Tag Archives: Anxiety

New short story sample and minor anxieties

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.

The problem with writing horror #WritersBlock

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.

Another day, another rejection slip

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.

Home and Curry

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.

Toughing it out

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.

Struggling a little.

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.

Writing about death

I’m busy inventing a crime scene for ‘A falling of Angels’. The aftermath of a gangland execution style killing seen via a quantum viewpoint, asking questions about what shadows humans leave upon the world when our biochemical processes come to an abrupt halt. Also as a look at the nature of consciousness through the eyes of a Telempathic Detective (Telempath; my own invention. One who can read minds and see emotions). We are all sparks of electricity and dribbles of chemicals, but what about deeper down? Down below where the Quarks come out to play? Is this where the spark of sentience dwells?

These are the questions I’m currently wrestling with, and a recurrent theme all through the Paul Calvin series of stories. Writing this sort of stuff also leaves me feeling a little uneasy because I feel I am staring over the edge into a void. There’s also a sensation of anticipation and bravado, like I’m doing philosophical base jumps and parasailing out into eternity. The feeling is one of suppressed horror, but also of testosterone filled exhilaration.

Always leaves me a bit freaky while I’m working on such a piece.

A worthwhile read

To try and combat the post submission jitters, and the post natal (For writing in some respects is like giving birth – without the hospitals, screams, or sensation of trying to pass a bowling ball) depressions, augmented by the sense of; “Oh hell, was it really ready?” or the “Did I miss anything?”. I have been reading Mark Rowlands; The Philosopher and the Wolf.

For me, Marks recounting of his experiences and brotherhood with a wolf he called Brenin has led to a number of involved conversations over breakfast between Angie and myself. The ones you have about the cupidity of other mortals, the struggles of existence, and the sheer tsunami of oh-stuff-this-for-a-lark-what’s-the-bloody-point existential doubt and worries that threaten to overwhelm the day to day. For me his book confirmed that I wasn’t alone with some of my long-held suspicions about humanity, and along with reading about the motivations of those who commit mass murder, opened my eyes a little more regarding the dark side of our nature as humans. Although my cynicism on that score is pretty much hard wired nowadays.

Read it; Mr Rowlands work has just found a new bookshelf.

The long wait

Anyone who writes is familiar with ‘the long wait’ of up to three months while publishers shunt your missive into a queue before saying “Not what we’re looking for right now” or “We don’t see a market for this” or even three months of dead silence and no reply at whatsoever. Which is what so often happens.

This long wait can take a terrible toll on young hopefuls, especially when the entry points to the world of grown up publishing are so limited. Most publishers won’t even look at new writers without an agent. Hence my enthusiasm for this Harper Vector opening, because finding an Agent; well, to be honest I’d given up looking some time ago.

What the hell. I have three days off. I need them, because at four this afternoon my get up and go, went. I know not where. I finally hit my own personal wall with a fairly hefty thud. Almost three weeks without a break working from six am to midnight is enough to wear anyone down. On the plus side, I did get to see a lot of nice sunrises. A couple of days out and off are required.

Now I am off to make friends with a bottle of Bushmills. The keyboard can wait.

Four thousand words a day challenge: day ten

Cerberus has stuttered a little, and I’m concerned that the main narrative thread has veered off in the wrong direction, although the main denouement is still firmly in my narrative sights. However, Word count for yesterday was Start: 51389, Finish: 55640, daily total; 4251. Average has dropped sharply to just over 3900 and I’m feeling very tired. Doing 4000 words a day and holding down my day job is proving very difficult. That said; nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and I’m actually looking forward to finishing and then going to sleep for a full twenty four or forty eight hours. Five more days. Have I hit the ‘wall’? The part where you’re just so bloody tired you pick up the pace and carry on anyway?

This whole 4000 thing is beginning to feel like Hubris. The pride that challenges the Gods, and I’m beginning to hate myself for walking into it with both eyes wide shut.

Visual aids

Not a good day so far. Writing is again at the zero level because I’m busy running around doing other people’s errands. Small things being blown up out of all proportion, and being dumped in my lap. Like it’s my fault they were broken in the first place.

Still. One must persevere in these situations.

I’m beginning to understand why movies cost so much to make. My own first dozen attempts at doing readings for a simple YouTube vid are so full of slurring, fluffs and swearing that I’m beginning to doubt whether English is my first language or not. This is puzzling, because at Drama School, sight reading was at the top of my skill set. There’s also the issue that any vid I make approaching a Gig in file size overloads my little cameras memory controller, and the file will not download. Although considering the standard my sight reading has sunk to, I’m currently thanking goodness for the delete key. There is no way I’m inflicting that on an unsuspecting world. Even for the sheer comedy value.

Talking the talk

At the moment I’m in a state of semi collapse having just sold my first three hard copies to unsuspecting members of the public. Autographed no less. That and delivered a talk which ended up being somewhere in the region of fifty minutes long, rather than the planned thirty.

Quite frankly I don’t know how I feel right now. A little surprised I slid into the talking groove quite so easily. Interacting with interested parties and talking about my work. Got to talking with a precocious twelve year old who was “Kinda tired” of goody two shoes heroes, and liked heroes with a little bit of the night about them. Maybe a bit less of the formulaic stuff where humanity is surrounded by wicked aliens and good aliens. Bad guys we agreed, were ‘more fun’. Both to write and to read. All the better if they are human.

Had fun talking to the amateur astronomers, who have kit worth thousands of dollars for scanning the night sky. Even ran into a friend of a friend who didn’t recognise me in ‘professional’ mode. Still, the day was a lot more enjoyable than I’d thought. I got a decent portrait of me at my desk selling. Next step is donating a couple of copies to the local library, and seeing if that will generate demand. On Monday I’ll open negotiations for my second book signing and see where that takes me.

Preparing to speak

Like most people, I have a mortal terror of public speaking. Yet right this minute I’m preparing to do just that. Actually it’s two talks kind of telescoped together, if anyone will pardon the pun.

The first talk is ten or fifteen minutes on “The big ‘What if’?” which is about how science can trump science fiction. How what was true yesterday could be overturned by observations made at CERN, or by some bright Israeli who finally was awarded a Nobel Prize for Chemistry after thirty years.

Another state of matter? Quasicrystals? Who would have thought? There’s also the advances in planetary observations constantly being posted on the Web. Quite a headache if your brand new trilogy is a narrative about extrasolar exploration and colonisation. What was ‘true’ yesterday might not be accurate and true today, thus consigning two years long grind at the keyboard to the literary pulp pile before it even hits the shelves.

The second talk is about the Trilogy itself. The characters, their adventures, and the (supposed) planets and challenges. Nanaimo District Museum, 100 Museum Way, Nanaimo. 2pm PST 22nd October 2011. Scary.