I predict a period of civil disobedience

POLITICS | OPINION

I like to think that my liberal and social mindset transcends politics, certainly insofar as no UK political party represents all of my views, which is pretty much social liberal anarchism (as opposed to communism): I think a lot. But even someone with a polar position to mine (at least one who was prepared to listen and debate), would see the truths in the post below, and maybe begin to question as much as I always do.Henry David Thoreau

While I’m stuck with contemporary liberal socialism, the Labour Party is the one I support in UK politics. Having said that I wouldn’t politicise this blog, it is my blog nonetheless and it represents me. And while the UK parliament has been on Summer recess, and most people have put everything which went before to the backs of their minds, I’ve still been ferreting around, reading and thinking.

I’m a member of The Labour Party and as such, I get emails about campaigns: I know that the party hasn’t rested during the Summer break. Meanwhile, the Tories will continue the path of destruction they started before they all went on holiday and many of us didn’t. But even putting my hard left stance aside, a recent post on Facebook by Chris Renwick, before the last general election – even though he’s a Labour supporter – ought to strike a note with left and right alike, seeing is it is essentially the truth. Here’s the post in full:

Here’s what I’m really struggling to understand. All I’ve ever heard from people, for years, is:

“Bloody bankers and their bonuses”
“Bloody rich and their offshore tax havens “
“Bloody politicians with their lying and second homes”
“Bloody corporations paying less tax than me”
“Bloody Establishment, they’re all in it together”
“It’ll never change, there’s no point in voting”

And quite rightly so, I said all the same things. But then someone comes along that’s different. He upsets the bankers and the rich. The Tory politicians hate him along with most of the labour politicians. The corporations throw more money at the politicians to keep him quiet. And the Establishment is visibly shaken. I’ve never seen the Establishment so genuinely scared of a single person.

So the media arm of the establishment gets involved. Theresa phones Rupert asking what he can do, and he tells her to keep her mouth shut, don’t do the live debate, he’ll sort this out. So the media goes into overdrive with:

“She’s strong and stable”
“He’s a clown”
“He’s not a leader”
“Look he can’t even control his own party”
“He’ll ruin the economy”
“How’s he gonna pay for it all?!”
“He’s a terrorist sympathiser, burn him, burn the terrorist sympathiser”

And what do we do? We’ve waited forever for an honest politician to come along but instead of getting behind him we bow to the establishment like good little workers. They whistle and we do a little dance for them. We run around like hypnotised robots repeating headlines we’ve read, all nodding and agreeing. Feeling really proud of ourselves because we think we’ve come up with our very own first political opinion. But we haven’t, we haven’t come up with anything. This is how you tell. No matter where someone lives in the country, they’re repeating the same headlines, word for word. From Cornwall to Newcastle people are saying:

“He’s a clown”
“He’s a threat to the country”
“She’s strong and stable”
“He’ll take us back to the 70s”

And there’s nothing else, there’s no further opinion. There’s no evidence apart from one radio 5 interview that isn’t even concrete evidence, he actually condemns the violence of both sides in the interview. There’s no data or studies or official reports to back anything up. Try and think really hard why you think he’s a clown, other than the fact he looks like a geography teacher (no offence geography teachers) because he hasn’t done anything clownish from what I’ve seen.

And you’re not on this planet if you think the establishment and the media aren’t all in it together.

You think Richard Branson, who’s quietly winning NHS contracts, wants Corbyn in?
You think Rupert Murdoch, who’s currently trying to widen his media monopoly by buying sky outright, wants Jeremy in?
You think the Barclay brothers, with their offshore residencies, want him in?
You think Philip Green, who stole all the pensions from BHS workers and claims his wife owns Top Shop because she lives in Monaco, wants Corbyn in?
You think the politicians, both Labour and Tory, with their second homes and alcohol paid for by us, want him in?
You think Starbucks, paying near zero tax, wants him in?
You think bankers, with their multi million pound bonuses, want him in?

And do you think they don’t have contact with May? Or with the media? You honestly think that these millionaires and billionaires are the sort of people that go “ah well, easy come easy go, it was nice while it lasted”?? I wouldn’t be if my personal fortune was at risk, I’d be straight on the phone to Theresa May or Rupert Murdoch demanding this gets sorted immediately.

Because here’s a man, a politician that doesn’t lie and can’t lie. He could have said whatever would get him votes anytime he wanted but he hasn’t. He lives in a normal house like us and uses the bus just like us. He’s fought for justice and peace for nearly 40 years. He has no career ambitions. And his seat is untouchable. That’s one of the greatest testimonies. No one comes close to removing him from his constituency, election after election.

His Manifesto is fully costed. It all adds up, yes there’s some borrowing but that’s just to renationalise the railway, you know we already subsidise them and they make profit yeah? One more time… WE subsidise the railway companies and they walk away with a profit, just try and grasp the level of piss taking going on there.

Unlike the Tory manifesto with a £9 billion hole, their figures don’t even add up. And it benefits all of us, young, old, working, disabled, everyone. The only people it hurts are the establishment, the rich, the bankers, the top 5% highest earners.

Good, screw them, it’s long overdue. #VoteLabour #ForTheManyNotTheFew!

Couldn’t have put it much differently myself. I read The Guardian, the only truly independent UK newspaper. I’ve said before that at first, I didn’t trust Corbyn: Because I didn’t see him as a politician. But then I realised I’d been conditioned to what a politician was and that Corbyn was just different. I can relate to that. He’s a long-game thinker, like me; he sees a bigger picture, a future vision.

When parliament returns from Summer recess, I predict the further meltdown of the Tory party in its own cauldron. I see Kim-Jong May walking away from the EU with no deal. I hope I continue to see the lifting of the national veil I saw a couple of months ago, where the public realise they’ve been lied to. And then, if there isn’t a leadership challenge or some other trigger for a general election, I predict civil unrest: We’ve already seen it, as this country has begun to sunk.

And the only way I see to make things better, is to vote Corbyn into No10. To get there, I hope Chris Renwick’s Facebook rant resonates with as big an audience as possible. Then we might see the disruption this country needs before it sinks.

(I also predict that in a second parliamentary term, a Labour government would legalise the recreational use of cannabis, correctly licensed and taxed).

If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.”
Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

The Unfinished Literary Agency in fiction, and in fact…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Unfinished

The Unfinished Literary Agency is a fictional entity which I’ve used in a few of my own stories. It’s based above Hotblack Desiato’s property agency in Islington, which actually exists, by virtue of the owner being a Douglas Adams fan. I can almost forgive the guy being a property agent because of that alone. I like to imagine he gets the irony of being one of the professions loaded onto the B Ark when the Golgafrinchans rid themselves of an entire useless third of their population in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

My fictional agency exists to tell the stories of those who are unable to tell them. As Paul Auster once said, “Stories only happen to those who are able to tell them.” So the Unfinished Literary Agency employs writers to tell the stories of others, which is pretty much what writers do anyway.

So I wondered if such a place might exist online. Surely, there would be lots of people who have stories, and many writers grateful of ideas? Well, that’s why there are ghostwriters, of which I am one. But my motivation for writing is more than money, of which there is very little. For me, it’s the reward of having someone tell me how much they enjoyed something I wrote.

An example in the public domain, is my award-winning children’s story, A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie. It was written when I was lodging with a family while I was homeless, and the family dog died. As someone who sees animals as people, I saw Jake’s passing as that of a family member, not a pet. I remembered losing many animal people of my own and not being able to find a coping mechanism. Eventually, that came in the form of Goodbye, Dear Friend: Coming to Terms with the Death of a Pet, by Virginia Ironside. Like me, she saw the loss of an animal person, rather than a replaceable pet. But those most affected by the loss of a family member are invariably children, who might be unable to express or understand their grief. I remembered again, not being able to find anything when I was a kid. So that’s how the children’s book came about, and it’s been variously praised for how it deals with life’s losses and changes, through the eyes of a girl and her talking dog. Anyway, if your animal friend dies, there’s a book for that.

One of the stories in The Perpetuity of Memory is called String Theory: It was written for (and therefore, by) a young lady I met via her mum, again, when I was homeless. The young girl was at a transitory stage in life, where she was about to move to secondary school, with all of the internal changes which someone of that age will also have to deal with. She was a little bit lost, so I (she) wrote String Theory, which is about a puppet girl on strings, who learns to fly.

I had to conclude that there is no real or virtual online place which does what The Unfinished Literary Agency does, to tell the stories of others. If such a place were to exist, there must be so many untold stories to feed it: Children and adults alike, facing challenging situations, which fiction might help them to see and understand in a different way; the terminally ill could be given immortality, people could become known and remembered. But such an agency would need a staff of purely altruistic writers like me. And there are many who ghostwrite like me. The unfortunate truth is, something like The Unfinished Literary Agency couldn’t be monetised, so it would have to operate on charity alone.

People have asked me how things might have been different if I’d started writing earlier. If I’d gained a degree in literature, then gone straight into writing as a professional. The simple answer is, well it didn’t fucking happen like that, did it? In fact, the main catalyst for me becoming a writer, was when I was homeless, without possessions and with nothing else to do. It turned out I’m pretty good at it by all accounts. And by living a life before I came out as a writer, I gained experience. I lived the stories which I can now tell, and I met the characters which I can now inhabit, while developing my own. I’ve been complimented on the depth of some of my characters. That’s because, like most writers, my stories have a part of me in them. And I’ve put other people I know into stories too, with The Unfinished Literary Agency, and The Human Lending Library, from Reflections of yesterday.

In yet more stories of mine, there are protagonists and narrators who are writers themselves. In some of these, the fictional writer’s actions make the story more real: Writing is art, after all, and the beauty of an individual piece is often to be found in the unique marks left by the human artist. One such story is the title track from The Perpetuity of Memory. Another, The difference engine, will be published in early July.

I’m already a ghostwriter, for stories I write for other people and which are published without bearing my name. With stories like A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie, and String Theory, the arrangement was symbiotic: I told someone else’s story, by writing a story of my own. As a writer, I was given an idea and turned it into a publishable story, which the person I was writing for was then able to see in print. In a couple of cases, that person bought a copy of the book containing their story, then arranged privately with me to send it to me, to sign and return. Others have asked for this, even though they’re not in any of the stories. While I’m still on the literary fringes, this is something I have time to do and it’s something I enjoy. Because it’s another thing which is more than money: It’s a personal touch, which people appreciate.

So far, I’ve avoided politics. But in making another prediction (and I’ve been pretty much spot on previously), I’m predicting a Universal Basic Income to be part of Labour’s manifesto for a second parliamentary term. If so, something like The Unfinished Literary Agency could become real, with writers more able to work for a greater good with a reliable minimum income in place. Until then, it will remain a purely fictional place.

So for now, The Unfinished Literary Agency has but one writer in residence. But as I’m not driven by money, I will accept commissions. I’ll write the stories of others, free of charge, and both parties gain a little warm feeling, through helping someone else.

And for as long as I’m writing, I’ll always be happy to sign copies of my books.

The Perpetuity of Memory; A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie; and The Paradoxicon (my original, semi-autobiographical novel) are available now. My next sci-fi book, Cyrus Song, is due for publication around October.

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.

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.

Rise of the toasters

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Toaster Red2ToasterToaster Blue
They have a plan

The headline refers to Cylons (“Toasters”), for anyone unfamiliar with Battlestar Galactica, and the opening title cards:
The Cylons were created by man. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan.”
Like many sci-fi fans, I speak as though science fiction is actual history: It’s a geek humour thing, and it can make us seem exclusive to some, usually gathered in a corner somewhere. Excluded might be a better term.

My main distraction lately has been my next book, Cyrus Song: I’ve written much about it recently but now that I’m at a certain stage, it’s become a lot more. Essentially, it’s a tribute to Douglas Adams: Taking a couple of his ideas, expanding on them and adding complimentary ones. One of the ideas in my book is that The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a factual historical record, adopted by some races as religious scripture. It’s a book which I’m getting very good feedback on from people who matter, with one even telling me, “Douglas would be proud.” But it’s not the exclusive preserve of those of us who gather in corners: Anyone who knows nothing about Douglas Adams or The Hitch Hiker’s Guide, will still understand Cyrus Song. It’s a book about life, the universe, and everything. There is an answer besides 42. It’s a book for all ages and above all, it’s funny.

As is usually my practice, I wrote the ending of the book long ago. I’m now at a stage with the main narrative that it’s coming up to meet the ending. When that’s done, I’ll have a completed first draft manuscript. I still have competing tentative publishing offers, which I may yet explore, while I go through editing and redrafting. If I do end up self-publishing for any reason, I have the tools. I’m confident that the book will get picked up at some point, but it’ll be word of mouth that really sells it. I’ve been told that it’s the kind of book a reader will definitely recommend. I’m so confident of that that if I do self-publish, I might offer a money back guarantee. And if I self-publish, I’m in the company of around 80% of top contemporary writers, all of whom started out by doing it themselves.

And there is a great deal of pleasure to be derived from the editing and publishing process. I never could have done half of it a year ago: It was the gift of my typewriter (a Windows 10 laptop) from the mother ship, because she “…thought it might help with your writing.” That, my dad telling me he’s proud of me, and my kids thinking it’s “awesome” to have a writer as a dad, is what makes me personally proud.

It was my birthday recently, so I received the mandatory social media greetings and niceties. I was touched to pause upon a few personal messages: It’s nice when people give a small gift of some thoughtful time. It’s a practice I’ve observed myself for a while now: For those who I know well, or to whom I’m close, I’ll always take the time to post something more than “Happy birthday mate” on someone’s Facebook timeline. Instead, I’ll write briefly of a memory I’ll have with that person, or even a brief eulogy. I don’t do traditional cards, but it doesn’t take much to give someone some time and make them pause among the many other standard greetings.

It’s been nice to be encouraged so much lately, and by so many, in what I do and what I’ve become. So now I’m 47: a prime number. If I only make it as far as Douglas did (49), then at least I’ll have written the book which I was somehow meant to write. And as I’m approaching the end of the first draft of the novel, some numbers are appearing: As it stands, Cyrus Song will be 320-340 pages and it’s split into 24 chapters (24 is of course 42 transposed). If I can get the book to be complete in 336 pages, that’s a multiple of 42. And at roughly 300 words per page, that’s 100,800 words: 2400 x 42. I should be able to pull those Easter eggs off, proving that the number 42 does mean something, although I know not what.

There’s so much more I’d like to write in this “Dear Diary” entry: Everything else that’s been going on while I’ve been concentrating on Cyrus Song. But then I might as well just duplicate my Facebook timeline, which is public anyway. It’s mainly political, satirical and scientific posts, too numerous to clog a blog with.

Once the first draft of Cyrus Song is complete, I’ll take a month off: From the book, not from writing. During that time, I’ll entertain the free-to-read markets with some short stories. I have many planned for a next anthology. But the next book out with my name on the cover will be Cyrus Song, by the end of this year.

In giving the real answer to the big question, my book proposes ways towards a better world, both internally and the world around us. By the time it’s out, I’m hoping to see radical changes in UK politics, for the better: It’s no secret that I’m a Labour / Lib Dem supporter (I read The Guardian) and all of my thinking around the subject is on that Facebook timeline above. What I’ve come to realise is that I was looking at our politicians as I’ve been conditioned to. In Jeremy Corbyn, I see a different kind of politician: a person in touch with the country and a person of the people.

I see an uprising. I see a gradual lifting of a veil.

The citizens were created by politicians. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan.”

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AD 2117: A possible future

SCIENCE | THE WRITER’S LIFE

future-world

How the world will look in 100 years, from an article on Learning Mind

In 1900, the American civil engineer John Elfreth Watkins made predictions about the future, just 100 years ahead of his time. Many of the (at the time) seemingly strange and almost impossible of his predictions came true.

“Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span.”

And of course, television happened.

“Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world. A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago. We will be able to telephone to China quite as readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn.”

Mobile phones happened. Other things which were just about imaginable 100 years ago have also happened. So what of 100 years from now? What might life be like in 2117?

I’m writing the first story for my second volume of shorts and this is some of the research for it. The first story has the working title of Genesis and it imagines a near-future world where we’ve sorted out some of the mess we’ve made as a species. The second volume is provisionally called The Future Remembered . My debut anthology, The Perpetuity of Memory, is in the final editing stages and now pencilled in for publication in February or March.

So, what might I be writing about? Well, I’m a sci-fi writer first and foremost, so my stories have a grounding in science. Like my existing bibliography, I’m sure the stories will jump around in some idiosyncratic way and will range from comedy to psychological horror. I’m particularly interested in near-future scenarios now because of what I’ve said in recent blog posts: There is much to discuss in the world around us but most people lack the patience span to read and learn. So by making the subjects interesting and wrapping them up in near-future science fiction, hopefully people will read and learn.

So, these are some of the areas I’m looking at; All predictions submitted to a BBC poll which asked what the world might be like 100 years from now and judged by an expert panel to be likely. The first is one I added myself:

The first human Martian will be born.

NASA will be testing the EMDrive this year. If the tests are successful, the drive represents a clean, free and more efficient means of propulsion than rocket fuel. Even at the early stages of development, the EMDrive is predicted to reduce the transit time from Earth to Mars from two years to 70 days. This will counter many of the psychological and physiological effects of space travel for astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts and any others making the journey. A human Mars outpost for space exploration is already planned for C.2030 and while at first, humans will stay for months at a time, like they do on the International Space Station, eventually the base will be home to a permanent staff. Of course, there will be extensive psychological studies and screening but eventually, two humans could well be selected to conceive and gestate a human baby on the “Second planet”. I rather hope it might be named Ziggy.

The remainder were submitted by respondents to the poll, with futurologists Ian Pearson (IP) and Patrick Tucker (PT) rating their probability.

1. Oceans will be extensively farmed and not just for fish (Jim 300)

IP: Likelihood 10/10. We will need to feed 10 billion people and nature can’t keep up with demand, so we will need much more ocean farming for fish. But algae farming is also on the way for renewable energy, and maybe even for growth of feedstock (raw materials) or resource extraction via GM seaweed or algae.

PT: Good chance. According to Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at the Nasa Langley Research Center, saltwater algae that’s been genetically modified to absorb more nitrogen from the air than conventional algae could free up to 68% of the fresh water that is now tied up in conventional agriculture. This water could go to thirsty populations.

2. We will have the ability to communicate through thought transmission (Dev 2)

IP: Likelihood 10/10. Transmission will be just as easy as other forms of brain augmentation. Picking up thoughts and relaying them to another brain will not be much harder than storing them on the net.

PT: Good chance. Synthetic telepathy sounds like something out of Hollywood but it is absolutely possible, so long as “communication” is understood to be electrical signals rather than words.

3. Thanks to DNA and robotic engineering, we will have created incredibly intelligent humans who are immortal (game_over)

IP: Likelihood 9/10. It is more likely that direct brain links using electronics will achieve this, but GM will help a lot by increasing longevity – keeping people alive until electronic immortality technology is freely available at reasonable cost.

PT: Good chance. The idea that breakthroughs in the field of genetics, biotechnology and artificial intelligence will expand human intelligence and allow our species to essentially defeat death is sometimes called the Singularity.

4. We will be able to control the weather (mariebee_)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. There is already some weather control technology for mediating tornadoes, making it rain and so on, and thanks to climate change concerns, a huge amount of knowledge is being gleaned on how weather works. We will probably have technology to be able to control weather when we need to. It won’t necessarily be cheap enough to use routinely and is more likely to be used to avoid severe damage in key areas.

PT: Good chance. We will certainly attempt to. A majority of scientists in the US support a federal programme to explore methods for engineering the Earth’s climate (otherwise known as geoengineering). These technologies aim to protect against the worst effects of manmade climate change.

5. Antarctica will be “open for business” (Dev 2)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. The area seems worth keeping as a natural wilderness so I am hesitant here, but I do expect that pressure will eventually mean that some large areas will be used commercially for resources. It should be possible to do so without damaging nature there if the technology is good enough, and this will probably be a condition of exploration rights.

PT: Pretty close. Before there is a rush to develop Antarctica we will most likely see a full-scale rush to develop the Arctic. Whether the Arctic states tighten control over the region’s resources, or find equitable and sustainable ways to share them will be a major political challenge in the decades ahead. Successful (if not necessarily sustainable) development of the Arctic portends well for the development of Antarctica.

6. One single worldwide currency (from Kennys_Heroes)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. This is very plausible. We are already seeing electronic currency that can be used anywhere, and this trend will continue. It is quite likely that there will be only a few regional currencies by the middle of the century and worldwide acceptance of a global electronic currency. This will gradually mean the others fall out of use and only one will left by the end of the century.

PT: Great try! The trend on this is actually more in the opposite direction. The internet is enabling new forms of bartering and value exchange. Local currencies are also now used by several hundred communities across the US and Europe. In other words, look for many more types of currency and exchange not fewer, in the coming decades.

7. We will all be wired to computers to make our brains work faster (Dev 2)

IP: Likelihood 10/10. We can expect this as soon as 2050 for many people. By 2075 most people in the developed world will use machine augmentation of some sort for their brains and, by the end of the century, pretty much everyone will. If someone else does this you will have to compete.

8. Nanorobots will flow around our body fixing cells, and will be able to record our memories (Alister Brown)

PT: Good chance. Right now, medical nanorobots exist only in theory and nanotechnology is mostly a materials science. But it’s a rapidly growing field. Nanorobots exist within the realm of possibility, but the question of when they will arrive is another matter

IP: Likelihood: 7/10.

9. We will have sussed nuclear fusion (Kennys_Heroes)

IP: Likelihood 10/10. This is likely by 2045-2050 and almost certain by 2100. It’s widely predicted that we will achieve this. What difference it makes will depend on what other energy technologies we have. We might also see a growth in shale gas or massive solar energy facilities. I don’t think that wind power will be around.

10. There will only be three languages in the world – English, Spanish and Mandarin (Bill Walker)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. This does look like a powerful trend, other languages don’t stand a lot of chance. Minor languages are dying at a huge rate already and the other major ones are mostly in areas where everyone educated speaks at least one of the other three. Time frame could be this century.

Image caption Space elevators ‘will certainly be around’

11. Eighty per cent of the world will have gay marriage (Paul)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. This seems inevitable to those of us in the West and is likely to mean different kinds of marriages being available to everyone. Gay people might pick different options from heterosexual people, but everyone will be allowed any option. Some regions will be highly resistant though because of strong religious influences, so it isn’t certain.

12. California will lead the break-up of the US (Dev 2)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. There are some indications already that California wants to split off and such pressures tend to build over time. It is hard to see this waiting until the end of the century. Maybe an East Coast cluster will want to break off too. Pressures come from the enormous differences in wealth generation capability, and people not wanting to fund others if they can avoid it.

13. Space elevators will make space travel cheap and easy (Ahdok)

IP: Likelihood 8/10. First space elevators will certainly be around, and although “cheap” is a relative term, it will certainly be a lot cheaper than conventional space development. It will create a strong acceleration in space development and tourism will be one important area, but I doubt the costs will be low enough for most people to try.

14. Women will be routinely impregnated by artificial insemination rather than by a man (krozier 93)

PT: Pretty close. At the very least, more couples are choosing advanced fertility techniques over old-fashioned conception. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, in which an artificially inseminated embryo is carefully selected among other inseminated embryos for desirability, is becoming increasingly common in fertility clinics. Using this technique, it’s now possible to screen an embryo for about half of all congenital illnesses. Within the next decade, researchers will be able to screen for almost all congenital illnesses prior to embryo implantation.

IP: Likelihood 5/10.

15. There will be museums for almost every aspect of nature, as so much of the world’s natural habitat will have been destroyed (LowMaintenanceLifestyles)

PT: Pretty close. I cannot comment on the museums but the Earth is on the verge of a significant species extinction event. Protecting biodiversity in a time of increased resource consumption, overpopulation, and environmental degradation will require continued sacrifice on the part of local, often impoverished communities. Experts contend that incorporating local communities’ economic interests into conservation plans will be essential to species protection in the next century.

IP: Likelihood 2/10.

16. Deserts will become tropical forests (jim300)

IP: Likelihood 7/10. Desert greening is progressing so this is just about possible.

17. Marriage will be replaced by an annual contract (holierthanthou)

IP: Likelihood 6/10. I think we will certainly see some weaker forms of marriage that are designed to last a decade or two rather than a whole lifetime, but traditional marriage will still be an option. Increasing longevity is the key – if you marry at 20 and live to well over 100, that is far too long a commitment. People will want marriages that aren’t necessarily forever, but don’t bankrupt them when they end.

18. Sovereign nation states will cease to exist and there will be one world government (krozier93)

PT: Great try! However, I think that the trend is in the direction of more sovereign nations rather than fewer. In the coming years, corporations or wealthy private citizens will attempt to use earth-moving technologies to build their own semi-sovereign entities in international waters.

IP: Likelihood 2/10.

19. War by the West will be fought totally by remote control (LowMaintenanceLifestyles)

IP: Likelihood 5/10.

20. Britain will have had a revolution (holierthanthou)

IP: Likelihood 7/10. Well, possible, but not as likely as some other trends.

There are some exciting possibilities ahead, if we don’t continue to fuck our planet. We need to embrace the fact that these things are not impossible and imagine how great the changes could be, which we could make. We need to talk about these things, so that they’re not lost in the smoke of daily bad news. We need to question, read, learn and share.

To keep things interesting, I will be writing extensively about these and other subjects in my next collection of short stories, just as I have in some of those in the forthcoming debut volume.

Science fiction will continue to become fact. We can evolve still further, then start to question what we do next. These could be exciting and not depressing times. We are lonely, yet all we need is each other: One race.

Revolution? Hopefully, just organic growth.

Sources:
Twenty top predictions for life 100 years from now (Full BBC article).
Ten of John Elfreth Watkins’ predictions which came true (and four which didn’t).