From The Human Library

DEAR DIARY

I’m lost in a day with nothing to do, yet there’s so much nothing that I don’t know what to do with it. Rather than go looking for things to do, those have found me. Things are changing, these are nice problems to have and I’d rather be writing, but that’s the same story. These are daily anxieties, always worse in the middle of the week. I never could get the hang of Wednesdays.

Steampunk librarianSteampunk robot librarian, by Keith Thompson

If I was keeping a diary like I did when I was on the streets, this would be a volume in the teens. Some of those old journals are still here, in the studio. I salvaged or retained seven (of ten) in the end, and most of what’s in them is on this blog, when I used to use the public access machines in the library to get my words out.

I’ve looked at some challenges a fictional young girl faced, to help with my own. I find other people’s issues easier to deal with than mine, perhaps because detachment helps me to step away and see things as a bystander. My own issues remain the internal ones I have to deal with alone (sometimes while I stand there), but it’s nice to have someone around to talk to, even if it’s not about what’s confusing me in my head. And there’s always more of that when those other people aren’t around, like separation anxiety. But there’ll be more stories.

My fictional side has had to sub-divide like my actual life, as more and more writing seems to land in my lap. A small job I’m very much enjoying at the moment is reading some children’s stories for another writer, after they asked in a writing group if there was anyone they could approach, and I found myself referred. They’re stories with more than one level, very much like my own children’s book which deals with life issues, but more about life’s small matters and manners of etiquette, much of which can be applied to a more grown-up context as well. But in these stories, those small eggshells are about equally important things, like letting the slowest one catch up in a race.

I have enough of my own stories to compile The Unfinished Literary Agency collection, but there are more short works in progress, so the final running order isn’t finalised. There’ll be 17 stories, with possible bonus material, some previously published in various places, and others unique to or adapted for the book. By my own admission, this second collection is better than the first as a stand-alone, but the two also work together as 42 short stories. I should have the book compiled and edited soon, so that I can get a page count (and cover price), then publish in January.

Some of those other stories are only at the planning stage, as the inspirational basis for them is in development itself. The one with the most potential has a bit of the Cyrus Song about it, wherein a young doctor brings a rescued cat to live with a writer, and the author and the cat sit up talking at night using the Babel fish. There’ll be a third anthology yet, so it’s nice to have so much developing to write about.

Silent Gardens is still doing its quiet thing in the background (I’m writing it, quietly) and my fervent appetite for interesting things is being rewarded, as I find out more of the history connected to the people and places around my parents in history. That book is still very much out in March, and I’m far more confident now that my chosen style will gain it a wider audience than the small one it’s written as a gift for.

Before any of that, there are two more fictional tales published over the next couple of weekends, ‘August Underground’s Diner’ (a restaurant review), and ‘Another Nativity (a Play)’, my alternative nativity, adapted for the stage.

There’s much more I could write about, with all that’s in my head, but there’s simply not time. That’s why it’s sometimes nice to have someone around to just talk to, or at least a lot to write about once it makes sense. Most of the time though, the socially anxious writer just writes.

I’m glad I have you, my diary. I think I’ll get the hang of this.

Advertisements

The thin veils of symbiosis

THE WRITER’S LIFE

There’s a story I’m writing, about a girl who’s never sought attention but now has everyone’s. Pretty much me in reverse, sort of a not-me. The girl in the story has things on her own mind, which she can’t tell others, while all those others enquire of her mind to help them. Thank whatever, I’m not that girl then. And yet, it’s true that I’m in every single one of my stories in parts.

symbiosisSymbiosis in nature

Fictional me has been as busy as my factual side, making my actual self an engaged writer (always a nice thing to be), splitting myself over two projects and with the two different genres (sci-fi and family history) becoming a symbiotic feeding mechanism. And I’ve nailed what it is, how one style of writing can help with another.

With factual writing, there’s much more to write, because it’s already there. Research reveals the facts, which the writer then tells as a real-life story. I’m a writer who likes to link things up and tie them off, so writing historical pieces about my family’s places of work and home means the links to the central characters are already there. It’s the sheer volume of recorded factual history which gives the writer so much to think and write about.

In fiction of course, we start with a blank page. These are stories which haven’t been written, of people and places who’ve been created. With no recorded history, the writer has to fill it in, at least between the lines, to make the fictional narratives strong.

So with so much to write factually, there are many unused thoughts and ideas, as it’s edited down. There are new things, never personally encountered before, which provide fresh ideas, and those can drive fiction. It’s actually quite easy to turn things in, when you look at a picture of a figure standing by a Scottish loch, and notice a ripple in the water behind. I’ve been a serious writer now for five years and I’ve only just worked that out. If others have been similarly wondering, you’re welcome.

Fictional me has stories lined up for publication over the next four weekends now. Next up, is ‘A Girl, Sheldon Cooper and Peter Cook’. Mindful that I’d never written another story which could somehow be linked to a specific different one (but still stand on its own), this one was a mix of two things: A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie (my – award-winning – children’s story), and Cyrus Song. It’s a story set in 2042, about a girl, a cat and a dog. In 2042, AI home assistants are ubiquitous and have universal translation algorithms (possibly thanks to the Babel fish, and a stoned ethics committee somewhere), which of course allows the three to talk.

Elsewhere and after that, there’ll be ‘Quantum Entanglement in Hamsters’, which examines a part of the human condition (apparently I’m good at that) in the context of a pair of Roborovski hamsters, called Hannibal and Lecter.

Next there’s a restaurant review of ‘August Underground’s Diner’, then ‘Another Nativity (For the Stage)’ at Christmas, the latter being a re-write of one of my old stories, originally a story about a nativity play, now made into a play of that story for the stage (pretentious, me?)

In the factual world, I’m still snooping around houses, gardens and people, in 1970s and 80s Kent, and in the Second World War (in France and Germany). I have a good feeling about the book (always completely unreliable and not reflective of future sales), it being one where I’ve really been able to free my inner, real self in the stories of others.

Just as the modest sales of Cyrus Song generate blips of The Perpetuity of Memory, it seems my theory is vindicated: That each book I write, is better than the last (in a different genre), improving my depth in the former, and that each subsequent book fuels sales of the previous ones. Silent Gardens (A Quiet History), a factual story, will attract curiosity in what else I’ve done, just as my sci-fi in Cyrus Song has led people to look at my old horror in The Perpetuity of Memory. The Paradoxicon (including ‘The Director’s Cut’) gets the odd look, and A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie stands on its own.

All of which leads me to predict with no confidence at all, that my next anthology, ‘The Unfinished Literary Agency’ will be well-received and garner further interest in my preceding titles. Meanwhile, I’ll move onto the next (Cyrus Song II, Infana Kolonia, and Forgive me No-one).

In my life-within-a-life, I’ve added some furniture to this blog. There’s a filing cabinet, where all posts are filed by month (going all the way back to the start), and a drop-down category list, intentionally made to be more Vogon, in its grasp of English (“I write blog”, “I write film” etc. but it’s true that “I write satire”).

Meanwhile, the girl continues to deal with a slightly lost son, trying to help him and his parents, and his sister. She’s recently taken one her own parents’ liberties away, having phoned the police when her dad went missing, warning that surrendering his license might be the price, but valuing his life more. She has an auntie who’s cut off because her dad can’t drive, and therefore with nowhere to go at Christmas. She has a sister with whom she’s estranged, despite her efforts over five years. This year, she’s asked that any remaining differences can be put to one side, as she’s made amends for past damage she’s done. She’s suggested that a reconciliation would be nice for their parents at Christmas, and that come the time, they can share driving duties to get everyone together. The girl is keen to get her kids and have them stay for New Year. She hates going out, but she’ll do all this. She’s right in the middle of everything and everyone, yet no-one seems to know.

The same girl is helping several friends with personal matters of counselling. One is a vulnerable girl expecting a baby (not hers, as she’s a girl) and until recently, the child was due to be taken from the mum. So the girl wrote letters, she transcended the situation and saw a way that everything might be saved. She saw something in her friend which others didn’t. While everyone else was cooing over a baby they might not see, and saying fuck to the system on social media, this one girl stayed silent. She was the only one who’d been honest with the mum about the chances of losing the baby, and as the only one right, the one to get the blame when it happened. So she risked her friendship, yet no-one knows because nobody speaks of her. She’s lonely and only craves recognition, not help. She writes it all down.

The factual and the fictional, writing as many people, about many others. Symbiosis in the real and the imagined, a thinly-veiled heart.

To ponder a whispering spirit

THE WRITER’S LIFE | DEAR DIARY

I think about words a lot, and I think a lot about words. My favourite word at the moment, is kintsukuroi, which means “More beautiful for having been broken,” and I apply it to people, as well as to objects. “Whisper” is also a nice word, having many meanings in various contexts, but also suggesting a whisper, or one who whisps…

Lonely Robot
Matt Dixon

My family name is Laker: one who fishes on lakes, as opposed to a Fisher, who might fish streams or rivers. At primary school, I had one matron-like teacher who called me “Ponder”, and she was on to something. I just spent the first 42 years of my life not thinking about it, which is quite a paradox. So too is my departed aunt, to whom Cyrus Song is partly dedicated.

My mum’s sister Margaret, was spirited away in 1993, aged 51, by that bastard cancer. The even more tragic thing is, she’d have loved the modern world, for all it could do for her. She’d have doted on my children, and taken an interest in what I’m doing. And the funny thing is, I believe she’s doing all of those things right now.

My belief that the human soul survives the body is all over this blog. I believe we’re all one day free of our physical bindings, to explore the universe as ethereal beings for eternity (therein lie personal heaven and hell, covered elsewhere on this blog), that what we call ghosts are all around us, in a form we can’t always see, and that Bowie was right: Knowledge comes with death’s release.

Although I didn’t realise or appreciate it at the time, my auntie was just like I was when I took on the role of adopted uncle with all those young people at the squat (also on this blog). She was slightly radical, realising that a 14-year-old boy (me, her nephew) was likely to be bored when visiting his nan and aunt (they lived together, in a war memorial house). So she rented me what were then X-rated (horror) films on VHS. She was wicked, cool and sick, as the kids would say.

Margaret was hugely into royalty and royal history. In her day, her research and reading was through books and libraries. In later life, I’m fascinated by the subject myself, like my aunt tapped on my shoulder. What might she make of the internet? How is she, being a part of it? She has a supporting (and linking) role in my next book.

After much debate, I’ve decided how I’m going to write (to present) my brief history of a family. The intent has always been to give my parents an everlasting gift, made with the hands which they made for me, and which I eventually found out were for writing. Even that has an interesting anecdote behind it: When I began to favour my left hand over my right (in 1971), my mum’s health visitor (as we had in those days) advised tying my left arm behind my back, so that I would somehow realign as “normal” by being right-handed. This was common practice in the day, when being left-handed was considered some sort of sinister curse (thank fuck they weren’t all over gender and sexual identities back then, I’d have been drowned). In later life, I’ve been grateful of my “defects”. I feel kintsukuroi.

As a further aside, when I was at school, around 10% of the population were southpaw. When I was married and taking the kids to school, I asked the head teacher what the percentage was among pupils. It was around 40% (let’s say 42), demonstrating that there were once many potential lefties.

In a funny way, my left-handedness has been linked with my life. Where once I ran companies, voted Tory and was generally a right-wing capitalist arse (and drinking heavily), now I’m a impoverished writer, but a happy one, having found all that’s left-wing, joined the Labour Party and embraced wider communities, where I’ve identified myself (and smoked weed). I’ve written in my stories about fallen angels with broken wings, mainly misunderstood characters, learning about themselves, and it’s always the right wing which is broken.

But back to the book, written with the left hand, which has a heart tattoo on it: It’s the story of two people, who would always be little-known, because no-one had written about them. I was only a part of the story from 1970, and the book will be about the places we lived as a family, and where my parents worked (large country houses, and a couple of schools). With all of the research material conveniently within reach, I’ll just be the curator of the story, putting my fictional character skills to use in bringing the real-life characters in this book to life on the page (given my plaudits, I should be able to pull that off). It is of course of somewhat limited interest, but both mum and dad have their own interests and hobbies, so the story will be sprinkled with QI-style factual stories and anecdotes from periods of history which my two characters saw (at least one of which has a royal connection), and they’re inspiring people, as others will see. And of course, such is the democratisation of writing through digital self-publishing, it’ll be a proper book, with an ISBN and all that represents (a copy filed at The British Library etc.)

As a writer, I can create immortality, for my vain and insecure self, wanting to be heard one day, and for others. I somehow feel I’ll be getting in touch with my auntie Margaret more, like I should’ve done when I was younger. She’s a spirit guide, because she was there in the background too, along with others, some still with us and others no longer. But my belief in immortality and of gaining knowledge permits me the comfort of knowing they might all appear in the book, as characters with depth, not because there’s a part of me in them like my fictional characters (although I’m in there biologically), but because it might feel sometimes like they’re guiding me too. It’s a quiet story, a whisper of the blood.

I’m really going to enjoy this busman’s holiday into a new genre: The sci-fi, horror, and sometimes children’s writer, off to speak with the dead. To ponder and whisper, to think about fish in a pond, and to whisp.

Lawrence and the Machine

DEAR DIARY | THE WRITER’S LIFE

Stories start in many ways. When it comes to the tale itself, the first sentence needs to grab the reader, and the first paragraph to hook them. But the actual conception can come in many forms, and I find good material just by paying attention, to things I hear and see, inside and out, sometimes just playing with words, and often adding surrealism, by mixing fiction with personal fact and barely disguising parts of myself in the stories.

Lawrence and the Machine

In common with many writers (and my life), I like to mix things up, to challenge myself, or do something slightly different, when writing is such a well-worn plain and originality is scarce. It’s probably why I’ve been compared to surrealist writers like Julio Cortazar and Otrova Gomas, with others thrown in for different genres (in Cyrus Song‘s case, “with a substantial nod, of course, to Douglas Adams, who can make the impossibly strange seem mundane and ordinary”).

With around half the new stories written for The Importance of Discovery (the working title of my second anthology), I have another three shorts lined up for publication, and most of the remainder planned. ‘So Long and Thanks for all the Animals’ is out this weekend, ‘The Long Now Clock’ next week, and ‘Quantum Entanglement in Hamsters’ not long after.

Two of the remainder are word fuckery titles, but stories I want to play and experiment with. I have plots for both ‘Lawrence and the Machine’ (occurred to me when I was listening to Florence) and ‘The King and I, Robot’ (something I saw in a question on Pointless), and they’ll be in the future book at least.

Lawrence and the Machine is planned as one of my exploratory deep dives into the human condition, specifically sexual identity and alignment, and especially when my own are so mixed up (although importantly, not confused). The central protagonist isn’t so much consumed by crisis, as exploring themselves (the plurality being central), an entity which presents as male, but who identifies more with their feminine self, and who has little interest in sex. They are asexual, or in the context of this story, pan-sexual.

My point being, it’s possible to fall in love with someone and not necessarily want to fuck them. Such a union, should it occur in that kind of relationship, wouldn’t be described so crudely. That applies equally to me as a human as it does my fictional character.

One day, and encouraged by a writer friend, I may round up all my fictional characters (at least a dozen central cast and probably hundreds of extras), from the various crevices in my imaginary universe, and set them all in one, long story (probably a 20,000 word “short”, or possibly a novella), set in something like the Hell’s Club movie mash-up. That would be quite the literary mash-up, if I pull it off. It would be a very strange tale, and an exploration of my own human condition (story of my life).

Stories start in many ways, and when at least a part of me is in most of my stories (a mannerism in a character, or a place from the fringes of memory), perhaps that story might be ‘Lawrence and the Machine’, because it sounds better than my own name.

The perpetual cracked actor

THE WRITER’S LIFE

It’s said that there are three people in all of us: the person we see ourselves as; the person others see; and the person we actually are. Sometimes I’ll host a meeting of the three in my own mind. I was wondering what to do with this latest personality crisis: Take a break, to see how it develops, perhaps signing off of the blog for a while before going off-grid; or just spilling my guts here, this being my blog after all. But this blog is part of the crisis, and I know that others have them too. So maybe something I write might strike a chord somewhere unseen.

Cracked Actor

The latest question of existence centres around a shift I’m experiencing, personally and mentally. In reality, I’m allowing myself to reconnect more with the many emotions which are dampened by my anti-depressant medication. This is not to say the drugs don’t work (cannabis does), nor that I’ve stopped taking my prescription; It’s more about my ever-developing mind, a thing which comes with its own blessings, but laden with baggage nonetheless. And the thing is, writing about it could prove paradoxical, as questions give rise to more when you interrogate something. My inner writer is damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

The biggest inner conflict, is that this blog is my platform, and my marketing tool for self-promotion of my digital self (social anxiety prevents me from being too confident in the organic world). But this is also my blog, and my public diary, where the less socially awkward me can be open, with others and myself. So fuck it.

Many of my struggles, I simply can’t write about, because they involve third parties. Some are the people I wronged when I was drunk, and with whom I’m now reconciled, but still the truly repentant man feels guilt, and that’s a life sentence. As an alcoholic, some would still expect me to relapse, but I didn’t and I won’t, with so much at stake. Sobriety has also given me the ability to be a constantly evolving writer. In some ways, it comes down to that imaginary big red button again: The one which if pressed, would make me ‘normal’ again. Yet I still wouldn’t press it, even though parts of me are perpetually confused (the word is discombobulated).

Just last night, I finished reading Cyrus Song to a friend who has difficulty reading. In that sentence alone, there is much to celebrate: Someone who wouldn’t otherwise have read my book (one which was hailed by a book critic as “an extraordinary juggling act…”), heard the sound of the Cyrus Song, and that person gained the knowledge of the book through my altruistic gesture. Because, trust me, reading my own stories to others is one of my least favourite things to do (except when I wrote bedtime stories for my children), because I tend to write in a way which is better read and absorbed by the same person.

My friend wasn’t a captive audience: she’d asked me if I could read the book to her, as she genuinely wanted to read it, but couldn’t. There was no coercion or subterfuge at all, and at the end, my listener was silenced for a moment, before muttering a stream of expletives. With this particular friend, those happenings are respectively rare and uncommon words of praise. Despite not being bound and gagged, she suggested she’d been captivated throughout, which was borne out by an unusual disinterest in anything to do with her phone.

But I felt somehow unfulfilled. I started to doubt the book and myself, and to question my friend’s enthusiasm. I was getting paranoid (it goes well with anxiety). And then I realised what it was.

Even though I’ve read Cyrus Song several times (I wrote it, edited it, and re-wrote it), I still pick it up now and then to look something up as I plan other stories. And sometimes I’m still struck by something I wrote, as though someone else wrote it. And it’s because I see someone else as writing it, that I see it as being a good book.

I’ve already said that I write in a way which is meant to immerse, and it seems I can do that with my writing, but not when I’m reading it aloud. It’s my social anxiety vs. digital self-confidence issue again. There’s a different person reading to myself in my head, than the one who reads aloud (I’ve not been diagnosed with any multiple personality disorder, but I’m on the bi-polar ‘spectrum’). It’s just low self-esteem, despite the facade.

Anxiety and social conscience are self-perpetuating and mutual. Even though I’m more in touch with the universe and the person inside me, when expressed digitally, I still suffer some form of human recursivity. It sounds odd, because it is. It’s just like the previously latent part of my brain awakening in sobriety, and getting my mind firmly around concepts like quantum physics. Now, through greater inner focus (and the time to do it), I feel as though I’m opening up other dimensions in my mind, which allows me to turn things inside out, then back again, in my thinking and in my writing (hopefully with the latter making the former more intelligible).

Days spent alone, reading, thinking and writing, are the ones which feel most productive, as it’s the best means I have of getting things out there. My writing is said to convey a great understanding of the human condition, which isn’t surprising when I carry so many around. It’s become a perpetuity of solitude, where my words are the best way for me to leave home, and where the cracks of the actor inside can’t be seen.

To make science fiction reality, simply imagine

DEAR DIARY

Despite mankind’s technological advances, much of life remains in the 20th Century. Much that we made then is becoming redundant, obsolete, or simply ‘old-fashioned’: The internal combustion engine, fossil fuels, factories and farming. Our politics are certainly arcane, based on unfair electoral systems, political skewing by finance or fake news, and for the most part, disconnected from the electorate, many of whom live in perpetual poverty or ignorance, which aren’t mutually exclusive. We need to evolve, and we have the tools of change to hand…

CyberPunk Hammock
Image: Khang Lee

There is good to be made from what we have, and we only have to look at history to see where we went wrong, or need to change our ways. Everything we need to make big changes, is around us already. The problem for contemporary politics, is it’s all a bit radical. But for radical, see long-game. This one’s mainly about where we live:

Recently I wrote of an idea to levy a new social tax on the collection of personal data, then to use the revenue raised to finance a universal basic income. To cries of ‘It can’t be done!’, I ask, why not? Like all big ideas, it needs a lot of work to implement, but the resources are readily-available. If big companies really do have altruistic humanitarian ideals, even they have to admit that global corporate domination will eventually be limited by the size of a planet and its population. Sustained economic growth (the shareholders’ ideal) on a planet which is not growing, will surely mean an eventual environmental limit is reached (assuming such things remain important, and that sustainable really does mean that: the long-game).

We’re already witnessing a technological shift, with a far greater long-term impact than the industrial revolution. Humans are being made redundant by machines. In factories, robots have replaced many humans, and of the latter who remain, most are robots by proxy of AI monitoring. Artificial intelligence is encroaching on the jobs of the mind too: Doctors, accountants, and even some areas of law. So humans are going to need a longer period of (free) education, to gain the qualifications needed for the remaining jobs, which (for now) are the preserve of humans.

But as humans become more redundant, they have more spare time, and for many this is spent in misery and poverty. The problem was, mankind made robots, at the same time as robots wanted to become humans. In a few years in some of my darker sci-fi stories, that situation could turn on its head (AI is one of the greatest threats to our race, and Stephen Hawking and others agree). Now, we need another shift, before everything settles into something we really wouldn’t want to be, or to live in.

A universal basic income would solve problems of housing and poverty. In all of this utopian thinking, we have to disregard entitlement mentality. At a human level, I believe it’s the basic entitlement of an individual in a civilised society, to have shelter, warmth and food. We also have to hope that the recent rise of the right in politics isn’t something the quieter left has lost sight of. Given the right social and economic foundations, there need not be many dissenting voices in a society.

A new approach might be to start with a concept like public luxury and private sufficiency. It’s a mindset, and a monumental shift in indoctrinated thinking, but like all big ideas, it requires different thinking, and promotes discussion. I’m trying to find ways we can all live together.

Where we are, there isn’t enough physical or environmental space for everyone to enjoy private luxury. Private luxury creates a border, it removes or closes spaces, creating deprivation. Public alternatives are usually poor in comparison, even in the places they’re provided. But nevertheless, public parks, playgrounds, sports centres and swimming pools, galleries, theatres and cinemas, including some very fine examples of each, create space for everyone, at a fraction of the cost.

There is the system of common ownership, where public assets aren’t sold off and managed by a private market, nor the state, with such assets owned instead by communities, in the form of commons (much like we know public ‘commons’ now). In its truest form, a commons is a non-capitalist system, which controls a resource in perpetuity, for the shared and equal benefits of its members. Like many other leftist, centrist and radical (and anarchist) ideas, it’s one which has been operated successfully in other countries, notably the Nordic states.

The gross imbalance in housing could be addressed with the introduction of a tax as radical as the one proposed on personal data, and again this would be a social tax, specifically, a Land Value Taxation. A form of this already exists, with ground rents on leasehold properties, which is open to abuse and used as a cash cow to milk funds from the economy and hide them abroad. If this right to charge rent on ground was returned to sovereign control, or communities, then the rent collected would be retained within whichever system, national or local, to fund public services, or to develop communities further. It’s a politics of belonging, which is the political system I became involved in when I was homeless.

Whatever the value of this, political or otherwise, I’ve written it in the hope that it might be read and perhaps discussed further by others. But surely there’s something to talk about here, in a nice, lefty way, rather than reactively kick it into the long grass in ignorance. These ideas and others, of my own and many more besides, require big thought, including at a political level. We can make a change, even with what we have now.

But then humans are a species which is dependent on the milk of another, so it could be an evolutionary growth stunt, like when a kid gets to the point where things are so interesting that it takes longer to move on. I’m trying to find answers. I’m trying to solve problems.

I’ve got this brain that I found. And I’m trying to find out what it’s for and what it does.

Fact or fiction, Earth is the organic computer designed by Deep Though to find out why the answer is 42. We’re all part of that. All we need to do, is keep talking.

A book critic recently commented of my sci-fi novel, Cyrus Song: “Who knows—if you’re looking for the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, you might just find it here, or in the ‘Cyrus Song’ of our planet. In the meantime, taking Steve Laker’s and Stephen Hawking’s advice, we all need to ‘keep talking’, and as long as there are books like these—keep reading.”

In commune with the universe, not immune to internal conflict

THE WRITER’S LIFE | DEAR DIARY

Alcoholics and depressives or not, it’s still a brave person who calls themselves a writer, confident that they have the right to do so. It takes courage to share one’s own stories, yet many writers who do just that, because they’re writers, have the same sense of self-doubt.

Arthur DentConcept art: Arthur Dent with Vogon ship above (Touchstone Pictures)

A recent conversation with a writer peer whom I admire, and someone I consider a friend (same person), inspired me to do a few things. The most valuable piece of advice, was to stop being embarrassed about being proud of myself. But for me, that’s one of the eternal scars of chronic depression, anxiety and paranoia, hastened to the fore by an alcoholic breakdown: not something to be proud of, when it affected so many. Everything is reconciled, and not only am I better, but I’m a better person, as are those around me. It still takes some getting used to all that’s gone on though.

Like so much of my fiction writing into reality, my organic and digital lives often cross over, blurring the lines between reality and magic. Now, some of the old short stories I wrote, about writers writing about writers, are coming true, just as science quickly catches up with well-researched near-future science fiction.

Getting acclaim for Cyrus Song from a book critic (and appropriately for that book, a translator and interpreter), means that if I were so inclined, I could rightfully call myself a critically acclaimed science fiction novelist. Already I was an award-winning children’s author, and I’ve been compared to some of the most respected writers of horror, sci-fi, fantasy and surrealism, while being original at the same time. So why do I find it all so hard to accept, when I’m otherwise in touch with the universe and the universe apparently speaks back to me?

This is more an internal conflict, where the mind can be a universe to explore in itself. My mental conditions seem to be fuelled by paradoxes and irrational fears. When I’m someone who can address most issues from an outside perspective, internal understanding becomes frustrating. My IQ is what it is, but I can’t help wishing I had more processing power.

I crave attention, only because I want people to read my writing (especially the latest novel), so that they can see that what others are saying is true, and hopefully hear everything I’m trying to say. It’s a paradox when you crave that which you find hard to face in yourself.

As is often the way, I’ve expressed this far better in a short story I’ve just finished, which is due out this weekend. Fiction does allow me to get so much more over, apparently in an engaging way. The story is called Are ‘Friends’ Emojis? The title is a play on the Gary Numan song, Are ‘Friends’ Electric? Given the most recent review of my anthology, I suppose it’s not so much of a ‘Black Mirror for the page, flitting between dark sci-fi and psychological horror, but underlined by a salient sense (and deep understanding of) the human condition,’ so much as a look at one possibility for a life after this, and how that might be a craving for some, with the consequences of choice. It’s about how we see people and connect with them, in a world made small by technology, and of real and digital lives combining. It’s more a two-sided mirror.

I also write nice stories, like Echo Beach (okay, so it’s dark, but it’s still escapist), and I wrote that award-winning children’s book, used in family learning sessions, for parents with learning disabilities.

I’m one of those common phenomena: a writer who’s embraced technology for the democracy it has given many like me. It’s a determined writer who remains hidden, but it’s still an intrepid agent who finds the talent.

Until I’m discovered, I’ll carry on self-publishing and self-publicising, and see if I don’t.