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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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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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To what extent are we all ‘Borderliners’?

To what extent are we all ‘Borderliners’?

Borderliners box setWhat if there was something in everybody that crossed the line between reality and imagination, something that spanned timelines and defied explanation?

Who gets to decide when this is a problem, when this stops a person functioning in the ‘real’ world, and what is the real world, anyway?

Split Symmetry:

In the first book of the Borderliners Trilogy, Borderliners, I start small, examining these questions against the backdrop of an isolated and insular English village controlled by power-hungry cult leaders. In book #2, Split Symmetry, I move the same questions out of religious and small-town politics to a wider context of what is reality in scientific terms? What if this, too, wasn’t as we thought?

Finally, in the finale (book #3 out Christmas 2014), WorldCult, I pull all the questions from the first two books together in a race against time against the manifestation of a threat prophesied by Nostradamus five hundred years ago.

#Borderliners Trilogy

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The music of Split Symmetry

Whilst writing my most recent novel, Split Symmetry, I listened constantly to music. In fact, I found I was unable to write a single word without music on in the background.

I used music to inject creativity into all aspects of the book, starting with the characters and ending with the main themes of love, survival, free will and reality. Often I used it to help me pace up or down, or write in a certain style. For example, if I wanted to write a contemplative, poetic passage, I would listen to a downtempo, ambient track, and if I needed to write action scenes, I deliberately chose tracks with a fast beat. Most of all, I found music helped my mind operate outside of the constraints of normal life. With music, I could make hitherto elusive connections between themes and characters, feel the true mood of the emotions I was trying to convey and find true synthesis in the language I was using.

Soundtrack by: Coldplay, Ulrich Schnauss, Portishead, H.U.V.A. Network, Mystical Sun and Under the Radar.

Character building

When my characters have pieces of music or particular bands and sounds attached to them, it doesn’t happen on purpose. Rather, it’s something I leave to chance. During the writing of Split Symmetry, a central character named Philip became linked to Coldplay’s ‘White Shadows’. The character is central to the idea of reality and irreality in the book, and I was drawn the idea of shadows being turned inside out, just as the reality around him became turned inside out. In fact, one of the other characters sees a strange white-shadowed effect around him, like a halo, towards the start of the book. I attribute that image directly to Coldplay.


Love is not straightforward in Split Symmetry. The protagonist, Elena, is in love but she doesn’t know it yet. Her feelings are buried deep inside, confused and tied up with her own unwillingness to get involved with anyone, let alone a former patient of her psychotherapy practice, (which is what she finds happening to her). In order to express these complex feelings, I listened to a number of melancholy love songs – for what good love song isn’t? And I explored the multi-layered textures of these tracks to help get across the conflicting nature of emotion.

Glory Box (Portishead): This was a favourite of mine, as it really gets to the heart of the push and pull of an ambiguous relationship. I felt it echoed how my protagonist, Elena, feels for her psychotherapy patient, James, as she is cautious but at the same time desperate to let go of the limitations to her relationship with him. Featuring the voice of Beth Gibbons, this is a superb track that resonates with suppressed emotion.

Crazy for you (Slowdive, Ulrich Schnauss rework): The idea of unrequited love between the two main protagonists, James and Elena, was uppermost in my mind whilst listening to this track, and its melancholy, mysterious air captures the feeling I wanted to work into their relationship.

Fate and free will

In order to explore fate and free will in my novel, I chose the multiverse theory, which also gives the whole story a metaphysical, almost supernatural feel. By some it would be described as science fiction. To get into the feeling of other-worldliness mixed with metaphysics and science I listened to a lot of electronica and ambient music, often using a stream of consciousness-type state whilst listening to Digitally Imported, an online music channel that plays different types of ambient, chill and electronic tunes.

Eastern Traditions and philosophies were key to the development of some of my themes. I read a book called ‘The Tao of Quantum Physics’ (by Fritjof Capra) and was interested in the idea of a link between the Hindu tradition and quantum mechanics.

Zenigma (Under the Radar) brought to mind this link. The track fades in and builds up with a simple one chord arrangement which gradually builds up to a feeling of mystery then emphasised by the haunting female vocals that come in towards the middle. Whilst I listened to the track over and over again, I thought: what if the ancients understood ideas about eternal and parallel realities which are only now being proposed by quantum physicists?

Dissolving Time and Orientations (H.U.V.A. Network): these tracks brought to mind the idea that time is not the constant we believe it to be, that we shift in and out of it in ways we cannot conceive of, because time sits outside of our 3D world and is therefore outside of our comprehension. In Split Symmetry I toyed with this idea that time is not linear and, in fact, the protagonists experience time shifts, premonitions and possible ghostly sightings, all because their perceptions of time and space are not correct.

Survival and adventure

At its heart an adventure thriller, a bit like the Poseidon Affair or the TV hit series, LOST, there’s a fair amount of extreme weather and a fight for survival fought atop the Italian mountain range where Split Symmetry takes place.

Lost+ (Cold Play and Jay-Z) helped me work through the survival aspects of the book, how it felt to be lost, not only in the physical sense, but in an emotional sense too.

Cloudbursting (Mystical Sun): This was a track which brought to mind the extremes of weather my characters experienced on the exposed mountainside. I found it useful to write some of the more extreme scenes where there was torrential rain or thick fog with this track playing in the background. There is a curious upbeat nature to the music which echoes the perverse excitement you can sometimes feel when the heavens open or a bank of thick, menacing cloud comes rolling in towards you. I wanted to get this sense of mixed emotions, foreboding mixed with anticipation into certain scenes of my book.

The meaning of life

Eye of the Beholder (Ulrich Schnauss remix): I thought a lot about God and creation whilst listening to this track, and it helped me to write some of the passages in which my protagonist finds herself contemplating those things during a catastrophic natural event on the mountain.

God Put a Smile on Your Face (Coldplay): The idea of love and creation was uppermost in my mind when listening to this track. At the same time there’s an underlying feeling of dissatisfaction with what we know about the after-life and how this affects how we behave now. ‘Where do we go, nobody knows…’ played over and over in my mind and is a concern echoed by the protagonist as she contemplates life and the universe.


A Strangely Isolated Place and Underrated Silence (albums by Ulrich Schnauss): I listened to a lot of music by this artist as his work brings to mind the exact sense of melancholy and loss I wanted to evoke in Split Symmetry. Putting on one of his albums would get me in the right state of mind to write further into the story.

Interestingly, most tracks I favoured during my writing process are in a minor key, are many of them have very few vocals. This brings to mind a kind of transcendent sadness which is definitely echoed in the book. Where there are vocals, some odd words or phrases have even found their way to the pages of my book, so influential has been their impact. And my writing notebook is littered with the titles of songs I’ve found appropriate to the themes of my book, which I would note down as I was writing. In short, without music, there would be no Split Symmetry. Music is the hidden language of the novel.

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Reading list for LOST fans

LOSTFan of J.J. Abrams and his Star Trek movies, maybe also his hit TV series about parallel universes, Fringe?

Or what about LOST?

For me, the man is a genius, for his work is cross-genre, part science fiction, part philosophy, part spiritual. Often, his stories offer no answers, merely more questions. In my first two novels, Borderliners and Split Symmetry, I touch on many similar themes: dreams and reality, science v religion, destiny, metaphysics, themes to be found in much of J.J. Abram’s work.

So…for those of you who enjoy the SF/metaphysical nature of his work, I recently discovered a reading list which I would gladly work through. I’ve modified it a bit and added a few titles of my own. Enjoy!

Here’s the original list.

Here’s my version:

Lewis Carroll – Alice In Wonderland
William Golding – Lord of the Flies
Tiziano Terzani – A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East
Milan Kundera – Immortality
Paulo Coelho – The Alchemist
Madeleine L’Engle – A Wrinkle in Time
Gary Troup – Bad Twin
Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Brothers Karamazov
Aldous Huxley – Island
L. Frank Baum – The Wizard of Oz
Agatha Christie – Evil Under the Sun
Ayn Rand – The Fountainhead
Vladimir Nabokov – Laughter in the Dark
Jack Kerouac – On the Road
Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse-Five
C.S. Lewis – The Chronicles of Narnia
Jules Verne – Survivors of the Chancellor
James Joyce – Ulysses
Carlos Castaneda – A Separate Reality
Martin Heidegger – Being and Time
Carl G. Jung – The Earth Has a Soul
Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary
Kevin Michel – Moving Through Parallel Worlds To Achieve Your Dreams
Kirsten Arcadio – Split Symmetry



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