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New short science fiction sample posted here. It’s bit rough round the edges and in need of further editing. Just something to keep my mind off the possible disruption to air travel over Iceland. Eldest Stepdaughter Laura is flying back from Tanzania to the UK this Sunday and I’m mildly concerned in case the authorities completely shut down European airspace like they did with the Eyfjallajokull eruption.
Trying to look on the bright side, at least Badarbunga is easier to pronounce. Webcam of eruption progress here. A very useful Icelandic geology web site run by a local geology student. Icelandic Met office site here. The whole saga is surprisingly gripping.
Update: The good news is that Laura is safe back home in the UK, and this eruption doesn’t look like it’s going to cause major European air traffic disruption like in 2010.
Literary horror is dramatic. It makes for good copy. I often watch the close ups on shows like CSI and think; “Oo, that’s good make-up, almost like the real thing.” or “No, eyes should be dilated at this point.” For extra material I watch programmes like the video below, attending lectures when and where possible, and read pathology texts, as well as relying on my own observations taken from real life. The section on ice weapons came as a surprise. I too thought that was simply an urban legend.
My only problem with writing such sequences is this; sometimes the nightmares pay me a return visit. Not that often, but commonly enough to occasionally rob me of sleep and good temper. I’ve been like this for the past week or so while writing the refugee camp sequence for ‘A falling of Angels’. My over active imagination has overflowed into night time unpleasantness with serious 3D realism and smellyvision. You’d think that the act of writing everything down would purge the anxieties, lay the ghosts. In practice this is not entirely true. It just triggers other responses. Almost as if my glib subconscious is cheerfully waving from the background of psyche, saying; “You missed a bit!” and helpfully pointing out the more unpleasant gaps I’d rather have avoided.
Angie’s vaguely annoyed at me because I’ve been waking up and performing my usual trick of going from sound asleep to fully alert in the early hours. As the dream hits crisis, I’m out of bed and on my feet, looking for trouble in half a second. It’s an old reflex, and one that hasn’t dulled with age. Not entirely sure where it comes from. That said I can sleep through most things. Storms, roadworks outside the house, marching bands, noisy teenagers. Yet if someone tries to be stealthy anywhere close to, I’m instantly up and alert. Whether I want to be or not. All on the back of a bad dream.
Over three months after submission, Harper Voyager have finally said a polite ‘No, not our thing’. This was not unexpected, as if a publisher is interested, they’re usually first out of the trap to contact you. To be honest, I saw the missive header as it dropped into my inbox when I logged on, and my reaction was simply ‘Meh’.
In the past I’ve had varying degrees of reaction to rejections, from in my youth that my work is no good and never will be, to nowadays, when my critical skills are a bit more fine tuned, and my reactions more nuanced. It just means they’ve made a commercial decision that it wasn’t right for their marketplace. Wherever that may be. I’d already come to that conclusion, and am moving on, not taking it personally, and generally getting on with life, when previously I’ve curled into a hypersensitive ball to cry. Maybe I’m developing a thick skin in my dotage.
‘Head of the Beast’ is in print and eBook already in self publish format. If I could bring the price down further, I would. However, having spent several years on the project already, I’m not inclined to give my stuff away. The eBook is just over five bucks with tax, or three pounds forty nine in pounds sterling, which I think is fair. The paperback and hardbacks unfortunately are more expensive, but that’s the price of print to order services. I don’t make much more than a buck fifty royalty per item.
Harper vector may not like what I sent them, but honestly speaking, I’ve made a number of revisions since I first submitted the draft manuscript to them, tightened up the prose, and the end result has merit. How much so, is, like so many other things, purely a matter of opinion. Mine may be biased in my favour, which is hardly a surprise.
Angie is home, now kitted out with a new hip joint and currently up to the gills with painkillers. She’s tucked up nice and cosy in bed. There’s a roaring fire in the stove, and the house feels like a home once more. Overall I’m feeling a whole lot more relaxed.
To celebrate her return I made one of my home made curries with home baked Naan bread. Being a bit lazy with the curry I simply chopped up a pound of cardboard chicken (Skinless, boneless, flavourless – I don’t like it, but Angie does), used up my last jar of Sharwoods and chucked in half a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes, which gave it sufficient heat. Basmati rice was also prepared (1 half cup Basmati rice, one and a quarter cups of cold water, bring to boil until almost all water is gone, then take off heat and stick a cloth over the pan for the rest of the water to evaporate). Mango Chutney, check. The Naan bread took a little experimentation, as my oven only goes up to 500 Fahrenheit, and leaving the yoghurt out of the recipe might have been a mistake as the texture was a little stiff. However, we live and learn. It was close enough for government work, as the saying goes. After her bout with vomiting due to a painkiller reaction, the Curry went and stayed down. For this small mercy I am truly grateful.
With regard to opiates, I remember a compound called Prochlorperazine (Proprietary name Stemetil) which is useful when administering opiates as it reduces the nausea. Working on what would nowadays be called an Oncological ward for a few weeks, palliative patients often had a mixed dose of Stemetil with their Diamorphine to cut down the drug dreams and vomiting whilst reducing cancer pain. When Angie was having her first bout of vomiting I asked the nurse if Stemetil was still in use, and was told it was restricted to palliative care. Or as I recall a senior nursing officer say in the 1980’s; “They’re dying anyway, so it really doesn’t matter if they (The patients) become junkies.” Which is a refreshingly pragmatic view of the world.
What with all associated shenanigans, running errands to drug stores, keeping friends and family informed, and general caring for my wife while she is indisposed, all writing on major projects has ground to a halt. Apart from the blog. This is only a temporary state of affairs, and as soon as Angie is well on the mend and fully self care capable, I will be torturing the English language with my facinorous prose. As usual.
Up at four yesterday, getting Angie into hospital for her second hip replacement was a chore. Nonetheless, in these circumstances I try to fill the unforgiving minute with work. By seven in the evening I was shattered. Seeing Angie come out of recovery onto the ward in serious pain didn’t help. She was shrieking in agony when the nursing staff got her into bed and told me, quite bluntly, to get the hell out of the room. The sight of her in such agony freaked me out and has left me more than a little shaken. The muscles at the back of my skull bunched with the tension, and are only starting to unwind the following morning. All that and a midday shift at work too.
Currently feel like I’ve taken a minor kicking. Muscles wound up and knotted with the nervous tension. Various aches and pains from a restive night. Most unpleasant.
I will visit Angie after todays shift. She’ll have had a good twenty four hours plus to come past the initial post op pain, and a regimen of painkillers will be in place. I am confident that she will be fine. I think. I’ve got all the mobility aids she will need while in recovery when she gets home, and we have a trip to San Diego planned for Christmas as a post-hip replacement treat. Nothing major, just a well earned time out. Our first Christmas to ourselves in five (Ten?) years.
In the physical world, all the clouds that loured upon this house are in the deep bosom of the ocean buried, and the sun is finally shining. According to forecast, we have a few days of this before the rains close in again. The ducks are no longer in hiding. It could be worse. It’s Fall.
Nothing from Harper Vector on the first Cerberus as yet, either yea or nay. Although the longer the wait, the more a ‘nay’ seems likely. Any day now I’m expecting a curt ‘Not what we’re looking for’ e-mail. I wasn’t really expecting anything out of the submission. It was a ‘cattle call’, as they say in showbiz circles. Another day, another rejection. Yawn. Moving on.
It’s raining yet again. Angie is in hospital, and I’m trying not to think about it. South of the border there are elections which will have a spin off effect economically up here in BC. All of this is eclipsed in my mind by the latest development regarding the nature of light. Is a photon a particle or a wave? Or even a wave function that mimics a particle? Or both?
Writing about phenomena that rely on the nature of the underlying universe is a struggle sometimes. No sooner have you penned an elegant piece about how this can be seen to be a function of that, down where the quarks come out to play, than some clever type comes up with a theory that shoots your whole premise down in flames. So back to the drawing board. The good news is that so far my stories have held up against new developments in physics and astronomy. Planets have been found around stars a reasonable educated guess might have surmised. The nature of the universe, and the standard model of physics seems to be holding its ground, so no issues there.
Now I would like it to stop raining, please. Even the ducks are taking cover.
There are things in life I don’t like to think about. Things which cause me emotional pain. Things like Angie going into hospital for hip surgery on the 6th. I don’t like the thought of that at all.
While my imagination is quite gleefully capable of recounting things in graphic detail like all forms of blood and gore I’m not happy about real life dismemberment and how fragile and tenacious our flesh is. All of which I have seen in real life, so it’s not as though I’m a complete stranger to the ideas. Where there’s a car crash or a roadside death, I’m the impatient guy who wants you to move quickly on and not rubberneck. Why? Let’s just say Death and I are old acquaintances. Not the friendly sort, but the kind you want to cross the road to avoid, eyeing each other suspiciously.
One career item I don’t like to dwell on is my sojourn as a student nurse back in the early 80’s. What a complete train wreck of a career choice that was. Took me a few years to get over the emotional fallout. Just lost my Dad, so I was still pretty shaky emotionally at the time I started. Worked on various wards, in Emergency facing addicts, RTA casualties and drunks. Nursed physically and mentally subnormal children (Or should that be ‘challenged’, or some other soft fascist euphemism – poor little things). Saw people die up close and personal, knowing there was nothing I could do about it. Gave ‘last offices’ to three people who I’d grown to like. Maybe I even helped save a few lives, I don’t know. Gave comfort to a few. Even while I personally was going to pieces. Did that make me weak? I tried not to be.
What really eats at me about Angie’s forthcoming operation is that I know exactly what goes on and it haunts me. The spotlit line of blood on antiseptic yellowed skin as the first cut is made. Welling red quickly swabbed up and bleeding cauterised with little smoking fizzes (Do they still use diathermy?). Muscles rapidly transected down to the bloody red of the periosteum and white of bone. The impersonal tug of retractors, the gaping red mouth of the incision, and the awful, magnified dentist drill buzzing of the compressed air saw as it cuts through bone. My wife’s bones. Angies Head of femur. Angies hip socket. I can’t shrug it off because I’ve seen it happen several times. Even been scrubbed to ‘manipulate’ the patients leg twice, standby scrub / swab count twice each (I think, it was a long time ago) and the thought of her being sliced open cuts my heart about as though it were happening to me. The empathic pain doesn’t burn, it aches, it stabs, it crushes, and she’s going into operating theatre and I dare not think about it, yet I can do little but.
Did I say nursing was a poor career choice for me? Man, I must have been dumber than a truckload of five pound lump hammers to even think of it. Why? Too much imagination. Too vulnerable. I actually, physically feel the pain of others. If there’s an opposite to psychopath, that’s me. It’s why I can write Paul Calvin as a character, and identify with someone who sees all the pain of the world and tries to help. Even when he can’t.
I love my wife very dearly. I hate it when she’s ill. I hate it when she’s in pain. Yet she has to have this dismemberment inflicted upon her to prevent more pain. To return her mobility and let her walk properly again. Yet my heart is awash as though a hurricane load of rain has been dumped on it, and there’s nothing I can do. Did I say I hate this? Forgive me being rhetorical or even sarcastic, but the memories run dark red and bloody and I must try to rise above them. Angie needs me to be strong for her, even when I’m not; and there are times like these when I am not strong at all.
There may be a writing hiatus. I may simply pitch in to another writing marathon just to stop me thinking about it. A flood of words to wash away thoughts of her pain.
I know one thing for certain.
All the Zen in the world isn’t going to help.