Archive for the Personal Category

An update…

Posted in Personal with tags , , , , , , on March 7, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

Okay, so I haven’t managed to get back on here like I promised I would, but there have been good reasons. Not only did I find the first six weeks of this year difficult, which I have already talked about on here in a recent(ish) post, but I discovered that I was suffering from exhaustion, which led to me developing a bad case of the ‘flu (despite being inoculated), which was promptly followed by a cold (which, thankfully, was very mild and exceedingly brief) and a hacking cough. The last two weeks have been spent recuperating and reassessing certain things.

First, the exhaustion issue – this was caused by overwork, pure and simple. In other words, working 10 – 12 hour days, seven days a week, doesn’t really make for a tiredness-free life. I was waking up every morning like I’d been hit by a truck during the night. Naturally, this also disturbed the equilibrium of my diabetes, and my bloodsugar levels were all over the shop. Elevated levels of ‘inflammatory markers’ in the results of one of my recent blood tests didn’t help the situation, either, to be quite frank – it could indicate anything from a mild (hitherto undiagnosed) allergy to something far more serious. Unfortunately, the test (and results) were annoyingly vague, so my GP couldn’t specify what it could be. I went back last week for more tests, results expected this week.

Anyway, since the recent bout of illness, I’ve been feeling brighter, a great deal less tired and a lot fresher every morning. Conclusion: everything that’s happened in the last two months was related, and the subsequent illness the consequence of not paying attention to what my body was saying. Solution: don’t work so damn hard. It’s all very well wanting Spectral Press to be a success, but it’ll all mean absolutely zilch if I end up making myself ill in the process. So now, I work during the hours of 9am – 5pm during the week and for a few hours in the evenings at weekends, and at other times I indulge in a relaxing hobby.

A hobby? Yes, a hobby. Specifically, making scale models of things. Even more specifically, models of classic cars and WWII military vehicles. This was something I used to love doing when I was younger; I took it up again a couple of years ago, then gave it up when I started the record label. Now, I have realised I need some me-time, time when I can just forget the world and all its many troubles and lose myself in something I find interesting, engaging and relaxing. And I make no apologies for it, either.

But, Spectral is still going strong and growing. Part of my agenda this week is to look at a story Mark West has sent me for critical appraisal, and editing Gary Fry’s wonderful story Abolisher of Roses, due out at the beginning of May or thereabouts, as Spectral Volume II. I will also be doing a spot of reading and reviewing, planning the cover painting for Willie Meikle’s cancer-themed anthology The Unspoken, and getting on with building a Sherman tank with Calliope rocket launcher (as you do) in those moments of relaxation. Photos of the fnished tank are likely to appear on here, so you can follow my progress into utter geekiness.

Anyway, expect more blogs to follow on a much more regular basis, and many apologies for being silent over the last couple of months. I can be my own worst enemy at times, and I should have known better.

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A turning point…

Posted in Personal with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

Today, I am ‘celebrating’ an anniversary – but not just your usual anniversary. Superficially, it’s something that many would rather not remember, or even ‘celebrate’, but nevertheless, despite the potential it had for damage, it actually ended up being a very positive thing.

So, what am I talking about? This was the day fourteen years ago, 21st January 1997 (which was actually a Tuesday), when I was told by one of my GPs that I had suffered a stroke. Or, to be fancy-pants about it, a thrombo-embolic infarct. I’d been having dizzy spells for three or four months previously, putting it down to something to do with my diabetes. Then on the Friday prior to the ‘big’ one I woke up in the small hours feeling less than I normally did – my legs felt like lead and my speech, when I tried it, was slurred. Anyway, I went back to sleep and felt fine in the morning.

On that Tuesday morning, however, I felt REALLY dizzy and my walking was only a close approximation. I got dressed after much effort and then staggered a half mile to my then doctor’s surgery (I was staggering so badly that at one point a police car followed me – they must have thought me drunk at 8am). Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was rushed into the first available doctor’s slot, where, after some questioning, a physical exam including reflex tests, I was told I’d had a stroke. The only reason I believed him was because it wasn’t April 1st.

I then staggered back half a mile to my home, after the doc asked me whether I could get to hospital that day and I said ‘Yes’ – to which he replied with a cheery ‘Off you go, then!’. I called in at a couple of friend’s houses along the way, to leave them notes that I was going to be in hospital. I even phoned another friend when I got home to apologise that I couldn’t make it to see her and her boyfriend that evening because I’d just been told that I’d had a stroke. She went ballistic – at the surgery for not offering me an ambulance, at me for saying I was going to take a bus to hospital, and also for taking it so lightly. In the end, she it was who drove me there.

And, as soon as we parked up and I got out of the car, I lost all movement down my left side. And so I was wheeled in, to begin a nine-week stay, enlivened by interminable sessions of physio and occupational therapy. I spent two weeks on a neuro ward, where the staff tried to figure out why I had a stroke so young (I spent my 34th birthday in hospital). Then I was moved to a rehab unit, where I was taught how to walk again and to use my left hand and arm. My speech was sufficiently slurred that I had to have speech therapy as well. The biggest killer, though, was boredom – weekends we were more or less left to our own devices. Sometimes friends would come to take me out for the day, but mostly they came to entertain and keep me from going barmy with it all.

After I left hospital, under my own steam, there was a further year of less intense physiotherapy and, once that was over and done with, I had more time to think about what had happened. Inevitably, this led to a plunge into depression, which, I have been told, was as a direct result of changes in the brain due to the stroke. I am still prone to it even now, but less regularly – no rhyme or reason, one day I’ll be fine and then the next I’ll be right down in the pits. Over the course of seven years or so, I had tons of counselling, an endless series of shitty accommodation and a slide into alcoholism. Only the timely intervention of a good friend prevented things getting any worse.

When all is said and done, however, even with all the subsequent crap, it was probably a good thing I had the stroke when I did – I was heading for meltdown, both physically and mentally. It would be no exaggeration to say that I would have ended up dead, whichever way you cut it. The stroke, as much of a pain in the arse that it was, still has to be counted as a fortuitous gateway to a whole host of opportunities that have since come my way. There were some incredibly low-spots along the way, some of which I am still dealing with, but I am probably in better health now than I have ever been – plus I am a lot more proactive with the diabetes, which was probably one of the factors that caused the bloody thing in the first place.

So, in a way I am indeed celebrating what some would see as an unfortunate event, but which in actuality gave me a new lease on life. In some ways, this is what drives me to do the things I do today – the reason why I sometimes push myself so hard, to make up for lost time. And yes, I did ‘lose’ seven years to depression and alcohol and this is my way of clawing it back. I don’t expect favours just because I had a stroke and my mobility is somewhat limited, nor do I want to be treated differently either. There are people far worse off than me, so why should I complain. I’m just glad to be alive to be doing what I’m currently doing and to be married to the woman I chose to be my wife – without Liz it would be true to say that I would be nowhere near where I find myself now.

All I need now is a bottle of fine rum and I’d be set for the day… =)

Metamorphosis

Posted in General Musings, Personal with tags , , , , on January 19, 2011 by simonmarshalljones

Throughout the short life of this blog, there’s been a distinct series of metamorphoses in emphasis in my ‘professional’ life, for want of a better phrase. The initial idea of maintaining this blog was to chart my career as a writer of genre fiction. For a short while I did indeed write almost constantly, churning out short story after short story – I even managed to get a couple of acceptances. I imagined that my course was set.

Then, after five months maybe, came the first metamorphosis – still writing, but this time with my reviewer’s hat on. I still do a bit of reviewing now and then, but currently I am not accepting or taking any more books until I have cleared what I already have and promised to review. And since I now run Spectral Press I have found that constraints on my time are even tighter. The latter has taken me by surprise a little, although to be fair I did expect to busy and, indeed, wanted to be so.

Which leads me on to the second metamorphosis – into that of editor. Out of all the projects I’ve been involved with, I think that the editing will be the most useful, not just in terms of my own imprint, but in the broader context of soliciting editing jobs for others. There’s a deep-seated part of me that loves what editing represents – English was always a subject I loved at school and if I’d had my wits about me back then I would have opted to go to university to study that instead of art. Let’s just say that events between my art school days and my recent past haven’t stood me in good stead. Don’t get me wrong, I still love painting and drawing, but it’s tempered with a sad realisation that it’s never going to be anything other than an occasional hobby.

Words are much more to my liking – and ever since I had a go at editing SL Schmitz’s Let it Bleed novel at the end of last year I have been bitten by the bug. I’ve applied (unsuccessfully) for one editing job – of course, experience counts for a great deal and editing one or two books does not make me an editor, let alone a good one. I still look out for editing jobs here and there – I want to add to my portfolio so to speak, so that when I DO apply to a publishers I at least stand a chance. Plus, of course, any outside editing experience will ultimately feed back into what I do for Spectral (and vice versa, naturally).

I suppose this is all part of how life plays out. Just like the cells in our bodies, nothing is ever the same from moment to moment. And that’s what makes it all so exciting for me – who know where I’ll be in six months?

HR GIGER: his influence in my work

Posted in General Musings, Personal with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

"Intimate Assassins: Memories of Long Dead Lovers" ©2003 - Simon Marshall-Jones

Take a good look at the picture above – it’s immediately obvious I should think just who has had greatest influence on my work and which artist also inspired me as a teen to pursue art as a career after I first set eyes on his work. HR Giger, the Swiss surrealist painter, sculptor and, dare I say it, visionary, possesses one of those singular talents that has raised him far above any other artist of the 20th century, and has influenced not just art in the wider sense, but also writing, film, design and even culture.

First, a very short bio: Hans Rudolf Giger was born in 1940 in Chur, Switzerland, the son of a chemist. He studied in Zurich, where he attended the School of Commercial Art there. His main artistic influences are Ernst Fuchs and Salvador Dali, the latter of whom he met through another painter, Robert Venosa. Most of his most famous images are large scale works, created with the airbrush and utilising a freehand technique. Later on, as exemplified in his series of paintings inspired by New York City, he started making use of stencils. However, it would be something of an understatement to say that the work of his that has had the most impact are those paintings depicting nightmarish combinations of flesh and machine, leading to the coining of the term ‘biomechanical’. This concept is best seen in his designs for Alien, Ridley Scott’s 1979 science-fiction/horror shocker, and, to a lesser extent, in the 1995 film Species, directed by Roger Donaldson. He is still very much active today, although he has largely abandoned the airbrush in favour of pastels. markers, and ink.

So where did I first come across his work? In the pages of the glossy American science and fiction magazine OMNI, published by Bob Guccione (who also published Penthouse), launched in October 1979. In it, I was introduced not only to some of the greatest fiction by some of the biggest names in the field (Harlan Ellison, George RR Martin, Orson Scott Card, and William Gibson) but it also opened up the whole visual field of Fantastic Realist Art to my eyes as well. In addition to Giger, there were the likes of Ernst Fuchs, Matti Klarwein, Di Maccio, Peter Goodfellow, Bob Venosa and Gottfried Helnwein amongst others, whose incredible visions, often painted in a startlingly realistic style, just staggered my young mind. Those images (along with my earlier exposure to the original surrealists of the early 20th century) kickstarted my desire to follow in their footsteps.

"The Way of all Flesh" ©2003 - Simon Marshall-Jones

But it was Giger’s dark, unpleasant, and hellish imagery that impressed me most of all. No other artist I’d yet enountered had managed to encapsulate the ugliness and terror lying at the heart of science and technology gone awry, for instance. Death, and even the prospect of it, seemed less unsettling than the images conjured up by Giger’s mind. His visions of the alien were truly, truly, terrifying. His landscapes were gargantuan, bewildering and frightening, dizzyingly so. The distorted humanity that often figured in his work looked as if they were the ill-begotten progeny of decaying flesh and mad technology, killing industrial machinery grafted onto seared, unwilling skin and sinew.

And so, I was inspired – I bought myself an airbrush, and began the long process of teaching myself how to use it. There was no-one else around who knew what an airbrush was, let alone how to use one. I studied Giger’s works intensely, trying to work out how he’d achieved the effects he’d created. Then I would attempt to emulate those effects – sometimes successfully, other times not so successfully.

"Orgasmbutcher" ©2003 - Simon Marshall-Jones

So, fast forward to 1995-96. I’d rediscovered my enthusiasm for painting, having failed at getting anywhere with it in the previous two decades and had given up, going to university to study a degree in computer multimedia instead. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the course, however, and had begun to see my future lying in a different arena. During 1996 I managed to secure three exhibitions of my paintings, one in Reading and two in London, and a couple of magazines had taken notice of my work, too. I even got some of my images in a low budget British film, Preaching to the Perverted. Back then, I was a completely different animal – I was a very angry young man, extremely misanthropic and full of hatred for just about everything. My paintings were composed of a limited palette of colours – red, black and greys. I must have produced twenty paintings that year, most of which sold, leading me to procure some private commissions as well.

"HiveThink" ©2007 - Simon Marshall-Jones

And then, the stroke happened in 1997, and everything changed. All the anger dissipated and my outlook metamorphosed dramatically. I had escaped death simply by the bloodclot in my brain going down one vessel instead of diverting into another (yes, as narrowly as that) – if it had, I wouldn’t be writing these words now. Consequently, the way I expressed my artistic vision changed, too. Gone were the angry reds and blacks, and in their place came warm, sandy colours for the backgrounds. The flesh of the figures became, by contrast, blue, inspired in part by Hindu iconography – although, in my work, it represents freezing cold death, in both a figurative and metaphysical sense. Death itself is final, but even in life, we can live as if ‘dead’ to that which surrounds us.

The Giger influence is still there, however, mixed in with the bondage symbolism – we’re all in bondage to something, whether we’re aware of it or not. It could be to a mortgage, a job, a restrictive belief-system, an illness or an uncaring partner – anything which makes us feel less free than we think we ought to be. Life, in its own way, can be just as horrific as any film or story. And that is what my work attempts to express and get across.

Things have come full circle now. I find myself in the uncanny position of suddenly (and I mean suddenly) in demand for my artwork, a situation I fully never expected to see happen. In recent months I have had commissions for two book covers (Crabs: Apocalypse by Dave Jeffery and Stuart Neild, and The Unspoken anthology, to be edited by Willie Meikle and Stephen James Price) and a portrait of Gary McMahon. In many ways, then, I owe a debt of gratitude to the visionary of Chur, Switzerland, who inspired me in the first place and also for bringing me to this point – I think, in a very roundabout way, had I not taken up the airbrush after encountering Giger’s work I doubt I would have met all the fine people and friends I have. Once again, however, it just goes to show that life still has the capacity to surprise.

(In light of the recent scandals involving copyright theft and such [and my own brush with the issue], the orginal intent of this article was changed from being a study of Giger’s work itself to one of his influence on mine. That way I didn’t need to use his imagery or seek lengthy permission to use it. I have to thank Gary McMahon for suggesting I do it this way – I would never have thought of it, if truth be told.

Also, if there’s anyone out there who would like to commission me to create cover artwork for their books or just have one of my pieces hanging on their walls, then please don’t hesitate to contact me via fracturedspaces@gmail.com and we can discuss any requirements. – thanks!)

Appearances can be deceptive…

Posted in Personal on July 6, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

I don’t know exactly where I’ll be going with this one, but I thought I’d do something different blog-wise today, so just bear with my wittering, if you please. I thank you!! =)

Some time ago, a friend of mine, who is studying for a Masters degree in education, conducted an experiment with a group of sixteen year old secondary schoolchildren. First of all, she showed them the  photograph of me with all my tattoos and asked them what sort of impressions they had of me. So out trotted the usual epithets: uneducated, illiterate, drug addict, alcoholic, unemployed, criminal – I had probably done time in prison for something or other. Then she told them that I ran a record label, was an artist and writer and was educated to degree level.

As a contrast, she then showed them another photo, of a nurse holding a baby. Again she asked them about their impressions: caring, nurturing, responsible and a useful member of society. Then she told them who the nurse was: Beverley Allitt, the nurse convicted of killing a number of babies. They were genuinely shocked.

The upshot of the exercise of course was to show that appearances can be deceptive. I recently had cause to reflect on this when I started conversing with someone on the internet. Initially, she treated me with a modicum of humorous disain, which prompted me to ask why she was bothering to even talk to me. She said that she thought I looked funny with all my tattoos, the implication being that she wanted to take the piss out of me. I asked her why she thought it was okay to do that, just because I have tattoos on my head; I then proceeded to tell that I was university educated, was a writer and artist and ran my own business. Her answer was simple: ‘Oh, I thought you looked like a bit of an idiot but you’ve completely wrong-footed me’.

It’s completely human, of course. to initially judge by appearances, as that is all we have to go on when we first talk to/meet people. I still find it extraordinary though that, even today, people still associate tattoos with people of a less intelligent or a criminal cast of mind. Admittedly, I only come across that attitude but rarely, however there have been a couple who have expressed surprise that I’m a writer and book and music reviewer. There’s this assumption that I am barely able to string words together or that I have difficulty writing my own name. An ever rarer few appear to be offended that I have intelligence and still choose to get tattooed.

Okay, so I am a more extreme example of the tattooed male – there aren’t that many with tattooed heads around. People do stare at me whenever I go into town. But I have never quite understood why just having marks on your skin makes you less of a human than those who don’t. Perhaps it’s because we, as a society, have moved on from our so-called ‘primitive’ beginnings, that we are now more civilised. A lot of people deliberately avoid me, again because of preconceived notions, but others wander over and actively engage in conversation about them. Liz, my wife, has venture the opinion that they are, in effect, a form of filter – in other words, that the people who judge me or won’t talk to me are those I wouldn’t want to know anyway. In a sense, I think she’s right.

When asked, my simple answer is that I absolutely love tattoos, and have done since I was a young teenager – may aim is one day to have a complete bodysuit. The point is, it’s simply about taste and not intelligence – most people instinctively understand that but there will always be those who demand that you justify yourself. And I understand that they’re not everyone’s cup of char, and that’s fine by me. Of course, when I started getting tattooed twenty-six years ago, they were still considered nasty little things, but social attitudes have moved on considerably since then and now all manner of people get tattooed. Even dyed-in-the-wool bank managers and corporate types get them, a form of safe rebellion from the strictures and mores of their particular social strata.

Looked at on a superficial level, however, is that they are my USP – a simple way of helping people to remember who I am and effectively facilitating introductions and communications. They’re also fabulous as conversation initiators. So, if you’re at a convention somewhere and you see me, be sure to wander over and say Hi!

Interlude

Posted in Personal on June 23, 2010 by simonmarshalljones

Today, rather than devote space to writery things and such mundane matters, I want instead to tell you all about the wonderful woman I married three years ago today, Lizabeth Marshall-Jones. An incredibly patient, loving and beautiful person, who has taken everything I was and still am, and gave me the space, opportunity and courage to pursue my dreams – first the record-label and then, when that failed, to try my hand at writing. Without her backing me 100% I would have given up a long time ago….

More importantly, the love that was there then is even stronger today and everyday we look forward to getting old together through all the years ahead of us.  And that, to me, is what it’s all about – getting to know each other slowly, gradually, and still having the capacity to surprise each other every day. The biggest thing for us, too, is the laughter: a key ingredient in any relationship/marriage is the ability to keep laughing and making each other laugh, even through the hard times. Yes, just because you’re together doesn’t mean the hard times will stop. They never will, but at least they’re considerably easier to bear.

The bottom line, I guess, is that I love Liz deeply, and always will. In a world that often seems bereft of it, having the love of such an amazing woman is all the more remarkable, and all the more to be treasured. My world is definitely a sunnier place now that Liz is part of it….

All I need say is: THANK YOU!! XXX

(Normal service will be resumed tomorrow… =D )….