…and so it begins!


Beware the unintended consequences of a robot revolution

 

robot revolution_theguardian_ by alamy
art by Alamy via The Guardian

 

 

It’s always a thrilling and slightly scary moment when an author with a work in progress sees something online which has relevance to what they are working on. Thrilling, because it tells me that my content is current, and scary because, well, what if someone else gets there first?

That being said, I’m pretty confident that the project I’m working on, a graphic novel called ‘Minding Mama’, is not only topical but has characters readers will want to engage with. It started as a short story and might have stayed that way if I hadn’t had the blinding revelation that it would be even better in a visual medium. A film? Well, perhaps one day, if I’m very lucky. But for now, Mama, Cyril, Celia, and Bully will inhabit the pages of a comic book, brought to life by the combined talents of artists Amanda Fullwood and Dan Schaefer. and yours truly.

I’ll be appearing at Lazlar Lyricon 3 in Stoke-on-Trent on 9-11th June – organised by ZZ9, the only official ‘Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ appreciation society, so why not come along?  You can book here.  The Hitch Hiker’s Guide, of course, had its own share of robots – perhaps the most famous being Marvin, the Paranoid Android. Created by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, Marvin was a prototype ‘genuine people personality’ (“You can tell, can’t you?” he asks morosely of human Arthur Dent). Douglas Adams, always a man ahead of his time until his life was cut tragically short, foresaw the advent of robots with emotions and the ability to think for themselves.

Whilst The Guardian’s article talks more about the impact that a robot workforce will have on our lives in practical terms – massive job losses for human workers, an event most recently and chillingly referenced in Channel 4’s drama ‘Humans’ – being just the tip of the iceberg, the idea that robots may one day be able to think for themselves is fast approaching. Known as the singularity, when luminaries like Professor Stephen Hawking are warning us of the potential dangers, it is more than slightly worrying that no-one seems to be taking much notice. So whilst ‘Minding Mama’ is, first and foremost, storytelling with the intention to entertain, it does pose the question – do we really know what we’re doing, and how will we cope if it all goes pear-shaped?

 

DomeColour
concept art for ‘Minding Mama’ by Amanda Fullwood

 

The setting for ‘Minding Mama’ might be post-apocalyptic, but for me, the fascination lies in telling it from my character’s point of view. Mama goes on a journey of self-discovery which will challenge everything she thought she ever knew about herself and where she came from. I just hope her story never becomes a reality.

EJ Jackson, 17th April, 2017.

You can find out more about ‘Minding Mama’ here.

 

 

 

How long should we live?

How long should we live?

With our National Health Service beginning to creak under the weight of increasing numbers of senior members of society as people live longer, Pearl S Buck’s words have never been truer:

Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.

I recently received a letter from my Godmother, who at 102 years old, apologised for not penning a longer letter!  I felt humbled. My husband said, “I’ve never held a letter written by someone who has had a telegram from the Queen.” I could tell that he was impressed, too. Old age need not be a time of helplessness or infirmity … it shouldn’t be.

My parents, who passed on aged 73 and 77 respectively, could probably never have imaged living for a century.  That infamous time-traveler, Doctor Who, has lived (fictionally, of course) for billions of years – he went ‘the long way round’ on more than one occasion!  Yet he has (so far) lost none of his zest for life, as evidenced by his date with River Song in the recent Christmas Special.  For ‘Torchwood’s Captain Jack Harkness, longevity is a somewhat harder cross to bear… they are two characters at opposite ends of the spectrum, giving us some great story-telling along the way.

Old age (or finite life) is a theme beloved of science-fiction writers and film-makers since…. well, since the first piece of speculative fiction appeared (author Brain Aldiss cites Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ as the first example of science-fiction, and I can’t argue with that). In the society of William F Nolan’s classic novel, ‘Logan’s Run’,  ‘old age’ is deemed to be twenty-one. Neolithic men and women were lucky to reach forty.

C.S. Lewis had this to say:

How incessant and great are the ills with which a prolonged old age is replete.

While Aldous Huxley took a different view:

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.

Personally, I’m with Aldous.  Well, as someone starting my writing career in my fifties , I need all the positivity I can get!

With scientists declaring in the spring of last year that quite soon, we might all be able to live ‘five hundred years or more’, it seems eerily appropriate that my first novel asks the question:  “How long do you want to live?”

‘The Methuselah Paradox’ makes no judgments, however.  It’s a story, primarily about people who have been caught up in the consequences of a discovery…  and there are many ways the story could have gone, many different scenarios that could have played out (and I probably tried them all, before settling on one).  I think it may be a theme I will return to… because really, the answer could be as simple as “as long as I have good health, so that I can live, and not just exist.” … and that’s probably the answer I would give, if I were to be asked the question.  But of course, it’s never quite as simple as that…

So… how about you? How long do you want to live? How do you think living ‘five hundred score or more’ will affect us, and our society – and of course, planet Earth?  I can’t promise to answer all those questions in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’, but I hope it will give you food for thought.

Never one to miss an opportunity, before I go, I’m going to slip in a little plug for my crowdfunding campaign… if you’d like to help me create a trailer for ‘The Methuselah Paradox’, why not pop over to www.ejjackson.org to see what cool, limited editions perks you can pick up in return for a little donation…

Thank you for reading!

EJ Jackson

Getting There…Slowly!


Almost a year ago, in February 2015, I began work on the promotional trailer for my science-fiction novel, ‘The Methuselah Paradox’.  February and March were spent writing the audition script and looking for voice artists to bring my characters to life.  Once the final cast member had been signed up, then it became about looking for artists and illustrators to add the visuals… a composer was commissioned to create original music… and then came the next challenge – crowdfunding. Working out how much everything else would cost, deciding which crowdfund site to go with, writing the pitch… and trying to get up the courage to go on camera and tell the world all about my novel and the trailer in person… and putting the final touches to the manuscript itself.

And as every writer knows, the more time you have to tinker with something, the more you will tinker, and tweak, and start to doubt yourself… have I really got a good story here? Will people want to read it, will they buy the book, will they believe in the project enough to want to donate money to help me make the trailer?

Well, I have asked myself those questions and many more, and have been deeply moved each time someone takes a leap of faith in me and makes a donation. To everyone who has donated so far (including those who gave so generously but didn’t want to be publicly acknowledged – which is why I now need slightly less than the totals given on the site!) I want to say a HUGE ‘Thank You’.  I can’t wait to start sending out the scripts to my cast and seeing it all come together!

There will be more news soon. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a message from actor Richard Oliver, who is the voice of Tom Morgan in the trailer:  A message from Richard OliverTHE METHUSELAH PARADOX COMPLETE CAST_1 (1024x576)

TRUE GRIT – OR, WHY WRITERS ARE A MINE OF USELESS INFORMATION…


I have become, if not exactly an expert, at least more familiar with the ins and outs of gritting lorries than I ever wanted or expected to be. Why, you might well ask… well, even if you didn’t, I’m going to tell you.

This afternoon I’ve been searching, online, for images of gritting lorries, or ‘gritters’ as they’re often called. Not just any old gritter – that would be too easy. I’m looking for images of gritters, circa 1990… of the type that would have been working the streets of London in the latter part of 1990, to be more precise. It’s all in the interests of accuracy, for my book trailer, which I’m crowdfunding at the moment…

Did you know, for instance, that the winter of 2009-2010 was one of the coldest on record in the UK? I probably knew it at the time, but like most of us doubtless have, I’d forgotten. I do remember that it snowed quite heavily in December 1993, when my son was three months old: I left him and my husband in the snug warmth of our flat to drive a few miles to my cleaning job… and had to turn back after less than a mile. The local authority hadn’t gritted the roads; the weather must have caught them out.

So, searching for images of these gritters is proving frustrating, because of course, the only ones I have found are mostly of modern versions. Surely there’s a History of Gritters website?  People study trains, don’t they – why not gritters?   There’s even a ‘Pylon Monthly’** for goodness’ sake (Thank you, ‘Mock The Week‘ – saw that a few years back and it has stuck with me!)… But so far, no joy.

**Hands up if you looked at that and thought you saw, for a fleeting second, ‘Monty Python’. Yeah, me too. 

Researching something like this really forces you to think laterally.  Or outside the box. Or something. But all that  Googling ‘gritting lorries’, ‘history of gritting’, ‘gritters circa 1990’ brought up was a list of companies providing gritting services, and lots of interesting (or not, depending on whether you’re into gritters at all) news pieces about winter weather in the UK over the past couple of decades… but nothing about gritters in 1990. There’s even a brilliant website dedicated to the history of British weather, with emphasis on snow (when it did, when it didn’t) through the ages, invaluable if you’re writing a story set in the past and want to get the weather spot on (whether -ha ha- anyone would notice or care if you didn’t is neither here nor there to an author – the fact is that you will know it’s correct, should anyone ever take you up on it).  But nothing about what gritting lorries might have looked like in 1990.

I’m thinking of putting out an appeal on the Twitterverse – because someone, somewhere, must know someone who worked on the gritters in the ’90’s – maybe they’ve got a grainy photo of their dad/uncle/cousin standing proudly in front of one… they can’t all be dead, can they?  I hope not. (We’ll leave aside for a moment the idea that motorists, whilst quick to curse their Local Authority for not gritting during a cold snap, are often just as keen to whinge about the salt that bounces off the paintwork of their new Mercedes as a gritter trundles past in the opposite lane… there’s no pleasing some people.)

If I can’t find the image I’m looking for, I’m sure that my brilliant illustrator Catherine Archer-Wills will work around it – perhaps we don’t need to show much of the gritting lorry at all, maybe a headlight, the corner of a wheel… there are ways around it, of course there are.

But I’d still quite like to find that elusive image. So if you, or someone you know, ever worked for the local authority, and if you’ve got a photo of a UK gritting lorry circa 1990… I’ll send a you, free, an autographed copy of ‘The Methuselah Paradox‘ when it’s eventually published; and my undying gratitude.

And that is why writers are a mine of useless information…

EJ Jackson, November 2015

Post Script:

Success!  And here it is:

Forest Hill, London 1991, by David Wright - shared under the Creative Commons License
Forest Hill, London 1991, by David Wright – 
shared under the Creative Commons License

“Imagination is the highest kite one can fly” – would you like to help me imagine a book trailer?


TMP_Cover1awithstrapline11.4.15

Cover art by Rachel Lawston:  www.lawstondesign.com  

TMGSimonBuggisDIHammond1Richard Oliver is James MoranAmelia Sefton is Emma Morgan

 

“Imagination is the highest kite one can fly.”  Or so said Lauren Bacall. I think she was right – free of earthly restraints, our imagination can take us beyond the edge of the universe. To infinity, and beyond, to quote Mr Lightyear! We can imagine events that have not yet happened, and by so doing, inspire ourselves and others to “make it so”. We can imagine a whole novel, or a film, or a play, or a series of dramas for television… or we can, if we are an Indie Author just starting out, imagine a book trailer…. you knew where this was going, didn’t you?

Unfortunately, imagination alone cannot pay people for their time and expertise…  So I’m going to imagine that you, just as I did with ‘The Minister of Chance‘, ‘Kaleidoscope Man‘ and ‘Kosmos‘, might just be interested enough in seeing the fruits of my imagination (and a lot of other people’s time and expertise!) to help us make the trailer!  You can do this via my crowdfunding link on www.ejjackson.org  and at the same time, earn yourself some unique rewards!

How Can I Help?

Firstly, by telling anyone you know who might be interested!  Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, PinIt, anywhere and anywhere – please spread the word!  Secondly, by pledging a very small amount to help me pay all those wonderful people who are going to make the trailer a reality – actors, voice artists, illustrators.

What Will I Receive in Return For My Help?

That’s a very good question, and one I’m very happy to answer!

The unique, limited edition rewards you can choose from are:  Your name on the credits as a supporter; an MP3 copy of the theme music; a signed copy of the trailer script; a DVD copy of the trailer; a signed copy of ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ when it is published (date TBC but provisionally spring 2016); a signed promotional poster, and a t-shirt. I may add a few extra goodies along the way, like key rings, badges, mouse-mats, photo-mugs… anything that says ‘thank you’ and helps to spread the word!

And although ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ is not a charity project, I will also be donating a percentage of the profits from book sales towards Progeria research.  Go here for more information about Progeria, and here for how it relates to ‘The Methuselah Paradox’.

Thank you for reading this – I do hope that you will join us!

x EJ Jackson

Why we should never give up on our dreams… why crowdfunding works


If someone had told my fifteen-year-old self that I would one day create an appreciation society for a favourite science-fiction show (a club which is still going strong thirty-four years later) or that I would be invited to visit the set, go to sci-fi conventions and meet authors, directors and actors, write a novel, and have the opportunity to help create a new science fiction web series, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. I probably didn’t even know that I wanted to do all those things then. But I’ve always loved science-fiction; looking to the future has always been my thing (although I’ve enjoyed looking back into my family’s past – the Family Tree has been an ongoing project for the past twelve years, and now my son has taken up the mantle).

I created an appreciation society for ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’  in 1980 because I wanted to join one and none existed; I never stopped to wonder if I could do it. I coerced my sister into becoming treasurer (she’s always been good with numbers), bought a supply of A4 paper, Letraset, and paper glue, and set to with a typewriter I borrowed from my Uncle. Some years later, I started going to science-fiction conventions, where I heard behind-the-scenes stories and watched out-takes in the days before DVD Extras (even before most of us could afford a video recorder) – all of which made me realise that I was just as interested in what it took to put my favourite shows together, as I was in watching the finished product on the goggle box.

A considerable number of years later, I began writing fiction – I took several creative writing courses to improve my writing after two already published and successful authors said nice things about what I’d written and suggested it might help make my work better. I attended a writer’s conference in York, met some very interesting people and made a wonderful friend, with whom I will one day collaborate on a project. I self-published a small anthology of my stories on Amazon, and began writing a full-length novel. Now I’m contemplating book covers and talking to a talented young musician about creating a promo video for the novel when it is finally published…

I’m a writer, not a movie-maker, but I’m discovering how crowdfunding can help to bring new projects to life, whether its a digital magazine created by a very talented interviewer who has had to reimagine her career in the wake of the digital revolution, or a science fiction web series.  The opportunities for people with dreams to bring them to life have never been better, even as other avenues may be diminishing.  Self-publishing used to be called ‘vanity press’ and wasn’t taken seriously by the literary establishment. Nowadays, even traditionally published authors self-publish! The advent of the Kindle and other digital readers means that you can follow your dream of being a published author.

I’m so glad that I eventually followed my dream to write stories other people want to read, and I’d urge you to follow yours… you may have a full-time job (so do I – I write early mornings and weekends and any other time I can) but I firmly believe that if you want something badly enough, you’ll get there.  Just look at this:  Third Contact – entirely crowd-funded, and what superb quality!

Now Simon Horrock is looking to create another science-fiction drama, this time a web series called Kosmos. Check this out:

Isn’t it a brilliant idea? To give people the opportunity to be a part of something like ‘Third Contact’ or ‘Kosmos’ (or the also fabulous ‘Minister of Chance’, also a crowd-funded project currently in production) will surely bring more talent to the creative world.  Anyone who dares to dream can do the same.  I’m living my dream, I’m quite sure that Simon is too… what about you?

author Elaine J Jackson

‘What if…?’ From death comes life (and a story)


On Writing ‘The Methuselah Gene’

I’ve been writing ‘The Methuselah Gene‘ (previous working titles have included ‘All Our Yesterdays’, ‘All Our Tomorrows’ and -very briefly- ‘Time Will Tell’) for almost four years now. It evolved from a mind-bending, time-spanning love story (not much like ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ but the same genre) into a much darker tale of death, kidnap and the long-reaching effects of genetic research that I could hardly have anticipated when I wrote the very first line back in 2011!

As all writers know, you start with an idea which mutates with each draft; sometimes you begin with one premise and stick with it until the final draft, changing very little of your core story along the way; sometimes you realise that the original idea just doesn’t work as you get deeper into the plotting and writing, and one small tweak will change the whole premise, hopefully for the better.

‘What if?’ are two words which excite me more than any other when I’m writing. Sometimes they are silent, spoken internally (and occasionally, out loud to myself); sometimes in conversation with family, friends or fellow writers. All those ‘what-ifs’ get noted down (sometimes neatly, more often not) and will be mulled over at length – but when an idea is good, your pen can hardly keep up with your mind… that feeling should almost be made illegal, it’s that good.

The original lead character of the story, Eva, was a widow and a bereaved mother in the very first draft – that much has never changed, although Eva is no longer the central character, and the deaths of her first husband and daughter are twenty-five years in the past.  The deaths of her family were accidental in those early drafts – until one day I found myself thinking ‘But what if it wasn’t accidental? What if they were murdered? Who would have done it, and why?’

That question led me down a whole new path, which took the time-slip element of the first version, made it time travel instead, and made Eva’s new partner (Tom) a bereaved parent too. Research into the reason for his son’s death threw in mutated DNA in the form of Progeria, and we were off – the love story became a mystery and a detective story with a science-fiction premise.  Although not quite so much of the science in the story is fiction, as it happens, because the research which is key to the central plot is in fact happening right now … which makes this, I hope,  the optimum time to tell the story!

Also ‘pursuant to our interests’: 

Related toThe Methuselah Gene only in that it deals with the science of DNA, the story of Genetic Fingerprinting is about to begin filming in Michael Crompton’s new drama for ITV, Code of A Killer.

Starring David Threlfall as Detective David Baker and John Simm as Genetics Professor Alec Jeffreys, ‘Code of A Killer’ tells the true story of how, in 1984, Alec Jeffrey’s ground-breaking research enabled Baker to catch a double killer by using the killer’s unique DNA fingerprint to tie him to the murders.

It is hard to imagine a world where the police don’t have access to Jeffrey’s DNA-Fingerprinting techniques – definitely one to watch!

~~~

Produced by World Productions and directed by James Strong, the drama will deal sensitively with the subject matter, and will air on ITV in 2015.