Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Storytelling the Space Race

BBC Radio 6 Music is a wonderful radio station to listen to; through it, I have been introduced to a lot of new and inspiring music, including Laura Marling, Beck and, most notably for me, Public Service Broadcasting.

A couple of years ago I heard a song called GO! Performed by Public Service Broadcasting, it tells the story of the Apollo mission to the moon where Neil Armstrong was the first man to step onto the surface. It was unique in its composition in that it told the story from the point of view of Mission Control, and gave an exciting, fast-paced dynamic to the story.

The track was from their album The Race for Space, which gave us a brief history to music of the challenges faced both by the USA and the USSR during that time. It remains one of my favourite albums.

What came to light for me was what a wonderful piece of recent history that was; the very idea that two countries competed in a race to get to the moon, and each time one would out-do the other with a technological advancement, seems very testosterone-fuelled and a little bit of nonsense. But, this was more than getting to the moon, this was figuring out who was better, Communists or Capitalists.

This got me wondering if such a story could be told to our younger generation and was the first piece of inspiration that I got for performing my own take on The Space Race to schools.

I set about writing a timeline of the race, from Sputnik onwards, when satellites chased each other, then men in capsules. It was amazing to see how each country would leap to the next advancement, and ultimately, how close the USSR had got to achieving victory. I wrote the story eager to get this tale out into the wide world.

Of course, if you are designing yourself to be a story teller, then you have to read the story out loud. It was while doing this, in the company of me alone, that I discovered not only that this was an interesting and exciting period of history, it was actually a race, and could be presented as such.

Imagine the story of the space race as if you are being told it by a racing commentator. That is what I have imagined and that is now what I have packaged together to get it out there come the new term.

What I like about this is where the inspiration has come from. I knew all about the space race but never thought it could be a roller-coaster ride of a story. It was only after hearing the music composed by Public Service Broadcasting that I rediscovered how exciting and challenging the race really was. It was a time of real heroes heading out into the unknown, experimenting inside equipment as volatile as the space around it. They put their lives at risk for our advancement, and that, I feel, is something that we as a human race tend to gloss over.

So, come the new school year, I will be sending out flyers and emails to schools across Kent. The Space Race being one of a few stories that I have concocted in the hope that someone will take a punt and give this wannabe storyteller some time.

After all, much as those astronauts and cosmonauts did, you have to put yourself out there to get results.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Take Time in Life to Consider the Arts

It is common in life to think that in order to be productive one has to be manic; think deadlines, piles of papers on a desk, phones constantly ringing; a buzz of activity that proves to your managers or employers that you are busy busy busy earning and earning etc…

But are you learning?

Is there an argument leaning towards taking time to contemplate? A moment of reflection in life gives you time to properly take a look at what lies ahead of you, and also to sift back through previous experiences and knowledge gained giving you the right tools to take you forward in a situation. While the busy mentality may work for an industrial revolution style factory production line, like in Chaplin’s Modern Times for instance, that does not make it the right way of working for all walks of life.

By taking time away both mentally and physically, you are re-energising, seeking new ways of thinking, opening the doors to a wider train of thought.

Perhaps the reason that this is not a favoured pastime in the workplace is because THEY do not want you to think too much.

Thought is the one true thing that stands us out from other life on this planet; the ability to look at a situation, to wonder why or to gaze at the beauty which surrounds us. In life we ask ourselves about the sun, the moon, the stars, the point of life, the reason why things are the way they are.

Mmmm, perhaps employers don’t want you to even think about asking questions like that as it would begin a chain of thought leading to the removal of their power over the individual.  All the more reason to do it in my book!

But if you take time to think about things, then you would quickly realise how busy and fast life can be, and that we could all benefit from just taking it easy during the day. One of the ways to slow your life down is by breathing in and absorbing the arts.

Take this into account: you are standing amidst the hustle and bustle of a gallery in London, surrounding you are school trips, foreign students, casual tourists, all jostling for a good position to take a photo on their phone; you however do not see them, you are engrossed in the life that has been painted out before you, a brief moment in time captured in oil and layered onto canvas. The noise that emanates from all of the mouths in the room mean nothing to you; your mind has gone back and you have immersed yourself into the image hanging on the wall.

No phone or camera can ever capture that emotion, it is yours, and is a feeling that could stay with you long after the memory is stored away in your brains back catalogue.

Statistics and data don’t give you that same emotional depth, although some bosses would argue that they should.

Reading is also something that I feel has become a pastime, but needs to remain as a useful tool for learning. Think back to how much you read while at school. Now what do we read and when? I imagine that there a more of us who choose to read on holiday rather than every week, and that it has become something you treat yourself to rather than a part of life. Poetry, for instance, is a wonderful form used to bring our brains in line with our souls. Taking the time to look at a piece of poetry and to drink in the words, then decipher your own meaning from it and your own enjoyment, giving yourself time to process the emotion that poems can give you if you open up to them, can give your brain and body a real boost.

Take time to consider your own happiness and your own journey. Imagine that you are in charge of your destiny and you control the steering wheel. Because in actual fact you do, we are being programmed to believe that we are in someone else’s hands and that our employers and overseers hold our destiny.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

A Short Poem Entitled: The Raven

An odd image displayed on the television screen within my head the other day, it was that of a raven. It led me to Google ravens, such beautiful birds, but always seen as a somewhat sombre sight. Their being is steeped in myth and folklore, as are many animals in our world, and it makes me sad that we don’t listen to these myths any longer. Perhaps they might help us to decide on the future of mankind, which, let’s face it, is doing a pretty disastrous job of protecting itself. So, in my thoughts, inspired by the television in my head, or is it a cinema? Maybe I should add curtains, I have written the following little piece about a raven.

The Raven

A crow, its feet, lines across your eyes, spring, dart, hop, to where? Unknown, a dance of madness to no tune. Sqwuak, there is the sound, like a siren blaring through a siesta, ruining concentration; and then it decides to eat, a cavern opens, nipping at the ground with a cruel beak, like a small road worker creating a hole, and thus, creating a nightmare for those who have to cross it. The crow, a raven, symbol of death because it is black; how crude, symbol of sorrow and pain, there are some white folk who also create that. Yet, symbol of prophecy, better, Romans you know, always looking on the bright side of life. The crow, it gets a raw deal, perhaps it is the noise, like a teacher scraping nails onto a blackboard, why is everything black seen as a negative? Perhaps there is something in that. I once befriended an African child at school, and was beaten up for the privilege, he did not stay long. Gone, on the run, running from reality. Perhaps we should all do the same. Maybe we are. Crows watch us, waiting, ? Their baritone birdsong contrasting starkly to Blake’s heavenly landscape, now the song is cut short by the blaring of current life, the incessant noise of towns rip through your brain and concentration is lost. Peace is what is needed, then perhaps we can all think, think again, and make a constructive judgement, rather than jumping in with war. Peace is what the crow sings for, humans should follow. Gaia is shared, crows have their place, they foresee the end of humans.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Random Thoughts on the Human Race

Where has the human race got to?

If you begin to think of the technical and industrial advancements that the humans have managed over the course of two hundred years, and indeed, of the last thirty years in terms of computers and software, it begs a question within my tiny mind:

Why does emotional and intelligent advancement remain so stilted?

We could be, and in my view should be, in a society where the humans have advanced to a level where things as petty as war, borders, control, are subjects that you learn in school as you pour over human history. Yet, one hundred years after the war to end all wars, we are all still fighting each other for territory, religion and money.

So much for the Enlightenment.

Right now, on this planet, we have world leaders who care nothing for the advancement of the human race and only for their own needs. There is no good and evil, if you don’t care about a fellow human, regardless of your colour, race or beliefs, you are evil. If you have a political party that is blocking the advancement of society for all, then you are evil. If you stop good people from entering your country and place invisible walls up in the name of protection, then you are evil.

You are controlling when we are meant to be free; you are greedy when we are meant to selfless.

It does make you think how this is benefitting the human race.

We have companies complaining that prices are rising and how this will affect their profits, and then in the next breath announcing billions in profit; yet, we have human beings starving and in need of shelter, these are two things that every living thing on Earth has a necessity for and we are denying it to our own race in the name of money. We have a government who can’t afford to keep its citizens safe in tower blocks, but can afford to bribe another political party to prop up its own.

The world is broken, our world is broken. When we are all gone having wiped each other out of existence the planet will continue to turn and the sun will continue to burn and all of the remaining animals will continue to go about their daily routine. So is all of this greed and profit really worth it?

But that’s enough about the world that is painted to us by the media and other outlets, which is a kind of self-harm process, what about getting things right?

I am beginning to understand that the primary things which we are built on is emotion and what we have learned; they control our thoughts, actions; determine our decisions and give us reason to lead out into the day. We each have desires and goals, and (shock!) some of these don’t involve anything financial. Yet, in order for us to achieve our aims in this modern world, we need to have the resources at our disposal to make that happen.

Some of those resources you can learn or already have, and then you need the one final piece of the jigsaw, MONEY.

So in order to be happy, I would guess, you have to be rich in a wide variety of ways. As far as I can see it, being rich financially is just one small piece of the full picture. The most important aspects for being rich are to be emotionally involved in your world and to be intellectually interested in it. Without emotion and intelligence, the human race is pretty much an unevolved species that serves no point to anything.

It is worth taking the time to look at the world through a different lense  and working out your own point of view. If you create a clear strategy in life in which to combat the onslaught of negativity, or the bombardment of bad news, then this would go some way partly to giving you your own unique viewpoint to which you can make decisions which matter to you.

These decisions which you undertake will be based on your emotional and intellectual response to the world which you see every day.

I would then imagine that in taking control of your thoughts and actions, you would be going some way to creating a world that you wish to see, a world that is rich, full of potential, rewarding to you and open to your needs. By cancelling out the world which you are being fed by various media outlets, a world that is not as bad as we are being told and not on the brink of self-destruction, we can come together as one emotional and intelligent force which speaks the truth and moves us on to the next level of development.

We are stuck in a cycle of war, greed and poverty. The human race can be better than this, it will take a change in how we view the world and how we want our society to be in order to make that happen.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

About Poetry and Sharing your Writing

Just typing the word POETRY into a Google search brings up some surprising results. For instance, top of the page is Poetry Fashion, whilst further down you can find articles such as ‘Why Poetry is the Greatest Weapon Against Donald Trump’.

Poetry, it seems, can be anything to anyone, and I have recently read an article which describes the current teaching method of poetry as wrong.

Matthew Zapruder is a poet, and he has written a new book on poetry called Why Poetry, which looks at why a lot of people feel alienated by poems. He argues that they are not riddles to be deciphered, but a form of writing into which you can delve into the writers emotions. It is the only form of writing, he says, that really opens up a human being and makes them aware of the world around them.

I have to say that there is something in his argument. I have a fourteen year old daughter who appears to be scared of poems when they crop up in class or homework. There seems to be an aura around them, created by us, that makes them untouchable, and that you have to be a mastermind of language in order to understand what the writer is trying to tell you.

But, what if the writer is not trying to tell you anything? The writer instead is trying to make you feel something, and to see something; in other words, paint a picture with words.

That to me is what poems are all about, emotions and imagination. Many poems I have read take you on a journey and it is almost like diving into a pool of words, the emotion of which is like the cool water surrounding you. I know that there is structure to understand and if you want to write in a particular form then you have to know the rules. But for the most part, a poem should be making you feel something which other forms of writing are not able to do. A good poem unlocks your brain and allows in smells, colour, passion, feeling and vision.

A poem is like switching on the television and immediately being taken to the place that is on the screen.

Take the Haiku for instance, a simple form of poetry it would appear from the outside, but when you absorb a good Haiku it gives you everything in one small package. It is perfection squeezed into a few lines that you almost remember after the first reading. A Haiku is an extremely hard form of poetry to get right.

The fundamental thing about any kind of writing is that it has been written to be read. Writing that is not shared are just words on a piece of paper, and until those words are digested by another pair of eyes, until another soul breathes in the thoughts that you had, those words will remain lifeless.

So, for all the fear that is involved in sharing ones work, it is worth overcoming that and reaching out to an audience. Most recently I did, I entered into a competition for a short story and my piece has been chosen to be read by a professional actor at an event on Friday.

I will be going along to see the reaction, biting my nails, and feeling as sick as a parrot. Writing is a painful and lonely experience, but sharing your writing can make it magical.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Looking at Life and Making a Change

There is a saying, turn over a new leaf, and for most of my life it has been lost on me what the power of that saying is.

But when you take time to look at it, realise what it actually means and give in to it. Then it quickly becomes apparent to me that this is something that needs to be done on a cyclical basis.

Turning over a new leaf is a phrase of turn meaning to act or behave in a different manner that which you have done so before.

To me, it means that everything has to change, and it is in changing that you can bring positive order to your life. As we grow we develop, both mentally and physically; whereas once you would have enjoyed a certain point of view, events in your life or the world around you make that opinion adapt and evolve into something fuller or different.  To be unwilling to open your mind and take in different aspects of the world would indicate to me that you are stuck, and if you are stuck then you are not moving forward.

In fact, you are not moving anywhere.

Sometimes trudging through life can feel like wading through quicksand, and each step that you take is more difficult than the last. As you continue on the journey, and the path gets ever harder, you wonder if it worthwhile, and begin to question your motives. So what do you do? Plough on regardless? Look back at where you have come from and consider returning? Or, is this a good opportunity to ask yourself some questions, take a look at the map, and consider alternative directions?

Everything has to change. There is no straight forward answer to anything. Just think about how many times your thinking has to change in a single day as you subconsciously adapt to the environment around you. The number is enormous, whether it be your drive into work, or your decision over what to eat for lunch, or perhaps something like what you wish to write about when it comes to sitting at a computer and typing.

I had no intention when I sat to write this to come up with a scenario about change, I wanted to write about something mystical and magical; but the phrase ‘turn over a new leaf’ popped into my head and this is where it has led me, 405 words later.

Perhaps I am in a transitionary period and this means something to me. It is worth acknowledging to the failings and successes of life as you go along. If something that you are doing in your life is not working to your advantage, then perhaps it is time to change it in one way or another.

Transitions are scary, and sets you off on a path that is initially unknown. But, soon you will begin to recognise the landscape as you journey on and realise that this is not the means to an end, but the beginning of a new part of your life.

Another saying, this time ascribed to T.S. Eliot, goes: it is not the destination, but the journey that really matters.

Friday, 2 June 2017

My thoughts on Election 2017

The election is less than a week away, and the options being put forward to us are pretty sparse. On the one hand we have a fiery dragon, who dines on the dreams of the impoverished and pursues the attentions  and approvals of an overbearing ugnaught; and on the other, we have a mythical mentor who insists that the way forward is to go back to the past, and to forget recent democratic learnings to find a simpler way of life, almost like going back to the land.

The others, well, there is a puppet on a string who flings their arms around as if someone had dropped a cupful of ants down their pants; and then there is a throwback to the wonderful sitcom Bread, set in Liverpool, as a re-enactment of a cheery northern soul popping their head all over the place.

And who do you choose? It’s now a close call. The outsiders have fallen by the wayside and the front two remain neck and neck, the dragon moving a couple of strides ahead of Obi-Wan Kenobi. So, will it be a bath of blood red come next Thursday, that washes over the country; or a sea of blue which crashes over the population and drowns out the screams?

This year has been billed as a battle for Brexit, and deciding on who is the best person to take us into the negotiations with the rest of Europe. The unfortunate thing is, that in reaching out to the public in the manner with which the candidates have, it would appear that none of them are equipped to negotiate with the rest of Europe. The live tv debates have at best been a squabbling mess; and the interviews with various different channels has proved that the major players are robotic and, in the long run, extremely dull.

So, who would get my vote? Well, a few years ago I stumbled across a party called The Roman Party, for some reason they were standing for a vote within Maidstone. Because they were fighting amongst an assortment of politicians who a long time ago had sold their souls to the devil, or corporations as we also know them, I ticked this little party’s box.

I had no idea what the Roman Party stood for, and according to Wikipedia, they were created by a Frenchman who became a bus driver in Reading. The party, which for all I know could be one bloke in his pyjamas, use the basis that we should all behave like the Romans.

Of course, there could be an argument that we already do with our empire building. But, in my simple mind, I harked back to a time when you would grow olive groves and drink lots of wine, while watching gladiators wrestle with animals.

Not really the basis for giving an informed opinion on who would take this country forward, but a vote nonetheless. Better than making a spoil as far as I am concerned.

So, you have a choice between Gandalf or a Skeksis (those mythical creatures from the 1984 movie The Dark Crystal). Not much of a choice, but sometimes you have to make the best decision of two bad ones.
Zac Thraves is a storyteller and writer living in Kent; if you wish to book him to come along to your party, young or old,  or to give a speech at your local school then please contact him at