COMING TOGETHER

There I was, writing away on the next book, concentrating hard to get the words on the page while I had the radio playing in the background, and an ad came on for the stations annual five hundred word short story competition for youngsters. I was working on a short story myself so it was good to hear the drive to get others going in the field.

What Radio 2 did in the promo was to expand what you could get out of it.

Rather than simply being a relative call to arms, that particular promo also gave a small tip. It was done because they had webchats and other resources available on the website so was just an example of what else the kids taking part could use to deliver the best possible story they could.

But that little nugget was awesome.

As a way of getting going, think about putting two things together that wouldn’t normally go together. If you’re struggling to find a way of starting out, look at the way that you can subvert the normal.

It was so basic yet summed up everything that I’ve been trying to do in so much of my writings. It had boiled down my writing process to a single sentence.

In my first novel, The Circle of Fire, the central idea was doing just that. The big scary monster was the good guy. The main character was created to be a representation of a stereotype of the gym going man so I could turn it on it’s head as the series went on. My short stories include ideas around what we all think, and how we interpret words and I’ve tried to look at things in a very different way.

Don’t we like the idea of turning things on their heads?

Don’t we like the idea of what we’re all used to seeing being shown to be wrong?

Rooting for the little team versus the huge club. The David versus Goliath.

Excitement comes from looking outside the norm and by slamming things together that shouldn’t be together under normal circumstances. It can allow all manner of topics to be explored. The film Enemy Mine has the story based around a human and an alien being stranded on a planet. They’re sworn enemies and have been fighting in space prior to their crashing. Everything grows from there. The Odd Couple indeed.

Then think of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Yet again, we see the strange bed fellows. The court room, the home of justice and all things honest is shown to be a terrifying place if you come from the wrong population. Truth, that which we all know that we have to maintain, becomes an irrelevance before the glare of twisted ideology.

All kinds of stories are out there to prompt thought and to entertain, and very often, by bringing things together that shouldn’t normally interact, you can uncover some interesting stuff.

Now I’m off to write a story about an HR performance review of someone on the Death Star.

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ROLLING

You know it’s important to plan. You know it’s important to manage your time. You know, that even though you don’t feel like it sometimes, you have to keep plonking along steadily towards the goal.

Doesn’t change the fact that sometimes you have to be smashing up against the clock to get the best results.

Over the last few weeks I’ve really put the hammer down on the next collection of short stories and you know what? The more I write the more it’s been flowing.

No you can see regularly as a writing tip, the more you do it, the easier it’ll get, but the reality is just that. The concerted effort is having the desired results.

Now being creative is a tough journey.

It’s not as if you can just turn your creativity on or off with the barest hint of effort. Sculpting a story isn’t something that just happens you know. Concentration and focus and inspiration all have to work together which takes time, and that’s when things are going well. Add in Writer’s Block and things get really tough.

Happily though, I’ve been able to get onto a real roll and the more that I’ve written, the more the ideas have been flowing. I’ve been able to really pour energy and urgency into the words and things have been going pretty well.

All in all, the purpose of this post was more to wave the flag of positivity.

It’s all too easy to get trapped into the spiral of negativity when we work on any and all projects. Trying to push onwards, even when it seems that everything you try is just fizzling out to nothing. We all have to deal with the nastiness of failure, if we try anything there’s always going to be the risk that it’s not going to unfold as planned. But that shouldn’t mean that we don’t give the project our everything just in case.

You know what all?

If you’ve got a project or hobby on the go, the more you do, the more you do. Practice may not always make perfect but make the most of those good days when they come along.

Now I’m off back to the fighting on the crippled starship I’ve been working on.

Good times.

PATTERNS

This is post number 201 so in an attempt to come up with something exciting, I decided to look at the importance of the number itself. I did the same thing with posts 100 and 101 (the century as an important point and Room 101 and Dalmatians) so why not look at the same again?

You know what I unearthed?

It’s the area code for the state of New Jersey. Apparently it means my Guardian Angel is communicating with me that I need to stay on my path and results will come. It’s a Blum Integer, apparently. 201 Penelope is the name of an asteroid. And 201 written in binary is used as the name of a Star Trek The Next Generation episode.

All in all, 201 has been used in all manner of ways.

But my search for meanings to that number is the point of the post.

We all seem to be pre-programmed to look for meaning in what would appear to be totally random.

The Da Vinci Code details a chase after information which is hidden in ancient code and many films have used code, order in chaos, to act as a jumping off point for the narrative.

So why do we all seem so keen to be hunting for any and all possible hiding connections which may or may not even be there?

All of us throughout history have been hunting for some kind of meaning we can overlay onto our lives. Humans have a deeply rooted desire to know more, be it about weather, the origins of the universe or why we’re all here. That curiosity has driven all of the great discoveries of humanity so it must be a good thing, right?

Yes and no.

Yes we need to always be striving to learn more and expand that knowledge we hold, but expecting there to always be a new layer of coded information just waiting to be deciphered is what can ultimately lead to the tin foil hat.

Patterns are indeed everywhere.

It’s great to do a word search and hunt through the field of play. Crosswords and Sudoku too. We collect up the puzzles and burrow through them with an almost rabid glee, hunting down all of the answers. Our TV shows, books and films regularly have all shapes and sizes of detectives and investigators chasing after anything and everything they can. We want to see the patterns get followed to the end point, we want to see if we can work the patterns out either at the same time or faster than the protagonist.

I watch the quiz Only Connect and this is a great example of how we’re always looking for connections and patterns. Rather than just question and answer, the contestants have to recognise the connection between a group of clues as each is revealed in turn.

The show takes the understanding that we like patterns, the search for connections, and presents that to us, happy that we’ll be coming up with all manner of other possibilities than just the one the question setters selected.

Patterns and connections exist in nature and in all of the things we see and do. There shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise that we want to have our stories filled with them as well.

Keep on searching, I’ll get the tin foil hats.

SOCIETY

I spent yesterday working on a new short story for the next collection and it’s a precursor to a book I will write at some point in the future. I was looking at machine / human interaction and interface as a place to start but it made me consider how everything we all do and how all of our hopes and desires feed in to how societies as a whole function.

I’m sure we’ve all read a story where the world that the characters find themselves is in someway broken, with there being a vast and unequal difference between the few and the masses. The different examples of these stories all put us in the shoes of the ‘have-nots’ as they fight against injustice and correct the problems but I’ve been looking at all of the little steps that had to have taken place along the way to bring the horror the story starts with.

Humans are a social species. We arrange ourselves into groups rather than exist on our own.

Evolutionarily, this meant that we could pool our resources and take advantage of the safety those numbers provided and over time, hierarchies were formed. Now I’ve read that due to our brain physiology, we are predetermined to organise in this way but the ability to build an ever growing population in a ‘mostly’ harmonious society isn’t something which should be written off so simply.

So how do societies break?

At no point would anyone vote for a party in an election which intended to jump to the very final stage of the collapse of society. Societal fall has to come in stages. Each tiny shuffling step hiding a wider truth. Heavily armed troops roaming the streets executing people out after curfew would never just appear, rather it would be the result of constant little erosions, probably designed at each point on the way, to be as part of a plan to keep people safe.

But rules and order are vital so allowing a population to have free reign to do whatever they desire isn’t the answer. Very quickly there would be swathes of gangs taking things from others by force, leaving the weak at the mercy of the strong, just in a different way.

Our societies are linked together by ordered rules to allow for no-one to take steps they shouldn’t and with an equal account of freedom to give all of us the chance to do things we want to.

The brutally authoritarian or chaotically anarchic both mean that things have broken down but the result is equally as bleak for the majority. We all recognise that to create a society in the grasp of a power crazed lunatic in a book means that readers will see the potential horrors of regimes gone wild so side with the characters who are on the outside looking in, think The Hunger Games. But all along the way, the tiny steps that went into making a Panem or an Airstrip One had to have been agreed to. There may not have been a great choice, but there was always going to be a choice.

Society is a wonderful thing. It binds us all together and allows us all to exist in a more controlled fashion than if we had to do everything ourselves. I for one, have no clue about hunting for food. We all fulfil a set part and the society trundles on.

The steps that would have to be made to take us towards a dystopia akin to 1984 will never seem like the steps they are but as each one follows on from the one before, the chance to undo the changes shrinks.

I like society. Human societies are wonderful things and they should be protected at all cost so we need to be acutely aware of the details of all of the choices we make along the way.

Panem didn’t happen overnight and at one point, it was what was wanted.

 

P.S. This is blog post number 200.

Who would have thought I could keep it up for so long?

A DECENT SEND OFF

I used to live in Kent and I went to university in Lincoln. Now I understand that for everyone reading, those are, in themselves, Earth shattering facts but stay with me. These two locations have something very important in common.

Airfields.

Due to their locations on the east of the UK, during the Second World War they were vital in both defence and attack. The Spitfires and their fighter brethren swarmed from airfields famously during the Battle of Britain and the mighty Lancasters and the other ‘heavies’ left on their missions to drop their bombs all over Europe.

Now I’m not going to start banging on about the war nor am I trying to make any sort of comment about any possible political view point, so again, stay with me.

I can remember air shows as a child where the planes had to travel over where we lived on their way to the airfield and it was one of these in particular that just blew my mind.

It was the early 80’s and the Falklands War was not long over so when my dad explained that, for the first time, the local air show would be welcoming a Vulcan Bomber, the carrier of the UK nuclear deterrent during the Cold War and recently retired from active service, he impressed upon me with his own excitement, that this plane was important. He knew that it was going to have to fly over our house on its way so we were all dragged into the garden, just waiting for the barest glimpse of it.

We could hear the engines approaching and my dad was buzzing around in anticipation. I stood in the middle of the garden and just looked straight up and when she passed overhead, I swear the sun went out.

That Vulcan’s gargantuan Delta-Wing just blotted out everything and in my mind, everything slowed to the point of leaving that plane suspended just above me. It was one of the most beautiful sights my young eyes had ever seen and as you can probably tell from the way I’m writing this, it still gets me.

Now the three planes that I’ve named so far, the Spitfire, the Lancaster and the Vulcan, all had a massive role to play in the national eye and each of these machines seems to have taken on a greater significance that just being aircraft.

There are 54 airworthy Spitfires left on the planet.

Only 2 airworthy Lancasters.

And most painfully for me, there are no remaining Vulcans in the sky.

And finally, we get to the point.

The send off is a vital thing for people as a part of a grieving process. The funeral of friends and family is something that we can see as a way of recognising the life of the person in question but that same need is often bestowed on ‘things’ as well.

I used the idea of an organised memorial in my first novel, The Circle of Fire, where everyone involved was able to remember those who weren’t with them anymore but we see in so much of life, that we as a race of people seem to need to recognise and celebrate a passing, be it a person or a thing.

When I traded in my last car, I couldn’t help but remember all the journeys we’d shared. When my parents moved to Wales it meant that the home I’d grown up in was leaving the family. I walked into every room and all round the garden before I drove back to Wales, just saying goodbye.

What drives us to do it? Do we regret that we never said enough to show that we saw the service that was being given for us? Do we just not like change so lament the arrival of the new? Do we just miss the good times so need to spend a last time there with the rose tinted glasses on?

A few years ago, Jo and I were visiting her mum in Lincolnshire when I heard an amazing sound. I almost fell over myself to get a good look out of the correct window but I made it in time to see a mighty Lancaster thunder overhead on her way to an air show, which was very soon followed by the last Vulcan. I was just as excited as I’d been all those years ago and just being able to catch a glimpse of those ladies as they headed off as part of their on-going send off was amazing.

I watched them come home that evening and just stood in awe, recognising that we all need a send off. I think it just boils down to appreciating what the person / object has been, has done but also the silent hope that one day, someone will look out and think of us with the same feelings.

PROPHECY – ISH

In so many stories, the way that the action is kicked into action is in response to a dusty and long since overlooked prophecy.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Wars, Bright and lots of other TV shows have an element of the tale taking place which had been foretold way back when and no matter what activities unfold, it all fits into the planning which had been laid down all those years ago.

So why do we seem to lean on the prophecy idea as being such a solid point to start from?

Someone who most people will recognise is Nostradamus. So very much about the details of his life aren’t important to this point but his writings are regularly cited as being portentous of future events. Born in 1503, he wrote about activities which he felt were going to come to pass as the years marched on and there have been a great many occasions where it’s been claimed that a particular world event was indeed one of the predictions.

Now scholars have widely disregarded the writings of Nostradamus as being terrifyingly accurate but what they do show is the almost palpable desire for people to believe that somehow we could see into the future and predict what’s going to take place.

So why do we enjoy the idea of actions now having been foretold?

In religions across the world, there are holy texts which explain what will be happening at the end times and having that knowledge can be a comfort. If you know what’s coming, there’s no way that you’re going to be surprised when it arrives. Prophecy can show that a particular group has the truth of what’s coming so when something happens that can have the prophecy overlaid on it, everyone jumps to match them up.

In stories, the prophecies are surprisingly accurate in terms of the details which draw characters together but when prophecies in the real world are tested, they’re all oddly vague, with sweeping comments which could apply to any number of things. Claims of wars being foretold years ago aren’t really that reliable. War happens all of the time and has happened all of the time. There are never specific details which could pin down the prophecy to a specific conflict.

So again, why do we like the prophecy?

As a story telling tool, a prophecy shows that every character is merely a piece being moved into the correct position under the guidance of a greater hand and that all of the choices that are being made are inexorably going to lead to a predetermined end point. The people involved were always the special one, they were just taking the steps they were always going to before their importance was revealed.

Is it as simple as we all want to believe that deep down, we’re the special one in our own story, heading to the valiant conclusion?

I think I am. We’ll just have to see what the future holds.

VIOLENCE

Violent acts are all around us one way or another every single day. If you’ve indulged in a bit of road rage on your way to work or barged past someone who was walking too slowly, holding everyone up, that’s violence. Dragging someone into the street and giving them a damn good thrashing with a baseball bat is also violence. Threatening someone is also violence.

All in all, it’s everywhere.

I’m writing book three of The Circle series at the moment and like the others, there will be conflict between different people and creatures which means I’m going to have to include some violence. So why is it that violence, which can cause so very many negatives, is so popular in our fiction?

We see every day on the news, a seemingly unending supply of examples of brutality from all over the globe. Acts of terrorism, murders, wars, and any other act of violence that you could possibly care to dream up yet we all love stories which include just those very acts. Now it would be too easy just to say that as a people, we’re all becoming desensitized to violence because we see it so often that when it pops up in a book or on TV we just see it as being part and parcel of life, but for e that seems too simple.

Computer games and films are regularly blamed when a violent act is perpetrated as being what pushed a person over the edge. The music of Marilyn Manson has been pointed at as a driving force behind violent behaviour from someone who listened to it.

I can’t recall a time where a book was held up as an example of driving someone to violence.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned way back when amid a moral panic regarding it’s contents and we’re all no doubt familiar with the phenomenon that is 50 Shades. Books of an erotic nature like these immediately make people angry but all manner of depictions of violence are held in the pages of a library so anyone can dive in and swim around.

After the 50 Shades book was released, there was an increase in the number of injuries of a sexual nature which were reported to hospitals as people gave the practices in the pages a go without doing all of the research they needed to. Yet there seems to be no qualms about descriptions of violence in other books. Granted, we’re unlikely to see a Val McDermid book be released and than have thousands of people set off on macabre killing sprees but why is it that there’s never the clamour for the books with violence in them to be sanctioned?

Now I recognise that 50 Shades books are held up as examples of normalising violence against women and the dynamics of the relationship in the novels is far from healthy, but people found it a way to explore their own sexuality and decided to give some things a go, potentially unwisely, which resulted in the injuries.

We see books where serial killers conduct almost unspeakably brutal actions as the hero chases after them. I’ve read books which included people being tied up in the mouth of an underground tunnel like a spider at the centre of a web and left to be killed by the arrival of the train. Val McDermid and a description of a torture device involving a naked man, a chair with no seat and a razor and hook covered and electrified cone is not something that I would ever wish to see come to pass in the real world and the entire works of Clive Barker seem to speak for themselves yet that violence doesn’t appear everywhere after the release.

Violence is a great tool in story telling. Violence can provide a level of connection that the reader may not have without it. We recognise what it would feel like to experience the violence so can empathise. We can also see just how far a character may have been pushed if they are willing to commit an act of violence. We know that we would never do something like that but also, exactly just how bad things must be if they’d reached that point of striking out.

But violence is not a thing of it’s own. Violence doesn’t exist separate from anything else just randomly doing it’s thing for no reason. Violence is the tool of a stimulus. Control of people can be maintained by acts or threats of violence. Emotion bring violence to the fore. Anger spilling out, envy and also sadness. People are driven to violence because of their situations and we’ve got to remember that it isn’t always something which should be squashed. Violently breaking free of oppression, self defence. These things mean that we need to recognise that violence isn’t the end point.

The works of Shakespeare and so very many religious books all have examples of the kind of brutality that would make your toes curl yet we encourage our young people to explore these books when they’re young as positives.

I’ll continue to use violence in what I write when the story requires I do. Just throwing it in there because you’re feeling bored won’t add to the story and could just look sensationalist. When my characters are violent, they have to be because of the story I’m putting together. I won’t have them being sadistic just because. There’s always a cause to violence and very often, the journey that matters is finding out what that cause is.