WE’RE ALL SLAVES

Having watched the TV show Spartacus and got totally immersed in all of the story, it’s remarkable just how powerful the idea of slavery is.

It’s to the human race’s greatest shame that such a thing ever existed in the first place but to so much more disgust that it continues still today.

Modern day slavery is something which is taking place all over the globe and there are groups and agencies everywhere working to free those people who trapped in the grip of this hideous environment as they do all they can to dismantle the slavers.

As a writer, the use of slavery is a great way to put people into a system whereby there is a massive imbalance. It makes monsters of the slave owners and victims of the slaves to the point where you can build a narrative of almost any type of uprising and those doing the uprising are seen as doing right. Anything that the slaves can do to free themselves  from the shackles that their owners have placed them in is a righteous thing. We all recognise that to own people as property is wrong so how it comes to pass is the concern.

Who was the first person who thought up the idea of forcing another into service under the threat of violence? How did they explain the idea to those around them? How did they reconcile the idea to themselves?

The Golden Rule is a tenet of so many cultures and religions around the world and through time whereby we don’t treat people in a way that we wouldn’t want to be treated. It seems an almost painfully simple concept really. If you don’t want to be owned as property, why would another? Now there was indentured servitude where people could enter into an agreement as a way of paying off a debt but they became chattle. Their labour could have been passed on to another and there was nothing they could say in challenge.

But the nature of slavery, in whatever form it took, can be reduced down to a central point.

Power.

It allows for one person to exert power over another.

If the slave doesn’t agree with, or want to do, a particular action, their opinion is worthless. They have to do it and if they don’t, the slave owner is within their rights to do almost anything. Coercion isn’t needed when you can just beat the person into submission. The slaver has the ultimate control over the life or death of the slave and there’s nothing they can do in response. There’s a moment of utter power which could be wildly intoxicating but should be so far off limits as to never be an issue but so often, the weak have been crushed under the boot of the strong just because the strong can do it.

Throughout time, and across species, the strong have preyed on the weak. Nature has predator and prey and the cycle has continued for millennia but as humanity has evolved, so has our ability to take this power dynamic to new levels. Rather than just killing for food, our ability to keep those people ‘beneath’ us, down evolved.

Humanity has such capacity for soaring beauty but that is matched in our ability for horror. Happily, slavery is banned through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed in 1948 so we’re collectively showing that we recognise it as the blight on humanity that it is yet it still exists in some forms.

As a collective, humanity is moving forwards as we discard the barbarity that was once considered normal but we’re still moving down the road. Modern day slavery is something which is being crushed  into a smaller and smaller space in societies across the world and will eventually be eradicated. I’m looking forward to a time when talk of slavery is only from the pages of history or from stories of fiction.

Until that time we’re all slaves to the facts of our history but we have to do everything we can to cast off those chains.

For more information on the work of British charity, Unseen, as they work against slavery, visit their website, www.unseenuk.org.

 

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DON’T WAIT

We’ve just arrived home after the fifth Spartacus convention in Paris and despite having to deal with the usual post convention blues when you get home, this time round we’ve been treated to the additional horror of the knowledge that this one was the last one.

Yup. No more of these conventions with these guests, these fans, or at this location. It’s been amazing going to these events each year and having the chance to catch up with all the people who feel the same way about the TV show that we do so having that taken away has left something of a hole.

So how often do we see the like happening in our lives, a mightily important person, activity or thing is taken away and all you’re left with is the understanding of just how important you really found it?

You recognise that you had something amazing and without the slightest clarity of what was going to unfold, you sat and watched on as the last time came and went, leaving you adrift and lost.

Everyone has a passion, even if they don’t think they do.

Everyone has that thing that they just love, be it an object, a sport, a club, a book etc. and each and every one of us should make the most of all of those things because when they’re gone, you don’t get the chance to turn the page back and go round again.

As a theme, regretted loss is something which we all feel at some point in our lives so is recognisable as a method to drive story telling forward. The characters in the Circle books of mine all have this as an aspect within their make up because it’s a feeling which can shape who we all are as people regardless of how it comes into our lives.

Jo and I are planning the next step with the family of friends we made at the Spartacus conventions so although the events have come to an end, we’re all still going to have the chance to catch up together and have a blast.

Make sure you make the most of your passion and indulge as often as you can.

AM I A WRITER?

One of the tags I use on these blog posts and on Twitter and Instagram, is #writer and just recently I’ve been trying to consider the validity of the use of that word.

I have four books published and available on Amazon (if you haven’t checked them out yet, give them a go) and I feel comfortable with the term author but should I be a writer as well?

Simply speaking, I didn’t write a single word, I typed them.

Now I recognise that this is the smallest of issues and isn’t the stuff to contact the government over but the way words are used can have an effect especially if things change.

When was the last time you wrote anything?

Really wrote rather than just plonk away on a keyboard?

Way back when, a writer was someone who wrote. Be it a story, a poem or anything really. It was more than just the fact that they created words for the consumption of others, it came from the fact that they would have had to actually write the words down. Those words could then be taken and worked into print but for generations, books were reproduced by the painstaking dedication of people copying them by hand.

Writers wrote.

But things change and as humanity has moved forwards, being a writer no longer holds just the fact of writing. In fact, writers now don’t really write at all, they type. But if I were to say I was a typer or a typist, you’d have in mind a very different image – maybe something office based and vaguely 1950’s. So we have another word that may not fit any more.

So what next?

Should we cling to the former or cast off the shackles to embark on the brave new world?

As with so many things, we move beyond the original name but retain it none the less. How many people called Cooper still make barrels? Do you still say you have to roll the windows down in your car despite having electric windows? Do you tape things from the telly despite there being not a jot of tape involved?

Words are created in response to things, to situations, to almost anything and everything but those things may not always remain. That just leaves the word. A writer on a TV show may type everything but the purpose they fulfil is the same as it always was. The same goes for a writer of books. The role that we fulfil is the important part, not just the basic task itself.

That use of words becomes a form of shorthand that people understand highlights the binding of society by shared knowledge. A writer is someone who places words into coherent order to create a whole, the fact that they use a computer rather than pen and ink is an irrelevance.

All in all, I think us writers have got a few years left before needing to create another term which describes what we’re all doing. In that event, my vote goes with ‘Awesomosimist’.

HOW OLD?

I’m watching Solo as I type and we’ve just had the part where we find out that Chewbacca is one hundred and ninety years old. Now the fact that he’s been around for as long as he has and is still going strong for the latest films in the franchise is interesting but not the earth shattering fact in itself. What it can highlight is the way we view the passing of time for people.

We know how long people live. Granted there will always be those at the very outer edges who last a really short span or a really long one but the averages are around seventy five-ish. We then use that understanding to relate to any and all characters who pop up in what we read or watch.

Now how do you relate to something that has a lifespan that much greater than ours?

How do you deal with a teenager? How do you react to someone who’s pumped full of hormones and is angry at everything? You’ve drawn a picture in your mind about what to do but now what would you do if the being having those issues was already a thousand years old with the chance of another twenty thousand to go?

How do you relate to a creature who has that kind of lifespan?

How do bridge the gap?

I can remember being at school and the weeks used to drag by, seemingly lasting years whereas now I’m an adult, time travels faster, clearly not because it does, but now I’m looking at the passing of time in a very different way. I recognise the years passing by pay cheques. Twelve a year and that year is broken up into more manageable chunks.

But it’s so much more than that as well.

I graduated from college when I was twenty one. Not that interesting really but that was twenty one years ago. Recognising the passing of time as being the same as from my graduation to today as the same as my birth to my graduation is akin to one of those visual illusions where you see two lines which look to be different lengths but are actually the same. It’s about the surrounding stuff rather than just the line.

We can judge the world in relation to our experiences and the longer we live, the more experience we compile. Now imagine all of the experience that gets built up in someone who could live for millennia. We’d view the years as twelve paycheques but they could see centuries passing in the same way. How do you explain the tiny fraction of life we get to someone who deals in much vaster numbers?

But why stop there?

The universe is almost fourteen billion years old with our Earth clocking in at a relatively youthful four and a half billion. How can you picture the sheer enormity of those numbers for us, who last less than a heart beat on the grand scale?

The passage of time is something which affects all of us and making the lifecycles of characters in stories reach so far beyond the realms that we humans can inhabit can grant us the opportunity to look outward and consider what it could mean if those scales applied to us. And most importantly, it makes us consider the ways we could need to expand the ways we think just to ask the questions we’re searching for the answers to.

Another way that we can improve the way we interact with everyone and everything around us.

WEAPON OF CHOICE

As a writer of stories that often involve conflict of one kind or another, I regularly find myself having to evaluate what kinds of weapons I want my characters to be wielding.

Now rather than just having a character pick up anything that they have at hand, despite that being a useful option, their choice of weapon can very often be a way to show more and more of who they are at heart.

Darth Vader’s lightsabre is a way of highlighting the conflict that he’s always experiencing. A blatant connection to the ways of the Jedi that he was instrumental in destroying, it serves to show that despite the death of all of those who faced him, he still maintained a great many of the trappings of who he was prior to his fall.

Ned Stark armed himself with his sword ICE, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins made use of Sting, and everyone knows of the importance of Excalibur.

Now all of these instances deal with swords but all weapons have the chance to become characters. In the film Thor Ragnarok, away from the more familiar Mjolnir, Karl Urban’s character names his guns to comedic ends, but it allows us to see that Skurge is trying to portray a brutally violent image when in reality, he’s really a good man. He’s always conflicted by the road he walks until he puts Des and Troy to use in the defence of the people of Asgard, his own safety utterly forgotten.

So what do the different types of weapons mean to the characters that wield them?

‘Painless’ from Predator is a mini gun capable of shredding almost anything. It would no doubt be painless if it was turned on you but it becomes an extension of the man carrying it. It’s the biggest of the weapons, as is Blaine the biggest of the team, but it doesn’t deal with subtlety. Man and weapon are concerned with maximum destruction.

So consider the weapon you’d use?

It depends greatly on what you’d be using the weapon for but that bolts tightly to who you are. Would you ride into battle, a mighty War Hammer at your side? Would you wish to defend yourself and your home with a particular hand gun? How would you torture someone?

All of these questions, these situations, allow you to consider the best ways to get the optimum possible outcome. A War Hammer could do a huge amount of damage to a person but they aren’t the most mobile of weapons. Would you want a larger hand gun to kill potential intruders or something smaller which could only maim? When torturing, blunt force injury or precision blades? They all mean different things.

Blunt force can show more animalistic, violent urges. The surgical nature of the smaller bladed articles can shine a bright light on the more measured darkness of a person, there being control and purpose to the strokes.

As I expand the world of The Circle and bring different characters and races into the stories, I want to make sure that they all have enough packing to make them vital. I want the reader to be able to glimpse flashes of who these beings are from more than just the base description of what they may look like.

The types of weapons that are being employed can show such a deep picture of the characters that we can grip even tighter to them and that can only make things that much more interesting.

EASY COME, EASY GO

Have you ever noticed that superheroes, hell, all of us, can very often be recognised not by the range of powers or skills that the have, but by the weaknesses.

It’s very easy to create a character who has all manner of abilities. Superman can fly, can shoot laser beams from his eyes, has super strength, can freeze water with his breath and is bulletproof. Now the hero’s been put together, the way to actually create the tension, the story, is to give them a weakness or two.

If you take away the threat of kryptonite, Superman is pretty much able to squash anything that crosses his path so should anyone try it, none of us would be worried that he’d be challenged. Superman is then the most boring hero going because nothing is going to get close to him so all the stories that could be written will eventually just be the same walk to the ultimate conclusion of the vanquishing of the enemy.

I’m writing at the moment on the third book in The Circle series and one of the things I’ve always got to keep in mind, is that a Dragon is a pretty powerful creature. A Dragon could do some real damage and on top of that, within the structure of the narrative, they sit very much at the top of the food chain.

So how do you make the stories compelling?

Make sure that the adversaries that pop up are able to exploit a weakness or somehow get around the strengths that the Dragon has.

Superman was always battling with Lex Luthor who made the best use of his vast intellect to become a very real threat to the man of steel. In the same way, my Dragon has to face off against challenges that can truly cause problems. The Circle of Fire had a similar creature as the Dragon but The Circle of Duty had a slightly different antagonist meaning the skill set went almost completely against what you’d expect.

That means that the threat comes straight back in and all the way through the story, there’s going to be the risk of the hero losing the fight.

Without that weakness, without taking away the huge power that could be brought to bear, or at least making it more and more difficult, the threat level vanishes. How the hero then deals with the problem, deals with the losses, define what sort of character we’re dealing with.

We all have to deal with our own weaknesses and issues and very often, how we react in the face of those issues is what defines us. In the face of adversity, we can find out what sort of individual we are. We all can. Without those weaknesses to overcome, we’re just left with no obstacles to traverse and life is just moving onwards without any feeling of accomplishment. We’d never be tested.

All in all, we need to know that we can overcome the horror.

HAPPY?

Are you happy?

Do you do the things that make you happy?

Is your life the one you really want to be living?

I’m sat here watching Infinity War and the characters are all doing what they do in the name of achieving their own happiness. Thanos and his desire for the stones because he wants to remove the weight on the universe that the population’s are applying. Iron Man wants to protect the universe. Spiderman wants to have the affirmation from father figure Iron Man, Thor thirsts for revenge after the loss of everyone he loves and Doctor Strange wants to protect the Time Stone he’s been charged with overseeing.

The characters have lofty, noble ideals but those ideals are being driven by the search for happiness. Achieving the goals will make them happy.

So, are you happy?

Are you doing things that either make you happy or move you closer to the things that will?

If you’re not, why?

Don’t we all deserve to be happy? Or at least as happy as we can be.

In Slaughterhouse Five, the aliens, the Tralfamadorians, have the ability to see in four dimensions so can see all of time at the same time so can see every when at any point they wish. And that includes the destruction of the universe. But rather than dwell on the destruction, “So it goes”, they recognise that they just have to focus on the good bits of life and not waste any time on something that they’re powerless to change. They look for the happy rather than not.

Isn’t it the point for us to make sure we have the best time we can? We can live a good life, helping people and being an upstanding member of the human race but that doesn’t mean that we have to be miserable.

Let’s all do our best to be happy and try and help others be happy too. Life’s too short to be having a bad time or to be sad.

If my writing can help someone feel happy, to have an enjoyable time, well, isn’t that what it’s all about?