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. 

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Philosophical jigsaws and see-saws

THE WRITER’S LIFE | DEAR DIARY

I like to read, and I read a lot: Newspapers, books, blogs, and all sorts of internet research. For the latter, I use many sources relevant to different areas. But Wikipedia is always there: a depository of human knowledge, and kind of a hitch hiker’s guide, made by the people, for the people. It’s free, because it’s financed by donations (I’m a donor). It’s a fact, that every article on Wikipedia, eventually links back to the section on philosophy, which sits at the opposite end of the see-saw to ignorance.

Socrates

Over the last four years, I’ve developed my own philosophies, as I’ve got in touch with life and questioned it. Along with my previous essay on lucid dreaming and the quantum human soul, these philosophies help me through life, understanding it in the best way I can, and trying to convey some of that in words. Some I picked up from others and adapted, and others I wrote myself:

  • Life is like a jigsaw puzzle: all the pieces fit together eventually. But don’t spend your life following rules and convention. Do the edges whenever you feel like it. Think differently.
  • It’s your life. Do with it as you please, but with due consideration for others.
  • There are three people who occupy every human body: Who you think you are, who other people think you are, and who you really are.
  • Being a pessimist or an optimist makes no difference to the outcome, but the optimist has the better time leading up to it.
  • If you’ve done something wrong, you have a moral duty to put it right.
  • Imagine you’re in a room, with no visible means of exit: How do you get out? You could stop imagining. Or you could use your imagination.
  • You need to understand what misunderstood means.
  • Be the best that you can, at the thing you enjoy most.

I say those things to my kids, and to curious people who ask me questions, about life, the universe, and everything. My philosophies are partly a personal coping mechanism.

So why am I getting all philosophical? In short, because in the not too distant future, I can imagine the world at a pivotal point, even if I wasn’t a science fiction and horror writer. Some of the scenarios I’ve written about, in my short stories and my books, are now looking more real.

For humanity, the see-saw has been the splitting of the atom, once the holy grail of science. In achieving our race’s goal to unlock the nucleus, we unleashed a power which could destroy or save our species. Until now, we’ve used our discovery to create weapons, and to destroy each other. And yet, as one race, we’d be destroying ourselves. For the most part, we agreed that nuclear weapons had been a bad idea. But rogue states still threaten to upset the status quo. And now, we’ve perfected nuclear fusion: splitting the atom to release limitless free and clean energy. Soon we could be using nuclear fusion drives to take us far into space. We are on the verge of becoming a technological race, which uses that technology to explore, not to destroy. But the see-saw could still tip the other way.

It’s an existential thing: Through ignorance and quick, aggressive action, we could extinct our species. By thinking bigger, we could evolve and travel to the stars. All we need to do, is keep talking.

Whether I’m a writer or not, I repeat my optimism vs. pessimism philosophy over and over again in my head. And I try to believe it.

My books are available on Amazon.

A brief history of anarchy and optimism

DEAR DIARY | THE WRITER’S LIFE

Being an optimist or a pessimist makes no difference to the outcome (especially if you subscribe to predeterminism) but the optimist has a better time leading up to it. That’s one of a few philosophies which have helped me over the last four years.

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It was almost four years ago now that I first found myself sitting in McDonald’s, with a school exercise book and a bookmaker’s pen, starting to write notes. When I look at what’s happened since, it was optimism and activism which got me through.

It’s only in the last few months that I’ve had the security of a rolling tenancy with a social landlord (having passed a “probationary” first year). I had to work for what I now have, and it was optimism and a determination to better my lot that got me here. Having spent three months street homeless, a further six months in a squat, seven months sofa-surfing, then a year crammed into an illegal, overcrowded flat above a crooked landlord’s pub, I feel I’ve earned my modest but comfortable life.

Those early notes made up the oldest entries on this blog, as I’d go to the library for an hour a day to type them up. Then some of them formed the basis for my first novel: A semi-autobiographical flash fiction tale of a man, looking for answers among lost souls, while dealing with personal demons. Fast forward three years and I’ve published an anthology, an award-winning children’s book, and soon a second novel. My current typewriter is the year-old laptop my mum gave me (“I thought it might help with your writing”). My studio, in this tranquil little village, is just up the road from where George Orwell once lived. It’s all rather splendid. I earned it, I was optimistic, and I worked hard to get where I am. Temporarily at least, I’m happy. But I’m also restless.

Normally, happy people make shit activists: They lack the restlessness which drives change. A world full of them would be a passive and complicit place. But it’s being a commentator and occasional activist which makes me happy and was partly responsible for getting me where I am. And besides, peaceful civil disobedience is fun.

Sometimes when I was homeless, I wished I was a dog, because then life wouldn’t be so complicated. Dogs have such low expectations of life: Take them for a walk, throw a stick, or open a packet of biscuits, and a dog is happy. They’ve got every day nailed. But I’m restless; I question things: If I throw a stick for a dog, is the dog perhaps bringing it to me because he’s humouring me by playing along at what he thinks is my favourite game? In some ways, dogs are anarchists, depending on one’s understanding of the term.

Like my particular brand of atheism (I don’t deny the possibility of superior beings, I deny God in man’s image), my anarchism is refined beyond the stereotype of chaos often used to depict anarchy.

My conventional political standing is one of liberal socialism, but I see how that can be just one small remove from communism. My anarchism has its basis in the works of Naom Chomsky, who defines anarchy as “…a tendency in human thought which shows up in different forms in different circumstances, and has some leading characteristics. Primarily it is a tendency that is suspicious and sceptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy. It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified. It assumes that the burden of proof for anyone in a position of power and authority lies on them. Their authority is not self-justifying. They have to give a reason for it, a justification. And if they can’t justify that authority and power and control, which is the usual case, then the authority ought to be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just. And, as I understand it, anarchy is just that tendency. It takes different forms at different times.” Anarchy is people working together, where exploration and discovery aren’t suppressed or monetised. Dogs do that really well.

What I’ve achieved over the last four years, I’ve achieved by working with the system, learning how it works and respecting those who work within it. I can’t help thinking though, that it all would have been a lot quicker if those people weren’t employed by government.

Life is like a jigsaw puzzle: All the pieces fit together eventually. But if you follow convention and complete the edges first, you’ll finish the puzzle too quickly. Think differently.

Cyrus Song will be published on or before 17.08.17.

Inspirational philosopher? To them, I’m just dad…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Life is like a jigsaw puzzle: All the pieces fit together eventually. Don’t do the edges first though, because then you’ll finish the puzzle quicker. Think differently.

Move over, Forest Gump. I wrote the philosophy above, simply because it occurred to me; and I shared it with my children, over one of our Sunday lunches together. They think it’s pretty cool to have a writer as a dad. I may yet use the jigsaw analogy within the context of a short story, or as character dialogue in Cyrus Song. Even if I don’t though, I wrote it and it might come in handy some day. For now, it resides in one of my many notebooks.

I keep notebooks in strategic locations around the studio. The main one is my Filofax; The book of my life, stuffed with everything I need to keep my life organised, in a slightly disorganised retro way. Other than that, I have a notebook next to the sofa, one in the kitchen, and another in the bathroom: Ideas can spring forth at any time and when they do, it’s important to write them down, lest they be lost.

Having notebooks dotted around is not peculiar to me: Many writers advocate similar practice, especially when writing a novel, which I am at the moment. All the important stuff is on my typewriter (my laptop computer): Synopsis, chapter plan, detailed plot, character studies; and of course, the actual work in progress which is the book. I’m on track to have Cyrus Song finished by the end of this year. I’ve written previously about the various advantages and drawbacks of having a publisher versus self-publishing, and I’m still weighing it all up. In any case, there will be a new book in about seven months and I’m impatient to get a reaction but it can’t be rushed. I’ve published the basic plot outline on this blog, but I’ve confided more in a couple of trusted friends and they’re as keen as I am to see this book make light of day. If I do decide to self-publish, then the actual writing is only the half of it. After that, there’s proof-reading and editing, probably in several stages; Then there’s the actual compiling of the book, page numbering and indexing; And eventually, the actual publishing process. It’s a fun and rewarding thing but it’s a lot of work. Handy then that I enjoy what I do so much and I’m not in it for the money.

Apart from the book, I’ve not written much else in the last few weeks. I have short stories and ideas drafted in the various notepads, and there’ll be another anthology in a year or so, with some stories published here and in web zines in the interim. But Cyrus Song is the most fun thing to write. I’m at a stage in the book where all of my research proves its worth, in the way my characters speak and act, because I’ve got to know them so well. Among the many notes which no-one will see, are the background stories for the cast: I know Simon Fry and Hannah Jones as though they’re real people. But only a very small percentage of that background will appear in the final book. But extensive character building – even though the majority of it doesn’t end up on the page – is what makes the final prose read so well. In knowing my characters intimately, I’m able to portray them in the ways they speak or act: Show don’t tell. Strong characters are believable ones, who carry a narrative. Even though readers of Cyrus Song will only see a certain amount of what my characters say or do, I have whole notebooks containing their individual life stories. Most of it isn’t relevant to the plot, but it affects the way they act.

Among the few people I’ve confided the whole plot of the book to, are my children. Cyrus song is a book for all ages and although it’s partly about talking animals, it’s a mature book with deep messages. In any case, my kids asked if they could have bit parts in the book, as the animal hospital is a good set for extras to pass through and move the narrative around. So they’re now in the book: My son, with a toyger and my daughter, with two Cockney moggies. I’ve known for a while now that my eldest was planning a blog and I got an email a few days ago, inviting me to take a look. I was quite touched by the introduction:

My dad inspired me to write a blog. He also inspired me to start writing short stories…

What have I done?

Effectively a message for campers? (2,3,7)

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Assembled from old typewriters, sewing machines, cameras etc. (assemblique.com)

Among the many things I do to keep my brain in my skull is compile crosswords. Mine are cryptic puzzles, using a 15×15 grid and symmetrical on at least one diagonal axis. I employ the same methods as other compilers, so anyone familiar with the rules won’t be too troubled by the above clue. And it’s to that end that I attempt to write something which may resonate with others of a similar mindset: It’s in my head and it sounds like a college for large herbivores (11). This could equally be the story of what happened when an antique typewriter and a sewing machine got together (“Brother Singer”?):

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned, I learned from writing: Defy conventions and where there are two choices, find a third; Keep people on their toes. Because it’s all been done before and people know what to expect. You are the writer of your story and you want it to be different.

It applies equally to life: If it seems like there’s a choice between A and B, choose C. In my case, I was apparently some way through the alphabet when I finally decided what I wanted to do with my life, aged 42 and a bit. I’m 46 and I’ve been doing this long enough now that I no longer feel like a fraud when I tell people I’m a writer.

Recently I realised that I needed a little more order in my days; Some structure to make me concentrate on what really could make me a modest living if I run it more like a business. Given my life, that’s like erecting scaffold around a snowman. But I needed to put invisible dividers between working for myself and one day hoping to make money from it, and working for others, with a similar aspiration. It is difficult and it’s a life which doesn’t take kindly to barriers but the fuzzy ones I have in place are working.

Even before the recent reorganisation of my time, the studio was the main game-changer: Before I lived here, I was homeless. After roughly a year each of living on the streets, sofa surfing and living in an overcrowded pub flat, it’s nice to have a place of my own. Here, the door locks. As such, I don’t have to worry about people coming in uninvited; or a fucking delinquent landlady throwing a lit tampon into the room (another story); or a landlord whose accent was as broad as my contempt for him. Just as I travel with my own portable atmosphere, that guy would do well to carry subtitles. Then I’d spend as much time reading them as I did listening to him. But that’s yet another story. Now I have time to write them.

A door with a lock is obviously a good thing and the metaphorical doors in my life have locks for good reasons; They just lack hinges. Now though, it’s all a bit more under control.

The gig economy hasn’t produced anything much for the freelance writer, which is pretty much what I expected. It’s like pecking around on the ground for the last crumbs of bread and competing with all the other scavengers. Some of the work which is advertised is frankly ridiculous (someone’s idea made into a novel for an up-front fee of $250 anyone?), so amongst the pigeons, it’s easy to feel like a giraffe. But once the freelance work sites are exhausted, I can move on to other things, knowing that I haven’t missed out. There are a couple of freelance projects I’ve bid on and I’ve embellished my tenders with details which many jobbing bidders may have omitted: I’m a salesman and a pimp /whore.

More life lines have become blurred as I’ve felt ready and qualified to join writing groups and engage more with my peers. Writing is a lonely occupation, so peers are important. Depression and alcoholism are also isolating, and it’s been nice to discover some kindred spirits in the writing and blogging worlds.

With hindsight, it’s not been an exercise in separation but one of unification. Writing is my life now but I wasn’t able to embrace such a thing: It all seemed too good to be true, after all that’s gone before. Now I know better. “Stories only happen to those who are able to tell them.” (Paul Auster).

So even when I’ve gone through the emails from the freelance websites and I’m writing my own stuff, it’s not just my life but my job; And that reversal has been the eureka thing: The figurative light bulb above my head. Or maybe I’m the snowman who didn’t think that the sun might come out.

Because whatever I’m doing, I’m my own boss. This is my life, my story and my business. I have clients but I’m the freelance writer. As such, I have targets and deadlines which I’ll be measured on and it’s only me who’ll suffer if I take on too much. My clients aren’t bosses though: I’m still my own boss in a freelance contract, in which I will have set certain terms.

If anyone were to tell me to sit at my desk and write 1000 words in an afternoon, I’d probably go to the park and draw something whilst standing up. With only myself to answer to ultimately, and with a reputation to uphold, I’ll write what’s needed to fulfil a symbiotic contract.

The writer’s life is such that it never stops and part of my mental health problem is simply shutting my brain down so that I might sleep. So am I not antagonising that part of my depression? I spent too long fighting and now I’ve managed to embrace my misfiring mind; My one-time adversary is now my friend. Everything I watch, listen to or read; it feeds the sponge in my head. It was a simple mind trick which allowed me to embrace this. It was challenging: After all, this was my illness but also the life I wanted to make. Before this mental exercise, I had to have a notebook to hand when watching TV, listening to the radio or reading a newspaper. That’s what writers do. I wanted to be a writer but I wanted to be able to concentrate on working and relaxing equally but separately. Now, I can effectively divide or dissect my brain: I can touch-type, so I don’t need to look at the screen. Even if I do, I can cancel the part of my brain which was watching TV and concentrate instead on the sounds. The words then type themselves out in my head and I remember them for later. I don’t know if this is unusual: I know I am. Perhaps I need to be grateful to the poisoned chalice which is my IQ of 147 for something. In any case, the premise was to embrace rather than repel; To enjoy the two being the same: Writing is my life and my life is writing. I just needed to change the way I was thinking.

My fiction writing has benefited from the new, permeable, semi-opaque regime: I’m doing more of it. Well, of course I am; It’s my fucking life. The barrier was accepting something so wonderful as fact, when I spent my life dreaming; mainly nightmares. I’m sure that other writers, depressives or alcoholics will get some or all of what was an unholy trinity for me. Perhaps others will too. A, B, or even C: I got off around Q and realised it’s okay to be different but that there are others like me, however rare.

Although not as prolific on the free-to-view stuff now, I’m busier than ever as a writer and that’s a good thing for a writer to be. Besides the gig work and my ongoing novel, I’m writing some library stories: Fewer but longer and deeper. The next to appear in a ‘zine, then on here will be Echo Beach: a deep and unpleasant slow burner of a psychological horror.

I have sedatives to help me sleep now but I keep a notebook by the bed.

Postscript:

Effectively a message to campers? (2,3,7): To all intents

It’s in my head and it sounds like a college for large herbivores (11): Hippocampus

As Douglas Adams observed, the answer only makes sense if you understand the question you’re asking.

A world with soft edges

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FICTION

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(Crochet toys!)

There are many things which make my life good, when I’ve served myself so many shit sandwiches in the past. For me, the main ones are having kids and being a writer. Looked at the other way around, it’s even better: I’m a writer and I have kids. From their point of view, it’s one of the greatest things ever: When you’re 11 and nine-years-old; when you want a bedtime story and your dad’s a writer, you can just have a completely new story written for you.

Louis (11) and Lola (9) gave me the cast: Their bedtime companions; A Minecraft cuddly pig and a stuffed puppy from IKEA, called Snorty and Greg respectively. Then I asked my kids what super power they’d most like to have: Lola would like to fly and Louis chose invisibility. So I wrote a story: A completely new bedtime story, and my children were at the world premier, read by the author. But it’s a story for everyone:

A world with soft edges

Lots of people have wondered what it might be like to make a dream come true. But what if someone’s dream was simply to be awake? Then, what if you could share your life and your time with them? What if you could make their dreams come true, just by sleeping, so that when you were asleep, they were awake?

That was Snorty’s wish and Greg’s dream.

Snorty was a small Minecraft pig: Just a simple collection of polygons in the Minecraft world, made real and less cube-like as a soft toy, and with a back leg which hung a little loose. Greg was a Labrador puppy from Ikea: His coat was a bit faded and he was small. But he was Swedish: He could bark very loudly if someone said or did something he disagreed with, or if something happened which he didn’t like.

The pig and the dog would spend their nights exploring, but always aware of the giant children, in case they woke. Because when the giants woke up, the animals would immediately fall asleep: That was just the way things worked. The giant children would look after the animals during the day.

“Are the giant kids asleep?”, asked Snorty.

“Yes they are. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be able to answer you and you wouldn’t have been able to ask me in the first place, would you?”

“Oh yes”, said Snorty. “My leg’s a bit loose”.

“How many times do I have to tell you, your leg is fine.”

“But that giant girl has had me for so long, and she loves me so much that she’s made my leg loose.”

“Yes, and the giant boy loves me a lot, so I’ve got faded fur. But when we’re awake and those two are asleep, I put an amazing technicolour dream coat on.” Greg gave Snorty a Thespian twirl.

“Ooh, look at you!” Snorty smiled, then looked at his leg. “But what about this?”

“You look fine!”, Greg said. “Your leg might drag a bit, but I won’t leave you behind. When the giants are asleep and we’re awake, your leg is as new as my coat.”

“Greg? Do you wish you could talk to your giant?”

“I can’t talk to him. He has to sleep, so that his batteries recharge.”

“Have they got batteries?”

“No. Just big, developing brains. I can’t talk to my giant kid and you can’t talk to yours. They have to be asleep, so that we can get up to things. We have to explore and have adventures while they sleep. Some of what we do, they see as dreams and that feeds their batteries.”

“Their brains, you mean.”

“Same thing really, Snorty. But yes. Then while we’re asleep, they go off and do nice things, so that we have pleasant dreams.”

“So it is like we can talk to them? I mean, we live their dreams while they sleep; And they live ours while they’re awake? Is that right Greg?”

“I think so Snorty. Do you know what your one dreams of?”

“She said that if she had one superhero power, she’d be able to fly. What about yours, Greg?”

“Mine said that he’d like to be invisible. If you could wish for something though, what would you want your giant to do?”

“Well, she wants to fly. That means I can fly. But we’re different to the giants. I think I’d want her to know that if she really wants to fly, she can. Maybe one day, she might fly in a different way. Or maybe, she might actually fly. I want her to keep imagining. Would you want to be invisible, like your giant does?”

“That would be a lot of fun. There could be intrigue and espionage, which would be very exciting. We have to be responsible though and not misuse the superpowers. All superheroes have to be careful not to reveal their powers. We do have a bit of a problem though”, said Greg.

“How so?”, asked Snorty.

“Well, if you can fly and I can be invisible…”, Greg began.

“Then I can’t see you.” Snorty finished the sentence.

“Hmmmmm…”, said Greg.

“Hmmmmm…”. Snorty agreed. “So, I could be flying around and not know where you are.”

“And I could see you flying around but you wouldn’t be able to see me.”

“Hmmmmm…”

“Hmmmmm…”

“I know!” Snorty shouted. “If I’m flying and you need me but I can’t see you, you could just call my name.”

“And if I’m invisible and you want to find me”, said Greg, “You could call mine.”

“We’d be a a superhero double act. A bit like siblings”, said Snorty.

“But without having to admit that we’re best friends”, said Greg.

“Yeah.”

“That’s quite cool.”

Suddenly and for no reason whatsoever, a castle appeared: Not in the distance; not just in front of them, but all around them.

“We’re in a castle,” said Snorty.

“You do have a habit of stating the obvious, piggy.”

“But why are we in a castle?”, said the pig.

“I don’t know. One of the giants is dreaming. And they’ve given us a castle.” The dog looked thoughtful. “Shall we have a look around? I mean, seeing as we’re here?”

“What are we looking for?”

“I don’t know. But a castle has just materialised around us. It would be a bit silly not to look around, wouldn’t it?”

“Isn’t it a bit rude to look around other people’s houses?”

“Well, yes. But we’ve been put inside this one, so it’s kind of ours.”

“Perhaps we’re trapped? Maybe there’s no way out.”

“If anything really bad happens, then the giants will wake up. When they wake up, all of this will be gone.”

“But I like it here.” Snorty looked around. They were in a huge entrance hall, with large wooden doors on either side and a grand staircase, leading up to a balcony which ran all around the room.

“I like it here too”, Greg said. “As long as nothing bad happens, we can stay here until the giants wake up. So we must look out for anything which looks like a bad dream and use our superpowers to keep them away.” Greg stood on his back legs, so that he looked more dramatic in his colourful coat.

“What am I supposed to do?”, Snorty asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you can stand up like that and look like a twonk. I’ve got a wonky leg, remember?”

“I do not look like a twonk. I am being theatrical. Besides, your leg is fine in here. How many times do I have to tell you, Snorty?”

“Oh yes.” Snorty stood on his hind trotters and looked down. “The floor’s further away.”

“Don’t say you’re afraid of heights. I thought you wanted to fly.”

“I do. I’m not afraid of heights. Aren’t you afraid of not being seen?”

“I’ll only use my invisibility if I have to. I can bark. I mean, I can shout, remember? It’s got a bit cold and dark in here. I am a little bit worried. “

“So am I.”

“I think there might be a bad dream here somewhere.”

“Me too. Don’t go invisible yet, Greg.”

“I won’t. But don’t you fly off either.”

“I won’t. What does a bad dream look like, Greg?”

“I don’t know. The whole point is that the giants wake up and then it stops. All we can do is…”

“What?”

“The best we can, I suppose. I feel strange, Snorty.”

“So do I Greg. I think this might be how bad dreams start.” Snorty looked at Greg. “Hey!”, he shouted. “You’ve got my legs!”

Greg looked down. “I thought the ground looked closer.” He walked around for a while on his new trotters. “There’s nothing wrong with this leg you’re always moaning about. It just looks like I’m wearing pink trousers. It is cold in here. Hey! You’re wearing my coat!”

“Ooh! I am.” Snorty looked at the coat, then down at the floor. “The floor is even further away. Greg! I’ve got your legs!”

“I’m glad you’ve got them, because I was wondering where they’d gone. I think we should see if we can get out of here. This is a bit weird.”

“There are two doors”, said Snorty. “Shall we check one each?”

“That sounds like a plan”, said Greg.

But both doors were locked. Greg trotted back to the middle of the room, using Snorty’s legs, which he now had. Snorty padded, on Greg’s legs, which he now had.

They looked around and there were no other doors. The castle had materialised around them after all; They’d not walked in through a door. The only other way of leaving the entrance hall was the staircase leading up.

The dog and the pig walked to the stairs. But the stairs had turned into an Escalator, which was running down.

“What in this world has happened?”, said Snorty.

“One of the giants is dreaming this,” Greg said. “What will they think of next?”

“Shall we try going up it? The moving staircase?”

“We can try. We’ll need to run. And keep to the left.”

“Why?”, asked Snorty.

“Stand on the right, remember? And we’d better be quick.”

“Why?”

“Because the walls are closing in.”

“And the ground is shaking. Do you think the giants are waking up?”

“I hope so. Whether they are or not though, there’s only one thing we can do to get out of here.” Greg looked up.

Snorty looked up too. The walls stretched up as far as they could see and were closing in on all sides. They couldn’t run up the Escalator: It was running too fast; The walls were closing in. And besides all of that, they each had the wrong legs.

“You need to fly up”, Greg said to Snorty. “And I need to shout as loudly as I can.”

“Erm, Greg?”

“What, Snorty?”

“Actually, I am afraid of heights.”

“Oh you twonk! Why did you get that superpower? Well, you need to fly and you need to carry me. And I need to shout. Hopefully, we can wake someone up.”

“But I can’t carry you!”

“You can if I’m invisible.”

“How?”

“Because I’ll weigh less. I’ll be with you, so you don’t have to be afraid.”

Greg closed his eyes and became invisible. He shouted to Snorty: “Now, fly piggy. Fly!” He shouted and shouted; He barked and shouted some more.

Greg’s coat became Snorty’s wings and his legs dangled beneath as he rose into the air. The higher he went, the quieter Greg’s shouting got.

The walls continued to shrink in around them and the whole world shook, as Snorty’s wings grew tired and Greg’s barking was drowned out by the earthquake around them.

How long does a blink of the eye last? A blink is the time between the eye closing, then opening again. Usually it’s less than a second. Sometimes, it’s a whole night; or perhaps a lifetime.

In the blink of an eye, Greg and Snorty were back with the giants.

“Is there any way we can tell them about this, dog?”

“The only way to change things, piglet” Said Greg. “…is to end the dreams.”

“Could we tell him about it? That man on the typewriter.”

“I think he already knows.”

Lots of people have wondered what it might be like to make a dream come true. But what if someone’s dream was simply to be awake? Then, what if you could share your life and your time with them? What if you could make their dreams come true, just by sleeping, so that when you were asleep, they were awake?

It happens every night. All over the world.

It’s rather wonderful, if you think about it.

(C) Steve Laker, 2016

Postscript

Nailed it, according to the test audience, aged 11 and nine.

Post Postscript

[SPOILER ALERT]

Floored someone, when I heard from a contemporary who’d got all of the subtext and said they had a wet face at the end. Because there’s a very tragic thing at the end, subtly hidden: I put that in, so that a parent reading it to their kids might be as deeply affected by it as those whose heads it should drift over.

My family and other mammals

THE WRITER’S LIFE

111dolphin

“Thanks for all the fish.”

Some of the most amazing things can happen right in front of your eyes, only if you realise they’re happening. If you’re not paying attention, they can just happen and be gone, without you realising that they were practically up your nose. It was 44 years before I finally smelled the coffee.

As a recent convert to vegetarianism, and having read a lot on the subject, I am of a mindset where I see other mammals as simply non-human animals. I had to conclude that the animals I was eating were autonomous, self-determining beings with a conscience. My personal conscience would not allow me to eat another being, any more than I would want to eat one of my family.

I’ve been sober now for two years and the thing I wonder most about life now, is why I tried to block it out for so long, when life can be a wonderful thing. Sure, my depression is sometimes debilitating but that provides a contrast and makes me appreciate the nice things, family and friends among them.

Yesterday was a chance to spend a few hours with my parents at my place. Nowadays, we discuss family first, then we meander off into sometimes fascinating territory. Yesterday we discussed politics and history, among other things. Just occasionally, the old man drifted off, like dads do. The mother ship carried on talking, like mums do. I just floated along on the moments: Happy, sad; Proud and grateful.

In a few weeks, I’m looking forward to some very special family time, when myself and my kids are staying at my parents’ for a week: As recently as even a year ago, this would not have happened because I was still in recovery. We have a few things planned, including a trip to London. The kids have already expressed a preference to visit Tate Modern, my favourite place in the universe which I currently know of. Mum’s interested too. Wherever we end up, I’ll be a kind of sandwich filling: the middle of three generations. I’ve also promised my mum that we will resurrect an old tradition if I’m successful at my upcoming PIP tribunal (I won the last time I took on the Department for Work and Pensions): I will take her to see a West End show. She’s always wanted to see Les Miserables on the West End stage and I don’t mind seeing it a third time.

My parents gave me a gift: My DNA; An IQ of 147, a thirst for knowledge and an ability to translate it all into words. They’re proud of what I’ve become: They tell their friends that their son is a writer; They gave me the very typewriter (A Windows 10 laptop) which allows me to convey all of this. Three years ago, I was drunk; I had been for a long time. Then something strange happened: I eventually realised, at the age of 44 and with the benefit of sobriety, what life is all about. I can’t explain it; But I can convey it. I’ll always be an alcoholic but I know that I’ll never lapse, because of what I’ve seen.

I’ve witnessed many things, including quite a few of my own making: I write stories now and people love them. If I was still drinking, I wouldn’t be able to do that. Right now I’m in a literary hot tub of my invention, aboard a very small intergalactic craft, with a group of manatees, discussing the benefits of them being the most spherical animals on earth (What a wonderful thing to be). I’m writing a companion story for Cyrus Song. It’s called Cyrus Choir:

“…I dined alone that evening. I tried to place the enormity of that day into some sort of context. But even though I’m a writer, there were insufficient words to explain it, no matter how numerous and intertwined I made them. Less is more in literature. I’d listened to animals talking. My life: String theory in a Pot Noodle.

Given what I was contemplating and what I was eating – because the two were separate – it occurred to me to check the ingredients of my dinner; I’m a vegetarian, after all. A quick scan of the pot and a spoonerism reassured me: Not poodle…”

I’ve been asked where the title for Cyrus Song came from, because the words aren’t repeated in the story. As always, I have a reason and although I like to make readers think, this one was a bit tenuous. Cyrus Song was inspired by a number of things and a few people: A girl I know; a fight with a fruit fly zooming around my screen; and a song: Keep Talking, by Pink Floyd, AKA Cyrus Song and featuring the voice of Professor Stephen Hawking:

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination: We learned to talk.”

The rest is a work in progress. Life’s what you make it and although I wouldn’t recommend the route I took, I’m glad it deposited me here.

All we have to do is make sure we keep talking.