Monthnotes: November 2022

November has been a busy month, dominated by the excitement of a new job. The remote onboarding was incredibly efficient, and it’s great to be part of a company with such energy and enthusiasm around technology. I’ve been enjoying dropping into the office in Leeds once a week, and made a trip to Newcastle at the end of the month. The role itself offers some big challenges, but I’m starting to get up to speed.

My free time has also been fairly busy. I visited the Thought Bubble Convention in Harrogate where I met El Sandifer and Penn; had my covid and flu jabs; went out dancing for the first time since the pandemic, at the Golden Lion in Todmorden; had a number of visitors in Hebden Bridge; and went to an epic bonfire in the midlands. At the start of the month I visited Leeds Trinity University to talk to a transmedia class about ARGs, Digital Folklore and how they can go wrong. The research for this was fascinating, and it was an opportunity to think deeply about a lot of things which was valuable in itself, even if I might not use the material for another talk.

I walked 307,702 steps in November, an average of just 10,256 a day, with the highest daily total for a walk around Withens Clough reservoir with a friend from Cragg Vale. I got soaked feet on this trek, which has been a problem a few times recently. Walking about the valleys in winter will require more robust footwear. I sneaked on a couple of pounds of weight, mostly through poor diet and snacking in the workday. It’s not a huge problem, but is something I need to keep an eye on.

I did a fair bit of writing during the month. I started out the month with FlashNano, a November writing challenge, but abandoned that after 10 days – trying to write a story a day wasn’t feasible while starting a new job. It was a good experiment, and useful to see that I could turn out a decent story in 30-90 minutes, with a few of them good enough to submit. I’ve been trying to send out more new work, submitting four new stories – Cinnamon, The Things We Don’t Talk About, Something in the Way and The End of the Second Hand Bookshop. I also published A Wedding Like Mariah’s on my blog. As we come towards the end of the year, my stats are 55 submitted, 6 accepted, 35 rejected.

I had a couple of new stories published. I’m delighted to have another story in the Horror Zine, who have printed Still Alive at the End of the Summer. I’ve also had Stragglers published by Flash Fiction Magazine.

I’ve continued reading lots of books. A Likely Lad by Peter Doherty is an autobiography where the subject comes off very badly. It was interesting to see how unrepentant Doherty was about the degradation of his addiction. I’d always seen him as someone who threw his talent away – but reading this book, I began to wonder if it had thrived because of his drug use, and he simply took it as far as he could. Our Wives Under the Sea was an excellent literary novel that tended towards cosmic horror. Malcolm Devlin’s And Then I Woke Up was an clever twist on zombie movies. It was notable how short the book was, given its inventiveness. It also featured some great jokes about looting supermarkets in video games. I finished Grant Morrison’s Luda mainly through perseverance, forcing myself to finish it. Morrison is a great writer, but I find his longform prose unengaging.

Meet me in the Bathroom was an oral history of New York music in the noughties. It starts in the period when I was living in Hoboken (the Strokes’ first gig was in September 1999). I did see one of the bands mentioned in the book, the Mooney Suzuki, who were bottom of the bill for the Donnas and were one the greatest live acts I’ve seen. Sadly they never quite took off. One of the most interesting things was how new technologies influenced the scene – the people with the first digital cameras became important, and blogs became influential, the first stages of making a paparazzi-life lifestyle universal. Changing technology was also used by TV on the Radio, who hid CDR-s in “furniture stores or bookstores”. The book also included a great theory that new musical movement depends on having their own particular style of trouser.

Harry Cole and James Heale’s quick-turnaround biography of Liz Truss was mocked when her premiership was over before the manuscript was submitted. The book is a good summary of Truss, and goes beyond the disastrous time as PM and the gaffes that made her famous. It was a good political book in that it was well-written, often gossipy, and explained the events in such a way that they made more sense. Hopefully I’ll write a proper review in the next few days.

I made it through November without watching any movies. I watched most of The Peripheral, which was beautifully made but somewhat unengaging. Netflix’s 1899 was fantastic, a mystery box show that delivered on a lot of its strangeness. I was slightly thrown by the ending, being unsure if 1899 was a single season or not. It was also announced that Westworld will not be getting a fifth season, which actually feels like a relief. The show has never returned to the heights of the first season. I would have watched another season, but it has mostly been disappointing.

I started playing Dying Light 2 on the PS4. In many ways this is a remarkable game, and I couldn’t believe they’d packed such a detailed open world onto a BlueRay. The parkour movement system was stunning, and I loved navigating between rooftops. But, ultimately, playing was a banal experience, with too much bad acting and fetch quests, so I stopped. While playing the game was compulsive, it also felt like I was switching myself off for an hour or too.

With the new job, I’ve been paying less attention to parliamentary politics recently. I’ve been ignoring the World Cup, an event I normally love and watch as much as I can. I don’t think a boycott of Qatar’s hosting achieves much, but the events around this World Cup have made it feel uncomfortable rather than fun.

A quick miscellany:

  • Cat Vincent’s post on 1000 days of covid is essential reading about the coronavirus and how those still sheltering have been neglected. I wrote a brief response.
  • A great joy of Radio 4 is interesting documentaries about subjects you’d never thought about. A drive down the M1 was enlived by Exit Game, a ‘drama documentary’ about the professional men’s football youth system, where the odds seem even harder than on creative writing courses.
  • Sharp Things, Killing Things was a very good horror short story
  • I subscribed to Sam Kriss’s substack as I love his writing and cannot bear to miss his occasional subscriber-only post. An example: “The American novelist is standing in the middle of a charnel house, with blood dripping off the walls, writing little autofictions about the time someone was rude to them in their MFA.
  • Twitter is so far surviving a difficult transition period, but I have set up an account on Mastodon – @orbific. This is a very different social network to Twitter, but I am growing excited about its potential.
  • I’m back to the occasional caffeinated coffee, which is not good for me, and resulted in an awful sleepless night while in Newcastle. I’ve also developed a bit of a decaf habit, which seems to be driven by my longing for proper coffee.
  • The year is starting to turn colder, which the current energy crisis is making particularly noticeable.
  • I’ve set up a Google alert on my own name. Not so much for vanity, but because I like reading obituaries, record releases and corporate announcements by other people with my name – they’re little alternate universes. I was delighted to learn that there is a James Burt Parkway in Auburn, Alabama:

November felt like it flew by at points. But, in writing these monthnotes, I realise how much I made of those thirty days. That’s a definite benefit to writing monthnotes.

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