“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!

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.

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!

 

Don’t Take the Mickey

A blog regarding the importance of generating your own promotional content.

I’d like to recount a small online debacle I recently found myself in. Well, less a debacle, more an oddity. I’m a member of several groups on Facebook, most of them geared towards book promotion. A few weeks ago, I came across a post that caught my eye for all the wrong reasons.

An author, who shall remain nameless, had photoshopped an image of Queen Elsa from Disney’s ‘Frozen’ so that it appeared she was holding up his latest book. I was not alone in pointing out the folly in this. When I looked at some of his other promotional material, I found several other uses of copyrighted images. He was also using classical quotes in several clumsy attempts to somehow link them to his book.

I pointed out that this was not a good marketing strategy and urged him to take down the copyrighted images. He chose to respond, despite having ignored almost anyone else that had commented. At first I was asked if he had upset me somehow. I assured him he had not, and again urged him to take down the copyrighted images. I was then treated to his life story, and got his assurances that a “lawyer friend” of his had told him he could use the images for the purposes of satire.

Now, this just doesn’t stand. Satire does indeed cover the fair use of many images, but not when it comes to promoting a product. I pointed this out and was told that he would take them down, and that ultimately he wouldn’t miss them because he’d just received an award and that was far more important to him. So important, that as of typing this, many of these images are still on his Instagram and Twitter accounts. It became clear that I was dealing with someone who did not understand the fundamental principle of copyright law, nor its penalties. I therefore left him to it.

While it certainly didn’t “upset” me, as he put it, the whole thing did irk me somewhat. As writers, we work hard to create our own worlds and our own material. Certainly we take inspiration from work that has come before us, but to out and out use someone else’s material to promote your book is just plain lazy and idiotic. The same goes for using classical quotes, from Shakespeare no less, and claiming they apply to your work. Writing blurbs and condensing your work into promotional sound bytes is hard, but you’ve got to be prepared to put the effort in.

Since the publication of my first book, I’ve always strived to generate my own promotional content. I consider it a source of pride and a continuing creative challenge. Have I done it alone? Certainly not. My publishers, Austin Macauley, have always been extremely accommodating when it comes to providing me with promotional resources. I’ve also had the great pleasure to work with Ello Dave Media, who have helped me generate great promotional videos. Even when I have knocked up the occasional poster for a one-off event, I made sure that I had the right to use all the images it contained.

That was why I felt so compelled to attempt to reach out to this individual, even though my words fell on deaf ears. All legal issues aside, when you take someone else’s work and use it to promote your own product for your own gain, you are taking advantage of their hard work and putting your own laziness on display. More than that, most potential readers see through such gimmicks straight away. You might get noticed, but it’s not going to get you many sales.

There, rant over. The moral of the story is simple. Don’t steal other people’s stuff.