Aaron Dembski-Bowden

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

A Day in the Life of Me: The Morning

I read that doing a “Day in the Life” was a good writing exercise to start your word count rolling, so I thought I’d try it. I’ll break it up into two parts, though, for the sake of mercy.


I open my eyes. I check my phone which was under my pillow, which is where phones apparently explode these days. It’s 5:43am.

Some days, this is the time I wake up. Other days, it’s about 3-4 hours before I go to sleep. Today, it’s the time I wake up.

It’s the wastelands of the morning, which should be awful but is actually kind of nice because I crashed out early last night and I’ve managed to swipe about 6 hours’ sleep. I thumb my phone open and lie on my side, re-reading the notes I made yesterday for my upcoming Vampire: the Dark Ages game. After that, I start to read Robin Hobb’s Shaman’s Crossing for the fourth time.

I feel a stab of guilt that borders on a dull, gouging panic. Do I have time for this? Am I writing enough? Shouldn’t I be writing more? Better? Much more? Some of my friends and colleagues are, like, way more published than me. I’m fucking this up. I’m fucking this all up.

I thumb my phone closed and head downstairs.


Ridiculously, Shakes is already awake. ‘Alexander’ is actually Shakes, or Baby Bear. People outside the house call him Alex. This is weird to me, but I don’t mind it. My scruffy-haired 5-year-old ginger moppet sits on the sofa, watching kid-friendly Let’s Play videos on YouTube narrated by a cavalcade of shrieking boys and shouting men. Christ, they all sound so fucking excited. I wonder at the ferocity of my sudden weariness when I hear those sounds, and think Heh, I’m old now. It isn’t an unpleasant feeling.

“Hey, Shakes.”

Shakes launches into an explanation of what new games are great; what the narrators have said that was funny; what happens if you fall into an acid pit in Orcs Must Die; and then asks if I remember telling him it rains acid on Venus. I do indeed remember telling him this. Halfway through saying so, and adding that it’s sulphuric acid, he starts to tune out.

I forgive him when he tunes out like this. I remind myself that he’s the smartest kid in his class, the only one that gets extra work in school and for homework as well, and that he’s allowed to tune his father out from time to time.

I look at him and hope he’s going to say something clever that will make me proud.

Instead he says, “Will you make me some toast?”

“You can make your own toast,” I say, just like I say every day.

“Yes, but will you do it?” he says, fulfilling the other half of this age-old dance between father and son.

As I’m making him toast, I say, “No more tablet, buddy. It’s a little early, okay? Maybe later if you’re good.”

I wonder if this is shitty parenting. I can’t remember if any one of last week’s/month’s/year’s many conflicting articles said phrasing things as questions to your kids is bad because it invites argument, or whether it’s good because it invites debate and reminds them of their own autonomy. I care about these things, but I also sort of don’t. There’s so much to care about and too much to remember, and no one ever agrees on anything.

He puts the tablet down. He starts to read instead. It doesn’t always go this smoothly.

I go to make coffee. As the kettle boils, I read Shaman’s Crossing a bit more on my phone.

My teeth hurt, which I take as a personal insult. I’ve always had really good teeth as an adult, except for two issues. The first is that my wisdom teeth came in at angles that looked like an ogre had arsefucked Stonehenge. They had to come out, which was all fine and good. Out they came. The second issue is that a filling went wrong over a decade ago, and my old dentist left a bit of drill in my gum. That got infected and did Bad Things. I am still, all this time later, so offended by this twist of fate that my rage is near-supernatural in potency and entirely, stupidly helpless. I don’t have the money to really do anything to fix it, and as awesome as the NHS is, dentists are a weird exception where each trip costs about as much as a fully furnished space shuttle. This is made no better by the fact my dentist always says “You take great care of your teeth, it’s a shame about what happened.”

Yes, I think, as I stare dully into infinity with the side of my skull throbbing. A shame.

I hand Shakes his toast. “There you go, Your Princely Majesty.”

He grins. He loses that grin as I start listing out the things I want him to do before school, because school is a whole 2.5 hours away, which may as well be forever. He interrupts me halfway through to tell me how volcanoes work. I listen with rapture, willing him to become a scientist and save the planet.

I drink my coffee, avoiding all thought of the current novel because I hate it, the way I hate every novel when it’s the current one, and the way I’m sure this will be the first one to get unilaterally shit reviews and prove to the world that I was a fraud all along. The coffee is cheap, weak, instant, and absolute bliss. I despise the stereotype of a writer loving/needing coffee and vow to keep telling everyone that all I do is drink tea. I try not to lie, but some lies are for the good of us all.

Something thumps upstairs. Either the cat has fallen off of something, or–

A muffled voice says “Oh, no.” I hear it through the floorboards, the way the speaker draws out the second word, turning No into Nuuu.

“Annah’s awake,” Shakes tells me.

I get up from the sofa. I decide that if Annah greets me with “Hi there, Daddy” then it will be a good day.

She’s standing up in her cot. She is quite literally the concept of resilient happiness that has chosen to take the form of a 2-year-old girl. Her hair is an explosion of blonde curls. I tell everyone they’re “crazy ringlets” or “her weird afro”. The truth – and you’re always truthful with yourself at 6am – is that they’re a halo.

“Morning, Scout,” I say. Savannah is Annah, Scout, or Bananas.

The floor is a cataclysm of My Little Pony toys. I briefly wonder where all these gendered toys came from, since Katie and I are Careful(TM) and Aware(TM) of Such Things(TM). Then I remember that My Little Pony isn’t gendered any more, or maybe it is, or maybe it’s not, but Shakes wants to go see the movie at the cinema anyway, and fuck it I don’t know and don’t remember any more. I sigh inwardly at all the joyless worries that parenting sometimes becomes – things that are jokes to some people and deadly vital to others, and you piss off both sides by not understanding the issue and disagreeing with them, or agreeing in the wrong way. But seriously, the floor really is a fucking abattoir of My Little Ponies.

Annah points to one of them.

“Horse,” she informs me. “Neigh.”

I agree that it is indeed a horse. I even have context to offer.

“That’s Princess Twilight Sparkle.” I wonder why I know this, and I wish I didn’t. I don’t remember actively seeking this information out. It’s like a shit version of photosynthesis; instead of absorbing sunlight, you absorb bollocks. I can tell you that Everest joins the Paw Patrol in season 2, but I can’t remember my stepdad Jeff’s birthday. This is the kind of human I’ve become. I honestly didn’t see it turning out this way.

“Up,” Annah demands. She looks at me like everything in life is wonderful. She’s awake, and therefore everything in her world is great. As I look down at her, at this unstained creature the world will inevitably teach to hate, I think I’m going to cry.

I don’t cry. We go downstairs.

“Hi, Seeks,” she greets her brother.

“Hi, Annah.”

They hug. More accurately, she hugs her big brother and he endures this while distractedly putting an arm around her. She says “Aww” the way she does when she hugs anything. As I watch this, I think I’m going to cry.

I don’t cry. I make her a bowl of milkless Cheerios, peel her a banana, and get her a cup of water. All of this will end up on the floor within the space of three minutes, and I’ll have to repeat every step of the procedure.

“Juice,” she informs me, as she drinks the water, which is in no way juice at all. And then, “Bye, Daddy” she says with a smile. My little angel, talking away. As she says this, I think I’m going to cry.

I don’t cry. She walks off, clutching her water, and shouts “Peppa!” at the silent TV in the other room. I turn on Peppa Pig, but I’m not fast enough and I don’t get to go back to reading Shaman’s Crossing on the sofa with Shakes. Instead, Annah refuses to let my hand go, and we sit together watching Peppa Pig, which is basically terrible. Annah climbs onto me and curls inward, still holding my thumb. This part is okay.


Annah is captivated, but never too captivated to stop mimicking every single animal sound the characters make, or repeating their species as if I need to be told at deafening volume for the 800th time this month that Peppa Pig is a pig.

“Pig!” she says, quite unnecessarily stridently. “Oink!”

“Yes. Pig. Indeed. I’m… going to go.”

She absorbs this. “Oh, nuuu.”

“Yes, my love. Daddy’s going to read.” I can feel myself talking softer to her than I do with Shakes, and I wonder if he notices this. I also wonder if this is gendered parenting and if I’m terrible and if I should try harder with this stuff. Perhaps it’ll make for a complicated story they both share when they’re older, about how I was subconsciously softer with her than I was with him.

As I’m getting up, I try to think of anything I might resent my parents for.

Once, when I was 15, my mum made me come home early from my girlfriend Corinne’s house because I’d left without closing my bedroom window. But that was definitely just a moment of adolescent embarrassment, and not some grim grudge I’ll harbour into my 30s. Definitely.

I make another cup of coffee, musing over the evidence. Apart from that vile incident, nothing really springs to mind. I wonder if a terrible relationship with my parents might make me more interesting.

Something that sounds vaguely plasticky and toy-like crashes in the living room. I tense, every sense reaching out, listening for a sound that will tell me if the toddler is still alive and hasn’t killed itself.

“Oh, nuuu.”

She’s fine then.

I reflect that her first repeated words were “Oh, no” and that Shakes’s were “Oh, dear.” Maybe this reveals some bleak truth that our house is a disaster area of repetitive regret, but I find it touchingly reassuring. It’s so English. My children are half-Irish, varying hues of ginger, and as all my English friends inform me, Shakes (who once sounded like me) is reeeeaaaally coming up with a rural N. Irish accent. But it’s all good, because before they were corrupted by Katie, their first words were mild expressions of touchingly English alarm. “Oh, no” one of them responds to almost every situation. “Oh, dear” the other one used to insist at the slightest fuck-up.

“Shoes, Shakes. Time to go to school. Annah, come on. Let’s wake up Mummy.”


“Yes. Come on.”


We go to wake up Katie so she can take over and do all the actual parenting and housework while I spend the rest of the day writing about space war. I feel bad about this. I resolve to make more effort. I have made this promise before. Sometimes I follow through with it. Annah pounds into the bedroom.

“MUMMY.” She says this with force, but not urgency. It’s weird. It’s like she’s trying to talk me into something.

“I found this goblin,” I tell Katie. “Please enjoy.”

I close the door on them and take Shakes to school.

It’s only a 15-minute walk to Shakes’s school and I know, in my heart, I should do that walk every morning. But 7 of those 15 minutes are an off-road slog down countryside lanes turned to shit and slush by the ceaseless Irish rain. I can walk it, but it means carrying Shakes on my shoulders so he doesn’t turn show up at school covered in brown smears of liquid farmland.

This is a romantic image and I imagine him, maybe as old as I am now, telling his friends and kids what a great father I was by carrying him to school on my shoulders every day. What a heartwarming tale this would make. What a tremendous father I would be.

Yes? Yes. Yes. 

Then I look outside. It’s raining. Rain is cold and annoying.

I think, not untruthfully, I’d make a shitty Navy SEAL.

We take the car. It takes 58 seconds. I try not to think of various times I lectured American friends for driving everywhere. I try not to think of the fact one of the reasons I moved to the countryside was to “go for walks and be healthier and stuff”.

Shakes bolts for the school door. If he turns and waves before he goes through the doors, then it’ll be a good day.

He turns and waves.

I pull out of the car park. If it’s clear and I get out without needing to pull aside to let someone else come in, then it’ll be a good day.

Someone else comes in. I pull over.

Then I drive back. It takes several seconds longer (maybe… 65? 68?) because I linger at a turn, casting the radio a withering look for playing Despacito, which will now be in my head for the rest of the cunting day. As I’m pulling in outside the house, I remember reading a comment on a friend’s FB page where they complained that “cunt” was a gendered insult and we should all stop using it. The cultural divide enforced by the Atlantic Ocean is a cruel one. Imagine calling someone a cunt and actually thinking of a vagina at any point in the equation. Imagine not just meaning that someone’s being unreasonable. It’d be like saying “Fuck you” and actually thinking about, well, fucking them.

I remember “impact, not intent” and “words have power and meaning and blah blah blah”. I sigh and briefly mourn the death of context. The Left will eat itself, I think to myself. There is no Left, really. The Left doesn’t exist as a Thing, because all it ever does is turn on itself when one of its limbs inevitably isn’t ideologically pure enough for the others.

I suspect this would make a good blog post, but I’ll never write it because even imagining the replies from both sides makes me tired, and trying to include every point, counterpoint, and counter-counterpoint so no one misunderstands what I was trying to say sounds even more tiresome. I don’t talk about politics often, and this is but one reason why. One reason among many.

As I get out of the car, my boots squidge into the melange of mud, wet leaves, and pine needles that forms an unwholesome soup on our driveway for the 9 months of the year that are “basically Winter” in Ireland. The trees that ring our house should be beautiful, but they’re really just towering sentinels that threaten to fall down in big storms and spend their lives raining vegetation on their ungrateful masters.

“Go fuck yourselves,” I tell the trees. I say this without thinking about actually fucking them, or them fucking themselves, because of context. Their response is to swish in the breeze, hissing with sylvan laughter.

I head into the house. If Annah greets me with “Hi there, Daddy” it will be a good day. She’s standing in the kitchen, pouring Cheerios into a bowl on the floor. I’m drawing breath to tell her they’re going to spill everywhere when they spill everywhere.

“Oh, nuuu.”

I tidy this up and make tea in my D20 mug, which is great. Then I go to my office, which is a 3-room wooden structure with plasterboard walls that my friend Rob designed, and several of us built over the course of 2 months’ graft. We built it inside a long barn that once held cows and/or sheep and/or various rusting junk.

I sit down and check my emails. No, no, I’m not ready for that yet. I check the basketball forums. The Phoenix Suns are hot garbage yet again, but it’s early enough in the season that we’re all mistaking hope for progress. I check the 40K forums and my various social media feeds. Someone is insisting I said something I never actually said. Someone else is insisting they have all the evidence that I hate a faction I know full well that I actually love. Correcting them will make no difference and only come across as defensive. Many other people are being very nice about me or my work, which I gloss over because reading it makes me feel a bit like I’m wanking.

I focus on a few dozen photos of armies by people that paint much better than I do, then glance at the half-built Plague Marines on my desk. Despite having no real interest in playing Chaos, the Death Guard release has wooed and tempted me in ways both dark and dreamy. I feel a sliver of panic at still not getting anything painted but the endless production line of scenery.

Then I check my emails. No one is yelling at me about deadlines or saying they hate my work. This is good. There’s one on the Horus Heresy CC list raising a point that I disagree with. There was one the day before that I totally agreed with (unsurprisingly, from Chris Wraight, who is an astute motherfucker indeed). There’s one from my dad, which makes me smile because his emails sound like mine, just with way less swearing. There’s a life and tone to my dad’s emails that charms me, partly because it’s weird hearing your own voice come back at you (though I suppose I’m really his voice coming back at him) and partly because he never sounds down even when he’s so obviously a bit down. He also does that thing where he’s almost militantly more interested in the other person than in offering up any information about himself, and that’s something I’ve tried to cultivate myself over the last 30+ years. I know far more about most of my friends than they know about me. That should be mysterious, but it’s not. It’s probably insecurity masquerading as nobility. I suspect this is true not because I believe it, but because several intelligent women have said it to me over the course of my life. Two of them were naked at the time, though not at exactly the same time.

I solemnly promise I’ll change that about myself soon. Maybe after I finish this novel and have time to really deal with that kind of significant life change. Or maybe not. Maybe never. Admitting any weakness is nothing but a chance for various cunts to pounce on each other online, like smug jackals who think they know best because they fit into the status quo. The same souls that can’t abide the thought of the status quo changing after they tried so hard to fit into it.

This would make for another good blog post that I will never do.

I start work.

Work should consist of speedily writing as much as I can, as fast as I can, trusting that it can be cleaned up in the subsequent drafts. It doesn’t involve that. An hour has gone past and I’m still laboriously chewing through the same paragraph because something about it feels off.

I take a break from work.

I make more coffee.

November 1, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. I want to delve into how much I enjoyed reading this and how it was reassuring to see that I’m not the only one who has lines of thought on self doubt and worthiness.. but I figure you’d just gloss over it to avoid that feeling.
    In short, it truly was a great read, and a nice glimpse into your life and thoughts.

    Comment by Dean | November 1, 2017 | Reply

  2. That was lovely — and it didn’t even have a single Space Marine in it 😉 Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by krautscientist | November 1, 2017 | Reply

    • …I sort of mentioned the Death Guard, so I mean…

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | November 1, 2017 | Reply

      • Haha, fair enough 😉 I’d argue it was all the more compelling for the lack of Space Marines — and don’t get me wrong here, I actually *LOVE* reading what you write about them and usually end up converting models based on it. Still, this was something else (and it was obviously intended to be), and it was hugely enjoyable, which I hope came through in the original comment. It sounds like your kids really rock, too! 😉

        Comment by krautscientist | November 1, 2017 | Reply

  3. I think you did an excellent job encapsulating what it means to be a parent in the 21st century, particularly the bit about cultural osmosis. I have twin 5 year-old-daughters as well and, despite our best efforts at avoiding gendered toys, both have gone off the deep end and have basically only played with Barbie dolls for the past two years.

    Oh, and my masters degree is in early childhood special education. Not that the words of a random person matters much, but I just wanted to tell you: any parent who can instill a love of science in their children to such a degree that they have their kids talking about volcanoes and the planets at the tender age of 5 is Doing It Right. My hat is off to you!

    Comment by Joe | November 1, 2017 | Reply

    • That sounds like a bloody fascinating degree. And never discount the value of random-person-words. Those are often some of the mostest importantest.

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | November 1, 2017 | Reply

      • Thanks! Yeah, most of my work involves working with infants and NICUs. If you ever need any unsolicited advice drop me a line, I have no idea what to do after kids reach six but before that I have a few dead forests worth of literature and research documents with which I can help a brother out!

        Comment by Joe | November 1, 2017 | Reply

  4. As a father of 2 boys, close to the same age as your kids, reading this makes me reassured I am not alone in some of my thoughts and worries for my own children and how I raise them.

    Thank you for that.

    Comment by Wargamer Eric | November 1, 2017 | Reply

  5. The My Little Ponies, came from me. Your daughter, having a shop load of differing toys to choose from, picked those out. Not only that, once she got them home, she would religiously count them in and out of the carton they came in. I’m sure she thought, I was going to steal them!

    Comment by Vivienne Dembski aka mummy | November 1, 2017 | Reply

    • Hello, Mum. Thank you for introducing Princess Twilight Sparkle to my life. I am greatly enriched by this.

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | November 1, 2017 | Reply

  6. Thank you for sharing your unfiltered self. Although it might be a writing exercise, the gesture does not go unappreciated by your fans and followers.

    Also, you’ve stumbled across a great line of dialog for your Vampire RPG. The line you used “I found this goblin, please enjoy.” Would be a hilarious line for a scene where someone is about to meet a most unpleasant end at the claws of some deadly goblin character that they’ve been locked in a room with. Or replace “goblin” with any other monster.

    And in 40k fashion:
    “I found this Carnifex, please enjoy.”

    Comment by Toby O'Hara | November 1, 2017 | Reply

    • I shall devoutly take your Vampire advice into consideration when planning scenes. This, I swear.

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | November 1, 2017 | Reply

  7. Sweet Isha, all of a sudden I remember watching some episodes of My Little Pony on vhs tapes back when I was a wee lad in the 90s. But there were dark lords, ominous castles and horrid transformations involved, so of course I liked it all. 😛

    Comment by Max Woldhek | November 1, 2017 | Reply

  8. i finished reading The Talon Of Horus this morning. Fantastic read, well done!

    Comment by terryshithole | November 1, 2017 | Reply

  9. I love your honesty. And courage. I read today that most people harbour feelings of doubt and insecurity which, in turn, leads to negative self-talk. It takes self-awareness to recognise these feelings, but a genuine humanity to share them publicly. If only more people could do this, the world might be a less harsh place in which to exist.

    As a final thought, your books sell because you are a talented motherfucker (no offence intended Aaron’s mum).

    Comment by Steve Williams | November 1, 2017 | Reply

  10. excellent post and strangely(by the fact i am a huge 40k fan) more interesting than your 40k posts

    Comment by James Toney | November 1, 2017 | Reply

  11. Eye opening and hilarious, Aaron.

    As for that last bit, about your writing, remember that “You can’t rush greatness”.

    Comment by Kyle Nguyen | November 1, 2017 | Reply

  12. I quite enjoyed this piece. It triggered some reflective, diarist thoughts in my own head that might be nice to write up some day. Of course, no-one would be interested in the slightest, so I probably never will. So take that as a compliment – despite your misgivings about yourself, your anxieties and all of the facets of human frailty that encapsulate your life, your body of work and the “celebrity” that it entails makes your writing exercise about your morning an interesting enough read that people are engaged enough to read and respond. 🙂

    Comment by Azazel | November 2, 2017 | Reply

  13. Hi, now I’m tempted on bombing you with kind words about your work and how much I enjoy it, so that you feel uncomfortable.
    So…. I liked it.
    Pretty much, actually. It filled my apparently black heart with joy, which stings a little bit, nur pleasant nonetheless.
    Oh and by the way:
    My father often carried me and I haven’t spoken to him for years now. 😉

    Comment by Tim | November 2, 2017 | Reply

  14. All the perverse guilt and regret would be wasted otherwise

    Comment by Juan Pascal | November 2, 2017 | Reply

  15. I’m the absolute opposite of a creative person. But the way you describe your feelings concerning the deadlines and the quality of your writings is probably the way I would feel in your situation, too. I imagine it’s impossible to shut down those feelings ever, even after you finished hundreds of books.

    Also, I don’t have the slightest doubt your next release will be a great read when it’s out. Simply, because all of your books are great. I bet you aren’t able to write a bad text, even if you would try.

    Comment by Marduk1813 | November 20, 2017 | Reply

  16. […] view of a writer’s life, and to love Aaron Dembski-Bowden just a little bit more, check out part one and part two of his ‘Day in the Life’ […]

    Pingback by What Do You Do All Day… Now? | December 2, 2017 | Reply

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