It’s been quite a while since I had a new story to share online. It’s hard to be too upset about that given that it’s primarily down to some recent successes – crowdfunding Ten Little Astronauts takes up a great deal of my time, and I’m currently sorting out a contract for Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure with a different publisher – but still it seems like a shame.
Another factor in this (and it’s somewhat related to the whole Exponential Adventure thing) is that my work recently has taken a step away from self-contained, linear stories and towards more nebulous interactive pieces, whether I’m putting together Twine games all by myself or whether I’m approaching bigger videogame developers about the possibility of working with them. Amazing as it is to have a hand in something like Craft Keep VR, all the time I spend lining up opportunities like that is time I can’t spend knocking together a short story or chipping away at a novel. And that got me thinking: maybe I can use one of these things to tackle the other?
That’s where Project Pythias comes in.
Essentially, though Project Pythias can’t “think” as such – it doesn’t actually aim to produce anything funny or surprising – it can grasp that Captain Redundancy appears only in stories in which his presence is redundant, and that Girth Loinhammer is supposed to be intimidating but ends up being sexy, and when stories follow some sort of formula like that, it’s reasonably good at identifying and reproducing it.
It’s also still pretty buggy, by the way: you might see an occasional error message, but I’m actually really struggling to work out what’s going wrong. For the most part, you can just ignore those. However, DON’T tick the box to “prevent this page from generating additional dialogs” if it appears. Those dialogs are necessary for Twine to run.
I’m putting this out there partly as a way of offering some new stories to you guys, but as well as that I’m hoping to further refine Project Pythias‘ output. At the moment they’re essentially just outlines, but with some feedback and a few weeks’ work I think I could have this thing generating stories approaching 1,000 words. I’m not exactly going to count on it to tackle Flash Fiction Month for me, but if time is short this July I might set it loose on the ordinary days and just focus on the challenges myself. I’m already relying on automation more and more. If you don’t believe me, consider this: I’m at EGX right now! Today! This very minute, even! WordPress posted this all by itself (under my instruction, of course).
Anyway, here’s that link again. Give it a try, and tell me what you think. If everything works out, there’s a good chance Project Pythias will be producing all my short fiction by 2018.
I realise we’re halfway through March at this point, but wow is that second half packed full of things to do! If you fancy meeting me in person, you’ll have plenty of chances over the coming couple of weeks (though it helps if you’re currently in the southern half of the UK). Here’s what’s coming up, in order:
Truth is Like a Lazarus Launch
(University of Reading [Van Emden Theatre, HumSS Building], 6pm Monday 20th March)
I got my BA it the University of Reading, and after getting in touch to let them know about my recent success with Ten Little Astronauts, I was invited to submit something to this year’s Reading Creative Arts Anthology, Truth is Like a Lazarus; or, A Roof Bursting with Stars. That something is in there now, and if you turn up in the Van Emden Theatre at 6pm you’ll hopefully have the chance to hear me read it!
As an added bonus, the HumSS building is worth a visit in its own right: think “Hogwarts as imagined by M.C. Escher.” In my second year I almost missed a class because it took place on a floor I didn’t know existed. Fortunately, however, the Van Emden Theatre is up just one flight of stairs visible from the main entrance. Reading’s Whiteknights Campus is full of quirky things like this: it was very nearly declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest and has its own (obsolete) nuclear bunker. Well worth taking the time explore beforehand if you do decide to come to this event!
Winchester Comic Con
(Winchester Discovery Centre, 9am – 6pm, Saturday 25th March)
The first ever Winchester Comic Con is coming up, and I’ll be on the first ever author panel! I’m also one of the judges for the flash fiction competition, so if you fancy making a day of it then come prepared with a ≤100 word speculative fiction story. The competition is open to anybody with a ticket (which presumably you’ll need to get in there anyway, though it may be possible to pay on the door) and this is very much my kind of thing.
As you might expect from a nine-hour event, there’ll be lots going on. There’ll be guests from Harry Potter, Star Wars and Doctor Who, as well as the world’s leading Tintinologist (an expert on Tintin) Michael Farr. Also, it’s not certain at this point but I’m hoping fellow Unbound author Niall Slater will be there too.
(Tobacco Dock, London, 30th March – 1st April)
After having a really great time at EGX in September last year, I’ll be returning for EGX Rezzed at the end of the month! I say “returning” but actually this’ll be a fairly different event. For one thing it’s in London rather than Birmingham, and for another the focus is more on PC and indie titles such as Craft Keep VR, which will be on display there!
For anyone who hasn’t been following for a while, I first came across Craft Keep at EGX and, soon afterwards, ended up writing for it. That was a bit of a dream come true, really. EGX was the first games event I ever went to, and standing in the massive crowd heading in at the start of the first day, I never imagined I’d have my own work on show in the next one I went to. It was only an outside possibility even at the point I was on the train back home! I met a lot of great people at the last event (and bumped into a couple of people I’d already met at the Brighton Global Game Jam), and I’m hoping there’ll be a chance to catch up with at least some of them at this one.
As the “VR” in “Craft Keep VR” might imply, this is a virtual reality title and you’ll need a VR headset and motion controllers to play it. For most people (including me) then, an event like EGX is your main chance to give it a go. Tickets are available here, and they’re actually not too pricy considering the range of games you get to see! I gather that Rezzed will be more low-key than regular EGX – I’m not expecting to grab quite as many free T-shirts (if any) this time around – but even so you’re looking at three full days of gaming for less than the price of one current-gen console release. It’s certainly cheaper than buying an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive if you just want a go at Craft Keep VR!
And that’s it.
I’ve got a few more things planned over the last little while, quite a few of them related to Ten Little Astronauts, but none of those involve turning up places in person. Or at least, none of the ones that do really offer an opportunity to meet up with people. If you are planning to head to any of these, though – whether you’re near Reading or Winchester or fancy a trip into London for EGX – then let me know! It would be great to say hi.
There’s been a lot of interest in Ten Little Astronauts recently and thanks partly to a couple of really good events this month, a whole bunch of those draw places went pretty much overnight. And by “a whole bunch,” I honestly mean about half. They went fast.
If you didn’t put in your pledge in time (or if you did but weren’t that one lucky person who got the book), then no worries. There’ll be other giveaways, but on top of that I’m planning a slightly different reward to mark the 150 supporter milestone, and this one will go out to the first 150 supporters. All of them. Every single one.
As I say in the video above, the plan at the moment is to put together an interactive story (written in Twine, the same software I’ve used for just about all of my interactive works so far) set on board a gigantic spacecraft and featuring the first 150 supporters as its crew. A lot of Unbound authors offer a “name a character” reward but since that’s not an option for Ten Little Astronauts itself (which has exactly ten characters, all of them named after Agatha Christie’s ten from And Then There Were None), I feel as though this is a good way of giving everyone a mention in something else.
If you’ve already put in a pledge for Ten Little Astronauts, then there’s nothing more you need to do: I’ll be working on this new reward as the supporter count ticks up to 150. However, if you’d like to help more – and especially if there’s anyone whose name you’d like to see in this new work – then please encourage your friends to jump on board! They’ll also get their name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself once it’s published, but only the first 150 will get a place in this interactive story.
I’ve been writing interactive fiction using Twine for a few years now, but one thing that’s stuck with me is just how simple it was to get started and just how quickly that simple start led to bigger, more impressive things. In fact, starting out with Twine is actually easier now than it was when I first gave it a go, and in my opinion there’s quite a bit more you can do with it than there used to be. The software has changed a lot in the time I’ve been using it. Take a look!
On the left, My Name Algernon, written using Twine 1.4.2 and currently available to supporters of Ten Little Astronauts. On the right, Inquisition, seen here in Twine 2.1.1 and included in my flash fiction anthology, Robocopout. (Click the screenshots to see them full-size.)
There are a whole bunch of great Twine tutorials out there already, many of which already make the case that Twine is a great way for non-programmers to get into making games. However, as a non-programmer who has used Twine to get into making games, I feel as though I’m in a pretty good position to add one more to the mix. Here’s my comprehensive, foolproof guide to making your first game in Twine 2.1.1.
I’m not kidding about it being foolproof, by the way. I’ll be describing the entire process click-by-click, and I promise if you follow these steps exactly, you can have your first Twine story set up in literally four clicks. I can do it in three.
Another milestone, and this one’s a biggie! Ten Little Astronauts is now at 25% funding, meaning that we’re a quarter of the way towards getting the book professionally edited, designed, and finally distributed by Penguin Random House. This would be well beyond anything I’ve managed to do so far, and with the support behind it already it’s starting to look like a real possibility.
If you’re supporting Ten Little Astronauts already, you’ll now have access to a couple of rewards not available anywhere else. One is an audio recording of the first chapter, the other is the just-released My Name Algernon, a work of interactive science fiction quite different from anything I’ve written before. Since Ten Little Astronauts launched, I’ve been determined to make sure that the people who are generous enough to help it reach the bookshops get way, way, way more than their money’s worth, and there are more rewards on the way. When the campaign reaches 30%, I’ll be making available Harvest Moon, a short folk horror that you’re unlikely to have come across before, along with a brand new audio version of the same.
Before that, though, I’ll be running another book giveaway, this time for a copy of short story anthology Kicking and Screaming, which includes (among many other things) Harvest Moon itself. I’ll be sending out a signed copy to one of my first 125 supporters at random, which means that at the time of writing there are just 10 slots left. Those last few draw pledges went pretty quickly ahead of the 100 supporter giveaway, and I actually had a couple of people put in pledges right after the cutoff. Don’t hold off and get caught out!
Of course, if you’ve already put in a pledge for Ten Little Astronauts, then your name’s already in the hat. A couple of very generous people actually have their name in the hat twice, partly because it would be hard to keep track of the total otherwise, partly because I’m aware it’s fairly common for supporters to pledge on behalf of a friend.
Part of what makes reaching 25% funding such a big step is that it means there’s a huge group of people willing to put money towards making Ten Little Astronauts a reality, and I’m hoping they’ll be willing to help spread the word about it too. If everybody who’s put in a pledge so far found just one friend willing to do the same, we’d be literally halfway towards getting the book funded. That’s the stage we’re at now, and it’s huge! So seriously, thank you to everyone who’s supported it so far, and everyone who simply let someone else know the book exists: you’ve all made a massive difference.
You might have spotted my Mystery Thriller Week guest posts around the beginning of the month, which is to say you might have spotted guest posts from other people on my blog. However, you might not have seen the guest posts I wrote for other people’s blogs. Fear not! You can find all three of them right here:
Damon L. Weeks sounds like an interesting guy indeed, and I’d very much like to meet him someday. Just kidding: there’s probably some way for CJ Petterson of Lyrical Pens to fix that name-related slip-up, but it’s amusing enough that I’m happy for it to stay. This one’s a Q&A that’ll probably make for a neat introduction to my work if you’ve only just discovered it, but even if you’ve been following me for a while I hope you’ll find out some interesting new bits and pieces.
If you’ve already discovered Ten Little Astronauts, this excerpt on Christina Philippou’s blog will probably be familiar to you already: it’s “Eleven,” the opening section of my sci-fi murder mystery novella, and you can also find it on the publisher’s website. However, unlike that page over on Unbound, this guest post reveals why the book doesn’t start with Chapter One.
Saving the best for last, this post will be brand new to absolutely everyone: it’s a run-down of my top five favourite books! Though actually it’s more like a list of my joint favourites. It’s a list of my joint favourites that had to be whittled right down to just five. In true clickbait fashion, you WON’T BELIEVE which one (not pictured) allegedly has the power to open the gates of Hell!
If you didn’t catch the guest posts here on my own blog first time around, here they are again:
- MTW Guest Post: Khristina Atkinson Character Bio
- MTW Guest Post: Robbie Cheadle’s Advice on Poetry
- MTW Guest Post: Miriam A. Averna Q&A
These aren’t the sort of thing you’ll usually see from me (poetry advice especially!) so do have a look if any of them catch your eye: it’s very much a chance to explore something new. Also, if you’re interested in mysteries or thrillers – and if you’re here then I feel as though there’s a good chance you are – do keep an eye out for more good stuff during Mystery Thriller Week: it all gets started on February 12th, and I’ll be running a live hour starting 4pm EST on the 15th! I hope to see you there!
Another guest post today, this one a Q&A with Miriam A Averna. No Cure For Fear was one of the books that caught my attention early on the Mystery Thriller Week website (largely due to the cover, partly because I’m currently quite interested in mysteries involving drugs), so it’s great to have her on my very own blog!
Miriam A. Averna’s Work
Eddy Miller, a local graffiti artist and cocaine dealer, has only one goal – to save enough money for his terminally ill sister’s care. When a blast from his past, Ralph, makes him an offer he can’t refuse, he ignores his gut feeling and takes on a dubious medical trial. This, in exchange for a chance to keep all the profits from the sale of a synthetic type of cocaine. But when things start going wrong, will Eddy care enough to put a stop to the trial? And what really lies behind the secretive medical firm producing these drugs? Continue reading
You might already be aware that I’m taking part in Mystery Thriller Week with my sci-fi murder mystery, Ten Little Astronauts. Well, as part of the run-up to that event I’ll be doing something a little different over the next couple of days: guest posts! Each one of these will be a chance to discover a brand new author with a totally different story to tell. First up is Khristina Atkinson with a biography of her character, Nathan Reed. If you like what you see, do consider following Khristina to keep up with any news: there are links to her website and works at the end of this post.
Khristina Atkinson Author Bio
This weekend was Global Game Jam 2017, which means that much like last year I ended up spending the whole shebang knocking together a complete game in just 48 hours. Not on my own, though: that would be crazy! These things are best tackled as part of a team effort. Last year’s game was Brituals, a social-awkwardness simulator set in a hellish parallel Britain (playable here). This year’s was Undercurrent, a nautical interactive fiction piece featuring rhythmical Mexican-wave action. The theme for this year was “waves,” by the way, which will probably be apparent in the range of games produced for the event.
This video should give some idea of what the finished game might look like: impressive, no? Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get the whole thing put together in time for the presentations at the end, but basically all the elements were there. If you download the source code .zip file on the GGJ page, you’ll find what we’ve got so far. However, if you don’t feel like poking around with that, have no fear! I spent a frantic three or four hours at the end of the event implementing the entire game in Twine, complete with an approximation of our central Mexican wave mechanic. It doesn’t have any of the audio or eye-candy hinted at by the video above (in fact, anybody who spent a particularly long time trying to uncover the arcane meta-mystery of Project Proteus is likely to find the overall appearance of this game very familiar indeed), but it is playable beginning to end and should give some idea how the finished thing would actually behave.
I feel as though I managed to weasel my way into a really strong team this year. Laurence had a hand in the audio for Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and Mark is the guy behind the Posetastic drawing reference app. Fiona wrote the bulk of the actual story in the game (my main contribution was the nonsense island encounters), and Morrison tackled getting the interactive text into Unity. I’ll definitely be checking out how to do that myself because if I could manage even half of what he did, my interactive fiction would be at least 800% more stylish and flashy. Continue reading
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past!” announced the spirit standing before Scrooge’s bed.
“Yes,” said Scrooge, sitting up. “An old associate of mine—a Jacob Marley—warned me there was something strange in my neighbourhood.”
“Rise,” demanded the spirit, “and walk with me.”
“Oh no,” said Scrooge, sniggering. “This is something weird, and it don’t look good!”
The spirit couldn’t help but be a little unsettled by Scrooge’s look of mock horror. “I feel like you’re quoting something, but I’m not sure what it is. Also, don’t you think you should be a little more concerned about my visit?”
“Why?” asked Scrooge, resisting the urge to burst out laughing. “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!”
“What?” Suddenly, realisation dawned. “No,” breathed the spirit. “Oh, no!”
Just at that moment, Bill Murray burst out of the wardrobe and zapped the Ghost of Christmas Past with his ghost-busting proton beam.
“Thanks, Bill,” said Scrooge. “Same time tomorrow night?”