The deep range

At a talk at Laurel Point Hotel by Dr Robert Ballard (of Titanic fame) and Dr Kate Moran of Ocean Networks, Canada on a new Oceanographic research resource on Sunday, I was reminded of a novel by that giant of Sci-fi, Arthur C Clarke, called The Deep Range. I remember it first as a short story, then owning a copy as part of a compilation. One of my all time favourite reads.

Enjoyed the talk tremendously. It was quite a boost sitting less than six feet from the man who discovered the wrecks of the Titanic and Bismarck. Although Dr Ballard modestly compares diving a mini sub from the surface to twelve thousand feet underwater and back as just “Another day at the office.” with a ‘three and a half hour’ commute. Which made me smile. He also wisecracks about the risks. Pointing out picture of two 1970’s vintage bathyscaphes with a mock-rueful “That one almost killed me. So did that.” His anecdote about finding the Titanic whilst looking for the wrecks of USS Thresher and USS Scorpion Nuclear submarines for the US Military came as quite a revelation. As did a number of other entertaining epiphanies like the flipping crab, and everyone on board a research vessel geeking out over a visiting Sperm Whale. I just sat there, totally engaged, scribbling the odd note and hardly noticing as two hours just sped by.

During the Q&A session towards the end I asked a question about the definition of sidescan sonar, the answer to which came as quite a surprise, although it shouldn’t have. Apparently at depths over three thousand metres or ten thousand feet, the contours that can be mapped are between five and ten metres, depending upon salinity and water temperature. As depth increases, so the contours that can be mapped decrease. At twelve thousand feet the definition degrades, so I am informed, to over ten metres between mappable contours. So anything smaller than ten metres or sixty feet doesn’t show up very well, if at all. No wonder they’re having such a problem locating the wreck of flight MH370 in the Indian Ocean’s vast abyssal plains. Meaning that if the wreckage is broken into pieces less than sixty feet across the wreckage may not show up on the plot, even if a survey vessel goes directly overhead. And this is with some of the best scanning devices available.

The Ocean Networks new ship, the EV Nautilus, is in downtown Victoria this morning, at Ogden Point I think. I’m sorely tempted to go and see, but my keyboard is singing a siren song, telling me I’ve neglected it for far, far too long. There’s a whole new story forming in my head right now about piracy, sabotage, black smokers and electrolytic mining in the ocean depths, knocking at the door, demanding to be let out.

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Another day, another competition

Another competition entered over at Inkitt. This time with a revamp of the four thousand word short story ‘Happy Birthday, Charles!’ a (hopefully funny) dark little Sci-fi tale of man versus machine, where the machine just wants the man to be happy. It’s an improvement on the original, which was not well received because it poked a little seasonal fun at Christmas. So I re-wrote it for a birthday; same characters, tighter writing, and a little stronger as far as the story telling voice is concerned. It’s here in case anyone wants to give it a vote in the ‘Laughable’ contest. Not the Horror, which it decidedly is not.

The revamped version with competition graphic can also be found via my ‘short stories’ page, here.

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Old material revisited

Back in 2006, I had a supernatural short story called ‘Hunter’ published in the 2006 February Fiction special edition for ‘People’s Friend’. In reply to another one of Inkitt’s competitions, I decided to dig my small stock of paranormal stories out for examination and re-edit.

The candidate I chose was originally the full version to which the 1500 words of ‘Hunter’ were merely a prologue. It’s called ‘Restoration’, a bit of a English period piece. Almost anachronistic, as the world of small market towns and county families is one that has been fading from the English countryside for a number of years. It’s a sort of ‘Country house ghost story’ but this time round I’ve tried to give it a feelgood ending. I’m posting the preliminary artwork below, just to get some other eyes on.
Restoration header

Update: The story is now approved here at Inkitt for their ‘Shiver’ contest. Read, enjoy, ignore the half dozen typos and missed apostrophes etc. Alternatively read here.

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New short story

About three weeks ago I received an invitation via Twitter to submit a short story for the Beyond Time competition at Inkitt. Digging around in the partial projects folders I found a piece from the Paul Calvin / Cerberus cycle of stories about a character invented for ‘A falling of Angels’. The title is ‘Oggie’, just over five thousand words on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, mean streets, kidnap, murder, and a little shot at redemption. It’s as close as I get to happy endings.

Buffing up the narrative and fleshing out the characters a little, I finished the story and fielded it off to my younger Stepdaughter for a test read. Jo likes reading, and sent me back a couple of pages of notes and suggestions, 90% of which I acted on. She’s a trained lawyer and reads voraciously when the mood hits. I also trust and prize her judgement like diamonds.

The end result gets submitted later today. I don’t submit many stories, preferring to publish online or via No idea whether anyone else will like it, but here goes nothing.

The story will get it’s own page once submitted, see rough artwork below.
Oggie cover

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Writing is a mugs game

A while ago, I was introduced at an event to a local dignitary as ‘A novelist’. His response was an honest; “Well that’s no way for a grown man to earn a living.” Having read my latest sales figures I’m inclined to agree. I spent a good while on marketing based activities, going to seminars, engaging on social media, completing profiles etc, to no avail. Writing, particularly fiction, is a mugs game.

It doesn’t help that I’ve got a bad case of writers block, and outside influences are interfering with putting down half decent content. I was toying with a bizarre tale of ritualised dismemberment; the protagonist apparently keeping his victim alive whilst amputating each part, joint by joint, without anaesthetic. I’ve organised the story so it does a one hundred and eighty degree flip with a twist at the end, maintaining a good degree of suspense and high revulsion factor all the way through. The trouble is, every time I get things straight in my head and begin to work there’s an interruption or other weighty matter demanding my attention – right this moment. Now.

The thing that most annoys is that it’s the incompetence and intransigence of others creating these distractions. By contrast, stuff hits my desk, it gets dealt with. Once done it’s out of my head and I can get on with writing. Waiting for others to simply do the job they took on is highly frustrating and very distracting. Especially when I can see my own, self imposed, deadlines looming while they are fiddling around.

Nonetheless, I’m taking a well earned break this Summer. Taking a good long step away from the keyboard to have a few real life adventures. Get grounded. Walk, talk, and rediscover the inspired part of myself, wherever he’s got to.

Maybe when I next put fingers to keyboard it won’t seem so bad.

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New light though altered windows

Yesterday I had my eyes altered by Lasik eye surgery. My old prescription was right eye 7.5; left eye 7.0(ish). Today my distance vision is as close to 100% as makes no odds, and after a little blurring first thing this morning my still healing vision no longer required correction by contact lens or glasses. Pain is barely a little dry itchiness, I’ve had far worse with routine displacement of a contact lens and I currently find myself needing 1.25 magnification ‘readers’ to work at a keyboard. Although as the swelling in my corneas goes down, they’re presently a pale pink, this need should disappear. Another three months will see everything totally healed and stabilised, although I’m already signed off as being fit to drive. After less than twenty-four hours. I’m seriously impressed.

As far as the healing process goes, it’s a weird sensation having to wear sunglasses around the house. A happy by-blow of which was finding a whole ready-made screenplay with tagline unreeling from my overactive subconscious in front of the bathroom mirror. Lots of stunts and gags with a whole ream of ready to write sardonic asides. Overlay onto a fairly standard ‘save the world’ plot with a twist that is more of a mobius loop and Robert is one’s Father’s brother. I can have a lot of fun with the idea, even if no-one wants to buy. Maybe I’ll put together a script treatment have a go pitching it to a few of the studios and see what happens. All they can say is no, right?

Inspiration comes from the oddest places. Maybe it will help me finish ‘Darkness’?

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Counting down

Having worn contact lenses for over thirty years, I’ve finally put together the time and money for laser eye surgery. Ever since I heard of the first primitive Russian treatments for short sightedness in Omni magazine back in the seventies, I’ve wanted to dispense with glasses and contact lenses for good. The reviews look good, and I’ve satisfied myself that the practice selected is both reputable and competent, so next Monday 16th February I’m booked in to have both eyes corrected.

Laser eye surgery isn’t cheap at four thousand dollars for both eyes, but as far as I’m concerned it will be money well spent. I’m told recovery time is twenty four hours with the selected treatment, and provided I don’t get hit in the eye for the next week or so afterwards, my eyes should heal up nicely.

The journey towards clear sight started last Thursday with a thorough set of eye tests which include having my cornea thicknesses checked with ultrasound. Which is a mildly disturbing sensation, rather like looking upwards at ripples in a pond. The other tests were more like the usual opticians checks where the retina and outside of the eye are checked for general health and dimension. Bright lights and reading charts. Each of the major eye checks done in a different room by a technician followed by a chat with the eye doctor himself. Then the money conversation, finding out that the advertised $400 per eye price is the most basic PRK treatment, not the LASIK the practice specialises in. Still, when you’ve set your heart on something, cheapest is very rarely best. I’ve elected to go down the high end route with a decent after care package just to be on the safe side. Not the latest cutting edge treatment, but the tried and trusted.

Being short sighted hasn’t been much fun. Not being so good at contact sports like Rugby because first, you can’t really see properly for distance kicks and passes without vision correction and secondly, wearing glasses while playing isn’t really practical. Contact lenses are better, but they do have the habit of popping out or even worse, folding or flipping over under exertion. Sweat stings more if it gets in your eyes while running too. Of course I’ve been able to swim wearing soft lenses, but with my favourite trick of swimming underwater, the lenses can get lost, even wearing swim goggles. There was also the usual tiresome business of getting bullied at school for being different. In Junior and senior school (6th to twelfth grade) my glasses were always getting broken until I got a reinforced set. Getting my first set of contact lenses in my early 20’s was a boon beyond measure. Now I’m looking forward to doing without any external vision correction at all.

As an interesting aside, I’ve noticed how certain people make up stories about the unfamiliar to compensate for their own anxieties. For example, I was working as a warehouse manager back in the early 80’s and mentioned to one of my colleagues that I was interested in the treatment. We were amiably discussing the matter, when another member of staff butted in with an involved and rather lurid tale about the treatment making one of her ‘friends’ go ‘totally blind’. Being of a sceptical bent, I later asked one of her closer work friends if this was the case. The answer came back “No.” Apparently her information had come from a second hand discussion about a TV consumer show where people had been complaining about low quality results from bargain basement treatment, or those who had not followed the post operative recommendations closely enough. Further asking around over the next month or so revealed that the “Friend” in question had not actually undergone the treatment, but rather backed out when they’d seen the full price tag. Which is why I didn’t go for corrective eye surgery at the time. Cost. I simply wasn’t earning enough at the time to afford the treatment. Although if I totted up how much I’ve spent over the last quarter century plus on contact lenses and fluids, maybe it would have made economic sense.

However, that was then and we can all be wise in hindsight. Today I find myself nervously counting the days until next Monday. Hopefully to enjoy 20/20 vision, but if the treatment gets close enough to let me work and drive without vision correction, I’ll be moderately content.

There’s also the thought, that back in the 1970’s when the first radial keratotomy eye treatments became available it seemed like science fiction. Now it seems the updated treatment is being offered in every single town in the Western world.

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