In this series, I asked everyone the same set of questions:
What's got your interest at the moment? What are you excited about? What are you angry about? What are you preoccupied with?
Tell me all about that, and then...
Tell me if you think it's going to affect the next thing you write, and if so, in what way. And if not, tell me what effect it is going to have on you, in the near future. Here's what Michael R. Miller wrote back in answer:
First of all, thanks to Timandra for having me on. Secondly, damn you Timandra for asking such a difficult and varied array of questions.
Where to start? Well the new Mass Effect Andromeda Trailer has definitely sparked my interest. Am I excited about it? I’m trying very hard to keep my expectations in check after Mass Effect 3’s ‘ending’. Just thinking about that ‘ending’ makes me very angry, but such things aren’t worth getting too angry about in the grand scheme of things.
Yeah, I'm excited for Mass Effect Andromeda, too.
What’s got me particularly rage filled right now is just how hard it is to get vital refurbishment work done in a flat in central London. It’s like thousands of pounds’ worth of work is no longer appealing. Perhaps it isn’t. Either the work we need done in this flat is too much or too little or too much hassle for the money – perhaps they could do several easier jobs more quickly and get the same amount. They have so much work they can be choosy (hashtag FIRSTWORLDPROBLEMS). My frustration on this battlefront has only aggravated my long running preoccupation with the deep irony, and tragedy, of what education means in reality for a lot of 20 somethings right now. I’m 24 so I think about this a fair amount.
You’ll be sorry you asked me to tell you about anything…
What I find sad is the true lie you get told growing up, as Disney-like in its simplicity and structure as any of their re-told fairy tales. This is the path laid before you at school.
1) Do the subjects considered to be the ‘proper’ ones i.e. not art, music etc.
2) Get the very best grades you can. You must or you will struggle with the next step.
3) Use said grades to apply to a good university and do your best there. You must or you will struggle with the next step.
4) Leave university with a fabled degree and use this like a lock in a key to access the ‘good’ jobs.
5) Live happily ever after.
Only it’s not like that.
I’m not here to have a little moan. My own struggle towards the end of that journey was not being honest about what I truly wanted to do at step 4 (the job part). What gets to me is that now so many of us have been set off on this magical quest there are too many of us to claim the treasure at the end. Once upon a time the fairy tale held more truth, as the lovely people from recruitment at a big law firm announced once at a career event: ‘back when we graduated there were more jobs than graduates to fill them’, they said with a laugh that was supposed to soften the blow. So, what happens now that the opposite is true? Well the recruitment process for many of those ‘good’ jobs we’re supposed to aim for has become convoluted, multi-layered, laborious, automated, psycho-analysed, and ‘experienced’ based. By experience, I mean interning, vacation schemes and the such. Free labour. Yep, I’m calling it what it is. And like everything else about this twisted fairy tale, I’m prepared to believe there was once truth in it. Interning or shadowing someone at work might have granted valuable insight, once. Showing a real eagerness to enter that business (whatever it may be) would be clearly demonstrated by offering yourself voluntarily for a month or more at a time. The same logic applies today, however, can these things really still be considered voluntary when they are all but mandatory to many of the ‘good jobs’. (There is of course an entirely separate issue about how youngsters from disadvantage backgrounds are supposed to work for free for months on end)
I ought to clarify something, these ‘good jobs’ are the office ones, aren’t they? They don’t tell you to go to university and pretend to be an intellectual for 3 to 4 years just to get down and dirty with a manual job. Only… now hold on. The folk doing those manual jobs (the plumbers, the electricians, the builders, and so on) are the ones with some actual skill. And they are the ones that often have so much work to choose from they can be picky. They can charge quite a lot now because so few of us have any bloody idea what we’re doing. Good grades eh? Gets you working for free for a while, only to end up, in some cases, not making as much as those who jumped off the carefully laid path. In London especially (and in other cities like New York) even those who get the fairy tale ending can still struggle to make it by with soaring rents, forever rising transport costs and on and on it goes. Some fairy tale.
At the risk of this seeming a rant without an end, I’ll try to draw this into a point. My point is that the path society lays down for young people right now is frankly a broken and dangerous one. It doesn’t apply to everybody because not everybody is suited to that path or would even want to head down it, but it’s forced upon them anyway, so much so that to leave the path is considered a sign of failure. Dropping out of university, for example, is discussed in the same hushed tones as small town murders; the families of those involved try to lock that skeleton away in the metaphorical closet. It just shouldn’t be the case.
It’s not a stretch to see how many people become embittered by this system. It’s not hard to see why many might struggle to find their way when the path doesn’t suit them but the alternative is largely frowned upon.
Honestly, I’m not sure why this topic gets me so riled up. I am fortunate enough to have had the options many others haven’t. I got the good grades, I went to the good university and did well there, and when I decided to step off the path I had the support to do so. Yet I know many smart, hardworking people who are struggling with it; who followed the path precisely as instructed and are met with nothing but barriers, hoops to jump, rudeness and unfairness. The road ahead looks overgrown with a thorny thicket. Life is unfair, I hear you say. Well, that’s true, but it wasn’t quite as unfair a generation or so ago.
Is this going to affect what I write? It already has. I’ve got a side project which I occasional turn to when not working on my main series (The Dragon’s Blade). This side project is still in flux and I’m only 30K words in but I intend to finish it one day. I may never attempt to do anything with it but I will finish it. It’s a book that looks at all of this and cranks up the absurdities using a steam-punky fantasy setting to do so.
Michael is a young Scot living in London and getting stuck into writing his first epic fantasy series, The Dragon’s Blade. Book 1, The Reborn King, made the top 20 books in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2016. The second in the trilogy, Veiled Intentions, releases on the February 10th 2017. Michael is ‘that guy’ who enjoys discussing the mad fan theories of Game of Thrones even more than the books or show, and knows more about World of Warcraft than is probably healthy.
You can grab The Reborn King for FREE by signing up to his mailing list http://thedragonsblade.com/free-copy-of-the-dragons-blade/
Next week on Where Is My Mind? David Benem
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