Jonathan Swords-Holdsworth's Blog
February 20, 2019
Having just completed the first draft of my novel Impasse Day, I thought I’d have a ramble on the experience of being an author on the Autism spectrum.
By which I mean being an Autistic adult, living in Australia, trying to complete any large, long-term project.
Without my wife, Jo, and without encouragement from my family and friends, I would have no chance. There is no support infrastructure in Australia for people on the spectrum, in fact there is precious little for people with mental issues, period.
As an anecdote, my psychiatrist told me of a man in his recent experience. This man has severe schizophrenia, to the point that he is unable to use public transport without risk of a paranoid episode. He was being asked, with a straight face, by the government’s out-sourced “disability employment” agencies, to find work.
To me, this came as no surprise. Australia as a nation is essentially a thin layer, bolted on top of a resources gravy-pot owned by a handful of super-rich families. Its government is largely accidental, and inconvenient to those rich.
Ahem, but I’m off-topic. A bit.
Currently I am supplementing the household income with some side-work, having “crashed out” of a lucrative software career some years ago.
What went wrong?
Well. Have a search around and you’ll read about “Autistic burn-out”, sometimes from knowledgeable sources and sometimes from the gibbering’ly wrong.
Also you’ll hear about Executive Dysfunction. This is an important concept, and it goes hand-in-hand with the “burn-out” phenomenon.
All my life I have fought with severe Executive Dysfunction. In fact it’s probably the main thing that a lot of Autistic adults wrestle with, but is not often enough talked about. It’s something Autistic adults have trouble expressing about their troubles.
We hear a lot about Anxiety – in particular Social Anxiety – and it’s true: this is a major problem for a lot of those on the spectrum.
But often, certainly in my case, a lot of that anxiety stems from Executive Dysfunction.
Never knowing, for sure, if you are going to complete what you start. However big, however small.
It is something not taken seriously, even by those who suffer from it, and consequently they themselves help to sweep it under the carpet. They are embarrassed about it. And it often does get laughed at.
“Oh you’re just lazy!”
(Not that anybody, ever, in the history of spoken English, ever started such a sentence with “Oh!”, but this seems to be how these examples are to be written.)
Yep. Definitely lazy. Multiple high-paid jobs, home ownership, being a landlord, composing music including a hit, a degree in the hard sciences, marriage, a published book, maintenance of a deep bush property later … yep. Definitely lazy.
And people will go on about energy levels. You just need to eat properly, sleep properly, get a routine going and get your energy levels up!
It’s got nothing to do with energy. Let me explain –
Executive Dysfunction ranges widely:
At one end there is finding it a little difficult to start projects, to “get motivated”.
This is quite common, even in Neurotypical people. But it is not “severe” Executive Dysfunction. It is the equivalent of “feeling a bit down”, as opposed to the experience of Clinical Depression.
But at the other end of the Executive Dysfunction range, there are people who cannot walk without prompting.
I saw a dramatic example concerning an elderly gentleman. He was wheeled in a wheelchair, by a doctor, out onto a lawn. He was asked to stand up, which he duly did. Then he was asked to walk forward. He simply could not. He could not find the “initiating” sequence to set his legs in motion. The doctor then dropped a handkerchief on the grass, and asked the man to step over it. He did so! And as soon as he did he was able to keep walking.
In that gentleman’s case it was creeping brain-damage due to senescence that plagued him. But the same effect can manifest due to a variety of causes.
Those on the spectrum often suffer from it.
I know I do.
I have keen interests in lots of different areas, and trained-up skills across a selection of these. I even have histories of achievements in some of them. It makes little difference.
I realise I need to do something. A fraction of a second later I feel this push backwards, sometimes with a little “pulse” of anxiety. It happens in the very, very start of things, when one is weakest.
It is like trying to lift a heavy weight, but not being able to get even as far as tensing one’s muscles.
And speaking of muscles, many on the Autism spectrum have some form of unidentified muscle and tendon pain. I do, and it’s another thing that isn’t discussed much.
All movement hurts slightly, and has done since I was little, and this seems to be a very common spectrum experience. But you have to talk directly to other Auts to hear of it.
Sometimes silly diagnoses, like fibromyalgia, are thrown out, but they mean nothing. It could be neurological. It could be some form of Arthritis. Nobody is sure what the cause of this real, most physical pain is.
Every day is a struggle from getting out of bed, to getting household chores done, to getting longer-scale chores done to …
Getting things I want to do done.
Helping the people I love.
Pushing my life forward.
And then, I am supposed to find some “lift” to get vast projects like novels finished, and re-launching my software or music careers?
Well, yes, it can be done. And I do it. And others do it. And we try not to complain, because there’s just no point.
But it’s hard.
Oh! Here’s another “Oh!” sentence:
“Oh, everybody has that! Get over it!”
(It’s a cliché, but those on the spectrum really do hear those three little words quite a lot, Get over it!)
No. Not everybody has this. Only some people have it. It’s subtle, and it’s hard to convey, and it’s hard to convince people that it’s real so most of the time we don’t even bother trying.
All our lives.
And from there, I think you can see reasonably easily how “burn-out” often occurs in later life among the Autistic. Like other sufferers of chronic pain, they simply get sick of it. And fighting things gets harder as one enters later life, also.
Anyway, what of Authorship?
I am Autistic, a high-functioning Aut (I prefer that term to “Autist”), which – current research suggests, anyway – means I have significantly more synaptic connections than the average person.
In my case, my strangeness enables me to polymath, spanning several scientific and artistic fields (Yay alliteration!). Not everything, though! I’m still struggling to learn a single second language, and don’t ask me to paint anything!
I am able to hold very large structures in my head. I have several that I fiddle with from time to time, mainly revolving around software or physics concepts.
But there are others, and my stories are some of them.
Impasse Day for example, exists as a giant structure in my mind. I can’t completely keep track of the whole thing at once, and sometimes have to “play through” sections of it. This is almost exactly the same process as composing a piece of music – closely focusing on one section, like a watchmaker, means you have to step back and re-appreciate the whole, to get an idea of where it’s going.
I write in, what sounds to me like, a very similar way to how Alan Dean Foster describes the process: seeing a “movie” in my head, and writing down what I see.
One thing my Autistic mind is good at, most of the time, is spotting inconsistencies. I can feel them, even if I can’t put my finger on exactly what or where they are straight away.
This is the deep, sub-language parts of our mind – anyone’s mind – at work, where so called “instinct”, or “gut feel” lives.
It’s a real thing, and in Auts it is particularly strong.
In fact some Auts live down there, or “back” there, and are utterly unable to articulate what they are experiencing in their own, deep universe.
Those of us Auts who can push what’s in our head out onto the page, or the screen, particularly if it ends up being entertaining – we …
Well, we are damn lucky.
And it’s still hard!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy Impasse Day when it’s finally ready!
February 19, 2019
(Novel – political thriller/hard science-fiction)
My new novel Impasse Day is at the ‘alpha test’ phase.
It’s a near-future political thriller with a hard science-fiction bent. It has a lot of threads and a rich cast (think Game Of Thrones amount of story going on).
I need fast readers to help ‘alpha test’ it.
In English, ‘alpha test’ (it’s a software term) means:
* This is a warts-and-all draft
* I’m still working on it as you’re reading it. So at least one plot thread will be altered slightly!
* I’m still prepared to make directional changes in it (a bit). When it gets to ‘beta test’ phase I’m only fixing typos and grammos!
February 14, 2019
BLACK PRINCE made it into the 2018 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Competition Semifinalists< !
January 28, 2019
Well, BLACK PRINCE made it into the 2018 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Competition Quarterfinalists !
December 29, 2018
I thought I was about to make stock from others’ misfortunes about one story subject – drones, UAVs – but it turned out I was about to whip that stock from another subject altogether – misinformation.
Namely the absurdity that the erroneous Gatwick Airport drone sightings have become.
(Am i that kind of person, to exploit such misfortune? Maybe I am, maybe I’m not, you’ll have to buy my books to find out!)
In the, ahem, meantime. So it appears the mere rumour of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (Unpiloted Aerial Vehicle if you prefer), UAV, is enough to shut down a major airport for three days?
In my story Come Silent Winged Sleep (in my anthology Stories Of An Awkward Size), all sorts of UAV and RAV (Robot Aerial Vehicle) mischief is presented, but the story bears the physical threat of the devices as the main thrust.
The purely psychological aspect? OK. I’m going to have to get on that in future work.
In Charlie Brooker’s truly horrible (horribly brilliant) Black Mirror instalment,
(Oh, sorry, SPOILER WARNING!)
In Brooker’s truly horrible (horribly brilliant) instalment, Metalhead, it is strongly implied the devices were conceived as a terror weapon, not just a genocidal infiltration system. Thus now that they are operating beyond their original programme, their threat is even scarier than it might have been anyway.
But now it turns out, household “drones” are enough to do the psychological part of the job. Especially when they stand a chance of getting sucked into a jet-turbine engine and destroying it, possibly along with the occupants of the attached vehicle.
I can be smug. I’m not the only one, there are a few of us, who in our stories included warnings about the future of UAV/RAV combat.
I conceived Come Silent Winged Sleep many years ago, but finally published it in 2014. It still was only taken seriously by a few.
But the thing is, there were much earlier stories that said small, autonomous robot weaponry was always going to run amok.
Philip K. Dick’s “Swords” in Second Variety (filmed as the grotesquely under-rated movie Screamers) were already an ungoverned-battlefield threat, long before he got to the Artificial Intelligence meat of his message.
So it seems we have arrived and … oh yes, I was talking about being smug.
How about some solutions, hmm , Jon?
Well, we already have regulations. Much good may they do. In Australia, CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, publishes a wise set of rules – that are Federal law – about where civilian UAVs and RAVs can be flown. They even have an app to help you if you’re going for a fly of your xmas pressie!
But drones are just too useful. Even factoring the errant law-abiding citizen (and the idiot) aside, the things are going to get manufactured offline. No registration involved. They are, and are going to continue to be, deployed beyond view, beyond hearing, in all sorts of surveillance roles. All sorts of planning roles.
They are a level, if lumpy, playing-field in a game that anyone can play. (Side note: people laugh at how incapable 3D-printing currently is. That laughter will go away soon.)
And they are annoyingly, dangerously hard to detect and track, as the Russian armed forces have been discovering in Syria.
The police forces of the near future are going to have to deploy hunter-killer RAVs of their own to bring down intruding drones. Fighting swarms with swarms, exactly as our immune system does.
Even civil aircraft are going to have to become “drone proof” to whatever extent they can.
It sounds absurd, but we’re there.
Stories Of An Awkward Size contains five “long stories” including Come Silent Winged Sleep. It covers many Slipstream and Hard Science Fiction subjects, and is available on Amazon and other outlets in a variety of formats.
October 21, 2018
Phew. Another phase in ‘Impasse Day’ complete – and it’s currently 586 pages long in 6″ by 9″ trim.
All the trivial notes have been addressed. I call the in-book notes ‘slashnotes’, because I begin them with a backslash, ‘\’. It’s the only character that never naturally appears in an ODT document, and so I can search for it easily with OpenOffice (currently LibreOffice) or other tools.
Thing is, of course, LibreOffice et al have their own Comment systems, which I am starting to use. It’s just I’ve been a software designer tooooo long to trust anybody’s sh… stuff.
There are more ‘slashnotes’ to go, but now they are all plot-adjustments and scene fixups, not just minor forgotten details and things that needed smoothing.
I tell thee –
Next novel I am planning out down to the *beat*! This one I did by lots and lots of notes, both typed and voice, all of which I had to consolidate. I’m *still* consolidating them, and that process will go on right to the end when – no doubt – I throw half of them away!
In fact, for the next one I’m adopting Vince Gilligan’s screen-writing team’s approach, and one I’ve seen other writers discuss – lots of little notes, each with a plot-point, written on a lined card and pinned to a wall so they can be easily moved around.
Every plot point!
June 17, 2018
First read through of my 550 page novel ‘IMPASSE DAY’ complete. I still have some welding, bolting and re-routing to do, but the machine now has its final shape.
June 4, 2018
Github is done. Remove any projects you have from Github, as soon as possible. I deleted my own account just then.
For those who came in late:
Microsoft have just acquired Github for nearly $8 billion, completely invalidating any purpose Github ever served.
There is a giant exodus (13 thousand projects at writing, and climbing) to Gitlab, and MS already have shills posting on Gitlab’s Twitter feed trying to slow the bleeding. It’s not working, the migration is accelerating as the news spreads.
Gitlab are far from perfect. Google has a big stake in them, and they endorse ‘Modern’ rubbish like DevOps. Their site is also not easy to use (not that Github’s was).
But currently Gitlab are the lifeboat. Others will emerge.
Gitlab migration (from Github) assistance page:
It will try and sell you on their commercial options (which, who knows, you may want) but the free option is always available. These sites work by having a huge population of free projects, most of which stagnate but give the site its legitimacy in the first place. Then on top of that they maintain a very large population of commercial projects which bring in a substantial revenue. This is precisely how Github worked (and why MS felt it was worth $8 billion of their own dwindling revenue.) Don’t feel guilty about using the free option, it’s what props them up.
May 6, 2018
It appears everything has come true from my story COME SILENT WINGED SLEEP (the third story in my anthology STORIES OF AN AWKWARD SIZE).
A Criminal Gang Used a Drone Swarm To Obstruct an FBI Hostage Raid
Image courtesy defenseone.com
September 17, 2017
Available on all outlets once again:
AMAZON as a KINDLE, or as a PAPERBACK from AMAZON or Amazon CREATESPACE, or in EPUB and other formats from ITUNES, BARNES&NOBLE, KOBO, and others…