Jon Dixon

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Coming back to writing after a long sabbatical. Back when dinosaurs and disco ruled the world I had several short stories published. I'm currently working on the first draft of a fantasy novel influenced by the connected Japanese philosophies of wabi-sabi and kintsugi - the embracing of the flawed or imperfect and the incorporation of visible breakages as an integral part of something of great value. The novel's theme and characters have been lurking in my head for decades and now seem to want to emerge into the light of day. I'm finding the process both exhilarating and terrifying.

I earned my living with an earring and a sword mostly as a professional actor for the first 20 years of my career, and then worked in the far less swashbuckling field of user experience design for the following two decades (no swordplay required). While acting I also worked as a freelance illustrator for paperbacks, role playing games and magazines, and I still keep my hand in with canvas and brushes (or more often now tablet and screen) though nowadays just for my own pleasure. So at least I have accurate reference for my characters' physical appearance!

I live in Derby (UK) as butler and general manservant to an elderly Bengal cat.

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Jon Dixon Discussions
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Hi all,Sorry for the radio silence in the last week or two. I've not been very well, and energy leve…
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  •  · Wow! Congratulations Mr Published Author! This is really good (as I expected). And the celebratory d…
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Contractions aren't a problem unless they're.
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  •  · Or as Popeye used to say, I'm what I'm!
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A friend shared these with me the other day, since I don't do Twitter, where they originally appeare…
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  •  · Definitely no. 1 and 3, and definitely the internet one, but with the excuse proviso that 'it's for …
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Woke up this morning to an email saying that a little piece of micro-fiction I wrote a few months ag…
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  •  · Thank you! :)
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Thought people might be amused by this website. You can upload a piece of your writing for analysis …
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  •  · As Vin says, it seems to go for type. I think it may even go a level of detail lower than that and p…
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Hello all.I thought I'd share this extremely useful glossary I found online, of useful terms to use …
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  •  · They would apply to most films as well, wouldn't they

Chin up, Catherine. You only need one non-rejection letter after all. And if your rejection letter was encouraging you're more than halfway there. Keep at it! And you're in very good company... after all, all the following are real.

"You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character." (The Great Gatsby - obviously)

"You’re welcome to le Carré—he hasn’t got any future.” (The Spy Who Came In From The Cold)

“An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell.” (Wind In The Willows)

“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.” (Catch 22)

“An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.” (War of the Worlds)

"If I may be frank — you certainly are in your prose — I found your efforts to be both tedious and offensive." (The Sun Also Rises)

My favourite...

"First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?" (Moby Dick)

😂

I confess I haven't read Sebastian Faulk's latest effusion, nor do I particularly care to - from the description above it seems frankly ludicrous - but I'm in complete agreement with Laure's sensible and nuanced post above.

Surely, the (very necessary) discussion that's being had isn't about simply describing any character, but about objectifying certain characters in the way that they're described. Of course, historically, that objectification has most commonly been of women (as well as people of colour and other minority groups). It's that objectification that needs to be addressed if we are serious about wanting to write in a more inclusive and respectful way.

Unfortunately, the poisonous discourse around 'wokeness' or 'PC', or whatever derogatory term is currently being used as a synonym for decency, respect and politeness, allows those of a certain bent to cast such discussion as 'cancellation' or censorship or attack on their personal freedoms. 

I won't even go into the constant deliberate(?) misrepresentation of the 'own voices' initiative.

Quite frankly, I'm getting a little tired of powerful, famous white straight men (mostly) using their huge public communication platforms to constantly complain about how they're being 'silenced'. Silenced? They seemingly never shut up about what they're 'not allowed to say'! 😂 

Yeah, I think that's the whole 'soft' versus 'hard' pigeonholing... the observation that 'hard' SF/F (in particular) tends to focus on the tech and the mechanics of world-building (think Asimov, Clarke or Niven) with the characters serving to simply exemplify and externalise wider trends within that created world, while 'soft' SF/F focuses more on the psychological or the cultural aspects of world-building (think McIntyre, Bradbury or Aldiss) with the setting serving to bring out and provoke the inner complexities of the characters and their relationships and societies.

In practice, of course, 99.999% of books don't wholly fit within either of those strict categories, most containing a mix of both, and I remain slightly sceptical as to the value of such labels. 😀 

Rather cheekily jumping in here (sorry!) but I read a rather good definition of this exact separation a while ago which might be worth sharing. Bear in mind, though, that there's much debate about all the various genres and sub-genres within these terms - high fantasy, low fantasy, hard SF, soft SF, dark fantasy, supernatural... yada yada yada...

Anyway, the article I read suggested that:

SF is any story which has speculative aspects that could only conceivably happen within our current or theoretical understanding of the laws of physics as they pertain now.

Fantasy is any story which has any speculative aspects that are not conceivable under our currently or theoretical understood laws of physics (i.e. 'magic').

So, a story with a spaceship or aliens in it = SF.

A story with a dragon or wizards in it = Fantasy.

A story with spaceships and wizards = Fantasy (even though it has spaceships).

A story with dragons that turn out to actually be aliens = SF.

Given the obviously limited and rather simplified nature of this definition, there is a rather slippery liminal 'middle' genre, of course; that of 'science fantasy' where a story has all the trappings of SF but also relies on 'magical' plot devices. 'Star Wars' is an obvious contender for this, since the presence of the Force makes it effectively 'wizards in space'.

If we were to use the above definitions in the case of your lovely story, Julie, it all depends what Lorva's true nature is. If she's an alien, or undiscovered 'cryptid' (i.e. 'naturally' occurring) you're leaning towards SF. If she's a magical or supernatural being - it's fantasy. If 'sort of both' - well, embrace the 'science fantasy' label! 😁 

Oh... and you don't have to load the story with 'science' and 'tech' for it to be SF (that tends to be the preserve of 'hard SF' mainly). There are lots of highly regarded SF novels which deal with non-scientific subjects or non-technological societies. They're SF because they are set in the 'real' world (albeit changed in some way from our own) rather than any 'magical' world.

Welcome Phil. I like the sound of your book! What fun! :)

Thank you again, everyone who’s commented. I’m so cheered by the kind words from so many whose opinion I value. 🥰

Thanks, everyone! For both the kind words and the well wishes. 😊 

Added a forum 

Hi all,

Sorry for the radio silence in the last week or two. I've not been very well, and energy levels are currently a bit low. But I was cheered up by the post this morning, which contained a slim volume all the way from California.

Ages ago I submitted a (very) short story to a themed call for entries for 'Caesura 2021', the annual magazine of the Poetry Center San José (http://www.pcsj.org/index.html). The theme for the edition was ‘Unmasking’, and this seemed to fit. To my delight, it was accepted for the print edition. No recompense, sadly, other than a copy of the magazine, which is what arrived today!

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For anyone interested, the story is below, and is (loosely) based on a real life mystery in my own family!

I hope you enjoy it.

****

Hidden

The suitcase was pushed up against the wall, beneath the bed. A musty smell of long disuse came with it as Louise pulled it out, and dust curled into the air, pricking the tender tissues of her nose and causing her to sneeze.

It had seen better days, the battered leather scuffed and worn with time and travel. One of the straps was frayed, a tarnished buckle hanging by a thread.

‘This is the last, I think,’ her brother said. ‘Just papers, I suspect. Though I suppose we’d better check before we throw it out with all the other stuff. We almost missed it.’

Louise nodded. Peter had been studiously emotionless all day, his way of coping with the poignancy that coloured everything they did here in their late aunt’s flat today and brought the sudden sting of tears or catch in the back of the throat. Grief, curiously unspoken, was a constant presence in the dim and curtain-shrouded rooms still haunted by their recent occupant.

Louise sat on her heels and swept a hand across the suitcase lid to clear coagulated dust and bedroom fluff. Three faint embossed initials in the centre of the lid appeared.

K. R. D.

Kathleen Rosemary Donaldson. Their aunt.

They had not known her well, although she’d been a constant presence in their lives since they were children. A postal order every birthday. Another one at Christmas. The occasional visit to her flat in Cheltenham, a formal rite of mutual connection over tea and shop-bought cakes, strangely stilted and without overt emotion. But that was typical of all their family. There was fondness certainly, but not the unreserved affection often seen in others. Always a distance.

She had never married. Her sisters and her brother, Peter and Louise’s father, were dead. So in the last few months of Kathleen’s life, when her increasing frailty had become a matter of concern, her niece and nephew found themselves, unlooked for and perhaps unwelcome, her de facto carers.

And then, one week after her ninetieth birthday, she had died. Quite peacefully. A quiet and unobtrusive slipping from the world, her death as undemonstrative and private as her life had been. The will had named them her executors.

So here they were, reluctant sifters of another’s life, dividing up her small possessions, cataloguing each according to their own criteria, not hers. They’d spent a day in sorting through what once had held a meaning to Kathleen, and now was merely flotsam on the shores of her long life. Auction. Bin. Recycle. Keep. The latter pile a small and sometimes sentimental trove of familiar ornaments and pictures that they could not bear to simply throw away.

The suitcase was the last. Squirrelled away beneath the bed, unused for years to judge by its condition. Long forgotten.

Peter pulled the case towards him. Snapped the latches. Opened it.

‘What in the world...?’ he said.

Passports. Old and tattered. More than a dozen of them. Every one with all the pages stamped and stamped again, the coloured inks and alien languages a palimpsest of travel.

They read through all of them, their wonder only growing. France and Germany, Spain, Switzerland. And then the Belgian Congo, Niger, Turkey, Yugoslavia, East Germany, the Soviet Union, Poland...

‘Look at the dates,’ said Peter.

‘I know,’ his sister said.

Her travels had begun in the late forties, immediately post-war, and ran almost to the millennium. The photos in the passports showed the passing years and changing fashions, an eerie timeline, snapshots of an ordinary woman’s life from youth to grey maturity.

Luxembourg, the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, India, Hungary...

What was this? She had never spoken about any travel other than the occasional mention of a trip to some small seaside town. Lime Regis. Weymouth. Pontypridd.

Afghanistan, Brazil, Columbia, Chad, Monaco...

For forty years she had taught business studies at a school in Cheltenham. They’d found a framed retirement card among the china figurines and blown glass paperweights, now somewhat faded by the sun. “To ‘Miss Donaldson’ from all at Priory View. We’ll miss you. Have a great retirement! No more Mondays!”

Mexico, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina...

Both spoke at once, then stopped.

‘What was she doing...?’

‘In the forties and the fifties...’

‘Poland just after the War had ended?’ Peter’s voice was filled with puzzlement. ‘Behind the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War? The Baltics...’

It was a stranger’s home quite suddenly, a place of furtive whispers, and the creeping sense of guilt at some intrusion.

Louise grabbed a handful of the passports. Stared at them as if trying to extract their secret. Her aunt’s face gazed back at her, now young, now old, dark eyes regarding her inscrutably from behind the carefully blank expression of the official portrait. From behind the mask. But there was no-one there she recognised. She carefully laid them down and pointed to the empty suitcase.

‘Look. What’s that?’

She reached out, tentative, and pressed a small indent halfway along the lining seam, so tiny as to be almost unnoticeable. There was a muffled click. She carefully lifted the false bottom of the suitcase, fingers shaking. Behind her Peter shifted nervously.

The dim light gleamed off gunmetal and steel. There was the faintest smell of oil. They stared in wonder at the padded foam compartment and the quiet lethality it cradled, waiting for an owner that was gone.


****

It's the name given to a moment, usually early in the story but can be used at any time, which shows the protagonist (or any character) in a sympathetic light, in order to make the readers like them and root for them from then on. You have them 'save a cat'.

There's a brilliant use of it in the recent(ish) Sci-Fi movie, Alita: Battle Angel. Our titular heroine has just been brought back to life after 300 years. In the first scene in which she really starts exploring her new world she risks her life to quite literally save a dog! And, of course, immediately becomes vastly sympathetic... if she wasn't already!

It's usually not quite as blatant as that(!) but it's a common trope. 😁 

(Spoiler alert: the dog dies later anyway... but that's another story).

On the gills thing, I'd be tempted to keep that info until it becomes vital to the plot. Say, hypothetically, if the plot sets up a situation where she's with the boy and she's been out of water too long and needs to get back (or find another source of water). She might have to explain that personal jeopardy to the boy at that point, since it affects both their actions. You might want to split them up. for instance, or alternatively give him a 'save the cat' moment. That way, the explanation to the reader comes naturally as part of the action and not as exposition.

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