The Queen’s Salute

There’s a bit of bother surrounding the Queen and her bellend uncle Edward.

Doesn’t look good, does it? It’s not quite cricket, although the Queen is not in the docks over this. She was six years old. Her mother and uncle, however, are a different story.

THE REACTION

Naturally, this scoop has prompted a bit of discussion. The Guardian have come out in defence of the Sun, which is possibly even more curious than the photo itself. The Sun reckon they’ve performed an actual feat of Journalism, which probably makes it the first they’ve managed this decade at least.

Thing is, I agree with them. This stuff is important. Many have seen this as an easy opportunity to attack the Sun for sensationalism, and lord knows they deserve it as often as it can be thrown at them. This time though, they’ve done something that has some value. It is important to put it into context.

The Queen’s age, the history of Edward, the relationship between the old blue blood of Europe and the rise of the Nazis. All of it very interesting stuff. Time for a history lesson.

GERMAN ROYALS FUCKING THEIR COUSINS

The Queen’s family were part of a web of aristocratic, autocratic rulers with tentacles across Europe and beyond. From the time of Charles Martell, and later Charlemagne (Or Karl De Grosse, depending on what side of the French/German border you grew up on) Europe’s noble houses had been intermingling, marrying off their sons and daughters to each other much as royal families throughout history have been wont to do.

Charlie Big Dog, first Roman Emperor of Europe since the last ones.

The idea being to build alliances, secure dynasties and neutralise opposition. Naturally this led to some Ancient Egypt style complications, and despite what the portraits would have you believe most of these chaps were born with serious genetic problems. Fucking your cousins and sisters over an extended period of time leads to things like impotence, difficulty conceiving, fucked up mutant children and kings and queens who looked like this:

After the execution of Charles I, England became the first state in Europe to have it’s first and only proper, modern revolution. Cromwell won the civil war, fucked Parliament about and was reluctantly declared Lord Protector. After his son proved to be nowhere near as ballsy, Parliament decided they’d had their fun and had won enough concessions, and that England didn’t particularly work without a Monarch even though they had no intention of handing over real power.

The next few Monarchs had a problem securing legitimate heirs that Parliament grokked. Eventually a second, more benign revolution (at least for the English, anyway) gave way-The Glorious Revolution-and we imported William of Orange and his wife Mary, to rule together as joint Monarchs. William and Mary were too busy fucking up Ireland and being big fat protestants to bother to get with the makey-make, so when they died off Mary’s sister Anne took over. She too was awful at stopping her children from dying (she had 17 miscarriages/stillborn/sickly to death young’ins), so the tenuous English/Scots line died out.

Parliament still wanted a King. They brought in George of the House of Hanover, a proper teutonic dandy who ruled over a Duchy in what is now Germany. See there were absolutely loads of countries/states in what we now think of as Germany, most of them divvied up according who who was fucking which cousin. George had another George (the last fully card carrying German king of England and Scotland and Wales), who had another George. George 3: The Georgening is the one who famously went start raving bonkers and used to take governmental advice from a tree in his garden.

From the famous film, King George is a Looney

He had another George, and a William. George mark 4 was a right wrongun, spending his time following the accession to the throne getting fucked up on Laudanum (known to you and I as smack, horse, skag, the crazy world of Arthur Brown). He had one child legitimate child, who died, leaving the throne to his brother William. William was another wrong’un, and he too left no kids that the hoity-toity types felt comfortable sticking a crown on. You see, it didn’t count unless you came from a line of fucked up, inbred mental Germans.

The throne passed to Williams’ niece, a young lady named Victoria. Victoria’s mother was yet another imported German princess, who had married her imported German father. Victoria married-you guessed it-her German cousin, Albert. They had fucking loads of kids. Victoria was so good at carrying through with this pregnancy lark that she became known as the mother of Europe, her inbred kids doing backflips over family trees and marrying all the way to Russia. Victoria’s kids and grand kids became kings and consorts in Germany (now united, GULP), Russia, Belgium, all over. Name a posh twat on a throne and chances are at some point it was down to somebody crawling out of Victoria. This was a new house, the House of Saxe-Coburge-Gotha.

EDWARD THE SCOUNDREL

George V ended up having to formally change the name, because he’d found himself in a bit of a war with his cousins. In fact, at the funeral of George’s uncle Edward the future belligerents were all sitting amongst each other, calling each other pet names and imagining which fucked up mental future cousin they’d send their sons and daughters off to marry.

They settled on the House of Windsor, because it sounded English or something. When George died, the throne passed to his son, a total rotter who took the name William. If it’s not enough fucking your cousins until children are born inside out, the key to being a proper European monarch is to recycle names as though there are only a dozen to choose from. Edward was a shagger, and got himself in all kinds of bother with the upper classes and politicians and other royal families of Europe, because whilst the act itself was expected the publicity itself was becoming harder and harder to contain. Edward thought of himself as a modern type, had scant regard for traditions and loved fucking married women who compromised any semblance of hanging on to the idea of a divinely appointed ruler.

It came to a head when Edward decided he wanted to marry Wallace Simpson, an American divorcee socialite. It was decided by and large that such a thing was not cricket, and Edward created his own legend by abdicating the throne in favour of his brother, so that he could live the life of a dilletant with Simpson in Europe and beyond.

HITLER AND THE ROYAL FAMILIES OF EUROPE

I’ve already exhausted your patience, so I won’t go into what everyone knows. Hitler was a bastard, he connived his way to the chancellorship in the wake of the vacuum of hard power in Germany following the great depression.

At this time Fascism was incredibly fashionable with the elites of Europe. Paranoid ever since the French Revolution, and doubly so following the rise of the Communist party in Russia, many of the blue blood grandchildren and great grandchildren of Victoria saw Fascism as the logical vehicle to restore their former glory, disavowed by the masses following the advent of electricity, running water and the unimaginable upheaval of the first world war.

Everyone was to blame for the weakening of power of the Germanic cousin fuckers, except for the cousin fuckers themselves. It was merchants, bankers, foreigners (chortle), gays, the disabled, communists and proto communists BUT ESPECIALLY jews.

Hitler’s rise to power came on a wave of Europe wide anti-semitism. In Britain, Oswald Mosely and the Daily Mail’s owner lord Rothermere had a serious hard-on for Hitler’s bad boys. Britain too was weakened severely following the first World War, and Edward and his chums held onto a hope that possibly the changing tides on the mainland would eventually filter through to England, putting him at the head of a Fascist government supported by grand blue blood aristocratic bastards.

The Daily Mail, telling the truth for once.

Hitler was canny enough to make friends with the Germanic cousin fuckers of Europe. Whilst Hitler was a maniac, desperate for power and unwilling to cede anything to anybody else, he actually had a huge hard-on for old school German cousin fucking purity himself. His powerbases were often not the everyday, average Nazi party member but the former aristocrats looking to drag their family lines into the future. Naturally, he struck up a great friendship with Edward, and was sympathetic toward his designs on being a fascist leader in England. Various plots where struck up over the years, involving Mosely and Rothermere and others.

Not-King-Edward and Adolf Bumhole

Nazi and Fascist bastardry was no secret. At the same time the Queen was heiling as a child in the gardens of Balmoral, Churchill was delivering speeches like this, having turned his invective from Communists and Indians towards a more immediate threat (and opportunity, for him at least)- Nazi Germany.

Much of the reaction today has been along the lines of ‘Well nobody knew then about the concentration camps and the evilness and just how much of an absolute parody the Nazis would become’. This is bollocks. People knew fine well what they were up to. People agreed. Not just in secret, but openly, at least up until the declaration of war against Nazi Germany. The old families of Europe, especially, sought to exploit fascism for what it is- a means of controlling the proles, while securing all the goodies for the land owning classes, and doing so with impunity. Much the same as it was back when they were at the height of their cousin fucking, except industrialised on a scale unimaginable to anybody except Mad George of the consulting tree.

THE QUEEN IS ALRIGHT THOUGH

But the Queen? The little one heiling to the camera? She done good. She didn’t expect to ever become Monarch. During the blitz, she drove firetrucks and ambulances around London. She lived through the war and set the tone of history in it’s wake, becoming one of the few non-bastards of her lineage. She’s lived through an unprecedented era of peace in Europe, and most importantly perhaps, made a big effort to stop her children and their children from fucking their German cousins.

EDWARD CONTINUED TO BE A BASTARD

After the war, Edward was resigned to just being an old racist, seething at his foppish racist reputation being superceded by the the Queen’s husband Prince Philip. Here he is with America’s arch bastard, Richard Nixon, looking exactly the same as all his cousins did and still do when they get old.

The Chrysalis

IDEAS ARE NOT STORIES

Writers are like fucked up magpies. We’re strange people, we ask strangers strange questions and we’re constantly on the look out for interesting shit to think about, then write about. A huge part of this gig is being active and aware. Everyone thinks they have at least one story in them, right? I’d be surprised to find somebody who hasn’t at least thought of one thing that they want to write into a novel or tv show or film.

These ideas are usually high concept. A perfect example; at a recent writer’s meet-up I attended, an old dude was talking about having started writing four years ago. He has an idea, a word he seeded with mystical intonation. Problem is he can’t get past the first chapter. Why? His idea is a conspiracy. The conspiracy began 14,000 years ago. He has too much backstory to wade through, or so he says.

The real problem? He doesn’t have an idea for a story. He’s got a sequence of events in his head that he thinks sound pretty cool. Hey, that’s where it starts for most of us. We think of something that we want to read, and we stick it in the cranial slow cooker for untold time until one day it all makes perfect sense.

Problem is, it never just happens to make perfect sense. When my old beginner-writer colleague sits down to write, he has no idea where to go, because he’s never thought of how the idea translates to a story.

IDEAS ARE THE FIRST DOMINO

So, you’ve been outside for the first time in months. The apartment is beginning to creep you out, it smells like dog and you do not have a dog, the kettle has begun to shout at you and the internet has switched off in the dead of night. You decide to go for a walk, and at some point you begin to people watch. You notice something about what they’re doing, you overhear a conversation and BOOM. Your brain has handed you a little present. That’s a cool idea, brain. I wonder what I can do with it, can it stretch out into 90,000 words of a novel?

No, it can’t. Chances are somebody has already thought of that shit, too. So what should you do? Should you just pack it up and park it in the corner of your memory, to be revisited hazily at moments when you regret your entire life and the unfulfilled potential you once had?

Fuck that. Write your shit down. Doesn’t matter what depth you do it to. Make a note that makes sense to you about the important aspects of your idea. Dwell on that shit. Let it percolate for a day, a week at most. Next, we’re going to turn that idea into something useful.

MIND MAP THAT MOTHERFUCKER

Get yourself an app to make mind maps on your phone. Take that note you made earlier then start bouncing around, extrapolating from it. What’s the history of it? Why are you interested? What are the problems and positives of writing an idea from that premise?

Mind maps are not just for schooldays revision, or wanky meetings at work about synergy and low hanging fruit. No, mind maps are mana from heaven for a writer. They show you how you think. They visualise the process of peeling back the layers of a concept, showing you the web of connections that has convinced your brain that this is something you’d be interested in hearing about.

When mind mapping, there are things you need to think about, and ask yourself.

-What are the themes here? Is it a morality tale?
-Where is this taking place?
-What would happen if I took this in a completely different direction?
-What does it remind me of? Is it Nightmare on Elm Street meets the Tellytubbies? Rambo in space? Smashing familiar concepts together at an early stage can help you solidify a direction to take this thing

Once you’re three layers deep into the mind map, and you’ve covered a half dozen items or so, let it rest. It needs to cool down a little.

THERE ARE NO ORIGINAL IDEAS. ORIGINAL STORIES COME FROM CHARACTERS.

We have a cool idea. It now has a little context. We’ve created a mini universe centred on one concept that our mind can quarry. This is often the stage where people get stuck. How do you take it further?

Don’t start plotting out a sequence of events. This is the time to think of some characters. Give them names, personalities. Make them want something. Make them different enough so that if they’d ever meet, they would be suspicious of each other. Starting from your idea, think about what lives they might lead that would be changed the most by coming into contact with Freddy Tubby or Space Rambo. Now send them to work. Send them to their mom’s at christmas. Send them to church. Send them to a sex party. Now your idea is a chrysalis. It’s changing into something else, energised by the context and the people.

START AN OUTLINE

Now we’re going to take that idea, the context and those people and we’re going to make them do things. We’re going to put them in trouble, of their own making. Then it’s going to get worse. Then they’re going to change too, because of how their wants and needs relate to the idea from the very beginning. They’re going to fight over it, or it’s going to cause them to fall in love, or whatever. This is, at a very basic level, how you take something from an idea and make it into something that other people may want to read.

The Creeping Dread that Nests in the Young

Horror fiction is dead, they say. Horror writers! You’re wasting your time, boys and girls. Folks are full of Zombies and Vampires, nobody gives a fuck anymore, it has all been done to death, yadayadayada.

Well, smarty pants business human majority, I put it to you that you’re full of shit. I’ve looked into my bowl full of quail bones and I’ve seen the future. I’ve read the twitters, I’ve scanned the bloggeral, and I’ve done the sums on the amazons.

HORROR IS FOR THE YOUNG

Why is that so many of us cut our teeth writing spooky stories? Why does nothing scratch an itch like a good horror flick? Why do I look for Candyman in my toilet even though he comes out of a mirror?

My extensive, thorough, double blind anecdotal research has led to an interesting conclusion. I put it to you that new writers of fiction LOVE writing horror. I argue from atop this pedestal that Horror is the perennial genre fiction flavor, that it’s about to undergo a huge resurgence and that the backlash against nicey nice mainstream fiction is already bubbling under.

The reason? Young people, duh. You remember being a kid? What exactly is it about being a kid that you remember so vividly. Is it the ice creams? Sure, you remember it being fun and all but you’ll be fucked if you go for detail. Is it the cuddles, the parties? Vague snapshot flashes blurred through years of binge drinking and over sleeping.

No, the things you remember with the most precision, the most clarity, are the things that terrified you. The time that dog growled at you for no good reason. Being left alone on your first day of school. A bigger kid starting rumours that he was going to beat the shit out of you. Nightmares that you’re still not sure were not real events, the UFOs you thought you saw. These things, real and imagined, are burned into your visual memory and neural networks, canals and valleys cut through flabby grey matter like the remains of lava flow.

WE WRITE TO EVOKE TERROR BECAUSE TERROR WAS EVOKED WITHIN US

I’ve just described some standard things that almost everybody can relate to, but the reason that some of us are pushed so far as to write horror is that the memories are only a part of it. Being a kid is all about not understanding stuff-and to go further-not believing stuff. When you’re all growed up into a big person, the stuff you don’t believe becomes the nonsensical, the fantastical. When you’re a kid the stuff you don’t believe is the stuff that’s right there in front of you. Why do you think toddlers ask why all the time? Why do you think I’m asking that? Why am I stuck in a loop of Whys? Because horror writing is the essence of that feeling, distilled.

The need to disbelieve is stoked by tales of the speculative and supernatural. Scary stories cut out that bullshit and speak to something deep within us, the all perceiving animal brain that operates on a binary basis of ‘FUCK THAT’ and ‘COOL SHIT, YO’. It’s already fully developed when we drop out of the womb, and friends and relatives and their creepy tales make it go ‘Mmm, yum yum. More Jungian tasty reactions for me, please’.

Kids like being scared. They want to think there is a monster under the bed, a big fucked up clown in the closet waiting to eat them. We spend most of our younger days being treated like fucking idiots, mainly because we are, but also because nobody wants anything to hurt us. They tell us scary stories as morality tales, with an incredibly simple moral- Be careful, otherwise things such as these may happen to you.

Our kid brain imaginations are the safe place to exercise this stuff, and it animates in irrational fears of stabby things and toothy bat folk.

When I was 9 or 10, I didn’t want to read young adult or kid’s books. Fuck no. I had this uncle, he was amazing. He’d sit me down, turn off the TV and tell me about the ghosts he’d seen. Straight up, serious, finger pointing stories about things that had followed him, things that had woken him up. He had fucking witnesses. I think I must have heard the same three or four stories thousands of times, but I loved it. I loved the sincerity in his voice. I loved the lingering fear in his eyes, the fact that his experiences of being a decade or so older than me had stayed with him to that day. Even as youngster I thought about how thrilling it would be to do the same thing with my kids, further down the line, and hoped to god I’d see a ghost or something to inspire the stories. If not I’d steal his, which is exactly what I have done for much of my better fiction. When I think of my childhood, this is what comes to mind immediately.

HORROR IS SUPERFOOD FOR DEVELOPING BRAINS

When it came to fiction, I picked up the stuff I wasn’t supposed to. I read Salem’s Lot at about the same time. It spoke to me, man. It knew me. It knew the town I grew up in, even though it was an Atlantic ocean and two decades in distance. It knew the adults in my life, it knew other people’s parents. It had me in the future, walking me in the present through a deadly and dangerous situation fraught with religion, betrayal, adultery and evil. It showed me the world of adults in the way that adults wouldn’t want me to see, and I fucking loved it. I finished that book on a boat, in the middle of the Carribean sea, moored up outside an old creepy whaling island that had a huge whale jaw bone erected at the port. I was terrified and enthralled. It was a mystical experience.

Whenever people ask me why I don’t try and write nice things, why I don’t like to focus replicating the reality of the world I grew up in, I point to that moment and the stories of my uncle. It’s who I was, and who I was is the primary reason behind who I am now. That, my friends, is the lingering presence of horror on the brain. It’s good for you.

STORIES ARE ABOUT CHARACTERS THAT CONNECT, CHARACTERS CONNECT THROUGH PITY AND FEAR

Go read a writing advice blog. Look for the character posts.They will invite you to create believable characters who make an emotional connection with the reader. Often they’ll tell you do to this by having the character make bad decisions. They’ll say a character’s arc is about escalation of tension, and that a story won’t work unless you’re invested in the outcome of that character’s decisions.

Why is this? I refer you to the god of writing, James Joyce. Joyce once wrote that the only genuine reactions you can invoke in a reader are pity and fear. Loving characters? Bullshit. You pity their circumstances and fear for them in times of peril. Guess what genre gives you free reign to do whatever the fuck you like? Horror, that’s what genre.
HORROR IS THE ZOMBIE THAT REFUSES TO DIE, BECAUSE HORROR IS THE TRUTH

Why am I so certain that Horror is due a resurgence? There are a few reasons.
First, people like me. Kids who grew up in the aftermath of the horror boom of the 70’s and 80’s, who picked up dusty books on their parent’s shelves and read in secret. Who stumbled upon their cousins playing Atmosphere and freaking out at the cloaked dude on the VHS. People who have lived through the fifth or sixth extinction of popular supernatural fiction, and have grown to be adults in a world that has changed so rapidly and unexpectedly. A world where there are no more towns like Salem’s Lot, where nothing can be forgotten because everything is permanent and immutable and traceable.

It is oft’ claimed that you can’t do anything new in horror, and that is why it is dead. I say No! Wrongess! Horror is truth. There will always be new truths. Truths that lurk behind the things we’re not supposed to talk about with decent folk in public. The smoke behind the fire, the spark behind the rumours. New technology, new relationships, new taboos. New truths in all of them, about who we are, what we are for and what is to be done about it.

There is too much new in the world. People are changing, man. We’re becoming isolated and connected all at once. We know so much more about other people than we ever have done, what with the facebooking and the smartphones and the tinder. You know what? All that knowledge just raises more questions about each other. The validity, the quality of the truth. That’s just going to make people like me disbelieve all the more.

What do we do to express that disbelief? We invent spooky stories to freak the fuck out of the next generation, passing our brain scars down the line.

The Story and the Plot: Why people like stuff that sucks

Spoiler alert: Some things suck. Objectively suck.

Wait! You shout. That’s just like, your opinion, man.

Well a smidgeon of yes, and a lot of no.

In any piece of fiction, there are some murky, ephemeral rules that define whether something is actually worth applause. I’m not going to get dragged into a slanging match about whether I’m right or wrong here, so please don’t take this personally. Creating good fiction is hard. It stumps otherwise excellent writers of anything else, be it journalism, blog content or recipes. Just as with food, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a bit of junk food, but once you know how it’s made the meal can become either more appetizing or a little disgusting.

Ask somebody why they enjoy Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, whatever her names’ 50 Shades of Grey or something as dumb as Guardians of the Galaxy and they’ll often tell you that they are good stories. To other people, that is sacrilege. Nobody pisses on the altar of greatness! You can’t have that shit up there with Star Wars, Blade Runner, the Count of Monte Cristo or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

I’m gonna translate the theory behind this weird phenomenon, which I am going to dub ‘Why people like stuff that sucks’.

STORIES ARE NOT PLOT

Point numero uno is that a story is not a plot. Why do you like Da Vinci Code, Grandma bumkins?
‘Well I like the story, he goes to france and unravels a plot, and there’s a painting and a big albino willy and-‘

Shut up Grandma, you don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s not the story, that’s the plot.

See, the plot is a skeleton. It’s a series of events, moments in a piece of fiction that tie back from end to front like a little breadcrumb trail of ridiculous moments. It’s the set pieces. Luke meets Obi Wan, leaves Tatooine, finds Leia. People can often fool themselves into thinking it’s this sequence that draws their attention, that it’s this that makes them continue.

As is often the case with people, they’re wrong. That’s not what it is even if they don’t realise it. No, the thing that keeps people pulling forward through fiction is the story. If the plot is a skeleton, the story is the weird ghosty that animates it. It’s the virus inside the zombie, the blood in the vampire, the booze in the hobo’s paper bag.

STORIES ARE THE CONSEQUENCE OF CHARACTERS DOING THINGS

To put it bluntly, a story is the accumulated consequences of Characters saying things, doing things and thinking things. Then another character has something to say about those things, and he then does something in response. Before you know it, some big shit goes down and BOOM, people change. You ever had a friend who was cool, then he got a girlfriend, and you never see him anymore, and now he doesn’t play videogames anymore and just posts pictures of his cats on facebook and listens to ABBA and…Whatever, that guy is a dick.

Point being that your bumhole of a friend has undergone a change. He started out at A, and for reasons he doesn’t fully understand the things he wants in life have led him to B, and that’s just who he is now. In fiction, a story is that happening, several times with a half dozen or more characters.

50 Shades of Grey is not just about thumbs up the bum. That’s a big part of the popularity, sure. Twilight isn’t just about Vampires. In fact it’s barely about Vampires, and that isn’t the reason people like it. In both of these examples, you have an accessible and immediate window into how someone like you undergoes a change. They start out as prissy poppet pants nobodies. Because of events external to them, they start to do stuff. They talk about it some. Then they think about it. And more stuff happens. Then they change. They change in such a way that it makes the reader feel something, even if that character is a total ballbag. This emotional investment/payoff is called Catharsis, and it’s something that fiction has been built around invoking since we were clubbing each other with rocks and thighbones.

Oh! An important point which should never be neglected. Characters have WANTS and NEEDS.
These wants and needs tie deeply into what the story will end up becoming, because they are the driving forces behind what they say and do. This is true of villains and antagonists, too. A good hero/villain story only works if the wants and needs of a hero and villain mirror each other, like ying and yang. They have to complement each other’s flaws and virtues, their wants and needs tugging at the opposite spectrum.

Iron Man: WANTS to save the world. NEEDS to be seen as an all-round genius and savior.
Vader: WANTS to destroy the rebellion. NEEDS to bring Luke to the Dark Side.
Hamlet: WANTS to avenge his father’s death. NEEDS to avoid spiritual damnation.
Woody:  WANTS Andy’s affection. NEEDS to keep his animated nature a secret.

MULTIPLE, BALANCED STORIES CREATE A PLOT THAT WORKS

Ever seen a film where for seemingly no reason there’s a love story tacked on?
Do you think that’s because some studio exec said ‘The audience demands titillation!’

In some cases yes, in a lot of cases no. The most incomprehensible, baffling love stories in otherwise decent films or books exist because characters need not one story, but multiple stories. The assumption that people sit down and work forwards in a straight line is bogus. Anybody who has ever attempted to write a story will tell you that the hardest part is hitting a point where you think ‘Man, I have no idea what the fuck to do next’. They started with a cool idea- Vampires fisting personal assistants to start a race war, for example- then they hit the brakes, because that in and of itself doesn’t make things happen. It can’t move people from A to B, from place to place, without it looking artificial. So what do writers do? They give characters multiple stories. Because stories emerge from the interactions between characters, making two of them fall in love unexpectedly can create new scenarios for the writer to move the plot forwards. I’m not excusing this bullshit, I’m telling you how it works.

THE DOING AND THE SAYING SHOULD EMERGE FROM DECISIONS

So we’ve got the doing and the saying and the thinking covered. This is where we converge Plot and story somewhat. The big turning points-the ‘Pivots’-should emerge from a character making a big fucking decision. Does Luke go to Cloud City to save his chums? Does Clarice Starling take Lecter’s advice? Does Simba take the easy road and stay the fuck out of Scar’s way?

Congratulations. You’ve just made a STORY and a PLOT move forwards in one fell fucking swoop.

CAUTION: PLOTS ARE NOT ALWAYS STRONGER WHEN EMERGING FROM STORY

The final caveat? People who know how to tell stories well can fuck all of this off from the get go. James Joyce? His books were about people realizing they’re heroic geniuses in a mythic, eternal kind of way. The plot? Man goes for walk around town. Man goes to University and realizes he hates his family.

Shakespeare was another. His plays were taken from older sources, nearly beat for beat. What made them different? That’s right, the fucking story! THE ACCUMULATED EFFECT OF CHARACTERS DOING, THINKING AND SAYING, AND OTHER CHARACTERS RESPONDING IN KIND. It’s just how we are wired. Blame the lizard brain.

Now go. Watch and read your bullshit, and analyze why you like it, then come back and tell me I’m wrong if you very fucking dare.

The Gaping Dragon and Pursuit by the Shadow

In recent months I’ve been haunted by a looming terrible thing. It occurred to me at the start of the year that this was realistically the last time I’d ever be able to look at myself seriously as a ‘young person’. As I experience a full orbit for the 26th time, I’ve felt under increasing pressure to do something. I have a great job, potentially a long and fruitful career ahead of me. I do, however, have a weakness. I can never be happy unless I’m coming up with ideas, concepts and things that chime with other people. Unless people listen to me talk and like it, or read words that I’ve arranged into neat little piles and come away from it thinking about something I cannot escape a feeling of having failed.

This isn’t a depression thing. I don’t have a problem with self-worth (evidently). It’s like my subconscious is awakening to the realms of being a full, card carrying adult. With SERIOUS THINGS to worry about on the horizon. I have friends who are getting married, having kids. My number 1 bro is wrapping up production on his third album. These orbits are getting faster, chief. If I’m not getting better I’m just getting old.

So while everybody is getting hitched, buying houses and pro-creating, I’ve decided to have a baby myself. This is going to be an evil baby. It’s going to be the kind of kid that freaks out the other kids in school. The kind of kid the teacher approaches with a cattle prod. I’m putting in the prep work, similar to how the rest of these chumps did behind closed doors as teenagers. Bashing out vignettes, 1000 word samples. I’m lubing up and expanding, for I am determined to deliver a mind-baby. Pure, unadulterated head nonsense, carefully arranged for the perusal of others. It’s going to be long and torturous, a barbed wire turkey baster process, but it’s going to happen. In the name of the old gods, it will be true.

When that’s done, I’m going to make a second one. Uglier, crazier perhaps. By the time that one is tottering off to torment others with scissors at school, I want a third one. And a fourth. See where I’m going with this?

We all have a talent, most of us multiple talents. Things that come naturally to us that others may struggle with. Thing is, those talents aren’t born whole. It’s hard to deny that there are people out there, freaks of nature with preternatural gifts who fart out success without thinking. Without caressing my own hoop too much, I’ve more or less sailed through the 25 previous orbits. I’ve had a few times in my life where I’ve genuinely had to work hard at something. I’ve always been the dickhead who sits around thinking about dinosaurs and ghosts while the others slave away in the library, about-par competence flowing freely as deadlines approach and the subconscious clamps down into survival mode.

As an adult, this shit does not carry. It’s true. There are too many mitigating factors, too many complications for this to go on forever. Other people catch up. Fat kids get muscles, stupid kids get glasses and dyslexia diagnoses and before you know it that puddle jumping autistic kid is landing satellites on UFOs. For me, writing is about slaying dragons. It’s about taking on huge, mental and metaphysical problems of my own creation and whittling it down with the blunt edge of a teaspoon. I regularly seethe with envy as I see others produce content, parading their own mind babies around, taking selfies with them, buying them ice cream. The internal pressure to create one of my own, to bully those little fuckers by proxy, is undergoing alarming entropy. Where is it coming from? Fuck knows. It’s seeping out from inside me. All of a sudden the thing that’s mattering most is measured improvement, output, the ability to finish something I’ve started and apply due care and attention.

So that’s where I am. I’m hunting dragons, chasing them across space and glaciers and deserts. I can’t stop and give up now, because an evil shadow looms behind me. It watches me pursue from the horizon, with a frowning look that I recognize from teachers that hated me from times gone by, it wants to tear me down and prove to the world once and for all that I am a perennial fucker-abouter and abandoner of dreams. It knows my inner fears. It can taste the dread of waking up on my nth dozen orbit and choking on my own tears, tears of laziness and unfulfilled promise and a talent wasted.

Right now I’m back to the starting blocks. I’ve coughed up bits and bobs of half-arsed wordmongery too lackadaisically, too sporadically. I’m definitely, CERTAINLY turning this shit around and making it a thing.

We’re approaching thirty days. I have around 25000 words of middling bullshit to show for it. It’s highly probable that this will help me achieve precisely nothing in the short term, but I recognise myself that it’s getting better. Some days are hard, others easier. I am the captain of this sentence ship, and we’re sailing toward the magical land of publishing. Mileage may vary. I may be getting older, more stretched, flabbier, rustier. I’ll only be truly fucked if I neglect to get better.

The Family

Dig, if you will, a picture.

A man stands at the head of an organization. The organization itself is woven with the dreams and aspirations of ordinary people, from every corner of the earth. The man assumes total power and control, exercises patronage, rubs shoulders with political titans and signs off the blueprints of the financial canals that siphon off a river of hot cash.

He raises petit criminals to grandeur. He promises the moon to undignified, backwoods crooks in far flung forgotten lands. He garners immutability and respect with unswerving loyalty. He is untouchable. Operating outside of the rule of law, he anoints his congregation and produces licenses to print money. He talks of his business as a family, an inbred hodgepodge of ne’er do wells, failed or potential despots, grasping bastards ankle deep in the trough.

Nobody can do anything about it, it would seem.

There are many comparisons that can be made to rotten orchards of history. Some would compare this man to a Pope, or a Dictator. The curious nature of this stateless, untouchable font of glory has the ring of the Catholic Church. The church of the Borgias rather than the Church of Pope Francis. A Robert Mugabe level despot, canny enough to avoid the trappings of full blown Napoleonic Idi Amin madness. The man is akin to the descendant of a Muslin or Mongol warlord, bulldozing his way into the status quo of Asia and Africa, dangling the keys to celestial bliss in one hand and the scythe of unbidden wrath held with subtle threat in the other. He’s an absolute monarch in a hereditary line, his position a means of life support so much as power. He is possibly the greatest of his stock, a Habsburg tree of geriatric fiddlers and takers.

He is the conductor of an orchestra of bad men, the worst men. He’s an old school 18th century capitalist. He is the scourge of ordinary workers and is a pied piper of death, drawing in the vulnerable to third world countries and working them half a dozen feet into the ground.

True to the tyranny playbook, he silences all opposition. His charisma and candor smear him in WD40. He wriggles and slithers and squirms his way out of seemingly insurmountable traps. He sets up secret courts and bestows extra-legal justice. With a smile and an energetic gesticulation he waves away criticisms, safe in he knowledge that he is beholden only to the will of his electorate. His electorate is the gaggle of thieves and confidence tricksters too dumb and ineffectual to ever make their way in politics proper. Nobody else has a say in whether the man stays or goes. He exists to protect but also to smear. Upon his desk is a box, within it a Santa Claus list of who is naughty or nice, the deeds of evil men writ large in black ink.

The man is emblematic of the stuttering of progress, yet also he is a beacon of growth. He has presided over unimaginable global corruption and siphoning of funds, yet he has also overseen the booming of a global religion. He has not only changed the product which all else relies upon; he has made it.

He is such a benefactor that world leaders entrust the careers of their sons and daughters to his patronage. He brokers deals and stands above and beside global conflict, centuries old antagonism. He soothes the pain of old style colonialism with the medicine of old style colonialism. His lackeys lap it up none the less. They speak in the language of brown envelopes. It is a hypnotic dialect and it blindsides better men. When that will not do the collective force of the organization can bring its influence to bear, its entropic tentacles closing like a vice on enemies ordinary and august.

Such an organization, bound as it is with the glue of dishonesty, ruthless grasping and astonishing bare faced incompetence is a relic of antiquity. It is a monument to Roman politicking of the ailing Republic, a throwback to the oldest rackets of history. His hagiography is real and flaunted with cringing, ancien regime levels of self awareness.

The man divides and conquers his opposition. His bedfellows are evil, unscrupulous and powerful way beyond their merit. Despite this there are millions of voices praying and deifying his every move, sucking and pleading and begging for the right to continue bathing in the waters of influence and affluence.

Despite this, the end times may be upon the man. His choir has been infiltrated and some of the members ensnared by bigger gangsters with a more serious mandate. He will never be removed by his own; he has detailed maps of the killing fields. Let us hope they are out-mobbed.

The Dead Cat

Getting people to do what you want them to do is difficult. Whether it is selling a product, trying to get laid or setting people against each other or squirming out of trouble, your mission is fraught with danger from its very inception. The brightest minds in the world can form intricate plans and pathways, but nothing is ever guaranteed, and there is one aspect of all of these things that has been true for all of eternity and shall forever be. In order to get people to do what you want, or to decide what you want them to decide, you have to control a conversation.

You’ll see it around you every day. At work, at school and at church. At home with the spouse, in the car with the kids. Your power and influence over others is directly linked to your ability to control the story. Controlling the story is the most difficult part.

It is generally accepted that the rule of Strategy over Tactics is paramount. Your strategy is your story, and your tactics are the methods with which you keep to it. This is why when you lie, you spend extraordinary effort in keeping the changes to the lie minimal but believable. The lie has to be malleable without stripping away the integrity of the story.

In the world of politics, this is the lifeline of any campaign. When one person is competing against the other, invariably their success is drawn from which of them is telling the story that the other is reacting to. This battle over the control of the strategy is a long drawn out, bloody cockfight. Pecking holes in the story is one thing, a trap that is subtle and engrossing. The big boys, however, turn the tables and take control of the narrative by eschewing it completely. This is known as ‘the Dead Cat’.

Boris Johnson, cunning and false buffoon cum-Bond villain that he is, illustrated it excellently in an article penned for the Telegraph.

“Let us suppose you are losing an argument,” opined Boris Johnson earlier this year.

“The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case.

“Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as ‘throwing a dead cat on the table, mate’.”

The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.

It’s something that comes naturally to humans, even when they’re still toddling. In any online discussion, there are those pleading whataboutery in comment sections. Distraction is a survival mechanism, but it is also a deft tool. The art of politics is the art of controlling your external environment, something which affects us all directly, for we do it in every aspect of our lives and in every interaction we take part in.

This is why honesty comes as such a burden to politicians. There are dead cats, everywhere. Opening your mouth could strangle another, unless the ramifications have already been planned out in full.

The lesson is not necessarily how to deploy the Dead Cat. The important thing to learn is how to react to it. Mastery of the Dead Cat will carry you through your career. It’ll win you the hearts of friends and lovers, and it may even get you elected.