I have never had a career plan or goal. I have developed my career by grabbing interesting opportunities when they pass nearby, and right now, that means writing. I began writing in 2018 when I wanted a break from game development, and I enjoyed it. I dabbled with screenwriting until, in 2022, I was accepted on and completed the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course. Now, I am writing short stories and my first novel. I will still do contract work as a game developer when the right jobs come along, but otherwise I am writing, writing, and writing some more.
In the past, I have choreographed and performed in contemporary dance productions in the UK and Europe, I have created installations in museums and galleries, I have designed and built games on Playstation, Xbox, PC, and mobile phones, and I have led a tech project at the United Nations. It has been interesting, and I wouldn’t change any of it.
If you want to know the meandering path that led me here, read on.
How it all began
I first touched a computer when I was twelve years old. This was in 1978, and the computer was a Commodore Pet that was the work computer of a friend of my parents. A couple of years later, I borrowed a Sinclair ZX80 from a friend, and a couple of years after that, I persuaded my parents to buy a BBC Micro, which I learned to program in Basic, Pascal, BCPL, and Assembler. I loved tinkering with it and playing games on it equally.
When I left school, I went to study mathematics at Cambridge University. I didn’t especially want to study maths, but I wanted to go to university and maths is something I'm good at. At university, I started dancing. A lot. It turns out I’m good at that too.
When I arrived to begin my first year at Cambridge, almost the first thing I did was join the university dance club. This was a spontaneous act that led to me spending much of my time in Cambridge dancing - first ballroom, then jazz, classical ballet, and contemporary dance. I enjoyed them all, but contemporary dance was my love and after completing my maths degree, I applied to dance schools.
What followed was another three years of study, this time at London Contemporary Dance School where I studied contemporary dance and choreography. While there, I fell in love again, this time with choreography, and I spent as much time as possible creating my own dances under the watchful eye of some outstanding teachers.
After graduating, I formed my own dance company, Big Room Dance Company, and struck out on my own as a choreographer. Over the following years, I created contemporary dance productions for my company and choreographed a few operas and musicals too.
Choreography rarely earns enough money to pay the bills on its own, so when I left dance school I also seized an opportunity to work part-time making video recordings of live dance performances. I started as a camera operator but moved up to directing and mixing multi-camera shoots and editing promotional videos for dance companies. It was enjoyable work, and I met and worked with many great choreographers.
The video work led, via one of the production companies I was working with, into the developing world of interactive CD-ROMs where my previous experience in programming was useful. Soon I was supplementing my dance income through contracts as a programmer for educational games and installations, including projects with the British Museum, the National Gallery, and the Science Museum in London.
Dance and Technology
These many strands came crashing together when I was asked to experiment with a real-time motion capture rig. Unlike today’s motion capture equipment, this kit used magnetic fields to track motion and produced results in real time, which meant we could create a live performance using motion capture. I brought together a group of collaborators and we created Cyberkinesis, an installation where a dancer in the motion capture rig danced, and we interpreted her movement through an AI system that I wrote to an alien creature who danced with her. It was an exciting project and led to my involvement in many other projects overlapping dance and technology.
I took time out to refine my skills and fell into a job working on the Burnout racing games at Criterion Games. I started as an engineer and after a couple of months they promoted me to lead engineer. I left Criterion in late 2005 after the development of Burnout Revenge and set out on my own again, this time developing web games for various clients. I would help to develop the game ideas and then write all the front-end and back-end code for the games.
In 2011, Stick Sports asked me to become their chief technology officer, another opportunity that I didn’t ask for but grabbed when it appeared. Stick Sports had some very successful web games and was looking to move into the mobile games space. During my three and a half years there, we successfully developed their existing cricket franchise into a series of popular mobile games and created a whole new and even more successful series of tennis games on mobile.
On my own again
I enjoyed working with the team at Stick Sports but by the end of 2014 I was itching to do more of my own work, so in January 2015 I left and set up on my own yet again to develop my own games and to provide consulting and development work to other game developers.
I released my first game, Freak Factory, in mid-2015.
Then I fell into multiple contracts prototyping new game ideas for King. Between 2016 and 2018, I prototyped three new game ideas with them, including a new Call of Duty mobile game. This prototyping work was again an opportunity that I wasn’t looking for, but it fit my range of experience and abilities. In game development terms, I could be called a generalist, but I have deep knowledge in many areas, I communicate well, and can work successfully with most individuals and teams. We developed successful prototypes with a team of two, just me and a game designer. This meant for King that they could develop an idea without pulling developers off existing projects.
They say everyone has a story in them. Mine wanted to get out, so at the end of 2018, I took a break from game development to write it. I wrote it as a film script because it involved dancing, and I didn’t know how to make that work in a novel.
I attended short courses and read books on screenwriting, covered my wall in post-it notes, joined a screenwriters’ group, and wrote three drafts. The script was not great, but it achieved two important steps — I got that story out of my head, and I discovered I enjoy writing.
What followed was more courses, more reading, and more drafts of more stories. I learned many correct ways to structure a film, plan a character, and write a screenplay before realising I had to figure out what works for me.
In mid-2021, with multiple drafts of three film scripts and one TV pilot in my pocket, screenwriter Richard Kurti recommended I read James Wood’s book How Fiction Works. I discovered that all those lectures and books on screenwriting had taught me everything about structure and nothing about how to use words and sentences to tell a story.
I wrote a short story, and I wallowed in the freedom to express myself on the page and to take complete control of how the story is told. Words are hard, but also fun and engaging. I enjoy finding the right combination to place a thought inside a reader’s head. The rules around screenwriting were a corset, and by throwing them off, I can dance once more.
I studied novel writing, through books and the Masterclass website, and wrote another short story before approaching my first novel. But writing can be a lonely pursuit. Isolated by Covid rules and longing to spend time with other writers, I applied to Faber Academy for their renowned Writing A Novel course and was accepted in early 2022. The course was brilliant, and guided by the wonderful Shelley Weiner our gang of fifteen writers grew into a supportive and knowledgeable writing group.
We completed the course in July 2022, and I am now deep into writing my first novel.