THE IN-CROWD

Are you a part of the in crowd?

Have you ever been?

It’s likely that at some point in all of our lives, regardless of environment or situation, we’ve found ourselves on the outside looking in. From school to college to work to family to hobbies, there will always be a time when you didn’t know the ‘cool’ joke, or understand the ‘cool’ saying. You may have found yourself overlooked. “We all thought someone else had invited you”, “We didn’t think it would be your thing”, or indeed you could be outright excluded.

Schools are terrifying places and can show a very clear picture of the very worst of human experiences. Cliques and groups are formed by shared interests but also by shared dislikes. And it’s from here the vines of bullying can take root.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been heading off to conventions all over the country with my banner and bag of books, doing my best to tell my tales, and I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of people attending these events would have received some form of derision for the hobbies and passions they have.

Whenever I admit to my obsession with science fiction and fantasy, of my love for both Star Wars and Star Trek, (gasp!!!) or speak animatedly about dragons and magic, very often I can see the other person kind of glazing over. Then comes the ‘Aren’t you a bit old for that?’ or any other of a hundred responses which question the sanity of me liking what I do. There are not many like me in any of the places I’ve worked and there’s always the sniggering from some at the thought that a man of my age would like such nonsense.

I’m very much outside of The In-Crowd’.

So when I witnessed someone being heckled and berated at a sci-fi con because they not only understood, but also enjoyed, sport, it made me wonder.

Conventions for TV shows, films, books or any genre idea should always be a welcoming place for the diverse fandoms which are out there. When I sat at my table at Em-Con Nottingham over the weekend, there were countless examples of cosplayed characters which I recognised but there were also countless that I didn’t. That didn’t matter. Everyone there knew that this was the place to let their geek flag fly ( including someone with an actual flag from the show Community – E Pluribus Anus).

But having one hobby that you’re passionate about doesn’t preclude you having another.

I’m also a massive rugby fan. I used to play (including getting representative honours for my county so I was pretty good) and I always do my best to find a TV to watch Wales play – which included at a sci-fi convention where I ended up watching with another welsh man, Gareth David Lloyd, from Torchwood.

So I consider the way the populations of these two groups would behave if someone from each was switched around.

I suspect no-one would really care too much but there would be loads of odd looks at the one who was out of place. But it would only take one person to start making comments of a confrontational manner and that individual is quickly on the outside and being made to really feel it.

Now, the examples I’ve given here weren’t driven by malice in any way shape or form. The comment at the person at a convention was in jest and everyone concerned recognised the fact. I myself have never been picked on openly in that way and I happen to think that when push came to shove, the populations of my passion’s fandoms are decent people who just want to talk openly and happily about their loves but there still lurks that darkness of the human condition which wants to point at someone or something which is different from everyone else and to mock or attack it.

Are we all so obsessed with fitting in to our in crowd that we can resort to crushing anything which doesn’t agree with us? Our group mind says X so if you don’t agree then you must be evil or must be mad. If, for so long, you were one of the ones on the outside looking in and you found a place to belong, shouldn’t you then want to be more understanding of what it feels like to be on the other side? Shouldn’t we recognise that opinions counter to our own will never be welcomed into discourse if all we want to do is expel anyone who doesn’t agree?

The melting pot of humanity is a wonderful thing and I enjoy looking at things in a different way than expected. At so many points in life, it’s when we do that that we start to make real strides in a positive direction.

You can see in these pictures that everyone is just having a blast regardless of what they have a particular passion for. I’d certainly advise people to come and join in with all manner of new hobbies.

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

PERSONA

Who are you?

Who are any of us?

I’ve spoken before on here about the masks that we wear out there in the world but now I’m going to have a little look at the mask from the other side.

Why do you portray the image of yourself that you do? You know that you subtly alter the face you show the world depending on which part of that world is before you but how do you define yourself?

The reason I ask came from a thought which in turn came from a few details of experiences I had recently. How was I looking at myself and why was I looking at myself?

When I was at Em-Con recently, I set the table up and readied myself for the crowds to begin passing by. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and didn’t think anything more of it. But. My wife, in an act of the most amazing understanding, had bought me a new tweed jacket, and that was hung over the back of my chair. When the temperature in the centre dropped slightly (we were in front of a window and the full glare of the sun first thing in the morning so throwing on a jacket was the last thing on anyone’s mind), I slipped into the jacket and all of a sudden, changed.

Without even being aware of what I’d been doing over time, I’d had in mind an image of what I wanted my author self to look like. I’d bought a dragon headed cane last year and Jo had bought me a pocket watch for Christmas but adding the jacket to the mix was the key stone piece.

My posture changed. My ‘style’ changed. I became a subtly different person and I felt tremendous doing it, like I was becoming the correct interpretation of who I should be.

Last week saw something similar.

I bought a new car. Well, new to me anyway.

We all know that feeling when we just recognise that an object is ‘right’ and that car was just ‘right’. I’d done the research of the model etc. but this was beyond the facts. In the same way that the jacket became the catalyst to a change in me, the car added to that change as well. The feeling of growth in me was facilitated by an object as a part of my self. Not that I was drawing validation from the car I drove or clothes I wore, rather that I was enhancing myself by taking on the garb of who I feel I am. I am me regardless of what I wear or drive but these things have just been the perfect pieces to the puzzle of being me.

From the outside, those people I spoke with at Em-Con saw a certain version of me but I think they saw the image of me with the most clarity, the version that I wish to project as being as clearly ‘me’ as I can.

I realised that by putting on that jacket I took off all the other masks I’ve shown the world. And it felt great.

HERO OR LEGEND?

This weekend I attended the Heroes and Legends event in Margam. I’m a regular convention goer but it was the first time that I’ve taken part in an event like this as a trader. I’ve spent many an hour casually meandering about halls and conference centres as I investigate the goings on but seeing one of these events from the other side of the table is a very odd experience.

It highlighted to me something which I’d considered but hadn’t really given that much thought. Now to sell my wares and encourage everyone going past that they need to buy the book.

I set my little stall out and gathered myself together for the off. On the table next to me was Kiran Shah, a stunt performer and actor who’s been in a huge number of my favourite films. Return of the Jedi and Lord of the Rings to name two.

Yup. I fanboyed a little as I introduced myself but he was great. We chatted and there we both were, both getting set to work the same event. I felt amazing.

When the doors opened, I came face to face with the public and suddenly understood that I needed to create my own sales pitch. I’d been so focused on just the book and then Facebook et al that I had no clue how best to speak to the public. How should I best phrase things? Should I be pushy like a Del Boy market trader or just wait for people to make the first move?

I tried them both and grades of in between and had some success but it’s clear to me that I need to work on that side of things to get the best results.

As is the case for so many things in life, being an author isn’t just writing the book. The wider picture is so very much more.

So, can I interest anyone in a signed copy of the book?

PRESSURE

I went to a convention a few years ago and while speaking with one of the guests about what they do (comic book artist) a very intriguing question was asked about the enjoyment that he must have felt every day when at work because he was effectively being paid to do his hobby. The answer made me think then but it seems to be very pertinent to me now.

He gave the classic line of ‘If you love your job you never have to work a day in your life’ but he followed it up with the qualifier that needs to be remembered when you try to embark on a journey into turning any hobby into a career.

When you have a hobby, you get to choose exactly what you do with it.You get to decide when you engage in the activity and what direction you want to take it. If you don’t fancy ‘playing’ on any given day, you don’t have to. I can remember when I played various sports that I always had the choice to miss training if I wasn’t feeling it that day. If I fancied a week off for any particular reason, I could just say that I was unavailable for selection and I was free to do something else.

When you get paid for doing your hobby, then the level of freedom around it is suddenly curtailed. You may wake up and decide that, I’m not feeling that creative today so I’ll just have the day off, but now you may be up against a deadline. You have to get stuck in even though it’s just not there and do your best to churn out something without the usual drive you feel when partaking in the activity you would normally love.

I’ve found that I’m encountering days like these now. I’m not suddenly a full time author but the book is out there and I’m aware that there are people out there who are waiting on the next installment so the timescales I’m now working with are much tighter. My first book was years in the making but the second one is set to be unveiled early next year and I can just feel that tiny increase of pressure building.

I still love writing and having the world of ‘The Circle’ in my head all of the time so nobody panic. It’s just going to be interesting to see how I handle it.

TO ZEITGEIST OR NOT TO ZEITGEIST

What makes a good idea?

I witnessed a discussion on the topic at Dysprosium in London where it was said that you could have a poorly written book on a great idea and you’d get a success and a greatly written book on a bad idea would fall on its face. There was also the reverse suggested, that the quality of the book is the driver not just the idea.

So what’s correct? Follow the fashion or just write what you want to write?

I’ve written one novel, almost completed the second, and a collection of short stories, and the driving force behind me picking the topic I have is nothing to do with any consideration of what is likely to be the popular topic. I wrote what I wanted to write. I wrote the book I wanted to read. I wrote the book that held the story that lit my mind alive with wonder. I’d like to think that I’d managed to create a good narrative but that is out of my hands to decide.

If I’d decided that I wanted to be a writer and tried an almost paint by numbers approach to what I was going to write, picking a topic etc. based purely on what may or may not be popular at the time, I doubt very much that I’d have had quite the same results.

Or would I?

I started out with the knowledge that I wanted to write a story including certain points, Dragons being the main one, Wales another, and off I went bolting ideas together as I researched until I’d created something which went on to become The Circle of Fire. Hours of pouring over details on the interweb and leafing through reference books galore followed by the relentless tapping of keys eventually resulted in the book coming together and forming part one of the series. I’d made my own choice concerning the topic then got down to the grunt work.

As far as I can see, the only difference between writing the book I did and trying to go after the popular topic of the day (sparkling vampires?) was the initial idea. From then on, the research and writing would have been structurally the same. It would be nothing but every same step to take.

So why shouldn’t everyone be able to focus their ideas on the positive ideas of the day, always enabling a relative ‘hit’? If the idea is already strong, it’s just down to the ability of the writer to weave a new tale.

And for me, I think that would be the issue.

If the topic is something you find to be mind-bendingly dull, you may not be able to create the kind of story that would be well received. All the hard work could just become that little bit harder. Each word would add at least three letters worth of dead weight in your head and they could all just lay there, inert. Element X, that hint of imagination, of  sorcery, is absent and Frankenstein’s monster of a book just lays there on the slab, immobile.

Certainly there are a great many books which come about thanks to the authors desire to follow the zeitgeist, to create their own version of what’s out and about, but it was the most child-like wonder which started me off. The desire to tell a specific story, not solely to be published. I had to write my story rather than a version of someone elses.

As it stands, I think it’s possible to agree with both sides, follow the trends or strike out on your own, but, as I start out learning what I’m doing, I’ll stay with the twinkle of inspiration and go from there.