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.

 

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.

WHAT TO EXPECT?

When we go anywhere, do anything, we already have ideas in mind of what we we’re going to experience. We gear ourselves up or calm ourselves down with the knowledge that we’ve already put together a picture of what we can expect. Pretty often, the image we create is bang on or at least, close enough to show that we were completely justified to have the picture in our mind to start with.

But there are more than just a tiny handful of times where the picture we had in our mind about what we’re going to feel or experience is miles away from the reality. We think a visit to a certain place will play out in a certain way and that’s turned on it’s head when we actually get to the location.

So can our expectations of things have a larger effect than we’re aware of?

An example of expectations playing an effect come from the delightful time I had when I had my first tattoo. It was a tiny design on my shoulder but I went in ‘knowing’ that it was going to hurt. I’d heard the stories where people said that their tattoo’s had hurt and I went in with the expectation that it was going to hurt. And guess what? It did. But not in the usual scratchy kind of way that a tattoo on that part of the body would usually feel. I went in ‘knowing’ that everything was going to be agony and by the time I sat down with the needle poised above me, I’d practically convinced myself the artist was going to be hacking at me with a rusty nail as he dug out lumps of flesh.

I expected an outcome and it came to pass that what I expected became the reality.

When I went to have another design put round the original, at the same parlour on the same location on my body, this time I knew what to expect and I practically fell asleep when the work was being done.

I’d been a victim of my own expectations the first time. The truth had nothing to do with what I had in my mind. I knew what I had to expect and it came to pass. When I went the second time, I knew the reality of what was coming so I didn’t wind myself up, hence the much smoother time.

So the power of expectations can have far reaching consequences.

When I speak to people about my books, I’ve sometimes been confronted by the response that they don’t like urban fantasy. ‘I prefer more hard sci-fi’ or ‘Urban fantasy isn’t for me’. Now I understand that some will have favourites which do include material like mine and others won’t, but I wonder how many people have just built their expectations to a point where they already ‘know’ what’s going to be in the book despite not opening the pages?

Expectations can create a picture in our minds which we then force reality to fit with but we just have to be careful that our version of what’s going on is truly accurate. We could be missing out on all kinds of things.

IT’S ART YOU KNOW

What is art?

For many, art is sculpture and painting which lives in galleries and is to be marveled at in awed silence. For others, art is a more vibrant and modern affair, any and all things that the creator could get their hands on to get their point across.

For so many, the accuracy of sculpting and paintings of days gone by allowed us to admire the skill of the artist in their rendition of a facsimile of the model in whatever medium they so chose. We looked upon the deft brush strokes or the assured moulding and recognise the skill and talent that must have been at play to make the materials bend to their wishes.

In the land of ‘modern’ art, the rigid adherence to the ways of the old are pushed aside and experimentation and wider expression come to the fore. Rather than seeing the work as a direct rendition of the subject, the request is to now look through the physical to examine the true meaning behind the piece. What was it the artist was attempting to say? We look at Tracey Emin and her unmade bed as a great example of the meaning being beyond the bounds of the piece itself.

Now this can mean that there are more areas where there can be disagreement in terms of the value or skill on display.

I could look at a given piece of work and see something very different as the message compared to almost anyone else. Even knowing what the artist was trying to say may not remove the stumbling blocks.

So I ask again. What is art?

Art is an expression of a theme. An idea given form. It doesn’t matter what materiel that may be, paint, clay, light, ice, sound or all of the above and none, art is that most beautiful of things that allows the thoughts, feelings and experience of another to reach out and touch you. We can all glimpse inside the mind of another through the myriad portals that are offered for all to experience. Paintings and sculpture. Music and Film. Fireworks and architecture. And literature too.

My books do just that. They give the reader the chance to experience a tale where the characters go about their lives but it’s there to give everyone a snippet of me too. The pages hold a message that I want to convey which is beyond just the words. They hold my hopes and dreams for the narrative but years of hard work as well. Effort and desire coming together to create a whole that I wanted to share with the world.

There’s an artist in all of us and the ability to draw a convincing nose doesn’t always have to come into it.

It’s just trying to be heard.

GOOD THING, BAD THING?

When I wrote The Circle of Duty, one of the main points I wanted to hold up to the light was the idea that an act in itself isn’t good or bad, rather it’s the context of that act which bestows the value.

The point that seems to have been looked at more readily is that of the bad deed done for the good reason. An example would be having to commit a murder in able to save a thousand lives. Murder is a bad thing but saving all of those lives is a good thing. Wouldn’t that ultimately mean that there was a net positive? All those people saved just for the loss of one?

I pondered this question when I was speaking with people at a recent convention and I received many different answers as people fell on both sides of the possible ethical dilemma. So we look deeper. Is it still a good trade if the person to die were a nun for example, and she were dying to save one thousand rapists? Would it still be bad if a rapist were to die to save a thousand nuns? Very quickly the water begins to turn a little murky.

So what of the other side of this moral equation?

If I were to do a good thing but for bad reasons, then what?

The reason I ask was driven thanks to a certain thank you speech given recently. Tom Hiddleston gave his speech at the Golden Globes and made comment about his charity work but rather than those words coming as a plea for said charity, they instead became a form of self aggrandisement at the positive effect he  was having for said charity. Now I can certainly believe his response when the world pointed an accusing finger at him, that his words were inelegant rather than deliberately rude but what if he’d actually been bang on the money with what he was saying? What if he had meant every single word and felt that he was worthy of particular mention for all his hard work?

How often do we see celebrities making heartfelt pleas for support of whatever monetary form or another? What if they were only doing said pleading for the positive effect it could have for their career? Is the act of giving somehow diminished due to the knowledge of that person only doing it for their benefit?

We saw a great many celebrities pass away during 2016 but a telling fact to come out in a few cases has been the vast amount of charity work which was undertaken without the need for the wider public to know. These people had been involved in countless causes and had been able to use their wealth and efforts to do good without the need to shout it from the roof tops. Does that make these people better? Did they ensure the truth came out after their passing to ‘pump up’ their legacy? Were they manipulating in their own way?

All in all, we have to have broad ideas of what is a good thing and a bad thing but just the examples I’ve waved about here could show that the reality really has to be considered on a case by case basis. Everyone and everything will have specific reasons to make the choices they do so I think it just shows that we can’t be too black and white when we look at what’s going on.

WHAT’S NOT THERE

This weekend just gone saw us in Cardiff at the Film and Comic Con. We had an amazing weekend and had the chance to interact with huge numbers of cool people, all with similar genre favourites to us. All kinds of costumes and fandoms were on display, I had the chance to meet members of the cast from the original Hellraiser (yes I turned into a really soppy fanboy) and I was even lucky enough to sell loads of books. All in all I think that this was my number one convention to date.

But that’s not what I want to deal with in this post beyond what I’ve already pointed out.

Instead I want to look at the value of the time in stories which doesn’t take place. That delightful block of narrative which happens off the stage and only exists as remembered events that have shaped the characters as we see them.

I came home from another day at work and slumped down on the sofa as my wife watched Z Nation. In the show, a band of people have to evade the ever present threat of zombie attack after almost the entire human race has been wiped out or turned into the shambling creatures. Now I know that this seems to be really familiar as a plot device, especially at the moment as zombies are popular but having so very much action take place before you even join a story you present yourself with a very interesting chance.

The first point to make is that it’s a very nifty way to say almost anything. You can unveil almost any detail at any point and just refer it back to a time that no-one has seen before. How many stories have had action just take place at a never before discussed time and location which then allows the narrative to run away in a new and exciting way?

A second point to consider is that it can help greatly in drawing the reader into the story. The real world is rarely as tidy as having things unfold with a clearly defined beginning, middle and end so why would stories? We as readers are instantly familiar with the sensation of picking things up in the middle and having to do our best to match pace.

So why don’t all stories just jump into the middle if things and tell everything as flashback? Because although it’s familiar to find yourself thrown in the deep end, more often than not, we’re there at the start of events in our lives so we know exactly what’s gone into something. We recognise the sensation of just being thrown into something but that doesn’t happen with the same regularity as in stories.

The zombie genre lends itself perfectly to the structure of having the major cataclysm happen before we join the fray because other stories are about the cataclysm. Stumbling meat husks aren’t the stuff of sweeping action sequences but they are the perfect slow burn. They are the clean up after something big which just seems to go on and on as something which has to be endured. What we would all usually be paying attention to is discarded in favour of a very different story. We’re all forced to reassess how we would expect to behave in such a world and so very often, this time isn’t what we’re all used to assessing in our stories.

All in all, the narrative trick of not revealing huge chunks of the action is a magical way for an author to drop details back into the story even after it’s been published. There will always be the chance to reveal something which had been kept secret from the main character as well as the reader thereby putting you right alongside the protagonist as the story unfolds.

That and it’s a great way to correct errors later.

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.