The Alternative Apocalypse


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image copyright BBC Television

In April 1975, a Television series written by Terry Nation (creator of The Daleks) hit British TV screens. It wasn’t like anything I, as a sci-fi-loving 16-year old, had ever seen before.  Over three seasons, it told the story of a group of people who had survived a man-made plague which brings humanity to the brink of extinction.  I was enthralled.

So… you know what it’s like when you remember a show/film/book you loved as a child/young adult, and you wonder if you should revisit it, or keep it as a fond memory, because just perhaps it won’t have aged well?  I decided to be brave and take the plunge, and invested in a box set of all three seasons (thank you, Amazon). No wonky VHS tapes, thank goodness! “We’re re-watching ‘Survivors’,” I told my long-suffering husband. He didn’t argue.

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image copyright BBC Television

Would it stand the test of time?  Gentle reader, I am here to tell you that (mostly) it does! Production values were different in the ’70’s, of course, and I have to say there are a few cringe-worthy moments (mostly involving dialogue), and the pacing is rather slow compared to today’s sometimes frenetic drama. It was also slightly strange without the sometimes omniscient music we are accustomed to (and occasionally complain about), but there is no doubt but that music does help to heighten emotion.  Without it, the action can sometimes feel a bit like a fly-on-the-wall documentary!

As I write this, we have watched Seasons 1 & 2 (I have no memory of watching the second series when it originally aired, but I’m sure I must have. My husband is certain he didn’t) and are about to start the 3rd and final season.

Overall I think ‘Survivors’ has aged well – the story is as engaging today as it was then, and still as thought-provoking. What do you do when you think you’ve caught a murderer but there is no legal system, no police, anymore? Should all women of child-bearing age have children to ensure the survival of the species, even if they don’t have a permanent partner and may not particularly want to be a mother? How do you learn survival skills when the nearest library is miles away and in a rat/wild dog-infested state? What do you do with power-crazy individuals who want to set up a protection racket in your vicinity? What do you do without medicines, antibiotics, electricity?  An awful  lot of people would die; certainly anyone who relies on regular medication for good health (I am one). People living in cities would very quickly run out of food, sanitation would very quickly become a problem.

The one area where ‘Survivors’ fails to be completely realistic (apart from occasionally rather clunky/dated dialogue)  is actually the very thing which would have insured a very short series, and throughout our re-watch my husband would make remarks about it. It got a bit annoying!  After a year, the survivors are Getting On With It and managing subsistence farming pretty well. Except, as my husband says, in reality they would probably soon be dead or dying of radiation exposure…. Think about it:  Britain today has seven active nuclear power stations, and about the same number of inactive ones. All fourteen need constant monitoring to ensure they don’t dry out and explode (as happened in Chernobyl in 1986). In a ‘Survivors’ scenario, where the majority of the population have died of the plague, it would not be more than a year before the UK’s nuclear power stations became instruments of death. Radiation would enter the water table and the atmosphere – after the Chernobyl disaster, sheep in North Wales were found to be contaminated with fall-out which had been carried on the wind. Are you scared yet?

Having said that, I can understand why Terry Nation decided (as he must have done) to ignore the nuclear threat – it would have made for a very depressing drama if his characters survived the plague only to be wiped out by radiation poisoning a few months later!

So if you like post-apocalyptic drama, and don’t mind it being slightly dated (but what fun to be reminded of Life Before the Mobile Phone!) then I would recommend having a box-set binge. You can pick up used box sets on eBay or buy it new on Amazon.

Thanks for reading!

 

Post Script:  It is now January 2019. I wrote this in September 2018, and it has languished in my ‘Drafts’ folder ever since. Oops!  So, we did finish the third series, and enjoyed it. Truly a classic.

 

 

 

 

A Tale of One Duckling…


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(c) Classroom Clipart

After Thursday’s Road Rage incident, it was nice to see a retweeted post this morning showing some kind people in the US of A rescuing a mummy duck’s babies after they fell down a drain. Went some way to restoring my (slightly dented) faith in humanity!

It reminded me, too, that my husband and I carried out a similar rescue in Midhurst, Sussex, in the summer of 1990. We’d taken my old Mini Clubman out for a spin and decided to stop off for a meal before making our way home.

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   Classic Mini Clubman   (not mine  -it was never that shiny!)  with thanks to Pinterest

We arrived in the car park and noticed a crowd of people gathered around a drain (the picture below isn’t the actual drain (in fact this one is from Vancouver, but it’s very similar) and joined the throng to see what was going on.  It seemed that a mummy duck had been leading her kiddies back to the river Rother (you try saying that in a hurry) which runs through the town, and one of her ducklings

UK STREET DRAINS

had fallen through the grating and was now sitting miserably on the bottom, calling for his/her mummy.  Various discussions ensued, which ran along the lines of ringing the RSPCA to see if they could send someone out, ringing the council to see if they could send someone out (to open the drain cover) and so on. Because there was quite a big crowd and it all seemed to be in hand, with people donating a handkerchief and shoelaces to improvise a sling, we went off and got something to eat. When we got back about an hour or so later, it was late in the afternoon and we were surprised to see that the crowd had dispersed but that one chap was still there, with the duckling in his hand!  He said he didn’t know quite what to do – he lived in North London and had to get going, so hubby told him we didn’t live too far away so we’d take the duckling and see if we could reunite him/her with his/her family.

Because this was way before people routinely carried mobile phones, no-one had known the local RSPCA number, but we thought if we couldn’t find the duck family we could hopefully drop it off at a local RSPCA or veterinary practice in our local area.

By that time the mother duck had long given up on her stray child and had waddled off towards the river with the rest of her brood. I suppose when you have half a dozen babies you have to consider the family as a whole – ‘the needs of the many’ and all that!  We decided to follow the path down to the river and see if we could find the Mother Duck and her family.

We were younger and fitter in those days (!) so what looks like quite a long walk on the map didn’t take too long. We found the river, and after following it along for a little while, found a duck family.  The duckling tweeted but there was no response from the mother duck. Wrong family! We walked a bit further and found another family  – the duckling heard them and tweeted loudly; again no response.  ‘We’re going to end up taking him home with us!’ my hubby worried.  Then we found another family – ‘our’ duckling started tweeting loudly again. This mother duck stopped paddling and quacked back – we’d found the right family at last! Hubby went as close to the water’s edge as he dare, and as soon as he opened his fingers, the duckling tumbled out of his hand and down into the water, then started paddling. He was quickly rounded up by his mother, who seemed to be telling him off, then away they went. Our good deed for the day!

Below you can see the car park (on the right, near the bus station) where the duckling fell into the drain, and somewhere between the right angle of the river near the Cowdray ruins and Midhurst Castle is where we finally caught up with Mrs Duck.

Thanks to my hubby’s prodigious memory, I’ve been able to tell our little rescue story with reasonable accuracy. I often wonder if the other people (those who donated a handkerchief and their shoelaces) remember their part in the rescue. It would be lovely if any of them were to see this and realise that all was well in the end!

Thanks for reading!

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Midhurst – site of the 1990 Duck Rescue! with thanks to Google Maps

Lessons Learned: My Journey as an Indie Author


In the Beginning…

In August, 2014, I published my first science-fiction book on Amazon, ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories‘. As the title suggests, it is a collection of short stories, and the act of publication was a very exciting moment for me. It represented decades of wanting to be a published author but not having a clue how to go about it; two years of independent study with both Faber Academy and The Writer’s Workshop whilst holding down a stressful, full-time job; and two years (at least) developing and writing a full-length novel (working title ‘All Our Tomorrows‘) which would then only see the light of day in a much-reduced form, as the titular tale in ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories‘.

Keep Only What Serves the Story!

It was a very steep learning curve, and probably one of  the most important things I learned during that period was not to be afraid to cut out what doesn’t work. Ditching the best part of sixty thousand words (representing months of writing) and stripping the story down to the core to produce ‘The Journey’ was not an easy decision at all. As it happens, I believe  some of that material will probably be used somewhere else, one day… but it just wasn’t right for that particular story arc. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about that… for now.

Keep it Up!

As soon as I finished the anthology, I began writing my first full-length novel, ‘The Methuselah Paradox‘, which funnily enough, was also inspired by  ‘The Journey‘. And again, I had to make a major decision during the writing. I didn’t have to lose so many words this time, though!  I had been so invested in Tom and Eva’s story (which began in ‘The Journey’ and continues in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’) that I made the mistake of making them the main characters in ‘Methuselah’. I soon realised that it just wasn’t working, and that the main character needed to be the time-traveller, James Moran. Once I accepted that, everything fell into place. So never be afraid to ask yourself – “Is my main character the right one?” Be honest, even if it feels rather like a betrayal to those characters. If you must, tell them that you are saving them for better things…!

Is Your Protagonist The Right Character for the Job?

Tom and Eva’s story had pretty much been told in ‘The Journey’ –  and ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ takes place almost a quarter of a decade later, when Tom and Eva’s daughter is abducted. Who has taken her – and why? It seems obvious in hindsight, but being emotionally invested in your characters, whilst it is a good thing, can also blind you to their place in the Grand Scheme of Things. So common sense prevailed, Tom and Eva took a back seat, and James and (to a lesser degree) Emma stepped forward. Hurrah!

Another Learning Curve… or two! 

‘The Methuselah Paradox’ was published two years (not quite to the day, but the same month!) after ‘The Journey…’, and I was already thinking about the next project. But hold on a minute – that’s not all I did during that time…

Almost a year before ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ was published (and whilst I was still working on it) I decided that I wanted to make a book trailer to promote it. Having taken a short course in screen-writing with The Writer’s Workshop , and because I love TV/Film drama, I wanted to try to bring my characters to the screen.

Incidentally… if someone out there would like to bring ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ to the screen, please do get in touch via admin@neonskybooks.com.

Crowdfunding – the Indie Creator’s Gateway

But how was I ever going to find the money to pay voice-artists/actors, graphic artists, a camera operator and a composer to realise my vision?  Crowdfunding worked wonderfully for me, and again that was another steep learning curve, with a whole other level of responsibility. If people are sending you money to help you create something, you had better get your sums right!  I used an awesome networking site for the film industry, Stage 32, to find a concept artist, Cat Archer-Wills, and using Patreon and GoFundMe -and some off-line funding from family members – I manage to raise enough, which was a huge relief because I had been working on the script since January 2015… We finally recorded material for several versions of the trailer in March, 2016, and completed several versions of the trailer just in time for the book launch in August 2016. Here’s one of them.  Kudos to everyone who helped make the trailer a reality – the teamwork of creative collaboration is just the best thing ever!

What’s Next?

One of my writing buddies (yes, you, MW!) described me as an ‘ideas machine’, and it is certainly true that I have more ideas and notes for new stories than I currently have time to write. I don’t have a full-time day job anymore (or as fellow author Nick Stephenson calls it, the DDJ – ‘dreaded day job’)  having graduated to a four-day week, but there are still never enough hours in the day!

Currently I have two novels on the back-burner (one of which is a follow-up to ‘The Methuselah Paradox’), a stage adaption of the same book, another short-story collection, and a Graphic Novel. I do like a challenge! First an anthology, then a novel and a trailer, now a comic book – whatever next?

‘Minding Mama’ – a Tale of Future Earth

Minding Mama‘, the Graphic Novel – or comic book, if you prefer – almost became one of the short stories in my next anthology (and still might). Originally written as a competition entry, I didn’t get to the required word-count before deciding that it was fine just as it was. I put it aside. Then I went back to it, and realised that it would work very well in a more visual medium… so back I went to Stage 32, and advertised for a concept artist, then later a storyboard artist/illustrator. Amanda Fullwood (who in addition to being a first class concept artist, is also a talented costumier/production designer) was first to join the ‘Minding Mama’ team, followed by Dan Schaefer . (Dan has worked for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse Comics and the film industry, creates documentaries, does graphic design for the advertising industry and was storyboard artist on NBC’s ‘Grimm’). My long-time friend Sue Turner agreed to do the camera/editing work, and Matthew Thomason is on board to provide a theme. We have cast one of the two performer roles – David Learner (science-fiction readers will recognise David as Marvin the Paranoid Android in Television and stage versions of the late Douglas Adam’s best-selling novel, ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘)

As of August 2017, we have concept art and sample pages (fully coloured, but without text) and are well on the way to creating a trailer/pitch video for the crowdfunding campaign – you can find out more about that here!

I love the process of research, writing, then creating a team to take it all further. Geography is no limiter – our current team uses Skype to link participants in Camberley, Southsea, Norwich and Oregon. Isn’t technology great?

So You Want to Self-Publish?

If you are just starting out on your self-publishing journey, and have doubts about whether you can do it, my advice to you is to keep at it! I’ve learned so much since I started on this journey, and have met some wonderful, very talented people. There’s a commonly-held misconception that writing is a lonely calling, and perhaps some of the time, it is. But I don’t see it that way. When I’m writing, my characters keep me company, and when I’m working with a team of fellow creatives, be it my cover designer (waves to Rachel Lawston and Harry Saxon) illustrators, actors/voice artists (hello to Simon Bugg, Richard Oliver , Amelia Sefton and David Learner), composer (here’s to you, Matthew Thomason) camera operator/video editor (waves to Sue Turner of www.elephantinscarlet.co.uk), stills photographer (thanks to Sue Thomason) and last but not least, all the lovely people whose crowdfunding support made the trailer for TMP a reality, it feels anything but lonely!  There is a wealth of online advice  to be had (some of it free, but some well worth paying for if you can afford it)  and you’ll find that most people are more than willing to share their experience and to help you however they can.  Go for it!

Elaine Jackson

Camberley, August 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Looking Backwards to Christmas – writing Xmas cards needn’t be a chore!


Christmas can be a difficult time of year – I don’t think anyone would argue with that, would they? For wives and mothers and home organisers in general, the month (in plural if you are really organised, which I never am) leading up to December 25th can be hectic and stressful, as the Christmas Machine gets into gear and batters us relentlessly, exhorting us to buy this, don’t forget that, oh and this year why don’t you try the other…  in our household, the annual task of writing out christmas cards has always fallen to me (when my parents were alive, it was always my father who took it on because his writing was neater and besides, mum was always too busy shopping and cooking) because I am (at least nominally) organised – if it was left to my husband, no-one would get a card at all!

It is a job that I tend to approach with mixed feelings. 

Mixed, because on the one hand, when you have children, it’s an opportunity to sing their praises to relatives, old friends and acquaintances you might not have actually seen in person for several years (at my age, usually the last time will have been a funeral – wind back a decade or several and it might have been a wedding, or a christening) – and what parent doesn’t enjoy doing that?  The other side of the coin is that, as I open the battered address book (the one my sister and I gave our parents in 1972) and see the crossed out names of people who are no longer with us, it brings sadness. But it also encourages memories – and those memories bring people back to life, at least for a time.

I see an entry for a cousin, and remember a family visit to his home as a child – the ‘laughing policeman’ toy and the whoopee cushion that he drove the adults mad with; his mother, a formidable woman who would brook no nonsense -and who I was a little bit scared of – sent us kids upstairs so that the grownups could talk in peace. She is no longer with us. I remember taking my son aged three (he’s now twenty-one) to see her in hospital not long before she passed away – she was still a big presence, but not quite as formidable as she had seemed to my childhood self, diminished by her illness.  Or perhaps it was because I was by then an adult myself.

Then there’s an entry for another cousin, and I remember sitting at the dinner table and listening to my mother, who was very upset, telling me that there had been a train crash, and my cousin’s husband had died.  I see another entry for a second cousin (my mother was one of six, my father one of four, so there are rather a lot of cousins) whose father jumped ship and ended up making a life in Australasia. His remarkable daughter is sadly no longer with us, but she spent decades researching my mother’s side of the family tree and sent me stacks of material so that I could add it to my own project. I never met her, but we corresponded for years by letter and email, and spoke on the phone a few times; I occasionally hear from her husband. I remember all this as I write his card.

Here’s my Godmother, who gave me money towards my driving lessons and was always encouraging, interested to know what I was up to. She lived next door to my grandparents and uncles and I still think of her as ‘Aunty Peggy’.

And here is an entry for the parents of a friend I made in my early teens, a penpal from the south coast. We’d take a trip in the car down to see them, or they would come to us, and we girls would chat about the usual things teenage girls would talk about -in our case geeky stuff because, well, we were (are) a bit geeky- while the parents did their thing with tea, cake and conversation. Later on, we’d go to sci-fi conventions together, get married and in my case, have children. Not so many years ago, my friend’s mother passed away two weeks before mine, close to Christmas: I remember a very emotional phone conversation that year. We’re still in touch, at birthdays and xmas.

Taking time out for memories  

It takes, as you can imagine, longer than it might do if I were to simply transfer all the living relatives to a new book (one that isn’t falling apart at the seams!) but I find myself treasuring the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane – it’s part of the Christmas ritual, now.

This extends to my husband’s family too – when I’m writing those cards, it’s always nice if he is in the room, then perhaps I’ll tell him which card I’m doing and it will spark off a memory for him. I hope that my son will do the same when I pass the book on… (or perhaps his future partner will do it, bringing their own memories to the mix).

So yes, Christmas can be a difficult time of year – over-commercialised, costly, insanely busy as you try to get everything done in time… but it can also be an opportunity to remember people – not just by raising a glass to them at the table, or in church, or however you normally do so, but when you sit down to write a card to wish distant family members and friends another ‘Happy Christmas’, and remember how and when you first met, and what they mean to you.  So here we go, another Christmas and another trip down memory lane…

by Elaine Jackson, December 2014