Mad Scientist Journal interview

If you didn’t see my post on facebook or twitter, Dawn Vogel interviewed me for Mad Scientist Journal about my story Ludwig, which is forthcoming in the MSJ anthology I Didn’t Break The Lamp. I talk about felt presence, synaesthesia, and — of course! — imaginary friends.

Thanks to Dawn and Jeremy Zimmerman for letting me ramble on at length about some of my favourite topics.

Seasonal synaesthesia

fly agaric in woods
A perfect fly agaric

We’re full into autumn now. The geese started flying in a few weeks ago, and Storm Callum took most of the leaves off our rowan trees. The berries have remained untouched by the starlings, who normally devour them before I can gather enough to make jelly. They may have suffered from this year’s prolonged drought. The dog is spending more time outdoors than in, which is our cue that winter is on its way. We have had days of phenomenal sunsets and dawns, which covered social media (if you happen to follow photography sites) with pictures of lenticular and mammatus clouds, as well as the more generally expected cirrus and cirrocumulus looking like lava. These apocalyptic skies are a result of Rayleigh Scattering in the high atmosphere, where dust is kept aloft by high pressure — hence the old saying, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight.”

The skies have coincided with the warm days and cold nights that result from high pressure in the tail end of the year. Some of the weather models predict a cold snap from this weekend, with possible snow in the mountains.

Being neuro-atypical, I think a lot about perception, and how the entire world outside the confines of my individual awareness is bat country. (I’m sure the general population would think the same about me, but they don’t have to try to translate for it.) I can chalk up some experiences to synaesthesia playing silly buggers with my perception; one of those is this strong feeling that it’s going to be a hard winter this year. I feel like I can smell snow on the way, and I have done for several weeks. There’s no rational explanation for this sensation. It’s not specifically a smell, because my synaesthesia doesn’t work like that, but a shape in the air when I breathe. Like most things to do with my oddly-wired brain, I make a note, keep it mostly to myself, and am amused when I start to read other people opining that winter will be a harsh one. The trees have produced lots of fruit, says one, to fatten up the birds so they will survive. While I know of no reason to think that trees set fruit according to the future needs of birds, I love the idea that the flora and fauna are so closely interconnected, and wonder if trees hold committee meetings at which they discuss fruit futures.

I have yet to determine a reliable way of differentiating between synaesthetic silly buggers triggering some sort of topological pareidolia, and real information. But next time someone tells you they can smell snow even though the temperature is in the mid teens, and people are wandering around in shorts and t-shirts, spare a thought for those whose interactions with physical reality don’t sit comfortably near the middle of the bell curve.

Hypergraphia — bleeding inky thought onto paper

I have no fixed process for writing. Stories come the way they come. Sometimes that means a single scene from which I have to uncover the rest of the story like an archaeologist digging up a pot or an ancient skeleton; other times it means sitting down with a pen and paper as soon as I’ve dragged myself out of bed, scribbling furiously while someone tries to ask me what I want for breakfast and whether I’ll be making coffee any time soon.

I keep what is probably some kind of commonplace. In fact, I keep several, and carry all of them around with me along with half the contents of a decent stationery shop, because I become quite anxious if I lack a way of draining the contents of my head at any given moment. I have a cherished, if battered, Timbuk2 El Ocho, which is well overdue for replacement, and it is full of the various things I need to keep the fiction imps at bay while carrying on with the rest of my life.

Most of my work germinates as pen and ink and paper. It used to be the case that every first draft found form on narrow-ruled, feint and margin, before I could begin to type. I still have a lot of material, things that have either not sold yet or never will, stashed around the place. For the sake of speed and saving time, I moved on from writing out the whole thing by hand, but I cannot entirely tear myself away from the pen and paper stage.

Commonplace book
A couple of pages showing the birth of a work in progress

I don’t just keep notes, write down references, quotes, ideas, fragments of sentences that have a shape I want to explore. Sometimes the names of songs, places, even food finds their way in there. I find going about it this way, rather than doing everything by tapping away on a keyboard, helps encourage the creative process and entrains more of whatever engine it is that drags these things from the aether.

The book itself is a large plain moleskine (I also have two ruled, and a plain folio). I use a variety of fountain pens, coloured pens and pencils, Washi tape and Coccoina paste. The intention isn’t to keep a journal, although there are some truly beautiful ones out there (take a look on Pinterest — you’ll find a few on my Pen & Ink board, like this one). Still, the result of all my notekeeping being fun to review means I can happily spend time going back through my stack of notebooks looking at story fragments and ideas.

This practise has proved invaluable to me in greasing the wheels and adding a bit of low-end torque to jolt things out of a rut and free up narrative space. There are times when I need freedom to think, to mull, to plan, to let my subconscious chew on things for a while, or even to have a conversation, make like a sociable human being, but whatever it is inside my head that makes words has the bit between its teeth and won’t let go, even though it’s heading on entirely the wrong track. Cutting things out and sticking them into a notebook might not look like writing, but I can assure you, it is.

International Book Day Shelfie

It was International Book Day yesterday, and I kind of missed it. I wish I had some writerly excuse, such as being too busy working on a story to guddle about on the interwebs, but the fact is I was engaged in rescuing my beloved from a collapsed freewheel, and then we both conked out on the sofa. We had a long day of whitewater survival training on Wednesday, and are both very tired and covered in bruises.

Apparently the thing to do is to post a “shelfie” – rather than a badly focused, awkwardly-angled picture of one’s own mug, one posts a picture of one’s bookshelves. I dislike puns, but never mind.

The following are only the shelves in my office. We have more. We have shelves everywhere there is wall space and I’m not likely to walk into them*.Desk Shelfie

This is the shelf next to my desk. It’s mostly comics, reference books and maps. So. Many. Maps. And yet, not enough maps! One day I will have Landrangers covering the entirety of Scotland at the very least. I may even work my way up to the whole of the UK.

I occasionally think about clearing the very top shelf to make more space for books, but then I’d have to find somewhere else to put Cthulhu, Stanshall the mole, Lara and the Sackperson, my molecule building set, Mindflex and Inflatable Wolverine.

There isn’t anywhere else. We simply need to find a space to put another bookshelf.

We might need a bigger house.

Shelfie 2This is the shelf next to the door. Some fiction, more reference books, the stacks where new acquisitions go before I’ve worked out where to put them (in addition to the pile on the living room table and the other pile in the bedroom).

It’s starting to occur to me I may have a terrible book addiction.

*I walk into things a lot, particularly on the right side, as I have a blind spot the size of Belgium that starts just past my nose, no depth perception and am frequently distracted by the contents of my head. I have enough trouble with door frames without putting additional obstacles in my way.

Synaesthesia

I have synaesthesia – not one of the easily explainable ones, like numbers have colours, but more of a whole-body topological sort of affair. It’s hard to explain, so I rarely bother trying.

There are experiences, though, that are so overwhelming I occasionally attempt to share them. This evening, coming back from an afternoon out to Haddo House and Formartine’s, I noticed the sky as I parked the car. When I got out, the combination of the air temperature, the smell, the slight breeze and the distant sound of traffic on the A90 combined to give a synaesthetic overlay. Coincidentally, the shapes formed in the sky were of a similar shape and pattern to this cross-wired gestalt.

A little tweaking and it’s close to a pictorial representation of what I felt. Not quite, but close.

Close of Play

Sun settles
Clouds churn
Day dissolves
Nascent night