Some thoughts about Guns…

TOH is playing Watchdogs. For the most part, he likes it because you can sneak around playing the game without hurting any of the civilian characters that are wandering around the city.

There are puzzles and you can choose the way you play so that you become a Vigilante rather than Terrorist (the opposite end of the reputation bar.) You can protect civilians, stop them getting hurt and attacked.

The story line is quite an interesting one. It looks at the way that information is used in the real world and just how much information everyone puts out there that can be twisted or used to hurt. It’s a scary concept, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

Like with many of the games now, you get digital trophies for certain things – for example, the number of police scans you evade. Most of these are easy enough to do without hurting anyone. However,  TOH being who he is, likes to get all of the trophies, and there was one that he couldn’t figure out; you had to escape a level 5 police scan.

So he went online and googled the problem. He was not happy with the result, but try as he might, it was the only one he could find. So he did it this morning before he went to work.

He took the character to a crowded place, pulled out a machine gun and let rip. It must have killed between 15 and 20 civilian characters before the scan meter was at level 5. The noise was horrendous and it attracted both my attention (and made me muck up the pattern I was knitting) and the baby’s attention (she’d been playing with her ducky ball).

It was realistic and I started having a panic attack. I picked up the baby and cuddled her away from the noise.

Now I can think logically about it, it wasn’t what was on the screen that was panicking me. It was the noise. The realistic sound of the machine gun he was using on the game. It took me back to a particular incident that shaped my life without me realising it.

* * *

When I was 16, I was in the Air Training Corps. It’s the cadet branch of the RAF and I was seriously considering a career in the RAF at the time. One of the last events I went to was a joint exercise with the local USAF base. The Military Police there had put on an exercise for the local ATC units complete with full military training gear. This meant we were wearing the laser vests that they used and carrying blank adapted M16’s with laser equipment to “tag” the vests.

And yes, you read that one right. They were allowing teenagers to use M16’s. There were also two M60 ‘s set up the same way, one for each team. We were given the guns and put through training exercises – stripping, cleaning, reassembling in a set time, practice on a range with live bullets and on a stationary dummy wearing a laser vest with blanks in the gun.

All stuff we had done before at ATC with the 302 rifles we’d used for ages on our range.

We also were given a small strip of ammunition and allowed to shoot the M60. This was to show us how the rifle worked and make the point that the only people big enough to carry the things were two of the biggest boys I had ever seen in my life… and I wasn’t a small, dainty little girl.

Anyway. It wasn’t the experience of shooting the M60 that did the damage. That was funny because the gun moved me back in the heather by about 3 feet. It wasn’t even the “capture the flag” exercise we played next, albeit with the M16’s on our shoulders. We’d done that before with LR98’s and laser equipment on a RAF Base.

It was the Night Exercise.

We’d been told that we were being treated like Military Academy students and that when they were on exercise, they carried their guns at all times. So we had to. I literally slept that night with an M16 next to me. We were all in one camp, both teams together.

I say slept. Others slept. I didn’t. I couldn’t. The gun felt as hard and dangerous as a knife and while I knew it was loaded with blanks and the safety was on, I was terrified that it was going to go off in the night.

I fell into a half doze about three in the morning when my body refused to remain awake any longer.

At dawn the camp was attacked.

I lay in my tent, my hand on the M16, frozen with fear as an M60 opened up out in the woods around us and blasted us. Everyone’s laser vests started screaming at us and while some of the boys managed to rally and fire back, the rest of us lay there, scared out of our wits.

They were trying to make some kind of point apparently, because they’d noticed that some of the boys had got rather cocky, trigger happy and were being reckless. Our Officers had agreed and were joining in.

That noise has lived with me ever since.

I managed to complete the event without being hurt (normally I got an injury of some sort), cleaned and returned my M16. I even got a commendation for being able to complete the entire 1 mile obstacle course within a decent time.

I quit ATC  not long after that. My excuse was that I wanted to concentrate on my exams. The real reason was that I realized that the RAF wasn’t for me. At the time I didn’t want to think like that and I was being encouraged by my teachers to choose that career, so I acted out the charade a little longer and then when I got to University, I changed direction.

This morning, it was that noise. The machine gun going off on the TV that sent me straight back into my 16 year old self lying on the ground, listening to the M60 shoot over my head and the laser vest’s warning screaming in my ear.

I know now that should I have to, I can pick up a gun and shoot someone with it. To protect my life, to protect my children, to protect TOH, I will do it. But I’m scared of them, of guns. I’m scared that I found that in myself. I’m scared that I could kill another human being.

And I’m scared that all the war and violence that I ducked out of by not going into the RAF might actually happen over here. That I might actually have to pick up a gun to defend my children.

Monday Musing… My Family

Today is sunny, with a little wind, but because it’s a Monday, it means I won’t see TOH and the children until after school. To be honest, I’m rather glad of it. Not because I don’t like my kids or my partner, but because after a weekend full of them, it’s nice to have some peace and quiet!

And that’ll change soon enough… so I’m making the most of it while I can.

I thought today, I would introduce you to my family. I think I posted about them before, but I can’t remember when, so it’s been long enough that I have new friends to introduce them to.

We’ll start at the top of the Pile: The Cats.

Why are you looking at us

Yes, I am a cat slave. The pair in the picture are brother and sister – the orange and white one is Gizmo and the tricolour is Cleo.

Gizmo is named after the adorable character in Gremlins because when he was a kitten, he had huge ears and paws, was the fluffiest thing I had ever seen and loved to eat. It’s the eating that got him to the size he is now (massive) and almost cost him his life (he had urinary tract problems a year ago and was in pet hospital for nine days)… not that that has put him off eating – he’ll eat anything and everything, including cardboard and plastic.

His favourite place to sit is on me, snuggled up under my hair. When he was a kitten he used to sit on my shoulder, actually under my hair, and he thinks he can still do it… I don’t have the heart to tell him that he’s too big to do that any more! I am his human, despite the fact that I got him for TOH.

Nicknames: Flump, Fatcat, GIZZIE!, Guzzleguts, Stinkycat.

Cleo is his smaller (but no less fluffy) full blood sister. We rescued her from her last owner who was using her as a kitten factory in a bid to make some money.  She came to us already pregnant and eventually had five kittens… they were rehomed together as a family, and Cleo stayed with us.  We think she’s been mistreated a little, because she is incredibly skittish and runs away from the slightest hint of danger (she even runs when there is no danger!)

Cleo’s favourite places to sit include on the front room curtain, on top of whatever clean washing she can manage, and on the loose material of TOH’s favourite lounging-around-in trousers. Like her namesake, she is beautiful and very demanding when she wants something. She is also very picky about the state of the litterbox; if it is not up to her standard she will find somewhere else to do her business… and as she shares it with Gizmo, that happens about twice a week if TOH doesn’t sort it out first.

Nicknames: CLEOPATRA COURT! Queenie, Sweetheart, Little One.

Yes, I know we are supposed to have separate litter boxes for them. we tried it and it doesn’t work. Gizmo used whichever one he fancied, so we had twice the problem.  You’re also supposed to have separate food bowls for them; we tried it… Fatcat just ate all his food before Cleo could finish hers, then when she wandered away (she’s a grazer) ate the rest of her food as well.

Okay then, from my Master and Mistress, we shall move on to… * drum-roll*

TOH (aka The Other Half )

Yes, he has a name, but I am not allowed to use it upon the inter-web. So get used to the acronym. This is he:

TOH and one of his favourite creatures...

TOH is an artist with all that goes with it – the mess, the tantrums and the up-and-down enthusiasm for his chosen profession. He was originally a Civil Engineer / Hydrologist, but after a series of job losses to do with his dyslexia and the economy  he decided to return to his one true love (no, not me, I’m second fiddle to this) – Drawing / Painting / Animation / Manga and Comics / Console Games; aka ART in all it’s myriad guises.

Just recently he’s become excited about ceramics. *rolls eyes* I foresee an awful lot of mess coming from this one…

Next up…

NOS (aka Number One Son) 

This isn’t the most recent picture I have of NOS – it’s from 2011:

2011-12-13 19.40.25

Unfortunately he’s managed to avoid being photographed  since then – and he’s changed so much! In this photo you see a cherubic, sweet, well mannered ten year old. He’s not like that any more – he’s 12. NOS has entered that scary time for all parents, the pre-teen years and is currently experiencing the joys of High  School and having his very first girlfriend (all together now – Ahhh).

What this actually means is that I have a confused man/child on my hands. He still likes cartoons, Pokemon and stuffed toys (I’m surprised he can actually fit into his bed with the number of toys he has on it still), but he also likes ‘Sexy ladies’ (his term), Top Gear and action movies. He’s also now the same height as me, which can make it difficult to discipline him,  as he is practising his ‘looming’ a lot. I know his ticklish spots though…

Last, but very much not least…

PT (aka The Princess Terrorist)

Getting a picture of PT is easy – I just point a camera at her. Here’s the latest one:

2013-05-04 11.03.26

She’s not so much the sweet, cute little girl any more (she was really cute when she was a baby, but don’t tell her I said that) mostly because she’s growing far too fast; you can practically see her grow overnight! She’s up to my chin and accelerating…

PT likes to dance and sing and be the centre of attention. In fact, she loves it so much that she’s done a video about our back garden for my blog… I have yet to edit it together, but as soon as I have, she’ll be appearing on your screens. PT is a diva in all things. She has to have her own way so much that it’s getting tiring saying “No.”
Having said that, she can also be very sweet and loving. She tells us that she loves us half a dozen times a day or more, is always up for a cuddle (despite being too big for my lap) and will do anything to make you happy when you are sad.

*  *  *  *

So that’s my family. I love them all and they support me in whatever I do. My children help me write books for other children,  read the ones I’ve written and generally make up my cheerleading squad. TOH provides emotional support and idea bouncing and the cats are very happy to keep me company while I write…

The VFX Protest – what does it mean to us?

As a writer of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror stories, I allow my imagination to come alive. I pride myself on making sure that my work is as cinematic as possible…

Hang on. Cinematic… what does that mean?

Let’s take a quick trip to the dictionary; just to make sure I’m using it in the right context:

cin·e·mat·ic

adjective \ˌsi-nə-ˈma-tik\

Definition of CINEMATIC
1
: of, relating to, suggestive of, or suitable for motion pictures or the filming of motion pictures <cinematic principles and techniques>
So.  what I am trying to say when I use the word Cinematic, is that I attempt to show through words the pictures that I am seeing in my head as I write. I try to make sure that my descriptions of characters and places draw the reader into the story.
What has this got to do with the VFX Protest?
First, I need to sum up why the VFX industry is protesting.
While life is hard for a lot of people; the economy is down, no one has a lot of money, we’re all feeling the pinch etc, for those of us who try to make a living as a creative person, that’s normal.
Everyone in the world wants  books,  posters, pictures, magazines, comics, films, music, jewellery, clothes, cushions…- all the little things that brighten our day and make us feel a little better about our circumstances – and they want them as cheaply as possible, mostly because they don’t have a lot of money to spend on them.
Now I could rant about this all day and it wouldn’t solve anything.  This is supposed to be about the VFX Industry Protest after all.
Like everyone else, the VFX Industry is having financial problems. Several VFX houses have had to close down, putting people out of work. They do the work of gods (ie: creating worlds and creatures where there once were none) for as little as  the studios that hire them can get away for paying them. And while the film that they work on may go on to be a massive blockbusting hit, bringing millions of pounds in ticket sales to the studios, because they work for a fixed fee, the VFX Houses see virtually none of that profit.
What they are protesting about is the system they are forced to work in and they want to do something about it.  Fair enough say I and probably many of you will agree with me,  that their protest is a fair one.
However, the protest is being kept under wraps by all sorts of people who really ought to know better… and this was the straw that broke the VFX Camel’s Back – go on, I’ll wait for you to watch the video and come back:
While the Oscars was going on, the VFX community were picketing outside. Everyone else on the oscars got a decent amount of time to do their acceptance speech, but when the Life of Pi VFX team were picking theirs up, they got cut off barely 43 seconds after being handed the award.

That’s all very well, you say, but that doesn’t me anything to me, I don’t work as a VFX Artist and neither do you… well it should mean something.  Lets look at this in the most basic level. What would Life of Pi look like without VFX?

Photo credit: @tvaziri (pic.twitter.com/JjGOJ8zsQg)

Essentially, without the VFX that makes the film so beautiful to watch, it wouldn’t be as ground breaking. It’s not just Life of Pi though. Without VFX, films like Avatar and the Avengers would be just people in costumes and paint… nowhere near as engaging.

Okay, you say. I can see that. But why are you getting worked up about it?

As I said, I’m a Fantasy/SF/Horror writer. I rely on my imagination and my skill with words to communicate what I see to my readers. But should those words be popular with enough people, some studio might say “Let’s turn this into a movie.” and that movie will be dependent on the VFX industry to bring it to life.

So yes, this problem will affect me personally in a slight fashion… and no, I don’t have any movie rights contracts up my sleeve.

Also, my fiance is heading into the world of animation and illustration – he’d love to work for the very industry that is having problems… The thing is, this protest and a similar one by screenwriters a few years back, are symptoms of a larger problem that I touched on earlier.

Everyone is having money problems. So those people in the position to spend money want to get what they need as cheaply as possible, and that creates the problem. Instead of paying artists/writers/animators etc, what their skills are worth in real terms, they negotiate it so that the artist at the bottom end of the chain (the one producing the effect) is getting paid pennies.

I touched on this myself when I tried to explain why I set my e-book prices the way I do… essentially I give myself a living wage, which in britain is the minimum wage of £5.40 (according to the govt) and work out how long it took me to write the book, multiply that by the minimum wage… gasp, have a heart attack and cut it from a couple of thousand to a reasonable figure that I could expect a reader to pay. It takes me longer to make money that way, but believe me, a price of £4.99 for a novel is better than one of approx. £5,000.

And that’s what the VFX houses have to do. They figure in their technology and software of course, but paying the artists who do the work and the technicians that do the coding is the biggest part of their price. Of course, they have to figure in overheads like energy and rent as well… if I did that, I wouldn’t be paying myself anything at all…

Everyone complains about their wages, but when you’re on the breadline and worrying about the food coming in, having to worry about your job as well… well, we can all understand that.

So show some solidarity with the VFX Artists – all they want is to be paid what their skills are worth. And if you go by the amount of money the studios rake in on heavily animated or CGI’d films, then their skills are worth a lot.