ALSO KNOWN AS

Are you known by another name?

Now I’m not looking for a list of aliases you may have available to you in the world of international espionage, although if there are any spies out there reading this, your secrets are safe with me, rather this is an exploration of the nickname.

I’ve had a few nicknames over the years.

I was known by Snowball, I didn’t drink when I started playing club cricket and that was the suggestion of a drink that the rest of the team had to get me started. As Fingers, I kept breaking my fingers when I was playing rugby in the late 90’s. I was The Elg with my friends until a throw away line from my dad made me the Son of Elg which my friends grabbed onto with vibrant gusto. I guess I’m The Elg again now. And currently at work, I go by Captain, not because of any seniority, rather because I’m a Star Trek Fan.

All of those nicknames came along because people recognised something about me, a trait that everyone knew about and could use to describe me. They all represent a shared shorthand for a group about one of its members and as such allows everyone to share in a specific detail that marks them out from everyone else.

A nickname, a pet name, they represent a level of familiarity. They show that someone has seen something about you. Granted, that may not be a trait that you may want to have highlighted but it’s something that everyone else can see.

That nickname is a potentially defining characteristic and it’s not something that should simply be ignored.

In my second novel, The Circle of Duty, one of the characters is given a nickname by the protagonist, becoming Leatherpants. It’s a description of what he wears but it’s also meant to create a level of absurdity. The character is at odds to the hero of the piece and the hero wants to be dismissive of him, thereby giving him the nickname. It allows that the main character removes a great level of the power that came with the person who was given the name.

A nickname is a shorthand moniker for someone, which can be bestowed with a smile or a snarl. It can be a great thing or, well, not so much. I guess the difference between the two is whether or not you know about it.

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PRINCE OR PAUPER

Here I am, sunning myself on the beautiful Greek island of Kos, and as I unwind all the knots and kinks that are part and parcel of every day life, all I could think about was the time I was yelled at by an irate customer in the health club I was working in because I wouldn’t let her underage daughter use certain facilities of the place outside of certain times due to her age.

Odd where your mind goes on occasion.

Have you ever worked in any kind or service industry?

Ever had to deal with the public?

Most of us have at some point found ourselves in a role where we have to work with huge numbers of the public. Working on the till at a supermarket. Working behind a bar. Waiting staff in a restaurant. These and so very many others put you in direct contact with people who need you to complete the tasks at hand to allow them to go about their day.

Now I had a blast working in all of the roles I had. I enjoy working with people so the chance for that casual chit chat, the acknowledging nod as a familiar customer returns and the general interplay between people is something that feels good. All of us representing little cogs in the machine of life that, when they all fit together, helps things run smoothly.

But.

What if things aren’t running smoothly?

Having to explain to an irate parent that the swimming pool has needed to be closed because a child was sick, meaning their plans for the day must now be rebuilt, is never fun for anyone concerned.

Being blamed for the problem by the irate parent isn’t quite so fun either.

The number of times I’ve had to deal with outpourings of anger over the years is larger than you’d probably expect and so very often it’s due to nonsense. Someone not getting their own way and then having a tantrum. Going back to the incident I mentioned at the beginning, it came about because the kids training session had finished yet the mum in question, who’d been a member for years and knew the rules, wanted to be able to bring her child in with her regardless. I was then treated to a blast of, “She’s almost old enough”, “I’ve been a member for years”, “I pay your wages”, and the ultimate fire on my skin, “I’m taking this further.”

I would have loved to just unload all of the frustration and anger that I’d built up and roared back at her but as we all know, I’d have been fired.

How often have you seen people just losing their minds at the lowliest person because they know that the person is powerless to respond? Very often, the people in these roles are young and inexperienced so become easy targets. They have the old classic of ‘The customer is always right’ ringing in their minds so just stand there doing their best to apologise for not breaking every rule in the book just because a customer wanted them to.

I’ve found myself getting less accommodating of the histrionics the older I’ve got, not because I was just being a bastard every chance I was presented, rather I just realised that the customer wasn’t always right. The complaint letters went in but I was happy to stand my ground knowing that I didn’t have to do whatever it was the customer wanted. Being the customer doesn’t mean you get to leave manners and common decency at the door.

As customers, we all have the right to expect good service but all of the staff also have the right not to be verbally mauled by their customers. Pushing someone around because they’re ‘just’ a waiter, because ‘they’re paid to give me what I want’ or ‘I want that thing now’ is just pushing someone about who’s weaker than you and we already have a word for people who do that.

How we react to those we perceive as lower than us is a clear indication of who we are. If you just step on people because you can, you are nothing but a weak minded bully.

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?

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.

ALMOST OVER

For this post I only have a single point to make.

I feel that after the 2016 we’ve all witnessed, where division and anger seem to have exposed the gruesome heart of the human race to the light, I open my arms to everyone out there, regardless of all those defining characteristics we all cling so very tightly to, and which seem to be always pulling us apart, and say to each and every one of you,

“Let’s celebrate our humanity and do what we can to make the lives we touch every day a little bit better. Let’s make sure 2017 is the perfect antidote to what we’ll soon be leaving behind us.”

Have a good ‘un all.

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.