Hitching through the pages

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Christmas was a time to lay some things to rest, while contemplating what lies ahead, both figuratively and literally. I’m in the final pre-publication phase of my next book, with foundations in place for the one which follows, and many places to visit (although not in person). Still though, sometimes I wonder how I got here.

HHGG Whale

Four years ago I was homeless, and now I write books. The next – The Unfinished Literary Agency – is an anthology of twenty tales, all of which stand alone but tell a longer story together. The collection can be dipped in and out of at random, or read as a whole, making it effectively two books in one.

I’ve kept the dedications and acknowledgements simple:

For those who are courageous enough to tell their own stories, and for the ones who can’t be heard. And for those who read, and make the life of the writer a less lonely one.

To those who encouraged me to keep writing, friends, family, and other writers. And to those who like to explore and discover, who’ve listened to my stories.

I out-sourced the back cover text, which was written by another genre author:

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…”

I liked it, I changed nothing and no money was exchanged. So I asked if they’d like to say something nice “About the author”:

Steve Laker is a divorced father of two, living in a wonky studio above a coffee shop in a Kent village, where he writes.

His critically-acclaimed science fiction novel – Cyrus Song – was described by one critic as “Like the surrealist writers Julio Cortazar and Otrova Gomas, with a substantial nod, of course, to Douglas Adams, who can make the impossibly strange seem mundane and ordinary. Steve Laker pulls this extraordinary juggling act off admirably well, producing a very good, thought-provoking, page-turning, and also at times darkly comic read.”

This is the author’s second short story collection, with the first – The Perpetuity of Memory – described as “Like a Black Mirror for the page, these stories flit between dark sci-fi and psychological horror but are always underlined by a salient sense (and deep understanding of) the human condition.”

Steve Laker has also written an award-winning children’s book – A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie – and continues to publish short fiction in magazines and online.

So that’s all nice.

The final stage is one last re-read of the whole book, before sending it off for a press proof, then it’ll be on various shelves in a couple of weeks. The next main project is Silent Gardens, and I have short stories in progress for various publications and a likely third anthology. Later next year, I’ll begin Cyrus Song II.

I’m fully committed, at least to myself and to writing, for the whole of 2018. That’s a nice place for a writer to be, but I’m very aware that in 2019 I’ll be the same age Douglas was. He once said, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

I got a lot of help from people I met along the way as a hitch hiker. Now, it’s the people who hitch with me who keep me going; the followers, the likers and the readers. So thanks for being here.

All of my books are available from Amazon and other book sellers.

Schrödinger’s Christmas cards

THE WRITER’S LIFE

This year I’ve sent out Christmas cards, for the first time in five years. They have watercolour pictures of various pink-scarf-wearing, smug-looking cats on the front, and they have glitter all over them, probably from fairies’ farts.

Schrodinger Quote

I’ve used Christmas as a smokescreen for sentimentality, and written personal greetings in each card, then I’ve drawn a collar and tie on the back of the envelopes. Sealed then, not with a kiss, but by a cartoon neck (no subliminal messages intended, just that ‘SWAN’ is nicer than ‘SWALK’).

The last time I sent cards would have been 2012, as it was in Christmas 2013 that I found myself self-deposited on the streets. The situation hadn’t improved much the following year, when I was sofa-surfing and estranged from most of my family. The re-gatherings of the family began two years ago, but I’ve still eschewed cards.

To my mind at least, cards are disposable, damaging to the environment, and really don’t serve much purpose, when a typical greeting reads “To Mary, Love from Dave x”. They have a short life, end up in the bin and drop glitter everywhere (and glitter everywhere is a very annoying thing). Most “Charity” cards have little right to call themselves that, with the most generous giving around 15% of the price to their nominated charity. There are 100% charity cards, made by small personal enterprises in developing countries, but despite being someone who eats liberal vegetables and reads The Guardian, I left it to late to order any.

In the last couple of years, I’ve donated money directly to charity in lieu of family Christmas cards, as I’ve still not been able to submit to the whole flogging of the Christmas vehicle. I also thought it might be nicer for non-recipients of cards to know that a starving child had a warm blanket, because a card would be no good to that child. But sometimes the obvious has a habit of punching you in the face.

And so it was when I was telling a young friend all of this, and while she gets that I’m not into Christmas, she picked up on something I myself said (It’s really nice to have someone to talk to who actually listens). I’d said how this year’s family gathering will be in January, and that no-one should need a date on a calendar to tell people they love them.

She reminded me I’m a writer (because sometimes, in all the confusion of life, I do forget), and that people like reading my words. So perhaps it might be good for me to get over myself, as it would be nice for other people to get a hand-written note from me. One day my autograph might be worth money. Although the latter will remain in the realms of fiction, she had a point, and it was an obvious one.

All of which is why I chose the smug cat cards. I’d love to know what cattery they’ve all been up to, as they do look very pleased with themselves indeed. The glitter could even be a feline design: when it’s seen in formations on carpets for months to come, perhaps those could be stellar maps. Probably not, but in any case, cards from me have always had to be expectation-managed, in that they probably wouldn’t happen. This year, several of Schrödinger’s cats are in transit with messages to deliver from a sci-fi writer. I checked the envelopes, and they definitely contained cats when they left me.

My other current writing genre hat (local and family historian) is on my head at the same time as my sci-fi one for a while, as I finish one book and continue writing another. The Unfinished Literary Agency running order is confirmed, which is pleasing in itself as the stories (some adapted for the book) tell a longer narrative when arranged in this way. I also spend more time than many writers just coming up with the titles, which is particularly evident in the forthcoming collection:

1. The office of lost things
2. Are ‘friends’ emojis?
3. Reflections of yesterday
4. Pink sunshine
5. Of mice and boys in 1984
6. A young captain plays it safe
7. Can angels get fleas?
8. The girl with the snake scarf
9. Subject to status
10. Quantum entanglement in hamsters
11. So long and thanks for all the animals
12. The long now clock
13. A Girl, Sheldon Cooper and Peter Cook
14. Zeigarnick’s kitchen
15. August Underground’s diner
16. Frankie says relax
17. The best laid plans

I’m fairly well-lubricated in the compiling and editing parts of a book, this being my fifth, so I’ll know the final page count and cover price sooner than I thought. If there’s room, there may still be some bonus tracks. I’ve already had someone comment on the first book draft, “This is one weirdly wacky ride…”, so that was nice.

With those cats in the post, children’s presents bought, and everyone tucked in for their own Christmas, I’m free to write alone. Recently I worked for 17 hours almost solid, writing one book, compiling another, and writing a critique for another writer. It wasn’t because I had to, nor that I even wanted to. I simply got lost in writing.

Silent Gardens is becoming a pleasantly meandering tale, using subjects to hop around time frames and locations, where another writer might favour chronological chapters. This non-conformist approach isn’t a deliberate defiance of convention, it’s just the way the book has guided itself (I do have a spirit guide, in my auntie Margaret).

I get lost in writing, yet sometimes I forget I’m a writer. I’ve always known I was a bit lost in life, and now I know why. It’s because I want to explore and discover. It’s because I’m not afraid. It’s because I like being lost.

Next year, my only wish is that more people read me, because then they might buy my books. And that means a socially anxious writer can talk to more people.

The Unfinished Literary Agency is published in January, and Silent Gardens in March.

End of part two (Day 1126)

THE WRITER’S LIFE | BOOK LAUNCH

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Metamorphosis: The beetle emerges from the mouth. The Perpetuity of Memory is published: From the writer’s mouth (Image of a 3D tattoo).

Exactly three years ago today, I wrote a blog post, entitled End of part one: That was when I was learning about the life I’d found around me, on the streets. Scanning back through other old posts, I’ve worked out that if I’d kept recording the days, today would be Day 1126. I kept count of the days I was homeless but eventually gave up when the word took on different meanings.

Roughly speaking, it was 10 days of street walking and rough, unsheltered sleeping; 90 days of sleeping rough in a derelict building; 150 days of squatting; 210 days of sofa surfing; and 400 days of living illegally above a pub. Add that all up and it should make about two years. I’ve been at the studio for almost a year now, so I’ve found my home but it’s on the third anniversary of that End of part one post that part two makes way for the next.

I didn’t plan it. It says on the cover of the book that it took three years and without even checking beforehand, it’s landed on the exact day. Three years after the end of part one, I’ve published my first volume of collected tales. I’ve published other books and there will be more to come, but this is the one I’d like to be remembered for.

Just hours from writing of my upcoming book, it’s no longer an upcoming book: It’s published today. I wrote of my sentiments surrounding the book in that last post, by including the cover notes and introduction. Now that my three-year labour of love is published, I’m moved to post further sentiments from the book, the acknowledgements:

It would be impossible to thank everyone individually for their contribution to this book, because that would be everyone who knew me in the 42 years it took me to realise what I wanted to do with my life. But there are individuals and groups who stand out:

Those I am indebted to the most, and to whom this book is dedicated: My parents, my children and their mum.

My second family, The Pink Hearts: A rag tag group of young people I met when I was homeless and who remain friends, especially the ones who remain close: My adopted sister, The Courts, and my three adopted daughters: The fold-up one, clingy thingy, and Ninja. The Ninja was particularly helpful in the latter stages of this book, when she took on the role of proof reader for some of the later stories and sent me notes of encouragement, such as “If you don’t finish this, I will punch you. In the face. Repeatedly.”

I’m grateful to my other crash test dummies who read drafts for me: My sounding board, Nettie, and one of my most loyal friends, Jo. Thanks also to all of my old friends from the 80s and 90s who’ve stuck around to see what happened to the alcoholic.

I must acknowledge two of my literary heroes and influences: Paul Auster and Douglas Adams. Last and by no means least, my guardian angel: The man who taught me as a teenager that it’s okay to be different and that expression is freedom, David Bowie.

A life will always be a memory, so long as it’s not forgotten. These stories will be around long after I’m gone and I hope they make for some perpetuity of memory.

It’s all out there now: A book of stories, published and now indelible. Perhaps the most sentimental page is the dedications:

For George and Rose, my parents
They made this possible

And for Louis and Lola, my children
They are the next generation

My children may be two of the first generation of our one race to become immortal, through science and exploration. I will probably miss that boat, but I can still imagine and write stories. And the stories in this book are now immortalised, through the process of publication.

So this is a happy ending; A date which means the start of a new act, a new chapter, a new part.

I don’t know exactly why I called that post the end of part one, three years ago. Back then, life was taking me through many brief transits. If I were asked, I’d say part one lasted for about 42 years, starting in 1970. Part two lasted for somewhere between three and five years, the last three being the metamorphosis.

So this is part three. The Perpetuity of Memory is a rather handy launch pad, into whatever happens next.