Busy at the Highwayman’s Hideout

It’s been busy at #Highwayman’sHideout!  On Saturday I attended Fighting Fantasy Fest 2 in Ealing, where two hundred or so gamebook fans gathered to celebrate 35 years of the Fighting Fantasy series.  I took the opportunity to plug my kickstarter for all it was worth, passing out sample pages, flyers and wearing a sign around my neck.  I made several new friends, met other gamebook writers, put my project onto the radar of some of the genre’s influencers and even found some new backers.

Today I’ve been putting finishing touches to the Kickstarter video and campaign site.  A good friend and successful gamebook writer gave me some much-appreciated feedback on Saturday, so tweakings have turned into re-writings and the best part of a day’s work.

That means that tomorrow is given over for social marketing: I’ll be messaging everyone I can on every platform I can access to remind them of the Steam Highwayman Kickstarter Campaign Launch: 8:00pm London time.  Then roll on 8pm…  It feels very much like the ratcheting climb up an unfamiliar rollercoaster.  I’ve heard a lot about the ups and downs of running a kickstarter, but now I’m about to find out the only way that will really teach me!

Lord God, into your hands I commit the entire project.

Can I get an ‘Amen’?

Steam Highwayman coming soon!

It’s been a busy summer!  Somehow, between all the weddings, trips, church events and socialising, I’ve ploughed on.  Steam Highwayman will be launched on Kickstarter on the 5th September and for a long a nervous month I’ll be watching and praying, while the book is available for backing from all over the world.  I’ve already been publicising the project on social media, introducing the gamebook to fans of steampunk and fans of gamebooks alike.  If I appear on your social feed, you might start to get sick of seeing me!

I’ve had to develop all sorts of new skills to get this far: graphic design and video-making, advertising and marketing and overcoming my naturally polite, patient tendencies!  I really can’t wait to be back in the writing zone again, when I can concentrate on producing the next volume.

Still, I’ve enjoyed all this work massively, and I hope it’ll bear fruit soon.  It’s amazing to imagine that in a matter of months I may well be holding a copy of my own work, talking to readers world-wide and with the success behind me.

Gamebook Page Mockup

I’ve been experimenting today with different styles of illustration and layout, using Microsoft Publisher and my own two hands (though mainly the right one). Result: a mockup that resembles a page of my finished gamebook.  Illustrations all my own, with Mitsubishi uniball micro.  Font is Georgia: nicely serifed, not too full-on.

Velosteam Design

I’ve been working on the design for a steam-powered motorcycle – a velosteam – for my Steam Highwayman gamebook.  Despite having written more than 100,000 words and having made many assumptions along the way, I’ve never actually pinned down the appearance or internal workings of the second main character in my story.

Cue Mr Crabfu of California.  His excellent article about using real miniature steam workings to better understand and design steampunk vehicles catalysed my new design – which may not be perfect, practically possible or the final version I use.  But it does feel a lot more real than anything else I’ve sketched or created yet.  I’m going to show some of the process I used here.

I don’t have any CAD or computer graphic skills so I used what I knew: pencil, rubber, ruler, cartridge paper and a protractor for some laying out.

 

 

This is where I started: with an angled view to feel how a boiler, originally elliptical, would hang between two broad wheels.

I then created a second angled view, with an inversely pear-shaped boiler, clustered with a small firebox, two pistons and a condenser.  I spent quite a while deciding where to put my vent and ended up with a python-esque sausage out the rear left.  Leaf-spring suspension is better for my period, together with some drive linkages and guesses at a mudguard.

I then laid our plan and elevation and angled the pistons, which could feasibly be a little smaller.  I looked at steam traction and locomotive wheels and went for a 24 solid-spoke style.  The leaf-springs are back – I really like the carriage ancestry they imply.  I also drew a line-figure on the plan to consider riding position, seat, handlebars and so on.

 

How would the velosteam work with a pillion rider?  I also reinforced the boiler with oak laths and added that snakey vent.  At this stage I realised how long the velosteam was going to be…  I had started with a 3 wheel length, but the circumference of these wheels is something like 3’3″.  Which would make my whole velosteam more than 10 feet long.  I feel like I’ve got the scale of the machinery wrong for what I’m trying to create and may have another go later at making this machine.  But forward with the process!

 

Now a frame to hang all the components from: two curvy pieces of iron, a spherical gas tank, front suspension, pillion footstubs (which I later replaced), lubrication pipes, steam pipes, and friction igniter.

 

 

 

 

Several stages later, I have added a saddle, fairings, handlebars, regulator handle, gas valve, footrests, an indeterminate F-marked blob (secondary water tank?).

 

 

 

Taped the whole thing to my window for tracing and…

 

 

 

Voila!

 

 

 

Monks in Space

I wrote this piece in 2013, but I’ve had the concept since around 2004/5.  Monks in Space.  A space monastery in the Kuiper Belt.  Excellent.

The First Chapter
It was Brother Isador, returning from a baptism on a nearby asteroid, who found the drifting escape pod.  The spherical capsule had long since burnt out its distress beacon, but the polished reflective surface made a spark in the darkness that caught Isador’s attention.  As he neared it he scanned for transmissions – none.  He would certainly find nothing more than the remains of a lost soul forgotten in space.

But he didn’t.  Matching trajectory and velocity at about thirty metres he saw a movement through a tiny, trapezoid window.  Then a face.  A haggard and desperate face.  Isador offered a brief prayer of thanksgiving for the preserved life within the pod – and a prayer that he might serve his maker in preserving that life further.

He approached, programmed a tiny rocket drone to thread a cable through a projecting rung, fired it, and powered up all his boosters to begin to slow the pod’s flight. Once in the hangar beneath the refectory and with the gentleness of the abbey’s air on his cheeks, Isador and the other monks wrestled with jammed catches and an electronic lock coded in an unfamiliar script.  They opened the hatch and found a man inside, unconscious and breathing shallowly in the remnants of his thin air. He had a wasted and enervated body, lank and dirty hair.  He wore an old-fashioned suit that seemed to have been fitted to a larger, form.  How long had he been drifting in space?  Neither the pod nor he could tell the monks, who carefully carried him up to a cell and laid him on clean sheets. Continue reading

Haven 90|60

I’ll be worshipping at Haven 90|60 in Milton Keynes this Saturday and leading a Workshop called Speak Out in Praise, helping believers learn how their passion for spoken word, rap and poetry can be put to the King’s service.

You can access my workshop handout here.

Holy Spirit, You are Welcome Here

Worshipping God with this song is a life-changer: it’s a challenging song, that must be sung whole-heatedly or not at all.  Here’s Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes leading in 2015, as part of Graham Kendrick’s suggested Pentecost Worship Playlist.

Addressing the Spirit of Jesus by name is a bold move and it should challenge us. How do we acknowledge the Holy Spirit as personal God? Scripture teaches us that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ own spirit as well as the Spirit of the Father, yet we believe He is a distinct person of the Godhead. Is your theology of the Trinity strong enough that you have the confidence to address the Spirit of God in person?

Now this is the crux of the song: all believers acknowledge the power of God’s Spirit in their lives and in the world. But how many of us welcome him? Or in how much of our lives do we welcome the Holy Spirit to work? Let’s be honest – the Holy Spirit can be terrifying. What if we invited him to change our lives and he brought about a time of being without work? Or what if we follow him in speaking to friends boldly about their need for Jesus and we are made to feel uncomfortable, unhappy or angry? Miracles would be welcome in our lives if they were predictable and would be guaranteed not to arouse the attention of cynics and people wanting to make their own fame from them. Healing would be welcome if it were on our own terms, according to our own understanding.

But the song has a completely different take on the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life: it is an open-ended and unlimited invitation for God in person to invade our lives.

Have you ever visited a place where you know you weren’t welcome? Where your hosts are waiting for you to leave, because they don’t feel they can get on with their real life with you in their front room? They don’t feel safe enough with you to relax themselves?

And have you ever visited a friend who just doesn’t want you to leave? You can eat all their biscuits, drink all their tea, empty their fridge, stay the night, follow them to pick up their kids, and they still don’t want you to go? I have one or two precious friends who treat me like that. Now that is welcome – not just a cold acknowledgement of relationship, but a selfless love that melts the boundaries of who owns what and who should do what.

What do we say to Jesus – to Father God – to the wonderful, life-giving spirit when we address him? Do we give him a limited welcome? Or are we prepared to welcome him without any limits.

I love singing the bridge of this song: we ask, together, to become more aware of God’s presence. We need to notice Him more frequently and have a better understanding of what it means that he dwells in us and in the church. And we ask to experience the glory of God’s goodness: because experiencing is the key to learning and changing. It’s not enough for us to hear about God’s power or God’s presence: we need to experience it in our emotions and our physical experience and in our imagination. And then, instead of fearing what he might do, we know that his power is always good and his will is for us and for all of the lost. And then we need to sing the chorus again to reinforce our welcome – to mean it more and to sing it over the parts of our lives that we are finding really tough to surrender.

Holy Spirit of the living God, you are welcome to ruin my life as I think of it: to derail my plans if you need to, to make me uncomfortable, to change my morality system, to change my habits, my words, my intentions, my hopes, my preferences and my desires. Make me like my Jesus by being in my life, Holy Spirit. Help me to see and believe in the presence of my Father God wherever I am and in every moment of the day. I allow you and welcome you to cause me to experience new things so that I follow my Jesus more closely and have more compassionate heart for those whom you love. Make me Holy as you are Holy.

Age of Access I

We live in the beginning of the post-ownership age. I write ‘we’ because if you are reading this through the medium of the internet, most likely on a smartphone, on a 4G network, then you live in a part of the world that has encountered the Future. The Future, as somebody, maybe William Gibson, once said, is unequally distributed: the Future moves across the world in waves, reaching different communities and nations at different times as different technologies become available to the populace.

Post-ownership – what does that mean? It means that there are cultures in which all material needs of possession have been satisfied: the vast majority of the population (not all, but most) have a roof over their head, clothes on their body, food in their stomach (and their fridge), tools in their closet or cupboard, baking tins in their kitchen cupboard, more clothes in their (walk-in) wardrobe, and the ability to access more of the same at will. They also possess leisure time which they have been trained to spend – at least partly – in seeking and choosing more consumable products.

In fact, this widespread availability of stuff has gone so far as to generate a whole back-lash movement: Marie Kondo’s The Joy of Tidying, youtube videos on doing more with less, like the ones davehakkens produces, the fetishisation of the ‘authentic’ that hipster culture indulges in (at least according to Peter York’s analysis). Businesses like AirB’nB depend upon people’s growing preference for use over ownership.

The irony is that in many other cultures around the world, use and ownership were in a completely different relationship to that accepted as ‘normal’ within Western mainstream culture. Consider the waste and personal isolationism latent within the ownership of ten lawnmowers in a street of ten houses in an English town. On only one of a very few days would more than one of those lawnmowers be used: why are ten ‘necessary’? Because it is socially inappropriate to ask for or to use another person’s possession.

Consider by contrast the very different attitude of the Filipino car: my cousin possesses a car; my cousin is my family member; therefore I have access to a car. This is a “Filipino Syllogism”. My cousin is honour-bound, but also considers it normal, that on those less-than-frequent occasions when I require the use of a car, he should put both his car and his own time at my disposal. Why? Because possession within the Filipino community is not a matter of any single individual person’s ownership, but of the larger family group’s ownership. And so it is in many non-european cultures.

Ironically, the Judeo-Christian ideal of ownership is less influential on Western thought than you might expect: the coveting of your neighbour’s donkey is less of an issue when any particular family’s rights to land and objects are guaranteed by religious law, as in the Levitical pattern, and Jesus Christ’s teaching that should tease the grip of the possessive from their cloak and tunic has never been fully accepted by mainstream Western, English, British or European thinking.

The age of access is an age in which instant, international communication is abrading our current norms of possession, and culture is in the process of undergoing a permanent change. Even if we should experience a Massive Internet Collapse, culture influencers have now had a taste of a post-ownership life and will not let it be forgotten: it comes with the illusion of freedom, typified by wide choice and easy gratification.  I don’t write this bewailing the change, but observing it.  Asimov would do one better: posit a future in which any possession seemed strange and in which a historian, observing our present, would laugh.  Le Guin did one better than that in one of my top-five books, The Dispossessed.

Skelwith Force

The torn polygonal scraps of slate that line

Brathay’s bed above the force

Are dull when plucked, laid out and dry, but shine

Under the crag-stream’s course.

The whole broad dale at Elter Water’s strewn

With spring’s flood-leavings

And the upturned ash and birch-tree ruin

Tell of unseen heavings.

Out of the hill came the water, stripping the stone,

And lushing up the dale,

Around the ice-old mounds, the under-bone

Of the sleeper of a forgotten tale.

The soft and hard are side by side and felt

By every walker strolling down to see

The water turn to steam,

The clear become opaque,

The straight begin to bend,

The sure become unsure,

At Skelwith Force, where glaciations melt

And obstacles sudden slip free.