2021 was a landmark year for us. After starting and ending a new job in Sheffield’s Moor Market at the end of 2020, I spent the year unemployed; the strangeness of COVID-19 bored on; and in June, we sold our house and left Sheffield, after 23 very happy years living there.
We did not have a new house to move to, and so spent two months driving around the country, staying with friends and relatives or sleeping in our little van. It was a fun time, but my back didn’t half suffer!
At the end of August we moved to our new forever home, Middlehope Lodge, bang in the horizontal middle of the country, not far below Scotland. Out on its own the countryside, no other houses in sight, with a (rather rickety) barn and outhouses plus a third-of-an-acre of garden, it’s remote. Or, as we like to call it, “on the edge of nowhere”: the nearest village, St John’s Chapel, is a little under 2 miles walk, and has 2 pubs, a café, a Co-op store, school, garage, doctor’s and ambulance station – all the essentials!
We’re also off-grid: when we moved in, electricity was solely provided by a 12v leisure battery, although we have since added solar panels: enough to pump our water, run a freezer, and charge laptops & phones. Plus there’s a generator for emergencies. It’s heated solely by a Rayburn and one wood-stove, (barely) powering two tiny radiators, and one half of the house rarely gets above the ouside temperature. We have no Internet (we can just about get a mobile signal, if atmospheric conditions are right, by leaning a phone up in the top-right corner of the bedroom window), no TV, and like to spend our evenings reading to one another and crafting (although Gill has taken to downloading films on her tablet). We love it!
There are hares and deer and rabbits and barn owls and kestrels all over the place, with red kites just over the hill. Moving to the countryside has been a lifelong dream for Gill, who spent happy childhood holidays at a family friend’s in the remote Scottish isle of Kerrera. And so here we are, with our chickens (and hopefully soon a new dog – our beloved Toto just made it into 2022, but sadly died a few days ago at the age of 13).
All of which means that life is quite a bit cheaper for us now, but I still need a job (in fact, neither of us has been working since we moved here). I’ve ruled out the tech industry, after a very messy situation at my former job a couple of years ago which made me realise that I am too old/tired/confused/mental/disillusioned/scared to work in the tech industry any more (although I half fancy training people to program), and my increasingly cranky bipolar disorder makes me feel like I can never stick out a “regular” job.
Salvation has, perhaps, come via a very unexpected route. As a kid, I was obsessed with roleplaying games: Dungeons & Dragons from the age of 10 and, subsequently, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I gave them up as a childish thing at the age of around 20, but my old books & zines have remained in the attic these subsequent 30 years.
During the first COVID lockdown, I had those old rulebooks out and was browsing through them and, with a lot of spare time on my hands, got the urge to start playing again. I was introduced to a bunch of folks half my age, and had the most wonderful fun playing D&D online with them. And as time passed, I got more and more drawn into the world of “tabletop roleplaying games”, reading blogs and eventually starting to write my own games content.
At the end of 2021 I took things a stage further, and joined a “zine jam”, SideQuest 2021. This involved setting up a Kickstarter to raise funds to publish my own zine (“Mostly Harmless Meetings – a zine of countryside encounters”; basically a list of vignettes which can be inserted into fantasy games, inspired by the flora, fauna and folklore of the English countryside). I’d budgeted £400 to cover printing and posting perhaps up to 50 magazines. Things took off far more than I’d expected, I ended up getting over 150 pledges for physical copies of the zine, and another 100 for the PDF – raising over £2100 in all. I estimate that, after costs, this will leave me with perhaps £1000 profit.
This got me thinking: if (and it’s a big if) I could manage something similar every 2 months, that would bring in £500 a month – not even minimum wage but, like I said, our outgoings are greatly reduced. Plus I may be able to scratch out some extra cash doing odd jobs (I recently helped a local farmer with shearing their sheep’s tails, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and the idea of working outdoors appeals to me, after a lifetime sat at desks).
So I have taken the plunge and founded Peakrill Press. I’ve got 10 ISBNs and I intend to use them! Mostly Harmless Meetings will be my first publication, and I have a whole bunch of things already planned for 2021. In fact, since making that list I have added another planned zine: “nanodeities”, loosely inspired by Terry Pratchett’s novel Small Gods. Nanodeities will be a compendium of completely insignificant gods, goddesses and goddexxes. Each will have their own backstory and portrait – hopefully to be provided by Rich Tingley – and each will also have statistics for use in games such as D&D. The basics for each deity will be spewed out at random by my Twitter bot @deitygalaxy.
But before all of that, I have another Kickstarter launching at the beginning of February, Learning to Draw Trees…
Throughout 2021 I had a monthly page in Bodge Magazine called Learning to Draw Trees. It was exactly that: one tree per month, with the hope that over the year I would get better at it. I did. Much better. And so my next zine/book is a collection of all 12 drawings, plus extra pictures and sketches, plus thoughts and advice based on what the project taught me. And, to keep the project gaming-adjacent and hopefully attract a few pledges from those TTRPGers, it contains a small pullout roleplaying game called You Are A Tree by Côme Martin.
My tree drawings will also, hopefully, be another revenue stream. I had a couple of enquiries about buying prints last year, but wanted to keep that year purely for learning. Now that it’s 2022, I plan to produce prints, T-shirts, mugs – perhaps even sell the odd original, if my mum can bear not to have any of them on her wall. I’ve yet to figure out how all of that will work, watch this space!
So, after two years with no idea what I could do for the rest of my life, an answer seems to have come to me. One which makes me really, really happy. I do hope it works: financially, it’s not going to be easy, and I will appreciate any and all support that my friends can give: it would be especially helpful if you could share/cross-promote my Peakrill projects.