Friday, 20 December 2013

The Museum of Me - Special Collector's Edition

After the epic archive blow-out that was last year's Museum of Me (Here's Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed it), I thought I'd exhausted all the old crap high-quality material from my past. But a chance discovery of a yellowing folder full of wedding stuff made me realise that the barrel could stand a little more scraping. You may have started putting on your running shoes as soon as I mentioned weddings, but bear with me...

I Was a Teen Bride

OK, I wasn't exactly a teenager, or a bride, but I was only 24 (which, looking back, seems impossibly young to make a lifetime commitment!) After seeing our friends' weddings meddled into mediocrity by over-zealous parents, we were determined to do things our way. So we arranged the Register Office, booked a caterer and maxxed out our credit cards. Our DIY philosophy extended to the wedding invites, which were not going to be like everyone else's!

Marriage Times (1996) - Click to open in new tab


After all the preparation, the day went like a beautiful dream, even if we had managed to pick a date that coincided with an England World Cup game! The sun beamed down, the ceremony was lovely, the food entirely vegetarian and we even had a few hours in the middle to go to the pub for a pint!

Anniversary Alert

A year passed, and we felt that our first wedding anniversary needed to be celebrated with some kind of pomp. But what could we possibly do to let everyone know how much we appreciated them coming to the wedding? Why, how about another newspaper?

Marriage Times 2 (1997) - Click to open in new tab


You can see that we pulled out all the stops for this three page special. I believe that Claire actually had a hand in some of this nonsense, but when asked she denied all knowledge.

Ten Years Went So Fast

Fast-forward to 2006, and we decided (a little rashly, as it turned out) to have a joint wedding anniversary party with my in-laws. We were celebrating ten years of marriage and they were celebrating forty years(!) Of course, the occasion called for another publication, and I really went for it this time:

Shock! (2006) - Click to open in new tab


My in-laws, no doubt horrified by this craziness, made their own, more traditional invites to send to their own friends (probably a wise choice). You remember I mentioned rashes, earlier? Well the party itself would have been fine, except for the fact that my two-year-old daughter came down with chicken pox that afternoon! We soldiered through, but it took some of the shine off the occasion.

The seven years since have not been graced by any further anniversary parties or publications, although I'm very pleased to report that we're still married! Perhaps we can look forward to a 3D holographic iPad edition of Marriage Times in 2021...

Tough Love

This last item doesn't really have much to do with the previous ones, apart from the fact I wrote it. But I figured I'd include it so you didn't have to suffer yet another Museum of Me next Christmas!

Back in 2009, I'd joined an adult writing group and decided to chance my arm in their short story competition. The judge was a professional short fiction writer, so I tried to speak directly to him, with a story that I thought he'd enjoy. I relished the opportunity to adopt a voice which necessitated egregious overwriting, very different to my usual stripped-back style. The 1,200 word result took the first prize, which I was exceedingly pleased about:

Dear Sir (2009) - 1,200 words - Click to open in new tab



My short story fame was to be short-lived, because two months after I wrote this, I discovered SCBWI. I put short fiction out of my mind and spent the next four years working on children's novels.

How ironic then, that I find myself almost full circle at the end of 2013, with the first of my short stories for children about to be published in Stew Magazine. After so long telling myself that novels were the only way to creative satisfaction, I'm beginning to rediscover a whole wealth of different media. 2014 is sure to be a year full of surprises and opportunities!

Have a great Christmas and New Year, and thank you to everyone that's supported me in my creative life this year. See you again on the 3rd January.

Nick.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Funny Business

Children’s books are fun, right? That seems self-evident, but when you’re writing one it can sometimes become an experience as far from fun as it’s possible to be! The same could be said for working in an office, where fun isn't generally at the top of the agenda. So I was pleased to have an opportunity this week to mix fun, work and children's books.

As you may have seen on Tuesday's Blog Break, OUP Children's Books are hosting a mischievous sea monkey character (from Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre's Oliver and the Seawigs) who is doing "work experience" for a series of advent tweets. I'd been idly thinking about getting involved, but was spurred on by the disappointment of not being selected in the book blurb challenge on the SCBWI Yahoo Group. Feeling that I wanted to do something positive to offset the negative, I tweeted the OUP Children's team, who brought the sea monkey down to my office a couple of days later:

Click to see larger version

There was something gloriously subversive about taking over the OED library to make photos of a knitted animal, although we ultimately went with a shot from the better-lit office. I was wondering how we were going to get the monkey to hold the phone, but luckily the publicity team were well prepared, with a pre-printed photo and some cunning use of Velcro.

I'm often taken aback by the speed of social media marketing compared to traditional campaigns. The selfie photo was taken at 10:45 and by 11:10 it had been tweeted by @OUPChildrens and retweeted by @OxfordWords to over 100,000 followers. A very famous monkey indeed!

The second photo needed some further preparation:

Click to see larger version

I really enjoyed subverting our Oxford Dictionaries Quick Search App for this, and it also served as a cunning bit of cross-promotion. OUP is such a large company that working across departments can be a challenge, and that made this opportunity even more of a pleasure. Big thanks to Charlotte Morris (@charlieinabook) and Alesha Bonser (@aleshabonser) from the OUP Children's Publicity Team for making it happen!

There are still another eleven days of advent left, and I can't wait to see what fun and trouble the sea monkey causes next!

Nick.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Is My Art Better Than Yours?

You can't have missed the fuss this week, caused by the Kent University's questionable decision to belittle children's books and S.F. Said's subsequent (successful) campaign to make them apologise. I'm sure you can imagine where I fall on this debate, so I won't grind that particular axe today. But the discussion did make me think about my own reactions to creative projects, and the fact that I can be just as judgemental!

Let me give you a specific example. I write during my lunchtimes, and there's another guy I see most days, also working on his laptop. He doesn't ask me what I'm working on and I don't disturb him - we work in companionable silence (punctuated only by me sighing when I can't find exactly the right word). In the last year, I've gone through four drafts of a Middle Grade novel in my lunchtimes, and he... well, I wasn't really sure what he was doing, but I was mildly intrigued. It was only after I heard him talking to someone else and saw him sketching on squared paper that it transpired that he was building levels for Minecraft.

Minecraft screenshot © Mojang

Let me briefly digress to explain about Minecraft, for the uninitiated. It's something of a phenomenon in the gaming world, selling 33 million copies to date across various console and mobile platforms. The in-game graphics have a very characteristic "blocky" look to them, which seems quite primitive to modern eyes. The game can be played in several modes (including survival, exploration and combat) but the one that seems to have caught many people's imagination is construction. Minecraft has been likened to an enormous electronic Lego set, with players able to build anything they can imagine, just so long as that thing is constructed of textured cubes.

Now, I have to admit that I felt a little smug when I found out the guy had been using Minecraft. Look what I've produced in the last year and he's just been playing some stupid game! But at that point, I feel like I was falling into the same trap as the Kent Universities of this world, trying to put my creative expression on a pedestal above someone else's. Can we really judge creative output on a scale from high to low art? Are games any less childish than writing a children's novel?

Perhaps I don't altogether understand the appeal of Minecraft. My teenage daughter is an avid video gamer, but she dismisses Minecraft as "a boy thing." I certainly used to be a boy, but find I now crave video games that have a lot of narrative - I love to consume story in all its forms, and don't care for more abstract games unless I'm playing them in a group. I'll admit that I also feel a bit guilty about playing a game, that it's empty time I could be better filling with writing, reading or movie watching.

The late film critic Roger Ebert famously waded into the debate on whether video games could be art, with this statement:
To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.
Strong words indeed! I can totally see what he means, but is that the whole story? I think back to my teenage years, when I myself was spending a lot of time with squared paper, designing computer games with my best friend (most of which never progressed beyond the design stage). I found a love for creative pursuits that has burned ever since, even if I now choose to focus on words rather than code for my "art". You can certainly argue that I wouldn't be doing the job I'm doing today without these early technology experiments.

Perhaps if I was a child now, I would be as fascinated by Minecraft as the kids profiled in this BBC News item from earlier this year. But is it art?

What do you think?

Nick.