IT’S THE STOPS

Are there any fellow writers reading these words?

I suspect that all of us wordsmiths know this feeling but it’s out there for all of us really.

The most annoyingly powerful thing that seems to trip us up when we’re trying to get something done is the seemingly innocuous ‘little thing’.

I’ve been trying to write today but Sausage the cat has had different ideas. He’s not been trying to get me to follow him into a different room to play. Oddly, no calls for food. Instead, it’s been the constant calls for fuss.

He’s been prowling around the computer, doing everything in his power to just get in the way.

I know he just wants fuss. He’s an affectionate little creature. But each little head scratch, each stroke, they all add up to me not being able to actually write anything. He wanders over the keyboard and won’t leave me alone. So far, the end result is I’ve achieved very little.

The same thing happened to me at work on Saturday.

No matter how hard I tried to get a load of work done, people kept coming to see me with ‘little things’ they needed sorting out. Now it’s part and parcel of my job but it’s the constant supply of little things that can utterly derail you far more powerfully than a single big thing.

You have a day where you’ve been running around doing all manner of things all of the time, always busy and doing everything you possibly can to get things finished and when you get to the end of the day and look at the ‘To-Do’ list you started out with, you’ve completed none of them. You look again, thinking about how busy you were. That can’t be right. You can’t have been that busy and achieved nothing?

But you can.

All those ‘little things’ that on their own take only a handful of minutes, add up to being a constant hurdle. The death of a thousand cuts. It’s why trains running between two locations are so much faster when there are fewer stops. It’s the slowing down and speeding up time that does the damage, as well as the time spent at each of the stations.

So we all know the struggle really.

It’s not just us writers who are plagued by the ‘little things’. The request of, ‘It’ll only take ten minutes, then you can get back to the writing’ or the ‘Can you just speak to this person for five minutes to explain the issue’ are universal and are just as deadly to our productivity as the mega task, though in a more subtle and insidious way.

In short, if you see me writing, leave me be, but occasionally bring tea.WIN_20180813_14_24_40_Pro

Sausage is helping.

He brought no tea though.

 

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OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN

We’ve been watching the last season of The X-Files recently and all the great conspiracy theories about aliens and monsters and government plots swirled all around us.

Now The X-Files is a very well known commodity and the drive of Fox Mulder to see little green men hiding behind any and all activities that may cross his path is something which is so very well known that it’s easily lampooned in other media, or used as a reference to describe the tin foil hat wearers.

But all of that isn’t what my mind went towards this time. This time, I focussed on Scully.

Before we start, get your minds out of the gutter. When I say ‘focussed on Scully’, I was referring to the position she holds within the X-Files world, that of rationality.

Gillian Anderson’s character was originally given the assignment with ‘Spooky’ Mulder as a way of debunking and discrediting his work by applying the withering stare of logic to everything he said. He says that aliens are manipulating the lottery numbers. She responds with the rational questions of how and why. He says it clearly must be a shadowy cabal pulling the strings of all of humanity. She pulls his ideas apart.

So The X-Files has every story falling into the more outlandish side of the equation but at each step, there has to be an attempt to explain it away. All of the weirdness that pops up all of the time has to be run through the ringer of science and common sense before it’s taken on as being the truth.

Which I’ve been finding a very valuable process to explore for not only my planning and execution of my writing but when looking at everything in the real world.

When I put together stories, and certainly as I’m working on a larger, wider mythology for the Circle series, I have to make sure that there is logic and the steps that are taken aren’t just ‘maguffins’. Now I recognise that magic and monsters aren’t the most logical of topics but as long as the world I’m writing has it’s own consistent logical rules, it’s how the reader can climb over the more outlandish ideas.

Now as I’m writing this, I’ve got YouTube playing some background music to keep me plonking along but one of the other videos it offered up when I logged in was a selection of Star Trek clips. The clip from Undiscovered Country struck a chord as they overtly used the very logic process to advance the story.

Klingon ships can’t fire when they’re cloaked. That was the thing that everyone knew and the fact had been a very well used nugget of information in building the continuing universe. But in Star Trek VI, there was one that could. Throughout the film, all of the attempts to understand what had taken place and how such an event could have been perpetrated so often slammed up against the logic wall that said such a ship didn’t exist. That meant the crew had to continue to explore the options, ruling out scenario after scenario until the very logic they were using needed to be examined. Were all the variables in the equation correct? Had they overlooked anything? Could they be missing something?

The application of logic, itself a vital part of Star Trek lore, and the use of scepticism isn’t just something that has to be circumvented in stories to drag those who don’t believe towards the unlikely truth. Applying a level of critical thinking to situations, story telling or the real world, can make sure that the way you look at the things being presented isn’t being coloured by wishful thinking or built on dodgy foundations. When we read stories on line, or watch TV, apply that level of thought to examine what we’re seeing. Are we being told the truth? Is the story being slanted? What are we really seeing? Just don’t end up marching down the super suspicious mind set road.

It’ll be tin hats for everyone and we’re back to the beginning.

 

ANOTHER TIME

Conventioning again.

London Film and Comic Con this past weekend and great to dive in but it’s not just the selling of books that it’s all about.

Getting the wheels moving again on the progress of book three but also there seemed to have been a massive increase in the movement of ideas for the on-going series.

I hadn’t really noticed, but the number of possibilities for all aspect of the on-going series had been slowing and it had been harder than normal to stitch things together but this weekend has been a huge shot in the arm for my creativity.

My mind’s buzzing again.

Onwards to the writing.

COMES TO AN END

I’m a rugby fan and last week, out of the blue, the news broke that the Wales and British and Irish Lions captain, Sam Warburton, was forced to retire from the sport at the age of just 29 due to injury. Now I’m not going to just lament the fact that the Welsh team has lost a vital cog on the run in to the next World Cup, although that’s not good in itself. Rather, I want to consider pain.

Sam had to make the choice that all players dread though happily, so few have to deal with in such an acute fashion. He’d been smashed up so badly, so regularly that he was struggling to raise his arms without stabbing pain. He’d put his body on the line so often that finally, the scales had tilted far beyond balance. He wasn’t able to get his body to do what he wanted it to do and continuing to play would have just made the problem worse.

Could you imagine being in such pain all of the time that you can’t move fully, that you’d have to make structural changes to the way you live your life to just be able to function? Giving up the life you love because of the sheer brutality of what you do?

Sportsmen and women can find themselves crashing into this very issue and there has to be thought from the head and not the heart about the choices that need to be made. Sport is, when you scratch away all of the training and structure and importance, all about fun. We all start playing sports because we want to and we continue because we enjoy it. Even the players at the very top of their sports share the same core as the enthusiastic amateur. It could be very easy to then say “I want to keep having fun” and not hang up the boots but the reality comes to us all eventually that our bodies just hurt too much.

I was always getting injured when I played rugby. I had the nickname ‘Fingers’ because I kept on breaking mine. I’ve been concussed at least a dozen times, broken other bones, torn ligaments and pulled tendons and in my twenties, it was just one of those things. But I’m in my forties now. I’ve had three knee surgeries attempting to resolve a problem, my back and neck always ache and I’ve got arthritis in my hands. It’s nothing major so I’m not looking for waves of sympathy, rather it’s just the price I have to pay for the life I’ve lived.

Now we all have to recognise that we can’t just live life without thought for the future. I called time on my playing career when I became a manager at work. I knew that my job had to take precedence so despite knowing that I’d like to still play, the real world had to come first.

Now this situation is a reality for all of us to some degree or another so it’s something that’s going to form a part of what I’m writing in the Circle series. The feeling of regret at the loss of a massive part of who we were, the daily truth of the pain of a life lived and the nagging uncertainty that we made the right choice.

Pain is the price we all pay for our lives in one form or another. The fact for all of us will be that our bodies are going to show the effects of what we do and we have to make the choices as we go to balance the good with the bad. I wish Sam Warburton well as he strides into his retirement, but there’ll always be the tiny voice in his head as the years pass that asks if he made the right choice. Only he’ll know the truth of that.

THE LAW

In all of the story ideas that I’ve had over the last few months, there’s been a core of importance around the relationship of the people and the law. From dystopian futures and a rag tag uprising through to the police racing against time to prevent a catastrophe, how the population react to the authority figures and then, how that relationship can permeate every part of life.

What do you feel about the Police?

I suppose it’d depend on a great many things but in there will have to be what kind of interactions you’ve had with them.

So what interactions have you had with them?

If the only time you’ve ever had the chance to deal face to face with the Police was a passing nod at a village fete, you’re going to have a very different opinion than someone who’s a career criminal who keeps getting arrested. In each case, we would be built by the experiences and that’s the same as pretty much everything, but the next place to look is the Police themselves.

No matter the reasons you have to deal with the law, those people of the thin blue line have a very important role to fill in society. Have you ever thought about the kinds of things that members of the Police force have to deal with?

If you’ve been broken into, the Police will be there to investigate and not only catch the person responsible but also maybe retrieve your lost belongings. If you break the law, then they’re coming for you. But also, if you’re attacked and they’re the first on the scene, they’ll care for you, they’ll comfort you should they have to deliver the horrific news that a loved one has been killed.

The Police put themselves in harms way on a normal day at work. Drunken fights, abuse, broken bodies and the possibility of being the target of violence themselves aren’t the sort of job ‘perks’ that most of us would put up with but the men and women of the Police accept that they have to deal with these things and more yet still head off to work.

So we should be cheering for the law every day?

Well, maybe not.

There have been a great many examples of members of the Police force not quite reaching the high standards we expect of them. Indeed, in storytelling, the idea of the ‘dirty cop’ is startlingly common and there will always be examples in all walks of life of people who just think abhorrent things so finding some in the Police shouldn’t be a shock. But whereas in other jobs, these people are now gifted with a remarkable amount of power to explore those ideas. Just a tiny step and the power is being used far outside the rules.

I’m writing stories where there is a strong focus on what a ruling force can do. In The Circle books, the main character is placed within a very strict framework of rules but that doesn’t mean that that framework can simply be viewed as existing for the good of everyone with no possible dark side. Recognising that there may be some darkness within the very force that is there to protect us all and maintain the boundaries of our society allows for a much more expressive and nuanced collection of prose. If the good guy can go bad, what does that mean for the rest of us?

The law is needed and as an extension of the law, the Police are a vital part of how our societies are stitched together but like all those superheroes out there, they have the great responsibility that comes with the power. The Police can far too easily become the clenched fist of the ruling power and destroy any and all dissenting voices but without them, we all find ourselves living in the film The Purge.

 

LUCKY ROUTINE

Have you been watching the football?

I’ve watched some of the action though I’ve not been glued to each and every second of it, work and all that, and I’ve enjoyed what’s been taking place for the most part.

Now this post isn’t going to be about the clear superiority of rugby to football, which I think has been yet again proved due to the antics of so many of the players as they either roll around on the floor as if someone has shot them in the soul or they square up to the referee in a gang as they scream their opinions on any all aspects of his decisions. No, this time, I was reminded of the various little rituals and superstitions that players engage in all around the world when they play.

Why are superstitions so powerful?

If you’ve watched England play rugby over the last decade, you’d have seen some pretty decent goal kicking from Owen Farrell and before him, Jonny Wilkinson. Before that, Neil Jenkins of Wales was metronomic in his accumulation of points. And each of them had a very specific ritual they used before each and every kick as a way to do everything they could to maximize the chances of the ball sailing between the posts.

When I played, I did the same.

I’d banged over a penalty from inside my own half when playing for the school and because it went over, I did all I could to each time from then on, to copy what I’d done. Now I accept that there are things that will improve the chance of success which come from the science of what I was doing. Optimal angle of approach, correct angle of the ball on the tee, contact with the stitches rather than flat on the panel of the ball. All of these things would have been a part of what I did but I’m not sure that making sure I took three breaths before starting the run up or the particular way I swayed before that, would have had that much impact.

Never the less, each time from then on, the same routine was plugged in and off I went. I wasn’t perfect as a goal kicker but I wasn’t too shabby either, and that success came from the practice I put in but also in the fact that I had my superstitions with me. Following the same routine which had worked on that one occasion would give positive results, obviously. Each game I played, I clutched at my lucky process, just like Dumbo and his feather, to make the odds lean in my favour but just like Dumbo, the ability was inside me all along but I needed that superstition.

People all over the world have lucky objects or rituals that help them through their days. It’s been the same through the far reaches of time. We’ve tried to understand what goes on around us and do all we can to weight the dice in our favour. It worked once so if we repeat what we did when we were successful, maybe it was that thing that was responsible for the positive result. If you were successful the second time, that just reinforces the idea and from then on you can’t think of a time before the process.

Now civilisations all through time have dealt in the same things.

How many religions are there in the world? They can’t all be right so that leaves superstition. Someone once suggested a way of behaving that would bring positive results, a particular ritual to follow, and it stuck. Animal sacrifices. Stone formations. Dancing for rain. All of these things came about as ways to influence the world in your favour, to show that you were doing the right things and the more people that did them and good things happened, the stronger the belief.

Superstitions are there to allow us a feeling of having even the slightest sliver of control over the uncontrollable. They go beyond all of the effort and work that may have gone into the preparation for a specific event to act as the added bonus to what you’ve done. You’ve explored all options you had available so if things don’t work out, there’s not a great deal more you could have done.

So everyone out there, cling tightly to your superstitions to help you feel positive but never let them overshadow the true power that we all have inside us to really achieve greatness, it never came from the lucky rabbit’s foot at all.

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?

Have you ever crashed into a secret?

You either have one or know someone who does and you want to know.

With all of the ideas I’ve been working on for The Circle of Stars and some other bits and pieces, the idea of secrets seem to keep floating to the surface.

We all keep secrets of one kind or another. What you’ve bought someone for a birthday, the cheque’s in the post, and all the way up to the gladly less common, I did kill that man. The whole of the process just involves keeping said fact away from view or for just a select group and when it comes to story telling, the struggle to either uncover said fact or keep it hidden despite the efforts of others is very often a central tenet of what goes on.

Now in the real world, these things still happen but as always, it’s more than just the two choices that can cause problems.

Keeping a secret can cause problems beyond just the keeping. Guilt potentially about what was done and also for the fact you have to keep it under wraps. Trust issues as you may recognise that a significant other isn’t being fully truthful. Resentment that everyone around you may know something yet they’re keeping you in the dark. Intrigue at the thought of a puzzle to solve.

Imagine you’re not told something at work, which you then know that others around you do know. Everyone’s sworn to secrecy and you’re out in the cold. Why don’t they tell you? Have you done something wrong? Is it about you? Don’t they like you? Are you going to be fired?

Your behaviour would suddenly be altered at the thought of all the questions which come with not knowing. You’d want to know. You’d try to find out. And you’d look at the others differently. It wouldn’t matter what the detail was, things would be tilted because you were he odd one out.

A secret as a story telling tool, is a wonderful chance to plant seeds for the narrative to grow as the story progresses. It can allow you to explore character dynamics in a way that can create conflict without the need to rely on flying fists.

All in all, secrets can be useful things for a story, though in the real world…………….