Creativity in orderliness

Continuing my thoughts on the nature of the creative personality from last week, I’ve been considering how creativity can stem from orderliness. I believe it’s worth diving into these topics, because it’s well accepted that we are creatures of narrative. We all respond to the power of narratives and storylines when they are well told and they reflect something that approaches the truth of the world as we perceive and/or experience it. And that acceptance of the power narrative seems to cut across personalities. I know scientists and engineers who believe they have no need for written fiction, but they still love films and movies. They have to get their spiritual kicks from somewhere, I suppose.

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Chronscast Season 1 Episode 3 – An American Werewolf In London!

The latest episode of Chronscast is live! For this episode Chris and I were joined by Richard Sheppard, host of The Constant Reader Podcast, which takes a deep dive into all things Stephen King, from his numerous novels to the equally numerous movie and TV adaptations of his work.

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Creative Creatives

Creativity seems to be a fairly easy thing to define on the face of it. Those of us who are active in the pursuit of the creative arts will quite happily describe ourselves as creative, and the more po-faced of us will even deploy the word as a noun: we’re creatives, dahling.

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Literature Long Read: You Better Watch Yourself

In the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill 2 the titular character Bill, played by David Carradine, delivers a withering critique of Superman, saying that Clark Kent – a clumsy, skittish, slightly nerdy and shy figure – is Superman’s critique on the human race; that that personality is what’s needed to fit in. It’s a flawed critique, because it comes from a mindset that presumes that social hierarchies can only be formed through the application – and therefore the acquisition – of brute force and power. Superman is a God, and could easily subjugate the human race, goes the theory. But perhaps that critique is to be expected from a film that has the depth of a 90s beat ‘em up game (albeit a stylish one, admittedly) – Uma Thurman’s Bride goes through the levels, dispatching ever-more dangerous opponents and bad guys until she faces the Big Boss, who can only be defeated using a particular special move. It misses the psychological truth of Superman, and yet it simultaneously makes a very good point. Superman is popular precisely because he doesn’t subjugate the human race, despite his apparent ability to do so. And Bill’s right – his Clark Kent persona prevents him from doing so. What happens if you spend too much time in the costume? What are the psychological dangers of never taking it off? That’s what Watchmen is about.

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Chronscast Goes Live!

At long last Chronscast goes live today, with episodes 0 and 1 released!

Episode 0 serves as an hors d’oeuvre to the main podcast, telling listeners what we’re about and introducing Chris and myself. We also talk about our rationale for starting Chronscast, and how it links back to SFF Chronicles, and what listeners can expect.

For episode 1, Chris and I were joined on by Stephen Palmer, author of several genre novels including Memory Seed, Tommy Catkins, The Girl With Two Souls, and many more. His latest novel, Monique Orphan, was published in November 2021 by Infinite Press. And he stopped by here in December to promote it.

Stephen spoke with us about Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. We discussed the novel’s call to action on the part of the protagonist, its rich and complex themes, whether it really succeeds in laying down its atheist credentials, and how Pullman drew the narrative out of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost

Stephen talks about his own long career, including his latest novel Monique Orphan, the importance for writers of having something to say, and the equal but infuriating importance of luck to a career in writing.

We also stop by at The Judge’s Corner to learn about copyright, hear the winning entry from December’s 75-word writing challenge by Cat’s Cradle, and listen to some odd voicemails received by the Chronscast inbox.

If you’re into it, please make sure you like, share and subscribe – and where possible please leave a review with your podcast provider as this will help massively with promotion and visibility.

To listen to Chronscast, check your podcast provider, or use the links below. We are hosted by Anchor by Spotify, but we are also listed at the places below.

Apple Podcasts

Breaker

Castbox

Google Podcasts

Pocketcasts

Radio Public

Spotify

Stitcher

Chronscast RSS Feed

Brave New Year

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope the holidays gave everybody the chance to rest, reflect and recharge, ready for 2022.

Over the Christmas period I was invited by the splendidly mad AnRoinnUltra to contribute to a bit of festive science-fiction whimsy he’s called Twelve Robots of Christmas. The premise is simple: over the twelve days of Christmas, twelve writers would compose a very short piece of fiction to do with… you’ve guessed it – robots.

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Literature Long Read: There’ll Always Be An England in Mythago Wood

Dame Vera Lynn’s version of the unabashedly patriotic 1939 song There’ll Always Be An England would no doubt have helped bolster the spirits of the British Tommys during the unending days of slogging their way through the western front during World War II. The song is like White Christmas in that respect; just as the singer of that great American song is dreaming of a white Christmas precisely because he’s stuck in some Godforsaken part of the world where the chances of a white Christmas are precisely nil, the soldier listening to There’ll Always Be An England would have been aware that, for all its patriotism, it was undercut by the very real sense that, if the pendulum had swung a different way at crucial junctures during the War, there might very well not be an England at all. At least, not in the sense they knew.

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For Writers, Lady Luck Likes A Target. A Big One.

One of the themes that emerged from the Chronscast interview with Stephen Palmer which will be released in January was the extent to which luck influences the career path of a writer.

Stephen is the author of sixteen novels, so he should have some idea of how things work. Looking at his publication history, he’s chopped and changed publishers quite a bit, releasing books with different people with not much of a discernible pattern. And, to my mock-frustration, Stephen insisted that the overriding factor is getting most of these books published was luck. I pushed back on this. There must be more to it than that, I said.

So we talked around this for a while, but the thought about luck remained. In the last week I’d decided to send a reminding nudge to the final agent to whom I’d sent a query for back in February. I fully expected a pass, and instead I got a prompt reply, asking for a full manuscript. The agent in question said they’d had a baby over the summer, had parental leave, as well as having to deal with staff shortages at the agency. It struck me that we are beholden to luck, even if we do happen to have written a great book. Agents and publishers are beholden to mad, external events just as much as the rest of us, and who knows what the prevailing winds will be like on the day your submission gets to the top of the slush pile? An agent may have priorities at home, or be on leave for whatever reason, or overworked – all things that can affect mood and responsiveness. Of course we’d like to be able to perfectly compartmentalise our professional and personal lives, but we’re all human and it’s not so easy.

That’s not to be disparaging towards agents; if anything, it’s riding to their defence. To the amateur writer, nose pressed longingly against the window of the publishing industry, it’s easy to think that the inside of the building is filled with success and champagne and awards and critical acclaim, but it’s rarely like that, and is subject to the random flux and circumstance of the rest of the world.

Ok, so what to do about the thorny issue of luck? It seems tremendously unfair to reduce something that necessitates such profound degrees of effort, creativity, isolation, and vocation, to something as wilfully tricksy as luck, and yet I think we’d be acting disingenuously if we didn’t acknowledge it. I discussed this with one of my buddies, The Big Peat, in PMs recently, and we seemed to hit upon the idea that if you can’t negate the influence of luck, you can try and help it along a little.

To try and reduce the effects of luck you need to give yourself a bigger target to hit. In short, you need to write more stuff, and open yourself up to more avenues of opportunity. More stories + more avenues of opportunity = more chances of success. But this isn’t just a rehashed, wordy version of “throw enough mud, some of it will stick.” There is still art and craft involved; you could write more manuscripts than Barbara Cartland, but it’ll mean zip if they’re all hopeless. But having a cadre of several manuscripts under your belt does give you options, to perhaps try different approaches with different stories.

As for opening oneself to other avenues of opportunity, that means engaging with the world. Stephen mentioned that he’d arranged publishing deals in Facebook, by being a member of groups and thus in the right place at the right time. Engaging with writing groups, circles, communities. Then there are also self-publishing routes, including publishing to a blog, in the way I’ve done for a couple of my novellas. The more routes you have of spotting the opportunity, the more likely one will be able to present itself.

Finally, there are the opportunities you can carve out for yourself. Hugh Howie started out by publishing to his blog, as did Andy Weir. Perhaps there are initiatives that you can start, and from which you can build a platform. I would say that lots of people have that within themselves, if they can find the right sort of thing on which to focus. That’s the driving motivation behind starting Chronscast. The only caveat I’d add here is that it helps to try and build something bigger than yourself. There’s a world out there trying to promote itself, and most self-promotion is lost in the noise. What can you really offer people that’s of value? Make a name for yourself, and maybe the writing will stick in ways that you didn’t expect.

All of this gives Luck a bigger area on which to land. Perseverance can overcome the vagaries of luck. Of course, if you do work hard enough for an opportunity to present itself, you then have to be able to take it, or even discern if it’s the right one for you – but that’s another story.

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Yes, I know I keep banging on about it, but Chronscast Episode 1 will be released in early January. In-keeping with the general sentiment of the post above, there’s a monthly opportunity for Chrons members to have their own writing featured on each episode. The winners of the SFF Chronicles Writing Challenges will have the opportunity to record themselves reading their winning entries; any Chrons member can enter, and becoming is a member is free.

Guest blog: On Narcissism, by Stephen Palmer

To celebrate and promote the launch of his new novel Monique Orphan Stephen Palmer is currently doing a blog tour, and has kindly dropped by here on his travels around the blogosphere. Stephen recently recorded an episode of Chronscast, and amongst other things we got onto the topic of narcissism. An ancient personality trait – or pathological condition, one might say – informed and explained by myth, it’s a phenomenon rich with meaning and which warrants continual exploration.

Monique Orphan, the new novel by Stephen Palmer

I’m on record as being a fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. I especially like his notion of writing what he called, “adult novels with young characters.” The themes of Pullman’s masterpiece are of course broad, profound and universal: this, I like. So when I came to consider writing a second steampunk trilogy after my Factory Girl trio, I wondered what the main philosophical theme should be. In the end, for Conjuror Girl, I chose selfishness, or, as I’ve referred to it in my non-fiction writing, narcissism.

Narcissism has different meanings in different circumstances. In psychiatry it has a particular, specialised meaning. The great humanist author and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm by contrast used the term to describe how people filter the real world through their own perceptions: their desires, their prejudices, their beliefs, their language. This leads them into using faulty or inaccurate perceptive notions. Fromm used narcissism to mean: the narcissistic orientation is that in which a person experiences as real only that which exists within themself, while phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous. In my own thinking I’ve used the term in a still broader sense, applying it to the human condition.

This, then, is my theme, couched in terms of selfishness, but with reference to Narcissus. But we are all born narcissistic. Because we are conscious individuals, we do not use instinct as do animals. Instead, over years and decades, we accumulate a mental model of the world, with which we interact every second of our lives. This model however is least accurate when young, and has the property of narcissism because that self-centred characteristic is required in order to build a mental model, and because infants especially do not realise at first that the world outside their minds is independent. Their theory of mind – that other people may have different ideas and beliefs to their own – comes later in
childhood.

The extraordinary fact then – the tragedy, indeed – is that we human beings cannot help but be narcissistic in our young lives, and usually into our adult lives. It’s a fact of life. But we do have the opportunity of overcoming it in order to have a fruitful, equitable and just relationship with the world and the people in it. This process however is very difficult. We are all prone to deceiving ourselves in order to keep our beliefs and desires. This then, in essence, is the kind of perceptive, social and cultural selfishness I’m talking about – our propensity to believe our own beliefs regardless of the real world, and then to act upon those beliefs. In my view, if you dig deep enough, narcissism is at the bottom of all
aspects of inhumanity, because it negates reality – the world out there really is independent of us! – and because narcissists lack empathy, which is the foundation of consciousness.

You only have to look at America up to their most recent election to see the true danger of a narcissist. It is generally accepted that Donald Trump has a particularly intense narcissistic personality disorder, or, as I put it when I wrote about him, he is intensely narcissistic. As president, he could not accept that the world was independent of him. He acted as though his associates and colleagues were aspects of himself, given purpose by presidential order – avatars of himself. He spoke as though stating something meant his words were automatically true. I do not believe he has a concept of lying, because such a
concept implies the liar understands that others can believe or disbelieve. Trump could not grasp that others might disbelieve his words. He believed them, therefore everybody else did.

Stephen Palmer: on the naughty step.

This intensity of narcissism in a leader is extremely dangerous. Alas, the particulars of narcissism – wanting to reach out to make the world more like the narcissist’s imaginary version of it – mean that all narcissistic individuals hunger for power, for control, for domination. Hence Napoleon, Thatcher, Stalin, Hitler, (false equivalence, perhaps? – Dan) and countless other people perched at the top of male hierarchies. It’s not a pretty picture. In The Conjuror Girl trilogy I wanted to explore this theme through the eyes of Monique, a young girl with a talent. This talent – Reification, which allows Reifiers to make real the contents of their minds – is of course a metaphor for narcissism. In Monique’s case however, she has the option of overcoming her narcissism, but only with the help of her true friends.

So there is hope. Connection, empathy, seeing yourself through the eyes of others – these are all methods of overcoming narcissism. And does Monique success in this task? You’ll have to read the books to find out.

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Stephen is stopping by several blog outposts during his tour. You can read more of his blog posts at the following places and times. Monique Orphan is out now.