Today’s the 22nd of March. Which means that tomorrow, the 23rd of March I will have been writing professionally for thirty years – as that date, back in 1987 was the day that I first walked into Rathbone Place and entered the offices of YOUR SINCLAIR magazine.
Weirdly, at the time I didn’t want to be a writer. In fact, I wanted to be a computer programmer, having watched Superman III a couple of years earlier and taken to heart Richard Prior’s realisation in the story that the man who ruled computers ruled the world. The only problem was that I was terrible at programming. And, while in Sixth Form, we needed to find ourselves two weeks of work experience for the Summer Term in our chosen field of work – I decided that computers were the way forward.
The problem was, there were no computer companies out there looking for work experience students.
My teachers and I tried for weeks to find people who could take on an effective intern for two weeks, but remember this was the mid eighties and the dot com craze hadn’t even begun to take shape. And so it looked like I would be relegated to sitting in the Sixth Form for two weeks, while everyone else got to go outside the dome and into the badlands.
Enter YOUR SINCLAIR magazine.
I was an avid Sinclair fan at the time – I’d had a ZX81, now had a Spectrum and even ran a computer club at my local library. I loved playing games, especially ‘shoot ’em ups’ and, more importantly read every Spectrum magazine I could find. At the time there was this rivalry between the two biggest Spectrum magazines, CRASH and YOUR SINCLAIR. I’d aways fallen more into the latter group and suddenly realised that technically working for two weeks for my favourite games magazine ‘could’ be seen as relevant work experience. And so I phoned them up.
(Interestingly, this is also how I gained my first meetings with DC and Marvel sixteen years later, so phoning is always an option.)
After getting through to editorial, I explained my predicament and offered to do anything. Teresa Maughan (editor and then known as ‘T’Zer’) invited me to the offices to talk. She also asked me to write a review of my favourite game at the time and bring it with me. This done, I arrived at the offices on Monday 23rd March, 1987.
I don’t remember much of that first day – many of my memories are that the offices were quite small; I think I expected it to be the size of a newspaper office, not a side room. I met Phil South and Marcus Berkmann, who both took me under their respective wings as Teresa read my review and, at the end of the day I was given a box of tapes – new, upcoming and unreleased games for me to review. All I had to do was go home, play them for a few days, write up some reviews and bring them all back on Friday April 3rd, two weeks later. They’d then be checked over and, if they were good they’d go into the June ’87 issue #18, which apparently came out in May. And the most important part? Teresa mentioned that if any of the reviews were used, I’d get paid for them.
Thinking back, Teresa probably saw this as a way to give work experience while never really having to do anything. But I was over the moon – it meant that I could go home and play games all week, and my parents couldn’t stop me. And more importantly, I could suddenly make money doing this. I even remember the games – Big Trouble in Little China, Star Raiders II, Knucklebusters, Throne of Fire and Kinetik. And, dutifully, I played every single one of them. Repeatedly.
Two weeks later I nervously returned with reviews, typed up, in hand. And amazingly, Teresa enjoyed them, using all five in the issue and keeping her word of paying me for them, which of course made them my first ever paid writing work. And over the next year, while I went from Sixth Form to College, I would supplement my income by writing more games reviews for YOUR SINCLAIR, whenever my academic schedule allowed me to, and attending the Earls Court PCW shows as a guest, signing copies of the magazine decades before I would ever do similar in comics.
Writing for YOUR SINCLAIR was a dream for me as a teenager, but more importantly it opened the door for me in ways I never imagined. I never went to University – instead I attempted (and failed) at Drama School. After dropping out, bounced around, clueless as to what to do for a year or so, in the meantime working as a Covent Garden street entertainer until an accident paralysed me for six months. (You didn’t know this? I wrote about it here…) Now at home and unable to really work while I rehabbed my legs back into working, I needed to find something I could do in bed. And once more writing came to the forefront. I’d written a couple of small things after school, nothing major, but now I had a chance to reshape myself. And I did, applying (again, by phone) to BBC Radio 4, asking if I could try out for Weekending, their weekly current events satire show. The problem was however that they didn’t take unsolicited material from unpublished writers. I mentioned YOUR SINCLAIR, explaining that I’d freelanced for them and was surprised to learn that not only had the producer been a Spectrum fan, but he also knew my name as one of the YOUR SINCLAIR ‘Joystick Jugglers’. Of course I was welcome to come in and pitch!
Working on Weekending helped me regain my post-accident life back. And, after a few months I was able to move to a local Newspaper, working on the features section while I learned the craft of journalism – again, it was my YOUR SINCLAIR portfolio that got me through the door. Local newspapers led to local and then national radio. This in turn led to creative advertising in radio that led to comics, audio, novels, film and now BBC Television.
I sit here today writing graphic novels, film screenplays and treatments for television shows. I speak to producers and publishers around the world and over the last decade have written some of my favourite characters of all time, with more yet unannounced ones to come. I’ve travelled the world, meeting pop stars to princesses to presidents because of this job, and I’ve met more of my heroes than I can ever have imagined. And a lot of this, my journey over the years is due to the fact that thirty years ago tomorrow, I walked into a small office on Rathbone Place and was given a box of games to play.
Thank you Teresa, Phil and Marcus. Thank you YOUR SINCLAIR.