Sunday, May 22, 2016

Late Update

I see that it’s been two months since I last blogged. So, time for an update.

I’ve been doing plenty of walking in the mountains and I’ve been taking my kayak out for runs up and down the coast. It’s not yet been warm enough for swimming and frankly I haven’t had the energy. The weather here has been odd: clouds and sunshine interspersed with periods when we have been swamped by Sahara dust. A few times outdoors it has looked like a sepia photograph. The stuff gets everywhere and with it continuing there seems hardly any point in cleaning my car, though occasionally I wash down my terrace to stop tracking the stuff into the house. Today is windy and cloudy and everything is covered with that dust. Even my Greek neighbours are now saying, ‘Come on, it’s the end of May, where’s the sun?’

Though I have been walking and kayaking my energy has been low. This is due to the panic/anxiety attacks. They now mainly hit me in the morning as I try to catch an extra forty winks. It is almost as if my mind is fleeing from something that occurs while I am asleep. I have noticed I’ve been having more nightmares. Some do involve Caroline but generally they just involve fear. I had a couple that I used to have decades ago – involving a flood I am trying to escape and then seeing a mountainous wave approaching and thinking, ‘Fuck it, I‘m dead.’ Apparently nightmares like these are quite common. Anyway, since I am of a scientific turn of mind, I started to recording my ‘bad moments’ and plotting them on a graph. Thankfully the trend is downwards.

About seven weeks ago I got book III of the Transformation trilogy back from the editor and have, intermittently, been going through that. I would normally bang through this stuff in a week or so but, for perhaps the first time ever for me, I saw a deadline looming. However, I’ve finished with the edits and now there is a just a little wrangling to go through about the title. Hopefully, after I dispatch this back to Macmillan, I’ll be able to get back to some writing.

That’s all for now. I’ll try to update this more regularly.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Walking and Mindwork

While I ramble away here, let’s enjoy some pictures...

Anyway, I’ve been back on Crete now for two weeks. To begin with, because of all the shit I’ve been going through, I haven’t had much energy. I’ve done a couple of big walks but mostly small ones, gardening, and some other jobs I needed to sort out.

One of those jobs was getting my car here legal. I neglected it last year and emissions and mechanical tests were out of date as was the road tax which, the system here being fucked and Greek, can only be bought one month in the year. The result of that was that in all three cases I had to pay double.

Paying my road tax was interesting. I saw a guy in Makrigialos who found my details on the internet and printed me something to take to the bank where I could pay my road tax. I couldn’t pay at the bank. Maybe the post office? No, the tax office.

A lady in the post office showed me where this was. There they wrote out a note, which I then had to take back to the bank. The bank issued me a cheque, which I then had to take back to the tax office. By the time I got back they had found I owed taxes on my house, which I then had to traipse back to the bank to pay. By the end of that day I was €1000+ out of pocket.  

Anyway, I’m not unhappy about that because that was a bunch of worries out of the way. Also, if you refer to my previous post, the ‘shit I’ve been going through’ and my lack of energy is changing. It is spring now and some nice days are occurring. And now I’m walking properly...

Just letting my panic attacks happen and, when they happen, actively encouraging them has had an amazing effect. They’re dying away, and they’re dying away fast.

As I write this I have ‘walked to Voila and back’ (about 12 kilometres) eaten a second breakfast and had a snooze on my sofa. Boring? Yes, unless it is the first time in months you have managed to do that without panic attacks and without fearing what state you will wake up in.

It is almost as if letting those attacks happen and pushing them is the same as crying: unpleasant when it occurs but letting out some inner stress, with the result that you feel better afterwards.

Consequently my stress/anxiety levels have been dropping. This has enabled me to apply, thoroughly, some of the stuff in a book by Richard Carlson ‘Stop Thinking, Start Living’, and the mindfulness from the Williams and Penman book.

But enough of that. Now it is time for me to open up a file marked Jain1 and set to work.        

Sunday, March 20, 2016

DO Panic

When I came back to Crete my depression was over but I was still getting anxiety and panic attacks. Over a month it has been standard for me to wake up in the morning, usually very early, lie in bed hoping to snooze again then having a panic attack ensue the moment I started to drift off again. If I stayed in bed these would get worse and worse and when I finally got up I would be in a mess. My technique therefore was to try and get out of bed as quickly as possible. Other times I would get them while going into trance during meditation. Every day I would feel tired and it would take me hours in the morning to get motivated.

Moments of anxiety would also hit me during the day too. I have been fighting this for so long, sometimes thinking I was winning, sometimes sure I would never win.

Three or four days ago I lay down on my sofa and used a Paul McKenna hypnotic recording to relax. I went into trance then into sleep. When I woke up it was to a massive panic/anxiety attack. A whole body one with the skin on my arms feeling hot, my body buzzing, and of course I felt awful. All I could do was lie there and wait for it to pass – until I could get up and start doing things. It later passed but the next morning I had the same routine as above, at 4AM.

Later in the morning I felt so tired I lay on the sofa again, needing to rest but afraid to sleep. I started to doze off and, again, each time I did so, I had a panic attack. But then something happened...
Some days back I did some gardening. I cleared out a couple of composters and started weeding. Just feeling shit and wanting to get the job done. It then occurred to me to be mindful about what I was doing. Instead of letting my mind wander off into worries and negative thinking, which I just let go, I focused completely on what I was doing. Meticulously pulling the weeds, feeling them in my hands, smelling them, really looking at what I was doing – living in the moment. This really started to make me feel better and by the time I left the garden (my fingers cold and stiff) I felt that euphoria of normality.

During this last lot of panic attacks mindfulness kicked in again, and I found myself mentally stepping back from the panic attacks and just observing them with detached interest. The result of this was that I did get some snoozes in and got off the sofa feeling pretty good.

I did some internet research and it seems that all my fighting was the wrong thing to do. The first stage of recovering from panic attacks is ‘acceptance’. Okay, that was right. I then did further research and discovered a seemingly counterintuitive technique. Encourage the attacks. Try to make them worse. Till now I had been trying to stop them. I had some success but just felt more anxious afterwards. Next meditation session, when they came, I really tried to make the attacks worse and what happened was surprising, they withered away.

This morning I woke and did the same thing, and instead of them steadily getting worse as I lay in bed they got weaker and weaker. For the first time in months I actually managed to lie in bed and catch a few extra snoozes, and then get up feeling refreshed. My energy level for the day seemed twice what it has been.

So, win the fight by giving in, by actively helping the perceived enemy. This has never been in my playbook, but it is now.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Back on the Horse

Last week I bought my domain name It was almost an impulse buy, at the time, though it was something I had been thinking about on and off in the past. This was after a pretty good day on the Friday:

26th Feb
Ahah! 2,000 words again today. Little visit to the King's Ship and the arrival of a Jain super-soldier in a rather dangerous area. Of course I can say no more than this. I want you to actually buy the book, not check through all my FB posts and pick up enough plot information not to bother!

Back into it on Monday. I'll spend the weekend fooling about with website stuff and see if I can get properly sorted on the internet. I know that many have seen my blog because I regularly post links here. Fewer have seen my slightly rusty freespace website. It's also a tad out of date...

Shortly after I bought this name I got people offering to help me move and reconstruct my website. Thanks to all those who offered! The first one to offer, Mark Kendall, got the job and started me off over the weekend:

27th Feb
Okay, neck aching, eyes a bit dry and starey ... I've been sitting at a keyboard doing blog drudge-work for a bit too long. I did have a moment this morning while trying to figure things out when my mind went no, not going there, don't want to play. But thanks to Mark Mark Kendall's patient guidance I finally got a grip. More of the same tomorrow...

Very noticeable when I got into it, how out of date my website is. The last time I went through it and updated most of it was September 2013. At some point I put the last Owner book there but not much else. Today, as well as loading the data on the books to the new site, I've also been transferring articles going back 17 years. Funny to read them now. Quite a few of my opinions have changed!

Then on Monday I put aside website stuff and got back to my proper job…

29th Feb
Frosty but sunny this morning so a wake-up walk is in order before getting some jobs done. No malingering today. I have wasted too much time this Winter. I have a hit-list of things to do and intend to tick the majority of the boxes including, of course, some writing!

Ah well, other jobs got in the way today, along with a long pause for introspection. I thought about ripping apart, rewriting and rearranging all I've done thus far on the book so, only 1,000 words today. I think I'll hold fire on the rewriting for now. I'm sure my exasperation had more to do with my state of mind, not the state of the plot. Heh, writing books is easy Padawan.

Aah, thank you brain. I just needed to chill for a bit to realise that two intertwined plot lines need to be untangled and put one before the other. All perfectly logical. One failed attempt to breach the Defence Sphere with a poisoned chalice of an alien biological variety. This followed by a successful attempt which also unleashes something seriously dangerous, and inherently uncontrollable. Meanwhile the 'biological variety' goes off on a killing spree ... in the prador kingdom. Yes, looking good... Ooh, have I said too little or too much? Heh.

The Monday I did 1,000 words, but it was a useful day because I pondered quite a lot on the plot and where I should go with it. I also realised what was missing and what I needed to do. By Tuesday this was all bedded in and I was ready to go:

Mar 1st
Well, for all those who might have thought they'd figured out where I was going with these next books ... all change! I sat down this morning to write some replies to interview questions then, after a meditate, I started on the book. In a very short time I felt bogged down. Too much high-tech stuff. Too many independent dangerous powers. Not enough human story for contrast or to engage the reader more personally.

I wrote for a bit, then printed out my contents list and sat with that, in an armchair, and pondered. I started to see the required changes: an inhabited world, separatists, betrayal and assassination... I then returned to the keyboard and started ripping stuff apart, writing new sections and rearranging. I may well excise some of the stuff I've mentioned here. In writing you have to learn how to sacrifice your darlings. Anyway, including the interview, over 3,000 words done today.

Now this is how my days should draw to a close. Mentally tired after a good productive time spent writing, and physically tired after completing a weight-training session. Now I just need to add in a walk in the morning (it was pissing down this morning) and an hour of learning Greek...

All going good and I decided to move in other ways too:

Mar 2nd
And I'm a happy bunny this morning. 3,000 words written yesterday so all that seems to be going good. But, most importantly, I've booked a flight to Crete. 6 more days and I will be back here...

Wow, strange how things hit you. When I got up this morning it was sunny so off I went for a little walk, nothing big, just 40 minutes. Upon my return I dived into some writing until going out for lunch at 1.00. This was at a Chinese self-service place called Izumi. I stuffed myself full but of course could eat nowhere near as much as I used to eat in the past. Feeling slightly stressed I meditated when I got back, fell into a strange trance, then afterwards to sleep for an hour. Now, having woken I feel utterly knackered as if I've just had a snooze after a twenty-miler.

But no matter! I did good work this morning - I in fact did my 2,000 words before I went out. So, my main target for the day has been achieved!

Later still

Aah, recovering and waking up at last. I suspect my body just keeps going nope because I'm still in stress-recovery mode.

Anyway, another 2,000 words done today. I had written about 8 chapters. Now I'm back in chapter 2 ripping things apart, rewriting and writing new sections as I go through. Those who now use e-cigs will be glad to know I've included one. However, as well as providing all sorts of tasty, narcotic and interesting vapours, it also plugs into a handle and converts into a haiman-killing ionic handgun!

More tomorrow. I'm past 80,000 words now, which is about half the length of my biggest books. And, with these latest alterations the writing is going easier.

And that’s it thus far this week…

Friday, February 26, 2016

Pistol on the Wall

There’s a saying attributed to various people but mostly to Anton Chekhov: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." I’m pretty sure I read it as a Chandler quote about putting a gun on the mantelpiece, but the meaning is the same. If you introduce something into a story that is definitely not just set dressing, you should use it.

My problem in this respect is that I have a gun on the mantelpiece and another on the hearth, there’s also a knife tucked into a book shelf, an AK47 resting on top the TV and some grenades hidden behind the sofa cushions. Every time I come up with a bright idea and introduce it to the story, it usually get complicated. Why? Because this is science fiction and the two guns talk, belong to a psychopath, and hate each other. Because the grenades are a conscious, slightly insane hive mind, and also belong to the psychopath, or so he thinks. Because the AK47 is controlled by a genocide surviving conjoined alien entity with plenty of resentments of its own. And the knife? Well it’s just a knife but I’m pretty damned sure one of the nutjobs in the room will use it.


No matter. I am in ‘just write it Neal’ mode and I can maybe use the knife myself later to excise the proliferating plot threads. I’ll then place them in my BitsSF file and at some later date turn each into a short story.

To work.  

Time for Another Video Clip

Here's an old one from 2011. Time now for another one so, if you have questions you would like to see me answering in a video clip please post them below.

One question thus far from FB (I must keep track so I'll put them here):

Jessie Grey Have you ever considered a Polity based work that is more of a survival, exploration epic or disaster based? I love the wars, don't get me wrong

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Flashes of Sunshine

Now moving steadily away from the previous posts, since I’ve become a bit of a bore on the subject. Really REALLY time to start cheering up. I mean, I’m not a great lover of the Winter but I seem to have completely lost this one. Snow drops have been out for a few weeks and now there are daffodils open beside my front door. I can smell the Spring. I can feel the pace of life starting to ramp up; the world thawing out.

So anyway, yesterday I actually managed to sit down and do some writing. I didn’t expect much of myself . In fact I expected to stare at the screen for a while, scratch my balls then wander off and make a cup of tea. But despite everything words started appearing on the screen and ideas started appearing in my skull. For a while there I was actually enjoying myself. This, in essence, is what I have to recapture. I know my job well enough now that I can sit down and bang out the story and write copious amounts. However, if that is a joyless chore it is reflected in the writing.

Recapture joy.

This morning I went for a short walk. My usual route here is a 7-mile circuit and, having checked Google Earth, I know that none of the circuits I can do here are less than that. I’ve had to bite the bullet and do a walk where I retrace my steps. I don’t like doing that but, the long walk leaves me a bit knackered at present, while a short walk of under an hour energizes me. While walking back down Rectory Lane, trying not to fall on my ass (the lane has no ditches and the fields either side are high, so the lane is always wet and with present temperatures is mostly a sheet of ice) my mind wandered to my present obsessions. With mindfulness having made me more aware of what happens between my ears, I stopped that train of thought and concentrated on the present book.

Little flashes of sunshine.

For a while I thought about targets, writing 2,000 words a day, completing the book, how to progress the plot to that end… But you know, all of that is something that takes care of itself if I am enjoying what I am doing. When I wrote The Skinner I wasn’t thinking about targets or endings, I was just having a great time. So once I put aside that shit I started to think on other things: an alien entity in the Prador Kingdom with some seriously dangerous Polity hardware, the king of the prador and his steady transformation into what readers here will have seen in Orbus. Deeper stuff too related to my past – PAST! – obsession. How the maladies of the mind can often be a matter of choice; how maybe Jay Hoop would not have turned into the Skinner if he had not been such a sick puppy beforehand.

So today. Concentration elsewhere. I will shortly make myself enough bacon sandwiches to harden the arteries of the nearest ‘health professional’. I will then just sit here at my computer and write, and think, and write some more. No targets, no endings, just space opera and weird biology. Maybe the prador will be deploying some new super warship to counter the alien threat, maybe the king will see some way of escaping his destiny, maybe Orlandine will take control of some Jain soldiers, maybe a Jain super-soldier will bathe in molten lead…

Have a nice day. I aim to.  

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Don't Panic!

Okay, the prior post on here was not my last on the subject of grief, depression, anxiety and panic attacks because I really need to deliver a bit of a warning. If you have read the previous posts you will know that I had delayed or complex grief. To process this I began looking at photographs I had not dared to look at in two years. The effect was immediate: crying, real grief, but my depression went and my anxiety dropped.

However, as I continued to look at these photographs my emotions were all over the place. I found my anxiety returning on and off and I was far too raw. Visiting the in-laws which was at first a relief began to leave me anxious again. I would have an overreaction to the stupidest things. I bad comment on FB could put me on the floor. I in fact felt, after the initial relief, that I was getting worse again. I felt tired all the time and often icy cold.

Last Thursday I woke to panic attacks, but I was so tired I stayed in bed. They continued and finally forced me out of bed. I had a crappy morning then began to come up in the afternoon. I decided that next time I had attacks like that while in bed I would get up immediately. On Friday that happened, but thereafter I felt shit most of the day. In the afternoon I got my hands on an Ipod dock. I had read that panic attacks are a result of ‘insufficient mourning’ and in the evening I did some more. I had Caroline’s Ipod with all her music on it and I set it playing. The first record to play was Skyfall, which played at her committal. Thereafter came records I had been hearing for years prior to 2 years ago. They wiped me out. It was as bad as the first time I looked at the photographs – records a year ago I walked out of a bar to avoid hearing. However, after that emotional storm I slept okay. Exhausted. And woke the next day without panics.

Saturday I was so-so. In the evening I listened to the music again and again it screwed me. That night when I went to bed I immediately started having panic attacks. Every time I was on the edge of dozing off I would have one. I slept maybe half an hour. The next morning I felt awful – the attacks continuing into the day. I went to eat at the in-laws and only managed half my dinner before I had to leave. At about 4.30 in the afternoon I was desperate enough to call 111 for help. A scattering of phone calls across 7 hours and thereafter they forgot about me until 2.00 in the morning, by which time I was in no condition to drive to a ‘night surgery’.

However, meanwhile I trolled the Internet and found that codeine phosphate can help. I had some left over from 2 years ago (for Caroline) and started taking about 30mg every 3 hours, along with kava-kava, Kalms and 5-htp. These kept me sane until the morning when I phoned the doctor’s. I got an ‘emergency’ appointment at 2.30PM. He gave me Zopiclone sleeping pills one of which knocked me out on the sofa for 5 hours. Another one at night gave me another 5 hours and only some mild panic in the morning. Today I have been steadily recovering, but how long this will last I don’t know. The doctor only gave me 7 pills.

To sum up: yes, you must process your grief, but I suspect that, as usual, I have been trying to do too much too quickly. I guess it is comparable to exercise – if you don’t take rest days the exercise doesn’t do you much good. With this ‘processing’ I guess that yes you must grieve, but then give it a rest while your brain deals with it. This is confirmed in a CBT booklet I was given – 4-5 days of ‘exposure’ per week. I did notice over this hellish weekend that at every low point I had, alternately, ‘Broken Strings’ or ‘Skyfall’ playing in my head – both were played at the committal.