ALWAYS WATCHING

Do you feel as if there are always people watching you?

Not in a raging paranoia, tin foil hat wearing kind of way, but rather just everyday normal life. That from the second you set foot outside your front door, all the way through almost every single step along the way, that from somewhere, anywhere, there are eyes watching.

It has been suggested that the UK is the most watched country in the world, with enough cameras keeping tabs on everyone and everything for one per eleven members of the population. The more you think about it, the more chance there is for it to niggle at the back of your mind.

But we like to watch other people don’t we?

We all enjoy indulging in a little gossip from time to time but over the last twenty years or so, our watching of others has exploded.

The actions of the public are now a major element of our entertainment diet in the form of reality shows of any and all shapes. What would Christmas be without The X Factor? Hasn’t Big Brother gone well past it’s best before date? Isn’t Gogglebox a programme about watching people watching TV?

We know that we have to be aware of the eyes watching us. We know that speed cameras are out there to catch drivers going over the speed limit. We’re familiar with cameras watching over our streets in an attempt to minimise antisocial behaviour and as such, we behave accordingly.

Now the purpose of this post isn’t to pass comment on the relative rights and wrongs of such things, rather I’m looking at the behaviour we all adopt because of these eyes watching us.

How many times have you seen examples of drivers slamming the brakes on as they approach a speed camera, only to speed back up once they’re out of the eye line of the lens?

Every day there are examples where we all push the boundaries of what is allowed or acceptable. The problems that the cameras are there to reduce evolve and move in new directions. So what happens when you break the rules and win?

The rules mark out the field of play for us all. We all have to exist within this framework to allow the society as a whole to flourish, each of us doing our bit to make sure that the whole is preserved. In the most basic sense, the strong take on more burden and the weak are assisted, while everyone else in the middle does they’re fair share.

But we all know the darkness inherent in the system, in any number of stories we’re familiar with and out there in the real world. Corruption so outcomes no longer show equity. Where parts of a population are seen as special and others are not. The first person to nudge beyond and colour outside the lines without there being any negative outcomes, was the first person who understood that cheats do prosper.

If you cheat and get caught, you are a cheat or a criminal, viewed poorly for cheating. If you cheat and no one sees it, your success is seen as being the result of shrewd thinking, clever actions.

So you cheat again.

And again.

The protagonist in stories is readily seen as being the righteous one, the one who is honest and true, but the antagonist is so easily the moustache twirling, black hearted monster with nothing but the worst planned.

So why cheat if it dooms you to ‘the dark side’?

It’s too simple to just paint people as good or bad. Everyone who cheated and won saw this as showing that they were smart enough to get around the system. Captain Kirk had his Kobayashi Maru and was commended for it. We see on football / soccer pitches all over the world, examples of players feigning injury, or simulating fouls to gain advantage and very often, those who are commentating laud them for it.

“He was very clever there, allowing himself to be knocked off the ball like that.”

Gone are the full blooded contests where physical contact was part and parcel of the game only to leave behind players willing to roll on the floor as if they’d been hit by a sniper in the stands at the merest hint of a challenge for the ball. All those eyes watching on see this as being the way to advance, the way to succeed. If you do this when you play, you’ll get a positive outcome as well, the knowing wink says as the benefits are reaped.

In a round about way, I’m looking at the importance of the role model. That person we watch and admire for what they do. They become our heroes very easily and carry the mantle of example wherever they go. We’ve all had one in our lives. It may have been a parent, a sibling, a famous sports star, even a politician, but we all looked at that person with an almost reverential awe. They were the best. They were what we wanted to be like. We yearned to be just like them and we did what we could to reach that goal.

Worryingly, what would happen if the role model was a bad guy?

Would the effect be to create hoardes of little beasts?

I doubt it but it’s important that we all recognise that we could, in some way, represent the role model for another and make sure we’re doing the best we can. There will always be eyes watching and teaching a poor message could have long term consequences.

I watched a kids game of football / soccer yesterday while I sat in a café waiting for Jo. It looked like a bunch of under elevens. Ish. They were passing and dribbling for all they were worth and there were good challenges going in for the tackles, all in all, making me feel oddly encouraged.

And then it happened.

A player from one team dribbled forwards, a little way out from goal, and was surrounded by three players from the opposition. In a flash, his space was gone and he was out of passing options. He couldn’t shoot and there appeared to be no way out. Until the first foot from an opposing player approached the ball. The attacking player saw his chance and performed a reasonable attempt of the flourishing swan dive we see all too regularly on TV. The surrounding lads checked for a split second, not really sure of themselves, and the referee blew for the foul.

I didn’t really see any contact but it could only have been minimal, yet he’d been given the free kick, getting him out of trouble. He hadn’t been knocked to the ground, he’d just collapsed, yet he’d gained an advantage. He was also the one to score from the resulting free kick.

Cheats never prosper is a lie but we all have to do our part to stand up as the role models people may see us as to make sure that the idea of going outside the rules doesn’t come into play but if you do, you aren’t congratulated for it.

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ANSWERS FROM THE DARKNESS

Today I release my latest collection of short stories ‘Answers from the Darkness‘.

Last year was a swirling horror show for my family and off the back of that, my work on the third novel in The Circle series slowed to a near crawl. It didn’t seem to matter how hard I tried to force the words onto the page, nothing could release the grip on what was stopping them.

So instead I had to work through my issues in another way.

My short stories have helped me to explore ideas and work through the images in my mind following my Dad’s death.

I’ve played with some things, worked on some stuff for the world of The Circle, and tried to move into outer space with a few stories. And I enjoyed giving it a go as I climbed out of my own darkness.

The stories are looking at some uncomfortable topics and are quite gruesome in places so I’d suggest, not for kids. Everyone come and download a copy, the print copy’s coming soon.

The answers are in there……………..

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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.

CREATING MONSTERS

It’s been going on for years and years that authors turn a situation or person from the real world into a monster in one of their stories. Creatures of all shapes and sizes are used as metaphors for any and all eventualities and can provide a level of depth to what’s being written which may not have been as easily accessible without the outside influence.

I’m a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the different monsters which rumble across the screen each episode represent a different issue that may creep up in the real world. The use or overuse of magic is discussed as thinly veiled disguise for the same issues with drugs. A boyfriend giving a girl the brush off after they’ve got down and dirty together gets redeployed as Angel losing his soul and turning evil.

Now I’ve spoken previously about ways that writers can use their words as a catharsis to cast away pain and trauma but I’ve recently found a great example of an actor doing just that when creating his portrayal of a role.

While filming The Princess Bride, Mandy Patinkin was coming to terms with the death of his father to cancer and found himself able to place the brutal disease as the six fingered man so when he delivered the line, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” he was able to fight the very thing that robbed him of his father.

I’m doing the same thing in my head at the moment. I’ve managed to start some work on a handful of ideas for short stories and in all of them I find myself putting the death of my own father into different elements to try and work through the grief.

I can only hope that mine are even partially as successful a Mandy Patinkin’s delivery. Thanks to YouTube, here’s the clip for you.

You have to watch to the very end and I can’t echo the feeling enough.

 

NORMALITY?

With everything that’s been going on recently, it’s brought it into sharp focus for me that trying to maintain a level of normality is really tough. Trying to do all of the things you have to in life gets really challenging when something brutal lands but the turning wheel of the normal will continue to turn, regardless of anything else.

So how do you maintain the slog through all of the normality when something else is trying to rip you apart?

That’s been the state of play for me for the last weeks and today was the first day back in work since my dad left us. I’ve been looking after my wife after she had an operation as well, so I’ve been able to keep my mind active but going back to work has given me a new challenge. In work, aside from the various times where life throws the occasional curve ball, work is familiar. Work is ordered. Work can mean that you delve into swathes of normality which can leave you with no protection against the thoughts of the monster attacking you.

This can mean distractions and all of a sudden you may have mistakes. Those on the outside know what you’ve been going through but normality still needs to be maintained.

Now this has been awful for us. I’ve hated the thoughts that have gone through my head and trying to keep my focus on what has to be done in the world around me has been tough. I can imagine that my family have had the same problems but what my mum is going through must be pulverizing.

But we have to go on when we grieve. We have to make sure that the real world continues even when we feel it can’t.

I think I’ll be able to create deeper characterisations in my writing with the added experience of what I’m feeling now and being back in the ‘office’ today did feel positive for getting me moving. The normal is a vital chunk of what we see and do and it’s so easy to have that become uncomfortable when something goes wrong but I’ve found that the normal is just another colour in the palette of life, and as such shouldn’t be overlooked.

AND THAT’S OUT

Over the last weeks, I think everyone would recognise if you’ve read my stuff in the past, I’ve been more philosophical. I’m a fan of comedy and making people smile is a wonderful thing, as I love to smile too but that hasn’t been to the fore.

In 2013, my dad was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), a degenerative lung disease which has been slowly causing fibrous scarring to form throughout his lungs and has been robbing him of his ability to breathe.

It’s a topic of discussion which tends to crop up when we think about life with disease. Would you rather have ten years left but the final three be in ever growing pain or would you rather just have five good years and then pass on? It’s a question that we all have to consider for ourselves but the reality of that choice is so much worse than we tend to realise.

Could you live in crushing agony twenty four hours a day just to be alive for one more day?

IPF is a brutal disease that the British Lung Foundation is always looking for donations to help defeat. Please everyone, make the most of all the time you have with friends and family.

My dad died last week.

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FOR THE BEST

When you’re under a huge amount of stress and everything is going wrong around you, are you able to turn all of the negative things that you’re facing into anything even vaguely positive? When you have the crap flying at you, do you feel the need to to start swinging in return?

It’s a method that gets rolled out very often in story telling whereby the characters actions are explained, and often justified, by the external forces that they experience.

Anakin Skywalker is nudged, rather than shoved.

Each and every one of us will be the result of the experiences which make up our lives. A deep rooted fear of spiders may come from that time when you were a kid and the creepy little beasts ran all over you in bed. I’ve been a terrible passenger in cars after I was badly injured in a crash.

But when a great many of the worst type of events line up one after another it could become really easy to let the feeling of ‘why me?’ build up to the point where you would lash out. You snap and do something which is out of the norm just as a way to exert the very barest shred of control. From there you can continue to tumble as the pressure remains and soon, you’ve been behaving in a very antisocial fashion and have been pushing people away left, right and centre.

So could you be smashed down by the worst that life has to throw at you and not turn to the dark side? Could you take all of the horror and turn it to something which is much stronger and lighter?

On the most part, everyone sees themselves as being the good guy. Looking again to Anakin Skywalker, as each of the nudges bumped him, he reacted. He pushed back in the only way he could at the time until, without him even realising, he was clad in black and slaughtering people. Now this isn’t to say that anyone going through bad times will be just one problem away from going on a murderous rampage but rather than they want to have some ability to face the world and push back. So when everything conspires to grind you down, could you turn all of the hurt into an act of kindness rather than violence? Could you still do the good rather than just lash out?

I guess that none of us will ever know until we’re forced to face that choice.

I know that I’m doing my best to stay positive at the moment despite everything and I can feel the benefits. I’m still under the attack that all of the family are under but I’m trying to hold as much positivity as I can rather than just turning to the anger.

We just have to keep on swinging.