Monthly Archives: May 2015

Why I Write – Updated

I won’t lie to you – this IS and ISN’T a new post. Last year I was very kindly asked to participate in two blog hops, each of them inviting me to elaborate a little on my writing process. I’m currently doing a little housekeeping at The Ark Hive at the moment, and in reading those posts again I found areas where some of info was outdated. The works in progress or upcoming projects are sights in the rear-view now, so I wanted to post versions with those sections edited out, but if you’re of a mind to read the original posts (and I’d point you in that direction if only to introduce you to the awesome people who very kindly nominated me, and the equally awesome people I subsequently nominated) the originals are available here and here.

So … Why I write …

I know why I started. I think the creative urge is something woven into our DNA, a seed planted in the soil of wherever dreams are born. Sometimes that seed flourishes, nourished by the sunlight and showers of the imagination, and the mind becomes a garden of vision and creativity. Sometimes, the seed grows into something more fragile, little more than a teardrop of colour in the black soil, and the imagination runs to smaller endeavours. Sometimes, heartbreakingly, the seed is ripped viciously from the dirt or trodden underfoot or withered by the unforgiving winters of the real world.

Maybe I’ve been lucky, maybe I’ve been given a modest garden to tend. Yes, it’s often choked with weeds, and there’s the occasional square of disturbed earth between the flower beds where the bodies are buried, but its mine, dash it, and I think there are perhaps two elements from real life that brought it to bloom.

One of them was the thread of solitude when I was growing up. My childhood … Stuff happened. It’s not quite up there with the fate of Thomas and Martha Wayne, but suffice it to say circumstances allowed me the retrospective good fortune of being left alone to my own imaginary devices, unburdened by family influences so that I might tend to that creative seed.

The other element was comics, of course. I like DC, but at heart I’m a Marvel fanboy, and Marvel has always fostered a wonderful warm connection with its readership, breaching the barrier between creator and wide-eyed reader with its letters from the Bullpen (Excelsior!) and its fourth-wall breaking asides (Deadpool’s nods out the frame are the bastard child of these, I think) and its little boxes that namechecked the artists and writers but gave them amiable nicknames (“Marvellous” Marv Wolfman, “Live-It-Up” Len Wein, “Rascally” Roy Thomas). It’s one of the reasons that Stan “The Man” Lee is so beloved today, and why his cameos are such a fun part of the movies. Well, I call them cameos. Either that, or he’s actually playing the same character, a franchise-straddling, ageless immortal whose varied career path has encompassed Army General, a couple of stints as a Security Guard, and a postman. But I digress …

Another comic that showcased its creators in this way was the UK’s own 2000AD, the home of Judge Dredd, referring to its writers and artists as Script Droids or Art Droids, and again it was a glimpse behind the curtain that not only fed my imagination but reminded me that somebody, somewhere, was constructing these worlds. And even better, they were grown ups, and I suppose that was what decided me on the kind of grown up I wanted to be.

I know why I kept going, even when I was heavily discouraged from writing even as a hobby. I think a mantra sadly familiar to a great many aspiring writers is the one where people tell you that you can’t do it, or you shouldn’t do it, or you’ll never make a living out of it, or what will the neighbours think, or your words are no good. Yeah, like we need to hear that, when we’ve all considered these things and cast them aside, again and again? Bah! To hell with the neighbours! They can’t make me wear pants!

For me, being told that I couldn’t do it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me – I have something of a history of being unable to resist a dare (I once snorted an entire bag of Sherbet Flying Saucers!), and so I kept on writing (as we all must do, although I’d advocate avoiding the Flying Saucer thing). When I started to read Stephen King’s work, I found a friendlier, more encouraging voice, not just in the fiction, but in the many notes and intros that King includes in his books, the peeks into his creative processes. Again, it was that crack in the wall, that sense that the words on the page are one person talking to another, no matter the gulf of time and space between the writing and the reading, that reminder that You Are Not Alone.

Why do I still write? Hmm. What drives me to sit at my desk after a long day of dispiriting commutes and workplace politics and try to fill the page with words? Why have there been days when I’ve given myself headaches and heartaches, staring at a screen when I could be outside, enjoying the fleeting breath of an English summer, walking in the park and looking at real gardens instead of the one in my head? The easy (and honest) answer would be that I’m hoping against hope to make even a small living out of writing at some point, if only enough to leave that commute and the politics behind, but that might never happen, and even if that was the reason, then how do I explain the blog posts, or the stories that are written with no intention to publish, or the essays, or the journal entries? (I’ve discounted the #FPs, by the way, because I know why I do them – they’re beyond fun to write)

Certainly, the encouraging voices of fellow creators are still a factor – the writing community on Twitter is wonderful, and it’s fantastic to read the great fiction and inspirational articles of other bloggers, sharing their own sneak peeks into their creative processes.

So yes, of course, I want to make a living with this writing malarkey (and if I ever write for Marvel, I already have my nickname: “Jolly” Roger Jackson? No … no, perhaps not). But that’s not it, not really. I write because all this stuff in me … it has to get out. I wake up with another person’s thoughts in my head, a dream of a kiss or a punch in the face that I never gave or received, another person’s cares and concerns. Sometimes I have to let them take precedence over my own, because to not let the words out, to let the garden die when it’s weathered all those winters and stamping feet, to let those bodies stay buried … that’s not what we’re here for, any of us.

Why do I write? I think my answer is, ultimately, the same as every other writer’s would be.

I don’t have a choice.


My Writing Process – Updated

Another retooled post! Last year I was very kindly asked to participate in two blog hops, each of them inviting me to elaborate a little on my writing process. I’m currently doing a little housekeeping at The Ark Hive at the moment, and in reading those posts again I found areas where some of info was outdated. The works in progress or upcoming projects are sights in the rear-view now, so I wanted to post versions with those sections edited out, but if you’re of a mind to read the original posts (and I’d point you in that direction if only to introduce you to the awesome people who very kindly nominated me, and the equally awesome people I subsequently nominated) the originals are available here and here.

HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?

At first I thought this was quite a tricky question to answer, but ultimately it’s as simple as “It differs because it’s me writing it.”

To me, writing is like seeing shapes in the clouds. You and I might lay back on the warm grass, watching those little crystals of water or ice embrace tiny particles of dust in the blue sky, and, wondrously, this cold and unstoppable physical law will inspire you to see unicorns or angels, cats or dogs, the famous or the infamous, whatever your mind is wired to see.

If your mind is wired like mine, or if you’re meeting me halfway by reading the ink on a page or the pixels I’ve arranged on a screen, all I can hope to do is use my own experiences and emotional view of the world to convince you we’re seeing pretty much the same thing. That’s all any writer does. All our work differs from others in its genre.

WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?

As I say I’m wired to see what I see, and to imagine what I imagine. As a kid, my earliest stories were superficially science-fictional, cherry-picking concepts from my favourite films and TV shows and comic books and mashing them into tales that didn’t so much explore strange new worlds as recycle them … many is the story from that time that saw a Doctor Doom/Darth Vader hybrid commanding an army of “like Cybermen but not really Cybermen” against a brave band of Mutant mercenaries armed with laser swords (definitely NOT lightsabres). Incidentally, I used to draw fake movie posters for these stories, crazy, sprawling artwork crammed with all the elements I’d stolen from my influences. Thankfully, none of these drawings survive, but they tended to be a variation on this:

I have this album ... and it's brilliant!

I have this album … and it’s brilliant!

 

The thing is, if I was writing about a cyborg, say, I started to realise how much more I enjoyed writing about the seeping, decaying remains of his or her flesh than the sleek, mechanical aspects of the cybernetics. Eventually, I came to understand that my science-fiction efforts were Horror stories in disguise, and that if I was going to write, that was the territory in which I could have the most fun.

I’ve written elsewhere about my love for the Horror genre, but the short version is that I honestly believe it’s the most flexible field I could ever work in. I can have my zombies and demons and killers (oh my!), but if I want I can also have comedy or erotica or teen angst or political drama or whatever I need. I don’t think it works the other way. Any of those genres can exist brilliantly on their own, but make the President a vampire or the angst-ridden teens serial killers and the story’s heart begins to blacken, to turn to the Dark Side.

For me, the genre remains honourable and undiluted no matter what other themes and elements it can comfortably incorporate. That’s why the Horror element always comes first when people talk about mashing it up with another genre. Zombie Western, Zombie Romance, never the other way around. Horror defines itself, and the stories it tells, and that’s why I love writing it.

HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?

Unfortunately, my day job doesn’t allow me the luxury of a fixed time to write, or indeed a great deal of free time at all, and so any creativity tends to be left to the end of the week for Friday Phrases, and as much novel-writing as I can manage to fit in over the weekend.

If I have a whole day, I’m at my most creative in the mornings. I’ll aim for around two thousand words of new stuff then, and spend the afternoon checking through what I’ve already written. I usually find this PM editing a relatively painless process, as I’m in the habit of editing the work as I write it. I know many writers might shake their heads at this, considering it a great sin against productivity and creativity. It’s far better, they might argue, to let the prose flow, to let one’s imagination spill unrestrained on to the page, and later to use craft and skill to shape the words into the best they can possibly be.

For the record, those writers are absolutely 100% correct, but generally speaking it’s not how it works for me. There is a reason for this, I think.

A few years ago, I tried my hand at a little stand-up comedy. I’d been writing a few jokes for radio shows and the like and thought it might be interesting to see how my material played to a live crowd. Believe me, though writing is a solitary, sometimes lonely endeavour, it can feel like a party compared to standing alone on stage in front of a cold audience daring you to make them laugh.

The material was a weird stream-of-consciousness thing which wondered what might happen if – and those of you of a sensitive disposition might want to look away now – an adult movie was created by the cast of Sesame Street.

It was strange. I fully suspect anyone still reading can guess the kind of things the beloved Count was so joyfully enumerating, and even deduce what appallingly inappropriate selection of letters and numbers my imagined episode was brought to you by. What role I speculated that the renamed Cookie Monster might play in these sordid events is perhaps best left consigned to history.

The material got a few laughs, but the guy behind the microphone was an idiot, so I stopped. The experience did leave me with a curious learning curve that informs my writing today, though. All those times when I stumbled over a line, or ducked a thrown beer bottle, or misplaced one of the events in my routine and had to backtrack in as naturalistically a fashion as possible … all those things meant that I learned to cut and paste my thoughts, and quickly. To edit and shape as I went along, rewriting “as live”, if you like. It’s one reason why the shoot-from-the-hip nature of writing the Friday Phrases really appeals to me. Many of mine share the same structure as a joke, I think, albeit a joke where the punchline involves a demon or a dismemberment.

So that’s about it for my Writing Process … thanks for reading!


May The Fourth Be With You

May The Fourth Be With You!

In honour of Star Wars Day, I’d like to present my first ever fanfic (well, unless you count the endless childhood stories where I teamed up Spiderman and Green Lantern to fight Daleks and the like). I should probably say that my take on the Wars in this story is maybe more Alternate Universe than Expanded Universe, but that’s where I found the most fun.

What follows came from a Twitter conversation with the ever-splendid Kiera (@kizzywiggleboo). I’ll go into the details of the conversation after the story, because, y’know, spoilers. And after that there’s something REALLY special 😉

So …

A_long_time_ago

She found Han exactly where Threepio said he’d be, though she’d been hoping against hope that the golden droid had been mistaken for once. She knew the droid’s software was designed to adapt to the context of what its voice circuits were relaying, and its visual sensors were programmed with a range of human and non-human expressions so that it might read someone’s face and adjust its tone accordingly, but even so something of the droid’s inclined head and the slight pause before it spoke made Leia think that there was an actual sadness there, a grief beyond software.
The door to the medical bay wheezed open, and there he was, standing at the long, high window that looked onto the next chamber. He had his back to her, his forehead touching the glass. One of his palms was pressed against the window too, and if his hand was desperate to connect with something on the other side.
‘Han?’ she whispered as she approached him. It was a moment before he answered, and when he did, his face turning to hers, she saw the dark circles beneath his bloodshot eyes, and her heart broke to see that the only light that glimmered in them came from the bright illumination of the room beyond the glass.
‘Hey, your Worshipfulness.’
She took his hand, and they turned back to the window. The light was dazzling, Leia thought, and tried to convince herself that that was why she was blinking, why there was a sudden sting at the corner of her eyes.
Chewbacca was dead.
He lay on the polished metal plane of the autopsy table, his lower half covered by a crisp white sheet. The broad curves of his torso had been partially shaved, and the laser scalpels had cut a Y shaped incision through skin and muscle to allow the medical droids to peel back a view into his body cavity. A white-gowned medico stood at a comp-terminal, tapping at the keys while the surgical drones hovered at one side of the room, awaiting the medico’s next command.
‘You shouldn’t be here.’ Leia said, and though she was talking to Han, she felt as though she was talking to Chewie as well.
‘I have to.’ Han said grimly. ‘I have to be sure.’
Leia nodded slowly. ‘General Madine told me what happened …’ She hesitated. ‘Well, some of it. He said … he said you wouldn’t talk when you brought the Falcon in.’
Han sighed. ‘I guess they got a surprise when they looked in the hold, huh?’
She squeezed his hand. ‘What happened?’
‘We got word of a small Ewok colony on one of the Raxos moons,’ he told her. ‘It used to be an Imperial mining base, but when the resources had all been used up, they converted it into a scientific outpost.’
He shook his head. ‘The Imperials always thought of the Ewoks as a kind of vermin, something to be stamped out. One of the projects at the outpost was focussed around finding a biological weapon to use against them, something quicker and more efficient than hunting them down. A plague.’
On the other side of the glass, one of the surgical drones glided across the room to hover over Chewie’s corpse. It swept a gentle blue light over the body, gathering data.
‘When the Imperials abandoned the base,’ Han went on. ‘They left the Ewok test subjects behind. When we got word of it, I knew Chewie was gonna volunteer us for a rescue mission.’ He chuckled softly and wiped his eyes. ‘He’d got pretty attached to those little troublemakers.’
‘So we took the Falcon there. There were a couple of Imperial patrols that we had to go around but it was all fine, no problems. When we landed the Ewoks were kind of nervous, but Chewie calmed ’em down and we got them all into the hold. He set the nav-computer to take us home and that was that.’
Leia watched the surgical drone kill its scanning beam and retreat. Above the medico’s comp-terminal, a holographic image of the Wookie’s brain flickered into existence.
‘I noticed that he was kind of quiet.’ Han said. ‘I asked him if he was okay, and just for a minute, he looked as though he didn’t recognise me. I should have realised then that something was wrong.
‘We’d just dropped out lightspeed when he told me that he was going to check on the Ewoks, make sure the jump out of hyperspace hadn’t scared them. It was only a couple of minutes before I heard the blaster fire.’
The hologram in the autopsy chamber rotated to show the medico another angle. A section of the flickering brain pulsed with a glowing crimson light.
‘I thought we’d been boarded somehow, that maybe one last stormtrooper at the outpost had stowed away.’ Han was saying. ‘I grabbed my blaster and got down there as fast as I could. But what I found … Leia …’
He closed his eyes for a moment. Above the window to the autopsy chamber, a commlink crackled, the medico’s voice sounding strangely metallic through the speaker.
‘My scans confirm it, Captain Solo. There are traces of viral infection in your co-pilots brain. I’ve never encountered this specific virus before, but it has enough characteristics that I’m familiar with. My guess is that it was something the Ewoks were carrying, some kind of dormant strain that the Empire had infected them with. Harmless to human-like lifeforms, but with a Wookie …’ He paused. ‘The virus would have taken hold in a few hours, affecting the victim’s reasoning, memory, personality. There was nothing you could have done to save him.’
Han nodded. ‘Thanks, doc.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Leia said. ‘Han, I -‘
‘When I got to the hold,’ Han went on as if she hadn’t spoken, and she realised that he had to tell the story, just like he had to be here now. ‘There were bodies everywhere. The Ewoks were screaming, running, trying to hide but there was no escape. Chewie was in the middle of them all. He had his laser crossbow and was just … cutting them down, even the children. I screamed at him, and he turned.’
A tear rolled down Han’s face, just one, but the first of many. ‘There was nothing in his eyes, Leia,’ he said. ‘Just a kind of … wild light, like his mind was gone. All the Ewoks were dead or dying, and he was standing over the bodies and he was roaring, Leia, not anything I could understand, just something savage and crazy. He saw me, and started to bring up the crossbow, his finger already on the trigger.’
‘You couldn’t have saved him,’ Leia said, crying. ‘You heard what the medico said.’
‘He would have cut me down without a second thought,’ Han said softly. ‘So I did what I had to do. What I always do.’
He stared through the glass as the surgical drones gently drew the sheet over his friend’s face.
‘I shot first.’

* * * * *

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! And if you did make it this far, you’re in for a real treat. That conversation I had with Kiera … Basically we were talking about geek-themed T-shirts, and I mentioned that I own one with C-3PO and R2-D2 drawn in the style of a Haynes Manual (if you’re unfamiliar with them – the manuals, I mean, obviously you’ve heard of the droids … and T-shirts), the Haynes books are technical manuals available for real-world vehicles and machinery, full of cutaway drawings and suchlike. Quite a few are available that tap into the geek or sci-fi culture, so we have editions that feature the USS Enterprise, or the Millennium Falcon.

Anyway, Kiera, knowing of my love of the macabre, suggested that rather than the schematic drawings of the droids, she would have expected me to have something more like a diagram of a dissected Wookie, and the cogs began to turn. Not just my writing cogs, but rather wonderfully, Kiera’s artistic cogs. The idea of working with her was irresistible, and so we decided to form our own Rebel Alliance and produce what follows, a Special Edition of the story you’ve (hopefully) just read.

The subject matter was grim and gruesome, so of course we wanted to do it in the style of a child’s storybook, with panels of Kiera’s fantastic artwork and my retelling of the story in four-line verse. I can’t thank Kiera enough for all the hard work and talent she’s brought to the project, and I know that you’ll absolutely love it!

story 1 best 2

story 2 best 2

story 3 best 2

story 4 best 2

story 5 best 2

story 6 best 2

story 7 best 2

story 8 best 2

DVD EXTRA ALERT!!!

I found the process behind the amazing artwork you’ve just seen fascinating, and Kiera has very kindly agreed to let me post some of her original designs …

autopsied Wookiee best 2

concept

failed panel

panel 1

panel 2

panel 3 Thanks again to Kiera and thank you for reading! 🙂 More of Kiera’s brilliance can be found here.