MEAN IT

Last week I spoke about the importance of treating everyone with respect and holding a level of understanding for the true mechanics of situations as they arise to test us. This week, I report on the fact I had to put all the ideals into action.

Holiday in Kos went really well and we relaxed and relaxed and relaxed. We get picked up at the scheduled time to go back to the airport for the return journey only to discover that the flight has been cancelled following an incident at Birmingham airport in the UK.

And so we come to the point.

I made it clear last week that I feel it’s important to make sure that we don’t throw our weight around with those who are not in a position to really be responsible, so this weekend gave me the chance to show that very behaviour. Plane cancelled, not sure where we’d need to go to wait, hotel or stay in the airport. Not sure what to do and the staff at the airport only having so much information and so much sway to get things organised.

What do you think happened?

So very many people started to shout and complain immediately, berating any and all staff they could find, but happily, I spoke to the staff, listened to what was being said and they did their best to help. The issues were being caused by a problem in the UK which then knocked on all over Europe by the sounds of things. The staff on the ground were doing the best they could and if I’d waded in and started yelling like some people did, I’d have added nothing to fix the situation but could have aided it getting worse.

As a writer, a character or organisation which doesn’t follow through when they give description of noble ideals they’ll stick to, is a wonderful way to create conflict and explore all manner of character dynamics. The same can be said for characters who don’t stray from their path and how those around them then react.

We ended up in a 5 star hotel for the duration of the delay so all the staff organising the accommodation had dealt with things pretty well. We even had a larger plane for the return trip and I got to watch Justice League.

Maybe we all need to be more understanding and try to look out for any bright side we can.

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PRINCE OR PAUPER

Here I am, sunning myself on the beautiful Greek island of Kos, and as I unwind all the knots and kinks that are part and parcel of every day life, all I could think about was the time I was yelled at by an irate customer in the health club I was working in because I wouldn’t let her underage daughter use certain facilities of the place outside of certain times due to her age.

Odd where your mind goes on occasion.

Have you ever worked in any kind or service industry?

Ever had to deal with the public?

Most of us have at some point found ourselves in a role where we have to work with huge numbers of the public. Working on the till at a supermarket. Working behind a bar. Waiting staff in a restaurant. These and so very many others put you in direct contact with people who need you to complete the tasks at hand to allow them to go about their day.

Now I had a blast working in all of the roles I had. I enjoy working with people so the chance for that casual chit chat, the acknowledging nod as a familiar customer returns and the general interplay between people is something that feels good. All of us representing little cogs in the machine of life that, when they all fit together, helps things run smoothly.

But.

What if things aren’t running smoothly?

Having to explain to an irate parent that the swimming pool has needed to be closed because a child was sick, meaning their plans for the day must now be rebuilt, is never fun for anyone concerned.

Being blamed for the problem by the irate parent isn’t quite so fun either.

The number of times I’ve had to deal with outpourings of anger over the years is larger than you’d probably expect and so very often it’s due to nonsense. Someone not getting their own way and then having a tantrum. Going back to the incident I mentioned at the beginning, it came about because the kids training session had finished yet the mum in question, who’d been a member for years and knew the rules, wanted to be able to bring her child in with her regardless. I was then treated to a blast of, “She’s almost old enough”, “I’ve been a member for years”, “I pay your wages”, and the ultimate fire on my skin, “I’m taking this further.”

I would have loved to just unload all of the frustration and anger that I’d built up and roared back at her but as we all know, I’d have been fired.

How often have you seen people just losing their minds at the lowliest person because they know that the person is powerless to respond? Very often, the people in these roles are young and inexperienced so become easy targets. They have the old classic of ‘The customer is always right’ ringing in their minds so just stand there doing their best to apologise for not breaking every rule in the book just because a customer wanted them to.

I’ve found myself getting less accommodating of the histrionics the older I’ve got, not because I was just being a bastard every chance I was presented, rather I just realised that the customer wasn’t always right. The complaint letters went in but I was happy to stand my ground knowing that I didn’t have to do whatever it was the customer wanted. Being the customer doesn’t mean you get to leave manners and common decency at the door.

As customers, we all have the right to expect good service but all of the staff also have the right not to be verbally mauled by their customers. Pushing someone around because they’re ‘just’ a waiter, because ‘they’re paid to give me what I want’ or ‘I want that thing now’ is just pushing someone about who’s weaker than you and we already have a word for people who do that.

How we react to those we perceive as lower than us is a clear indication of who we are. If you just step on people because you can, you are nothing but a weak minded bully.

THERE ALL ALONG

There I was, trundling along with my writing on the next novel, The Circle of Stars, and from out of the blue, came the big slap in the face.

When I write, I have a plan of sorts about what’s going to be happening but I always make sure to leave enough free room that I can amend and nudge the story as I go, depending on what the story does as I move along. I’ve referred to it as almost Bltzkrieg writing, where I blast off to a far off point I the story and then go back to the start and fill in details as I then repeated the journey.

But very often, a central detail of what I need to try and fold into and then build the story around, is missing for quite some time.

So how the hell do I write a coherent book if I don’t have the so-called keystone?

I just get the ball rolling and see how I get along, having enough of a plan where I need to go and the story, and indeed all of the central themes, spiral out of what comes to the surface.

I’ve often wondered if my ‘process’ is anything other than the weak minded way of bungling a story together or indeed, if it’s just the best way for me to be able to sort all of the ideas I have into some kind of order. I know when I start out, the place the story needs to eventually end up, but surely over planning to the Nth degree will drain all of the colour out of the words, leaving behind detailed descriptions but possibly lacking a degree of organic growth. Making sure you have all of the room to breathe when writing means that you’ll have space to include something you may have had in the back of your mind but which didn’t come to the surface until long into the process.

I think I’ve proved to myself that I’ve known what I needed to be saying at the core of the latest book for quite some time. I look back over the notes I’d made, re-examined the characters and what they need to be doing and even looked on the short story, Crossing the Line, which I published in Answers from the Darkness, with a new eye.

My message was always there.

I’d always known what was happening, it was just that I hadn’t told myself. Maybe the timing wasn’t right.

Certainly feels right now though.

SPIN ME ROUND

Something I’m playing about with at the moment while writing the next book in the Circle series is being completely honest with everything I say but telling lies with that honesty.

The way words are used on any given day can hide the truth despite there not being anything false being said. We all know that politicians the world over are amazingly adept at moulding all manner of sentences which don’t lie at all, yet also can’t be trusted fully, just in case.

A good example of how the truth can be covered up would be that all those thousands of years ago when I was still a fresh faced young thing and still in full time education, I collected, after much hard work and studying, all manner of qualifications. GCSE’s, A-Levels and then off to college. In fact, I studied ten GCSE’s, six A-Levels and then graduated with a qualification in Sports Science from Nottingham Trent University.

Impressive. Ish.

None of that is a lie but it’s also just fuzzy enough to lure people in the direction I want.

If I were to ask how many A-Levels I passed, what would you say? Six? Nope.

What city did I live in when studying Sports Science? Nottingham? Wrong.

When I’ve used this example in the past, I can paint a picture which people can then extrapolate their own ideas. You hear ‘Six A-Levels’ so go with that, overlooking the ‘studied’ rather than passed. You hear Nottingham Trent University so assume Nottingham but associate colleges are beyond just there.

Now none of this is there as any kind of confession to wildly misleading people or that I’ve been making up huge aspects of my life, rather that depending on how you spin the details, you can allow the information to point the way and just let the road unfurl before people.

As an author, I need to try to paint a clear picture of what’s happening but that doesn’t always mean that every aspect of every narrative is saying the exact thing you’d expect. Making the reader travel happily off in one direction for that to lead them to a different destination makes all things so much tougher, but so much more fun.

Honest.

FORM AN ORDERLY ……….

This weekend, Jo and I were in Germany at FedCon, soaking in all things Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica with a little sprinkling of Spaceballs, Gremlins and Stargate.

A great many topics were brought up during the talks, anecdotes from the various sets and even a presence from the European Space Agency, including a talk from a real life astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, about her time on the International Space Station.

All in all, it was an awesome convention which was really well organised and allowed for all manner of good things to be experienced. There had even been some attempt to lessen the horror that is inevitable at all events of this kind, the queue.

Being from the UK, we all love a good queue. It’s one of those national clich├ęs, like our love of tea, which somehow sticks with us. The convention was a great example of one ‘expected’ trait of Germans, amazing organization.

So are we just the expected bits of our nations when we go abroad?

When Brits are in other countries, do we imagine that locals view us as being the stereotype? Tea drinkers or lager louts? Do the French get tired of the questions about berets and onions? The Spanish and their maracas?

We all have similar traits to each other no matter the country we come from. You can find all kinds of examples of videos on YouTube of people from all over the globe doing exactly the same stupid things. Shaky footage filmed on a phone of activities in a desert, in snow, in cities and in countryside, all giving examples of the same things, but done by all different peoples.

Why just look at the differences and poke fun at the things that others do which we may not? Why not just recognise that we all do so very many things the same?

So very much of the science fiction which we all know and love explores so much of what the human race is as a whole and how we all need to work together to achieve the great wonders we’re capable of as a species. By just holding tightly to the differences, so very many doors are closed to all of us.

Shared success is the goal.

So Say We All!

CARROT OR STICK?

We’ve all heard the phrase or variations of it, “You catch more flies with honey”, about the importance of methods to get results.

No doubt we’ve all, at some point, been on the receiving end of the wild stick treatment and you want to reach out and crush the one dishing it out. We may fully understand the problem but that stick seems intent on striking away until the end of time, making us acutely aware of the depths of our ineptitude and doing everything in it’s power to crush us beneath the righteous ire.

But that delightful carrot is so much better.

Being given the chance to receive a reward for completing a task is great. You know that when you reach the finish line you’re going to be basking in the knowledge of a job well done as well as accepting the carrot you were promised. Everyone wins.

So why would anyone use the stick over the carrot?

The carrot rewards good performance yet the stick punishes poor performance. If the only thing available is the reward when you do well, the worst you can expect is not doing what you should. The stick gives it balance.

The stick on it’s own just becomes a landscape of dour, crushing bleakness where you end up looking over your shoulder all of the time, waiting for the inevitable explosion. In this situation, the carrot becomes that blazing beacon that means that life could be so much more. Balance again.

We see it in life, and I’m trying to stitch it into the books I’m writing, where people become stuck on one or the other rather than keeping that balance. The carrot becomes the way the hero does things, the stick, the baddies. Big Brother of 1984 existed as the ultimate stick whereas Julia is the carrot, the gleaming hope of a better world for Winston Smith.

Stories mirror life in so many ways and making sure that there’s balance in the way people interact and how systems function create the reality that make the world believable.

We all need to have both aspects of motivation. Being treated with too much saccharine or with too much salt isn’t good for us so we all need to make sure we give the same consideration to everyone else.

Onwards to the best results.

PLAYING FAVOURITES

Conventioned this weekend and had a blast at Em-Con. Met up with people I’d met last year and it was great to get myself immersed in the experience of being an author at a convention. And as with all conventions, there are times when there are lulls in the activity so my mind started running around on all kind of things. I was in an ice rink so the scorching weather wasn’t affecting me but everyone else no doubt had a different day.

If I were to say the word MOIST to you, what do you feel? Is MOIST a word that you never really consider? Is it a real favourite of yours? Do you hate the very thought of the word and would rather never hear it ever again?

How is it that a single word could be able to elicit such a response on its own?

As an author, I recognise the power that words can have. An effective use of words can draw out any and all emotional responses you could care to consider but words are seemingly at their best when they play as a team rather than as singles.

“Love”. On it’s own, nice enough but add in the “I” and the “you” and the full effect is clear to see.

“Dream”. Again, a pretty decent word. Has some oomph. Now add “I” and “have” and “a” to the mix and the punch is enhanced.

So how could a single word have anything like that kind of effect? There’s no context to drive the feelings to a single word so that means that you need to look around at the surrounding players to try and glean what’s taking place, again proving the team idea. So we get back to MOIST.

Practically everyone I’ve asked about this has said that they hate the word MOIST. I can picture all of the turned up noses and hear all of the groans as I consider the word but why is it that so many of us find that one word so repulsive?

Maybe it’s actually the reality of what being MOIST means to each of us?

It’s been a blazing hot bank holiday weekend in the UK and I can just imagine the sensation a great many of us would have experienced in the sun. The many beads of perspiration that would be breaking out the second that feel the heat. The moisture seeping into the fabric of your clothes. Those clothes then sticking to you in ways that no-one would ever enjoy. That’s what it feels to be MOIST so could it be that the word just takes us to that most uncomfortable of times and we simply cringe.

Though that isn’t the only example of being MOIST so maybe not?

Whatever the reasoning, the word MOIST shows us that a single word, can have as devastating effect as a whole paragraph so we all need to make sure that we’re paying full attention to every word we say.

So are there any others I should be wary of?

A friend from work suggested that VALVE should be considered as well.

Any ideas?