Before Ten Little Astronauts was launched by Unbound – submarine promo video and all – it formed the bulk of my work for an MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester. The way the course was weighted, that one project was just about as important as every other module combined. On top of that, in a move that I can only assume was intended to keep postgrads up all night to finish the thing, that final project would dictate the upper limit on your results. You could hand in the greatest works of literature ever devised for the smaller modules, then still end up disappointed on results day if the big one didn’t measure up.
Well, on Friday I graduated with Distinction.
It’s been a long time since I actually got my results. The ceremony was held in Winchester Cathedral – the largest medieval cathedral in the world still standing – and the University can only use it so many days each year. Given that it takes a while to mark all those novella-length projects, we didn’t get our results in time to graduate the same year as we handed them in. Still, good things are worth waiting for, and I’m pleased to have already had some success with Ten Little Astronauts in particular.
The Winchester Writers’ Festival is always a big event. I always meet a whole bunch of interesting people, and I always learn a whole lot of new things. Because a lot of elements of the event are the same every year, I think it’s probably not worth trying to write out an introduction to it every time. If you want an introduction, you might like to take a look at my writeup of the Festival in 2014, which covered my first impressions about it (though I only had a one-day ticket), and/or my writeup of the Festival in 2015, when I was chosen for a scholarship and so could afford to turn up for the whole three days.
This year, in terms of a ticket, I went for something of a middle ground. Having had a bursary the first year I went and a scholarship the second (and having got a steady job after that), I felt as though I’d had as much financial help as I could justify. As great as it would have been to turn up for the whole three days, I decided to just go for a Saturday and Sunday ticket, and turn up for the free evening events on the Friday.
I’ve read at the Friday open mic three years in a row now, but this is the first time I’ve got a recording of it. I pretty much just handed my phone to a friend (thanks for that!) so the audio quality isn’t great, but thanks to the university’s microphone and speaker setup I think it’s at least comprehensible. I had prepared to read Osiris Likes This, but since the length of each open mic slot was dropped from five to four minutes, there wasn’t quite long enough and I went for The Three Idols instead. Continue reading
It’s taken me a little longer than I’d hoped to write about the Alresford Literary Festival and Hampshire Writers’ Society Book Fair, largely because I attended the Winchester Writers’ Festival immediately afterwards and was all set up to run Flash Fiction Day immediately after that. June has been absolutely crammed full of good stuff, but it has made it rather difficult to find the time to write about any of it.
I’ve now attended three book fairs in total, having started with one held by the Hampshire Writers’ Society last year, and though I’m hardly an expert at this sort of thing, I’ve noticed enough similarities between all three events that I feel as though it’s worth considering them all as a bundle rather than trying to get into what happened at each one. So far they’ve been much the same, which is great because I always seem to get a lot out of them. Continue reading
The Hampshire Writers’ Society Book Fair is coming up on the 14th of June. That’s this Tuesday!
I mentioned this in a recent blog post that focused mostly on the Alresford Literary Festival, but the Hampshire Writers’ event was such a success last year that I think it’s worth giving it a post all to itself. If you’re in the Winchester area, I’d really recommend going: there are a lot of authors who’ll be turning up. The place to be is the Stripe Building at the University of Winchester (on Sparkford Road): it starts at 6.
If you can’t make it, I’ll be aiming to write all about the event (and the Alresford festival) here. However, the Winchester Writers’ Festival is now less than a week away as well, so I can’t say for sure exactly when I’ll get around to it: June is a very busy month, and naturally I don’t expect July to leave me much more time!
On Saturday the 4th of June, I’ll have a table set up at the Alresford Literary Festival from 14:30-16:30. I’ve never been before, but Robert Hardy (who played Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter Films) is going to be there so it promises to be a pretty interesting event. I’m hoping I’ll get a good chance to talk to people while I’m not manning my table.
I’ve taken the opportunity to build on my display from last year’s Hampshire Writers’ Society Book Fair. The publication of Osiris Likes This hasn’t shaken things up too much, as it occupies a space that used to be taken up by flash fiction ebook CDs. Though the ebooks on disc have been handy as freebies–and the processes involved in creating them proved absolutely essential for one of my more adventurous MA projects–they’ve never attracted a lot of interest and Osiris Likes This is far more deserving of the space. Plus I gave all the CDs away at last year’s Writers’ Festival, so it’s something of a moot point. Continue reading
I mentioned a while back that I’d be doing more audio work similar to The Mucky Angel, and here it is!
You might remember this story from Red Herring, my 2013 flash fiction collection. Well, a few weeks ago I was running a workshop at Winchester College and I’d been asked to read out a few of my stories. One of the points I wanted to make was that comedy in writing works best when you combine an absurd situation with a twist ending, and I felt as though (TM) did a pretty good job of illustrating that. However, it involves a lot of character speech without a whole lot of narration and, when read aloud, the only way I could make it clear who’s who was to give the characters silly voices. So I booked some time in the university recording booths to make sure I wouldn’t sound totally ridiculous attempting to voice “Big Harry.”
Turns out that I do. However, it was funny enough that I decided to stick with it. Continue reading
Booking for the 2016 Winchester Writers’ Festival is now open, and so are applications for bursaries and scholarships. Since these schemes helped me get to the festival twice–in 2014 with a bursary and in 2015 with a scholarship–it seems well worthwhile passing on the message and making sure that the event is open to everyone who wants to go.
- Are limited to writers aged 18-25.
- Cover the entire cost of a full weekend ticket to the festival.
- Are extremely competitive: there are only 10 places available.
- Close on April 7th, 2016.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be a student to apply for a scholarship. If you are, it’s probably to your advantage because that demonstrates a commitment to writing, but you can demonstrate that commitment in any number of other ways. Full details of the application process can be found here, but it ultimately boils down to showing that you’re already working hard at becoming a better writer and that a ticket to the festival would further your goals.
- Are open to anyone.
- Cover £50 of the cost of any festival ticket.
- Are far less competitive than scholarships.
- Close on April 15th, 2016.
A bursary will only cover a bit more than a tenth of the cost of a full weekend ticket, so probably won’t make for an opportunity to stick around for the whole thing. However, every little helps, so if you aren’t eligible for (or don’t manage to get) a scholarship then applying for a bursary would still be well worthwhile. It would, for example, nearly halve the price of a Sunday ticket (though I’d highly recommend choosing a day that includes some one-to-one appointments as these are extremely helpful). Full details are available on the same page as the scholarship information (but you have to scroll down a bit). Continue reading
I’ve never really been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They seem like a handy excuse for putting off doing anything until January 1st, and later on a handy excuse for giving up for ten months when you fail spectacularly in early March.
That said, starting something at the beginning of a new year does make it easy to set up a schedule, and so on this occasion I’ll be joining in too. My New Year’s not-resolution is to write a game article a week. At the moment I’m hoping to make most of them reviews of specific titles, but I’ve also got plenty of ideas for articles about game design and mechanics. Most likely there’ll be a fair bit of crossover between the two. The main thing I’ve settled on at this point is that whatever they are, there’ll be 52 of them by the end of the year. Or at the very least, there’ll be a dozen-ish by early March.
In the past it’s proven difficult to keep up weekly or even fortnightly updates. Beyond the Black Throne became problematic partly because I was juggling it with an MA course that steadily demanded more and more of my attention, but also because the interactive format made for tight deadlines and more or less eliminated the possibility of building up “buffer” updates that I could write ahead of time and post when necessary. Producing images and animation to illustrate the story—however hilariously amateurish those things were—also took a lot of planning and ate up a lot of time.
I’m still planning to pick up the story again at some point, but in the interests of producing something on a regular basis and building up my games-related portfolio, I feel as though the reviews are a safer bet for the time being. For one thing, I’ve already played through a bunch of games that I’d like to write about, which means I’m already halfway towards having a “buffer” ready. For another, games (even if they’re primarily text-based) offer the possibility of illustrating a post with screenshots, which don’t take too much effort on my part.
I expect it’ll take a while to play through anything I’m going to write about, which isn’t a challenge I had to face with Beyond the Black Throne, but at the same time that seems more compatible with my job at the moment than responding to reader suggestions and fiddling about with paper cut-outs. I could happily fit in the button-mashing after a day at work, then write the actual article on one of my days off. Combined with the buffer posts, that should ensure I’m able to keep these things regular.
But beyond that particular goal for the year, I’ve got another decision to make. I’ve still got access to the university recording equipment, and while that’s the case I want to make the most of it. However, that’ll mostly mean recording things I’ve already written, and I’d quite like to keep producing new stories at the same time. So here’s a question for you:
“New, experimental things” at the moment will likely involve audio, video, or interactive fiction. They’re by no means limited to that, though.
In any case, I’ll be doing a little bit of both either way. If you’re curious to see something a little different from me, I hope to have some recordings done in the not too distant future (and perhaps some 3D printed things too). If you want conventional stories, I’ll be including a brand new one in each of my monthly newsletters.
Happy New Year!
I’ve got my MA results back, and the news is very good indeed: I’ve got a Distinction.
As my on-the-day Tweet mentions, this was particularly significant for me because it’s never quite happened before. At GCSE I got a few As but no A*s. At A-Level I got Bs but no As. For my BA I managed an upper second class rather than a first. I realise there are a lot of letters in that sentence and that some of them may mean little to people outside the UK, but the thing to take away from it is that I pretty much went through my entire academic career without ever scoring top marks.
For the record, I also went through my entire academic career without ever failing horribly. My lowest GCSE was a B and my lowest A-Level was a C, so I was pretty consistent. The difference between my best mark and my worst mark has never been more than one step down the alphabet.
Still, since the MA was going to be my last shot at this (barring some miraculous turn of events handing me the funding for a PhD), I was determined to do the absolute best I could this time around, and for a while it was pretty nerve-wracking. I was actually on track for a Distinction through the whole course, but the way these things are marked that doesn’t mean much. As well as averaging a mark of 65 or more across all your work, you have to manage a mark of at least 70 on your final project. You can score 75 on everything up until the final project, then get a 49 on that and not even pass. The final project is pretty much the Sudden Death round of this particular academic course, which sounds much cooler than it is.
Honestly, at this point I still feel more relieved than excited. My project was an odd mix of genres–a hard sci-fi murder mystery–and tended to generate a mixed response. I chose to write it because that was the story I wanted to tell, but at the same time I felt as though I was taking a big risk if it wasn’t the story the marker(s) wanted to read. In the past, I’ve had sci-fi stories get a poor reception just because they’re sci-fi stories. That’s been enough of a concern for the last few months that, now that it’s all worked out, I’m not sure where things will go from here.
Still, actually having my MA results–and good results at that–is bound to be handy when it comes to applying for jobs: especially game writing jobs. At this point, short of actually having worked on more commercial games, I’m not sure I could be in a better position for that. In the meantime, I’ve recently started a job at a second hand hardware/game/movie shop, so at the very least I’ve got some money coming in just now. It’s also a pretty fun place to work and there’s a good chance the staff discount will go some way towards helping me upgrade the computer I used to produce The Mucky Angel. So hopefully I’ll be able to work on some more interesting things soon.
I originally wrote The Mucky Angel for a “Vintage Christmas” competition back in 2012. Here it is again for Christmas 2015, this time with music from the Memphis Repertory Orchestra and a festive audio visualiser that I put together in Blender. Producing this has been something of a learning process, and there are bound to be a few rough edges, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.