COMING TOGETHER

There I was, writing away on the next book, concentrating hard to get the words on the page while I had the radio playing in the background, and an ad came on for the stations annual five hundred word short story competition for youngsters. I was working on a short story myself so it was good to hear the drive to get others going in the field.

What Radio 2 did in the promo was to expand what you could get out of it.

Rather than simply being a relative call to arms, that particular promo also gave a small tip. It was done because they had webchats and other resources available on the website so was just an example of what else the kids taking part could use to deliver the best possible story they could.

But that little nugget was awesome.

As a way of getting going, think about putting two things together that wouldn’t normally go together. If you’re struggling to find a way of starting out, look at the way that you can subvert the normal.

It was so basic yet summed up everything that I’ve been trying to do in so much of my writings. It had boiled down my writing process to a single sentence.

In my first novel, The Circle of Fire, the central idea was doing just that. The big scary monster was the good guy. The main character was created to be a representation of a stereotype of the gym going man so I could turn it on it’s head as the series went on. My short stories include ideas around what we all think, and how we interpret words and I’ve tried to look at things in a very different way.

Don’t we like the idea of turning things on their heads?

Don’t we like the idea of what we’re all used to seeing being shown to be wrong?

Rooting for the little team versus the huge club. The David versus Goliath.

Excitement comes from looking outside the norm and by slamming things together that shouldn’t be together under normal circumstances. It can allow all manner of topics to be explored. The film Enemy Mine has the story based around a human and an alien being stranded on a planet. They’re sworn enemies and have been fighting in space prior to their crashing. Everything grows from there. The Odd Couple indeed.

Then think of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Yet again, we see the strange bed fellows. The court room, the home of justice and all things honest is shown to be a terrifying place if you come from the wrong population. Truth, that which we all know that we have to maintain, becomes an irrelevance before the glare of twisted ideology.

All kinds of stories are out there to prompt thought and to entertain, and very often, by bringing things together that shouldn’t normally interact, you can uncover some interesting stuff.

Now I’m off to write a story about an HR performance review of someone on the Death Star.

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THE LAST STRAW

When I work on the characters for the stories I write, something I’m really always doing my best to maintain, is the thought that their mentality is the result of all of the things that have gone into their lives up to that point.

It might sound like a silly point, but it can be all too easy to work on the idea that the characters start out in the story as almost being ‘perfect’ and the problems that crop up along the way are what does the damage.

In the real world, it’s not that easy so I need to always make sure that fact finds it’s way into what  write.

We’re all a product of the lives we lead. We’re a totality of all of those things that have nudged us along the way and as such, can’t always say that we’re all going to react to any given situation in the same way. What one person will look on as being a bump in the road can become the most brutally crushing event to another. One persons Earth shatteringly amazing event is just another day at the office for another.

All of the characters in the books that we read have flaws. That the characters that we know and love aren’t perfect is one of the main reasons they can reach out to us.

We all see reality with the very slightest differences. I have my individual likes and dislikes in exactly the same way as everyone else but, just like so many characters, I have my weaknesses. I know that I have to fight against my very own Kryptonite, defending my metaphorical thermal exhaust port, on a daily basis and not every day is a success.

Each one of us is fighting to protect ourselves from all those things which are out to get us. Every day we do everything we can to safeguard who we are and make sure that we can keep on moving forward and having that quality on show in the stories we read means that we’re not alone. Somewhere out there, someone else has recognised that these troubles exist and we don’t need to feel as utterly terrified and alone as we might do.

In everything I am, everything I do, I want to make the world a little bit brighter for everyone. I do my best to write stories that make sense and are enjoyable. I want to make each day better for everyone in the tiniest way I can so I need to make sure that all those people in my books show that not every day of darkness needs to be the thing to grip to.

We all have the baggage we carry through life which can cause troubles along the way. We all have to keep our defences up and recognise that everyone else has the same situation going on. We all have the time where no matter what we do, that brittle shell surrounding us shatters and we get crushed under the weight of our own pain.

Stories should reflect that reality as well as the good things.

And if, as you read this, you feel the need for help in some way, never be afraid to reach out for it. The characters in the books always have someone there to help in some way, and I want the same thing to be true in the real world as well.

If in doubt, I’ll listen to you.

TRYING TO CONNECT

Another convention weekend draws to a close and all of us fans of the show Spartacus can look back on great times meeting the cast of the show but also getting the chance to meet up with friends from all over the planet.

Each and every one of us is filled with our own passions and having the opportunity to spend time with others with the same feelings is what we’re all searching for.

In a world where divisions are highlighted and the differences we may have are the only things anyone seems to care about, recognize that everything, everywhere is better when we all come together.

This weekend saw the expected fun and games of a convention but I think, although I’m not certain, I witnessed the early stages of a new spiritual movement. Proving that these events are so much more than just the chance to meet the actors, we saw one of our number elevated towards his true rock star status. His name was chanted by all and all the differences we may have had didn’t matter a jot.

I suspect I’ll be needing the help as I battle with an iffy internet signal.

‘MAAAAANDEEEEEEP’.

IT’S THE WAY I TELL ‘EM

The detail is often irrelevant.

Now I recognise that you’ve got to have detail when telling a story but when you really get down to it, so often, it’s the broad strokes which stick with us and can make or break what we’re reading. Merely loading anything you write with a huge dump of information has more potential to just become a droning monotone for the person on the receiving end so there’s a great deal more to the process of storytelling than just stringing the events together.

Now with that in mind, we all know someone who’s terrible at telling stories or jokes and we all know someone who is just great at it. Both of them could tell the same story, use the same words, yet one would weave the most engaging tale while the other would just recite the words and suck all the life from them.

Think about the following.

Daddy, somebody’s at the door. He’s collecting for the district’s new indoor swimming pool.
Ok, give him a bucket of water then.

Not the most ground-breaking piece of comedy the world has ever seen but in the hands of a person who can cast a spell with the words, it can become more nuanced, more weighty. In the hands of the other person it could become a block of concrete, and a bland one at that.

Before the advent of the written languages which are spread over the world, the histories and tales of the human race were passed down thanks to the spoken word. Oral histories were reliant on the stories being memorable. If they were dry and soulless it’s fair to say that they could have been quickly lost to the sands of time but for the powers of those who recounted the tales. It was up to them to always draw the audience into whatever story they were telling, to grasp the minds of everyone within earshot so the story would live out in the realms of so very many others. The added element of the storyteller became vital.

There are comedians and raconteurs the world over and they make sure that everyone around them hangs on their every word. So often the most successful politicians are the ones who can make the words they speak dance and whirl rather than just relying on the message. I’ve included an example which I feel shows perfectly exactly how immersive a well told story can be. If you don’t watch all of this clip, you really are missing out on a wonderful example.

Taken from YouTube channel ‘Cheeky Chap’

So today I raise a glass to the storytellers, who have always been able to make everything that much more interesting.

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.

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.

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!