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Posts Tagged ‘Helen Callaghan’

The Story behind Helen Callaghan’s Deliciously Chilling Story, Sex & the Single Hive Mind

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It’s a total pleasure to welcome my dear friend and fabulous writer, Helen Callaghan to A Hopeful Romantic to share a bit of the story behind one of my favourite short stories of all time, Sex and the Single Hive Mind. Even better still, the story is now available in the vibrant new Science Fiction anthology, Mind Seed and as a podcast with CrimeCity. Enjoy! –K D

*****

Sex and the Single Hive Mind is set in the near future. It’s a very dark story about Susannah Watson, a woman who is kidnapped and then made into an immobile living host for carnivorous algae that devours her. The result is then to be sold on as an illegal drug. All of which is terrible news for Susannah, of course, but has unforeseen side effects.

Believe it or not, it’s a comedy.

I wanted to write something about body theft – not Burke and Hare cadaver thieves, but something more like Invasion of the Body Snatchers – things that come from outside, and steal your body for their own wicked purposes.

Helen Callaghan Sex Hive mindproduct_thumbnailPersonally, I find that kind of thing terrifying. When Donald Sutherland starts that unearthly shrieking at the end of the movie, I freaked out as a kid.

It’s the exact same wellspring of horror that The Exorcist draws from – something that doesn’t mean you well now has control of you, while you look on, horrified. Whether you are locked in there still, or your own personal will simply evaporates, the terror lies in the loss of your agency, your control over your own flesh, the very thing that is dearest to you, and is indivisible from your sense of self.

In all of these cases, the reader’s sympathy lies absolutely with the possessee, if you like – the possessing entity barely has a motive, never mind a personality (spewing out pea soup and rude words hardly counts as character).

So I thought it might be kind of cool to explore the idea of body-snatching from the body snatcher’s point of view – in this case the point of view of a divorced middle-aged cat lady who suddenly finds herself with access to the bodies of the spoiled young things that have effectively murdered her.

And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t turn out that doing this was tons of fun, but nevertheless, there is, I think, a core of sadness – Susannah has access to their flesh and its pleasures, but can’t enjoy it because ultimately her victims all reflect only herself, and her attempt to use her newfound powers to reach out to her object of desire does not go as planned.

Her absurdity and loneliness, is, in a way, also similar to the loneliness of the writer and her characters. Characters, however fascinating, are still just creations, manifestations of a single will.

Anyway, the story appears in the anthology Mind Seed (http://www.lulu.com/gb/en/shop/edited-by-david-gullen-gary-couzens/mind-seed/paperback/product-21702685.html) edited by David Gullen and Gary Couzens. The book has been put together to remember Denni Schnapp, biologist, traveller, science fiction writer, and alongside me (www.helencallaghan.co.uk) a member of the T Party Writers group (http://tpartywriters.wordpress.com) based in London, which also included KD.

 

Excerpt from Sex and the Single Hive Mind:

It’s not Conor this time, but Imogen. Raoul and Conor and Imogen, named for the pretensions of their parents, carriers of their bougeousie. Colonised by them.

But for now, I’m dreaming Imogen. I know this because she’s in a tiny neat kitchen, looking at our mutual reflection in the darkened window. She still looks supercilious even with no-one on hand to disapprove of. I suspect that it might just be a cast of her features, something she can’t control but which her character does little to mitigate.

She’s washing dishes. She’s doing this very slowly, as she’s obviously drugged out of her tiny mind. I can taste the sharpness of cut grass in her mouth.

She’s eaten half a piece of steamed fish and boiled vegetables, without salt or pepper. I know this and am not sure how. My/her hands stir through warm soapy water.

Time to try it, then.

Her head raises, she looks into the window.

“My name is Susannah Watson.”

The words emerge without ceremony. I don’t know what I was expecting, to be honest. I thought perhaps there might be some sort of intense psychic battle, where I warred for dominance against her innate personality, but she doesn’t appear to have one. Her body is an empty house and I control it utterly, without let or hindrance.  The drug has reduced to her to a series of mannerisms, which fill her head like ugly furniture left behind by the previous tenants.

“My name is Susannah Watson,” I say again. My voice is a stranger’s, filled with unfamiliar music. “I am fifty-two years old. I am a detective in the Metropolitan Police, Smithfield division. I have two cats and one ex-husband. I have been… I am…”

My voice fades away.

Imogen stares back blankly at me from her reflection.  From my reflection.

It’s too much, too much, and I fly, back to my concrete room. I linger there, my consciousness circling above my green body, buzzing. I see what is happening. I have colonised the flies. They ate me, and I fill them. Spider-Girl ate the flies, and I filled her.

I understand, I think.

I gather myself. I tell myself, “I want to be Imogen now.”

Nothing happens.

“Take me to Imogen.”

I summon up the memory of being her, of hot soapy water over my hands, of the taste of cut grass.

I’m standing in the kitchen again, as if I had never left. She has not moved in the meantime, as far as I can tell, and a little trail of saliva drips down from the corner of her semi-open mouth.

I wipe it away with one of her wet, soapy hands, fascinated by her soft, unmarked skin against my face. She must be thirty years younger than me, at the very least.

“I am Susannah,” I say, and my voice rolls with confidence. I laugh then, and the girl in the window’s reflection laughs with me. In a bare instant, her superior squint vanishes and I shine out of her, like the sun breaking through fast passing clouds.

Enjoy a podcast of the complete Sex and the Single Hive Mind here:

http://www.starshipsofa.com/forums/topic/crime-city-central-no-109-helen-callaghan/

 

*****

 

The anthology, Mind Seed,  celebrates Denni’s interests and all of the proceeds go to Next Generation Nepal (http://www.nextgenerationnepal.org), who are an anti-child trafficking organization. We had the launch at LonCon 3 in the ExCel centre in London, and we’re all very proud of the book and hope it will do well.

 

Buy Mind Seed Here: 

Amazon UK

Lulu.com

 

Helen CallaghanAbout Helen Callaghan: 

Helen Callaghan writes genre fic­tion inspired by her love of intel­li­gent books and brain­less movies. Her first novel, Mephistophela, is set in a near-future Lon­don and inspired by ele­ments of Marlowe’s Doc­tor Faus­tus. She is cur­rently work­ing on Bethan Avery, a psychological thriller about a teacher who receives letters from a (presumed) murder victim.

She lives in Cambridge with a hamster called Zenobia, a beloved car, some muti­nous house­plants and too many books. Her per­sonal web­page and erratically updated blog describing the writing of Sleepwalker and Mephistophela is here. She is rep­re­sented by Judith Mur­ray atGreene and Heaton.

 

A Peek at What’s to Come

Writing imageFab writer, good friend and sister Brit Babe, Tabitha Rayne, tagged me for this blog hop Q and A fresh for 2014. You can check out her answers here. As you know I always sneak in through the back door of every New Year anyway, so February is when I finally catch up with all those new beginnings, and here is a peek at some of what I hope for in 2014.  I’ll tag 2 more unsuspecting writers at the end of this post!

If you could achieve anything with your writing in 2014, what would it be?

I would love to sell my Epic Fantasy trilogy and branch out into the wider world of fiction. I adore writing erotica and erotic fiction, and I can’t imagine not doing it, but I think like so many writers, I want ‘adventures in writing,’  and my wonderful characters in the first novel of my trilogy, The Choosing, have given me huge adventure and loads of dark, edgy fun in a new world.

There’ll be another book coming out in The Mount series at the end of this year as well, and I would love to get back to work on Eye of the Beholder, the burlesque play I’m working on with Moorita Encantada. So much to write, so little time!

What are the top three demons you must slay to achieve your goals in 2014?

The demon of self-doubt is always a biggie. No matter what I achieve, no matter what happens, I’m always and ever neurotic and there’s always room for a little more uncertainty.

The demon of Tunnel-vision forever haunts me and hounds me. I need more balance in my life, more play time, more time to read for pleasure and enjoy a little breathing space. I know that the Tunnel-vision demon would be way less of a problem if I didn’t love what I do SO much, but still, I write better and am more creative when the rest of my world is a little more ordered and balanced.

The negativity demon is a demon I’ve fought with all of my life. I don’t just see the glass as half-empty, but I often see it cracked and dirty as well. Sigh! I suppose seeing the cloud in every silver lining helps me prepare mentally for the worst and then allows me to be pleasantly surprised when things aren’t so bad. But really … Negative Nelly is very neurotic!

Name three things that inspire you to write

Just about anything can inspire me to write. It doesn’t take much. But things that are guaranteed to inspire in my life are long walks, working in the veg garden and, believe it or not, ironing. Of the three, I most definitely prefer the first two.

What advice do you have for a new writer who is considering writing fiction?

First of all, get the words down. ALL of them! Push on to the end, never go back, never quit, never stress about how bad what you’ve written is. First drafts are almost always crap. That’s how it’s meant to be. But you have to get something on the page before you can make it shine. First and most important rule of writing is WRITE!

Secondly, don’t ever give up. Like most things worth doing, perfecting the writing craft and telling stoies and getting them published takes lots of hard work and lots of time. That means the people who have made it, the people whose novels you enjoy reading are the ones who didn’t give up, the ones who got that mountain of rejections and just kept pushing. DON’T GIVE UP!

That’s me in through the back door of 2014, and now keep an eye out for these lovely writers and their 2014 plans.

Helen Callaghan  http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/

Kay Jaybeewww.kayjaybee.me.uk

You can follow Kay on Twitter- kay_jaybee

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/KayJaybeeAuthor

Goodreads- http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3541958-kay-jaybee

Brit Babes Site- http://thebritbabes.blogspot.co.uk/p/kay-jaybee.html

Kay also writes contemporary romance as Jenny Kane – www.jennykane.co.uk

Chocoholic Needs Your Unctuous Chocolate Themed Stories!

 

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Exposure

I recently had the pleasure of critting my friend, Helen Callaghan’s exciting new time travel novel, Sleepwalker. Though, I have to admit, I had so much fun reading it, I had to remind myself that I was supposed to be ‘being critical.’ Later, as we discussed the book, she surprised me by saying how relieved she was that I had liked the love scenes. She had been concerned that perhaps they didn’t work. They did. Beautifully.

Writers are neurotic about writing sex and romance – even those of us who do it all the time. Lots of writers either claim they can’t write sexy love scenes or they don’t like to. That’s fair enough. I don’t like to write crime investigation scenes. But unfortunately this sex and romance -ophobia often leads to dismissing anything romantic or sexy as not worthy to be considered serious writing, therefore not worth writing.

Writing fiction to share with anyone less indifferent than the cat is a bit like exposing oneself on High Street. We writers are never more exposed, more vulnerable than when we offer up a nice, fat slice of our inner workings. And that’s exactly what happens when anyone attempts fiction. No matter how unconscious it may be, it’s all about me, Me MEEEE! And now that I’ve written it all down… um, er, gosh, I hope you like it. Please like it!

Since I know it’s all about me, the real issue in my neurotic little mind is what conclusions readers will draw as to just HOW it’s all about me? I expect people to be bright enough to know that I’m not the secret agent, the lawyer, the prima ballerina, the space ship captain that I write about. Yet, why is it that if I write one sex scene peppered with a bit of romance, I suddenly fear everyone will believe K D really DOES steal vegetables for lewd purposes, or that K D really IS hopelessly obsessed with the gardener? And is that such a bad thing? When the fiction I write deals with the emotions that revolve around sex and love, I feel more vulnerable, more exposed, somehow more flawed.

In a wonderful essay on why he likes to write about sex, Wallace Shaw writes, “If I’m unexpectedly reminded that my soul and body are capable of being totally swept up in a pursuit and an activity that pigs, flies, wolves, lions and tigers also engage in, my normal picture of myself is violently disrupted. In other words, consciously, I’m aware that I’m a product of evolution, and I’m part of nature. But my unconscious mind is still partially wandering in the early 19th century and doesn’t know these things yet.

Writing sex and romance is that unexpected reminder that we can be swept away in our animal passions just like all the rest of our animal cousins. That implies a loss of control, an unfitness for civilized society. Banishment from the social group is an age-old punishment for what is considered improper behaviour in the tribe, what is considered ‘uncivilized.’ Though we may no longer be sent into the wilderness to fend for ourselves with only a rusty knife, the archetypal fear of being ostracized still remains.

A writing teacher told me once that the best stories, the ones with the most power to grip, are those that come from the place inside us that makes us the most uncomfortable. The place that embarrasses us, that frightens us, the place where we have the least control, that’s the places where story begins. It’s the place where our characters come alive, the place where their love and sex and violence and fear and celebration compel the people we’ve exposed ourselves to — our readers — to keep reading to the end. And, hopefully, if we’ve exposed just the right bits of ourselves, those readers will eagerly come back for more.

 

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