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First blog post …here we go!

No turning back now!

Well, I’d been threatening to do it for long enough, so here it is! A blog.

I’ll be touching on various topics to do with writing, maybe a dash of acting thrown in here and there as they’re both very close to my heart. They form a symbiotic relationship as far as I’m concerned. One compliments the other.

Although maybe that’s just me.

Crafting That Brave New World -Vol 2

Volume 2, detailing my exploration of world building.

Geography has never really been my strong suit, even after I got 99 out of 100 on a geography test in Year 9. The missing point was because I’d misplaced Bordeaux on a map of France. It is, however, maps that I’ll be discussing in this blog and how important they are when world building.

As well as not being much of a geographer, it will surprise few to learn that I’m not particularly skilled at drawing. Embarking on this new project has meant having to more than brush up on both, although admittedly the map I have drawn for the world I’m building will be most likely handed over to a professional at some point with a cry of “Make this look much better, please!” The map itself, crude as it may be, is something I’ve found to be surprisingly helpful in visualising not just the world, but the story too. As I said in the first volume of this blog, the story comes first.

I’d already worked out the basic premise of both the world and the story before setting out to draw the map, which informed a few key elements. There needed to be a main continent, with two large islands on the west and east coast of that continent. To the south, we see the top of another continent, which is as of yet, undeveloped. At first, I began dividing up the main continent into different nations. While this will be vital to the story, after a bit of research, I was reminded of a basic principle. The idea of borders as we know them are a fairly recent notion. It is geographical features and obstacles that would have formed the first, rudimentary national borders. It therefore become necessary to add a series of mountains along one border, which in itself then informed and enhanced the lore of the world I’ve been crafting.

Economics also have to be taken into consideration. The world I’m crafting is very much a fantasy world, and magic plays a part in everyday life, but it isn’t the answer to everything. The people living in this world still need to acquire food and materials, so the notion of trade comes into play. If I’ve got two continents, where is the best place along the coast to establish a port or two? How has the location of a settlement influenced its development over the decades and centuries? As an example, I have one settlement essentially right in the middle of a pass between mountains which border two countries. The settlement was set up as a fortress, originally, and has to rely on its friends to the east for supplies. The fortress has become a little less essential as a military post over time, allowing for a small city to develop, but nowhere near the level of those cities closer to the ports. All little details that should be considered when crafting a new world.

Time and space matter in storytelling. It’s still taking me a bit of research to nail this one down, because as I’ve said, this blog is an exploration of my journey. I’m not claiming to know everything. A map usually comes with a scale, to let you know just how great a distance a centimetre on the map represents. Ultimately, this informs just how long it takes a character to travel from one place to another. Of course, it depends on their mode of transport, and I have cheated just a little by creating a breed of horse that’s been trained and enhanced with spells for greater speed and durability. Still, the point stands. If you want a character to be in one place today and another tomorrow, you need to be sure of how long it’ll take them to get there. There’s no teleportation in this world, no great shortcuts.

Similar to this, being able to see one location in relation to another has helped me a great deal when it came to visualising the story. The bulk of the action in the beginning takes place in one location, but as my main character begins to travel, I found that having a map to look at really did inform certain decisions about the story. If your character needs to get somewhere but must avoid a certain place, the map shows you where they must go. It also allowed me to better visualise certain political alliances, based solely on geographical locations. It makes battles easier to see and informs the tactical decisions you make your characters take.

In summary, it really is true what they say. “Location, location, location.” This is the first time I’ve tried using a map to inform my story telling, and it’s been a revelation on many fronts. Even if it never ends up being seen by anyone else, I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone dabbling with the genre.

“That’s not a proper story …”

A blog on the importance of building confidence in young writers, not destroying it.

As I scrolled through Twitter this morning, a tweet caught my eye, which is what tweets are supposed to do. It was asking whether I could remember the first story I ever wrote. This got me thinking about something that I hadn’t thought of for many years, but now that I come to consider it, it explains a lot.

The fact is, I do remember the first story I ever wrote, and I remember the scathing criticism that came with it. My first ‘bad review’. Sadly, it came from my teacher, an issue that will form the bulk of this blog, but first, the incident itself.

I was in Year 1, so I must have been about six years old. Our teacher, whose name I have genuinely forgotten, asked us to write a short story. I decided to write a story about a pair of robots, one of whom was looking forward to Christmas, the other one didn’t like Christmas. I cannot remember the precise names I gave them, but they were something like RX-4B and TR-3P. When my teacher saw this, a look of pure disgust rippled across her face. “Those aren’t real names,” she said. I looked up at her and said “You’ve never seen Star Wars, have you?” Surprisingly, she and I never really got on very well.

Despite a strong sense of defiance radiating from my bad-ass six year old self, like everyone else I found that criticism can hurt. This isn’t me saying that children shouldn’t be criticised, but there are ways to go about it so that the criticism is constructive. I went on to train as a primary school teacher and despite deciding to go in a different direction job-wise later in life, I learned enough during teacher training to look back at my own schooling and recognise that I had some abysmal teachers at times.

Criticising a six year old’s names for robots just comes down to a lack of imagination in the teacher, which still isn’t an excuse for tearing down the work of others, let alone a child. I’ve never really let this hold me back when writing, but teachers in particular have a key role to play when it comes to developing children’s confidence, or destroying it.

My handwriting has never really been the neatest, even now. I can make it out, and if I’m writing something in a rush it can become illegible. While learning joined-up handwriting, I had a teacher who would literally gag if you presented her with a piece of work that wasn’t your neatest handwriting. I’m not kidding. I can clearly recall one incident, bringing my work up to show to this particular teacher, she took one look, blanched and said “Take it away.”

I would make mistakes quite frequently when writing, which meant ink blots and badly formed letters having to be crossed out. The fact that this teacher insisted on us striving to write neatly was not the problem, it was her visceral and over-the-top reaction to our mistakes. It got to the point where I was terrified to show her my work, because once you made one mistake, that was it. It was ruined. I would descend into tears in the classroom. To this day, when someone remarks about my handwriting, my insides tighten. I worked hard at improving my handwriting, but I struggle to recall receiving any genuine help from a teacher on this particular issue. I also, in all fairness, don’t recall any of my teachers in secondary school remarking one way or another on my handwriting, but this one teacher was all it took for me to develop a ‘thing’ about the neatness of my handwriting.

Again, I am not advocating only ever telling children what they want to hear. If a child’s handwriting needs improving, it’s the teacher’s duty to help them to do so. Refusing to even read their work because of their handwriting says one thing to me, namely “What you have to say doesn’t matter because I don’t like the way you’ve written it”. Reading the child’s work and discussing the content should come first, saying what you like about it and what could use improvement. If it’s the handwriting that needs improving, you explain why it’s necessary to be precise in how we write, namely so our words can be understood. You remind the child that this is still a relatively new skill they’re learning and that mistakes are going to happen. You allow the child time and give them the necessary support. Looking at their work and literally making a gagging noise is hardly good teaching practice, yet it’s how one of my teachers chose to conduct herself.

My own teacher training was an eye opener in so many ways, but even before I started my course, I learned about the rule of 2 to 1. Both my parents were secondary school teachers and they explained that this ratio was how to go about discussing a child’s work with them. For everything that needs some improvement, you sandwich it between two things you liked about their work. Constructive and confidence building. This is a principle I’ve always striven to employ when working with young people.

One thing I will say for the teacher who used to become quite ill at the sight of my handwriting, at least she did it in private. In my first year of teacher training, I was on a placement in a Year 6 class. Obviously, being a student teacher in my first year, I was mostly there to observe and support wherever I could. Not there to rock the boat.

The class I was assigned to had a supply teacher in one day. I’ve nothing against supply teachers, I’ve done it myself often enough, but there was something about this guy. The class was asked to write a story in fifty words. A great exercise in concise storytelling. One child wrote what I felt was a humorous, imaginative story in precisely fifty words. Exactly what had been asked of him, and he had the courage to read it out loud in front of the class. The supply teacher declared “That’s not a proper story, listen to what I’ve done.” He then went on to read out what he’d written about a man crossing a desert. Descriptive, yes, and under fifty words …but there was no story to it. It felt more like an extract than anything else. The class had been asked to write a story in fifty words, namely beginning, middle and end. This child had done so, but the supply teacher didn’t like it so he read out his own work to compare it.

To this day, I remember feeling utter indignation on this child’s behalf. He’d done precisely what had been asked of the class, written a funny and engaging fifty word story, and this teacher had the audacity to humiliate him in front of the whole class. Still, being a student, I was very good and said nothing to contradict the teacher openly. I did, however, make a point of speaking to the child later and telling him I enjoyed his story and that he was very brave for reading it out. I can only hope I undid some of the damage that could have been done.

Adults can have a devastating impact on children’s confidence if they’re not careful. Taking issue with my handwriting is one thing, but had I taken on board what my Year 1 teacher said about the names of my robots not being “proper”, I might have eventually decided that it was never going to be worth my time attempting anything creative. All writing is subjective, of course, but we should never dismiss a child’s efforts as “not being a proper story”. If you don’t quite follow a child’s reasoning behind writing something, ask them. Get them to talk you through the choices they made in their story. Teaching isn’t about giving answers all the time. It’s about asking the right questions that get children to realise their own potential for themselves.

It’s well known that a bad teacher can destroy a child’s interest in a subject. There are fantastic teachers out there who have inspired generations of children in so many ways. Confidence can take a lifetime to build, but in some cases it only takes a few knocks to leave a big dent.

Crafting That Brave New World -Vol 1

The first of a series of blogs, documenting my tackling of a whole new project.

One of the great joys of the fantasy genre is being able to step out of our own world and immerse yourself in another. So many authors have created fantastical worlds in their works that have captivated our imaginations to the point of making us want to believe that such a place exists. The ultimate question is, how do they do this?

 

I’m going to start this blog with a rare admission regarding that last question. The truth is, I’m still very much working it out myself. This blog, and possibly many more over the coming months/years, will document and explore my own efforts to craft a fully rounded fantasy world. There’ll be mistakes, pretty much all of which I’ll own up to. There’ll be a few dead ends and days when I want to bash my keyboard into oblivion. Hopefully some people out there will read it all and learn something from it. I’m certainly hoping I will.

 

I’ve had an idea for a new fantasy novel kicking round in my head for some time. During lockdown I’ve spent a great deal of time finishing off the final draft of the third ‘Figment Wars’ novel, but once that was done I decided it was time to get this new idea out of my head and onto paper, where it belongs. There were a few things I knew I wanted in this new project from the start. Firstly, that it would largely take the form of a dictation. A powerful man dictating his memories to a scribe. Secondly, I wanted to write something that reflected my own experiences as a gay man. This new project will most definitely touch upon LGBT issues.

 

More than that, I wanted to set about creating a whole world in which to tell this story. ‘The Figment Wars’, my first novel, tells the story of three human children plunged into a world populated by Figments of human imagination. In my mind, however, I’d always seen the Realm of Imagination as another plane of existence, rather than another world as such. It is very much linked to our own world, and broadly speaking there have always been two subsets of fantasy worlds. Ones that have links to our own world, and ones that exist entirely separate from ours. The Realm of Imagination very much fits with the former, with all its occupants having come from the imaginations of human children, and of course the main characters travel back and forth between the two realms.

 

So, having done that, I want to try my hand at crafting a world in its own right, with its own geography, history and natural laws. Ideas have been coming, sometimes thick and fast, other times in drips and drabs. The first thing I have discovered though, and I’ll share it with you all now for nothing, is as follows;

Story comes first.

I’d already started handwriting the overall draft of the story in my trusty notebook a few weeks ago when I got the urge to start thinking more about the history of this world I was creating. I’d already had a go at drawing a map of the main continent and islands that will provide the setting, and despite my poor drawing skills, I found that the map did help me move the story along, allowing me to plot where certain characters are going and what obstacles they might encounter. Considering that geography was not my strong point at school, this came as a welcome surprise. Yesterday, however, I felt the urge to delve more into the history of this world.

 

Now, it could have been a number of things. I’ve been experiencing some pain in my feet lately and I had an appointment to see a specialist yesterday. That may have been distracting me as I was trying to write. I’m a big believer in only writing when you really feel in the mood. Write in a bad mood and you’ll most likely end up deleting most of what you’ve written, which I did. I looked back at what I’d done, detailing the early history of this fictional continent, and I didn’t like it one bit. Deleted about half of it. Gone. *poof*

 

Then, when I stopped to think about it, I realised something. What I was writing was, at this point, not relevant to my main character’s story. I’ve drafted the outline of just about half my character’s story by now, and for some reason yesterday decided to take a break and begin giving some consideration to events that would have happened centuries before my main character was born. As it turned out, this was a bad idea. The story, as in the main story, must come first. I must, and will, finish mapping out the journey my main character will take before I start coming up with entire histories for multiple cultures.

 

That was my little epiphany which I’m happy to share. World building can be fun, and it’s easy to get distracted by coming up with all the details that make up this fantastical world you’re creating. Indeed, it’s those details that make that world seem real to the reader, as though it’s a world that people actually live in. Historical accounts, myths and legends, sayings that mean something to the characters that inhabit your new world are what make it real. However, certainly in this early stage of writing, I must be on my guard not to get bogged down in coming up with those details. They’ll come, when the time is right, but for now I must focus on the main story. I know how it begins, and I have an idea of how I want it to end, but there’s a heck of a lot that goes on in between that still needs to be worked out.

 

I hope to write more in this series of blogs as I continue on this new project. There’s a great deal of research for me to do and a lot to learn about effective world building. I just hope somebody finds my musings (and occasional ramblings) to be at least half-way helpful!

A Little Less Speculation …

Thoughts on how the supposed right to speculate on the sexuality of others links to the dangerous practice of conversion therapy.

Stop the presses. A recent study by a team at Northwestern University in Evanston has made a ground-breaking discovery; male bisexuality exists. My takeaway from this? There’s a team with a little too much time on their hands.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the study of human sexuality, but the headline that goes with this announcement does come across as more than just a little condescending. There are a great many bisexual men who could have told this team in five seconds what they’ve apparently concluded after several years, namely that they’re bisexual.

 

In truth it’s not entirely the fault of the study itself. Much of the coverage of the study as well as media rhetoric regarding bisexuality over the years has to take a good portion of the blame. Ill-informed comments from pundits and celebrities claiming that bisexuals are “greedy”, “confused” or just plain “lying” have not helped. I identify as entirely gay, but I will never understand the tendency of some people to dismiss bisexuality. There’s a ‘B’ in LGBTQ for a reason. They stand with us, and they deserve to be treated with respect.

 

The central problem, as far as I can see, is this incessant need in some people to speculate over the sexuality of others. Again, I’m not talking about genuine academic studies, I’m talking about the gross assumptions and generalisations made by some people on a day to day basis. When someone tells you that they’re bisexual, one of the absolute worst responses is “Are you sure?”, followed by “Well, you might just be gay but haven’t come out yet.” It’s in a very similar vein to when someone comes out as transgender, only to be told that they might be “confused” or have they tried “just being gay?”

 

As I said, I’m gay. Gay and cis. That is me. This does not, however, give me the right to speculate on anyone else’s sexuality or gender based solely on my own experiences. I’ve never known what it is like to feel that I was born in the wrong body, nor have I ever felt attracted to girls. I tried to make it appear that I did due to pressure coming from all around me, but that’s a subject for another blog. The point is, my experiences are mine but that does not give me the right to assume that they’ve been shared by everyone else. The second someone says to me “I’m bisexual”, I accept it instantly, without question. Put even simpler, when someone tells me how they identify, I believe them.

 

It is quite sad that some see it as acceptable to make assumptions about and speculate over the sexuality of others. First and foremost, it’s distressing for the person who’s having this fundamental aspect of their identity taken apart so casually (or sometimes maliciously). Chances are that person has spent much time and energy working up the courage to divulge their sexuality to someone, only to be dismissed as a confused liar that doesn’t know themselves. Such speculation has consequences, and it isn’t the person doing the speculating who’ll have to deal with those consequences. I’d very much like to see a society where those who engage in such idle speculation over other people’s sexuality are, indeed, held to account. It should be seen as ridiculous, to dismiss or judge somebody’s sexuality. We don’t do it for any other aspect of our identity.

“Hello, I’m British.”

Oh, I don’t think so. You might just be a confused Frenchman.”

 

You might ask, why the big fuss? Isn’t it just people talking about matters of identity and sexuality? Are you censoring people? No. General discussion of matters regarding sexuality and gender identity must always be free to be discussed. This is not the same as dismissing someone’s identity in order to project something else upon them. On an individual basis, a person’s sexuality or gender identity cannot be allowed to be squashed in the name of academic discussion. Once someone asserts their identity, that is not up for debate. Share your own experiences and thoughts, by all means. The world is better when we talk to each other. However, don’t seek to use those experiences to override those of someone else, to stamp your own sense of self onto them. As I’ve said, having your identity debated and dismissed is never going to make someone feel better about themselves. Don’t make them run that gauntlet. Accept who they are.

 

There’s a tweet currently doing the rounds which has, rightly, raised some eyebrows;

Screenshot Redacted

I offer this as a prime example of someone engaging in gross assumptions on a rather massive scale. A man, rather embarrassingly declaring how little he knows of women’s sexuality and engaging in some wild speculation, presumably without actually asking a woman. This is the lower end of the scale when it comes to ill-informed speculation over the sexuality of others. Risible and easily dealt with. However, there are those who engage in speculation over the sexuality and gender identity of others with far more sinister intent. I’m speaking, of course, about conversion therapy.

 

The UK government has pledged to make the abhorrent practice of conversion or “reparative” therapy illegal, although at the time of writing this, not only has there been a great deal of delay already, but it now seems that even more time is being called for in order to carry out further research. There are those, currently in the UK, who offer conversion therapy but insist that’s not what they’re doing. They claim they’re engaging in discussion about gender and sexuality issues and offering counselling to those with “unwanted same sex attractions”. A turd by any other name would smell as foul. This is precisely what I described earlier, speculation and demolition of an individual’s identity, hidden under the cloak of “academic discussion”.

 

These organisations insist they’re offering impartial counselling for those experiencing “unwanted same sex attraction”. It can hardly be considered impartial when the rhetoric these organisations engage in is so vehemently homophobic. The leader of one of the more prevalent organisations has called homosexuality “a danger to all humankind”. The website of this particular organisation states that they do not offer LGBT affirmative therapy. This boils down to one thing: once they’ve got you, they will do all they can to make you straight, no matter the cost to you.

 

They’re engaging in the most extreme form of speculation in that not only have they decided what your sexuality should be, they’re going to tear you down completely in order to “fix” you. Once you’re in with them, they’ll do all they can to win your trust, get you to talk about a past event that you found traumatic. They’ll then perform all kinds of linguistic acrobatics to convince you that this event is linked to your sexuality. Should you express doubts, or appear to be heading in a direction they don’t approve of, they tell you how disappointed they are. They shame you. They’re gambling with the well being and lives of other with no risk to them. Hopefully, the law will soon be changing to make their practice illegal, and for the first time they will have to actually deal with the consequences of their actions.

 

Anybody struggling with an aspect of their identity should seek out someone to talk to, a professional if need be. A truly impartial professional will believe someone when they say they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or non-binary. Any decent therapist knows how to genuinely help someone work out who they are. It’s the ones currently kicking up a big stink over the proposed change in the law that know they’ve got something to fear. Conversion therapists aren’t interested in helping anyone. They are simply indulging in their own, rather base instinct that tells them they have a right to speculate over and judge other people’s identity. They then take that instinct and act on it, patting themselves on the back when they’ve torn you down and rapidly distancing themselves from you when you come forward and speak about how they made you feel. They deal in sham and shame. Some people do change the way they identify over time, but this needs to come about organically, through impartial discussion and a journey of self discovery, not at the insistence of fanatics.

 

So, in summation, just remember that when someone tells you they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, pansexual or asexual, there are only two acceptable responses;

A) Thank you for feeling that you could tell me.

B) Thank you for feeling that you could tell me, now let’s go get some cake.

 

Don’t speculate. Celebrate!

Happy Birthday Figment Wars!

A blog celebrating five years since the publication of ‘The Figment Wars: Through the Portals’!

Last year, on World Book Day, I found myself addressing an assembly hall full of Year 10 students. An assembly hall of Year 10 students who’d never heard of me or my book. I acknowledged this from the beginning, telling them I wish I could tell them that I’ve sold thousands of books and that those books are about to be made into a film, but I can’t. I’m no good at bluster at the best of times and I was raised not to lie (bang goes any hope of a career in politics). I told them the truth because I felt it important to make a fundamental point; you don’t get into writing with the sole purpose of becoming rich and famous, and anyone who does is usually bitterly disappointed.

 

You get into writing because you love it.

 

That is why, when I look back over the last five years, I don’t feel any kind of regret. I’d made many attempts over the years at writing something I thought I could really do something with, all to no avail. Then there came that trip into Bath on the Park n’ Ride bus with a good friend. That’s when the idea first came to me, and I worked hard to turn it into something. I tried various methods of publication, and when Austin Macauley came along with an offer, I said “Yes”. I don’t regret that decision, not for a moment.

 

The past five years have been eventful, to say the least. When I first started writing ‘Through the Portals’, I’d only just moved in with my partner. A huge new chapter in my life had only just started, and there I was possibly embarking on a whole new one already. Since then we’ve bought our first house, a move that unfortunately coincided with a breakdown of my mental well being. I was signed off work and ultimately left my job. It was during that time that I joined my local amateur dramatic society, Sodbury Players, and not only rediscovered my love of performing, but made some excellent new friends. It was mostly down to the confidence I’d found from joining Players that led me to getting the second Figment Wars novel published. A novel that had been sitting in my computer for quite some time. As that book was published I began pursuing agency work that allowed me to balance work with writing.

 

When I look back at that moment when I first held an actual, physical copy of my book, it’s difficult to recall precisely what I was thinking. I know that I didn’t automatically expect it to be a runaway success. That wasn’t why I’d decided to write it. I’d enjoyed writing the story and I wanted to share it. It was as simple as that then, and the only thing that’s really changed is the ways I go about sharing the story. The world doesn’t owe anyone success, and even if you don’t achieve it, the point is to try. I’m still learning about the world of promoting books and there’s still a great deal for me to learn. Rather than obsess over the goal, I’m enjoying the journey.

 

There have been a number of experiences over the last five years that I’d like to reflect on. Getting to hold a copy of my book was fantastic, of course, but attending a comic con event and selling copies of my book for the first time was a truly rewarding experience. I’ve been attending such events for many years, so to be on the other side of the table was somewhat surreal. Collaborating with Ello Dave Media to create a live action trailer for the first novel was also a surreal experience, seeing my characters come to life, played by tremendously talented people that I’m fortunate to count among my friends. Getting honest feedback from friends and family about the story has also been something I cherish. Not only am I not obsessing over sales, I’m also not here to have smoke blown up my backside. I appreciate every thought and observation put my way.

 

It’s hard to tell what the next five days will bring, let alone the next five years. I’ve been hard at work on the next Figment Wars novel. I’ll give out no further details on that just yet, only to say that I’m hopeful about getting things moving fairly soon. Whatever happens over the next few years, I plan to do my best to bring my stories to the relevant audience as long as it is within my means to do so. As I said, I’m still learning a great deal about what it takes to get a book noticed. One thing I do know is that it isn’t easy, but it’s certainly worthwhile to try.

 

I’d like to end by thanking everyone that’s offered their support over the last five years and indeed, before publication itself. The team at Austin Macauley have always been supportive and without you all I would not have had these experiences. To all my family and friends, you give me the confidence to be myself at all times, even when being myself involves being a little strange.

What Motivates a Villain?

Some things to consider when creating your antagonist!

They say a story is only as good as the bad guy. We love to hate them. They provide conflict for our protagonists, allowing the tension in a story to mount until it all comes to a climax in the final confrontation. So, if you’re looking to craft a villain for your story, the first thing to consider is “What do they want?”

Every character has a motivation, something they want. Even the most seemingly insignificant background character might just want to live a peaceful life and make ends meet. That is a motive. Your antagonist, however, usually wants something more. Let’s take a look at some of the classic motivations for an antagonist and some questions for you to consider when writing them.

Power

Many villains seem to want power for the sake of power, and sometimes this is the case. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, as John Dalberg-Acton put it. When it comes to villainous characters within a story, they can usually be divided into two categories; those who became corrupt once they achieved power and those who were corrupt long before. The quest for power and what they’re willing to do for it might be what defines your villain. What lengths will they go to? How do they treat those in their way? Do they have the ability to govern that they believe they have?

One doesn’t have to look far to find examples of people who have gained power only to find that the quest for it isn’t as satisfying as having it. Perhaps the most dangerous type of antagonist is one who has gained power, and even though they are inept, they are also unwilling to give up their position. The question then becomes what will they do to keep their power? Is the fear of losing their power what corrupts them and causes them to do terrible things? Shakespeare’s take on Richard III (while historically dubious) presents an all-round power hungry villain, a man who does terrible things in order to become King, then commits further crimes to make sure he keeps his crown.

Many villains strive for power because they’ve convinced themselves it is theirs by right. The principle of the strong ruling over the weak. They might feel they’ve been unjustly overlooked, or that life itself has deprived them of what should be theirs. Taking this approach when writing a villain usually mandates a ‘corrupt from the beginning’ mindset, but keep in mind that few antagonists actually believe themselves to be ‘evil’. In their minds, they are righting a wrong and doing whatever is necessary. Even pantomime villains have a motive, but they’re now pretty much the only ones to actually revel in their villainy.

So, if it’s the quest for power that’s motivating your villain, consider from the beginning what they would use it for. Give them reasons, even if the antagonist never states them outright. Keep that motive clear in your own head and you’ll find it more likely to slip into the writing with a greater degree of subtlety. Again, it’s only pantomime villains that really feel the need to declare their intentions in full!

 

Self Preservation

There are very few selfless antagonists out there. They’re in it for themselves, first and foremost, although there are some that are arguably thinking of others. Magneto, for example, leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants, fights for his fellow mutants against human aggressors. Forever at odds with his counterpart, Professor Xavier, he commits violent acts in the name of defending mutant kind. This raises a whole other question of whether violence is acceptable in defence, or does a more diplomatic approach get better results? For some villains, there is nothing but fighting the good fight, and they’ll do it by any means necessary. Again, such antagonists don’t believe that what they’re doing is wrong. They’re defending themselves against an enemy, but they’re usually not picky about who is labelled as an enemy.

Such antagonists, claiming to be fighting for a greater cause, usually won’t see the need to differentiate between the enemy and the innocent. Having been backed into the ultimate corner, they’ll usually hold to the belief that you’re either with them or against them. No room for middle ground.

The other way to look at self-preservation as a motive is more literal, the notion that a villain truly is in it for themselves and will do anything to keep themselves safe. Taking this approach when writing an antagonist allows for a more callous, cruel character. They’re more likely to sacrifice others, even those on their own side, if it means that they stay safe. This also allows you some options for when an antagonist is facing a truly hopeless situation. How are they going to respond? Does the thought of their inevitable demise drive them past the breaking point?

 

Obsession

This one is often very closely tied to the previous two motivations. They say obsession is dangerous, even more so in a character that means ill to others. If you want to paint your antagonist as obsessed, decide for definite what they’re obsessed with from the beginning, then stick to it. Is it an object? A person? Why do they want this so badly? What will they do to get it, and how do they react to the prospect of failure?

As a little sub-set to this, let’s take antagonists that are obsessed with money. They say the love of money is the root of all evil, after all. There are few examples of antagonists obsessed with accumulating wealth for the sake of having it, because ultimately most writers will consider what having great wealth brings for that character. In most cases, we circle back round to power. Being ridiculously wealthy affords one the chance to be incredibly powerful and influential. However, we should not dismiss the notion of greed as a motivation.

For many villains in film, literature or even real life, enough is never enough. Don’t be afraid to make your villain undeniably greedy, for it will help sour the reader’s view of them, but if you want to avoid making them a one dimensional money grubber, give them a reason for always wanting more. It ultimately moves the plot along, giving your protagonist something to thwart. In the classic legend, the Sheriff of Nottingham is most definitely greedy, but it’s his attempts to wed Maid Marian that cause Robin Hood to stop him once and for all.

 

Revenge

This can feel a little over used as a motivation, but I prefer to see it as a classic when handled properly. Keep in mind what we’ve said about antagonists, namely that they don’t believe what they’re doing is wrong. If someone has thwarted them, in their eyes, they have been most unjustly wronged. If you’ve decided to make your character obsessive and cruel, revenge on your protagonist is the natural way for them to go. Villains are almost never the type to simply ‘let it go’, though there are rare times when circumstances force them to do so. One of my own antagonists in my second novel is forced to forgo his chance at revenge when it becomes necessary to team up others for his own protection.  The principle here is ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.

It’s tempting to say that, like the pursuit of power, actually getting revenge is not as satisfying as wanting it. If you want to give your antagonist real drive and bring a sense of threat to the story, make it clear that they’ll stop at nothing to get vengeance. While this might seem to contradict the point I made about my own antagonist, keep in mind that it all comes down to what you want the reader to believe about your villain. If you want them to fear for your protagonist, make it clear just what the enemy will do to get hold of them and leave them with no doubt as to what they’ll do when the time comes. Writing a credible villain is coupled with making the reader fear for your protagonist, the character they’ve come to root for.

 

In conclusion, when sitting down to map out a story, I’d advise making notes on your antagonist if not first, then certainly put them high on your priorities. It is their actions that are going to create the problem for your protagonist, and their actions are based on their motivations. Decide what they want from the beginning and determine in your own mind just what they’re prepared to do. Write these down and keep them close to you when writing. True villains don’t need to declare their every evil intention, they just need to act upon them. If you know just how terrible your antagonist is, it will shine through in your writing.

 

For me personally, lack of empathy is the true source of villainy. Sadly, there are many people in real life for whom empathy is an alien concept. In these difficult times, please look out for each other while striving to keep safe.

Identity

A blog on the concept of ‘Identity’.

It’s an odd thing, identity. You can have legal documents that prove it. It can, unfortunately, be stolen. One thing I firmly believe, however, is that it cannot be touched. Not in the truest, most pure form of the concept. Your identity is your own, and nobody can knock it.

 

Imagine, for a moment, a world of automatons. Everyone looking, sounding and acting the same. Hideously dull, isn’t it? This is why, when some balk at the term “diversity”, I feel a great swell of pity for them. To exist entirely in an echo chamber and a mirror simultaneously would be immensely boring. The world doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t work that way. If it did, evolution would grind to a halt. Life relies on diversity in order to evolve and progress. To me, the greatest source of diversity among humans is found in the core of every person. Their identity. Every person is truly unique and it all comes down to their identity.

 

So, what makes up your identity? Let’s begin with the most obvious. A name. They’re important, after all. You come to know someone’s name and they know you’re talking to them when you address them. Seems simple enough, yet we can share names. I know plenty of ‘Davids’ my own age, yet have only come across a handful of them in my own teaching career. Names come and go in popularity, just as they can come and go by choice.

 

We’re given a name at birth, but some choose to change their name legally later in life. This can be for a number of reasons, all of which are relevant only to the person making the decision. Being happy with how you are addressed is important to our sense of identity. Introducing ourselves by name is our first point of contact with another human being. You never start a conversation with “Hello, I’m an engineer, my name is Ryan!” We want people to know our names, to know how to address us. Nicknames are, of course, an extension of this. Names that we’re happy to be called by certain friends. It’s also why name-calling can actually be more hurtful than we sometimes let on. It’s a name we’re not happy to be called and it feels like a dismissal of this first point of human contact. While this might seem like I’m making a point that contradicts my assertion that your identity cannot be touched, it is my firm belief that it is how we deal with others that determines the strength of our identity. You and you alone get to decide on your name. If someone calls you something other than your name, ignore them. They may think they’re talking to you, but you know they are not.

 

‘Dead-naming’ is when someone addresses a transgender person by their former name. It is a particular source of strife for the transgender community, especially when done deliberately and maliciously. The excuse sometimes thrown about is “You’ll always be (blank) to me.” Well, here’s the thing; you don’t get to dictate other people’s identity based on your perceptions. That person’s identity is theirs to determine and theirs alone, just as yours is for you to determine. Addressing someone correctly is a basic act of respect and it isn’t difficult. Remembering their pronouns isn’t actually all that hard either, but in the case of a genuine mistake, the important thing is to correct yourself as swiftly as possible. If your friend comes out to you as transgender or non-binary, show them you respect them.

 

My gender matches my sex. That’s my identity. There are some who feel that how other people identify with regards to gender and sex somehow impacts them in turn. The fundamental truth is, it doesn’t. When someone identifies as a gender that differs from their sex, it does not effect the identity of anyone else. My gender matches my sex and I am attracted to other people of the same sex. I identify as homosexual. If a transgender person identifies as homosexual too, this does not take away or lessen my ability to identify as homosexual. Facets of identity are not some finite resource that cannot be shared. There’s plenty to go around, and someone sharing a trait with you does not diminish you in any way.

 

We’re fortunate to live in a time when our understanding of human sexuality and gender is expanding (though sadly some seek to drag our understanding backwards). We’re giving voice to aspects of both sexuality and gender that previously went unheard. Just as a few examples, we’re affirming the concept of asexuality, where before we might have ignored it. We’re making the distinction between pansexuality and bisexuality. We’re beginning to recognise the spectrum of gender and accepting that some people are non-binary. I think this is a rather exciting time to be alive, and I only have pity for those who can’t see it. The concepts of sexuality and gender are as complex as life itself, and we’re only beginning the exploration.

 

Anyone who knows me will know how much I value empathy. As I said, my gender and my sex are the same and I am attracted to other men. That’s a big part of my identity. I can, however, more than accept that this is not how everyone identifies. As we’ve established, the very idea that everyone should identify the same as everyone else is not only absurd but downright dull.

 

Empathy, the ability to put yourself in the place of another and begin to understand how they feel, is vital when it comes to respecting the identity of someone else. I am not transgender, but I know plenty of people who are. I have not gone through what they have, but I can make an effort to understand. I don’t see any point in trying to distance myself from someone just because they identify differently to me in regards to gender. To attack someone over it just seems ludicrous and spiteful. That’s why, whenever possible, I make the effort to stand up for my transgender friends the same way I would for my other friends in the LGBTQ community when they are attacked. I stand against anyone who would attack others for simply identfying differently.

 

Why do some people attack others for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer? Why is it some people see someone who differs from them and think them a threat, even when they aren’t? The answer is simple. Fear. Our ancestors learned that some things that are different might try to hurt you, and sadly, some people today still hold to this instinct even when it isn’t necessary. They are afraid that the existence of one identity will somehow eclipse or erase their own. If you hold fast to your identity, it cannot be touched by anyone. If you seek to dictate to others how they should identify, well, you can expect them to hold fast to their identity too. There’s an old phrase that really needs to come back. It’s ‘live and let live’. Imagine a world where, upon meeting someone who identifies differently to you, instead of putting up our defences or trying to change them, we said “That’s fascinating. Please, tell me more.”

 

Naturally there are other aspects to identity and the truth is, everyone has their priorities when it comes to this. Some people hold the country of their birth as being the core of their identity, whereas to some it’s simply a geographical happenstance. To many, the colour of their skin is very much linked to their sense of identity, whereas many hold their religious beliefs to be paramount when it comes to defining who they are.  Most people are proud of being something, and this is usually the fundamental source of conflict between us as a species. This raises one final question; is it okay to be proud of your identity?

 

Answering such a question could merit an entire blog, but if you’ve made it this far into this particular blog then I’ll be mercifully brief. Ultimately, yes, I believe it is okay to be proud of your identity. I am proud to be gay.

 

However, being proud of any aspect of your identity does not mean having to attack others for a part of their identity. All too often, the ones who cry “Am I not allowed to be proud of who I am?” are the ones simultaneously attacking others for being themselves. Too often, the right to be proud of yourself is used as an excuse for attacking others. Well, it doesn’t wash with me. If the strength of your identity rests solely on attacking others, that isn’t pride. It’s paranoia. Someone moving into your area who is different to you does not constitute an automatic threat.

 

I’ll leave you with that phrase that really does need to be used more.

 

“Live and let live.”

 

 

 

 

 

Love Matters

A brief blog on why homophobia is always so much worse than it appears.

It’s a terribly bad habit, falling into conversation online with homophobes. Over the last few months I’ve found myself embroiled with a few particularly unpleasant examples. While I maintain that is important to stand up to such people, both online and in real life, it can become tiresome. However, someone said something that really brought home the underlying mantra of homophobia.

 

In a thread all about same sex couples raising children, one particular Twitter user was asserting that same sex couples cannot be considered the parents of a child because they’re not biologically related. When I pointed out that many children are raised by parents not biologically related to them, and that these children love their parents, I was countered with;

“Love isn’t all that matters.”

That, perhaps more than anything else, was the most revealing comment. It’s the one thing that those who oppose the very existence of the LGBTQ community won’t admit to. They don’t think us capable of love, or rather, they want to portray us as being incapable of love. It’s the sinister undertone to practically everything they throw at us.

 

Love is an essential part of being human. We need it as we develop all the way through our lives. It can be romantic or platonic. We all need it, we want to find it and we are driven to feel it. Why then, do some people want to paint the LGBTQ community as being incapable of feeling love?

 

It’s quite simple. What cannot feel love is easy to demonise. Apply that to a person, or an entire group, and you can swiftly dehumanise them in the eyes of others. They become somthing ‘other’, ‘lesser’. Not only do they want others to see us this way, they have to see us this way themselves. It is the entire basis, the only justification they can muster for their fear of us. If we cannot feel love, they must be right to oppose us. They don’t want to think of us as human beings.

 

Their main way of going about this is to attribute only one thing to our existence; the act of sex. When they see two people of the same sex living together, that is all they see, two people who are having sex. Obviously they don’t approve of that, so they justify their discomfort by attempting to strip us of anything that might make us like a heterosexual couple.

 

They don’t want to think of us doing the dishes or laundry. They will not hear of us discussing our day at work. They don’t want to know about the arguments or the disagreements that all couples have. They can’t imagine us doing something nice for a partner who’s been going through a rough time. No. All they see is two women or two men that are having sex. You won’t see them thinking the same of a heterosexual couple, oh no. They’re obsessed with our sex lives and seem to think it’s all we live to do.

 

Naturally they don’t think we’re constantly going at it. Nobody has the stamina. The point is that they seek to define us purely by who we have sex with and disregard every other aspect of our lives that make us just like everyone else. The biggest of these being love. If all we live to do is have sex, in their eyes we are incapable of love. That makes us so much easier to hate.

 

Now, when you try and point this out, many will try to flip it right back. “You all define yourselves by who you have sex with, why else would you have Pride events? You want to be different but be treated equally when you’re not!”

 

Here’s the thing. We define ourselves as LGBTQ because we have been made to. Pride is necessary because we had to fight for the right to exist as we are. Pride is about love, and how we are just as capable of loving each other as everyone else. It is my sincerest hope that one day no one will bat an eyelid at seeing two people of the same sex living together. I wish we didn’t have to stand up for ourselves in order to prevent being discounted altogether, but we do.

 

This is the underlying tactic of those who wish to push the LGBTQ community back into the closet. They paint us as loveless and sex crazed. They apply it to every situation. They accuse us of being paedophiles when a LGBTQ person wants to work with children because they define us solely on the act of sex. They think it is our only motive for doing anything. They cannot, and will not, consider the possibility that we can feel anything but lust. Not sorrow, not compassion, not empathy, and most notably, not love.

 

Love matters, and there are those who are striving to convince others that we cannot feel it, simply because we are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In other words, ‘different’.

 

Don’t let them do it. Show them that love matters. Cherish it. Love yourself and love others.

 

 

 

When Inspiration Hits

Thoughts on the definition of ‘inspiration’.

“Inspiration”.

Defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the process of being filled with a feeling or with the urge to do something’, ‘a person or thing that inspires’ or finally, ‘a sudden clever idea’.

Let’s have a look at these three a little more closely, shall we? I was only going to do the first, but since you’ve been kind enough to read this blog thus far I might as well make it worth your while.

 

Definition 1 -‘the process of being filled with a feeling or with the urge to do something’.

We’ve all felt this at some point, writers and non-writers alike. Most of the time we wouldn’t even say we’d felt inspired to do something, we might even pass it off as an impulse. I do believe there’s a major distinction though. An impulse is but a flash, a momentary urge and is more often attributed to the doing of things we really shouldn’t. Inspiration can strike in the most fleeting of moments, but inspiration in the higher sense should lead us to work on something more long term.

 

Inspiration is not often linked with convenience. It strikes, sometimes seemingly randomly, and often at the most inconvenient moments. Just as you’re about to go to sleep is a common time, hence the notepad that many writers will keep beside their bed. Indeed, the notepad is the true best friend of many writers, always at hand to make note of an idea. Just a few months ago I was struck while doing the washing up, fortunately nothing was broken during the ‘Eureka’ moment.

 

This first definition clarifies that inspiration is a feeling, or an urge. What then, does inspiration feel like? For me, it is an unbeatable rush. When an idea comes to you, a truly inspiring thought, it is better than any artificial high in my opinion. In particular when it solves a problem you’ve been having with a point of plot or character. It’s an elation coupled with a tremendous rush. It’s not a high we can command or truly summon, but when it does hit, it can lift you through the stratosphere.

 

Definition 2 – ‘a person or thing that inspires’

We all have our heroes, literary or otherwise. They say you should never meet them but I say that depends entirely on the identity and character of your hero. I’ve met a number of people who I can honestly say have inspired me in one way or another and to varying degrees. Famous, well known people who probably hear that they’ve inspired someone three or four times a week. I know I cannot speak for all, but in my experience, when I have conveyed (or attempted to through a tangled tongue) to someone how much they’ve inspired me, they’ve always been happy to hear it. No artist stands alone and we have all been influenced by others. To my mind, true artists want to inspire others, and appearing grateful when they hear they’ve done so is never a mere formality.

 

Inspiration can also come from a source much closer to home. The people we meet on our doorsteps can inspire us just as much as our heroes from their pedestals. My family have always been a great source of encouragement and support to me, as indeed has my partner of nearly eight years. When it comes to pushing myself in new creative directions, I hold my friends from Sodbury Players personally responsible. I wouldn’t have thought of adapting parts of my book into a live action book trailer were it not for the group’s chairman, Rob. Every single member of the adult group, and indeed the youth group, has inspired me over the last few years to push myself both as a performer and a writer. I shall always be grateful to this talented, loving, mad bunch.

 

As far as “a thing” that inspires, this is deeply personal to each person. It could be a story, a painting, a view, a place, a rock. Whatever floats your boat, as they say. It may very well be an actual boat that sparks an idea. I’ve found a great deal of inspiration in certain places, not necessarily far-flung locations, quite local in fact. Mundane and ordinary to some, yet each place has its own striking beauty to the right person. Coastlines have long been a particular favourite of mine, yet still inspiration strikes in the oddest places. I was recently walking through a local graveyard on my way home, late in the evening. As a light struck a particular grave, I was struck with an idea for a chapter in a story that I’ve been planning for some time. Within minutes, this one image had cascaded into including characters, moods and an incident. None of which I can go into, you understand. This is a future project, so you’ll just have to be patient.

 

Definition 3 -‘a sudden clever idea’

Is every idea that comes to us during that rush of inspiration going to change the world? No, sadly not. It’s said there is only seven basic stories, though it may be five depending on who you ask. Does this stop us from striving to create? Certainly not. Even if an idea that feels a real stunner late at night turns out to be a dud in the cold light of day, it takes nothing away from that moment of euphoria when it came to you. Every idea deserves to be explored, even if it’s only one in a hundred that ends up taking you to that next level. Inspiration can lead to success or failure, both paths involve plenty of blood, sweat and tears.

 

It is always worth the risk.

Should We Write Everyday?

A little blog for writers who worry they don’t write enough.

Every author feels it. That sense of utter shame when you haven’t worked on your current writing project for almost an entire day. That panic that it’s never going to get done. Fear of losing the flow. The dread of facing the blank page having been distracted for so long.

 

Should we be writing every day?

 

Yes, no and maybe.

 

Of course it’s important to keep up with your current project, because we all know an idea for a new one is going to pop up anytime soon. I’d like to say I’ve never succumbed to the temptation to place one project on the back burner in favour of starting a new one, but it would be a big bare-faced lie. Sometimes, however, you need that avalanche of new and exciting ideas to force you to prioritise. Take yourself to the breaking point that is the agony of choice, forcing yourself to pick a project and give it your all.

 

I’m also a big believer in the concept of work-life balance. Whether you’re a professional writer or not, let’s consider writing to be ‘work’ for the moment. Giving yourself over to work might yield fantastic results in the short term, but you know what they say about the candle that burns twice as bright. First and foremost you owe it to yourself to allow some downtime, and I do mean proper downtime. Take a day away from writing to relax. Go somewhere that inspires you. Make time for the people you’re closest to. These are the things that fuel our writing endeavours, not hinder them.

 

In a similar vein, never beat yourself up over not having written today. You are allowed to take time out. Stress can affect anyone and everyone, it’s not picky. If you write professionally and work to a series of deadlines, you still owe it to yourself to take regular breaks. If you write as a hobby, you shouldn’t let something that is supposed to relax you become stressful to the point that you no longer enjoy it.

 

Finding the time to write can be tricky, especially for those who write around full time jobs. I haven’t written a blog entry this past month because I’ve seen a marked increase in my work as a supporting artist. I’m certainly not complaining, it’s been a great summer filming on various professional projects. I’ve had a few days of supply work in a few new nurseries. I also spent a week in Cornwall with my partner and spent some time with friends and family. I have, on occasion, made time to work on the third instalment of the Figment Wars series. All in all, a nicely balanced summer.

 

That’s what it’s all about, really. Balance.