SO MANY LEVELS?

When I was much younger than I am today, it was not really unusual for me to be found watching kids TV shows of any and all genres and flavours. Now the fact that I did shouldn’t be that much of a shock as I was, indeed, a child, but a lesser known fact of kids TV was brought home now that I am an uncle.

Kids shows are clearly designed to appeal to the children but very often, an effort has been made by the production teams to add something just for the adults.

Now these added extras aren’t just slapped in there with a sweary addition or a blast of violence that wasn’t expected, rather they find themselves disguised as harmless little one liners, or innocent images which the little ‘un’s can all laugh along with but only the grown ups really get. Shrek’s comment about Lord Farquad’s castle being so large as a way of compensating for something, wink, wink.

And that can’t be an easy thing to manage.

Can you imagine trying to hide ‘naughtiness’ in plain site? Getting a potentially inappropriate comment or idea under the noses of the audience?

Layers of the story have to add to the whole. They have to be seamlessly part of the tale so as not to draw any unwanted attention but still add to the overall of what’s going on. If you notice them, then you get the added glow of sniggering at the joke but without the knowledge then you can still get value from what’s going on.

All stories have a multitude of layers which are stitched together to create the symphony of what the tale is and in the same way an orchestra as a whole delivers the complete performance, should you notice the specific work of one instrument over the others you’re treated to a more pinpoint fact of the collection.

Be it innuendos, or layered sub-text, stories have more than just the tale buried within the words. There are subtle waves and patterns woven through every story as the writer puts nuance and ‘meat’ onto the bones of what’s going on. Always make sure you notice all of the little bits and pieces that fit together to create the whole.

Just to highlight the way an amazing joke can be tossed into the wider story, thanks to Gheorghe Lazarof on You Tube, I present to you a first class joke that will always make me laugh from the cartoon Animaniacs. Please take a look and believe me, it’s well worth a look.

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GIVE AND TAKE

When I write all of the various stories I do, I have to put serious thought into what the characters are capable of. Now in terms of the more fantastical stories, that can be almost anything, including magical powers, super human abilities or the like, but it’s also true for the more ‘real’ stories. Everyone has their particular skill set, the things that they’re good at for the story I try to put together.

Now very often, the narrative for stories comes from the hero being able to then overcome their greatest weakness, Superman reacting to Kryptonite. But it doesn’t stop there. Also, we often see the antagonist almost be the complete opposite of the protagonist in terms of strengths and weaknesses, The M.Knight Shyamalan film Unbreakable has just that dichotomy between the characters of Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson. Then consider Drax the Destroyer from the Marvel Universe, aside from the relatively staple fare of loss of family and sworn vengeance, he’s also having to overcome his literal way of interpreting things. Great warrior but having a conversation after the battle, now that’s the real challenge.

Now, that deals with the more fantastical tales dealing in the wildly fictional but it’s something we have to imagine all of the time in each and every character we write.

The real world is filled with all manner of life and those lifeforms have evolved to fill the niche that they exist within. Watching Blue Planet II recently, I’ve been treated to amazing views of what’s going on under the surface of the planets water systems and there have been so many intriguing details about what’s down there.

Some creatures have the ability to change colour but while many use it as a defensive measure to help them bled into the background so potential predators pass them by, others use it as a form of hypnotic hunting weapon. The same ability, different uses.

Great White Sharks are coloured a very specific way, darker upper and lighter under side. This allows them to match the environment if viewed from either above or below. They are supreme hunters and are rightly feared but that doesn’t mean they are universal. They have weaknesses. Outside of their usual environment, aside from the whole ‘fish out of water’ thing, as they have a skeleton made of cartilage rather than bone, their body weight would crush them. Even in the water, the systems they have evolved to detect the electrical fields around other sea life can be turned back against them. It’s been said before, that to survive a shark attack, punch it on the nose. That’s where the delicate apparatus are found and they are vulnerable.

Each character I write, magical, superpowered or ‘vanilla’ has an individual set of characteristics. I want everyone to have that level of authenticity so the reader can recognise humanity and indeed, reality, in who the people are.

No-one can do everything. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and it’s important to make sure that we are all working together so we can all intersect in terms of our skills so we can all get on. When we read characters we need to have an understanding that they, whoever they are, also have issues they struggle with. They have internal conflicts which impact them and although we’re unlikely to be seeing the long term depiction of those issues, the fact that they exist can make the characters just a little more likable.

MEN TO HELP

As most of you know, it was International Men’s Day over the weekend. Much like the female equivalent earlier in the year, it is there as a platform to highlight those specific issues that are weighing heavily on the genders. Suicide rates, education, work, all these things are up for discussion and I read articles that delved into the topics with gusto.

Now this post isn’t going to be a piece about anything too controversial but I heard the song ‘Crybaby’ by Paloma Faith during the day which she herself has said is an attempt to highlight the dangers of ‘toxic masculinity’ and that men don’t have to always maintain the stiff upper lip. Now I have a few issues with some details of the song and how it goes about what it’s trying to point out but the central message of asking for help is crucial.

It’s a vital point to highlight that suicide is, certainly not a men only issue, but that there has been shown to be a much higher proportion of the suicide stats being filled by men. Not being a burden is regularly highlighted as a driving force for the choice to end a life so everyone has to recognise that there are ALWAYS options out there when you need help and that no-one with that option in mind will EVER be a burden, male or female, young or old.

It’s too easy to see men as the brutish oafs we are so often portrayed as and just think that we have the collective emotional intelligence of a house brick but that does us all an injustice. It can become easy to write off the films we watch, the programs we watch and the books we read, as being all about explosions and guns and pretty much nothing else but I’d like to present a couple of examples where it shows just a little more.

I don’t think that anyone would suggest that ‘Predator’ is in the same bracket as ‘Citizen Kane’ but I think it shows a powerful depiction of friendship between two men. Mac and Blaine are trained killers and big guns and explosions and chewing tobacco and ‘I ain’t got time to bleed’ etc. but we have the chance to recognise that they discuss the importance of compartmentalizing their emotions when in action for the sake of their own mental health. We have the view of one mourning the other, with the way Mac won’t let anyone else prepare his friends body for transportation or the way that he admits to his commanding officer Dutch, Arnie himself, that ‘He was my friend.’ Dutch had told Mac that Blaine was a good soldier preceding this line and it’s not one that we hear given to anyone else as they are picked off. Indeed, Blaine isn’t the first of the group to perish yet he is singled out for praise to a colleague. There is a recognition that there is great pain being felt by one of their number and Arnie’s character is acknowledging that pain with the comment about Blaine’s prowess. Mac then responds in kind with the muted reply which may as well have been his roaring in tears as he beat the ground and cursed the gods for his loss. That was all that was needed to get the point across.

Clip uploaded from YouTube user Jordan Mac.

Lethal Weapon, beyond the gun fire and fighting, is how one man with fears about his value as he ages (I’m too old for this shit) works with a partner with serious unresolved grief and mental health issues, to give each other the stability and help that they are so badly calling out for. Riggs had explained the details to Murtaugh, of what he was going through and he does attempt suicide in front of his friend, Murtaugh being the one to intervene at the very last second. Riggs, in the instant of explaining the detail of his pain, is reaching out for help and from there, disaster is averted. Murtaugh’s friend in the first film, the father of the girl who falls to her death at the start of the film, admits that he made mistakes but only after the heroes have identified the connections. His death, immediately after the revelation that he could have gone to Roger much earlier, stands symbolically to show that not asking for help from the people around you can lead you to a darker conclusion. Indeed, the final battle is concluded only when Riggs and Murtaugh fire together to kill the bad guy, a problem overcome by two people together.

Storytelling can be used for so many things. Tales of the grandest scale can unfold in any and all directions but very often, the smallest actions between two people, the littlest thing said by one person to another, can prove to be of the most vital importance.

Everyone asks for help in their own way, everyone feels what they feel in a very personal fashion. What we all need to do is make sure that we keep our eyes open for all of the ways those calls for help could come, especially the one’s that don’t even look like calls for help.

THE LAST STRAW

When I work on the characters for the stories I write, something I’m really always doing my best to maintain, is the thought that their mentality is the result of all of the things that have gone into their lives up to that point.

It might sound like a silly point, but it can be all too easy to work on the idea that the characters start out in the story as almost being ‘perfect’ and the problems that crop up along the way are what does the damage.

In the real world, it’s not that easy so I need to always make sure that fact finds it’s way into what  write.

We’re all a product of the lives we lead. We’re a totality of all of those things that have nudged us along the way and as such, can’t always say that we’re all going to react to any given situation in the same way. What one person will look on as being a bump in the road can become the most brutally crushing event to another. One persons Earth shatteringly amazing event is just another day at the office for another.

All of the characters in the books that we read have flaws. That the characters that we know and love aren’t perfect is one of the main reasons they can reach out to us.

We all see reality with the very slightest differences. I have my individual likes and dislikes in exactly the same way as everyone else but, just like so many characters, I have my weaknesses. I know that I have to fight against my very own Kryptonite, defending my metaphorical thermal exhaust port, on a daily basis and not every day is a success.

Each one of us is fighting to protect ourselves from all those things which are out to get us. Every day we do everything we can to safeguard who we are and make sure that we can keep on moving forward and having that quality on show in the stories we read means that we’re not alone. Somewhere out there, someone else has recognised that these troubles exist and we don’t need to feel as utterly terrified and alone as we might do.

In everything I am, everything I do, I want to make the world a little bit brighter for everyone. I do my best to write stories that make sense and are enjoyable. I want to make each day better for everyone in the tiniest way I can so I need to make sure that all those people in my books show that not every day of darkness needs to be the thing to grip to.

We all have the baggage we carry through life which can cause troubles along the way. We all have to keep our defences up and recognise that everyone else has the same situation going on. We all have the time where no matter what we do, that brittle shell surrounding us shatters and we get crushed under the weight of our own pain.

Stories should reflect that reality as well as the good things.

And if, as you read this, you feel the need for help in some way, never be afraid to reach out for it. The characters in the books always have someone there to help in some way, and I want the same thing to be true in the real world as well.

If in doubt, I’ll listen to you.

LIFE AFTER DEATH

I’ve been working on a new batch of short stories for a second collection book to be released next year, and with Halloween just around the corner, it seems like the perfect time to unveil the first offering.

This story tries to look into the existence of Death.

The hulk twisted through the unending nothing of deep space. Occasionally there was a flash of an isolated light to signify that the pulse reactors deep in the heart of the once mighty ship were still producing flickers of power, but there was no consistent drive and it was clear to anyone who would have happened to look in the direction of the ‘Laputa’ that this ship was already as good as dead.

The black clad figure stood on the outer surface of the ship, in line with what would have been the largest loading bay if it had still been intact, and just gazed out longingly at the emptiness of the universe and the few far off stars that were visible.

For the so very many years that Death had travelled all existence, carrying out the ultimate task of reaping the life from every being there had ever been, she’d never ever considered what beauty there was all around her. She clasped tightly to the shaft of the implement that had gone with her all of these years she’d travelled, her skeletal fingers creaking more than the scythe despite the lack of atmosphere. Over the ages, she’d used so very many different versions of this tool to claim the lives of everything she’d come across. Guns of all manner of design, all possible kind of bladed weapon and even as far as constructs of other living creatures to fit within a given food chain, but at this point she felt, and didn’t really understand why, that the scythe, the classic implement, was the way to go.

She was brought crashing from the considerations of her mind when the ship lurched under her feet.

Peering over the ruined edge of the blast crater that had been the loading bay, she saw what she had been drawn here for.

The tiniest flare of fire blossomed deep within the ship, behind one of the many sealed emergency doors which had slammed shut when the original accident had taken place, but even that barest push had been enough. Decades of exposure to space had taken its toll on the ‘Laputa’ and that gentle nudge had been enough to blow out the pressure seal of the door and expel what small volume of trapped gases there had been behind.

That in turn had been enough to dislodge some mangled debris and send it floating free of the ship along with a handful of other crates and boxes, and crucially, the very last functioning cryo-chamber on the ship, containing the very last human in the universe.

Death strode out into the nothing as if walking on a smooth, rigid surface and made her way to intercept the chamber.

She began wondering about the details of what she was going to do and let her mind wander around the specifics. ‘Why was she here now?’ ‘The chamber was leaving the hulk behind as it floated free but there was nothing about her that was likely to destroy it, and therefore the creature inside so it was odd she’d been drawn here’. ‘Pre-emptive strike?’

She arrived next to the chamber and just stared at it trying to work it out but didn’t have to wait long. One of the other crates from the ship was nudged ever so slightly from the cloud of debris and just grazed the chamber before heading off on its own way to oblivion. That graze had been enough to hit just the right pads on the chamber and Death could see the outcome clearly.

First there had been a flash of golden light and then an expulsion of gases and finally, the chamber cracked in half as it opened.

Onboard any ship, when this process had taken place, there had been an atmosphere surrounding the contents of the chamber as it was released. Out here now, there was nothing so the result was going to be clear.

The man inside wasn’t even conscious.

It had been a miracle that life had remained for so long despite all of the horrors which had befallen the others on the ship. A miracle that the power had remained for this long. A miracle that the chamber hadn’t been destroyed before now. A miracle that the ship was just floating derelict with this one survivor for all these years.

But time had run out for this poor man.

Death reverted to her role.

With a mighty backswing, although not strictly required, she felt this lonely person deserved the full treatment from her, she whipped her scythe through him from head to toe, traversing a path directly through all of his body. The stroke left no physical clues as to its passing, it never did, but as Death held up the blade to inspect it, glinting within, producing a light source of its own, was the very life energy of the man. But he wasn’t alone. There was also the bacteria which had been in his gut, what looked like some kind of fungus and something she could only assume was some kind of virus. Add to that some other things that she’d never really taken the time to understand and it was clear that all of the life that had been within the cryo-chamber was now gone.

The man just looked the same. He was still sleeping.

Stopping her momentum, she just stood in the emptiness and watched the open chamber drift away from her.

“I wonder if I should just follow him as he falls through space?” she spoke aloud.

“That won’t be necessary,” said a deep male voice from behind her.

It’s fair to say that Death hadn’t been expecting a response so she felt her reply of screeching a dry cry and whirling with the scythe towards the voice was perfectly justified.

The owner of the voice didn’t react in the slightest as the mighty blade slashed through him. Not past him, through him in the same way that it had for the man in the chamber. This time, though, there was no further movement and no light was taken from the person to build within the blade. If Death had had features she would have been frowning. No-one had ever been immune to the power of her scythe.

She quickly re-gathered her composure, but still held herself ready for the unexpected.

The other figure was robed in exactly the same way as she was and carried with him, a scythe just like hers, though she could see clearly that the blade on the scythe was pristine to the point of having never been used.

He nodded slowly in what could have been a greeting before speaking.

“I give you my most humble salutation, Death. I have waited so very long to meet you.”

“And you are?” Death didn’t stand on ceremony at the best of times so having someone jump out on her wasn’t going to change her way of doing something.

“I am Death,” said the hooded man and gripped the wooden shaft of his scythe with a skeletal hand that, despite being the same as hers, made her feel slightly on edge.

“You can’t be Death, I am. I am, and always have been, the reaper of the life of all things in this universe. So who are you really?”

“If you are Death, my lady, then I am Death, too.”

His voice was hypnotic and despite the confusion that his presence was causing, she was feeling more comfortable with each second.

There was a second Death.

“And you’re here to help me in my task of taking the lives?”

Death too took a stride closer to Death before answering.

“No, my lady.”

“So you do the same but we’ve never met before? I find that hard to believe.”

“We do indeed do the same thing, my lady and it is indeed true that we have never met before.” Again his voice was just so calming.

Death considered this.

“So were you meant to reap that man and all of the other life in him? Did I beat you to it?”

“Oh no, my lady. The task of claiming the contents of that, container,” he beckoned to the cryo-chamber as it continued away from them. “You were always meant to be here to claim that which you did.”

“OK,” said Death and felt confused.

“So are you supposed to be claiming more life from the ship? Is there other life you have to reap?”

“No the ship is quite devoid of anything resembling life. I am here for you, my lady.”

“You’re here for me? What does that mean? You said that you weren’t here to help me?” This was ridiculous.

Death too dropped back his hood to reveal the same skull head as Death but this time, Death felt terror coming from that bone visage. Death too was causing her to feel terror.

“If you’re not here to help me, are you replacing me? Do I get to put my burden down after all these years?”

Death too dropped his head very slightly, as if looking at the ground that wasn’t beneath their feet.

“No, my lady,” he began while still looking down. “You have completed the work you had been charged with.”

Death didn’t understand.

“With the action of claiming the contents of that chamber, you have reaped the final examples of any form of life in the universe. There is now nothing left that is alive, so there will never be anything that dies. As such, Death is no longer needed in this universe, so I am here to claim the life that is you.”

Death swung the scythe again, and again it passed harmlessly through the robes of Death too, having no more effect than if it had been passing through a cloud of smoke. Death too remained still as Death swiped again and again, each time hoping for a different reaction.

Eventually, Death stopped swinging. Breathlessly, despite the utter lack of so many of the things needed to breathe, she spoke.

“I am Death. I cannot die. I am eternal through all of the ages that are and shall be. What makes you think that I will allow you to try to claim me?”

Death too raised his gaze from the floor and fixed it on Death.

“Firstly my lady, if you have nothing more to reap as all life is gone, what are you for? What should you do now?” Death listened on, preparing to respond. “Secondly, how can you feel such fear from simply being gazed upon by me? You are eternal and unending yet you grip to the fear of what your own death would represent in the same way as some of the creatures you have claimed. Death should elicit no fear in those who cannot die.” Death didn’t like the soothing tone anymore. “But thirdly, it is what I am here to do.”

They both stopped at those words.

“Since you existed,” Death too continued, “have you ever known a time before doing what you do now? Have you a memory of a time before you were Death?”

Silence in response.

“Can you recall when it was that you were asked to complete the task of Death? Did you take up the reaping because you saw it as virtuous or needed?”

Death opened her skinless, lipless mouth to answer but no words came. She couldn’t.

“In the same way that you’ve always been, always followed the same path, as have I. I ‘know’ that my task is to claim Death as that is all I’ve known since the very beginning of me. If you’ve continued with your work for as long as you have because you knew you had to, doesn’t that mean that I have the same level of conviction to my ‘known’?”

Death stepped back but wasn’t feeling like giving up just yet.

“But if I had such conviction to complete what I have to, why would I just drop my guard to anyone. You’re not the first person who said they were going to end Death you know?”

Death too seemed to smile.

“But I am the first to say that, not only with the power to do it but also the knowledge of life, or indeed the lack thereof, in the universe. You’re finished. Your life’s work is complete. With the action behind you,” he gestured again at the man in the cryo-chamber, “you have reaped the final life anywhere, thereby making your role in the tapestry of existence, superfluous.”

Death considered his words and attempted to construct a response but there was nothing to say.

Until.

“But life could reappear, couldn’t it?” She stood taller and made an unconscious step forwards, almost as a challenge. “I can feel the absence of life, likely in the same way you can, but I also recognise the fact that abiogenesis could happen at any time. Life springing from non-life has happened before, you know that, so why wouldn’t it happen again? And if it could, surely there would still be the need for Death to oversee the growth of that life?” She felt triumphant and could hold close to her chest the relative certainty that she’d undone all of the twine Death too had been wrapping around her.

In response to the clear defeat, Death too just maintained a fixed focus on her, looking into her eyes and driving a fear into her that she’d been doing her best to push aside but that resisted every effort.

As he spoke, his voice sounded sad.

“It may indeed. Life is an agile quarry and as such it’s one that we’ve all got to be vigilant for, but without life in the universe, you represent an imbalance between the forces of life and death. It still holds that if there is nothing which is alive, how can there be a need for Death? Until a time that there is life, Death is nothing more than an empty threat. Could you reap a star? Would you appear to claim the life force of a rock? Could our scythe claim the life of space?”

He looked back at where the floor should have been.

Death ground her teeth as she did her best to build a response but no matter what she tried, there wasn’t one. She’d thought that she’d be able to see a way out but she just couldn’t.

Now her voice was sad.

“So death is gone from the universe, reaped by you,” she sighed with a resolution. “So, to me, there are two questions that come from that. If I’m gone and life returns to the universe, who will reap that life? The other is, if you claim me, doesn’t that mean that you then have no purpose? Wouldn’t that mean that you would need to be reaped, and then so on for eternity?”

Death too stood still and, deep within the nothingness that was the farthest reaches of deep space from anywhere, seemed to consider the questions. There wasn’t the ready response which had been in place for the other questions, instead, he just considered the words.

After a silence which lasted for an age, he responded.

“Do you recognise the passage of time?”

Well that made no sense.

Death, again despite the lack of a mobile face, frowned.

Death too continued.

“Do you comprehend the grip that time has on all things? I ask because the time we’ve spent here discussing this point has been slightly more than it would have appeared had we been just linear beings.”

Death snorted but looked around her and only now noticed that the ‘Laputa’ was gone from behind Death too. Looking around quickly she could make out a very different star field surrounding her and there was no sign at all of any proof that the ship had ever been near her. Death too noticed the apparent confusion.

“We are beings that are controlled by the nature of the passing of time, are we not? Indeed, it could be argued that we are the very servants of time, tolling the bell that signals the end for all life, but without that life, as you can see,” he didn’t move but his voice just drew her eye-line around the darkness, “we are cut loose of the effects of the universe, with no way to anchor ourselves. Ultimately, the reaping becomes a mercy to the creature who would be lost to the whims of time itself.”

Death examined the stars around her and panic enveloped her. She could see that there had been millions of years pass by as the two of them had spoken. Stars had been born and others had died, all within the scope of a conversation. Was he telling the truth? She had reaped the final life but would that mean that she too, needed to die?

Death too continued.

“Death is a response to the arrival of life and as such is a creation that comes from the universe itself. With no life to control, there is no need for Death. Should Life appear, so too will Death. The universe will create the balance as it always has and should Life appear, our position will be fulfilled but without life, there needs to be a ‘without Death’.”

Death released her grip on the wooden shaft of her scythe and, rather than falling to the same floor she and Death too were standing on, it instead drifted away from them and into the darkness of the void.

Death too walked closer to Death until they were skeletal face to skeletal face, and took her in an embrace which gave a feeling of utter calm and warmth.

“My lady. I have existed only since you took the final life in the universe. Before that moment, you were all that there was but the universe has created that need for balance. The universe needs there to be equilibrium in all things. In a universe with no life but only Death, life will never appear. Life could never overcome the force that is Death so I am the need of the universe to restore that balance.

Death hugged in closer and there was an oddly comforting warmth coming from Death too. The embrace that they were both enfolded within wasn’t one of darkness and fear. It was of a welcoming release that made it clear that there was nothing left to do.

“My lady,” Death too spoke in hushed whispers, just above her head. “I am here to maintain the balance but that means that I have to reap both of us. I came to be for that singular purpose, nothing more. I need to bring a balance to what the universe is.”

He lifted her face to his and, in those unmoving and cold features, conveyed more love and understanding than Death had ever seen in all of time.

“I just wish I could have seen beyond just this one life of yours. You must have seen so very much more. Until the next time my lady.”

When his scythe swung, there was no hint of missing. Instead the life of those two creatures vanished and there was no trace of them left for anyone to find. Death had left the universe.

And on some far off planet, amino acids lined up in just the correct way to welcome life again.

And far off in the emptiness of the void, a newly formed skeletal hand reached out for the shaft of a falling scythe.

DARKNESS

The dark is a scary thing.

The dark is the thing that shrouds all of the nasty things as they go about their nefarious business. The dark is what makes it easier for bad people to do bad things. The dark stops us being able to see what’s in front of us and will actively spread fear wherever it goes.

That’s why people are scared of the dark.

But that’s the dark that’s on the outside.

What about the dark that lives in the heads and hearts of each and every one of us?

You see, external darkness is an absence of light. It’s that thing that remains when you take the light away and it’s that thing that becomes threatening due to it’s consistency of absence. It prevents us being able to see all of the details and can hide all manner of possibilities that could be coming to get you. It appears on walls as shadows and they can, in turn, appear to be climbing out to greet you. Despite it being a non-thing, an absence, the dark is a scary thing indeed.

So imagining that something as hideous as the dark could have found its way into us, past all of our defences to breach the walls of our minds, is truly the stuff of nightmares.

Now it’s not the absence of light I’m talking about but rather the shadows which swell in our minds eye. Those that can have such a powerful effect on how we see the world around us without seeming to even be trying. The darkness is what creates the contrast to the light. We have all the good things but without the bad, how do we recognise them?

Our own internal darkness is arguably the worst kind of monster we can all face. That darkness seeps out at the worst possible moments and can cast an extremely long shadow over everything with just the tiniest effort, over-running your mind.

I’m thinking about the characters I’m working with in the various books and short stories and how to explore the different shapes of darkness they all hide. I don’t just want all the people in the stories I write to be really happy all of the time, bounding into the fray with a cavalier smile and righteous fervour to keep them going. I want them to have an internal struggle of some kind, worries that won’t go away and disagreements with others. The external conflict is great but by making them have to fight themselves in some way, to doubt and to question, it’s yet another way that I can make the tale more engaging. We know the pain ourselves of being trapped by the darkness inside us so seeing it happen to the characters can create another bridge.

We all fight our darkness. Day in, day out we do all we can to keep the monster at bay as it does it’s best to overwhelm us. Some days we shine out brightly and there’s nothing the darkness can do but on others, despite everything we try, the hulking shadow smashes us down and we’re powerless to resist, destroyed by that part of ourselves.

My characters have their own darkness to fight and they fight every day.

And so do I.

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.