I claim to write science facts to science fiction and beyond. I have been, for some time now, more focused on the facts than the fiction. This remains the case – this year I have published or submitted around 10 scientific papers, which is an incredibly good year no matter how you look at it. So if we look at the fiction side of things, I’m still taking baby steps, but this is a long game and this was always the plan.
This year the goal was to read and write as much as I could, without worrying too much about what it was. In a sense, it was a quest to find my style, and more importantly, improve how I write. The only way to do that is to write. I now have first or second drafts of a handful of flash fiction, two and half shorts as well as two novels – one about the third done and the other a bit less, but both are fully planned.
What have I been writing? I would say SciFi, but if you’re after space cruisers and alien battles, there is not much here for you yet. Trust me, this to will come. Currently, there is a heavy dystopian influence in a lot of the work – possibly too much, but it is what it is and it is more symptomatic of where I have been coming from lately and where I am heading.
In my ongoing struggle to balance my day job as a scientist and my passion for science fiction it occurred to me that I could reconcile this by simply stating that:
I write science – from fact to fiction.
As a scientist one is typically writing about the latest results – at least that is what we would like to be doing. In reality we also spend an increasingly large amount of time writing project proposals, which is in fact writing about what we want to do in the near future, but is perhaps not even possible yet. Then, if one is really unlucky, one has to write “roadmap documents” and “vision statements”. Typically the later discuss what we can imagine to do if 5, 10, 20 years. This is very hard and requires a certain perspective over a field, or even many fields, of research. Furthermore, if we’re honest, once we get past five years, these uncertainty on these “predictions” rapidly increases. In polite company one might argue that these are educated guesses. If we were increasingly honest, we might simply say that they are a guess. Obviously, the time scales involved depend on the field, its maturity and how fast progress is being made.
So it is that with my science fiction writing, speculative fiction if you prefer, we can see that as simply an extension of this – typically I would be looking beyond the 10-20 year time scale, certainly into guessing territory, and imagining “what if?” In science fiction, I am free from the constraint that I actually have to prove or demonstrate what I claim will be true. Nor do I have to worry about respecting the currently accepted laws of Nature but the “what if” question remains the starting point.
Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid is a french proverb that dates back to 1835 (dictionaire de l’Académie). A more or less literal translation would be: little by little the bird makes its nest. In daily speech, the lazy things that we are, this is often shortened to “petit à petit”. As in: “How is it going?” … “Petit à petit” – little by little. It is extremely useful in a wide variety of situations, for example, when you really don’t want to go into detail about what you’re doing. More often though, it is an admission that you’re probably struggling to make progress at all today and you just want it (the day) to end so you can start fresh tomorrow.
So it was that this made me think of the life of a writer. We run around collecting all sorts of bits and pieces of ideas, text, pictures and weave them like threads into ideas until, eventually, some form starts to appear. A story. A nest. I’ll leave the metaphor there for the moment, but leave it as an exercise for the class – yes you – to run with that metaphor and see where you find yourself!
If you’re not here to make the world a better place and leave something lasting, why not?
This was the thought that hit me recently whilst on holidays. I was sitting in a boat on a canal in England with an old – in both senses – friend. We met as students at uni, I was late twenties and he was nearly 60. We would regularly meet for coffee and it was on one of those occasions that he decided to be serious and ask me THAT question – What do you want to do? I don’t recall whether I paused enigmatically, puffed on a cigarette, or finished off another espresso before responding – I was quite good at all three… I was young… relatively. I had forgotten my response but after all these years he still remembered. The response was simple: “I want to make a difference. I want to leave something behind.”
Simple, yet completely ambiguous. Probably quite pretentious as well. Looking back, I love the response. It screams attitude. The problem in real life is pulling that off. How does one go out and make a difference. There were no courses on making a difference at the uni – I checked. Actually, I didn’t, I just threw that in there for effect. Not sure it worked though. So this is where I put my old person hat on – it’s not mine, I borrowed it off my friend at the start of this post. Pay attention! That was directed at me, not you.
In shocking news just to hand, it appears that creativity has been killed in a senseless attack by another deadline. This is the latest casualty in a long line of deadline related incidences. Claims that it was premeditated are yet to be confirmed but if this is the case this is looking increasingly like this could be the work of a serial killer. Sources close to the creativity have indicated that there may have been previous attempts, again indicating that this is not just a random event.
Does this sound like your day? This year I set myself some challenges to ensure that my promise to myself to write, actually bears some fruit. In particular my 12 for 21 challenge. The downside is that I have often found myself running around like crazy at the last minute, or just after, trying to write something. This could be bad – I could waste your time, in which case I’m sorry. Alternatively, it could be good. Do a quick search for constraint breeds creativity and you get a huge list of responses where people scream out about how this is a good thing, a great thing, even a necessity. Jack white from The White Stripes makes a good point of it here.
The thing about constraining yourself is that it sometimes won’t allow you to express yourself the way you want, or as well as you want. But it often times forces you to express something you weren’t expecting, and that can be scary, but that’s when things can be really interesting. If you want to push boundaries and do something that is special, unique, you need to accept that you are the only one that can do it and you’re probably going to have to bleed to make it happen.
I had something to say. Oh, yes. Write like you own it.
I have been reading, mostly flash and short fiction, recently in an attempt to catch up on what is going on and get back to reading (fiction). I could now say something like – I don’t want to be critical but … but I am going to be critical and not because I have any authority but because I think that it needs saying. Some of you people aren’t taking your writing seriously enough. I know that’s going to come back to haunt me. It is not a question of style or grammatical errors, I am sure that if you have been curious enough to read this far then your abilities are far greater than mine. Indeed, most of it is impeccably written from a grammatical point of view, and even the structure is good – and more. Having said that, what I want to talk about is attitude.
Attitude, for me at least, is the single most important trait in absolutely anything you do. It is what defines you far beyond what you wear, the colour of your hair or your political views. Of course we could have the attitude of – who gives a shit – and while that tells me a lot, it also means I keep walking by. Similarly, as a writer, we could find ourselves saying – oh, that will be fine/nice/alright. Stop. The minute someone says something is “nice”, alarm bells should start going off. If you don’t think that your writing is as good as Vonnegut, Marquez, insert-your-most-revered-author, then why not? Seriously! You need to ask yourself what makes them so good while my writing remains “nice”? And you should answer – Nothing! Because there is no reason.
I always considered myself a committed person, more than a passionate one. If I tell you I am going to do something, I will try and do it even if it kills me. So why do I baulk at passionate? I tend to associate passion with excitement. We all know people that can’t sit still and want to shout out to everyone that they love what they are doing. I’m not sure I have ever been like that but I love people that are. It is infectious and I am always looking for these people. Personally, I tend not to be passionate about one particular thing – things come and go. I am more interested by ideas and sometimes I think that these can be too big to be passionate about.
I am committed to making a difference. The problem with trying to make a difference is that it is vague. When people at parties ask you what you do, you do not respond with – “oh, me, I make a difference”. Apart from sounding monstrously pretentious, it just doesn’t mean anything. Anyway, vague … When you are targeting something vague it is very easy to get distracted doing all sorts of things as a means to an end. Imagine the scientists that now spend half their time asking for money to do science rather than sciencing, or the writer spending so much time on Twitter/Facebook/Google+ building their network/following that they forget to write. They spend so much time talking about what they want to do, or doing something they feel will help in the long run, that they lose sight of their passion. I sit guilty as charged on all counts.
And so it is that once again I find one of my lives saturating the other. The things we do for money! I started this “12 for 21” series of posts to force myself to look at the beauty in the world, in life. After the last month, I am just grateful that I haven’t killed anyone… again. I was a day late, last month … because I forgot what day it was. This month I am 10 days late, but I was no longer the master of my life. I was a slave to others, and I had given myself willingly. Reflecting on what has happened, I realise that my life is not only not my own, it is out of control. It will have its revenge. It will kill me. It will try.
Nonetheless, I keep waking up alive. To be honest, this has been both a source of surprise and encouragement for over twenty years now. Admittedly, in my youth it was certainly more likely that some socially unacceptable behaviour on my part put me at risk, while these days, it appears to be the system doing its best.
This is a theme that has been with me for some time. I think that it may have taken this form from some lyrics in a song from the 60s band Love – unfortunately, my vinyl is unsearchable at the moment, so I can’t check which song … or, maybe it is from something completely different. In any case, what I’d like to say is that not only do we need both the beauty AND the ugly, we also need to see, feel, hear, taste and be immersed in both and everything in between.
The idea is as old and simple as life and death, but it is what gives us perspective. It is the balance! Indeed, a death need not be a bad thing, whether that be a person or an idea, it can allow something new to grow. I don’t mean that we should kill all the old people to make fertiliser. Nor does something need to die to allow something else to grow. We learn something about life from witnessing death. We learn, or at least we should, about balance and the complexity of the world around us.
We see this in writing, in stories, all of the time. The protagonist is always faced with hardship as they search for something better, either in themselves or in their world. If you are writing a character and they are either good or bad, black or white, then your character will be flawed.
The same holds, if we consider society itself as a character. Can we really separate utopian and dystopian societies, or do we just see that one is just slowly turning into the other and back again? There are always elements of both present.
Nothing is black and white. We live in a world of grey, and that’s a good thing.
After a year you would not wish upon your vanquished enemies, I have decided to wipe the slate clean. As such, I have removed everything from the MCD blog. Not to forget, that is not possible, but to move on, to remember and to see the beauty in life and this world.
As a distraction to writing my book, (because I need more distractions) I will be working on a series of essays for my Blog to remind me to look, listen and pay attention to the world around me. To look at what can sometimes appear mundane, and see something great, something fantastic, something spectacular!
I have set a target of one post per month, to be published on the 21st of each month. The 12 for 21 will consist of:
The necessity for the beauty AND the ugly.
What makes makes a good book/film. And where they both go wrong … and right.
Defining and comparing what makes Rock and Pop music. Without discussing music (too much).
Reading and writing – in particular, does reading a lot make you a better writer, or just sound like everyone else?
Is it exceptional? Is it extraordinary?
That should get me going for a while. In no particular order and subject to change at the whim of the author. Hope you enjoy the journey as much as I am looking forward to it.