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”

Shreds of Thought: Aphrodites Flown

The part of me interested in social media, marketing and metrics is very different to the part through which the prose flows. If I hold off looking at these things for the first hour after waking, and instead allow my still dreaming mind to externalise, I make a very different experience of the day. And – bonus – I have something like 777 useable words down before it even really starts.

See, the muse doesn’t care for social acceptance, book sales or writing advice. She doesn’t even care for thoughts, because she is a beast of intuition that merely plays with our language centre as though is were a harp.

If the prose isn’t flowing, the sure ways to attract it (for me, at least) are:

  1. Run a bubble bath hot enough to forget the world outside the door. And don’t take a notepad.
  2. Take a drive that will last at least an hour, and listen to music. Anything will do.
  3. Meditate.

Ray Bradbury described the muse as being like a cat that will resist attention and then follow on quietly as you walk away. I like that, because cats also like to scratch at an occupied bathroom door, climb into cars, and climb upon the stillest, most relaxed person in the room.*

The muse has no sense of completion. There is no beginning and there is no end. She will offer up ideas that have no obvious connection to one another, or tell a story in a nonsensical order. But I find if I don’t follow her natural trajectory, and instead force a story into a mould, I’ll end up with something substandard. I’ll produce works that feel mechanical and without heart.

If I have ideas as to how I might later sculpt her secrets, I must keep them on the peripheries until she’s curled up sleeping. That way, by the time it’s done, she’ll no longer care about those particular whispers. Her passion for them was spent by the very act of me listening without judgement, and she’ll have moved onto a new whim. Strangely, the pieces produced when I’m all ears are the ones that need very little in the way of editing.

I have many blog posts, flash fiction pieces, short stories – hell, even novel outlines – that never got past the concept phase. Scraps of prose, fragments of awareness, semi-conscious notions. They are evidence of the times I dared to turn my head away from the muse before she was done with me: betraying her with thought. The time for those pieces has now passed. I won’t hear those secrets again. Just like poems, they have expired.

Sometimes I wonder, could I revive them? But they’d be nothing more than shells, their Aphrodites long flown.

*If you’re not a cat person, consider that your muse might be a dog. You put a leash around her, set off along the path you chose. But, to the ground she wants to sniff, you will always go.

Additional ways to attract the prose that occurred to me post-script, as a direct result of the script:

4. Write a stream of consciousness.
5. Read poetry aloud.

Telepathic AI, Neuronal Art and Squids, Everywhere!

Pierre Huyghe Image from The guardian

Technology in the Gap

This is the first in a little series of posts about the real-life developments in technology that led to the bizarre extrapolated versions in my new book, Mind in the Gap. In this one, I share some of my research on the possibilities of creating art directly from the brain.

Squids, Everywhere

SQUID is a real device used to detect minute changes in electromagnetic fields, including those in the brain. It stands for Superconducting Quantum Interference Device, and has been used in science fiction for years, most memorably in William Gibson’s novels as a way to read-out information stored in neural circuitry.

The current method for brain imaging, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), has limitations in that it is blind to detailed and direct neuronal activity. SQUID is one of the developments being investigated as a replacement for the future.

I used this idea in my story Frankie. I wanted to show such technology becoming so canonical and safe that it was used in a socio-commercial setting as opposed to only in medicine. I created an alternate reality where people no longer carry around mobile devices to interact with the world, but instead wear headpieces that continually read and output brain signals (and actually look like a squids!).

Telepathic AI

Scientists in a Kyoto laboratory have been working on a project that uses AI to analyse data collected during fMRI scans, and to interpret them into visual representations of what the individual was imagining at the time from a database of photographs. They call it Deep Image Reconstruction. Artist Pierre Huyghe worked with this recently by asking volunteers to imagine things he described, and then getting the AI to create a visual from their brain signals.

“If I tell you to think of an apple, the apple you think of will not be the same apple I think of,” he told The Guardian. It is one subjective impression (quale) informing another, which is then interpreted by an artificial intelligence. The resulting images are far from accurate according to those involved; they look nightmarish, fleshy and deformed (see the image above). They are uncanny: somehow recognisable to us but just strange enough that we know they can’t be real. You can read the whole article here.

I like to imagine these are the kind of images AI could think up independently in the future if we tried to simulate human perception. Would these grotesque mashed up images define us as a species in the mind of a robot? And I’m not even going to get into the possibilities of AI becoming capable of spontaneously reading our minds. I’ll save that for when I come to post about the horrors of my story One…

Painting with Thoughts

For several years we have been able use a brain-computer interface to command painting software: painting pictures with our thoughts, choosing colours and placement based on the way we focus our attention. It has been used to help people who don’t have use of their motor functions, and is hoped to even become an effective communication channel for people suffering locked-in syndrome.

Some say we can also use brain painting as a meditative therapy of sorts. If we ‘map’ our thought patterns and create a visual representation of what altering that would look like. It’s a bit like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with a visual aid and creative output, and I’d be very interested to see whether this is proven effective in the future.

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Do Androids Dream?

A type of AI called a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) has filters capable of abstracting out aspects of images in layers. This has been used in various experiments. For example, we know that CNN can produce new images that combine the ‘content’ of one existing image and the ‘style’ of another – think of the filters you have on your phone.

Google’s DeepDream uses a CNN to find and enhance patterns in images via algorithmic Pareidolia to produce psychedelic, over-processed images (pictured above) These experiments with neural nets are already evolving at pace. Artwork created by CNN is selling for thousands of dollars, and is informing the way virtual and augmented reality develops.

Frankie

In Frankie, I combined the general ‘output’ ideas of Deep Image Reconstruction, CNN and Brain Painting with the ‘input’ of advanced brain scans at neuronal level. I imagined a little piece of worn tech taking minute signals from the brain, that could output them instantly onto the surfaces around us to create a sort of communal psychedelic wonderland. I thought about what it could be like if certain skilled individuals were able to build the output images up in layers to create hologram-like objects for as long as concentration would allow. My nameless protagonist lives in a world where this is what memes have become.

Being a lover of psychology, I then began to wonder: what, then, might happen if the headpieces could take readings from the subconscious mind to show us things we didn’t realise we were thinking? It could tell us ‘You share an exciting chemistry with that person over there,’ or ‘you are harbouring deep-set doubts about this.’ And what if those thoughts in the subconscious weren’t intermittent, but ever-present in the background, and ever-growing? You’ll have to read Frankie to find out!

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If you’ve already read Mind in the Gap, have you seen the Connections and Easter Eggs page? People are starting to add their theories and findings, and I’d love you to join in. If you haven’t read it yet, you can check out the blurb or pick up a signed copy here. It’s also available as an ebook on Kindle or as a paperback from anywhere that sells books. Thank you!

Release Day – 23.09.18

It’s release day! 23rd September is not only Autumn Equinox but also a significant date for my characters, so I’m thrilled I could make it today. Thank you to everyone who pre-ordered, and to all my advance readers.

Mind in the Gap is now available as an ebook on Kindle and as a paperback from anywhere that sells books. You can also order a signed copy directly from me here.

These 14 connected stories have theories of consciousness melded together with visions of future technology, alternate realities, and as many rabbit holes as you choose to go down… Please check it out and help spread the word!

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.

Mind in the Gap

I’ve been busy working on my second book, Mind in the Gap, and it is finally at the stage I can share some details with you!

My first book, Fragments of Perception, has been a great success as far as I’m concerned. What I’m getting from the feedback, however, is that my readers would like to see my next ideas expanded into longer pieces. So, that is what I have done with Mind in the Gap.

Never content with something straight-forward, I decided I wanted to create stories that are individually entertaining and thought-provoking, but collectively reminiscent of a many-faceted reality; the truth cannot be found in any one story we tell ourselves, only in the whole collection. I doubt whether the un-enhanced human brain has the capacity to perceive the complete picture of our world, so we have to make do with Fragments; one-off polaroid shots at single moments in space and time. But that will never stop us from making a puzzle of it all, and therein lies the nature of being human. Mind in the Gap, therefore, is layered and full of Easter eggs.

Here’s the blurb (subject to change) and the cover, designed by the talented Natasha Snow:

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“The body likes continuity. It’s part of the deal. But the truth is, there are gaps everywhere. Gaps only the mind can slip through…”

Follow M – a strange and chaotic being who professes to be the outcast of a black hole – on a journey like no other. Flowing freely through the back streets of hidden realms, she drives her companion to meet the commuters who cross dimensions, embody future technology, and peek behind the scenes at consciousness; all with one purpose in mind.

Inventive, zany, and often surreal, C.R. Dudley’s style melds the metaphysical with the technological to create dazzling architectures of thought. Mind in the Gap is an extraordinary book of diversions, circular routes, and infinite possibilities. A collection of 14 unique stories and 14 alternate realities with more to connect them than meets the eye.

The edited manuscript is currently with my trusty advance readers, and if there are no major hiccups, it will be released on 23rd September: a significant date for my characters. I can’t wait!

Abstract Expressionism: A Written Response

I went to see the Abstract Expressionism exhibition that is currently showing at the Royal Academy of Arts. I find art exhibitions great for putting musings into perspective, and I have a particular love for abstract works because they offer something that bit more open to interpretation. Out of habit perhaps, I take a sketchbook with me. It’s what I was taught to do in art class, but I never really understood what I was supposed to be drawing. You see, my art is depictions of things that are inside, never objects from the exterior world, and I struggle to feel creative when sketching from life. But I do want to get that response down, that raw inspiration and mental illumination that happens when I react to a piece of artwork. So this time I spontaneously decided to make a written response to what I was seeing, and I did this without reading the accompanying information bites until afterwards to prevent my thoughts being influenced by ‘what you are supposed to think’. Here are some of the things I wrote.

Continue reading “Abstract Expressionism: A Written Response”