2013 – A Year of Crashing Plates

PlatesIt’s been a ‘no idea where it’s gone’ year.

In these posts, you’re supposed to write about wonderful things, epic and terrible things. But not this year – it was January, and then it was summer, and then it was chaos, and then it was Christmas again, and then it was me looking at the Facebook ‘12 best moments’ and going ‘fuuuuuuu…’

Anyway.

2013 has seen my son flow from boy towards teenager – the ‘whatever’ years now lurk on the horizon. Yet Isaac has also grown in maturity and responsibility, and I’m more proud of my son that I could ever articulate. But I guess you knew that.

2013 has seen Ecko Endgame written and in – the end of a project that’s been with me for twenty years and more. I wrote that closing sentence and then burst into tears – regret and relief and fulfillment and loss and a little fear. Something that huge being ‘over’ is a very weird.

And 2013 was a frenetic year at FP – as the heatwave hit in July, so work became a sledgehammer of stress, more events than we could cover or handle. My ten-year anniversary passed in a suffocating cloud of panic, and I began to realise an inevitable truth…

More PlatesMy life is a constant juggling act – child and work and writing. Cramming it all in. Organising up the arse, and no social life to speak of because I never have time. It’s bonkers. People say to me, ‘I don’t know how you do it’, and this was the year I had to face a truth that I didn’t like very much…

I don’t. This summer, the plates wobbled and all came tumbling down, slo-mo.

It was just too much. Work reached critical mass, Isaac is my son, Endgame was handed in late, and then by gritted teeth and willpower – I think the tears may have been as much about sheer exhaustion as anything else. But I did it. By some miracle. Just.

Before those falling plates hit the floor and shattered into a million broken pieces.

Too Many PlatesThis year has taught me that I’m not Wonder Woman. That my time and abilities are finite. That if I take on too much, I will fuck it up. Next year, I’m going to take a step back and be happy with less. Spend more time with Isaac and family and friends. Play computer games. Laugh. Spend time – hell, days! – doing fuck all and not feeling guilty about it.

In 2013, I’ve been lucky enough to see a lifelong ambition finally achieved. In 2014, I’m going to be very bloody glad to not have to achieve it any more.

My 2012 Review of the Year

So, Ecko we pretty much know about. What else has happened during 2012?

Rain. It started when we got back from EasterCon and it fucking rained until the end of July. Between all the water, and London being awash with the Jubilee and the Olympics, perhaps this was the right summer to be fingers welded to keyboard, frantically trying to edit one book and hand in a second on time. In amidst the frenzy, there was one wonderful weekend at MidFest – a weekend in the best company, where I found family I’d not seen in far too long, and remembered a part of myself I’ve never really left behind.

MidFest

Cats. In January, while during Jury Service, my poor bonkers Lilith finally went to sleep – and I missed her more than I thought possible. Fifteen years, one of my last links with my simpler life in Norwich, she left a cat-shaped vacuum that had me roaming the house, lost without her company. This vacuum led to new cat company in April – which has been something of an adventure. I still miss my Lilith, but can’t bear a house empty of creatures.

Lilith

Bikes. Facing a maniacal summer of book deadlines (and rain), finding the time to pedal was not an easy thing. Once Ecko was sorted, though, I got back in the saddle – only to have my bike written off by a tosser in a Range Rover, speeding through a red light at a major junction. He would have killed me had I been a few inches further forwards.

photo(15)

Which brings me to the big thing, the thing I don’t really have words for.

My Mum has had cancer this year – had it, beaten it, come out healthier than she went in (takes more than the Big C to defeat my Mum). For a moment, there though, that was a terrifying thing – losing one’s Mum doesn’t even bear thinking about. And it hasn’t only been Mum – I’ve had a slew of friends this year who’ve had a cancer scare of one form or other, one at least staring his own mortality in the face.

Books are cool. Rain and deadlines are all very well.

But 2012 has been about mortality. Facing a scrape with my own, seeing Mum in a hospital bed after having several yards of intestine removed, knowing close friends have hospital appointments that tread a tight line between life and death…

Lilith left a vacuum. I feel very, very lucky that my Mum didn’t leave one too.

Mum

 

 

Toy Story 3

I can’t remember the last time I cried in the cinema (I watched ‘UP’ at home), but any film that can make you laugh your arse off all the way through and then have you wiping water from your eyes (the 3D glasses make this downright awkward) at the closing scenes – well, it’s more than just a film for Cubs.

The plot of Toy Story 3 is swift, bright, clear – beautifully wrought. It’s continuity is wondrous – the smallest dropped fragment (Woody’s Hat) becomes a demoniac device for later in the story. It can be predictable – but that’s no bad thing. While we know what’s exactly going to happen to the toys in the daycare centre, for example, the tension is built so skilfully that the shock and horror are still genuine. The wheeler-dealing of the bad guys in the roof-club of the snack-machine, the final fate of Lotso – in each case, you know what’s coming, but the scene-setting, the references, the symmetry are all flawless. The entire script is absolutely stuffed with sly adult gags – my favourite being Ken throwing open the door before a love-struck Barbie with the words, ‘Baby, this is where is all happens!’ – and it’s to his wardrobe… words fail me.


We all love Buzz and Woody – but Ken, accessory or not, totally stole that entire film. Right down to his love-heart shorts.

In fact, there just wasn’t a weak character. The dastardly, strawberry-scented bear, voiced to villainous perfection by Ned Beatty, is more iniquitous than any plush toy has a right to be – but the perfectly dovetailed flashback by the sinister clown just tinges his soft menace with sympathy. It also wins us to the side of the lumbering-simple Big Baby, tormented by the one thing he trusts. Assisted by the truly scary watch-monkey and a scattering of sinister side-kicks (we liked the two faced robot), Lotso is absolutely a genius evil.

And props for the silent Totoro. I wonder if he was on an exchange visit?

This is a film that carries you along regardless. (The Claw!) Made for a younger audience or not, I challenge any adult to watch it and to not have their heart touched. What was your favourite toy as a child? What happened to them? The closing scene of the teenage Andy introducing little Bonnie to his friends was what reduced me to tears – and not only me, I suspect, from the snufflings next to me.

It’s a reminder that, for all we’re supposed to be adult, are we supposed to be grown-up?


About The Books: 2009 Review of the Year

With a sharp change in emphasis from the Soc Med focus of 2008, this year has been all about the books – not only finishing my own (and throwing it out to the ether to see where it landed), but helping sell other people’s.

In his post on signings, Jim C Hines argues the case for such events being a waste of time – low turn-out, poor sales, bored staff – and yes, we’ve had our tumbleweed moments. I’d be lying through my teeth if I denied knowledge of how that feels.

But.

As Borders glubs finally below the surface, it’s the industry’s responsibility to keep book sales afloat – and that means (for my part) taking the ‘bored-bloke-with-Sharpie’ signing and kicking some life into it.


Cue Dave Devereux’s ‘Eagle Rising’ signing last January – publishers, authors, marketeers, bloggers and retailer all joining forces to rip up the rulebook and defy the ‘why bother’ trend – the event was massive and the subsequent publicity for all was off the scale. Suddenly they were – quite literally – all the rage. As we said at the time, ‘everybody wins’.

In April, another first – asking China Miéville to read, live, from The City & The City; Joe Abercrombie came in a month later for a similar event.

Forbidden Planet is a hub – it’s a brand that Makes Shit Happen. I can’t claim that every signing has been a screaming-teen success – but if you make the effort, this stuff snowballs.

And that’s where the Soc Med gubbins learned last year comes back into its own.

During 2009, membership of Twitter has increased by well over 1000%; business identities now form 40% of FaceBook pages. In a struggling climate, success is all about communication, about visibility and Customer Service – and these are the tools we now take up.

Whether your signing is a success or not, that’s only the investiture of petrol money and a sandwich. The point is that those signed books, that Soc Med coverage, that interview, that blog post – they’re all about public visibility. I’m better Mister Hines had more people read that post than turned up at the signing in question.

In order to turn Soc Med’s now well-oiled wheels, you need the event – the trigger, the spark, the gimmick, the kick-start for the momentum to roll. Hubspot have a lovely piece on Dominos – one Brand that’s made it happen.


This year has been all about re-invention – about the personal re-invention of my own random scribblings… and about completely re-visualising the traditional concept of ‘signing’.

And with the economic climate as it is and the industry under so much pressure, that re-invention has a name.

2009 is less ‘So.Me’ – and more ‘So.Everyone’.

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20/08 Hindsight: A Social Media Year

Okay, you got me red-handed: I didn’t mean to do this.
Not real Social Media.
I get retail marketing – even emarketing – but a year down a line of friends, followers, forays and fuck-ups and I’ve tripped over the truth without even meaning to.
What do I mean? Well…

For example: –

In the pub after Amplified08, @Yellowpark commented that he’d not heard of Forbidden Planet until Twitter – iconising how the openness of Social Media brings niche Brands like FP onto the ‘High Street’ of the web. For us, successful marketing isn’t selling SF to fanboys – it’s throwing the doors wide and saying ‘everyone can come here’. And that ‘everyone’ is bigger than we could’ve imagined.

For example: –

This year has seen the FP Megastore become a satellite Hub for London’s Twitterers. They’re at every signing; at big events, they add their own skills and insights to the on-web coverage. Social Media becomes its own beacon – the more they enthuse, the more enthusiasm is generated and the more it broadcasts – and the more it feeds back, and so on.

Believe in what you do – and Social Media becomes the field that surrounds your magnet. All you need is passion, conviction and sincerity.

For example: –

There’s always talk about the ‘human face on the Brand’, about ‘accessibility’– for a retailer, it’s the web version of standing on the shop floor. It’s a calculated gamble – on the one hand, you’re the first target when the e-mud starts flying; on the other, you reach friends, customers, guests and clients personally. And these are the people that will come back – to the store, to the site. Social Media is about hands-on Customer Service – and it matters.

For example: –

The failure of The Headless Bartman at SxSW created the MonQee, a classic example of out-of-the-box marketeering that caught the web’s imagination and went rapidly Viral. Social Media Marketing, coupled with genuine creativity, thrashes the pants off any amount of ordinary advertising.

As a personal footnote, 2008 has seen me return (at last!) to my ‘real’ job – to being back at the core of things, to taking full responsibility for promotion and event organisation at Forbidden Planet. From re-entering the SF fan scene at Orbital to my growing contacts lists on FaceBook and LinkedIN, to my recent interview with Tony at StarShipSofa… as this year comes to a close, I’ve realised something: –

Y’know what? I get it.
Y’know something else? It never was rocket science.

The big secret to Social Media Marketing? It’s common bloody sense – sling in a little humanity and a little respect (and a big ol’ bag o’comics) and there: Twitter’s your Uncle.

Honestly: how hard was that?

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Lower Than Jabba’s Genitals: The Clone Wars

What’s lower than Jabba’s genitals and stinks worse than Binks? Yes, it’s The Clone Wars – and it’s To Be Avoided in a cinema near you.

It was fucking terrible.

To all of us who’re old enough to have seen ‘New Hope’ at the cinema in ’77, the pitiful efforts of Lucas to live up his origins are both desperate and embarrassing. The voice-over intro was an instant let down – and set a mood of increasing disappointment for the rest of the movie.

A predictable narrative underlay a clunky script, both written by a crack team of twelve-year-olds – I was cringing during the ubiquitous fight ‘badinage’ between Kenobi and Ventress.

The caricature of the ‘buddy’ relationship between Anakin and his supposedly-cute Padawan – I would have punched Ahsoka in the face after about five minutes.

With the notable exception of Christopher Lee (what was he doing, involved in that?!) the voice acting was wooden and the ‘relief’ provided by comedy droids miserably conventional. That, at least, had the row of kids behind me giggling.

As for the Hutt baby – words… just fail me.

At any moment, I was half-expecting the screen to flick to game-mode, whereupon I would’ve picked up my controller and joyfully run any one of the main characters to a gruesome death upon the advancing droid tanks.

What fired the shot into the main reactor, though, was the sudden, tacked-on side-plot involving Padme and – I can barely control my shudder – Ziro the Hutt.

It’s been years since I actually walked out of a cinema before the end of a film, but the cliché of the camp and lisping Ziro was enough to drive me from my seat and out into the air, gasping for breath at the depth of the horror. Whoever conceived that character should be executed for crimes against the Star Wars franchise.

I beg you, don’t go and see this film. If you ever loved Star Wars, spend your money on the DVD of Seth Green’s Robot Chicken send-up – a true work of animated genius.

A Very Long Dark Knight

All right, I’m just going to say it – I wasn’t wild about Dark Knight.

Don’t let me wrong, parts of it were superb. Strong imagery supported powerful themes; the entwinement of Bats and Joker, the order/restriction/heroism interplay with chaos/freedom/passion, twisting thoughout the film – iconised by the (sadly brief) addition of the much under-used Two-Face. A smartly self-referential narrative rather skilfully veered away from several classic genre clichés (the girl died – yay!) and the array of gadgetry was strongly visual, yet wasn’t over-used – and managed to keep its cool.

Sub-plot points for the realisation that the all-powerful Bruce can’t achieve this stuff alone. Any Bat-fan knows the brains belong to Alfred and Fox added a level of technical support worthy of Bond’s Q – extra bonus for the ultimate sonar gadget. Plus the young Commissioner Gordon kicking bad guy butt with a ‘Pow’!’ and a ‘Zap!’ – if this can be echoed by an equally potent whiskey-swilling Chief O’Hara in the follow-up, I may just change my mind about the whole thing.

However.

Faced by the awesome curtain performance of Ledger, flanked by Caine and Freeman, Christian gets bunged in with the lions – and doesn’t stand a chance. Out of armour, he’s outclassed – but add the appalling and predictable ‘gravelly rasp’ and the Joke really is on him. It didn’t quite ruin the film – but it did undermine Bats’ credibility and make me wonder if Brucey hadn’t made his trust fund providing new soundtracks for bad 70s porn.

Which brings me to the point.

There is such a thing as a climax that goes on for too fucking long. Another explosion, another confrontation, another hostage situation, another wave of tension-and-release… that’s enough. Faced with yet one more end-of-level showdown, I’m drained and no longer seeing the funny side.

Two-Face, though iconic – was wasted. The realisation of the character was thrown away, lost in a rising tide of detonation. The smashing of the Bat-symbol was a childhood memory over-turned – and, by that point, long over-due. When something that powerful and reminiscent is lost under a bad case of auditorium-wide fidgets..? Looks like everyone’s about climaxed out.

Why so serious? Because there are some Knights that just never seem to end.