2017: Writing, Reading, Riding…
2017 was a busy year for me, due in part to Caelia returning to work and leaving me holding the baby. I cannot complain too much though, as he is incredibly laid back, is already talking and loves playing with lightsabers.
Despite juggling child-care and kiddies (not literally), I continued writing for the BBC. A first for me was having an article translated into a foreign language about the plans for a solar farm in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone. In this case, the article was translated into Ukrainian. Sadly, they never invited me to visit the area.
One of my most fun articles to write this year was my piece examining The KLF’s transmedia approach to their art. I say art, rather than music, as their antics are often just as important. Whilst I never got to interview James Cauty or Bill Drummond (who are notoriously reticent), the research was nonetheless a lot of fun.
It was also the year I presented my first videocast. Geek Pride founder Matt Geary and I recorded a video on location discussing our favourite games from this year’s EGX, as well as games we would like brought back. This was also the event where I was asked, after clarifying I was not in costume, if I was a Rockstar…
At the writer’s festival Edgelit in Derby, I met the wonderful Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat), who was incredibly inspirational to speak to and has a major axe to grind against the dismissive nature of science fiction and fantasy by mainstream literary fiction.
Rounding out the year was SFW in the City, where I interviewed Sylvester McCoy. The interview itself was a surreal experience, as James Cosmo (Lord Mormont in Game of Thrones) was snoozing on the sofa next to us.
Read, Watched and Recommended.
I cannot look back over the past year without commenting on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film has been polarising, to say the least. Some claim it is the greatest Star Wars film ever made, whilst others are demanding it to be remade. I am somewhere in the middle. What was good about The Last Jedi was great, but was bad about it was terrible. I especially liked the scenes with Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron.
I finally got to see Ex Machina from 2014, which was just as well as I had written several articles robotics this year. Overall, it was pretty good, and the special effects were convincingly used, but part of me kept thinking they really should have hardwired Asimov’s Laws of Robotics into Ava.
American Gods was one of my most anticipated shows, but also the most disappointing. The extraordinary in the ordinary will always fascinate me, but the narrative lacked subtlety. It was too reliant on CGI dream-sequences for blending the mythic with the mundane. There were many parallels with The Almighty Johnsons from 2011, which was far subtler in how it conveyed the mystical elements of the series.
A new PC meant I was able to indulge in games that I had previously been unable to play. The first of these was the stunning X-Com 2. The previous game was a remake of the 16-bit era UFO: Enemy Unknown. X-Com 2 took everything that was made the original such a great tactical videogame and built upon it.
There was the breathtakingly epic The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Including the Heart of Stone and Blood & Wine expansions, I must have spent over 100 hours to complete it. Yet, the game never dragged. Much of this was due to the spectacular writing, with a love story where you actually cared for the characters.
I was so impressed with the game that I sought out Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher novels. The Last Wish was an excellent collection of vignettes, but Blood of Elves felt more akin to a series of interconnected short-stories rather than a single tale.
Charlie Stross has become one of my favourite authors and The Nightmare Stacks cannot be recommended enough. His writing has such a unique comedic flow that you cannot resist being drawn into it. According to The Nightmare Stacks, the meaning of life is “a list of epic quests you’ve got to complete while level-grinding in a game you’re not allowed to quit, with no respawns and no cheat codes.”
Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century by John Higgs was somewhat out of my comfort zone, as it was a study of the cultural shift witnessed during the last century. This could easily have been a dry anthropology thesis, but Higgs’s writing made for an entertaining read, with comments such as “Nowadays chanting black magic invocations before rocket tests is frowned upon, but it does add a certain something.”
This year also witnessed me discovering some fantastic comics. The Mockingbird graphic novels by Chelsea Cain (I Can Explain and My Feminist Agenda) were a pitch-perfect balance of intrigue and humour that created a fantastic story about one of my new favourite comic characters. Another of my favourites was the comic-fantasy Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe. The first volume Sass and Sorcery harkens back to the banter in gaming groups and ranks alongside Mockingbird for some of the best dialogue I have read for some time.
Last, but by no means least, I finally had the opportunity to watch Jasper Carrott perform live when he came to Derby. I have been a fan of Carrott’s wry observations on the absurdity of modern life since the eighties and he did not disappoint.
Life, the Universe and Something.
January witnessed me joining a new gaming group that was formed by a friend through the local writer’s circles. We have been meeting every other week for our regular gaming fix (Star Wars: Force and Destiny, for those who are interested), which has been hitting a spot that needed to be scratched.
At the start of the year we had some new neighbours move in across the road, and was pleasantly surprised to find they were gamers as well. Throughout the year we have been meeting up every few weeks, introducing each other to new games. They introduced me to Robinson Crusoe and Dominion – both are great – whilst I introduced them to War on Terror and Betrayal at the House on the Hill.
February witnessed me having to build a new PC. after my last one became decidedly twitchy –there is only so much you can put down to “character”! Thankfully, two of my friends are both IT nerds (their words not mine) and they who helped me build a new PC. This still has “character” (such as randomly telling me I have plugged in a new speaker), but is decidedly more reliable.
Spring saw me return to biking, until I fractured a toe and severed the tendons. I would like to have said it was through stunt work on Game of Thrones, but in reality, I slipped on a toy…
Rather than having a single week-long holiday, Caelia and I instead chose a series of mid-week breaks through the Summer holidays. It was fun to return to Mablethorpe again, but it was the two-days at Rutland Water that was our favourite, filled as it was with saunas and hot tubs.
In the middle of the Summer holidays, I was invited be a speaker at a convention in London. This also allowed me to indulge in some location research for my novel. The editing this novel is taking just as long, if not longer, than the actual writing. I am once again reminded of the 80:20 rule…
Back to the Future
2018 is already looking like it will be a busy year, as I have two deadlines in the first few weeks of January. On top of that, I have been approached by management consultants for my ideas and technical expertise.
My eldest will be starting her final year of primary school in September, whilst my youngest (who is still bottom-shuffling) will soon start going to nursery twice a week.
My goal of reaching a point where I could send my novel to agents flew past this year. Instead, I am intending to have it finished within the next twelve months. But, as a great man (Douglas Adams) once said; “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”