Deleted scene #1: The Black Sea

3 August 2015
Luckily the editing process isn't quite this tedious

Luckily the editing process isn’t quite this tedious

As promised in my most recent blog post, I’m currently hard at work redrafting my novel the Arkship Ulysses for what will absolutely, definitely be the final time. Probably.

In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to share with you some of the scenes which never made it into the final cut.

As with any long-form piece of work, writing a novel often involves a lot of trial and error. It’s difficult to know exactly where a story is going when you sit down to write it and of course that inevitably results a lot of extra material which never sees the light of day.

How much extra material you ask? Well let me put it this way: the first draft of my novel completed in December 2012 was about 250,000 words long. The second draft, completed December 2014 was 160,000 words long.

Yeah, that’s a lot.

Now before I do this please be aware of a couple of things:

  1. The writing in these extracts isn’t fully polished. This is very much a work-in-progress here so expect to see a lot of repetitions, redundancies and other writerly ticks that the editing process normally takes care of
  2. These scenes no longer have any place in the book. It’s not like you can easily slot them into some place in the novel and have them make sense. Unfortunately things have moved around so much by this point that these scenes no longer fit without significant re-writes to their entry points.

All clear? OK so without any further ado I give you deleted scene #1.

Deleted scene #1: The Black Sea

Click here to read Deleted Scene #1: The Black Sea (PDF).

This ‘scene’ (actually 4,000 words long, which is long enough to make it a chapter in its own right) is the telling of an old Earth legend. The story Susan tells Stuart in this chapter is a simple one but it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for because of how thematically resonant it is with the rest of the book as well as with Stuart’s character arc as a whole.

It also tells us a lot about the back-story of this world without being extremely in-your-face about it. I’ve always liked it when the world building of novels is done by the reader as much as it is by the writer and this story is, I feel, a perfect example of this. When you read it you get a real sense for the role of faith in people’s lives and how the citizens of the Ulysses perceive their religion as well as the catastrophe which stranded them among the stars in the first place.

As you can probably tell from the way I’m talking about this scene, I really like it a lot and I honestly wrestled with it a long time before finally deciding to delete it. Despite how much I enjoy it, it is ultimately 4,000 words of what is essentially filler and I can’t really justify that in a book that’s already well over its recommended length.

Anyway, if you’re interested in keeping score, this scene would have taken place during what is now Chapter 24: The Metapath. It even ends in a very similar way.

I hope you enjoy it.


Returning to the Arkship Ulysses

20 July 2015

As many of you know by now, I finished writing my epic SF novel the Arkship Ulysses at the tail-end of last year. I may have mentioned it once or twice.

Needless to say, the whole endeavor was a labour of love from beginning to end. Writing on the Arkship Ulysses spanned nearly 5 whole years – a depressingly long chunk of time to devote to telling a story I’ve had going round my head since I was 14 years old but a necessary one.

712L The Observers web

I have no idea why I keep using this picture to illustrate the Arkship Ulysses. I guess I just like it

The end result was good, although I’d be lying if I said it ended up close to what I originally envisioned. For one thing, it was a lot longer than expected, so much so that I had to cut the story in two and add in a sequel I’ve been trying to plot out ever since. At least 2 major characters were chopped out of the final cut, one of whom was originally supposed to be the book’s hero. There were whole chapters that I’ve even talked about on this blog that never made it into the final edit.

Still, I have to count it as a success overall, not least because it actually received an honest-to-God review online! And believe me: for an unpublished, unknown author like myself to receive any sort of unsolicited attention is a very rare and humbling thing indeed.

A couple of choice quotes from The Finder’s Saga review linked above:

“Burgess story and writing are epic. The chapters are long but the writing rich with description and dialog.”

“I find the plot intriguing and the characters strong, rich and multidimensional. The characters have motivations, fears, hope and all the emotions necessary for a rich story.”

“I find his setting descriptions and the background story believable and essential to the plot.”

Those are all really nice things to say about my work and I’m honestly chuffed to bits and extremely humbled that The Finder’s Saga would commit an entire blog post just to talking about yours truly. One of these days I’ll return the favour man, I promise.

And by the way, reading nice things about myself: Strangest. Feeling. Ever.

Special thanks to The Finder's Saga for the really kind words

Special thanks to The Finder’s Saga for the really kind words. It was very humbling

Anyway, in his book On Writing, Stephen King says it’s often a good idea to let a novel sit for a few months after you’ve finished writing it before you start with the redraft. He says that when you first finish working on a novel, you’re too close to it. You’re too invested in the characters and too close to the story to have any sort of objective opinion about it.

He recommends taking a step back and leaving it in a drawer for a few months while you work on other things.

This book is pretty much my bible when it comes to approaching creative work

This book is pretty much my bible when it comes to approaching creative work

It has now been six months since I last wrote about the Arkship Ulysses. In the meantime I have, in accordance with King’s advice, been doing other things. Lots of other things. Now, finally, I think I’m ready to jump back in to this beast and make some much-needed (and final) edits.

“What edits?” I hear you cry.

Well as it happens I actually made a list of patch notes whilst writing the first draft in anticipation of this day. These are basically moments during the writing process in which I was aware of contradicting myself but didn’t want to go back and fix them in the interests of moving things forwards. The list I’m about to print here probably won’t make much sense unless you’ve read the book as closely as I have but hopefully it will put into context just how much redraft work needs to be done.

In short, it will involve writing one completely new chapter and extending two more as well as numerous other fixes which will mostly involve a lot of CTRL+H work.

writers-block

Note: I will not actually be using a typewriter to make these edits

Fixes needed are:

  1. Make Nathan Hathaway Master-at-arms not Chief of Marines
  2. Don’t kill Tundra until chapter 15
  3. In chapter 14, Rutherford tells Kara that she’s due to move into the Captain’s quarters – not ones that he himself is funding
  4. Change Ramiel Sullivan to Gabriel Sullivan throughout.
  5. In chapter 17, it is taking place on the morning of Earth Day not the evening. People are still getting ready and when he listens to the Captain, he’s talking about how nervous he is about meeting Kara for the first time and whether he really needs to. He’s told it’s mandatory.
  6. It’s Commander Fletcher, not Albright
  7. Stuart when he goes to Oxley: he is publicly thrown out but still secretly helped. Oxley sends Sarah to give Stuart a map. ‘The best nodes can be found here’. And then they share a shot of something (this contains the gene seed for the Metapath). Stuart perhaps vaguely guesses this near the end of the book but it’s not until the sequel that all becomes clear.
  8. Remove the character of Rutherford. Where he currently exists, make it all Nathan Hathaway. Put Rutherford as a far more professional soldier type. Keeping his superior’s secrets and covering up for him out of loyalty. A much better replacement for him in the second book when he takes over as master-at-arms. It’s Rutherford that interrogates Stuart, not Hathaway
  9. Give each department head a cool-sounding naval name. Boatswain (chief of maintenance) for example. Chaplain, Master Shipwright (chief engineer), Wardmaster (medical), Ordnance, pursers (administration), etc.
  10. Show Estavan getting pulled away for interrogation better than currently

As well as generally giving it a spit and polish and cutting its length by at least 5%.

Additional scenes to add:

  1. Before being rescued from the bunks. A scene where Abi is burying her father. Her friends gather around her wrapping up his body and leaving it out for the priest. There’s nothing left to keep her here now, she thinks. Its time she makes a break for freedom. Brent is marveling over Kara. This is the girl the uniforms are all het up over? Dawn reveals her plan to use her. He offers to take her in to show the Gentleman. They’re putting an army together. Plans to attack the ship. Abi rolls her eyes at the words. It’s all show boating, she thinks. Still she gives the uprising her blessing. He’s angry now about father’s death. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.
  2. After visiting the bunks to try and see Dawn. Abi goes looking for what remains of her old life. There is little left. Her old quarters are all in the hands of the Oxleys. She manages to look up Stuart in the directory but his quarters are deserted. They are tiny and a mess. Equations everywhere. Old ship parts he was tinkering with. She finds a small box tucked away under the bed containing the old family crest. She remembers how it used to adorn her father’s chest when he still wore the uniform of master shipwright. Remembers him cold beneath the touch as they laid his body out to be collected by priests. She takes it with her.
    Outside she runs into the landlady who scowls at her. Says Stuart is two weeks late paying his rent. She’s going to kick him out. She thinks Abi is a whore he’s hired. She takes the box of goods from Abi. Abi protests. I’m his sister. But the landlady takes one look at the number on her arm and shoos her away. Abi returns to her quarters alone. That’s when she cries.
  3. Final chapter to resolve everything. The Captain sits in his quarters going over the reports coming in. The ship is a mess, the nobility are at each other’s throats in outrage and he doesn’t know who to trust anymore. He trusts Abi, however, for reasons Abi doesn’t understand. He asks her to help him find a genuine long-term solution to the issue with the bunks. He reinstates House Leighton which his father pulled down years ago. He names her ambassador to the bunks. Abi reluctantly accepts.
work-in-progress

“A movie is never finished, only abandoned.” – George Lucas. Suffice to say, it’s the same with books.

Phew! Well anyway, that’s all for now. I’m going to give myself 3 months to make all of the changes listed above. At the very least I hope to be done by my birthday when I can finally start sending this thing off for submission and working on another novel instead. As always I will post my progress here.

I also plan to start posting some deleted scenes on here which never made it into the final cut. Think of them as Director Bonuses if you will, a nice little extra for those of you who have been following me this far.

Watch this space!


RIP Mr. Iwata

13 July 2015

satoru_iwata

Today is a sad day for all gamers and fans of Nintendo in particular. Last night Nintendo president Satoru Iwata passed away of a bile duct growth. He was 55 years old.

Normally I don’t comment on these sorts of issues. This website was always supposed to be a forum for my writing first and foremost and not a place for real world news but in many ways Mr. Iwata was such a huge source of inspiration to me over the years it would be callous of me to ignore it. The games he brought into my life were sources of inspiration to me at times when I had all but lost hope. They reminded me of the importance of fun and for that I will always be grateful.

Since becoming Nintendo’s president in 2002, Mr. Iwata helped to spearhead the Japanese company’s return to dominance within a video game industry which had all but forgotten the name Nintendo. His work and his games were a huge inspiration to me and his absence will sorely be missed.

Satoru-Iwata-Luigi-Nintendo-Direct-G3AR

During his life, Mr. Iwata spent most of his career working at Nintendo and HAL Laboratory. As a coder he had a huge role to play in classic titles such as EarthBound, Kirby, Balloon Trip and Smash Bros. As president of Nintendo, he oversaw the launch of the DS, a portable console which went on to sell over 150 million units worldwide and open up the gaming field to a wider audience for the first time.

The Nintendo Wii followed in 2006. At first the gaming industry was skeptical of the idea of motion control game-play, especially coming from a home console which seemed to eschew graphical fidelity in exchange for an innovative control method, but Iwata-san was quick to defend the idea.

“Making games look more photorealistic is not the only means of improving the game experience,” he said in 2005 at a game developers conference. “I know on this point I risk being misunderstood, so remember, I am a man who once programmed a baseball game with no baseball players. If anyone appreciates graphics, it’s me! But my point is that this is just one path to improved game. We need to find others. Improvement has more than one definition.

He was right. The Wii went on to sell over 100 million units during its lifetime, dominating the global market for almost half a decade and putting Nintendo back on the map.

iwata-isn-t-sold-on-cloud-gaming-1095464

Mr. Iwata was notable as a president for his unconventional way of thinking. Not only was he never afraid to clown around and have fun (as the pictures on his page should nicely demonstrate) but he was also extremely honorable in the way he handled his business. When, in 2013, Nintendo shareholders demanded that Iwata cut staff in order to make up for disappointing year-end results, Iwata bravely refused to do so.

“If we reduce the number of employees for better short-term financial results, employee morale will decrease,” Iwata told the shareholders that year. “I sincerely doubt employees who fear that they may be laid off will be able to develop software titles that could impress people around the world.” Nintendo cut no staff and instead Iwata-san personally took a 50% pay cut to apologize for the less-than-satisfactory sales results.

It was this approach that characterized Iwata’s time in charge of Nintendo. Was he a perfect CEO? No. As any gaming critic will tell you, a lot of Nintendo’s decisions over the years often appeared out of touch and misguided. But he was a good man and a good manager above all. He led by example and was never afraid to put his own neck on the line in order to help his beloved Nintendo. I can’t help but respect a man who worked so tireless all the way to the end of his life. I’m sure that Iwata-san knew for some time that he was suffering from this condition and that it would likely lead to his death, yet never once did he allow any weakness to show. He worked right up until the end, securing in the last few months of his life deals with mobile giant DeNA and Universal Studios theme parks which I am sure will have a huge impact on Nintendo’s fortunes for years to come.

He was a likeable man. He clearly loved video games and he adored the fact that he was working in a job where he could make them every day.

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

RIP Mr. Iwata. You left an indelible mark on all of gaming. You will be missed.

RIP you crazy Japanese man

RIP you beautifully crazy Japanese man

Special thanks to The Guardian for the quotes used in this article.


The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis

6 July 2015

stllewisMost book reviews are pretty simple things to write. All you need to do is talk about the plot for a while. You describe the characters and their interactions. You mention the style in which the book is written. You intersperse your review with quotes designed to back up your points and generally pepper your writing with a feeling that yes, indeed you have read this book and yes, your opinion should be trusted.

Occasionally, however, a book comes along that refuses to kowtow to the rules of other reviews. It has no plot, so you can’t describe that. It has only one character so there are no interactions to speak of. The style is like no novel you’ve ever read before and any quote you pull from it is just going to sound like academic discourse rather than a work of fiction.

Like this:

“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”

Or this:

“Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”

C S Lewis’s seminal classic the Screwtape Letters is just such a book. Published in 1942, the novel takes the form of a series of letters written from a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood is on Earth tempting a man into damnation. Screwtape is in hell watching the situation from afar and providing his inept nephew with advice as well as admonishing him for his incompetence. We only ever read Screwtape’s half of the correspondence.

That’s where the philosophical discourse I mentioned comes in. Screwtape writes like a university lecturer speaking to a hall of students. His language is learned, his discourse is frank and laced with bitterness. Like Casey Cep writes in The New Yorker, it’s like theology in reverse and it’s like nothing else you’ll ever read.

Over the course of thirty-one letters, Screwtape lectures his nephew on the various ways to undermine faith and promote sin in humans. This is interspersed with observations on human nature and Christian doctrine in general. He makes a lot of interesting points.

“Whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out…”

But there is no ‘plot’ here as such. Sure, things happen. We learn that the human which Wormwood is tempting converts to Christianity. We learn that the human falls in love, that he worries about the war raging throughout Europe, that he has a strained relationship with his mother. But it’s all very theoretical and distant to us. Screwtape writes about these things like a doctor talking about a patient and there’s little opportunity to relate.

A stage depiction of Screwtape

A stage portrayal of Screwtape

 

Easier to relate to is Screwtape himself. His depiction of hell, for instance, and the way it is structured is a real highlight of the book and one of the more interesting examples of damnation I’ve come across in my reading. There’s no fire and brimstone here: Lewis’s hell is a dull, bureaucratic place stripped of any sort of fun. The sins which 99% of its inhabitants have committed are paltry things and Screwtape delights in the fact that most of them seem surprised to learn they ever sinned at all.

“It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

The way that C S Lewis is able to get inside the head of a demon and make it feel both believable and (shockingly) relatable is nothing short of genius. Screwtape feels like a living, breathing character. It’s true that he undergoes no character development over the course of the book but what else can we expect – he’s a demon? Likewise, nothing really happens to Screwtape. All the ‘plot’ happens to nephew and the human he is tempting. Even so, I found myself gaining a fondness for the titular demon. He is both extremely clever and yet very foolish at the same time. This is no more obvious than when he talks about his enemy (God):

“All His talk about Love must be a disguise for something else – He must have some real motive for creating [the humans] and taking so much trouble about them. The reason one comes to talk as if He really had this impossible Love is our utter failure to out that real motive. What does He stand to make out of them? That is the insoluble question.”

However, I’m not sure if I can honestly say that I enjoyed this book overall. One of the things I’ve always found most admirable about Lewis’s writing is the way he is able to distil extremely complicated philosophical issues into simple-to-grasp analogies and moments of character. Screwtape and Wormwood seem like they would have a lot of chemistry together on page. They both apparently hate each other. They both believe they are better at their job than the other. They are both held back from hurting each other by the convoluted hierarchies of hell. But we never get to see this first hand. Just like the book’s plot, it’s only ever inferred.

In comparison with Lewis’s other books, this absence is all too obvious. In Out of the Silent Planet, for example, we follow the main character as he interacts with all sorts of strange creatures in a search which ultimately culminates in him discovering who he himself is. In Perelandra we see an Eve analogy being tempted by the devil and how the main character’s attempts to keep her from sinning only in turn lead her to sin in other ways. In my favourite book of all times, Til We Have Faces, we learn how easily someone can use love as an excuse for selfishness without even realizing it.

C S Lewis: a very good writer

C S Lewis: a very good writer

These things teach us something about ourselves and human nature in general. We don’t need to be told them: we see them through character interaction and dialogue. In the Screwtape Letters, however, we would need to be told them – lectured them as of a teacher from the front of a classroom. That, for me, is where this book fell down. Philosophical discourse has its place in writing certainly, but given a choice between being shown something and lectured it, I would choose the showing every time.

Overall I liked the Screwtape letters but it left me feeling conflicted. If I wanted to read a book of Lewis’s philosophy I’d have read Mere Christianity or one of his other non-fiction books. The Screwtape Letters, however, fills an odd niche in writing: not quite a work of fiction yet not quite a book of philosophy either. It’s a curiosity, hard to review, even harder to sit through and ultimately not one which I would recommend in comparison with Lewis’s other works.

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”


Short story: Four minute warning

29 June 2015

First of all, no this is not the long-promised redraft of the Girl who Cried Glass I told you about over a month ago. I’m still working on that. Just need to deal with writers block and time shortages and all those other little hurdles that life loves to throw at you first.

In the meantime, here’s a very old story I wrote while at university.

Spoiler warning: it’s terrible.

Click here to read Four Minute Warning (PDF)

The inspiration for this masterpiece [sic] comes from two places. One is a short story by Garret Adams called Jumper (read about it here) which I first came across in the book On Writing by Stephen King.

Now let me say straight away that On Writing is an excellent book, full of great insight and wisdom for any budding writer.  However, the short story included inside the book (a story which won the writing competition King ran to coincide with the launch of On Writing no less) never really resonated with me. It felt like little more than a troll fic, a story built around its ham-fisted plot twist, which comes completely out of the left field and leaves you with more questions than it answers.

On Writing by Stephen King: A great book for any new writer

On Writing by Stephen King: A great resource for any new writer

So why did I decide to write a story inspired by this piece of fiction?

Well, suffice to say I was still new to the world of writing at the time and trying to find my own voice. And here was an example of a short story, highlighted by the masterful Stephen King no less, of what he considered to be a great piece of fiction. At the time I hadn’t read many short stories – I certainly hadn’t written many of them – so this random piece of short fiction ended up becoming something of a template for how a short story should look.

  • Hence Four Minute Warning opens with our hero in a very difficult situation – just like in Jumper.
  • The police are looking for him – just like in Jumper.
  • There are no fleshed out characters other than the hero – just like in Jumper.
  • It ends with the main character (*spoiler alert*) becoming a terrorist and killing lots of people – just like in Jumper.

Really, you could just slap the label “Just like Jumper (only worse)” on the strap line of this thing and it would pretty much sum up the whole thing. It would also save you 20 minutes of your precious life.

Does anyone even remember this movie?

Does anyone even remember this movie?

By the way, while we’re on the subject, what sort of a name for a story is Jumper anyway? Any Americans reading this: please stop using the word “jumper” as the title for you fiction. It sounds terrible. No British guy wants to read the epic story about one man and his favourite sweatshirt. Thank you.

Talking of titles, that segues neatly into the second inspiration for this story, namely the timeless piece of pop music entitled Four Minute Warning by ex-Take That member Mark Owen.

This timeless classic of a song (which disappointingly isn’t actually four minutes long) is one of those so-bad-it’s-good songs. My friends and I used to listen to it all the time at university as something of an in-joke among ourselves. I guess it kind of grew on us over time until it pretty much became the soundtrack of our entire university lives.

And now I share it with you. Feel privileged guys. These be rare gems I’m sharing with you today.


My thoughts on E3 2015

22 June 2015
For the second year in a row, Nintendo found a creative way to introduce their show

For the second year in a row, Nintendo found a creative way to introduce their show

There’s a famous horror story called “The Monkey’s Paw” in which a man gains the ability to receive anything he asks for. However, those wishes once granted will always end up tainted.

After watching this year’s Nintendo Digital Event, I can’t help but feel that Nintendo is now my video game equivalent to a Monkey’s Paw.

At this year’s event I got literally everything I asked for: a new Animal Crossing game, a new Metroid, a new Paper Mario, a game that fully utilized Amiibo and a virtual console release of Earthbound. On paper, it should have been a slam dunk for Nintendo. And yet every single one of those wishes turned out to be tainted.

One of my most hyped games, Fire Emblem vs. Shin Megami Tensei has turned in a J-pop weeaboo mess. Starfox is little more than a “re-imagined” reboot of the first game. Animal Crossing is now a party game. Metroid Prime doesn’t even have Samus in it…

According to Nintendo of America COO Reggie Fils-Aime, this year’s E3 was all about transformation. And it shows. What we’re seeing here is Nintendo spinning its wheels, scaling back production on Wii U and 3Ds and turning its attention and resources to next year’s show and the newly announced NX console. What we’re left with at this year’s show are a bunch of games we already knew about and some crap to fill in the gaps in the release schedule. It feels cheap and understandably, the fans are upset.

But what about the games coming out this year? Here I talk briefly about the games I’m most excited for from this year’s E3 showing, as well as the announcements that left me feeling cold.

Things I’m excited for

Super Mario Maker

This is a game I've wanted for over 20 years

This is a game I’ve wanted for over 20 years

OK so I admit it, at last year’s E3 showing I said that Mario Maker looked disappointing. I said it looked limited. I said it was 10 years too late. I said that compared to other creation games like Little Big Planet and Project Spark it looked dated.

I was wrong.

This game has gone through a lot of changes since the last time we saw it. Since last E3 it’s had new skins for Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World added to it. The size of the levels have increased and Nintendo have added the ability to add warp pipes and doors, create 4-course worlds and even mix and match elements from games which previously lacked those assets. New enemies have been added. New items have been incorporated into the level design. It even has genuinely good Amiibo functionality.

I admit, I’m super excited to play this game.I’m already imagining the sorts of courses I want to create and I just know I’m going to spend hours tweaking them before challenging my wife to play through them. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Xenoblade Chronicles X

WiiU_Xenoblade_scrn01_E3

This feels like deja vu…

Wait a second, wasn’t this game one of my most anticipated games last year too?

Yes. Yes it was. Which just goes to show how bad Nintendo’s E3 showing was this year that one of my most-hyped game is now celebrating its 3rd E3 showing in a row.

This shouldn’t take anything away from the game itself, however. Xenoblade Chronicles X looks like a huge, ambitious game. Expansive environments and thrilling real-time combat are the order of business here. It’s basically a JRPG built around Western sensibilities and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

The game has already been released in Japan and I’m hearing a lot of positive noise about it from there. I am officially excited.

Yoshi’s Wooly World

Yarn! Wool! Cute!

Look me in the eyes and tell me this isn’t the cutest thing you’ve ever seen

My favourite game of all time is Yoshi’s Island on the Super Nintendo.

I’ve waited a loooong time for another game to capture even one-tenth of the creativity and charm as that 16-bit masterpiece. For the longest time it looked as though we would never see another game of its like. Finally, however, Feel Good Games have come along to pick up where Nintendo left off all those years ago. And I’m cautiously optimistic. Whatever magic formula Nintendo cracked back in the 90’s, it looks as though it might just have been cracked once again.

Yoshi’s Wooly World looks excellent. From its beautiful yarn aesthetic to the co-op nature of its game play: everything here screams polish and class. Everything I loved about the Super Nintendo classic is present and correct: transformations, egg throwing, ground pounding, just all with a new HD coat of paint.  And I couldn’t be happier.

Things I was disappointed in

Star Fox Zero

Just what this series needed: another reboot

Just what this series needed: another reboot

Star Fox 64 (or Lylat Wars as I’ve always known it) was one of my favourite games on the Nintendo 64. The cinematic story line, the full voice acting, the branching paths, the amazing multi-player dogfight mode… it was all so epic to play and I loved every minute. To this date, it’s one of the few games that I’ve completed 100%. All gold medals in both easy and hard mode. Hundreds of hours of my life invested into this masterpiece of a game.

And now it’s back. And it looks exactly the same.

The story is the same. The layout of the levels is almost identical. Even the visuals, sadly, don’t look much improved.

What’s different however is what’s missing. There’s no multi-player mode (surely 4-player co-op sounds like a no-brainer in this universe?). There are no branching paths. The cinematic feel is still present but it’s ruined by a clunky control scheme which forces you to stare at a tiny game pad screen in order to do anything worthwhile…

We always knew this game had a rushed development cycle – it was announced at last year’s E3 while in a barely playable Alpha form – but I never thought it would show as badly as this. My inner 14 year old is crying.

Literally everything else…

Here’s the thing about Nintendo’s E3 showing this year: it showed some good games. Some damned good games, in fact.

The problem is, we already knew about these games from last year’s event. And while it’s always good to have new details and trailers to look at, I’m only a few months away from having these games in my possession, so I’m finding it hard to get excited.

Yoshi’s Wooly World, in particular, releases in the EU in less than a week. Did we really need seven minutes of a 50 minute show dedicated to a game so close to release?

The only new games for the Wii U were a party game with the skin of Animal Crossing (a betrayal to all the fans who were eagerly awaiting a full Animal Crossing experience) and a Mario Tennis game that looks workman at best and positively uninspired at worst. There was also Shin Megami Tensei vs. Fire Emblem but the less said about that ugly J-pop anime-fest the better.

Everything else was Amiibo…

Do you like Amiibo? No? Well too bad, that's what you're getting!

Do you like Amiibo? No? Well too bad, that’s what you’re getting!

At this stage, I feel fairly confident in predicting Nintendo’s game plan for the year ahead.

This year’s E3 was designed to showcase the games they have coming in 2015 and the first half of 2016. Nothing more. That means we know literally nothing about what’s coming in late 2016 (except Zelda U). We do, however, know that the NX – Nintendo’s next console – will be unveiled in 2016.

What can we take from this? Well my guess would be that development on the 3DS and Wii U are both being scaled back with Nintendo’s focus switching to its new console. I’m sure that at next year’s E3 we will all be saying they won the show hands down. We’ll have a new console, a playable version of Zelda U, at least one first-party launch title for the NX along the lines of Nintendo Land or Wii Sports, whatever game Retro studios is working on, a new Pokemon game from Game Freak, a full unveiling of the mobile games releasing through DeNa, and a full unveiling of the amusement part rides coming to Universal Studios.

Unfortunately in order to turn next year’s show into the hype-fest Nintendo wants it to be, you first need to have a dull transitional year. And this was it.

As Reggi said, this year was one of transformation for Nintendo. Please understand. We are working on fixing these issues…


Poetry and I

15 June 2015

Poetry anmagnetic-poetryd I have never got along.

That’s not for want of trying either. I’m a writer: Poetry and I share a lot of the same friends. We hang out in the same places. We work on the same street. For some reason though, we’ve never seen eye to eye.

All through my life I’ve tried patching things up between us. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve knocked on Poetry’s door one day, all smiles and pleasantries with a blank notebook in hand, only to have the door slammed in my face. Poetry simply never has time for me.

And I, in turn, have learned to shun it.

At school, whenever I was asked to read a poem, I would find myself feeling nothing but confusion towards the words I was seeing. It was a strange experience for me, considering the instant and visceral impact that other forms of writing have had on me since my early childhood. Theatre and novels I can get behind. But poetry? “In what way is this supposed to be entertaining?” I would ask my teachers and they would simply chastise me in reply for being rude to their friend.

During my A-levels, I struggled through Wilfred Owen and Sigfried Sassoon. During my GCSE’s I forced myself to choke down Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage and Ted Hughes – the heavyweights of the modern era. At university I Cliff-noted my way through Keats and Wordsworth, Byron and Shakespeare and more.

So many more… So many poets with so many pages of mind-numbingly cryptic jibber-jabber and all of it dull, dull, dull…

Look at him all smug and pretentiously muse-ful. Damn you John Keats you ruined my teenage years

John Keats: look at him all smug and pretentiously muse-full. Little does he know the sheer hell he will make out of my teenage years

However, that’s not to say I hate everything Poetry has done.

I’ve always enjoyed the Raven by Edgar Alan Poe, for example. I like the rhythm of its sentences. I like the feel of it in your mouth. There’s a relentless beat to the poem which drives the reader on. And yes, there is a plot, which is a nice change of pace from most poetry because it serves to keep you entertained. Ultimately, though, it’s not the plot I like about this poem but rather the feel of it.

Read this now and listen to the natural beat that forms. You’ll see what I mean:

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

It’s the same when I listen to music. I almost never listen to a song for its lyrics – in truth, I rarely even hear the lyrics. For whatever reason, my brain just isn’t wired that way. Instead, when I listen to music, it’s the rhythms and the harmony that my ear focuses on: the chords, the instrumentation and the underlying structure of the song. This is what’s important. The idea of listening to music in order to hear the message of its lyrics… it’s ludicrous to me.

That’s probably another reason why Poetry doesn’t like me very much. I’m kind of rude to its friends.

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious Bandersnatch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious Bandersnatch!

My second favourite poem of all time is the Jabberwocky by Lewis Carol. I like it because it’s practically a tailor-made example of what I just described above: a poem made up entirely of rhythm and rhyme. The actual meaning of the poem? Well, it is literally nonsense but it sounds as though it means something.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

My third favourite poem is the Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Again it has a rhythm. Again it has rules. And again it feels fantastic in the mouth:

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Call me old fashioned but I’ve always found myself leaning towards poetry that follows a set of rules. Rhyming schemes, a solid and unwavering metre, neat stanzas, a beat: these things are essential for a poem to be a success in my mind. The way I look at it, poetry has existed for as long as humans have been writing. And for 99% of that time, Poetry has followed fixed and defined rules. We lump those rules into categories and put labels on them. “Sonnets,” we call them. “Villanelles”, “Sestinas”, “Haikus”… There are many names but they all come with a long and proud tradition.

Whenever a poet chooses to write one of these poems, they aren’t restricting themselves or stiffing their creativity – far from it! – rather they are adding to a tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. They are entering a dialogue with all of the poets who have come before them, building on what has come before and helping the genre to grow.

I always have the impression that modern poetry has forgotten this fact. I think that’s why I don’t like it very much. When your poetry can take on literally any form it pleases and still be called a poem… well, it’s like calling an unmade bed art.

Some people call this art. Fair play to them but I know I wouldn't want it on my wall

Some people call this art. Fair play to them but I know I wouldn’t want it on my wall

I know most people will disagree with me. I’ve made my peace with that fact. Poetry is a very popular guy round these parts. He has a lot of friends. Nearly everyone I know has rubbed shoulders with him at least once in their life. They invite him over for tea at the weekends. They buy collections of his greatest hits and write down some of his pithy quotes to pin to their office walls. Those people tell me I’m stupid for not understanding their distinguished friend.

Perhaps they are right.

It’s for these reasons that when I created my anthology of short stories a few years ago I named it Metrophobia, the fear of poetry. It was a little in-joke to myself. I don’t understand it, I said, therefore I must fear it.

But never let it be said that I am one to shy from my fears. Today, I thought it might be fun to share with you a few examples of the many times I have attempted to crack poetry over the years. I am well aware that most of these examples are terrible. As I said before, Poetry is not my friend. I lack even the ability to discern good poetry from bad but I know that my poetry is bad because people have told me that it is and I believe them.

1. Haiku

OK so let’s start with a poetic form that everyone knows. A haiku is a form of ultra-short Japanese poetry. It’s made up of three lines composed of 17 syllables. The lines are arranged in a 5-7-5 syllabic structure.

There are certain characteristics which almost all modern haiku share (this list is taken from the Wikipedia article linked above):

  1. A focus on some aspect of nature or the seasons
  2. Division into two asymmetrical sections, usually with a cut at the end of the first or second section, creating a juxtaposition of two subjects – e.g. something large and something small, something natural and something human-made, two unexpectedly similar things, etc.
  3. A contemplative or wistful tone and an impressionistic brevity
  4. Elliptical “telegram style” syntax and no superfluous words
  5. Imagery predominating over ideas and statements, so that meaning is typically suggestive, requiring reader participation
  6. Avoidance of metaphor and similes
  7. Non-rhyming lines

My example:

Concrete office blocks.
A lonely pigeon takes flight
Into a grey sky

2. Villanelle

OK, so a haiku I’m sure you were already familiar with. Consider that one a warm-up for what follows. Now we’re getting into the real poetic forms. A villanelle (you’re probably thinking “what the hell is that?”) is a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five three-line stanzas followed by a four-line stanza at the end.

What makes this form interesting is its use of repetition. There are basically two lines in the poem which repeat over and over again, alternating at the end of each stanza before finally appearing together at the end of the final quatrain to drive home the poem’s point.

Because of this use of repetition, the villanelle is a poetic form that deals very well with themes of obsession.

THE MODERN POET

Formless and pointless, more feeling than thought
He sits in the dark playing word games all day,
If only he could see through his black and white fort.

“Why won’t they read me?” he cries all distraught
“Surely there’s no one who can’t see my way?”
Formless and pointless, more feeling than thought.

He sits and he muses, ‘til ideas are caught,
Scribbles it down before all goes away,
If only he could see through his black and white fort.

He rejects all the old and all that’s been taught,
“I am a genius,” he thinks, “that’s all I will say!”
Formless and pointless more feeling than thought.

His eighteenth rejection is hard to retort,
There must be conspiracies flying his way!
If only he could see through his black and white fort.

He starts once again. “C’est ne pas mort!”
He writes and he dreams, “One day, oh one day!”
If only he could see through his black and white fort:
Formless and pointless, more feeling than thought.

3. Sestina

Here’s another form you’ve probably never heard of. The sestina is one of my favourite poetic forms, mostly because even though no one has ever heard of it, everyone understands it as soon as they see it.

It has six stanzas of six lines each. The thing that makes it special is that the words it uses at the end of each line repeat throughout the poem, rotating around each other in a set pattern.

Like this:

626px-Sestina_system_alt.svg

From the Wikipedia article linked to above: “Because a sestina demands adherence to a strict and arbitrary order, it creates a very interesting effect. Stephen Burt notes that, ‘The sestina has served, historically, as a complaint”, its harsh demands acting as “signs for deprivation or duress’.”

ON MEETING AN EX NOW  BETROTHED TO ANOTHER

I chanced to see that small, begotten ring,
upon her second finger. It was clear
to me that she was gone. And I was pain
inside and burned asunder. She was mine.
If I could but pretend that she was gone,
then all would be okay. But then I’d lie.

We broke apart in truth because she lied,
that I would wait at home for her to ring,
at night, and tell me where it was she’s gone
to stay the night with Jan. “Hon, is that clear?”
“Oh yes,” I said. “Your words aren’t hard to mine.”
And then I’d cry all night, my heart in two with pain.

And as the rain did patter on the pane,
I went into my room to have a lie
down and there I wondered what was mine.
Certainly not that gem encrusted ring
that donned your finger thirty carrots clear.
I saw it, smiled and knew that you were gone.

Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone!
My fragile heart did echo with its pain,
That now this creature that I loved was clear
to leave, to drop, to break and mend and lie,
and never even tell me of that ring,
but left me dark with thoughts: “You should be mine!”

But who am I to say what should be mine,
unworthy fool whose compassion has gone,
to pieces long before I saw that ring,
before me, dealing out its holy pain,
to my wounded, shattered ego. Lies!
It seems my path has never been more clear…

No it has never and now it’s clear
To me what I must do to thee and mine
only. There I’ll find you where you lie,
throttle you in sleep ‘til you are gone
and I am safe from fear and hate and pain.
When I am done you will regret that ring.

It will be clear to me then you are gone
forever. Mine, the cause of all my pain,
will lie upon your coffin. And I shall rule that ring.

4. Free verse

Free verse is my most hated form of poetry. Stripped of all rules or patterns, these poems often serve as a dumping ground for pithy sounding thoughts and little else. This is where there shape of a poem is important. This is where a single word or an exclamation point can somehow be turned into a poem. This is where pretentious strings of vaguely connected words hang out, masquerading as divine-inspired utterances. It’s anarchy turned into poetry and I hate it.

Is this poetry?

Is this poetry? One might argue that in years gone by this sort of thing would have served as the foundation of a poem, not the poem itself

Needless to say when I was asked to write a free verse poem during my second year of university I strongly objected. It was by far my most hated assignment during my entire studies. I am not at all happy with the end result. Still, you’ll notice that even though this poem follows no established rules, I still tried to interject some sort of rhythm and order into it, if only to save my own sanity from the lawless cavalier attitude of the genre.

BORDER RATS

Like vermin we scuttle – Border Rats –
each of us more than the sum of our parts.
Each of us hiding, striving to find someplace else.
And why? There are other ways,
but our destiny stumbles through this black and white haze:
and this world holds no passion from when it was made
and we know
that we don’t want this.

As ghosts we toil – Border Rats –
each of us statements of some other truth.
Each of us trying, dying to make something new.
And why? The system stamps down,
our colleagues they flee in the shadows of doubt
for money they run with no thought to themselves,
but we know
that we don’t want this.

And now starving we die – as Border Rats –
and all that we’ve lived for is shattered and burnt.
Nothing is showing, growing from that void that is us.
And why? The system has won,
our legacies fade in their commercial tune,
is there escape from this musical doom?
Oh dear god,
I don’t want this.

5. Found poetry

And finally we come to the one type of poetry I’m actually good at.

Found poetry is great simply because it turns anything and everything into a poem. Some might argue that this is the same as in free verse, where any random phrase can be called poetry, but I disagree. Found poetry is about imposing order onto disorder. It’s about taking that which already exists and pulling the art from within it.

The idea is simple. You take something that has already been written: a book, an article, even a political speech and you carefully select words from it. In this way you create a poetry that never existed before and yet was lying the whole time beneath the pattern of the words.

Like this:

Below is an example with I made based on a text about grammar which my teacher gave me on my first day of university. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the original document anymore so I can’t show it visually like in the example above. In a way that might be better, though. The original work is gone. All that remains is the poetry.

WORDS

A word can be combined,
Interpreted, replaced.
A word must be the centre of an act.
For voice, for mood, for aspect rather full.
A word is major clauses numerous.
To indicate, to specify: distinct from something else,
A word should preposition a degree
Of denial. Or connect and express on clause content.
A word lies in a phrase misunderstood.

I like this poem because just like in the Jabberwocky, it almost sounds as though it means something. Again there is rhythm. A beat. And your brain tells you the poem must mean something because it’s so consistent in the way it’s written. Here we have “words”, “voices”, “phrases”, “clauses”… it’s all clearly related (and indeed it is, since it all came from the same page about basic grammar) and yet it isn’t.

As such your brain tries to stretch through all the nonsense searching for some shred of meaning buried inside the words and in doing so it somehow places its own meaning onto the poem.

The poem is literally nonsense, I’ve already established that. It was discovered lurking beneath a perfectly normal piece of academic text. And yet by lifting it out, it now serves as a kind of naked template upon which the reader is able to place any meaning they chose.

For me, that is what poetry should be.

Poetry likes it too. For the first time ever, it’s like we’re waving to each other across the other side of a crowded room. I’ll never understand Poetry and he’ll never understand me. But at least I feel I can mingle with him at a party now and not feel like an impostor.


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