Beyond Beyond Kidding

One year on…

My debut novel, Beyond Kidding was published a year ago today, so it seems like a good time to reflect on everything that’s happened since Beyond Kidding first graced the shelves.

Reviews

The first thing that happened (and started happening before BK was even released) was the reviews. I wasn’t expecting all the lovely things people said, like how it was like “Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag if she’d decided to co-write […] with the ghost of Douglas Adams“, or “one of the most remarkable and quirky works of new fiction you’re likely to read this year“, or that it was “the weirdest, craziest book” of the “year maybe ever” (this was a compliment,  honest). I had steeled myself for the bad reviews, but fortunately there weren’t many, and the ones there were were funny. My favourite of these stressed that BK was (and I’m paraphrasing here, but only slightly) “bad. Badly written, bad story, bad characters, there’s nothing I can say to recommend the book or the writer and I’d advise people to avoid both … Still, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read, 2 stars.” Presumably their one star reviews are reserved for manifestos daubed in shit on toilet walls. What I was unprepared for was the glowing mediocre reviews. The kind that went “Brilliant, loved everything about it, 3 stars.” Out of 5. Loved… EVERYTHING… 3 stars. I just write solid 5/7s I guess.

Launch

Shortly after the reviews rolled in, I was able to realise a life-long dream and hold a book launch. I also began what I intend to develop as a tradition, even in these times of COVID – I wore fancy dress depicting a character with a tenuous connection to the novel. Attendees had to guess who it was, and the correct guesser won a free copy of Beyond Kidding. (Feel free to play along in the comments below with not only who I was, which is pretty obvious, but what this person has in common with Rob, BK‘s protagonist).

What have you come as?

My next release is a short story collection, so I’m still deliberating over which story to use as my inspiration, never mind which costume would relate to that…

Things that went well:

  • Having a power point – made me less nervous, gave people something to look at other than my face
  • Getting the uber-talented Becky Cullen to do my reading – again, limited nerves and vocal-disorder related fatigue
  • Having a microphone – helped with vocal disorder vocal projection difficulties, meant Fairlight’s Mo was able to sing Happy Birthday to my brother-in-law and thoroughly embarrass him
  • Seeing all my lovely former Waterstone’s colleagues again in a different context – they gave me a present and everything!

Things to remember for next time:

  • When you make lovely postcards of your book cover, remember to actually give them away, rather than having so much fun you forget about them so they’re still mouldering in the bottom of your bag even now
  • Try to think of some things to write in people’s books in advance so you don’t sit with the worst writer’s block of all time at the most inopportune moment
  • Don’t bother spending hours putting cool transitions and animations into your powerpoint because they won’t work on Waterstone’s ancient laptop anyway

Film4 Option

Just when I thought everything that could happened had happened, my brilliant publishers at Fairlight got in touch to say that a young director called Will Stefan Smith was interested in adapting Beyond Kidding for Film4. Like any good online stalker, I snooped on his IMDB page and watched some of his previous work, the brilliant BBW. It was funny and real, and beautifully shot, so naturally I jumped at the chance of having Will work his magic on Rob and co. Obviously with options in general and the world as it currently is in particular, nothing is guaranteed, but I’m really hopeful that one day Will’s vision for Beyond Kidding will make it to the big screen.

Audiobook

A lot of readers (including some from my own family) commented on how blokey Beyond Kidding is and how surprised they were that I could write a male character like Rob so convincingly. Aside from the fact that gender is a nonsense construct, I’m a big fan of sitcoms and there are lots with characters like Rob. Men Behaving Badly, Game On, The High Life, Peep Show all have their own versions of men disastrously blundering through life in one way or another. A slightly more recent entry to this list is How Not To Live Your Life in which protagonist Don Danbury (played by Dan Clark – no relation) often fantasises about how his life could be, while never seeming willing to accept what it actually is. There’s definitely some of Don in Rob and so it’s perhaps fitting that it’s Don’s nemesis, Karl ‘Kockface’ Menford who is the one to read the audiobook version of Beyond Kidding, released recently by WF Howes. Of course, Karl isn’t real, and the book is actually read by the actor who portrayed him, Finlay Robertson, who is a lovely person with nothing in common with Karl or Rob beyond the former’s face and now, the latter’s voice. But still, I think it’s a nice little link between some of the story’s inspiration and how it ended up.

For now, that’s it for Beyond Kidding, until the American edition is out in April next year. Who knows what will have happened by then?

IFComp 2020

Please assume that all reviews will contain some degree of spoilers, (although I’ll try not to reveal major plot points or puzzle solutions) so please don’t read on if you’d like to go into these games without any prior knowledge. These were chosen via random shuffle, and scored using IFComp’s recommended scoring system. I’m tired, so no preamble this year, just straight on to the reviews!

Elsegar 1: Arrival – Silas Bryson

This one seems fairly bare bones Inform implementation. I suspect it was written by someone who is not a native English speaker, and so would have benefitted from a few more passes for fluency and grammar. I liked the little hints I got about the character I was playing, but could have done with a little more story and description to really sell the world to me and motivate me as a player. Attempting to examine most described elements of most scenes simply returned the default ‘You can’t see any such thing’. In most locations there wasn’t enough narrative context to indicate why I was doing what I was doing. There were some nice touches like the Morse code message on the radio, but these elements didn’t seem to serve much purpose. Without the walkthrough, I’m not sure that it would have occurred to me to do some of the actions (for example, going down into the well) and this could have been rectified with a simple line of description or two to give a hint that this was where I was intended to go.

5/10

Alone – Paul Michael Winters

I loved the gradual reveal of the kind of world and situation the player-character is really in. I felt genuinely apprehensive every time I had to open a door or explore a room, which is testament to the spooky atmosphere conjured by the writing. I became stumped a little way in, and when using the walkthrough, couldn’t really see at what point I was meant to notice the hook. However, I am notoriously lacking in both patience and ingenuity when it comes to parser games, so this may have just been me overlooking something obvious. The writing towards the end lacks the spare quality of the earlier stages, but this is still a solid piece of work, and it’s nice to play something post-apocalyptic which ends on a hopeful note for a change!

7/10

The Cursèd Pickle of Shireton – Hanon Ondricek

Disclaimer: I am a big fan of Hanon’s work, and am always excited to play new pieces by him. First of all, I’ve never played anything in (or, to be honest, even heard of) AXMA Story Maker before, so it was good to explore something new, although due to the depth and detail of this game and its meta qualities, I started to doubt whether AXMA actually exists and if it’s all just part of the extensive narrative framework… What follows seems to be exactly what it says on the tin – a bawdy RPG comedy. Since the entire game is set within the world of a buggy MMORPG, I wasn’t sure when things didn’t work whether this was by design – a true stroke of genuis! For example, I accidentally clicked out of a screen immediately after levelling up but before assigning my level points, and that was it – points gone forever and no second chance to assign them. Was this a bug, or part of the wider meta-story of online games being launched in beta way before they should be? Who knows?!

Most of the early locations are suburbs of ‘Sameytown’, with the same characters, the same options and the same quests. It’s a comment on the hollowness and repetitiveness of many MMORPGs, but it makes it hard to want to persevere, even though I know that there’s always something more going on in Hanon’s games. I’m glad I did, because shortly afterwards, the bakery burned down, taking the whole game with it. I returned to the game to find I was now the Baker of Shireton.

So I bake. I make bread and sourdough. A hobo visits several times. Sometimes I give him bread, and sometimes I give him coin, and sometimes I tell him to stop taking advantage of me and then a raider comes in and cuts my head off. I’m not sure if the two things are connected, but when I ‘reload’ and return to my previous character, I find the Baker is still there, dead behind the counter. It seems there’s nothing more for me to do with the Baker for now, and so I continue to blunder around Aeon. I die in the desert. I try ‘reloading’ again but the Baker remains dead. So I do some errands for the local post offices and save up enough for airship passage… but there’s something eerily familiar about that zeppelin, and it’s not that I play a lot of Final Fantasy

This game really opens up after crossing the desert and is far larger than the two hour judging requirement. At this point I’m not entirely sure if it even has an ending or if, like its source material it could potentially go on for ever. There’s plenty to enjoy and admire here, and I’m sure I’ll return to play it more thoroughly post-comp.

8/10

The Elusian Miseries – Mike Russo

A funny, nicely written romp through (I think) Ancient Greece with a really well made hint system that offers information nice and gradually to give you a nudge in the right direction without spoiling things. I was a little confused by the British aristocratic tone mixed with the Greco-Roman setting, but got used to it as the story progressed. While none of the characters are particularly memorable, and some are more fleshed out than others, they’re all distinct personalities who I was happy to pass the time with. Some of the later puzzles required quite a lot of lateral thinking and I resorted to the hint system with increasing frequency, but I’m not a particularly adept or patient player of parsers (as mentioned above and every year!) so others may not have this issue!

8/10

Accelerate: The Apocalypse of Mother – The TAV Institute

Cover image from Accelerate

I’m not sure if it was just my set up, but some pages seemed to be missing scroll bars and going full screen didn’t fix things either, so most of the time the third (or more, if there were more) choice was obscured. I could sometimes reach to click it, but couldn’t read it, so was choosing blind whenever I selected that option. I eventually realised this could be fixed by minimizing and narrowing the window, which forced the page to rescale – something worth trying for anyone else who has this issue.

The story itself has strange opening premise – some kind of science fiction setting where a character is apparently undergoing a psychological test of some kind but everything is described so obliquely it’s difficult to get much of a handle on anything. The writing is poetic to the point of pretention at times. The opening put me in mind of Porpentine’s work, but without that core of a cohesive, consistent world to hang its wilder notions upon.

However, as the story progresses, more voices emerge and some are more readable than others. Fortunately I made it through the long passages of faux philosophical-theological ranting and in to the story proper, where both the writing and the pacing greatly improved. The use of animated text and images is really intriguing, although some of the latter are a little gnarly (only very slightly) and the content warning didn’t really prepare me due to it being of the same verbose nature as the opening texts.

As with The Cursèd Pickle of Shireton, I’m glad I stuck with it, because once it gets into Hank’s (slightly) more conventional psychological tests, the story becomes gripping. What has Hank done? Why is he here? What does the scientist means when she refers to his ‘growth’? What follows is not what I was expecting (I don’t really know what I was expecting), but has a distinctly Cronenberg feel to it, although there’s some Gibson in there too. There are still some pacing problems – some sections feel overly long, and unfortunately as I got towards the end (I think – Chapter 13) something broke, or crashed or froze and I was left with simply a blank screen. I tried loading my most recent save, but unfortunately, that didn’t work either. A shame, because this has some really promising moments, it’s just also somewhat flawed, both narratively and technically.

6/10

I may or may not get to more, but there are SO MANY if you’re reading this, please consider rating 5 yourself (a minimum of 5 votes are needed per judge in order for the votes to be counted). You don’t necessarily even have to write reviews (although it is nice to do).

Beyond Kidding, or Writing Weird Working Class Fiction

My debut novel, Beyond Kidding, was published on 31st October. At the primary school I attended my mum was first a cleaner, and later a teaching assistant, so she told her former colleagues I had been published and they passed this info along to the class. Some of the children apparently said things along the lines of “I didn’t know people from here could do that.” Neither did I kids, neither did I.

Very often these days, working class people are told that the working class identity no longer exists, and the people who say this are almost always middle class. It’s not their fault that they don’t understand, how could they? Just as sexism becomes increasingly subtle, deniable acts like asking the only woman in the office to go on a coffee run, or saying how terrible it is to be the only man in the office, “No offence”, so too is classism. But it absolutely exists. Middle class people just don’t experience it.

My secondary school was quite unusual in that it encompassed both fabulously wealthy and extremely impoverished (far worse off than I) children. This created issues middle class kids would never have to worry about. I was the only person from my background in the top sets (the groups that were deemed able to take on more challenging work, and therefore usually those from wealthier backgrounds) for maths, languages, science and English. There were a couple of other estate kids in maths & science but, to my knowledge, I was the only one who spanned all the ‘tiered’ subjects.

When attempting to describe my house in German, the other kids laughed. They had never met someone who lived in a terraced house before. One even asked: “Do you live in a council house or something?!” When people were chosen to take the highest exams in English Literature, I was top of the class, but was overlooked in favour of those who were second and third. Even my class mates protested, but the teacher simply said I “wasn’t ready.” Looking back, it may well have just been that he didn’t want a scruffy urchin showing the posh kids up, because I took the ones in maths (which I did surprisingly ok in) and science (which I definitely wasn’t ready for, but the teacher insisted I took a punt on as they didn’t affect overall grades anyway…) and I know in my heart English was the one I would have really excelled in.

One ‘friend’ used to sing ‘In the Ghetto’ whenever he visited my house (Thanks South Park!), and another told me I’d always have to go round to her house because her mum wasn’t keen on her coming to my neigbourhood. And I literally just lived on a suburban council estate. It wasn’t an inner city high rise, so I dread to think what it’s like for the kids who live in those.

So I made a point of writing only working class characters in Beyond Kidding and ensuring they conveyed a variety of experiences. Too often the only working class people in popular culture are either demonized, or a token ‘salt of the earth’ type played for laughs, or as a group whose problems all relate to financial hardship, drugs and lack of education. (Which is not to say such issues don’t exist, just that they are not the only working class stories).

As I workshopped my strange genre-hopping story which includes an invented child, the believability issues people raised were not to do with the story’s bizarre events. Rather, people queried the lives and personalities of my characters. Some were deemed ‘too intelligent’ given their situation in life. Others had ‘unlikely interests’ like gardening or Mediterranean cooking. The fact a working class family had a conservatory was considered unrealistic (Rob’s mum’s house is roughly based on where I grew up, conservatory included). One scene in which protagonist Rob plays darts with his mum after Sunday dinner was repeatedly deemed “not something actual people do”. This persisted after workshopping during conversations with agents, publishers, writing mentors. Now, I don’t think this necessarily held me back from getting published (the book’s unusual tone and subject matter did that by itself!) but it’s unlikely it helped.

I suppose what I’m saying is, I’m glad to have played a small part in ensuring the working class gets represented in all its variety. Both in terms of my characters, and me. It’s been incredibly heartening to see Kit de Waal lead the way in championing working class voices recently with her collection Common People and, of course, I follow in the footsteps of local working class writers such as Graham Joyce and Niki Valentine (aka Nicola Monaghan).

You can buy Beyond Kidding from your local bookshop, or source it online via this link: https://www.fairlightbooks.co.uk/beyond-kidding

Or as an ebook here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Kidding-Lynda-Clark-ebook/dp/B07YWZJC2B

Alternatively, please ask your local library for a copy.

IFComp 2019 – Part 1

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Cover of Turandot by Victor Gijsbers

Since I didn’t get time to enter IFComp this year, I thought I’d chip in with (brief) reviews instead. As in previous years, I’ve made use of personalised shuffle to choose my entries for me (I’ll just work down the list in batches of five). Similarly, as in previous years, I’ll be using the IFComp’s own judging scale. So, here’s my first 5 (which ended up being 4, for reasons which will become clear). I’ll try to avoid major spoilers, but there might be some minors, so if you want to go in knowing nothing, perhaps hold off reading for now.

Gone out for Gruyere – BF Lindsay – 7/10

This is precisely what I’ve come to expect from a BF Lindsay game – solid writing and puzzles with a dash of strange humour. I found it oddly enjoyable to be taunted by a giant cheese throughout. I liked that the taunts were contextual, but would have appreciated a little more variation in the abuse! Some of the scenes are definitely movie references, but I couldn’t be sure whether all of them are, or whether this knowledge offers further clues to solving puzzles.

Some sequences proved a little tedious – for example, having to open and close the glass case repeatedly when experimenting with the machine – shortening this would have been preferable.

I’m terrible at puzzles and so I failed to remove the cheese, but am aware this is a failing of me rather than either the game or its hint system, both of which would likely be perfectly understandable for someone more adept at problem solving. However, I was very pleased with my final 6/9 score – that’s far better than I usually score in this sort of this game!

Limerick Heist – Pace Smith – 8/10

This is a heist story somewhat reminiscent of 2018’s Let’s Rob a Bank by Bethany Nolan although with greater structural and narrative complexity. The story is charmingly told as a series of limericks which, rather than the random selection of Let’s Rob a Bank, offer clues regarding how to woo certain team members. It is possible to fail to convince some characters to join the heist, or indeed, to fail outright, and there are multiple endings. These are fully listed at the end of the game to help encourage replays, and in the end I achieved 3, with some more satisfying than others.

The Mysterious Stories of Caroline – Soham S – 5/10

Note: Major spoilers for the ending of this one, as I felt it merited discussion

As is often the case with timed text in Twine (I’ve done this myself) the transitions are overly slow in places, sometimes to the point of annoyance. The format for the ‘audio’ clip sections didn’t work for me – they’re presented as journal pages rather than audio transcripts, so why not just make them journal pages in-game? (Also, some of these timed out while I was reading and moved on to the next section – I couldn’t decide if this was because audio was actually used – I had my sound turned off and there was no indication as to whether audio was required in the menu screen). The content of these logs also offered little to enhance the story or move it forward.  Similarly, the tone and style of the newspaper articles wasn’t convincing, but all these ‘inserts’ looked nice and helped break up the text. Narratively, I found Mysterious Stories in general to be overly wordy and confusing in places due to the many time shifts and occasional grammatical strangeness.

I like the end of scene summaries that indicate how I’m affecting protagonist Henry, but it isn’t clear whether I actually am, and I didn’t care enough for the story to go back and try alternatives. There were concerning attitudes expressed in the ending I reached (although obviously, I don’t know if it was the only ending). Katherine’s actions would constitute child abuse – she traumatised Henry and he disliked the kissing she subjected him to. Therefore regardless of whether the other accusations were false, Henry himself wasn’t falsely accusing her. If the intention was that Henry’s viewpoint was partial or false, or that victims of abuse tend to blame themselves for their abuser’s behaviour, this was clumsily done with vague mentions of Henry having mental health problems inferred as the reason his testimony should not be believed.

Turandot – Victor Gijsbers – 8/10

I should probably begin with the caveat that I know absolutely nothing about Turandot, so have no idea if this is in the spirit of it or not, but I like the characters and tone of the writing, and the credits indicate that little of the original made it through. Written with customary Gijsbers humour and snappy dialogue, I love the way choices (or lack of) are used to emphasise comedic moments. (Yes to more wine!) I came across a couple of typos towards the end, but they were very minor and in no way affected my enjoyment or playability, hence the retention of a high score. I don’t know whether my choices affected the ending and due to the relatively long playtime, didn’t go back for another go, but that’s not to say I won’t as this is a wonderful story, wonderfully told. 

The Untold Story – Michael Pavano – ?/10

Couldn’t get the download link to work for this one (see above). Given the title I’m wondering if it’s some kind of artistic statement. Did anyone else have any luck? I’ll gladly return to this if anyone’s able to furnish me with a working copy!

More reviews to follow anon!

There But For The Grace Of God Go Us

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Adelaide and Red (Lupita Nyong’o) US, dir. Jordan Peele, 2019.

Everything that follows is going to be extremely spoilerific, because it has to be for me to properly discuss US and the rather strange reaction to Lupita Nyong’o’s performance in it. So, if you haven’t yet seen it, go and do that now, and THEN come back and read. Although, it’s not a review, strictly speaking, so don’t come back expecting that.

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The Interactive Fiction Competition 2016

I’ve been an avid follower of the IF comp for about five years now, have judged in the last few (you can too!) but have never blogged about it before. As the competition’s HUUUGE this year, I thought it only fair I pitch in by reporting back on at least enough to match IF.org’s judging criteria (five entries).

First of all, a few extra notes on my judging methods:

  1. I replayed as long as said replaying fitted within the allotted 2 hrs judging time, but only if I felt said replay would have an impact on my opinion on the game.
  2. I judged quite harshly on typos and even harsher on bugs, just because there are so many entries and so many are really great, it seems the only fair way to separate between some of them.
  3. I’ve used the scoring system as outlined by IF.org.
  4. I used the games page’s shuffle feature to randomly pick my five games, but may come back for more if I get time before judging closes.
  5. I’m trying to avoid major spoilers, but there may be mention of some story details, so if you want to go in completely cold, don’t read any further.

Anyway. ONWARD!

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A Dark Room of One’s Own

I awake to find myself in a dark room. Well, not awake so much as come round, groggily, after a long day at uni (thinking can be tiring, shut up!). But the room is dark. It’s screen two at Broadway Cinema. I’m already pretty familiar with the Dark Room, Mr John Roberston’s* highly inventive interactive videogame. It may seem strange to bother calling a videogame interactive, but Mr John Robertson’s game is, as I said, inventive, and so the term is apt. I’ve played the YouTube version: Continue reading