Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Odd We Things We Research

Last night, in the spirit of getting back in the creative saddle I decided to do some research / inspiration finding around a story idea I have brewing.

I like building images in my imagination around pictures or fragments of phrases. That's one reason I like flash fiction contests so much, particularly those with visual and verbal prompts. It's like being given a stage, to let your actors loose on.

My Dystopian London pin board is the result - largely fuelled by amazing images from Urban Explorers of the type found on the SilentUK and 28DaysLater websites (if you have never seen them, take a look).

Who could you imagine living here?

 What would they be doing?

Charlton Storm Relief Sewer on SilentUK.com 
Then what else?

I found myself researching all manner of things, from catastrophic global events through to autism-related disorders and spontaneous mutation, wormholes and Stephen Hawking's views on time travel.  On reflection, I'm not sure that a deluge of information is all that useful.  It's too easy to get rail roaded by the facts, to limit your imagination and to think too narrowly, not expansively.

In actual fact, it's always that moment before sleeping that my best ideas occur -  in a half dreaming state a million miles from a computer or reference.  It's at those times that information flows loosely, swirls about and collides and new blossoms germinate in the resulting compost.

So enough on the research.  I'm off to the beach with a notebook in hand and a visual imprint in my mind.

I do like the pictures though.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Coming full circle - creative refuelling

My life has been a writing desert of late.

For the last two months the day job has required every ounce of energy I have, creeping into evening and weekends with the insidiousness of a deathwatch beetle in the rafters.  I've been writing, but not creatively.  I've been writing strategies and proposals, letters and reports.  I've been propping my eyelids up with matchsticks and crawling into bed without the energy for much more than two pages of Game of Thrones.

Then came the stress.  A red wall of stress that blinkered me from all but what was unfolding immediately before me.  It hasn't been very nice, but there you go.  

Flash fictions contests have come and gone, my novel sits unwritten.  I feel guilty.  I feel like I'm letting down critique partners and writing groups, and moreover, letting down myself.  I'm desperate to put pen to paper but I'm too tired and I don't have any creative words left in my. My characters are getting dusty in my head. 

Luckily, my sister turned up this weekend and she had a commission.

It's a little known fact that my sister is an up and coming knitwear designer.  Like me, she has a day job.  Like me, she reads romances.  Unlike me, she's producing and published (Knit Now!).  And because she's producing, she needs her work photographing.

Which is where I come in.

It's a little known fact (yeah I know, I'm full of them) that before I took up writing, I had for three years devoted myself to learning photography.  I learnt it to the extent I became a part time wedding photographer.    I had the gear, I had the website, and damn it, I actually got paid.

Dream stuff right? 

Unfortunately, running a photography business alongside a day job and a family is kind of impossible if you want a life and turning my hobby into a service business took the fun away.  The urge to write again was growing in me, so bye bye photography, hello writing.  Only like riding a bike, you don't forget. 

A suspicious look from my little sister

So this weekend I dusted off my camera and started to snap.  And what's more, I looked at my photography website for the first time in six months and realised it needed an overhaul.  In fact, I got so stuck into the world of playing with pixels and redesigning my website that hours passed and suddenly I realised an important thing....

I'd gotten creative. 

And it felt like I was coming back to life.  

There's a funny thing about doing something, anything, creative - from cooking to music, from knitting to painting, it all cross fertilises

Yesterday I started sketching on my (new) ipad.  Before I knew it I was sketching characters and weaving stories for them to live in.  

Ipad sketching (named  Fire Lady Perla by my pre-schooler)

Today I was engrossed in a photoshoot - and again, it's a kind of storytelling. 

It all cross fertilises. 

A wise lady once said to me that one should redefine oneself by themes, not by activities.  So, instead of saying: "I like painting," think about what it is about painting that does it for you.  Is it playing with ideas?  Or capturing something precisely?  Is it getting messy, or learning something new?  

Because nothing does it for you forever.  At some point you may dry up... at that point you should feel free to turn elsewhere and to explore.  To develop your worlds in other spheres and be comfortable and confident that at some point, it will all come full circle again.

I can be an artist, a writer, a photographer, a cook, a mother, a worker, a gardener (well no, not that)... the only important thing is that I'm me. 

If you want to see more of what I'm up to visually, feel free to pop on over to Cocoa Rose Boutique Photography to visit! 

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Batman and Aeneas... from Furor to Pietas

Let's roll back the clouds of time.  It's seventeen years ago.  I'm sitting at a desk next to my friend Jenny and I'm doodling.  I always did.  Mr Martin is standing up the front of the class and he's talking about Book 2 of the Aeneid in his southern drawl. He's talking about pietas and he's talking about furor, about the way the epic hero is transformed from the Greek ideal to the Roman.   He's describing Aeneas' exit from Troy - the moment he lifts his father onto his shoulders and becomes a veritable symbol for the value the Romans most prized: pietas. 

Fast forward three years. I'm in a portacabin masquerading as a seminar room, sitting at a desk scribbling about the Milton.  I'm tracing the emergence of a heroic ideal from the Iliad through to Paradise Lost. I'm winging it and writing about pietas and furor and thanking my lucky stars that Mr Martin was such a good teacher.  I love me a bit of epic tradition, so I ace the essay. Go me.   

Fast forward fourteen years and I'm setting the sofa in our cluttered study watching Batman Begins projecting onto a dirty white wall.  I'm watching Batman lifting the unconscious body of his mentor Henri Ducard (aka Ra's Al Ghul) onto his shoulders, saving him from an inferno.

It's a turning point in the movie.

The young Bruce Wayne has just made a monumental decision.  He has chosen to serve justice and law, instead of personal vengeance.  It  is crucial to his development as a heroic symbol and affects every decision he makes from that day forward.

HEY! Think I,  I've come across that before! 

In the film, Batman is torn between the philosophy of assassin Ra's Al Ghul who is a proponent of self and will: 
"The will is everything. If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely"
And the philosophy of Rachel Dawes, a childhood sweetheart who works in the DA's office and is a passionate believer in law and justice: 
"Justice is about harmony. Revenge is about you making yourself feel better, which is why we have an impartial system."
Batman chooses Rachel's path in his actions, but must always struggle with the emotion which drives him.  This is encapsulated in a line which Rachel says to Bruce Wayne and which later, as Batman, he repeats back to her:

Rachel to Bruce Wayne: "..But it's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you."

Later, Batman says to Rachel: "It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me."

Rachel is an emblem of pietas, the supreme value of the Roman ethos which embodies devotion to one's family, one's country and one's mission, a "self-less sense of duty".  She is stoical, believing in state and justice over self. 

Ra's Al Ghul is an emblem of furor, violent madness, senseless fury, passionate desire - albeit one disguised by the mantle of apparent physical control. He channels anger and will over state. 

The battle between the two, externally and internally is the central conflict of the film.  It is also a central theme in the Aeneid.  Where Homer's heroes, such as Achilles, are individualistic, prizing personal honor and glory above all else, Virgil's hero Aeneas redefines heroism.  His hero overcomes his individualism to strive for what is best for the state. 

And then we have Batman.  What does Batman say about our culture and our values?   What does his conflict mean for us? 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

More sunshine! Ten Obscure Facts About Laura A Shamas

I'm a big fan of Laura A. Shamas, playwright, mythologist and author of Pop Mythology: Collected Essays.  She's a constant source of mythological inspiration and that's why I tagged her in the sunshine challenge.  Unfortunately for us Laura doesn't have a blog of her own, but she kindly agreed to let me publish her ten obscure facts on my blog. 

Over to the lovely Laura... 

Thank you, Meg, for this fun opportunity. I loved reading yours!

Ten surprising / Obscure / Unknown Facts About Me
- Laura A. Shamas

At a writers conference I attended a few years ago, some well-known scribes revealed the numerous jobs they’d held throughout their careers. My 10 “unknown facts” are based on my earliest jobs, the ones that I had between the ages of 14 – 22.

1) Flower Seller. When I was 14, I began to sell flowers from a flower cart on street corners. It was a minimum wage type of job, and I enjoyed working with the beautiful buds, all locally grown (but not by me). I could pretend I was “Eliza Doolittle” in My Fair Lady, but with an Oklahoma accent.

2) Seamstress. Also at 14, one of my best friends and I began sewing blouses for profit. We’d invest $1 per shirt in materials, sold them to a retail store for $5, and they’d mark them up to $20 as their price. These were labor-intensive types of shirts, sort of like peasant blouses; it took us about 8 hours of labor per blouse. We embroidered half of them, too. Our mothers couldn’t believe how entrepreneurial we were.

3) Food server at a Mexican Restaurant. At 16, I began to work in restaurants. I won’t name this one, but it’s part of a successful franchise-- a sort of theme park/restaurant type of venture. It was gigantic; hundreds of us were on the floor at a time. I started as a food worker. You had bring to customers seconds from the kitchen and refill their sopapilla baskets. Later, I graduated to door greeter (“Hello! Welcome to Casa --------“), then a seater (“Today, we’re going to seat you in the beautiful Waterfall Room”), cashier (“We hope you had a pleasant meal”), and finally, the penultimate best job: Treasure Room Girl. As Treasure Room Girl, you got to sit on a throne and hand out free candy and toys to children. Who wouldn’t love that? The only downside was you had to answer the phone, too.  There were lots of prank phone calls. Twice, I answered the phone to bomb threats--that fortunately turned out to be false.

4) Waitress at a Pizza Restaurant. Also at 16, I began waiting tables in a pizza restaurant. The tips there were pretty good but the cooks were sort of crazy. I was always scared when I had to give my orders to them—four guys in their twenties. One night, a cook tried to throw me into a dishwashing machine. Another time, when I was leaving the kitchen, I heard a huge THUMP on the door behind me. I flipped back the swinging door and saw a cook had thrown a large carving knife at me as I’d left the kitchen! Fortunately, my brother became a busboy there and these types of things stopped.

5) Movie Theater Cashier. At 17, I began to work as a cashier in a movie theater; I got to sit all by myself in an art deco ticket booth facing a busy street (a thoroughfare infamously known as “the Restless Ribbon” because it attracted mindless “cruising”). I really liked that job because I could read a book in the booth while the movies were on. And I could see parts of movies every night whenever I liked.

6) Singer in a Restaurant. I was also part of a singing duo with one of my best friends. When we were 18, we landed a featured daily lunchtime job singing in a restaurant. Again our parents couldn’t believe it: we were the featured lunchtime entertainment in this cavernous place. We were high school seniors, and got to leave school at 11:30, Monday through Friday, for the job. Thank goodness for senior privileges. Unfortunately, we only lasted as the lunchtime entertainment for a month. I don’t know how many complaints they got, but one day, the restaurant management told us it was over. We took our tip jar and went home.

7) Library Worker. While I attended college, I was a library worker. I got the job at 18--because of my very first college roommate. The position had been hers, but then she decided to go to New York--where she promptly became a Broadway star. She recommended me as her replacement for the library job; I felt so lucky to have it. As a book shelver, I remember being stuck in a service elevator one day for an hour, caught between floors with my loaded book cart. But that was the worst thing that ever happened.

8) Extra in a Sitcom. In college, one of my friends knew a sitcom producer who needed some college students to be ongoing extras for 6 episodes. So about 15 of us got to be on this TV show. Since we were playing college students (I was 19), we got to wear our own clothes. None of us had any lines, but we did get to be in shots with stars. When we watched the show later on TV, if we were on camera, we were so happy: “Can you imagine if we had a speaking line? Oh my God! Oh my God!”

9) Disco Singer on a Demo. I had a friend who was a songwriter, and at 21, I was asked to be a lead singer on a disco demo for a major record label--to try to sell a song to a famous performer. My friend had fired 2 other vocalists from this demo (I can’t remember why). My friend begged me to help him out. So I did it. I had so much fun in that studio; getting paid was icing on the cake. All the other tracks had already been laid down, including an orchestral track. It was as if I were singing with a full band and strings. But I don’t think my songwriter-friend ever sold that disco song.

10) Movie Critic/Stringer. After I graduated from college, I moved back to Oklahoma for a while. Back there, I was reading the local newspaper and I noticed they didn’t have any female movie critics. So, at 22, I wrote a letter to the entertainment editor pointing this out. He wrote back: “Shamas, if you want to write movie reviews for us, you have a job.” So, I became a film critic/stringer. I was given the “C” level films to review, but I got free movie tickets! I think I made about $85 per review, but that’s how I got started in freelance journalism. 

You can follow Laura on Twitter and find her website here

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Katniss Everdeen and the Minotaur

This weekend I watched the Hunger Games for the first time.  I saw watched.  What I mean is devoured whilst sitting at the edge of my seat, finger nails in teeth.  The Hunger Games is a great film: great, complex characters, a thought provoking plot with contemporary resonances and a kick ass heroine who isn't an ass herself.

Suzanne Collins' got the idea for the Hunger Games when flicking between reality TV shows and coverage of war atrocities.  It explores the impact of violence upon young people, the impact of celebrity. 

It reminded me of another story.

More than sixty years ago Mary Renault wrote a pair of books based on the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur called The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea.  It told the story of Theseus being sent to Crete as part of Athens' tribute (seven young men and seven young women).  In Renault's version they became bull leapers, different from their peers, facing death on a daily basis, become strong, lean and in the end, leading an attack on court that exploited them.

The young tributes had been torn from their homes, tasted violence and death and known celebrity.  When they returned it was to a hero's welcome - and vilification.  The young people who had acted so bravely in Crete struggled to fit in. They were different, marked and changed forever.

And that's why I can't wait to find out what happens next for Katniss.  How will she deal with the challenges that Theseus faced?  How heavy will her victor's crown be?

Damn I love Greek Mythology.

And the Hunger Games.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Sunshiney Me and Ten Surprising Facts (Cheers Jeffrey)

There aren't many people in this world who are half Ferengi and half Klingon, but Jeffrey Hollar is one.  He's also a double black belt, a cunning linguist and he's taken Dirty Harry on his own turf.


If you aren't following his blog you should.  His writing is dark, funny and original.  If you aren't following him on Twitter you should.  His tweets are dark, funny and original. 

Jeffrey got awarded a sunshine award by the ever lovely Afsaneh K and you know what?  He passed on the torch.  So here's my shot at telling you ten Little Known Facts about myself.

Ten surprising / Obscure / Unknown Facts About Me

1. In my early youth I had a mean line in Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas impressions from The Vikings to the Sons of Taras Bulba.   I spent a fair bit of time galloping up and down the kitchen shouting, "over the canyon!" 

2. I used to make silver foil shoes for fairies and leave them on the window sill. The fae must have disdained my design skills.  They never picked them up. 

3. The only language at which I excelled was Ancient Greek.  I got a first.  Can't even read the alphabet now :-(

4. When I was at school I came second in an audition to star in a BBC drama, thus missing out on my chance for child stardom.  Oh How Different it might all have been.

5. My parents are strict catholics and named me after a woman who was crushed under a barn door and then had her hand cut off.  Sadly for them I don't aspire to follow her example.

6. My life is punctuated by Momentous Moments In Science.  When I was born, my mum shared a ward with the mum of the World's First Test Tube baby. This year, I shared my birthday with the Higgs Boson.  One day I'm going to find out I'm Bionic. Or an android. Or genetically mutated.  One can only hope.

7.  I've given birth once and my waters never broke.  My baby was born underwater still in her caul which means she's magical and mysterious and destined for greatness.  Like I didn't know that already. 

8. I took classics A-level purely based on my love for Clash of the TitansI'm still completely obsessed with classics so it's fair to say that Harry Hamlyn changed my life. 

9. When I moved to Scotland a fortune teller told me that I should stop drinking fizzy drinks (I don't, never did), plant a rose bush and become a landscape gardener.  I don't frequent fortune tellers.

10. I still sometimes check the back of wardrobes to see if I might get into Narnia.  You just never know.

Now to spread the sunshiney love.... wouldn't you like to know these people better?

Rachel Brown (@brownrach)
Sophie Moss (@SMossWrites)
J D Wenzel (@JDWenzel)
Laura Ward (@magic8track)
J T Vancouver (@JTVancouver)
Patricia Clift Martin (@pmcblonde)
Melpomene Selemidis (@melpomuse)
Chris Ledbetter (@Chris_Ledbetter)
Laura Shamas (@LauraShamas)
Chinaman (@TheSillyPoint)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Five Sentence Fiction: PIRATES!

I'll confess it.  I'm a Five Sentence Fiction virgin.  But I keep stumbling across Five Sentence Fictions on all manner of blogs and thinking my WORD they are jolly good!  Or in Twitter speak, TOTALLY awesome sauce.

And I like that Lillie McFerrin who seems to be in charge of it all.  She's a good egg.  So I thought I'd give it a go and this week her theme is PIRATES.  Now, you'd think with a theme like that and a penchant for historical romance  I'd be swashbuckling your ass.  But no.  I was in a gloomy frame of mind and decided to plump for human trafficking and lascivious space pirates.  Yeah.

So there.


When she slept she dreamt of fetid darkness, the heat of women’s bodies pressed too close in the heavy wooden crates which groaned like a chorus of tortured men as they shuddered with the motion of the ship.  

“Awake, Subject 13097087.” 

Opening her gritty eyes she stared up at the bulbous face of one of Them - the creatures whose vast ships had turned the skies black, who had sucked the world dry and stowed Earthlings like toy soldier regiments in this vast hull.  

Thrusting a bar of food into her hands, the creature mechanically moved its antennae over her trembling body, searching for bruises, injuries, anything which would damage its acquisition. 

Its high pitched click of approval brought a strangled scream rushing up into her throat; her last thought was of the other ship, of darkness, of rough hands and death.  

Friday, 6 July 2012

What if....? Hektor and Achilles - lovers or fighters?

Written for my lovely fictionistas Kern, Ruth, Jenn and Stacey - some homo-erotic fan fiction based on the Trojan War cycle.  What if Hector was in love... and it wasn't with Andromache? 

Preoccupied Hector? 
Dreaming of You 

The Greek was bronze made flesh.

Lying twisted in sweat soaked sheets, he had dreamed of this moment.  It haunted him, taunted him, created a fever in his battle-hewn muscles.  He woke, screams choking in his throat and felt the confusion in his body, the heat in his loins, the fear stroking his spine.  Turning to Andromache, he would spread his hands on her silken thighs, lower his cracked lips to her like a man starved and thirsting.   

But he was not satisfied.

She was too soft, her cries too sweet.  The delicate smell of spices in her hair failed to rouse him.  Shuddering, he rolled to the side, clutched fistfuls of his hair and groaned.  Andromache leant over him, face creased with concern, murmuring endearments and reassurances.  “You occupied with this endless war, my love. There is so much death... This will pass, it is nothing.  You are our greatest warrior.  You will come back to me.”

It sickened him, suffocated him like death.

Gods!  How had he offended them to earn such torment?  To think, dream, see nothing but tumbled golden hair, gleaming skin, the flash of white teeth and bare feet.  To betray his wife nightly in thought if not in deed.   It was a plague upon him, shrivelling his manhood.  He was incapable now.  He thought of nothing but the duel which lay ahead.

The great gates opened.  They stood facing each other, dust and sand billowing in clouds around their feet. 

The Greek was bronze made flesh. 

Beneath his crested helm his eyes were merciless as the desert skies and a faint smile traced his perfect lips. 
Could he know? 


But slowly, intimately, Achilles’ lips pursed.

A kiss.

And in that moment Hector knew the Greek must die. 

Or he must.

Want a bit of swordplay Trojan? Come and get it