Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Clusterfuck Wednesday

Today was supposed to be a pretty straightforward kind of day. Up until yesterday afternoon I didn't actually have any plans for today, but then that changed (in what was supposed to be a lovely way) and it's all taken a bizarrely weird turn from there.

So Wednesday is my day off. No teaching - the day is mine and mine alone. But the plans that took form yesterday afternoon involved me heading out to Richmond and catching up with two of my lovely pals from Bikram Yoga Chiswick. And so that's exactly what I did this morning and it was lovely, thank you very much for asking. As a result of heading out early I thought I might then pop over to Kingston to see 10 Cloverfield Lane, because I want to see it, and no one else I know wanted to see it, and I quite like a daytime cinema trip anyway. It feels a bit decadent, if you know what I mean. So I headed to Kingston.

The first component of Clusterfuck Wednesday (I do apologise for the swearing; when I first started this blog 10 years ago I decided there would be no swearing. But I figure we're all 10 years older now so we can probably handle it, right?) occurred when I tried to buy a ticket. There was no one at the tills in Kingston Odeon so I used one of the self service machines outside. Having tapped in all my details I was just about to put my debit card in when someone from the cinema walks past me and says "I wouldn't use that one mate - it's been freezing a bit recently. Use the next one instead."

I'm this close to saying "well don't you think you should, y'know, put a sign on it or something?" but instead I say "thank you," take a cheeky step to the left, and tap all my detail in again on the next machine. I pop my card in, the machine flashes up THANK YOU FOR YOUR PURCHASE, and no ticket comes out.

Give me my ticket.

Picture me standing there, reader, scratching my head in what I hope is a slightly bemused yet adorable fashion, and look around for someone to help. Eventually I catch the eye of an Odeon employee. She's really helpful and scurries off to get a key to open the machine and retrieve my ticket, which she reckons has gotten snarled up in the printer bit.

A few minutes later with key in hand she returns, cracks open the machine and retrieves… my receipt. There's no ticket. "It's okay," she says. "I'll walk you in." She does so, and I thank her for her help, after which I have to explain to the man who tears the tickets and lets you in that I want my receipt back, not only because it's the only proof I've got that I paid to get in, but also because I can pop it through on my next tax return.

So I head upstairs to the screen and plonk myself down in the optimum seating position. A few minutes later another man comes in and sits a few seats along from me. The lights go down and the adverts start. And then the screen goes blank.

We both sit there in darkness listening to the adverts and staring at a blank screen and it becomes apparent that the screen is not going to magically reactivate. So I get up, get the other chap to allow me past, head out of the screen and go outside. There is no one around to talk to about the fact that the screen isn't working. So I get on the escalator, go back down to the lobby and tell someone there. A few minutes later I'm back in the screen and - HEY PRESTO! - the screen comes back to life.

Hurrah.

I settle down to watch the trailers. At which point the screen goes blank again. By this time three more people have come in, but it's apparent that neither they nor the other chap sitting along from me give two hoots about the fact we're ensconced in darkness and there's no picture. So I get up and go outside again. Again, there's no one to complain to, so I get back on the escalator, go back down to the lobby and talk to the same person I spoke to just minutes earlier.

"We fixed it," she says.

"I know," I reply. "It's stopped working again."

"Oh," she says. "I'll call the manager."

She plucks a walkie talkie from her belt and holds it to her mouth like she's about to order a tactical nuclear strike.

"Come in," she says. "

"Yes?" Says a voice from the other end.

"Screen 10 has stopped working," she explains.

"I know," says the voice at the other end. "I fixed it."

"A guest says it's broken again," she says.

"That's twice it's broken now," says the founding member of Mensa at the other end.

"He's on it," she reassures me with a dead-eyed look.

"I think I'll get a refund, please," I say, fearing that my potential enjoyment of 10 Cloverfield Lane might be spoilt by me having to leave the cinema every five minutes to report a technical fault.

A few minutes later a lovely yet somewhat stressed looking lady takes me to the tills to issue me a refund.

"Can I have your ticket please?" She asks.

"No," I say. "I never got one." And then have to explain to her the saga of the broken ticket machine. Ten minutes later I run from Kingston Odeon clutching £9.25 in my hands and a resolution never to go back there in my mind.

By this time it's 1.15pm and I still want to see 10 Cloverfield Lane. So I decide to head to Staines (or Staines-Upon-Thames as it's now called for reasons no one seems able to fathom) to catch the 2pm screening at the Vue cinema. Kingston to Staines is about a 25 minute drive. Plenty of time.

Or at least it would've been plenty of time if I hadn't have hit two sets of roadworks on one road, and another set on the road I took to try and avoid a third set further up the first road.

By the time I reach Staines an hour and 20 minutes later, in plenty of time to catch the 3.10pm screening of 10 Cloverfield Lane, I'm at that slightly frazzled point where I'm REALLY HOPING 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE IS WORTH ALL THE HASSLE. I buy a ticket, settle down, and…

Watch the film *phew!*

And yes, it's a great film, THANK FUCK.

But wait, it doesn't end there. After the film I swing by Waitrose to get some dinner. After the day I've had I decide I need some chips, so I pick up a lovely big bag of frozen chunky chips and head to the tills. The queue is only a few people deep, but the lady working it is agonisingly slow, not helped by the old lady who's bought 10 ready meals in the reduced section which are all plastered with barcodes that won't scan. Eventually I get to the front of the queue, and as the lady scans the bag of chips… it splits open.

"Oh dear," she says. "Do you still want these?"

"Not really," I reply as I watch her pluck frozen chips off the barcode scanner and pop them delicately back in the bag.

Anyway, I'm home now, and I don't plan on leaving the house again until Clusterfuck Wednesday is done and dusted.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The host(ess) with the most(ess)

Since going freelance five years ago (five years? Really? Honestly it’s a genuine miracle I’m still alive) I’ve dabbled my filthy little hands in a variety of endeavours: teaching yoga, editing books, a huge copywriting project for a massive retail company, a little bit of design work here and there – you get the idea. Basically all stuff that generally exists within my current skill set, and all lovely things in their own ways.

And then last year I added a new string to my bow: hosting conventions.

I’ll be honest, this is not something I really pictured myself doing, but when the opportunity arose I gleefully said yes because… well, why not?

And truth be told, since I started teaching yoga I’ve discovered there’s something quite thrilling about standing in front of a crowd of people who are basically a captive audience. It’s a nice little boost to the ego (as long as they don’t look like they’re about to invade the stage and thump you).

So last May I rocked up to a reasonably swanky hotel in Birmingham as one of the MCs for Asylum 14, a convention dedicated to the TV show Supernatural (which I love). The other MC was – surprise, surprise! – The Other Half, and it was him that got me the gig in the first place, because Asylum 14, unlike the previous 13 Asylums, had grown so large that the organisers had decided to split it across two stages and they’d asked him if he knew of anyone competent enough to take the job. He didn’t, so I ended up doing it instead. So TOH was on stage one (which could accommodate, I think, about 1500 attendees), and training wheels Timmy was plonked on stage two, which was home to a mere 750.

I don’t remember having too many nerves about getting up on stage in front of 750 expectant Supernatural fans because when you’ve stood in front of 30 people in a yoga studio wearing only a pair of skimpy shorts that are clinging to you with sweat I think you’re pretty much good to go with anything. I do remember being a bit worried that I might balls one of the guests’ names up, or confuse Jared Padelecki with Jensen Ackles and introduce them as Jared Ackles and Jensen Padelecki, but fortunately that didn’t come to pass (there’s always this year, Asylum 16, March 7th-8th).

One of the lovely attendees posted this on Twitter. Honestly, give me a mic and I WILL RULE OVER ALL I SURVEY HASHTAG TIM.
I do distinctly remember getting up on stage the first time, though. It was about 9:15am on the first day and I didn’t really know what was expected of me, so I just grabbed a mic, jumped on stage and gave some spiel about not sitting in the public parts of the hotel, make sure you walk on the left in the corridors, don’t ask the guests for selfies, don’t ask inappropriate questions during the Q&As and really, please no trying to groping your favourite guest. Then I stayed on stage because, well, why not, and tried to be entertaining by stealing a trick from another Timmy and starting a game of Mallet’s Mallet.

So it was fun. I enjoyed bantering with the attendees who were universally lovely even if some of them were mad enough to want a selfie with me (that was allowed, nay ENCOURAGED), and although I didn’t get to chat to any of the guests they were all wonderful too, from Misha Collins threatening me with a sticky angel sword (no, really, that actually happened) to the moment on the final afternoon when Jared Padelecki jumped on stage, wrapped an arm around my shoulders and wouldn’t let go; honestly, trying to get out of that man’s grip was nigh on impossible. His arms are beefier than my thighs.

Me, TOH, my new best buddy Jared and the rest of the Supernatural crew.

As you can probably tell, my first taste of convention life was fun. So when they asked me back for another go I of course said yes.

Convention number 2 was called City of Heroes and was dedicated to the stars of Arrow, The Flash and Gotham, three more tellybox shows I adore. And another lovely time was had, even if I did balls Arrow star Stephen Amell’s name up when introducing him. Am-uhl. AM-UHL. Got it? Good.

Me, TOH and the the City of Heroes crew.
After that came Insurgence, which focused on The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, two shows I’ve never watched, but which have lovely stars. Best Mate Jo is forever mortified that I met her beloved Ian Somerhalder, and might I say if you ever get the chance to see Sebastian Roche at a convention do whatever you have to do to make sure you go, up to and including selling your grandmother. The man is a force of nature and wildly entertaining, so much so that his slot ran over by about 20 minutes on the first day because I couldn’t wrangle him off the stage.

Me gurning like a plonker, my other new best buddy Ian, TOH and the rest of the Insurgence crew.

Bonus Insurgence picture: me holding down a ceramic gnome while Sebastian Roche has his way with it.
Hosting conventions is a fun gig then, and it’s a shame I only get to do it a handful of times throughout the year, because quite frankly I’d do this shizzle full time if I could.

So what have we learnt then?

a) If you’re passionate about a TV show, you really should go to a convention. They're fun and you'll meet some lovely people.

b) I’m available for hosting duties if you want me. Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, you name it: I'm your man.

c) I’m an attentioning seeking whore (as if we were in any doubt).

See you at a con soon?

Monday, January 25, 2016

The great NutriBullet debacle of 2016

Anyone who knows me in real life (or irl as the kids say) will know that I eat, for want of a better term, like a four year old. Not as in I start a meal with a smile on my face and end it with the meal all over my face and down my pants, but rather that I don't necessarily eat as healthily as perhaps I could, or indeed should. Which I expect comes as something of a surprise bearing in mind that I teach yoga for a living; in fact, I remember one day someone asked me mid-class if I was vegan. Honest to god I laughed hysterically and stated rather loudly that I was heading out for a cheeky Nandos afterwards. Professional, huh?

But every now and then I do think I should buck up my ideas and look after myself a bit more, which has led to me actually adding the occasional leafy green to a meal and actually quite enjoying it. Spinach is rather lovely as it conjures images of having arms like Popeye, as is rocket purely because its name panders to my sci-fi whims.

However, in these first few weeks of January and after a particularly sugary Christmas, I decided it might be worth throwing caution to the wind and actually trying to be ridiculously super healthy. And that's how last week, after stepping out merely to post a letter, I returned home having bought a NutriBullet.

I've been aware of the NutriBullet for a while now, basically because every yoga person I follow on Twitter has been raving about them for what seems like FUH-EVER. Then, a few weeks back I woke up ridiculously early one morning and found myself watching The NutriBullet Show with David Wolfe and became mesmerised by the idea of its "600 watts of compacted power and Bullet exclusive cyclonic action" which resulted in last week's - *BANG* - spontaneous purchase.

The model I bought was a limited edition cherry red NutriBullet, and three points swayed me to make my purchase. They were, in descending order of importance:

• It was reduced to £69.50 in a Tesco flash sale
• It was cherry red, meaning it would match the kitchen, my kettle and the new Starbucks insulated cup I got for Christmas
• It might make me healthier

Sadly, because I'd only popped out to post a letter I'd walked to Tesco rather than drive, meaning I had to lug it back home in my arms like a big, boxed up cherry red baby, and I didn't have any excess arm capacity to carry any ingredients to put in it. And no, I didn't already have some fruit at home; I've lived in Sparky Towers 10 years now and barely any organic produce has crossed the threshold in that time.

So a few hours later, having learnt my lesson I drive back to Tesco and pick up some almond milk, fruit and kale, which we shall henceforth refer to as HELLSPAWN PLANT for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Upon returning home and with the NutriBullet primed and ready, I hurl some raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, avocado and HELLSPAWN PLANT into the cup, click it in place and blitz the shit out of it using all 600 watts of compacted power and Bullet exclusive cyclonic action.

A minute later I'm staring at a cupful of what I can only describe as a supremely unappetising beige drink. Still, the new healthy me steps up to the plate, and with a cheery fake smile on my face I declare "bottoms up!" to no one in particular and down the malevolent beverage, if not in one, then in at least a couple of mouthfuls. OK, five. And that's after I'd put it down following the second mouthful and gone for a bit of a sit down before returning to it 10 minutes later.

Deciding that HELLSPAWN PLANT was mostly responsible for ruining what should've been a delicious and nutritious fruity drink, I subsequently decided I'd have another bash. This time I used more raspberries, less blueberries, a bit of orange and some almond milk. This attempt was actually quite nice, and I settled down that evening with a look of unnecessary smugness on my face.

It did not last.

I shan't go into too much detail, but suffice to say, like Captain Kathryn Janeway, I now know what a Year of Hell is like. OK, so it was more of a Week of Hell not a year, but as 2016 is literally a few weeks old I think it counts. Basically, it seems my poor, Kitkat and Nandos fuelled system couldn't really cope with me ingesting a bit of fruit and decided to shut down.

Yes, like a desperate drug addict denied their fix, I went full cold turkey.

The first sign was a massive throbbing headache that felt a bit like someone was trying to punch their way out of my head (although on reflection this is entirely possible as there's very little brain in there to fill the space), followed by shaking and sweating, all of which intensified in the days that followed. Friday in particular was peak-cold turkey-ness, as it saw me stay in bed until quarter to two in the afternoon, at which point I got up and could do nothing more than sit on the sofa and stare at the TV, possibly while drooling a bit. Fortunately I'd just started the Gotham season 1 boxset, so I cracked through 10 episodes of that before going back to bed. It's really good and I highly recommend it (I'll leave you to work out whether I mean Gotham or going back to bed, or both).

Now fully recovered and no longer glancing across at the NutriBullet I haven't touched in a week like it's a fully primed nuclear weapon ready to go off, I can say that what I have learnt from this experience is that moderation is key. Yes, I *can* and *should* eat a bit healthier, and work a little harder to get those key five a day portions of fruit and veg into my body (rather than my previous five a year), but it's probably not best to cut out all the fun stuff in one go.

Fortunately, I've since been told in hushed tones of a recipe for a ridiculously healthy NutriBlast (that's what they call the drinks - I know, ridiculous) that legend has it tastes just like a chocolate milkshake. In this way, I reckon I can fool my overly sensitive system into thinking I'm knocking back a Kitkat milkshake when in fact I'm downing the elixir of life. We shall see.

Either way, kale can still go do one.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How I ended up writing an audio drama, Part II: fun times with Chancellor Gorkon

Having written the first part of what would eventually come to be The Confessions of Dorian Gray: The Spirits of Christmas I figured my duties were done and dusted and I wouldn’t really hear too much more about it except for little updates here and there from TOH. Which was fine, because in January I landed a massive copywriting gig that had me chained to my desk writing everything from how to look after your roses, to re-roofing a garden shed and what plants won’t die if you’re a hapless idiot who forgets to water them (didn’t really have to research that one too much).

Nevertheless, as March of 2015 rolled along TOH asked me if I’d like to visit the studio to see my script be recorded. What a silly question - of course I would! So I took a cheeky day off from writing about the best way to trim your bush and headed off deeper into West London where I’d get to hang out at the studio, have a lovely lunch and get to meet the cast before seeing them do their thing. Now of course, because Dorian was an ongoing series it had it’s established leading man in the form or Alexander Vlahos, along with Hugh Skinner returning as the vampire Toby. But the main guest role - a villainous Santa Claus no less! - needed to be filled…

I remember when TOH first started discussing ideas for potential Santas. I was obviously intrigued by many of the names he threw out there, but as casting wasn’t really in my remit as writer, I tried to be a little bit… shall we say ‘dispassionate’ about it? I do recall the first time he mentioned David Warner (yes, *that* David Warner), though, because I enthusiastically went “Ooooooo!” before adding “but of course it’s not my decision.”

Anyway, TOH ultimately did ask David Warner, and David Warner said yes. And I did a little nerd squeal because David Warner’s been in two Star Trek films, two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Titanic, Tron and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze and now he was going to be in something I’d written. Life can be crazy like that.

So on a brisk March morning TOH and I headed into the studio where I was introduced to Alex, Hugh, and David Blackwell who plays Simon Darlow in the one scene I didn’t write. From the outset they were all absolutely lovely and made me feel very welcome; Alex even popped out to the local shop and bought us all Freddos. Gul Madred David, I was assured, would be joining us around midday (no doubt after having finished asking Patrick Stewart how many lights there are for the day).

Recording got underway and everything was grand. It was a joy to hear such a lovely bunch of actors bring the words I wrote to life, adding a depth and nuance that lifted them beyond what had spilled from my brain onto the pages in front of them. But it wasn't just all me sitting there listening - I got to go into a recording booth too! Firstly to be involved in a brief chat for an interview that’s included as part of the Christmas special’s bonus features, then to record my cameo role as ‘Neighbour no. 2’ where I powerfully delivered the line “PISS OFF!” with a verbal punch that will no doubt lead to me being showered with nominations come awards season, and rewarded with my own critically acclaimed spin-off series in due course.

Shortly after delivering the performance of a lifetime, TOH asked if I would go and sit in the green room while everyone else was kept busy recording so I could open the door ‘when David arrives.’ I was simultaneously thrilled and shitting myself at the prospect.

For the next 15 minutes I sat alone faffing about on Facebook and Twitter on my iPhone when all of a sudden the doorbell buzzed. I jumped to my feet and scampered over to the grainy little screen that showed who’d pressed the buzzer. I couldn't really see who it was, but I *knew* who it is. I thumbed the door release and started hyperventilating. Moments later, he was standing before me: Federation ambassador St. John Talbot The legendary David Warner.

Now, I’ve met plenty of actors before; some are lovely, some require… a bit of pampering and TLC. From the outset, David Warner was just THE LOVELIEST CHAP. Straight away he introduced himself to me before saying “Ah! You must be our writer!” We chatted for a bit, then he whipped out a copy of the script and asked if we could go over some lines so he could clarify exactly how they should be delivered. My response was something along the lines of ‘ER, OF COURSE’/‘HELL YES.’

And that’s how, one Monday afternoon last year, I ended up running lines with Chancellor Gorkon of the Klingon High Council.

All in all, the whole process of being being involved with The Confessions of Dorian Gray was a delight, and just a few weeks ago, almost exactly a year to the day since I delivered my first draft of the script, I got my finished copy through the post. The Spirits of Christmas went on sale on December 21st, and the reaction to it based solely on what I’ve seen on Twitter has been very positive (one review gave it 9.7 out of 10!), which makes me a very happy bunny.

So if you’ve not listened to it yet, do be a dear and go order a copy, yeah?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How I ended up writing an audio drama, Part I: Saying no when you mean yes

As you might’ve guessed from my last post, rather a lot happened in my little life during my absence from this blog. One of the loveliest things was that I got to write an audio drama.

As with many things in life, getting the opportunity to do this came not exactly from what I know, but who I know. And in this instance, that who turned out to be my lovely significant other, who we shall henceforth refer to as The Other Half. Among other things (he’s a veritable swiss army penknife of talents), TOH writes, produces and directs audio dramas, and shortly after we began seeing each other he gave me some episodes of his to listen to. These included some Doctor Who stuff (and assorted spin-offs) and a series that he created All By Himself called The Confessions of Dorian Gray, which suggests that Oscar Wilde’s rebellious literary creation was not in fact a rebellious literary creation, but rather a rebellious real life person, and his confessions are made up of predominantly supernatural tales spanning the last one hundred years or so.

By this point TOH had produced three series of Dorian along with a handful of hour long specials, and I listened to them all in the space of a couple of weeks.

Now, I should interject here to explain that I’ve never really been a massive fan of audio drama because I don’t actually know *how* to listen to it. If I just pop my headphones in and plop myself down on the sofa I tend to fall asleep and thus only get to hear the opening lines and the end credits. And they're not something I can listen to while doing housework because, basically, I don’t do any housework. But as each episode of Dorian was only around half an hour long they were perfect to bung in the car and listen to on my regular drive to the yoga studio - which takes, as if you couldn't guess, about half an hour.

To my delight (because I could imagine nothing worse than having to skirt around TOH’s inevitable questions asking ‘what did you think?’ by nervously shuffling my feet and pretending I was going through a tunnel and clicking my phone off) I found Dorian to be thrilling stuff - exciting, scary, a bit sexy and even rather funny in places, with some wonderful performances. So when the inevitable ‘what did you think?’ question did arise I could honestly answer: ‘I loved it.’ Around this time (late 2014) TOH also started telling me that he planned to produce a two-part Dorian Christmas special for 2015, with him writing the first part and another writer tackling the second. The idea was that the two stories would be loosely connected, with the first being a somewhat lighthearted, scary festive romp, and the second being a bit more serious and tying in more closely with the series’ ongoing arc. Sounded good to me.

As time went on, however, TOH kept dropping into phone conversations that he was struggling to find the time to write his Christmas tale, most likely because he was spending a significant portion of his time in conversation with me on the phone. As a result he said was thinking he might have to hand it over to another writer. “That’s a shame,” I said, because I’m considerate like that. I was nevertheless being sincere, because I knew he had what he thought was a great idea and really wanted to write it himself.

Days and weeks passed and the same thing kept coming up in conversation until eventually one night TOH said: “Do you want to write it?” Now, TOH knew that I wrote stuff - he has a copy of my novella (still available on Amazon, just sayin’), and he’d read and apparently enjoyed a short story of mine - and of course in my head I clasped my hands to either side of my face and shrieked “YES! YES I DO!!” But then I remembered how much he *really* wanted to write it, and how enthusiastic he sounded every time he talked about it, and how he somehow managed to squeeze a ridiculous amount of work into a mere 24 hours each day meaning surely he'd find a way to get it done.

So I said “No.”

Over the next few days TOH asked the question again. And again. And again. And each time I said “No.” And then one day, he just said: “Look, if you don’t write it I’ll just get somebody else to do it.”

So I said “Yes.”

I won’t go into the fine points of writing the script because all that basically entailed was sitting at my desk and relentlessly tapping away at my keyboard. What I will say was that writing it came rather easily to me, mostly because as TOH had planned to write it himself he’d prepared loads of notes for me to work from, but also because having listened to the series in its entirety so recently I really felt like I had a good handle on the characters and their voices. I should also add that while I had all those notes to work from, TOH did give me free rein to go off piste and add in my own bits here and there to spice it up (and then de-spice it later on when he reminded me this was audio and we weren’t working with a £35 million budget). It also helped that I was given a rather tight deadline, and as long-term readers (surely there's at least some still out there?) will know, I do love a deadline.

So anyway, I turned in my first draft just before Christmas 2014 (writing it around the Christmas period certainly helped me bring an authentic festive feel to it) and nervously laughed when TOH said something along the lines of “don’t be surprised if I massively rewrite it if it’s shit.”

As it turns out, he didn’t*. I think the one major change he made was the addition of a scene between two characters (the Toby and Simon one at Dorian’s house, if you’ve listened and you’re wondering) that ties in with the second part, which mainly came down to the fact that I didn’t really know what the second story was all about. Aside from a little bit of fiddling and tidying up here and there, what was eventually recorded was pretty much as I wrote it.

And the recording? Well, we’ll come to that…

*So much so, in fact, that shortly after I'd submitted it, TOH mentioned that at some point in the future he'd let me write a regular episode of my own devising. Being the eager beaver that I am, I subsequently, and very quickly,  devised and sketched out a spooky little half hour episode. Unfortunately for me, around the same time as the Christmas episodes were recorded, TOH and Alex, the lovely chap who plays Dorian, decided that they wanted to end on a high with the fifth series (which has now been recorded and will be released sometime in 2016), meaning my spooky little half hour (which TOH said was a lovely idea) will go no further than the five pages of outline scribbled hastily in my notebook. Ya win some, ya lose some, capiche?

Monday, January 04, 2016

Lost weekend

Sitting here at my desk where I started writing this blog almost 10 years ago typing these words now feels both comfortingly familiar and, after such a long gap since my last *proper* post, dangerously new. Truth be told, I never meant to stop. I think this unexpected break came about because a) I got really busy teaching yoga, and b) after having gone freelance in mid-2011 I got the weird thought in my head that if I wasn't getting paid for writing something I was doing something heinously wrong. Put that down to a strange freelancer's mentality where any minute of the day you spend not working, or at the very least not pursuing something that *could* lead to work brings on a sense of guilt akin to being a virtuous Catholic girl caught flashing your knickers at the hormone-driven boy next door.

And so here we are, a couple of years down the line and as 2015 wheezed its last breath I very randomly got a tiny bee in my bonnet that seems to have led to me spurting a little fuel on the dying embers of this blog just to see what comes of it, and whether anyone (most of all me) actually cares any more. Aren't blogs a little… 2006? I don't know. I mean, I didn't even know what emojis were when I started this. I don't think they even existed then.

So two years, huh? Thinking about what to write by way of a reintroduction (and what to leave out *winky face emoji*) made me realise that the last couple of years have been rather an interesting, tumultuous, heartbreaking, life-affirming, frustrating, exciting, mostly brilliant whirlwind of a time - basically all the emojis, ever. It reminded me a little of how John Lennon went off and had what he called his 'lost weekend' in the seventies where he disappeared, did a lot of drugs and knobbed his PA while Yoko turned a blind eye. I didn't do a lot of drugs (and by that I mean I did none, unless we're including neurofen in which case: OOPSIE) or knob my PA (I don't have one), but the idea of a lost weekend resonated somewhat. And anyway, I don't want to document everything in detail, because that would take two years and that's time we don't have. Plus, by the time I finished I'd have to start all over again with the following two years. So I figured the best way would just be to fling the key points at you, and like birds sitting in a tree shitting on a nice car, see what sticks. Make sense? Good. Here we go:

Taught a lot of yoga, met someone for coffee/they thought it was a date, learned something about myself, had a birthday, did a lot of yoga, lost a lot of weight, got a tattoo, had a very sad birthday, dealt with some shit, had a very sad Christmas, started dating, met someone nice, had a lovely time, walked the length and breadth of London, taught a yoga class dressed like a lady, got dumped, went through some shit, cried a bit, told my mum I liked boys as well as girls, cried a bit more, grew my hair, saw two Star Trek movies at the Royal Albert Hall, went up the Shard, went to Norwich, taught lots of yoga in Norwich, liked Norwich, came home, taught more yoga, drank a lot of coffee, thought about life, messed about on Tinder, tweeted a lot, met a friend of some friends for coffee, watched the Alien movies in order (yes, the AvP ones as well), made an excuse to meet the friend of some friends for more coffee, asked "is this mates or dates?", got told it was "definitely not mates," smiled a lot, went to Cardiff, went to Norwich again, went Facebook official, went to Birmingham, met the mother-in-law, hung out at a Supernatural convention, ate lots of Nandos, cut my hair, had a very happy birthday, wrote an audio drama, went ice-skating, was given the most amazing Christmas present, got a massive copywriting gig for a huge company, got a huge tax bill, introduced the other half to the parents, rewrote audio drama lines with the legendary David Warner, had a post-it note portrait drawn, hosted a Supernatural convention, got hugged by Jared Padalecki, hosted a superhero convention, rode a Segway, got offered a job at huge company (turned it down), hosted a Vampire Diaries convention, got hugged by Ian Somerhalder, got horribly sunburnt, went to Cardiff, bought an Apple Watch, had the other half move in with me for a few months, spent some more time in Norwich, got chased by a man with a chainsaw, had the other half move back in for another month, saw the new Star Wars movie, had an awesome Christmas, saw the new Star Wars movie (again), saw the Peanuts movie, got merry, and started thinking about the future.

How's things with you?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading list 2015

Oh look! It's that time again where I list all the books I've read over the last 12 months and the few remaining people that have any interest in this blog bemoan the fact that I've wilfully neglected it for yet another year. Who knows, maybe that will change in the new year, but for now you'll have to put up with knowing that I filled the time I didn't use to write this blog by reading a lot of books in 2015 -- and some of them were brilliant.

Usual rules apply: I'm grading books on a scale that ranges from A+ for those that made me want to do a special sex wee, to D- and beyond for those that made me put them down and gently nudge them away while wrinkling my nose like they smelt of a particularly pungent poo. I'm also, of course, linking each book title to the page of a huge multinational tax-dodging company, purely for convenience sake I should add. If you fancy any of the following titles, I'd urge you to buy from a real honest to God bricks and mortar bookshop (Waterstones and Foyles are both LOVELY), although graphic novels (of which there are plenty) can also undoubtedly be found in a variety of wonderful independent comic book shops. So there. Shall we begin?

01. Star Trek Volume 8 - The latest volume collecting the ongoing JJ-verse stories of Pine-Kirk and Quinto-Spock features tales in which they meet female versions of themselves, sees the Enterprise gain sentience and a remarkable new member of the crew, and discover what happened to a missing astronaut from NASA's Apollo-era. Entertaining, but not the series' best collection: B

02. The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero - Intriguing novel told in an intriguing way about a 23 year old and his mute 17 year old friend who attempt to unravel the secrets of a haunted house and a conspiracy that spans the globe. An unusual book, and not without its flaws, but it's a good read that for the most part keeps you hooked: B

03. Star Trek: Ships of the Line by Doug Drexler - Updated edition of the coffee table book that collects images from the ships of the line calendars. Considerably bigger than the original edition, and packed with a whole load of beautiful new images from all eras of the Star Trek franchise and beyond. A stunning book: A

04. Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix - Great little horror story set in a furniture store that bears an uncanny resemblance to IKEA, made even more convincing and enjoyable for the fact that the physical book is designed to look like an IKEA catalogue with fictional - and increasingly terrifying - products scattered throughout. A very enjoyable read: A

05. All You Need is KILL by Hiroshi Sakurazaka - The book on which the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow is based. It's a fun read, but truth be told, I actually enjoyed the film more: B-

06. The Canary Trainer by Nicholas Meyer - Another Sherlock Homes pastiche from the director of Star Trek II. This tale sees the famed detective living quietly in Paris after having faked his death following the events of The Seven Per-Cent Solution, until his post as a violinist at the Paris opera is disturbed by a series of incidents and ultimately murders committed by a shadowy figure known only as Nobody. A thoroughly enjoyable read: A

07. Love and Rockets: New Stories Vol. 7 by Los Bros Hernandez - The latest collection of stories from Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez continues the brothers' ongoing Locas and Palomar storylines. As brilliant as ever: A

08. Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter (Kindle) - An enjoyable enough novel from acclaimed sci-fi writer Baxter focusing on the second Doctor and his companions Zoe and Jamie, but I felt there was something lacking in the story, and parts of it simply felt hurried: B-

09. Alien: River of Pain by Christopher Golden (Kindle) - The final book in the new Alien trilogy of novels that began with Out of the Shadows and Sea of Sorrows takes us back to LV-426 to see how the aliens overran the colony prior to the events of the 1986 film Aliens. It's a bit of a slow burner, with much of the novel dealing with the personalities and politics surrounding life at the fledgling colony and the xenomorphs only turning up around halfway through… but that's by no means a bad thing, and this turns out to be a very effective story - probably my favourite instalment in this series, in fact: B+

10. The West End Horror by Nicholas Meyer - Rounding out the trilogy of Sherlock Holmes pastiches from the writer and director of Star Trek II is this tale of a man called Jack committing murders in London's West End. While the reader is let to believe this story might be a spin on the heinous crimes of Jack the Ripper, the tale that ultimately unfolds is one that is surprisingly terrifying in an altogether more unexpected way, and an absolute thrill to read. I thoroughly enjoyed all three of Meyer's Holmes stories, and can only hope he'll eventually give us another: A

11. Star Trek: Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever - The Original Teleplay - Ellison's original script for the classic original series episode is finally realised as the writer intended, albeit in graphic novel form. It's a cracking read with some truly stunning artwork, and provides a tantalising glimpse of what could have been had budgets and Roddenberry allowed: A

12. The Planetary Omnibus by Warren Ellis, illustrated by John Cassidy - Collecting every issue of the classic comic book into one gigantic book, this omnibus collection tells the story of Elijah Snow and the Planetary team as they go about keeping our strange world strange. Beautifully written and illustrated, Planetary does a wonderful job of subverting some familiar comics conventions to tell a tale that spans the 20th century: B+

13. Star Trek Volume 9: The Q Gambit - The latest volume in the ongoing adventures of Captain Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise as they boldly go in the new movie universe. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this edition – which collects a six-issue storyline that introduces Q to the new crew and throws them into a future timeline where they encounter an alternate reality version of the Deep Space Nine crew – is one of the best Star Trek comics I've ever read: A

14. Paper Towns by John Green (Kindle) - Thought I'd give this novel by one of the bestselling young adult authors a whirl after reading good things about it. Wish I hadn't. It's a dull, drawn out story of a young guy trying to track down a missing girl using clues she's left behind. None of the characters are interesting or sympathetic enough to care about, and it feels like a book that should've been about half as long: C-

15. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Kindle) - After seeing the film and the stage show I thought it was about time I read the original novel on which they're based, and what a cracking, haunting read it is. Thoroughly enjoyable and quietly sinister - I loved it: A

16. Star Trek: The Original Series - Crisis of Consciousness by Dave Galanter (Kindle) - This TOS novel finds Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise trying to prevent a race of Vulcanoid beings from activating a devastating weapon of mass destruction in order to destroy an ancient threat. An interesting premise but only a mildly diverting read with too little plot spread too thinly across too many pages. I never felt the threat was truly threatening enough regardless of the stakes (in fact, the threat of galactic-wide devastation was possibly too silly, thus negating any fear the weapon might actually be used), and it felt very much like a Star Trek novel by numbers: C

17. Revolt at the Beach by C.D. Payne (Kindle) - Book eight in Payne's ongoing Twisp family chronicles that began with Youth in Revolt. This book focuses on Nick's illegitimate son, also called Nick, who is left with his father in L.A. and goes on to star in a movie based on events from the original book. While there are hints of the earlier novel's brilliance, I can't help but feel Payne has returned to the well a little too often and the series has begun to outstay its welcome: C+

18. Stallo by Stefan Spjut (Kindle) - Brilliant story of a woman who investigates the abduction of a young boy, believing that trolls are responsible. A gripping, well-written novel: A

19. Dark Matter by Michelle Paver (Kindle) - Haunting tale of a 1937 expedition to the Arctic circle that suffers a series of incidents that ultimately leave just one member of the team alone in the dark. Told through a series of journal entries, the story unfolds to reveal that the lone team member isn't actually alone. A thoroughly enjoyable little ghost story: A

20. Love and Rockets: Luba and her Family by Gilbert Hernandez - More tales from Beto, focusing this time on young Venus and Luba's efforts to get her husband into the U.S. As always, masterful storytelling from one of the brothers behind Love and Rockets: B+

21. Go Set a Watchmen by Harper Lee (Kindle) - Lee's somewhat controversial second novel is finally published after being hidden for years in a bank vault. Not as memorable as To Kill a Mockingbird, but a beautifully written, thoughtful novel that I'm glad we've been given the opportunity to read: B+

22. Star Trek: The Original Series - Vulcan's Glory by D.C. Fontana (Kindle) - Written by one of the original series' best writers, this tale is set during the time of Captain Christopher Pike's tenure as captain of the Enterprise and focuses mainly on Spock, although it is deftly woven with a few other storylines. It's a great Star Trek novel, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed: A

23. Star Trek: Enterprise - The Good that Men Do by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - The first book in the Enterprise relaunch series corrects the television series' greatest mistake (the killing of Commander Trip Tucker) by revealing how Enterprise NX-01's chief engineer faked his own death in order to become a spy charged with infiltrating the Romulan Star Empire. An entertaining read that sets up events to come in future novels well: B+

24. Star Trek: Seekers - Long Shot by David Mack (Kindle) - The third novel in the Star Trek: Vanguard spinoff series has the crew of the U.S.S. Sagittarius visiting a world where the laws of probability have been thrown out of balance. Perhaps not quite as enjoyable as the first couple of books in this series, but still a very enjoyable Star Trek novel: B+

25. Star Trek Online: The Needs of the Many by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - An unexpectedly brilliant novel detailing events that tie into the long-running Star Trek MMO game. Told in the style of a series of interviews featuring new and long-established Trek characters primarily discussing the Federation's war with Species 8472, but also tying in with the destruction of Romulus as seen in the 2009 Star Trek film, this book reminded me conceptually of Max Brooks' terrific World War Z, and was all the better for it: A

26. Star Trek: Enterprise - Kobayashi Maru by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - The second book in the Enterprise relaunch series explores the growing Romulan threat against the newly formed Coalition of Planets, and reveals the true story behind Starfleet's Kobayashi Maru 'no-win' scenario: B+

27. Star Trek: A Flag Full of Stars by Brad Ferguson - A classic Star Trek novel that was lent to me by a friend purely because of a subplot involving a Klingon taking care of a kitten! Kittens and Klingons aside, this was an solid read that fills in some of the blanks between the end of the Enterprise's five year mission and its relaunch in Star Trek: The Motion Picture: B+

28. Star Trek: Enterprise - The Romulan War - Beneath the Raptor's Wings by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - After being set up in the two previous novels in the Enterprise relaunch series, we finally get to one of the most fascinating unseen events in Star Trek's long history - the outbreak of war with the Romulan Star Empire. This is a solid tale that gives good insight into the war, not only from the perspective of the Enterprise crew buy from other sources too. Entertaining, if lacking perhaps a little in something that would make it truly brilliant: B+

29. The Autobiography of James T. Kirk by David A. Goodman (Kindle) - Without doubt the most entertaining Star Trek novel I've read in a long time. From unseen moments in Kirk's life through to ingenious retellings of familiar Original Series moments from the captain's perspective, this was a wonderful book. My only complaint? The events of Star Trek V are dealt with a little too harshly for my liking when they could have tied in nicely with the ongoing Kirk-Spock-McCoy friendship that runs through the book. But this is a minor complaint: A+

30. Star Trek: Enterprise - The Romulan War - To Brave the Storm by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - the Romulan War continues in… well, a somewhat underwhelming style, if I'm honest. After setting up the conflict between Earth and the devious, pointy eared Romulans so well in the previous three books, what should've been an epic conclusion to this chapter in the Star Trek novel continuity kind of falls at the final hurdle. It's by no means an awful book, but it feels just a little rushed and genuinely in places like the author couldn't be bothered or didn't have the time to write what could've been some rather thrilling and explosive sequences: C

31. The Watchers by Neil Spring (Kindle) - Thoroughly enjoyable novel that puts a paranormal spin on the apparently true life sightings of UFOs over parts of Wales in the 1970s. This is a cracking, page-turner of a read that zips along at a fair old pace; I got through it in mere days and loved every page: A

32. The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring (Kindle) - A wonderful novel that postulates what could've happened during real life ghost hunter Harry Price's visits to what is believed to have been the most haunted house in Great Britain. Thrilling and just a little bit terrifying in places: A-

33. Fun with Kirk and Spock: A Parody by Robb Pearlman - A very amusing take on the original Star Trek series presented in the form of a beautifully illustrated children's book. Laugh out loud in places and highly amusing throughout: B+

34. Star Trek Volume 10 - Another collection of stories from the ongoing new Star Trek comic book series, this time detailing events that transpire when the Starship Enterprise is transported to the distant Delta Quadrant. Not the series' strongest tales, but enjoyable nonetheless: B

35. Intro to Alien Invasion by Owen King and Mark Jude Poirier, illustrated by Nancy Ahn - Graphic novel telling the tale of an outbreak of alien parasites at an isolated college. Easy to read and great fun: B+

36. Star Trek: New Voyages Volume 1 by John Byrne - An interesting collection in which Byrne creates new Star Trek stories via a photo montage technique (basically photoshop). The result is actually quite remarkable and the tales themselves are rather enjoyable: B+

37. Liberty Meadows Sundays: Book 1 by Frank Cho - A beautifully presented collection of the Liberty Meadows sunday strips. It's a hilarious, rude, wonderfully illustrated and often crude collection, and I loved it: A

38. Star Trek: New Voyages Volume 2 by John Byrne - The second collection of Byrne's photo montage stories is rather more assured in its storytelling than the first, and highly recommended: A

39. Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson - A wonderful graphic novel telling the story of a young girl and her two friends as they traverse the depths of the Murky Way in search of her missing father. This book is bright and bold, beautifully written and illustrated and a complete joy to read: A+

40. The 42b - The first book from independent publisher We Are Cardiff Press is a beautiful little book of short stories held together by the thread of a bus line that runs through the city. I thoroughly enjoyed these wonderful stories: A

41. The Complete Peanuts 1991-1992 by Charles Schulz - Catching up with more tales of Charlie Brown and Snoopy as this collection enters the twilight years of Schulz's masterpiece: A

42. Star Trek: Seekers - All That's Left by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore (Kindle) - The fourth book in the Seekers line is a cracking tale of alien parasites attempting to 'collect' members of a Federation archaeological team and the U.S.S. Endeavour crew to ensure their own continued survival. Felt a little like a Star Trek spin on the film Prometheus, and proved to be thoroughly enjoyable: A-

43. The Complete Peanuts 1993-1994 by Charles Schulz - Another cracking collection of Peanuts strips: A

44. Before Tomorrowland by Jeff Jensen, illustrated by Jonathan Case - A wonderful story set in 1939 New York which sees a mother and son drawn into a conflict between a crazed Nazi scientist and a group of forward thinkers including Howard Hughes, Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla who unite under the name Plus Ultra. The book is a prequel to the movie Tomorrowland but both stand alone; I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, and it reminded me a little of Michael Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. It's a beautifully packaged book too, with my only minor grumble being a rather significant number of sloppy proofing errors that should've been picked up before it was published: A

45. Groo: Friends and Foes Volume 1 by Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier - I've long been a big fan of Aragonés' Groo the Wanderer comic book, and this collection of the first four issues of the Friends and Foes series doesn't disappoint. Each issue stands alone as a wonderful example of Groo humour, but there's also hints of an over-arcing storyline that will no doubt play out further in the coming second and third volumes. Funny, beautifully illustrated and a great read: A

There we go - 45 books in total, a smidgeon less than the 50 I've managed over the last couple of years. And aside from that what did we learn? I read a lot of Star Trek books this year. A LOT. What was that all about? Anyway, after a wonderful haul of presents at Christmas I've already got a lovely stack of books waiting for me to lay my grubby little mitts on in 2016 (none of which are Star Trek, you'll be pleased to know). But of course, I won't talk about them until this time next year. But who knows, maybe I'll pop back here and write something before then? No promises, of course…

Until then, a very Happy New Year to all!