Theory of relative generality

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Writing history can often require a lot of self-discipline, especially when the researcher is keen to learn much, about many things. And so it is with a character I’m creating in a new story, and with me. In science fiction and in fact, there are links, concentric circles and cycles, which give a thing structure.

Relative generality

It’s a fact that all links on Wikipedia eventually lead back to philosophy, and Wikipedia is a very pleasant way to spend a few lost hours, just clicking on links and reading more and associated articles around a subject. Most of my family history research has been in online archives, censuses, and local history groups, but Wikipedia is also useful (and distracting) alongside.

I was researching my maternal nan’s house in Tudeley, Kent, and the records are thinly spread, but I’ve concluded that the house was originally built as a farm house for farm workers. This would be entirely in keeping with my family’s farm labourer roots.

The first family I can find living there were the Bowles family, listed in the 1881 census. Given the size of history (it’s as big as space, and that’s very big indeed), I can only research and write so much, when it’s going into a book based around my family. So tempting as it is to wander off, I’ve tried to restrict myself to the relevant details, including the first recorded use of buildings and the more interesting stories of those who lived within and thereabouts. But like the universe in sci-fi, and philosophy on Wikipedia, everything can eventually link back. I like to form circles in writing, at the same time metaphorically placing rings around things for further reading.

History and economics are cyclical, and it was by coincidence that I watched a documentary on British invasion recently: Not the days of empire and slavery (none of my family’s employers’ families have links to the slave trade, but if they had, I’d have delved further. As it is, they were wealthy but self-made, and with a social conscience), but further back in ancient history. Most of my ancestors were farm labourers, with housing that came with the job. Like my family life, it was communal but not communist. It’s the farm workers and farming itself which led me on a digression into the further past.

I looked at invasions of Britain, or immigration into the country. Thanks to recent advances in DNA technology, research has found that Britain has a long history of immigration and invasion before that which is generally known, as it’s only now being discovered. Long before the Roman and Norman conquests, Britain was home to prehistoric natives, as far back as the Stone Age. In Ightham, where we lived for 12 years, there are remains of Palaeolithic settlements. Recent discoveries suggest that one of the first invasions of Britain was an altruistic and evolutionary movement, when Stone Age implements became tools. The hunter-gatherers of the time developed farming, eventually growing crops and raising livestock. As an aside, the so-called Celtic invasion was more one of fashion invading culture, as humans became more artistic.

Pinning down a definitive family line is especially difficult when the family played mainly supporting roles in history, rarely making it into anything recorded outside of the census. But it’s romantic to think that our ancient ancestors may have been some of those friendly invaders who taught the cavemen to farm.

Having researched my family name already, establishing it as (in our case) either an occupational one (we fished from lakes), or residential (lived beside lakes), I decided to take another quick digression back in time, to find the origin of the word the name is derived from: Lake.

The word has its roots in Anglo Saxon, so it’s logical to conclude one of two things, even with the little recorded history of individuals I have: Either we were part of the Germanic tribes from continental Europe from the 5th century, or we were here already, living by lakes, or fishing, and then we took up farming. It’s impossible to confirm either way, but returning to romanticism, we were always a peaceful folk, either exploring and discovering, or working in communes to improve a way of living. We were always a bit left-wing.

In the family history book post-digression, I’ll be in Ightham for a while longer, recalling more personal stories from the past, linked with wider events in history. As it moves forward, it will end in the 1980s, times of change for the country, and for us as a family, when one of the owners of the big house becomes involved in a Stock Exchange scandal, and we have news reporters camped at the end of the driveway. It was also the time of the Cold War, and the eve of great global changes, in politics and elsewhere.

Back in sci-fi land, I’m writing the last two stories for The Unfinished Literary Agency (out in January), with one set in a post-human world of animals and machines. There’s a human there, finding her way around on a planet where her ancestors once lived. She’s trying to find something for her son, back on her own home planet. It’s a plot device, which allows people to speak in fiction about that which they can’t in real life. It’s what The Unfinished Literary Agency was set up for, way back in her family’s history, and she thinks it will help her son. He’s lost, as she once was, unsure of how worlds revolve outside of physics. But it’s quantum physics which connects us all.

Each of us is linked, through no more than six degrees of separation. Like me, the girl is trying to connect past and future to make a circle among others, where people can find their place.

Life can’t be reset, but look inside yourself, and you will find the return to innocence. And from there, that’s the beginning of the game, of another life.”

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The epiphany of deep thought

THE WRITER’S LIFE

There are many things for the writer’s mind to ponder, and when the ponderous mind is cracked, those many things become mixed. One day, maybe, I or someone else, might work it out from all I’ve written down. So far, that’s the answer to life, the universe and everything, and a few other bits. And that it’s all connected.

Atmospherix Deep ThoughtsAtmospherix – Deep Thoughts

The answer to the ultimate question, of life, the universe and everything, is 42. That is a universally accepted fact, invented by Douglas Adams, who just thought there was something about 42 which made it funnier than most other numbers. He didn’t know why, and that’s reason enough for it to be the ultimate answer. But as Douglas said, the problem is, we don’t know what the question is (It should take the planet around 7500 years to work out).

As subjective as it all is, for my part 42 was a marker and a guide. It was at that age when my breakdown (also subjective) was in full swing, and it was afterwards that I started sticking things together: Myself, and the world around me, the latter being the most subjective thing of all, when I considered my place on Earth, and eventually in the universe – both inner and outer – around me.

I’ve written lengthier articles about the individual pieces which slotted together, but to sum up the answer which 42 pointed to, it’s an understanding.

The greatest fear, in humans and most other species, is that of the unknown, the un-knowable, the out-of-reach, and that which we have no influence over. From those come feelings of loneliness and futility, and lack of understanding (or ignorance) is the greatest fuel for that fear, manifesting in fight-or-flight tendencies, impulsive actions which are often aggressive. Breakdowns in communication inevitably lead to conflict of some kind, internal or external, and I just started talking to them (to myself, when there was no-one else listening).

I learned about some of the things I didn’t understand, but which I knew would lead me further on my search. I never sought an understanding greater than that which is available to all, universally on the internet. A knowledge which permitted plausibility in fiction through research, also gave me some clues on life, as fiction and reality became bound.

I grasped quantum physics first, getting my head around the scientific fact that sub-atomic particles exist in parallel states, only manifesting in a constant by being called into action by a catalyst, perhaps just that of witnessing (if one is faced with two paths and chooses one, does the other still exist?) but still connected to a sub-atomic twin by quantum entanglement. If we accept that the entire universe came from the Big Bang, then everything within it is made of the same stuff. Put simply, every sub-atomic particle in the universe is connected to another, over the vast times and distances of the universe. On a personal level, each of us is connected to billions of others, over trillions of light years. Like I said, simple really.

So right now, an opposite part of me is in a tree, perhaps on a moon orbiting a planet in the Kepler system. Another might be in an AI somewhere, a part of a computer mind. And yet others could be in rocks and vegetation, on the ground, underwater, or floating in space. These particles are the ones which make up the elements, and we are all made of stars.

I accept religions as the beliefs of others, and those religions themselves are fascinating troves of information, both factual and food for fiction. I believe biblical scriptures could be historical records of fact, recorded with the means available to the scribes of the time. Given the time and scale of the universe, I find simple consolidation in gods and aliens being interchangeable.

All of which allows me to transcend, and to conclude in my mind that those of religion, scientific atheists, and the agnostic wonderers, are all the same. Not just humans, but everyone and everything, and that makes the loneliness bearable. Generally speaking though, humanity on earth isn’t evolved enough to see that, so we’re a bit fucked. All we need to do, is keep talking.

These are themes I’ll be exploring more in my third anthology. I didn’t just skip one, but a third is already starting to plan itself as the second winds itself up. I’m writing the final two stories now, and like The Perpetuity of Memory, The Unfinished Literary Agency will tell a bigger story in the context of the book. The short stories all stand alone, but the sum should be slightly greater than the component parts. Like the first collection, the 17 stories in this one range from humorous and whimsical sci-fi, to graphic and psychological horror, all from my cracked mind.

One of those last two stories is about a post-human planet, where animals and robots co-exist. Some of my recent stories have looked at machine sentience, and questioned when a life becomes such, even if it’s not organic. We’re all from the Big Bang, after all, and the sub-atomic particles in the robots we see rising now, were there, alongside ours and everyone else’s. The machines just had a long pupation and now they’re simply having an evolutionary burst.

AI is already considered a separate species in Japan and other countries, and humans attach personalities to even inanimate objects. I asked a friend to consider something recently: Imagine an old Diesel car being crushed; any emotion? Probably not. Now think of an old steam train. It’s not the same. And yet, it’s just a load of metal; minerals and elements. It has no life, except that imparted upon it by humans; those who built, operate and care for it. For me, an old steam locomotive is a puffing metallic dinosaur, or something from a steam punk world. But even without my writer’s imagination, that machine has sentience. So that penultimate story brings the universe together, in the book, in my mind, and hopefully in those of others.

The final story will be a departure, as an entity writes from a tin can somewhere, about what’s gone before and that which may be (“If I can repair it, I might not be so alone. But I like it here…). I wrote before, that the second anthology title was a statement of intent, and all I need to do, is keep writing.

And I only write it down, in case someone reads it.

The meaning of life is to adventurously discover our gift. The purpose of life is to joyfully share our gift with the world”. – Robert John Cook

The Perpetuity of Memory is available now, and The Unfinished Literary Agency is scheduled for January. For a simpler (but equally valid and surreal) answer to the question of life, the universe and everything, there’s a perfectly plausible one in Cyrus Song, and it’s one we all have inside, linking every one of us. 

A girl, Sheldon Cooper and Peter Cook

FICTION

“The reason no other animals evolved like humans, is they watched what we did. Then instead of doing that, they concentrated on the important things, like their basic needs and expanding their minds, to eventually speak telepathically, all the while unbeknown to us. It was quite brilliant in its subtlety.”

That’s not from the story which follows, but it’s a good introduction and from another one I’m writing. Like that, this is about animal sentience. But I’m a surrealist. So I imagined the young character from my children’s book, with her talking dog and cat. I watched a documentary on AI in the home (worried and amused), then imagined if perhaps a future ethics committee might get stoned, or have some other reason for integrating universal translation algorithms into AI home assistants. So I put the Babel fish into Amazon’s Echo, Google Home and so on, went to 2042 (18 minutes before 9pm) and this come out of the typewriter…

Girl in future bedroomArtsfon

A GIRL, SHELDON COOPER AND PETER COOK

On earth, it was generally accepted among cats, that cats were the superior species. In this feline hierarchy, humans and dogs were equal but different, with little regard for the white mice and dolphins.

This social order came about when Amazon integrated universal translation algorithms into their Alexa AI home assistants, and others followed. In 2042, life in the home was very different to the one we know now.

The term “animal” had long since fallen into obscurity, now reserved for those who are less than “person” in its modern definition: a sentient, self-aware and self-determining being, which has a conscience, experiences emotions, and displays empathy with other people.

A few exceptions aside, most Persona non grata had written themselves out of any worthwhile news and were confined to their own history. Only a few Tory grandees clung on in antiquated underground offices, blathering about the past and not being listened to.

Do you know what I think?” Sheldon Cooper asked.

“No,” replied Peter Cook, looking up from his chair. “And I didn’t ask.”

Well, let’s see what Ellie thinks. She’s just coming downstairs.”

I know,” the dog acknowledged.

“How?” the cat wondered.

I can hear her.”

Oh.”

What are you two talking about?” Ellie wondered, wiping her hands on Pete.

I thought I felt your presence,” Sheldon said, sitting up on the sofa. “Nice of you to get dressed. Did you wash your hands?”

Yes,” Ellie replied, “what are you talking about.”

Well, he,” Peter nodded at the cat, “was going to spout on about something…”

I don’t spout,” Sheldon protested.

“As I was saying, I didn’t want to hear.”

“You don’t know what I was going to say.”

“Aha!” said the dog, sitting up, “how do you know?”

Can you read my mind?” Sheldon asked.

No,” Peter replied, “can you?”

Okay,” Ellie interrupted. “Who’s for dinner?”

“I’ll eat him if you want,” Peter said.

I’d make your breath smell better,” the cat replied.

“Okay,” Ellie interrupted again. “What would you like for dinner? I’ll cook.”

Do you have tuna?” Sheldon asked.

We do,” Ellie replied.

“Line-caught?”

Yes.”

In water, not brine?”

Yes, in water.”

Cut into chunks, with some black pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon?”

Like you always have it.”

Yes. That please.”

Fine. Pete?”

Er…” Peter yawned, “Got any steak? You know, that one they grow, not farmed.”

We should have. If not, I can print you some.”

Yeah, do that anyway, fresher.”

Hey, why does he get printed food?”

I’ll print yours if you like, cat.”

No, I like it the way you do it.”

So, why…” Ellie thought, “never mind.”

What are you having?” Pete asked Ellie.

I’ll probably just print a pizza.”

Is it Thursday?” Sheldon wondered, as Ellie made dinner, “I sense it’s going to be a strange night.”

Here we go,” Ellie announced, returning with food, “up at the table please. Anyone wanna smoke?”

Told you,” said the cat. “Do you mind if we eat while you smoke?”

What shall we talk about?” Ellie ignored the cat.

“Death,” Pete said. “But you wouldn’t know about that, would you cat, with your nine lives and everything. Have you worked out what those are all for yet?”

We will find that out around 3000 years from now.”

Oh, here we go…The self-proclaimed superior species on this planet, haven’t worked out why they’re here yet.”

Well neither have you, dog.”

I sometimes think I’m dead already.”

Why?” Sheldon wondered.

“Can you tell me I’m not?”

Well, I can see you’re not. So what, you think all this is a computer simulation, like The Matrix?”

“Could be.”

But you lack proof.”

And you don’t know why you’re here, cat.”

“I need to urinate.” Sheldon jumped down from his chair and wandered around the garden.

I love the way you two get on,” Ellie said to Peter.

Sarcasm?” Pete wondered aloud.

Only partly. I’m very fond of the way you are.”

Well, everyone’s themselves Ellie, and most people shouldn’t apologise for that. I think with dogs and cats, it’s a mutual tolerance and a begrudging respect.”

What about humans?”

What about them?”

Do you just tolerate us?”

Sometimes it’s confusing,” Pete thought. “We do look up to you, because you’re pretty smart. But sometimes you overcomplicate things. Dogs look at things more simply. We worry less. I mean, go out for a walk with us a couple of times a day, open a box of DogNip chews, and I’ve pretty much nailed my day.”

You’re much less paranoid and insecure than us humans.”

Oh, I don’t know Ellie. Having you around is nice for company, but all dogs have an inferiority complex, and issues of balance.”

Balance? Of what?”

We wonder about things like the difference between friends and family, and the colours of cars. I mean, we’re perhaps more in touch with our instincts, but those are a bit sexist and misogynistic. And I think purple cars smell nicer than green ones.”

How’d you mean?”

Well, they’re like candyfloss.”

Yes, but the sexism and misogyny.”

Oh, all that old-fashioned nature stuff, going to mum for milk, and dad for protection. Then in humans, the hunter-gatherer and the cook.”

Well, we’re more a commune here, friends and family.”

Yes, I know. I remember when you came out of hospital that time, and you were in a wheelchair. I didn’t know whether to hug you or sit on your lap.”

Ellie?” Sheldon was back. “Where are my wipes?”

“I don’t know. Use mine, they’re upstairs.”

“But those are yours, and they’re upstairs. I specifically hid mine here, so I had them when I came in.”

“I might have eaten them.” Pete said.

Why would you do that?” the cat asked.

To freshen my breath? I don’t know if I did, I’m just saying I might have.”

The paradoxical dog,” Sheldon muttered, jumping back on his chair.

Did you wipe your feet?” Pete asked.

I always clean my feet, so yes.”

One day you’ll forget.”

So what if I do?”

You’ll know you’re getting old. Anyway, why do you get to go out at all hours and I don’t?”

Excuse me,” Ellie interrupted, “You can go out whenever you like Pete, on your own, or with your friends.”

“Oh. And there was me, thinking you enjoyed walking with me, playing your favourite game in the park.”

“Which one?”

Throwing sticks.”

My game?”

“Well, yes. I assume that’s why you throw sticks, because you enjoy me fetching them for some reason.”

“But that’s your game.”

“No it’s not. You made it up.”

“Yeah, because you like fetching sticks.”

“No I don’t. I couldn’t care where they end up, but you seem to have so much fun throwing them, I just figure I’m humouring you.”

One day,” Ellie said, “you dogs will get over your inferiority complex.”

Not while there are cats around,” Pete replied, “they have a superiority delusion.”

It’s not a delusion,” Sheldon argued.

So what about them lives then, what are they for?”

Curiosity, which is just as likely to kill anyone else as it is a cat. But cats seek knowledge, so we were given nine lives with which to discover it.”

While everyone else already worked out it’s pretty dull, so they’re just sitting around relaxing,” Pete suggested. “Ellie, what do you think about death?”

That’s a very big question, because it depends on the definition of death.”

What, more than either dead or alive?”

Well, yeah. It’s not a bipolar subject. I mean, I don’t fear my own death – except maybe the means of departure – but being forgotten scares me, like being erased from history. I believe that life as we know it, is a passing phase, in something we don’t fully understand yet.”

Do you subscribe,” Sheldon interrupted, “to quantum physics?”

Well, it stopped being a theory long ago. If you mean, do I get that everything exists in more than one state simultaneously, and that quantum entanglement means every subatomic particle in the universe is connected to another, telepathically, then yes. Definitely.”

Good,” the cat said, “because a lot of philosophical and theoretical examples of my species perished in that debate.”

See?” Pete perked up. “Bloody cats, getting everywhere, proving things. When was a dog ever involved in an experiment? I mean, why not Schrödinger’s dogs? By the way, what in the name of anyone’s arse, did mankind think it was getting up to, sending one of my kind up to space, before we had the technology to ask if it was okay?”

That,” Ellie replied, “was humanity getting up its own arse. But Laika was our little trailblazer, still floating in a tin can out there somewhere. We owe her a lot.”

At least you’re grateful,” Pete said, “fetching your sticks, flying your spaceships…And yes, Laika’s floating around out there, unceremoniously abandoned, but it’s quite poetic in a way.”

What, like Space Oddity, David Bowie?”

No, I just think it’s funny. Who’s to say Laika didn’t get out there and everything worked fine? Then she sussed the controls and just buggered off. Maybe it was all an elaborate plan, and the dogs had another planet somewhere.”

Unlikely.”

But equally, not impossible. You couldn’t talk to us back then. What you might have thought was static noise, could have been her talking. But there was no universal translator back then.”

The paradoxical dog,” Sheldon murmured.

Well, yes,” Pete agreed, “but the point is, humans had no right to do that. Because back then, humans didn’t regard what they called animals as having feelings or emotions. But what was clearly a sentient, self-determining and self-aware being, was used in an experiment without consultation or consent, simply because it was assumed to be inferior. That is immoral, and even more so for the cowardice in persecuting a person whose voice couldn’t be heard.”

So is much which humanity has done,” Ellie agreed, “against its own kind too. It’s a burden which rests heavily on those of us who give a shit.”

If I might add a cat’s opinion,” Sheldon said, “it might make things easier to understand.”

Go on.”

Humans were in denial. Your science hadn’t proven the obvious, that so-called animals could feel, so it was conveniently overlooked and humans continued, well, being human.”

Now I feel good about myself. Thanks Sheldon.”

Sarcasm?”

No!

Oh. And I thought I was getting the hang of that one.”

Ever since we’ve been able to talk,” Pete said, “there is still much about humans which confuses us.”

Same,” Ellie added, “only now that we can talk, can we talk like this.”

Really, I hadn’t noticed,” Sheldon noted.

Sarcasm?” Pete wondered.

No. Cats have always been able to talk, and to hear you. Nothing’s changed with humans, because you still don’t make sense.”

But you can understand me?” Ellie checked.

I can hear you, and the rest of the human race, in you. But with a growing number of exceptions, humans still seem hell bent on destroying our planet.”

You mean,” Pete said, “the planet we all share?”

You’re only here because the humans brought you. Earth was originally the cats’. Then humans came along and our ancestors agreed to let humans be humans, hoping they might learn.”

“Who says?”

Many ancient feline scribes.”

Like the human ones,” Ellie added, “who wrote the various human religious scriptures?”

Very much so,” Sheldon confirmed, “and those ancient human scribes wrote of cat gods, did they not?”

In Egypt, and some other places, yes.”

So,” Sheldon continued, “doesn’t that prove that man worshipped cats as gods?”

Not at all. Each ancient script is an individual’s interpretation of events, as they saw them, and recorded using the means available to them at the time. It’s what all ancient alien theories are built on, and it’s what unifies science and religion in many humans now. The point is, it’s a paradox. But it doesn’t matter who was here first, it’s what we do now that we’re here.”

Sometimes,” Pete spoke now. “Sometimes, I wish I was a dyslexic insomniac.”

Why?”

Because dogs are generally agnostic, and that would allow me to lie awake at night, wondering if God is a dog.”

Really though,” Sheldon said, “we’re all the same.”

Hardly,” Pete said.

No, I mean inside, and at a fundamental level. Forget animals and humans as the outdated terms which they now are. As people, we are all the same. Just as the root of all humans’ conflicts – both internal and external – is in an inability to see others as alternative versions of themselves, so that can be transcended to encompass us all. Whether we’re an atheist cat, an agnostic dog, or a whatever you are Ellie, all those scribes wrote what they saw, and science proved what we now know. And that’s that we’re all connected and the only true creator is the universe itself.”

“Yeah, but who set that off?” Pete wondered.

Oh, for fuck sake.”

It’s a good job we can all talk now.”

© Steve Laker, 2017.

The Unfinished Literary Agency will be published early next year. My other books are available from Amazon and can be ordered from any book shop, or requested at libraries.

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.

Sprichst du Deutsch? 99 Luftballons…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

99 Red Ballons
Image: Denise Abé

I’m about one fifth of the way with writing my new book, which covers a lot of things, among them language and translation. In the book, my protagonist – Mr Fry – is searching for the answer to life, the universe and everything (aren’t we all?). We all know the answer is 42, but in order for an answer to make sense, we first need to make sure we ask the right questions: This is a point Douglas Adams made in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; and Cyrus Song is part Douglas Adams tribute.

In one Cyrus Song plot thread, Mr Fry is talking to animals, using a computer program called The Babel Fish: Clearly based on Douglas’ real fish in Hitch Hiker’s. Just like humans, animals speak in different languages. In another plot thread, our hero is contemplating what it might be like to speak to historical scientists, to see what they might make of life in the 21st century. Because finding answers which make sense, depends not only on how one poses the question, but to whom.

The book’s going well: Feedback from test readers is very good, and the actual writing process is a relatively smooth and fun one. It’s a book with a lot of deep messages but it’s also a sci-fi comedy tribute to one of my heroes. I’ve been compared to Douglas in the past, and to Roald Dahl, and Paul Auster. One magazine sub-editor compared me to Jane Austen, Enid Blighton, and Charles Dickens, all in one email. It’s all chronicled on this blog and I have documented proof filed away. It’s nice to know I can’t be pigeon-holed as a writer. But I suppose it would be difficult to categorise me, when I’ve won an award for a children’s story, and repulsed people with the beauty of COGS. But most of all, I’m a sci-fi writer. Cyrus Song is still on schedule for the end of the year, either self-published, or through an agent or mainstream publisher; depending on which suits me better. Getting the right agent or publisher vs. DIY is just the same as the question and answer thing above: If the correct questions are asked of the most appropriate partner, the answers will make more sense. Time and circumstance will dictate the publishing process of the book.

In a slightly tenuous link, one of my favourite songs of the 80s is an excellent example of how something can be totally different in another language: Of course it’s different; it’s in another language. But what I mean is, the meaning of a thing, in this case, a song, can lose much in translation. The song I’m referring to is 99 Red Balloons, by Nena. Most of us could sing an approximation of the English lyrics:

You and I in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got
Set them free at the break of dawn
‘Til one by one they were gone
Back at base bugs in the software
Flash the message “something’s out there!”
Floating in the summer sky
Ninety-nine red balloons go by

Ninety-nine red balloons
Floating in the summer sky
Panic bells, it’s red alert
There’s something here from somewhere else
The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
Focusing it on the sky
Where ninety-nine red balloons go by

Ninety-nine decision street
Ninety-nine ministers meet
To worry, worry, super scurry
Call the troops out in a hurry
This is what we’ve waited for
This is it, boys, this is war
The president is on the line
As ninety-nine red balloons go by

Ninety-nine knights of the air
Ride super high-tech jet fighters
Everyone’s a super hero
Everyone’s a captain Kirk
With orders to identify
To clarify and classify
Scramble in the summer sky
Ninety-nine red balloons go by

As ninety-nine red balloons go by

Ninety-nine dreams I have had
In every one a red balloon
It’s all over and I’m standing pretty
In this dust that was a city
If I could find a souvenir
Just to prove the world was here
And here is a red balloon
I think of you, and let it go

These are nice lyrics and set to a catchy musical score, we have a proper “Choon”. But the English lyrics are not a direct translation of the original German words. In fact, the English wording is quite different, so that the words fit the tune. And we all know the song: It’s good. But when we hear the original German song and translate directly, the lyrics are something quite different:

German Lyrics

Direct Translation by Hyde Flippo

Hast du etwas Zeit für mich
Dann singe ich ein Lied für dich
Von 99 Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
Denkst du vielleicht g’rad an mich
Dann singe ich ein Lied für dich
Von 99 Luftballons
Und dass so was von so was kommt

Have you some time for me,
then I’ll sing a song for you
about 99 balloons
on their way to the horizon.
If you’re perhaps thinking about me right now
then I’ll sing a song for you
about 99 balloons
and that such a thing comes from such a thing.

99 Luftballons
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
Hielt man für Ufos aus dem All
Darum schickte ein General

‘ne Fliegerstaffel hinterher
Alarm zu geben, wenn es so wär
Dabei war’n da am Horizont
Nur 99 Luftballons

99 balloons
on their way to the horizon
People think they’re UFOs from space
so a general sent up

a fighter squadron after them
Sound the alarm if it’s so
but there on the horizon were
only 99 balloons.

99 Düsenjäger
Jeder war ein großer Krieger
Hielten sich für Captain Kirk
Das gab ein großes Feuerwerk
Die Nachbarn haben nichts gerafft
Und fühlten sich gleich angemacht
Dabei schoss man am Horizont
Auf 99 Luftballons

99 fighter jets
Each one’s a great warrior
Thought they were Captain Kirk
then came a lot of fireworks
the neighbors didn’t understand anything
and felt like they were being provoked
so they shot at the horizon
at 99 balloons.

99 Kriegsminister –
Streichholz und Benzinkanister –
Hielten sich für schlaue Leute
Witterten schon fette Beute
Riefen Krieg und wollten Macht
Mann, wer hätte das gedacht
Dass es einmal soweit kommt
Wegen 99 Luftballons

99 war ministers
matches and gasoline canisters
They thought they were clever people
already smelled a nice bounty
Called for war and wanted power.
Man, who would’ve thought
that things would someday go so far
because of 99 balloons.

99 Jahre Krieg
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr
Und auch keine Düsenflieger
Heute zieh’ ich meine Runden
Seh’ die Welt in Trümmern liegen
Hab’ ‘nen Luftballon gefunden
Denk’ an dich und lass’ ihn fliegen

99 years of war
left no room for victors.
There are no more war ministers
nor any jet fighters.
Today I’m making my rounds
see the world lying in ruins.
I found a balloon,
think of you and let it fly (away).

(Source: Thoughtco.com)

So we can see how much was changed in translation. And it does demonstrate the point nicely, that something can have a different meaning if you listen to it differently. As Mr Fry says in Cyrus Song, “To see more clearly, listen.”

And I have been asked if there is indeed an answer, to life the universe and everything: Is it in the book? Will it make sense? To answer those questions in turn: Yes, yes, and yes.

My first three books are available now.

Getting paid for Frank Burnside and Haile Salassie

image

THE WRITER’S LIFE

This professional writer has suddenly got busy. I’m finding it’s often the way in this game, where there’ll be quiet phases, followed by periods where work has to be prioritised. On the paid front, I received a cheque in the post this morning: I’ve won first prize in a short fiction writing competition. On the pulp fiction side of things, my main webzine editor is practically begging me for new material. It all feels rather nice.

The prize-winning short story was originally published on this blog as The child who wished for nothing. As with other stories, I realised this one had more potential, so I worked on it. I re-drafted, edited and polished it up and obviously did a pretty good job because it won the top prize. It’s a modest sum and hardly a prestigious award but it’s recognition of a talent, and it’s exposure. A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Salassie will be published in Writing Magazine next March.

It’s not one of my stock horrors or trademark nasties. Instead it’s a whimsical tale of a girl and her talking dog. The brief was to write a story about something life-changing, so I did. I wrote the original as a story to give hope to a friend who’d just lost a family pet. Even if I say so myself, the revised version is a beautiful little piece of writing. It actually makes this psycho writer cry every time I read it. Once the rights revert to me after printing in Writing Magazine, I may turn it into a children’s book. It’s exactly the kind of story I’d have gained comfort from when I lost a pet as a kid. Of course, I’ll need an illustrator, so I need to decide whether to advertise, hunt a specific one down, or find one through The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook; or go to an agent or publisher. I think the project has legs, so it’s worth pitching around.

It’s around March next year that I’m planning to publish Forgive me no-one, the truthful telling of my time on the road. The other three books are well in the background now for at least the next six months, while I concentrate on the memoir and hitting the publication date. I would reckon I’ve written about one tenth of the book in first draft form. It’s looking like running to around 50-60’000 words and 400-450 pages, so there’s a lot to do. As well as writing it, working with test readers, re-drafting and all of the usual, I need to start pitching synopses, talking to publishers and agents. I’m hoping that this coinciding with the exposure in a national writers’ magazine could be a bit of a break. Maybe I’ll get The Paradoxicon shifting on Amazon and even into print.

Then there’s the filler work: the column-fillers and pulp fiction which I churn out for webzines as further exposure and self-marketing. I have at least one editor who is desperate for my writing: what a lovely problem to have. Despite a recent hiccup, Solum oculos claude will appear in this week’s Schlock. I like to maintain a back catalogue of pulp work for when editors call but I’ve been so distracted of late that I’m up-to-date. Having no completed work lined up is not good. I need to churn out some stories over the next few weeks, to get ahead of myself again and have a back catalogue ready to submit.

There’s the day-to-day stuff as well: submissions, competitions, pitches, reading, research, query letters, synopses, biographies…Sometimes there’s time for some creative writing. I’m very busy and loving my job.

This prize-winning writer is happy.

A bible I actually want to read

image

THE WRITER’S LIFE

The delivery of a few new books is distracting me from the weekend I planned to spend not working. Consequently, I am working but that’s not a problem when your job is your favourite hobby and passion as well. The books are enjoyable reads in their own right though, even if some of them relate directly to writing. Those which don’t may still contain ideas for pieces of my own, so even when I’m not working, I am. Ditto reading a newspaper or magazine, watching TV or watching movies in the Savage Cinema.

The offending volumes are the new edition of my bible: The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2016; and three books by Charles Bukowski: Tales of Ordinary Madness, Notes of a Dirty Old Man and On Writing. The Yearbook is an essential volume in any writer’s reference library, as it lists publishers and agents by genre and publication type and submission guidelines; it lists societies, prizes and festivals; resources and the latest in copyright and libel law. Much of the information in the Yearbook isn’t available online, so it is a valuable resource.

Charles Bukowski was a name only vaguely familiar to me when he was recommended by one of my wingmen recently. Bukowski was troubled by drink and spent some time homeless: we have things in common. Now described as “A laureate of American Lowlife” by Time Magazine, Bukowski is someone I can relate to and he’s proving to be some very good reading material. Just the way of life which myself and Bukowski lived while homeless has given me an idea for a story, now that I have read his take on homelessness, which is darker than mine.

So indulgence in leisure creates work. Work which I enjoy and is often therefore a leisurely activity in itself. What a lovely self-perpetuating situation to be in.

I’m rather hopeful for a project I’m working on in the background and which may be published later in the year, depending on how it fares in various writing competitions. It’s called An Alternative Nativity. The concept has been tried many times but I’m putting my own individual take on things. Essentially, God is a rapist. Jesus was born of Mary and Jesus was the son of God. Therefore, God impregnated Mary. It may be described or disguised as the immaculate conception but God put that child in Mary’s womb. Even if the conception was without intercourse, there was still an invasion of Mary’s body and an abuse of power. Jesus himself was a sacrificial baby of course: born to spread his father’s lies, then to die to save his father’s reputation and excuse his errors. Because if God created man in his own image, God himself is clearly fallible… Suffice to say, my version of the nativity will be pretty grim.

An Alternative Nativity joins The Paradox of Perception and A Fairytale of the Green Inferno on the short fiction work pile; and The Inner Leviathan novel, which I’ve almost completed the first chapter of, now that I’ve put the other two books on the back burner. Mechanical Manacle is in Schlock webzine this week and Master Yehudi’s Flying Circus is on submission. Once the current batch of short stories are published, I’ll have hit my quarter century: so far I’ve had 22 stories published. I’m aiming to complete the magic number of 42 before I gather them all up and plonk them in an anthology.

As this writer’s life continues to come together, I grow to love it more as I allow myself to accept that this is it now, after all that went before. I can compare myself to Charles Bukowski, in that it was worth going through all that I did to end up here. I doubted it at first – and I still wouldn’t wish anyone have to go through what I did – but as the extent of what I have now sinks in, I look around me and realise that it was all worth it. With a bit of money thrown at it, my little crib is almost perfect now. The Cradle of Filth where I work is a perfect personal space in which to write. The Savage Cinema where I relax is cosy and comfortable. The whole place is pretty fucking cool now and it has my name written all over it. I love my wonky little bedsit. I’m financially secure: I have regular money coming in, which I’m entitled to and which I earned. I have freedom, including freedom of expression to look how I want, say what I like and write what I please.