Archive for October, 2015

I CHingThe notion of a life’s path is central to ideas of human development, be they secular or religious. But it’s not obvious what that path is, especially when we can only say we’re on it when we’re not deliberately trying to steer our course. And our Ego likes to steer, likes to gain knowledge, skill, and to compete against other egos in order to secure wealth, power and sex. These are the aphrodisiacs of the material world, a world that divides us, as it did in primitive times, into mere predators and prey. There can be no other way, we’re told – no surviving life without combat. It’s evolution. Simple.

Not true, says the Book of Changes.

The Book of Changes, also known as the I Ching or the Yi Jing, is a strange, beguiling text, evidence of which first appeared in China’s Shang Dynasty, around 1600 BC, though it certainly predates this period. It came to the west in the late 19th century via the translation by James Legge, and largely ignored except as a cultural curiosity, but was taken up by the Jungian psychoanalytical movement on publication of the influential Wilhelm edition in 1929. There have been many editions since the Wilhelm Edition, but none so influential, striking as it did at the heart of European intellectual thought.

It then became a companion to 60’s counterculture, and is still widely used today. While its core structure has remained untouched since antiquity, the language of its interpretation changes to suit whatever culture it finds itself taken up by. I have several versions of it, and wrote my own interpretation, The Hexagrams of the Book of Changes, available here, as a way of furthering my grasp of its curious concepts.

What we normally think of as our life’s path, says the Yi Jing, the path we can see and plot and manage, isn’t really our path at all, but simply our life situation. Our true path is more of an internal journey towards awakening. Our life situation is only relevant to the extent that we are able to adjust our relationship with it in order to prevent it from subverting the more vital inner path. The material world is a world asleep. Hold solely to material values, and you will remain asleep also. To awaken is to realise, viscerally, the deeper nature of reality and our place in it. To this end the Yi Jing is an indispensable guide.

What makes the book unique is its interactive nature. You talk to it. You can ask it things, and it answers. The answers are complex, perceptive, and personal. There’s a lot of debate about exactly who or what it is we talk to when we talk to the Yi Jing. Some deify the book, picturing in their minds the spirit of a wise old sage, like Lao Tzu perhaps, and that’s fine if it’s how you want to see it. But everyone’s relationship with the book is going to be different.

My own feeling is that when we consult the book, we open the way to a deeper part of our selves. We ask our question and are then directed to certain apparently random passages and subtexts, the combination of which forms a narrative for reflection and interpretation. The answers then emerge in our own minds, riding in on a wave of sudden insight. In some sense the book can be seen as an oracle, but this is to seriously underestimate its potential, and for me its real strength lies in its use as a psychological tool, a thing that shakes the unconscious mind in order to release personal insights.

I don’t know how it works, and I no longer think about it. The ego cannot crack it, but neither can the Ego accept the Yi Jing without explanation, so there opens a divide. On the one side we have explanations from devotees of the book that range from the vaguely plausible to the frankly crackpot, and on the other a sour scientistic rejection of the book as merely the work of an emerging, pre-rational culture. Others say we simply read into it whatever we want to hear, and that’s also fine, though this does not explain the fact that if one is open enough, one always rises from the Yi Jing knowing or feeling something one did not know or feel before. Another of its useful characteristics is that it will never shy away from telling us what we don’t want to hear. It’s not an easy book to know, certainly not without devoting time to developing a relationship with it, and many may find it simply impenetrable, banal, or even repulsive.

When I read back to my earliest conversations with the Yi Jing, I come across as a very different person, my questions very much concerned with my place in the world: job, relationships, house, kids, cars, holidays, financial ups and downs, struggles for publication,… and the answers read like repeated attempts to make me see I had the whole world upside down, that actually, none of it mattered, that the confusion and the frustration we so often feel in life is based on faulty thinking, our anxieties arising purely from a resistance to events over which we have no control.

While we have no choice, as beings in flesh, but to operate at the material level of reality, the Yi Jing tells us we should always do so in cognizance of the inherent limitations of material being, and in the knowledge that a greater understanding of the meaning of “being” comes from exploring the shifting patterns of our inner selves. As a guide to such things, I have found the Yi Jing is without parallel and is one of the most insightful guides to life ever conceived.

Not bad for a book coming to us from our Neolithic past.

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writer pasternakFiction is divided into genres and the traditional advice for the writer is to choose a genre, get to know it well, then to write something to suit it. The upside of this, for the publisher at least, is that it makes a work more easily definable in marketing terms, but for the writer it can eventually lead to stories that are all essentially the same. Georges Polti tells us there are only 36 dramatic situations, the inference being that all works are to a degree derivative. So if you narrow the field even further and, for example, take a genre like Teen Vampire stories, or Romance, there comes a point very quickly when things begin to look alike.

This doesn’t sound like a recipe for originality, yet it is only the most naive writer who attempts to break the genre boundary by seeking to achieve something outside of it. Why? Because they risk the publisher rejecting their efforts as being, if not without merit, then certainly without market. Yet paradoxically it is exactly this genre busting approach that yields the most “groundbreaking” stories. The catch 22 is that any writer who sets out to do such a thing is seriously narrowing the already narrow odds of having their work read at all.

It’s a paradox, yes, but for the independent author, writing online, especially one writing for nothing, it’s irrelevant. We can write what we want, write a teen vampire police procedural Miss Marple type murder mystery if we like. Such a chimerical creation would be unthinkable in conventional print, but might actually be very entertaining, both for reader and writer alike.

If we’re writing for nothing, there’s nothing lost in trying to at least offer something original. This needn’t be difficult because the originality we have to offer is already invested in our own unique experience of life.

For me, attempts at originality are rooted in having no idea where a story is going from the outset. No plan. Nothing. But if I meditate on nothingness for a while, a character will appear. I see them in a situation, a scene unfolds, a thought or two leaks out of them, I’m intrigued. I want to know more about them. This is not a plot, not an outline, it’s just a scene, an opening, a curtain raised on an unfamiliar play. But it is also a seed that contains within it the genetic coding for the unfolding of an entire universe.

Want to know who the character is? What they’re doing? How they got there? Ask them. Let another character in, become them, be that person for a while, see what else unfolds. Do not invent your stories, do not work from an outline and bulldoze your plot through from start to finish. Instead merely write down the story as your characters tell it to you.

Make stuff up as you go along? Are we not in danger then of writing ourselves into a plot quagmire from which there’s no way out? Surely only children do that and, for want of any better conclusion, simply end their stories in exasperation with the revelation that it was all a just dream? Maybe. But I find if we can really trust in our characters, in the unconscious, in the pre-existing fabric of being, this won’t happen and what we’ll have is something as unique, as quirky, and as unusual as the individual imagination. This is their story. Not yours.

But then again we’re all suggestible. Unknown to us, our “original” character, our apparently spontaneous manifestation of the unconscious may actually be derived subliminally from someone we saw on TV last night. So yes, this can be dangerous in that what we sincerely believe to be creations from our deepest unconscious are in fact heavily contaminated by exposure to other forms of entertainment, and once again we end up writing stuff that’s no different to anything else. Better then we draw more from life, that our characters be based on someone we saw briefly in a coffee-shop at the weekend than from a novel we have just read, or a movie we have just seen. Or we can seek to allow within us a looseness of thought that allows our characters to produce a hybrid offspring, half suggested by other fictions, half swept up from our observations of life.

None of this is to say that achieving originality equates to writing good fiction. Indeed it’s can be quite an insult to a writer if the best that can be said of our work is that it is “original” – translated as: bizarre, unintelligible, freaky, illiterate, and worst of all unmarketable – so we do need to pay attention to other aspects of the craft. But what the quest for originality does, I think, is succeed in fulfilling the aim of those mysterious personal and collective unconscious processes which seek to enter conscious awareness by whatever means fall to hand, to become a part of what we understand as a physical reality. If we’re giving our work away online, there’s no reason not to do it, and the rewards can be immeasurable in terms of personal satisfaction, even psychological development.

Of course the only rules in writing are those compiled by writers writing books for sale on how to write saleable writing. But the truth is there are no rules, only a list of personal methods that may or may not sit well with others. So, although I have been writing a long time, I hesitate to offer advice – and more so especially since I’ve not made  a bean out it. About the only thing I’m confident in passing on to you is that we must at the very least take pleasure in our story-telling, or it’s not worth doing. So don’t write merely because you believe a story will be popular. Write because you have no choice, and because the story you are writing is the one you’ve been given. You can always tell the difference. One of them will be a grind and you’ll probably never finish it , while the other will light you up from first to last, and your characters will teach you things about yourself and about life you did not know before.

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dreamingIn my story, the admittedly somewhat awkwardly titled Enigma that was Carla Sinclair, I tell of a man obsessed from the outset of the personal-computing revolution with creating a virtual world as home for his imaginary muse, Carla. He begins with the Sinclair computers of the late seventies, continues through the later IBM and Microsoft Pentium machines, and beyond to roughly the present day. Each advance in technology allows the construction of a bigger, more detailed and more complex virtual world, as well as a more realistic and artificially articulate manifestation of the muse Carla. His window on this world is his computer screen through which he peers voyeuristically at the autonomous antics of this virtual female companion. And through a queer mix of coding and philosophy he sees Carla grow from a crude 2D cartoon into a 3D virtual phenomenon, a phenomenon to which he devotes his entire life.

To save you the bother of reading the story, **spoiler alert** the conclusion is that the virtual nature of the world he creates, although fascinating, is ultimately unimportant, that in exploring it he is in fact exploring a part of himself, that he and Carla are different sides of the same coin, and you don’t need a computer to work that out. My own minor revelation regarding virtual worlds is that, whilst much hyped, they are of interest only at a trivial level. Contrary to their early promise they actually offer nothing of any practical, philosophical or psychological value. Worse, they can be a wasteful distraction, even harmful if we invest in them the hope of eventually gaining more from them than they are capable of delivering.

carlacoverLike our hero, I have for a long time been surfing a fascination with virtual worlds, but my attempts to create my very own Carla experiment have all failed. This is due to a combination of the limitations of even the most powerful of our machines, but mainly to my own incompetence with modern coding languages. I can use software tools to create the doll-like model on which I paint an image of the Carla’s skin. I can also generate rudimentary movement across a landscape by creating a walking animation and poking her about with the arrow keys, but to code some form of artificial and interactive “intelligence” is quite beyond my ability. And anyway, I can see it would be rather like playing oneself at chess: even were I to succeed, there could be no illusion of reality, no meaningful suspension of disbelief, since you always know for any given input what move is coming next – because you’ve programmed it.

An alternative to the pseudo-autonomous Carla is to opt for one of the ready made virtual worlds on offer, like Linden Labs’ Second Life. I have waxed lyrical about this place in the past, but nowadays find the experience of it rather dull and sterile. Here, the behaviour of our mannequins is not scripted. Instead, we push them around like dollies, as proxies of ourselves. They are not archetypes then but Avatars. For me this immediately led to some confusion in that my instinct, after the Carla experiments, was to create for myself a Carla-like avatar, in other words a female. But for in-world exploration, this means I find myself “living” as that female, and this is perplexing when it comes to my relations with others in the virtual space, since the males I meet all want to see me undressed, and the women all want to take me dancing and clothes shopping. And of course I do not want to be Carla, but recognise that in a more complex way, it is Carla who wants to be me.

So, for practical purposes Carla morphs into the safer and less confusing shape of a generic male avatar, yet one, unfortunately, through whose eyes I see the virtual world in a less than philosophical light. It looks unreal, this world, because it is unreal. The landscape is a crude illusion, at times grotesque. The crudely realised trees sway by way of algorithm, and if I want to turn the shadows on in order to enhance the illusion of reality, my computer grinds to a halt. There is also the disorienting phenomenon of familiarising oneself with a particular region of the world, only to return the next day to find it has been deleted.

snapshot_001Imaginative play is something better left to children. As children we speak through our toys, our dolls, our teddy bears. We invent scenarios for them to enact, worlds for them to inhabit. It is a developmental stage, testing, helpful in bringing into consciousness what would otherwise lie undeveloped – something about the resolution of conflict in relations, and the working towards the more tranquil human goals of a Platonic love for others, and thereby a universal harmony – something like that anyway. But as adults, impaled by now on the spike of our fully formed egos, we are all too ready to pervert our potential, our games tending more instead towards the banal acquisition of power, status, and sex.

As a last resort, I created for myself an off-line Second-Life like world where Carla could live alone. And, like with the Lake Isle of Innisfree, I built myself a cabin there, thinking to find at last the virtual peace for which I have for so long been searching. But again, it’s not very realistic, and I realise it’s also lonely knowing no one else can ever discover us – me and Carla, in our hiding place. There is a thing in humans that gauges the existence of our selves partly in relationship to others, and to deny it is in part to deny life. Indeed under these circumstances, the virtual becomes more of a prison, when what Carla wants is to escape and mingle freely in conscious reality, but without having to submit to the power, or the tyranny of others.

This, as our hero, and creator of the titular Carla Sinclair discovers, is alchemy. But the true alembic is not the man-spun glass, nor the coded virtual world, but the authentic “inner ” world of the psyche envisioned through the lens of the imagination. Only through our exploration of the infinite nuances of this authentic space do we stand a chance of making way in real life. It’s not without its dangers, but anything else leads to incarceration in an intricately coded labyrinth of our own creation, one we might spend a lifetime exploring, but in which everything we see is inevitably a shadow of what it’s actually supposed be.

At another level “real” life is like this too, but that’s another story.

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aylesburyI took the conveyor of the living dead, the M6, south, picked it up from the East Lancs road, let it carry me down to the M5 intersection, a run of about ninety miles. It took three hours, an hour longer than it took in 1985. Goods wagons formed a fairly solid convoy, swelling both the inner and the middle lanes, all the way. Only a fast car in the outside lane, and a driver with no imagination could have reduced the journey time, but only then by a smidgen and it did not seem worth it to me.

Road works and the sheer heaviness of traffic joining at various junctions slows progress to a clutch-foot killing stop-start. The last ten miles to the M5 were like that. It’s always like that now, seems a little worse each time.

Things picked up from the M5, finally managing a decent cruise speed on adequate roads – the M42, and the M40 to Bicester. Then it was the arrow straight line of the old A41 to Aylesbury for the night – all told, another hundred miles, which, by contrast with the conveyor of the living dead, took just a couple of hours. I conclude the North is being crushed under a weight of rubber, and heavy goods in transit.

I was driving a hired car, one of those suddenly controversial Volkswagens, an iced white 2.0 L diesel Passat. Its generous proportions kept me sane in heavy traffic, and it went like a rocket on those finally open stretches of the M40. I set the Satnav to ping me if we went over 70, and 70 felt as sedate as 30. It is a beautiful machine, state of the art in automotive design, responded to the pedal with an assertive rush and a growl of the turbo, yet barely consumed a quarter of a tank of fuel.

Still, I do not envy the company rep who drives these sorts of distances every day, though I suppose one must get used to them. I am certainly less fatigued by a six hour drive now than when I was young – although I remember journeys like this taking much less time twenty years ago. My average speed was 38. It used to be 45.

council offices aylesburyI saw little of Aylesbury, rolled in at rush hour and with the sun just setting. The civic building, the so called Frank’s Fort rose, an ambitious 200 feet, an early 60’s dour grey monolith, illumined by its multitudinous windows. The last rays of the sun picked out the glass and lent it a fantastical appearance, dominating the town in the gathering dusk.

Although this was my first visit to the town, I’d already driven in the day before, in virtual mode at least, looking for the hotel on Google’s marvellous Streetview thing-a-ma-bob. It lent an eerie sense of deja vu, seeing those junctions, the roundabouts and the skyline once more, when I drove in for real. I found the turning for the hotel with the combined help of Google’s preview andmy “CoPilate’s” Satnav precision, and there I pulled in safe at last to rest. I remember we used to manage such navigational dead reckoning with nothing more than a sketch map and a bit of common sense. I wouldn’t like to try that now. Is the world more complicated, or am I just older and slower?

The hotel was new, parking on the roof. Steel-lined elevators took me down to the newly refurbished waterfront of the Grand Union Canal, all clean lines and crapless. Barges gurgled in anachronistic contentment at their moorings, looking out across a wide paved piazza, to the clean white edifice of new office blocks – citadel of the homogeneous modern workplace, potential of a thousand souls sitting behind computer screens in open plan.

The hotel was quiet and comfortable. I did not venture out, but ate in the  somewhat Spartan cafe. I was one of perhaps twenty diners that evening, and the only one not peering at a hand-held screen, because I’d left mine in the room and felt conspicuous without it now, as if sitting there without trousers. The wall mounted TV was tuned to Heart radio which jarred somewhat. I counted only two staff. My meal was an hour in coming, industrially bland but adequate. They did their best, were smiling, friendly, outnumbered.

Corporate efficiencies are often times impressive in their attentions to the removal of detail. The bathrooms no longer furnish little blocks of soap. Besides the cost of them, there’s the time penalty in servicing the room. Much more efficient is the foam dispenser, but as a guest I do not like to wash my face with it. Instead, I subvert the system by foreknowledge, and bring my own soap.

The room rocks, vibrates to the beat of my heart. In fact it is my heart, a slow pulse that travels the length of my body. Fatigue of the road, I suppose. I write a little. Update the journal, run through another draft of the Sea View Cafe, in so far as I have it down to date. Fin and Min are becoming much loved companions now. Then I channel-zap the wall mounted television. Entertainment ranges from the banal to the grotesque. I find little to linger upon except a curious episode of Stargate Atlantis.

This holds my attention for a while, partly because I realise it has a female lead at the upper end of what Hollywood would consider a permissibly attractive age. Any older and it might become confusing for the audience. Women any older than this struggle to find parts in movie drama unless they are playing the stereotypically annoying old person/grandmother, and certainly not as a potentially romanceable lead. It is as if the writers of visual fiction consider a woman to lose her power when she is no longer capable of Galatean transformation.

I was never a Stargate Atlantis fan, but like much of TV drama aired any time between now and 1975, I have probably seen it before, soaked it all in to the subliminal zone from where a passive suggestibility arises. Sci-Fi, Kitchen Sink, Police drama, Soapy Suds – all are interchangeable, each derived from the other in an incestuous orgy of diminishing returns.

When I think of my own stories I am as guilty of this as anyone, my unconscious suggestibility raising the age of romantic leads as I have aged myself until, I note, I broke the half century, when I time-locked the male at 45, and the female at around 38, thus exposing my own inadequacy and prejudice at the same time. I apologise to women who are older, plead only that it may be I am considering myself no longer substantially active in this way, that I must rely on imagination and memory from here on in.

By lunch time the following day I am on the M5 again, approaching Birmingham, heading north. Home by tea time – another two hundred miles of nose to tail, a round trip of four hundred miles.

Eleven hours in a car.

It is a strange meditation to be on the road for so long. One cannot switch off, obviously, since driverless cars are as yet only a promise of the near future, but neither can we allow ourselves to become coiled tight in readiness for a collision or we would not last an hour on the roads as they are now. Relaxed focus is the key. The company rep must have it in oodles. My mind wanders, thinks, channel zaps strange things.

I wonder if I have thought them all before.

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the sea view cafe - smallChapter 22 – first draft

A foul night. Heavy rain rattling at the window and continuing through until dawn. It’s Wednesday. Hermione lies still, cuddling the pillow, not wanting to disturb the delicious warmth of the duvet which has by now settled just right, and ever so sleepy-snug. No need to get up this morning, the Cafe is closed. It might as well have been closed yesterday as well for all the custom she attracted. Things will have to pick up soon or she will be thinking she’s failed, that she will have to go home and listen to her mother say I told you so.

She remembers her mother is dead.

Seven thirty am, then eight, then nine, and still she lies there, drifting in and out of dreams.

There’s a yellow post-it-note fixed to the alarm. It bears the name and address of a man she does not really know. He looked different without his beard last night, so much better, so much more readable, the softness in his eyes repeated about the corners of his mouth as he spoke. What did he say? “Oh, Hi,…” or something like that. Not much in one sense, but a lot more in another because sometimes it is not so much the number of words that conveys meaning as the way they are spoken.

She blushes when she sees him, notices his blushes when he sees her. It means something.

Hush Minnie. It’s nothing, remember?

She’ll run as usual today, but only when it’s stopped raining.

It has rained a lot in Carrickbar this year.

The tide has turned by mid morning and is inching its way back in. Hermione jogs while the cold and the wind washes the sleep from her eyes with salt tears. She runs north, keeping to the sands, wanting to avoid everyone, Finn and Helena especially – Finn because she does not want to want him, and Helena because she does not want her to want him either. And while she thinks on this, she wants only to be a lone figure in the grey.


She has not gone a hundred yards when she spots something washed up, brought in by that morning’s tide. It’s a seal perhaps. Or a sack of something floatable tipped over the side of a boat. She would give it a wide birth but something in the shape of it draws her eye, something deep within that gives warning, primeval in its certainty. And she just knows.


She jogs closer, slows when she sees the form a young woman, lifeless, topless like a mermaid, hair matted like weedy fronds about her face, arms outstretched in the sand where the tide has rolled her, a finger pointing. The waxy whiteness of her skin is beautiful, as in way, is the unnatural whiteness of her lips. Hermione stops, hands on knees, silent as a church, unbelieving. What to do? She takes the girl’s wrist between her fingers, thinks to feel for a pulse. The girl is cold, wet, slippery like fish. The deadness in her is obvious.

Someone else is coming now. Running. Breathless.

She turns.


“I thought I saw from the promenade. I wasn’t sure,… is she?…”

Hermione nods. No need to make a show with CPR. The girl’s spirit is long gone. Gone last night in the deep. Gone for ever.

She’s not sure she wants Finn there, not sure why, not sure about anything now. It complicates the moment, adds tangents to it that she cannot search for meaning. She’s also breathing strangely, too deep, like there’s a scream inside of her that’s trying but won’t come. And the tide is on its way back in.

Finn is calling the police on his mobile. He tries to be calm, precise, measured, but Hermione detects the quiver in his voice of a deep, trembling shock.

Yes, a body. On the beach. At Carrickbar. Young woman. Girl. Drowned maybe.

It seems to take a long time for him to get the message across. He seems to be fighting against an inappropriately cold pedantry. They want his name and address. There are other seemingly irrelevant questions. He keeps trying to tell them: A body. Yes. A body on the beach at Carrickbar. He breaks the call in some frustration.

“What they say?”

“Not to touch her. Someone will be with us soon.”

Hermione drops the girl’s wrist. “How soon?”

“Don’t know.”

“But the tide’s coming in. It’ll have her back out if we wait. We can’t let it take her back out, Finn. We can’t!” She grabs hold of the girl’s wrist again as if to prevent the tide from having her.

Finn is thinking, eyes to the sea, eyes to the promenade and the high water mark. He takes off his coat and drapes it over the girl’s body, as if to keep her warm. “We’ll stay ’till they come,” he says. “Move her up the beach if we have to.”

Hermione nods. He’s a good thinker in a crisis.


They begin to shiver.

It’s half an hour before they hear the whine of the air ambulance. Blue lights appear on the promenade at the same time. Hermione cannot remember those thirty minutes. Time is erased. There’s just Finn, crouching by the girl, keeping quiet vigil, and she beside him, the pair of them willing back the tide. No one else from the village comes. It’s too cold a day to be out.

Then the police are there and they are led aside, as if trespassing. The girl is taken from their care and they are resentful of it. Hermione has a parting image of her being rolled without ceremony onto a plastic sheet. Finn’s coat is, sealed in a bag as if accused. Police and noise descend upon the quiet.

Someone is questioning Hermione now. She remembers a fluorescent jacket and a broken nose. She shrugs him off. “We’ll be up the Cafe,” she says, gestures vaguely in the direction of the Sea View, then takes Finn’s hand, pulls him from a pair of officers, leads him away, brushes off their objections. “We’re cold,” she snaps. There’s a contempt in her voice. She can’t help it. She hates the sight of them.

“They took your coat,” she says.

They’re climbing the steps by the harbour. Hermione is still holding his hand, holding it tight, can’t let it go, and his hand feels firm and warm in hers, except she’s not holding it, more holding on to it.

“It’s just an old coat,” says Finn. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Hadn’t you nothing in your pockets?”

He shrugs. “Nothing important. A hanky. An old hat.”

“Not your wallet then?”

“Em,… no.”

“Need to take better care of that.”

“Yes,… look, about that,… about my wallet,… thanks.”


“It was you who found it, wasn’t it? You posted it through the letter box? Yesterday?”

“How ‘d you know?”

“I could,… smell your perfume on it.”

She’s impressed he knows her scent, impressed that he noticed. “Must have had some on my fingers.”

“But,… anyway,… thanks.”

“S’all right.”

They’re on the promenade now, Squinty Mulligan’s garage across the road, and him outside looking nervous at all the flashing lights. Hermione squeezes Finn’s hand in both her own. Let squinty see. Let Squinty think I’m with Finn.

“You all right?” she asks.

“Yes. Still can’t believe this is happening? Are we dreaming?”

“If we are it’s time we woke up.”

“Who was she, do you think?”

She thinks back to yesterday, to the figures way out on the sands. “Don’t know,” she says. “Not from round here, though.”

Finn looks out over the sea wall, back up the beach from where they’ve come. They are carrying the girl safe from the tide now, laying her down again. There’s the lightning flash from a camera. A private ambulance cruises quiet to the kerb. Hermione feels him far away. They are both of them still down on the beach, with the girl, a half hour of shivering vigil, watching over her. Hermione tugs him up the hill towards the Cafe.

It’s warmer inside, but not much because the heating doesn’t run downstairs on Wednesdays. It’ll be warmer in the flat of course, but she’s not going to invite him up there. It may be perverse but she’s realising there’s nothing like the closeness of death for making her want to feel alive, and if Finn feels half way the same, it’ll only take a knowing glance on his part, and she’ll have him good and hard and be done with it.

They are shivering over hot chocolate when the plain clothes men arrive, ties at half mast and dark trench coats with collars turned, as if in parody of themselves. She notices Squinty at the door, trying to catch her eye. His way is barred by uniforms.

The questions begin in earnest.

She tells them nothing. Knows nothing. Spits her answers.

Finn looks on, wondering, bracing himself at her barely concealed contempt, puzzled by it. His own tone is more polite, respectful. But he knows no more than she. There was a body on the beach. He called the police. No, he does not know who she is, has not seen her around the village before. No, he saw no one else that morning, except Hermione. Yes, he lives in Carrickbar.

Squinty is still at the door, nose against the glass. The officers have finished, seem unperturbed by Hermione’s tone, satisfied with Finn. They have addresses, have handed out cards with official police contact numbers on them. She tears the cards in two as soon as the police have gone.

But she and Finn cannot sit here now, not downstairs in the Cafe with Squinty at the door. He’ll want in. He’ll want the gossip, for nothing like this has happened in Carrickbar before. But she can’t share it yet, and especially not with him. The breaths are coming deep again, the scream building. She can’t let go of Finn, just yet. Something happened on the sands they need to emerge from intact, and they must do it together. She needs him to help make sense of it, fill the gaps in her leaking cognition.

“Will you,… come up for a bit?”

Finn thinks on this for a moment, then nods.

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BullSo, my son says. You’re still trying to be a writer? Offspring can be very cutting with their casual remarks. No, I tell him. I already am a writer. What you probably mean is am I still trying to be a famous writer? and the answer is no. Or maybe you mean, am I still trying to be a writer who makes a living from his work? and again the answer is no. Fame is a matter for fate, and about as likely for any of us as a lottery win. It is not to be sniffed at, but hardly a thing to be surrendered to either without being fully cognisant of the consequences. As for making a living, the statistics don’t make for encouraging reading. They tell us very few writers make a living by writing, that in order to live, most writers need proper jobs as well.

I have just begun a new story – well, I’m about half way through it now, the first draft word count nudging up to 40K. And as usual at this point in the writing process, I think to myself, why should I give this one away? Why not try to sell it on that Kindle Publishing thing? After all it might sell enough downloads to fund a few modest purchases on Ebay. So I loop through the usual arguments, for and against, and come to the same conclusions as before, that actually it’s not as straight forward as one might think, having a paying day-job, and writing for money – at least if you want to keep on the right side of the law.

The question, for UK based writers, is one of tax. In writing for money you are trading, and the taxman wants his cut. So, I say, okay Mr Taxman, how do I pay you what I owe? But here, for a long time, the answers have amounted to vague mutterings that make no sense. I even asked this question on a forum for tax professionals. They talked loud and long, and in worryingly vague terms. They didn’t know the answer, at least not with any precision. Indeed many had trouble even understanding my question.

But how difficult can it be? You have a dayjob. You work in a factory, or an office, or a shop, or whatever, and pay tax on your earnings through the pay as you earn (PAYE) scheme. This means your employer deducts your tax and national insurance at source, and gives you what’s left. So what if I then have a hobby, like writing, and I want to explore the idea of selling copies of my books? I don’t expect to earn much, if anything. Is the taxman interested in my small scale scribblings?

Well, the only concrete part of the answer thus far gleaned is, inthe strictest interpretation of the law: yes.

So, I’ve trawled the internet at some length today and finally pieced together the answer to the elusive “how” part of the puzzle. Here’s what you have to do to pay the taxman:

Even though you’re employed and pay tax through PAYE, you must also declare yourself as self employed. You do this by contacting the Inland Revenue, and they give you a code that enables you to access their online tax service. You then go through the process of filling in an online tax return, listing your earnings from all sources – from your employer, any interest on savings, investments,.. and then in the “other earnings” section of the online form, you tell them what you’ve made from your writing. You do this every year.

This applies whether you’ve made a £100,000, or £1000, or £100 or nothing.

Neat, eh? I’ve finally solved the mystery! So why am I not setting up a Kindle Desktop Publishing account right now, instead of writing this? Well?

Personally, I’m turned off and not a little intimidated by the thought of going through this process in order to professionalise and monetise my writing. It may be that I lack confidence in my potential earnings to make going through the process worthwhile. It could be that I am mistaken in my belief that potential earnings from my writing can ever amount to more than pin money when compared with the regular earnings from my dayjob. It could be that I am over complicating the process in my head, and that actually it’s quite simple and people do it every day.

It would be easier for me if Amazon could deduct tax from my earnings at source, like my dayjob employer does. This would let me test the water, selling my stories, seeing what the potential was, but it isn’t possible. It seems I’m stymied by tax legalities. Or to put it in more prosaic terms, I don’t want to screw up my tax for the sake of a story that might not make any more than a couple of hundred quid.

I’m sure in the once upon a time, in the days of kipper ties, before the internet came along and we still relied upon the postal service, many writers simply took the publisher’s cheque and didn’t bother informing the taxman. They took the view that the taxman would catch up with them when he was ready, and that would be the time to put their affairs in order, that the taxman wasn’t interested in chasing up the coppers to be gleaned from hobby scribblers scribblings, and would only come calling when they made the big time.  And they might have got away with it too, existing all their non-careers in this legal twilight, but in a networked world where computers read your car number plate, and send you parking tickets automatically, is it really worth the risk?

I wouldn’t advise it.

So, after much deliberation, I have reached the unsurprising conclusion that my new story will not be appearing on Amazon, unless pirated of course. It will be free, like all the others, after I’ve exhausted the pleasure of writing it.

You lucky people!

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Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait 1819-1905The Ego is our self constructed sense of self. It is a thought-form, so called because it is constituted entirely of our thoughts, thoughts about ourselves, about others, and about the world around us. It is in part, self defensive, assuring us, amid a sea of conflicting opinion and ambiguous social currents, that our way of thinking, our way of living is the correct one. It’s also inherently fragile, having left out all those things we deny we could ever think or allow as part of our identity – things like falling in love with someone of the same sex; feelings of friendship or even just basic respect towards someone of another race or creed; accepting that women are human beings; admitting sometimes we get things wrong; admitting other people’s ideas are as valid as our own.

Throughout all of life’s complexities and ambiguities, we can trust the ego to safeguard our position, and it will raise a storm of emotion when its superiority is threatened, when it fears exposure for the fraud it ultimately is. Then it will insist we take action, defensive or offensive. The ego can lead us astray, it can have us make fools of ourselves, it can cause us to incubate neuroses; it can make us hurt or even kill others.

One of the most powerful symbols for the ego is the gun. Take a look at the entertainment aisle next time you’re in town. Pick the top ten DVD’s and see how many carry a gun on their front cover. There he is, the hero, the “ego,” bearing a weapon in order to assault his enemies. It is the archetypal statement of superiority, that my ego has acquired the power to exterminate yours, that my argument shall ultimately triumph over yours, for no better reason than I am stronger or cleverer or more dangerous.

The young are easily seduced by the gun. They are persuaded by perverted cultural programming that it possesses not only a noble imperative, but also a romance. The young are also least prepared, emotionally, psychologically to have much of an idea about the ego, the ego being itself too strong and too big to be seen, masquerading as it does as the very root of our being. We think it’s who we are, that there can be no “us” without it. When threatened it will turn to weapons, and if no weapons are to be had, then fists will do, and failing even that then some malicious comments posted online will sate its appetite for a while.

And there’s really not much the gun-less can do. Fear of death will have me nodding readily to your tune. I may not be happy about it, I may resent it, and you may rest assured my own ego will ensure the first chance I get, I’ll turn the gun on you. And the hotter the revenge against your insults to me the better, for there is nothing quite so satisfying as the signs of a violent and horrifically painful capitulation on the face of one’s enemies. What? Got no gun? A Samaurai sword, or a knife will do. Plenty of those on the covers of DVD’s as well.

The strength of an argument, of reason, will always be outmatched by proficiency with arms, which makes me wonder how we ever progressed beyond a state of barbarism, to find the time to build cities and invent rich cultural lives as well.

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A portrait of a lady reading a book. William Oliver II  1823As children we map our reality using as waymarks the things we touch – the walls of our house, our relationships with parents, siblings, friends, and we map it by the feel of our environment, by the town, city, or green under our feet, by the places we visit – by schooldays, Saturdays, market days, holidays. We map it by the experience of life, and although we are aware of a greater reality beyond what we can see and experience, we feel it more as a strangeness, a reality we can, as children, ignore. And we ignore it because it is a reality that need not be true. Any of it. Truth, rather, is wherever we are in the moment. It is what we can see and touch, right now. It is the story we are living. Right now. This and only this is the truth of us.

My childhood was a small, semi-detached house, built in the 1930’s, bordering meadows which are still mostly there today. It was a village from which the mines had already gone by the 1960’s, fallen to economic ruin, leaving only their sulphurous slag, glowing by night like something volcanic. But mostly it was green. It was corn and it was cattle. And it was big booted farmers selling vegetables door to door. It was duck-ponds in the corners of quiet lanes.

The technology of the broadcast media did not shape this reality much. It was more the window on an accepted fantasy, a world of stories other than my own, and of less importance: Stingray, Thunderbirds, Joe 90, Crackerjack, Jackanory, The Magic Roundabout. I don’t recall teatime news broadcasts using the lurid language they use today. I presume the bad stuff was held back until after the 9:00 p.m. watershed when we kids were safely tucked abed, that it was then the floodgates opened to dose the adult world with its night-time terrors.

I did not know what sex was until I was fourteen, and then only as a theoretical concept, gleaned from the less fantastical speculations of my fellows, and which turned out in the end not to be too far from the mark. And like the sex, the wider world too remained couched in mysterious terms, its unimaginable largeness filtered into more manageable grains through the medium of the stories others told.

Beyond that which we can touch, the world can only ever be a story. And only what we can touch can ever be the truth of our own lives, a thing verified, crystallised by the medium of an immediate, and tangible experience. The truth, or otherwise, of the wider world is always less certain, yet as adults, like imagination, these other stories – lurid, violent, dangerous, frightening – try to convice us they are part of the truth of who we are.

We think, as we grow, we should leave behind the simpler realities of hearth and home, that the world of immediate experience is not enough, that we should grow up, assimilate more of that which we cannot touch, more of the world as presented to us by the pictures and the words of the various media, that we should become conversant in the world of current affairs. But none of these stories are true, except perhaps in the most simplistic of terms and therefore pale into insignificance when compared with the authenticity of our own lives.

It is like those Hollywood movies that are “based on a true story” in which the details making up the whole of the truth are never allowed to get in the way of the telling of the story. This is not to say it is an outright lie, only that a truth can be spun in misleading ways. And stories always have morals, they have plots, they have a meaning and a purpose of their own, while life – real life – may not. We all know this.

And then the choice of which stories we listen to can itself suggest a truth about the world, one less than authentic than reality, creating false emphasis, pushing centre stage some events in favour of others, suggesting importance, urgency. These are the stories collected, edited for our convenience by the master storytellers, by the BBC, Russia Today, Fox News, events selected and spun, and while they may not be lies exactly, they do not tell the true story of the world, but more instead, and if we listen carefully, the story of the story tellers themselves.

But now we can move away from the edited stories. We can dig deep into the eclectic machinery of the Internet, keeper of all video memory, a marvellous, and quite endless source of story. Here the choice of what to feature large, and what to suppress is ours. We choose the truth of the greater world to suit ourselves. But is this any better?

My choices at present are the stories told by Noam Chomsky, Jeremy Corbyn, Julian Assange, Carl Jung, Stanislav Grof, Ken Wilber, Eckhart Tolle, but these choices are of stories no more true than any other. I might have chosen 9/11 conspiracies, UFO’s, David Ike, Donald Trump, and from these spun a story of the world as good or bad as any other, as essentially true or untrue as any other, though perhaps one that did not resonate as well with my own preoccupations.

I fell asleep last night plugged in to You Tube. I was listening to a lecture by Noam Chomsky, but a deep fatigue withdrew me from his story. And I woke this morning to a an autumn sun, and one of the last warm days of the year. I pulled a tree-stump from the garden, took a last cut of the lawn, repaired a gate, washed the car, and as the sun set I drank cold beer. This is my only authentic reality. I am not big enough to know the world in all its colour, in all its shape and size, and for me to try is to be eternally deceived, eternally swept from one incomplete view to another. I become lost in what even as a child I recognised, as being of less importance than the day to dayness of my immediate experience.

I have lived today slowly, measuring each breath, trying to savour each moment of the smallness of my being. It is the only reality I shall truly know. That I experience it, that I at least know my own story, is what I think I am meant to do here, to perceive at least the truth of that one thing, instead of seeking a somehow bigger, cleverer or more complex truth among the duplicitous tellers of all the stories of the world.

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