Not The Fox News: The February Rundown

Hi! Happy New Year! I hope your festive season of choice was fun and relaxing. I’ve had a surprisingly virulent cold for the last ten days or so and am just coming up to speed. So, in the spirit of being nice to my brain and trying something new here, let’s talk about a few things briefly.

Opening Number

That’s there for two reasons. Firstly because it’s one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands and secondly because it’s what we all need. We are, as I write this, roughly six weeks and change into the New Year. I’ve spent over half that time really surprisingly ill. On the one hand this was kind of great, thanks to the Complete Veronica Mars boxed set I got for my birthday. On the other, it means I’m ten days in the hole on every deadline I have.

Worse still, part of me didn’t want to go back to work.

I love my job, don’t get me wrong. 2016 may have been a dumpster set alight, filled with human sewage and rolled down hill into a Nuclear Waste Dump but I did some of my all-time favorite work in that year. It’s not that I didn’t want to go back to it, I did.

It’s just that, well, I’ll let Chuck explain.

Writing in this instance meaning work.

We all feel this way. We all look at our careers and our lives and wonder if we’ll ever get what we want. Odds are, we won’t get all of it. Odds are, we will get some of it. As long as one thing happens.

We persevere.

So, cut yourself a break. Don’t kick your ass for not doing enough and don’t push when you really feel like you can’t. But don’t stop either. Don’t ever stop. Like the man says, one step, one punch, one round at a time. You’ve got this. And we’re right there with you.

Sell Yourself, Not Your Dignity. Or Anyone Else’s.

Earlier this year, an author successfully dominated a genre fiction news cycle by faking a Twitter beef with then not-quite new President of the United States.

Stop and drink that in:

An author. Who wanted to sell more books. Faked attack tweets. From the imminent President of the United States. A man who probably holds grudges against a sub-par breakfast.

It went viral too. 12,000 or so retweets, some celebrity endorsements and then ‘Lol, soz just satire.’

There are so many ways this is stupid, so many ways it’s the textbook definition of a DICK MOVE we don’t have the words for it. Want to know the best one?

I knew this had happened. But I still had to google the author’s name.

Here’s the thing about parody; it needs to be funny.

Here’s the other thing about parody; in the post-looking glass, Brexit-riddled, Trans-Atlantic dumpster fire we now live in parody, or its snarky oh so ironic sibling, satire need to be really REALLY careful about when they leave their rooms.

Doing this, rightly or wrongly, played on people’s fears to sell a book. The folks out there terrified they’re going to lose the health care they need to survive? Or their jobs? Or the laws that stop discrimination against them? They have very good reason to react without checking. When marketing games them like this it not only plays on their fears but only makes them angrier and more depressed.

To sell a book.

Plus this won’t be the last time. The campaign worked. Which means others are on the way. Which means that ‘Sad!’ and ‘Yuge’ will become default punctuation. Which means the way he speaks will be normalized. Which means everything else will be normalized.

To sell a book.

So what can we take away from this? Other than a headache and a gnawing sense that we should just put Johnny Cash albums on and drink until we pass out?

That’s easy. Don’t do it.

We talk a lot about how to promote yourself here because it’s one of those things authors never figure out all the way. It’s really easy to think there’s a magic bullet, and pop culture certainly looks like it. When all everyone is talking about is one person or thing, you want to get some of that action. That’s how impressionists happen. That’s why SNL is decades old. That’s why every English satirist is currently sitting in the same pub wondering if it’s too late to retrain.

But that’s not all there is.

There’s you as well.

Be you. Be honest. Be polite and be persistent. That means engaging. That means listening. That means changing your approach. And most of all it means, you guessed it, perseverance. One step, one punch, round at a time. You got this.

Unless you fake beef with POTUS. Then you don’t have a damn thing.

And Finally
Self Care! It’s what’s for dinner! In fact the very acceptance of dinner as a concept implies you’re taking care of yourself! And trust me you really need to. The news right now is, much like it was last year, a never ending hellstorm of awfulness. It’s very easy to get dragged in. Don’t do that. That’s bad. Instead, hydrate, eat protein when you can, take regular stretch breaks and be nice to yourself. This is a good place to start if you can:

Lion Spaceships, y’all. You know it makes sense. See you in March.

Not the Fox News: The Other F Word

I had a whole draft of this column which was basically the opening monologue from the grumpiest episode of Last Week Tonight. I talked about just how fucking unbearable of a horror show the last couple of weeks have been for, well, pretty much everybody. I had stuff in there about how US politics is so morally bankrupt they can unperson a hate crime against the LGBT community because selling more guns is more important than saving more lives. I had a whole bit about the collection of feral and rabid children’s TV mascots who are dominating UK politics right now. I described one particularly odious one as ‘Darkest timeline Mr Toad.’ If you know which one I mean, that’s pretty funny. If you don’t, please, seriously, keep it that way. He doesn’t deserve to live in any more people’s heads and you can use the space for something better.

ANYTHING better.

I touched on just how horrific it is to have a British politician murdered for the first time in almost three decades. I talked about just how great an actor Anton Yelchin was and how inconceivably, brutally unfair it is for anyone to die as young as Jo Cox, Yelchin or any of this year’s stream of victims to date.  I talked about how the referendum I’m voting in on Thursday is something no one wants but, because UK politics really is The Thick of It with horror instead of jokes, we have to do it anyway. I talked about how tired, and angry and, at times, how frightened I am of this stuff.


You won’t be reading that column.


It’s taken three days for me to get the distance I needed to realize something. I wasn’t witing it for publication, I was writing it to get it out of my head. To exert a little control in a year which, at the halfway point, feels like that bit in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where shit starts to get very, very real indeed. It helped me. Reading it back, the only thing it would do for you is add to the foothills of Mount WhiteDude Thinkpiece.

So, instead, let’s talk about joy.

Things are rough right now and things are so generically rough, everywhere that people across the planet will probably read that sentence and go ‘Damn right.’ When things are this bad there are two ways to deal with it, I’ve found, that work.

First off, manage your strength. This week in particular, social media is going to be a dumpster fire. A lot of people are going to want to engage with issues a lot of the time. Sometimes you’ll be one of them. Have at. But, when you can, step away. Time and again, over the catastrophe parade of the last few years, I’ve seen people obsessively parked on social media watching stories develop.

Sometimes that holds you up.

Sometimes it puts you down.

Learn to step away, learn to choose when to engage. Be prepared for that answer to be ‘never’ if you need it to be. But please, at the very least stretch and hydrate once an hour.

Secondly, find some fun. One of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century once said we want fun. And Doctor WK was right, we do. In fact we don’t just want it we need and deserve it. So, please, if you can, enjoy yourself. Want to know the best way I found to do that this week?

Lion Spaceships.


Voltron: Legendary Defender on Netflix is SO much fun. Classic Voltron premise; alien battleships shaped like lions that turn into a colossal robot, tetchy crew, space princess, comedy space mice, guy with a big mustache. The whole thing is designed to be accessible for people who’ve never seen any form of the show before and boy does it pay off. The animation, from the Legend of Korra team, is amazing. The voice work, especially Bex Taylor-Klaus as Pidge, is great and the show has a wonderful energy and spark to it. It’s smart and kind and goofy and fun and THERE IS A COLOSSAL ROBOT MADE OUT OF LION SPACESHIPS. Seriously, if you’ve got Netflix, go watch it, it’s great.

Amazon Prime more your speed? Watch The Duff. Mae Whitman is going to win Oscars later in her career. She’s an endlessly gifted and completely open comedic actress with dramatic chops to back it up. Whitman is the lynch pin of a smart, witty comedy that takes the usual teen drama tropes and turns them on their heads. Massively funny, emotionally nuanced and Robbie Ammell takes his shirt off. What more could you want? Aside from Lion Spaceships?

Neither of the above? Go pick up Speed. The greatest action movie of the 1990s. Actually two of the greatest action movies of the 1990s and the third act which is a bit bobbins. Regardless, Keanu Reeves’ hyper intense, and not super bright, SWAT officer remains one of his greatest roles, Sandra Bullock is fantastic and there’s an uncredited Joss Whedon script polish. Which, trust me, you’ll notice. Also, play spot the Richard Schifff cameo! It’s not where you think!


Not a movie person? Phonogram by Gillen, McKelvie and others is one of the definitive comics of the last three decades. Music as magic and magic as music in the post Britpop years. And if you’ve read the series then you know three things:

1.I’m right.

2.It has taken Herculean levels of self control to not write an entire thing about the issue that panel is from and how much fizzing effervescent joy it brings me.

3.Simply putting that here made me smile


D.Yes, you’re right. You DO need to read it again.

the omnivore's dilemma

Not a comic person? The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. One of the greatest food writers of our time talks about the surreal, Orwellian lunacy of the US food system. And also how to make really good chicken. Also there are jokes.


Music rather than books?

Beethoven. All of it.


Not a classical fan? The Stones.

Not into classic rock? Try Marian Hill.

Geek: Remixed.


Weird Al.

Johnny Cash. And friends.


Watch something. Read something. Listen to something. Play something. COOK something. This year has been full of horrors, it is only halfway done and it’s all too easy to put your back to the fire and watch the tree line for whatever’s next. I know, I’ve lived in that state of mind. I won’t say you shouldn’t do the same.  I will say you don’t have to do it all the time.

It’s okay to be frightened. It’s okay to be angry. It’s pretty mandatory to be exhausted. But it’s absolutely vital you are not just those things. We all deserve to be more than okay and right now, it seems like very few of us are even that. So please, this month, if you can? Stand down. Recharge. Have some fun. And remember; Lion spaceships

(Not The) Fox News: The Convention TwoStep

Conventions are one of those things, a little like dental work, that everyone is just expected to do. However, the best case scenario tends to be a lot higher than ‘No cavities!’ or ‘Mum, he only used the crowbar once!’. Conventions are safe spaces, the places where we can go to let our hair down, be ourselves, network, schmooze, drink, do bad karaoke, sign the odd deal and argue in Klingon over whether Peter Parker should have organic or mechanical webshooters.

That’s a tall order. And here’s the thing; it sets conventions up as the peak of the geek calendar and in doing so, all they’re set up to do is let you down. I’ll never forget attending my first FantasyCon, stepping through the door of what one of my best friends had described as one of the most welcoming conventions in the country and…being confronted by 300 people who clearly knew one another, chatting away and getting drunk together.There was no welcome booth, there was no one on duty to ease newbies in. There was just me and a bunch of already mostly drunk authors. It looked, and felt, like every ghastly clichéd high school lunch hall dream given form.

I didn’t turn and run, much as part of me wanted to.  I persevered, enjoyed a good deal of it and talked to almost no one. I attended another couple of times and, gradually, found myself moving in the same orbits as people who are now some of my closest friends. One of them is Adele, our feral leader here at Fox Spirit Towers. She had a similar track to me through the UK convention circuit, moving from member to guest to sleepless podcast tech goddess to leader of the pack in a little under three years. She was also completely rebooting her life as this was going on which, to my mind, is probably the only plausible reason why it took that long.

So, largely left to our own devices, people like Adele, myself, the Cheesecakes, Sam, Andrew, Lisa, Vick, Vicky and the others all slowly began to form our own social circles. It took a while and by a while I mean years, but I can now walk into any convention in the UK and, chances are, have a friend or two already there. It feels nice. It feels earned because believe me, it was. There are very few lonelier places than the bar at a FantasyCon when everyone’s talking to everyone but you.

Here’s the truth; no convention, on Earth, is going to answer every single one of your geek prayers because nothing ever does and nothing ever will. Make no mistake, you’ll have fun but the sky will not shower book contracts and meaningful discussion down upon you.  At least not without you rigging some bizarre publishing/weather dominator hybrid.

Yeah, Destro. You BETTER run.


For someone who doesn’t like or ‘do’ conventions, it turns out I’m going to a couple of big ones in the closing stages of 2013. In November I’m off to Leeds for Thought Bubble, which is always a very rewarding and immensely strange experience. Thought Bubble, or ThoBubs as its affectionately known, was founded by the comic store I worked for straight out of University. That’s the same comic store that made me redundant some years later and catapulted me into a period of sustained, constant change and near unbearable psychological stress. That period of my life meant that when I went to Thought Bubble for the first time, back in 2011, it’s fair to say I was not in the best of frames of mind. It’s a very weird experience spending time inside something that was so nearly built with your help. It simultaneously makes you proud and desperately sad. You get glimpses of the next life over, the one that was almost yours. You don’t regret it, certainly, but you do find yourself wishing it wasn’t in your eye line quite so much.

That being said, Thought Bubble is a desperately friendly show and, because I’m working for the company’s website (Freelancer tip: Never burn bridges. Ever. You never know when you’ll be able to cross back over them) I’m on the guest list. So, two days of wandering around Leeds Armouries, chatting to small press and big press alike and coming home with a metric kilo of review copies looks set to be on the cards.

Before all that though, I’m off to World FantasyCon.

This year FantasyCon has combined, Voltron like, with WorldCon to create a colossal robot that will stomp across Brighton and…

Sorry, I seem to have turned over multiple pages there.

This year, FantasyCon has combined with World FantasyCon and the end result has been a complaint storm the likes of which we haven’t seen since Doctor Who fans discovered the internet, keyboards and Twitter. There’s been, on average, one ‘thing’ about WFC 2013 every five or six days. I’m not going to repeat any of the well documented issues a lot of people have with the convention set up here, firstly because I don’t have the word count and secondly I really don’t want to. Make no mistake there are absolutely legitimate problems with some aspects of the con that have been expressed forcefully and eloquently by some of the best writers in the field. Them, I don’t have a problem with.

The internet hordes crowding around them yelling ‘FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!’? They’re the problem.

At this point, WFC 2013 could transform the entire hotel into gold, provide everyone with unlimited chocolate and alcohol, premiere all the missing Doctor Who episodes still left and odds are someone would still sniff and go ‘Huh. Well apparently all the rooms smelt of wee.’

I saw people complaining about the free book policy earlier today.

How do you do that?

How do you express serious concerns about the giveaway policy at a con? It’s free books! You’ll be allowed a set amount, odds are you can swap them around maybe and maybe even read some before you pick up even more at the next convention! Like usual!

There’s such an accretion disk of negativity around the con that at times the real issues some people have and the efforts to address those issues by the organizers are being obscured by the stampede of people struggling to be the first on the soapbox and the first to lead the next charge. That’s awful for two reasons; firstly because the real issues people have with aspects of the programming are being obscured. On a more personal level, honestly, I’m slightly nervous going.

I’m attending as a redshirt (Although apparently we’ll get jackets which sounds dapper and AWESOME) and part of me is sincerely apprehensive. I’m going to be part of the Con’s face (FaceCons! That combine to form…I am on an ‘80s cartoon kick this month aren’t I?) and a lot of people seem eager to explain exactly why the con sucks, possibly to its face, that I am part of.


Oh and just for giggles, I’m also at my first ever book launch as an author! Which I may also be red jacketing at! Which may mean I’m technically cosplaying as either postmodernism or the entire industry… Anyway Fox Spirit’s Tales of Eve anthology has an officially official launch on Sunday at 10am.  The launches are being held in the space between the art show and Hall 8 and this should be really fun. Tales of Eve is a great book, Mhairi Simpson did a kick ass job as editor and a bunch of Fox Spirit authors will all be there to sign the book and launch it out into the world.


So, let’s review; I’m going to be a volunteer at a convention where a measurable proportion of the attendees aren’t especially happy and I’m also going to be attending my first ever book launch as an author.

No pressure then.

Now, take my basic apprehension and apply it to people attending a con for the first time. The needle’s buried in the red.

Or it would be, because on this one the convention has a plan. Full details are here:

Go, read, and go say hi. It’s a great idea and exactly the sort of thing I wish someone had thought of during my first couple of FantasyCons. It would have saved me a fortune in J20 and crippling social anxiety.


As for me, well, I have a plan too. The redjackets have all been asked what events they’d especially like to attend and wherever possible we’ll be scheduled to either work those events or be free for them. The book launch aside, I’ve asked for a range of diverse events and also said if I get none of them? That’s fine. If I go where I’m needed, rather than where I think I should be, I’m bound to see and hear new and interesting viewpoints.  I’ll be challenged. I’ll learn new things. I’ll engage, and in doing so be too busy to get nervous.

So why don’t you try the same thing?  Also, feel free to say hi if you see me. You can’t miss me, I’m the guy who looks exactly like the photo of me on this website. Let’s chat for a bit, assuming I’m not wrapping a panel up or helping disappear the flocks of taxidermied and yet somehow living ravens that always seem to apport into existence if Ramsey Campbell stays in one place too long. Because, underneath the groupthink, the communications failures on both sides and the vast helpings of schadenfreude people seem to be relishing, we’re all fans. This aspect of popular culture makes us all happy, hits us all right in the feels, and that sense of unity? That’s the one place every convention lives up to our expectations. Sounds like fun. Hopefully I’ll see you there.