Leo X. Robertson

News of my latest publications, events, and episodes of the Losing the Plot podcast!

Something like a dedication

Three years ago yesterday, my wee dad, Charlie Robertson, passed away. It was sudden and (relatively) unexpected, but given that we all survived the heaviest grief, not the worst way to go out: having a lovely dinner with a friend in London, officially the most internationally convenient place for his three kids to fly from around the world, convene and sort out the funeral arrangements. So I guess my stance in retrospect is—could have been worse.

What followed the news of Dad’s passing was maybe a weird month of peace—shock, probably. I even tried to go into work the next day but they made me go home. I said, “I just want things to be normal.” They said, “Leo, this is not normal.”

Which didn’t make any sense to me. What’s more normal than a person dying? And what was I supposed to do at home anyway: feel really bad without distraction?

But I had no energy to debate, as you can imagine. I couldn’t be at work but I couldn’t be at home. I didn’t want to be anywhere at all, but there was no solace to be had. I get that. I was familiar with it, in fact, having already lost Mum. When I got the news about dad I thought, “Well, say goodbye to a year at least.”

After the month of peace came minutes upon hours upon days upon weeks upon months of excruciating pain, with the occasional eye-of-storm peace again—if only to ensure I stayed alive so the pain could keep feeding off me the next day. “When grief starts, it’s so big,” someone told me once, and I saw her looking up at it, the grief, as I once had. A big boulder of it crushing me into the ground. I’d get off the couch or bed and lie on the floor, where I found it comfiest. The place of least resistance.

You become the worst version of yourself: instantly embittered and blind to almost all good. People will kindly tell you, “No, you weren’t like that.” To which I think, “Oh yeah I was. But it seems like I managed to spare you from it, thankfully.” And at what cost? Perhaps I should’ve raged more, for what good it might have done.

You might do things while bereaved that scare you, that are unexpected or out of character. But this is emergency mode: the point is not, currently, to build a good life but to get to tomorrow. You would have to do something pretty bad for me to judge you.

I’m aware I’m not holding anything back, here. But this is par for the course of any standard grieving experience, and the bereaved don’t have energy to care how hard it is to hear. The least we can do for the grieving is listen without judgment. That it’s scary to others is far from the point. Besides, it shouldn’t be. This experience might have been unbearable—seemed unbearable, since it evidently wasn’t—but I don’t think there was anything special about me for having survived it. You could do it too.

When I lost my mum, I started writing, because she was an English teacher and loved books. My dad loved films, so I started a filmmaking club. I didn’t have any skills, but that hadn’t stopped me writing. I had a smartphone and nothing to lose. Success was being alive. Anything else was a bonus.

Eventually, once I was far enough away from being in so much pain I thought it would drive me mad, I wrote about it. This became Burnt Portraits, which I made over last Christmas with a newly developed skillset and, more importantly, new friends. (And it recently premiered at the Dead Northern Film Festival!)

Dad would be so proud. But if Burnt Portraits was written because of losing my Dad, then he and that work cannot by definition coexist, just as there’s no coexistence of my mum with the books of mine she would be proud of. But it’s nice to think you’re doing positive, rewarding things for yourself and others that you wouldn’t otherwise have done if something tragic hadn’t happened. It means you have managed what once you probably thought impossible: forging meaning out of apparent meaninglessness.

There is still a rawness close to my surface that has not yet dissipated. Like falling accidentally into cold water, that first gasp, and then you stay like that for years. If you want it to go, you just have to wait. And the way out is not back to how things once were but forward into something new, whatever that might be and no matter how tiresome it is to find.

I remember this from losing my mum, and I remember that it fades. But that takes time, and then some more time on top of that.So much of life is spent grieving and mourning. For paths that didn’t pan out, lost relationships, people you used to be that you liked being but can’t be again.

But because I know this to be a fact, I no longer find it sad. Most people have ten fingers, two eyes and spend a lot of time grieving. These are facts about humans. Why get mad that the sky is blue? It just is. Do you really like blue, or have you learned to like it because you had to? If you’ll never know, have no choice in the matter and have found a way for it to please you—what’s the difference?

When I die, in my honour I want you to go create all those things you kept talking about doing one day. Write that novel, start that company, call that loved one. Or whatever. You know what to do, you just pictured it. Then again, now would be the time to do it. All of us have limited time, but given the above, I have none at all for excuses!

My copies of Pulp Literature Spring 2021 arrived!

Free previews of my fiction just dropped!

Much to my surprise, two free previews of my work have appeared at the same time!

First was an extract from my short story, “Bar Hopping for Astronauts“, published in Pulp Literature‘s Spring 2021 edition. It’s about a lonely astronaut trapped in his achievements of yesteryear who, after a sudden trauma, is forced to reinvent himself once more. I’m very proud of this story: I put a lot of work into building its world, and it’s a pretty optimistic and sweet story (which from me are unfortunately rare, I’ll work on that :D)

Then there’s “Echo“, an upcoming novel of mine published by Stori. Echo is about a British ex-pat in Norway who starts a whirlwind romance with a guy she meets at a party. The sudden influx of drama in her life as a result is far from coincidental…

The first THREE chapters are available on the site for free!!

This is more typical of me—acerbic, blunt, and I imagine quite a shocker too! (It’s hard to shock me with it—I wrote it!)

Stori is a brand new outlet and app that’s launching soon and “Echo” is one of the launch titles! Isn’t that awesome? Here’s a sign-up sheet if you’re interested in joining. I’ll definitely check out the other titles!

Married for 10 years!

As of today, Juan and I have been married for 10 YEARS!!

Here is a photo of us in our same flat in Stavanger, taken in October 2014. I must have signed the mortgage papers some months earlier. I did not really understand them. I didn’t know how to calculate how much I had to pay per month or if I could. I was probably scared I couldn’t make the payments, so I chose—not to investigate further! I’m sure they explained all this to me at the time, but I was still in “fake it til you make it” mode and was probably too afraid to show that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Or thinking, “I’m supposed to pay for twenty five years? I AM twenty five! How am I supposed to bind myself to a decision like that?”

These last ten years have been, at times, TERRIFYING! Anyway, I guess I followed my intuition on that decision and that it was the right one. I don’t feel like I have a very strong intuition, but there are a few times when it has been correct and I have known it enough to make big decisions I did not fully understand that later proved themselves to pay off.

At age 13 it told me, “You’re gay.” I thought, “Fuck. Okay. Ugh.*” Sometimes people have asked me how I knew—was it someone I was attracted to? No, it was my brain saying “You’re gay you’re gay you’re gay” over and over. If I hadn’t taken it to be a fact I might have thought it was bullying me. But it was right!

Just a few weeks after I had met Juan, my intuition told me, “This guy has to stay in your life forever. Best case as your partner, but you could also settle for friend.” I was like, “Bit of a practical way of telling me I’ve found my soulmate but okay, noted**.”

And hey, it was right about that too.

I don’t know how we got through the last ten years alive, let alone together. Jesus, I lost both my parents, which I could choose to ruminate on until I never stopped screaming about how unfair it is—but unfortunately I have to park that thought forever if I want to, say, enjoy a morning coffee or play videogames. I hope loss provides others with some resilience, but I don’t think it does, given that each loss is unique. For me, the second loss was even worse. I think because I’d erroneously lured myself into feeling like we were done with the whole “losing a parent” thing for a few decades at least. We’d already punched that hole in the family suffering score card. But apparently not. What the fuck, universe?! Maybe the universe provideth me such a lovely partner before either of these losses so I could better get through them, but it feels unfair to test a young marriage with hurdles so enormous that even one of them can outright break a person.

But there was Juan by my side, just being Juan. A bundle of social energy and joy. An embodiment of gratitude. A personal champion. A big kid. Even in the worst times, never a day without laughter. A collector of objets that he imbues with favourite memories and meanings with which he fills our home. He didn’t need to do anything differently, anything more. Never does. I know who I married. That’s who I want.

And here we still are. Which gives me confidence we can weather anything together in future***.

There is surely a growing trend of people reconsidering marriage based on the fact that, no, you can’t know for sure that you and this other person will want the same things forever. This undoubted fact is often spouted, carelessly, by young men in their twenties who don’t read enough. They act like they’re the first people to have ever realised this. As opposed to only just realising what everyone has always known about marriage. What the kind partner who listens to them probably knows as they, nevertheless, collect wedding inspiration photos on a secret Pinterest board. It’s a leap of faith. One that I know was worth making.

It really helped me to remember at times that one day someone had signed a certificate to be with me forever when I felt, in the midst of hideous grief, that nobody wanted me around. You can’t know you’re doing it for that, can you? You’d hope you weren’t!

Ugh, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on, or why, or what to say about it. I know that I know way less than I thought I did ten years ago. Then again, enough has happened by now for me to forever be glad I civil partnershipped Juan, then upgraded to ruining the sanctity of marriage at a later date. Or would’ve ruined it if only I knew where our certificate was, it’s in a box somewhere…

Ten years ago, we didn’t need to know what the next ten years would hold for us. We just needed to know, and remember, that we really wanted to go through them together. In a best case scenario. But also settle for friend if needed ☺

*I hope to be part of one of the last generations who react that way about the news.

**In Alain de Botton’s brilliant book Essays in Love, he evaluates the statistical improbability of anyone finding their soulmate, disproving the concept from a mathematical perspective. Which I actually find pretty cool. I don’t think anyone sensible believes in the soulmate destiny thing—but I know that when you meet someone you can spend the rest of your life with, THAT’S HOW IT FEELS. And, my God, that’s good enough for me.

***But I already had that, so can I have my parents back? No? Right then. 

New story up at AntipodeanSF!

Hey all!

Here’s a new story from me up at AntipodeanSF—it’s called “The Headphones of Damocles” and is inspired by all my business trips from Oslo airport, seeing all the identically dressed men wearing wireless headphones.

It appeared late last year, and they did email me about it? But I thought only to let me know that some of my podcast narrations of other people’s stories were soon live—didn’t realise mine was also, haha!

Oh well. Here it is now. Enjoy!

New Video on Stavanger Filmmakers Channel!

We have a whole—up to 62 subscribers now!! So exciting 😀

To mark the occasion, I made a video mostly about my last year leading the Stavanger Filmmakers Club, what I’ve learned about creating, common pitfalls and what to expect 🙂

Hope you like it!


Leo 🙂

I did some acting!!

Hi all! I haven’t posted in a while but I did something pretty cool this evening: I acted in a project called Relate Theatre, here in Stavanger 🙂

Since I started filmmaking I’ve been taking every opportunity to get better at acting, and really anything filmmaking-related. I had a great time and it was a really insightful experience.

You can watch it here if so inclined! And please consider supporting Relate Theatre when they start their crowdfunding soon 😀

Stavanger Filmmakers Club: ORIGINS!

Hi all!

Long time no post 🙂

Just a quick update: I made a new video for the Stavanger Filmmakers YouTube channel on how/why I started the club. Enjoy!

Writing advice!

Who doesn’t love writing advice? Well, me, actually. I can’t remember the last time I, or really anyone I know, took advice. (I know one person who takes advice and he only takes it from like two people anyway.)
That’s one of many reasons that it takes a long time to become a good writer. Being a writer is, I think, more a question of temperament than anything. Artists in general are people who can’t really be told what to do. So then good advice is just annoying because if you want to follow it, you have to forget having read it and pretend you came up with it yourself.
Except recently a horror writer asked me if I had any tips! It was super flattering. Here’s what I told him, and we agreed to share it here in case it helps anyone else 🙂
So: I have a group of four writer friends and I send them my work for feedback. (Any more people than that and it gets confusing, at least for me.) I found my trusted people through Goodreads—LitReactor is a good source also, I think, though I haven’t used it myself. You might have to try a few different groups/options before you find “your people.” Might surprise you from reading my fiction, but I can’t stand snarkiness/meanness/ridicule—it’s so unhelpful/unnecessary when it comes to feedback—I respond better to gentle encouragement and refuse to accept anything else, haha. As for what feedback is useful, technical stuff like “There are too many passive sentences” or “The story doesn’t seem to begin until the third paragraph” is great. Nothing to be done about, “I object to the story you’re telling”, so, uh, just ignore it, maybe?
As for what to read: read the top litmags in/outside of your genres of choice and find the authors whose work you like. You probably already know them, but for horror, mags like Nightmare, Black Static, TheDARK and Unnerving Magazine are good places to start. Read stories once for enjoyment and read a second/third time to study. You don’t have to like everything you read, and if you’re anything like me, you probably won’t. But once you’ve found authors you do like, see if they have short story collections or other works to read. Using this method, I found Gwendolyn Kiste’s “And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe”, Naomi Kritzer’s “Cat Pictures Please” and Rich Larson’s “Tomorrow Factory.” (I’ve since been published alongside Gwendolyn Kiste and also Rich Larson—which I don’t think is a coincidence.) All these authors use mostly conventional story structures—beginning, middle, end—mostly short sentences with simple vocabulary, and deliver compelling original stories with new and complex ideas. I would bet that this is why they get published so often. (Not concerned with showing off their vocabulary or needless experimentalism—both things I used to love doing!)
You might like to know about my podcast, “Losing the Plot“, on which I interview authors and other creatives. It’s hosted by Aphotic Realm, who also have a magazine and enjoy publishing new authors—if you submit, they may even give you kind feedback also. Might be a great place to start! (Duotrope, The Horror Tree and Submission Grinder also useful sources of horror markets.) You could even start your own horror writer interview podcast—all you need is Skype and a mic. Authors are lovely people and almost all of them like to chat. Of all the many authors I’ve asked, only one or two said no—but even they responded!
All I do know is that there are no iron-clad rules when it comes to writing or advice that you “must follow.” (Well, that and that rejection really isn’t personal, unless 100+ editors a year really do want me to suffer, haha!)
Anyway, there are nothing but really good suggestions. I hope you find some of mine helpful. They’re all things I’ve done and continue to do, because I find, as all my favourite authors do, that writing is a lifestyle/continuous practice. It’s nice to think of it this way because, whether you get published tomorrow or in a decade, you’d still be doing the same thing anyway. Reading and writing, reading and writing.
Hope this is helpful to whoever read it! Have you picked up any tips you wanna tell me? Let me know! Cheers and best of luck with writing and all your endeavours 🙂

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