Struggling With Motivation

I think if this year has taught me anything, it’s that there can always be something else that goes wrong, or another wrinkle in the story. 

I can be talking on the macro socio-political stage or on the most personal levels of self-set goals, and you can bet that I will get an answer to my perennial question when starting a new course of action:
What’s the worst that could happen?

Now I don’t for one moment believe that the universe actually takes that statement as a challenge; it just feels like it. I just don’t let it stop me.

What has happened though is that my writing has taken a bit of a back seat recently. I’ve preferred instead to sketch and doodle. Quite a few of these I’ve put up on Instagram or Twitter, and links should appear on the Twit-Feed bit on the bottom right of this page when I do.

The appeal has been that it’s been more free-form, and hasn’t required access to a computer or other electronic device other than the camera in my phone. 
With writing I need to sit and type away and it feels like a lot of effort for something that has only been getting the occasional flash of inspiration.It hasn’t helped that my tablet seems to short out or drain it’s battery rapidly. I should probably get it looked at, but it’s not high on my agenda.

What has been topping my agenda instead has been caring for Lady M in what has been a year of downright misery, disappointment, and ill-health; and I just haven’t had the energy or motivation to do much else aside from lose myself in books, games and drawing.

What I hope to start doing more regularly here is at least review some of the stories I’ve read. I hope that keeping the site going on that front will kick-start me into writing properly again at least. I certainly need to find some form of motivation – I’m feeling pretty hollowed out.

Applications for muses will of course be looked upon favourably. You may need either a shovel to dig me up, or a firearm to keep pointed at my head though; the ember’s pretty dim right now.

A Library Conference

I’ve spent today at a conference for staff working either in, or in support of, my library service. I approached the event with a mixture of trepidation and bemusement based on a number of anecdotes related by colleagues that suggested it would be a massive waste of time. How bad could it be?

I’m relieved to be pleasantly surprised by the experience, and even inspired by some of the speakers. A lot of time was devoted to looking at innovative approaches to developing library spaces for and in conjunction with their communities – enabling them to tell and enhance their own stories. 

This may sound wishy-washy, but providing safe, open and free spaces that promote learning, growth and expression really lights a fire in me. Seeing people of all ages and backgrounds blossoming as they discover or create things is absolutely one of the best things about this job.

So discussion of makerspaces, artistic collaboration, coding workshops and generally shaking up people’s perception of what can happen in a library was meat and drink to me. I’ve already thrown a couple of ideas at management and had thoughtful agreement in principle, so hopefully I’ll soon be writing about at least one of them that involves local musicians.

Normal grumpy cynicism will be resumed shortly.

A Pleasant Weekend

I know, it may be a bit of a surprise to hear, especially at this time of year, but this weekend has actually been quite pleasant. I was working on Saturday, but I buoyed up by the knowledge that we were planning to go see W & B and their daughter afterwards. As a result, the torrential downpour that dominated the day did nothing to alarm me – even though several ceiling tiles in the main workplace staircase began to bow alarmingly.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Lady P and Lord H make an appearance mid-afternoon as they stopped in mid-Christmas shopping – and they were there to witness me eject a couple of delightful urchins who were combining vaping, a hoverboard, and a homemade slalom course through the shelving units. It’s never dull in the library. At least they didn’t get eaten by the books or summon up anything they couldn’t put down.

One lightning round trip to pick up Lady M later, we barrelled down to the South Coast and had a lovely slow evening eating a late supper and breaking into a bottle or two. A restful night’s sleep and a late cooked breakfast later, and we could appreciate the turning leaf colours as we meandered back home.

Aside from some interesting driving decisions made by fellow travellers on the motorways, it was stress-free and just a good chance to unwind before the Christmas chaos begins.

Next weekend I’m being introduced to some of Lady M’s co-workers. Dearie, dearie me…

Things I Say

It turns out that Lady M is not the only one who gets their words in a befuddle from time to time – and so in the interest of fair play I present my contribution to the sort of babbling word play that our house regularly witnesses: the bacon sausage.

Now, the more culinary inclined are probably wondering why this is odd, after all I’ve enjoyed more than a few Bacon and Maple sausages from the local supermarket. In the grand tradition of this thread however, it was a portmanteau moment.

Lady M had asked what I was going to cook for breakfast, and I started to say “bacon sandwich”, before remembering that there was also sausages and black pudding in the fridge. I’d already said bacon and my mouth shifted straight to sausage.

Lady M’s quizzical expression led me to then very quickly babble about how bacon could be in sausage, and sausage was made from different cuts of the same meat as bacon and how one could be both but the other was unlikely to be the other one.

Then we laughed, in my case for the first time in weeks, proving the dark mood was shifting at last.

Maybe you had to be there…

Book Review: The Hanging Tree – Ben Aaronovitch

hangingtreeI’ve been waiting on this book for what seems like an age, and then with everything that’s been going on recently I then managed to completely lose track of the publication date. It was therefore a very nice surprise to realise on the first day of my leave that it had downloaded to my Kindle.

What follows is a spoiler-free review based on my first read-through, completed yesterday in a single read while wrapped up in bed with multiple mugs of Bovril though the morning.

If you’ve not read any of the Peter Grant novels or comics before then this will still be enjoyable, but you really do need to go an read what has come before so that you get half the context of half the references in this story.

Go on – this review and book will still be waiting for you. Don’t miss out the comics which have already been collected in a bound trade paperback either – they are in continuity and are set between the events of the last book (Foxglove Summer) and this one.

Right, that should keep the newcomers busy while we get on with this. As the last paragraph reveals, the comics are worth reading, for the same reason that you should have read the previous novels – but they are not vital. That is the joy of this series, and this book in particular. Any references to previous stories’ events and characters are dealt with as colour rather than necessities – throwaway comments that hint at the rich stew of past adventures rather than relying on them as plot points. Anything relevant to the immediate plot is laid out for you briskly so that continuity is a scaffolding rather than a scaffold. (See what I did there?)

I do wonder, and I’ll be sure to ask when I next get to a book signing, if this attention to detail and back-story has been enhanced by the experience of writing a comic book. There seem to be so many callbacks and characters popping up that you could be forgiven for wanting to make your own case wall to keep track of everyone. It’s a massive contrast to the leafy and somewhat isolated themes of the previous novel, which seemed intent on keeping the regular characters as much on the borders of the story as possible.

The strength of this series, for me, has always been the ensemble cast and the interactions between them. The usual dry and self-deprecating humour in Peter’s internal monologues continues – a comfort blanket of caustic wit that draws you in and along on his journey without being actively mean. All the regular cast get moments to shine without edging out either the protagonist or the plot – and the story fills out yet more back story for certain characters that will add weight for re-readings of earlier books.

At one point I was going to make the criticism that the book has so many recurring characters that it was in danger of getting muddled. New characters introduced in this story go a long way towards spacing things back out again and adding new ingredients to the mix, but even so there were points where I did ask myself if the whole thing was going to wrap itself up in a Möbius Strip and strangle the plot.

To my great relief, that didn’t happen. There are resolutions, and climactic battles that bounce from suspense to drama to surreal humour to wide-screen action without breaking sweat and I finished the story with a sense of satisfaction.


There’s an awful lot of sub-plots waving in the wind, setting things up for future tales. I don’t know if they will be resolved in the comics, or in future stories and I do hope that the temptation to throw plot points at the wall to see what sticks is avoided. I keep going back to the comic books and the influence of that writing style. Chris Claremont, legendary writer of the X-Men, became famous and then notorious for throwing sub-plots into the wind and then taking forever to resolve them, if he ever did. It lead to a soap opera feel where laying threads for future plots sometimes made the current plot play second fiddle.

I really hope that Ben Aaronovitch resists this temptation. I also hope that the comics generally stay as their own thing that occasionally get referenced in the novels, rather than important story elements shifting over to the new medium for resolution. Cross-media storytelling can be fun, but it shouldn’t be at the risk of confusing people as to where their plot lines have disappeared to. The balance seems to be about right at the moment, I’m happy to say.

Like life, there are no definitive endings, and there are always loose ends, which plays to the aforementioned loose plot points. There’s no grand closing of the book, just the sign off on the case, and the realisation that life goes on. This has been another chapter in Peter Grant’s life, just like each month is for the rest of us. We’ll see how he’s moved on and grown in the next instalment.

So if you can’t already tell, I really enjoyed this book. It doesn’t contain the wisdom of the ages and its generally light fare, and that’s absolutely a selling point. It’s fun. It rewards regular readers with knowing nods and small updates, and best of all tells a story.

Can’t ask fairer than that. Five out of Five Lux Scinderes

New Day

I’m still here. November 5th has been and gone like a storm and the new morning feels brighter than many I’ve seen recently. I’ve actually slept for a change, and the fog and numbness has lifted.

In some ways I’m coming to think of this time of year as my own personal New Year – not through some form of celebration of the time, but more for the sense of renewal I feel once it has passed. The lead up to the anniversary of the attack is like sucking molasses beneath my feet, but today feels… normal?

Horrible word, should be banned really – but for the moment it encapsulates where I am. There’s no dread, no head stuffed full of wool, no disconnect between brain and gut feelings – just quiet. I’m still tired, and I have the faint traces of a stuffed up nose and aches at the base of my spine, but if that’s the worst I feel today it’s such a huge improvement as to be a miracle cure.

As I sit here at my desk and look out the window, I can see the colours of autumn in the screen of trees out the back of my flat. There’s golden sunshine, and the upper branches are swaying in what looks like a steady breeze. There’s enough of a chill in the air that I’ve put on a hoodie over my t-shirt, but I have coffee and a sudden urge to write again.