That Was The Was That Was

Lots of people I know had a rubbish 2013. Sometimes a really, really rubbish 2013. Mine was pretty rough in many ways, but next to what other people were going through, it doesn’t seem so bad. So that’s something!

A lot of good stuff cut through in 2013 as well. My name was attached to some very cool projects:

I contributed a story to Baby Teeth, a horror anthology for charity. The anthology’s been getting nice reviews, too.

I co-wrote a scary adventure called Silent Night for Dale Elvy’s brilliant horror role-playing game, EPOCH. Pay what you want, all proceeds to charity, and Dale’s already turned the first batch of revenue into something concrete. Do take a look if this is your kinda thing!

I have sole credit as writer for Flick Kick Football Legends from PikPok, which is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t actually write a few tiny things like, um, the central storyline. But I did write a lot for it, and I’m proud of my contributions. it was a fun project, and it’s a fun game to boot.

I released Providence Summer, 1961, a free series plan for a role-playing game called the Dramasystem. It’s the first thing I’ve ever put out under Taleturn branding – there will be more under this name, for sure. Plus: I did the graphic design by myself and didn’t screw it up too badly! Hurrah!

I’ll shortly be kicking off the month-long buildup to Get Prepared February 22, which is an annual reminder to sort out your disaster preparedness kits, on the anniversary of the awful Christchurch earthquake. It’s still a small thing but it feels worthwhile and sustainable, and I hope it will grow.

I released into creative commons my first novel, the teenage Hutt boy saga in move. A fair number of people read along with the serialisation, and before the file host removed download stats it was clear a lot of people had grabbed the ebook. So I call that a win.

I was a foundation contributor to new blogsite The Ruminator. I used the opportunity to push myself for some more ambitious pieces, the highlight of which was my essay about kids, toys, and gender. I’m very proud of that article and it was shared pretty widely, which was extremely pleasing. I hope to write more for The Ruminator but time has been depressingly short for quite some time now.

And last but not least, the Wee Long-Leggedy Beastie was a solid source of entertainment.

So. That’s not bad. And best of all, I’m already working on some other stuff that’s even more exciting.

So here’s hoping for a hearty 2014 for me and for everyone. See ya later 2013. Thanks for the good times, get out of here for the bad times.

Wee Beastie 2013 Omnibus (part 2)

(Link to part 1)

July 3:

While on the phone to grandy I can hear Wee Beastie chattering away to herself in the lounge. At the end of the call I come in to hear her saying to herself with much glee: “And that was the story of the three bear humptys!”
A fairy tale/nursery rhyme mashup? Sounds great! I ask if she can tell me the story of the three bear humptys.
“Ohhhh… I don’t think so.”
So it appears the tale of the three bear humptys has been lost to history. Sorry folks.

July 4:

My daughter, ladies and gentlemen. At 10pm, in the dark, reading ALL THE BOOKS. Staring at the illustrations and doing the sound effects.

Needless to say there were no books on her bed when she had her goodnight kiss some hours earlier.
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July 11:

Wee Beastie driving a train. Grandy in the caboose.
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August 3:

Wee Beastie knows we bought some treats home from the supermarket – English breakfast muffins, and mini ice-blocks.
“So what do you want for breakfast?”
“I want a…. ICE BLOCK!”
“How about a breakfast muffin?”
“Yes please! And after that, a BREAKFAST ICE BLOCK!”

August 12:

Wee Beastie’s favourite toy right now is a wooden plane. She puts her small animals and people in the cockpit, and balances more on the wings, and flies it around the room narrating the adventure they are having.

This plane is in fact a spaceship built by my grandfather, to my design, three decades ago. (It is in scale with my Star Wars figures and has a compartment in the back where a bounty hunter could put his prisoner. Oh yes.) She found it in a cupboard and claimed it for herself, and it makes me _indescribably happy_ to see her playing with it. Thanks Percy!
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August 28:

Wee Beastie has found a 30cm ruler made of transparent plastic. She is wandering around holding it up to her eyes: “I’m looking at things through my measuring glass”.

September 16:

Wee Beastie walks one of her Little People up to a toy playground swing. She does voices for both.
Person: I would like to swing!
Swing: Yes. Here is your change.
Person: (kicks over swing) But swings don’t have changes!
Person proceeds to toy playground slide.
Person: I would like to slide.
Slide: OK, here is your change.
Person: (kicks over slide) But slides don’t have changes either!

September 18:

Wee Beastie lines up all her cuddly toy friends.
WB: We are doing a show! You can sit right there.
Me: Great! What is the show about?
WB: They are all asleep and then they wake up and go to a show!
Me: Excellent. What do I do?
WB: You just sit there in the theatre. The show is about to start!
Me: Okay!
WB: The show isn’t starting yet because they are all asleep. They need to wake up to start the show!
Me: Shall I help wake them up?
WB: [angry] No! They are asleep at the start of the show! [thinks about this] This show is stuck.

September 24:

Me: All right Wee Beastie, if you’re not coming, I’m going to pick your socks. I pick… these ones!
WB: (several rooms away) No! I don’t like those ones!

September 30:

**Wee Beastie has a toy helicopter.
WB: Daddy daddy! I have a rescue helicopter! You be this doggie and you need to be rescued!
Me: OK. (as the dog cuddly toy) Woof! Help! I need to be rescued!
WB (as helicopter): I don’t think so.
Me: What? Help! Help!
WB: You have a sleep. I might rescue you later.
**WB flies helicopter away.

October 3:

Wee Beastie obviously did some rearranging of books and friends after we said goodnight…
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October 9:

Wee Beastie frequently talks about how her favourite character in the Hairy Maclary books is Scarface Claw, and how he is nice really, he just needs a friend.
Now she’s become obsessed with Monsters Inc., where her favourite character is the unscrupulous Randall.

Oh no. She likes bad boys.

October 15:

Wee Beastie starts kindy today! (That’s preschool for you overseas types.) She is very excited. We leave in five minutes..

November 16:

Wee Beastie watching a DVD. Two armoured knights enter pitched battle, swords clashing!
WB: Oh oh! They’re not sharing!

December 12:

Wee Beastie in the back seat of the car today, screaming and screeching in argument. The argument was between her left hand and her right hand, who were not sharing the cracker she was eating. Eventually they agreed to put the cracker back in the plastic container and save it for another day. And all was quiet again.

December 25:

Merry Christmas all! From Wee Beastie and her new friend, the Talking Frog from Monsters Inc.
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The Wee Beastie turned 3 just before Christmas. I look forward to 2014!

Wee Beastie 2013 Omnibus (part 1)

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(Photo from May 1)

Over on Facebook I try to share amusing moments from life with the Wee Long-Leggedy Beastie that is our daughter. Here’s the first half of 2013…

January 10:

Wee Beastie: Where is the apricot? *arms out, turns around, looking all over the room* Where has it gone?
Me: Have you lost it? Where did you put it?
WB: In my mouth!
Me: You ate it?
WB: Now it is in my tummy!
Me: I guess it is!
WB: In my mouth and my tummy. It comes out the hole.
Me: What did you say? What happens to the food in your tummy?
WB, pulling up my t-shirt, pointing at my bellybutton: It comes out the hole!

Subsequent questioning showed absolute confidence in her theory that the food that goes in her mouth later emerges from her bellybutton.

February 6:

Hearing an unpleasant wailing, Cal Greaney rushes to the Wee Beastie’s bedroom – but just before opening the door, she pauses. That’s not crying – WB’s lying in the dark pretending to be a cat.

February 28:

Wee Beastie: Can you draw a square?
(I draw a square)
WB: And a star?
(I draw a star)
WB: And a moon?
(I draw a crescent moon)
WB, giving me a look: That’s not a very good moon.

She is currently in her bedroom looking for books with better pictures of moons to show me where I went wrong.

March 2:

Wee Beastie bedtime story – she asked me to tell a story about Mickey and Minnie not feeling well. I told her about Doctor Jiminy Cricket coming to help them. (It turned out they’d eaten too much birthday cake.) After I finished she decided the story needed a coda: “Then Doctor Cricket Pitch got back in his car and drove away.”

March 14:

Me: Hey Wee Beastie, you’re dribbling.
WB: (big grin) You’re a dribble!
Me: No, _you’re_ a dribble.
WB: No, YOU’RE a dribble! Hee hee, we’re doing tricks!

March 20:

On a walk with Wee Beastie, after seeing and discussing a dog.
WB: Tell it again?
Me: So if you see a dog by itself, you don’t give it a pat, because it will be a bit afraid waiting for its mummy and daddy to come back. OK?
WB: Mmm. When you see a dog by itself…
Me: Yes?
WB: watch it in the swimming pool and then it takes its togs off and gets all dry and then it goes to see its husbands!!!
Me: yes, that’s pretty much it.

March 26:

Cal Greaney putting the Wee Beastie to bed, telling her nice things about herself.
CG: You are very funny, you make me laugh!
WB: You say Knock Knock?
CG: Knock knock!
WB: No, there’s no-one here.

April 19:

Having animated talk with my mother while Wee Beastie prepares to play with trains. WB gently takes my hand and walks me out the door, then lets go, backtracks inside, and calmly shuts the door in my face.
Undivided attention from grandma: achieved.
(Actually i didn’t let her get away with pushing me around but I was impressed by the smoothness of her intervention.)

April 25:

Somehow the Wee Beastie has ended up with 3 toothbrushes, which means brushing teeth is preceded by a lengthy period of arranging the collection and weighing up the brushes’ various merits before finally choosing which one to use.
Yesterday I decided one of them had frayed far enough, so WB carefully carried the “boy and cat” brush to the bin and dumped it inside.

Last night, as we prepared to do her teeth before bed, I overheard WB with her remaining toothbrushes, holding one in each hand:
(squeaky voice) Oh where is the boy and cat one? Where is it gone?
(normal voice) said the bumblebee toothbrush.
(squeaky voice) Oh I don’t know where is it? The boy and cat one is lost!
(normal voice) said the wiggles toothbrush.
Then she put both brushes in one hand, and with the other she picked up her toothpaste tube and walked it up to the brushes.
(deeper voice) It’s okay! The boy and cat one has just gone in the rubbish that’s all!
(normal voice) said the toothpaste.

I love my Wee Long-Leggedy Beastie.

May 21:

Special dessert chosen by the Wee Beastie: six frozen blueberries, and a pickle.

May 23:

Inspired by Morgan Jones and Janet Humphris, I just asked the Wee Beastie, “Are you a boy or a girl?”
She replied, “I aren’t.”
Case closed.

May 23:

While making dinner, I hear a wail from the lounge. This is what I find.
She was wound about three revolutions deep. (Forgive me for making her wait while I took a photo.)
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May 28:

Cal Greaney asks a very sad Wee Beastie why I made her sit in the corner.
WB: (crying) Because I didn’t listen.
Cal: I think you should say sorry to him.
WB: (looking down) Sorry daddy.
Cal: You should look at his face and say sorry.
WB: (meeting my eyes, very sad) I’m sorry about your face daddy.

June 18:

Wee Beastie carefully removes all the money from my wallet, replaces it with clothespegs. “There you are Daddy. I put pegs instead of money in case you might need some pegs.”

June 24:

Wee Beastie is working on her phone technique with a toy phone. I say it’s her grandfather calling! “Will you say hello to him?”
“No. But Baby Dolly will.”
I give her the phone, and she carefully puts it to Baby Dolly’s ear. After a moment she looks at me, eyes big and innocent. “She didn’t say anything! She was just quiet.”

(She didn’t want to talk to Grandy, but she eagerly had a full one-sided conversation with James the Number Five Red Engine.)

(link to part 2)

Insurance, Monique says ur dumb

This is a call for advice, because insurance companies are dumb. It’s a small-scale issue in the grand scheme of things (cough Christchurch cough), but it’s irritating. So:

We had a fence & gate in our back yard. Then the big storm happened. Our gate fell down. Tower Insurance came to the party. They replaced our ruined shed, replaced our ruined carport roof, and put a new gate in the fence. The fence was finished September 13. We were happy customers.

On October 25 there was another storm in Wellington. It was just an ordinary sort of storm, I thought. The new gate did not survive.

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gate1

We told the insurer, hey, that gate didn’t withstand its very first Wellington storm. Wellington gets high winds and storms all the time. Ergo: it was not up to standard. Fix the gate properly this time. They replied, nope. That was a new event. You have to make a new claim.

We said: uh no way. So they sent an assessor around, who advised them: “the damage is not from bad workmanship but from another event.”

So. What’s our next move?
Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown: we let them get away with it because what were we expecting anyway.
Make it right or we’re outta here: we put a finger in their chest and stare them down and say their guy is wrong and if they don’t fix our little gate situation then we change insurance providers, capeesh?
Counterstrike: I don’t know maybe there is some customer response channel that they are not telling us about where we can say, they got this wrong, and something might come of it. Also I want a pony.

Like, we’re not stupid, are we? Would any builder say that a brand-new fence that is fit for purpose would split apart like that one did in its very first, very average, storm? Was it a very average storm, or am I misremembering its severity?

And how broken is a system where the insurer chooses the builders to do the work, pressures them into delivering work fast and as cheap as possible, then has the absolute power to decide whether their work was good or not?

Insurance is dumb.

Flick Kick Legends, Providence Summer

Sorry folks no time for linky today. But I do want to call attention to two releases of personal importance:

Flick Kick Football Legends
I’m the credited writer for this game from Wellington’s own Pikpok Games. So most of the dumb jokes are my fault, as are many of the weird little stories that unfold down the line. It’s well worth a look I reckon!

It’s a free download:
For Android at the Google Play store
For iPhone/iPad at iTunes

Providence Summer
I’ve also just released this “series pitch” for indie tabletop game Dramasystem, based on an amazing game I ran a decade ago in Scotland. It’s basically “Stand By Me the roleplaying game”. Again, a free download. This is also notable because it’s the first bit of graphic design I’ve ever done (the whole thing, words and visuals, is my work), and the first release with the Taleturn branding on it (albeit tucked away at the end). Taleturn is my business/freelancing/consulting identity, and I do have public-facing ambitions for it, so hopefully this is the first step of many…

Find Providence Summer here

in move ebook available

in move cover

My novel about teenage guys facing the end of their friendship, in move, is now available in ebook formats. (The blog serialisation has finished, but of course you can still read it there too.)

As I’ve mentioned before, this was the first novel I wrote. I started writing in 1993, when I was in my final year of high school. I was writing about the world immediately around me – Catholic single sex school in the Hutt Valley, playing some basketball, you get the idea.

Reading it again after many years away from it? If I was a publisher, I wouldn’t publish it either. I think I trapped myself with the very concept of the book – the action of the story begins when one character gets some news that demands action and decision, but instead he freezes up, and that freeze creates the rest of the story. Problem is, I’m just not a good enough writer to make really compelling work of that period, when the main character is avoiding taking action. It’s like that one Harry Potter book where all Harry did was shout at people and sulk: the other stuff going on carries the narrative some of the way, but it’s still bothersome.

So this book is about Hutt boys. But what is it really about? (Per Kermode: Jaws is not about a giant shark, Tinker Tailor is not about spies, in move is not about Hutt boys.)

Mostly, it’s about small group dynamics, which just happens to be the same thing I did a Masters thesis on a few years ago, because I guess I am just interested in that subject. And, like most character-driven fiction, it’s about the tension between what’s going on inside someone’s head and what they actually do and say.

This read-through it also became clear to me just how much the book is about rape culture. It almost pains me to type those two words, because I certainly wouldn’t have characterised it that way before. But now, it’s hard to ignore how much this book shows of some deeply unpleasant things that seemed ordinary throughout my youth.

Throughout the book, the boys (including some of the lead characters) say some pretty atrocious things about women. They do this a lot. There’s a kind of gross-out competition underway, mixed in with bravado and not a little irony, about who can say something more extreme about women and sex. There are rape jokes, which are taken as jokes by all the characters. Women are regularly dehumanised, both as a category and specific people who happen to get noticed at the wrong time.

This, I accept, is more or less how it was. This talk is more prevalent in the book than it was in reality, but that’s just a matter of degree. The overall tone matches my recollections. It was meant to, of course; it’s a deliberate theme of the book. It’s just looking back now, in the aftermath of Steubenville and many other incidents, I see that theme in a new and harsher light.

I’m also less confident now that the book deals with this content as effectively as it might. The characters are never called out for their talk; the counterbalance comes in two ways. First, and most obviously, there is a sexual assault near the end of the book. The fact that this act is verbally foreshadowed throughout the book by almost every male character is hopefully not lost on anyone. Intended message: talk has consequences.

Secondly, the simple fact that the young women in the story are real people. Every time they are “on stage”, their very presence (hopefully) exposes all that talk as ridiculous and wrongheaded.

So if authorial intent counts for anything, that was mine. On balance I think this book isn’t exactly a menace to society in its current form. But that isn’t clear-cut, and it probably can’t be, because fiction needs ambiguity. I just hope I got it more or less right, anyway.

I’ve often thought about a followup to in move, where Scott goes to visit Richard in New York City twenty years later. Maybe one day.

Ruminator: Pink vs Blue

Yesterday turned out to be an interesting day. There was winning at basketball, which happens rarely enough these days that it’s a happy moment indeed. There was completing the serialisation of “in move”, my teenage-boys-in-the-Hutt novel, about which more soon (I need to get the ebook version prepared for release). There was getting a heat pump installed, hurrah for that. But the big thing was Pink vs Blue.

Pink vs Blue was a post I wrote over at The Ruminator. It’s about how being a dad to a little girl has given me some new avenues for thinking about the way our culture codes and scripts gender in a really limiting way. I spent a while scooping together lots of bits and pieces I’d been thinking and feeling for a while, and lined them up in what I hoped was an illuminating way.

As usual with this sort of stuff, the writing of it is also the thinking about it – I look for turns of phrase or metaphors or rhetorical flourishes that feel like they help me understand. Like if I can just line up the words in the right way, I’ll unlock some hidden secret. Sometimes it does feel like that.

Anyway, I’m pretty proud of this post, because it’s very personal and also very general, and I tried hard to get it right. It’s taken off in a moderate sort of way, lots of shares by people I’ve never heard of. Easily the most widely circulated thing I’ve ever written (excepting that time I cut and pasted a few Wikileaks tweets and added the words “this is interesting” and it went crazy on Reddit).

You can find it here. I hope you’ll have a read, and if you are so moved, do pass it on to anyone else who might be interested.

ANZAC DAY – Felix’s War Diary

Some excerpts from the War Diaries of my great-grandfather Felix Rooney. This is close to the start of his surviving diary – he did keep a diary of Egypt, Gallipoli and early time in France but it was destroyed in the attack that injured him and sent him to England to recover. The surviving diary begins when he arrives at Codford Camp in England after this recovery period (Codford hosts many ANZAC graves, and the locals mark 25 April with a dawn ceremony every year). He arrives in camp October 27, 1916, and is assessed as class B3 – he falls into a routine of drilling and marching as his health and fitness improve.

Tuesday 5 [December]
Up 6-30AM. Washed and breakfast 7-30. Parade 8AM. Inspected by the general. Dinner 12 noon. Medical inspection 1-30PM. Some of us put on guard. I expect to go into signalling section to-morrow. I met an old mate here, Mac Brosnan. He is sergeant instructor to the signallers. So I will be all right while I am here, but I hope that won’t be long. I would sooner be back in France than chased around here at drill. It is devilish cold here now. Keen frost, and the doors of the hut are kept open all day long. Fire must not be lit until 5PM. 17th Reinforcements back from leave to-night. Draft expected to leave Friday.

Wednesday 6
Another freezer of a morning. taken out on parade and transferred to signallers under my old mate Sergt Brosnan. On telephone work this afternoon. The company are out on the march to-night but I am exempt. Going out for a stroll and home again to bed.

Thursday 7
Up bright and early. There is no chance of laying in here. Cold and frosty. Out on signalling. I don’t think I will be going with the draft which leaves in a few days. If not I may have Christmas here. I am having a good time with these sigs here as I am the only one here who has been on active service and they don’t interfere with me. Out on station work this afternoon. Came on light shower of sleet and misty. Usual nightly shave and off to bed. Had a letter from old Lizzie.

Friday 8th
Up usual time and out to drill. Just before dinner I got orders to go with the draft to France to-night. Went down and passed the doctor and went on parade where Bill Massy and Joe Ward inspected us. Busy packing up now. We leave somewhere about mid-night.

Saturday 9th
We paraded last night at 11PM and moved off at mid-night. The train left at 1AM. Raining all the time. Arrived Shorncliff 7AM and marched to camp where we had breakfast and lunch. Left there and marched into Folkestone where we went aboard the “Princess Louise” and left about 2PM. Arriving Boulogne abut 4PM. After waiting about an hour in the rain with full packs up we moved off to a rest camp for the night. Got there 6-30PM and later had some tea. I am going to turn in soon, as we will most likely continue our journey to-morrow. Weary and wet to the skin I am off to sleep, that is if I can, as it is on the boards and they are hard, and my greatcoat is wet.

Sunday 10th
Up, washed and shaved. Still raining. We are on the old bully beef now for tucker. Medicinal inspection 10AM. Raining of course. Fell in 3-30PM and marched off in the rain. Entrained 4-45 and reached Etaples Camp about 7PM. Were served out with rifles and bayonets. Had tea and blankets served out. Twelve men to a tent. Turned in and fairly comfortable only wet.

Monday 11th
Up at 6AM and oh but it is cold. Had a wash and breakfast. Another medical inspection. Alotted new tents. Still raining. Had a shave after tea. I suppose we will start drilling to-morrow. I hope we go up to the trenches soon and get amongst my mates again. This is a miserable time of the year to be here. Met a few old hands I knew. Turned in 9PM.

Felix returned to the trenches in late January.

Part 1, & Rumination

I Ruminated again: the 10 best things to tell computer support scammers.

And the first part of in move has gone live. I read it, too, for the first time in years – I’m going to read along as the sections go up and see how it plays. Verdict on the opening: not nearly as bad as I was expecting. There’s definitely some copyedits I’d do if I was treating it as a live project though! And I do appreciate how this relatively innocuous sequence & decision sets up an entire novel’s worth of angst. You can check it out here if you missed it. It’s a short opener – tomorrow’s update is about 4 times as long…

A Decade At Large

Ten years ago today, I left New Zealand. I had a plan to sort of end up in the UK and do… something. I ended up spending three years in Edinburgh. Seems like it was longer.

Sitting on the plane out of NZ with my good buddy Mr TwoTrees, we talked about why we were going. In our mid-20s, we were at the top end of the OE age group. We weren’t out to party like crazy, or to find ourselves, or to earn a nest egg of sweet sweet GBP. Our motivations were harder to nail down. One strand of mine I could identify: I wanted to learn the size of the world. I wanted to get that sense of scale that only comes from experience.

By the time I landed back in Wellington, I knew the world’s size. I had also made a new lifetime home in Edinburgh, and many crucial epic wondrous friends who each pushed my life in new directions. And walking in Welington, I knew this was the right place to be, where I had to be so the next stage of my life could begin.

I didn’t do everything right, far from it. It made a hard road for my lovely Cal, left behind at the airport ten years ago, part of a scattering loop that took nearly a half-decade to reconnect. I think of the me sat on that plane and I remember how many mistakes I had made and would continue to make. That day was the beginning of a journey that would create a new version of me. Not that there was anything much wrong with the old me, but the stuff down deep was ripped out and rewired and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to undertake that process, the privileges of my heritage and my financial situation and my supportive family and more.

A decade ago, I got on a plane; travel without a tourist. Across a whole lifetime there’re probably only a few days one can point to and say, then, right then; the exact moment where I started a fresh page and wrote myself anew. This is one of mine.

morgue at large (travel email archive)