Twenty-Five Interesting Youtube Channels/Videos To Pass The Time During Lockdown

[Edit: Apologies if this article disappeared and then reappeared. I’d originally planned for it to appear just before midnight, but forgot that this site uses a 24-hour clock and is based on UTC/GMT. So apologies if it vanished for a couple of minutes whilst I was resetting the scheduled posting time.

Edit [1:22am 1:49 BST]: I’ve also just made some even more slight improvements/clarifications to the final part of this article too. Sorry about all of these post-publication changes/edits, I usually prepare articles quite far in advance to avoid this sort of thing.]

Well, during my previous article about low-budget ways to pass the time during the Coronavirus lockdown, I mentioned some Youtube channels/videos that can be enjoyably binge-watched. But, at the time, I thought that the first segment of the article was already a bit too long, so I had to cut the list short.

But, it occurred to me that it might be worth listing at least some of the channels that didn’t appear in the original list in case they can help any of you pass the time.

I’ve also decided to split this list into several segments (General Interest, Music, Gaming and Horror/Dark Comedy), but there may be some overlap between these categories.

This isn’t an exhaustive list (and apologies to any channels that I’ve missed) and I should also point out that it is primarily aimed at a twenty/thirtysomething audience too, but hopefully you’ll find something interesting here:

General Interest:

– “Now You See It” is a channel that contains some really interesting mini-documentaries about film, TV and film-making in general.

– “Squirrel Monkey” is a comedy channel that – surprisingly “accurately” – reimagines what a lot of modern websites/tech would look like if it was created during the 1980s/90s. The highlight is probably the “Wonders Of The World Wide Web” series of parody instructional/tutorial videos (which are a must-watch for anyone who used to watch “Tomorrow’s World” back in the 1990s).

– “Super Rae Dizzle” is a fun art channel that focuses on amusing art challenges, art supply reviews and/or slightly unusual art supplies.

– “Chloe Rose Art” is another art challenge/review/unusual art supplies channel, which also contains quite a few comedic moments/elements too.

– “Tom Scott” is the presenter of a really interesting channel filled with mini-documentaries about history, technology, unusual places and all manner of fascinating topics.

– “Today I Found Out” is a channel dedicated to quirky facts, unusual history and stuff like that. It is funny and fascinating in equal measure and is the sort of thing that can easily fill a long binge-watching session.

– “Rocket Jump” is a comedy channel filled with short films that often affectionately parody the action/thriller genre (and sometimes contain better action sequences than some larger studios can produce on Hollywood budgets).

Music:

– “Melodicka Bros” is a channel filled with quirky, comedic and/or unusual acoustic covers of various songs – with a focus on heavy metal music too πŸ™‚

– “Soundtracks LIVE” is an official playlist of orchestral covers of various epic movie soundtracks by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.

– “PaweΕ‚ ZadroΕΌniak” is the creator of “The Floppotron”, a bizarre and thoroughly awesome instrument constructed from lots of old computer parts, which he uses to play cover versions of a variety of different songs.

– “Raphael Mendes” is a singer who does the most eerily accurate vocal impression of Iron Maiden’s lead singer (Bruce Dickinson) that you will ever hear. If you are an Iron Maiden fan, then you need to watch this channel!

– “Minniva Official” is a channel filled with amazingly powerful vocal and guitar covers of heavy metal and classic rock songs. Seriously, these are absolutely epic πŸ™‚

Gaming:

– “Outside Xbox” and “Outside Xtra” are two channels that focus on amusing videogame-related lists and discussions about modern games. With a distinctive personality and a sense of humour, these channels are a bit like a more sophisticated and up-to-date equivalent of the classic late-night Channel 4 gaming TV shows (like “Bits” and “Thumb Bandits”) that anyone who grew up in late 1990s/early 2000s Britain probably remembers.

– “Pushing Up Roses” is a channel that has focused heavily on classic “point and click” games. Although the channel has mostly moved on to other topics these days, it is well worth watching the older videos here if you either enjoy and/or feel vaguely nostalgic about this type of game.

– “LGR” is a channel with a heavy focus on both retro gaming and on quirky pieces of old technology. Seriously, if you want a nostalgic and “feel good” retro gaming/tech channel, then watch this one.

– “Did You Know Gaming?” is a channel focused on videogame history and trivia, with each video usually focusing on an individual game or series.

– “LowSpecGamer” is my kind of gaming channel πŸ™‚ This channel focuses on finding clever ways to run modern computer games on machines that are well below the minimum system requirements (and I have it to thank for putting me in the right mindset for getting this game to actually run on my PC).

“RandomGamingInHD” and “Budget-Builds Official” are PC building channels aimed at low-mid budget users, which often also look back at older pieces of technology and contain subtly comedic moments too.

Horror/ Dark Comedy [WARNING – Some channels may contain GRUESOME horror game/movie imagery]:

– “Maven Of The Eventide” is a channel dedicated to exploring and reviewing everything related to the vampire genre. This is a fun and fascinating channel for anyone who is slightly on the gothic side of things.

– “Yogscast Fright Night – Outlast” is an extended series of “Let’s Play” videos for the horror game “Outlast” – which are worth watching because the commentary and reactions by the two presenters (Kim and Hannah) transforms a scary and ultra-gruesome horror game into a hilarious dark comedy series. Yes, it isn’t for the squeamish but, if you have a slightly twisted sense of humour, then this is a surprisingly funny and oddly “feel good” video series. But, again, it is not for the squeamish!

– “Resident Evil: Worst Architect Ever” is a hilarious animated parody video about the puzzle design in the old “Resident Evil” games. Yes, it will be funniest if you’ve actually played these games, but it is well-written enough that it will probably still be amusing if you haven’t. And, talking of “Resident Evil”….

– “The Sphere Hunter” is a channel filled with in-depth reviews and commentary about classic survival horror videogames, with an emphasis on “Resident Evil”. Seriously, it is so cool to see a channel themed around this type of game and this is the kind of simultaneously fascinating and relaxing channel that can easily be binge-watched.

– “Ink Ribbon” is another channel for fans of classic survivial horror videogames. With slightly shorter vidoes and a bit more of a comedic sensibility, this is a channel that you’ll be surprised that you haven’t heard of before.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Three Totally Rad RGB-lit Tips For Reading Novels At “90 FPS”

Well, I thought that I’d start off April’s roster of articles with something a little bit different. Over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself watching a lot of PC building videos on Youtube.

Even though the closest things I’ve ever done to actual PC building are replacing a DVD drive and oiling a case fan, there’s just something cool about watching knowledgeable people building computers and then testing them by running the latest games and carefully noting how many frames per second (or “FPS”. Not to be confused with the computer game genre frequently used for testing this) their system is able to render – and, as every elite PC gamer knows, the ideal FPS is 90 (it apparently used to be 60, but then the console gamers started catching up. And we can’t have that, can we?).

But, although I’ve got back into gaming over the past few months, I still find myself reading more novels than playing games. Reading novels has a reputation for being a “geeky” activity today – but with none of the slick, modern and RGB-lit glamour of the PC building and gaming scene’s unique brand of geekiness 😦 Well, fear no more readers! We can have some of this too!

PC building, like sports cars and fast food, is all about speed. And we readers can do this too. After all, who wants to savour the world, characters and exquisite narration of a brilliant novel over a couple of deeply immersive reading sessions where the world just melts away for several hours? No-one, that’s who!

These days, the only thing that matters is doing things more quickly than everyone else. And, whilst you could do this by reading a fast-paced thriller novel, sticking to more efficiently-written modern novels and/or gradually building your vocabulary and confidence through years of regularly reading both old and new books in a variety of genres, where is the coolness in that? It would be like running an ancient 1990s computer game at ludicrous speeds on a low-end early 2010s computer. Utterly awesome in practice, but not something you can boast about to random people on the internet – and that is what really matters here!

So, here are three totally rad modern tips for reading novels at “90 FPS”. RGB lighting is NOT optional:

1) Screens: Chances are, you are reading this on a screen (if you aren’t, then I salute you. Er… I mean, get with the times!). In fact, you’ve probably read a lot of websites on screens.

Screens are not only perfectly optimised for grabbing and holding your attention for far longer than you want them too, but their shape also means that screen-based text is often written and formatted in a way to allow for quick scanning and scrolling. I mean, who actually reads the average website word for word, carefully thinking about and comprehending the content of every sentence?

Screens are fast, modern and efficient. And, guess what, you can also boast about how fast you are speed-reading on social media whilst you are reading too. I’m sure that people are even developing “apps” that will add a fun social media feed beside the text of your book, which allow you to read and comprehend both at once. You do have a multi-core brain, don’t you?

If you’re one of those dreary old traditionalists who prefers *ugh* paper books, then don’t worry about it. The tech industry has you covered. Virtual reality is the hot new thing at the moment and I’m sure it won’t be long before someone creates a virtual reading “app” for it that allows you to read virtual paper books from behind the safe comfort blanket of two screens strapped to your face.

Yes, you might say “Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just read a real book?“. Well, smarty pants, answer me this! HOW are you supposed to live-stream a paper book to your followers on Youtube whilst also offering snarky commentary and amusing on-screen GIFs? You’d actually have to read it alone without hundreds of thousand people staring over your shoulder. Ugh! It doesn’t even bear thinking about. Oh no, now I’m thinking. It’s happening again! Jeeves! Fetch the smartphone and order me a collection of the latest memes, on the double!!!

2) Speed-reading apps: As everyone knows, all the cool people use “apps” these days. After all, what kind of dinosaur uses a fully-featured computer program when they could be using a smaller (yet somehow more bloated) simplified mobile phone “app” that is also kind enough to remind you about itself regularly through lots of helpful notifications and non-optional updates?

Anyway, a quick search on the internet will show you that there are a few speed-reading “apps” out there. The most prominent type seems to be ones that flash up a single word at a time, allowing you to subliminally absorb it in a fraction of a second before automatically moving on to the next one. Not only that, since you can see and/or choose the rate at which words appear, you’ll also have the most important thing of all – impressive-sounding statistics that you can brag about on the internet πŸ™‚

Sure, some people might point out that seeing a single word at a time with little to no accompanying context and no ability to quickly jump backwards and re-read means that even the best novel would be reduced to mindless gibberish, robbed of its power to summon beautiful worlds inside the reader’s imagination. And this may well be true. But, who cares when you can quite literally “read” a novel at 1000 words a minute just by staring at a screen. Progress!

3) Watch the film: Books are old technology. I mean, museums even have books from the middle ages. Talk about obsolete!

Well, your friends in Hollywood have got your back here! If a book is worth reading, then these awesome people will turn it into a gloriously efficient two-hour film that strips out all of the useless stuff like sub-plots, detailed character development, thought-provoking intellectual depth, beautiful prose written in a unique style, the reader’s imagination and intriguing descriptive asides.

Why waste six to eight hours of effort reading a novel, when you can lay back on the sofa and get through the same story in a blisteringly fast two hours, with lots of well-known celebrity actors saving you the inefficient work of having to create your own bespoke images of the characters from written descriptions? And, best of all, Hollywood usually gets it absolutely right. I mean, just look at how eerily accurate their casting was for the burly, toweringly tall muscle mass that is Lee Child’s well-known action hero Jack Reacher. It’s almost like reading the books! Hollywood is awesome!

Although films may only be created at a measly 24 FPS (Ugh! Even console gamers would notice that!), you can watch them in 4K – which, as any PC gamer knows, is the bare minimum resolution for when you want to show off on the internet. And it is basically the same as reading the book. I think. Oh heavens! Jeeves! Reality TV – five seconds ago! What do you mean that the smart TV is still updating? Damn and blast it! Break out the radio! Yes, that old thing! Find a station that is playing the charts! Be quick about it!

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Happy April Fools’s Day everyone πŸ™‚

Three Tips For Finding Novels That You’ll Enjoy Reading

Well, ever since I got back into reading regularly over a year ago, one of the rules I’ve set myself is to only read books that I actually enjoy.

Aside from the fact that reading is meant to be fun, one of the initial reasons for this was that I was terrified that I’d lose interest in reading if I tried to force myself to read books that didn’t make me actually want to read more of them. So, I got reasonably good at finding novels that I knew I’d enjoy reading (hence why there aren’t any one or two star book reviews on this site). And I thought that I’d share a few tips to help you find books that you will enjoy.

1) Know yourself: In order to find books that you’ll enjoy, you have to know what you enjoy. This sounds really obvious, but it is the most important thing you’ll need to do if you want to find enjoyable books. If you’re new to reading novels, then the best way to work out what books you’ll enjoy is to just look at what genres of films and TV shows you enjoy. There will be books in those genres too. Lots of them.

Genre is a great starting point for finding enjoyable books. For example, most of the books I review on here tend to fit into the sci-fi, horror, thriller, detective, historical and/or urban fantasy genres. By mostly sticking to these six genres that I enjoy, I’ve streamlined the process of finding enjoyable books quite a bit.

Plus, the more you read, the more details you learn about what you do and don’t enjoy in fiction – eg: styles of narration, sub-genres, emotional tone, story concepts, types of pacing etc… So, even if you occasionally stumble across a book that you don’t enjoy (and it’ll happen occasionally), then it will still help you to find books that you do enjoy, by letting you get to know yourself better. Speaking of which….

2) Abandon books you don’t enjoy!: You are under no obligation to finish every novel that you start reading. If a book seems to have no redeeming qualities, if it seriously annoys you, if it feels like a chore to read or if you find yourself regretting ever picking it up, then ditch it and find a better book!

There is nothing wrong with doing this. It is a good thing to do. Not only will you have saved yourself the time you’d have wasted with that book (which you can use to read a better book), but it’ll also teach you what to avoid in future and will also help to preserve your love of reading too. After all, you are the only person who can motivate yourself to read. This isn’t school, college or university – where you have to read a list of set texts. This is reading for fun. So, have fun.

If you started watching a TV series that you didn’t like, you’d change channel or choose another boxset after an episode or two. It’s no different with books. Seriously, one of the best ways to find enjoyable books is to get totally comfortable with the idea of ditching books that you don’t enjoy. Being able to just put them aside without a second thought, to work out why you didn’t enjoy them and then go off in search for another book that doesn’t make this mistake will result in a much better reading experience and a much higher ratio of enjoyable books to non-enjoyable books.

If it makes you feel better about doing this, then think of it as literary self-defence. By ditching books you don’t enjoy, you are protecting your enjoyment of reading.

3) Try new authors: If you’ve only got a couple of favourite authors, it can be easy to think that their books are the only good ones out there. This isn’t true. There are so many good books and authors out there that you’ll never actually be able to read all of them even if you tried. However, you probably haven’t even heard of most of them. So, how do you discover them?

Well, one way is to set yourself rules that push you to find new authors (and to keep your favourite ones interesting). When I got back into reading regularly a year or two, I started by binge-reading thriller novels by Clive Cussler. I really enjoyed these books. And I read about seven or eight of them in a single fortnight. By the end of this, I just couldn’t read another one. I’d seen so many of them so quickly that I’d become bored by them.

So, to prevent this from happening with my other favourite authors, I set myself a rule that every book I read had to be written by a different author to the previous book I’d read. This pushed me to actively look for authors I hadn’t read before. And, being on the lookout for new authors (rather than just sticking with a few that you know) is one of the best ways to discover loads of brilliant books.

Although this rule was a bit of a challenge to follow at first, it led to me discovering loads of amazing authors. My list of favourite authors increased quite a bit over the space of a year or so.

If I hadn’t set myself this rule, I wouldn’t have enjoyed awesome novels by Jodi Taylor, Jack O’ Connell, Tade Thompson, Alice Hoffman, Joe Haldemann, Becky Chambers, Weston Ochse, Sarah Lotz, Jocelynn Drake, Gary Brandner, Rebecca Levene, Jonathan Maberry, S.J. Parris, Neal Stephenson, Dana Fredsti, Robert Brockway, Joan D. Vinge, Dashiell Hammett, Tess Gerritsen etc…

So, if you’re stuck and can’t find a book that you enjoy, then it might be worth taking a look at authors that you’ve never heard of before. [Edit: Like with the article a few days ago, I prepared the first draft of this one several months ago. And, as such, I’ve now removed an exhortation to visit bookshops, libraries etc… since this is NOT a good idea, given the current pandemic. Sorry about this pre-publication change. Anyway, here’s the rest of this sentence…]… and you might end up finding a new favourite author (or ten) that you didn’t even know existed.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Four More Reasons To Read Older Novels

Well, although one of the things I’ve discovered since I got back into reading regularly a year or two ago is that modern novels are better than I’d expected, I thought that I’d talk about some of the reasons to read older novels today.

This is mostly because this was what really got me interested in reading during my teenage years in the 2000s was finding lots of older novels in second-hand bookshops and charity shops. Whether it was the gruesome 1980s horror novels, the 1940s-1980s dystopian novels and the “edgy” 1960s-90s literary novels that first showed me that books could be cool, the 1950s/60s science fiction I enjoyed in my mid-late teens or even a phase I went through when I was about seventeen where I read lots of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft, I read quite a few older novels back then.

But, having read much more of a mixture of older and modern novels over the past year or two, I can compare the two in a bit more detail than I could when I was younger. And, yes, although modern novels do have some advantages over older ones, I thought that I’d look at some of the good things about slightly older novels.

1) Complexity, atmosphere and detail: Books are the literal opposite to computer games in this regard. If you want a computer game with ultra-realistic HD graphics and lots of detail, then you choose the most modern one you can find – and just hope that your machine meets the sky-high system requirements. But, if you want the literary equivalent of this, then it is usually worth reading an older book. You’ll need to be a slightly more experienced or skilled reader, but it is well worth it if you are.

Modern novels are often written in an efficient and readable way that is designed to grab the reader’s attention and to compete with the distractions of the internet, smartphones, boxsets etc… This isn’t an entirely bad thing, but it means that they can often have slightly less linguistic or descriptive detail than older novels do. They often have shorter sentences, slightly simpler vocabulary, more informal narration etc…

On the other hand, even “low brow” horror and thriller novels from the 1970s-90s will often use more sophisticated/formal vocabulary, sentence structures etc… than you might expect. People had less distractions back then and they read more books, so there was more of an incentive for writers to show off a bit more and to really use the written word to its fullest extent.

Yes, this means that older novels can be a little slower to read and that you might have to work out the meaning of some unfamiliar words from their context (or just look them up online). But, not only does this result in a much richer and more “high definiton” story (with more atmosphere, precision, depth, character etc…), but it will also help you to expand your vocabulary, increase your attention span and help you become more adept at reading complex texts.

2) Cost and serendipity: Yes, some older books (even relatively recent ones) can go out of print and become ridiculously expensive. However, this isn’t the case with most older books. If you are looking to build a personal library on a budget, then many paperback novels from even just a few years ago can be found incredibly cheaply second-hand. Likewise, if you want to go back even further, then many out-of-copyright 19th century/early 20th century novels can often be found in inexpensive “classics” editions or as free e-books.

[Edit: The original draft of this article, prepared several months ago, included a passage about finding interesting random books in second-hand bookshops. But, given current events, visiting physical shops isn’t something that I can recommend at the moment.]

So, being willing to read older novels can broaden your horizons, surprise you and allow you to build up a “to read” pile at a fraction of the cost.

3) Time travel: I’ve mentioned this in previous articles, but it’s worth repeating. Another cool thing about older novels is that they allow you to directly step into the past in a way that things like modern historical fiction, historical dramas etc… won’t allow you to do. After all, when you read an older novel, you are not only reading something written in the past but you are also reading exactly the same thing that people in the past read for entertainment. In other words, your experience of reading an older novel will be at least slightly similar to that of someone from the time it was published.

Although this will sometimes show you how backwards and narrow-minded the past can be, it’ll also help you to see the past in a more “realistic” way too. And the past can often seem more “modern” than the stylised nostalgia or re-creations that you’ll see in the media these days might lead you to believe. Older novels weren’t written with the thought “in 20-50 years time, people will think this is retro“, they were written to entertain people at the time they were written. So, they will depict everything and everyone in a more “realistic” way than you might expect if you’ve only seen modern TV shows, movies etc… set in the past.

This is kind of hard to describe well, but it not only gives you a more accurate look at (and understanding of) the past but – thanks to the immersive nature of books – it can feel like you are actually travelling back in time too. It’s really cool πŸ™‚

4) Books mattered more: One of the cool things about older books is that books used to matter to everyone more in the past than they do today. They were read more, they were respected more and they were more popular. Not only does this mean that older books will usually be edited/proof-read to a higher standard, but it also means that they have a level of intensity and gravitas that you don’t always find in more modern novels.

People read more in the past than they do now, and older books will often reflect the fact that books mattered more. They weren’t some obscure hobby or trendy “sophisticated” activity – they were ordinary everyday entertainment. Which, of course, is still the best way to read and view books.

For good example of how books mattered more in the past, look at articles about the reactions to the Armed Service Edition novels that were issued to US troops during WW2, look at the sheer level of importance the Lady Chatterley Trial had in 1960s Britain (because book censorship affected a lot more readers back then) or look at how 19th century readers reacted when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle “killed” Sherlock Holmes. Books mattered to people more in the past.

And you can often see this in older books. Whether it is 1980s British horror novels that tried to out-shock each other because horror fans read them as an alternative to the heavily-censored films in cinemas at the time. Whether it is how 1970s-90s literary novels will sometimes try to be a bit edgier or more controversial, because people read and discussed books more (and books were respected enough that calling for book censorship was rightly seen as an evil or totalitarian thing to do). Whether it is how older dystopian novels will almost always use the dystopian setting as a way of making a point about something – rather than just as a dramatic backdrop – because they were writing for a much larger audience who thought about what they read etc…

Even the cover art is usually better in older books, because it had to be dramatic in order to stand out. Without the internet to help potential readers find books and because people could only buy physical books (to read in public, to leave lying around at home etc…), cover art had to be cooler and more artistic in the past – because it mattered more.

So, one cool thing about older novels is that they show you what books were like when everyone cared about them and read them a bit more.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Three Low-Budget Tips For Passing The Time During The Lockdown

Well, although I often try to avoid topical stuff on this blog, I thought that I’d write an extra article about passing the time during the current Coronavirus lockdown here in the UK. After all, as someone who wasn’t exactly the most extroverted person in the world before all of this happened, I’ve gained at least a little bit of knowledge about how to spend meaningful time alone on a reasonably low budget.

So, let’s get started:

1) The Internet: If you’re reading this, then you probably have an internet connection. This is good. There are an absolute ton of interesting free things on the internet that are well worth taking a look at if you want a substantial and meaningful way to pass the next few days, weeks or months. Here’s a small selection:

Let’s start with webcomics. In particular, the one webcomic I’d recommend taking a look at these days is probably Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality“. In addition to featuring lots of cool-looking ultra-detailed artwork, a subtle punk sensibility and a level of emotional and intellectual depth that wouldn’t be out of place in a high-brow novel, pretty much every comic update is also a small graphic novel in it’s own right (the perfect length for the current time). This is the kind of enriching and utterly fascinating webcomic that you can lose yourself in for hours and not feel like you’ve wasted a single second.

As for reading matter – although I prefer physical books, I’d recommend taking a look at the free selection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” short stories and novellas on Project Gutenburg. It isn’t a complete selection (since one short story collection is still copyrighted in the US), but almost everything there can be read in any order that you want to – but be sure to read “The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes” before you read “The Return Of Sherlock Holmes” though.

Yes, the Sherlock Holmes stories are fairly old – but the writing style is surprisingly readable when you get used to it, even the novellas are often short enough not to get boring, most of the stories have aged surprisingly well (although one or two short stories unfortunately haven’t) and they usually have really gripping mystery plots too.

Another pair of out-of-copyright books that are well worth reading are John Kendrick Bangs’ “A House-Boat On The Styx” and its sequel “The Pursuit Of The House-Boat“. Yes, the writing style is a bit old and some moments may seem mildly dated – but, these things aside, these two comedy novellas about famous historical figures hanging out in the afterlife and having silly adventures still hold up reasonably well when read today.

Oh, and, of course – I can’t not mention Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque Of The Red Death“. If ever there was a 19th century horror story more suited to the current situation….

If reading isn’t your thing, then there is an absolute mountain of interesting Youtube channels that can provide many hours of interesting binge-watching too.

If you want something relaxing, I’d recommend this general interest/film-making channel by Austin McConnell, the landscape painting videos on the official Bob Ross Youtube channel or possibly a channel of long-form relaxation footage filmed by people walking around pre-pandemic cities on channels like Nomadic Ambience.

If you want to learn about how videogames are designed, then I’d recommend taking a look at channels like Extra Credits or Game Maker’s Toolkit. If you’re in the mood for the macabre and aren’t squeamish, then I’d recommend taking a look at Ryan Hollinger’s extended reviews/critiques of various horror movies. If you want an art channel with a slightly quirky and gothic sense of humour, then I’d recommend Mary Doodles. If you want high-brow mini-documentaries about art, film-making etc.. then take a look at Nerdwriter1. I could go on for a while, but there are a lot of very interesting binge-watchable Youtube channels out there.

If you want free games that will run on almost any computer and don’t try to sting you for micro-transactions or anything like that, then take a look at my old reviews of the following freeware games: “Freedoom“, “Beneath A Steel Sky“, “Treasure Adventure Game“, “SkyRoads“, “Tyrian 2000” and “Hacx 1.2“. Plus, I should probably give a shout-out to OpenArena and SuperTux too.

2) Your imagination: Hour upon hour of solitude is the perfect blank canvas for daydreams. Yes, you probably already know how to daydream – but, if you haven’t had any practice with doing it for sustained periods of time, then doing so might sound “weird” or “difficult”.

One of the best ways to train your imagination for extended daydreaming is to read a few novels – these will provide you with a focused and sustained “daydream” that will get you used to the idea of it. Just choose a novel that you think you will enjoy and, if reading a whole novel sounds difficult, then start with short stories.

Whilst going out to a physical bookshop or library is out of the question at the moment, there are – as I mentioned earlier – lots of older out-of-copyright novels that can legally be downloaded for free on sites like Project Gutenberg, there are still websites that sell second-hand physical books cheaply and, of course, you may possibly have a “to read” pile that you’ve been meaning to take a look at for a while. This is the perfect time!

If books aren’t your thing, then films and television can sort of provide a substitute. Sort of. At the very least, these things give you images and ideas that you can use as source material for any daydreams you might want to have after you have finished watching them.

And, no, daydreaming isn’t a “waste of time”. A long and interesting daydream can turn a “boring” moment into something much more interesting, it can lift your mood (provided it isn’t a worry-based daydream. And, yes, worrying is basically just daydreaming – but in the horror genre. So, you might already be more well-practiced at daydreaming than you think) and it can also provide you with all sorts of creative ideas and moments of inspiration. Which brings me on to….

3) Create stuff: Yes, it’s a massive cliche – but this really is the time to start practicing a creative skill.

Yes, you probably won’t be very good at it at first – but, if you do it for the sake of fun or to pass the time, then this won’t matter. It’s a way of having fun and also having something to show for it at the end. Not to mention that setting a regular practice schedule can provide you with a highlight for each day and will also mean that you will gradually get better at whatever you are doing. And, best of all, you don’t need a massive budget for any of this sort of thing too.

Quite a lot of creative skills can be practiced with equipment that you probably have lying around right now. Drawings can be made with ordinary pencils or ballpoint pens. Digital art can be made with completely free open-source programs like the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP).

All you need to start writing fiction is either a pen and paper or a basic word processing program (either the one that came with your computer and/or a free open-source one). Smartphone cameras or that old digital camera you might have lying around can be used for photography/film. I could go on for a while, but you almost certainly have something near you right now that you can use in a creative way.

And, yes, thinking about what to do with it can be a challenge. All creative people feel uninspired from time to time – it is perfectly normal. But, try to make something – even if it isn’t very good or very imaginative, you’d be surprised at how satisfying making things can feel. Even if you never show it to anyone else, then it is worth at least doing it for the fun of doing so. At the very least, you’ll have a funny story to tell people when all of this is over.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Do Thriller Novels Have To Be Fast-Paced? – A Ramble

If there is one novel-related word that tends to get misunderstood, it is “thriller”. When you think of this, you’ll probably think of car chases, gunfights and, most importantly, writing so fast-paced that the book has to be a giant 400-600 page tome because it only takes as long to read as a typical 200-300 page novel does. Yet, the relatively slow-paced horror/detective novel that I reviewed yesterday includes the term “thriller” on the back cover blurb – and it is technically accurate.

Strange as it might sound, thriller stories can be either fast paced or slow paced and still fit into the same genre. Yes, they might differ in sub-genre (eg: action thriller, crime thriller, legal thriller, psychological thriller, tech thriller etc…) but even the slowest-paced thriller is still a thriller novel. But, why?

The essential elements of a thriller are suspense and mystery. Both of these things are well-suited to both fast and slow-paced stories. Whether suspense comes from lots of blisteringly fast danger-filled moments or is slowly built up over the course of several pages or chapters, it is still suspense. Likewise, an intriguing mystery is still an intriguing mystery regardless of whether there are any car chases or fight scenes.

To give you two contrasting examples, Matthew Reilly’s “Ice Station” is a really fast-paced action thriller novel that focuses on a group of US marines defending an Antarctic research base against several rival special forces groups, whilst also trying to understand the mysterious item that the researchers have found under the ice. This novel contains both suspense (eg: whenever the marines are endangered, outnumbered or outgunned) and mystery (what is under the ice and why is it there?). Ergo, it is a thriller novel.

Now take a look at Koji Suzuki’s “Ring“. This is a relatively slow-paced novel about a reporter who begins to investigate a series of strange deaths (mystery) and soon finds that he has been cursed to die within seven days unless he can figure out a way to save his life (suspense). Although this novel moves at a fairly slow pace when compared to “Ice Station”, it is focused on both mystery and suspense – and is therefore also a thriller novel.

So, the “thriller” description is less about pacing and more about the fact that a story will rely heavily on suspense and/or mystery in order to keep you – the reader – wanting to read more. In addition to this, it’ll also tell you to expect a story where the main focus is on the plot.

And because the plot matters so much in a thriller, it’ll usually be a relatively complex one filled with twists and turns – similar to what you’d expect from a detective story (since the two genres have a lot of common history), but not necessarily revolving around solving a murder. These types of complex, intricate plots can be found in both slow-paced and fast-paced thriller novels. So, if you see “thriller” on the back of a novel cover, then it is also about the type of plot that you can expect.

It means that the story isn’t a character-focused literary novel, a novel focused on a type of setting (eg: historical, futuristic etc..) or a more experimental plotless work. It is a story where the main attraction is a complex, well-planned plot. So, if you consider plot to be one of the most important parts of a novel, then seeing “thriller” on the cover of a book means that you’ll be more likely to enjoy it.

But, again, it has very little to do with the actual pacing of the novel.

If you want a fast-paced novel, then it’s often much better to do something like read the first few pages, read reviews and/or to do a bit of research into the author’s other books than it is to see whether or not the word “thriller” appears on the blurb. On the flip side, just because a book is described as a “thriller”, it doesn’t mean that it won’t tell a rich, substantial story that can be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

The only thing that the term “thriller” will tell you is that the novel will include a complex plot and will use both suspense and mystery in order to keep you interested.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Random Tips For Getting Into Reading Novels

Well, after seeing an article which suggested that choosing longer books are a way to read more (and disagreeing with it because reading too much of one author too quickly can make you bored of them!), I thought that I’d offer a few tips of my own about how to get into reading books.

After all, although I only got back into reading novels regularly a little over a year ago (after about 3-4 years of not reading much), I used to read for fun quite regularly during my teens and early-mid twenties.

So, here are a few random tips about how to get into reading novels if you’re interested in reading more.

1) Go for books you’ll actually enjoy!: It goes without saying but, reading books is meant to be fun. There are literally millions of thrilling, funny, scary, steamy, cool, quirky and/or fascinating books out there that will never make it onto any official reading list. Talking about them won’t make you sound sophisticated and they aren’t famous or “classical” enough for most other people to even know what you’re talking about. But, they are the books that you want to read, because they are the books that will make you want to read more books.

I’m talking about the fun books, often snootily referred to as “genre fiction”. The thriller novels, horror novels, detective novels, urban fantasy novels, sci-fi novels, romances etc… with the really cool-looking cover art and the author names that you’ve never heard before. Unlike the turgid “classics” you probably had to read at school, these books are actually designed to be read for fun. They have humour, suspense, gripping fast-paced writing, intriguing mysteries, cool characters, really cute couples, better “special effects” than you’ll see in a movie etc…

But, if you’re totally new to novels, then start with modern genre novels that were published within the past two decades or so. I cannot stress this enough! Modern genre novels are often written in a fast, informal and streamlined way that is designed to be more interesting than social media, films, TV and other such distractions. Yes, there are lots and lots of really awesome older novels too, but save them until after streamlined modern novels have shown you how genuinely fun reading can be.

And, regardless of your favourite genre, start with something that you know you will enjoy! If you aren’t sure where to start, go online and see if there are any novels based on your favourite TV shows, movies or videogames. Some of these will have the advantage of being a re-telling of a familiar story that you already know (so you know that you’ll enjoy it), not to mention that many novels based on TV shows will often tell new spin-off stories, which are kind of like extra “lost episodes”.

Regardless of what types of stories you like, there are literally loads of fun books out there that you probably haven’t heard of. So, go looking for them!

2) Reading is rebellious: Although I come from a book-filled house and I did read books when I was a child, I only really got seriously interested in reading when I happened to find an old copy of an ultra-gruesome 1980s horror novel on a market stall when I was thirteen. It was nothing like anything I’d read before. It seemed exactly like all of the cool horror movies I really wanted to watch (but didn’t look anywhere near old enough to buy on VHS or DVD). Needless to say, I felt like such a rebel!

And, since I felt like such a rebel after reading this “shocking” book, I found more horror novels (eg: James Herbert’s “The Rats“, Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus“, S.D. Perry’s “Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy” etc..) and then I got interested in dystopian sci-fi novels, then “edgy” literary novels, then detective novels, then… Well, a lot of books. I also got interested in writing fiction too. Depravity and corruption, indeed!

And all because I found a “shocking” horror novel that felt rebellious to read. So, yes, one reason to read is because books are rebellious. It doesn’t matter what the genre is, novels will have a lot more individuality, variety, creativity and personality than you’ll often be able to find in other entertainment mediums.

For example, if you want a very “non-Hollywood” sci-fi novel that focuses on culture, characters, places, empathy etc… more than technology, then read Becky Chambers’ “The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet“. If you want something that is like a hilariously funny late-night punk version of “Doctor Who”, then read Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” novel series (starting with “Just One Damned Thing After Another“. Seriously, read them in order).

If you want a a “heavy metal music in book form” historical dark fantasy zombie apocalypse thriller novel, read “Anno Mortis” by Rebecca Levene. If you want a thriller story (with horror and fantasy elements) that is also set in a cyberpunk sci-fi future, then try reading “Working For The Devil” by Lilith Saintcrow.

I could go on for a while, but one of the cool things about books is that they have so much freedom to try unusual ideas, to rebel, to tell quirky stories you won’t find on TV etc… Seriously, books are one of the most punk storytelling mediums out there. They are anything but boring!

3) Don’t be afraid to abandon books you don’t like (and get lots of books too!): Finally, following on from the first point on this list, if you start reading a book and find that you don’t enjoy it, then there is no shame in putting it down and reading another one. Seriously, it’s ok. I do this and you should too. It is why there are no one or two star book reviews on this blog. If a book is that bad, I’ll ditch it and read something better instead.

Remember, reading should be fun. So, if a book doesn’t grip you or interest you in some way, then put it down and read one that does. You are not required to finish every book you start! In fact, if you can’t finish a book, then this is usually either the fault of the author (for writing a boring book) or it is just because you aren’t “ready” for the book yet. When you find a good book, you’ll want to finish it. You’ll want to binge-read it instead of binge-watching TV shows. Trust me, you’ll know this feeling when you experience it.

If you’re new to reading novels and a book doesn’t make you feel like this, then put it down and pick up another one. This is also where building up a book collection comes in very handy. You should always have several books nearby, so that there’s always a choice of books to read next. If you don’t have a gigantic budget, then this is where things like second-hand books, charity shops, libraries and possibly even those trendy e-reader subscription things come in. Regardless, build up a collection of interesting books so that, if one doesn’t interest you, then more books are only a few seconds away from you.

And, yes, keep your current book nearby. One of the cool things about books is that unlike TV shows, movies and modern videogames (with checkpoint saving), you can easily pick them up for just a couple of minutes and then “save” your place with a bookmark whenever and wherever you want. Of course, if a book is good enough, then “just a couple of minutes” will usually turn into hours without you even noticing or caring.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚