Age of the cyborg

A guy named Yuval Harai hosted at discussion session at Intelligence Squared yesterday. By the time I got to hear of it, the event was sold out. A disappointment, as this sounds like one interesting guy.

His premise is that we have already begun merging with computers, our reality is already no longer what it was, what it has been for the last 10,000 years.

Read Yuval’s Harai’s recent interview with the Guardian – simply fascinating.

Our future in the hands of the social and digital media giants

For example, this:

‘Only now, the decisions are being taken by “a small international caste of business people, entrepreneurs and engineers”. Governments have become “managers”, he says. They have no vision, “whereas meet the people in Google, in Facebook, they have tremendous visions about the future, about overcoming death, living for ever, merging humans with computers. I do find it worrying that the basis of the future, not only of humankind, the future of life, is now in the hands of a very small group of entrepreneurs.”’

Me too. The likes of Facebook (let’s say), should not have more information about the British public than the Government, but my concern is that they may do – and companies such as these do not have the elected and moral obligation to look after people that governments have. They could do whatever they wanted with their data. And we’re giving it to them by the truckload.


This, also, is significant:

“I suddenly had a tool to scientifically observe directly my mind… and I realised I had no idea who I really was. I had this fictional story in my head but the connection between that and my reality was rather tenuous.”

The need to still and control the mind is important, nowadays more than ever. Reality is not an obvious path and it’s easy to get pulled this way and that by emotions. Mindfulness is not something preached by many of the world’s religions, but maybe the Buddhists have it right –  it should be.

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Interstellar – a film about death or love?

interstellarThis week a dear uncle of mine died. After his death which came too soon after that of his younger brother less than a year ago, I was reminded yet again of my views on death.

Well, I say my ‘views’. What I really mean is my ‘doubts about’.

For something else happened before either of my uncles died: my mum dreamed of my grandmother. In her dream, Nan (as I called her) was trying to warn her of something. Being a sensible science-biased kind of a person, my mum put it down to her own subconscious telling her that her younger brother was ill. However, she was left with a feeling that this wasn’t all. Shortly after her dream her younger brother was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer. He died but not long after that her older brother also fell ill.

In the long chain of life her brothers had linked hands and decided not to let go.

One night, not long before my second uncle died, I sat down to watch the film, Interstellar. Expecting the usual Hollywood blockbuster, an action-packed roller coaster to take my mind off things for a while, I was surprised by the emotional blow the film dealt.

It took my breath away.

Granted, there’s a lot wrong with it – like a fair amount of the logic ties itself up in paradoxical knots. But I’m happy to grant it the artistic licence it deserves. The ideas therein were sound, the philosophy perfect. Unsure at the beginning, I then got well and truly hooked at the point where Cooper, Amelia and the crew touch down on a planet beyond a wormhole the other side of our galaxy in order to find fellow scientists who had travelled there a decade before. Given that time does strange things on the other side of the hole in space (yeah, a big given, but I bought it), every second they spend on the planet’s surface costs them many earth years. In short, the longer they spend down there, the more their loved ones back on earth age and the less likely they are to see them again.

A setback occurs and they end up on the planet for an hour, something that costs them decades of earth time.

In the meantime their loved ones, and in particular Cooper’s two children, have aged decades and have left them 22 years’ worth of messages on the comms system. As Cooper sits down to view all his messages, he sees that his kids have grown up, that tragedy has befallen his son’s family, that his daughter – now herself a scientist – is bitter, crippled by her belief that her father is not coming back. That he might be dead, his non-response to her messages no comfort to her year in year out.

This is how we feel when our loved ones die, isn’t it?

Where do they go? Into what strange universe beyond our reach? Do they hear us when we call out to them, as the years trickle by? Are they trying to get a message back? What if they are really there, but the space time their consciousness has moved into so removed from us, the messages they send to us are not what we might imagine? Just as Murph’s ‘ghost’ is really Cooper who finds himself in the ‘Tesseract’ fifth dimension after his travel back through the black hole on his way back to earth.

What is death then, after all? What happens when we die? Do we still exist somewhere, even if it is only in people’s minds? Or do we continue to exist, in another dimension, in another time?

The love between Cooper and his daughter and, to a lesser extent, between Amelia and her lover – another scientist lost in space a decade before – is what drives them to keep hunting for something that will help them understand the universe better, that will help them (and the human race) continue to survive, to prevail. Love and death, so intertwined, one unable to exist without the other but both vying for dominance in this great, dark multi-dimensional world.

The film, Interstellar, is about both. Which wins? I don’t know. And I don’t know the answer in real life either.

In another twist of fate my mum chose a poem to read at my uncle’s funeral. Not a fan of Sci Fi, she hadn’t seen Interstellar. However, can you guess which poem she read?

‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’


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Pause for thought…

Somebody said that to me this week and I was indignant. Me? Charge headlong into something, make snap judgements, rush ahead, push for action over procrastination? Never. And then I thought, hmm, well, maybe. I won’t divulge the particular context of this comment but I can say that reflection helped. In the end I didn’t form a different opinion but I handled the issue differently, and got better results.

Later on in the week, it happened again. An issue came up and I wanted to jump in and handle it straight away. This time my friend wasn’t there to tell me to pause. My finger was ready on the trigger of my smartphone to fire and I had to count to ten…slowly, thinking of the words of my wiser contemporary as I did so.

Writing is a constant fight against this instinct. One the one hand, I go with the flow, write as it comes and get it all down on the page. But really, long form is on the front line against this instinct, and in writing longer pieces I am forced to deliberate, turn things over in my mind, develop my ideas and handle things differently.

I was reminded again of the appeal of the long form when a friend and fellow Faber Academy alumna’s blogpost appeared in my inbox recently. Her post was a story about a palm reader who had told her how many children she and her husband would have and it reminded me of a similar experience of my own. The post was so appealing and the storytelling so engaging I thought again of my original reason for writing novels: to communicate in 3D. In my view, novels provide a multidimensional form of conversation, where interpretation is not only possible but necessary.

Despite my urge to write really long form material – i.e. books, I’ve become attached to quick posts on social media in recent years, something that eats my time and chips away at my quality of life, my friendships and my integrity. I’ve noticed that others are similarly addicted. Connections have become just that, mere connections, lines between dots in a virtual world, and the deeper, soul-satisfying feeling of true friendship and personal connection has been lost.

Time to stop.

Time, instead, to get writing again, posting long form content, crafting new stories, a new novel that will be years in the making but something I’ll find worthwhile. Time to jot shorter thoughts down as poems, not posts, and to look others in the eye and talk into the small hours, face to face.

As my third novel, WorldCult demonstrates, we are hurtling towards a world where an cavernous online void could swallow us all up. Take one influential, smart individual who knows how to manipulate his image and ideas across the internet, add to that the intense and desperate loneliness of the modern, virtual age, and….boom!

By the way, the irony isn’t lost on me that WorldCult sells better as an online product than a paperback, but if you’re interested in more of my thoughts on the subject, delivered in a way that allows pause for thought, interpretation and deliberation, why don’t you read it?

A friend asked: ‘I loved it, but what does the end mean?’ to which I gave the inevitable answer. I know what I think it means but I am not going to tell you, as this is our 3D communication at work – you decide what you think and we can discuss. We can discuss it until the sun goes down and into the early hours. Face to face.

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On location with WorldCult

One day, over twenty years ago, my twenty-two year-old self packed her bags and booked a one way ticket to Rome. She landed in the warmth and low-slung brilliance of the late October Mediterranean sun and never looked back.

WorldCultTrue, I didn’t stay there forever (and maybe I should have done), but Rome stayed with me. I built a family with a Roman man and stayed connected to the heart of the city, tied forever by invisible threads.

In particular, those early days of discovery stayed with me: how I soaked up the ancient soul of the place that sat determined and resolute alongside the decadent brand of modernity that now underpins it.

I wanted my readers to sample this, to immerse themselves into the metaphysical vibe of the place, to feel that juxtaposition between the ancient and the intangible future that simmers in every nook and cranny, tantalising with promise.

When in Rome you feel something over and above the everyday, something other-worldly and multi-dimensional that doesn’t exist anywhere else.

When in Rome you don’t just exist in the here and now, you exist in the past, present and future all at once.

From the air, the historical centre resembles  a giant Roman forum, glued together by high rise apartment blocks and the ever-present pine trees that stretch their shadows across the sun baked cobbles till serving as roads and pathways for modern cars to slide over and stilettos to get stuck in.

The intense energy of the place is akin to what you feel when standing next to an imposing old oak tree.

The beginning of Elena’s (my protagonist) journey takes her from the infamous via Giulia – a medieval road that with its elusive and well-heeled residents has always sat just out of my reach – through to San Giovani, where my husband grew up.

The rough diamond of Rome, San Giovanni is so central you can see the Colosseum from some parts of the quarter. But it was deeply working class until recent years. Everyone knows everyone there and there is still an element of Sophia Loren’s Naples to the place: grandmothers yelling across courtyards to each other at 5 in the morning as they go about their errands, RAI UNO blaring from open apartment windows, cars honking through gridlocked traffic round Piazza Re Di Roma. Part of me hopes that – despite the astronomical property prices that now adorn properties there – it will never become gentrified.

Of course, Elena is soon forced across town to the Vatican City, for what metaphysical tale set in Rome could be complete without the heavyweight player: the Catholic Church in all its might and glory?

A state in its own right, the Vatican is a mysterious entity. Protected by Swiss guards in their multi-coloured uniforms who sweep their Aryan gaze over you as you pass by, wondering what they might do if you tried to get past them, it harbours arguably the most powerful man of our planet’s recent history: the Pope. Of course, these days his power is diminished, a fraction of what it was 1,000 years ago, but still. That feeling of supreme and intangible power emanates. It gleams in the gold that adorns the domed ceilings of St Peters and it waits its in the silent shadow of the statued saints whose white marbled spectres circle St Peter’s Square. Who dares to take them on?

Somebody does, and to find out who, you’ll have to read my book.

WorldCult is available on Amazon to buy in either ebook (Kindle) or paperback format.



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Is this the age of the global cult?

This year I wrote a book, my third and last for now. It was fast, and it was furious. An easy write: 1,000 words an hour, several hours a day, mostly during the months of April-August.

An ugly climax, some might say. Short, sharp, brutal. Like life, maybe. But it was also exploratory, questioning of so much that is close to my heart, but especially:


In many ways, this was the book I had been waiting a long time to write.

The themes had been bothering my protagonist, Elena, and therefore me, too, for a long while. What is death and where do we go when we die? Yes, yes, I know. We go to heaven. Or…we are reborn as either lesser or more superior beings. Or maybe nothing happens at all. Being brought up with the first theory and being rather partial to the second, the third disturbs me greatly. And of course, all three are linked the the first and third themes of faith and reality. It boils down to one question.

Who are we really and why does it matter?


I expound no personal beliefs in my books, only ideas that have crossed my mind. It is possible, but not probable, that we live on in some form after we die. It is possible, but not probable, that the form in which we live is recognisable in some way to our former selves: maybe there are ghosts among us, either in the form of the reincarnated or the actual past. And the belief in all of this helps us get through the day, aids us in our plight to be better human beings; to love better, to remember to be loyal, to strengthen our bonds. To continue searching long after the lights appear to have gone out.

For some say that love is the answer. Maybe so. But what of faith?

My protagonist, Elena, finds herself in dire straights precisely because these answers elude me. Poor Elena – who’d be a character in a book, destined to be pulled this way and that by the hand of a higher power (me, the author)? What kind of a reality is that? Although, to give her her dues, I did live a great deal of it with her. Such are the highs and lows of novel writing. The conclusions are ambiguous. Sorry about that, but I prefer to let you, the reader, decide on your own interpretation.

And what of the central idea of the book, that a global cult driven by a leader with questionable values could one day take hold in our super interconnected world? Of course this could never happen, could it? Of course this isn’t something we have come across before. Is it? I was concerned with something unique to our time but the more I wrote, the more I wondered. Surely a charismatic cult leader with a truck load of money and corresponding power would never try to change the course of the world’s spiritual compass? Because this never almost happened on several occasions before, did it? And the human race has never just followed a leader into death and destruction…just because that leader inspired them to have faith.

So, faith. What of it? And our collective will to put all our faith in one person, or entity, in the hope that one day we – collectively – will be better off, even if it means hardship right now. Even…if it means death and destruction.

This time science also plays a part, as science and religion get closer together and our existence on earth reaches the vanishing point. What lies beyond it?

In 2014 my third book, WorldCult, was born. A modern take on an age-old problem.

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