Cyrus Song, nāgas, and the Hindu festival of lights

THE WRITER’S LIFE | BOOK REVIEW

To my pleasant surprise recently, I found an enterprising soul with a book shop on eBay, selling Cyrus Song under the search term, ‘Diwali’, that of course being the Hindu festival of lights. It struck me how appropriate this all was, of a ‘Sci-fi romcom’, but also a novel which has been described by a book critic as ‘An extraordinary juggling act‘. Cyrus Song is more than the book itself, as that same critic noted: it’s one way to look at life, the universe and everything. It also has talking black mambas, and snakes (or nagas) hold high status in Hindu mythology.

Mamba Couple Arse

Nāga is the Sanskrit and Pāli word for a deity or class of entity or being, taking the form of a very large snake, found in Hinduism and Buddhism. A female nāga is a nāgī.

The book isn’t just for Diwali, nor for any particular reason, other than a book for everyone. And although not everyone is talking about it, it’s rising in popularity: A Google shopping search for ‘Cyrus Song‘, not even mentioning that it’s a book, or as having anything to do with me, returns the novel as more relevant than the music of Miley Cyrus (which it might be, it’s how search algorithms work). I still need the right people to read it: The kind who’ll tell others and spark the natural growth which any book needs. Most recently, I got sent this by someone who’d just finished it:

That has to be the single, weirdest, most original story I have ever read. It was the reading equivalent of watching a film like The Cabin in the Woods, or The City of Lost Children: Not like those films at all in subject, but big, weird, and complicated but made easy to understand, and above all, wonderful.

I thought the microscopic space ships were weird enough, but somehow totally believable (and Captain Mamba and his ilk are righteous dudes). But then there’s the Babel Fish. And then there’s the attempt at human cloning. There’s the German rabbit who talks to plants, and the white mice. And THEN, it all comes together. In the end, it all makes complete sense, and the answer to life, the universe and everything, is right under our noses, all around us, like it says in the book. And like it always was, that’s the weirdest thing: I just needed to open my eyes. Reading this made that happen. Among all the true facts about animals and wildlife, there’s also an explanation of why black mambas are grumpy, and why cats have nine lives. And it all makes complete sense.

I laughed (a lot), and I cried. The humour is sometimes a dark cover for the sadness, but underneath it all, are these parallel stories, of people’s lives. I’ve rarely seen a relationship develop in the way the two main characters’ did, and their unlikely partnerships with others were sometimes comedies of error, but always filled with feeling. And the animals: So many characters, in those and in the people who pass through the story. I loved the research. The London Zoo chapters were brilliant, as were the ones in and around London, and in Simon Fry’s personal world.

I hope more people read this. I really want to see a sequel, to find out what happens to them all, after they’ve worked things out.

This was like no other book I’ve read: Brilliant and unique. It’s a page-turner, fascinating to the end, with lots of animal facts deftly distributed throughout, as well as great characters, but above all, it’s quite a story. The ending is perfect (for now).

(Name and address supplied).

This wasn’t an Amazon review, as the book was bought from a different source (it’s becoming available in other book retailers, but until I get a mainstream publisher, I make the best (very small) royalties from Amazon sales). I was given permission to share it, and figured the author wanted others to read it (they said so themselves).

Happy Diwali, and I hope those who continue to read my book enjoy it as much as I did writing it.

Cyrus Song is available now, and has its own Facebook page, where there are also two prequel tales (on this blog as well) and where there may one day be news of a sequel. While I’m waiting for publicity and all the signing events that might entail, it remains a nice problem not to have. Signed copies can be arranged with me by getting in touch by email.

Farewell, Catford’s Queenie

THE WRITER’S LIFE | POETRY

Regardless of how pedestrian or otherwise our lives may be, we will always cross paths with many people. Sometimes we only realise the importance of those people once they have passed.

My life is only documented in it’s breakdown and recovery phases on this blog, with a little retrospect thrown in every now and then. Before it all went wrong though, I lived in Catford with my wife and kids.

Catford Cat

There were three families in that particular circumstance: Three sets of parents supporting each other, while their sons became best mates. It’s often said that three is a crowd and those kids proved that to be true fairly often. If we’re honest, we were just as bad as parents.

Who cares?

Because life can change, suddenly and forever.

And then you realise how empty your life is.

My friend suffered from a little-known condition: Sickle Cell Disease. For some cruel reason, it afflicts black people more.

I’m not a poet but…

A wave from a plane

If you’re ever stuck;
If you ever wonder;
It’s the simple things,
that make a life:

Sunday roast: Jerk chicken
Sandy coast: Jamaica
Bonfire nights, Christmas lights
All these things

Birthday gifts, healing rifts
Friendly smile, extra mile
All these things
remind me

City walks; Kids’ school
Family talks; Black and white
London years, happy tears
All these things

Moonlit night; Security lights
Morning haze; Happy days
All these things
remind me

Dogs and rats; Welcome mats
Catford: Life rhymes with that
Dancing queen, evergreen
All these things

All these things are true

50 Cent makes music
while Dana sings:
“All kinds of everything
remind me of you.”

valdin

Valdin Millette: 1983 – 2016

 

Safe journey my friend.

Home is where the Pink Hearts are

THE WRITER’S LIFE

pink-heart-hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sade Andria Zabala

A disruptive conspiracy theory

THE WRITER’S LIFE

uhv-foil-24-inch-dispenser-box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The taxonomy of ghosts

THE WRITER’S LIFE

ghostwriter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dark matter of the dogs

THE WRITER’S LIFE

dark-matter-dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sodastream of consciousness

THE WRITER’S LIFE

mixtape1

I write a lot, I read a lot and I think far too much. I watch TV and movies, and I think some more. Pretty much every blog entry I write for clients as a freelancer gives me an idea for a story. I have piles of media, a lot of which I’ll probably never get to. I have short stories and books planned, but most won’t see the light of day in my lifetime. I have a lot of stories inside me and many won’t be told.

I also have a new fridge freezer. I’ve not had one for the last three years, through a lack of space and money born of a transient life. Now that I have the financial means but with little space, I’ve got a mini unit, clearly designed with the caravan and studio-dweller in mind. It’s a neat little thing: The size of a standard fridge and it’s black with chrome door handles. It looks like a short and stocky Darth Vader; How he might look in Minecraft. It’s opened up all sorts of refreshment ideas to have on hand in The Studio, where I live and write. It’s stocked with snacks, chilled coffee and fizzy drinks.

On any given day, Darth Vader dispenses refreshment like I do opinion: spewed forth for grateful recipients of propoganda. There’s a certain irony to being a contemporary left-wing thinker, having my drinks served by a reduced right-wing terrorist. But then, I live in the once United Kingdom; a divided nation, under the rule of a stealth dictator in the form of Theresa Hitler.

The problem most of the far right have, is the same as other fanatics: They’re passionate about being “right” and get frustrated with themselves when their limited intelligence and vocabulary can’t convert others to their cause. They’re all sadomasochists.

So they retreat and devise mechanisms by which the opposition is silenced and the gullible follow like sheep who read The Sun newspaper. I wouldn’t wipe my left-wing arse with that pulp fiction.

A lot of me goes into a story: Experience, beliefs, persuasions and deviances. Fiction takes a long time to write, if you’re any good. Sometimes I just type away on the laptop, not knowing where the writing will go. Occasionally, I’ll write a really good story. Usually though, it’s just stream-of-consciousness stuff. Like when I was writing a blog entry for a client today about actors. I wrote the article, submitted it and invoiced the client. Afterwards, I thought more about the word, “Actor”.

The evolution of “Actor” into a non-gender specific term is a recent phenomenon and one for the good. Even though the term “Actress” fell out of the general vernacular only recently, in liberal circles at least, the word is practically archaic. Is it now time to consider other gender specific words, or will our recent evolution continue and simply take care of it?

Might “heroine” go the way of actress, so that both males and females are all heroes? Is the modern move towards de-sexualization sufficient alone to do away with historical masculine associations with words once used only in a male context? How do male and female groups feel about all of this? Perhaps if we can move away from our sexual insecurities, it might be easier to evolve into a more generic, non-specific societal mindset quite seamlessly.

If the same ideal might then be applied to greater causes of conflict and discrimination (race and religion mainly), we arguably have fewer things to define us; We all become the same. But we are all the same: We are human. Remove all secularization and we all think the same. Only then do we have the chance to discover what really defines us: Our individuality.

Economic and historical scholars will agree that history repeats and that economies follow historical cycles. Right now, we could be headed for a period of unrest, rebellion and conflict, at home and in the world around us. After the storm, comes calm and it could just be that eventually, we realise in the midst of the calm that there’s another way.

So that’s yet another story for yet another day. And if I never get to write it, at least I’ve planted a seed.

I write a lot, read a lot and think far too much. Most people get a cold drink from the fridge. Mine comes from my in-house Minecraft Darth Vader.

An expression of perpetuity

THE WRITER’S LIFE

suicide-the-demon-called-depression

I first dared to call myself a writer about a year ago now. Back then, it was more like an admission, and only to close friends. I’d had a few short stories published, I’d won an award for one of them, and I’d self-published my first novel. To those who are late to the party, The Paradoxicon is a semi-autobiographical story of a man searching for answers in life, while he battles his own demons. And still it goes on.

That first book was written in about eight weeks, when it was my sole obsession. Even my harshest critic (me) would say that The Paradoxicon is a pretty good book, and others agree. When I compare it with my writing now though, I realise how far I’ve progressed.

Now I’m earning money from freelance work, as well as writing my own material. Now, I’m busy enough to be able to call myself a writer with and not in confidence. People enjoy reading my stories and my freelance clients like my style.

I was compared with some truly great fiction writers by a sub-editor and praised for my authorial voice. There is a part of the writer in every story: An aspect of a character, or a memory on the fringe of experience. Good writing comes from the heart. As I become ever more prolific, I hope that others will read my work and judge for themselves.

Writing was never going to be a highly-paid vocation and it would be a fool who got into it thinking it would. I’m clearly not a fool and writing is one of the more admired professions for its required intellect. My living costs are covered by the disability benefits I receive on the grounds of my alcohol dependence, PTSD, depression and anxiety. My modest writing income is for permitted work, which is recognised as being beneficial to me and my mental health.

So my overall income makes for a modest but comfortable life. And this second life I’ve made, after my breakdown three years ago, is rather perfect. Mentally, I had to accept that I wasn’t kidding myself; that I really am as good as people say: If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have clients. Turning it into a sole-trader business mindset was key. Now, I’m a professional writer; an author and a freelance writer. It took a long time to realise and just as long to set everything up so that the business worked, but it does.

What I earn through freelance work is one side of things: Signing contracts, writing for clients and invoicing them. The other side of the business is my own work, sold on Amazon and Lulu through my various online presences: My website, this blog, and Facebook. My general outlet on the latter is in recognition of where I came from: Gilbert House Publishing on Facebook. Gilbert House was the name of the building I squatted in when I was homeless.

As a writer, I read a lot and my newspaper of choice is The Guardian, perhaps unsurprisingly. Their in-depth reporting and analysis provides me with a lot of material for both sides of my business. It is true that there are a few writers who’ve become very wealthy and it’s not just bitter jealousy which drives other writers’ disdain for some of those people. Like all writers, I appreciate the craft of others’ work. And like all writers, I critique the work of others.

There are writers whom I admire and aspire to. There are others for whom I have no time whatsoever. It’s not so much intellectual snobbery as not finding some writers particularly engaging or challenging, and wondering how the fuck they got their publishing deals. John Crace sort of summed it up with a satirical piece in The Guardian recently:

The news so many people have been dreading. Dan Brown is writing a new novel called Origin featuring his world-famous symbologist, Robert Langdon. It won’t be published until next year but Brown has been kind enough to offer me a preview: “Langdon’s mind was a vale of darkness. His eidetic memory had failed him. ‘You’ve been shot,’ a woman said. He looked up to see a lissom figure with gentle brown eyes that held a profundity of experience rarely encountered in someone of her age. ‘I’m Carla Miller. A doctor. We have to get you out of here. Someone is trying to kill you.’ ‘Why would anyone want to do that?’ he asked. ‘Because they read The Da Vinci Code.’ Just then, a masked woman with spiky hair burst through the doors, firing a metallic gun made of metal. Carla opened a hidden trapdoor no one had guessed might be there and she and Langdon slid down a curved tunnel that took them to a secret hideout. Langdon looked out the window. ‘From my observations, I deduce we must be in Florence, the most populous city in Tuscany, with 370,000 residents,’ he said. ‘There’s no time for you to quote Wikipedia,’ Sienna reprimanded him scoldingly. ‘The world is under threat.’”

It rang true for me, as I’ve read a lot of bad prose written by others. Perhaps I am an intellectual snob.

Others will be the judge of me as a writer: Something I don’t mind standing in the dock for. For now, I’m good enough that I’m able to get paid for what I do as a freelancer. My first novel is out there for me to be critiqued on. But it will be my greatest pleasure so far to be judged on my forthcoming anthology: Now a collection spread over the last two years’ writing and including some deep and thought-provoking tales.

I remember how things were before I even dared to call myself a writer. I remember all that I loved and lost. I remember every day that I’m now serving a life sentence. Beyond this second life I’m now living, I hope others will read as I remember. And still it goes on.

The Perpetuity of Memory will be available in hard cover at the end of December.

The politics of feeling good

THE WRITER’S LIFE

marijuana

Thought provoking quotes about medical marijuana from Potbotics.com

By unfortunate coincidence, my work and real lives clashed again this week, even though I’ve got all my internal personalities working well together. The unfortunate thing was that a very dear friend of mine has been diagnosed with an incurable, degenerative illness. By coincidence, I was writing some articles for a client about cannabis.

As well as writing about marijuana, I smoke it: I’m a recreational user, and I use cannabis to deal with my anxiety. My friend confided that she also uses the drug to help with her condition. For me, the answer to the cannabis “problem” is one of legality: Legalise, regulate, medicate, educate.

The subjects I write about for clients are varied and interesting. The pay is poor but the satisfaction is in learning through research and putting that knowledge into an entertaining and informative piece. Because the articles were written for a paying client, I do not retain copyright but I can publish excerpts.

In the course of my research into all things weed, I naturally had to familiarise myself with some history, to place the law into a certain context within an article which was very much pro-consumption. What I found out was quite shocking and I had to tone down the language of a US politician to make my piece suitable for the intended audience:

..Cannabis was outlawed with the introduction of The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Some of the reasons given by Harry J. Anslinger (Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics) for the banning of cannabis, speak volumes about some of the ignorance and attitudes of the time:

Anslinger believed that cannabis was an ethnic minority problem and described non-whites and “entertainers” as diseases infecting the white population. Their “Satanic” music resulted from marijuana use, which caused insanity, criminality and death. Cannabis was “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”, he said. He further stated that smoking cannabis made ethnic minorities “think they’re as good as white men.”

Despite Aslinger’s naive and narrow-minded views, in less enlightened times, his bill was passed and the recreational use of marijuana became illegal. At the time, cannabis was prescribed by doctors for pain relief, and was an accepted part of American life. Although cannabis was the common name for the drug at the time, the Spanish word – marijuana – was used in the name of the act to further encourage racist sympathies…

It took a lot of editing to remove words which were offensive, even to me, whilst still making it a legible section. Then I continued:

…Thankfully, attitudes have changed. Medicinal and recreational use of cannabis is legal in certain states and being debated in others. Medical research and progressive politics have combined to realise the benefits of cannabis, both socially and economically. Regulation and taxation are made possible with legalization…

The article (and the writer) is not pro-legalisation (I used the American in the article itself, as it’s for a US client) just because of the benefits of decriminalisation (not getting locked up). The pro-legalisation argument is for cannabis to be regulated, taxed and sold for recreational and medicinal use. I went on:

…[Users] will experience a range of feelings, sensations and personal benefits, including a general feeling of wellbeing, hightened awareness, uplifting and cerebral thoughts. Recreational cannabis is therefore unsurprisingly referred to as a “mind expanding drug”.

For some people, marijuana is an occupational drug. Many people working in the creative arts cite recreational cannabis use as an aid to their craft. Writers and artists especially take advantage of the creative effects of the drug…

I then researched the two main types of cannabis which are cultivated for recreational and medicinal use: Indica and Sativa.

…Indica dominant marijuana strains provide a very relaxing and strong body high that is helpful in treating general anxiety, body pain and sleeping disorders. Indica is most commonly smoked by medical marijuana patients in the late evening or even just before bed. Sativa dominant marijuana strains provide an uplifting, energetic and cerebral high that is best suited for daytime smoking…

…In summary, Indica effects and benefits are relief from body pain, headaches and migraines; muscle relaxation, relieving spasms and reducing seizures; and relief from anxiety and stress.

Sativa effects and benefits include feelings of well-being and of being at ease; uplifting and cerebral thoughts; stimulation and increased energy; increased focus and creativity; and relief from depression.

Cannabis (marijuana) has many beneficial effects for the casual and medicinal user. Sativa and Indica effects are different and can be combined for the most effective tailored benefits…

At my recent (successful) tribunal appeal to prove that I was entitled to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), I mentioned to the residing judge that I smoke weed. She nodded. As a poker player, I’m pretty good at reading people and I’d bet on her nod not being a despairing one, nor one of resignation. Rather, it was a nod of understanding. I shouldn’t be surprised nor judgemental if the judge herself liked a bit of a toke on the reefer.

I’ve completed dozens of freelance assignments over the last couple of weeks and submitted my invoices for payment from the clients. All were interesting, even when they were about things which would normally hold no interest for me. Writing about a cause which is close to me though was the most satisfying. Because as a writer, I can get points across effectively and in an engaging manner. I may prompt debate but that’s part of my job.

In the other part of my job, as a fiction writer, I can use my writing to raise awareness of many things. With my friend I mentioned at the top in mind, I’m working on a short story. My stories have helped a family dealing with the loss of a pet; a friend’s daughter coping with growing up; and a teenage friend who self-harmed. I’m hoping I can help a friend who’s just been diagnosed with MS:

“…The curious thing was, it was the diagnosis which hastened the condition. It had lain dormant, without troubling me. Then as soon as I heard its name, it made itself known. What a cunt.

I wouldn’t be had. I decided to wager with the thing. All my life had been one long gamble anyway, most of it working out for the best. So I bet my life with the thing.

I bet this thing that I wouldn’t beat it on my own: That confused it. I was betting that my opponent would win. But I continued: I bet, that although I knew it could win, I would put up such a long fight that it would lose. Because I would fight for so long, through times of medical research, personal resolve and those around me, that I would live to see the day when a treatment was found.

At first, the thing taunted me. But gradually, as I learned to live with it, it was as though I were growing all over my own parasite. It was far from its kin but I had my team around me. The bet couldn’t be annulled, because I’d told the thing that I couldn’t beat it alone.

That was a pretty big bet: I was playing the long game. I’m still playing my opponent, so I may yet win the wager…”

(To be continued)

Even though writing doesn’t pay much, the rewards are far greater than financial. And the pain of depression and anxiety is made bearable by writing and by smoking weed for my recreation and occupation.

The politics of feeling good are simple: Legalise, regulate, medicate, educate.

The re-invention of solitude

THE WRITER’S LIFE

solitude

Finding peace in solitude, Disjointedthinking (Jeff Hughes)

The Invention of Solitude is one of many novels by my favourite author, Paul Auster. His work has been a major influence on me and he is a silent mentor. Often, my internal dialogue is between me and him: I talk to myself, in my head, where my mentor resides. In there, things are created by an alchemy which can only work in the solitude I find in my inner voices.

All of my personalities are now in order and working well together. But the real me is still the one inside, the one who hides behind the words and disguises the anxiety.

The anxiety is probably the most debilitating aspect of my personal illness: Alcohol dependence, depression and several counts of PTSD, recognised as a disability by a tribunal judge last week and entitling me to PIP.

Just like the depression which holds all of my contributing conditions together, the anxiety part is difficult to explain because it’s so personal. It’s hard to convey how it feels because however I put it, it sounds irrational. Even at the moment, when everything is going so well, I still get anxious.

I’ve written before of how the various aspects of my illness might feel to someone else, in an attempt to get across just how debilitating they can be. A panic attack feels like being mugged: I know, as it’s happened to me. An anxiety episode feels like being stalked: I’m also qualified by experience of that one.

So why, when I have every reason to be happy, do I still feel anxious? I’m busy with freelance work, writing for clients and getting paid. I’m busy with writing under my own name: Still churning out short stories, editing my anthology and hoping to make some sales when it’s published in December. I’m happy doing both, because I love to write. So why, at the end of a productive day of work, do I still suffer anxiety? I don’t know.

In my day job as a freelance writer, I’m in my element: Reading for research, learning, writing for the education of others and loving every minute. Just today, I’ve written articles on progressive prescription lenses for an eye care website; and about Nicosia in Cyprus for a property company: Not subjects which would otherwise trouble me but I’ve enjoyed learning and passing that knowledge on in my own idiosyncratic way: a style which people seem to like. In the other part of my job as a fiction writer, I’ve continued with my next short story, Cardboard Sky:

As I continued to read George’s captain’s log, I realised that the fantastical situations he described could just as easily be real. I only had to read between the lines to see the parallels. It took a while because George described his night time adventures in a dream-like state. It required a lucidity of the reader like that of the writer to imagine the sub-texts.

Or perhaps I was simply dreaming in the world around me as George dreamed in his. He wrote of things he encountered in his sleep, as though he were dreaming as he wrote. I was fully awake as I read his words, relating them to the world around me. I wonder whether my words betray my waking state? It would be for a reader to tell me but a writer cannot hear a reader.

My short stories now are deeper and longer than the schlock horror I used to write, because the life I’ve made enables me to craft each one more carefully. Consequently, my anthology will have fewer than the promised 42 stories but those that are left and still being written are much better works. I love all aspects of the life I’ve divided up to make one. I’m passionate about writing, yet I’m still anxious.

Anxiety is the feeling that something is about to go wrong: Not at any minute but sometime and in a massive way. It’s a feeling of impending doom, with no idea where that next shit sandwich might come from. Everything is good for me but there’s still that feeling. Everything can change, suddenly and forever.

That’s the frustrating thing about mental illness: It can be irrational and unfathomable. I’m very intelligent and as such, I get frustrated when I don’t understand something. I’ve been saying for a long time that my high IQ is a poisoned chalice. Depression does tend to favour the enquiring mind. But I’ve written also of the big red button and whether I’d press it: If there were a button I could press, which switched off the anxiety but also caused me to stop questioning, would I press it? The answer is still a resounding “No”.

So, I’m on benefits: I’ve proven my entitlement to them. They are what they say on the papers: Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment. Once they’re coming in, they do what it says on the tins.

But I’m not just sitting on my arse. I do have a job and it’s the only one I can do, with my conditions: The judge recognised this. I’m not pissed but I’m an alcoholic: If I drink to excess again, it will all go wrong. I’m happy and content but I have depression and anxiety. I’m sad but I’m happy: Isn’t it ironic? I receive benefits but I’m a professional writer. I’ve got one hand in my pocket but the other one is giving a peace sign.

Everything can change at any moment, suddenly and forever. You can’t put your feet on the ground until you’ve touched the sky. There’s hope for everyone. That’s what makes the world go round.”

(Paul Auster).