Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas - Chester

Pictures scattered here of Chester…

Christmas was approaching and so was a house buy so I was clearing out my loft. It was quite satisfying to lose all the accumulated decorations. Christmas was Caroline’s thing that to me involved pointless effort, money blown on tat, and numerous glittery objects getting in the way in a house that was not particularly spacious.

Of course Christmas cards arrived, like the one from some couple who still don’t know that Caroline died nearly two years ago. I left most of them out but was all set to see the 25th December with no change to my routines at all.

But then, maybe that was not such a great idea. Maybe, considering my recent problems, I need to take any opportunity offered to get my thinking outside of that dark and slightly stinky place between my ears, so I accepted my brother’s family’s invitation to spend Christmas with them.

The drive up to Chester took the best part of 6 hours what with the endless queues on the M1 and M6. I set out feeling a bit dopy and got steadily more tired. At about 2.5 hours I stopped for a large Costa Coffee Cappuccino with an extra shot. This certainly did the trick. Big time.

Later I got some mindful moments on the road actually seeing some views and thinking them quite beautiful rather than them passing in a haze. Finally arriving I got into my version of the Christmas spirit, which involved trying not to be a miserable git.

Bob, Christine and Samantha were great. The food was excellent. It was a good hotel! They bought me presents which mainly consisted of sweets, but the oolong tea was a revelation I will investigate further. These gifts were obviously something for me to do while Samantha turned the house into a bomb site unwrapping her haul.

I spent a nice relaxing few days there with some walking into Chester. The Boxing Day walk was the most needed and at near nine miles certainly cleared cobwebs. During one of these walks we stopped at a pub it had been our custom to visit. I had a pint of bitter and, frankly, didn’t enjoy it very much. This was my total alcohol consumption over these days.

I even watched an enjoyed a few films, which is something I hadn’t done in a while. Django Unchained was great – thank you Mr Tarantino. And Fury with Brad Pitt was pretty damned good too. Maybe I’ll clean the dust off my TV and start watching some more.

The drive home was a half hour shorter but I still spent plenty of time sitting in queues. Back here I’ve started on a portion of my planned routine. I’m walking, have started doing sit ups, learning Greek, meditating, reading and weight training. Writing, the eight week mindfulness course and redecorating the house will have to wait for the new year.   

Trying out Blogger App for Ipad...

Okay, 70,000+ words of the book done. I can safely say I am at the halfway mark into the first draft. I'll put it to one side now while I go visiting over Christmas, then return to it in the New Year. I'm not heavily into New Year's resolutions but I'll make some now. Tendonitis is clearing up in my arm so I'll get back to some weight training. I will start the 8 week mindfulness course in a book on it I recently read. I'll do at least 3 walks every week. I will read more books. And I will definitely get more writing done!
Καλο βραδυ!

Update: Reduced the size of the picture, which from the Ipad app was spilling over the edges.

The Last Colony - John Scalzi

If I have any criticism to level it is that for a book about competing alien civilizations this is sadly lacking in aliens. Yes, you get the occasional reference to a long neck, or thick skin or short stature, but that’s it. You know they’re stand-in for humans when one of them dies by accidentally impaling himself on his own dinner knife. But in the end this is about ‘people’ – characters whose story you invest in and who you care about.They also stay in your mind as does the main character here right back from the first book in this series. This was a leisurely enjoyable read that I polished off in about a day and I will gladly read the next and the next. John Scalzi’s writing engages you. For those of you that haven’t read his books I suggest you go and pick up Old Man’s War and start from there.


Note: Genuinely puzzled by the Guardian quotes on this book. Ignore them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

In the Moment

As I mentioned in a FB post, strange things happening in my skull, so I thought I might elaborate on that here. A few days ago I went for a walk in morning, trying to buck myself up, get the blood pumping. I just felt tired for the first few miles, but then perked up. I don’t know if I made a conscious effort or if it just came, but I started to feel very mindful of my surroundings. Why? I think it is because of the meditation and because I'm killing the tendency of my mind to get in negative thinking cycles.

So what is this mindfulness? For me it is living in the moment; actually seeing the stuff around me and engaging with it and not having it as just a backdrop to the shit going on inside my skull, not just registering it as ‘seen it before’ and not really seeing it. I feel more alive when this happens – almost like a child discovering the world for the first time. I guess this is the thing about the adult brain. It has seen and done so much it has fewer new experiences to process and just continues through life like an automaton. Before I started reading all this recent meditation/mindfulness stuff I always contended that the reason time seems to pass so fast when you are older is that you do so much in a day you’ve done before that your brain fails to record or clock this. This was also the basis for the ennui of immortals at about 200-years-old in my books.   

A result of the mindfulness was that creativity started to kick in and in a way that surprised me. Actually looking at my surroundings I started writing about them in my head. In fact I started to put together some verse (well, I'm no expert, so probably doggerel). Surprising? Well, yes, since this is something I haven't done in about 30 years.

Hawes clinging, the colour of old blood,
Ice melting, in puddles of mud.

Twigs etched black upon the grey,
Sloes shriveled, briars drip wet,
Spring is it coming? Trees whisper:
Not yet.

Yeah, don’t tell me – it has been 30 years. I might play around with that at a later date, though better I stick to SF. But the point here is that I entered a mental state I had not seen in a long time.

Later, effortlessly, I slid into thinking about my present book and the next section to write. I like this because this is precisely what my mind should be doing while I walk. It should not be catastrophising. It should not be hypervigilant for shit stains. It should not concentrate on the negative and fail to see the positive. It should not be constantly miserable!

Anyway, meditation eh? Mental reprogramming seems to work. You can change what you do in your head – you can make it healthier. I mean fuck, I should know this! I’m the one who always talks about how you can exercise your mind just like you exercise your body, that imagination is just a mental muscle!

As I noted in my FB post. Don't worry. States of bliss and all that nonsense aren't really becoming evident in my fiction. I finished writing what I was thinking about on that walk. It left two human heads on the floor and one guy being eaten alive by a prador.

Peace and Love.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Walk to the Crouch

I went for a walk yesterday and this time took a camera. Last year I took some pictures of a water tower that was in the process of being converted into a home, and this year it appears all but complete.

Sorry, but I am not impressed. To me the additions are not in keeping. It’s a bit like someone wanted to extend their home but couldn’t afford real foundations and matching materials so bolted on a wooden shed. Personally I would have enclosed the space below with curved walls matching the tank of the tower and if I’d wanted to extend above I would have used a matching wall too. Perhaps they wanted to retain the water tower’s … water toweriness? Perhaps they weren’t allowed to do more than they did? What do you think?

Anyway, whoever lives there will certainly have a  good view of the Crouch from the upper balcony thingy.

As usual I walked along the road then down by the river. All was grey and bit naff and I was layered up with clothing to keep warm. Here are a few shots of the river and the boat yard but, as I well know, very little looks good when the sun isn’t shining on it.  

It was a good day for me yesterday – surprising considering how grey and horrible it was – only spoiled a little by some negative shit visiting my skull in the evening. Was it because I was tired? I don’t know. I’ll take the day as a victory anyway. I still feel a bit crap this morning but I’m fighting it, aware that I can sometimes feel normal/happy.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Putting out the Rubbish

Interesting things happening inside my skull just lately. Over the last four days I’ve had periods when I hit rock bottom. Yes, though I am a rough tough Essex boy SF writer, there was crying involved. But it was all a bit odd because I would go through that then come back out of it quite quickly. I wondered if my depression was being exacerbated by the dull grey weather here and I was heading downhill, but it just wasn’t like that. I then remembered something and checked up on some of the effects of meditation and there it is. This is just one of the many references to it scattered across the internet:
“…initially, meditation can involve a lot of upheaval as those parts of you that are blocking your inner peace and happiness come to the surface to be released.
This means that there will be times when meditation feels very uncomfortable and you may experience a lot of unpleasant emotions.
You may feel very sad for no particular reason, and find yourself crying at the drop of a hat. You may get irritable, anxious, angry, snappy - but you don't know why. You may feel a tremendous sense of grief, or a thousand other types of emotion.
This is all very normal. In fact, it is highly beneficial, for when you experience such emotional release you know you are healing yourself.”
Being me, I would of course prefer a more factual description but reluctantly accept that this covers it. I do, however, pull back when this stuff starts wandering into spiritualism and mysticism. My brain is a computer that has been running for some time. A lot of rubbish has accumulated, some of the programs are a bit wonky and, since there is no ‘reset to factory settings’ other methods have to be found to get it working properly.

Anyway, yesterday I woke up feeling a bit crap again, but soldiered on and went to my 11.00 o’clock appointment with a hypnotherapist. The session was pretty much what I’d been getting from some of the hypnotic/meditation recordings I was already using but, okay, this was supposed to be a clear out of the accumulated junk in my skull. I drove back from this feeling pretty good, but then crashed in the early afternoon. This lasted to about 4.00 when I started to come up again.

At some point I got up and set to work on that chair I’ve been repairing – that one that’s been in pieces on my living room carpet for a week. I cleaned out its joints and glued and clamped it. As afternoon progressed into evening I wrote in my journal, and read (a book on mindfulness) and played on the internet. As bedtime approached I found myself feeling something I had not felt for some time. I didn’t want to go to bed because I wanted to carry on feeling like I had felt all that evening.

So was this the result of the hypnotherapy or did that just top off what I had already been doing with the recordings? Is it my growing mindful awareness working? Who can say? All I know is that I also feel good this morning and really want this to continue. I have further appointments with the hypnotherapist and some reading to do of something called the ‘Thrive’ program.

But, right now, to work. These books don’t write themselves you know.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

David Davis MP

I’m not even sure how long ago it was now. Four years maybe? While in Crete I received an email from a guy called David Davis. He apparently enjoyed my books and invited me for a beer in the House of Commons. I thought David Davis MP? The guy who fought David Cameron for leadership of the Conservative party and, unfortunately, lost? The guy who was in the territorial SAS and took Bscs in molecular and computer science before becoming a politician? One of the few politicians I have any regard for? Somebody is winding me up. I did, however, do some research and discovering in an interview that some of his favourite books were Iain M Banks’ Culture books I thought there might be some veracity in it. Incidentally I passed this on, I think to Banks’ agent, who then passed it on to him. Banks was apparently much amused.

Returning from Crete that year we just didn’t get round to following up on the offer. I’m not sure why, but things got in the way. The next year, when we returned to Crete, was when Caroline got sick so, that year was out and the one after. This year I got another email and decided I must follow up on it. And yesterday I did.

So, with my head aching from the dregs of a cold, I hopped on the train to Liverpool Street Station and took the tube to Westminster. I arrived about an hour beforehand – I was due to meet him in Central Lobby at about 7PM after some vote. Since I was early I wandered about a bit taking a few photos and looking for a can of coke to wash down the Paracetamol and Ibuprofen I had with me. After failing to find a drink and feeling cold I went into Parliament through the Cromwell entrance. I thought better to wait in the warm, but spent some time in a queue of people going through security checks similar to those you find in an airport.

When I got in I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to wait, but the large numbers of cops and security staff all around were all cheerfully helpful. I ended up sitting in the Central Lobby still wondering if anyone would turn up. He did, I of course recognized him at once and he recognized me. He took me through into a very plush restaurant, where I felt a bit under dressed, and an enjoyable dinner ensued. Conversation spanned books, pilots’ examinations, civil liberties and much else beside. A friendly and agreeable guy.

After this he took me on a tour of the House. I got to stand in the Chamber and elsewhere, saw the Shadow Cabinet room, David Davis’s office. It was all a bit surreal (not my favourite word) and I just wished I hadn’t felt so crap and could have appreciated it more. Thank you the Rt. Honourable David Davis MP.

Oh, some of these pictures are from places where cameras aren’t allowed. I’ve absolutely no idea how that happened. I particularly like the one of me standing by the statue of Margaret Thatcher, mainly because of how it will annoy so many…

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Off to the Smoke

Bit of a wasted day today. I got up with all good intentions to do some work, but the cold I have had was still lingering and I felt thick-headed and a bit rough. I had myself a nice breakfast determined to get to it, but then felt incredibly tired. I fell asleep on the sofa for an hour and a half, woke up feeling cold and with a stinking headache. Not much achieved I’m afraid.

But do not despair. My current work has just passed 60,000 words and advances nicely. I just need to find the concentration to work in some further needed plot elements and characters and it should roar along thereafter.

But back to this damned headache. It has occurred at a quite inconvenient time since I’m off to London to meet someone. This is an interesting development that occurred some years ago. I got an email I at first thought must be a hoax, but further investigating showed that it wasn’t. There’s a guy, high up in the British political establishment who likes and has read all my books. He also likes Iain M Banks but I guess that won’t stop those on the left sneering. Anyway, things got in the way of meeting him – obviously – and only now do I have the opportunity. I may write something about this later, if I can and if I feel I should.

On the mental front I’m getting somewhere but not sure where. The meditation has definitely stirred things up inside my skull and the immediate results of that have often been good, but sometimes have been unpleasant. I also went to see a hypnotherapist yesterday for an initial consultation and will be seeing her for my first appointment tomorrow. She seemed to grasp my problems straight away and is confident she can do something.

Onward and upward!    

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Shaking Loose.

Interesting experiences with the meditation. It seems that sometimes when I reach a certain depth of relaxation something in my head doesn’t want me to go there and I get a panic attack. However, the mindfulness stuff is helping in that I now manage to divorce myself from the attack and just watch it pass. Sometimes when I feel one coming I can stop it.

Interesting yes, but is this doing me any good?

I do often feel calmer and more in control afterwards and, if I don’t let the anxiety go too far I can kill it with a session. I felt I was getting somewhere until yesterday when the phone rang three times during a session and instigated a panic attack each time. Afterwards I felt really low – everything was black. But, standing back from that, this period wasn’t long lasting.

Certainly this meditation and mindfulness seems to be shaking something loose in my skull. For example, some unpleasant memories have been surfacing. I’m also more aware of my own thought processes and can quickly detect the slide into negativity.

Sometimes wonder if this is like belting a malfunctioning engine with a hammer. Yeah, sometimes it will work, but it’s hardly ideal. I’m shaking things up but there is no guarantee that the shape they then fall into will be a good one … except… I have to take into account my own will and desire to push my mind into a certain shape. Surely this factor is why so many people get a good result from meditation?  

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Writing Update.

Okay, I’m back on it this week – writing my 2,000 words a day. On the first day I made numerous corrections and continued with a piece that was, well, drudgework. The next day I sat down and didn’t feel all that interested in what I had been doing. I was feeling restricted by the plot and following it to a conclusion that is now there vaguely sketched out in my mind. So I escaped the plot.


Many times before I’ve mentioned the quote above (and now, since I’ve been running out of writing quotes, I’m making my own which I will scatter here). In my own way I did the same thing. I decided to up the stakes, throw in something new, spice the mix, in fact, disrupt my own plot. And I was quite glad that I did so because, well, the thing has happened. What thing? Well it's when I stray like this and introduce a new element. In other books these elements were the Golgoloth, Sverl, the Jain squad recorded in the Spatterjay virus - the weird shit. 

This time it is something called the Clade. Here's a little sample:

The Clade was a late product of Room 101 and a failure. Its component drones had been made to penetrate prador war machines and seize control of them. But something had happened post-production that caused them to hive together as a single unit. It had been scheduled for destruction but escaped. It was insane, dangerous and, knowing the right buttons to press, a very useful ally...

… which, since I posted it on Facebook has now become this:

The Clade was a late product of Room 101. The drones had been made to penetrate prador war machines and take control of them. But something had happened post-production that caused them to hive together as a single unit, which named itself the Clade. It had been scheduled for destruction shortly after this but, ruthlessly efficient, and amoral, it had murdered its way aboard a departing dreadnought and escaped. It was insane, dangerous and, him knowing the right buttons to press, a very useful ally… 
On day three I took the plot twists a bit further to introduce a strew of red-shirt disposables. This is because I am seeing something wrong now. So consumed have I been by the high tech and the weird, by the powerful non-human characters like the Clade, that I don't have enough weak ones, with their own entangled goals, for contrast. 

It is one of the problems that can develop in both SF and fantasy. If you create superman he has to have people to protect and you have to create kryptonite, else there is not much of a story. If you make everyone superman and kryptonite doesn’t exist, there is no story at all. There must be weakness and the possibility of failure. There must be characters who can suffer and die. 

Here endeth the lesson.

Bad Stories

A bugger. The first 3 days of this week I’ve managed to do my 2,000 words a day. I’ve also been getting in plenty of meditation sessions and this has been making me feel more stable, more in control. My reward this morning for that seems to be a sore throat, phlegmy cough, aching body and a nose full of snot. But no, the world doesn’t work like that.

It is only the human mind that tries to impose some pattern, some logic on disparate events. It is the human mind that links such events together in a story. My mind of course is a lot more practised because I’ve made it my job to link up stuff like this. I write and find new interesting toys as I go along, and impose upon them the order of a story. This ability is the source of my success but it is also a factor contributing to my present fucked up mind.

Take a storyteller. Screw him over with trauma – oh, I dunno, make him watch his wife die of bowel cancer – then step back and watch him fall apart. It’s a bit of a truism that writers are often depressive personalities anyway, so after that scenario depression is guaranteed. The loss can also create anxiety and concomitant panic attacks (especially if he was a heavy drinker and stopped doing that to ameliorate the depression). Sprinkle this with a soupcon of paranoia and you have the perfect recipe for some seriously negative thinking. You have someone telling himself the bad stories and failing to believe in the good ones.

But fuck that shit.

The meditation is working. Directly after each session I feel normal (or at least my version of that). I think more clearly and find myself dismissing trains of thought leading down into the pit. The time when I feel ‘right’ is getting longer and longer. This is all good, but I’ve also made an appointment to see a hypnotherapist to see what else can be done to straighten out my head. Maybe I should see a doctor too though I fear that would lead to pills. But that would be my choice, and I would choose to avoid them.

I will beat this.

On a final note. Though this post might appear a bit negative in itself it is not. Negative is when I don’t write a blog post at all. Negative is when I’m sitting staring into space wishing I felt better or at least in some way functional. And negative is not me getting ready to whack out another 2,000 words! 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Banks and Meditations

Well, I didn’t manage to get to doing any writing as mentioned in my last blog post. Just after finishing that post I checked my emails and saw one from my solicitor. Apparently a deposit I made with her company was paid from the account of Mrs C Asher. WTF? I’d had a joint account with Caroline until more than a year ago when I put it in my name alone. My statements and my card all come with just my name. However, when I looked online I saw that on the main account page they had removed my name and left Caroline’s. I tried to change that online, but when I looked at the bit where personal details were my name was there. I therefore phoned HSBC and of course did not know my telephone banking security number. This resulted in me having to go through a series of robots before talking to a human being. I ended up on hold while my telephone banking was sorted. The human had then misunderstood me and when I finally got my problem through to her I was put onto online banking, and put on hold again. Finally I was told that this would be resolved in seven working days. And there went my writing day.

Another thing that has been using up my time is meditation. Over this last weekend I’ve spent about two hours a day doing this. I feel it is time well spent because, if I can get my mind straight, writing is no problem. When I started out setting myself a daily word count I found it difficult to get 1,000 done in a day. This went up to 2,000 in a day with the time it took me to write them steadily dwindling. If I told you how long, when I am ‘in the flow’, it take me to write 2,000 words you would start yelling at me and asking why I don’t write a book a month. It doesn’t work like that, and I’m not telling you anyway.

The meditation seems to be working. Any of you who have read my posts here or on Facebook will know that I am pragmatic and about as unmystical and irreligious as it is possible to be. I was of course very cynical about ‘mindfulness’ – about meditation. But I am aware of the plasticity of the brain and how it can be changed. I was also desperate for something effective that didn’t involve SSRIs or other drugs and their side effects. Meditation, I have found, relaxes and calms me and this lasts for some time after I stop. While I am doing it I find I can consciously cause a pleasurable relaxation throughout by body. It is also the first time I’ve found an off switch for my brain that hasn’t involved quantities of alcohol that would have a ‘health professional’ wincing. Then this Sunday something else happened.

I've been meditating using various hypnotic recordings. I just used one done by a guy called Benjamin Bonetti that was 55 minutes long. Quite swiftly I was very relaxed, so much so I couldn't feel my hands. Then, about halfway through, I had my first experience with hypnogogia while meditating - a hypnogogic hallucination. Just for a moment everything got really bright, and a blue sky appeared above me with mackerel clouds fleeing across it. My reaction was a brief panic and I switched that off as if clicking a switch. I then instantly regretted doing so because it simply felt good. I want this to happen again. Ain't the mind a strange and wonderful thing?

That’s all for now. I will get on with some writing, then some Greek reading … supposing I don’t have another email I need to react to…

Friday, November 27, 2015


Okay, time to get back to work and I’ll ease in with this blog post.

The last few months have been interesting … in the Chinese sense of the curse, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ Mentally I hit a bad spot. For one year and ten months I’ve been fighting against depression with exercise but it obviously wasn’t enough. Only when I came under a new kind of pressure and came in danger of losing something I really cared about did I realise how far I’d gone down. I actually got quite scared because I was crazy for a while, really crazy, not the jokey light-hearted isn’t it good to be a little crazy nonsense you’ll find in photo-shopped Facebook posts. It was from then that I realised I needed more weapons in my armoury for this battle. If you’ve read the posts before this you’ll see where I went – drugs first and now meditation and mental reprogramming. This is all still very much a work in progress…

So, I travelled back to England 13 days ago. Despite the above I decided that I must continue as if I don’t feel like curling up on the sofa, under a blanket, and never coming out again. Some years back Caroline and I had thought about moving. The idea was to be somewhere we didn’t have to get in a car every time we wanted to go out and do something. It never happened but even since her death the thought never left my mind. I also want a change. I’ve never lived in a town before so why not? I chose the Hastings - St. Leonards area of the South Coast because having visited it over many years (to drink far too much red wine with my editor) I know it and like it. And I mean why not take on the supposedly third most stressful thing one can do? What could possibly go wrong?

While in Crete I started looking at properties on Rightmove and the moment I got back I compiled a list of properties I wanted to look at. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted other than a bit more space. I then visited the aforesaid editor and began looking. I had quite a stack of houses and apartments to look at but in the end saw only five. One was the kind of pad a millionaire might live in built into the top of an old school in Hastings – the highest point with a roof terrace giving expansive views all round. Another was so big another buyer was thinking of moving in a grand piano. But I chose something smaller and more discrete: a maisonette with three bedrooms, spacious but also cosy. The day I saw it I thought go for it. I looked at it a second time that day then walked out the door, got on my mobile and put in an offer, which was accepted.

Meanwhile in my house in Latchingdon I’ve been clearing out. I’ve made five trips to charity shops and the tip to get rid of accumulated junk. I’ve had a movers’ rep come in to give me a price on shifting everything. I employed a solicitor to do the conveyancing and provided all the information she needed. And of course I’ve encountered my first episode of lawyerly arse-dragging. Now there is little more I can do to push this through. I was told on one hand that it could take 5 to 6 weeks and on the other that it could take 10 to 12 weeks. I have to be patient, but also prepared to get on the phone whenever necessary. But now I must get on with other things…

First this blog post. Next I’ll open up the 50,000 words of the book I started while on Crete and get back to work on that.