Monday, January 31, 2011

Wool Pie Fencepost

Odd jobs...

Or, as the case may be, not.

Twice in my life I have done jobs that I would have sold my soul to continue doing. Back in 1984, I was working for the Borough Council at the Community Youth Centre on Guildhall Road in Northampton, better and commonly known as Number 9. I was chatting to one of the workers who produced the monthly newsletter - a kind of in-house affair that was also available to any discerning members of the general public. The conversation was about an interview I said I could get (bare in mind this was many years before I ended up working as a journalist). The magazine, which I have a copy of somewhere in the loft, was doing a feature on drug abuse in Northampton and I just happened to know a drug dealer. I proposed doing an interview - anonymously - and using it for the magazine. The editor thought it was a great idea and I went off to do the thing.

I suppose in many ways it acted as a catalyst for my future career, I don't think I'd ever considered journalism until that happened and I did a good job of it. So good the aftermath proved to be very interesting. A week after the interview appeared, two police officers from the Northants force came to see me and asked me to divulge my source; my then manager, on my behalf, said that this was not going to happen and the old Bill left without finding anything out or even speaking to me. A week after that, the editor of the magazine came to see me and asked if I would meet with a professor of sociology from Nene College (now the University of Northampton). I agreed and he asked me if I would give a talk to his sociology degree students about the contents of the interview and other things that were omitted from the interview. I agreed and ended up doing an actual lecture - completely off the cuff - about drug dealing and the social reasons and implications. It went down very well and I got paid £75 for the 75 minute talk and the subsequent 30 minute Q&A session.

I thought this might be the start of something big. I could quite easily have done this again and again, especially as the guy who arranged it thought the entire session went down really well; but this was at the height of Thatcher's massive public spending cuts and it didn't happen. I did get contacted by the professor in the early 1990s about doing a talk at the OU, but I actually managed to talk myself out of doing it!

The best one however happened in 1997. I was at UKCAC (United Kingdom Comic Arts Convention) in London and had just finished doing a talk on The X-Men for an audience of about 150 people. I had made my way back to the bar and was followed by this trendy looking bugger who wanted to put a proposition to me. The guy worked for a software developer and he wanted me to act as an adviser for a game they were developing. I was a wee bit skeptical at the time, thinking that it might have been a wind up (this was before computer games became massive business), but my then employer reckoned it would be a good way to pick up some extra cash. So, I gave the guy my phone number, told him when my busiest days at work were over the coming two months and didn't expect to hear from him again. This was the Saturday, on the Monday morning I got a call asking me if I could go to their development studio in Cricklewood, London the following week. They said it would be two days work of consulting and they would pay me... £200 a day plus my expenses. I almost fell through the floor!

The two days there were fantastic. I was bought lunch, waited on hand and foot by nubile wenches and all I had to do was give them my knowledge of the X-Men and whether or not aspects of the game they were developing were accurate to X-Men continuity - the game was authorised by Marvel. I even came up with a villain for the game! I got £400 plus travel costs which was a ton of money for two days work as far as I was concerned then and would still be now. I offered my comics skills for any other projects they might be thinking of making and got this idea that while I couldn't programme to save my life, I could come up with great game ideas. Unfortunately, I only heard from the company once more, to send me a copy if the game in 1999, which included a credit in the handbook. It was a Wolverine game and was designed for early versions of the PC. I did speak to one of the developers in 2000 at a Bristol comics convention; he claimed I gave them far too much information and had I been a bit less generous they probably could have used me for a couple more days, but I kept on giving them info and calling me back would have been pointless. "You gave us enough information for two games," he said to me.

The reason this came to mind is that a friend of mine is off to the local uni next week to do a talk about his work in Youth Justice. He does about 20 a year, some for unis, some for local authorities and some for the police force and gets a lot of dosh for each of them. Enough, he reckons, for him to only need a part time job for the rest of the year. It would be nice to be in that position. I always used to say that I should have got more TV work from my time in comics, purely based on the fact that I knew a lot and didn't look like a geek; but that never happened mainly because I could count on one hand the number of comics programmes I remember being made. I've done a lot of radio work relating to comics, yet have never been paid for any of them - the BBC doesn't pay people they drag in off the street to talk to DJs, or if they do they managed to keep it from me!

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