Friday, 27 January 2012

Come Get Your Snake Oil… It’s Fantastic!

Superlatives, that is what we are talking today, and are they as super as they once were. But don’t worry this isn’t a grammar blog. I am talking about the way the world seems to throw words like fantastic, extraordinary, and amazing around like confetti. Everything seems to be exceptional in this world of ours but is that so.

 How many times have we seen a book being touted as an exceptional debut by an extraordinary new writer, to only find it is an utter disappointment? How many times are we going to see a trailer telling us a new film is a fantastic epic only to discover it puts us to sleep?

Too many, that is the answer.

There is an art magazine I subscribe to and it is amazing how much they throw the Superlatives around. Every painting is amazing and stunning, every artist is fantastic. Do the readers really get taken in by all this? Are we all so naive to believe that everything can be exceptional? And what happens when something truly exceptional and stunning comes along? Are we going to have to invent a whole new level of superlative, super superlatives maybe?

It seems to me they are selling us snake oil, touting everything and everyone as being exceptional. Or maybe they don’t know what exceptional really is, maybe they are the ones who are being naive?

If everything is elevated to this higher level then we no longer see the things that are deserving of the praise, and the meaning of the words no longer holds any power in our world. Everything becomes an exceptional mush, background noise for our society.

So when you come across someone or something having a bucket of superlatives dumped over them, ask why is this, and are they really deserving of these accolades? Don’t accept other’s opinions of ones greatness if you can’t see it yourself. For in the end it is only what you think is exceptional and fantastic that matters to you.

And one final thing, don’t forget to check out my book The Last – Tradition on Kindle, it is a stunning and extraordinary read…

Friday, 20 January 2012

Kindle – The Greatest Editing Tool Ever?

    The Kindle, isn’t it a fantastic little device? Being able to carry your book collection with you wherever you go, to have access to lots of cheap reads.

    I got a Kindle towards the end of last year, but I didn’t buy it primarily to read books. When I was finishing the editing of my novel The Last – Tradition I looked at the Kindle and wondered if it would be a useful tool for editing.

    As I was publishing the novel on the Kindle it seemed like an obvious thing to have one so I could actually read the novel on it, as the formatting seemed a bit strange at that point and I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out on the device. I have since worked out how to quickly format my books but this wouldn’t have been possible without having the Kindle.

    Seeing what it looks like on the end device was useful, but an even bigger benefit is the ability to add notes to a book as you read. What a great thing for the writer to have a device that you can read the book as it will appear in its final form, even if it is going to be printed you can still see what it will look like page size, how the story will flow on it, and then to be able to add notes as you read.

    You can carry the Kindle wherever you want so you can also edit where you want, no having to worry about carrying around laptops or piles of papers. If you have to go on a trip or are going to be waiting around for a while somewhere then you can just grab your Kindle and do some editing while you are there. No more wasting time sitting around doing nothing, when you could be editing.

    Depending which Kindle you have you can also get it to read a story aloud, which is another vital step I use in editing, to pick up those sneaky little words that get past your eyes, and something that is also useful to judge the speed of a story and how the dialogue flows.

    Before I got my Kindle I thought my novel was in reasonable shape, but after I had read it several time on the device, and used the note making tool, I ended up with over 500 notes with corrections and alterations to be made. So you can see what final editing a novel on the Kindle can do for you. It also lets you quickly make alterations on your computer and have your updated version downloaded on your Kindle again in a very short time. No more need to print work out on paper, saving you money and the planet trees. If you have a family member who reads your work it is also a lot easier just handing them the Kindle with the latest draft, and they can also make notes for you as they read it.

    So there you go, you can see I like my Kindle for editing, something that I didn’t initially think of using it for. A portable device that lets you read your work like a book and edit wherever you go, what is not to like about that. Oh and you can also get a lot of very cheap, exciting books to read as well, in between the editing of course.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Give Us Your Dreams

 Give us your dreams the man had said, such innocent words at first but now he realised the cost of what those dark lips promised. The things he had seen within, the tricks of the mind, the dance of the shadows that were his thoughts.  They had promised to show him wonders beyond his imagining, but within there was only a reflection of the things he didn’t want to see.

Give us your dreams and we shall show you your nightmares echoed the voice of the man, a truth that echoed through his mind as the darkness surrounded him.

* * *

    Blackwillow twirled his dark moustache as he watched the wooden caravan moving slowly across the dew covered field, pulled by two big horses that looked like they were dragging the weight of the world behind them, and in truth they were.

    It was early morning in the Carnivale of Delirium, and the usual collection of freaks and artistes were already milling about the tents and side-shows, preparing for the night ahead. But none of them paid the slightest attention to the caravan that was approaching. Not a peek from the stilt-men or a glance from the bearded lady, and not even the jugglers missed a beat in their juggling as it drew near.  They had seen many a sight arriving here in the Carnivale over the years, but if they had known what was in that caravan on this cold, frosty morning then they might have taken a moment to pause, and reflect on what was to come.

Once more he looked at the letter in his hand, reading the stylish script. The message had been delivered just over a week ago, and he still couldn’t believe that the object was being brought to his Carnivale, even though the caravan containing it was now actually being pulled across the field in front of him. Blackwillow was still a disbeliever of the truth of what was contained in that caravan. He had heard numerous legends about it from the Four Corners of the Earth, many a tale of the wonders and dangers of what lay within. But until he saw it with his own eyes, and got to finally touch it, he would not believe that it was here, and that it was going to become a part of his Carnivale of Delirium. 

The caravan came to a halt a few feet in front of him, the skinny, dark man who was controlling the horses not moving from his perch up front, as the door at the back of the caravan opened. After a brief delay the Arabian gentleman, who Blackwillow had been expecting, emerged. A tall slim man dressed in a fine, dark green suit that the Carnivale owner found very stylish, but not how he expected this man to be dressed.

The letter had been an elegant introduction to this gentleman and what he had to offer, and of course had been more than complementary to the Carnivale itself. And now here he was in the flesh, a fellow master of the incredible and exotic; a man whose journey had taken him to many a strange land, and not all of them apparently of this world, if the tales were to be believed.

“Ah, Mr Wuzralam,” said Blackwillow, smiling at the Arabian as he walked towards the Carnivale owner. “It is so good to finally see you here.”

“It is a pleasure to be here, sir,” said Wuzralam, bowing slightly and giving Blackwillow a pleasant grin as he regarded him with those dark eyes, eyes that had witnessed the fall of many a great civilisation; most from what he had offered them, and a few from what they had denied.

“Do you need some of my chaps to help you unload it?” said Blackwillow, looking expectantly towards the caravan.

“That will not be necessary, sir,” said Wuzralam, snapping his fingers in the air. “I have all the help I need, but thank you for the offer, of course.”

“No problem,” said Blackwillow, watching the two huge, ochre skinned men that now emerged from the caravan. “I expect they are used to carrying it around.”

“Indeed they are,” said Wuzralam, as the two men removed their burden from the caravan. “It is a weight that we have grown accustomed to over the years.”

“I’m sure it is,” said Blackwillow, unable to now draw his eyes away from the thing the men carried. “I have set that tent over there aside for you; I trust it is of a suitable size?”

“Indeed,” said Wuzralam, looking over towards the large tent, and then signalling for his two men to proceed.

The box was made from what looked like a very dark wood, or even a black stone. It was hard to tell exactly, and Blackwillow believed it might have actually been changing its appearance slightly as he watched it being carried towards the tent. As the two hulking men moved past him he cast an appraising eye over the item, and it did seem to be the genuine article, this box of legends. He was so intrigued by it, as despite all his knowledge he had never seen markings like the ones carved into the box’s surface. They looked like runes or some other ancient symbols, but were unlike anything he had witnessed before.

“So my offer to you was acceptable, sir?” asked Wuzralam, as the box was carried into the tent; his words a seductive charm that had tempted many a great man into his grasp over the centuries.

“If it does what you say, then it is most acceptable,” answered Blackwillow, grinning. “It will be most acceptable indeed.”

“Would you like to look in the box, sir?” said Wuzralam, gesturing to the tent; obviously making an offer that was no doubt of second nature to this dealer by now.

“Look around you, my dear chap,” said Blackwillow. “These are my dreams you see before you, and I don’t think even your box can handle all of this.”

Wuzralam looked across the Carnivale of Delirium, at all the strange attractions and sights laid out before them, and a sly smile spread across his face. “I think you are right about that, sir.”

“But I always like to check out the attractions first, you understand?” said Blackwillow, moving across the grass towards the tent. “So I think it only fair that we get someone, on my behalf, to see what your box of wonders has to offer.”

“Of course,” said Wuzralam, looking a bit cautiously at the owner of the Carnivale. Had he ever had to deal with someone of the likes of Blackwillow? Could any of those he had promised so much to before have a chance of measuring up to the man he was dealing with today? Blackwillow doubted that very much.

“Ah, Dumpken,” said Blackwillow, grabbing a sad looking clown who had had the misfortune of passing by at that moment. “You will do perfectly for this little matter.”

“What?” said the clown, looking shocked and surprised, which for most clowns in the Carnivale was their normal expression; but for Dumpken a rare thing. “I didn’t do it, boss. No not me, not little old Dumpken. It was the other ones, you know how they like their silly pranks, and well it just got out of hand, and before you know it… well they said they would clean the mess up, but knowing them, I doubt it.”

“Yes, I’m sure that is what happened, but enough of all that,” said Blackwillow. “I have a little job for you.”

“Really,” said Dumpken, still looking very surprised. “A job for little old Dumpken, are you sure?”

“Yes, yes. Now this gentleman would like you to go and have a look in his nice box, which is in that tent over there. Do you understand?”

“You want me to go and look in a box?” said Dumpken, looking over at the tent with trepidation creeping into his eyes. “It doesn’t have one of them jackamaboobs in it? Does it? As they scare the willies out of me, boss.”

“No, no, no. It will be fine,” said Blackwillow, patting the clown on the shoulder. “It is a box full of wonderful things, and I would just like you to check it out for me.”

“I see,” said Dumpken. “Well if you are sure, then alright I will have a look for you. Have I got to fill out a questionnaire after, as I am not very good with all those difficult questions, and I am sure they leave the correct answers off the multiple choice ones when I do them.”

“Don’t worry,” said Blackwillow, looking at the sad clown, and wondering if this was the right person to try the box on, “there won’t be any questions.”

“So what do I have to do then, mister?” said the clown, as he was led over to the tent by Wuzralam.

“It is very simple, sir,” said Wuzralam, giving the little clown a dark smile. “Just look in the box, and give us your dreams.”

“My dreams?” said the clown, pausing in front of the tent. “Oh my dreams are so boring, nothing interesting there.”

“I am sure that is not the case, sir,” said Wuzralam, leading the clown inside. “I would think there are many wonders inside your mind.”

Blackwillow watched the two disappear from view and he did really wonder now if it had been fair choosing Dumpken for this test. He knew that if the box did what the whispers had told him it did then that clown would never be the same again.

* * *

  A crow landed on one of the posts holding a tent rope, and expressed a screeching protest at the Carnivale owner, as was its daily routine. Blackwillow ignored the cursed complaints of the black bird and wondered what was going on inside the tent, with his clown and the box. An hour had passed since the strange Arabian man called Wuzralam had taken Dumpken inside, and there hadn’t been a sound heard since.

   He wondered if this was indeed the right attraction for his Carnivale of Delirium. Did it have the qualities he was always looking for, or was it all just a case of smoke and mirrors? He had seen too many acts like that before, but once they had arrived at the Carnivale he was quick to destroy any hopes they had of joining his quality establishment. Everything here was real, and he had no time for fakes, a fact that many had been painfully made aware of over the years.

The Carnivale owner began to now get impatient, and was tempted to go and see what was going on inside, but as the urge began to take over he could hear a sound.

Laughter could now be heard coming from the tent, and then Dumpken emerged from within, with the biggest grin you have ever seen a clown wear, plastered across his face.

“Oh my, that was funny,” said the clown, laughing in a maniacal way. “Most hilarious that was, we enjoyed that.”
   “Well that seems to have gone down well,” said Blackwillow, walking over towards the two men. “So the box was entertaining then?”

“Oh my, oh yes, indeed. Oh the things he has in there,” said Dumpken, still laughing in an uncontrollable way, “Very, very, funny.”

“Then it looks like we have a deal then,” said Blackwillow to Wuzralam, as the clown walked away while continuing to laugh hysterically to himself.

“Thank you, sir,” said Wuzralam, watching the clown with what looked like a puzzled expression.

“So, you can start tonight,” said Blackwillow, “and we can sign the agreement, that is acceptable?”

“Indeed, sir,” said Wuzralam, and Blackwillow noticed what looked like a glimmer of concern creeping into the Arabian’s eyes. “But there is one thing I would like to stipulate, if I may?”

“Oh, and what is that?” said Blackwillow, frowning.

“No more clowns, sir,” said Wuzralam, shaking his head. “Please, the box wants no more clowns.”

“Of course, my dear man,” said Blackwillow, chuckling, “There will be no more clowns looking into your lovely box.”

“Thank you,” said Wuzralam, relief now returning to his eyes.

The Carnivale of Delirium had added another fine attraction to its collection on this day, and in a small way this mysterious box had helped one clown see the funny side of life again. Blackwillow was also very happy today, and when Blackwillow was very happy the world had to be very afraid.

Copyright (c) 2011 Stephen Winterflood

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Naming Names

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I see we have a command performance tonight, a very special show, for a very special man.”

    And with that speech The Last Mask starts, and with that speech so does my first Blog. Welcome to the show.

    As is tradition with a new Blog you need a name, something that is maybe clever or witty or attractive to the casual passer-by. So after careful pondering I came upon the title “Talking To Myself”
    I could have called it something like “Clowning Around” or “Folly of Fools” but that might be expected from me, and people don’t want the expected do they?
    “Talking To Myself” seemed like a good name as it was tied into the little speech we read at the start and the medium that we are currently using.
    The Master of Ceremonies is performing to what might be an invisible audience and to me that summed up social media and the internet. We perform our show to an audience we believe is watching what we do with interest and excitement. We Tweet and Blog and hope that number following us are actually reading and being entertained by our words, but are we like the Master of Ceremonies performing to an audience only in his mind?

    So Talking To Myself is the chosen title and I hope that there is someone out there in the theatre watching the show. That is the end of this opening Blog and I will leave you now with the first scene of The Last Mask with our Master of Ceremonies and the audience of his mind.


- Dramatis Personae -

    Within the theatre sits a solitary old man. His face, painted white, flakes like the walls of a long abandoned abode; his weary eyes not moving from what stands before him, not questioning why he is all alone.
    Chandeliers cast their dazzling light upon the auditorium, the dark ebony masks and gold-leafed cherubs of the surround glowing from the fake warmth. The smell of toffee and honey infuses the air, a sweet aroma giving a deceitful comfort to the one who is on his own, a deception of opulence and sanctuary to those who would be fooled.
    And before it all rises the centre of this spectacle; from carved steps leading up to its lofty position, hidden behind the lush red curtains, the sheets of velvet beauty that conceal another world. A place tempting the mind of the audience to wonder what mysteries lurk beyond, the seductive expectation of the performance to come. The stage waits to reveal all that it has to show. This is a temple to the act, this is the ground upon which greatness is performed; this is the theatre of the mind.
    The fanfare soars around the auditorium, the atmosphere lifting in eagerness at what is to begin, the pulse of those gathered beating with anticipation.
    A bright circle of light flashes onto the sumptuous curtains as the host for the evening strolls across the apron of the stage; he is the Master of Ceremonies, the dandy in the sharp black suit, the impresario with the bright mask of colour and life.
    The host bows to the old man, and then looks around the rest of the empty auditorium, smiling at faces that only he seems to see.
    “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I see we have a command performance tonight, a very special show, for a very special man. Mister Scamboldi, will you take a bow?”
    The audience doesn’t stir, even though the Master of Ceremonies waits for his rapturous welcome, and the old man doesn't bow.
    “Oh you are all too kind, thank you, thank you,” says the Master of Ceremonies, gesturing towards all the empty seats, his smile a broad dark welcome.
    The old man looks on unmoving, the old man is tired.
    “Well, without further ado, I say it is time to get on with the show, do you not all agree?”
    There is only silence.
    “So what do we have for you tonight, what kind of performance are we presenting for your glorification, for your amusement and disdain? Well fear not, ladies and gentlemen, for we have a stupendous show for you all.”
    The Master of Ceremonies pauses for drama, feeding off the anticipation of an audience that only exists in his eyes.
    “Upon a very different stage another story is unfolding,” he continues, in excited tones. “It is a tale of identity, a tale of tradition, a tale of so much pain and suffering that you will weep with joy. Oh and did I mention the clowns? So dim the lights please. Welcome to the theatre of the mind, Mister Scamboldi, we hope you enjoy the show.”
    The Master of Ceremonies gracefully exits the stage, as the lights begin to fade and the curtains slowly rise.

    And finally, as darkness envelopes the theatre, the show begins.

    The Last Mask - Tradition copyright 2011 Stephen Winterflood