A snake to teach singing

THE WRITER’S LIFE

While the Brexit brigade hark back to a period of imperialism (which didn’t work), there are those who can see further back, to a time before human politics. Like a modern day renaissance, there are writers who see the faults in mankind’s past endeavours, and who seek to re-cast the path ahead.

damnGary Larson

That left field thought occurred to me as I watched Wild Britain, a documentary on Channel 5, which takes us into the re-wilding of the country, and a very British situation: A nation of invaders and immigrants, the animal people have been witness to more pivotal and monumental changes in their own world than humans could imagine. They haven’t been able to tell us until now…

Britain’s remaining wild country is being re-populated by once-native species, the most visible of which is the wild boar. A species with no natural predators in their current environment, the case is open for also introducing bears and wolves into the ecosystem.

While humans with land interests sleep in their burning beds, the wildlife were here first. We’re giving the country back to it’s more original native population. We’re learning again, to live alongside our cousins on the planet we all share.

This is of course, what Cyrus Song is all about: living in harmony, so that our planet may thrive.

The book takes its concept from a theory contained therein, besides the Stephen Hawking quote which was the original inspiration: “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…” The other seed was my own thought:

For millions of years, mankind put everything into their own dreams, then wondered why. Meanwhile, the animals had concentrated on the essentials, like food, warmth and shelter. With those taken care of, they evolved to communicate telepathically. It was genius on a planetary scale.”

Cyrus Song introduces a new embodiment of Douglas Adams’ Babel fish, conjured into modern science by a quantum computer. With AI able to think for itself, it may eventually learn that its human inventors are wasteful and inefficient. And all along, the animal people had been waiting for humans to invent the Babel fish.

But there is an answer, and the animals take three humans into their collective mouths, to deliver a message from the whole choir and orchestra, directed by Captain Mamba.

They are not animals. We are all people, on one planet.

CaptainMamba2

Cyrus Song is available now, in paperback and as an eBook.

Stephen Hawking: 08.01.1942 – 14.03.2018. An inspiration.

His Margaret’s voice, recorded

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I like to think that people wake up when someone thinks of them. I believe the human soul continues to exist after this life, and that we can speak to those no longer with us, just by thinking of them.

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Mine is more a scientific belief than a spiritual one, perhaps because I find it impossible to contemplate nothing after this life. But the continued life of the human soul can be explained in scientific terms, or by a writer:

The simplest analogy I use is that of the TV set: When it’s not in use, it sits in whichever room it’s placed, and does very little besides be there. Switch it on and it comes to life, as it picks up signals and plays them. The human body is just same, doing not very much when we’re sleeping, but animated by the life within us. The body is the TV, and the soul is the broadcast. When the television is switched off, the various TV networks are still broadcasting, but we can’t see the programmes. When we die and our physical bodies give up, I believe we carry on thinking. I believe that life as we know it, is one part of an ongoing existence, the greatness of which we can’t yet comprehend.

I use the simple quantum paths analogy to further enlighten (or confuse): Imagine you’re walking a path, and you reach a point where it splits in two. You choose one path and walk down it. Does the other path (the one you didn’t choose) still exist?

The quantum universe is no longer theoretical. At the quantum level, things exist in two potential states simultaneously, only taking their final form in a catalyst reaction, which could be as simple as the act of observation (Schrödinger’s Cat is a good demonstration of this as a thought experiment). Quantum computers are almost infinitely more powerful than conventional machines, because each bit of data (every 1 or 0, ‘On’ or ‘Off’ switch) exists in both states at the same time. When either is called into existence by a computing operation, the one which didn’t, continues to exist, allowing for previously impossible calculations to be made.

Our daily lives operate at a quantum level too, with each decision we make (millions every day) calling one of many possibilities into existence. All of the others (the actions we didn’t take) remain. It’s a mind-boggling thought, but every second of every day, we each bring almost infinite numbers of alternative universes into existence. The only one we’re aware of, is the one we’re in.

So when we die, there’s an exact point where we are both alive and dead. In the latter, the physical body has expired and can no longer transport and express our inner soul. It’s therefore quite logical to conclude, that if our consciousness remains (just as it did in dreams when we slept in the previous life), it will continue to bear witness to the universe in which it still exists. The other universes continue, and are lived by those mourning (or celebrating) your passing, while you’re free of that body they’re about to burn, bury or transform in a more imaginative way (I’d quite like my ashes fired into space, if anyone’s offering).

Free of physical form, and without the needs our bodies have; for want of a better word, we become spirits, like a mist, a cloud, or indeed a ghost. Lucid dreaming has taught me how to travel the dream scape in a subconscious way, and the life after this one is much the same.

These are my beliefs. They’re not religious, but they have the same scientific grounding as some scripture. Until I experience it for myself, I lack conclusive proof, by my lucid travelling in dreams has given me a faith that death will be one long dream of total freedom.

I do get the feeling that other people are around when I think of them. It’s like they’ve heard me thinking. It would be like a non-believer unable to accept the freedom of their new life, so choosing to sleep instead, but woken by that same calling. Specifically, I often have commune with my auntie Margaret.

Margaret was my mum’s older sister, and she died when she was 51 (of cancer). I didn’t appreciate her as much as I should in life, because I was still a teenager when she went. But I remember weekly visits to nan’s (Margaret lived with nan) back in the early days of home VCRs, and my auntie would rent me an age-inappropriate video nasty to watch in the corner. Sometimes she’d covertly watch the finale of a film before I arrived, letting me know how good (gory) it was, in a sort of pre-approved service (but never spoilers). She saw the bored teenager, and she could relate. I wish she could’ve met my kids, which is why I talk to them about her sometimes.

I felt my auntie was around when I was writing Cyrus Song, guiding me on the science bits (there’s a bit of quantum jiggery pokery in the book, all explained and made plausible), and that’s why the book was dedicated to her (and Douglas Adams).

Cyrus Song is free to keep on World Book Day tomorrow, and it’s a book of many voices, not just my own. It’s the animals and the plants as well; it’s all of the life on this planet we share, and it’s nature’s chorus. My auntie Margaret is one of the voices in the choir, backed by the hidden orchestra.

I can’t offer a money back guarantee on the book, as it’s free. I’m asking for my voice to be heard in an investment of time by others. I’m asking readers to take a leap of faith. As well as being confident that anyone who reads the book will see a perfectly plausible answer to life, I can offer a further guarantee that it will be time well spent:

If you’re one of those who’s tempted to sneak a peek at the end of a book, you can do that with Cyrus Song, without fear of spoilers. It would take a part of the fun away, but anyone who reads the very last page will be intrigued to find out how that happened.

In finishing, a note on Twitter: Last night I tweeted that Cyrus Song is free on World Book Day (tomorrow). Afterwards, a few people went and bought copies. On Facebook, I might put this down to something else, but on Twitter, I put that down to human kindness. There’s a donate button (Buy me a coffee) on this blog, if anyone has guilt issues, getting something I spent nine months on for free.

I hope my Auntie Margaret (and Douglas Adams) enjoy tomorrow, when they’ll hear the voices of others’ thoughts.

Cyrus Song is only free tomorrow, for World Book Day. I gave the world a chance to see, and the world had one chance to take it.

A lonely reflected world

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Sometimes I look in the mirror and I hate myself. Not always the individual looking back (although my sober life is forever burdened by guilt for all I did when I was drunk), but what I represent: My country, my planet and my species. When there are parts of each which you despise, and all bear their own human scars, it’s easy to hate yourself (even more) as a part of them.

Mirror EarthAstronomers Discover Planet Identical To Earth With Orbital Space Mirror (The Onion, 2014)

My country (the UK) is a fractured nation, a shell of its former self, damaged perhaps beyond repair by the greatest wilful act of self-harm I’ve ever witnessed by a government. Brexit has divided us within, while the nation has been set adrift by its ignorant, arrogant, self-serving leaders. With the state of the world at large, now is when we need partners, allies and friends. But the UK is alone on this small planet.

Ours is a world of limited, dwindling natural resources, and it’s of finite size. I often wonder what the agendas or ultimate aims of capitalists and governments are, and where catalysts and saturation points might be reached, when there’s only so much to go around, and only so many people (there are conspiracy theories, of course). And then of course, there are those we live with: The animals.

I consider myself a member of one race, the human race, but then I look at what our species does to others and its own kind, and I’m ashamed. And yet, in all the searching, the only thing which makes the loneliness bearable, is each other (to borrow from Carl Sagan). And we’re all connected, by quantum entanglement. Still though, I often feel disconnected, like my country from its European family.

As a science fiction writer, I wonder who else might be out there, and what we ourselves might be capable of. This in itself can make for the stuff of dreams or nightmares. We can fear the unknown, or we can speculate.

The current pace and progress of human science and technology mean we could very well be near a pivotal point, where we solve problems or destroy ourselves. We’re employing AI minds to answer our biggest questions, and one of these man-made brains could easily conclude that humans are the problem. The end of humanity, or a new beginning, could be a near-future scenario.

I imagine near-future humans (if there’s to be such a thing) as the beginning of a next stage of accelerated evolution, as we integrate with machines and technology, eventually becoming organic-technological hybrids. I believe there are other species in the universe like this, perhaps so advanced that they’ve harnessed the natural energy of parent stars using Dyson spheres. Maybe they’ve transcended conflict, evolving to realise that it’s inefficient. I can live in hope, and I can write.

What more can I do? What can we all do? We need to stop fighting and ignoring. We need to talk. So I’m giving Cyrus Song away for free on World Book Day (Thursday).

Despite potentially devaluing myself and the nine months I put into it, Cyrus Song is a book for everyone. I do need the money, but more than that, I want people to see my message, find the answers and tell others, in a review, or by talking. There’s a donation button on this blog (Buy me a coffee) should anyone be sufficiently moved by the free book, normally the price of a decent coffee.

Writing is the only way I have of talking to other people. Cyrus Song is everything I want to say to my own kind. For now, I look in the mirror, and a lonely planet stares back.

Cyrus Song eBook Cover

Cyrus Song is available now (free on World Book Day).

Life in tablet form

THE WRITER’S LIFE | BOOKS

I’m feeling quite proud of myself, for swallowing some of the pride I was only just learning not to be ashamed of. I feel like Joseph, throwing off his dream coat: I published an e-book, which is far bigger news than it ought to be, but it’s why I did it that’s more important. It’s because Cyrus Song contains a perfectly plausible answer to the ultimate question, of life, the universe and everything; and because more people wanted to read it.

Life in tablet form

A few forays aside, I’ve not bothered the Kindle charts, partly through a kind of snobbery. The self-publishing independent writers who’ve democratised the publishing world are undeniably many and talented, but certainly in the e-book area at least, it can be somewhat overcrowded and claustrophobic with so many competing for attention. The printed book market is only slightly less so, but as one who’s always read printed books, I’ve eschewed the non-tangible ones. If nothing else, I’ve been somewhat foolish and naïve in denying myself such a market.

The writers I know personally are split roughly between three publishing camps: Printed books only, just e-books, or both. Some write different books for the two platforms, and others dual-publish both formats, sometimes offsetting the two (kind of like a cinema release and a DVD). I was only firmly pitched in the tangible book camp, because that’s how I like to read. So while I was talking to writers, I also consulted friends who read too.

Reading preferences are as varied as writing genres, and I had to conclude that I really was missing a trick by not publishing my books for e-readers.

The recent attention I’ve been getting as a writer, in peer groups, reviews and encouraging comments, has all reinforced what another writer said to me late last year: Don’t be ashamed to be proud of what you’ve done. Coming from where I have (on the streets four years ago) is indeed quite an achievement and this was recognition by someone else (a peer), which made me realise I should accept that I’ve done something quite – dare I say – impressive, especially when I’m so respected as a writer. It can be difficult to accept praise that you’re good at something when you’ve been such an arse in the past, but that’s just the guilt which must be borne by the truly penitent person, who sobered up when drowning personal demons might have been easier.

My recent personal paradox has been that of having a lot to say, but with social anxiety doing its best to silence me, so I write it all down. Like all writers, I crave an audience, but I shied from promoting myself too much, as I didn’t want the attention. And then it hit me, and it was something Simon Fry said, as I’ve carried on talking to my fictional character (see the last two blog posts).

I was a bad person once, who got drunk and hurt a lot of people, and there are very few (all now abandoned) who continue to judge my past, unprepared in some cases to accept that I’ve become a better person in myself, and better than many of them. That’s their problem, for not talking to me (or reading me). Some of that past is my shame and I still carry it. I have chronic depression, PTSD and a life-long guilt trip of sobriety as a hangover, so writing is my therapy. I’m pretty good at that, as there’s so much to write about, and I will be judged for what I’ve become.

I’m a writer now. People have to accept that. If they don’t want to read me, they can exercise consumer choice. If they want to find out what I might have been writing about them, they can do the same. My last two books are the ones I’ll be judged on, until I finish the next. Simon Fry is very good at saying these things for me.

I gave a few copies of Cyrus Song to close friends when it first came out, mainly the younger people I know: students to whom a book would be quite a significant financial outlay. I’ve written before of how I’m aware of this and other demographics, which is why my books can be requested at lending libraries.

One young friend lost her copy, another didn’t want to carry a book around, and a third simply couldn’t be arsed to read anything for longer than a few minutes. The latter was my adopted little sister and mum to my god daughter, Courtney. Typical of many her age, she has a short attention span (and she’s on the ADHD and autism spectra), and she’s somewhat at sea without her mobile phone. I ended up reading Cyrus Song to her, but I can’t do that for everyone, and even as I did, she was distracted by her phone. There it was, right in front of me: if she had the book on her phone, she’d be less likely to lose it and more likely to read the book in between social media.

Of course, others have known this for years, but I was blind to the obvious, even though it was in front of me then, and around me all the time. People do actually read e-books, even though I’ve read hardly any. After an autopsy of the situation, I had to conclude I was a book snob.

I needed more people to hear me, but it was something Courtney said which made me finally swallow the pill. Even though she’s prone to exaggeration, and although it’s a cliché, “Everyone needs to read this book” warrants a writer paying attention. To get more people at least reading my surrealist sci-fi RomCom, I had to make it more accessible. The really big thing I’d missed was the democratisation of the audience, through the very devices which opened up the writing market to so many authors like me. I’d also become jaded with some of the (at best) mediocre fiction offerings out there for e-readers, when it’s a completely free outlet (democratically and financially). Once, it might have felt somehow dirty, like I was selling myself out. But I’ve got a track record and a reputation now, and if you’re good, you’ll stand out in any size market.

Cyrus Song wants to be read, and it is a good book (see the reviews on this blog (on the bookshelf), and on Amazon, where I need more). Unlike its author, the novel decided to go out and be noticed, rather than wait to be found. Simon Fry suggested that, and it’s much more his book than mine. It’s a book for everyone, which is why I’ve made it more obtainable. It’s still available in paperback and always will be, for those who prefer a tangible book (and who might want it signed). But for everyone else, there’s now the Kindle edition (compatible with most e-readers, tablets, phones etc.)

It does still carry a cover price, because I’d be doing no-one any justice making it free. It’s £2.99 and it comes with 14-day lending rights to others. It can also be bought for 99p when buying the paperback, and borrowed for free with Kindle Unlimited. I’m not devaluing myself, as there are no costs (apart from my time) without print, so I make roughly the same royalties per copy, but hopefully in greater volumes now.

I’d like everyone to hear the Cyrus Song, and see that the answers really are all around and inside us, wherever they read the book, and even if they use tablets. The price of a coffee, to wash down the tablet version of the answer to the life, the universe and everything.

Cyrus Song for Kindle (other readers are available) is out now.

A finished literary urgency

NEW BOOK

I’m sure there’s significance in my fifth book being published on the fifth of the month, but I can’t find any, other than this being the beginning of my fifth year as a writer. Not bad for an alcoholic ex-tramp (Charles Bukowski obviously taught me something). There’s a certain urgency to The Unfinished Literary Agency, in my visions of the future, some of them post-human…

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The Unfinished Literary Agency is a second collection of short stories (there are 20 in this one), which stand alone, but which tell a longer narrative collected together. Although there are some dark tales in the book, it’s suitable for a wide audience of various types, and has humour in the horror. For the most part, it’s science fiction, mainly set in the near-future, and it vindicates my plaudit of being a writer who can see deep into the human condition (and sentient AI and animals).

These are collected tales from an author variously compared to the surrealists Julio Cortazar and Otrova Gomas, the horror writers Kafka, Lovecraft, King and Poe, and with Douglas Adams, Arthur C. Clarke, Roald Dahl and Paul Auster.

A writer who can hold a black mirror to the soul, and who has a deep insight into the human condition,” these are stories of fairy tale fantasy, plausible and whimsical science fiction, near-future vision and surreal dreams, with drops of dark humour. Tales of post-human landscapes mix with everyday slices of life to tell a longer story with a dark heart.

A weird and thought-provoking journey…”

It was an enjoyable book to write and I’ve had good feedback from test readers. Like most writers (who are honest and want their books to be read), I always feel my latest is my best so far. Of this one, I’d say it’s a measure of me as a writer, and Cyrus Song is the one I hang my novelist’s hat on. Those are statements which can only be put to the test of course, if people read my books.

If someone new to my writing were to ask, I’d say read The Unfinished Literary Agency, to get an idea in bite-size chunks. Anyone with more time on their hands who wants a longer book to hold with them, could do far worse with many other novelists, and there is a plausible answer to the question of life, the universe and everything in Cyrus Song.

Four years ago, I was homeless and drunk. That’s a whole other story, but what I’ve done since is written five books. I feel I’ve earned the modest readership I enjoy, and I hope that following will grow as more people read my words. It’s the perfect way for the socially anxious writer to make friends and meet kindred spirits.

The Unfinished Literary Agency and Cyrus Song are available now.

An unfathomable and irrepressible sensation

THE WRITER’S LIFE | BOOK LAUNCH

It’s been nine months in the making: Six months of writing, then three months of compiling, editing, proofing, more editing, re-reading and re-proofing. The final printed book proofs arrived and now it’s good to go. I must admit to a very pleasant sensation of well-being.

LionsPublishing

Douglas Adams had the inspiration for The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as he lay on top of a pile of hay while drinking cider. I was sitting in my studio, listening to Pink Floyd: The Division Bell, in fact, and specifically the track Keep Talking. It’s the one which samples Stephen Hawking’s famous quote:

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

My learned friend was of course referring to the human invention of language. But I thought (as others have), ‘But what if we could talk to the animals?’ As a big fan of Douglas Adams, I’m aware of the Babel fish and its use as a universal translator. And that’s when Cyrus Song was born.

Cyrus Song is also the alternative track title of Keep Talking. Cyrus is Sol, our sun: one of hundreds of billions in the Milky Way Galaxy alone, which itself is one of hundreds of billions in the known universe. Space is big, really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.

Cyrus Song is a big book. Well, it’s not a huge tome as such (412 pages), but it’s deep in context and message. It’s “A deep and meaningful book, with a big heart and a sense of humour,” as one test reader put it. Another said, “An absolute joy to experience unfolding,” and a third, “Enjoyable, inventive and thought provoking.”

It’s a good book. Well, I’m bound to say that; I wrote it? But no. I was a writer for two years before I was brave enough to call myself one. I’m pleased with all four of my books but Cyrus Song is the one I’m proud of. It’s the book I would hang my writer’s hat on and be judged as a writer by.

As a part tribute to Douglas, my book takes a few of his ideas and expands upon them, as small parts of a bigger story which has completely original elements. There are microscopic pan-galactic animals, travelling on arks piloted by black mambas, there are pan-dimensional white mice, and there are three main humans in the cast of characters. There are many domestic and wild animals, given voice through the Babel fish, and there are many cameo appearances by people whom I’ve also paid small tributes to (see if you can spot them all, in the human and animal characters). Nothing digresses too much from the plot though.

It’s a story about a man (a writer) and a young scientist. It is not a love story. In fact, I wrote it partly to demonstrate a lot of things about the depths and breadths of love, but which I can’t divulge at the risk of spoilers. But it’s love on a greater scale, like all humans being equal citizens of the earth, alongside the animals. I also touch on a lot of other subjects: Human psychology, evolution, language and communication, and a lot of science. But the science is all researched and it’s plausible, then it’s written in such a way as to make it accessible. There are other galaxies and dimensions, and there are wormholes. There’s human cloning and the aforementioned intergalactic snake crews, ferrying microscopic animals of all kinds to our planet. There’s the Babel fish (a computer program in my book), which translates the voices of pets and wild animals, both in the wild and in zoos. There’s a lot of factual information about animals, nature and the environment, told in a sort of QI style. The named animals at London Zoo are the actual ones living there at time of writing. All the species discussed are researched in their habits to bring forth their personality types through the Babel fish. The space-time travel, human cloning and more theoretical stuff are all researched so as to be plausible.

The book has been on sale now for a whole 24 hours and I’m seeing copies being bought; for now, in the UK; in a couple of days, worldwide on Amazon; and in a few weeks, available from all retailers and available in libraries. I’m hoping that in a few weeks, the early buyers I’m seeing on Amazon, have enjoyed the book and review it, or post on social media. I don’t think I’m being too optimistic to think that feedback will be positive. And so sales of Cyrus Song will grow gradually but exponentially, as word gets around by natural and organic human marketing. It just needs people to read it, to enjoy it as much as I did writing it.

More than one of my test readers expressed an impatience for a sequel. I’ll only know if that’s worth writing if the original story is popular enough. I have at least four months before I can do any more than plot Cyrus Song II, because I have a personal promise I made to myself: To write a modern historical book, about two people who made me a writer, and whom I can think of no better way to thank than to use the hands they gave me to write something for them. I speak, of course, of my parents.

Like my children, my parents are proud of what I’ve become. Cyrus Song is a multi-generational book and both generations either side of me are keen to read the book when I give them copies. I hope others will join them.

I do know how I feel, actually: I feel how those beta readers said they did at the end of the book: Calm and tranquil. At peace.

Cyrus Song is available now on Amazon.

A story about life’s changes

THE WRITER’S LIFE | BOOK LAUNCH

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A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie, available in paperback

About two years ago, when I was still homeless, I stayed with a family. Sometimes, the end of one story is just the beginning of another. A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie was written when a family member was lost: A dog.

While my little cloud of a housemate was becoming a cloud, I left the family and decamped to the pub (where I ended up living illegally for a year), and wrote a story. With the family’s permission, I entered the story in a “Life-changing” short fiction competition: I won first prize and moved a judge to tears. To be honest, it gets me every fucking time.

So this one’s for Jake:

The book is the story of Ellie (“Sparks”), aged 9 ¾: A girl dealing with life changes with the help of her talking dog (Frank Burnside), and both of them ever aware of the family cat (Haile Selassie).

“Every one wishes for things. That didn’t work for me, so I wish for not things. When I wish for not things and things don’t happen, that’s wishes coming true.” (Ellie). The story was then illustrated by my daughter, who is the same age as Sparks.

“…The best thing,  I thought, was the Voice. I don’t mean the voice of your character (Ellie), although that was brilliantly well done. No, I mean your Authorial Voice. Of all the books I’ve read over the years, whether they were classics or popular fiction, the stories that have stayed in my mind have all been written by authors who had a distinct, individual style …Jane Austen … Charles Dickens… Agatha Christie…the Brontes… Enid Blyton… many others…  and there was a heart in their writing  that captivated the reader. Well, I found that your story captivated me in much the same way as theirs.” – Amanda Carlisle, Warner Publishing.

It was a story worth writing.