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Knee-Deep in Novel Drafts: Roots and Rhizomes

I’ve been telling people who’ve been asking that I’ve just finished the second draft of the novel that I’m working on for my PhD. Truth is, that number feels arbitrary and nebulous. Instead, various parts, threads and elements of the chaotic whole have phased through their own little mini draftings while the total picture blinks in and out of appearance, always slightly altered, never fully grasped. In strange ways, this is the second draft but it is also the thousandth draft, and perhaps is still the first draft, or draft zero. The real draft is somewhere amongst the infinite depths of Scrivener and Word files, in the hazy space where those things overlap with the printouts, notebooks, post-its and assorted scrawled palimpsests that lurk on my desk and in my drawers. And the real real thing, the whole real thing, is very much still up here - *he points, vaguely* - in my head. Or heart. Or soul. Or wherever these things actually emanate from.

In a way, all this is apt given the subject matter. The further I delve into the world(s) of autism, the more chaotic and fuzzy its boundaries become. Autism is eternally beguiling and frustrating, but always surprising and stimulating. It stims and shimmers and flickers from mystery to truth, from the magic to the mundane, demands both difference and disability, delights and frustrates in the friction in-between. It is an in-between condition and it peacocks its indefinable nature in defiance of those who attempt to bracket it. Yet it needs brackets, needs definition, indeed it thrives on them. It is the real ethereal.

I’m currently wrestling with the theories of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze who, among many other maddening things, talks of ‘rhizomatic thinking’. The rhizome is borrowed from botany, a term used to describe the shapes and pathways of subterranean roots and root-like plants. Deleuze re-purposes it for thought to take us away from thinking of ideas and concepts as sprouting out and upwards, always dividing into oppositional binaries. Instead, rhizomatic thinking demands that all things are connected horizontally and in a vast chaotic network with no hierarchy, no centre, always in influence with each other.

I feel a sense of this rhizome in autism, the same sense I feel in writing a novel. This is not an attempt to render autism a metaphor for novel construction. Instead, I’m trying - rhizomatically - to weave the connection between ‘eternal’ autism and ‘eternal’ creative force; the constant battle between chaos and stasis where both are equals, where neither takes precedence. When the novel is finished, it will never be, because whoever then reads it (even if that’s only me and some digital archaeologist of a distant future) will continue to shape, refute and alter the story it tells. The same goes for autism. If we ever reach a definition of it, one that is provable and agreed upon, it will still confound and resist because of where it has been, where it is, and where it will go. But that is the beauty of it all. Because without fidgety, stimming, mercurial redrafting, everything just stays the same. And the same is not good enough.


I’ve had a few new things published while I’ve been lax on the blogging:

- 'Pentameter' in the wonderful horror anthology Shallow Creek published by STORGY. I've blogged about the Shallow Creek comp before and it was fabulous to see it come together and go out into the world. It's also been fun seeing folk react to my iambic pentameter horror story about Jud the lighthouse keeper. Find it here.

- 'The Bycatch' in BFS Horizons #9 published by the British Fantasy Society. A taut tale of over-fishing and ancient apocalypse. Gods and humans, fish and boats. For some reason, it's a little tricky to find where one can purchase BFS Horizons #9 - but here is the BFS website in case it updates.

- 'Mayday' in Twist in Time magazine - an old story of mine this one, written for a Bad Language event many moons ago. An epic tale spanning thousands of years in a very short word count. All about a village of disappeared peoples. Here it is.

- 'Fauna' on the First Draft website. Commissioned piece as part of their 'Let the Artists In' digital project. They told me to pick an exhibition somewhere and go get inspired by it. A good excuse to pop back into the Living Worlds gallery at Manchester Museum, where I pieced together this prose-poem thingy from the various labels and signage. Weird but fun.

- I wrote an article on my PhD project for The Polyphony. Features pictures of Jenny and my musings on my progress so far.

- 'Tape 5: The Promise of a Blank Field': Rick and I made a fifth Hillside Curation mix. All the music and literature in the mix is from non-UK, non-US creators. A heady and rich flavoursome mix. Headphone yourselves this way to listen.

- In more PhD-based fun, I've recorded two new videos for the Fantastic Autistic YouTube channel. A recording of a presentation about autism poetics and Abed Nadir from Community, and a 10 minute musing on the autism of 'Symmetra' from the video game Overwatch.

Finally, that brother of mine Rickerly has put together a new album, a cornucopia of samples and melodies that drift, smash, warp, delight and unsettle in a lucid dreamscape of experimental electronica. Here’s a track from it:

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