Blog #22 Roses, Turtles & Dedications

Roses

All week Edinburgh has been celebrating our favourite bard Robbie Burns. Whenever I see him listed as bard, my mind drifts to D&D, damn you decades of roleplaying. He would be a pretty epic level one though by game standards.

I snapped a few pics in passing, it is giving the whole place a vibe I really like. I walk up through Rose Street every day and all this week the dozens of businesses, pubs and restaurants that line it have been putting up the red, red rose logo.  Really nice and something I haven’t seen before in all my years living here.

Interesting Stands

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Shop Signs

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On the pavements too

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Tourist season is pretty much over now in Edinburgh, New Year is well and truly passed and the Fringe drama and comedy festival hasn’t started yet, so this is something done by locals for locals. Tourism is a massive part of the Scottish economy, I say roll out the red carpet for them but at the same time we shouldn’t forget the people who live here and this was really for them.

Robbie Burns, like a lot of national characters, has been dragged into the independence debate. Robert the Bruce has a descendent, alive and well today and still owning considerable land, who said he was voting to stay in the Union and that his ancestor would be proud. Sean Connery essentially said it was Scotland’s destiny to be independent (even though he lives in a mansion in California…). Stephen Hawking wrote an open letter begging the Scots to reject independence and how the union was good for science on both sides. Famous historian Tom Devine was pro independence, equally popular historian Neil Oliver was totally against it. Stand up comedian Kevin Bridges was for separatism whereas Billy Connolly was against it. So yeah, everyone famous, alive or dead, seems to get dragged into this and old Robbie Burns is no exception.

Whether unionist or separatist though I think we can all put politics to one side and raise a glass to one of the most successful Scots who is still fondly remembered to this day.

Turtles

I’ve been reading the first Discworld book, The Colour of Magic. I have read quite a few of the Discworld novels but out of order and scattered over the last few years. Now I want to read them start to finish and in order as well. It will be a labour of love though, they are great books with a dry wit I find endlessly amusing.

The start of the book was such a huge gambit. By now the disc, held by four elephants on the back of a giant turtle is an iconic and established image. I can only imagine though when this first came out, by an unknown author, it would have struck a lot of people as very weird. The first page starts describing the bizarre scene of a giant turtle flying through space. I can only imagine the advice he would have got not to do that, it would turn people off, they wouldn’t understand it. It was brave of him to start the book that way. So while no doubt a lot of people did set it down after the first page, others would click with the instant weirdness and that would build into his dedicated fanbase.

It shows that while people can offer advice on writing (my blog is full of it), every rule can be broken and nothing is set in stone.

Would I start a novel in such a weird way? No, I wouldn’t, the risk of putting off new readers is too great for me. But he did, he rolled the dice and it paid off.

Dedications

Dedications for someone who writes primarily horror can be a tricky thing.

On the one hand, I want to show gratitude to the support I have received. However the content of these stories can clash a bit with that. A dedication in a romance or drama can be sweet and appropriate. Less so in my favourite genre.

Dedicated to my fiancée…a story about a blob that dissolves helpless innocents on an oil rig.

Dedicated to my best friend…a story about an adulterous, sociopathic scumbag who rips off a bank.

Doesn’t really click, does it?

No real answer to this one haha, I generally prefer to dedicate my books to horror fans in general.

As always, have a great weekend folks.

Blog #21 That Creepy Feeling

I don’t do much exercise but I go walks around the city when the weather is nice. I think that is my physical limits haha no point fighting the banker bod at this point. It is relaxing though, helps me turn things over in my  mind. Plus the weather is getting a bit better now (there is the odd day where Edinburgh seems to rival Silent Hill for fog).

I came across the below when I was pretty far from the city centre…does it give you the creeps as well?

 

20160903_120716.jpg I cant even put my finger on it exactly, it just creeps me out. I know, Ren and Stimpy is a comedy cartoon show but the fact someone took the time to do this after the store closed and the windows were boarded up, the fact Ren looks soooo angry. It feel so random. Also Ren looks sorta scratchy which adds to the general weird factor.

In most horror stories the characters feel pulse pounding horror. The heart is hammering against the ribcage, sweat is pouring off the brow, it hurts to even breathe.

When I was walking past this though, I wanted to take the time to feel the creepiness. It can be harder to describe general unease than terror, even though most of us have felt unease, only a few of us have been unfortunate enough to experience real terror. We can feel uneasy walking home on a dark night or when the horror movie starts up. I have felt it when lying in bed at night after a particularly frightening chapter of a book or having finished a film. Creepypasta binges are something I always regret when it comes time to fall asleep.

I would describe it as the distinct feeling that something isn’t quite right. The thing you are looking at can be surreal , out of place and it leaves you with the feeling it doesn’t belong. You feel on edge, not terror, but anxious.

Anxiety is a big part of being creeped out, that unshakeable but subdued dread. Next time you feel it, really take note of it as well, it might help you capture it the next time you have to write that in a scene.

 

 

 

Daily Prompt#1 Successful=Understanding

What does the word successful mean to me?

Successful is someone who understands what they are doing. It doesn’t matter what the role is, how junior or how senior, what separates a successful person from an unsuccessful is understanding- or lack of.

Let me take my two passions, banking and writing

Success in banking

To me, a successful banker understands how the financial sector works as a whole and also their specific role in it. For example, someone working in a branch should know what purpose the branch has in the overall hierarchy, the sorts of things people come into branches about and also the types of problems than can happen. For example, if you work in a branch, a common problem can be setting up accounts. A successful person here understands how it all works, they take ownership of problems, they use their knowledge to help people. A customer needs a payment to be made now but don’t have online banking for faster payments? Suggest manual chaps payments. Understand how your own little corner of the world works, what is in your power to do and I would consider you successful.

Conversely an unsuccessful person doesn’t know what they are doing. I have seen this, people who leapfrog from one job to the next, more interested in the increased pay than what the role even involved. I have nothing against greed but that doesn’t mean you cant still do a good job. On the contrary, if you do a good job, you should demand more. Greed and competence can go hand in hand. Greed and incompetence is a toxic mix.  Generally these unsuccessful people are already planning their next career move so they don’t want to really get to grips with the nuances involved. They want to be okay at their job, just okay enough to hop onto the next one. If one of these unsuccessful people start working in the fraud team for example but really harbour desires to join the better paid marketing division, then they don’t give it 100%. Instead they skim the surface, doing things only if it looks good on the CV and never gain much more than surface knowledge. The fact they don’t really understand or are even very good at their job doesn’t bother them.

Sadly people like this can often end up in senior positions and when they do, disaster ensues because their lack of knowledge becomes fatal. *cough* 2008 banking crash *cough* *cough*

I am always trying to understand more about the world of banking, always reading, studying and more to make sure that when I meet someone, I can help them, when there are dangers in the sector, I spot them.

Success in writing

I don’t think you can define a successful writer purely by sales alone. There is a lot of rubbish out there I dare say haha. Likewise if the book doesn’t sell well but has heaps of critical acclaim from all the proper literary critics, that doesn’t mean it is successful either.

Money and prestige are secondary to understanding. Does the author understand what they want to do with his story? Do they understand that first and foremost, writing has to be for the reader? I always think you can tell when you have this sort of considerate writer, even the first few pages you can tell.

A successful writer to me understands all this. An unsuccessful writer is someone who would give no consideration to what they are writing, couldn’t care less about the reader, has no real idea what they even want the story to be.

Not everything needs to have some deep meaning- I am writing a horror story to scare the reader. That is a sufficient answer. If you don’t know what the heck you are doing, how can the reader?

 

Success is understanding your role or what you want to do.

Unsuccessful is not understanding what you are doing and not wanting to.

via Daily Prompt: Successful

Blog #20 Passion in Unexpected Places

Passion in unexpected places, sounds like a trashy romance story haha.

I was at a breakfast this morning hosted by an insurance company, not an uncommon thing here in Edinburgh. I was looking forward to it and seeing some familiar faces but it does seem a pretty unlikely place to come across anyone with real passion, rows of bored businessfolk going on about interest rates and so on, I was there representing the bank with a bacon roll in one hand and black coffee in the other. My signature breakfast, it is turning me into one of the cartoon bankers you see. Banker bod and proud! I am sitting with a pizza as well while I write this, good grief.

One of the speakers was talking about the dangers of underinsurance, I’m sure like me you could feel your eyelids growing heavy at the mere thought. How wrong I was. He was so animated, so passionate about the topic, to him fighting this issue was every bit as important as a crusade. I was really impressed by how genuine his enthusiasm was.

For those of you who don’t know, including me before today, underinsurance is when you insure a £10,000 house for £5,000. If the building blows up, you might think “oh well, at least I get £5,000” You may have calculated that you don’t really want to make those pesky insurance payments and getting half of what the building is worth is actually okay. Plus the odds of anything happening to it are so remote anyway.

Well, no. And many families have learned that to their horror. You see, insurance companies can apply an average and say since you only insured 50% of the building, they will only give you 50% of the insurance, so not £5,000 but £2,500. That’s us dealing with small numbers, when you hit millions, it gets crazy.

He gave us stories of businesses and families ruined by this, thinking they were beating the system by skimping on the insurance and only getting pennies in return rather than what they thought they were getting. Rather than rail against the system, this gent goes around making sure people are aware of the consequences. It isn’t a sales pitch, he is on the other side of the fence, and is hired to investigate claims. Having seen this happen repeatedly though, he is spreading the word.

Now I don’t think this person was born wanting to be an insurance expert but he clicked with this field and pours his energy into it. A lot of us would probably fall into that category.

We often have this image that as soon as a baby hits the ground, it gets up on two feet and knows exactly what it wants to do. It is alright not to know this and when you find a passion, go for it. Don’t tell yourself that you have always wanted to be X since you were born and although you really like Y, it isn’t what you want to do. If you find something you are interested in, go for it. We romanticise ideas like destiny, that you should have always known what you have wanted to do. I find this tends to result in you missing opportunities.

For me, writing and banking are things I slowly developed into and am interested in, I didn’t emerge from the womb with these passions.

Be realistic when looking at your life and goals, stay open to interesting options and don’t beat yourself up that you haven’t wanted to be a marketing executive since you were four.

On a slightly less serious note…jam flavoured wine? Well it is meant to be paired with BBQ, so my bbq pizza must tick the boxes.

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Lee Library #6 Nothing Lasts Forever

“Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp.

For those of you not familiar, this is the novel that the film Die Hard was based on and that did not happen by accident. The book plot is essentially identical to the film with one or two very minor tweaks (the terrorists are genuine left wing extremists rather than masquerading as such, the company in question is a corrupt oil conglomerate that has done some pretty questionable things in South America as opposed to a mainly benevolent Japanese company).

Roderick Thorp wanted this story to be put on the screen and it shows throughout the novel. It is a fun novel by itself but what is more interesting is how he had this in mind when writing it. He wanted this to be made into a film from day one and had even gone as far as to consider who he wanted in the main roles – and wrote accordingly.

The action set pieces are described in such detail it was giving it to Hollywood on a silver platter. No scene in it would be difficult to film and the dialogue is simple enough to almost copy and paste into a script. Likewise, the tempo of the book is very much like an action film, more so than any I have ever read.

What can be learned from this story to improve your own writing?

If you have a clear idea of what you want your book to be, you can gear yourself towards it. What do you want this story to be?

  • If it is a stand alone novel you have no desire to turn into a franchise or the like, then there is no point having dozens of half developed plot threads as they will never be resolved.
  • If this story is going to be the beginning of an eight book franchise, you can (to an extent) take a bit more time with it, really lay the foundations of an epic. You don’t need to rush, there are other books to come which can expand on other points. Don’t be too slow or you will lose the reader but likewise there is no rush.
  • If this book is meant to be more of a cheap, pulpy thrill, don’t hesitate to include some of the archetypes common to the genre, don’t agonise over this if it is meant to be more of a guilty pleasure.
  • If it is meant to be a great piece of literature, the next great British novel, then be prepared to spend years on it.

If you know what you want your story to be, the purpose it fills in your portfolio of work, then you can go for it and ensure that objective is fulfilled. How can you achieve a goal when you don’t even know what it is?

 

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Blog #19 You’re the Boss!

And no, this isn’t just something I say to senior executives!

An important thing about being an independent author is taking ownership of every stage of the publishing process.

If you are an author tied to a publishing house, they generally will handle the marketing, the cover etc.

There are two ways to look at this. Either this is a horrible, unfair burden, you are a writer not a business person, you don’t want to have to do any of that. Or this is a chance to be the boss, to be in charge of every aspect of your work and try out what you think I will work.

I certainly lean towards the second and see it as empowering more than anything else. I’m sure in years gone by, a lot of authors and writers would have killed for the opportunity we have.

Here is an example. I have commissioned the covers for my novel “Bad Credit” NSN is published, Man with the Green Tie is done but being edited, now I am writing Bad Credit, a supernatural debt collector pursuing an unfortunate soul (here in Edinburgh of course!).

So three covers were proposed- in a very rough version. Once I pick the one I like, he will draw it with more care and nuance.

No one is here to tell me what one to use, this is my decision, what I think will work.

Cover one focuses on one of the first scenes, where the soulless debt collector has left a woman without her arms, legs or head in bed (pretty gory scene).

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I think it is perhaps a bit too much. He done a more muted version of the same pic.

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The final cover was something totally different, Mr Rox, the debt collector, at the door. He is a huge, ugly golem only vaguely resembling a human being.

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I like having this level of control over the piece of work that will have my name on it.

Out of curiosity is there any that jumps out at you? Feel free to comment or ping a message.

Blog #18 Time

Our time is limited and I don’t mean that in a profound, existential way, I mean in practical day to day planning.

I believe you can do whatever you want, your ability isn’t the limit, time is. Rather than be a jack of all trades, dipping your toe into a dozen different disciplines and trying to master them all, focus is what is best. Focus wins the day.

Lets say I want to be a writer, cartoonist, actor, musician and also inventor.

I work 9-5 Monday to Friday and can get home for 5:30 most days. I need to eat, a proper meal at that so an hour is lost there, and I need to sleep. So, I have a couple of hours tops when I get home to do all this.

Monday I could write, Tuesday I can focus on cartoons (maybe do some online classes), Wednesday is an acting class, Thursday is music practice and Friday to be spent studying if I want to go down the inventor route. The weekend can be crammed full with a hodgepodge of the activities.

My problem with this is that:

  • I don’t see how you can totally master a craft by devoting about a fifth of your time to it.
  • You are going to burn yourself out and become exhausted.
  • Progress is going to be very slow because you aren’t devoting much time to each craft so your progress will feel minimal and could lead to you ditching a craft you were good at.
  • Most likely you will end up with a surface level knowledge of many areas rather than really getting to grips with one.

It is important to be focused and realistic. You can do whatever you set your mind to but if you try and juggle fifty balls at once, one will fall at least. Then like a line of dominos it falls apart. Surely I can work in more game analogies. You want get that last slice of cheese in the trivial pursuit board.

That is why I have been considering the various things I want and prioritising some, cutting others out.

What didn’t make the cut?

Dungeons and Dragons

I love Dungeons and Dragons and have always been the DM for our group. I pour a lot of time and effort into crafting a great adventure (trying and failing to capture something as amazing as Baldurs Gate series). One of our campaigns set in an ancient Greek setting went on for over a year. Another, which gained the title the evil campaign, had the requirement everyone make an evil character, all of whom were in debt to the Pasha, a crime lord in the Calisham. It’s fun and I do really enjoy it. However, it is a massive commitment, especially if you take it as seriously as I do.

Dungeons and Dragons helped me realise how much I love writing.

For the year of 2017, I think I will step back from the game. I don’t see how I can devote as much time to my Dungeons and Dragons campaigns if this is the year I really want to give my writing the attention it needs. Cutting out D&D will free up a lot of my time. It hurts to say but no D&D for me in 2017.

Gaming

I do enjoy my games. When Dragon Age Inquisition came out I disappeared off the face of the earth for about a week. Ditto for Grand Theft Auto five. I was replaying Fallout 4 and focusing on the Institute ending.

I am not saying I won’t play another game but I need to scale back the amount of time spent on it. Gaming is a great hobby, there is a pretty long list to advantages of doing so from encouraging empathy, improving hand eye coordination and problem solving etc. I am going to put it aside, reserving it mainly for an hour or two at the weekend rather than a little bit every day. As I said earlier, it is important not to burn yourself out. I am giving myself a bit of respite, I am not unplugging the console and sealing it away.

Computing

Mid 2015 I was keen to really understand computing more. I got a tone of course books on beginners computer science. They have been sitting on my desk unopened for some time but I keep them there with the reasoning that soon I will start then. Time to be blunt and realistic, I am not going to make any meaningful progress in this with all these projects. Getting shelved, I can draw a line under it and make my peace with my very rudimentary knowledge of computer science.

 

What am I focusing on?

Writing

This is the big one for me. I have always written stories but starting November 2015 I have been cranking this to the max. I wrote and published the horror novella North Sea Nightmare, wrote the Man with the Green Tie,  a full length novel I am editing to release late Jan/early Feb. Starting a story and treating it as a project rather than a hobby has been a major shift for myself.

I would ideally like this to become my full time career and am pursuing this via the independent author route on the kindle. So far, so good. Writing as a craft though needs constant improvements and refinements, it is going to take essentially most my time.

Reading

You become a better writer the more you read. I am already an avid reader but I want to elevate this even more. Reading will still be a leisurely activity but with less gaming and D&D, I want to spend more time on it to help improve my writing.

Banking

I still take the day job seriously and want to do more here as well. From deciding the next career step to gaining more qualifications. The Chartered Institute of Bankers is a great organisation that offers a lot of courses and workshops, I have done a few already but I should do more in 2017.

You might have more stamina than me, but realistically that is the most I can focus on.

Looks like it might be snow today!

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Blog #17 All About a Book

I was at a bankers breakfast this morning, a chance to mix, chat, network, all that jazz. I don’t mind these things when there is a schedule, it keeps it focused with guest speakers and a clear set agenda. I dread the four hours of aimless handshaking.

The atmosphere was a rather tense one overall, Brexit, another Scottish referendum potentially. Bankers gravitate towards stability, we don’t like chaos. Order, even when it is boring and bland is always preferred from a banking perspective.

It kicked off at 7:15AM. Two mugs of coffee, croissants, bacon rolls, my blood was pumping with caffeine and cholesterol just to keep me awake.

So why am I talking about this on a blog about writing and books?

It was interesting that a key talking point was a book. Yes indeed, a book.

Progressive Protectionism by Colin Hines.

I haven’t read this book myself but bought it right after and am reading it now.

The main discussion was that protectionism at one point considered a crackpot ideology is now the dominant school of thought. Serious politicians avoided it, only the far communist left or far fascist right embraced it. It was electoral suicide to favour protectionism. Now though, centre left and centre right politicians, all seem to be about protectionism. Corbyn here in the UK, the leader of what is technically the opposition here, is a staunch protectionist. All across Europe protectionist parties and politicians are rising. The idea of global trade and globalisation is cracking under constant criticism and defenders nowhere to be gound.

Protectionism is trying to get a facelift from various thinkers and politicians. And even writers. The overall vibe was hostile to protectionism, branding the supporters of it as either idiots or opportunistic politicians.

In fairness though, we are a biased bunch- we make a lot of money of international trade. So do a lot of other people though which was the counter argument.

I found it interesting that at the heart of constant news coverage, online access, it is a book that has become the star of the event.

Lee Library #5 First Among Equals

Jeffrey Archer is a hugely talented writer. While most people consider Kane and Abel his best work, I have always leaned to First Among Equals.

First Among Equals refers to the idea of the British Prime Minster. Rather than a President who is the boss, the commander in chief, the PM is meant to be equal to his colleagues. Arguably that diminished with Thatcher and Blair who preferred a presidential approach  but I’m rambling.

There are 4 key characters.

  • The son of a conservative who has switched his loyalties to Labour and ran against his former friends to win a seat near Edinburgh (Edinburgh shout out woooo).
  • A conservative MP in the South of England from an aristocratic family, a representation of the old guard in the party who are feeling increasingly under assault from the newer, hungrier and more energetic Conservatives from radically different backgrounds.
  • A determined but unscrupulous Labour MP who although principled politically and refusing to back down from his hard left stance, is a total scumbag to his wife.
  • There is a newer conservative MP, not from a wealthy background, struggling to make ends meet who is enticed into a financial scandal.

The book follows their intertwining stories as the years pass towards the ultimate culmination of who out the four will become Prime Minster.

So how can this book help your own writing?

Everything in the story feels so real. The characters are not carboard cutouts in a crude backdrop of a world. From the MP bars, to the dialogue between politicians, family dynamics, the parliament itself, all of it feels so concrete that I could reach out and touch the political benches at Westminster.  It is extremely detailed descriptions that ring true, an impressive technical knowledge that is very accurate. This is hard to quantify exactly but if you read the novels, you will know exactly what I mean. I would suggest reading his novels to see how it is done, he is an amazing storyteller.

Another point is balance. Although Jeffrey Archer was a Conservative MP, he muzzles it in for the sake of the story. There are good and bad guys on both sides of the political spectrum. On the Conservative side Seymour is a slimy, self serving aristocrat but in the same party is Kerslake who is a good guy, from a modest background, trying to help. On Labour, Fraser is a decent character who went against his family out of genuine political conviction. Gould may be a hard working politician but his personal relationships are loathsome.

Imagine how boring the book would be if every Conservative politician was a straight arrow and every Labour MP a moustache twirling villain. It would be cliché and boring. The balance is what makes it interesting.

Two things to take from this book in summary.

  • Make it real
  • Balance when it comes to politics is good

On a final note, I found it very odd that the ending was changed for American audiences and several plot points were cut out -because they didn’t think Americans would follow a multiparty system? Nonsense!

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Blog #16 Dark Stories

I have a natural inclination to darker stories and I can spend hours, without exaggeration, reading up on dark fan theories for cheery shows. From Spongebob and his pals being radioactive mutants, the Rugrats all being dead, to Peter from Family Guy being a depressed and highly imaginative worker in a dead-end job entertaining himself with his own adventures. There’s even fan theories that can improve already scary stories; one of my favourites is that in the movie Drag Me To Hell, the woman is suffering from an eating disorder and hallucinating all the demonic goings on.

Yes, I love dark stories.

I don’t think that stories should be dark for the sake of it, attempts to do this are really obvious and don’t work. Anne Rice is dark naturally, so is Clive Barker, their stories have that flavour and it fits. John Niven dips into dark stories and when he does it, he is amazing. Likewise, his more comedic stories are great.

So not everything has to be dark, not all your stories have to be dark, but if you go down that route, great! (I love these stories).

 

As in any matter of good law, I want to use some actual examples rather than speak in broad generalities.

Here we have Work is Hell by Matt Groening

work-is-hell

This is a sinister, depressing and sometimes a bit funny comic strip. This atmosphere works here. It is unforgiving, it bluntly says that for most people work is an unending, painful struggle with no hope. I don’t agree with that- correction, on good days I don’t agree with that, if it has been a rough day…

The same creator is better known for The Simpsons. Although it looks similar, it couldn’t be more different.

the-simpsons

The Simpsons is an overall quite warm hearted comedy and one of the most successful animated comedies of all time.

Would it really fit if we cranked up the darkness in The Simpsons? Homer hates his job as a “safety whatch-a-ma-call-it” but it is played more for laughs than bleakness. There is plenty of hope in the series as well. If we snuffed that out and made it really, really dark such as the later seasons of Family Guy, would it work? No, it wouldn’t really fit, it would lose what makes it funny and the unique flavour of it.

Dark stories work- but not everything has to be dark.