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.

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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’.

REACH OUT

Just how many of us are trying to get our voices heard?

Every day at work, at school, at home and at everywhere else in between, we all want our voice to be heard.

We want to know that what we say is seen as having value. We need to have that feeling of validation. That our ideas, and by extension, us in general are viewed as having worth.

So why do we all need to be clamoring to be heard?

As the world we live in changes and our interconnectedness as a species evolves with the addition of each new way we can share what we’re up to, there comes with it the new horror. If it’s so simple to connect with anyone and everyone, if any talentless wannabe with a webcam and a silly idea can become the greatest sensation the world has ever seen (at least for a minute), how could any of us struggle to be listened to?

The speed that communication works can make us all feel that the torrent of words is washing us away as we do everything to stay afloat. We need to know that our ideas have been noticed as they’re cast into the rushing waters, that someone out there just happened to be looking in just the right place at just the right time and agreed with us. When we see the ‘likes’ flashing up, it goes far beyond just being a fix to an addict, it can become the lifeline to a drowning man. In that instant when the thumbs up or orange dot appear, just for that second, we can know that somewhere out in the darkness that there was someone who didn’t think we were talking nonsense.

But this brings up another issue.

What if just being noticed is the goal and agreement with anyone is irrelevant?

Why do we see so many examples of people putting forward awful ideas just to provoke a reaction? The negative game of just trying to draw as many people as possible just to pay attention to what you say by being as vile or provocative as you can is a tactic readily used to shine a light on a given topic and all of the anger and blazing outpouring of righteous indignation play directly into the plan. So many people then start talking about all of the terrible things said and all of a sudden, the narrative is spread wider than with just a comment about something ‘positive’.

I have this great fire in me that wants to reach out to others. I can recognise that the world is a place where you can be left to feel as if you’re drifting alone and I’d love to reach out a hand to any and all who need it.

 

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.

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

COMPETITION WINNER

And the winner is ………………..

 

Following on from last week’s competition to win the chance to name my up coming anthology of short stories I’ve been able to whittle all the entries down to the best overall.

A huge thank you has to go to everyone who added something to the list of possibilities helping me find the correct title. An honourable mention has to go to one particular idea which just made me smile. Although not the winning entry, ‘The Good, The Bad and The Elgie’ surely should be a book title.

 

So finally, I give you the winning suggestion and the title of my up coming collection of short stores.

“Tall Tales for Dark Nights.”

A late entry but overall I think it fits the bill perfectly. I’ve also now got a perfect title for another book thanks to the pool of suggestions.

Thank you all for the help. There have been some amazing ideas which are so much more interesting than what I’d been kicking about.

Watch this space for more information on the release.

 

 

LOSS

We all deal with loss in very different ways and we can regularly see loss being given centre stage when constructing a characters driving forces to get things done.

Loss is something that we all go through and have to work our way through be it the death of a family member, the loss of a job, a relationship even an object. What is a minor concern for one person could be a debilitating and crushing experience for another and this gives us a problem.

As a naturally social species, we function so much better as a part of a collective all working together so a shared empathy to pain is vital but not all pain is viewed the same.

When I was younger, I injured my ankle playing rugby and was finding it hard to put any weight on that leg because of the agony. The general consensus was that I needed to get back on the field and at least see the final few seconds of the match out. Happily the clock ran down before I could be returned to the action but for the following week, my complaints of pain were written off as being just an ache and I was told to run it off during the next match. I lasted two minutes because I couldn’t walk let alone run. I was explaining what was happening to me yet other people couldn’t recognise the pain I was in.

Imagining physical pain is one thing but trying to understand the anguish of mental illness is a step even further. There’s still enormous stigma attached to an admission of mental illness because so often, people are unable to understand what those people affected are going through. I’m sure people think that they’re trying to help but ‘just try and cheer up,’ may not be the perfect cure for depression of all flavours. Those who are giving the advice to cheer up get put out because they think the other person isn’t listening or it’s all in their head and the sufferer is made to feel that it’s them that’s at fault, “Other people have it worse than you.”

When I write characters, I enjoy adding in an element of would be negative life experience. That pain can show that these people aren’t always going to be the perfect hero and that can make them all the more relatable to the reader. The problems come from having to always try to find a loss that the readers will believe. The loss of a family member is the classic that we can all picture for ourselves. We see that sensation of hollowness that comes with someone’s death and can relate it to our own lives but other painful experiences may not have the same effect.

We all need to accept that the human race is a complicated thing and we all handle different situations differently. Public speaking can cripple some to inaction while others take to it like a duck to water. We just need to always be thoughtful when dealing with other people’s pain at any loss.

I was cut in two last week when our cat Baggins, died. We’d had him eleven years and he was a major part of our family. When I explained to people why I wasn’t my usual self at work, some were understanding but others looked at me with the classic “Is that all?” expression on their faces.

Loss affects us all at some point so we all have to look after those of us feeling it’s touch.