Revolutions of the difference engines

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Jez Guevara

Having said before that I’ll not politicise this blog, I’ll get the politics out of the way first. Specifically, why I’m backing the boy Corbyn: Man of the people, and the kind of new, progressive politician I’d like to see as prime minister. Of course, I’m biased: I’m a liberal, left-wing, Guardian-reading, part organic vegetable.

My reasons for backing Corbyn’s Labour are many, but for me personally, I’ll be able to make a greater contribution to society. I’m on benefits, signed off long-term from work because of mental health issues. Even forgetting for a moment, the changes to the NHS and improvements to mental health care provision proposed by Labour, I’d be able to take a distance learning course with the Open University when Labour abolish fees. I could study for a degree, which would allow me to give something back. Why should a university education be the preserve of the rich, when so many jobs are being made redundant by technology that soon a degree will be the minimum qualification for the remaining ones? My ex-wife and I couldn’t afford £9250 a year each for our children to become “future proofed”, so the kids would be saddled with loan repayments for the first few years of their employment.

The kids are intelligent, they go to good schools and they live comfortably with their mum and step dad. Naturally, everyone wants the children to be the best they can be, at whatever is best for them. They themselves made a point some time ago, as we were walking around Milton Keynes: They observed that there’s little for young people to do, since many local authority facilities have been closed down as a result of central government cuts. For the better-off, this isn’t a problem, since they can afford entertainment. And it was that statement which struck me, because two young but bright children had illustrated the two-tier society which they see around them. They have many of the things which children like to have, mainly financed by their mum and step dad. I contribute as much as I can, and they understand finances and budgeting, but they have an empathy for those less well-off (well, their dad was a tramp for a while). Like me and like Corbyn, they think long-term, and want to make a contribution towards a better society. Like me, they see that possibility under Corbyn and Labour. Personally, I envisage the introduction of a Universal Basic Income, or Guaranteed Minimum Income in Labour’s second term, a model which has proven successful in more enlightened countries, like Canada, Denmark, Brazil, Finland, Iceland…

A part of me still hopes that Brexit won’t happen. Kim-Jong May’s days are numbered in any case. She’s a danger and the country is a laughing stock among the other 27 EU nations and the wider world. As a country, we’re the kid left on the sideline and mocked. Isn’t it time she stepped down and allowed our re-uniting country a third chance at those “Put it to the nation” things so beloved of the Tories? Leave or Remain, Left or Right-wing: We need to agree that she isn’t a leader. Then the nation decides the rest in a general election which is triggered by her resignation. The woman’s ego is destroying a nation’s future and with it, our children’s prospects.

Meccanismo-Complesso-Octopus-Steampunk
An imagining of the difference engine (see below)

In other news, my next book is finished as a first draft, which is now out with beta readers for a month. Meanwhile the book is just over the half-way mark in a publishing sense. It’s been converted to 8 x 5” paperback size, and comes in at just over 400 pages.

Once the test readers come back with their comments, there’ll be another round of editing and Cyrus Song should be in the shops by October, all going well. Until then, I’m churning out pulp fiction for the shock horror web zines readerships, and the next one, The Difference Engine, will be out somewhere soon:

I disappeared without warning and for no apparent reason. To the best of my knowledge, there were no witnesses. I wasn’t a well-known person, so few would miss me. It was perfect.

What made this apparent illusion possible was the difference engine: Quite a box of tricks in itself. The engine is a retro-futuristic, mechanical bolt-on device for my manual typewriter. It’s the steam punk equivalent of an app installed on a computer. The difference engine clamps onto the typewriter, between the type heads and the impression cylinder. It’s a translation device, so as I type out my thoughts on the keyboard, it produces edited fiction on the paper…

As a literary plot device, the difference engine is an invention I may make use of in future stories. Like some of my mentors (Paul Auster in particular), I like to have links between stories and common themes within some of them. All of my short stories stand alone, but I have favoured geographical locations, fictional organisations and objects which I sometimes return to. The typewriter in The Difference Engine is one such thing, as is The Unfinished Literary Agency, above Hotblack Desiato’s letting agency in Islington (the latter actually exists).

Of all the writers I’ve been variously compared to (Douglas Adams, Roald Dahl et al), the comparison with Auster is the one I’m most grateful for, as it was recognition that I can pull off the kind of complexities which he does. Like Auster’s, many of my stories contain others within them. There are recurring characters, meetings with oneself, and writers as narrators of tales about writer protagonists. Most contain subtexts, and some are two or more completely different stories contained in the same narrative. The thing is, they’re not clever tricks: It’s just my style of writing, so to be compared to my literary idol is quite something.

I’m not quite four years in with this writing game, and I’m about to publish my fourth book. Given the nature of Cyrus Song and the messages within, if it was published in October, with Jeremy Corbyn in No.10, that would just be the literary icing on the cake.

My first anthology is available now.

The distant echo of a morning star

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Sunrise

I’ve reached what is probably my least favourite stage of writing a book with Cyrus Song: The first edit. This is my least favourite part because it’s so laborious and unproductive compared to others, going through the entire text with a magnifying glass while adding very little new to it. But it’s a necessary evil, to make a good thing even better.

In the greater scheme of things, the book is just over halfway through the pre-publishing process. It seems like so long ago that I started to write it, and the finished book is still some way off. The first draft is about to go out to test readers, while the writer is in a self-imposed limbo.

The first edit is a real plod, after all the fun which was actually writing the book. But I can type at up to 80 words per minute, so there are bound to be mistakes which need ironing out. I tend to write a first draft directly on the typewriter, simply because I can type faster than I can write longhand. I do have hand-written notes, character biographies, and relevant newspaper and magazine clippings in notebooks, and part of the first edit of the initial draft manuscript is making sure all those notes got included in the narrative. It’s laborious because I know the story well but I can’t skim through it; I need to check every punctuation mark and the general continuity of the whole story. I need to be able to send the first draft manuscript to test readers without bits missing or broken. But having read the first draft fully myself, I’m satisfied that it’s going to be a good book.

I’m now looking at a month or so before test readers are due to come back to me. Depending on their feedback, there may be further amendments to make, but the manuscript they’re getting is effectively a second draft, now that I’ve polished it up. Then there’s all the actual book stuff to do: Editing for style, indexing the chapters, writing the foreword, acknowledgements and dedications, as well as the author bio and the back cover synopsis. It’s still looking good for publication before Christmas. In the current domestic and worldwide climate, it’s a book people might be wise to read. It’s a tribute to Douglas and a book for humanity.

Having said before that I wasn’t going to politicise this blog, then posting some political opinion of my own, I won’t dwell for long on what’s becoming a bigger subject by the day. At the moment, I’m seeing the unrest which I predicted a few months back, with what seems to be a far-right retaliation attack on innocent Muslims in London. I’m also witnessing a left-wing uprising, which I hope will prevail. I post daily on social media about current events, so follow me on Facebook and Twitter for a more rolling feed. Back to the blog about the writer with depression, I’ll just say that Cyrus Song has a lot of socio-political subtexts, without diminishing the fun of the book.

While I’m at the mercy of others with Cyrus Song, I’ll be writing some new short stories, for my next anthology, and for the free-to-read markets. New work from me should be knocking around in the next month or so.

In the writer’s life, I spent last Sunday as I often do, with two of my biggest fans: My children. It’s been discussed many times, but after all that happened with my breakdown, everyone has ended up in a better place. For my kids, that’s having a dad who’s a writer, and that must be pretty cool. Well, I know it is.

We’d postponed from the previous week, because of the tragic events in London at the time (The Borough Market attack). And of course, in the intervening week, there’d been a general election, which surprised many, but which I’d called as a hung parliament two weeks before. My kids are as hopeful as I am, that the lifting of a national veil and the rise of the left, will begin a more progressive movement for the future.

My children are only 12 and ten, but they have the same left-wing, long term view as me. For them, the move to the left would mean free university tuition, which we would otherwise be unable to afford. I see access to knowledge and teaching as more of a human right than something which should be packaged up and sold as the preserve of the rich. My kids see many human jobs being made redundant by technology, just as machines had the same effect in the industrial age (history repeats). They realise they’ll need to start work as graduates to do something worthwhile. And they see the bigger picture, where further education is democratised for the greater good of the country, rather then the right wing way, which favours the rich and creates a two-tier society. These are my children: Thinkers, who have a dad who researches near-future scenarios for fiction works. Yeah, that must be cool.

It seems more like a decade than the year ago that Brexit happened. Now, we’re looking at the glimmer of a better future but there’s a long way to go yet. One thing everyone ought to be able to agree on, is it’s time to change. It’s time to forget petty differences, to unite and co-operate as one race: The human race. Right now, we’re hoping for a new dawn.

In Cyrus Song, there’s the animals too. At the end of it all, it’s about the planet we all share. The book goes further and deeper, but one day, humanity may yet hear the Cyrus Song itself.

Prime Minister disappears up own arse

POLITICS | THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Image from B3ta

The supreme leader, Kim-Jong May and the Tories’ election campaign, was akin to watching a video of someone lighting their own fart, then ending up in hospital. Or a great day out at the seaside, marred by sand in the vagina. What was I saying about not politicising this blog?

I have never been so invigorated or involved with a general election as I was this one, and it’s reaffirmed my faith in humanity. After this election, I’m starting to feel I love my country again. One of my common chants when I was shouting from the left was, I voted Labour, because I’m proud to be British. A collective veil has been lifted and the British public have protested at having their intelligence insulted.

This was an election called by the Supreme Leader’s ego, so confident was she that the country needed her “strong and stable” leadership, a mantra which will be forever ridiculed and satirised. She panicked: She was shitting it about Brexit, her predecessor’s epic fail of a gamble. So she called a snap election in the arrogant misguided belief that she’d win a landslide majority, allowing her to bumble through her Brexit no-plan unchallenged. I still suspect that she planned to pursue a cowardly “hard Brexit”, almost completely severing ties with the EU, so that the UK became an annexe of Trump’s capitalist US. Then, with no minimum wage, those who sought to exploit a workforce would be given tax breaks by UK PLC.

And she might have got away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids. The figures are blurry but there is no doubt that the mobilisation of young voters played a big part in May’s implosion. But the other starring role was Corbyn’s man of the people. I said some time ago that (like many others), I couldn’t vote Labour because I couldn’t see Corbyn as Prime Minister. But then I realised I was working with my conditioning of what a politician was. So what I saw in Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t a politician. Realising that was a good thing was the light bulb moment for me.

Now I predict that the Conservatives will completely collapse. The people have seen through a woman who won’t even dirty her eyes by looking at them. Her own party is in turmoil and there’ll be leadership challenges. Even if there are none, they are a battered and bruised after-party mess. She is weak and unstable, and she is unfit to lead a country into all that faces us over the coming years and months. The marriage of convenience to the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, climate-denying DUP will only cement the newly switched-on public’s opinion that this is a party in trouble, willing to do anything to cling on to power.

Corbyn is planning to scupper May’s Queen’s Speech: I wish him luck. He is becoming known as an unconventional politician and if that’s modernisation of our archaic system, he can only be a good thing. I predict the wicked witch being gone by Autumn and then another general election. Hopefully the voters will be sufficiently invigorated by the last one that they’ll get out and vote again in similar numbers. I can’t see the Conservatives’ campaigns team coming up with anything to slow the decline, and Labour already have a new momentum. I predict that we will see a Labour Prime minister in 10 Downing Street by October. And Corbyn is unassailable as leader within his own party now. Far better to have Obi-Wan Kenobi at No.10 than Emperor Palpatine.

The next prime minister is going to have their work cut out. I’m confident Jeremy Corbyn is the best man to give the most to the many, while still placating the remaining few. It’s too early to call Brexit and there are scenarios where a second referendum is called. Provided the public isn’t sick of voting, perhaps the national mood swing and the realisation that Brexit was sold on a lie, might alter the balance. But if Brexit does go ahead, Corbyn will ensure the best deal for all. And the other 27 states are itching to maul Darth Sidious. Everything can change, suddenly and forever. The coming weeks and months will be the next stage in the turmoil this country’s suffered for over a year now. The public are getting bored of it, but they’re up for it: Roughly translated, ‘Tories Out!’ I dread to think what Brenda from Bristol is thinking. But the UK’s shift to the left is a trend we’ve been seeing in Europe since Trump’s election. Recent politics has been some of the most explosive in history. The world still stands at a pivotal point, but it looks like it’s starting to lean to the left again.

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Image from B3ta

Funnily enough, a pivotal point for mankind is one of the many subjects touched upon in a book I’ve been writing. I may have mentioned it: It’s called Cyrus Song.

I am literally in the final few days of writing the first draft, before sending the manuscript out to test readers. It’s still looking good for October publication and a lot of people have said how much they’re looking forward to reading it. All I can add to everything I’ve already said, is that I’ve been banging on about it so much, it has to be bloody good or I’ll look like a twunt.

I met with two of my younger fans yesterday, when we spent one of our regular days together in Milton Keynes. Despite my levels of anxiety sometimes preventing me even from leaving home, Sundays with my kids are a well-rehearsed known quantity. Once I’ve smoked a joint to combat the anxiety, the day breaks down into manageable pleasant stages: I leave my box of a studio, perched on top of a coffee shop, walk to my local train station, past the workhouse where George Orwell lived for a while, and a fountain once sketched by Turner. A train via the Bowie lands of Bromley and Brixton, then past Battersea Power Station and into Victoria. Next, the old queen’s line (I associate it more with her namesake daughter: A proper feckin’ rebel) to Euston, and onto a Virgin Pendolino via Bletchley Park to Milton Keynes, with it’s herd of concrete cattle by Liz Leyh (Canadian artist). Why the fuck wouldn’t I want to put myself through all that? If it wasn’t to meet my kids at the other end, anxiety would stop me.

One side effect of constant paranoia (I find), is that you can get a mental vibe from a place. Although London and Milton Keynes have never been hostile, yesterday I felt a greater awareness of people to those around them. A ‘vibe’ is a difficult thing to enunciate, but it was a safe one yesterday.

The kids are really excited about Cyrus Song, mostly because I gave them roles as extras in the book. It’s a book for everyone, as people will start to find out when anyone reads it. I only need a few people to do that before I’m confident that word of mouth will kick-start the rest. For that reason, and for reasons of royalties, I will almost certainly self-publish the first edition. Thereafter, it depends who might pick it up, or who I send copies to. But like all of my writing, this book isn’t about making money, nice though that would be. This book in particular is the work of mine I’d like people to read, so that they can see what I can do. It’s a book with many messages and one which people could gain a lot from. I’ve almost written it, so it’s almost out there. Once it is, anyone and everyone can read it. That’s why I write: So that I’m out there.

If things go to schedule, I’ll have time to write a few short stories for the free-to-read markets to get myself out there too, while I edit the book. I have about half a dozen planned: Some more humorous sci-fi, a tale from The Unfinished Literary Agency, and a nasty, following on loosely from Helvetica Haus. The latter, and two of the former, are in The Perpetuity of Memory. There’s also a scene in another story in the anthology, where Bono disappears up his own arse at a concert, a bit like Theresa May just did on the international stage.

Why do rainbows look sad?

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Zippy and George

Despite life in general being pretty good, depression is always just around the corner, waiting to piss on my bonfire. No matter how well things can seem on the outside, those suffering from anxiety and depression are always expecting bad news in the post. We know it’s coming, even if it isn’t. A rainbow is a beautiful thing, but it still looks like a sad face. Such is life.

On the flip side, there are of course situations which look worse than they are. I’m not a pessimist. I realise that being an optimist or a pessimist makes no difference to the outcome, but the optimist has a better time leading up to it. So despite suffering chronic (as in, life-affecting) depression, I do tend to look on the bright side. But the dark dog is always skulking in the woods somewhere: One of many ways I describe the perpetual anxiety I have. It’s subjective, it’s as unique as the individual, and others would describe it all differently. We’d all describe it as “a bit shit” but I try as a writer to convey more than that generalisation (true though it is).

Of course, it’s always nice and life-affirming, when something which initially doesn’t look good, turns out to be okay: A bit like someone offering a plate of Russian Roulette sandwiches, where all look the same, but some are filled with Nutella and others with shit. That’s kind of what happened this week, when a lady I know from the council knocked on my door. She’s a very nice lady and part of the team who housed me at my studio when I became vulnerable. My landlord is that rare angel who works with the local authority to offer homes to benefits tenants. As I’ve said before, my studio as a flat is pretty “unusual”, being very small (a bedsit with a separate small kitchen) and with an off-suite toilet and shower room (for my exclusive use). But as an office, it’s feckin’ ace. And seeing as my work is also my life, that’s how come this small living space / cool workspace became known as Le Studio Chez Moi: It fits me and vice versa. The point is, it’s not the kind of place which private renters will be falling over themselves to occupy, even though it’s in a quiet location in a peaceful village. So my landlord rents out the lower end of their portfolio to people like me, who are grateful of somewhere to live. Something I’ve always lacked though, through many years of renting, is a sense of permanence. This is not to be confused with a sense of entitlement, which is something I lack. But for my own personal well being, a permanent home has always been my wish.

When I moved to the studio 15 months ago, I was put on a one year tenancy agreement and the council raised a bond to cover my deposit. At the time, I was told that my landlord may grant a longer tenancy at the end of a first year, depending on how that year went. I’m a good tenant and the first year was without incident. So when that lady from the council turned up at my door, brandishing a manilla C5 window envelope with my name and address peering out, my heart sank (what was I saying about being an optimist or a pessimist?). As it turned out, my deposit bond has been renewed and I’ve been granted a rolling tenancy: It’s the nearest I will ever get to having a permanent home. Council tenancies for life are a thing of the past, but what I have now is the nearest modern equivalent. So that envelope, that potential shit sandwich, turned out to be one filled with chocolate spread, which was nice.

I’ve said before that I don’t want to politicise this blog, and that’s still true. But beliefs are part of what makes the person, so I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m a Labour voter. My day-to-day observations on politics and everything else in the world are on my public Facebook timeline, but I will say a little about recent political events:

I voted Labour and I’m pleased that at least the Tories didn’t get an overall majority. The next few weeks will see more disruption, with coalitions and co-operatives formed. It’s all too complicated to call at the moment but in modernising politics, coalitions will play a part. I don’t see Labour forming a coalition (although I think they should with the Liberal Democrats) but Nicola Sturgeon has said that the SNP will work with any progressive parliamentary party. Progressive is what politics is finally becoming, and that’s a good thing.

Even unilaterally, Labour have a voice in parliament now, which will throw a spanner in the works of Kim-Jong May. The Imperial Dictator called the general election egotistically. She assumed (wrongly) that she would win a landslide majority, giving her the green light to steamroller through her hard Brexit, unchallenged. Under this “no plan” of hers, she was seeking to make the UK an annexe of Trump’s US, with cheap labour (no minimum wage), which could be exploited by employers who’d get tax breaks for investing in UK PLC. Either that, or she called the general election because she was shit scared of Brexit. Both have been equally divisive. Whatever happens next, in the short term at least, I predict increased civil unrest, as the far-right get more marginalised. And May has shot herself in the foot, just like her predecessor.

Social media is a minefield in times like these, with fake news spread by the ignorant. Some of the levels of ignorance I’ve seen have been frankly mind-boggling. I’m talking about those who thought Brexit meant “Immigrants out!” and “Muslims out!”: Fascists, who are probably low-earners and who should naturally vote Labour, but who vote Tory because they think Kim-Jong May will goose step all “Immigrants” out of the country, like some pied piper of the apocolypse. It’s hilarious that most of these people wouldn’t even be allowed entry into some “Pure Aryan race”, when one of the prerequisites for such a twisted fantasy would surely be a high level of intelligence. These are the people who wake up in the morning, see a couple of milk bottles on the doorstep and wonder how they got there. Now there’s a pint I’d like to spill.

So, two weeks ago on Facebook, I predicted a hung parliament. Just over a week ago on this blog, I noted that I sensed an uprising and a lifting of the veil: I stand by that and I’ll watch what happens next with great interest.

Away from political punditry, my next novel is almost complete. In terms of publishing, that means I’m about half way through the whole process. Cyrus Song itself is 90% complete: I wrote the ending a long time ago, and the narrative is now approaching that finale. If I pull off the two “Easter Eggs” I’m planning with the word and page counts, there’s about 10,000 words to go. And that’s a book, written. In first draft. At the end of this month, the manuscript goes out to beta readers, all of whom have signed non-disclosure agreements. I’m hoping I’ll get their feedback by the end of July and in the interim, I’ll be poring over my own copy of the manuscript and tidying it up for the second draft. Then there’s editing and checking spelling, punctuation, grammar, tenses, perspectives, continuity etc. After that, the actual book can be compiled and indexed, then there’s acknowledgements, references and a load of other stuff to write before it’s finally ready for publishing. Barring events which even the finest heirophants couldn’t predict, Christmas is probably now at the far end of my publication window. At the moment, I’m aiming for October. 

So it’s all good. But up above the streets and houses, a rainbow still looks like a sad face.

Strange days indeed (Most peculiar, honey)…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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This week, the UK has started to dismantle the achievements of 60 years: A period of unparalleled peace in Europe, security and prosperity. Brexit is an epic act of self-harm, under a Prime Minister who has further divided an already fractured nation. And this week, I’ve been suffering one of the worst depressive episodes I’ve had in a while.

As others will testify, depressive episodes are really good at what they do: They come without warning, for no apparent reason. Sometimes they last for hours and others, for weeks. Then you never know how long it’s going to be before the next one, how long that will last, or how severe it will be.

Panic attacks are like being mugged; anxiety, like being stalked; and an episode, like having all those assailants and stalkers in your head at the same time. Then they all sit there: They sit around in your brain, sipping tea and stealing your biscuits like there’s no tomorrow, chatting away about your life, and never knowing when to leave. It’s like a trip to a scary place; a mental place, far from home. Then you watch the departure boards, as trains and planes are announced, then cancelled. You’re lost and stuck. This one’s a youngster: Today is day three. Welcome to my brand of depression.

I don’t have the luxury of what some might call “triggers”, any more than I have an early warning mechanism. There are always things to maintain and entertain an episode though; things which might not normally bother me, if I knew what normal was: Things like failed Amazon deliveries of my books, when their system tells me I’ve signed for a package, then I have a burden of proof negative, trying to persuade them that I really didn’t receive my goods. And at the moment, I have an excruciating tooth ache, which is as varied in its severity and duration as any depressive episode; ergo, I’m constantly on edge about when the next attack might be launched. And my local Tesco Metro didn’t have any sea bass, which is what I’d planned for dinner tonight. First world problems I know, but ones which affect me more than they should. Because they are now in the “Unknown” or “Unaccounted for” pile in my mind: Lost, with me helpless to do anything, except expect a possible resolution sometime. But not knowing when that might be causes me further anxiety.

My depression, the tooth ache, the deliveries and the unavailability of fish, all conspire to take an already low mood and systematically hammer it further into the ground. Sometimes the only thing to do is sleep, which is difficult with chronic tooth pain. So I get over-tired; a condition I once thought the preserve of fantasist parents. So I suffer insomnia. Once, drinking would have been a solution but it’s a testament to my resolve that I don’t lapse.

This too shall pass. And it will, as they do. And although I’ll go back to simply hiding it and others will think I’m okay, I’m not. At the end of each depressive episode, you lose something; They take something out of you. Even though it’s barely perceptible, after each episode, you will never feel as good as you did before. The new happiness plateau is lowered, permanently.

Of course, there are valued sympathetic friends but many of them get the other problem: That being clinically depressed can often mean you don’t want to speak to anyone, because you don’t know what to say. Depression can be unfathomable. Then there are still the others, who feel I brought it all on myself. My depression is deep-seated, originally triggered by a robbery at knifepoint. Then I drank as a coping mechanism and the drinking took over. Then I lost everything. I suffered many things which induced PTSD out on the road. It was a rough ride. But it was my fault in the eyes of some. And it’s that which has resolved me to get rid of more of those people permanently from my life; to erase them and deny their existence. To paraphrase an old friend, who wrote recently on social media:

Because the most depressing thing of all, is Brexit: Sorry, but I’m going to find it hard to talk to or engage with those who voted for it. They’re fools. I’ll certainly find it hard to forgive them for what they’re doing to me and my family. What they’re doing to their own? Well, that’s their affair. Perhaps that will change and I don’t like the fact that I feel negative towards them for this. But I’ll absolutely never forget it. I don’t think any of them have or had any clue what they were doing, except those to whom chaos was the only desirable outcome (who are just evil – I don’t know anyone like that I hope, that’s the Dacres and Hopkins and Farages of this world – true scum that we don’t need on the planet, let alone in this nation). But they’ve associated with, and driven the agenda of, howling degenerates, racists and bigots like that with their vote.

For the record: I don’t stand behind it. I won’t stand for it. It’s the biggest act of civil stupidity I can think of in recent times, in a supposedly major world economy and state. Where once I was proud of the United Kingdom, it is no longer that: It’s broken, divided, and I’m ashamed. As soon as individual EU citizenships become available, I’ll be near the front of the queue. I wish Brexit hadn’t happened, as much as I wish my breakdown hadn’t happened. But it’s happening, and I can’t stop it, any more than I can end a depressive episode.

They are brilliant at metaphorically flooring you, and keeping you on edge otherwise, with paranoia and anxiety about the next attack. Previously, they’ve landed me in hospital when I’ve overdosed but this one has come with a psychosomatic condition, as they sometimes do: Uncontrollable vomiting this time, which kind of insures against keeping pills down. So I shouldn’t be bothering any doctors this time: Every cloud.

If we can break it…

CHRONICLES

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A still from Village of the Damned

This time of this year is now the first of what I’m sure will be an annual three-day period of reflection. Today is the limbo day. Yesterday, David Bowie was born and tomorrow, the Starman died. His life was art, and even his death was a performance.

Bowie’s music was autobiographical, just like my stories. The easiest way to record my life is as a series of fictional works, just as Bowie did with his music. There is a part of me or my experience in every story I write, and one of my planned books is a fictionalisation of my autobiography. I went to quite some lengths to have stories to tell, and stories only happen to those who are able to tell them.

Those who think and write are the ones who are more likely to be remembered, not necessarily immediately following their departure but many years after they died, they might be discovered. Right now, those people can start to change things. The problem we have, is that people don’t listen, or don’t have the patience. So us thinkers and writers need to be interesting, to counter the typical response to anything educated: “Boring!” (For another commentator’s opinion on this phenomenon, see this article by David Hopkins: How a TV Sitcom Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization).

Social media shares some blame for this dumbing down, especially Facebook. I sometimes tire of a newsfeed populated by “X will get pregnant in 2017” and other such completely unscientific bullshit. What is wrong with these people? They are at best naïve. These people may not work, but do they not have anything more to do in their lives? Like learn? I only use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and sometimes see something interesting posted by one of the more educated ones. Generally, I prefer Twitter.

But then, the power of humanity sometimes gives me reason to be grateful:

Not long ago, there was a very unpleasant trend on Facebook, where people were posting pictures of individuals whose physical appearance didn’t fit some sort of “ideal” and who were in many ways different. So those people were ridiculed and exploited by a disgusting “Tag a friend” craze.

I’m a bit of an activist sometimes and this phenomenon really repulsed me. So I joined groups, lobbied and generally spoke out in defence of the innocent victims of this practice in various fora. A combined effort appears to have worked. Facebook haven’t banned the practice because it doesn’t infringe their editorial guidelines, which are basically free speech governed by algorithms (For the official human rights definition of free speech and my own editorial guidelines, see the Amnesty link on this blog).

It just goes to show that if you believe strongly about something and if you join forces with others, you can make a change.

As I said in my most recent story, Cardboard Sky, we are at a stage in our evolution where we can either guarantee our future as a race, or become history. There needs to be a change of global rhetoric and a focus on a new agenda. It’s a new world order which could be 200-250 years away but if there is to be a future, we need to start the conversation now.

There’s another world, another possibility and it’s within our reach: As more and more white collar jobs are automated to computers and AI, just as blue collar jobs were to machines and robots, there will come a point where paying benefits claimants JSA is a pointless exercise because they will be looking for jobs which don’t exist any more. As such, that part of the benefits system becomes a waste of money and resources. The computerisation and replacement of jobs with AI will impact jobs up to a certain level and even those in relatively well-paid “middle class” jobs, such as some lawyers, may find themselves made redundant by machines. This is where the idea of a Universal Income comes in: A sum of money paid to everyone, so that they can live a sustainable (if not luxurious) life. This then frees them to re-train for the remaining professions, or to develop themselves into something: Perhaps a writer. There will be more minds available which are free to think and then the conversation continues. Canada, Finland and the Netherlands are at various stages of discussions on a universal, or basic, income for all.

The two biggest political stories last year were Brexit and Trump’s presidential election victory. Both were the results of a disillusioned electorate, frustrated by what they knew but not knowing what they wanted. The far right used this unease to gain traction and the left were found wanting. It was a perfect storm. Both campaigns were based on lies but false journalism and people not checking facts were equally to blame. I have lost count of the times I’ve seen a friend post something on Facebook, only to have to tell them it’s not true. A recent example was this one:

(Questionable, unverified claim begins).

PIN NUMBER REVERSAL

If you should ever be forced by a robber to withdraw money from an ATM machine, you can notify the police by entering your PIN # in reverse.

For example if your pin number is 1234 then you would put in 4321.

The ATM recognizes that your pin number is backwards from the ATM card you placed in the machine

The machine will still give you the money you requested, but unknown to the robber, the police will be immediately dispatched to help you.

This information was recently broadcast on CTV and it states that it is seldom used because people don’t know it exists.

I checked with my Bank of Nova Scotia to see if this was correct and staff said yes this information is correct.

Please pass this along to everyone possible.

(Questionable, unverified claim ends).

Really? Great if it’s true but improbable. As I’m not so gullible as the person who’d posted, I checked the facts; I did some research (It’s false, as confirmed by Snopes). The original poster hadn’t, and what that meant was quite simply, a lie was spread. Nothing major in this instance but this is partly how Brexit and Trump happened, because the uneducated allowed it. It just goes to show how important it is to research and verify facts before publishing something in a public forum.

In one respect, the bottom line to all of this is that if people in general just fucking thought a bit more, the world wouldn’t be in such a mess. I lost some friends in the run-up to the UK referendum vote, simply because I could no longer tolerate their ignorant and closed minds. A typical comment would be, “My granddad fought in the war.” Yes, against exactly the kind of fascism you now spread. But as soon as I started to explain this in a more diplomatic way, I was branded “boring!”

“I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human.” David Bowie.

He was my hero, my influence and my guardian angel. He was the one who told me it was okay to be expressive, even if others might not approve. He taught me that it’s okay to be myself. Everyone mourns their idols but Bowie was more than that, for me and millions of others: He was a way of life. “At the centre of it all.” At the centre of many lives and mine. Blackstar: A black hole.

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, future science and contemporary fiction that I could resurrect my mentor. I have a signed copy of his Diamond Dogs album. There will be microscopic fragments of his DNA behind the glass of the frame.

It’s okay to be expressive, for expression is freedom, the very ethos of this blog. Just check the facts. Question, read, learn, and write. We can all be writers and make a difference but we have to ensure that what we add to the conversation is valuable.

It will be a long conversation, which future generations will need to continue. But if we don’t keep talking and educating ourselves and others, there will be no future generations.

And finally, “We did something extraordinary. Someone called it a revolution…Musicians from all over the world came together…With passion, dedication and fucking hard work, we can transform our lives. So stick together. No more conflicts. And play rock and roll.”

If I could teach the world to sing…

THE WRITER’S LIFE | COMMENT

malcolm-x

A regular visitor to my little studio is my adopted kid sister, The Courts. She’s the one I met on my first night on the streets, when she and a couple of friends sat with me, surrounded by my life in Sports Direct bags. Those three girls were 15 years old at the time. Later, I was adopted by three more and gained three teenage daughter-types: What nice problems to have.

Since then, much has changed but Courtney became my sister in that family we formed at the squat: The Pink Hearts. We look out for each other, as brothers and sisters do. We chill out in my studio, watch DVDs, smoke weed and talk. She talks a lot and she’s naive about a lot of things but occasionally, she’ll say something really deep and thoughtful. She did that yesterday, when in her own idiosyncratic way, she effectively said this:

This feeds into a much bigger debate, which could well become a global conversation soon. As a beneficiary of the democratisation of writing, I know that marketplace is open to abuse because there are those who can and will preach to the gullible. Then it only takes a few “Shares” for potential lies to be spread. Eventually, untruths become believed, accepted and abused.

Trump and Brexit are examples of what happens in a perfect storm: A lack of faith in the gorverning classes has led to an angry right wing gaining traction, while those on the left were ineffective in opposition.

But what’s equally important and saddening is that people were lied to and they believed the untruths. They didn’t check or research.

There need not be a silent majority though.

We need to talk. We need to debate. We need to arrive a point where we all agree that this current mess can be sorted out. In order to get there, we need to stop fighting.

It’s idealistic to think that such a New World Order might evolve in our lifetimes but I believe it could happen in our children’s. We have de-evolved as a human race recently and I’m not alone in this thinking.

Read – as I do – the many scientific notes of Stephen Hawking et al. I do it as a fiction writer, for research into near future scenarios I might scare or wonder readers with.

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

It was a version of that quote by Stephen Hawking, sampled by Pink Floyd in “Keep Talking” which prompted me to write Cyrus Song. All of the above, current affairs and scientific research is fuel for the fiction writer. And that’s what I am. I’m not a journalist, but even for my fiction work, I do research my material.

Don’t believe all that you see. Check it out. Read The Guardian; check Snopes; Don’t spread lies.