Sunday, 18 August 2013

Tormented Artist Syndrome

This post talks about an issue that I'm sure plagues pretty much everyone who's ever had a creative thought of any kind- what I've unofficially termed 'Tormented Artist Syndrome'. I'll briefly go through what it is, why it arises, and ask whether it's harmful or helpful.

'It's never good enough!'

So, what is Tormented Artist Syndrome? Well, it's very nicely summed up with this illustration:

(taken from here)

Basically, whatever idea or image you have in your head, it never comes close to putting it into physical form. Hence the 'Tormented Artist'- we are constantly 'tormented' by falling short of our initial goal. This is most obvious with artists using visual mediums, but it also applies to writers who feel they can't get scenes right, actors who feel their performance isn't quite 'there', or musicians who can’t figure out lyrics or chords.

This isn't anything new. Virgil, the famous Roman author of the epic Aenied, hated his work, and wanted it all burned, never to be seen by the public (thankfully that never happened, and we're left with a great piece of Latin literature!), and I'm sure there have been plenty of other examples since.

Personally, I've suffered from this for a long time. As both a writer and a digital artist, I find it affects my artwork most. I can never quite get down what I 'see', and it can be extremely frustrating. This isn't helped by several factors, such as my lack of time to practice, my jealousy over other artists I consider much more talented (never mind that some are professionals who do it for a living, rather than a hobby like me), and being a perfectionist at the best of times.

So why should this feeling of 'torment' be so common? We are often our own worst critics, but why do artists especially seem to measure themselves against an unattainable benchmark? And if others don't see the flaws we do, is it worth the anguish?

In favour of the Tormented Artist Syndrome is that it provides strong motivation to improve. The more we try to capture the image in our mind's eye, the closer we'll get to it. This is, of course, one of the many facets of creativity- to communicate to others what we hold in our imagination. It also holds us in check so we don't become arrogant or think we're better than we are, or worse, better than others doing similar work.

Against the syndrome, however, is that it can be crippling. If we are constantly comparing ourselves to an impossible ideal, it can only be damaging to our confidence and self-esteem. Comparing ourselves to others is no better, either, as we all have difference talents, experiences and mastery of differing things, and we're all at different stages.

So how can we stop the inner Tormented Artist taking over?

The first step, cliched as it sounds, is to keep trying and never give up. Every failure is an opportunity to learn from mistakes and move forward. So you tried to draw a dragon and it looked like a diseased camel with scales- look into why it didn't work and try again. Hold the ideal goal in your head, but don't be disheartened when it doesn't work the first time.

The second is not to look around you for benchmarks. Comparing your self-taught Photoshop skills to someone who does professional magazine covers for a living isn't going to show you how to progress. By all means, use it as inspiration to improve, but again, don't throw it all in because your 10th attempt is still miles away. The 10, 000 hour theory holds for most technical skills, so keep going! And thanks to the internet, there’s a wealth of information out there to help you hone your craft, so use it.

The Tormented Artist Syndrome exists for a reason. Listen to it when you need to, but don't let it rule you. If you can tease out its benefits and reject its downsides, it'll be a vital tool for all your creative endeavours.

Have you ever had to wrestle down your Tormented Artist in order to finish a project? Tell me!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Bandit Book Bloggers Tour- Season of the Dead

August; the month of long school holidays, warm summer weather (mostly), and when new junior doctors start hospital work for the first time and cause an unprecedented rise in mortality (kidding!). So, in honour of all this, why not take a peek at Season of the Dead? It's filled with chills that'll make your AC look like a radiator...

"It is said that unto everything there is a season...these are the stories of a group of survivors during the season of the dead."

Four individuals fight to survive as the zombie apocalypse crashes over the world in a wave of terror and destruction. Color, creed, and social standing mean nothing as the virus infects millions across the planet.

Sharon: a zoologist from Nebraska, USA, has worked with the virus, and has seen the effects on the human mind. She knows more about the virus than nearly anybody alive, and far more than she wants to. Gerry: from Ontario, Canada, he gets his first taste of the virus from inside a prison cell. Locked up after an anti-government riot, his prison guard transforms before his eyes into a flesh craving zombie. Lucia: a chemist from Pittsburgh, USA, flees from a furry convention dressed as a giant squirrel, and escapes from the city in a Fed-Ex van. She's a girl who knows when to run and when to fight. Paul: thinks he can sit out the apocalypse in his apartment block in Dublin, Ireland, until the virus comes to visit, bursting his bubble and leaving him with no choice but to face reality or perish.

All four begin perilous journeys in mind and body as they face daily trials to survive: Four threads, four different parts of the world, one apocalypse!

Friday, 9 August 2013

Top Ten Female Fantasy Characters (Part Two)

Top Ten Female Fantasy Characters Part Two

Continuing on from last week's post, I'm charting a course through my favourite ten female fantasy characters. There are some novel additions here, so please do go and check out their stories.

6. Darcie Lock (Darcie Lock series)

I love the way Julia Golding presents her characters- perhaps why I've got two of her creations on the list. But Darcie is as far removed from Connie (number 2) as you could expect. First off: a FEMALE kickass spy! Another trope sadly lacking these days. Darcie is resourceful, clever, and energetic, yet at the same time hindered by her lack of experience and sometimes lack of confidence. The stories also tie in very heavily with Golding's work as a diplomat, so her locations and settings are very believable.

Darcie comes off as a great character. As an inexperienced teenage spy, she runs into a lot of problems, as you'd expect, but she does try her best to figure things out on her own, she's got a keen eye for detail, and a decent memory to boot. She has a charming friendship with SAS soldier, Stingo, too, and the usual teenage-troubled relationship with her parents. However she has to train to acquire her skills, so she's anything but perfect.

Romance of course has a part to play, but thankfully it's not the focus of the plot and it (usually) doesn't derail her character. She is only 14, after all. She's at her best in Empty Quarter, where she gets mixed up with a spoilt President's daughter, and has to use her wits to survive the brutal Sahara. I have yet to read Deadlock but I'm sure it will continue to show Darcie growing as a character, and I look forward to it.

Favourite quote: "Why choose a life where everything is a lie?" - Julia Golding, Empty Quarter

7. Princess Alyrra (Thorn)

The princess of a tiny kingdom on the fringes of her world, Alyrra has always tried to keep out of the limelight, after an incident involving her brother and one of the noble's daughters. However, when she's betrothed to a prince from a powerful kingdom, things start to change. Along with an enchantment cast by a witch, Alyrra has to learn to cope with a new way of living and a new way of seeing herself, yet she can't quite become a different person.

Alyrra was a strong character as, like others on my list, she undergoes real development. Though she initially tries to run from her destiny, even denying it entirely, she eventually confronts it and meets the challenges expected of her. Her inquisitive nature isn't so impulsive that it gets her into trouble, yet it guides her not to take things at face-value (which is one of the key messages of the book). She also managed to be a resilient protagonist whose features weren't defined by the characters around her.

All in all, Alyrra's journey is a great read, and she's a prime example of how characters can and should be written.

Favourite quote: "I know...that, having been born to power, it is my responsibility to see it handled well by myself, by those who come after me." -Intisar Khanani, Thorn

8. Kestrel Hath (Wind on Fire trilogy)

Long before Hunger Games ever existed, this series of books painted just as brutal a picture of a fantasy kingdom as modern dystopian books do for Earth today. And Nicholson, also writer of the famous film Gladiator, does just an impressive job with his novels as with his screenplays.

Kestrel, or Kess, is a rebellious, somewhat impulsive girl, sick of living under the strict rules of her home city, Aramanth. One day her rashness gets the better of her and she goes on a journey with her twin brother Bowman and another boy named Mumpo to try and change her city's ways. Five years later, having succeeded, she's then the sole survivor when Aramanth is sacked and her people taken into slavery. In the final book she confronts her destiny, along with Bowman and her family.

Kess has a lot going for her, but it's her flaws that drew me to her. She shares a psychic connection with her twin brother, cares deeply about her family and is willing to use any means to protect them, almost going too far at times. She's very loyal, as well, and is another rare example where her character isn't defined by her gender. However, she's also hindered through keeping her suffering to herself, and not being as kind-hearted as her twin; traits that lead her to her final choice in the third book.

Favourite quote: “You’ve been kind to me, and you’re very beautiful, but if you hit me again I’ll kill you.” -William Nicholson, Slaves of the Mastery

9. Nikki (Bardo)

Her young life cut tragically short by an accident (no thanks to a certain dog), our young protagonist Nikki ends up in the Bardo, and has to reclaim all pieces of her soul if she wants to escape and reincarnate. Which she's certainly not happy about. What follows is a fun-filled frantic adventure in exotic settings, but will Nikki succeed before her time runs out?

Nikki is a great character, vibrant, reckless, and with a great sense of humour. She's able to puzzle things out, too, with limited information. She works through her various challenges, managing to overcome them, but she also fails a few, too, showing her weaknesses. However, when it comes to the ultimate test at the end, she prevails, having learnt from her experiences. Again this makes her dynamic, and though there's a tiny tiny piece of romance thrown in there, it doesn't interfere with her as a character.

Favourite quote: "We were always taught at school to lead by example. That is why I am now outside running in the field and being chased by an excessively large hawk who, incidentally, happens to be me."- Chris McKenna, Bardo

10. Catherine Baker (Blood, Smoke and Mirrors)

Cat is an estranged Witch, going against the pacifist morals of her clan with her somewhat more 'proactive' tendencies. Working as a waitress, she's thrust into a magical conflict of epic proportions in the kingdom of Faerie when asked to run for a powerful political position. Along with an ex-boyfriend and her warrior faerie friends, she finds out some none too pleasant facts about the candidate she's running against...her father.

Cat is a witty, sarcastic heroine who isn't afraid to speak her mind. She's pretty sharp, too, and knows how to look after herself. Although there are portions of the book where this seems to contradict itself (not really the character's fault, more a bit of author indulgence), I enjoyed her struggles and how she got herself out of all manner of scrapes. Her voice is what kept me glued, though; you feel like you're really speaking with her in the narrative. Her special power, too (no spoilers), is pretty unique and clever, and just gives her that extra edge when she's facing more powerful opponents.

Unlike some of my other choices, she doesn't develop all that much (a bit like Sabriel), but she provides heaps of entertainment, and her none-too-radiant background makes her all the more fun.

Favourite quote: "Great idea, Tybalt. 'Invoke Apollo'. You lit me on fire, damn it!" -Robyn Bachar, Blood, Smoke and Mirrors

And that's it!

Tell me, who are your favourite fantasy heroines and why?

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

FREE! The Binding ebook from 7th- 11th August!

In honour of starting my first year of GP training, I thought I'd celebrate by making The Binding free for five days! That's right, from 7th - 11th August you can download the ebook version for absolutely nothing!

And not only that, you can also have some free fan service while you're at it.

So what are you waiting for? Get it while you can!

Click on Adam for the US ebook, and Ryan for the UK ebook.

    Adam (US)                        Ryan (UK)

Friday, 2 August 2013

Top Ten Female Fantasy Characters (Part One)

Top Ten Female Fantasy Characters

Fantasy females who aren't helpless love interests have been hard to come by these days (perhaps with the exception of Hunger Games), but there are still some great characters with the double X chromosome out there. So, in this two-part blog post, I want to share my favourite ten female fantasy characters.

Of course, this list is highly subjective, so you might not find some of the very popular characters. I've also tried to pick out what makes these characters unique, and how they fit into their respective worlds. Feel free to check them out in their respective stories- you won't regret it!

Here are numbers 1-5 of my top ten fantasy heroines:

1. Sabriel (Sabriel)

Perhaps an obvious choice (especially if you read my previous blog post on my favourite novels) but Sabriel really does deserve the top spot. Cast into the Old Kingdom on a quest to save her father using powers she hardly knows about, Sabriel's pretty much thrown in the deep end and left to sink or swim. Along with the help from some unlikely allies, Sabriel must face an ancient enemy, and accept her mantle as the Abhorsen.

I like Sabriel because she's strong willed without being impulsive, she isn't crippled by her doubts yet has an awareness of her limits, she's willing to accept help without being helpless herself, and is caring and kind without being soft. She is definitely the epitome of my ideal heroine.

Of course some argue that Sabriel is a bit bland in this respect, as her flaws aren't that deep, and while it's true she doesn't really develop massively as a character, she doesn't really need to. She comes to accept her new position as Abhorsen, despite barely knowing the depths of her power, faces her own grief at personal loss, and shows great courage when she needs to, learning to believe in herself. Pretty staple YA fare, but it's rare to find such a balanced lead character who's female, especially these days.

And Lirael can't hold a candle to her :P

Favourite quote: "She knew it like she knew her times tables, but the Charter marks just wouldn't come, and why was twelve times twelve sticking in her head when she wanted Charter Marks..." -Garth Nix, Sabriel

2. Connie Lionheart (Companions Quartet)

The Companions series is more middle-grade than YA, but it has some wonderful ideas and concepts, along with a great cast of characters. Connie Lionheart is (unknown to her at first) a Universal Companion- someone who can communicate and bond with all mythical creatures, rather than just one like most members of the secret Society for Protection of Mythical Creatures. This makes her special, but also feared, as there hasn't been such a companion in years and the previous ones have had a historically poor reputation.

Connie's a great protagonist, stumbling through as she learns about her powers and her responsibility as Universal Companion. It's a hard slog for her, as unlike most books, she has no real mentor, and faces a lot of criticism from her allies more than her enemies. She's certainly not got it easy!

Throughout the series we see Connie grow into the leader she's meant to become. She always rises to the challenge, and has a fresh perspective that often riles the older, more established Companions. She makes mistakes, too, but she learns from them, so she's not stupid like some heroines. I also never hated her for her choices, as even if they weren't the correct ones, her reasoning and motives were always solid. This made her very real to me. Her powers, too, were pretty novel, and her relationship with the other characters was believable. In fact she influenced me so much I wanted her story to continue, and have done so on a fan fiction basis. She's a likeable character with very real flaws that she learns to overcome, and is a firm favourite for me.

Favourite quote: "I will not do your work for you. I will not become the monster you want me to be." -Julia Golding, The Gorgon's Gaze

3. Eona (Eon)

Okay well I suppose this is a *spoiler* but you do learn very early in the first book that Eon's a woman, who has had to conceal her gender as she trains to be a Dragoneye, a mystical sorceror who can tame the power of one the twelve Zodiac Dragons. Rooted in ancient Chinese mythology, this book is a brilliant fantasy tale, again with memorable characters and plenty of gender-challenging issues, which is hard to do when you're in a set historical era where women have no rights.

Eon stood out for me in a lot of ways. She's a product of her time, knowing that revealing her gender could cost her life, and doing all she can to conceal it. Throughout the story she's a very careful planner and thinker, and yet it all comes undone when she learns of a plot to overthrow the Emperor. Watching her coming to terms with her past, her destiny, and her friendships was very moving, yet at the same time she's no helpless heroine, either.

The second book really shows her coming into her own. Initially she's crippled by the fear of her uncontrollable powers, and causes some horrible disasters, but she confronts her weaknesses and carries out her duty, no matter how heart-breaking or unfair it seems. Despite a life filled with treachery, deceit and lies, she still makes the right choices, showing that light can still flourish in the deepest shadows.

Favourite quote: “I found power in accepting the truth of who I am. It may not be a truth that others can accept, but I cannot live any other way. How would it be to live a lie every minute of your life.” -Alison Goodman, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

4. Maerad (Pellinor Series)

Maerad stunned me in a pleasant way. A FEMALE protagonist in an epic fantasy that ISN'T reduced to convenient love interest? Kudos to Alison Croggon! Granted, the books are pretty staple high fantasy and have a lore as encompassing as Tolkein's works, just having a female main character made so many new elements possible. Maerad has learnt to be careful and cautious, having lived as a slave after her homeland was sacked, and having recently lost her mother. Her world changes though when she's inadvertently rescued by a man named Cadvan, and he introduces her to her heritage as a Bard.

Maerad was interesting because she truly underwent a transformation, both in terms of her magic and her personality. She doesn't get her powers for a good chunk of the first book, which was a wise choice as you can see her frustration at her helplessness. Yet she has her own way of surviving, showing she's not reliant on her magic, either.

The second and fourth book impressed me as she was shown to push her limits in a dangerous way, almost enjoying abusing her power, along with the anxiety this caused those close to her. This made her a very realistic character with blurred morals, which you don't tend to find in epic fantasy which favours a very black and white 'heroes vs. the Dark Lord' mentality. Her relationship with Cadvan was well-done, too. Although Croggon says she was inspired by Tolkein, the books give off much more of a Greek epic vibe for me, another reason why I found the series so enjoyable.

Favourite quote: "For those moments she had felt invulnerable and immeasurably dangerous; the power which surged through her seemed infinite, as if she had to merely crook her finger and entire cities would crumble at her whim." -Alison Croggon, The Gift

5. Princess Holly Blue (Faerie Wars)

A kickass Faerie Princess? Yes please! Faerie Wars is full of memorable characters, and while Prince Pyrgus is my favourite, his sister Blue is a very high-ranking second. The books chronicle the ongoing political struggle between the Faeries of the Light and Faeries of the Night, the adventures of animal-loving rebellious Prince Pyrgus, and how a human boy Henry is dragged into the conflict. Blue is the second eldest in line for the Peacock Throne, and only daughter of the current Purple Emperor.

Blue is everything her brother Pyrgus isn't; she can play the political games, has her own spy network, amongst other things, but her curiosity can get the better of her and land her into trouble. Yet at the same time she has a somewhat more innocent side, particularly when it comes to relationships. As such this made her vulnerable when she needed to be. This is played to good effect in the ending of Faerie Lord (I won't spoil it for you).

However, there are moments where she's really weakened for the sake of the hero, which annoyed me a little. Sometimes her potential is downplayed, but the scenes where she does shine are pretty decent. So, while Blue might not be a main character, she's certainly got plenty going for her as a major support character, so check her out.

Favourite quote: "Fortunately I sometimes find it possible to think for myself." -Herbie Brennan, Faerie Wars

Next week, part two will cover numbers 6-10 in my top ten list...