Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Thursday 28 August 2014

Writing, writing and more writing... Oh, and visitors.

It feels like an age since I wrote a blog about writing. I feel as if I ought.

For two years this house has been home to two writers, and no one else. It’s been a strange place. The dort has just returned home from two years of professional dance training in Leicester. It’s a pleasure to have her back. Her presence has radically changed the atmosphere in the house, bringing more creativity, if anything, and certainly not less.

And so we write... And we write.

The husband at his desk, looking thoughtful
We talk and we write, and we generate ideas and we write, and we read and we write, and we watch tv and we write, and we consume art and we write, and we listen to music and we write, and we cook and we write, and we dream and we write.

But more than we do anything else, we write.

Everything else is just the stuff that feeds the writing, the stuff that gets in the way of the writing, or it’s our lives... And, not for  nothing, sometimes the writing is our lives.

Right now, every conversation with every person seems to generate something that relates to a project one or other or both of us is working on, or it generates new ideas for something one or other or both of us would like to work on in the future.

We talk so long, so often about what a tough life the writer has, and that can be true, but how many people can say that they have this kind of job?

Surely it’s only in the arts that a person can work this hard and feel this fulfilled. 

There’s the rub, of course, because with this kind of creativity so often comes a slew of mental states and conditions that can be all manner of embuggerance.

It’s the price we pay, and sometimes it’s the price those we love pay too. I can’t speak for them, but, for me, today (and it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to say this)... Today, that price is worth it.

Today, I’m taking a couple of hours out of my busy schedule to bang the hoover round and flick the duster about. Honestly, I won’t make much of a dent in the housework. I’m one of that breed of women that knows that the housework will still be there when I get around to doing it. It’s a token effort at best, but I’m doing it because tomorrow, we’re welcoming into our home two more writers.

We don’t have a great many visitors, and we don’t invite people lightly. We can be horribly solitary. We do invite people we genuinely like to share our space, and these two people are among our favourites. We don’t see them often enough, and they’ve come a very long way.

Four writers in the house is going to make for a very stimulating, very funny, very energising time.

Work will be done, because, frankly, the schedule doesn’t stop for anything, and there are going to be some very long days ahead, but they’re writers, so they understand how this stuff works. A lot of talking will get done, too. A lot of ideas will be exchanged, and by the time our friends leave the mental coffers will be overflowing.

After that? Well, who knows? But I suspect that the notebooks will be full of ideas and the schedule will have expanded to include lots more future projects.

I can hardly wait.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

The Politics in Sexual Politics

I’m going to say it again, for at least the second time this week: I am a feminist. I’ll say it louder, I AM A FEMINIST!
Sometimes a feminist looks like this.

Are we all clear on that?


I want doors opened and that glass ceiling well and truly shattered. It hasn’t happened yet, but women everywhere are working to get it done. I admire those women more than I can say. I celebrate their existence and I pray that more women will stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are already fighting the fight.

I seethe when I see women being bullied, vilified, marginalised and threatened simply because they believe that women are equal to men and for stating that belief.

If women are politicised I’m glad of it. It’s what we all need. We need more women to be more involved in gender politics.

For the purposes of this blog, it’s what happens after the door opens and what happens after a woman punches through that glass ceiling that really interests me. 

As women, we still have a great deal to fight for, but those women who make it through the door and those women looking down through the plate glass instead of up have a job to do too. The successes among us get to be our ambassadors. How they behave, what they achieve and how they’re perceived matters.

Historically, of course, they’ve been like politicians. There’s been a risk that successful women have had too much of the attitude, if you can’t beat them join them. They’ve been token women who acted too much like men in a man’s world, playing their game by their rules.

I hope that modern women know they are the equals of men without feeling that they have to be the same as men. We are individuals too. We have our own strengths and weaknesses, and some of those might be particular to our gender.

I heard a story about one of those women who got through that door. She got into the room for a meeting. She’d worked hard at something she was good at, and she was rewarded for it. She got the job. Good for her.

She also got lucky.

The woman in question is also a feminist. She’s political, very political and she’s very outspoken. 

The job was not related to politics.

I happen to know the man who was in that room that day, in that meeting. He’s one of a rare breed: He’s an enlightened man. He wants to work with the brightest and best, and he wants to work with women for all the best reasons. He hired that woman because she was qualified and because she was the best person for the job, of either gender. 

He hired her despite the fact that she took gender politics into the meeting. He was sympathetic to her cause, but he wasn’t impressed by her tone, and he felt that there wasn’t room for the subject to arise in the interview. The interviewee didn’t enter into a discussion, she embarked on a tirade. The interviewer made allowances for personality and interview nerves. He made allowances because the interviewee had a great cv.

It’s a hell of a balancing act.

I’m more than pleased that another woman has opened another door. I know that she’ll be active in advocating for women from her place on the high side of the glass ceiling. She might even be instrumental in shattering it for other women. Brava! Well done her!

She took a chance, though, and she could so easily have made a terrible misstep. This woman was interviewing for a job. There are politics involved in that too. I’m guessing the other candidates didn’t embark on political tirades during their interviews, and I’m sure one or two of them might have felt strongly about animal rights, Palestine, equal marriage, or any of a number of important issues. If other women were interviewing, I have no doubt that they were probably feminists, too.

Our lives are permeated with this stuff. The fight never goes out of us, because we’re faced with the misery of living in an oppressive patriarchal society every hour of every day. But sometimes we just have to be the perfect women we are. We have to rise above it for our own sakes, and for the sakes of other women. We don’t have to forget that we’re women. Trust me when I tell you that men don’t. For the best reasons, the good men don’t forget we’re women, just as for the worst reasons, the bad ones don’t. There’s balance in that, too.

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t speak out, of course we should. I’m not suggesting that this woman won’t do great things for the rest of us along the way, because I’m hoping that she will; she certainly has the will to do so. 

There is still a time and place for everything.

In three years or five, when that woman is in an interview for her next job, when she’s climbing that corporate ladder to reach the next rung, when she’s approaching another ceiling and the glass is thicker and tougher than before, the person doing the interviewing probably won’t be a woman and it might not be a man who’s prepared to cut her the kind of slack that my friend cut her. Competition will be tight; it always is. I hope that her feminist politics will play fair with her and make her want the job and to advance women’s rights and opportunities in a very real way. I hope her feminism will make her act on her credentials and experience and not simply open her mouth and offer a political diatribe.

Actions speak louder than words.

Feminism won this time, but it was because a woman’s past actions outweighed her present words. If another man had been in that room things might just have worked out differently.

Monday 25 August 2014

More on the English Language and how we use it

So, the GCSE results are in. For those of you who are not familiar with the British exam system in schools, these are the exams that our kids take at sixteen. They are divided into subjects and are graded A* to F, where A* is the highest grade, followed by A, B C, down to F, which is a Fail. All kids are expected to get A to C in five subjects.

The brightest kids will sweep the board with 10 plus A* GCSE passes.

For thirty years the GCSE results have been improving with more and more kids getting increasingly good grades.

There is a good deal of competition between schools to secure the best students entering year 7 at age eleven, so a school’s GCSE results are important. The schools’ league table matters, because any school’s position on it determines what sort of incoming student body it will attract and therefore the ongoing reputation of the school.

With every government, and with every Education Secretary there seems to be some shake-up in the system.

Michael Gove's wiki page
The latest shake-up was engineered by the infamous Michael Gove. I wrote about him in this blog a few months ago. I can’t help thinking that how we educate our population should be decided by specialists in that field rather than government ministers.

No system is perfect, and, like it or not, I can be a bit of a snob when it comes to education. I think our kids always deserve a better education... all of them, all of the time. I think the base level of education should be higher, and that the brightest and best should be stretched further.

I wrote this blog a while ago, by way of an open letter to one Gemma Worrall. It was intended to be humorous as well as a scathing indictment of our education system. I took a huge amount of flak for that blog. My detractors thought that I was being unkind to Gemma. My purpose was to point out that, like so many of her generation, she had been very badly let down by a school that had fallen short in teaching her anything much of value. I didn’t think she was stupid, I only thought that she had been made to look stupid on Twitter, because she’d said something silly and unguarded. If she’d had a better education she might have been saved the embarrassment.

The government was my target, and she was the catalyst only because I see this sort of thing all the time.

Anyway, back to my point.

The GCSE results are in, and, after thirty years there has finally been a fall in the GCSE results for English. The overall drop is about 2%. It doesn’t sound like a huge amount. However, some schools have seen a fall in there results of 20%, and that’s a catastrophe.

English Language is a core subject. It is taught in every school to every student up to the age of sixteen. GCSE English is an exam that is sat by everyone, everywhere. It’s a no-brainer. 

Our language is how we communicate. It’s how we connect. It’s the glue that holds society together. Every piece of information that circulates in our society, that isn’t an image, comes in the form of language.

When I took my GCSE English it was still called an O’level, and I’m not going to tell you what year it was, but a lot of you weren’t even born. More than three decades have passed. I sat three English exams: Eng Lit, Eng Lang and Eng Spoken.

When I was at school we had one computer. I remember its arrival. It was a monster with five inch floppy disks. There were few lessons in computers or computing, and they certainly weren’t offered to everyone. The first office I worked in had no fax machine and no photocopier. The second office I worked in had both of those things, but if we wanted something faxed or photocopied there was a dedicated person to do those things for us. We didn’t touch the machines ourselves. The first publishing office I worked in cut and paste layouts from bromides to be made into film for printing. 

None of this means anything to any of you.

What it means to me is that memos were still written and letters were still sent. I understood the difference between Dear Sir... Yours sincerely and Dear Mr Smith... Yours faithfully. I understood that when I answered a phone I should begin with ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’ to establish the connection before I said the company name, my department and then my own name. All phones were landlines.

I still say hello. I still make introductions. I still shake hands and kiss cheeks. It doesn’t have to be formal, but there are ways to make interaction easy and comfortable.

I’m rambling today. It’s Bank Holiday Monday, and I’m chilling.

Back to the subject at hand.

The spoken element of the English GCSE was folded into the English Language exam as a reading and speaking element, some time in the last thirty-odd years and has been there ever since. In a society where spoken English is used more and more this makes good sense. The e-mail and text seem to me to fit this bracket, as do conference calling, skype and even the YouTube phenomenon. We all communicate more directly than we ever have before...

...Except it isn’t direct, is it? There are a great many filters between people, perhaps more than there have ever been, and a lot of our communication is, somehow, much more anonymous than it has ever been. That’s why I believe that the reading and speaking element of the exam is really more important than it was when I took my O’Levels. 

I regularly see people in all kinds of situations interfacing with the World via their smart devices while in the company of real people that they’re not interacting with at all. I also regularly meet strangers not just in my daily life, but also as part of my job, and, more particularly as part of the husband’s work.

I regularly see people struggle to talk, to introduce themselves, to interact on a basic human level. It isn’t their fault; it’s about changes to society. 

Walking down the street, pedestrians are often unaware of those around them, invading their space or being unconsciously rude. In shops and at service points, people might go through an entire transaction without uttering a single comprehensible word. I got on a bus, recently, and as I got off I thanked the driver. He was, for a moment flabberghasted, then slightly embarrassed, and then delighted. The last time I rode the bus regularly it was common practice to thank the driver.

Small verbal interactions are part of the regular pattern of my life, but perhaps that’s because I initiate them, which is strange for someone who has no smalltalk whatsoever. 

Language is about communication, but it has to begin and end somewhere. Surely, it begins and ends with those small interactions, with speaking to people, with being able to introduce oneself to a stranger, with saying please or thank you, with getting along with others. Communicating by its very definition involves other people. We can all put as much stuff into the World through electronic mass media, (by which, of course, I mean the web) as we like, but if that communication isn’t effective or if no one chooses to see it, if they aren’t touched by it or respond to it, it’s meaningless. 

Too many of us simply assume that if what we’ve put into the World is met with a negative response, the responders are wrong or stupid or have misunderstood, but we’re kidding ourselves. 

I’ll refer you back to my open letter to Gemma Worrall. 

I blog a lot, and on my blog I write a lot about the things I think and feel. Because I have opinions I am always going to have detractors. People are always going to think differently from me. I attract a certain number of commenters who remain anonymous and who ‘troll’. I’m totally OK with that.

My letter to Gemma Worrall came under a lot of scrutiny, and people didn’t like it. They didn’t like me. I was angry and bitter when I wrote that blog and my cynicism cut in. I could have taken a different approach, and I didn’t. I was sarcastic, and the tone was lost on a lot of people. I also directed that sarcasm, addressing Gemma Worrall directly by writing the blog in the form of a letter.

I stand by the contents of the blog and by my intention in writing it, which was to call out the education system. It wasn’t my intention to suggest that Gemma Worrall was stupid or unpleasant or lacked value as a person. I don’t know her, and I’m sure she’s perfectly lovely; she’s certainly beautiful, she earns an honest living and she’s a person who deserves my respect as much as anyone else does. I would absolutely employ her, and I’m sure if I met her I’d find her perfectly charming.

If I made a mistake in writing the blog, it was in the form that I chose to do it. Those who read my blog regularly know that it was an unusual style for me. I allowed my feelings to take over, and I obviously lost clarity and didn’t adequately put my point across. My bad.

In a World where communication and clarity of communication is increasingly important, and in a World where we are all exposed to a greater number of people, mostly strangers, on a regular basis, we all need to be better at communicating. We all need to be better at maintaining our personal space, at guarding what little privacy we have and at respecting one another. I believe we do all of those things with the words that we speak.

This year the GCSE did not include the reading and speaking component. It was ditched. 

I vividly remember my Eng Spoken exam. I had to introduce myself, read from an unseen text, hold a conversation with the examiner and take part in a group discussion. These things were not revised for or practised at my school at that time. I don’t know what form that part of the modern exam took. But I do see the value of it.

As I understand it, the reading and speaking element of the exam was dropped because it was assessed internally by teachers in their own schools. That might reflect the dramatic fall in grades in some schools since that portion of the exam was ditched. I can’t help thinking there’s a simple fix for that. Bringing in external examiners might be problematic, but since all GCSE exams take place on the same day countrywide, surely it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to swap teachers from different schools within districts? Just a thought.

Not everyone finds it easy to speak at all, let alone confidently. Not every child wants to speak in class, but there is an argument for expecting and encouraging every child to speak in class from the moment he steps into one aged five. For those people who lack confidence, who are shy or tentative as small children, those things can be overcome in a safe, nurturing environment. Allow them to continue not to speak from a fear of forcing them and they will never learn that it is not only okay to speak, but that it is desirable and a huge benefit to them. It is also a huge benefit to the gregarious child to teach him when it is better for him to be silent.

For all those people that I meet at signings and events, mostly with the husband, it is absolutely my pleasure to be spoken to. Be shy, be embarrassed, be as gregarious as you are, and say what you like, it is all equally lovely to me. We spend our lives with only each other and the work for company, so coming to meet you is the highlight of our week, month or even year. Keep coming and keep talking and keep making us smile. Tell us your  names, shake our hands and tell us what you think. Who knows, we might have something to say to you, too.

Saturday 23 August 2014

Comic Books, Feminism and Spider Woman #1

How many times have I begun a blog post with the words, “I am a feminist.”?

It’s fine, you don’t have to answer that.

I’ve also begun several blog posts with the words, “I don’t often talk about comics.”.

Milo Manara's alternate cover
for Spider Woman #1
Marvel Comics has set the cat among the pigeons and given me the subject of today’s blog... Well, not so much the cat as the Spider Woman, and there aren’t actually any pigeons on the rooftop she’s perched upon on Milo Manara’s alternate cover for Spider Woman #1, but I’m sure you catch my drift.

Superheroes have been around for a long time. Superman was introduced in Action Comics #1 in 1938, and the genre has been growing ever since. That’s more than three-quarters of a century of men in tights. I’d say lycra, but spandex wasn’t invented until 1959, which makes you wonder just how the poor dears managed for those first twenty-one years.

The first female superhero with real longevity was Wonder Woman, who began life in All Star Comics #8 in January 1942, not very far behind Superman.

Traditionally, it has been men who write and draw comic books and men and boys who read them... certainly in the USA. Comic books are different things in different cultures. The European market is different from the American one, in production, content and in sales; so is the Japanese market.

Today, of course, I’m talking about Spider Woman.

Today, I’m talking about women in comics and women outside of comics looking in.

Recently, the spotlight has been shone on comics by women, by feminists, by commenters, bloggers and journalists, and it’s about time, too.

I talked about women in comics in this blog a week or two ago, and my opinion hasn’t changed.

Women are taking an interest in comics for reasons that might be explained by a breaking down of gender stereotypes in our culture. That pleases me.

It is not surprising that when women take an interest, they begin with women characters in comics. 

Marvel is about to release a new issue #1 of the Spider Woman comic. What better place for any girl or woman interested in the medium to start to read comics? And what better place for anyone woman in the media to scrutinise the comics industry?

As for the men in the Marvel office, they were simply putting out the potential bestselling issue #1 that they were able, using long years of experience in their industry, doing what they do, which, for the most part is producing a malecentric product in a malecentric marketplace. I rather doubt that they sat down and talked about how to attract girls and women to read their comic. They were looking for a crowd-pleaser for a crowd they know and understood.

The star of the book is a woman.

When the star of a comic book is a man, the understanding is that the reader wants to be him.

When the star of a comic book is a woman, the understanding is that the reader wants to do her.

It’s not rocket science.

OK, so maybe that’s abhorrent, and maybe, as feminists the idea makes us cringe. I know it makes me cringe, but beefcake and cheesecake have sold superhero comic books for approaching eight decades. This stuff isn’t going to change over night.

Honestly, I wasn’t bowled over by either cover, but as a woman who’s been exposed to comic books for decades I can tell you that covers like this, art like this is par for the course. It isn’t new, it hasn’t got more graphic, and it doesn’t sexualise women more than it did ten or twenty years ago. Comic books just seem to be the latest target for feminists.

I’ll say it again, “I am a feminist!”

I’ve railed against this kind of art in comics my entire adult life. I’ve refused to read particular titles because of the way that women have been portrayed. I have no doubt that when some hugely talented artists with massive reputations in the comic book world come under the scrutiny of the feminist press they'll be flayed alive. And when those women get hold of Power Girl there’s going to be hell to pay.

I’m not going to argue about the two covers for Spider Man #1, but if you’d like to see a female artist’s take on them, there’s an interesting article over here. I am going to say that I’m not a fan of Greg Land, but that he works a lot and is known for his cheesecake approach. He also has quite a following. His books sell.

Milo Manara is beyond normal retiring age, but what artist ever retires? He’s quite a legend, and he draws erotica. That’s who he is, that’s what he does. He’s an aging European with a long and illustrious career. Not for nothing, I happen to own two Milo Manaras, although neither of them are comic book covers. One of them hangs in my downstairs bathroom, and it always makes me smile.

Tearing down individual artists, who were commissioned to do a job and whose work was passed for publication is utterly pointless. They filled the brief.

Tearing down the publisher who gave the artists that brief? I don’t know. Isn’t it his job to produce a successful book in a competitive market? This book is already a success if it has got people talking, and it has. You can’t buy the sort of publicity that Spider Woman #1 has had, certainly not with an ad budget. That thing is going to fly off the shelves, and people will absolutely be framing that Manara variant cover, although I’m guessing none of those people will be women.

Was it a cynical ploy on the part of Marvel? Perhaps. But I seriously doubt it, because all the company did was put out a comic using precisely the same criteria that it always does. As I said before, female superheroes have been getting the cheesecake treatment for a very long time; this is the default. This wasn’t done to upset women. It wasn’t done because of women, it wasn’t even done in spite of women. It was done without any regard to women, (and that's almost the biggest problem). This is commerce.

I suppose what I’m saying is that we need to start scratching away at society. 

Of course feminists should and must question the things they see that undermine the status of women as equals in our culture, and this is a good example of that.

It goes deeper, though, doesn’t it?

Men and boys still buy those comic books. They still like the soft porn approach to depicting women in comics, even heroic women.

There’s a reason for that.

We all like sex. Sex is a wonderful thing. The human body should be celebrated and enjoyed. 

If anyone likes sex more than the average person it is probably teenagers. Not for nothing, teenaged boys is the demographic that is also buying an awful lot of superhero comic books. 

When we stifle a healthy interest in sex it’s bound to leach out all over the place, so of course people respond to titillating images wherever they can find them... That’ll be teenagers again. Come on people... Do we blame them? Of course we bloody don’t!

If we could just stop subverting and oppressing and repressing boys and girls, and if we could just start acknowledging sex in broader strokes and in healthier ways then maybe sexual images wouldn’t pop up where they’re not wanted, where they’re not useful and where they’re just plain exploitative.

Milo Manara said some odd things when he answered his critics on the subject of his variant cover for Spider Man #1, but I think he had a point when he suggested that Europe was closer to a healthier attitude to sex than America is. Not for nothing, this comic book was produced in America and is a culturally American phenomenon.

Thursday 21 August 2014

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

It’s a thing.

OK then.

Lou Gehrig's Wiki page
In the UK, we don’t know what ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease is, because that’s what the American’s call it. We tend to lump it in with other forms and use the blanket term Motor Neurone Disease. That’s what we’re talking about. Although, I believe that in the UK the money is actually going to Macmillan, the cancer charity. 

People, lots and lots of people are taking buckets of ice or iced water and throwing it over themselves on camera. They donate ten bucks to the ALS charity and challenge someone else to take the challenge. Anyone who’s challenged and doesn’t accept is required to pay 100 bucks to the charity. (Gosh! I've used the word 'challenge' a lot. I hope you'll forgive the horrid writing.)

It’s not a bad way to raise cash. Fourteen million bucks, so far, in pretty short order.

This thing has taken off. I know that clips of very cold, very wet people are all over my FaceBook page.

It’s right about now that you’re beginning to wonder why I’m writing this blog, isn’t it? You all know that I’m more than capable of a thorough-going snark, but what could I possibly have to snark about, right?

Do I care that people are dousing themselves in freezing water? Well, not especially, although I’ll get back to that.

Do I care that people are humiliating themselves? Nope. That’s entirely their choice.

Do I even care that people are essentially bullying and blackmailing each other into performing this not terribly pleasant feat? Well, I suppose anyone can ignore the challenge. Who’s going to check that any payment has been made? Everyone lies, don’t they? Even if no one wants to be seen as a coward. Take a look at Anna Wintour’s clip. She managed to take the challenge and still walk away relatively unscathed, and earn a truck-load of brownie points into the bargain.

Do I care that self-promoting people are performing acts to camera without any concern for or knowledge of the charity they are supporting? Well... This is where things get a little trickier. People show-off in the social media all the time. As someone who uses FaceBook and Twitter to promote work, I actually fall into this bracket too, so I’d be a pretty dodgy pot if I chose to call out the kettles, and I’m not going to do that. Besides, a show-off is a show-off, and he’ll always find something to fill our news-feeds with. If a charity can benefit, where’s the harm in that?

On the other hand, I am someone who does choose which charities I want to support and then I support them regularly and longterm. I think this is important. Most charities have ongoing commitments and need to be able to budget for them. They need to run like business with some expectation of income, and they need regular donations from reliable donors.

Do all charities struggle to raise money for their causes? Of course they do. Bringing in funds is an endless task and it’s bloody hard work. This is another good reason why it’s key that donors are well-informed. I care about the charities I support, and that’s why I continue to support them. No extra time, energy and, by extension money is spent persuading me to donate again, because I am an automatic repeat donor. The vast majority of the bucket brigade do not know what ALS is or care about it more than they care about other things. They will remember shooting their clip and getting cold and wet, but they will not remember to set up a repeat donation to the charity. The next opportunity they get, they will sit in a bath of beans or eat snot or shoot hoops with grapefruits, or any one of dozens of things to make a mini-movie, and some other charity will benefit in the short term.

I always say of children that they don’t need quality time, they need all of a parent's time. When I say that what I mean is that they don’t need a couple of hours every so often of intense smothering; they need a constant parental, background presence. I think charities feel the same way about money.

The ALS charity is no doubt thrilled to have this glut of money now, but they’re left in a bit of a quandary. The people dealing with all that cash have got to be sitting scratching their heads. What longterm projects and strategies can they safely embark on? What can they forecast for their finances over the coming years with this huge blip on their financial graph? Can they expect a fall in regular donations when this fad ends? What does fourteen million bucks buy in terms of medical research? Facilities? Care? In the long term.

A lot of people are having a lot of fun, and while they’re doing it they’re donating a lot of money, and I’m going to stick my neck out and say that’s probably OK in a World where there’s an awful lot of selfishness and misery.

If you took the bucket challenge, I’d quite like to urge you to think about the things you care about and set up a small standing order in favour of a charity that matters to you. The cost of a chip supper or a pie and a pint once a month makes a difference to all of them, and will keep making a very real difference in a very real way for a very, very long time.

Not for nothing, if everyone who took this challenge set up a standing order for ten bucks a month, charities would be better off to the tune of millions a month, more-or-less indefinitely, and that would include the ALS charity. That’s got to be better, right? 

As to people dousing themselves in good, clean drinking water, particularly if it’s water that’s spent time in a freezer? I said I’d come back to that, didn’t I?

Around 800million people worldwide don't have access to clean water and 2.5billion don't have access to adequate sanitation. It's probably just as well that they don’t have access to YouTube either, because they might be astonished to watch people wasting gallons of drinking water by pouring it over themselves. Freezing cold water or ice comes at a price, too, and we all worry about our carbon footprints. According to my internet sources (and they might be wrong, I’m no scientist), it takes one kilowatt hour to freeze 1.8 gallons of water. Go figure.

Thursday 14 August 2014

Robin Williams

I actually wasn’t going to talk about the death of Robin Williams.
Robin Williams's Wiki page

It is being talked about so very much in the news and on the social networks that there seems very little or no need to become yet another voice speculating on the subject of his death or the reasons for it.

I rarely talk about the deaths of celebrities.

We often think that the famous belong to us, but they don’t. They belong to the people that really knew them. Robin Williams had a family who knew and loved him for the man he really was, and I believe it is their right to mourn in private.

But, and it’s quite a big but... The subject of mental health issues, depression in particular, and specifically suicide has come up, and is being very widely discussed.

We all know that I have some personal experience with depression. I’m having some experience with it now. It’s an embuggerance.

It is also, and I cannot stress this enough... It is also utterly impossible to explain to someone who does not suffer from depression just what it is or how it feels. It is not possible for someone who has never suffered from depression to understand the condition. I have said many times that actually I’m glad my family and friends don’t understand it, and I hope they never do understand it, because for that to happen they would have to go through what I go through periodically, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone... not a living soul.

It is a tragedy that, in the twenty-first century, people, wonderful people are still dying from mental health problems. That anyone can do what Robin Williams felt compelled to do is a devastating indictment of our society and perhaps of our willingness to apply resources to finding out more about how this stuff works, and to treating sufferers.

One in four people in the UK will suffer from some mental health issues during their lifetimes. According to Sarah Boseley, the health editor for the Guardian, two-thirds of Britons are never treated for their mental health problems. Imagine if almost seventy percent of diabetes patients or cancer patients were never treated. Imagine if almost seventy percent of dental cavities weren’t filled or if seventy percent of people who needed a hearing aid or corrective glasses or contact lenses were not offered help.

Just because we do not understand depression, does not mean we can dismiss it, or even question it. You can take my word for it when I tell you that I am depressed. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, you can take my doctor’s word for it.

The depression itself is a big enough struggle.

Well-meaning friends and family-members regularly offer kind words of advice. They often tell me that if I did more of this or less of that, or just worked through it, or put a smile on my face, or any of a number of things, that I would feel better. I do my best, my very, very best to be patient with them, and not to dismiss what they say, and to have that conversation. When I can’t do those things I take myself away from them, because I don’t want to be difficult and I don’t want to hurt them or burden them more than I already do. I don’t want to alienate them, either.

They find me aloof and difficult, and often selfish. I know that they do. I wonder what they’d think of me if they knew me in the full flow of my depression. I prefer they don’t know me like that.

If it can be that tough with the people who love me, can you imagine how it might be with acquaintances? And beyond that can you imagine what it might be like with strangers? Can you imagine what it’s like in a society that constantly questions my strength of character?

I cannot tell you what it is to be depressed. Some people, without actually knowing or understanding what it’s like still know that depression is real, and still have the capacity for the same acceptance they would have for any form of illness. Some people do not.

For the depressed person, there is no way to know who will be accepting of his depression and who won’t.

Some of the people who struggle most to accept it, some of the people who fight it the hardest are those closest to the depressed person, and that only causes more pain.

Depression can be the loneliest place in the World to live.

To anyone on the inside, who understands depression, the suicide of a depressed person is always a sadness and never a surprise.

It is those who don’t understand depression, who speculate, who wonder, who talk, who are hurt and angered and confused by it.

I hope those closest to Robin Williams will come to accept his illness and his death. Who knows, perhaps they accepted his illness while he lived among them. Perhaps they accepted it just as much as they loved him. I hope so.

I hope the time will come sooner than later when people stop dying from mental health problems.

I hope there is still hope.

Monday 11 August 2014

Fifty Thousand Bicycles in London

No... This isn’t a cue for a song. It’s been done better than I could do it in any case.

We were in London, on Saturday, the husband and I. We were meeting a very lovely, engaged, energetic man who had flown in from Shanghai, not a million miles away from Beijing, and coincidentally, there were a lot of bicycles in the city.

I can’t talk about the lovely man from Shanghai or the business meeting we had over high tea, although I can tell you that the high tea we indulged in at Browns Restaurant in St Martin’s Lane was extremely good. But I can tell you about the bicycles.

I don’t do tube trains. I used to commute to London, back in the day, so I’ve spent my fair share of time on the London Underground. I choose not to do it now, so, when we visit London, the husband and I take cabs. Yes, I suppose it’s more expensive, but we rarely have far to travel, so, if the weather’s good and it’s not too far, we walk. Otherwise we jump in a black cab and ride in style.

Yesterday, we jumped in a taxi at Victoria station with the intention of being dropped off at St Martin’s Lane. Except, what we didn’t know at the time was that there were fifty thousand bicycles in London. That’s a lot of bums on bikes. We took the cab as far as Whitehall. The roads were closed. It was a glorious day, so the walk wasn’t onerous, but there really were a very great many bikes.

Ride London is the flagship event in Boris Johnson’s transport for London cycling program.

There are times when I see bits of madness posted on FaceBook and Twitter and I simply answer with this:

The words you are looking for are, “Oh good grief!”

Ten miles of central London streets were cut off over an August weekend in order to accommodate fifty thousand cyclists. All of those people will be able to say that they rode the London streets on their bicycles. Good for them. I don’t know how many more miles of streets were inaccessible simply as a result of those closures.

The taxi driver we rode with had effectively lost a weekend’s trade. One of my favourite independent shops, somewhere I buy things regularly, was empty. The owner couldn’t have been more delighted to see us, because she had lost a weekend’s trade. The buses weren’t running. International tourists didn’t have a clue what the hell was happening.

Add to this the fact that the entire event had cost money. Someone had to put up all those barriers, employ all those stewards, and pay for the police presence.

Ride London caused massive disruption both actually, on the ground, and financially to the city, which of course means the tax payer, and to businesses.

In the rest of London, those cyclists who regularly ride the streets of our capital city were going about their regular business, as they always do. We saw them. They didn’t seem to be taking part in Ride London. 

Pleasure cyclists appeared to be taking part in Ride London. It isn’t a very great pleasure to ride a bike in any city, never-mind London. It takes skill and confidence, and it takes a will, and often necessity. It is not for the faint of heart, and it is not for the pleasure cyclist.

If any of the fifty-thousand cyclists who visited the capital for Ride London returns with his or her bike for another foray, I doubt it will end well, or with a regular city cycling habit.

I like bikes. I think riding a bike is a wonderful, healthy, sensible habit. I don’t do it, but I do walk everywhere, and I do use public transport (OK, except for the tube), and, as it happens, I don’t drive... I don’t even know how to drive.

As far as I’m concerned anything that promotes an active life, and anything that promotes responsible bike ownership and sensible cycling is a damned good thing. I just don’t think that this event was the way to do that.

People who aren’t terribly keen on cyclists, and that includes a lot of motorists wouldn’t be persuaded to change their opinions on them by having the whole of central London cut off so that fifty thousand cyclists could ride through it unmolested by traffic. People who are on the fence about cyclists, and even some cyclists and some people who are pro-cycling might well be put off the whole idea of having bikes in the city after seeing what I saw yesterday.

A lot of visitors to the capital, a lot of shoppers, tourists, theatre-goers, diners and all those traders, cabbies, drivers and people put out by the event might blame the cyclists.

It’s not their fault.

The Prudential Ride London Free Cycle Event
They were offered the opportunity to cycle around the sites of London, to do what they might not otherwise have the chance to do. Of course they wanted to bring their bikes into the city, and their kids, their fancy bottles of water and squash and their packed lunches and snazzy helmets, and they wanted to ride around Buck House and the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s... Who can blame them?

They had a wonderfully sunny day for their event, and I hope they did enjoy themselves.

I just think putting on the event at all was utterly ill-advised.

I don’t think the general public was thrilled to see all those bikes in the otherwise empty streets of central London, and I don’t think it will make cycling in London more popular... or cyclists either for that matter.

I blame Boris Johnson.

If he wants to promote cycling in London: Great. Why doesn’t he do something real? Why doesn’t he spend some real money and build some real cycle lanes and make some real decisions about the volume of traffic that still fills London’s streets?

He doesn’t do it because he can’t. He doesn’t do it because, actually commerce is more important and so is tourism, and he knows it.

Just by the by, today I am celebrating 600 blog posts. Crikey!

Thursday 7 August 2014

News: Catching Up and Keeping Up

Last night we were at Forbidden Planet for a book signing.

Reviews for Fiefdom
The paperback edition of Fiefdom was available for the first time at the event. We hadn’t even seen it ourselves until we arrived at the shop, and very beautiful it is, too. 

I bloody love Forbidden Planet. Whenever we’re in London, the husband and I always pop in for a browse, and invariably come out with an armful of stuff. It’s one of those mysterious places, though. I don’t know what it is about it, but whenever I get downstairs, I lose all sense of direction, and roam around in endless circles, wondering where the hell I am. It could be that I can’t find north without the sun to guide me, or it could just be that there’s so much lovely stuff to look at that I become easily distracted. Personally, I think there’s some weird kind of magic that happens in Forbidden Planet, but that could just be me.

The Abnetts, second left and second right at FP
with J, Liam and Pete
Anyway Fiefdom was there. We were there. Lots of you were there, and we all had a splendid time.

People turned up with all sorts of things besides Fiefdom, too, including comics, and they bought every remaining copy of the husband’s brilliant, action-packed, funny Guardians of the Galaxy novel, Rocket Raccoon and Groot Steal the Galaxy. If you loved the movie, I urge you to read it; it’s quite brilliant.

So thank you to Lydia from Abaddon, to John and the guys at FP and to everyone who turned up. And I apologise to Pete for momentarily blanking on his name, despite knowing him for years! And for the silly antics with the chair. You’d think by now that I’d know how a bloody chair works; apparently I don’t.

That was the Catching Up. Now for the Keeping Up

November 8th and 9th is the weekend of the third big Black Library event named after that portion of the week. Yes, the Weekender is back! And the Abnetts are back with it!

The husband and I have just been announced as attending this year’s event at the Belfry, Nottingham. What's more, a new Sabbat Crusade book will be launched at the Weekender!

I’m not entirely sure what our schedule will be, yet, but we have told the organisers that we will be there for the entire event, and that they can deploy us any way they please, so expect plenty from us.

We love these shindigs. We like to get down and dirty with the readers. We want to hear what you think, answer your questions and get your feedback. The writer’s lot can be a solitary one... OK, not so much for us, because we have each other, but still... We genuinely treasure the time we spend with the Black Library crowd, and we’re looking forward to it immensely.

We also love to rub shoulders with the great and good, by which I mean the TALENT! And there’s going to be a LOT of it at the Black Library Weekender this year. Yes I know I’m shouting, but the writers and artists who bring the Warhammer, 30K and 40K universes to life are worth shouting about.

I can’t wait to see old friends, reacquaint myself with some of the guys I don’t yet know terribly well, and meet some of the newer writers for the first time. If you haven’t seen the list of attending authors (and Neil, obviously) on Black Library’s website Here’s the roll call: