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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OPEN THE GATES

Ready for a shock?

Up until last night, I’d never seen the Disney film Aladdin.

Don’t panic, I have now but as I was watching it, I realised how often in stories, the power that’s out there which could be wielded by the protagonists so often has to be asked for.

Aladdin is encouraged to take on the quest for the Cave or Wonders with the chance of great reward and then has to rub the lamp to receive the three wishes and then stick to the rules that the genie imposes. Such enormous potential power but it as to be asked for and when the villain grasps for the ultimate power of the genie, it’s then that the major drawback is unleashed.

My favourite horror film, Hellraiser, has the same set up. The Cenobites are only interested in the one who opened the puzzle box. If you don’t go looking for the power, you don’t have the risk.

There is a massive risk/reward balance when it comes to magical artefacts and ancient powers in all kinds of story telling and that is so true for all of us in the real world as well. The risk, not the magic. When placing bets on the horses, putting money on the 1000 to 1 outsider is an enormous risk as the odds are given on the ability that the horse has to win but the reward should it work out in your favour is equally massive.

Risk is a thing that we all have to face up to in all kinds of ways. Choosing to cross the road away from a designated crossing and any and all other ways we put our life on the line on a daily basis quickly leap to mind but we risk when we tell someone a secret, when we go for a wildly different hairstyle, when we choose a film to watch we haven’t heard of before.

For all of us, risk is a very normal part of our lives and it’s something that has a mighty role to play in both who we are and in who we become. We can’t remove all risk, nor should we try to. The risks of things going wrong following every single choice we make are there to act as a guide. We learn from our mistakes to amend our actions in future to not make them again, therefore improving.

So I say to everyone, throw open the gates to risks. Don’t be afraid to take the chances because something MIGHT go wrong. Recognise that risks are there and you need to be aware of what they are but factor them into your planning so your choices are informed. If we all attempt to remove all risks from life, don’t we run the risk of not having the understanding of what real risk is?

I present this video from YouTube from a channel called Royal Jordanian. It shows a collection of clips recorded from a helmet mounted camera as the rider travels around the streets of London.

We’re all familiar with the facts that there are hundreds of signs everywhere to help control and manage traffic, that there are specific areas where we are meant to cross the roads and, certainly my generation thanks to Darth Vader himself, Dave Prowse playing the Green Cross Code Man, that there are rules in play when trying to cross a road, we see many examples of people being utterly oblivious to the risks. We all hear in almost every advert for cars and so often in news reports, that cars come with all manner of safety features that can prevent injury to anyone who comes near it, that they have special brakes and even smart on-board computers to help stop the car if it looks as if the driver isn’t fast enough.

Have they become blasé about risk, thinking that nothing could possibly go wrong? Do they think that they can walk wherever they want whenever they want or are they just numb to the thought of being hit by a car as being truly dangerous.

Risk is good. You have to understand that we are making choices and that not every outcome is going to be positive but without the risks, we end up either thinking everything is a deadly risk so we do nothing or we don’t see risk anywhere, and are likely to walk in front of a passing car.

Think things through but don’t be over cautious.

FINISHED?

A while ago I posted about the importance of deadlines and the effect they have on us as we go about our lives but there’s another thought that grew from the deadline I’ve been working against recently.

With or without a deadline, how do you know when you’re finished?

As a writer, my style could be described as ‘Blitzkrieg’. I tend to write off in a direction aiming for a specific point and I end up getting there pretty quickly. I then have to go back and flesh out what I’ve just done to create the wider detail, the true heart of what I was saying. I blast off and try to go as far as I can then hang the pretty colours on the skeleton. If I was to finish the book using just the first half of that process it’s likely that it would be nothing more than ‘he did this’ then ‘he did that’. But at what point do you recognise that the story is done? Where is the point before which, it’s still in need of tinkering yet after, you’re over thinking and making things worse?

I’ve heard the phrase that ‘films aren’t released, they escape’ and it applies exactly to other media as well. I spent years fiddling with the first book before it was actually released. Every so often I’d have another read through and find another word or phrase, or indeed, scene, which I felt needed work. Ultimately these weren’t major structural changes, more like choosing the right type of polish, but it dragged me back from actually doing the business.

I suspect that this has come from my fears surrounding the release. I’ll continuously be thinking about the possible permutations in the book but it’s going to have to run free eventually. I suspect if I hadn’t just decided to bite the bullet and go for it, I’d still be fiddling with it now.

At least that isn’t happening this time.

And on a totally unrelated matter, the poor guys from the electricity company are back out in our street. They’re not working near us this time so we’ve had no issues with interrupted power but this will be the third time that unlucky team have had to deal with issues in our street. There can’t be much old wiring left!

FEAR

Welcome to 2015 all.

By way of welcoming all returning readers and acknowledging all of those intrepid first timers, I thought I’d examine the most relaxing and beautiful topic I could lay my hands on.

So welcome to the new year of possibilities and chances and I give you all a walk through fear.

So, first of all, what are you afraid of? Spiders? The dark? Enclosed spaces? Cheese? We all have that one thing, that singular thing, that has the power to drag us from the comfort of a settled mood to pulse racing, sweaty palmed horror in the blink of an eye. Some people have more than one. Some have more than ten. Some have more than that.

Fear is deemed as a response to a stimulus which has been maintained through the various stages of evolution to keep us safe. We’re afraid of the dark because we can’t see what’s in there waiting to eat us. Heights are an issue because falling from them doesn’t tend to end that well and creepy crawlies are just horrible.

But fears are also learned. They can be a response to something taking place which lodges as such a strong memory that our brains are wired to avoid the same situations in the future. I have a very strong fear of being a passenger in a car and of surgical needles. Both stem from a single event and are very specific. I can drive a car no problem and judging by the tattoos I have, needles in a different context don’t concern me but under the correct conditions, I will dissolve under the weight of my own fears.

But how to make the best use of fear?

When I write my creepier stories I always trying to weave situations which put me on edge but also nudge at others. I want to scare as many people as I can.

I’d suggest that everyone re-read ‘MAKE BELIEVE FRIEND’ as a way to examine how I created fear in what I was doing with my character ‘Mimp’. There are what could only be deemed as the classics of fear, the dark, loss, the unknown, monsters and skittering things. The elements of the story are specific to what I was saying but they all come from common places.

We all know fear but we all know we enjoy it. Why do Horror films, extreme sports and all of the scary things in the world do so well if we don’t?

We all want to overcome our fears, to show that they don’t have power over us so delving into them allows us the chance to re-claim our control. We all enjoy the chance to square up to our own monsters in a controlled setting. Being afraid of the dark isn’t as bad now we don’t have sabre-faced beasties coming to get us.

And so to stories which elicit fear in all of us.

Horror stories allow us to be transported to situations and events which would terrify us in the real world so give us the safety net. Indeed stories of all kinds of nastiness are available which trick, persuade, demand or drag the fear fear from us but we reading public just keep going back for more. Maybe it has to do with the lives we all lead? We don’t have the same risks in our lives ( no sabre faced beasties ) so maybe our more primitive brain is looking for ways to keep us challenged, keep us sharp. Who knows?

All in all, fear is something we all need to accept and embrace. It’s something that will keep us aware of the risks of life and able to avoid the pitfalls but it’s also that mighty brute which needs to be overcome. The classic quote is bravery isn’t the absence of fear but continuing in the presence of fear. I like that idea. Carrying on despite the mind numbing terror of a less than favourable outcome.

Just remember that when you all read my first novel, The Circle of Fire. Defeating my own fear of failure was instrumental in completing the book and sending it out into the world.