Who’s afraid of Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings?

THE WRITER’S LIFE | POETRY

Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings

Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings was a poet who wrote the worst poetry in the universe. In fact, her poetry is still considered to be the worst in the Galaxy, closely followed by that of the Azgoths of Kria and the Vogons, in that order. Well, we’ll see about that…

I’m between chapters and at a transitional stage with writing my next book, where Mr Fry is currently awaiting the arrival of a package from Norway. I’m aware that I need to write more to find out what happens next, but sometimes I take a break between chapters to review things. On this particular sojourn, I took a wander around the part of my brain labelled Douglas Adams / John Hegley, writing “poetry”, like this:

The difference between cats and cars
Not many cats have windows
and not many cars have fur
When you stroke a car it’s not very likely
that it’ll purr

If it’s got wheels it’s probably not a cat
and if it’s got claws it’s probably not a car
It’s not a very good idea to fill a cat
with four star

The difference between cats and dogs
Cats meow
Dogs don’t
Dogs do as they’re told
Cats won’t

A cat is not a dog
And a dog is not a cat
They’re like people
It’s as simple as that

The difference between dogs and cars
You can’t sit in a dog
and drive it
If a dog runs you over
You’ll probably survive it

And finally, my epic: Road Trip…

Road Trip
I like a satnav
If I’m going on a trip, I plan it
So if I want to go to Whitstable
I don’t end up in Thanet

You’re welcome.

Advertisements

Inspirational philosopher? To them, I’m just dad…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

3d-Jigsaw1

Life is like a jigsaw puzzle: All the pieces fit together eventually. Don’t do the edges first though, because then you’ll finish the puzzle quicker. Think differently.

Move over, Forest Gump. I wrote the philosophy above, simply because it occurred to me; and I shared it with my children, over one of our Sunday lunches together. They think it’s pretty cool to have a writer as a dad. I may yet use the jigsaw analogy within the context of a short story, or as character dialogue in Cyrus Song. Even if I don’t though, I wrote it and it might come in handy some day. For now, it resides in one of my many notebooks.

I keep notebooks in strategic locations around the studio. The main one is my Filofax; The book of my life, stuffed with everything I need to keep my life organised, in a slightly disorganised retro way. Other than that, I have a notebook next to the sofa, one in the kitchen, and another in the bathroom: Ideas can spring forth at any time and when they do, it’s important to write them down, lest they be lost.

Having notebooks dotted around is not peculiar to me: Many writers advocate similar practice, especially when writing a novel, which I am at the moment. All the important stuff is on my typewriter (my laptop computer): Synopsis, chapter plan, detailed plot, character studies; and of course, the actual work in progress which is the book. I’m on track to have Cyrus Song finished by the end of this year. I’ve written previously about the various advantages and drawbacks of having a publisher versus self-publishing, and I’m still weighing it all up. In any case, there will be a new book in about seven months and I’m impatient to get a reaction but it can’t be rushed. I’ve published the basic plot outline on this blog, but I’ve confided more in a couple of trusted friends and they’re as keen as I am to see this book make light of day. If I do decide to self-publish, then the actual writing is only the half of it. After that, there’s proof-reading and editing, probably in several stages; Then there’s the actual compiling of the book, page numbering and indexing; And eventually, the actual publishing process. It’s a fun and rewarding thing but it’s a lot of work. Handy then that I enjoy what I do so much and I’m not in it for the money.

Apart from the book, I’ve not written much else in the last few weeks. I have short stories and ideas drafted in the various notepads, and there’ll be another anthology in a year or so, with some stories published here and in web zines in the interim. But Cyrus Song is the most fun thing to write. I’m at a stage in the book where all of my research proves its worth, in the way my characters speak and act, because I’ve got to know them so well. Among the many notes which no-one will see, are the background stories for the cast: I know Simon Fry and Hannah Jones as though they’re real people. But only a very small percentage of that background will appear in the final book. But extensive character building – even though the majority of it doesn’t end up on the page – is what makes the final prose read so well. In knowing my characters intimately, I’m able to portray them in the ways they speak or act: Show don’t tell. Strong characters are believable ones, who carry a narrative. Even though readers of Cyrus Song will only see a certain amount of what my characters say or do, I have whole notebooks containing their individual life stories. Most of it isn’t relevant to the plot, but it affects the way they act.

Among the few people I’ve confided the whole plot of the book to, are my children. Cyrus song is a book for all ages and although it’s partly about talking animals, it’s a mature book with deep messages. In any case, my kids asked if they could have bit parts in the book, as the animal hospital is a good set for extras to pass through and move the narrative around. So they’re now in the book: My son, with a toyger and my daughter, with two Cockney moggies. I’ve known for a while now that my eldest was planning a blog and I got an email a few days ago, inviting me to take a look. I was quite touched by the introduction:

My dad inspired me to write a blog. He also inspired me to start writing short stories…

What have I done?

Ryanair: “We will never eject passengers”

NEWS | SATIRE

Overcrowded Plane

Budget airline Ryanair has announced it will never eject passengers from over-booked flights, following the recent United Airlines controversy. The US carrier caused outrage when a passenger was forcefully removed from an aircraft so that a crew member could sit down.

It is common practice for airlines to over-book flights, on the assumption that a number of passengers will forget they’re going on holiday and simply not turn up at the airport. Ever keen to capitalise on anything and jump on a bandwagon, Ryanair’s boss Michael O’Leary has announced that he will abolish the need to ever eject anyone from an over-booked flight, by “finding room for everyone, somewhere.”

O’Leary, 56, went on to say: “Planes are big, except when they’re far away; and people are small, so it’s really not that difficult is it? For starters, Ryanair will never ask paying passengers to vacate a plane for our staff. We’re often short of staff, so we might ask passengers to be flight crew instead. The result? Never another cancelled flight because of staff shortages. How many people have ever dreamed of being a pilot and flying a real life plane? At Ryanair, we make dreams come true.”

Asked what the airline’s policy was on over-booking, O’Leary said: “Our passengers pay fuck all for their flights, before we add all the stealth charges on. We’ve not even announced our latest: A door policy, where customers pay an extra charge to actually get on the plane. But we will make them pay, and get them on our flights. Our customers don’t expect much. We’re pushing the CAA to licence our standing-only cabins, where passengers just hang onto a strap, like when they’re on the Tube. While we still have to waste a load of space with seats, people can sit on laps. There’s plenty of room in the aisles: We have no on-board services to speak of, so our cabin crew don’t need the aisles. Result? More room for passengers. We’re reducing the hand baggage allowance, so people with children can stuff them in the overhead compartments. And we’ve got the cargo hold. You can always fold granny up and put her in a suitcase, just so long as you buy her a ticket.”

All we need to do is keep talking

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Rabbit
All rabbits, always look like they want to say something

It started with a song: Keep Talking by Pink Floyd. And Stephen Hawking, sampled on that track: “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 a book was born.

Of course, talking animals have been done before. Pretty much everything has. There are a finite number of plots in fiction but the imagination of a writer can turn them into original and wonderful things. And so it is with Cyrus Song, my next book.

From that simple idea has sprung what will eventually be a deep, insightful, philosophical look at life and love, but above all else, it’s funny. As someone has already commented:

This is a book for when you want to look at life, the universe and everything: To question it, have a conversation with it, and end up having a fucking good laugh with it. There are deep and heartfelt messages in here but there are genuine “LOLs” too and I doubt I’ll be able to read this quietly on my morning commute to London.”

If just one person is kind enough to say that of the book when it’s published (end of this year / beginning of next), then hopefully someone will be listening. Eventually, people might buy my book.

It’s a book which is proving very easy to write, simply because it’s so much fun. It does have a lot of deep meaning and thought provoking stuff in the overall story, but along the way, there is much comedy, mainly through error.

The story follows Mr Fry, a man who wants to be either a leading scientist or writer. Instead, he’s a science fiction writer. As such, and given the levels of research I myself conduct as a writer, it proposes plausible science. I posted a brief synopsis previously, but I’m limited with what I can fit on the back cover. So the story basically goes like this:

It starts with a full stop: Two in fact, when Simon Fry notices two tiny dots moving across the paper in his typewriter. Unsure of what they are or what to do with them, he takes them to a vet. Doctor Hannah Jones, a veterinary surgeon, has an electron microscope. She’s also invented a quantum computer program called The Babel Fish, which can translate animal sounds into human language (This book is part Douglas Adams tribute). In Doctor Jones’ lab, she and Mr Fry discover that the dots are actually microscopic spacecraft, one of which is full of animals: Not just an ark, but crewed and commanded by a menagerie.

Mr Fry is an intelligent and well-read man, who takes great pride in the research he undertakes to make his writing real. Like all humans, he is not without fault (many, in fact), and sometimes he overlooks the obvious. He is convinced that the answer to life, the universe and everything, is in the earth itself. Specifically, he believes that if he could talk with the animals, he’d find the answers. Or at least, the questions which need to be asked for the answer to make any kind of sense. Unfortunately, Doctor Jones is reluctant to use her own invention, for fear of becoming emotionally involved with her patients. But she allows Mr Fry to operate quietly in a corner of her lab, while she attends to the animals which are brought to her. This provides the setting for many insights into the thoughts of various animals. Most of these, and their humans, have at least some basis in people whom I admire. In writing this book, I’m permitting myself to meet some of my heroes. Some encounters are tragic, while others are amusing: There’s a girl called Amy and her terrier, Frank; There’s Derek and his cat, Clive; and many more. In various attempts to make more use of the Babel Fish, Mr Fry acquires two white mice: Douglas said they were the most intelligent beings on earth; and a rabbit: Because all rabbits, always look like they want to say something.

Elsewhere, Mr Fry considers what might be possible if historical scientists were able to make use of all that would be new to them in the 21st century. Having watched Jurassic Park, he’s pretty sure he knows how this works. He makes contact with Gilbert Giles, a Norwegian scientist earning a living as a tour guide around Norway’s coast (which of course, makes him a fjord escort). Gilbert’s main research though, is extinct fossilised invertebrates beneath the Norwegian ice: His aim is to resurrect them, to provide food for animals further up the food chain, and all as part of a project to reverse some of the damage done by mankind to the planet. Mr Fry sees a potential in this for saving the human race, if ever it were faced with extinction: He volunteers his own DNA for cloning. Overcoming some moral, ethical and practical issues (all explained with science fact), there is a scenario where just one clone embryo might survive the cloning process. If that was because it contained some sort of “Life key”, then that might be used to clone others, thereby ensuring the survival of humanity. As is often the case, Mr Fry has overlooked the obvious: A human embryo has a severely limited life outside of the parent. He needs a human host.

Mr Fry is a reluctant housekeeper: Following his discovery of the microscopic spacecraft in household dust, he fears that cleaning might spell existential disaster for many species. With a cloned embryo of himself sitting in a test tube in his studio, and his studio potentially full of microscopic extraterrestrial life, what could possibly go wrong? A man as intelligent as Mr Fry would never do something as irresponsible as leaving the lid off of the embryo, would he?

So begins one man’s quest to find answers to questions he doesn’t know yet. Cyrus song is the story of Mr Fry’s voyage to find answers and love in the world, in a slightly idiosyncratic way.

I’ve written five chapters so far (40-odd pages and just over 20,000 words). I have a full plot, a chapter plan and I already have a very powerful and pleasing ending written. Now it’s just a case of writing the remaining 250 or so pages.

It’s a science fiction story with its feet in science fact. There’s been a tentative offer of publishing but I’m reluctant to get into anything restrictive, dictated by someone else. I found out long ago that the only person I can work with is myself. There are benefits to having a publisher, of course. As an “emerging talent” though, there’s little to no chance of an advance; I don’t do this for the money anyway, even though that would be nice. No, it remains a fact that a large percentage of successful published authors started out self-publishing: It’s relatively easy and although still associated by some with “vanity publishing”, like others, I prefer to see it as confidence in one’s own work. If a mainstream publisher picks it up later, so much the better. If not, word of mouth is the best sales tool and even a cult following would be gratifying. So in the six months or so it’s going to take me to finish the book, I might punt it around some more. But if nothing to my liking is forthcoming, I already have the tools and a track record.

It will get noticed. It will be talked about. If people buy it. It will be talked about leading up to publication through any pre-publication marketing I do. Hopefully word will spread and there’ll be people wanting to buy this book as soon as it’s printed.

Because as Stephen Hawking said in that same quote in Pink Floyd’s song, “All we need to do is keep talking.”

Follow the book’s Facebook page, and my Book shelf for updates.

A fish in your ear

FICTION

babel fish
The original Babel fish

This is the third story in the Cyrus Song series of short stories, which I’m now working on as a novel. The two stories which precede this are in my anthology. For those unable to buy my book, original versions of both stories are still on this blog.

Why do I give my writing away for free? For my own benefit, so that others may get a taste of my style, then perhaps buy my books, which contain more. And of course, it’s exposure, in the hope that one day someone might notice. But more importantly, it’s sharing something which I enjoy doing. If people get something from reading my stories, that’s worth more than money. If the odd reader feels they’d like to donate to my cause by buying a book, that helps.

If I could give everyone a gift, I’d give them the means to understand what I’m trying to say. I’d give them a Babel fish…

The Babel fish

“If you want to see differently, listen.”

I always dine with a guest, and tonight’s was obsession. Given the nature of my work, I normally dine alone, but the guest is one chosen from the many who share my mind. I can live with many, but can only question one at a time to find out if it’s the best pursuit of my aim: To talk with the animals.

I tried to place the enormity of the previous day into some sort of context. But even though I’m a writer, there were insufficient words to explain it, no matter how numerous and intertwined I made them. Less is more in literature, suffice it to say, I’d listened to animals talking. I’d heard white mice speaking:

“If only they could hear the dawn chorus. All those voices: The sopranos in harmony with the baritone of the sun: Earth’s choir. Then they’d hear the whispers from the trees, the humming of the clouds and the ghosts in the wind. But they don’t listen.”

It’s always after the event that you realise what you should have said, or asked. Of course, by then it’s too late: An event has been created and there’s no way of going back to change it. Such is the nature of life and of space time: Both are the natural scheme of things, intricately woven together.

The night before the morning I found myself writing this, this story could have been so different. Mine was a story with a protagonist but without a hero. I’d returned home with two white mice and Doctor Hannah Jones had gone on somewhere else; I didn’t think to ask where that might be and she didn’t think to tell me. Every story needs a hero and I certainly wasn’t it. I hoped the doctor wasn’t mistaking my obsession with the Babel fish for one with her. There was everything to admire, including her invention of a universal translation device in said fish.

The Babel fish was a computer program, named after the fictional universal translation device invented by Douglas Adams. Simply put, it could translate any language into any other, including animal languages. Using a wide frequency range, the Babel fish could hear animal sounds which are inaudible to humans. Either that, or it read minds. In any case, the upshot was that it could translate any animal language into any human one. The reversal of this was still at a research stage, but there was nothing to make me think that it couldn’t translate my words into ones which each different animal would understand. If so, I would have something which I could devote my life to writing about. Hannah had something which could win her a Nobel prize, but she’d need persuasion to even continue her research.

Who might be a hero to Doctor Jones? She herself was probably in her late twenties or early thirties. She was small: short and slim. She had long, red hair, which gave a fiery frame to a pretty bespectacled face. She was intelligent, intuitive and witty; She was perhaps a little guarded, maybe introverted. I was an extrovert on paper: I could be anything in the words which spilled from my typewriter. If anyone were to read those words, they might find me. As it stood, I was just like Hannah but without the red hair and probably less intelligent, intuitive and witty. The only thing I had over her was about 10-15 years.

I wondered how my two white mice might perceive the situation. I wouldn’t know because I couldn’t hear what they were saying without Doctor Jones. If I spoke, would they understand me?

“You see”, I said. “The thing is. Well, the things are, I suppose. I wonder if I should be writing about all of this. I’m not even sure what I’m writing about, let alone what it might become or where it may end up. It has so much potential, yet I’m not sure I’m the right person to be in charge of something so important. Should I let go, just walk away and let someone else finish what I’ve started? What might someone else think of all this? Would they use it for their own gains, or simply dismiss it? The latter remains a problem, even if I do decide to write about it.”

The mice carried on being mice, so I decided to sleep on it.

When I awoke, it was still there: The next day, the problem still existed. And so did the mice.

I couldn’t just blunder into the PDSA in New Cross again. I’d done that twice already, most recently with the two white mice, Victoria and Julie, and I’d heard them talking. Doctor Jones also had an electron microscope, for looking at really tiny things, like viruses and bacteria: There were clues that there might be whole other universes in the sub-atomic world. I looked around my studio: I hadn’t cleaned the place for a couple of days and it was getting quite dusty. I was reluctant to do the housework, for fear of the consequences which might befall countless microscopic things, which may or may not be there. I couldn’t take my entire living space to Doctor Jones. The logical thing to do would be to ask Hannah over. But I couldn’t do that as the studio was so dusty. I had reached an impasse in my story. I decided to phone the hospital.

Doctor Jones was unavailable. I asked if I might perhaps call back when she was free. Doctor Jones was unavailable for the rest of the day.

Was Hannah unwell? On annual leave? Abducted; killed? Paranoia now joined obsession at the dining table.

“Doctor Jones isn’t available all day”, said reception.

“Will she be back tomorrow?”

“We don’t know. Is there a medical emergency? We have other vets.”

No other “Vet” would do. Might one of these “Other vets” be in Hannah’s lab at that very moment? In the very same room as the Babel fish?

“Is there a medical emergency?”, reception said again. “Mr Fry?” That’s me.

I looked at Victoria Wood and Julie Walters in their cage. I could perhaps argue that those two being in a cage was an emergency. But what would be the point of going to New Cross anyway, if the doctor I needed to see wasn’t there?

“She’s on house calls today, Mr Fry.”

I’d been rumbled. I hung up.

House calls: Care in the community. It was a logical progression of the little I’d learned up to then about Doctor Hannah Jones, although somewhat counter to her ethos of leaving work at the workplace, for fear of becoming even more emotionally attached to the animals. It was that fear which prevented her from using the very device she’d invented: The Babel fish. But in this respect, I supposed it was entirely different: She still wasn’t getting too attached to the patients by hearing them speak, then not being able to leave them, or feeling she had to take them home with her: She was visiting them in their own homes, where she couldn’t hear them speak. The fact remained that wherever she was, it wasn’t actually her that I needed, it was the machine.

But the Babel fish / Doctor Jones situation was a self-perpetuating one: One needed the other. It was like the TARDIS and The Doctor, with the Doctor refusing to get in the box. I had the makings of a story, but for that reluctant passenger.

It didn’t matter. What difference would it make if the story was never told? In my hands, none at all.

By a strange coincidence, none at all was the level of chance I’d assumed I had of hearing from Doctor Jones that day. Suddenly and for no apparent reason, my mobile phone rang: What were the chances? Probably one, to the power of the caller’s number, against. It was the animal hospital.

“Simon Fry?” That’s how I answer my phone: There’s always an upward inflection in my voice, which annoys me. It’s as though I’m questioning who I am.

“Mr Fry, it’s Doctor Jones.” Having just used my first name, I wondered why Hannah hadn’t introduced herself with hers. I guessed she was maintaining professional protocol. “From the hospital”, she said. I knew that: It was the hospital’s number calling me and I knew that Doctor Jones worked there. She really was professional. “You called.” I had.

“Erm, yes. There’s something I’d like to show you.” Actually, I had nothing to show Hannah but if I’d merely said I’d like to talk to her about something, she might have suggested we did that over the phone, or dismissed me completely.

“Is it a patient?” She asked.

“Yes”, I said. What on earth was I thinking?

Doctor Jones had appointments for the rest of the afternoon, but if I’d like to go to the hospital, she said she’d try to fit me in.

The waiting room was busier than before, with half a dozen patients besides me and my rabbit. I’d heard other animals speak when I’d used the Babel fish before, but it was rabbits that intrigued me. Because if you look a rabbit, any rabbit, directly in the eyes, they really look like they want to tell you something. All the animals could speak and I could hear them. I hadn’t discounted Douglas Adams’ theory on dolphins and mice, and I’d not yet heard a dolphin’s sounds translated, but for me it was rabbits. Much as I admired Douglas, I wondered if he’d missed something. I was continuing his work. I believed that it was the rabbits who could tell us the answer, to life, the universe, and everything.

I pondered a little riddle to bide the time, about the animals in that room: Here were six animals and between them, they had 18 legs. If there were no means of seeing the animals in the room, what might people suppose them to be, based on the collective number of legs alone?

There were two cats in baskets: One was a tabby and the other was black, with a white chest: It looked like it was dressed for dinner, in a black suit and white shirt.

There were two dogs, from the polar extremes of the canine world: A huge, furry beast, the size of a small horse, and a tiny little Chihuahua cross breed thing. It looked like it probably yapped a lot, and as though it’s bulbous eyes would pop out if it was squeezed firmly enough.

All domestic dogs share a common ancestor in the grey wolf and as such, any canine can cross breed with any other. Theoretically then, given a step ladder, the little dog could mate with the larger one in the waiting room and produce offspring: What curious things those would be.

The other two patients were a Mynah bird in a cage and a Burmese python around a young girl’s shoulders. Given the Mynah bird’s famous ability to mimic human sounds in captivity, I wondered if the Babel fish might be redundant if I were to have an opportunity to listen to the bird. The python looked to be quite young, at around ten feet in length. Docile and inquisitive, as those snakes are, it was tasting the air with its forked tongue. I’d taken an instant dislike to the small bug-eyed dog and I crossed my fingers for no reason at all.

“Mr Fry?” That’s me. It was Doctor Jones.

“Yes, that’s me.”

Hannah didn’t even wait until we were on the other side of the door before she said the sort of curious thing I’d heard on my previous visits. In fact, I clearly heard her mumble it as soon as I stood up: “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Charles was quite reluctant to cross the room on his lead, so I picked him up and carried him.

As we walked into Doctor Jones’ examination room, she was reading from her notes: “Charles Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. A rabbit. Really?”

“Well, I had to think quickly as I filled out the form. You see, I only picked him up on the way here.”

“He’s on a fucking lead.” For someone so pretty, she had a very potty mouth.

“Yes. He’s a house rabbit. Actually, he’s a flat rabbit: I live in a flat. I don’t have a garden and even if I did, I wouldn’t want him all cooped up in a cage outside. Then I’d have to call him David Soul.” Doctor Jones looked at me with a slightly surprised face. “Because”, I continued, “then he’d be Starsky in a hutch you see?”

“Oh, I see. Believe me, I see.”

“He just looked so sad in the shop, like he wanted to tell me something. And I couldn’t carry a hutch here, so I got him a nice lead. It suits him, don’t you think?”

“He suits you, Mr Fry.”

“Yes, so I thought I’d bring Charles for an initial check-up.”

“Really? Nothing to do with the Babel fish then?” She was very clever. “Fine.”: Result. “I do have other patients to see, Mr Fry. Charles looks like a fine rabbit to me. Same as before: You sit in the corner and try to just,” She paused. “Not be here.”

A splendid plan.

The first patient was the cat in the DJ: His name was Eddie, and his human was a lady, probably in her late 40s, called Liz. Liz would perhaps have been a little unconventional outside of Lewisham, or London for that matter: Clearly a little eccentric and perhaps a tad over made-up, but completely at ease within herself. She wore a bright red tunic with a faux fur collar, over a frilly white dress shirt, the cuffs extending flamboyantly from beneath her coat. She had hair which was jet black, but for a white streak which ran through her parting: Whether it was exposed roots or a flourish of peroxide, it didn’t matter. Liz wore tight black leather trousers, cut short at the ankle to accentuate her ankles, furnished with a silver anklet. She wore bright red shoes with stiletto heels and she tottered a little.

“So what’s troubling Eddie?” Hannah asked.

“Well, I don’t know really”, Liz said in a surprisingly masculine voice. Liz was just as at home in himself as he was in this part of London, or anywhere: What a wonderful person. Liz continued: “He’s just not been going out so much.”

I was so enamoured by Liz that I almost forgot to put the headphones on. The microphone was either still above Hannah’s table from the last time I’d been there, or she’d replaced it in expectation of my making a return visit.

I switched the Babel fish on and heard a familiar static feedback as I typed in “Cat”. Then I slid the mouse pointer across the screen, before picking up Eddie’s voice:

“…drilling.” Eddie’s voice was male but effeminate. I only caught the last word and it sounded like “Drilling”: For what? Eddie continued: “Pour tout ce qui est derrière le mur. Vous ne le sentez?”

How naieve I must have been to assume that all animals spoke in English. Eddie was drilling for whatever was behind the wall. Surely just a cavity? A dead mouse perhaps.

“So, he’s normally an outdoors chap?” Hannah had a remarkable ability to anthropomorphise animals. Eddie was certainly a “Chap”.

“All the time, except when he needs food.”

“Je suis un, ‘ow you say, chat de ruelle?” Alley cat. “Vous pensez que vous me entendez ronronnement. Je perce.” You think you hear me purr: I drill.

Hannah conducted the familiar physical examination of a cat: Lifting Eddie’s lips to check his gums and checking his nostrils for moisture. Humans owned by cats frequently ask if a dry, warm nose means their cat is sick. The short answer is no. A healthy cat’s nose can vary between wet and dry several times over the course of a day. And there are many reasons a cat can have a dry, warm nose that have nothing to do with health.

“Elle est très jolie.”

Next, Doctor Jones squeezed Eddie’s belly, picking his rear end up so that his front paws remained on the table. She was checking his gut for blockages or perhaps a twisted colon.

“Je suis un chat, pas une brouette.” If ever there were a feline Star Trek, Eddie would play Doctor McCoy.

Then Hannah lifted Eddie’s tail to check for signs of worms.

“Oh l’humanité!”

“I can’t see that there is anything at all wrong with this young man”, Hannah said to Liz. He’s a cat. He looks like the kind of cat who just likes being a cat. I’d just let him get on with doing that. If he shows any obvious signs of not being himself, by all means bring him back in but for now, I can’t see anything at all to worry about.”

“Okay”. Somehow, Liz didn’t seem at all surprised. Eddie made his own independent way into his basket.

“Ma couverture. Tapis magique. Emmenez moi au le Catnip.” Eddie was on drugs: What a fantastic cat he was.

I didn’t get a chance to speak to Doctor Jones. Not long after Liz and Eddie had left, Hannah returned with an elderly lady and the Mynah bird.

Part of the starling family, Mynah birds are remarkably intelligent, and famed for their ability to mimic the sounds they hear around them. “Myna” is derived from the Hindi language mainā, which itself is derived from Sanskirt madanā. I was especially intrigued by this patient, because it’s mimickry of the sounds around it may be just that, or it could be that the Babel fish was able to translate its voice into something different; perhaps something entirely unexpected.

I tuned the Babel fish in: “….Yes dear”, was what I heard through the headphones as the bird said “Yes dear”.

Doctor Jones looked at her notes, then at the old lady. “So this is Ronnie?”

“Yes dear.” Said the lady.

“Yes dear.” Said the bird.

“And what’s the problem?”

“Well”, said the old girl. “He’s got a problem with his foot.”

“Foot, yes.” Said the bird.

“He keeps holding it up all the time.”

“Time, yes.”

“It’s like he’s in pain”, the lady said.

“Pain, yes”, said the bird. He clearly had a condition known in humans as Echolalia.

“And it’s always the same leg?” Hannah was being intuitive again.

“Leg, yes.” Said the Mynah bird.

“I think so”, said the old lady.

I was a little bored to be honest, so I twiddled with the controls on the Babel fish. Doctor Jones continued to ask the old lady questions and the Mynah bird kept repeating the last few words the old dear said. For a moment, I completely lost the conversation. Then as I tuned back in, the Mynah bird said something quite unexpected:

“…unexpected, yes.” I couldn’t be sure if I’d heard that through the headphones or in the room. I didn’t even hear a diagnosis or a prognosis. I was figuratively floored.

Hannah, the old lady and the Mynah bird had left the room. I remembered Charles Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, on the floor. I looked down at him and he looked up at me. He had that rabbit look, like he really wanted to say something.

I grabbed the microphone and typed “Rabbit” into the Babel fish. I pointed the mic at my rabbit: Nothing.

“Well?”, I said.

I lifted his ears and laid the microphone on the floor in front of him: Nothing. Surely he’d heard me? Did I have an ironic deaf rabbit?

Hannah was out of the room, so I unplugged the headphones. Maybe they were faulty. Perhaps Charles was trying to say something and I hadn’t heard him.

I turned the speakers on the computer up to 11. I blew into the microphone to make sure it was working: Charles didin’t even flinch at what sounded like a clap of thunder.

Aren’t you going to tell me the answer? To life, the universe and everything? Or explain why the answer is 42? Because we’ve been asking the wrong questions? Isn’t the earth just one big organic computer, designed to work it all out? I’m carrying on Douglas’ work. I’ve listened to mice. I’ve not translated dolphins. But the mice said the answers could be heard in nature: In the dawn chorus, in the wind, and all around us. And that’s beautiful music, but it’s not a voice. The planet must have a voice. So I theorised that the answer lies with rabbits, and the way you all look like you want to say something. And now I’m talking to you, and you’re all ears. And now I’ve got a deaf and dumb rabbit? What’s anyone supposed to ask you?” I was shouting at a rabbit, and the rabbit still looked like it was about to say something. But it didn’t.

Eventually, I left: In frustration, I left the room and I left that cloth eared rabbit there.

I walked along the corridor between the examination room and the waiting area. As I got closer to the exit, I could hear Hannah’s voice but it was mixed up with others. Then someone, somewhere, said the oddest thing:

“I don’t really know how to say this.”

Cyrus Song (the novel) is due for publication in early 2018. Follow the Facebook page for updates.

A book, a ninja and some smoking joints

THE WRITER’S LIFE

CyrusSongFrontCoverPreview.do
Cyrus Song (the novel): due early 2018

My recent depressive episode ended as unexpectedly as it had started, such is the nature of those things. It was a relatively short one, lasting barely a week. As usual, my coping mechanism has been writing. Smoking weed and having a dear friend along for the ride helped too (thanks).

I despair of the world around me at the moment; The wider world, not my personal planet. While I can talk and write about the former, hoping to make some sense of it, sometimes it’s easier to escape to the latter. And so it’s been this week.

Encouraged by a test reader (my own, personal ninja), I’ve committed myself to Cyrus Song, the novel. This was originally planned for publication after Infana Kolonia, my sci-fi epic, but such is the scale of that book that it’s a long way off. So Cyrus Song (the book) is scheduled for release sometime early next year. The original short story which spawned the new book is in The Perpetuity of Memory, along with the sequel, The Cyrus Choir. For the financially challenged, original versions of both stories are still on this blog. The third in that series of shorts, The Babel Fish, will be online this weekend. Meanwhile, I’m adapting them to become chapters in the novel. Here’s a synopsis:

For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk…

Simon Fry is convinced that the answer to life, the universe and everything, is in the earth itself. Specifically, he believes that if he could talk with the animals, he’d find the answers. Or at least, the questions which need to be asked for the answer to make any kind of sense. Doctor Hannah Jones, a veterinary surgeon, has a quantum computer, running a program called The Babel Fish: Like its fictitious namesake, the Babel Fish can translate any language to and from any other. Elsewhere, Mr Fry considers what might be possible if historical scientists were able to make use of all that would be new to them in the 21st century. Having watched Jurassic Park, he is fairly sure he can make this a reality. So begins one man’s quest to find answers to questions he doesn’t know yet.

Cyrus Song is the story of Mr Fry’s voyage to find answers and love in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s pretty obvious that it’s in part a tribute to Douglas Adams and the first stories have been praised as such. Like all fiction, there’s a part of the writer in it and it was during conversations with my test reader this week that I finalised the overall plot in my mind. If I’d been talking to a different reader, the book might have taken an alternative route, but others were unavailable and wrapped up in personal affairs. It was handy to have my Ninja one as she provides a personal as well as a creative kick, and that’s what I needed this week. Every writer should have a personal ninja, especially one who humours one when one has been on the weed. Cyrus Song has its own Facebook page, where it’ll post updates on itself.

I’m churning out more short stories for publication online and elsewhere, some of which will end up in my second anthology, due out later next year. With my short stories now tending toward the longer end of the spectrum, there will be fewer, more in-depth stories in the second volume, provisionally entitled Reflections of Tomorrow. By happy coincidence, it looks like there’ll be 17 stories in the next collection: There are 25 in The Perpetuity of Memory, so that’s 42 in total, which is nice.

It took me three years to write and publish my first three books and it will be a similar timescale before these next three are out. If I manage it, I’ll have six books to my name, when (or if) I turn 50.

Just so long as I can make it to 49, then I’ll have reached the same age as Douglas.