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.

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.

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!
IMG_20190314_205655

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.

rhdr

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!

Screencap7

 

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.

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 clich√©.

 

 

 

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 …