A Perfectly Useless Hobby : Part 2

The Shakespearean Vader Helmet: Another insane project begun.

The Shakespearean Vader Helmet: Another insane project begun.

It’s nearly the first weekend in April, and that can only mean that FanExpo Vancouver is just around the corner. After last year’s triumph with costumes for the weasels, I was determined not to be left out this year. But the Mando Armour had defeated me. Too many attempts to rebuild had left me dispirited and I abandoned it, leaving the helmet on the shelf with my other projects.

WP_20140829_004Unfortunately for my sanity and the well-being of the family, I had a new bright idea. For my birthday, I received a copy of Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean Star Wars.

Worse still, only a day or two later I was wandering through Value Village when I found a Darth Vader Voice-changer helmet, on sale for only $6. Clearly, this was a sign. I must make a Shakespearean Darth Vader costume!

Adapting the helmet was stage one, and something I could do in short bursts. This was, after all, only September, and there were many months before Fan Expo. The rest of the costume would be easy to put together in the months to come.

I took the basic helmet and added extra flanges at the end. Just so I could use the word "flanges".

I took the basic helmet and added extra flanges at the end. Just so I could use the word “flanges”.

WP_20140907_006 WP_20140918_002Years ago, my Dad had a tool that could measure a curve. It was a brilliant thing, but I don’t have one, so I used estimation and an iterative construction and redesign method to create the crest. Mrs Dim says this is actually “Bodging it with trial and error.” She may have a point.

WP_20141001_005Once I’d added the crest, I smoothed over the joins and sprayed it with gloss paint. I also sprayed the helmet itself with an artist’s acrylic gloss to make it shine like the movie helmet does – the plastic used for the kids’ helmet is actually too matte.

WP_20141006_002It took a while to find the gold filligree for the decoration. Amazingly, there aren’t many options for self-adhesive gold decoration. I tried all the obvious places, but eventually found something that would do at Michael’s, the craft store. It comes on a roll like selotape, but since the design winds around on itself, it’s much harder to remove from the backing. There was much cursing as I patiently applied each piece, then went back and stuck it back down again a few minutes later. And again a few minutes after that. Then I spent several days finding more bits of gold glitter everywhere.

So that was the easy bit. And there’s a pretty good argument that says I should have stopped there. After all, I had a Mando Helmet, a Scout Trooper Helmet, two Clone Trooper helmets, and a Hiccup Helmet from “How to Train Your Dragon 2″

Weeks of work, snatched five minutes at a time, resulted in this replica. Not for Halloween, or Fan Expo, just...because.

Weeks of work, snatched five minutes at a time, resulted in this replica. Not for Halloween, or Fan Expo, just…because.

Maybe I should have just said “Helmets are my thing.” They’re easy to display, fun to make and everyone can try them on with no real effort.

But I was ambitious, and more than a little jealous of the fun the Weasels had at Fan Expo last year. This Vader costume would be a big hit. And besides, I only really needed a breastplate and a decent cloak. Plus, look, I had a miniature Vader head already, if I sprayed it silver and mounted it on the hilt of my SFX Vader lightsabre….

Yes, I already had the lightsabre why do you ask? Don't YOU have a lightsabre at home?

Yes, I already had the lightsabre, why do you ask? Don’t YOU have a lightsabre at home?

So fine, I would make the whole suit. I obtained a pair of simulated leather leggings. I already had suitable boots from my Mandalorian outfit. With a black undershirt already in my wardrobe, all I needed was the breastplate and cloak.

I went to work on the breastplate.

The majority of the plate is a foam tile designed for flooring. I shaped it a little to bulge impressively over the manly chest I haven't got, and topped it off with some halloween costume armour for the neck and shoulders.

The majority of the plate is a foam tile designed for flooring. I shaped it a little to bulge impressively over the manly chest I haven’t got, and topped it off with some halloween costume armour for the neck and shoulders.

I checked back with the original illustration….

I needed more gold decoration. The chains were easy enough to come by, at Michael's again.

I needed more gold decoration. The chains were easy enough to come by, at Michael’s again.

I haven't added the chains yet.

I haven’t added the chains yet.

Since the breastplate cuts off at waist height, I checked out the original Vader costume at ILM in San Francisco. The illustrations in Doescher’s book are a little light on the full-length shots, but here’s what the original Vader looks like from the waist down…

Clearly, this was something else I would have to reproduce....

Clearly, this was something else I would have to reproduce….

Adding that extra detail turned out to be a good idea, since it gave me a belt I could use to hang a scabbard from, allowing me to carry the lightsabre without having to …er…carry it.


I’m guessing you’re waiting for the photo of me wearing the whole rig and posing impressively. Well, there isn’t one of those right now. There’s still work to be done – I have the material for the cloak, but haven’t converted it from curtain to cloak yet. What there was, this afternoon, was some fairly intense discussion on whether this was a useful hobby, because every time I come away from working on the latest project I am frustrated and angry. Mrs Dim points out that hobbies are supposed to be satisfying, or relaxing. She points to her gardening, which is incredibly restorative and has the bonus of producing actual food. Why do I pursue an activity that doesn’t even make me happy when I’m done?

The honest answer was that I don’t know. This is something I want to do. More than that, it’s something I want to be good at. As long as I can remember, I have been fumble-fingered, which sounds daft coming from a juggler. But I couldn’t build models. My woodwork made my CDT teacher shake his head sadly. My DIY is done on the “Measure twice, cut once, buy more, get someone else to measure…” method. Practical crafts are not my thing.

But I have always been fascinated by the behind the scenes footage of the guys building the models of the Star Wars spaceships or the miniature scenes from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. I see the people of Weta Workshops building real Elf and Orc armour and weapons and I long to have a go at that. I tell myself it’s lack of time, or lack of proper materials, or tools, that someday I will be GOOD at this. Maybe that’s true, or maybe I’ll be hopeless at it forever, no matter how much filler I use, or whether I ever get my 3d printer and vacuum former. On the other hand…. I wanted to build a Mandalorian helmet, and I did. I wanted to build a Scout Trooper Helmet, and I did. I wanted to build a Hiccup Helmet, and I did. Now I’m building a Shakespearean Vader suit. They may not be the best, they may not be perfect, but they are real, and here, and they are here because I made them. It’s probably time I took some satisfaction in that achievement, instead of just hoping it’ll be better next time.

See you at Fan Expo Vancouver.

Library Renovations are complete!

Or at least, they should be. I don’t go in until later today.

Not about the Anniversary



2015. Haven't changed a bit.

2015. Haven’t changed a bit.

Our sixth anniversary of emigration came and went a couple of weeks ago. We were out on the road, visiting friends down in San Francisco, so we didn’t make a big deal of it. That’s what it’s become now, a date to note in passing. I’m still glad we came here, still thrilled with all the good things it has made available to the weasels (and Mrs Dim and myself) but it doesn’t feel like we need to crack the champagne corks anymore – we haven’t surmounted huge obstacles of late, haven’t struggled to build our life here. We’re just living it and loving it every day.

So instead I thought I’d mention a couple of e-books that I’ve read recently because

A: They’re pretty good

B: I know the authors through Google +

C: I occasionally write e-books myself and like to think that talking about them helps everyone.


The first book is by RJ Blain, and it’s called Inquisitor .

I’ve read and reviewed one of RJ’s books before, “Storm Without End” , and that book shared some things in common with Inquisitor, though they’re set in very different worlds. RJ is a brave author – she knows the world she has built very well, but she doesn’t feel the need to show it off. There’s no great dragging prologue in The Rift book where the gods build the world, or foolish wizards unleash magics to destroy it or whatever. With Inquisitor, no characters walk together having conversations that begin “As you know, you were held prisoner by the Inquisition for thirty years”, or “You may have heard that the Inquisitors are still searching for you after you escaped their custody all those years ago…”

RJ likes to set things up, and sometimes those questions will be answered directly, sometimes you’ll have to wait a bit, and sometimes, I suspect, you’ll have to hang on until later in the series. In each book, though, I didn’t mind. I had what I needed to follow the story, and I wasn’t expected to absorb  chapters of imagined history to explain the actions of regular people. Inquisitor is set in the real world, with magical forces abroad and in conflict amongst the ordinary folks. That set up is nothing new, but RJ handles it well, and gives old tropes a new twist here and there.

The second book I want to talk about is “Orison” by Daniel Swensen

I was given the books of Anne McCaffrey at an impressionable age, so I have fairly set ideas about dragons. I think most of us do. Then along comes Daniel Swensen, and introduces a notion that dragons are so far above humans that they have the ability to take on human form – and why? To mess with us. Set in a mythical world, Daniel restricts this story to one city state, imperiled by a potential war, with nervous allies who may turn and run, or switch sides. But we don’t deal with the bigger picture much, getting down and dirty with an ex-wizard who lives on the streets, an orphan thief who is trying to skim enough off the top to escape her servitude in the criminal gang, and a warrior from another state, pursuing his own mystery agenda.

Things do not go the way I expected here. I think that’s one of the reasons I found it so hard to put this book down. None of the characters did what I was expecting them to do – they didn’t meet up after the first few chapters and form a reluctant band with a common goal. They didn’t find themselves in front of the queen, being given a secret mission that might save the city. It was a constant stream of surprises.

The book ends neatly, but the story is clearly not over. I’m interested in reading more, but I don’t feel cheated that this is only the first book in a series, as so often happens. There’s no cliffhanger ending, for example, no GRR Martin moment of “Well, where’s the NEXT damn book, then?”. That is a definite step in the right direction.


Free e-book this week!

Yes, this book is FREE on Amazon all this week.

Yes, this book is FREE on Amazon all this week.

To celebrate…. well, nothing at all, sorry, it’s just because I can…. I’m setting “Troubled Souls” as a free e-book for the whole of this week. Starting today, Feb 23rd (Happy Birthday Ronnie!) you can get this book for nothing. Nothing to pay now, nothing to pay later. It’s a good deal, because you also get the first chapter of “Eddie and the Kingdom” free inside this book. It’s a meta-bargain. Especially considering that the sequel to Eddie and the Kingdom, “Murder in the Kingdom”, is due out in a couple of months.


Hmm. Maybe I should do something about that. Like write it, or something.


Anyway, THIS book is free, you can get it here:

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/TroubledSouls
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/TroubledSoulsUK

If you enjoy it, or even if you don’t, please leave a review on Amazon. Or Goodreads. Or the local newspaper. Or on a plaque attached to the side of deep-space probe, if you feel alien life needs to be warned.

Spotlight on Zoe Ambler

Last week author and blogger Zoe Ambler was kind enough to feature an interview with me about my writing and publishing adventures.
This week I’m turning the tables and inviting Zoe into my spotlight too answer some daft questions about her work! I’m hoping this will be the first in a series of posts featuring other writers who have books already out there in the world.
Ready Zoe? First question:

When did you start writing?

I started writing fan-fiction when I was in my early twenties…and then progressed to more detailed stories by way of role-play gaming. When I had no one as a writing partner, I wrote elaborate stories for my characters to flesh them out. I can get quite wordy…>_>

What was your path to publication?

My path to publication was more like trying to trek my way through a jungle or swamp with a machete. Set back after set back. I decided, with a lot of weighing of the pros and cons, to self publish. It’s not as easy as some make it seem. I have regrets, but I’ve learned from them, and with the next book, those mistakes won’t happen!

Who was your biggest influence when you were starting out?

Out of the authors out there, I’d say Stephen King and Anne Rice. I could really connect with the characters they set out. Now, on the personal side, a great influence was my mother and older sister. NAG NAG NAG…”You need to publish that!” was screeched at me a lot. :D

What was your favourite piece of writing advice?

Never rush things. Too many mistakes can be made. Also, write every day, whether it’s a blog entry, a gaming story, or reaching a word count on a story. If you don’t see fresh entries on my blog for a few days, you can pretty much bet that I’m working on a role play thread/story, or I’m working on my next book.

If you could send one Tweet back in time to your younger self, what would you say? And would you listen?

I’d tell myself “Slow down, you silly ass. Quit rushing.” And no, I probably wouldn’t listen. I’m a rebel like that. :D

What’s the logline for your book?

Vampires, demons, war and voodoo. One little fierce vampire defies all that might redeem her, until finally she meets her match. Not your typical vampire story!

Do you take part in a writing circle, either online or in real life?

Hmm..not really. I mean, I role play game, that’s a little like a writing circle, but specific groups, no, I know I should. I’m shy around new people, and ooze low self esteem sometimes. I’m working on it!

and finally,

What’s the one word you always type wrong?
‘separate’ I always want to write ‘seperate’. >_<
Thanks for your honesty Zoe! Now, to learn more:
Author Bio:
Zoe Ambler hails from Enterprise, Alabama. She’s 44 years old and broke through into writing by way of role-play gaming, which she still loves to this day.
She has traveled the world, being a ‘military brat’, but always finds her way back home. Her hobbies include sketching, playing violin (badly), collecting oddities and office supplies. Zoe is often found spoiling her fat cat and obsessing over coffee and the coming zombie apocalypse.
Book cover
Zoe’s first book is called “The Road of Darkness”. Here’s what you need to know about it:
The Road of Darkness is the story of Addison. She’s a young Southern Belle in early 1700 Louisiana with a love for Voodoo. She’s a child of privilege, but never really let it go to her head. She was always a little odd.
On an innocent outing, Addison falls prey to a supernatural predator. A vampire. He attacks and turns her, then leaves her to lost and alone with this new hunger for blood. However, unlike most, she embraces this new ‘life’. She finds delight in it. A darkness grows within her.
Like any young vampire left to fend for themselves, she stumbles in her new existence. She meets others here and there, and the world of the paranormal opens up to her.
Due in part to her thrill of bloodlust, she becomes fascinated with war. Soon she is moving from country to country, war to war. Man’s evolution and technology in the art of warfare intrigues her.
Through her time and adventures, she has fleeting bits of both happiness and sorrow. The darkness within her will only allow her so much happiness.
Her link with all things Voodoo brings her into the servitude of the Baron Semedi, demi-god of the Underworld. A deal gone bad. It only serves to deepen that darkness.
Where can you find “The Road of Darkness”?
And where can you find out more about Zoe and what she’s up to?
Best of luck with “The Road of Darkness” Zoe, and I look forward to seeing the sequel soon!

Spotlight: Auther/Playwright Damian Trasler

Damian Trasler:

Honoured to appear on Zoe Ambler’s blog and website today! I’m here all week! Watch out for my return questionnaire appearing soon!

Originally posted on Zoe Ambler - Author:

We welcome our first playwright this week! Exciting for me!

Dim reads

Welcome Damian Trasler!

We’re going to get my silly questions out of the way before digging into the good meat of things!!!

10 Questions, Zoe style…
1. What is your writing process?
I sit at the keyboard and then make coffee. Then I sit at the keyboard and drink coffee. Then I look at the internet and drink coffee. At some point, usually while one of my kids has required me to go and sit in a cold ice rink for an hour, I write the words that are pounding round my head and then feel ridiculously pleased with myself. Sometimes those words are a play script that I send to my publisher, www,lazybeescripts.co.uk

2. What do you read for pleasure?
I love Science Fiction, and am a particular fan of John Scalzi, but any well-written book is good. I…

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Doing everything right and STILL not rich…?

Why do you want to be a writer

Some of the best advice I’ve heard about writing comes through my friends on Google +. I know, I know, you’ve heard it’s a ghost town and everyone’s on Ello this week, but seriously, no. They’re there, they’re active, and they have created a busy and self-supporting community.

Amongst the many writers I follow, there are some who work as developmental editors as well as writers. One of these, until recently, was R.J.Blain. In her latest blog post, she explains exactly what happened when she decided to go full-time as a writer, and what the financial implications have been.

If you are thinking of becoming a writer, read this post. If you are currently writing and dreaming of riches, read this post. If you have ever been jealous of someone who is a writer, read this post.


You don’t have to be depressed or downcast as a result, but I hope it will help people understand that the E.L.James’ of this world are few and far between. You CAN make your book look professional with a good cover. You can ensure the content has been finely edited and thoroughly proofread. You can work every contact you have in social media and whatever is your equivalent of real life, but you still cannot guarantee success.

I want to stress again, R.J. Blain is not posting this to say “Hey, look, what a car crash!” She’s putting all her effort into producing some damn good books, and I believe things will turn around for her soon. But the effort she has put in so far is way, way beyond what 90% of writers would be willing to do, and she has continued beyond the point where many many others would have thrown in the towel. So as well as professional standards, native talent and a passion for writing, add grit and determination to your writer’s armoury, or admit you’re just a hobbyist.