Aug 29, 2017

Shutting Down

This is to let everyone know that I'm shutting down this blog. It's been too long since I've been able to maintain a regular blogging schedule, and frankly my whole website here doesn't reflect me as a writer the way I want it to.

But don't worry! I'm not fading away, I'm just changing format. I'm starting work on a brand new website, and I wanted to let you all know in advance. So it's goodbye for now, and here's to the new and improved, coming soon!

Jul 20, 2017

How Fear Drove Me to Write

(This article originally appeared on my Patreon. If you'd like to help support my ramblings, you can back it for as little as €1 a month.)

If I had to explain my relationship with the Horror genre, it would be like this:
Horror drove me to write; fantasy gave me the power to do so.
My favourite genre as a kid was horror. I wasn't articulate enough at the time to understand why, but I felt driven to write horror. Looking back, it's because  at its core, Horror is about helplessness. 
Whether the villain is a monster or just a particularly dangerous human being, whatever way the story or setting are dressed up, one thing is constant in horror: People are helpless against it. At times, you will see the mentor or expert, the Van Helsing, step up and claim knowledge over the villain, or represent some level of authority or competency. But inevitably, this figure is either killed off, or otherwise unable to affect the villain.
In the end, it's up to the hero.
And yet more often than not the hero in horror can only survive by accepting their lack of power and enduring long enough to seize a desperate opportunity to outwit the villain. In Alien, Ripley survives through willpower and sacrifice, giving up the ship and their payload, until she finds herself, literally stripped-down to nothing, but in a position to kill the xenomorph by using her knowledge of the environment against it.
Sacrifice is all too common a theme in horror. The idea that we cannot survive such awful things without a mark being left on us. Horror forces us to face the unknown, to be scarred so that we can survive. It strips our resolve and shreds our defences. To experience horror is to lay yourself bare.
Sometimes, however, I'd see a hero decide that they weren't going to let themselves be helpless anymore. Sometimes, the hero would take a stand and face the villain head-on. In Scream, following the revelation that it was Billy and Stu behind the Ghostface killings, Sidney hides and burst out of a closet, herself having donned the Ghostface costume. In this, the hero took on the villain's persona, narratively claiming that power for herself, and turning it on those who had murdered her friends.
And for years, I craved that power in stories. Growing up as I did, I understood the feeling of helplessness and fear, what it was like to be powerless against those who wanted to hurt me.
I wanted to feel the power to fight back.
Eventually I realised that I was not going to find that power in horror. The kinds of books I wanted to write were not the same. The stories that came to me were about heroes who could stand and fight the monsters on their own terms.
That's when I discovered urban fantasy. And I knew I'd found my home.
Those were the stories I wanted to tell. I wanted epic villains brought down by determined and empowered heroes. I wanted to show that the things we're afraid of can be confronted and overcome.
I wanted to show that monsters can be beaten.

Apr 13, 2017

Beginning to Heal

I started treatment for my anxiety and depression back in January. The first course of antidepressants I was put on had some severe side effects, so they were changed when I next saw my doctor for a check-in.

After eight weeks, and some very rough times and hard-learned lessons, I think I can feel my new medication begin to work. I still have unpleasant side-effects, but I'm starting to feel more like me again.

This doesn't mean I'm 100%, of course. Today is literally only the second day that I've felt this way in... well, longer than I can remember right now. I still need to take things easy and not overburden myself.

I need to let other people be the hero for a while longer.

I've found it difficult to allow others to take charge and help me. It's not something that comes naturally, for all kinds of reasons that deserve their own post to explain. But I am thankful for the support and love I feel from my friends, both near and far. I have never needed it more in my life.

The truth is, what I'm currently going through genuinely is harder and more painful than when we lost Conor. And I never thought anything could be harder than that. But there it is. Maybe it's because this is a fight I've been hiding from for so long. Maybe it's because it's led me to question so many assumptions I've made about the events of my life that made me who I am.

I want to come out of this a stronger, wiser, refreshed person. Who can be there for the people he loves, let them be there for him, and crank out the best damn books you've ever read.

My Patreon is still stalled, but I will get it going again, and put in additional content to thank my backers for their patience and understanding.

Lady Raven Part 4: The White Raven will still be out this year, hopefully even in time for the originally-planned October release.

I just need to look after myself, as well. I have a long road ahead.

Mar 30, 2017

Checking In

Feels like an age since I had a reliable blogging schedule. The black dog is really kicking my ass. I'm doing okay, generally; therapy is going well, and my current course of antidepressants has milder symptoms than the first one I was put on. I was on Xanax for a while, but I've been taken off it now, which means I'm more alert but also means my morning anxiety is back. Mornings are a special hell of heart-pounding, sweating, shaking, gagging stress.

There's also some family stuff going on which I can't really go into too much detail on right now. I can talk privately about it but it'll be at least another month or so before I know how much I can say publicly. Suffice it to say I'm facing up to the realities of emotional abuse.

Writing is going poorly. I'm trying to find a balance between self-care and productivity, but whether it's been the side-effects of my meds or exhaustion from anxiety, I've been finding it very difficult to keep to a proper schedule. I am so afraid of letting people down. More than that, I miss how good it feels to make progress on a story. To watch the thing come alive as I type.

I'd be lost without the support of my friends, and my amazing wife.

These are issues I've been keeping locked up all my life. I know it's going to take time to come through this, but I still want to be the author I know I can be. Thank you all for your support and patience. I'll try not to take too long with the work ahead.

Feb 20, 2017

There's a black dog

I've wanted to make this post for a few weeks, now. Some of you already know what's been going on in my life, but I always said if I ever had to face something like this, I'd be open about it, and that means rolling up my sleeves and saying it aloud.

Several weeks ago I began treatment for anxiety and depression.

I've come to understand that I've been battling these two monsters, in one form or another, all my life. I've become very good at keeping them hidden and fed so they don't rise up and pull me down, but I can't keep it up anymore. I've watched my energy levels drop sharply. My creative output (including this blog) has suffered greatly. I'm not happy with where I'm at in my writing career. I'm experiencing panic attacks ranging from mild-but-exhausting to ones that make me freeze up, unable to think.

I want my life back, so I've reached out for help. I'm in therapy and I'm on medication, but still trying to find a mix that won't leave me with horrible side effects.

I want to thank everyone who's been so supportive already, and make this promise; that I will look after myself and start taking care of my own needs, so that I can get my writing and social life back on track, and be the friend, husband, father, and author that I know I am. There's nothing I love more in the world than my wife, my kids, my friends, and telling stories, and I will reclaim what I've lost.

I will fight the black dog.

Jan 21, 2017

Day 1

Donald Trump has been sworn in as the president of the United States. We can already see how law enforcement is going to become even more abusive and unaccountable when dealing with marginalised groups or protests. Trump's cabinet picks are plainly unqualified, either having goals and motives that run counter to the departments they will manage, or literally not knowing what their departments do.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'tyrant' as follows:

A cruel and oppressive ruler
A person exercising power or control in a cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary way:
A ruler who seized absolute power without legal right.

Donald Trump is, and will always be, a tyrant. We know what kind of a man he is; we do not need to "give him a chance." We can tell, from his past behaviour, that he is a cruel, petty, spiteful man. He will use the presidency to help make himself and his associates a whole lot of money, and will attempt to tear down decades of civil rights reform, cultural and artistic work, advances in healthcare and education, and environmental protection.

Here in Ireland, it feels like there's not a lot we can do about a man who now has his hand over the button of the most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world. But we can make ourselves heard. There are marches today all over the world against Trump and the rising fascist movement he's emboldened. We have to be vigilant now. We cannot allow the same forces of hate and bigotry that gave us Brexit and Tyrant Trump to take hold here.

I can't make it to the march today, but I will continue to speak out all I can; in my books, on Facebook, Twitter, through my Patreon, and on this blog. I'm now a member of Irish PEN, which protects the rights and freedoms of writers and journalists to speak out. I'll support my fellow writers and other artists who are creating works which confront bigotry and corruption, which promote diversity and inclusiveness, and I will continue to write books which do the same.

"Take us in, beat to quarters, and raise the colours." - Cora Ravenell

Jan 11, 2017

Freedom of Speech and What it Means

There's a lot of talk right now about free speech, and whether or not there should be restrictions placed on it. This is, in part, thanks to an opinion piece published in the Irish Times, by Nicholas Pell, which he intended to serve as an introduction to what some call the "alt-right," but what I will continue to refer to by the more accurate term: Fascists.

I will not link to Pell's article, but you can find it easily enough if you go looking.

There was a follow-up to the article, on the Claire Byrne Live show on RTÉ, which had Pell on as a panelist, and invited liberal guests to join him. Several publicly refused, on the grounds that granting someone like Pell a platform legitimises the growing fascist movement in Europe, the UK, and America.

And frankly, I agree. But it's complicated.

On the one hand, I acknowledge the risk that denying people a way to express their beliefs risks driving them underground. The public rise of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia in response to Brexit and Trump's election has to have been in some part influenced by the growing progressive movement working to stamp out bigotry.

But on the other hand, if standing up to a bully makes the bully hit harder, does that mean it was wrong to stand up to them in the first place?

I do think it's dangerous to ignore a problem. Look at how easily hate rose up in response to Brexit and Trump. Those campaigns tapped into an undercurrent that was being ignored. The root of the issue was economic; not do to with race or equal rights, but facts take a back seat when manipulative figures present desperate people with easy answers and, most importantly, someone to blame for their predicament.

But we can acknowledge a problem without giving it power. We can learn about the circumstances which leave people, any people, feeling like they've been left behind and forgotten. And we can do it without feeding the lie that the root of the problem is women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ community being given rights and respect. We can do it without allowing fascists like Pell to arm their supporters with hate speech, without treating them as if their movement is the equal of progressive campaigns whose aim is to make the lives of marginalised people better.

Is there an easy way to do this? I doubt it. Plenty of people will be pissed off, no matter what choices are made. But to move forward, we need to acknowledge and confront several difficult truths:

1: We do not have freedom of speech in Ireland. Our Constitution (in all its badly-constructed glory) prohibits blasphemy (though at least there is talk of a referendum to remove this prohibition), as well as anything which could undermine the authority of the state, public morality, or be considered seditious. We have a history of banning and censoring things the State and the Catholic Church find objectionable. If we want to talk about having freedom of speech, let's start with the things we're already prohibited from saying and publishing.

2: Denying someone a platform is not restricting their speech. Freedom of speech is, in every country's definition, the protection from legal consequences of your words. It is not a way to force people to listen to you, in any format or in any place.

4: Saying that particular groups of people, based solely on their gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, are inferior and deserving of fewer rights than you, is not about creating a discussion. It is not about sharing ideas and coming to a mutually-beneficial agreement. It is about denying human rights to people who are different.

I will gladly hear opinions different to my own. But stating that those who are different are the enemy, or don't deserve the same rights as a straight white cisgender man, is not a differing opinion. It is a threat. And I will not stand for that. None of us should.