A writer in a residence

THE WRITER’S LIFE

writer-in-residence
Writer not in residence

Without wishing to tempt fate, or count the eggs which the horse laid before it bolted and I found out where the stable door was, I may have cause to relax just a little bit. All the clues point to my landlady giving me a rolling tenancy, without actually telling me.

Apparently this is par for the course, according to the other two benefits tenants who live in this little hut perched atop a coffee shop. Like me, they came here on an initial one year tenancy and it was never renewed. Which may not seem like great comfort but it’s the most secure I’ve been in a long time.

Three years of varying degrees of homelessness meant that I became quite knowledgeable in a few areas, including squatters’ rights and latterly, those of tenants. We squatted only in abandoned commercial premises and never forced entry. Since then, I’ve had a tenancy agreement and the limited rights which one of those represents. Even without a tenancy agreement, a sitting tenant is entitled to two months’ notice to vacate a property, under the terms of a Section 21 eviction notice, and the latter is a legal requirement of the property owner.

I’ve been at my studio for almost a year now and a Section 21 notice to evict me at the end of my current one year tenancy would therefore have been required almost two months ago. There wasn’t one, and I’ve received a notice from the council about ongoing housing benefit payments being made directly to my landlady. So apart from an actual tenancy agreement, I feel quite secure. In law, I retain the right to two months’ notice, and a tenancy agreement doesn’t give any extra rights. But the key was in speaking to my neighbours, neither of whom have a paper contract but who have both been here for several years on rolling tenancies. Given that the council have confirmed they’ll continue to pay my rent, I have to assume that I have a rolling contract too.

Renting is never secure, as it will always lack the permanence I crave, but this is the next best thing: A rolling tenancy with a council landlady.

The studio is small: It’s a living room barely twelve feet square, with a small kitchen. The toilet and shower are off-suite but for my exclusive use. As I’ve said before, as a flat, it’s not the best; As an office, it’s fantastic. And seeing as writing is my life, I treat the studio as an office which I also relax and sleep in. I’m unlikely to ever make a living from my writing and I’m too ill to work, but writing gives me purpose and it’s therapy. I call it my job, because it’s what gives me and others satisfaction. Whatever it is, when anyone asks me what I do, I am qualified to answer that I’m a writer. It took a long time to be able to say that with confidence. My landlady simply squeezed an extra flat in where others might not; The kind of place which might only be taken by the needy and unfussy. Well, there was a place with a me-shaped hole in it.

And despite its shortcomings, I love my little studio. The flat and the strange little building it’s in with three others is quirky. The end wall on the outside is apparently a rare example of a mill wall, where sacks of flour made from corn were thrown from a first floor door, opening onto thin air, so that they could be dropped into waiting horse carts in the yard below. The door is still there, fifteen feet up, and the wall itself is Grade I listed. The flats sit on top of a coffee shop in the village high street, which is quite a poetic thing for a writer. It’s quiet. It’s very quiet around here, in the studio, in the mews, which is in the yard, tucked behind the village centre. It’s ideal for me. It’s small, but I don’t need any more. I’m paid a basic state income on account of my depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, OCD and many times PTSD. That security has allowed me to improve myself and give something back.

Of course, that’s part of the whole Universal Basic Income (UBI) model, now being trialled in Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the Netherlands, among others. While it may be some way off in the UK as a whole, it’s something being studied and which I’m a great advocate of, not just because it would suit me, but many others and much more as well. The argument for a UBI is gaining traction, thanks in part to such visionary advocates as Elon Musk, and the author, Rutger Bregman, whose latest book was the subject of a feature in this weekend’s Observer:

As liberal democracy seems to be crumbling under the weight of widespread despondency, some hardline opinions are in danger of becoming received wisdoms. In the global market, we are told, we must work harder and improve productivity. The welfare state has become too large and we need to cut back on benefits. Immigration is out of control and borders need to be strengthened.

The choice seems to be either to accept this new paradigm or risk the likes of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders gaining power. The centre ground is being dragged to the left and right, and collapsing down the middle. Meanwhile progressive politics has returned to its comfort zone, busily opposing everything and offering almost nothing. Where is the vision, the ambition, the belief?

Yet into this bleak picture drops a book and an author bristling with hope, optimism and answers. Rutger Bregman is a 28-year-old Dutchman whose book, Utopia for Realists, has taken Holland by storm and could yet revitalise progressive thought around the globe…

“I’ve heard for years that my ideas are unrealistic. You want to stick to the status quo? How’s that working out?”
Rutger Bregman

The full article is here.

It’s a facsimile of this model which has allowed me to publish three books, which are now being enjoyed by others, because they’ve told me so. And although I lack some written proof regarding my tenancy, other correspondence and all of the available evidence allows me to conclude that in this instance, no news really is good news. I’m a writer in residence, with the current residence being the most secure that someone in my situation can expect, and the most security I’ve had for the last six years, following that knifepoint robbery in Lewisham which triggered everything which lay beneath, prompting my fall into the gutter and subsequent recovery.

With three books published, I’m now able to relax and concentrate on the next ones: a sci-fi space opera, and a second volume of short stories. I’ve already finished the first for the latter, and I’ve gone back to my slush pile, which contains many unfinished works.

The bubble could burst at any moment. This won’t cure my anxiety, but tonight, I may allow myself a small celebration, with a pizza. Because it was a man from Iceland who used to say, “I’ve started so I’ll finish.”

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The bastard brain thing

THE WRITER’S LIFE

knock-penny
“Anyone, anyone, anyone…”

As Saturday transitions into Sunday, I often get attacks of insomnia, and this is one such. Having spent the day reading the news, thinking, researching and writing, I have a lot on my mind. Sometimes I write. Other times, I’ll have a DVD binge.

Given the size of my DVD library, I have a lot of choice. I can pretty much watch something whichever mood takes me. When my mind is really in need of a sedative, beyond Mirtazapine, I turn to a regular favourite. Because there’s one show which appeals to many of my senses and emotions. I know I’m not alone in being a fan, but I wonder sometimes if I may be being obsessive. But to me, that’s the appeal of this show.

I’m sure others have written in greater detail but I question whether I should look, for fear of becoming even more obsessive. For now, I suspect I’m alone, or in very minority company, in analysing The Big Bang Theory in such depth, way beyond these few thoughts:

Sci-fi series aside (I’m thinking Firefly), as a general entertainment show, TBBT is one of my favourites, because there’s so much beyond the surface.

Personally, I see “Friends”, as just “The one where only the one with any apparent brains (Ross Geller) was always shouted down as some sort of boring, intellectual elitist”, at the expense of Chandler’s “Wit”; Joey’s Harmless-but-slightly-sinister-misogynist-guy-acting-dumb-and-vulnerable-getting-away-with-it; Monica’s neediness and OCD; Pheobe’s hippy, floaty, histrionic personality; and Rachael’s poor rich kid. With all that potential, little was made of it by the writers. For a more in-depth comment on this, see David Hopkins’ article, How a TV Sitcom Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization.

Which is why I like TBBT so much: Intelligent writers; scientific consultants; and cast members with academic qualifications themselves. Actors who are accomplished in artistic and scientific fields, away from this show.

And it stands up to repeated viewing, because behind the first act, there are so many layers: Deep personalities and back stories; humour intelligent enough to evoke a double-take; but above all, the ongoing, in-depth analysis of complex human emotions.

Again, I suspect I am alone or at least lonely, but anyone who appreciates the intricacies of Leonard Hofstadter, his relationship with Penny (never had a second name, before Hofstadter (this is how much of a geek I am)); Penny and Sheldon’s relationship; and Sheldon’s relationship with Amy, will know what I mean.

And this is before I analyse Raj, Bernadette and Howard. Even though the latter is generally repugnant, the acting portrays a deeply troubled and insecure character. The characters in Big Bang are very complex, which is what gives the show so much appeal to me.

But the greatest thing for the geek in me is the supporting cast: Stuart Bloom, Beverley Hofstadter, Mary Cooper…; And the sci-fi legends who are game enough to make cameos: Katee Sackhoff, George Takei, Leonard Nimoy. And Wesley Crusher, always game as he plays Wil Wheaton (If no-one else gets that gag, I am truly alone).

I can’t think of any instances in that other show where anything outside the trials and tribulations of a bunch of stereotypes were explored. Sure, it was “funny”, in an escapist way. And Big Bang is escapist too, but it makes me think more. It makes me think; not the thoughts which keep me awake, but those which allow me to go on exploring.

Do androids dream of electric sheep?

Re-record, not fade away…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

scotch-skeleton
Video podcasts of my bedtime stories will be coming soon

A couple of years ago, I posted an article based on one by CultNoise, about depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. Mental illness is largely incurable, and can often mutate and metamorphose in the sufferer. Mine has. But like many others, I embrace mine, because it’s made me the unique individual I am and allowed me to write.

Most mental health conditions are measured on spectra, so a person with more than one condition (most people with mental health issues) will often have multiple diagnoses placing them in various positions within a spectrum. With so many mental health conditions and such wide spectra, it’s not difficult to see how each mental health “patient” is unique.

For my own particular cocktail, I have chronic depression and anxiety (with “Chronic” defined as life-affecting), with borderline multiple personality disorder. I also have psychopathic tendencies. This doesn’t mean I’m a psychopathic murderer; It means that I am psychopathic about some of the things I do, to the exclusion of all else.

There are eminent surgeons who are clinical psychopaths. What this means in the context of their jobs, is that they are able to perform sometimes highly risky procedures, where there is a real danger of permanent trauma, or even the death of a patient. But the psychopath mind is such that it can concentrate fully on something like neurosurgery, perhaps to remove a tumour in order to save a life, when there may be a real risk of damaging a nearby nerve and causing total paralysis. I’m no brain surgeon but I’ve taken it as a compliment when I’ve been called a psychopath writer.

Two years after writing that article, many things have changed. My mental health issues have at once become worse as my anxiety in particular has increased, but also more interesting. But still, I’m unique, like everyone else who has a mental illness. The point of that article was to raise awareness of something which anything up to 1 in 4 of us will be affected by at some point. For some, it will be temporary: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following a bereavement is usually temporary and treatable in isolation. I have PTSD diagnoses piled on top of each other (a knifepoint robbery; the breakdown of my marriage and estrangement from my children for a while; Homelessness, and the many traumas one encounters in that situation…). So for others, it’s a life sentence. And although we’re all different, we do understand that we’re difficult to deal with at times. We don’t understand ourselves. So even though my conditions have evolved, nothing has changed, and this could have been written by anyone with a mental health issue:

I don’t need to be handled with kid gloves.

I’ve got mental health issues, but this doesn’t mean that I’m ‘broken’. Do not talk to me like a cat you just saved from a tree; especially when you never cared before. My pet peeve is the head tilt with “So how are you feeling?” from people who previously would never have spoken two words to you and now feels the need to partake in charity. I would be grateful if this was at all sincere, like with loved ones. There’s always one loved one who tries to wrap you in cotton wool and is terrified to even go to the shop, for fear of leaving you alone. Please do not stop your life for me.

You can tell me your problems, I can handle it.

If you are my friend or significant other, please share your feelings and worries. Just because I am dealing with my own problems does not mean that I cannot listen to yours. I can handle it. In truth – focussing on someone else’s problems makes me forget about mine for a while. Also, it feels like I’m being a good friend Normality is key.

I don’t mean to hurt you.

For friends and family of those suffering from depression, life can be just as hard. Watching someone you love struggle and cry, in some cases self-harm and attempt suicide, is hard to understand and accept. We know that and feel very guilty. Unfortunately, depression can be a very selfish illness. Sometimes we can be unintentionally harsh and mean, but most of the time we don’t mean the things we say. It’s out of hurt. The best defence is a good offence and all that. Often we can push people away to ‘protect’ them from us and it just results in hurting them even more. If we take it as far as to try and hurt ourselves to stop the suffering, it is no reflection on them. At that time all you think about is the all-consuming beast that is depression. Without a doubt, it is a challenge to love and care for someone with depression.

‘Am I wearing a sign?’

Paranoia often comes hand in hand with depression, along with the fear that people are judging you or talking about you. It often feels like you are wearing a large neon sign that says ‘I HAVE DEPRESSION’. The thing is – it isn’t noticeable. Depression isn’t like a broken arm or leg – you can’t see it. Somehow, because it feels like such an overwhelming factor in your life, you think others can see or sense it too. People do not have spidey senses. Those with depression look just like everyone else. We are sneaky individuals.

Sometimes it can feel like I am two different people.

When we get really low, it can feel like we are two different people: one is the true us and the other is an emotional, grumpy wreck. Rather than feeling like we are both people, it’s important to remember that the ‘other’ you isn’t you: it’s depression. It can be helpful to disassociate yourself from the ‘other’ you. Winston Churchill referred to his depression as ‘the black dog’. My depression is my shadow: darker in the sunshine. Whatever you call it, remember that it isn’t you! Also, it’s important for us to have others recognise that there is a difference too. I am not my depression.

If I don’t take my tablets, do not yell at me.

Some people take antidepressants to help manage depression. It is not everyone’s cup of tea and that is each person’s personal preference. It is not uncommon for people who are on them to suddenly stop taking them. Admitting there is a problem can be hard. Sometimes they are helpful, despite the side effects, but sometimes they just make us feel worse. The thought of having to take pills to make yourself ‘normal’ can sometimes be distressing. However, the sudden withdrawal can cause a slight meltdown. The worst thing you can do is to yell at someone to take them. That is no use. Imagine you had to take tablets to be happy every day, because your brain didn’t make the right chemicals. It can be upsetting. Logically explaining and understanding the frustration is much more helpful.  And hey, sometimes we just plain forget.

Depression and being sad is not the same thing.

Being sad is a normal human emotion. It is reactive. If something bad happens to you then you become sad and then it relents. There is some opportunity to ‘cheer you up’. It is not constant, but depression is. With depression, someone could offer you a trip to Disneyland on the back of a unicorn and you would not even crack a smirk. It is relentless and life-altering. It can change your personality, interests and goals in life. It can last for weeks, months or even years. If we compare depression to cancer (which a lot of people do not like) then sadness is a benign tumour. It is horrible but treatable. It is not life threatening or cancerous. Depression is a malignant tumour. The cells grow out of control, become cancerous and potentially life threatening – they spread throughout your body.

I know you are trying to help, but don’t try to give me medical advice. I know more about my diagnosis than you do.

This includes: “have you tried exercise?”, “maybe it’s your diet?” and “it must be hormones”. Honourable mentions go out to: “are you sure you need medication?” and “have you tried reading the Bible?”. If you have had depression for a long time, you will have heard some of these at least once. It’s nice that people are trying to be ‘helpful’ but if you have had it long enough then you will know everything about the medication, diagnosis, causes and treatments. Each person is different and knows what is best for them. What works for one person may not work for another. For those who are new to it all and do not know what to expect, the best advice comes from actual medical professionals and those who have been dealing with it for a while. They can tell you the various routes you can try but, in the end, only you know what is best for you.

This is not a choice.

Why would anyone choose to be depressed? It can mess up your relationships, work, studying and family. Nobody wants to have low moods all the time or to be such a challenge. People do not choose to have flu or polio; it is not within your control. There are ways to lessen the chances and practice good mental health, but no one can 100% say it will never happen to them. We have not “brought this on ourselves” by life choices and we are not weak.

It can also be physically painful.

This is something that many people do not understand. Sometimes depression can be physically painful or uncomfortable. Most of the time I liken it to a lead weight in my chest or like someone has punched a hole straight through me. Chest pain, headaches, back pain and muscle aches are common problems associated with depression. Sufferers can also experience fatigue, loss of appetite and sleep problems. Sometimes medicines which help with depression can change the chemicals involved in nerve cell communication. This can make them more effective, and potentially become more sensitive to physical pain. Depression can also slow down the digestive system, resulting in stomach problems.

Having depression does not make me ‘depressing’.

I’m a nice person, really. Most people who know me would describe me as such. However, sometimes people don’t want to invite you to places or hang out with you because they assume you will be in need, of company; of attention. We do notice how others react to us. I am not going to go to your house and cry into a wine glass, while I tell you how difficult it is to be me. To be honest, most of the time we are feeling super-down we don’t actually want to socialise anyway. There is no point in going out just to be ‘depressing’. We can be fun and interesting even with the depression, just some days are worse than others. On most occasions, people would not even know we suffer from depression because we are as sociable and upbeat as everyone else. The thing is, people do not know what is going on inside your head. The strongest looking people can be the ones fighting the hardest battles.

I don’t want to be a burden.

When you have depression you often have to rely on at least one other person to keep your head above water. Knowing how difficult it can be to accompany us on this roller coaster of emotion, we often feel guilty about it. We don’t want to put anybody out or to be a burden, especially on our loved ones. You have to remember that they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to be. If they care enough about you, then they will never consider you to be a burden. You have to ask for help when you need it.

Sometimes I just don’t want to socialise. It’s not personal.

On bad days, we may not want to see anyone or socialise. Sometimes the pressure of trying not to be ‘depressing’ in a social situation is too much and so avoiding it seems like a better choice. We just want to be free to feel our feelings. Support and friendship is always appreciated, but sometimes we just need some space. It isn’t personal. Knowing you have got friends or family willing to be there if you change your mind makes the difference. Just don’t push us to socialise when we are not willing because then it could spell disaster or even cause us to feel worse than before. Trust that we know what our head needs.

This isn’t a ‘trend’ or ‘cool’. If you had it, you would understand.

Films and TV shows paint depressed people as being cool, edgy and moody. This is so far from the reality. Depression isn’t sexy. Crying for hours on end, unable to get out of bed and sleeping all day is not sexy. Trying to ‘fix’ a damaged person is not some sort of Xbox achievement, so don’t enter into a relationship with a depressed person unless you actually care for them. Actually typing ‘depression is sexy’ into Google brought up disgusting pages from uneducated idiots, who quite frankly need high fived… in the face, with a chair. To say that people who are fighting it are sexy, because they are strong, badass individuals, is much more acceptable. It seems, at the moment, that depression is the new black. It’s not a badge of honour or pride; it’s a poisoned chalice. Self-harm is not trendy or to be used as a way to keep your favourite band member from leaving. Children need educated to know that these are serious issues and that this type of publicity is irreparably damaging to mental health advocates. We are trying to end a stigma, not make it trend on Twitter.

On occasions, our thoughts scare the shit out of people.

General melancholy becomes quite normal as do the weird-ass things you sometimes say. Some people may not see it that way. Telling close friends, very matter-of-factly, the ways you tried to commit suicide may become quite normal to you, but not necessarily to them. We can scare the shit out of others, but we don’t mean to. This is our normality. Being depressed tends to mean you think more about life and the meaning of things.
To be honest, once you hit that low, you stop caring about what other people think of your opinions and ‘crazy thoughts’. We may also act a bit differently and spontaneously. For example, I once sunbathed in the rain. These aren’t cries for attention – the way your brain functions just becomes a little different… and weird to some.

I am very unpredictable.

One second I can be okay, the next I will be crying. No, I don’t know what is wrong. Nothing happened. Story of my life. Things are never fantastic, but they aren’t always horrible either. They are just… Depressed people don’t become insanely happy: that is manic depression/bipolar disorder – a different kettle of fish. Those of us in that kettle have a whole load of other things we’d like people to know and we are even more difficult to deal with simply because we are so complex. It’s often like someone just flicks a switch and we suddenly become inconsolably upset. There is not always even an explanation for it or, if there is, it’s something small. The smallest tasks can sometimes feel like a mountain to climb. Don’t be surprised if we cry over spilling a cup of tea or losing our keys. It happens!

Small achievements to you are massive to me.

Reaching little goals that we set ourselves are a massive deal. Most people aim to get good grades or get the promotion of their dreams – sometimes just being able to get out of bed is an achievement. So do not knock us down when we achieve them, instead be proud of us! They may seem minuscule to you, but to us, they are each a step closer to recovery and seem as difficult as any task that you attempt. Some day we can aim for bigger things, but today is just about getting healthy.

I can be really challenging, but if you put the effort in, I will be the most loyal friend.

Without doubt, being friends with someone with depression is hard work. It can be exhausting, frustrating and upsetting. When you suffer from depression, you truly see who your real friends are. Many friends will desert you, but you discover that they were never really friends at all. As hard as it can be, we treasure the ones that stay more than anything. And we are guilty of not showing our gratitude to them. We do not take you for granted. Things may be tough, but we are eternally grateful for your love and support. That makes us some of the most loyal friends to have, next to Labradors. The effort is never forgotten and helps to create a bond that few other friendships have. You both also know, that no matter what shit either of you go through, that you will be there for one another. You aren’t fighting alone.

When I speak about it, it’s not for attention, it’s to raise awareness and end stigma.

When people, such as me, speak out about their experience of mental health issues, they are often met with hostility and judgement. People think it is being done for attention. Therein lies the problem. There are so many stigmas about the issues and the things that I have mentioned that people associate many mental health advocates as attention seekers. Really, all we want to do is talk about the issue.

We share our experience so that others know that they are not alone.

Talking openly about the issue will make it less of a taboo.

Do not be ashamed to talk about mental health. Talk to those of us who know.

And like many others, if someone offered to take my mental health problems away, to “cure” me, I wouldn’t let them.

Thank you.

About a girl, a dog, and a cat

THE WRITER’S LIFE

girl-and-dog-on-swing
As with the book, the cat is out of sight

It’s early days but I seem to have a rather first world problem: At the moment, this science fiction and horror writer’s best seller is a children’s book. I shouldn’t be surprised, as A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie was already an award-winning story.

The book has had two reviews on Amazon so far, and both reviewers gave it 5/5 stars. It moved a competition judge to email me personally when it had moved her to tears, and it still gets me every time. It’s not a sad story; rather, it’s one of hope, about being gone and not forgotten. It’s best taken in the context of the reviews:

A touching, philosophical musing on life & loss through a child’s eyes

A poignant little tale that conveys the heartfelt philosophies of life, faith and loss through the eyes of a child. Large, easy-to-read text makes it suitable for either reading by adult to child or for beginner readers to read alone. Its combination of realism, imagination and a style of writing that doesn’t patronise, makes this a perfect choice for children needing reassurance following the loss of a loved one.

A meaningful children’s story

A lovely little story with nice illustrations which can be enjoyed by adults and children. A good way of introducing the concept of ‘loss’ to children, and I think it will encourage them to ask questions when reading the book together as a family learning activity.

The latter is from a primary school teacher, who plans to use the book in family learning classes.

I never set out to make any real money from writing. My long-term sick and disabled benefits (mental health) take care of food and shelter. My book royalties are miniscule at the moment, well within permitted earnings and my writing is recognised by the Department for Work and Pensions as being therapeutic. The little money I do make, I donate to charity. Perhaps one day I’ll earn decent royalties and I’ll have another first world problem on my hands. For now though, the rewards are in getting reviews like the ones above, and knowing that my book could help young people.

Despite my daughter (the illustrator) being a bit starry eyed about her minority fame, she had already said that she’d like any money we make to be donated to charity. So what’s a dad to do? It’s her birthday next week and I’ve taken care of presents but I don’t do cards, as my daughter knows. It’s a waste of resources on a throw-away object and if I wish to pass a sentimental message to someone, I don’t need to be confined to specific dates. I won’t buy charity greetings cards because even if the money goes directly to the charity, they have costs to cover. I prefer to give and not receive anything in return, so that I know my donation has been used to the full. Instead of greetings cards, I make further small donations to charity and send the text receipt to the person it replaced a card to. So for my daughter’s upcoming 10th birthday, she won’t get a card, but she’ll get a confirmation text, thanking her for her £3 (around the cost of a card and postage) donation to buy a warm blanket for a child in Syria. She and most of my family agree that this is a far more effective thing to do than simply send disposable cards. It’s my personal choice.

The recent local newspaper feature about me going from tramp to successful writer has naturally caused my intellectual stock to increase. My parents have been congratulated by friends of theirs who witnessed the effects of my breakdown on them. A recent visitor to a friend’s flat, saw a copy of The Paradoxicon on a shelf and recognised it, as she’d read it. I’ve received encouraging emails from people whom I can only call “fans”.

It’s all good. I still wait in hope that one day I might be approached by a mainstream publisher or agent, just to throw a really big first world spanner into the works. But for now, I do it because I can, because I want to, and because more people are liking what I do. And that’s mainly sci-fi and horror, giving me a chance to plug my third book, The Perpetuity of Memory.

The main reason I write: So as not to be forgettable.

Not small and not far away

THE WRITER’S LIFE

far-away-cow
A cow, quite far away

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (January, on this blog), I posted some insights into a possible future, 100 years from now. It was based on predictions made by the American civil engineer, John Elfreth Watkins in 1900, with others submitted to a BBC poll which asked what the world might be like 100 years from now and judged by an expert panel to be likely.

As a science fiction writer, I read a lot of science fact, theories and research. As such, like most sci-fi writers, I have ideas about what could happen in the future worlds I write about. Anyone with the time and resources to do their own research would conclude that sci-fi writers are pretty good at predicting the future.

It was about ten years ago (before I was a writer) that I predicted that some gadgets would most likely be consolidated to some extent: Mobile phones, computers, music listening devices, TV, the internet… And of course, we not only have smart TVs but all kinds of other smart devices as well. As a sci-fi horror writer, I see the many potential dangers of the latter: devices which are connected to the internet but not secure in the same way that our computers and smart phones are; Smart devices which are prone to hacking attacks, which the owner may be oblivious to. Because these attacks won’t be against an individual device, but rather, using it and millions of others as slaves for many dark cyber scenarios.

As I write stories for my second collection (I may have mentioned that the first is available from all good book stores), I’m looking more at the very near future, especially as the world is changing so rapidly at present. We may well be witnessing the beginning of World War 3, a conflict which would always be fought differently to our conventional understanding of such things. It doesn’t take a sci-fi writer to see that: Anyone even vaguely aware of the stories behind the headlines, and with an interest in geopolitics, can see that the current uneasy state of the world could collapse towards an extinction event alarmingly quickly. But before that happens (or while it’s going on), there are positive things within our grasp.

I and many others have said before that if as much had been spent on science and exploration, as has on religion and war, the human race could be an exciting one to be a member of. Unless something changes, we could all be fucked. There is already a growing groundswell of previously silent voices. The current state of the world has at least made us think: We let this happen. We can change it, if we think differently. (Incidentally, it’s a fact that every article on Wikipedia eventually links back to philosophy, if one clicks on the first hyperlink in any Wiki entry. It’s a degrees of separation thing, a little like Kevin Bacon. The article with the most clicks required to eventually get to that philosophy segment, is 42 clicks away. I don’t need to explain the significance of 42).

These little (very) near future predictions came about during a conversation with some friends and some good weed:

Living where I do, some of my friends have to undertake a two- or three-legged journey to visit and return home. Wouldn’t it be cool if all they had to do was use an app on their smart phone to have an electric, driver-less cab pick them up on-demand? I predict that this will be the norm in 5-10 years from now.

To qualify this, I’d refer to recent advances in both electric and driver-less vehicles. Through my research, I know that Uber are investing millions in research into exactly this. Of course, humans will become redundant, which is exactly what Uber and other technology companies want. Gradually, humans are being made redundant by technology, just as the industrial age replaced many humans with machines. Eventually, we will need to look at quite radical new ways of running economies, as there are gradually becoming fewer jobs which only a human possesses the ability to be more efficient in than an AI. When we reach a point where a government benefit like JSA becomes redundant, because there are no jobs for job seekers to seek, we will have to look at models like a Universal, or Basic Income scheme, and all the advantages it could represent, if properly managed: With everyone paid a living wage, they will be free of the main challenge in life: Food and shelter. Thereafter, they can better concentrate on improvement, with a view to employment in the remaining professions, or simply to be creative; to be thinkers. The argument for legalising cannabis for recreational use then slots into this beautifully.

In the same time frame, we will be able to order pretty much any goods, on-demand. Most online orders are already delivered on the same or next day, and drone deliveries are being tested. If we look at the air transport industry and familiarise ourselves with current airship technology, we can see that it’s not too much stretching of the imagination to see that we’ll have floating warehouses in strategic locations (something Amazon has already patented). From these, drones would collect goods and deliver them to us within minutes.

Around 20 years from now, we’ll quite probably have built a space elevator, providing a cheap, sustainable means of staging space exploration projects. In space itself, the ongoing development of the RF resonant cavity thruster (EMDrive) will vastly reduce transit times in outer space. Mars would be a mere 60-70 days away, and our nearest stellar neighbour, just a generation.

So, in a few years, based on progress in existing technologies, we will live in a largely driver-less society, and “Car bots” will ferry us around. Transport, leisure and shopping will evolve, saving us time, making us more efficient and allowing us to have more quality time as humans with our fellow human folk. We will have evolved, become more intelligent, and better off. Mark my words, for I am a sci-fi writer and I have seen this future world.

I’m not a conservative, in politics, nor in a wish to conserve things, as some thought Brexit would return the “United Kingdom” to some glorious bygone age. So the thing to consider is, all this technology is available but at a hidden cost. It’s going to rely on smart people and the erosion of ignorance.

Writing home

NEWS

I’ve been fortunate enough to be approached by the local press, who wanted to report on my story. So this week, I’m in a newspaper.

From back alleys to bookstores – The journey of a man who turned despair into award-winning tales.

The full article is here (on page 4):

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Gordon Ramsay to replace Mary Berry on Bake Off

NEWS | SATIRE

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Chef Gordon Ramsay, pictured in 1970

Gordon Ramsay is to replace Mary Berry on The Great British Bake Off, it has been announced. Ramsay joins Paul Hollywood at the show’s new home on Channel 4.

The show’s new broadcaster said they thought Ramsay would add some spice to the format. At 81, Ramsay is the same age as Berry.

Asked to comment, Ramsay said: “Given that this is Channel 4, I think I can take the fucking format further. Mary can keep her soggy bottoms. Now we’re going to have fucking wank stains and shit. I won’t be sympathetic to failure, I’ll just intimidate the contestants by shouting in their pathetic, simpering little faces.”

Channel 4 are said to be considering a number of people for the roles vacated by Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, but no-one was available to confirm this. Tim Loganberry, a runner with a university degree, smoking a joint outside, would only say, “Jo Brand would be fucking awesome.”

Over drinks with his new partner, Hollywood said, “I’m only in it for the fucking money anyway. Now, fuck off.”

Original article.