“Something my granddad used to tell us. You know Macumba? Voodoo. My granddad was a priest in Trinidad. He used to tell us, “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”
(Apologies in advance folks, this is a long one. Might want to make some hot chocolate and marshmallows and grab a blanket first)
On 1 January 2011, I launched a new site called That Was A Bit Mental.
The literal first words written for the site were as follows:
“What is the haps my friend. This is a new blog that I hope will actually take off and won’t become abandoned after two weeks like many of my projects do when I realise I don’t have any real spare time to do them.”
At the time, life was significantly more straightforward than it is now. I was living in London with a girlfriend, a full-time job and loads of free time in the evenings and weekends.
For those not aware of it and visiting the site for the first time today via this article, That Was A Bit Mental was a site dedicated mainly to horror movies, but also anything else that was offbeat enough to make people thing “well, that was a bit mental” by the time the credits rolled.
At the time I was a full-time video games journalist writing for the Official Nintendo Magazine. Writing is my life, but a job’s a job and no matter how great it is there are always stressful days. TWABM, then, was my way of relaxing by writing about my other love of horror, weird and bad movies.
With no editor to satisfy or professional reputation to uphold, TWABM was as much (if not more) for me than the readers, many of whom were my ONM-loving followers on Twitter who I’m sure at times just clicked the links to this weird shit I was posting to humour me.
Over a number of years I ended up writing nearly 300 reviews for TWABM (298 in fact, which was painfully close to a lovely round number. But hey, that’s horror for you, it’s always agonisingly uncomfortable).
Things were going well, until 2015 – four years after I started TWABM – when my employer decided my services were no longer required. Suddenly I was no longer a professional games journalist writing about horror films on the side, I was nothing.
With no official outlet to write about games, my now-wife and I moved back to Scotland and I got an ‘adult’ job (as in working in the civil service, not selling my baws at night).
Now I was writing about games on the side too, via my new site Tired Old Hack, and something had to eventually give. As the number of posts on Tired Old Hack increased, the number of reviews on TWABM dropped dramatically.
As I go back through the CMS now and look at all the posts on TWABM I can see the drop-off happening in front of my eyes.
In January 2015 alone, I wrote 25 reviews on TWABM. After Tired Old Hack launched at the end of the month, over the following 11 months I only wrote another 26.
In 2016, I wrote 15 reviews. In 2017, I wrote just one. In 2018, just two.
And then… nothing.
I couldn’t really do much about it, to be honest. As I was working my civil service gig, my evenings were being taken up by freelance work as I tried to remain relevant in my video games writing career (the one I still really wanted to do).
On top of that, throughout 2017 I had been writing a book called The NES Encyclopedia, which was taking up any shred of free time that was remaining. After it was submitted and the response was positive, a deal was struck with the publisher: as long as people continue to buy them, let’s keep writing them.
Oh, and then there was the small matter of our daughter Serena, who was born in June 2018. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a kid but it turns out they require the occasional moment of attention too, which came as an enormous surprise to me.
So for the past few years my life has been a case of spinning plates: raising our daughter, working in the civil service and writing my encyclopedias, all while doing constant freelance work to try and stay relevant in the gaming sphere.
It goes without saying that in my list of priorities, TWABM had become rock bottom. It was only a bit of fun, after all, and I didn’t really have time for fun anymore (at least, not unless it was as part of work with a payoff at the end, like freelance payments or book royalties).
I would occasionally think back to those first words I wrote on TWABM: “This is a new blog that I hope will actually take off and won’t become abandoned after two weeks like many of my projects do when I realise I don’t have any real spare time to do them.”
The site was mainly active from 2011-2014 then slowly tapered off by the end of 2015, so four years rather than two weeks was certainly good going. Despite that, yes, it had been “abandoned” because “I realised I didn’t have any real spare time to do it”.
To be perfectly honest with you too, I had lost interest in horror and weird shit for a while. I can’t speak for everyone else but in my own personal experience, after I had my daughter my mindset changed quite a bit.
For those first couple of years your protective instincts kick in and so much of your life is spent watching the kid like a hawk during the day to make sure she doesn’t choke, doesn’t fall over, doesn’t bang her head, doesn’t eat something she shouldn’t.
Then she goes to bed and you put the baby monitor on and watch her like a hawk again to make sure she doesn’t roll over and suffocate herself, doesn’t get her arm stuck in the cot railings, doesn’t bang her head off the edge.
Being completely frank (and this may be a tough read) you spend those first couple of years – especially when it’s your first and you don’t know what you’re doing – with the spectre of death hanging over your head almost the entire time. When they’re that small, every day you keep them alive is a personal victory.
You hear actual real-life horror stories about kids falling into piles of soft toys and suffocating, kids being fed the wrong food at nursery and choking, and kids just simply dying in their sleep because at a young age that just happens sometimes. Having a baby is a wonderful time but it’s a fucking terrifying one too.
Because of this, I went off horror quite a bit. Before Serena was born it was easy to watch people being killed on-screen and think nothing of it, but when the worry of an innocent loved one dying is something that enters your head on a daily basis it’s hard to switch off. Pet Sematary is one of my favourite horror films of all time but one of its main story beats is a kid being run over by a truck, so I got that shit as far away from me as possible.
I have shelves full of horror movies in my games room. Literally hundreds of Arrow Video Blu-ray releases, hordes of cheesy American ‘50 Drive-In Horror Classics’ DVD box-sets, countless titles from the likes of Full Moon Video, Troma, 88 Films and Something Weird Video. And they’ve all been sitting there untouched because I just haven’t been in the mood.
Well, things have changed.
At the start of 2021, I finally entered games journalism full-time again, as Features Editor of Video Games Chronicle (aka VGC). I’m so happy to be doing what I love as my job again, and without blowing my own bugle I think as a team we’re absolutely smashing it.
Serena is now three and a half and not only did I manage to keep her alive, she’s absolutely thriving. She’s hilarious, she’s well-behaved (as well as a three-year-old could be) and she goes to bed at a reasonable hour without too many issues.
My free time isn’t quite there yet, but it will be soon. At the start of the year my civil service job was down to a part-time one, so I agreed with the publisher to write two books in 2021 instead of just one. Then I got the VGC gig in late January, which was full-time, meaning I was suddenly writing two books with a full-time job. Hey, it happens, and I regret nothing.
If you’ve managed to get this far, here’s the pay-off. In January 2022, That Was A Bit Mental will return.
Next year things will pretty much be back to the way they were when I was living in London (with a few obvious changes, of course). Since I’m writing about games full-time again, I’ll once again need an outlet to write unhindered and for fun again. That’s where TWABM comes in.
I’ll still be writing books, but it’ll be back to one a year and I have a schedule in place which makes that a comfortable enough process.
Serena’s doing great and she’s at the age now where I don’t have to constantly watch her, I can now write while she plays with her toys in the same room.
And, above all else, with that spectre no longer hanging over the house so closely, I’ve caught the horror bug again. Last night the missus and I watched I Know What You Did Last Summer: it’s hardly Suspiria, I know, but it was the first horror film I’d watched in a hell of a long time.
I’m excited to bring the site back to life but there’s still a bit of work before I can do that, so please be patient with me.
First and foremost, I need to get my current book, the N64 Encyclopedia, finished and sent to the publisher before I can do anything else. I’m still in that “two books in a year” period and that needs to be sorted first, hence TWABM not returning until January 2022.
I also want to freshen up the site layout a bit and bring it more in line with my games site, Tired Old Hack, so they both have a similar look. I’ve already paid the lovely Nico Vliek – who designed my current Tired Old Hack logo – to create a snazzy new logo for That Was A Bit Mental, and he’s even freshened up my Trevor Moorhouse scoring system too.
Part of December, then, will be spent going through all the old articles and cleaning them up so they look good in the new site layout. A lot of the old clips and trailers I linked to no longer exist on YouTube, and the references to what you can stream on Netflix, Amazon buying links etc are all out of date, so I’m going to freshen all those up.
I’m also looking into investing in new video storage for the site which will allow me to upload my own brief clips and trailers without the usual nonsense of YouTube’s robots flagging and removing them instantly before giving me the chance to counter them with a ‘fair use’ claim.
Basically, when I finally relaunch sometime in January 2022, you’re going to have version 2.0 of a site that, on day one, will have nearly 300 reviews to read through, all cleaned up and with working images and video clips.
There are so many movies I have lined up to review for TWABM when it’s back. Because I’ve been away from horror for so long, and was focusing on the old stuff before that, I’ve seen pretty much none of the big new franchises that have emerged.
I haven’t seen any of The Conjuring films, for example (or its spin-offs). Haven’t watched the Fear Street films on Netflix yet. Haven’t seen Sinister, or the It films, or Midsommar, or Host, or Hereditary, or A Quiet Place or anything like that. They’re coming, and I can’t wait.
This time I’m going to try to introduce new things too. Given that my full-time gig is writing about games, it would frankly ridiculous if I didn’t start reviewing horror games on here, for example. And if there’s enough interest I might consider starting a podcast, but we’ll see.
Until the site’s ready, if there’s anything you’d like to to cover specifically please do give me a shout on Twitter, or on my dusty old email@example.com email address which I’ve just reactivated (and obviously, if by some sheer stroke of luck you’re a PR for a media company looking for someone to review screeners, give me a shout).
Bear with me until that’s all ready, then. It’s going to be a little while longer, but I couldn’t let Halloween pass without taking a moment to let you know what I’ve been wanting to say for years now:
Next year, That Was A Bit Mental will rise from its grave.