Throw off your paper chains…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Don’t crack up, Howard Jones once counselled. He went on to advise bending your brain, seeing both sides, and throwing off your metal chains. This is an old and new song…

Paper Chains

Just lately, I’ve felt myself starting to feel at home as a writer. I’m into my fifth year of being one, and I’ve lived at the studio for almost two years. But it’s lonely and I’m socially anxious, so I’ve started getting out more in a virtual way. It’s still a bit like standing on the edge of the playground in the first week of school though. Welcome to my world. Or put another way, this is my world and you’re welcome to it.

I wrote previously of how everything seemed to conspire in a solitary Christmas and New Year, when I used the time to re-evaluate a few things. I’ve met new people, who don’t have time to read the last five years’ posts, so long life story short, I got drunk, upset a lot of people, had a moral responsibility to put things right, did. This was almost five years ago and those who’ve been here for some time (who met me online) will know some or all of it (like most of those I know in the real world, including some new ones). There are those from my old (offline) life who seem to begrudge my recovery, and most are simply too ignorant to learn, preferring to remain in their made-up state of mind than actually talk to me.

All they know is what’s in their heads, put there by themselves and their fellow conspirators: I got drunk, lost everything and it was all my own fault. Let’s take that as a given. So now I’m an alcoholic, and that’s pretty much all they want to see. They don’t understand alcohol dependence syndrome, PTSD, or any of the other diagnoses on my medical record. But the people who don’t understand a functioning alcoholic are the same as those who can’t tell the difference between a paediatrician and a paedophile. They want to see me fail. Well I’d never do that to anyone, least of all myself, and most of all because it would be for someone else’s vindication.

Despite being anxious and paranoid (conditions hardly helped by those people), I had to conclude – after all other avenues were exhausted – that it’s their loss, if nothing else then for the sake of my health. I can unify science and religion, yet I can’t reconcile myself with those kinds of people. I’ve asked myself more than once since I sobered up, saw things differently and opened my mind (weed helped), did the whole world change while I was gone, or is it just me?

On the sideline of life, like the edge of the playground at school. Watching the kids I wish I could teach: the blinkered, the conditioned, the bullies who don’t listen. Now I see all these new kids, some are like me, and I want to introduce myself.

I’ve been hanging around the edges of various social media groups, with other writers and sci-fi types. I don’t have to know them personally, as they’re already kindred spirits, like the other bloggers who follow me and I follow back. Ours is very much a sharing community, with exchanges of links, advice and help, and other writers wondering why even their closest friends don’t seem all that interested in what they do. It’s something I’ve considered before, because it’s quite depressing. But like so many things, I’ve not taken it personally. More on that, as I consider a question posed to that collective: Why do you all write? It’s a good question, especially when us ‘Indies’ get so little attention. It suits a socially anxious person, but when that’s a writer, it can make them paranoid.

For my part, it’s therapy, and a coping mechanism for all that goes on in my head with depression. But why I write, breaks down into many other reasons, including empathy with others. So when I consider the question of why so few of our friends buy our books, I swap roles.

If I was asked what most of my friends do, I wouldn’t know. But few of them are writers. Unless they have an interesting vocation, I’m not interested. Many people simply aren’t interested in writers. They think it’s cool that you are one, but friends or not, unfortunately few people buy books. My frustration as a writer is a reflection of life: I have much to say, but no-one has the time to listen. As writers, we’re lucky we have a means to bang on in vain hope. When you’re a good writer, you long for other people to tell you that you are. It’s not vanity, it’s frustration. Why do I write then?

I can rewrite the past, or imagine futures. I can take myself back to situations and place myself, not only in my own position but those of others. I can create people and worlds, situations too, both good and bad (I can play the atheist god). Sometimes I visit the places and characters I’ve created, because in my mind at least, they really do exist. I’ve been known to have an entire conversation with one of my characters and publish it as a story.

I have many trademarks, which are what get me some of the little recognition I do enjoy. Talking to myself is one I use rarely, but I do inhabit all of my stories. Whether it’s a mannerism in a character, or a place from the depths of memory, there’ll be a part of the writer in each story. I’m said to have a deep understanding of the human condition, which isn’t surprising given my mental health and the life I’ve lived. My ability to “…hold a black mirror to the soul,” is born mainly of the time I lived on the streets. Whether they’re science fiction, horror, or some other genre, my stories tend to have a psychological element (I strive to make them affecting).

There are crossovers in my writing: Characters from stories already told, popping up in others, sometimes with significance but often just walk-on parts. In real life, I’ve dealt with many young people, and I was one myself in the 1980s, so I take myself back there sometimes. I have recurring themes and places, often time-shifted (the most obvious would be The Unfinished Literary Agency). I can see utopian and dystopian near-future and far-away scenarios. I can evoke the sentience in animals and AI. These are not my words, but what others have said (and all documented).

I’ve written five books so far, by my own admission, each better than the last. I’m an honest writer, and I wouldn’t want anyone to feel in any way unfulfilled. That’s why, on my Typewriter page, I aim to make every purchase of my books an informed one. I realise that a book is a financial outlay and I make mine available in libraries (on request), because I realise not everyone can afford books, but I want as many people as possible to read mine, as there’s so much in them that might help others (the answer to life, the universe and everything is in Cyrus Song). I spent many of my homeless days in libraries, so it’s my way of giving something back.

When I found myself on the streets with nothing to show for my life, then life gave me a second chance, I felt obliged to return the favour. As I’d sit writing in various venues, I resolved to be the best that I could be at that which I enjoyed the most. That way, I could give the most back.

I’ve been lucky enough to receive my fair share of plaudits, in person and through reviews. Those are rare and well-earned, but we have to realise that even fewer people than read us will take the trouble. It’s a lonely world, but we have each other. If only more people were listening.

One day, someone will notice us fringe writers, independents, self-publishers, and many other undiscovered talents. Like all the arts, writing is huge and democratised, so there will always be many trying to be heard. Writers are at a disadvantage because what they do shouts the quietest and takes longer to hear. If we wrote songs, we’d need a few minutes of someone’s time; if we made films, a couple of hours; but a book requires days, if not weeks, and it’s usually a financial outlay in a world flooded with free stuff and always in a hurry. And with so many books out there, why choose ours, especially as we’re outside the mainstream and not on a lot of shelves? Some of us might not even be discovered while we’re alive, but we’ve immortalised ourselves already. Even if we are plucked from obscurity, we may only be fashionable for a while, and it’s a very rare artist who becomes a household name.

So we seek recognition at least with our peers. But we can’t all be expected to read each others’ books, any more than any one person is likely to buy all of ours, or lots of people just one or two. The best way is as part of a collective, so that we at least have company in our lonely quest.

What can I do for other writers, and what can I give them to better help me? I figured this blog post might be a good start. People deal with people and it takes one to know one. I’m already liked and followed, on Facebook, Twitter and this blog, and I reciprocate. I always want more, and I want to be shared, so that I have a better chance of being heard. And I want to tell all my followers about other writers I myself read, whose voices I recommend they listen to. The best tips are qualified.

I figured I’ll pick a book a month, either at random, or on the basis of something which piques my interest. We can’t all be market analysts, and many book purchases are on impulse anyway. But if I want anyone to do anything for me, I have to give something back. So I’ll buy someone’s book, read it in a considered manner, then post reviews wherever appropriate: On the book’s Amazon or other retailer page, in the peer group where that person lives, and on this blog.

I’m not one for posting links on every thread, so I hope this might be enough to persuade others to look further at what I do (and what I’ve done already). If one of them buys a book and takes the time to review it, it’s a favour returned and a qualified recommendation.

The reason those people from my past can’t find me, is I’m simply not there. I moved on and moved out. If they’d care to look me up now, all they’d have to do is Google my name. By doing no search engine optimisation at all, by paying nothing for ads, and just by being what I am, I get a Google ‘Answer box’: When people search for my name, Google assumes most are looking for the author now.

That’s what I am now: a writer. It says so on the internet. Pleased to meet you. That’s my world and you’re welcome to it.

I’m socially anxious and I don’t get out much, but I crave attention. As a writer, I’m good at blurring the lines between real and virtual worlds, when the latter is the one where I feel most comfortable. I’ll always try to make time spent here at my place time well spent.

To those new to me, I’d recommend two of my own books to get to know me more: My critically-acclaimed “sci-fi RomCom”, Cyrus Song; and my latest collection of short stories, The Unfinished Literary Agency. Those are the books I hang my novelist’s hat and writer’s scarf respectively on. Signed copies can be arranged with me in private, and I’m almost confident enough to offer a money-back guarantee on my books. The only thing preventing me, is the anxiety I need help in overcoming, by people reading my books, realising I really can write and telling other people.

This is a song to all of my friends
They take the challenge to their hearts
Challenging preconceived ideas
Saying goodbye to long standing fears

(‘New Song’, Howard Jones, 1983).

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The day I farted Stardust

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Two years ago today, I woke to the news of David Bowie’s further travels. Ziggy Stardust, the thin white duke, the cracked actor, Major Tom was a starman again. The news was delivered by text message from one of my best friends. Ashes to ashes, funk to funky…

Ziggy Stardust cover art

It was news I wasn’t prepared for. David Bowie was immortal (but of course he is, just like the rest of us). He was back with the stars he came from, exploring further (“Knowledge comes with death’s release…”). It was poetic that I received the news as I did. Short of getting a telepathic message from the Starman himself, my friend was the best sentinel I could think of.

We’ve been friends for the best part of 40 years, we went to school together, and on my 40th birthday, he gave me a very personal gift: Bowie in Berlin; a book by Thomas Jerome Seabrook, which tells the story of the three-year period when Bowie made some of his most intensely creative music. We grew up with Bowie together, and there’s an inscription inside the book:

To my old friend,

These three albums [Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger] struck a chord with us, when we were younger. I remember smoking, playing pool and hanging out, with Bowie in the background. ‘Soundtrack to our lives’: Let’s live to it again.

Your old friend, T x

Along with my hi-fi separates and my signed copy of Diamond Dogs, the book is one of my most treasured things. When I was ill, had my breakdown and ended up on the streets, my ex-partners looked after my belongings until I found my own place, for which I’m forever grateful.

At some point during that period of homelessness, I dreamed that I’d one day have a place I could call my own, with copies of my own books dotted around. It was a daydream, as I sat in McDonald’s scribbling in a notepad (I probably still have it, as I managed to retain most). I knew I’d most likely never work again, so I wondered, “What the fuck…”

I was street homeless for three months (in winter), sleeping in garages and on benches (and once in a bin). Then for six months I had the squat, and a further seven months of sofa-surfing followed, before I took the tenancy above the pub. After a year of suffering that landlord, I was offered the place I have now: a small studio in a quiet village, and with a social (legal) landlord. After my first year as a tenant, I was given an indefinite rolling tenancy. It’s the nearest someone who doesn’t own their own place can get to actually having one.

All of that covers a period now just into its fifth year, and all documented on this blog. As I’ve noted several times, I needed to have a base before I could really sort myself out. Conventional wisdom works the opposite way, but if you give a human shelter and take care of their basic needs (like food and warmth), the rest will follow.

The day between Bowie’s birthday and the day he left, has become a day of reflection. Last night, I sat and looked around my little place, thankful for all I have and all I’ve done, and for the guidance. Because if you believe in the universe, it will talk to you.

I picked up The Unfinished Literary Agency from my coffee table, and I had a flick through: It really is a very good book, of which I’m proud. It’s my fifth, published on the fifth day of my fifth year as a writer, and my shit don’t stink.

We can all be heroes, even if it’s just for one day.

“And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor.” (Five Years, David Bowie).

The Unfinished Literary Agency is available now.

Wish upon a dark star

THE WRITER’S LIFE

It’s queer how a few days can change things, sometimes like a flipping of the table with life. On Friday night, I found myself in a position familiar to many with depression, regularly staring into the void: Imagine you’re in a room, with no visible means of exit (and there’s no light). How do you get out? It happened four years ago, when I found myself drunk and on the street. I wasn’t drinking this time, but I needed to detoxify my environment.

Death star

I’ve written before: you can stop imagining, or you can use your imagination. And it was doing that, which made some of what I thought I could only imagine, actually happen. In a way, I made a wish. I wished upon a star and the universe answered.

We’ve all got it, and in most people it’s there to be found. It’s as obvious as being the most world-weary person around, then a two-year-old hands you a toy phone, and you say “Hello?” Anyone, from the humblest hobo to the queen, would answer that phone. To not do so, is to not be human. Some people don’t even get that, let alone their universal connection to everyone else. And all I did was in the logic of science, applying transcendent psychology. I rose above the situation to view it from the outside. It’s like being a stage director to actors.

The real clincher was when I cracked for a moment. With so much to do for so many people, and with no-one to do it with, I felt more alone than normal. I also longed for one of the people I was helping to ask how I was (because people don’t tend to, usually worried about getting too involved with a depressive). I didn’t cry, I got angry with people who hold a personal grudge with me, trying to turn those I was helping against me for their own selfish gains, and take credit for what I’d done. This is advice for others as much as a relating of my own story.

Before I did some physical damage by proxy to another human being (used here in its widest, most inclusive context), I stepped back.

I was reminded of something I myself said to someone, and it was they who repeated the words back to me (they’d already asked me how I was). Then I spoke to another (to check facts) and it was the same: Some people really are so stupid and ignorant (not only through lack of schooling, but of life) that they can’t be educated. Sometimes I can’t see the obvious, or more importantly, why I couldn’t help. It’s hard to comprehend, but some people really are – sometimes through choice – so arrogant and selfish, blinkered by their own conditioning, that they can’t see beyond their personal bubble. And that’s always the weakness.

Because of that insular bubble, even those around them (with a few equally delinquent exceptions) – the ones they think are closest to them – actually mock them behind their backs, just as they themselves speak ill of others unfairly. It was quite a revelation, and I didn’t even have to say it. It wasn’t me putting words into the mouths of others who can see for themselves. I don’t need to slag people off behind their backs, when those people do such a good job of discrediting themselves (and I have a blog).

The advice to anyone else? You’ll never lose a real friend, because those who believe what they’re told about you without checking, aren’t worthy friends. In believing all they’re told and not questioning, they’re as ignorant as those who tell the stories. Just don’t feed the animals in their personal zoos.

For me, why worry about it, when it seems to be taking care of itself? It was quite literally like wiping the shit from my shoes on their doormat (I hope I left a lingering stench). The problem (someone else pointed out), was that I was too busy being nice and I’d forgotten how to be nasty (but only when it’s deserved, when everyone around can see when things are explained to them in full, that mine is the superior moral side).

Incurable fascists are incapable of reasoned debate. Ignorant ones will always lose an argument, but they keep on whining, a dying wasp on the pavement to be trodden on or kicked into the drain, or simply left to flounder. When something lacks the basic life instinct of knowing when to give up, they’re best left to suffer in their own company.

I thought about others in my life and about myself, and how we’d changed and progressed over the last four years. Some of those who’ve stuck with me have done well, while others got left behind. The ones still with me then, are the only ones to move forward with and further away from those who couldn’t keep up. There’s only so much you can do for some people before you have to give up, for your own sake.

For my part, I’ve sobered up and written five books (each successively better than the last). Because of that and other achievements, I’m happy with what I am, as are those still around me. I made a mess of my life and I sorted it out, with the help of others (and I thanked them). Then I helped others with their own problems, and they remained friends.

It seems that some people are incurably deluded, and not a little jealous (including of the company I keep), when they themselves are stuck in the same place (and people). But it’s of their own making and they’re best left with their own kind, a gradually diminishing, near-extinct minority sub-species. Stunted by evolution, they will fail and die out.

I said in a previous post that I’d start to separate the fact from the fiction this year and to exorcise some more toxins, so this was a good start. I’m a writer and a blogger and I’m left-wing, so I can say what like (within Amnesty’s definition of free speech as a human right), about the right-wing, the religious zealots, the abusers of power, sex or trust, the haters and the doubters, or anyone else who might be looking for themselves.

All but the most fortunate can see their own third, inner self. The really unfortunate ones are those who can’t see the first or second either. They don’t see how other people see them, nor how they themselves look. They are delusional, like the witches in classic fairy tales, who looked in the mirror (and at each other) and only saw beauty staring back at them. A truly false reflection.

To those still gazing inwardly, some advice: If a two-year-old offers you a toy phone, there’ll probably be someone on the other end. Try it, then you might know what it feels like to be human.

David Bowie taught me it was okay to be different and to speak out. Sometimes I still wish upon the dark star. Happy birthday Starman.

My human existential crisis

THE WRITER’S LIFE

When much of humanity is in its own self-made restrictive bubble, I try to transcend and look in. Although I’m prone to existential crises of the personal kind, I also think of the extinction of the human race (and not just for pleasure). These are the things which occupy my mind, in real life and as a science fiction writer.

supercalifragilisticEXISTENTIAL-CRISIS-1440x810

Much has been written about the end of humanity and what form an extinction event might take, and some of it by me (the writing, not the event). The most immediate threat to an entire race and their planet is a nuclear war, but my money’s on AI or plastics (or cats), assuming we’re all still here in a couple of weeks. In any case, there’s no harm in speculating, and now is as good a time as any.

The saddest human legacy will most likely be that we used the technology we created to destroy ourselves, when we could have used it to explore and discover. But even with the accelerated technological progress we’re seeing now, there simply might not be time. It will be centuries and not decades for example, before we can reach stars beyond our own. Unless our species changes quickly, I don’t see us making it that far. A nuclear holocaust would be over in days.

Closer to home, the UK is very much a developing Les Miserables. In near-future fiction and in satire, I’ve foreseen an eruption of the unrest currently developing in the real world, where sections of the population are made sick and tired by the current ruling class. I’ve written of how a third party intervention might be the only way to stop an arrogant, self-serving, destructive government. Perhaps there’ll be riots on the streets and the government imposes marshal law. Then an anonymous blackmailer suddenly holds the nation’s communications to ransom: ‘Hold a general election and let the people decide, then we will return your internet.’ It would be effective. Well, one can live in hope.

The internet itself is a danger in the wrong hands. In an age of fake news, and gullible readers too ignorant to check facts and sources. These people are blind to their own manipulation and conditioning, but it’s in the wider realms of technology that the more existential threats lie.

Artificial intelligence is quite literally that: An intelligence which has been manufactured. There are those who believe this gives sentience to some AI (in Japan, technological beings are treated as a species), and some AI themselves might argue that we all came from the Big Bang, it’s just that they had a long incubation followed by a gradually exponential growth spurt.

Currently, artificial intelligence is being set to task on a number of projects, quite literally thinking about a problem. They are self-learning and have far greater processing capacity than a human brain. So given the time, AI could think of a cure for cancer. It took Deep Thought 7.5 million years to come up with the answer to life, the universe and everything as 42, but with the development of quantum computers, another answer might take just a few minutes to calculate. In darker science fiction, a quantum AI could conclude that the human condition is an incurable one and that we’re a waste of resources. Self-replicating nano machines could wipe out our race in seconds.

And then there’s plastics, possibly mankind’s most destructive invention, potentially more so than a global nuclear conflict, with much irreversible damage already done. After decades of producing this toxic alchemy, we’re only now seeing the destruction, down to micro particles in our oceans and in our drinking water. We are all part-plastic, toxic waste, and we know not what the long-term effects might be. Because we were in so much of a hurry and we didn’t think.

I can’t help thinking (among other things), that our own planet (the one we share with the animal people) might be glad to see the plastic population go, and some of my recent and current writing is based in post-human theatres. The end could be long and painful, or it might be so sudden that we don’t even realise.

Unless we make some changes pretty quick, unless we hurry up and think differently, we’re a bit fucked really, aren’t we mankind?

I have a book out next week, telling tales of all these things, and together they tell a longer story. I already wrote a novel which gives a perfectly plausible answer to the question of life, the universe and everything. Hopefully people will be around for long enough to read them.

The greatest threat of all, will always be those who seek to suppress the thoughts of others.

Eating pizza by the roadside

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I rarely make resolutions at any time of year, because I’ve normally resolved to do something long before I actually do it, only then congratulating myself quietly. Some will be known, because I’ve said so (I’m going to publish a book), but others I don’t speak of, when they belong to someone else. I’m always picking up the pieces, but I’m dropping things all the time.

Pavement pizza

Sometimes the problem is knowing where to start with the eternal conflict in my mind, which is why it helps to be a writer, especially when one is depressed and anxious. The problem with both, is that those of us with the most to say take the longest to learn about. Sometimes I need to proverbially throw up.

If I made films or music, I might be easier to understand in a shorter form. But I’m a writer, mainly of books, which require a greater investment of time. I write short stories, of course, and I’ve even given poetry a kicking, but fewer people read than listen or watch.

I’ll deal as quickly with Christmas here as I did at the time: Quite simply, Christmas didn’t happen, despite my efforts to arrange something around family. A combination of displacement and disinterest conspired to allow everyone to have their own Christmas, whether or not that was what they wanted. Unless I misread something in a greetings card from my old sister, who uses a calligraphy pen for such occasions: It was like reading a page of ambigrams, which I daren’t hold to a mirror for fear of invoking a curse. I have a pen for every occasion, so it’s one to revisit.

The main festivities were politics (specifically other people’s), and my younger sister (Courtney), who became a mum just before Christmas. As a vulnerable young adult with a history of personal issues, she’s needed help with many things for as long as I’ve known her. And since not long after I met her, I’ve been one of those the authorities contact when things go awry, mainly her (once, in the middle of a pool tournament, two police officers walked in because she’d run away (again). We found her in the end). Long story short, with much effort over the festive period, she was given a place for herself and her daughter, and there is much still to do.

I can speak and write about it now, because it’s happened. But for six months, myself and others worked to make sure things went the way they did. We claimed no credit and sought no reward. The birth itself was marred only by a third party with a sense of entitlement, gatecrashing the delivery room and awarding itself accolades on social media. Such selfishness didn’t sit well with a new mum who was already stressed enough, nor her own mum, or her grandmother. Those of us who’d actually done something constructive (quietly, in the background) didn’t feel the need to displace Courtney’s closest relatives in what we’d effectively made possible, let alone claim false credit or reward for undoing all our doing. As a demonstration of self-discreditation, it was text book (or rather, Facebook, as the interloper’s self-flagellation was performed in public). More on that another time perhaps.

Facebook breeds guilt and paranoia, it’s full of personal agendas and selfishness, and I’m spending gradually less time there for those and other reasons. It’s a soap opera with a willing audience, when better coping mechanisms for life can be found in less judgemental spheres. It’s an existential crisis, and it’s recording.

I have many crises of my own, and other people’s to help them with, which I don’t publicise or seek recognition for. The reward is simply seeing a plan come together for the greater good. It only becomes public when others choose to tell their own story (or give me permission), and every story has two sides. Facebook doesn’t allow both or all to be presented equally. It’s a place of conditioning and formed opinions when debate and mutual understanding might be better aspirations.

Sadly, this is more a recent phenomenon, and not one born of my own anxiety and paranoia. A people fractured by the politics which govern them, has become divisive and divided at a personal and social level. Rather than be a part of it, I’m always looking for ways to change things, and Facebook lacks activists in its main infrastructure. Developing…

Most of the friends I have on Facebook, I know in real life, and some of the latter wouldn’t exist were it not for social media. Most of those pay little attention to anything outside the Facebook timeline (they don’t even see it skewed by algorithms), but they have different agendas, and they’re not writers.

Where I’ve found connection with kindred spirits – in the virtual and real worlds – is in the places of shared interest, in public and private groups, away from the main crowd. Stirring up someone else’s personal business is of little interest to me, when there’s a whole world out there to poke at.

97% of Facebook users make very little difference to the world, because most don’t look beyond themselves and that inner web of conditioning. Most time on social media is wasted.

By contrast, I look at life in the blogosphere, with its sheer scope and depth. Although my following is modest, and mainly made up of people I’ve never met, there’s more community here. It’s a borderless place, which permits greater liberty for citizens of the earth. It’s where I can write, lay down my heart and be heard. It’s a place I find much easier to make my own. There’s more debate than conflict, greater understanding and acceptance (and comment is free, should anyone decide to use the facilities provided here). This is where others write too, and I enjoy reading and learning about them.

I didn’t write much here over Christmas, instead using the solitude to work on other things. There’s still much on my mind, and there always will be. There’ll forever be few who understand me, because they don’t question or get to know me (myself included, before this latest internal dialogue). There’ll rarely be many who read what I write, but if I keep writing the words, more might (including me).

I know only 3% will read this blog, but they’re the ones who matter. If opinions differ, those are the enquiring people, who are more likely to seek common ground and co-operation than conflict, or at least agree to differ but with a mutual understanding. Such a thing requires a level of intellect sadly lacking in many, almost allowing themselves to be radicalised by social media, regurgitating little of substance and sharing their own pavement pizza.

Some of the best debates I’ve had as a science fiction writer, have been with actual scientists. As an atheist, I enjoy the odd theological sparring match with friends of various persuasions. We’re able to be friends despite fundamental differences, because we talk and we understand, rather than accept nothing outside that which we’ve been taught (I’d question, by whom?) I received a new year pleasantry from one such evangelical friend on Facebook messenger, and thought it a good time to pay him due respect in return:

It’s fair to say, I gave a lot of consideration to your book (the Bible, when I was homeless). I think we can agree that gods and aliens can be interchangeable and co-exist. Therein lies the left-wing way to consolidate science and religion. If we don’t talk and understand, that breeds conflict. We may agree to differ on some things, but the best way to learn is to keep talking. Have a good one x

It being Facebook, that got a thumbs up.

The thinkers play a long game, and that’s evolution. Life revolves and evolves around worlds, not individual people. But it’s not just physics which makes the world go round, it’s the people who make up that world, at large or in microcosm.

All we need to do is keep talking, and that’s a resolution for everyone. I need to be able to tell more people what I’m thinking, so I’ll just keep writing. This is where people come to find me, so I can talk to them.

For my own sake, I resolve to speak more personally, about that which I’m able to. The thing which connects all of this, is what I’ve always written about anyway: The life of a writer with depression. It’s only now that I’ve come to terms with the former that I can talk more openly and honestly about the latter.

There’s much I never wrote about life on the streets, and while an autobiography is some way off, I can face those things again, without using the medium of fiction and with the benefit of hindsight. Many of those experiences are, after all, the bases of my many PTSD diagnoses. I have a third anthology planned, completely separately, and I’m already finding that unlocking more internal doors can reveal other depths in a wider context, and not all dark.

It was a writer friend who told me not to be ashamed to be proud, and it was David Bowie who always said it was okay to be different. I just needed time to think about that. I kicked some new year poetry into the gutter while I sat there:

Monkey Black heart NY

Thank you for taking the time. When I’m so often the one picking up after others, it’s nice to have somewhere to spill my own heart.

Hitching through the pages

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Christmas was a time to lay some things to rest, while contemplating what lies ahead, both figuratively and literally. I’m in the final pre-publication phase of my next book, with foundations in place for the one which follows, and many places to visit (although not in person). Still though, sometimes I wonder how I got here.

HHGG Whale

Four years ago I was homeless, and now I write books. The next – The Unfinished Literary Agency – is an anthology of twenty tales, all of which stand alone but tell a longer story together. The collection can be dipped in and out of at random, or read as a whole, making it effectively two books in one.

I’ve kept the dedications and acknowledgements simple:

For those who are courageous enough to tell their own stories, and for the ones who can’t be heard. And for those who read, and make the life of the writer a less lonely one.

To those who encouraged me to keep writing, friends, family, and other writers. And to those who like to explore and discover, who’ve listened to my stories.

I out-sourced the back cover text, which was written by another genre author:

These are collected tales from an author variously compared to the surrealists Julio Cortazar and Otrova Gomas, the horror writers Kafka, Lovecraft, King and Poe, and with Douglas Adams, Arthur C. Clarke, Roald Dahl and Paul Auster.

“A writer who can hold a black mirror to the soul, and who has a deep insight into the human condition,” these are stories of fairy tale fantasy, plausible and whimsical science fiction, near-future vision and surreal dreams, with drops of dark humour. Tales of post-human landscapes mix with everyday slices of life to tell a longer story with a dark heart.

“A weird and thought-provoking journey…”

I liked it, I changed nothing and no money was exchanged. So I asked if they’d like to say something nice “About the author”:

Steve Laker is a divorced father of two, living in a wonky studio above a coffee shop in a Kent village, where he writes.

His critically-acclaimed science fiction novel – Cyrus Song – was described by one critic as “Like the surrealist writers Julio Cortazar and Otrova Gomas, with a substantial nod, of course, to Douglas Adams, who can make the impossibly strange seem mundane and ordinary. Steve Laker pulls this extraordinary juggling act off admirably well, producing a very good, thought-provoking, page-turning, and also at times darkly comic read.”

This is the author’s second short story collection, with the first – The Perpetuity of Memory – described as “Like a Black Mirror for the page, these stories flit between dark sci-fi and psychological horror but are always underlined by a salient sense (and deep understanding of) the human condition.”

Steve Laker has also written an award-winning children’s book – A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie – and continues to publish short fiction in magazines and online.

So that’s all nice.

The final stage is one last re-read of the whole book, before sending it off for a press proof, then it’ll be on various shelves in a couple of weeks. The next main project is Silent Gardens, and I have short stories in progress for various publications and a likely third anthology. Later next year, I’ll begin Cyrus Song II.

I’m fully committed, at least to myself and to writing, for the whole of 2018. That’s a nice place for a writer to be, but I’m very aware that in 2019 I’ll be the same age Douglas was. He once said, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

I got a lot of help from people I met along the way as a hitch hiker. Now, it’s the people who hitch with me who keep me going; the followers, the likers and the readers. So thanks for being here.

All of my books are available from Amazon and other book sellers.

An aardvark in the air tonight

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Like everyone else, I was saddened by the news of the fire at London Zoo. It’s a place I know very well, from several visits over many years, and one very close to my heart when I wrote Cyrus Song. Four meerkat brothers are missing presumed dead, an aardvark called Misha perished, and I lost a little friend.

Misha and OttoMisha and Otto

I first visited London Zoo in 1977 on a primary school trip. Back then the big draw was Guy the gorilla, and we happened to visit on the day he died. Hoping I hadn’t cursed the place, I’ve returned many times since without incident, and most recently for the chapters of Cyrus Song which are set there.

A lot of research went into the book, to make the science plausible and the characters real. The three human leads each have a notebook on a shelf in my studio, containing their life stories, very little of which made it into the novel, but it was knowing the characters which allowed me to bring them to life in the unwritten words. I familiarised myself with London Zoo’s ‘Inventory’, and researched many of the species therein, so that I could give them voice and personality through the Babel fish.

Unfortunately on the day Simon Fry visited, the aardvarks were asleep:

There were too many interesting animals I wanted to speak to for me to be able to place them in any sort of order. So I decided to just go from A to Z. In the time available, I’d probably be able to speak to the aardvarks and the zebras, but very few others. But the big draw for me was the reptile house: Not because of my fascination with snakes in general, but because London Zoo is home to one male and one female black mamba.

Of course it would be handy if London Zoo laid out all of their exhibits alphabetically, but that wouldn’t be practical, so they didn’t. This being a warm spring Sunday afternoon, the zoo was quite busy. The aardvarks are in the ‘Animal Adventure’ area, which is mainly for young people. And aardvarks are nocturnal, so they were asleep. Which was a shame, because Misha and Otto looked like a couple very much at ease in one another’s company, at least when asleep. Otto had arrived from Berlin Zoo in 2014, so I’d have liked to ask him about that city, and whether he’d seen David Bowie.

It’s cold comfort that the post mortem shows she died of smoke inhalation in her sleep. But there she was, little Misha, curled up with Otto and both looking very pleased with themselves in dreams. I can only imagine how the guy from Berlin must be feeling now, but I do know that the zoo staff are very socially aware with the animal people, so he’ll be getting some sort of aardvark counselling. If only he could read my book, he’d see that I put him and Misha (she was from Holland) in a story which changed a lot of lives, and gives a perfectly reasonable answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything.

I’ve written many times of how I don’t write for the money, because there’s hardly any for the undiscovered self-publishing masses. I have my basic needs covered, so anything I make from writing I give away. I can hardly be called a philanthropist, as it’s really not much, but it’s what I don’t need. When life decided to give me a second chance, I resolved I’d pay it back.

As well as the charitable donations, I make my books available in libraries (on request), as I realise not everyone can afford books (I couldn’t once, and I used to base myself in a library when I was living on the streets). For those who can afford books, buying mine benefits good causes (mainly animal, homeless and addiction) and hopefully delivers a good read. Of course, anyone can donate directly to the charities but if we’re honest, most won’t. If someone’s buying a book anyway (because it’s received good reviews), the altruism by proxy is a small bonus. So it seemed only right to donate any proceeds from the sale of Cyrus Song in January to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the whole science side of the zoo which the public displays and learning support.

I shan’t milk the passing of every individual leaf cutter ant to plug my book, but Misha has a place in my heart from it.

History predicts that each new book increases interest in preceding ones, so with The Unfinished Literary Agency almost finished, Cyrus Song might get noticed more. And that’s good for Misha and Otto.

In loving memory of Misha Aardvark, 20.06.07 – 23.12.17