The Red King is Coming

My new novel, The Red King, Volume 1 in ‘The Jabberwocky Book’ horror-fantasy series, is out in March 2015.

For more information, and to subscribe to ‘The Jabberwocky Book’ newsletter, fill out the form below. Giveaways,  extra information and insights.

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Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

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The Search for Solitude

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I like solitude. It’s different from loneliness, which is a whole big bucket of suck. I don’t get lonely anymore, though. Not since I discovered solitude.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary tries to put similar meanings on the two words:
Lonely: 1. Solitary, companionless, isolated 2. unfrequented 3. sad because without friends or company, dreary.

Solitude: 1. The state of being solitary. 2 A lonely place.

But what does solitary mean? Well, again according to the COD it means ‘not gregarious, without companions, lonely’. But it also means ‘single or sole’. Or, in its more extreme definition, solitary is a noun meaning ‘hermit or anchorite’.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a hermit, not in the traditional sense of living in a cave and wearing a hair shirt and throwing ashes on myself. Nor, strictly, am I am anchorite in the sense of a religious recluse. But another meaning of anchorite is ‘a person of secluded habits’. I think that comes closest to being me.

I like being alone, not being lonely. When I was a teenager I was very lonely. I had friends, but they were exclusively male. I lacked a girlfriend, a female companion. In that sense I was lonely. But even then I enjoyed being alone, as in by myself.

This doesn’t make me odd. I am naturally a shy person. This may sound strange coming from someone who loves speaking in public, who loves acting and making people laugh. I do like all those things. But that’s because I’m performing. After the speech is over, after the play is done, I want to go back into my shell and stay there.

Which puts me at odds with many other people, those who like to party, who thrive on companionship and crowds, who love being with others. Sometimes they can’t believe I don’t want to socialise, that I am happiest when alone and doing things I enjoy, whether it be reading or writing or bushwalking or just sitting and thinking. I don’t need – indeed, I don’t want – anyone else to do those things with.

A neighbour asked me just a few minutes ago if I went to the Christmas Carols in the city hall last night.

‘No,’ I replied.

‘Really? Everyone was there.’

Well, patently not everyone. I wasn’t. But I let the generalisation slide.

‘Why didn’t you go?’

‘Because I didn’t want to.’

And that’s what she found hard to believe. That I wouldn’t want to go and be with thousands of others, including a plethora of children, to listen to songs I’ve heard playing in the shopping centres too many times already. I don’t deride others for wanting to do such a thing; I’m sure a good time was had by all. The thing is, if I had gone I wouldn’t have had a good time. And it’s not that I’m against Christmas carols or the holiday itself. I just would not have liked it. Too many people, too much commitment to pretending to be pleasant.

Maybe I’m weak. Maybe I’m selfish. Maybe I enjoy being alone simply because I don’t like being told what to do, and couldn’t care about anyone else. Maybe. I don’t know.

But solitude is good. I’m not married (I was, but I got better). I have no children. I don’t owe anyone any money. I have a career I love. I write books and tutor school students. I enjoy all that. I have problems, too, of course. Not everything is roses. But I enjoy being who I am.

Just because I don’t want to share that with others most of the time is nothing against them.

Solitude is when you can hear yourself think. It’s when problems are solved. It’s when the silence surrounds you and you can listen to it for a long periods of time. But it isn’t loneliness.

‘Don’t you get bored?’ people ask when they learn of my lifestyle. No, I don’t. Well, I do – everyone does – but I don’t need the company of others to relieve that boredom. I find things to do that amuse me.

So give solitude a go. Solitude is different to loneliness in that you can resolve solitude voluntarily – go and find someone to be with if you want. Loneliness is a horror, and not to be recommended.

I like my solitude. It’s personal space and time. And it’s mine.

Russell Proctor    http://www.russellproctor.com

https://www.facebook.com/writerproctor

 

Don’t Drop Jesus!

When I was a professional actor, which was some time ago now, I became involved in the presentation of Christmas shows at Brisbane’s Southbank. If you’ve never been to Brisbane, Australia, you may not be aware of Southbank, which (as the name suggests) is on the south bank of the Brisbane River, one of the finer waterways in the civilised world. It’s a public recreation area very popular among the local population.

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Anyway, I would be part of the Christmas shows there. Each year I would be involved in the week leading up to Christmas. The public would come to Southbank and we would put on a variety of entertainment. Now, I don’t know if I was good or bad, but the truth is I was offered a different role each year, like they were trying me at everything until I found what I was good at. Actors worry a lot about how good they are.

So I did a different role each year for five years. With the Christmas season upon us, I thought I’d reveal some the good (and bad) times involved with being an put-of-work actor struggling to put bread on the table and taking on whatever was on offer in order to do so.

Year One:
This will live in my memory forever. I was a gypsy dancer. Yes, me. For those who don’t know me personally, I have absolutely no sense of rhythm. None. And the first year I had to dance the length of Southbank in a parade, accompanied by a gypsy band (guitar, drum, violin and flute), while proclaiming something or other that had something to do with Christmas. I forget what it was now.

I was married at the time. At one of the performances my wife was present along the route and I ran over and kissed her and later the band members were saying to me: “You did know that chick, right?” which probably meant my role as a hot-blooded gypsy was fairly realistic.

I wore the same costume each night, which mostly failed to make me look anything like a gypsy. It got soaked in sweat because of course it’s summer here in Brisbane at Christmas time and Brisbane is a particularly humid part of the world. It also didn’t help that accompanying me and my gypsy band was a fire-eater, who would shoot great gouts of flame from his mouth as I sang and danced my way along. I had to time things just right or else he would have blasted me with fire, which would have upset my Mum.

Year Two:
This year they put me at the head of the parade. I was there complete with foot-long beard, dirty robes, staff and loud voice, proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. The first person the assembled crowd saw was me. Two moments stand out. The first was when a boy (must have been about 18, but a boy to me) stepped out in front of me and said ‘Can I have your staff?’ I mean, really! Here I am, floor-length filthy prophet’s robe, obviously using my staff as a vital prop, and this kid wants to use it for some reason or other. I just ignored him and moved on.

The other moment was when I spied a friend in the audience, a fellow actor named Jacy. She was right at the end of the parade, sitting with some of her friends. I remembered my success of the previous year when I kissed my wife and it made a major stir, so I went over to Jacy and said hello and announced loudly, “It’s very lucky to kiss a prophet!” and planted one on her. Fortunately she took it well and accepted the kiss. It made good theatre and people thought “Here’s a prophet we can relate to!”

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Year Three:
This is the Don’t Drop Jesus bit.  I was one of the Three Wise Men this year. Mr Myrrh, in fact. We were further back in the parade this time riding camels and preceded by Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus represented by a doll. Mary rode on a donkey led by Joseph, holding Jesus in her arms. We paraded along the river then went to a stage area where Joseph and Mary sat in a Nativity scene suitably decorated with real animals. At a certain time we Wise Men entered and presented our gifts with appropriate speeches.

Being Mr Myrrh, I was in line behind Mr Gold. So I had a pretty good view of Mary on the donkey, so I was in a good position to see precisely what happened.

Mary was, as I said, riding the donkey. At various points on the path that follows the Brisbane River at Southbank there are brightly-coloured mosaics set into the cement. The donkey, which up until this point had had no problem with these mosaics, for some reason stopped suddenly at one of them. Maybe it had noticed it for the first time and got a fright. Anyway, its sudden stop meant trouble for Mary. She was riding bareback and side-saddle, being dressed in robes, with the doll representing baby Jesus in her arms. This  meant she couldn’t hold onto anything else, but Joseph was walking beside her leading the donkey in case she needed help to stay on at any time.

Anyway, the donkey pulled up sharply. Mary, according to Newton’s First Law of Motion, kept her momentum and continued along Southbank, slipping forwards over the donkey’s shoulder. As she clutched at the animal’s neck to stay on, she let go of Jesus, who, also in accordance to Newton’s laws, took off out of her arms. Mary let go of the donkey and fell off. Fortunately, she landed on her feet and managed to catch Jesus who was at that point descending in a head-first power dive towards the cement path. The crowd applauded and we Wise Men breathed a sigh of relief. Mary climbed back on and the parade continued as if the whole incident was just part of the show.

We congratulated Mary afterwards in the dressing room for her brilliant save. The girl who played Mary explained she’d been rather good at netball when she was at school, so it’s good to know the Mother of God had a keen interest in wholesome team sports, and found them useful.

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Year Four:

This year I was Santa’s Head of Security. You may think the he doesn’t need such a thing, but I took the role very seriously. So there I was, dressed as an Elf (yes green tights and all) with sunglasses and a rather fiendish looking “Naughtiness Detector” which could make various sounds when buttons were pressed. I’d mingle among the crowd prior to the show starting and run the detector over children and adults, making the detector beep and bray according to whether the target had been naughty or nice that year. Of course, all the children had been nice and all the Dads had been naughty. This amused the kids, of course, as well as the parents.

I also had the job, as head of Security, to announce Santa’s arrival. I’d get on the public address and make announcements like “The Fat Man is five minutes away”, “The Fat Man has landed”, etc. All good fun. Santa was played by a man who actually ran a Santa School teaching other people how to be Santa. He had an amazing trick he did with the kids who came to visit him in his tent. He had an Elf assisting him. The child would enter the tent while Santa was talking to another child. The Elf would ask the waiting child their name, and then pretend to look them up in his big book that he had in front of him. Now, I don’t know how it was done, but by the time the child arrived in front of Santa, he already knew their name. Santa would smile and say, “Well, hello Billy!” or  “I remember you, Sally. I visited your house last year!” Because, of course, Santa knows the name of every child in the world. He never missed it once. Since he was talking to another child at the time, it was hard to see how he could overhear what was going on between the waiting child and the Elf, especially as he was several metres away on his big chair. It was a neat trick, but out of respect for his methods I never asked how it was done.

Year Five:

This was my last year with the Christmas Show because I moved out of town after that. My final gig was a storyteller. There were several actors scattered around the arena and while the families waited for the show to start we would gather kids together and tell Christmas-themed stories to keep them occupied.

I remember my story was about a Green Tree Frog and while I told the story I acted out the Frog. I had an assistant who would play the other parts in the story and help with the voices and narration. It was a lot of fun and the story was actually quite funny.

The only incident of any note happened when a small boy, no doubt assuming that since I was a frog and therefore liked water, decided to shower me with his drink bottle right in the middle of the story. Since I was squatting down pretending to be a frog at the time he was tall enough to upend his water bottle over my head. It was actually quite refreshing on a sticky December night.

So those are five Christmases I remember fondly. I haven’t been with the Southbank show for ages now, but I had a great time and I hope the crowd did too.

Have a great Christmas and New Year.

holly

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

I Don’t Like Chilli

Well I don’t. I see no sense in eating something that, to me, takes away the taste of the food, if the food has a perfectly agreeable taste of its own. The same can be said of curry. I can understand some people liking it, and that’s fine. That’s not my gripe today. I don’t like chilli. And I should be allowed not to like it.

My gripe is levelled at those people who tell me I have to like chilli, who insist that I like chilli, who put it in my food whether I want it there or not. And those TV chefs who put it in everything and those food critics who regard chilli as some sort of venerable but fiery god that must be incorporated to “bring out” or “enhance” or “zest up” the flavour of a dish.

It isn’t, apparently, addictive, although some people claim it is. One psychologist at least, Jason Goldman, declares that some people have a masochistic tendency to enjoy harsh, bitter or fiery flavours. To me, chillies are just a pain in the mouth.

So if some people like Jamie Oliver want to nibble on a chilli instead of having a cup of coffee, that’s their problem. What I don’t like is when chefs put the chilli in their dishes as if it’s a normal, everyday ingredient. It happens: go to a restaurant of even moderate swankiness and peruse the bill of fare. Many of the dishes, in my experience, contain chilli. Mild, perhaps, hidden, perhaps, but nevertheless present. And if I don’t like chillies, which I don’t, then my choice is limited. Because try asking the chef to leave out the chillies. Not going to happen.

I once argued with a chef about this. She said that in a restaurant, one must eat the dish as it is prepared, like it or not.

‘But I’m not going to eat something I don’t like,’ I replied. ‘If I don’t like chillies, I don’t want them in the food I eat.’

‘That is ridiculous,’ she replied. ‘The chef is an artist. How dare you comment negatively on the way they prepare the dish. They have created it!’

‘If I don’t like a book, I don’t read it,’ I countered calmly. ‘If I don’t like a movie I don’t watch it. If I don’t care for a painting I won’t look at it. So why is it different for a chef?’

After spluttering a few moments the best she could some up with was, ‘But the chef is an artist!’

True story.

Anyway, my point is that there are people out there who enforce their tastes on us. And a lot of people eat chilli because they feel it’s the thing to do, that someone who seems to know something about something tells them they should be doing it, so they do. Like getting tattoos. Or wearing their baseball caps backwards (I have seen this STILL going on in 2014!)  Or following some banal TV show. But some of us don’t want to do these things, thanks, and we shouldn’t have to. And we shouldn’t be pressured by people to do so.

So chilli is a fad. It’ll pass (there is a very mild, indirect scatological pun there). But until then I’m finding it hard to eat in restaurants.

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By the way, I also don’t like bananas or mangoes. Living as I do in Queensland, Australia, I’ve people almost faint when I reveal that little nugget. ‘How can you not like bananas?’ they cry, with as much horror as if I’d questioned the matrimonial state of their parents. ‘You’re not a Queenslander!’

Um, yes I am actually, born and raised.

I just don’t like them.

So I’m sorry if any chilli fans out there feel outraged. I’m sure most of you are sane, decent people who can cut others a bit of slack because they don’t like eating something that physically hurts. But there’s always a few who spoil it for everyone else. I try to ignore them, but it’s hard sometimes, especially with people like Jamie Oliver putting the vile things in every single dish and expecting us to like it.

Please keep your tastes to yourself. People should be allowed not to like something, and should be allowed to insist that food be served the way they want, not the way some ‘artist’ wants it to be. I am perfectly entitled to write an unreadable book. That’s my prerogative as a writer. But if no one reads, I’m in no position to complain. If I want people to read what I write, I need to think of my audience.

So lay off, chilli nuts who demand I like them too. I don’t. Get used to it.

 

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

The Voice that is Passive

 

My students have been told by me to avoid the passive voice when writing. Weaker sentences are those that are written passively. More effectiveness and control are possible by sentences that are active. Following the subject with a verb is the more active way of writing and is a sign of more consideration on the part of the writer. This whole article was going to be written by me using the passive voice. It was found, however, that a strain on me was caused by doing so.

So I’ll stop now.

What is the passive voice? Well, English grammar has two ways of writing a sentence. The first, and most common, is ACTIVE. This is where the sentence follows the structure: Subject – Verb – Object.

The dog bit the man is active voice. The dog (subject) bit (verb) the man.

PASSIVE voice turns things around. In passive, the object of the sentence becomes the subject. The man was bitten by the dog.

So what’s the difference? Well, it all depends on what the focus of the sentence is. In The dog bit the man, the important noun in the sentence is the dog. In The man was bitten by the dog, we are more focused by the man. In the first, active, sentence, we are interested in the dog and its doings – in the second, passive, sentence, the man is our concern. Imagine someone asked a question:

‘I saw Bill walking around with a bandage on his leg. What happened to him?’

‘He was bitten by a dog.’

Contrast that with:

‘Why does Bill have a bandage on his leg?’

‘A dog bit him.’

Both are valid responses. However, the first is more focussed on Bill from the start. In the second, the focus starts with Bill but the responder to the question is changing the focus to the dog, perhaps in order to emphasise the cause of the accident rather than its consequences.

And therein lies the difference between active and passive voice. Active, the pedants say, is stronger than passive. In writing, there is less need for passive voice. Readers respond better to active, strong, positive statements.

True, they do. But there is no need to throw out the passive voice entirely. it’s used a lot in business documents, for instance and in informative writing, or where it is not necessary to state the doer of the action, or the doer is not known or relevant.

The verb of a sentence is active when the subject of the sentence does the action:

Mary had a little lamb.

The passive tells us what happens or is being done to the subject:

The lamb was owned by Mary.

 

If the doer of the action is unknown or irrelevant, passive also has a role:

He was run over.

Or:

The song was sung.

So don’t abandon the passive voice entirely. It does have a stigma attached to it, but it is still a vlaid form of communication.

 

– Russell Proctor  http://www.russellproctor.com