Sunday Round-Up – 11/10/2015

Hey guys, I know the round up is normally posted Saturdays, but I was unbelievably busy yesterday and so it’s coming to you today instead. So, what’s new this week?

Fiction Friday is back. But it’s a little different, this time I’ll be serialising longer stories every week. You can check out the first part of Balancing the Books here. It’s a spooky little tale that will be playing out over three weeks, with an eBook release in time for Halloween.

#Drawlloween continues, I’ve been posting the pictures to the blog pretty regularly, but I’ve also moved away from posting here each and every day. I’m trying to keep stuff like that more to twitter for now. Here’s yesterday’s drawing, the subject was “Alien.”

Drawlloween10

 

And there’s another Timeshare strip of course… You can head on over to the site to read through, or check out this week’s comic below.

This week’s Those Aren’t Biscuits is now live,  this week we talked about our favourite music, corny 80s cartoons, and I demonstrated my lovely singing voice. Check it out here.

And last but not least, my Youtube channel is doing really well right now. It’s growing faster than ever, and you can head there to see me Let’s Play vids of games like Minecraft, Dead Rising, Outlast (if you’re brave.) Or, if you fancy something a little more bitesize, check out this wonderful moment where fellow Biscuits- Host Jon and I finally took down the AT-ATs in the Star Wars Battlefront Beta. It was a beautiful moment.

Saturday Round-Up 03/10/2015

Alright, it’s time for the Saturday Round-Up, where I do my best to catch you up on what has been going on inside the blog and out.

First of all, my Youtube channel has had a great week. The Dead Rising livestream has been going every day, check out the archives here if you’d like to see what it’s all about. There have been a few setbacks (read: Zombie Deaths) but I’m hoping to finish off shortly and see what’s next. However, I don’t just play zombie apocalypse sims. This week I also played a little of Minecraft: Pocket Edition.  I’ve never really played Minecraft before, so that was a learning experience for me, but I quite enjoyed it. Check it out below:

#Drawlloween has Begun! I’d never heard of this event before, but I’m having a great time. The goal is to draw a different spooky creature ever day of the month. Check out my attempts here, or follow along on twitter.

Drawlloween Ghost

And the comic continues, of course. This week’s Timeshare strip was first drawn seven weeks ago and then added to the queue. It is still my favourite so far, but please do go and check out the rest anyway.

This week’s Those Aren’t Biscuits Podcast got all serious, as we discussed the nitty gritty of advertising in public, then we bitched about Gotham and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. We also discussed graffiti, jury duty and all the usual trans-atlantic cultural differences. Listen here.

That’s about it for this week, but next week sees the return of Fiction Friday and a new blog post. See you then!

Those Aren’t Biscuits – 039 – The Pig and the Prime Minister

"Run Boys, the PM is coming!"
“Run Boys, the PM is coming!”

Hey guy, it’s podcast time again. I’m trying to get back in the habit of posting podcast updates and similar hear again. With that in mind, it’s time for episode 39 of Those Aren’t Biscuits, the show in which Jon and I discuss pop culture from a trans-atlantic perspective.

In this week’s exciting episode of Those Aren’t Biscuits we tackle David Cameron’s ham sandwich, the Metal Gear Solid musical, Jon’s latest quest FOR JUSTICE and Owen gets all preachy.

You can subscribe to the show on iTunes, add it on Stitchervisit the homepage page, or download directly.

How I learned to embrace little habits.

I am a terrible procrastinator.

I always I have been. I’m not sure why. I suffer from a terrible discordance between the person I’d like to be, and the person I am. In my mind, I am a true renaissance man. Artist, writer, pundit and politician. Thinker, doer, adventurer. Equally at home publishing his own fine collection of short stories or painting pretty little still-lifes for the whole world to enjoy. In reality,  I fight a never ending battle against my own laziness. I have some achievements under my belt, a few things I’ve done I’m pretty happy with and a few ongoing projects that I really think could become something. The problem is I’m just not one of those people who finds it hard to do nothing. Some people get itchy at the idea of doing nothing, the get bored and irritable, they need to work at all times. I wish I was one of those people. I have to rely on other tactics. (Mostly guilt.) I’ve said it before, there are lots of things I enjoy, lots of things I quite like to do. I love the feeling of having created, of being proud of something and being able to put it out there. There are some things I love the process of. I can become totally absorbed in art. Drawing and painting would be enormous time drains, if only they paid the rent.

But getting started? Getting up in the morning with a to-do list and happily working through it until the sun sets. Working without pining for a time when I can put it all away and vegetate in front of Netflix while my waistband steadily expands. Well. I’m not that person. And I’ve fought against it. As a child, society helped. Go to school, do your homework, don’t be late. I was kicked and shoved begrudgingly into something the resembled an organised life, but the older one gets. The longer we are left to our own devices, the less we can count on society to mould our lives into shape. When the plaster is removed, some of us turn out to be exquisitely sculpted clay, but I ended up as something squidgier. I’ve been trying to mould myself ever since.

The first failure was in trying to fix everything at once. I would have phases of firing on all cylinders all at once. For a while, the shape would stick. I would work hard, without stopping, on everything I wanted to achieve all at once, and tidy the house at the end of the day too. The results were predictable. My life would stop and start, I’d oscillate between moments of giddy, productive joy and utter, depressing mediocrity.

Things changed when I went into writing. At first I tried to do it all at once, I was going to write the greatest novel ever written, and I was going to do it in three months, self publish it and live off the fat cheques that followed. It didn’t work out like that. I got half way through the first draft, burned out and never returned to it. My next attempt wasn’t much better. Eventually I realised I just didn’t have the stamina to write what I wanted to write. I was like a Sunday jogger trying to run a marathon. I switched it up, I decided to go into training. I set myself a very modest goal of writing 500 words a day. The 500 words became 1000, then 2000 and eventually 3000. (Oh how I miss those days.) It changed the way I wrote, and it changed the way I saw my own progress. For once, I’d stuck with something and I actually felt like I was growing. It affected me in other ways too, just getting up in the morning and writing first thing put a different spin on my whole day. Of course, I still kicked and screamed my way through everything else I had to do, but I had one solid goal under my belt already that day. It was a step forward. Progress, if nothing else.

Since then, when taking to something new, I’ve always tried to break it down into little daily goals. Little habits to build. I find it much easier to approach everything I have to do if I take it one tiny decision at a time, and at the end of the day, I can look back and see what those decisions added up to. If I let it expand, if I try too hard to worry about the big picture, I get overwhelmed. I shut down. The lazy gland kicks in and I want to hide from my to-do list. Over time, however, if I keep working at these little decisions, they become habit. The brain heads to them without thinking, until you can almost work on autopilot. After a little while, I found I was one of those people who couldn’t go too long without writing before they started to get itchy feet.

I’m still a terrible procrastinator. I have to resist the tendency to slack off every day. I’ve had to learn that what I want, and what I think I want, aren’t always the same thing. I want to draw comics and read great books, I want to tell stories and make art and connect with people through these things. But most of the time, I think I want to crash in bed and watch TV. I know I don’t really want to do it, because if I give in to that temptation I end up hating myself for it. I don’t feel happy again until I can work closer to that goal. I’ve been in a slump with writing for a few months now, I haven’t written as much as I should. I’ve started lots of other projects, but they’re all easier, more comfortable. I’ve let the challenging things slip while I worry about leaving my job, and where to go moving forward. It has been a while since I worked on my little habits, but I know where I need to go from here.

A little writing every day, a little blogging every day, a little around the house, and the rest will take care of itself.

Introducing Timeshare – A Webcomic

Hey guys,

timeshare7
Probably my favourite so far.

As you know, I’ve been getting back into art lately. Part of that has been relearning to use a wacom tablet and finally teaching myself some decent graphics software. As part of that, I’ve been producing a weekly webcomic for the last five weeks now. I’ve mostly kept it on the quiet because it has been quite a learning experience, but the next few weeks of comics scheduled have been work I’m really happy with so it’s time to start sharing it around. The comic is available here, and updates Saturdays. Read on for a bit of a taster.

 

Timeshare is about a guy whose roommate is a time traveller. At the moment it’s a simple self contained gag-strip but I’ve got a few cool ideas for running storylines.

 

The art is a little clunky in these early strips, but by around strip 9 or 10 (already drawn and queued up) I start to settle in a little more and get comfortable with the characters.

Feel free to leave me any feedback, I’d love to know how you think I could improve. Thanks

A Quick Round Up

Hey guys, I know updates have been a little thin on the ground lately but with me leaving my job and setting off in bold new directions (TBA) it has been a bit of a hectic few weeks. I just wanted to stop in to give you a quick update on how things have been going and what you can expect in the upcoming weeks and months.

Firstly, I’m changing up how I get my writing out there. For a while now I’ve been writing short stories, Novels during NaNoWriMo and little bit of flash fiction, and I’ve generally taken the approach of posting the Flash Fiction in the blog and hoarding everything else while I find time to edit it. I want to get in the habit of producing a little bit more and really working my reluctant Rewriting bones. With that in mind, I’m going to move on from the flash fiction for a bit and try to really produce longer, 5000 word-ish stories and post those up straight to the blog too. I’m also considering leaving them there permanently rather than pulling them when I publish to Amazon. In the past, I’ve enrolled books in KDP select but the benefits for that programme are a little thin on the ground these days. Even free book days have declined, barely generating the spikes in the graph they used to. So, all things considered, I think I have more to gain by leaving stuff here to draw in readers. Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.

Secondly, I’ve been trying to get back into art and cartooning. For years I was interested in webcomics but I’ve never really had the time I want to devote to it. I’m hoping to get back into it shortly, but I’ll give you more info about that later. With that in mind, I’ve been digging out some of the more recommended books on developing one’s artistry. My first stop was the highly recommended Drawing of the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I have never been that great at drawing from sight, but after a couple of exercises I was producing pictures like these!

Superman SketchGarfield Sketch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Superman’s donning a bit of an afro, but I was still very impressed. The book is still in print and I really recommend it if you’re interested in upping your drawing skills. I’m hoping to keep it up, as well as branching out into painting, so expect to see a lot more art posted here among the writing.

Lastly, I’ve been trying to make a little out of my free time. I’m usually spending my downtime playing games, and I’ve been branching out into youtube. So, if you want to see me do a really bad job playing The Elder Scrolls: Arena, or do a slightly better job at Sim City 4, then check out my Youtube channel and let me know what you think .

So, that’s that. I’m going to be more diligent about updates from this point on, and I’ll be keeping you up to date with more outside the writing, but I today I just wanted to remind you I’m alive, and still creating wherever I can!

Introducing British Gamer

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 18.45.26

Hey guys,

I have a small announcement today. As you know, I’ve been running this blog for all my various interests for a few years now, but my main focus has always been on promoting my writing. Still, I’m a gamer and I love writing about what I’m playing, and in the past that has all gone here too. Lately I’ve been starting to feel like that sort of stuff doesn’t really it as well. I’ve been wanting to get deeper in the subject of games and share from my Youtube channel a little more, but I’ve been put off because it has felt like a bad fit.

So, I started a new blog for all that stuff. There’s not much to look at just yet, but it’s going by the very original title of British Gamer, and if you’ve been coming here for my gaming posts, you’ll want to go there instead. Let me know what you think.

Why I’m Quitting My Job.

The letter is signed.

The envelope is sealed.

Today I’m handing my notice in. I work there for another four weeks and then I’m gone forever. Oh, and I don’t have a new job to go to yet. I know a lot of you will think I’m crazy, but I’ve reached the point where staying put seems like a bigger risk than leaving. I graduated University in 2009 with BA in English Literature and no plan for the future. Like a lot of people back then, I ended up taking any job that fit in with my circumstances, and so for the last five years I’ve worked for a supermarket. In that five years, I have never applied for another job and, outside of writing, haven’t pursued alternative sources of income.

I don’t like my job, and it doesn’t pay well, but it provides just well enough that I’m not hungry. I’ve let myself get apathetic, and by sticking to a job that barely pays the bills, I’ve stopped myself looking for jobs that ask me to contribute what I’m really capable of, and jobs that pay me what I’m worth. It’s a risky decision, but I’m starting to understand that a risky decision is not always an irresponsible one. Taking the time to find what you really want to do in life might cost you money in the short term, but not as much as spending the rest of your life doing something that doesn’t make you happy.

For the first time since graduating, I feel excited about my future. I have no experience outside of retail, and that will hold me back, but at the same time I’m seeing opportunities to connect with people and work in ways that I was oblivious to before. I feel more positive about myself, and my potential to survive without a uniform and name badge. Just deciding to shake things up and forge a new direction for my life has given me back my self esteem in a way I hadn’t really felt possible.

Now, I’m a realist. I know positive thinking and good feelings alone don’t pay the bills, and I know I’m lucky enough to be able to take this risk. There are plenty of brilliant, wonderful, people working in jobs like mine who couldn’t afford to do the same. I’m so grateful that I could afford to go a few months without a paycheque if I absolutely had to, but I might never be in that position again. It’s now or never.

I doubt I’ll feel this positive in a fortnight, but I’ll keep you posted with how I’m getting on. For now, I hope my rambling post of half-formed observations and (probably misjudged) excitement wasn’t too self-indulgent.

Until next time.

(And if you’d like to hire a 27 year old English Lit graduate with decent writing skills, excellent computer literacy, a fondness for terrible jokes, and a weekly podcast about nothing in particular: Email Me.)

Batman: Arkham Knight Illustrates Why Change Sucks Sometimes.

Oh Arkham Knight, what happened.

Back where it all began...

In a world of cookie cutter sequels and grey First-Person Shooters, Rocksteady’s Arkham series has been like a beacon in the fog, a light at the end of the tunnel. A comic book superhero series that merges multiple genres, and some of the most beloved characters into a beautiful experience for comic book fans. Before 2009’s Arkham Asylum, I had never played a game that felt so true to its source material. I probably still haven’t. Well paced, well written and lovingly designed, I still think it’s one of the greatest games ever made.

A sequel was inevitable, and while I didn’t love Arkham City quite as much, (perfection is hard to reproduce) the same attention to detail and affection for the characters was felt throughout. The series went open world, but the same attention to pacing, the same respect for restraint, the same care permeated every decision. Arkham City was a more ambitious title, and it lost a little cohesion in the process, but it knew what worked in Asylum and it tried to build on that. Even Arkham Origins, developed by WB’s side team managed to work with the formula and strike out in a few original directions. It was clearly a B-List title, but we all knew when Rocksteady got their final chapter out, they’d blow us all away again. Be careful what you wish for.

Batman-Arkham-Origins

It has been three weeks, and I’m still blown away. I’m blown away by how misjudged Arkham Knight is, I’m blown away by how such an anticipated game can be such a catastrophe on PC, and I’m blown away by how much of a mess the game is, even when it’s working how it should. How did the game get this way? In a word; Batmobile.

Arkham-Knight-Shot-01Batman’s iconic car has made a couple of appearances in the series before, but never as a playable vehicle. Perhaps anticipating series fatigue, in the run up to release, Rocksteady started shouting about the Batmobile to whoever would listen. It was playable, you could drive it anywhere in the city, call it at any time, use it in combat. What they didn’t tell us was that you would be forced to do all these things, all the time. All the bloody time. And more, a good third of the game is actually a tank combat game, forcing you to blow enemy tanks to pieces. Of course, Batman doesn’t kill, so the game goes to great lengths to remind us these are “unmanned drones” in a gratuitous example of writing a game around a stupid decision. The Batmobile permeates every part of the game. In the past, the Riddler set the Dark Knight fiendish riddles and complex brainteasers. This time around, most of the “puzzles” are basically race tracks. Occasions where Batman would pull down a beam or a pipe with a belt gadget have now all been replaced with lengthy car sections in which Batman must open doors and lower ramps to that he can use the winch on the car. It is no understatement to say that the Batmobile is Arkham Knight’s single most prominent feature. It is the focus of the game, it is a Batmobile game every bit as much as it is a Batman game.

936786And it’s such a shame because the Batmobile can be fantastic. Calling it at any time, using it to trump obstacles in an unscripted situation is exciting, and very rewarding. But when it’s forced upon you, it feels more like being forced to take your little brother with you to the mall. Nobody wants it around, and you can’t have any fun with it there, but you’re stuck with it. And like your cringe-inducing parents telling you what a great time you’ll have, the game itself keeps trying to sell you on the concept. Gliding over passing goons and nine times out of ten you’ll hear them discussing just how cool the Batmobile is. It has the effect of making Rocksteady sound massively insecure about the whole thing while all the time they’re cramming it down your throat.

If you want to see it for yourself, here’s me “enjoying” one of the first extended Batmobile sections:

 

Game developers are in a difficult position. Customers want sequels, they want their favourite properties to keep going, but nobody wants to play the same game over and over. The players, and the press, demand “innovation” and the publishers and the marketing department wants new gadgets to throw on the box. It can be hard to get the balance right, but the most successful franchises (Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, etc.) have been those that found ways to innovate without disrupting the core formula. When they do (Assassin’s Creed III, for example) sales often take a hit, but it’s hard to think of a sequel that has changed the formula as much as Arkham Knight has.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that somewhere, underneath the tires of the Bat-Tank, there’s a very good game in Arkham Knight. Not on PC, of course, but if you’re lucky enough to play on consoles, then at times you’ll see some of the best set-pieces in the series so far. There’s a character driven sub-plot that, while the ending is super-obvious to anyone who has read a comic recently, is really well handled. The voice acting is pretty great, and there’s a first-person opening sequence that really captures the feeling of Gotham in Rocksteady’s eyes. There are long, extended sections where you aren’t allowed to take the Batmobile (and you’re supposed to feel sad about this) where the game really comes alive. Unfortunately, another tank combat sequence isn’t far away.

But in the end Arkham Knight is not a good game. It’s like a great painting with cartoon ducks scribbled over the top, and they’re nice ducks, and one or two ducks look like they’re part of the picture, but the rest of the ducks cover everything up so you can’t appreciate the painting, and they’ve painted in a sign saying “look at those fucking ducks.”


My Home Town – How Morley Fell to the Tories after 80 Years

“For the first time since they had arrived, Mary Curtis woke without surprise. She knew that when she opened her eyes, she would be in the hotel bedroom and not at home.”

Ed Balls conceding to Andrea Jenkyns
Ed Balls conceding to Andrea Jenkyns

Thus begins an unpublished novel my father wrote some time in the 60s or 70s. I’m not sure which, I didn’t turn up until 1987. Dad was in his sixties by then. It is a sensation I am all too familiar with, waking up without knowing where you are. My parents were separated before I was born, I travelled back and forth between homes so much, I got used to never being quite certain where I will wake up. Mum moved around a lot, I’d lived in so many houses by the time I was 11, I couldn’t really describe any of them to you. Dad lived in the same little house that his family had lived in since it was built.

We’re a few days past the election now, and I’m having that same sensation. It takes me a few moments to remember something has changed. For a lot of people, things haven’t changed. The distinction between the coalition government of the past and the conservative government of the future will be subtle, but painful. While we are all gradually waking up to the reality of one of the most surprising elections in years, I am forced to think of things a little closer to home, because in a world of unexpected changes, the things that happen the closest can often be the most surprising.

Most people probably haven’t heard of Morley. First mentioned in the Domesday Book, these days it is a mostly unremarkable town that made the papers after Ed Balls was narrowly ousted by Andrea Jenkyns after a lengthy recount that finally concluded at 8 in the morning. It was, we heard, a stunning condemnation of Labour’s economic policies by the nation, a clear support for the Conservatives, one more blow against Labour, one more seat in a Tory majority. The papers have dwelled on Andrea Jenkyns, the peasant that toppled a giant, but little has been said about Morley, and just how remarkable a switch this has been.

You might be mistaken for thinking that Morley’s only significant contribution to British politics was being the birthplace of H. H. Asquith. Certainly, if you’ve lived in the town for any significant period of time, it’s easy to get that impression. Asquith lends his name to a prominent street, and his birthplace is a fairly prominent location. Spawning the Prime Minister best known for leading Britain in to the First World War is certainly no small achievement, but often overlooked is Morley’s role in the development of the early Labour Party. As part of the small cluster of Yorkshire Textile towns, Morley and its people were there at the start. Founding member of the Independent Labour Party, Ben Turner, represented Morley twice during the 20s and 30s, and together with Batley, Bradford and a number of smaller towns and communities, they formed the foundation upon which the modern Labour Party would be built.

Socialism runs in my family. When my Dad was a boy, he noticed my Grandfather kept a small book hidden in his jacket pocket, and was careful not to let other people see it. My Dad was surprised, because he had been under the impression my grandfather couldn’t read. When he got chance, he snuck a look at the book, finding a copy of Robert Tressel’s 1911 political novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists. The novel, a detailed examination of capitalism and a call-to-arms for socialists, was widely distributed among the working class. Often discreetly, for fear of reprisals. Of course, my Dad didn’t know that at the time. For years after, he assumed the book was pornographic.

With people like my grandfather in the electorate, the Conservatives didn’t stand much of a chance. The last Conservative MP was Wilfrid Wills, soldier during both World Wars and a member of the Wills Tobacco family. Wills left office in 1935, and for the next 80 years, Morley had Labour MPs as its representatives.

So what changed?

Like a lot of other towns in the North, Morley gradually lots its purpose. Traditional industry was hurt in the 70s and 80s under Thatcher, the same as the rest of the North. The repurposing of Leeds for predominantly financial sector businesses changed the makeup of the town, but the killing blow came in the construction of the White Rose Shopping Centre in 1997. Championed as a boon for the local economy, it bolstered New Leeds but slowly ate away at businesses in Morley until everyone but supermarkets and charity stores gave up entirely. Today Morley isn’t much more than a shell, a quiet place to live for people working in Leeds and the surrounding areas.

This is where Andrea Jenkyns comes in.

I couldn’t tell you much about Andrea Jenkyns. Not many people can. She’s fairly new to politics and what there is to know mostly comes from her campaign. Born in 1974, she left school to work in retail, starting as a Saturday girl to management level. She worked in retail for fifteen years, before doing a variety of things including a modest singing career, self-employed music tutor, and a short stint as a councillor in Boston before being removed for maintaining a second job. Her only connection to Morley is a brief stint as a retail manager at the White Rose Centre at some point in the 1990s.

In many ways Andrea Jenkyns is a missing piece of the puzzle. She doesn’t live in Morley, but she represents so many of the people who do now. Career retail managers commuting to the centre, financial sector professionals travelling in and out of Leeds. As the Labour party lost its identity in the 1980s, so did Morley, and as its traditional community moves on or passes away, it ceases to exist as anything more than a point on the map between three cities. And a place like that can’t be a safe seat for any party. In the New Morley, it seems oddly fitting that she should be Labour’s replacement.

In January 2014, my Dad died a week before his 88th birthday. He died within walking distance of the home he was born in, owning little else but the house I grew up in. For me, he became the final condemnation of the British class system. A man who wrote beautiful poems, and drew wonderful pictures. Who studied dictionaries and encyclopaedias and maps. He was one of the cleverest, kindest people I ever knew and he lived and died on the bottom rung of the ladder, proud to say he never stepped on anyone to get a little higher.

I have always been what you might call a reluctant Labour voter. I turned 18 in 2005, after two wars and a few years before an imminent expenses scandal. I lived through New Labour. My Dad was not so easily shaken. He voted in every election, every time, and he voted Labour. Not because he approved of New Labour, but because he’d seen Labour almost from the start, and feared for a Britain without them. When he died, Labour lost one of its safest voters, and while one pensioner could not sway an election, I can’t help connecting the two in my mind.

This year the Greens used a slogan “Labour isn’t Labour Anymore.” It’s probably true. But then, how could they be? The places where Labour was born no longer exist and voter turnout is at an all time low among the demographics Labour was created to represent. After all, Morley isn’t Morley anymore. Not for me, anyway. And if working class communities exist, like those my Dad was raised in, I don’t know where to find them.