stabcon south logoLast month, I had the great pleasure of attending StabCon South’s springtime event at the Jurys Inn in Southampton.

What is StabCon South?

The southern variant of StabCon, a regular, long-running event in Stockport (Manchester for the less geographically inclined).

The focus is on board gaming. There’s no panels, no workshops, just good ol’ fashioned worker placement. Oh, and quite a few tabletop RPG one-shots. And a sci-fi ship crew simulator!

Where did we stay?

StabCon is local to us, so we didn’t bother with accommodation. However, being located in central Southampton, and in a hotel to boot, there were lots of very affordable options for out-of-towners. We ran into people who had travelled from as far away as High Wycombe, and also Isle of Wighters in for the weekend.

You also had the option of just not leaving the event! It ran 24/7 from 11am on Friday til 11pm on Sunday. A true test of endurance for any self-proclaimed gamer!

Which characters did we cosplay?

With a strict focus on tabletop RPGs and board gaming, there isn’t a cosplay element to this event. So we went as boring ol’ us. Womp womp.

Was there anything to eat?

With the venue being located in central Southampton, close to London Road, there’s a plethora of options. There’s the restaurant in the hotel itself, which is exactly what you’d expect: a bit overpriced, but damned convenient, especially given the dismal weather this weekend. But go a bit further afield and options abound: MexiGo, Starbucks, pubs, Subway, etc…

Verdict:

We’ve been several times before, and it’s a great, low-key way to spend a weekend. It’s also an amazing opportunity to dabble in a hobby that frankly can be a little intimidating and have a high cost to enter. Everyone contributes to the available games and helps with teaching newbies, so it’s a good way to try out new games.

If you’re interested in attending, the next event will be in June, with a focus on extremely long, crunchy games. The next standard Stabcon South is in October, with more information here. You can keep up with them on Facebook, and pricing is generally £15 for the entire weekend.

Additionally, the original Stabcon is coming up, and you can find more information here.

What is Sci-Fi Weekender?

Madness descends upon a quiet, seaside holiday park in northern Wales, just a short drive from Pwhelli and near Snowdonia. For three days (Thursday-Saturday, missing Sunday which I found odd for a ‘Weekender’ event but hey ho) all the main structures were taken over by stages, computer gaming stations, vendors, cosplayers and board gamers.

In the evenings, shows and concerts abound, merging traditional festival style performances with geek culture.

They’re gearing up for their tenth year running, and you can find out more information on their website.

Who was there?

The Retro Computer Museum in Leicester had a gaming station set up where you could try out all sorts of consoles, from Atari to Commodore to PS1, and even Pong. You can find out more about them and how to support their work here.

The Galactic Knights were also out in full force, giving demonstrations and running orc boot camps for attendees. They’re a cosplaying group of the highest caliber, focusing on sci-fi and fantasy primarily.

Telos Publishing, one of the event sponsors, was out in full force, with several of its authors giving talks and selling their books.

Skaro was strongly represented, with hordes of Daleks running amok. The evening was also full of talented performers, such as Area 51’s dancers.

Where did we stay?

On site! As SFW takes over an entire holiday park, you never need leave the premises. There’s plenty of decent accommodation, several small shops, a pub, and other restaurants to choose from.

We did pop to Pwhelli for some loo roll and a towel, which isn’t included in your accommodation. So be mindful of that. No kitchen roll, either. If we could do it all over again, I probably also would have brought space heaters and draught excluders. It was brutally cold and the heaters in the flat could only do so much. The windows were so draughty that you could watch the curtains move.

All the ventilation is probably lovely during the summer, which is obviously peak time for this holiday park, but in March it makes for some rather crisp mornings.

Which characters did we cosplay?

The partner and I made a couples’ cosplay as Lone Star and Princess Vespa from Spaceballs. However, as Vespa’s dress is a bit short on fabric, and most of it is gauzy sheers and lace, I took a miss on trotting it out, so the partner followed suit in frozen solidarity.

Others’ cosplay was absolutely amazing. The Warhammer armour was larger than life, and someone had put together a very well articulated alien-from-Alien costume. Lord of the Rings and Star Trek were well represented, and there were Doctors and Daleks in spades, though Star Trek was oddly sparse.

The level of craftsmanship was stunning, and really inspiring.

Was there anything to eat?

As mentioned above, there were several restaurants on site. Starbucks, Burger King, Papa Johns, a fish and chips shop, a full pub, and hot food counters in the mini markets made for a wide variety of choices.

We chose to make use of the full kitchen in our flat, however, and self-catered (when we weren’t running the oven with the door open to provide a little extra warmth!).

Verdict:

The partner and I were a little underwhelmed, possibly by being previously spoilt in Atlanta, with its plethora of high quality, serious business cons. As some content seemed to not happen and was not well sign posted, it can be a little hard to find one’s footing as a first timer. The board gaming was a little small, and the guest list wasn’t the most impressive.

It also seemed to focus slightly more on the nightlife aspects, such as the DJs and concerts, which the partner and I aren’t really into, being prematurely OAP in our taste in entertainment. So there wasn’t a whole lot for us to do after about 6pm, which made for some chilly, early nights.

Normally for a con, this wouldn’t be an issue, but SFW also lacked the sort of frantic schedule that leaves you satisfactorily worn out after a long day of panels, workshops, and speakers.

This feeling of being underwhelmed seems to so far be a trend in the UK con scene, which I’ve touched on previously. Again, I’m not suggesting that this sort of events management is easy, but at the same time, much smaller cons like WHOlanta, Treklanta, and CONjuration all seem to pull off a much more cohesive, jam-packed, exciting programme.

The partner and I have discussed this at length, and can’t seem to pinpoint what it is that seems to take the wind out of the sails over here. If anyone had any theories, I’d love to hear them.

getstarted

READER BEWARE: I ENJOY TALKING ABOUT MYSELF.

The Origin Story

I got my start, as so many of us did, roleplaying via instant messenger and message boards online. I started my first novel circa 2000 on the family desktop computer(it was about dragon-themed magical girls), only to have it gobbled up by an unannounced hard drive reformatting. After my father learned what had happened, he was so upset that I shortly after got my own computer, so that at least next time it wouldn’t be his fault if my work were erased.

He was always a huge inspiration and encouragement to me in all of my artistic pursuits, making sure I always had the tools I needed to pursue my interests in music, art, and writing. I also owe a great deal of that creative talent to him, a very gifted musician and artist himself.

In high school, I played percussion in marching band, bass guitar in a garage band, and dabbled in drama. I also worked with our school librarian in a grassroots movement to revamp the summer reading program. We took a languishing program that offered students the choice of reading one of two dry classics over the summer, and turned it into a contemporary program that included works by new Young Adult authors, Stephen King, and Harry Potter, just to name a few. It was a huge hit, and made students dread summer reading less, which is always a success in my book. I presented the program in a speech to my entire high school, designed and drew posters for each book we’d added to the program, and gave talks on the book 1984 to rotating groups of students as part of a book fair day to drum up interest.

Rise To Power

In university, whilst pursuing a bachelor’s in history and a double minor in French and English, I began branching out into tabletop RPGs, cutting my teeth on White Wolf’s New World of Darkness system. From there I would end up dabbling in Dungeons & Dragons Exalted, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space, Firefly, and After The Bomb, as well as blowing my money on that quintessential cardboard crack, Magic: the Gathering. My first and foremost love, however, will always be Werewolf: The Forsaken.

When I wasn’t procrastinating on homework in these noble endeavors, I worked as a one-on-one tutor. I also cut my editing teeth, helping students plan, research, and proof their papers. Here, I discovered that my strongest ally in teaching was humour. People pay attention if you tell jokes, and then you can always bait-and-switch them into learning something as well.

Before relieving my school of my presence, I managed to appear in a production of The Laramie Project, present a paper entitled ‘The Futility of War Against the Intangible’ at a symposium on the sociology of terror, become vice president of our local chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, and write a Valentine’s Day themed story for a creative writing class that was so brutal it became legendary within the English department as ‘The Screwdriver Story’.

I later went on to haunt the halls of another unfortunate institution whilst I pursued an MA in historical studies. Here, too, I tricked people into listening to me give a riveting presentation on my research. With both degrees, my dissertations were about eugenics. At the undergraduate level, I wrote about public opinion of eugenics in Germany. My master’s level dissertation was a comparative analysis of eugenics in the US and UK.

Renaissance

Post-matriculation, I moved to the blasted wasteland of the American Deep South™. I commenced work at a small railway museum, where the staff stretched thin. Thus I wore a lot of hats for this institution. I ran special events, negotiated and managed film productions, and ran the library and archives with an iron fist. I also drove locomotives for our passenger operations and after hours switching operations. So I can also now say that I’m an engineer.

It is now that my writing career really starts to flourish. In addition to this, I write short stories and flash fiction on Wattpad and for submission to various literary magazines.

I attended Publish15, the Atlanta Writing Workshop, and TLC’s Writer’s Day. In addition, I have trawled the lectures, panels, and workshops by agents, publishers, and authors at various conventions such as CONjuration and Dragon Con.

Going Mainstream

As of 2016, I’m now back in the UK and permanently settled, both into my new country and also into my professional writing career. My first independent published piece was with Who Writes Short Shorts? and I started hosting workshops, the first of which was an introduction to poetry.

These days, you can find me amongst the throngs of people on most Twitter pitch parties, as well as participating in writing tags. It’s a great opportunity to get involved with the writing community and share the darlings you didn’t manage to kill.

I’ve also participated in regularly scheduled, round table critique groups before, and run my own. I’m available as a critique partner who will absolutely tell you when your science is bad. If you’re interested in using me as an editor, beta reader, or critique partner, just drop me a line.

Make sure you use the appropriate pencil
Don’t draw freeform, use this stencil
Armed police keep you safer than a fence will
Dress for Jesus, and don’t be sinful
We don’t want you led astray, we’ll blur out those pixels
That’s a fire hazard, now take down that tinsel
There’s a war on Christmas, it’s as clear as crystal
Remember, it’s not hate if it’s official
You don’t need medicine, just take fish oil
Always respect authority; it’s just that simple
You should love America; we’ve the biggest missile
Stop and Frisk isn’t profiling if they’ve always got a pistol
Learn to respond promptly at a bell or whistle
Children should always be polite and cheerful
Never talk back, protest, nor so much as bristle
No matter what, your clothes and skin mustn’t wrinkle
You need to compromise; we won’t meet you in the middle

Now forget everything you’ve learned; we’ve a fire to kindle

via Daily Prompt: Lecture

Read more of my poetry here.

Camp NaNoWriMo is going about as well as this car's owner's day.

I did it. Part of me probably knew it was coming, but I still didn’t see it coming. I hit The Wall.

Runner Athlete Fitness Wall Run Exercise

It started as a headache on Friday after an evening out with people from work. So that nixed Friday’s writing. Saturday I still had the headache. And now we’re at Sunday and I’m  struggling to reclaim that momentum I built up over the previous week.

I’m currently sitting at 13126 words, and by Day 9 I should be on 14516. 1390 words to go. I’m struggling to make it to 750.

What have I been relying on to maintain any sort of a habit?

1. The Extreme Harry Potter Word Crawls

This is the number one tool in my kit. Any time I’ve really seriously dedicated myself to writing, it’s been with this. You can find it here (requires a log in to NaNoWriMo’s website) and I highly recommend it. It makes things fun, and gives you small, achievable goals. Things like ‘write 250 words’ or ‘write for five minutes’. And it follows everyone’s favourite wizard! There’s even stuff for multiplayer (the ‘word wars’). What’s not to like?

2. 750 Words

We’ve all heard about the morning pages. For those who somehow are writers but haven’t ever googled ‘how to be a writer’, the morning pages are a recommended prescription for a busy brain. You write (by hand, if possible) at least three pages of whatever comes to mind.

This website allows you to write that, and provides some nice analytics tools as well as badges to incentivise maintaining writing streaks. It’s pretty addictive, especially if you’re like me and metrics are your kink. They can tell you how long you spent writing, what you accomplished while you were doing it, tone, POV, and most commonly used words.

camp day 5
My most visually impressive selection of stats.

3. Accountability Buddies

Guilt and embarrassment are probably the biggest motivators in human history, outside of the usual (carnal) suspects. So I decided to load up on those.

Nelson_Ha-Ha

I post about it as close to daily as possible on my Twitter and Facebook, to keep me accountable to both my close friends and family as well as the stellar writing community on Twitter.  I also exchange emails with a friend who is studying for a license exam and we check in on each other that way. Lastly, I’ve instructed a colleague (and friend!) to bung sweets across the divider between our desks if I’m able to provide proof of progress to her each morning. I’m grateful for the support. (P.S. The aforementioned colleague is a talented artist! You can find her here.)

4. Heavy Pre-Planning

I’ll return once more to the tropes littering every website that touches on the topic of writing: pantsers vs. plotters.

I fall heavily into the realm of plotters. Some people don’t need to do this, and they write beautiful organic stories and everything’s neatly filed away in their brains. I am not one of those people. I take plotting to its cold, functional extreme. I used the worksheets on Annie Neugebauer’s website, which you can find here.

They’ve totally become my crutch, because once I find something I like that produces even mediocre results out of my usual sludge, dammit I’m going to use it until it’s unhealthy.

5. Habitica

I go through highs and lows with my mood, and with it my productivity and creativity peaks and troughs as well. If I’m not careful, one day I’m going to end up with a diagnosis. But the important point is that I go through periods where I do a ton of research on boosting productivity and tracking goals and building habits. This leads to a flurry of apps to go with it and notebooks that are painstakingly designed and will most assuredly sit empty (RIP bullet journals).

The latest success story from one of these is Habitica. It’s a basic sort of RPG where you grind by completing tasks and goals IRL. You can set daily tasks, habits, and long term projects/goals, and even break these down into their individual component actions. There are pets, and quests, and equipment for your avatar, so the appeal is fairly obvious for most, as are the addictive elements. I’ll have to check back in with a later post about the long term results of Habitica, but so far, so good. It’s kept me on track with Camp NaNo, as well as the myriad other things I’m attempting.


So that’s what I’m using to try and tackle this behemoth of a project. What have you found useful in keeping the words flowing, come what may?

This monthly update is gonna be exciting.

It’s been an exciting month around here.

11896276_403067436567261_3648774825972633768_o.jpg

I finished my photography course, and I’ve been on several photo shoots, including one with human subjects! I haven’t done much with people, and I don’t think it would ever be a main focus, but I do want to try and get some studio portraiture under my belt. It’s just nice to have that skill set, even if it’s one I rarely indulge in. I’m quite happy with my bees and my flowers and things like that. I think that when you’re enjoying your work and have a passion for the subjects that comes through in your finished work.

I also received a promotion at work today, which was a great way to end a day, a week, and a month! I’ve got a new title, Marketing Executive, and a little more money in my pocket each month. It’s really nice to be in a job I actually enjoy, working with friendly people that see and appreciate the work I’m doing. I don’t dread going into work, I get to laugh a lot with my colleagues, and I no longer have to worry about watching what I say because of office politics or getting stabbed in the back. I’m also getting to develop some weaker skills, like in design, which I can apply to my writing and photography hobbies as well.

Speaking of writing, Camp NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow. I’m participating for the first time ever, and I’m pretty excited so far. Two days ago I finally hammered out a hard outline for Nushada, and got myself pretty psyched about it again in the process. I’m hoping that having a good plan of where the story is going will allow me to pick it up literally whenever I can, instead of hemming and hawing over where the story goes next before I start actually putting words down. For those of you participating, I’d love to hear about your projects!

[Warning here for strong opinions, an Americanised slant despite attempts to keep it more broad, and social justice themes.]

There’s a video circulating the internets, and because Buzzfeed made and hosted it, you’ve seen it. For those who haven’t, here it is:

It’s from Buzzfeed and European car manufacturer Skoda, and it’s about how because they grew up with technology like cable TV, tablets, and the internet, children these days can’t identify obscure items like artichokes by touch alone. And apparently that’s terrible, and the solution is to go buy a car.

Now, we’re going to dismiss the logical vacuum of Skoda ownership teaching your children about artichokes(Is a glovebox full of them a standard feature?). This video always gave me that nebulous, uncomfortable feeling of being angry with something and not being able to pinpoint why. But the other day, I finally realised what it was, so I’m going  to subject you to my issues with this video.

What I am going to get out of the way immediately is the standard anti-intellectual, anti-technological advancement trappings. Here’s a cool little factoid from the video:

techstudy

And here’s another factoid: A study I just did found that the amount of cars produced annually in the USA has increased nearly 75 times itself in the last twenty years, as of 1927. Are we losing touch with livery? Have we forgotten what a horse is? Go buy a horse and buggy so your children don’t go without the experience of horse manure aromas clinging to everything they own.

Twenty years ago was 1996. You might remember this time as when you didn’t spend tons of time in front of a computer because the internet was very slow, loading anything took a long time, and the target audience was only starting to include people who were off the clock. As this Slate article put it:

You rarely linger on the Web; your computer takes about 30 seconds to load each page, and, hey, you’re paying for the Internet by the hour. Plus, you’re tying up the phone line. Ten minutes after you log in, you shut down your modem.

internet-explorer-15-year-journey3Yahoo was still relevant. There was no Chrome.

So yeah, time spent with technology has doubled as the quality of that technology improved. Same as my little automotive history snippet up there. What changed in that time period? The cars got cheaper, more comfortable, and Henry Ford rolled out the assembly line and the Model T. And then more people got them. The time spent with the new technology of cars increased as access to and quality of cars improved.

Cool, now that we got the luddite bias out of the way, we can move onto what really bothers me about this video, and the school of thought behind it.

rupn8q41Mark this in your calendars: It’s the only time you’re gonna see Family Guy on this blog.

The between-the-lines takeaway of this video, as far as I can tell, is that parents should be ashamed and have failed their children, by plopping them down in front of a television/computer/tablet/video game instead of taking them on family outings to enjoy nature.

1-crop-article920-largePeople who were better parents than you. Probably.

Now, this is a lot to unpack, but what it basically boils down to is more bootstrap-style poor-shaming. This argument that parents need to stop being lazy and go naturing with their kids misses out on a whole plethora of socioeconomic reasons why people are probably not doing that.

Nature requires space, money, and transportation, as well as free time. These are things that are largely luxuries of the upper class. Let’s look at these individually, shall we?

We’ll start with free time and money. You might remember a small kerfuffle about an employee budgeting guideline McDonald’s put out a while back. It was ridiculous and insulting for a number of reasons, but it also tacitly admitted that anyone earning minimum wage is going to struggle to get by even while working two jobs. It lacks line items for childcare, gas for your car, or groceries.

American families spend on average $250 a month for gasoline, and it’s higher in other countries, like the United Kingdom. And Forbes reckons it takes nearly $800 a month to raise one child. Now, 3 million people are earning exactly at, or below, the national minimum wage in America. Couple that with the fact that people aged 25 or over were the second largest group of minimum wage workers. So you’ve got to have one parent working three jobs, or two parents with at least one working two jobs, in order to make ends meet.

This means they do not have time to pile the kids into the family car(which may or may not be reliable) and go find some nature to poke with a stick. Hell, they don’t have time to make, and eat, those wholesome family dinners we’re all supposed to be having, either.

Happy family having roast chicken dinner at table

So yes, kids are left to their own devices. And they’re probably not going to traipse out into the great unknown to look for bugs. Not when they have hours of homework even in primary school and every PSA, teacher, and parent is warning them of the dangers of going outside their home.

strangerdanger
Not in this article: mild annoyance at putting the vaguely Asian girl in a yellow helmet.

Wealthier families do have free time, because they don’t have to work the gruelling hours. When they do happen to work long hours, such as in politics, journalism, and corporate executive positions, the children have access to care givers, child minders, and all the camps you can shake a stick-bug at.

That’s free time. Now onto money. Let’s go back to that McDonald’s budget. Not a lot of wiggle room. A large swath of the population can’t afford to take their family to a zoo or aquarium. I personally could only afford the Georgia Aquarium once a year because locals were given free admission on their birthday. Don’t believe me? I did some hunting. Here’s a selection of zoo and aquarium admission prices.

tickets
And here’s a good currency conversion site.

You might recognise this as pretty expensive. The cheapest option in the Skoda’s geographic region is the Berlin Zoological Garden. And that’s still 29.50 Euros for one parent and two children, just for admission. That doesn’t take into account public transit tickets or gasoline in the car to get there, doesn’t factor in feeding those kids, and doesn’t even touch on the gift shop. I understand that zoos and aquariums have astronomical upkeep costs, and that’s fine. I would rather have healthy, happy animals and well-funded conservation research than cheaper tickets. But it’s still expensive(how about using taxes or lottery money to subsidise ticket prices???). A good cause doesn’t put the money in a parent’s bank account.

But wait, you say! It’s not zoos or nothing! What about parks? What about national parks and public green spaces?

Good point. Where are those, largely? Rural areas. Places far from city centres and suburbs and usually poorly served by public transit routes.  So you’ve got to have the luxury of time off from work, a car that can go longer distances, and which they can afford to fuel to the country and back. And no, they probably don’t already live in the countryside, as they then would not be able to afford their daily commute to the service industry jobs which have left rural landscapes in a sort of work drought.

On the flip side, you have the side of humanity that gave rise to yours truly: the rural poor. People who live in backwater areas, y’know, ‘paddle faster, I hear banjos’ territory.

200_sI always miss this guy between family reunions!

And the same thing applies. It’s down to socioeconomic capability. They can’t afford luxuries like tablets, and reception both for cell phones and satellite TV(they’re normally outside the coverage area for cable companies), is poor and largely determined by location (wedged between two mountains? no service), which the poor often cannot choose for themselves. Left with little else to do, they go explore nature.

But even this, I’d argue, is a window backwards through time, to an era before we saw a flip in the economics of the countryside. Long ago, the rich lived in the cities and poor people lived in the agricultural and mining dominated country. These days, the poor work service industry jobs in the city and live in cramped council estates, housing projects, and small apartments. The rich live in sprawling, picturesque country estates, decommissioned farms, or hell, even relatively spacious suburbs.

And here’s where you encounter the space issue. The lower classes can’t necessarily afford a place with a roomy garden, or even a sunny balcony. And have you seen an allotment waiting list? Land is a premium in the UK, and there’s too much of it in America(isolation of urban areas by suburban sprawl).

So, yes, kids are losing touch with nature, but don’t blame technology. For so many children, PBS, Netflix, Youtube, and other media outlets are their only access to nature, science, and other critical forms of education. And don’t blame parents; nobody wakes up and says ‘damn, I wanna be the worst parent I can be’. They’re doing the best they can in a system which is stacked against them. These attitudes of blaming the poor for their own situations have to end, and the poor have to learn to stop letting upper classes gaslight them into thinking they can just bootstrap themselves into an idyllic lifestyle with leisure, money, summer camps for kids, and paid vacations.

Speaking of the bootstrap rhetoric, Skoda has a companion website for this video, full of cute little craft and activity ideas to reconnect children with nature. Here’s a screencap from the lite version of the website:

whitewashing

You might realise this looks like a hipster’s vision board. You might also notice that it’s white as the freshly driven snow. And you may even notice a few things which only a small portion of children have access to:

  • LEDs to fart around with
  • space and materials for urban gardening
  • random rope for practising knots (no word on whether the government will subsidise this purchase as skill training for fetish club work)
  • a tree to climb and hang things in
  • parents with the free time to do this crap/supervise kids doing this crap

These are great ideas, but unless Skoda is also going to help with initiatives to bring this to all income levels(a free summer camp, for instance, which would be a boon to parents who rely on schools to feed their children) it comes off as a bit trite.

So if I wouldn’t blame parents, or children, or technology, what would I blame? I’d blame economics which prioritise productivity and consumption. They tie a person’s worth to their output levels and contribute to work cultures where manual labour is massively devalued as both ‘easy’ and ‘cheap’.  I’d also blame a deep-seated societal hatred of the poor. They’re taught it’s their fault they’re poor, it’s their fault they can’t give their kids a well-rounded natural education, and they learn that because they’re horrible people for being poor on purpose(????? who the hell chooses to be in poverty?), they deserve these awful jobs that continue the cycle.

In conclusion, parenting is hard. Making ends meet is hard. I have so much respect for all of you out there, striving to provide the very best for your kids. Don’t let these types of videos and such make you feel like a terrible parent because your kid doesn’t know what an artichoke is like without seeing it. You’re doing great and your kid is gonna turn out great.


There. That’s my rant over. Back to your regularly scheduled light-hearted writing and review related content. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this campaign, too! Do you find it easy to get out into nature?