A King in a dress

I was listening to a podcast today and amongst all the great content included, there was one snippet of a story that stuck with me.

It was about a pre-teen boy who was, for whatever reason, wearing a dress. Someone else in his class stopped him and said:

“You can’t wear that. You’re not a princess”.

His reply?

“I can. I’m a King in a dress”.

If that’s not a perfect example of using creativity to change someone’s perspective, I don’t know what else is.

And, as writers, many of us have messages to deliver, as well as stories. Whether they be social, ethical or everything in-between.

Your creativity is a great tool, and it empowers you – giving you the ability to present things in a way that others can understand and empathise with. Use it wisely.

If you’re interested the podcast was ‘Guilty Feminist’ – which I highly recommend.

Did you hear the one about the internet and the spade?

The internet. It seems like such an all-powerful thing doesn’t it? A 24/7 access to everything around us, available at the touch of a fingertip.

A way to socialise, to work, to sell and to find information. A digital land of happiness, cat memes and dark, evil corners.

When I think of the internet, the first image that comes to mind is a giant cyber brain. That’s constantly pulsating and growing. Growing bigger and bigger by the day.

It’s a complicated thing. Few of us really understand it, and even though we take it as part of our day-to-day it’s still an awe-inspiring thing.

Let me take you now to the Georgian capital city of Tbilisi. A place of cobblestones and art Noveau buildings, among many other things.

One day, not so long ago, a 75 year old woman was out digging for scrap metal. She was just on the outskirts of the city and had been working really hard that day – the more scrap she got, the more money she’d head home with.

tibilisi

As she was digging her spade accidentally ripped through a cable. Naturally this worried her, but after a quick look around all seemed okay and there was no one around to notice. So she continued her day’s work, set the memory of the cable aside and as dusk fell across the city she headed home.

Meanwhile, web-users in neighbouring Armenia were having a tough day. No matter how hard they tried they just couldn’t get online. It took five hours for them to realise that something had gone wrong in Georgia, the country that provided 95% of their internet.

You’ve probably guessed what happened.

The cable that the old lady had damaged was a fibre-optic one that provided Armenia with their internet.

Sure they fixed it soon enough, once they’d realised.

But, it just goes to show that even though the cyber world around us is so advanced and complex, it isn’t invincible.

Something as simple as the spade can conquer the internet.

It’s the same with life. As intense and complicated as it may well be, we need to make time for the simple things and look out for the simple problems – as they could very soon evolve into much bigger problems.

Stephen King’s IT

IT is the story of a bunch of long-lost friends who go back to their home town to face something that has scared them since they were children.

“He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.”

Revisiting the past can throw up a lot of memories, and while ‘IT’ is a horror story, it covers a whole lot more. I could relate because, as an adult, ‘IT’ also took me back to when I was younger. When I was about thirteen I happened to pick up a battered copy of King’s ‘The Dark Half’ at a secondhand sale. Up until that point, as a reader, I’d always read ‘adult’ books but mostly westerns, spy stories and adventures.

But discovering Stephen King’s work opened up my eyes to a whole different genre. From that point on, and even now, I couldn’t help but be interested in the macabre. So, as a teenager, I devoured a vast majority of King’s backlog. The Stand, Salems Lot, Firestarter and even the lesser-known Insomnia – flashed before my eyes and disappeared into my mind.

As I got older, however, things changed and I moved away from King’s work. I got to that age where socialising becomes more important and, save for the odd novel, my reading fell to the side. I’m pleased to say that as I hit my early twenties my passion for books fully came back, but I never returned to King.

IT was one of his works that I hadn’t read and after seeing a teaser for the upcoming movie I mentioned it, and so my girlfriend kindly got me a beautiful copy. Thus I committed to 1000+ pages of King once more. Travelling back in time to revisit an author, and an imagination, that had gripped me so tightly in its thrall as a teenager.

IT

The book unfolds like a weird and very lucid nightmare. An endless stream of interupted thoughts and unusual occurances whirl around the characters’ heads. All the while followed by a niggling sense of inevitability as they’re brought towards their fate.

“Swear to me swear to me that if it isn’t dead you’ll all come back.”

A series of child murders have been happening in a small American city and a bunch of 11 year old outcasts who call themselves ‘the losers’ have their suspicions that the killer isn’t mortal. Of course none of the adults will believe them…or even raise a hand to help them. The theme of isolation becomes more and more relevant as things go on – which is great writing, because isolation is often the root of fear – imagine how you’d feel if you were seeing things that no one else could see? As if life wasn’t tough enough they’re also constantly threatened by the local bully, who ends up becoming one of the most fucked-up ‘human’ characters that King has ever created.

As children ‘the losers’ are able to defeat the weird entity that is ‘IT’ and, soon afterwards, all but one of them moves well away from the area. The local bully’s friends are killed and he ends up being sent to the local asylum. By the way, if you’re interested as to why there are so many pictures of clowns whenever you see anything about IT, this is because the entity is able to manifest as your biggest fear…which, for children, can often be a clown.

“Oh Christ, he groaned to himself, if this is the stuff adults have to think about I never want to grow up”

Fast forward some twenty-five years and ‘the losers’, all now successful in their own ways, are called back to the town. Murders are taking place again and they feel that they have unfinished business.

itttt

I warn you now, this isn’t one for the faint-hearted. Sure, that sounds obvious as it’s a horror novel, but there are more themes here than just a nasty looking clown. Everything from abusive parenting to domestic abuse is covered in some depth – and there are a couple of scenes where the minors have sex, which I didn’t expect and didn’t feel were at all necessary to the narrative.

For me, overall, this was a triumphant return to the world of King. It thrilled me, it had me rooting for the characters and it took me back to what it was like to be a child. What it was like to believe that there are weird things in the woods, and what it was like to run from bullies and to think that some kid giving you shit in school was the most important thing ever.

People Stephen King Troops

IT, itself, is a fascinating villain and not one that I ever hope to run into in my day-to-day humdrum. What I liked as well is that, as scary as It was, It still felt beatable – which gave a sense of hope that is often never found in these books. An unbeatable bad guy is a cliche we could do with taking a break from.

“Kill you all!” The clown was laughing and screaming. “Try to stop me and I’ll kill you all! Drive you crazy and then kill you all! You can’t stop me!”

When this was first released, most reviewers were on King’s case about the length. I get that, and as an independent reviewer, it troubled me too – the book comes to around 1,300 pages. I’m not so sure that it needed them all. There were pages and pages of exposition, and reflections on all sorts of topics – everything from checking out a book at the library to how larger people are often light on their feet. A few times I had to fight my inner-editor to make sure that I didn’t allow myself to skim-read certain paragraphs and pages.

I understand that characterisation is important, particularly for the seven or eight main characters. But so many pages were spent delving into the backgrounds of some really unimportant people. For example I read all about one of the character’s school life – his IQ, his parents, how he killed his younger brother (not relevant to the story) only to see him get killed by IT some two or three pages later. All well-written, sure – but as we know it doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day as it is – so when we pick up a book we want it to be at least a little concise and nuanced at times. Occasionally brevity can often be the key to great writing (he says after writing a huge review).

“once you get into cosmological shit like this, you got to throw away the instruction manual”

All in all, you should read ‘It’ if you like the genre or if you want something different from your Gillian Flynns and Steig Larssons. It’s out there. It’s a raving, lucid nightmare of childhood fears, adult anxieties and some hairy fucking moments.

4/5 – if it weren’t for the extra 300/400 pages and some of the strange sexual scenes it would have hit the 5. It has definitely made me want to go back and search out some of the King stories that I never got round to reading back in my heyday…

Hamburg, the Beatles and the sweet music of success…

As regular readers will know, I’m a big believer in the theory that it takes 10, 000 hours of practice to be good at something.

But, while practice makes perfect, there are other factors that can control success and give some of us an exceptional advantage over others in our field. While I don’t claim to be successful just yet, any talent I have when it comes to writing stems back to the hours of practice I put in as a youth.

My parents’ house was so far out of town I had little else to do on some evenings but write and be creative.

But, let’s use a more interesting case study…’The Beatles’. If you haven’t heard of them…then…where have you been? They defined popular music and elevated it to the dizziest contemporary heights imaginable.

Many people still wonder, even now, what it was that made them so good. I believe that part of it was due to some gigs they played in a German city…

An unlikely twist of fate took them to the city of Hamburg when they were very young…and it was that same twist of fate that helped give them something of an edge over the other bands and solo artists of the day.

beatles

Back in the day, as a small band of high school kids, The Beatles were lucky enough to get an invite to play in Germany. And, they took it – one of the reasons being that they had access to a lot of alcohol and sex over there. The other reason (more relevant to this post) is the access that it gave them to clubs who wanted them to play live music to big crowds.

When it came to gigging, the Hamburg clubs differed to the English ones in a key way. Back in Blighty the guys were asked to play a set for an hour, or maybe two if they were lucky.

But, in Hamburg, the club promoters wanted them to play all night – meaning that they’d often be going for 6-8 hours!

Imagine that…gigging for eight hours! I can only imagine the sweat.

Not only that, but as the guys’ popularity skyrocketed in Germany, the Hamburg clubs wanted them to play every night of the week. Some fifty-six hours of performing. In total, after several trips, they played for 270 nights in just over a year and a half.

This meant that the guys had to improve their stamina, their stage presence and, above all, they had to learn more songs.

They couldn’t get by with just playing their go-to ‘hits’ they had to learn loads of new songs and even different genres – such as a few jazz numbers. This gave them a discipline on stage that other bands at the time just didn’t learn – plus, it gave them plenty of time to practice until they made it perfect.

As John Lennon said; “in Liverpool we’d only ever done one-hour sessions, and we just used to do our best numbers, the same ones, at every one. In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing”.

So, as someone who wants to make it as a creative – you need to look out for your Hamburg. Something special that gives you an edge or an experience over the others. Whether it be using weird dreams you had as a kid to influence your art, or maybe booking a month off work and going to your grandparents’ quiet holiday house on the coast to write uninterrupted.

The research for this post mostly came from Malcolm Gladwell’s fantastic book ‘Outliers‘, I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in success and talent.

by Ashley Brown 2017