Where to Start – How About the End…?

So, what would the end of the world look like?

We live in crazy times (haven’t we always!). Wars rumbling on in the background of the West’s consciousness (Yemen), or wars that the world looks at but does nothing about (Syria), politicians who promote division to bolster and their own egos, gun crime, knife attacks, cars used as weapons…I could go on. The end of the world could come in many forms, but societal breakdown and the end of civilisation is probably more likely than being struck by a giant meteorite (I hope I’m not tempting fate there!). Amongst all this doom and gloom it is important to remember that for the majority of people living on this planet, life is much better than that.

Our perception of the state of the world is seriously eroded largely by negative press – camera crews and news reporters try to find the most appalling incidents to make the public tune in. That is essentially their job. Of course, it’s human nature to seek out bad news, but it’s important to remember that positive things are happening all the time that are never reported.

Just like the news reports, fiction often visits the darker side of the human condition (or not-so-human, depending on your genre). It is essential for the development of a plot for ‘something’ to happen. That ‘something’, or ‘trigger’, is necessary for events to take place and a story to unfold, and rarely is it something pleasant.

To write a story it can be quite difficult to actually begin, or ‘put pen to paper’ as the cliche goes. Sometimes it can be good to start with a dramatic event to draw people in, or at least a line or two to pique their interest or create bemusement. Something, anything to grab the reader and make them want to read on.

Another way to start is to imagine the ‘trigger’ event and work backwards. Think about what would lead up to the event taking place, or how and why the main character is involved or affected by it.

This is all well and good, but how to come up with the ‘trigger’ in the first place? Some people use random words, or suggested opening lines, or they look in the newspapers and magazines then extrapolate their own variations on the stories they read. Another way is to find an arresting image and to create a story that leads up to, or runs away from, what is pictured. That’s where this post comes in – hopefully.

The end of the world is a pretty dramatic event and has been illustrated numerous times throughout history – in art, literature and on film. The images below are interesting because they fuse photography and painting to create believable scenes (they digitally fuse the two media to create impossible ‘photos’). Created by Michal Karcz (an artist form Warsaw, Poland), his images appear to encompass post-apocalyptic, alien or parallel worlds and alternative futures/pasts. They could be a good starting point for a story/

What would you write inspired by these pictures? Or what do you use as a trigger for your stories?

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I originally discovered these images a few years ago on the designboom website at this address.

Photographs by Erik Johansson

The photographs of Erik Johansson combine the surrealist eye for the absurd (in a similar way to Rene Magritte) with the visual contortions of the work of E.C. Escher.

Johansson is a professional photographer who has produced work for Microsoft, Adobe, National Geographic, Google and Volvo, amongst others.  It is interesting that he does not try to conceal his digital manipulations; going so far as to produce videos revealing the laborious behind-the-scenes manipulations he has to go through to, as he puts it, “realise the ideas in my mind“.

Considering the amount of torn up countryside, roads scored or dragged through the landscape and general disintegration evident in much of his photography, I wonder if it reveals something about his inner psyche…?

Leaving Home

Go Your Own Road

Fishy Island


Arms Break Vases Don’t

Cut And Fold

Common Sense Crossing




The Art of Reading

women-dress-reading-books-turkish-nail-polishMost people take reading for granted and much of the text we read has changed format over the past few decades from analogue sources to become largely electronic in form.  This of course is fine for the majority of what we read, because a vast amount of it is at best work related or instructional, and if not then it’s usually inconsequential chatter.  But what about reading for pleasure or for proper learning?

I can see the advantages of reading via an e-book (particularly the space saving aspect and the instant access to what you are searching for) but this convenience has not persuaded me to exchange printed words for e-ink.  Part of the pleasure for me is in the connection to the physical page, it’s natural feel and warmth, a book has a physical presence, it feels like a body of work, rather than an anonymous block of plastic and the cold glow of a screen – simply put, you cannot snuggle up with a computer, can you!

With this in mind it was interesting to read recently that the format we read on significantly affects how well we absorb what we are reading.  Apparently we tend to skim read the digital, whereas we are more inclined to mentally and emotionally connect with the analogue – it is nice sometimes to find that what you instinctively feel is actually supported by a range of learned studies.

Ironically it was on the digitally published treehugger.com website that I found an article by Katherine Martinko called Why You Should Read More Paper Books This Year which summarises the issue quite nicely (I have reproduced it below).

E-readers are undeniably practical, but science has weighed in on the debate and come up with a surprisingly traditional conclusion.

As life moves faster and faster, there is a growing desire to slow things down. This is reflected in the burgeoning “slow” movements, in which people purposely take time to complete tasks that could otherwise be done faster. Interest is increasing in activities such as knitting, cooking the “slow” way, baking bread, engaging in slow travel, and shopping for “slow” fashion.

There is even a “slow reading” movement, which advocates regaining the ability to enjoy an old-fashioned paper book for long periods of time without the distractions of the digital world. Some people have even started book clubs where they get together to read in silence, phones turned off.

You may think it strange to place such priority on a mere material, but these slow readers realize something that many others don’t – that reading paper books has real benefits, supported by a number of studies, that e-readers simply cannot match, despite their undeniable practicality.

Readers absorb less on Kindles and iPads than when they read on paper.

According to a study from Norway’s Stavanger University, lead researcher Anne Mangen says:

“The haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”When 72 Norwegian tenth-graders were given a text to read either as a PDF or as a printed document, followed by a comprehension test, the “students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension tests than students who read the texts digitally.”

The Wall Street Journal reported a 2007 study of 100 people that found that multimedia presentations using a mixture of words, sounds, and moving images resulted in lower retention levels than when the audience read a plain text version, minus all the fancy so-called comprehension aids.

Reading on paper reinforces a skill that must be practiced in order not to be lost.

We have become so accustomed to reading sentences accompanied by links and colourful advertisements that it’s actually difficult to follow the long and often meandering progress of literary sentences.

Screens have changed the way in which we read. Barraged by information and in a perpetual hurry, most of us read, without even realizing it, in an “F” pattern – scanning across the top line of text, but then down the left side of the screen and only partly across the other lines, searching for important words and headlines.

Slow reading is exercise for your brain.

Unless we actively pursue the act of reading as it used to be done, we risk losing our ability to enjoy it – and there are repercussions for that, including greater stress, poorer mental agility later in life, reduced ability to concentrate, and less empathy.

Kids do better in school when firmly grounded in reading, and that is a lifestyle habit that is seriously influenced by parental guidance and example. A 1997 study published in Developmental Psychology found that reading ability in first grade is closely linked to academic achievement in grade eleven – all the more reason to have paper books lying around the house as a tangible reminder to keep reading.

Slow-reading advocates recommend setting aside 30-45 minutes per day to read a book, much in the same way you’d dedicate time toward regular exercise. Make a date for yourself with a paperback, and think of it as a workout for your brain. It will calm you before bed in a way that an e-reader screen cannot, and you will experience a real improvement in your ability to get through a novel, especially if you haven’t done it in a while.

Perhaps you can make it a personal challenge for 2015 to read more than one book, which is what 25 percent of the U.S. population failed to do last year.

‘Imagine Finding Me’ by Chino Otsuka

paris, france, 1982 and 2005The photograph above, on first look, appears to be just another holiday snap.  Two girls standing outside a patisserie somewhere in Paris.

Most of that previous paragraph was correct – except that this is not two girls, it’s the same girl twice.  It comes from a series of photographs called ‘Imagine Finding Me’ by Chino Otsuka.kamakura, japan, 1976 and 2005By using photographs of the artist as a young girl, Chino Otsuka seamlessly superimposes herself from a later photograph into the older one – creating an impossible image, a synthesis of two mutually exclusive moments in a person’s life and posing the tantalizing question of what would you say to your younger self?

“The digital process becomes a tool, almost like a time machine, as I’m embarking on the journey to where I once belonged and at the same time becoming a tourist in my own history.”

Chino often uses self-portraiture in her photography to examine the relationship between belonging, memory and identity, often associated with a sense of place, home, displacement and loss.spain, 1975 and 2005I found the original article on the designboom website, it is well worth a look, there’s even a little video of the artist talking about her work for an exhibition from 2012 in Amsterdam, which included the ‘Imagine Finding Me’ series, called ‘A World of Memories‘.

1984 and 2005 London, UK, from the series Imagine Finding Me

A Quick Note On Seeing Lawrence of Arabia On The Big Screen

Firstly I must qualify the title of this mini-posting.  This is not a review of Lawrence of Arabia – it is one of he greatest ‘epic’ films ever made, what more do you need to say – and when I say ‘the Big Screen’ I actually simply mean the cinema.  I can just about remember when a big screen could actually accommodate two tiers of seating, but that was many, many years ago!

So how come Lawrence of Arabia was being shown in a mainstream cinema?  Well, this year is the fiftieth anniversary of its premier (which was at the Odeon, Leicester Square in London on 10th December 1962) and in celebration of this fact there is a Blu-ray edition available and the film is being shown in cinemas across the country.  It has already been exhibited in cinema’s in America (a month or two ago) and in the UK yesterday.  There is also another screening this coming Tuesday.

Filming with huge 70mm cameras (on Super Panavision 70 film) caused many difficulties on the shoot including the regular over-heated of he equipment in the desert sun, despite the many efforts to keep them cool.  Although the larger format does significantly increase the image quality and apparently greatly assist with image stability while projecting, the term 70mm is a slightly misleading – in terms of the actual size of the image on 70mm film, 65mm are for the picture frame and the other 5mm are for the sound strip, whereas all of the 35mm are used for the image on 35mm film.

The digital copy of the film has been scanned at 8k and 4k, which I believe is unusual (see page seven of the Masters of Cinema Catalogue for an interesting comparison of film and film scans).  Most films for release in cinemas are filmed at 2k digital, which is roughly half the equivalent of the information contained on 35mm film.  4k appears to be optimal for most movies as it is virtually equivalent to 35mm film, so I assume the 8k scan was undertaken to accommodate the additional information contained on a 70mm print.

Prior to the film screening itself there were the usual trailers for future features – one was for the Life of Pi which appears to be nearly all constructed with CGI technology.  I have no problem with CGI, it can be incredibly useful and highly effective when used sparingly, but I dislike it’s over use – it gives the film an artificial sheen which I find off-putting.  I mention this because, of course, Lawrence of Arabia was filmed long before this technology was available and the film looked refreshingly ‘natural’ and warm (or was that just the heat of the desert!).

I do not know which scan was shown, I’m assuming the 8k version – which ever it was it looked absolutely stunning, the depth and visible detail was incredible.  I have seen couple of classic films at the cinema and you do notice more, get more of an experience – it is great to see these films as they should be seen.  It is far more of an experience than watching it at home on the small screen. I was one of only five people at this particular screening, which is a pitiful number!  The film is truly epic, in terms of length as much as scope of the story – it is the longest film to win Academy Awards, only beating Gone With The Wind by about a minute.  My ticket was nearly £10, which seems to be usual, but I think I really got my monies worth this time.

If you get the chance to see this classic as it should be seen, on as big a screen as possible, I would highly recommend it.