Saturday, 17 April 2021
I've just had a story accepted for publication in the Hard Times Happen anthology published by Black Pear Press following a competition run by Worcestershire Litfest & Fringe in conjunction with the Time to Change mental health charity. The theme of the competition was, as the title suggests, "hard times happen" and it was focussed on mental health issues and mental health awareness.
The story, "Fragments from a Schizoid Dream," is technically a flash piece as it is only 280 words long and is a revised excerpt from the short story "Fragments of a Schizoid Dream", which was originally published in the anthology Darkness Rising 3 and was later collected into the collection, Ugly Stories for Beautiful People. I've always had a soft spot for this particular story as it was the first short story I ever wrote - a tale of a man performing a Turing-style test on an AI to determine if it actually was genuinely intelligent, who then, in true Dickian fashion, starts to see his own reality unravel as he starts to work out that all human intelligence is actually scripted, like a computer programme, and that free will does not exist. His ultimate fate is to be that he realises there is no free will and so is cursed to live out the rest of his days as a passenger in his own skull, watching the pre-scripted drama that is Life, play out around him. As this was my first short story, I was very happy with the actual idea and its execution, but I did not have my own voice. It is, I suppose, a perfect example of juvenilia. In my youthful arrogance, I instantly started sending it to the leading magazines of the day - Fantasy & Science Fiction, Playboy, Omni and the like, and despite it being a mish-mash of "Philip. K. Dick written in a deliberate copying of Clive Barker style" actually got an expression of interest from Amazing Stories. I revised it and resubmitted on their instructions, but ultimately did not hear back from them. In some ways this was not a great start as it just reinforced the youthful delusion that all my work was obviously going to get published by big Pro-markets, as this had very nearly done so even though, at the back of my mind, I knew it was not "genuine" - even though the idea was 100% me, I hadn't yet found my own writing voice.
Thus it sat on my laptop until a few years later when I found myself, 18 months into a stint of teaching English in Barcelona and smoking way too much weed, experiencing a nervous breakdown. In an attempt to wrest something productive from that time, I rewrote the story from scratch, using the experiences of reality and ego collapse that I was feeling at that time, as a structure for the basic plot. Pretty much everything that happens in the resulting story was basically a diary of my experiences of that period (minus the talking computer). Even the scripts of code exploding from people's heads and seeing everyone as automatons came from a skunk experience I had had which later caused flashbacks in Barcelona. However, while the story was essentially a diary, with the only fictional elements being the talking PC and he character's names, I was really pleased with the end result, for I felt I had finally, finally, found my own unique voice.
And, of course, when I finally got round to submitting this new and improved masterwork for publication, absolutely no-one wanted it. Eventually it got published by a very Small Press magazine called Ammonite and then later by the more prestigious, Darkness Rising. But this did give me a sudden dose of reality into the difficulties people normally face in getting work accepted for publication.
That said, even though I have always considered myself a story-teller rather than a "prose stylist", I was very happy with some of the language that came out from "discovering my voice," to the point where I later had a few excerpts published as haikus (reproduced below) - I can't even remember where now (Purple Patch magazine, maybe?) - and now, two short scenes from the story published in their own right, in Hard Times Happen.
I will update you when this anthology is finally published.
The dancing people -
Bizarre living photographs
In a pop-out world.
The old woman plays
Solitaire, cold sun arcing
Over her wet bench.