Posts by PJ

Belfast based Comic Artist who won’t shut up on twitter.

What is writing?

I have no answers here. Don’t be looking for them.

Here’s what I think though. I think – as a comic artist – when I talk about writing, I really mean coming up with an idea and carrying that through to a script. Maybe the dialogue is finished, but certainly the story is just the opener for an artist to take and run with.

Now, some writers will write feature-complete scripts, laying everything out just-so. But even then, many writers will give an artist free reign to go and do their thing – as long as they hit the beats then they’re good.

I think I do a lot of writing without realising, every tweet (and man, there’s a lot of those) every joke, anecdote, bit of stupidity that blog about. But there’s even more stuff going on that isn’t called writing but has writerly features – anecdotes, jokes, relay conversations. Conversation. This is the sort of writing I can do in my sleep at this point.

Despite doing this Couch to 80k Challenge, I’m not really interested in prose. I’m interested in taking some of the ideas I have and writing a comic script that is complete – has an engaging beginning, a middle that’s not a muddle and an end that’s both climatic and satisfying. This is the sort of thing I struggle with.

Committing to a single idea and carrying it through to an end point is hard. It’s double hard when you realise this idea you’ve fallen in love with, and have expanded to be something that resembles a story, will now take you several months to draw.

Christ, maybe I should be thinking of prose.

In the time I’ve been doing the Couch to 80k, so far the ideas I’ve had that have reached a sort of “ooh wouldn’t that be fun” have included (but aren’t limited to)

A sci-fi detective yarn called “Curiosity Inc” about disillusioned rich-kid turned PI Curiosity Vanderbilt whose parents both set up her detective agency (just to keep her busy) and are probably the greatest crime family in the entire galaxy. She’s dogged by one of her staff who happens to be a great detective, but somewhat smitten with her – despite her being entirely disinterested – MacFergus Tracker (he would prefer if no-one used his first name).

Stories set in that world would be cool. There was also:

Galaxy FC. Aliens arrive demanding Earth send them champions to battle for the future of the World. Based on what the aliens know of Earth, they’ve decided Soccer is the way to go. Earth fields a team of best players in the world. Accompenied by their alien coach, they play the first game, barely scraping a win, only to discover that it was never about one match, they’d have to play several leagues. The aliens, of course, have been doing stuff like this forever, and much of their empire is made up of conquered worlds. Thanks to the plucky humans though, these fellow abductees rise up.

Which was something I kicked around (see what I did there?) with my youngest son, Thomas (9) while we were playing football (because I was bored playing football and needed something to entertain myself).

I’ve laid out a couple of storylines for that. Nothing big, about a page and a half of notes. But still.

Then there’s Q13 (working title). A British take on the X-Files, except despite many of the strange weird and bizarre apparitions the team will face, nothing is alien – except in the sense that it’s unknown to mankind. It’s all stone circles, ancient sentient plants, ghost husbands and uncanny spookiness. (dammit, it should be called spooks) – we follow our three field team specialists, Tom Wellard – ex-SAS, weapons, Beatrix Tolliver – ex MI6, intelligence specialist, and newest recruit, Xavier Jones, a botanist. We join them as they’re about to explore a clump of land that no-one has accessed for at least three centuries, maybe more. At its heart we discover that .. well.. I’m not telling you, I may still write one of these things.

And finally, a James Bond story called White Rabbit. I mean, there’s no way on earth I’d get an opportunity to write a James Bond story, (scratch that, there’s no way on earth, I CAN SEE NOW, where I’d get to write a James Bond story. Honestly, who knows, life has a way of surprising you) but that’s ok, I can still play in that world. We cold open on Bond, about to escape from a maximum security prison, unarmed, standing in manacles, hands aloft at the edge of a sheer cliff drop, and from there we kick off a Bond Adventure (really it’s me trying to figure a way to get James Bond to run through a large Orange Parade…)

So there’s four worlds, each you can play with an explore, and keep you(me) occupied for weeks writing, then years drawing. But there’s no way to do all of that – it’s just not possible. I think I need to have hard thing about this.

There was a fifth story, a murder mystery RPG I wrote for me and Thomas to play – and it, weirdly, represents a closing of the circle. I came up with an idea, made up a middle and found a way to end it, that we both enjoyed. So it counts. Right?

Anyway, I have no good answers. I think though, I think exploring the question is still interesting.

Couch to 50k Week 5 Complete

I finished up Week 5 and it was difficult. Tim pre-recorded podcast assures me this is the worst of it. Deep diving into a emotional trauma and resurfacing it to write was easy the first time -, because … well… because I hadn’t anticipated how much of a kick it would be. This is a skill I have – I just don’t connect to the full emotional impact of a thing prior to it happening, because if I did I’d be a wreck.

So the first of the dives was difficult, but felt worth doing. The second I really struggled to approach it in the same way, preferring to talk around it, talk about the aftermath, be a cooler head. The third time I just couldn’t face it at all, wrote about something else and deleted the entire thing. I’d say I wasted my time, but I don’t think you can ever do that with something like writing. Sometimes you need to excise the rubbish so you know what you don’t want to do. (You measure a circle, as I frequently tell people, by starting anywhere).

The final day I went back in and tried doing it again, and it was just as emotionally wrecking as the first time I wrote about it (abeit I approached it from a different angle)

It can be hard to write/talk about really deeply affecting stuff. I mean, look how far in to this blog I’ve come without even saying what my writing this week was about. It was about the death of my mum, some 14 years ago, and how much it impacted me.

Anyway. I did it. I’m glad I did that first bit of writing on it, and I’m ready to move on to something new.

Looking forward to week 6.

Hell In Stalingrad

Internet chum Rob Jones told me about a cool project he was doing called Hell In Stalingrad. WWII, Russians, Nazis, Monsters and I thought – yeah, I’d like a piece of that.

SO I offered him a pinup, and a window opened up in my schedule and I did this piece, tagged as #hellingrad on twitter.

Had a lot of fun doing this. Didn’t come out quite the way I wanted it, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to begin with. Pleased with the compostional bolt of lightning, maw of monster and floaty scary skull floating.

Couch to 80k Week 5 Day 4

I blame my sort of hazy-looking-out-of-the-window-like-I’m-still-in-secondary-school lack of attention for not realising this week’s writing workshops would be all about strong emotional exploration, revolving around a single traumatic event. I’m not sure I would have done anything differently, but certainly I’d’ve been more prepared for it.

Today was diving into the same subject as yesterday and writing more on the topic, could be a rewrite, could be an exploration of specific bits, could be really whatever you want (including avoidance if that was too difficult).

I’ll be honest, the best thing about yesterday’s writing was finishing it and knowing I’ll never have to do that again, then turns out that wasn’t the case.

I went back to my mum’s death and wrote about the aftermath, really. It wasn’t my plan, it’s what happened. I also felt like I wanted to keep it distant, turns out I can grab that nettle once, but not twice. It’s not that the writing was so perfect it couldn’t be re-written, more than it was drawn from my own feelings so deeply that… well, I didn’t want to cry again. Simple as that really.

And thank you to everyone who commented yesterday, both on the blog and on twitter. I think appreciate both as a connection to me us all as humans who have more in common than not, and -I’ve chosen to take it- as a nod, that I’m going in the right general direction as a writer (DON’T DISABUSE ME OF THIS! IT’S ALL I’VE GOT)

So here’s today. A calmer, more reflective meditation on the aftermath of my mum’s death.


It’s been years. I still sometimes feel hollow. After mum died, I went off the rails, not oh-my-god-Paul-is-drunk-it’s-only-10am off the rails, but off the rails for me. I was angry. I was angry at my youngest brother, who was seven years old at the time. I was so angry at him. Why wasn’t he as upset as me? Why wasn’t he crying every day? How the hell could he get up and play football and not give a passing thought to the fact his mum had died?

I was angry with myself, I was angry with my wife, my parents, my family, my work, my entire world.

Mostly I was angry with my mum.

She knew. She knew she wouldn’t wake up. She knew something had happened. But she didn’t tell anyone. Instead she wrote a note, and went to sleep content not to wake up.

The pain of death is felt by everyone left behind.

It’s been years. I’ve forgiven myself for being angry, and I’ve come to understand why she didn’t phone anyone, or go to the doctors, and just … let go.

Mum was 50, she’d raised five boys, had her first -me- at age 16 and the next at age 17. I can understand that tiredness now. I want to say I forgive her, but really, there’s nothing to forgive. In my heart, I think of my mum as both my mother, and the 16 year old girl who never had a chance to grow up into adulthood and sometimes, I remember a photo she showed me of her at age 6 and I think of her as that little girl too.

She was like a force of nature, until she was spent.

Looking at her in the tiny box they put her in, I could see, at last that she needed the rest. Even storms have to stop and mum was a storm.

Clip Studio Paint On iPad Pro

I’ve been using CSP on iPad Pro since they released it, and I’ve now used it across two different iPad Pros (the original iPad Pro and ver 2)

Because of that of my experiences with it, I’ve reluctantly rated it on the Apple Store as One star, with the following review:

There are plenty of reviews of Clip Studio Paint out there, both desktop and iPad Pro. Having used CSP professionally for years (and previous to it Manga Studio) and written articles on using it for ImagineFX, I’m happy to say it may even be the best version of CSP out there – certainly on the iPad Pro 2. Incredible smooth drawing, the touch controls are intuitive and easy and the app has every thing you need to draw comics at a professional level. However…

The way CSP deals with files, and its own version of a filing system – counter to every other iPad app, is appalling and makes it untrustworthy and unusable. I want two things from a professional level iPad app: a way to round robin files from app to desktop (and here the only way to do that is to use iTunes ON MAC – since iTunes on windows doesn’t handle folders very well it means you can’t transfer multi page documents – I have both macs and PCs, and I’ve transferred on both, it’s a horrible way to work that apple are clearly only supporting because of legacy apps, before apple introduced their own file app) AND knowledge that my files are safe. I trust my iPad, it doesn’t crash. When the app has crashed the files have been recovered. However, and disappointingly, when I recently upgraded to a new iPad Pro, assuming my files where on CSPs cloud (as they have been uploading in the background) I wiped my old iPad and installed CSP on my new iPad, logged back in to the CSP cloud and found .. nothing. No files.

Now, 20 years of IT experience has meant I wasn’t doing that without taking all the important files off first anyway, but I was incredibly frustrated to find that all the “uploading to the cloud” that the iPad app seemed to be doing turns out to be nonsense, and there either is no cloud or the cloud doesn’t reconnect to the same account when you log in.

I’ve been wary of trusting the app since first discovering how it handled files – and was waiting for a way to easily move files off it before committing to working 100% on the iPad Pro. Now though, I can safely say that the iPad Pro version of Clip Studio Paint IS NOT A PROFESSIONAL READY APP. And won’t be until either CSP integrate it with apple’s file handling (allowing me to access cloud files from my desktop) OR give me some way to access my CSP cloud files from the desktop.

Until that happens, I’m giving this app one star.

Couch to 80k Week 5 Day 3 – Up close and personal

Oh man. Today. Today was tough.

I like emotional distance. I like humour and sarcasm and playful silliness – these things keep you from drowning in your emotions. My oldest son has ASD and I think for kids with ASD the general population think they’re cold emotionally, but they’re really not – if anything they can feel things very deeply and struggle to keep emotional dampers on those feelings. So they often overcompensate (learning how to cope) whereas neurotypical have very fine grained control over their emotions, it’s easier to keep it all damped down.

(Like, I think, every single thing about humans, there’s no real binary here – there’s no such thing as neurtypical and ASD – rather brains that work in varying degrees in varying different ways, but humans LOVE LOVE LOVE to classify stuff, so we end up with words that cover some portion of that rainbow of colours)

(I mean, the unspoken thing here is my constant wondering of whether I’m on the spectrum, the answer is: of course I am, so is everyone else. I’m human)

Anyway, I’m moving too off topic.

Continuing this week’s theme of Psychic evaluation, and – to put it crudely – plundering your own emotions for content (and I mean a more romantic way to put it would be to say “enriching your writing through the exploration of your own emotional experiences ” which is also nicely alliterative ). Week 5 Day 3, Tim tells us is an optional day – do it or do not. (There is no try).

(Is it obvious I’m stalling? It is, isn’t it?)

It’s write about a traumatic event in detail. I have a few to choose from, but the one that, I suppose impacted me the greatest – the real life changer, is my mum dying. It broke me for a good long time. So I’m posting it here, sometimes I feel like I need to keep these things private, and sometimes – often in fact – I discover that sharing this stuff touches reaches other people and they find they’re not the only one to have felt like this. I will be honest, I cried typing up a lot of the following. So, as per Tim’s instructions on writing it, I’ll give you the same on reading it: you can skip this one if you like.


I was in work. I think it was the start of the week. I had a shirt on sleeves rolled up. When someone came in to the room to tell me.

“Paul. Your dad is on the phone”. She looked concerned, but it was impossible to tell what it was about, though it seemed serious.

I phoned my dad.

“Your mum is dead”.

I don’t remember asking to leave, I think I told someone, I think I lifted my coat and zipped out there. I don’t remember how I got home. I think I phoned Annette. At that moment, everything was blurry, nothing was real. I felt a hurt so deep down, that I just wanted to wail. Not scream, but to reach inside and pull out of me a noise from the depths of my being. A Death moan- suddenly I wasn’t a man or a boy, as I was an animal, mourning the loss of its mother. A wolf cub, lost in the forest, its mother – its entire world gone, and I just wanted to howl out.

I think I went home to my dad’s house. I think my wife met me there. And, really, I disintegrated. I couldn’t take it. My brothers were there. My youngest brother, Luke, was in the room. The house smelt like home, but stale. My dad was shaking a little. Maybe I was vibrating through the room, like the only thing alive at that point was my loss. Mum was lying in bed. Someone mentioned a note.

She’d left a note.

“I felt something in my heart last night, something broke. I don’t think I’ll wake up tomorrow, take care of Luke. Love you”

I could feel stinging behind my eyes. Tear ducts heating up, stifling tears. And then I ran, I wanted to both run away as far as I could and go to my mum and crawl up beside her and lie there and never move again. Never move away from her. At that point, I forget I had siblings. It was only ever me and mum. For one year, when I was too young to even understand or realise, it was only me and her. She had me when she was 16. So from 16 to 17 years old this young girl had a baby, and that horrible moment made me feel what that must’ve felt like. I felt that love she must have had for that child, for me, and I felt it go. For it to suddenly be taken from the child. I felt sorry for myself, of course, but I felt sorry for the child I was. And the girl she was. And that she’d never had a life as an adult without kids.

I ran and ran and ran, and I’m still running.

I went upstairs, and went to the toilet, locking the door. I didn’t want anyone to see me, I wanted to be alone in my grief. I wanted to climb in to the forest, and stand over the body of the wolf and howl at the moon and the world and every bastarding thing that was in it that took my mum from me

The Case of The Dead Deputy Mayor

After playing and really enjoying Detective Pikachu, my youngest son – aged 9 – wants more detective stuff. (And a bit more dad time too, if I’m honest)

So we went looking for a bunch of stuff, but I thought he’d enjoy a little one-on-one murder mystery RPG. I’ve never DMd before (or even played an RPG – as next weeks edition of my podcast Sunnyside Show Podcast will attest) so I figure we’d go through a simple murder mystery. This took about 2 hours of me figuring out what this looked like for half an hour of playing. I’m gonna try and get better at it, it was sort of fun to come up with.

So, if you have a similar inclined child, and you feel the need to spend an hour or so here’s the outline of a scenario that you can stretch to fit, probably. (I didn’t use dice, and liberally gave him plenty of clues, since I didn’t want it to seem too hard. Turns out it was too easy, which means I’ve got to rethink a lot of it, either that, or just accept criminals are idiots who always give themselves away). You’re welcome to take this, adapt it, lengthen it, shorten it, twist it, add more rules, subtract stuff, etc. I’ve tried to make it PG friendly, but YMMV.

I’ll outline what happens in the case right here, you can then give out clues to it as you feel appropriate… Your detective needs to find MOTIVATION, OPPORTUNITY, and the MURDER WEAPON!

What happened (This will tell you everything, so don’t let the player see it!)

Earlier in the day [OPPORTUNITY], the Crime Photographer had been blackmailing the Deputy Mayor to pay him more money (he is the only person in the Police Department who had been getting pay rises) but clearly he had pushed too far. The DM and he had argued in the DM’s office. When the DM threw the Photographer’s camera out of the window [MOTIVATION!] the Photographer had stabbed him with an envelope opener [WEAPON], realising what he’d done he carried the body down the stairs to the top of the main flight, ran up stairs (look it’s for kids, just go with me on plausibility here) threw the computer out of the window to cause a distraction, then ran back down and threw the Mayor down the steps. He had to remove his coat because the DM had gotten blood on it and so he stashed it at the top of the stairs. The coat is a man’s coat with the initials CP on it.

The Case of the Dead Deputy Mayor

You are The Detective. Called in on any case that could be foul play. Tonight you’ve been called to City Hall, where something is afoot.

Locations

Outside City Hall

You arrive at the outside of City Hall, where the last tour has been taking place. Outside the police are holding back press, and a crowd gathering due to the recent commotion. There is a cordon around the hall as well as around a computer that is smashed to pieces on the ground, [ it is clearly an expensive piece of equipment , in the wreckage and only visible in close examination is an expensive camera]. If you think to look up you’ll see on the third floor window, the only room which it could have come from – the Deputy Mayor’s Office. As a frequent visitor to City Hall, you know the location well.

You are met by Sergeant Christopher Peele. [He will act as a guide for the Detective if he’s ever stuck.]

There is a simmering resentment from the Sarge about the Deputy Mayor, who gets all the fancy equipment while strangling funds to the police department.

Inside the reception area of City Hall.

The old building, has a single wide stairwell leading up. There are a few potted plants, a reception desk to the left manned by a receptionist and on the right a small crowd of tourists being questioned by the Police. At the base of the steps is the body of the Deputy Mayor. [Did he fall, was he pushed, or did something worse happen?]

The receptionists desk is missing a heavy paper weight (it’s fallen down behind the desk in all the commotion) maybe this is the murder weapon? [RED HERRING!]

There is a little pot with all sorts of things in it, pens, pencils, and an envelope knife that is the murder weapon. She might notice it, she might not.

The First Floor. Potted plants. Dark. Everyone is away home. Behind the potted plant is a clue: A fancy new sport’s coat. It has a monogram CP on the inside. if examined closely it’ll have a dark patch of what might well turn out to be blood on the left hand shoulder.

The Second Floor. Dark, lights off. No clues.

Third Floor. Dark lights out execept the Deputy Mayors office.

Deputy Mayor’s Office.

Window wide open, papers strewn about everywhere, computer missing from desk. Here we may find a brown envelope, inside photos of the secretary and the DM kissing. Well shot photos. Someone who knows how to use a camera.

Characters:

The Victim. Deputy Mayor Wayne Smith.

The DM was not well liked. Well, except by his Wife and the receptionist. Everyone will know little bits of this. He was in charge of budgets and had slashed every one’s budgets except for the receptionist (who had a shiny new chair) and the, weirdly, the crime photographers. His body, at the foot of the stairs is face up. Initially it’ll look like he died from the fall, but could he have been hit on the head and it staged? Was he pushed? Or, if the Detective thinks to turn the body over, he may discover a small pool of blood at his back that suggests something darker happened. Accident or Foul Play? (It was Foul Play, otherwise what’s the point?)

The Receptionist, Cynthia Parkhouse. She knows everyone well, rumoured to have been having an affair with the Deputy Mayor. She will grumble about money and maybe be a bit miffed about the Photographer being paid more. But she won’t elaborate.

It’s his business. She loved the Deputy Mayor and would never do anything to harm him.

She thinks he might have tripped, as he was clumsy.

The Tourist Guide. Carl Paxton.

He knows all the rumours, and will point out that the Receptionist and the Deputy Major are known to be having a secret affair. If asked, he may suggest that maybe she pushed him down the stairs since he might have wanted to leave her.

He didn’t like the Deputy Major much, because the DM set the budget and there were big cuts last year in everyone’s budget.

Carl can’t find his camera. (One of the kids took it and put it in their bag) if shown evidence of the camera outside Carl won’t be sure if it’s his or not (big help, right?)

The Tourists.

You can fill these guys out as you wish. I had a family, mum, dad, 9 year old son, and 3 year old daughter. The police will confirm their statement that they heard a small noise, like something falling on to the ground outside (the camera falling) then a loud crash outside (the computer) they ran out and seeing it was a computer walked back in to see the DM dead on the ground outside at the bottom of the stairs.

The Crime Photographer. ‘Toph Pickering.

‘Toph is short for Christopher. Information someone may volunteer if it’s not obvious. ‘Toph is wearing a shirt a tie, has a single camera (though he’s more often seen with two cameras).

If asked, Toph will say he arrived at the same time as the detective, who maybe didn’t notice him walk in. The receptionist might say Toph arrived half an hour before the detective.

Up to you how obvious you want it to be Toph. Toph will suggest that his job is to photograph crimes up to the detective to figure these things out.

Clues:

Outside beside the damaged computer is a fancy, small digital camera. This could belong to the Tourist Guide OR the Crime Photographer (depending on the damage)

Small pool of blood under the DM suggesting something happened to him before he fell down the stairs (if the Detective doesn’t figure this out, maybe the seasoned Sarge could suggest it)

The Photographer isn’t wearing his new super expensive jacket you may notice this or not (revealing this specifically may give the game away early)

The Shiny new jacket with CM written on it (it’s obviously a man’s jacket though)

The missing paper weight [RED HERRING]

The extra envelope opener (The secretary may or may not notice she has that) if examined it’ll reveal traces of blood.

Ok, there we go, you can add more to that. I ended up drawing a little sketchy diagram to help Tom place things – but that’s easy for me, so I’ll offer those to you now…

Hope you can make something fun for you kids! (I think I didn’t quite give enough red herrings, or enough clues that let him narrow it down, so if I do another one I’ll be trying to think along the lines of “how do the clues knock one person down, but leave n-1 standing…”)

(Oh, and one last thing – desperately not wanting this to turn into the finale of Lord of the Rings, but… I honestly am not sure if I’d approached this the same way or with the same eagerness if I hadn’t been doing the couch to 80k writing workshops – without realising it, they’ve built confidence and muscles that I think were always available to me, but until I started going through the daily grind of 10 minutes of writing every single day I certainly don’t think my thoughts would have marshalled themselves in the form that they have here. So it’s already having benefits, even if it did take me longer to create this and write it up for my blog than my Son and I actually played it…)