Brain damage

Bridge photo by Tony WebsterHad the horrible realisation last week that what I’ve been calling brain fog all these years has now become brain damage.

Another friend of mine with severe ME has died. Jodi Bassett was only 40. Artist, writer, for twenty years an advocate for ME sufferers, and founder of The Hummingbirds Foundation. Through her detailed and influential papers on that site she helped many people (including many doctors) to understand the medical science of our disease. One remark I remember her making about her own condition was that the brain disease had caused real and permanent brain damage.

Last week, while enjoying one of Frauke Spanuth’s excellent workshops, I came up against a wall that no amount of determination and persistence on my part or intelligent and calm teaching on her part could get me around, and I saw it for what it is.

Frauke has been so patient with me all through our mentorship this year, while I’ve struggled to learn and apply new skills that even a year ago I would have absorbed without scratching my head.

Clearly, I still have the ability to communicate. I still have the words. But the learning new skills part of my brain is burned away.

And, yes, the ME was (and still is) punishing me in its normal nasty way for overdoing it with ten hours of good writing on my new project over the previous weekend. But that wasn’t the case for the three months of our mentor program, when these exact same brain symptoms stopped me from functioning.

That’s where I found myself in the middle of last week, and I didn’t know where I would go from that point.

It wasn’t the anguished wail it probably sounds like. It was more a hollow thud of recognition.

But then I realised I wasn’t getting any intel that my brain’s frustrating inability to learn new technical skills is affecting my ability to write. I mean, yes, my ten hours of weekend writing had kicked me to the kerb, but it’s good. Really good stuff that I’m very happy to build on.

I’m probably tempting fate saying this, but sod it. It’s my fate and I’ll tempt it if I want to. This is how I see this development:

It’s frustrating as hell that the part of my brain that enables me to learn new technical skills has gone, but  I still have the creative planning and writing parts of my brain.

Last night I wrote 500 good Sky Train words to start its second chapter. This project is very much still alive.

And the other aspect of this is that for a writer, nothing, nothing, is a wasted experience. 😉

Father’s Day

Flying fishI remember you in highlights.
I learned your legend
from photographs and family stories.

You, smoking a pipe at the helm on Iamhar
(he and his three friends poured
all their early earnings into that yacht).

You, in National Service uniform
(happy but homesick in Germany,
two years of letters upstairs in a box).

You and Mum, signing the register in retouched Technicolor
(he looked like Clark Gable
in that one)

You, holding infant me in faded black and white
(he cried the night you were born).
I saw your eyes every morning while I shaved.

Did I grow my beard
to avoid orphaning your grandchildren,
or to escape from your long shadow?

Did I go to sea to find you,
or to build my own legend
in waves taller than yours?

How could I compete with perfection?
If my life had been as short as yours,
would I have disappointed less?

When I see your photograph
I am five years old
and I miss you.

It’s decision time! What to write next?

my sun spotI have a big decision to make about what to write next. The choice is between a science fiction series and a murder mystery series, and it’s a big decision because whichever one I choose may well take up a lot of the next five years or so.

The SF one is Sky Train. Cowboys in space, with aliens. Think: Wagon Train to the stars, with a tight bunch of professional nomads shepherding miners and settler families from a group of civilised worlds to a wild west solar system. I have Book 1 skeleton-planned, with all the “trail boss” characters fully formed and characters from a few settler families sketched out too.

The Henry Bloom Murder Mysteries is a straightforward ten-novel chronological series following Henry’s police detective career over about ten years. It has a note of weird, in that Henry gets work-related phone calls from God. This one is planned in more detail than Sky Train and I actually started writing it earlier this year, before I had to pause it through ill health.

I’ve tried to decide based on which one I want to write more, but that hasn’t been working because I want to write them both. Equally, apparently. They’ll pose different challenges, but both will be fun to write.

I even tried the more melodramatic question of which one couldn’t I bear to have not written if I only had time left to write one series. That helped me on a similar “which novel to finish first” choice between Storywalker and The Honesty of Tigers last year, but this time it isn’t working.

I’ve also tried approaching it in terms of which would be a better follow-on from the three SFF standalones I’m releasing now and into next year. If they sell well and I build a readership for my indie books, I suppose the safer choice would be for a SF series to follow, writing now and starting to release it around autumn 2017.

Henry Bloom might be riskier, possibly leaving that theoretical SFF readership behind and starting again with a new murder mystery readership, despite its edge of weirdness.

That is, of course, supposing I’ll even have a readership worth the name after those standalone books are released. Who knows? This might all be academic and it wouldn’t matter one way or the other. Which brings me right back to my “fun to write” question, and to my same answer.

I spent the whole of last week at an impasse.

My Sky Train notes from four years ago were all over the place, so I spent an afternoon putting them in order and reaquainting myself with details I’d forgotten about. There was still a lot of work required to make it a series, but I had Book 1 planned properly and ready to write.

What I had to do then was brainstorm ideas for four or five more books and see if it had the legs for a good series. If it hadn’t, then the fact that all ten books of Henry Bloom are planned and ready to go would make that the correct answer.

By the middle of last week, things were settling for me. It was clear that Sky Train needed a lot more work on the books after the first one. I decided I wasn’t prepared to write Book 1 without at least 5 more books planned in detail. And that state of affairs was a way off yet. Which brought me firmly back into Henry Bloom’s court.

My instinct was to finish writing the remaining SF standalone Quiet Resistance this year, and publish it next summer. That would give me four indie standalones out in the world by about this time next year. By then, I’d intend to have the first Henry Bloom book written and ready to go in autumn 2017, with the rest of that series appearing at the rate of one novel per year after that.

It was never going to be fast. I can’t pump books out rapidly. But I’ll be satisfied if I can build a backlist steadily like that.

What I did know as the weekend approached, was that I was ready to write something.

It was four weeks since my eye surgery and on Thursday, right on schedule, I looked into full daylight with both eyes fully open. No pain and no watering. Result!

I’d been bursting to write for the past week.

All I had to decide was, what…

So I sat out on my bench in the sun and visualised the next few years working on one or the other series, and then hit it at 8 Friday evening. When I looked up at 2.15am Saturday morning, I’d just finished a great 6-hour session on Sky Train. Its opening chapter was written and I’d seeded the plotline that I hoped would give the story legs for a full series.

Saturday and Sunday I paid heavily for Friday’s productive session, but on Sunday evening I surfaced feeling only battered and bruised so managed another decent session. Two hours tidying up Friday’s 3k, then two hours extending plot possibilities backwards and forwards in time. I now know I can fill a six-book series of this, so Sky Train is the one I’ll be going ahead with.

What it comes down to is that Sky Train simply excites me more at the moment, now I’ve got a handle on the nasty shenanigans going on behind the scenes that will play hell with my good people’s plans.

Also: rippling traversable wormholes; a hazardous atmosphere mining operation on a gas giant, and two impossibly beautiful, breathtakingly androgynous, dangerously deadly security operatives.

Happy David. 🙂



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