I’ve never had a career plan or goal. I've developed my career by grabbing interesting opportunities when they pass nearby. I’ve designed and built games on all sorts of platforms, I’ve choreographed and performed in contemporary dance productions, I’ve created installations in museums and galleries, and I’ve lead a tech project at the United Nations. It’s been an interesting and enjoyable ride.
Now I'm writing a novel.
I recently completed the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course with the wonderful Shelley Weiner and am deep into writing my first novel, Dancing On Sand.
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 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 learnt to program in Basic, Pascal, BCPL, and Assembler. I loved tinkering with it and playing games on it in equal amount.
When I left school I went to study maths at Cambridge University. I didn’t specially want to study maths, but I wanted to go to university and maths is something I am 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 and another honours degree, 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 great 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 various contemporary dance productions for my own 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 the opportunity to work part-time making video recordings of live dance performances. I started as a camera operator but rapidly 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 todays 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 number of collaborators and we created Cyberkinesis, an installation where a dancer in the motion capture rig danced, and her movement was interpretted through an AI system I wrote to an alien creature who danced with her. The creature was projected onto the walls around her. It was an exciting project and led to my involvement in many other projects exploring dance and technology.
Throughout all this I was still creating theatre dance productions too. I created my last theatre production in 2001 and my last dance and technology production, a dance game for PC, in 2002. That was when I made the transition into the console games industry.
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 was promoted 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 I was approached by Stick Sports to become their chief technology officer, another opportunity that I didn't ask for but grasped when it appeared. Stick Sports had some very successful web games and were 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 intermittent work 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 opportuniy 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. A successful prototype can be developed by me and the game designer alone, which meant for King that an idea could be developed without having to pull people off existing projects and disrupting existing workflows.
In 2018 I began to study writing. Specifically screenwriting. I, like many people, had a story in my head that I wanted to tell, about what happens when a choreographer and a group of dancers get together to create a dance. It's not usually how it's portrayed in Black Swan and Tiny Pretty Things. At the time I felt that the visual language of dance would be easier to convey on film and so screenwriting was my thing.
After three years of writing and rewriting drafts for that screenplay and three others, I was frustrated. Guidance and teaching for screenwriting will tell you many conflicting ways to structure a story or plan a character, but there's almost no discussion of words and sentences, how they're used and what makes them effective. Then, in 2021, screenwriter Richard Kurti recommended I read How Fiction Works by James Woods. This was the magic power. How to use words not as the blueprint for a film but to place a story into the mind of a reader. I dived in. Lots of books and masterclasses about creative writing later, a path of study that was supposed to help my screenwriting twisted my mind and I began my first novel.
I was accepted onto the renowned Writing A Novel course at Faber Academy, which I completed in July 2022, and I am now deep into writing my first novel.