Tangle Tower

Over on my adventure gaming blog, I’ve posted a spoiler-free review of Tangle Tower, an extremely charming and satisfying interactive whodunnit.

As this cartoon murder mystery from SFB Games begins, Detective Grimoire and Sally have been summoned to Tangle Tower, a sprawling mansion at the centre of a biologically remarkable lake. The case? The mysterious death of talented young artist Freya Fellow. It took place in a locked room at the top of a turret, when Freya was halfway through painting a portrait of her distant relative Flora Fellow. Oh, and the murder weapon is missing – unless you count that bloodied knife that’s been daubed on the canvas.

I’ve not played many video games lately but am getting back into them, especially short narrative experiences like this that can be completed in a weekend.

Next up will be Röki.

Cultivating magic

Earlier this year, the Studio Ghibli catalogue was added to Netflix. It goes without saying that the films are absolute classics that reward re-watching, but I particularly admire Kiki’s Delivery Service.

Part of that’s down to the setting – a vaguely European coastal city that makes you want to step into each and every frame and take a wander. It’s also got plenty of endearing characters like Ursula, the cabin-dwelling painter, and Osono, the kindly baker.

But what strikes a chord with me is the small, sweet, soulful story about our hero finding her calling in the wide world.

I was curious about the source material, Eiko Kadono’s 1985 book. Bang on time, a splendid new Puffin edition came along – in a fresh translation by Emily Balistrieri, illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton.

This part of the author’s introduction struck that same chord:

As I wrote and revised, wrote and revised, I discovered that I loved writing. As long as I created stories, I could live an exciting life with new discoveries every day. And I decided that, if nothing else, I would continue writing as long as I live. I’ll never forget the peace of mind I felt at that moment – I sensed the magic inside myself. I’ve come to believe that everyone has some type of magic inside them. If a person can find their magic and lovingly cultivate it, they’ll truly feel alive every day.

Eiko Kadono

That idea of finding something that you love doing and that will always nourish you is something that echoes powerfully through the book, and it became even more of a theme in Miyazaki’s film.

It’s a feeling I recognise now and am trying to hold onto.

The Ambience of Monkey Island

Around 1991, The Secret of Monkey Island fired up my imagination as much as any book I’ve ever read. I could enthuse at length about the immense influence that this video game and its immediate sequels have had on my storytelling, and I’m sure someday I will.

For now I’ll just share a playlist I discovered recently that has been my writing soundtrack over the past several mornings: The Ambience of Monkey Island.

YouTube user BuzzMoo has made available (at the time of writing) 25 hour-long tracks, featuring the in-game music and ambient sound effects lifted from many of the series’ memorable locales.

Quite different to the incredibly catchy main themes that run through these games, the music here is largely atmospheric, with lazy rhythms and unobtrusive, wandering melodies. It’s designed not to underscore high drama, but to soundtrack hours of exploring, puzzling and soaking up the scenery – also perfect for writing, I find.

On the Plunder Island beach path, gentle surf and clucking chickens can be heard amongst sparse percussion and timorous woodwind. Or perhaps you’d rather wallow in the faded grandeur of the Goodsoup Hotel on Blood Island, where distant storm clouds groan beneath melancholic harpsichord and steel drums. When you consider all of the islands that constitute the series’ twisted, anachronism-filled version of the Caribbean, there’s probably a spot to suit any mood.

As much as the island ambience is helping my work, it’s becoming mighty tempting to start yet another replay of these games. Once I finish this draft…

Reboot

I’m dusting off this old blog and planning to post more here from now on. There will be updates and thoughts about my writing for children, and all sorts of things that are inspiring and interesting to me. Perhaps the occasional glimpse of my illustration projects too, but Instagram seems the place for that, for the time being.

For a couple of years I’ve been working on a middle-grade fantasy novel, Margot and the Maelstrom. The first draft was longlisted for the Times Chicken House Children’s Fiction Prize 2019, which encouraged me to return to it, to redraft and tweak it into the best book it could be.

In summer 2019 I also became a dad, and perhaps expecting to achieve all that progress on Margot in the first year of fatherhood was over-ambitious. Now, in October 2020, I’ve caught up on some sleep and I’m still steadily improving the manuscript – all whilst jotting down oodles of ideas for the next book and resisting the urge to begin writing that.

Margot is now in good shape, and with a little luck I’ll be pitching it to agents before the end of the year. I’ll share as much of that process as I can here.