I realise I’ve been relatively inactive on this old blog for a while now. Part of that is the sheer busyness (business?) of Being – which I will get to in a few – and part of it the ennui and apathy of existing in this weird, quasi-apocalyptic era, in which days and months don’t quite have the same gravity or delineation they once did. Ironically, this probably makes the humble art of blogging more important than ever – surely recording the mundane and the ordinary beneath the umbrella of Plague Times will serve someday as a reminder that life always goes on. I salute anyone who has maintained the drive to do so. For my part, even writing fiction has fallen by the wayside – this too a combination of ennui and busyness – though things may be turning a corner.
In spite of the unmitigated weirdness of the world, rather a lot has happened this year.
In August, I finally left the world of pathology and laboratory medicine, which I had been working in for almost 10 years, and dipped my toe into videogame narrative design for the first time. I am currently working as a Narrative Designer for indie studio Bonsai Collective – a huge, terrifying departure, but also terrifically exciting. I’ve been a videogame nerd all my life, and the opportunity to not just write games, but write games I’m genuinely excited about, for a super welcoming and lovely studio, is nothing short of a dream opportunity. I’m contracted until spring, so we’ll see where the new year takes me, but right now I’m absolutely loving it.
September was Con Season. At the start of the month I was warmly welcomed to Copenhagen as a guest of honour at Fantasticon, which turned out to be a really wonderful convention full of friendly and fascinating people. I listened to talks on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, gave a talk of my own on hauntings and trauma in horror fiction, was interviewed by Jesper Rugård Jensen, who is absolutely lovely. I went walking around Copenhagen, learned about Fy og Bi, the original Laurel and Hardy, ate Danish pizza, and generally had an amazing time. If travel and money permits, I’d love to go again next year as a regular attendee.
The tweet below was an absolute highlight. I’m amazed and delighted that my ramblings were interesting!
Late September saw the return of Fantasycon. This was a much needed reprieve; we talk often in the UK horror/genre scene about Our Tribe, and it’s probably terrifically cheesy but I’ve rarely felt this as acutely as in those two years apart from everyone I consider a friend and a peer. I didn’t attend Glasgow in 2019, and 2020 didn’t happen, so it felt like a long, dark stretch of isolation. Even winning the BFA in March was muted a little by the fact that my friends weren’t around me when it happened. It’s an odd feeling.
Fantasycon was in Birmingham this year, and although it was a smaller, quieter con it became immediately apparent that this was the missing piece I’d been so very aware of. Which is presumably how I let Penny Jones and Steve Shaw convince me to drink ungodly amounts of Long Island Iced Tea on the Friday night ahead of moderating my first ever panel: the world’s whitest World Horror panel. By all accounts, my drunkenness improved the endeavour, though I can only vaguely recall it so you’ll have to take it with a pinch of salt.
The con was a delight from start to finish. The usual joys of panels and panelling; drinking with Penny, Simon, Andrew, Sophie, Steve, Andy, Kelly, Jim McLeod himself, Peter, CC, and plenty of others I’ve forgotten. Singing Sledgehammer on karaoke (with the correct words.) Exploring Birmingham with Penny and Simon. The One Star Game with Kit, RJ and Stark on Sunday, which gave the world ‘smally, like a hand’. A once-in-a-lifetime dream reading slot with Lucie McKnight Hardy and Marian Womack! I could write a full Mark West style con report but I know I’d forget 80% of it. It was the balm my soul needed, though.
In October I moderated my second ever panel, this time at MCM Comic Con in London – an event I usually attend in cosplay, but this time I went in my guise as a Serious Writer. With a stellar panel comprised of the legendary Kim Newman, Tiffani Angus, Verity Holloway and RA Williams, the fact that I made it to the panel with 30 seconds to spare thankfully didn’t cause any major issues, and the whole thing was a very fun experience. Something I would definitely like to do again.
In late October, Mr Mauro and I sold up our house in Basildon and transported our entire lives (+ 3 cats) to west Oxfordshire. There are a lot of reasons for this, but primarily because Mr M’s job was shit, and all the jobs in his industry were in and around Oxford. We’d visited the area previously to see friends, and we knew already that we liked it here, so it seemed less insane a decision than you might think. (Although 6+ hours stuck on the M25 with three stressed out cats in the back of the car did make me wonder…)
Other than the motorway mishap the move went smoothly. Semi-rural life takes getting used to when you were born and raised in deepest south east London – the silence at night was somewhat unnerving in the beginning, and I miss my urban foxes, who used to sleep in my garden all day back in Essex. But there’s a lot to like here. As I write this, I can see a red kite riding the breeze outside my front window – a common sight here, but one I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of. We’ll see what the future holds.
In November I once again got to reunite with the Tribe at the UK Ghost Story Festival in Derby (formerly Sledge-Lit). A trip to the Quad is always a joy and though this was, again, a quieter event, it was no less delightful for it. Getting to see Mark Morris, Kevin Mullins, Pixie Peigh and Tracy Fahey among other wonderful people was lovely. I had a late night reading on Friday with Tracy, which was unofficially sponsored by alcoholic ginger beer, and in which we both coincidentally chose watery-themed ghost stories to tell. On Saturday I moderated a panel on great ghost stories, and spoke on a panel about spooky tales. And then there was a chill, lowkey brunch on Sunday before heading home in the snow. A small highlight of the event was seeing my books on sale on the dealer’s table – believe it or not, a first for me!
…is where we are now, and it’s mostly been a month of catching up on PhD research (yes, I’m still doing it), travelling the 100+ miles back to visit family, and the day job, which keeps me busy in the best way possible. And now I find myself at last sitting down to write. Not writing all year is an odd feeling. I suspect I’m not the only one. And when I look at how much has happened this year, even without The Plague, it’s probably not surprising that the word count has been so light. Who has time to write when you’re moving house, running back and forth, writing a game, doing a PhD, and everything else besides? But I miss it. And there is some small part of me that feels – whisper it – like an imposter, winning two awards for writing and then not writing a word all year. Which is daft, but also, it is what it is, and I’ve always held myself to high standards. So, seeing out the last few days of the year by getting a few words down – even if it is just a few – feels like the right way to go about things. And hopefully there will be more words to come.
Wishing all of you a happy, healthy and stress-free 2022. Let’s hope it brings better news for all of us.