So 2008 came and flushed with the succes of managing to complete the previous years novel and bouyed by the offer of a free printed version of that book, I tackled 2008’s NaNo with extreme enthusiasm.
I knew that I wanted to write about dreams and where we went when we dreamt. The title is a slight pinch from a Gary Numan cd (suprise suprise eh?). On the morning of the 1st November, I sat down and started to write. The first section finished I went into my local comic shop as D’Israeli was there doing a signing. I asked him for a Robin the boy wonder sketch and while he was drawing it, I looked at the goods he had for sale. One picture caught my eye, it was from the War of the worlds comic that he and Ian Edgington had done. It showed a Tripod looming over a man, one of its metal arms snaking towards him. I bought it and paid for the sketch and headed home. There, that picture just stayed in my memory and The second part of the novel was born. A victorian steampunk version of Aberdeen, where war of the worlds happens.
Now at this poit, those who have read anything I have written will know that a lot of my stories have two tales running side by side. This is because when I hit a brick wall with one story, I start or continue another. I have been lucky so far, in that they all seem to magically tie together at the end….somehow! So New Dreams from an Old Life follows one man as he becomes a kind of dream warrior and also what happens in an alternate earth Aberdeen, during the War of the Worlds.
I really enjoyed writing this book. There was none of that week 2 writers block and I finished with around 5 days to spare, which Is something I have never managed since!
So, as before, I present the opening of New Dreams from an Old Life, the first draft with all its spelling and grammer mistakes.
New Dreams from an Old Life
Paul “Laird of Darkness” Reaney
Steve glanced at his watch as it lay on his bedside table. 2.38 am and still he could not sleep. Outside Mrs Trefall was seeping the leaves away from her front gate, just as she had done every other morning probably for the whole time she had lived across the road from Steve and no doubt before then. Insomnia had given Steve a new perspective on what his neighbours got up to. Mr Optic often arrived home after midnight, his long black car pulling almost silently into his driveway. If the moon was out and you looked at the right moment you could see him putting his wedding ring on before he got out of the car, locked it and approached the door. Occasionally he would pause just before getting his keys out and unlocking it. Steve wondered if his wife was suspicious of anything going on. She must be, as Mr Optic didn’t try and conceal anything. Mrs Optic was a nice looking woman but Steve had heard her shouting at her errant husband, mostly on a Friday night when he was getting ready to go out. To be honest, Steve would probably have done the same, found some refuge from her and lived a secret second life elsewhere. Why he didn’t just leave her was anyone’s guess.
Mrs Trefall was almost finished, the last few errant leaves caught from the grasping fingers of the night wind and brushed into a large neat pile right in front of Mrs Optics next door neighbours. Her dressing gown blowing gently around her as she tried to keep the world, or in this case just Steve, from seeing her thick woollen pyjamas. She went inside and shortly afterwards her hall light was switched off.
That would be all Steve would see for a few more hours. The world outside his window really went to sleep from around three am until six, when the daily routine would begin for the rest of the world, Steve included. If only he could get some sleep, he thought, that would be a bonus. This had been going on for close to a month. The same daily or should that be nightly, routine. Switch the television off and lie down. Get up again an hour or so later. Have a drink, milky of course although it didn’t make a difference. Lie down again. Try to quieten the mind by thinking of all the movies he enjoyed (sometimes it would be television programmes, occasionally music). Fail to drop off. Get up and watch the world’s story unfold outside his window. Eventually drop off to sleep around 4 am and get rudely awakened when the alarm went off at what seemed almost the exact moment he actually fell asleep. Steve was very surprised that he was still managing to function normally after a week of this routine, let alone still be appearing to be leading a normal life after a month.
He turned and switched on the radio. A friend had told him that sometimes low background noise helped the brain to focus on it sub-consciously and it should allow him to actually get some sleep.
Anything was worth a shot.
Paterson closed the heavy tome and rubbed the tiredness out of his eyes. It had been a long day and he was still no further forward in his research. The deadline was looming and yet that still didn’t seem enough to inspire him onto bigger and better things. No, he was still looking for inspiration in dusty old textbooks and finding that not only had inspiration left the building, it had taken enthusiasm and luck with it. The setting sun splayed its last splashes of colour through the university library’s window, making the indoors seem almost warm despite the all pervading cold that seeped in from the wintry weather outside. Losing the lid on his unused laptop, Paterson started packing his belongings away. The car would be waiting for him outside and if it was Sykes that had been allocated to him, then there would be hell to pay. It would start with almost silent muttered abuse followed by mad driving through the streets of Aberdeen. That man almost certainly diced with death on a daily basis. Never had Paterson seen someone who looked so ill yet managed to carry out his duties seemingly without a care. It did make people wary to be around him and indeed Paterson avoided all contact normally. He didn’t fraternise with the drivers unless he really had to. They could drink until the cows came home and yet always seemed to pass the sobriety test in the mornings before starting their work. They must have had a system, that was the common consensus, yet no-one seemed able to work out what it was.
Still Sykes was one of the more “normal” ones, despite his personality defects. Paterson dared not get into the car with some of them, especially the younger ones. Boy racers to a man they were. The breakfast table was always awash between the scholars with whispered tales of Beach Racing between the men and the robots. No-one ever had proof, or indeed had ever witnessed this for themselves, it was always a tale told to a friend of a friend and passed on in confidence. If they were ever caught racing, whether against other men or not, then they would have been removed from their position and be forced to take a more menial job.
Not that there was a lot of menial jobs around nowadays. The robots had taken care of that problem. Ever since the first one had been revealed to the world eight years ago, they had quickly taken on tasks that the people really didn’t want to do. This suited most but it did mean high unemployment and this had created its own problem and solution. The weekly television output was almost entirely made with the unemployed. Once signed into their work contracts, the television companies could do what they liked with you. And they did. Television had been in a rut since the 1980s and with falling revenue threatening shareholders, the television companies did what the market dictated. Provide the masses with mindless entertainment. Stop them thinking about how things could be and re-enforce how they should be. Paterson was not alone in seeing this as wrong but as his father had once said during a very late night or early morning whisky fuelled drinking session “you cannot fight popular opinion”. They would always win he said, the only way that things could be changed was in small, almost unseen ways. Let each idea find it’s own audience and then watch it snowball into a movement for change.
Paterson was still waiting for a movement he could get behind and support. He got the feeling that he would be waiting for a long time. This saddened him.
With his belongings safely stashed, He gathered up the books he had been reading and was looking for the robot that would put them away. The library would be closing soon and was almost empty, yet he still could see nobody. Sighing to himself he started towards the bookshelves intent on doing it himself. The silence was broken by a little hiss of steam as the Library Assistant walked towards him.
“Excuse me Sir” it spoke its arms outstretched like gleaming chrome trees, “I will put these books away for you”. The voice was familiar, the lines of dialogue spoken with what sounded like real feeling. Paterson knew that it was just a recording of an actor and all the robot was doing was picking appropriate words from it’s memory banks and relaying them in the correct order with the right inflection. They really had come a long way since Professor Gibson Sterling had first showed off his prototype “Steam Driven Man” back at the turn of the millennium. They looked more human now, not as angular and they certainly moved with the grace of a dancer. The early models had rumbled along on primitive tank tracks and spoke with a dull emotionless monotone. But Technology would always move on at pace and it was up to the people to keep up with it. Paterson handed the books over and said Thanks. The Robot nodded and turned on a sixpence to head towards the correct section of the library. As he made his way out of the library, Paterson kept glancing back at the shelves of books. Why had he not found what he had been looking for? Time was running out, yet that didn’t stop that annoying nagging feeling at the back of his mind that something was not quite right about the direction his research was supposed to go in. There had to be a better way.
Outside Sykes stood smoking his pipe, a clear breach of his positions rules but Paterson thought better of reminding him this. The robot had just finished winding the cars clockwork mechanism up and was putting the winding mechanism back into the storage space of it’s body.
“Ah there you are Sir” Sikes hurriedly tipped the contents of his pipes bowl onto the street, ignoring the robot that immediately started sweeping it up. Where did these things spring from?
“Yes Sykes, sorry I am running a bit late today”
The laughter was surprising in that it was full and hearty. Paterson opened the car door (again Sykes had neglected his duty) and quickly got in as Sykes manoeuvred his stick thin frame behind the wheel.
“You are always running a wee bit late Sir. However today is a good day for you to be fashionably late. The roads are very busy with Holiday traffic, so I had only just got here myself”
Hmmm, that was probably true thought Paterson, it was the start of the Holiday weekend and Aberdeen’s light displays were one of Britain’s great attractions. The North Sea had been kind to the Granite City when Steam power took off and in a fit of little seen common sense, the local city council had taken full advantage of this and turned Aberdeen into a living monument to light and steam.
As the car started it’s journey home, Paterson felt his eyelids become heavier and heavier. Sleep had been a luxury for the past month while he struggled on trying to get the project to a point that the city fathers would have been happy with. It would still get passed onto the highest bidder when they decided that the time was right, yet there was a nagging professionalism that still resided inside Paterson, to make sure that he did the best job possible. This had resulted in long nights and brief snatches of sleep grabbed when he had the time. As the gentle hum of the car mixed with the passing traffic, Paterson felt himself slipping further into the warm embrace of oblivion. His last conscious thought was that he hoped he didn’t have that same bland, boring dream again.
Work came too quickly for Steve and the first thing he did upon arriving at the office was to make himself a strong cup of coffee. Not that he felt tired, well not as tired as he should have felt bearing in mind the lack of rest that his body and mind should have experienced over the past month. However first thing in the morning, he always needed a wee kick to get him started. Coffee had replaced nicotine and coffee as his wake up drug of choice and with the removal of nicotine, the strength of his coffee had risen. It was a fine line between being healthier and being strung out on caffeine high. Switching on his monitor and watching the little words of green manifest themselves, he tried to remember what to do next. The “To Do” list that he had written yesterday before leaving now looked like it had been written by a monkey.
His head was in his hands as Joseph arrived at his desk.
“Didn’t sleep again?” Joseph asked. Steve nodded and turned his chair to face his work mate. “I got a couple of hours around four this morning but it wasn’t enough to banish this weariness I get first thing”
“Did you try leaving the radio on in the background?”
“Yeah but I chose a talk radio station and I kept getting caught up in the debate. Eventually I switched the thing off. The reception is really bad around my house, that’s the only station where there is not a constant low pitched whine from a slightly off station.”
Joseph giggled to himself and switched his computer on. Steve took a large sip of coffee and turned back to his screen. The welcome screen had been and gone and he was left facing the desktop icons. Clicking on the top most one, Steve started going through the work emails that had arrived since he had left last evening.
“You could always try classical music cd’s” Joseph added, “That might work”
“Yeah I will, thanks Joe”
Do I even have classical music, Steve wondered. The email program opened up and showed that even though it was him that couldn’t sleep last night, there seemed to be a great many other people who worked way beyond the allotted work day. Sighing he opened the first one. It was going to be a long day.