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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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.

NEW YEAR, NEW ………………..

What does 2018 have in store for us?

No-one knows for sure but we all have a super power in this regard. Buried inside all of us is a power which holds the possibility of moulding and shaping the world to our desires.

We don’t have to be bitten by a radioactive anything or be hit by a weird space ray to bring this power to the surface but it can often take some kind of external stimulus.

2017 was nuggets of good forced to orbit a brutal black core of despair but the new year has allowed me to take stock and recognise that my super power was being brought to the surface.

I see in myself, both the need but also the power, to shape my reality in the way I want. I’m going to grip this year and make changes so I can get to where I need to be. I’m still feeling the pain of 2017 and I’m sure that the after taste of what happened will last a great many years but I’m going to start punching back.

The world is coming for all of us in one way or another and the fact that the fight approaches is something none of us can avoid. What we can do though, is make sure that we reach into our own reservoir of superpower, draw together our defences and just meet the onslaught head on.

Let’s all become our very own superheroes in 2018 and become the fully active force that our lives deserve. It’s never a time to take a backward step so let’s all do all we can to be as good as we can be and never let the monster of life beat us down.

Onwards one and all.

FAME

Do you want to be famous?

It seems to be ‘the’ thing that everyone wants at the moment.

There have been studies done which show that the previous desires of astronaut and the like have been replaced with the hope of attaining fame.

It’s not that people didn’t want to be famous back in the day, rather they wanted to be a footballer or an actor first and the fame that came along was just something that was part and parcel of the original situation.

But the world is changed.

Now, rather than fame being a by-product of the hoped for role, it has moved ahead and has become the target. The desire seems to have morphed to become famous and then find a way to maintain it, doing anything and everything possible.

Now the reason I began thinking about fame came as I reviewed my position as an author.

When I started on my writing journey, all I ever had in mind was getting the story finished and releasing it into the world. I didn’t even consider what would happen after I had the book published and the idea of becoming famous never crossed my mind.

Not that I’m famous now, but my name is on something for sale on Amazon.

So does that mean that fame is something which only happens after a certain amount of name recognition? Will I have to have sold a particular number of books to be classed as famous? Have a set number of page likes on Facebook? (By the way, if you haven’t liked the page already, you’re missing out on all kinds of fun).

If I walk down the street and am recognised by people as the author of The Circle series, does that mean that fame is mine? Granted, author would never really be considered as the fast track to fame but you never know.

Fame is something that is so very odd. The desire to be recognised, to have people know who you are. To lay it out like that, it seems a pretty peculiar thing to be striving for as the main goal. Fame is a by product of doing something else, something which brings the attention to you rather than just having the attention and going from there. Could it just mean that there is a greater desire for people to feel that they’re surrounded by others who are interested in what they say or do?

Whatever the reasons, fame is something that has the chance to elevate or destroy and will always be something which comes along with an ever changing list of professions and situations. I don’t ever spend swathes of time thinking about fame. I just want to write books and go from there.

GOOD GUY/BAD GUY

Have you seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog?

I’m not going to dive into the pro’s and cons of the musical here, rather I’ve been thinking about the good guy/bad guy dichotomy.

In the musical, Dr. Horrible is the focus of the story as he goes about his life, trying to gain entry into a very prestigious group despite the actions of someone who seems to be out to just thwart all he does. Add to this his attempts to woo the beautiful woman, and all of a sudden, you’ve found yourself in any number of stories which have done the rounds before.

The difference now though is Dr. Horrible is actually a super villain.

His struggles against his nemesis, Captain Hammer, are familiar super hero / super villain fare but this time we’re looking from the other side of the equation. Our antagonist isn’t the one trying to protect the city, it’s the one trying to destroy it.

It’s easy to see the villain in whatever we read or watch as being just ‘the bad guy’ who has to be overcome, but what if there’s more to the choices that are being made?

Each and every one of us is the result of all of the choices we’ve made in life so why shouldn’t everyone else be?

When you meet people in the real world, we all make decisions about what we see and those people make the same choices when they meet us. The question then comes, if we have negative feelings and opinions about someone, and they fit into the a bracket of becoming a fay to day ‘bad guy’, isn’t it possible that they have the same thoughts about us?

In the film Falling Down, Michael Douglas is the focus of the story and we get to see the tortured thoughts he’s been experiencing, yet if the focus had been on Robert Duvall, Michael Douglas easily becomes the almost pantomime villain.

Everyone is the hero in their own story but that will also mean that everyone also has the chance to be the villain in someone else’s.

Thinking that someone is just the one dimensional monster is simple. It let’s us see them as nothing more than the problem, a crisis causer that’s out to do anything and everything they can to cause issues. What has to happen, is to look wider, to look deeper at what’s taking place. The moustache twirling villain has it’s place but making sure to consider that everyone has their own story taking place at the same time as yours can only help all of us tick along.

Besides, many layered characters just make things more fun!

THE TRAIN

You ever notice that humans are always trying to understand the nature of time and how we interact with it?

So far, the consensus is that time is a river that flows and moves along in a single direction, dragging everything along with it and no matter what we do we all just travel along from the moment we’re born until we sink below the waves at the time of our death.

Now over the weekend I was lucky enough to have a table at London Film and Comic Con in Olympia and I had a great time but I had a little thought about the nature of how we can view the nature of our lives and what they then mean to the rest of us.

We all exist on the carriages of a train as it heads along it’s particular line. We board the train at our given station as we’re born, the train having already been rumbling along happily before you even appeared. There may be people you see leaving the train as you join but that will be all of the experience you have of them. They disembark the train of life and as in the real world, vanish from our experience. In the real world they may be off to work, to a party, to almost anything, but every stop of the train of life just means people are leaving life behind.

As the train pulls off, we begin our journey and head into life.

We’re surrounded by other people all heading in the same direction, going about their own lives. Occasionally you may talk to people as you carry on your travels but the vast majority just remain faces in the crowd.

Stops come and go and people board and leave at every station, the train of life just going onwards to its ultimate destination until we make it to our stop.

We know when we’re approaching the stop and as on the trains in the real world, we have a choice of waiting for the train to stop before we get ourselves together and make our way to the platform or we could already be waiting at the door for the train to finally come to rest so we could hop off quickly. Either way, when our feet hit the platform and we start to move away, anyone boarding is just a blur. Our time on the train is done and we’re off to what’s next but for everyone still on the train, we’re just a memory. So very many wouldn’t have even recognised that we’d even been on the train at all but off it goes and we’re just a memory.

When I had this feeling I was on the tube and it made me consider the multitude of  possibilities for the lives of everyone around me and how all that experience is all around us all of the time but also that, even after we’ve left the train of life, it’ll continue on it’s way oblivious to the fact that we were there.

These thoughts made me feel connected to everyone in the world as we all do exactly the same thing on the train of life. Every single one of us on the planet will board the same train and travel towards their destination. They see the world as the train travels along and know that at some point they’ll reach their final destination. We’re all doing the same thing so we all have the same foundations to who we are.

The human race is a great thing and there are so many stories that can be shared. Maybe we just need to try and enjoy the journey a little more before we finally get to our stop.

FROM THE ASHES

I’m not going to talk about cricket.

Rather, I’m reflecting on the fact that even when everything in life falls to pieces, it doesn’t mean that everything is lost, never to be seen again.

I’ve been dealing with stuff this year which has been a kick in the balls to say the very least and you know what, it’s had an effect on what I’ve been able to achieve. I’ve tried to keep my mind going, to keep coming up with ideas that I can use in the latest novel or for a short story and to keep writing, but for at least the past four months, I’ve had nothing.

Every time I considered the idea of working on the latest book, every time I tried to work out some ideas for another short story collection, I just couldn’t.

Now I’ve spoken about the feeling of writers block before but this time it was so much worse. It wasn’t the sensation of not being able to come up with anything, that I could have dealt with. This time, I was struck by a mental fog which didn’t just shackle my creative process, it wrapped itself around every inch of my motivation and leeched out all of the colours. That fog was less putting up a wall around the ideas, imprisoning them behind stone to keep them from the page, as it was just stripping them apart in a demented dance of brutality that tortured and ultimately unmade them.

All I’ve been left with has been the hollow of nothingness where the ideas and the desire to write once were. That greyness. That void.

But yesterday, something shifted.

Rather than the brute force I’d tried throwing at the problem, all of a sudden, the way cleared itself, at least partially. Rather than there just being a blank space in my head where I usually kept all of my mental prompts for writing, the prompts were coming back. I’ve had a few ideas for stories which I’ve been working on and I’m almost finished with my first short story in a while. Roughly speaking, I’ve started a small counter offensive against the nothingness and the first skirmish has almost been won.

The Phoenix as a metaphor is there to show that no matter the destruction around us, we can all climb back out of the depths of despair. It’s a good story but when you’re in the void it can be tough to keep hold of the thought of escape. It was certainly tough for me.

But my stories have begun to come back. I spent the evening celebrating my mum’s birthday and collectively as a family, we’re trying to clamber out of the pit. Tonight was a good night despite the empty chair at the table but from the ashes ……………

Watch this space.