HOW MANY?

It has often been said that us men are incapable of multitasking. Everyone knows that us lads just focus on one thing at a time and the fairer sex are the ones who can juggle all of the various different balls that can get thrown at them during the every day life we all experience.

Now aside from any scientific question marks which are raised from the idea, when I write, I find myself actually enjoying the challenge of doing many things at once.

Now it’s not a question of me having a different computer under each hand and a pen grasped in my toes, rather it’s me having lots of projects going at once.

I’m working on the third book in the Circle series but also on a second collection of short stories so I’ve found myself working on four different short stories and the novel all at the same time.

On any given day I could be writing about almost anything and I bounce around between the topics and just go where the various stories take me. Now it could be easy to say that I should be focusing on a single project at a time and not spreading my creative juices about but for me, being able to move where my imagination takes me, where I have the ‘oomph’ on any given day gives me a great deal more flexibility to be able to aim my creativity at the topic that I feel most drawn to means that I can keep the wheels of writing turning regularly even if I don’t ‘feel’ a particular story on any given day.

Oddly, I find it helps that I put a particular set of characters and situations away to allow me to work on another, by giving me the chance to relax about them. If I’d only ever worked on a single topic at a time, and I have in the past, when you have a dip in creativity, you’re stuck with nowhere to go and aside from the lack of words, the feelings of frustration just make things worse. You can try to force the point but that just pushes you further away from where you want to be. With just the one topic, a bad day can turn into a bad week and a bad month and all of a sudden there’s been an age where you’ve done nothing at all.

By keeping lots of irons in the fire I’m able to change the focus as and when I need to so not only will there be something that I can work on on whatever day, but by removing the risk of getting stuck in the barren wasteland of no inspiration, I’m able to stay away from frustration. I can maintain a pace in my writing even when a particular idea needs to be left fallow for a while.

We all need to have focus on the important things in life but it’s important to make sure that don’t become too cycloptic and risk getting stuck in the creative mud.

MEANING

And so it begins.

The world affecting circus that is the Donald Trump presidency of the USA creaked under way last week and bumbled directly into a problem driven by the facts of a situation.

After showing an almost rabid desire to have the highest numbers on almost everything you could imagine (even down to pointing out that The Apprentice viewing figures for Arnold Schwarzenegger were smaller than they’d been when he’d been the one firing people) day one saw the delight continue. The number of people who were actually in attendance to see the inauguration and those who were watching on TV.

Now on it’s own, this point is nothing. In the grand scheme of things, the number of people who attended the event is an utter irrelevance. If Donald Trump is able to oversee world peace and be the driving force behind everyone coming together for the good of humanity as we start to explore the stars, he could have had no-one turn up to begin with and there wouldn’t be anyone who’d care.

The issue came that his ‘people’, despite evidence to the contrary, steadfastly clung to the party line of there being more people there than at any other presidents inauguration. Regardless of the facts, the decided line was going to be what they wanted it to be. To compound this they defended what was said with the soon to be immortal phrase, “alternative facts.”

Alternative facts as an idea scare me.

Information can be interpreted in different ways but if there are one hundred thousand fewer people in attendance of an event, you can’t spin the fact to be anything else. Facts are facts and as such aren’t subject to the whims of people wanting to say the opposite. Indeed there was no such concern with alternative facts when the result of the election was decided.

As a writer, I deal with words all of the time and there are examples where words can be used in many different ways which can be at odds, wicked being  both good and bad depending on context. But truth is more than that. Personal opinion on any given point has to be up for scrutiny and if the facts show the complete opposite, your opinion is wrong.

Literature has many, many examples of the use of ‘alternative facts’ by systems and people trying to do something despite the truth. One of my favourite books is 1984 and the existence of doublethink within the story showed clearly how truth can become nothing more than a hindrance to what the ruling power wants, changing as is required.

I hope that Donald Trump and his team  are able to prove all of their doubters wrong and deliver for the good of the country and the world at large but even now, so very few days into the job, there are already clear examples of an almost dictatorial obsession with everyone agreeing with what he wants to be the truth. Is truth going to be lost along the way amidst alternative facts?

How many lights do you see?

THE DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK

In any given situation, do you believe the best of people?

If someone tells you something, do you accept what they say without question? Do you expect them to lie? How do you assess what you’re told so you have the best chance to weed out the lies in the pot?

Every day we all have to make these assessments when we read, hear or watch anything but one story, despite it’s truth or otherwise, is only as good in the first instance, as the mind of the person who’s hearing it.

Do you know someone, or are you that person, who will just treat everything they’re told as something to be suspicious of?

Each and every one of us is the product of all of our experiences with all of the days of our lives adding up to create a way to look at things. We build opinions based on things we’re told but things we experience as well. If we have a continuous outcome every time we experience any given event, that’s going to colour how we behave the next time we have that same event. We all have that one friend who is distrustful of new relationships after having been the one to be dumped every time any of their previous couplings came to an end. Over time they’ve come to the conclusion that every time they enter a relationship it’s going to fail.

I get told all manner of stories when I’m at my non-authoring work. I deal with a large number of people on a daily basis and I have to admit that after the years of doing what I do, I have become more and more sceptical when I’m told all of the reasons why people can’t come to work. Granted there are several examples which are only one very small step above the dog ate my homework, but that doesn’t mean that each and every person who is explaining the reasons for their absence is automatically lying. I try my best to remain optimistic that the people I speak to aren’t just full of it and that I’ll be able to help those who need it but there will always be those who want to push the boundaries. Indeed, I’ve been told by someone that they’d had keyhole surgery on their knee, removing cartilage, the day before, explaining their absence, but said they were fine to get back to work, walking about, now. They seemed shocked when I pointed out that I’d had that op myself and asked to compare scars as it took me weeks to get back to work, and eventually admitted that they’d just overslept.

In all stories, the characters have been shaped by their own experiences. When I started to write The Circle of Fire I was keen to make sure that there would be reasoning why the characters do what they do. There would always need to be a build up of detail behind the mind set of those involved rather than just having them as being two dimensional cut outs. How do these people view the world but then how would they then interact with each other? I wanted there to be conflict but to have a constant physical battle is impractical, and if everyone is pulling in different directions then the story can’t get anywhere. The result is the smaller alterations of view. The disagreements are what make things interesting but we can’t had everyone at loggerheads all of the time.

Cynicism or optimism create a flavour to the thoughts of all concerned. We all have our own way of reviewing things and we can’t ever forget that those things are uniquely ours. Very often, people can get caught up in the opinions of others and it’s conceivable that the political landscape of this past year has been shaped by just that fact. We all have to be open to the opinions of others but that doesn’t mean forgetting where we came from.

But maybe don’t always think the worst. Maybe the dog did eat the homework after all?

HARD TO KEEP IT UP

I’m sure that everyone like me has had to go through this at some point. Surely everyone has the horror of dealing with this issue at some point and I’ll bet that if we were all more open about the issue, it would become a much less powerful concern.

I’m certain that at some point, all of us out there will have been struggling to keep it up.

Whereas previously we were filled with the kind of energy and unbridled ‘oomph’ that would have carried us onwards on the crest of a wave and we would have been perched atop said wave, surfing it with an almost wild abandon, now the waves are no more and our ability to make the most of the swell is a painfully distant memory.

We know what we have to do. We’ve been doing it for ages and it’s never even been something we’ve ever had to think about. Everything just worked without any effort in the good old days but now in the painful present, we have to confront that brutal fact that that which once came easily is now slipping beyond our grasp.

All of us writers have had the terrible moment when we have to accept that the promotion and associated fun and games which accompany the act of writing books sometimes feels like trying to run through treacle.

I was in Hull over the weekend just gone at a convention where I had my stand set up and my wares displayed. It was a good convention and seeing what was going on was really enjoyable. Tonight I was in Swansea doing a talk and a reading from some of my work and this weekend I’ll be in Derby at a literary convention taking part in all manner of exciting stuff. That’s a load of miles to be driving around the country and as much as I enjoy driving and seeing family in the midlands it can be remarkably draining maintaining all of the events, blogging and associated extras which orbit the central planet which is writing. At some point along the way, you find that you can’t get the energy levels up in the same way you once had. For whatever reason, it’s all ten times harder than it had been before and you just have to batter on with all of the energy you can muster to get over the line.

I really enjoy all of the added extras which come with spreading the word of my books but as I was driving back to South Wales yesterday I was feeling really tired and the knowledge of going to work when we’re really busy and the thought of then having to complete all of the book stuff on top of that was really tough. It really makes you appreciate all of the time off you have.

Really made me want to get writing.

Also,

If you thought that I was talking about a specific medical issue at the beginning of the post, shame on you.

DID SOMEBODY FART?

The world is changed.

The same as everyone else, I have my opinion on the result of the US election. Earlier this year I watched on as the referendum in the UK to leave the EU was decided and I had many friends who fell on both sides of the divide.

I saw the same situation unfold through the magic of the internet as the election took place last week and terrifyingly, the same situations which plagued the aftermath of the Brexit vote were far too rapid to unfold across the pond.

Now I’m not going to try to rip apart one side over the other in terms of either election but more than anything, the violent rhetoric which came out during the campaigning and then the acts of xenophobia and practically every other phobia you could imagine after the results became public were an incredibly telling sign.

Regardless of the merits and flaws of either side, the biggest thing that came out of the whole sordid affair was the almost careless abandon that those up for election were ready to throw out blame and to so often throw it at those who didn’t actually deserve it.

We all know that we have to tell the truth. We’re told from a very early age that we have to tell the truth and that we can’t lie and say that someone else did something bad if it wasn’t actually them. All kids have to be told these things because without the constant reinforcement of the need to be a part of a fair and functioning society they’d make sure that the blame was shifted all over the place.

The issue which has been raised this year is the feeling that victories were bought not with the facts of any given situation but with the scapegoating of people for all of the ills of the country. The giant, truly bus sized, slogan from Brexit was to break away from the EU and instead spend the hundreds of millions of pounds which the UK sends that way, on the NHS instead. It wasn’t even double figures of hours after the result had been announced that the U-turn came.

The same seems to have happened in the US. Immigrants were an easy target for the ills of the country and the election system was pointed at as being corrupt and rigged all the way up to the result coming out one way and then the message of fraud quickly went away.

Now I appreciate that there ae so very many more facts and figures involved in the political landscape which surrounds us and I’m not trying to say that Clinton would have been any better or worse than Trump, if she’d been better at campaigning she would have been elected, but I do find it odd that there have been so any similarities between the two winners of the voting in the UK and the US. Blame has fallen into the centre of what they’ve been spreading at the expense of real solutions.

It’s all too easy to read all manner of stories, in literature but more tellingly in our own history, which deal with societal upheaval and change which deal in exactly this form of structure. Blame is ascribed to people who weren’t at fault and the masses follow obediently in the persecution of those who had no hand in the struggles of the day. Instead of all working together as a society to improve the lives of each and every person in that society, we’re separated and segmented. Those out there who fall into the group now seen as the ones to blame can expect to become outcasts which in turn will make them angrier and angrier at their mistreatment. The pressure will build and all over the world we can already feel the dial turning.

Blame which isn’t earned is far too easy a tool to cast at people. All of us want to believe that we have been doing our very best and the only reason we haven’t reached the dizzy heights of whatever greasy pole we’re climbing is that the deck was stacked against us. That others have been undermining us and it’s all someone else’s fault. If it’s true, the imbalance needs to be corrected but if not we all move from being righteous in our outrage to nothing more than controlled pawns.

Now I know that this post has become quite serious in tone but world politics is something which has to be looked at seriously, but there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. At every corner of our lives, we must always do our best to find even the barest hints of enjoyment. No matter what else happens from here on, the US just elected a man named after a fart!

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.

JUST FOR KIDS?

Any fans of algebra out there?

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting to have waves of response in the affirmative for that question but stay with me.

I’ve just started reading a series of books which fall into the bucket of ‘YA’ or Young Adult and on many occasions, when I tell people what I’m reading, I get treated to the furrowed brow of confusion and the, “But why are you reading a kids book?”

If I’d been reading a Janet and John book, then I’d say they would have had a point asking why but why is it people are so quick to jump onto the negative?

Young Adult books span all manner of literary genres and deal with all kinds of topics, most, if not all, are fodder for books for us crusty old farts as well, but as soon as the hint of it being aimed at those with slightly fewer years on the clock appears, noses get turned up and they’re discarded as kiddies nonsense.

Now I appreciate that thanks to books like the Harry Potter series, Divergent and The Hunger Games there is now a wider understanding that amazing stories can come from anywhere and aren’t just the sole play thing of grown ups but the term Young Adult still carries baggage.

I’m reading the books for many reasons. I have a novel of that flavour in mind and I think it would be a good idea to try to get an understanding of what’s out there at the moment. The series is by an author I admire and takes place in space which is always going to be fun so why wouldn’t I want to read them? Having started, they’re great and you’d never consider that they were somehow lacking.

Getting back to the algebra question I asked at the beginning of this post, I think the issue is that so many people don’t follow the rules of algebra when deciding on books to read. They don’t treat both sides of the equation the same, placing more emphasis on the Young rather than the Adult. That’s something I’m going to always keep in mind when I start my own YA book.

Make sure the story works and don’t try to talk down to the reader and everything should sort itself out from there.