If Joe Strummer asks…

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THE WRITER’S LIFE

The writer’s life is my world now and there are quandaries in both. I’m in a very similar position to a very close friend of mine and there are parallels between her conflicts and the ones I’m dealing with. I’m real though and she’s a fictional character.

My writing conflict will be a simple one to resolve: it’s simply a matter of deciding whether to write the next chapter of my new book or to return to short stories for a while. I’ve been out of the webzine horror scene for a couple of weeks now because I’m concentrating on the book. My anthology – The Perpetuity of Memory (Collected tales) is planned as a collection of 42 short stories and with 35 already published, it’s almost complete. The book – Infana Kolonia – is flowing so well that I am reluctant to leave it, or my main protagonist: a nice problem to have.

In my world outside writing, I did think that I might have to move home soon but that may not be the case. I find myself in a position which could be both vulnerable and powerful at the same time, much like my friend Jessica Je’une. I am not at liberty to speak of my world but I have as many weapons up my sleeve as Jess does, should they be needed to take people down and leave a lot of information behind.

My weapons are paper, pen, keyboard and internet. Jess’s main defence, besides her own survival instinct, is a 300-ton armoured bird of prey, the size of an Airbus A380: both are equally potent in their respective worlds. My young heroine and her big bird have got themselves into a bit of a predicament in Infana Kolonia, my fictional city.

Infana Kolonia (the book) started about a year ago, when I quickly started writing a second novel after The Paradoxicon. Back then, it just wasn’t going anywhere. With the benefit of a year to think about things as I got my own life in order and wrote other stuff, I realised why. As I continued to churn out pulp fiction for the webzine market while drafting four or five books in the background, I was spreading myself too thinly. My writing peers and mentors have noted how my writing has matured. To paraphrase the words of more than one, I was moving away from short short fiction (1500-1700 words) and writing stories like Helvetica Haus (included in The Director’s Cut) at 4000-odd words. I also wrote The Perpetuity of Memory, which although a short short, made people sit up and prompted no fewer than three readers to comment that the story made them physically shudder. Where once I thought – through lack of self confidence – that I was a bit of a fraud in calling myself a writer, some of the plaudits were from other writers whom I respect. I suppose I reached a point of realisation that I’d made it.

Never one to let anything go to waste and always a writer with a stack of drafts on my desk, I condensed the four chapters of what was then called Bloodstained Knaves into a single short story. That prompted me to dig out the notes and start to write Infana Kolonia. So far I’ve written ten chapters and a total of just over 32’000 words. With the synopsis and chapter plan I have written, I know that the book is 12-15% finished in first draft. Comments from beta readers are not only encouraging but the readers are prodding me to keep writing the thing. Even if I say so myself – and I just did – it is that good. Excerpts from the work in progress are on the book’s Facebook page.

It’s been settling into the life as I’ve learned to accept it which has brought this about. Where once I rushed, now I take my time. Even though The Paradoxicon is a fairly deep novel in its concepts, it is written in a flash fiction style. The new book is far deeper and richer. The lead character (at the moment) is based on one of my young female friends, insofar as the character’s basis is in that person’s aspirations and thoughts. Through the character of Jess and her companion (the giant raptor, who happens to be called “Goose”), I am able to address my young female friend and many like her in matters of social conscience, perception, psychology and much else. Although the character of Jess is based on my friend in this way, she also has many hidden qualities which I see in my young friend and which I know that her and her ilk will relate to. In the giant bird, I have a persona based on a combination of fictional and historical characters, the research for which is a foot high pile of books next to my writing desk. Test readers are commenting on how deep and rich the writing is and it’s simply because I’ve been taking my time on this one.

If I were the owner of a bookshop, wondering where to place Infana Kolonia, I must admit I’d be a bit fucked: Sci-fi, horror, fantasy, teenage female adventure? But a book which allows those outside of that narrow genre readership to be entertained by an insight into the others who are reading it.

The book is proving to be a lot of fun to write, while retaining its roots as a study of many aspects of the mind. It covers AI, space exploration, dark matter, virtual reality and much more, in a text which teaches quantum theory and other concepts along the way. As one beta reader said, “It’s a fucking brilliant journey…” I agree. As a writer who is so involved in this particular story, I have the lives of people whom I care about a great deal in my hands. As an author, I know what is going to happen to those lives: it’s actually a huge burden to bear when you care so much.

The Clash quandary was posed thus: “Should I stay or should I go?” The writer’s life direction is decided. My world is running somewhat in parallel but just like Jessica Je’une, I know there may be trouble.

I have the means to tell the story and change lives, in fiction and fact. Like my heroes, I tell stories and I can make those who I care about heroes or heroines themselves. I wrote a story once, called String Theory.

“We can be heroes…”
(David Bowie: 1947 – 2016).

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