Fiction Month. Extract 4.

      In this, the last extract of my new novel, ’til It’s Gone’, a sea captain, Hooper is taking the undercover researcher, Uzza to the poisoned ‘Wasteland’ to research a disease. During the voyage Hooper becomes fascinated by the sight of Uzza writing with pen and paper…

After dinner Hooper went up on deck to check that the mast and rigging were secure and to scan the horizon and coast manually, a task which instrumentation had replaced but which she continued to undertake herself as a safety measure. When she returned Uzza was again writing in a small book, an activity which fascinated the mariner as she had seldom seen anyone using a pen and paper except in footage from history lessons as a child.
“Why do you write” she asked her passenger, “when technology has replaced manual writing?”
Uzza finished the line she was writing and looked up. “Our ancestors would consider it a paradox, but paper has become the means of messaging that is most secret. Since communication became restricted to PAM, broadcast, V-meet and voice-technology there is no other secure way to record data, observations and conversation. Think about it. Surveillance has increased beyond calculation in our lifetimes. Here at sea we can perhaps enjoy a relative degree of privacy where a signal may not reach but on inhabited land there is no such luxury. Life for most is lived under a scrutiny so ubiquitous it is akin to living under a microscope. Paper can only be seen by the person who has it. Paper can be destroyed.”
“Where did you learn it?”
“I taught myself to write from watching history footage. It is not so difficult, although of course it is laborious in comparison to voice recording!” She bent her head to the notebook, signalling an end to the conversation and continued to make lines of marks on the paper with her pen.

In another day they were far enough north to need to make preparations for disembarkation. Hooper stood Fulmar out from the shore, far enough to be free of the poison zone but near enough to be able to get Uzza dressed and masked for her expedition. She would need to don the protective gear and wait outside while the yacht pulled in. Hooper explained how she would stand Fulmar as close as possible to the remains of the jetty using the small bio-motor, giving the woman as much of a chance as she could to step up on to it.
“But it has not been maintained” she advised her, “So you must be very careful to tread on the firmest parts. If you fall into the water it will be certain death and I cannot save you. The water will poison you in minutes, your skin, your lungs, your…”
“Yes, yes I realise, thank you.” Uzza frowned in irritation, anxious to be getting on with her project. She had a small bag containing vials which she intended to use to collect samples. She peered out at the shoreline. “What is that, Hooper? Is a factory of some kind?” She pointed to an enormous structure consisting of once tall, grey chimneys, crumbling warehouses and the skeletal remains of high scaffolding.
“It is the ruins of an old fossil fuel processing plant” she told her. “They used to call them refineries. The oil would be piped from the wells across the land to the coast then prepared for use before being shipped on flat vessels they called tankers, which then used vast quantities of the fuel to transport it. It seems a nonsensical process to us now, but it was all they knew.

This is the final sample of ‘Til It’s Gone’. Any feedback comments are appreciated. Updates on publication will be posted on ‘Anecdotage’. [Normal service resumes next week!]

Fiction Month. Novel Extract 3

  In Extract Three of my new novel, ‘Til It’s Gone’ Grandfather, Hugh Conway has opted for travel to the solar fields of the African desert rather than euthanasia. He has forged a bond with Ahmed, the African superintendant of the scheme. Here, Ahmed takes Hugh to visit the solar fields and they discuss the state of the world as they travel:
Ahmed was taking Hugh out to visit a solar farm, a two-hour journey by solar powered vehicle across the desert. It was strange, Hugh considered that the desert he’d first seen and thought so uninteresting, so devoid of features he now realised was as varied and fascinating as any landscape in the world. The vista changed from rocky outcrops in myriad colours sprouting from undulating sands to boulder-strewn plains stretching to the horizon, or sumptuous, curving dunes, silky smooth at a distance, the sand shifting visibly on occasions.
Ahmed was a comfortable travel companion, sensing when Hugh needed silence to appreciate the sights and occupying him with conversation or information when time lagged. The two had become friends, finding they had much in common despite their disparate cultures. Hugh felt fortunate to have been accommodated in Ahmed’s own village and whilst the other two elders, Anders and Peter, were pleasant enough he enjoyed the challenging discussions he had when Ahmed dropped by for tea or when they sat together at the edge of the village to watch the sunset-an event he never tired of seeing.
To an extent he was embarrassed, that he was learning more than he was imparting, though when he expressed this his friend disagreed.
“No, no, no my friend! There is no real distinction between teaching and learning. They are two points on the same circle, are they not? What better way to learn than to teach? And what better way to teach than to be constantly striving for understanding?” Ahmed was an optimist by nature as well as by religion. He challenged Hugh’s view of the world as doomed.
“Why would you think this?” he demanded, “Since the beginning of mankind people have adapted, learned, made the best of what they had. This is why mankind has endured. And to be adaptable is to be optimistic. When your road is blocked you try another pathway. When he needed to eat and feed his family ancient man-made tools to make it easier and learned how to grow food. When he was cold, he began to make clothes. Other ancient species did not survive. Perhaps they could not adapt or were not optimistic enough to try!”
Hugh protested. “But the poisoning and exploitation of Earth’s resources has itself been wrought by mankind. He has orchestrated his own downfall!”
Ahmed shook his head. “Not so, friend Hugh. It is a mere chapter in our history. Men will put the poison to some use, will find alternative resources. It happens already! What did you have too much of, back in your homeland? What was a surplus, a problem to be eradicated?”
Hugh did not hesitate. “Water! Water rising and water falling. Too much, always. Leeching the land of nutrients and forcing people from their homes.”
His friend nodded. “And yet here, as you see we have none of our own at all. We could equally say our problem is sun. We have too much. This is a paradox, is it not?” He laughed, throwing his head back at the clear blue sky. “Between us we have found the solution, your people and mine. We provide your power. You provide our water. Perfect, is it not?”
Hugh grimaced. “It isn’t much of a deal. Our water is poisoned with acid. Even rainwater can no longer be used untreated for irrigation or anything else. Then we create more pollution cleansing it for our own use.”
“Hugh! See here, we have no shortage of a power source. It never fails. And it is all we need to purify your water. You pipe it over. We clean it. Problem solved.”
When they were within half an hour of the solar farm Hugh was given a visor to wear to avoid glare damage to his eyes, his protest about deteriorating eyesight overruled. “No, no-we have use of your eyes my friend.”
In the distance a pinpoint of white light hovered near the horizon, expanding as they drew nearer. The extent of the solar field took his breath away. It was vast, stretching across the desert and disappearing into the earth’s curve; a silent, recumbent country of plates, as if the entire desert had been tiled over. It was unfenced, unguarded, unpatrolled. Ahmed shrugged. “The desert is its own defence,” he explained.
They travelled down a passageway between the plates, like the corridors between the polytunnels at Earthsend, until they came to some low, white buildings in the same style as his village house. A single, modest sign by the road was all there was to say that it was the property of SOL, the energy giant.
Ahmed turned to Hugh as they drove past the sign and pulled up outside the building. “Did you know, Hugh that SOL now owns and runs installations in the deserts of America, Australia and Europe? It is a powerful world force. I wonder what our African predecessors would think of that? Only a hundred years ago the African continent was on its knees, begging the rest of the world for help. It was decimated by corruption, wars, misguided ideology, famine, cruelty. Now it has become a world energy superpower, looked up to by everyone.”
Hugh experienced a wave of despondency, as if a heavy weight had been hung around his neck. He’d expected to freed of concepts such as ‘energy superpowers’ by relocating here. It was a land of purity, of high ideals; an egalitarian society that valued individuals and revered the elderly, wasn’t it?…

Further extracts from ‘Til It’s Gone’ can be read in this November’s posts. Comments and feedback will be much appreciated. Thank you in anticipation…

Fiction Month: Extract 2

In this second extract from new novel, ‘Til It’s Gone’, food producer Joshua Conway and his employee, Farlow are watching a protest march as they wait to store their cargo in a warehouse on the quayside. As they watch they discuss their precarious situation in the light of recent developments in politics and the merging of large power corporations:

Joshua
Josh turned the engine off. There was no point in wasting valuable fuel. From their place in the queue on the Pontoon Road he and Farlow watched the gathering crowd of protesters as they milled about by the waterside brandishing banners and chanting, hoods up against the relentless, blustery rain.
“What are they saying this time?”
Farlow lifted the magnifiers to peer out of the side window through the small rivulets forming on the glass.
“It’s the usual issues, I think-food prices, fuel prices, flooding, homelessness. I suppose the coming election will have stirred up more unrest. A lot of people who wouldn’t have been interested in politics twenty years ago realise what’s at stake now, so they can’t afford to be apathetic.”
On the periphery of the crowd there was a modest but significant police presence. Farlow continued to scan the quayside, panning round with the magnifiers.
“Josh, what’s going to happen if Power Alliance gets a majority this time?”
Joshua rubbed his eyes. He felt stretched from lack of sleep. He shook his head.
“We can’t know what they’ll do, but it won’t be good for us, that’s for sure. Berenson’s hinting about takeovers; starting to get impatient now that I’ve made it clear I’m not interested in selling up. He may know more than he lets on. Once Power Alliance gets into government there’ll be nothing to prevent a monopoly of all the industries. Food, recycling, water, transport, construction, even media will belong to them.”
“How can they do that? How can they take businesses and livelihoods from people?”
“It isn’t without precedent, Far. Throughout history there were revolutions and dictatorships all over the world. In Russia, back in the twentieth century the regime was overthrown and the owned lands were redistributed.
Thing is, the way the fuel prices are going we will have to think seriously about how we can continue to run independently anyway. It would be different if there was another provider, but there isn’t. Greenergy have bio-fuel all sown up. Berenson knows that when the price of running the tunnels becomes too much, we’ll have no option.”
The younger man lowered the magnifiers as a gust of wind rocked the vehicle and splattered the windscreen with a squally burst of rain.
“Suppose that happens. What will we do?”
Joshua placed a large, calloused hand on his companion’s shoulder, recognising the fear in him, a man with responsibilities now; a wife and a small baby to care for.
“Oh, I don’t doubt they’ll keep us on as managers. We are very good at our job so it wouldn’t be worth replacing us. But they would probably put a lot more security in and tighten up regulations, inspections and so on. We wouldn’t be working for ourselves any longer.”

Soon after this conversation, a catastrophic event occurs at the Conways’ farm…

 

Fiction Month. Extract 1

If it’s November it’s Fiction Month on ‘Anecdotage’. This is the time I usually post short, new fiction stories. In a departure from short stories, however this year I’m posting some extracts from my new novel, ‘Til It’s Gone’, a work of speculative fiction telling the tale of a late 21st century Welsh farming family battling climate change, economic difficulties, sinister takeovers and a brutal killing within the boundaries of their property. This week’s post is part of the prologue…

                                                                         The Kill
The storm gathers for four days before keeping its promise, loosening a cacophony of thunder and howling winds and a deluge.
In the chaos, vessels buck and rage against their moorings. Dwellings shudder and creak in their weaknesses. People stay in, cowering, sheltering, whatever damage ensues. The hillside above the village becomes a furious torrent; a tumbling waterfall then a landslide as the soil gives way and a gushing brown channel of mud races down carrying soil, rocks, roots and debris.
In the sky intermittent flashes expose the silhouettes of the towering turbines across the hilltop, skeletal against jagged forks of lightning. Along the tunnels, tattered edges of white plastic flap like so much unruly laundry, beginning with a border here, a corner there then ripping in abandoned strips. Wind and water race into the gaping chasms they’ve made, desecrating all inside.
A tall eye on a stalk swivels in a slow revolution, water cascading from its top as it detects warmth and movement. A figure darts into view, swathed in a cape and hood, head first bent then upturned, reaching up to catch a flap of torn fabric, grasping, pinning down.
Below, in the darkness and the ferment an unlit vehicle approaches, creeping its way up along the track, lashed by the driving volley, buffeted by the cyclonic gusts and beset by loose rocks hurling themselves against its sides and beneath the sturdy, all-terrain wheels, two pale faces inside leaning forwards, straining for a view of the upward track as it curls around the hill, black water streaming across their route before hurtling down towards the river mouth.
Unknowing, the caped figure works on, lashed by the storm, pegging, weighing down, battening as the grey truck draws closer, invisible in the curtains of rain and silent in the screaming wind as it whips and sings around the tunnels.
The truck halts beyond the outer fence, disregarded by the frantic worker. More bolts of lightning split the sky illuminating vast structures shifting, protesting under the onslaught and giving brief insights into the hopelessness of the task; more and more material wrenching free to flap like hapless sails in a shipwreck.
Now the passenger is clambering out, reaching back inside for tools, hunched against the elements, chancing the small pinpoint of a flashlight. A blaze of lightning bursts over the razor wire as he inserts first one clip then another before applying bolt cutters. In a few moments a gap appears wide enough for the truck to pass through.
The caped one has disappeared up along the side of the tube, doing what he can, saving, preserving.
The truck pulls through into the security channel ready for the cutting process to be repeated on the other, inner fence and it rolls through the second breach. The driver emerges, fighting his way to the rear of the vehicle and wrenching the tailgate open before joining his companion. They move quickly into a breach in a tunnel, emerging with cartons, battered, fighting the gusts as they place their booty into the truck bed, returning for more, their arms piled with boxes four high, the shorter, slighter of the two staggering sideways as the bulkier and taller figure grips his arm. He indicates they should move on to the next tunnel as his partner hesitates. He stores his boxes then lifts his hand in protest.

         ‘Enough! Let’s go!’ But the other is off into the neighbouring cavern, reappearing with another load, water coursing down his face and beard. Then in an instant both figures freeze, one laden with cartons, the other by the truck’s open tailgate as the dark shape of a dog appears in front of them, a black shadow outlined by lightning flashes, long head low, sodden fur raised up in a barb of wet spikes along its back. Its ears are flat alongside its head and its open mouth a snarling saw of serrated teeth, white razor points dripping drool, slavering, growl unheard in the screech of the gale.
Bulky makes a gradual half turn to Slight, the indication clear.

          ‘Get in the truck!’

           Slight stands fast. The dog raises its head, mouth open, tensing to spring. Bulky lifts the cartons high and hurls them in the beast’s direction before jumping sideways into the open aperture of the cab. The dog leaps towards him as the door closes on its head, its jaws fastened tight upon Bulky’s arm. He works in a frantic bid to free it, smashing the door repeatedly with his right hand until it withdraws then slamming it shut. One in, one out. Slight still stands amongst the crates, rooted…

 

I’ll be posting more extracts from ‘Til It’s Gone’ this month. Feedback will be very much appreciated. Thanks in anticipation!

Cracking the Second One-

We are in southern France, attempting to find some vestiges of the summer we felt cheated of in the UK.

I had also meant, whilst here to attempt to get the first draft of Novel 2 knocked off. In the event it’s proving more difficult than I’d imagined, for a number of reasons.

When I wrote the first novel I thought it was hard; now I realise that it was a proverbial walk in the park compared to the wild, flapping, untameable story that is the second book. Novel 1[ The Year of Familiar Strangers] ’s central character is loosely based around a person I knew in the past and many of the episodes in the story are real incidents that only needed a little embellishment, a little alteration, to form the basis of what I still consider to be a ripping yarn. Several of the peripheral characters were also lifted from real life and very little invention was needed. I even had the locations in my head [no surprise that much of it is set in France!].

Novel 2 is as different to 1 as a toothbrush to a vacuum cleaner. All of the characters are inventions. I’ve had to get to know them as the story has progressed, never sure if their actions are true to type or too far-fetched for credibility. The plot continues to escape my direction, twisting and turning and having a mind of its own. The nearer I think I’m getting to the denouement the longer it appears to be taking to crack it. There is a constant need to refer back in the text to ensure continuity and half the time I forget who did what, and when. I want to tie the ends up, bring the threads together in some semblance of logic, a conclusion that leads the reader to say ‘Ah, so that was why/where/ what, but like Alice, every step I take goes in the opposite direction to where I want to go.

A further difficulty is that having chosen to set the novel in the moderately near future and then taking too long to write it leads to ideas getting high-jacked by reality. Did George Orwell have this problem with 1984? I am now loath to tie it down to any date due to the rapid technological developments that are catching up with-and in some instances overtaking those in my novel! This is frustrating-technology moves along faster than my novel-writing! And the future is BIG. HUGE! It is a mistake to try and corral it into a novel.

Choosing to hand-write the last section hasn’t helped. Having visualised sitting in the sun scribbling away and penning the final words with a flourish I’m contending with strong breezes, insects and the lure of cycling, walking and sightseeing. Ah yes-I should be so driven as to eschew such pleasures. This morning we woke to rain, so if you will excuse me I can’t be frittering away my time on frivolous blog-writing; I need to get on before any more innovations come in…

About ‘Nora Webster’

I just finished reading Colm Toibin’s ‘Nora Webster’. Although a companion book to the more commercially viable ‘Brooklyn’ which was made into a film, I found it an altogether more thoughtful and evocative novel.

Set in early sixties Ireland, it is the story of widowed Nora’s journey into some kind of independence and happiness following the death of husband, Maurice.

At the beginning of the novel I felt that Nora’s conservative, narrow way of life had everything to do with her staunch Catholic background but as I read on I began to see that the era in which the story is set was itself an era of conservatism. This will resonate with anyone who was born in the fifties as I was.

The story plays out against a background of the Irish troubles, when TV news footage impacts on Nora’s family life in their jittery responses and constant anxiety.

Nora struggles with bringing up her four children, with money and with every decision, since during her marriage she’d looked to teacher husband, Maurice to decide everything. ‘What would Maurice do/say/choose?’ she asks, constantly. My own mother was the same, an unwaged housewife, leaving every decision for my father to make. Her views, like Nora’s were my father’s views. We all holidayed in his preferred destinations, bought things when he wanted them, agreed with his political viewpoint and his wellbeing was paramount in the family. This, I believe was commonplace in the post-war era.

Nora’s children are her preoccupation, a constant worry as she has to find a job and keep it under some trying circumstances. At first she either relies on advice from family or makes knee-jerk decisions which she then regrets. But gradually she learns to trust her own judgement and gains confidence. She finds joy in the appreciation of music and takes singing lessons.

The older of Nora’s sons exhibits behaviour which we would now realise is autistic, being disruptive in class and obsessing about photography. The behaviour deteriorates in the time after Maurice’s death. One of her daughters, Aine becomes involved in the struggles and the other, Fiona, a student teacher wants to spread her wings and spend money that Nora doesn’t have.

Most of these difficulties are likely to plague any single parent today. Juggling the needs of a family and the imperative to hold down a job is a tricky business. The problems that Nora experiences are no more trivial for the children being older.

Nora is a complex character, reserved but at the same time feisty. I liked how she stood up to a difficult manager at work and manoeuvred herself into a better position. She is constrained by her religion and influenced by the religious figures in her life. In many ways this is a feminist novel. I wish I could say that life is completely different for women today but there are still too many outstanding inequalities to address.

Always Laugh when you can-[Lord Byron]

Laughter, it is said is good for our health. There are also studies that show that sense of humour declines as we age [http://www.belmarrahealth.com/why-your-sense-of-humor-fades-the-older-you-get/].

During a recent programme on the radio a psychologist explained that laughter is fundamentally a means of communication that demonstrates a connection between people. It is true that once you are with someone like minded who shares your sense of humour there is an escalation effect. Years ago [in working life] I attended a drama course which required us to pair up for some activities. Whilst I’d never met my ‘partner’ before she and I became helpless with mirth within moments and continued in this vein for the remainder of the day, no doubt irritating the pants off the course leader.

While I understand the communication element there are plenty of times when I’ve laughed whilst alone. What does this signify? On occasions a book will make me laugh out loud. A particular sequence in a novel called ‘Are You Experienced?’ by William Sutcliffe had this effect on several of us as we underwent a group tour in India. The narrative describes a Bollywood movie showing on a bus and provoked me to tears of hilarity. I am also addicted to YouTube videos of funny animals-one of my favourites a compilation that includes a hen riding on a broom as it is utilised and a particular sweep causing her to lay an egg. For me, even watching alone, the comic effect is undimmed by repeated watching!

I could never have become an actor, since corpsing would be my downfall-was my downfall in working life; meetings were a special source of difficulty. I’ve never lost a particular weakness for slapstick and have an unfortunate tendency to dissolve into hysterics during Punch and Judy shows or anything aimed at children, often discovering I’m alone amongst a mainly po-faced audience.

Alcohol and of course, cannabis are well known to loosen inhibitions and elicit laughter. Years ago at a party I realised too late that I’d over-indulged and was lolling on the host’s lawn convulsed with a fellow reveller when I heard someone nearby asking what their companion would like to drink. ‘Whatever they’re having’ was the reply.

Making comedy is hard. Only comic genius can provoke mirth without seeming contrived. We all have our favourites; ‘Not Only but Also’, ‘Monty Python’ and ‘The Young Ones’ were some of mine, but the sit-com has had its day and many great comedies begin life on the radio. It is all subjective, but big failures for me are manufactured comedy panel games [with the exception of the wonderful ‘I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue’ and ‘The News Quiz’-both radio offerings] and American rom-coms [my least favourite genre]. In these times of spontaneous video, YouTube and sharing on social networks comedy is becoming more difficult than ever. What is the future of comedy? And what tickles you?