Automata Appreciation

09.05.15 (Day 503 / 60)


With “COGS”, it would appear that I have literally created a beast. It’s still password protected on this blog, pending acceptance by my editor but the jury is quite literally out, considering it. A few trusted readers have been permitted access to the story though and the feedback is encouraging.

Writing can be a difficult business. Forget for a moment the competitiveness of writing as an industry, the scant rewards and the sometimes daily struggles with writer’s block. Writers have to be imaginative – obviously – and there is such a vast quantity of writing out there in the world of publishing that pretty much all subjects have been covered, some to such an extent that they have become clichéd. We’re always having to think of new and imaginative ideas, or different ways of looking at things to make ourselves stand out.

I have personally become best known for pulling tricks: this is not to say that I trick my readers, as to do so would be to con them. The usual tricks aside, like the twist ending or sting-in-the-tail, or seemingly hiding something when in fact it was there all the time: those are literary tricks. I also take everyday things and apply my craft to make them frightening. I still have readers saying to me that they’ve never looked at shadows or reflections in the same way, almost six months after I wrote The Paradox of Shadows and The Paradox of Reflection. In those stories, I introduced fear into things which are all around us and which we take for granted. Both are paradoxical tales, for the premises that I suggest can neither be proven nor denied; hence they have been able to take on an aura of terror.

I’ve pulled off a pretty neat trick with COGS because it’s both repulsive and compelling at the same time. It’s said that there’s a very fine line between genius and insanity. There’s also a sometimes blurred line between that which you may imagine but would never play out. Does that mean that if an author writes something which is disturbing, they are disturbed themselves, simply for having the idea? It’s an area for debate. Is a writer likely to act out that which they have written about in a fictional piece? For the most part, an emphatic no and there’s a whole debate to be had about the availability of pornography being either to blame, or for preventing sex crimes. Sometimes we do have to move out of our own comfort zones and write about things which disturb us, because it’s likely that what disturbs us will have the same effect on our readers. Just because we write it though, doesn’t mean that it’s a fantasy which we’re likely to seek to act out.

So the subject matter of COGS is pretty disturbing and that’s deliberate on my part as the writer but the story is not based on a personal fantasy. COGS disturbs me as the writer, just as much as I hope it will trouble my readers. In a 1445 word story, I have raised questions, including that of whether sexual fantasies may be acted out with robots, for robots aren’t alive. Or are they? There are other issues raised and I hope that the story is the subject of future debates. If it’s discussed then it is effective. Incidentally those 1445 words were the product of two days’ work. The final draft runs to three pages: not a lot to show for two days’ work but it’s not just the actual writing of the stories which takes the time. There has to be research into the subject matter, in this case automata: robots and mechanical animals. I personally give a lot of thought to the minutiae, right down to the names of the characters. Then there’s the drafting and crafting: every word must have it’s place, justify its existence and serve its neighbours. Words need to be changed, moved around, or taken out entirely. Then there is the sub-text: that which isn’t written but which is suggested to the fertile mind. Show don’t tell give clues and hints; make suggestions; create thoughts. Ultimately, produce something which remains with the reader long after they finish reading the work. Make an indelible impression on their mind. All of these are the tricks employed by good writers and I’m apparently one of them. Three pages in two days: Paul Auster would be proud.

COGS remains under wraps to all but a few trusted readers and critics until it is accepted for publication, if indeed it’s accepted because it could be pretty controversial. I’m hopeful and certainly pleased with what I’ve done, namely to produce something affecting with words alone, unable to use sounds and images which work together to produce affecting AV media. All I have at my disposal is pure words and all of the sounds, images and thoughts which the words convey.

One of my main test readers and critics is my close friend Nettie. This is what she had to say about COGS:

I have just finished reading the story and it is disturbing but also very good. It’s definitely not for a younger audience. My mouth still feels dry and I actually nearly lost my voice when I’d finished. I can see now why writing it was disturbing for you.

That was yesterday. Then, as confirmation that the story stays with the reader, earlier today:

Just read it again. It is brilliant and very disturbing at the same time. I want to destroy it but you can’t delete a memory and I actually want to read it again, because it’s compelling. It’s in my personal folder, so when I want to make my mouth dry and the hairs on my arms stand up, I can read it again.

I wasn’t keen for my youngest adoptive daughter to read it but she’s pretty persistent, so I relented. Here’s what she had to say:

It’s disgusting, wrong and grim. You captured every slight detail and imagery, in a way which not many writers do but you can.

The eldest hasn’t seen it yet.

So I’ve created a bit of a monster but I’m proud of what I’ve done. I love being a writer and quite a good one at that, by all accounts.

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