Happy Birthday Figment Wars!

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

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

 

You get into writing because you love it.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

What Motivates a Villain?

Some things to consider when creating your antagonist!

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

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

Power

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

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

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

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

 

Self Preservation

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

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

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

 

Obsession

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

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

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

 

Revenge

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

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

 

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

 

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

Identity

A blog on the concept of ‘Identity’.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Live and let live.”

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

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.