August overture

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FLASH FICTION

black-heart

Words can mean more than one thing. And a good writer can use this to create parallels, analogies and metaphors. Mixed up, words mean a lot more: A story is far greater than its component parts.

august
ɔːˈɡʌst/
adjective
adjective: august
respected and impressive.
“she was in august company”

o·ver·ture
ˈōvərCHər,ˈōvərˌCHo͝or/
noun
noun: overture; plural noun: overtures
an introduction to something more substantial.
“the talks were no more than an overture to a long debate”

I often think about my shit and contemplate the two main ways of dealing with it: Package it up as entertainment in fiction, or just smear it on the walls as fact. In much of my writing, I combine the two.

Sometimes it’s easier to start with a clean sheet. Like I did so many times at school, at work and with life. I’m at the beginning of what I know will be a transitory period, partly through my own making but also with a situation I’ve only partially engineered.

I have a literary voice in my head which speaks to me: Paul Auster. Like the music of David Bowie, Auster is in amongst the background noise of my life. It’s The Music of Chance (a book and film by Auster).

My authorial muse is content if he produces a single page of decent prose in a day. Two is a bonus and three is a very rare thing. And so it is for me, once the freelance work is written and invoiced.

This week has merely been a continuation of last, but also an escalation. I have continued to welcome guests into my home but I have had to question motives; Not just those of some visitors but also my own.

Now that I run my life as I would a business, I’m tending to analyse things even more than I traditionally have. For example, if the acquiring of something requires any more than monetary input from yours truly, is that extra investment worth it? It can be applied to many scenarios and those involving sex and drugs are the ones which fuel the writer.

The greater fuel though comes from the protagonist or antagonist, depending on the viewpoint the story is told from. Lots of scenarios have played out in my head over the last few days. Just like a story, my internal machinations are in conflict. I don’t know which story to write.

“He knew exactly how to deal with what was going on. It involved becoming more like the person she thought he was. But in doing so, he was not what he wanted to be to her. On the other hand, it was a longer conflict and this would just be collateral damage.”

Or; Or, but also.

“She knew exactly how to deal with what was going on. It involved becoming more like the person he thought she was. But in doing so, she was not what she wanted to be to him. On the other hand, it was a longer conflict and this would just be collateral damage.”

At the moment, it’s just at the beginning. The story has a soundtrack: Songs which could be by anyone, but which could be overlaid on specific memories to make a sum greater than the parts.

The story could end at any moment, in any way I please. It’s how I remain in control.

“Everything can change, suddenly and forever.” As writers, we have the tools.

It is said that some stories write themselves: “Stories only happen to those who are able to tell them.” (Paul Auster).

Like life, really: Whichever way it turns out, someone will get hurt.

At the moment, it’s just a page or two of prose.

If I could teach the world to sing…

THE WRITER’S LIFE | COMMENT

malcolm-x

A regular visitor to my little studio is my adopted kid sister, The Courts. She’s the one I met on my first night on the streets, when she and a couple of friends sat with me, surrounded by my life in Sports Direct bags. Those three girls were 15 years old at the time. Later, I was adopted by three more and gained three teenage daughter-types: What nice problems to have.

Since then, much has changed but Courtney became my sister in that family we formed at the squat: The Pink Hearts. We look out for each other, as brothers and sisters do. We chill out in my studio, watch DVDs, smoke weed and talk. She talks a lot and she’s naive about a lot of things but occasionally, she’ll say something really deep and thoughtful. She did that yesterday, when in her own idiosyncratic way, she effectively said this:

This feeds into a much bigger debate, which could well become a global conversation soon. As a beneficiary of the democratisation of writing, I know that marketplace is open to abuse because there are those who can and will preach to the gullible. Then it only takes a few “Shares” for potential lies to be spread. Eventually, untruths become believed, accepted and abused.

Trump and Brexit are examples of what happens in a perfect storm: A lack of faith in the gorverning classes has led to an angry right wing gaining traction, while those on the left were ineffective in opposition.

But what’s equally important and saddening is that people were lied to and they believed the untruths. They didn’t check or research.

There need not be a silent majority though.

We need to talk. We need to debate. We need to arrive a point where we all agree that this current mess can be sorted out. In order to get there, we need to stop fighting.

It’s idealistic to think that such a New World Order might evolve in our lifetimes but I believe it could happen in our children’s. We have de-evolved as a human race recently and I’m not alone in this thinking.

Read – as I do – the many scientific notes of Stephen Hawking et al. I do it as a fiction writer, for research into near future scenarios I might scare or wonder readers with.

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

It was a version of that quote by Stephen Hawking, sampled by Pink Floyd in “Keep Talking” which prompted me to write Cyrus Song. All of the above, current affairs and scientific research is fuel for the fiction writer. And that’s what I am. I’m not a journalist, but even for my fiction work, I do research my material.

Don’t believe all that you see. Check it out. Read The Guardian; check Snopes; Don’t spread lies.

Home is where the Pink Hearts are

THE WRITER’S LIFE

pink-heart-hands

It’s all come flooding back this week; Everything’s come home to roost. My studio might as well have been the old squat on a couple of occasions: Not because it was untidy; I’m so house proud and OCD that I even kept the squat clean and tidy when I was living there.

The police were round, a bit like they used to visit the squat. Back then, when it was a gathering ground for teenagers, the police would occasionally pop in to see who was there. If anyone had gone AWOL from school, the police would go to the squat. On the occasions when one of the young adults was reported missing, the police would check at the squat and ask me to keep my ears open. There were no drugs or underage sex at the squat and we enjoyed a community spirit with the law. The nick was quite literally next door.

This time, one of the Pink Hearts – the family which formed in that squat, mostly teenagers to whom I owe my life – had got into a spot of bother and needed somewhere to stay the night. For whatever reason, I’m the person this young lady felt safe with, so she asked the police to bring her to my place. So at three o’clock on Thursday morning, I had a Battenberg cake drop off a passenger in the mill yard outside my studio. One of the other Pink Hearts had to crash the night when her lift home forgot her.

And what do I get up to when these teenage girls stay for the night? Sit with them, talk, smoke weed and binge on DVDs. I don’t see them like others might. I see suffragettes. I see friends. I see family. Those “kids” who used to congregate at the squat, saved my life. They made me realise that life’s worth living, even when you have fuck all. My role there became an advisory one and a few of those young adults came under my wing. We remain close and the ethos of the Pink Hearts family lives on always.

There’s another Pink Heart adult: The mum of one of the girls and now my right-hand. When you’re left-handed, it’s handy (sorry) to have a right-hand and a same-age sounding board as we deal with some of the younger ones in the family.

All the signs are that this week will be similar to last. But where once I resisted company, any company is improved if there’s a supply of weed. And so has my life been by cannabis, helping me to overcome the worst of my anxiety.

It should be no surprise that I smoke weed. After all, Bob Marley’s son is named Ziggy, after Ziggy Stardust. I’m a Bowie fan with my musical roots in the birthplace of Ska: Kingston, Jamaica. I like reggae. This is what I am, but I’m only now putting the whole puzzle together. Part of me simply refused to grow up.

I’ve been less than prolific on the writing front. I’ve fitted freelance work around everything else and my personal output is concentrated on pre-publication projects: The Perpetuity of Memory mainly, as it’s still due out next month. It’s difficult to work when there are two teenage girls around. Not because I might be expected to be distracted by such a presence; I’m not like that. No, because at least one of them talks a lot and they’re both pleasant company. Although there were times when I might once have screamed, now I just look at them and I have to smile. Because in those young people, I see myself at that age; Because those girls and their friends gave me a reason to live; and because when they’re around, I don’t want to stop the world and get off any more.

I spent a long time finding out what I wanted to do with my life. An autobiography-ette; Born 1970, not dead yet:

I “grew up”, got married, had kids. I was sales director for a group of companies. I earned £75k a year and I had a decent car. Then I ran my own company, banked about £10k a month and got drunk. Then my marriage failed and I lost my home and family. I got a flat in Bexley. I had a swimming pool. I’d got into poker when I was still married. There was a massive live poker scene around Bexley. Eventually, I was running the company in the morning, then going to The Empire on Leicester Square to play poker through the night. The whole thing was fuelled by Coke up my nose. Cocaine and drink took over. I gradually lost everything and had to hand over my poker bankroll (£6000) to save my legs.

The rest was a downward spiral into the gutter. And that’s where all those young adults met me.

And now I’m poor but I’m doing what I love: I’m a writer.

But just as I can’t forget how my life fell apart, neither can I forget those kids; the Pink Hearts: Never a gang, always family.

Those kids were born between AIDS and 9/11: That’s quite a thought to take on board. Many of them have had troubled lives and some have mental health issues: That’s the other tie which binds us as a family. Like me, some have made attempts to take their own lives. Now that I know them, I’m glad I failed. And hopefully, I might have played some small part in getting them through some issues.

There are times when I remember life on the streets quite fondly: I’m perhaps part-tramp. Because yes, I was a “tramp” once. But just as blacks and gays reclaimed words, so tramps can be proud. Call me a tramp as an insult and I’ll wish I could show you how it’s a term which makes me proud to be a part of a humanist crowd. Most wouldn’t make it through.

I’ve come to terms with my mental illness(es). And I wonder, which was it? Did the entire world change, or did I realise I had a psychological condition? This is my internal dialogue as I come to terms with things and try to finally relax in amongst everything that’s grown around me.

“I understood myself only after I destroyed myself. And only in the process of fixing myself, did I know who I really was.”

Sade Andria Zabala

When you wish upon a binary star

FICTION

Artist’s impression of the hottest and most massive touching d

This is a story I wrote a couple of years ago, when some young friends were struggling with themselves. Now, it’s different ones having the same issues. Life will feed you some shit sandwiches kids, and you’ll probably do a good job of making your own. But remember, everything happens for a reason: It’s all mapped out. Just be careful what you wish for.

When you wish upon a binary star

A binary star is a star system consisting of two stars orbiting around their common centre of mass. Systems of two, three, four, or even more stars are called multiple star systems. These systems, especially when more distant, often appear to the unaided eye as a single point of light, and are then revealed as double (or more) by other means. Research over the last two centuries suggests that half or more of visible stars are part of multiple star systems. (Source: Wikipedia).

It’s at exactly the point when you decide there’s nothing left, when reasons to live evade you and the pull of oblivion is as strong as gravity, that you make an involuntary wish upon a star.

A girl is seated on a black chair in the centre of a white room. The girl is aged between 14 and 17. This is as much as the girl knows.

She looks at her hands and her arms. One tattoo, gained with the help of fake ID: a love of her life, permanently under her skin. A passing cat scratches them, seemingly un-fazed by the big black dog standing behind the girl. The dog makes no effort to move in any case. Instead it rests its chin on her shoulder. There is a mirror on the far wall, which the girl can see if she rolls her eyes up. She can’t look directly into it because her chin is sewn to her chest. As she looks down, she contemplates her feet: in designer trainers. The trainers are pristine white, but for a blue tick mark to indicate that her feet have been nailed to the floor. The are no windows in the room that she can make out but there is an opening, as she is aware of a draught. The air tastes and smells damp and heavy: an indicator of conditions outside.

Although she’s inside the room, she is able to visualize it from the outside: a grey Portacabin. She could be in any of a number of settings: a spare classroom at a school; a temporary library parked in a local church car park; a polling station; a foreman’s office on a construction site; an incident room set up at the scene of a crime. There is no teacher, librarian, clerk, site manager or detective in the room with her.

She doesn’t know how long she’s been there but she knows it’s been a long time. The words “long” and “time” don’t sit well with her. For long, see far and big: see that which cannot be contemplated, for it contains fear. Like life. An ever-present voice reminds her of the one certainty in life: that one day it will end. If that voice could be there every day for several years to come, she’d rather not listen.

Mere thoughts cause her distress. She doesn’t like to think too much about things but with her movement impeded, she finds her mind wandering. Normally there’d be something to hand to stop this. A review of the life lived so far doesn’t last long: sexual partners, foster care homes and nights spent in police custody, all too numerous to contemplate individually. What would the rest of life hold? Fuck knows; who gives a shit?

A door opens at the back of the room and people file in. The room on either side of the girl fills quickly. Those on the left of her hold pieces of paper in their hands, while those on her right do not. Very soon, a figure passes through the assembled people on the right and hands them each a piece of paper. The figure passes close by and the girl can see that it is a tall, young male, wearing a black track suit and white trainers. From her position with her head bowed, all that she can tell of the others in the room is that they are people. As the distributor finishes and leaves the room, all but a few of those on the right hand side follow.

A girl is seated on a black chair in the centre of a white room. The girl is aged between 14 and 17. There are quite a lot of people on her left and two or three more on her right. Her feet are nailed to the floor and her chin is stitched to her chest. This is as much as the girl knows.

The door at the back of the room opens periodically and the people to her left shuffle forward, as though they are being pushed by more people arriving behind. The boy in the tracksuit returns.

“What the fuck?”

“Exactly mate.” The girl’s response was reflex.

“No, I mean, what the fuck? It’s a rhetorical question.

“A what?”

“A question asked not for information but to produce an effect. What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I don’t fucking know. What am I doing here?”

“It was another rhetorical question but I’ll tell you how you got here: you wished upon a star.”

“Fuck off did I.”

“You did, without realising it. You’re actually capable of a lot of things you may not realise. Beautiful dreams but also, terrible nightmares.”

“Yeah, I know about them.”

“It was in one that you came here.”

“Yeah, where the fuck is this?”

“I’ll cut your ties, so that you can see. Before I do, I have to tell you that you may only look at me. You must not look at the other people in this room. You are also free to leave at any time but I suspect that you have questions. You may ask as many questions as you want but you must ask each one only once. I will answer your questions as honestly as I am able to and some of what I say may not make sense at first. You need to consider my answers and not dismiss them. You are free to leave.”

“But you ain’t done nothing.”

“You perceive me to have done nothing. Your bonds were metaphorical.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“I shan’t answer that.”

“Why not?”

“Because if you paused for thought, you’d realise you didn’t have to ask. Your bonds were never there in a physical sense. You can move now. You’re looking directly at me.” To her surprise, her head had naturally drifted up and she could now see the boy’s face. “You are free to go”, the boy repeated.

“Nah, it’s alright. You’re quite fit mate. You remind me of someone.”

“Proving that you are both deep and shallow.”

The girl felt lost but found, in limbo beween the two. Was this purgatory?

“Proving you don’t make sense mate.”

“Until you take the time to consider my words. Do you know who I am?”

“A pretentious cunt if you have to ask.”

“How did one like you come to be in a place like this?”

“I don’t know. Where the fuck is this?”

“It doesn’t matter so much where it is, as when it is. This is your funeral. Actually, it’s two versions of your funeral. On your right is the congregation at your funeral if it were to be taking place now. To your left are people gathering for your funeral in the future. I realise that could take a while to sink in, so I’ll try to explain. Bear with me and I’ll probably answer more of your questions as I go along.

“You arrived at a point in your life where you were despairing. You weren’t getting the answers you wanted to your questions but you didn’t stop to wonder if you were asking the right questions. You’d fallen asleep, wishing that you were dead, as you have in the past. Normally, that sort of wish would be passed to a star and it would be decided if your wish should be granted as you slept. It’s a lovely paradox if you think about it. The problem is, you had two wishes: you’re so egotistical that you wished you could see who turned up for your funeral. Insecurity and vanity. Two wishes, each needing a star. So yours came to a binary star.”

“Who are you?”

“I could ask you the same. You might even ask the same question of yourself. I shall tell you only what you need to know of me. I have no name, or at least nothing you would recognise as such. Neither would I be recognisable to you if I hadn’t taken on this appearance. We figured this would make things easier for you. You are asleep, or at least you’re at that stage between wakefulness and sleep which you never remember: that’s where we live, or that’s how we find you. You can think of us as certain things which you may believe exist but can’t prove: ghosts, spirits, aliens… We’re sentinels; messengers carrying knowledge. The knowledge which we possess is too much for many to comprehend. That’s when people pass away in their sleep. They are the weak. Once they pass, they cross over to us, where they may better gain knowledge. The knowledge is inescapable. Who am I to you? Someone you recognise. Someone who could be in the congregation to your left, because our paths have crossed.

“Who are you? To me, you are a soul: a troubled one, with many questions and one of many such souls. To yourself you are a relative stranger and it doesn’t matter what happens to strangers because it’s not your problem: you’re so contradictory. You’re not old enough to know yourself yet, as you’ve not known yourself for long enough. That’s why you’re unsure of your age: because things haven’t changed in so long that you may as well be anywhere within a certain range. Your range may even expand. Some of the more interesting people we meet don’t know in their twenties what they want to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting forty-year-olds we’ve met, still don’t.

“The funeral which will soon take place on your right – if you don’t wake up – is being attended by people you’ve met up until this point in your life. To be honest, I’m amazed some of them even made it here. As people arrived, I gave them an order of service for your funeral. Inside the orders of service were vouchers for once-only entrance to a club, called Sirens. For the boys, there’s the promise of girls so attractive that they have to be kept out of sight. For the girls it’s boys who have to be concealed from view. LGBT isn’t excluded of course but it’s academic when you think about it. The funeral on your left will take place at some point in the future. You may not look at the people congregated there because some of them may not exist yet: imagine that side of the room in fast-forward mode, whilst you are paused. We can control time and see the future as well as having knowledge of everything past. It’s likely that there are people to your left who you wouldn’t recognise. There may be some you do, who you hoped wouldn’t be there. Conversely, others may not be there who you thought might. Some may not make it as far in life as you do and it could be you attending their funerals instead. You must not know and you must take certain things on blind faith. Our paths have crossed and may do so again.

“Of course the future funeral scenario will require you to wake up. When you do, you may or may not remember this. If you do, it’s probably a good idea to keep it quiet. Others have remembered their encounters with us and bored still others with stories which they can’t prove: there’s the paradox again. One guy even wrote a book about us. Don’t get branded a nut. Questions?”

“Fuck knows. I’m fucking listening though, ain’t I?”

“Am I not.”

“Fuck off, cunt. So all this shit: it’s a bit fucking dramatic ain’t it?”

“It worked: you listened and you didn’t run away.”

“Yeah, because you had me fucking stitched up and nailed down.”

“No, we didn’t. Think back. You’re still here because you want to find out more about this life which you’re questioning the validity of. And here’s another paradox: the only place where you can see ahead in time is here, yet here is where we take people from their sleep, that becoming easier the more curious they are and the longer their stay.”

“Can I go now then?”

“Any time you like. I was just going to give you a few things to think about. You are free to leave when you please, so I may as well keep talking for as long as you’re here.

“In the larger part of your life which you’re yet to lead, how can you say now that you may not finally one day find a real passion for a person or a thing? You’ll never know for sure and there’s every chance that the future holds something for you. So it’s a big leap to take without careful consideration. Is it okay to give up? That’s a very large responsibility to offload. It’s the biggest choice you’ll ever make and I can’t make it for you.

“As an atheist in the human form, I’d have extremely low expectations of the rest of eternity. That seems to me a very good reason not to rush into it. Life as you know it is at least a known quantity. It has ups and downs; textured, often surprising and scattered with some really quite sensational moments. Do you think you’ve had your allotted share?

“This too shall pass.”

“You speak in such riddles.”

“I choose my words in such a way as to encourage you to think. This too shall pass is an undeniable truth. Think about those four words alone:

“This: not that. Concentrate on the present and that which you have control of.

“Too: as well. Other things passed and so too shall this and more to come.

“Shall: it will. It did before and it will again.

“Pass: it will be gone, like so much else. More will come and then we repeat. That’s life. Four words.

“Ready?”

A girl is seated on a black chair in the centre of a white room. The girl is aged between 14 and 17. This is as much as the girl knows.

© Steve Laker, 2014

 

Now showing: Begotten (Unrated)

SAVAGE CINEMA

begotten

My writing is fuelled by many things, including some of the freelance work I do and my extensive collection of films. As a freelancer, I’m currently off-grid, working on a piece which has required some research on the Dark Web: It’s a fascinating and dangerous place, and it’s given me some ideas for future fiction. The Savage Cinema is my personal collection of movies: It now includes all of the “50 most disturbing films of all time“.

There are some very powerful and affecting films in my collection: Not just horror movies but documentaries and art house productions, and Begotten is one such film. I’m screening it here partly as a demonstration of what’s out there, if you look beyond the mainstream and into the darker fringes. But also, it’s a good insight into my mind, because how you may feel after watching it is very much like how I feel a lot of the time. While not a movie as such (there is no dialogue, just a menacing soundtrack), Begotten is truly disturbing; Not necessarily immediately but it will stay in the mind long after viewing. As such, it is an affecting film.

I admire E. Elias Merhige (the Director), because he uses film to create the same feeling I strive to in some of my darker stories: Discomfort and unease. This 72-minute art film opens with a person referred to as God disembowelling himself, so that’s nice. Next, Mother Earth rises from God’s body and impregnates herself with his semen (shaving was apparently out of fashion in 1990, when this was made). Then she’s raped by a group of wanderers who’ve already attacked her offspring – the Son of Earth – with what looks like an umbilical cord. It just gets weirder after that.

So when I’m asked where I get some of my ideas from for stories like COGS (in the anthology, out next month), I refer to titles which most people have never heard of. Most of my ideas are just born of a warped mind but that is sometimes fed with the work of others’ imaginations.

The films I study (and I do; I don’t just watch a film) are a stage removed from the kinds of horror I’d consume from a video rental store as a teenager. My collection is not so much top shelf, nor under the counter, but perhaps in a back room. Most are relatively unknown titles but the kind of fringe theatre I watch is made by directors passionate about their art. A slightly mainstream example is Irréversible, by Gaspar Noé: One of the most brilliant pieces of cinema I have ever watched, for its sheer, raw power. I’m not a gore hound and I don’t knock one out to these films. My enjoyment – for want of a better word – is in being personally and emotionally affected by a work. 

Of course, as a writer I’m somewhat limited, being as I am, sans pictures and sounds. That said, the most powerful medium is that of human imagination. So with my stories, I’ll write in such a way that I believe my prose will evoke the emotion I require from the reader. A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie has moved many readers to tears, as has Echo Beach to a lesser extent. Cyrus Song made people smile. COGS repulsed readers, and The Perpetuity of Memory made at least one physically shudder. All but the girl and her friends will be in my collected tales volume.

I hope my stories remain in the memory, like Merhige’s film.

The Savage Cinema presents Begotten:

Now, that was nice wasn’t it? But as I said, the feeling it invokes is not dissimilar to how my mental illnesses make me feel on bad days. It’s difficult to describe with words alone but add some sound and pictures and you’re in my brain. And that was just 72 minutes, if anyone made it all the way.

It’s morbid curiosity which draws us to watch things like this: Part apprehension, but driven by that human craving of fear. It’s that thirst which I seek to satisfy with my writing.

And so, Cardboard Sky, the 25th and final story in my collection is nearly finished. I’m pretty confident it’ll be an affecting tale. It’s part influenced by my digging around on the dark web, partly by some other freelance work, but mostly from my imagination. So it should stick in the mind.

A disruptive conspiracy theory

THE WRITER’S LIFE

uhv-foil-24-inch-dispenser-box

It’s not a terribly big stretch of the imagination to envisage this being my last ever blog post. With the state of the world around me as I write, I predict there is much which could happen sooner than we realise.

My current anxiety isn’t the usual sense of uncertainty which pervades my life. It’s more tangible and it’s a fear of existential proportions. It’s a three-pointed thing: Post-Brexit Britain, the US presidential election, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The IoT, or Internet of Things is all of the smart, connected and unprotected devices we’re building up around our homes: Smart TVs, the Amazon Echo; anything connected to the internet. Provided we keep our spyware and other software up to date, our computers are safe from malicious attacks. No such protection has been afforded to all those other devices, making them targets for hackers. As such, they are a massive weapon for DDoS attacks. Each smart device in our homes can be hacked, then used to repeatedly send web page requests to a server. Eventually the server becomes overwhelmed and breaks down. This is a DDoS, or Distributed Denial of Service attack. Millions of these devices used as a botnet can cripple a major organisation’s website and take them down. A recent DDos attack using IoT devices took down the entire internet in Liberia.

It’s called disruption and it’s what technology does. Technology has disrupted the hotel industry with Airbnb. The private cab hire economy has similarly been disrupted by Uber. For the most part, disruption is good, or it starts out that way. What’s happening in the UK and the US now is also disruption.

I’ve arrived at a point where I’m not just embarrassed by my country, I’m ashamed of it. I’m a liberal democrat. Not necessarily in my voting habits but my morals and beliefs. I am liberal minded and inclusive. I believe in democracy, which may sound hypocritical from a proclaimed anarchist, but anarchy’s principles can sit comfortably with democratic ones. Besides, I’ve only embraced anarchy as a writer, in that I have freedom. In any case, I voted remain in the EU referendum. Since then, this country has become divided and it’s not in the nature of a liberal to stoke those divisions. As a liberal, I find it sad that so much venom has entered the national rhetoric. I believe the recent High Court decision was correct and that our elected Parliament should decide on the terms of Britain leaving the EU.

My post-Brexit anxiety is with a country I wish I could divorce myself from. As recently as four years ago, we showed the world what an open and diverse nation we were. Now, we’re a joke. And worse than that: We are a racist nation. I don’t wish to be here because I don’t feel I belong here any more.

The USA has become a similarly fractured (disrupted) nation in the run up to tomorrow’s presidential election. And my real existential fear is in the slim chance that Trump may make president. Here we have not just a weaponised version of Lord Sugar, but an egotistical, megalomaniacal, misogynistic, narcissistic racist, bidding for the most powerful job in the world. In the unlikely event that he wins, the world as we know it will end. And even if he loses, he’ll throw his toys out of his private jet because an ego that size can’t stand losing.

But whatever happens – and this is where all three fears join up – someone is watching: Someone who relishes disruption and for whom it represents the perfect smokescreen for covert manoeuvres.

Russia, The Kremlin and Vladimir Putin have loved watching the Brexit fallout, in the UK and the wider Europe. They see a nation weakened. Now their one-time nemesis is broken too. It is highly likely that the recent DDoS IoT attacks were carried out by those who thrive on disruption for the opportunities it gives them. With countries distracted by domestic matters, they are weak and vulnerable to attack. Who’s to say that the UK or USA might not be the next Liberia?

World War 3 would always be a technological theatre and it doesn’t take a great stretching of the imagination to see that we might be near the start.

Maybe I’m just being a conspiracy theorist. Perhaps I’m entertaining ideas for fiction. Or maybe I’m right.

The world is certainly changing for the worse at the moment. In a few days, there could well be global DDoS attacks. In which case, this will be my last entry. Or this may be read by the Russians: Same ending.

The taxonomy of ghosts

THE WRITER’S LIFE

ghostwriter

From a CulturedVultures article: Ghostwriters: The Horror Story of the Publishing World?

Three areas of my life clashed today. I was researching a freelance article I was writing for a stage school and waiting for the client to answer a question. Having the patience of an impala (they’re very impatient), I wandered off mentally and read about something else. Given that I subscribe to the idea of some sort of afterlife based on quantum science, it was appropriate that my random Wikipedia article was about ghosts.

Random Wiki entries can be a great source of ideas for stories and at the very least, I always learn something new. I’m still writing “Cardboard Sky” in the background to all the freelance work and the Wikipedia article included types of ghosts. My latest story is taking so long to write because I’m busy with the freelance writing and I’m editing my anthology. But also because I created a rod for my back with Echo Beach being so well-received. So Cardboard Sky is definitely going to be a good story and if I get it finished in time, the 25th and final tale in The Perpetuity of Memory.

Cardboard Sky is quite a complex story, so it’s been tricky making it work without it being too challenging. As with all my stories, I want to affect the reader and make them think, but not confuse them, other than with an invitation to speculate. The story concerns a man who dies, which isn’t a spoiler, rather than one of the anchors of the story. It’s then partly told from the perspective of the ghost he becomes. One of the other anchors is a boy called George, whom our character is curious about. The magic of fiction is that this character is attending a sort of ghost school, and it was the three-way clash which made me decide to put him in a stage school, so that he can learn which role of ghost acting will suit his haunting the best. With everything else I have on my desk, Cardboard Sky is still a couple of weeks away, so have an excerpt:

First contact was somewhat fraught: We’d reached a stage at school where we needed to choose specialist subjects. We’d grasped all the foundation modules, like An Introduction to Life, Key Stage 3; Elemental Dimensions (there are four); and A foundation Course in Invisibility (“Is there anyone else in here?”). I’d read many books, including “Jamie’s How to Not Eat”, “Mr Vertigo”, by Paul Auster; and “Tales of Ordinary Madness”, by Charles Bukowski. The latter two I was familiar with from what seemed to be Life, Key Stage 2. Which made me wonder: What was Stage 1? In any case, after the foundation modules, we had to pick two more specialist ones.

Having always been a frustrated actor, I’d chosen two modules from the Performing Arts section. When it came to actually getting a job, the audition lists were many and lengthy. For my debut role, I needed to decide on my character type. Although I was growing desperate for work by then, I didn’t want to end up being type-cast. Which provided a quandary in itself: To avoid being ever associated with one kind of role, I had to be not very good in my first performance, which in itself might lose me my big break. I read through the various roll calls for the spirited, trying to find a type to fit my style:

The “Crisis Apparition” is normally a one-time event for those experiencing it. It’s when a ghost is seen at the time of it’s predecessor’s passing, as a way of saying farewell to family and friends. It would be like going about your daily business, then suddenly seeing your mother outside of normal contexts. Minutes later, you receive a call to tell you that she’s passed away. With practice, the deceased may be able to visit you more than once, to reassure you. If they do that, you might have a guardian angel. I hadn’t even been aware of my own moment of actually dying, so I figured I’d missed the train on that one.

The Reluctant Dead” are ghosts who are unaware they’re deceased. They go about their lives as if they were still living, oblivious to their passing. This innocence (or denial), can be so severe that the ghost can’t see the living but can nonetheless feel their presence: A kind of role reversal. This can be stressful, for both the haunter and the haunted. In movies, it’s usually someone moving into the home of a recently deceased person. Perhaps they lived and died alone in their twilight years. To them, the living might be invaders. These are not ghosts which need to be exorcised: Simply talking to them about their death can help them to cross over and leave your home. I might have been somewhat reluctant to be dead but I had at least accepted that I was dead. So this wasn’t for me.

Then there are ghosts who are trapped or lost: They know they’re dead but for one reason or another, they can’t cross over yet. Cross over into what? Key Stage 4? Some may fear moving on because of the person they were in life, or they fear leaving what is familiar to them. Neither really applied to me.

In the “Unfinished Business” category there were a number of roles, mainly altruistic: A father might return to make sure his children are okay. Or a lover might hang around, making sure their partner finds happiness and moves on. All of my business was completed. At the other end of the spectrum was the “Vengeful ghost”: Perhaps a murder victim, back to haunt their killer. Although the concept had some appeal, as far as I knew, I hadn’t been murdered. And I had no bones to pick with George.

Residual ghosts” usually live out their final hours over and over again. They often show no intelligence or self-awareness, and will walk straight by (or through) you. Many think that these types of ghosts left an imprint or a recording of themselves in our space time. Apart from anything else, I didn’t know my final hours.

Finally, the “Intelligent ghost”: Where the entity interacts with the living and shows a form of intelligence. I certainly wanted to communicate with George, so this seemed like the gig for me.

Like Wikipedia, I’m educational. If no-one likes the story (and I doubt that), at least they’ve learned something about the various kinds of ghosts.

So today’s clash was a pleasant one, of three things I enjoy, and furthering each: Freelance writing, fiction writing and learning through research. When most days are ruled by the ever-competing unholy trinity of anxiety, depression and insomnia, it’s nice to get a break. It’s on days like this that I remember why I made my mental health issues my friends: I’m stuck with them anyway and when I get days like this, the manic side of me drowns out the depression.

It’s that big red button again and the question of whether I’d press it (No). If my mental illness is what gives me this thirst for knowledge and the ability to write creatively, I don’t want to switch it off, even though some times are bad. I just hope I can remind myself of that every time things take a dip. And yes, smoking weed helps: It helps my anxiety but it also makes me more curious and creative. The high IQ can be a poisoned chalice but it was a contributing factor to what goes on in my head nowadays.

I’m a writer and a ghostwriter. In either role, I can be anyone I want. I can be any kind of ghost.

The dark matter of the dogs

THE WRITER’S LIFE

dark-matter-dog

I appeared to have a day off earlier. That is to say, I looked around this morning and this appeared to be a good day to take off. As such, I should be relaxed. But no matter how good everything is, that fucking black dog is always there. It’s somewhere, though I can’t see it.

This isn’t the black dog once used as a metaphor for depression: I’ve got that one on a lead and walking to heel. This is the anxiety hound. Ever since anxiety was placed at the top of my list of mental health problems, it’s the one that’s been hounding me.

Things could hardly be better: Benefits and freelance money have started to come in; I’ve bought a few gadgets for the writing desk; and I’ve pimped the typewriter, so it looks cooler and more mine. The fridge, freezer and cupboards are stocked; I’ve got a ready supply of alcohol, tobacco and weed; I’ve added to both my music and DVD collections.

On the music front, I’ve added the back catalogues of Bat For Lashes and Charlotte Hatherley (ex-guitarist with Ash). With a music collection running to the many hundreds of titles and with eclectic tastes, it’s rare that I’ll leave an album on loop all day but Grey Will Fade by Charlotte Hatherley is one such disc.

Film wise, I’ve completed the Savage Cinema collection, as defined by the most authoritative lists. There were three titles missing from my collection, by virtue of them being unobtainable through price (one would have set me back £395) and being banned. I’ve found a workaround though and now Begotten, Aftermath (Genesis) and The Titicut Follies complete the “100 most disturbing movies of all time” collection and about 400 others. Unlike their 97 stable mates, I couldn’t get originals with cover art but better to have them and to complete the collection than not.

The latter title is an out-of-print documentary by Frederick Wiseman, exposing the mistreatment of inmates inside the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Bridgewater. As my journalistic output through freelance work has increased, I’ve taken a greater interest in a number of things and begun to expand the Savage Cinema with a non-fiction section. It’s small at the moment but it already includes some important films by John Pilger, Werner Herzog and Joshua Oppenheimer.

Films like Into the Abyss, by Herzog and The Act of Killing (Oppenheimer) are not pleasurable viewing but they are brave films by some of the more maverick film makers. Into the Abyss is a series of conversations with death row inmate Michael Perry and those affected by his crime; an examination of why people – and the state – kill. The Act of Killing is a documentary which challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to re-enact their mass killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers. These are very powerful films.

Why do I watch documentaries like these? Why would I want to collect them? Because, just like the Top 100 “Nasties”, these are important and affecting films. I want to be affected by what I see and hear and the films I collect are effective in achieving that. I like to explore and learn about things, however troubling that knowledge may be. It means that I’m informed, not blinkered, and can pursue subjects and causes in an educated manner. The democratisation of media and blogging means that I have an instant publishing medium with a global audience, to talk about things.

The move into documentaries was prompted by freelance writing and it’s feeding me with ideas for fiction writing, so life is self-perpetuating.

And it’s not my consumption of controversial films which feeds my anxiety. In fact, the documentaries such as those above make me appreciate how lucky I am, when I consider the cruelty which mankind is capable of inflicting on his own kind. For me, life is comfortable.

The day off didn’t really work out in the end: A freelance client has asked me to write some copy and it looks interesting, so I’ve taken it on. I’ve written this of course. Later, I’ll probably do some writing. In that respect, I never want to take a day off. I just wish some days themselves weren’t off.

Yes, the anxiety can be crippling, but there are many worse places to be.