Categories
movies personal writing

Why I love tick, tick… BOOM!

Murakami (image by wakarimasita)

Sometimes in life, you read or watch a piece of art that has a profound effect on you. For me, there’s been two, the first being The Wind up Bird Chronicle (and South of the Border, West of the Sun to a lesser extent), and it’s grim incorporation of magic realism and surrealism where the lines between real-life, imagination and memory are blurred so fantastically that you don’t know what is actually happening to the protagonist, Noburu. Thank you, Haruki Murakami, for influencing my writing style so heavily.

The other is tick, tick… BOOM!, directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, based on the life of Jonathan Larson, and expertly brought to life by lead actor Andrew Garfield. The latter, completely deserving of his Oscar nomination, is my personal choice to win this year (but then again, I’d have given it to him when he was nominated for Hacksaw Ridge).

Hacksaw Ridge (image from Netflix)

I’m going to be talking a lot about the plot of this movie in this article, so please go and watch the film if you haven’t already. It’s phenomenal, and I would hate to ruin some of the emotional moments for you. However, if you have seen it (or you don’t wish to heed my warnings), feel free to read ahead.

tick, tick… BOOM! is a special kind of film, and I don’t mean that lightly. It’s based on the late Jonathan Larson, of RENT fame, and his journey to get his musical Superbia picked up by a producer in New York City. Set in the early 1980’s, we follow Jonathan as he struggles to grasp with his upcoming 30th birthday, panicking at the thought that he’s wasted the last 8 years of his life writing Superbia, and that he’s chosen the wrong path by being a creative. All of this hinges on the workshop he has planned, this is his success or failure moment. This is all in comparison to his best friend Michael, who abandoned his own acting aspirations and now works a successful job at a corporate marketing agency.

The film does an excellent job at showing the stressful tightrope walk between creating art, having fulfilling relationships, and trying to keep yourself afloat by working, all at the same time. Creating is a full-time job, you never turn off, and sometimes it takes a toll living in your own world, not just to you, but for the people around you too.

For the majority of the movie, Jonathan is desperately trying to write a new song for his play, one that he’s been told by his main influence, Steven Sondheim, is missing. He toils over his computer, the flashing bar of his word document sat after a single ‘You’re’, unable to force anything from his mind to paper, all the while the time until the workshop, and his 30th birthday, ticks away. His girlfriend wants to move out of the City to a stable job, yet he can’t take his mind away from his work to discuss this drastic life change with her, his best friend, Michael, grappling with the HIV positive result he’s been given can’t catch Jonathan for a fleeting moment to inform him of his life-shattering diagnosis.

Summer 2022, mark your calendars. For dreamers, for explorers, for one-eyed bears.

Jonathan can’t do anything but work on his art, at the expense of him being present with the people around him. I’ve been there, the amount of times I got stuck writing The Toucan Man, and my sophomore novel (which is being released this summer by the way) and was unable to get out of my own head, for even a moment, just in case I lost the momentum I’d built up. I don’t talk about anything else when I’m like that, I recluse, and I work for hours at a time on my laptop, despite spending hours upon hours on one at work.

There’s a scene, where after a tense fight with his girlfriend Susan, she and Jonathan embrace, seemingly ready to move ahead positively in their relationship. This is shattered when she realises he’s mimicking piano keys on her back, seemingly putting their intimate moment to music with the intention of blasting it to the world within his musical. She fumes at him and ends their relationship then and there, baffled at his lack of emotional intelligence and inability to stop, even for just a moment.

There’s a quote director Lin-Manuel Miranda gave to the BBC that puts this better than I ever could:

“Because the dirty secret is, if you live with an artist, the microphone is always on.”

And on it is, so much of this movie has Jonathan taking notes from the world around him, from the treatment of the gay community by the government during the HIV epidemic to the words he sees sprawled across New York City. He never wants to miss a moment, a chance to perfectly word the perfect story. For Superbia to truly be the best it can be.

There’s a fear that I’ve got that I think backpacks off this, and it’s the same as the overarching theme of the movie, time. Artists are always recording for their work, because they want to get all of their ideas out before the time runs out. For Jonathan, sung excellently in the opening song ‘30/90’, it’s the thought of turning 30. For me, it’s not putting my ideas out into the world before the knell tolls. Jonathan Larson, died from an aortic aneurysm at just 35, the morning before RENT first previewed off-Broadway. He never lived to see any of his success.

The worst part of all of it is that it kind of proves his point.

He was the epitome of the tortured artist, he worked in a diner, not being able to bring himself to work for the man. He didn’t want to create for conglomerates who wanted people to buy what they couldn’t afford, or shove unhealthy products down their mouths in the name of money. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel guilty, wondering whether a past version of myself would shake his head in shame just as Jonathan would have.

I can see parallels between Superbia and my own teenage novel Pawns of the Gods, both ideas thought of out of teenage idealism, a product of their time, convoluted beyond belief just for the sake of being different, but the idea has been there for so long that it pains you not to see it realised. I’ve fought, and still fight with that novel, and I do hope someday I’ll be able to release it and do the story justice, not just for me now to be proud of, but for me all those years ago.

There’s a quote from this film that sums up being an aspiring writer so well that it makes me well up everytime I hear it. Jonathan’s agent, Rosa, says it to him after nobody is interested in producing his then life’s work, ‘Superbia’.

“You start writing the next one. And after you finish that one, you start on the next. And on and on, and that’s what it is to be a writer, honey. You just keep throwing them against the wall and hoping against hope that eventually, something sticks.” – Rosa, tick, tick… BOOM!

It’s a daunting prospect. Nothing of mine so far has taken off, but I do what I have to and I go back to the drawing board, and I start again. Maybe someday something will stick, maybe it won’t, but if I can look back on a bibliography that I’ve written myself, that I poured every shred of my heart and soul into, then when the knell finally tolls, I’ll die a happy and fulfilled man.

Categories
personal poetry

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Categories
personal travel

How I Ended Up in Gibraltar

So, in case any of you hadn’t noticed I’ve ended up moving to Gibraltar. Typing it out cements its status as quite a bizarre thing that has happened in my life. It’s an odd feeling being honest, especially because of how bruised my arm is after pinching myself too many times to see if I’m dreaming – but I’m still here, or possibly in some deep Matrix-like coma. Maybe we all are, I guess we’ll never know.

The feeling being here is quite different to my experiences of going abroad to Spain and Tanzania, mainly because nobody is holding my hand during the moving process. Both of those relocations were through organisations, where they hooked me up with host families, jobs, and generally kept an eye on us all during our times there. Now it’s me and my girlfriend, all by ourselves and being honest, the freedom of being abroad and making everything work out yourself is probably the best part – if not highly stressful. Yet as they say, no risk no reward.

Made a friend at the top of ‘The Rock’ (September, 2021) 🇬🇮

The story of how I ended up in Gibraltar starts with a solid foundational plan; one that had been in place since November of last year. Charlotte and I had been working towards it since then, getting the necessary paperwork and qualifications together. The thing is, that plan was aimed at moving to Thailand, and moving to Gibraltar hadn’t even crossed our minds until about a month ago.

The initial decision to move abroad came around a month after we’d moved into our flat in Welwyn Garden City. It wasn’t that we were sick of the place already, more to do with the fact we’d been grounded for years and that we’d both developed itchy feet to live away again. That and the fact that we’d never intended to move to Welwyn Garden City, and you get the point.

We had settled pretty early on moving to Thailand as one of my partners’ best friends lived out there, who she hadn’t seen in years. I was just happy to be invited along for the ride. We had nothing in WGC worth staying for, so we got to work securing ourselves a qualification in teaching English as a foreign language (or a TEFL for short).

Ah, the TEFL qualification, the bane of my life. See, when I moved to Lleida, Catalonia, four years ago (four years ahh!!) a section of my contract guaranteed that I would study for and receive a TEFL at the end of my time there. Alas, life, with its giant spanner, threw it into the works and I had to leave my job in Spain earlier than I (and the programme) had originally intended – the chance of getting my TEFL for free while I worked went with it. Thus, I had to fork out £300 to do another one, which for a certified Level 5 qualification wasn’t too bad.

After that purchase I followed up by doing nothing Thailand related. Instead, I worked on The Toucan Man and got promoted at work – all the while the six-month time limit for completing my coursework ticked away. Diamonds are formed under pressure though. Right?

My word was it an absolute slog. After leaving it until the last possible moment to begin, I’d backed myself into a corner where I had to slave night and day on my TEFL. This was not only on my days off, but during work time as well when I could sneak off for 20 minutes at a time. It was horrendous, but I did it, and now I’ve got another shiny qualification on my resume. Even though I never actually used it to get my current job, who knows when it might come in handy in the future. Also, it’s always good to learn new things and add to a fresh arrow to your quiver. On a personal note, I was able to finally tick off something that I should have completed a while ago. So, go me I guess.

Brown on Seashore Near Mountain
Maybe someday… 🇹🇭

We decided that because of the disease that shall not be named we’d be better off booking flights as late as possible to get to Thailand, and that our best chance of employment was getting into the Kingdom first then figuring it out later as the normal recruitment drive for foreign language teachers online had dried up into a barren wasteland.

We didn’t think about it enough to be deterred, too busy building up our savings to fund the, what became increasingly evident, expensive trip. We were excited, passionate and determined to make it work.

This was when August hit and the murmurs coming out of Thailand about another lockdown started increasing in volume, there was talk about pushing back school dates, which meant no classrooms to be taught in, which in turn meant little to no jobs in the country itself as they could all be done over the internet. The October date we would be leaving our Welwyn Garden City flat on was fast approaching, and we were being told to wait for an opening as it might pass in a week or so. Wait we did, and we waited and waited. The good news never came, so we decided that we’d just book our flights and get there, everything else would surely fall into place afterwards.

Then the bureaucracy kicked in, the amount of paperwork required to get into Thailand (at the time of writing) was too much. Each document required another form that couldn’t be filled in until the one we were filling in had been completed. It was chaos, seemingly designed difficult to dissuade people from travelling. In the end, it felt too much like swimming against the tide of a flowing river. We closed the laptop in defeat, the Thailand dream was dead in the water.

However, like a phoenix in the ashes, a new idea formed out of the old one. Our time in WGC was coming to an end, that was a guarantee. The world was now potentially our oyster, as long as it was situated on the UK green list.

This was when the applications started flying out, not for teaching jobs, but for writing positions I was qualified for in Dubai, Malta, and Gibraltar.

For the latter, I was offered an interview the next day for the following week, which I attended and was offered the role two hours afterward. It was mind-bending, we’d gone from fighting the current to being swept up by it, now eager to see where it would throw us off.

After getting off the phone and going hysterical with excitement it dawned on me, we had two weeks to get to Gibraltar. We sold all of our furniture and packed up our belongings, taking only what we could carry. Our backs becoming decimated from 4 days sleeping on the floor as we’d accidentally sent the pump for the airbed back up North with my girlfriend’s dad.

In a way it was the perfect storm. My partner’s job is home-based so she could move to the peninsula freely, combine this with the visa-free access and being on the green list made it a surprisingly simple move. Not long after our arrival we sorted out a flat too. It had all started to finally feel real. We spent our first few days in Gibraltar treating it as a holiday, something we had been unable to do since a trip to Glasgow in early 2020.

Gibraltar at night (October 2021) 🇬🇮

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. Half of me thinks its knowing when to let go of a pipedream, when to realise something is implausible even if you’ve worked so hard for it – but its in letting go that more opportunities rear their heads, ones that you would have been blind to beforehand like a horse with its blinkers on.

On the other hand, it could be about not selling yourself short, that the opportunities to do what you love will come eventually as long as you work toward them. Being offered a job abroad as a copywriter is something I could have only dreamed of a couple of years ago – especially after working in marketing and my old manager deciding to go external with the company’s copywriting duties, even though that was my bread and butter. In hindsight that may have been the turning point where I started to take writing (and myself) seriously, as I started this website a month or so later.

As I sit here in a bustling café just off Main Street in Gibraltar, with a light lunch of a cortado and quiche, letting myself absorb the new surroundings I find myself in, I’m filled with excitement for the coming years. I don’t grieve a missed opportunity in Thailand, as it was never meant to be, and so in the end never existed.

Because if it had, I’d never be here.

Categories
personal

Refined Living in a Petrol Powered Village

There’s a small area of land on the cusp of Cheshire and the River Mersey that for me is most fitting of the name ‘Home’. Even though my documents list my place of birth as ‘Chester’, I’d never call myself a Cestrian as doing so would be a lie – in truth that was just where the hospital was, and I doubt my mother fancied giving birth in the tub.

The name of that place I call home is Elton, and its where I grew up. Recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Eltone’, meaning ‘Eel Town’ or ‘Eel Farm’, this small expanse of land comprised nearly the entirety of my childhood despite having a population of under 4,000 people.

Elton isn’t known for a lot of things, it’s a pretty run of the mill village crammed between areas of more people and substance, but it has had a few moments where it has infamously made headlines.

The first, is the existence of the massive Stanlow Oil Refinery that takes permanent residence here. It is pretty much on the village’s doorstep, so much so that I could see a lot of it from my childhood bedroom window. Some fun facts about this factory – it is the second largest in the United Kingdom, its product suffices a sixth of the country’s petrol needs, and that it used to let out a foul mushroom-smelling odour every Saturday alongside an accompanying alarm. I never knew what that alarm was for, but every time it rang my mum used to call us inside and close all the windows. Can’t wait for the health affects of that to hit me down the line.

Alongside that, there’s a glass bottle production factory that houses the worlds largest container glass furnace – which me and my friends were chased off once for pushing a large black pipe onto the only road in and out of the facility.

The village is also the victim of a joke from some football fan who works at Google, who randomly changed the road behind the shops, originally named Willow Way, to Diego Maradona Street – which I’m guessing has caused chaos to every mailman or woman that operates in the area. There’s also the small fact that a former resident went on trail for murder in the USA.

Right next to ‘Hand of God’ Lane

None of this strange and surprisingly notorious history matters to me though, because this was my home, my little slice of Earth. As a child, nothing outside of its tiny boundaries mattered. This was where I went to nursery and primary school, where I tried and hated Taekwondo, where I played for my first football team (Elton Youth ride or die) and where I grew up most importantly. You see, other than visiting family in nearby Ellesmere Port, Frodsham or Helsby, this was where I spent all my time. Elton’s placement made it a nightmare to walk anywhere else, unless you fancied walking down the A5117 which back then didn’t have a pathway and forced you to walk on the road or the overgrown grass. Whatever your thoughts on what I’m saying in this essay so far, I loved the place and thought it was great.

It’s strange growing up in a village like that because it gives you a really warped sense of the rest of the world, mainly because every time we’d walk to the shop or to school, we’d always stop and talk to someone that we knew – which was pretty much the entire village. It’s probably the only time in my life that I’ve felt myself inside a community like that, where you have the support of so many other people through familiarity. It must be a nightmare for new people moving in, but when you’re inside it, it can make it so hard to leave.

Childhood memories are a strange thing to quantify compared to the ones you make in your adult life, there’s always an element of fuzziness to them all, like that part of your brain hadn’t finished forming yet. I can remember my old house and the robin who used to visit our garden after my granddad died, which our family believed carried his soul and was checking in on us. I remember our next-door neighbour throwing up a haphazard fence extension upwards to stop me and my brother looking into his garden when we were on the trampoline and us seeing it as a challenge to jump higher. I remember riding to the shop on my bike to buy Somerfield own-brand chocolate to sell at my high school in Chester or the time my friend stood up too quickly, headbutting the underside of my chin and caused me to bite my entire upper lip with the whole bottom row of my teeth and getting sent home and playing FIFA 05 on the CRT in my room.

Me and Matt on the couch in Elton, circa 2009.

I’ve been fortunate to live in some far-flung places across the globe since, but nowhere fills me with the familiar feeling of home that I get riding through Elton on the bus. I should probably get off and explore it again one of these days, but I doubt that much has changed. It will always be the place where I discovered Pop Punk by listening to ‘Kerrang: The Album 08’ in my bedroom, or where I got pelted in the face with a rounders bat in P.E, or where our entire street played in the gross water that regurgitated from the grids one rainy evening.

Kerrang! The Album '08 - Various Artists
The nostalgia that this stupid album cover gives me man.

It almost makes you want to stay on the bus, just so those fuzzy memories don’t get replaced with more rigid ones from adulthood, and you can live in that moment in time forever without knowing any different.

Although I’d rather forget the time I rode my bike into a bench and snapped my rib in half.

Categories
personal travel

Welwyn Garden City: A Town With Hert, Not History

I’ve been struggling with a way to start this blog post, I’ve played with the idea of using a quote or some grand metaphor about living somewhere new and exciting, but that’s just the thing, for the past year I’ve lived in Welwyn Garden City – a commuter town that’s only existed for 100 years more than I’ve been here. It’s no Paris, New York or Rome but that’s the beauty of it, that is why it has been perfect.

When I say that I ended up in this corner of Hertfordshire by complete chance, I honestly mean it. Me and my partner had dreams of grandeur when we moved out of our flat in Bamber Bridge just over a year ago, dreaming of the late nights and bright lights of London Town – but sometimes pipe dreams are just those, pipe dreams. Two months was how long I drifted through the capital, unemployed, bouncing between Airbnb’s, but that was enough for me. Using the 20/20 vision that hindsight brings, London was never right for me.

Not that it isn’t a fantastic city, it really is and I’d highly recommend a visit if you’ve never been. It just never felt like mine, I always felt like a stranger, always feeling the urge to look over my shoulder after finding myself in another area I didn’t know at dusk. That’s just the way in London I’ve found. The streets change personality from one to the next, you could be on a road that houses the rich and famous in one moment, before finding yourself on the next street that’s full of high-rises where the inhabitants can smell the outsider on you. I think it was this juxtaposition that kept me on edge and kept me from truly wanting to stay. London is perfect for a lot of people, just not me, but I’m glad that I tried, and I know that for definite now, instead of spending a lifetime yearning for it.

The move to WGC came about through a connection I’d made in Tanzania, believe it or not, whereby he’d offered me a job role after a few too many pints in Camden Market. I’d applied for over 100 writing jobs, become far too accustomed to the word no, so decided to say yes. I’d never heard of the place outside of it being the birthplace of Alesha Dixon, but I needed the money and I had nothing keeping me in London. So, we booked a hotel for six weeks and started looking for a place.

As it turned out, I did have a prior connection to Welwyn Garden City. The place had given me an eerie familiarity when I’d entered the centre for the first time, and it took having a drink in the Doctor’s Tonic pub to figure it out.

It was Newton Haven, from The bloody World’s End. What a great movie, I’d thought to myself, and now I got to live where it was filmed. Being a massive Edgar Wright fanboy, that fact gave me more satisfaction than the job I was working – but being on a COVID test site I’m sure you can let me get away with that.

Historically, the confusingly named town of Welwyn Garden City was founded in 1920 by a bloke named Sir Ebenezer Howard and quite liked the idea of cities but thought they were a bit too grey, so decided to mix in some trees and fields to spread everything out. He’d tried it in Letchworth first, but I guess he’d decided that he’d failed and fancied another pop. If you’re from LGC don’t @ me, I’m just stating facts you know, second the best and all that.

The man himself, Sir Ebenezer Howard (Welwyn Garden City, 2021)

It was an odd place to end up by chance, it wasn’t somewhere that you’d ever move to the otherside of the country for, but that was what we’d ended up doing. There was an odd melancholy in getting the flat we’d end up spending a year living in, a feeling that we couldn’t go back up North out of pride, but also the feeling that we’d ended up somewhere we’d never wanted to be in the first place, forced into stopping our couch-hopping by the impending second UK lockdown.

Jerk chicken from That Picnic Brand (2021)

It’s been nearly a year since that moment, and I’ve decided that moving to Welwyn Garden City was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s an odd feeling finding yourself stuck somewhere with no network, no nostalgia or passion to stay in the area and no attachment to the job that keeps you there. However, I think that’s what made the place perfect, there was nothing to take care of other than ourselves. There was no local drama, no pre-emptive impressions from people who had heard of you at school. We were unknown quantity, it was great, freeing if you will.

Gradually you build a network over time, and I’ve been honoured to make some great friends who I hope stick around for the long haul. On top of that, you learn the lay of the land, you pick up on shortcuts, find the best eating spots (I’d recommend That Picnic Brand in the Wheat Quarter, it’s incredible) and the excellent places to go for long walks.

Welwyn Garden City can be seen best in the dilapidated Shredded Wheat factory that stands dormant over the train station, using its time still standing as a monolith long lost to another era. Yet there are plans to revitalise it, to bring it back as something fresh, new, and exciting. The building blocks are here for Welwyn to turn into something great, it has a history it will grow into, a commute into London that lasts only 25 minutes and the feeling that some culture is going to start rearing its head through the rows of corporate shops that run up and down Howardsgate.

The Shredded Wheat factory in the snow ( Welwyn Garden City, 2021)

I’d be lying if I said that living here has been wild, but it’s been an experience that removed the fog from everything, it made the next step much clearer and much easier to work towards. Pressing the reset button can help you become yourself again, and I was lucky enough to do it for a year during a pandemic which has crippled so many people mentally. For that I count my blessings, I really do.

The coat of arms for Hertfordshire predominantly features the stag, an animal that symbolises instinct, maturity, regeneration, and spiritual enlightenment. I’m not sure if everyone else’s stay in the Hert of England has been the same, but the symbolism seems awfully apt and poetic to me.

Cheers for the memories.

Coat of arms of Hertfordshire County Council
Categories
personal writing

Covid, Books, Bo Burnham and Burnout

Hello all, it’s been a while since we’ve spoken here hasn’t it? The last time I worked on a blog post was in December of last year. Which was, at the time of writing, eight months ago. Yikes. Some blog ay? Sorry about the wait I guess.

I do apologise for the delay, but I promise I was working on something worthwhile. I’m sure the majority of you reading this have already seen, but I self-released my debut book, ‘The Toucan Man’, and honestly the response has been both humbling and overwhelming.

Before I go into the book, and what it means to me, I just want everyone to know how thankful I am about it. I’ve sold a total of 25 copies, which may not sound like the largest number in the world; but considering that it has only been a week or so and I haven’t put any money into marketing yet, I’m absolutely blown away.

Every copy sold is another reason for me to go at it again, another reason to keep trying to make the dream a reality. I worked myself to the bone on ‘The Toucan Man’. It’s a piece of work I wrote, edited, formatted and revised myself (bar a few special people that can be seen on the copyright page); the only thing I couldn’t do myself was design a decent cover, which my friend Dan Kendall did, you can find his website (and his excellent portfolio) here.

Being honest, every picture of you lot holding the book or piece of feedback you’ve sent me over DM has made the whole experience worth it. I don’t write for money, I never have, I write to tell stories; and the fact that you all came out in droves to support me makes me feel like the luckiest man in the world.

So genuinely, thank you. Yes, especially you, blog reader.

A bit of behind the scenes on ‘The Toucan Man’ is that it’s a book based on my grandparents, the characters of Ernest and Eloise, especially their backstories take a lot of liberties from them, so too does the love that they shared. Avoiding spoilers, what happens in the first few chapters is a mixture of the truth and how I feel like I’d cope in that situation, and where my mind would go after so many years of being so reliant on somebody else.

Grief is something I’ve unfortunately experienced a lot of in my short 25 years on Earth, and ‘The Toucan Man’ was my way of putting that into words, as well as being a love letter to the people who showed me what love was in the first place. I tried to tackle anguish the best I could, how different people deal with it, the sense of abandonment, the feeling of needing to find something to fill the person-sized hole in your life afterwards. My hope is that the book can help someone, someday, slowly come to terms with their own loss, and that certain avenues aren’t healthy ways to deal with it.

I’ll stop being so depressing now, you’ve probably had enough of that.

Another fun fact is that the name is a double entendre, let me know if you’ve figured it out.

File:Guinness 250th anniversary poster, Belfast - geograph.org.uk - 1138788.jpg
Guinness 250th anniversary poster, Belfast (Albert Bridge, 2009)

For anyone that cares too, I’ve finished the first edit of my follow-up novel. This is one that has ascended the word count of novella to a full blown piece of literature. I’m not going to give much away other than the fact it is a historical fiction based in the Soviet Union, and that it’ll hopefully be released next year. Keep your eyes peeled, it’s already a piece of work I adore and one that has expanded on the experience from my debut to become a more well-rounded novel. There are a lot less kinks at this stage than there were at this point in ‘The Toucan Man’, which tells me I’m hopefully getting better? I’m excited for you all to read it. I am trying to become an actual novelist, and I’ve got a fair few more ideas in the tank yet so I’m going to trudge on into the future grinding them out! (Hopefully being read and growing an audience, but who knows.)

In news to some of you too, I caught COVID recently (despite being twice vaccinated and being careful), so me (and my girlfriend) have been in isolation since the books release, so outside of the messages I’ve received, I’ve had no human contact with anyone. So really, all of your support has been amazing, especially during a time where I’ve been inside again, with little else to think about.

Bo Burnham’s favourite book, probably, if he read it.

Like most people I’ve been a bit obsessed with ‘Inside‘ since it’s release onto Netflix, and honestly my opinions on that special could be a whole blog post in itself. If you haven’t already, go and watch it, have you been living under a rock or something? The special is funny, it’s existential, it sums up lockdown, modern society and being a creative in ways I wouldn’t even know how to start expressing in a book, never mind through comedic songs. It’s a chaotic masterpiece, so just go and sit on your couch and put it on already.

Speaking of creativity, I’m already trying to start book three of my little self-published repertoire, but between writing two books in the space of a year and having the disease that managed to break down society as we know it, I’ve been struggling to get into the flow of the story, so I might be a bit more active on here for a while as I ease myself into another big project. Keep an eye out for early 2022 though, for the next (already in the works) release. If the reaction to my sophomore effort is half as good as the one that greeted my debut, I’ll be absolutely buzzing.

Thanks again to you all. When I started up this stupid blog last year I’d never dreamed that I’d accumulate over 2,000 views, and that the initial support and gradual growth would spur me on to write my first book.

Which you can buy here, if you haven’t already ❤️

Or potentially leave an Amazon review? I’m waiting for a few of those to roll in before I start marketing it!

Or review on Goodreads, if you’re that way inclined!

Soppy blog over, thanks for reading and thanks for supporting me.


Andy

Categories
personal philosophy

The Trials and Tribulations of a Life Worth Living

It is a funny old thing we call life. We analyse, we plan for the future, we attain qualifications and experiences for growth and a happy future we could only dream of. I’ve personally lived my life with an intentionally gung-ho attitude, with the mantra of every experience is worth experiencing, every job is worth your time, every place you visit should be explored like a tourist. All the people you meet along the way should be invested in; despite the amount of time you’ve known them. Everyone and everything brings something to the table of life. Big or small, rich or poor, expected or not.

Living life this way has led to one that has been emotionally, philosophically, and mentally fulfilling. In 24 years of I’ve lived in the English counties of Cheshire, Merseyside, Lancashire and Herts. I created a new home for myself in Catalonia and experienced the vote for independence first-hand. I volunteered in some of the poorest regions of Tanzania, sleeping in homes with no windows and bats that circled above my bed at night to aversely Airbnb-surfing through the various boroughs of London.

At a viewpoint atop La Seu Vella, Lleida. 2017.

These have been some of my life’s proudest achievements, but aside from my International Journalism degree from John Moore’s University, my ‘career’ thus far could and should be labelled as a flop. This website has been radio-silent recently as I’ve been working on a new novella when I’ve had the time to write. It has been something I’ve wanted to write for a long time, and should I complete it, it will be my proudest accolade as a writer thus far – alongside the founding of this humble site. Thank you to all of you that read these by the way, it gives me such purpose to finally write for an audience.

I preach to not live with regret. However, I let future prospects from my internship at the Liverpool Echo pass me by. I impressed with my writing and was told to keep in touch with the Sports Editor. I didn’t. This has been an increasingly difficult pill to swallow in the years following. So too the decision to abandon my craft for a time following university, and instead pursue a fruitless marketing career. This was something that in the end brought me great unhappiness in myself, especially as a born socialist and only acted as a reinforcement of those beliefs in the shadow of the wealthy families I worked to the bone for. Alas, with a Certificate of Higher Education with Merit in digital marketing and a lesson learnt to stick to what you love , I escaped from that world. Like most in the face of failure, I licked my wounds and carried on.

The Japanese Garden in Kensington, London. Now with added beard. 2020.

After that role and fleeing to London in the midst of a pandemic, the only goal was to experience the taste of life again, for it had grown stale and grey in the cold, wet hills of Lancashire. I stopped and looked around at the urban jungle around me. What now? I’d attained a role that could have been mine for life. It was secure and offered albeit minor career growth. In plain English, I’d gotten a big boy job. This was what I was supposed to do, according to society at least. Why did I hate it?

We live in a timeline where most of the well-paid, well thought of vocations have you sat at a desk. You partake in water cooler office gossip, you drink far too much English Breakfast Tea and you buy specialist glasses because you spend so much time facing a screen. Maybe you’ll even get a back support because companies never invest in decent office chairs. To phrase Dolly, what a way to make a living.

There are exceptions of course, but these are few and far between. Especially for someone who wishes to write for a living.

It’s an interesting place to be at mentally. I’ve shed my post-university naivete and dealt with the problems thrown at me along the way. After London didn’t work out permanently, a close-friend of mine hooked me up with a job in Hertfordshire where I’ve been since around August. I’m comfortable yet unfulfilled in my current role, but it’s not forever. The role itself is on a COVID-19 test site, so it should only last as long as COVID does – which is both a blessing and a curse.

Alongside my efforts at being an author I’m finally getting around to completing a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language Qualification) for when I fancy going abroad again and in the future I’d love to complete a master’s degree in Geopolitics to fulfil a lifelong pursuit of understanding the world around me. But that raises the point one more – will any of these experiences, qualifications and dreams ever line up into one coherent career? Or am I destined to be one of life’s ‘nearly-men’ who never lived up to their potential, despite some false dawns.

I guess the only way to find out is to keep living the life the way I want to.

I’ll let you know how it works out in the end.

Categories
personal tv

The Beauty in Ordinary: Why We Watch ‘The Office’

We’re all guilty of making our lives look better for the phone screen. Maybe this is a defence mechanism because everyone else is doing it – or maybe we’re trying to feel like deep down we are something ‘special’, like these celebrities we’re all told to care about.

This blog is my own personal attempt at bringing light to my own stories that looked better through the skewed lens of social. As much as we would like it to be, not everything is amazing all the time. That is just part of life I’m afraid.

The same goes with so-called ‘ordinary sitcoms’. People get offered crazy jobs across the other side of the world, leading lives that are beyond belief with little to no effort required. Their only problems being that this hot guy or girl doesn’t like them back. This new Emily in Paris is the latest in the long line of this trend.

Plucky Junior Marketing Executive picked out of obscurity by her manager to move to Paris as part of a merger, who can no longer relocate herself due to an unexpected pregnancy… Because who else should we send from this office of seasoned professionals?

The pretty one with a goldmine of ideas that work out every time of course 😊

I’ve worked in marketing, and if you’re a junior the only thing you’re considered for is being the one who has to go and fetch lunch for everybody else.

These shows do not feel real. If I lived like the cast of Friends, I’d never have any money because they seemingly don’t work. Never mind having a swanky large apartment in Greenwich Village, and being able to drink so much coffee that it catapults from my eyes over the rest of my ‘f·r·i·e·n·d·s’ who don’t do much else either.

There is of course the argument that this is TV – people don’t want to be reminded of their boring old lives. They want to be transported to the lives that they could have had, had they been born a few steps away from a MacLaren’s Pub or Central Perk.

This is what makes ‘The Office’ so special. This is the average day to day life of a corporate office job worker. Albeit in real-life their is a lack of Michael Scott, Gareth Keenan or Dwight Schrute. Although I do think we’ve all worked with our fair share of David Brents, Jim Halperts and Pam Beeslys. That’s what makes these two shows so hilariously funny.

(PSA. I’m not getting involved in the debate on which one is better, make your own life choices. It doesn’t matter what one guy on the internet thinks.)

I once worked under a bloke in a store I do not wish to name, and honestly you would have believed Ricky Gervais based his character on him and him alone. There are people out there who are walking memes of themselves, and this show captures them all brilliantly. Like perfectly etched caricatures with all their deepest faults extended and warped for the world to gaze their eyes on.

Characters in these shows need to be coerced into hanging out with each other after work, half of them don’t want to be there at all and the others are shown to have reached their potential ceiling – and that is perfectly okay.

Not all of us will be an Emily in Paris, a Jess in Los Angeles or a Dan Humphrey making his way into Manhattan’s upper elite.

For me, watching The Office made me realise the joy in everyday life. Sure, the characters are overexaggerated, but you do genuinely see some people day to day and think ‘what are you doing?’ – ala Michael Scott.

Granted, the US version lost its twinkle once Steve Carrell left and the characters became overtly flanderized to the point of no return, but we still have the early seasons to cherish. That’s what I’ve found with British sitcoms, we never squeezed them until you were sick of them – they always ended before their time and gained cult followings as a result. The UK Office being one of them.

The moral of the story I guess is that there is beauty in ordinary life, there is comedy in day-to-day and you don’t need to traverse continents to find adventure.

It’s everywhere you decide to look for it.

Even if you work in finance.

Categories
personal writing

Why I Never Finished My Book

While studying in my first year of university, like most young writers who dreamt of fame, I began writing a novel. The name? Pawns of the Gods. It was a religious themed epic inspired by the Fallout universe. This post-apocalyptic young adult novel was to be my magnum opus. It was a story of an angel sent down from the heavens as the Earth was tormented by Judgement Day, to assist a girl corrupted by Satan himself to end the impending reckoning.

The concept sounds incredibly cringe looking with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. It is key to remember however, that young adult post-apocalyptic novels a-la Hunger Games were all the rage back then. I was also 18 years of age.

Although admittedly, I recall giving it Christian themes as my way of making it ‘edgier’ – and to put my A-Level in Religious Studies to good use.

Crucifix Illustration

I worked hard on and off on the novel for the next three years.

I’d managed over 50,000 words in the end. Not only that but I’d had some good feedback on my work from family and friends who I’d deemed worthy enough to read segments of the story.

One day however, I just stopped.

Weeks and months went by and I never touched the thing. I tried to start it up again but with no luck. All that remains now is a half-finished rough draft printed and stuffed in a box, with a few story notes either stapled to it or scattered in various notebooks.

An unflattering end for my magnum opus.

There are a few reasons why I stopped I suppose, the number one being that I fell out of love with the written word for a time. University made me loathe writing after years of adoring it. Journalistic writing is formulaic and structured in a top-down boring way. Essays weren’t much better, and SEO is horrendous for a creative writer.

Instead of feeling like an escape from my other writing, it became a chore amongst them. I’ve spoke to many graduates about this phenomenon since my realisation. French students lose the passion to learn it for a while, art students put down the brush while philosophers rest their weary minds. I set down the pen, and I didn’t properly pick it up again until I started this website.

I think burnout is inevitable, especially after three non-stop years of pumping out creative work and you’ll find that those that didn’t burn out then, will do so down the line eventually.

Secondly, life just got in the way. Your post-university 20’s are some of the craziest, messiest and most intense years of your life. I had no time to sit and write my novel. As a kid I often wondered why all the authors I read were 30+ years of age. Other than experience and years of practice – it’s because younger writers are too busy living their own lives, never mind writing someone else’s.

Then there’s the issue of length. Every wannabe writer has Googled “how many words are in a novel?” and from experience I can tell you this is 100% the wrong approach. You should never measure your creative work by obligatory lengths. This ‘novel’ should have been a novella, yet as it was beginning to draw to a close I extended it because I didn’t believe it was ‘long enough’.

I make myself sick.

Remember the Shawshank Redemption? Barely anything to it. The same applies to the Very Hungry Caterpillar. I’m not comparing my teenage works to these behemoths of literature, but you understand my point right?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar [Board Book]: Amazon.co.uk: Carle, Eric, Carle,  Eric: Books

Finally, my love for the idea just… went. I lost my spark with it. The piece was a literal telling of a mental battle of somebody very close to me at the time.

The would have been ending to the story, captured what eventually happened in real life. In the end it was too painful and real to dust it off and finish it. In a sort of poetic way, because of those events the story had already finished. There was nothing left for me to write.

I’ve moved on to other projects now, this website being one of them. Hopefully the next story I tackle, I’ll be able to show off the complete work, rather than half-finished drafts.

The moral of the story? Pawns of the Gods was a massive learning experience for myself as a writer, despite the lack of cohesive ending to the project. Maybe one day I’ll go back to it.

Whatever sort of creative you are. Just keep creating. It might be terrible, or you might not even finish it and move onto something else, but you’ll always learn and get better.

Oh and don’t be scared to show other people your terrible work – even if it’s scary.

So here is an excerpt of that very novel:

The beast stood staring at the light that shone before him, expecting to see his mortal enemy, the one that imprisoned him since the creation of this world. The Wicked was about to get his revenge. The demon was taken aback when the light began to materialise, the figure was about the same height as the girl he had struck with his hellfire only minutes before.

The light solidified revealing a scruffy brown haired boy, dressed in
a sleeveless tunic of crystal white and sandals to match. His arms were muscular but lean, and a white bow was held in both of his hands.

The angel pulled back his bow and took aim at The Wicked that stood before him. The boy’s wings burst out from behind him in a wave of blinding white light. He looked carefully down the light blue arrow, with his matching sapphire eyes and took aim at the demon in front of him.

“Time for you to die” The youthful angel screamed as he fired his shot toward the crimson demon.

*chefs kiss* What incredible dialogue.

PS. In my head the angel was literally Pit from Kid Icarus.

Nintendo's games of the decade: Kid Icarus: Uprising
Copyright Nintendo.

Categories
personal travel

Reclaiming My Roots: A Liverpool Story

“A good place to wash your hair, Liverpool. Good soft water.” – John Lennon

Liverpool was the heart of my childhood. Coming from a working-class background my parents would often leave me in the care of my grandparents. We would walk around the Wirral and North Wales; but Liverpool was by far the most common.

I’m not a traditional Scouser in any sense of the word, my accent sounds far too south of the Mersey –  but my soul has always belonged to Liverpool. My grandparents on my Dad’s side are originally city natives, which is why we visited so often. My Great-great-grandfather on my Nan’s side was a resident of Llanwyddn, a traditional Welsh-speaking village that was later flooded to create the Liverpool reservoir in November 1889. That area is now known as Lake Vyrnwy. He was offered accommodation in another nearby Welsh village or the chance to move to Liverpool for work. Without a word of English in his brain, he chose the latter.

My Grandad’s side originates from Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, making their way over to ‘Ireland’s Second Capital’ for a better life. The towns name comes from the Irish ‘Inis Ceithleann’, referring to ‘Cethlenn’ – a goddess in Irish mythology. Her story is that she was wounded by an arrow and attempted to swim the River Erne to reach safety. She never reached the other side; the island the town is on was named in her honour. Luckily, he made it to Liverpool, and the Isle of Man isn’t called Andy’s Ancestor Island.

Born in his Nan’s apartment with a view of both Goodison Park and Anfield, my Grandad fortunately chose to support Liverpool. If not for that fateful decision, me and my Dad wouldn’t have our tradition of always watching the Champions League final together when we play in it, instead we would watch the Toffees limp to mid-table every season. So, cheers Grandad!

The reason my family left Liverpool was due to the overcrowding problem. They had moved from Everton to Kensington (where I would later live) and grown disgusted with the rat problems that plagued the area and all the demolition work that was going on.

Liverpool Council funded developments for population overspill in Skelmersdale, Runcorn and Ellesmere Port – the latter of which being the area my family decided to relocate, my Dad at the tender age of 18 months.

This was why we always returned to the city, so me and my brother could reconnect with our roots. I remember the Capital of Culture win in 2008 and being mesmerised by the dilapidated building with the rotating circle within it, fish and chips on the docks and the bustling streets of the pre-Liverpool One high street.

I’d boycotted my high school prom to see Blink-182 at the Echo Arena and I’d watched the Liverpool team bring home the 2006 FA Cup under the deafening hum of vuvuzelas, giddy as Pepe Reina waved at me personally. My Nan had been a painter and she used to craft canvas art of the Beatles in the static caravan at the end of her garden. The city was in my blood – there is no surprise I went for university.

There is a famous quote from one Margaret Simey, a politician and activist from Glasgow. She said that “the magic of Liverpool is that it isn’t England.” The city isn’t too fond of politicians named Maggie, but this one hit the nail on the head. Liverpool was a different world to me growing up, everyone was so friendly and outgoing. I was able to explore the city for myself, it was unique, it was bohemian and most importantly – it felt like home.

In my first-year studying International Journalism at John Moore’s, I lived opposite the still incomplete Royal Liverpool University Hospital, which has been a complete farce worthy of its own article (its actually been pushed back again until 2022 and has incurred a cost of £335 million).

Following that I lived in Kensington and understood straight away what my Grandad had warned me about the rats. They ripped bins to shreds and scuttled around chewing leftover student takeaway from the open-air dinner plate that was the pavement. It was grim. There were also two shootings on the street I lived on, both late in the night that woke me as the shots were fired. I’m also pretty sure we lived in an old drug dealers house as someone would turn up occasionally for a pick-up and bang on the door and scream through the mailbox.

It was during this second year that I’d frequent the Krazyhouse, which was in my opinion the best nightclub in the city before its closure. Sure, it was always dead, but it had a whole floor dedicated to 2000s Kerrang hits, so I loved it. I also bumped into my Dad there once.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling
Classy with his two-cans of Red Stripe (Krazyhouse, January 2015).

These nights of fun were paid for by a part-time job at Anfield. It was a dream come true working the kiosks of my beloved football club. My favourite shifts there were in the away end, where the staff and travelling fans would hurl abuse at each other. They were good times, but man am I sick of the ‘slippy Gerrard’ chant.

The Scouser in our team

In my third year, rodent problems persisted as I rented a flat in Toxteth with my partner. Our apartment overlooked Falkner Square; it was brilliant if not for the mice. On the positive side, the best thing about having mice is that there are no rats. As I wrapped up my degree, I had a chance to intern at the Liverpool Echo. I worked alongside cult hero James Pearce, David Prentice and Andy Kelly. The latter of which took me with him to the Liverpool Kirkby Academy to interview then academy player Matthew Virtue. On the drive there he mentioned to me an academy prospect destined for a bright future in the game, his name – Trent Alexander-Arnold. The rest as they say, is history.

I left Liverpool for Spain with a 2:1 degree, a lifetime of memories and a rekindling of my family history. I miss the city whenever I’m not there, and I know deep down I’ll be back again.

Thanks for reading.