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After being asked to make this talk available, I have opened a SoundCloud account and thanks to the excellent Chad, have an audio recording of the session available. You can get an exclusive first ever reading of my new novel WIP there as well, but that is not the focus of this post and so this will be my one and only plug of a thing some distance from more tangible existence at this point.

And so, here is some kind of transcript of the talk I gave on April 21, 2019!

I introduced myself, but most of that stuff is available via older posts here or on social media pages elsewhere, so I’ll try not to repeat that one too much. And then I got on to the main focus of the talk, which I framed around answering some questions which came up from an older discussion I had. These were:

  • Why was this such a strong episode?
  • What good things did the show achieve with this episode?
  • Does it succeed in its aims?
  • Which events from the episode were true?

I also had a sub-category I nominated as ‘F.A.Q.s’ because they were some of the criticisms I saw a lot. And I guess didn’t agree with. So I used them to assist with the talk! They went thus:

  • ‘But what about that Quantum Leap episode?
  • ‘This is bad sci-fi’
  • ‘The villain was rubbish’
  • ‘The message was a little heavy-handed’
  • ‘The message was simplistic’

Before getting into it, I mentioned two facts about the airing of the episode that I found important to note. First, that it was initially aired in early October 2018, which happened to fall within Black History Month UK. The second, on that same note, was despite that, this was one of the episodes clearly commissioned with the US audience in mind as well. The main event of course was one which resonated internationally. Needless to say, I pointed out then, and do again now, that there will be spoilers for the episode Season 11, Episode 3, ‘Rosa’. I also pointed out that as the main spoiler was that the real-life event went ahead, I would note that there are probably worse spoilers to be caught out with.

So Let’s Get on the Bus…

Rosa bus

The episode opens in 1943, Montgomery, Alabama. If you ever wanted an ideal example for an opening chapter setting the scene, this is it. It answers several of the questions in and of itself straight away. I invited the audience to take a look at the bus, how it’s set up, how deliberately oppressive the entire scene looks. And to take a good look at that driver too. That first couple of minutes shows the systematic racism Rosa has to face just to get on the bus, let alone find a seat, let alone sit on it. It sets a mood for the audience immediately. And the first true and accurate details are in effect here. She deliberately sat in a ‘white’ seat in order to pick up her purse. (Thanks, E.K!)

The next scene shifts 12 years later, in 1955, exactly the same place. The team find their initial premise for investigation in the way of rogue Artron energy, a similar emission to that the TARDIS gives out. But it can’t be them, of course; they’ve only just arrived. In the town, a white couple are seen walking with the woman dropping a glove. Ryan attempts to give this back to her. He is rewarded for his efforts with a hard slap to the face.

Are you paying attention yet?

That’s what is being asked of you, dear audience member at this point. It also doesn’t break the Fourth Wall, rather than dragging you through it. Whether you like it or not now, you are one of the team members. Which you identify with most is up to you, but there’s no going back now.

Rosa Dr and Friends.jpg
Watch how they each react. And very soon, it is down to Rosa herself to rescue them with some fast talking. She knows the ‘rules’. She knows her place. Ryan doesn’t. This sets up the first seed of outsiders, of passing privilege and gives an opportunity to tell the story of Emmett Till’s murder.

Krasko
It’s just after that in which the ‘villain’ rocks up. He seems to have an ‘everyman’ air about him, which is inherently unusual, as that is so often attributed to more heroic protagonists. Although the Doctor notes the tech he has acquired, she also does something quite subtle and important throughout the episode, which is to label him ordinary, nothing special, from the start. She constantly does it when he’s around. And he is not important to our audience education either. So we’ll get back to that.

Graham and Grace

While the team our pooling their knowledge of where they are, the others find themselves amazed that Ryan doesn’t know who Parks is. ‘She’s the bus woman, right?’ he states. ‘The first black woman to ever drive a bus.’ It’s a strong impact point because not only is that not true, but Rosa wasn’t even the first black woman to have made the protest that she had.

We’ll come back to that later. Because a second interesting point comes up very shortly afterwards. Grandfather Graham responds with, ‘Your nan would have a fit right now. How could you have been in a class named after the woman and not know who she is?’  He has learned all about Rosa Parks from his deceased wife Grace which we discover he did very early in their relationship. The true brilliance of this comes from something not mentioned in the episode. Something I learned answers his own question in a way by offering a question back. The answer being, ‘how do you, a British bus driver, not bring up the Bristol Bus Boycotts of 1963 here? Or at any point during the episode?’

bristol-bus-boycott-1963

Yas even says, ‘her arrest started a boycott of the buses in Montgomery.’ Even this doesn’t trigger that knowledge with Graham. But this is surprisingly understandable. I had only heard of it relatively recently myself, and if you didn’t already know, I’m within a demographic of people who would have found it incredibly beneficial to have found out about this at school.

Their investigation takes them into a cafe, and with it, further direct discrimination. ‘We don’t serve Negroes’ – the waitress rather venomously snipes at Ryan. Who responds:
‘Good. Cos I don’t eat them.’ The line has been spoken by and attributed to several 20th century figures including one Muhammad Ali, so it is great to have been positioned here!

That same waitress assumes Yasmin is Mexican, so she  gets the same refusal of service and ‘othered’ but the subtle trick being played here is that there is a delay on focus until after they go for Ryan. It’s a second use of passing privilege but this time nuanced differently into tiers of racism as a construct.

Then very shortly after, the Doctor, notably having a female presenting incarnation for the first time ever, observes, ‘it’s easy for me here. It’s more dangerous for you.’ It’s a clever placement of words when unpacked. Followed by yet another: ‘You can walk away from all this.’ To which the response comes:
Ryan: ‘Rosa Parks can’t.’
Yas: ‘Rosa Parks doesn’t’.

Who is in the best place to be able to walk away from this of everyone? Who is largely ignored by the public of Montgomery unless he chooses to interact? That would be Graham. Even though he is by definition also an outsider here, as a foreign visitor also out of his time. His privilege as a white male is well highlighted here, that he is the only one who *doesn’t* talk in that particular part of the scene, and when he does next, the one thing he mentions is about being peckish. It’s the most minor issue anyone has in the scene and is cleverly highlighted as someone who can see and hear what is going on but doesn’t deal with the impact of it here.

We move on. And oh, look, it’s this guy again…

Krasko and Rosa

He encounters Rosa in a form of confrontation, but we the audience might well wonder why all he does, all he seems able to do, is to act in a menacing manner. He puts on a local accent and blends in with the locals. To an extent. The Doctor calls him out again on being basic, and also rubbishes his equipment, dismissing the Vortex manipulator as ‘Cheap and nasty time travel.’ She really rubs that one in, in fact. And some time into the show, we don’t even have a name for him, or any idea of what he’s really up to. There is *literally* nothing special about him. Again, this is kind of the point.

“What do we know about Rosa Parks?”

Yas studies

A well-placed exposition scene sets up exactly what it needs to. Like Yasmin mentioning the part about the claim of her not standing from being tired from work despite the fact that this was a falsehood:

“People always said that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” – Rosa Parks in ‘My Story’

It’s also a hint of one of the ways we know about the level of organisation behind Rosa’s protest. Again, we’ll get back to this!

Mason_(Rosa)

We move on to a real mix of dangerous suspense and dark humour when the police come knocking at the door of the motel room they are using as a hideout. One might note a writer’s acknowledgement of previous Doctor/companion relationship dynamics because they play the moment for cringeworthy awkwardness between Graham and The Doctor. Which is also funny because of items of relationships between previous Doctors and ‘companions’ of their time. Note, Season 11 has quite specifically moved from speaking of ‘companions’ and now goes for ‘friends’ where possible.

motel.jpg

So after that scene we have what I consider a pivotal piece of dialogue between Ryan and Yasmin. They’re out of time, but what we heard from Ryan about 1955 is something I can tell you I’ve heard and still hear far more recently.

 

Yas and Ryan

 

The entire conversation serves to reinforce an important point already made. Whoever that guy in the leather jacket is, he really ain’t the Big Bad. He just serves it. It’s much bigger than any one individual, it’s all around, and it’s not restricted to that particular point in time. Not at all.

Yas responds perfectly too. Her experiences are remarkably similar. Watch the scene if you haven’t already.

motel opener

“This isn’t history here, Yaz. We’re hiding behind bins…I’m having to work so hard to keep my temper every second here. I could have slapped that guy back there,as soon as we arrived. Thank God my nan taught me how to keep my temper… Never give them the excuse.’” – Ryan

Blake

 

Remember him? First scene. Bus driver. His name’s James Blake. ‘Blake the Snake’ as Graham lets us know. Blake drove both on the 1943 day in the opener and also on the day of Rosa’s protest. So this is another accurate detail. And in the latter case, a deliberate choice of driver to target. And so it’s right and proper that the Doctor and team revisit their own version of that scene. It gives you, audience member, another chance to look around the systematic oppression. Around the layout of the bus. Around the structure of who gets to sit where, if at all.  The Doctor and Graham just sit down.  Ryan gets a perfect, however understated line. ‘This is me. On the back of the bus.’ And it’s an understandably despondent statement which has made its way into generally villainous parlance since. Yas has a key spot here though. Where does she sit? They make the point that they still assume her to be Mexican, but the lets her on at the front. There is media out there to suggest it’s likely she’d be in the same position as Ryan in actual fact, but that would have robbed us of a chance to revisit the passing privilege mentioned earlier. The whole scene is a bit of a revision summary to see if the audience are keeping up, in fact.

Another tiny but critical point in the scene order is that after Ryan’s defeated observation, Graham, mutters, “I’m so ashamed.” Then louder, “You shouldn’t have to do this.” It shows he has come on a way in understanding since the initial lament of absent food.

Then the Doctor agrees and apologises to Ryan, despite it being part of their plan at this point. That’s important. But I’d implore in that scene observing Yasmin. Watch her face, where she looks, the camera’s emphasis. The turn order of all of this happening is stunningly executed. “The driver let me on at the front of the bus,” she says. “What does that mean for where I sit…’does ‘coloured’ just mean “black” in 1955?’

Then look at Ryan’s face. It’s as if he’s just had his soul ripped out.

End of the revision session: a perfectly delivered spot for the purpose of pointing out the absurdity of race as a construct and a selective  convenience for those who choose to wield it. And finally, Rosa gets a line of explanation for something us, the audience, may not have already known. “Ma’am, if you keep sitting there, we’re all going to have to move.” All of that in less than one screen minute. Not easy to do at all.

 

Krasko

26 minutes in and we STILL don’t know this guy’s name! We do find out he’s a ‘Stormcage’ escapee (sounds like something else, but we’ll skirt over that) as his prison tattoo gives away.

He casually mentions that he was there for murdering 2000 people. It’s not even just a lack of remorse, he deliberately understates and then revels in the full extent of his confession. The date of writing is May 2019. And that admission strikes shockingly poignant. Do we get to call him a terrorist? Does he even deserve to be named? I’ll leave that to you to decide. Just before the 29 minute mark though, he makes more effort to reveal his motivations a little more. The audience also find out that he hails from the 79th century and there are still nasty racist folks out there. For him though, his era  “…is where things started to go wrong.” We finally have a name for him though, Krasko. “Don’t like it,” says the Doctor, dismissing him again. We talked about this already.

He doesn’t say how they go wrong. But he does at least critically let us know what he’s about.

“I’ve had a little time to think, and I realised that tiny actions change the world.”

“History changes when tiny things don’t go to plan.”

Compare this to a later quote from Blake speaking to Graham at the pool table.

“Just the way it is. No matter how much they complain. Ain’t gonna’ change.”

Krasko and Ryan

 

Ryan’s fortunes take a turn for the better after he has suffered so much up to now. It starts with yet another very clever but super subtle note. He follows Rosa, uncomfortable at the thought of doing so (this whole thing is a conversation for another day). However, he gets to go somewhere very important. Important for him, and for the audience getting to know some people in that room. That, there, is Dr Martin Luther King who probably needs no introduction if you have read down this far. The other two male African-American males in that room might need a bit more lead in. Rosa’s husband is just referred to as ‘Parks’ in this scene.  Rosa was an active member of the NAACP who did lots of secretarial work for them and also attended communist meetings with her husband. (thanks, E.K!)

Ryan and Martin Luther King

Fred Gray gets an introduction too. We don’t get much about him, but he’s done some big work in the legal profession, for the Civil Rights movement and is definitely another true element of the story.

Fred Gray

Ryan is quite literally in The Room Where It Happens. If you see how much his eyes light up, I can tell you I’d have behaved exactly the same as he did over there.

Rosa and Husband

Yas – ‘Everything here’s a fight for you. Don’t you get tired? What keeps you going?’

Rosa – ‘Promise of tomorrow.’

Something we do find out once he takes his proper position is that despite the Doctor’s many put-downs, Krasko isn’t stupid. It’s easy for us to call those with ideological differences stupid. But doing that doesn’t prevent them at their most harmful. To deal with his damage, The Doctor and her crew have to be smarter. Time and again, he proves to be enough of a step ahead that they all have to react to his multiple adjustments. And that’s just it – the main antagonist he may not be, but nor is the Doctor here to save the day. She and her team are just there to make sure the person who is there to do it, does.

This prompts my most direct response to the earlier question claiming the Quantum Leap episode, [S1 Episode 7: The Color of Truth]  was better. Before we get into bigger comparisons and my big, ‘hmmm, I dunno…‘ spot, a simple narrative difference is that Sam’s entire remit differs from the Doctor’s in that he interferes with and changes history in almost every episode. Critically for this episode of Doctor Who, all the Doctor does is ensure this essential point in time (note, *not* a fixed point in time such as Vesuvius in The Fires of Pompeii, S4 Ep2) goes ahead. Vesuvius_Erupts

It’s more of a lynchpin point under threat in the episode. That for me struck very poignant. We find ourselves at a crossroads. We have the power to fix this. We also have the ability to break it even more. It is changeable. Krasko knows this. Ask me again about whether or not he’s a good villain?

Ryans_Heroes_Highlight_-_Episode_3_Doctor_Who_BBC_America (2)

What that allows is for Ryan’s day, already massively improving, to be given yet another major boost: the opportunity to exact retribution against the one person he can. To do this, it is interesting that Ryan gets to deliver Krasko’s reckoning. He gives Krasko one last chance to cease before he does.

Krasko of course refuses. “And your kind won’t get above themselves…stay in your place.” That’s really quite interesting, because it isn’t a statement followed with anything immediately contemporary; it sows a seed of hope to a reader, which we were talking about.

And…AND, Ryan calls back to the scene with Yas and his keeping his temper. He is a stone cold MF as he delivers quiet, stylish justice. And just like that, an anachronism sent back (in a touch of mild comedy again) to the settings dialled back as far as they can go. Maybe the Stone Age.

And so finally, back to the bus one last time. Were the Doctor and Friends were part of the deus-ex-machina just by sitting on a bus? No, not really–they were just sitting on the bus. They could have been anybody.

Graham refuses the call.gif

Ryan is an important component and once again, Graham gets a suitably poignant spot. ‘I don’t wanna be part of this’. Again, that’s to the audience, I think, to some extent. And note, he doesn’t get to run away and think about the sandwich he didn’t have this time around. They do not miss a beat with the episode cues, I think.

In The Moment, Rosa makes eye contact with Blake before settling on the exact form of her protest. Which wasn’t planned in advance. I noted at the talk that I had been lucky enough to have caught Tommie Smith give a talk last year, and one of the things he spoke about was that on the very morning of his own iconic protest, he didn’t know exactly how that protest was going to happen, just that there was going to be one. Family providing gloves, Black Panthers being there; it all came together. Tommie noted it as a critical moment during a time when a number of factions all ultimately were heading in a similar direction, but couldn’t quite agree on the path or ultimate destination. They chose particular symbolisms.

The personal element seeded earlier was important, as was the NAACP gunning directly for Blake in full knowledge of his previous history with Parks. The staging is important.

Blake – “If you don’t stand, I’m going to have you arrested.”

Parks – “You may do that”.

True to the event.

And in case you were wondering who Tommie Smith is, you probably already know. Him, John Carlos, and Peter Norman. They all played a big part in history.

Panthers

I was saying at a different programme item that I was really happy that Doctor Who dialled back to its essence in Season 11 as a children’s/family show, and I believe the episode was covered with a great deal of maturity. There are some things that we could argue all day long on regarding whether some parts could have done differently and how, but it’s important to remember the episode was never written as a final word on Rosa Parks or the Civil Rights movement. Use it as quite the opposite, in fact, in that it is a great place to start a discourse. Got some inaccuracies you want to check up on? Fine, by all means. But I think the things they may have tweaked for reasons of a 50 minute narrative were very much for the right reasons.

The brave stand of Rosa Parks is one which will be long remembered in history.  Specifically chosen as the face of this part of the movement by the NAACP and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). They’re still fighting even now. She wasn’t the first, and a matter with such protests is not knowing exactly how they’re going to go. –We remember the famous images now, but they started off in a very different way.  Rosa was chosen. James Blake was chosen. And between these things, history was made. You’ll never forget her name. It is the first that will likely come to you when talking about this bus boycott. And the bit about the asteroid is also true.

Asteroid
But before you leave here, I would invite you to remember some other names. Take a look at these faces. Aurelia Browder, , Jeanetta Reese, Susie McDonald:

Susie McDonald

Mary Louise Smith:

Mary Louise Smith

and Claudette Colvin:

220px-Claudette_Colvin

…were amongst the names of the first to sit down protest on the Montgomery buses.
So, say what you like about it in terms of how you thought it went, but the important thing is to be talking about it. About these things. And maybe that way it brings in a new set of people to be able to do stuff about it too.

Some final things:

Remember what I mentioned about Quantum Leap earlier?Not going to go into that much longer but there are other reasons that the episode comparison doesn’t really fit, well, it’s not _actually_ a Rosa Parks story, for one. It’s probably closer to Driving Miss Daisy. Let’s not get into that now, eh?

QLRace

Besides, why can’t both exist without the need for comparison? Different things.
What I will say is that it was recorded 20 years ago. The film, Detroit, was released in 2017, set in 1967. So despite Yas and Ryan stating it will get better, we’re still needing to talk about it. So I’m not buying that ‘the villain was rubbish’ statement at all. If you want to hear how Rosa is the hero of the story, there is an excellent article on that one too.

Also, did you know that Malorie Blackman, Mark Tonderai and Segun Akinola (all pictured below, are between them the first black writer, director, and composer to work together on a Doctor Who episode in its 55-year run? 

If not, you do now!

 

I have some quotes from friends in response to some of the earlier questions too:

“The fact that the villain is from the future, and has explicit racist motivations, was a nice touch – it helps re-enforce the fact that this is still a problem (as well as the conversations the companions have).”
“Great history lesson wrapped in entertainment. We all loved it.”
“One tiny thing in the episode that had a larger-than-expected impact was that while I’d kind of understood the segregated seating… the fact there were actually two doors I’d never twigged before.”
“I think the directness was necessary. It is sad, uncomfortable, unacceptable part of reality now, and it was much, much worse then. I see no reason why to be subtle about it.”
“I thought it was very clever how they had it so the Doctor and team’s job were kept in the background to keep history on course. It meant that Rosa was the Hero of the show, and didn’t belittle or take away from her actions by having the Doctor actively step in.”
“Bad sci-fi? It was excellent sci-fi! It examined alien experience within our own world, examined levels of oppression, had a bad guy working around artificially implanted restrictions, Ryan making a morally questionable but understandable choice, potentially lethal environment that couldn’t be fought via conventional means. Honestly I watched it and was reminded of stories Star Trek wanted to tell and tried to tell but fell short.”

So there you are. Until next time, have fun and play nice!

Opening Credits

Well first of all you’ll notice I’m doing this on my rarely-used-these-days blog page. Perhaps that’s a sign of something in itself? Probably not. Try not to read too much into it.

So 2018 then? Well, I’ve got very mixed feelings about it, which I’ll get to with a bit of preamble. The main thing is that it showed signs of improvement in the final quarter, which I need to carry into 2019 at full speed. But to really nail down where I’m at with it, I guess I’ve got to talk a little about the last three. You haven’t seen me much on this blog page, and I think I can briefly explain why.

Anyone around me in 2015 will know that it was the kind of nightmare for me one can only wade through, and truly kicked of a patch of total awfulness, some of which remains under repair. Mostly autopilot through that and into 2016, which was somehow arguably worse. 2017 was not great by any means and ended on a rough note. That led to starting 2018 with a Grand Tour. If you ever need anyone to stress test your suitcases I’m probably a good bet. Think I got through four of them in total.

I spent most of January in Stoke recovering from a bout of fatigue I didn’t even know I had until I worked out the headache and entire days in bed *might* have been related to this. Thanks to Farah and Edward, Miles and Ivan, I got through to the next stage. I spent some time in 1987 in an excellent LARP I managed to attend because I have amazing friends. I have more thanks to that weekend, not to mention a fresh spin on With or Without You, We Are the Champions (for the first time this year) and We’re Not Gonna Take It . These days the Void is conversational when screaming into it, which is a reasonably positive development. I had another year whereby I was not exactly prominent in LARP areas but got to some great stuff.

The tour itself ended up being a lot of bouncing between London and Manchester thanks to a bunch of great people keeping me moving. I’ve had a great base in the last few months thanks to two in particular. And I’m never short of pet company either.

So the less good things so I can get them out of the way. Had a miserable year of job hunting frustration overall. Biggest interview I had did everything they could beforehand to ensure I was wracked by nerves, which isn’t me in interviews at all. The real kick though has been that on at least four occasions, I got as far as interviews, and then the employer disappeared off the face of the earth as far as I was concerned, no matter what approach I took to chasing up. I’ll politely say other aspects of my life have been remarkably similar without getting into detail.

Also, just as I built up a bit of writing momentum in the second half of the year, I had it rather dramatically swatted away by something out of my hands. I have a couple of potential solutions in place but only time will tell how that one pans out. However I’ve a good chunk of the Grenshall Manor Chronicles book 3 drafted, and I think the finished work will be fine once I have polished it to what it needs to be. I had plans for a fourth book, but they have altered quite considerably. More on that some other time. Get me a drink first.

And one particular loss hit me very hard this year, and a few others in one of my little gaming community. A really good person gone far too soon, but certainly not forgotten there. We’re seeing to that.

2018 is a year I’ll remember for letting go of some rather unexpected things I was close to. But the saying goes, as one door closes, another opens. I’ve had a bunch just slam in my face as I was walking too, but in a few cases, just end of an era, or an enforced change I didn’t necessarily see coming. It’s okay; just required deep breaths and a bit more of a plan going ahead.

So, good things. I have managed to do pretty well for conventions this year. Eastercon in Harrogate was great, though I have unfinished business at Betty’s Tea House as I didn’t make it while I was visiting, and also the guest house I stayed in was fantastic, complete with fresh baked bread at breakfast each morning and a brilliant room mate. I’ll be honest, he’s a regular for me on that front and we’ve been friends just about half my life now, but that’s just an additional bonus point, David.

Nine Worlds I’ll mention because I’m pretty sure I had a great time, great company and I have learned so very much in the programme role I worked on in the two years I was doing it, and made yet more excellent friends. I step down from that spot happy in the knowledge that I have some great stories to tell from there, and experiences that I can take elsewhere to other capacities. It’s been emotional.

And Fantasycon, whereby I am one of the Redcloak volunteer staff, as well as happy panellist. I’ve got myself a little con family there, which is just amazing and far beyond any possible expectations on my part. I’m certainly looking forward to the 2019 adventure there!

Deadlands convention counts as well. I wasn’t threatening to go up the Doomtown world rankings at any point there but I did run an RPG, I think the only one I’ve run this year, and loved it. You can do an awful lot with a good bunch of players. Plus, I got to play cards. Lots. More of this please. Oh, and UK Games Expo. ‘Survived the Bear Pit.’

 

A huge surprise was getting along to the amazing Adventure X convention, which totally rekindled my love of gaming just by hanging out with some great folk involved in the industry. Maybe…

There were a couple of other LARPs, both of which down, once more, to really lovely folk who helped me to get along. The Danger Market took me back to the 60s as a spy, and cosmetic factory employee, in one of the most fun opening acts I’ve had to an event yet. Players believed I was crew for quite a while, so evidently did my job! Most recently, I attended the second run of Returned, which was wonderful, terrifying and every other kind of entertaining in between.

2019 then?

Well, I don’t have a huge amount of power to poke the things blowing up around us all at the moment, but behind the scenes prodding is something I occasionally do very well, provided I can find the right buttons. So I can assure you I’ll be looking. MPs have been spoken to, petitions signed, and other letters written as well. I might not talk about it that much but something affecting us all so also doesn’t find itself easily ignored.

I haven’t had the space to set myself any goals or targets in recent years: once I’ve stuck at the top of the list, ‘GET THROUGH IT’, that pretty much took up the entire page. Hopefully personal focus will move slightly away from emergency survival mode protocols and more into featured activities, though thanks to the loveliness of others I have still managed to turn up to things. This part has a good schedule already, with Worldcon being held in Dublin and having my fond enthusiasm for some time now, and of course more than delighted to don my Red Cloak once more. I intend to play more cards, continue to hang out with excellent people and all of that fine stuff.

However note that I’ve taken on at least one small writing project for life after book 3, which you will see in some capacity in 2019, sorry for keeping you all waiting, but I can assure you it’ll be worth it in the end. I’ve laid the groundwork for some new projects, including a different urban fantasy universe, something a little more historical; something a little different, and a more space-shooty thing which I’m more than enthused about and will be delighted if sees the light of day. I’m also going to be jumping on more short stories because I enjoyed the bug I got for a few I did this year. Didn’t get published unfortunately, but at least they got out somewhere. Long-ago followers will know how much of a big thing that is given my third paragraph on this post. Oh, yeah—I’ve taken on editing an anthology as well, which you will know much more about as 2019 unfolds. Unexpected? Yes. Exciting? You bet.

And as well as new faces, I’ve made some contact with some of my classic friends too. This is on one hand long overdue and on another, timely. You’ll see!

So here I am, raising a glass to what has gone, to the wonderful people I have, and to what is to come. There are some gritted teeth in there of course, but if I can get half of what I’m planning to done, I’m already eager to give you that review this time next year! This is before we even get into the thing I’m enquiring about that some of you already know about.

Good luck to all of you out there who have read this, and thank you for everyone who has had my back up to now. There aren’t enough words to express quite how much I appreciate it.

It’s funny how the lightest of gestures can become something much bigger whether by accident or design.

For me, the last two years have felt somewhat lost to me for the most part, with personal circumstances meaning at times anything beyond getting through the week in one piece was pretty much off the table. Things remain off-track, but have at least settled enough to take a few deep breaths and work out where to swim to next.

In the last few months, some pretty good things have turned up, including a chance to portray a fascinating historical figure in front of a museum audience, but that is a story I shall revisit another time. Earlier this week, I had something crop up I could only consider a massive opportunity, but of course it was then that the weight of self-doubt landed on my head. So I decided to do what any person with such reservations would do. I took to my personal Facebook page, of course.

The response was…pretty good. And further to that, I’ve seen several friends ready to Do The Thing, or already doing it, this week. So it felt like something I should probably at least partially look after, or champion for the time being. Here goes!

First of all, I would like to thank Emily’s Diary, for bringing this wonderful and encouraging tiny potato into my life. It’s always handy to remember when one forgets.

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Secondly, I should probably stick down the list of known planned attendances this year, and also planned activities which might affect the year’s movements. Should there be anything you readers see that you either think I should probably be at, or would perhaps like to see me at, you need but let me know and I’ll add/check the diary/tell you I’m double booked at earliest convenience. And of course, some of these will be subject to change or cancellation on my part.

Current Writing plans:

  • Finish and release Winter Storm. This is a priority task, having not managed in 2015 or 2016 for enough reasons to cover a very personal blog post which I’m not going to be doing. However, know that words are happening again, which is the start you always need with stuff like this. I am also doing my damnedest to make sure it’s worth the wait for you all.
  • Should that succeed, I do have the first of a new series to draft. I won’t be done with the Grenshall Manor Chronicles by any means, but this thing is something I’ve been talking about and sketching ideas for when I’ve had five minutes of late. It’s a very different setting from what I’ve done so far, and it needs to happen (at least for me). I won’t get ahead of myself, but if I got this far, I’d be very happy.
  • There is a possibility of short stories in and around this time. No promises to myself or others, but if the opportunity presents itself, both in terms of my time and a place to put it/them, then activity shall happen.

Provisional planned convention attendances:

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  • LarpCon –3-5 March 2017, Leicestershire
  • Eastercon– 14-17 April 2017, Birmingham
  • Nerd East July 3 2017, Durham
  • Nine Worlds—4-6 August 2017, London
  • Worldcon 75 –9-13 August 2017, Helsinki
  • Sandbach Author Signing Event 23 September 2017, Sandbach, Cheshire
  • FantasyCon 29 September—1 October 2017, Peterborough
  • Octocon—6-8 October 2017, Dublin

Third, and finally, as previously stated, my task appears to be to wave and encourage people to Do The Thing wherever appropriate and/or possible. I shall start here. And know that of course the definition of Doing The Thing is an intentionally broad one. It doesn’t have to be rulership of a global power. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes there are days when making it out of bed should be celebrated as the triumph they are. Only you yourself will know what you can do, and want to get done, on a given day. But know this: I’m going to do my best to be there for you in spirit, and if you want to tell us about The Thing you are doing, please feel free to comment away below!

I’ll also designate this post as a permitted spot for getting hold of me and checking on progress with the things I have listed above for myself. Know that this isn’t necessarily an exhaustive list of missions I happen to have for the year, but it’s an important enough list for me all the same.

To those of you out there who are going for it, I wish you the very best of luck, and look forward to hearing tales of your victories and your valiant deeds.  I’m keen to have some to share with you, and also hopeful of adding more cool stuff to the list in future posts, should the year allow it.

Good luck, all! Go out there and shine. You’ve got this, one and all!

axe

P.S. If you got here already, you probably know about my other social media outlets, but in case you don’t:

Find me on Facebook as R A Smith

On Twitter: @RASmithPSL

Also Xchyler Publishing website:

And their Facebook page!

20161010_133254Oh, doesn’t time fly when you’re not paying attention, eh? You won’t have seen me much on here due to yet another lengthy state of flux. Now that I’m posting to say things are showing gradual signs of settling down now, I do have some fun announcements.

First thing: early tomorrow, I’m getting on a plane to Dublin as a guest for Octocon! This is a great honour for me, and I shall be on several panels in my time there. I’m very much looking forward to it!

Speaking of honour though, the following weekend sees me up in Leeds City Museum, performing a historical piece and portraying the amazing figure that is Walter Tull. If you’ve never heard of him, you’re probably not alone, but take some time to look up his story, I promise you will find it interesting at the very least. And I have a show on Saturday October 22nd entitled Know My Name for this precise reason. It’s Black History Month in the UK, and Walter Tull has a significant place in modern history. The images you see are from a field trip I took a few days ago to Sixfields, Northampton, of the memorial to him raised in 1999. But don’t just take my word for it, look him up! Big thanks to History’s Maid, by the way, for pointing this my way, so show some love!

Finally, Book 3 of the Grenshall Manor Chronicles is in progress, though of course has been the victim of significant delays on my part, for which I can only apologise. The upside to it is that things I have come across in the delay time may well find their way into the book, and will only help things along. Let’s just say Tull’s story isn’t entirely unrelated.

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It bee-gins…

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For those of you attending, I’ll be on the following panels, by way of reminder:

Dealing with Anxiety in Fandom

Friday 14:30 – 15:30, Room 7 (Hilton Deansgate)

Many fans experience anxiety, whether as part of their daily life, in recurring bouts or just for one period in their life. However often a fan experiences anxiety, managing this at conventions and in online communities is a major skill. In this session people who have found their own ways through the difficult process open up about their own experiences.

 

Manchester in Speculative Fiction

Sunday 10:00 – 11:00, Deansgate 2 (Hilton Deansgate)

We’re surrounded by the bricks and mortar of the city itself, but what about all the alternate, futuristic, fantastical, or not-quite there Manchesters we know from SF and fantasy?

Place, Identity, Story

Monday 13:00 – 14:00, Room 6 (Hilton Deansgate)

A story does not exist in a vacuum. Stories are shaped by (among other things) the people they happen to, and characters are shaped by (among other things) the places they inhabit. How do SF and fantasy explore the inter-relationship of place, identity, and story? Which SF protagonists are uniquely tied to their places, and which SF places only make sense when seen by specific protagonists?

If you’re terribly lucky, you might catch me helping out elsewhere. More likely though, you’ll catch me just wandering around the event. In which case, come say hi! I’ll be carrying those lovely business cards around, should you like one, and also will hopefully have a few copies of Oblivion Storm and Primal Storm available on the Newcon Press stand. They have a 5:30 pm book launch you should get to as well!

There is a readings open mic on Sunday at 17:30 that I can be at if people would like to hear me do a reading of one of the two books, but you’d have to let me know first!

And now, I shall begin the journey in to actually start doing these things! Enjoy whatever you are doing this weekend, and if you’re joining me, I won’t say no to a drink if you’re offering 🙂

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I feel as if I’m guest writing on my own page, I’ve been away so long. But it’s all been for important reasons. I wouldn’t say good, necessarily, because some of them weren’t, though certainly there were reasons. Enough upheaval has occurred to move me across the country and things haven’t decided to settle down yet by any means. But it’s important to take this positively, because thanks to the support you’ve all given me over this time, I feel like really good things are about to be happening. Actually, I can go one better, and show you that they are!

I meant to have this done in time for LarpCon, which I attended last month. A great venture, I can assure you it’ll be way different to every other con I go to this year. As well as  all the wonderful live action roleplaying stuff you can buy, see, or talk about, there were also professional wrestlers this year! And they were wonderful! Look at me enjoying myself with this lot! [EDIT: See how this went down with the local press here].

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From this, I did a talk, which I’ll be refining and redoing for a different audience when I return to Nerd East on the 11th of June. I promise you it’ll be a fun one—I mean, just look at some of the out-takes my friend D.A. Lascelles got for me!

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And by the way, you should check out his page anyway because it’s Vampire Month and you know you all want to. Remember I wrote for this last year?

This isn’t in order of upcoming events for me though. Next up is actually Mancunicon. Some of you who follow my Facebook page will already have seen my lovely bee T-shirt. . .

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. . .but I’ll be attending, am very excited about doing so, and on top of all that, have three panels I will be partaking in:

Dealing with Anxiety in Fandom

Friday 14:30 – 15:30, Room 7 (Hilton Deansgate)

Many fans experience anxiety, whether as part of their daily life, in recurring bouts or just for one period in their life. However often a fan experiences anxiety, managing this at conventions and in online communities is a major skill. In this session people who have found their own ways through the difficult process open up about their own experiences.

 

Manchester in Speculative Fiction

Sunday 10:00 – 11:00, Deansgate 2 (Hilton Deansgate)

We’re surrounded by the bricks and mortar of the city itself, but what about all the alternate, futuristic, fantastical, or not-quite there Manchesters we know from SF and fantasy?

Place, Identity, Story

Monday 13:00 – 14:00, Room 6 (Hilton Deansgate)

A story does not exist in a vacuum. Stories are shaped by (among other things) the people they happen to, and characters are shaped by (among other things) the places they inhabit. How do SF and fantasy explore the inter-relationship of place, identity, and story? Which SF protagonists are uniquely tied to their places, and which SF places only make sense when seen by specific protagonists?

 

In addition to that, I am hoping to be in the incredible Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Dungeons and Dragons game for authors! AND…I get to reunite for a while with some of my Radio Book Worm team for what I can assure you will be a great live show. You should tune in!

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And while I’m attending strictly as an audience member, I have made a written contribution (somewhat inspired by my Grenshall Manor experiences) to this innovative theatre production, Insomnia:

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The tickets are exceptional value at £8/£6 concessions, and it is happening this weekend, and the next! Go and see it if you get the chance, and if you can’t make that particular show, then it is also playing at the Brighton Fringe.

Oh yes – World Book Night 2016! I have been given books, and will be doing a thing, so watch this space!

WBN 2016

I suspect there will be other things this year I’ve either neglected to mention or not signed up for yet.  And the big question I’m sure you all have, is where is Book 3? Well Winter Storm is in progress, I can tell you that, but due to last year being last year, got quite horribly delayed. You should have been reading (and reviewing it in some cases) now, but yeah, last year happened. Also, you may have noticed that mentioning Winter in your titles is a delay affliction for bigger authors than me. I promise you, I won’t be as happy to have had any of the series finished than this one, and I will ensure it has been worth the wait. I’ve had some art commissioned especially, but I want you to see it nearer the time of completion, and have something fun to do with the reveal too. Good suggestions of course welcome!

That’s me for now, though I am definitely going to be blogging more regularly this year. I have a lot to keep track of, for a start!

 

I may be heavily side-tracked on my own posts, but the guest blogs are of course coming in thick and fast! Today we have another member of Team Xchyler about to launch the second in the series of the Kingdom City saga and some fine, fresh sci-fi for you all.

And so, without further ado, visitors to Omega W, I give you Mr Ben Ireland! Now to grill him for answers…

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How did you come up with the concept of your story?

Before I wrote books, I thought to myself “I want to write something, but it needs to be cool.” I decided that epic items, like swords, are cool. And then those epic items being needed for something completely unexpected. It was around the swords Fury and Serenity that the entire Kingdom City universe grew. Admittedly, it’s a much more manual thought process than I’ve had with most of my other story ideas; they usually just come to me. But I don’t think that Kingdom City is any less rich or exciting for that.

How did you come up with the title?

My little brother LOVES Dungeons & Dragons. Years before I called myself a writer, he was drawing a map for a campaign he was planning and I walked up behind him. He couldn’t think of a name for the capital city of the kingdom, so he called it Kingdom City. I thought that had an amazing ring to it so I stored it away for later use. Once you read the books, you’ll understand why they are subtitled Resurrection, and Revolt.

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What was the most surprising part of writing this book?

I was most surprised by how dark it was. I was always fascinated by things that were a little dark and gritty, so I set out to create something edgy. Once I was done and I reread the book, I was taken aback by how dark it had actually become. Reading the first chapter again after not seeing it for several months made me think ‘oh gee, I wrote that?’ I think darkness in art is important to help us see the light and good in life. Though I believe some authors take that too far. R.R Martin is a prime example. I feel that artists that write darkness simply because it’s “realistic” miss the point of art.

What was the hardest part of writing your book, and how did you overcome it?

Finding time! I love writing and I love telling stories. I haven’t experienced writer’s block, so to speak. My mind it brimming with stories and ideas and the fountain hasn’t run down, let alone run out. As a worker and a father I did the only thing I could do to find time. Sleep less. Some weeks I was going on three and a half hours a night when I had to.

What is your preferred writing genre?

I lean towards fantasy, especially urban fantasy. I get a rush when someone isn’t only smart enough to solve their problems, but they can also solve them with fire. Lots and lots of magically invoked fire.

Who is your favourite author? Who has most influenced your work?

Early on, I loved The Hobbit—it was the first big-kid book I read twice (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish was the first little-kid book I read more than once). I read a lot of Asimov growing up, too. Just prior to my writing really taking off, I fell in love with Harry Potter. JK’s world is so colourful and engaging it’s hard to not fall in love. Today I’m an avid fan of Harry Dresden. The engrossing characters and thoroughly conceived world that Butcher has created is something I’m constantly trying to emulate.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved creating. Probably the worst thing that happened to me is when I took a creative writing class in college. The professor told me that my story was the best thing he’d read “in a long time.” I’ve been spiralling since then. That story ended up being a scene of Kissed a Snake, in Xchyler’s A Dash of Madness short story anthology.

What is your writing drive? The power that keeps you going when your writing gets difficult?

My brain is full of story ideas and it hurts when I don’t let them out. Writing isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion.

What are some of your other published works?

Kingdom City: Resurrection (Kingdom City Book 1) 

And two short stories. Kissed a Snake in A Dash of Madness anthology, and Fairykin in Moments in Millennia .

What’s up next for you?

Kingdom City part3. Working title is Retribution. The original working title was Redemption, but that sounded way too optimistic for Kingdom City.  

Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know about you?

I want my readers to get to know me through my work. Please pick up any of my stories and see what you find.

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