A lazy blog, just because I’m launching a new book, Alternative Dimension. It’s actually been published before, under a pseudonym, but I’ve given it a new cover, made a few tweaks to the content, and am risking alienating readers because it isn’t the usual crime type stuff. But I thought it worth a blog because the writing of it was different from any of my others.
Several years ago I spent a lot of time in the online role-playing game Second Life™. I was researching a story but I found lots of interesting writers’ things happening there. I was also intrigued by the seductive experience of seeming to inhabit a separate reality, which had its own (seemingly impossible) possibilities, and at the same time still be me at a keyboard. It was great meeting people I’d never have come across otherwise. It was also surprising how willing many of them were to reveal all sorts of things about themselves to a total stranger. Sitting in your own home letting an avatar speak for you fools you into thinking you’re anonymous, produces a false sense of security.
Anyway, I wrote several short stories based on events and people there. They were completely separate, self-contained pieces in which the main aim was to be funny but, as the reviews for the first version of the book pointed out, beneath the humour there’s a darkness. They all said very nice things about the humour and, thankfully gave it prominence, but they also used expressions such as ‘a nightmare scenario’, ‘dystopian menace’, ‘perfection seems to exist but the avatars … cast increasingly long and threatening shadows’, ‘deep points well padded in humour to make them more palatable’. And the one I liked best of all, referring to the apparent reality and independence of the avatars, said: ‘This is actually quite chilling if you allow yourself to think about it. Kirton’s humour can protect you only so far!’
The strange thing was that I wasn’t fully aware of that darkness until I started re-reading them with a view to publishing them as a story collection. As I did so, various themes started coming through – not heavy, deep-thinking, philosophical stuff, but observations on people, their dreams, their satisfactions, and the escapes they were trying to achieve by giving themselves a ‘second life’. There was also the whole fascinating area of a world which integrated the structured algorithms, software and electronic logic of computers with the unstable, idiosyncratic impulses of people.
In the end, it was obvious that nearly all the stories’ narratives were driven by similar impulses and it seemed natural to start grouping them together to show how the impulses developed. When I’d done that, two of them (which now constitute the final two chapters of the book), gave me the idea for an overall narrative that could link them all into a single journey. Writing it was completely absorbing and the various characters in the different episodes all became illustrations of aspects of the game experience that marked the progress of the central character.
So it’s given me lots to think about. All my previous books have been written in a linear sequence, with each episode conditioning in some way those which followed it. Here, it began with a set of fully formed, self-contained elements which had to be stitched together.