- Keeping it fresh…
Well this blog has been up and running for [I have no idea, it feels like forever???] three or four or five years, maybe ten? I feel it’s time for a nattier, newer, more ‘together’, professional look – so I’ve called in the big guns (the endlessly patient Chris at The Helpful Nerds) and as a result, a fab new look will be hitting this blog in the next few weeks. It’ll be slick, it’ll be sassy and a bit more user friendly, so WATCH THIS SPACE! Woohoo!
Look out too for a new EXCLUSIVE and FREE fab deal on some of my books – you won’t be able to get it anywhere but here.
At the moment it feels a bit like this
Hopefully it’ll soon feel a bit more like this…
- Author Interview- welcome back to Jenny S Burke
Jenny S Burke (writing as J S Burke) has very kindly agreed to come back and give us a quick update on how things are going in her writing life.
Hi Jenny! It’s so great to ‘see’ you again, thank you for giving up your time to chat with me again. Last time you were here, you were talking about your first book, The Dragon Dreamer, which is a fantasy/science-based story of an unlikely friendship between a dragon and an octopus, and is aimed at middle school and young adult readers.
Q1. What has kept you busy since we last spoke?
Thank you so much for having me back here! I’ve written stand-alone Book II of the Dragon Dreamer series. As you mentioned, Carrie, like Book I, Dragon Lightning is a young adult science fantasy with dragons, an undersea world, and unexpected friendship. This is layered for readers age 9 to 99, so it’s a good family read.
The Dragon Dreamer and Dragon Lightning are immersive reads; great ‘vacation books’ to dive into. There are more than 100 positive ratings and reviews for them on Goodreads and on Amazon US. I’m also drawing more fantasy snowflakes for my book illustrations and for the colouring book. These mandala flakes are drawn from animals and plants.
Q2. How different is it writing a subsequent book compared to your first?
In some respects this book was easier, because I understand how to write a science fantasy novel. I developed more characters in Dragon Lightning, which was fun. The Dragon Dreamer has two minor characters who became major players in Book II.
Q3. Is there anything you wish you could go back and tell yourself?
Start writing sooner!!!
LOL. Jenny, I can completely understand where you’re coming from with that one, I’d like to go back in time and tell myself that! When I look back and see all the time I wasted agonising over whether or not to just go for it…
Q4. Has anything in your writing style or process changed as you’ve gained experience?
I’m more comfortable writing in my own style, blending science and author experiences with fantasy. Once when I was aboard a research vessel at sea, three waterspouts headed for our boat. This harrowing experience is now in Dragon Lightning and provides a turning point. The characters come alive for me and tell me what they need to do, which is very helpful.
It’s very exciting when characters do that, as a writer you have greater confidence that your characters are fully rounded and not just cardboard cut-outs. And I also understand what you mean about using real life experiences to enrich your writing.
Q5. What can we look forward to in the future from you?
I’m working on a colouring book with the fantasy snowflakes my dragons grow in the winter clouds and writing Book III of the Dragon Dreamer series.
I love the idea of the colouring books – and as a Brit, I really appreciate you taking the time to put in all those extra letter U’s too! 🙂
Q6. Where can readers find you?
Please do visit me at my sites! And thank you Carrie for having me on your blog!
My pleasure, Jenny and may the new book make you proud! It’s worth mentioning by the way that Jenny writes under the name J S Burke. Links below for books and social media!
- The Thing Above All Things
In life we all have stuff we love. I’m not talking about our family, obviously (!) we love those. I’m talking about the thing that makes us get up in the morning, that keeps us up late at night, the thing we can’t wait for Monday, or Friday, or whenever, for. The thing above all things, the one thing to rule them all. What is that thing in your life?
Some people love their garden, or their dog, or they like to whittle driftwood into an elaborate recreation of Queen Victoria’s coronation. Some people paint. I do not. I can draw sunglasses. I can draw flower doodles. I can draw little row boats on a wave. That’s all I can draw. I can’t paint. I like to sew but I’m not very good at it, and I can usually buy something better far more cheaply than I can make it. I like to garden, but I get bored after a while, and I feel a reluctance to uproot weeds, as they’re flowers too, right? I like bird-watching, but go into a daydream and forget to actually watch the birds. I like to meditate, but I fall asleep in the middle and wake up with a stiff neck. I like to bake, but can’t be bothered following a recipe, and anyway recipes are just a suggestion, aren’t they, just one of a number of ways you could create a cake? So I write.
What is your one thing? What is your be-all and end-all?
In life we sometimes think, if I were twenty years younger I’d have a go at that. I say, why not now? Why is discovery and experimentation only for the young? How many years might you have ahead of you? Do you want to waste the next twenty thinking, wow I could have done that or learned that or gone there by now. Even if you only have days, weeks, months of life left ahead of you, do you really want to spend that time looking over your shoulder at what you missed?
Do it now. That one thing above all other things. Why not?
- Thoughts on a blank page
The first, new, blank page.
Blank from the French blanc
Meaning white. Also blench/
Blanche meaning to lose
Colour or to grow pale.
But no longer whitely paling
No longer a threatening void
Or waiting gap, a vacuum,
Gulping me down.
Look! I’ve written on it.
The ‘fear’ of the blank page is a common problem for writers. I guess perhaps less so now we can fill our screens with formatting and editing marks. But still, for some it’s an excruciating obstacle, for others a brief gulp and pause before pushing onward. It’s useful to have a coping mechanism if this is something you can relate to. I write my first draft longhand, and that’s where the blank page seems to become an in surmountable fence between me and my creativity. So I always write my ongoing word count in the margin at the top and bottom of each page, and I write dates, titles, or chapter headings as required at the top of each new page. These small scrawlings help to break up the expanse of white paper and make the page seem already ‘inhabited’, thereby solving my problem. If I’m going through a dry patch, having trouble getting down to writing, I might even make notes in pencil on the ext page for the following days work. So if you sometimes struggle, maybe give these a try and see if they work for you too. Drop me a line if they do!
- Finding my way – the writer’s quandary
Often when a I write a book, I also have a diary that runs alongside. In fact in some cases, as you may have noticed, the diary becomes the actual story! In this diary I explore my ideas about the story, my hopes, my fears, any problems I am having with the story: maybe the characters are doing their own thing too much, or the plot has a million holes in it. I explore and offload my emotional state with regard to life, writing and the current WIP (work in progress).
Here’s an extract from 2009 when I was working on a story I have still so far failed to complete, but which is called Miss Davenport Presents. The action of the story takes place in a club, and Miss Aurora Davenport is the proprietress and a transgender male-to-female woman of towering proportions and savvy business skills. She is having trouble with local businessmen trying to close her place down as it’s getting too much media attention and too much of the area’s revenue. To complicate things further, her close friend brings in his brother to help out with the situation, and he and Aurora have some ‘history’.
(10/04/2009) John is messed up – he doesn’t really want Aurora but he is curious about what it would be like to be with her. Also they have history and a past friendship that draws him. Clearly he is tempted to at least explore his feelings – and his curiosity – a bit further, but then his other brother comes on the scene to further complicate the plot. Now John doesn’t know what to make of his feelings of anger and jealousy, and I don’t know how or where to direct him.
Where to go with this story?? I don’t know if it’s going to go the distance – I just can’t think what I want to say about these people, other than it seemed important to me to present people who lead what some people view as lives of ‘transgressive sexuality’ and to present them in a way which shows them to be tender, profound, and sincere. I want to show deep caring relationships between family members as well as lovers, and I also want to portray the sometimes fluid nature of sexuality. I want to write passionately about passion.
But the whole thing feels very clunky – too many characters. Plus I know I’ve over-explained everything – still it is only a first draft. I worry I’ve forgotten how to write – it’s just not working for me. I know I’ve only written 6000-odd words, so it’s very much early days but it’s been such a struggle. Maybe I’m trying too hard?? And usually I have to write 40,000 or 50,000 words before I know if the story is going to work. My anxiety hot me rather early in this story. I’m thinking, this is the worst crap I’ve written in forever, and where’s the poetry, where’s the soul, where’s the beautiful, beautiful language, the power to persuade and reveal?? Where is it??
(a few weeks later I wrote:) Ooh this might even be starting to come together. I’ve been re-reading my notes for The Ice King (a different, short story) and there would appear to be useful link between the two ideas, just need to think what to amalgamate and what to exclude – use for another story. The rough notes for the disco scene would appear to be particularly relevant.
Still not really any further forward with some of the basic questions I raised earlier but at least I’m not feeling (quite) so miserable about the damn story now.
But what is going to happen to the corporate–executive-thriller that was the background to the story of the Ice King?? So maybe should keep these two ideas very, very separate? Huff. Don’t know what to do. Double huff.
The story is still ‘out there’ in the ether, bugging me, prodding me and wanting to be written, but I am still thinking it over. For me, as a pantser, I hate too much planning. I hate too much structure. Structure and planning stifle me. Sometimes I meditate on a story for years, a decade even. I have learned not to push too hard, learned a lot even since I wrote this diary extract in 2009. Now, I try not to worry. I’ve always got loads of ideas in the ‘melting pot’. When it is the right time, I hope I will be ready to write this story.
If you’re interested you can read some of the draft here – by the way, it’s a bit cheeky!: Miss Davenport Presents
- Author Interview – Stuart Aken, sci-fi and romance writer extraordinaire!
I am so thrilled to welcome Stuart Aken this week who has very kindly agreed to talk about his highly acclaimed and varied work. I’m going to jump straight in because as you will see, Stuart’s got a lot to tell and I didn’t want to cut any of it!
Q1. What kind of books do you write?
It’s tempting to answer this facetiously with ‘Great!’ but I’ll be a little more considered.
My dislike of the cubby-holing and restrictions of genre has persuaded me to ignore it as a guide to my writing. My books tell stories first and foremost. I’m interested in the human condition, justice/injustice, the abuse of Big Business, and the environment, but I’m also fascinated by our capacity as a species to produce wonderful objects, design complex and intriguing theories to explain our world, to love, to hate, to kill and to create. So, I write stories that include romance, sometimes with erotic content to emphasise the difference between love and lust. I write stories that project into the future to see where we, the human race, may be in years to come. I write stories to explore ideas and the way myth and legend can become driving forces for people’s beliefs.
Because readers generally like to be given some direction when looking for books, I’ll apply the recognised labels to what I’ve written so far. But none of my books fall entirely within the confines of these pigeonholes we call genres.
Breaking Faith is a love story with dark undertones. Essentially it’s a romance, set in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is the Yorkshire Dales in England.
The Methuselah Strain is set on Earth some hundreds of years hence and follows the exploits of a woman who’s an IT genius on a search for a man who can help her create a child by natural means in a world of hedonistic leisure.
M.E. and Me is a medical memoir of my ten years with ME/CFS and celebrates my recovery from that condition, whilst giving readers information and guidance on how to cope with it.
A Seared Sky: Book 1, Joinings; Book 2, Partings; Book 3, Convergence, is an adult epic fantasy trilogy set in an imagined world. It follows the quest of a party of pilgrims led on a dangerous mission by their religious leader. Told through the viewpoints of three separate couples, it interweaves their tales as they travel in the hope of finding justice and freedom. This is largely an adventure story in the fantasy mode, but avoiding the dragons and sword and sorcery routes.
Blood Red Dust: Generation Mars, Book 1 is set on Mars in the year 2074 and follows a group of chosen scientists as they settle on the red planet in an attempt to continue the human race after the Earth has been devastated by climate chaos. They are pursued by a religious extremist group intent on destroying all human life.
Stuart, I’ve read Blood Red Dust and loved it! Looking forward to the next one and I’m hanging on your WIP progress updates each week on Twitter. But moving on…
Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?
I was brought up in a household without books. My mother and father both read, but they obtained their books from the local library, since they lacked the means to buy them. As a result, I’d read the entire contents of the children’s section by the age of 11. It contained all the children’s English classics as well as some American books for children. I approached the fearsome librarian and asked if I might borrow books from the adult section (available once age 14 was reached). She gave me permission, provided I passed each book in front of her for approval. I’m unsure whether she permitted my first book, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, because she was unaware of its content or because she felt it really was suitable. A book that dealt with the horrors of trench warfare, the expletives of soldiers and their adventures with prostitutes, may not have been the best introduction to adult literature but it educated me in the ways of the world. That we had no TV in the house until I was 14 years old meant I spent a lot of time reading.
As a young adult, I read great quantities of science fiction; Ray Bradbury’s wonderful lyrical style, John Wyndham’s fascinating stories, and the works of Aldiss, Asimov, and so many other great authors. Later, I tackled many of the classics. And I read a lot of contemporary novels: Graham Greene, John Fowles, William Golding and Iris Murdoch were among my early favourites.
Q3. What are you working on at the moment?
Last year, my publisher launched Blood Red Dust, a science fiction novel set on Mars. At present, I’m interrupting the writing of book 2 in the Generation Mars series to complete this interview. But I’ll be back to the writing tomorrow. The book continues the story of those early pioneers, but is set five hundred years into the future. That, in itself, should say something to you about the nature of the book, I hope. I prefer not to discuss the WIP whilst I’m in the process of creation, so I’m afraid that’s as much as I can tell you at present. Even the title is currently not for public consumption!
Q4. What can we look forward to in the future from you?
Once I’ve completed the book referred to above, I’m keen on writing more short stories, and having a serious attempt at some poetry. Short stories, apart from being a pleasure to write, really concentrate the mind and tighten the storytelling faculties. And poetry is a great way to develop concise style and explore metaphor and simile, as well as being an ideal medium for protest against the ills of the world. A marvellous way to indulge the imagination and widen the creative mind. I’ll continue to write my blog posts. And I’ll begin the research and development of book 3 in the Generation Mars series.
Q5. Who are your favourite authors?
I estimate I’ve read some ten thousand books. That’s a lot of words. A great many authors. Most have contributed something to my writing in one way or another, even if it’s a warning about how not to do it! But I suspect I’ve been influenced most heavily by Ray Bradbury, Iris Murdoch, Stephen King, Dorothea Brande and Graham Greene. I’ve enjoyed Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien, Tom Sharpe, John Le Carré, Richard Adams, Nicci French, D.H. Lawrence and Howard Spring, among many others.
Q6. What do you do when you’re not reading?
If I’m tired, I watch the idiots’ lantern: it relaxes and is undemanding at the end of the day. But I love walking, and my wife Valerie, and I are fortunate enough to live within the boundaries of an area of Gloucestershire called the Forest of Dean. The woods are extensive and we have to walk only a hundred yards from our front door to enter the steep public footpath that leads into the trees that grow either side of the valley in which we live. I was once a professional photographer and I still indulge for my own pleasure. The garden is a work in progress and we love to get out there and try to tame it in the good weather.
Q7. What is your writing process?
Ah. I’m a pantster. That is, I write without plotting. I know many writers find this approach inexplicable and even a little terrifying. But I’ve tried the plotting route: I wrote 78,000 words of a thriller by hand on lined paper in the days before electronic typewriters became easily available (yes, I’m that old!) I wrote that book to a plot. When I went back to start the editing and read what I’d written, I was so dissatisfied by the result that I chucked the whole thing in the bin. That story still lives in my head. Maybe, one day, I’ll revisit it.
So, writing as a pantster: I develop my cast of characters first. I’m a visual man so I collect pictures from the internet and use these as the physical basis for my characters. I use a table to describe each of them, give them a history, family, background, ambitions, personality traits and any other aspects I feel are needed to get to know them well. At the back of my mind I know what I want to say in the story, and I develop a very lose framework, which I don’t write down. It resides in my head so it can be altered as it develops. But I generally know how the story should end. I set my characters free into the location(s) I’ve chosen or designed and place barriers in the way of their ambitions and then allow them to get on with it. Often, they take unexpected turns and go off in directions I never intended. This means I have to rewrite when I start the first edit. I never read what I’ve written the previous day, but always end a day with a short or an unfinished sentence that acts as a prompt for the next writing session. And I always finish the story before I read any of it back.
When I was younger, I could sit down with no idea in my head and write a short story from start to finish in a day. On one occasion I completed a 10,000 word story this way. These days I’m a little more relaxed, but I generally write around 2,000 words a day when I’m in the creating phase. Editing takes a good deal of time, especially if further research is needed. But I enjoy the whole process: there’s something really satisfying about constructing a sentence from exactly the right words, don’t you think?
Let me thank you Caron, for this opportunity to let readers, and other writers, know a little more about me. I’ve enjoyed our chat and it’s a privilege I appreciate. I hope I haven’t been too wordy. Loving the language, I do sometimes tend to overindulge!
Thank you, Stuart, it’s been a fascinating insight! I am also a pantser, and whenever I’ve tried to use a plotting ‘system’, I lose heart very quickly.
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Universal Amazon links to books:
Breaking Faith: http://mybook.to/breakingfaith
The Methuselah Strain: http://getBook.at/Methuselah
M.E. and Me: http://myBook.to/MEandme
Blood Red Dust: http://getBook.at/BloodRed
All my books published by Fantastic Books Publishing: https://www.fantasticbooksstore.com/authors/stuart-aken
- Don’t look back in anger.
When I was studying history as part of my Literature and Arts degree programme, we debated the the purpose of studying history, and decided on something like this definition: ‘we study the past to illuminate the human present and plan for the future’. The past is vital to humans. I’d say the past pervades our lives continually. If the past is an important part of our lives when we are young, I’ve been told that as people grow older, the past assumes even greater importance. Certainly I’ve seen this in people I know, and in my own life. The past can sometimes have an almost unbearable significance.
Why do we live in the past? Is it because the outcome is known to us? I sit safe? Or a source of disappointment with a sense of ‘the road not taken’? Do we seek to relive our ‘glory days’? Or have we left something behind that we haven’t quite finished with? I often wonder if the past is/was quite as I remember it, as our memories are so subjective. And I wrote ‘is/was’ because even as I put pen to paper, I realised that in many ways, the past is ongoing. As often as I remember it, it lives on, never ending, never a closed file but always, always, always being updated, catalogued, reviewed, reevaluated, upgraded and rewritten.
Does the past really fade away, or is it ever-present, a continuous ongoing exploration that runs in parallel with our own sense of ‘now’? The future is seen, in the words of Star Trek (or was it William Shakespeare ;D ?) as the Undiscovered Country, and the past must surely be the air-miles capital of our emotions.
- Don’t trust him! The Unreliable Narrator is out to get you!
Like all stories, mysteries are told by narrators. Even mysteries told in the third person have a narrator, though the story is told by an omniscient narrator with a kind of ‘bird’s eye view’ of the story and its characters. But if you are reading a mystery written in the first person, the ‘I’ of the story is your narrator, and in this very intimate world of the first-person narrator, you as a reader need to be on your guard because the main mission in the life of the first-person narrator is to pull the wool over your eyes!
This is very often how the author introduces red herrings. You as the reader get drawn into the world of the first-person narrator, he or she seems nice, or maybe they are really horrid, but either way, they unfold to you the plot of the story as they see it and it all seems very plausible and it is only at the end you realise that they missed out crucial information or disguised themselves or presented events in a rather biased manner, with the intention of thwarting your attempt to solve the mystery yourself.
Maybe they are seeking to divert suspicion from themselves, or even if you know what they did and how they did it, it is important for the first-person narrator that you sympathise, even condone what they did. They deceive you with half-truths, half-lies or even simply accidental misinterpretation. The bumbling narrator is in many ways the worst. They disarm you with their apparent incompetence, they admit to being forgetful, or unsure of their facts, and all the time—all the time—they are deliberately drawing you into their web.
They might throw you off the scent by seeming to reveal some great truth; they admit to some minor sin in order to distract you from your hunt for clues. Their very openness, the revelation of their intimate thoughts, feelings and actions actually conceals greater guilt—the guilt of deception. Even worse, the author actually uses them to control your reaction to the story and how information is revealed to you. Often in an apparent display of ‘fairness’ they will actually allow the narrator’s flaw to be revealed early on in the story, in the hope that you will have forgotten it by the time the story reaches its denouement. The author manipulates your sympathy, forcing you to acquit the narrator of wrong-doing as you stand in the place of the judge and jury of the action of the story.
Now that you know this, you are forearmed, and will be on the lookout for these artful devices!
A few noted novels with unreliable narrators:
Agatha Christie’s infamous The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho
Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl
Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita
Ian McEwan’s Atonement
- Nomads like us, or, I like it here.
Back in the mists of time, before cities were built, before the towns and the offices and the shopping centres, before ports were built to allow boats to dock, before anyone thought of issuing a passport or a visa, there were humans. People. They spoke all sorts of languages and didn’t always understand one another. Disputes were settled in a variety of ways. I might give you a goat or sheep from my flocks in reparation for any damage you received at my hands. Or I might whack you with a big rock, and possibly face the dire consequences if my actions were discovered and your people didn’t like it. Or I might marry one of your relatives and we would just get over it.
That is what people do. Have always done. Once upon a time, we didn’t understand about borders and governments and territorial rights. We followed the herds. The herds migrated, to find pasture that didn’t die back in winter or get covered by twenty feet of snow, or they migrated to reproduce in more favourable climates, or, who knows, maybe they just got bored.
But wherever they went, we went after them. The herds, of any kind of deer or any kind of cattle, or I don’t know, maybe gigantic sweeping herds of emu or ostrich, or chickens the size of buffalo, they were everything to us. They were our food, our tools, our clothing, our lighting, even, later, our power and status. So we always had to be near the herds, and when they migrated, so did we.
But migrating for both herds and humans took its toll. There was always the potential for disaster, for predators to take advantage of the migrants, for climactic events to cause disruption and problems. For humans, it meant people with children travelling huge distances and arriving in a maybe less fabulous place than expected. sometime there was a terrible storm or hurricane, or there might have been a wildfire, or flooding. The elderly sickened and died, babies were born on the trail, and babies and mothers alike struggled to deal with the demands of the journey.
So one day, a character who was probably a national hero, gifted with foresight, radical and willing to take a huge risk, embracing blue-sky, out-of-the-box thinking, looked at all his or her community members as they packed the moose ready for the journey, and he or she thought to themselves, ‘Stuff that, I’m not going through all that again. Remember last time, when Granny got sick and she almost died? And she was barely 35!’
Or maybe they thought, last year’s place was too far from fresh water, and although the herds were strong, they were hard to catch on that uneven land. This place is nice. The water’s right there a stone’s throw from the tent, I can see for miles over these lovely rolling hills, the hills protect the land, so that summer leaves late and spring arrives early. I’m staying right here.
So they used some of their animal sinews and their flax or plant stem ropes, and they whittled a bunch of stakes, and they roped in some of those herds, and there they stayed. And when everyone came back next spring, lo and behold, there they were still, fat and sleek and healthy, and not totally exhausted from the long journey. So the following year, a few more crazy people decided to follow suit. Their wives and children and old people flourished, their flocks and herds produced young, and numbers multiplied.
I’m not a historian – as you can no doubt tell – and yes, this is probably hopelessly idealised and unrealistic. But my point is this: territorial borders are man-made and arbitrary. We do not – contrary to what many believe – own the land on which we were born or where we live. We are just there. I don’t normally post a political message. And I don’t want to debate endlessly. I just want to point out that in my own view, we are all immigrants. We are all nomads.
- I didn’t recognise you in that media!
Apparently we all lie on our CV or Resume. I never did, but then I was brought up to believe that my sins would find me out, so I never took the chance. It would have been tempting to award myself a PhD in Business Management in the hope of landing a job paying big bucks, but I always knew that sooner or later, someone would come along and ask me that one deep question that would reveal my ignorance in all its glory. So I never lied on my CV.
But just like trolling, it seems we can often leave the straight and narrow behind once we get close to our keyboards. Bending the truth on your social media profile is okay, even desirable. Don’t get too carried away–the internet really isn’t as anonymous as we like to think. Out there somewhere are all the people who spotted that you had ditched another class back in the day, or that you got a terrible grade for that science homework, and they will tell all at the least opportune moment.
So keep yourself and your reputation squeaky clean. Don’t be tempted to exaggerate, let alone downright lie. There is no bigger fall than a public one, especially if you are hoping to use social media to market yourself for work or online business.
Keep to the truth. Don’t say you are a New York Times bestselling author if only your mum and your cat have read your book. Don’t post a profile pic of yourself that is thirty years/300 pounds out of date. Tell us what you have done with your life, we will understand if it’s not all been unalloyed success, we’ve all been there. Skate over the grimmer details by all means, but keep to the truth and don’t bluster or make excuses. Don’t spam. Don’t batter people with ‘buy my stuff’ messages and never, never, never put someone down if you don’t want it done to you.
Thanks for reading. Rant over.