Vikings and Ragnar Lodbrok

I’m gripped by the History channel’s Vikings. As a nerd for Norse mythology it’s right up my street.

There’s something about the blend of characters that works just great for me. As with Game of Thrones, the central theme is control.

Though Ragnar himself is a fine and battle-hardened warrior he shows great empathy and cunning. As a farmer his natural instinct is toward land ownership, but he is also fascinated by foreign cultures. Something that lands him in a head-to-head conflict with his trusted (and balmy) friend, Loki.

What I love about this show is its grittiness. Like Game of Thrones it offers some fairly engaging battle sequences, though we tend to pull away from the pointy end making contact with somebody’s neck just moments before the ketchup gets spilled.

In many respects it’s Game of Thrones Lite.

The Vikings’ story is not nearly as intricate as the spaghetti threaded storylines of Westeros. But that’s no bad thing. Essentially it’s a story of family, pride and loyalty with the tantalising prospect of exploration and wealth from distant shores. Something that it shares in abundance with Game of Thrones.

Through the eyes of the central character, Ragnar, we see a different world to the world that we may automatically assume to be the one in which Vikings lived.

Ragnar is clever. Where most hot-headed Northmen may shoot (or swing) first and ask questions later, Ragnar thinks several shots ahead. An astute warrior with remarkable intuition and a strong sense of leadership. When his fighters have their backs against the wall and run out of options, he brilliantly conspires to rescue the situation. (Season 3 – Paris)

This depth of Ragnar Lodbrok’s character is exciting for a writer. While all around him is potential chaos, he sees a certain clarity that allows for smart and often informed decisions. His attachment to the gods fades over time thanks to his acceptance of a key figure from his first raid. This intrigue with foreign cultures that are alien to his inherent beliefs serves him well despite those amongst him taking great issue.

As a writer and keen storyteller the Vikings premise is a strong one. There’s plenty of conflict and plenty of character growth, but there’s also a healthy amount of intrigue and exploration.

The protagonists venture far beyond their comfort zone with no apparent fear of failure. The gods have their back and for those that die in battle, Valhalla awaits. Indeed this lack of fear for death (“for death has already been decided, so fight well”) is what gives the Northmen their edge. Whereas their enemy is often clad head to toe in steel armour, the Norse raiders wear hard leather and furs. The best form of defence? Don’t get hit. (C) Mr Myagi :)

I’m up to the first episodes of Series 4 just now. I recently read that the 5th series is in production with 16 planned episodes.

 

Slash Says It Right

I’m a big fan of Slash and the original GnR lineup. The soundtrack to my late teens and early twenties was written largely by Slash and co.
I’m thrilled that this year I will once again get to see Guns ‘N Roses perform in London. The last time was at Wembley Stadium around 1992. A cracking day that I’ll never forget.

So I found this cool picture and quote from Slash that pretty much captures my mood just now.

New Year 2017

The new year presents an opportunity to think differently. It does, of course, also present the opportunity to behave differently.
I’ve never been a fan of the frenzy of new year’s eve. It ultimately boils down to a flick of a number. A bumping of a number by one. That in itself is enough to render the associated frenzy ludicrous in my book.

But circumstances have gone against me in recent years and I’ve jumped on the opportunity to make a mark in the sand and step over it.

Since I was diagnosed with a degenerative condition that affects my mobility, everything has gone slowly downhill. I divorced my wife and have spent the last few years living alone. I stepped off the property ladder to rent whilst I figure out my next steps.

The last few years have flown by.
In May 2015 I quit my full time job to ‘go it alone’. The best move I ever made. My income has reduced but my quality of life is far superior to when I was chained to a desk in a mundane office job.

This year, 2017, I want to step things up a bit.

I’ve enjoyed the freedom to write and freelance my web skills and all in all it’s been hugely rewarding. But I want to complete, if you will, the circle of interests by rekindling my love for developing arcade games.

I write games using open web technologies that currently centre around HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3. These games (which you can see at my arcade playstar.mobi) have been reasonably lucrative for me over the last few years but in recent months they’ve become a little stale.
So it’s time to breath some life into them and create some new and exciting games.

I also want to write more. This blog is sadly rather neglected and it’s the first thing I want to change.

I know, I know, we all say this don’t we. It’s true that we see January 1st as the ‘I’m gonna change’ day, but for me there’s an opportunity to write rather than read here that I need to seize upon.

I spend most of my idle time reading social media. Mainly Facebook.

I don’t mind Facebook but it’s far too much of an automatic / knee jerk thing to dive into. There are far better sources of information out there than catching up on what my acquaintances have had for dinner.

I want to read quality journalism some more and browse sites like Wikipedia. I want to take random prompts to research cool stuff.

To that end I’ve signed up to The Guardian (I’m a closet lefty at heart) to catch my global news. I’ve also reignited my Pinterest account. Yes it’s all pictures but those pictures can lead to some pretty cool websites.

For a long time I’ve relied on the BBC website for news and information but in recent years it’s really become an amateur’s resource. The journalism is poor and often badly presented. More of a quick-social-fix than trusted resource these days. Well, it is for me.

I’ve cranked up Flipboard once again. It was always an interested app to flick through once I’d filtered out the overly American content. Not that I’m anti-American, not at all, I just don’t always know what the stories are talking about.

So happy new year to me and here goes for trying to evolve rather than change. Not so much a new me as a progressive me.

The Millennial Problem

I enjoy listening to Simon Sinek talk. His TED talks on ‘Starting with Why’ and the effective leadership are hugely inspiring. It’s not just the content of his talks but the delivery that wins me over. An inspiring guy for sure.

A few things in his talk here (it’s on Facebook so you may need an account to view) resonate with me. Not least the concept of winning simply by participating. Something I’ve long taken issue with.

I heartily recommend taking the quarter of an hour to listen to him speak here.

Carrie Fisher

2016 has claimed some wonderfully gifted people but the loss of Carrie Fisher has struck me hard.

Like so many millions of kids born in the late 60s early 70s Star Wars went a long way to defining who I am in terms of my creative style and vision. The fairy tale set in space with its iconic characters and breath-taking audio / visual stamped a love of storytelling on me that has never faded.

Princess Leia was my first screen love at the tender age of 7. I wanted to be Luke. I wanted to fight like a Jedi and rescue the princess. I wanted so much to craft my own Star Wars adventure and model it around Luke’s quest to save the beautiful Leia from the evil Empire.

Carrie Fisher was, of course, far more than just a Star Wars princess. A hugely gifted lady who had considerable success away from the camera as much as she did in front of it. A talented writer and keen activist she would not stand by so easily in the face of injustice – particularly injustice toward women.

I sketched the image within hours of learning of Carrie Fisher’s death. My own tribute to a beautiful and gifted lady who stood out amongst the Hollywood rabble in so many ways.

 

 

How does Stephen King write so many books so fast?

So this video on YouTube caught my attention.
It’s a great hour of TV where Stephen King and George RR Martin talk about their books, their lives and their work in general.

The time flies by and the interview (no audience participation here, just a conversation between these two guys) reveals a healthy amount of information.

But it’s the final question from Martin that captures my attention the most.

Martin – “How the fuck do you write so many books so fast?”

King’s response is perfect and probably underlines why, compared to Martin, he is so prolific.

It essentially boils down to a strong work ethic.

King reveals that he targets 6 pages a day. He’ll work for 3 to 4 hours every day and get those pages done and ‘clean’. I reckon clean means there’s little to go back on and play around with. He’s happy with the writing and the tone.

So, as King himself outlines, a 360 page manuscript would take him around 2 months.

60 days, 6 pages a day = 360 pages.

I wanted to think about this a little more.

6 pages could well be as much as 1,500 words.

You really have to know a) your craft and b) your characters and plot to achieve this to a high standard.

My follow up question to Stephen King here would be ‘how much time do you typically invest in research and planning for a 360 page novel?’

A generalised question, for sure, but one that may yield an answer worthy of repetition.

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s a few years old just now but reveals a huge amount about the man, his life and his love for his craft.

stephen king photo
Stephen King

King is clearly an accomplished and gifted writer. But lordy he struggled early on. But persist, he did. And that persistence paid off. Once Carrie had landed things took off. But things also took a dive.

Drinking and a healthy amount of leaf intervened. The guy was off his box throughout the writing of Cujo, for example. As he himself confesses he pretty much doesn’t recall writing it.

Misery was written right around the time he was drinking and smoking morning, noon and night. Kathy Bates’ character (for the movie followers) a handy metaphor for the effects it was having on the writer.

But despite this King continued to hone his craft and create some memorable fiction.

What I glean from all of this is that Stephen King takes his inspiration from anywhere – his own life, somebody else’s life, a snippet of knowledge, something he’s seen – and crafts a story out of it.

Carrie is still my favourite. The payoff in the prom hall is not just exquisite prose but lent itself beautifully to the big screen. Both versions.

The key to the story was in King’s learning that sanitary towels are offered free to vend in the girl’s locker rooms in high school. That pivotal passage where the girls taunt Carrie White during her first period with the unforgettable ‘plug it up’ as they hurl tampons at her, was forged from that one snippet of information offered by his wife back in the early 1970s.

He used that knowledge to write a massively important part of a superb story. Crucially he’d defined with some clarity at least four of his key characters.

Carrie, the vulnerable, naive victim.
Chris, the vile ringleader and primary antagonist.
Sue, the popular but apparently human cheerleader and friend of Chris.
Rita, the gym teacher who empathises with Carrie and casts out Chris.

You just can’t sit and write this stuff on a whim. King absorbs knowledge and appears to let it sit in his head long enough for it to stick and mean something. If it’s a strong idea it’s too big to fall through the sieve with all the other tiny, rotten ideas.

My own writing has no discipline compared to what I’ve learned from Stephen King. Something I want to address.

I keep notes and snippets of information everywhere. I’ve probably lost or forgotten most of them.
But you know what, the good ideas, the ones I really give a damn about, they’re still there in the forefront of my mind. I can recall them and probably spend a good few hours fleshing them out.

With enough preparation I could probably write a couple of pages worth. Maybe 3 or 4. Do I really need to keep so many notes?
Probably not.
Just use my imagination, think a lot, think big, think different, see new stuff, stimulate the brain, experience shit (literally the shitty stuff) and remember it.

Thoughts on writing terror using Jaws and Alien as reference

I’ve been doing more writing than drawing lately.

Though I thoroughly enjoy writing for children I also have a keen interest in ghost stories and more adult literature. As a reader i’ve loved the works of King, Barker et al. When I was younger I read Koontz and Herbert. All contemporaries and a huge influence on my creative style.

My own writing style leans more toward that of Lovecraft or M.R. James. Writing in the first person is something I find more comfort with. But I also love the idea of building tension around a concept that places the reader firmly in the point of view of the protagonist.

I drew these earlier.

witch3witch1 witch2

There’s a story here. An old woman, accused of witchcraft, burned at the stake. But she had the last laugh and returned to claim her accusers as victims.

A familiar formula for a horror story but something I wanted to add my own spin to.

So I found myself with a simple concept and a ‘monster’. But how to make that monster most effective? How to build terror without actually revealing the monster?

I looked to film and chose Jaws and Alien. Popular films classed not necessarily as horror but unmistakably horrific in their execution.

Both had similarities – victims falling to an attacker that is considerably more comfortable in their environment than their prey. I loved this dynamic.

In order to defeat the shark in Jaws the protagonists had to enter the shark’s domain; the ocean. Worse still the shark is the most adept killer on the planet and the Great White shark the ultimate deep sea predator. There’s an enormous sense of mystery about the shark and the sea provides that perfect barrier between ‘us’ and ‘it’.

Above the waves we stand a chance but once we’re in the water our chances are reduced considerably.

The Xenomorph in Alien presents a similar threat. A perfectly adept predator shrouded in mystery. Not only can it hunt with tremendous efficiency it also has a pretty handy defence mechanism – acid blood.

The alien stalks the cramped corridors of the Nostromo with ease. When it needs to it can also navigate its way through the ventilation chambers. As with the shark it surprises its prey and dispatches them quickly and brutally.

Both films give us clues both visually and audibly.

In Jaws we have the inevitable dorsal fin cutting the waves and, of course, the remarkable soundtrack. In Alien we have the clever dynamic of the motion sensor which gives us both a visual and audible representation of the alien’s location.

Reacting and fleeing from both scenarios seems futile. Rather a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ you are going to be attacked. But crucially it’s the ‘how’ you’re going to be attacked that presents the biggest chill.

In both cases you’re attacked by teeth. The shark in Jaws is essentially an enormous mouth of teeth that swims. In Alien the attack comes from a ludicrously telescopic maw. Horrendous.

For my own story I’ve taken some of these dynamics and interpreted them. The predator’s environment is a dark place. The predator’s eyes were burned out such that her sense of hearing is perfect. If you make the slightest sound she’ll be onto you. If you’re unfortunate enough to fall into her lair you’ll need something to light your way or tripping, stumbling and making a noise are inevitable.
Of course the predator is blind so shining a light is no problem. But that also allows us to get close to revealing our monster without there being any threat. That in itself is chilling for one wrong move and the protagonist becomes the prey in an instant.

The nature of the attack in my story also involves teeth. But it doesn’t leave the victim fighting for their life. It merely blinds them. This is where I can introduce the potential for a secondary threat – dogs. Rabid ones at that. With no sight the victims are easy prey.

I like the notion of this two-tiered threat. One hunter paralyses you and the other finishes you off.

The former attack I’d likely reveal but the latter may be purely dealt with as suggestion. It is after all far more horrific to the modern audience to be attacked and blinded than to be devoured by animals – a ten-a-penny shock.

So this writing continues. I take myself away for a well earned short break next week where I’ll be putting more work into the story.