It took optimism to enrol on a creative writing MA — I can be a writer! I can be published! — but as I get older, I've also developed a pragmatism, tipping into cynicism, which can easily become procrastination, or even complete avoidance.
I spent the weekend before my father’s funeral sorting through his books. He had them on shelves in different rooms, but they were also tucked in drawers, stacked at the bottom of wardrobes and piled behind old televisions.
I’ve deleted my Patreon creator’s account, which was beginning to feel like I was cheating on my website (or the other way around, I’m not sure). Two places for almost the same words.
My favourite ten film discoveries (ranked) and ten favourite fiction books (not ranked). (Letterboxd is a hella sexy website. I wish GoodReads made more of an effort.)
Somehow the year has tightened all the bolts on my rickety life, and I’m hitting the Christmas holidays in a good place.
I was celebrating a new job, looking forward to an unexpected week’s holiday, when my father fell at home, so I’m spending that week in Wales.
I was caught in a work storm for a few months over the summer. Things settled enough for me to take a small risk, which paid off, which means I can finally tack for calmer waters.
Picked up Brother of the More Famous Jack. Barbara Trapido is an incredible writer. Nagging envy made me put it down after the first five pages.
I’ve been reading more this month. I decided to read a novel for thirty minutes uninterrupted at least once every day. I had to dig around to find the motivation to do that because I’d fallen out of love with reading (again).
Beautifully crafted, easy to read stories by Alison Moore that are intricate studies in helplessness and despair. The characters find themselves enmeshed in situations that keep getting worse until often they are crushed. The environment shackles them. Language holds them. Revenge arrives, soporifics are deployed, the decay is in all things. They are drawn to that which will damage and destroy them.
In the bookshop I let my eyes drift over bright modern covers and serious-looking classics. I didn't buy a book. I have books. My problem is I can't choose one to read.
A fellow writer on Twitter sent me an invite — it’s still in a pretty combustible beta — and I immediately feel much more at home there than on Mastodon, which has an awkward user interface and an established culture I don’t chime with. Mastodon is very... conversational. I don’t want to talk with strangers particularly, but I do want smart voices saying interesting things in as few words as possible. Bluesky is like Twitter used to be in that way.
I’m reading Cinema Speculation, Quentin Tarentino’s non-fiction celebration of key American films of the seventies—Bullitt, Dirty Harry, Escape From Alcatraz, The Funhouse. I heard about it through the Pure Cinema podcast, which is connected to Tarentino’s Los Angeles cinema, the New Beverly. The prose voice is exactly how Tarentino sounds in interviews and podcasts.
With everything going on in my life, the only way I’m going to write is if I have a clear purpose and a plan. This is always true I suppose.
Walked to Southside for a coffee. Why? I’m thinking of Gwen Bell, then Neo/Keanu. I deliberately left my notebook at home. I need some time without a pen in my hand. Re-balancing... something. Gwen, Neo and Keanu are seekers of different kinds. I told myself yesterday to put the writing weight down. There is too much else going on to add the pressure of writing a novel. Life before art. Life is an art, yes, but you get my drift. I’m chaining myself to a rock when I need to be swimming.
This is the tipping point. I’m fifty in two weeks. I’ve watched fifty percent of the 800 films I own, and even less of the books. The amount of time I have left is constricting, but the number of books and films I own keeps expanding. Something has to give. I need a new philosophy. What I consume (bleurgh) must feed (this is family trauma speaking) whatever I am creating. I envy those who have perhaps always done this. Collecting and list-making is the hoarder’s comfort.
I’m pleased with how consistently I’ve posted to Patreon, but I feel guilty that I’m not giving enough value to people, so I’ve jiggled things around.
Twitter shines at surfacing what I need, when I need it, in this case Elisa Gabbert’s 2022 book list, within which a link to an essay she wrote, Why Write? That essay sings to me. Gabbert says that Joan Didion wrote fiction to find out what the pictures in her mind meant, and she give several examples of other famous writers who start their stories with an image, or a dream, and chase it down in words, including Vladimir Nabokov, Martin Amis and William Faulkner.
Going into the new year, I’m going to do some gentle excavation into my beliefs about writing, because I’m realising I’ve lost touch with what fiction means to me. If there’s no meaning, there’s no purpose.
In time-honoured fashion, here are my favourite discoveries of 2022, in chronological order of publication or release. It’s been a year of three big creative adventures: getting a new job (first in fourteen years); a family holiday in France (first to Paris for a week, then to Morzine in the French Alps); setting up my Patreon (experimenting with a patrons-only podcast). There was very little fiction writing, but plenty of reflective writing.
I don’t remember my dreams that often anymore, but when I’m particularly anxious, or there’s a lot going on, they tend to stick. Last night, I dreamt I was in a hostel of some kind, and I was feeling threatened by a man-child, who was also my host. A boy crawled into a jacuzzi with me, and there really wasn’t room for him, but then Bob Dylan arrived and started warming up with his band.
This morning there was a thin crust of snow on the ground. The car park was empty, and the lines were hidden, so I chose a spot near the meter and hoped.
I don’t know what to do for the best with my social media. Twitter is all I have. Zuckerberg is worse than Musk in many ways, so I’m not going to those places. Mastodon is not a replacement for anything, it’s a unique flavour of online community that will take effort from everyone who goes there. Blogs are the obvious answer, but who will have the taste for that these days? It’s effort. Twitter removed the work of posting and consuming, a bit like fast food, and now we’re all a bit flabby and useless, technologically speaking.
In my notebook this morning I was thinking about how tempting screens are. Just having one near me makes me want to look. Today it was a wall of water, either a tall wave viewed from a ship at sea, or a tsunami from shore, I couldn’t tell. It was mesmerising. I was mesmerised by a photo of a painting of a wave on my laptop screen, but the overwhelming fear and awe it created in me was real.
It’s Halloween. My daughter had friends around for a spooky-themed tea, and now they’ve gone out to ask for treats. The door knocking has begun.
I tweet way too much. Longer form pieces go here or on Patreon. Recording the podcast was fun, but not structured enough to stay interesting. I still write in my notebook every day, but recently that’s been less creative writing and more organising the job move. It’s been an amazing year for my software career, but it’s driven my writing practice into a ditch. However, I am still rolling that boulder of a novel up the mountain.
When I visit my father, I always love to walk around Swansea and get an early morning coffee. We used to come as a family when I was growing up, so with my existing morning coffee and writing habit, it’s a double comfort.
After fourteen years in my day job, I am finally leaving. My new role is still coding, but instead of being in Higher Education I'm going to be a consultant with a subsidiary of a global corporation. The PRIVATE SECTOR.
ChillerCon emerged from the ashes of the Covid-struck StokerCon 2020, miraculously held together by the heroic organisers who dealt with cancelled hotel rooms, refunds, and much else I’ll never know about.
My internal critic says I’m being lazy, or disorganised, or just not up to the job, but kinder voices reassure me that there is a season for all things.
I’m in Wales with my dad today, Good Friday, taking him for a Covid test before he has a cataract operation Monday. He’s been waiting six years to get both eyes treated
The initial idea for Patreon was to explore publishing short stories behind a paywall, to try to motivate myself to finish smaller pieces because there was an expectation, and to put a symbolic stake in the ground.
I’m thinking about what people might like to see in a writer’s Patreon, and what would be exciting for me to publish.
I’ve come to think that films are intrinsically linked to my writing practice, but I’m worried my film-watching habit is more of a distraction than an inspiration.
As 2022 comes into view upriver, the final days of 2021 flow past, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to reflect on what I’ve read, watched and written this year.
Between January 2018 and December 2021, I watched 569 films. I know this because I track the films I watch on Letterboxd. That’s a lot of films.
I’m looking at my work-in-progress, and it seems to be asking how we got here. It’s a patient and wise creature.
Here we go again, with my fourth #31DaysofHorror. I’ve talked about this before, but watching these sorts of films makes me feel like I’m hanging out with my dad. This year I just want a reason to watch a lot of horror films.
Time isn’t real. The future is an abstraction. So says Alan Watts. I do rush things to get to the end of them — not always, but often enough for it to be a thing I’ve noticed over and over again throughout my life.
I’m sitting in the sun. August isn’t going to plan, but I’m doing the best I can with it.
It’s been a tough year, and in the tumult of it, I stopped enjoying reading (again). Instead, I watched films, which are just as wonderful, but do a fundamentally different job.
Spring arriving has given me a creative kick. April has been pretty meta literature-wise. I’ve been reading about reading, reading about writing, writing about reading and, of course, writing about writing. It’s all good.
I bought it three years ago in a bookshop sale, in spite of the cover, which honestly put me off reading it for a long time.
Lying in bed this morning, between the alarm going off and pulling back the duvet, it occurred to me that sentences can capture the high-level aspects of a story as well as the nitty-gritty.
Time to stimulate my first draft writing gland and get my novel moving again. I’d run aground at twenty thousand words. Stephen King’s advice? Write every day and keep going.
Am I doing weekly summary posts now? Perhaps I am. It helps me notice what impact the week’s books and films have had on me. Hand-written notes just get lost in the stream of ink on paper.
In Ali Smith’s Autumn, when discussing a piece of art, Daniel Gluck asks the young Elisabeth, ‘And what did it make you think about?’. I love that question.
I’ve had a tough year reading books. I fell into the trap of seeing reading as work and lost the joy of it. Writers aren’t supposed to admit to not enjoying reading.
This week I watched: Heart of Midnight (1988), The Grinch (2018), Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010), De Palma (2015). This week I read: Equilibrium, by Tonino Guerra; The Art of the Novel, by Milan Kundera.
I’ve written more posts on my blog in 2020 than ever before. It was tricky to start with — I had to find a new voice and get in a groove. As the year ends, and I begin to think about 2021, I find myself wondering, are they worth the time I put into them?
The protagonists of London Gothic are walkers, art lovers, film buffs and train nerds. They are loners, in the main, fascinated by urban spaces and routes between places.
The term ‘exit management’ is a euphemism for firing troublesome employees. Lauren is exceptional at it, and is highly valued by her monstrous boss, Mina, for her emotional control and ability to get the worst jobs done.
It’s good to play around with your projects and try new things. I still suffer from a degree of imposter syndrome, and I probably always will.
My mother loved to do jigsaws. She would stay up late, after every one else had gone to bed, and do them on the dining table, which is also where she would do the book-keeping for whichever company she was working for at the time.
I wonder what next year will bring? I wonder how I can make my craft feel more fun? With those questions in mind, we enter a season of change.
This is a pep talk to myself as I go into another lockdown. It’s shit we have to do it, but we do, and better late than never. These are tough times and periods of lockdown are hard on the spirit.
Graham Swift once said, ‘All novelists must form personal pacts with the pace of their craft.’ Now I am in the foothills of my second novel, that quote is a comfort.
With 2020 being a demented shitshow, I did fleetingly wonder if I wanted to do #31DaysOfHorror again this year, but then I remembered why I love horror films — they are an escape from reality.
I miss the opportunities to write in a coffee shop, with the ritual of a double macchiato to get me into the groove, especially on my way into work.
It’s hard to pinpoint when I stopped reading Rebecca. I started in the middle of April, and I chose it for many reasons. There were so many little cues from the universe that it felt rude not to read it.
Last night, I had a deep dream of stasis and being held. I seemed to accept it, though there was a suggestion of pressing against constraints. I can’t remember any details. It’s a feeling from a fragment.
In 2019, on Goodreads, I set myself the challenge of reading 52 books. Here are my favourite five.
It took me thirty years to get from wanting to write a novel to finishing one. I walked away from writing several times, but I always came back...
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed all of us back into our homes, and my writing room is now where I also do software development work for my employer.
I find it liberating to write whatever is next in my thoughts. The train doesn’t ever stop, not even for sleep.
I’m into minimalism this week. It’s been a useful concept as I try to solve some tricky problems.
I’m a writer not a critic, but I have critical thoughts about other people’s books — what does it mean if a writer is a critic too?
The first shoots of the ideas that would combine to become The Complex appeared way back in November 2012, when I was fascinated by Lars von Trier’s film, Antichrist.
I read several Ballard books in the late nineties — my mid-twenties — starting with short stories, before being entranced by the original shiny silver paperback cover of Super-Cannes, and then going back to his earlier work.
Week 1. I'm going to try to read a novel and watch a film each week in 2018. In time, I'll work out what I'm doing with it. We'll see if it sticks. I love the idea.
I remember when blogging was something people did to express themselves without worrying too much about quality. It was a daily thing, a quick thing, something informal and loose.