Do It Again

After what was an extremely productive and progressive week, it is time to capitalize on momentum. I have a phenomenal amount of old content quite literally gathering dust around these parts, and it is high time some of this stuff was found a better home. Therefore, this week I’ll be concentrating on submitting to a number of poetry organizations with open windows for work.

After that…?

It was suggested to me that there ought to be something other than writing and exercise to give my brain a chance to work through the various issues I’m having, and having lost a friend to COVID this week, it seemed only right and fair to see if the work/life balance could be restored via some gaming. I’ve found a lovely survival game called Valheim, thanks to a mutual. It looks as if it has distinct potential, and can be attacked very much at my pace.

With the middle of the month coming up, my son is being invited back to University and so there’ll be one less person here, with life (very slowly) returning to what used to be considered normal before this all began. The first Patreon project of 2021 is moving towards completion, and the next few months are beginning to look like they’ll be writing fiction instead of poetry, which I’m very pleased about. There’s a lot to be done.

Honestly, this is all coming together very satisfactorily indeed.

November Short Story: Stratosphere

This story was first serialized in 30 daily parts during November 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

I produce fiction bi-weekly on my Patreon: this includes flash fiction (250 words) which is being put together to form a long-form narrative, plus a bi-weekly full novel presented in episodic format.

Click here to become a Patron.


Stratosphere

November 1st:

I woke as the 8am Shuttle docked: that most imperceptible of nudges to the station’s superstructure is always enough. My first thought is always of you, as is the last one before sleeping. You are the constant, implacable reminder that a life exists after war ends. Checking Field Reports, there is reassurance: not much has changed since I slept. A constant wish remains, to know more than the NewsNets allow, their sanitized version of truth. War’s reality is not lost on a doctor whose task it is to tend to the wounded who return from it.

Except there are no patients. The last transport carrying casualties arrived a month ago, and was virtually empty. I am employed at present as a record keeper, an organizer of other people’s equipment, to run and exercise at the pleasure of the United Nations Task Force. I am alone. The news is scant, and heavily redacted, for reasons I understand yet still despise. The aggressors maintain their hold on our planet, nothing more than symbolic dust and ash. Occasional flashpoints take place above its orbit, in the System. Right now, it is calm between storms.

I’ve been watching the holograms we made before you left, remembering back to those last weeks when we both knew what was coming, but didn’t care. All that mattered was the moments, our intimacy, and the spaces in-between filled with laughter, constant companionship. I miss you. Staring across the stratosphere, I can’t grasp only a year has passed since your carrier was deployed. Time does strange things to perception; alters sensation, re-arranges priorities. I miss sand between my toes, surf and salt as distractions, your warmth beside me each morning.

If my scheduled screen time is cancelled again today… I won’t lie, there will be concern. The longest we have been without communication has been seven rotations. Today would make it eight. There is no point in worrying however, my work must continue, because we must be prepared.


November 1st:

It is hard to believe it has been a year since I learnt. No time at all has passed, only yesterday that hope and belief were real. A steady stream of casualties shows no sign of dimming: I can but hope it will not be long before our masters accept, we are defeated. These injuries are damning; undisputable taint of chemical weaponry. The enemy had dispensed with any pretence of civility or care. Our science teams work flat-out, attempting to ascertain what the agent is, so we can more effectively treat its effects. This is truly disturbing.

Being high enough up the chain of command to be considered important, I am already hearing word of imminent surrender. Planets in the system are now being evacuated. If true, our location will soon be considered the notional front line: it will be time to leave, never to return. For us to be woken so early this morning, an alert is not a surprise: scouts have been spotted on our long range scanners. If they are bold enough to approach even when terms are being negotiated, it is fair to assume nobody is safe. Sirens pierce the early dawn, and we scramble.

To hear that you’d been found, prisoner of war amongst this chaos, makes everything so much more frightening: there is no time to check the validity of these reports, only to make sure patients are evacuated. As we board the last transport out, fighters blink into the atmosphere. The station is engulfed by green flames, a chemical compound that begins to disintegrate our structure before the ship is able to reach the hyper-portal: as an unarmed medical vessel there is real belief we too will be fired on… but it doesn’t happen. The fighters show no interest.

In the safety of the hyperlane I can digest more details: you will be sent back with others, only if we leave this system for good. There is no timescale placed on repatriation, only that it will happen when our enemy considers taint cleansed from within. Their words frighten me.


November 1st:

I sit, looking out over a new planet, new home, and the past seems reassuringly that: no longer a worry, stress from another time. You are outside, still walking with the stick, but your prognosis is excellent. It is wounds that doctors cannot see that concern more. You are not the same person who left me, all those years ago. The spark within you has been extinguished, removed by incarceration. There are moments when that joy still exists, but they are brief, tempered by horrors I can only imagine that you lived through. I miss your smile.

War has not been kind to anyone. The scale of loss is only beginning to become apparent: seemingly healthy individuals manifesting chemical weapon’s taint, unexpected birth defects, mental health issues that may take decades to effectively address. Our society is disintegrating. In the end, to have you here is all that really matters. We must find a way, as was always the case before, and our love will sustain. There must be a belief that life will improve, or else what is the point of being here at all? Together, we will endure. Together we will evolve.

Our child, growing inside me will make sure of that: something good from the chaos, a means by which our world will rebuild, endure. All who are capable have been asked to reproduce, such is the scale of this loss. To survive as a race, we must now rely on life’s building blocks. Our daughter is already bringing joy, possibilities to a future that will be tough for us all. She is genetically protected from the scourge that killed so many of our kind, so if our enemies should choose to return they will find us already prepared. May it never come to this.

Whatever this future may bring, we will face it as a family, with love and care before hatred. My new posting, our home in the stratosphere of this planet is already secured, where medicine again will become my task, and our passion. Together, a new and better existence awaits.


November 1st.

Both died as they lived, with passion and voracity. To do so together, defending this planet, seems only right and proper. To triumph and simultaneously liberate us from the yoke of oppression seems doubly appropriate: except part of me is disappointed it happened. You might think as their daughter I’d feel more than simply a frustration at this turn of events, but their generation didn’t ask the right questions, just assumed superiority before destroying another race’s sacred place in the name of progress: subjugation was fair penance.

Too often our ancestors refused to learn, arrogantly assumed their expansion bettered any other race’s rights to their homes, or to maintain their own existences without interference. My parents cared, but only to a point: accepting destruction on their terms, which I refuse to. Reading my mothers’ journals, it is apparent all that mattered was their relationship, a love that blinded both to damage wrought by their superiors. Yes, these feelings were valid, important in individual context. In the wider scope of history, they were selfish and destructive.

We were left a legacy that might have been untenable, were it not for the forgiveness of what once was our enemy. They have taught lessons our own kind forgot, assumed were worthless and weak. They demonstrate even in dominance, there can be understanding. Aliens comprehend us. The land we took and destroyed has returned to its natural state: that we thought was uninhabitable is literally teeming with life again. The toxins that killed us are building blocks for a far more complex form of symbiotic growth that extends life, far beyond its normal bounds.

Unintentionally I have become a hybrid, as have millions of others across three systems. The race which our superiors set to eradicate is now inextricably linked to our own survival, and the time is coming where those who only see an Enemy will themselves become what they fear. Standing here as ambassador, with insectoid brethren, we both understand the value of grasping a wider context.

This new station, looking down into the stratosphere of their redeemed planet, is built as testament to a future where all life, however it presents, is sacred.


One Better Day

Today, I’m presenting something special as part of Time to Talk Day.

Twenty pieces of audio were recorded, all of which have been linked to the image above to create an audio representation of my mental health journey. You can find all of these on a special page created especially for the day:

Click Here to access the Poetry

It’s been a fascinating experience recording this work, and has made me think I should be doing this again not just with audio, but video too. Starting next week, therefore, I’ll be picking the best of my own work that’s not gone off to a contest or a submission to use as the next stage of my Virtual Chapbook. I hope you enjoy all the pieces and would love to hear any feedback you have on the works themselves.

Don’t forget that you can still order these poems by clicking here.

Ruby Tuesday

Hang on, how did it get to be Thursday again so fast? There’s been a lot on this week, it must be said, and I have a ton of important stuff to knock off at the weekend. Most importantly, VIDEO IS BACK and we’ll start knocking off some more poems for the Virtual Chapbook next week. Add to all of this that I’m recording poetry for Time to Talk Day, which is not that far away now… but this post is not about the future, but THE PRESENT.

I’ve made a daily return to Ko-Fi this week, with some measure of success.

This stuff used to happen on Instagram, but as was discussed on Tuesday, we don’t do Facebook-sponsored content here any more. Instead, Ko-Fi’s a lovely sweet place where I get to call all the shots, and it’s nothing at all to do with anything except content on my terms. Therefore, we’ll Haiku there for a couple of weeks and maybe introduce something else as time goes on. I know various other people use this for short stories, so it becomes a pseudo-subscription model…

Also, there is currently quite a lot of mucking about with Spotify. Anyone who has been paying proper attention in the last couple of years should have more than a proper grasp of the significance of music in my life. Let’s be honest, it underpins just about everything I am. The playlist above for the 2020 NaNoWriMo got a facelift today (because we have a new book cover) and, rather amazingly, the 2021 Novel’s already got a soundtrack being added to…

Things are looking pretty productive, and long may it continue.

Beautiful Dreamer

A lot of new things have begun on Patreon in 2021, and I do mean A LOT. The episodic fiction and flash fiction pieces have remained, having bedded in nicely after three months. It’s not yet the right space in which to LANzine full-time; that will however return when the moment is right (probably as specials during the year when I need to fulfil a creative itch). That has facilitated therefore a tranche of NEW FEATURES including audio, extra bonus video and… art criticism.

No, really, hear me out.

2021 is the year when horizons are expanded in lots of different directions, which includes philosophy at weekends, plus considering my thoughts and ideas on why art matters so much to me, because it does. I was a graphic artist for two decades before my kids were born, and although there are only neophyte fine art skills thus far, a good font combination when presented is truly beautiful. The golden ratio is grasped and applied in photography. None of this is news, and now it’s time to start deepening that knowledge.

Therefore, I’ve added a portion of art exploration and criticism to Patreon. It’s available to everybody on subscription and I hope it might encourage interest on a wider stage. We’re not just talking about painting and all that stuff you find in museums either. Just about everything around you contains an artistic element within it. Knowing how mathematics fits into this too is really rather crucial, because there is undoubted beauty in chaos and confusion. Understanding why that is remains really important in order to grasp the overall significance of what makes us happy.

Let’s see if a combination of art and philosophy is the key to my own personal renaissance…

The Story of Us

Last week, there was another rejection.

It wasn’t a surprise: in fact, on reflection, it was anything but. Writing what I thought needed to be produced to be considered as a contender was always the plan. Only now does it occur to me that until someone decides I’m worthy, success in these worlds will never take place. It’s completely out of my hands, however much effort goes into the work. I’ve not been published enough in the right places, and by the right people to be considered saleable. This is a discussion that keeps happening, and won’t stop until it finally registers.

Today, it registered.

Before someone is prepared to take a chance on me, it’s all about patience, and learning to pick the right things to aim for. Finally, there is the acceptance that what I write for contest is distinctly different to what is written elsewhere, and maybe if there could be less focus on expectation and more on enjoyment, we might get somewhere. The last big collection completed, currently still in contest, fits that definition well, and if it fails, we’ll send it off again.

Starting next year, it is time to reassess my working practices and redefine a lot of what counts as output, for no other reason than I am coming out of a significant period of mental readjustment. Looking at work that is often bitter and introspective, it makes sense why a lot of this will not be of interest to anyone. The good work shines, and beginning to spot the real quality is happening, slowly. The fact remains, my best work is produced in a very particular way.

It is also the moment to start practising a new routine.

Always There

The plan, at the start of this year, was to own something saleable to self-produce by the end of the year. It was initially the intention to only do this digitally: that should hopefully still take place in the next couple of weeks but my first serious foray into publication will be with a physical collection. I’ve spent the last six weeks or so putting finishing touches to a proof and obtaining prices from local printers. A final amendment to my original cover design has been double-checked, plus a biography added to the back. On the 19th I’ll send everything to the people chosen to handle this task and wait for a proof…

If all goes well, by the middle of November, there’ll be a debut pamphlet to purchase.

Part of me hoped this particular collection might be picked up by a major publisher but nobody seems to consider a 53-year-old mother of two’s mental health journey as particularly saleable. I can completely understand why that would be the case, and why to favour supporting authors who have a proven track record of selling poetry makes far more sense financially. I’m not an idiot. These are difficult times for everybody. It’s why the decision was made to dip into savings in order to fund this, and to know well in advance not simply the viability of the product, but EXACTLY how many copies need to be sold to break even.

This project then becomes maths plus ability, and allows me to make what I want and not to compromise on what is, at times, very personal content. There’s a number up on the wall, a pricing scheme which is acceptable for what is produced, plus a marketing campaign of my own design which will reveal the best of what I can offer as a mental health poet. This will culminate in producing a complete reading of all the poems for Time to Talk Day in February, where I’ll explain the details of this journey from childhood to the present day.

Normally, I’d be obsessed with NaNoWriMo at this point… and I am, after a fashion. The idea is all ready to roll, I’ve already started writing, but next week is not going to be some adverts and building a webpage so that I can start taking pre-orders. I reckon that’s a good couple of days work, and as I intend to take a day off on Friday (*cough* BIRTHDAY *cough*) So, once that’s done, you’ll be getting alternate posts on both of these, and I really can’t complain that there’s not sufficient excitement in my life.

Well, I could, but it would be a complete lie.

Somersault

It occurs to me that constantly having to keep yourself accountable is a lot harder work than it first appears, especially when people are paying to help you progress. It is easy to see how so many people in the arts industry burn out so quickly: it is a treadmill, and it never stops. Therefore, training yourself to be able to get on and off whilst the thing is still moving is the skill I’m now very glad to have grasped.

Over the last week, a lot of plans have been put in place, yet again, and others have had their objectives subtly realigned. By the end of October we should have the self-published pamphlet ready to roll, but this is going to depend on pricing from printers, which I can’t finalise until the contents of said pamphlet are complete… finishing matters more than anything else. Then, once my graphic design skills have been tested…

Needless to say, if I’m not in the right mindset, this is all an awful lot harder.

There’ll be more news on this project on the 15th 😀

September Short Story: Answers to Nothing

This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during September 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

I produce fiction bi-weekly on my Patreon: this includes flash fiction (250 words) which is being put together to form a long-form narrative, plus a bi-weekly full novel presented in episodic format.

Click here to become a Patron.


Answers to Nothing

The advert stands out with minimal effort, lodged between Mrs Parsons’ offer of cheap piano lessons and that window cleaning flyer, placed the day after I’d moved into 13B. It is written on the back of an ancient picture postcard, penmanship at once both brilliant and impressive.

‘Wanted: Person of Good Standing to assist with daily issues appertaining to the numerical complexity of Existence. Must be immaculately presented, punctual, with the most open of minds. Payment will be negotiated on completion of the correct procedural particulars. Bring Card.’

There’s no phone number to contact, obvious lack of address on the written side: assuming the newsagent will hold them is met with first a shrug and then not unexpected indifference. She lets me take the card regardless: without those elements the ad appears effectively useless. Except I’m a local now, can recognise the black and white photograph on the picture’s side. Gauss and Euler, an exemplary art emporium older than me, my home, the newsagents and most of this street combined. A Grade One listed building standing proudly in many forms since the 1300s.

On the other side of town it has become a shrine to the beauty of both form and dysfunction. The University’s art course enthusiastically taught me a whole module on its significance to the city, stretching from the arrival of its original owner to the unassuming village in 1326. Nearly 700 years later, that place is at least 70% national treasure, 20% utter chaos with the rest… well, depending on who you believe, it’s either magical, possessed by evil spirits or a portal to another dimension. The urban legends that have sprung from the shop…? God tier.

I love it for its vegan menu, fact it always has in stock whatever it is in art supplies required without ever having to order, and that it smells of burnt sugar. Without fail, every time I go there I’m back as a kid in Aunt Betty’s kitchen when she’d make special almond brittle. Today I’ve made a special effort. In these trousers, this waistcoat we could be going out in Manchester. The boots glisten, red patent leather doing exactly what was planned, same colour as lips and earrings. My mind is not just open, it’s ready for business, waiting for offers.

Gauss and Euler sits hidden down a side street in the Town Centre, cobbled line between our modern, aesthetically pleasing Shopping Centre and a chain-run coffee shop. It is literally a gateway to another world… except, not today: passageway is unexpectedly, inexplicably shut.

I watch two disgruntled Art College students encounter a door that absolutely never existed here the last time a trip was made for replacement acrylics and charcoal sticks, before deciding to go drink latte and eat muffins instead. Considering my next move, I notice the picture. There’s another postcard, stuck to the door at eye height. The assumption was it explained the closure but instead there is an instruction written in ink so vivid blue the letters shimmer in early morning sunshine.

PLACE CARD HERE.

I look around, suddenly very self-conscious.

Maybe the rumours were actually true. Perhaps there needs to be more than just an open mind at play here. Then there’s a moment of panic: which way to place the card? Maybe this isn’t just an instruction. What if it were a key for a door which might not exist now… don’t be daft. Except, on the postcard, there’s a door like this, with a white square just like that one over there as these tiny people in black and white are no longer just ink and paper but are moving, living beings and then it registers. I just had to think about putting the card in place.

Welcome to August 12th, 1890, when Frobisher and Ashwood, taking this picture, captured the living, breathing heart to my town. They’re behind me now, setting up their equipment, in a space where past and present overlap so seamlessly it is impossible to separate myself from it. I’m not supposed to either: this is a test, first of many. The numerical complexity of existence defines this spot as a focus, billions of possible past and future outcomes radiating from a single, intractably defined point of origin. These photographers captured it accidentally.

That’s why their card is so important, explains as I finally look up why there is no obstruction to the alleyway, but a woman standing there, dressed in a red coat and black trousers that beautifully mirror my own choices. Then, as I blink, she is in front of me, smiling broadly.

“We knew how quickly you’d pick this up. After a while, it’s easy to spot those who Understand and those who will never See. This job is yours if you want it.”

I think about asking what it is that has been offered, but an answer is already in my head, presented by a future self. Standing here, my World is expanding and contracting; wind offering smells that haven’t existed for centuries. Heady richness, past summers when all that stood here was a small stone circle. Ley lines from seven counties converge to a point where one woman first pitched her tent.

No, not her, this isn’t immortality on show but lineage. An ancestor, flame haired, first touched with the taint of Understanding: my Future Self offers a tantalising hint of our possibility, hands intertwined. I can still walk away and all this will vanish, become simple desire. I can’t, won’t, refuse to reject what’s right, correct, flowing through every cell of a body that’s been waiting for this moment for multiple generations. Here is where I need to be. THIS is what I was built to become a part of. After thirty-six years lost an existence is found.

With the next exhale I am back, staring at an alleyway no longer blocked, two art students arguing furiously that there was absolutely a gate here before they went for take-out. My future lover is nowhere to be seen, absolute normality a sudden and reassuring constant. What now?

The shop answers my question, which should not be as much of a surprise as it is but there’s still a moment of disbelief as something touches my consciousness. Burnt sugar. A kitchen, filled with warmth and noise. Aunt Betty’s there, standing in front of me, as I remember her. She passed almost a decade ago: the woman in front of me is at the prime of her life, and quite obviously presented not to frighten a mind that might not already have grasped that this is the way Understanding communicates with the humans that move within it, conducting business.

‘Well, luv, you’ve already grasped the basics that most people take months to properly comprehend, so I should be asking that question of you. Knowing you possess an ability to subconsciously improve the lives of others, but not directly influence events, where would you start?’

The temptation instantly is to head for London, maybe Manchester but brain is already working the problem logically. Dismantling any system at the top level won’t work, or else Understanding would have already done so… unless there’s more at play here than just a force for good…

Betty’s features alter, appraisal now far more critical.

‘That revelation takes even longer to register for most: if Understanding exists, there’s a counter. The Universe is very big on balance, has been since forever. It means that if we’ve found you, Chaos has a new convert.’

Blimey: there are actual, real Agents of Chaos… it’s not just a figure of speech. All this stuff is being engineered, by a presence that can only exist to counter the good. My brain is already drawing conclusions, working out where to go as opposition… but that’s not my task.

It’s my job to destroy all of this for good.

‘Understanding is happy to leave you. Chaos, however, has other ideas…’

She works for the Bad Guys. That woman, destined to become the love of my life, is the latest addition to Chaos Incarnate, and she is inside the shop, waiting. Everything inside consciousness rearranges with a speed that is enough to bring me to my knees. The shop is Chaos, not Understanding. All that time, the Good Guys have been protecting me from them, hiding my ability, keeping me safe until they knew my oppositional twin was ready.

She has already switched sides, coming from the Goodness that once owned this place before Darkness possessed it, warping true power. The final showdown between two massive Universal constants has nothing to do with major players or corrupt government.

It will come down to us.


Same Time, Same Place

I may have mentioned that a poem of mine is going to be published in a hardback anthology on October 1st (now did it, stuff is forgotten so quickly of late…) and with this publication has come a flood of memories from that time last year when the ambitious plan was born. Twenty-four poems in a month seems like a lot, but as it transpires that was exactly the right amount. It was also at the same time that I went into counselling, at the time to investigate the possibility I might be autistic.

It’s amazing how things alter once someone else is there to shift focus. What seemed to matter most back then had pretty much consumed everything that I was. The obsession over a diagnosis had driven everything for close to a year… and then, it became apparent that this was the least of my problems. Looking back at that time, the poetry was what kept me from falling apart. It gave a focus away from all the emotional and mental pressure. My home town became the backdrop for a process of self-healing that is still going on today.

Everything that has followed from that point onwards has pushed me further into a Universe that’s been waiting for my arrival for some time. It was the process of being able to contribute to a project whose validation came not from other people, but purely from myself. What I considered as good enough was the resultant 24 poems and hundreds of photographs, and to then find one of those poems considered good enough to make it into the Anthology… there was a whole second level of belief added to the first.

Sometimes, we need the approval of our peers to move forward. I won’t lie, the increasingly common instances where I am complimented for work, out of the blue, is a gift that continues to keep giving long after the initial moment of brilliance. Its why such moments end up being printed from the Internet and kept. Whatever else may happen, to have positively affected someone’s life, if even for a moment, if a rare jewel of brilliance, and should never be underestimated or belittled.

Over a year on from Places of Poetry, validation now happens in many ways. The dopamine hit is different, my needs and desires altering on an almost daily basis. What remains is the reminder of how much of a debt of gratitude I will owe Andrew McRae and Paul Farley, whose project allowed me to become a better version of myself whist the rest of my existence as in turmoil. That generosity will never be forgotten, and the lessons learnt will shape me as a poet and artist for the rest of my life.