Back to writing, whether I feel like it or not

Back to writing, whether I feel like it or not

Crikey, it’s been months since I posted on here. Doesn’t time fly?

I’ve been in a bit of a creative funk, in some ways, which isn’t a particularly constructive way to pass the time. It’s much easier to keep everything in my own head – less effort, less general malarkey. I have been busy-ish with work, but that’s not really an excuse. Also, it’s not all been bad. I’ve been relaxed and content a lot of the time, with nice things in my life and some pleasing plans for the future. As always I seek a balance of realism and learning about the shitty parts of life, while also keeping my eye on the positives and inherent goodness in the world.

So, a quick breakdown on my late-Summer / early Fall, before I set about a renewed bid to get writing about non-game things.

Some recent highlights were in Edinburgh during Festival season. I got to go to some excellent talks, the best of which was by Gordon Brown. The ‘dour Scot’ that got characterised when he was crushed by a decade on Downing Street (number 11 and then 10) wasn’t there, but an energetic, sparky and fiercely intelligent politician.

Despite his flaws as a politician (they all have them, because they’re just people), I’ve always admired him. I thought a combination of mistakes (no more than his rivals, really), and his election run as PM being blighted as a popularity contest ultimately did for him in Westminster. ‘Just call me Dave’ Cameron played the bright young thing card at the time that had previously worked so well for Blair. Brown looked tired and grumpy by comparison, probably because he’d been working hard for a decade. In any case, his talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival was brilliant. He laid out a vision for a post-Brexit Britain that put logic, optimism and intelligence at its core. I just hope he finds a platform to push it forward.

Another highlight was seeing Billy Elliot at the Playhouse. An extraordinary show, beautifully performed, and also incredibly ballsy. No shyness in tackling controversy, it got stuck into the miners / Thatcher showdown and pulled no punches. I watched the film again too, which is a classic.

I’ve been reading a bit, watching sport, working. I had a grim failure in a freelance gig, but have had a nice time editing an upcoming eBook. As for Nintendo Life, the Nintendo Switch was announced, which cheered me up no end! I also appreciate the fact that I can work weird hours and have freedom in writing style and editorial content. I try to put some humour into articles occasionally, even in the most mundane of news articles. I probably laugh at my own lines more than our readers do, but it makes the days fun.

I dumped RBS as my bank recently, after one too many headlines about them being incompetent shitheads. I shifted my banking to Nationwide, am setting up savings and should be all set to try and buy a house / flat next Spring or Summer. It’s all frightfully boring and grown up.

And that’s it in a nutshell. I still take pleasure in time with family, walking the dog and so on. I’m still hopelessly out of touch with a lot of my friends, which is my fault.

As for what’s next. Well I’ll write something after America elects its President. If it’s Trump then it won’t be a happy piece. I also want to write out a piece that’s been rattling in my head for two months. It’s a short bit of writing called “The Commuter”, and would probably be a chapter in the book that’s also rattling around in my head. I’m giving myself a deadline of Sunday night, 13th November, to at least publish a shitty first draft.

All this because I turned 32 recently. I’ve got plenty of time left, but only if I start using it. Less stuff in my head, more actual action.

Hopefully.

A Day in the Life – Faffing About in Windsor

A Day in the Life – Faffing About in Windsor

I have a lot of long days sat at home in front of the PC, mainly self-imposed, as I try to blend the job that actually pays money with interests that do not. There’s an odd pressure that comes with the territory of being editor on a fairly large website – if it becomes a smaller website, that job probably won’t exist any more; as such the long hours come from trying to maintain success. My fate is also quite closely tied to whether Nintendo does well or not, which isn’t as fun as it sounds. But hey, I’m a believer and an optimist (most of the time).

Days off are relatively rare, then, so a recent chance to travel da’an saath (that’s how cockneys say ‘down south’, right?) was a welcome one. The journey involved a train down to London from sunny Loughborough, then some tube rides and more trains to Windsor, where old Liz II occasionally goes to hang out. It was nice that the travelling was with Ant Dickens, my good friend and employer; the order in which those descriptors come depends on the circumstances, I suppose.

We were going down to try out the new Legend of Zelda game, one of the few occasions I’ve gone on a slightly pointless jolly; after all, our US guys previewed the bejeezus out of it at E3. We met up with the ever energetic and lovely Alex, who produces the YouTube vids for Nintendo Life, and exchanged lots of pleasantries with thoroughly personable and nice Nintendo UK employees; at one point they even stuffed an enormous wad of cash into my pockets as a reward for writing nice things. Just kidding, heck, they didn’t even have any coffee available…

Still, it’s an enduring quirk of the job (and those of our Nintendo UK hosts) that talking about Mario Party is a thing to be done earnestly. My approach to games writing is to try not to take it too seriously, to be honest, for to be po-faced about a game where you steal apples from a giant Goomba is silly. I do some earnest editorials etc when the time is right but, overall, I try not to behave like the colour of Sonic the Hedgehog’s eyes matters.

Windsor, though, is a lovely place to faff about. On another trip there for more video game journalism corruption – I think I was given a free coffee on that occasion – I had a short amount of time in which to eat before heading home at night. The Windsor McDonald’s it was, then, and what a bizarre place. The theatre is just down the road, so I was surrounded by people in their 50s who wore clothes more valuable than my car – a pre-show Big Mac was clearly the meal of choice. As a town it’s pure tourism, but I rather like visiting. If someone wanted to visit a ‘ye olde Rule Britannia’ theme park, I’d just tell them to go to Windsor.

Gallivanting in Windsor is a rare thing for me nowadays, as living in Scotland means I’m a long way from the ‘action’. Still we have soft water up here, and when you have silly hair and a ragged beard, as I most assuredly do, that’s far more important.

 

KBO – The Only Choice When Brexit and Anti-Truth Politics Loom on the Horizon

KBO – The Only Choice When Brexit and Anti-Truth Politics Loom on the Horizon

Politicians don’t always tell the pure, undeniable truth. Nor are they often outright liars. Politics, as I see it, is a necessary blend of artifice and reality – some like to say we don’t need it, but life without politics is a dysfunctional dystopia. Everything is politics, from the price of the milk to the condition of the roads you drive on, to whether there are enough bins for disposing of your dog’s mess on a walk.

I was a teenager when ‘New Labour’ rose to power in the late ’90s, and I was enthralled. There was such ambition in their actions and it seemed, looking on relatively casually and with young eyes, that it was a truly progressive government trying to make life better. They arguably did so in various ways, with things like the minimum wage, but then the Iraq war happened.

By the time Blair and Bush had pretty much made their minds up, and we’re talking a year or so before the invasion, I was playing in a Supporter’s Football Team. One of my favourite team-mates, a generous and all-round good guy, joined the Territorial Army and, as I was 17-18 at the time, said I should think about doing the same. Easy money, fun training, that was the pitch. I counter-offered: please leave the TAs, I said, as we’ll be at war soon and they might send you. He didn’t think it was likely.

When he came back from the war, he seemed – based on my encounters with him – to be a changed man. He was still warm and generous, but he laughed less. The glint had gone from his eye. I wasn’t the only one who thought this, my parents (also involved in that supporter’s team) saw it too. I wasn’t with the team much longer for unrelated reasons, but it saddened me and I wish I hadn’t lost touch with him. He was starting a new career with the Police and was getting married last I heard (that was a LONG time ago), so I hope he’s having a great life.

The Iraq War, though, was an early example in my lifetime of anti-truth politics. Millions could smell a rat at the time and marched on London to share that view, but the government ignored it. They cited ‘Intelligence’ that couldn’t be shared, and bluffed past revelations that the so-called smoking gun dossier was proven to be full of nonsense. The war happened, and years later – having had access to the materials needed – the Chilcot Enquiry reinforced what many including me had suspected. We were dragged into a damaging war based on exaggerations, half-truths and outright lies.

I felt a lot of anger when I watched some of Tony Blair’s press conference after the Chilcot Enquiry eviscerated his decision making and post-war planning. He trotted out arguments that few would counter outright – Saddam Hussein was a despot that killed his own people, he once had weapons, and he probably had some old chemical weapons lying around even if, shucks, we couldn’t find them. Despite ditching the UN process he tried to imply he had no choice, that the decision had to be made.

It was pathological lying, and I’m not sure Blair even realises how ludicrous he sounded contradicting so much evidence. Yet it was his truth, as he saw it, and he wouldn’t be dissuaded. Thanks to that we had a war, Iraq then collapsed into civil war, and it is now a modern-day nightmare of a place in a day-to-day battle with Daesh (ISIL) and other terrorist groups.

This Anti-Truth approach is everywhere right now, too, and it’s damaging. Those peddling that approach to politics often seem to be so deluded that they believe their own nonsense on a deep-rooted level. Donald Trump makes shit up all the time, but seems to believe it just because he says it. The Brexit campaign had a little more awareness, in that it opted for calculated lies – “there’ll be no chaos, we’ll have hundreds of millions of pounds extra per week for the NHS, the EU will give us a great deal, we’ll be ‘Great Britain’ again”. When the vote for Brexit came and markets crashed, at least they showed they weren’t completely mad – they backtracked, admitted those promises weren’t real, and all ran off from their responsibilities, leaving it to others to fix the mess.

The saddest part of all this? We’re in an anti-intellectual age, where many feel they know better than experts, that an ‘elite’ are making up negative angles for some twisted pleasure. Much of what was predicted after Brexit has happened so far – the Pound continues to fall, real estate investment funds are being locked to stop investors bolting, business are contemplating leaving the City of London, the EU is not keen to give us a sweet deal. Experts said this would happen, yet those with expertise in various areas tell people about this, about what’s ACTUALLY happening, and plenty say they’re negative doom-mongers.

Don’t give us truth, some say, give us placebos so we don’t worry about problems heading our way.

Well, denial isn’t the answer for everyone. Ultimately, it’s important to be blunt and give opinions on problems in the world, and in our small ways try to help deal with the situation. It’s fine to despair occasionally, but at the end of the day this crazy world is the only one we have. If people don’t want truth and logic, tough, some of us just have to find ways to change those attitudes, and to make the best of bad scenarios.

All we can do is KBO – keep buggering on.

Writer’s Block,Voting ‘Remain’ and the Grim Media

It’s been over two months since I last posted on here, which seems crazy. There’ve been a few factors behind that, but I haven’t been in a cave wasting the days away – that said, it’s been a strange couple of months.

For one thing I’ve been struggling with writer’s block, or a form of it. As my day job is to write a whole lot of articles about video games that may seem contradictory, but ultimately that’s work with a formula. I’ve been doing it for a number of years and have my own methods, and the crux is that even when writing is a dreadful chore I can do it in that context. I follow the formula and, like so many people, simply get on with my job.

Part of that ‘block’ has been linked to current events in the wider world, and my feelings about them. I’ve been a heavy reader and follower of the media my whole adult life, and I’ve never known times as grim as these. There’s a lot of anger and outright hatred swimming around, and logical voices are often being shouted down or ignored. The media, as is its job, reports on this poisonous atmosphere, but – combining that obligation with the need to drive circulation and clicks – magnifies it and makes that the prevailing topic. I’ve written about this in the past, how ‘negativity sells’. It’s worked well for Donald Trump, with the US media effectively doing his campaigning for him through relentless exposure. It’s a shallow and dangerous version of politics, and one that’s a threat to any democracy’s health.

Of course, we’ve had our own political campaigns driven by hatred, fear and lies here in the UK. The EU referendum has been a dreadful demonstration of all the worst aspects of modern day political campaigning and media coverage. I now actively dodge televised debates and much of the media coverage for that reason alone. I’ve researched the facts for myself, which often bear little resemblance to the coverage by the press.

Personally, I’m voting In as part of the Remain campaign. It’s an odd vote, which is probably at the core of the issues the Remain team has had, as it’s a vote for an economic and political bloc that is flawed and in need of major change. In my view it’s still better than the alternative, though, with social and economic factors at the core of the matter. I for one also don’t ignore the many, many independent experts in various fields that say Remain is the better choice; it’s the willingness of many to ignore experts – often unfairly branded with a negative connotation of ‘elite’ – that has truly upset me during the whole process.

The problem is that it’s easy to highlight the flaws of the EU, and the fact is that the Brexit campaign has tapped into a lot of anger around the country to do so. There’s an interesting gulf between generations, too, with a lot of polling showing a majority of people aged 35 and under backing remain, and a majority of 50+ backing Brexit. That’s democracy, but it’s a troubling concept that if Brexit wins, we could see figures showing that those that will deal with the consequences of Brexit the least will have made it happen.

Of course, the Brexit campaign leaders (and Remain, in its way) will have to look themselves in the mirror when it’s all finished, which I hope they’ll find difficult. In peddling lies, half-truths and inciting racism and xenophobia, Brexit in particular has shown the worst of Britain.

The killing of Jo Cox was a horrible moment, too. While not directly attributable to either campaign, as such, it was a dreadful coda to weeks of negativity, baiting and dog whistle politics. When learning about her life and career it was plainly obvious that she was a woman of powerful principles and a desire to do good and help those in less fortunate positions. She was the antithesis to the lazy stereotype so many give to politicians. She was a good politician and person – it’s possible to be both. I hope that her legacy will be that people don’t revert to cynicism against all of politics, and that politicians themselves will strive to follow her example in their work.

Ultimately, I’m going to try and stay optimistic that Remain will win, that a silent majority will swing a narrow result.

I’ll wrap up this rambling post with an update on what I’m doing when I’m not working. Well, not much last week (during E3 when I had 18-hour days), but I do have some interesting projects in the works. For one thing I’m still mustering the courage to share some creative writing excerpts, and in actual progress I’ve started teaching myself Python (programming code). I’m treating it as a stepping stone to more advanced languages, with the long term goal of taking that knowledge into some small-time game development. If I can combine writing and game making as creative endeavours and make a living, I’ll consider my life goals largely met.

I’m not entirely happy with where I am in life, but I do reflect on the fact I have a lot to be grateful for. I have a job with flexibility and friends as employers, and the means to look to the future. As I sit at a PC, learning coding from a new Kindle e-reader propped up next to the monitor, and reflect on the things I have and the family that’s a key part of my life, I consider the fact that I’m lucky. I’m getting close to the point where I can realistically start to consider buying a house, too, and these are all luxuries that a lot of people don’t have.

So I’ll keep plugging away and hoping for the best, trying to walk the walk – optimism over negativity, kindness over hatred. We can all do that in our own ways.

Until next time,

Tom

 

The Strange Nature of Dreams

I’m starting, slowly and surely, to get to the point where I’m going to get cracking (properly, for realsies this time) on what will likely be my first novel. I’m planning for it to be a fun process, though at the same time I know it’ll be a tough thing to do. Getting it done around work and general life will be far from easy, but that’s like anything else that’s worth doing.

Anyway, some key segments, which may make their way onto this blog as excerpts, will be centred around dreams. I mean actual dreams we have in our sleep, not aspirations and goals. I think they’re going to be hard to represent and portray, too, as they’re often unintelligible, confusing and immediately forgettable. Well, they are for me.

I often struggle to relate to how dreams are portrayed in movies and popular culture. In many cases they’re largely clear aside from some basic camera filters, or they involve wackiness and bright colours; of course, they’re often narrated in full and with no blank spots. Yet after I dream I often struggle to remember the bulk of what happened – what lingers is the general emotion they triggered, and that’s where the impact is. Again, that’s just my personal experience.

Sometimes the majority of the dream is a fuzzy mess in my memory with the exception of a stand-out moment, normally the point at which I wake up. Sometimes they profoundly affect me, too. Early this week I had a pretty horrendous dream, a nightmare, and like the worst of those it blended reality with a semi-unlikely event. It wasn’t fantastical or crazy, but it had a horrible denouement that rattled me, and I’m only now shaking it off. Part of this is likely my over-sensitivity, but also the fact that in tenuously clinging to reality my bad dreams can strike too close to home.

I want to make dreams an important part of my project, though doing so in a non-derivative way will likely be one of the biggest challenges. I feel like it’s something that, if portrayed well, can be a powerful narrative device. That’s because, in my life, dreams are important and influential on my mood and, sometimes, my broader thinking.

In any case, I’ll see how the idea evolves in the broader scope of the novel. I’m also hoping that the next time I’m awoken by a dream at 4am, it’ll leave a more positive impression.

Escaping the Screens

It’s been a little longer than I expected since my last post, but it’s not been for a lack of desire to write on here. The last week has been particularly busy with work and other mandatory but dull non-work stuff, so this humble little blog had to wait.

After an intense week glued to my PC monitor or laptop, I did value an opportunity over the past weekend to ditch screens and get to the great outdoors. This included a trip into the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, a lovely place in a rather nice part of the city – its altitude also means there are gorgeous views to soak in. I doubt it’ll ever be practical for me to live in that area, but it’s certainly my favourite part of Edinburgh.

I do think getting away from screens is important though, even if it means stubbornly leaving the phone in the pocket when an email notification comes in. Sometimes it can become ‘normal’ to spend hours and hours per day glued to these harshly lighted panels, but it’s not natural. Our computers, phones and TVs are integral to our day to day existence, and they can be hugely valuable parts of our lives, but it does little harm to take a break from them on occasion.

I do have a happy middle-ground, I think, and that’s my old Kindle e-reader. It’s a ‘screen’, yes, but e-ink is amazing (albeit old) tech, and as my model is one of the ancient ones with a keypad it has no backlight; that’s fine, it makes me find some decent light. I think it’s a pity e-readers have fallen away as the market has trended towards cheaper standard tablets – e-ink is lovely technology, mainly because it’s as easy on the eyes as printed text. When I’m out and about and want a lighter bag, or when I’m trying a new novel that I’m unsure of buying in physical form, I often turn to my Kindle. I’ll never support Kindle Unlimited, however, but that’s maybe a topic for another day.

In any case, work and life have been busy, but some novel excerpts and creative writing should be popping up (or starting to) this month.

Until the next one,

TW

 

Constant Online Outrage is a Useless Replacement for Empathy

In recent months I’ve been having a mini crisis in terms of my work. As someone who spends lengthy working days online I see a lot of the good and bad in online culture, and having been doing this ‘job’ for a good few years I’ve seen a shift in how the internet sustains itself. The economy of the web is not just in dollars and pounds, but in trends and mindshare, and I’ve seen the latter non-currency evolve in ugly and facile ways.

I’m at a good age to have a ‘history’ with the web. I remember when it was young, rough around the edges, and loading a low-resolution video would take ages before it would inevitably just buffer anyway. Usage restrictions were tight, so every page view had to be carefully considered. It was a rather humorous place, despite this dog-owner rolling his eyes at the fascination most had with cats.

That’s changed and the web has evolved, however, and I’m not convinced it’s for the better. Along with reality TV the web became a source of celebrity, and as the internet economy grew it began to monetise itself. With monetisation there was a gradual loss of free-wheeling spirit as capitalisation took hold, at least in the mainstream outlets and pages thrown at us by web browsers, and a terrible thing happened – we realised that we could effectively be anonymous or, instead, a fake version of ourselves.

Whereas in the pre-broadband and smartphone era we consumed the web as readers, now we own it, and with that has come the abundance of selfies and celebrities literally only famous for being controversial. Someone can be very rich without much discernible talent if they conquer social media, and controlling that part of the web earns coverage on the endless buzz sites. And here’s something else I’ve learnt – negativity is what many want in their web content.

I’ve seen it in the relatively genteel world of Nintendo, where an issue that’s controversial gets far more engagement than an article about something positive, and that’s a sad state of affairs. The common factor with that engagement is outrage – people like to be angry, at least artificially, and they like sharing that with everyone else. I’ve occasionally done it myself but trained myself out of it, but for some it seems to be a profession.

The trouble is that many people, based on trends and much of the nonsense perpetuated all over the web, get outraged at the wrong thing. To quote The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones – “Anger is distorting modern life”. We rage against things we can’t change or are largely unimportant, because it’s what everyone else is doing, we’re jealous of the person / thing in question, or a host of other reasons. Plenty then share that rage online, desperate to show how much they care about a particular topic, often while spectacularly missing the point.

The trouble with outrage is that it rarely brings about much change. In the real non-digital world there are countless examples where anger and rage has helped kickstart social change, but after the protests and riots there’s always a lot of real work and compromise that happens. Yet in this era of trends millions latch onto a topic, argue furiously for a few days, then forget all about it.

They’re rarely conversations that we have online, either, and with our artificial online identities we can act without reason and logic. It’s the easiest thing in the world to be outraged, to find something to blame and scream bloody murder about it, and now that’s become a popular way to pass time. As millions do this it becomes the prevalent way social media works, which then bleeds into conventional media. It’s all entirely democratic, of course, but when people complain about the media, for example, I want to say it’s exactly what we deserve.

Sadly, I can’t help but feel that more and more people are taking the selfishness and narcissism that floods the web and applying it to real life. I look at the current state of politics here in the UK, EU and US and wonder what the end game is, as a cynical public then ironically encourages increasingly cynical politicians. We have a Chancellor in the UK who often targets the weak and seems to write budgets on a napkin before casually ditching a policy (with no funding replacement) if the public turn on it, and we have the bizarre reality of someone like Donald Trump being a potential President of the United States. Discrimination and hate are becoming far too effective in politics – as I said, negativity sells.

Yet negativity is a waste. Empathy, an awareness of others that is fundamental to the best of humanity, comes from positivity. It’s easy and lazy to find something to rage about, but it takes effort to empathise and to understand. When extremists blow themselves up it’s easy to blame the religion which they claim to represent, but it’s more important to stand with those being misrepresented by monsters that want to terrorise the public.

The internet is still a platform for wonderful things – it has knowledge, entertainment and the best nature of people in abundance. Yet we need to seek these elements out and make them the leading forces in the web economy. Next time cynicism is the first instinct in response to something, we should double take and reassess. If we’re angry about a selfish rich man with an empty palace, rather than give that oxygen we should promote and support organisations that help the homeless. If an attention-seeking celebrity says something vile to get headlines, don’t give them the oxygen of a retweet.

The internet can still be an incredible force of good, but we need to care about how we use it.  

Time to Start Writing Again

It may seem odd that, as someone who writes for a living, I have an urge to restart an old blog anew and write even more. Yet when the day job is writing about one topic, over and over again, there’s a lack of expression and freedom. In writing not only about video games, but Nintendo at that, I get caught in a loop where instinct rules and I simply churn through days with nary a creative thought.

It’s dangerous, in any walk of life, to get in a cycle. Whether it’s listening to the same music over and over, watching old films rather than trying something new, reading the same books – doing this to excess shuts off the brain. Well, that’s the case with me, and I need to break the cycle.

The long term goal is to continue making a living from writing, but as a creator rather than critic. I’m not sure that’s a realistic prospect, but I’ll give it a try. So this site will be the home for all writing that isn’t about Nintendo. I may write about current affairs, or about myself, and I’ll certainly be uploading works in progress that are scripts, short stories and an attempt at a first novel. If I don’t do it now, when will I?

I intend for my regular writing to be a fresh start in other respects, too. The only way I’ll stop myself going crazy is by chasing what I really want to achieve; that’s not much, either. I don’t seek fame or fortune, but just to look at my work and how I’ve spent my time and to feel they’ve contributed something relatively meaningful to the world. Whether I do that as a writer or in a future career move, or perhaps both, that’s all I want.

So this is the first post on Literary Gamer. The design of the site will likely change as I mess about with alternative themes, but what’ll be constant is my commitment to it.

Until the next one,

TW