This is my book review of ORIGIN, by Dan Brown. My reviews are brief (about five minutes’ reading time) and to the point, contain no spoilers of substance, and include a rating out of five at the end, with a note on my rating system.
If you happen to follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a huge fan of the Nintendo Switch. I wrote about why I find the Switch so compelling, and I also wrote about the game design of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
By day, and indeed night, I’m a novelist, and so I work from home permanently. My working space is very important to me, and I’ve recently spent a lot of time tailoring it to my needs and preferences. I wrote (of course) about redesigning and redecorating my home office, and there’s a bit more about my desk setup here.
I prefer to play the Switch docked, and I prefer to do that in the living room, with my wife and our dog beside me. I don’t like to be hidden away in the office while my wife is at home, if I can possibly help it. However, there are some situations when I’ll be playing the Switch and she might be on the phone, or it might be quite late in the evening and she’d find the noise distracting. I do like the Switch’s handheld mode for convenience, but I’m also thirty-eight years old and I don’t have great eyesight, so I find the small screen tiring if it’s after about 7PM, or if it’s just been an especially long day.
You can see where this is going, I’m sure: I made a secondary Nintendo Switch station in my office!
Happy New Year, my friends. I trust that the holidays, if you’ve had some, have been kind to you. I hope that this new year will bring both happiness and satisfaction. They’re not always the same thing.
On this first day of 2018, I’d like to talk about my resolutions for the coming year and beyond. Whenever I’ve followed this custom previously, I’ve been brief, and listed only my goals. Today, I’m breaking with tradition: I want to talk about my intended actions instead, and the reasons behind them — the main one being that 2017 was a pretty bad year for me.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild arrived at a tricky time for me.
It was the launch title for the new Nintendo Switch (though it was also simultaneously released on the Switch’s predecessor console, the Wii U), and it was unquestionably a system-seller. A new entry in the Zelda series is often a milestone in gaming, and Breath of the Wild — or BotW henceforth — has proved to be no exception. I’d diligently cleared my schedule, and was ready, months in advance, to take a three-day weekend of indulgence when both the Switch and the game were released.
Then we decided to get a puppy. We saw the ad, drove 45 minutes or so south to take a look at the litter of ten, and we immediately picked out our little guy. He was named Whisky then and there, and we arranged to return four weeks later (when he’d be eight weeks old, and ready to leave his mother) to collect him. It was only when I put the date into my calendar that I realised we’d be picking him up the day after Zelda came out. My little sister called the date Switchmas Day, and Whiskmas Eve.
As I write this, that was more than nine months ago. The little puppy who I carried in a pack on my chest has now turned into thirty kilograms of crazy labradoodle, who can easily leap my full height straight up in the air, and whom I could almost put a saddle on and ride through the park. Toilet training is long in the past. He sleeps through the night, every night. He’s great on long car journeys. He’s a huge enrichment to our lives, and very much a family member.
He also has a habit that he formed on day one in our home: when the Switch goes on, he curls up beside me to watch — at least for a while.
I’d read reviews of BotW before I played it. I knew that it was different to virtually every previous Zelda game. I knew that it played with the mechanics, and the patterns, and the hallmarks. I knew that it largely threw the formula out the window. I was nervous about that. But it was Zelda! One of Nintendo’s crown jewels. They couldn’t possibly mess it up. It would be great, and I’d grasp the wisdom of the changes straight away — especially as someone who’s played every previous game, on every platform, to death; a life-long fan. I’d get it, and I’d love it, because they knew what they were doing, but also because I wanted to. That’s what I told myself.
It was a real surprise to me when I actually hated a lot of it.
I’ve had a Nintendo Switch since release day, which was just under eight months ago. I’d say that’s sufficient time to have developed an informed opinion about the device, and so I’d now like to talk about it a bit.
It’s World Mental Health Day today (10th October), and I usually say something about it — typically in a tweet. This time, I’m allowing myself some extra words.
It’s important to acknowledge when you’re having problems; that’s the first step. It’s important to talk about it, and I know that’s a scary prospect. It’s important to seek help — and help is available.
It’s also important not to be a hypocrite.
So: I’m having problems. It’s a different world than it was a couple of years ago, and I’m backsliding. I’m going to get some help.
If you’re having trouble too, you should do the same.
Fifteen years ago today, it was a Friday, and I was in Glasgow. I don’t remember much about the weather or what I was doing generally (I do at least know that I was at university), but I did do one seemingly unimportant thing: I created a blog, and started writing on the web.
More than 1,200 articles and over 765,000 words later, I’m still doing it.
I had the pleasure of being interviewed recently by the makers of Ulysses, the app I use on my iPad Pro to write novels, articles for this site, my weekly members-only newsletters, and just about everything else. We covered plenty of ground, and I had a lot of fun. You can read the interview here — and it includes a photo of our puppy, Whisky!
I’ve always been interested in how other people set up their working area. I used to run my own business as a software developer, and my desk was a complete mess for most of that time; it was piled high with stuff, and the desk itself was huge. It had a cramped, unsettling feeling, but I had a lot of things I needed to keep within reach (or thought I did). My office decor was neutral in tone, but very visually busy, with knick-knacks and posters and all sorts of other things dotted around.
I gave all that up more than three years ago to focus on writing, and I’ve never been happier. I recently got around to revamping my home office, and I took the opportunity to pare things down considerably. I’d like to share my current setup with you.
Fellow writers (and users of Ulysses, perhaps), I’m excited to share the Learn Ulysses course with you, created by Shawn Blanc and The Sweet Setup. It’s a video screencast (with full text transcriptions) course that teaches you all about my favourite writing app for iOS and macOS. It’s only $29, which is a bargain.
I’ve watched the full course myself, and even as someone who spends hours each day in Ulysses on the iPad, I learned a few things. The production values are very high, as expected, and it’s broken into bite-sized chunks by topic. I really enjoyed it, and I think you will too.