A sea of humanity with just one message

A sea of humanity with just one message

Interesting times, interesting times.

Some time ago a guy called Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote about what he called black swan events.  Putting it into my own language, it’s about an event that appears to come out of nowhere and bites you on the arse.  Okay, okay, he didn’t put it quite like that, he was far more elegant, but you get the picture.  Post event, those impacted by the black swan rationalise why it was bound to happen and invariably say  ‘we should have seen that coming.’  Black swans invariably lead to tipping points when things take a completely different direction to what existed before.

I’ve used the ‘black swan’ term myself in the past when working with those involved in an offshore incident. In the main, folk sensed something wasn’t quite right but due to operational imperatives, lack of time or resources didn’t do anything about it and carried on.  Then the black swan swooped down and landed, (apparently out of nowhere), and all hell was let loose – and their arse was bitten.  A tipping point was created.

Here are some figures for you: in the UK young black men are nine times more likely to be jailed than young white men;  three times more likely to be tasered;  six to nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by police.  Oh, and whilst black people account for just three percent of the UK population, they make up 12% of the prison population. 

In the US, African Americans have it even worse, the most recent killing being a case in point – George Floyd, killed on 25 May by Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin.  That the current occupant of the White House has added fuel to the fire is no surprise.  This is the man described by former Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow on BBC Any Questions recently, as ‘The most rancid, racist and repellant occupant of the White House in my lifetime.’  Couldn’t have put it better myself.

As for police killing black men in the US. Just put that into a web search, the numbers may not surprise you.

Now, Floyd’s killing by Chauvin was videoed. It went viral. The oxygen thief in the WH must have thought it would soon blow over.  Many others in his circle would have felt the same.  And this is where the black swan element comes in – it didn’t blow over.  The black swan landed.  A tipping point.  In landing, the black swan uncorked a rage, a fury that was intense in its feeling of justice denied. 

I’m reminded of a quote from former slave Frederik Douglass, (1817 – 1895): ‘Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass’ published in 1845 is well worth reading.  It still resonates as do many of his quotes. Look up, ‘What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?’  The rest of the quote is searing, to put it mildly. And justified. And relevant – to those disenfranchised by society due to the colour of their skin; their belief system; sexual orientation; race; poverty; education, and so on and so on…

This particular black swan has been circling for decades.  There have been times when it appears to have landed due to the killing of a black man by the police, but it merely continued to circle.  So when Officer Chauvin killed George Floyd, perhaps those who are equally rancid, racist and repellant thought nothing would come of it.  How wrong they were.  It landed.  One can only hope that a tipping point has been created that will unleash the change that is so necessary.

The heading of this blog says it all, there is a sea of humanity with just one message – enough now, enough now. For those who believe this will blow over, I will merely quote a verse of Maya Angelou’s ’Still I rise’.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air,

I’ll rise.’

J J Mitchell
No one left behind

I’m merely writing fantasy…

I’m merely writing fantasy…

I’m coming to the end of my second book, ‘Kold Kronicles Book Two:  Defiance’ and am in the middle of writing a big battle scene.  As always you need to balance being descriptive with not glorifying violence.  Can be a difficult balance as I know from my own experience and reading comments of other authors.  However, I need to remember, I’m merely writing fantasy…  

The other thing about coming to the end of something that, in this case, has taken almost two years to write is that you begin to feel a sense of loss.  Y’know, guilt, sadness, but most of all, what the hell am I going to write about in the next book?  That’ll be ‘Kold Kronicles Book Three:  Deliverance’ then.  

As you would imagine, research is important in any writer’s work.  For Book 2 I looked at the impact of a laser guided bomb exploading near a human body.  So, what effect would that have?  Answer – it ain’t nice.  What would be the result of gene splicing a Brazilian Banana Spider with a Camel Spider, aka Wind Scorpion?  Answer – somewhat frightening.  How dangerous would a group of gene spliced super beings be, i.e. the Schlachten, as a war-fighting unit?  Answer – you don’t wanna know.  Seriously, you don’t.  They even frighten me.  However, I’m merely writing fantasy…

Let’s then consider the world your characters inhabit.  You can look at the works of various political writers from throughout history for help in devising what you might create, (remember, I’m merely writing fantasy.)  I’ve found Montesquieu’s philosophy that ‘government should be set up so that no man need be afraid of another’ quite interesting.  Look him up, quite a guy.  Obviously good points as well as some that are questionable, but he was a writer of his time, 1689 – 1755.  Context again.  He talks about the distribution of power.  About not linking the three elements of judicial, legislative and executive power because if you do:  There would be an end of everything, were the same man or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals. (‘Montesquieu:  The Spirit of the Laws, Book XI Chapter 6)

He also defined three types of  government:  republican, monarchical, and despotic. In the first the people is possessed of the supreme power; in a monarchy a single person governs by fixed and established laws; in a despotic government a single person directs everything by his own will and caprice.

So, I’m thinking this could be the basic scenario for the next book.  The Connectome, (the über bad, rich group mentioned in Book 2), are after a world which will bend to their will and allow them to accrue even more wealth.  To succeed requires a puppet head of state.  They make use of what I laughingly call ‘social media’, (I’ve written about that misnomer here); ‘dark money’ and a browbeaten, morally corrupt, bicameral system;  add blackmail and violence and the result is the placement of a head of state who has, by using all of the above, been able to conjoin all three elements of the society concerned into one person’s hand – his.  

This, as Montesquieu wrote:  … would be an end of everything…  Since you’d have a despotic government, where ‘a single person directs everything by his own will and caprice.  Yep, that’s worth thinking about as a framework since, as I’ve already mentioned, I’m merely writing fantasy.  

Let me build on that a tad further.  In the next book I’m considering a scenario where a key character is someone whose business background and personal appetites make him puppet to an enemy power; who uses ‘social media’ to direct foreign and domestic policy utilising dog whistle politics; who alienates foreign countries who have been allies for decades;  responds to opponents with vitriol and spleen;  and who, finally, is unaware of those manipulating his strings.  He thinks he is successful because he knows his base believe he can do no wrong – no matter what he does; whilst others cannot believe that their country is sleepwalking into tyranny.  That is until my ‘good guys’ take him on. 

Hmmm, could work.  Needs some character development and fleshing out a bit though.  

Obviously, this scenario can never happen since I’m merely writing fantasy.   

Phew!  What a relief, eh?

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind’ 

On the generosity of other writers.

On the generosity of other writers.

In my last blog I wrote about the generosity of other writers.  There are so many who are willing to share their points of view, what they’ve learned and how others can learn from their mistakes.  I like that.  

Currently I’m setting the scene for a battle between the good guys and the bad guys.  The thing here is that you simply can’t just launch into something and say, battle ensued.  Where’s the context?  Where’s the development of expectation?  Where’s the satisfaction when battle does commence and your bad-ass good guys go against the bad-ass bad guys? Read more

Hold on to your humanity, it may be a rough ride…

Hold on to your humanity, it may be a rough ride…

Most writers write because ‘they have to.’  The ‘they have to’ comes from, as in my case, a character yelling at me that I had to tell her story; create a different world that will entertain and, by reflecting issues that exist in our own world, also make people think. Entertaining the reader and making them think, in my view the ideal mix when writing.  Of course we would like to make money from what we do, it’s a form of affirmation that we are good at what we do and that people like what we’ve written.  I’m no different. However, and this is the big thing, most writers write because ‘they have to.’  

For fantasy writers like me, the source for much of the material I use comes from what I see around me. However, if you did write about some of it people would think it too unreal, even in a fantasy world.  So, let me paint a scenario for you.  A sexual braggart, bully and congenital liar wins an election; people are angry and vote to leave an economic union that has benefitted them for decades; those who caused the financial crash in 2008 have yet to be penalised for their criminality;  overt bigotry related to sexual orientation, race, creed… You get the picture, and it’s not a pretty one.

Then, let’s add that some of the world’s most famous people have died in 2016 – you’ll have your own memories here.  So have some less famous but incredibly influential individuals.  For example, look in Wikipedia for Donald Ainslie Henderson.  You’ll see that he died on 19 August 2016 aged 87.  You haven’t heard of him?  Well, he was the director of a ten year international effort between 1967 and 1977 that eradicated smallpox throughout the world and launched international childhood vaccination programmes.  Some man.  Some legacy, eh?

And what do we have for 2017?  Well, let’s hope it’s not the same shite that we’ve had in 2016. 

But I won’t hold my breath. 

I’ll write again in 2017 but until then, hold on to your humanity and decency.  It’s all that we’ll have against some of the forces that are currently riding high in this world of ours.  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

There are times when a picture does say it all…

There are times when a picture does say it all…

Y’know, as a writer I look around me at the worlds of business, politics and finance and think, ‘I couldn’t make this up.’  

This was reinforced for me when the love of my life and I were at the Edinburgh Book Festival recently and saw James Oswald and Gunnar Staalesen.  These are two authors who seriously know their stuff.  Not only are they incredibly successful, (multiple books published, films, TV, and in one case, a statue in the town in which the main character lives), but they are also delightful, funny and insightful human beings.  In sum, and to put it mildly, they do good stuff.  Obviously I am not envious, (he lied.)  

Anyway, to continue, one thing that particularly struck me was the answer to the question of where did they get their ideas from.  The reply was that it was less of a problem of not knowing what to write, but more what not to write about. 

‘There’s so much around you, all you have to do is look.’  

I understand and agree with this wholeheartedly.  

The reason for this train of thought is a recent picture I came across.  It’s by Norman Rockwell and called ‘The Golden Rule’.  The picture appeared on the cover of the The Saturday Evening Post, 1 April, 1961, and can be seen, along with the article, here:  http://bit.ly/18KaXyg 

I think that what attracted me to the picture is its simple belief, powerfully depicted, in our common humanity. The common humanity he identifies so well remains, although you’d maybe think otherwise if you were fed only on a diet of Fox News, an oxymoron if ever I saw one, or believe the ranting of the blowhards within the political and financial elites.  I look around and see how so many with a vested interest in the status quo try to prevent change. I see hatred being stirred up for political reasons, setting our humanity against each other for the benefit of those creating this dissonance, this wasteful emotion.  I see many decent people being exhorted, goaded, to turn against each other.  They do this not realising the ‘nudge’ they’re being given by the media, the moguls that control it, and the vested interests that support and thus gain by it.  It takes a simple picture, printed over 55 years ago to remind us that our humanity is a constant.  

We forget that at our peril. 

Have a look at the picture, it really does say it all…  

J J Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

Some thoughts on humour, music and smells.

Some thoughts on humour, music and smells.

It’s a bit of a grey, overcast day here in Edinburgh so I thought I’d blog about something to lighten the day up – humour, music and smells. Why? They can add depth to your writing. However, all have to be appropriate otherwise it will ‘jar’ with the reader. 

Humour:  Here’s an awful joke for you, ‘What do you call a guy who likes to jump into leaves?’  Answer: ‘Russell.’  I know, I know, dreadful and it can make you wince, but there again, it made me smile when I first heard it. I also used it in the book.

Then there’s this three part joke: Q1: What do you call a donkey with only one eye?’ A: ‘A winky donkey.’ Q2: What do you call a donkey that only has, one eye and three legs?’  A: ‘A winky, wonky donkey.’  Q3: ‘What do you call a one eyed, three legged donkey that can also play the piano?’  A:  ‘A winky, wonky, honky tonky, donkey.’  Again, dreadful but also very funny.  (Tell this to a young child and just watch them collapse with laughter.)  I’ve also told this joke to a number of the guys I was with when I worked offshore – the ridiculousness of it invariably doubled them up and it soon became the rig’s in-joke for that hitch.  Most probably I won’t use it, but there again, if the situation warrants…

Music: It’s the same with music. There are times when you just stop what you’re doing and listen. With the development of web radio we now have thousands of stations from which to choose.  My own preference is for a more ambient style as personified by Soma FM and their station, ‘Groove Salad – a nicely chilled plate of ambient / downtempo beats and grooves.‘ Very restful and is the music to which I listen when writing. Advert free and supported by its listeners, it’s a delight. Try it out and think about supporting them as well. 

I’m also interested in stringed instruments since being given a ukulele a couple of years ago by my once in a lifetime love. Unlike me, Mac, one of the Normal characters in ‘The Kold Kronicles’, is pretty good at the ukulele. The downside, as he likes to phrase it, is that Linn, ‘when she’s had a few, likes to dance…  Not a pretty sight…’ Thus a mix of humour and the impact of music – and, it must be said, alcohol in Linn’s case when she decides to shimmy.

By the way, Mac’s uke isn’t a standard uke, it’s a tenor sized harp-ukulele and as you can see, it does actually exist.  Created by an outstanding luthier, Alistair Hay, Emerald Guitars. I have one and I love it.  

Synergy Uke Red Artisan (NPU) as Smart Object-1

Smells:  Then there are memories created by smells. They can be evocative of so many things.  

The good – the smell of the back of a newborn’s neck – beautiful. Fresh bread also comes to mind. I make my own and love the smell.  It is a smell of home and all that that word means – comfort, laughter, love and delight in being with another to name but a few.  

The bad – other smells, some of which are not so pleasant, but that’s for another time and a more dark mood.

So, think about using all the above when writing.  They can be evocative and powerful as a ‘mechanism’ if you want to create a particular scene. 

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

Varben – an introduction

Varben – an introduction

For those who have not yet read ‘The Kold Kronicles, Book 1: Discovery’, Varben are the life-partnered morphing soul weapon that Sylvern and Shadow use when in combat.

The Varben came about as I began to write some of the fighting scenes. There was a need for a weapon that was somehow different.  They are the Sylvern after all. 

I did some research on pre-modern combat weapons and, as usual, Wikipedia came to my aid. A quick search will provide you with a whole range of weapon types that can be considered when writing one-on-one combat. As I mentioned in a previous post, I find Japanese culture fascinating. Therefore, Alegria’s preference for Zastra morphing into a katana was a given.

As a matter of interest, Nux and his Varben, Yasuo, prefer a two-handed long sword with a large pommel, whilst Bracken and her Varben, Beth, prefer the Roman gladius. In Bracken’s case, it’s a weight thing. And an efficient way of killing thing. And it’s a pointy thing too…

As to how this partnership is created, well, Sylvern meld with Varben at The Choosing Place during their training to become Kombat Troopers. There again, sometimes they don’t. If this doesn’t happen, then that’s it. They are unable to continue their training as a potential Kombat Trooper. Varben cannot be directed as to with whom they will meld, they just know it. As do the Sylvern. The relationship between Sylvern and Varben is totally transparent with no hiding who you are.  Acceptance of all the strengths and challenges in each other’s character is a given. Each will die to protect the other. That is another given. 

In Alegria’s case, she melded with Zastra, (a Sanskrit word – look it up). Both mask their love by teasing the other. Honours tend to be even on that score. 

Then there’s Nux and Yasuo. She is gentle and wise and the relationship they have is less challenging. There again, with Nux not really being the Sylvern who many think he is, they have had the time to develop their relationship.  

Varben are a delight to write about and I feel they add some ‘colour’ to the world of The Korum.

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’

The Kold Kronicles – its genesis

The Kold Kronicles – its genesis

It’s interesting reading why some authors write what they do or even why they feel the need to write.  Some have something to say; others want to make a difference; and quite a few mention that the book demanded to be written.  Invariably, it’s a mix.  

I have to admit that the main reason for writing The Kold Kronicles was that Alegria, the main character, demanded to be ‘heard’.  As the book evolved, other characters, Nux, Bracken and so on, also began to develop a strong voice demanding that I also write about them.  So I did.  

My second reason for writing The Kold Kronicles is that I had something to say.  I wanted to take away the ‘glamour’ that can sometimes be associated with violence.  You’ll have seen the kind of thing I’m talking about. The main character, male or female, takes on seven or eight armed killers and within forty seconds has despatched all of them.  Usually quite graphically.  The sound of broken bones is heard and much gore is seen. The victor looks at all the vanquished bodies, usually corpses, shrugs and makes a pun / joke and walks out, unharmed, unbruised, and breathing quite normally.  There’s no smell of bodily fluids or matter, no screaming of the wounded, no bruised knuckles on the victor, nothing.  It’s clinical, it’s video gaming.  What I find disturbing is that many who see this kind of ‘entertainment’, (and I have no issues with it, it’s just not my preferred choice,) confuse it with the reality of fighting.  They think that if they become involved in something similar they’ll be able to do the same.  Unfortunately, reality kicks in, sometimes literally, and they end up in pain, in hospital and, sometimes, in prison.  

The Kold Kronicles can be quite violent and I have deliberately made it so.  I have also made clear the cost of any combat in which our protagonists are involved.  It’s the reason why the Sylvern have Healers and Talkers available immediately a War Band returns from any operation where combat is experienced.  

To repeat, any form of violence, be it verbal or physical, has a cost on all involved.  We only have to look at the recent events in Paris to see this is so.  Survivors will need time to recover not only physically, but also emotionally and mentally.  Those close to them require, and deserve, the same level of support and understanding.  

So, I wrote The Kold Kronicles because the characters ‘shouted’ at me to write about them.  It’s an adventure story, it’s about love, there’s meant to be some humour and it’s also a tad violent.  However, we forget the implications of violence at our peril.  That’s also what I wanted to write about.  Both were the genesis of The Kold Kronicles.  

JJ Mitchell

‘Never leave anyone behind…’