Aaron Dembski-Bowden

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

A Day in the Life of Me: II – The Writing Exercise Continues

I need to talk to Alan, but I can’t because he’s fucking dead.

I sit at my desk with my latest cup of coffee as a not-enough-word-count morning bleeds into a not-enough-word-count afternoon, and I know exactly what this feeling is. The book has stalled.

This is bad. This is also familiar. It’s an old and embarrassing friend come to visit yet again; almost familiar enough to be funny, actually. But it’s still bad. It happens in every novel, and almost always more than once. Nothing I’m writing feels right. Nothing feels good enough. It feels true to the characters, but boring. Or the characters are in the wrong place for any sense of progress. Or I don’t know what to write at all, and I feel like I’m taking the story in the wrong direction. All of the above. None of the above. I don’t know. But I can’t afford another situation where it takes me over a year and a half to write a novel.

In this instance, it’s one of the times – one of the specific angles – where I need to go to Alan. He’d know what to do. Or, more appropriately, he’d know how to listen and then gently prod at certain patches.

I could talk to John, but John has been variously distant, muted, and miserable – ultimately as useless as me since Alan died. Something vital has gone out of mine and John’s friendship, and I think Alan accidentally took it with him. Plus, I still haven’t read the Word copy of his next HH novel, so I feel too shitty to go to him for help.

Spear of the Emperor isn’t in a good enough place to take to my beta readers, except maybe for Ead. So I’ll blow the storyline, spoiler it all, spill its guts, and tell Ead what’s going to happen. He can weigh it, find the parts that suck, then let the advice-hammer fall.

I do this, in a Facebook message. It’s a long one. Ead is already typing a reply by the time I’ve re-read it myself and scowled at a typo.

Everything’s going to be fine after all. Probably. Maybe. Probably.

While I’m waiting for the reply, I stupidly check Alan’s social media just in case someone’s posted a message to him. I even more stupidly click up a picture of him, and then indulge in the most tawdry melancholy by saying “Miss you, chief” out loud, like I’m in a mawkish one-man stage play of my own life. I can feel I’m one step away from putting on something theatrically sad from the Scrubs soundtrack before I catch myself and feel my lips curl into a nasty snigger.

Alan’s memorial thing that John arranged is in a few days. I was supposed to go, but we couldn’t get babysitters this close to the Black Library Weekender. I admitted to the other guys that I was relieved since I didn’t want to go, and the babysitting was a convenient excuse. The funeral was enough for me. Too much, honestly. I feel caught between wanting to be there because I’m missing out, and not wanting to be there because I’m just not feeling it. I wonder if I should be getting over it a bit more, a bit faster.

I don’t know what the right answer is, but Ead saves me from thinking about it.

He replies. We type-talk for about an hour. A weight is lifted. I make notes on the changes to come, and then start cutting, pasting, shifting, and re-planning.

I become aware, after a while, that I’m rocking back and forth in my chair. This is one of my bad habits when I’m alone and concentrating. I stop it, stretch a bit, and my spine goes clickle-crackle.

Within a few minutes, I’m rocking back and forth again. Just a bit.

Something theatrically sad from the Scrubs soundtrack randomly comes on my Spotify, and I tell it to fuck off before the second line of the first verse.

An undefined time later, I use my GW sculpting tool to scratch deep inside my ear. 20+ years of extremely loud headphones, and now this newest habit, have likely fucked up my eardrums pretty badly. I should stop. I’ll stop in a minute. Any minute now.

I’m making sex noises, it feels that good.

Katie and Annah join me for the 58-second drive to pick up Shakes from school late in the afternoon.

“Seeks!” Annah announces. “Car!”

We get the boy. As he clambers into the car shrieking like a banshee on a sugar rush, he tells us that he “doesn’t know” how his school day went because he “can’t remember” the last six hours of his life. I remember reading somewhere that you shouldn’t ask that question anyway, but I can’t recall why not.

We get home. Katie starts helping him with homework. I make coffee. It’s, like, my sixth or seventh of the day. I’m beginning to see stuff out of the corner of my eyes.

I go back to writing. Every now and then I look at the clock and feel the queasy plunge of time passing in massive spurts of not-enough-word-count. This is a physical sensation. If you remember the crystallised boredom of being in school and feeling the clock going slowly between the times you glanced at it, this is that sensation’s exact opposite.

I write more. I delete even more than I write. I write again. I delete more, again.

Shakes bangs on my office door, strolling in and asking if we can play Orcs Must Die. I tell him I’m working, sorry, I wish I could. He asks if we can play it on Shakes & Daddy Afternoon this week, and I say of course we can. He goes back inside. I close the door because he’s incapable of ever doing so, and as I’m watching him walk back into the house I feel a creeping, clenching sense of dread that this will be what he remembers about me; this will be what he and Annah talk about when they’re adults and I’m long dead of a heart attack. “Our dad was okay,” these fantasy-adults say, “but he worked a lot. We didn’t see him much.”

I do more words. I delete even more. This isn’t shaping up to be a great day on Ye Olde Worde Counte, but the conversation with Ead has salvaged it.

As I’m instinctively doing a CTRL-S (habit has me do it after every single sentence) I realise that, somehow, the sun is going down.

Discord is pinging as various friends arrive home from work. Some want to roleplay based on our World of WarCraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic storylines. Some want to play other games. Some are just checking in. I keep my replies brief. I know that if someone suggests playing Project Zomboid, I’m sunk and I’ll get no more work done tonight. I go inside the house before someone can suggest it.

We Skype with my mum, who wants to see the grandkids. Shakes – who hasn’t shut the fuck up all day – now sits there in sullen silence and barely says a word. Maybe it’s because my mum dared to show Annah some attention, maybe it’s because oh God I don’t know Jesus Christ. Annah climbs all over her brother and shouts babbling nonsense at the screen, disconnecting the call twice with a chubby hand slapping on the keyboard. She’s taken a huge leap in terms of vocabulary this week, but now for some reason she does nothing but yell gibberish. I know none of this should bother me, so I pretend it doesn’t.

Bedtime for the beans. Katie does Bananas, I handle Shakes. 90% of the time it’s easy going. Tonight, it’s one of the Twelve Tasks of Heracles. Through a fusion effort of pleading, prayer, bribery, and dramatic sighing, I convince him to put his PJs on. He says goodnight to Katie. He hugs Annah, and Scout hugs him back. As they do this awkward embrace, forming a single patently Irish entity of pale skin, golden curls, and ginger locks, I think I’m going to cry.

I don’t cry. We go upstairs where I read to Shakes. His room is a warzone of toys and clothes that I tell him to tidy up tomorrow, which he assures me he will while knowing full well he won’t. We read one of his superhero books for what may be the eight-hundredth time. I yawn several times while reading, despite not being tired. Once, I Googled why that happens to me every night, and found loads of people saying they also yawn every time they read aloud. That was reassuring, but it still weirds me out. It puts me off ever reading aloud at a book signing.

The nightly ritual ends the way it always ends. I tell Shakes the same thing I’ve told him since the very first night I put him to bed.

“You’re my heart.”

Sometimes I withhold this from him, just to make him complain that I forgot to say it. (“You forgot to say something!” he grins.) Tonight, I say it and stroke his (so, so ginger) hair back from his face. His freckles are starting to come in, just lightly, on his nose and cheeks.

“And you’re my star,” he tells me, one night in every ten or so. Tonight is one of them. When he was learning shapes as a toddler, he had a set with hearts, stars, diamonds, circles, and squares. For some reason, his first reply to this nightly ritual was “…and you’re my star.” It’s stuck ever since.

I think I’m going to cry.

I don’t cry. I stand on a Spider-Man action figure as I’m turning around, and the pain is revelatory. I can see into the fucking future. I wince so hard it genuinely hurts my face. Kids were such an unbelievable mistake. I may actually be crippled now.

Jesus fucking cunt fucker shit, I shriek silently within the walls of my mind. Fucking bollocks bastard.

“You’ve… got to tidy your room tomorrow,” I say aloud. “Okay, buddy?”

“Yes, Daddy. Daddy, will you leave the light on so I can read?”

I do, of course, because he started reading early, eagerly, and with great talent for it – and I agree to literally anything he asks if it involves reading.

I do the same thing I do every night, taking a last look in at him sitting up in bed, looking down at whatever book he’s chosen. He keeps a half-dozen in his bed at all times, for ease of reach.

I go downstairs. I make tea because if I make more coffee I’ll breed a headache made of pure fire. Katie and I finished The Expanse on Netflix and aren’t quite ready to start something else, so I head back out to my office.

I do more words.

Some nights I’ll pull an all-nighter, but I’m not feeling it right now. By the time 10 rolls around, I’ve buried the novel document beneath twelve other windows, all related to basketball, 40K, Vampire: the Masquerade, and a few Wikipedia pages related to the Middle Ages. I’m not getting anything done now. I’m just grinding gears.

One last check of the Aaronorium (the joke-name for my office) Facebook group shows several of the others have posted painting progress photos – and they all look great – so they are now my enemies and I hate them.

I go to bed, only to discover it’s one of the nights Shakes has sneaked his way into our bed, bringing Monkey and Dora (pictured) and cranked our electric blanket up to roughly the temperature of a lava elemental breakdancing on the surface of Mercury.


I carry him back to his bed, thinking of all the times my mum and dad carried me to bed, and the bleary, dazed recollections I’d have of magically waking up in a different place to where I’d fallen asleep. I think I’m going to cry.

I don’t cry. In bed – which is still Human Rights-breachingly hot – I lament Shakes breaking my iPad two freaking years ago, and read on my phone instead. I still buy physical books half the time, but I can read on my side in bed, in the dark, on my phone, so I do that a fair amount. I can’t fall asleep unless I read.

At some point, despite Shaman’s Crossing being amazing, I’m done. Katie comes to bed later. 50% of the time I wake up when she gets into bed. 10% of the time I wake up because one of her ankles cracks me a glancing blow to the balls when she’s rolling over.

I count my lucky stars that tonight isn’t one of those nights, and then I’m gone again. Gone, tonight, even before I can annoy her by pulling weird faces right next to her head or making my fingers creep around the edges of her book like an awesome spider.

(“Why is this my life?” she usually asks in such moments.)

November 4, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Fuck dude I know those feels. Grief is a hell of a thing to be going though. It’s amazing the effect someone has when they aren’t there anymore.

    Comment by Tyler Moore | November 4, 2017 | Reply

  2. The whole “you shouldn’t ask kids how their day was” deal is basically because it can lead to short answers (“good” “bad” “I dunno”), which isn’t terribly bad in-and-of itself, but it is obviously frustrating for the adult and isn’t helping the kid build their language/recall abilities. Instead if parents ask things like “who did you play with today?” or something sappy like “what made you smile at school today?” they may get a few sentences out of them which can be used to probe for more detail.

    It sometimes makes me feel like a poor man’s detective whenever I pick the kids up, but it can work!

    Comment by Joe | November 4, 2017 | Reply

    • That was it! Ta for that. Katie’s pretty good at remembering to phrase it better, but I know I still fall into that specific trap with The School Question a lot.

      Comment by Aaron Dembski-Bowden | November 4, 2017 | Reply

      • Glad to be of assistance!

        Comment by Joe | November 4, 2017 | Reply

  3. Oh man again I am glad to hear I’m not the only one that has their child saying they can’t remember what they did at school. Your response is exactly the same as what goes through my head. I do try changing tact at times as mentioned above with asking aboht who he played with or what the favourite thing he learned was. It usually has better effects.

    Sorry to hear that Alan’s passing is still having such an effect on your life. I’ve been there and understand the way that feels. I hope you can find a few people to be your outlets half as good as he could be in the past… It helps eventually.

    Keep it up. We love what you do…no matter the wait 😉

    Comment by Wargamer Eric | November 4, 2017 | Reply

  4. You have no idea how good it feels to hear that I’m not the only one who’s kids make me want to cry multiple times a day.
    I’ve only got one, she’s just over two, and two or three times a day she does something so beautiful, so cute, that it makes me well up. I’ve cried a couple of times when I couldn’t control it, but there are so many other times that I’ve kept it together because I didn’t feel I should be crying. I’ve had a harder time coming to terms with being a dad than I thought I would, and I don’t feel like I can tell anyone about it.
    I thought it was only me, that I had a problem (though I probably do, but that’s another issue), but it’s not, and I’m glad.
    Thanks AD-B.

    Comment by Gavin | November 4, 2017 | Reply

  5. You seem like a great father. I know that doesn’t matter much coming from an internet rando, but it’s wonderful to see how much you love your kids.

    Comment by Cole | November 4, 2017 | Reply

  6. “I sit at my desk with my latest cup of coffee as a not-enough-word-count morning bleeds into a not-enough-word-count afternoon, and I know exactly what this feeling is. The book has stalled.”

    Out of curiosity, do you subscribe to outlining, or pantsing?

    And I’ve noticed that I’ve got something similar too, at least when doing the first draft. There’s this bloody Goblin of Discouragement sitting on my shoulder, whispering that it’s all going to be shit and that you shouldn’t even bother. Then, if it’s a good day, I make like Vader and choke the little fucker, and manage to reach my wordcount for the day.

    “As he clambers into the car shrieking like a banshee on a sugar rush, he tells us that he “doesn’t know” how his school day went because he “can’t remember” the last six hours of his life. I remember reading somewhere that you shouldn’t ask that question anyway, but I can’t recall why not.”

    I remember being really annoyed with my mum for asking me that. 😀
    And your kids sound so cute they might make even Ferrus crack a smile.

    Comment by Max Woldhek | November 4, 2017 | Reply

  7. Aaron, I am yet to read a novel by you and hope I will do your books justice. Thanks for this post. Thanks for letting us know that even tho we think you are gods in the Warhammer world, you are human aswell. Thank you for being so humble. Sorry to read about your grief regarding a lost friend. Talking, writing, typing out your feelings will help with that process…

    Comment by savageddt | November 4, 2017 | Reply

  8. So many things to say but I lack the words to shape them. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for enduring. Thank you for living.

    Comment by Stephen Sieveke | November 5, 2017 | Reply

  9. I know why you struggle writing.
    In short: Kyr Vhalen.
    You may not now it yet, but you want to write a novel about the war on Paramar.
    Yes you want to.
    And because of that you keep struggling other stuff. But help is at hand. Start reading the story in HH book 3 Extermination. After that you can whenever you are stuck keep writing on the real deal:
    Kyr Fucking Vhalen.
    Apparently he is you in a superhuman body fighting in space against other superhumans. Screaming yelling cursing but being nice in a grumpy way.
    Oh, and he looks like Ed O’Ross in Red Heat.
    Only with Power Armour and one eye missing.
    Do it.
    Do it.
    Do it.

    Comment by Tim | November 5, 2017 | Reply

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