Writing intended for reading

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Rather than freshly back, I’m jaded from a week away, without actually going anywhere. It was a week in which I found myself conducting some sort of twisted social experiment, on myself (when there’s only oneself for company, there aren’t many others willing to be experimented on): I stopped writing. It was a depressive episode, a writer’s block, everything which helps the others along.

writing_on_the_wall_by_blue70Blue70, DeviantArt

It started with separation anxiety, after my last monthly visit with my children. Geography and finance are the governors of that infrequency, so the time together is precious. Meanwhile I was helping some friends with their own issues, yet no-one seemed to have the time to ask me how I was doing. No-one asks, so I don’t get the chance to tell anyone how it tears me apart every day. That’s just what living alone is like, and no-one seemed to be reading my writing.

Christmas had already been a solitary one for many people around me: a family mostly reliant on public transport, and regular visitors to my studio displaced by their own families (one was having a baby).

Aside from the monthly outing with the kids (a known and practised quantity), anxiety means I find travelling very difficult. I have mobility issues, even though my disability isn’t physical. This causes problems in itself, not only by being a self-perpetuating mechanism, but by rendering me almost exclusively displaced, unless people come to me. But it’s often the same people I’d like to get to myself, and therein lies the biggest issue.

I’m not able to demonstrate how much I care for some people, not through an inability to express myself (sometimes I do that a bit too much), but because my brain keeps me locked up. It’s frustrating, and it must make me look pretty shit when I won’t get on a combination of buses and trains to visit someone in hospital, but it’s the invisible disabilities of anxiety and paranoia which make it that way. So I feel even more shit about myself, which fuels the depression.

I want to tell people about my own struggles, but I don’t want to be a burden. I want to help with theirs, but don’t wish to intrude. I care about people but I don’t want to bother them. Then I wonder if that makes it look like I don’t give a shit. It’s all self-perpetuating.

So I’m living alone, feeling pretty hateful towards myself, missing a load of people who can’t visit me and who I wish I could go to myself. But the same regular visitors I might rely on as chaperones are the others who’ve been away. Another self-propelled paradox, just like anxiety and paranoia, which have no place together, other than to encourage each other along. I wished I had someone to do that for me.

I questioned my value as a writer, and as a person. I’m living alone and lonely, I’m depressed, and I’m an alcoholic: surely the perfect storm, at least for a relapse.

Although such a thing might have pleased some, it didn’t happen. I’m diagnosed with alcohol dependence syndrome, self-managed with controlled intake. The term ‘functioning alcoholic’ doesn’t mean someone who gets drunk but just about maintains bowel function, it’s someone who drinks little and often throughout the day.

I didn’t hurt myself, and there was no attempted suicide. That would be a failure and a defeat. If I wanted to kill myself, I’d make sure I was successful. The only attempt at anything which could be pinned on me, was some attempted accounting I did when I wound up a couple of my old companies, before the rest of my life fell apart. I got over that, so a depressive episode wasn’t going to beat me.

Episodes of depression are like unwelcome friends or relatives: They turn up unannounced, with no prior warning and no idea of how long they’d like to stay. Friends and relatives of someone with depression might sometimes fear to tread, wondering how long they’re likely to be lumbered. Sometimes you have to place yourself in others’ positions to see how they see things, and you may not like what you see. It’s all part of living alone with depression, but I do wish others could appreciate what depression actually is. Anxiety breeds paranoia and vice versa. They conspire together, and loneliness magnifies it all. Sometimes it wants to kill me, but I won’t let it.

Just as some advanced species in my sci-fi writing have transcended war, concluding it to be a waste of time, I try to rise above a situation. The only way to explore it is to question it, and write about what I find. Thoughts can quickly grow when you’re your own sole interrogator.

And there it was, staring me in the face, like it had been all along. Except I was so wrapped up in myself and with no-one else to point it out that I didn’t see it. Another paradox. I was away from home, while still being at home. I didn’t feel at home being away, even though I was here. The thing I’d lost was the writing, and I’d only stopped doing that because I didn’t think anyone was reading me. I still don’t know, but why should that stop me?

It begs other questions, like why can’t I go out and write, if writing is my home? That’s a whole load more blog posts. For now, it’s all I have, so I’ll just keep doing it, doing it at home, and seeing what happens. Just as in real life, I need people to find me, as I lack the confidence to find others.

It’s only writing which gives me a reason to live. If people don’t read me, is that less reason to live? When I have no-one else to talk to, is my writing just talking to myself?

Now that I think about it, it’s the only thing I can do. If no-one reads, it means it’s more private and I can say more. I’m a socially anxious writer with things to say, and it’s perfect, because that’s the kind of thing people like to read. It’s a paradox which works.

I write, because one day I won’t be able to. My words will always be there to read, even when I’m no longer around. All I have to do is leave them where they can be found. Unlike my attempted accounting of old, I’ll persevere with my attempts to be read.

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A timeless plot device

FICTION

In one of the stories in The Unfinished Literary Agency, a writer loses his most cherished possession: a pen. Even though I prefer to use a keyboard (I can type faster than I write (neatly, at least)), and although I refer to my laptop as a typewriter, the pen (or pencil) is the most basic, portable and enduring tool of the writer. And so it is in this other story, where it’s used as a plot device. A previous draft of this appeared on this blog, but this is the final version, from the book.

I used to think I might one day be a prominent scientist or writer. When I became neither, I decided to be a sci-fi writer, and apparently I’m quite good at that. This story was co-written with my son (13), who knows about as much of what he wants to do with his life as I did at that age. One of his many aspirations is to be a writer, and although I’ve advised him not to take the route I did, I’ll encourage him only if he decides that’s what he wants to do. Whatever he does, he has a story in a published book with an ISBN, which grants him some sort of immortality. He’s got a copy of the book, but he’s a teenager, so it’s easier for his peers to read it on a screen…

tower_bridge_wp

THE BEST LAID PLANS

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

Animal people live alongside a different race: sentient, non-organic, technological beings. And the robots are correct, that they came from the stars, as did we all, and that theirs was a slow evolution with a sudden growth spurt.

There’s a human there, finding her way around on a planet where her ancestors once lived. She’s trying to find something for her son, back on their own home world. It’s a plot device, which allows people to speak in fiction about that which they can’t in real life. It’s what The Unfinished Literary Agency was set up for, way back in her family’s history, and she thinks it will help her son. He’s lost, as she once was, unsure of how worlds revolve outside of physics. But it’s quantum physics which connects us all.

Her son once wrote a plan, presumably one of many, as this was ‘Plan 96’, and all in longhand, using an old silver and black pen. At the time, he’d said it was a story he was working on, but he wasn’t sure where it was going or how it would end. So he left it behind when the humans left Earth. Now the boy is grown up and lost on the home world, wondering what happened to it.

On Earth 3.0 for the most part, industry is confined to the cloud cities, while the planet itself has been left to nature. In 2142, The Shard is a glacial Christmas tree, abandoned by humans a century before and now a towering forest, as nature quickly moved in.

As Eve walked over London Bridge, the locals – known for their tameness – were keen to greet her arrival. Beavers looked from their dams on the Thames, and a group of crows congregated on the handrail. As a collective noun, they were more a horde than a murder.

Hello, human,” one of them said.

“Hello,” Eve replied.

“What’s your name?” The crow asked.

“Eve.”

“Oh no, not again,” the crow said. Then the horde departed, without any enquiry of her business there.

In Threadneedle Street, the old lady slept under a blanket of ivy, as the Bank of England sat on vaults of human gold. The Old Bailey was tightly wrapped in green vines, where various birds conducted industry, and squirrels and monkeys picked fruit. The British Museum somehow looked as it always should, the building itself now preserved as a record of humanity and maintained by wildlife. The British Library too, where all of mankind’s writing is archived, everything with an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Goswell Road is still long, but now a wide, wooded path to Islington, and Hotblack Desiato’s old office.

A winding wooden staircase took Eve up to The Unfinished Literary Agency, a small, dark room on the top floor, with a crudely-cut window, about the size of a letterbox, at waist height on the far wall.

Inside was surprisingly clean for an office vacated a century before. Eve wondered who’d maintained it, or perhaps who’d remained after the human exodus. She sat at the desk and tried the lamp. It worked.

The walls were full of shelves, with manuscripts stacked a foot high. More were piled on the floor, and in the tray on the desk. There were hundreds of unwritten books, all untold human stories.

Eve looked in the drawers of the desk: Pens, notepads and other stationery, some candles and a tobacco tin. Then she found a name plate, the Toblerone sort that sits on a desk. In Helvetica black upper case, the name proudly proclaimed itself:

PROF. J.C. HESTER

Eve picked up a bound manuscript from the tray and began to flick through it. Someone had gone to the trouble of drawing a flick book animation in the bottom corner, a simple space rocket taking off in a cloud of smoke, with a person’s face looking from the only porthole. After this five second stick cartoon, the manuscript was entitled ‘So long, and thanks for all the humans, by MC Katze’. It was the story of a man and his cat, in which the cat takes her human to another planet, so that he can see the utopia awaiting mankind in the land promised to them. The twist in the tale is, the cat was an agent of Erwin Schrödinger, who told the human she was operating the spacecraft from inside a box on the flight deck, when she was actually flying it by remote control, and not in the box at all.

Eve heard a noise she wasn’t expecting, which worried her more than it would if it was expected. Her ostiumtractophobia (specifically, a fear of door knobs) was rooted in childhood, when someone (or something) outside had tried the handle of her locked bedroom door. The sound of keys in the door – perhaps ones she’d lost earlier – would be more paralysing still, if it were her door the keys were in.

The already-unlocked door of the office slowly swung open, and a character from one of the Earth 3.0 documentaries she’d watched on the home world walked in.

Looking very much professorial, in a tweed three-piece, topped with a flat cap and a monocle, a chimpanzee walked upright into the room.

“Greetings,” he said, not seeming at all surprised to find Eve in his office. She must have looked puzzled. “It’s the Babel fish,” the chimp said. “Well, it’s not a fish,” he continued, “but that’s what started it. I assume that’s what you’re wondering, how you can hear me?”

“Erm, yes,” Eve replied, “I’ve heard of the Babel fish…”

“Well,” said the chimp, then paused. “Sorry,” he said, “I’m Jules.” He offered a hand.

“Jules.” Eve shook his hand. “I’m Eve.”

“Yes,” Jules said, “short for Julio, see, Jules I mean? Except it’s not, it’s still got five letters. It’s just quicker to say, with only the one syllable. Here’s a funny thing…” Jules lowered himself onto a pile of manuscripts.

“Would you like your chair?”

“Oh no, that’s not my chair. That was here when I arrived, so I’m sort of squatting here now. Besides, sometimes it feels more natural like this. Instinct I suppose.”

“So,” Eve sat back, “this funny thing?”

“Oh yes. Just one of many anecdotes left over by the humans. You’ll be aware of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, I assume?”

“Yes, he invented the world wide web.”

“Clever chap, yes. But here’s the funny thing. The words, world wide and web, are all one syllable. But abbreviated, it’s double-you, double-you, double-you. That’s nine syllables, which is a lot. But I read somewhere that someone suggested he called his invention ‘The Internet Machine’. Well, abbreviated, that would be TIM. And apparently, he was such a modest man, that not only did he give it away for free, he didn’t seek fame or fortune, he just did it for the greater good. It may be apocryphal, but we like it. It’s a rare example of man’s humility, and the web was altruism which could have saved many species. But it all went a bit King Kong didn’t it?”

“It did,” Eve paused. “But you were saying about the Babel fish?”

“Oh yes, I was, wasn’t I? Well, the name just stuck, in a tributary way. You know, not like the geographical river ones, but an historical – and it is an an, with a silent aitch – tribute. But now it’s the universal translation system for the world population.”

“But how can I hear you?”

“Oh, I see, yes. Well, it’s not an implant or anything now, no. No, without getting too technical (not my area), it’s carried in the wind, in radio waves, which are only audible to the subconscious. The upshot is, everyone speaks the same language. And really, that was mankind’s biggest mistake.”

“One of them.”

“Yes, there were a few. But there’d been researchers and ethics committees, scientific essays and peer-reviewed papers, and they all agreed that giving universal translation to the public would generally be a bad idea. Then Google just did it anyway.”

“And others followed.”

“Many. Then everyone.”

“So,” Eve wondered, “the professorship?”

“Oh that. The prof is in English, language, yes. Before that, my doctorate was in human psychology. I think the way the world changed was what guided me more into the languages, you know, in case they died out, with everyone using the Babel fish and all, and technology always hurrying them along. And the thing about being a professor is, I teach teachers how to teach teachers to teach, which I rather like. Took a jolly lot of work though.

“But next, I want to do something different. I’m studying history, so I can teach the teachers about how it all went wrong. Because although the humans are gone, their past can teach us a lot.

“I’m not a religious man, but whenever someone said everyone shouldn’t speak the same language, they might have been right. It’s a good thing if you’re a species evolved enough to debate, but take away certain barriers and an immature race will abuse it, with some using it for their own gain and not for the greater good. Someone was always going to package it up and sell it as a religion, or make it some kind of privilege, when it was around all the time. Us animals – as you used to call us – us people, had been communicating for many thousands of years before humans came along. Then the humans found out and wanted it for themselves.

“It’s a tragic story but it’s a lesson from history which I’d like to tell others about, and of how that led to the evolution of the planet we see around us now. So it was all for the good really. I only hope humanity took that lesson away with them.”

“It might be too early to tell,” Eve said.

“How are things over there?” the professor wondered.

“Lonely.”

“That’s the thing with humans. When we look at your monuments, buildings, and many follies, you are capable of such beautiful dreams. But within those are some terrible nightmares.”

“I know, Carl Sagan said something similar.”

“Who’s she?”

“He. He was a scientist, a thinker, and an inspiration.”

“A dreamer then? And that’s the sad thing. Humans who dream are ridiculed if they speak of their visions. They become suppressed. But allowed to explore and discover, those people can transcend accepted human wisdom, in things like politics, which was a human invention anyway.

“Anarchy is not chaos, when people are trusted to be individually empowered. An evolved race will sort it all out. But the ones who rise above it all are feared by those who govern and rule, and that leads to conflict. Conflict gets no-one anywhere, but debate can increase mutual understanding to find peaceful solutions. Too many humans were greedy, not just financially but morally.

“I studied human politics for a while, and I had to conclude, it was quite a waste of time, for the humans. All it did was hold them back. It was a system which kept radical thinkers beyond its borders of conditioning. And the radical thinkers were only just getting a voice when everyone else did, so it got deafening.

“If you ask me, I’d say most humans are essentially left-wing by nature, only becoming conditioned otherwise. Wherever you lie (or tell the truth) on the political spectrum, beyond that, you’re all human. Yet the one thing you all have in common is the very thing which drives you apart. Individuality is to be encouraged, but you can’t think as one. You’re generally a socially aware species. It’s just a shame there were so many who didn’t qualify by that credential.”

“You have a deep understanding of the human condition,” Eve said, looking around the room.

“Sometimes it helps not to be one to know one.”

“Do you have a theory, on why the Babel fish was the catalyst?”

“I think there’s one thing it will never be able to do, because it shouldn’t, and it ought to remain impossible. That thing, would be the interpretation of messages, of how they’re perceived by the receiver, which of course is completely subjective on the part of the individual, regardless of the intention of the messenger. Words only have meaning for some people if a specific person says them. The Babel fish is a translation device, not an interpreter. Too many humans, in their cut-off personal worlds, their microcosm universes, their ignorance and laziness, quite literally took too many things far too literally. And a breakdown in communication is conflict by any other name.

“But even more fundamental, was humans’ sense of entitlement. A progressive race, but for their own gains. I know there are millions of exceptions, and it’s equally tragic that their voices were silenced. But back in human politics, that would be a victory for the right. More of you need to find your left wings, outside of your politics. You need to metaphorically fly free, or be allowed to, without those wings being clipped.

“There’s a passage I’ve memorised, from one of your films. ‘I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone’. It was a film one of the crows showed me. Her ten-times-great grandfather had a cameo in that film. He’s uncredited though.”

“That was The Shawshank Redemption, a prison film.”

“Yes, very good too. Now there was a human who used an unfair situation which had been forced upon him, to do good for others, to blow a whistle and bring down a dictatorship. He quietly went about a longer plan, rarely drawing attention, then escaped the tyranny. I suppose we miss those kinds of people, the free in spirit. We are all spirits when we sleep, after all, with the means for the enquiring mind to explore the universe.”

“Some more than others,” Eve added, looking out of the window. “When all we needed to do was keep talking.”

“Quite ironic really, isn’t it?”

“Looked at like this, yes.”

“But you’re looking at something no-one’s seen for some time. For you it’s nostalgia.”

“It’s a feeling of being home. And you speak of humans quite sentimentally.”

“Well, I felt I got to know a few, through my grandfather’s stories from the zoo.”

“He was in London Zoo?”

“Chester actually. We moved down to London when the zoos closed. All my family as far as I can trace, were captive bred, as they used to be called. But my great, great grandfather was an immigrant from New York, and he’s the first I can find with the family name Hester.”

“Er, how?” Eve turned to Julio.

The professor stood up and stretched. “Well, Boris – that’s my great, great grandfather – was rescued by a writer called Hester Mundis. She found him in a pet shop when he was young. She bought him, not as a pet, but to liberate him, and he lived with her and her eight-year-old son, in their apartment in Manhattan. I know Hester was expecting another child, so she found Boris a home with other chimps in Chester, and I gather he was on TV a few times. She wrote about him too, so he was immortalised in books, which must be a nice thing to have happen to yourself.

“So we took her name, because she became mum to my orphaned or kidnapped great, great grandfather. If it wasn’t for her, I might not be here. I may never have been.”

“And you didn’t mind being in captivity?”

“I worked a lot of other things out there. You do, when you have the time and your basic needs are taken care of.”

“You didn’t feel imprisoned?”

“I’d never known anything else. I was never in the wild. Perhaps one day I’ll visit my own home country, but I learned a lot when humans were in charge. There are lots of arguments for and against on both sides. Those are less relevant now, but future historians will have plenty to write about. For now, I have plenty to write of here.”

“Why’s that?”

“Let’s rewind a little. A long time ago, a human said that given an infinite supply of typewriters, an infinite number of monkeys would reproduce the Complete Works of Shakespeare. And it stands to reason that, given those resources, they would. But we wondered, why? What would be the point?”

“It was a human thing?”

“It was. But there was a flaw in that original plan.”

“Which was?”

“The monkeys. No offence to those with tails, but what it really needed was apes. You don’t even need an infinite number of them.

“So after we’d finished reproducing Shakespeare’s works, we got started on the next plan. Then we quickly realised we might need more writers. Not an infinite supply, but far more than we have. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible.”

“What’s not?”

“Plan 96 is to discover and write the answer to the ultimate question, that of life, the universe and everything. But infinite apes aside, I don’t think humans are looking in the right place.”

“So where do we look?”

“Look into your heart, and don’t be afraid of yourself, because people might like that person.

“This was only your temporary home. You were squatters here before your nomadic race continued their journey, to find themselves. For now, you are gone from here, and you need to return to yourself. But there’s a record of how it all started, and how things panned out, right here, where it began.

“It all started with a simple device: an old pen, and it’s a story close to my heart. But now it’s yours.”

Jules reached into his breast pocket and handed Eve a silver and black pen.

© Louis Laker and Steve Laker.

The Unfinished Literary Agency is available now.

The day I farted Stardust

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Two years ago today, I woke to the news of David Bowie’s further travels. Ziggy Stardust, the thin white duke, the cracked actor, Major Tom was a starman again. The news was delivered by text message from one of my best friends. Ashes to ashes, funk to funky…

Ziggy Stardust cover art

It was news I wasn’t prepared for. David Bowie was immortal (but of course he is, just like the rest of us). He was back with the stars he came from, exploring further (“Knowledge comes with death’s release…”). It was poetic that I received the news as I did. Short of getting a telepathic message from the Starman himself, my friend was the best sentinel I could think of.

We’ve been friends for the best part of 40 years, we went to school together, and on my 40th birthday, he gave me a very personal gift: Bowie in Berlin; a book by Thomas Jerome Seabrook, which tells the story of the three-year period when Bowie made some of his most intensely creative music. We grew up with Bowie together, and there’s an inscription inside the book:

To my old friend,

These three albums [Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger] struck a chord with us, when we were younger. I remember smoking, playing pool and hanging out, with Bowie in the background. ‘Soundtrack to our lives’: Let’s live to it again.

Your old friend, T x

Along with my hi-fi separates and my signed copy of Diamond Dogs, the book is one of my most treasured things. When I was ill, had my breakdown and ended up on the streets, my ex-partners looked after my belongings until I found my own place, for which I’m forever grateful.

At some point during that period of homelessness, I dreamed that I’d one day have a place I could call my own, with copies of my own books dotted around. It was a daydream, as I sat in McDonald’s scribbling in a notepad (I probably still have it, as I managed to retain most). I knew I’d most likely never work again, so I wondered, “What the fuck…”

I was street homeless for three months (in winter), sleeping in garages and on benches (and once in a bin). Then for six months I had the squat, and a further seven months of sofa-surfing followed, before I took the tenancy above the pub. After a year of suffering that landlord, I was offered the place I have now: a small studio in a quiet village, and with a social (legal) landlord. After my first year as a tenant, I was given an indefinite rolling tenancy. It’s the nearest someone who doesn’t own their own place can get to actually having one.

All of that covers a period now just into its fifth year, and all documented on this blog. As I’ve noted several times, I needed to have a base before I could really sort myself out. Conventional wisdom works the opposite way, but if you give a human shelter and take care of their basic needs (like food and warmth), the rest will follow.

The day between Bowie’s birthday and the day he left, has become a day of reflection. Last night, I sat and looked around my little place, thankful for all I have and all I’ve done, and for the guidance. Because if you believe in the universe, it will talk to you.

I picked up The Unfinished Literary Agency from my coffee table, and I had a flick through: It really is a very good book, of which I’m proud. It’s my fifth, published on the fifth day of my fifth year as a writer, and my shit don’t stink.

We can all be heroes, even if it’s just for one day.

“And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor.” (Five Years, David Bowie).

The Unfinished Literary Agency is available now.

An aardvark in the air tonight

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Like everyone else, I was saddened by the news of the fire at London Zoo. It’s a place I know very well, from several visits over many years, and one very close to my heart when I wrote Cyrus Song. Four meerkat brothers are missing presumed dead, an aardvark called Misha perished, and I lost a little friend.

Misha and OttoMisha and Otto

I first visited London Zoo in 1977 on a primary school trip. Back then the big draw was Guy the gorilla, and we happened to visit on the day he died. Hoping I hadn’t cursed the place, I’ve returned many times since without incident, and most recently for the chapters of Cyrus Song which are set there.

A lot of research went into the book, to make the science plausible and the characters real. The three human leads each have a notebook on a shelf in my studio, containing their life stories, very little of which made it into the novel, but it was knowing the characters which allowed me to bring them to life in the unwritten words. I familiarised myself with London Zoo’s ‘Inventory’, and researched many of the species therein, so that I could give them voice and personality through the Babel fish.

Unfortunately on the day Simon Fry visited, the aardvarks were asleep:

There were too many interesting animals I wanted to speak to for me to be able to place them in any sort of order. So I decided to just go from A to Z. In the time available, I’d probably be able to speak to the aardvarks and the zebras, but very few others. But the big draw for me was the reptile house: Not because of my fascination with snakes in general, but because London Zoo is home to one male and one female black mamba.

Of course it would be handy if London Zoo laid out all of their exhibits alphabetically, but that wouldn’t be practical, so they didn’t. This being a warm spring Sunday afternoon, the zoo was quite busy. The aardvarks are in the ‘Animal Adventure’ area, which is mainly for young people. And aardvarks are nocturnal, so they were asleep. Which was a shame, because Misha and Otto looked like a couple very much at ease in one another’s company, at least when asleep. Otto had arrived from Berlin Zoo in 2014, so I’d have liked to ask him about that city, and whether he’d seen David Bowie.

It’s cold comfort that the post mortem shows she died of smoke inhalation in her sleep. But there she was, little Misha, curled up with Otto and both looking very pleased with themselves in dreams. I can only imagine how the guy from Berlin must be feeling now, but I do know that the zoo staff are very socially aware with the animal people, so he’ll be getting some sort of aardvark counselling. If only he could read my book, he’d see that I put him and Misha (she was from Holland) in a story which changed a lot of lives, and gives a perfectly reasonable answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything.

I’ve written many times of how I don’t write for the money, because there’s hardly any for the undiscovered self-publishing masses. I have my basic needs covered, so anything I make from writing I give away. I can hardly be called a philanthropist, as it’s really not much, but it’s what I don’t need. When life decided to give me a second chance, I resolved I’d pay it back.

As well as the charitable donations, I make my books available in libraries (on request), as I realise not everyone can afford books (I couldn’t once, and I used to base myself in a library when I was living on the streets). For those who can afford books, buying mine benefits good causes (mainly animal, homeless and addiction) and hopefully delivers a good read. Of course, anyone can donate directly to the charities but if we’re honest, most won’t. If someone’s buying a book anyway (because it’s received good reviews), the altruism by proxy is a small bonus. So it seemed only right to donate any proceeds from the sale of Cyrus Song in January to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the whole science side of the zoo which the public displays and learning support.

I shan’t milk the passing of every individual leaf cutter ant to plug my book, but Misha has a place in my heart from it.

History predicts that each new book increases interest in preceding ones, so with The Unfinished Literary Agency almost finished, Cyrus Song might get noticed more. And that’s good for Misha and Otto.

In loving memory of Misha Aardvark, 20.06.07 – 23.12.17

A lonely journey, never alone

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Yesterday was my monthly visit to Milton Keynes to see my children, the last time before Christmas and two days before the eldest turns teen. Tomorrow, my son will be legally allowed to have social media accounts, and become a part of humanity’s existential crisis, recorded for future historians. Today could be his last day of relative innocence. Farewell son, see you around…

Lonely Journey

I wrote recently of a girl I’d created in a short story, who’d found herself helping many others, while also having issues of her own. She was frustrated, because while she worked tirelessly and quietly with no recognition, others sought to claim credit for her actions. In that story, she doesn’t find a way out, but one finds her, as everything links up at the end. Sometimes, it can simply be someone walking into a life.

There’s a story out tomorrow, which will only be on this blog and then adapted for The Unfinished Literary Agency, my forthcoming second anthology. It’s also about a girl, who’s looking for something her son once wrote, but which he largely forgot about. My own son wrote part of a story some time ago, then gave it to me and we planned to finish it together. The life of the pre-teen has many distractions, just as his teenage years will, so the story was forgotten. But the original purpose of The Unfinished Literary Agency was to write the stories of others, which they themselves couldn’t. So it seemed fitting that I should finish the story, in which a mother looks for something her son started, to find out what became of it.

If my own mum were to look for things I’d written, she’d be somewhat spoiled for choice. Unlike a lot of the family history I’m writing for my other book, my stories are already out there. And in a family link-up, it was my own son who pointed something out to me yesterday.

The odd vanity search aside, I rarely search for myself online (inside, all the time, but not online). When I do, it’s just to see what people are searching for, besides the obvious (the search terms are varied: LGBTQI, animal sentience, steam punk, psychological writing, atheism, the human condition…). I don’t bother with outdated ‘Search Engine Optimisation’, nor any AdWords, preferring the natural order of Google to take care of things.

I didn’t need to be writing for long, before a simple search for my name (omitting the writer bit) more or less filled Google’s first page of results, simply because of all those who share my name, I’m the most prolific (I do write a lot). In any case, I’m usually logged on to my own Google account, so I see a slightly different screen to the public offering. So I was pleasantly surprised when my eldest pointed this out:

Google Box Screenshot

Apparently, Google has given me a box. Google thinks that anyone searching for my name will most likely be looking for me, so they’ve given me a box, which says I’m an author. I rarely call myself that (I prefer ‘Writer’), but if that’s what Google says, I’m pleased I’ve been given a box. So that was nice.

Whatever my children end up as, they’ve been encouraged to be the best that they can, at that which they enjoy the most, and which gives the most back. They’ll have many shepherds through their years and they’ll guide and inspire others, sometimes without knowing it, in their real and online worlds.

Like the girl in my story, I haven’t found a way, but one found me. It was other people, and in life just as on Google. Sometimes, you realise they were always there. Sometimes, you remember:

“Let’s run!”
“Why?”
“Because one day we won’t be able to.”

Farewell boy, see you around young man.

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. 

The thin veils of symbiosis

THE WRITER’S LIFE

There’s a story I’m writing, about a girl who’s never sought attention but now has everyone’s. Pretty much me in reverse, sort of a not-me. The girl in the story has things on her own mind, which she can’t tell others, while all those others enquire of her mind to help them. Thank whatever, I’m not that girl then. And yet, it’s true that I’m in every single one of my stories in parts.

symbiosisSymbiosis in nature

Fictional me has been as busy as my factual side, making my actual self an engaged writer (always a nice thing to be), splitting myself over two projects and with the two different genres (sci-fi and family history) becoming a symbiotic feeding mechanism. And I’ve nailed what it is, how one style of writing can help with another.

With factual writing, there’s much more to write, because it’s already there. Research reveals the facts, which the writer then tells as a real-life story. I’m a writer who likes to link things up and tie them off, so writing historical pieces about my family’s places of work and home means the links to the central characters are already there. It’s the sheer volume of recorded factual history which gives the writer so much to think and write about.

In fiction of course, we start with a blank page. These are stories which haven’t been written, of people and places who’ve been created. With no recorded history, the writer has to fill it in, at least between the lines, to make the fictional narratives strong.

So with so much to write factually, there are many unused thoughts and ideas, as it’s edited down. There are new things, never personally encountered before, which provide fresh ideas, and those can drive fiction. It’s actually quite easy to turn things in, when you look at a picture of a figure standing by a Scottish loch, and notice a ripple in the water behind. I’ve been a serious writer now for five years and I’ve only just worked that out. If others have been similarly wondering, you’re welcome.

Fictional me has stories lined up for publication over the next four weekends now. Next up, is ‘A Girl, Sheldon Cooper and Peter Cook’. Mindful that I’d never written another story which could somehow be linked to a specific different one (but still stand on its own), this one was a mix of two things: A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie (my – award-winning – children’s story), and Cyrus Song. It’s a story set in 2042, about a girl, a cat and a dog. In 2042, AI home assistants are ubiquitous and have universal translation algorithms (possibly thanks to the Babel fish, and a stoned ethics committee somewhere), which of course allows the three to talk.

Elsewhere and after that, there’ll be ‘Quantum Entanglement in Hamsters’, which examines a part of the human condition (apparently I’m good at that) in the context of a pair of Roborovski hamsters, called Hannibal and Lecter.

Next there’s a restaurant review of ‘August Underground’s Diner’, then ‘Another Nativity (For the Stage)’ at Christmas, the latter being a re-write of one of my old stories, originally a story about a nativity play, now made into a play of that story for the stage (pretentious, me?)

In the factual world, I’m still snooping around houses, gardens and people, in 1970s and 80s Kent, and in the Second World War (in France and Germany). I have a good feeling about the book (always completely unreliable and not reflective of future sales), it being one where I’ve really been able to free my inner, real self in the stories of others.

Just as the modest sales of Cyrus Song generate blips of The Perpetuity of Memory, it seems my theory is vindicated: That each book I write, is better than the last (in a different genre), improving my depth in the former, and that each subsequent book fuels sales of the previous ones. Silent Gardens (A Quiet History), a factual story, will attract curiosity in what else I’ve done, just as my sci-fi in Cyrus Song has led people to look at my old horror in The Perpetuity of Memory. The Paradoxicon (including ‘The Director’s Cut’) gets the odd look, and A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie stands on its own.

All of which leads me to predict with no confidence at all, that my next anthology, ‘The Unfinished Literary Agency’ will be well-received and garner further interest in my preceding titles. Meanwhile, I’ll move onto the next (Cyrus Song II, Infana Kolonia, and Forgive me No-one).

In my life-within-a-life, I’ve added some furniture to this blog. There’s a filing cabinet, where all posts are filed by month (going all the way back to the start), and a drop-down category list, intentionally made to be more Vogon, in its grasp of English (“I write blog”, “I write film” etc. but it’s true that “I write satire”).

Meanwhile, the girl continues to deal with a slightly lost son, trying to help him and his parents, and his sister. She’s recently taken one her own parents’ liberties away, having phoned the police when her dad went missing, warning that surrendering his license might be the price, but valuing his life more. She has an auntie who’s cut off because her dad can’t drive, and therefore with nowhere to go at Christmas. She has a sister with whom she’s estranged, despite her efforts over five years. This year, she’s asked that any remaining differences can be put to one side, as she’s made amends for past damage she’s done. She’s suggested that a reconciliation would be nice for their parents at Christmas, and that come the time, they can share driving duties to get everyone together. The girl is keen to get her kids and have them stay for New Year. She hates going out, but she’ll do all this. She’s right in the middle of everything and everyone, yet no-one seems to know.

The same girl is helping several friends with personal matters of counselling. One is a vulnerable girl expecting a baby (not hers, as she’s a girl) and until recently, the child was due to be taken from the mum. So the girl wrote letters, she transcended the situation and saw a way that everything might be saved. She saw something in her friend which others didn’t. While everyone else was cooing over a baby they might not see, and saying fuck to the system on social media, this one girl stayed silent. She was the only one who’d been honest with the mum about the chances of losing the baby, and as the only one right, the one to get the blame when it happened. So she risked her friendship, yet no-one knows because nobody speaks of her. She’s lonely and only craves recognition, not help. She writes it all down.

The factual and the fictional, writing as many people, about many others. Symbiosis in the real and the imagined, a thinly-veiled heart.