Frantic acceptance

Before you read this post, have a listen to Frantic. If you are not of the HM persuasion, dear reader, here’s lyrics.

I’m in a state of flux, moving towards acceptance. If you’ve read the previous blog, you’ll know the situation I am in and have gone through. Going through changes. I’m not going to run people down, this is how I am thinking.

I spent time today at parks, talking myself through what has happened and how I need to accept the situation to keep myself healthy. There is something helpful, therapeutic about looking out over the city.

The past four weeks have been hard going. I’m at a stage where the final process of moving on is coming ever closer. However, I am holding myself back; asking myself questions, getting lost in spirals that have left me in tears, picking myself up and holding my head high in order to get done what I have needed to get done.

So, dear reader, what does this apply to a Metallica track? Well, it’s been in my head for the past couple of days. For a long time, the thought has been in my head that no time is wasted. Think about this: you stand in the line at the checkout to buy food, yes, you are losing time but it is for a reason. You made the choice to buy the food at a specific shop, whether that for reasons of convenience or range of produce, you made the choice to join that particular queue … you get the gist: that time is not wasted. You’ve spent the time to buy food, a basic human necessity. You’ve probably spent the time thinking of all the things you have to do, want to do. You could be spending the time getting yourself worked up about how slow people can be … You get the general gist. It’s not wasted time. You spend time working on a project, personal or for work, that doesn’t work out the way you wanted or has to be scrapped; you’ve spent time developing skills, problem solving, research or you could have be indulging yourself, having fun.

I have spent the past nine months in a relationship that has folded. We split. Call it what you want, the relationship has ended. Now, I am in the space that is starting to unpack what has happened over that period. I should point out that I’m talking about a year, not just to easier relate to the time period of having lived with my ex-partner but the period of the relationship.

I have learned about myself, more than I thought.

Strength: I am stronger. I have had to fight during the divorce period, going through mediation to get a suitable arrangement to see my son. I had to fight to maintain calm when dealing with my (now) ex-wife, there was some pretty heavy stuff going on that tested me. I have fought back from a depressive episode, when my ex-partner sat in the doctor’s appointment the first time, I could hardly string a sentence together. The Doctor has said on several occasions that I have significant resilience.

Confidence: I feel a greater sense of my worth in the world, remember dear reader, I am not criticising anyone. I had a partner who was very supportive, not only in creative endeavour but in handling mental health. Knowing that someone is aware of my coping strategies reinforces my knowledge of them and hence confidence.

Knowledge: I have learned about myself. I am a better person than I was a year ago. I have learned about what is important in my life: my values and interests. I already knew that I loved music, in particular heavy metal, but over this period, that love has grown. I passed on my love of HM to my partner, to the point that she is (was) listening to bands like Slipknot. I now know that I have to have music around me, now that the house is just me … the stereo is on most of the time. I tell you, dear reader, Bluetooth stereos are for the win. I can now play iPod through the stereo … srsly, it’s for the freakin’ win.

Now, I come back to acceptance. I have spent time talking to thin air, trying to come to terms with what has happened. I found a pin on Pinterest that kinda sums up: the hardest part is not speaking to someone I used to speak to every day. I’m not talking about a year, I’d known my ex-partner for six months before things happened between us. Eighteen months of talking to her on a daily basis has made the split harder. Now, I have to accept that the split has happened, choices have been made and things have to move forward.

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Going through changes

I’ve been quiet for a couple of weeks because life has change. It’s hard to write this entry as I know it may be read by the person who it is about.

It has come about because it’s now 03:17 and I’ve had a dream about the situation. As always, here is the dream. I’m walking down West Street, the street in town where most of the bars are, across the road from me is a bar with window doors open. A waiter is playing Happy Birthday to someone on a cello, however it’s being played like you would a violin. Dream cuts to a busy church, I’m stretched out or standing in the aisle, my partner comes from behind and asks me to move aside so she can get through. During the rest of the service, she constantly turns her head to look at me, her facial expression seems to be a mix of fondness and accusation.

My partner has left. While this may engender some sympathy, hold on to it. The situation we were put in forced a question over our heads: is there a future for us? Our landlord has issued a notice on the property; we have to leave by a certain date. The question had been hanging over us for a couple of weeks, I as always, shied away from it and didn’t want to address it.

My relationship with son had deteriorated and I’d reached the point where I became unable to have him stay over at the house. I’d had a conversation with him about how he was feeling with our relationship; he said that he felt sad about being with me, here at the house. It hit me hard.

Thursday morning was my usual doctor’s appointment, I’m not sure if I have said that I’ve been seeing my GP each week over a period of about nine months. Maundy Thursday. In the hour before I had to leave the house, my partner and I had “the conversation” that the question of our future had posed. She asked the question: did I want to live with her? I told her that I’d had a conversation with my son about the same question, his answer and that I had to put him first. Those are the words I used. I talked about how I’d been feeling and went on about the different housing options we had, especially considering social housing. I set out options for us: our spouses could take us back, we move into different houses but carry on seeing each other, or we move into different houses and go our separate ways.

When I left for my appointment, I explained that I’d go and get the paperwork for us to be on the social housing list, and that I would be back by 12. I did just that and came back a little after. She had gone. On the table, she had written a number of houses to view. It was after a short while, that I realised or come to the conclusion that she had gone back to her husband. I went around and the pieces fell into place: her bag had gone, duvet had gone. I knew what was coming. Two hours later, I got the text message saying what had happened, that they saw no point in waiting.

I’ve tried to write this entry before but could not do it until now. It has been painful to still be in the house that we shared, the house that we tried to make a home for us and respective children.

I will write another entry about this in time, but I needed to put something out there. There is more to this than I can say without making this entry twice or three times as long. While I’ve talked about it with people, I’ve not been able to write about it. As I said earlier, hold on to your sympathy.

I shall end this entry with what I have said to my partner: I hope that what she has taken from me, from our relationship, and that it will enrich her marriage. I wish her happiness.

Visiting a stone

While I was away at my parents, I’d asked my Dad if he could take me to see my Nan’s grave.

My Nan died in ’95 and my Grandad in ’00. I’ve not been back to see them in eighteen years. When I knelt down by the stone, thinking about that eighteen year period blew my mind. I’m not religious. I have been interested in the possibility of after life; ghosts, paranormal stuff. What I felt when I knelt by that stone was solace.

Two names on a stone, the only link to the people I love who gone from my life. That’s all I could feel, think about. No grandiose feeling that my Nan was still there, that she’d been waiting to see me.

It’s a physical reminder more than anything; a stone. I went there to be reminded of my grandparents. I could have easily gone to their old house, which is still in the family, but houses change. I’ve not been inside that house for eighteen years. I doubt that much will have changed.

It’s linked to my love of story. Seeing a name, being inspired, but those two names are too raw, too loaded with sentiment to grow a story. That stone is personal. What struck me was that there were no dates on the stone. I had to rely on my memory of roughly when they died. My Grandad’s is easy to remember: 4th January 2000. It feels like an insult to say he lost the fight. He decided it was time. His body decided it was time.

I’m going off in different directions with this train of thought.

I will say this: it’s humbling to see names of people you have loved. Carved in stone. Faces in a crowd. I felt loss, to what comparable level I don’t know. I felt sadness. I felt connected to somewhere, connected by name to a stone, reminded of who I came from.

In memory: F.M.G and W.G.J.G.

Thank you.

Spring forward

It has crept up on me, but British Summer Time is here again. Spring forward. Fall back. One hour less in bed.

Weather has been a talking point this past month, when is it ever not a talking point, we’ve had the BftE and the Mini BftE. Today, we are back to seasonal weather. Weather app tells me it should be around 12 today, not quite leave coat at home weather!

That’s all.

Made of stories

I’m spending a couple of days with my parents. I’ve not seen them since Christmas, catching up with the comings and goings of life. The same stories come up: the garden gnome story, the bike story.

Dad has been talking a lot about his time in the Army. Reminiscing. From what he says, there was some very interesting characters and times. Raucous. We were supposed to go to the Arboretum, but Mini Beast from the East set in and put paid to that. There’s a German War Cemetery nearby and I would like to take a walk around.

It set me thinking about the stories in my life. I have very few that spring to mind, none of the ‘oh my god, did I really do that?’ ilk. Perhaps I am being too harsh on myself.

This morning, I had another idea bouncing around in my head. I say bouncing, more rolling around. I got the general idea of it down in my notebook, started playing around with it … then another idea came into my head.

I’ve been blogging about writing. I’ve been thinking about those glorious climactic conflicts that come about close to the end of the novel. What if that final conflict is anti-climax … that the point of that final conflict was not so much a build up but a … an end. I’ll elaborate. Either through sci-fi or otherwise, the central character is a pretty strong character; mettle been tested in various ways, then character is conscripted to an army to fight in a war. I was thinking along the lines of parallel with WWII … or setting it in sci-fi. In my head, the thinking is that the story is how the character gets to that point … the battle he or she is killed in is secondary to the life that was led prior to the battle. I’d have to avoid the sentimental approach.

In turn, this set me thinking: do I have so many ideas, lose myself in creating stories about others because I feel I have so few of my own? Do I lose myself in stories when I am not made of them? That sounds contradictory, even a little ‘woe is me’. I love stories. I am made of them, even if they are not my own.

Let it breathe

It’s been a few days since the last insightful ‘writing entry’.

You’ve got characters. Win! You’ve got an idea of plot. Win! You’ve bought me some pencils. Win!

I left off last time with conflict. Resolution of conflict is how your story moves forward. Here, dear reader, I’d like to offer a piece of advice … I have no idea where it came from, but here it is. If you’re going to shoot someone in Act 3, the gun needs to be there in Act 1. Ok, that sounds like it applies to plays and drama, but the essence of it is true in novels. It’s no good if your big, huge, ginormous conflict relies on resolution that is not evident.

Example: Detective novels rely on the reader trusting the detective character’s intelligence to resolve conflict. If central detective character is making leaps and bounds that you (yes, you dear writer) are forcing, the reader will not believe the deductions. The detective has to solve clues, follow leads that build to the final conflict, those smaller resolutions builds confidence and believability in the character. Holding the reader’s attention and confidence in character makes your story easier to get on with. (Read Nesbo, Larsson, Conan Doyle, Michael Marshall).

If you put your characters through minor conflicts that build to that much anticipated final conflict, you are putting the tools in plain sight. Which means you have to know your character; strengths and weaknesses.

I make it sound like writing is a series of puzzles, in one sense it is; your characters face challenges, the same as you or I do.

The other part of writing, the word craft is the magic.

Give me sunshine

Writing a story requires thousands of questions, decisions to make and you answer them. You. Yes, you.

You have your ‘what if’ question, the premise, your initial idea that has got you this far. If that is still in your head, then you are doing the right thing. How do you know when an idea is a good one? It sits with you, takes shape in your head, the chances are that it’s a good one.

How to develop your idea?

This is where you have to look at possible steps ahead of your idea. Complicated? It can be if you keep looking at the packet of seeds and comparing your idea to the finished product. Trust me: it happens.

Step one: Bob explores the wider environment. Here, I would ask myself: are there other people that he can find and ‘team up’ with? What then?

Here is where, if you are a planner, that lovely notebook you bought at Ikea (don’t forget stationery!) comes in handy. How you ‘map’ out your story is up to you. Find a way that works for you: spider diagram, flow chart, bullet points.

Planning a story is one way of writing. The other way is writing it by the seat of your pants.

Pantsing can be exciting, organic. Your decisions play out on the page as you write. Guaranteed: your characters and plot elements will be more fluid, but your ideas will flow.

My experience of pantsing: great if you have an initial idea and want to run with it, without getting caught up in the planning process. Pantsing gets the job done. Planning, scaffolding will have to be used once the ‘first draft’ done.

Here is where the firm advice starts to repeat.

Once you have stepped forward in the story, think about character’s intent and how each step adds/reinforces character. Think about how each step furthers the plot, or gives hints about its progression.

Conflict. Your characters have to face conflict: personal, internal conflict or external conflict. If your story has no conflict, it’s not going to work! No conflict, nothing to lose. Bob could happily sit in the room and say to hell with the people. He could look out at an empty world and think ‘great, got whatever I want now.’

Without conflict, the character does not have to make any decisions. Moral dilemma: you see someone steal something, do you: a) tell someone else, b) approach the person, challenge them, c) alert/shout loudly/draw attention, or d) do nothing.

Let it grow

Welcome back.

You may be tempted, as I am, to think: new idea means new stationery: notebook, pens, pencils. Afford yourself a small indulgence; Ikea have marvellous notebooks for 95p or something like that, good quality pencils are worth the price you pay. I should blog about that. Remember, dear reader: if you find these entries entertaining, insightful, valuable, I do accept payment in pencils …

Let us return to the point of these posts.

Your idea. If it is written down on paper, brilliant. That is the absolute centre of your work. No matter how it changes, that idea is what started it all off. You might come back to it for inspiration, use it as a benchmark or scream at it, shaking your fist at it and doing your best Capt. Kirk/William Shatner impersonation and shout ‘Kahn’ at it.

Moving on: tease out more information from your initial idea. Let’s have an example:

What if … you walked out of a room, then walked back into it and everyone had disappeared?

Firstly, we have character: you. It is most likely to be a first person character than you personally, but, you have a central character. I’ll leave that there, for now. Secondly, you have setting: the building/room. It could be an office building, a house (your central character’s or a different character’s), or a hotel. That choice is yours to make, where you set your idea is your choice.

Now comes the interesting part, the part that needs growth.

What happens next?

Before you look at the packet of seeds (plant growth metaphor, painstakingly carried on), and think that you could never grow anything like that … think about what your creative plant needs. Stories do not play out on their own, immediately; they need time, energy and some love. Love. Tough love at times. Stories, like plants, will develop dead leaves; these need to be cut to save the plant.

Taking the Walk in Room example, let me take it a few steps further and ask questions.

Bob, let’s call the character Bob, decides to investigate the room and surroundings. Question: has what has happened in the room happened on a larger scale, has it affected the whole building?

Now: character development! How does the ‘disappearance’ affect Bob? Is it taken as humorous at first, turning into something else? Does the room add any knowledge about Bob? Is it part of his work, interest to him, associated with his friends/social circle? How does Bob respond to investigating the room: thorough, haphazard, calm, angry?

So. If you’ve been having a good think, a good scribble, a good rummage around in the grey matter, be proud that you’ve got a little seed growing! Oh. That grey matter, hang on it. No, don’t … I was about to tell you it won’t taste or smell good.

If it is a scribble: hang on to it, you’ll eBay it in five years time.

Staring at a blank page

If you go to any bookshop, real or online, there will be an entire section on ‘How to write your novel’ … some may whisper in your ear that once you’ve followed the carefully constructed instructions, you’ll market your proud product and make serious money. Well, dear reader, the latter sentiment of that phrase that any book will promise, is a lie. Bold, outright, font size 48, underlined, lie. Falsehood.

To make the kind of money to live off your talent, you have to be prolific, persistent and consistent. That may sound like the perfect advice to succeed. Possibly the most successful author on the planet is J.K. Rowling. An idea that, if legend is to be believed, an idea born on a train departing King’s Cross, that was turned down by almost every publishing house, has spawned eight major films, been translated in Latin, spawned an entire offshoot world, is now making her millions.

Now. Dear reader. To the point of this post. How do you get that germ of an idea that is in your head on to the page and play out into something entertaining? My advice: after reading this post, look up Stephen King’s On Writing on Amazon (other online stores are available) or at your local bookshop.

Firstly: your idea. This part is yours, yours alone. Only your imagination can come up with this part. It has to intrigue you, entertain you, or maybe scare you. Once you have that, you can start. Stuck on this part? Look for writing prompts, these little gems can come from anywhere: real life, overheard conversations, something you read on the internet. There are a couple of prompt books on Kindle.

Your idea will have: an idea of plot, an idea of a character or characters, and an idea of setting. Mr. King uses ‘what if…’ questions a lot for his ideas. I overuse the word idea here because those aspects may/will not be fully formed.

Now comes the tortured, sadomasochistic, fun part! Writing.

On that note, dear reader, I shall avoid turning this thoroughly interesting entry into a long and cumbersome one … and break it up!

Lastly: staring at a blank page is torture!

Same song, different versions

Speaking out against the system is the subject of innumerable metal tracks. If it constitutes the ‘system’, someone in a band will write lyrics with an iota of hope that it will inspire someone to make a change. Protest. Call it what you want. Words that someone has written with the intent in inspiring change. Words that make a declaration. Words that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

If you are easily offended, feel free to skip this entire article. There must be something on the existence of unicorns somewhere.

Bastards by Machine Head has made it into the 50 great tracks for March list. I went to check out the video on youtube and found another version. There is the album version, if you clicked the first link, there you have it. There is the original, acoustic version. Today, I found this version, aptly named ‘poetry slam‘ version.

Cold is best to describe the comments left by people on the videos. The song is a curve ball. It’s a statement. A message. In a combination of media selective reporting, political hyperbole and scaremongering, we are being manipulated. We are told to consume. We are told to be cautious. Did the same people overlook ‘In Comes the Flood‘, Robb’s scathing indictment of the corporate and financial greed of our society? Did they lump ‘Bastards’ in the same vein as ‘Is There Anybody Out There?‘ Or were they thinking that unless a song has breakneck riffs, drum beats that clock in at 180 bpm and over, and screamed vocals, then it simply isn’t metulz?

Personally, ‘metal isn’t about a specified musical formula; drop tune guitars, triplets, double kick drum set, fast beats, and distorted vocals, ‘metal is a mindset. Heavy metal is not meant to be crowd pleasing. It is the soundtrack of the underdog, the oppressed, those people who need a voice. Another thought that crept in: rap music fits here, too. It is a form of music that gives people hope, something to believe in.

Machine Head: 27 years (I had to check that, formed 1991!), nine studio albums, two live albums. 27 years is a long time to be recording, touring and weathering the storms of the music industry. Machine Head is a metal band.

*drops the mic*