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.

Be More Childish

How our perceptions in childhood feed into our imaginations as adults.

“Oh, do grow up!”

“Don’t be so childish!”

“Act your age!”

 

We’ve all been told one or more of the above at some point in our lives. Some more than others, and some deservedly so, but ultimately it cannot be denied that we are encouraged to ‘grow up’ as swiftly as possible.

 

Of course there are bills to pay, commutes to be travelled and that never-diminishing mountain of ironing to be done. All things adults have to contend with, but today I’m going to put forward the case for reminding childish, or perhaps more accurately, child-like, in one aspect that to me is essential to the creative process.

We must never forget our childish perceptions, for therein lies the key to a vivid imagination.

As children, we are always asking questions of the adults around us. This, however, can get very jarring for the adults so there are some questions we keep to ourselves. More importantly, we come up with the answers ourselves and keep them closely guarded. Such a question and answer came back to me recently. The question was “What’s that?” The answer was “It’s a whale.”oznor

Now, clearly that isn’t a whale. That’s an island. It is, in fact, Steep Holm, a small island in the Bristol Channel. To the four-year-old version of me, however, it was clearly a whale. A ruddy big one.

 

My family would make almost yearly visits to Weston Super Mare, where the island is most clearly visible from the beach. I distinctly recall seeing it for the first time, looming on the horizon and being convinced it was an enormous whale. I never said anything to anyone about it, merely deciding to keep an eye on it as we walked along the beach in case it decided to move.

 

A few years later, of course, I realised it was an island. However, the fact that I have never forgot that I used to think it was a whale is the key factor here. To some degree, I believe I have managed to hold on to some slither of those child-like perceptions. That, I believe, is vital when engaging in imaginative and creative activities. By never truly letting go of the wondrous haze of childish thoughts, we are able to look at something and see not just what it is, but what it could be.

 

That is what fantasy writers must set out to do. Take the ordinary and make it extraordinary, and what better way than to tap in to a time when everything seemed extraordinary to you. Most never forget the first time they saw the sea. I’ll never forget the first time I saw an island …and thought it was a whale.

Summer’s Here!

A quick look back and a view of what’s to come!

Summer is genuinely my favourite time of year, despite anyone who’s actually met me knowing that I clearly burn just by glancing at the sun. The summer solstice is upon us, so I’d like to take this opportunity to not only reflect on some of the highlights of the year so far, but also to let you all know of some of the exciting things planned for the summer and beyond!

 

This year marked my first time delivering my writing workshops to a school on World Book Day, and it was a truly rewarding experience! Inspiring pupils to get creative and giving them the confidence to explore their ideas is something I’m very passionate about. Of course, in my opinion, every day is a Book Day, and I am available for workshops throughout the year!
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My second book, ‘The Figment Wars: Search for the Caretaker’ has been out and about for over half a year, while the fourth anniversary of the publication of ‘Through the Portals’ is fast approaching. Feedback on ‘Search for the Caretaker’ has been very positive, with many asking when the next will be ready. Rest assured, a third novel is currently underway.

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Collectormania 26 was a fantastic weekend, selling and signing copies of both my books in Artist Alley. Ever since attending my first Collectormania back in 2006, I’ve missed a grand total of one. Through attending conventions I’ve not only met some of my heroes from the world of acting, I’ve also made some wonderful friends. Being on the other side of the table at an event that’s meant so much to me over the years made for a truly special weekend!

 

Now for the future! After the summer I’m currently lined up to do three more conventions. These are;

  • Em Con Worcester, 14th September
  • Em Con Derby, 6th October
  • Bristol Comic Con & Gaming Festival, 19-20th October

Worcester in particular represents a welcome return to my old stomping grounds, and of course new events and bookings will be announced on social media. I thoroughly enjoy meeting people at these events, engaging with readers about a mutual love of fantasy and I hope to see lots of you there!

 

After the success of the first live action trailer for ‘Through the Portals’, plans are currently being made to film a trailer for ‘Search for the Caretaker’. The last trailer was an utter joy to work on, bringing together many of my indecently talented friends to create an eye catching introduction to my first book. The aim is to have it ready for Em Con Worcester, so watch this space!

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Work continues apace on the third Figment Wars book, which is currently untitled. Overall, lots of exciting things are happening, and I look forward to sharing it all with the Figment Fans!

 

How’s the weather up there?

A few thoughts on the importance of mental health awareness, focusing on this year’s theme, Body Image.

Mental health. It’s a topic we used to be so unwilling to discuss.

Chin up. Stiff upper lip. Sticks and stones.

These used to be words to live by, and do you know what? I’m glad we’re finally doing away with them. Contrary to traditional belief, it actually takes more strength to admit that you’re not doing so well and to seek help than it does to carry on regardless. To admit to feeling vulnerable, to seek out the aid of a fellow human being, takes a great deal of courage.

 

It is, of course, Mental Health Awareness Week, the theme for this year is Body Image. How we feel about our bodies, how we and others perceive the way we look is something that can have a huge impact on our day to day lives.

 

Anyone who meets me will tell you I’m tall. 6’4, to be exact. I’ve heard all the jokes, usually to do with the weather. Some people don’t get creative at all and simply point it out, as though it were something I was unaware of. Now, I can hear you already. “What’s so bad about being tall?” There are some practical considerations. Leg room is often a problem, whether travelling or visiting the theatre. Doorways are often not my friends, and I’ve worked in buildings where I couldn’t actually stand entirely upright without fear of concussion.

 

All that aside, the simple fact is that I don’t like being tall. I never have. I stoop when walking. It’s only recently that I’ve noticed just how much I have been stooping and have taken steps to try and stop. I certainly didn’t realise I’d been doing it. When your physical body requires you to be literally head and shoulders above everyone else but your mind is telling you you’re unworthy of any kind of attention, stooping seems like a natural defence mechanism. In the past few years I’ve come to feel a great deal better about myself as a person, and find that ultimately I’m not slouching as much.

 

The other thing I’m incredibly self conscious about when it comes to my body is hair. I don’t mean the hair on my head, I’m talking about the hair everywhere else. Mostly on my back. You can stuff a pillow with what’s currently growing out my back (I don’t though, that would be weird). This has always made me very unwilling to take my shirt off in public. I’ve never been sure of the reason why, but it used to make me feel so unattractive. Again, in recent years I’ve found it bothering me slightly less and less, but it still remains something I’d deeply like to change about myself.

 

Both these issues, the height and the hair, are things that many people could easily dismiss. “So what, plenty of people have real issues.” Yes, I do see how to some people my feelings could be dismissed as superficial, but that’s a dangerous road. The moment we start dismissing an individual’s concerns about their body image, we open up the possibility of dismissing everyone’s concerns. It’s certainly not a competition. Everyone has something about themselves they’d like to change, and each is just as valid as the last. This is because these concerns matter to the individual themselves.

 

Overall, I am ecstatic that the issues surrounding mental health are something that is finally entering the consciousness of the wider public. I don’t recall discussing it at school. Not once. Nobody would ever ask someone else ‘Are you okay?’ and actually be prepared to hear an in-depth response. Like so many people, I grew up believing that stress was something that happened to other people and couldn’t possibly ever happen to me. I was too strong for that.

 

Well, December 2016 put paid to that little delusion. After months of build up, I found I was breaking down at work and was signed off with stress and anxiety. I have never felt worse in my life. I’d never felt so bad that I would start physically shaking for seemingly no reason. I’d never been so pent up with nervous energy that I couldn’t stand still. Walking into a shop to discuss getting a new phone nearly sent me into a panic attack, causing me to retreat as swiftly as possible. The fact is, mental health difficulties can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime.

 

Talk to people. Ask how they are and mean it. Be prepared to sit and listen. Most importantly, be kind.

 

Oh, and since you asked, it’s raining. This is England.