Over my shoulder

My brief abscondment from blogging last year has rather unfortunately robbed me of the traditional look-back-on-the-year-gone post of which I have previously been so fond of boring my audience with. I’d look at the post I did last year for the year ahead, judge myself against it and write one for the next year, so I could end up in an endless feedback loop of recrimination. If blogging offers anything of value to the blogger beyond the knowledge of pestering multiple people at once, it is the accountability you can get by looking back and measuring yourself against that optimistic version of yourself. Last year I’d completely abandoned blogging and was about to walk away from writing online altogether, and so there is no post from this time last year going on about how much I was going to achieve this year for me to look at, get depressed and then write about how next year was going to be the year I’d actually get my life together.

Not that that’s going to stop me looking back anyway.

I seem to remember that at the turn of last year I actually took a conscious decision not to make any resolutions at all. I was determined not to mess about with dieting and all that nonsense (hence the additional stone or so that I’m now carrying), I was going to wrap up Demon Pigeon and make most of the people I know online cross with me for doing so (mission accomplished) and there was some kind of nebulous ‘I’ll do better with the writing thing’. That was about it.

So in the absence of any set goals, what kind of a year has it been? Well I started a new job and managed not to get fired from it, so that’s a good start. I seem to actually be quite good at it, so from that point of view it’s been pretty good. It has brought into my life a level of ‘work stress’ that I’ve managed to avoid for most of my work life to date, but I guess that’s what happens as you climb further up that greasy pole. It’s not unbearable and I’m a hell of a lot better off than a lot of other people, so I’m not about to start bitching about it.

On the health front the aforementioned stone or so (I daren’t look too closely at the numbers until next year, when I will actually do something about it) is testament to a year when I have at the very least enjoyed my food. And my wine. Mostly the latter.

As for the writing? Well I finished the second draft of Blood on the Motorway, my apocalyptic tale of murder and stale sandwiches, but more importantly I came to something approaching an epiphany about my writing, and what I need to do if I’m serious about wanting to make this anything more than a hobby. I sent the second draft out (or bits of it anyway) to some beta readers and seemed to get some fairly positive responses which have encouraged me that perhaps I’m not entirely barking up the wrong tree.

As for everything else, well it’s been a bit of a barnstormer of a year. My lovely family is pretty bloody brilliant. My little boy is currently at the period between three and four that guarantees peak cuteness and my daughter is growing up to be a brilliant, kind and sweet little girl with a tremendous curiosity about the world. My partner and I are nearly a year into planning a wedding and haven’t had to resort to murdering each other even once. She’s been amazingly supportive as I’ve taken on the new job and tried to determine my writing plan, and I can’t wait to stand up next to her next year and look slightly shambolic next to her radiance when we get married.

There’s been ups and downs, as there inevitably is, but as I sit astride December looking back on the year gone, I have to say that on balance it’s been a corker. I’m unbelievably excited about next year, even though it’s going to be one of the toughest of my life if I want to do everything I plan to achieve, but that’s for another post. Stop rolling your eyes, yes there’ll be more of this.

At this point all there is to do is splurge out a list of all the stuff I’ve liked this year, like a child shouting out his favourite Pokémon to a disinterested playground.

Books

I almost never read stuff when it comes out, but the books I’ve enjoyed most this year are:

  • Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B Truant, and Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran. Two self-publishing guides that have completely revolutionised my thinking this year.
  • Old Gold, Runaway Town and Lost City by Jay Stringer. After a few years of meaning to get around to them I finally read these three books in quick succession, and they completely blew me away. All the brilliance of the American crime heavyweights like Pelicanos, but with a Wolverhampton accent.
  • I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. A bit of a fluff read, this was a thoroughly entertaining Bourne style political murder mystery.

Movies

I have children so rarely make it to the cinema any more, but The Raid: Berendal was astounding, and I really enjoyed Captain America: Winter Soldier and Edge of Tomorrow. I’m sure I would have loved Gone Girl, Interstellar and Guardians of the Galaxy too, but I haven’t seen any of them so I can’t comment. No, I’m not crying, you’re crying. *weeps*

Music

Despite there not being any albums that completely blew me away this year, there’s been a lot that I’ve really enjoyed. Here’s my non ordered top 21 albums of the year because why the hell not:

  • Every Time I Die - From Parts Unknown
  • 65daysofstatic – Wild Light
  • Crippled Black Phoenix – White Light Generator
  • Mogwai – RAVE TAPES
  • Helms Alee – Sleepwalking Sailors
  • Conan – Blood Eagle
  • Dirge – Hyperion
  • Cult Leader – Nothing For Us Here
  • Lantlos – Melting Sun
  • Fu Manchu – Gigantoid
  • Electric Wizard – Time to Die
  • Trap Them – Blissfucker
  • Old Man Gloom – The Ape of God I
  • Beck – Morning Phase
  • Sun Kil Moon – Benji
  • Se Delan – The Fall
  • Goat – Commune
  • This Will Destroy You – Another Language
  • Emma Ruth Rundle – Some Heavy Ocean
  • Mark Lanegan Band – Phantom Radio
  • NehruvianDOOM – NehruvianDOOM

Of course, the new Colour Haze album comes out today and I’ve not heard it yet, so I fully expect that to make a late bid for Album of the Year.

So that’s it. 2014. All done and dusted save for the fun bit at the end. If you missed it the other day, I did a new post over at The Rolling Stone Challenge, so if you’ve not seen that, you should totally go and read it.

Decade

It has today been a full decade since I was last employed as a writer. For a brief period, I could legitimately claim that as a job description, without people being able to laugh straight in my stupid face for doing so, or giving me that look. You know, that one. When I first moved to York I was hired by a tiny charity-backed start up as a writer, and from there got hired as a features writer for an Asian lifestyle magazine, despite the obvious drawback of me being neither Asian nor in possession of much of a lifestyle. The boss at the time rather kindly overlooked this, mainly because he assumed that I’d be desperate enough for work that he could attempt to work me to death. He was absolutely right. After a few months of me writing articles he was basically too lazy to write himself about BMWs, he launched a newspaper for the same market. It was hugely ambitious, a free 50,000 word monthly paper distributed throughout the Asian community of West Yorkshire funded entirely by ads. He made me editor and sole writer, and proceeded to do the working-me-to-death thing.

After nine months of endless promises that he’d hire other writers soon, I started looking around for more journalism jobs, hoping that this experience of being utterly shafted on a regular basis, having to edit all my own words at three in the morning on deadline day and living off the worst chicken burgers known to man would stand me in good stead for whatever shafting the next job would have in store for me. The plan was to slowly work my way up the food chain until I was editor of The Guardian. Or Empire Magazine, or maybe Metal Hammer. I wasn’t fussy back then.

I was hired by another company, again as a journalist, this time with the promise of normal hours and vastly improved pay, which would have been splendid had I not turned up on my second day of work and found the company was being wound up by inland revenue for non-payment of VAT. Two weeks before Christmas.

I’d fairly spectacularly burnt my bridges on exiting the previous job (and spent the subsequent few months chasing my last payment) so, with little other option, I went back to my default twenties job, serving behind the bar at a rock pub and dying inside every time someone selected Chop Suey on the jukebox (approximately every seventeen minutes).

That dream crushing event was ten years ago today.

I know that, because it was the day after the Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell was shot and killed on stage in America by a deranged fan, along with another band member and some unfortunate crowd members. I spent the entire morning at my new office waiting for someone to tell me what I’d be doing, and in the absence of such instruction I scoured the metal news sites, being shocked by the events. Then an odious little man turned up and told us all to go home and I moved on from events in America. Now every year on the anniversary of his death I get this odd mix of sadness about the event (not that I’m a huge Pantera fan, but it was a pretty shocking end) and frustration at myself that I had to walk away from being paid to do the stuff that I now spend my free time doing.

Since then I’ve not really been able to claim ‘writer’ as anything other than an aspiration. Sure there was that time I gave up my job in a shop and tried to start a metal magazine, but that only lasted a few months and made me utterly financially destitute for a further year, so I don’t really count that, because that was humiliating and awful. A story for another time perhaps, perhaps for a blog post entitled ‘How to do a really stupid thing and end up not being able to pay your rent and come pretty close to being homeless.’

So there it is. A full decade since I thought my dream of writing had gone forever. I’m still writing though, and hopefully this time next year I’ll have an actual product on the market that people can buy from me, and when that happens I can again call myself a writer. A proper one, that gets paid for it and everything. Just try not to make that face at me until then. You know, that face.

 

Death To Scrobble

Disclaimer: I wrote this earlier and considered not posting it because it's officially the most banal thing I've ever written. But then I thought fuck it, I'm going to post it anyway. Sorry.

Today it’s time for me to say goodbye to an old friend. To put the nail in a relationship that has lasted two weeks shy of a decade, leaving behind me a trail of tears, recriminations and statistics.

I’ve got a new phone, you see. For reasons too convoluted to go into here, I’ve moved from an iPhone 4s, which has been my faithful and sturdy companion these past two years until Apple killed it with iOS8, to a shiny new Windows Phone. I quite like it, although it has quite a few shortcomings on the app side that are frustrating in the extreme.

Take Podcasts for instance. I know a lot of people who have iPhones think that the podcast app that Apple provide is a dead duck, a lame app that doesn’t service their needs. Well be thankful you don’t have a Windows Phone. From the in-built monstrosity to the variety of inexplicably unworkable offerings in the app store, I spent two hours last night trying to find an app for podcasts that has even half of the functionality of the Apple variant.

In the end I’ve had to settle on two, one which works as a half decent podcast app for new episodes, one that I can keep working through the Self Publishing Podcast on, because the other one doesn’t let you go further than 50 episodes back. If if that sentence was tedious and dull to read, imagine how it was living through it for two hours. But that’s not my biggest gripe.

I’ve spoken before about my love of Spotify’s premium service. I know it screws over artists but there is simply no better music experience for the end user in the digital world (I say digital world to heed off those people who still think vinyl is the only way to go, the hippie weirdos) and as much as I’d love to be able to spend all my money of paying artists their fair share, the truth is I can’t. I can pay for a legal service though, which is what I do. Guilt be damned.

However, as much as I’ve fallen in love with Spotify over the last few years, I’ve had a much longer online relationship with last.fm. If you’re not aware of last.fm, it’s a service that tracks what music you listen to through something called scrobbling, and then makes recommendations based on what you listen to. It’s brilliant too; rather than saying ‘hey you like rock music, have you heard of U2?’ like a lot of recommendation things (and I’m looking at you here Spotify) it has actually introduced me to loads of really cool stuff I would never have heard otherwise. But aside from the discoverability aspect of last.fm, the best thing is the stats.

Now, I’m a music geek. I’m well aware of that. I’m perhaps not like ‘normal’ people. I like stats, and when it comes to something I’m as obsessive about as music, I really really like my stats. I really like being able to see what has been my most listened to band of the last six months, or what album has received most of my time in the last decade. I like to go into a band and see which album I’ve actually listened to the most. I like seeing what has been my favourite song of the year. I like going onto the pages of people whose tastes I respect and seeing what they’ve been listening to.

I like my stats, damn it, and I’ve put a hell of a lot of time into cultivating them. In fact, since I joined on the 12 Nov 2004 I have scrobbled 70,019, tracks, which averages out to 19 songs a day. Not bad when you consider that I didn’t really get going until I got my first smartphone maybe four years into that time. Last.fm allows me to indulge the geekiest extremes of my personality, and has provided me with endless hours of entertainment looking through my charts.

So, I love Spotify, and I love Last.fm. Together they represent the kind of music experience that the younger me could only have dreamt about. Which is why it’s a complete pisser that as of yesterday, I can no longer use the two together. Spotify’s App on Windows Phone has no functionality for scrobbling, and none of the scrobbling apps on Windows Phone talk to the Spotify app. Since Spotify is now really the only way that I listen to music, and most of the time that’s on my phone, that means no more scrobbling, exactly two weeks shy of a decade into my habit.

It’s shitty, really. I’ll still be able to scrobble on my laptop, but I don’t really use it for listening, so the scrobbles wont actually be an accurate reflection of my listening habits. Now I’m well aware that this is possibly the most obvious case of ‘first-world-problems’ know to mankind, but damnit I’m really annoyed, as the previous 700 words can testify to. I’m pissed off. Pissed off enough to start direct messaging members of the Spotify support forums, and to trawl the message boards looking for solutions. But all to no avail.

So goodbye scrobbling. Goodby stats. We nearly made it a decade.