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.

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!

Sending a Message

Messages are in everything and I think we always create with a message. Maybe sometimes you’re just drawing for the sake of drawing, or writing for the sake of writing. Maybe your end goal is just to produce an enjoyable piece of art, but you’re often going to find there’s a message in there whether you like it or not; there’s always something to take away.

In a previous post, Learning Themes from the Wonders of Disney, I discussed Disney, and how they manage to weave a message into an enjoyable narrative. They can do it subtly, to such an extent you may not really realise it’s there, but is that always the best way?

Today I’m launching another blog, Play Positive, in which I’m going to discuss video games. If you don’t know, I used to be a Games Journalist and I kind of miss it, so I’ve set up a platform specifically to talk about Video Games (and to keep it separate from my more general content here on the Clouds). To celebrate my first article, 5 THINGS, I wanted to discuss messages and how they’re delivered throughout our artwork. Strangely enough, I’m going to be drawing on my review of Power Rangers… Yeh, I’m reviewing films now too!

(The messages I’m going to be dealing with are ones of Equality and Diversity, but I strongly feel you can apply these ‘messages’ to be ones of anything, from the trivial to the extreme)

From those unversed with video games, Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game about tribes in the Post-Apocalypse. It’s a game about fighting Robot Dinosaurs with a bow and arrow, it’s a game about exploring the wilderness and getting lost in a world where humanity is a child once again… It’s also a game with a subtle message of equality and diversity. Whether this message is intentional or not, the game is lead by a strong female character, and supported by people of many different races, genders, and personalities. Nothing here is forced. As a Cis White Middle Class Male (throw as many adjectives you can think of to make me as ‘average’ as a government consensus would like me – and they’ll stick) there’s no end of role models or characters that are designed to ‘speak to me’. As such a player, this message of diversity and equality is so subtle it could be lost on me. For others out there, though, I can imagine it is particularly good to see such examples of strong female characters, of Black or Asian characters… This message, whilst not central to the game in anyway, whilst not heavily insisted upon at any point, is important.  

Then I compare it to Power Rangers. Strangely it’s the same theme, to an extent. The reboot of Power Rangers that hit cinemas this March features an eclectic main cast of different races, genders, sexualities and personality types. However, here it’s done far less subtly; characters have moments where they explain their autism, or explain their sexuality and, it can come across as trying too hard… but it’s still important.

On the surface, as a piece of art, I prefer the subtler weaving of Horizon: Zero Dawn. I prefer that the message is there, under the surface, resonating at the subconscious level or for those that want to pick up on it. I find by making it less of a taboo, just treating the subject as something completely normal that needs no reference at all, is the best way to do things. What better way to show that something is completely and utterly normal and acceptable than by not drawing attention to it at all? In that vein, then, Power Rangers, can come across as jarring and expositional when characters reveal they’re autistic, or they’re not heterosexual.

An important factor, though, is audience. Power Rangers is aimed at Kids and Teenagers, I’m not exactly it’s ideal audience. What can come across as a poorly blended message to me, is perhaps (and I’m hypothesising here) more important to younger audience. Having role models that identify within different groups promotes that equality and that inclusion; it allows the youngsters out there to feel unashamed of who they are and strive for the inclusion they deserve. I know I’d gladly let my children watch it, because it provides representation and the message is correct no matter how its handled.

At the end of the day, regardless of which you prefer, the fact is these messages are there and that’s the most important thing. I’d sooner have a heavy handed message of equality, than one that doesn’t promote it at all (or worse – promotes the opposite). I’d sooner see lead characters who are Black, Asian, Gay, Bisexual, Female, Trans, Autistic, or any combination of the above, and see it handled heavy handily and unsubtly than continue to see the usual suspect of ‘Muscular, Handsome, Generic Safe-Bet White Man’. Hopefully one day the two will be the same, hopefully we’ll be so equal this isn’t even a talking point, but sadly in a world that still has racism, sexism, and homophobia these things are more than necessary.

This also acts as a thinking exercise. What message is in your work? You may not think your work carries a message at all, but perhaps it does to someone else. If you’re writing a story in which everyone is blonde, you’re accidentally excluding all the brunettes. If you’re painting a picture of a community where everyone is a white male, then you’re accidentally excluding anyone who isn’t. These messages in our work are important, even when they’re accidental. Readers, players, and viewers out there need role models, inclusion, and representation. We can all strive to show equality in our work, whether we weave those messages tactically or not.

What do you think? How do you prefer a message to be told? Do you agree that all artwork has a message behind it? Let me know in the comments below!

Thinking About Me

Recently I’ve been thinking About Me.

No wait, I’ve been thinking about my “About Me”. You’d be surprised how similar the two statements are though, despite sounding different. Both require a certain understanding of myself.

I’ve known for ages how old my About Me section is outdated. Hell, the photo I was using on it was from when I was between 19 to 21. To put it into perspective, I’m 27 now and 28 in less than a month! Time for an update, right? Not to mention I didn’t even have a beard back then… I’m not me without my beard!

 So, with thanks to Suzie’s post How to Create a Successful About Page, I’ve refereshed mine!

I’ve added a more current interpretation about who I am, along with what I’m trying to achieve in both life and on the Clouds. I’ve also summarised my Posting Schedule, in case you find yourself so inclined.

You can find it by clicking here: About Me

Creating Coincidence

I don’t believe in fate. Simple as that. I’m not someone who believes in horoscopes, or destiny, or that the world owes me anything. I don’t believe in karma, I don’t believe in judgement, and I don’t believe the world is fair… I do believe in coincidences though, but I also believe we can create these coincidences for ourselves.

For those of you that have been following, I’ve been a bit down recently. I don’t have a lot to grumble about, I mean I probably find myself stuck at work too often, and the house is constantly needing work done, but overall I have a good life. What I’ve lacked though, is motivation. The worst thing about feeling unmotivated is it can snowball; by feeling unmotivated you end up doing nothing, and the more you do nothing the less inclined you are to do anything. It’s harder to fight the inertia of doing nothing and actually do something.

This is where coincidences come into play.

You see, I have a cycle. I have moments of pure, unadulterated enthusiasm, where the world is open to me and I am en route to achieving my dreams… then I have moments where I wallow, unimpressed with my previous efforts (or lack of) and let myself sink into an unmotivated state. It can take a while for me to break this cycle, heck it can take a while for me to realise the cycle is happening, despite the amount of practice I have dealing with it and despite how obvious the signs should be by now. Sometimes, though, life breaks the cycle for you.

You may know by now that I’m a Partner of Level Up Photography LLP, well, on Saturday, Greg and I shot our first Wedding of the year! It couldn’t have come at a better time. What a kick up the ass! What a way to fuel a dwindling passion! What a way to fight the inertia! What a coincidence that it came when I needed it most… but hold on, it’s not exactly a coincidence is it?

The timing, and my mind-set, were both a coincidence, I’ll grant you. The timing was perfect, I needed inspiration and here it was handed to me on a plate. The set up though? That’s a different matter entirely. The thing is, we’d been booked to do this Wedding for months. We’d done the legwork, we’d contacted the Bride, we’d provided the service; there was no coincidence there.

The point I’m making is we can create these opportunities, we create these coincidences. I may not believe in fate, or destiny, but I believe that if you put yourself out there you stand more chance of getting results. That’s just logic. When I lie around grumbling that I’m uninspired, unmotivated, unfulfilled, I am simply not putting myself into a place with opportunity… in fact, I’m slipping away into reclusion where talents go to waste. If it hadn’t been for our previous Photography work, Greg and I wouldn’t have been booked for that Wedding. Similarly, If I hadn’t written blogs previously, you wouldn’t be here reading today.

Saturday has been a fantastic motivator. It’s been a reminder of the end goal and proof of what can be achieved with a bit of time and effort. Do I wish it happened more often? That my life was spent more often in a creative pursuit than a 9-5 office role? I do, but when I wallow in that I close the doors to my preferred future. By taking the smaller steps and by keeping up the motivation these days of inspiration are more likely to occur. That, really, is today’s message.

Today’s message, both to readers and to myself, is simply: Put yourself out there. Opportunities will appear only when you open yourself up to them. You’re going to have days, weeks, months where your work feels unsatisfactory, where you feel it’s all for nothing, but as long as you keep creating, keep putting things out there, your own work might provide an opportunity and, coincidentally, it might arrive at just the right time. Keep creating your own coincidences. Keep yourself open to opportunity.

Have you had any moments like this? Where inspiration occurred at just the right time? What do you think, was it fate or was it self-made? Let me know in the comments below!

Making Connections: A Thursday Thought

For a reason I can’t explain I’ve been thinking a lot about connections.

It’s strange to think just how many connections we make in everyday life, be them professional or personal, big or small. The word itself has connotations of business, the old adage of “It’s who you know, not what you know”, and from there there’s a pressure around the need to network; the need to find people who can provide a helpful step up the proverbial ladder, a proverbial foot in the proverbial door.

In fact, connections can be something completely different; it doesn’t have to all be red tape and white collars. My blog was born over 5 years ago, a mere journal for me to jot down some thoughts at the time, but it was only ever something I looked at once a year, if that, and never really took seriously. Fast forward to last year, one of my best friend’s, Andy, convinced me to join a creative writing course, where we were introduced (and then ‘connected’) with Shelley. She convinced me it was worthwhile taking my blog seriously and really putting myself out there. From that connection, I’ve found many different people from all around the world; I’ve joined writing prompts, I’ve joined challenges, and I’ve joined Facebook groups. Connections leading to connections.

It can be easy to think a connection is something more tangible, it’s someone you can point to, someone who’s number you have, someone who ‘knows a guy’; really a connection can be something as small as a shared smile. By writing, by creating art, by simply giving form to our internal thought processes, we create potential connections that can span further and longer than mortal life. We are still connected now by works of art, by literature, by film or by photograph. We are connected to people we will never meet, or who’s names we’ll never know. To share our art is to create a connection en mass. To me, that’s beautiful. To me, that’s worthwhile.

Connections give us a power. They can give us support, they can give us guidance, and through them we can share our passion and our philosophy. We were born a social species, our evolution was encouraged by our communication, and through it we continue to better ourselves. By sharing our thoughts we are able to better each other; simply by increasing understanding and by portraying different perspectives. We live in a time now when our communication has transcended physical movement and speak; we exist in a world where we can learn from people across the globe. Right now there has been no better time to forge ‘connections’.

When I sat down to write this Thursday Thought, I wasn’t expecting to write so passionately, but now, writing this final paragraph, I feel genuinely moved. A connection is something more than a mere contact in a faceless industry, it is an ability to create understanding between us. When I write my blog posts, I first and foremost write them for me, but within them I try to include a positive angle; I try to promote my belief that we can all be good, that we can all be inspirational, and that we can all benefit from sharing. Nothing warms my heart more dearly than when I see us helping each other. Regardless of how we do it, be it charity work, random acts of kindness, or something as ‘trivial’ as writing a blog, we put aside differences and judgements to make the world a better place. If that isn’t making connections, I don’t know what is.

*****

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In 5 Years Time: A Thursday Thought

Where will you be in 5 Years time? Can you visualise it? These are the questions being asked today.

I’m doing something a bit different this Thursday, by answering the questions posed by Shelley’s Blog in her post January in Review!

Q1. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What small steps can you take between now and December 31st to achieve it?

In 5 years I see myself as a writer/photographer. I’m out of the daily 9 – 5 grind, I’m out of the sterile, stressful, impersonal office, and I’m in a studio of my own. Level Up Photography is bringing in frequent customers, Dark Background is publishing my work and the works of others, and in the down time I’m writing my novels or working on the Clouds.

The small steps to get there are the usual: Do more! Write more! Greg and I over at Level Up have been meeting this week, we’re getting the paperwork sorted, the website sorted and we have a client meeting in a few weeks. Things are running smooth there. As for my writing, I just need to write more, as I always need to, but thankfully I’ll finally be getting my study set up this month so that should create a dramatic increase in productivity.

Q2. What does a day in the life of your dreams look like? Write your perfect day from the minute you wake up to when you go to bed. Where are you, who are you with, what would you do?

I wake up next to Kirsty. We snuggle for a bit before getting up.

We go downstairs and feed Toby (our Cat) and, if Kirsty has it her way, the dog (She’s Pug-Obsessed).

We cook breakfast and call down the kids (I’m assuming this is the 5 years’ time, scenario)

I leave for the studio, and drop the kids to school along the way.

I work on my latest novel, or read the latest manuscript, or edit the latest clients photographs.

When all my appointments are done I drive back home.

I spend some time with Kirsty before we have to pick the kids back up.

Then in the evening we all eat together, we watch TV, read, or play boardgames.

The kids go to bed, Kirsty and I snuggle on the couch, Toby tries to squeeze in between us as always.

We go to bed together, I read for a bit, then we fall asleep to begin the day anew.

Q3. If money was not an issue what career would you have or what lifestyle would you adopt?

Studio! Studio! Studio!

Writing, Photography, Publishing.  They’re my main aims; they’re how I want to make my livelihood.

That said, “if money was not an issue” I’ve always said I’d love to run my own small games company. It’s a daydream of mine that, when I win the lottery, I’ll hire a bunch of students and create video games… Put my writing into that form as well as books and blogs!

*****

So, there we have it. That’s where I will be in 5 years… Give or take. As always, thanks to Shelley for those reflective questions, was great fun to fill out! Why not give it a go? Feel free to ping back here so I can see yours too!