Shining a quantum torch into the dark matter

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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(Image source: Truththeory.com. Article: Quantum theory proves that consciousness moves to another universe after death)

I vowed to make the long weekend a quiet one, for many reasons. Chief among them is that I’ve not really had a decent birthday for a number of years, so it’s not the best of times to celebrate to be honest. The last good birthday I had was my 40th: I still lived with my ex-wife, Jill, in Catford then, Louis was five and Lola, two. My parents had the kids and Jill and I were joined by a few friends in our local in Hither Green. The cracks were starting to show and my drinking was out of control but I’d not grown a pair by then. On my 41st birthday, Jill was helping me to move to my little flat in Bexley. That was probably the worst one, so soon after we separated and I found myself in a place I didn’t know and where I knew no-one.

I don’t actually remember my 42nd. The whole of that year is a blur of ill-advised relationships with girls in Bexley, while I drank more, took more drugs and let the business fail. By my 43rd, I was with my ex-fiancée, Danielle, in Sidcup but again, that period is a blur. My drinking has redacted years of my life. For my 44th, I was on the streets and on my 45th, I was in that fucking pub.

So my 46th was a non-event but I made something of the time I’d allowed myself. Although some people still struggle with the fact that I’ve re-invented myself and that I’m now a writer, it is what I call work and it’s what I love. I find it hard to stop because, even if I’m not writing for a market, I’m writing for myself. I’m getting my thoughts down and this blog is my public diary for all those who choose to follow my life.

On Friday I went to Tonbridge, to pick up something to smoke over the weekend and to have a few drinks with friends. I also met up with one of the girls. Through it all, my closest friend remains a 16-year-old girl. We may rarely see one another because others see fit to judge from afar but she understands me, just as I do her, ever since I took her under my wing at the squat. I try to give a nod now and again to friends in my stories. I’ve given this girl a whole character in my new book. Her character in Infana Kolonia is everything that this girl is and wants to be. The character in the book is constrained, with a tendency towards acts of violence. The real one’s my soulmate.

On Friday night, I got all of the things which were niggling me out of the way: I wasn’t happy with the way the blog or my website looked, so I moved a few things around. With that out of the way and with the next writing projects planned, I was free to relax. I did that alright. I smoked some weed, watched some Hawaii Five-O and just chilled, snacking on fried chicken.

One of the things to attend to on Friday was my postal vote in the upcoming EU referendum, which you may have heard about. I’ve listened to both sides and researched further. I read newspapers which are in the Remain camp but The Guardian and Observer at least look at the whole picture and give much more in-depth analysis of what is one of the biggest decisions of a generation, than the papers on the Leave side. It’s important to read even what you may not like, in order to have an informed opinion; much like life. 

In the 46 years I’ve been alive, I’ve witnessed some incredible changes in the world and in us upon it. The world is a smaller place, thanks to technology, much of which was brought about by collaboration between nations. Humanity has made just as great advances socially. We have become more inclusive and aware of the world around us. The global community is on the threshold of an age of even greater discovery, communication, science, technology and understanding. Some may hark back to a nostalgic age of empire and belonging but I look forward to a greater sense of belonging through continued co-operation. And so for many reasons, I have registered my vote for the UK to remain within the European Union. My children aren’t yet old enough to vote but I believe that a united Europe represents the best future for their generation and more to come.

If you were eating lunch and you began to choke on your food, who better to have sitting next to you than Dr Henry Heimlich? This was the fortuitous situation which Patty Ris, 87, found herself in at her retirement home in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Heimlich is also a resident. At the age of 96, the man whose manoeuvre has saved thousands of lives, got to use it himself for the first time. He saved Patty’s life and the two have enjoyed a private dinner together since. As someone who’s saved a life using the Heimlich manoeuvre myself, I can vouch for its effectiveness. For the record, the Heimlich manoeuvre involves placing one’s arms around the casualty and exerting upward thrusts, just above the navel and below the ribs, with the hands linked in a fist. What the rescuer achieves is a violent upward movement of the diaphragm, forcing the obstruction from the victim’s airway.

Incidentally, if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself alone while you’re choking, arms are still good: the arm of a sofa or chair: Kneel down and push yourself into the arm, so that it is pushing hard into your midriff. Then push yourself forward and down, really fucking hard. Whether or not you start to cough, repeat the manoeuvre and with more force. Repeat until the obstruction is dislodged. Don’t be afraid of the level of force you may have to exert: If you cause yourself an internal injury, at least you can dial 911, 999, 222, 888 or whatever and actually be able to speak to an operator. When you’re choking, you can’t speak. Qualification? Because I don’t know about anyone else but I was never taught how to perform the manoeuvre on myself on any first aid course: I had to do it to stop myself choking on a piece of steak. My dad wears a dental plate and he’s nearly choked on it before. I’m pretty sure that my mum has been on first aid courses but I’d like them to be aware of how to deal with things should they find themselves alone. I speak to them and see them regularly but the mother ship reads this and so do others. So in a similar vein, if anyone finds themselves having a heart attack with no immediate help on hand, cough: cough, really hard. You’re welcome.

Many relaxing hours spent reading the weekend newspapers yielded the usual news, education and ideas. One of the most striking articles I read was about quantum computing. With all of the research I’ve done into that and other scientific fields for Infana Kolonia, it’s quite incredible to consider that right now, the first quantum computer is operational in Canada. It’s a mind-blowing concept to consider but the easiest way to explain a quantum computer is like this: Traditional computers are based on “bits”, where each bit is a switch: it can be either on or off, a 1 or a zero; binary. Traditional computers utilise trillions of these little switches but each one is limited and so therefore is the whole, in the amount of information in those individual bits. At the sub-atomic, quantum level of physics, strange things happen. Things can exist in multiple states simultaneously. So each “bit” is both a 1 and 0 at the same time. It’s an over-simplistic explanation, akin to describing the entire universe as “big” but that’s the concept. As more quantum bits are added, their collective power increases exponentially, so that the quantum computer now running in Canada yields so much power that contained within it are multiple alternative universes: 10³°° in fact. That’s a one followed by 300 noughts. There are ten to the power of 80 atoms in the known universe. Mind-blowing.

But as soon as I was able to grasp the basic concepts of quantum theory as a whole, it was almost an epiphany. It sounds a grand thing to say but I no longer fear death, because I have a better idea of how everything works. It’s that previously latent lobe of my brain which has woken up. It could be that we simply pass over into another place already inhabited by those we miss. And await others. Knowledge comes with death’s release.

Quantum physics plays a part in Infana Kolonia and in some of my short fiction. The novel and the anthology were supposed to be on hold over the weekend but I’m back to what I’m privileged to be able to call work today.

Getting the anthology ready for publication is probably the single biggest project I’ve taken on since becoming a writer. I’m one of the first to admit that my first novel was rushed to print. It stands up well as a flash fiction novel but now that I read through the short stories, I realise that some require improvement. Some I may remove and replace altogether, or there may be fewer than 42 stories. It has to be right and I have to be confident in it to be able to sell it as a lead up to my next novel. I’ve started the editing process and the thing which is immediately obvious is how much my writing has matured. Although the old stories have merit, some are nowhere near as good as the later work. When I read the old ones, I can see myself as the writer. The later ones are like reading someone else’s prose. This is backed up as I re-read my next novel before continuing with it and it’s an engaging read, rather than a simple review exercise. I have many exciting things planned for my friends in that world and a lot of lives in my hands.

I may only have been at Le Studio Chez Moi for ten weeks, but I have imprinted myself in this place like the lettering through a stick of rock. The symbiotic nature of living here means that this place has taken me to its heart. If for whatever reason I have to leave this place, it’ll be more than a home I lose. Even after less than three months, this whole place is more than just a home to me: it’s a life. Apart from the off-suite bathroom accessed via a communal corridor, it’s perfect. It’s kind of perfect because of that though. The slight inconvenience comes because I’d have taken any place to live and I was lucky enough to get a social landlord who crammed an extra flat in which few were likely to take. It’s my box now.

It’s a cool place to live and others have said that. Just because my studio is small, doesn’t mean that it looks poor. This place is crammed with cool stuff, including the sound system, my massive music collection and the Savage Cinema: I had a few midnight matinee nasties over the weekend. My favourite place though is where I spend most of my time: on the typewriter, at the writing desk by the window, often when I have guests. Others find mine a cool place to hang out and the company is usually welcomed if I’ve had warning. One thing that really throws me is unannounced guests turning up. Even if it’s with all good intentions and with an assumption that I’ll be pleased to see them, I won’t if it’s a “surprise”. Not least of all, I fail to see the logic of turning up at someone’s flat if you don’t know whether they’ll be in.

I’m dealing with some things at the moment, and I can only do that if my wishes are respected and I’m left alone. I won’t always be here. Sorry but you’d have to get used to life without me eventually anyway.

Given my understanding of how seemingly impossible things are quite plausible through quantum mechanics, I wonder how the universe I left behind before I created this one is doing. What I’ve done is make not a personal comfort zone on the small scale but an entire universe. I alone live here and I live with many others in the places I create, Like Infana Kolonia, a book I am determined to get published and assign an ISBN to so that it is immortalised. And within that book, lies the answer. Because once we master the quantum world, where every 0 or 1 contains 10 to the power of three hundred entire universes, then we have thinking power which might finally tell us what life, the universe and everything is all about.

Many billions of years ago, another race set out to do just that. In Infana Kolonia, they may be coming back to see where they went wrong. They are an unknown quantity and as such, they may be feared: It depends how you look at things.

I stopped fearing death when I got the weakest grasp of quantum mechanics. Now I know that this is just the beginning.

 

Something for the weekend

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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(Image source: Mommyish.com)

I have many plans for the weekend but none involve going to the barber: I don’t need to as I do my own hair with clippers, I’m always “between styles” and I wear a hat of the baseball cap or trilby variety. The long weekend does culminate in a bank holiday Monday which happens to be my birthday but that’s irrelevant and I’ll be spending the weekend much like any other. There will be invitations and suggestions that I might want to go out and “enjoy yourself” but those are usually from people who do indeed want to enjoy themselves.

By strange coincidence, the barber I used to visit with my dad was in this little village where I now live. It’s no longer a barber’s shop because old Barry is long gone and that shop sort of fitted around him. And I do mean that almost literally: Barry the barber was a rather large chap. I remember being plonked on a plank of wood over the arms of his chair and having my hair cut while big Baz chatted to my father and other assembled punters, all puffing away on roll-ups. My dandruff got worse every time I went there, as fag ash fell from a cigarette in Baz’s gob. Those were happy days, as long as 40 years ago in this very village where I now hope to settle.

The combination of village life, the little mews where I live and all of the neighbours, and this little studio, make life rather worth living at the moment.

Some things in this village are very much as village life once was, or life generally for that matter. Just this morning, I needed to book an appointment to see my GP: I shall see my doctor three weeks hence; no, really. I’m used to booking GP appointments in London, where you have to call on the morning of the day that you need to see someone. I’ll reserve all observations about the age of the general populace and think more poetically of how things are so laid back around here that the next available doctor is three weeks away. The receptionist was keen to point out that if I had something in need of urgent attention, I could attend a surgery outside the village and could she enquire what might be wrong, please?

Back at home, the new typewriter has come into its own, as I expected when it’s come to things which I should never have been asking of the little netbook I used to use. It would have taken the latter a week or more to compile my anthology of short stories and it wouldn’t have handled the rest of the publishing process. Most of that is still to come but it will be a synch with this new computer from the mother ship: thanks mum and dad x

With all of my short stories pulled into one volume, I’m becoming aware of the task ahead: a fuck load of editing, to get the thing just right before I self-publish. Somewhere down the line, I may be successful enough to have that sort of thing done for me but that would also involve having to answer to someone else. So for now, I’m just fine.

Myself and the typewriter started making some cosmetic changes to both this blog and my personal website: There’s a lot still to do but it’s in the back seat while I work on The Perpetuity of Memory. And with that in hand, I’ve been able to return to the alternative universe which is Infana Kolonia, my next sci-fi novel. It’s great to be back in amongst characters I’d left in limbo and moving us all on again. When I got back to the writing, it was almost as though I’d been missed by some of the people there too. It’s me that needs to sort out the mess they’re in after all.

Despite being meticulous about keeping notes, filing clippings and holding it all together in my Filofax, I somehow managed to lose the plot with the new novel. It needn’t have mattered, because my characters showed me the way. Sounds wanky, I know but it’s the way it works. Myself and those characters of my making are embarking on some pretty big adventures and now that it’s all back on, my space epic is looking good for being finished this year. Given how long the editing of the anthology is looking like taking, I’m scheduling six months to polish up the novel. I’m confident enough of it that on the back of me self publishing the short story collection, Infana Kolonia might actually get picked up by an agent or a publisher. It’s my job as the writer to do the sales and marketing but with everything else being made so easy, I have time to punt the book around.

So although this weekend is my birthday, my 46th is hardly something to celebrate, apart from being thankful that I’m still alive. That’s something I’ve learned to appreciate more, just as I’m able to accept in sobriety that I am now a writer. No, I shall smoke a bit more than usual and perhaps treat myself to a take-away. I might go for a walk in the countryside nearby and have a pint in the local. Then I’ll come home with all best intentions of watching a film. I just know that I’ll end up writing. And if that’s what I want to do because it’s what I enjoy the most, who would stop me?

My adopted little sister – The Courts – turned up at my place in the week, as she needed somewhere to crash. I was happy to oblige, now that I have my own place. We sat and talked while she listened to music and I just carried on doing what I do. I finished the last story in The Perpetuity of Memory while she was here and she genuinely meant it when she said, “You’ve achieved so much in the time I’ve know you bruv.” It’s been three years: a blink of an eye and a lifetime. She asked me: “Would you ever get tired of writing?”

Would I ever grow tired of writing? It reminds me of that other question: If there was a big red button which would switch off all of the misfiring synapses in my brain; If that button would get rid of the depression but also the manics; If I could trade in my memories to save my life, would I do it? And: Do I want to do anything “special” for my birthday?

No.

Will write for food

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(Image courtesy of GhostStop)

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I’m between stories and need to place a marker between the last and the next one. The latter is drafted but I need to be clear of the last before I can go back to it. There’s nothing worse than a character wandering into the wrong story, like an actor lost on stage. I’ve used that as a plot device before but given the nature of the last story, I don’t want it leaking in.

The story I’ve just finished is called A waltz into childhood and it’s a bit nasty. It’s a lot of nasty in fact: More depraved than COGS and likely to leave an even nastier taste than The elephant in the playroom. It’s a good story though. In fact, it’s kind of a fairy tale. Actually, it destroys a few fairy tales through a character I’ve been told will remain in a few minds for a long time. I needed something memorable to round things off, now that I’ve nearly finished my anthology, The Perpetuity of Memory.

My collection of short stories is still scheduled for publication in August. It will be a mixture of styles, almost exclusively in the horror, sci-fi and fantasy genres. I have modest hopes for the book but I’m confident that it will sell, because readers are more likely to pick up a collection of shorts by a new writer than they are a novel. Of course, the market is crowded but I hope that my particular brand and style of writing will garner some attention. I’ve been told – and I have to agree – that I am especially good at twist endings, tales with more than one meaning, and psychological horror. In a demonstration of my faith as well as my laziness, I’ll self-publish at first, then do the rounds with it afterwards. This is a common and accepted practice and it’s a good one for many reasons. I can’t actually think of a reason not to do it that way.

Of course, self-publishing means that I take on the role of proof-reader, editor and agent, as well as publisher. It’s good to have these skills when you’re an emerging writer like me and it’s a simpler life to keep everything in-house. All of the necessary next stages will take me 8-10 weeks, then I’ll have a print-ready book. I’ll keep writing new stuff alongside because I hate to stop. I’ll always churn out quality pulp fiction for the ‘zines and having The perpetuity of memory published will allow me to get back to my second novel: Infana Kolonia. I miss my characters over in that other world.

That’s the wonderful thing about writing, or one of many: As a writer, I create people, worlds and situations. I control the outcomes. It’s not so much a controlling power that I enjoy, as much as the power I have to simply create; and destroy. The short story I finished before A waltz into childhood was called A tale with many strings: a slightly whimsical tale, inspired by a couple of friends and completed in a day. I actually think it’s a rather lovely story and it’s receiving positive comments for what it is. What I’m waiting for, is for someone to see the deeper meaning of that particular tale. In any case, at the end of last Friday, people and places existed where they’d not been in the morning. And a story (or two) had been told.

Being given the new typewriter was almost as big a boon to my writing as moving out of that fucking pub. It’ll be this new computer which will allow me to publish my anthology much more easily than if I were still relying on its predecessor.

I’m coasting along nicely in The Studio and writing more prolifically than ever, so the little life jolt I had in the week, I took in my stride. In a not entirely unexpected change in fortunes, my re-application for Personal Independence Payment has been declined. The upshot is that my weekly benefit payment has been reduced substantially and I will eventually sit once more before a judge at tribunal, to argue that my mental illness impedes my physical ability to do things. I did it before and I won recognition of what I was due in benefit payments, including back pay. If my appeal is successful again – and there’s little reason to think otherwise – then I will receive another lump sum of back pay at the end of the process. Until then, I have to survive on around a tenner a day. I’ll survive but my belt may need a couple more holes if I’m to have enough money to visit my kids.

The, frankly, disrespectful way I perceive that I’ve been treated by my debtors doesn’t give me much confidence in them having a conscience and realising that if they honoured their side of the agreement when I loaned them money, I might be able to see my children and feed myself. I seem to be way down their lists of priorities. I’ll find a way; I always do. I don’t need people like that. Perhaps they just forgot about me. Maybe I’ll send them copies of The perpetuity of memory to see if they can find themselves. I speak philosophically, of course.

Apart from it being the means to see my kids, money is way down my list of priorities now. Those who know me from old may wonder how I went from running a business to suffering mental illness and a meltdown: That’s what a life of alcohol addiction does. I found my true self after drying out and I learned a lot: I’m a writer; an impoverished one but a busy one and I’m doing what I love. I found a lot more while I was going through all that shit: a conscience, kindness and generosity. If others have seen the latter as something to exploit, then I’ve learned something else.

Everything I learn, see, read, hear, experience or happen upon, I put to good use in my writing. Things around me and which happen to me, give me ideas. I’ve been told that I’m good at invoking emotions. Mainly this is shock and repulsion but I can tug at heartstrings and poke consciences as well. The frustrating lack of money in my own life will have a positive: it’ll garner a story based loosely on personal experience. A draft I have on file is the story of an old gent who’s mugged. Always a writer to put a little twist into my stories, I’ve made the assailants really nice people otherwise: they need the money desperately and they’ll pay it back. I’m a horror writer though, so a simple theft becomes manslaughter, when it turns out that the money was the old boy’s bus fare to get him to hospital for cancer treatment. It’s a revenge-hate horror story and I’ve been praised for others I’ve written in that sub genre.

That one aside, I have sufficient notes and clippings in various notebooks and folders for many more short stories yet. The way things are going, by this time next year I’ll have written another collection, as well as finishing the second novel.

One day, people might read what I write. Then I shall eat well.

A tale with many strings

FICTION

Inspired by a couple of friends and with a few things on my mind, I wrote a true story for no reason whatsoever. One day it might come true…

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A TALE WITH MANY STRINGS

I overheard someone talking about how intelligent crows are and this got me to wondering what might happen if they evolved opposable thumbs. Being a writer, I set off to find out. It was sheer luck which put me in the right place at the right time, with the right people.

I was suffering one of the worst episodes of writers’ block that I care to remember, so I’d gone for a walk to Manor House Gardens, a National Trust property just outside the village where I lived. Ideas for stories occur to writers all the time and in the most unexpected ways. It wasn’t that I lacked ideas so much as I couldn’t extrapolate some really good stories. A story is relatively easy to write but a really good story is something completely different and I was in the business of writing really good fiction.

Royalties had dried up from my last book and although I was never a writer for the money, I was a bit destitute. In a way, I enjoyed the financial freedom which writing enabled me to enjoy. Although that was a beautifully philosophical way for an impoverished writer to think, it wasn’t putting electricity on my key, nor much food in my stomach. I had great visions of where my next novel would take me but it was a long way from being finished. And so it was that I was writing short pieces of both fiction and non-fiction for various magazines. The cheques were small but they kept me alive. My book was on hold and I was struggling for original material for the short story market: such a first world problem.

I sat on a bench and rolled a cigarette. To my surprise, I was joined by two old ladies. When I’d sat down, I was the only person around and I’d seated myself in the middle of the bench, so the ladies sat either side of me. “Excuse me,” I said. “I’m sorry.” I went to stand up.

“Don’t you excuse yerself young man,” said the lady to my left. “You were ‘ere first, so you sit yerself down and do whatever it was you was gunner do.” I couldn’t be sure if this was something she said absent mindedly, or whether she had a sense of humour which was dry to the extreme. In any case, the irony was palpable. She continued: “You might ‘ear sumink interestin’.” She gave my arm a gentle pinch, with finger and thumb.

“So, what was you sayin’ baat the crows?” The old dear to my right was speaking now.

“Well, I feed ’em in me garden, don’t I?

“Do ya?”

“Yeah, I told ya, ya daft caar. Anyway, they’ve started bringin’ me presents ain’t they?”

“‘Ave they?”

“Yeah. Clever sods ain’t they?”

“Are they?”

“Well yeah, cos then I give ’em more grub don’t I?”

“Do ya?”

Of course, all corvine birds are noted for their intelligence: Crows, rooks, ravens, Jays and the like, show some quite remarkable powers of reasoning and it was this that the two old girls were talking about, perhaps without at least one of them realising it. I excused myself and made my way back to my studio, smiling at anyone who caught my gaze.

The most wonderful thing is when people smile back at you. Those are the stories, right there.

Back at my desk, I skimmed quickly through the news feeds on my computer: Britain had voted to leave the EU, Cameron had resigned as Prime Minister and Boris Johnson was his heir apparent. Across the Atlantic, Trump had installed himself in the Whitehouse, banned anyone he didn’t quite understand from entering the USA and was erecting a wall across the Mexican border. What better time to leave?

Using some string I’d borrowed from a theory and a little imagination, I constructed a means of transport to a far future. My ship was powered by cats: and why not? Schrödinger’s cats to be precise, as a fuel source, wherein two possible physical states existed in parallel inside each of an infinite number of sealed boxes. Effectively, it was powered by will. The upshot of this was that I could go absolutely anywhere I wished. A working knowledge of quantum mechanics would enable you to understand exactly how the engine worked. If you lack that knowledge, suffice to say that the engine worked. The only limitation was that I couldn’t go back in time. I could go forward and then back, to my starting point but I couldn’t go back from there. Nevertheless, it was a dream machine.

A couple of years prior to this, I’d had a bit of a life episode and wondered: If I’d had my time machine then, would I have travelled forward to now and would I believe what I saw? I paused for a few minutes to contemplate the paradox of myself appearing from the past: I didn’t turn up. Then I did something really inadvisable. It was a self-fulfilling exercise to see if I was vilified in a decision I’d made two years ago: I travelled forward to a time when I either should or could be alive; five years hence. If I was still around, I had to be very careful not to bump into myself. It was a cheat’s way of gaining benefit from hindsight. I set the destination and it was as much as I could do to not say, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need, roads.”

Travelling through time is a curious sensation: I’m not sure quite how I expected it to feel, but it wasn’t at all like I could have expected. I suppose, scientifically, I expected all of the atoms in my body to be torn apart as I accelerated at many times the speed of light. Eventually, my physical self would reassemble itself. I suppose I thought that I’d effectively be unconscious and as such if anything went wrong, I would be oblivious to it. Not so, as it turns out.

It was like when I first tried magic mushrooms: At first, there was nothing. So I took some more. Then the first lot started to take effect. Time did indeed slow down, so that I could relish the sensation of reduced gravity. I can assure you that what you may have heard about the senses being enhanced, is true. The hardest thing to control is the almost undeniable urge to burst into laughter. It is said that just before one dies from drowning, one experiences a euphoria: it was like that I suppose and I felt a little lost. I’d almost forgotten that I’d taken a second dose. I wish I’d had some way of recording where I went but I don’t recall.

So then I found myself five years ahead, of time; of myself. I kept a low profile but not so covert as to miss what was going on around me: the evidence of change over the intervening five years.

The most striking thing, initially, was the absence of pavements and roads in my village. There was a single thoroughfare which carried both traffic and pedestrians. All of the cars were computer-driven, their passengers simply passengers. As I took this scenery in, a much more fundamental thing occurred to me: what I was witnessing was a harmony. There were no impatient drivers (or passengers) and no self-righteous pedestrians impeding the cars’ progress: the two existed together, in the same space. Who’d have thought it? The “little” supermarket was still there: a necessary evil, but it was smaller than I remembered, with complimentary independent shops now sharing its old footprint. There was a butcher and a baker; a fishmonger and greengrocer. On the face of things, much progress had been made over five years.

No-one had seemed to notice me, so I decided to take a stroll around my future village, taking care not to interact with anyone. I resisted the urge to go to my flat, for obvious reasons. Whether I was still around of not, things had moved on nicely: I’m glad I saw it. Of course, it was like visiting an old home but this was a nostalgia made in the future. Then I decided to do the most ill-advised thing of all.

I had no signal on my mobile and it was a futuristic irony that an old red phone box replaced my smart phone. That iconic red box on the village high street no longer contained a pay phone but a touch screen open internet portal. Free. And the little communication hub was pristine inside: no stench of piss and not a scratch anywhere. Either a zero tolerance police regime was to thank, or more hopefully, a society which had calmed down, like the traffic. I noticed that the library was gone, converted into housing and imaginatively called “The Library”. Kudos I supposed to whatever or whomever had made that red kiosk available, to all and for free. I wondered what else might have changed and wanted to use that little box for as long as no-one else needed it but I really shouldn’t have been there.

I gave myself one go on the Google fruit machine: I typed my name into the search field and allowed myself just enough time to scan over the first page of results. I reasoned that I should not dwell and that I certainly mustn’t click on any of the links. Five years from now, I was still alive and I’d published the book I was writing in the present time. I could not, should not look any further, even though I longed to see how it was selling, how it had been received and reviewed, and how it ended. I must not, I couldn’t; I didn’t. So I came back. I steered myself away from looking up my parents too.

I’d caught a bug out there. The kind that bites and infects those with an inquisitive nature and who are risk-averse, carefree; couldn’t give a fuck.

I shouldn’t be at all surprised if I wasn’t still around fifty years hence, so why was I going there next? Because I could. Just because one can do something though, doesn’t mean they should. I’d rarely heeded advice in the past, so why heed my own advice about the future? I’d only have myself to blame and I was sure I’d already lived with far worse. There are limits to what one can imagine.

Hindsight is a fine thing, with the benefit of hindsight. Each of us are limited in our ability to change things but if we co-operate, I’d seen just five years from now, how things might be. But I’d had to return to what is now as I write this. Now could be quite an incredible time to be around, if things turn out the way I saw them.

At some point in that future I travel to, there is no me: I will cease to exist in my physical form and that will be, well, “That”.

So when I arrived fifty years from now, I had no idea what to expect, given what I’d witnessed had taken place over a previous five year period. The only thing I could be sure of as I went through that very disconcerting wormhole thing, was what I was determined not to do: I would not look myself up.

The only way I would suggest of distancing yourself from the future, is to not go there in the first place. Should you find that impossible, try to remain inconspicuous. Naturally, there will be many things which a traveller from the past will find alien about the future. Like the way people stared at me. And then walked straight past me. I smiled at some of them and they all smiled back. The supermarket had completely vanished from the village by now, replaced by more independent shops. There were fewer driver-less cars but that was irrelevant because the cars cruised at about thirty feet from the ground. The walkers had reclaimed the thoroughfare.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy taught me that if people look at you for longer than a second or two, it might be because they find you attractive. It could equally be a look of recognition. So I panicked and went back in time.

Just to be sure that I was back in the world I’d left, I took another walk to Manor House Gardens: all was as it had been. The old girls had departed, probably in opposite directions. Not so far from here. Nothing is really, is it?

As I sat and smoked, whimsy took over: what if those people in fifty years time recognised me as a well-known author? Perhaps one of my books had gone on to be an international best seller. Maybe it had been made into a film. What was worrying if that were the case, was that they recognised me as I look now, fifty years ago. Could it be that I just finish the book I’m working on, then I die suddenly and never get to see what happened? I had to be more optimistic. After all, it was my own will driving the cat machine.

Continuing the theme which was developing, my next foray into the future was 500 years from now and that’s where it gets a bit weird. Obviously, the things I saw were familiar to the people who lived in that time and although nothing seemed alien as such, the apparent technical progress was quite remarkable. The most striking juxtaposition was the one between old and new. It looked as though wherever possible, my village had been preserved. Some of the buildings had been more than 500 years old when I lived there. My old local pub, now over a millennium in age, was still there and it was still a pub. Peering in, I could see that the decor had hardly changed: It was still an eclectic mix of old, non-matching tables and chairs and there was still an open fire. I was tempted to go in. No-one would recognise me. Then I considered how much a beer might cost. Even if I had enough money, I wondered if it would even be recognised as such.

Either side of the pub were houses, built in some kind of plastic / metal composite. It was quite soft to the touch and it was as I touched the wall that I got the biggest surprise of all. A window opened before me in the wall. It wasn’t a window that was there and which had been opened; it just appeared in the wall and a woman looked out. She smiled, as though seeing someone looking back through her window was a common occurrence.

These windows that just appeared were a feature in most of the modern houses in the village. Eventually I noticed that doors were too, as one materialised on the front of a house and a man stepped out. He walked off and the door disappeared, leaving just a minimalist, aesthetically pleasing piece of both architecture and art.

Without the benefit of the previous 500 years, I could only assume that this was nano technology: microscopic machines which can alter their physical form, so that in this instance, a material changed from a wall made of the building material, into a glass window or a wooden door. I imagined that each of the small houses had perhaps three or four rooms, the functions of which could be changed by altering what is in them. Touch a leather sofa and it might morph into a dining table and chairs; Change or move something on a whim. How liberating that must be.

I’m sure there must have been many more wonders, 500 years from now. It struck me that rather than become slaves to technology, humanity seemed to have used it to make more time for themselves in their lives of relative leisure. All of the residential buildings were of roughly equal size. I hoped this might be the result of some sort of leveller, which rendered everyone equal. I’d theorised about a universal state payment system for all in one of my old sci-fi shorts. In that story, everyone was paid a regular sum: enough to not just survive but to be comfortable. The thinking was that people would then put their personal skills to good use for the benefit of all. I created a humanitarian utopia in that story.

5000 years from now, I couldn’t be sure of what might have happened in the intervening four and a half millennia to make things so different. In short, mankind had gone. There were very few things remaining that suggested we’d been there at all. Had we left of our own accord, or were we destroyed? Did will kill ourselves? Two thoughts came to mind: either, we were extinct as a race, or we could have populated the cosmos by now. Both ideas were quite staggering, after all the progress we’d seemed to be making.

I was forgetting about the crows: I wanted to see if I could shake hands with one. Science held that after humans, it would most likely be the invertebrates who evolved to inherit the earth. If that was the case, what of those who would feed on them?

Sure enough, there were some alarmingly large things with many legs, 50 million years from now. Some species which were once arboreal now walked upright on land. Others which had once grazed on the land grew so massive that they evolved gills and became amphibious, and still others had become exclusively marine-dwelling to support their huge bulks. One of the greatest spectacles on earth in 50 million years will be the annual migration of Frisian sea cows across the Pacific Ocean.

I sat on a grass bank in this distant future and looked across a lake. A chorus of wildlife which I didn’t recognise, buzzed and chirped in the trees. I laid down on the grass and watched a pair of large birds circling above: vultures? I sat back up, so that they didn’t mistake me for dead and they landed either side of me: two crows, about four feet tall, stood and looked over the lake.

“So, what was you sayin’ baat the oomans?”

“Well, I feed ’em in me garden, don’t I?

“Do ya?”

“Yeah, I told ya, ya daft caar. Anyway, they’ve started bringin’ me presents ain’t they?”

“‘Ave they?”

“Yeah. Clever sods ain’t they?”

“Are they?”

“Well yeah, cos then I give ’em more grub don’t I?”

“Do ya?”

“Yeah, I enjoy it, don’t I?”

“Do ya?”

“Yeah. I’m gettin’ on a bit naah, ain’t I?”

“You are.”

“Life’s what ya make it every day though, innit?. Live for the next one.”

“Next one, yeah.”

And that gave me an idea.

The quicksand of my thoughts

Quicksand

THE WRITER’S LIFE

It’s Mental Health Awareness week. Have this:

Still considering myself somewhat the novice at this game, I was heartened to read a recently-added column in The Guardian Review section: a writer describing their working day. What was heartening was that this particular writer – a household name – described a day in his working life very much like one in my own. He also suffers from chronic clinical depression and a very high IQ. Although he is fortunate enough to have a separate study in his house, he lives his work. I live and sleep where I work, which is what The Studio has become and that’s no bad thing.

I’ll normally wake up anywhere between 10am and noon, having usually gone to bed at around 2am. This is not a late night drinking session; it’s when I’m at my most productive and I usually retire, not with too many running ideas in my head, but with a knowledge that I have a work in progress I can get straight into later.

I’ll grab an iced coffee from the kitchen, switch the computer and internet on (as my situation dictates) and check emails while smoking the first roll-up of the day. I’ll have a quick look at Facebook, make a shopping list, then take a gentle stroll into the village for lunch, dinner and anything else I need. I might pick up The Guardian while I’m out and very occasionally, I’ll stop for a coffee at Costa on the high street. That’s when the weather is particularly nice and if I’m at a loose end for story ideas. I’ll take my notebook and make notes as I drink coffee and smoke cigarettes at a pavement table. This is when I’m reminded that I have chronic clinical depression.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy taught me that there are good reasons why people look at you for longer than a second: They find you attractive; they wonder what it is that you could be writing. It’s as they stare that the paranoid depressive writer swaps the roles and writes of what he might be thinking as he watches them. The safest place for most of those private thoughts is in a private notepad because they would form the basis of some truly damaged stories. That’s why I’m a horror writer and it’s why I sit outside coffee shops. If I tell people that, they might think it interesting, or run away. Either is fine as I’m used to both.

Actually, I’ve had some pleasant and engaging conversations over coffee and I always wear my heart on my sleeve if anyone asks how it was that I became a writer. Those conversations are dreaded and longed for in equal measure. In the end, it’s a pleasant walk back home, whether or not I’ve stopped for coffee. Just as the big black dog is always there, so too are the rooftop snipers.

Sometimes I’ll bump into my next door neighbour. He’s a big lump and has an aura about him of someone who’d give you unsolicited advice on a fruit machine. He’s served time at Her Majesty’s pleasure: information which he volunteered, because he wears his heart on his sleeve like me. In any case, I don’t judge like so many others would.

Back at The Studio, I’ll have an hour or so reading the news, I’ll plan the evening’s TV viewing, get my personal finances up to date, make any appointments I need to (doctor etc.) and deal with personal shit. I smoke a cigarette or two, contemplate what’s in the kitchen and plan lunch and dinner, even though I already did that before I went to the shops. I make sure that everything is tidy in The Studio: that means I can turn my back on it and face the desk; an oasis of organised chaos. It makes me smile because it represents what I am nowadays: a busy writer.

I’ll make a fuck-off great cup of Latte at some point and I’ll drink that and smoke some more while I go through my Filofax and decide what to do. The life stuff is all taken care of, so now the interesting things can start to happen.

I’m a terrible eater. That’s to say, I don’t tend to eat unless I observe certain times, those being when I have taught myself and my illness it’s time to eat. 2pm is lunch time, so I’ll make a sandwich and have it with coffee, a couple of cigarettes and some more reading. I’ll wonder aloud if there’s anything I might need from the shops before they close and if there’s anything else I need to do, like phone the doctor, the council, pick up medicines and so on, even though I’ve already done all of this on the earlier walk. My brain needs to know that it has a clear path to engage in a sole activity, with all distractions taken care of. At around 3pm, I start to write.

Whatever is top of the to-do list, I usually finish pretty quickly as it’ll be the thing I last worked on before crashing out. I’ll usually have a part-finished something from the night before, which I’ve slept on and will go over again before completing it. It might be a blog entry, stream-of-consciousness recording like this, a short story, a chapter of my next novel, or something completely different. Whatever I’m writing, I’ll usually have some music on in the background. It takes my hi-fi a good couple of hours to warm up, so several kilos of 15-year-old metal, solid wood and gold-plated connectors do that while I do the same.

The life I write about is the same one that people see in me as a person: a veneer. Physical and social interactions for someone with chronic depression are acts in a play, where the actor has had to get into character for hours beforehand and where he remembers his lines and simply gets through the whole charade by breaking the play down into individual acts. Life is easier if you take it one chunk at a time. Like a box of chocolates but having no-one to give the strawberry or coffee creams to and having no-one to keep away from the ones which contain nuts.

At 5.15, I take a break: 5.15 on a weekday is time for Pointless. 45 minutes of feeling smug with one’s own level of obscure knowledge and picking up more. No-one’s impressed.

It’s 6pm by now and thoughts must turn to dinner. Dinner is at 7pm. If I don’t eat at seven, I probably won’t eat at all. 7pm is when there’s rarely anything on TV and I can fully commit myself to the kitchen. The attention span of someone suffering from depression is short, unless they are engaged in something which envelops them. For me, that’s writing but I wouldn’t eat my words. My words are regurgitations of poison. I’m a horror writer.

With my foremost concerns being the cost of ingredients and electricity, and the environmental cost of waste from both, I shop and cook quite frugally. The quickest and cheapest way to cook is to pan-fry. I have become adept at cooking a complete meal in a single pan: cheap, quick, simple and small, to suit my appetite. My local store has a fish counter and a lot of the previous day’s cuts end up in the reduced-to-clear cabinet. With only a mini fridge to store food, I tend to buy what’s available and make something with whatever I’ve got. A fish counter and preferring to pan-fry meals has meant that I’m pretty much pescatarian during the week. So provided I nudge myself into ten minutes of kitchen activity, I’ll have a light supper at around 7pm. Tonight that was pan-fried sea bass with sauté potatoes and green vegetables in a lemon herb and butter sauce: light, delicious, cheap and with little waste.

As a functioning alcoholic, I drink cider throughout the day. Nowadays, it’s almost a pleasurable tipple I could save until later but old habits do indeed die hard. But where once I’d have drunk three litres of “tramp juice” before lunch, now I drink normal strength cider during the day and I’ll have a couple of pints, interspersed with coffees. I do speed up in the evenings, to gain a little differential between the daytime and the evening. When I’m smoking weed, this is normally when I’ll roll the first joint. I chill out for a while and relax in the knowledge – weed or not – that I can sleep nowadays just because I’m tired and I’m on prescribed medication. I no longer have to self-medicate in order to knock myself out and stop my brain from thinking.

I’m about half way through a typical day by now, so I’ll watch whatever is on TV. My viewing is very limited: police and hospital procedurals, wildlife documentaries and eclectic random programmes which just happen to grab my attention. I’ve always got my notepad to hand because I never know where an idea might spring from.

I’ll normally watch TV for no more than a couple of hours. By that point in the day, my brain is firing and I’m full of ideas, so I’m dying to get on the computer. I’ll make sure I have coffee, cider, tobacco and music in place, then I get down to some proper writing. It’s both a therapy and a coping mechanism for my brain. It’s a great stress relief when you’re a fiction writer and you have people in your real life who piss you off. I just kill them in horrific ways and tell the story in graphic detail, smiling as I do so and looking at my hands which are free of blood. My next killing spree will be people who owe me money. It’s not the debt which bothers me so much as the lies. Never kid a kidder: I used to be one of the best liars I knew, so I know the tells. I used to be a semi-pro poker player and I’ve got a very high IQ, so I can see right through these people. That alone is quite satisfying: intellectual superiority. Murdering and dismembering them in brutally detailed prose, just adds to the pleasure. Or I could write something psychologically disturbing, where transparent people like that literally become invisible to all who knew them. Whatever fate I decide, as a fiction work, it will have literary merit: I am a pretty good writer after all. I can make people physically shudder with just words.

I seem to be girl-free at the moment, all three of them having pissed me off to varying extents. They’re just doing the things that teenage girls do. I might not envy their real fathers, even if those men were on the scene. They’ll probably be back at some point and I shall welcome them like I always do. Although I’ve always given those girls credit for being intelligent, it took a while to realise just how calculating they can be at times. Now I see right through them too and they’ve given me further ideas for literary fancy. The chronic depressive tends to be generous in their nature and can give too much credit to people who might take advantage of him. Very often, this can be put down to paranoia and insecurity on the part of the sufferer. People with depression need to have a good network of friends around them and it would be a very cruel thing to take advantage of someone who is mentally ill. It’s also a terrible thing to think that those around you might be capable of. Time will tell if I’m just being paranoid. For now, the bank is closed and the counselling line is incoming calls only.

I genuinely don’t worry too much if I’ve been ripped off personally: they showed their true colours and were never a friend anyway. Maybe they have a conscience but I have the greatest weapon of all: the pen. One of my most lauded short stories was Helvetica Haus, a story which ran to 4500 words because it was written with a pen filled with the blood of one I detested and wanted to kill. The story goes into minute detail and was hailed by one of my peers as, “Written by a genius psychopath.”

I really get into my stride at around 10pm. Whether I’m writing the blog, a short story, a chapter of a book, or something else, the process is the same:

I’ll have longhand notes in my Filofax, indexed and filed with any clippings or articles which relate. I’ll transfer these notes onto the computer, adding to them as I type. In the beginning, I’m just writing it down as it occurs to me: a rough first draft, filled with gaps and question marks, which I’ll go back to later. I can type at up to 80 words per minute, faster than I can write longhand: this comes in handy when I’m tapping away at a first draft. I rarely write a story chronologically at this early stage. Often, a story will make itself up as it develops with the words on the screen. Often, I’ll have a story but no character names. All of my characters are based on real people: people I know, myself and people from history; usually a combination. I conduct a lot of research into characters and although 95% of that isn’t apparent in the final incarnation, my characters all speak and act in certain ways, which are portrayed in my prose. I read an entire biography in order to give depth to a character in my next novel, Infana Kolonia. A small, pink android with Tourette’s Syndrome delivers just a handful of lines but test readers tell me that they love the depth of the character: That’s because 95% of the work isn’t in the final words. If I hit a block, I’ll move onto the next part of the plot which I know and worry about joining it all up later. I’ll highlight parts which need particular attention and add flags to denote that something may need expanding or contracting.

After anywhere between a few hours and a couple of days, I’ll have a first draft: the bones and some excess fat of a short story, say. At this stage, a typical short story of 1500-1700 words might come in at 5-6000. Some of those then go on to be even longer but most are being written for markets with very specific word counts, which I know from the start, so it’s a heavy editing exercise which will get me to a next draft. After much cutting, moving paragraphs around and sometimes changing a story entirely, I’ll have a second draft. Even if it bears little resemblance to the original vision, it will be a worthy story with the work that’s gone into it. It’s the stories which change and evolve that I enjoy writing the most but you can never tell which ones that will be. Sometimes a story simply cannot be adapted to the market guidelines for a competition or publication, so it will sit in my slush pile and sometimes become something else at a later date. For each of the 40+ short stories I’ve had published, there at least twice as many first and part drafts on my computer.

It’s when I’m really deep into the process that my mind is at its most active, not just with the fiction but the thoughts of real life that the situations I write about throw up. Paranoia, alienation and guilt are the three most obvious symptoms of PTSD, something I have many times over. I try to hide it, like most others with mental illness, because although we long to talk about it, it’s hard to speak with authority on something you know so little about: your own brain. If only mine worked properly then life wouldn’t be the living hell that it sometimes is. My situation is made worse because of the empathy I can have with myself, feeling sorry for myself and punishing myself in equal measure. Bad things have happened to me, through alcohol and depression; and they continue to happen on a daily basis as I relive them. But it all got me to where I am, which is a better person, albeit with a lot of baggage. Just one thing would make it easier: my kids replying to my emails more often. They’re just kids and I’ve had practice with the girls for the teenagers they’ll become. Like depression, my writing is a solitary, personal thing.

I’ve tried moving my day around, for variety and in the hope that my inspirational mind wakes up earlier but it never does. Perhaps it never did and that’s part of what’s always been my problem. At 1am, I’ll take my tablets. The anti-psychotic and sedative ingredients ensure that I sleep well and don’t have too many nightmares to act out. At the end of the day, I’ll have two or three pages of good copy, where every word serves its own purpose and its neighbours and those which were cut have a use elsewhere.

Paranoia, anxiety and panic are things which the depression sufferer lives with daily; silently. At least I can put my illness to some use. I’m told that I’m good but that’s mainly when I’m talking to myself. The chronic depressive loves the company he wishes he could escape, just as depression in general is a living death, with one’s expiry a blessed relief.

“…Knowledge comes with death’s release.” David Robert Jones (1947 – 2016)

August underground

AUBW

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I’ve been at my studio for just over eight weeks and now that I’m really settled into this life, it’s this little place which has been the making of me. The Studio has given me time, space and solitude in which to write and be myself.

If this place were a website, it would need some work on SEO because so far there have been six unique visitors. That suits me perfectly, to have 95% of my time to myself.

The last couple of days have been spent with my Pink Hearts little sister staying over, so I’ve been taking a bit of a break but haven’t really stopped writing throughout. Now that I have the place back, I’ve returned full time to doing what I love and which I finally realise I’m recognised for: being a writer. The Courts (my adopted kid sister) said in one of our lengthy conversations that when she speaks about me, she refers to me as a writer. Other friends have said the same and I know that my parents make positive reference to my chosen profession.

Some encouraging words were beamed from the mother ship a couple of nights ago, when she asked how the book was going: Which one? The writing is going very well and flowing like rarely before, now that I have a proper place to write. I’ve moved Infana Kolonia aside for a few weeks while I concentrate on finishing The Perpetuity of Memory, my collection of short stories. I always set out to include 42 short stories in the anthology and I’m writing the last two now. Both are close to being complete as first drafts and the final one will never have been published in any form, anywhere besides the book. Mum commented that a collection of short stories by a relatively unknown author is more likely to sell than a novel. A collection of stories doesn’t demand so much from a reader. It confirmed what I knew but the shorts have taken so long as they were written around a debut novel and the beginnings of another.

As I spoke to my mum and as I have other conversations with people who’ve asked what I do, I realised that I know this game now. I have a good understanding of how the whole industry works, or at least as much as I need to know. Nevertheless, it’s reassuring to know about the place you work in, outside of your own work.

The final story in the collection is called The Diaries of Victor Frank. Anyone who’s been following me for long enough may recognise the significance of the title. The story will only be available to those who buy the book. I’ve planned it for three years and it’s a nice story to wrap things up with. The Perpetuity of Memory still has a publication date of August. Between now and then, I shall largely be concentrating on the practical side of the job: that of publishing. Once I have the final two stories polished up, I need to read and re-read all 42 tales, making changes if necessary; then I need to curate them into a sequence, pull all of the separate files into one book and paginate it for print. I need to design a cover, have an ISBN assigned and order book proofs. I am very much looking forward to holding the first copy of a labour of many loves.

August is shaping up to be a busy month because it’s also when I’m hosting my children for the first time in three years. It took a lot of work to be in a position where this was possible. Now come the rewards and a reminder that it must never happen again. I’m too busy to have another breakdown.

I saw the kids and my ex-wife as recently as last weekend. It’s perhaps testament to my determination to continue my sobriety that I don’t turn to drink as a coping mechanism when the meetings grow harder over time. That may sound odd but drying out has taught me what a wonderful girl I abused and let down when we were married. I live with the guilt and to drink the guilt away would be to avoid a necessary penance.

My ex-wife protected our children from the drunken monster I became, whilst maintaining an unbelievable amount of diplomacy and not allowing them to be alienated by me. While I was driving things along in terrifying ways, she must have felt like a bound and gagged passenger. If anyone actually does pay attention, it could be noted that this might have been on my mind when I wrote my latest short story and the penultimate one in the anthology, A Waltz into Childhood (working title): it’s a claustrophobic story and one which will cause a few shudders if anyone actually reads it. It poses the question, would you trade your memories to save your life? That’s a pretty deep question when one considers that there might be those who wouldn’t entertain such a trade.

I have noticed that some aspects of my writing have become deeper since I’ve been here. As a professional, this is a good thing but the writer’s mind is as hard to escape as the life itself. I wouldn’t want to. One loyal reader has commented on how my stories are often an insight into my mind: a very confused and confusing place but one which they do not seek to escape. Neither do I; I can’t. A writing peer commented, “…My greatest fear is that of the unknown. Steve writes in such a way as to suggest many things without actually spelling them out: show, don’t tell. He leaves much to the imagination but his power of suggestion scares the shit out of me….” So that was nice.

The pen-penultimate story in the collection will be Schrödinger’s Ark, which I’ve recently completed and which was what prompted the comment above. The part of the pre-publication work I’m looking forward to the most is putting the stories into a particular order. In doing so, I can tell another, completely unwritten story. To find out how, buy the book when it’s released. It’s all on my website, where this blog will relocate to eventually: www.stevelaker.net

Steve Laker, writer: welcome to my world.

The Courts asked which title in the Savage Cinema collection was the most disturbing: that would be Mordum by August Underground, a title I will not watch again and which I will not allow to leave here. It cost far too much and I wouldn’t want to be associated with it. It belongs in the collection and that stays here, with me.

With no appropriate link from a depraved and perverted film to the adoptive Pink Hearts daughters, I move on. Despite having the patience of an atheist, one of the girls has burned her bridges once too often. I shan’t go into detail but she reads this blog, so she ought to know that it hurt me. Just as I once reached a point where I could not be helped, so too has she. I’ve had to give up on her, just as my parents had to abandon me. It really wasn’t easy. Those girls are good friends. Now there’s one fewer.

The other two are still there. We’re close but one of them has an uncanny knack of just getting me. I can ask that girl how I feel when I’m not sure and she’ll tell me. It’s weird. We’ve spoken about it and it works both ways. If someone were to ask her how I am, she’d be able to tell them, even if me and her haven’t spoken for a while. It’s vindication of my respect for people like her. People I understand while others don’t. Unfortunately, the plastic police still frown upon our closeness, seeing it as inappropriate, even though our relationship has been conducted in public. She’s a stunningly attractive 16-year-old girl, whom I’ve known since she was 14. The only thing wrong is other people’s perceptions. I was there for those young people when they needed advice and them needing me was one of the things which kept me alive through my struggle with booze. I’ve been accused of being as nieve as those girls but I fought through my battle and they’re only just starting. When I give one of them money, “Just to keep you going”, it may well get frittered on purposes other than the intended but that’s only what I’d have done at that age. That particular daughter-type-thing has gone off the rails and taken the piss a bit. With the other one, it had become wearisome. They’ll be back, if they choose; perhaps wiser. Nowadays I’m too busy to be unconditionally forgiving though.

Above all, it’s been the constant of writing that’s made me better. Once I’m through the hoops and hurdles of my current engagement with DWP, I am fully personally committed to studying for my degree in creative writing, so that one day I may teach. Even though it was a system I fought for years, I realise having been through it, how it works, mostly fairly. It’s the system which has helped get me to where I am and I really want to give something back to this great country of ours. Even though I’m immortalised at The British Library, I doubt that I’ll be remembered by many as a writer. My readership is small and I wonder how many even of my friends actually read my work.

If I can’t be remembered as a writer then, I think I’ll be pretty memorable as a teacher. Until then, I have some underground writing to do.

 

 

An ever-present visitor

350px-Schroedingers_cat_film

FICTION

Fiction does of course open up almost endless possibilities for the writer; science fiction moreso. Although the opportunities are practically limitless, the writer has to keep things tethered in order to make them somehow feasible. I’ve been researching quantum entanglement quite a lot of late and decided to write a story. Hopefully I’ve made a complex scientific subject accessible, whilst still delivering a sting in the tail…

Schrödinger’s ark

No-one knew when the ark had arrived, nor wondered much about it: the ark had simply always been there. Biblical scholars suggested that it might be the basis for the story of Noah’s Ark. Leyna’s ark was depicted in ancient heiroglyphs and cave paintings: It apparently pre-dated human civilisation. It was never hostile, so no attempt had been made to attack or destroy it with weapons. It was impenetrable though: Immune to sonar, radar, x-rays or thermal imaging. It was made from an unknown material not found on earth, and its surface was completely smooth. There were no appertures, seals or visible means of entry. The ark was just over 13 kilometers in length, 4km wide and 1.3km in depth. It orbitted the earth silently and erratically, at a mean distance of 200km. When Leyna played chess in Central Park, the captured black queen of an opponent held aloft, perfectly eclipsed the ark above.

Chess moves and the ark were in the back of Professor Leyna Schrödinger’s wandering mind, several miles beneath the surface of the earth. As the expediton leader and the smallest of the party, she was the only one able to record this newly discovered depth of Mammoth Cave. Tethered to her support team by a length of climbing rope and a two-way radio link in her protective hat, Leyna was on the verge of making one of the most startling discoveries in human history. Just ahead, she could make out a chamber. 640 kilometers into the cave system, the chamber was an uncharted area, further than any human had ever been.

Leyna could barely inch forward. Her arms were outstretched before her, palms outward, as if she were swimming breast stroke. Her legs were straightened behind, instinctively wanting to thrust her forward. But she was in an ocean of solid rock. “Steffan?” She radioed back to her medical support. “Everything okay back there? How far in am I now?”

“All three of us are on the end of this rope, ready to pull you out when you want. You’re 500 metres further than anyone’s been before.”

“Don’t you even pull your dick until I say so. I certainly don’t intend to. There’s a chamber ahead and who knows what might be in there? An entrance to yet more unexplored passages? I have to find out.”

“Wish I was there.”

“You wouldn’t fit. Surely you guys have a theory about the ark?”

“Who hasn’t?” replied Steffan in Leyna’s earpiece. “Surely the ark is the one thing which binds us all? No part of our planet is out of view to it on the surface and it’s always been there. It transcends every barrier and it’s omnipresent; omnipotent almost. Do you have a theory, professor?”

“Are you sure you never studied politics Steffan?” Leyla’s distant voice echoed from Steffan’s handset, around the cavern where the support team were camped. “You’re very adept at turning a question around. It occurs to me that in doing so, and allowing your interrogator to answer their own question first, you gain an insight into your observer and a possible intellectual advantage. It’s a basic mind trick which has been exploited by mediums and other fraudsters for centuries. Well, seeing as you ask, I feel as though I’m the medium now. I’m the conduit between a few members of humanity who are down here with me and a place where no human has ever been. Phylosophical, huh?”

“Quite. I prefer not to think about the ark too much. If it has eluded us for this long, that may be for a reason; by design. We may only learn of the ark when it chooses to let us. When we are ready, if you like. Of course, the whole thing is paradoxical.”

“I suppose my surname predisposed me to think this way but it could be that both of our ideas exist and that a catalyst, such as observation, could bring one to what we call reality. How far am I?”

“Physically, you’re at 550 metres now. Existentially, you’re drifting.”

“Just keep recording, Steffan. I can feel a breeze on my face. This cavern could be huge.”

In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger proposed a thought experiment, in which a quantum system such as an atom or photon can exist as a combination of multiple states corresponding to different possible outcomes. Schrödinger described how one could, in principle, create a superposition in a large-scale system by making it dependent on a quantum particle that was in a superposition. He proposed a scenario with a cat in a locked steel chamber, wherein the cat’s life or death depended on the state of a radioactive atom, whether it had decayed and emitted radiation or not. According to Schrödinger, the cat remains both alive and dead until the state is observed. Schrödinger did not wish to promote the idea of dead-and-alive cats as a serious possibility; on the contrary, he intended the example to illustrate the absurdity of the existing view of quantum mechanics. The prevailing theory, called the Copenhagen interpretation, says that a quantum system remains in this superposition until it is interacted with, or is observed by, the external world, at which time the superposition collapses into one or another of the possible definite states.

The horizontal crawl was like an arduous ascent of a rockface for Leyna: tiny crags in the walls of the tunnel allowing her to gain purchase and move herself slowly forward. The space was so tight that her helmet scraped the walls, creating a mist of sand. The wind from the cavern ahead, blew the sand into her eyes. She instinctively moved her arms to wipe her eyes but her hands were lodged above her head. If this were the end of the journey, the Sandman had left his calling card already. “Steffan, I cannot move back. I can only just squeeze forward. You may have to pull me out.. Steffan?”

Many theories had been presented on the origin and purpose of the ark. Some were clearly the products of damaged minds and were quickly dismissed. Others were quite fantastical. All were paradoxical because none could be proven nor disproven. What was almost certain was that the ark could not be opened. If it were to be opened, or if it opened of its own accord, life on earth would change. Religions could be destroyed and a pedestal placed for the intellectually elite.

“Steffan?”

Given the paradox of the situation, Schrödinger pondered her namesake’s thought experiment: Schrödinger’s Cat is a demonstration of quantum mechanics, applied to everyday objects. The scenario presents a cat that may be simultaneously both alive and dead: quantum superposition, as a result of being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur.

Leyna imagined that the ark could contain absolutely anything and that her current state was real in one quantum position and only known once the ark is opened. At which point, all other scenarios are gone. The cavern became the ark and could contain something of wonder. Equally, it could be full of horror. It could contain everything or nothing. No-one could hear her, so nobody could pull her out.

In the parallel, the roof of the cave could be weakening. Just one unstable cell could set off a butterfly effect chain reaction of chaos which would bring down the roof and several metres of the earth on top of her. Life as experienced that very second was the result of quantum disentanglement. Placing herself in the box with the cat, Leyna reasoned that there could be an alternate reality existing alongside this one, waiting to be observed once a catalyst was set off. Any appearance of an alternative would mean that the current one would cease to exist. Given all of the possible parallels, there was one where the ark above opened and she could be the catalyst. That catalyst could be Leyna’s disappearance. It was a terrifying paradox to contemplate, whatever the outcome.

The yellow visor of her safety hat was a fading and descending sun, as Leyna’s helmet lamp reflected orange sandstone from all sides ahead. The beeze from the cavern blew the sand into her eyes. As she blinked involuntarily to clear the obstruction, the tears in her eyes made the cavern look like a cathedral lit by candlelight.

“Steffan?”

Leyna’s hands were suddenly chilled as she grasped ahead and felt air. Still, her elbows were pressed tight against her by the walls of the tunnel. The peak of her cap had wedged her head into the tunnel, giving brief respite from the sand being blown into the tunnel.

“Steffan?”

Leyna’s head was wedged in such a way that she could not look up: the visor of her helmet was pinning her face to the floor. Her hands were on either side of an exit from this tunnel but she couldn’t see what was beyond. If she were able to move her head, she would know what lay ahead. One pull from her hands and she could tumble into whatever might be in the cavern. That could be something wonderous or unnerving; benign or malignant. She would be the first to see whatever was there. The only way of letting anyone else know, was on the end of the rope tied to her ankles.

“Steffan?”

It is said that a heart attack feels like a belt tightening around one’s chest. This was a corset, crushing the professor from outside. It took just one pull from inside the tunnel for professor Schrödinger to enter into a world never visited by humans. As her head emerged into the cavern, her visor snapped up, launching her helmet far out into the chamber.

Leyna was somewhat surprised to note that the chamber was illuminated: not artificially, nor by sunlight, but by a dull glow from a deep gold-coloured coating on the walls. She quickly located her safety helmet and replaced it on her head. “Steffan?” There was still no response from the radio. Neither was there a tether around Leyna’s ankles, nor a hole in the wall. She was alone, where no-one had been before.

“Steffan. If you or anyone else ever hears these words, there is something quite incredible here. This is a completely virgin area. I am over 600 kilometres into Mammoth Cave, in a previously undiscovered area. It’s a chamber around ten metres in diameter. The roof and walls are the same sandstone as the tunnel which led here but they are glowing with a faint light; like billions of microscopic torches. The floor is glowing too but it’s not rock: it’s sand; pulverised rock. What’s in the centre is the thing that’s blowing my mind.

“There’s a formation of stones here: nothing big, just some pebbles arranged in a circle. Do you see why that is so incredible? Not only does the artificial arrangement suggest intelligent interaction, civilisation and culture, wherever it may be found, but here?

“There’s a hole in the ground on the far side of the chamber. It’s not a hole which appears do have been excavated artificially; it’s more the contour of the floor, leading into an almost perfectly square pit or well. The hole is about a metre square and stretches down further than my helmet torch can shine. The walls of the pit are covered in symbols: not ones I recognise and they’re neither carved nor painted; the rock itself has formed these characters. They make absolutely no sense to me. Perhaps I was the wrong scientist to send first.

“If these words are truly my last, then I should like it to be known that I proposed a theory: I believe that mankind may not leave the earth post-natural but that this is a world in the process of leaving us post-human.

“Yet it’s a paradox because no-one else may see it or learn of it.”