Newsletter – February 2019

Virtual Futures Near Future Fiction Vol 1
News
I’m pleased to tell you that Virtual Futures Near-Future Fictions Vol. 1 is now up for pre-order on Amazon! This is an anthology of 18 ‘bleeding-edge’ social sci-fi shorts, and includes my brand new and exclusive story Undefined Variable. The official release date is 5th March.

It was a pleasure to be featured on Mike Chapman’s Saturday Interviews this month. Mike asks lots of interesting, in-depth questions, so that was a lot of fun to do. You can read the full interview here. Mike also wrote a very thoughtful review of Mind in the Gap, which you can read here.
What I’m Writing
I’m busy working on the second draft of my novel The Enlightenment Machine at the moment. It’s full of my typical mind-bending weirdness, but the very first part of it is set in the North-East of England where I grew up. I had written a lot on memory on the first draft, but as nothing quite compares to a visit, I went to Redcar to take some photos and make notes of the areas I’ve chosen to feature. My Grandma came with me, which was fantastic as she was able to give me some insights I’d have otherwise missed, and she unknowingly filled in a vital part of the plot I was missing. The visit was the injection of enthusiasm the project needed after being left on the back-burner for so long, and it’s now progressing at a pace and quality I’m happy with.

I’m continuing to make time for writing amidst a busy schedule by getting up an hour or so early each morning. There’s something that really sets the mind on task when it’s the first thing you think about when you wake up; before the over-rational, self-critical part of the mind stirs from hypnogogic bliss…
What’s On My Mind
I’ve been undertaking some night-time experiments recently, in which I meditate upon a chosen Tattva symbol before sleep and record the resulting dreams. I’ve had some interesting experiences with it so far, which you can read all about here.

tattva cards

Partly due to this experiment and partly as an avenue of research for the book, I’ve been reading a lot about the theoretical fourth spatial dimension. My thoughts on this are coming together to crystalize some unusual ideas, which I’ll be sure to write up on the blog soon.
What I’m Reading
I just finished My Eyes Are Black Holes by Logan Ryan Smith, which is an impressive novel in a style reminiscent of David Lynch or perhaps Hunter S. Thompson. It traps you in the mind of a man troubled by hallucinations, confused memories, and grotesque fantasies. I highly recommend it.

For my non-fiction read, I’m in the middle of Other Worlds by Christopher G White. It’s an exploration of our willingness to believe in higher dimensions across history, and our fascination with the line where spirituality and science meet. I’ve learned a lot from it, and plan to write a review feature on it when I’m done.

And (because I can’t read my Kindle in the bath) I’m also re-visiting an old favourite novel: Rubicon Beach by Steve Erickson.
What’s On My Headphones
While writing, I’m almost exclusively listening to Nine Inch Nails and Coil at the moment. They seem to hit the perfect creative vibe for the section I’m working on. Otherwise, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic by The Ocean has rarely been off my headphones. I saw the band live for the third time back in November, and was once again blown away by their performance.

Podcast-wise, I’m still dancing with Third Eye Drops. It’s an ever-fascinating foray into philosophy, psychedelics, self-development and spirituality. I highly recommend checking it out.

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For more information on my books, or to purchase a signed copy, please visit my books page. Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog for regular updates on my projects, as well as articles, flash fiction, and reviews of the unusual. You can also follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram if that’s your thing.

Indie Book Recommendations

Independent authors are often not given a chance by readers because they don’t have a big name publishing house backing them. There’s this idea that the only reason anyone would self-publish or use an small assistive press is that they aren’t good enough to be picked up by a ‘real’ publisher. But in reality there can be many reasons for choosing the indie route: to maintain creative control, to utilise business and marketing skills, to take advantage of higher royalty rates, as the beginning of a bigger venture to become a small press; or, simply because they don’t care for any of that and just want to get their work out there to be read.

Like it or not, the rise of online platforms and just-in-time printers means that the amount of people choosing to publish this way is on the increase. The good thing about this is anyone can have a go. The bad thing is anyone can have a go. Because of course, low barriers to entry also mean lack of quality control.

I believe that keeping the quality high is the key to being successful as an independent author. The best ones are indistinguishable from traditionally published in terms of polish. But not everyone starting out can afford an editor, and I get that. That’s why, in my opinion, a few typos are forgivable if the overall impression is strong, and aren’t even worth mentioning in a review. However, I’ve seen books with holiday snaps as covers and spelling mistakes in titles. I’ve seen multiple grammatical errors in opening sentences and unfinished lines on the first page. I’ve seen books without formatting uploaded straight from Word and blurbs that sound like the very first scribblings of an idea.

I think all of this comes down to one thing: if it looks as though the author doesn’t care about their work, then readers won’t either.

But it would be a huge mistake to shy away from reading a book simply because it is indie or self-published. Independent authors are doing things traditional publishers are not. They are putting out experimental novellas that would otherwise by considered too short to be marketable. They are flowing free between genres, mixing up expectations instead of conforming to trend. They are are blurring the line that isolates literary from popular fiction and producing heartfelt personal content without censorship. They are adding more diversity, in terms of both characters and the writers themselves. And because the independent publishing model allows books to come to market quicker, I would argue they are also more ‘on the pulse’. That takes passion, dynamism, and talent.

Over the last year I have read a fair few indie books, and have compiled a list of ten I recommend. Every author on this list, I have no doubt, is passionate about their work. Every one has wonderful ideas, characters, worlds and attention to structure. Every one I can give an honest 4 or 5 star review. Not ‘good for an indie book’ but good by any standard. So here they are, in the order I read them: Continue reading “Indie Book Recommendations”

Reflections: Reading and Writing Short Fiction

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Writing Short Fiction: The Word Count Limbo

JG Ballard once said in an interview:

“I am very grateful that I started my career as a writer writing short stories because you really learn your craft. You can also explore yourself; if you write a huge number of short stories it doesn’t take you long to realize you have certain strengths and weaknesses and that your imagination leans towards one corner of the compass. I think young writers today are tempted into writing novels far too early.”

That pretty well matches up with my experience as a writer so far. And I would add that short stories are a great way to get your name out there, either by sharing them on a blog or submitting to anthologies and journals.

I started out writing fragments of stories: just ideas, really, but written as prose rather than notes, and usually in first person. I progressed to writing ‘proper’ flash fiction with more curated content between 300 and 1,000 words. I wrote them in great numbers and shared them in multiple formats, so I got lots of feedback on what worked and what didn’t. In particular I learned where the uniqueness of my style shone and where it felt forced or mechanical. Continue reading “Reflections: Reading and Writing Short Fiction”

Eudaimonia – Micah Thomas

The Little Demons Inside by Micah Thomas

Eudaimonia: Having a good attendant or indwelling spirit.

The Eudaimonia books by Micah Thomas so far consist of a novel (The Little Demons Inside), and two collections of connected short stories (Evidence of Changes Volumes 1 and 2). The second novel (The Ghosts We Hide) is out in a couple of weeks. I binge-read the first three books back to back, and wanted to tell you all about them.

From the back cover of The Little Demons Inside:

This is not a love story, but there is love. This is not a horror story, but there are horrors. This is not a true story, but there is truth.

In 2017, something went wrong with the world. Or, at least, in 2017, everyone finally saw it. Henry needed to get off the streets to avoid the heat and volunteered for an experimental drug trial. The permanent side effects made his life dangerous and unpredictable.

Henry doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know his place. He’s a broken version of a wandering superhero. Then he meets Cassie. Their connection is brief and intense. These two lost souls are propelled together, apart, and together again in a mind-bending adventure that challenges them to face their demons.

Content Warning: This book contains vulgar language and depictions of violence and moral decay against humans, including but not limited to psychic possession and sexual acts under said possession.

We have long been obsessed with the idea that there are spaces, dimensions, or worlds beyond the physical. It is one of the things I repeatedly reference in my own fiction, and something I’ve been reading a lot about recently in terms of consciousness theories and psychedelic research reports. In the Eudaimonia series, Micah Thomas explores the possibilities of such spaces, and he does so beautifully. You see, not only do these stories have a strong socio-philosophical element, but they are also gripping, accessible and heartfelt: something that makes a book irresistible to me. Continue reading “Eudaimonia – Micah Thomas”

Mind in the Gap – The Stories

Mind in the Gap has the approval of my advance readers and is now up for pre-order! So, I thought now was a good time to share some more details on the stories in the book with you.

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1. The Predominator

For as long as he can remember, ZXXX84 has lived in an android city protected by a grand ethereal dome. He spends his days chasing targets set by the Triangle Council without ever understanding why, until one day he makes a discovery on the outside that points him in the direction of a greater truth.

2. Baily’s Beads

The biannual reality eclipse has come around again, and on his morning commute, Alex struggles to rationalise its existence.

3. Seek Assistance

A frustrated stock trader finds himself stuck in the London Underground system with only an irrational steering committee and his own compromised mind with which to plot an escape.

4. The Omega Paradigm

In a bizarre twist of medical advance and network design, the psyches of ordinary people are being split into components based on the theories of CG Jung. We follow Jason’s Anima as she tries to understand the purpose of it all, and attempts to make him whole again.

5. Mapmakers

Nav would do anything to escape the targeted advertising and constant live monitoring that is the norm of his time. So when he meets an ally on the bus to work who claims to have the means of taking him off-grid, he jumps at the chance. But can a trail of mind-altering ideas and coincidences lead him to a better life?

6. Spectres

During Meredith’s shift at the museum, shadows start to appear in the augmented reality app designed by her best friend. When she decides to track and collect them, she finds herself on a unique journey.

7. Winter Triangle

For the people of Origin, days can last entire lifetimes. They consider their lifestyle to be utopian, and traverse the many worlds encased in sound waves, to experience all that is on offer. But in accepting a special gift on zir 18th birthday, Shay takes on far more than ze bargained for and is forced to consider the question – who takes responsibility for crimes committed across realities?

8. One

Markus has worked for far too long. He really should have been home to meditate long ago. His brainwaves are in hi-beta and at their most visible to the angels, so he must do his best to mask his error and take cover from their ruthless, alien rules.

9. Chapel Perilous

An inventor is appalled that hippies should be allowed in the first class carriage. But in their own way, they manage to show him a whole new world that may well redirect the course of the future.

10. The Fold

Aaron makes the trip back down to Earth once every 12 weeks, but never before has he been so shaken by what he sees en route. The experience will not let him go, and follows him unsuspecting into his dreams, his private life and finally Blasar, a massive virtual reality entertainment warehouse.

11. Humanity 1.1.

A tiny imp of a man confronts Robyn on her drive home and attempts to explain what the biblical fall was really all about.

12. Frankie

In a world where every thought and emotion is externalised by a piece of worn tech, a meme artist is busy spotting consistencies and constructing little fixtures to hold on to. When things with his lover turn stale, the question arises whether the real community, the real love and the real beauty, is in stability and focus, or in sharing.

13. The Last Man

The City of Greater York is a ghost of the high-tech wonderland it once dreamed of becoming. Lab Technician Zane struggles through his daily routines in the hope that what small difference he can still make will be enough to raise what has been lost.

14. WTF?!

The story in the gaps. WTF?! is a fast and whimsical ride through the back streets of nowhere. M, who professes to be the outcast of a black hole, tries her best to answer every question her companion has about the nature of her reality, and presses him to make a difficult decision about his own.

I’ll leave you with a snippet from the lovely feedback I got from Paul Loughman, because he describes exactly what I was going for with this book. “It feels a times as though it’s a collection of short stories. But it isn’t. Every vignette is essential to the main point, which is so entertainingly and mind-bogglingly complex that the consistencies and connections between the stories (and the running dialogue between) make it an indivisible whole.”

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Mind in the Gap is available to pre-order on Kindle, or as a signed paperback from Orchid’s Lantern direct. Check it out, add it to your wish list, tell all your friends! And if you are a book blogger, please email orchidslantern@gmail.com to register your interest in a review copy.

Edit: I should point out that although the Amazon page states the paperback equivalent is 159 pages, it’s actually 250. This will be updated shortly.

Recent Reading: 5 Reviews in Brief

Book Blogger Review

I haven’t written a review for a little while, because not everything I read gives me enough to say without spoilers. However there are a few books I have read recently that I feel are particularly worthy of mention, so I’ll share them with you here.


Fever Dream – Samantha Schweblin 

This book was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize. It’s a small book, and with less than 200 pages it is readable in one sitting. This also adds to its rather disorientating effect. 

It’s about a woman in hospital, telling the story of how she ended up there to a little boy at her bedside (who may or may not actually be present). The boy is adamant that she is missing a vital detail that could save other lives in the village, if not her own, and tries to guide her towards discovering it. It is a frantic story of motherly love, desperation, and the way we select or reject sound reasoning. 

Fever Dream left me feeling as though I had been given a box of puzzle pieces, that no matter how I tried I could not quite piece together. It stayed with me for a long time, and eventually the point of the book just clicked. One of the reasons I didn’t review this in full is that the pleasure of the book is in figuring out the meaning for yourself.  


Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness – Bruce Rosenblum

I was half expecting this book to be another attempt to shoe-horn quantum physics into someone’s idea of spirituality: there are too many pseudo-scientists out there who either misrepresent quantum theory, or apply it completely out of context. However I have to say I was pleasantly surprised here. 

Quantum Enigma is very readable, yet it successfully explains the roots of quantum theory, its possible applications and the gaps that still exist in our understanding of it. There were some minor annoyances: for example the authors spend far too much time repeating what they are going to show us and how it will blow our minds, but all in all this is the best explanation I have received on the topic, and will no doubt keep referring to it. 


Shark – Will Self

Similar to my feelings on J G Ballard, I have a lot of respect for Will Self, but I can’t say I’ve loved everything he has written. I am still addicted to picking up his books though, because I know they will give me an experience; they will stir something in me, be it joy or disgust.  

Shark is technically the second book in a trilogy, though I don’t believe they need to be read in a particular order. It is a stream of consciousness from multiple points of view, presented as one long paragraph, starting and ending mid-sentence. Although the style is reminiscent of Joyce, this is a whole lot more accessible and flows beautifully. I found it very difficult to put down, not only due to the struggle in finding a natural stopping point, but because I really got into the heads of the characters and their trains of thought. 

Plot-wise, Shark is about a ‘concept house’ identical to that set up by R D Laing in the 60s as an experiment in the treatment of schizophrenia. The doctors are on an accidental acid trip with their patients, which plays with their lucidity and comprehension of their personal situations. One of the patients we get to know is an ex-serviceman, traumatised by the dropping of bombs on Hiroshima and the subsequent shark attacks upon the men of the USS Indianopolis as it sunk. We also see through the eyes of Jeanie/Genie, a drug addict with an overbearing mother; and Kins, a ‘conscientious objector’ during the Second World War. All of these characters have very distinct perspectives, but are cleverly linked. I now can’t wait to read Self’s new book Phone which is the final book in the series.  


The Gift Garden – Kenny Mooney

The Gift Garden is a novelette written by indie author Kenny Mooney. At 80 pages, this is another book that is easily and best read in one sitting. It is a dark and claustrophobic look into one man’s mind: a mind which is apparently unraveling, eating itself away with gloom and distraction. 

The story is set in an apartment, which is the protagonist’s world. We watch him writhe and struggle with abstract elements: the mould in the walls, a tree growing in his garden, and an ethereal female offering fruit. I took the story to be one long metaphor for the protagonist’s mental state, mixed with smatterings of his reality. This is a concept I love, as anyone who reads my fiction will know. 

Although I didn’t quite know what to make of it at first, the fact that The Gift Garden’s mood stuck with me for so long afterwards I believe is the mark of a powerful read.


Astronauts & Other Stories – Ash N Finn

This is a collection of very short stories by fellow WordPress blogger Ash N Finn. There’s a bit of everything here: laughter, sadness, surprise, clever symbolism, and mild horror. Every character is well thought out and has a voice of their own, and every setting is described with skill, so that even in such short segments the reader is fully immersed. 

Although some stayed with me more than others, there isn’t a weak story in this collection. If you enjoy reading in short intense bursts, this book comes highly recommended.  
*****

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