Gaz Facts #1 – Cheese is actually made of nightmares.

nightmarecheese2

It’s a little known fact* that the myth ‘cheese gives you nightmares’ is actually a mistranslation of the very origins of cheese itself: cheese is made of nightmares! Or rather, the concept of cheese originated from a nightmare.

Think about it. At some point in the ancient past, in the ‘pre-cheese’ dark ages, someone, somewhere, must have looked at a quantity of rotting milk and thought to themselves ‘hmm, those lumpy bits look nice’.

Who else but an individual plagued by nightmarish visions and motivations would have succumb to such an urge? I imagine a primitive dairy farmer, tossing in his straw bed, beads of sweat running down his furrowed brow as images of naked, toasted bread, danced behind his tired eyes, mocking him and shrieking for a delicious topping of some sort.

But where would he find such a thing? It literally didn’t yet exist. Perhaps he experimented with other mouldy produce before hitting on the all important milk-factor. How different our favourite snack would be now if that farmer had instead reached into a vat of rotting fish carcasses. But no! Thankfully he was prompted by the nocturnal whisperings of demonic muses to try and eat a mass of congealing cow’s lactic fluid.

And thank God he did! It’s delicious.

 

*This is not a fact. From a whole two minutes researching this on the internet, no one really knows how cheese was discovered, but was likely cured naturally from bacteria on cows teats and has been dated back over 7500 in Europe from remnants of rudimentary cheese straining equipment.

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New Release! The Great Connection: Worlds in Waiting

It is finally here…

As you can see in the lovely sidebar to your right (or by scrolling down if you are on a tablet or phone) – my new book ‘The Great Connection: Worlds in Waiting’ is now available to buy in hard back and eBook format! Please click on the link below or the picture of the cover to find out more!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Garry-Abbott/e/B00FOY38ME

I thought I would take this opportunity to update my rarely updated blog with a little timeline of how this came to be…

The funny thing about writing and releasing a book, is just how much time it takes.

First of all you need an idea. Luckily I have lots of them rattling around and keeping me up at night, but that means you then have to figure out which idea is the one to work on.

I spent the first six months after the release of my last book (The Dimension Scales and Other Stories), working on an idea that was not the right one… I got 30,000 words into a draft before calling it a day on a manuscript that wasn’t going anywhere, fast… The last line I wrote before giving up was:

“Okay, so that might just do it. For now. At least until I know what’s happening.”

Just to be clear, that was me speaking, not a character…

I had made the error of setting off without a map. Even my short stories have a map before I start writing – usually a bullet point list of plot points and chapter arcs. And this time I was writing a novel, a whole 80,000 words+ of unified story! I needed a map, and was back to needing an idea.

I turned to a short story I had release on this very blog to start me off… a nice little premise about space travel through virtual reality being announced by NASA around 150 years in the future, combining citizen science with immersion entertainment to explore the Universe. They called it ‘The Great Connection’. This same story exists now as the Prologue to the novel.

So, that was a nice backdrop, but not a story in itself. Luckily, I had some other ideas, also based on projecting fledgling technologies into the future (which is the bread and butter of many a speculative/science fiction author). Namely about three-parent families, and how, if this was to become an established norm, it would affect the family units of the future.

Add to this my general worries about the rampant rise of consumerism and social division, a little bit of alien world building, and I had my scene set, my characters taking form, and a story map starting to emerge.

From here comes the drafting. The best bit. Usually writing a chapter or major section in one sitting. I couldn’t estimate how long this took specifically, but with other commitments, I know the drafting was at least 6-9 months in real-time. This included a major re-write where ‘Part 2’ of the novel (Lingua Franca) really took shape.

As any writer will know, however, the first draft is just the start. From here there is extensive editing, correcting, tweaking… Probably another 3 months of that before I was able to send it off to get copy-edited (I use a professional copy-editor. As this blog may evidence, sometimes my punctuation can be a little errant!)

And so, I am left with an edited, final manuscript. So what to do with it? Self publish? Send it to agents and publishers? I opted for both. My long term strategy, is anyone is interested, is as follows:

  1. Write book (with all the steps above, including full edit)
  2. Send to agents and publishers…
  3. Wait a bit…
  4. If no-one’s biting, self publish.
  5. Repeat… potentially forever.

I quite like this formula. You have to be exceptionally lucky to get your manuscript land with the right person at the right time to get representation and a deal. In the meantime, I want to know what people think, what people like (or not) and keep developing. Without feedback, how can I make my next book better?

I approached maybe 50 agents and a handful of publishers. Most didn’t respond. A few said thanks, but no thanks. That’s the way of it. People sent me lots of nice stories about famous authors who were rejected hundreds of times before getting their break. I get it. I’ve always known. That’s not why I do it, but it would be nice, one day, when the time is right.

So, I’m now on step 4, as you can see! There are a lot of sub-steps in those simple words ‘self-publish’ – and even having it released is not the end. Now there is marketing, worry, reviews, and pride too.

But I am also well into Step 1 of the next book. The manuscript for my next novel is at around 40,000 words, and, I’m glad to say, it has a very good map. It won’t be a follow up to this book (I’m going to see how it goes before deciding whether there will be a series of ‘Great Connection’ books. I hope so… I’ve designed it so there can be)… but I can, and will reveal, that the next book is called ‘Transported’. It is a comedy sci-fi (think Douglas Adams / Terry Pratchett in tone, if not in voice) and is also a kind-of sequel to the the titular story in ‘The Dimension Scales’. All being well, I hope this will arrive mid 2017, but we’re having a baby before that date, so we will see!

That’s my potted history of ‘The Great Connection: Worlds in Waiting’. I hope you take the chance to have a little look and, ideally, buy and read it.

Thanks, dear readers.

Garry Abbott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McDonald’s in Leek? Discuss…

leek

It’s a funny thing, given the upcoming election and the myriad reasons to get angry at the way things are during a time of potential change, the one thing that has really angered me this week, enough to write a blog about it, is the self satisfied Facebook announcement from a certain Conservative town councillor that the beautiful, market town of Leek, with it’s progressive drive for localism and independence, is going to get a McDonalds.

I’m not going to name the person, but as the comment was posted on a public forum, here is the wording (truncated):

“Well the news as (sic) broken! McDonalds have just publicly confirmed they are coming to Leek. This is something that the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council have been working on for over 12 months now and it’s just another success story for this Conservative led Council…”

Whoopsy-freaking-doo. The picturesque, historic town is going to get a garish red and yellow cheap meat house to provide that much awaited backdrop of discarded packaging, low paid jobs and totally unbalanced competition for the local trades. Add to that a smattering of mal nutrition, obesity, and hmmm, this is a tasty burger!

Interestingly, however, the following article does make it sound like the junk food lovin’ Tory might have jumped the gun a little, as it sounds like the clown faced spokesperson for the golden arches of liver damage is not so sure yet:

““We are looking at several potential opportunities in the area but currently have no confirmed plans.” – Source: http://staffslive.co.uk/2015/03/mcdonalds-confirms-interest-new-leek-restaurant/

That said, who truly knows what has been agreed and confirmed behind doors with the Tory-led council, certainly not the local electorate from the sound of it.

So why so angry? I don’t live in Leek anymore, even though I visit almost every week, and I have on occasion (to my shame), eaten a McDonald’s. That said, I can count on one hand the number I’ve had over the last five years, and it has usually been down to some catastrophic error of time and food management.

Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? Lazy food. Lazy, cheap food laced with enough salt and sugar to trick you into thinking something good is happening at the time of consumption, when you know (usually within an hour) that something good really, really wasn’t happening.

But anyway, we can put the well known nutritional problems aside, along with the well known environmental problems, and the well known low skills and wages problem, and the well known affects on localism and look at this objectively… er…

Actually, yeah, those are the reasons I don’t like it. I now live in Stoke on Trent, and I have at last three McDonald’s within fifteen minutes of my house. I know what they look like, they’re everywhere, that is until I take a nice drive into the Staffordshire Moorlands. The buildings thin out, the fields and tree’s stretch out, and there, on a hillside as I approach, I see the Leek skyline and I know that there is something different, something unique, something I won’t find anywhere else waiting for me at the end of the road.

I’m not against every chain-store, for the record, I think the introduction of Waitrose into a building that was already being used as  a supermarket and the Premier Inn were good ideas. Tourism makes sense, and Waitrose has a profile that makes the area more desirable and encourages footfall. But when was the last time you visited a town because it had a McDonald’s? Rather than just passing one on the motorway or some grey business park and conceding that it is probably the only viable option save for eating your own hands?

So they’re not coming to town to bring more people in, to get them spending in the local shops. They’re going to do the opposite. The more bland and multi-chain commercialised the town gets, the less people are going to visit it, and the less independent businesses are going to remain open, and one will feed into the other in a downward spiral until the gateway to the peak district is rotting in obscurity under golden arches.

I know from experience that there will be people rejoicing this announcement. I can’t do anything about that. There are people who would be happy if the Library was ripped out and replaced with a car park, but that’s why those of us who are bothered about these things need to keep on being bothered. This is a town that now has a food-bank, and Tory councillors are spending twelve months ‘negotiating’ with one of the richest brands in the world to allow them to come in and take business away from local people. Maybe that time could have been better spent elsewhere? Rate reliefs (or cessation) on empty shop units to encourage new local businesses perhaps?

This represent more than just a tacky food store in an unsuitable location, it represent the whole ethos of the Conservative party, and any other mainstream party who put the greedy world of global capitalism on a pedestal and placates us with false promises of ‘trickle down’ economics while cutting our society back to the bone and beyond.

So anyway, discuss, debate. Someone’s got to, because we can’t be leaving it to these clowns (literally, in this case).

Blog Update and Rethink

Hello people who read this (I hope).

This is just a very short(ish) message to say that after the last six weeks of ‘Newsjack’ updates (a BBC Radio 4 Extra comedy show that I submit material for), I am now going to spend a little time deciding what is the best way  to continue this blog.

Having a run of six weeks with a set topic made my life a lot easier! I’ve posted over a hundred entries on this site from philosophy to comedy, spanning the last 18 months or so.

Some week’s it is easy, and some weeks I find myself scrabbling around for something to say.

This is one of those weeks, as you might be able to tell.

So, apart from Admin Cat, which I will continue to post every week (as long as I can still find new ideas for him… there have been nearly 60 cartoons already!) I am going to try and decide if there is a direction I want to take this page in that will make it a little more consistent for me to deal with and my audience (are you there?) to understand.

I will still post blogs if something specific occurs to me, but am going to relax the ‘new posts weekly’ (apart from Admin Cat) until I decide what’s the crack…

In the meantime I am currently happily writing my second book, and I hope to find a fun and interesting way to tell you more about that soon.

So thanks for sticking with me so far, and if you have any ideas or suggestions or feedback, please tell me either here, directly, or by email at gazamatazabbott@yahoo.co.uk.

Thanks everyone.

Scotland, Bombs and Book Sales – Speed Blog.

stopwatch

I’ve got too little time and too many possible topics to write about this week, so I’m going to attempt a speed blog. From the start of the next sentence, I will attempt to cover the title subjects in 30 minutes writing time (which will be a lot shorter reading time). As I finish this paragraph, my computer clock reads 10.35am. You will just have to believe me… and my time starts… now!

Scotland

So they said ‘No’ then, and what happened? Almost immediately the hastily compiled promises that swayed the debate started to unwind and become compounded with much wider, and much more complicated matters, of regional and national devolution. The leaders of the ‘No’ campaign claimed an ‘emphatic’ victory. Emphatic? I think just scraping 56% of the voting population is far from emphatic, which is described by Google as ‘expressing something forcibly and clearly’. I think a better adjective to use would have been ‘adequate’ preceded by ‘just about’.

That said, they did win, and for those of us who were up for a bit of constitutional mayhem (shake em all up, I say), we can at least hope that if the millionaire white English boys go back on their promises, we will get our shake up, but in a much less organised and civil way.

I’m running out of time for this section (10.41am), so I will finish by saying that I actually like some of the ideas about devolved powers to regions and nations within the UK. As I said, anything that just goddamn changes things around here has to be welcome as a start. But no one can promise anything about how things are going to work, because no one, as I am aware, has the power to look into the future. So if we start getting asked questions about constitutional reform, just remember, no one really knows, no one will really ever know. If we don’t go for it at some point, we will never find out, and things will stay the same, suiting the few at the cost of the many. They will try and scare us, threaten us and bully us into keeping things the same. Sod them. Time’s up. Next!

Bombs.

Two nights ago America started bombing Syria. Not just any old bit of Syria, specifically the bits with ISIL/IS/ISA/whoever the hell it is they are meant to be fighting in it. Of course, that’s how bombs work, they are discriminate, with excellent targeting that in no way kill innocent people.

It’s hard to speak up against this latest round of violence because of the stark and shocking news stories of hostages and beheadings that have been drip fed out of the region over the last few weeks. It is all equally as saddening to me. The violence on both sides sickens and disappoints me. Already we have an American General warning that this will be a ‘long and sustained’ conflict. That is the headline story on our public news channel. Why would they want us to know that? Why would they want their enemy to know that they think it is going to be a hard and complicated campaign. It hardly strikes fear into an adversary to tell them that you don’t think you are up to the task of a decisive victory. For some reason, there must always be a campaign of western intervention in the Middle East. As one ends, another starts.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a genuine crisis going on in Syria, but it is so intrinsically linked with what Western leaders have done in the past, is throwing more violence at it really going to help? Earlier this year, ‘peace prize’ Obama announced he was arming the ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels in the fight against Assad. There was much mirth about the definition of ‘moderate’ rebel fighters. Some ridiculous amount of US dollars and military support was pumped into the region. Within weeks this name-changing group had emerged and apparently ran a line through Iraq and Syria with superior force and the ability to take, control, and sell oil for millions of dollars a day on the international market (who exactly is buying it from them?). I wonder if the two things are connected?

Time’s nearly up for this section. Needless to say, I am sceptical about the whole campaign, and soon we will be joining in (Cameron is recalling parliament this Friday). Great. More life and public money wasted. They can’t help themselves. Not for a moment do I believe their primary objectives are for humanitarian reasons. Not for a blink of an eye.

Right! 10.54am, leaving me 11 minutes to write the next bit and check it over!

Book Sales.

As I’m sure readers will know, I published my book ‘The Dimension Scales and Other Stories’ earlier this year (April 22nd to be precise). It has been an equally exciting and harrowing experience. I realise now that the internet, while being the great connector, is also like a massive public shopping centre full of closed doors. Anyone can have a premises, but getting people to look into it and see what you’ve got on offer is a lot easier said than done.

The book has received good reviews, but moderate sales. It is extremely hard to get it noticed and circulated in a market that is swamped with titles. This isn’t deterring me though, but it does mean I have to try various strategies and spend nearly as much time marketing as I did writing the thing in the first place. Add to that the fact that I am trying to get my next book written, and occasionally I end up having little breakdowns. (nothing serious, just artistic fear and loathing).

So! The latest round of attempts is to reduce the price again and see what happens. Some authors give their books away for free to get noticed and build an audience – I’m not quite there yet, but is now available for a mere $0.99 or 77p.

The advert for the book is on the top right of this screen – it takes you to the Amazon page, but the book is available on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Nook and Kobo. If you haven’t had a look, please do. And if you think it looks a bit interesting, why not buy it and find out? Or failing that, share it with a few people and see what they think. This whole ‘going viral’ thing isn’t a natural phenomenon. People will spend lots and lots of time and money in some cases, to get noticed. I would like to think that this can happen by mutual support alone, without the need for spamming and expensive advertising.

If anyone has any networks or channels that can help me get this ‘out there’ please let me know or just feel free to do so. I have quite a strong Twitter following and am happy to mutually exchange links and shout-out’s to those who have a creative endeavour of their own (within reason – no explicit or gratuitous material. You would be surprised how much of that is being peddled).

End.

And that’s it! The clock says 11.03am, so I will sign off with two minutes spare and do the fastest editing ever. I hope you’ve enjoyed my speed blog and I apologise if it is a little rougher around the edges than usual!

Goodbye.

 

Blog-i-day? Blog holiday?

After almost 90 weeks of continuous blogging (a word that stubbornly refuses to be recognised by the spell-checker despite it being entailed almost completely by the notion of technology) and nearly 40 weeks of continuous ADMIN CAT cartoons, I am having a week off. That week is this week. So, when I say ‘off’ I mean, this is it for this week.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a cartoon that isn’t Admin Cat. Click on it to see full size if the text is a bit small. I’ll be back next week!

plant heads talking test 1 copy

A Discourse on Empathy

If there is one thing I have learned in the past two years of studying philosophy, it is that the meanings we take words to have are often contestable with even the slightest of scrutiny. I was recently invited to take part in a discourse about ‘empathy, compassion and understanding’ and this learning held true once again.

When I say ‘contestable’, I mean in a specific sense. Broadly, we can look at definitions of these words and  come to a mutual, universal consensus, and that is what we basically do in everyday language and communication (otherwise we wouldn’t get through a sentence!). But when asked to consider these terms, we soon realise how nuanced, and sometimes divergent individual interpretations can be. Empathy, for example, can be defined in the following terms:

                “The ability to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings, experience, etc.” (“empathy, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 26 March 2014.)

This seems a good place to start, however, what the OED description lacks is any subjective account of what the word means. It tells us nothing of ‘how’ we empathise (nor is it intended to), but by striving to objectively define the term, it does offer us some initial insight.

 

There is a more commonly used, metaphorical description that I’m sure you’ve all heard before: ‘Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’.

We often find the use of metaphors in language to describe abstract concepts, perhaps because they tend to offer us a richer, novel, yet accessible way to explore an idea in terms we are more familiar with.  Just the simple idea of ‘walking’ the life of another conjures up sights, sounds, interactions and experiences – the imagination, consideration and appreciation of what it might be like to be somebody else.

But notice that in both the dictionary and folk definition of this term, no ‘normative’ description if offered, i.e. it makes no qualitative assessment of the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of the act of empathising: its positive or negative virtues.

In considering this, I am led to thinking that empathy is in its nature a passive, innate ability within us. In my recent discussion I found myself saying  something along the lines of: “empathy just happens to me – I don’t choose it – but it does moderate how I then act”.

As a writer I often try (and actively seek out) the opportunity to empathise with characters and real world ‘like’ examples who I don’t agree with, or have little in common with. This is to help me try and understand their motivations, intentions and world view. Notice how the word ‘understand’ begins to creep in at this point. Of course, we can never fully understand anyone else’s states of mind, but empathy is the best tool we’ve got, and it is also necessarily intertwined with the imagination.

From this, I would propose, that judgement follows, and as a result, emotional states such as ‘compassion’ can be evoked. So although this blog, and my recent discussion, is titled ‘empathy, compassion and understanding’, maybe the order needs to be jigged around a little, (and a few words added):

 

Image

 

There may be a case to be made that ‘understanding’ and ‘judgement’ are one and the same thing, however, that needn’t affect the above, given their central positions in this chain of reasoning. The inclusion of ‘experience and imagination’ at the start of this chain is just an acknowledgement that without the sensibilities to experience and the ability of the imagination to ‘re-represent’ ideas in our minds, we could get no further anyway.

* I used ‘anger’ as another example in the ‘emotional state’ parenthesis to try and demonstrate that ‘empathy’ alone is no guarantee of positive outcomes, but I don’t think that this conclusion is in itself a negative one, or in any way lessens the importance of empathy.

Initial Conclusions

Perhaps the more we try and understand others, on an emotional and factual basis, the better judgement’s we will make, and the more apt our emotional responses may be. It seems obvious that empathy stands at the forefront of this process, but it needn’t be one way. If we imagine the above chain as a snake eating its own tail, rather than a straight line with finite ends, then we can ‘feedback’ our own resultant emotional states into our empathy, and come to new and more complex conclusions. (Think of a psychiatrist asking ‘how does that make you feel?’ and then that answer informing a new round of thinking which may shed light on deeper, more subtle emotional states once this is considered; a kind of ‘self-empathy’, if you like).

Similarly, it seems this process works in degree’s of fidelity: it’s quality is dependent on how much information we actively seek out about the subject (the preconditions). It seems obvious that the less know I about someone, the less I am able to empathise, but that will not prevent me from empathising to some degree. So, if we want to empathise better, we need to seek out and experience as much as possible about the subject, or our resultant emotional states may be misjudged, underdeveloped or erroneous. (I would argue that this is the cause of much hatred and misunderstanding in the world – not a lack of empathy, but an underdeveloped and ill-informed empathy – a twisted or broken empathy, if you like).

Maybe, therefore, a project to understand, measure, and even look (in some cases) to repair empathy, would need to consider the range of experiences and information available (and readily accessible) needed for people to build a greater knowledge, and as a result, experience a better quality of empathy and a more apt emotional connection with others in the world.

Authors plea!

Please feel free to dispute, elaborate and comment on this initial exploration of empathy as I have set it out here. I enjoy the use of philosophical methods to explore concepts, but I also get frustrated with some approaches that purport to ‘know’ the answer. The value of an exercise such as this (I believe) is to throw up new considerations, tease out assumptions, and lead to continued discourse about the topic in the hope of shaping ‘real world’ activities and inform considered thinking and outcomes. For example, maybe ‘empathy’ is the process I’ve set out above, not just part of it – or maybe it’s nothing like this at all! There is still a lot to be discussed and explored here – this is barely a scratch on the tip of a massive iceberg (there goes those metaphors again!).

Thank you for reading.

Garry Abbott

 

Web:                     www.garryabbott.co.uk

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