Nicola Vincent-Abnett

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

Monday 26 September 2016

The Cost of being Female

It isn’t news that women are penalised in our society, simply for being women.

I write about this all the time.

A young woman of my acquaintance went for an evening out, about a month ago. She paid to park her car in a facility close to where she was heading, and met up with her friends. This was an urban carpark, so the maximum time allowed for parking was three hours.

This is a sensible young woman, who is aware of her own safety. She chose the carpark, because it was very close to her destination, and it was well-lit and felt safe.

Three hours later, the woman left to go home. She had to wait for a friend to accompany her back to the car, because it was late, and she didn’t want to risk the walk on her own, even though it was a relatively short distance. It’s exactly what I would have done. It’s exactly what women should do, and have to do, because of the society we live in.

Solutions?! I don't think so.
A few days later, this young woman got a parking fine charge notice in the post. She was over her allotted, paid for parking time by a matter of a few minutes. She was late, because she had waited for her friend.

Rules are rules, of course they are, but there’s also good, old-fashioned, common sense.

Men, for the most part, don’t worry about walking around at night, or how close to park their cars to a venue. Women do think about those things.

This young woman is a student. She's grateful to have her little car, and she budgets her money, carefully. The parking charge was £54.

I suggested that she appeal the charge, explaining how she came to be late back to her car. I thought there was a chance that some leniency might be shown.

Perhaps that was naive of me… Of course the company didn’t waive her fine. It’s in the business of making money, after all.

My problem is that this has now set a precedent. 

What happens the next time this young woman is stuck with a choice of waiting for someone to walk her back to her car and incurring a fine, or taking the risk of leaving alone, and walking around late at night without the security of company?

She can’t afford £54 for a parking fine, so I doubt she’ll risk getting another one.

In this particular instance, she couldn’t have paid for more parking, because the allowed stay was capped.

So… this young woman will have to make different choices. She’ll have to park where stay-times aren’t capped. She’ll have to walk around alone at night, or, perhaps, she’ll have to choose not to go out.

Life shouldn’t be like this for anyone, but it’s precisely like this for more than half the population… Go figure.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Sober October

October is almost upon us, and we’re all being encouraged to stop drinking for the duration.

Movember has been a thing for a while, now. Men grow their facial hair, and some of them collect funds for charity. It might just be an excuse not to shave, it might be a genuine desire to raise money for charity in a way that shouldn’t be too taxing. Not everyone is up to running a marathon, after all. Of course, many, probably most, women would probably struggle to grow a moustache, but they can always sponsor the men in their lives who choose to grow and sport a moustache for a month.

Movember’s charity is prostrate cancer, so there’s some correlation between the moustache-growing male and the charity he is supporting.

A lot of people began to give up booze for January, some years ago. I don’t know if this had a name, or a purpose, or whether it was simply a reaction to Christmas and New Year over-indulgence, and the old tradition of giving something up for new years.

Either way, this modern tradition of giving up booze in January has been adopted and moved to October… It rhymes with Sober, don’t you know?

Sober October is a charity drive, and that’s absolutely fine. Movember supports cancer research, and Sober October supports…

Cancer Research.

I have no quibbles with the cancer research charities. Charity is a good thing. In my limited opinion, I don’t believe healthcare, education or the disabled should have to rely on charity to make progress, but that’s the way it is. I think our taxes should adequately cover healthcare, education and the disabled, but they don’t… That’s Socialism, and socialism has become a dirty word in World politics.

Anyway… I digress…

The cancer charities clearly benefited from Movember, so decided to adopt another month to drive more charitable engagement.

I’m sure that alcohol could be a contributing factor in some cancers… Almost everything seems to be. I’m not going to search for the sources that prove it, though, because alcohol and alcoholism might be responsible for accelerating cancers, but they are responsible for much more obvious ills in our society.

If I’d had to guess what Sober October might be in aid of, I would immediately have thought of addiction centres and liver disease, not to mention violence and domestic abuse. No charities associated with any of these direct results of alcohol abuse are benefiting from Sober October.

I applaud the cancer research charities for homing in on an effective way to collect our charitable donations, but they already have Movember, and there are only twelve months in a year. Had they been charitable, they might have left the other eleven months for other charities to adopt.

Sober October would be a great way to help and educate the addicted, support victims of domestic abuse, and maybe do some research into liver disease. Charities like Alcohol Concern, Mind, and Refuge could all benefit from this kind of publicity

Off the top of my head, March might be given over to military based charities, to veterans and to victims, to PTSD and to prosthetics.

Again, no offence to cancer charities, they do wonderful work, and my family has not been immune from the disease, but there’s also such a thing as fair play and share and share alike.

Monday 19 September 2016

Raptus 2016... A note on conventions

A decent number of comic book and genre writers and artists go to a lot of conventions. They go for lots of different reasons: some go for the social scene, after all, many of us sit alone in our rooms working umpteen hours a week without company; some, mostly artists, go to sell product to top-up their incomes; some go to network, looking for new business. 

I hope that we all go for the fans.

The husband and I don’t do a great many conventions. We love them, but we also work a lot and can’t dedicate twenty or thirty weekends a year to meeting the public, because that would mean twenty or thirty weekends a year when we weren’t working.

We tend to really enjoy the smaller conventions, at home and abroad. They give us the opportunity to spend time with people, talk to them, answer questions, and enjoy their company.

We’re invited to more conventions than we can possibly attend, and often take recommendations from other writers and artists as to which are the most fun and community oriented.

Last weekend we were in Bergen, Norway, for Raptus 2016. The artist Mike Collins recommended that we should attend, and has been a regular at the con for fourteen years.

So, we went.

Raptus is a lovely convention with lots of European creators as well as Brits and Americans. The universal language is English, despite the guests including French nationals, Danes, Italians, Norwegians and others.

One of the nice things about the smaller cons is that they tend to be extremely well and thoughtfully organised, and creators tend to be very well looked after. This was certainly true of Raptus. The organisers did a fabulous job, and the red and yellow shirts were endlessly attentive. I cannot express how impressed I was with everyone from our lovely driver, to those who recommended sightseeing opportunities, and others who constantly plied us with food and drink… I don’t think I was ever without a glass of water at my side.

Some of the guests who attended Raptus 2016
The other guests were great company, too, Henrik Rehr told extraordinary stories, and we shared political viewpoints with Arthur Suydam and Renee Witterstaetter. Mike Collins was on roaringly good form, and a delight, as always, and Karoline Stjernfelt was bright and engaged and a real breath of fresh air. She’s also hugely talented, so look out for her work.

The convention was small enough so that we were all able to eat dinners together, and they were lively events with endless chatter and good humour.

There was a steady flow of comic book fans, who wanted to talk and ask questions, and some of them made a huge effort with their cosplay.

There were no low moments, no arguments; we all slotted neatly into the space and the atmosphere, and, I trust and believe that a good time was had by all.

I hope, one day, to be invited back to Raptus… We’d jump at the chance.

Not for nothing, we’d also jump at the chance to return to the rather beautiful city of Bergen with the views of the mountains surrounding it, its old wooden buildings and its wonderful museums and galleries.

The one small problem I had in the city was getting a good cup of decaff coffee. The Norwegians have lots of great cafes and coffee shops, but they take their coffee seriously, so many of the independents don’t serve decaff. In the end, I avoided the inevitable Starbucks and drank good local apple juice in the best of the city’s coffee places… The strudel was pretty damned good too.

Wednesday 14 September 2016

What if?

… And Why not?

Two heads are better than one, and,
What if? can be followed by Why not?

The husband and I had a long and fascinating chat last night, by way of an ideas session. 

I asked the husband, ‘What if?”

This is a common question that writers and, I suppose, other artists ask themselves. I do it all the time, and I know that the husband does it too.

Once in a while, it’s a question that I ask the husband or that he asks me. Often this occurs while we're working on a joint project… Once in a while, I ask the husband What if? about one of his solo projects. The husband works a lot, so it’s inevitable that he talks to me about what he’s writing, from time to time. I don’t know how often I’ve asked a question, come up with an idea or solved a problem for him, but I do know that I can be useful. We have different strengths, both when it comes to generating ideas and in the actual writing. I think it's healthy that we use each other as resources.

Last night, I had a thought about a project that he's working on, and I had some ideas about it that I thought were worth sharing, so, I asked ‘What if?’

Somewhat to my surprise, the husband said, ‘I don’t think I can.’

I don’t hear this very often, and when I  hear it, it’s more likely to be coming out of my mouth than his.

If you’re going to ask the question What if? Sometimes, you’re going to get a negative responsive.

Some of us, some of the time, take No for an answer… I know I do that, and that I've done it all my life.

If we can just bring ourselves to ask, Why not? Things might be very different… In our lives and in our work.

So, last night, I asked, ‘Why not?’ And it turned out, once we’d gone back and forth a little bit, that there really was no good reason Why not. The husband liked my idea, he simply needed to find a way to implement it. As it turned out, there were very good reasons why he would want to adopt my idea, and some of those reasons were things that I didn't even know about.

It's very gratifying when I get something right.

As soon as the conversation was over… Sometime around 9pm, the husband went back to his desk.

Sometimes, I’m my own worst enemy… On the other hand, this idea, this chat.... asking What if and following it with Why not, could turn out to have been a bit of a coup.

Watch this space.

Tuesday 13 September 2016

The Delicate Art of Collaboration

Collaborating can be fun for writers, and a happy relief from the solitary life that we tend to lead.

There are two writers in our house. We work on our own projects a lot, and we’re perfectly comfortable doing that: working separately all day, and then coming together at mealtimes and in the evenings to do a bit of sharing. It’s nice, though, when we can sit in an office together, and mull over a joint venture.

The husband and I have developed a comfortable way of collaborating… Comfortable for us at least. We tend to tie down plots quite tightly, and then play a kind of relay race. I generally begin writing, and then he takes over when he’s ready or when I run out of steam, or he encourages me to keep going if what I’m doing enthrals him. We don’t wrangle much, and the husband tends to have the final say in most decisions… not that I’m not prepared to put up a fight, if I think it’s worth it.

I recently acquired a new collaborator.

The Dort and Me at the Guardians of the Galaxy Premier
Back in the spring, the dort asked me if I’d be interested in writing for the theatre. Well, of course I would. She managed to secure a slot to produce a play for the autumn term on the strength of her pitch, without even having a script in her hand.

She’s a force of nature, the dort. I don’t know how she does it, but when she sets her mind to it, she seems capable of doing just about anything.

Of course, once she'd secured the slot, I had the responsibility of writing a script.

The dort had a concept, and we talked through some ideas. Her approach is very visual, and a little more scattergun than mine, but, after a few sessions, I had enough material to begin scripting.

I haven’t worked in this medium before. The closest I’ve come to it is comic books, in which there’s a visual element as well as a written one. I generally write novels and short stories, and I like the idea that there are no filters between the writer and the reader. Theatre isn’t like that.

Theatre involves the director interpreting the text, and the actors interpreting the characters. The dort’s directing this project, so I have the advantage of of being pretty close to the end product. I might even exercise my prerogative and sit in on some of the rehearsals, if I get the chance.

The dort gave me mostly visual notes to work from, and basic ideas about character. Her process is fluid… one idea leading to another, so I had quite a lot of material. Some of it was contradictory, and some of it was difficult for me to see past, but I was willing to make a start, and compromise as we went along.

Writing naturalistic dialogue isn’t easy, especially when that dialogue is all the words that will appear on the stage. Initially, the dort thought I’d simply write dialogue, but I found that impossible. So, I wrote a full script, with stage directions. Of course, if she wants to alter the directions to suit the space, the actors and her own interpretation of the piece, that’s good too. I wrote it this way for the ease of writing and not to control the outcome.

We’ve gone back and forth several times during the writing of the script. She’s given me notes, some of which I struggled to get, and when I wasn’t convinced, she very sensibly, and very pragmatically argued her points.

This is not ‘our’ project in the way that the husband and I make a joint work. This project is much more part me and part her. I impose some order on her thoughts, and she pours out more thoughts. It’s all quite delightful.

I’m at the editing stage now. The dort’s ideas about changes seemed big at the outset, but have ended up being only a nip or a tuck on the page: a little extra dialogue here, a scene change there.

We now have eighty-plus pages of script with built in wiggle-room, and clear ideas for the physical theatre elements, which the dort has planned to be a significant part of the whole.

Working on something new is exciting. Working in a new medium is stretching my skills close to their limits, and definitely out of my comfort zone, and working with a new collaborator is throwing up all kinds of alternative ways to communicate ideas.

This is fun!

It hasn't been without its moments of tension, but I think we’re going to end up with something quite exciting… something the dort, with her vision, expertise and experience, can turn into a compelling theatrical experience.

I wouldn’t have missed this for the World… And if I ever get the chance to do it again, I’ll jump at it.

Who knows, maybe next time, I might even get a fee.

Friday 9 September 2016

There’s a Way to be a Person

The husband and I went shopping today.
Bicester Village

We were in London on Wednesday night, working, and yesterday we left the house at 5 am for a long working day in Warwickshire. We were due a break, so we decided to pop into Bicester Village to do a bit of retail therapy on our way home this morning.

Bicester Village is quite a good designer outlet complex, it’s the dort’s birthday next month, and, besides, we rather enjoy shopping.

The first woman who served me told me that I was her dream customer. She said, ‘You’re so lovely to serve, and you’re very patient.’ I was delighted that she’d enjoyed working with me to find the things that I wanted, but I was a little surprised that she’d felt the need to say something about it.

The shop where I made the purchases was moderately busy and not fully staffed, so the woman who was helping me was also helping several other people. She gave great service, but was clearly rushed off her feet. It didn’t matter to me; I was out shopping and intended to have a fun and relaxed time doing it. I was in no hurry; there was no urgency; if I spent a few extra minutes browsing while the woman helping me had other things to do, it really didn’t matter to me. She was lovely, as attentive as she could possibly be, given how busy she was, and she was very organised, so there was no extra waiting when she had to check stock. This woman was absolutely the right person in the right job.

We visited several other shops while we were at Bicester Village, and made other purchases, but the incident with the woman who had helped me with my first purchases gave me a new perspective on what was happening around me.

Bicester Village is popular, and it seemed that a lot of the shoppers were very driven. They knew what they wanted, and they wanted it right now! Many of the shoppers barely looked at the staff who were helping them, and certainly didn’t engage with them. Everything was a demand, everyone was cross, and I don’t think I heard a single ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.

I don’t know if I was raised better than other people when it comes to being polite, or whether I’ve simply developed a comfortable way to deal with people because I’ve had to do it a lot over the years. I do know that people are always more willing to help me if I give them a reason to like me, and it isn’t difficult to engage, to say hello and smile, to look at the person I’m talking to and to respect the fact that he is she is doing a job.

There was clearly a lot of money in the pockets of the shoppers at Bicester Village, today, and money can buy a lot of things. There was old money and there was new money, and there was a difference in attitudes between various types of shopper, but they were universally disconnected from the experiences of the people who were serving them.

Some of it looked like entitlement. Some of the old-money types were clearly used to having their every need attended to promptly and precisely. They were other; they had so little in common with the people serving them that they took them utterly for granted. I don’t think their rudeness was deliberate, but that doesn’t mean that casual rudeness is acceptable.

Some of it looked like a kind of insecurity. The newly rich had everything in common with the people serving them; they could have been servers themselves if they hadn’t made some money… Some of them probably did work in the service industries at some point in their lives… But, now, they had money, and that seemed to make all the difference to them. They had bettered their own lives and didn’t owe anybody anything.

I guess that’s probably true, but the men and women working at Bicester Village are people too, and I found many of them delightful. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to do their jobs and deal with rude and entitled people all day long.

There’s a way to be a person, and, for me at least, that way is to treat everyone as you want to be treated. I enjoy engaging with people, and if they enjoy the connection too, everybody’s a little bit happier. That can only be a good thing, right?

Monday 5 September 2016

My All-New Blog

My all new blog... This one's about CLOTHES

I started a new blog.

I will always continue to post regularly here about stuff and things. This place will remain full of snarks and stories and ideas... I've been at it too long to change or even to put an end to this blog. It's all good.

My new blog is about clothes. You very well might not be remotely interested, and that's all good... I don't expect it. I'm interested, though, so I thought I'd have a bit of fun with this.

The media is very good at telling us how we should look and what we should wear. There's a long history of fashion journalism.

But, fashion is only clothes, and all clothes are fashion.

I like clothes, and I wear them every day. I've even written about clothes on this blog from time to time.

The new blog is a daily diary of what I'm wearing. It's not really a comment on fashion, but it is a little bit about ignoring what young, invested fashion journalists try to persuade us to wear as we get older, and how very little interest I have in any of that.

Have a look... or don't... it's entirely up to you.

Saturday 3 September 2016

The Curious Incident of the Man in the Street

We were stopped in the street yesterday.
We, by which I mean the husband and I, had wondered into town to do some stuff and things, mostly to do with paying bills, posting stuff and finding research materials. This happens at least once a week, and in a busy week can happen almost daily. Often, we go together, but when the husband’s busy, I generally run the errands so as not to break his stride.

We were stopped in the street yesterday.

Once upon a time, I used to be approached by men, at random, and not always appropriately. That was back in the last quarter of the last century. I realise that times haven’t changed much when it comes to women being harassed in public, but I have changed, and men stopped approaching me in that way at around the time I had my first child.

The husband and I are often stopped in the street… OK… the husband is often stopped in the street. People seem to know who he is.

Sometimes, we are stopped in the street, sometimes at the self-service checkout in Sainsbury’s (yes there is an unexpected item in the bagging error, it’s a bloke leaning in to shake the husband’s hand), we were stopped in the British Museum once… but mostly we’re just… you know… stopped in the street.

The husband is generally happy to be approached in public. In fact, I can remember only one occasion when he was non-plussed, and I think anyone would be during a visit to a public loo. I wasn’t actually there for that one, so I have to take the husband’s word for it.

I don’t want to suggest that the people who stop us in the street adhere to a ‘type’, but it generally isn’t difficult to work out the reason for an approach when one is about to happen. We’re usually stopped by men aged between 20 and 40, casually dressed, and generally either smiling broadly or looking a little nervous, sometimes both.

We were stopped in the street, yesterday, by a man, and definitely not in the usual way. He was an older man, probably ten or even twenty years older than either of us. I’m not sure I’ve ever been stopped in the street by someone like him. Honestly, I thought perhaps he was going to ask for directions.

Then he began to say something. He was a little hesitant at first, but, seeing us smile, he became more animated.

The husband and I up close and personal at the
red carpet screening of Guardians of the Galaxy
The man who stopped us in the street, yesterday, did so because we were sauntering along in the afternoon sunshine, holding hands. He was happy to see this very slight and perfectly ordinary show of affection between us.

I’ve been holding hands with the husband for over thirty years, and I think very little of it. I don’t think I notice when we do it. I know that I notice when we’re not holding hands, usually because one or both of us is carrying bags.

The man who stopped us pointed out that people don’t hold hands any more. Honestly, I hadn’t noticed. I wonder if he notices because he has no one to hold hands with. I don’t know. I do know that the husband and I casually holding hands as we walked down the street was a source of delight to the old man. After all, he was so pleased with us that he stopped to comment.

Today, the husband and I were out again, and, again, we did some handholding. I kept half-an-eye on what other people were doing walking down the street, and the old man was right; people don’t seem to hold hands any more. At least, I didn’t see anyone else doing it.

I saw lots of people carrying bags, or with their hands stuffed in their pockets. I saw people fiddling about with things. The majority of people who were out in couples seemed to be on the young side, which I guess isn’t very unusual for a Saturday afternoon. 

Young couples, almost by definition, are new couples, and I always imagine that couples are most affectionate in the first flush of their relationships. The young couples I saw today were not holding hands…

…Many of them were messing about with mobile phones, but none were holding hands. Go figure.