Sunday, 5 April 2020

Lucid for #IndieApril

Continuing my #IndieApril dive into my previous books, this one is Lucid.

Two books came out around the same time in 2012: Lucid and Georg[i]e. I'll go with this one first. 

Lucid was actually the first novel I ever wrote. I was living in Rwanda at the time, a VSO sign language researcher with the Rwandan National Union of the Deaf. Back then internet was very slow, books were hard to come by and I didn't have a TV or radio, so I had a lot of free time in the evenings. I always liked writing stories as a kid, but the longest was probably about 11,000 words. This was the first time I attempted a novel, just to see whether I could make the word count. I think the finished manuscript was somewhere around the 90k mark, which came down in the edit.

Of course, I wanted to write about something I had enough material to talk about. I'd become acquainted with hallucinogens, particularly psilocybin, during my formative years and found them extremely helpful in overcoming mental health issues. There's an interesting Mind Explained episode on Netflix looking at psychedelics, which explains how psychedelics can help to rewire the  neural pathways of the brain. It's an interesting area which is hugely under studied due to research restrictions. 

Anyway, along with that came a lot of reading around Richard Alpert (Be Here Now), the McKenna brothers (The Invisible Landscape) and Stanislav Grof (Modern Consciousness). I was always fascinated by the links between dreaming and dreamstates. So, the similarities between night time dreaming and hallucinogenic trips: the way time warps, seeing and speaking to things that aren't there, the potential for emotional highs and lows (nightmares) and the way our memory of these very present images start to fade the moment we wake up or come down. 

The physical body potentially has all the chemicals necessary to kick off a trip, and a safeguard in the form of a reversible MAOI that makes sure that only happens when we're asleep - so we don't start talking to furniture or attempting to fly off buildings.

So, that link formed the basis of the story.

The title Lucid refers to lucid dreaming which, between writing the book and writing about the book today, has been proven to be an actual, scientifically validated thing. I think they cover that in the Mind Explained episode on dreams. Apparently, those who describe being able to lucid dream activate the conscious area of their brains whilst unconscious. Interesting stuff.

I sent the first few chapters in to the Luke Bitmead Bursary for New Writers just after I completed it in 2009. I was pretty stunned to be shortlisted, but unfortunately couldn't make the presentation due to being so far away at the time. 

That was a really big boost for me - the first novel I wrote received a nod of encouragement. It certainly played a part in me going on to write Angorichina. It also spurred me on to submit the manuscript to publishers. I submitted to 19 and received a call from one, Netherworld. They're an imprint of Mirador Publishing, which usually charge authors for publishing services, but they liked the book so much they wanted to take on the cost themselves. 

The down side of that was that they were willing to put in minimal work. No in-house editor and an original cover that looks like it was thrown together with SmartArt.

I really wasn't that enamoured by the cover as they were strongly pushing it as horror. There are certainly some horror elements within the book, and I read a lot of horror growing up, so it was natural that I'd gravitate towards that in my first attempt at writing, but it also deals with biology, strange worlds, shamanism and attraction. It's more complex than straightforward horror. 

It was also a bit of an exploration of my own dreams, which I used as inspiration in several scenes, such as the fighting fish and the scene where Olly shoots himself in the head because a Hollywood star tells him to. At the beginning, he's describing nightmarish scenes where he's watching something terrible happening, but doesn't feel afraid. I went through a lot of dreams like that. I'd watch horrific things happening but wouldn't describe them as nightmares because there was no fear response. So the book was also partly an exploration of those things. The Welsh element came in because I had lived in Cardiff for about five years between returning from Australia and heading to Africa. It was a landscape I knew well, and I used to spend a lot of time visiting the standing stones around South Wales.

Lucid was published in 2012 alongside a couple of other titles by the same publisher. The rights reverted back to me a couple of years ago, so I was able to give it a second-pass edit and found a better cover for it. 

The dedication is to my very good friend Cassie, who I went to university with in Reading. We went to rock night together and started a rather successful pagan moot. The book came out just after she and her husband, Sean, had their son. A bit of a dark book to dedicate to a happy event, but it was my first book and I really wasn't sure I'd ever write another, so I went with it. From a film and drama degree, Cas went on to train as a nurse and is now working overtime with the COVID-19 outbreak. 

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