Saturday, December 31, 2016

Reading list 2016

I'm baaaaaaack! OK, so my blog reboot fizzled a bit earlier in the year after that REALLY TRYING DAY when I tried to see 10 Cloverfield Lane, but I've been busy since then as well which is why I've not had time to hurl myself back into writing here as much as I would've liked to.

Why am I defending myself? God, shut up!

Anyway, that's not why I'm here today – because today, it's time for my annual reading list! Woo-hoo! I know you're all excited about this one because a) why wouldn't you be, but also b) these posts are as much for me as they are for telling you what I've been reading because I've gotten particularly OCD about keeping track of the books I read. I know. Shut up.

So while I may have been busy with other things, I've still been reading. Which is a good thing. Kids, you should all be reading more.

Where were we? Oh yes. The reading list. So as always the usual things apply: I'm dusting off my tweed jacket with the worn leather elbow pads and grading all the books I've read based on a scale that goes from A+ (for those that gave me a little thrill in my downstairs area) to D- and beyond (for those that made me go to a chemist for a special cream for my downstairs area). I'm also providing links to a well know online store whose digital service I've used to read some on my Kindle, but if any of these books take your fancy and you want to pick up an actual physical dead tree copy of your own, I'd urge you to go to a lovely bookshop such as Waterstones or Foyles, or if you have one nearby a little independent shop. Honestly, they're brilliant and I'm sure they'd love to have you browsing their shelves.

Let's begin…

01. Figure Fantasy by Daniel Picard - a stunning collection of the author's photography featuring life-like action figures taken from films and comic books and placed in unusual, every day situations: B+

02. Invincible: Ultimate Collection Volume 10 by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley - The latest addition to the series of hardcover collections of this ongoing superhero comic book series. I can't help feel that Invincible has lost a little of the creativity that once made it so uniquely enjoyable, but it's still a fun read, highly entertaining and worth checking out: B+

03. Joyland by Stephen King - A coming of age tale more akin to King's Stand By Me than his more terrifying works of horror, this book tells the story of a young man's time spent working at a fading theme park. Although there are touches of the author's trademark supernatural flourishes throughout, this book is finely honed portrait of someone at a turning point in their life. It's beautifully written, by turn both heart wrenching and heart stopping, and gripping throughout. I loved it: A

04. The Complete Peanuts 1995-1996 by Charles Schulz - Nearing the end of this incredible collection (only three more volumes to go) and Schulz's comic strip masterpiece is still as insightful and brilliant as ever: A

05. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs - Brilliantly told fantasy tale about a teenage boy who discovers the outlandish tales of children with incredible abilities told to him by his grandfather are true: A

06. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs - The sequel to the above title, and the middle tale of the Miss Peregrine's trilogy, is a thoroughly enjoyable story that picks up immediately where the previous book left off. It suffers just a little bit in places from being the second story of a trilogy, but on the whole it's great fun and the conclusion leaves you waiting for the final book: A-

07. Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs - The third and final book in the Miss Peregrine's series sees Jacob and Emma separated from their peculiar friends and with no choice but to take the fight to the Wights who threaten to destroy Peculiardom. A rousing finale for a wonderful series: A-

08. Love and Rockets New Stories 8 by The Hernandez Brothers - A new selection of stories from Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. I didn't feel this volume was quite up to the standards of previous ones, but the Hernandez Brothers' work nevertheless remains head and shoulders above other comic books: B+

09. Illuminae by Jay Kristof and Amie Kaufman - A young adult novel told primarily in the form of various communiques between two teenage lovers, Kady and Ezra, following an attack on the planet they’re living on and their subsequent escape aboard a fleet of ships. A brilliantly told story that is by turns gripping, heart-wrenching and thrilling; the book is beautifully designed and packaged too with wonderfully illustrated pages that need to be seen to fully appreciate. Simply one of the most original and engaging books I’ve read in a long time: A+

10. Prometheus: The Complete Fire and Stone - An immense graphic novel collection drawing together stories from the Prometheus, Aliens, AvP and Predator comics to tell one epic story. It starts brilliantly - the Prometheus and Aliens entries telling wonderful stories that promise much - but the AvP and Predator tales prove to be little more than competent all out slug fests, while the final chapter, Prometheus: Omega, appears to get things back on track before trailing off with the most ridiculously open ended conclusion that fails to wrap up any of the ongoing plot threads. That said, for the most part I enjoyed this a rather a lot: B

11. Leonard: My Fifty Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner with David Fisher (Kindle) - A touching and insightful memoir of Shatner's near 50 year friendship with Leonard Nimoy. Yes, many of the Star Trek anecdotes here have been told elsewhere, but there's enough fascinating new details about both these remarkable men to warrant giving this a read, and both their voices shine throughout: A-

12. Star Trek Volume 11 by Mike Johnson - The latest graphical novel collection of Kelvin Timeline Star Trek comics collects stories detailing an encounter with the Tholians, Sulu's first landing party mission, and a special that draws the doctors of the five Star Trek series together to solve a mysterious virus that threatens the Federation. Entertaining enough, but not the series' finest collection: B

13. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Kindle) - Cracking story about the crew of a spaceship that creates tunnels through space. There’s a hint of galactic politics and a larger story bubbling under throughout the book, but its main focus is on the individual members of the ship’s crew and this it does marvellously - with Chambers crafting a wonderful array of characters you really care for. Loved this: A

14. Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey (Kindle) - After reading good things about the television show based on The Expanse series of books I thought I'd give the first novel a go. It's a great read, very entertaining and with some good characters and interesting story threads. However, it didn't quite make me want to jump straight into the second book right away, although I'm sure I will plough on with the series at some point (on a side note, the TV series is worth a bash): B

15. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (Kindle) - A good read that tells the story of the discovery of a giant robot hidden in pieces across the globe and reconstructed by a secret government agency. Using emails and journal entries to tell the tale makes this an interesting and quick read, but I did feel I was missing certain parts of the story along the way. Still, I’m intrigued enough to be looking forward to the already announced sequel, and wondering where the story will go next: B

16. They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper by Bruce Robinson (Kindle) - A comprehensively researched and brilliantly written exploration of the Victorian serial killer. Robinson delves deep into not only the legend of the ripper but also Victorian society to reveal the identity of who he believes truly was the infamous Whitechapel murderer. He makes a compelling case, and this is a stunning read: A

17. Archie Vs. Predator - Fantastically fun collected edition of the four issue comic book series that brings the fun-loving characters of the Archie comic book series together with the murderous alien Predator. It shouldn’t work – yet somehow it does, and it’s a joyous thing! A

18. Aliens: The Original Comic Series 30th Anniversary by Mark Verheidan, illustrated by Mark A. Nelson - A beautifully designed oversized hardback collecting the 1980s comics that continued the story of Hicks and Newt after the events of the movie Aliens (and before Alien 3 rendered it all moot). It’s a good read that has some interesting twists and turns, and a unique take on where the Aliens franchise could have gone: B+

19. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay - An enjoyable novel about the effects a teenage girl’s apparent possession has on her family, particularly her young sister whose eyes the story is told through. It’s an effective tale, but I found it somewhat lacking in chills: B+

20. Arkwright by Allen Steele - A simply brilliant novel that tells the story of Humanity’s first interstellar starship, spanning the generations from the project’s very beginnings in the 20th century through to the ship’s arrival at a distant planet centuries later. I loved this book (so much so that I’ll just about forgive it for the very noticeable typos that cropped up a bit too frequently) - one of the very best sci-fi tales I’ve read in a long time: A

21. Star Trek Volume 12 by Mike Johnson - The latest collected edition of stories from the Star Trek comics line sees Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise meet their Mirror Universe counterparts, while a second tale explores the backstory of the Orion character Gaila. The Mirror Universe story is a particular highlight of the run so far, and a thoroughly enjoyable read: B+

22. Star Trek: Manifest Destiny by Mike Johnson - The crew of the Kelvin Timeline Enterprise (that’s the JJ Abrams universe if you didn’t know) come into conflict with a group of rogue Klingons who seize the ship as part of a plan to take control of the Empire. A decent Star Trek graphic novel: B

23. Return to Tomorrow - The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Preston Neal Jones - A massively comprehensive tome detailing the troubled production of the first Star Trek movie. This remarkable time capsule gives an incredible insight into the film and its many issues, and includes some startlingly honest opinions from the 70+ members of the cast and crew who are interviewed. A fascinating read for Trek fans and those interested in film production: A

24. Guidelines for Mountain Lion Safety by Poe Ballantine (Kindle) - The latest collection of one of my favourite author’s writings contains more stories of Poe’s time spent traveling across the U.S. in his earlier years, along with contemporary tales of his new life as a husband and father. Joyous, honest, and in places heart wrenching: A

25. The Butcher of Anderson Station by James S. A. Corey (Kindle) - A short novella from the universe of The Expanse. This story details what led to the character Fred from Leviathan Wakes being given the name ‘the Butcher of Anderson Station.’ A quick read, and entertaining enough: B 

26. We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson - Thoroughly enjoyable story of a teenage boy who, when presented with the option of saving the world from destruction by aliens he calls the Sluggers, has to consider whether he actually wants to save humanity. The second young adult book I read this year, and one of my favourite reads of 2016: A

27. Spock Must Die! by James Blish - The first ever Star Trek novel is something of a curiosity as obviously it was written without knowledge of the countless hours of television and film to come. In this tale, the Klingons go to war against the Federation after somehow neutralising the Organian race who had forced peace upon the Empire and the Federation in the television episode Errand of Mercy, while at the same time the efforts of the crew of the Enterprise to learn what has taken place results in the creation of a duplicate Spock. There’s a few character quirks throughout that make the characterisations of the Enterprise crew a little ‘off’ but this is still a fun read: B+

28. Star Trek: The Fifty Year Mission – The First 25 Years by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman (Kindle) - A fantastic book detailing the origins of Star Trek and the production of the original series TV show and movies. The book takes the form of an oral history, collecting snippets of interviews from those involved in the series, and revealing information that even I, a seasoned Trek fan, was unaware of: A+

29. Star Trek: The Fifty Year Mission – From Next Generation to J.J. Abrams by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman (Kindle) - Continuing on from where the first book left off, the second volume of this series delves into the creation and production of the modern Trek series, with plenty of discussion and commentary on the politics and strife that went on behind the scenes, and information about Trek projects that were never realised. Both volumes are an essential read for Star Trek fans: A+

30. Star Trek: The Classic Episodes by James Blish - A beautifully put together collection of some of Blish's TOS novelisations in one giant leather bound volume. Wonderfully written versions of some of the original Star Trek's best episodes which often expand upon or differ from the source material, making them a unique read: A

31. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (Kindle) - The second book in Chambers' Wayfarers series is markedly different from the first, picking up on threads left dangling from the events of the first story but with the focus shifting to the characters of Pepper and Sidra, the former AI of the Wayfarer. While this is an unexpected shift, the story is nevertheless a great one with two strong female protagonists: A

32. Star Trek: Starfleet Academy by Mike Johnson - This Star Trek graphic novel introduces a group of new young characters and ties their story into one featuring the cast of the Kelvin Timeline Enterprise crew during their time at Starfleet Academy. It's a good read, and one that surprised me with its quality: A 

33. Bone: Coda by Jeff Smith - A wonderful final chapter in Smith's Bone saga. It's slight and not strictly speaking necessary addition to the Bone legacy, but it's a joy to see the Bone cousins back in action once again. Also contains the Bone Companion detailing Smith's effort to get his masterpiece into print: A

34. Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff - Second book in the trilogy that began with Illuminae; Gemini starts as its own story set along similar lines to Illuminae with two new teenaged protagonists finding themselves facing an armed takeover of a space station, before picking up the threads of the first book and weaving them deftly into one tale. A great story and like its predecessor, a visual treat: A+

35. Lazarus by David Bowie and Enda Walsh - The book of the musical telling the tale of what happens to the alien Thomas Jerome Newton after the events of The Man Who Fell to Earth. I loved the stage show, and reading this script helped bring greater clarity to moments I missed when I saw it performed: B+

36. My Neighbour Totoro by Tsugiko Kubo - A beautifully packaged and wonderfully told novelisation of the acclaimed Studio Ghibli film, telling the story of a young girl’s move to the countryside and their discovery of a strange creature living in the nearby woods. A delightful tale: A 

37. The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. Van Vogt - A classic sci-fi novel that was among the inspirations for the original Star Trek television show. The book is told in an episodic fashion, effectively as three interlinked novellas detailing not only the crew of the Space Beagle’s interactions with alien life forms, but also the politics they face among themselves during their long voyage. A fun read: A

38. The Complete Peanuts 1997-1998 by Charles Schultz - Another collection of Schultz’s masterpiece as the series draws towards its final years; even after so many years, Schultz’s humour and penmanship remained first class well into their fifth decade: A

39. The Complete Peanuts 1999-2000 by Charles Schultz - The final volume of daily and Sunday strips sees Peanuts draw to a close after almost 50 years, and an emotional goodbye in Schultz’s very last panel. This collection also features the complete L’il Folks, Schultz’s precursor to Peanuts, a fun addition that provides glimpses of how Snoopy and the gang ultimately came to fruition: A+

40. Ofelia by Gilbert Hernandez - Another Love and Rockets collection that features the ongoing misadventures of Beto’s cast of characters including, among others, Luba, Pipo, Fritz, Doralis and of course, Ofelia. Always a great read: B+

41. Star Trek Volume 13 by Mike Johnson - The final volume in the ongoing Star Trek series set in the Kelvin Timeline features two of its finest stories; the first is a fitting farewell to Leonard Nimoy’s elder Spock that details his attempts to aid the Vulcans of this timeline in finding a new home, while the second sees a crossover that could only happen in the comics as the crew of the original series encounter their Kelvin Timeline alter egos. A treat for Trekkies: A+

42 Groo: Friends and Foes Volume 2 by Sergio Aragones - The second book in the Friends and Foes miniseries sees Aragones’ warrior meet more familiar faces and cause increasing amounts of chaos along the way! A fun-filled read: B+

That's yer lot then. At 42, I managed a smidgeon less books this year purely because, I'm guessing, some of the ones I read (I'm looking at you, Star Trek: The Classic Episodes and Return to Tomorrow) were huge and very heavy and would cut off the supply of blood to my legs if I didn't ration the time I spent reading them. As is often the case though, after Christmas I have a lovely stack of new books ready to get stuck into in the New Year, so hurrah for reading!

Right, whatever you're doing I hope you have a very happy and healthy New Year, and maybe - just maybe - I'll be back here soon…

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.


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?