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’.

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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!

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.