Freeing The Mind

Some people have asked me why I want to write, whether I write fiction, roleplaying game supplements or poetry. For a time, I have wondered why I do this myself.

But on reflection, I can only assume that I write and compose poetry for one very simple reason.

It frees my mind.

When I write my fiction pieces, the characters I write about aren't interested in any of the things I am. The things that matter to them are laid out for them in the stories. In "Signal To Noise," it's a retired copper turned private detective, chasing down a cold case - a woman's missing daughter. In "Caterpillars," it's a superhero who cannot fly, being abandoned by all the other supers who can and overcoming feelings of being a kiwi bird among all the free-flying albatrosses and soaring birds of the air, while investigating why they are all abandoning the planet in the first place.

"Inheritance" charts the slow awakening of the talents and abilities of Sullup Lurth, a young Signer (magician) in a semitropical region of his world, Arred, that is closer to the Mediterranean in climate than the usual depiction of fantasy settings (which tend to be temperate Northern European by default). His problems are not only dealing with the rise of his powers and abilities, but with responsibility for the life of the woman he saves and also the trials that await him in the town of Tropa.

In each of these, the characters have problems to overcome. They have likes and dislikes that, in some ways, are like my own - they like fruit juices, tea, flatbread (like pitta bread) served freshly baked and coated with honey and other delightful foods - but they drink alcohol (I'm tee total), they eat foods I love but I can't eat (cheese, chocolate) and they have talents and abilities I don't have, such as horse riding, the ability to sit in lotus position and spells that can level cities.

I would give anything for one superhero's ability to teleport, and another one's healing factor. But there you go.

Now I can write about these characters, the abilities and powers they have that I don't, and as I write I get into the minds of the characters. When a magician spits out magic mirror substance (ectoplasm) into her hands to lay it on a wounded man's injury, I climb into her and feel the internal changes as the magic mirror erupts violently from her body, pulling and wrenching at her innards.

I once wrote about a character, in a setting based on the old Hunter: the Reckoning roleplaying game, whose most powerful edge was something similar - a black cloud that wrenched the man's body internally as it belched forth from his mouth to scorch and char whatever supernatural being it sprayed upon. Again, the same theme: "With great power comes great internal injury."

Dad once berated me for not writing about "normal stuff," and asked me why I had to focus on stuff about magic and sorcery and fantasy. After J K Rowling ended up making more money than the Queen, his complaints stopped, replaced with a rising and visible sense of deep regret that he favoured Sean, my late brother who wanted to follow his father's footsteps and get into roofing, over me with my bizarre stories and things he couldn't get his mundane little heart into.

See, for Dad it was always about the money. And when Mum read out the news about fantasy authors making the rich list and yelling "where the hell are the roofers in this list, eh?" while pointing out the article to him in that issue of the Sunday Times, she let him know, in no uncertain terms, how wrong a horse he had been backing when he'd left me to twist in the wind and "go on writing your fooking ludo. You'll never get fooking rich writing about fooking wizards and beam me up fooking Scotty."

But even then, when you think that - aha! - I might be continuing to write my stuff out of spite, perhaps - even then, you would be wrong. Because the reason why, as I said right in the title, is very simple. I write because it frees my mind.

When I write, I am exploring another world. Other worlds, with different rules, different mores. I am looking out of the eyes of other people, seeing the things they see, catching the things they miss out of the corner of their eye. With Gellenides, their world is one of binolfactory scent - they can get a range of something based on their smell. With Hardie Camplin, one of my protagonists from the major fantasy novel I recently submitted to Harper Voyager, his world is a sensorium of kinaesthesia - he moves in bullet time, aware of his spatial relationship to all the moving objects around him and able to react in real time to the chaos of battle. And when it isn't, he has other senses that take over, opening vistas of sensation unknown to his peers.

Or to me. But I can write about them, because I have the words for them. Because I can understand their worlds, their perceptions, when I write about them, when I place myself in their minds, think what they think, feel what they feel.

In the stories I write, in the poetry I write, in roleplaying games I run and write adventures and modules for, I am other people.

And when I come back and find myself among other people in this world, I am able to loosen the bonds of being me and wander about a while inside their heads, wonder how they live, think about their dreams and ambitions. 15:10 on the bus coming into town, all the old women waiting outside the bingo hall at the bus stop; the people behind the counter at Greggs, their cheery smiles and camaraderie part of the reason why the place draws so many regulars; the people at the DWP, fighting down the bile as they have to set aside basic compassion and their consciences and do what they are told, and those individuals who do what they are told with a smile because they really have no consciences to set aside.

And my folks. I wander around inside Dad's mind, wondering about what he is feeling. Regret? Remorse? Fatigue at having lived such a long life, and still wondering where to next?

And it's because I write about others, put myself in others' heads, that I can allow myself to feel empathy for others, to walk a mile in their moccasins - because you never know who might have an interesting story to tell.

That is why I write. Writing has set my mind free.

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"And if we have unearned luck, now to scape the serpent's tongue, we will make amends ere long. Else the Puck a liar call ..."

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