Monday, 21 November 2011

From "Idea" to "Published Story" in 24 Hours

On Friday 18th November 2011 I managed to do something that I never thought possible.

Whilst walking to work I was listening to an old Level 42 album and pondering a new idea I had for a story. When I got to the office, to preserve the idea, I opened up Google Docs and jotted down a couple of sentences.

At lunchtime I re-read my notes and decided to turn it into a story. By the time I'd written about 400 words I realised that this would easily work as a 600 word story for, who publish a daily flash-fiction piece in the sci-fi genre.

The last time I submitted something to 365tomorrows they rejected it weeks later, on the grounds that there was no narrative to the story (the story was written in pure dialogue).

Once this new story was completed I made two changes. I changed the gender of one character and the name of another. By the end of the day I had submitted the story, entitled "Freedom Someday" to 365tomorrows.

The usual turnaround response time for a story submitted to 365tomorrows is 4-6 weeks.

On Saturday morning, the next day, 365tomorrows had emailed me back to accept it, saying that the story was fantastic, and would be published on their website as the piece for Monday 21st November. Naturally I was thrilled!

So, within the space of 24 hours I'd had an idea for a fiction story, which I converted to a set of notes, which I converted into a 600 word story, which I submitted to an online publishing entity, and had it accepted; an achievement symptomatic of the Internet Age.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A Map of the Floating City, Autumn, and Inspiration

The musical creativity of Thomas Dolby has influenced me greatly over the years. In my writing I am inspired by soundscapes and the changing of the seasons and when it comes to Autumn, for some reason, Thomas Dolby's music captures the feeling perfectly.

I had only a fleeting knowledge of Thomas Dolby in the eighties when his single "Hyperactive" came on my radio and I can't say it grabbed me much. The sounds were a little to harsh for my young ears and it all seemed a little too jokey. Tears for Fears and Level 42 were as far as I was willing to go at the age of twelve. It wasn't until 1992 when I was watching the ITV Chart Show one Saturday morning that I heard his single "Silk Pyjamas", which I loved on first listen. I took a punt on the album "Astronauts & Heretics" and it very quickly became one of a my all time favourite records. My girlfriend at the time had negated to tell me (not that I expected her to) that she already had a copy of another single off the album "Close But No Cigar". She bought a copy of "Astronauts" too and it quickly became one of those quirky aspects of young relationships, an "us" record. With lyrics like "Once in a while, a girl comes along, and opens your heart like a spam tin", how could it not be..? But the album was also, for me, the sound of Autumn; of wet leaves painting urban pavements. Of wind, rain and grey clouds. Of bracing Sunday afternoon country walks with blue, blue sky.

Mr Dolby's earlier albums followed quickly for me that Autumn and each had their way of being the soundtrack of that time. From Dolby's "Fieldwork" I stepped sideways into the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto, and by association into the works of Aztec Camera and David Sylvian. Through the production of Bill Bottrell on Dolby's "Aliens Ate My Buick" I found Sheryl Crow's "Tuesday Night Music Club", which he also produced.

Dolby's career became difficult to follow after that. He did a concept album called "Gate to the Mind's Eye" which, for me, only spawned one masterpiece song "The Valley of the Mind's Eye". He moved into the mobile ringtone business as well as being a speaker and all-round tech pioneer based in Silicon Valley. Now he has a new album out and strangely it appears in Autumn. In the 19 years between "Astronauts & Heretics" and "A Map of the Floating City", I had three interactions with Thomas Dolby.

The first was an email which I sent to a Compuserve account (address printed in an album sleeve) circa 1996 asking where I could find the latest information about Thomas Dolby. I was directed in the reply, to one of those new-fangled website thingys, the Flat Earth Society, the fanclub homepage. The email was signed simply "Thomas".

The next time was during an interview with him on BBC 6 Music in 2003, where a question I had submitted to the program was actually read out. In short, "When would there be a new album?". He replied that he had a garage at the bottom of the garden and that one day he would get in there and start recording. That "garage" later turned out to be a lifeboat on the Suffolk coast.

The third time I approached him was in 2009 under the umbrella of the Commonwealth Business Council, to ask if he would be able to speak at one of our conferences. We were holding a flagship forum in Trinidad & Tobago and were looking to create a session on innovation in technology. Thomas was enthusiastic and we exchanged a number of emails to arrange for him to get there, but unfortunately, in the end, his schedule did not permit for him to come, as even then he was becoming more and more involved with touring and working on the new record.

"A Map of the Floating City" came out in the UK on October 24th 2011 and on that day I happened to be working on a conference in Australia. If any of this blog so far says anything to you, it would indicate that this geographical hurdle would present a challenge worth taking on. Amazon UK MP3 downloads don't permit purchases outside the UK, so in order to get this record loaded onto my player for the long flight home I had to remote access the CBC's London server, install Amazon's MP3 downloader, purchase the album through a browser window, download it to the server, install Dropbox there, copy the album to the Dropbox folder, and bring it down to my laptop in Perth. It was worth the effort.

To quote a lyric from 1992s "I Love You Goodbye", "Typhoon Pierre delayed our plane till morning". The truth of it was that the Qantas strike had left us stranded at Perth airport with perhaps no way of getting home for several days. I was already missing my wife and son, so when our plane was grounded I felt further away from them than ever. Thanks to Emirates we were able to get a flight out a few hours later. Hearing this album on the plane I felt once again that sense of longing that music so beautifully underpins. And Dolby's songs often talk about airline travel. From air-lanes that "comb dark Earth", to the "wide Brazilian sky that swallowed you", it all seemed to fit.

Dolby remains a master of sowing a musical flourish under my skin. The short, distorted and reverbed guitar riff in "A Jealous Thing Called Love". The sweeping harmonies in "Oceanea", which is perhaps the most evocative piece about the sea since the Tears for Fears B-Side "Pharoahs", and is somehow reminiscent of his lovely 1984 song "Screen Kiss". The epic "17 Hills" which is the "Budapest by Blimp" of this new work all serve to remind me why I loved Dolby back in the 1990s, and still do to this day. This album made me think about how, as a thirty-eight year old, and as a father to a two-and-a-half year old boy, my son is closer than me to those teenage years of musical discovery, where songs become the soundtrack, the foundations and the scenery of your life. Maybe it'll be Thomas Dolby. It probably won't. But I cannot wait to experience that discovery with him when he gets there.