Post-novelisation depression

Disclaimer: Thanks to anyone who hasn’t been thanked. This article is not intended to guilt trip, or finger specifically. If you find it triggering you might want to surf elsewhere.
Clinical depression: there’s wretchedness, no doubt. It’s as random as banana. Doctors and authors writing about mindfulness track down how it can strike a physically and mentally healthy person, without even the decency to explain itself. It’s an especially rude and stupid ailment on an irrational course. One sector it seeks out for trolling is creatives, but thankfully there’s been a huge growth in writer’s guides that talk about well-being. Dorothea Brande’s Becoming A Writer is a good one, and I’m looking forward to starting Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which is on my wheelie table.

I spent the better part of October suffering from a type of clinical depression I’m choosing to call post-novelisation depression. A quick search tells me I’m far from a one-off, but I’d not seen the like referred to in any writer’s guides.

‘Oh, but it’s only natural you’d feel some burn-out after all the work you’ve put in’.

‘You shouldn’t feel bad. You’ve written a book, that’s a huge accomplishment’.

Both of those are fair and helpful comments, but let me be clear. I’m not talking about burnout, or a lack of time off, or the parts of the book that were weak – no, blaming myself? Too easy. Maybe it was the dull administrative tasks making up over half the job.  I was smart enough to combine promotion and recreation: in a podcast tour and at social events which make up the bulk of my sales. What I mean is a full-on inability to write, days not getting out of bed, feelings of worthlessness and self-harm. The best advice I got before publication was ‘manage your expectations’. So I researched, and found Man Booker finalists selling under 3,000 – in one case, 900 copies. That didn’t stop the overwhelming misplaced (yet un-uttered) frustration towards bookselllers, journalists, friends who might have supported me yet signalled no interest. Yes, I knew I had no right to expect anything, or did I? Random fucking bananas! After fifteen years making cool stuff, my first novel is a big deal. I thought of having myself sectioned and, professionally, I wanted to jack it all in. It didn’t/doesn’t feel like an illness, more a moment of clarity.

White Collar, c. 1940 – Linocuts by Giacomo G. Patri, Via Thomas Shahan, CC license.

I mentioned inability to write: not just the block, this was like a paralysis. Writing is therapy as well as my job. I attend the best writing group in East Belfast, maybe the city: but in October I went there like a zombie. I think things began looking up when I returned to reading The World in a Flash: How to Write Flash Fiction, by Calum Kerr. Kerr put me off by filling the book with exercises, but under the October low it was exactly the crutch I needed. The ethos in Kerr’s book is not just about honing flash fic, it’s about mentally equipping yourself to building story tiny piece by piece.
A moment of clarity: I felt a sheer overwhelming feeling that I didn’t want to do this again, something I genuinely believe right now. I don’t know if I’m healthy enough to manage writing for a living. That’s not weak to think like that. Kevin J. Anderson in Million Dollar Productivity makes the point that mechanics and grocers can’t afford to wait for their muse to strike, which is fair. He also goes on to say it’s entirely realistic to write five good books a year. Maybe I could. As I begin writing a new book full of my heart, I think I cannot cope with all the pain that comes after. Anderson and others advocate getting your team in: people beyond the shopkeepers to sell for you, agents, marketers and promoters. I think this is a necessity, but from where I sit it looks as hard as winning every single customer. So I ponder the future: is this post-novelisation depression, or a moment of clarity?
Other great books on writing I’ve indulged in recently include The Story Book by David Baboulene and Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology by Brandon Sanderson. You can check out my reviews of these on Goodreads, and there’s more information about my novel, Axel America, here.

GAME: Facebeak Life rEinVENT

When I create content, I affirm my right to share in the benefit from that content. I admit, ambition to leave Facebeak isn’t served by lighting my presence there:  Facebeak packs an internet-like experience into microcosm, trades you for livestock, and locks the door behind it. It won’t let you set your profile for a relationship with someone off-site,  it won’t let you change your gender, but it does let you change your date of birth. Twice, actually.

01 Facebook Game Born

This tickled, but it wasn’t readily apparent to me the size of scope of what I was doing. So it began as a time travel game.

My first attempt was to travel two days into the past of my “feed”, sometime in 2013.

08 Facebook DOB Game - Time Travel

I tried 2013 again, to 2013 two weeks prior. I linked in a friend, but didn’t tell him about it. With no thread, the entry got lost too. There are a several versions of the time travel variation and it’s great play and discovery. Anyway, back to my childhood. Duchamp’s “Fountain” debuted in 1917, carrying with it the assertion that “if it’s in a gallery, it must be art”.

04 Facebook DOB GameI don’t feel comfortable talking to strangers about my childhood and family.  Facebeak Life rEinVENT allows me to express this area.

05 Facebook DOB Game - World Warriors

Socio-political commentary there, without the thorns of modern embroilment!

So, in short, to play you need:facebeak date
Facebook account, spare time, imagination. Historical interest is optional.

1.  Re-set birthday (only 1-2 changes allowed)
2. Hit life event, and choose a category.
3. Choose type and add details (Pre-set event types may constrict in-game movement)

You can link your friends into the game, set them in any genre or time-frame, create one-off events, or arc stories, like I’ve shown here.

07 Facebook DOB Game - The Bloodsucker Gang

Ooh, add a photo!

I’d prefer you didn’t Facebeak friend me, but please comment, link to it and above all PLAY  and publish your game on the global free internet.

The Rat Files

Stormont was an iconic parliament building, three levels of ten windows along either side of six columns out front. After the War, the removable paint never really removed, and the building lost the ‘white house’ look. Despite that, the hill added to it’s stature and Stormont was visible from various parts around Belfast. No parliament could sit in the long low intensity conflict, so there was no heavy security installation. Instead the building had a heritage house feel, albeit closed, though the acres around were publicly open. Our family moved to the area in 83, and my brother and I would take the ball ten minutes for a kick about the grounds, which were green and wide.

One day while watching the Roland Rat Show, Roland announced he and Kevin would tour the UK. This was sort of big. Roland was the fore-runner to the grunge movement, a brash, outrageous knit. He didn’t care for pleasing the typical lot with demand for primary colours. He was grey and animatedly pushed boundaries. He was arrogant, translated as, self-confident for a reason. Kevin the Gerbil by contrast was so pink, so welcoming, that his straight-ness was bent, gay iconic with an unassuming air. And maybe, Kevin was Roland’s beard. Jokes were made of his subservience, but his agenda of conformity opened up not just the Marxist dialogue, but also that of social interactionism. For conformity had it’s reasons. The biggest news.

The biggest news in all this was that Northern Ireland was recognised as the fourth region of the UK. Roland Rat Superstar was to ignore the Irish sea, fuck a two fingers to the war of the Troubles, he was coming. Blue Peter didn’t bother, ITV’s many paranormal productions never filmed here, John Craven treated us with the same black-out mentality as Police Six, which was supposed to be local! So, Graeme and I made our plans. One Friday morning, after London, Roland announced they were coming. We got mum to make sandwiches, and packed an apple, and a biscuit from the biscuit barrel, into a green plastic (Tupperware) container. By mid-day we were at the gates of Stormont. We kicked the ball diagonally, broad strokes, hoping that it might be intercepted by a film crew.

By Sunday gate closing we were worried. It was the summer holidays and come half eight the next morning we set off for what we were sure would be a live show. Roland never came. We heard it in the air that yes, indeed, he was in Northern Ireland. So why hadn’t he come? On Tuesday with lunches, no Roland, no Kevin. Not even Errol the hamster. We ate everything we had and stayed on two hours after the show ended. I told Graeme we might see the crew set up for the next day, but it was probably desperation on my part, I could see he had given up. On Wednesday I left the ball behind and when it became clear he wasn’t showing up I ran home. Graeme confirmed Rat On The Road had reached Northern Ireland, in some place called Ballycastle. One of the Ballys, one of the Castles. It didn’t sound too impressive.

On Thursday I stayed in the living room and watched as the TV-AM cameras tried to show the hexagonal stepping stones known as Giants Causeway and the wild exposing ocean. The two slithers of sock puppets traversed these inter-locking columns, their missing feet skipping the playfulness. A sixty million year old rock formation, it was suggested comedy happened, as Roland and Kevin’s wires were blown across the wide open landscape. There was no rain and I was unconvinced. I can’t care what happened on Friday. By Monday, he and Kevin were in Wales. There were no people there. I didn’t care about that either, how he’d much rather follow an isolationist agenda. By Tuesday he met people, were he hoarded cheese, and lorded it over them. Wales was the birthplace of Errol the hamster, but The Rat made quite clear Errol was only in the band to suit his prerogatives. By Wednesday, Roland had the people of Wales by the balls. Errol was a lost figure, Kevin was a dithering sycophant, the puppet government was in place.

Flashfic: Five Scenes

Five Scenes

 

A fellow named William had murdered there in the 16th Century.

 

The screen of the laptop had tinier screens by the top with user camera feeds: below, one for still pictures to be uploaded, and a text box for typed words.

 

“I think”, said Dan getting into his sear, “this place is haunted.”

 

In Dorset, a smile spread over Gareth’s lips and he chuckled. “You what?” laughed the Asco worker, still in his shop fleece.

 

“Seriously?” asked Judy candidly from Clwyd.

 

Dan looked into the camera.

“I was just in the kitchen and one of the hobs was on six. I haven’t had a bite to eat all day. And get this, Shadow, Shadow, I took him out for a walk and he didn’t go. He’s just peed in there!”

He gestured, but the others in the private Multicam Webchat could only see him and his living room, and each other.

 

Jonas was strangely silent, more remote. His faced lacked involvement. And then the young Larne man’s eyes flickered on and seemed to engage with Dan’s tale. Some spirit was possessing those eyes.

 

“He’s a puppy, of course he’s going to wet everywhere!” said Gareth.

 

Even Judy had to laugh at that one. “Dan!”

 

“And if you aren’t going to make dinner you shouldn’t have split up with your girlfriend”, he added.

 

There were other details from him though: the house was four hundred years old, a few mysterious deaths on the property and some odd noises plaguing set hours.

 

Just then, a new image appeared on the screen. Where still pictures were shared, Dan clicked to enlarge it. There he saw himself, in the leather sofa of that big old house. The walls were filled with poltergeists, a green ectoplasm, a monstrous being with a sailor hat made entirely from marshmallows and Dan Akroyd. Behind him were Ben Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and Yoda, and with them in this circle of protection, Samuel L. Jackson, his eyes full of righteous fury. Dan laughed and when he clicked on the picture again, he could see the web-cam chat room once more. There were three empty chairs.

 

Jonas shot up from ground below and Judy’s hair dangled over her upturned face from above making Dan jump. Then a tall headless man in an Asco top wandered into Gareth’s living room and sat down.

 

 

Eastenders by Alan Moore

There was a lot of controversy surrounding the tentacled apparition that reached from the quantum rift in the park in his first week as head writer. However, the time was quiet, favouring a low boil introducing new characters and events to the BBC’s London-based soap opera.

That week introduced us to Derek Mitchell, the brother from Earth 342 who enjoys re-created Victorian operatic displays and begins fitting orgone energy detectors to the back of all the vehicles in the shop. He’s having a relationship with Emmanuelle who now runs the tinker’s shop restoring brass-ware, and is raising Enod-429, a robot who looks like an infant.

Meanwhile, we learn Ian Beale to everyone’s surprise has reached his 100th birthday, and the physiological hour stops Ian shedding women from his skin. Instead, each one from the past begins returning to him and he’s forced to go on the run. TV Quick, What’s On and Teat Guide focus on the zombies, but Ian’s anniversary causes much consternation and disruption to Albert Square life.

A gang with tea cosies on their heads take The Queen Vic with firearms. They just want barrels of beer. It is too far to go to the brewery. If they are quick they can get them back across the road and up three steps. Nobody is sure who they are but when they get to the basement they find Jack Brannon is working on tech developed from the Higgs Boson Particle Accelerator. As he is rumbled, the tech is no help in tracking the  thieves, but they spill beer into it, producing a unique gold flake which he is able to synthesise and reproduce. It becomes the bar’s speciality and drives business.

As the beer makes it’s way through the taps and then the water supply of the Square it affects the perspectives of those who have drank it to were they see past the strict binaries of monogamous relationships. Thus, they are all reunited with their partners. Ian Beale gets the support to help him embrace polygamy. This is confirmed in the joyous celebration, DotCottonFest. Albert Square under a happy banner of inflatable Dot. Everybody is vaping. Moore is quoted as snorting when a critic praises “the Constantinuity”

Fans suspect the Beeb had put pressure on Alan for the halloween story in which Alfie Moon becomes the moon. There is a huge dance to celebrate his ascension at the new Walford nightclub, Chi. However, in the basement, David Watts discovers his deceased father (Dirty) Dennis’s spirit being summoned from after-death by Bianca Butcher. Bianca falls into a trance. She tells David she was behind the beer robbery. She was only taking part in the ritual because someone found out: Patrick Trueman, and he was blackmailing her. Trueman, she says, was the same person who engineered Alfie’s ascension to gethim and other witnesses out of the way. The building began to shake, from the tentagram in the basement to the plasticine disco.  At Number 8, Enod-429 runs into her mother’s room and the lights go out across the square..

Before Saturday morning, The Daily Mail had seized on the black magick storyline and the lead to Afro-Carribean background actor Rudolph Walker’s involvement. Moore was accused of perpetuating nig-nog stereotypes and the following afternoon, pictures of his house went on the website. By Sunday, The Mail Online published photo’s of the writer’s bedsheets highlighting pubes and possible sperm with the caption, “what a beautful pattern, who’s fancy now?” The reportage drew wide condemnation and an emergency meeting at the BBC. At this time, Moore told Glycon, he was fucked off and going to live on a new planet he had discovered.

There were minor reservations in the BBC, but the following week’s storyline ran as planned. Trueman had exploited Derek Mitchell’s technology to bring five great villians through a trans-hub door-mensional through-stream. Al Capone, Ronnie Biggs, Charlie Croker, Bernie Maddoff and Pablo Escobar materialised in the basement of the nightclub. Although David Watts escaped, Bianca Butcher was made into their hell-dog. The building went on fire, a pivotal part of Moore’s long-term plan to have Denise Fox join the Fire Service. Phil and Derek attempt to get the Square’s electricity supply running again, but accidentally blast Janine through a cloud. Fears grow for the missing Bianca over the course of Tuesday, until people decide it’s probably for the best. David Watts confides in Emmanuelle, who cannot cope and goes on a brass-polishing craze. Meanwhile, the criminal gang abduct Enod-429 and blackmail Derek and Phil into helping them. Their goal appears to be to punch through to reality using the conceptual tube lines, although when a Coca-Cola salesman comes across Ronnie Biggs in the Queen Vic, the great train robber is seduced into becoming a representative for the pop.

Moore’s “Reign of the Greys” storyline was to have been a hyper-media narrative, with manifestations of Al Capone popping up on Strictly Come Dancing and Bernie Maddoff’s expansion plans being thwarted by Cbeebies’ Bob the Builder. The post-Moore phase was actually very good but few dared say it was better. Some elements remained. The conspiracy syndicate was broken up when Escobar’s tank was destroyed by Janine Butcher returned to Earth as an ice missile. Other elements of Moore’s plan were not retained. Rather than being valiantly defeated in the five nights a week serial, Bernie Maddoff still hangs about Albert Square like a bad smell, laughing at teenagers and stealing their game systems.

Enod-429 may be long gone, but there are increasingly hairy babies born in Walford nowadays and the Northampton-man influenced Curt Vile lager is on tap at The Vic.

Belfast Writers Group at Tullycarnet YarnSpinners and Prose: The Littlest Internet

I’m just back from a very squee evening with the Belfast Writers Group at Tullycarnet Library, part-home of my teenage years, the christening font of my years in adult work. Bruce Logan, who set the gig up pictured below reading from his adrenalin pumping horror freak-out:

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Sweet Ellie Rose McKee, who has a whole lot of web presence:

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Folk wizard Lynda Collins:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A member of the Tullycarnet Yarnspinners, Malcolm, who had us all in stitches with the best Paddy jokes I’ve ever heard (and of course the worst)

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And myself. I got off a few pieces, including Tenement Tao, and new works Five Scenes, and this one:

The Littlest Internet

The East Rainy Courier and Advertiser was the most important publication, and it was free
too, weekly and probably funded by the NHS. Fourteen year old Alpen Jones knew this, because
manning the route broadened his mind. The job bought him the 1985 Kick! annual and there was
responsibility in it too. All of Old Upper Kingcastleroad Road would have been an island if not for
his diligence.
His parents were unaware that he left at 6 a.m. It was impossible to deliver in one day after
school. As per his calculations, three days were likelier. Rosemorrow Park and Templechurchmore
Road this morning. One side of the Parade marched into the Park while the other stood at a distance,
rolling its deep lanes off the hill, closer together as it got further away into the black mouth lipped
by trees.. It always started easy – three steps for climb-overs , back, then a two-house climb-down,
down the path for a bend of the calf and a copy for Danny Panana and his wife, Mrs. Brianna
Panana. A dog answered a door and he had to go all the way back up the stone path, unhook the
anchor, creak it round, gather it closed (minding his toes) and drop the hook. Leaflets were an extra
half-penny and he spread them on like filler, rolled like a wrap for dinner. Eight, he knew instantly,
down, and to go this side. He looked at his watch again. There was time to finish it before school.
Number Nine was Seventeen, the age of his brother Terry, born in September. This thought never
crossed his mind, though there were many. No. He was mostly concerned with the collection of
garden gnomes, rocking horses, pink windmills, weeping angel statues, cardboard cut-out black cats
on a black metal strip, the plastic sun in the window and the fat spotted three foot big mushroom of
the pensioner he never saw. The mythical pensioner of Templechurchmore. And while you and I
might be thinking of this, with it’s chequerboard path-way bordered at angles by pink plate tiles
fronting plastic weeds, the lad has already slotted the paper and gotten onto Nineteen. There, he’s
minding his fingers around the axe-wielding letterbox. Next door, a loud dog, and angry dog, a dog
that knows you’ve touched the gate-post and you will be caned for it. So Alpen rolled the paper and
rolled it into the rosetta frame of the gate to be found by the dog’s owners on their way to work.
Next door was the friendly house. A pull-back gate, garden path cut friendly for feet and steered just
out of Angry Dog’s X-ray radius. He wondered sometimes if the editor had run a political expose of
that mutt. The paper flapped quietly and the hatch was gently replaced. Next door was were Lydia
Smith lived. She was from school and he liked her, but he wasn’t sure why. They’d never talked. She
wasn’t one of the spide girls. She was even kind of pretty maybe. Their house reminded him of
Christmas (the sofa looked like a labrador), and Lydia’s mum was a jam maker. Twenty-Seven was
Kevin and Devlin, the twins aged eleven who seemed pre-occupied with bread leaven and
unleavened. Their father was a pastor, sometimes radio broadcaster and Terry’s friend Richard said
he was Grant Master. He went to a lodge, not the Wine Lodge were Auntie Phyllis worked but but
one involving owls and something to do with metalwork. Alpen didn’t know what a pastor was: he
could hear the milk-man coming though. In the future, the truth would be past your eyes Grant
Master, he thought. There was nothing special about the letter-box, it was even disappointing.
Aaron wondered if he knew Mr. Withers who had made them make shoe-horns last term. A gate was
closed like cement but if Alpen walked further on, he could do Thirty-One, Twenty-Nine and exit
Thirty-One without ever having to get stuck on the climb-over, and he did these. Across the road,
gates led to Scotland and the longest most gravelly driveway. When he’d been there, the house was
shaped like a castle, and a man who looked Scottish was there. He was Scottish because he had a
Tartan blanket and a large beard like Uncle Bulgaria. He never spoke. That’s all Alpen Jones could
remember, like trying to remember black and white Doctor Who from teevee. The dog he
remembered. It was not of Scotland – it was the smallest, so evil with mechanical butchering jaws,
so unspeakable in it’s ability to hurt – that it didn’t have a name. The lad like so many times before,
made there an exception in his conscience. I’m only telling you about it because the East Rainy
Courier and Advertiser was the most important publication in the world as Alpen Jones maintained,
but most notably the other side of Templechurchmore Road and Rosemorrow Park, every week.

Me at Tullycarnet

Tenement Tao

The cleverest things in the world are the toughest to speak of concisely. Our marriage had hit a rut and the only way for it not to die, to not slip through grass to a ravine, was to talk. It wasn’t about always telling the truth, sometimes I lies so she would follow, and sometimes I’d not talk, and she’d sing. Caught inside one another, watching each other smile. Electrack Street, Garbage City was behind us for Sublime, a small village were people emitted pink love hearts as they passed. I recall unpacking one box and wondering at what point we’d thrown out the stereo. The Flaming Lips, under a thick sheet of dust. Well, that couldn’t go in Jonas’ nursery.

Marry-Jane and I listened: every bawl, every wail, every boo-oo-aa. We were glad we’d traded Electrack Street for him; every moment, though, he was so tiny, like a little sausage cartoon clone of me, every moment was not not precious. There was noise, and noise and ringing scorching headache. When sleepy, he was a doorway to a world of New Age delivery, of de-cluttered living. We basked in him like he was the Tahiti sun, our perfectly put together boy. He walked and said, “Air”.

He stopped screaming and the night reminded me of my own parents. At the dock, after hours waiting for the boat to come in with Dad getting a sleep behind the wheel and Mum making us juice from the caravan behind. The other children, between the still cars, and the lorries. It was something deep black and spiritual, a promise of pioneering as harboured boats chimed in the wind. It was going to be okay.

There was no acid then, no wrong vinegar. Sure, he got into trouble, but nothing too off. Just like any other boy, except I got the feeling he was improving the curve. He had a paper round which he took some pride in. That Christmas his mum and I gave money for choice. That was the moment when we let One Direction into our home with their wonderful song-writing skills, their catchy tunes and refreshing perspectives teaching the three of us the way of the world.

Exactly a year later, Jonas burned tied to the basement table, while Mary-Jane and I wrapped wheels through LA streets, boiling petrol towards our new lives in Alaska.