ALWAYS WATCHING

Do you feel as if there are always people watching you?

Not in a raging paranoia, tin foil hat wearing kind of way, but rather just everyday normal life. That from the second you set foot outside your front door, all the way through almost every single step along the way, that from somewhere, anywhere, there are eyes watching.

It has been suggested that the UK is the most watched country in the world, with enough cameras keeping tabs on everyone and everything for one per eleven members of the population. The more you think about it, the more chance there is for it to niggle at the back of your mind.

But we like to watch other people don’t we?

We all enjoy indulging in a little gossip from time to time but over the last twenty years or so, our watching of others has exploded.

The actions of the public are now a major element of our entertainment diet in the form of reality shows of any and all shapes. What would Christmas be without The X Factor? Hasn’t Big Brother gone well past it’s best before date? Isn’t Gogglebox a programme about watching people watching TV?

We know that we have to be aware of the eyes watching us. We know that speed cameras are out there to catch drivers going over the speed limit. We’re familiar with cameras watching over our streets in an attempt to minimise antisocial behaviour and as such, we behave accordingly.

Now the purpose of this post isn’t to pass comment on the relative rights and wrongs of such things, rather I’m looking at the behaviour we all adopt because of these eyes watching us.

How many times have you seen examples of drivers slamming the brakes on as they approach a speed camera, only to speed back up once they’re out of the eye line of the lens?

Every day there are examples where we all push the boundaries of what is allowed or acceptable. The problems that the cameras are there to reduce evolve and move in new directions. So what happens when you break the rules and win?

The rules mark out the field of play for us all. We all have to exist within this framework to allow the society as a whole to flourish, each of us doing our bit to make sure that the whole is preserved. In the most basic sense, the strong take on more burden and the weak are assisted, while everyone else in the middle does they’re fair share.

But we all know the darkness inherent in the system, in any number of stories we’re familiar with and out there in the real world. Corruption so outcomes no longer show equity. Where parts of a population are seen as special and others are not. The first person to nudge beyond and colour outside the lines without there being any negative outcomes, was the first person who understood that cheats do prosper.

If you cheat and get caught, you are a cheat or a criminal, viewed poorly for cheating. If you cheat and no one sees it, your success is seen as being the result of shrewd thinking, clever actions.

So you cheat again.

And again.

The protagonist in stories is readily seen as being the righteous one, the one who is honest and true, but the antagonist is so easily the moustache twirling, black hearted monster with nothing but the worst planned.

So why cheat if it dooms you to ‘the dark side’?

It’s too simple to just paint people as good or bad. Everyone who cheated and won saw this as showing that they were smart enough to get around the system. Captain Kirk had his Kobayashi Maru and was commended for it. We see on football / soccer pitches all over the world, examples of players feigning injury, or simulating fouls to gain advantage and very often, those who are commentating laud them for it.

“He was very clever there, allowing himself to be knocked off the ball like that.”

Gone are the full blooded contests where physical contact was part and parcel of the game only to leave behind players willing to roll on the floor as if they’d been hit by a sniper in the stands at the merest hint of a challenge for the ball. All those eyes watching on see this as being the way to advance, the way to succeed. If you do this when you play, you’ll get a positive outcome as well, the knowing wink says as the benefits are reaped.

In a round about way, I’m looking at the importance of the role model. That person we watch and admire for what they do. They become our heroes very easily and carry the mantle of example wherever they go. We’ve all had one in our lives. It may have been a parent, a sibling, a famous sports star, even a politician, but we all looked at that person with an almost reverential awe. They were the best. They were what we wanted to be like. We yearned to be just like them and we did what we could to reach that goal.

Worryingly, what would happen if the role model was a bad guy?

Would the effect be to create hoardes of little beasts?

I doubt it but it’s important that we all recognise that we could, in some way, represent the role model for another and make sure we’re doing the best we can. There will always be eyes watching and teaching a poor message could have long term consequences.

I watched a kids game of football / soccer yesterday while I sat in a café waiting for Jo. It looked like a bunch of under elevens. Ish. They were passing and dribbling for all they were worth and there were good challenges going in for the tackles, all in all, making me feel oddly encouraged.

And then it happened.

A player from one team dribbled forwards, a little way out from goal, and was surrounded by three players from the opposition. In a flash, his space was gone and he was out of passing options. He couldn’t shoot and there appeared to be no way out. Until the first foot from an opposing player approached the ball. The attacking player saw his chance and performed a reasonable attempt of the flourishing swan dive we see all too regularly on TV. The surrounding lads checked for a split second, not really sure of themselves, and the referee blew for the foul.

I didn’t really see any contact but it could only have been minimal, yet he’d been given the free kick, getting him out of trouble. He hadn’t been knocked to the ground, he’d just collapsed, yet he’d gained an advantage. He was also the one to score from the resulting free kick.

Cheats never prosper is a lie but we all have to do our part to stand up as the role models people may see us as to make sure that the idea of going outside the rules doesn’t come into play but if you do, you aren’t congratulated for it.

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A GOOD PAINT JOB

Have you heard the phrase ‘A picture paints a thousand words’?

As an author with zero ability with a paint brush, it could be really simple to think that I’m on the wrong side of that equation but as with so many things in life, there’s always layers to everything we consider.

How many of us have bought flat pack furniture from IKEA or the like and been confronted with the wonder that is the instruction booklet? A collection of pages that are meant to provide directions through the maze of construction to the promised land of a securely put together unit but at some point, we’ve all come across instructions which seemed to have been designed to do more harm than good.

Could you imagine trying to put together a bookcase you’ve never seen before with nothing but words in the ‘How to’ guide?

It wouldn’t take long before you’d have clumps of your hair in your fists and a selection of the bits you were working with scattered all over the room. Trying to paint that picture with just the words could be a bit of a toughie. But so could the reverse.

Words and pictures have their powers and both can be used to explain and entertain. A picture paints a thousand words but I can paint a picture with a thousand words. It’s just a matter of time.

I’ve taken inspiration from single pictures to add to the narrative I’m working on and when I look at all manner of images I try to imagine all of the back story that may come with them. The giant dragon image, the creature wrapped around the burning castle as it roars out at the night sky, looks great on its own but just think about all of the story that could be spilling out with the image.

Pictures of all kinds can make our minds fire. The right blend of words can do the same. The artist and the author have to plan and execute their work to create the piece they aim for but the person admiring that work could see the written word as being more work to unravel. A picture can paint the words more quickly but in both art forms, the more you look, the more you read, the more time you take, the meaning is spread out much more clearly, showing level after level of new detail.

Trouble is, I can’t draw for the life of me.

YODA-ESQUE

Now I’m not going to explain swathes of nonsense about the little green character this week, rather I want to have a look at the role in storytelling of the teacher.

Yoda is far from the only master of sage wisdom in the Star Wars saga and indeed, even the bad guys have their entries in the faculty register clearly defined and the position of teacher is one that is regularly used to explore all kinds of relationships.

The position of the teacher is a vitally important role for all of us. Through our lives, we have to learn all manner of new things and all of the steps along the way, we rely on the input of others. We learn to drive, and we learn new languages, but before all that, we learn to speak, we learn to walk, we learn how to feed ourselves. We have to learn so much along the way, it’s no wonder that we have to rely on the input of others. The teacher, the aged master, the font of all knowledge, is a vital part of all of our lives and isn’t something that should be dismissed as trivial.

We all know a good teacher.

I’m married to one. My mum’s one. My school and college life gave me many others.

A great teacher can take any subject and breath life into it in ways that others may not even consider. Dry and dusty topics erupt in colour and sounds and draw everyone to them, filling all with a wild urgency to discover all that the subject could possibly have to offer.

But leaving behind school or college, the need for a strong teacher is still there. How many businesses have a dedicated Learning and Development department? In each job, you have to be shown what to do and we’ve all been forced to endure death by power point at the hands of someone who really isn’t built for the task.

In my career, I’ve been lucky enough to have filled this role myself and make sure that people are given the right tools to be able to do what they need to. And therein for me, lies the core of what the teacher is there to do.

Yoda did it. So did Mr. Miyagi. The teacher is the one who gives the protagonist all of the tools they need to be able to succeed. They explain things in such a way as to let the discoveries of proficiency be something that the student earns rather than just having them spoon-fed. The student is allowed to explore the materials they’ve been presented with and then apply them. Errors are used to highlight the correct outcome rather than just admonish and should the student think things are too free and easy, their teacher will be on hand to very quickly show them the error of their ways as they demonstrate just how strong they are and just how much further the student has to go. Ultimately, the student can be allowed to then achieve their own successes but also take responsibility for their failures.

A strong teacher is someone who is able to encourage and impart wisdom all the while keeping the student engaged with what they’re doing. I love the feeling of working with people in this field and watching on as they go on to successes fills me with a deep warm glow. I see everyone as being a part of my ‘team’ and I feel protective of my team. I’ll defend my team should they need defence but when it’s warranted rather than every time.

The teacher figure is the one who helps guide. A good teacher doesn’t dictate, rather they enthuse. Seemed to work out pretty well for Luke Skywalker and Daniel LaRusso.

THE DAY AFTER

You know that come down you get after a great convention weekend? I’ve got that.

We had a great time and all the talk about dragons and all things science fiction and fantasy really managed to pour a huge amount of fuel into my mental tanks.

How often do we all just soak in all the good things we need from a particular event? A convention, a family gathering, a long awaited holiday. Our batteries get low and an event can suddenly re-charge what we’d run out of.

I published a new book of short stories recently so it’s understandable that some of my ‘well’ had been depleted but thanks to this weekend I’m full to the brim again. I’ve been feeling pretty good about the latest stretch of my writing journey so the energy from this weekend really has done the business.

New jacket and waist coat even came out to play as can be seen in the picture of me in the selection below.

I even managed to come up with a new idea for a YA novel. It came to me in a dream and I had a mad scramble to get the notes written down while they were still fresh in my mind.

Looks like 2018 is filling up with ideas nicely.

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SOON

Who looks out there at certain things, certain events, and just can’t wait?

When I write, I very often get caught up in the story I’m working on and can’t wait to reach the next part of the narrative, excited to finally get there and explore that next area of the story. I know that what I write is something that I’d enjoy reading and having that story bubbling along in my head all of the time, I just can’t wait to arrive at the next stage.

I won’t deny it. I’m very often like a small child at Christmas on the run up to a convention. I get myself wound up with all of the thoughts of what’s going to happen on the given weekend. The people I’m going to speak to, the talks I’m going to hear, the total of the shopping, the films, the acts, all of  it, drives my mind along like you wouldn’t believe all of the time leading up to an event and that’s a chunk of the fun for these events.

Excitement for the upcoming anything in our lives is great. If we don’t have anything to look forward to, life can get pretty boring so looking forwards allows you to set goals and do all you can to reach them.

In readiness for this weekends extravaganza at the Sci-Fi Weekender, I threw a focused effort into completing the short story collection, Answers from the Darkness, in enough time to get the copies delivered. I’ve been counting and re-counting the books I have in readiness for the off, packing and re-packing everything, checking and re-checking the clothes I’m going to be wearing as I watch the clock count down.

I love conventions. I love the chance to see all the associated things and the chance to interact with all of the people who attend. We all share some ideas, and we have disagreements but they’re always a great source of enjoyment as we get together.

Having that ‘whatever’ to look forward to is a powerful thing. Kids at Christmas and birthdays show it clearly, so much so you’d swear they were going to explode. And why do we stop doing it? As we age we get told not to wish our lives away and as the years pass by, it could be easy to be spending all the time looking backwards wanting to keep hold of a time when there was more ahead of us than behind.

But we never know when it’s our ‘time’. With nothing to look forward to, you’re left with a very bleak landscape ahead. Having a wonderful thing, whatever it could be, to be aiming for, to look forward to, to be waiting for, gives you that bundle of butterfly’s in the stomach and let’s you appreciate that little bit more of life.

And if you’re going to the Sci-Fi Weekender, I’ll see you there. Come and say hello. I’ll be looking forward to it.

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ANSWERS FROM THE DARKNESS

Today I release my latest collection of short stories ‘Answers from the Darkness‘.

Last year was a swirling horror show for my family and off the back of that, my work on the third novel in The Circle series slowed to a near crawl. It didn’t seem to matter how hard I tried to force the words onto the page, nothing could release the grip on what was stopping them.

So instead I had to work through my issues in another way.

My short stories have helped me to explore ideas and work through the images in my mind following my Dad’s death.

I’ve played with some things, worked on some stuff for the world of The Circle, and tried to move into outer space with a few stories. And I enjoyed giving it a go as I climbed out of my own darkness.

The stories are looking at some uncomfortable topics and are quite gruesome in places so I’d suggest, not for kids. Everyone come and download a copy, the print copy’s coming soon.

The answers are in there……………..

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IT’S HISTORY

Relaxing Sunday afternoon spent in front of the TV unwinding and enjoying doing nothing. Watched two films, Percy Jackson : Sea of Monsters and Night at the Museum : Secret of the Tomb. Classic Sunday afternoon fare really, fantasy action, thrills and spills.

Good times.

Now the relative merits of these films could be debated for an age, as all films could be, but they both start with a similar ideas. Taking characters from history and playing about with them.

Greek Gods or magically re-animated dinosaurs, the pages of the history of planet Earth can lend all kinds of new fuel for writing.

Now a couple of weeks ago, I spoke about the power of putting things together that wouldn’t normally interact and figures and events from history can be a good way to do this but it’s so very much more than that.

All kinds of characters and locations are there to be explored in ways of understanding and deciphering the human condition. Having modern day characters have to try and relate to ones from centuries ago can make it easier to hold ourselves up to the light.

But just by using the characters from history or mythology, we can see that maybe, humanity has always had to deal with the same issues. Talking dinosaurs can allow us to discuss painful ideas without the risk of being too real. We can examine ideas and work through problems which can be too uncomfortable but for talking animals.

Now the fun doesn’t stop there.

What could happen if we start to look at people or events from any and all points in the past from the opposite standpoint from what we all know?

The classic of ‘What if the Nazi’s had won WW2?’ is a well known place to start. What if the USSR had won the race to the moon? What if the extinction level event which did for the dinosaurs had never happened? Dr. Horrible is the classic villain yet he’s the focus of the story.

By shuffling the deck, we story tellers get the chance to re-write history in whatever way we can dream up and that can mean we can hold up to the light any and all possibilities that cross our minds.

Everyone strap in and enjoy the ride.