Matt Gemmell

My book Raw Materials is out now!

A collection of personal essays, with exclusive content and author's notes.

★★★★★ — Amazon

Elsewhere

Personal 4 min read

For me, it was the shrinking of the real world. Down and down and down, until sunset, when nothing existed beyond the boundaries of the house.

For one night, until the Sun rose again, there was nothing else.

In the peak of Summer, absolutely everything lay outside those walls. Friends, holidays, perpetual youth and optimism. Every day was littered with the building blocks of bright possible futures. The daylight stayed past ten o’clock in the evening, dawn came before I ever woke, and the world was vast – and mine to explore.

Winter changes things. Edges recede, and bulwarks are erected. First the windows are closed, then jackets are traded for coats. Gloves are put on. Curtains are drawn. The low, heavy beat of central heating – coming out of its own hibernation just as the animals enter theirs – willing us to remain inside, and sleep. The season of frost and ice carries a message that our blood hears clearly: stay here.

Acquainted

Personal 3 min read

I’ve come to dread the phone calls.

That’s an interesting thing in itself, because ideally they wouldn’t happen often enough for me to learn to dread them. Ideally, they wouldn’t happen at all.


When you write, sooner or later you’ll have to familiarise yourself with something new. Something outside of the normal sphere of your life. That’s fine. Learning is good, and should be undertaken continuously.

If you write adventure stuff, say, and check your research history – by which we all mostly mean wikipedia – it can be arresting. Perhaps even arrest-worthy, if the authorities were to find out. Heavy weapons, security infrastructure, and spatter patterns. I tend to add “research” to the query just in case.

It’s amazing what you pick up.

Ideology

Politics 3 min read

Anger is a normal reaction. It’s the normal reaction.

It’s a response to fear. Anger prompts us to destroy what we fear, thus alleviating the feeling – in theory.

It’s not that simple.

Remember

Personal 2 min read

Sometimes, I can almost remember how.

There’s no particular pattern to when it happens. Maybe I’ll be sitting in my armchair, looking across the room. Maybe I’ll be walking, or driving, or even lying in bed.

The only common factor is the flash of instinct; just as natural as breathing. I find myself right on the cusp of knowing, … and then it slips away.

It’s like a weight falls into the centre of my mind, pushing the knowledge underneath again, in the moment before I could take a good look at it. I’m left with only vague shapes, and the characteristic sinkhole of a memory that’s only defined by what it isn’t.

Emotional

Personal 3 min read

You can tell by how they use the words.

Oh, you could look a little deeper – at their social profiles, or their blogs, or which newspapers they read – but you usually don’t need to. The words are enough. The ones they choose, and the tone that surrounds them. You can always tell.

There’s always a moment of disbelief for me. I assume I’ve misread, and I go back and try again. I begin the paragraph anew, this time more carefully, attempting to reconcile the words with my own worldview. But I fail. There’s no connection between there and here.

Mostly, it’s the adjectives that give them away. The ones they spit out in disdain.

Responsibility

Personal 6 min read

About a year ago, I opened a new text file on my computer, then I used a random name generator to create a female name. I typed it into the text file. It was Lizzie Collins.

It’s not a great name (“Lizzie” is a bit juvenile to my ear), but it was just a placeholder, and I knew I’d change it later. I’d have been better off just skipping the random generator and choosing a name myself, but it’s something I always find difficult when I’m writing fiction. Her name didn’t really matter anyway.

What mattered was that she was going to be a new and upcoming technology blogger – particularly for the Apple platforms – and she was going to have her own site. A female voice, in an industry that’s notoriously toxic to women.

A social experiment, if you will.

Sharing your words

Personal & Writing 6 min read

There’s a lot of vulnerability that comes from sharing creative output with others.

I published a piece earlier this year on what blogs are, and the main argument was that the terminology we use (like “blog”, or “post”) is trivialising and self-limiting. In some ways it’s a follow-up to an earlier piece on getting rid of dates in your URLs, where I make the related argument that they imply ephemerality, and carry a certain sense of amateurishness. They harbour an excuse, before there’s even been an accusation.

I think that self-esteem is a critical issue for writers.

Break

Personal 12 min read

There’s a gap in my identity.

It’s about seven years long, more or less. It corresponds with the time when I had a different name. I’ve mentioned it before, in abstract terms and brief summaries.

I’ve talked about the darkness that came from it, and had so many touching messages from those who have gone through similar experiences, or who know someone in that position.

I’ve never really talked about the reality of that period, though; what it was actually like. I’ve tried to explore it for myself, to build a bridge across that strange, blank time in my life, but it’s difficult. It’s my lowest point. So much of it doesn’t seem real.

Yet it was all real, and there’s so much there that shaped me. So much texture and detail, and truth. The only thing I can do with it is drag the dust-covered box from the back of the cupboard, unlock it, and lift the lid.

Let’s look inside.

Waiting

Fiction & Writing 13 min read

This brief tale was written for members of this site in August 2015. Membership includes a weekly newsletter with exclusive essays, stories, updates on my writing projects, and giveaways.


Seems about right, Harkness thought.

It was just after 7PM, but the restaurant was almost deserted. The occasional waiter wandered by, casting a brief glance in his direction, and there were one or two occupied tables, but most of the vast space was empty.

It was called The Exchange, and it had a sort of faded elegance. Brass fittings, marble floors, thick carpets on the stairs, and an ornate ceiling twenty feet above. There was a mini-grand piano in a far corner with a dust sheet thrown over it, and the menus were bound in well-worn red leather. From some unseen point above, tastefully inoffensive music played quietly.

His stomach rumbled, and he frowned at the glass of ice water in front of him. It had been poured from a tall carafe with cucumber, mint, and sliced lemon, by a young man dressed all in black and sporting an immaculately-groomed beard. The waiter had asked if he’d like to order something from the bar while he waited, but he had declined. There would be plenty of time for alcohol later.

And plenty of need for it, he thought.

Negotiations

Tech 8 min read

For as long as there have been ads, there have been ways to avoid seeing them.

Technology has kept pace on both sides, but ad-blocking has never really become mainstream. It remained the domain of the tinkerers, who knew about browser extensions at the very least, or proxies, or hosts files. Extensions were as approachable as blocking has ever been, but the vast majority of normal (i.e. non-technical) people probably don’t go anywhere near them. And so the ads were always seen.

Things are starting to change. Legislation, public perception, and consumer-focused functionality have all woken up to issues of privacy, intrusive tracking, and our never-ending exposure to advertising.

We’re slowly realising that we have options, and that we should perhaps begin to exercise them.