I’m currently organising an online exhibition as a follow up to the Create Place programme. The intention is to use the space to share creative positive stories and experiences of LGBTQ+ people.
The idea was sparked by the reassuring narratives I encountered when I attended exhibitions such as the Museum of Transology and Transworkers Photographic Exhibition. At a time when I wasn’t sure what lay ahead of me when I was coming out, there were stories in exhibitions like these that made me feel hopeful that I would have a positive future.
In the exhibition I’m organising I want to give every LGBTQ+ person an opportunity to tell part of their positive story. I want everyone in the community to feel they can submit something creative or artistic, whether they’re a professional, amateur, hobbyist, DIY or bedroom maker. And when I say creative or artistic, that could include anything (as long as part of it can be shared in a digital format) – including but not only painting, drawing, writing, music, video, games, digital stories, interactive pieces, crafts and textile arts, performance. The key thing is it just needs to be creative and share positive experiences of being an LGBTQ+ person.
Even though this is starting out as an online exhibition, in the long term I also want to be able to share these experiences in a physical exhibition as well.
I’m discussing the ideas behind this project in a Voluntary Arts Creative Network session on 17th Feb (5-6pm), which is open to everyone. During the session I’m also looking for input into how I can develop this project as a safe online space for LGBTQ+ people to share and discover these positive stories.
If this sounds like your sort of thing I look forward to seeing you on the 17th.
And keep an eye on this blog for updates and calls for submissions.
The Create Place programme is open for applications for its second cohort of participants (deadline 29th January). It’s a free North Staffordshire and Cheshire East based programme supported by Arts Council England. It focuses on developing leadership skills in creative & cultural co-creation, co-production and co-curation for the arts & heritage sector…. which includes getting communities involved in making, creating, & community arts.
Even though I’m based in Surrey (not Staffs or Cheshire), I’m part of the 1st wave of participants & it’s been a great experience for me. I have had so many useful conversations about developing creative projects; linking up with other creatives; and developing strategic & leadership skills. I’d totally recommend applying for a place if you’re based in England.
It involves 3 x 2 day residencies (currently virtual/online) & continuing support from 16 North Staff/Cheshire & UK cultural/arts organisations.
One of my Bitsy’s, My Face, has been included as part of this month’s the MASS – “a monthly online collection of discursive art, articles, opinions, prompts, thoughts, and questions, gathered in response to global issues.” The issue’s focus is “TRANS-“, so it seemed like a good opportunity to share this small digital narrative focused on my thoughts about what lies underneath my makeup. The rest of the issue includes a wide range of art responses to the theme, including painting, sculpture, dance, video, text and an interactive website.
Despite the past year being a difficult time for me in terms of finding a stable job, I’m pleased with how much I’ve achieved creatively.
The thing I’m happiest about creatively are the music streams across my Replay in Neon, Ice Line Drift, and Midnight Detective Club music projects. I released my first music tracks on Spotify, iTunes, etc back in Autumn 2019, and it was a nice Christmas present to hit 100,000 plays on Christmas Day 2020. Both The Midnight Detective Club and Ice Line Drift had almost 49,000 plays each, and Replay in Neon had 2,500. It’s something I never expected would happen, and after 30+ years of music making it was a huge surprise. I am grateful to everyone who listened to, enjoyed, shared and helped promote my music.
This year I published 5 new games / interactive digital stories:
The Midnight Detective Club Project
As I mentioned earlier, I’m very happy with how the music for The Midnight Detective Club project is going, especially working with singer Ellen Louise. I released 5 tracks on streaming services this year, with a few more in the pipeline. In terms of the game itself, I’ve released small chunks that aim to either build a part of the narrative (The Narrows, the songs, virtual exhibition), and am working on other parts (card game, interactive comic, matching game). My current focus is on creating the supernatural detective mystery game within a website that includes interlinked narrative in various forms, including interviews, games, comic, music, videos, Instagram. I’m enjoying working on different pieces of this project and expanding the story world of the band with each new piece created.
NOT ON MY OWN
It hasn’t only been solo projects this year. I’ve had fun working with others, or contributing to projects that I wasn’t lead on. For example, I got session singer, Ellen Louise, involved in The Midnight Detective Club project. I know I’ve said it before, but I am really happy that I found someone with a vocal style that works so well with the music, and I love the lyrics and melody she came up with for Where’s the Magic Gone? I also commissioned Jupiter Doomsday to create some fun retro style characters for part of The MDC project. I’m really pleased with how they turned out, and all they need now is the right setting for them in the game.
Thanks to Anne Welsh, I also became an Associate for Beginning Cataloguing, and ran my first online workshop focused on creating a game for library classification, and I’m planning more in the future. I also co-ran a Bitsy workshop for The British Library. I mentored for Pocket Code’s Google Summer of Code project, and enjoyed seeing my mentee’s project coming together into such a fun showcase game. I contributed to Creswell Crag’s online Midwinter Festival of Folklore, with a piece about winter folklore in my digital story, Midwinter Spirits and other games. And I also became a student on Create Place, which is a creative leadership program focused on place-making, and I’m looking forward to finalising my collaborative project for this in 2021.
I know 2020 has been a difficult year all round, but my creative interests have been the mental leveller I personally needed. The pandemic itself helped me to focus on my creative projects. I had game and music making opportunities that kept me going and made me happy whilst dealing with the uncertainty of not having a job. And that creative focus also made me wonder why I’d not taken advantage of some of those creative opportunities before.
Even though a lot of my creative projects were solo efforts, without the support from others I’m not sure how much I would have achieved. This includes those who listened to and shared my music; encouraged me from the side-lines; played and/or gave feedback on my games etc; helped me solve techy game-making problems; and just tolerated what might have seemed like a blitz of endless self-focused creative tweets and Facebook updates. I appreciate it. That support is important to me. Thank you everyone who helped me have a positive creative year.
All of the tracks for the Ice Line Drift project have now been released on Bandcamp. You can also find them on other streaming and download services. This includes the latest track, an ambient beat-free version of I Saw Three Ships. As the ambient version of The Holly and the Ivy went down so well this time last year, I thought I’d create some more music for people to drift off to during a quiet Christmas night.
One of the themes that regularly appears in my digital stories and games is folklore and myths. In Midwinter Spirits, I created a little retro-style digital story with a focus on winter folklore. I’m really pleased that it’s featured as part of Creswell Crags Winter Folklore Festival, which is a free online festival running 18th – 21st December 2020. As part of my involvement in the festival, I also wrote a piece on winter folklore representation in this digital tale, and other games, including Never Alone (Native Alaskan), Roki (Scandinavian), and Yukie (Japanese).
Next week (11th August) sees the release of two more demo synth pop songs from The Midnight Detective Club on Spotify, iTunes, Deezer, Tidal, Soundcloud, and other music streaming and download sites. This time, Ellen Louise, singer on the tracks, penned the lyrics for Where’s the Magic Gone? They fit the idea behind the song perfectly.
The intention of the songs included in the game is to develop the story of the band and also the game. They give players hints of the supernatural mystery back in the 1980’s, but they also look to the present setting of the game, and are comments on the characters within it. What Destiny Has Planned focuses on the question of whether the future is already laid out for us, whether it can be changed and what it has in store for us. Where’s the Magic Gone? is nostalgic, and draws upon the idea of childhood being full of wonder, fearlessness and imagination, and how that can disappear once you grow up. But it also suggests that it doesn’t have to be that way. The Teen gang themselves are somehow (as a friend put it) “frozen in Aspic”. Teenagers in the 1980’s, but also teenagers now. Or are they adults with a teen mentality? It’s part of the mystery. And if I told you the truth, I’m not sure you would believe me. That would be an understandable reaction, because sometimes I’m not even sure I believe myself. But we will all find out once the mystery of The Midnight Detective Club is solved.
I’ve been working on a draft/prototype idea for one of the chapters in The Midnight Detective Club game. This one is a speed based game focused on both the band’s success and their sudden disappearance. The game prompts you to click on one of the icons related to success and then deliver it to a band member. When you do this successfully their sense of fulfilment increases. Take too long and it decreases. Eventually you’ll hit maximum fulfilment and are rewarded with further clues to the mystery. The basics of this chapter game are done, but it will be tweaked. I’m not sure that mouse control is the best way to do this (although it works better with touch control). I might make life easier for the players by giving them key controls. I’m also considering changes the descriptions from the basic “AWARDS”, “MONEY” etc to something more detailed and interesting, but I’m also aware that might make it more difficult for players to identify which success icons they need to click on.
I’ve been focusing a lot on this game project over the past few months. It’s morphed along the way – starting out as one thing and becoming something so much bigger, and something different than was originally planned. I’ve tried a few ways of structuring the game. At the moment it is chapter based, with a narrative introduction followed by a playable scene that when finished successfully gives clues to solving the mystery behind the game. Each playable scene is intended to be different. At the moment they include card battles; arcade shoot-em up; a point n click explorer; and a dress-up game – but there will be more. I feel it’s now coming together as the 1980s surreal teen detective gang supernatural mystery with an LGBTQ++ slant that I wanted it to be. One of the new experiences for me when creating this game has been working with freelancers. I recognise that I don’t have all the skills to turn this into the game that I want it to be. I commissioned a concept artist in the hope that it would give me a kick start for a visual style. That was helpful in a couple of ways – I settled on a visual palette for the game, and it gave me ideas about why those colours and visuals were important in the game narrative. I also (for the first time ever) hired a session singer to add vocals to some of my songs. I am so happy with them, and will be releasing demo versions of two of the songs on music streaming services over the next week, under the name of The Midnight Detective Club. After having worked with the singer, I’m kicking myself for not working with a decent singer before. I am also now starting to divide the game up into other parts I can complete myself, and those I need help with. It still needs a lot of work, but I’m happy with where it’s going. Here are a couple of screenshots.