Working on the Working Barbarian, the Saga Moves Ever Onward…

There’s Jala, Freya, Marek the Stoat and there’s now a Star Witch called Kru. There’s also the question of whether it’s a good idea to trust said Star Witch and ascertain details of our hero’s destiny and readers decided, “By the Twelve Hells, yes! Trust her and show us destiny!” That was my job. I wrote that episode and it constitutes Part 9 of The Life and Times of the Working Barbarian (actually, we’re dealing with epic material so it should be written as ‘Part IX’ or ‘Part the Ninth’).

I’ve taken my turn and now it’s up to you, dear reader, to use your voting powers to influence the unfolding adventure. Then another writer – and they are all excellent writers – will act according to the outcome and take this tale forward towards the destinies that I’ve hinted at. If you’re new to the story, fear not for it’s still early days and you can quickly catch up.

Go forth then, intrepid and wily warrior in the cyber-realms, and consider The Working Barbarian. Then you can have your say and shape the fate of the characters we’re writing. I hope you enjoy my latest contribution and I hope you choose wisely…

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Squiggly Squid Sketchings, Fresh Tentacle Ink Thrashings…

Cock-a-doodle doo, space chickens! (In the dystopian future you are all going to be space chickens. It’s a clucking awful future.)

Here’s some fresh action: I took a feng shui swipe at my old Tumblr art blog and cleaned it up for a bit of a reboot. I used to do a lot of doodling then scaled back from the sketching and didn’t do very much (I’m a writer really and my pencil skills are amateurish). Recently though I’ve been drawing more and I’ve committed to a daily art challenge for August so I figured a blog overhaul was due.

In keeping with the vague kung fu/chopsocky movie theme of all these sites I’m maintaining I’ve called the freshened up site ‘James Clayton’s Celestial Squid Ink Slaphand Style‘ because all my artistic martial arts moves are influenced by and adapted from the form of the cosmic cuttlefish. (She/he/it is destined to liberate us from space chicken state in a far distant epoch.)

There will be photos – because scanning and photoshopping and all that jazz is time-consuming and frustrating – of my rough sketches, comics and doodly suchlikes. I’ll also put up my #DrawingAugust entries. I have some bad ideas. I have inept drawing abilities. Combine the two and you get something, erm, potentially interesting…

Anyhoodle, doodle do, I hope you enjoy the doodly doodle that I do do and deposit in that section of cyberspace I’m directing you to

Here’s a comic strip about sowing macabre seeds…

Duolingo and Language Learning like a Game Fronted by a Friendly Green Owl…

Sprechen sie Deutsch? Nein? Erm, okay. Italiano? Français? No? Erm, você fala Português? Espagñol?

Yeah, I thought as much and, hey , neither do I. We’re all a bit pathetic in our monoglot state, except you people reading who can speak in foreign tongues and use those tongues fluently. You’re very impressive and so are your tongues. We will now coat both you and your tongues in honey and glitter. Actually, no, we won’t because then you’re going to find it difficult to articulate those foreign phrases. Sorry. As you were you über-impressive linguistic genius, you…

I too would like to be an über-impressive linguistic genius because I like words (naturally, I’m a writer) and because I want to engage more effectively with foreign cultures. I have polymath enthusiasm and aspire to be a polyglot with a capable command of a language that ain’t English (I’ve mastered, disastered and bastardised my mother tongue many times over). Time and time again I trip off to somewhere like Italy armed with basic vocab but no ability to form complex sentences and fully comprehend the conversation that’s thrown back at me. Every time I come back to my homeland (where people can’t speak English never mind another language) vowing “I will learn! I will get better and really, really get educate myself so I can exotically garble on with style and confidence!

That determination then ebbs away. At least that’s the typical pattern but this summer the picture has changed (I covered it in glitter and honey). I came back from Italy with a few new phrases (“Una buona vita inizia con una buona collazione“) and fresh motivation to actually study and self-improve. My friend Giuseppe had presented a new method through which I might actually be able to advance my basic blunt Italian. He was very evangelical about said method and talked fondly about something called Duolingo which he was using to enhance his (already excellent) English. He beamed a lot when he said “Duolingo”, waved his phone at me and made sure that I noted down the name.

I did my research and hit the website. It looked brilliant and, finding that there’s an app in addition to the main site with all extra features, I hit iTunes and downloaded it to my techno-techno magick device. I then opened it up and started to explore what it offered, subsequently finding that I really liked what it offered…

But what does Duolingo offer? Commence the non-official heavy-hype press release pitch: game-ified language-learning in an easy-to-use app with a colourful format. It is way better than any other quiz-style linguistics app I’ve played with in the past and more appealing and convenient than audiotapes. Duolingo’s charm is in its gamification as it kicks at your own compulsive nature while carefully expanding your cognitive comprehension.

It breaks down big blocks of language into subjects and splits everything up into levels to conquer (and then conquer better). You clock up skill points and are rewarded if you don’t make mistakes (you lose hearts if you do, so it’s a little like ‘Linguistic Legend of Zelda’). Users pick up vocab, grammar and syntactic nuances as they go along without even realising it because it feels more like a game with goals to unlock and achievements to achieve. You’re tested with multiple choice questions, sentence-making exercises, listening exercises and ‘repeat into the mic, please’ prompts. It takes you back to classroom language learning but feels fresh and fun because you’re only competing with yourself and the app rather than an oppressive curriculum and uninspiring high school teachers. Duolingo’s mascot is a friendly-looking green owl, by the way, and when I see her or him beaming at me on my phone screen I can’t help but think “Awww, the nice owl is smiling at me. I should go on Duolingo…

The added bonus is that it’s all free. Duolingo funds itself through translation services it offers to third parties as performed by eager, advanced users. It’s therefore altruistic in addition to being an outstanding high-quality educational tool for the technologically-empowered masses. It’s amazing and I continue to hold on to that view even when I’m frustrated by my own mistakes in the quizzes or find myself tackling odd sentences that no one will ever say (stuff like “The duck has the apples” and “Six trousers are good“).

I came back from Italy, hooked up with this thing and am having fun with it, feeling like I’m getting a better grounding in a foreign language. The irony is that I returned from Italy determined to improve my Italian and am instead relearning German. I blame a two-hour stopover in München that reminded me just how much I love the country, how much I wanted to go back and grapple with all the umlauts and glorious words I throttled back when I was at school. I’m now on Level 6 German and am checking in every day to advance further. I’ve revised and bolstered my basic GCSE-standard Deutsch and can now say things like “Nein, ich bezahle nicht” (No, I’m not paying) and “Wofür brauche ich fünf Katzen?” (For what do I need five cats?)

I’ve got a long way to go but I’m getting there gradually, every day strengthening my Teutonic tongue and enjoying the challenge. Learning is fun and foreign languages are beautiful. I recommend Duolingo if you feel the same and want to improve your linguistic abilities. Es ist sehr gut, indeed…

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Sea of Gold’/’Infinite Aurous Ocean’…

Avast ye! It’s high time we fabricated some fictions, says I. Here then is some fresh fiction that might float your boat. It’s a period piece for July’s Pictonaut challenge and, even if it isn’t gold standard, it’s got a lot of gold in it. In fact, it’s got an infinite ocean of gold in it.

To recap, the Pictonaut Challenge is hosted by the High Storymancer John Steele and every month he picks an evocative image and urges writers to craft a tale out of it. This month’s picture is a caravel sailing through a dune sea…

Sailing on a golden sea…

It suggests many possible stories. Ultimately, instead of seeing a boat in a desert I came to the impression that this image is, in fact, a ship in a sea of gold. I decided to dredge up history and channel some Aguirre, the Wrath of God mania to make it about Conquistadors having a mystical miracle experience. I also wanted to use the word “aurous” because the word “aurous” is a nice word.

There’s still time before August arrives with a new challenge so I’d urge others to have a crack at the creative exercise. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy/endure the fresh wordascope fiction effort I’ve knocked up. It’s generic, bland mass-market re-title is ‘Sea of Gold‘ but because I’m in a mystical mood and like interesting monikers it’s alternate title is ‘Infinite Aurous Ocean‘ or ‘The Golden Miracle Experience of the María Felicísima‘…

The Overall Italian Odyssey Overview…

Pronto! As you may have noticed, I’ve been away recently. I spent a month in Italy doing some touristing, then training to teach English-language summer camp, then working at English-language summer camp, then spending time with old friends to recover from it all. It was a great big adventure made up of many great mini-adventures. I had a brilliant time and now I’d like to bore you into a coma by blah blah blahbling on about it and going over every single thing in highly elaborate detail…

No, actually I’m not for several reasons. Firstly, altogether I did a lot, saw a lot and experienced a lot. If I regurgitated all of it and told you of every single momentous little occurrence with extra annotation we’d be here until August and, y’know, we’ve all got lives to get on with. I could send you my personal journal to skimread if you wanted though I warn you that it’s iffy pseudo-Kerouac rambling done in illegible handwriting and the most frequent phrases are “beautiful!” and “I gotta look this up on Wikipedia when I get home!

Furthermore, friends, smug blogposts by people fortunate enough to travel and have extraordinary life-affirming experiences can get really irritating. The full-thwack should probably be reserved for family and the closest of close friends only. I’m saving all of this up for my anecdote stockpile, for personal encounters or for, erm, Facebook which is a social media network built on the foundation of “Look at all my photos! Like! Like! This is what I’m doing, guys! I may not have a baby or a marriage but, hey, these photos prop up my self-esteem and self-worth and act as evidence that I do have a worthwhile life of value! Give me your approval and show me that you’re impressed! Acknowledge my exciting existence! Like!

Having got home, sorted through photos and luggage and managed to semi-sync myself to the British (Sub)Standard it’s time to draw a line and get on wit’ the gettin’ on. If you’ll indulge me for a moment, this marks the seal-it-up blogpost to properly put a lid on my 2013 Italian Odyssey and it may be of interest and give you hints on some of the high times I had. I don’t want to be insufferable or smug so I’m trying to keep it short and sweet. To do this I’ve really condensed it all into a few succinct paragraphs – like an abbreviated Res Gestae illustrated with a few GPOYs (I’m sorry but I can’t feature photos of children and unconsenting adults for legal reasons. It’s mainly  just photos of me and the concept of ’embarrassment’ is now completely alien to me so, hey, bad photos). It acts as a personal reflection piece and may make intriguing reading for you. If you don’t want to know, don’t click “read more” (you chose wisely) and if you want to know more I’d be happy to hook up either in cyberspace, in real life or in the afterlife. Better yet, let’s get together and go on a new adventure together…

Allora and no more ado: here’s a quickfire graphic run-through of some stuff I did and stuff that did stuff to me in Italia…

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Lunchtime Doodles for Little Italians…

Allora! The post-exile re-organisation continues apace and that involves going through bags, plastic wallets full of printed paraphernalia, photo archives on digital devices and much much more. One of the plastic wallets contained these: paper dinner placemats I doodled all over during my two-week stint working as an English tutor at a summer camp for Italian children in the town of Candiolo just outside of Torino.

Sketching is fun. It’s even more fun when you do it with enthusiastic children during lunchtime. What follows is a pictorial diary of the fortnight, all of the instalments quickly inked up in the half-hour breaks from all the singing and silly games when I got a moment to free-create a bit while quickly cramming some pasta in my mouth.

The theme of the camps was ‘The Seven Seas’ which explains all the nautical and piratical pics. Each one also has annotations so you can get insight into what inspired ’em and where my mind was at the moment. The children enjoyed ’em, I enjoyed doing ’em (damn it, I enjoyed the whole experience!) and I hope you enjoy them as well (click on them to see them bigger if you so wish)…

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Return of the Exile…

Hey ragazzi! What’s the action?

Yeah, I’m back from Italian exile and wired up to t’interwebs again and oh my Delirium I am all kinds of crazy excited. Maybe it’s static electricity and telekinetic energies surging out of my laptop keyboard (oh, my Precious I’ve missed your touch). Maybe my mind has been scorched by high temperatures and solar rays. Maybe it’s all this tea I’ve been mainlining since returning to bleak Britain at midnight last night. Whatever. I’m back, I had a blast and I’m psyched to rock ‘n’ roll after a revitalising working/culture vulturing break away.

There will be rock ‘n’ roll forthcoming but for the moment while I get back into the groove here’s a round-up catch-up post pointing anyone interested in the direction of stuff that I wrote that appeared on the internet while I was absent from it.

Fancy a couple of Den of Geek columns? Here’s a laundry list of things you can do to prepare for the bodybuilder crime flick Pain & Gain and a piece in praise of Joss Whedon and Shakespeare, noting a few great screen adaptations of the Bard’s plays.

Want pop-cultural violence? I scripted up a pair of Fight! Fight! Fight! episodes for your vicarious sadistic kicks and I hope you enjoy Tribbles vs Troll Dolls and Greedo vs Satipo.

Aside from that, I know that while I’ve been out of the loop the god-like geniuses of cyberspace have been continuing to work wondrous magicks on the web. I’ve got to get up-to-date on but I do know that other Fight! Fight! Fight! fights have been brawling in brilliant fashion and that the crowdsourced collaborative saga of The Working Barbarian has been getting really interesting. Sir John of Steele has also been drumming up fresh Pictonaut activity and no doubt a whole lot of other high-calibre creative stuff has been coming out of cool people I respect and admire that I am not yet aware of.

I’ve got to catch up on all this stuff, catch up on movies, possibly catch up on some sleep, catch up with people and sort through photos and suchlike. I’m doing this all in a state of Delirium, high on actually decent tea, the sunshine I’ve absorbed and the exhilaration at getting back to creative action now I’m home again and hooked up to my techno-techno powers.

Bear with me a bit while I sync it all up. For now, here’s a silly photo of me in stocks at a medieval festa in the town of Porto Venere…

Stock Photo

Stock Photo