Kill, Kill, Natural Born Killer! A new chooseable path adventure…

Slash! Bang! Crack! Other assorted action noises, followed by signs of damage, destruction and grim bloody death! I’m doing some horrible things and will be doing some horrible things and here are fresh details…

I’ve launched a new blog and this here is the blog: ‘So, who do you want Nina Desai to kill next?‘ It’s a choose-your-own-adventure-style story about a natural born killer named Nina Desai and I intend to add something to it on a daily (or quasi-daily) to stimulate my writing and imaginative muscles and have some creative fun.

I like this kind of storytelling and always have a blast when I mess around with it (like when I’ve employed it in teaching English to Italian kids or when I’ve collaborated on The Working Barbarian saga). This particular character and kick is also inspired by my love for movies about lonely assassins and sociopathic avenging angels (both the sublime and the ridiculous and both at the same time, from Lady Snowblood and Branded to Kill to Lèon and The American to Kill Bill, Hanna and The Equalizer and so on, so on as the bodies stack up). I saw John Wick the other night and it reminded me of that fondness and fascination, so I decided “Yeah, I want to playfully pay tribute to the genre and write my own silly sprawl about someone who just kills and kills and kills and kills!” That someone is Nina Desai, and you can get her introduction by reading this first instalment.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but that’s the charm and challenge of a creative project like this. I also figure it’s a good idea to dabble in different, more ‘mature’ material after focusing solely on child-friendly fare for several months. Please, don’t hesitate to pitch in – either by commenting on the posts, hitting me up on Twitter or sending me an email – so I can keep it going and hopefully write some absurd action scenes and glorious fictional deaths. Because I’m a despotic control freak who likes to maintain a veneer of democracy, the most popular choice (or the only response) will be the one I follow. I urge you to abuse your power and I hope you enjoy this fresh chooseable path adventure/distraction/writing exercise. As for me, I’m writing ridiculous ultraviolence, so I’m definitely enjoying it…

Back in Britain and Brewing Up…

*Clicks* And you’re back in the room. Specifically, I’m back in my room. Sì ragazzi, I have returned and I said that with stress and hamtastic disjointed emphasis for dramatic event. See me. Feel me. (And, yeah, touch me and heal me, if you so desire. And then everything gets really weird and turns into a rock opera directed by Ken Russell and I’m not sure why Tina Turner is here) I’m making much ado about this because coming home back to Britain after almost three months in Italy is a bit of a big deal. I mean, I’m a legend in my own lesson schedule over there and I have a fan following so in a way the UK should be honoured that I’m gracing it with my presence… *pouts, with bonus acquired Milanese swagger*

Seriously though – and speaking with my more standard modesty and over-sentimentality – coming home is a big deal because, hey, it’s home. I love Italy and consider it a spiritual home-from-home but Dorothy has a good point. After an extended spell in foreign lands, it’s good to get back to me roots, eeeh by ‘eck, see my blood brethren, drink a proper cup of tea and relax in my own space with my own home comforts. And the home discomforts as well. It’s cold, it’s pretty wet and the moors are scowling but, love, it’s all good. I’ve got a whole stack of films and telly to catch up on, very typically British things to indulge in and some time to savour the English springtime before I bugger off again.

That could be very soon depending on election results and my own whims, ’cause I like warm Mediterranean climates, the Italian way of life and living in a place where I’m a hot commodity (or at least, my mother tongue is) and where some people think I’m a hero. Heck yes I’m a hero (*fist pump*) but I’m going to spend the imminent future trying to be a hero back in the homeland I left behind. I don’t know what that entails yet, but I’ll blog about it here when I find out and am going to retrospectively blog about some Italian adventures. I’m also eager to get on with other writing and assorted creative stuff so, yeah, ‘ave it… (Truth: while living in Italy I’ve continued to lurch into very silly British accents – most often Northern accents – to retain a feel for the Mother Land and the Mother Tongue. Unleashing esoteric dialects and voices on completely confused foreigners and showing them clips of really bad British sitcoms and adverts is a source of great amusement for exiles.)

In total, expect potentially-interesting action on the interwebs from me over coming weeks and until I decide I’m done with home and want to go off adventuring again. For now, though, it’s nice to be back. Eeeeh, d’you fancy a brew?

Home comforts, guys. Home comforts… :D

A photo posted by James Clayton (@enterjamesclayton) on

Carnevale and the Killer Citrus Spree: Orangemageddon in Ivrea…

Allora, I’d like you to stick with me and keep your senses sharp for this one. I promise you, it’s worth sticking with. It’s worth sticking with because it ends in an ultraviolent epic food fight and the Orangeocalypse. Yes, it does. ORANGES.

I’m going to write a retrospective blogpost discussing something that happened several weeks back. I’ve discovered that this is a legitimate and acceptable thing to do. Looking at other people’s travel blogs I’ve discovered that they’re all about things that said people did months ago because, naturally, they don’t have time or space to keep things in-the-now. (I guess that’s what Twitter is for, but why would you want to be on Twitter when you’re in the middle of globetrotting adventures?) Funnily enough, I was speaking to my man Drake (dragon-sailor legend, not the rapper who sits courtside at Toronto Raptors games) recently and he told me he’s thinking of blogging his circumnavigatory voyage around the globe. That happened (is happening?) over 400 years ago, so my ‘let me tell you about stuff from over 4 weeks ago!’ post isn’t as late. Anyway, enough digression and let’s get to down to oranges…

The aftermath, after the Orange War. Oh man, here comes a flashback...

The aftermath, after the Orange War. Oh man, here comes a flashback…

Carnevale is a very important annual event in Italy. It marks the start of Lent, just like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Rio Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Pancake Day back in Blighty and in Ireland. Italians, by the way, don’t really comprehend the significance of Pancake Day and looked at me like I was simple when I talked excitedly about “one of our most important festivals“. “We have pancakes as well,” they shrugged, or they simply said “oh” and that was that. (Flat, like a pancake) On Shrove Tuesday some friends and I got high on crêpes by the canal while the crêpe-maestro watched on with a mildly troubled expression but, hey, I digress again. Erm, there was marmalade on one of those quasi-pancakes. Marmalade? ORANGES…

So, Ivrea: a small town in Piemonte near Torino (Turin, if you like) which for the early part of the year holds the highest oranges-per-human ratio in the world. (Citation not necessarily needed) Other Italian towns celebrate Carnevale with masquerade parades, confetti, silly string and clowns (invisible and/or chronically depressed clowns in Milano, or Milan if you like). Venezia (Venice, if you like) hosts the most iconic Carnevale, but when I heard about the unique festivities in Ivrea I ventured over there in the snow and sought to see it for myself.

There’s a lot of fascinating history but I know that you only came here for the oranges so I’ll keep it brief. A long time ago (not in a galaxy far, far away ’cause, Princess, I’m talkin’ ’bout Ivrea) the tyrannical Duke of this beautiful little town had the right to sleep with every newly wed women (or rather ‘soon-to-be-wed woman’) in the locality on the eve of her wedding. Legend has it that a Miller’s Daughter (known as ‘Mugnaia’) refused the Duke and chopped his head off so hooray for her, hooray for period drama proto-feminism and hooray for decapitating rapist despot autocrats. To commemorate this medieval tale of rebellion against the cruel nobility, every year during the extended Carnevale festival one woman is chosen to be the honorary Miller’s Daughter and they ride around in a horse parade throwing flowers to the masses. It’s lovely, and everyone’s in antique costume and all the gathered attendees are wearing Phrygian caps (‘Berretto Frigio’) to show their revolutionary sympathies.

In theory, the red caps also ensure that you won’t be a target of the rebels’ orange attacks. (Ha, nice theory.) The main attraction of the Ivrea Carnevale experience is ‘Battaglia delle arancie’ – ‘The Battle of the Oranges‘. Sorry, I can’t say that without echo sound-effects and a mighty power pose – THE BATTLE OF THE ORANGES. Indeed, ’tis an epic spectacle. It rides, flies and almost-dies like this: there are nine combat teams and the citizens of Ivrea are all aligned to one of them. They have badass names like ‘The Ace of Spades’, ‘The Devils’, ‘The Panthers’ and ‘The Chess Pieces’ and they all have a long history and their own insignia and team colours. These ‘Aranceri a piedi’ (orange-throwers on foot) all wear their colours proudly and, in total, their costumes look like a mix of court jester, football hooligan and rugby player dressed for midwinter Tuesday night training covered in heavy metal patches. The look is topped off, of course, by the red cap and these mixed-gender tribal mobs (I love the progressive politics of this whole thing) gather in the streets and piazzas and some of them chant very aggressive-sounding songs.

Enter the armoured guards: this is where citrus gets real. The armoured guards – ‘Aranceri Carri da Getto’ sport ridiculous-but-utterly-necessary amounts of protection and ride their heavy-duty horsedrawn carts through the streets pelting the crowds with oranges. The orange throwers on foot – their target – respond in turn. The result is all-out orange-flinging chaos. It’s complete carnage: a juicy Battle Royale; a zesty clash for the end of ages; a fruity Ragnarök.

Orangeocalypse Now... "the horror... the horror..."

Orangeocalypse Now… “the horror… the horror…”

Spectators are ‘shielded’ from the Full Mental Racket by nets surrounding the piazzas and streets, but they don’t offer much in the way of protection. While observing from behind these nets I got dusted by stray flecks of zest, skin and juice and got bopped right in the middle of my forehead by a rogue projectile. I also had my phone knocked flying out of my hand and the Romanian tourist next to me got her designer label handbag soaked in citrus juice (the Orangeocalypse is no place for haute couture). The cars kept on a-comin’ and the orange throwers kept on turning back to pick up more missiles from the towering boxes packed with fruit (most of it surplus from the south of Italy, so really the whole exercise is creative recycling). Wave after wave after violent, angry, orange wave. It was mesmerising.

After watching the Battle I departed the city, shaken and stirred. Taking a step aside to look at this thing from another angle, here’s how it plays out: I’d been stood in that square for an age before tip-off, freezing and finding no comfort in a bag of dried oranges (dried orange doesn’t taste very nice) and feeling quite confused. More people gathered, there was a sense of looming and the ritual procedures occurred and I felt very confused. Somehow I’d ended up in a strange town in Piemonte wearing a silly red hat and that confused me. Then everything erupted into a orangemageddon and abject insanity and that was very confusing. Observe the insanity. (Ah, you can’t observe the insanity because I’m not allowed to upload videos. Never mind, ’cause that’s adds a more esoteric edge to the mysteries of Ivrea. One day I might try and re-enact the most epic and messiest role-play exercise I’ve ever seen in my life in your living room, if you ask me nicely…)

Everything here is confusing, insane, shockingly violent and a bit silly...

Everything here is confusing, insane, shockingly violent and a bit silly…

Madness. Madness. But it was beautiful madness and beautiful confusion and an immense experience to behold and sort-of-participate in. It’s this kind of inspired and creative insanity that has made Italy such a great nation, and such an important one in the development of our global civilisation and culture. The ‘Battle of the Oranges’, then: absurd and unbelievable. And very orange. ORANGES.

(The Ultimate) Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Flowing, Flowing, Flowing…’

Pronto! Okay, the Cosmos has decided that it’s storytelling time and it’s storytelling time even though I’m currently moving through minor mountains of bureaucracy, lesson plans and the all-round busy-ness of being an English teacher in a foreign country with little time to spare. Circumstances aren’t ideal but, hey, circumstances tend to come up to me and mumble “Erm, circumstances?” and then I laugh at them, ignore them or walk through. I do this because I am delusional, in denial, a Conqueror of the Impossible or all three.

I don’t know, but what I do know is that circumstances won’t prevent me marking something a little bit important, and that something that’s a little bit important is the Pictonaut Challenge. The Pictonaut Short Story Challenge is (soon to be ‘was’) the brainchild of Sir John Steele. Every month for so many months (to be precise, 42) the Venerable Meister Steele has been sticking an image up on the interwebs and saying “Alright, write a story inspired by that and try and make it around a thousand words long and have it done before this month is out“.

This is and was an excellent idea and I’ve gamely joined in and taken up the challenge every month for a while now (and when I lagged behind due to last summer’s travels I managed to catch up). I don’t know whether my efforts are good or bad and I’m aware that few people read them but ultimately it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that the Pictonaut Challenge gave me an excuse to write something and it gave me an opportunity to experiment a bit with writing (and, in some cases, not writing) while trying to meet (or just haphazardly grope at) a specific target. As a time-dependent creative exercise it was a fantastic activity to get frequently excited about and devote myself to for a fleeting moment.

Altogether, I realise that I never really cared much about the end results and that I never dwelled too much on what I was putting down on cyberpaper – the main thing was simply the process of creating. For me, Pictonaut was a means of practical way of channelling energy and imagination and it was a constant impetus to create for the sake of creating and then share just because. Sometimes we need those kind of stimuli to keep us sharp and keep us growing.

Now, the Pictonaut High Chief has decreed that he’s calling time on this thing and, thus, February 2015 is The End. As I say, I don’t have time to conjure up something expansive and elaborate but I’ve got to do something as a one-last blast. This month’s inspiral image is the picture below – a picture by the Russian artist Andrei Pervukhin

Concept art by Andrei Pervukhin inspires this month’s Pictonaut effort…

It’s a nice picture. I’ve decided to use it as the basis for a handwritten story image-type thing. It’s not a thousand-word piece but, then again, my approach to this has always been a bit maverick and off-beat. What follows then is a free-flow spontaneous Zen thread scribbled out on paper without excessive thinking or pausing. I’d like to dedicate this to and express my thankyous to John Steele, Alan Watts, water, you the reader and everyone else flowing through life and existence in this Universe. That’s sorta-kinda what this piece of work is about if you want to absorb it that way. I’ll call it ‘Flowing, Flowing, Flowing’ and it’s the last Pictonaut creation from me. Thank you, and flow on…

Pictonaut Challenge: 'Flowing, Flowing, Flowing'…

A photo posted by James Clayton (@enterjamesclayton) on

Free Hugs and Lots of Valentine’s Day Love in the Galleria…

Hugging Robot, Human Feeling…

A photo posted by James Clayton (@enterjamesclayton) on

Saturday was the 14th February, so Saturday was Valentine’s Day. You’re probably aware of this and know that the day commemorates the martyrdom of poor San Valentino (a.k.a. St. Valentine, Vizzy Heartdust, Sweet Val the Virile) stabbed to death by rose thorn-brandishing heathen eunuchs employed by a devastated Roman senator whose wife had run off with a Christian leathermaker. And then Al Capone shot some people, Captain Cook was skewered on Patrick Swayze’s surfboard, Richard II died after starving himself because no one invited him out for a candlelit dinner and Benedict Cumberbatch got married.

All of those are reasons to note the 14th February, but really I’d just like to think of it as a timely moment to say, “Awww, yeah! Love is great!” Love is always great, in whatever form or flavour. I could go on quoting all kinds of pop songs, pop aphorisms and suchlike but I’ll spare you because Valentine’s Day has passed us by and you could get all that by watching Moulin Rouge (and I haven’t a hope in hell of making this blogpost as entertaining as Moulin Rouge). Still, I want to reflect on it a little though and write down a short account of my lovin’ Saturday experience because I feel it has some significance.

In brief, I’m a lover but I’m not a lover. As a single man on Valentine’s Day there is nothing to do and no one to do it with, but I don’t see any point in being bitter, sad or antagonistic. Also, if you show me a calendar, I’ll seize any opportunity to do something timely related to a milestone day, even if it’s just a doodle. When February 14th rolled around I figured, “Hey! I’ve got to celebrate Valentine’s Day! I’ve got to do something to celebrate love and spread loving feeling!” I would have declared my affection to someone I love and showered them with bad poetry if I didn’t have the problem that I only fall in love with film characters (some of them robots) and women who sit opposite me on trains and then vanish out of my life after just three stops.

Still, I’m in love with the idea of love like Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge. And maybe in a couple of months I’m going to move to Paris and write a hit musical that’ll spark a fresh Bohemian Revolution. For now though, I’m in Milano in Italy and I was also in Milano in Italy on Saturday. “How romantic it is just being here in this romantic place surrounded by all these beautiful people on Valentine’s Day!” I thought. “I’m going to see if any of my friends want to come with me to the Duomo on Valentine’s Day morning and share ‘Free Hugs’ with strangers!

I did that – actually we did that, because some friends joined me – and it was wonderful. Sadly, the weather was lousy and it was too wet to stand outside next to the grand cathedral so instead we stood under the cover of the grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (the great shopping arcade, home to high fashion outlets and a floor mural of a bull on whose testicles you stand and spin around if you want some extra good luck). I made a sign to advertise that I was offering free hugs and a number of passers-by embraced me and my colleagues.

We shared some really nice cuddles with an array of random people from both Italy and various international destinations. We got into nice conversations and made a lot of people smile. It even followed a couple of us home as we ended up hugging and talking with a mixed group of Anglo-American tourists to the bemusement of everyone else in the train carriage. I repeat again: it was wonderful, and the main reason it was wonderful was because it was a sweet moment of human connection and human sharing.

What I learned – or re-learned, or was potently reminded of – was this fundamental fact which I very often forget: human beings are social creatures and they need to retain a link to other people, to be open-hearted and to live with compassion and empathy. ‘Free Hugs’ is a way of consciously forcing oneself to knock down the barriers and make yourself open to others as opposed to distancing yourself. As a loner prone to self-isolation (not always a good thing) and as someone who wants to make people happy (“And, by Aphrodite, I will make you happy, damn you!” *smites them all with a double-rainbow*) ‘Free Hugs’ is a win-win scenario.

I loved the experience, and I’m going to do it again (and again and again, if possible) not for attention, but because I believe that ‘Free Hugs’ is a beautiful thing. It spreads positive energy, encourages human connection and brings human beings together, even if it just for a fleeting moment. It’s a moment of love and love is something worth celebrating, on Valentine’s Day and everyday.

I’m going to go and write a Bohemian musical about love. And I’m going to try and find more people to hug, which is easy in Italy where hugs are conventional everyday greetings. I hope you all had a nice Valentine’s Day and urge you to hug more often. Embrace it, and embrace each other…

Hey! Let's hug!

Hey! Let’s hug!

Epic Cathedrals, Awesome Cow Boxes and Italian Kids: An Update from Milano…

Allora, amici. I’ve got a morning without lessons, it’s snowing in Milano and I’ve got an itch to kick out blogpost and provide an update from bella Italia. Do you want a brief update? I hope you do, because I’m gonna give you a brief update and I’m going to begin it with a GPOY that sort of sums it all up…

Mugging before Milano's immense marble masterpiece...

An idiot abroad…

Hey! I’m in Milano! I’m in Milano and I’m getting to be silly! It’s my job and it’s my city and it’s all feeling really good. (Except for the fact that I’ve been addled by the flu-bugs that have struck down half the children in Italy and seemingly most of the teachers but, hey, we’ve got to fight on through froggy throats and sniffly noses, right?). Over the course of the past fortnight I’ve returning to Italian rhythms and settling back into the country that clearly has become my second home. To get back into the groove I stayed with my very good friends near Lake Como for a couple of days, learned how to make Risotto Milanese and caught the same kind of ailments that my future work colleagues and students had. (“When in Rome, or indeed, Milan…“, y’know?)

I then hit Milano and moved in with yet another fantastic family, hooked up with a host of other mother tongue English-speakers and we all got down to prepping for our new gig. That new gig is work as a linguistic assistant in the city’s schools, acting as a tangible, real-life English-speaking presence and teaching Italian children through informal methods (activities, games, songs, art, etc.) Basically, my objective is to be fun and be English. My first week has revolved around me walking into a classroom, beating my chest like King Kong and showing children a shoebox decorated in cow-print paper that contains five objects that represent me. The following doodle sort-of showcases some of the things in my amazing (seriously Jamazing) cow box…

 

 

The five objects are: teabags (because I love drinking tea and because English people drink lots of tea); a pen (because I love writing and drawing); Boston Celtics wristbands (because I love NBA basketball and support ‘dem Celtics); an ‘A Trip to the Moon‘ pin-badge (because I love films and because I love science fiction); and a Super Mario figurine (because I love Nintendo videogames, am a fake Italian like Mario and because Mario reminds me of my childhood and my family but I don’t go into all that ’cause it’s too complicated for the children and I’d probably start crying and squealing “Aww, man, I miss my brother!“). The lessons have been a blast and the children’s English ability is astounding. They’re really enthusiastic, ultra-keen to show off all the vocab they know, ask for new words and ask questions. The most common question is “Manchester City of Manchester United?“. Other questions I’ve been asked include  “Do you prefer it in Manchester or Milan?“, “Are you married?“, “Do you have a girlfriend?” and “Is your brother married?” Aww, them kids. It’s good to get back to engaging with Italian children again.

Altogether, it’s all really sweet and I’m excited about all the things I can do here (hopefully making some comics, composing some educational songs, imagining up some new games and so on). I also keep having “Whoa!” moments when I realise that I can just pop out to Piazza del Duomo on my lunchbreak, admire that epic marble masterpiece and grab a slice of pizza (genuine Italian pizza). Anytime I want I can drift off and dig Milano’s history and culture. I’ve still not quite got over the “Hey! I’m living in Milano!” state of elation.

I’ll now go back to that and cut this brief update short. More blogposts and bits of writing may surface soon (I’m still seeing how my time and work are working out). The snow’s now coming down thick and I’m going to charge out armed with a cowprint box to play Pass the Bomb with i bambini. From me in Milano then, buona giornata, be excellent and have fun with whatever you’re doing. (Having fun is my job, so I’m very serious about it…)

To Italy – Again! – for Adventure and the Unknown and a Fresh Exciting Exile…

GPOY, badly drawn but showing kind of what I’m about right now…

Allora, andiamo! It’s time for me to say goodbye, go and get my ass to Italia. Why? Because it’s time for a new adventure and I’m heading back to my favourite place to work a new gig and hang around in a slightly warmer climate. I’ve got children to teach English to (hey, I can try), people to see and experiences to experience. Aside from those knowns the rest is mostly mystery. One of my favourite Coen Brothers movies once advised me, “Please, accept the mystery” so I’m going to do that.  Indeed, I don’t know how long I’ll be off home soil and what’s going to happen with my online activity and various other usual bits ‘n’ pieces.

I do know that I’ll be back in the UK at some point – if only to check in with my family, pick up my summer wardrobe and vote those sick, sick, sick and venal fiends out of Parliament when the election rolls around (if they’re still in power come June I’m never coming back to this country again). Erm, yes. Anyway, moving onto more positive things, as far as creative action goes I can guarantee that I’m always going to be creating.

Some stuff might end up online and I’ll probably file a few things on this site at intermittent points – maybe some blogging, maybe some short stories, maybe something altogether entirely different. Definitely less Twitter, probably same-to-more Facebook, maybe Instagram. As Italians say: Boh?! Who knows? I don’t know! The future is enigmatic and as-yet-unwritten (unfilmed, unillustrated, etc.) and I’m venturing off into some unknowns. I’m not sure what’s going to happen but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be good because I’m an optimist -an optimist going to the land that he loves to live in Milano, the city of miracles, for a bit.

Andiamo, then. Having celebrated my farewell cinema trip (Ex Machina – a perfect science fiction film) and shared a final family meal at my favourite curry joint, I’m done. I’ll now wrap up this overwrought and overlong rambling farewell thing (I’m really bad at goodbyes) and go get my bags together ’cause I’m not completely ready yet and am in pre-travel all-over-the-show anxiety state.

I’m in this state because I’m excited (read: EXCITED) and an adventure lies ahead. Onto that then. Thanks for reading and I’ll be thinking of you all while I’m in bella Italia (yes, I mean you, you). Take care of yourselves while I’m in exile and enjoy the very British things that I’m going to be missing. Ciao ragazzi! Adventure on… :D

I picked up a new travel buddy. It's-a almost a-time to go…

A photo posted by James Clayton (@enterjamesclayton) on

Pictonaut Short Comic Story Challenge: ‘Square Planet’…

Alrighty! Write on! I’ve been on a mission to catch-up with the Pictonaut challenge (after several months of negligence) and now I’ve caught up. Achievement! *air-pistols, swagger, upbeat 16-bit celebratory music*

(Admittedly, I’ve achieved this achievement while I’m meant to be concentrating on other stuff like preparing my junk for several months abroad and will now, after this, do that in chaotic fashion. My mind works like this: “You have something big to handle and take care of James, so naturally you’re going to focus on doing everything else in the world first and not tackle the essential priorities!“. I’ve been very productive the past few days, just not at packing my bags. Anyway…)

For the first Pictonaut of 2015, Majordomo John Steele selected the following image by the excellent, astronaut-obsessed artist Scott Listfield

Space Ace, Square Yeah…

I like spacewomen and spacemen and I like writing sci-fi-tinged weird tales. I also like writing comic scripts so I decided to make this one into a comic after I got a clear fix on what I thought was happening in the image. The result is a script for a four-page comic titled ‘Square Planet‘ with my envisioned layout and I hope you enjoy it (no art, I’m afraid, because my illustration skills just aren’t that good and I don’t have the time and Photoshop abilities to make the words come to life as graphic magick). It’s really rough and unpolished because I’ve knocked it out very quickly, hey, I’ve got other stuff to handle before I take off on my own fresh adventure tomorrow. I’ll get back to it (and the inevitable ‘bye-bye’ blogpost) and leave you to imagine Square Planet

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Restless Spirit’…

Alrighty, I’m a bit restless and nervous-excited. “You should write something, man!” I said to myself, and that part of myself was thinking right because writing is a righteous and an effective way to deal with nervous-excited restlessness. It’s also a good idea when you’re trying catch up with a personal writing challenge. The personal writing challenge I’m trying to catch up with is John Steele‘s monthly Pictonaut, and that’s all about turning an inspiral image into some kind of story/fiction bit. I’m now up to December (last month) and December’s chosen image was this beautiful piece of work by artist Joshua Hutchinson

‘Soul Ascending’ by Joshua Hutchinson…

I like this piece (title: ‘Soul Ascending’) and thought I could go off and do something shamanic (or ‘Noveau Shamanic’ if I’m looking to channel Nicolas Cage). Unfortunately (?), I went and saw Wild last night and am preoccupied with my upcoming trip to Italy, so that affected the kind of tale I wished to tell. I’m thinking about journeys and the idea of journeys being opportunities (or, indeed, the means) to find yourself or find some spiritual truth. I really like and believe in that, but this little flash of fiction I’ve spawned is a bleaker, more downbeat affair. Instead, it’s more about being lost and unable to settle (physically, mentally and spiritually). I saw something a bit tragic in the image, so quickly knocked up a thing titled ‘Restless Spirit‘ that I hope doesn’t bleak you out too much. Make of it what you will by clicking on this link to read it, while I go about preparing for travel so I can find myself/find something else/find spiritual truth…

Pictonaut Screenplay Challenge: ‘Pink Slip, Marigold War’…

Another day, another Pictonaut story. Seeing as I’m still trying to catch up and apparently on a roll, I decided to roll with it and write up a fresh piece for John Steele‘s monthly fiction-spawning exercise. Same as ever, the aim is to write a story inspired by a selected image. I’m now up to November, and the November 2014 picture was this one by the ace Swedish artist and sci-fi visionary, Simon Stålenhag

‘Gaussfraktarna’ by Simon Stålenhag. Isn’t it just a brilliant piece of artwork?

I dig this image, ’cause it looks like some kind of mash-up of Drive and District 9, though I contemplated these two dudes and thought that they looked like a Kurt Russell antihero from a John Carpenter movie (or maybe Roddy Piper. I don’t know but I ended up with Carpenter on my brain). With that in mind and ideas sloshing around I realised I could only crack this as a script for screen. I typed it up, and what follows is a rough ‘n’ ready first draft of the opening scene of a sci-fi action B-movie that I’d call ‘Pink Slip, Marigold War‘. In this reality the studios (a studio wanted this?) would then change the obscure title into something bland and probably make the film into a run-of-the-mill nonentity with no sense of fun or cosmic quirk-mojo at all. I’m not happy about that and because, hey, this is my fantasy I’m making sure that ‘Pink Slip, Marigold War‘ retains its name, retains its Kurt Russell, and its Roddy Piper, and its anti-capitalist messages, and its gratuitous alien gore,and its surrealistic musical number when a Fen-Gnooii Quadrant-Archon eats a whole bushel of narcotic weed and hallucinates that she’s the birth of a sixteen-limbed solar goddess on the outer rings of Neo-Pluto.

I haven’t written that scene yet, or the scene where one of our main characters gets in an electro-mace duel with an alien drug baron, or the hilarious sequence where another protagonist tries (and fails) to commit himself to rehab in another galaxy. I will probably never write those scenes in this (far blander) reality so I guess I’ll just leave you with this scene that has been drafted. I hope you like the opening snippet from Pink Slip, Marigold War

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: The Phantom Pains of Duane Jenkins…

I like writing and I like having fun with dead people so today I wrote a story about a ghost. This story, like most of the stories I upload here, is an effort for John Steele‘s Pictonaut challenge which I’m still trying to catch up on (’cause it’s January, and I’m only up to October as you’ll see in two sentences’ time). Same objective as always: the Steele Supreme selects an image every month and says “yeah, write something inspired by that”. The following photo (we know not its source) was picked as October’s picture, back when it was Halloween and there was suitably seasonal spookiness in the aether…

It’s a ghost! Unfortunately, no one knows who took this photo. I’d like to pretend that it was a ghost because that’s a nice fantastical thought and saves us from guilt about not correctly attributing our human sources. (Ghosts don’t have human rights, right?)

I like this picture. I saw that phantom and, after thinking it through a few minutes set about knocking out the following vignette. It’s called The Phantom Pains of Duane Jenkins and I hope you enjoy it…

Saying Goodbye to the Cinema for Some Time…

Cinemagoer smiles…

A photo posted by James Clayton (@enterjamesclayton) on

Movies! I love ’em and I write about them. Some writing about movies would be this week’s Den of Geek column: an exploration of the Taken movie series in which I discuss the films’ thematic concerns with wish-fulfilment and how they expound the ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ maxim. There’s also some stuff about vigilante cinema and a few photos of Liam Neeson looking moody as a bonus.

And that’s that. There’ll be no more Den of Geek articles for a while. That makes me a bit sad because I like writing Den of Geek articles full of personal gushing, offbeat references and spurious film theory. “Why no more?” you ask. Well, I’ll tell you why: in a shade under a fortnight I’m flying off to lands afar and that means that I probably won’t be able to turn in a weekly piece. Even if I could find the time and space to knock out columns, they probably wouldn’t be very relevant because I’m going to be out of the moviescene loop and not watching a lot of new films.

If I find good Italian cinemas that put on VO (versione originale) screenings in Milano (that’s where I’m going) then I will be catching a few fresh blockbusters. In spite of that, I know I’m not going to be getting to the pictures as much and I’ve absorbed the idea that it could be an age before I sit in a cinema again. I take on that kind of view every time I go away to Italy for an extended period and it’s totally cool. I’m not hurt or damaged in any way and, if anything. “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.* Even so, the basic notion of ‘you ain’t going to the cinema, man’ is a bit of an odd one to my mind – a mind conditioned by habit and that’s heavily shaped by years of cinematic obsession.

Right now – less than a fortnight from departure – I’m in a weird place where everything feels extra significant and where I’m really savouring everything I’m about to leave for a while (stuff that just isn’t in Italy). That includes and is not limited to my family (available on Skype), British accents and dialect and curry. Movies are also a really important, ritualised thing to me so I’m currently cramming in as many visits to the cinema as possible before I go for months without frequenting any moviehouses.

Altogether, I could be missing very many awesome films set to come out soon so I’ve inured myself to the hype, excitement and intensive interest. I’m now only really psyched about the films I’m going to see before I travel, plus Avengers: Age of Ultron (which I hope to catch) and Star Wars VII at Christmas (which I will catch ’cause nothing is going to keep me away from Star Wars and I will move planets to catch it on the first day). It’s not so bad, because I’ve already seen the film of the year (Birdman) and because I’ve got great real-life adventures to occupy my imagination (an imagination that relies on very-regular cinema trips for stimulation). If it comes down to a crude choice of ‘La Dolce Vita in Italia for Real’ and ‘Escapism and Fictional Friends For a Couple Of Hours in a Dark Theatre’ I’ll take the former, ta muchly. Still, I’m going to miss getting my movie fix (and my family and the sound of British speech and curry).

So yeah: that’s a cinema aficionado, film studies student and obsessed movie geek saying “Goodbye, darling!” to one of his favourite things for a while. These things aren’t hardship or epic tragedies or anything like that. If anything, it just re-enforces that you should appreciate what you have and live in the moment. I’ll now wrap this up and appreciate the moments I have left in the UK. Some of those moments will be in the cinema…

* Get me when I’m feeling really maudlin and I’ll tell you about the time I was stuck in hospital and couldn’t get out to the cinema then finally got out to the flicks and cried all the way through Real Steel because it was just the most beautiful experience…

2015: The Year Fantastical…

HAPPY NEW YEAR! It’s 2015 and we are in the future and we are so terribly excited. First of all, Happy New Year to you reading this. I’m wishing you all the best and hoping that your 2015 is a wonderful one of good health, happiness, love and discovery.

Hooray for 2015, then. I’m really looking forward to this and I’m happy to be in this. It’s started pretty well so far and I aim to keep momentum going on an upward trajectory (because altogether 2014 wasn’t bad as far as things go). I don’t have a list of resolutions because that list would be way too long and probably impossible to achieve so I’m running with simple, straightforward determination to just be better, be happy and be alive. I’ve got an idea that if things get bleak or downbeat, I’m going to look myself in all my eyes (left, right and mind’s eye) and shout “BE JAMAZING!” and then I’ll be good (nay, great) to go and turn things down-upside for the positive and fantastical. Feel free to drink my special juice that is not Kool-Aid but has a similar effect and represents the same thing in this metaphor. *Quaffs a lot* 2015! YEAH! WOOHOO! WE’RE GONNA ROCK AND BE OH SO EXCELLENT!

Yeah! Let’s go. Happy New Year to you and here’s to the Year Fantastical: 2015… :D

2015: Hail to the Year Fantastical…

A photo posted by James Clayton (@enterjamesclayton) on

2014: Cue the Upbeat, Uptempo Montage Moving Through My Year Gone Past…

It’s the end of the year! So there! Yeah! 2014, then -. thanks, ta-ra. Aww, but I feel like it wouldn’t be the right thing to just skip on into the shiny/shitty future without noting its passing and pondering a (short, very short) moment on the past twelve months. I don’t really want to dwell on things and get caught up in zeitgeist ectoplasm and retrospective navel-gazing so I’m going to fly through it in an upbeat, uptempo montage. Cue the montage…

*OOGA-CHAKA, OOGA OOGA. OOGA-CHAKA, OOGA OOGA…*

(… and I’ve filmed everything in Dutch angles so we’re all anxious and on edge, ’cause this is the age of being-on-edge and anxiety…)

Hey! I am James Clayton and I am moving through space-and-time-and-emotions-and-ideas. Pleasure, pain, ups, downs, upside-downs, down-upsides, maybe-sideways. Uncertainty, near-certainty, false-certainty. Something of nothings and nothings that might actually be something. Ambiguity and ambivalence. No, I don’t know. Really, I’m very lost and reckon (hope?) that time and, in fact, the entirety of existence is an illusion. Even so, conventional time-comprehension and the calendar says that we’ve been going through 2014. What happened? The following things happened, in no particular order. (A lot of current affairs and huge real-world socio-politico-economic things occurred, flamed and roared over. They’re all rounded up, reacted to and wrestled with elsewhere. A lot of those things make us sad and angry, so I’m going to stay in my ludicrous world of 2014 for this, pausing only to say that’s its not as ludicrous as Kim Jong-un’s. Hey Little Kim! You ludicrous, man!)

Personal shenanigans: I wrote some things, doodled some bits ‘n’ bobs, ran a few month-long projects here and there and daydreamed a lot. Things I wrote and doodled went up on the internet and in zines but the best stuff is still in my head. Alternate reality incarnations also unleashed groundbreaking epics and art masterpieces but I’m playing catch-up to those guys (Yeah, they see me comin’). Lots of stuff on the internet, and then I flip between my things and the fog of information, disinformation, Wikipedia entries and basketball highlights reels. The pixels burn me out a bit, cyberspace seethes, the Twitter stream turns into a steaming torrent and portals on Facebook show me prettier pictures of places that seem more appealing. Andiamo! Adventure! Go travel…

I discover Dublin this year, find solace in a Shropshire countryside writing retreat and dig London again during the annual videogame convention bro-trip. The most epic adventure, however spans the summer and takes me further afield. I jump on a plane and then I jump on another plane to go back to and, again, go back to Italia. Lo adoro – è il luogo dove il mio cuore è. Italian friends old and new. Refamiliarised with familiar places and enjoying an array of new cities and experiences. I realise that I have a spread network of extended families for life and I feel alive, connected and soul-fulfilled. And then there are all the old and new friends from all over the world and we’re all brought together and share the sacred summer camp tutor bond. (It is sacred. We have rituals, shared hallucinations and an unshakable faith and sense of vocation.) It’s all-singing, all-dancing, educational entertainment English-teaching action. It’s fun and games and frustration and trauma and battle scars and war with demonic bambini. It’s physical and mental exhaustion but it’s also triumph and exhilaration and it’s the greatest time of my life. This summer was the best summer, so grazie.

Away from the best place with the best people, best food and best quality of life (yeah I’m in love), the other most-excellent stuff is culture. A vast celluloid sea of supreme movies inspired many smiles, many tears, many emotional and cerebral moments in the dark space of the cinema. Oh my Godzilla: Inside Llewyn Davis; Her; erm, Godzilla; Guardians of the Galaxy; Boyhood; The Wind Rises; Edge of Tomorrow; Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Nightcrawler; The Babadook; Pride; Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; FuryThe Raid 2; Black Sea; The Double; Calvary; Only Lovers Left Alive; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Lego Movie; 12 Years a Slave; and so many more to make this movie-maniac go wild over and over. There are too many genuinely awesome films, so I have less time and inclination to watch much TV. The most terrific telly is Cosmos and BBC documentaries in my 2014.

There are also lots of books and comics, but they’re mostly old books that weren’t published in 2014. Fresh music moving me most would be Monster Magnet Milking the Stars and Weezer telling me that Everything Will Be Alright in the End. “EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIIIIIIIIGHT… IN THE EHHH- EEEEEEHNNNND!” Now I’m dancing and all the freak misfits of the galaxy are having an empathetic moment where we realise that we’ve been losers and been through some noxious crap but that, hey, we’re okay. We’ve grown and we’ve learned some things. We’re better for the experience. We’re moving forward together into the future, ’cause we’re slightly crazy, cosmic quirky heroes hooked on a feeling and high on believing…

I think that’s what I’m taking from 2014. Am I forgetting a lot of things? (most definitely yes) What did it all mean? I’m not really sure and I don’t really care anymore, to be honest. I’m already in 2015. See you there, in the future. TO THE FUTURE!

*blows a kiss to 2014. Love you and remember you always, sugar…*

Saying "Bye!" and jumping off 2014…

A photo posted by James Clayton (@enterjamesclayton) on

Merry Christmas, Everyone…

A Christmas card to everyone from me…

A photo posted by James Clayton (@enterjamesclayton) on

Hey hey, ho ho ho, fa la la, la la! It’s Christmas Eve and I’m tuning out to enjoy the holiday season. Before I do that though, I thought I’d stick up a best wishes message to anyone who might be passing by. There’s a full festive round-up of links and thoughts right here if you’re interested. Otherwise, thanks for reading and all the best of the festive season to all you beautiful souls out there, wherever and however you are celebrating. I urge you to have yourself a very Merry Christmas… :D

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