Adam Bird

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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Watch out for the Bad Signs

Bad Signs

One of the highlights of any year is that time in the calendar when a favourite author brings a new novel out. Everything you read in between just plugs the gaps and anything read afterwards are just half digested words as you sit wondering how long until the next novel comes out. I’ve just closed the back cover of one of my favourite writers, Roger Ellory, his new book Bad Signs and as is customary, I thought I’d write a review and share it with you.

Bad Signs tells the story of two boys, two half-brothers and their journey growing up together, the loss of their mother at a young age to an act of senseless violence and being put in juvenile detention for nothing other than what else to do with them. The younger brother Clarence Luckman, the thinker, the boy so very unlike his violent father attributed his life to growing up under a bad star, a bad sign that follows him around like an impenetrable shadow. Clarence, along with his half-brother Elliot Danziger, known as as “Digger” are heading out of juvenile detention and up into the big house, two wasted lives destined for institutionalisation until they are broken out and taken hostage by Earl Sheridan, a degenerate of the highest order, who drags both brothers along whilst committing a string of violent crimes that inspire and terrify the two brothers to an extend that neither of their lives are the same ever again.

As with all of Ellory’s books, they are based upon a core, fundamental principal, this time around he looks at man and his ability to commit the most heinous deeds. What are the reasons, the motivations and the trigger that sets these events in motion? Bad Signs, attempts to answer these questions and once again leaves the reader thinking long afterwards, in my case, is an evil man naturally born evil, or does a switch to a dark side exist is all of us?

Just as these bigger questions and answers that are found deep inside the novel, there are many themes that appear in Bad Signs that will feel familiar to those, who like me are fans of Ellory’s work and plenty for the newcomer to appreciate and enjoy. As with all eight previous novels, we find ourselves again set in an American setting, as Texas plays host. This time however, we travel back in time to the 1960’s which helps the author with his story and the investigation technique which runs as a secondary viewpoint as the carnage unfolds. This story would not have worked had it been in a contemporary time-frame, the sixties being a time when several high profile killing sprees shocked and horrified Americans and changed the way that police investigated crimes of this sort, which is explored slightly as one of several sub-plots within the novel, the psychology and genetic make up of a psychopathic mind.

The very nature then of criminality and taking an investigative look into the minds of those who perpetrate grave acts, means that there is a level of violence in the book that might be uncomfortable reading for some. A measure of the authors skill therefore is making those deeds come across almost as a matter of fact and not gratuitously, as can be the case from time to time with authors elsewhere. But it’s not all blood and hiding behind the duvet reading the book with the light turned on, one of the things that I have celebrated and championed the author for in the past has been his ability to transcend the crime-fiction genre, which he has done once again - to a lesser degree perhaps than in A Quiet Belief in Angels and Candlemoth. Elements of romance and coming of age adds colour and vitality to the darkness and brutality of crime, offers the reader hope and once again adds weight and argument to the question I found myself asking above.

If I was to have any criticism at all, and it is none levelled at the author, its is the American language. When things start from “the get-go” or someone is hiding “out back” rather than out the back, it becomes slightly grating and I find myself wanting to correct the character on his vocabulary! Probably a good example then really of how well the characters are written if that is my only gripe!

As someone who has a new found ambition to do something with their own writing, authors like Roger Ellory continue to be a huge inspiration. My project, The Bicycle Man, has been in part inspired by the author and his works of which I am unashamedly a huge fan, which is hopefully the greatest compliment that I can give right now.

I too am trying to write something about life, in general and the essence of truth, the power of what we believe we know to be fact but coping with the circumstance when we find out that everything we know is a lie - except I can only hope to have the success that he rightly deserves and will hopefully keep on getting.

But whatever you read, whether you write or not, if you have a favourite author, write about them, write a review on Amazon, give their books as a present to someone else, tell someone else about them. One thing I have found out in my very short journey so far, is that to be successful takes effort, a lot of effort and then a lot more effort on top of that. The authors you read, the authors you champion are gifts in themselves and they can only keep selling books if people buy them, even if you don't buy this one, have a look on Amazon and find out a bit more - or ask me and I'll let tell you all you need to know.

Banner image from Dreamstime.com

Sunday, 23 October 2011

In the Write Place

Writing

At the beginning of the year I explained about the agency I work for; Archibald Ingall Stretton - how they give each member of staff £200 every twelve months to go off and learn something new. I also explained that I’d be enrolling on a writing course and using my allowance to see if I had it in me to write something greater than the words you find inside of my blog. With that allowance now expired, I thought I’d share with you how it has been and what I hope to do next.

With anything new, when one enters a space that is outside of ones comfort zone there comes a period of time where everything encountered comes as a surprise - my first few lessons were just like that. My first piece of homework, set after we’d spent two hours talking about famous fairy tales and were asked to retell a fairy tale from the perspective of the first person I went off and wrote a version of Hansel and Gretel which came in as a 10,000 word story! I later found out that this was in fact around 8,500 more than what was expected and subsequently the tutor has had to start adding word count limits onto homework tasks so that I don’t spend another sleepless week trying to get things done in time!

Shorter writing and short stories are very much the name of the game when it comes to this particular course. And as things have started to become clearer and as time has gone by I’ve started to become aware of the wide world of short story writing and the competitive nature of the community in which this is built around. There is a large market of magazines which writers of classes like mine can be published and earn money for doing so. There are also magazines written specifically for those who want to write for those markets. There are also competitions both online and in those publications which offer good financial incentives for winning and other prizes such as holidays or the opportunity to have manuscripts reviewed by editors from large publishing houses.

The irony is, all the time that I’ve been taught how to perfect the art of writing a short story, I’ve spent all my spare time over the past four months writing something a little bit more substantial in the form of a novel, which I’ve mentioned through the pages of this blog on two previous occasions. I am now nearly at the 70,000 word mark, which is around three quarters of the way through through this project and goes by the working title of “The Bicycle Man”. As I work towards its conclusion, in ways that are new and alien to me, working in a manner that I feel comfortable with, plotting on the fly and very much each word being written in response to the one before it.

I realise that this technique is hardly refined and is unlike the one being taught to me on a week by week basis. But I am pleased with how the novel is progressing, even if I am aware certain areas will need to revisited and rewritten to make them shine - its the nature of the job, which for me has been the toughest lesson to learn.

At the moment, all of the members of The Write Place have been invited to submit a short story for inclusion into an anthology of ghost stories, to be titled “Things that go bump in the night” - which is to be published at the end of the month on the Kindle. Not being particularly fond of ghost stories I decided to try and lighten the tone with a story for children, which although well written needed much work to be suitable for publication, as also has been my second submission - an adult, darker version of the same story.

It may well be back to the drawing board for now, but if at first I felt offended and upset that my work had been so critically pulled apart, I’m now grateful that it has - even for a second time. If I want my story to appear in a publication I at least want it to be at the best it can be, even if maybe I cannot see where the issues lie straightaway and that my story doesn’t meet the required “formula”. It’s about taking on board what is being advised by people who do this professionally day in, day out. More importantly, it’s about growing a thick skin when it comes to finishing my novel and putting it out in the real world for people to review and make decisions upon its suitability for publishing.

Which is why next year when the Me, Me, Me fund comes around again, rather than spend it on something new as it is intended, I’m going to spend it on learning how to get better at what is that I’ve found this year and have loved doing. After taking an enforced sabbatical next month for when the baby comes and then December the tuition fees I’ll pay myself. But next year, the ambition has to remain high, else there is no point in doing it. Getting The Bicycle Man published and hopefully writing novel number two and why not? If you asked me this time last year would I have written some of the things I have this year, I would have said no - so who's to say what this time next year will bring?

Banner image from Dreamstime.com

Monday, 17 October 2011

My Bucket List

Bucket List

Earlier this year, I read the heartbreaking story of a young girl named Alice, who had written a “bucket list” after hearing that she that had a terminal form of cancer. I hadn’t heard of the term before, which apparently comes from the movie of the same name starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Alice isn’t the only person to have been inspired by the movie, thousands of ordinary bloggers have done the exact same thing.

A ‘Bucket List', according to the movie, is a list of items one would like to do before dying, or kicking the bucket. It might sound rather morbid, but we are all dying in an inevitable kind of way, and having now watched the film and seen the list of items that were depicted by two fictional characters from the minds of Hollywood writers - I thought I’d have a go myself.

Firstly, this task isn’t as straight forward as it might look. It’s easy to write a list of things, but in my view, they need to be things that are achievable. I’d like to land on the moon, or have a threesome with Angeline Jolie and Megan Fox, but they just aren’t going to happen. So items that made my list need to be things that in the grand scheme of things are perfectly doable within the current parameters of my life right now. Which leads me to the other thing, variables.

Had I written this list ten years ago, or attempt to write it again in ten years time, my list will change dependant upon my current circumstances and well being. I feel perfectly fit and healthy enough to do a parachute jump right now, but would I feel the same in ten years time? Likewise, the thought of having a book published ten years ago would never have crossed my mind.

Other things that I’ve not included on the list, are the usual things that we all wish for rather than make happen ourselves, like remaining healthy, living long and being prosperous, making the most of our lives and being kind towards others. Those things I believe are mandatory requirements, so the items below are really things that I’d like to do or experience myself.

So here, in random order of importance, is my Bucket List.

  • - Watch every Gillingham FC game in a season
  • - watch an Old Firm
  • - watch a Manchester derby
  • - watch a Merseyside derby
  • - watch El Classico
  • - watch a Milan derby
  • - watch the World Cup Final
  • - visit all 92 League Club grounds
  • - visit Machu Pichu
  • - visit Cedar Point
  • - visit Six Flags Magic Mountain
  • - visit all the Disney Parks
  • - have a child graduate
  • - go to Monaco Grand Prix
  • - go to Singapore Grand Prix
  • - drive Route 66
  • - climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge
  • - do a parachute jump
  • - do a bungee jump
  • - publish a novel
  • - inspire someone into doing something great
  • - be an extra in a movie
  • - visit the Grand Canyon
  • - take my children to the places that inspired me as a child
  • - visit the Great Wall of China
  • - take a hot air balloon ride
  • - build a treehouse and camp in it overnight
  • - have a religious epiphany
  • - take an award winning photograph

What would yours be?

Banner image from Dreamstime.com

Monday, 10 October 2011

Sencity 2011



On Saturday evening just gone, I went to the O2 arena with my sister, her husband and my mother for an evening out at an event called Sencity 2011, which was held within the Indigo nightclub which sits under the famous O2 tent. Sencity is a club night promotion held for deaf people and their friends and family, who can enjoy a multi-sensory experience where music isn’t the main attraction. For someone who was rather nonplussed about going, the night turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

Firstly, a little bit of history. Deafness in our family is like a badge, it is who we are. Mum is the eldest of five siblings - all of whom are deaf, born to a deaf mother. The sisters, all have deaf children of varying severity. The boys, as we’ve now scientifically discovered, help prevent the gene which carries the defect from being passed on as it’s carried within the tail of the sperm which fertilises the egg (it’s amazing what men in white coats can do nowadays). Which for me comes with a slight blessing, as it would appear at least for now that my own children will be exempt from what is a life defining affliction. Unfortunately, there is a prevailing female dominance in the family, my sister has three girls, my auntie has four, so the deaf gene will continue to be passed on for the next few generations at least.

Having a serious hearing loss hasn’t affected Mum’s ability to enjoy music, which some people find hard to understand. How you can you enjoy something that you cannot hear? But it’s not always what you listen too, music is a multi-sensory experience in itself, what you can feel, both physically and through the emotive response to the lyrics or through the personal emotion that the artist portrays through their performance, which is exactly what Sencity was all about.

The venue, a large bowl in which the dance-floor is spacious and well proportioned had upon it a smaller, raised dance-floor which vibrated in time with the music, which was a mixture of dance music and urban R&B. On stage, various deaf DJ’s went through their sets, some accompanied by sign dancers, which were as described, people on stage dancing, whilst signing along to the lyrics of the song. Also on stage was an Aroma DJ, mixing like a mini apothecary various potions which when ready and smoking, wafted across the arena quite pleasantly, adding to the overall experience and atmosphere of the occasion.

My particular highlight was Signmark, a deaf rapper, who was accompanied by a signer and had the subtitles of the lyrics displayed on the wall in the background. You could quite easily have been at a gig in the main arena next door such was the level of professionalism in the performance - but a key thing I noticed, was whenever a performer was on stage, the dancing stopped. Everyone pays attention to the signer, or the lyrics as they scurry quickly across screen, one of a couple of subtle differences that I picked up on a night of very new experiences.

But it wasn’t just the value of having each of the five senses heightened. My cousin Charlotte, who we met there, brought with her a friend, who has perfect hearing and it was the pair of them that highlighted for me the real value of Saturdays event. On a normal night out with her friend, Charlotte has to rely on her to interpret things that have been said, or keep asking questions such as “what did he/she just say?”. But on Saturday night, the shoe was very much on the other foot. Charlotte, signing away to a guy, who she’d just got talking to as her friend watched on trying to work out what was being signed. Asking Charlotte what was being said and if she could say back something on her behalf, even saying to me that she didn’t realise “deaf blokes were so fit”, which I attributed entirely to her youthful ignorance.

Ultimately, it wasn’t about me, I was just along for the ride and had a thoroughly good time in the process, but for people like Mum and Charlotte it was a chance for them to feel part of something ‘normal’ where they are the ones who know exactly what it is that’s going on and the hearing are in the minority trying to keep up. Music, ultimately is just noise which evokes a sensation or an emotion, things that just because you can’t hear doesn’t mean you don’t have. In fact, as a thousand people testified on Saturday night - probably the opposite.

Banner image from Dreamstime.com

Monday, 3 October 2011

Digital Evangelism

www

As in life, users of the Internet can be loosely grouped into demographics, or categories dependent upon age, or behaviour. We use them at work in planning for a website, add a little bit of fictional background information, give them a name and call them ‘persona's’ which are designed to try and work out ways in which the project we are building can be used to serve them purposely. The other night, a chance conversation led me into taking my own persona and dissecting it into pieces, not for research but to stand up for who I am and what I work and believe in.

A friend of mine greeted me on Friday night by saying “how are you doing, how is your second life?” which I wasn’t quite sure how to take. Originally, I took it as it was intended, as a bit of banter, taking the piss - we do it all the time, nobody is, or should be immune. But being a sensitive creature and one prone to over analysis, I pondered the question over the space of a few days and thought, actually, this might be a good topic for discussion. In the banner above, I have labelled myself as a digital evangelist and although I might be spreading the gospel at work, the pages of this blog haven’t really been used as a pulpit in which to speak and share my views about living today in a digital world.

Firstly, I sought to find an explanation, get some further details, or some elaboration upon what it was that appears to be funny about what it is that I do - but when asked what they were referring to, neither friend were actually able to offer much in the way of an explanation, which is understandable. It’s the whole thing about taking the piss, it means nothing other than highlight how shallow and well thought out the original comments were in the first place.

I feel that perhaps I should begin with a distinction, highlight the difference between what it is that I do and what it is that is perhaps perceived. Second Life, first of all, is the name of an application in which users can create an avatar and create a fantasy life and live within an online world that is fictitious and evolves separately and at a pace which is defined by the people within it. Whereas I, use social networking platforms to share real information, real content about myself with friends and family, as well as curate digital content, ideas and innovations with people I work with and others within my field of expertise.

The Internet is no longer a place inhabited by long haired, unwashed IT geeks hiding within the dark and just the glow of their laptops for company. Nor is the Internet available to those sitting purely at a computer, not with mobile, games consoles and handheld’s easily available - and all connected to the digital space. The Internet surrounds us and impacts our everyday lives whether we like it or not, particularly now that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have massive amounts of users sharing and contributing digital content for friends, family and colleagues to watch, read, listen or interact with.

My website was born out of necessity and has since evolved for what I used it for now. I build websites for a living, it’s the perfect place to practise things on, a skunk works environment where I can tinker with code and create. Demonstrated as I have, with a scrolling bookcase with books I’ve read or a personalised map with places I’ve visited - or showcase some of the other sites that I have worked on. Nothing revolutionary but it helps me out professionally.

It was originally intended as a place to keep my Dad in contact and up to date with the family whilst he was out in Iran, long before Facebook was fully established. Even now, as he flew out to Libya last week on his latest assignment, mobile communication and telephone systems weren’t working in Tripoli, but the Internet was and Dad was able to contact us via Facebook to let us know he had arrived safely.

Nowadays, I use this site for my blog, an online place where I can record things that have happened, or chart the journey through a pregnancy, which I will have done now for both of my children. I can recall thoughts and worries about the wedding last year and the excitement about researching honeymoon destinations or more recently record the steps I’ve taken into writing something bigger in the form of a novel which is entirely new, exciting and terrifying in equal measure. I don’t write for approval, for any particular audience other than for myself. I find that I know myself better as a result and am able to compartmentalise better thoughts and reasons that certain things happen and where it is that I am going.

In fact, if it wasn’t for writing this blog, I would never have entertained the thought of writing a novel, proof if you like that one small step in one direction takes you on a massive detour into weird and wonderful places you never expected.

It’s this example, and ones like these that continue to drive me into doing what I do. The Internet empowers people, people use it as a research tool, an information gateway and an entertainment source.

Take the example of the little old lady who brought a computer and hooked herself up to the Internet because everyone said she should. She had never been abroad before, was too scared or had no reason to. Yet she started researching her family tree and opened up a can of worms, revealing part of her ancestry that was unknown and in which led her to being invited to the US as a guest of honour in a small town which was established by her forefathers. She is not alone in her case, there are plenty of couples out there who have to thank a dating site for bringing them together or Skype for allowing two people to continue a relationship despite the width of oceans and continents between them. People who have strange phobias that they thought were unique to them until they use a search engine and find a whole manner of people who have been afflicted with the same condition.

I don’t expect everyone to share my enthusiasm for this particular media, not do I expect everyone to love watching television, reading newspapers or listening to music. I also realise that not everyone wants to use or embrace these things as much as I do. For example, with Facebook. I very much share the vision Mark Zuckerberg has, where people collect and record everything of any importance with their Facebook profiles. With the pending release of the new timeline feature you’ll be able to map back to not just when you began to use Facebook, but right from the beginning of your birth - which I find hugely fascinating. Your account is then your life story, wrapped up in a Facebook branded frame, which is of absolute no interest to anybody other then yourself and your friends, but can live on long after you’ve gone. For no other point other than prosperity and philanthropy. We are all here for just a blink in an eye within the grand scheme of things and if I can leave behind a tiny digital footprint for someone to divulge a meaning upon later on in time then why the hell not? I’ve never once said that my life is interesting, which it isn’t, it is what it is and if I want to share certain things I only do it because I can. It takes a second to record something that has just happened, but forever trying to remember it.

Which then leaves me returning back to my original question, what would my online persona say about me?

Well my name is Adam Bird, I’m a power-user, meaning that I spend more than 50 hours a week connected to the Internet. I work within the industry and understand how the Internet works and is put together. I help build branded pages for clients that have been thought about and have a creative idea behind them. I write a weekly blog for my own personal use sharing information and stories with friends and family members who live locally, nationally and globally. I believe that the Internet as a medium empowers people and that used correctly can enhance peoples lives. By creating the right tools and with the right technology we can innovate creativity and unlock peoples potential, whilst leaving an ever-lasting digital footprint for the future, just like the books and information we had of the past.

A second life? Would be nice wouldn't it - I just hope that it is as fulfilling as this one.
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