You Think 2016 Was Bad?

As a writer, I spend a lot of time thinking on plots of novels, and so it’s only natural that when I think about events occurring on our world, I try to imagine how they would develop were they events of fiction rather than reality.

People talk about 2016 as being the year from hell, but the thing is, most of the bad things about 2016 were the taken of decisions to do something bad, with the something bad itself having not yet occurred.

In other words, if 2016 were fiction, it wouldn’t be a stand-alone novel, but would instead be one of those slightly frustrating first books of a trilogy where lots of plot lines are initiated but nothing ever gets finished – and you then have to wait a year for the next book.

And that leads onto a second thought: if 2016 were merely the first book of a trilogy – what’s going to happen in the next two books.

Well with thanks to my friend Ian McDonald for the crucial plot development at the end, here goes…

2016: The Unfolding (Book I of the End Years Trilogy)

2016 begins in a world still struggling to extract itself from the Great Recession of 2008, and racked by wars triggered by climate change and ill-advised imperialist interventions.

In Europe, the European Union is under assault from the forces of left and right, while in the United States dark populist forces are gathering.

As mainland Europe struggles to cope with the refugees pouring out of a war-torn Middle East, the disastrous result of a recklessly called referendum plunges the United Kingdom into political and constitutional chaos. Meanwhile, the American presidential election produces a stunning shock of unprecedented proportions as a racist and misogynistic narcissist utterly unsuited to the role is elected on a tidal wave of neo-fascist populism.

2017: The Unravelling (Book II of the End Years Trilogy)

2017 begins with the results of the American election turning from tragedy to farce as the president-elect is revealed to be a Russian intelligence asset whose election was largely due to the Kremlin’s intervention. Meanwhile in Britain, the phony period of fudge and bluff comes to an end as the process to leave the European Union is begun.

As the world economy spirals further into the chaos triggered by Brexit and the nationalistic protectionism of the American president, Russian president Vladimir Putin invades the Baltic states. Shorn of effective leadership, and betrayed by the United States at the moment of invasion, NATO disintegrates.

Alongside this, and goaded by the United States’ ascendant right-wing, an increasingly belligerent Israel attempts to increase the pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As the Western World attempts to celebrate an uneasy Christmas, a drunk American president engaged in a late night Twitter argument with the president of Iran orders a nuclear strike on Tehran. Following a rehearsed script written several months previously by Pentagon lawyers, and deploying pre-written letters signed by certain departmental heads, the Air Force officer carrying the “nuclear football” announces that by issuing such an order the president is clearly incapacitated as defined by the twenty-fifth amendment, and as such, presidential authority will now lie with the vice-president.

2018: The Unleashing (Book III of the End Years Trilogy)

2018 starts with the United States engulfed in a full blown constitutional crisis, with a still-tweeting president claiming to have been the victim of a military coup and the Joint Chiefs of Staff claiming to be following the now legitimate commander-in-chief, the former vice-president.

Both the military and civilian authorities are split as to the legality of the Joint Chiefs interpretation of the 25th amendment. A majority of state governors declare allegiance to the former president, with several calling up their state national guards. The regular military itself fractures into uselessness. Within weeks constitutional crisis has given way to a limited, but still bloody, civil war, with fire fights breaking out in Washington DC between different factions.

The American economy, paralysed, enters a death spiral; the world economy follows. Vladimir Putin meanwhile, follows his move into the Baltic states with an invasion of Poland and a declaration of a new Russian Empire, with himself as emperor.

With the world on the brink of an all out war, only one leader remains with the moral and political authority to hold the centre: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Gathering together the remains of NATO, she forges a new alliance. While her forces meet and defeat the Russian invasion, triggering a democratic uprising in Moscow, a Canadian led force allied with the anti-Presidential forces occupies Washington DC in the last hours of 2018.

When the sun rises on New Year’s Day 2019, it is on a new world, in a new era.

My Top Ten Writing Haunts

haunt

h??nt/

noun

  1. a place frequented by a specified person.

“the bar was a favourite haunt of artists of the time”

synonyms

hang-out, stamping ground, meeting place, territory, domain, purlieu, resort, den, retreat, favourite spot;

For any author, finding somewhere to write can be of crucial importance, doubly so for authors such as myself for whom writing is something that sits half way between a hobby and a job, and which has to be squeezed into the cracks of a life otherwise occupied by a family and full-time, mortgage-paying employment.

It was Albert Einstein who first observed that space and time are interwoven into a single continuum known as space-time, and no-where is this more true than for a writer’s writing haunts. It’s true of course that you want the places you write in to inspire you, to provide the kindling to your creative fire – and if they can serve you a good coffee that’s an added bonus. But a haunt is as much about time as it is about space. It’s about a place that you can escape to, free of the calls of every day life. A place with no dishes waiting to be washed or laundry waiting to be hung up. A place that will give you not merely a space in which to write, but the time in which to do it.

Moving twice in the current year, first to Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, and then to Littleborough in Lancashire, has given me a renewed appreciation for the role that my various writing haunts have played in my writing “career” thus far. As Joni Mitchell sang, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. I’m on the lookout for new haunts now, but that search and the thoughts it’s aroused have inspired me to write this.

My top ten personal writing haunts.

#10 Paul Robeson Theatre Café Bar

Hounslow

paulrobesontheatreThe café of Hounslow’s Paul Robeson community theatre makes it into my top ten list not because it was one of my better writing haunts, but because it was my first. This was back in around 2003, when I got my first laptop, a cheap reconditioned Hewlet Packard which I used to supplement the Dell desktop that at the time was still my primary writing machine.

The café wasn’t a particularly great place to write at. And since this was before the widespread introduction of soya milk into UK coffee shops and the resultant availability of soya lattes (a development which has frankly played an embarrassingly large role in my development as a writer), I was restricted to black coffees. (I’m not any kind of coffee aficionados out there, but I do like my rocket fuel to have a little frothed milk to help it slip down).

This wasn’t where it started: I was already started, having been writing on and off since I was a child. But the Paul Robeson cafe bar helped me move to a productivity model where I could write on a continuously enough basis to actually start producing the novels I’d aspired to write. And for that reason it makes my list.

#9 Coffee Cali

Hebden Bridge

coffeecaliCoffee Cali’s a funny entry, one that’s almost snuck onto this list, because when I was thinking back on all the places that I’ve written in I realised that although I felt no huge emotional link to this place, I actually spent quite a lot of time over the last year writing in it.

It’s a curious place, which in some ways comes across as a small independent coffee shop trying to feel like a corporate chain, and which sometimes appears to be staffed entirely by look-a-likes (there’s a Tina from Coronation Street, and a rather good Rylan from X-Factor). But I like it because its reasonably large upstairs seating area offers me a secluded space to write where I don’t feel like I’m taking a table away from other, potential customers. And despite what I’ve said, it’s nice place, which offers a lovely view of the bridge that gives the town its name.

Now that I’ve moved away, and my Hebden writing is confined to the occasional Saturday excursion, it’s actually Coffee Cali that I most often end up in. So for that reason alone, it deserves a place on this list.

#8 Various Piccadilly Line Carriages

London

ontubeFrom the time I acquired my first laptop around 2002 until we moved to Brighton in 2009, the majority of my writing took place on my Piccadilly Line commute to and from work. It’s where I wrote most of my columns for Mongoose’s Signs and Portents gaming magazine. And it’s where most of my first novel Game Night was written. Along the way I replaced the Hewlet Packard with a G4 Macbook, and then replaced that with an Intel Macbook after one-too-many trips through the bumpy express section between Acton Town and Hammersmith destroyed its hinge.

The seats weren’t always comfortable and the view varied between mundane and literally non-existent. But it gave me a time and a space to write, and for that I will always be grateful.

#7 Villa Källhagen Lobby Bar

Stockholm

kallhagenThe Källhagen (which is actually pronounced something like “Shallhagen”) is where I always stay when I visit my company’s Stockholm office.

(With one exception when the Källhagen was booked out one July and I had to stay in a rather cheap and nasty place. Since then I always say, only half joking, that the worst jet lag I ever had was a week in Stockholm in July in a hotel with cheap, thin curtains. By the end of the week, having been woken up every night at about 2am by the light flooding into the room, I was so wrecked that I fell asleep sitting bolt upright while the plane home was making its final approach into Gatwick. This was during a period when I made three trips to Singapore in four months. As I spent that weekend walking around like a zombie, concerned friends were asking “Have you just come back from Singapore, again?” and then being a bit perplexed when I replied, anguished, “No! Stockholm!”)

The Källhagen has good curtains.

But more than that it has a lovely ambiance, especially in its lobby bar which with its log fire and restrained decor is far more cosy than any lobby bar has a right to be. It’s just a nice place to crack open your laptop on an evening and get a bit of writing done.

#6 Caffé Nero

Brighton

cafenerobrightonThere are actually three Caffé Neros in Brighton, all of which I’ve drank at. But the one that I spent quite a bit of time writing in was the one on the corner of Preston Street and Western Road, just a few minutes walk away from our house. (It was also where Violet and I would chill out over a soya latte and a soya babychino, but that’s another story).

It wasn’t particularly funky, and its parent chain are a tad Starbucksesque on the tax front, but the staff were always friendly and they were always kind to my dog.

#5 Verano Lounge

Brighton

veranoloungeOkay, here’s the thing. I don’t like pubs. Now maybe it was because I was raised a Methodist during an era when pubs were drinking places for adults rather than the pub-themed restaurants they’ve now mostly become. Or perhaps it’s a result of an incident during a sixth form pub crawl when I was seventeen where having randomly encountered my family’s milkman, he got it into his head that I was making fun of him, threatened to kill me, and then shoved me up against the glass frontage of the local Tesco and held a knife to my throat as a demonstration of his intent.

Or perhaps it’s just that not having any particular taste for alcohol, I usually end up drinking flat coke from the tap machine and cursing the non-availability of coffee. Whatever, the point is that I don’t like pubs. I don’t feel happy in them. I don’t feel comfortable in them. And I don’t feel particularly safe in them. If there’s a pub vibe, it’s one that entirely passes me by.

So for me, Verano Lounge was like a perfectly genetically engineered fusion of a bar and coffee shop, combining the opening hours of a bar with the relaxed chilled out vibe of a coffee shop.

Late in the evening, when all the coffee shops were all closed, I could get Violet to bed and then head on out to the Lounge, get out my laptop, and enjoy a nice soya latte, on my own, without feeling like an out-of-place, no mates, freak.

(It was also a good place to go to when my wife and I had managed to sneak out on a rare date and she wanted to go to a bar and I wanted to go to a coffee shop, but that’s also another story).

#4 Genoa Coffee Shop

Istanbul

genoacoffeeshopThe Genoa was not a good place. Hell, given that it was a mock American diner set a stone’s throw from the historic waterway of the Golden Horn, you could almost argue that it’s very existence was an affront to history, architecture, and plain damn common decency. And with soya milk a mere dream in most of Istanbul, I was back to the black coffees.

But it’s made it to number four on my list because it appeared at a point in my life where I’d found myself becalmed in a manner that was not so much writer’s block as life overload. I hadn’t written anything for months, and then I found myself spending a week in Istanbul, not in the out of town executive box that my later Istanbul visits for my day job took me to, but at a hotel right in the heart of the city just across the water from the old town.

istanbulgenoa-view3After a day spent conducting software training (professional pride and ex-programmer’s snobbery compel me to point out at this point that I’m actually a business analyst, but being rather multi-functional I dabble in training on the side) I’d grab something to eat and then wonder down to the Genoa, flip open my laptop, and enjoy a view across the Galata Bridge at the old town and the Yeni Cami (New) mosque.

To be in such a place was inspiring in a way that’s hard to describe. I spent five nights in Istanbul, soaking up the layers of history like a desert absorbing rain, and then poured that into the writing of a short story, Constantinople. (Which I might one day publish on Wattpad).

#3 Various Southern Railway / Thameslink Carriages

Brighton, London, and Points In-between

southernrail2From the summer of 2009 until early 2016, this was where most of my writing took place. From 2009 through to 2013, when I was commuting into Farringdon, I had an hour and a half each way, or up to fifteen hours a week of guilt-free writing time. Even after we’d moved offices and I was commuting into London Bridge, I still had a little over an hour each way.

I write two complete novels and most of a third on these trains: If Pigs Could Fly, an unpublished time travel novel, and the Sleeping Dragon, which will hopefully be published at some point this year.

My writing career went through some life-related ebbs and flows during this period, and there were plenty of false dawns, but as I said in the dedications of If Pigs Could Fly, the seats were usually comfortable and the views were often superb.

#2 Mooch

Hebden Bridge

moochMooch was basically my favourite hangout in the world, ever, and it’s perhaps unfair that it hasn’t made it to the number one spot on this list. Located just a stone’s throw away from our temporary rented house in Hebden, and opening until seven or eight most evenings, I could squeeze in a quick hour or so after finishing work and still make it home in time to put Violet to bed.

Like the Verano Lounge, Mooch occupies that space some way between a bar and a coffee shop, but where the now-closed Lounge was part of a chain and just a little bit corporate, Mooch has the wonderfully funky, independent vibe that you’d expect from a place situated in a town, Hebden Bridge, that is itself sometimes described as the “fourth funkiest place on the planet.”

I’d settle down with a soya latte and a toasted tea cake, listen to whatever record was playing on the bar counter’s slightly retro record player, soak up the vibe, and write.

I miss Mooch.

#1 Le Méridien Etiler Rooftop Bar

Istanbul

istanbulmeridian-intAnd so we come to the number one, which makes it in not for quality of the coffee, nor for any regular repartee I had with the staff, nor necessarily for the vibe. This wasn’t a quirky out of the way place in the historic centre of Istanbul, but the lounge bar of the thirty-four story executive box to which all my later work-related trips to Istanbul have taken me.

No, what pushes this bar to my number one spot is one thing. That view. When we Western Europeans think of Istanbul we think of the old city, of ancient Constantinople and Byzantium. But this is the modern twenty-first century Istanbul, the largest city in Europe. Home to more than fourteen million people, a population that has expanded ten fold in just sixty years. From the Le Méridien’s thirty-fourth floor I could gaze over an urban landscape so vast, and so plain damn cyberpunky that it damn near took my breath away.

istanbulmeridian-viewIt was the sort of vista that makes you want to write the next Neuromancer, but as it was, a week of post-work evening writing sessions at that penthouse bar back in early 2015 got me through a particularly difficult period of structural edits on If Pigs Could Fly.

It’s no secret that Turkey’s going through a tough time right now, both in terms of its domestic discord and the regular terrorist attacks. When my colleagues and I now travel to Istanbul our company’s security procedures (sensibly) prohibit us from travelling outside of either the hotel or the client’s site. For most of my colleagues this is an irksome restriction.

But not for me. Because after a day’s work on-site all I want to do is get a bite to eat, grab my laptop, and head to the thirty-fourth floor.

And write.

* * * * *

I’m going to share this post on twitter with the hashtag #writinghaunts. If any of you writers out there feel like sharing some of your writing places, I’d love you to do so under this hashtag.

Film Review: Suicide Squad

IMG_1357.PNGDirector: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Stars: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie

Shit, epically so.

Wild Jester Press’s End of July Sale

To celebrate the coming of summer and the end of school, and also to give the Amazon recommendation algorithms the slight “Hey! Remember me!” kick that they appear to require every now and again, I’m currently running a sale of both Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly though my Wild Jester Press imprint.

July-2016 Animated Advert

You can pick up the books here:

UK

Game Night: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Game-Night-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B0057JPZSG

If Pigs Could Fly: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Could-Kensington-Paranormal-Detective-Agency-ebook/dp/B0116IBO8G

Both priced at £0.99 (regular price £2.99)

US

Game Night: https://www.amazon.com/Game-Night-Jonny-Nexus-ebook/dp/B0057JPZSG

If Pigs Could Fly: https://www.amazon.com/Could-Kensington-Paranormal-Detective-Agency-ebook/dp/B0116IBO8G

Both priced at $0.99 (regular price $3.99)

(Note: both books are also available in paperback, but they’re not included in the sale, as the margins I have on them are already low enough that I literally can’t discount).

Mugs For Discworld Convention Charity Auction

The last weekend in August will see me at the Discworld Convention in Warwick to sell copies of Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly in the trade hall. I had a really good time at last year’s Irish Discworld Convention, and sold 50+ books, and had an equally good time selling just Game Night at the Discworld Convention in 2008, selling 70+ books on that occasion. (Mainly though word of mouth, to people who arrived at my table saying: “[Chris|Kris|Brian] said I had to go and buy your book”).

At each convention there’s a charity auction. I generally donate a copy of each book, but I thought that this time, it would be nice to do something a little extra. So I’ve come up with a pair of mugs:

Mugs1 Mugs2

Each mug has the full wraparound book cover. These are completely custom and unique items, as they’re tagged to this charity auction at this event. I will literally never make another pair of mugs quite like these again. I’ll be offering along with signed copies of Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly. I’m hoping someone will like them enough to bid on them.

David Cameron Might Just Have Saved The UK

The most important news from yesterday, other than the referendum result, was David Cameron’s decision to not immediately trigger Article 50, but instead leave that decision to his successor to take, in October at the earliest. Had he triggered it yesterday, as he’d said during the campaign he would, he would have committed the UK to a hard and full Brexit within two years.

As a result, three further options have opened up: a soft, though still full Brexit taking longer than two years; a partial, Norwegian style, Brexit; or some sort of supposed renegotiation that concludes with the UK remaining an EU member.

This is huge. I’d think this will eventually be seen as the most crucial decision taken by him during his entire political career. I’m mystified as to why it wasn’t the lead item in every news piece.

It’s About Identity, Not Democracy

Brexit supporters often attack the EU for its supposed lack of democracy, saying things like: “What about that President of the Commission? We didn’t elect him!”

I’ve heard this time and time again, and I’ve only just realised that I’ve misunderstood it every time. Pro-Europeans such as myself hear it as:

We didn’t elect him!

And each time we hear that, we point out that we did elect him. And then we patiently, and as it turns out pointlessly, explain the particular electoral mechanism involved. (Essentially, the people of Europe elect MEPs belonging to various factions, and then the leader of the faction that wins the most seats gets to be a sort of “European Prime Minister”).

But what they actually meant was this:

We didn’t elect him!

…where “we” refers not to the people of Europe, but the people of the United Kingdom. It’s just like when a Scottish Nationalist complains that: “We didn’t elect David Cameron!”

He or she is not complaining about the system by which David Cameron was elected PM (a First Past the Post election to a UK parliament, followed by a ” virtual election” among the MPs to select a PM from amongst their number). He or she is not advocating an arguably more democratic system, where the PM is elected by a direct presidential style election. In fact, since such an election would arguably give the British PM more power over Scotland, that would probably be the last thing our Scottish Nationalist would want.

His complaint is not in the “elect” part of his sentence, but in the “we”. He doesn’t like the fact that since English voters outnumber Scottish voters by about 10 to 1, essentially, Scottish voters have only a minor say in who rules them. When he says that “we” didn’t elect David Cameron, he means the people of Scotland. His problem is not that the UK is undemocratic. He just doesn’t want what he identifies as his country, Scotland, to be ruled by the English.

The EU is actually quite democratic, and where it isn’t democratic, that’s usually to preserve the rights of individual member countries (the national veto, for example). It’s not about democracy. It’s about identity. Are you happy to elect leaders as part of a European election, accepting that sometimes you won’t get who you voted for?

Which basically comes down to: do you feel European?

 

 

My Panel At Mancunicon (Eastercon 2016)

As well as having a stall in the trade hall to sell by books Game Night and If Pigs Could Fly, I am appearing on a panel at Eastercon on the subject of self-publishing.

MyPanel2

Hopefully, I’ll have something reasonably sensible and informative to say, on what not to do, if not necessarily on what to do! The panel’s on Sunday morning, at 11:30. If you’re around, it would be great to see you. And if you’d fancy a chat afterwards, please, please approach me at the end of the session. I’m always happy to chat, about self-publishing or anything else.

MyPanel

The River

Before moving here, I’ve only ever visited Hebden Bridge in the summer. The Hebden Water river I saw was a gentle stream, a few inches of water tumbling gently over its rocky bed, frequently braiding into rivulets that left much of the channel free of water. When people talked about the town being vulnerable to flooding, I couldn’t believe it. That! That tiny stream can cause flooding! Hell, I thought, I’ve pissed stronger streams than that.

But then came the devastating Boxing Day floods. I wasn’t here for those, but the river I see now is an angry beast, filling its channel to the very brim. This is no gentle stream; this is the sort of foaming torrent Kevin Keegan and his perm might have been found kayaking up in the mid-1970s, accompanied by a bevy of fellow sporting personalities, somewhere between the cycle race and the gym test.

Each morning, when I take the dog for her morning walk, I look at the river, and hope that today it won’t rain, and the river might get a little less angry.

Hebden1

Ducks swimming over a flooded riverside platform, that leads to a set of submerged steps

A Belated Announcement of a Geographical Nature

I have news, that news being that I’m not in Brighton anymore, but am in fact… well actually I’m currently in a hotel room in Mumbai on a trip with the day job, which is why I’ve found myself with the time to type this announcement, an announcement I’m making a shockingly bad fist of.

Let me start again.

We have moved, last week, from Brighton, to Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. In some ways this is a big move. I now find myself, a Southerner, in a sort of internal exile in my own country, adrift among a people who think engaging a complete stranger in conversation is a reasonable thing to do. In other ways, this isn’t such a big move. Brighton is an arty, cultural, cosmopolitan place famous for being a haven to gay people, and those who follow alternative lifestyles. Hebden Bridge, while smaller, is also an arty, cultural, cosmopolitan place famous for being a haven to gay people (Lesbian capital of Europe, apparently!), and those who follow alternative lifestyles. So we’ve exchanged one vegan enclave for another, albeit one with cleaner air and different, if not better views.

If you’re wondering why we’ve made the move, the capsule summary is that we’ve moved to West Yorkshire to be near my wife’s family, but have moved to Hebden Bridge specifically because we were looking for somewhere vegan friendly.

It’s a little battered still from the appalling floods that hit the whole area on Boxing Day, but it’s getting back on its feet, and we’d like to think that by moving here, and spending our money here, we’re helping just a little bit with that.

We’re really enjoying being here (or there, given that for me, now, here is the aforementioned hotel room in Mumbai) and I’m looking forward to building a new life here, for myself, and my family. If any of you are in the area, please drop me a line, especially if you’re into board gaming or roleplaying, two hobbies that I’d like to get back into.

And for no particularly reason, here’s a couple of pictures I’ve taken of the town.

Hebden1

Ducks swimming over a spot where two days earlier, we’d been standing

(The river is still pretty swollen, and on this particular morning, it had risen back up a bit).

Hebden2

A very steep footpath, with the town centre beyond