Monthnotes: July 2022

In just a couple of day’s time, I’m moving to Hebden Bridge! This has been in the works since mid-March, and the purchase has been a long and difficult process. But it all worked out in the end. There’s a huge amount to do, both before and after the move, but I am very excited.

Throughout much of July, it looked like the house purchase would not go through, so I tried to keep busy. I caught up with my old friend Liz in Leeds; Jen and Dave from Liverpool Arts Lab came by to pick up the Bodge back issues (it was a little emotional to say farewell to them). I also had visits from Naomi and Kate Shields. I went out with my niece to celebrate Mum’s birthday (everyone else had the rona), and got to see the pigs. A trip to sign paperwork also meant dropping by the Mindera offices in Leicester. I even tried to distract myself from house woes by attending a vogue class – ouch! My poor toes! Everyone was very friendly, but it felt weird to be the only man in the class, particularly when I had 20 years on everyone else.

I went to visit Muffy in Blackpool, and we watched Thor: Love and Thunder. In theory, Muffy lives a short hop down the train line, but returning from Blackpool on the Sunday took over 10 hours. It really does feel like this country is falling apart. Among my misadventures were a ride with a racist taxi driver. In my haste to exit his cab, I left my Kindle behind. Further problems in July came from an incompetent hosting company causing DNS issues and knocking out my email out for a few days.

I’ve not been doing much walking recently, and a planned hike along the Pennine Way was cancelled due to the mid-July heatwave. My step total for the month was 352,571, with an average of 11,373 steps, and the highest total being 27,341 on the day I was trapped in Blackpool. I also missed my daily target for the first day since probably 2019 – only by 32 steps, but that gives you an idea how stressful everything has been. I’m not sure if it’s been better eating habits, stress or the heat, but I lost 4.9 pounds over the month with very little effort. I’ve not been drinking since May and feel much better for that, although I am having a daily coffee again which I need to stop. I’m also benefitting from Sooxanne’s recommendation of Floradix, which seems to be reducing my tiredness.

I wrote one new story this month (The Appalling Fate of Henry Fluffstock) and sent 4 out. My stats for 2022 so far are 29 submitted, 5 accepted, 12 rejected. Two of July’s acceptances were for long horror stories, which is great. I also launched a new South Downs Way zine and didn’t really tell anyone – although I did get a very positive review from ZeenScene. I also read at the Todmorden open mic, which was great fun.

My reading in July has not really flowed, and I’ve found it hard to concentrate, despite reading some excellent books. One of the best things I’ve read in some time is Oliver Burkeman’s 4,000 Weeks. This turns the usual productivity advice on its head by starting with the fact that there will never be enough time, and we will never feel on top of our workloads. “Productivity is a trap. Becoming more efficient just makes you more rushed, and trying to clear the decks simply makes them fill up again faster”. Burkeman uses this as a basis for liberation. Highly recommended, and something that deserves its own blog post at some point.

Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl was an excellent novel about racism, which sometimes felt like eavesdropping. Danny Goldberg’s Serving the Servant was a biography of Cobain by his manager, and an interesting angle on a singer who claimed to shun success. Bodies by Ian Winwood was a good book on mental health and addiction in the music industry, which I read following an brilliant excerpt in the Quietus. The awful journey from Blackpool was eased somewhat by standing in a crowded train next to someone reading Tabitha Lasley’s Sea State and getting to talk about what an excellent book that is.

Thor: Love and Thunder was everything a Marvel movie ought to be (including being a little disposable). I also watched Jennifer’s Body and Netflix Internet-horror Cam. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair was an interesting and moody film about the Internet and isolation. Everything Everywhere All at Once was as crazy and creative as people had promised. Sadly, I only got to watch the first half, as my friend wasn’t into it, but it’s definitely a film that demands to be rented again.

The TV highlight for July was Atlanta season 3, which was both flawed and one of the most interesting shows I’ve seen in years. Westworld continues its recovery – while not reaching the first season’s standard, the show is a massive improvement on seasons 2 and 3. One of my favourite things about ‘prestige TV’ is the discussion around it, and The Prestige TV Podcast has been excellent on Westworld and very, very good on Atlanta. I didn’t end up continuing with The Lazarus Project – there was just too much going on for me to follow much TV.

Stray on the PS4 is a short video game where you play a cat. The puzzles were perfectly pitched, with just a little struggle needed, and being a cat was fun. I also started replaying The Last of Us Part 2 on a permadeath mode.

When driving I listen to one of the two CDs in my car (Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis or Lana Del Rey’s Blue Banisters), or Radio 4. Travelling back from my Mum’s birthday, I listened to a radio 4 documentary Children’s Homes: Profits Before Care? The report was shocking, laying out how much the country pays for private children’s homes, how profitable they are for international players such as the Abu Dhabi Sovereign Wealth Fund, and how much worse the outcomes are for children in such homes. It was a shocking explication of how poorly we are being served by privatisation. The show is still available to listen to online.

British politics has continued to be a car-crash, with the Johnson government collapsing quickly – surprisingly due to someone else’s sex scandal. I was appalled that his ministers quit due to him being unsuitable for office and then left him in place. The Conservative leadership election is being played out against a background of a record-breaking heatwave and increasing energy prices. Both of these are terrifying, in the long-term and short-term respectively. For the energy cap, the government is faced with a choice between supporting energy company profits or people being able to heat their homes. It looks like we are choosing the profits, which makes plain the implications of years of privatisation. I don’t see this ending well.

artwork by Heather Peak and Ivan Morison

In a milestone of aging, during July I was asked by a teenager whether I “knew what hip-hop was”.

Monthnotes: June 2022

June has been a slow blur. The days are getting longer, and a dense heat is settling into my valley, more muggy than hot. The month started with the four-day Jubilee weekend, which seemed like a lot of fuss over nothing. I had my friends Sophie and Katharine both visiting and, with Katharine, walked a section of the Pennine Way, south from Ponden reservoir to Hebden Bridge. On the Saturday, I drove all the way to Brighton for one evening so that I could attend Rosy’s birthday party. It’s a long journey, and not one I’m likely to make often, but it was good to see everyone. The journey was made easier by stopping off at my sister’s both ways, where I got to see my parents, and of course, my niece’s pigs.

The following weekend was another celebration of Rosy’s birthday, with a boat journey on the river Thames. It’s been a long time since I went on a boating holiday. I loved it – the slow pace, red kites gliding above us, and finding good places to moor. The following week, I had my own birthday which was a little muted, before doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks with work (I’ve blogged about this in detail). June’s final weekend was spent in Blackpool. It’s been good to get out and about but I do wonder if I should have spent more time locally. Maybe soon. At the end of the month I had a visit from my old housemate Sooxanne, who came up for a little co-working.

My Yorkshire Three Peaks walk was the longest day’s hiking I’ve done, with a total of 66,178 steps. I managed a total of 367,125 steps for the month, which is an average of 12,237 a day. My weight was exactly the same at the end of the month as it was at the start, despite trying to eat a little better. I guess I need to put more effort in.

I’ve somehow managed to read 50 books so far this year, and most of them have been pretty good. I started June with Tender is the Flesh by Argentinian writer Agustina Bazterrica, one of the darkest things I’ve read. The book describes a world where, due to a virus, animals can no longer be eaten. Instead, humans are farmed and slaughtered for meat. The book was pitiless and uncomfortable. Leaving Mundania by Lizzie Stark described the author’s experiences with larping. This was entertaining, particularly when she described the world of Nordic larp.

I’d expected Andrew Allen’s Dictionary of Sussex Folk Medicene to be dry and obscure. Instead it’s one of the most vivid local histories that I’ve read. After finishing it I had a much clearer idea of life in mediaeval Sussex, and learned about oddities such as toad-eaters, leech catchers, and the use of walnut leaves to induce dwarfism – a historical precendent for the characters in Geek Love. I enjoyed Ben Myers’ new novel The Perfect Golden Circle, a strange and vivid book about crop circles. I also read Lucy Easthope’s When the Dust Settles, an account of her career in disaster preparation. It is terrifying in places, and scathing about how the Tory austerity has hollowed out disaster planning. A deeply worrying and unsettling book.

Cake by the amazing KittyGirlBakes

I’ve not watched a lot of TV this month. While Katharine was visiting we watched The Pennine Journey, an 80s documentary following a group of teenagers walking the trail. It was fascinating to see how different documentaries were back then. I also finished watching Dispatches from Elsewhere. The show was uneven, going from a stunning opening episode to a slightly flabby middle section, but the series was open-hearted and daring. Dispatches from Elsewhere was based on a documentary called The Institute and it was interesting to watch the source material for that. I tried watching Happy Valley, a police drama set around this area, but it was too grim for me. Is watching people being sexually assaulted really mainstream TV? I started a few new series at the end of the month that will take me into July: Atlanta Season 3, Westworld Season 4 and Sky’s The Lazarus Project.

I watched some movies this month (as well as The Institute). The Batman was yet another grimdark Batman story, making me long for the fun Adam West version. Sunshine felt like a bland cover version of Event Horizon, and I’m not sure why they made it. Being Frank; The Chris Sievey Story was a fascinating documentary about the man behind Frank Sidebottom.

After clearing my backlog in last month’s deluge of submissions, my pace this month was slower with only 3 things going out. My piece Holiday Wardrobe was read at Liars League by Jennifer Aries. I also wrote two new stories, a flash fiction called Glitch and a micro fiction about a bath haunted by John Lennon’s ghost. The next South Downs Way zine went off to the printers, and will be out next month. In July I’m going to focus on writing a batch of flash fictions about technology. And maybe work on the long-delayed book of clown stories.

I’ve also been doing a little blogging. Mostly things I didn’t want to let pass without mentioning, such as the return of Buck 65 and a ritual I was involved with back in March. I’ve finally got my programming blog running again, and had a piece on Test-Driven Development published on the Mindera blog. I also started a new website, which I’m adding content to but not announcing just yet. The only visitor so far was a bot in the early part of the month, but I’m enjoying working on it, slowly building to the point where it’s found or it’s detailed enough to announce.

It’s been another dramatic and chaotic month in politics, and it’s hard to keep up with everything. Covid is still in the background, despite the government actively ignoring in the hope it goes away. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been dreading my parents catching coronavirus. Finally, after two years, my Dad caught covid – at the Download festival, no less. It was soon passed on to my Mum. We’ve been fortunate that the NHS has provided excellent treatment, reducing the virus to little more than an irritation, but it’s a reminder that the pandemic has not gone away. After growing lax about mask-wearing for a time, I am not back to wearing one more regularly, particularly in trains and shops. I’ve still not caught a symptomatic infection, and I’m not enthusiastic about the idea of coming down with it.

Planning the South Downs Way zines

The South Downs Way is a series of zines containing short stories that I’ve been publishing since March 2020. The individual stories combine into longer narratives about the lives of their characters. I released the fourth volume in January 2022, Weird Tales of the South Downs Way, and the fifth (A Foolish Journey) comes out in July.

I always loved the idea of telling a huge story from a set of smaller stories. One of the inspirations for this is Geoff Ryman’s 1998 novel 253 which is made up of the interconnected stories of passengers on a tube train. Another inspiration is comic books, and the way that huge stories might be hinted at in brief references.

The South Downs Way contains a load of different characters who sometimes encounter each other including a tarot reader, a physicist, and a guidebook writer with a broken leg. There are also ghosts, giants, and the Devil himself, who tangles himself in the lives of the people he encounters on the Downs.

For some reason I had the figure of 200 short stories in my head, of which I’ve published 56, with the fifth volume just about to be published. I’m over a quarter of the way through my arbitrary target, and I recently stopped to take stock and see where I am going.

Things have definitely sprawled a bit with the writing I did in 2021. When I counted things up early in 2022, I had sketches for 146 stories and about 23 different booklets. Not all of these will be viable, but I easily have enough material to produce my 200 stories. In fact, it looked as if I might produce something longer than I had planned.

All these stories need to combine with the other pieces to produce a coherent whole. I’ve been doing a lot of work since on shaping and linking the sketches I have – and I’ve already introduced a lot of elements and characters that need resolving. I also decided to make the upcoming zines more clearly themed so they stand more independently.

The biggest change to the project since starting was selling issues on etsy. I was excited by the fact people were buying copies, and it got me thinking about how to make the future volumes work better. How do I make the stories easier to sell/promote? (Which is not to say I’m changing anything about how I write, more thinking about how I make what I do as appealing as possible).

This project will continue over some years – I don’t want to focus solely on this. . I’ve got one volume with the printers (A Foolish Journey) and two more nearly finished (Stories of Sussex Folklore and Once Upon a Time in Brighton and Hove) so I can take a more leisurely pace for a time. I’m going to try to get one more volume out this year, with the others coming out every six months after that.

Learning from Chuck Palahniuk

One of the books I love most is Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. I read it when I was 24, on the plane home after eight months working a dull contract in America. This was probably the perfect time to read that book.

It wasn’t just the story of Fight Club that I found inspiring. Palahniuk’s writing was sharper and more vivid than anything I’d encountered before. His uses of rhythm, repetition and set-piece scenes were incredibly well-crafted.

Palahniuk has described his writing style at length in his writer’s biography Consider This, outlining a whole toolbox of techniques. Recently, he’s been running a Substack newsletter where he often builds on the lessons in Consider This, and I’ve found myself working more on including some of them in my work.

One example is the use of clear physical actions for the characters. Palahniuk explains that a well-crafted gesture embeds the reader within the story. Their brains will consider the action, activitating the mirror neurones, and Palahniuk sees characters in motion as performing a sort of hypnosis on the reader. Using gestures in my work has also given me a clearer idea of the scenes that I write. I’ve also become more aware of this in my reading. Novels that seem flimsy are often that way because the characterisation comes from dialogue rather than action. Characters need a physical existence.

The other idea is that any piece of prose should include a clock or a gun. There should either be something dangerous that threatens the characters; or there should be some sort of timer counting down, limited the possible length of the story. Both of these add a tension, as well as making the stakes clear.

I’ve been using both of these techniques in my recent writing. At first, this was consciously, asking myself explicitly where these things were in a piece. Now, I can see them emerging as I plan a story. I think my writing is better for it.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks

I walked the Yorkshire Three Peaks trail last Saturday with a group of colleagues. The entire route took 14 hours and it was one of the most enjoyable hikes I’ve taken.

My employer organises annual trips, either skiing, a city break or, this year, a hike. We picked the Yorkshire Three Peaks as it’s a circular trail and therefore easy to plan. In retrospect, a twenty-four mile hike was quite ambitious. We all gathered on a campsite near Whernside the night before and set off a little after half six the following morning. Out of thirteen walkers, ten finished the trail.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks is a popular route. Most people walk clockwise from Horton-on-Ribblesdale, but the route proposed for our group was anti-clockwise from our campsite, starting with an ascent of Ingleborough. This was actually a great decision, as we didn’t find ourselves part of a long procession around the peaks, but rather passed most of the other people walking that day.

I had a terrible night’s sleep the night before (which was also my birthday). One of the other campers on the site was a belligerent drunk, who spent the night shouting and swearing. I can’t have managed much more than three or four hours sleep. I was up about half four, having given up on rest, and slowly prepared my kit.

Normally, I do my long hikes solo, and at a slightly faster pace than is wise. Walking with other people slowed me down, which made the day more pleasant than I’d expected. Walking twenty-four miles was still hard work, but my feet certainly finished in better shape than they do after my solo hikes.

The climb up Ingleborough (723m) was busy, as we encountered a large number of charity walkers who had set off from the other side of the peak. Everyone was friendly, and the queue for photos at the trig point was brisk. We then made a slow descent to the town where Sally waited for us with a supply point. We were also bolstered by Alex’s huge bag of Kendal Mint cake.

Hill two was Pen-y-ghent (694m), which loomed as we approached. The climb up here is steep, requiring a little scrambling. I was nearly brained by a rock at this point, as one of our group had taken a higher path and dislodged some loose rocks. They clattered down without hitting anyone, but it was a shocking moment, as I’d not considered the ascent particularly dangerous.

Last time I climbed Pen-y-ghent it had been raining and the summit was cloaked in mist. This time the views were much better. On the way down we found ourselves battered by incredible winds. Pen-y-ghent means ‘hill of winds’ and it earned its name in our descent. We rested at the bottom of the hill where were saw skylarks who managed to hover completely still in the driving wind.

We passed the second supply point about three, but couldn’t find it despite mobile phones and walkie-talkies. Fortunately we had enough food and water to take us onto the next meeting point.

The walk from Pen-y-ghent to the base of Ingleborough (736m), the third hill, was the longest stretch of the journey. It took hours to cross the valley to Ribblehead with its famous viaduct. A couple of people dropped out of this stage, but the remaining ten went on to the final peak.

The walk from Ribblehead to the base of Whernside was further than I expected. Most walkers set off from specific points and were finishing elsewhere on the trail, so this stretch was now quiet, with a very different feel to the rest of the day. We passed the noisy drunk from the night before. Finally, we started the slow ascent up Whernside. On top of the ridge we could see the shadows stretching across the valley as the sun fell lower.

After twelve hours, we were about a kilometre short of Whernside, and it took another couple of hours to get down off that mountain. Still, peaking late is pretty much how I’m living my life. The whole group gathered near the trig point for a final photo, then hurried downhill as we were very late for dinner. As we descended, we passed one last group of walkers who were running even later than us.

One of the things I liked most about the 3 Peaks was it was a communal experience. Everyone you passed was going through similar things. I’m looking forward to doing it again.

The Return of Buck 65

One my favourite records is Secret House Against the World, a 2005 release from rapper Buck 65. It’s a peculiar hip-hop record, with tales of roads trips and defeat. I’d not heard anything like it and fell in love with the songs – particularly the mournful track Blood of a Young Wolf

Buck 65 had a prolific career until 2015 when he suddenly went on hiatus. Every so often, I’d look online to see if he had re-emerged again, but it looked like he had retired from music. I couldn’t understand how this constant flow of creativity had just stopped. And then I learned on twitter that Buck 65 was returning with a new album and had started a substack.

Buck 65 is a great writer, and tells some great stories on his blog (check out Play Ball from May, where he talks about his renewed focus). It’s obvious that he has wrestled with his career and what he wants to produce. He’s talked about how uncomfortable he is with some of his ‘emo’ material, and how much he loves his earlier, more traditional hip-hop records. While it was that emotional material that made me love him as an artist, I’m equally drawn by the passion and focus he brings to his new work.

On his mailing list he has spoken about a secret Instagram project that will never be released, where he cuts up drums for a small group of connoisseurs. He’s excited about showing off his old material. I’ve since discovered a rich seam of early work on collaborations on Bandcamp, including the Laundromat Boogie record which came out in 2014 alongside his pre-hiatus release Neverlove. I’d not heard Laundromat Boogie until this year, but it’s a fun and jubilant concept album about cleaning clothes.

The new release is King of Drums. When this was released, Buck 65 performed what he said was going to be his last live show. I remember seeing him years before in Brighton’s Haunt many years ago. I was disappointed to see come on stage with just a laptop and a microphone. But then he spent the set telling us the story of his life, and how the recent record came to be, and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen.

I love Buck 65, for mournful songs like Blood of a Young Wolf, inspiring ones like Craftsmanship, and uplifting ones like Indestructible Sam. Buck 65 wants to be a very different artist to the one I was first drawn to, but I am enjoying the journey that the new work sets out on.

The Elements Ritual

For the past few years, I’ve been working on projects with a small group of Invisibles fans. We’ve created a zine, put on an exhibition, and recorded some albums. The group has just released its most recent video, a recording of a ritual that took place in March.

The aim of the ritual was to distribute a set of ‘element stones’ between the group, offering roles and possibilities for the future. It was based on the same ritual carried out in the early stages of volume two of the Invisibles comic.

Rather than use the traditional four or five elements, we chose our own elements as a group, placing their name and a symbol onto some pebbles. Among the stones were plastic, mirror, and story. These were then drawn out and allocated. The two elements I received (in absentia) were story and cosmos.

Story was an element I had put forward, and it’s something I’d been thinking in relation to an article Daisy Campbell wrote for Bodge 9 (it’s on page 24 of the PDF). Daisy’s piece talks about how “A story is really a value-exploration machine”. She went on to say that we are missing a sense of telos, a pull towards our values, and without that, our stories are becoming meaningless. I’m taking this as a good reminder that we need stories, and we need something to direct them towards.

Cosmos is an interesting second element. The pandemic was a time of confinement, where life was lived in a single place under lockdown. It played into my love of staying home and doing things on my own. Cosmos seems a reminder to get back to the world, to take my place in a larger universe. I grew up with a love of reading, and it’s easy to mistake sitting indoors reading for doing something. For me, the cosmos element is about going into the universe and taking more of a part in it.

Building a counter-cultural mycelium

Back in 2019, I was part of the Cerne-to-CERN pilgrimage, travelling from the Cerne Abbas giant to the centre of CERN’s large hadron collider. On the way we stopped off at the Damanhur community in the Italian alps. It was one of the strangest and most exciting things I’ve ever done.

The event was organised by theatremaker Daisy Campbell, who was recently part of an interesting discussion with Leslie Claire and Kate Alderton. In it, Daisy spoke about the metaphor of the mycelium network:

I found mycelium a useful metaphor for underground culture, because here are all these artists beavering away, like we’re kind of carving something in the subsoil. But we are crossing our threads with all the others who are genuinely following their deepest impulses. And a mushroom may well appear in the above ground. This mushroom might take the form of an actual art piece, or it might take the form of a new movement, or a new consciousness even, and the world above can see this mushroom and probably will begin to commodify it. But what they cannot see is this incredible network of underground threads.

I love this image of a counter-cultural underground, where artists are reaching out to collaborate or meet up, with great things emerging from that. There are several things that have emerged from the pilgrimage or that are linked to it, such as the 2021 collaborative zine Bodge, published by Liverpool Arts Lab. Another example is the F23 podcast, whose choice of guests maps out more of these threads.

Later in the interview, Daisy explores how this culture can be nurtured, to produce even more mushrooms: not just by nurturing the mushrooms but by supporting “each individual thread’s trust in its own process”:

[I’m working on] finding and learning more and more mycelium-like ways of structuring any endeavours. That probably means moving away from authorship and the idea of the individual visionary.

Another image Daisy use is the imaginal cells in a caterpillar chrysalis, seeing the creatives around her as part of a larger transformation (“everyone I meet is an extraordinary genius these days”). The body of the caterpillar resists the imaginal cells during the early stages of metamorphosis, but eventually enough appear to take the process forward.

For me it’s a really hopeful perspective because it also allows for some compassion for the reactionary forces. Might we be able to bless the dinosaurs? Could they simply be holding the old body steady in the best way they know how whilst we imaginal cells find each other?

Speaking to Daisy in person, she is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead for the world. Visions like this mycelium network are the sort of thing we need to help us through the future.

I’ve focussed on Daisy’s part in this interview because I’ve been thinking about similar things recently. Kate Alderton’s discussion of dreaming is also inspiring, and her The Dream-Fishing society is an important part of the mycelic network, providing new ways to encounter and interpret the world.

Holiday Wardrobe

I recently had a story of mine, Holiday Wardrobe, read by actor Jennifer Aries at the London Liar’s League event. It’s about a disappointing holiday in a magical kingdom.

It’s particularly exciting to have a story selected by the League, as I get to hear my work performed by someone else. When I’m editing, I read my work out and edit it until the text seems to flow perfectly. Another person will take the same text and draw out different pauses and emphasis. It’s an interesting experience.

This is actually my second appearance at Liar’s League, the first one being in 2008, when my story Eat at Lovecraft’s was read by Becky Hands-Wicks. I’ve sent about half a dozen pieces over the 14 years since then, but this is the first one to be selected. Liar’s League is an amazing event, and I’m excited about submitting more in the future.

Monthnotes: May 2022

I did a lot during May and, looking back, it seems to have lasted a really long time. I started with a trip to Stratford to see Tom, which included a surprise boat ride. There were day trips to York and Blackpool, as well as a couple of hard days hiking, walking the Pennine Way between Malham and Ponden. I made a trip to Scarborough for Chillercon, which was inspiring, although travelling back to Halifax on the Sunday was complicated.

I also made my first trip to Brighton since moving, where I saw Rosy’s new show, Musclebound. She’s talked about this over the last few years and it was felt both strange and exciting to finally see the show. It’s an excellent piece, and I can’t wait to see what people make of it on tour. It was lovely to catch up with lots of friends but, even so, it was returning to Halifax that felt like coming home.

May has also been the most sociable month I’ve had since the pandemic started. I went on a couple of Ramblers’ walks, and attended Tod Writers and the UFO meet. I also finally made it to Halifax’s spoken word night Turn the Page, which was a lovely, warm community. The Centre for Folklore, Myth and Magic has opened in Todmorden and I visited for a talk on the UFO meet. I also had my friend Sophie come to stay. All this social activity was tiring, but it feels like I’m settling up here.

I’ve done more walking this month, which I suspect is down to the longer days. I walked a total of 380,559 steps, which makes a daily average of 12,276. My longest daily total was on the Pennine Way from Malham. Having been so busy, I managed only one fast day, but managed to lose about half a pound through sensible portion control.

I’m feeling a lot happier with my writing. Having hemmed and hawed, I’ve established a proper flow to my work. This involves new stories being submitted, as well as catching up with my backlog, and I sent out 18 pieces this month – more than ever before. Sending out the stories felt very positive. I wrote two new pieces of flash fiction – one about crypto-currencies and the other about a holiday, and I’m delighted that the latter was accepted by Liar’s League. I also have 2-3 booklets close to finishing, so something new will be published in June or July.

I read a lot in May. I’m not sure how I ended up finishing ten books, but it was a good mix. Among the highlights were:

  • Andrew McCloy’s The Pennine Way was a fascinating overview of the trail and its history.
  • Amy Liptrot’s The Instant was vivid and enjoyable, but could have been longer.
  • Plain Bad Heroines by emily m. danford was a compelling character-based gothic.
  • Bad Actors by Mick Herron was a fun, easy read but with less of the spark of the earlier books in the series.
  • Despite his reputation, I enjoyed Johann Hari’s new book Stolen Focus. Although it could have done with more fact-checking (at one point it mentioned an “85-page newspaper”), but its discussion of social media’s effects was striking.
  • A Libertarian Walks into a Bear was recommended by Tom. What happens when a group of small-government libertarians take over a town with a bear problem?
  • I finished William S. Burroughs vs the Qu’ran by Michael Muhammed Knight the same day that I learned Hakim Bey had died. Knight’s book is a transgressive and likely-blasphemous look at his muslim faith, which starts as a biography of Bey. Knight abandons the problem because he cannot find a way around Bey’s disturbing and problematic views. Knight’s writing is excellent about his membership of the Five-Percent Nation. It’s a messy, difficult book, and one of the most provocative things I’ve read in years.
  • Chums by Simon Kuper was heralded by some good newspaper excerpts. The book looks at how 80s Oxford has influenced the current state of the UK. Kuper blames the ascendancy of a shallow, bombastic Oxford-style for the current problems in the country.

I’ve not watched many TV shows or films. Pentaverate looked promising, but ended up being crude rather than witty. Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness was the usual Marvel-by-numbers: entertaining but not worth thinking too much about. I started watching Obi Wan Kenobi until it was obvious it wasn’t going to be as good as The Mandalorian (the only good Star Wars spin-off since 1999). The best thing I saw was South Korean mediaeval zombie thriller, The Kingdom; both epic and creepy, I’m taking a short break before Season Two rather than wolfing it down in one go. I’m now rewatching Dispatches frome Elsewhere which I started earlier this year and didn’t finish. I think I’m enjoying the early episodes even more a second time. The acting is phenomenal and delivers a script which could easily have felt hokey.

That state of the country has been depressing recently. Johnson seems to have evaded any censure from the Sue Gray report, while Starmer finds himself tangled up in the blowback from it. It’s a pretty good metaphor for parliamentary politics in general: Starmer makes good, clear points in PMQs, only for Johnson to sweep them aside. It’s depressing that this is the best we can do as a country. I’ve been grateful for the light relief of the Vardy/Rooney trial.

Looking back, May was quite a month. Socialising so much has made me nervous about infection, but I seem to have been OK. June looks like it could be at least as much fun.