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?

LEAVING IT ALL BEHIND

David Attenborough is a hero

I’m one of the millions who’ve watched any number of the TV shows which he’s been involved with and the majesty and wonder that exists at all corners of our planet is so far beyond just looking at animals etc.

In the latest series so many different environments all over the globe come under the spotlight and the lives of all kinds of creatures are shown in all of their beauty and horror. If you haven’t been watching Planet Earth II I’d absolutely recommend hunting it out and taking a look. So much sheer life to marvel at as it just takes place regardless of the people with the cameras, it brings to the attention of all of us that the human race makes up a tiny, tiny part of what’s happening every day.

Now my mind started to meander at the understanding of how very much is happening all over the place that it made me wonder about the story telling idea of leaving the planet behind and heading off into the great unknown of outer space.

Very often there is a storyline of the human race having done something steadily or indeed cataclysmic, which has caused us to have to flee the home we’ve all known. Sometimes there are outside forces which come in and force us to leave the Earth behind but very often it’s something that we’ve done to our own home. We have to make choices that send the human race into the stars, leaving the planet behind and to do that, the planet is so easily shown as a burned out cinder which can no longer sustain the life which remains. It becomes a no brainer that we as a race would jump ship when it was sinking.

The problem becomes the reality of what we’d be leaving behind.

The understanding is inherent that we could be technologically advanced enough to transport at least some of the population from the planet and in many cases there’s the addition of the idea that we would be leaving with a collection of the Earth’s wildlife in an attempt to colonise another planet somewhere and restart the life we had. So often the point is the struggle of doing all that can be done to save the few and as many of the creatures which surround us that the fact that the same technology which is being used to offer salvation has been that which has driven us to our downfall.

We’re quick to accept the thought that we as a species would not only destroy the planet we live on but that we’d then be more than willing to leave the mess behind and head off to another spot in the universe to just start it all over again.

Why is it we’re happy to accept that?

We focus on the fact that we’re amazing in how we can escape the horror we’ve created but why would we not be concerned that it’s likely we’d just be doing exactly the same thing at our next stop? How can we be content with the thought of upsetting the possible natural evolution of another planet just because we trashed our own home?

I don’t have the first idea about the logistics which would have to be employed to collect together samples of all of the life on Earth and then to be able to transport all of that off into space but I’d suspect that we’re some way away from being able to do all of the amazing things we see in the movies.

We have a story already which deals with the destruction of almost everything on the planet because of the actions of the human race and the efforts made to preserve everything do nothing but show that we have a need to endure and that we can. It doesn’t matter what mistakes we’ve made along the way, we can just pick up and start again but as the story of Noah’s Arc is a myth meant to show the importance of adherence to a supreme being, what this story says to me is that there’s an almost extreme complacency that no matter what happens, the human race will go on.

We assume that we’re the absolute pinnacle of life and we have the power to do whatever we want but watching the constant struggles which are taking place all over the world with every form of life imaginable on planet Earth puts us into perspective.

We have an amazing intellect and that intelligence is what’s allowed us to advance in the ways that we have but we have to accept that there is so vastly more to life on Earth than just us. We’re happy to consider the fact that we can leave but we’ve all got to understand that we can’t just leave all the other life on Earth behind.

I watched the wildlife programing and there were so many amazing images which fired my mind in terms of action set pieces all the way through to inter-relationships within groups but it really concreted in my head that the need to all come together and work together spreads beyond just the human race. We have to consider so many more things to be able to always achieve the best we can for all of the life on the planet.

David Attenborough knows.

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.

HERE WE GO AGAIN

I’ve been working on my latest book recently and can present you with the cover for my soon to be released anthology of short stories.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the cover for “Tall Tales for Dark Nights”.

cover

I’m really pleased with the book and I’m looking forward eagerly to the release.

Watch this space for the date.

OLD STORY TELLER

I’ve been unwell.

I’m sure my wife will be the first to tell you that I’m not good when I’m unwell. Very often I can push through but this last week or so I’ve been bunged up with all kinds of nastiness meaning I can’t hear and I’m dizzy as hell. I’ve been to the doctor and it was there that I saw a very interesting site.

Sat in the office waiting for my turn in with the doctor and just listened to the goings on, I heard a couple of people chatting. To be fair it started out as one person talking ‘at’ someone else but then the conversation started in earnest.

An elderly man began to explain details of his life to another member of the public and all kinds of bits and pieces of history tumbled out into the wheeze and cough filled air of the doctor’s waiting room. I listened to stories from the war, tales of funny goings on and everything in between and all the way through it was incredibly clear that the story teller was having a wonderful time recounting all of the details from his life and I listened on and really enjoyed just witnessing the love of the story.

But we all have the same feeling in us. We all want to be heard in some way or another. Being listened to is such a simple thing yet is so easily overlooked. All through our lives we clamour for people to pay attention to what we have to say, almost just as a proof to us that we both exist and matter.

Today we see so many different methods for people to communicate with each other, to have people listen to what someone else has to say. Blogging is a great example. It’s just a way for me to have the chance to explain my thoughts, to lay my ideas open and connect with anyone who wants to read them.

As a writer, my stories are all a way for me to connect. A way for me to spread the ideas that I have and just know that others can recognise them as something worth taking notice of, a proof that I exist and matter.

As I walked in to see the doctor, the old story teller was still going strong and the person who he’d started out just talking ‘at’ was now totally engaged in what was taking place. And the story teller looked like he was happy to exist and matter.

Shouldn’t we all?

AND AGAIN

Hopefully everyone out there has had a great time over the silly season and that we all had the break we wanted.

This was a relaxing Christmas for me and Jo and I had a great time watching films and generally unwinding. One of the gifts she got me was a three book set of the original Star Wars stories but written in the style of William Shakespeare. It’s a wonderfully presented set and I’m looking forward to getting into them in the near future.

But they made me think.

As a piece of work, the amalgamation of styles and genres is good fun and just allows all kinds of cross overs to help introduce genres and topics to people who wouldn’t normally see them. A new telling of a story can bring something very familiar into a very new and interesting area.

But why just use someone else’s story in a new way when you can create your own?

It’s an issue we see playing out in cinema currently with the on-going changes and updating of the characters Batman and Spiderman.

Now I understand that rights ownership and all other kinds of legal red tape are having all kinds of pushing and pulling effects on them but the point is that the origin story for both was told very recently but has been ‘re-booted’ to appeal to a new generation. Films have regularly been re-made in a different way years after an original take on it but aren’t there enough new stories out there?

Many people have written that there are only going to be a finite number of plots which can be used and every story is then going to be a version of one of them. Granted the number of possible plot lines which fit into these descriptions varies depending on who you read but ultimately, there are only ever going to be one of a small number of plots.

So why bother?

If whatever we write is just going to be our take on something that has already been done, why pour the energy and effort into it if it’s already been done? The challenge becomes that we have to manipulate what we have to create something that is compelling despite being familiar. I regularly flick through my notes and see that the basic pattern I’m working on is similar to so many others but I don’t feel disheartened. I’m telling my story despite the structure being a ‘classic’.

That said, there are only 26 letters in the alphabet and we all manage to play quite well with them.