I threw myself into fatherhood with great enthusiasm. We didn’t know what we were doing – who the heck does? – but Clo and I supported each other and figured things out as a team. One of the things we figured out early on was that children are adaptable. So long as she was loved and cared for, Summer-Rose would be perfectly able deal with whatever world she grew up in—and if that happened to include weekends camping in ruined castles while Clover and I got our medieval groove on, then all the better. It provided a change of scene and gave her some childhood magic.
During that time, Clover took pleasure in painting once more, I got to thwack people with swords and shoot arrows into butts, and the Knights of Longshanks became a big, fierce and cuddly extended family to Summer for the first few years of her life. I found an unprecedented sense of peace and camaraderie sitting by the campfire there, surrounded by broken walls, the starlight glimmering overhead. Whilst the time did eventually come for us to leave the group, I never forgot that feeling of community. And it wasn’t long before I began to look for something *similar in the 21st century.
SFX was a regular feature in our household, so we got pretty excited when the magazine announced they were pulling a convention together in 2010. Mum kindly agreed to take Summer off our hands so we could make a proper weekend of it, and we had a right blast. It gave us a chance to be Clover and Dion again, instead of **mummy and daddy. One of the highlights for me was being able to meet up with Barry Nugent and David Monteith – hosts of the Geek Syndicate ***podcast. It had recently been featured in the magazine and was about to change my life.
The Geek Syndicate forums were full of love and lively chatter about all the pop-cultural things I was passionate about. Better yet, there was none of the toxicity and exceptionalism seen on so many fan sites. I quickly realised that these were my kind of people, and idly wondered if there was a way to become a part of this ‘Syndicate’. I don’t recall whether I reached out before, during, or after the SFX Weekender, but I do know that it wasn’t long afterwards that I began writing reviews for their website. Ah…writing. That was what I’d needed! A creative output…
The old brain started to whir, re-engaging the critical faculties I’d trained at university. The more closely you pay attention to…well, anything, the more you get out of it. Get two people analysing and conversations become more vibrant, too. I had a smashing natter with an old uni pal called Mattie, full of insights and banter, and before I knew it, we’d decided to start our own podcast to run alongside Geek Syndicate – focused purely on books. I didn’t have the first clue how to begin of course, but with blessings (and a little guidance) from Barry, our foray into the world of audio entertainment began. Scrolls, the podcast for literary geekdom was born.
Joining us as co-hosts were Phil, a horror-loving friend from my ****college days, and Clover, my beloved wife. Scrolls was an absolute joy to record and a bloody shambles to tidy up, but the sparky conversations we had throughout, the belly-laughs that shook us, and the sense of pure satisfaction I found in the editing process more than made up for the time-cost and the technical challenges. We never became pros, but I conquered significant social anxieties in order to interview such luminaries as Joe Abercrombie, Peter F. Hamilton, and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Good times.
Inspired by the project, even as Scrolls dwindled, Phil began to chart his own creative journey writing horror stories under the pseudonym of Sloman. He encouraged me to join him, but I resisted, certain I would never achieve anything on that front. I did dabble with drabble in Lily Childs’ gentle competition, ‘The Prediction‘, but anything larger felt…intimidating. No. I’d found my place in the Geek Syndicate family. With the death of Scrolls, I branched out into comic reviews. I met a host of brilliant independent comic creators at the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds, and swiftly grew to appreciate their extraordinary talents.
This was all around the edges of the ‘real’ job, of course. That had ceased to be pleasant. With ever-dwindling staff and ever-more pressure for ‘results’, it became an oppressive place, dominating my mindscape and leaving me exhausted each day. Hollowed out and unfulfilled. I kept afloat by shifting branches, but my search for purpose beyond its confines – a role in which I could develop and explore my passions – became less an itch and more a driving need.
Phil kept chipping away at me, because he’s a persistent sod (and a very good friend). He’d built up quite the network of pals in the horror community by now, and the call was out for new editors. He knew my penchant for precision, he knew my passion for reading, he knew how much attention I’d paid to the editing process on Scrolls. He couldn’t guarantee anything, but did I fancy trying my hand at editing an anthology?
Did I? Reader, I could have married him. I’ve wanted to get involved with publishing for years – my teenage Work Experience week was spent at Victor Gollancz – but trad. publishers were just not open to remote working. It’s taken a global pandemic now to even begin shifting that needle.
That first experience was exhilarating. The whole process was in my hands to figure out, pull together, and polish up to standard. I didn’t have the first clue what I was doing, but I took to it like a duck to water. Loved every second of it. Sunny, with a Chance of Zombies was born in 2015, and within days I was pushing for another project. This was it. This was me to a tee. It would be another 5 years before I could fully escape the un-life of the bank, but from the moment I started editing Sunny, I knew this what I’d been looking for: a career that fitted and fulfilled every fractured surface of my psyche – and the families (real and extended) with whom I could share my joy.
There are steps still to take on my journey, of course. Challenges yet to face, lessons still to be learned. I’m not alone *****in my travels, and I certainly don’t think I’ve done anything special. If anything, I’m kicking myself for being so bloody slow to realise what makes me happy, and to then actively pursue it. What a numpty! Part of me howled at the empty years spent toiling in unfulfilling jobs, but each one served a purpose. They helped to shape me just as surely as my parents and my childhood. They provided me with opportunities to test my boundaries, to recognise my strengths and accept my limitations. They gave us stability in times of crisis and – in the final analysis – I’d never have had the courage to go freelance without the cushion of a redundancy payout.
So, no regrets. I’ve found a family. I’ve found a fulfilling career. I’ve found me.
What more could a person want?
* And cheaper. With less travel and fewer rain clouds.
** If parenthood has left you adrift, wondering what happened to the ‘you’ you used to be, I can heartily recommend Rachel Lackey’s podcast, Finding Me Again: Passion, Purpose, Parenting. It’s what got my brain ticking for this blog series.
*** GS was the first podcast I ever listened to. It was a little scrappy at the time, but they really ramped things up over the years, even presenting a two-part television show for the BBC i-Player. It began in 2006 and is still humming along.
**** This was Phlambler, not to be confused with Phlobden – my DS9 writing partner – nor Phlibbens, Phluke, Phlunt, Phluchan or Phlirving. There are far too many Phils in this world. Pick another name, guys. Sheesh…)
***** Everyone reading this will have had their own revelations, their own hardships, their own search for fulfillment.
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