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.

No Return to Section 28

A defence of the ‘No Outsiders’ project at Parkfield School, from someone who lived through the ignorance of Section 28.

The purpose of school is to prepare young people for the outside world. Now, perhaps that’s a radical or unrealistic idea. I certainly know plenty of teachers who would say that such a goal is noble, but that sadly the real purpose of school is get exam results. However, for the moment, let us go on the assumption that school is meant to teach children about the world at large.

 

The world is a large and diverse place. This is far from being a recent development. The world has always been complex and anyone who pines for the ‘simpler times’ of yesteryear is deluding themselves. Put away the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, for they lie to you.

 

The point I’m rambling towards, if you’ll indulge me for just a little longer, is that there are those who are currently actively campaigning to turn the clock back on the education system and on LGBT rights, all under the guise of religious freedom. I refer of course to the recent protests at Parkfield School in Birmingham, which resulted in the school’s No Outsiders project being suspended.

 

This saddens me more than I can say. I grew up during the Section 28 era. The gagging order that prevented teachers from ‘promoting the homosexual lifestyle’. During my entire schooling, only one teacher ever even mentioned the fact that homosexuality existed. This was a passing reference to a playwright we were discussing. All lessons relating to relationships and sex were geared towards the idea that boys go with girls. One might even call it  ‘aggressive indoctrination’. Years of messages, all designed to guide me towards a happy, healthy, heteronormative lifestyle. Did it work?

 

Did it bollocks.

 

It took me until the age of 18 to come to terms with the fact that I was gay and to realise that there was nothing wrong with being gay. I was fortunate to have the support of family and friends, but the education system let me and many others down. A few mentions of the fact that other sexualities exist and I might have had an easier time of it. The truth is I was one of the lucky ones. When the word “gay” gets thrown around the playground as an insult and all around you are expecting you to be a certain way, the conflict inside a young person can be staggering. The harsh reality is young people have taken their lives because they have been unable to reconcile who they are with what society at large wants them to be. One person killing themselves rather than live with the supposed shame of being gay is one too many.

 

Section 28 has been defeated, but there is still a long way to go and this is no time to start walking backwards. There are those within the Parkfield Parents’ Community Group who have claimed that the No Outsiders project is ‘indoctrination’. Here’s a simple fact; you cannot persuade someone to become gay. You are either inclined or you are not. The true fear of many groups is not that schools will somehow turn their kids gay, but rather that they will teach them to tolerate homosexuality. The ultimate catastrophe for many of these groups is that these kids start asking questions. Who knows where it might end? They may even start thinking for themselves.

 

Again, it’s a radical notion, but this is meant to be the purpose of education on any given topic. The classroom is supposed to be a place of debate and discussion, where children learn to exercise their minds and form their own opinions. These parents, however, would seemingly prefer their children not to know of the existence of the LGBT community. Without debate and discussion, only ignorance thrives.

 

It is extremely unfortunate to see this setback at Parkfield, but I have to believe it is only a temporary one. If certain groups were to get their way and block LGBT inclusive education across the country, it will only lead to more young people taking their own lives. That’s the harsh reality that is mostly getting overlooked at the moment, simply because it’s something we don’t want to think about.

 

We cannot put our heads back in the sand.

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.

“You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy …?”

The case against censoring ‘Fairytale of New York’.

In case anybody needs reminding, it’s Christmas time. The songs all over the radio and in the shops make it abundantly clear. The one everyone’s avoiding is, of course, Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ (I’m still in, as of typing this!) The one everyone seems to be talking about this year, however, is ‘Fairytale of New York’ by the Pogues and Kirsty McColl.

 

It seems as though, this year more than any other, the debate is raging over this song. One particular lyric is the cause of all the hubbub.

“You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot!”

Some appear to be divided over whether the word “faggot” should be censored. Shane MacGowen himself has now come forward and said he ultimately doesn’t mind if the word is bleeped out, even though there was never any offence intended by the use of the word.

 

That is why I’m stepping up to say that it absolutely should not be censored. By and large I have never fundamentally agreed with the principle of censorship when it comes to difficult issues. “Least said, soonest mended”, the age old proverb for pushing problems away in the hope they won’t bother us much longer. You don’t deal with the problem of genuine homophobia by censoring it, you tackle it head on and show it up for what it is.

 

That being said, anyone who believes that ‘Fairytale of New York’ is designed to encourage homophobia needs to take a good hard look at their priorities. There is no denying that ‘faggot’ is a term used for a homosexual man when offence is intended. However, the word itself was not coined for this purpose. It was never created to inflict offense, rather it was hijacked.

 

The word was originally used as unit for a bundle of sticks as early as the 1400s. Women who went about gathering firewood eventually became known as ‘faggot-gatherers’, leading eventually to ‘faggot’ being used as a derogatory term for old women. The perceived femininity of gay men is most likely how the term came to be the slur we immediately think of today. It also happens to be the name of a kind of meatball I’m rather fond of. My point is, language is a tricky thing and the moment you start censoring words you don’t like, you’re in dangerous territory.

 

I am not for one moment disparaging the feelings of those who feel strongly offended, even targeted when ‘faggot’ or ‘fag’ is hollered in their faces. I understand the hurt and the fear that causes. It is, however, because of that fear that we must not try to censor the word but rather rise up and truly take ownership of it.

 

The simple fact is, there are people out there who would very much like to harm those of us in the LGBT community. Physically, emotionally or politically, they’re determined to get us. The moment you try to tell society that they can’t sing along to a song because a word causes you offence, they’ve got you. You’ve just handed them a weapon. They know that word can hurt you. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

 

Words have power, but that power shifts. To some, words like ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ are codes to live by, while to some they are dangerous buzzwords of no true value. ‘Pride’ means a lot of things to a lot of people. Some words have power because we allow them to. It is taken for granted that the word ‘hello’ is a greeting. If we were suddenly encouraged to take offence at the use of this word, we’d laugh. Why can’t we apply the same to ‘faggot’?

 

When someone does use ‘faggot’ offensively, their intent is pretty clear. Censorship does not tackle that intent. Education and a willingness to breach divisions can certainly help, though the sad truth is some people are just too mired in their prejudices to ever really change. A close friend might  hypothetically call me a ‘fag’ during a rare hypothetical argument and then feel terrible about it later, but believe me I wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

 

I am not offended by words. Actions offend me. I am offended when a governing body seeks to strip an entire group of people of their rights based purely on their orientation. I am offended when people are attacked and killed. Those are the real issues that need tackling, not whether someone uses a word we might not like.

 

So in conclusion, the next time you hear ‘Fairytale of New York’, sing out “cheap lousy faggot”, loud and proud, along with the rest of the song. Straight, gay, bisexual, it does not matter. Words don’t belong to anyone in particular. Words are their own entity, yet ultimately have no choice over the meanings we assign them.

What Did You Get For Your Birthday?

It is now less than ten days until the release of ‘The Figment Wars: Search for the Caretaker’, my second young adult fantasy novel! I’m involved with a couple of fantastic upcoming acting projects and today happens to be my birthday!

 

If I could just shift this persistent cold, I’d be over the moon! Seriously, I’m *this* close to declaring it ‘man flu’.

 

In all sincerity though, this is a nice little birthday blog where I divest myself of a few musings. If you’re still reading at this point, well, the more fool you.

 

I’ve never been one for making a huge fuss of my birthday. I’ve not thrown a major ‘party’ for my birthday since my 18th (and that I barely remember for reasons you can no doubt fathom for yourself). We usually reserve the big celebrations for those birthdays of apparent numerical value. 18,21, 30 etc. Few will hire an entire hall, a DJ and get specially shaped balloons for somebody’s 32nd birthday.

 

It is something of a double edged sword at times. On the one hand, I might have thrown a huge bash for my 30th because it’s a socially accepted milestone. On the other hand, there’s the “Oh damn, I’m turning 30 and what have I done?” epiphany. I’ve had that feeling, we all have, where we stop to take stock of our lives and that little voice tells us we haven’t done enough. The milestone has come around and we haven’t achieved what we wanted to, and before you know it the next milestone will be upon us and we won’t have finished what we were supposed to have achieved at the previous milestone! Aaaarrgghhh!

 

When I turned 21, I wrote a letter to my 30 year-old self. I put it away safely, never really forgetting the existence of the letter but over time managing to forget the contents. Obviously I opened it two years ago. I’ve never shared the exact contents of the letter with anyone, nor am I about to now so don’t get your hopes up. It was generally full of my hopes and aspirations at the age of 21. A few had been met, a few forgotten about and a few had changed to one degree or another. That’s what life is. Change. What meant the world to you ten years ago might barely register with you today. In short, I am not the same person I was back then.

 

That’s why ultimately I’m glad I’ve never really made too much of a fuss about my birthday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no recluse. I love getting together with the people who are close to me, but that’s the sort of thing we should be doing multiple times a year, surely? As often as possible. Sometimes the only thing we need to celebrate is the fact that we are here and we are together.

 

So, what did I get for my birthday? A year older. I don’t wish to say “and a little wiser”, because ultimately I’m still figuring it all out. Same as everyone else.

 

Besides, it’s a horrible, horrible cliché.

 

 

 

The Beauty of Anticipation

The second ‘Figment Wars’ book is out soon!

Ladies and gentlemen, we have it at last. A release date for the second book in the ‘Figment Wars’ series!

Date

Lots of lovely people have been asking about the sequel for years and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all my readers for their patience. The next instalment in the adventures of Thomas, Isaac and Emily has been a long time in the making. Lots of time and hard work has gone into it, which ultimately brings me to the actual subject of this blog. Anticipation.

 

Life is a series of events. This much has always been true. Some good, some bad, some entirely dependent on your own point of view. Usually the good and the bad tend to come in reasonably sparse intervals. When a flurry of good things all happen at once we call it a winning streak, when we’re struck by a cavalcade of misfortune it just feels like the universe is conspiring against us. Generally though, life consists of tip-toeing from one event to the other with a balance of expectations on each.

 

We can’t get all the bad things out of the way and have done with them. We can’t just attend one long string of dentist appointments then expect our teeth to be sorted for the rest of our lives. Many people, if given the choice, would love to only have good things happen to them, one after the other. An endless string of good fortune. How very dull. Some of the greatest works of art known have come from heartbreak, despair and at times, downright terror.

 

Having something to look forward to, be it a concert, a party or just a catch up with an old friend, is what gets us through the moments of misfortune. They are made all the more enjoyable because of those times when nothing seems to be going right, rather than in spite of them. Even when these plans are months in advance, thinking about them, looking forward to them, gets us through the heartaches.

 

This has all been my own, roundabout way of saying why despite my overwhelming urge to divulge everything about the upcoming book right now, I won’t. I’ll be striving to give myself and my loyal readers something to look forward to. We have a date for release in the not too distant future, but over the coming weeks you can all expect to discover the title of this book and an eventual cover reveal. Work has also begun on a book launch event and there will be a few giveaway competitions too!

 

The countdown has begun! Let’s all share this wonderful feeling of anticipation together, as we get ready to start the search …

 

 

 

Top Tips for Proof Reading

My little set of tips for helping you get through the proof reading stage.

So, you’ve had an idea for a story. You’ve scribbled down notes. You’ve drafted a basic story outline. You’ve tapped your keyboard into oblivion writing the entire thing, crafting your story with painstaking attention to detail. You think the hard work is over. It’s only just begun.

 

The truth is, be it a story, an article or indeed anything, nobody really likes having to read it all over again. Once you’ve transferred this big, galumphing thing from your brain to the page you’re not always in the mood to revisit it. After all, it’s all good, right? You’d have seen any mistakes as you went along, right? Wrong.

 

Proof reading is a vital step in the writing process that must not be overlooked. I speak from personal experience when I say there is no worse feeling than putting your work out there to discover mistakes in the text. Mistakes, however, are our greatest teachers. Here are some little tips that have helped me personally when it comes to proof reading.

  1. Read aloud. Yes, this may annoy your neighbours, flatmates, significant others but I have found that reading the text out loud allows for greater analysis. When you read silently, a sentence can often read in your head the way you originally intended it to, but in reality it does not. Reading aloud stops you from skipping or skimming over potential mistakes.
  2. Take breaks. If you’re proof reading a large body of work, little and often is the best way to go. Reading for too long in one go increases the chances of you missing something due to fatigue. Go grab a drink, a snack, take a walk. Your work will be waiting for you.
  3. Keep track. With my last novel I began keeping track of how many times I had proof read each chapter. This makes it easier to return to proof reading after a break with a quick glance at your chart or list.
  4. Do it again. You will eventually get to the stage where you think it’s ready. That little voice in your head will tell you all’s well. Agree with that little voice, but give the text one more proof read for safety.
  5. Get help. A fresh pair of eyes is always helpful. Find someone who is willing to have a look at your work. Give them a physical copy wherever possible. Be patient and don’t rush them. They are doing you a favour in agreeing to have a look at your work.
  6. Be kind. Sometimes when you look back at your work and find multiple mistakes it can leave you feeling a little down hearted. Don’t beat yourself up. We all make mistakes, just make sure you’re the kind of person that takes the time to fix them.

 

As a general note on the process of proof reading and my own approach to it, there are many schools of thought regarding proof reading each individual chapter just after you’ve finished it. There are certainly benefits to looking over your work while it is fresh in your mind, but personally I find that a little time away from your work allows you to be more detached from it and see any errors or ways to improve what you’ve done. Ultimately I do the bulk of my proof reading once the whole piece is initially ‘complete’.

 

So there we have it. My own little ways of coping with having to read my own work over and over again. I do hope they’ve been of some use to you, but however you go about your proof reading, just remember that nobody’s prefect.