Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

31 Today

“Melancholy is the pleasure of being sad.” — Victor Hugo.

My grandfather quoted that to me once. I think I was about 11 or 12.

I’m not someone who enjoys his birthday. I don’t even like to see other people on my birthday – even people I love. All my gratitude is buried beneath a tectonically-scattered layer of wandering attention. Every interaction takes place as if through some thin sepia fog, slowed and faded just enough that I spend half the day wondering whether I’m ill, tired, hungry, or I’m 14 and a girl has just broken up with me.

I don’t pretend this feeling is in any way unique to me. I’m given to understand that loads of people hate their birthdays. I don’t really hate them, I just take a different kind of pleasure from them. The pleasure of being sad, in fact.

It’s not about getting older. I’m still young enough to enjoy getting older. I was glad as hell to turn 30 last year, and I’m pretty keen on how 31 feels and sounds, too. I have no massively grim fear of aging, in part because all mystique is stolen by the friends who have birthdays before me, and in part because I have almost no ability to plan ahead. Maybe ignorance is bliss.

But this is what I do on my birthday, and what I’ll carry on with as soon as I’ve posted this.

I wake up.

I drive Katie to work. She knows me well enough to be nice to me without saying why. “I hope you have a nice day… for no reason,” she says, as she gets out of the car. This touches me. I smile. It fuels the melancholy already bubbling behind my eyes, like a brainstew on the boil.

I go through my emails. I scroll down the messages on Facebook. I check my private messages on forums. The physical post won’t arrive until between 2pm and 5pm, as I live in the middle of nowhere, but that’s all good. All the while, as I do this, I’m hoping no one calls me. I don’t like talking on the phone at the best of times, partly because of my tinnitus meaning I occasionally need to lip-read or catch conversational cues, and partly because I just don’t like not seeing someone’s face when I talk to them. But on my birthday, I can’t stand it.

The wallowing in Melancholy (which is Self-Pity’s paler, handsomer sibling) begins at dawn, but comes into full swing right about now. The breakdown of messages comes in the following flavours:

Some of them are from fans, who are nice and/or bored enough to take the time to wish me a happy birthday. These are among the shortest messages, but conversely are among the weirdest. I’ll think “Jesus Christ… I have fans…” which will trip me up immediately. Something I take for granted 364 days a year (with a practised ‘cooler-than-thou’ demeanour) suddenly makes me think. I’ve done well, but I’m still at the start of my career. Perhaps I should’ve done more by now. I could’ve, without a few of the more time-consuming hobbies, y’know. I could have Annabelle’s Blood finished. I could’ve sent it to agents and publishers by now, and sold it, and be onto my second or third slice of original fiction. I could’ve nailed my 40K deadlines and be deep into my second or third Heresy novel, or something. I’m doing good, but it could be much better.

This feels good. Scourging oneself with the Whip of What Might’ve Been. I think it’s a +3 weapon. Double damage on crits.

But my point is this: it’s not depressing, and it’s not even particularly sincere, which is why I’m sharing it here. It’s a personal melancholy, sure, but it’s melodramatic and pleasant enough to enjoy. I find it pretty funny, the way most people’s internal workings can be funny when the layers are stripped back.

It gets slightly more sincere as I begin to go through messages from my friends, and in turn, through recent contact with them. I’ve always said the best thing about me is my friends. That’s not because I think little of myself (I happen to think I’m a pretty swell guy – not particularly nice, no, but certainly pretty swell) but because I have the kinds of friends that people always complain about not having. I’ll tell you why other people don’t have them. It’s because I do. I stole them.

My friends are creatures of immense loyalty, patience and insight. They dance through the minefield of my insecure but unwavering regard, losing no limbs to sudden detonations. I cannot overstate this one truth: It is very difficult to be my friend. It means a flood of contact for 2 months, meeting up when we can and with long, long, long letters discussing everything in life, and then nothing for the next 2 months, while I shut down and reboot and focus entirely on work and home life. It means having to put up with me bluntly telling them what’s in their lives that I think is amazing, killer, objectionable, wrong, or silly, and hearing the same in return from them. I excoriate my friends. They do the same to me.

My friends also know I have almost no capacity to laugh at myself about certain things, and they don’t force it. They just don’t joke about those things. They talk about them, sure. In detail, and often over wine, just as all friends discuss their ups and downs with the world and with each other. We’re absolutely straight about these things. But they don’t try to reduce my ironclad insecurities to fucking jokes, nor do they say that I should just loosen up, lighten up, or do anything else up. These are things that most people would just laugh off, but I never can. They respect that, and I love them for it. It’s not too much to ask, evidently, as they’ve kept at it for years. An inability to understand (or perhaps just sympathise) with that attitude is but one of the many reasons I’ve had such a distance from my family for so long. The difference is, my family says “Aaron, you’re being oversensitive, it’s just a joke,” and my friends say “Aaron, I know you’re oversensitive about this, so even if we discuss X in detail and I explain how much you suck, I won’t tease you about it – especially not in public – because I know it upsets you, you irrational asshole.”

As I said, it’s very difficult to be my friend. It’s all a matter of balance. I should add that the wedding last month was probably one of the best things to happen to my family. A lot of air was cleared, and new bonds formed. It was good juju.

And these are the kinds of things I think about on my birthday. The day before my birthday, this is all hilarious. The day after, it’ll be funny again. On my birthday, it’s all dead real. Squeeze that melancholy for all its worth.

I tend to think that every year should be better than the last, and with one exception since I was 19, that’s been largely true. The one exception year, in my mid-20s, was entirely my fault. So I’m 31 now, and I’m peachy keen to get it going.

31 (and indeed 2012) is looking to be a major, major career/life/jazz band milestone for a few reasons. There’s a lot I can’t talk about about right now, a lot I could talk about but won’t, and a lot I can’t show just yet even though I really want to.

So, on this day of stupid and entertaining melancholy, I ask for a little patience. Once I’m settled into being 31 and I’m reassured it’ll rock as much as 30, then I’ll start spitting out something of interest.

Until then, please stop telling me that the Vaccines sound like the Ramones. I swear to God, that makes me want to kill people.

Firstly, because I hear it every single time someone’s mentioned them in the last year, and secondly, because it’s wrong. They sound much more like The Jam.

So shut up.

August 3, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized |


  1. Sincerest birthday wishes to James Hetfield.

    Comment by PW Gresty | August 3, 2011 | Reply

  2. … or is that ‘Most sincere’? Shit.

    Comment by PW Gresty | August 3, 2011 | Reply

  3. Definitely more like The Jam. The Ramones? Not even.

    I turned 31 in 2006, during my second tour in Iraq. Talk about your fertile melancholia gardens. 😛

    Comment by Khestra the Unbeheld | August 3, 2011 | Reply

  4. Happy big 31 to you! I think someone stated somewhere the Chinese consider childhood to last up until 30, then you turn into a grown man which last up until your 60, then your an old wise man. 🙂

    Comment by Forkmaster | August 3, 2011 | Reply

  5. Your valuable expertise on being 30, last year, has now expired. I look forward to the revised edition of expertise on all things 31.

    Comment by narrativium | August 3, 2011 | Reply

  6. Happy birthday, anyway. I to share your melancholy when it comes to birthdays and other holidays for that matter. It may stem from not getting that Stormtrooper armour that i wanted and dreamed about when i was young, or could just be that i feel i try harder to make sure that I put forth a effort on other peoples birthday and i dont feel that it is recipicated. In any case i dread birthdays and cant understand why others seem to need there birthdays off from work, I dont.

    Comment by keith | August 3, 2011 | Reply

  7. Of course you have fans. With works such as “Blood Reaver”, “Helsreach” and “First Heretic” you are definitely going to have fans all over the world.

    How many people at our age (I turned 31 back in February) can say that their name is spoken or read about around the world on a daily basis? In a good way, of course.

    Comment by Eamonn S. | August 3, 2011 | Reply

  8. I wish I could summon up a bit of melancholy on my birthday, but I’m usually too busy being entirely apathetic about the whole thing.

    Regardless, happy melancholic birthday to you. I think you’ve earnt it.

    Comment by Tim Sweeney | August 4, 2011 | Reply

  9. Jeez man, you’re doing much better! Melancholy…. Such a wistfully gentle feeling to feel. Much better than apathy on one’s birthday. Or regret. Oh well.

    Enjoy yourself however you wish there, for you know what you are and what you want.

    Comment by Lord of Insanity | August 4, 2011 | Reply

  10. Is there anything to look forward to after 25? i know car insurance rates drop, but is retirement in 20-30 years the only other benchmark?

    I’ve got something to send you, however your B&C account is full. Don’t worry, it’s not a draft.

    Comment by Dan the Dman | August 4, 2011 | Reply

  11. 31 was and is good. Enjoy it while continuing to pretend otherwise. 37, however, sucks arse, with no hidden redeeming features at all and is to be avoided if at all possible (clearly I didn’t crack exactly how to avoid it, but you’ve got time to figure this out).

    Comment by Nazaradine | August 4, 2011 | Reply

  12. Oh good it’s not just me. I’ll take birthday blues off the list of reasons I think I’m going mad.

    Comment by Aurenian | August 4, 2011 | Reply

  13. enjoy your melancholy day.

    31 was good for me, i graduated a technical school 2 yr program. i think it was after 32 that shit hit the fan for though… gout, kidney stones, and all that physical abuse you did as a teenager starts to get back at you. now 40, still not much wiser, just a little less in debt 😀

    Comment by ChrisW | August 5, 2011 | Reply

  14. Happy Birfday
    I only thing I do different for my Birthday is go out to a good dinner.
    Who wants to celebrate getting older after 30.
    Carrierwise it sounds like you got it figured out what you need to improve.
    In 2 short years you are in the Top Tier of BL authors.
    In my opinion a solid second place clawing for Abnetts crown, but he did create Eisenhorn and Ravenor
    Which is why he still has the title for now.

    Comment by Bigwill | August 5, 2011 | Reply

  15. Señor, apologies for missing the birthday. Melancholia is one of the emotions I handle better in my life, as I seem to encounter it more often than anything else; so I totally get where you are.

    Manly fist-pounds in commemoration for this year of your birth, belatedly so, and thank you for the feeling that I’m not completely alone in this universe (and the Shake n’ Vac is in plentiful supply) and that I’ not the only one with a problem reading emotion into things like the phone conversations.

    Comment by Tim Kenyon | August 5, 2011 | Reply

  16. When I become morose about the head and birthday I consider that – whatever I might not have accomplished over the years – if I had actually accomplished those things then I wouldn’t have done a lot of the things to get me where I am presently.

    When I was 31… shit. I don’t remember. I think we had computers. Something about some shoes… And it was raining once. Well, so much for that!

    If this song is any indication I’d say the Vaccines are about 5% Ramones at best, maybe 10% Jam (because without Peter Weller well then what the fuck is left?), and the rest is a mix of X and early-80s Sonic Youth. In any event those are all very good things of which to be considered even 5%.

    Comment by Lars Madsen | August 5, 2011 | Reply

  17. Your friends reminds me of my friends… In some way, the “Aaron, I know you’re oversensitive about this, so even if we discuss X in detail and I explain how much you suck, I won’t tease you about it – especially not in public – because I know it upsets you, you irrational asshole.” part did anyway…
    Ohwell, have a good 31 atleast!

    Comment by Oscar Anjou | August 9, 2011 | Reply

  18. This entry is touching in its sincerity and candid nature. Regarding fans, I consider you to be one of the Big Four of Black Library, you’ve certainly earned it 🙂 You may not realise it that much but for us fans, the fact that you as authors write such good books ensure that daily dose of “I have something to look forward to” when we get to reading.

    Comment by Mark-Anthony | August 11, 2011 | Reply

  19. Yep. Missed it too. Happy belated birthday, young Demski-Bowden…

    Comment by Rob Sanders | August 16, 2011 | Reply

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