My 2016 Game of the Year

This year, I’ve decided to post a few of the highlights I’ve come across in 2016 to share with you all. They won’t necessarily be things published or released this year, but will all be relatively recent works that I – at least – discovered in 2016.

 

While SOMA came out in 2015, I played it over the winter and completed it in 2016.

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Suffering from brain damage after a car crash, Simon Jarrett agrees to an experiment brain-scan. Blacking out half way through, he wakes to find himself in a seemingly abandoned deep sea research facility in the year 2104. What follows, as Simon tries to work out what has happened, is a terrifying exploration of the nature of the human soul and the sense of self.

This is one of those games you irritatingly can’t say much about in a review for fear of giving too much away. Half the appeal of SOMA is the experience of playing and discovering the story for yourself.

If you’ve played any of the Amnesia series of games, then you’ll have an idea of the gameplay. But SOMA is a massive step up in terms of story and voice acting. This is a story-driven, survival horror game, so you’re not going to be battling monsters. Rather, you’ll be running from them, helpless, as you solve puzzles and try to work out what the hell is going on. But as you creep or spirit through the game world you discover a plot that’s both depressing and fascinating. It will make you really think about who “you” are, and then leave you in a deep, existential mire.

Honestly, when I finished this game I lay awake at night with an honest to god existential crisis. It will make you question your very existence.

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I wouldn’t exactly call this a “fun” game, although I don’t want to give the wrong impression from that statement. What I mean is, this isn’t something you throw on after a stressful day at work when you just want to switch your brain off for some mindless entertainment. You’re going to have to think through this one. Not because it’s especially hard, but because the story is so smart and thought provoking that you will need to pay attention to get all the benefit. But don’t worry, it’s so well written and perfectly balanced that it never feels like a chore to do so.

I would say the better descriptions for this are “rewarding” and “satisfying”, rather than “fun”. But, damn, is it both of those in spades.

 

My 2016 TV Show of the Year

This year, I’ve decided to post a few of the highlights I’ve come across in 2016 to share with you all. They won’t necessarily be things published or released this year, but will all be relatively recent works that I – at least – discovered in 2016.

 

This one gave me a little difficulty. We all know that we’re in a so-called “Golden Age of Television”, and as much as that phrase is tired and overused I can’t deny that with subscriptions to Netflix and Amazon Prime I’ve had copious excellent television to get through. By rather than one of the series that everyone’s already raved about online, I’m going to pick one that we started watching on a whim without knowing anything about it and turned out to the be one of the cleverest TV shows I’ve seen in a long time.

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On the day Rebecca Bunch is finally about to reach her lifelong goal of being made a Partner in a prestigious New York legal firm, she is suddenly struck by just how miserable she truly is. Then, mid-breakdown – she runs into an old boyfriend. Releasing that the time she dated him – for just 3 months one summer over a decade ago – was the last time she was truly happy, Rebecca drops everything and follows him across the country to win him back.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of the smartest pieces of television writing I’ve watched in years. While the premise could be one of a thousand bland rom-coms or generic sitcoms, writer and star Rachel Bloom instead created something that’s both a fun musical show and a deep look into the divide between what society has taught us to think we want and what we actually need.

Rebecca drops a high-flying legal career to be with the boy of her dreams. Why wouldn’t that be the right thing to do? They had a Meet-Cute on the day she needed it the most. That’s what television and movies have taught us; that our fairytale will come true if we just believe enough to fight through all obstacles. Why should it matter that she’s stalked him across the country? Or that he’s been with the same girlfriend for fifteen years? Or that her actions throw the lives of so many people into chaos? It’s meant to be!

Ultimately, this show is about the delusions we build for ourselves to hide from the truths we don’t want to face.

While also being a light-hearted musical.

Did I say the writing on this show was really clever?ceg1cast3_0509ra-max-620x600

It’s the layers to the characters and the plots that make this show unmissable. They’ve managed to avoid or subvert every trope in their path, without a single lazy path taken. If two characters have an ‘amusing misunderstanding’, rather than stretching that out for an entire episode they will talk it out and focus instead on the underlying issues. We’re introduced to characters such as “the boss who wants to be everyone’s friend”, or “the controlling bitch girlfriend”, or “the love interest”, but as the series progresses you see how none of them are solely defined by these labels. You also see why they are this way. Why does the boss so desperately want people to like him? Why is the love interest’s girlfriend such a controlling bitch? Why does the love interest stay with his girlfriend even though she’s so unpleasant and demanding? And, most impressively, all of them change and grow in a way that suit the character rather than the longevity of the show. Or getting preachy.

Basically, if you’ve not caught this show I cannot recommend strongly enough that you do. It’s currently half way through its second season, and you won’t find many shows so that subvert television character tropes so well.

 

My 2016 Film of the Year

This year, I’ve decided to post a few of the highlights I’ve come across in 2016 to share with you all. They won’t necessarily be things published or released this year, but will all be relatively recent works that I – at least – discovered in 2016.

 

This one was pretty easy. My film of the year has to be The Witch, from director Robert Eggers. I’ve already written about it here so I won’t go into too much detail again when you can just click the link. The passing of time has not quenched how much I love this film.

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Exiled from their settlement for their extreme Puritan views, Samuel’s family settles their own farm on the edge of a distant forest. After a year of toil, dedication, and hard work, their new-born child is stolen from under the nose of their eldest daughter by a witch living deep in the woods. What follows is a spiral of fear, persecution, blame and madness, as grief and petty grievances tear the family apart. 

This film is creepy, sinuous, creative, and beautiful. Every shot is a portrait. The story a masterpiece is isolation and the collapse of sanity in the face of forces we can’t understand. Eggers firmly roots his film in a grimy sense of reality, using only natural light, researching the world and the lifestyle of the time, and utilising documents from the period to ensure the dialogue is authentic to the time.

Don’t expect jump scares. Don’t expect gore. Expect steady burning, character driven fear. Expect to be left creeped out and unsettled. This movie is truly what a horror film should be.

My 2016 Book of the Year

This year, I’ve decided to post a few of the highlights I’ve come across in 2016 to share with you all. They won’t necessarily be things published or released this year, but will all be relatively recent works that I – at least – discovered in 2016.

 

I had to put a bit of thought into my favourite book from this year, as the one that I’ve ultimately decided upon was actually released back in 2011. But as I was given this as a gift last Christmas, and therefore only read it for the first time in 2016, I have decided it can count. Because this is my personal list, and I get to make the rules.

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In a world where real-life has become almost unliveable, where the class and wage gaps are bigger than ever and a majority of people live in poverty, most of the world live within OASIS; a fully immersive virtual world, that functions as both an MMORPG and online society where most people go to school and hold their jobs. But when the creator and owner of OASIS dies, he leaves ownership of it to whoever can solve a complex treasure hunt based on obscure 1980s trivia. And whoever owns OASIS becomes one of the richest and most powerful people in the world.

When teenager Wade Watts manages to solve the first riddle, his life becomes a race between him, his friends and peers, and the multinational corporation which will stop at nothing to gain control of OASIS.

This book is just so fresh and clever. Well researched – Cline obviously has an encyclopedic knowledge of the ‘80s and early computer games – and expertly written, Ready Player One perfectly encapsulates my generation’s culture and attitudes. Cline manages to mine the current fashion for modernised nostalgia while commenting on how just fragile the line between the real world and escapism has become.

It’s just such a shame that his follow up – Armada – which did come out this year, is so mind-bogglingly awful. Seriously, don’t bother wasting your time unless you want a perfect example of an author buckling under the pressure of a smash hit debut.

2016: Looking back, then forward

So, that was 2016. It’s been a bit of a year all told, hasn’t it? Remember that old curse; “May you live in interesting times”? I think a lot of us have gained a new appreciation for that one over the last twelve months.

But anyway, the Christmas trees are up, the cards posted, and the final gifts are being wrapped, so as the year draws to a close let’s have a look back on everything that’s been happening here.

2016, and things that have been

The big news this year has been, of course, the publication of The Æther Collection, a themed collection of horror short stories. (If you’ve not picked up your copy yet, you can do so now in paperback or ebook now).

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My original reason for deciding to do a collection of short stories rather than a single full-length novel was that it would allow me to post them up as and when they were completed. After finishing The Serpent’s Eye I didn’t want to have another two years pass by without having anything new to release, so I thought rather than intersperse a longer project with breaks for short stories I would just do a full collection I could just release as I went.

It was an interesting experiment, but I’m glad I did it. It’s taught me a lot about structure and theme, as well as giving me very useful experience working in a non-linear fashion. I’ve always been someone who revises their book in a linear order and finds it hard to jump about their manuscript while being able to keep the overall picture in my head. Hopefully, I’ll now be a little better at focusing on small sections in isolation, working on the weakest points in a narrative without having to work through parts that don’t need work as urgently.

With this being a short story collection, I honestly wasn’t expecting any attention from agents. I’ve been told directly that authors aren’t picked up based on short stories. So the fact that I had three personal, positive responses has really picked me up. While – as I predicted – none of them wanted to sign me up this time around, each of them said they really liked my writing and asked me to send them a working version of my next full novel as soon as I think it’s ready. So that’s one step closer.

The decision to focus my time on The Æther Collection has meant that I’ve not been able to get much in the way of stand-alone short stories done this year. I have been working on a couple, as and when I could but, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get any placed. I do have a couple nearly ready to go out, and a few submissions I’ve not heard back from yet, so fingers crossed for better luck next year.

I have, however, had a couple of articles published on the Huffington Post. The first was a defence of the NHS on the anniversary of my wife’s transplant, and the second was a few thoughts on the state of the UK Labour Party. I enjoy doing these more serious works every so often, but they tend to only get written when Inspiration and Having Time coincide.

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The Festival of Writing in York was again one of the highlights of my year. Getting to visit York is always worth it, and getting to spend the weekend hanging out with other writers is even better. I got to catch up with a couple of friends from 2015 and make a couple of new ones. I’d really love to go to more events like this. There are plenty of conferences and lectures around the country each year. I know it’s partly laziness that keeps me from properly researching, but I know that time and money constraints will always be an issue. Maybe in 2017 I’ll be able to put a little more effort into this side of things and I’ll get to a few more.

And the other new thing I tried this year was my Halloween Countdown. I had a lot of fun putting this together, and I think I’d like to make it an annual thing. Next year I hope to try and make it from films released during the previous year, rather than from the last few years. Not only would this mean I was helping share the work of hard working, aspiring filmmakers, it means I have an excuse and reasons to spend my time watching horror shorts online.

So hopefully this October I’ll be able to do a countdown of my favourite shorts released in 2017. Maybe I’ll even get the countdown right this time.

Oh, and thanks to my sister – who is also my designer – I was able to attend the memorial for Sir Terry Pratchett. It doesn’t seem much in the grand scheme of things, but being able to attend such a celebration, surrounded by other fans, was a really wonderful experience and helped me say goodbye to the man who really got me into reading, and therefore writing.

 

2017, and things that are to come

So, what do I have coming up next year?

My big project for 2017 is a novel, provisionally titled New Perceptions. (This is a very provisional title, mainly picked so I had something to name the Scrivener file when I started and so almost certain to change.) I’m not going to say much about it, as I don’t even have the first draft completed yet and there are likely to be many changes. Right now, I’m wrestling to get the third act together. I’m currently hoping to have something ready to get out to alpha-readers in the summer. Then, in an ideal world, I’d have something ready for agents by the end of the year, but I know full well it always takes longer than I’m hoping.

However, I can say that it will be a coming-of-age haunted house story and a full-length, single story novel. After a novella and a short story collection, I feel that my new project needed to be a full-length novel, both for creative and commercial reasons. Creative, because it’s the next logical step in my growth as a writer to show I’m able to grow and develop character and plot across 70,000 words. And commercial, as I’ve been told multiple times that agents and publishers will only pick up new authors with a full-length novel to sell.

And as I mentioned earlier, I’ve already had agents ask to see a working draft so I’m telling myself I’m starting this one already a couple of steps ahead. Fingers crossed.

Hopefully I’ll have time for a couple of side projects – stories or articles, and of course blog posts – in between drafts, but we’ll see. I really want to focus on getting this complete over the next year, so may really need to focus.

So, here’s wishing you a great Christmas and an amazing 2017! Here’s hoping this one’s a little less “interesting”. Or at least only exciting in good ways.

Out Now

And remember, both The Serpent’s Eye and The Æther Collection are available now on Amazon, iBooks and other online stores. If you’re looking for a present for the reader or book fan in your life, or just want to pick up a good horror story as a gift for yourself, click the links to grab your copy now.