One Year on the Clouds

Despite what WordPress would have you believe, that this blog has been active almost six years, this weekend actually saw our first birthday on the Clouds. Sure, I had posts before then, very sparingly, one every six months when I got swept up in enthusiasm, kind of things, but now it’s been one year since I started posting regularly; always aiming for that Monday post (like today!).

The 3rd June is when my blog became a real weekly thing. I’d been to Creative Writing course, I’d realised that the only thing that was holding me back was myself, and I started to take my writing a lot more seriously. Hopefully one year of dedication to the clouds has shown this, to you lovely readers as well as to myself. The journey is still ahead, and never truly ends, but I’ve shown I can come this far and can hopefully continue going forward.

Here’s to more years!

Humanity’s True Strength

May 22nd saw some horrific attacks against Manchester. Men, women, and children were injured, killed, and left terrified by these attacks. People lost their children, their siblings, their families and I really don’t have any words that can ease that pain. I can only say that my thoughts are with them.

What I want to talk about though… is the response. For as many posts I saw across my social networks with upset and fear, I saw posts of genuine altruism, of true human empathy. I saw Muslim men offering free taxis, I saw Jewish Rabbis bringing drinks to officers, I saw white women taking in and looking after children; I saw people helping people. Regardless of race, of nationality, of sex, of orientation, I saw a larger community coming together; I saw people helping people. When the attacks occurred we responded with compassion and aid, we came together regardless of arbitrary cultural boundaries and we helped each other. This is testament to our collective human spirit and it is the exact answer we need in the times of crisis. It’s the answer we need at all times, really, and whilst it’s upsetting it often takes these tragedies to elect this response from us, it’s still fantastic that it’s there and being shown.

There is often far too much focus on the ‘Terror’ caused by ‘Terrorism’, but I’m a firm believer that this only propagates more terror. When we respond with fear, or anger, or negativity in general, we are showing that these attacks are working. When we respond with love and care, when we help our fellow human regardless of our differences, we show that we can’t be broken and that their attacks ultimately serve no point. When we respond with chants of “close the borders”, or we respond by attacking people for being different, we only fall into an awful, vicious cycle that will do humanity more harm than good. We play into the hands of the aggressor and lose any power we have for ourselves. What we need in these times, and at all times, is to truly focus on the good that humanity can do, the love that we can show each other. When we respond by coming together that is true strength.

I got Nominated for the Hidden Gem award!

 

WOW! I honestly didn’t expect this at all. I’ve been following the Bloggers Bash (who hasn’t?), but I never thought I’d be nominated into one of the Award Categories! Someone out there actually thinks Clockwork Clouds is a Gem! Wow.

hidden-gem

If you can’t tell I’m absolutely buzzing about this news. So buzzing, in fact, I want to post this blog right now… but I’m saving it for Tomorrow. A: So it can be a Friday Feeling and B: Because I have to be in work at the stupid time of 2:30am and this will be a serious reminder that life is good when I’m beginning to flag!

Just like yesterday’s post, but a slightly less serious, please go to the Voting Page and place a vote! Also like yesterday’s post, I’d advise you to check out all the candidates first and vote for the most deserving in all the categories. If you want to vote for me, I won’t stop you at all, but I would rather you did it because you agreed with it rather than just by my own influence.

Honestly, what amazing news! This has made my whole week, perhaps my whole blogging year! Thanks to anyone who nominated me, and thanks in advance to anyone who votes!

(Did I link to the voting page enough?)

5 Reasons Not To Vote!

Vote.

Regardless of who you’re voting for: Vote. That’s the best advice I can give right now: Vote.

The second best advice I can give is to read up on who you’re voting for. Read manifestos, look at past voting trends amongst the candidates and their parties, go into that polling booth informed and educated. If you can’t though, if you don’t have the time, then at least just vote, hell, at least, if nothing else, make sure you’re registered by May 22nd.

You’ve probably heard the stats rolled out again and again, that 18 – 30 year olds aren’t voting. Why should you? What reason do you have for voting? Perhaps you came here looking to have your arguments justified… Well, lets see.

The Parties Don’t Care About My Age Group

True, maybe they don’t. What Politicians care about is people who are actually out there voting. If us youngsters refuse to vote, then they’re not going to aim themselves at us to begin with. By voting now, in this election, you ensure they will sit up and listen in the next. By not voting, you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face. For some parties, the best thing we could do is keep quiet, not vote. They’d rather not engage us, they’d rather brush us aside. If we go out and vote in this election, we ensure that in the next all parties have to take us into account; and that’s true of any age group… just look at the trends! Whilst keeping this as objective as possible, I’d argue that some of the parties out there are aiming themselves right at us, they’re discussing things of key interest to us now, and us in the future.

Vote: Think about the future, ensure that our age group is heard in the next election, and that the future of people who replace us in this age group are continued to be heard.

 I Don’t Agree With Any Party.

Understandable; especially considering the above. Maybe there’s nobody appealing to you at the moment, they’re not discussing the issues you’re interested in, or worse, they’re taking the issues you care about and producing nothing you agree with. That’s an absolutely fair viewpoint… but, there’s an answer. Weigh up you options. You may not find a party that agrees with you 100%, but you might find that you agree with one parties policies more than another’s. It’s a cliché, but pick the lesser of the evils. By not voting, you’re not mitigating against the worst case scenario. Even if the most you agree with a party is 10%, it’s better to vote for them than have your vote ignored. Not only is something better than nothing, but this is the best stepping stone to getting to a future where you agree with a party 15%, 20%, and more.

Vote: Anything is better than nothing, if you don’t really agree with any, but REALLY don’t agree with some, vote for the lesser of two evils… Build those building blocks towards better parties in the future.

All Politicians Are The Same.

We always get hurt, right? Whoever we vote for, things go awry, policies aren’t upheld. It’s easy to write these things off as broken promises, fractured trust, and it can be easy to say all politicians are the same. Regardless of whether I agree they are or not, my answer is simply the same as above… Vote for the lesser of the evils. It’s true politicians want to win your vote, often they may say things they’ll struggle to do later, but at least vote for those that are trying to do the things you agree with, or have a history of voting the way you agree. Simply choosing not to vote only guarantees you’re never heard.

Vote: Help those Politicians you agree more with, trust more, or appreciate the values of more, hear your support by voting for them.

My Vote Doesn’t Matter.

Your one vote may not make or break the election, it’s true. This is one of the hardest mindsets to overcome, that one person doesn’t make a difference, so why should they? The masses are loud and your opinion drowns… right? But what if everyone felt that way? What if nobody felt it mattered? It does. It really matters. Not only do you prove to others that the mindset can be broken, you set a trend amongst peers to do so too. When we vote, we help convince others to do the same, when we take it seriously, others take it more seriously too. It’s like Recycling… Your one plastic bottle that you didn’t recycle may not destroy the world, but if nobody recycled? The impact would be great. The more of us who recycle the better the world will be, and the better example we set to those who ‘don’t have time’ or ‘can’t be bothered’.

Vote: Your opinion has a bigger impact than you think, it matters to your friends and family, it matters to your social networks. You set an example by voting, and the more people voting the better.

The Party I Agree With Will Never Win.

This is a reason I hate the way we currently vote; I was all for the Alternative vote those few years back. We always seem to end up in this race between Conservatives, Labour, and Lib Dems. Perhaps you want to vote Green, perhaps you want to vote Independent. What’s the point? They won’t win… Well, of course they won’t if you’re not voting. Not voting because your party won’t win is a contradiction, and it’s very, very similar to the point above. The parties you agree with need your support, they need you to vote for them regardless of the difference it makes, and it shows them (and all the other parties) that people out there agree with them. By not voting, you’re not encouraging them to maintain those values, and you’re not encouraging them to keep trying. If every voter out there felt the same as you, that they weren’t going to bother because it didn’t matter, then these parties will fade away, and other parties values and beliefs will only get stronger.

Vote: Even if you don’t think your party will win, you can only help by voting and letting your voice be heard. At the end of the day, even if they don’t win, you ensure that people recognise that these values matter to someone.

I honestly don’t care who you’re voting for, regardless of my own political alignment. I don’t care if you’re voting based on your area, based on your job, based on the future of the country, or voting on Brexit. I don’t care if you’re voting passionately, from the heart, or if you’re voting tactfully, ensuring the lesser of the evils in your area. By not voting, all we do is ensure that the whole country isn’t heard equally…  Over a third of people in the country didn’t vote in the last election, that’s a third of the country in silence. Perhaps the conditions aren’t perfect right now, but we can set a foundation for elections going further. We need our voices out there and need to encourage others to do the same.

Please register to vote by May 22nd, and please attend the polling stations on the day to cast your ballot.

Aspirations, Influences, and Imitations

 

When I was younger I was a big fan of Terry Pratchett, I still am, I just was when I was younger too. When I was around 13 to 15 Terry Pratchett was the only author I wanted to read and I made it through every book he had released at that point. To this day Discworld books will forever be some of my favourites and I still point to Mr Pratchett as my main inspiration for becoming a writer. When he sadly passed away in 2015 it really hit home to me just how important he had been in my life, how he had helped me define my future aspirations; goals that I would have for over 10 years, and never forsee myself losing. Terry convinced me that it was possible to create these incredibly complex and fully functioning worlds. Places that behaved like a Fantasy made real. He convinced be you could make a story funny, adventurous, and carry a real moral message or social statement too.

So, in between reading Pratchett I did the impossible… I set about writing my own book. I still vaguely remember the premise of the book. The Hero of the story was fated to save the world through some sort of self sacrifice in some sort of big battle, but somehow he managed to find himself flung forward in time and ending up in the world where he was meant to have died and which had been saved on the back of this. What can I say? I loved, and still do love, the ideas of time travel and the ideas of ‘fate’ and how we can mess with it. In this Never-Titled Narrative, there was also side story consisted of the Pantheon of this world (Including, but not limited to, Father Time, Mistress Fate, and Death), trying to work out what had gone wrong, what had screwed up the timeline, and why he hadn’t ‘Died’ when he should have. He also had a pet pig, though the relevance of that is long since lost on me. (Perhaps it was a Black Cauldron reference?)

Looking back on it, I had a couple of OK ideas, especially for that age, and I could certainly see myself using a similar themes in future stories. I still write about Fate, for instance, and I love deconstructing its implications in stories. In hindsight however, and I even remember realising this at the time, my writing style was unmistakably Pratchett-esque. I mean, the personification of ‘Gods’ and ‘Death’ – especially Death– reeks of Discworld, and I remember writing with the aim of being funny, and with the aim of delivering the same comedic beats as Pratchett’s work. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t saying my writing in anyway paralleled the sheer brilliance of Sir Terrys work, but I found myself unable to write in any style other than this heavily-Pratchett-influenced style. I even took to writing forums about it, asking if anyone else had this and whether I’d ever shake it.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see that this was simply because of the world I’d immersed myself in. If I spent a few years only reading Terry Pratchett, I wasn’t expanding my influences, and my mind was learning that ‘this is how you write’, because it saw not contrary examples.

As I got older, I stopped writing in this style, as I got older still I stopped writing completely. Eventually when I returned to writing properly, despite dabbling over the years, I found my own voice; the voice you’re reading now in my blogs. That said, I’ve always found myself being highly emphatic to what I’m reading/watching/playing at the time. I’ve got a Noir short story I wrote coming off the back of watching/being obsessed with Brick. My friend even adapted/condensed it and turned it into a Student Film… I’ve link it below.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/4919271″>Imaginoir</a&gt; from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user1655258″>John Wood</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

More recent examples are of me writing grittier, darker fantasy due to a recent obsession with Mark Lawrence, or trying to write intricate and overly complex plots from watching Kirsty play through the absolutely amazing, but highly convoluted Kingdom Hearts series for the first time… It seems that if I’m into something, whatever it is, it has a powerful impact on my writing. I may not copy the style of writers as much anymore, but I’m certainly influenced by the themes of things I’m writing about. Heck, my work in progress at the moment (wow, I haven’t mentioned that in a long, long time) has influences from everything including my original love of Terry Pratchett, my more recent love of Mark Lawrence, an old love of Final Fantasy, and even a big dollop of Bioshock: Infinite thrown in (amazing game, that).

A writer will, I think, always be influenced by the things that inspire them, be it other works or other people. I think avoiding it is hard, just as I think being ‘objective’ in a Review is hard. We are always products of our influences and we can no more avoid that then we an avoid the impact of our life experiences on our mindsets. I raise the issue though, because sometimes it can feel more a hindrance than anything.

I find myself unable to work on my WiP because I’m too busy being inspired by Sci-Fi, which it isn’t. I find myself wanting to write the colourful fantasy story I’ve previously planned, but, whilst my WiP may be fantasy, it certainly isn’t ‘colourful’ as I originally favored a ‘grittier‘ tone. Most of all, it makes me question my own style/voice if I’m so easily influenced. How do I know I am writing my own work if I am currently riding a wave of the recent author that’s hooked me…. And I suppose I don’t. At the end of the day, even the best authors switch it up from time to time, they can write pieces that are very much products of their time. It’s easier to see this in Cinema, perhaps, where stylistic changes are easily more apparent due to the visuals used. Times change, people change, Messages change, styles change.

At the moment, I can only write what I want to write as I currently am and influenced by what I’m influenced by. I can’t envision what my writing will be like in future, whether it will feel consistent, or whether it’ll be ever changing. For all I know, the piece I’m (trying) to work on now will be tonally dissimilar from the rest of my future Bibliography… or it might be consistently inconsistent, I may never settle down. If that’s me, then so be it, but I do think I’m finding my voice now, I do think my writing style has settled… I’ve grown up from being a poor ‘imitation’ and started settling into merely being ‘influenced’, for better or worse, by my other passions.

Over to you. If you’re a writer (or any kind of Artist really!), do ever find yourself drawing too heavily on your inspirations? Ever find yourself wanting to jump to different styles because of a recent passion? Let me know in the comments below!

My image, my focus: Kindness Challenge Week 1

Imagine a figure, blurred. The background behind vibrant, bustling and ever changing; a wall of monitors displaying thousands of different images and flickering all at once. Each flashing image has a soundtrack, but each is simply drowned by the other; each a smaller part of the ever growing cacophony. You’d be forgiven, given the scene in view, that these countless images, that there is no meaning here; that each screen serves only to be part of the whole, and to perpetuate this mess of unintelligible information. Closer inspection of the figure in front, however, will show you that his eyes do shift briefly, that his attention does focus, and his own image along with it. The blurred figure, in fact, may not be blurred at all when his eyes focus, like a lens finding a focal point. When he sets his sight on one image, one dream, he aligns again. There is definition to him, shape. He has presence, and physicality where previously there was none… but it’s fleeting. It’s lost again to the next saccadic movement.

*****

This week was Self Love on the 2017 Kindness Challenge, my intentions, for which, can be found here: Setting My Intentions. This week we’ve been challenged to take note of all the ways we feel we have to earn our own approval. This sounded a good premise on its own, but then I saw the suggestion of ‘Create a self-portrait’. Now, I’m no painter, but I am a photographer. I was determined to build an image with my camera and use that as a statement ‘This is who I am’ or ‘This is who I feel’, and then counterbalance it with an image of ‘Who I would like to be’. I never had the time or resources to take the image, though. I had the equipment, but the setup was a little harder than I’d care to admit, I wasn’t able to achieve the vision I originally set out to portray – the irony isn’t lost on me, by the way. Then it occurred to me, I may be a Photographer, but I am also, undeniably a Writer! So, I turned the image into prose instead… and thus I started doing myself a kindness… I’ll explain.

See, the piece above is open to interpretation… but to me represents my feelings towards myself. You’re welcome to interpret my writing however you see fit, and I’d love you to share below if you see it differently, however I’d like to explain what it also means to me. The figure, if you hadn’t guessed, is myself… or, at least, the way I feel about myself. I’m fuzzy, undefined, intangible. The backdrop in the piece is a portrayal of my dreams, my many, many dreams. Unspoken, and unreferenced, there’s dreams of being a good boyfriend, being a good son, being a writer, being a photographer, being the best me I can be… I often feel I am struggling forward towards these dreams, but also that I’m making no progress, mainly because, more often than not, I am just sitting back and watching them pass me by. If you’re a regular reader you’ll know this lack of motivation is a constant topic I try to address; this piece is no different.

Early on, I realised that the Self Portrait I had in mind was out of my reach, my aim was too high, and it was unachievable. Rather than beating myself up about it though, I knew I still needed a post for Self Love this week. So, I adapted. By doing this, I achieved my dream image, but I painted it with words rather than painting it with light. I didn’t allow myself to become distracted (mainly because I had a deadline) and I didn’t allow myself to become disheartened (because I found a different route of approach).

My soul searching for this week has revealed that I feel lost when I am not working towards my dreams, but also that I am far too content to allow myself to get to that point. I have so many dreams I want to achieve, that sometimes I simply lose sight of the one for the many. The sheer quantity of them, and the lack of focus I have for them, encourages them to build up and encourages me, their viewer, to simply sit back and watch them play out without me. My dreams define me, for better or worse. I want to say “I am a writer!“, I want to say “I am a photographer!“, I want to say all these things, but I won’t allow myself to define ‘Me’ that way if I don’t achieve them. That’s how I judge myself worthy of approval, if I’m succeeding in these goals. I need to teach myself to understand that these goals and dreams may help to define me in some instances, but they certainly don’t define my worth. I need to learn that I am capable of loving myself even when I don’t meet my standards, and that through self-love I actually support myself in meeting these standards in future. If I support myself, if I focus on the aspects in my life that are worthwhile, that help build my future, then all the better. I need to focus on ‘getting there’, not focus on having ‘not got there yet’.

If I had to set a Mantra based on my discovery for this week, it would simply be: “Find Focus”.

When I’m down because I’ve wasted another day without creativity: Find Focus. When I’m feeling guilty that I haven’t spent as much time with my family as I could: Find Focus. When anxiety is building up inside of me at the thought of ‘putting myself out there’ and taking a risk: Find Focus.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Film Review

You may notice that the first Guardians of the Galaxy scores very highly with most people, as both a standalone film and as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When it arrived it presented a fresh new take on a genre people were worried was on the verge of stagnating. It was Marvels way of saying “We’re not done yet!” and giving us faith that, whether you enjoy them or not, Super Hero films were staying for a long, long time. In fact, I imagine Guardians even hit a sweet spot with those who did feel the genre had over stayed its welcome, and I imagine it hit the same sweet spot with some people who didn’t enjoy the genre at all. It was action packed, it was funny, and it presented a wealth of crazy new characters the likes of the big screen had yet to see. All in all, it was a lot for a sequel to live up to, and Vol. 2 is no doubt going to be compared to its predecessor as every sequel always will be… So, the question is does it live up to number one? The answer, in short, is a positive, and resounding yes.

GotG Vol 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is another visually stunning, action packed and hilarious romp through the universe. It’s once again vibrant and spectacular, and it hits the same amount of comedic beats as the first film. As a film, it’s an incredibly enjoyable watch that’ll make you laugh and gasp and drool all the way through. As a sequel, its about everything you could hope it would be without it being better than the first. It’s there that lies the point of contention – Does it live up to the first? Yes, but it doesn’t exceed it.

Number one in the franchise scores major points for being the first in its line. It broke the repetition of Super Hero movies and showed us that Marvel was willing to let loose and enjoy some of its more ‘wacky’ narratives. With DC constantly pushing its ‘Dark and Grim’ films, Marvel was here putting as many colours to the screen as colourists put into comicbook panels. For the statement that Gunn and Marvel made with the original GotG, it’s going to automatically score some big points. The fact that Gaurdians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues in the same vein, is in danger of coming across more like “playing it safe”, but after all there’s only so many times you can break a mould.

The sequel is also unavoidably handicapped because the characters have mainly all been revealed in the first. These characters are no longer new and squeaky clean, we know what to expect from them and their dynamic. It was the characters that quite clearly made the original, Sure, there was flashy worlds to visit, there were aliens to meet, there was infinity stones… but really we loved Guardians for the characters. Whilst Pom Klementieff does a great job of playing Mantis, and Kurt Russell does simply amazing job of… well, being Kurt Russell, these new characters can only fill a gap so much. So, again we’re at risk of ‘safe zone’ territory.

All this aside though, Gunn does something very clever here; he makes the film smaller. The original Guardians was about introductions. It was about introducing us to space, galaxies, and just how weird the universe can be. For the Marvel Cinematic universe the implications here were enormous, no longer were the stories relatively earth bound (even Thor was tied to Earth in his narratives). Guardians showed us that Earth was not alone, and it showed us by blasting us from colourful planet to colourful planet, showing us big grand action sequences, and even introducing us to a style and humour, which was quite clearly much broader than the other Cinematic entries… Then Vol. 2 has come along, and made it tighter.

Whether it was a symptom of being part of a larger canon (and therefore not as free to manipulate events, due to implications it would have for other films at other parts of the timeline), or whether as a conscious decision off the back of the first, its hard to say. Easy to say though, is that it really works. We’re still shown a few planets, we’re still shown some space flight and some epic battles, but its more grounded. We’re no longer surprised by these unique new characters, so instead we’re given a personal story about them, a more intimate story about family. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 recognises its past introductions, and is building off of it. Vol. 2. takes the original recipe, changes only a few ingredients, and manages to create a different and still fantastic result, which maintains the same flavours as before. Sure, sometimes it may feel like we’ve had this before, we may compare it to the original and not feel exactly the same way, but stand it on its own and it does incredibly well. It’s a film that sets out and accomplishes everything it intends, whilst maintaining its ties to the original without feeling stagnant or done before. Most of all, it achieves all this whilst remaining fun.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is well worth a visit to see at the cinema, and it is well worth its place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.