Sunday, 16 May 2010

New Website

Want to see my new website? CLICK MY MASSIVE EYE! GO ON! CLICK IT!

I'll continue to update the blog there.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Games With Stupid Names - #12: Captain Bible in Dome of Darkness

No amount of snarky commentary can do these screenshots justice. Suffice to say, I have been playing Captain Bible in Dome of Darkness, a PC point n' click adventure game where you must use Bible verses to defeat evil robots in a bizarre lycra-clad futurescape. Instead of an energy bar, you have a 'faith' bar, which is depleted if you fail to respond to the robots' (who look like a scuba fetish version of the Smash aliens) lies with the appropriate scripture. I played it for a bit, then started to feel my brain turning the consistency of aerosol cheese and had to stop. Just look for yourselves.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Just Don't Fling The China

A few months ago, back in my flat in Cambridge, I started eavesdropping on our new downstairs neighbours. I'd crouch on the living room carpet with my ear to an upturned pint glass, like in the movies. It didn’t work very well. Fortunately their rows were loud enough to hear even if I’d got the telly on.

They were a young couple who’d just moved in together. I'd tell myself I was concerned about the state of their relationship, but that was a lie. I listened in because it was a good way to put off cleaning the oven. And because pretending I was in a spy novel helped me forget I’d nothing better to do on a Thursday evening than lie alone on the floor with a pint glass to my ear.

Given the frequency and intensity of their spats, the odd thing was, neither of them seemed to enjoy arguing. For example, one of their earliest barneys, from what I could tell (I’m only alerted to a row once it’s escalated to yelling, so it usually takes a bit of detective work to figure out how it began) started because he was talking on the phone when she called for him to help her unload the washing machine. When he didn’t answer, she did the only sensible thing and flung all his freshly washed laundry out of the window.

As usual, his response was to adopt the whiny, nasal tone of a petulant eight-year-old sulking at being made to visit a much-hated relative.

‘Why-eee?’ he mewled, stretching the word out to two shrill syllables. ‘Why-eee? It’s not fay-yer!’

Her sigh was loud enough to hear through the thick barrier of floorboards and underlay. ‘Because you were annoying me!’ With this sentiment, at least, I could sympathise.

As a fully qualified armchair psychologist, I decided their relationship was doomed. They seemed totally incompatible. With all the anger and bickering, I couldn’t imagine them lasting another two months. However, the current thinking on long-term relationships suggests I may have had it all backwards.

Dr John Gottman is a leading researcher into marital stability and divorce. He claims to have developed a methodology whereby he can predict with 90% accuracy whether a couple will still be together four to six years later. Partners get wired up to heart monitors, then asked to discuss a topic they disagree on.

The recordings make for gripping listening – some couples squabble with a gladiatorial intensity that makes my battling neighbours seem like the picture of domestic bliss. What’s even more startling, however, is Gottman’s finding that legendary bickerers often have the most stable and long-lasting marriages. Angry squabbling doesn’t necessarily mean a break-up is on the cards.

Indeed, according to The (possibly slightly right-wing and horrible) Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education: ‘The number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict.’ For many couples, it seems a spirited ding-dong is a great way of letting off steam and expressing one’s feelings. All partnerships involve issues on which the two people involved fundamentally disagree. The difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one is that, in a healthy one, opposing perspectives get listened to and acknowledged. For some couples, sometimes a row is the best way to achieve that.

Habitual conflict avoidance is something I know all about. After all, I spent the best part of a month with my ear to the floor like an under-resourced Stasi officer, when really, I should have just walked downstairs, knocked on their door and politely asked them to keep their voices down.

But a funny thing happened. After a while, the rows just sort of tailed off. Just before I left for Norwich (to move in with my own girlfriend), I saw them walking together, arm in arm, looking the very picture of sickening romantic contentment. So maybe a bit of verbal jousting is good in the long run. And if you disagree, don't keep it in. Let's argue about it.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Death Drive

Hello! Goodness me, I've been busy as a bee, moving cities back to Norwich, weathering minor psychic catastrophes and beavering away on the script for my FIRST EVER solo show. Yes. Like a grotesque bee-beaver hybrid, lying on its flank, its useless wings quivering, a rasp issuing from its misshapen, bucked-toothed maw... kill me... I was not meant to be... That's me.

So yes, rather than come up with some way of wittily paraphrasing it, here's the press spiel:

There’s nothing like seeing your dad have a go at an activity to make it seem embarrassing. It turns out suicide is no exception.

Sacked, dumped, and stuck living back with his parents, failed writer Tim Clare struggled to see the point in carrying on. Eventually, during a 4am drive, his newly spiritual dad staged a dramatic last-ditch bid to shock him out of his misery.

Thus Tim began a quest to lose his cynicism and get happy. But when you’re faced with jeering teens, obnoxious neighbours, all six Rocky movies and a psychic horse, is there anything in this sordid world worth getting happy about?

So far, I'm booked to do four previews of Death Drive at the Brighton Fringe from Saturday 1st May - Tuesday 4th at the Royal Albion Hotel, 35 Old Steine (4-5pm Sat-Sun, 9-10pm Mon-Tues). Tickets are £5 a pop and you can get them here. Then on Sunday May 30th I'll be doing another preview at the Pulse Fringe Festival in Ipswich, at the Sir John Mills Theatre, at 8:30pm. Tickets are £6 and you'll be able to buy them in advance here in a few days, when the full programme goes online. It's an exciting festival with lots of new shows to see on the cheap, so if you're in the area, COME TO MY SHOW AND LOVE ME UNCONDITIONALLY

I've got more previews coming up in July in Colchester and Norwich, and maybe one or two others - I'll post more nearer the time. In the meantime, if you do know anyone who lives in Brighton and might fancy a fun night out for a fiver, do let them know about my show, eh? I'm a bit nervous and a bit excited, all the clichés, really - also nauseous and aroused. How's that? It'll be a challenge to hold an audience's attention for that long - part of what I love about performance poetry is it challenges you to compress thoughts, jokes and stories down to their shortest possible form, so you're not wasting anyone's time. Death Drive is quite a dramatic story with lots of twists and turns, and it all really happened, so fingers crossed, folks won't find themselves dry retching with tedium 40 minutes in.

Right. Off to play video games. Happy days.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Interview Podcast

Hey folks, check it out - I did a really fun gig a week or so back with Byron Vincent and A F Harrold, based around Poetry and Stand-Up. Before the gig, us and the compere got interviewed - you can listen to the interviews online here. I think the interviewer, Julia, asks some really insightful questions, and Byron, A F and Dr Kevin McCarron (who has some awesome ideas) all give great, articulate answers. If you're interested in stand-up or poetry or both, I'm sure you'll find it a rewarding listen.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Pat Sharp

Readers of this blog will know that a fair proportion of my life's work is devoted to promoting the creative output of the writer John Osborne. He has just done a new youtube video, for a poem I like called 'I Think Pat Sharp Is Lonely'. Here it is:

Today is MAR10 Day, apparently. I was going to have mushroom pasta for tea to celebrate, but I seem to have contracted a stomach bug and, well... I'll be uncharacteristically coy about the details but suffice to say I don't feel much like tucking in to a hearty, cheese-slathered meal. This is the first time since the beginning of my Lenten video games fast that I've seriously considered giving in and playing something, if only so my DS could accompany me on my frequent trips to the toilet.

Deep in my heart, however, I know that spending 6 hours sitting at my PC playing Civ 3 will leave me feeling sad and defeated, not because I'd failed to quit video games for Lent, but because at the end, I won't have achieved anything. I do love video games, and, in fact, I'd genuinely credit the Civilisation series for significantly improving my historical knowledge in areas such as military history, scientific discoveries and political history, but that addictive feeling of 'just one more go' can eat up hours and hours of your life. But unlike TV, most sophisticated video games make you feel as if you're actually progressing and achieving something, and afterwards there's this horrible downer as you remember that your trans-continental fascist empire, your 3598 bottle caps earned, your levelled-up paladin or your 'Silent Assassin' achievement unlocked don't mean shit in the real world.

Okay, right. That's my bowels calling. Off to the bathroom again. Ta ta.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Woohoo! Issa Me!

"There's a sense of wonder and a spark of imagination at the heart of the Super Mario Bros. games, and as children we pick up on that right away. Then, over time, most people lose that spark. School, career, social engagements, relationship drama, mortgage payments, credit card debt, medical ailments, and other things that we pick up on our way to and through adulthood weigh us down and we forget the simple pleasures of saving the princess from a turtle despot with an eye for annexing kingdoms and galaxies. Those of us who continue to play Super Mario games and who make them a part of our adult lives found a way to keep that spark alive."

A few weeks into my video games fast, I enjoyed reading this article on a 33-year-old guy wondering why he still plays Mario games. I accept that nostalgia plays a role, but this kind of feels like hand-wringing to me. I play Mario games because they're fun and they make me happy. No need to overthink it!

Oh, and since you asked, I'm doing okay without video games so far. I'd say my happiness is 3 Fygars out of a possible 5. I'm sort of stockpiling a to-do list of stuff I need to sort out once back in those pixelated virtual worlds - sell scrap metal in Fallout 3, replay Loom in hard, replay flawed PC Sword n' Sorcery RPG Silver (assuming I can get it to work - I'll probably need a proper mouse, too) which I dug out the CDs for when back visiting my parents, replay Planescape: Torment (it's been 10 years, but man I loved that game), maybe buy Fallout and Fallout 2 to play on the PC (I have been assured they are awesome, especially if you like Planescape: Torment and Fallout 3 - oh WAIT)... also I want to complete Spirit Tracks on the DS.

All this squeezed in around moving house, sorting out taking my debut solo show to the Edinburgh Fringe this year (more on that in a few weeks! Shh...), writing new material, planning the new novel, actually earning a crust gigging etc, and maintaining a social life. Okay, so maybe earning money and the social life will have to take a back seat for a while - just till I max out my Heal spell and get the twin-swords on Silver, at least...

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

6Music and the Asian Network

Like a sad bandwagon-jumping pranny, I have written a letter to the BBC Trust. God, it's almost as if I believe people can do something to affect the world they live in. Muppet. So I plugged my mate's book, just to keep myself feeling like it was self-serving, cynical and ironic, rather than a heartfelt plea about something I really, really care about.

Dear BBC Trust,

I have never been moved to write to the BBC before. As a long time supporter of the BBC, the world-rivalling quality of its programming and everything it stands for, I am baffled and saddened by the announcement of plans to shut down 6music and the Asian Network. For me, both stations represent the BBC doing what it does best, fulfilling the remit of its public service responsibilities by providing high quality broadcasting in areas which commercial competitors do not cover. If there is a lack of awareness that either station exists, this is a failure in branding and outreach - not an indication that the stations themselves are underperforming.

Radio1 is now almost indistinguishable from its commercial rivals. 6music is unique, having taken over the commitment to showcasing new, alternative or otherwise fringe music that Radio1 used to promote in the evenings during the early to mid nineties. Similarly, 6music has been supportive of British artists working in other media - I have had the pleasure of hearing authors, film makers, actors and poets interviewed and encouraged to perform on the channel.

The author John Osborne's recently published book Radio Head, a celebration of Great British radio, singles out the Asian Network and 6music as two jewels in our country's broadcasting crown. It would be a tragic day for British music, and a gross dereliction of the principles upon which the BBC were founded, if two of the finest, most unique radio stations on the globe were to be shut down completely. I urge you to listen to the license fee payers, and to re-evaluate the wisdom of your strategy, so that these two stations can continue to promote the best of our country's vibrant and diverse Arts culture.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Clare

Friday, 19 February 2010

Reading Instead Of Video Gaming

So with video games off the menu until the end of Lent, I just finished reading Northern Lights, the first book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Yes, yes, I know I'm way behind the times, but better late than never, eh?

My verdict on the first book? Loved it. After years of editing other people's manuscripts I can't quite turn the internal critic off, but even with my scouring for loopholes and duff lines, I was gripped and I really enjoyed it. It's nice to feel like sometimes a book is really popular because it's very good. The book deals in lots of very standard Fantasy tropes, like the false, decadent king challenged by the valiant true heir, the airships and steampunky accoutrements of Science Romance, and the whole many-worlds portal-linked multiverse thing, which is so common as to often be almost assumed as existing in many SF worlds, but it executes all of these familiar elements really, really well. It confirms my growing feeling - influenced in part by my interviews with the author Steve Aylett and with Helen Corner of manuscript consultancy agency Cornerstones, in my book We Can't All Be Astronauts (have you read it yet? Probably - but if not, hey, you can buy it here) - that originality is an overrated quality that readers (and people in general) aren't that bothered by. Readers want a pacy, thumping good read that they can understand, with characters they care about and situations that excite them and make them think.

I'm currently doing some research and assembling with ideas for, gulp, another novel. I think it might be not rubbish this time. It definitely won't be a tale of dysfunctional middle-class relationships. It will be the same colourful, weird nonsense I always do. I don't know why people wouldn't want to write about that kind of thing. Sure, I enjoy books that don't have magic and fireballs and time travel and robots and airships and zombies and portals and spaceships and scrambler-riding dinosaurs, but not as much as books that do. SORRY, MAJORITY OF THE WESTERN LITERARY CANON

Speaking of books set squarely in our drab, everyday reality, there's an interview with me over here about We Can't All Be Astronauts and my being a writer. Oh, and, despite being a memoir Astronauts has a bit where I suplex a T-Rex through the Acropolis. I put it in after the final proofread, because, y'know - wouldn't you want something that rad in your memoir? EXCEPT YOU DON'T HAVE ONE OH SNAP

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


So yeah, Pancake Day is upon us, like, well, a pancake, that has finally unpeeled itself from the ceiling and dropped, moist and lukewarm onto our upturned faces. I love pancakes. They are the best food. I always do my best to celebrate pancake day by gorging myself in a hurried and unselfconscious manner.

But I've never given anything up for Lent before. This is partly cos I en't religious, but mainly because quitting something for a month isn't quite so fun as cramming multiple frisbees of soft, sweet batter into my slavering dogma-hole. So, I thought to meself... what can I give up?

I thought of booze, chocolate, crisps, Diet Coke - DC was the biggie, actually. I know I drink too much of the fizzy black sugar water, and I don't much enjoy knowing I'm giving money to the ethically-dubious Coca Cola Company, but still I choose to guzzle quite a lot of it. Still, last time I quit for a week, I got a withdrawal hangover on the first day that lasted for 24 hours, complete with pounding head, runny nose, and chronic tiredness. My main reason for not choosing any of those things was that giving them up didn't seem to have much of an interesting narrative behind it.

So, I tried to think of something I do every day, something I've done for a long time, something I can scarcely imagine life without. And, I've decided...

For Lent, I'm going to give up video games.

It will be the longest I've been without them since Primary School. Yikes.

I love video games. They make me genuinely delighted and happy. I love them like I love books, like I love movies. For over two decades, they have sparked my imagination, and given me hours and hours of fun. But with the advent of game clocks and my progression into the higher echelons of adulthood, I've also had some tricky realisations. After 12 months of play on Pokémon Diamond, I checked the game clock and discovered I'd notched up 660 hours. That's the equivalent of 27 and a half days, without sleep. That's like playing non-stop for the whole of this month. Assuming an 8-hour working day, 5-days a week, that's like working a full time job for nearly 4 months. That's sick.

Obviously, I love Pokémon considerably more than the next man. If you're wondering whether I'm just lying, I'd point out that, since the battles are turn-based, Pokémon is ripe for being combined with other activities such as TV watching, and since it's on a handheld system, I played it pretty much every train journey I had - and I do a lot of train travel. Let's be clear - I'm not smack-talking Pokémon.

But that's not okay, is it? I mean, it's pretty awful. A little Pokémon, fair enough, but that's an actual bona fide binge. And it wasn't even the only game I played that year!

So look, here's what I'm going to do. You may have noticed I've done naff-all updates on this blog so far this year. Sorry about that. I've been busy. But we should reconnect more. So, I'm going to quit video games for Lent, try to rediscover some other pursuits, maybe procrastinate less, and I'm going to blog about it a bit. I reckon I will miss them, but I also think my life needs a little more balance, eh? I'd like to do one or two posts on games that really made a difference in my life, and also on non-video games. You know, like board games. My Dad has always been a pretty awesome advocate of board gaming, and I reckon it's his fault I'm hobbled with this dreadful craving for arbitrary simulated challenges. And I want to write about that.

Or maybe I'll just spend the time checking my Twitterfeed and reading obscure blogposts and I'll realise that video games are one of the most constructive uses of unstructured time available to us. Maybe I'll go mad. Maybe I'll renounce video games and never play them again. Who knows? All I know is that they're a really important part of my life, I kind of, not to be an idiot, but I kind of actually care about them, but for the next month me and them are going to have a trial separation.

And so, for now, I'm going to spend the rest of the evening binging on pancakes and games, in preparation for the long, stark fast before Spring.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Greatest Video Game Villains Of All Time: #2 Wolf O'Donnell

So, uh, yeah. Doesn't time fly? It's been a year to the day since I started the Cone O' Tragedy. Frankly, I'm surprised (and pleased) it's staggered on this long, like a plucky lil' zombie. So happy birthday, my blog. Well done! Like a drunk lost in an disused railway tunnel, you yell your barely coherent blather-koans into the echoing darkness, indifferent to the fact that no one hears, and that you've soiled yourself.

To mark the occasion, I thought I'd continue with what's shaping up to be an exciting annual series, following on from this rather optimistic post back when things began.

If you've not played Starfox 64/Lylat Wars on the N64, go do so. It is available to download for the Wii and I would rate it in my top 5 games of all time. It's a third-person space shoot 'em up that sees you as Fox McCloud, leading your intrepid team of Arwing pilots through battles that span an entire system. It's got the best dogfight sections of any game ever made, really cool set pieces, a great scoring system that keeps you coming back for more, and very fun radio chatter between you, your cohorts, and the enemies you face.

Some of the most fun parts of the game involve facing off against a rival team of mercenaries: Star Wolf, headed by your nemesis, Wolf O'Donnell. Depending on which route you take through the Lylat System, your first encounter with them may be on the planet of Fortuna (Star Wolf's bit starts at around 1:30 in the video):

Later - again, depending on how well you do and what course you plot through the system - you get to fight Star Wolf a second time, this time with revamped ships. I remember playing Lylat Wars a hell of a lot when I was younger, and unequivocally loving it. The dialogue is cartoony and silly, but it's great fun, and the bad guys' gloating taunts and bellowed orders to their underlings add a brilliant layer of hokey pantomime to proceedings. Just for the record, in my day, I was pretty awesome at the game - you get points for every kill you make, and bonuses for wiping out multiple enemies with a single shot, so on replays it takes a combination of tactical acumen and hairtrigger reflexes to maximise your score. Friends, I have both these qualities in spades.

Wolf O'Donnell is the classic hotshot baddy pilot archetype, whose sneaky self-servingness ends up being secondary to his desire to beat Fox McCloud and prove his superiority. There's a bit of the old grudging respect in there too - he's kind of a Moriarty of the skies. His gleeful opening line: 'Can't let you do that, Star Fox!' has become something of an internet meme, as wags insert punnage for mild lols. To be honest, I enjoyed them, because I love Lylat Wars, and I am an awful nerd.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Last Week Of Luke & Ross's Shows - GO! GO!

Apologies for the spotty updates so far this 2010 - I'm hella busy with lots of pseudo-exciting stuff that may or may not come to fruition, and some of that will involve my posting sporadically worthwhile things on this here blog for your perusal. I do enjoy having a meagre platform for my first drafts and half-formed opinions like terrible irradiated embryos hacked from their dead mothers' swollen bellies.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that last week I went to see the latest solo shows by my dear chums Luke Wright and Ross Sutherland, during their run at the Old Red Lion Theatre (nearest tube Angel), which continues until the end of this month. Luke's is called The Petty Concerns Of Luke Wright and Ross's is called The Three Stigmata Of Pac-Man.

Obviously I'm not a very credible advocate of their work, because, as I've made clear, they're good mates of mine. HOWEVER, if I'd thought the shows were crap I simply wouldn't have mentioned them. I actually reckon that they're brilliant. You should go and watch them and see two experienced young poets operating at the height of their powers. They've had several splendid reviews, and a bit in The Independent, and, you know, if you're in London you should do something different and interesting with one of your weeknights and take a friend along who's never seen performance poetry before. The shows are funny and witty and not so long you'll get bumache, and you'll have a new thing to have an opinion about and you'll feel all cultured and arty when you talk to friends for the next couple of weeks.

Anyway, look, you can make your own mind up by watching these clips from their shows. I hope you enjoy:

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle

So, I just realised I've never posted up this track by John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats and Kaki King. It's written from the perspective of one of the Mushroom Retainers (or 'Toads') that Mario saves at the end of each castle in Super Mario Bros. Toad was my favourite character in Super Mario Bros 2, and I'm glad to see the plucky guys triumphantly return in Super Mario Bros Wii.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Hello 2010!

Hey you. Nice to see you again. You're looking well. Have you had a haircut? Sure? Well your hair looks great today, then. You're welcome.

I had a pretty Kinder Bueno 2009, all told. My first (maybe only!) book came out, I got to do gigs with Vic Reeves, Jon Ronson and Tim Key, I tried my hand at stand-up, and I made some new friends. So come on 2010, how are you going to beat that?

Well, it looks like I'm going to be taking my first ever solo show to the Edinburgh Fringe in August. I'm working on it at the moment, and my main goal is to make it not crap. Having written material for four live shows in the past two years, I know only too well that I'm capable of lurching between rather entertaining and drab sniper bait, so I'm kind of counting on lots of trial runs and useful feedback between now and then. If you were to ask me what kind of show I'd like to go see at the Fringe (well, clearly even if you weren't I'd still volunteer the information unsolicited) I'd say something funny and interesting that made me think. That's the kind of show I'm trying to write.

It's weird though - the moment you start putting stuff down on paper, all these possibilities start closing themselves off to you. I think, as a writer, my biggest enemy is lack of focus. My ideas fly about like shiny bits of paper in the Crystal Dome at the end of the Crystal Maze, and I get sort of dazzled and mesmerised by them and can't decide which to grab for. I think probably the piece of live writing I'm most pleased with so far is my 'How To Save Your Girlfriend' bit for Infinite Lives. Although, in the linked video, it was my first run-through and so my performance is not the greatest, once I had it down I really enjoyed delivering it. It allows me to talk about some obscure shit that I secretly care about, like the opening part of Wardner, or Dynamite Dux on the Master System, but by making relationships the nominal subject of the talk, it's accessible to people who are usually bored to within a merry inch of their lives by banter about video games. I love video games, and getting people to laugh at random stuff I'd privately laughed at before felt really good.

It's very unlikely my first show will use a screen. Though I'm a fan of the Aisle16 comedy microlecture format, and it's hugely useful to be able to illustrate a point or chuck in cool, colourful pictures, unless you need it for every section, it splits attention across a whole extra medium. Plus, I'm a bit concerned that I'll end up writing in that ironic faux-lecturer voice, whereas I'm trying to work towards the 'Hey, I'm just a regular folksy dude telling you the story of what happened to me' voice (though just as grounded in artifice) that typifies things like The Moth. Also, it's just much easier to find places to practise bits of a screenless show in front of a live audience, whereas if I use a screen I've pretty much got a coupla previews, then I'm doing it.

I don't know. Like I say, as soon as you start chowing down on one meadow, the grass o'er yonder starts to look increasingly verdant. Like ectoplasmically so. We're talking Slimer or some shit. That's why it's good I've left myself with plenty of time to pull a 180 if I decide I need to try a different route, like 'git with clicker'.

Anyway, onwards with scriptwriting. In the meantime, you should really go check out Cat And Girl. It's so witty it annoys and depresses me. The internet is renowned as a world-trumping cretin nexus, yet it's full of people much smarter than me.