Sunday, 10 October 2010

Primary Instinct by Sarah Cawkwell - review

I mentioned in my last post that I would write a review of newcomer Sarah Cawkwell's debut story in Hammer and Bolter when I was done reading it. Well, I've just finished the story, so here's the review.

The story describes the fortunes of an assault squad of Silver Skulls Space Marines, the 'Reckoners', deployed to the jungle world of Ancerios III to search out the possible crash site of an Eldar vessel along with any clues regarding the fate of the crew. Ploughing through the dense jungle the Marines discover a sinister alien life form that opens their eyes to a new threat; the implications of which are as disturbing as they are far-reaching.

The opening paragraphs build a vivid picture of the world she has thrown the squad into and I found her descriptive prose a joy to read. It seems to take every human sense into account in building the picture, leading to a remarkably holistic experience. Initially her beginner's nerves show themselves in the somewhat out-of-character dialogue of lead protagonist Brother Sergeant Ur'ten but within the space of the first few 'pages' (kindle pages) she seems to find her confidence and in the words of Dan Abnett, kick in the door and take no prisoners. The pace of the story ebbs and flows with the skill of a veteran and Cawkwell adds a very welcome sense of mystery to the proceedings as the plot unfolds.

The combat scenes are gripping and suitably fast paced while still managing to move the story forward rather than indulging in pure shooty-death-kill-in-space. Brother Sergeant Ur'ten grows steadily as a character, displaying a welcome measure of self-knowledge and a combat competence born of over a century of fighting in the Emperor's name. In addition, Ur'ten's supporting cast are equally compelling; though special mention must go to Prognosticator Bhehan, who in the Silver Skulls takes the role of Librarian with a hint of Chaplain. He is a really great character, who in truth deserves the title of joint lead protagonist as he adds a great deal of depth and subtlety to an already excellent story.

As far as true-to-canon goes, and this is a big one in this genre, Cawkwell brings the already developed background of this chapter, sparse as it is, and then adds gently to it in a way that never jars. She paints the picture of a proud and deeply religious chapter that looks to it's Prognosticators for both battle and spiritual guidance, seeing their warp powered visions as communications from the Emperor.

I really loved this story. Despite the very early awkwardness Cawkwell has, for me, really established her bona fides as a talented 40k storyteller.

I look forward to reading more, soon. (Please?)

Friday, 8 October 2010

Black Library go Digital!

I've waited a long time for this day but at last it's here. The publishers who provide me with the majority of my leisure reading material are going digital!

By the end of October, Black Library's digital store will be open and I'll be able to buy all of my favourite author's work for my Kindle. As any long time reader of this blog may remember, my reluctance to buy the Kindle was based primarily upon the fact that the sort of stuff I like to read wasn't available on it, but no longer!

As part of their publicity campaign Black Library will be releasing an e-book every Friday for the next five weeks, gratis, to give people a taste of what to expect. This week's release is First and Only by Dan Abnett. If there are any of you out there with an ebook reader, including an iPhone or iPad, head over here and download the zip file.

I think I've made my feelings fairly clear on all things Warhammer 40,000. It's dystopian Science Fiction of the very best kind and should be read by all people with a taste for SF. The reason most people don't try is because the aforementioned world is thought of as being hard to get into, I'm going to ignore the tie-in fiction snobs who think it's beneath them.

I think Dan Abnett's First and Only is a great introduction. It is a series of short stories that introduce you to a unique Imperial Guard regiment and their battles, both internal and in a universe at war. I have long considered Mr. Abnett The Master and this book, one of his earlier works, set the foundation stone in my temple of to speak...I don't in any way have a candlelit shrine to this most gifted author, that would be madness, MADNESS I SAY.


Anyway, the other little bit of exciting news from those lovely people at Black Library is the release of their new digital-only fiction magazine, Hammer and Bolter.

Anyone already familiar with Games Workshop may remember Inferno magazine, which created a space for aspiring authors to show us their work in short story form. It also gave the opportunity for established writers to delve into the 40k and Warhammer Fantasy worlds in short story format rather than the novels they are more used to writing.

Hammer and Bolter will now fulfill this role. The first issue was on a CD that Black Library made available at Games Day and I'm in the middle of reading through it and enjoying it enormously. Just one point though guys and girls, please make Issue 2 with a selectable content page! (I'm sure they're already on it but I thought I'd mention it).

The newcomer's role is ably played by Sarah Cawkwell in her debut story, Primary Instinct, a little review of which I may post here when I get to it. Admittedly I've had a peek and been very impressed at her vivid world-building prose but I'll wait until I've read the whole story before saying anymore.

So, an exciting time for me reading wise. My Kindle has gotten more use in the last two weeks than the last year and I can't wait to see what the future holds for this publisher. The digital-only format of this magazine might limit the readership initially but with more and more people with iPhones and the like, it may open this universe out to people who might not otherwise have bothered. I hope so, it's really great stuff.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Games Day UK 2010

I'm freshly returned from Games Workshop's annual main event, Games Day. I'm exhausted as only other convention goers know and I must now head over to some dive bar in Camden Town for a friends leaving party as he's heading off for warmer climes. What a day.

First off a small confession, I spent a boatload of money. This means that food is going to be scarce in the coming month but I laugh in the face of hardship...particularly when it's self-inflicted. My upcoming fast aside, it was a great day for a number of reasons which if you'll stick around, I'll now share with you.

Firstly, shiny new toys; but if the truth be told shiny new toys are buyable all year round and when added to the teeth-grindingly-frustrating queueing snafu's it means that next year I'll be ordering my stuff online and spending less time in queues that moveth not. Well done Forgeworld for putting office weenies in charge of an immensely busy retail stand while experienced retail staff were rolling posters...not your finest hour.

Secondly, I used to work for Games Workshop so it was a rare chance to catch up, face to face, with a couple of friends with whom I used to work and together foam at the mouth about all the exciting new things that the hobby is a rate guaranteed to bankrupt me before I learn anything approaching self control.

However, it was a real and truly rare pleasure to meet with all of my favourite authors in one place. For anyone new to this blog, I write book reviews and conduct author interviews for a really great website, BSC; the books I review are mostly, though not all, from Black Library's dark and dust coated halls and seeing as how Black Library is Games Workshop's publishing arm all of the authors whose books I've reviewed were there. Including awesome newcomer Aaron Dembski Bowden with whom I recently did an interview.

But here's the cool thing, I had expected to have to introduce myself to all of them. Bear in mind, this is the internet, I'd never met any of these people. Our 'relationships' were entirely confined to email and yet...each and every one of them recognised me instantly! The astonishing weirdness of being recognised by people whose work I've admired is hard to describe. There was only one person to whom I needed to introduce myself as I'd expected, Dan Abnett.

This was entirely as it should be.

I've been inspired by this man's writing for a very very long time and for this reason I've yet to review one of his books. I was afraid that my words would be nothing more than the frothy ravings of a fanboy and therefore of little use to anyone else. However, I recently decided it was time to bite the bullet and talk about my experience of one of his books in what is commonly called a 'review'. I believe objectivity to be a myth, my reviews are simply a record of my reading experience...

Anyhoo, not having done a review of his work and having only spoken through email he was unlikely to have come across my scratchings online and so I had to say hi and explain who I was. I've got to tell you all, the sheer warmth and down-to-earth nature of this man really moved me. This feeling was already engendered while I was queueing elsewhere and watching him speak to people lining up to get his autograph, each one was greeted warmly and the greeting then mirrored by his wife, another extraordinary writing talent by the name of Nik Vincent, who was equally warm and unassuming. If there were any two writers more able to rest on their laurels it's Dan Abnett and Nik Vincent, but the only thing on show was humility.

I had a chance to chat to them both later as Mr. Abnett and I discussed the options for my upcoming interview with him and was again struck by how helpful and generous he was. Alright, time to stop frothing but it's so nice to meet a hero and have him/her be all you hoped and more.

And here's another really cool thing, this was one of a number of amazing chats with authors whose work I've reviewed and their gift, admired. Mark Newton, who in his day job works for Black Library and in the cold watches of the night is better known as Mark Charan Newton, fantasy author extraordinaire. He was a real pleasure to talk to, quiet and unassuming and yet very clearly a talent to be reckoned with. I'm currently reading his second novel City of Ruin with a review to follow and hopefully soon after with an eInterview for BSC review. All in all I've got a busy few months ahead with reviews and interviews galore...I know that's only two interviews I've mentioned but there are a few more on the cards which I'm going to keep to myself for now.

I'm not going to recall the details of every conversation with all the authors I had the privilege of speaking to today, though Chris Wraight was a real gentleman and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation; plus I had the chance to chat with Andy Hoare about Deathwatch and pick his brain for some insights I can use when running a game...I said I wasn't going to recount them all so I'll stop there.

The other little joy of the day was finding myself surrounded by people who share many of my more geek like passions, little chats together while queueing, passing comments while looking at the same cabinet filled with shiny new toy soldiers for all of us man-children.

Having the opportunity to reconnect with old friends, to meet face to face with some personal heroes all while fellow geeks thronged around us. What a day, I'm almost worried I won't be able to sleep tonight...

...I'll likely be unconscious before my head hits the pillow :)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Going postal over Going Postal!

I'm going to assume that you're all big fans of Terry Pratchett and have read his masterpiece, Going Postal. If you haven't, consider this a spoiler warning. I'm going to talk about the book and the recent television adaptation, there may well be an impassioned rant. You have been warned.

Sky One recently did an adaptation of Terry Pratchett's discworld novel Going Postal for TV which has recently been released on DVD. I bought the special edition post haste and sat down to watch it with barely controlled glee. This is one of my favourite discworld novels, the characters are all fascinating, the comedy both hilarious and insightful as only Terry Pratchett knows how and the story is grab-you-by-the...appendage-of-choice fantastic. An adaptation for television created in close collaboration with the master himself, well, this is the stuff of dreams. This wasn't the first that Sky One had done, they had also made Hogfather which was very enjoyable and stayed mostly true to the book.

With my hopes suitably high I, as mentioned above, sat down to watch. Initially it seemed that they would stay true to the book which, combined with some stunning visuals and an in-the-flesh Sergeant Angua, made me really pleased...and then they took this masterpiece and utterly destroyed it with a cruelty enhanced by the hope that had been initially engendered!

Bastards! The protagonist, Moist Von Lipwig (yes, he's heard every possible joke) is a complex and charming character who's grossly simplified in this televisual excretion and worse still a story of magnificent depth is reduced to a dumbed down made-for-TV farce that farts in the general direction of the book from which it was snatched!

Sir Terry, I am moved to ask, what on earth were you all thinking?! You got it so right the first time, why have you reduced it to such a dumb and dumber moronfest?! Reacher Gilt is supposed to be a rakishly charming, master con-artiste but is reduced to a barely sane blithering idiot whose hammed performance made watching him a problem for this Jewish boy, I don't do ham!

The relationship between Moist and Adora, which in the book is a subtle and refreshingly realistic one is made into a will-they-won't-they ride reminiscent of the worst that Hollywood would throw at us. Even more insulting you chuck in an unsubtle and patronising message about the dangers of smoking!

I realise that changes are going to be made when adapting a novel for the screen but this was an utter annihilation of what should have become an instant classic. It should have been serialised into around 6 episodes so that the true depth of the story could be appreciated by all. Of course I also realise that there was not unlimited funds and so characters and parts had to be cut, but the cut parts were replaced with such banal simplicity! Moist is told to win the race or be hanged, what the hell?! Do you really imagine your audience to be so pathetic? Must you try to pull on all the most cliched levers to get people interested, whatever happened to trusting your audience? And so subtlety and nuance are sacrificed on the altar of 'drama' aimed at the lowest common denominator!

I started to read the book again shortly after finishing the DVD, I needed to restore my sense of the story as it should have been. It has only highlighted for me what a terrible shame, a waste, this tv adaptation has been. The book is replete with powerful and emotive themes that are completely missing in the film or have been changed into an unsubtle morality lecture for the deeply stupid.

I could honestly go on and on about what was wrong with this...mess but I think my point is fairly clear. On a more positive note, honourable mention must go to Andrew Sach's excellent portrayal of Junior Postman Groat and generally speaking the casting was spot on. Charles Dance as Vetinari was a master stroke (dyed black hair would have cinched it), Richard Coyle as Moist is perfect and Claire Foy's Adora Belle Dearheart seemed to jump off the page and onto the screen. It's just a shame that such talent was wasted on a pale, pale shadow of a great story.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Jack of some trades, Master of nothing-at-all

I think it's time to accept something. I'm not a frequent poster.

I wish I was, I truly do. Unfortunately I suffer from jack-of-all-trades syndrome. I want to do everything, I keep discovering new things I enjoy doing, and seem to have a knack for, only to be distracted by something else. If I were to settle down to do a limited number of things I might begin to achieve some sort of mastery but nooo. My kitten-like attention span will outlast my interests every time. One of the stages of growing up is learning to close the circle of ones existence. To recognise the limits of time and choose what will be your life's pursuits and, importantly, what there will realistically never be time for. I can't seem to do this.

I recently decided that since I enjoyed drawing with pencils and whatnot (also a relatively recent discovery) I might get my hands on a Tablet and draw on the old PC. I figured it would take a while to get used to drawing like that but lo and behold I settled to it like a duck to water. I then added a book on cartoon drawing, which was my aim to start with, and the results of my first experiment lie below.

If you're wondering why he's wearing, what would appear to be, a pseudo-Starfleet dress uniform then your guess is as good as mine, it just kind of happened. I was only supposed to draw the head but the stylus just kept on going.

I'm describing what is, for me, an ongoing frustration.

I've also only recently tried writing as any regular readers will know, have I continued to pursue it? Nope. I started a story which got some really good feedback and which I really enjoyed, have I even looked at it in months, no. AAARRRGGHHH!!! Annoying much?

The primary reason is that the inspiration died; but a true artist pushes through that, tries to find it again rather than waiting for it to strike but since these are hobbies I find I move on with barely a whimper. Only to find myself regretting my lack of discipline a few months later. I also play the flute, something I was getting really good at before the inspiration died. Now, I've picked it back up again and am kicking myself because the flute requires the development of muscles in the lips to form what's called the embouchure, and since I've slacked off so have the muscles and I must develop them all over again...until of course I lose the will and move on to something else!

I have more hobbies and interests than any twenty people I know but lack the maturity or discipline to develop any of them to a level that my profoundly perfectionist self is happy with. I've been sitting here toying with the idea of starting a webcomic but know that it will die before it even starts, or worse still, once I've gotten going. And yet I know it's something I might do well if I could stick to it. Well, that or the any of the hundred other things I've learned about myself.

I have, over the last few years, discovered a great many talents that I never knew I had or had been told I'd never be good at. It sometimes feels like I was asleep for thirty years and have only just recently awoken to myself. As a matter of fact this is more true than I really want to admit.

I take some comfort from my work as a therapist, which continues to develop and grow. It's a rare field of endeavour where the personal and professional are often one and the same.

It seems that for the moment at least, I must continue to discover things and then watch them disappear until I am able to close the circle and discover what my life is really going to be about both beyond my professional activities and within them. The bugger is, I'm 35 and feel that I should be well past this stage but alas, it seems I still have a ways to go.

It's both a fascinating journey and source of immense frustration.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

News in Brief

Well, a bit of a red letter day for me. My interview with author extraordinaire Aaron Dembski Bowden went live today on BSC Review.

The interview has been a long time in the pipeline mostly due to Aaron's insane writing schedule but at last it's there for all to see. I'm pleased overall with my questions, though there's always room for improvement, but I'm really thrilled with his answers. The interview is everything I hoped it would be. My first book review ever was of his first novel so it seems fitting to have done the interview. It looks like I'm not alone in recognising his immense talent.

My next author interview is already booked and will be thought I was going to give the game away didn'tcha, no chance. Tee hee hee :~)

I'm on holiday at the moment and so tomorrow...make that later this morning, I'm going to sit down and start to work on the interview questions. I'm feeling blank at the moment but that's often the case until I sit down and get to it.

Do check out the interview and leave a comment.

I hope to have another post soon but for now I'm signing off, it's 2am and I'm exhausted.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Flying Again!

I return to you after a lengthy period of silence. Call it what you will but I've been suffering from a real dearth of writing inspiration and would rather post nothing than some mindless drivel to fill in the space.

Having said that, I'm still stuck so I'm going to give the drivel a go in the hope it will spark off some creative energy. I really need to write.

So, what's news with me? Well, after a couple of years out of it I've revalidated my pilot's license and gotten back up there in a big way. Part of me thought that flying as a hobby, which in the UK is prohibitively expensive, was something I can't afford at the moment and that there would be some maturity in being able to give it up. That's turned out to be a load of nonsense. I really missed it and whether I want to call it a lack of maturity or not it turns out that being a pilot is a really important part of me.

I was flying again on Sunday with my favourite instructor of all time to practise my forced landings and just generally polish things up. During the flight he suggested to me that we practise recovering from a spiral dive. Reheheally I thought, sounds intriguing. Dear G-d it was fun! I once did a little aerobatics and thoroughly enjoyed it, those memories were awakened by this little experience and the urge to get more into aerobatics grabbed me by the...hand and hasn't really let go. Something to hold onto for a time when I'm earning a decent wage.

Banking the aircraft over into a 60 degree turn and then pulling G in an attempt to pull the nose up...this is what leads to a spiral dive. The airspeed goes through the roof and altimeter crashes through the floor. Left unchecked you'll soon be a smoking hole in the ground. So, throttle back, level the wings, then pull the nose up gently. Let the speed drop below 100 knots then throttle up and climb away. Simple and straightforward, but to someone who generally navigates from A to B, straight and level, it was tremendous fun. By the time we landed I was asking him to show me how to recover from a spin! Another time perhaps...

At the end of our flight on Sunday (after only two hours together, turns out it's a lot like riding a bike) he pronounced me ready to go! I've got my wings back and it really feels great. Many before me have waxed lyrical about the joys of flying, I know why. There's something profound about strapping a plane to your back (the planes are pretty small) and flying wherever the fancy takes you. There's a tremendous sense of peace to be gotten from looking down at the rolling British countryside from 2400ft with all your worries back on the ground with all the earthbound people. The rumble of the engine through my headset, the familiar smell of the cockpit, the comforting sound of other pilots on the radio. It's an intoxicating place to be.

Say hello to my little friend,

I've spent some truly happy times in that little plane and have developed a real attachment to old 'Zulu Oscar'. Here's to many more years of happy flying in her!

Oh, and one more picture that I took from the cockpit. This is the mouth of the river Thames on the east coast. I'm at around 2,200ft flying in from the East and the town to the right, through the clouds, is Southend.

...Wow! Would you bleedin' credit it? Just rambling led somewhere meaningful. Time to change the title from 'Various and Sundry' to something more appropriate.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Not Dead Yet

No, really, I'm not. I know I've been quiet of late. Please don't think this means I've given up on the blogging lark, I haven't. Most other blogs I read are generally about the day-to-day life of the blogger. My life isn't that interesting, which is why I've focussed on what interests me rather than what happens to me.

The truth is that much of what is meaningful in my life I can't write about. I'm a therapist in advanced training. I can't really talk about the training because what goes on is confidential and, rather worryingly, provides me with perhaps the greatest source of inspiration, meaningful relationships and sense of belonging I have right now.

I most certainly can't talk about my clinical work for very obvious reasons.

So, what's left? At the moment a lot of personal struggle, emotional pain and no small amount of frustration. I know that some people use that in blogs to great effect. I don't believe I'm one of them. It's not that I'm incapable of speaking openly. It's that I'm not willing to put deeply personal material on the interwebs for all to see, I just don't feel safe to do it. Besides which, it really isn't that interesting.

So, please bear with me. The inspiration to write, to be creative, will return.

I hope.

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Arms Trade Equivalency

I hope you'll forgive the Big Bang Theory-esque title but I've been on a bit of a Big Bang Theory bender for the last two weeks.

This is actually a serious topic but the scale of moral bankruptcy at the heart of the international arms trade is so horrendous as to border on the farcical, hence the comedy title. The more one explores this particular business the more one is forced to recognise that this 'civilised' world of ours is so much horse manure. The men and women in this trade aren't evil in the traditional sense of the word though those at the top certainly come close. They have families, they sing lullabys to their kids, give to charitable causes, help old ladies cross the road and when you pass them on the street they, generally speaking, don't reek of brimstone.

And yet they are involved in the most legal-yet-heinous trade imaginable. There are a number of books on the topic as well as this recent expose on how the UK governement has set up a Quango (Quasi non governmental organisation) to facilitate the growth of such companies. When I read the expose I wanted to say to its author, dude, this isn't news. Our government and governments all over the world have been bending over backwards for the arms trade since time immemorial. Despite all the exposes, books & documentaries it has continued, nay, expanded exponentially!

Make no mistake, weapons are necessary. Therefore their trade is necessary. What I'm talking about is the utter lack of regulation or even the whiff of moral guidance at the heart of this trade.

However, when such people are pinned down and asked how they live with themselves when they knowingly sell weapons to regimes with records of gut wrenching human rights abuses they answer, almost to man/woman "Well, if I don't sell them the weapons someone else will. So I may as well make the money and then use it to right all wrongs."

Okay, arms dealers don't say that last bit but governments do. They say, well, the arms trade is a reality that isn't going to change anytime soon. Why would we close off this huge potential revenue for our economy when everyone is in on the game? Let's sell weapons to all and sundry and in addition to then knowing what they have, including strengths and weaknesses, we will have loads of money available to combat their evil in other ways. I mean after all if we don't sell them guns, aircraft, tanks etcetera someone else certainly will.

Here's the bugger though. I can't argue with that. I really want to but the logic seems flawless. If Britain (Her arms dealers anyway), for example, decided to bow out of the unregulated arms trade and agreed to sell weapons only to those who they are confident will use them for self defence or some other morally defensible use, then Britain will lose out billions of pounds and do absolutely nothing, nothing at all, to stop the sale of arms to 'nations of concern'.

And so, Britain makes no effort to change and in fact goes out of its way to support an unregulated arms trade and so does everyone else because there is little point in doing otherwise. In addition, the tax earned on these huge arms deals can be used to support much needed change in countries of concern. Then, should the government have a brief call of conscience and decide to go into said country and clean things up they will be intimately familiar with the weapons being pointed at their soldiers. That last comment is only slightly tongue-in-cheek.

Can anyone answer this question, what is the flaw in the argument presented above? There needs to be flaw!

I can think of one reason to stop the unregulated trade. It's morally wrong to sell weapons to people who will use them for evil purpose regardless of how you'll lose out monetarily. It's really as simple as that, however, I need a counter-argument that will leave a mark on people apparently not swayed by ethical or moral concerns.

We call them politicians.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

An Election of Personalities

For those of who live somewhere else on this planet of ours, Great Britain aka the United Kingdom aka England...bloody hell, why do we have so many names?! ...Anyway, we British types are about to have our general election.

On May 6th people all over the country will be entering a polling booth and putting a mark next to their candidate of choice and so will a new government be born, we hope. However, one theme that I keep hearing from journalists, print, radio & television, is their concern that politics, and more specifically the election, is fast becoming a game of personalities over policies. This is generally spoken of in what I feel is a rather superior, smug tone that tells you in no uncertain terms that they will be voting based solely on the candidates policies.

Well, how lovely for them. I started thinking, what do I look for in a candidate? Am I persuaded by personality or policy or both? And if it is personality alone that hooks me, is that a bad thing?

No, I don't believe it is a bad thing. I believe an ideal would be to pay close attention to both but if I make my decision based on my perception of their personality it is a valid use of my vote. Why? Well, a big part of our personalities is our collection of values, morals and beliefs with which we face the world and make decisions. In an ever changing world I use the moral compass that my upbringing, learning and experience has given me to decide what's right, what's wrong and what's somewhere inbetween.

When I base my voting decision on personality, it isn't a case of 'ooh he has a nice smile'. It's about my belief that this candidate seems to share my values, my view of the world. I say belief because we never entirely know what goes on in what Terry Pratchett so poetically calls 'the darkness behind the eyes'.

Today's news is full of Gordon Brown's microphone gaff in which, forgetting that he had a mic pinned to his lapel, made a critical remark about a voter he had just spent some time with. This has of course created an uproar about the difference between his public and private face. Let me tell you something, our public faces are no less a part of us than our private faces. Ian Dunt, editor of the excellent, has written a very eloquent article addressing the hypocrisy of the media in holding Mr. Brown to standards that few human beings achieve in a lifetime.

Okay, I'm getting off my point so back to it.

My point is this, policies change, the world is ever changing. Basing my vote purely on policies that may well prove unrealistic, no longer necessary or even based upon flawed reasoning seems foolish. However, if I choose a candidate based on my perception of his/her personality or put another way, the collection of values and beliefs that forms the core of their decision making selves then at least I know that regardless of what the world throws at us this person will make a decision based upon a similar set of values to my own.

What more can I realistically ask for in so uncertain a world?

Saturday, 17 April 2010

DearthCon 2010

I know it's been a short while since I last posted but rumours of my death were greatly exaggerated. I've been really busy and, if I'm honest, trying to recover from a touch of burnout.

Okay, now that I've made my excuses I can get to my point. No, I'm not announcing a new convention in the UK as the title of this post may suggest.

I am in fact mourning the utter dearth of good scifi/fantasy conventions in this part of the world with my own inimitable literary excretions. I have searched this great interwebs of ours to see what was on offer and recently came across one that gave me some hope. Eastercon 2010 a.k.a Odyssey 2010 at the Radisson Edwardian Hotel near Heathrow in London. I couldn't go for the first two days but I was hoping to go on the Sunday with some like minded friends.

So, the night before we checked out the following day's programme to see what we could look forward to...well long story short. Nothing. Unless of course I wanted classes in BDSM, yes seriously. What the hell that has to do with SciFi or fantasy I have no idea but there it was on the schedule along with Ikea classes and other assorted nonsense. Most of the good talks were over and done with on day one of the convention followed by two more days of almost unbroken banality. My narrowly avoided experience is echoed by this blog post written by author extraordinaire Graham McNeill.

The convention before that, for me anyway, was the MCM Expo. I went there very excited and returned thoroughly underwhelmed. I was worried about spending too much money, I needn't have. There was nothing there worth buying. In the end I bought a hardback copy of the Watchmen graphic novel just so I could pretend excitement about the whole day.

To be honest some of this is a case of "take a cell/mobile phone into a third world village for the first time" syndrome. What I mean is that before I was made aware of what the world has to offer in terms of conventions, and by 'the world' I mean the ol' US of A, my standards and expectations were set really low. However, now that I maintain an online 'connection' with the likes of Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, Scott Kurtz, Mike & Jerry at Penny Arcade (all convention stalwarts) and see the amazing...yeah I'll say it, inspiring conventions that they attend and in the case of Penny Arcade Expo, make, and frankly my old two cans and piece of string setup just don't cut it anymore. I want an all singing, all dancing mobile phone! Or, metaphor aside, a decent convention with decent guests about more than just SciFi/fantasy books!

Convention organisers, how about paying attention to the ever growing gaming culture, whether computer/console or tabletop? I think I remember Jerry Holkins (it may have been Mike Krahulik) once saying that Penny Arcade Expo aka PAX was the convention that should have existed but didn't. Sadly we in the UK lack the visionary types like Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik to make the convention that is so sorely lacking here.

I think the reality is that geeks, already a (vocal) minority, are really small in the UK compared to the States. I think convention organisers look at their marketing numbers and give up. I think they're wrong.

There are more of us than you think. You build a decent convention that really represents the geek scene, invite some of the names I've mentioned above and we will come. In a comment I left on her blog, Felicia Day told me that she would love to come to the UK for a convention appearance.

Would someone please make the convention that doesn't exist but really should here in the UK? I would, I've honestly thought about it, but my time is spoken for.

Is it only the Americans that have what it takes to celebrate everything geek?

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Frustrations of Fanhood

I'm not certain that Fanhood is even a word...well let's say it is now. I read a really great blog post tonight about something that is rather close to my heart. I'm not entirely certain why...okay I am, but I don't really want to share it with everyone.

Written by someone who I only know by the Twitter handle of @shockingblu it is a wonderful personal exploration of her experience of being a fan. A music fan, a TV show fan, a scifi fan and so on.

What Miss Blue has said really strikes a chord with me. You should read her post yourself because it is both eloquent and well written but I will, very briefly, summarise what I feel is her key point. For her being a fan isn't about collecting fan points by meeting your heroes in 'drive by' opportunities so often found at conventions or book signings. It's about wanting to forge a genuine connection with someone whose work has inspired and moved you.

Amen to that Miss Blue!

I don't bother with signings and conventions. Don't get me wrong, I go to conventions but I never queue up to see my hero/heroine (on the exceedingly rare occasion that any of them come to the UK). Why? Because what I really want is to have a chat with them about their work and their world, to gain an insight into their own personal inspirations and perhaps to share with them how what they do every day moves me. This is simply never going to happen. What will happen instead is that I will appear before them with a queue waiting impatiently behind me, make around twenty seconds of small talk while they sign whatever piece of random merchandise I've brought for signing and then move on. Right now I can't really think of a more unsatisfying and frustrating experience.

Miss Blue is also spot on about the average celebrity's (internet or otherwise) guarded approach to fans. Please don't get me wrong, they must be guarded. Their reputation, public perception and sometimes personal safety can be on the line when dealing with fans. The sad consequence of this is that I will, no, must be treated the same way as anyone else. It's the nature of the business.

To be clear, I'm not necessarily talking about any kind of friendship. I'm one of millions and I have it on good authority that people can only maintain relationships with around 150 people at a time. What I'm talking about is a connection, even a fleeting one. A genuine connection to another human being is a rare and precious thing and no less so for being brief. Rather than signing my 'whatever' I'd prefer to have a candid five minute chat but that isn't what's on offer and according to Miss Blu and based on my limited experience I agree with her, it isn't what most fans want.

Do you know I've never understood the point of the autograph? What's it supposed to be? Proof positive that I've met the undersigned? As if my life is populated with friends who wouldn't believe me without proof? Is it to prove it to myself, a record of an experience? I don't need it!

Let me share with you something that happened to me about six months ago at the MCM Expo. I went along primarily because it was a scifi/gaming convention and as such was a rare creature in this country. Use 'em or lose 'em! I was also tempted to go by the announcement that Terry Farrell and Nicole DeBoer would be in attendance. I loved their work on Star Trek Deep Space Nine and laughed a great deal at Terry Farrell's work on Becker. In my heart of hearts I knew I'd not get the chance to really see or speak to them but hope is sometimes a terrible thing and so off I went. Truth to be told, I didn't even set eyes upon them until the last hours of the day and the only opportunity on offer was to have your picture taken with one or both of them. I wasn't really interested in a picture but, again, that's what was on offer so I stood near the stand and thought about it. I watched them with the guy before me and they seemed animated and engaged and I thought, hey let's say hi and tell them how much I've enjoyed their work. So I said to the tired and harried woman taking bookings, yes please.

What then became clear to me was that the animation I'd witnessed was mostly inspired by their belief that they had taken their last picture after a long seems they were not thrilled by the thought of one more short, fat fanboy wanting a picture. Terry Farrell handled it with what I felt was real grace under the circumstances, Miss DeBoer on the other hand dealt with it by ignoring me completely.

Do you know something, I don't blame her at all. After a day of being treated, I suspect, much like a piece of meat for people to score celebrity points off she must have been ready to split. I look at that picture now and am reminded of an embarassing and thoroughly unsatisfying experience and what's more I didn't say more than two words to either of them. Connection? I shudder to think about how far from that lofty goal I was. Keep the pictures and authographs, spare me two minutes of your time for a genuine conversation. That's what is meaningful to me.

I wonder if the people I've come to so admire, Felicia Day, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, Tom Siddell & Wil Wheaton for example, have a different experience of and with fans? I suspect that they experience fans who are more like Miss Blue and I than any of the variety that Miss Blue so vividly describes. And yet, the result is much the same. They can only be spread so thin, they cannot possibly connect with the millions who admire their work and want a connection...I realise I'm not painting a very hopeful picture.

So what's left for the admiring fanboy/girl? Well, I suppose to admire from a great distance. To take inspiration while being sure to say thanks. And to be grateful that there are people in the world who you're inspired by, even if you are never to make a personal connection.

A frustration of the human condition I suppose.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

What Do You Do?

Can you think of a more ubiquitous question when meeting someone new? It seems that we're driven to define ourselves by what we do for a living. I think that this is part of a powerful need to maintain a static, unchanging image of ourselves. The reality that new experience changes us all the time is too unsettling and so we search for clear definitions. I'm a lawyer, accountant, doctor etc etc. How limiting is that?!

It's also something about the western worship of money. If some of what you 'do' doesn't produce the green, well, it's basically a waste of time. "No, no Phil don't get us wrong" some well meaning acquaintances will say, "it's nice but where's the bottom line?"

I'm far from immune to this phenomena, in fact I know that much of my life has been a mad scramble to define myself in clear and unequivocal terms and prove that I can earn a living. It's only now with the little maturity that has crept up on me that I find myself rebelling against this drive. What do I do? Just once I'd love to answer, "me? Oh, I'm a gamer/blogger/writer" and stand there as they try to work out where the money is. This is followed by the delightful moment when they say, with a perplexed look on their face, "no, I meant what you do for a living?"

Tee hee, I think I'll save that one for someone heinously pretentious :)

What got me thinking about this was, once again, Wil Wheaton. He wrote a post tonight about some sage advice he received from an acting teacher. The advice was to make sure there was a space in your life to do what you do for the love of it, not just for money. And, of equal importance, not to allow yourself to be defined entirely by what you do. To find something else you're passionate about and get to it. In Wil's case what he did back then was, of course, acting and the teacher's words were geared towards that but I think it's clear from his blog that he sees this as good advice to anyone who has a creative streak or does something creative for a living.

Don't just be defined by your day job or the need to earn money, explore your depths and discover new interests and passions! Do them for the sheer joy of it. Expand your self-definition to such an extent that you lose sight of the boundary. That way when someone inevitably says "what do you do?" You can answer, with a knowing smile, "lots of stuff!"

This is a fairly rambling rant about what his post brought up for me, I hope it's of some interest.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Power of Words

While strolling through my twitter feed this evening I came across a few tweets by Scott Kurtz, author and artist behind the online phenomena that is PVP. I have a great deal of respect for the man as a writer, an artist and avant garde internet mogul. However something he twittered tonight really jarred and I had to respond:

pvponline Gah! Reconnecting with my Aunts and Uncle has made them aware of my site. They are very catholic and don't like my bad language.

pvponline So now I'm getting emails about how God gave me this talent and he didn't do it for me to use his name in vain

pvponline I was straight with them. Told them I wasn't changing and that I resented them believing they knew what god wanted of me. God will TELL ME.

pvponline Scott, God wants you to stop cussing. Really? Cause I talked to him today and he said words were just words and he only cared about intent. (emphasis mine)

I appreciated that being browbeaten by relatives over ones art is not fun but I was bothered that someone who uses language to entertain and often to inspire would be so blasé about the power of words and so I responded thusly:

Phil73805 @pvponline Whether or not you choose to cuss I don't care but please don't pretend that words are without great power!

There we are, my perspective made clear, or as clear as you can get with 140 characters at your disposal; he may see it he may not but I've done my bit...and then, much to my surprise, he responded:

pvponline @Phil73805 Words are words. The intent behind the words have power.

I'm sorry Mr. Kurtz but that is empty semantics.

The written word though guided by intent is clearly open to a greater degree of interpretation, one only has to visit a message board or any online discussion to see how even the best meaning communication can be devastating when misunderstood regardless of the intent behind the words. I feel that this obligates people to be careful with the enormous power that the gift of language bestows.

Don't think that is only an issue with the written word. I have had psychotherapy clients return the week after a session and tell me that something I said had meant a great deal to them and it turns out that what they recall was not what I intended and yet it was no less meaningful to them for all that and indeed no less powerful. In fact there are times when I won't point out the misunderstanding because the message they walked away with has had therapeutic value that might be reduced by attempting to put my intent before theirs. They have been their own therapist and who the hell am I to argue? They've taken my words and used them to form a message that is of use to them, you'd be surprised how often that happens in day to day communication outside the therapy room.

We can all recall words spoken to us by teachers, some positive and some negative, and can recount many years later the impact those words had regardless of the intent. An off-hand compliment about ones ability in science drives the student into a lifetime career, for good or for ill. An angry retort from a stressed teacher leading a child and then the adult to believe that they'll never amount to anything. These are oft heard stories.

Words have enormous power Mr. Kurtz, yours often inspire laughter and even thoughtful reflection. Your humour regularly has a deeper message disguised with a smile. That is a tremendous gift. And a powerful responsibility. Like I said, cuss or don't cuss. I genuinely don't mind, in fact I'll go a stage further and say that sometimes the cussing serves to highlight your point with humour. Put more simply, it makes me laugh. But Sir, please don't attempt to belittle the power of words while fighting off holier-than-thou relatives.

In a world blathering on about the right to free speech we might forget the terrible responsibility that goes with it. Words can create and can destroy in equal measure.

Mr. Kurtz I doubt you'll even see this but if you do let me please say this. Your words and your art have given me great pleasure over the years for which I am truly grateful. My post here is not intended to be at all hurtful. It's just that words are deeply meaningful to me, as a teacher and a therapist some might argue that words are my stock in trade, and I felt that your words needed to be challenged even if it is only in this small way.

Monday, 15 February 2010

The Hardcover Conspiracy

Right, with that suitably melodramatic title in place let us begin. I remember a time, not too long ago, when publishers offered their customers a choice. Paperback or Hardcover. The paperback was released first and then after a while a 'collectors' edition in hardcover was offered to those who wanted it.

I'm not certain when this changed but what's happening at the moment is, when you look at it, rather disgraceful. The choice is now, hardcover or wait a year until they release the paperback. I'm not certain of the markup on hardcover releases but I suspect that the publishers make more money from them than the paperbacks and so the readers are forced to either buy the big, cumbersome and expensive hardcover or wait a long time to read their favourite author's latest literary masterpiece.

I'm certain that this is a relatively recent phenomena because when I bought the earliest books in my favourite series they were only available in paperback and so my collection took that form. Now I have to wait a year to get the next in the series in the same format.

I have it on good authority that people are generally reading less as evidenced by book stores closing at a disturbing rate. I suspect that this is largely because 'high street' bookstores can't compete with the likes of Amazon and co. but basically people are looking elsewhere for their entertainment. Maybe it's just me but a paperback is a far more convenient thing to both buy and carry with you as well as costing a whole lot less. So why would publishers limit your options to big, bulky and above all expensive hardbacks or nothing...for a while? The first rule of business, I would think, is 'make it easy for people to give you their money'.

So, publishers, make both hardcover and paperback available together. Those that like the size and importance that a hardback book conveys will buy that and those of us who prefer the smaller more convenient paperback will buy that. Make it easier for me to give you my money. Don't make me wait a year in the hope of forcing the sale of something I just don't want!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Writing, for Fun and......Self expression.

I've been rather slack of late as far as this blog goes. There are friends of mine that check it regularly and to them I can only apologise. The little time I have for writing has been focussed elsewhere.

I've done two book reviews for them this week alone, though only one has gone live so far, and also managed to get an interview with Michael Marks, SF author extraordinaire, done and dusted. His answers to my questions really blew me away, so go and take a look. If you have a Kindle I can't recommend his new novel Dominant Species highly enough as my earlier review on this very blog made clear.

And now to the reason that I started this post in the first place. I was reading Wil Wheaton's blog the other day and in the midst of a really great post he said something that really sparked off a train of thought. He was talking about how Twitter had changed his world and allowed him to reach so many people in a way that would otherwise be impossible. I couldn't agree more, however, the point he made that really hit home was this:

"...I am compelled to create. I've tried to fight it - it's not the easiest life in the world, especially when you're responsible for a family - but I can't deny that I'm an artist any more than I can deny that I'm a human being. Most artists will tell you quite honestly that they would create their art for free. I know from personal experience that that is absolutely true." (emphasis added)

I thought about the work I do for BSC review and wondered, are book reviews art? I'll come back to that point but I then thought about the story I'm (slowly) working on and the strong creative streak that has always been a part of me. In one form or another I also feel compelled to create, or put another way, express myself creatively. No, that isn't just pedantics. I think that my creativity is always a communication of sorts. A way of reaching out and 'speaking' to people. Whether in the form of a tale I've crafted or a review in which I share my thoughts about a book I've read. This may well be the case for others but I can only speak for myself.

When I told friends and family that I'd been asked to write reviews for a great website the almost universal response was, "are you being paid?". Wow, did that take the wind out of my sails. It seemed that the only measure of my work was whether or not I was being paid. I know that what I'm about to say may sound very naive but before my friends mentioned it I hadn't thought of money at all. I thought, hey what a great opportunity to share with others my thoughts and feelings about the books I'm reading! I love reading, I love books and on bsc review I get to express that love in a creative and hopefully entertaining way. Yes, I think reviews can be an artform in themselves.

I have no illusions, it's a parasitic artform in that it is based upon the blood, sweat and tears of an author that has often worked for months or years on the book I'm reviewing. And yet, his or her work has moved me and I want to share why. To distill into words my experience of their hard work. Now, that's all very well when the review is positive. However, what about those times that I pick up a book hoping for a decent story and have those hopes dashed when it doesn't prove to be what I'd expected? I don't mean that the story wasn't what I thought it was when I picked the book up. To give a bad review in those circumstances is really not right. I mean that the writing, story and/or characters really fail on some level. Figuring out why a story doesn't work for me is harder than working out why I love a story. In those instances I feel obligated to make as clear as possible exactly what didn't work for me so that, should the author come across my review, they might take some useful feedback from it rather than a 'you suck' message that is neither entertaining nor useful...

...The truth is that I'm avoiding saying something that's on my mind. It's a little truth that struck me during the week. Writing reviews, while both enjoyable and potentially creative, is also the laziest form of creative expression available to me. It is harder to come up with an interesting blog post and much much harder to drive my story forward. When the inspiration for the post you're reading struck, it was the first time for a while that I'd been able to come up with anything and I quickly wrote down some thoughts in the notebook I've taken to carrying everywhere with me. If you make a living writing you can't afford to wait for the inspiration to strike, you have to damn well find it, pin it down and get to work.

While talking about the story I am writing with my therapist it soon became clear just how many personal themes were there at its core. My protagonist finds himself suddenly alone in enemy territory and slowly realises that his bravery and skills in combat are all in the context of the other troopers around him. It is only in relationship to them that he is the person he knows and respects. In effect the story is about learning some of the strength to be found in solitude though ironically this is learnt from another very different warrior and so in the final analysis is still about relationship and how we only exist as human beings within relationships even when we feel alone. Writing this story is intensely personal which makes it bloody hard work to push forward with. Is this the case for other writers? When they take a deeper look at their work do they become aware of their own issues expressed in their writing? Is that part of the challenge and will it get easier?

Well, one question I can answer. Yes, it does get easier but I don't believe it ever gets easy. In fact if it did I suspect it would cease to interest me. The second part of the story flowed far better and faster than the first part. Though there are certainly personal themes present it would be a mistake to let them swallow the story whole. Those themes must guide what is effectively a war story about very different styles of warrior coming together in desperate circumstances but the personal stuff cannot be allowed to overwhelm it, the background cannot become the foreground.

I'm starting to worry that I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this story. The longer I leave it as a work-in-progress the more it grows in my mind which only makes it harder to get down to business when I have some time. This then means that I'm more inclined to write another review rather than wrestling with myself to write the story. I'm hoping that talking about this out loud will help me get on with it by making clear to me what it is I'm avoiding.

When I do get down to writing the story, I enjoy it and yet also really struggle with it. As far as I'm concerned that only serves to highlight how meaningful the process is and therefore how much more I must devote myself to it. I hope I can get moving again. I think I will feel a tremendous and very real sense of achievement if I can get the story finished to a standard I can live perfectionist streak means I can't be 'happy' with it.

Writing for fun and no profit is deeply meaningful to me. I agree with Wil when he says that most of the artists he knows would happily do their thing for free, I'm also happy to do it for free.

Why? I think it's because, for me, writing is its own reward.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

My First Review

A couple of months back I was emailed by Damon Caporaso over at to see if I wanted to join their team of reviewers! I think it's fair to say that I was really chuffed by the offer but considering the nature of my day-to-day timetable I had to think long and hard about accepting. In the end I decided that honesty was the best policy (and not third-party fire & theft) and I told Damon that I was insanely busy and if we were talking quotas and deadlines then I had best bow out now. Fortunately the laid back nature of the staff at BSC meant that they were happy to think with me about what was manageable and go with that. I have to say that I'm grateful for their flexibility because today they published my first review!

They came across me as a result of a comment I posted on the great Mark Charan Newton's blog and so to Mr. Newton must go my thanks for frequently writing fascinating, thought provoking blog posts that inspire me to comment. I've just started his novel Nights of Villjamur and look forward to posting a review on BSC, so far I'm enjoying the novel immensely.

Who the hell would have thought that a comment on Mr. Newton's blog would lead to this? Not me!

The folks over at BSC Review seem like a really great team. I love the site and I'm proud to be writing for them! Their editor has also given me my first experience of being edited, it's going to take a little getting used to but I have no doubt it will make me a better writer.

Of course this new gig means that I won't be reviewing books on this blog anymore but to be honest there's very little random or muse-like about a book review so I must return to my usual ramblings. I hope they'll continue to be of interest to someone.

Post Script: I know this is way off the topic but I saw this remarkable article and had to share it with you. Inspiring stuff...and suitably random.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Started Part 2 at last!

I was starting to worry that I'd never find the space to sit down and get some writing done but tonight I managed to sneak a couple of hours during which I should have been studying to get on with part two of the story. I like the way it's taking shape but because this has dragged out for so long the original inspiration for the story has waned and I must find it anew.

My ideas for my protagonist remain unchanged but as time has worn on my ideas for the story have evolved a little in my mind and I find that I'm no longer satisfied with some of the cliches I had intended to follow. The words are flowing a little better this time around and I feel more confident about what I'm writing. I suspect that this won't last long once I've sent the draft to my 'editor' type guy, Neil.

A published and respected author who has asked to remain anonymous was kind enough to read the first part and offer me some words of wisdom for which I am very grateful. Following his advice I am hoping in this part to really try to bring my world to life in your mind with descriptions over and above the immediacy of combat and somewhere in there further develop my protagonist who in my mind at least is becoming really three dimensional. There will also be the introduction of another central but, for the moment, mysterious character (the temptation to give the game away is almost overwhelming) who I believe will really contrast well with Sergeant Salinas.

Well that's it for now, do keep watching this space. I hope to have the next part ready soon...ish.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Writing by Night

There's something remarkably peaceful about writing at night. I find that my thoughts flow a little easier and consequently my hands fly over the keyboard with greater fluency in the process of turning thought into words. I think it's about the absence of something we don't even notice during the day but is blessedly missing at night, the background noises of a busy city. The ringing phone, the thoughts of 'what should I be doing instead of sitting here', voices raised in the house, mulling over my day's routine...and so on. I'm sure this is a familiar picture.

My last post bemoaned my lack of writing inspiration and the pressures that I thought might be contributing to it. Tonight though something great has happened. I've been working like a dog to get my studying done and have made enough headway that I felt able to justify taking a break. I sat at my computer, checked over twitter to see if anything interesting was happening and slowly the buzz and hum of my mind under pressure began to slow. Suddenly the urge to write awoke with a start, I opened the empty 'part 2' of the story I've been working on and started to type. 650 words later, confident that I was off to a good start I saved the file and closed it, my relief palpable. The deadlock was broken.

Even now, I'm enjoying the simple pleasure of just letting the words flow from my mind to the keyboard without having to bypass my 'why aren't you working?!' voice. He's asleep. I can think again! I know it can't last, I must go to sleep and when I wake up I will be back to driving myself mad to get down to work and finish the reading I must do, but for the moment I can't get in touch with that panic and stress and it's blissful.

I'll finish by sharing with you something I did this week to try to get me to chill out a little. The snow fell heavily on Monday night and I awoke on Tuesday morning to find my world coated in white once more. I grabbed my camera and headed off to Hampstead Heath. I parked my car quickly, keen to make the most of the time I had budgeted to relax, and crunched my way up the path on virgin snow. What a sight! White as far as my eyes could see. Everything familiar made new again. Call me an old sap if you must but there's something about the transformation snow brings to familiar surroundings that calls out the artist in me.

I took a good few shots which I put on my Flickr page but I wanted to share a couple of favourites here before I go to sleep.

Some people find the shot above cluttered but I love how busy and colourful it is.

And last my personal favourite, lone tree on the heath. I find the shot quite poignant, somehow the empty bench adds to the sense of aloneness.

Hope I haven't gone too arty on you but I think you'll find that as musings go this is pretty random. Good night.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The Lame 'I can't think of anything to write' Post

Okay, I'm having a real writers block problem here. Nothing seems to inspire me to write but I wanna! Before you say that posts like this are lame let me say, I know. I figure that in order for it to be known as lame it must have been done to death by almost everyone before me, in which case it might well be a rite of passage that any blogger, or at least any blogger with a dearth of inspiration, must go through to break the deadlock.

So here it is, in all its glory. My head is blocked, I can't really think of anything interesting to blog about and what's more I can't seem to find the strength and mental space to continue the story I have started and really want to continue. The thought 'I want to write' is never far from my mind.

I've started the last of my training as an Existential Therapist and while it is exciting, interesting and thought provoking it is also very demanding, emotionally and intellectually, and combined with the rest of my wall to wall timetable more than a little stressful. This may well be contributing to the block. Whenever I sit down to write I find myself thinking, ooh I should be working/studying and any creative juices are destroyed. This leaves me with the thought that I may have to put everything on hold until I can get a break, but that's three months away and blogs have died in half the time from a lack of new material.

Even now I'm thinking, why the hell am I writing this blog entry when I could be pounding my head against Heidegger's Being and Time? I have a lot to read, a presentation to prepare and notes to get on with it then.

Maybe if I get a good chunk done I'll have the mental space to get creative again...(That last thought was brought to you by

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Schadenfreude as "Entertainment"

What I am about to write may well get up your nose, you have been warned.

I am about to talk about certain reality television programmes that disturb me deeply, however, I also recognise that they are extremely popular and that in attacking them I may well upset or irritate you. This is not meant to be a mindless attack (for which the internet is justly famous) but, hopefully, a relatively reasoned analysis of what I have observed and why it disturbs me so much.

I'm talking about the recent 'I'm a Celebrity...Get me out of here' and, along the same concept, Celebrity Big Brother. I have no interest in any reality tv programme but unless one lives under a rock, and there are times when it's very tempting, it is almost impossible to escape news of any of the above.

While the programme was still being aired I was listening to James O'Brien on LBC and he was discussing Chris Packham's criticism of the programme's treatment of insects (used in some of the...challenges?) and the hypocrisy of some animal lovers' silence on the issue. James suggested that their love of animals was based on the animal's 'cuddliness' factor which explained their lack of disturbance when insects are involved.

I often call LBC to contribute to the discussion as best I can and on that day I called and made the following point. Viewers of a programme based around a voyeuristic enjoyment of human suffering can hardly be expected to empathise with the suffering of insects.

If I've understood 'I'm a celebrity' the public are, amongst other things, asked to vote on which of the inmates (is that the term?) should be subjected to a revolting/humiliating task. If memory serves, Jordan aka Katie Price was repeatedly voted for the worst of it all until such time as she'd had enough and left. Let me say now that I'm not her biggest fan by a long shot. In fact I see her as a tragic and pathetic figure and yet my heart went out to her in this episode of national, popular bullying.

Some of you may be getting ready to tell me about the fascinating study of human behaviour that these programmes are and to you I say, nonsense! These programmes are nothing more than an exercise in schadenfreude, taking joy in the pain and humiliation of others! That those who watch have justified it by saying that these people chose to be there and that they had it coming fails on many levels. Anyone who would willingly subject themselves to such suffering and humiliation for the sake of a very transitory recognition are frankly in serious need of help and should be thought of as vulnerable adults in the throes of one of today's worst addictions, fame. If Katie Price wasn't a classic example of this I don't know who is.

Secondly the idea that this is a televised experiment in human behaviour is belied by the fact that psychologists design the various 'activities' and 'challenges' specifically to subject the poor souls to the worst of human behaviour, behaviour that is well documented from serious scientific study! These 'experiments' are redundant at best.

As a psychotherapist I consider these psychologists as the real world equivalent of having turned to the dark side in using their knowledge to indulge a really ugly side of human behaviour. I suspect that many if not most of them became psychologists to help people, where is that noble motive now?

We seem to think that we own famous people. That somehow celebrities are our property to do with as we please. I mention this because this was a oft heard refrain when the question of how we can treat people like this came up. These people are human beings first and foremost and programmes that take advantage of their tragic addiction to fame for our depraved entertainment are a deeply disturbing trend to me because of all the darker elements of human behaviour I fear cruelty above all. I recognise it as an issue of mine that I continue to work on. However, to see it celebrated in the guise of either entertainment, for the more honest amongst the viewers, or as a 'fascinating experiment' for the rest troubles me more than I can say.

In this 'enlightened' day and age can we find no better entertainment?