THE TRAIN

You ever notice that humans are always trying to understand the nature of time and how we interact with it?

So far, the consensus is that time is a river that flows and moves along in a single direction, dragging everything along with it and no matter what we do we all just travel along from the moment we’re born until we sink below the waves at the time of our death.

Now over the weekend I was lucky enough to have a table at London Film and Comic Con in Olympia and I had a great time but I had a little thought about the nature of how we can view the nature of our lives and what they then mean to the rest of us.

We all exist on the carriages of a train as it heads along it’s particular line. We board the train at our given station as we’re born, the train having already been rumbling along happily before you even appeared. There may be people you see leaving the train as you join but that will be all of the experience you have of them. They disembark the train of life and as in the real world, vanish from our experience. In the real world they may be off to work, to a party, to almost anything, but every stop of the train of life just means people are leaving life behind.

As the train pulls off, we begin our journey and head into life.

We’re surrounded by other people all heading in the same direction, going about their own lives. Occasionally you may talk to people as you carry on your travels but the vast majority just remain faces in the crowd.

Stops come and go and people board and leave at every station, the train of life just going onwards to its ultimate destination until we make it to our stop.

We know when we’re approaching the stop and as on the trains in the real world, we have a choice of waiting for the train to stop before we get ourselves together and make our way to the platform or we could already be waiting at the door for the train to finally come to rest so we could hop off quickly. Either way, when our feet hit the platform and we start to move away, anyone boarding is just a blur. Our time on the train is done and we’re off to what’s next but for everyone still on the train, we’re just a memory. So very many wouldn’t have even recognised that we’d even been on the train at all but off it goes and we’re just a memory.

When I had this feeling I was on the tube and it made me consider the multitude of  possibilities for the lives of everyone around me and how all that experience is all around us all of the time but also that, even after we’ve left the train of life, it’ll continue on it’s way oblivious to the fact that we were there.

These thoughts made me feel connected to everyone in the world as we all do exactly the same thing on the train of life. Every single one of us on the planet will board the same train and travel towards their destination. They see the world as the train travels along and know that at some point they’ll reach their final destination. We’re all doing the same thing so we all have the same foundations to who we are.

The human race is a great thing and there are so many stories that can be shared. Maybe we just need to try and enjoy the journey a little more before we finally get to our stop.

IF

Powerful little word, if.

You don’t have to add much to it to find yourself staring at the sheer rock face of possibilities. You see, with a little effort, that lonely little word can become, ‘What if?’ but also, ‘If only’ and without even having to really do anything, deep thought awaits.

In both of these examples, the little word ‘if’ teases us with the thoughts of that which didn’t come to pass. How often do we hear people saying ‘If only’ they’d done, or indeed not done, something which had brought them to a particular unhappy position. They lament having turned left rather than right, they shouldn’t have gone to bed angry or not had that last drink.

These and so many other examples all appear when we regret. We look at the world that we’re in and can identify that a single event was the one that made this specific timeline switch tracks. We regret and, thanks to the horrifying perfection of hindsight, can see exactly where we went wrong and long for the chance to just take that one thing back.

I’ve had an element of this in mind for some bits and pieces I’ve been working on but I’m able to cast a new view as my own life experiences grow.

The other example I gave of the power of ‘if’ was ‘What if?’ and it’s very similar in terms of the view of what could have been but this time, rather than just focusing on the event, now we’re trying to extrapolate from an event, what would have happened following the right rather than left turn. The easiest and possibly largest ‘What if’ is ‘What if the Nazi’s had won WWII?’ Stories have been told starting from this very ‘What if?’ and minds can wander in any and all directions playing with the ideas of the ‘What if’.

Now it’s the ‘What if’ that grabbed me recently.

I’ve been working on some short story ideas with a view to eventually putting together another collection of stories but I realised that the ‘What if’ would be the perfect place to start from. What if humans had evolved from lizards rather than mammals? What if the meteor impact that made the dinosaurs extinct carried a form of alien life which became humans? What if we are alone in the universe?

Now I appreciate that these ideas listed here float around a similar point but the possibilities are almost endless. I’m plonking away on a collection of ideas but I’m also reaching out to the world for other ideas.

Is there a ‘What if’ you’d like to see examined in a short story? Please comment if you have something you’d like to have me work with.

It could be amazing.

If Only!

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.

 

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.