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New eBook Release: When Ai Met Yu

After being published in five parts on my own blog, it's time for this story to come to a wider audience. My first attempts at both a re...

Monday, 19 December 2016

Christmas Greetings

This year has been a tumultuous one for me in several ways. And in this post, I want to sum up my feelings since I started this "Thought Blog" blog in May of this year.

When I first started, I was a complete novice to the realm of blogging, and despite online writing experience on Wikipedia and fan Wikias, this was something new. I stumbled, I strayed, I didn't know what exactly to write about. Local advice told me to write about anything and everything that came to mind and share it with the readers, but that didn't seem right to me. How could I maintain this blog by just writing about curry or flowers or whatnot? I needed something that would help keep me established in some way, give me a presence.

That's when I decided to start my multipart blog posts about aspects of writing within the genres I have chosen to work on so far. I also did standalone posts on similar themes. It's not only helped me find a suitable outlet onto my blog, but helped me solidify some of my own views on these subjects, such as my ambivalent feelings towards Tolkien, the mutual and contradictory merits of description vs dialogue, and even my views on world issues being put through the lens of fantastical fiction. I've even managed to scatter in things about my own way of working.

Bear in mind that I was doing all this alongside my writing, publishing the various parts of Crystal and Sin, all the while learning more and more about the market I was pushing into, and the industry I needed to deal with to make myself noticed and eventually maintain a workable income. Heck, it took me until this month (December) before I created this page for the Independant Author Network.

My posting ability may become sporadic over the next couple of months. They'll be the Holiday season, and then I've got jury service in January which has the potential of taking up a large part of my time. But know that every view is valued, and every like is a little boost that helps me along the way towards my chosen career. Basically, I value everyone reading this post. And that includes you, and you, and most definitely you.

Have a Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday, and a wonderful 2017.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Description vs. Dialogue - Part 2

This is it, the grudge match, the one in a million, the never-before-seen..... Let's face it, it's a debate that's been raging in an author's head ever since both description and dialogue became the common means of telling stories. It's an inevitable quandary that can halt the progress of a story by quite a bit: do you rely on dialogue segments to communicate information to the reader, or do you use prose descriptive. Or do you just not explain at all? In this two-part blog, I'll be looking at these two contrasting styles. The first part looked at books, now this second part is dedicated to the visual arts - films, television and video games.

Now with books, the scenes and actions are described through prose. With the visual arts, it's all done... visually. No need for words, it's all action. But even then action must be balanced with explanation. But where should one end and the other begin? Anime and other similar Asian genres such as Wuxia is notorious for explanations scattered here and there between eclectic action scenes, while many Western genres rely far more on action over explanation. This makes the two interesting to both contrast and parallel; on the one hand you don't want to listen to twenty minutes of dialogue, but on the other you don't want to be left in the dark as (in an unfortunate majority) burly men beef it out against each other. This is why I'm very choosy about what I add to my DVD shelf.

Now, not explaining is a thorny issue in the visual arts, such as film and video games, where most viewers (in the opinion of executives and possibly some programme makers) need everything explaining to them in some way. That's why there's a lot of what may feel like needless exposition in things like television series or during scenes in films. It becomes the duty of dialogue to fill in the reader, which can lead to unlikely scenarios such as a villainous monologue or a pre-fight exchange or even some kind of internal contemplation on the part of the protagonist. There's also the technique of the information dump at the beginning of something, which was sent up with vicious regularity in 'Allo 'Allo. But then, considering how convoluted 'Allo 'Allo became even before David Croft left and the writing skewed away from previous events, the info dump was perhaps the only way anyone could keep up with the story in any conceivable way.

Comics and their like have far more leeway to do this as the only way they can properly convey the action is through dialogue, as all images included are static. Descriptions and explanations are two a penny, ranging from the perfectly natural to the utterly ridiculous. This is where classic anime gets a lot of its fluff, as it draws from manga which use this explanation-heavy approach. Sometimes this explanation is justified (try understanding Steins;Gate without all that description from the characters) and other times it just comes off as goofy in the wrong way (many non-comedy focused comic series internationally post 1980s when the taste for grit came in). You can get a taste of that kind of explanation in its original amusing form with the 1960s Batman television series, whose style was lifted directly from the titular comics of the time.

Video games is where this disconnect between explanation and action is most apparent. Games were once not methods for communicating stories, and have been included as a narrative medium over forty-plus years of advancing hardware and changing tastes. There are too many contrasting examples to name, so I'll just select two: Metal Gear and the Souls franchise. From its inception, Kojima's seminal Metal Gear series has had a penchant for lots of exposition, even if quite a bit of that prior to Metal Gear Solid was optional; battle sequences are punctuated by cutscenes that can sometimes last upwards of forty-five minutes, and dialogue can even creep into live gameplay. In direct contrast, the Souls franchise has its story tucked away in a very few cryptic dialogue segments and multiple notes in item descriptions and notes left about the world - its chosen style is one of atmosphere and player immersion over a complex storyline.

Of course, all of this very much depends on the style and genre you're wanting to use, whatever medium you're writing in. If your work is a slow-burning thriller or something like it, then dialogue trumps description. If it's action-based, then there's more of an emphasis on visual information. In gaming, this is best seen in the difference between visual novel derivatives and the majority of other games; while many games put story elements between segments of gameplay of varying kinds within an action-oriented or exploration-focused story, the visual novel family relies primarily on text and tells stories that revolve around subjects like crime or puzzles or deeper themes.

In conclusion, it's safe to say that the conflict between dialogue and description, or dialogue and action depending on which medium you're using, will always exist and will have champions on both sides. Don't drag out an argument. They'll be no winners.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Description vs. Dialogue - Part 1

This is it, the grudge match, the one in a million, the never-before-seen..... Let's face it, it's a debate that's been raging in an author's head ever since both description and dialogue became the common means of telling stories. It's an inevitable quandary that can halt the progress of a story by quite a bit: do you rely on dialogue segments to communicate information to the reader, or do you use prose descriptive. Or do you just not explain at all? In this two-part blog, I'll be looking at these two contrasting styles. This first part is dedicated to books.

Frankly, it depends on what kind of story you want to tell, what kind of narration you're using, and how you want the reader to be carried along. You can only carry either style so far before the reader begins to go glassy-eyed and wonder how much longer this is going on. It's a perpetual sin committed by Christopher Paolini in his works: while there's nothing wrong with being loquacious, but there must be a line drawn somewhere, lest mere loquacity give way to verbal diarrhea. It's part of the reason I stopped reading his work after finishing Eldest. His huge blocks of text, which sometimes resulted in one page sporting just three paragraphs, meant that anything in the story was quickly lost in the sluggish pace of the prose. It's more than likely that some key little plot point may be mired in twelve other lines of prose. He doesn't use dialogue as freely as some, which is a legitimate style of writing, but there's such as thing as being too descriptive.

Description used in a good way us exemplified in the work of Ursula le Guin, particularly her Earthsea novels, where she prefers to tell the story of her characters through actions and impressions rather than long reams of explanation. This approach helps communicate that it's a tale being told long after the fact, based on the famous exploits of Ged. Likewise, a good example of exemplifying dialogue is J. K Rowling's Harry Potter books use characters talking to each other to unfold crucial parts of lore. A use of dialogue that might drag slightly on some is His Dark Materials, in particular The Amber Spyglass, which has dialogue that spills over several pages. Still, I'm saying this from a distanced perspective - he is one of my own role models, and his books have sold in their millions. To be honest, I haven't come across many other examples of what might be called poor use of dialogue in books, but then I'm very choosy about that books I have in my shelf.

In contrast, the first-person narrative is a medium where excessive description can be used to further the development of a character, or it can just be an ingrained habit of the author. The former is seen in the first-person segments of Jonathan Stroud's Bartemaeus series, where the Djinn Bartemaeus' personality is portrayed to us through his self-confident and loquacious discussion of events, annotated by various amusing footnotes: his is a style where you joy in the detail because you see just how amusing and absorbing this cocky Djinn's view of the world has become after uncounted millennia. The latter, where description hampers the experience, is most clearly seen in the works of Howard Philips Lovecraft. From his longer works such as The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Shadows Out Of Time, to his short stories such as "Dagon" and "The Call of Cthulhu", use a style that revels in long words and extensive description like some thesis or scholarly dissertation. This likely stems from his own background and education, but it also means that going through his work is more than a chore to even the most patient of modern readers. A book I'd recommend as a good balance between description and dialogue in first person that I've experienced is Flashman by George MacDoland Fraser. While it's the first in a long series, it's still a good standalone item. And it's completely hilarious reading about Flashman's quest for a sinecure.

On the whole, the balance of description vs. dialogue is both a matter of personal choice and a matter of style and quality. Dialogue can help, and description can be key, but the real art is balancing the two out to tell a story that is both meaty and speedy.

Next week, we explore the pros and cons of description vs. dialogue as they've manifested in the visual arts, from film all the way to the modern interactive medium of video games.

Monday, 28 November 2016

...indistinguishable from magic

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. - Arthur C. Clarke

The concept of gods is something that's been with humans for thousands upon thousands of years, and the concept of magic has been around just as long if not longer. With the true advent of science fiction in the last few centuries, it's become more than tempting to combine elements of the fantastic with this. These can range from expounding on speculative or experimental science, to going into full pseudo-science or combining the tamer edges of fantasy elements. These are done for a number of reasons: they can be for just simple can't-think-of-anything-else reasons, or a deliberate push towards creating something incomprehensible for normal humans within the story. There are examples of this in books, live-action, animation and interactive media. Their usage differs depending on the circumstances, and the will of the writer.

In books, there are several instances of aliens being portrayed as akin to deities. David Brin's entire Uplift saga had the mysterious Precursors, who perpetuated the tradition of the "uplifting" of other species barring a few including humans, and are treated as a divine race due to their advanced technology and seemingly benevolent behaviour. Carl Sagen's original novel Contact relies on the conflict between faith and science for its central plot, with the aliens hiding and discovering messages within concepts in a way that can be associated with magic. Arthur C. Clarke used this several times, as can be inferred from the above quote, one of his three rules. In Clarke's Childhood's End, the Overseers are analogous to demons, and the Overmind is comparable to an Almighty God, although in this case it's a hive mind formed from countless races who have transcended physical existence. That concept of transcendence is a recurring part of this trope,

In films and television, such beings are often visually impressive, and it's often accompanied as with books with some religious undertone. Prometheus, the prequel to the Alien franchise, used religious undertones about creator and creation, and portrayed the alien beings as god-like in both technological ability and their in-their-own-image humanoid form. They also fell into the category of being god-like to the point that their attitude to humans was nothing like our own perceptions. Star Trek used the god-like alien story quite regularly, from the mysterious imprisoned being at the end of The Final Frontier to individual episodes that had non-corporeal aliens with mysterious powers crossing paths with the various crews: one of the most notorious is the hypocritical Q. Many other films use this with varying degrees of success, including The Dark Crystal (god-like in the purest sense, including a classical duality between light and dark), The Fifth Element (which goes right over into the realms of mysticism) and the entire Stargate franchise (that uses the advanced tech get-out clause for aliens posing as Egyptian deities). Doctor Who has increasingly gone for this, and even dabbled during its original run with aliens posing as gods (Pyramids of Mars), being mistaken for or treated as gods (The Daemons), or being on a level where they could be classified as gods in a fantasy setting (Guardians from The Key to Time cycle).

The concept of god-like beings is the most common these days in video games, where the need for spectacular battles is a necessity for any game worth its salt. The entire Xeno metaseries plays with this, from extra-dimensional existences equivalent to deities to super-advanced technologies and even to the concept of surviving a universal rebirth (no major spoilers here, I think). The Mass Effect series treads similar ground to the Uplift books, with the most ancient races possessing abilities comparable with divine beings in mythology and fiction. The Halo universe is also touched by this, even though many aspects are comparable or can be linked to theoretical science, so its intrusion into the concepts of the divine is less prominent. One of the most shameless versions of this scenario is the First Civilisation from the Assassin's Creed franchise; a race who predated humanity who transcended time, physical existence, even the concept of human death through genetic survival. Their abilities are so out there that it's little wonder they were called after human deities. Some less memorable examples include the original version of the Atlans from Tomb Raider, almost everything from the StarCraft series, several elements from the as-of-now aborted Half-Life series, the main cast of Asura's Wrath, and (cheating a little here) the Bionicle franchise.

Now why does this happen? I can't speak for everyone, but I can see several reasons. The most obvious is that it's a way of creating tension without the need to explain in any coherent way. The thrill of the totally unknown can be used, but when embellished with the right trimmings it won't be called out as magical by any but real scientists or scientifically-minded readers/viewers/players. Another common reason is the need to create something quickly, ala a sequel or a new episode in a series, and it provides a tried-and-tested formula for the writers. The other reason is more to do with the kind of story a writer is trying to create: by having god-like beings, you bring into question things like faith, the existence of the divine, the place of mankind in the greater scheme of things, ect. It makes a nice little tribute to humanity's want for the divine, and its ability to turn anything that may have a rational explanation into a mystical other such as St Elmo's fire.

I try to steer clear of it myself, but I won't stop anyone else from using this tactic. Or from enjoying this particular take on the unknowable facets of the universe.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Sometimes, it's the strangest things...

Inspiration for new books strike at the strangest times, sometimes when you never, ever might expect it to strike. It's nothing new that writers can sometimes find inspiration from random and casual activities, from washing up to skipping through TV channels, from watching the weather to swimming in the sea. Visions and unexpected thoughts fly through your mind, creating images across your consciousness that can coalesce into a bigger picture. I certainly can't speak for other authors, and you could always try looking through any autobiographies they've written: but I will speak for myself in this post.

Inspirations for my own work are primarily visual. When I read a book, I impose a visual image on things, but I don't get inspiration from them as I might from watching an incredible moon in the sky, or seeing the amazing special effects from a film or video game. My mind thinks in pictures a lot of the time, which also results in me sometimes falling flat when it comes to the spoken word. But don't fret; the written word is something I'm a lot more careful about, as I know stumbles in that regard are one of the worst things an author can do to themselves.

Story ideas have come from the weirdest places. Crystal and Sin came into my head over a couple of days watching this trailer for a game called Lost Dimension, which was basically made from the opening anime cutscene. But if you want the full story behind the story's creation and how it changed from my initial flash of inspiration, I've put it in my Author's Afterward in the above work's Complete Edition. In fact, trailers and random pieces of music, combined with a strong visual imagination, have triggered the creation of the majority of my works.

Other times, it's been a formula from something visual that I've seen. A discarded early story idea, 'The Tales of Helena', was basically me mashing up science fiction and fantasy in the wake of watching Primeval, Doctor Who and my fascination with the antics of Lara Croft. I was very impressionable back then, sometimes to my shame. I actually rewrote that thing entirely twice, and it still didn't come out right. But then, It was highly derivative and quite tacky in its story beats and character development; I basically used the trick of fusing science fiction and fantasy, in addition to crossing over multiple world mythologes. As this was pre-Megami Tensei exposure, it wasn't nearly as nuanced and entertaining as it could have been. I'll probably be saying that about my earliest published books in a few years time. Isn't that the way with authors.

Another influence that impacted my early work that's rather work off is the Lord of the Rings film series. An unpublished trilogy of books, dubbed by me the "Dragon Trilogy", was initially inspired by the grandeur and quest-driven magnificence of what I saw in those three films. It was also pulled in several directions by my love of the Bionicle film trilogy. Ironically, this was the work that helped me begin to refine my writing style, and realise just what kind of stories I wanted to write. I still didn't have a clue about the darker themes, the true importance of female characters, mixed race issues, LGBT, coping with some emotional or physical handicap, or the sublime mixture of comedy and ugliness that Japanese media excels at. After this, I knew I wanted to write stories with strong characters at their core and a blurring between what people commonly labelled as good and evil.

Nowadays, I'm far more carefully with my inspirations, as I realise that too strong an image can negatively impact the originality of my work. Music is a nice middle ground, as it can generate my own imagination with an easily-absorbed sensual experience while also leaving my head free to create its own images. It's become my main resource during work and for story creation. Trailers for video games and films, when they're not too forceful, are quite good at that. Ideally, they only present images and flavours rather than a complete work. Again, it's mostly the music that really hooks me and creates an image, even when it's in service to the images.

For both, my head receives them, and transmutes them into my own visions. At this stage, they're a bit like placeholders, stored in my head while I write my own narrative and characters around that initial impression. Of course I can also draw from books and they helped me realise where I was going wrong with my writing style, but the sensual input from visual and audio media have a stronger impression when it comes to crafting story ideas. I read books for what they are, not what I can draw from them. I also find that I'm watching fulms for what they are, as my story ideas crafted during watching them either completely disappear or are nothing like my 'first draft'.

My working habit may well change, but to date it's served me relatively well. You readers now, I'll issue a challenge. Watch this video and do this: ignore the branding and what it was intended to be, and just drink in the atmosphere and music to create your own incredible scenario, around which the next blockbuster release may be based... Post your flashes in the comments below, or in the comments of this post's associated post on Google+. Oh, and in case the first video wasn't enough, here's another for you to try. Enjoy!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Returning to writing

I'm not feeling like saying a lot this time, but I will say something. It's been a week since BristolCon, and I'm now going to give you my feelings.

You've just come back from a major event, you're bursting with new ideas, your world's been expanded, and you're very tired at the end of a long journey. More so if you're not used to doing such long journeys on a regular basis. It was exhausting to say the least: a long journey, followed by an event, followed by another long journey with a hotel stay in the middle. To say that parts of me were aching when I came back home would be an understatement, and a second understatement would be that I was feeling even achier the following day.

Thankfully, I didn't get a stoppage of work, so I managed to dive straight into both proofreading The Leviathan Chronicle, and continuing writing my latest work. At the same time, I needed to consider what I'd learnt at BristolCon about small press houses. To be honest, I hadn't known anything about them, but I'd often heard about how they helped launch prospective authors. I've also got to consider what I'll be needing to do when the time comes for my next release, Crystal and Sin: Complete Edition. Where to publish it, how to handle the cover, which means to use for publicity. You know, what plagues every single self-published author ever...

The main thing is not to let anything get you down. You're stuck in a rut with something, or unsure of where to go? Find something else that can enthuse you equally and its equally productive, even if it's some aspect of housework or maintenance. I find that's somewhat therapeutic, and when combined with some music or other entertainment, you can let your mind unwind and allow yourself to be who you are, not what others might want you to be. My particular relaxation was provided by a long rest in bed, some homemade chicken yogurt curry, and watching through the complete season of Blood-C. It was so good that I immediately got its movie conclusion The Last Dark.

Of course, things can't be put off. Of course you mustn't just ignore things. But it's nice to wind down, forget things, allow yourself a break. To everyone who reads this; enjoy your week, weekend, and all the days ahead of you!

Monday, 31 October 2016

At BristolCon

Apologies for the blurriness of any images, or any clumsiness of layout and balance between text and images. This is the first time I've ever done something like this.

Panelist Cassandra Khaw.
It's Monday, and I'm back from one of the newest science fiction and fantasy conventions in the United Kingdom. BristolCon. Located at the Doubletree Hotel, it is a hive of activity for authors, publishers, agents and sellers dedicated to these genres. There, you attend panels in the two main Programme Rooms dedicated to subjects that vary from year to year, feature stalls from local sellers that feature everything from Jewelry to books to Doctor Who memorabilia, and relax in the Break Room with drinks and Lego, or at the hotel bar (I prefer the break room myself, where this year Bionicle pieces reminded me of its influence on my decision to become a writer). This year's BristolCon was primarily focused on fantasy, with many of its panels delving into the behind-the-scenes features of the genre.

The panels I attended were most interesting. The first, "Not Just Hocus Pocus", focused by and large on systems of magic that do not conform to the systems in Rowling's Harry Potter novels, with their focus on spells and wands. It delved into many areas, but the one that stood out for me was how panelist Sarah Ash (a fellow fan of manga and anime) described her impressions on Ursula le Guin's Earthsea series, with its focus on true names giving power over staffs and lengthy incantations. The second panel, "The Regiment of Monsters?", focused on how the sci-fi and fantasy genres fell into the traps of giving non-human races potentially racists stereotypes (which I have briefly expounded upon in this post on my blog), and how the genres were even to this day being dominated by, as panelist Dev Agarwal said, "the straight white male". The leading picture is of another of the panelists, Cassandra Khaw.

The third panel I attended was "SF&F On the Margins", and it was a big eye-opener for me, as it was aimed at people like me: authors trying to break into a highly competitive market with material that might not suit all tastes and thus would be deemed as a high risk venture for the Big Five publishing houses. Lots of the information there was useful, and I even made notes of a few small press houses I might try within the next year. The next thing I attended, after taking a break, was Sarah Ash's piece called "Sleigh Beggies, Black Dogs and Knavish Spirits", a presentation about the use of British folklore in anime and manga with particular focus to The Ancient Magus' Bride. My final panel was "Under the Covers", a revealing talk about the problems and issues facing book cover artists. Now I know fully that my sister Daisy, who created the covers for my Crystal and Sin series, went through is new.

There are several people at the event who deserve special mention, but I can't unfortunately give all of them names due to my poor memory for names over faces. The first is one (first right) of the organisers, Roz Clave (I think).

The second (first left), depicted here in a very well realised Jedi/Sith outfit, is Pippa Jay. She minded a stall full of interesting books.

The third and final mention (second right) is C. M. Hutt, and I do hope I didn't use her married name by mistake. This was one of the exhibitors in the excellent art room alongside other names such as Andy Bigwood, Margaret Walty, and Chris Moore.

At the request of the latter two, I could not show any photographs featuring their artwork within the art gallery (second left), but Bigwood and Hutt were willing for their artwork to be shown in picture. I have to say the artwork on display here was excellent, with Moore continuing to prove himself a master of the form in the science fiction genre. Walty's artwork was also very fine, with scenes that were both realistic and stylised with natural fantasy landscapes.

On the whole, the event this year was as good if not better than last year, and I found more enjoyment as I was there as a writer trying to learn about the industry and perhaps make contacts (probably not much luck with the latter). The panels were interesting and entertaining, and the people there were interesting and entertaining to talk to. I felt really at home, and felt that I'd gained a bit more understanding for the kind of thing I'm letting myself in for as a writer. I also found their stalls all very tempting, and was tempted by a non-fiction book on samurai available on a stall run by Books On The Hill. By the end of my time there, I was tired by satisfied with an eventful and fruitful time. I just have to make sure my niggles don't corrupt the experience in my memory.

An additional shout-out should be given to the open mike reading that came the evening before, which featured multiple people I later saw at the event. My piece, from my in-progress book The Leviathan Chronicle, was one of four to overrun, and I was just pipped to the post by someone else who was more experienced, probably local, and had a full edited and printed book rather than working from a print-off from an OpenOffice Word document.

Anyone whose a lover of science fiction and fantasy must try to addend this wonderful convention in this wonderful city. It's the kind of thing that doesn't happen all the time, and it's where you'll find a world of genre fiction beyond the bookshelves of WH Smith and Waterstones, beyond the Harry Potters and Eragons of the bestseller list. You'll get a good idea about what this world is like, and how those within it make their living and negotiate the difficult world of the genre author.

Monday, 24 October 2016

New Situations, Old Problems, Softened Impact - Part 3

Once again, I'm splitting this into a series of blog posts, as what I've got to say about this multi-part quirk in the creation of fiction would create an uncomfortably long post. So I'm splitting it into as many parts as it needs.

The title this time isn't very self-explanatory, at least I don't think so. It's the way that settings may change or new settings may be revealed, but the issues many stories tackle are just the same. This is true for oral tales, books, comic books, films, television productions, and video games. In the first part, I discussed racism, and how its fantastic or distant portrayal could create a disconnect with racism as it still manifests in the real world. In the second subdivided part, I covered polytheistic and monotheistic religions and how their portrayals and subsequent impact vary. In this entry, I'm looking at environmental issues.

Environmentalism has become a prevalent subject in fiction and in documentaries. Global warming, deforestation, acid rain... There are any amount of both impartial views and scare films surrounding these. But environmental messages stretch back quite a way in books, television and films, and how they approach it has likewise varied. In this post, rather than looking at a large number of different approaches, I'll be looking at a few and contrasting how they spoke to me about the issues they were tackling. I'm taking them from the realm of film, as they're one of the most readily-accessible and easily-absorbed media of today, and hold clear and powerful examples.

Environmental themes can be interpreted in several ways, but for this entry I'm taking the type where humans are affecting Earth's environment through things like greenhouse gas figures, adversely affecting animal numbers, and deforestation in search of either timber or even mineral or field resources. The most recent film to make use of this element is Avatar, an epic CGI extravaganza from the pen/camera of James Cameron. It portrays (in a fashion very like Disney's Pocahontas) the struggles between a heavily industrialized humanity and the native primitive population of another unspoiled planet, with some Gaia Hypothesis mysticism thrown in. Its take on environmentalism, while mixed in with themes similar to those inspired by the historical exoduses and persecutions of Native Americans, sways heavily towards the preservation of the natural world, even at the potential cost of an entire race that threatens it. In a very non-subtle and preachy way, it treats humans as an invasive pest species to be turfed out.

The 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still also takes this angle, switching from the original's theme of nuclear apocalypse forestalled by an outside agency to a cold evaluation of humanity's overall destructive effect on the environment. It is also highly unsympathetic to the majority of humanity, showing them as contemptible and brutish with a few exceptions where life experience, curiosity or innocence drives them beyond a primal base. Klaatu as depicted in the remake is also highly unconvincing as a saviour for humanity, coming off as someone who is both quick to judge and easy to influence, making the message become corrupted as much of the film is told from his side. Like Avatar, its environmental subtext is delivered in a preachy way, and subsequently fails to drive home anything but a despondent cynicism related to humanity's future and ability to grow.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are many works by Hayao Miyazaki, who has very firm views on humanity and the preservation of the natural world. While Nausicaa of the Valley of the WindPom Poko, Castle in the Sky and Ponyo show these themes strongly, his most nuanced and decided expression of his environmental feelings is Princess Mononoke. Set in Medieval Japan, when modern gunpowder weapons were just beginning to be introduced, it shows its environmentalism through both a clash of cultures in the Emishi princes Ashitaka and the Honsho population of Irontown, and the conflict between the humans led by the ambitious Lady Eboshi and the Kami and Yokai (or "Mononoke") of the forest. The film's resolution is in stark contrast with Avatar, with the main conclusion being a truce between humans and the supernatural, with Ashitaka leading the humans towards finding balance while his new friend/love San tends to her natural forest realm.

A film that I enjoyed, and that tells these themes in a recognizable way, is The Day After Tomorrow, a film by Roland Emmerich that uses humanity's unwitting influence on the climate as a backdrop for a personal tale rather than the be-all end-all of the story. The basic premise is that global warming has triggered violent climate shifts that have triggered a new Ice Age following a thermohaline shutdown. This does place humanity as the main cause, but it also shows how humans pull together in the face of such a terrible event. It also just tells the simple story of a father's journey to save his son, and that son's struggles to survive in the growing snow and ice. This presentation makes the entire scenario seem real, and thus drives it home with a bit more force.

Strangely enough, environmentalism hasn't softened over the years it's become part of the recurring thematic material used by writers in all media, but their differing ranges of nuance and bluntness had provoked different reactions. From the likes of Avatar and the new The Day The Earth Stood Still, it comes across as someone shouting off-key through a megaphone, which always makes me want to cover my ears rather than listen. With the original Princess Mononoke and The Day After Tomorrow, the message feels more gently and skillfully delivered, and you feel like you're listening to something important. There are other films of its like out there, such as Emmerich's similar but later 2012, the fairly morbid The Road, the pinprick message in the fourth Star Trek film, and many more - but the four I've mentioned above show the two extremes that have come to dominate, and I leave it to you to judge which can best change our ways, and shift our beliefs.

Next week is the start of a hiatus from this particular series, as I head off to BristolCon. My next post will be about my experiences there, and my impression on what's going on.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

New Situations, Old Problems, Softened Impact - Part 2-B

Once again, I'm splitting this into a series of blog posts, as what I've got to say about this multi-part quirk in the creation of fiction would create an uncomfortably long post. So I'm splitting it into as many parts as it needs.

The title this time isn't very self-explanatory, at least I don't think so. It's the way that settings may change or new settings may be revealed, but the issues many stories tackle are just the same. This is true for oral tales, books, comic books, films, television productions, and video games. In the first part, I discussed racism, and how its fantastic or distant portrayal could create a disconnect with racism as it still manifests in the real world. In this post, I'm talking about a topic that is still sensitive even in these modern times - religion.

Religion has been with us for thousands upon thousands of years, from ancient stone figures and carvings (we assume) to the complex divine hierarchies of India and Greece, and on to the resurgence of monotheism over the past four thousand years. Today, all religions are fair game for writers, and they run varying risks when taking them and adapting them to tell a story. Whether it be direct adaption of classic tails, or using it as backdrop for an original tale, religion has been approached in numerous ways, good and bad. And... this is a very large subject, so I'm having to subdivide it into two posts. One is devoted to polytheism, and one to monotheism. This one is for monotheism.

Monotheism is the opposite of polytheism - instead of worshiping or acknowledging the existence of a pantheon, there is only a single deity. The most well-known examples of monotheism stem from the Middle East, particularly the Abrahamic family of faiths that include Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Through circumstances too complicated for a single blog post, these faiths became the main faith of Europe, and due to the Crusades and later colonization of various parts of the world, it has become the dominant faith of the world through sheer landmass covered as opposed to people worshiping (in that sense, maybe Taoism, while limited to China, has more active worshipers).

Now, as might be clear, this being the dominant and sometimes dogmatic system that it is, it was difficult for people to do anything constructive around it for the longest time. The simplest thing to do is just adapt it faithfully from the texts created, both canon and non-canon. Earlier works on this theme include Paradise Lost, the famous poem charting Lucifer's journey to Eden and the origin of original sin, and The Divine Comedy, where the author Dante travels through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven on a journey of absolution - and of course gets to rip into his political rivals in the process. There are modern works in multiple mediums surrounding this system: , the comic book adaptation Constantine,

The rarer type are works that take a look at this faith and may be criticizing it, or even turning it on its head for dramatic effect. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is one of the best modern examples of constructing a critique of religion within a fantastical setting. The religion, and its background reality, is based heavily on the Catholic Judeo-Christian tradition. It actively questions the existence of anything that could be called "God", and turns original sin into something different, a quality to be admired. This take has garnered both praise and condemnation depending on whose read it. The third and final book in particular is filled with allusions to or direct parodies of Catholic tradition. This religious reversal may merely serve as a frame for Pullman's retelling of Paradise Lost, but it still holds some interesting views and lessons about organised religion.

This reversal of religion is used in a more general and twisted way in the Drakengard series. While the English release is seated firmly within the concepts of large pantheons and otherworldly abominations, the original Japanese uses the monotheistic system. "God" created the world and all things in it, and seeks to destroy humanity due to their ungovernable ego. The world's dragons are His servants, acting as the equivalents of demons to his "Angels". This reversal of God wanting to destroy humanity isn't anything new, but it's also an interesting parallel of how angels and demons treat humans. The "Angels" (Watchers in English), loyal to their God, seek to destroy humanity. The entire Megami Tensei series can also be seen as an examination of the nature of God and divinity.

Now what's the point of this two-post piece covering the two different religious systems? The use of these different religions has varied in tone and strength over the history of fantasy, science fiction and its hybrid genres. While pantheon systems have mostly fallen out of use and thus become the active go-to for authors, the monotheistic systems that have arisen are far more active and have a lot of vocal and fanatical followers. Works that can be taken as open critiques or negative portrayals, such as His Dark Materials or Dan Brown's thriller The DaVinci Code are thus called out and condemned. The above examples from the land of the Rising Sun demonstrate a prevalent example in Japanese fiction - Monotheistic systems are used more freely in fiction than in the West. Principally because Abrahamic faiths were excised during the Tokugawa shogunate, and have yet to gain a strong foothold in the country.

The different views of the different religion affect how they are treated in fiction where writers try to put in themes and messages. When using pantheons, there's less flack directed if you want to do something edgy, but it's also distanced from the reader as these aren't anything they care about except in a very distant way. For monotheism, if you do the same thing, it strikes home (at least if it's well done) but it also open for being blasted to pieces by the faithful. Of course there's the get-out clause of just using such systems as inspiration and taking a purely fictional take on it. That's still open to the same problems, but of course the impact is further distanced by it just being a fictional rewrite of something. Surely nothing that's to do with our world, no matter how many purges, instances of bigotry, or Crusades they portray...

Next week, in Part 3, I'll be looking at environmental issues, something that has exploded in popularity with the advent of green culture and the full recognition of mankind's destructive potential, and how it has been portrayed in both crass and subtle ways.

Monday, 17 October 2016

New Situations, Old Problems, Softened Impact - Part 2-A

Once again, I'm splitting this into a series of blog posts, as what I've got to say about this multi-part quirk in the creation of fiction would create an uncomfortably long post. So I'm splitting it into as many parts as it needs.

The title this time isn't very self-explanatory, at least I don't think so. It's the way that settings may change or new settings may be revealed, but the issues many stories tackle are just the same. This is true for oral tales, books, comic books, films, television productions, and video games. In the first part, I discussed racism, and how its fantastic or distant portrayal could create a disconnect with racism as it still manifests in the real world. In this post, I'm talking about a topic that is still sensitive even in these modern times - religion.

Religion has been with us for thousands upon thousands of years, from ancient stone figures and carvings (we assume) to the complex divine hierarchies of India and Greece, and on to the resurgence of monotheism over the past four thousand years. Today, all religions are fair game for writers, and they run varying risks when taking them and adapting them to tell a story. Whether it be direct adaption of classic tails, or using it as backdrop for an original tale, religion has been approached in numerous ways, good and bad. And... this is a very large subject, so I'm having to subdivide it into two posts. One is devoted to polytheism, and one to monotheism. This one is for polytheism.

Due to the severe decline in the active worship of polytheistic religions in the West and Near East, these have become the favourite subject of authors creating both science fiction and fantasy. Egyptian deities provide very rich fruit. From the mystical influences of The Mummy and its derivatives, to the pseudo-scientific beings in Roger Zelazny's Creatures of Light and Darkness. In the latter, figures straight out of Egyptian myth and legend enact a grand plot infused with elements from both the fantasy and science fiction genres. This is a recurring element in Zelazny's work, and can also be seen with Hinduism in Lord of Light, Norse lore in The Mask of Loki, and multiple different schools of thought and myth in The Dream Master.

Greek and Roman myth has sourced some truly amazing works, although it has also sometimes fallen into the rut of taking a more Westernised approach to them rather than staying true to the source. Greek myth and legend has inspired many of the works of Mary Renault, the saga of how the gods battle each other is told as a teen adventure in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, monsters from multiple myths have been liberally borrowed for books, films and video games aplenty. Clash of the Titan is one of the best-known film versions of the Perseus myth, although it slightly bowdlerizes the childish aspects of the Olympians, and doesn't stay true to what the Titans were. The modern version strays even further away from the source. It's strange to see it, but it's only the God of War video game series that's gotten anywhere close to accurately portraying what the gods and goddesses were really like.

The use of Norse and Germanic myth and legend is highly prevalent, as it lends itself well to dramatic adaptation. From the original Eddas to later sagas and even Beowulf, Norse and Germanic elements have a strong hold on modern literature. A major operatic work that uses this system is Wagner's The Ring of Nibelung, which retells the fable of the fallen Valkyrie Brynhildr. The motif of Ragnarok (Old Norse) or Gotterdammerung (German), a final climactic battle, is seen in the greater majority of fiction. Celtic myth has also sourced many great authors' works, with Alan Garner's Wierdstone trilogy drawing extensively from that system and its associated symbolism - from the non-human races to the three-sided links between Susan, the Morrigan, and the Lady of the Lake. These links are also present in Arthurian myths, which have become a genre in themselves.

Far Eastern belief systems are their own giant resource. Chinese mythology is complicated and intertwined with their rigid social system and long-standing association of royalty with divinity. An interesting series of books that uses this is the underappreciated and overlooked The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox by Barry Hughart. Spanning three books - Bridge of Birds, The Story of the Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentleman - Hughart tells of the adventures of the titular protagonists through a world inspired by Chinese myth. Another author who uses Oriental myth is Roberta Ann MacAvoy, the most notable of these being Tea with the Black Dragon. Japanese myth is something that's a bit more difficult to pin down, principally because the country was isolated for so long and it has its own burgeoning and imaginative media. There are a few, I'm sure, but none that have really stood out for me (yet).

Other mythologies have likewise been used, although not as clearly or prominently. A very interesting take on the confusing mass of religions with multiple deities is Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Each deity encountered is a manifestation of humanity's belief in them, comparable to the Thoughtform element of Tulpa mysticism. The main drive of the plot is how different deities of varying age strive to reconnect with humans, particularly Odin (Mr Wednesday). Some of my own early story ideas were based around this, and inspired me to push forward.

Now pantheon systems are more than useful as they're nowhere near as controversial to work with when compared to what has become the world's most widespread monotheistic systems. Many authors have also combined mythologies within their works, sometimes even playing out as a war between pantheons. A lot of the time, these systems are used as the background to a rip-roaring adventure that can carry people along, which is all well and good. Despite any faults there might be, which will be addressed later, pantheon systems are far, far more open to adaption into fictional literature, and thus don't have nearly so much baggage accompanying them. In most parts of the world.

Tomorrow, for the next part of this subdivided second post, it's Monotheism and the conclusion!

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

New Situations, Old Problems, Softened Impact - Part 1

Once again, I'm splitting this into a series of blog posts, as what I've got to say about this multi-part quirk in the creation of fiction would create an uncomfortably long post. So I'm splitting it into as many parts as it needs.

The title this time isn't very self-explanatory, at least I don't think so. It's the way that settings may change or new settings may be revealed, but the issues many stories tackle are just the same. This is true for oral tales, books, comic books, films, television productions, and video games. In this post, I'm talking about the recurring theme and motif in many pieces of fiction both good and bad; racism.

What is racism? In its most basic form, racism is discrimination against ethnic groups that are not your own, with the most obvious example being white people discrimination against black people. Racism may be deliberate or unconscious, but it's most clearly seen as a kind of view that your people are superior to any other, rendering any other inferior. True life examples of this are the Colonial occupiers of India during the 1800s, the Apartheids of South Africa, and the entire Nazi regime and its fascist derivatives. There are examples of racism in every single society across all of recorded human history, and can often be accompanied with tales of segregation, exile, and in the worst cases genocide authorised by the powers that be. Because of this, it's a fairly clear topic for authors to take up and use as a motif or even the central core of their story.

Racism is a pressing issue in the modern world, and even when you're looking at historical settings like Civil War America, it's very uncomfortable to see how terrible people can be when affected by such a poisonous worldview. That's why many works not directly retelling historical events have chosen to soften the blow by putting it through the lens of fiction. Clear examples can be found in science fiction and fantasy, where aliens in the former and other races in the latter are often the target of racial discrimination.

An example within science fiction is Alien Nation, a film and television series from the late 80s that revolves around "Newcomers" arriving and becoming integrated into the multicultural United States, and the inevitable discrimination they receive for being "not us". This results in the Newcomers often being seen as enemies just because of their differences from humans. In comic books, the entire X-Men universe is based around this lack of understanding and a wish to see enemies in humans who have developed mystical powers through a genetic mutation, something that happens with humans in the real world every day (mutation, I mean). Azimov's Robot series also demonstrates this, but this time in the division between Spacers - humans who have colonised other worlds - and Terrans who live in domed cities and suffer from trade blockades imposed from beyond. This is added to by the Rs, humanoid machines that can walk undetected among people and are feared by one group and mistrusted by the other. Each human side is shown to be as bad as the other, while the Rs are caught in between, trapped by the Three Laws and unable to prevent humans either restraining or abusing them.

Fantasy has far more scope due to the greater ability of people to construct fantastic races. The Underworld films and the Twilight book series show how vampires and werewolves discriminate against each other due to their differences, failing or being arranged to fail by their leaders at finding any common ground. Several depictions of dragons in multiple media also feature this, as while it's not dubbed as "racism", dragons often see themselves as superior to other races and so are tempted to look down on them, something that is directly in line with racist behaviour. The Dragon Age series, while not really featuring dragons as a sentient race, does have multiple races that discriminate against each other in often sickening ways - the Qunari are victimised for their completely foreign social structure, the elves for their presumed ancient crimes and refusal to worship humanity's monotheic Maker, humans for seemingly being narrow-minded or primitive and brutish in the eyes of others; it creates a vicious cycle of continued hatred.

But what all of these instants, and many others, have in common is this; they separate the pressing issues from reality by placing them in an alien environment. Whether it be the domed cities of Earth in The Caves of Steel or the ancient ruins of elven citadels in Dragon Quest: Inquisition, it can be hard to connect to the terrible events and attitudes when they are so far removed. There are some stories that successfully portray this as a serious and uncomfortable issue while maintaining that distance - such as Princess Mononoke and Ben-Hur - most fail to strike that. It's a pity, as those who can't fully communicate it can risk separating our views of racism in fiction from that in real life, and that risks making us unwitting participants in society's continued, unconscious discrimination.

Next week, in Part 2, I'll be looking at religion, and how this sensitive topic has been approached in various fictional works, with an aim to espouse it, analyse it, and criticise it.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Me and Tolkien - A Love-Hate Relationship

I know that above title sound more than a little strange, but it's the truth about what I feel about Tolkien's work as a writer. He is one of my key inspirations for why I pursue a career in writing, but it's also a kind of writing that I'm trying not to emulate beyond some very basic framework.

I first encountered Tolkien in a major way when I watched the first part of Peter Jackson's movie trilogy "Fellowship of the Ring", first part of the author's seminal The Lord of the Rings. I was utterly overwhelmed by the grand sweep of the story and locations, and even by the (as I saw it at the time) mystic Elven language. It's even better when you're watching the extended cut. After that, I experienced the next two movies, a reading on cassette tape of The Hobbit, and even a full-cast BBC radio dramatisation which I think ranks among the greatest radio productions in the history of the medium. I got to know a lot about the world of Middle Earth, and I greatly enjoyed the versions of the story I encountered. I even give a positive nod to Jackson for successfully adapting one of the most far-reaching narratives into a form that doesn't give itself easily to multi-thread storytelling.

But then something clicked in my mind. I realised that I didn't like the majority of the world that Tolkien had created. I found his writing style boring, overly grandiose, and even rambling. I didn't like how he all but forgot any portrayal of how the orc society existed under Sauron's rule, how simple most of the interactions between races seemed to become, how many of his key plot points seemed to come out of nowhere or seem contrived (Eowyn and Faramir's romance for one, which is just one of the clumsiest 'love at first sight' scenarios I've ever seen). Most of all, in the original work, I didn't like how he placed women mostly in the background, with none of them forming part of the Fellowship or (with the notable one-time exception of Eowyn) doing anything really active that made a difference to the world. If you actually look at surviving stories from the Norse and Germanic tales that provided his inspiration for Middle Earth, you find plenty of female figures who were powerful, standing the equal or superior of men. Even Galadriel didn't feature much in the original story beyond the first book, where she acted more as a rather vague guide, and even showed a weakness that I'd have expected her to master through all her millennia as a Ringbearer... The films did their best to rectified these last points, but the rest sadly stands.

But aside from faults-to-be in my own work, I saw how much of a grip it had on many other authors' work. Some are unconsciously influenced by his work, while others such as Eragon and its sequels are blatantly imitating it. Because of this, I try to steer away from his style. I keep it entirely focused on characters, work to keep description within its boundaries, and I also focus a large amount of my text on what might be called the 'villains'. Heck, I try to blur the distinction between 'heroes' and 'villains' to the point where it's just two side of a conflict with clashing yet understandable views, like any conflict in real life. No Ming and Flash Gordon scenario in my novels and stories; only showing how Ming is trying to rectify a broken system, and (perhaps) how Flash commissioned that campy film as propaganda to justify a human takeover. My, that would be a film to see.

The above text may seem clumsily worded or expressed, but the fact is that my feelings towards Tolkien can't be easily described in print or in speech. I appreciate and admire the grand scope of his world and the amount of depth he put into it, but I don't like either the writing itself or how it's pushed future generations into unconscious or conscious imitation. It's like my feelings for Lovecraft: I appreciate his scope and creative imagination, but his overly complex writing style and racist views put me off reading his stuff a lot of the time these days. I appreciate both Tolkien and Lovecraft, and they pushed me towards my career as a writer. But I consciously try to avoid their styles, and I consider myself better for it.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

To Salvage a Project

As a writer, you are bound to come up with any amount of ideas. To paraphrase a certain game released within the last few years - "There are countless storylines and ideas, as numerous as the stars themselves". This is very true, and all too often these ideas can become lost in a deep mire of doubt and confusion, even becoming lost forever in the infinite chasms of your mind. Even for those you begin to put to paper, it's not always safe. You can find that, at some early or even advanced stage, you are presented with terrible problems which force you to shelve it. There are three fates awaiting such a work: recycling, deletion, or salvaging.

Recycling is a concept where some ideas from a project was rescued, but much of the narrative and even some of the characters you created around those ideas are lost. This is what happened with Crystal and Sin. I had an idea, of a group of five people heading into a ruined city to confront a mysterious power figure at the heart of a terrible cataclysm. This concept became the first two "chapters/episodes" of Crystal and Sin. But in the first draft, there were also elements such as the entire story taking place in that one location, Crystal and Sin themselves having psionic powers, and another female character with similar gifts also being with the party. In the end, this fifth main protagonist was dropped, and all references to anything remotely supernatural hit the cutting room floor - never to be recovered - and the storyline greatly expanded in scope. I had spent a month on the first draft, and after leaving alone for about two months last year, how to save it finally struck home, and I began again in haste.

Deletion, as the word suggests, is where something is just completely unworkable. No matter how many times you approach it, it's not going to work. Those are the moments when you need to step back, realize that this isn't the right thing to be doing. This happened a lot with my early work due to much of it being highly derivative. The work that springs to mind is a storyline that was called "Marduk's Redemption". Following a Mage facing against their former apprentice after they have turned into a Warlock, it was basically a fusion of elements from Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and the anime film "Tales from Earthsea". Once I'd gotten to the 14th or 15th chapter, I realized that this wasn't the way to go. It was kind of an awakening for me, as I began making a special effort to move away from such derivative work. This means that, while the basic concept may still exist somewhere, "Marduk's Redemption" will never see the light of day.

Salvaging is the best possible solution for a work, but certain circumstances apply. The story has to be very strong, you may need to be quite early in development before you reach the point where you put the story down as with recycling or deletion. Salvaging, in its purest form, is where the story and concept are resurrected after a period of time where a previous form of the story proved unworkable. This is similar to recycling, but whereas recycling results in the greater majority of a story's original form is discarded, salvaging means that the greater majority of the story has been saved. The story that this applies to is "Calabaja", a science fiction picaresque novel. I tried to get this story of the ground twice before, and both times something prevented it. The main problem was that it was slipping into the "superhero" genre, a genre I don't like and can't work with. It's only with this third attempt that it's beginning to work, although that's only with me staying strenuously clear of stuff related to the superhero genre. And it appears to be working, so far.

Update - 08-10-2016: I've since decided that the above story is too similar to Crystal and Sin for me to continue working on it in good faith. I'm therefor returning it to store. A shame, but unavoidable.

These things are the kind of thing that people don't seem to communicate very well in other blog posts. I hope this will help other potential authors with these usual circumstances that can strike even the best-flowing work.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Context and Creativity - How Religious Events Become a Stunning Story

This post was inspired today while I was listening to the second episode of a radio dramatisation of Lew Wallace's "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ". While I'm not strongly connected to Abrahamic beliefs, I do enjoy listening to various way in which that framework is used, whether it's pasted directly over established text or using its thematic and religious framework in an otherwise unconnected setting. I've done it for one of my own recently-completed works, but today I'm focusing on other people's take on it.

The most obvious usage is setting a story within Abrahamic context, either using their mythical framework as inspiration or using the setting itself. This isn't directly retelling the story, but instead using it as a backdrop for another story, as with Wallace's book. For "Ben-Hur", the period of Christ's journey through adulthood to the crucifixion is the backdrop for a morale tale surrounding the titular protagonist Judah Ben-Hur. His quest for revenge, and his eventual disenchantment with the idea, mirror Christ's message as recorded in canon texts, in addition to being a medium for wider (yet unfortunately often forgotten) ideas in Abrahamic traditions of forgiveness and tolerance. The lack of tolerance and how it destroys people is demonstrated through the characters of Messala and Iras. "Ben-Hur" is the only one I'm really familiar with, but I've certainly got vague memories in the back of my mind of other stories which used Biblical events as the backdrop for stories that might otherwise lack suitable gravitas.

The opposite end of the scale is creating something that can act as a criticism of that framework, or a parody of it. A prime example of this in English is Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Don't be fooled by the movie they based on the first book, which criminally bowdlerises the religious criticism and thematic relations to both Milton's "Paradise Lost" and the concept of original sin. In Pullman's trilogy, the framework of the divine order as represented by the Angels and their fallen compatriots is turned on its head to amazing effect, turning original sin into a boon for human free will. This opposing usage is more common, or at least more widely accepted and publicised, outside its sphere of influence in the West. Examples are most commonly found in Japan: "Berserk", "Neon Genesis Evengelion", and even video game franchises such as "Megami Tensei", "Xeno" and "Drakengard" all feature usage of Abrahamic elements that either put a more cynical interpretation on or outright reverse traditional beliefs and symbolism. (You can probably tell that I enjoyed writing this paragraph more)

These are, of course, just a few examples within one belief system. Every single system of belief that's ever existed has had similar approaches taken, with varying degrees of faithfulness or parody. Another good example would be Greek mythology - many adaptations of them exist, which have both altered the characters and deities to fall more in line with later post-Abrahamic traditions to stayed true to the ambiguous natures of the originals. It's a shock to admit it, but "God of War" was slightly truer to the mythic brutality and moral disconnect between man and deity that many other examples in media. But that's a whole other post.

Whatever your beliefs may be, it's fascinating seeing how them and others are used by other authors in constructive or even deconstructive ways. And what's even better is doing something like that for yourself.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

New Release: Alexa of the Kingdom of Scales

I am pleased to announce that a new short story, titled "Alexa of the Kingdom of Scales", is now available exclusively through Amazon. A short story set in a time of wonder and fairy tales, it's a short and sweet read for anyone wanting some new light distraction.

Amazon UK


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Endings - Part 2: What Comes After...

Hello, readers. This is the second part of my new experiment: a two-part blog post coming over two weeks. As I come to the end of a new book, I found myself experiencing and pondering the mechanics of being an author who is coming towards the end of a story. I've been working on this since December last year, and not withstanding self-publishing three other titles since then, it's been a difficult run. But now I'm approaching the end of the road, and that's the time you've got to be most careful. (PS: Sorry about the wierd font display, Google Blog editor is being wierd.)

This week, I'll talk about actually coming to the end of a piece of work. It's the end of the long road, you've seen your characters through to their conclusions, you've settled down and look back over the months/years you've worked on this project. And personally, what I felt was a sudden emptiness and anxiety. This work had given me a sense of purpose for the past nine months, it had been infuriating and infatuating all at once. I have faced weeks of being stuck because of the story not flowing properly, or considering carefully where to take the story so as to properly make use of the themes and content without it becoming gratuitous.

It's only been two days or so since finishing this work (perfect timing for this blog post), but it already feels like an entire month. That sense of distorted time also comes with finishing a big project. It came with Crystal and Sin, and it's come with this. It's so momentous that you don't want it to end. A bit like a period of your life that you sorely miss, it seems to haunt you. But that's when you need to step back, look at it from a distance. Personally, I'm taking the rest of this week off, then finding a new project to work on and getting back to the normal business of managing my writing business. But that's just me.

And then, what next? Inevitably, the proof reading. where after a suitable amount of time you have to go through the entire thing and check for errors large and small: from continuity mistakes to the always-pervasive spelling and grammar mistakes. The entire thing as it stands is over four hundred pages, written in a style that hearkens back to an idea of archaic speech intended to contrast sharply against the mature tone and themes. I have to go through all that, ensure that every character's dialogue is convincing, make sure everything is where it should be, and try not to kick myself in the proverbial perfectionist posterior when I find a very obvious mistake.

So now, I close on this final thought. No-one is perfect, no-one should be expected to be perfect. And at the end of such a large project, and with (fingers crossed) a whole life full of similar events in front of you, you have every right to sit back and be human. Once a while...

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

New upcoming release: Alexa of the Kingdom of Scales

Hello everyone!

I am pleased to announce that a new short story by yours truly, "Alexa of the Kingdom of Scales", is currently up for pre-order. It is set for release on August 25 exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Experience a new, modern take on the princess fairy tales of old...

Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

Endings - Part 1: Pacing Yourself

Hello, readers. This is a new experiment, a two-part post over the next two weeks. As I come to the end of a new book, I found myself experiencing and pondering the mechanics of being an author who is coming towards the end of a story. I've been working on this since December last year, and not withstanding self-publishing three other titles since then, it's been a difficult run. But now I'm approaching the end of the road, and that's the time you've got to be most careful.

This post is about, as the title probably informed you, pacing yourself. This is something I haven't actually seen talked about that much in blogs or other such writers' help articles. It's about creating stories, maintaining a positive outlook, getting and handling agents and publishers. Never about something that can prove a writer's downfall: writing too quickly.

You may have a chapter thoroughly formed in your head, especially if you've been working up to it across upwards or twenty or thirty other chapters. It's the denouement, or a major turning point in the story. An event you have been visualizing and planning for who knows how long. And then you're on the other side of a chapter, you're staring at it, and you can't believe you did it in such a short time. The day seemed to fly by. But what's the matter? Why am I so frizzled? It's because I've burnt myself out with my enthusiasm.

This is a problem that can sneak up on you like a serpent approaching its prey. It's only the next day, when you settle down to write again, that you can't write another word. All your energy has been poured into one thing, leaving no room for anything else. This applies to many things, but when you're trying to write a quality book, it's the very devil. When you go through it in proofreading, you realize the price you paid in quality. Misspelled words, clumsily-constructed sentences, mismatches in terminology, and a general feeling that it's the direction for a script. You need to go through it, and in the worse case it needs rewriting.

A means of getting round this is forcing yourself to pace your writing speed. I've found that three to five pages each day is a more than adequate means of balancing writing output with writing quality. It also enables you to remember things like in-book terminology, and keep each character's mindset and personality in mind so there are no classic gaffs of that variety. This means that, though you may be bursting at the seams to write the entire think in a few hours, you're able to preserve what is most important in a readable product: quality and pacing.

Of course, this is my opinion. Anyone can agree or disagree. It's just my own take on what I feel is an underappreciated and underrepresented problem for writers.

Next Week: Coming out of the other side, and facing the end of a beloved project...

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Characters... and their ends.

When creating fiction, it is important to consider characters. They are the medium through which a story is told, they are the means by which someone is immersed in a piece of fiction, or even in a historical account. But the latter has pre-set debuts and destinations, while fiction is entirely under the control of the author. And that presents a key difficulty.

There are many ways to create a dramatic story event or turning point within a story, but one of the most widely used and effective is death. Death, by popular consensus a great leveler in real life, is something that can bring you to a sharp halt and take stock of what has happened. There are any amount of sudden deaths done badly, but there are equally deaths that are skillfully introduced with little warning, or even something that is part of a character narrative due to it being slow or destined or something equivalent to the above.

But there is a problem. If you are creating these characters, who are your creations, there is always a risk of getting attached to them, so you may negate any need for death or an equivalent fate to a side character that would not have the same impact. But hey, at least your character survives. That is not the wisest course if you have settled on death as a part of your story. True, there is such a thing as being overly cruel to characters (A Game of Thrones has a fairly brutal example), but there is also such a thing as coddling them or letting them have a presence within your mind as if they are real and breathing.

I have used death in my narratives both for main characters as side characters, and together with maintaining a kind of moral ambiguity, it creates a multilayered impact. Whether you decide on a character death early in the process or decide to direct the narrative that way halfway through, it can be more than useful. Take my own work, "Crystal and Sin". At the end, a key character dies so that another character can escape from their own corrupted existence and live a free life. Other deaths, told in flashback or seen in real-time, show how my characters change.

Another problem is with character death styles. That of course is when your chosen genre must come into play. You may want a character to die peacefully, or for them to suffer a gruesome or ignominious fate. If you put a graphically described execution somewhere in a children's book, then you run the risk of the reader putting the book down in shock or disgust. Conversely, if you have something weighty, then treating characters gently can be a double-edged sword: you both create tension, and can deflate the experience if nothing happens by the story's end. For recommended reading on how to handle violent death in children's literature.... read J K Rowling's Harry Potter series. She is a master at describing the macabre within a family-friendly narrative.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

A Writer's Room with a View

Environment is crucial for a writer. Have an environments you're comfortable with, or you'll never be able to concentrate fully on your work. Either that, or something will impact your work on an invisible level, affecting its quality. It can be something as simple as keeping your environment at a sensible temperature, or finding something in which you can lose yourself.

For myself, I've got a view out across a long garden, with pines growing at regular intervals, and a clump of birches to the far right. Willows border either side of our yard, and the closest have hop intertwined in their branches. In the distance, now partially obscured by clouds, the highest mountains in England and Wales stare back at me. They're much more visible in winter, when there's less foliage blocking the way.

When I'm stuck, I find it useful to just look up and stare out at the world. It also helps if my head isn't in the best state for creating fictional happenings. Doesn't beat an actual walk in these glorious surroundings, another vital factor in maintaining your mental and physical health, but it does help for a brief respite before diving back into a complicated exchange of dialogue, or an action scene, or a piece of scene painting.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

"Big things have small beginnings"

Sales are one of the major goals of being an author. You want to make money, you want people to see your work, you want to be recognised and successful. Not necessarily in that order, but generally that's the gist of what you want from a successful writing career. Ideally, you'll also be allowed to pursue your own projects in peace, but that's a luxury not always given, as many can attest to. It's part of the struggles of being a writer, particularly one trying to start out in the industry.

I've recently, finally, received the royalties for the sales of my sci-fi novels Crystal and Sin: yeah, it does take around two months for Amazon to get its act together and actually send me the royalties. They're not much by any stretch of the imagination, but they're a start. As was said in Lawrence of Arabia and later quoted in Promotheus, "big things have small beginnings".

Don't turn your nose up at even the slimmest of pickings from your writing. No, you're not making so many hundred thousand a year, you're not the owner of a country cottage far away from the city smells... But your work is being bought, and you're earning something from it. Whether it's a sideline, your chosen full-time profession, or some quirky one-off that takes off, don't be discouraged because you've sold... perhaps... only ten or twenty copies. It's a start!

It's an uphill battle, and even the slimmest piece of ground covered is worth celebrating. Don't go blowing what you've earned or anything silly like that, but remember that those few people decided to buy your book, and are reading it even now. Your book is being read, and it's just the start...

Oh, if you want some advice on creating submissions for agents, read this post from the website Writers&Artists. It contains good advice for both pacing your book in its early stages, and has some well-phrased versions of general advice for creating your submission. Also see the blog "Publishing... And Other Forms of Insanity": it's an invaluable resource for all fledgling writers.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Submission, Submission, Submission

When creating a submission, it's always tempting to see it as the gateway to a vast new career. This is the one, this will push me out into the mainstream, this is my first step towards success. No matter how many stories you hear about other authors who had to work and push to get their writing recognised, trying upwards of dozens of agents and publishers before finally getting that big break, you think that you'll be different.

That was what dragged me down for a long time, and kept me from doing my job properly as a writer starting from the ground up. I was treating the entire business in a stupidly blasé way, expecting success to be thrown at me because my work was so good. Oh how wrong I was. I'm at upwards of thirty different agents tried or retried, and I'm still pushing forward. Trying both conventional and self-driven publishing forms, I've learned that hard way not to treat anything as a sure thing.

Now there are hundreds of opinions on this matter, and I'm only adding to the pile with my own experience on how to do it and how to preserve my spirit while doing it. You have to distance yourself from it, examine your work and ensure that it could be a suitable debut for you. You must check and recheck your covering letter/email. You must triple-check your submission to ensure that the chapters selected both have good pacing and no spelling or grammar errors beyond what might be expected of a first-time author. Also, submissions are very draining even when you're going about it in a business-like manner, as you're submitting your own work to criticism and scrutiny by a complete stranger.

If the stars align correctly, then you can find yourself throwing out a quality submission with little effort and relative ease. But these are exceptions. In general, you have to go through a laborious process of picking agents, preparing your submission(s), and waiting several weeks to months for a response. And at the end, you'll most likely see a polite rejection. But don't let that stop you! Never, ever give up! That's what I've learnt, and it's what I'm sticking to. As an author, I'm hardened to the pains and troubles of submitting through official channels. As a writer, I will not be beaten!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Out now: Crystal and Sin: Volume 3

I'm proud to announce that the third and final volume of my new science fiction work, Crystal and Sin, is now available through Kindle, CreateSpace, NookPress and Kobo Writing Life. A Complete Edition is planned for release this winter, which will include the entire story.

From Kobo Writing Life -

From Amazon Kindle (UK) -

From Amazon Kindle (US) -

From CreateSpace -

The previous two volumes are still available, and have been updated with corrected text and additional copyediting. Please enjoy this now-complete science fiction saga...

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

FB3X Drabble Cascade #168 entry - "Stable Visitor"

Just a little something for someone:

With the door stood agape, she couldn't help but glance inside. Like a terrible shadow it rested beneath the hole it had punched through the roof. Its tattered and smouldering wings lying across the tortured back. The clawed feet reaching out in writhing agony. The hands scrabbling at the straw. The head slowly moving from side to side at the whinnying of terrified horses. She feared approaching, and yet feared running away more. She reached out, the horned head rose, and in a guttural gush of words it spoke.
“Please... Will you not help... a fallen one?”

Woes and Elations of a Writer

Have you ever tried being every single member of a business? Creative force, CEO, accountant, editor, publicity manager? I know that a lot of people have, and if you're out there, then you'll sympathize with my experience over the past three or four months.

As I reach the end of a push to bring my book Crystal and Sin out and available, along with promoting it and polishing it so it's worth buying and people notice it, I look back and feel both relief and sadness. The elation of going through getting my work out there, and seeing the first sales appear is a feeling I'll never forget. It's small at the moment, but it's still significant. It's like watching a doorway opening in your life. There's also the feedback you get from people, and I've been consistently pleased by their definition of it as a "page turner". No matter how weird a reader finds something, if it's a page-turner, then that's a good sign. It means the story you've constructed is drawing them in and hooking them, as any good story should.

But on the debit side, there's the sheer frustration I've had to battle to make sure these things don't just implode on themselves. Take the Nook Press editor. At first, it seemed a suitable way for me to adjust my text so other formats would accept it. Then I discovered that it's a poorly constructed editing machine that forced me to shift pieces of text around that had gotten misplaced due to spacing issues, adjust fonts when they refused to cooperate, and insist on the correct positioning of story segments (chapters). Then there's the flurry of effort going into the initial release and publicity, which can seriously drain you. You need to edit the manuscript, turn it into different formats for different publishing sites, go out and spread the word using social media and your contacts. By the end of the day, you're nearly shaking. The first time I did this for Crystal and Sin Vol. 1, I couldn't write for nearly two weeks!

I'm planning a holiday when July 7 has been and gone, and I'll have no need to bring out anything until the planned Complete Edition in December. Then what? I don't know. Maybe I'll find an agent between then and now, maybe I'll suddenly catch on and be a hot commodity, maybe the sun will freeze in the sky. I don't know. But I do know that I'll keep trying. I love writing and story-telling, and I'm determined to succeed. I've got the skills and the support, now all I need is the sales...

Sunday, 26 June 2016

New release: Crystal and Sin Volume 3 up for pre-order!

A major update for readers.

The third and final volume of Crystal and Sin, my science fiction anthology is up for pre-order on Amazon. It will become available (at some point) for pre-order on Kobo Writing Life, and on July 7 will become available through Nook Press and CreateSpace.

Link for UK readers:

Link for US readers:

The complete edition will also become available later this year: all three volumes, with a new cover illustration by Daisy Wrightson and ink drawings of the three existing covers. Please be excited!

Friday, 24 June 2016

Falling flat, and picking up the pieces

You know the most difficult part in creating a story? The idea may be sound, but the practical difficulties of bringing it into a descent-length narrative can be downright impossible, regardless of the chosen genre.

Take this scenario: you are someone who doesn't like the Superhero comic or film genre that much, but you've created a wonderful concept around a masked vigilante who you think you can fit into sci-fi genre and keep as your own work. But something goes wrong. At whatever point, you look forward or back and see that it doesn't quite work. The problem is that the premise has been greedily taken by the comic creators of this world, and worked to such a degree that trying to do something with those elements results in it becoming part of that genre. This has happened to me.

I'm not discarding this project entirely, but it can't continue in its current form. It's a neat idea, and the world I've created for it is well-worth preserving, but the things I was trying to do are too like those from a genre that I don't like. It's like trying to plant a bush you like into soil that won't take it. You either need to find a new place for the plant, or it will die and need to be replaced with something suited to its conditions. In my case, I've rescued what still lived of the plant and put it in a safe place for later reference. Quite sure this kind of thing has happened more than once to every single author who has ever lived.

For something else in a similar vein, I would recommend this article on how to bring old failed story ideas back to life. Personally, I didn't find it as helpful as I might as I have my own concepts on the matter, but anyone else might find it useful.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Day to Day, Week to Week

Been gardening today (ripping up intruding thistles and the like), after yesterday was a drought when it came to writing. Ice cream always does no good at all to my system. The type I have doesn't have additives in there, it's just quite high on sugar. I'm writing again now, and pushing on with my dark fantasy story (it's reached that stage where you need to plod through towards the final act without it sounding plodding when you read it). I'm also quite chuffed that I have had actual sales for my two published works so far. It's something that's not happened to me before. But then, I wasn't putting in the right amount of effort before. Still one more volume to do, then a complete edition with the usual corrections and alterations to make it the definitive version.

Things quiet here as I go into the weekend. Enjoyed looking at orchids on my local dunes yesterday, and there are some truly gorgeous species. Quite a glut of Bee Orchids, truly one of the definitive flowers of Britain. I'm an absolute nut on the subject of orchids, as my father is about trees and my sister is about lichens. I can look at something and tell within a few seconds what type of orchid it is. Unless it's not an orchid, but that goes without saying.

Sunshine today, and I would be roasting now if it weren't for a north wind which strips the heat right out of you if you're standing still. The plants are loving it, even the weeds, which means some parts of the garden look more like a jungle than a cultivated plot. Still, that comes with the territory. Here, on the cusp of a new week, I can look out at the world and feel content. Things are going fine for me.