Tuesday, 10 October 2017

"See the sickness on your skin, like scars forming a map of all the ways you’re hurting." Emm Roy SUPPORTING WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY

On Boxing Day, 2016 I tried to take my own life.

Now, before anyone lobs the most likely questions and accusations, I shall get there before you.

Yes, it is selfish. At the moment, that one moment, all you are thinking about is yourself. No one else.
Your wife, children, friends (I'll get to them in a moment), pets, colleagues (I'll get to them too!)... everyone you know or knows you and that may remotely care or give a crap, they are all at the very back of your mind.

Because in that moment, all you are concerned about is you. It is all about you. Not the repercussions of your intended actions or what it will be like for Kelly to find your prone body, bleeding out on the kitchen floor, or worse, your children finding you. Nope, all of that is inconsequential compared to how you feel and your pathetic laments on your lot in life, at that moment.
Take note of that sentence.
At THAT moment.

Another accusation is "Well, look at everything you have. Why do you feel like that? You have no right. You didn't lose a family member in Grenfell or recent terrorist attacks. You don't have cancer or a disability. You're not homeless and living on the streets. You haven't lost a child. What right do you have to feel sorry for yourself?"

And they would be right. Absolutely, 100% agree. I have no right. I haven't experienced nor have none of the above, so haven't the faintest idea what any of those are like. I can't even imagine and I'm a writer.

But those people are also wrong. Why? Because it is relative and entirely depends on how to deal with what life throws at you, emotionally and spiritually. And when I say spiritually, I'm not necessarily talking about God, as I myself am not a believer in the sense he has a beard, is watching from up high and is indeed, even a man!

Why do you get to that place, a place so dark and bleak that no light seems to be able to penetrate the darkness? Again, it is relative, but for me, it was because of an epiphany. I know, they are supposed to be positive moments and it was... kind of.

Flashback a little - I always hated the word 'depression'. Yup, I used to think of it when spoken by someone in inverted commas, as though it was only implied and not a real thing. How could it be? People use it as an excuse all the time.

"I can't come into work today, as I'm depressed."

"I've a rough few days. My cat died and I'm depressed."

I'd be stood there thinking "What the xxxx! They cannot be serious!" (in the words of a famous polo player. Or was it tennis?). I was legendary for thinking depression was a load of crap and having very specific views on it. Not views I would ever force upon anyone, but if I was ever asked my opinion, you would see heads all around a room shaking as they knew what was coming.

In short - I was a dick. I just didn't know it. And that was the problem that I refused to accept.

I was slightly narcissistic, thought other people were stupid, didn't particularly feel comfortable around others (that one hasn't changed, in fact, has probably gotten worse), had to do everything myself, even at work as it was quicker and easier and had an extremely self-deprecating view of the world and myself. Hated being poorly, couldn't stand not being able to function if I was incapacitated and had to force myself to cope with anything and everything otherwise I would be viewed as weak (in my eyes) and ridiculed.

I was bad tempered, moody, irritable and grumpy when at home and with family and used work as a distraction to keep me from concentrating on what might be the problem. I loved my job, enjoyed every moment being at work and would spend more time there if the option ever came about such as staying back or helping out others. Anything to keep my brain occupied.

This was my philosophy for about two decades and I stuck to it religiously.

And then something happened a few years after I met Kelly. After that something happened, she told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn't get help then I would lose her and the boys. She said she thought I suffered from anxiety and possibly depression and that I needed to speak to someone.

"Don't be ridiculous," I said. "Depressed people sit on the floor crying all day and can't do anything or cope with anything. And as for being anxious - stupid. I'm not twitchy. I don't speak quickly or fidget." (I do fidget, but never realised).

But reluctantly, I made an appointment, thinking the whole thing was a waste of time and went to see someone.

Best. Decision/Forced action. Ever!!

I went reluctantly at first, citing my attendance as one of duress and not willingly. "There's nothing wrong with me, everyone else is wrong and I'm absolutely fine."

I sat there being cocky and thinking I was clever with my responses (of course, my psychologist saw right through all of that, which is their job and the point).

This went on for a few weeks. And then something really, really strange happened.

My mindset and views on certain things began to change, Imperceptibly at first, but there was definitely a shift in my perspectives. What I hadn't chosen to accept was that, as much as I might consciously deny all I was being told, subconsciously I was processing it all. My views and feelings were changing and I didn't even realise it.

After my sessions were concluded, I had learned some valuable techniques (mindfulness, CBT aspects of meditation) and thought I was better.

All cured. Some barriers in my personality had been broken down and I was all better. That was easy. Kelly would be so happy.

But then another funny thing happened that actually was far from funny for others.

I started to self-harm and have suicidal thoughts.

Why? Well, for me it was this.

It had been explained to me that I had probably suffered from depression and anxiety for at least twenty years-ish. It was all related to Daddy issues and the psychological torture he put me through from being about seven until I was in my twenties. Bullying at school played a part (every day, sometimes physical, often mental). I had no friends really (the few I had I later found out cared little for me and one whom I thought didn't actually had done a lot to help me without me realising) and had always had self confidence issues going back to being tiny, skinny and having severe acne for which I required medication and suffered from until I was nearly thirty (Kelly says I am like the girl in Pitch Perfect 2 who talks about being deported back to Mexico and being shot. That's what Kelly calls me... Mexico).

Is most of that relevant? Nope. Just wanted to let you know I was a right goof!

But the point is, over those years I had built up barriers and armour to protect myself and after a while, I didn't even know I was wearing it. Very few could get through. I lost partners and friends because of it and viewed it as a comfortable blanket that protected me from the world.

But now, after a little therapy, it had started to crack. Had started to let in all these emotions.

And I didn't have a clue what to do with them or how to cope. Hence, self-harming seemed the way to go! It made me feel calm and brought my racing mind down to a manageable level.

I would convince myself I was now just doing it for attention (though I always did it high up on my arm and on my chest so it could not easily be seen) but failed to realise that if that were true, that in itself is an obvious problem. Who would scar themselves permanently just for attention?

An intervention took place (an actual intervention!) by people who I thought only had my best interests at heart (turns out they didn't and I paid for it later, but that is another story) and I went back to therapy and was also commenced on medication.

I was devastated. I had become part of the establishment that I had once berated. Now, who was the arsehole? I was embarrassed, humiliated, and eating a load of pie flavoured humble.

I thought I was weak. My Mum and sister had endured terrible ordeals that no one should ever have to go through, yet just got on with it. I had worked with an amazing nurse who had grown up in Belfast at the highlight of The Troubles and seen her school bus blown up, yet had got on with it and was someone I admired so very much. My parents in law had lost a child when he was just a baby and just got on with life. What could be more devastating than losing a child? Nothing I imagine, but then you can't even imagine that.

Yet here was I, only Daddy issues to my name and I couldn't cope with all the emotions now rampant in my mind that I blocked for so very long.

Following something happening in December, I decided that taking my own life was the best option. Drunk and melancholy, three o clock in the morning, I entered the kitchen after a night out and tried to cut open my wrist with a knife. It didn't work or then this piece takes on a whole, new supernatural element!

Why didn't it work? Because we have crap Ikea cutlery ( I love Ikea, just the cutlery is rubbish) and it cannot cut shit.

Kelly found me, having had a suspicion I would try something silly and we cried and I berated myself for being a selfish, absolutely selfish, pratt.

And so, here we are. I have summarised most of that as I wouldn't wish to bore you (but we already are, I hear you shout!) and I get that, but I did have a point to all this.

Like an ex-smoker, I am now a virulent supporter of mental health and increasing awareness of it. We look after our physical health, so why not out minds? After all, that is what it is referring to - mental HEALTH. 

Every seven years, a national survey is carried out in England. In 2016, the findings reported that 5.9 in every 100 people suffer from anxiety, 3.3 in every 100 from depression and 7.8 in every 100 from both.

20.6 people in every 100 have experienced suicidal thoughts and 7.3 people in every 100 have self-harmed.

Perhaps the most interesting (and worrying) finding from all of this is that while on average more women are diagnosed with common mental health problems than men, the rate of male suicide is significantly higher.

In the last five years the suicide rate in males aged 45-59 has increased significantly to 22.2 deaths per 100,000 population.

Why? No one really knows. Perhaps it is because men are less likely to reported 'feelings' as they are affected by "femenisation" of employment, where there is a shift towards a service-orientated economy. It is thought that this may lead some men feeling like they have less of a purpose in the professional world. It is also hypothesised that men may feel as if they’ve lost a sense of masculine identity and male 'pride'.

Maybe it is because men today face being in two very different generations, the pre-war 'silent' and the post-war 'me' generation. This means they may feel stuck somewhere between the strong, silent male stereotype of their father's generation and the more progressive and open generation of their son's.

Maybe the weight of previous long-term decisions reveal themselves. Making changes can come with a hefty cost, financially and socially. Feeling trapped under choices made earlier in life can seriously compromise mental well-being.
Maybe we are just stubborn.
But we need to do more, not only for men (women do rule the world and I firmly acknowledge we could do very little without them!) but for everyone suffering. I was criticised for sharing my mental health with so-called friends because it embarrassed them and made them feel uncomfortable.
Would they have been embarrassed if I told them I was asthmatic or suffered from diabetes? Doubtful. So why should sharing your mental health be any different from your physical?
Do I think I am a testament to the challenges life throws at you and how to overcome them? Absolutely not! I still think I am foolish and weak when I can cope with so little. Big things, life-altering events I can handle and probably because I suffer from a lack of empathy, but give me little problems like difficulties at work or losing my pen and I'm struggling. 
But that doesn't stop me from now wanting to speak out in support of mental health and trying to change the viewpoints and acceptance of it. I want to help others and show other people how strong they are for even considering they might be struggling. I think others are so very brave for accepting they may need support for their state of mind. My thinking I'm pathetic is part of my problem. 
Maybe it'll go... maybe it won't. 
But being able to help others, that's what matters.
There are so many amazing outlets, support groups and charities, too many to mention, but below are a few I have been fortunate to learn from and be helped by.
Samaritans - 116 123
MQ - https://www.mqmentalhealth.org (Huge supporter of this one)
Mind - www.mind.org.uk (and this one)
SANE - www.sane.org.uk
Young Minds - www.youngminds.org.uk
Mental Health Foundation - www.mentalhealth.org.uk
I put my beautiful Kelly through so much to the point she has ignored her own health. My Mum suffered. My children suffered. They saved my life, but more importantly, my soul. 
I learned who my friends truly were. Ended up with very few, but they were ones who really mattered and helped me then and help me to this day.
I banished, with their help, the other guy. That's what I call him, the 'other guy'. He rattles his cage from time to time, begging to be let out and handle the situation for me... which most likely would result in a fight, argument and generally my being a dick.
I now realise I missed out on so much beauty in the world due to my blinkered and ignorant view of things. It's like the net curtain has been pulled away from my eyes and I'm seeing everything for the first time. I never get irritated or annoyed anymore, I take pleasure in so many things I never enjoyed before, my mind feels still (most of the time!) and I have learned so much. So much.
This isn't for anyone to feel sorry for me. As I said, there is nothing in my life to garner sympathy for. I am blessed and needed to get my head out of arse to appreciate it before I lost it all. Lost it all to denial and selfishness and most importantly, a lack of listening. 
We can do better. 
We are doing better as the below article shows. But we can do more. Not literally, but in regards to sustainability. That is the hardest thing around any change. Sustaining the momentum.
I have nothing to feel sorry for myself about and I hate myself for thinking my problems were a big deal, but then again they are... to me. And that's the point.
Listen to someone. Watch them and keep an eye out for any changes. They might not be obvious. they might not be present at all. But remember that sadness and sullenness are not always precursors for something bad. Happiness can mask a multitude of sins and incomprehensible pain.
Applaud those who talk openly about their issues (not me, I mean others) and let's make mental issues as easy to talk about as a broken arm.
Don't be like David McCaffrey. 
Be better. 
Be more.
To end on a paraphrased John Carpenter log line - 
Look closely at your neighbour

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Rob Enright's Blog Tour - Two Guys and a whole load o' geek!

For Rob's stop at my blog as part of his 'Doorways' tour, we decided to go for something a little different. The result was an interesting, diverse and fun hour or so.

Check it out...

Hi Rob. Thank you for taking the time to join the blog as part of your 'Doorways' Launch. It's already generating rave reviews and seems destined for huge success but as so many others have been covering the novel, your writing and associated challenges, it seemed an ideal time, certainly in these politically and economically uncertain times, to focus on the really important stuff. So, without further ado...

DC or Marvel?

ROB - DC (just)!

DAVID - Me too, DC though not as close cut as you! My brother was always the Marvel fan as is my youngest son…traitor.

 ROB - All kids love Marvel. DC just doesn't have anything to compare to Spider-Man!

Explain your choice?

ROB - Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Marvel.  However, I think I find, overall, the lore and the overall stories to just be a little bit better in DC.

DAVID - I agree. I have always found that DC had had a little more edge in their storytelling with characters that have more depth to them. I mean Marvel has no one close to The Joker! DC are actually having a little renaissance at the moment, trouncing Marvel in comic sales. The whole Rebirth line has really propelled DC forward as it recaptures what made them unique in the first place. They have recaptured the heroism and hope of the characters, something that I think got lost in The New 52 line.  

ROB - When I saw HOW they rebooted it with Rebirth, I was VERY interested. However, as you will see later on, I loved some of the New 52!

Talking about DC, Batman is my favourite comic book character, simply because he is relatable (albeit a lot of money, lifetime of training his body and mind, unlimited resources etc!). Who is yours and why?

ROB - The Punisher. I don't think he is very relatable, however he has no super powers. He is just a guy who lost his family and took the law into his own hands. (You can see how I was inspired for One by One). I also like that in the Garth Ennis written Punisher Max, they show him as more than just a murderer, as he does the right thing again and again.

I also have a massive love for both Green Lantern and Spiderman, as well as Batman.

DAVID - I like The Punisher, though as I said Batman will always be my favourite.  He was a boy who suffered a tragedy and, using his granted considerable money and family renown, travelled the world, gleaning experience from the most powerful and influential teachers, alchemists and fighters in the world to becoming THE world’s great detective. His drive and strength of will to not only avenge his parents murder but to also condition his body and mind to such perfection that he could ultimately be someone who could stop the same tragedy befalling another family make him the ultimate example of willpower and how far an individual can push himself for a belief.

I believe there would be no Shadow, no Daredevil if not for Batman. He set the stage and drove the aesthetic forward so that he would forever be emulated and copied, but never equaled.
And I think we can identify with him. We all have two sides to us, that dark half and a light side. The one we turn towards might depend on the circumstances. Maybe we turn to the darker side when we need to be stronger or fight for something worth fighting for and we turn to the light one for comfort.

His life needed that tragedy to bring Batman to life and maybe that’s how it is for us all. Maybe we can only identify with our darker sides because we have suffered. I think that is one of the reasons he is so easy to associate with. We can see his pain and believe it drove him to becoming a better, albeit more violent version of himself. I do believe we can become stronger and reinvent ourselves as we need to. That’s what Bruce Wayne did. He is us and visa versa.

So, short answer, Batman!

ROB - I do think Batman is so popular because he doesn't have super powers. That is one of the major reasons I like The Punisher. He is just a guy who was wronged (holding his daughter as she died is such a powerful Punisher image) and he sets out to wrong those who do wrong. My reason for preferring Punisher over Batman is because although he has gone way beyond revenge, he still has the same moral compass – he does the right thing when it is needed. Some of Ennis's stories, especially The Slavers and Mother Russia are incredibly powerful pieces of writing.

That brings us nicely to what is your favourite comic book storyline/graphic novel?

ROB - Watchmen. Quite rightly considered the greatest graphic novel of all time. I also loved Geoff Johns's Green Lantern run, Scott Snyder's New 52 Batman, Garth Ennis's Punisher Max and the comic adaption of The Dark Tower.

DAVID - My is Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, Brian Azzarello’s The Joker and probably Batman RIP. Loved that storyline and the lengths it pushed Batman to! Mind you, I think a seminal story arc will always be Knightfall where Batman was broken by Bane.

Crisis on Infinite Earths and Final Crisis are up there too, just because they were game changes in the sense they rewrote/addressed many of the continuity issues in the DC universe.

ROB - I will have to check out Batman RIP. However I concur on Killing Joke and The Joker. Exceptional stuff! Can I throw in the Marvel adaptation of The Dark Tower? Tis beautiful!

Dark Tower? Definitely worth a mention! In that case, what is your favourite live action interpretation?

ROB - ARGH! Tough. I think Marvel have done some great stuff, especially Captain America: Winter Soldier.  However, the best cinematic representation of a comic book has been Deadpool.

DAVID - Hmmm,  definitely a tough one! If I had to go to the one I enjoyed the most it would be The Dark Knight. Captain America: Civil War was fantastic and yes, Deadpool was excellent. Better than I thought it would be, though Ryan Reynolds nails it perfectly. He made Green Lantern enjoyable! However and this is controversial, I am going to throw in there Batman v Superman for reasons I shall explain later. Waited my whole life for that film and wasn’t disappointed at all!

ROB - Yes. You will have to explain later. I fear we will differ!

Why Deadpool?

ROB - Because they got people who loved and cared about the character involved, from the cast to the writers. The fact that they let him swear, let him cut people up and let him break the fourth wall again and again was spot on. Also, for casting, Reynolds was basically born to play him!

DAVID - Same as you, they stayed faithful to the source material that often is the difference between a good adaptation and a poor one.

As for B v S as my choice it is purely a matter of perspective for me. It did have its flaws, many of which were addressed in the Ultimate Cut, but it also got a lot right. Ben Affleck was excellent as Batman I felt. The fight scenes were almost Arkham Asylum-esque that we hadn’t seen before. We really saw what a good fighter he is. And we also saw he detecting which hadn’t really been done except slightly in The Dark Knight. This is how clever the movie was.

In the scene where he is training and the scenes are intercut with him designing the weapons he will use against Superman later on, we see the smoke canisters he is developing and on the side of them are the letters PB which is the chemical symbol for lead. This little detail explains why Superman just catches the smoke grenade during the fight and looks at it in disbelief that Batman would use such a rudimentary weapon against him. He can’t see through it, therefore Batman, being an amazing strategist, has used Superman’s weaknesses against him.

Granted, many people will have missed that and perhaps the movie was too clever for its own good, but those little touches I think elevated it above your usual comic book fair.

Yes, Superman was too dark and morose, they spoilt the Doomsday reveal in the trailers, but Gal Gadot was awesome as Wonder Woman! 

ROB - Right. I am going to have to interject. I have had a VERY similar conversation with my good friend, Rob Thorpe. You two should talk....you both have the exact same opinion.

I enjoyed Batman vs Superman and am very excited for Justice League. I just feel a film shouldn't have to release an Ultimate Edition to make up for what was, in reality a sloppy theatrical release.  The small bits that they left out, especially as to why Superman is after Batman, made the film feel better. But the little details such as the PB on the canisters would have more effect if they showed Bruce Wayne figuring out that Superman can't see through lead. As cool as creating the spear was, why did he leave it SO far away from the fight, expecting that Superman would smash him through buildings into that exact location?

Also, if it took MARTHA to make him realise that Superman had a mother, what research did he do? He found out who she was and where they were keeping her within 10 minutes so surely he could have found that out in the 18 months before he tried to KILL Superman?

I fear we need a beer to discuss this. Haha. I enjoyed the film, I will forever feel it is a style over substance and until Geoff Johns kicks Snyder out of the creative chair, the DC Universe will stay that way.

It appears we could get a lot of mileage out of that one, but keeping in tone with the conversation what do you think is the worst interpretation of a comic book?

ROB - Sadly, Green Lantern was appalling. I still watch it because its Green Lantern and Ryan Reynolds (and the awesome Mark Strong as Sinestro), but what the hell were they thinking? It still upsets me today how bad that film turned out!

DAVID - I have to go Superman VI: The Quest for Peace. Could have been so good and such a shame it was Christopher Reeves’ last outing as Superman as he a Superman in every sense of the word.

Bringing it a little introspective for a moment, comics have often dealt with real life storylines to convey important messages to a wider (and possibly younger audience). Batman had the Venom storyline dealing with drug addiction, the graphic novel The Cult dealing with exactly that, Shadow of the Gun dealing with human trafficking. Spiderman dealt with 911 most respectfully. Do you think they are a good medium to be dealing with real-world problems?

ROB - I think so. I think we are in an age now where people accept that comics are not just for kids. Some of the storylines and elements within them are really close to the mark, and they are able to provide the happy ending that real life may not. Also, as much as we use comics as a mean to escape, we also look for the characters to be relatable and have to make decisions or suffer the same things we, as the reader, have to. The most famous of course, is Spider-Man having to deal with the death of his guardian.

DAVID - I agree. I think they make those issues more relatable too. The news is always full of so much death and horror out children don’t need to be exposed too in such quantities. I think comics are an accessible medium whereby children are able to learn about loss, sacrifice and great courage without losing their innocence about how the world works.

My eldest son understands casualties of war through The Avengers! Not to trivialize it, but it allows him to understand that decisions have consequences without exposing him to the true horrors such circumstances can propel forward.

ROB - And that is a wonderful thing. To be exposed to some of the harder parts of life through these characters. Spider-Man becomes a hero, because he thinks he should be good. It's a wonderful message and I think a well-written comic can convey a good message.

They can, but as you know they also generate a lot of criticism regarding their portrayal of characters. Batman being a cruel sadist and Harley Quinn’s sexualisation being two notable ones. Another classic DC complaints was the overt sexuality of Power Girl owning to her extremely large breasts. Do you think they sometimes go too far?

ROB - Let's face it, the entire comic book design is gratuitous. Look at how muscular the heroes are? Or how well rounded the female characters are? The idea of physical perfection is in the eye of the beholder, but in the comic world, muscles will be massive and boobs will be big. If it goes to far (like that needless scene of Barbara Gordon running in her shorts in The Killing Joke movie), then it can be a bit unsettling. But it's not a regular thing.

DAVID - I won’t let Jake watch or read The Killing Joke because of the, implied, rape of Barbara Gordon. But that esthetic, as repellent as it was to read, was in keeping with the narrative and the idea of the lengths someone can go to if exposed to ‘one bad day’ as The Joker puts it.

I don’t think they go to far and people can see whatever they want if they look hard enough. Go back to the 60’s and the censorship because it was felt that DC comics implied Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson had a sexual relationship and that it came across that he was grooming a young boy. PC viewpoints seem to come around in fits and starts. Now it is fine that he has young children being trained up to fight and living with him.

And I love the fact that we have such diverse characters. Kate Kane, Batwoman, is a lesbian as is Midnight Rider, Wonder Woman is pansexual. Children can now see that heroes aren’t defined by a particular stereotype and I think it’s great that comic books embrace this. However, it was disappointing when DC wouldn’t allow Kate Kane to get married as it was deemed going to far. I think that was a real shame to not be able to show a same sex marriage, so despite everything I believe, it shows we do have a way to go!

ROB - I think that now the world is becoming more PC, things will change even more. I attended a great chat from C.B. Sebolski, the SVP of Creator and Creative Development for Marvel and he spoke about the future of diversity in the Marvel comics and it is brilliant to see how these characters can change with the world around them.

Which comic book universe do you think is generally darker? DC or Marvel?

ROB - DC for sure. I find their stories are usually a little darker and the settings and origins are steeped a little more in the adult territory.

DAVID - Yeah, DC. They really touch on some dark stuff!

Comics still get a lot of stick for being a poor man literature substitute. How do you feel about that?

ROB - I think it's naive. Punisher Max are some of the best crime stories I have ever read and Scott Snyder's entire New 52 Batman was phenomenal. The Court of Owls saga was one of the most gripping stories I have read.

DAVID - The Court of Owls was excellent! I just think comics are an unsung literary form, ridiculed and vilified in equal measure throughout the years and now only just being given the credibility they deserve. Watchmen, The Killing Joke, A Death in the Family…all powerful tales that have powerful messages intrinsically woven into their storylines.

Working for Disney you have enter the whole Marvel universe for real! Describe how that felt?

ROB - Pretty cool. It was nice to pose alongside the big statues and also to be encouraged to fill your desk with Marvel Bobbleheads!!

DAVID - Yeah, I’m jealous! Surrounded by Star Wars, Disney and Marvel all day…bad times!

Going back to you previous comments, why do you think Batman v Superman was so openly criticised?

ROB - I think it was the wrong movie to make. I think it was heavily criticised for fair reasons, especially due to the lack of intelligence of pretty much every character throughout the film. Lex Luthor (what the f*** was Eisenberg doing?) hated god like creatures, so created one? How did he know Batman was ready to fight that night? Why would the world think Superman needed to use bullets in Africa? Why did Batman say 'I thought she was with you?' when he had sent her a god damn email saying I know you are a super hero! Who at Lex Corp created the Justice League logos? WHY IS BATMAN MURDERING PEOPLE?

I know some of this is corrected in the extended cut, which makes it a more cohesive film. However, it doesn't correct Eisenberg or the ridiculous set up for the Justice League. It also doesn't change the stupid reason for them STOPPING their fight.

DAVID - See, I have to disagree. I take on board some of your points, but things like the Justice League logos I think were just a knowing nod to the fans. I thought Jessie Eisenberg was a really disturbed Lex, quite different to what had gone before which, to me was a good thing. The dead bodies in Africa were related to the burnt bodies i.e. having died using his heat vision but this is only apparent in the Ultimate Cut.

I do agree the reason for their fight ending was contrived (who calls their Mum by their first name! He could have just said my mother and had the same effect) but one thing in all my years reading comics that I had never noticed was that their mothers had the same name!

I thought the fight was pitched perfectly and just long enough to be believable (in the context of a god fighting a man dressed as a bat!) and as I mentioned before, Gal Gadot was spot on as Wonder Woman.

ROB - As said earlier. Let's have a beer and discuss. In the meantime, I direct you to the Batman vs Superman versions of Honest Trailer, Everything Wrong With and How It Should Have Ended – all on YouTube.

On a similar note Suicide Squad was received with almost as much hostility but faired better than anyone expected financially. Why do you think that was?

ROB - Honestly, it was messy again. It didn't know what it wanted to be and you can tell it had been chopped to bits. It also had a weird, Marilyn Manson/PIMP/Good Charlotte hybrid Joker that I didn't really like. However, I did like Will Smith as Deadshot. It made money because it hyped up The Joker as a big part of the film and The Joker is box office.

DAVID - It was choppy. You can see how it was two different visions mashed together. Hopefully the directors cut will once again correct those issues, though it’s a shame they have to do that instead of releasing their original vision in the cinema in the first place. As for Jared’s Joker, I once again thought he took it in a completely different direction that was needed. He could emulate Heath and that was just perfect, but he nailed the Azzarelo Joke really well I thought. I could do with more of his Joker!

ROB - See, I just can't see him as a threat. He looked like something a teenage girl would put on their wall. And with the bad ass Batfleck they have established, I just couldn't see this Joker being in anyway a threat. We will have to see I guess.

Captain America: Civil War was almost the opposite, with it being pretty much universally loved. What have Marvel got right that DC need to pay attention to?
(I have my own theory and thoughts on Marvel but we will get to that in my bit!!)

ROB - They actually care about their product. You can see that everyone involved is completely invested. RDJ and Evans have been revelations as Iron Man and Cap, and I find them so much more likeable than Cavill and Affleck (who was a decent Batman). But also there films aren't dark and dreary like the DC ones and whilst their films follow the same formula, they are undoubtedly entertaining. They have had some terrible ones like Iron Man 2 and Thor 2, but Winter Soldier and Civil War were exceptional.

Also, they have grown their universe for 8 years. We have had these characters around for a long time now so we care when they started fighting in Civil War. No one cared if 'New' Batman and grumpy Superman had a fight, because it was obviously going to end with them joining forces.

DAVID - Yeah, I think you’re right. Marvel have taken time to hone their characters and really nail the dynamics between them all and the effect their actions have on the world around them. Granted Civil War and B v S had similar storylines i.e. the effects of unchecked power, Civil War painted a much more coherent and emotionally powerful piece. I loved it…in fact I loved all the Captain America pictures, especially Winter Solider and Civil War. Really enjoyed Iron Man 3 as well.

However for all the flack DC are getting (and they can do better), people forget, like you mention, that in the beginning they weren’t al that great. No one liked Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk (though I really enjoyed it and thought Edward Norton was excellent) didn’t pull in the customers. I think DC are getting a lot of criticism but the only difference is Marvel had their share of mis-steps but did it first and so long ago people have forgotten, especially as what they produce now is uniformly excellent.

I do think and hope that Wonder Woman will swing the pendulum of popular support. Suicide Squad did exceptional financial business and was popular with fans but the critics hated it. DC need that critics favourite like Civil War to really get them on board.

ROB - YES!! Some love for The Incredible Hulk!! That is my favourite film of Phase One. I think it is a great story and Norton is a much better Banner in my opinion. But they actually made him heroic which was great. I think the reason DC are getting so much flak is it is incredibly obvious they are trying to copy Marvel and not do something of their own. And they are sort of throwing twenty characters in straight away and expecting us to care. Avengers worked, because everyone was already established before hand.

I do think, however, Wonder Woman will be VERY good. And it will do well with critics. Justice League...not so sure. But I cannot wait (although where the hell is Green Lantern?!)

So, to round up our diverse blog, book launch chat, the future of cinema? Have comic books still got a lot left to offer?

ROB - I think once Avengers: Infinity Wars is done, we will see it drop drastically. I can't see the movie goers falling inline behind Dr Strange, Black Panther (who I loved in Civil War), Ant Man and Captain Marvel. I think we have pretty much hit super hero burn out, and the DC films are only highlighting how bad they can be at times.

As for comics on the whole, they are trying exciting new things like rebooting the DC franchise again, turning Cap to Hydra and making Iron Man a female as they have with Thor. We shall see...

DAVID - I don’t know, I think Dr Strange will do really well ala Guardians of the Galaxy. I think there is a natural saturation point as you say were things will slow down, but I think we have a good ten or so years left yet. Bring on Justice League, The Batman, Infinity War and Captain Marvel!!!!

ROB - I'm rooting for a Howard the Duck reboot! (Runs from interview!)

A huge thank you to Rob for what was a fascinating and really, really fun chat! 

Don't forget to check out aloverofbooks.wordpress.com tomorrow for the final stop on Rob's 'Doorways' blog tour.

And get yourself a copy of his excellent science fiction thriller 'Doorways' here in the U.K  and here in the US.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

I'll have that!

I was watching an episode of The Blacklist last night with Kelly and it concerned a cult using medievil torture devices to meter out punishment to individuals they felt were guilty of terrible crimes.

When I was originally conceiving Nameless over a year ago, I had an antagonist who used such devices to molest his victims. Watching James Spader doing what he does so well, I couldn't help but think "Damn, they stole my idea!" 

They didn't of course, but it was interesting to see it being done so well. And then I got to thinking, is there such a thing as a truly original idea?

Christopher Volgler wrote a book called The Writer's Journey which I found invaluable when starting out and something I previously touched upon once before in an early blog, but it is so good that I think it's worth revisiting. He (and Joseph Campbell before him in his insightful and inspirational The Hero with a Thousand Faces) believed that every story consists, in one form or another, of a selection of specific character archetypes interwoven into a specific story arc. 

In fact, its probably something you already do and don’t even realise. Don’t believe me? Okay, consider these:

1.) The hero is introduced in his/her ORDINARY WORLD


3.) The hero is reluctant at first. (REFUSAL OF THE CALL.)

4.) The hero is encouraged by the Wise Old Man or Woman. (MEETING WITH THE MENTOR.)

5.)  The hero passes the first threshold.  (CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.)

6.) The hero encounters tests and helpers. (TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES.)

7.)  The hero reaches the innermost cave.  (APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE.)

8.) The hero endures the supreme ORDEAL. 

9.) The hero seizes the sword. (SEIZING THE SWORD, REWARD)




Don’t think you can fit this around any story? Okay then…

We meet farm boy Luke Skywalker on Tatooine (ordinary world introduction). He meets R2D2, C3PO and Obi Wan Kenobi. Obi Wan tells him of his father who fought in the Clone Wars (call to adventure). Obi Wan asks hi to accompany him, Luke refuses until he discovers his aunt and uncle murdered which then persuades him (meeting with the mentor). Journeying to Mos Eisley, he meets Han Solo and Chewbacca (crossing the threshold) that leads to an encounter with Princess Leia, the Death Star and Darth Vader (tests, allies, enemies). He journeys deep in to the Death Star (approach to the innermost cave), but loses Obi Wan to Darth Vader (ordeal). Returning to join the Rebellion, he joins them in an attack on the Death Star (seizing the sword). Successful in blowing up the gigantic space station, he receives his reward alongside Han and Chewie (the road back). Indeed, in Return of the Jedi, he almost turns to the dark side whilst fighting his father (Darth Vader) which is the resurrection. The lesson Luke has learnt throughout the entire Star Wars saga is about the light and dark sides of the force and how powerful friends and family can be (return with the elixir).

In case you never realised by the way, Star Wars is all about Anakin Skywalker and his fall and return to the light. Everyone also thinks it's about Luke. Even The Force Awakens is about his grandson and a summarised version of his journey (what will come of it I guess we will have to wait for Episode VIII). 

Everyone knows the old adage of ‘the villain makes the hero’. You need the overwhelming evil so that the most unlikely good can overcome it. Joseph Campbell knew this, which is why his construct for what makes the best stories can be seen over countless tales over countless years.  He also knew you needed specific character types, or archetypes as he called them, to make your stories truly come to life. And they were; heroes, shadows, mentors, heralds, threshold guardians, shape shifters, tricksters and allies. 

Using Sherlock Holmes as an example – Holmes is the hero, Moriarty is the shadow or villain, Watson is the mentor with guiding principles, Irene Adler could be the herald who calls the hero to adventure, Lestrade could be the threshold guardian standing in the way of important points, the shape shifter could be Stapleton in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the trickster again Irene Adler/Moriarty and the allies, well Lestrade again, even Adler on some occasions if the circumstances suited her. The character types can be interchangeable. But the fact exists that they are always there in some respect. 

Works with Doctor Who too…
The Doctor – hero. 
Dalek/Cyberman/Sontaran/Weeping Angel – villain. 
The Face of Boe– mentor.
Wilf (Donna’s uncle who ended up being the cause of the 10th Doctor’s regeneration)– threshold guardian
Captain Jack Harkness – shapeshifter
Missy/The Master - trickster
Amy/Sarah-Jane/Clara/Donna/Martha/Rose - allies

Think about it…it works with your story too. Granted, as with anything it may not have rigidly adhered to these guidelines. Stick to closely and your story will be stilted…deviate to far and you story will be lost in a mire of plot holes and inconsistencies. But use it as a skeleton framework to build your story around, and you can shuffle them about, retitle them, delete some, add others and discover the true power held within your story. Power to tell the most wonderful of tales that you hadn’t even realised. 

Getting back to my original point, it is difficult, even using the above as a framework, to come up with an original idea or at least it seems so sometimes.

I have the great pleasure of working with and reading some of the work a young lady called Charlotte Teece has produced. The story I have read of hers so far is literally one of the most original pieces of post apocalyptic fiction I have ever come across. It is up there with 'I Am Legend', Emma Slaughter's 'Lonely as a Cloud' and "Children of Men'. She has crafted the most amazing world, full of life, pathos, intrigue and most importantly, soul. Even I was taken aback by the arc of one particular character as I was so invested I didn't see it coming and was shocked and saddened when it did! This lady is definitely one to watch out for, mark my words.

But, an original idea. As an example, Michael Wood, Karen Long and Robert Bryndza have all done it with their lead detective characters. They have taken a well worn archetype and remoulded it into something original and slightly off centre of the norm, enough to make you compelled to enter their worlds and journey with them into the darker recesses of the human mind. These characters are, in my opinion, the most difficult to reinvent. But rather than do the easy 'reboot' of something we have seen before, they took the elements we love from those types of characters, added some new and diverse character traits and character flaws and represented them as the most dynamic of characters. (Cool names too...Matilda Darke, Erika Foster, Eleanor Raven...I definitely would have had that if I had heard it before hand! that said, I came up with Obadiah Stark which isn't too shabby!).

Keep those brain cells ticking over. The original ideas are there, but no matter how original I guarantee your story will follow the above in one form or another, not matter how vague. We do it subconsciously I think, the hero's journey engrained in our minds from Star Wars, the Magnificent Seven, Star Trek, For A Few Dollars More, High Plains Drifter, Smokey and The Bandit and hundreds more. 

I remain in awe of all of your authors that I am fortunate enough to call friends, on Facebook or otherwise and consider myself very lucky to be in this profession where even my tales have entertained a few. 

Christ, we write things down that others love and enjoy. 

Isn't that the best feeling in the world?