Friday, 26 October 2012

The Town That Caught Tourettes

Last night Channel 4 televised a fascinating 1 hour documentary called The Town That Caught Tourettes. It concerned a small rural community in New York State where a dozen or so teenage girls had all suddenly within a short space of time come down with a Tourettes-like condition of uncontrollable physical and verbal tics. In a very measured presentation, it considered all the possible causes that could underlie such an outbreak, given that you can't transmit Tourettes Syndrome and that this particular set of symptoms were like Tourettes but not actually the disease itself (so the programme's title itself wasn't quite so measured). It might have been interesting to see clinicians present the reasons why their ailment wasn't considered to be Tourettes itself.

Essentially, because all the girls went to the same school, their parents wanted answers as to whether there was something environmental that had precipitated the spate of symptoms in their daughters. The school was rigourously tested but nothing detrimental was found. Erin Brockovich also became involved when it emrged there had been a train crash some years before 5 miles away and that the danegerous chemicals it was carrying might have reached the environs of the school's subsoil by this time. Brockovich's own investigative team cleared the train crash as a possible cause, but said there were other environmental issues that were of a concern, although the programme didn't detail these.

If there was an environmental cause, then I would ask why only girls were affected. Why not boys, or women teachers if it were to be gender specific? There was one adult woman who suffered the symptoms, but she wasn't involved in the school, though she lived in the community. A Doctor diagnosed the strep-related Pandas Disease and started treating some of the girls with anti-biotics to deal with their strep-throats. The girls started improving, but other doctors with a radically different diagnosis (see below) claiumed this was just as likely to be due to a Placebo effect for the girls and their parents having their view of an external cause of the condition finally being listened to and backed up. These doctors claimed that Pandas Disease is too rare for it to have suddenly burst out in such profusion.

Instead these doctors offered a diagnosis that reminded me of the Arthur Miller play The Crucible which was about a case of mass hysteria among teenage girls in 16th Century Salem as they accused their elders of witchcraft. (Incidently my son is studying this for his GCSE English, so I'm going to sit down with him to watch it). The doctors prognosticate that patient zero, (which again frustratingly perhaps we were not shown, or if we were we didn't realise she was patient zero), probably broke out into the ticcing symptoms as a response to her own internal collapse under stress and that within her small community of school and town, it triggered a mirroring response in other teenagers who had stresses of their own. This was not a conscious response, anymore than the kids were faking the symptoms for attention. But like The Crucible, it became a case of being passed on through mass hysteria, though the doctors don't call it this any more; now it is known as Conversion Disorder. There are no physical prompts or causes for the psychological/neurological effects that lead to ticcing. It's merely the power of suggestion, even when the suggestion is ultimately a negative one, but the girls were so vulnerable that it possessed them. The girls at the school who remained unaffected, were they genetically immune, or merely had less stress to cope with driving down their immunity?

All the girls and their parents insisted the girls were not under any particular stress when they fell ill. They were all 'normal' teenagers. Yet the doctors treating them for Conversion Disorder also reported an improvement in their patients through treating the causes as internal rather than external. The programme also showed a journalist who started digging into the upbringing of the girls and reported that some had indeed had troubled unbringings, leaving them vulnerable to this sort of response when the critical breaking point is reached. However, only two girls' backgrounds were portrayed on the programme and the adult women too, who reported that she'd been the victim of abuse as a child.

So there seem to be two nwidely divergent theories as to the cause, both of which claim success in the consequent treatment stemming from their respective diagnoses. I find it fascinating that we could be witnessing an outbreak of suggestive mass hysteria. In the UK there has been the incidence of 7 teenagers committing suicide within the same town of Bridgend as a version of mass hysteria or at least a collective influence. And although that is more people falling under the influence of others whispering in their ear, it shows how susceptible we can be to influences on our behaviour.

The abiding image I have was from the beginning of the show, when a teen from a completely different town in New York State was being interviewed with her mother, and her mother who later complained that her daughter's verbal tics drove her to distraction in a most unsympathetic way, was explaining her feelings with hand gestures that resembled nothing less than lower energy tics thermselves. The ticcing symptoms of Tourettes are described as pressure from the inside demanding release, so that the motor impulse of the tic is a response to the nervous system's drive and charge. The motor-neuro is intimately bound up with the emotions and while it seems it could be to do with the brain's wiring, it can also be absolutely about emotions and stresses and dealing with that kind of build up. I did feel particularly sorry for this lone girl in the town of Corinth with her condition and with her family situation. If the others in the town of LeRoy showed signs of improvement, she alas was as bad as ever.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

My writing Debt To Theatre

In a strange way, theatre probably fired me into picking up my own pen (as the technology then was!) But only out of irritation with what I had seen up on stage.

Late 1970, early 80s Britain, new plays were dominated by a fistful of Marxist and Left-Wing dramatists such as David Hare, Howard Brenton, David Edgar, Trevor Griffiths. The politics tended to come first, the characters lagging behind a poor second, as each one represented a 'position'. It was Hare's "A Map Of The World" which so provoked my ire as to make me credit I could do better at the tender age of 19.

Playwriting seemed like a decent career to try and get into, since in the late 1970s drama was flourishing and vital, both in the theatre and on television where Dennis Potter and Stephen Poliakoff were writing challenging stuff and bringing it into people's living rooms and new writers were getting exposure on BBC's "Play For Today" slot. Plays were contributing to the political debate of the time, Potter's "Brimstone And Treacle" provoking fevered national debate as to both its taste and its actual meaning.

But while I was at University from 1983 onwards and availing myself of student thespians and free stage spaces trying to learn my craft, something happened to British theatre. The Left-Wing playwrights tried to do battle with the prevailing Conservative politics of Mrs Thatcher's government and lost; both artistically where they never managed to successfully counter her ideas and economically as Mrs Thatcher had the last laugh by demanding that the Arts had to be financially self-sufficient and severely cut the funding across the board of theatres. The BBC stopped producing "Play For Today" as the mass appeal of the soap opera began to dominate TV drama output. Playwrights didn't hang around the theatres very long, partly because it no longer offered decent rewards. Any playwright with a minor hit under their belt, soon jumped ship to TV or film screenplay writing where the money was.

I wrote stage plays for ten years after college. Not with any commercial success I have to say. Mainly produced in pub fringe theatres. But what I learned in doing so has been formative in my novel writing today. Firstly and least surprisingly, you learn how to write dialogue. Since that's pretty much all you have to play with as a playwright, Directors not liking their hands tied by too much suggested stage direction from the writer. But playwriting also asks the writer to think visually, with a limited tableau of stage scenery and props, so that you develop an ability to conjure images through the interplay of the spoken word and what has gone before. A key word that becomes motif, such as Chekhov's "Cherry Orchard" or the Christmas tree in "The Doll's House".

Actors too shape the space they move and work in with their bodies and gestural language. I was privileged to attend all the rehearsals of my work and see actors doing just this. Shaping an empty space gives the writer a real insight into making images out of thin air, the relationship of a physical body in space to the emotions and the words the actor utters. This can only help a writer literally conjure images out of thin air, by thinking about the interplay of these four elements. I also got to see the creative powers of directors and set designers at work.

But watching actors rehearse, particularly in the early part of the process, opens your eyes up to another key element, that of relationship. Unless the play is a monologue, it is full of relationships being portrayed on stage. Relationships that have to be established in rehearsals; between actors who may never have met one another until they first step into the rehearsal space; relationships to their own character as they try and 'find' that character, as written by the author and to be interpreted by them and then further rolled out to find the relationships between the character and to realise them from the page of the script. There is nothing quite as fascinating as seeing these processes at work. And key to relationship in acting and I think to writing them in prose, is to think about power and status. A common acting exercise is to ask a pair of actors improvise a simple given scenario and then throughout to change their relative statuses to one another by barking out a number, where 10 is the highest status and 1 the lowest. Watch how the same scenario takes on countless different forms just by changing the power balance between the two characters. I find this an invaluable tool for when I'm writing a prose scene with two or more characters. Which character can't hold the gaze of the other, or which is flexing their fingers subconsciously... the possibilities are endless.

So theatre writing armed me with several tools for prose writing, because you always had to consider the characters on stage at any and every moment. You were forced to write fully rounded characters and how they related to one another. You were also made to think about how to construct layered images and motifs. All things at the core of writing prose.

My new novel "Time After Time" actually begun life as a stage play I'd written. The same man, the same woman, the same opening chat-up line and a myriad of different outcomes from this scenario. Tiny fluctuations in body language, a word heard in one version, but not in the next, each can contribute to a different outcome of the seduction scenario. Not dissimilar I suppose from the status impro games actors use to find their characters. But I wanted to use such a mechanism to look at how emotions can produce different responses to the same set of events and circumstances.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Genre of "Time After Time"

Those of you who have been following my work or posts for any time now, will probably know that I'm not a fan of genre classifications for fiction. I feel it is diminishing to writer, reader and the book itself. The reader is smart enough to track down the books that they're interested in without being spoon fed categories. The writer shouldn't have to pigeonhole his or her own work to fit in with what their publisher's sales team demand. I understand bookshops have to have some notion of how to display and arrange books to aid customers in finding the authors and books they want. But there I feel bookshops could be a little more adventurous and make a themed treasure hunt of their store, so that maybe books are brought together by theme, whether notionally sci-fi, horror, true crime or literary fiction, if the theme is say Jack The Ripper. But that's for another debate really.

So why am I tagging "Time After Time" with not one, not two, not three, but different FOUR genres? Urban Science Fiction Comedy Romance. Can you call a book "Romance" if the main drive of it is murder? Well that in itself gives some indication as to why. I'm looking to subvert these genre classifications in part as much as honour them.

So let's start with Romance. It's true that the heart of the book is a series of seductions, but as hinted above, it's with dark motives of murder behind it. So possibly not the regular fare of Chick-Lit or Mills and Boon, though the seductions themselves do look at the dark arts of two people trying to get close to one another in microscopic detail. One man, one woman, the same initial meeting, and the myriad of different outcomes that can follow from that first encounter. Sort of "Sliding Doors" meets "The Time Traveller's Wife" meets "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus". Only where love clashes with murderous intent...

Sci-Fi is always pretty clearcut isn't it? Takes place either in the future or in alternate reality. Sometimes it's called Speculative Fiction. Well this novel has lots of alternate realities, but all of them predicated on the world of the present, to wit, a sink London council estate, all too recognisable within our current lives. There is some time travel back from a future world into the present, but the bulk of the plot is in the here and now. The technology on show is neither advanced, nor retro as in Steampunk (itself perhaps the genre sub-category that makes me froth the most, not because I don't like such works, but because I just find it insulting that fans couldn't find such books without a separate category being created for it that at the same time suggests no other books outside it could appeal to them. It makes fans more like a cult than fans of a genre. Okay, rant over). My novel does have some actual science concepts lightly explored, Quantum Physics, Parallel Universes, Schroedinger's Cat and Chaos Theory. But are these real life scientific metaphors, for that's what they are once they are separated out from their various mathematical proofs and transposed into words, sufficient to make a work Sci-Fi? There are plenty of non sci-fi books that resort to these metaphorical models within their pages because it suggests a way of seeing that the author is after supplying for the reader. I do wonder what the Sci-Fi community will make of my novel, whether they will count it as one of their own or spurn it...

Urban, I don't even know what the urban genre is. Books set in cities I guess, which mine resolutely is. But Urban always seems to be a prefix of other genres, YA, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Supernatural, Steampunk, Speculative, Thriller, Mystery and even those without it in the name like the New Weird. Well mine is just, well you know, urban. Set within the environs of a built up area. And that's it. Though lots of weird stuff happens within the urban setting, it's all drawn from everyday urban living. The urban setting isn't a jumping off point into whole other worlds. Nor is it distorted by the goings on, rather the opposite, it's very robustly urban landscape shapes much of the human action that transpires within its architecture. But it's not quite that other genre version of Urban Realism either. Since this is a work of fiction and one that's playing with the trope of urbanism.

Comedy is not really a genre of fiction itself, but I proudly claim that this book is funny. I'd also claim it is Literary, but usually the critics that be refuse to bracket Literary together with comedy these days, despite the august examples of Flann O'Brien, Kingsley Amis and Samuel Beckett. But these days comedy books seem to be market s bathroom reading and light and disposable. Which is a pity, because there's a huge difference between a stand-up comic making an audience of people laugh out loud in an auditorium, armed with gesture, expression and comic physical movement and an author extracting a voluble guffaw from the reader purely by the words printed on the page. I don't know if this novel is laugh out loud, but hopefully it's at least sputter your cup of tea while you're drinking it funny.

I have always described myself, a tad reluctantly it has to be said, as a Literary Fiction writer. But I've always felt that label simply swept up all the works of literature that don't fir neatly into other categories. Jane Austen wasn't writing Chick-Lit, DH Lawrence wasn't writing Erotica, Ernest Hemingway wasn't writing LadLit or Action and GK Chesterton wasn't writing Police Procedurals or Detective Thrillers (or even Theological Detective Thrillers). They were just writing FICTION!

"Time After Time" is consciously my most mainstream commercial book to date. It doesn't paint word portraits like many literary novels. It doesn't have huge swathes of description also favoured of the literary genre. But it does possess quite a radical narrative structure, because it deals with time hopping and alternate versions of reality. So that will probably get me kicked out of the Literary Fiction club too.

Sob, will no fiction genre offer me a home for this book?

Saturday, 20 October 2012

10 Songs About Time

My new novel "Time After Time" already has its own playlist of songs that soundtrack the action. But here is a chart of songs directly about time for your delectation:

1) Pink Floyd - "Time"
Possibly the most famous song about time, from the meg-selling "Dark Side Of The Moon" album. Pink Floyd were the first ban i properly got into in the sense of wanting to chase down every single recording they had ever made. That sort of collector-worship boys are eminently susceptible to. However, once punk rock came along, the tempo of Floyd's music was just to slow for my ears craving souped up rhythms. So this was time undermined by too slow a passage of time in the end...

2) The Doors - "Love Me Two Times"
The Doors were one of the few 60s band I can listen to.  I don't particularly buy into the Jim Morrison mythic status thing, and in this video it's a tad irritating that you have to wait until he stops burbling about a minute and a half in before the song starts, but it's a good'un when it does arrive.

3) MGMT - "Time To Pretend"
It's perhaps ironic that the vocal and music of this song actually do suggest the 1960s in a song full of yearning and hearking back to a more innocent age.  When this song came out in the Noughties, it was heard absolutely everywhere. But with good reason I feel.

4) Beastie Boys - "Time For Livin'"
It's not quite the momentous act of Bob Dylan plugging his guitar into an amp, but when the Beastie Boys didn't rely on samples quite as much and picked up their own instruments and returned to their punk roots, it gave all their subsequent albums a huge diversity of punk, hip-hop, rap and reggae. And I loved them for that.

5) Depeche Mode - "Question Of Time"
I was never a big fan of Depeche Mode, but the music in my novel covers virtually every style, so continuing that here in my "Time" chart, I give this a platform and let you dear reader/listener decide.

6) MosDef - "Life In Marvellous Times"
This is just such a superior song, that builds and builds and has unbelievable tension that never quite peaks. Masterful.

7) Cyndi Lauper - "Time After Time"
I've never been a fan of chart pop tunes, but while I was writing the novel and I'm not sure how, but this song presented itself to me. Of course I recognised it from the dim and distant past, because that's how ubiquitous chart songs are, you just can't avoid hearing them and how insidiously they permeate our brains. But as it goes, this song not only fitted my novel, but the fit was so perfect that it went on to become its title. And I seem to remember we always accredited Cindi Lauper some credit for being slightly subversive in her attack on pop music. maybe we were fooling ourselves. A bit light for my tastes, but I can see it's a well crafted song.

8) Funkadelic - "Everybody's Going To Make It This Time"
I do love my funk and George Clinton's cosmic madness. Yet this is a rather wistful political song about past failures and a hope that this time round there will be no casualties in the various fights for rights and freedoms.

9) Portishead - "Sour Times"
I suppose songs about time that either look back or look ahead, are prone to being melancholic, chockfull of regret or despairing hope. And this is one of those as Beth Gibbons puts a whole lifetime of emotion into her singing, while the arrangement rattles along reedily as if to suggest time's flimsiness itself. There's a different Portishead song referred to in the novel.

10) Misty In Roots - "How Long Jah"
Roots reggae's gorgeous, simple appeal to how long must they wait for the Messiah? An eternity it seems. An eternity of pain and suffering...

Thursday, 18 October 2012

SlipMatt - Friday Flash

this is an 800 word extract from my new novel "Time After Time"

Even when not armed with a pictorial pocket guide to the urban archetype, you could still tell he was a DJ. He had one hand clamping a headphone can against his ear as if it were a conch shell and he was divining for an ocean of sound through it. He also had a pair of light-up rave glasses, which in his case was a double affectation. Seeing as he had an angle-poise lamp, well, poised over his shoulder. Plus that the battery in his specs had long expired, though he either hadn't noticed or just couldn't spare the time to change it over. In contrast to his changing the records on twin turntables in a blur of motion.
Though effaced behind the decks, console and transmitter rig in his bedroom, his T-Shirt was of a full-sized twin-tape reel and assorted dials, buttons and analogue gauges, picked out in metallic silver against a black background. It looked like the innards of a cyborg and more alarmingly perhaps, in the dull, spectral light of the room, that they formed part of his own actual anatomy. Around his neck was a bandana, while on his head squatted a baseball cap at an incline that defied gravity.
It was said by those who caught rare glimpses of him, that it must have been the static electricity that surrounded him all day which held the hat fastened in place. It bore the imperative 'No Requests'. However, since the cap was perched backwards on his head, in the unlikelihood someone did advance upon him armed with a musical request, the pre-emptive prohibition wouldn't be visible to them. Therefore the headwear's broadcast could only fail in its purpose. But then the whole rigmarole was perhaps somewhat redundant. By reason of there being no one else in his box room. And, that given its dimensions, nor was there likely to be. Any self-respecting turntablists had played clubs with bigger DJ booths than this room. But then it was questionable how much self-respect DJ SlipMatt possessed.
The wall mounted clock was in the shape of a record turntable, the numbers marked along its circumference. The clockface dial was what revolved, whereas its hand in the form of a tonearm stayed fixed in place. Armed with just this one pointer, the clock only counted off the hours. Which was somewhat odd for a DJ reliant on getting his split second timing right as he transferred from one deck to another, or mixed in a beat.
He adjusted the angle-poise lamp so that its glare didn't flood wash his bank of monitor screens. The hacked feed from all the CCTV cameras on the estate fed into here. He clicked the bulging eyeball sat in a bloodshot sclera that was his computer mouse, in order to change the selection of cameras on his screen. Instantaneously the grid filled with sixteen new images at different slants of projection, like a Cubist painting. SlipMatt silently pronounced himself content with what he witnessed and slotted the headphones over both ears, with the headband hanging down from the back of his neck like a yoke. He started bobbing his head to the private rhythms, as he scrabbled around on the desk in front of him for something.
The room itself was a garret beneath sloping eaves which ate into the habitable space. SlipMatt could only properly stand up in the very centre. Otherwise he had to hunch over. Which seldom presented any impediment, since his natural bearing was sat stooped over the electrical equipment on his desk, as if he were hoarding it into his chest. Every single square inch of flat space was submerged beneath some electrical kit or other. CDs, cassette tapes, Dictaphones, Discmans, Walkmans, mobile phones, pagers, mini-discs, cartridges, DAT tapes, spools of magnetic tape, hard drives, RAM memory, flash memory, microphones, microphone stands, cabling and a wide array of batteries of every shape and size. The embodied history of sound recording lay mummified yet uncatalogued here. If Noah's Ark had preserved the length and breadth of the animal kingdom on earth, this room was its audio equivalent. Only none of these voices were ever likely to re-emerge into the light of day, consigned to the depths by the obsolescence of their storage vessels. Some people retain their teddy bears or significant other soft toys as a link to their childhoods. Some of those teddy bears are so old they have their cotton stuffing leaking out. Electrical audio equipment were SlipMatt's cuddly toys, his transitional objects and many had their tape or other innards leaching out of them.

For more on the novel: The Origins lie in "The Terminator" movies or 

The website for "Time After Time"

How Barbara Windsor Contributed To My New Novel

Yes, that Barbara Windsor, MBE, star of the "Carry On" movies and "Eastenders" among a lifetime of roles.

Technology's a wonderful thing isn't it? Upgrades, greater speed, power, memory yada yada yada. I started my writing career in the old fashioned manner, penning my first stage play in ink on lined paper and typing up the finished version on an Olivetti portable. My first automated aide d'ecriver was an Amstrad word processor, with green monitor screen that made you feel queasy when you stared at it for too long.
When it finally died, I only had what I printed up in hard copy, since although I had back-ups, I moved on to an AppleMac computer and there was no compatibility. I think the word processing programme was called Apple Write and eventually that was supplanted by newer programmes. I still have most of my stage plays backed up on this format, completely inaccessible to modern day programmes. Try and open them and you get a whole load of gobbledygook.

One of the plays I wrote received a rehearsed reading at the Young Vic Theatre studio directed by Philip Hedley. The reading was commissioned by the then fledgling The Arts Catalyst, a body looking to bring art practitioners together with scientists in collaboration to make new works of art. I'd attended a session at the Soho Theatre with 4 scientists including Professor Heinz Wolf and an embryologist which was handy for a play I was then honing for a performance run at the Southwark Playhouse. I sent Catalyst another play and this was the one they organised the reading for. But nothing further developed, as Catalyst went on to bigger and better things such as arts performances in zero gravity and I left theatre behind as my twin boys arrived in the world and kyboshed the ability to hang out at theatre bars night after night!

And there that play would have died. Archived on a programme I could no longer access. Without any hard copies during the various house moves attended on giving birth to twins. But some years later, through the post I received a copy of my original script. With a note from Barbara Windsor saying that as she was having a house clear-out, she had come across my script and was returning it to me. Her then partner, now husband Scott Harvey had been one of the actors in the rehearsed reading which is why she had a copy of the script lying around her house. I can't remember the exact chain of transmission, but someone had told me during the rehearsed reading arrangements, when contacting Scott. Barbara had answered the phone and summoned Scott to take the call with a "it's about that strange play!" I can die a happy man now that I've had my work described by Babs Windsor as "strange"!

So I was finally reunited with my play thanks to Barbara Windsor's kindness in recognising a playwright might need a copy of their own script rather than just throwing it in the bin. And though it was when I was no longer looking to have my work staged, waste not want not and in time I came to a decision to turn it into a novel. Which will be my next post about that process.

Genesis of "Time After Time"

I love the "Terminator" movie series (apart from "Terminator 4"). Schwarzenegger makes the perfect machine with his sculpted body and wooden facial acting. Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor is truly a warrior female, who will do anything to protect her future progeny.

But there was always something that bugged me about the films' concept. Actually there were two, but the second would serve as a spoiler for my own novel so I'm not going to discuss that here. It's the other bugbear I have with the movies that became the starting point for me when I was thinking about my novel "Time After Time". In fact it even lies behind the novel's title.


In "Terminator 1"a cyborg assassin is sent back through time to kill Sarah Connor to prevent her giving birth to her son that will become the future leader of the resistance to the rule of the machines. The Resistance also manage to send one of their top men Kyle Reese back to protect her. This is where the human brain goes into meltdown, trying to pick all the logical flaws and frays that accompany these assumptions.

Let's say the terminator is successful in his mission and kills Sarah Connor so she never gives birth to her son. The future therefore ineluctably proceeds on to the triumph of the machines and the extinction of the human race. Then what happens/happened to that version of the future where the machines were so up against the rack against the resistance that they needed to send back a Terminator to kill Sarah Connor? It happened in the narrative once, so it can't be uninvented. Yet the future now has no John Connor and no potent human resistance.

Second, Reese comes back and not only protects sarah Connor, but both impregnates her and dies in the earth of the past in the line of fire. So John Connor makes it to the future, but with the DNA of a father who should be one of his troops in the Resistance  and indeed in one version of history was, but yet Reese died back in the past and didn't ever make it back to the future to take up his 'normal' place in the timeline. How can he have been sent back from the future when he's already died in the past and not lived to make it into the future in the first place? Presumably time splits between two versions here, but I'll pick this up a bit later. Also, before Reese was sent back, he is fighting alongside John Connor. Yet that John Connor should not even be alive, since it is only Reese going back in time and making Connor's mother pregnant that gives life to John Connor in the first place...

The usual logical way round these paradoxes is to suggest that time is not singular, but that there are many versions of reality, with differing outcomes and narratives. These are often referred to as parallel universes and are tied into Quantum theory to explain the differing probable and possible outcomes even from the same set of circumstances. Reese says that the current reality he and Sarah are embroiled in with its implications for the future, "one possible future", but then feebly proffers that as he "doesn't know tech stuff" he can't explain it in any more detail. Well parallel universes only get us so far.

So there are many possible futures and even possible veering off of the present. In some versions the Terminator will be successful and the machines will rule the future. In other versions Reese and Sarah foil the Terminator and John goes on to lead the Resistance to victory over the machines. In a coiling of time back on itself, the strange goings on of Reese siring John or Reese dying in the past before he can return to the future to be sent back to the past are just bumped over into the next version in an infinite loop. But then if the machines win some futures and the humans win others, what does it matter? You have a chance to live in the future where man prevails, or you are unlucky and end up in one of the timelines where you become extinct. But both exist. Just hope and pray you end up in a lucky timeline. But it means the human race can never be wiped out, because in some realities it persists. Equally mankind cannot ever fully extirpate the machines, because elsewhere in a parallel universe they still rule the roost. Parallel realities show the entire spectrum of outcomes, they can never lead to a single, ultimate one.

Hence the title of the book, "Time After Time". I do try and deal with these paradoxes of time and make clear that my assassin's mission has to be successful in every version of reality, for him to wipe out the presence of the 'mother of the future' from ever existing. But chance, different timings and the like mean that there will always be other outcomes of his mission, that it can never yield the same result time after time after time.

What my book does, is draw a parallel between the mission of getting up close to  a stranger in order to assassinate them, and getting up close to seduce them. The same variables of timings, chance, circumstance, missed signals, misread signals and the like all impact on the outcome. The book is less about assassination, but more about the countless number of outcomes when a man and a woman are in the same place, at the same time and trying to get close to one another. And the humour derived from the tiny differences that can alter the outcome so radically. I also draw lightly on "The Butterfly Effect" from Chaos Theory, which can be summarised as the mere flapping of a butterfly's wings can change a whole weather pattern the other side of the world through a linked change of circumstances that build up on the back of that one tiny event. Again, I feed this principle into that panoply of words and signs a man and women display during the initial time of their suit.

And finally we return to the concept of time and its paradoxes. Time is just a human concept that helps us to pattern our perceptions (night/day, the seasons, shadows, the planets etc). It has no existence beyond our conscious mind. The Big Bang theories state that there was no Time before the Big Bang and that it only came into being at that point. Matter came into being and started moving away from the Big Bang explosion, travelling through space at a velocity measured in time and also that the material of planets started to age from that point on. Einstein came along and actually merged time with space to form our fourth dimension of spacetime, an oblique concept for most of us who can only conceive of things in three dimensions because that is how our minds have been taught to perceive and it's a good enough method for us to negotiate our way not only through life, but to be able to send rockets to explore planetary bodies beyond our atmosphere. But it it is this fourth dimension of spacetime, or any fourth dimension of conceptualising matter (as offered by recent theories like String Theory or multiverses) and our brains start to malfunction and logic breaks down, because we simply don't have the mental apparatus to be able to think in four or more dimensions. And it is in these failings in our perceptual and conceptual apparatus that allow the paradoxes of time travel to remain unsolved and to stay at the heart of films like "The Terminator" and books like "Time After Time". As Sarah Connor says towards the end of "T1" "a person could go crazy thinking about all this stuff". Did I already mention that I love the "Termiantor" film series?

Available From Amazon Kindle

Sunday, 14 October 2012

10 Devilish Songs

They say the Devil has all the best tunes. Judge for yourself with these ten diabolic ditties. So many top tunes in fact that Cliff Richard's "Devil Woman" doesn't quite sneak in...

1) Robert Johnson - "Me And The Devil Blues"
From the original Grandaddy of all things devilish and selling your soul for the gift, comes this song from the crossroads where only the unholy got buried...

2) Pink Floyd - "Lucifer Sam"
A bit 60s psychedelic, but dem were the times. Animal familiar of the Devil rather than Old Nick himself, still that's hippies for you...

3) Laibach - "Sympathy For The Devil"
A Rolling Stones cover version, made suitably diabolic by the totalitarian posturing of this group from war-torn Yugoslavia. The Stones' song had a film dedicated to it made by Jean Luc Godard "One Plus One" when people really did think the Devil was about to inherit his realm with all the revolutionary upheaval of the late 1960s.

4) Daniel Johnston - "Don't Play Cards With Satan"
Daniel Johnston's mental disorders (schizophrenia and bi-polar) lend his art a heart-wrenching intensity (think of a musical version of Van Gough maybe). Just listen to his voice in this track and you have to credit that Daniel really, really believes in the Devil. Even the guitar strumming sounds possessed.

5) Funkadelic - "Miss Lucifer's Love"
Funky devils and why not? The devil in this case is almost certainly human and mortal, but when it's George Clinton you're talking about, that can be pretty other-worldly anyway! Groovy little devil.

6) Beck - "Devil's Haircut"
Beck doing what Beck does best and with the usual impermeability of his lyrics. Just a good song really...

7) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - "Up Jumped The Devil"
Seeped in Southern Gothic as Nick Cave is, Old (horned) Nick was going to make an appearance sooner or later in his music.

8) Big L - "Devil's Son"
Rappers are often portrayed as Folk Devils threatening the moral fibre of society. Here's a song that certainly had its fair share of trouble because of its extreme subject matter and kept getting pulled from release. Big L imagines that he is indeed Satan's offspring and goes on the rampage against Satan's enemies; er that would be Christians...

9) B52s - "Devil In My Car"
Just to lighten the mood a touch, the B52s bubble-gum rock camp it up when they discover that the devil has hitched a lift with them...

10) Butthole Surfers - "Sweatloaf"
The Devil always pops up in heavy metal music, but I'm not a metalhead really. But the Butthole Surfers always wanted to be Black Sabbath and this song is as funny as hell. Literally. Its starts quietly, so give it a chance. It was always great live, when lead vocalist Gibby Haynes ad libbed the intro with his insane mental jottings. Great fun.

11) Max Romeo - "Chase The Devil"
If Heavy Metal pays lugubrious homage to all things satanic, you'd imagine Reggae would play it for real as the enemy of their beliefs. And Max Romeo here does exactly that to fine effect.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Exege(ne)sis - Friday Flash

In the beginning was the word and the word was God
In the beginning was the wor(l)d and the word/world was go(o)d

In the beginning was not the world, because God was supposed to have created it. Not in any procreative, progenerative way, since there was no conjoining of the sexes in reproduction, unless you buy into the male-female polarities of light/darkness, earth/sea, sky/ground.

The word or the world could not be good, since there was no other moral being yet extant to judge and pronounce upon it thus. If the Divinity is pronouncing his own work as good, it's a little unbecomingly arrogant of such a numinous Being to do so. Blowing his own trumpet as it were and we all know where trumpets and the number seven can lead don't we Jerichoans?

In similar vein there could not have been the word in the beginning, sine there was no one around to utter it (other than the Divinity uttering a 'shezam' or similar conjuration word). In certain Far Eastern theologies, there is a primordial sound, the moment of its first striking being the act of creation itself, from which all life and energies with their vibrations stem.

And God said, Let the earth bring the living soul after its kind; the beast and the thing moving itself and the wild animal of the earth after its kind; and it was so.

There is no capitalisation of 'earth' gainsaying the investing of gender in the manner of a Gaia and yet this is followed by an immediate polarity of the (higher) living soul and the (base) beast. 'After its kind' suggests the generations reproduced through sexual procreation and this is of course the (spare) bone of contention in The Garden Of Eden.

The word 'after' has been interpreted as 'according', that is within its delineated phylum, genus and species type. Genetic groupings are demarcated, yet allowing for theological prohibitions on 'pure' and 'unclean' animals that seem to cross several classificatory elements and forms the basis of the Jews' Kashrut dietary laws. They wouldn't eat animals that seemed to diverge from recognised groups in no matter how superficial a manner.

'The thing moving itself' undermines its own theological dialectic. One interpretation has this being worms and other legless creatures crawling along the ground (the snake of course was not thus shaped until God ripped its legs away in Eden). Modern science also suggests the primary existence of single cell creatures, clustering together into slightly larger aggregates. So something that superficially resembled an eye, though of course lacked for a developed retina and cortical and synaptic brain to function as oracular, clumped together with some cells that provided a degree of locomotion across the ground. Incrementally in time, the aggregation grew in sophistication and the eye was able to link up to specialist cells to facilitate it to 'see', the brain and central nervous system wired up the muscles so that the animal could walk and the rest is Natural History.

But what of language? That first word? In the beginning was the word and the word was Gravity. G-Force.

Of course the first enunciated word was nothing as complex and intricate as 'gravity'. Yet without gravity there would in all likelihood have been no first language, no opening gambit, no referential system at all. For as mankind evolved in among that confusing welter of sense experiences in his environment, there were a few things he noticed followed rigid patterns.

rain always fell down on their heads
mountains always pointed upwards
their spears and rocks would always eventually touch down on the ground
as would their urine (men only)
trees grew vertically
while their shed leaves tumbled back down to earth
birds flew higher than men's heads
scorpions crawled at men's feet
avalanches and waterfalls crashed deafeningly descendently
volcanoes belched their fire and smoke ascendantly

Ergo a brace of things man could stake his tongue with. Up was skywards and down was plunging towards their feet. From this they were able to extrapolate words such as here, there, right, left, near, far, under, over. Me and you as in a spatial configuration. Us an them. "My God good, your god no good". Heaven and the abyss. They didn't just admire mountains, now they scaled them through shared language enabling co-operation and teamwork and preparation of resources. Upwards ever upwards. Eventually they would tunnel and mine beneath the earth and quarry metals and powering fuels. And all thanks to gravity establishing a few regular ground rules.

In the beginning was the logos and the logos was G-d.

If the Greek word 'logos' means the unifying principle of the world, then it cannot truly be translated as 'Word'. For words partition, categorise and define. Words undermine the monistic, the belief in the one, for they introduce and encourage relativism.

In the beginning was the end of the world. And the world was begun (conceived) and ended (divided and dissevered) by the word.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Rear View Mirror - Friday Flash

The spike heel bit on the pavement, listing to the left which threatened to swipe the foot from under. But settled instead for merely splaying the boot in a wobble. From the distance behind, I couldn't tell if this was due to the spike heel itself having been worn down one of its halves, or the result of the natural sashay that drove the heel into the pavement at such an acute angle. The stutter lent the gait a teetering shimmy though.

The flap of an ankle buckle strap fluttered and reverberated like an ensign with each stride, since it hadn't been fully clamped down beneath its restraining bar. I wondered if it actually made any metallic tinkling sound, but again was not quite close enough to pick it out against the clamour of the noisy street. I increased my own lope in order to narrow the gap between us.

Travelling up the leg now. The nylon wrapping the calves rippled with each movement of the flesh they contained. Yet beneath their sheer sheathing, I could trace the tensing and relaxing wiggle of the calf sinew as the sole of the foot reclaimed contact with the ground. The knot of muscle moved like devoured pray being worked through the body of a snake.

The rep's sinuous give and flow with the elliptical orbit of the ball of muscle, was hamstrung further up the leg. That denier material covering the haunches, did not twitch or ruffle at all. Instead it remained ramrod stock-still, as if spray painted directly on to the skin. No matter the pivot of the hips causing the thighs to sway, the seams of the tights were immaculate vertical lines piloting the eye back down towards the tumult below the knee. Like the bars of a portcullis slamming shut on the bedlam beyond.

I espied the short mini-skirt rucking up with each lift of the leg into a forward step. Exposing the panty-line beneath the dark hue of the tights. An enticing ridge, that teasingly reburied itself beneath the swell of the skirt's fabric on the down-stroke.

Is this perhaps what my own flesh looked like while I'm in motion? Were I to be adorned in women's raiment that is. Or was my twin's mirror image revealed to me, not a reflective replication after all, but one deliberately distorted and carved by the alien clothing? My brother was yet to have the operation to change his body shape, yet nonetheless the legs would not be undergoing any surgical modification. Though how he held his pelvis, may have been subtly altered by the hormones be ingested.

Well may my sibling claim that he was a woman imprisoned within a man's body. Yet I rather feel that this was another instance of him trying to differentiate himself from me and to assert his own being by way of contrast.

But he did make a fine woman, so maybe something untoward had taken place within our shared womb. That the chemicals had wrought about an unintended transformation which my brother was seeking to put right now. Who knows, if we had been lying the other way round in respect of one another, I may have received the concentration of chemicals that bathed and cast him so.

I slowed my pace. There was little point in pursuing him now, in order to capture myself.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

I've just caught up on viewing Sidney Lumet's final film, "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" with Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the son of Albert Finney. There was a really interesting exchange between the two characters which set me thinking.

Finney apologises to Hoffman for not being the father to him that Hoffman hoped he'd be. Hoffman replies by apologising for not being the son that he wanted to be to his father.

While we all have hopes and dreams for our children, do we have the right to demand them to grow to be any particular type of person? I don't think we do, beyond non-specific notions of them being happy, healthy and fulfilled. I don't think a child when grown up ever has to apologise for not turning out the way a parent might have hoped. This is not to say that if the child hurt the parent directly, such as stealing from them to fund a drug habit, the child needn't apologise for such an act. But I don't think they are obliged to apologise for the person they turn out to be. While a drug addict, (extreme example that it is) objectively would be likely deemed to have lived a disappointing life that almost certainly didn't fulfill their own potential, the accusation that they didn't live up to the parent's expectation ought not to be added to the charge sheet. The psychology of addiction would be most likely to point some of the blame back in the direction of the parent anyway, but that's a different set of arguments.

Why do humans want to become parents? It's a multi-faceted question, ranging along a spectrum from our blind biological drive, the intricate tangle of emotions relating to relationship and one's own notions of being a child, through cultural and sociological need according to the meaning of 'family' within different cultures, through to sheer carelessness as the child may arise out of a drunken fumbling. No child asks to be born, our consent is never raised before we even exist as a clump of cells, since quite clearly it cannot be sought. So whatever reason the parent has to sire children, they can have an image of what sort of child they might like, but they cannot, must not actively try and shape that child into the image the parent has in their mind. This is not to rule out the parent modelling morals and other social behaviours. A parent can model the ethics of what it is to be a member of society, but ought not to narrowly channel the child into being a lawyer because that's what the father does, or aspired to do but never got the chance himself. For a parent to live out their own fantasies through a child is anathema to my mind, since it denies the child its own identity and individuality.

When Finney apologises for not being the father his son hoped for, this is far more unforgivable to my way of thinking. Having made the decision to bring a child into the world, the responsibility is all that of the parent. To not devote the time, energy, attention and love to the child is a dereliction of duty. Of course we are all fallible and we may fail in certain realms, but an overarching failure as Finney's character owns up to is unforgivable. Finney's character confesses to being emotionally remote from his son and to me this is an example of just such an overarching failure. The emotional charge behind the decision to want a child, does not permit emotional remoteness once the child is born. Of course there can be many factors that lead to emotional remoteness, depression, failure to bond, an actual physical remoteness of an absent or effectively absent parent. But the parent should never feel compelled by their own behaviour to apologise to the child for not being the parent they hoped they would be.

A child is absolutely entitled to hope for a certain type of parent, which will inevitably be centred around love. However, the same is not true for the parent. The greatest love a parent can show their child is not to have preconceptions about who they should develop into, but to facilitate and support them in finding their own being.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

7/7 Conspiracy?

I'm not a great one or conspiracies. That's in spite of my natural bent for cynicism, mistrust of government and someone who believes man is possible of any type of behaviour no matter how extreme. As a writer I've conjured up such scenarios in my stories.

Last night's BBC3 programme "7/7 The Conspiracy Road Trip" took four people who each doubted the veracity of the official explanation of the 7/7 Tube and bus bombings, on a journey meeting experts, witnesses and seeing some of the context with their own eyes in order to challenge their internet-fuelled beliefs. One queried the CCTV evidence. A second doubted that the bombers' personalities had been sufficiently probed to prove that they did what they did both knowingly and willingly. A third cited the UK government's benefits of staging such atrocities, enabling them to continue wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to promote British business interests in any carving up of economic resources to be had. The fourth doubted that the detonations were those bombs in the bombers' rucksacks, but rather had been planted under the train already. Military ordnance rather than homemade bombs.

Three of the four by the programme's end had their beliefs challenged to the point of being persuaded that the official version of events had some validity. In the course of an hour long programme,with the inevitable editing and foreshortening of their thought and emotional processes, such apparent Road To Damascus conversions inevitably came across as barely credible. It's curious what details they chose to fixate on initially to underpin their overall skepticism about the official version of events. Why say the mysterious lack of CCTV footage as against the apparent lack of psychological analysis of the bombers that distinguished two of the conspiracy theorists on the programme. Just as a side note, I actually think that there was an almost unlimited probing of the psychology of the bombers after the event.

But it almost doesn't matter what they believe or don't believe, same as it doesn't matter what I believe. Unless any of us go on to express our opposition or displeasure by detonating our own bombs. A TV programme may have changed three of its protagonist's minds, but I doubt that any viewer trying to fathom the jump cuts of logic on display could have had their minds changed. In the realm of politics, especially online where conspiracy theories thrive and pullulate, people rarely have their mind changed by reasoned argument. And that is the point, such extremism of thought and argument which flourish behind a cloak of online anonymity, demonstrate exactly how four homegrown youths might end up expressing themselves by becoming suicide bombers.

For what it's worth, here is my response to the views expressed in last night's programme. I have no evidence to back up anything I say, other than what I have read, heard and made judgements on. My views are as instinctive as those conspirators, who have little more, if any, evidence than I do. The government have provided evidence, but we have no way of knowing whether it's true or not. None of us are afforded the opportunity to scrutinise the original source evidence and draw our own conclusions.

I can credit that the UK government could stage such atrocities for its own political ends. But to my mind, such warped logic is little different from that which might motivate the four bombers to carry out such acts for their own purposes. Either party in such a scenario, wants to create terror and a climate of fear. We know governments can cover up their tracks, as witnessed by the recent Hillsborough cover up that they managed to keep going for 23 years. The French secret services in Algeria planted bombs against their own colonial civilians for military strategic purposes.

Equally I can believe the bombers could have arrived at their actions of their own free will, just as much as being patsies of arch political and military manipulators winding up the key in their back and setting them in motion for their lethal course of action. What al Quaeda did was put out a body of ideas, an inspirational/aspirational set of aims to its constituency and a method of organisation that any local operators could adapt to suit their own parochial conditions. Many of the 9/11 bombers were university educated, as was one of the 7/7 bombers. And yet in the Madrid train bombings, the perpetrators were drawn from the local criminal underclass.

The 7/7 bombers I believe, were entirely self-motivated and successful, because of the very arrogance and complacency of the British Establishment that didn't bother to penetrate such militant groups because it had so few Asian recruits in the ranks of the secret services. The fact that the programme's conspirator Davina, couldn't initially see how such men could end up at a point of turning themselves into human bombs, only mirrors that of the authorities who also had no real inkling of such a journey from alienated to mass murderer. And I promise you, that occurring the day after London was announced as successful in its bid to host the 2012 Olympics, it is highly unlikely that the Government would have undermined that goodwill and hopeful message and anticipated economic boon, by enacting a conspiratorial slaughter of its own citizens. But that's just my opinion.

The complexity of the issues, of the possible motives behind the journey of someone to become a suicide bomber, is not going to be served by such a programme as this one last night. I tackled it in the space of a novel. I didn't just represent my own theories, but the broad spectrum that allows for the views of the four conspirators, the official line, the cracks in between whereby the secret services overlook what's happening under their nose, the online forums and vicious exchanges to be had there, the processes of recruitment (grooming for non-sexual purposes), misdirection and misinformation, citizen journalists trying to get to the truth under their own auspices... I think the journey I take you on in the book, though not exactly a road trip, is somewhat more credible than last night's BBC programme.

If last night's programme annoyed, bemused or underwhelmed you, then you might want to turn to my book for a more serious and yes informed treatment of the processes that could lead to acts such as the 7/7 bombings.