideas with little to nothing holding them together. Even ‘It Takes You Away’, an episode which had some people declaring it the best in years, felt like three fifteen-minute shorts welded together at random. And Spyfall just took this to the maximum – I’m a Who fan, and I’d have difficulty explaining why almost *anything* in that story actually happened. (Like, why exactly did the villains need to store quite so much data? And what were they going to do when they ended up with a planet full of comatose bodies?) Added to which, the episodes mostly feel like they lack energy and punch, with a more muted approach to humour and characterisation that really makes me miss Moffat and RTD’s takes on the show – they could very often slip up, but at least they actually kept you wanting to watch.

2: The Doctor. I will happily admit that, as a four-decade fan of the show, there’s probably part of my brain that still rebels slightly at the idea of a female Doctor in a way that someone starting to watch the show now wouldn’t feel – but I really don’t have a problem with the idea of a female Doctor. Hell, the moment that Missy showed up, it was just inevitable that we would get a female Doctor. I just don’t like Jodie Whitaker as the Doctor. 
It feels like a more extreme version of the issues I had with Chris Eccleston – I think he did a great job, but there were certain aspects of the character that he was better at than others, and the Ninth Doctor never felt like the Doctor to me in the way that Tennant as the Tenth eventually did (or like Matt Smith managed within about five minutes in ‘The Eleventh Hour’). It very often felt like someone trying really, *really* hard to be offbeat and strange (whereas someone like Tom Baker managed to make the Doctor’s strangeness feel utterly effortless), and that’s my main problem with the Thirteenth Doctor. It doesn’t really feel like there’s any connective tissue between, say, the Capaldi and the Whitaker version – to me, Thirteen feels like an over-enthusiastic children’s TV presenter who really wants everyone to know how quirky she is. I don’t begrudge anyone who likes her as the Doctor, but she isn’t someone who I’d want to go travelling through Time and Space with.

3: The companions. By the end of Spyfall, I’ve watched fourteen episodes with the current TARDIS team, and I still don’t know them that well. There’s a reason why the show mostly stuck with a Doctor/single companion setup over the years, because the more characters, the more you have to find things for people to do. There have been a handful of nicely played moments with Bradley Walsh as Graham (at least, up until that utterly unfunny ‘Laser Shoes’ scene in ‘Spyfall’), but with Yaz and Ryan I still don’t feel like I know them beyond the kind of details that would fill two sentences on Wikipedia. Plus, the show seems to have backed off from the idea of the companion as a co-lead – instead, they’ve been used in a very early-1980s style purely as audience surrogates and people whose job is to ask “What’s going on, Doctor?” and quietly listen as the Doctor abruptly remembers another massive chunk of exposition in order to paper over the cracks in the plot. Trimming the cast down just by one would immediately give the remaining cast more screen time, and probably benefit the show immensely – but they seem to be committed to the whole ‘TARDIS team as family’ thing, so, like most of the aspects of the show I don’t care for, they don’t seem to be going anywhere in a hurry.

(And as a sub-note: I don’t have a major problem with the more ‘educational’ bent of some of the stories, just in the way that they’ve been weighted in the overall tone of the show. Like I said – I liked ‘Rosa’, and I thought it took on the potentially tricky subject of racism and prejudice really well, in a way Doctor Who had never managed before. I just wasn’t expecting them to then do another heartfelt exploration of historical prejudice two weeks later (‘Demons of the Punjab’), and then follow that up with yet another one two weeks after that (’The Witchfinders’, which admittedly was far more Trad Who at the same time). It honestly did feel like a bit much, especially in a show that usually prides itself on shifting gears and genres every episode. Plus, it’s also worth remembering that yes, Doctor Who did start life as a semi-educational show (especially in its pure historical stories), but that side of the show was phased out after 1966 because audiences were getting bored and not watching anymore. It doesn’t mean you can’t do that kind of story – just that it maybe needs to be more balanced than what they managed in S11). 

So that’s why I’m politely backing away from Who for now. I’ve been close before – there was a lot of S2 of New Who that I didn’t like, and the one-two punch of ‘Love and Monsters’ and ‘Fear Her’, followed by the fun but *really* OTT climax of ‘Army of Ghosts’ and ‘Doomsday’ had me seriously wondering if my time with the show was over – but it’s not like this era is going to last forever. Doctor Who’s one constant is change – there was always likely to be a point where the show turned into something I really didn’t care for, and it isn’t like the episodes I love have gone anywhere.

Honestly, making this decision has been a bit of a weight off my mind – especially as two episodes have already aired since I made the decision and I feel no need to watch them. With Chibnall at the helm of the show, there’s the possibility that this ‘pause for reflection’ might last quite a while – at least for the rest of Jodie Whitaker’s run, most likely. It’s certainly going to take a lot to persuade me back (especially since almost all the mainstream reviews of ’Spyfall’ were bewilderingly positive). But there’s so much good and interesting TV out there, it’s not like there’s going to be a lack of things to watch. Plus, it’s making me want to write again, to channel my thoughts into getting something positive out into the world, rather than watching something which is 95% likely to just have me thinking negative.

The TARDIS can just go on without me for a while. I’m sure the show will cope without me. And I’m pretty sure that one day, something will call me back, and my adventures in Time and Space will continue. 

Until then, Who will remain my favourite show that I don’t watch anymore. And hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, that will change.

Convention Schedule (or: Everybody’s Doing It, So Why Can’t I?)

A quick update (for anyone who’s interested):

I’ve spent the last couple of months rewriting my current book. I’m 80% done with a draft. The last 20% is probably going to be hard as hell, but it’s nice to be almost there.

I won’t be getting much done in the next couple of weeks, because the 10 days of Convention Insanity (which I’ve been watching approach like a custard pie flying through the air towards me) finally arrive at the end of this week.

From the 8th of August to the 11th of August, Emma and I are at Discworld Con 2014. It promises to be great fun – I’ve heard very good things about Discworld Cons in the past, and it’s happening in Manchester, so we finally get to go to a con and sleep in our own bed. I am also DJing the Saturday night party – my first time ever – which is going to be a very interesting and hopefully fun experience, as long as I don’t get lynched thanks to my absolute refusal to play ‘Star Trekkin” by The Firm (I’ve been to one too many con discos where that’s been played, and my only response is NOT ON MY WATCH).

On the 12th of August, we’re not doing anything. Yes, I was surprised too. (Although by ‘not doing anything’, I mean we’ll be frantically getting our stuff sorted and our clothes clean while also doing our best to recover from Discworld Con).

Then, on the 13th of August, we’re off on the train to London for six days, and the mind-juddering experience that is going to be LonCon 3, otherwise known as Worldcon 2014, the biggest con in the SF calendar. I’ve never been to a Worldcon, mainly because they’re usually held in easy-to-get-to locations like Denver or Tokyo, and this Worldcon is on course to the biggest ever, with a current membership of around 9000 people. (That’s four times the size of the biggest con we’ve ever been to). It’s going to be fascinating and strange and a little boggling, and the programme is so terrifyingly huge that I’ve barely got my head around what I’m going to be catching (there’s very few hours of the day where there aren’t at least eleven different things happening AT THE SAME TIME). But, for anyone who wants to know, I’m going to be on three panels! And my schedule runs like this:

1: 2014 Hugos: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Saturday 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 13 (ExCeL)

The nominees for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form, are:

An Adventure in Space and Time written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough (BBC Television)

Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Television)

Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Televison)

The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot written & directed by Peter Davison (BBC Television)

Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)

Orphan Black: “Variations under Domestication” written by Will Pascoe, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space / BBC America)

But which should win? Our panel will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the nominees, try to second-guess the voters, and tell you what else should have been on the ballot.



2: The Seriousness Business

Sunday 18:00 – 19:00, Capital Suite 16 (ExCeL)

Perhaps the two most critically acclaimed SF series of the last decade are Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones, and in each case the most common reason for that acclaim is their supposed seriousness: here are SF and fantasy with depth and darkness. Why is this the kind of genre material that the mainstream has embraced? Does the presumed “realism” of this approach hold up to scrutiny? Has seriousness become a cliche? And to what extent do these shows, and their imitators, tell original stories, and to what extent do they reinscribe a normative straight white heroism?




3: You’ve Ruined It For Me

Sunday 19:00 – 20:00, Capital Suite 3 (ExCeL)

Screen adaptations of genre works are big business, and fan conversation about them often revolves around issues of accuracy and deviation. But what are the other discussions we could be having about the relationship between novel and film? How does our experience of an adaptation shape the way we read a particular book, whether for the first time or on a re-read? Is it possible, any more, to talk about The Lord of the Rings without reference to Peter Jackson? Are ‘book purists’ too defensive against what is, after all, simply someone else’s reading of a work with a budget, or do blockbuster adaptations carry a popular cultural weight that makes them hard to escape?



Yes, two consecutive panels. On Sunday night, when the con will have already been going since Thursday, and I’ll probably be fighting off serious levels of exhaustion. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

So, that’s the next couple of weeks we’ve got in store. And when we get back, I’ve got a birthday happening, and any rumours that I might be turning 40 are all bald-faced lies that have been spread by obvious communist sympathisers. In between recovering from the con, I’ll be celebrating relatively quietly and will definitely not be 40. Glad I was able to clear that up.

I’ve also got another creative project that I’ll hopefully be able to announce in the next few days, as long as luck and technical issues are on my side. But until then, all I can do is look at the next couple of weeks and try not to go “Wibble”…

Messing About in Boats

(Okay, this a big life-related news update. The short version is: my girlfriend and I are planning a very big change in our lives over the next couple of years. If you want to know exactly what that change is, read on…)


Canal Boats

Major life decisions often arrive through very unexpected directions.

Emma and I have been living together for three years now – we’re both freelance, neither of us earn a great deal of money, and we’ve both known for a while that the likelihood of us being ever able to own a house is not ideal. We’re freelancers, so if we were to get a mortgage, we’d need a 40% deposit, and considering how ridiculous house-prices are at the moment, we’d be talking somewhere in the region of £50,000 if we wanted to own somewhere that wasn’t either tiny or in need of a terrifying amount of work. That would take us a long time. Owning somewhere has always felt like an odd, nebulous concept for me – I don’t like renting and find moving tremendously stressfull (thanks to a variety of house/flatsharing adventures in my twenties) but my life hasn’t really given me other options so I basically figured I’d have to put up with it. For Emma it’s different – she owned a house for a while, and then after her break-up was catapulted back into the rental world, and the aftershocks of that get to her a lot.

It hasn’t helped that my MA Creative Writing course means we have to stay in Manchester until about September next year, and that we can’t afford to move anywhere nicer. The flat we’re in at the moment isn’t bad, and does have plenty of plus-points, but we’ve been here long enough that the minus-points (the lack of direct sunlight, the distance from the shops) are getting very repetitive. I’m pretty good at putting my head down and shouldering through difficult times, sometimes to my detriment, but it’s been harder for Emma, and at the start of this year she ended up very depressed about our situation, and looking into ways of ‘getting off the grid’ and living in a more self-sufficient way.

When she first mentioned the friend of hers who lives on a narrowboat, I took it in, but it was one of the many possibilities, hypotheses and general dreams she was throwing around. “It’d be awesome to live on a boat,” she said, and it sounded like the working definition of one of those things other people did. Hell, I didn’t even know that much about canal boats (Emma knows a little – she went on a few canal trips on her grandfather’s cruiser when she was younger). She then mentioned the concept of ‘continuous cruising’ – that if you buy the right licence (for about £800), you don’t have to pay for a boat mooring as long as you keep moving every two weeks (and as long as it’s a definite journey of progression, not just going back and forth between two points). And then she mentioned that a wide-beam canal boat that was 10ft wide and 60ft long would (if we could get ourselves to a point where we could afford one) actually have as much space in it as our current flat.


That gave me pause for thought – at least, for a moment. Yes, it’s true that we’re both freelancers so we’re not technically tied to any one place, but it really didn’t seem workable. And it was way too much of a leap. Plus, my work as a proofreader is pretty much dependant on having a postal address. And then there was the internet, which neither of us would be able to function without.

Game over.

Or so I thought.

You see, the idea wouldn’t go away. One of the downsides of the apartment block we live in is that one of our neighbours got into a deeply unpleasant shouting match with us on the day we moved in, thanks to us comitting the cardinal sin of parking our moving van in the wrong place for too long. (It was one of those situations where even apologising straight up didn’t help – they just wanted to argue and complain, and then things spiralled…) Thankfully, we’ve never had any trouble with them since, but much of the first year here was tense (they haven’t moved out, sadly), and it’s frustrating that there’s always the chance of running into them in the corridor, even if it’s just for a moment. And of course, even if we owned a house, we wouldn’t be able to choose our neighbours. We’d have to cope with the situation as best we can.

That was the first penny that dropped – that if we lived on a boat (and I knew at that stage it was a very big ‘if’), we wouldn’t have to worry about neighbours that much. If we didn’t like an area, or the people, we could just start the engine and go somewhere else. The idea of not being limited by where we are – that was extremely seductive. That, and the idea of being quite that close to wildlife. I bounce between being a city person and a country person, but I grew up in the country, and there’s a lot about the idea of being able to lurk around rivers and canals that appeals. Hell, there’s something about just walking next to a large body of water that I find instinctively relaxing.

There was also the fact that once you’re past the intimidating set-up costs, the day-to-day cost of living on a canal boat is surprisingly small. It varies, of course, and there are certain costs you can’t avoid relating to the upkeep of the boat, but we were suddenly looking at our general living costs reducing by a factor of over 70%, if we went ahead and did it. Given that we’ve been surviving on a small amount of money for a while, being able to do that in a situation where after a certain amount of time we’d be able to save significant amounts of money was… tempting. Even if it meant taking up a life with its fair shair of downsides, inconveniences and lack of certain luxuries it’s easy to take for granted, the temptation was there. Plus, being in a situation where massive chunks of money weren’t simply going into the landlord’s pocket? Being in a situation where we’re only beholden to ourselves, where we own the place we live, even if it’s a relatively small boat? Again: temptation.

Also, I did a little looking, and it turns out that Satellite Internet is a thing, and can pull off some fairly decent data speeds if you have the right kit. It isn’t exactly fiber-optic speed and I won’t be watching a massive amount of streaming video, but it’s enough for us to be able to do what we need. Plus, it turns out that there are options for postage – there are post forwarding services especially designed for continuous cruisers, plus there’s the ‘Post Restante’ services where a large number of Post Offices will let you have stuff delivered to them. Even some marinas will let you do that – and while there’ll be complications and problems, these discoveries shifted the needle closer to the ‘Not Entirely Impossible’ level.

So, we started talking. Seriously. Just in a theorising, hypothetical way, but we sat down and discussed possible ways of doing it. We also started going for walks around the canals in Manchester, places I’d never really explored before, and it turns out there’s a whole other world tucked away from sight, a world that’s surprisingly peaceful (even if it does have a few scuzzier areas as well – the joys of built-up metropolitan areas). We started looking at canal boats parked in marinas, in a slightly-more-serious way.

And, slowly but surely, the idea became real.


We still haven’t hit a point where we’ve thought “No, there’s no way we can do this.” There are some serious mountains to climb, and some things we really need practice at – research is great, yet practical experience beats it – but we have a plan, and we’re approaching this in the frame of mind that this is something which is actually happening. On the budget we’re on, which is not huge, we’re going to have to start on a narrowboat, which means (a) not much room so some serious life-downsizing will be happening, and (b) we will be able to go anywhere – the entire canal network will be open to us.

This map of the canal network will give you an idea of exactly how many places that is, and part of what’s seriously appealing about this concept is that we would be able to have so many choices and so many places to explore. I’ve always had a certain level of wanderlust – there’s something immensely satisfying about just choosing a direction and seeing where it takes you – and I really like the concept of making that my life.

Plus, if we can make this work, we can get ourselves to a point where we’re debt free. It will take years – we’re already theorising that once we’re on a narrowboat, we’d probably have to stay on one for about five years to make it completely worth our while, and that’s a hell of a commitment. But I’ve got various responsibilities and things I need to pay back that I’ve never really been able to because I’m functioning on such a small income (and because, honestly, I chose a really difficult path in life that I knew only had a small chance of netting me BIG MONEY.) Living on a boat should make this work – we’ll be living much smaller, but we’ll be able to make the money we’re earning stretch a lot further. Going for a holiday – an actual, let’s-go-somewhere-sunny holiday – will not be an impossibility.

And, because we’re planners, and it’s hard to stop a snowball gaining momentum once it’s tumbling down a mountainside, we’ve got some long term ideas as well. Once our debts are paid off (including the debts we’ll probably have to take on in order to make the boat happen), we’re going to start serious saving. Because yes, we could build up enough money to finally be able to buy a house somewhere, if the housing market doesn’t somehow continue its ridiculous upward swing. But the idea we like at the moment is that if we save enough money, we could upgrade to a bigger boat. Either a wide-beam canal boat (which can be 10-12 feet wide, which makes a massive difference from the 7ft width of a Narrowboat), or an actual Dutch Barge – and the advantage of a Dutch Barge is that if you get the right type, they’re seaworthy, which would mean that while we’d be limited to certain canals on the UK Network, we’d be able to go to Europe and explore the canals there. The amount of places we could explore would exponentially increase, and I like the sound of this.

Are there downsides? Hell yes, there are downsides and issues and lots to learn about. I’ve certainly discovered more about plumbing and toilets in the last few months than I ever wanted to know, and aspects of living on a boat are going to take a *lot* of getting used to. This is not a lifestyle that’s for everyone, and while there’s a certain “This sounds fantastic, we have to find a way of making this work!” attitude to us right now, we are also realising that this isn’t something we’ve done before. That kind of change is scary as hell, and I’m sure when this actually happens, I’ll be bouncing between insane excitement and soul-crushing dread that I’ll suddenly be thinking “Oh God, I’ve made a huge mistake.”

Is it possible that one day I’ll look back at this and go “What was I thinking?” Maybe. But I’ve rebooted my life twice now – once when I moved to London in 1995, and again when I moved to Manchester in 2008 – and this time, I wouldn’t be doing it alone. Plus, I’d rather know that we tried it and it didn’t work out, than stay trapped in the same situation, hoping that something will come along to make life better, when often it doesn’t. Often, you’ve got to find a way to make it happen.

Emma on a canal boat

We’ve been onboard plenty of narrowboats in the last three months, especially thanks to Crick Boat Show in late May, and various visits to marinas. We’ve seen beautifully designed, cleverly fitted-out boats that make a brilliant use of maximising the available space on a narrowboat. We’ve also seen some frighteningly tatty boats that often display horribly 1970s decor and furnishings, often look glum and depressing, and are sometimes borderline dangerous (including one which was in such a state we nicknamed it ‘Death Boat’ while we were onboard). It’s helping to get an idea of what we want, what we can afford and what’s actually acheivable, and Emma has been engaged in playing with various design programs to maximise what we can actually fit on our ‘ideal’ boat.

So. The plan:

We’re staying in Manchester until my course is finished. Once I get past May 2015, I’ll be working on my dissertation, and I haven’t completely ruled out the idea of leaving Manchester a little earlier if I feel like I can cope with it… but this course is important to me, and I don’t want to risk messing up my most important project if I can at all avoid it. The dissertation hand-in is at the beginning of September, so the latest I’d like to be out of Manchester is the end of September 2015. That’d also be my 7th anniversary of arriving in Manchester, so there’s a nice bit of synchronicity.

The plan is that we will move to Nottingham for about six months or so. Emma’s family is based in Nottingham, it’s cheaper to rent there than in Manchester, and it’ll give us a nice base from which to start the major prep work. Because, as long as we can make the budget work, what we want to do is start from scratch on a boat. Buying a second-hand boat and doing it up is a possibility, and we’re not ruling it out, but there would be major compromises in doing it that way – we’re developing a clear idea of what we want, and if we’re going to be living on this boat, we’d like to get as close to what we want as is possible.

(One of the biggest stepping stones is the simple fact that I won’t be able to take that much stuff on the boat, which is going to involve downsizing a LOT. This is another advantage to the two year plan, and not moving until mid-2015 – it gives me the time to do this right. And while some of this downsizing is going to be difficult (especially not being able to buy new physical books or comics unless I can really, really justify it), a lot of it is making me realise exactly how much stuff I have, and exactly how much stuff I don’t use. We are budgeting for some long-term storage if we need it, but even so we’ll need to keep it as small as possible, and I will be whittling my book and comic collections all the way down to the stuff that’s really important. Some of it I’ll miss, but I don’t want the stuff I own to end up owning me. I love having things – especially physical books, and physical comic books – but I don’t want them to be a burden, and I don’t want them to prevent me from following the life I want to live.)

We’re taking the harder route: the plan is to buy a ‘Sailaway’, essentially a hull with insulation and an engine in it, and fit it out ourselves. This is going to require LOTS of work, alongside learning about carpentry, getting advice, trying stuff out. Emma has more experience at this kind of thing than I do, but we both know this is going to be a hell of a lot of work, hence the six months in Nottingham. (We’re also doing it that way because we don’t really want to start life on the boat heading into winter – life can be tricky on a boat in winter, especially if it drops below freezing, and we’d rather have a bit of acclimatisation before tackling the bigger problems).

If everything goes according to plan, and hopefully it will, by April 2016 we’ll have our own boat, and by around May/June 2016, we’ll be on our way.

Are there things that could go wrong?


Will I have to make compromises?

Oh yes.

Am I letting that stop me?

Hell no.

There will be ups and downs, I’m willing to live with that. But there’s been too many times over the last few years where I’ve let my lack of self-confidence stop me from doing things, or where I’ve judged myself according to what others think (or, more often, what I think they’ll think). I may never get exactly the kind of life I want from trying to be a writer. There may be a lot more disappointment on my way. But, considering I’m only a couple of months from being 40 years old (*sobs at the vanishing of youth*), I want to try and find ways of making my life as interesting and varied as possible. And if I need to remix my life so I can do that on a limited budget, then that’s what I’ll do. I’ve got a wonderful companion in Emma, and we’ve got somewhere we want to go, so we’re going.

Either way, you’ll be hearing more about this on the blog.

Big changes are coming.


And we feel pretty good about them right now…


New Frontiers (The Creative Writing M.A.: Half-Time News)

Time sometimes moves uncomfortably fast. It doesn't seem like that long ago that it was late August 2013, and I was getting myself ready for the adventure that was going to be my first year on my Creative Writing M.A. at Manchester University. And now, due to the way that being a part-time student works… I'm done until September.

Basically, full-time students do two semesters (with two course 'modules' per semester) followed by a dissertation, while people like me only have to do one 'module' per semester, and get the summer off. It does mean that because of how the course is divided up, I'm not actually doing any course-related creative writing work until January 2015, but otherwise I've got the summer to work like crazy on earning money and getting my current book project in better shape.

Things I have learned:

1: I love libraries – proper, full-on academic libraries that you can get lost in, and where you need to know exactly what you're looking for otherwise you'll never find it because BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS. If there's one thing I'm going to seriously miss once the course is over, it's this.

2: Reading a book a week is heavy going – at least, it is when they're heavyweight examples of Contemporary Fiction, and many of them weigh in at 500 pages. Anyone thinking “Ha, a book a week doesn't sound too much like hard work”, go and read GB84 by David Peace (500 pages of aggressively modernist fiction about the Miners' Strike) and then we'll talk, okay? There were plenty of points in Semester 2, where all I was doing was reading stuff for seminars, when I was regularly thanking God that I was doing the course part-time. If I'd been doing fiction workshops as well, my brain may have exploded.

3: I'm a better writer than I thought I was. (But then, considering how my brain works and how I often have a ridiculously low opinion of myself, that isn't exactly hard). But seriously, I feel like the course has genuinely helped me already – I've got some of my confidence back, and I now have a slightly better concept of how I want to proceed, and the kind of writer I am.

4: Academic essays do not agree with me. At all.

5: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is a ridiculously fascinating book. It was one of the novels I wrote my essay about, and it's like staring at one of those Magic Eye 3-D pictures – the more you look, the more you find. I want to read more David Mitchell, at a point when my To Be Read pile is not quite so damn terrifying, so that'll probably be sometime around June 2024.

6: I really mean it about the academic essays.

7: Jeanette Winterson is a fiercely intimidating person – so scarily smart it's a bit like staring at the sun, and a bit like being around one of those whip-smart school teachers in whose lessons you always behaved simply because you Did Not Cross Them. She did a selection of voluntary seminars that involved reading a whole load of stuff I'd never have touched otherwise, many of which left me feeling as if I was attempting to catch butterflies with a hopelessly small net, but it was still an experience that was more than worth having, even if I did spend most of them ferociously taking notes while thinking “Oh God, please don't ask me a question, please don't ask me a question…”

8: An off-shoot of the academic essay stuff – I'm not sure a PhD is for me. I was thinking seriously about it, and I've done lots of research and finding out of info, but despite the advantages, I'm not sure if it's something I want to spend three years of my life doing, especially since it ain't necessarily going to guarantee being able to teach at a University level anyhow, and there are different ways of playing that route. And, frankly, I've got loads of writing that I want to do, and I don't want to put it off for three years in order to do something that I'm really not sure I want to do.

There were lots of other things, obviously, and while I've got three months of summer to look forward to, it's going to pass in the blink of an eye. And then I'll be back for another year, heading for next Summer, and my dissertation. I've done my best to make the most of this course – and now, with one year to go, I want to do even better. Only time will tell…



News: The Sci-Fi Chronicles (Or: Blimey, I’m in a proper book…)

The Sci-Fi Chronicles

I’ve been wanting to shout about this for quite a while, but I didn’t want to do anything until there was a proper announcement, or I had any idea about an actual date. The short version: my work is going to be appearing in a book, to be published in September. I got asked around June last year by Guy Haley, writer and editor (who was also responsible for giving me my first writing work on SFX many moons ago) if I’d be interested in being one of a big bunch of writers doing articles for The Sci-Fi Chronicles, a massive book on science fiction that he was putting together. My answer was “Hell, YES”, and I ended up doing 15 articles on a variety of topics, including a timeline for the original Flash Gordon comic strips that almost made my head explode (It turns out, trying to research the entire 70-year history of a daily comic strip is really damn difficult. Who’d have thought it?). Anyway, it was hard work and lots of fun, there’s quite a few pieces there that I’m very proud of, and The Sci-Fi Chronicles has appeared on Amazon, with a release date of 2nd October 2014. In the same format as The Rock Chronicles, it’ll be a big chunky reference work full of pictures and graphical timelines, and I’m looking forward to seeing my articles in print. It’s been a fun ride so far, and I’ll be doing some more shouting about this when we get closer to the release date…


From the Vault

A quick note to declare that for the immediate future, I'm going to be regularly reposting some of my older articles up here, many of which date back from my 8-year sojourn as a film journalist, some of which are more recent. There'll be articles, interviews, reviews and plenty of other stuff appearing on a relatively regular basis – there'll be plenty that will have dated, but hopefully there'll still be something which will be of interest to someone, so feel free to join me on the nostalgia bandwagon, and I hope you enjoy the ride…

(The first 'From the Vault' post will be hitting in the next hour…)


Return of the Living Blog (Slight Return)

Hello there. It's been a while. How have you been?

Life has been busy – full-throttle, nose-to-the-grindstone, no-time-for-blogging busy – to the extent that it's only at the Easter holiday that I've found the time to get my head straight and get some words down. And of course, the longer I stay away from the blog, the less it feels like it matters, and the more I wonder if anyone really pays any attention to the things that I post here (a familiar confidence-related refrain for writers). But, to be honest, I've let a lack of confidence get to me far too much over the past year or so, and it's time to officially say “Nuts to that.”

So, here are some EXCITING updates full of AMAZING news that will TRANSFORM the way you see the world in SO MANY WAYS:

(Disclaimer: Certain elements in the last statement may not be entirely true.)

1: I'm almost at the end of the second semester of my MA Creative Writing course, and it's gone terrifyingly fast. I got my first mark back in early March, on my 'Portfolio piece' from Semester 1's fiction workshop, and I was two points away from getting a Distinction. Two. Points. Naturally, my brain immediately leapt to “Damn!” rather than “Holy crap, only two points away on your first go,” but I'm still proud of what I pulled off. Weirdly enough, thanks to the structure of the course, I'm not going to be doing any more course-related fiction writing until the beginning of 2015, but I'm going to be making up for things in the interim with plenty of exercises, tests and writing work, including continuing on for as long as possible with the reading group I've formed with a bunch of the students (many of whom aren't part-time, so will be vanishing off at some point during the summer, which will be very strange.

2: I'm flirting with the idea of going on to do a PhD in Creative Writing after the MA, but it's a thorny and weird subject. Just trying to get my head around what a PhD in Creative Writing actually is, and how I would fit my skills and talents into one has taken a long time, and there's also the question of whether I can get anyone at Manchester to accept my application or get enough funding for it so I can afford to do it, and on top of that is the “Do I definitely want to do a PhD?” question. It'd help in a whole lot of ways, and give me a good chance of working in academia and doing teaching, but it would also take a very long time, and would conceivably shut down most of my attempts at a writing career for three years, unless I'm absurdly lucky enough to get full funding. I like the idea of the challenge of a PhD, and I'll be investigating the possibility further, but I'm not yet 100% convinced this is the right direction for me. 80-90% convinced at the moment, but I'll need to do a bit more thinking…

3: Work is… work, pretty much. I've done more freelancing this semester than I did across the first, and while it's been tough at times, I've pretty much been able to hold it together. Proofreading isn't something I want to do forever, and the whole uncertainty inherent in freelancing occasionally makes me yearn for the comfort of an easy-to-quantify job with a guaranteed wage… but I know that route would drive me mad within six months. So, I'm slogging away, but I'll get there in the end.

4: I wrote a short story. Let me repeat that: I WROTE A SHORT STORY. Admittedly, it's probably going to end up drifting towards a short novella – it's currently 6,000 words long and one of the main pieces of feedback I got from my tutor (SF novelist Geoff Ryman) is that I'm trying to fit a really complicated idea into too small a space. As a result, at some point soon I'm going to have a go at brainstorming an expanded version and just let it be as big as it wants. It's pretty dark and bleak stuff, but I'm interested to see where it takes me.

5: After lots of debate and muddle (including lots of self-conscious worry about not being a 'serious' enough writer), I've decided that all my worries are ridiculous and I should concentrate on (a) finishing stuff, and (b) doing the stuff that I'm good at – action, fun, and extravagantly daft worldbuilding. There'll be plenty of time for me to try different directions once I get the two books currently occupying my head completely sorted (Bradley and Hoyle, a 'Strange London' romantic comedy adventure, and The Hypernova Gambit, a rewrite on my first unpublished novel, a crazy comic-strip SF Adventure). Until then, I'm going to do my best not to worry, learn heaps of stuff, and get some fun books out there. It isn't a race – there's always going to be writers faster than me and more succesful than me. I'm just going to concentrate on having as much fun as I can with writing, and everything else can wait – at least for now…

6: I'm currently on holiday in Devon, which means that of course the heavens have opened and everything outside is damp and grey. Fingers crossed the weather will brighten up before we head back to Manchester on Friday, but it's lovely to be catching up with my family, whatever happens, as well as getting the chance to do a ridiculous amount of reading. When I get back, there'll be an essay on Contemporary Fiction to start, which is currently intimidating the hell out of me, but that's a few days away yet. Until then, I shall relax and enjoy myself…


There we go. The Full, Unexpurgated Truth of my life as it is right now. HOW CAN I POSSIBLY KEEP UP WITH ALL THESE THRILLS?

More updates when they come in…


Chronicle of a Creative Writing Student Foretold…

I’m a University student again.  Today is the official ‘welcome’ day for the Creative Writing MA course at the University of Manchester, and I’m going to be there (from about 1.15pm onwards), listening to everything, and trying to tell myself that no, nobody’s going to tap me on the shoulder and say “You know, you’re really not meant to be here, are you?” Today is the first point where it’s really, seriously going to feel real, and it’d be an understatement to say I’m a bit nervous. The last eighteen months have been a strange and sometimes difficult period for me – things have gone wrong, or not gone the way that I’ve wanted them to, and one of the hardest realisations has been that I’ve been spending so much effort on the simple act of surviving and keeping myself financially afloat, and haven’t always been focussing enough on exactly why I’m trying to survive.

Confidence is not an easy thing to keep up, especially when relating to writing, but ultimately I know what I want, and what I want is to be better. Yes, I want to be published, but I’ve spent a big chunk of the last two years worrying too much about that, and about other people’s opinions of me, and there’s only so far that can get you before it becomes a millstone around your neck. The most important realisation to hit me for a while was a recent one, and it was this: Being a better writer is more important to me than being published. If I wanted the immediate hit of being published, I could chuck my first novel up on Amazon as an e-book tonight, if I wanted – but I don’t want to, because it isn’t good enough yet. And one of the main reasons I’m doing this course is that I want to be good enough, I want to have a sharper understanding of how fiction works, so that I don’t feel so much like I’m wandering into a very large and dark room with the tiniest torch known to man and hoping I can find my way through.

Feeling out-of-place isn’t an unfamiliar feeling for me. It’s my default operating mode, and some of that just isn’t going away – but this course is a big step for me. It’s the first time in years that I’ve deliberately taken a big step to shape the rest of my life. I want to make the most of it – especially since, one way or another, I’m paying for every penny of this course and it ain’t cheap. Part of my brain is panicking at the idea that I might screw this up, that throwing myself at a pretty heavy duty course that’s very focussed on contemporary fiction might just end up the equivalent of a slow-motion car-crash for me… but, frankly, I’ve always had a doomy and pessimistic side. And sometimes, you’ve just got to look your doomy and pessimistic side right in the eyes and tell it to shut the hell up and mind its own business.

So that’s what I’m going to do. Later on today, I’ll be meeting my tutors (who include Geoff Ryman, author of 253 and Was,  a fact that is going to cause me a certain degree of OH MY GOD THAT’S GEOFF RYMAN ARRRRRGGGHHHH), meeting everyone on the course, and then there’ll be drinks and a Chinese meal. I’ll finally be able to get my head around where this course will take me. It’ll start feeling real.

It’s a big step. But one that I’ve got to take.

Here goes…


Super Hexagon (or, Curse You, Kieron Gillen)

Curse you, Kieron Gillen.

It’s not enough for you to be a brilliant comics writer and games journalist. It wasn’t enough for you to pull off one of the most impressive final issues of a mainstream superhero comics run that I’ve ever read – the wonderful, meta-textual Journey Into Mystery, starring a teenage reincarnation of Thor villain and trickster god Loki. It wasn’t enough for you to instill in me an intense desire to play the boardgame Risk Legacy, despite the fact that I’m very good at buying boardgames and then never playing them.

Oh, no. You also had to get me addicted to Super Hexagon.

There I was, casually reading through your excellent review of the gaming year over on Rock Paper Shotgun, and I read about the game Super Hexagon. It was probably the retro-looking graphics that appealed, and I was looking for something new and exciting to play on my iPad (having found that while indulging in my nostalgia for GTA: Vice City on the iPad was kinda fun, the iPad control system turns any car chase into virtual suicide). I looked on the App Store, and lo and behold – it was even on special offer. Only 69p. So I clicked ‘Buy’.

And that was pretty much it.

Super Hexagon is INSANE. It’s an incredibly simple game, and the look of it brings back memories of vector-graphic classic Tempest, except that your task as player is to steer a tiny triangle past the various obstacles that are speeding towards the centre of the screen. Hit one of them, and you’re dead. Simple, eh?

Er, no.

You see, Super Hexagon is fast. Seriously, headspinningly fast, and scored with a pulsing electro-dance beat just so you’re in no doubt exactly how fast it is. And it’s absurdly tricky. I’ve been playing it every day for a week, and I’ve finally got to a point where I can pretty regularly last for over 30 seconds per game – and this is on the easiest possible setting. The game begins with a notice saying ‘Headphones Recommended’, and I’m pretty sure this is so that if you’re playing it within earshot of anyone, they don’t end up driven mad by the cool female American voice intoning “Game Over” every five seconds. Because trust me – when you start playing, that’ll be about as long as you last.

It’s dizzying and thrilling in equal measure, relying on pattern recognition and very fast reflexes – you have to watch the entire screen as you play, and there are certain structures which still send me into a fatal tailspin the moment they appear. It’s the kind of game where even the slightest error will instantly kill you, but the sheer challenge of weaving through this adrenalised, perspective-shifting hailstorm of geometric shapes will keep you going. I’ve managed to last up to 45 seconds (on the very easiest setting), and I’m counting that as a major acheivement. There are other, harder levels – ‘Hexagoner’ and ‘Hexagonest’ – as well ones that you have to unlock which, frankly, I don’t even want to *think* about right now.

I’m sure I’ll recover from my addiction from this supercharged sugar rush at some point. I may even get to conquer one (or more) of the jaw-droppingly tricky levels of the game. But for now, the Super Hexagon icon sitting there on my iPad, daring me to ignore it, knowing that I’m going to fail.

Curse you, Kieron Gillen!

(I’m still gettting Young Avengers, though…)

Return of the Living Blog

This should feel significant. There should be a wind whipping across a darkened plain, a crack of thunder in the cloudy skies above, a dark and battered figure striding dramatically across the landscape, and a narrator (preferably James Earl Jones, if we can afford him) intoning something dramatic and portentous. 

But instead, it’s just me with an iPad and a bluetooth keyboard on my lap, attempting to put into words why, after a gap of nearly three years, I’m resurrecting my blog. The simple answer is that as I’m currently redesigning and sprucing up my site (with lots of help from my girlfriend), it seems sensible to also give blogging another go – I notched up nearly five years of regular output over at my blog’s previous home of Livejournal, and the full history of that blog has been imported here. It’s all available, even the stuff that charts some of the more difficult times in my life circa 2008-2009, and I’ll be blogging here on a semi-regular basis. 

I haven’t been completely silent on the blogging front. In 2011, I had a go at doing a full-on review blog called Schizopolitan, and I’m still proud of my output there, but I never quite got the balance right, and the kind of site I wanted to do would have taken *way* too much work. It’s hard to do a sharp, professional, regular website when you’re having to do 95% of the work yourself. I burned myself out on Schizopolitan, and while I am going to be posting occasional pieces and thoughts up there, my life as a full-on comics blogger is kind of over.

It isn’t the case here, though. I’ve had some ups and downs over the last three years, and one of the reasons I wanted to start blogging again is so I can talk more about the process. The mechanics of writing are something that interest the hell out of me, and I want to try and get my thoughts on it down in a way that’ll hopefully make sense. 

There’ll be advice, but it’ll be broad, helpful advice – the kind that someone with some serious confidence problems has found useful and/or informative. Writing’s a weird life, and I feel like I want to record some of what I’ve been going through. For posterity. For analysis. For the hell of it.

So, welcome to my blog. The full site is still being constructed at the moment – you’re welcome to have a poke around, but there are things that don’t quite work yet (and the look of the site will soon be having a complete overhaul – the current look is an off-the-shelf WordPress theme which will very soon be changing). If you’re one of the handful of people who used to follow Crawling from the Wreckage on Livejournal, then welcome back to my blog. If you’re new, it’s nice to meet you – please feel free to say hello. Make yourself comfortable. Help yourself to the Twiglets. And I hope you enjoy the ride.