Sunday, 26 January 2014

Things I've Learned From Fan Fiction

Contrary to what a lot of people think, fan fiction's a great way to get started. A lot of authors got started that way, myself included. I started out writing original fiction, fell into fan fiction, and then went back to original works. I'm still a part of a couple of sites and I love going there and seeing what's happening. Fan fiction's a great way for people to hone their craft, have some fun, and meet like minded people. It's a chance for people who wouldn't normally write to write and be creative. However, after several years in the fan fiction world, there's a few things I've learned. Here's one of them.

Change it up

Often you'll see the same thing written a million times by a million different authors. Is there safety in writing the same thing over and over? Is it a way to blend in with the crowd and not draw attention from people who may not like your writing? If you look at any particular fandom, you'll often see the same two main characters doing the same thing again and again. How do you get out of that pattern?

Change it up. Think outside the box and do something different. For example, I can't write straight up romance for shit. It has to have a twist or some crazy subplot. If I'm given a romance prompt, I can't do it. I just implode. My brain isn't wired that way. Instead, I take that prompt, hug it close, and run in completely the opposite direction.

So how do you change it up?

I'm going to get murdered for this, but let's take a current popular fandom.

Sherlock (For the record, I'm using the current TV series rather than the books).

The prompt

Sherlock and John share their first kiss.

(Put your weapons down!! I write gay fiction. What else did you expect me to do?!?!)

Change it up

It happens just as nuclear war is breaking out and they only have minutes to share their innermost thoughts and feelings.

Change it up again

It takes place in a bunker and they're watching as missiles begin to launch towards their intended targets.

Change it up yet again

One of the missiles is heading straight for the bunker and no one knows if the structure will hold.

There's questions!

Of course there is! Ask yourself questions as you go along. What are they doing there in the first place? Were they trying to halt what was happening? Did they have answers? Could they have stopped it?

You can apply this to pretty much anything if you find you're in a funk and writing to a formula (like I am right now. Burn out ain't fun!). Most of all, make it fun. Writing's supposed to be fun and not a chore. And fan fiction's supposed to be super fun!!

Take care, have fun, and keep writing!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

My National Health Service

Buying travel insurance is a pain in the ass. It gets even worse when you have a “pre-existing condition”. Suddenly your insurance goes from “Hmmm... that's good” to “Holy Hell! I better sell a kidney!”. I had to buy some recently and, for a week and having bipolar, it cost me the best part of £50. Touch wood I won't have to use it.

Which got me thinking about our own health service. For those who don't know, I live in the UK, home to one of those branches of socialised medicine which has been held up as an example for Obamacare. People moan about the NHS, and there's rarely a day when it's not in the news. Normally for the wrong reasons. Across the world, people only seem to pick up on bad nurses, or killer infections, or overpaid managers (Yeah, I agree on getting rid of them), or a multitude of other little things. Apparently the NHS is on the brink of falling apart or is about to be sold off to private companies. Apparently we live in a third world country because we have socialised medicine. Rarely do they look at the bigger picture.

Thankfully, despite a number of accidents, I've never had to take an ambulance ride to accident and emergency (although I seem to have spent an awful lot of time there for various things including burns, one overdose, several broken bones, a couple of snapped ligaments and after care for a few bits and pieces). Thankfully, I also don't have an on-going illness (other than the biopolar, which I'm able to manage myself) so my story is probably very different from other peoples. But the treatment and help I've received is nothing short of outstanding. Yes, I moan when I can't get through to my doctors because the phone line seems to be constantly engaged. But, much like in places which don't have socialised medicine, I can choose which doctor I want to see. Heck, I can change medical practices at the drop of a hat (and am planning on it).

When I overdosed, I wound up damaging my brain. I was put into a protective bubble of doctors, social services, mental health practitioners, and pharmacies. Without it, I probably wouldn't have been able to get back on my feet.

Not all treatment in the UK is free. Dental care and eye tests still have to be paid for. It's the same with prescriptions, but having seen how much my drugs cost PER pill, £7.85 for a month's worth of medication is a bargain. But, because I'm a low paid worker, the only thing I have to pay for is my glasses. Everything's paid for through National Insurance, a tax which is taken out of my pay check. And it's not thousands of pounds per year. It's a few pounds. Tax from other things (sales of alcohol and tobacco) also helps to fund the health service.

I'm blessed to know, and work with, several nurses who've been involved with the NHS. All of them speak highly of their time there, only changing jobs because they wanted a change of scenery. All of them are the kind of people you'd expect to be nurses; kind, caring, always smiling, and with a solution for everything.

To put it bluntly, our now privatized rail system (once British Rail) is now worse than the NHS. You pay stupidly high prices to travel a few miles, yet none of the money seems to go back to fix a struggling system. And the prices for rail tickets go up by at least 4% every year.

Other people might despise it, but I love the NHS. I love that we pioneered socialised medicine. But what Obama needs to do is come over here and see how it really works. Our system wasn't built overnight, and it doesn't require us to hold a several thousand pound a year policy. Like any kind of service, our NHS isn't perfect. But it's always been there when I need it the most, and I'm truly and honestly thankful for it.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Wisdom From My Parents

A conversation with my Mum reminded me of some of the subtle tips my parents have given us over the years. It's amazing what you unconsciously pick up from your family, advice which isn't shown as much as spoken.

  • We didn't have much money when you guys were kids. But now you've all got your own jobs and lives, you're free to buy what you want. However, don't buy the first thing you see. If you want it, shop around. There's no reason to be ashamed of a bargain.

  • Music is a right, not a privilege. It's one of the world's universal languages. Don't argue because you have different music tastes. Instead, share what you love about it. You never know what you might discover.

  • It's not “geeky” or “nerdy” to read. If you want to read a book, read it. Again, you never know what you might discover.

  • The same goes for art, science, engineering, and any other subject people might look down on you for exploring. Go and explore. It's a big world out there.

  • Speaking of which... You all have passports for a reason. If you can afford to, use them! 

  • Your country of birth (the UK) allows freedom of movement around Europe. Go and explore. Go and live somewhere different for a while. If you stay, you stay. If you don't, you don't. There's no shame in saying you don't like something.

  • The same goes for food. If you like the sound of it, try it. However, we're not going to force you to eat bull's testicles.

  • Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints. And take lots of photos. You'll be glad you did.

  • If you're going away, tell someone where you're going. We're not prying. We just want to know where to get hold of you in case something happens.

  • Be nice to people. Seriously. The world may tell you you have to be a bitch to get anywhere in life. But do you want to be remembered for being the nasty one or the one who was nice? Think about it.

  • If you're making a cup of tea, make one for everyone. You know the rules. Besides, it's rude to just boil the kettle for yourself.

  • We're not going to be around forever so if there's anything you need to know, ask it now. Especially if it concerns repairing your car/house/computer/that aircraft you've been saying you get when you make your first million.

  • Remember, no matter what happens in you life, we've got your back. We're your parents and we love you (even if you do sometimes drive us up the wall!).