2018: A Year of Unexpected Changes

In many ways, 2018 has been a fantastic year.

Seeing Artifice published has been truly magical, plus having the opportunity to write for both the Black Library and for Rebellion/Judge Anderson has been a huge amount of fun. After a very long, fallow stretch, it’s been SO GOOD to be creative again.

I’ve gone away twice, caught up with long-unseen family, and taken my Mother back home. 2018 was the year I finally reached the Top of the Mountain, the End of the Quest, and was able to put the very last steps of the journey behind me….

For the first time in many years, I’m happy. I have no worries. I have a secure roof over my head. I have growing teen of whom I’m very proud. I have a good job, and we’ve had some fantastic events at the store. My writing is gathering pace, and going really well. And I’ve made a point, this year, of overcoming the inevitable (and slightly foolish) social reluctance and of going out – getting to the events, and the Cons. I’ve even started playing D&D again, after fifteen years.

But the year ended on a sour note, and one I’m still trying to understand.

I came down with a significant anxiety relapse in May, and it took me while to pick myself back up again – it was just so unexpected. (And seemed so utterly unfair). And as a part of trying to understand what had caused it, I took all sorts of tests – an MOT, more than anything else.

As we reach 50, we’re all getting to the point where we have to pay the piper, when those youthful excesses come back and catch us up. And I guess I was trying to brace myself for the worst. 

But the results were not what I expected – at the last, the year has thrown me a curveball. I don’t know where it’s come from – it may even be genetic – but I have an underactive (yes, underactive, that surprised me too) thyroid. I guess it explains why I’m so fucking TIRED all the time, why I get days of brain-fog so think that I can barely remember my name, and why – just sometimes – I find it almost impossible to get everything done. And it’s come with a couple of other complications, too, but I’m still working the kinks out of those.

It’s been a good year, and there will be many more. But the necessary sacrifices have been – and will be – very tough. ‘Fight Like A Girl’ is all very well on a battlefield.

This, though, may be a battle of a slightly different nature.

Buckeroo – 2015 in review

IMG_4021It’s been a hell of a year.

Normally, I’d talk about work, and books, and finishing Ecko – but this year, it’s all kinda just been lost. I put my flat on the market in March, lost my Mother in April. I’ve been fighting the hissing nest of red tape that is a Lease Extension since February, not helped by an atrociously inefficient Property Management company who couldn’t find their arse with instructions. It’s been a year of hospitals, phone calls, letters, administration, Estate Agents, Solicitors, house cleaning, house viewings, accountants, funeral directors, more phone calls, endless paperwork, even more Solicitors and occasional bouts of ‘I can’t fucking do this’.

It’s also been the year in which I’ve had to edit/finish Ecko, be there for my (very upset) son and continue to go to work every day. And all of that is without getting into the stress and grief of losing someone close – and coping with the fallout. I haven’t written anything about my Mother, and I still don’t know if I can, or if I will.

IMG_3680There have been times, this year, when I’ve felt like the donkey in the kids’ game of Buckeroo – with stuff piling on me and piling on me and piling on me, waiting for the point at which I freak out and throw things because I can’t take it anymore.

But you can’t freak out – the jobs have to be done, and you have to do them. And that’s all there is to it.

Lace up your big girl boots, and quit whining.

Three things have got me though this year. One is the single sagest piece of advice I have ever heard – ‘You eat an elephant one bite at a time’. Even if you’re overwhelmed, take it one day at a time, one job at a time, and it will be okay. You’ll get mighty fucking sick of the taste of elephant… but there will come a day when you realise he’s nothing but a skeleton and a bad-taste umbrella holder, and that you can see the light again.

P1050473The second thing has been the boyfriend. I know I’ve said this before, but Jon’s strength and capability have been something I have set my back against. He’s been there for me – not only dropping everything to come after Mum died, standing tall beside me at her funeral, but fixing the house and doing the garden and painting the windows, tirelessly working so the property could be viewed and sold. And not only the practical stuff, but the being there. Sometimes, someone just making you tea is the best thing in the world.

P1050468The third thing has been a promise: that we would end a year of darkness with Christmas in the light. I’ve always wanted to go to Barcelona and marvel at the mad Gaudi artwork – it’s been a little gleam at the end of the tunnel, something to work towards. And we’ve wandered the sunlit Spanish streets, appreciating the city’s warmth and welcome and laziness, enjoying far too much wine and far too much cheese, indulging ourselves in pavement cafes and gloriously bonkers architecture, all the time remarking how London suddenly seems so dirty and aggressive. We’ve done the sights as well – jaw-dropped at La Sagrada Familia, looked for treasure at La Baceloneta, explored the heights of Park Guell and the depths of Las Ramblas… sometimes, these are the things that keep you sane.

ScaryNext year, the long-anticipated change finally comes: the housemove is imminent, now, and January may well be a bit of a scrabble. But that’s okay, I’m SO looking forward to the new start and having all of this finally over. To new working hours, to Isaac going to High School and to, appropriately enough, a whole new manuscript and world.

Moving out of your comfortzone is a bloody scary thing.

But sometimes, it’s just necessary.



Camping and Growing Up

New Forest SkyI miss camping.

All though my twenties, every weekend through the summer, old battle sites and new pub gardens, gleeful in our naïveté and never really understanding how fortunate we were… how many people get to walk the ruins of Whitby Abbey as the sky sinks and darkens overhead?

After living in London for so long, going to the New Forest and being back with the firelight and the open sky is a poignant reminder of how it felt to be carefree and twenty-four.

Add a ten-year-old son and a couple of wandering ponies, and a weekend away from every type of flatscreen is a very welcome thing.

Let There Be...I’ve missed the stars you can see when there’s no light pollution, and the sweet smell of the air in the morning. I’ve missed the haphazard cookery and the mess tins of tea. Hell, I’ve even missed the flooded tent and the pissing rain – on a British Bank Holiday weekend, you can’t do this stuff by halves.

Old SarumThe weekend included a hot day at Old Sarum (I’m sure we’ve camped in there too, at some point), where there was much foolishness and freeform Medieval Jenga, plus a visit to Salisbury Cathedral to light a votive candle for mum and to rescue an injured Pipistroll bat – and a bonus and slightly unexpected viewing of the Magna Carta.

Best Place For Him!There was the marvellous experience of sitting under our brolly drinking wine while the rain poured down all round is, and the lightning flashed under the clouds.

And on the Sunday, there was a lot of wet kit, a child tearing off round the site on his bicycle, despite the rain, and an afternoon of submarines in Gosport…

P1050406Sometimes, things in your life fall by the wayside – without you ever quite knowing how it happened. Things changed, you got too busy, and you just… didn’t get round to it.

And sometimes, having just a moment of these things back is a wonder without words.

Growing up is necessary, responsibilities are unavoidable.

But don’t lose track of the stuff that matters.

Ticket to Ryde (or: Sapphire and Steel face the Zombie Hordes).

Appley TowerRyde, like all little seaside towns in the off-season, is a very peculiar little place.

Walking along the bleak and windy seafront, it’s very beautiful – the tide low enough to look like you can walk  over the Solent, the wind cold enough to flay the skin from your face. There are follies here, strange towers long unoccupied, deserted funfairs and seaside rides; there are huge estates of derelict property. As the sand blows past your feet and the empty tourist attractions stand stark against the sky, the whole damn thing does just look like its waiting for the Zombie Apocalypse.

DobbinMy guesthouse is out of time – some vision of the 1950s, with rocking horse and gingham curtains and winding, endless stairs. Sapphire and Steel have been here – it should have a little plaque to say so – or perhaps its from one of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, and there’s a body in a back room that’s been decaying there for years.

Like the beach, though, it has an allure all of its own.

Puckpook ParkThe island continues to offer oddities – tourism and militaria are everywhere, as expected – but so are endless charity and vintage shops, numbers of harmless loonies in curious hats, and every house seems to need some stone creature or gargoyle lurking on its front porch. Protecting it, perhaps.

Derelict property – and churches – recur with alarming regularity.

IMG_1110Going on holiday by myself has been an experience – kind of lonely (but in a good way) and kind of empowering. Next year, I’m going back to Ryde and I’m filming Sapphire and Steel face the Zombie Hordes.

Move over, Doctor Who – it’s a guaranteed winner!



I am the…

Meet the Overstuffed Walrus, emblem and central display of the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill.

As well as absolutely exquisite apothecarial gardens (learn all about plants for healing, dyeing and eating), there’s a beautiful conservatory, a ghoulish range of suitably spooky ninetheeth-century taxidermy (look out for the half-a-bat), fish, bees, mummies, voudoun altars and an unparalleled view of the London skyline.

Like so many places outside the city centre, it’s undersung, and undervalued.

Go pay it a visit. It’s worth it for the walrus alone.

Culture Shock

Culture Shock is a very strange beast.

It’s not the big stuff – the high-rise Miami condos and the golden beach – that’s expected, absorbed parts of the background noise. In a Brit’s constant exposure to American culture, both tele-visual and through Twitter, some stuff just sinks into your subconscious.

No, it’s the little stuff that has the power.

Some of it’s half-expected, but still humorous – driving on the wrong side of the road, overhead traffic lights and ceaseless intersections, fire-hydrants and strip-malls, the guys who put their bikes on the front of the bus (yeah, that one absolutely foxed me). Some of it’s sheer ‘I-don’t-fucking-believe-this’ comedy – the juxtaposition of sunshine and palm trees with Christmas decorations. Sign-spinners (tell me they’re not real)… and what is it about the denizens of Miami and bloody pom-pom dogs?

Some of it, though; some of it just brought me to a dead stop.

Partially it’s the poverty. There’s no shortage of it in central London, but seeing it another context is both surreal and, rather uncomfortably, too real for words. The suburbs are a tessellation of street-art, chickenwire and urban decay; over them, the skeletal overlords of the empty skyscrapers stand grim against flawless blue. Miami smells like concrete, like sun-baked stucco; I hadn’t realised how much the absence of rivers and parks bothered me until I got home.

In a city built on a swamp, where hurricanes are a fact of everyday life, such ‘urban’ things as I take for granted are luxuries. That’s kind of an eye-opener.

Coming back to the tele-visual thing – I seemed to be forever walking into filmsets. The Tobacco Road bar was waiting for Arnie and a shotgun; the very poverty itself was straight out of Robocop. The fantastic, 50s ‘Art Deco’ buildings seemed two-dimensional – had I leaned far enough over, I could’ve nudged them to fall flat. Seeing white bird feathers decorating a grave… it took a minute for me to realise that the ritual employed had, yes, been absolutely sincere.

No Danie, just because it’s a churchless graveyard doesn’t mean it’s an episode of Buffy…

The tourist in me took in The Everglades (damn those ‘gators are big!), the Coral Castle, the KidRobot store, and wandered along the sprawling pretentiousness of Art Basel… evidence of which was washing up on the beach a couple days later. Plus a shout, here, to the wonderful Tate of Tate’s Comics and Videos – when he realised who I worked for, he and his team granted me Ambassadorial status. That’s a whole new and different form of Culture Shock!

In all of this though, there’s one thing that stands out as the greatest Culture Shock of all.

Twitter has made the world smaller; broken it into bite-size pieces and allowed everyone to find their own involvement. It’s also become saturated with spammers and life coaches and soulless marketeers – it’s very bloody noisy.

And it’s all too easy to lose track of your friends.

The opportunity to meet some of those friends – people I’ve been talking to for nearly four years, people from the Little Blue Bird’s first nesting days – was a wondrous thing; I have no words to really do it justice. However small the world may shrink and however swiftly its changes may pass us by, some things are worth taking a moment to remember, and to take a hold of.

Just like the city itself, they have to be done in person.

And that’s not just Culture Shock. It’s magic.

You can read another viewpint on my visit here.

Adventures in Scotland

When you’ve been called mad by Iain Banks, you know you’re in for an interesting holiday.

And after a week of – well, weather – on the Isle of Mull, I’m beginning to think Banksy had the right of it.

Mull is beautiful – glacier-carved rocky severity shrugging its way out of blankets of rich autumnal colour. Cloud lifts in wisps from the mountaintops – they look as through they are on fire – and they layer back into the mist as far as you care to see. You want to call it ‘rugged’, ‘desolate’, ‘bleak’, craggy’ – but no world suits the Isle more than this one: –

It’s WET.

We’ve walked in it and we’ve cycled in it. We’ve got drenched so many times that my abiding holiday memories are not the Martian Red Weed that decorated the grey loch shore, the golden beach at Calgary or the blissed-out religious types on their pilgrimage to Iona… no, it’s playing constant Tetris with endlessly sopping clothes and realising just WHY the Scots love their whisky as much as they do.

It goes with the climate.

One day of blue skies had us leaving the cabin with the sunrise, testing our endurance to the limit with 45 miles around the north of the Island. The beauty was overwhelming; maybe it was sheer physical effort in getting bikes up those hills, but eventually we became completely blasé.

“Heron.” “Yep.” “Waterfall.” “Yep.” “Standing stone.” “Yep.” “Ruined castle.” “Yep.” “Oh look, it’s another fucking great hill.”

We found ourselves in Tobermory at conveniently lunchtime – and went looking for Archie the Inventor… a quest foiled by my smashing both knees as I fell off the pavement (Archie, it seems knew we were coming). A long ride home brought us to our friendly field of radioactive (yes) sheep at sunset, worn down after a long day.

Devin tackled all 3100ft of Ben More – a pleasure I wussed out of due to the hail, gale and bog that awaited me. I tackled the laptop, instead, and watched the lunatic antics of the local chaffinches, auditioning for parts in a certain Hitchcock movie.

A couple of pitch (and I mean) pitch dark treks through the pass to beer and the nearest civilisation didn’t turn up the Headless Horseman… but we did rather feel like we were going for a pint in the Slaughtered Lamb and spent much of the walk discussing how we could off the Wereworf with a couple of mag-lites and a leatherman.

Our local guru Steve, owner of the cabin we stayed in, commented that people had ‘seen us round the island’ – but he also told us that the weather would be good and there was ‘one hill’ coming out of Tobermory… so much for that.

We’ve ended our holiday – and celebrated our new engagement (yes, the diamond ring variety, scary huh?) – with a proto-honeymoon Samhein night in the scariest hotel in Scotland. Bonus points for the king size four-poster and colossal orgy bath… but bleak dark stone and an isolated location are further spooked out by ghastly floral décor, stags heads on the walls and a memory palace of nik-naks creepy enough for a Roald Dahl story.

And why is there a large abandoned building in the hotel’s gardens that’s just full of discarded junk?

It’s all gone a bit Rosemary’s Baby… thank the Gods we’ll be in Glasgow tomorrow…

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Incommunicado: Four Days No Twitter

A warm log cabin, wide veranda stretched along the edge of idyllic wetlands. Mornings spent exploring the Island, walks and museums and parks – ours alone in the quiet off-season. Evenings devoid of television, playing Gloom in the clear night air, accompanied by good whisky and the brassy impertinence of geese…

Sometimes, you need to stop.

Recently, I passed the epiphany that was Tweet 23,000: shocking myself slack-jawed as I totalled out 230,000 words. Two novels (or half a Neal Stephenson) – and my two-year twitterversary next month… How much time have I spent?

I plead sophistry – I can tweet while looking after my home and family, wheras writing requires concentration – but that number grins too stark to be denied.

Hence, my holiday has been totally Incommunicado; leaving my phone in the office was both unintentional and perfectly timed. Before I left, I sent everyone and his cat a panicked email to explain my silence – more for my benefit than theirs, I know – and then turned to face that cold, beady-eyed turkey…

The world without the web.

On the first day, I wanted to tweet everything – the hovercraft ride, the cabin itself, the great food in the local pub – I was bereft, reaching, craving to share.

On the second day, I found distractions – a veranda-breakfast with ducks and moorhens, watching the cormorant pose like the Angel of Death – I involved myself with family and outings and allowed the hankering to recede.

On the third day, it had almost gone – I walked through an eternity of mud, saw a red squirrel in an ancient wood, made friends with an ocelot kitten – and Twitter was a world away, another life. My universe was smaller – yet each thing in it was precise and significant. Real.

On the fourth day, I reached for a RSPB book to discover what a Marsh Harrier looked like… and realised I was cured. No longer dwarfed by epic, breaking news or world-shaking media achievement, there was enough silence in my heart to be looking at the little things.

And understanding why they matter.

Call me a Social Media heretic if you will, four days Incommunicado has not only upped my wordcount (and my confidence to produce it), it’s also reminded me that red squirrels and ocelot kittens really matter – even when, especially when, they’re not validated by an audience. In the greater amphitheatre of Social Media, the mass-onslaught of feedback and information can deluge us, bury us under Significance and take our eyes from the things right in front of them.

Just like wordcount, just like Twitter itself in fact, we should remember – if we’re going to build BabelTower 2.0?

Even the biggest things are made up from the little ones.

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