Jun 29, 2011

The Hero's Journey in Kung Fu Panda

I'm a big fan of Joseph Campell's Monomyth, or Hero's Journey. It's a model which can adapt and fit to any tale. As writers, we can use it to structure our work. As an audience, we can look forward to seeing the many ways the Journey can evolve from story to story. We can learn to anticipate certain events in a plot, and to appreciate the quality of the story in how it uses the various elements. Once you accept that originality and unexpected twists are not things easily achieved, or even necessarily effective, you can appreciate all stories for the simple qualities that make us love them.

I've found that children's films are often some of the best examples of the Hero's Journey, so I'd like to take, as my first example of the Monomyth in film, Kung Fu Panda (the below does contain spoilers):


While the movie doesn't contain all 17 stages of Campbell's Monomyth, very few stories actually do.

Our hero, Po, starts off working in a noodle shop for his father who, while Po is a panda, is actually a goose. His dream is to be a great kung-fu warrior, but they are just noodle folk. "Broth runs in our veins," as his father tells him. This is Po in his Mundane World.

The Call to Adventure: An announcement comes that the Dragon Warrior will finally be chosen, the great hero who will receive the Dragon Scroll and learn the secret to unlimited power. This is Po's Call. He eagerly rushes to the temple to see the Dragon Warrior be chosen, and is, seemingly by accident, chosen himself. Despite his own shortcomings and the initially dismissive attitudes of Master Shifu and the Furious Five, Po stays, encouraged by Master Oogway's words that "There are no accidents."

Crossing of the First Threshold: The moment when the hero enters into the world of adventure and the unknown. Typically, this is where the hero meets the Threshold Guardian. In this case, it is when Po trains with the Furious Five, trying to prove that he is worthy of learning kung fu. This of course leads to...

The Road of Trials: This is the struggle to learn the lessons needed to overcome the threat. In keeping with mythic tradition, Po does fail at times, particularly in his physical training. He does, however, succeed in winning the friendship of the Furious Five, except for Tigress, anyway, and in helping Master Shifu find a way to train him. Using his stomach.

Supernatural Aid: The always-important mentor figure, in the form of Master Shifu. While Master Shifu is reluctant to train Po, it is his own mentor, Master Ooogway, and Po's own determination, that convince him to find some way to train him. It is Master Shifu who later presents Po with the Dragon Scroll, his "talisman" to give him the power to defeat the villain, Tai-Lun. However the scroll is blank. It's nothing but a sheet of reflective parchment.

Atonement with the Father: Dejected, with the Furious Five defeated and seemingly no way to defeat Tai Lun, Po returns home, jeered by the villagers. To cheer him up, his father explains the secret of his Secret Ingredient Soup: There is no secret ingredient. If you want something to be special, it will be, because people will want it to be special as well. This revelation leads Po to...

The Ultimate Boon: Po realises something no-one else can. There is no secret to unlimited power. The power is in each person. All it takes is belief. With this knowledge, Po is able to defeat Tai Lun and become the hero he always wanted to be.

 There is no charge for awesomeness

Master of Two Worlds: Cheered by his fellow villagers, and receiving respectful bows from the Furious Five, Po is finally accepted in both the Mundane World and the world of kung fu.

And there we have it. Po's journey through Kung Fu Panda in terms of the Monomyth. Of course, his journey is not complete, and there are still challenges that he has to overcome in Kung Fu Panda 2, but we'll come to that another time.

Jun 27, 2011

The Family We Choose For Ourselves

"Friends are the family we choose for ourselves" - Edna Buchanan

Most of us are raised to believe in certain family values. For a lot of people, these values are enforced by a loving, caring family. For some, family become these people who expect much and offer little in return. Others, meanwhile, have little actual family to begin with.

But there is something we all value in our lives. Our friends. The thing is, we often don't take the time to tell these people how much they mean to us. We can lose touch over time as we move to new places, change jobs, and take on new responsibilities.

Over a year and a half ago, through the wonders of Facebook, I got back in touch with an old college friend. We started talking occasionally, and as we're both writers began comparing wordcounts every day. I credit this, by the way, with being one of the main reasons I finally got my first book completed and ready for querying. Now we talk pretty much every day and we can't wait until we're both in the same country again for long enough to have a proper reunion.

The more we talked though, the more I realised just how much of an impact we had on each other. We both had some tough times early on in college and, unfortunately, we drifted apart. Neither of us were happy with how things turned out, though. We carried on, each wishing we'd been a better friend.

Today, we are both better people and better friends. She's one of the closest friends I have and I'm thankful not only that we're back in touch, but also that both our lives have come along so well. We're both happily married; turns out we first got together with our respective spouses in the same year as each other, and later got married in the same year! We both love the lives we have. Most importantly, we're both cracking on with our writing careers together.

Second chances are amazing things, but not every friendship gets one. Remember this. Family you're born with. Friends are the ones you bring into your life by choice. Sometimes that takes a little more work to maintain. But it's worth the effort.

To all my friends reading this, thank you for choosing to have me in your lives. You are my family.

*And I've learned since writing this that July 30th was officially declared by the UN to be International Friendship Day. How awesome is that?

Jun 25, 2011

Soundtrack Saturday - Live To Win

Taking a break from editing will lead me to do anything. Even adding a fourth day to my blogging schedule. Ah well. At least this segment's just a bit of fun.

Here's a rocking track from Paul Stanley:

Frustrated, degraded, down before you're done
Rejection, depression, can't get what you want
You ask me how I make my way
You ask me everywhere and why
You hang on every word I say
But the truth sounds like a lie
Live to win, 'till you die, 'till the light dies in your eyes
Live to win, take it all, just keep fighting till you fall
Obsessive, compulsive, suffocate your mind
Confusion, delusions, kill your dreams in time
You ask me how I took the pain
Crawled up from my lowest low
Step by step and day by day
'Till there's one last breath to go
Live to win, 'till you die, 'till the light dies in your eyes
Live to win, take it all, just keep fighting till you fall
Day by day, kickin' all the way, I'm not cavin' in
Let another round begin, live to win
Yeah, live, yeah, win
Live to win, 'till you die, 'till the light dies in your eyes
Live to win, take it all, just keep fighting 'till you fall
Day by day, kickin' all the way, I'm not cavin' in
Let another round begin, live to win
Live to win
Live to win
Yeah, live, yeah, win!!

Jun 24, 2011

Real Men Can Cook: Marinated Chicken Breasts

Welcome back to Real Men Can Cook. This recipe takes a little more planning and preparation, but it's a lot easier to whip together. Unfortunately, it also kind of hit my wife and I in a moment of inspiration last weekend, so I don't have any photos to share. But it went down well at the Father's Day lunch I cooked for my parents, so I hope you enjoy it.

6 medium-sized chicken breasts
2 cups of white wine
1/2 tsp olive oil (again, extra-virgin is my preference)
1 tbsp sage
1 tbsp herb de provence
1 tsp ground garlic
1 tsb paprika

Total Time: 30 mins (plus preparation and marinading time)
Serves: 6

Step 1:
Mix the white wine, oil, herb de provence, sage, garlic and paprika in a container large enough to hold your chicken. I used one of those clip-seal plastic tubs because they're air and water-tight.

Step 2:
One by one, roll your chicken breasts in the mixture and set them aside when done. Once each breast has been rolled, carefully place all of them into the container and cover/seal it. Place in the fridge and leave overnight.

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees (centigrade). Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and place on a grill. Cook for approximately 30 minutes, turning two or three times to make sure the chicken browns nicely. Make sure the chicken is cooked all the way through, and serve with mixed salad and boiled baby potatoes in French salad dressing.

Jun 22, 2011


Yesterday was my and my wife's third wedding anniversary. It poured rain from the moment we got up until we went to bed, with just a short pause long enough to get some pictures taken outside the church. It was still one of the best days of my life.

Jen walked down the aisle to the score from The Princess Bride. Our first dance was to Save The World, by Bon Jovi. The DJ ended the night with Bat out of Hell by Meat Loaf.

I thought I'd share some pictures from the ceremony, and our honeymoon in that most awesome of cities, New York.

Jun 20, 2011

Review: The Shifter by Janice Hardy

This is my first review since I started blogging about writing, so I figured I'd review a book I discovered as a result of my blogging.

The Shifter, by Janice Hardy (UK title is The Pain Merchants) tells the story of Nya, a girl who can heal by taking the pain of another's injuries and holding it in her own body. However, unlike the vaunted members of the Healer's League, Nya can't dispose of this pain normally. She can only shift this pain back into another person. This forces her to hide her abilities, and becomes the cause of her problems through the course of the book. However, as her journey continues, Nya soon learns that this curse is a power that can help her save herself, her sister, and more.

I'm not used to reading Young Adult fiction, so I'll admit the more straightforward language of this book took me some time to get used to. However, once past this hurdle, I was caught up in Nya's troubles. Just when you think things can't get any worse for Nya, that she can't be pushed any further, Janice surprises you. There are some truly great moments, a couple of which found me almost cheering out loud on the train.

If I'm honest, apart from the ages of the primary characters, there was little in this that I would simply classify as "teens only." This is a fun book, with action, adventure, and engaging emotional turmoil. Told from Nya's point of view in a 1st-person format, it's so easy to get swept up in her life in this city under enemy occupation. This is a book suitable for young readers, with no graphic content or excessive violence, but still packed with action and excitement that should appeal to older readers, even adults looking for a solid story with appealing characters and a rocking climax.

The next book in the series, Blue Fire, is definitely on my "to-read" list.

Personal Opinion: 4 out of 5

Jun 17, 2011

Real Men Can Cook: Tomato Rice with Chicken

Welcome to Real Men Can Cook, my new series of recipe posts. Because let's face it, everyone loves a man who can cook. I'll be offering up recipes I've found, been given, or come up with on my own. Every recipe I post will be something I've cooked myself and thought was worth sharing.

For my first recipe, we'll be looking at Tomato Rice with Chicken. Enjoy!

400g chicken breast, diced
1 cup long grain rice
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp cumin
500ml chicken stock
Cooking oil (I like to use extra vigrin olive oil, but any cooking oil you prefer will do)

Total Time: 40-45 mins
Serves 2-3 as a main dish on its own, or 3-4 as a lunch or with an additional side dish

Step 1:

Wine - The chef's best friend

Step 2: 
Heat some oil in a pan and add your chicken pieces. Fry until lightly browned, making sure the chicken is fully cooked all the way through. Once this is done, remove the chicken from the heat and set aside.

Step 3:
Heat some more oil in a large pot or sauce pan. Add you onion and cook on a medium heat until the onion starts to turn soft.


Step 4:
Add rice, tomato puree, cumin, and mix. Gradually add the chicken stock and chicken pieces. Bring to the boil and lower the heat, cooking for approx. 30 minutes, or until the rice has become soft and the mixture thickens.

Yeah, just ignore the bit I dropped on the counter there...

Step 5:
Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve!

  • Same on time by chopping your onion while the chicken cooks.
  • If you haven't used unsalted chicken stock, avoid using too much salt or it'll spoil the flavour. 
  • You can also add more tomato puree or even chopped tomato pieces if you like. 
  • For a vegetartian varation, try replacing the chicken with peppers and mushrooms.

Jun 15, 2011

Secondary WIP

It's a pretty daunting task to write a novel. So only a fool would try to write more than one at the same time, right?

Not necessarily. If you're working on a project that's dear to your heart and taking a lot of your time and energy, sometimes the stress can get to you. And if you're like me, trying to unwind by not writing will just make you feel like you're wasting time you should be spending writing. It's a horrible cycle. I'm finding myself particularly prone at the moment because my current primary WIP is a follow-up to my first novel and I want it ready for submission soon enough that it could be scheduled for release in a good timeframe after the first. I know that, realistically, I shouldn't need to worry about having it submitted for almost another year, but the desire is there to write the thing, to keep Nathan's story going, even for my own sake.

So when I remembered an idea I had long, long ago for a book about a boy who turns into a winged monster after dark, I had an inkling that this could be a way for me to keep writing, even when taking breaks from writing book 2 of The Memory Chronicles. I shared the idea with my wife and a friend, and both loved the idea.

Now, whenever writing The Silent Oath becomes a bit too heavy or I just feel like having fun with an unrelated project, I'll sit down to Nightfall, the story of Bradley Rook, a teenager suffering under an ancient curse which he tries to hide from his classmates. Unfortunately, his best-laid plans fall apart when he meets the girl of his dreams, and finds out that he's not the only monster in town.

What do you guys think? Do you have any fun secondary projects you like to crack into every now and again?

Don't forget, this Friday is the first of my recipe posts! Tomato rice with chicken.

Jun 13, 2011

4 Weeks to Fatherhood

It turns out that my wife can deliver our baby naturally, without a c-section. This is great news, because it'll mean she can come home sooner and she won't be as long recovering. We've also been learning about some of the procedures which the hospital can carry out in the event that the baby does have trouble breathing once its born. One of the procedures carried out in our worst-case scenario apparently has a 75% success rate, so overall things are looking good.

It's still very surreal to think I'll be a father in a few weeks. Granted, Jen will probably go overdue, but it's getting closer and closer. That said, it's nice to have something else to write for. I won't just be writing for my own enjoyment or gain. I'll be writing so my son or daughter can one day happily say "my dad's an author" and not have to add "but he works in an office for his day-job."

Of course, the kind of things I currently write are not the sort of thing I'll be letting my child read until he/she is older. At least in their teens. Maybe I should dabble in a YA or MG book somewhere down the line?

I have two ideas for new regular topics to add to this blog.

The first will be a series providing recipes I've tried myself and would like to share. I absolutely love to cook and I can't wait to share that love with everyone. The first receipe will be posted on Friday: Tomato rice with chicken.

The second is a series showing how writers can learn about narrative structure from films, especially how children's movies often feature great examples of things like the Monomyth.

These segments will feature as and when I have them to offer. I hope everyone enjoys them, and please tell your friends if you think they'll like them.

Jun 10, 2011

2011 Moby Awards

I'm feeling pretty under the weather today. I might be coming down with something, so today I'm mostly going to be struggling to stay upright at my desk and hoping the painkillers kick in.

The winners of the 2011 Moby Awards were announced today. I'm going to take a look through them and see the best and worst of the year's book trailers. I'm aiming to release one of my own next year in the run-up to my book launch.

And now, back to the task of not passing out for the next few hours.

Jun 8, 2011


As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been pushing myself a little too hard with my writing. Not in terms of time spent writing, but in terms of stressing myself out for not writing more. I've taken a few days to chill out and spend time not thinking about my current WIP, or my first novel's upcoming editing process. I feel better for it, I think, though I may have picked up a bit of a head cold, which isn't fun. At least hot port can fix that.

It was a bit of a struggle trying to enjoy myself while not thinking about writing. Have I really become so focused that I can't switch it off? It's not healthy to devote all of one's free time to one single endevour. I used to write with the vague idea that I wanted to be a writer "someday." Somewhere along the line it became a sold career goal, and I treat it as such. Enjoying writing so much, it's easy to forget that it's not completely recreational anymore, and that I need to watch for signs of stress and burnout.

I have plenty of time to work on my current WIP. Locked Within won't be out until next year. I have a long time to get the sequel ready for submission.

Do you guys have trouble with burnout?

Jun 6, 2011


Under the advisement of my peer and good friend, Ash over at Big Bad Ashi, I took the weekend off from writing. My wife agreed with my need for a break because, as much as I was getting done, I was also stressing out about how much I wasn't getting done. So I've spent the weekend watching movies, cooking and playing the odd video game. It's been exhausting. I need to learn how to un-wind in ways that aren't related to writing or doing things for others.

The one major writing-related thing I kept up to date on this weekend was the article, Dakness Too Visible in the Wall Street Journal. Read it and decide for yourselves what you think. Personally, I think the writer is perhaps more than a little naive and doesn't quite understand the gravity of what she's saying.

I have known people who have abused drugs and self-harmed. I've known people who were victims of sexual abuse and depression. Despite what Ms. Gurdon says, to my knowledge none of these people have engaged in self-destructive behaviour on account of having seen it depicted in a book, or any other form of media. Her statement about depicting self-harm in YA fiction making it more likely that teenagers will engage in it is flawed and biased.

Indeed, she seems to believe things were better when there was no literature written specifically for younger readers, dealing with issues that children and teenagers face on a daily basis. I would rather see my children read stories of darkness and suffering than feel that the world of reading had nothing to offer them.

Others have spoken out about the terrifying number of children who have to deal with mental disorders, bullying, sexual assault, and other traumas. I've been fortunate that bullying was the worst thing I experience in school, and my parents managed to spare me from the majority of family melodrama. What I want to highlight is the importance of a parent to understand what their child is reading, and why.

Reading is among the greatest gifts a parent can give to a child, and it is up to each parent to understand their own child, to know their level of maturity and the subject matter they can handle. No, it is not an easy task, but no-one ever said being a parent was easy. If a parent cannot find a book that they believe is suitable for their child, it is not the fault of the YA authors, or the publishers. It's not even the fault, as I at first thought it might be, of the bookstore for not having a wide enough selection.

It is the fault of the parent for not knowing their child well enough to look past the covers and bookstore sections, to understand that their child is a unique person with their own preferences and ability to deal with specific subject matters. And, most importantly, to try out those books for themselves. Read what your children read, experience what they experience. At least then you can see what they seek in their entertainment, and better understand them as people. It gives you a way to connect in a world where children are increasingly pushed or drawn away from their parents. Wouldn't you rather sit down and discuss a book you and your child both enjoyed, than feel you need to lecture them about the dos and donts? Children learn through their entertainment. You owe it to them to share in that. And if you don't believe a particular book or film is suitable for your child, then offer them something else instead until they're ready for it.

But do not rely on censorship and the bias of others to tell you what's right and what's wrong in the world of children's literature. Censorship is no substitute for attentive and responsible parenting. And don't be afraid of letting your children see that there is darkness in the world, so long as you also show them that dakrness can be overcome.

I believe that we should attack the causes of depression, drug-abuse and self-harm, not the knowledge of these things. Knowledge is power. With it, we can conquer everything. Of all the blog posts I've read this weekend, one in particular stuck with me the most. It's by

Is the darkness visible? Yes.

Should it be? Damn straight.

Grab a match and light it up. Burn the darkness until it has nowhere left to hide.

Jun 3, 2011


We've got a bank holiday weekend in Ireland, so I thought I'd talk about hobbies and the things we like to do when we give ourselves time to just completely chill out and ignore our day to day cares.

I remember going through countless different hobbies as a child. I read cooks on history, dinosaurs, science, model-making, art, the lot. I took classes in martial arts, pottery and drawing. I've even dabbled in archery and horse-riding. For various reasons I let a lot of my hobbies go over the years. I don't have a head for science, so while I find scientific discoveries absolutely fascinating, I get frustrated because I can't get my head to accommodate my own scientific thoughts.

I guess I figured pretty early that I was better at creative things than academic pursuits.

For the last 15 years or so my major hobby has been tabletop roleplaying games and board games. My interest in them is directly responsible for the majority of friends I have. We have regular weekly game nights, and every few weeks I'll host an afternoon-long gaming day at our house on a Saturday. As I see people drift and make changes in their lives due to work, relationships or where they live, it's incredibly reassuring to have this common interest and an easy way to bring a lot of friends together in one place. It's really rewarding to get together and create stories for our mutual fun and entertainment. We might not be able to all go to the cinema together on a Friday night anymore, or hang around drinking coffee for hours on end, but we can take the time to meet up on an evening, have a bit of fun, and remember why we're all still friends.

What about you guys? What pastimes keep drawing you back?

Jun 1, 2011

Who Ya Gonna Call?

I only learned yesterday that what is perhaps the most iconic firestation in the western world is due to close this summer. Hook & Ladder 8, the firestation used in Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, will close on July 1st.

It's part of a budget measure to save New York City approximately $55 million by closing 20 fire stations in the greater New York area. The merits and flaws of this decision, in terms of finances and public safety, have been debated by people far more qualified than myself. All I can really contribute is my sadness that such a landmark building will no longer serve in helping to keep the people of New York safe.

I grew up on Ghostbusters. When I was 8, that's what I wanted to be when I grew up. I specifically wanted to go to New York, buy that firehouse, and become a Ghostbuster, logic be damned! Even today Ghostbusters has such a special place in my heart that my wife and I made a point of going to see the firestation when we were in New York on our honeymoon (I took that picture above). The father of Nathan Shepherd, the main character in my novel, is an ex-firefighter who worked at Hook & Ladder Co. 8. So I guess I have this double sadness, realising that the place that was Mike Shepherd's second home, his calling, is closing.

I hope, whatever happens to the building, that it remains a New York landmark, and that whoever now comes to own it treats it with the repsect worthy of a building that has both served the public for over a hundred years, and is such a cultural symbol.

I wonder, can I see Nathan moving in?