Adoption

Image of children's drawing of children

She holds a distant memory
of when a heartbeat matched her own.
A summer secret locked inside,
a child barely known.

A small, now faded picture holds,
a truth in grey and white.
A daughter held for one short day,
one silent tear-torn night.

To give a life, to hold a life
to bear but never see,
the future that the world might hold,
for the child she set free.

Two lives diverged, two stories cleft,
one lost one led away.
But the incense of a child’s warm hair,
still holds her to that day.

The World in AD 2000

This is an essay my father wrote in 1937 about the what he expected the world to be like in the year 2000. I’ve included a transcript for easier reading.

Essay predicting the future from 1937

The World in AD 2000 – David James Aiken

Sixty three years hence? think of sixty three years back! would the average man of eighteen seventy four imagined out present world, with its fast traffic, its aeroplanes, the radio – and all that forms the fabric of our modern existence, but what of the future, will the world improve as much again?

The trend of modern life and its inventions is to give more leisure time to the average man, by speading up of work and an eventual shortening of working hours. This leisure time used wisely promises benefits to be reaped in the future, and as man becomes more familiar with the secrets and forces of nature, so will further secrets and forces become revealed to him.

With the advent of the telephone and television into every home, domestic private life will to a great extent disappear, distances will be reduced and it will be commonplace to speak with relations in far off countries and probably to see them on a television screen. Travel to distant parts of the globe will be speeded up by flying hotels travelling at speeds which today are records. Our ocean going liners will be used for heavy freight and as a cheap form of travel as well as pleasure cruising.

A world tour will be a matter of a week or two instead of months.

With this increased facility for travel and increased leisure, education will have progressed, and the risk of friction between nations minimised byt the interchange of ideas and visits. It will not be so easy to mislead people about their neighbours as it was in the past.

Our men of science will also be progressing, and we shall find bloodless surgery holding a very high position in medical treatment. The people may even pay doctors a weekly fee to keep them advised as to their health and not pay when they are ill.

Interplanetary communication may be a possibility, and new realms for explorers to search. News will be in the papers almost as soon as it is an accomplished fact.

In general, life in 2,000 AD will be faster and consequently leisure will be of utmost importance, and the correct use of this leisure. If wisely used it will be a happy world.

How this essay came to light

I never saw this essay until after my father died in 1983 and I was going through his papers. This was a peculiar affair as not only had I lost my father, but he had been a very secretive, reclusive man. He worked for the government, ostensibly in the civil service, but his work was covered by the official secrets act. I never knew what he did and neither did my mother or sister.

As children my sister and I were sometimes entertained by curious pieces of equipment he would bring home, usually only for one evening. Miniature tape recorders, tiny cameras and on one occasion a bottle of mercury (times were very different in the early 1950s.

This essay was written before the second world war and I imagine he would have been disappointed by that part of his predictions being so far off the mark. In most of the essay he got he pretty close to what has happened.

You left

teddy bear left alone

You left cold sheets one side of our bed
A book laying open, partly read
Silences, where once we talked
Grass now growing, where once we walked

You left a picture of when life was bright
The shape of your body when I held you tight
Your touch, your laughter, your every way
The colour you cast on the greyest day

You left rooms that echo of the life we knew
Nights much darker when I think of you
Words you whispered in our bed
And tears on the pillow beneath my head

You left

Plots and storyboards

plot a novel on cards

My first novel was planned meticulously
I had no idea how ‘real’ authors developed their plots. Previously I had tried to write a novel with very little planning and my plot got confused – even the characters in my novel got confused. So I set about working out everything beforehand.

Here is my nerdy, old-fashioned, personalised method of plotting.
You will need…
Hundreds of small bits of cardboard
Two coloured felt-tip markers
(blue edge on a card for a chapter head and date, red for a chapter summary)
A pen of your choice that doesn’t smudge easily
A roll of clear sellotape
A cup of tea (coffee is an acceptable alternative)
Patience

The advantages of this method (which I still use in a modified form)
You only need to know three or four things in your plot, scribble them on bits of card and put them on your table.

You don’t have to imagine a whole plot in one go. Once you’ve started you can move them around, add ideas, even push some to the side. Before you know it the story will grow in front of you. Sellotape them together before the wind blows them all over the floor (it happened to me once).

Don’t let it rule you
In my work process this is produced as a guide only. Once I start writing everything changes. But you can just cut up your bits of card and replace them with new strands and characters as they appear. You can see my scribbled character spider in the top left of the picture.

Software options
There are software programs that emulate this method and probably give you more options, but…
1) I don’t have a computer screen as big as my table.
2) Getting away from the screen can liberate your imagination – it’s a touchy-feely method.

How not to get a Literary Agent

illustration of literary agents

Preperation
Before submitting any material I read through the profiles of some 150 agents. But I didn’t only read their profiles, I read their twitter feeds, watched their video posts, read about their likes and dislikes and checked the authors they represent.

illustration of literary agents

I’ve failed so far, but what have I learned?
I submitted the first three chapters of Life After Alison, a query letter and a synopsis (at the requested length) to a number of agents. So far I have had only rejections – polite, formulaic, friendly, but still rejections.

As this is my third novel I have been searching for where the disconnect lies and I think I’ve identified a problem with my writing. I have concentrated on storytelling, not to the detriment of everything else, but storytelling has been my focus. My readers like my style, but it doesn’t grab the attention of agents.

So the novel I’m now working on, with the working title of Hannah’s Island, is addressing that perceived weakness. The first five hundred words immerse you in the character, the place, the time and how it feels to be Hannah, but without my usual driven storytelling (the story does evolve). We will see what happens when I’ve finished the novel, but I’m quite pleased with the new direction.

illustration of literary agents

The main thing to remember is…
Literary agents stand shoulder to shoulder in wanting to like your novel. It’s not their fault if you’ve written something dull or riddled with literals or derivative (I don’t think I have but… who knows). And they’re all different. Just because one is unimpressed, it doesn’t mean another will not turn out to be your champion.

I will be posting occasionally about how Hannah’s Island is progressing and probably post those first five hundred words, with notes, on how I think I’ve adjusted my style and content.

Summary
It may appear to be about ‘who you know’, but in the end it’s about what you’ve written.

ps editing
I have since had my manuscript professionally edited – I really should have done that first. No wonder I had no success with agents.

No point

depressing snow landscape

There is no point in travelling,
when you’ve no place to be.
No sense in searching,
when your heart cannot see.
And no doors will unlock,
when you don’t have a key.

There is no point in sowing,
where love cannot grow.
No questions worth asking,
of a life you can’t know.
And no reason for staying
when your heart says go.

There is no point in searching,
with dulled tired eyes.
No use in listening,
when you only hear lies
And no sense in living,
because everything dies.

A character spider

writing aid character spider

Spoiler alert
This character spider contains facts about characters in my second novel The Act of Falling that don’t appear in the text. If you know anything about personality disorders you would probably work them out anyway, but just thought I’d mention that.

The size of the circle
My focus is on Emily Hamton, therefore she takes centre stage in this diagram. However, the novel is written from the POV of Richard. The size of each circle is roughly the prominence of a character in the text. There are three circle sizes, therefore primary, secondary and bit part players.

My nerdy approach to plot and character
I usually have a broad idea of the plot and theme of the novel – although I’m personally not so concerned with the theme as it seems a bit like lecturing to your readers.

The plot develops intricacies as I write. I keep that under control in another way, which I will post here soon. The characters also develop and this graphic helps me to keep the salient points of their relationships and history consistent.

Alone

A crowd of people

A sirens sounds for the daily dance,
a game that is carelessly played.
In covert signs and coded words,
Liaisons are sought, alliances made.

But those who don’t hear, or don’t know the rules,
are lost in this masquerade.

By day they are silent, in the evening alone,
weaving dreams that may never see light.
Mouthing the words of songs they have learned,
while dancing alone, hidden from sight.

Shrouded with empathy, dusted with love,
Trapped in their room, alone at night.

Does the world need another novel?

my desk with scraps of writing on it

Probably not, and yet I’m writing my fourth novel. So why?

I still don’t have a simple, single sentence answer to that question of why I do it – but here are some of the excuses I’ve used when I don’t feel people want the full answer.

I wanted to see if I could write 90,000 words
There was this idea for a story that I had to write down
It’s fun, I do it as a hobby really
I hope to find fame and fortune by writing a bestseller

The real reason is… I don’t always understand people in real life (ref sub clinical autism – whatever that means). In a creating a story I get to invent the character’s and their motivation. I am inside the head of every character. I know why they do what they do, what they mean when say something and what they want.

When I’m submerged in writing is the only time I am confident that I know what’s happening. The rest of my life is spent muddling through with guesswork and I often misunderstand what’s said to me.

So, what’s your excuse?

Mental health awareness

snow fields

There is a big campaign, with lots of publicity, about speaking out on mental health issues and making it okay to admit to friends and family that you have problems. This is a good initiative but there are a few issues I’ve noticed.

Virtue signalling for exposure
Some celebrities have hijacked the subject of mental health to promote new books, new tv shows, almost anything they are ‘selling’. Their past, maybe current, problems are probably real, but when the last part of their ‘confession’ is a commercial link or tag, I begin to question their motives – or those of their agents.

Me too reactions
When a mental issue is raised among friends or family there is often a ‘me too’ reaction. Phrases which I’ve heard include…

1 Well I could let myself be depressed, but I just shake myself out of it.

2 We’re all on the autistic scale somewhere.

3 God I know what you mean, like I literally have thought about killing myself so many times.

4 We’ve all got OCD to some extent, I do loads of those things too.

5 I’ve had a few sessions with CBT and it’s cured me completely.

6 There’s nothing wrong with you, I’ve known you for years and you don’t have that.

I hope I don’t need to pick apart each one of these responses, but if you haven’t suffered from any serious mental health issues you will never fully understand the trauma they can cause. I spent some time as a Samaritan listener and it put my own problems firmly in perspective. Yes, I have been diagnosed with mental health problems. Yes, I do take some modest medication to help with those problems. But I cope.

From the casual observer’s point of view I have lived a pretty normal, stable life. But nobody knows what goes on inside someone else’s head. To suggest you do, and that’s it’s perfectly normal, is as ridiculous as saying “I used to only have one leg, but I decided to grow another one”.