OPEN THE GATES

Ready for a shock?

Up until last night, I’d never seen the Disney film Aladdin.

Don’t panic, I have now but as I was watching it, I realised how often in stories, the power that’s out there which could be wielded by the protagonists so often has to be asked for.

Aladdin is encouraged to take on the quest for the Cave or Wonders with the chance of great reward and then has to rub the lamp to receive the three wishes and then stick to the rules that the genie imposes. Such enormous potential power but it as to be asked for and when the villain grasps for the ultimate power of the genie, it’s then that the major drawback is unleashed.

My favourite horror film, Hellraiser, has the same set up. The Cenobites are only interested in the one who opened the puzzle box. If you don’t go looking for the power, you don’t have the risk.

There is a massive risk/reward balance when it comes to magical artefacts and ancient powers in all kinds of story telling and that is so true for all of us in the real world as well. The risk, not the magic. When placing bets on the horses, putting money on the 1000 to 1 outsider is an enormous risk as the odds are given on the ability that the horse has to win but the reward should it work out in your favour is equally massive.

Risk is a thing that we all have to face up to in all kinds of ways. Choosing to cross the road away from a designated crossing and any and all other ways we put our life on the line on a daily basis quickly leap to mind but we risk when we tell someone a secret, when we go for a wildly different hairstyle, when we choose a film to watch we haven’t heard of before.

For all of us, risk is a very normal part of our lives and it’s something that has a mighty role to play in both who we are and in who we become. We can’t remove all risk, nor should we try to. The risks of things going wrong following every single choice we make are there to act as a guide. We learn from our mistakes to amend our actions in future to not make them again, therefore improving.

So I say to everyone, throw open the gates to risks. Don’t be afraid to take the chances because something MIGHT go wrong. Recognise that risks are there and you need to be aware of what they are but factor them into your planning so your choices are informed. If we all attempt to remove all risks from life, don’t we run the risk of not having the understanding of what real risk is?

I present this video from YouTube from a channel called Royal Jordanian. It shows a collection of clips recorded from a helmet mounted camera as the rider travels around the streets of London.

We’re all familiar with the facts that there are hundreds of signs everywhere to help control and manage traffic, that there are specific areas where we are meant to cross the roads and, certainly my generation thanks to Darth Vader himself, Dave Prowse playing the Green Cross Code Man, that there are rules in play when trying to cross a road, we see many examples of people being utterly oblivious to the risks. We all hear in almost every advert for cars and so often in news reports, that cars come with all manner of safety features that can prevent injury to anyone who comes near it, that they have special brakes and even smart on-board computers to help stop the car if it looks as if the driver isn’t fast enough.

Have they become blasé about risk, thinking that nothing could possibly go wrong? Do they think that they can walk wherever they want whenever they want or are they just numb to the thought of being hit by a car as being truly dangerous.

Risk is good. You have to understand that we are making choices and that not every outcome is going to be positive but without the risks, we end up either thinking everything is a deadly risk so we do nothing or we don’t see risk anywhere, and are likely to walk in front of a passing car.

Think things through but don’t be over cautious.

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TRYING TO CONNECT

Another convention weekend draws to a close and all of us fans of the show Spartacus can look back on great times meeting the cast of the show but also getting the chance to meet up with friends from all over the planet.

Each and every one of us is filled with our own passions and having the opportunity to spend time with others with the same feelings is what we’re all searching for.

In a world where divisions are highlighted and the differences we may have are the only things anyone seems to care about, recognize that everything, everywhere is better when we all come together.

This weekend saw the expected fun and games of a convention but I think, although I’m not certain, I witnessed the early stages of a new spiritual movement. Proving that these events are so much more than just the chance to meet the actors, we saw one of our number elevated towards his true rock star status. His name was chanted by all and all the differences we may have had didn’t matter a jot.

I suspect I’ll be needing the help as I battle with an iffy internet signal.

‘MAAAAANDEEEEEEP’.

JUST DO IT

Do you watch Friends?

It’s a program that’s taken on almost mythical status by now and it seems to be on at any time of any day but the specifics of the show don’t really matter for this post.

In one of the episodes, The One with Joey’s Big Break, the characters use an interesting method of making a decision. Rather than working through the details of the issue at hand, weighing up all of the pros and cons to get them to a considered and reasoned outcome, they instead throw up two choices and have to make a snap decision immediately without putting even the slightest thought into it.

Now for the purpose of the episode it made for some amusing situations but should we ever try something like this in the real world?

Every one of us makes all kind of choices on any given day and we all make sure that we put in the requisite amount of consideration but should we always?

How many of us have considered, at times of great mental turmoil, that we could be over thinking any given situation? A choice which should be straightforward can become amazingly complex as we over analyse every possible scenario or outcome until we’ve wrapped ourselves up in all manner of knots. Wouldn’t it be better to just dive at it and go with your gut?

As I work on the different stories in my collections, I find it so simple to get myself tangled up in  possible narrative threads and what could, and indeed should, have been a pretty simple choice can suddenly have me well and truly snookered. I move the pieces about in my head, and although I do have some success in my actions, far too often, I end up back to the original thought and the time and effort have been for nought.

What do you think?

Should there always be a deep and philosophical consideration for any and all choices we face or can we just throw caution to the wind and take the leap of faith that we don’t need to torture ourselves with more options?

I like both ideas but couldn’t just make snap choices, I need to make sure that I’m not falling on the wrong side of what I should be doing.

Or maybe I should?

 

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.

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.

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!