Tired And Emotional
Orbital Operations for 26 February 2023
Hello from out here on the Thames Delta, where I am half-blind from finishing the high-time-pressure first tranche of a consulting job that required me to generate a couple hundred pages in less than a month. I am absolutely knackered. On the other hand, it turns out I can still summon the powers when I need to, so there's that.
So now I'm into rewriting some other things and thinking about things other than those things.
"Tired and emotional," by the way, is a term invented by the British press - I suspect originating in Private Eye - to discreetly indicate that the subject being referred to was drunk off their arse. Which I am not, but I am opening that bottle of Lindisfarne Dark Mead.
As I wrote that, Garth Ennis sent me a photo of the promotional beer glass Comix Experience had made when he, I, Grant Morrison, John McCrea, Darick Robertson and Matt Hollingsworth did a signing there in 1997. I am certain Steve Dillon was there too, and I remember Amanda Conner showing up just as we finished signing. Not that I remember the signing itself well. They provided a case of beer for us at the top of the signing, and then somebody who should probably go unnamed produced a bag of nos canisters and a packet of balloons. I do recall doing a huge balloon of nos about halfway through the signing. The thing about nos is that it drops your voice by a couple of octaves. I inhaled the balloon, got the rush, and laughed. The laugh came out as, basically, Satan's. Hollingsworth was swigging from a bottle of beer at the time, and he laughed, choked and snorted half a bottle of beer up into his brain and out his nose.
All I remember about the end of that night, which was probably around three in the morning, was walking back to the hotel and being passed by a seven foot tall latex nun. To whom I said good evening, as you do. San Francisco was a fun town in those days. One was often tired and emotional there.
After Garth sent that, I spent a few hours thinking about that 1997 time in San Francisco with those people. Possibly the only time where I felt like I was part of something, and shoulder to shoulder with great writers who were going in the same direction as me and who seemed to like me. Since then, I've only occupied spaces where I was tolerated, useful, or a curiosity - in a couple of especially eerie moments at conventions, openly stared at by silent roomfuls of people without being approached. And people wondered why I very rarely attended conventions.
It's been a weird old life. But I did get to buy my daughter a pony.
The moral of the story, however, is: if you, like me and Garth, come from villages in the arse end of nowhere and, like all three of us, didn't go to university, sometimes hard work and dumb luck means that you too can publish stories and get tired and emotional in cities you'd only ever read about.
And that, too, answers the question about being a writer I've been asked most often in the last dozen years: what course should you take at university to become a writer? The answer being: no idea. I left education at 18 with a handful of average exam results and I just wrote and wrote, and spent food money on photocopying and postage, until people started saying yes. I'm just glad I don't have to spend money on photocopies and postage any more.
Don't get into this if there's anything you want to do that feels better than writing stories. Don't destroy yourself unless you have things to say and things to show that nobody else is saying to you or showing you. Don't waste your life unless you have the rampaging ego and personality damage required for the previous sentence to make any sense to you.
Go and read ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE by William Goldman and leave me alone.
I was going to recommend a three-hour BBC tv series from 1994 called GRUSHKO to you, which I watched at the time and was recently re-run on Talking Pictures TV, a wonderful cable channel. (They also have a little online video service, it seems.) It's not on DVD, I can't find it on VOD, and how the fuck does the culture lose a three hour tv event starring Brian Cox and written by Philip Kerr based on his own best-selling novel? It is an elegantly conceived, bleak and richly woven crime show with a wonderful set-piece act three climax.
(A few years later, Cox did a tv film, which I think was BBC, in which he plays a Scottish police detective who is also a devout Christian. The film opens with him eating dinner alone. His phone rings, he picks it up, says "I am eating" in that harsh and final Brian Cox voice, turns the phone off and continues with his meal. Oh, he's a good Christian. But, as he says to some poor bastard suspect at the end: "Miiiiine is not a merciful God." He was fucking terrifying, and I'm not sure tv was ready for a cosy detective show where the grumpy older protagonist is a deranged Calvinist. I so wish I could remember the name of that film.)
All of which is brought to you by: season 4 of SUCCESSION will be the last, and all credit to Jesse Armstrong for knowing when to close the curtain. It's been wonderful for me to watch Brian Cox working at such a high level.
I hate having to link to anything Facebook, but if you put all your blockers and incognitos on, you can still view Brian Cox as Rebus in a short one man tv play made over the height of Covid, as written by Ian Rankin himself - Sir Ian Rankin now, goddamn. I had a drink with Ian Rankin once. Lovely man. Watch that. It's a nicely balanced piece of work.
My name is Warren Ellis, and I’m a writer from England. These newsletters are about the work I do and the creative life I try to lead. I send them every Sunday to subscribers. Feel free to send your friends to orbitaloperations.com , where they can read the most recent letters and subscribe for their own.
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Well, that was a ramble. Sorry about that. I seem to have finally had an attack of The Depths Of Winter, probably brought on by freezing my fingers trying to pot up plants and clean the garden. Long dark nights of the sole and all the miles it's done. But the cold is good, and I'm liking winter, and there are things to do and summers to see. Take a beat to enjoy where you are, do something good for yourself, take care of you first, and maybe even plan one thing for the summer. Just don't tell anyone. People might think you've gotten tired and emotional.