Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Who's That, Again?

I see from all the "Hello! This is me!" posts popping up in my blog roll that we've entered "Introduce Yourself Week". Normally, I'd probably skip the introductions on the grounds everyone likely to read them already read them last Blaugust and the Blaugust before that but as Wilhelm points out, we have a significantly bigger than usual intake of first-timers, so it would only be polite to say a few words about myself, I guess.

Introducing yourself on the internet is different to introducing yourself in person, of course. As the famous New Yorker cartoon from 1993 had it "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog".

I'm not a dog. I am a big fan of the New Yorker, though, if that's a thing someone can be, when they've never bought a copy, far less subscribed. Back when there was only the physical magazine, it was a high day and a holiday if I ever even saw a copy. I think the first time I got my hands on an edition would have been when I was at college, around the turn of the decade, going from the seventies to the eighties. 

Growing up in the U.K. we didn't have the New Yorker; we had Punch. Punch was alright in its way. I certainly used to read it with enjoyment when I was in my teens, if I found it lying around in the school library. Being a lifelong comics reader, I was naturally attracted to the spot cartoons but some of the articles were worth a look too - not that I can remember any of them now.

Whatever Punch's merits, it definitely wasn't the New Yorker. It wasn't the place you went to read the best contemporary short fiction before it found its way into collected editions. Fine humorist though Alan Coren undoubtedly was, Britain's own Thurber if you like, even the best whimsy and snark isn't going to go fifteen rounds with the likes of Salinger, Updike, O'Hara or Munro.

Even though Salinger was then and remains now my favorite author, he'd long ceased to contribute anything, having withdrawn to the seclusion of his well-appointed cabin in Cornish, New Hampshire. The last story he published in the New Yorker (Or anywhere.) was Hapworth 16, 1924. It appeared in the June 11, 1965 edition and that was the last anyone saw of it, other than in faded copies of the magazine languishing in dentists' waiting rooms across America.

Three decades later someone tried to publish that lost story. Like most attempts to get Salinger back into print, it didn't go well

"My" Cambridge college, in a horribly blurry shot borrowed from the Internet. I don't believe I took a single photograph in the three years I was there.

I heard about at the time because by then I'd grown up, graduated from Cambridge University with a lower second in English Literature (The Drinker's Degree as it was unkindly but accurately known.), worked for a year in a comic shop, trained as a computer programmer without following through, taken a job in an insurance company as a clerk and ended up writing and editing the house magazine while running the marketing department, been married and divorced, spent a while licensing vehicles for one of the of biggest fleets of vans in Europe, before being made redundant, finally ending up doing what I've done for the last quarter of a century, namely working in a bookshop.

When I started there it was in the Mail Order department, which was just beginning to take its first, nervous steps into the digital world. Since I'd been working with computers since 1982 and not only knew what the World Wide Web was but had been using it daily in my previous job since the start of the nineties, my application for the task of dealing with these new-fangled email inquiries was happily accepted.

Within a year that had morphed into a full-scale online operation, the details of which will have to wait until I'm no longer employed by the same company. Suffice it to say, at that time not one person in a thousand in this country would have heard of Amazon, let alone been able to tell you it was a place you could buy books - and only books.

One of the things I did with my generous redundancy package from the telecommunications company I'd spent five years with was buy a PC of my own. I'd been using them at work for fifteen years by then but it had never occurred to me before to get one for myself. 

For most of my adult life I'd had what we used then to call a "home computer"; first the inevitable Sinclair Spectrum - a ZX48 -  then the bigger one with the built-in disc drive, and finally an Amiga 512. The idea of having a "real" computer in the house, the kind I used at work, didn't occur to me until I was in my late thirties. I mean, what would I do with it?

What I did for much of the first year after I got it was write a novel. Two novels. Neither of them got finished. 

Here's an important fact about me, possibly the most relevant thing I've revealed yet, at least so far as Blaugust and blogging is concerned: I love my own writing. No, I really love it. I'm not just saying that. It's embarrassing how pleased I am with my own stuff. If I had to name my favorite writer (Which I just did. It's Salinger. Does no-one listen?) I'd really have to excuse myself from competition first.

There's a huge, huge problem with liking what you do: you're always satisfied and satisfaction is death. That thing writers say - all artists, really - about never being happy with the end result? Cherish that feeling. That's motivation, that is. Without it, you'll get nowhere. 

At best, like me, you just churn it out, read it back, chortle with pleasure and sit back, happy. It's not a great look, if I'm honest.

Apparently it was a sequel.
Never knew that at the time.
Probably should have guessed from the title
As far as the novels went, there was a bigger problem. Unlike this sort of thing, which I can (Self-evidently.) knock out effortlessly without taking a breath, writing fiction is hard. More than that, it's scary. It was for me, anyway.

During that year, I would sit down at the keyboard and wait for a moment. Sometimes a lot more than a moment. Then I would start typing. An hour or two later I would stop and read back what I'd written and most of it would be unfamiliar to me. When I read it back a few days later it would be entirely as if someone else had written it.

Even now, reading what I wrote then, I cannot imagine how it could have been me. It's like spirit-writing or channelling. I always found it extremely draining and after a few months I found it too disturbing as well so I stopped. Haven't written any fiction since, other than a handful of in-character pieces in the early years of this blog.

So, there I was with a PC and nothing to do with it. I had a chat with Mrs Bhagpuss, with whom I'd bought a house and had been living for about five years by then, and for the first time discovered that she was interested in computer games (Again, as we called them back then.) It also turned out she'd played some tabletop RPGs back in the eighties, most notably Call of Cthulhu, and so had I. Amazing how you can get that far into a relationship and something like that just never comes up.

We started playing video games together. RPGs like Might and Magic VI and VII, Return to Krondor and Baldur's Gate, as well as adventures like Broken Sword. After a year or two we began to run out of ideas for what to play next, which was when I had the bright idea of trying one of the new, somewhat intimidating online rpgs. In November 1999 I bought a copy of EverQuest and that was pretty much that for a couple of decades.

Now, here I am in 2022, still playing video games, still even playing EverQuest on occasion. I haven't logged in for a few weeks but my subscription remains unbroken since the end of the last milennium.

I did try several times to subscribe to the New Yorker but at the time they wouldn't have me, even for the digital edition. I didn't have the right IP. I might try again although I can think of a few other services I'd rather sub to, now subscribing's back in fashion. 

When it comes to entertainment, art and creativity, though, most things I want come free. The F2P revolution could have been designed with my playstyle in mind. It's turned online gaming into a vast party with a free bar. I just wander around, sampling everything, picking up anything I fancy then putting it down when I've had enough.

Beryl. When she was younger.
And that's what this blog has become, too. A rolling record of things I've sampled and what I thought about them, bundled in with a clutch of opinions, reminiscences, speculations and the very occasional rant. I've always loved the sound of my own voice and I've been writing since I could hold a pencil. Blogging was made for me. I can only apologize for the outcome.

I do also have to admit that of late the quality has slipped somewhat. I could blame it on my age but actually I blame it on the dog. Six months ago, before Beryl arrived, there were occasional longeurs, when I struggled to think of something to do. I've dropped my working hours to two days a week as I enter pre-retirement and in the dark, cold, wet days of late winter there were times when I entertained the thought that I might have too much time on my hands. I certainly had all the time in the world to work on posts, polishing them 'til I thought they shone. (Not at all the same thing as them actually shining, obviously.)

Yeah, well that didn't last. Two and a half hours of dog-walking a day put paid to any concerns I had about finding something to keep me busy and also any semblence of organization or coherency in the posts. It's quite hard to hold onto your train of thought when a dog suddenly appears next to you and starts barking because she wants to... I don't know... anyone speak dog?

A dog is for life but a puppy's just for a while, though. She's already turning into a surly teenager and in six months, with luck, she'll be a responsible young adult. Just like I was. (I'm fond of irony. It's a cultural trope over here.)

This is my twelfth year of blogging. I don't suffer from triskaidekophobia, thankfully, although I am finding myself to be increasingly superstitious as I get older. You won't catch me not saying hello to a single magpie, that's for sure. 

I feel I have a few years of blogging in me yet, everything else being equal, so with luck and the will of the fates, let's meet back here in a year's time and do it all again. And if we get another batch of first-timers I'll try and come up with something different by way of an introduction.

Oh, who am I kidding? I won't even remember what I wrote by this time next week, let alone next year!


  1. You’re always engaging, now we see how you got that way. What an interesting life. You’re doing the right thing giving over the extra time to the pup. Atheren

    1. Thanks! And yes, she's only going to be young once. Best enjoy it while it lasts.

  2. I knew someone who worked on Return to Krondor, and based on his experiences --and how much nicer it was at the CAD/CAM firm we worked at where we had some insane crunch levels back in the late 90s-- that convinced me to not go into game design.

    1. One of the reasons I didn't pursue programming as a career (Other than that I wasn't much good at it...) was that I knew a couple of people who did it for a living and they seemed to veer from doing nothing for ages to working eighteen hours a day and dropping completely out of circulation. It didn't look like much fun to me so I didn't really put myself out in the few interviews I got, which I know think was just as well.

      Also (Long answer to a short comment, this is...) I only just last month read my first Raymond E Feist novel. I can't imagine how I managed to avoid him for so long. It wasn't intentional. I literally never heard of him until a few years ago. At the time we played that game I didn't even know what books it was based on. He's very good, I discover now, twenty-five years later...

  3. It's kind of funny how I thought he was good back then with his original 3/4 books (Magician was split into two books on the paperback release in the same way Tad Williams' To Green Angel Tower was), but now I realize just how much of a Mary Sue/Marty Stu his two main characters were. Still, the writing itself is good, and a lot of SF&F tends to veer toward Mary Sue territory anyway, so I can't really fault him for that.

  4. What a great post! I especially love the slightly random career history, which is something that's not commonly seen as a good thing but has some parallels with my own life so far. Having grand career aspirations is overrated. 🙂

    1. Thanks! I never really had any career aspirations to the point that I didn't even really think about a career as something relevant to me. Just as well, really, the way things turned out. I'm happy enough with how it all went, anyway.


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