Arrival – A review

Science Fiction has always been my favourite genre ever since I discovered series like Doctor Who, Blake’s Seven, and Space: 1999 and was sealed when I first saw Star Wars.

I didn’t manage to see Arrival when it first came out last year, but finally managed to watch it this weekend.

I didn’t have high hopes as I’d heard mixed reviews, but found it to be far better than I’d expected and a seriously intriguing film.

The trailer really doesn’t give anything away. Yes, there are huge egg shaped space ships. Yes, there are creepy aliens behind a smokey screen. Yes, there is an attempt to communicate with them and a tension as the world superpowers become terrified the aliens are trying to turn them against each other.

But it’s what the trailer leaves out that makes this movie compelling.

The story is ultimately about language and the question of how do you solve the problem of learning a new language when you’ve no basis for understanding. But there is another aspect to the story that I won’t discuss as the revelation is part of what makes the movie work so well on a human level and also as one of the great science fiction movies.

I spent two years learning the Tajik language when I lived in Tajikistan. On one level, everyone can learn a language – it’s almost automatic that we pick things up just by being in the presence of different words. On another, we can accelerate that process as we choose to put more time in, to research new concepts, to experiment with different ways of learning.

I’ve absorbed so much Sci-Fi over the years that the concept of learning an alien language could seem overdone, but Arrival brings a beauty and intelligence to the process.

I found Arrival to be thrilling, intelligent and heart-breaking. I highly recommend it.

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray now.

The B.I.S. Method

Following the patented B.I.S. method (Trademark pending) I hit my 3,000 word goal on Friday. It took most of the day to do it, but if that’s what it takes then that’s what I need to keep on doing.

B.I.S. or Bum In Seat for the uniniated, is a tried and trusted method for getting the job done. Some fields use similar methods such as T.U.F.W. (Turning Up For Work), K.O.D. (Knocking On Doors), or even the slightly outdated, but still respectable M.A.E. (Making An Effort).

Sometimes methods can be so simple that their power can be overlooked.

Just Do It…

Parallels between old and new

I’ve continued reading from the books of Samuel, through into 2 Kings. There are so many passages that have stood out to me over the past few weeks, from disturbing stories to shocking ones to inspiring ones.

This morning I was struck by how so many of Jesus miracles are foreshadowed by the prophets. In 2 Kings 4 v 42 to 44 we’re told a man brings twenty loaves of barley bread and some ears of new corn to Elisha. Elisha tells his servant to give it to the hundred assembled prophets. The servant questions him saying, in effect, there’s no way this is going to feed so many men.

Elisha insists, saying “they will eat and have some left over.”

And they do.

A parallel story can be found in Matthew 14 where Jesus sees the need for 5,000 men to be fed. He gets by with just five loaves of bread and two fish and again there is food left over.

Both Elijah and Elisha raised people from the dead as did Jesus. Both Elijah and Elisha commanded the Jordan to dry up so they could walk through on dry land. Jesus simply walked on the water…

Elijah caused a drought, Jesus commanded a storm to calm.

Maybe there are more parallels, but these are a few that occurred to me after reading the initial passage today. What parallels do you see between the old and the new?

Meet The Authors at Cumbernauld Library

I’m delighted to be appearing at Cumbernauld Library on 16th September 2017 from 2 till 4 pm.

Supported by Culture NL Libraries in North Lanarkshire, I’ll be joined by Scottish authors Wendy H Jones and Caroline Johnston.

If you are interested or planning on going, it would be great if you could let us know through their Facebook event page.

“Join Mark Smith and friends at the launch of his new book Fallen Warriors at Cumbernauld Library. Mark will be joined by fellow authors Caroline Johnston and Wendy H. Jones who will also give the audience a brief introduction to their own works.

Mark is a local Cumbernauld author of four books including The Great Scottish Land Grab. His new book, Fallen Warriors, is an intriguing story in which a group of ordinary people are drawn together to stand and fight against the largest attack the West has ever seen.

Caroline Johnston, author of What If? is a fantastic teen fiction author who knew at the age of 7 that she was going to be a writer when her love of writing began at an early age.

Wendy H. Jones, author of Killer’s Crypt has written a thriller series based on the character DI Shona McKenzie with Killer’s Crypt being the sixth in the series.

Don’t miss the chance to find out more about these upcoming authors. Book a free place by contacting Cumbernauld Library by phone, email or in person.”

You can find more information on the Culture NL website and book your free ticket for the event there or through their Facebook page for the event.

Cumbernauld Library meet the author

The messy middle

I’ve struggled this last week to make any real progress on the sequel to Fallen Warriors. At last count I was at 23,892 words.

I have a beginning and the start of an ending, but have found myself bogged down in what writers technically know as “The Messy Middle”.

I had the same problem with the first novel. Too many characters and an uncertainty of how best to bring them together. I had a look at how many characters I’m planning to work with during the sequel. Eighteen! Eighteen characters for whom I want some sort of character journey, some interaction with other characters.

You know that mathematical issue where you increase the number of participants and get an exponential growth in terms of interactions? I think that is part of the problem. There is a reason why writers who are starting out are advised to stick to simple plots.

Anyway, there is a simple solution to the interaction growth issue and the messy middle problem. Technically this is known as “Bum In Seat”.

In theory all I, or any writer facing a similar problem, needs to do is place bum in seat and keep writing. Gradually the problem is resolved, one scene at a time.

It’s a solution that can be adapted to many issues and problems. One’s bum does not have to be in a seat – it can be standing at a workshop bench, or running another mile. Sonetimes the only way to resolve a problem is to keep working towards resolving it, no matter how messy the middle may be.

Back to school

“In the morning they gave Reacher a medal, and in the afternoon they sent him back to school…” So begins Lee Child’s latest novel: Night School.

In Scotland, in North Lanarkshire at least, kids are going back to school today. Thursday seems like a very strange day to be going back. It used to be Wednesday after a couple of teacher “in service” days when my kids were younger. I’m sure I went back on a Monday, back in the day.

Every year I think that I really need to go back to school myself. There’s only so long I can work before my skills become out of date. The main problem I have is what to study. Every project I see advertised has a different skill set required. Oracle database, SQL Server database, MS Access database… SSRS, SSIS, Oracle BIEE, SAP Business Objects… Excel VBA, Power BI, Qlik, Tableau…

Yet, if I take the time to study one of these, I know it will come in useful, either in a contract or to show I’m committed to personal development.

Thinking about going back to work is bringing this question back into focus.

I quite enjoyed Night School, by the way. More than some of Lee Child’s more recent novels. He seemed to capture some of the originality that has been lacking.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to “attend” the same sort of “school” as Reacher (chance would be a fine thing), but it is interesting that most of us are in the enviable position of being able to decide we can gain new skills or refresh older ones, and that we can decide which skills to try and gain.

It allows us to direct our lives rather than simply being ordered one way or another.

Back to work?

I’ve been in the fortunate position this summer of being able to stop looking for work, to spend more time with my family and also work on my next novel.

I knew I only had a limited time, but am now wondering if that time needs to come to and end sooner than expected.

I had two phone calls yesterday, both asking if I was interested in contracts. One was only a short job – a couple of days working for an organisation to modify an application I developed. The other role could go up until March next year. There’s no guarantee I would get that role if I went for it, but I’m also very aware that there is no guarantee another role will become available.

If I start work in the next week or so, it will take me longer to finish the sequel to Fallen Warriors. That might not be a bad thing. I have been wondering if I need more time for research.

I’ll need to make a decision today whether to apply for the second role or not…

All that we can achieve

I was pulled up short this morning. I’ve continued reading past the two books of Samuel and am now half way through the first book of Kings.

The last few chapters have been quite a slog, king after king who did evil in the eyes of the Lord, each one failing to learn from the mistakes of those who went before them. Israel divided in two and for a time it seems like the new nations of Israel and Judah are being led by leaders who are as evil as each other.

Then I read this: “As for the other events of Baasha’s reign, what he did and his achievements…” 1 Kings 16 v 5

I generally consider achievements to be a positive. I have 100 goals and as I make progress towards achieving them I feel good about that. Yet if I gained the whole world and lost my soul…

All we can achieve may be worth recording in a book some day, may be worth people remembering, but if those achievements are side by side with a legacy of disobedience to God, of a life spent following whatever evil our hearts find to do, then what ultimately was the point?

A box of books!

Does a print run count as a first edition when your novel’s been on sale through Print On Demand for the past three years? Probably not.

I received my first proper print run of The Great Scottish Land Grab today – 100 paperback copies. Quite exciting!

I’ve already got some orders, so will be posting them off immediately and will need to crack on, contacting more book shops to see if they will be willing to stock Land Grab.

I only ordered a small quantity of books for both Land Grab and Fallen Warriors. Having heard horror stories from other authors who ordered thousands of copies only to be unable to sell them, I’ve played it safe. I would rather sell these and have to re-order than worry about storage.

If you would like a paperback edition of The Great Scottish Land Grab you can order through your local bookshop quoting ISBN: 978-0-9929883-7-1

If you would like to buy a signed copy, I’ll be joining Wendy H Jones and Caroline Johnston at Cumbernauld Library on the 16th September from 2pm.

What if none of it was fiction?

I published last Sunday’s post knowing that a good many people consider Genesis to be a work of fiction. I don’t. I believe it all happened as recorded, witnessed by the one doing the creating – God.

There are other portions of the bible I’m less sure of. I think that most people believe that Jesus was comfortable sharing made up stories, parables we call them about shepherds and muggings and lost coins and farmers. There is the book of Job which I suspect most people dismiss simply because it starts in a place no human observer has ever been – Heaven.

The Psalms are simply songs, there are a few books that simply contain words of wisdom: Proverbs, The Song of Songs, and potentially one of the most depressing books of all: Ecclesseasties… So, neither fiction, nor history. Perhaps you could even class them as the first Dummies Guides To… Well, The Song of Songs would be the first Dummies Guide to Sex. I really should re-read that…

There are a lot of books of prophecy in the Bible. Kind of hard to classify that using the Dewey method. Non-Fiction that hasn’t happened yet? Alternative Future History? Actually, that might be exactly the right classification as the impression given throughout the Bible is that whatever the blessing promised through the prophecy, it can be lost if we insist on rebelling against God and whatever destruction is warned against could potentially be avoided if we seek our creator, turn from evil, start showing love and kindness to those around us, especially the poor and the weak.

Back to the original question though. What if none of the Bible was fiction?

Genesis and Job share one common factor, they both begin from God’s perspective. Recorded outside of human experience. It shouldn’t really surprise us that the God who is so involved throughout the rest of the Bible would share a little of events outside of our experience, especially since the entire direction of our history seems to involve God trying to lead us back to a place where he can walk and talk with us as he did in Eden.

I wonder sometimes if even Jesus, when he told those parables, was actually using illustrations he’d witnessed. It’s not hard to imagine him turning real events into generalised stories in order to make a point.

Regardless, the Bible remains the most powerful book available to us today. Are you reading it?