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How it Happened - The Writer and Other Stories, Shorts Collection. PLOT SPOILER ALERT!

The Writer and Other Stories, A Journey in Writing

SixMag, published March 2002
I began writing fiction in late 2001. 9/11 had just happened and my business, publishing and editing edgy consumer magazine SixMag, began to perish as all advertisers pulled their budgets, fearing the end of the world. So I started a novel, to free my mind from the daily business grind of working in a collapsed market. It was called Reverse Takeover and was really just a couple of paragraphs set in a space ship, plot missing. I left it and started another, called Coordinates, which was about a peasant revolution being required to save Earth from destruction by aliens. I was interested in sci-fi because I'm an admirer of Philip K Dick's writing, loved 2000AD comic as a kid, the whole Bladerunner/Alien/Star Wars thing. I sent the first few pages of Coordinates off to agents in 2002 and the feedback was negative but useful: they liked my writing but nobody wanted sci-fi. Old-school publishing is a truly conservative environment and the herd mentality generally rules. But okay.

I turned in a new direction and wrote Ghost in the Grail, a tale about a suicidal guy who was sucked into the Holy Grail story. I wasn't suicidal because of the rejections (a vital part of every writer's growth), just trying to develop my style while working nights in a neighbourhood restaurant - Mango at Leonard's Corner - the magazine having folded. And that's where Service Not Included came from too.

Amazon #1, 9/11 Trilogy
In 2004, I got an idea for an epic novel about Osama bin Laden, the architect of 9/11. 9/11 was a stunning and tragic day for me because I'd lived and worked in New York for a couple of years in the late 1980s, been to the top of the World Trade Centre many times, enjoyed lolling in the beautiful space between the towers at the end of many a drunken night in the Village and have dear relatives in New York. My story looked at the formation of the terrorist organisation, the geopolitics of the Middle East and went forward to bin Laden's death at the hands of US special forces. I had him tracked down in Egypt, not Pakistan, and finished the novel in 2007. I sent it off to some agents but it was turned down on the basis that the main character - bin Laden's right-hand man - was too difficult to connect with. I can understand that motivation now, as it seems that every mainstream book or movie must have a character that everyone can easily connect with. I shelved the book, but took out the first chapter to stand alone as a short: The Garden at the Inn. During this period, I also wrote two more 9/11 stories, Tuesday and Nine Twelve. The bin Laden novel has since been published (by me, as part of the self-publishing/ebook revolution) as The Death of Osama bin Laden - An Alternative History, real events having eclipsed my plot. My 9/11 stories have since reached number one on Amazon as 9/11 Trilogy.

The Golem Strikes, Marvel , 1976
With a fresh mind, I wrote Golem in 2007. The story was inspired by my ownership of a Marvel comic book as a kid, in which a Golem, a supernatural being made from clay, saves superheroes The Invaders and some Jews from the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto. American comic books were not common in 1970s Ireland, and were to be cherished. This was followed by The Long Night, Nothing But Time, Gaia's Embrace and The Writer coming through in 2008. Definitely my first dystopic phase.

The Writer talks about the New Testament being created by a Roman author as a work of fantasy. This is a compelling idea, given that the King James Bible that is so prevalent today was written in the seventeenth century, content taken from a variety of sources and lots of content dropped so the finished book conformed to the Church of England's ideals of organised religion and God. The rise of Christianity has been the single most negative and divisive episode in human history. The Roman Empire had its problems (slavery, dictatorship, military oppression), certainly, but what it gave the world in terms of art, architecture, literature, infrastructure and, at times, democracy, still guide us to this day. Imagine how advanced human society would be today if we didn't have a thousand years of religion - the Dark Ages - sending humanity back to the Bronze Age after the fall of Rome. The importance of the Renaissance cannot be underestimated.

In 2009, Perhaps A Few was one of those flashes of inspiration that are perfect for a short story: fast, brief, done. The Great Irish Famine (1845-49) was a key event in Irish history and was truly shocking: the scale of horror and death is actually unimaginable. My story is just a different, fictional take on how it might have started. That's the beauty of writing fiction: there are no limits, beyond libelling the living.

Come Party at the End of the World (2010) was the beginning of a novel about the breakdown of society and the efforts of small group of web developers to reboot the internet for a dazed planet. I wrote this while I was working for a web design company. I didn't feel like finishing it, but cleaned it up and drafted a conclusion for this collection which, I think, makes it work as a short.

The Erased Man is also from 2010 and talks about the past being wiped out as we grow older. If it has a conclusion, it's that physical things, even other people, aren't what make you you. It's what's inside your head. There's nothing more. Nor should there be.

I wrote Blitzkrieg Ireland 2016 in 2011. It was originally titled Blitzkrieg Ireland 2019 but I changed it to tune in with the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016. The Rising was a failed Irish revolution against the British Empire, but the execution of its leaders by British forces inspired the successful War of Independence, 1919-21. My story talks about the European Central Bank using military tactics to seize the assets of a failed Euro state. Unlikely to ever happen? We'll see. But it cannot be overstated how broken and bewildered the people of Ireland are today. The 'pillars of society' have all been discredited and nobody really knows how to go about fixing the country or, preferably, building something better. It's a freakish situation.

The Key and The Correct Shade of Red are both cut from a novel that I'm currently working on. The novel is about an art expert and a chef who come into conflict with a Nazi hedge fund in New York. There was a bit of back-and-forth in time going on and that was a problem according to some agents who saw the early chapters. So I took out the scenes in Louis XVI's Versailles and made them into The Key. The art expert character in my novel was on a mission to find the lock that Louis was making when the French people decided that they'd had enough of monarchies, and that's why it's prominent in my tale. I too have had enough of monarchies and find it incredible that people still accept their existence. The little story about Van Gogh was just fine as it was.

Troika (2011) is about the forces that have ruined Ireland: the Catholic Church and politics, particularly Fianna Fail. Who's the third member of the troika in my story? The Devil? God? Both? It is amazing to consider that the Catholic Church dominated Ireland's twentieth century. It was only when the survivors' tales of sexual abuse were actually listened to that the Church's Wizard of Oz was exposed, behind the curtain, as a naked old hypocrite, fondling a petrified boy while whispering threats of hell in his ear. That many Irish people are still under the Wizard's spell is shocking. That the Constitution of Ireland makes many deferential references to the Christian God is amazing. I work with a Facebook campaign called Secular Ireland and will not rest until Ireland becomes a genuine republic, free from the political influence of organised religion.

The X-Games and The Zoo are stories that were hanging around in my head for a couple of years. I made myself write them down in late 2012, just for this collection. They're both about dystopian futures very much determined by today's realities: the shocking inequalities that we so readily accept; the intellectual shallowness of our leaders and 'heroes'; the media's control of the masses.

Betelgeuse, as seen by Hubble
When I gathered all my short stories together, I decided to arrange them by chronological setting. This put The Writer as the first story and Reverse Takeover as the last. I then tweaked both these so that they'd neatly bookend the collection, and made some minor improvements to other stories. In Coordinates, the virus was originally telling the infected humans to go to a place in the middle of Spanish nowhere, and the exploding star's name was irrelevant. By sending the protagonists to a bar near thDalĂ­ Museum in Figueres (an amazing place) and having the familiar Betelgeuse - the red giant at Orion's shoulder - explode, the story becomes more immediate and relevant. In The Writer, I brought in the author's idea to write the world's first science fiction story after seeing glorious Jupiter in the night sky. This tied neatly in with the closing space mission to Jupiter, driven by the discovery of a Roman text, the same one that our author conceived the night he pitched the dinner party about his Jesus story idea.

Stories and our need to hear them, to read them, to want them: at once, the most amazing, annoying, positive, negative, hopeful thing about humans.

Gary J Byrnes, April 2013.

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1 comment:

Spencer Earl said...

I've go to catch up on some of your writings. I liked the article. I have more to say later.