Saxon Bullock

Writer, Journalist, Copy-Editor and Proofreader

Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 123)

From the Vault

A quick note to declare that for the immediate future, I'm going to be regularly reposting some of my older articles up here, many of which date back from my 8-year sojourn as a film journalist, some of which are more recent. There'll be articles, interviews, reviews and plenty of other stuff appearing on a relatively regular basis – there'll be plenty that will have dated, but hopefully there'll still be something which will be of interest to someone, so feel free to join me on the nostalgia bandwagon, and I hope you enjoy the ride…

(The first 'From the Vault' post will be hitting in the next hour…)

 

Return of the Living Blog (Slight Return)

Hello there. It's been a while. How have you been?

Life has been busy – full-throttle, nose-to-the-grindstone, no-time-for-blogging busy – to the extent that it's only at the Easter holiday that I've found the time to get my head straight and get some words down. And of course, the longer I stay away from the blog, the less it feels like it matters, and the more I wonder if anyone really pays any attention to the things that I post here (a familiar confidence-related refrain for writers). But, to be honest, I've let a lack of confidence get to me far too much over the past year or so, and it's time to officially say “Nuts to that.”

So, here are some EXCITING updates full of AMAZING news that will TRANSFORM the way you see the world in SO MANY WAYS:

(Disclaimer: Certain elements in the last statement may not be entirely true.)

1: I'm almost at the end of the second semester of my MA Creative Writing course, and it's gone terrifyingly fast. I got my first mark back in early March, on my 'Portfolio piece' from Semester 1's fiction workshop, and I was two points away from getting a Distinction. Two. Points. Naturally, my brain immediately leapt to “Damn!” rather than “Holy crap, only two points away on your first go,” but I'm still proud of what I pulled off. Weirdly enough, thanks to the structure of the course, I'm not going to be doing any more course-related fiction writing until the beginning of 2015, but I'm going to be making up for things in the interim with plenty of exercises, tests and writing work, including continuing on for as long as possible with the reading group I've formed with a bunch of the students (many of whom aren't part-time, so will be vanishing off at some point during the summer, which will be very strange.

2: I'm flirting with the idea of going on to do a PhD in Creative Writing after the MA, but it's a thorny and weird subject. Just trying to get my head around what a PhD in Creative Writing actually is, and how I would fit my skills and talents into one has taken a long time, and there's also the question of whether I can get anyone at Manchester to accept my application or get enough funding for it so I can afford to do it, and on top of that is the “Do I definitely want to do a PhD?” question. It'd help in a whole lot of ways, and give me a good chance of working in academia and doing teaching, but it would also take a very long time, and would conceivably shut down most of my attempts at a writing career for three years, unless I'm absurdly lucky enough to get full funding. I like the idea of the challenge of a PhD, and I'll be investigating the possibility further, but I'm not yet 100% convinced this is the right direction for me. 80-90% convinced at the moment, but I'll need to do a bit more thinking…

3: Work is… work, pretty much. I've done more freelancing this semester than I did across the first, and while it's been tough at times, I've pretty much been able to hold it together. Proofreading isn't something I want to do forever, and the whole uncertainty inherent in freelancing occasionally makes me yearn for the comfort of an easy-to-quantify job with a guaranteed wage… but I know that route would drive me mad within six months. So, I'm slogging away, but I'll get there in the end.

4: I wrote a short story. Let me repeat that: I WROTE A SHORT STORY. Admittedly, it's probably going to end up drifting towards a short novella – it's currently 6,000 words long and one of the main pieces of feedback I got from my tutor (SF novelist Geoff Ryman) is that I'm trying to fit a really complicated idea into too small a space. As a result, at some point soon I'm going to have a go at brainstorming an expanded version and just let it be as big as it wants. It's pretty dark and bleak stuff, but I'm interested to see where it takes me.

5: After lots of debate and muddle (including lots of self-conscious worry about not being a 'serious' enough writer), I've decided that all my worries are ridiculous and I should concentrate on (a) finishing stuff, and (b) doing the stuff that I'm good at – action, fun, and extravagantly daft worldbuilding. There'll be plenty of time for me to try different directions once I get the two books currently occupying my head completely sorted (Bradley and Hoyle, a 'Strange London' romantic comedy adventure, and The Hypernova Gambit, a rewrite on my first unpublished novel, a crazy comic-strip SF Adventure). Until then, I'm going to do my best not to worry, learn heaps of stuff, and get some fun books out there. It isn't a race – there's always going to be writers faster than me and more succesful than me. I'm just going to concentrate on having as much fun as I can with writing, and everything else can wait – at least for now…

6: I'm currently on holiday in Devon, which means that of course the heavens have opened and everything outside is damp and grey. Fingers crossed the weather will brighten up before we head back to Manchester on Friday, but it's lovely to be catching up with my family, whatever happens, as well as getting the chance to do a ridiculous amount of reading. When I get back, there'll be an essay on Contemporary Fiction to start, which is currently intimidating the hell out of me, but that's a few days away yet. Until then, I shall relax and enjoy myself…

*

There we go. The Full, Unexpurgated Truth of my life as it is right now. HOW CAN I POSSIBLY KEEP UP WITH ALL THESE THRILLS?

More updates when they come in…

 

Chronicle of a Creative Writing Student Foretold…

I’m a University student again.  Today is the official ‘welcome’ day for the Creative Writing MA course at the University of Manchester, and I’m going to be there (from about 1.15pm onwards), listening to everything, and trying to tell myself that no, nobody’s going to tap me on the shoulder and say “You know, you’re really not meant to be here, are you?” Today is the first point where it’s really, seriously going to feel real, and it’d be an understatement to say I’m a bit nervous. The last eighteen months have been a strange and sometimes difficult period for me – things have gone wrong, or not gone the way that I’ve wanted them to, and one of the hardest realisations has been that I’ve been spending so much effort on the simple act of surviving and keeping myself financially afloat, and haven’t always been focussing enough on exactly why I’m trying to survive.

Confidence is not an easy thing to keep up, especially when relating to writing, but ultimately I know what I want, and what I want is to be better. Yes, I want to be published, but I’ve spent a big chunk of the last two years worrying too much about that, and about other people’s opinions of me, and there’s only so far that can get you before it becomes a millstone around your neck. The most important realisation to hit me for a while was a recent one, and it was this: Being a better writer is more important to me than being published. If I wanted the immediate hit of being published, I could chuck my first novel up on Amazon as an e-book tonight, if I wanted – but I don’t want to, because it isn’t good enough yet. And one of the main reasons I’m doing this course is that I want to be good enough, I want to have a sharper understanding of how fiction works, so that I don’t feel so much like I’m wandering into a very large and dark room with the tiniest torch known to man and hoping I can find my way through.

Feeling out-of-place isn’t an unfamiliar feeling for me. It’s my default operating mode, and some of that just isn’t going away – but this course is a big step for me. It’s the first time in years that I’ve deliberately taken a big step to shape the rest of my life. I want to make the most of it – especially since, one way or another, I’m paying for every penny of this course and it ain’t cheap. Part of my brain is panicking at the idea that I might screw this up, that throwing myself at a pretty heavy duty course that’s very focussed on contemporary fiction might just end up the equivalent of a slow-motion car-crash for me… but, frankly, I’ve always had a doomy and pessimistic side. And sometimes, you’ve just got to look your doomy and pessimistic side right in the eyes and tell it to shut the hell up and mind its own business.

So that’s what I’m going to do. Later on today, I’ll be meeting my tutors (who include Geoff Ryman, author of 253 and Was,  a fact that is going to cause me a certain degree of OH MY GOD THAT’S GEOFF RYMAN ARRRRRGGGHHHH), meeting everyone on the course, and then there’ll be drinks and a Chinese meal. I’ll finally be able to get my head around where this course will take me. It’ll start feeling real.

It’s a big step. But one that I’ve got to take.

Here goes…

 

Super Hexagon (or, Curse You, Kieron Gillen)

Curse you, Kieron Gillen.

It’s not enough for you to be a brilliant comics writer and games journalist. It wasn’t enough for you to pull off one of the most impressive final issues of a mainstream superhero comics run that I’ve ever read – the wonderful, meta-textual Journey Into Mystery, starring a teenage reincarnation of Thor villain and trickster god Loki. It wasn’t enough for you to instill in me an intense desire to play the boardgame Risk Legacy, despite the fact that I’m very good at buying boardgames and then never playing them.

Oh, no. You also had to get me addicted to Super Hexagon.

There I was, casually reading through your excellent review of the gaming year over on Rock Paper Shotgun, and I read about the game Super Hexagon. It was probably the retro-looking graphics that appealed, and I was looking for something new and exciting to play on my iPad (having found that while indulging in my nostalgia for GTA: Vice City on the iPad was kinda fun, the iPad control system turns any car chase into virtual suicide). I looked on the App Store, and lo and behold – it was even on special offer. Only 69p. So I clicked ‘Buy’.

And that was pretty much it.

Super Hexagon is INSANE. It’s an incredibly simple game, and the look of it brings back memories of vector-graphic classic Tempest, except that your task as player is to steer a tiny triangle past the various obstacles that are speeding towards the centre of the screen. Hit one of them, and you’re dead. Simple, eh?

Er, no.

You see, Super Hexagon is fast. Seriously, headspinningly fast, and scored with a pulsing electro-dance beat just so you’re in no doubt exactly how fast it is. And it’s absurdly tricky. I’ve been playing it every day for a week, and I’ve finally got to a point where I can pretty regularly last for over 30 seconds per game – and this is on the easiest possible setting. The game begins with a notice saying ‘Headphones Recommended’, and I’m pretty sure this is so that if you’re playing it within earshot of anyone, they don’t end up driven mad by the cool female American voice intoning “Game Over” every five seconds. Because trust me – when you start playing, that’ll be about as long as you last.

It’s dizzying and thrilling in equal measure, relying on pattern recognition and very fast reflexes – you have to watch the entire screen as you play, and there are certain structures which still send me into a fatal tailspin the moment they appear. It’s the kind of game where even the slightest error will instantly kill you, but the sheer challenge of weaving through this adrenalised, perspective-shifting hailstorm of geometric shapes will keep you going. I’ve managed to last up to 45 seconds (on the very easiest setting), and I’m counting that as a major acheivement. There are other, harder levels – ‘Hexagoner’ and ‘Hexagonest’ – as well ones that you have to unlock which, frankly, I don’t even want to *think* about right now.

I’m sure I’ll recover from my addiction from this supercharged sugar rush at some point. I may even get to conquer one (or more) of the jaw-droppingly tricky levels of the game. But for now, the Super Hexagon icon sitting there on my iPad, daring me to ignore it, knowing that I’m going to fail.

Curse you, Kieron Gillen!

(I’m still gettting Young Avengers, though…)

Return of the Living Blog

This should feel significant. There should be a wind whipping across a darkened plain, a crack of thunder in the cloudy skies above, a dark and battered figure striding dramatically across the landscape, and a narrator (preferably James Earl Jones, if we can afford him) intoning something dramatic and portentous. 

But instead, it’s just me with an iPad and a bluetooth keyboard on my lap, attempting to put into words why, after a gap of nearly three years, I’m resurrecting my blog. The simple answer is that as I’m currently redesigning and sprucing up my site (with lots of help from my girlfriend), it seems sensible to also give blogging another go – I notched up nearly five years of regular output over at my blog’s previous home of Livejournal, and the full history of that blog has been imported here. It’s all available, even the stuff that charts some of the more difficult times in my life circa 2008-2009, and I’ll be blogging here on a semi-regular basis. 

I haven’t been completely silent on the blogging front. In 2011, I had a go at doing a full-on review blog called Schizopolitan, and I’m still proud of my output there, but I never quite got the balance right, and the kind of site I wanted to do would have taken *way* too much work. It’s hard to do a sharp, professional, regular website when you’re having to do 95% of the work yourself. I burned myself out on Schizopolitan, and while I am going to be posting occasional pieces and thoughts up there, my life as a full-on comics blogger is kind of over.

It isn’t the case here, though. I’ve had some ups and downs over the last three years, and one of the reasons I wanted to start blogging again is so I can talk more about the process. The mechanics of writing are something that interest the hell out of me, and I want to try and get my thoughts on it down in a way that’ll hopefully make sense. 

There’ll be advice, but it’ll be broad, helpful advice – the kind that someone with some serious confidence problems has found useful and/or informative. Writing’s a weird life, and I feel like I want to record some of what I’ve been going through. For posterity. For analysis. For the hell of it.

So, welcome to my blog. The full site is still being constructed at the moment – you’re welcome to have a poke around, but there are things that don’t quite work yet (and the look of the site will soon be having a complete overhaul – the current look is an off-the-shelf WordPress theme which will very soon be changing). If you’re one of the handful of people who used to follow Crawling from the Wreckage on Livejournal, then welcome back to my blog. If you’re new, it’s nice to meet you – please feel free to say hello. Make yourself comfortable. Help yourself to the Twiglets. And I hope you enjoy the ride.

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