Sketching up Schlocktober Horror….

Horror! Oh, horror! Witchcraft! Witchcraft! It’s October and that means it’s Halloween month. Horror is in the air, horror is in my lair, horror is slithering up the chair and horror is in my hair. (“AHHHH! GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HAIR!“)

In total, I’m feeling horrific and want to channel that energy into a timely month-long creative project for kicks. That short-term project is Sclocktober Horrors and for the next 31 days I’m going to be doodling up a fresh original nightmare on a daily basis. Then I’ll be uploading them onto the sketch blog and Instagram so you can see them and fear them (or maybe enjoy them). Here’s Day One’s creation – the Were-Boar – as a sample…

More will follow, and some of them will be terrible and some of them will be more-than-terrible but the point is to work at a specific daily creative challenge and have fun getting in the horror mood ahead of Halloween. The spirit is ‘quick, craptastic, schlocky as hell with a stoopid, gleeful, grueful grin‘. I hope you like them and, hey, Happy October! Here’s to fantastic nightmares…

Newsletters, Blog Brainstorms and Fresh Cyberspace Rituals…

Sisters and brothers! I’m trying a new thing because trying new things is a thing I like to do. The new thing is this: a weekly newsletter/blog-blast powered by the TinyLetter engine. I’ve titled it ‘Cyberspace Ritual‘ and you can visit any time, get access to an archive or -even better – subscribe to join the mailing list. Then you get emails! Yay for getting emails!

Why am I doing this, aside from the novel reason of trying something new? I reckon that a weekly newsletter round-up of things I’ve been creating, thoughts I’ve been having, feelings I’ve been feeling and interesting things I’ve found makes sense. I share and spread all this stuff around various areas of the internet but it’s all very ephemeral and easily lost. By gathering it all in together in one place, I can make it coherent and – what’s more – I can frame and articulate my thoughts properly. I’m not convinced I can do that well on Twitter (noisy stream-of-consciousness and quasi-impossible online fish market) or Facebook (photos and hanging with friends when you’re not hiding from memes). I also feel like this website should be more for writing out long, specific things like straight-up fiction or long essays with a specific point.

I’m also partly influenced by some excellent mailing lists I personally subscribe to and a couple of fine comics writer folk who have mastered this medium (namely Warren Ellis and the Milkfed Criminal Masterminds).  So yeah, that’s that. Head on over and subscribe if you want to get that action. Otherwise, tune in on Tuesdays and I’ll have stuff for you and it will be good stuff. (I hope. Nay! I promise you!)

Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles – Part Three: Wriggly Squiggles in Rescalda…

Allora, I miss summer camp. Just over a week on from last Friday’s grand finale and the ultimate Lo Spettacolo show of summer 2014 and I’m already thinking “awww, I’d like to do it all again!” I miss making an ass of myself in front of Italian children. I miss all the singing, dancing, uptempo activity and all the rest that is the remit of an English language tutor in the field (the trenches?). I miss the kids – even the ones who may be identified as ‘otherwordly, disturbed and possibly deeply evil’ – and have withdrawal symptoms. Honestly, I’ve put my red company t-shirt back on and am shouting “listen and repeat!” at the mirror. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way so solidarity shout out to all kindred spirits who get what I’m talking about and who’ve come home and are staring down the barrel of a long winter. Bereft, I’m going to deal with these difficult emotions by opening up my bag and bringing out my camp diaries for some fond reminiscence…

As per convention, my camp diaries are the lunchtime doodles I did every day at camp. The ninety-minute break bang in the middle of the madness is probably the best segment of the schedule for everyone involved. For the kids, it’s a chance to eat, not worry about speaking English for a bit and play freely doing whatever they want to do (play football, swing on swings, construct elaborate death cult grave sites, whatever). For me, it’s a chance to relax back and take a breather, get some much-needed food myself and – most importantly – draw. My sketches tend to reflect the theme and events of the day and my headspace at the time, so in effect they do stand as sorta-kinda journal chronicles. For old examples, see the June collections from Camp One and Camp Two

Alternately, see below for this fresh bunch from Camp Three which was located in the town of Rescaldina, just outside Milano (though the camp was called Rescalda, which is one of the subdivisional zones of the place). Some context before I begin and bring out the bad sketches: this camp didn’t have a special mensa/canteen area for us to eat in or any catering arrangement so we had packed lunches and ate them outside in the front yard. (Parents were the main driving force behind the camp and the school was ultimately just a location with a couple of classrooms, a hall, a front yard and a smelly toilet block for us to use. The school really didn’t want us there but that’s a rant for another time and place.)

These are not what I’d call ‘ideal lunchtime doodle’ conditions – ideal conditions would be paper placemats for drawing on, tables for resting on and seating arrangements where I’m with the children while they’re eating. I may be a Control Freak Princess who’s very precious about certain things, but I’m not going to let minor obstacles get in the way of my fun. As it was, I got some of my own paper, dragged chairs and a desk outside with me and doodled anyway because I have a reputation and a tradition to uphold. I’d then sit there for that hour-and-a-half alternating between eating, talking and laughing deliriously with my colleague Sandy while doodling. The moral to this story is either “You can make your own fun anywhere in spite of inauspicious circumstances” or “Control Freak Princesses will get always get their way”.

Anyway, that’s more than enough rambling so let’s get to self-indulgent sketch action. Here are the daily doodlings with some explanatory annotations…

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Pronto! Back from Italia, with the Weird, the Sweet and the Sublime…

Allora, mi amici! It’s a-me! I’m a-back! (, though my name is not Mario there is a little part of me deep down inside that’s a chirpy 16-bit fake Italian. I’m going to keep on talking like this and pretending that I’m in an ultra-colourful videogame ’cause that’s how I roll and I’m still delirious, strung out on lack of sleep and affected by my latest Italian adventure trip.)

Erm, yeah, I’m back in the UK and hooked up to my laptop again and going about trying to get back in th’loop. I’ve hugged some relatives. I’ve drank a lot of ‘real’ English tea. I’ve done my washing. Phones ring but no one answers “pronto!” in response and the steering wheel is on the left side of the car.I’m definitely home, and that feels nice and eases my soul as I simultaneously go through the bittersweet motions of missing the spiritual home I’ve left behind and trying to get into British rhythms again.

As always, it’ll take some time, especially as I’m exhausted after a particularly challenging summer camp and a fair bit of travelling. If you want to hear anecdotes about some semi-impossible, strange and violent Italian kids – they attacked me, viciously attacked each other and built cult-like grave shrines decorated with sketches of, erm, Gandalf during breaktimes – I can share them, occasionally punctuated by gasps of “the horror… the horror…

Still, in spite of that – and that makes it sound pretty grim – I had an absolute blast and always do when I’m in Italy. I’ve had a wonderful summer in that very special place with very special people and I’m grateful for all the assorted experiences. Off the top of my head, some highlights from this time round would be getting to explore the centre of Milano again, visit the Emilia-Romagna countryside again, see old friends and my various extended families again and camp it up at English-language summer camp again. My favourite food, my favourite people and my favourite place – thank you very much and grazie mille Italia for giving me even more at the end of the summer.

Anyway, now I’m in the UK and once I’ve caught up on some sleep and relearned how to communicate in English properly – i.e. not putting Italian words into every sentence and speaking in hybrid Broken English/Shitaliano staccato – I’ll be writing a lot and creating some fresh nonsense. I’ll be sharing on the interwebs and the first thing that will be uploaded in coming days will be my lunchtime diary doodles from summer camp. From there, “boh?!” as we say in Italian (I can’t stop saying “boh“, “allora“, “pronto!” and “che schifo!” and I think I have a problem.) In conclusion, back to creative action in Blighty and it’s good to be back. I’m gonna make a brew and then brew up some creative action, pronto…

Andiamo… ancora! Going AWOL and Escaping to Italia Again…

Ciao ragazzi! Allora, devo andare. Io viaggio da Italia ancora. Perché? Perché sono in amore…

That means ‘Hey guys! Right, I’ve got to go. I travel to Italy again. Why? Because I’m in love.’ Hurm, I’m doing okay with this learning Italiano schtick. I’m looking forward to the extra, full-immersion practice as I return to the place that’s become a spiritual soul-home to close out the summer season. I get to do another kids’ English language camp, experience la dolce vita a little more and spend time with some of my favourite people. I’m very happy to have that opportunity again, so off I go…

The upshot is that I’m going to be AWOL all over again and not very active on the wider interwebs. This blog will be silent, there’ll be no tweeting and all the assorted blogs will most likely not have any fresh matter to offer until mid-September. Still, all being well there’ll be a Den of Geek feature that’s something of a film noir special on the site next Friday (22nd August) so keep your peepers peeled if you like the sound of that.

Otherwise, I’m away again and you’ll have to come find me somewhere in northern Italy where I’ll be educating i bambini by singing things like “do you like broccoli?” at them (only people who have worked this gig will appreciate the nuances and hilarity of the ‘Broccoli Ice Cream’ song. I apologise for this esoteric in-joke. To be honest, the kids don’t get it either). Andiamo. Until mid-September, be excellent to each other, take care of yourselves and I’ll see you when I get back.

*Hard Arnie face* “I’ll be back…”

(* = In Italiano that’s tornerò. Just so you know, Terminator 2 is ace in Italian, and so is Star Wars…)

Birthday Reflections and Being Happy About Being Alive…

Pa-zow! Yesterday it was birthday. It was a really good birthday, and I celebrated by reading comics and going for a curry with my Blood-Clan (erm, family). They got me an electric razor and my daily-mutilated face thanks them so, so much. I’m now 27 years old and this website advertising an upcoming Nick Cave film tallies that up to 9,862 days on Earth. I’m really happy to be alive on Earth right now. (Though, of course, I’d like to leave Earth eventually, but now I’ll comfortably settle for this planet. There’s still a lot I’d like to see and do here…)

Times past – especially birthdays past – I didn’t want to be alive or, at least, alive as me (James Clayton). I woke up on my birthday to find that, the night before, a pretty significant figure from my childhood had decided that he didn’t want to be alive anymore. I was – and still am – devastated that a great man, the kind of man I’ve always aspired to one day be in so many ways, decided that his life wasn’t worth it. A considerable number of my heroes and inspirations throughout history have made the same decision and some of them didn’t come out of it alive. It’s shocking and sad, and I felt that even more so as I woke feeling certain that, yes, I am 27 years old today and I’m so happy to be here.

As I say, that hasn’t always been the case so to actually consciously realise – I mean, really realise and acknowledge – that I love being alive is quite surprising. Recently, I’ve had a lot of life-affirming moments – some subtle and some explicit – that have really rubbed that realisation in and made me re-appreciate myself, my life, life in general and the wider Universe. Birthdays are milestone occasions that hammer it home hard and that makes sense when you consider that it’s the anniversary celebrating the fact that you’re a living being who was, at a precise point in time, pulled from a womb (or some special magic clay) to join the party. Woohoo! I was born and I’m still here and that’s brilliant! Let’s have music, dancing and curry!

Compare that with me of ages gone and it’s a stark juxtaposition. I remember being utterly miserable. I remember (barely) existing in a world of depression, despair, fear, frustration, hopelessness, self-hatred, anguish, anger and, yeah, all kinds of epic moop. All kinds of overwhelming negativity and self-destructive unpleasantness, where life isn’t enjoyable or even desired at all. Birthdays were especially bad times: sharp reminders that I was born as me when I probably wished I’d never been born. Furthermore, time was passing by and from there you can really go to town on worry that you’re wasting your life and that you’re a waste of life anyway and, aye, you can see the vicious runaway crazy train of thought here that drives you deeper down the dark tunnels…

But here I am, the day after my birthday, laughing and casually poo-pooing that boo-hoo backstory, feeling very sure that I don’t want to join the 27 Club. There is no magic wand/burning bush moment, wonder drug (no drugs at all), superhero mutation shock or anything like that. Mainly, I think it’s just living and maturing that instils gradual change, and life is constant gradual change. Experiences and encounters shape you and I can reel off things I’ve done, things I’ve been through, things I’ve read and watched and people I’ve engaged with that have had small-yet-significant impacts on what I feel is a seismic shift. I’m grateful to all of those people, whether I know them personally or not and whether they know it or not. (If you don’t know it yet, wait for me to finish writing this and I’ll come over there and King Kong-hug you into a coma) The same is true for all the ‘things’ and experiences, even if the ordeals have been hell to go through at the time. Things pass, you learn, you absorb something, you grow and life goes on…

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Upheaval, and ‘How to Self-Diagnose a Severe Case of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia in 13 Relatively Simple Steps’…

By the bushy tail of Ratatoskr! It’s been aeons since I uploaded something onto this blog space so, feeling the need to rectify that, here I go. Some context first: I am currently in a state that’s best labelled as ‘Upheaval’. ‘Upheaval’, as a matter of fact, sounds like a really good name for the summer house I’m going to build in Asgard at some point. “Good morning Odin! How do? Would you lie to come in for a brew?” “Mornin’ kiddo! Aye, grand! Don’t mind if I leave these here dead Frost-Giant bits on ya lawn f’ra bit d’ya?

Anyhoder, coming back down to Upheaval on Midgard, erm, Earth and this is where I’m sitting. I’m in the middle space between working at Italian summer camps, in the middle of family home total redecoration/overhaul and, altogether, in the middle of a great deal of confusion. It’s just about several shades less chaotic than Ragnarök. Still, in spite of all of that – in spite of the fact that all my junk is in boxes and that I’m sleeping on the floor and feeling out of sorts and out of order – creative action has still been happening and is happening. Den of Geek columns have been manifesting themselves and I was fortunate enough to get away for a week’s retreat in the Shropshire countryside recently. While there I got chance to focus my mind on creative projects and get a clear sense of certain secret things so I am now very excited about certain secret things which I will not talk about because they are certain secret things.

While there I spent some time going through ze process of revisiting abandoned ideas and old projects and, as part of that, I rediscovered things that I’d completely forgotten about. One thing was a surreal piece of writing that I’d had fun with and submitted to a literary journal. Having browsed the internet a bit to check, I’m pretty sure that this thing didn’t make the cut, so I may as well share it here. It may entertain you or enlighten you (or save your life!). I’ll leave it here and go back to dancing through this Upheaval – here’s a handy guide for you titled ‘How to Self-Diagnose a Severe Case of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia in 13 Relatively Simple Steps‘…


 How to Self-Diagnose a Severe Case of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia in 13 Relatively Simple Steps

Are you feeling unwell? Do you have a sense that you are not quite yourself? Are you harbouring acute suspicions that you may be a victim of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia – the increasingly common albeit unexplained malady vexing the medical establishment and respectable-and-unrespectable society?

If so, do not worry excessively, for a diagnosis can be made effectively by the patient herself/himself/itself. Simply follow the following steps and follow up with a visit to your local professional general practitioner or verified witchdoctor if you feel that, yes, you have come down with a severe case of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia.

Step 1

Look in the mirror. Does the reflection look like the reflection that you recognise and would identify as yourself?

Step 2

Cut your fingernails, your toenails, your nostril hairs, your pubic hairs and your belly-button hairs. Can you distinguish any trace of exposed nerve endings in the trimmed and depilated areas? If you do spy exposed nerve endings, would you describe their condition as “harried”, “agitated” or “German Expressionism”?

Step 3

Touch your nose. Touch your toes. Touch your clothes. Are you finding this simple rhythmic touching sequence in any way difficult or painful, either physically or mentally? (If you are not wearing clothes, try the test again once dressed or, at-least, half-dressed if you are having problems locating your full wardrobe.)

Step 4

Breathe in and hold the breath for ten seconds. Now breathe out and hold for ten seconds. Repeat several times and then, when ready, reduce the time allotted for the holding of inhalations and exhalations to five seconds. Repeat five times and then hold the inhalations and exhalations for three-and-a-half seconds. After five repetitions of this breathing pattern, hold in-breaths for two seconds and out-breaths for six seconds. After seven repetitions, reverse so that out-breaths are two seconds and in-breaths are six seconds, then equalise after forty seconds so that all inhalations and exhalations are five-and-a-half seconds in length. Are you finding breathing difficult?

Step 5

Pass urine into a small vial as a sample for close scrutiny. Is it a colour outside of the conventional Flat Champagne-Meyer Lemon spectrum? (Retain this urine sample for a future step.)

Step 6

Reflect upon your recent behaviour. Have you noticed any troubles when asked to observe and fulfil simple requests, obey orders or comply with clear demands? For example, did you discard the urine sample you were asked for in Step 5 (see above) in spite of the explicit instruction that it was to be retained?

Step 7

Pour yourself a glass of water. Empty the urine sample collected in Step 5 into another glass. Place on a solid, level surface. Observe both closely and wait until you receive communications from the liquids before you. In your experience, is it the urine that appears to express the message “DRINK ME” first? (Note: it is not advisable to drink the urine, no matter how persuasive said urine may be.)

Step 9

Walk backwards for a distance of at least one country mile. Do you have the sensation that you are walking forwards with your head on back-to-front?

Step 10

Check your internal compasses. Are they pointing to somewhere other than the True North? Are you finding it impossible to locate your internal compass or, likewise, are they finding proving to be incapable of finding you or True North?

Step 8

Observe your relationship to the imminent environment and the chronological unfolding of reality around you. Does it seem like you are experiencing things in the wrong order?

Step 11

Check your chromatic sensory perception. Are you seeing a lot of indigo? Are you smelling a lot of indigo? Are you tasting and hearing a lot of indigo? Are you feeling indigo? Indigo?

Step 12

Sit still for several moments and attempt to scrutinise your faculties of logic and reason. Do you illogical feel that trouble life having jumbled and because sense don’t make are you comprehending jumbled appears it all to be and understanding having up are you things?

Step 13

Ask yourself the following critical life-changing question. Would you like to suffer from a rare, interesting, definitely-spurious psychological disorder?

If, having attempted all the steps, you feel satisfied that you are a victim of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia, congratulations!

As advised in the introductory paragraph, please take this opportunity to consult with a medical professional and/or accredited witchdoctor for a confirmed diagnosis so you can proceed with your condition appropriately.

Enjoy your illness* responsibly.

(* “Illness”? Whoa now, sugar. I think we need to have a conversation about labels and stigma…)

‘We Made It’ Issue #2: Fantastical Unicorn-Themed Zine Action…

What is best in life? Some people would answer “fat unicorns“. Those people have a good point. Rembrand Le Compte is one of those people and he decided that fat unicorns should be the theme for the second issue of the We Made It zine that he edits. That zine is now here…

It’s a very nice anthology package packed full of sweet illustrations/stories/poems/photos from a diverse array of ace artists, all inspired by the fat unicorn theme. I’m happy and humbled to be in there alongside them, for this issue features some of my work as well – a comic titled ‘Una the Aurous ——-‘. Cheri Borgstrom illustrated the short story and she brought the whole thing to life and turned my idea into something beautiful. I’m really pleased with the end result and it’s a thrill to see something I wrote made real as a printed comic that I can hold in my hands.

We Made It. Yes we did, and you can see what we made by ordering issues – print or digital – from the We Made It site. You might also be interested in the first issue – themed around Whales – which features my short prose story/alternate history ramble ‘Whale Caesar’. You also might be interested in submitting to future issues, so keep an eye out for news of issue 3.

What is best in life? Well, if it isn’t fat unicorns, it’s probably making things. Yeah, I think that might be it…

Sweet Memories, Feelings and a Sentimental Summary of my Summer in Italy…

Allora, I feel like I should write a blogpost about my adventures in Italy because I’ve been back a while now and time is ticking away. The moment is passing. The trip is becoming old news and something that has been and gone, fading from view in the rear view mirror. If I don’t type up some stuff soon then surely soon will be too late, right?

Even so, I’m feeling ambivalent about the idea of blogging. I could write a blogpost about my travels, but what’s the reason for doing it? Is it because I feel obliged to – that I have to account for myself or file a report because if I don’t I’m being oddly evasive or acting as it’s like it didn’t happen?

I’m also wary because I know that some people out there are interested but I also know that others don’t care much at all, and that’s fine. People – people like me and probably you – put a lot of stuff out into the aether and upload things into cyberspace but cyberspace is vast and indifferent, and that’s also okay and understandable. People have busy lives and there’s just too much going on in real life and on the internet to engage with everything. If I share something on the web and it doesn’t register or cause a ripple, hey, never mind. I’m not very precious and create stuff, first and foremost, because I love creating things. “Do what you love and if other people like it as well then – hey! – that’s a brilliant bonus!” is my kind of general mindset and a terrible working title for the creative self-help guidebook that I’m never going to write. “‘Tis better to share and find that others aren’t interested than to never share at all” is a similar summary of the way I tend to see things, though that line is going to need some editing if it’s ever going to make it into a poetry book or onto a teatowel…

Anyhow, in spite of that it’s not pleasant feeling like – and knowing that – you’re pouring out your heart and soul out in public spaces for no purpose. If I were to write a blogpost on my recent trip, I know that I would be pouring my heart and soul out because Italy has given me feelings. So, so many feelings. This trip meant a lot to me and I don’t want to wrench out all those feelings and beautiful memories and do them a disservice by knocking out a badly-written blog treatment that folk quickly skim over. I don’t think I can adequately encapsulate what was possibly the best six weeks of my life so far in a few thousand words accompanied by context-free photos. There are so many details, moments and intangible elements – way too many to try and tie up neatly and definitively in a post.

I wouldn’t know where to begin and I wouldn’t know how to shape it to do myself and my experiences justice. I also fear – and this is one of my major worries as a writer who says things on the internet – that I’ll come across as smug or insincere (and that is never my intention). I also don’t want to be insufferable and irritate others by banging on about how I had the most awesomest of amazing times. I did, and I feel I can better represent that in person on in more personal sections of the internet (namely, via emails or among friends on Facebook). These black and white bits of text on a screen can’t carry the full, authentic force of emotion and convey the deep truth of what I’m trying to express either. I’m a gushy sentimental soul and there’s a danger that cold pixels will distort or dilute the genuine passion and feeling, making me seem trite and mawkish.

Altogether, I’m not satisfied that a blogpost chronicle of my six week trip around Italy is going to cut it so I’m not going to write one. I can’t find the words and effectively articulate my feelings about the things I’ve done, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve had the privilege to spend time with and all that they have all meant to me. Italy is a very special country for me and I’ll treasure this particular trip especially for the rest of my days. All I can do to express that is shut up and scribble down some doodlings on a piece of paper in a sort of reminiscence mindmap to try and give a visual picture of my happy memories.

Basta. I will finish and move on by saying thank you to everyone and everything that was a part of my Italian experience. The best time of my life… :D

 

Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles – Part Two: Goofy Sketches in Gussago…

Buongiorno mi amici! How about some more summer camp lunchtime doodles? These ones come from the second camp which was located in the beautiful town of Gussago on the outskirts of Brescia. Having finished up in Fino Mornasco (see this blogpost for sketches) the company sent me off on a train to the other side of Lombardia to work there.

First, some possibly-not-very-interesting contextual background info for those who are interested in ‘ze process’. Conditions for the daily drawing action were different – and better – at this camp. The school had a large, well-lit mensa and a great grassy garden outdoors in contrast to the dark canteen cave and cramped stone courtyard of the first camp. The actual ‘eating inside’ part of the break took longer because the meals here were provided on-site (not packed lunches). With the organised distribution of several courses – and it’s Italy so there are many courses as standard – I had a bit more time to draw in relaxed fashion. This was also the case outside where I had a lot of space (temporal and physical) to doodle away. The Gussago kids liked my sketches but, with a whole massive grassy area in which to freely play, they weren’t as interested as the Fino Mornasco bambini. Regardless, I did sketch requests (two particular children demanded daily vampire bats) and kept on doodling. Here are those daily diary doodlings with explanatory annotations…

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Summer Camp Lunchtime Doodles – Part One: Inky Fingers in Fino Mornasco…

Allora, by way of trying to (literally) illustrate what I’ve been up to over the past few weeks, here’s a blogpost with some pictures. (Woohoo! Pictures!) They are pictures drawn by me on the fly during the lengthy lunch breaks in the middle of the summer camp day. I’ve been away in Italy working as an English language tutor in a couple of Italian schools. Every day in the break from all the singing, dancing, didactic classroom activity and suchlike I’d sit down with my lunch and doodle. I’d do this on my canteen placemat (my personal daily diary sketches) and then take the art action outside and reel off sketch requests for bambini to take away. Seeing kids’ faces light up because they love the little scrappy cartoon kittie (or horse, or shark, or panda, or erm, carnivorous plant) that you’ve drawn for them is so rewarding, plus it potentially helps them learn some English. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun for me and, y’know, I like having fun…

Without much further ado then, here are my lunchtime sketches from the fortnight of the first camp which was in Fino Mornasco, Como province, Lombardia. The children here really liked my sketching and I got a lot of requests every lunchtime. I’ve probably never been so popular. I mean, look at these enthralled fans…

I’m like the Pied Piper with a pen…

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I’m Back from Italy and I’m Confused but I’m Gonna Create Some Stuff…

Ciao ragazzi! I’m back. Here. Here I am, sono qui. Mi scusa, I had to go off and have some adventures and abandon ‘th’norm’ for a bit because I’m in love with a state (both a geopolitical state, state of existence and a psychological state of mind) called Italia. There are lovely people there. There are amazing experiences there. There are children there who have been sent to summer camps to learn English and they need people like me to draw things for them and sing at them for their entertainment and education.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the past six weeks but now I’m back in Blighty, plugged into this laptop and connected to the wider internet and ‘th’norm’ again. This feels very strange. Where am I? What am I doing? What is this alien land? I’m in a weird-and-confused state (both a geopolitical state, state of existence and a psychological state of mind) and I’m very tired, lost and listless. I haven’t had much sleep these last few days. I’m all out of kilter and discombobulated. Mamma mia, I’ve left my love behind.. *cue beautiful memories, bittersweet sensations and then the inevitable melancholy when imminent reality seeps back into conscious awareness…*

Allora, anyway I’m back and I’m now trying to adjust (re-adjust?) to the stark change. I’m doing this as a changed person because I think I have changed or have been changed because travel changes you. In spite of that, I’ve got to get back into some of the loops I’ve not been looped into for a while and move to some ‘old’ grooves I’ve not channelled for six weeks. For a start, I’ve got to get back some keyboard mojo and relearn how to type stuff on a computer.

I’ve also got to get these camp songs out of my head (no more ‘No More Monkeys On the Bed’, per favore) and condition myself to stop automatically responding with words like sì, grazie and salute! (that last one for when someone sneezes or farts). Mainly I’ve got to accept the fact that I’m not in Italy though I still think I’d like very much to be in Italy. È troppo difficile, so I’m going to find some progressive and therapeutic comfort by doing what overemotional creative types do when they need to perk themselves up or deny reality – imagine up some stuff and create things. I then might share it on the internet, ’cause I can do that again now that I’m reunited with my beloved laptop. (But it doesn’t show me as much affection as all the sweet Italian children and their families and hasn’t even touched the frittata I made for it yesterday afternoon. A laptop is a poor substitute for real love…)

In summary, avanti, creative action is go and there will be writings and doodlings all over the show again (on this site, on my art blog, on Instagram and possibly other cyberspaces). There may be some blogposts about my adventures, there should be some fresh fiction bits, maybe some new ‘projects’ and ideas and there will definitely be a lot more sketching. At least there will be when I’ve refound some rhythm. Anyway, welcome (or welcome back), I’m here again and – in spite of my melancholy and yearning to be somewhere else – I’m psyched to get back to earnest, online creative action again. Here, have some of my delusional fancies and some frittata. I’ve got a lot to spare…

 

Andiamo! Abandon the Internet, Amico, and Escape to Italy…

Andiamo! Go, go! I’m like Super Mario in the above sketch – on the move and all amped up to take on some colourful adventures. I’m also, like Mario, a two-dimensional fake Italian. The nice thing is that I now get the chance to make myself a better fake Italian by spending some time in Italy.

So, yes, it’s a me, Super-Giacomo, and I’m a-going! Io vado in Italia, to put into practice what I’ve been learning on Duolingo, to see friends, to soak up some culture, to experience some sunshine, to eat the best pasta and to make an ass of myself at kids’ summer camps. I did this last year, and it was such a blast I’m that going back for more. I am now all psyched for the whole experience and can’t wait to have another crack at the “I’m an educational entertainer/entertaining educator, kids! Now let’s all pretend to be bananas!” craic.

First though, I’ve got to do some packing and leave behind an ‘out of office’ note. While I’m on the road I won’t be wired up to the interwebs (the laptop gets left behind) so don’t expect much in the way of online noise from me for six weeks.  That means no Den of Geek columns, short stories or doodles on my sketch blog for a bit but a break is good. What’s more, I’m making the resolution to return creatively re-invigorated and full of fresh energy to kick out some new jams. I can guarantee that I’ll be getting up to creative trouble and forming fresh ideas while I’m flouncing about and pretending I’m in a Fellini film – doodling, scribbling in notebooks, doing the Kerouac thing and suchlike. Then when I return, I’ll unleash some things on y’all and it will be ultra-enthusiastic, dramatic and expressive because I’ll have spent six weeks around Italian people. Hey, I’m a fake Italian whose desperate to fit in. When in Rome… *frantic gesturing*

On with the adventures then and I will now begone from the internet and finish packing my bags. Until July then, mi amici, ciao! Vado! Andiamo!

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Third One, Not a Charm’…

It’s Saturday morning, so it’s the perfect time for a slightly silly sci-fi fantasy. I will, thus, give you a slightly silly sci-fi fantasy and upload my May Pictonaut challenge effort onto the internet. To recap for those unfamiliar with the format, every month the admirable Imagino-Admiral John Steele picks a picture and urges people to write a short story inspired by it. Participants then take up the challenge, weave a yarn and exhibit them in their own private section of cyberspace. I do this every month and it’s a nice creative exercise, albeit one I won’t be exercising for a while while I go off travelling and unplug from this laptop for a while. (That blogpost is coming tomorrow, so watch this cyberspace-space for further details.)

For May 2014’s Pictonaut image, John picked the following photograph (credit unavailable and unknown, unfortunately) of a woman doing some hardcore stretching atop a mountain…

Epic stretching…

It’s a very evocative, beautiful image and, most of all, it made me want to do yoga because I miss doing yoga as a proper discipline. It was a great opportunity to take some yogic spirit to writing but that got a bit lost as all the spiritual ideas somehow got sifted out in the cerebral sieve. A clunky lump stuck in place and that ended up being a half-written story about a very weak and woolly character who runs away from all her domestic heartbreaks and liberal middle class anxieties to a mountain resort (“What the hell is this you’re writing?” I asked myself). There was a fantastical twist though to save me from banality that just ain’t me as our protagonist finds that the resort’s yoga instructor is actually an underage supersoldier war child in the Hanna vein who is undercover and on a mission to assassinate a Russian secret agent.

It was beyond tolerable levels of terrible, so I swiftly discarded it, re-aligned with some yoga stretches and asked myself what I really wanted to write right now. The answer: “Hey, I want to have fun and space is fun so, by the Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, I’m gonna go full-frontal sci-fi on this, sister…

So I did, and the result is an out-there yarn I’ve quickly blasted out called Third One, Not a Charm. It’s silly and off-the-cuff but way more fun than my first idea and way more ‘me’ in terms of style and themes. If the mood takes you, feel free to take a read of my Pictonaut challenge effort for May 2014 and, of course, please consider writing your own before the month is out. As for myself, the lesson I’ve learned is that life is better if you meditate a bit, align some yogic spirit and write the things you love the most…

Travelling Back Through Time to the Temple of Doom…

“Okey dokey, Dr. Jones! Hold on to your potatoes!” And your hat. Oh, and your heart as well. You wouldn’t like it if someone else got a hold of it…

Let’s roll, ideally in a runaway mine cart. 30 years ago this week, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom hit movie theatres. To commemorate this milestone anniversary, Paul Bullock – the man behind the brilliant From Director Steven Spielberg archive website – is hosting Temple of Doom week. He put out a call for thoughts on the movie and, because I love it and got caught up in sweet nostalgia just recalling the second Indy film, I duly responded with an enthusiastic email.

Paul has, very kindly, taken those transcribed thoughts and uploaded them on to the blog as part of the celebration. You can read my reflections by heading over to the site and I hope people enjoy them or, perhaps, are moved to re-appraise Temple of Doom. I’m very happy to have been able to make a small contribution to an excellent blog that I recommend to all cinema aficionados. Paul’s devotion is amazing and I’m in awe of the hard-work he continues to put into building and curating his free online archive of all-things Spielberg-related.

Roll on, and here’s to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Oh, and here’s also to Dr Jones holding on to his potato…

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