17 Forever. Notes on Nostalgia, by Jack Rollins

17 Forever. Notes on Nostalgia, by Jack Rollins

A critical point before I get into this: there’s nothing I can say on the subject of nostalgia that would ever be as profound as the words spoken by Jon Hamm, as Don Draper, in Mad Men. The scene I refer to is one of the most perfect moments of film and TV, of all time, in my opinion.

Don_pitch_the_wheelMatthew Weiner and Robin Veith’s script really delivers in this heart-wrenching moment, where Don Draper unveils his secret weapon to advertise Kodak’s projector wheel: “Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent.” He tells us that, “In Greek, nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound’.”

It goes on, and I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the scene (it has more impact in its true place in the final episode of season 1). The scene stabbed me, though, right through my heart, when I first saw it, and I will never forget its message.

A scent. An image. Someone else’s memory. A song. A movie. A TV show. These things are powerful and emotive. They open up a wormhole in time and space and in the blink of an eye, you are no longer looking at the frozen photograph, or watching the TV show; you are inside the picture, reliving the scene, or in another room, watching the TV show with someone else – the person you shared it with first time around.

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How #Batman helped my career today… @jackrollins9280

How #Batman helped my career today… @jackrollins9280

When I’m not writing the stuff of nightmares, I have an actual proper day-job. My professional background is dominated by social care roles at different levels and two years ago I changed path slightly to become a training advisor – the not-so-fancy term for an NVQ assessor, in Health and Social Care. I get to educate people, developing them professionally, using my wealth of insight and experience in the care system, and I embed functional skills including English, Maths and ICT.

One of the challenges in my work, is that sometimes adult learners can be more evasive than children. A child will tell you the dog ate the homework, but at least the child has attended to say it to the teacher. I see learners on a roughly 3-4 week cycle, setting assignments for them to complete before the next visit. I turn up after a sometimes long drive, often finding that the learner I am scheduled to see, has conveniently forgotten, or is magically ill. Sometimes they show up and they just have no progress in evidence to represent 3 or 4 weeks of funding on a qualification they chose to take.

It can be quite trying at times, to say the least.

One of my colleagues took an extended period off work at the end of last year. I had just completed several learner portfolios and so was in a position to pick up the slack. I inherited her learners and by God, what an evasive bunch they were. Those I did manage to see have done nothing or seem to have vanished in the space of a month and many more did not attend the appointments I arranged with them.

In the build-up to Christmas I entered one particular establishment and caught the eye of a staff member as I waited in reception. She was a really pretty blonde, and hell, I have to admit it, I have a thing for… well, pretty blonde women, or brunettes or redheads. Happily settled down of course, but I’m not blind! In her blonde hair was a playful streak of pink. I like the whole Ramona Flowers/Anime, coloured hair thing too, so she stuck right out. But even more striking was the Christmas sweater she wore. Within the snowflakes was a sign that has promised me excitement and adventure since I was 8-years old and I saw what the car and costume were going to look like in Tim Burton’s then-anticipated Batman movie. Yes, it was the emblem.

Now I know that the last paragraph may have put off some readers, who might think me some kind of horrible cheating, wandering-eyed misogynist. I hope that’s not how I’ve represented myself and let me balance it by saying that my partner often remarks on how fit this bloke or that one is, and one of them is her friend’s husband who has such guns of steel I think I kind of fancy him a bit. We’re good-natured about it and we’re crazy about each other; we just understand that being together doesn’t suddenly make everyone else in the world hideous. No matter how good-looking any man or woman is in this world, though, my partner knows that she is the second love of my life. The first is Batman.

Through shit comics, some shit movies, that camp old series, that seed is still embedded deep in my chest – no matter what they publish or produce now, I have read some phenomenal Batman comics over the years and I loved the Christopher Nolan movies. Every time I feel I’m past the character, I somehow get sucked back into the vortex and end up being that 8-year old again.

So, back to this sweater…

As she passed, I remarked, “Cool sweater.”

“Huh?” she asked.

“Your sweater… I’m a big Batman fan. I really like your sweater.”

“It’s great, isn’t it?” she said. “Glad you like it. I love Batman.”

My kind of gal.

I returned to this establishment earlier this week to find that again one of the staff had ducked me. The Christmas season being over, the staff were all back in their usual attire and my fellow Batman fan appeared in the background, no longer donning the emblem, but in standard office dress that suggested she was not a carer, but an administrator.

I had to return to the same establishment today and wow, today’s learner actually turned up!

Now, in order to ensure that no more time is wasted, I spoke to an apprentice administrator, a nervous, really nervous young man who I suspect wasn’t sure what he was allowed to do and what he wasn’t. My aim for the day was to deal with one person. Who is going to be responsible for training here? What is this person’s email address? Ensure everyone knows our new communication protocol and that missing visits puts them at risk of being ejected from the course.

I got the name. I got the email address. I got more than that. As the nervous apprentice considered what he was allowed to do, the Batman fan entered. We properly introduced ourselves this time and she remembered that I had commented on the sweater – remembered that we have something in common.

We discussed comics and comic-book movies for a few minutes, and I even outed myself as a horror writer. She actually hi-fived me. Now that hasn’t happened in a fucking long time if you take tiny family members and their friends out of the equation.

Then down to business – apparently she worked as an administrator in my field in a previous job and she explained back to me the problems I was having, listened to my proposed plans to tackle it and took it upon herself to be the person at this establishment who will ensure the communication is much better and, more importantly, that the learners are where they should be when they should be there.

Today I just picked me up a sidekick.

Steampunk: Learning the Genre

Steampunk: Learning the Genre

I found this post today and found it extremely interesting. A number of people have described my Dr Blessing series as falling into the Steampunk genre (I don’t like to call it a subgenre because I prefer its feel to pure Sci-Fi and Fantasy), but I never intended it to be that way, nor did I ever consider it to be the case. I thought: There’s not an airship or pair of brass goggles in sight!

This post, however, shows me that really, I am only picking up on the accoutrements of the genre which developed over time, rather than the original seeds of steampunk. Those seeds including the Victorian notions of the supernatural – which is squarely where another of my novellas, The Seance, exists.

I really am something of a newbie to Steampunk. I erroneously stated in a blog recently that I had last year read my first steampunk book – that isn’t true so I’ll correct it here. A few years ago I read “Glass Books of the Dream Eaters”, its sequel, “The Dark Volume” and have since read some George Mann books: “Ghosts of Manhatten”, “Ghosts of War”, and his first Newbury and Hobbs book, “The Affinity Bridge”. Last year it was “The Immersion Book of Steampunk” a really rather good anthology, I have to say.

Anyway, I wanted to share this post as I found it fascinating and quite enlightening, for me as a real beginner in this fantastic genre.

No Wasted Ink

Nathan Fillion in Steampunk GarbA popular subgenre of science fiction and fantasy is known as steampunk. It features steam-powered technology with the decorative sensibilities of the 19th century Victorian era. Steampunk stories can also be considered a sort of alternate history where the British Empire continued on to be a major power in the world and their empirical style of culture and manners still hold sway in a future world.

It is often thought that the origin of steampunk as a genre began with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The stories of the adventurer explorer or the gentleman inventor who travels through the world or in time via their abilities and education and bring British culture to other peoples is a trope that is common in many steampunk stories. While Wells and Verne were certainly part of the inspiration of steampunk as a genre, they were writing alternate history or true science fiction of…

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Writer’s Block Month on Dark Chapter Press #Block2015

Writer’s Block Month on Dark Chapter Press #Block2015

To open the New Year, I’m taking part in the Dark Chapter Press writer’s block month. I’m a writer. So they blocked me. Okay, so that’s not what it means, and you damned well know it, especially if you’ve been struck with writer’s block, yourself (I never know whether I should use W and B – but it seems to make it too severe, like Tuberculosis for writers).

It’s a funny sort of subject, isn’t it? I live next door to a bakery (equally cursed and blessed, let me tell you), I’ve lived here for 2 years and not once have I gone past the place to find it devoid of cakes or bread because the bakers were struck by Baker’s Block. In my day-job (yes, believe it or not, I’m lacking several millions of the sales I need to go completely creative) if I turned up next Monday and say, “I can’t assess any portfolios today, I’ve got Assessors Block!” I’m pretty certain they would tell me to take some time off. Maybe a lot of time off… Which would be fine if I wasn’t still lacking those few million book sales…

So anyway, I’ve mentioned Dark Chapter Press above and mentioned them in previous posts. I say them, it’s really us, because I helped set it up! The month will see Q & As with new horror writers, like me, right through to heavyweights like Shaun Hutson. We’re all talking about the same subject: Writer’s Block and how to either avoid it, or overcome it.

I also got to set a little challenge or activity and I’ve included it below – it’s really gentle, really easy to do – and that’s the point. Writer’s block can be really stressful when you’re creative, but lacking that spark today for whatever reason. Complex ways of tackling it can be too much, so you just need a little nudge in the right direction. Even if you’re not blocked, my activity can help you start a new project off and at the very least, hopefully you’ll just end up being exposed to something interesting or fun.

Here goes:

Sometimes, in order to feel inspired to take on a new project, we need to change our influences. Some horror writers only read horror. Well, you can’t make a career out of rewriting someone else’s work. You need to get your brain moving.

You could tackle a new book in a genre you haven’t read for ages, or even one you’ve never entered before. In 2014, for instance, I dipped into the world of Steampunk, and it really opened my eyes to some new possibilities. Currently I’m reading recently reprinted 1930s crime novel A Mystery In White – I never read crime novels.

It may be that exposing your mind to a different horror writer might help, I found that reading my first Richard Laymon novel, The Stake, last month was a refreshing experience.

Really, though, for the purposes of this activity, I recommend you leave the horror genre behind, for 1 book. Haven’t got time to read a new book? Ok, go out and pick up a magazine you’ve never bought before and read it cover to cover. It can be anything – and for you guys out there, if you haven’t discreetly flicked through one of those bloody awful magazines that are a bit like the Jeremy Kyle show in print, then this might be just the excuse you need. You’ll find tons of horrible stories, awful people and grotesque situations. All you’ll need to do, is give it your own twist…

Let us know how you get on!

So there it is. If you give it a shot, be sure to comment on either the Dark Chapter Press blog, or here and let me know how you got on!