Words from the Woods


I’d long had the goal of inspiring children to write more and better stories and collect them into an anthology and finally this year I achieved that goal.

The book is called Words from the Woods (my 7 year old daughter came up with the title from the fact that our school bus nestled on the edge of the woods.)

woods3D

Initially it had the double goal of using stories with some as a tool to better engage students in science, by encouraging them to create a narrative around a scientific phenomenon an with others, to draw out the creativity of those already proficient in science but less likely to develop their imaginations. Surprisingly, most of the schools I had worked with had little interest in the idea. It was only when I came to Fyling Hall in January 2016 that I could set up an after-school club to develop these ideas and The Intergalactic Writers’ Guild was born.

Guild-logo

I say ‘guild’ and not ‘club’ as just like the trade guilds of old, the idea of the meetings was to develop, home and improve our craft of storytelling. We met for an hour every week and played creativity games designed to encourage and develop different aspects of story creation and writing: imagination, description, characters, locations, voice, atmosphere, style and purpose. Two of these exercises resulted in short pieces that are so interesting, I’ve included them as works in their own right at the back of the book.

The themes we explored centred around two interesting techniques that you’ll see reflected in most of the stories. The first and most powerful starting idea for a creative expression was the speculative fiction idea of ‘what if?’ – asking a question or changing one aspect of reality and dealing with the consequences which unfold as a story. 

The other key theme was ‘the ghost story’ which was especially exhilarating during dark autumn and winter evenings (and sometimes telling stories by candlelight) and it is this genre more than any other threw up so many interesting ideas that you’ll find many of the stories herein fall into that category.

Not all contributions contained herein have come via the Guild. A batch of stories were written as part of English lessons for years 7, 8 and 9. Some being given themes such as ‘the cold’ or ‘the other side’. I also gave two special sessions on ‘Writing the Ghost Story’ and on ‘Speculative Fiction’ for year 7 which have led to some fascinating stories that I was able to harvest for the anthology.

Overall we have 52 contributors, including those that have submitted artwork from their GCSE portfolios (not linked to any of the stories) to break up the pages between stories. Special thanks goes to Hee Joo Jin who painted the original artwork for our cover and Head of English Alex Woodhead who proofread our grammar and punctuation.

Layout 1

A sample page from the book.

The challenges that face young authors are the same that face any young person in any 21st century endeavour and fall into these four categories, which we aimed to deal with one by one in the Guild:

1. How to have an idea (creativity).

2. How to turn an idea into an interesting narrative (communication skills).

3. How to keep going (perseverance)

4. How to have a great ending (find purpose and meaning).

These skills creativity, communication, perseverance and finding a purpose are critical for a rounded education and fulfilling life and yet they don’t always fall within the traditional curriculum in many schools. For that reason I believe the work we have done here is of the highest value and has, I hope, enriched the experience of those that have participated in the book. On behalf of all our writers, artists and myself, we now hope that it will in some small way entertain, inform and educate you too, do take a look on Amazon.

I’m preparing a tool kit for teachers on how the Guild and the book were put together with such a good outcome. Drop me a line on twitter or here @aydinstone if you want to know more. I’ll post the resources on my blog here when it’s ready.

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On the Shores of Lake Onyx


My new collection of 18 science fiction and ghost stories is now available.

Kindle: https://goo.gl/Bne81M Paperback: https://goo.gl/c9hjSL

On the Shores of Lake Onyx

Cover for On the Shores of Lake Onyx by Ayd Instone

My goal with this second collection is to invite the reader to step right out on the precipice and invoke within them a sense of apeirophobia, that is ‘a fear of infinity’, what Otto described in Latin as mysterium tremendum, a terrible dread of some wholly overwhelming, almost cyclopean power.

I’ve called it Luminous Awe, a subset of Horror, to be less about simply fear of death or pain and more about fear of fear itself, of the unknown and unknowable: a fear for your soul (even if you don’t know what that is). A good ghost story should make us all shudder. A belief in ghosts is not required, a belief in possibilities is. When horror meets science fiction we have the best of both breeds: a realistic, plausible scenario and chain of events along with a  compelling sense of dread. H.P. Lovecraft described his writing process as first working out what emotion he wanted to convey, then he would work out how it was to be conveyed, by what situations, plot and characters, and then by what order would he reveal those ingredients to construct the story (which is exactly that – the manner and order the plot is revealed to the reader). Probably five of the stories in my first book could be described as ‘ghost stories’ and possibly ten you could call ‘science fiction’. It’s flipped the other way this time. Probably around ten in this collection may be ghost stories, the rest science fiction.

The Curse of Baphomet by Ayd Instone

The Curse of Baphomet by Ayd Instone

I’ve attempted to be as varied and original as possible in addition to getting as many facts correct as I can. In Secret of the Circle the facts are closer to the truth than you think, many of the elements featured did exist. Even the mythical elixir of life, ‘vril’ found its way into the drink Bovril, as in bovine elixir. The myths detailed in The Curse of Baphomet are as accurate as I could make them, drawn from various myths and legends. The Ghost of Tracey Pemberton, the last to be written for this collection, may or may not even be a ghost story, you can decide.

Part of the motivation to write ghost stories may come from the dissatisfaction I have with the supernatural, that I have researched it enough to see all examples of it vanish. This angle is explored in the story here called simply Ghosts. The challenge has been to create a new plausibility to the ghost or an invocation of the uncanny that is as convincing as it is unnerving. Simply using the cliches or stereotypical motifs of ghosts and their standard explanations is not interesting to me. Magic Mirror is a pure tale unashamedly in the style of M.R. James whereas The Keeper at Hobs’ Point attempts to subvert the form by giving a reason, (an explanation being the tenant of science fiction), if not a fantastical reason, to the spooky goings on.

Readers of my first collection will recall the main character of Black Light. She proved popular with enough people to warrant a return in both Two Heads and The Voice in the Dark where her position as the rational scientist is valuable in investigating the strange phenomenon. She even gets a surname in these new stories.

The Keeper of Hobs' Point

The Keeper of Hobs’ Point by Ayd Instone

In popular music they call it ‘the difficult second album’ – you’ve used up all your best songs on your debut which effectually you’ve been working on all your life up to that point and then… a second instalment is needed in hardly any time at all. The cupboard is bare of ideas, the barrel has been scrapped. Where is the new material going to come from? It’s a real test of your creativity and staying power. Is it the same with a short story collection? Ironically I have enough songs written for my first fifty albums, but short stories – I’d put the latest and best plus some scrapped from long past, reaching back to my youth in that first volume, A Voice in the Light. There were all there, those eighteen tales, there were no more. The stories that didn’t make that first collection didn’t make it for a reason so they were out. So all these stories are brand new? Not quite. On exploring the attic looking for my old school exercise books, I came across a couple of sheets of handwritten file paper with a story I’d forgotten all about that a twenty year old me had written (The Moth) and another that I’d written as a screenplay with the intention of filming as a short film (The Fly), originally entitled A Speck of Dust. So there are those two older stories presented here, but all the rest are new since the first collection. That means I have entered into that strange experience of the state of ‘not having an idea’ and then entering into ‘having an idea’ sixteen times within these pages. I’d be sitting somewhere wishing I had an idea for a story. Then, sometime soon afterwards I’d have that idea. Where did it come from? When I’ve written a story there’s a brief glow of excitement and pride, like waking up on Christmas morning and opening a gift of an exquisite multifaceted crystal and I stare into its brilliance for hours. Then, after a day or so, it loses its lustre and becomes dull. I feel low and worthless, dejected and bored. The only cure is to write another. Then the hunt is on again, the excitement of the chase resumes, and the cycle continues.

The Shadow People by Ayd Instone

The Shadow People by Ayd Instone

I remember seeing an interview with Alan Bennett just prior to the broadcast of his second series of Talking Heads monologues in the late 1980s. “They’re sadder than the first lot,” he said. I feel  similarly about this collection in that it’s darker than the first one. But I like them more. I think they’re better. Without darkness, you can’t appreciate the light, so we need this dark to contrast this ‘luminous’ I’ve attempted to invoke.

You can read the stories on Kindle here: https://goo.gl/Bne81M
And get the paperback: https://goo.gl/c9hjSL

The wonder of the Short Story


short stories science fiction ghostI’ve always preferred short stories to novels. There are two reasons I think. One is that it’s so exciting to discover the one (or sometimes two) really big ideas that a short story can present that really make you stop and think. The other is that if the story’s boring you can safely skip it and jump onto the next one.

I’ve published my first collection of short stories. My intention is to ask the question, ‘What if?’, to take a situation and give it just one or two big ideas, like an extra twist, at right angles to reality, to make characters twitch and a situation unfold. That, for me, is the essence of science fiction: to make just one or two changes to the universe we know about and see where those changes could lead.

It’s a mixture of science fiction and ghost stories. Much as I love the clichéd paraphernalia of film and television science fiction; the cheeky or dangerous robots, the spaceships, the starships and the bolt cruisers, the bug-eyed monsters and the cyborgs, and as much as I expected myself to, I found I wasn’t really including them in my stories.

It comes in part from the thing that non-science fiction fans hate the most; that the technobabble gets in the way of the story, or is a substitution for it. I know what they mean, and I agree.

Godstow nunneryFor me, in writing these stories, I had the further thought of where my imagination might be sourced. I wanted to make sure my invented worlds were as original and believable as possible and did not want to adopt or ride on the back on any pre-existing science fiction methodology. By that I mean how some authors adopt the short hand or methods of another writer. It’s easy to do, but if I’m going to write about visiting other worlds, I don’t want to rely on hyperdrives or warp drives, teleports or transporters, have evil empires or benevolent federations without good reason, independently arrived at. That’s why most of my stories have to be drawn from something I know something about, which admittedly isn’t that much. Some things are harder to avoid. If you’re writing about robots, you’re going to bump into Asimov who’s already been down that road. If you go to Mars, you’ll probably find Ray Bradbury, and if you start exploring subterranean crypts, H.P. Lovecraft will lock the door behind you.

I first started creating stories in the playground with my friend Barry. Aged eight, we became fascinated by the idea of creating a whole world-view within which to set a franchise of stories (although we’d never use or even know those words), like Flash Gordon, Star Wars and Star Trek. Barry knew about the military, so he added the workings and politics of army know-how. I was interested in spaceship and robot design and we both loved the psychological weirdness of Sapphire and Steel. Together we invented motivated villains and evil races. We concocted a reason how the Earth in the near future could engage in interstellar travel by having a ‘wormhole’ appear in the orbit of Jupiter. (We didn’t call it a wormhole, it was a ‘Time/Space Tunnel or Portal’). The playground stories became comic strips and then written down tales as we became older and the stories more sophisticated. We’d created a structure that, if published today, would seem similar to Star Trek Deep Space Nine, although our vision was created fourteen years earlier.

The WallThe stories I’ve collected in The Voice in the Light are about the thoughts that occupy my conscious and subconscious mind: the nature of dreams, of faith, of history, time, and the nature of light. They’re inspired by the kind of writers I’ve enjoyed, that some might call classic science fiction; Brian Aldiss, John Wyndam, Frank Herbert and Larry Niven, forgotten authors like Paul Capon and more recent deities like Douglas Adams and Philip Pullman.

Some of these stories were written over the last year, some a decade earlier, and a few over twenty-five years ago, although I’m not going to reveal which is which. You can try to guess.

Each story comes with an illustration I’ve done (in pen and ink).

The book is available in paperback and on Kindle at a very reasonably low price.

My only wish is that you enjoy reading the 18 stories as much as I enjoyed writing them, and perhaps one or more of them does make you stop and ponder and think, ‘that’s interesting. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder…’

ink drawingHere’s a description of the kind of stories you’ll find…

• A boy seeks solace from his imaginary friend from another dimension…

• A robotic experiment goes disastrously wrong. But why is a psychic detective called in?

• Imagine being able to create extra time to spend as you wish. What would you do with it?…

• A machine that allows you to ‘see’ into the past…

• In a distant future, our cities are avoided as cursed tombs of a doomed race…

• A student joke with a ouija board unlocks a dark past and a prediction is made as to who will die first…

• A boy enters a secret world to enlist magical creatures to help him do his homework…

Get your copy in paperback or Kindle.

 

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

To listen my radio show show iTunes here. If you enjoy it, please do give us a rating.

Book Ayd to run an Innovation Ideastorm Masterclass in your organisation.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

2012 Ding! in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys have prepared a 2012 annual report for my blog.

This year I posted 64 articles, growing the total archive of this blog to 236 posts.

The blog had 41,000 views in 2012. Weird that it was a round number, and that I was 41 in 2012.

I hope you enjoyed reading my musings in 2012 and that you’ll like what I post in 2013 even more.

My most popular blog was:

Invented 100 years ago in 1912

But my favourite was:

The creative secret of the transition


Click here to see more crazy stats… 

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

The unfamiliar familiar


The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

“…he drew forth an evil weapon, a long yellowish tube ending in a bellows and a trigger. He turned, and upon his face was a mask, hammered from silver metal… The mask glinted, and he held the evil weapon in his hands, considering it. It hummed constantly, an insect hum. From it hordes of golden bees could be flung out with a high shriek. Golden, horrid bees that stung, poisoned, and fell lifeless, like seeds on the sand.”

I love that description. It’s so evocative. It builds a mental image that hasn’t been seen before and raises questions that haven’t been asked before. And yet what it describes is perhaps simply a gun and bullets. But it’s done so powerfully and emotively that the purpose of the weapon is built into the description. An ordinary thing, well understood by us all has been described anew. This is what poetry is. To evoke an image or feelings with such few words.

That extract is from The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury who died in June 2012.  He was probably my favourite author. His writings shaped how I chose to write and his way of writing coloured how I thought about writing.

There’s a magic in the unfamiliar familiar – viewing something from a different perspective.

Bradbury was the master of evocative descriptions that made you think and see in a different way and ask questions that had never been asked. He was the master of the ‘what if?’, many of his stories explored a speculative idea and took us on a journey to it’s startling conclusion. Going on that journey stretched the mind and exercise our creativity. Which is why everyone should read good science fiction, and good poetry.

Many years ago I wrote a short story, inspired by Bradbury, based on two ‘What if?’ questions. They were ‘What if our civilisation wasn’t the first to rise to our current level of technology?’ and ‘What if all the iron on Earth oxidized (i.e. rusted) instantaneously?’ (Read it here.)

I later found out that Bradbury himself had already tackled the rust question in a story called A Piece of Wood. He’s paired it up with a different primary agenda, ‘is war inevitable?’. You can read that story in his collection, Long After Midnight.

Here are two creativity exercises for you.

1. Choose an ordinary object (for example a coffee mug) and describe it without using familiar or mundane short cuts or cliches. Try to invoke the purpose of the object in your description (for example the coffee mug is yearning to be filled with a hot dark liquid as only then does it become complete).

This exercise not only teaches us about poetry but joins up neural pathways in our brains, enhancing our thinking and problem solving capabilities.

2. Choose a ‘What If?’ question such as ‘What if we could no longer use iron and steel’ and list out what the far-reaching consequences could be.

This too, stretches the mind and enhances our possibility thinking ability, helping us to make bigger and better intuitive leaps, the secret unconscious method of being more creative.

And if you want to read my short story, New Age of Darknessclick here.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

I thought of that first!


You’ve heard the phrases, ‘Great minds think alike’ when you mention that you’d already thought of it. Someone probably mentioned to you the so-called ‘human superconscious’ (or is it ‘subconscious’). Some people say that ideas aren’t ours anyway, they’re gifts from God, the gods, or the Universe.

None of that’s any consolation when YOU had the idea first and then someone else comes up with it totally independently. You know they couldn’t have copied you, but somehow seem to have a version of it so close that they must have.

Is it that there’s nothing more potent than an idea that is now due? It’s certainly true in science and invention where, in 1669, differential calculus was invented both by Sir Isaac Newton in England and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in Germany.

Just one hour before Alexander Graham Bell registered his patent for the telephone in 1876, Elisha Gray patented his design. After years of litigation, the patent went to Bell. (See more famous things invented by different people at the same time here) .

We can see how that could apply to inventions computer and the television where numerous minds were, albeit independently, working on the same big problem.

But what happens when your idea surfaces for a story idea. An original, random-like idea that no-one could have possibly been working on from the same angle, surely?

Many published and famous authors have a policy of not opening mail that may contain story ideas. So don’t hand your story ideas to J.K.Rowling at a book signing. She’s had to deal with enough people who thought they’d had the idea of a boy wizard first so daren’t risk looking at anyone else’s ideas.

Russell T Davies, the writer and former executive producer of the television programme Doctor Who said that the BBC had to change its policy on unsolicited scripts and story ideas. They did this to avoid legal cases where someone may have felt their idea was stolen, even unconsciously. After all, there are only so many basic storylines and if you throw in an alien race, robots, time travel and monsters you’ve probably described a dozen Doctor Who adventures quite accurately.

It’s happened to me a number of times. I wrote a story in 1979 that featured as its premise a large ‘worm hole’ (although I called it a transdimensional black hole) at the edge of our solar system allowing the characters from Earth to visit a distant galaxy and for a fleet of aliens to invade Earth. To any science fiction fan, that’s obviously a description of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from 1993 (and Babylon 5 I suppose, from the same time).

But I got there first!

In 1983 in anticipation of the third Star Wars film, I had a dream in which I went into a toy shop and saw in a glass case dozen of Star Wars figures of characters that I’d never seen before. When I woke, I drew them all. Not one appeared like them in Return of the Jedi, but three of them did turn up 16 years later in 1999’s Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Psychic premonition or random chance?

I don’t rate either of those as that remarkable. I won’t be seeking legal advice.

Then there’s the case that caused me to write this blog.

In 1997 I wrote a short detective science fiction story based on a premise that I’d never come across before, combining physiology, the supernatural, artificial intelligence and robotics. I re-read this week hoping that perhaps it was perhaps worthy of doing something with. I’d never shown it to anyone, let alone send it to any publisher.

It was on my archive hard drive in a version of Microsoft Word from 1992. The only way to open it was Textedit and strip out all the funny codes.

My wife then read it and questioned when I’d written it. She commented that it was superficially similar to an episode the BBC’s Dirk Gently series, written and broadcast this earlier this year on BBC4.

So is there much hope for my story if everyone who reads it thinks I’m the one who copied an idea? (You decide, click here).

So what can we do about this when it happens?

Nothing.

Or rather it’s a reminder that when you have an idea, use it, do it, get it done and finished and out there in the open, protected by copyright or patent if that’s relevant. But don’t sit on it and wait as sooner or later, another great mind might well just think of it too.

You can’t protect ‘an idea’. You can only protect and claim ownership of the execution of an idea. So when you have a great idea, don’t hoard it, execute it.

Not only will you not get the credit, glory (and maybe cash) from coming up with the idea first, but if someone did beat you too it, how annoying would it be if their execution isn’t as good as yours would have been…

Would you like to read my 1997 short story? If you’ve seen the Dirk Gently episode in question you’ll then know what I’m talking about. Perhaps you’ll think it’s not the same thing at all…

Click here to read it.

“What you can do or think you can do, begin it.  For boldness has magic, power, and genius in it.”
– W. H. Murray*

(*It wasn’t Goethe who said that by the way, if that was what you were thinking. Murray got there first.)

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Douglas Adams


I met him in 1992 and he signed my copy of his new novel, Mostly Harmless. An abridged version of his unfinished Doctor Who story Shada has just come out on video that week and I asked him about it. He said he “didn’t think it was any good” and had decided to donate all profits from it to charity. I told him I’d enjoyed it and he seemed genuinely surprised.

Last weekend would have been his 60th birthday. He died way too early, in 2001.

Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy books by Douglas Adams

For me, Douglas Adams is just about as cool as you can get. Writer, environmentalist, part time Python, Mac Master, Beatles and Pink Floyd fan and philosophical observational genius. We all know that he wrote the multimedia storyscape that is The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. But there are other things, subtle little things that make him a hero for me.

It was said he was the first person in Europe to have an Apple Mac (Stephen Fry being the second). He was script editor of Doctor Who from 1978 to 1979 during Tom Baker’s craziest period (the two of them hit it off so well they encouraged the most ludicrous behavior in each other). He wrote three Doctor Who stories, including one of the best ever, ever, ever, ‘City of Death’, set in Paris, about an alien who steals the Mona Lisa and gets Leonardo to knock up a few copies in the past so he can sell them to private buyers in the present to fund his experiments. Genius! His fingerprints are all over the other stories of that era of the programme.

Since Adam’s untimely death in 2001, Shada has been made into a cartoon and a novel out this month. Adams himself re-tooled the story into Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Hitch Hikers too was a spin off from Doctor Who, especially the third installment, originally titled Doctor Who and the Krikkit Men which proved too expensive and over the top for Doctor Who so became Life the Universe and Everything with Slartibartfast taking the role of the Doctor.

How did you first come across Hitch Hikers? For me I was a little too young to hear the original radio series on first broadcast so it was a couple of years later when I read the novel. Then the radio was repeated just in time for the television series. A friend had the LP too so we could listen to an abridged version over and over again.

There was something about it that just spoke to us. It was as if he’d written it knowing the questions we would ask had we thought of them. He knew what we’d find funny even though we’d never heard anything like it before. It was the unexpected twist in language such as saying a drink was like, “being hit over the head by a slice of lemon, wrapped round a large gold brick”.

Adams found the inspiration for his stories all around in everyday things. When working as a security guard he noticed that the lifts would start operating on their own, going up and down. It made him think that they had some form of intelligence and were getting bored just sat there waiting for passengers. What if they had the foresight to be able to anticipate that someone needed the lift and be there ready before the person realised it?

The underlying theme in his work as I see it, especially Hitch Hikers is that everyone is insane. Everyone is out of order, with their own chaotic agendas, their own insecurities and their own erroneous beliefs that they follow. Arthur Dent represents us, everyman, an ordinary person swept up in something bigger and stranger than he can imagine and yet he’s fundamentally a part of the weirdness. There’s something compelling about this proposal because deep down we know it to be true.

That the intergalactic review for planet Earth in the Hitch Hiker encyclopedic guide reads just ‘harmless’ (“Well, they had to edit it down a bit” says Ford Prefect, the journalist who sent in his report of Earth after 20 years of study). Then the Earth is destroyed to make was for a hyperspacial bypass. It’s shocking. All that we have known. All the animals and plants, all the culture, the achievements, the struggles, all wiped out in seconds for no real reason. It’s funny because we know it’s a metaphor for something else, something very real and pernicious.

What Adams achieved with Hitch Hikers is the highest form of art: it entertains and informs and yet points to a greater, hidden reality. There’s a message put across in the strongest way possible and yet it’s never preaching or patronising.

There’s a freedom that comes from having a Hitch Hiker attitude. You’ll have seen it before (and since) in a few similar comedy worlds such The Goons, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Vic Reeves Big Night Out. In their worlds, ordinary things become intensely interesting. And funny. Even with all the pessimism and hopelessness there’s an optimism that shines through from being flippant in the face of seriousness, boredom or totalitarian authority.

To me, this is Douglas Adams’ legacy. Things aren’t always easy. They don’t always go to plan. No matter what we think, or how important we think we are, there’s always a bigger picture that doesn’t have us in it. And yet, amongst all the chaos, uncertainty, the salmon of doubt and irrelevance there’s always something, however tiny, that’s funny, beautiful, hopeful and our job, or rather the key to our happiness and fulfillment, is to find and focus on that.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


Why Creative Writing is important – especially for children


I visited a particular school to give a talk on creativity to the teachers. An English teacher remarked afterwards that she ‘had tried creative writing’, but had given up on it and returned to what she was ‘doing before’. I didn’t have the opportunity to explore with her this odd statement. I don’t have the data to know if such seemingly bizarre views are widespread or not.

What did she think ‘creative writing’ was?

Perhaps she thought it was something outside English teaching. Is it possible that some educators focus on the mechanics of a subject, in this case how to read and write, rules of grammar, use of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns and nouns and sentence comprehension without the context of a use for the mechanics?

I’ve seen it in my education, in the sciences, where formulae were taught in isolation from the experiments that founded them and the people in history who thought up those experiments in the first place. It was as if science education had to strip away the ‘unclean’ of the human stories of discovery to leave the holy perfection of mathematical proofs, physical laws and formula. I found this boring throughout mathematics, physics, chemistry and even biology.

The missing ingredient in each case was human creativity. The importance of it had been stripped out, the story of it had been stripped out and the value of it had been shunned and ridiculed: if you studied science you were not creative. Creativity was something nampy pamby artists did.

Is ‘creativity’ in the national curriculum? You could argue for and against. It certainly isn’t an easy question to answer because creativity has become such a difficult thing to define. It’s not a subject. It can’t easily be tested and measured. It’s come to be something that must float around the curriculum like a feeling, something that should be encouraged, but with few guidelines as to how. But it shouldn’t be pandered to because it doesn’t get grades.

I get the feeling it’s been sidelined when it should be the focus. Subjects should be: Creativity PhysicsCreative ChemistryCreativity and Biology and…. Creative Reading and Writing.

We shouldn’t even have English lessons except for those that can’t speak English and those that explore English Literature specifically.

We need to teach the mechanics, yes: how to hold a pen, how to read, how words work just as in science we need to show how to hold a test tube, how to light a bunsen burner and how to use mathematics as a tool.

But we should not confuse use of a tool with understanding. All tool training does is produce technicians. It’s great that you know how to hold a test tube but it doesn’t make you a scientist, and without being a scientist, which is the marriage of experiment and imagination, you are just above useless.

So, you know how to spell? You can answer questions on grammar? You can repeat someone else’s literary criticism of a text? You’re a technician. You can fix my text as a garage mechanic can fix my car. The garage mechanic can’t design a car. They can’t improve a car. They can’t build one from scratch. They can only ever work on someone else’s.

This is why we need Creative Writing. So that our children don’t only work on other people’s texts, they create and build their own. They don’t read a text looking for the prescribed analysis, the expected reaction in the test tube in the lab – they are out there in the field, experimenting with new texts, questioning old texts and long held beliefs if only for the reason that they can.

We need to teach our children to be out there adding to the pantheon of human creation and endeavor, not dissecting dead men’s words on a slab.

And that’s why Creative Writing is important.

Here’s info on a Creative Writing Programme for schools: www.outofyourhead.co.uk

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


Why our children need to write Science Fiction


4th Doctor Tom Baker and black Dalek SecThe starting point didn’t ever bother me. The teacher may have told us to write a story about our families, the supermarket, the past, a walk in the woods or to finish a story from his opening paragraph or anything…

Whatever it was, I’d write just two paragraphs before incorporating a brightly lit saucer landing in the woods, a visitor from the future, a portal into the past, people revealed as aliens, or robots, a curse from ancient Egypt, a primordial evil hiding in a dark lake, a creature in a zoo that turns out to be sentient, an alien invasion is really an intergalactic game of tiddlywinks…

Me aged 13: “He strained his eyes to fix on a unusual shape which was slowly lowering. It was a large saucer shaped object with a gleaming metal hull, reflecting the snow and trees.”

Teachers response: “You are a cunning devil! You managed to introduce what is obviously an interest of yours into”

I always turned the premise into Science Fiction.

And I was criticised and marked down for doing so.

I was driven by a ‘search for interesting’ (to me, a definition of creativity) and a desire to twist the mundane by a turn of the screw to see the ordinary afresh, from a different perspective, to explore the unexpected and to find rationale in the unexplained.

But my teachers didn’t agree. They felt it was childish and unsophisticated.

I think this is a shame. More than a shame. A crisis.

To an outsider, Science Fiction as a genre is still misunderstood and the tendency with poor writing (in some books, some television and films) to rely on clichéd concepts such as unimaginative spaceships, mad robots and generic aliens makes many people overlook the main purpose of Science Fiction (also referred to as SF by purists, but never Sci-Fi). This bias and misunderstanding has in the past alienated many, especially young girls from the genre. It’s interesting to note that the new production of Doctor Who set out with re-dressing this balance and have achieved it with the ratio of girls and boys watching the programme almost equal.

Science Fiction has the unique capabilities to allow a child to explore themselves and their world in non-literal ways.

Science Fiction’s alternative title is ‘Speculative Fiction’. It is stories that are driven by a ‘what if?’ question. The answer to this question is answered by the story using real-world science to extrapolate it and to drive the characters and the plot. Science Fiction keeps most things constant and has one or a few variables that can then be explored.

This is the essential difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy, although the lines are often blurred.

Star Trek, the television and film series is Science Fiction. It has a number of plot devices that are beyond our current technology including teleportation and faster-than-light travel. But within the story framework these technologies are explained in scientific, believable ways with their own rules and limitations that are kept constant within the story. In fact, those two technologies are plot device conceits and not the driving force for the story, they are story enablers. In reality it would take centuries to travel to the stars, the distance between them is so great and it is a complicated and long-winded process to safely travel from orbit to land on a planet. The ‘Warp Drive’ and ‘Transporter’ fictional technologies remove the mundane to tell a much more interesting story. The story of Star Trek, the speculative ‘what if?’ is: ‘what would it be like to travel to strange new worlds and visit new civilisations?’

Harry Potter is not Science Fiction. It too has unrealistic devices, and they are consistent within the world of the story, but these are not explained in any other way other than ‘magic’ and cannot be extrapolated from our understanding of real-world technology. This makes Harry Potter Fantasy.

When it comes to examining the film series Star Wars as a genre, people tend to make an interesting mistake. They often think it is ‘futuristic’ because it features robots and spaceships and yet the opening phrase that begins the film is ‘a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away’. This is the same as the well know start to many a story, ‘once upon a time’ and frames Star Wars, like Cinderella, as a fairy tale and not Science Fiction. No serious attempt is made in Star Wars to rationalise space travel, how light sabres work, how the robots appear to be conscious and what The Force is. Star Wars is fantasy disguised as Science Fiction.

Doctor Who is yet more complicated. The premise is Science Fiction: ‘an alien who looks like a man, travels through time and space in a time machine made by a lost civilisation that resembles a 1960s Police Box that is bigger on the inside.’ But unlike other franchises, Doctor Who changes genre from story to story, some stories are straight Science Fiction, some are fantasy, some thriller or historical drama, comedy, tragedy and even romance. Doctor Who is better described as ‘Science Fantasy’.

When teaching children storytelling, I believe it is important for them to realise which overall genre their story is fitting into if it is to include what appear to be Science Fiction elements: are they creating a whole new world with its own rules and physical laws where literally anything can happen? Is so, that’s fantasy (the most solid example in Literature may well be Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings). Or are they keeping most of the rules of the known world and for dramatic effect or as a speculative story driver, choosing to twist, re-invent or magnify one or more real-world rules. If so, they are writing Science Fiction.

This is why Science Fiction is so enthralling, so exciting to read and to write, and so useful to us as a civilisation. It allows us to look at an aspect of ourselves from a different perspective. The stories explored in Star Trek are not really about space travel, aliens and the future, they are all about fragments of ourselves, now. In one story, Captain Kirk and his crew are bemused by a race of people who have one side of their faces black and the other white and yet are fighting each other. When asked why, a man retorts, “Isn’t it obvious! He has the white side on the left and black on the right and we have it the other way round!”. (Let That Be Your Last Battlefield). This Science Fiction allows the story to explore racism.

Children’s relationship to Science Fiction is usually based on the magical attraction of the fantastical otherness of outer space, aliens and the excitement of adventure. But it can also be the appeal of a relationship with a creature such as a robot or alien with whom the child can connect in their own way on their own terms without the trappings of their own weaknesses.

This is why Star Wars worked in the first place: children identified with the cute robots in a way that adults couldn’t and would not. (There’s more on this here). This is why children, especially boys, still love steam engines, cars and other machines which they can easily bestow consciousness into. It also connects to the most primordial of children’s secret fantasies: the imaginary friend. The mobile dustbin-like robot, R2D2, in Star Wars is really a modern variation of the teddy bear.

When children desire to use Science Fiction techniques and motifs they may already be using their writing to explore themselves and their world, without any need for guidance and literally knowledge.

On the surface they may conjure up spaceships and monsters but don’t let these fool us. They may already be using these devices in the same way as the greatest Science Fiction authors, H.G Wells, Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, John Wyndham or Ray Bradbury, did, as cloaked methods of exploring and explaining their own inner worlds in a way that straightforward ‘literal’ fiction cannot.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com


The power of stories and how to create creators


Rapunzel cake

Mabel's fairytale cake - with Rapunzel

I’ve become fascinated by the concept of the change from story consumer to story creator (just as I have previously written about the change from music listener to music composer).

Most people would consider themselves a reader, but how many consider themselves a writer? Everyone should, because everyone is (or was, as we’ll see).

Storytelling is not just the most important activity in our lives, storytelling IS our lives.

This is no more noticeable than with my eldest daughter who has just turned 4. Stories are her certainly her life. She wants to be read stories all the time, always wanting to squeeze one more before school or before bedtime. (I found it interesting that she doesn’t use the noun ‘book’, hence her brother, when he did something wrong was “in the bad stories”.)

But now something has changed. She is creating her own stories:

“One day there was a princess in a high castle and she had short hair. And one day a prince rode by and she let down her hair and she fell down because her hair was short and the prince kissed her and she woke up, the end.”

This is obviously a variation on Rapunzel, but what is interesting in that Mabel was aware of what the hair meant and chose to modify the length, negating the original premise and causing a new drama of its own.

This was followed by another variation:

“There was another story with a princess with short hair in a castle which was lower so she could reach the prince. The end.”

This version is a further modification, removing the obstacle to the princess’s desires.

Princesses are the main feature of Mabel’s story worlds but unlike in the real world they are not the female offspring of reigning monarchs but creatures of the same genus as fairies, angels, pixies, witches and girls. They inhabit worlds of magic, are beautiful, wear beautiful dresses, sometimes have wings and sometimes are on the look out for a prince. Sometimes cats have been added to the pantheon giving us the curious creature of a cat fairy princess which Mabel wanted to be dressed up as for a fancy dress party.

But what is a story? Is it an account of past events of a related plot, that link together to create meaning to inform, to entertain or educate? Like any whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, as story is more than the facts, events and characters that inhabit it. This ‘extra’ something is the emotion that the story invokes, the questions it raises (or answers), the connection it makes to our lives by which – and this is the most important bit – we measure and create our own lives.

We must never, ever underestimate the power or stories in our lives, especially with children. Stories provide snatches of narrative and context by which we build our own life biography.

Our constant task in life is to make sense of the seemingly random events that happen to us. Deep down we know there can never really be any coincidences or purposeless randomness. Everything that happens to us MUST happen for a reason. That ability to put facts into context (which is what a story is) is hard wired into our very being.

If, when we can’t weave the story, when we can’t find the meaning, we enter that condition we call depression. In that rehabilitating, powerless state we are not depressed at all, we have lost the thread of the story, we have lost significance of ourselves within our life story and we have lost our meaning.

A life with its meaning and significance is never a depressed one, no matter what seemingly sad and shocking events happen in it.

The loss of a loved one, death, illness, failure – these are the things that can make us depressed if we loose the thread of the story. This is why, when times are at their toughest, that humanity conjures up the next chapter of the story, the reason for the sudden unexpected event, the meaning behind the seemingly unfair or random change. We invent serendipity, we invent superstition, magic, divine and demonic forces. We breath life into the gods.

As adults we consume stories in the forms of news, gossip, cinema, television and radio as well as in novels. Few of us perhaps create those type of stories but we are all still storytellers everyday in our work; communicating our ideas to others, recounting recent events to friends and family. Perhaps we’re not aware that we are not just readers and consumers of these stories. We weave their meaning with the transcript of our own lives and position ourselves in relation to them.

This could be from aligning ourselves with the views of a newspaper columnist, politician, rock star or even a standup comedian, buying into their beliefs and stories and allowing them to run along side our own, giving us a particular framework, political, moral or spiritual with which to run the events of our lives.

Sometimes a particular story, or version of a story, is so potent that it becomes so interwoven with our lives that it defines the direction our life story takes and modifies behavior.

One of the worlds most influential stories in history that has inspired lives for over two thousand years has to be that of the carpenters son who turned out to be God’s son who was rejected by his people, put to death but came back to life. Within that particular tale there are stories that are re-told and relived over and over again: the Last Supper is retold every Sunday in every Church as the service of Communion. The Passion of Christ, his trial, suffering and death is relived every Easter as is his birth in the nativity every Christmas.

But more recent, or more humble stories can and do have transformational effects too.

I’ve known teenagers who changed the direction of their lives to become teachers after seeing the film, The Dead Poets Society. That same story inspired Steve Jobs of Apple in his promotion of the Apple Mac computer as a creative tool in the Think Different campaign.

Star Wars figures C£Po, R2D2, Darth Vader, Princess LeiaTo my generation of children, the story of Star Wars, which was in effect a re-telling of ancient fairy stories, was so potent in its splendor as an exciting alien tale, that it entered our consciousness. It provided what all fairy stories provide; a moral template for good and evil, the concept of the hero’s journey, the quest, where obstacles must be overcome and sacrifices made. The characters are archetypal, but still colourful. Some adults at the time found it hard to see the depth in it and even with the mania that surrounded it’s original release where people queued around the block to get into cinemas, would not have predicted its longevity. Even its creator George Lucas didn’t know the secret of the success of the original film (and the two subsequent films that formed the original trilogy). The prequels that followed twenty years later lacked something. Even though they were more spectacular and exotic that the originals there was perhaps a lack of depth or mystery and less room for the imagination to weave within the story. This isn’t surprising or unusual. It’s not the artists job to understand their art. It is the job of the audience.

In 1977, a colleague of my Dad’s was round at our house. He’d been to see the original ilm, as had nearly everyone, to ‘see what al the fuss was about’. The opening scene, as you may remember features no human characters. For the first ten minutes we are expected to engage with a gold metal man and a walking, twerping dustbin on wheels in the white corridors of a spaceship that has been swallowed by a giant spaceship. Baddies appear in the form of white plastic-clad soldiers, their faces hidden by helmets, led by a black cloaked pantomime villain compete with black skull-like mask. No wonder Frank walked out after 10 minutes after seeing this rubbish.

But that’s not what we children saw. As a six and a half year old I saw the fear and trepidation of the gold robot. I saw the determination of the small domed headed clever robot. I saw that they were the characters we were engaging with and that they were carrying the story and that the humans and stormtroopers fighting in the background were incidental their story, the goodies, our friends. After 10 minutes we knew that C3PO had reluctantly agreed to take part in an important mission he didn’t understand. We knew that R2D2 carried secrets that must be kept from the baddies. Children have the ability to see a story, to see the elements of characterisation, emotion and motivation in what to the adults were inanimate objects. In short, children’s imaginations are less literal, more hungry for meaning, more powerful. Adults want it all on plate, often too bored and in need of instant gratification and explanation to actually fire up their long unused imagination.

So many modern stories, designed for children, fail to engage in the way a fairy tale can because they lack the depth of meaning that the child can find for themselves and use the story, as it was intended, as a tool to find answers to their own problems.

Boring, literal, obvious stories are at risk of quenching the fire of a child’s imagination. If they haven’t found the tools to engage with objects and people to begin creating their own stories early enough, they may switch off their creativity and become uninterested vessels for easy stories, flashes, bangs and the oh-so-quick quick editing of fast-food dull television, just like so many tedious adults.

This is why stories for children should not be too safe, too sanitised or too obvious. We, as parents and teachers must try not to explain the meaning of such tales but encourage the child to search for and find their own meaning, which may change with subsequent readings and at different points in their lives. This is the creative process of the transition from reader to writer, from consumer to creator.

Our job is to help facilitate these new creators. By reading a good story, a child’s mind becomes co-creator with the original author. This is the first stage to a fulfilling, meaningful, self-directed life of significance.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com