BREAD CRUMBS

Why is it that the ‘whodunit’ is such a popular format for stories?

Why is it that we always devour that type of story where we follow the adventures of a central character as they chase down a killer in one way or another?

Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Alex Cross, Kay Scarpetta and any number of others are presented with a murder and they slowly but surely put all of the pieces together until eventually they unmask the guilty party, and justice is served.

Puzzles and questions enthrall us as a species. We all want to understand, to recognise the way that things fit together and how things work. From the days when the human race didn’t know where the sun went at night to trying to comprehend the function and make up of the molecules which make up the universe, the human race has an almost unquenchable thirst for answers.

And it isn’t just the big questions that we’re chasing down. Almost any puzzle which presents itself is just something that can’t be left alone. What was that song that was playing when you were in the pub the other night? How are magic tricks completed? How exactly does that Chinese finger puzzle actually work? We are confronted by challenges every day that make us think and force us to try and create routes through the mess of reality to the point we need. Some people are better at it than others but in all of the examples of detectives in stories, they seem to have an almost supernatural ability to put the pieces together where no-one else is even able to recognise a connection.

Maybe that’s the point? We see the ability to create order from the noise as important. We understand that a way to find those answers by methodically putting the pieces together can help us uncover almost anything to make our lives better. To have access to the answers can elevate us beyond the masses and that can mean all manner of great things. Thousands of years ago, having the knowledge of the nature of the universe opened doors, it didn’t matter that the knowledge was incorrect, the fact that no-one else knew meant that those who were showing a greater ability to piece together the puzzle were revered.

I like puzzles. They intrigue me. They make me have to stretch my mind to try and resolve the problem and it feels great when I reach the solution. Maybe we all have that detective in us in some way.

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?#*&**$£*!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Have you ever watched Inside The Actor’s Studio with James Lipton? It’s a very simple format of a one on one interview between the host (Lipton) and a guest actor. It’s a great show which goes beyond just being another example of the question and answer session as it is steered to waters that are very rarely explored by an interviewer, and that brings me to the topic today.

One of the questions the guests are routinely asked is ‘What is your favourite curse word?’

Swearing is an odd topic for an insightful interview surely? Swearing is something that, as kids, we’re taught we should never do and as adults is seen as being vulgar and low minded yet there it is as one of the cornerstones of an incredibly well respected interview format.

Hmmmmmmmm?

We all swear to some level or another. Even those people who say they don’t, do, I’m sure. Swearing is, at the most basic level, and exclamation mark. It’s added emphasis to something else. It’s just that the exclamation mark of swearing is a list of words that have been deemed ‘naughty’.

Firstly, who decided that these things were naughty? Why is it that saying ‘I need a poop’ can be accepted when uttered by a five year old yet ‘I need a shit’ isn’t? Speaking as the old FART I am, I can recall I time back in the dim and distant past, the 1980’s, where if someone uttered the word crap on the radio, there was an immediate apology, yet today, although not language that is appearing at every syllable, that word has become less negatively powerful.

Now does this highlight a descent into a more vulgar lexicon, a lowering of standards, or just that the way that language is used is changing?

When I was doing my A-Levels, one of the books I studied in English Literature was The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. It’s a funny read with comedy and satire all over the show and it’s making comment on social structure and cohesion from the time it was written, but it’s not the sort of book you just pick up and crack on with. It’s written in Old English and as such takes a little getting used to. A great many of the words in the book are the same but there are loads which were a great deal different way back when.

This shows that our language changes over time so there may be a time in the future when all manner of expletives now become rather mundane words.

But swearing is often viewed as a relatively negative thing because it tends to accompany high emotion. Anger becomes much more effusive with the occasional sprinkling of curse words. They flare in our mind with said anger and can be blasted around like a jet of water from a high pressure hose just to help make the point, an exclamation mark.

But how do you feel when you read a swear word?

The spoken word is one thing, the engaging of anger before control for example, but when you read a swear word, there was planning in that word. There was real thought in it’s use. It was deployed with deliberate care so has the power to become more uncomfortable as a consequence. When I write stories I try to make sure that if I have to use a swear word, then it’s needed to fit the character and the context of the story. Swearing used too often lessens the effect and it just becomes punctuation to fill the spaces between words and that just waters everything down.

I’ve been told by people that swearing is proof of a lazy vocabulary, that if someone has to resort to swearing, then they’re showing that they have a somehow weaker mind. I don’t agree. The great Billy Connolly gave a great quote to cover this exact point when he said “A lot of people say that it’s a lack of vocabulary that makes you swear. Rubbish. I know thousands of words but I still prefer ‘f—.'”

Swearing is just another tool in the box we all have to use to get our point across to the world at large. There are times where certain words don’t fit the spaces that we need them to so we don’t use them but there should never be a complete shunning of swearing. After all, all those words we’re not supposed to use are so much fun.

MAKE A MOVE

I think it’s fair to say that my third novel has proved to be tougher than the second.

Granted, this year has thrown a great many obstacles at me to try and de-rail my progress but it’s been hard work getting the words down.

Which is why I made the decision to take this week off work with the express purpose of getting some wring done.

We all say about practically anything in our lives, that when we have problems completing a given task or role, “If I only had more time”. When I worked in the fitness industry all those years ago, it was a common gripe that I heard when people described the issues that were stopping them being able to exercise and it’s the easiest thing to fall back on in every situation.

Time is a precious thing and we all have to make sure that we spend the currency wisely but that is a very different thing to spending it as we should.

I know, for example, that during the busiest periods in work, my working day can stretch to ten or twelve hours quite easily and there’ll be a great deal of mental gymnastics required to keep all of the tasks and requests heading in the right direction. I also know that after that, I SHOULD be heading to do some form of physical activity as I once did. More often than not, I WISELY (for me) choose to spend time with my wife relaxing at home.

I recognise that the chance to unwind my mind after the working day in the way I do with my wife is more valuable to me that heading off to the gym. If there were more hours in the day then it’s likely that I’d head out and train later on but for me, the available hours of an evening can be best spent doing something else. I become better doing what I do because I value my time with my wife.

We don’t fit that stuff in that there never seems to be time for because we value doing something else more.

I noticed that I needed to do something stronger than normal to get the writing moving again and taking a week to become a full writing week was the perfect idea. I’m showing myself as much as anybody, that I value my writing. I place a real value on what I do at the keyboard and being able to set aside a complete block of time for the sole purpose of working on the next book is reinforcing that very fact.

And after day one, I can certainly say that I’m getting the old machine moving again.

IT’S THE WAY I TELL ‘EM

The detail is often irrelevant.

Now I recognise that you’ve got to have detail when telling a story but when you really get down to it, so often, it’s the broad strokes which stick with us and can make or break what we’re reading. Merely loading anything you write with a huge dump of information has more potential to just become a droning monotone for the person on the receiving end so there’s a great deal more to the process of storytelling than just stringing the events together.

Now with that in mind, we all know someone who’s terrible at telling stories or jokes and we all know someone who is just great at it. Both of them could tell the same story, use the same words, yet one would weave the most engaging tale while the other would just recite the words and suck all the life from them.

Think about the following.

Daddy, somebody’s at the door. He’s collecting for the district’s new indoor swimming pool.
Ok, give him a bucket of water then.

Not the most ground-breaking piece of comedy the world has ever seen but in the hands of a person who can cast a spell with the words, it can become more nuanced, more weighty. In the hands of the other person it could become a block of concrete, and a bland one at that.

Before the advent of the written languages which are spread over the world, the histories and tales of the human race were passed down thanks to the spoken word. Oral histories were reliant on the stories being memorable. If they were dry and soulless it’s fair to say that they could have been quickly lost to the sands of time but for the powers of those who recounted the tales. It was up to them to always draw the audience into whatever story they were telling, to grasp the minds of everyone within earshot so the story would live out in the realms of so very many others. The added element of the storyteller became vital.

There are comedians and raconteurs the world over and they make sure that everyone around them hangs on their every word. So often the most successful politicians are the ones who can make the words they speak dance and whirl rather than just relying on the message. I’ve included an example which I feel shows perfectly exactly how immersive a well told story can be. If you don’t watch all of this clip, you really are missing out on a wonderful example.

Taken from YouTube channel ‘Cheeky Chap’

So today I raise a glass to the storytellers, who have always been able to make everything that much more interesting.

NORTH OR SOUTH?

It does seem that in the world at the moment that there is a growth of ideas and personalities which are polarising to the extreme. It’s not that this as an idea is totally new, think of the way Marmite is advertised and you can see that looking at things as an either or is nothing new but day by day I see the dichotomy being the growing way to go.

I see so many more examples of there being an either or choice rather than there be any kind of nuance. On TV, in the press and in conversations in the real world, there seems to be an increase of ‘with me or against me’. It seems that we’re seeing worldwide, the polarising of opinion to either end of the spectrums and this seems to be very clearly shown thanks to the hurricane of with or against that is Donald Trump.

Now rather than just make comment of the clear issues that exist in the way he’s going about things, instead I’m highlighting the need for the shades of grey in the choices we make and our ability to have independent thoughts on every topic.

The whole world has been looking on over the last few weeks as Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have been having something of  spat over the size and power of their various, well, everythings, but both exist in worlds where they expect everyone around them to agree with everything they say. The world has been treated to the show of two men who expect, indeed, demand that their opinion is correct and should anyone disagree, well, don’t even bother. Now imagine we all watch on as these two rattle their sabres and shout about their ideas being correct and then all of a sudden, Kim Jong-un , out of nowhere, makes a well reasoned and thoughtfully responsible point about the wider political situation throughout all of Asia. He may be seen in a negative light but what happens if all those people who had been berating him suddenly found themselves having to admit they agree. What very often happens is an attempt to belittle everything around him, highlighting any and all mistakes and make everyone focus on the negative. The positive idea gets buried because he can’t really mean it. Arguing facts is one thing but people so often equate their opinions with facts.

But it’s not just the highest national leaders who indulge. Very often I’ve seen that if there’s any disagreement at all, it can quickly descend into the ‘with or against’. Any talk of differing opinions are seen as a personal attack and therefore must be squashed. Think about the world you inhabit and think if there has been an example which comes to mind. There may not be a massive one but they’ll be more common than you may expect.

Now disagreements are a good thing when they’re managed correctly. Wars have a habit of starting following disagreements but only because there wasn’t a coming together and shared compromise. At no point am I trying to extol the virtues of either of the two political leaders or their ideas, rather it’s an attempt to examine just how we all look at ideas and how we deal with disagreements.

For all of us, that ability to move our opinions and react to different ideas in a positive way is what can make sure that we all grow in a positive way. Life is so very much more than just black and white.

I’ve recently been working on a collection of short stories, ready for another collection book to be released some time next year, and I’ve been continuing my attempts to always look at things in as many new ways as I can. I’m doing my best to always add some white to my black and black to white when creating characters as it’s that grey that can make us all more interesting.

Just sticking to the dichotomy of one end of the scale or the other will mean that we miss out on so many great ideas just because we didn’t want to move towards the centre.

HOW MANY?

It has often been said that us men are incapable of multitasking. Everyone knows that us lads just focus on one thing at a time and the fairer sex are the ones who can juggle all of the various different balls that can get thrown at them during the every day life we all experience.

Now aside from any scientific question marks which are raised from the idea, when I write, I find myself actually enjoying the challenge of doing many things at once.

Now it’s not a question of me having a different computer under each hand and a pen grasped in my toes, rather it’s me having lots of projects going at once.

I’m working on the third book in the Circle series but also on a second collection of short stories so I’ve found myself working on four different short stories and the novel all at the same time.

On any given day I could be writing about almost anything and I bounce around between the topics and just go where the various stories take me. Now it could be easy to say that I should be focusing on a single project at a time and not spreading my creative juices about but for me, being able to move where my imagination takes me, where I have the ‘oomph’ on any given day gives me a great deal more flexibility to be able to aim my creativity at the topic that I feel most drawn to means that I can keep the wheels of writing turning regularly even if I don’t ‘feel’ a particular story on any given day.

Oddly, I find it helps that I put a particular set of characters and situations away to allow me to work on another, by giving me the chance to relax about them. If I’d only ever worked on a single topic at a time, and I have in the past, when you have a dip in creativity, you’re stuck with nowhere to go and aside from the lack of words, the feelings of frustration just make things worse. You can try to force the point but that just pushes you further away from where you want to be. With just the one topic, a bad day can turn into a bad week and a bad month and all of a sudden there’s been an age where you’ve done nothing at all.

By keeping lots of irons in the fire I’m able to change the focus as and when I need to so not only will there be something that I can work on on whatever day, but by removing the risk of getting stuck in the barren wasteland of no inspiration, I’m able to stay away from frustration. I can maintain a pace in my writing even when a particular idea needs to be left fallow for a while.

We all need to have focus on the important things in life but it’s important to make sure that don’t become too cycloptic and risk getting stuck in the creative mud.

WARM AND FUZZY

It’s a description of the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re in an environment or surrounded by people, that give you the ultimate sensation of welcome and comfort.

It’s that all embracing hug that just means that everything in the world for that moment, is absolutely perfect. We know that all things are good. There’s nothing at all that could go on to pull down that comfy feeling and how beautifully enveloped you feel at that very instant is surely what we’re all striving for on any given day.

I was at London Film and Comic Con recently and was lucky enough to have that warm and fuzzy feeling all weekend. I was at the table chatting to anyone and everyone about my books but also about everything and anything else. Aside from the practicalities of the trader life and then having a flat tyre on the journey home, being able to just immerse yourself into the world you enjoy, and with people who share the same topics is awesome.

This weekend just gone I attended a good friend’s wedding and got to see a few people that I haven’t seen in years, back in the town that I grew up in. I reached out and wrapped myself up in the same warm fuzzy feeling and just wallowed. It wasn’t that I was pining for a return to where I grew up or that I want to leave behind where I live now, it’s rather that I was able to reminisce in a fully immersive way. All of the great times that I had previously experienced flavoured my times and I just sat back and let all of the best times run through me.

We all live lives where it can become really overwhelming at times and all too often we can see nothing but all of the horrors that smash us along the way. But it’s not always the darkness that surrounds us and recognising that and making the most of it may be tough but believe me, it’s well worth it.

Look at the pictures!