As I begin to write this, it is 17:08 on 31st December 2018. The end of the year is traditionally a time to both reflect on the preceding twelve months and to speculate on what might be on the horizon, but in fact I have tended to avoid such musings for many years—perhaps just as well, given how unpredictable my life has been!
Nevertheless, 2018 has been momentous in that I undertook another major career change in launching my Patreon site, and that has certainly proved to be a serious learning curve. I have spoken about this in at least a couple of podcasts this year, most recently my chat with Nick Skinner of TooFatLardies, but I now have a much firmer grasp of the kind of content that most of my patrons enjoy, and how I can fit the production of this work into the rest of my life.
The Patreon gig officially started at the beginning of February, when the first pledges were actually collected, and in the following eleven months, this is what I have produced:
- Patron-only posts in 2018: 52
- Public posts in 2018: 29
Of course, some of these posts were ‘administrative’ posts, addressing my patrons, as well as those containing wargaming content, but here’s what you’ve enjoyed over the course of the year:
- Battlechat podcasts: 13, including chats with Nick Skinner, Joe McCullough, Keith Flint, Harry Sidebottom, Annie of BadSquiddo Games, Professor Tony Pollard, organiser of The Great Game), Jay Arnold, Neil Shuck, Will Townshend, Tricks and Laurence the Partizan organisers, my old chum Guy Hancock, Dan Mersey and an introductory one on my own. I have found that I really enjoy producing these, and hope to interview a great many more luminaries in the hobby in 2019.
- Sergeants+ Q&A podcasts: 3. Again, great fun, as long as my patrons have the stamina to endure the 3½ hour marathons that they have become…!
- Photo albums: 3 on Flickr and 2 on DropBox covering various events where I have been snapping away like a demon. Recently, I also photographed a 1941 book showcasing the RAF and Fleet Air Arm, together with USAF, Luftwaffe and Italian aircraft too!
- Battlegames Blog posts: 16, including three terrain-making posts from guest poster Sean Souter; one on tactics from Jay Arnold; and two by Mike Siggins, one on his return to the hobby and another on Salute 2018, and a Cavalier show report. These do not include the many posts I’ve made on the Patreon site addressing my patrons directly, only those on this Battlegames site.
- Videos: Three from the Ayton imagi-nations weekend in May, Iain Burt’s visit for the Table Top Teaser (see above), Horse Sense with Roz Morris, and two Partizan shows (Partizan and The Other Partizan), a Photoshop tutorial on map-making, one about cardboard boxes being used for making buildings and two exercise videos! I also took part in a live trans-Atlantic game of Commands & Colors Ancients with Jay Arnold, which you can watch here if you missed it.
- Special gifts: an updated edition of my Shot, Steel & Stone rules.
In addition to this, I have racked up a somewhat alarming 2,298 tweets in 2018 and around 140 posts on the Battlegames Facebook page.
That’s not a bad tally, especially once you add in the half dozen substantial (2,400 words each) articles written for WSS and, naturally, I’ve also not mention the tens of thousands of words I’ve quietly racked up in progress on That Bloody Book! (The manuscript of Wargaming Campaigns currently stands at 135,000 words.)
The point is that what I have created for myself is, in effect, a part-time job. Whilst I am of course both extremely gratified and grateful that my patrons are funding my ability to maintain a presence in the wargaming hobby, the income from this has currently plateaued at around the $750 US per month, which equates (depending on the current exchange rate) to around £590. That’s a perfectly decent amount, and there are many Patreon creatives who earn far less, but it is not a living wage. It doesn’t even cover the mortgage!
Therefore, I have had to do my best to maintain incomes from other sources too. I have my bi-monthly gig with Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy magazine, which again is perfectly decent, earning me something like €110 (roughly £100) per article. I have done my best to maintain my design business, venturing into the world of book jacket design and book layout. Most recently, I have completed designing a book, due out in 2019, for well-known terrain builder Tony Harwood, which will be published by Pen & Sword.
However, I think you would be shocked at how little commercial publishers pay for book layout, even when highly illustrated (and Tony’s latest has over 400 images). It’s less than £2 per page.
Yes. That’s correct: under two pounds per page.
Book jacket work pays more, but it’s a field that has become extremely competitive, especially now that dozens of businesses have sprung up online offering ‘off the shelf’ (insert your own title and name) book jacket options, created mostly in Eastern Europe, India and the far East, at prices that people like me simply cannot—and, frankly, will not—compete with. As a result, a number of self-publishing clients have said “thanks, but no thanks” after receiving my estimates because price matters more to them than quality or an ongoing creative relationship, and workflow has become highly erratic. I’m not blaming anyone—this is simply the way things are.
On top of this, I have been open and honest about my own struggle with depression. There have been times over the last couple of years when I have simply felt like not waking up at all. I am not unique in this, and there have been a significant number of gaming industry colleagues who have also opened up about their own psychological battles in recent months, which I applaud.
So, in some respects, it would be easy for me to look at the efforts I have put in versus the financial rewards I have received and say, “I’m too old to learn new tricks” and throw in the towel.
But that’s not me.
Instead, I’m approaching the new year full determination to transform my fortunes.
Firstly, I have been engraining some seriously good habits into my life in recent months. There have been several books and sources that have been incredibly helpful, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Made Simple: 10 Strategies for Managing Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Panic and Worry by Seth J. Gillihan; The 1% Rule by Tommy Baker; and most especially, Atomic Habits by James Clear. These habits relate to many aspects of my life, the three primary areas being my health, my productivity and my tendency to set myself impossible goals and then beat myself up when I can’t achieve them. I would also wholeheartedly recommend the Calm app.
Clearly, I need to make some serious business/career decisions. I need to be earning many times more than I am now and frankly, as a 57 year old man with a wealth of experience in the creative fields, I bloody well should be! It’s no good blaming my situation on anything or anyone outside myself—I’m taking responsibility for my own well-being, psychologically, financially and physically, and striding forward with confidence.
I’m lucky that I have a broad portfolio of abilities, and some of those I have ‘kept under a bushel’, as someone recently put it, will become more prominent, if I can be assured that there is a market for those talents. Art and illustration is one, and some have glimpsed some recent dabblings that I have used to jog my memory of materials and techniques with watercolours, for instance. One option open to me is uniform plates, battle scenes and so on. We’ll see.
The other is blindingly obvious—the venture I started back in late 2016, just before my mother’s death and the duties I had to perform in its aftermath rather threw everything into confusion: Gladius Publications. This made a promising start, but it has lain largely untended and unloved for far too long. Despite this, nearly 500 people have still remained, faithfully, on the newsletter mailing list! Clearly, I need to repay this investment of faith in me. Moreover, this could also prove to be an ideal outlet for my artistic and illustrative efforts. Watch this space.
I’m also going to be reminding people, especially small businesses, including those in the wargames industry, that I have close to 30 years experience in general design, including logos and corporate identity, magazine and brochure layout, advertising and copywriting, photo-manipulation, project management and creative direction. many times, I’ve acted as a business and marketing consultant as much as a designer, and have helped many new entrepreneurs take their first, wobbly steps into business. So if anyone reading this needs some input from an old hand, get in touch.
I’m also planning to turn a lot of this experience into at least a couple of online courses in 2019. Last year, I successfully tutored a young graphic designer in how to exploit Adobe’s powerful Creative Cloud suite of products in her job as a design manager for a charity, and it was clear that she learned many things during our time together that she would never have considered otherwise.
But above all, I plan to do a great deal more writing. Some of it will be wargames-related, and some of it will not. The bottom line is that my intention is to eventually make writing my primary source of income, but for this to be true, I shall need to have perhaps ten or a dozen or more published works, most of them self-published. (I’ve spoken often enough about the pitiful royalty rates pain by traditional publishers.)
Clearly, my first task is to finish Wargaming Campaigns, for which so many of you have been patiently waiting for far too long, and which is promised to Pen & Sword. Once I have cleared the decks of that enormous project, I shall be free to move ahead with a host of other writing projects that have remained on the back burner for ages. this will include fiction as well as non-fiction, but my Patrons will understand when I tell them to fear not, sausages will not be involved…
But this is all work, and all work and no play makes Henry a very dull boy indeed.
So, what about my own gaming?
The last couple of years have taught me not to overreach, because unexpected stuff and poor health, whether mental or physical, can just happen. Therefore, I am paring things back to a bare minimum. If I achieve more than this, then that will be a huge achievement.
- Byzarbia. Inspired by a few of my Ayton get-together chums, including Simon Tonkiss, Andy McMaster and Iain Burt, I am building a 28mm army of Gripping Beast Arabic types to be converted mostly by paint into the formidable army of my imagi-nation Byzarbia. This will consist initially of perhaps a dozen units or so, of infantry, cavalry, camelry, elephantry and a few bits of ancient artillery. There may well be a couple of utterly daft things in there too, just for fun. The rules will be Warhammer Ancient Battles 1.5, and initial games are likely to be mid-2019, giving us all plenty of time to paint up a few units.
- Marlburians. A fortuitous purchase of several hundred lovely, painted little Heroics & Ros 1/300 figures a couple of months ago has inspired both my chum Guy and I to experiment with the Gå På rules by . I shall also be working out a tweak of my own Shot, Steel & Stone rules to cover this era, which will probably be a project for 2019/20 for me, after I’ve finished Wargaming Campaigns. But the joy here is that, unless I have a total brain fart, I won’t need to paint any figures for this in 2018, as I have more than enough for a good game. In fact, I shall be selling or swapping the Baccus figures that I originally bought for this period, which look completely out of place next to the H&Rs.
- ‘Europan’ Imagi-nations. Goodness knows, I’ve got thousands of Spencer Smiths still awaiting their paint, and as a result of the Ayton campaigns, several countries patiently waiting for their properly-attired soldiery. This is, to be honest, a never-ending job, but I shall be patiently plugging away at more units for Prunkland, Faltenland, Grenouisse, Granprix, Gelderstaad, Schwitz, Borgenmark and others for a long time to come. What I would really love is to be in a position to run a weekend at the Wargames Holiday Centre (or some other large venue closer to home than Ayton) based purely on my imagi-nations Wars of the Faltenian Succession, with invited generals.
- Early WWII. I have a semi-decent German 20mm force for the invasion of France, but I’d quite like to rustle up some British, Belgians and French to face them. Early War Miniatures are therefore likely to see some cash heading their way for Chain of Command forces.
That’s it. And that’s probably already far too much! I do have an ambition to paint up the zillions of 6mm Ancients and Napoleonics that I have languishing on the shelves, which will be used with both the Commands & Colors rules and my own ancients and Napoleonics sets, but that can wait.
In terms of other games, I shall no doubt rack up several games of Commands & Colors from both the Ancient and Napoleonic eras, because it is just such a good ‘standby’ game. For example, just a few days ago, Guy and I had planned to have another trial run of Gå På, but both suffering from colds, we decided to abandon that and revert to something we knew could give us some fun in the space of a couple of hours. C&C fitted the bill perfectly.
In addition, I confess to a bit off a taste for the Age of Sail, and Sails of Glory from Ares Games proved to be great fun when I first bought it about a year ago, and deserves to be dusted off again. I also love Blood, Bilge & Iron Balls by Alan Abbey, which I used to fight out the naval stuff related to a couple of the Ayton weekends in the past.
As for shows, I’ll probably make it to a few. If Tricks and Laurence are kind enough to invite me again, I shall certainly make the trip to the two Partizan shows, and Salute will no doubt be on the menu as a single, mad day of keeping up with everything that’s going on in the hobby. I may well start the year with a toddle over to Tonbridge for Cavalier again, which is the closest thing I have to a ‘local’ show, and perhaps Colours in Newbury or SELWG in London will get my attention, though I can’t promise either.
But I do have to repeat what I said last year, which is that travelling to most of the shows, which tend to be a considerable distance from Brighton and Hove, is simply prohibitively expensive both in time and money, unless I am sponsored to do so as Partizan did this year. For example, I’d love to go to Hammerhead, which is in the same venue as Partizan, and I absolutely love Sally and Paul at Kallistra who stage it, but the fact is that the journey there and back, plus somewhere to stay and something to eat, sets me back the sharp end of £200 as a minimum.
This is compounded because it’s not even as though I want to do any hobby shopping, which is far more economically done online nowadays, and in any case, because I no longer succumb to “new and shiny” syndrome, I simply don’t need anything now other than the occasional bit of glue or paint. There is a Friendly Local Gaming Store nearby, but it is very much geared towards boardgames and types of miniature game that I don’t play—I’m simply not part of their intended audience.
But anyway, that’s quite enough about me. How about you? What are your plans for 2019, in your hobby or your life, that you think will improve your lot? How much gaming will you manage to get done? What games are you intending to play, and which armies are you planning to collect? Is there anything in the hobby that you are awaiting with great anticipation, or will you be sticking to the tried and tested?
In all cases, whatever your plans, I wish you all the very best for 2019. The world outside is full of political upheaval and the perils of climate change, but at least our wonderful hobby gives us a peaceful place to which we can retreat when needed, where we can find common ground and friendship, and the comfort of something both familiar and exciting in which we can invest our heart and soul. May it always be so.
For the sake of auld lang syne…
Roll ’em high!