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Last night I got an email from Kevin Hillman over at Leg-Iron books who recently accepted my short story submission “A Coelacanth in the bathroom”. Apparently there’s a small eZine publisher based in California that is looking for original horror writers. They have expressed an interest in the kind of quirky, off the wall story I like to write and asked me, via Kevin, if I had anything. So, pleasantly surprised, I said yes. So I dashed off a brief email explaining who I was and what I did and the response was guardedly positive. They don’t pay, but they do have a fairly good distribution spread.
Now I’ve offered them a short story, currently a work in progress; target length about five thousand words that is kind of a spin off from “Coelacanth” in that it includes one of the characters from that tale. Without giving too much away, it’s mainly about an infestation of semi-mythical beasts who are a little, but not quite like they are portrayed in mainstream fantasy stories.
I did my research and looked at the crypto-biology behind these creatures before fleshing out the details and making them a little more believable. Nothing much, just playing around with the how, what, why, when and where of their mythology. I haven’t gone the full J K Rowling on them because I’ve always considered using the Harry Potter style of magic and wand waving as a bit of a cop out. Far more fun to take the impossible and set it off against the mundane. I mean, what would someone do if they found an endangered species in their bathroom or a plague of mythical beasts in their place of work? Whose job is it to deal with these things? How big a crimp would it put in their day?
It’s oddball questions like these that make my mouth twist into a villainous little smile and make me take to my office for so long that my wife greets me with “Oh, hello stranger” in the evenings when I finally surface.
Writer’s block takes you on some strange journeys. While I’m still struggling with reconstructing the Stars series of science fiction novels I found a stray short story on my hard drive, untouched since 2005.
Let me explain a little of the tales history. While I was living in Claverdon, Warwickshire, back in the 1980’s I roughed out a series of supernatural fantasy stories based around the theme of a haunted garden which I entitled ‘The Cat Tree and other stories’. These tales were never submitted anywhere and have lurked in various of my archives, both paper and digital, for over thirty years. Until last week.
I also found a manuscript copy of the title story ‘The Cat Tree’ which is a spooky little tale, sitting in my archive box too, along with several of the original planned series, like ‘White Noise’ and ‘Josephine’. On Amstrad tractor dot matrix printer paper no less. How they survived there since 1987 I have no idea. Since I first wrote them a lot of life has happened. Wife, stepdaughters, four changes of career and a move to Canada. Not to mention the upheavals of four house moves we’ve undergone since we’ve been here.
The original drafts were written between 1985 and 1987, firstly on an Imperial Safari typewriter, then transferred onto on a primitive Amstrad 8512 word processor. The narratives dealt with issues like drug induced mental illness and the long process of healing and recovery. A few years before, I’d dropped out of Nursing college, so I felt comfortable dealing with the themes of healing and recovery, which at that stage were still fairly fresh in my mind.
Still, after a read through I thought that the original draft was fairly shaky but the theme was too good not to have a go at revisiting the project. So in my off duty time last week I gave it a re-write, then handed it to my wife for a second opinion. She said she liked it, asked me various questions and I answered by editing the offending passages until it made sense to both of us. I was quite pleased with the ensuing 3300 words, which has led me to a further decision. I’ve decided to resurrect this project and breathe some life into all six of the stories I wrote for the original collection, then post some readings on a dedicated YouTube / Vimeo / Dailymotion / Bitchute video sharing channel. Furthermore, I’ve elected to open a Patreon account, so whomsoever likes my work can throw me an occasional dollar or two, if it pleases them. If not, at least I haven’t given up my day job.
The artwork is of my own creation and gives a strong hint as to the theme and content of the first story in the series. If anyone out there wants to comment / voice an opinion, I’m happy to listen.
Update: I’ve edited the repeat text out of this post and am busy trying to record some versions worthy of broadcast. ‘White Noise’, the follow on from ‘The Cat Tree’ is in need of a thorough overhaul and I haven’t even re-read ‘Josephine’ or my notes for ‘Unwelcoming’ for transcription just yet. Watch this space.
After a long hiatus, I’ve restarted work on ‘Darkness between the stars’, the third installment of the ‘Stars’ trilogy. There is a problem with the story as it stands, there are too many threads to close, loose story lines going nowhere. Too much happening in real life for me to focus seriously on writing. New job. New responsibilities. Much to learn and teach.
I know ‘Stars’ is a flawed project which needs tearing apart and rebuilding rather than abandoning outright. There is much in it that is good but the whole thing is in need of a serious restructure. Even shortening. But I must finish the whole thing first.
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.
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.
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’?
Now I’m a fully sworn in Canadian and don’t have to worry about renewing residency, I can get back to overcoming the distribution issues I’ve been nagging at for the last few years. I’ve also been talking to my brother in law over the weekend who is one of the prime movers of the ‘Inanimate Alice’ educational project, about the benefits of games and interactivity. While Ian and I don’t agree about everything, our discussions sparked off a few thoughts.
I’m coming to the conclusion that a well made interactive computer game is an excellent aid to teaching. Particularly in terms of conflict resolution. And yes, this is one of those “There’s a story thread in this…” moments, where children (and grown ups) use interactive games as a means of working out real world frustrations, and at the same time hone their decision making processes using an Artificial Intelligence type game engine. Navigate everyday moral conundrums. Demonstrate causality and methods of obtaining positive outcomes from potentially negative circumstances without getting all preachy. Tricky, but do-able with the right resource. Computer games as a stepping stone to world peace? There’s a Nobel Peace Prize in this for someone.
Now, how might it all go completely pear shaped? There’s the rub.