writing

Prisoners of our own device

I’m zeroing in on the theme for my feature film project. And I can tell you, it’s been a headache.

That’s what happens when you naturally gravitate towards political ideas – at least for me. It means that I often come at a story with social commentary or a moral in mind. Unfortunately, deciding upon a theme in a story isn’t always what comes first. More often than not, a theme is discovered. It kind of pops out from somewhere in between the characters, the conflict and the setting. So what starts off as a clear idea about what I want to write, morphs into something entirely new.

There is a lot of letting go in this process. It hurts to have to put aside an idea and admit that perhaps this time, the story isn’t about x, y, z.

Originally, I started out wanting to write a story that said something about class-ism. While I haven’t deviated very far, I’m realising that the theme for this story is more about prisons – those that are imposed on us and those we devise for ourselves. It is about authority and how easily we hand our power over to others – often to our own detriment. And it is also about refusing to see the truth of our prison.

All of us live in prisons. There is no such thing as true freedom. It doesn’t exist. What do your prisons look like?

Evolution – Season 39, Story 4

Download Evolution here

While travelling to the Eye of Orion, the Doctor and his companions encounter a powerful telepathic field that tears the TARDIS from the Time Vortex. Crash landing on the planet Satrigon in the year 3450, the Doctor discovers that the primitive species he once knew has become an advanced military civilisation, in just over 200 years.

The Doctor, Val and Tom investigate claims that gods have advanced the species and learn that the population regularly experience psychic communication with these mysterious deities known collectively as The Colony.

When the time travellers begin to experience these events for themselves, the Doctor and his companions become caught in a race against time to find out what is accelerating the evolutionary rate of the Satrigorns—before worlds are destroyed and the lines between reality and illusion are dissolved permanently.

You can read more original Doctor Who stories at The Doctor Who Project website!

Evolution - Titles - Kevin Mullen - MEDIUM

The Companions Collection

Journeying through all of time and space in the TARDIS is an experience like no other. But travelling with the Doctor changes a person, and often comes with a price. Doctor Who fans already know the challenges a companion faces – but what happens outside of the episodes, books and audio plays?

The Companions Collection delves into this void, daring to explore the possibilities that the official series is unlikely to ever confront.


THE COMPANIONS COLLECTION

Parting Clouds (May 2013)

Every evening, an old woman waits for the sky to clear so that she can see the stars and feel a little closer to understanding the sadness in her heart. On this night, however, a mysterious man joins her in her nightly vigil.

Jack and the Doctor (Jan 2014)

Jack has thwarted the invasion of Earth by a species known as the “456” but success has come at a terrible personal cost. Grief-stricken, Jack wanders the world alone, not realising that he is searching for one man.

One Last Adventure (on hold… thanks uni assignments)

The Doctor and Clara hunt an alien creature with the ability to devastate London’s vegetation if left to breed. Tracking the critter to a cemetery in Ealing, the Doctor finds more than he bargained for –  the grave of Sarah Jane Smith.

Silver Leaves (Nov 2014)

Set within the episode “The End of Time”. The Master fights to salvage his plans of world domination from the Time Lords who have returned from Gallifrey to destroy the Time Vortex and end time itself.


More to come!

 

Fan-Fiction vs Fantasy-Fiction

It’s funny, you know. I’ve never considered myself a fan-fiction writer and yet lately I’ve been writing a fair bit of it. I’m not a member of the fan-fic community. I literally had to Google terms like ship, het, and one-shot. Writing fan-fiction for me has been about practicing the discipline of writing.

This has really worked for me. For a long time I had resigned myself to the belief that writing fiction would never get me anywhere. Instead I focused on writing non-fiction for a number of publications. Returning to the world of fiction meant I needed to get over my self-saboteur and unfortunately that saboteur often takes the form of a little voice that tells me I can’t put pen to paper until I have absolutely everything figured out right.

Fan-fiction has helped me overcome that somewhat. Writing about characters that I already know allows me to easily pluck a story idea out of the “I wish this had happened” part of my brain and get down to writing. It has been a great way to cultivate a daily practice and also to hone my craft.

What has been extremely important to me however, has been writing stories that keep the characters in-character. I simply cannot understand why anyone would wish to write characters that behave in ways that do not fit in their respective fictional worlds. The most intriguing phenomenon for me is the prevalence of slash-fic (another term I had to Google).

I support all the ways that people express their love, gender or sexuality. What I have a problem with is what I consider to be the abomination of forcing existing characters to behave in ways they never would. I’ve certainly never been tempted to go down that road myself. Until recently.

It has always bothered me that the Doctor did not show up and save the day during the Torchwood series ‘Children of Earth’. My fantasy-world brain was very upset with the Doctor about this. And so I set about writing the most recent story in my ‘Companions Collection’ series in which this very issue is addressed.

I’m not all about fix-its. Some things should just be left alone. Sometimes bad things happen. In this particular story I wanted to explore the relationship between Captain Jack Harkness and the Doctor by using the ‘Children of Earth’ event as a catalyst.

In my mind, this would be an easy story to write. So much emotion – guilt, anger, fear. I knew how it would start and I knew how it would end. My favourite kind of story.

In reality, things turned out to be much more difficult.

First there was the challenge of writing emotional scenes for characters who have a hard time letting down their defenses.

The power relationship between the Doctor and Jack has always been in the Doctor’s favour. In his own world, Jack is the one calling the shots. He is the mysterious person with the secret of immortality. He is the person that people look to for help. Face to face with the Doctor however, Jack is reduced to playing second fiddle.

The Doctor is an alien with the power of time travel. He understands that Jack is a fixed point in time and space. Indeed, he can literally feel it in his bones when they are near one another. As such, the Doctor has always held himself aloof and separate from Jack, even when trying to work together.

Writing scenes that bring down at least some of the emotional walls between Jack and the Doctor turned out to be harder than I thought. It was also a constant battle not to slip over the line into melodrama.

But what I didn’t anticipate was the flow-on effect that I found myself dealing with. And the most challenging – Jack’s feelings for the Doctor.

No secret has been made of the fact that Jack fancied the Doctor even before the incident on Satellite 5 that resulted in Jack becoming immortal. And afterwards in Series 3, Jack laments with Martha about them both desiring the Doctor’s affections without the Doctor giving either of them a second glance.

While writing my story, I discovered that I could not avoid exploring those feelings. Besides having a physical attraction to the Doctor (something that is really not that exciting given Jack’s inclination to flirt with almost everyone) Jack’s character has evolved in such a way that those feelings may have become something much more.

Jack has looked to the Doctor for help in the past and is the only person with whom he shares any kind of intimate understanding about outliving everyone around him. The Doctor both despises what he is, while also being the only person with any insight into what he is. The Doctor was there when it happened.

This is where the challenge took an interesting turn. The desire to explore these feelings in depth showed me for the first time why fan-fiction writers often delve into slash-fic and something that I have now learned is called hurt/comfort fic.

Now kiss

It suddenly became so easy to allow the Doctor to show Jack the love and tenderness that he is likely to have been desperately needing. Having dragged Jack through the emotional equivalent of being run over by a bus, it now seemed unfair that the Doctor would still refuse him, even in his darkest hour.

Personally, this challenge has highlighted the difference between storytelling and fantasizing. While both are an element of the writing process, fantasizing is about fulfilling one’s own desires. Storytelling is about being honest about what is best for the story.

In the end, it was a very fine line. There is something that I find extremely hot about these two men finding solace in one another. And at the same time, there is something equally beautiful and heartbreaking about the reality that it would never happen.

The final curve ball for me was that I had chosen the Eleventh Doctor for this story. While the ninth and tenth incarnations have never encouraged Jack (in fact the Doctor is arguably oblivious to Jack’s affections), Eleven is much more – well, touchy-feely.

Kiss all the Ponds!

Eleven will grasp someone’s face in excitement, hug with impunity, squash his forehead against someone else’s to encourage them to think and will kiss those who inspire him. Eleven can be angry and distant and full of rage, however more than any other incarnation, he can also offer emotional and physical comfort.

All of this made writing for Eleven and Jack a huge challenge because Eleven is much more likely to express empathy towards Jack. In many ways he is not only older but wiser than his predecessors. He has a firmer grasp on the need for emotional connections. And yet paradoxically, Eleven can be completely clueless when it comes to affairs of the heart.

With these “character facts”, writing this story became as much about me as it did about the characters. Staying true to the story was a real struggle. In my personal life I desire true intimacy in my relationships and so I project this need onto the story. My heart therefore wants to see the Doctor giving Jack the emotional intimacy he needs.

I also entertain the idea of the Doctor finally being able to let down his own emotional guard– something that I think Steven Moffat succumbed to by introducing the character of River Song.

But that is not part of this story. This story is about Jack and the Doctor.

Ten and Jack
Credit: http://maxkennedy.deviantart.com/

 

 

An Alternative Ending

This is an alternative ending to Matt Smith’s last episode The Time of the Doctor. Not for a moment will I claim to be able to write a better ending. However this was a scene that dropped into my head after watching the episode.

A couple of things:

1)  This is a draft. There is passive voice and a probably a fair bit of clunk going on. That’s not important. For me this was an exercise in getting a story out of my head and onto paper as soon as possible.

2)  There may be plot holes. I wrote this without thinking too closely about the wider story or the loose threads that needed tying up.

*******

Enemies the Doctor had faced his entire life converged upon the old house, cornering him. And the Doctor stood in the doorway, defiant to the last. He would buy the townspeople some time. Tell the Daleks something clever. Distract them with his death while the others got away.

The Doctor grimaced. There was nowhere for the residents of Christmas to run.

He stepped out into the falling snow, trying to find a place clear of running people.

“I’m here!” he roared and a Dalek laser tore through him just as he knew it would. It brought him to his knees and his eyes met Clara’s across the field. “Run,” he mouthed, no sound coming out. Only a few had made it onto Trenzalore. Soon the whole Dalek fleet would be upon them.

Clara turned towards the TARDIS but spun back round again, her eyes wide. The Doctor’s own eyes narrowed but Clara wasn’t looking at him. He followed her gaze up towards the crack in the universe that had appeared in the night sky – and through the tear came a flood of regeneration energy.

The Doctor felt his hearts thudding too quickly and he clutched his chest, holding on for the miracle come too late. To regenerate amidst battle meant certain death anyway.

He began to laugh, a painful wheezing. “To hell with the rules hey?” he muttered to the Time Lords who would never hear him. He gasped as the regeneration energy fed into his body.

“The – Doctor – is – regenerating!” a Dalek screamed and the Doctor collapsed, his change beginning.

Clara ran to the Doctor, falling to her knees at his side.

“Clara, you have to get them out of here!”

“I have to get you to the TARDIS,” she said, tugging at his arm. Another laser cut through the air above them.

“No,” the Doctor panted, his hands beginning to glow. “I don’t have time and they just want me. Go. Save them.”

Clara pulled away, twisting around in the snow.

“Help me!” she screamed into the chaos. People ran in all directions. The Doctor grunted, the glow of regeneration spreading throughout his body.

“Help him!” she yelled again and this time the people closest to them stopped, turning to see that it was the Doctor who lay dying in the snow. Three or four dropped to the ground beside him.

Screams and laser beams filled the night but the residents of Christmas slipped their hands beneath the Doctor and hefted him from the ground.

“No – please. No!” the Doctor shouted but the people he had protected for three hundred years pressed on, dragging the old man towards the TARDIS against his will. The Doctor held on, struggling to delay his regeneration. It would kill everyone around him.

“Take them into the TARDIS!” the Doctor begged Clara. “I’ll catch up. I promise.”

Clara ignored him, clutching one of his legs to try and keep it from dragging along the ground.

“Leave me!” the Doctor bellowed.

Another group of townsfolk gathered, standing shoulder to shoulder to create a barrier between the Daleks and the Doctor. The Doctor cried out as they began to fall, one by one, to the weapons of his old enemies. With a scream of rage, the Doctor gave up fighting the townspeople and focused his attention on fighting the monsters. He threw himself to one side and let a flood of regeneration energy blast from one hand, taking out a Dalek.

More townsfolk moved to help, clearing a path before those carrying the Doctor. A contingent of the Order of the Silence joined the fray.

Another Dalek trundled towards a group of fleeing youths and the Doctor let another blast stream out from his other hand.

Lasers ripped through the crowd and the Doctor screamed with them as they fell. Still the people continued on. When one of the townsfolk dropped the Doctor into the snow with their death, another stepped forward to take their place, lifting him once more.

Pain lanced through the Doctor’s body as he fought to control his regeneration.

“Hang on, Doctor,” Clara pleaded and she dropped his leg, running for the TARDIS.

A Dalek appeared from behind the time machine, heading towards Clara. Another blast of energy took it out, the effort wracking the Doctor’s body with agony.

The door opened and to the sound of people falling and dying, the Doctor was deposited onto the floor of the TARDIS. Clara dragged him by his feet towards the console. The silence inside the ship as the door swung shut seemed to mock the slaughter outside.

“Clara…”

Clara looked down at the Doctor, reaching out to touch him but the regeneration glow grew brighter, making her pull back sharply.

“Doctor…” she breathed. “Tell me what to do.”

The Doctor gasped a laugh. “Now you want to listen to me.”

Clara’s watched the Doctor anxiously, eyes glistening.

“You’ve seen me change,” the Doctor continued, his voice tired. “You need to step back.”

Clara shook her head, tears beginning to fall. “No, I mean, what am I going to do without you?”

“To change is to survive, Clara.” The Doctor rolled his head to one side, watching the vision of a grown Amelia Pond coming down the stairs to kneel at his side. “But I never forget,” he continued, shifting his gaze between the two of them. “I’m going to be someone else. But I never forget my friends. And I will never, ever forget when the Doctor was me.”

The glow of his regeneration grew brighter still and Clara pulled back, sobbing.

Regeneration energy burst from the Doctor, changing every cell in his body from the inside out. It coursed through him and he gritted his teeth against the tidal wave that burned away everything that had been him, transforming him into something renewed and undiscovered.

The wave ended abruptly, leaving an entirely different man lying on the floor of the TARDIS. The mysterious man sat bolt upright, boggling wide-eyed at Clara.

“Didn’t I tell you to get everyone into the TARDIS?” he snapped, grey eyebrows drawing down to frame angry eyes. The Doctor struggled to his feet and staggered past a stunned Clara to fling open the door. A shot hit the door beside his head.

“Well come on then!” he shouted into the war raging outside. “What are you all waiting for? Everyone in here. Now!”

My Brain Hurts

Really. It does.

You see, I have just finished listening to the audio version of Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. And now my brain hurts.

Life experience and a talent for words does not a writer make. I knew this. Deep down I’ve always known that the act of writing is not only about honing an ability to turn a good phrase or write a vividly, poetic paragraph.

And there is only so much we can learn on our own. Mentorship, formal classes, informal groups and study are necessary if one is to take a born aptitude for writing and turn it into a craft. Listening to Story is like a slap in the face – a reality check and a reminder that storytelling is much more than being able to string words together. Storytelling is much more than regurgitating our personal experience of literature, television or film. It is having a story to tell and then telling that story well, as the saying goes.

It has given me a lot to think about. Perhaps most significant is that it has made me think about the way I work. I found myself reacting quite strongly and almost defensively to some of the statements made in this book. I am one of those people who dick around with ideas for weeks on end before ever putting pen to paper. I’m also one of those people who sits down and starts to bang out scenes that have caught my imagination without thinking about where the story is headed. It works sometimes. I have been able to produce stories this way. And yet the most successful story writing experience that I have had so far was after I’d forced myself to write an outline.

In hindsight, if I’d not had a deadline to meet (or if I’d been more diligent) I’d have gone back over my outline and worked and reworked it within an inch of its life before beginning my story.

Then there are all the intricacies of plot, substance, structure, rhythm, pace, characterisation, turning points, acts, rising and falling action, action/reaction, values, conflict, crisis, character revealed under pressure, inciting incidents, subplot, subtext, revelation, dialogue, the list goes on. Perhaps I might blog about a few of these things in the next little while. It might help me to marry my instinctual understanding of these aspects of story to what I am studying and practicing consciously. Like vocalisation, writing things down helps me to process. Yes, that sounds like a good idea. We’ll see how that goes.

Evolution Update

Today I was sent the cover for my Doctor Who novella Evolution!

I’d post it here but I’m not allowed to yet. It’s being kept under wraps along with all the other covers for the stories in this season. I’m really excited about it though – and extremely happy with that way it has turned out. It’s so lovely to see a scene (or a landscape in this case) brought to life by an artist.

I’ve now done my final edits and the manuscript has been returned to the editor for one last glance. I don’t expect that I’ll need to make any more changes, which is great. I can now focus on my next project… more to come on that soon!

 

The Moment

Yesterday I wrote a poem because all the cool kids were doing it. Okay, so that’s not quite true. I’ve been added to a Facebook group described as “A competition-free relentless support group for radical poets and artists of all flavours”.

After my original offering of, “There once was a man from Nantucket…” I came up with this.

Also, I am not a poet :)

*******

The Moment

Standing in the void
requires nothing of me save presence,
as all is stripped of meaning
and Desire is all that’s left.

No past, nor future, nor parallel existence
holds my hand and beckons me
No, I shall languish and thrive instead
in a paradox of pain and potential

This moment -
the dark seed of a thousand suns
reaches in and plucks out my beating heart
holding it up to my face
…and I follow.

 

Should Your Children Attend the Birth of Your New Baby?

This article was written for the Yahoo Contributor Network on 25 March 2010.

*******

When I told people I was planning to have my daughter with us when I birthed my son, almost everyone freaked out. The polite ones would say, “Do you think that’s a good idea?” The people who cared less or were in a state of shock said, “You can’t do that!” And so began my battle with the world to have my family experience this birth with me. My whole family.

My daughter was three and a half when my husband and I began talking about our options. Would she be able to handle it? Would we traumatise her? Would I be able to focus with my daughter in the room? Would my husband be distracted by our daughter instead of being able to concentrate on me? And the most pressing question of all: what would happen if the birth went wrong?

Despite all of the fears I still felt quite strongly that having our daughter with us was the right thing to do. I know my daughter and I know myself. I knew instinctively that this should be a family experience and that we could handle any outcome that eventuated if we took the right precautions. So if you’ve ever thought of involving your other children in your birth, these are some things you should think about.

Is it appropriate?

Not all children should witness such an intense experience and age is a very important factor. Older children may not want to share this experience and their opinions should be respected. Under no circumstance should a child be made to witness something that they do not wish to experience. Younger children may not have the maturity to deal with seeing their mother in pain, or may not be able to keep themselves amused while the parents are focusing on the birthing. Toddlers may be more interesting in climbing all over you.

Choosing to birth in a hospital (which is scary for some of us without the screaming women) may not be the best place to have other children with you. Children are more likely to feel uncomfortable in a hospital and this in turn may cause them more stress than they would normally exhibit in a more familiar environment. Home birthing or opting to birth in a Family Birthing Centre may be more conducive to having other children involved.

There is also a much higher instance of intervention in a hospital and so there is much more chance of your older children witnessing things like foetal monitoring and the administering of pain relieving drugs. These may not be procedures that you wish your children to witness and will really depend on how you feel about it and whether you honestly feel your children will have a problem with seeing you strapped to a machine or with an IV in your arm.

Is it possible?

Intervention that is more serious than basic monitoring or administering fluids is probably not something you want your children to witness. Childbirth is natural. Intervention is a medical procedure. If you have a high-risk pregnancy or your labour becomes high risk then having your children with you really isn’t an option. In fact I sincerely doubt that any hospital is going to allow you to have children in with you unless you have a private room or birthing suite. Even in these circumstances you will need to find out more about your hospital’s policy when it comes to having children with you for the birth.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

In all likelihood it will be impossible to determine whether your child is mature enough to witness birth until you have at least broached the subject many times with your child. This may start off as expressing your hope that your child can attend and extend to include watching birthing videos, reading books together and having discussions with your child about what may or may not occur.

I had many discussions with my daughter about my impending labour. While I made sure that she had the facts (in age-appropriate language), I also explained to her that birth is a natural thing. For example, I told my daughter that it was very likely that I would be grunting or screaming. I explained that birth hurt but at the end we would have a beautiful baby boy as part of our family. I made sure she understood that I had experienced this pain at her birth and that it was worth it because she is here with us now.

We even played games by taking turns at yelling, trying to mimic what she may hear. When I was in labour with my son, my daughter spent much of her time standing next to me in the shower, hanging off the support bar and grunting! When my husband asked what she was doing she said, “I’m helping mummy!”

Have a back up plan

I never intended to allow my daughter into the birthing suite at the Family Birthing Centre without having a back up plan in place. My husband and I discussed this at length then asked for his sister to be “on call”. If at any stage our daughter became distressed, needed a meal or otherwise needed taking care of, my sister-in-law (who lived five minutes from the hospital) would come and pick her up.

We made sure that my daughter understood that this option was available to her. While she was only three at the time, we knew our daughter well enough to know that she would tell us in no uncertain terms whether she wanted to stay or go.

If you don’t have a support person who lives near the hospital, try to find someone who can actually come to the hospital. Depending on how close you are, they may even be able to attend the birth if you and they are comfortable with this. The advantage to this is that they can look after your child without leaving this up to your partner solely.

We were extremely lucky and did not have to even call for assistance.

Bring a sibling bag

Make sure that your other child or children have their own bag. No one knows how long your labour will be and it is of absolute importance that your other kids have things to keep them amused. Bringing toys and books will give children something to occupy them. It will also give them permission to go off into the corner and have a bit of their own time. Packing food, snacks and water is also important so that your partner or support partner is not forced to leave you while they go and hunt down food for the kids!

The hurdles

Be prepared to cop some flak. My parents were dead set against the idea, even speaking with their own GP to try and gather “expert evidence” to support their fears. My mother-in-law was beside herself. Some of my friends knew me well enough to avoid the topic while thankfully others supported me completely. Colleagues pretended to be supportive while doubts flickered behind their eyes. Some weren’t even old enough to seriously consider having children of their own.

It seems that decisions about labour and birth are everyone’s business. It never fails to amaze me just how controversial our own choices can become. The medical profession has put enough fear into the general populace that most people consider handing complete control of women’s pregnancies and labour over to a stranger “erring on the side of caution”. Some people will even treat you as though you are taking needless risks, being selfish or are being just plain irresponsible. It takes a strong woman to stand up in the face of that kind of criticism and make her own informed and instinctive choices.

By the way, all doctors who we spoke to (or my parents spoke to) said they were not in favour of having children at a birth. Conversely, all midwives we spoke to truly supported our decision, even giving sound advice and sharing stories of other parents who had made the same decision.

The benefits

If you have decided it is appropriate and possible to have your other children witness your labour, if you have prepared your child and have a back up plan in place, then there are many benefits to making this decision.

Your older child will not be confused when you suddenly bring a baby home from the hospital. They will know exactly where they came from and will have felt just as part of the experience as you and your partner.

I believe this has prevented my daughter from feeling excluded. She was therefore never threatened by the presence of another little person in our lives. From the moment our son was born, our daughter has been completely involved in this change to all our lives. She was never a bystander, watching from the outside while everything changed around her. I honestly believe that this has given her more stability and security. Sure my kids are still young, but they are extremely close.

My son’s first word was not “Mama” or “Dada”. It was “Amber”.