In commune with the universe, not immune to internal conflict

THE WRITER’S LIFE | DEAR DIARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And you’ve been so busy lately (time in the think tank)

THE WRITER’S LIFE

If I could hang my hat on a short story I wrote, it would be Echo Beach. If I can hang my hat on a novel, it’ll be Cyrus Song. If anyone were tempted to read one article on this blog, I’d point them here for now.

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There are many more short stories planned, as well as whole new books. But recently, I’ve had to move things around a little. I’m planning what I think is a very appropriate Christmas gift for my parents (and I’m out of the horror market for now). When you’re given the opportunity to look forward five years, certain plans take shape.

In my last blog post, I mentioned a book which I was planning for my dad. Now that I’ve had time to start plotting it out, it’s going to take longer than I originally thought to put it together. But I’ve resolved to make this book before I move onto the next one. Why would I post this here, in a public forum, and now indelible? The reasons are as simple as the ones I have for writing the book: To hang my hat on a blog post, step forward and offer the chance of final judgement for those who still hide in the background, and who will remain there.

I don’t seek forgiveness from any false deity, nor do I repent for my sins in the eyes of an unseeing God. My debts on Earth are repaid to the humans who matter to me, and those who will come after them. And they will attest to this, but not in a kangaroo court.

What went on (that would be me going into meltdown), is all squared with family and real friends: I got drunk. I was addicted (I’m still an addict, and always will be), I was on anti-depressants, which, combined with alcohol, can result in blackouts. But I re-live it, as it is not to be denied. I’ve got a medical record which convinced two tribunal panels that I am mentally ill, but otherwise well in the situation which took so much effort to win, and which now sits around me: A modest, secure home, with a social landlord, meaning long-term security. Now that I have that, I live as a diagnosed functioning alcoholic with chronic depression and anxiety. But I live: Perhaps some people will never be happy with the outcome. Finances are still lacking, so I have to make things. But I digress.

My mum (always affectionately referred to as ‘The Mothership’ here (Hi mum), because she gets me: she was a conspirator in making me), sometimes reads this blog. So am I spoiling a surprise? No. What this post does (if The Mothership reads it) is make a promise to her, in public. She trusts me now, based on the last three years of drawing ever closer as a family. So she knows that I won’t break my promise. And I know that I will be able to refer back to this post in five months or so and be vindicated in the eyes of remaining doubters. To be honest, those people bother me no less than an infection which can be ignored. My point with all of this, is to raise two fingers, with a sharp chop to my inside elbow and a reflex raising of my left hand. It’s my cure for cancer.

Will mum tell dad? Maybe. It doesn’t matter. The book I’m planning is one which they can both look forward to seeing in print. I’ve expanded my research a little, just into the history of the house and village where my mum lived, before she and dad lived together. The rest of dad’s life was spent with mum, in the same places. What occurred to me at first as a way to give a temporarily fading memory something to hook onto, has become more as I’ve plotted it. Now it will be a story of two people and how they left marks together, like names carved in a tree.

Every fine garden which my dad created and tended, will always bear his footprint. Every meal which my mum cooked, back in the family unit day, fed labour, and the imagination of a kid. My parents created the means to tell their story. I am that thing which they made, and this book seems an appropriate way to give something back and say a simple thank you.

I can write, compile, edit and publish a book, all from my desk. There will most likely be only a few copies given away, but the book will have an ISBN as part of the publishing process. My parents and those who know them will have a book. Anyone will be able to buy the book; a slice-of-life story from the Kent countryside (beware of spoonerisms). The bottom line is, I can immortalise my parents: I think that’s a nice gift from a writer, who was given the gift of writing (albeit unwittingly) by his parents. It’s something they can share. They gave me this IQ of 147, and now I know what it’s for.

And they are a proud couple, with every right to be. They are proud of me, and I will always give them every reason to be. They are proud to have such as a strange thing as a writer. I write bedtime stories for my kids now. So I can write a book which tells a brief history of how it all started.

All of which means I’m able to agree with myself that my future publishing schedule should go something like this(ish):

Cyrus Song: Now late August / early September, with 12 days left for final test reader comments.

Quietly, Through the Garden of England: Now the working title, being as it’s the journey of two people who would otherwise have gone unnoticed, but who made such a difference. I’m resolved to December publication.

Reflections of Yesterday (still the working title for an anthology): July 2018. I’m writing the fourth of 17 shorts for this: Longer stories, written in different personal circumstances from The Perpetuity of Memory‘s 25 tales. 42 in total.

Cyrus Song II: December 2018. If my confidence in the original is vindicated, this would be the right time.

Infana Kolonia: July 2019. This is still planned as a sci-fi epic but the current plot takes it to 1200 pages, so it needs some work.

Forgive me No-one: May 2020: My uncensored autobiography, if it’s noteworthy. And that all depends where eight published books gets me if I make 50. I don’t seek forgiveness from any false deity, nor do I repent for my sins in the eyes of an unseeing God. My debts on Earth are repaid to the humans who matter, and those who will come after them. Despite what’s in my head sometimes, with this plan in place, I hope I live to be my parents’ age. Maybe then I’ll be half as wise as them.

In the meantime, The Afternaut is shaping up into something really quite original, but which still sticks to the brief sent into the Unfinished Literary Agency. It should now be out in the first half of August, and I think the idea donor will be pleased: Not just with their idea being turned into a story, but knowing that it’s out there and that anyone could read it, if they had time.

And you’ve been so busy lately
that you haven’t found the time
To open up your mind
And watch the world spinning gently out of time
Feel the sunshine on your face
It’s in a computer now
Gone are the future, way out in space…

(Out of Time: Blur, Ben Hillier, Marrakech, 2002).

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Books in bags, bags in books

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Having completed a few individual writing projects as a freelancer, I’ve gained a new regular client. I feel much more justified calling myself a professional writer now that it’s not just selling my own stuff. But I do sell myself, baggage included: Baggage full of books.

The pay is poor in a very competitive marketplace but as a freelancer, I can choose the projects which most interest me, and it all goes to building my writer profile on the out-sourcing agency sites.

I’ve found my feet quite naturally as an active freelance writer because it really just boils down to simple business acumen. I’ve run businesses, I hated them and I fucked them up with my drinking. Now that I’m effectively able to run myself as a sole trader, I can think of that as a separate entity. With a brain as fragmented as mine, it’s easiest to just separate the parts.

So in the last few weeks, when I’ve been a little unsure of where my life was, I’ve cracked it. I’ve won battles, mainly with myself, or the various parts of me in conflict. Whereas with previous ventures I had partners, this one I’ve had to do alone, as a team. I’ve achieved my current position by dividing myself up: The pseudonym who writes the work I publish under my own name, and the freelance work I do for clients, where I’m just a ghost.

Then there’s the third person: The one who manages it all. And I’ve found that to be the real me. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve written profiles of the writer; I’ve made changes to my website, my social media pages and how it all links up; I’ve arranged everything on my laptop in the same way I would a small business.

I’ve produced an entity, which is what a business is. I’m marketing and selling that writer, gaining work, referrals and all the things I hated when I had a limited company. But this is just me (as a team).

Of course, all of this doesn’t necessarily fit with the professional profile which I try to convey with my writer entity in other media. But that entity is me, however fragmented. I firmly believe that people buy from people and if clients wish to hire me, they get all the luggage. This game is about personal relationships anyway. I wear my heart on my sleeve, so it’s a job which suits me. And this is my blog after all; My personal diary; My sounding board, when I have no-one but myself and my readers around. If my frankness motivates anyone, that’s a bonus.

Right now, I have some articles to write for freelance clients. One is about learning Spanish through Spanish music. Another is a blog entry for a romance author: I love the variety. And it pays.

Later, my pseudonym will continue to write the next short story to be published under my name, provisionally entitled “The box we made”:

Life had been very much a game of give and take: If George had taken something, then he was indebted to someone else. If he received something and it wasn’t in recognition of anything he’d done, he was in somebody’s debt. When he gave something, he expected nothing back…

The third person in the strange trinity which makes up me, is me. I won my benefits appeal today. A Pyrrhic victory perhaps but recognition of my brand of depression as a disability, after a long battle. The tribunal panel were aware of me being a writer because I’d have a pretty tough time keeping it a secret with the online presence I’ve built. I have permitted levels of earnings whilst in receipt of benefits and my writing is recognised for the therapy which it provides.

Writing is in my heart. It has been said by a sub-editor of a publishing company that I write from the heart; That I have an incredible authorial voice. And that’s what’s made me what I am. Whether I’m any good is subjective but the proof of what I’ve done is the public image.

All in all, I’m back in charge of my life because I know where it’s going: I’m a writer getting paid, partly through state finance to manage my mental illness in the most cost-effective way: Self-therapy.

I’m a writer, a copywriter and a ghostwriter. My work is being praised by private clients and I’m only able to write in the way I do because I’m me; baggage and all.

Books full of baggage; Writing which carries weight.

A random page, ripped from my chest

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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(Source: TVTropes)

Sometimes, something’s too long for a social media post but not long enough for a story. Just occasionally, it can’t be contained. That’s where having a blog comes in handy. Sometimes, I just want to get something off of my chest: If it’s burning a hole in my heart, it’s better out there. So, from my thought diary; and my heart…

There are many things which confuse me in life: I’ve sort of begun to work out what life itself might be all about but I struggle with the details. Forgetting for a moment my constant struggle with rabbits (They always look like they’re about to say something), there are many other things which occupy my mind, like why does my face get wet when I see or hear something beautiful, and why is the O2 network so shit?

I’ve lived at The Studio for almost five months now and no matter what day it is, or what the time of day might be, around here at least, the network connection just makes things up as it goes along. There’s apparently a mast near here somewhere, which engineers are working on. Every single day, when I have a connection, it’s being worked on. No matter how many times I’ve walked around this little village, on no occasion have I seen anything resembling an engineer working on a transmitter. I know that transmitters tend to be visually unobtrusive, but engineers? O2 either employ very small ones, or they’re using cloaking devices. That certainly seems to be the case with the network signal.

At best, the signal is intermittent but even when all of the on-screen and other signs indicate that there is a connection, there in fact isn’t. For this, I pay £25 a month on my PAYG phone: A situation dictated by being a former bankrupt with no credit score, meaning that I can have neither a contract phone or broadband account. I pay over the odds for less than most people and often get nothing. But I digress, in the hope that someone from my fucking mobile company might happen to read this. If they are: You’re a bunch of thieving, hostage-holding cunts.

That’s better.

And so to my face, which is prone to inclemency: This is something which has emerged since I sobered up. I get that alcohol deadens the emotions but it’s like all of mine were stored up for the whole time I was drinking and now they’re wreaking some sort of revenge.

I suppose an email from each of my children telling me how much they love some of my stories (the ones which are suitable for them to read) is going to do it, when I see them so little. I know that their mum would have been behind them somewhere with a proverbial cattle prod and the threat of food rationing but they’ve both said that they’d like to do some work with me during the time that we’re together next week at my parents’. I’m not kidding myself and I’m not being humoured: The littlest has sent me around a dozen illustrations for the children’s book I’ve had planned for a while now. The eldest is building a website for a school project and has asked my permission to feature three of my stories.

The littlest first: I wrote A girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie about a year ago now and it won first prize in a “Life-changing” short story competition run by Writing Magazine. The editor suggested that it’s exactly the kind of approach which mainstream publishers are looking for in children’s literature when dealing with serious life events. I never approached a publisher because I didn’t want to be lumbered with an illustrator straight out of central casting. At one point it was going to be a photo book, using family photos from two of my closest friends.

But I had a vision and I really wanted to stick with that, just as I did the book title, which a mainstream publisher would probably ask me to change. Originally, the story was called The child who wished for nothing. Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie came about because those were the personifications of the dog and cat respectively in the story. I really wanted it to be illustrated by my daughter (aged nine). She’d told me before that she loved the story and tonight, she sent me some pictures. The email told me where the individual pictures are to appear in the story and they are reflective of the scenes which they are to be placed into. It all means that she’s not been put up to it, she genuinely likes the story and she wants to be a part of what her dad does.

The eldest is 11 and (as well as his sister), he’s taken a shine to the Cyrus stories (one on this blog; the other coming at the weekend): He’s asked for permission to use them on a website he’s building for a school project. He wrote a story of his own a few months back (which had merit) and he’s asked if we can complete it together when he’s staying with me next week. Then both kids have asked if we can do some writing while they’re down.

I have the proof and there is no thunder which anyone can steal: The fact is, my two children are interested in what their dad does, to the extent that they want to be involved. I’d almost go so far as to say that they might be proud.

No wonder my face is wet.

And all of that was apropos of nothing, other than an ability to write.