Friday, March 26, 2010

Pass me the baby oil, it's time to massage my ego :)

Some time ago I filled in a questionnaire compiled by The British Science Fiction & Fantasy Association which consisted of approximately eleven questions, ten of which were a repeat of questions for a similar survey carried out twenty years ago by Paul Kincaid for the Mexicon Convention in 1989. I forgot all about it. Today I received a free contributor's copy of the book that Paul Kincaid and Niall Harrison have compiled and I'm quoted in it three times! I find myself amongst 84 other contributors who responded to the survey, BIG names such as Joe Abercrombie, Brian Aldiss, Iain Banks, Neil Gaiman, Paul McCauley, China Mieville, Michael Moorcock, Richard Morgan, Charles Stross to name but a few, but ALL of them heroes or heroines of mine in the writing world. And I'm in there with them! My name's in the middle of this prestige bunch of scribblers on the back cover! So, from now on I'm going to say 'Yes, I've been published in a book with... ' and name drop the other eighty four writers :)

Friday, March 19, 2010


On your life’s journey you have somehow happened upon a strange page of script, will it entice you to read on or just close the book and once again continue on your way?

Who knows?

Only you can decide.

Or rather, it should be you who decides.

However, imagine this, just for a moment…

Much like a camera hovering omniscient over a scene from some old black and white television show, late at night, you gaze down at a man hunched over a keyboard. His fingers shake as he struggles to type and his eyes narrow as they scrutinize the words that appear on his flat screen monitor. The room is dark, quiet, except for the almost insectile scrabbling of his typing and the occasional low mutter or expelled pent up breath from his mouth, which seems to be working constantly spelling out each word as it appears. It almost looks like an incantation.

Intrigued, the camera, or shall we say, you - for are you still listening? Alternatively, perhaps the story is unfolding with no witness to see or hear its conception? Whether or not it is observed or heard the story now unravels of its own accord as if knowing that someone somewhere will fulfil its need to be set free. The writer glances round, the camera pulls back but we are not seen and with a shuddering breath the man’s attention is once again drawn to the glowing screen where his words appear as if by magic and not by the input of the keyboard. We are drawn down to the luminous square of light that absorbs his awareness much as a moth is drawn to the flickering dance of a naked flame, seductive but ultimately pernicious. Finally, we are close enough to look over the man’s shoulder and are able to see his musings… and we read…

‘I despise myself for doing this to you, but it has become too much to bear. I thought I was a strong person, but my shortcomings have been shoved in my face. If there had been any other alternative then I would have grasped it with both hands, believe me. But there was not. Please forgive me. Perhaps I should start at the beginning. I will try to explain why I resorted to telling you all this; why I just didn’t let it run its course and let it all end with me. There is no excuse. I was too weak.

About four months ago, I would have been prepared to just sit at my computer and write with the hope of one day being published but that was before I walked into an antique shop in a very small village situated in a remote part of Wales. Rummaging through some of the items there, which were mostly rubbish, I came across an old book. It spoke of ancient Celtic legends and myths. There was no date on it, but by its method of manufacture, I guessed that it was aged. The covers were old black leather, cracked and mildewed with time. The spine of the book was broken and almost coming away; the pages were yellowed and age-spotted. I bought it for a very cheap price and the shop-owner seemed glad to get rid of the smelly old thing.

That night I set about cleaning it and checking that all the pages were intact. On starting to remove the spine-cover so that I could re-glue the pages, imagine my surprise when a slip of paper fell out. It was a hand-written note and started by begging the reader for forgiveness. Enthralled I could not do anything other than read further as it carried on explaining that the writer had imprudently disturbed something from its slumber; a something that was far beyond the writer’s control.

The name given to that something or entity was Samhain and it was known as the Celtic God of the Dead. Fascinated, I read on as the writer explained that he was a Druid and had thought himself wise in the knowledge of the occult. So much so that he had a vast collection of books on the subject and would secretly experiment in magic. One night he had dared summon Samhain, thinking he would be able to control the entity or if needs be, reverse the process. It was not to be. Soon, he found that once summoned the being would remain until it consumed anyone who had invoked it.

The Druid at first thought the summoning to have failed as nothing untoward or strange had happened. However, it wasn’t long before he started experiencing the sensation of being watched. Strange movements seen from the corner of his eye would make him turn quickly, but there was never anything to see. Time went on, and after a few months people commented on his loss of weight, the pale pallor of his skin. Day by day, he grew weaker as if his very soul was being ripped from his body. A darkness he could not fathom had begun to overshadow his life.

Then, one day, he found the answer. After much research, he finally found the only way to free himself from the curse. He wrote a note to a friend of his and begged him to read it to the end. The note explained what he had done and why he was suffering so. It explained that the only way for him to save himself was to pass the curse on by getting someone else to read the invocation; be it knowingly or unknowingly it did not matter.

The friend, not realising what he was doing, read the note, and unintentionally became the invoker. However, he was not as psychologically strong as the Druid, and within days degenerated into a witless imbecile. His heart gave out after less than a week and the curse was lifted. Samhain was placated. The Druid had saved himself but at the cost of his friend.

Distraught and unable to forgive himself the Druid decided to write out a confession and submit himself to his order for trial. Somehow, I don’t think he ever managed to find the courage to do so. How else could the confession be where it was? As I think the confession is the very note that fell from that book.

Amazed, I immediately started researching on the internet into the background history of Celtic folklore regarding this little known entity. I found that to most historians it was no more than myth. Being a strong-minded person, and not prone to believing in myths and legends too deeply, I accepted the writing as being the figment of a distraught man’s imagination. Witchcraft and magic were rife in those times and people could easily convince themselves that they had been cursed or haunted. However, now we are in the golden age of science and technology; in the twenty-first century, such things are easily dismissed.

Then I started noticing strange occurrences happening around me. I could be writing at my desk, intent on getting my formatting correct, when suddenly I would experience a “presence.” Turning quickly I expected to see my wife or perhaps one of my dogs behind me but there was never anyone there. Friends started remarking that I had lost weight or that my colour had become very strange. I looked strained as if over-worked or exhausted. Not feeling particularly well I went for a check-up, but my doctor found nothing unusual. The feeling of being constantly watched continued. My dogs, who normally sit near my desk in the evenings as I write have abandoned me and are reluctant to enter my bedroom, which serves as an office. If you could observe me now, writing this, you would see me alone and guarded. Even whilst writing this I feel as if someone or something is peering over my shoulder and I fight the urge to turn around.

It has taken me until now to realise what has happened. The curse is still active and somehow, unwittingly I have invoked the creature once more. I delved through the Druid’s note and realised that somewhere within it lay the answer. Then it came to me, in his explanation he had somehow erroneously included the summoning words.

As I have explained, I thought myself a strong person, able to combat this terrible thing and not involve others, but I was wrong. The spectre that was just beyond my range of vision had grown and soon will no longer hide from me; it is terrifying and I am not able to fight it any longer.

So I beg your forgiveness as I finish telling you this tale, as within these few paragraphs, I have incorporated the invocation, and as you finish listening, I begin at last to register a lessening of the oppressive feeling that has plagued me since finding the Druid’s note.

Now I am finally free.

But I am so, so sorry…’

The camera pulls slowly away, but the screen does not fade to black, Rod Serling doesn’t explain that what you have witnessed is just a story. However, we do hear a sigh from the hunched man as he stretches and smiles. It is as if a burden beyond human endurance has been lifted from his shoulders. And so, the story has run its course, the scene has been played, the trap set. If the story has been read or listened to then the trap has been sprung, only you, dear friend can confirm this. Perhaps the wind has picked up, is that why the curtain moved? Or the creak of the floorboard is just the settling of the house or the passing of your cat… oh, you don’t have one.

However, in the beginning I did say…


Friday, March 12, 2010

3am and all's NOT well

As a writer (well ok, as a wannabe writer) I make stuff up. But sometimes reality kicks in and proves that it can be stranger than fiction. Yesterday (Thursday) morning started a sequence of events that proved that.

I was sleeping soundly, only to be woken up at 3am with a pain in my left side (I suffer from diverticular disease and IBS) and I imagined that one or the other had decided to ruin my night's sleep, so I pulled back the sheets and started to get up and get my tablets and a hot water bottle, only to discover the pain was a hell of a lot worse than I was accustomed to. In fact it doubled me up and had me panting like the best Lamaze student ever. I couldn't straighten up, I couldn't take a deep breath. I checked if my wife had stabbed me during the night but no blood. My yelling woke her up. She phoned the ambulance. I panted, sweated, swore and waited. Five minutes later the paramedics arrived, excellent service. I was still in the feotal position with my knees pointing to the ceiling, wearing just a T shirt and boxers (I don't like sleeping in jammies) and looking for all the world as if on the verge of giving birth... to what felt like a calf. The paramedics were two women...
One of whom I knew, some mickey was taken... After determining that it probably wasn't a heart-attack they gave me a morphine injection so they could straighten me up and get me downstairs. Two minutes later the pain, which on a scale of 1 to 10, was off the scale but dropped to about five and I ended up in the ambulance. Where the pain returned. They gave me another morphine injection, then gas and air. However, by now my mouth and throat was so dry I could hardly inhale the gas and air, which had to be by mouth.
Got to Morriston Hospital by about 3.45am and got tested by the A&E doctor, given another injection, given a prostate examination, ouch... a suppository and put on an intravenous drip. The pain began to decrease. Next stop was an Xray. The drip was taken off the electric dispenser and laid on the bed, got the Xray done and was moved to the ward where they decide if an operation is needed. The drip wasn't re-attached, I asked if it could be. During the next six or seven hours I asked again, about four times. About 2pm they finally got it going again. By then I was as dried as a prune. No water, no food, no intravenous fluid. Results came in on blood test and Xrays. All pretty normal. I could eat and drink. I could go home later that evening if the food and water didn't cause any more problems. If I didn't explode. A doctor came and looked at me. He asked if I was always that colour. As I didn't have a mirror to hand I couldn't really say. Another doctor, a young Indian lady asked to see my stomach. Pressed it a few times and asked it my stomach was always that shape. I looked down at my small paunch and said yes, and that my six-pack had been a twentyfour-pack for sometime now. She apologized. I smiled, wanly.
5pm I was allowed home. Before leaving I asked what the pain had been. The doctors shrugged and said it could have been the diverticular disease flaring up, the IBS, renal colic or perhaps a kidney stone. They asked if there had been any blood in my urine. I said I couldn't really tell as doesn't blood sometimes not show up but could still be there? They asked what the urine test results had said. I asked what urine tests? They said, oh... can you do some wee for us? I had just wee'd, I was wee'd out. They said never mind. Drop some into your doctor tomorrow, ask for it to be checked for protein. It's an easy test, just a paper test.
Got home, phone my surgery and tried to setup a urine test for morning. Receptionist said sure, you got the paperwork? What paperwork?
Ahh.... Okay... drop some in anyway and I'll get the nurse to check it out.

Wee'd in a jam jar this morning as we had nothing else and took it to my surgery. The job's worth behind the desk informed me that I needed paperwork. I explained the situation. A couple of phone calls later she decided I could leave my jam jar, along with a letter of explanation and my hospital wristband and it would get tested. She gave me a sealed plastic bag to put my jam jar in. My jar was too big. However I inserted it and... I put it into the wrong part and it went straight through and fell onto the floor...
It didn't smash! First bit of luck in hours.
Got to wait now for results.
However, my side and left kidney still hurts. There is the spectre of another attack lurking at the back of my mind and I'm scared... really scared.
Now, how's that for a horror story?
And I didn't even have to make it up!