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 theĀ 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.