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.

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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?

 

CONNECTIONS

The human experience is one that seems to be defined by so very many different ideals. Money, beliefs, family and community to name a few. But when you review these things and try to come to a conclusion of the worth of a single life, they all land squarely on the shoulders of others.

We can chose what we do with our lives, we can decide to turn left or to turn right, to have the extra scoop of ice cream or not but when all of those things are collected together, it falls to others to make the overall assessment of a life’s worth.

I was told a story from the bible years ago which the person talking used to highlight a question. The story was longer than this but this was the bit that got the questioning running.

‘Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.…’

Lived for two hundred and five years (!) and all that’s worth noting is that he died in Haran.

Now I understand that there’s more to the story than just that and Terah did do more than that but it does seem a little dismissive that there was nothing more of note to point out. From the time of moving to a location to the time of death is lost. It’s been said before that life is the line between the dates on a headstone but shouldn’t we all be looking to live a life that won’t fit into that tiny space?

I don’t want my life to be scorching through the history books for all of humanity to see but I also don’t want to just be lost to the mists of obscurity.

So how do we go about being remembered?

Now I think I need to point out that I’m not talking about fame or indeed infamy at this point. As a writer, I’d love for my books to stand the test of time and to be read long after I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil but I imagine the individuals reading my work rather than faceless swathes of people on sales sheets. Granted I’d love the money that JK Rowling has but I’m not fussed on being the internationally recognisable figure she is. I really enjoy that connection I have with those people who’ve read my stuff and have had a chat with me about it. Of course, I’d love to be successful as an author and I’d love to be able to continue to tell all the stories that possibly go running through my head but my overall legacy, as it were, is going to come down to how others see me.

All in all, I think we all have the same need to be thought well of and then remembered. Maybe all we really need to do is just make sure that the world is a better place for having had us in it. I think when we drill all the way down to the real core of the point, we just want to know that our little entry into the wildly varied writings of human history will be enough to mean that people will consider us worthy of at least a little comment.

DO CLOTHES MAKETH THE MAN?

This weekend just gone saw us head off to the Sci-Fi Weekender in North Wales. Jo won the tickets and after having last year off, we headed to the convention looking forward to all things sci-fi.

We didn’t go last year after the event shared the space with a prog. rock gathering and the amount of things going on that we were interested in became watered down a bit but this year was back to the full compliment so it was easy to make the choice to return. The addition this year though, I had a table in the trader zone.

All in all, this was the best convention I’ve been to in a while.

I didn’t get the chance to see as much as I would normally have done at this event, being at my table all day, but I did get the chance to speak with a huge number of people. All in all, I was able to chew the fat about all kinds of things and spread the word of my books with loads of people who had a shared enjoyment of the same kinds of things I enjoy. The mood of the event was wonderfully inclusive and the traders around me all said that they had a blast.

Now the crux of what I want to talk about this week is connected to the event but more about the trading side of things.

When I attend these events as a trader, I dress in a very specific way. If you happen to drop by my table at an event you’ll most likely find me wearing a tweed waistcoat and jacket, adorned by my pocket watch with my dragon headed cane at my side. I have a specific pair of jeans that I wear and I’ve recently purchased a new pair of boots to go with the rest of the ensemble.

When I ready myself for an event, I’m all about the visualisation of actually being in the thick of things and speaking with everyone about anything and everything, and I find that donning the ‘uniform’ of my author persona helps me overcome any nerves I may be feeling and surround myself with the mindset and attitude I need to be able to go out and do the business.

Clothes can play a vital part in how we perceive ourselves and others. We make decisions based on what people present to the world. How someone is dressed can affect the way they walk, the way they stand and therefore, the way that they are seen by everyone else. When I dress as ‘The Author’ I do find myself feeling very different. I become more able to channel all the energies in the correct way and, you know what?, dressing well in smart clothing makes me feel more confident. I stand a little taller (I’m already over six feet tall) and almost become someone else.

We all wear different clothes depending on the situation we’re going to be dealing with.

We go to work in specific clothes that fit the role we’re going to be paying that day. On a daily basis I live in jeans and a polo shirt, safety work boots and a hi-viz jacket. These things have an effect on me as well. I take on a different set of qualities when I go to work wearing the ‘uniform’ of my usual day to day. I feel the difference on my face although whether that difference is clear for all to see is still yet to be seen.

If we play a sport. If we don’t. If we work in office. If we don’t. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, we all know that dressing in a certain way comes as standard for all of the various things we do and that we can feel the power that comes with the addition of certain clothing as an almost tangible force running along our skin.

Could this be why cosplaying is such a popular activity?

We have the chance to become someone else – totally. By dressing as a character from a show, film or game, we suddenly find ourselves able to take on characteristics of said character and a once timid person can become the super confident Wolverine, any fear of wearing just a vest over a potentially less than Wolverine physique banished, because they’ve got the claws to do some damage.

Fans of sports teams don the shirts of their beloved sides and the closeness of that group bond is there for all to see. Businesses of all kinds have their staff wearing a set uniform to show that they all belong to the same group, all working for the shared goal. These things have an effect on everyone on both sides of the equation, changing how people behave in the clothes but also how people behave towards the clothes. I try to make sure that I include the garb of the characters as a vital part of who they are. Different people wear different things and these uniforms can be a touchstone for a reader when deciding what they should be feeling about people in any given situation.

Just another example of how the way we think is potentially twisted or nudged depending on certain details. It’s all extra flavouring for any story we tell so we have to be sure to always get those details right.

Yet another thing to keep in mind.

 

EXTRAS

I suspect that I’m not the first person to experience this but when I started writing, there was never even the slightest thought about the reality of what would have to happen after.

You know what happens when you try to spread the word about a book?

Loads is what.

I was never that up on the delights of social media before I started working on the book. My wife is much more adept with all things of that kind. She’d been active on Facebook and Twitter for years and add to that her amazing ability to talk to anyone and everyone and she is very much at home in the world of social media.

I am not quite so comfortable.

I love to see what my friends and family are up to and connecting with like minded individuals is something which can never be underestimated but maintaining the push of advertising of my work is a huge chunk of what needs to go into this being an author malarkey.

I had a few goes before the blog settled into some kind of routine, my writing schedule can best be described as up and down and the need to go to events and spread the word is always eating into the time available to be creative. Add to this Instagram, Goodreads, trying to create a website and everything else that you need to keep on the boil, and pretty soon, there’s seemingly no time left for anything else at all.

Maybe I would have gone about things differently if I’d actually thought about the realities of what was going to be required but I just wanted to write the book and get it out there. The thought that I’d be out hawking the book didn’t enter my mind because it was always about just the story. The only thing I can kind of cling to is that that shows I wasn’t solely motivated by being published, rather it was the story which was the focus with the wider thoughts not coming until later.

This weekend coming we’ll be in North Wales at this years Sci-Fi Weekender and I can’t wait. I love this convention and the chance to meet up with friends and have a blast is one that just can’t be overlooked. We’ve been attending the convention since it started in 2010 but this will be the first time I will have attended as more than just another member of the public. I have a table and I’ll be doing my very best to entice people to explore the land of Dragons I’m creating. This will be the first time I will have attended a residential event as a vendor where I’ve previously been a member of the public. I can remember going to talks on writing at the first event and thought it would be amazing to one day find myself at an event as more than just a ‘punter’ but again, what that would actually entail didn’t even cross my mind.

So everyone out there reading these words. Remember that there is always so very much more going on than we first give credit. To get to the best results always seems to mean spreading that net of experience just that little bit wider than first thought.

By the way.

Have you bought my books yet?

The Circle of Fire

The Circle of Duty

Tall Tales for Dark Nights

ART +

Last week I wrote about the importance of the many forms art can take and how one form can never be held higher than another in terms of being a medium to convey meaning between artist and the rest of us.

This week though, I fancied discussing the way different art forms can collide.

‘You can’t judge a book by it’s cover’.

We know the comment and it’s something we have to be aware of in life. We have to be able to maintain a mindset to look beyond the surface and see what may be beneath.Stopping at the top as being all there is is a path to greater disappointment. That’s an important point when actually considering books. An amazing flashy cover won’t be the be all and end all of a book. It’ll certainly help but when the reader then scratches away at that surface, you have to make sure they find more than just more surface.

But.

Now way back when, books just had a blank cover or maybe just the title. There wasn’t the availability of cover design and the need for marketing in the same way as we see today. But times change and today we see more and more choice flooding over us as the number of authors grows and their work is fighting for the attention of all of the readers out there.

And now we see a new step. Now we see the books go from merely having an interesting cover design to that design being more a piece of artwork to be marvelled at. Gone are the days where a bland, featureless cover was sufficient. Today we’re moving from the cover design being there to be the lure to attract readers and towards the book transcending its own art form.

As well as being the domain of the written word, now there are books where they’ve become pieces of art to be looked upon and enjoyed. Not only do they draw people in but now they demand pride of place on so much more than any old bookshelf.  These mighty artworks are recognising the delight that they can bring even without the pages being turned.

Bolder artwork on more than just the front or back cover can be further advanced by daring sculpture where contours and texture add to what is being presented as the receptacle of the word.

The evolution of how we enjoy books has meant that we don’t have to be satisfied with the words and nothing more. Who knows where we’re likely to move forward onto as the way we enjoy books grows? Sound effects?

BITS AND PIECES

What’s your favourite book? Which story has the best characters that you’ve ever seen?

Making sure that all of the people involved are at least believable as active members of the world they inhabit is a big must for any writer and should you fail at that task, the compelling storyline you have in mind is very quickly ruined.

I’ve been watching some TV recently and there’s been a specific example of characterisation that I’ve really enjoyed as it’s made me think. Whereas yesterday is today’s back story, so is today the back story of tomorrow.

How many times have you read or watched as a character you know and love does something that, although relevant to the story of now, goes totally at odds with every choice they may have been making in their previous history?

A character in an ensemble show which has been going for years will build up all manner of life that they will be required to carry around with them as each new series arrives but it’s just too easy to forget that these things took place if the latest storyline is just begging to have something else take place.

All of the characters in my ‘Circle’ books have been in that world all of their lives so every time I deal with any of them, I have to always remember that they have personalities that I have to remain honest to. As I write this piece, I can happily report that I’ve been doing a block of prep work on a major character ready for book three in the series, ensuring that all of the foundations I need for them are clearly defined and accurate. I did the same for all the characters in the other books and I’ll no doubt continue to do the same with all the future work I do but the toughest to complete was that of The Elder.

The Elder is immortal. One of the major points that everyone has in the real world is that we’re not going to build up centuries of life experience to form and mould who we are but in fantasy literature, that block is removed. When I was writing The Elder it was always a struggle to create a link through her vast life that I could somehow plan the route she would have taken to bring her to where we find her. Someone who had that many lifetimes of experience would have grown in so many directions that it almost becomes too big a map to draw but within the framework of The Circle I was able to create some interesting character points to help build her personality.

Something that I always struggle with when tales turn to the behaviour and character of immortals is the way they interact with people around them. How can this single ancient being interact with their modern and mortal counterparts? Do you think you’d be able to have a conversation with someone who was over a thousand years old and find that you were readily able to hit it off? Throw in a love interest between say a sixteen year old schoolgirl and an immortal over a century old and quite quickly the water you’re sailing through has become rather murky to say the least.

In the real world, we’re all characters in our own stories.

Each and every day we add a fresh layer to the melting pot that is us and our story rolls on, that fresh layer nudging us ever so slightly as our character evolves. The person we are today may not be the person we are tomorrow as we become the sum of our experiences and each new day brings the chance for a crushing or blossoming of who we are. We just have to remember that the choices we make on any given day will always reflect the experiences so nothing can ever be overlooked when the pieces of us are assembled.

I