Category Archives: Fiction

Steve’s Office

So, one of the things that I've discovered about a 1,667 words a day production schedule is that when you work twelve hour shifts, spend about an hour each way getting ready and driving to work and then add on eating and sleeping, 1,667 words is a hell of a lot.

Especially when all you want to do is go to bed so that you have some energy for doing it all over again – the next day.

So what I'm finding myself doing is not writing for a few days and then having to 'catch-up' as it were on my days off. Meanwhile also trying to do those things that normal folk do when they have some free time, like answer emails and wash clothes.

This isn't a moan by the way, just explaining why I'm not particularly intent on posting each day.


Here is the second bit – it's a bit of a plot set up and while the wordage and intent is there I can see it being heavily edited and rewritten in the future. As a note, I don't like to stop to research when I'm writing – five minutes on wikipedia soon turns into several hours for me, so I mark things that I need to look up later with a 'QQ' tag. It means that I can search for such tags and fill in the the correct numbers, names or dates when I come to edit it.

That's the plan anyway.


Sitting outside Steve’s office always makes me feel like a naughty schoolboy.

I’m guessing that it’s the old wooden panelling that makes me feel as if I’m sitting outside a headmaster’s office awaiting the cane. Not that I ever did such a thing when I was a child – after all in the school I went to the headmaster’s office had a PVC door.

But there is something about the dark wood, the smell of the varnish and the dim lighting that sparks some childhood memory that I never had. It’s something archetypal.

This feeling isn’t helped by Melanie staring at me over her computer monitor. She’s tapping away at something obviously far more important than me. When I arrived I tried to start up a conversation but she just told me to take a seat and that ‘Mr. Hughes’ will see me shortly.

I’ve never called Steve anything other than Steve. It’s a bit hard to call your boss ‘mister’ anything when you’ve gotten horrendously drunk in a Japanese bar and had to bail him out from police custody after he tried, and succeeded, to climb the outside of a church. The climb was impressive, even more so because he could barely walk at the time. During his ascent all I could think about was wether I should try to catch him if he fell. I didn’t want to break my arms trying to save him if it would do him no good.

Finally the little light on Melanie's desk goes on, I assume that it's a light, I've never seen what it is that shows her that Steve is ready to receive visitors.

For some reason Steve has an 80's nostalgia vibe in his office – glass table, ridiculously large chair, abstract art on the walls and even one of those Newton's cradle executive toys.

Steve's fairly small so only the top of his shaved head poked over the top of the large computer monitor he was working on, he scooted his huge leather chair across to one side so that he could look me in the eye.

“Mike, good to see you. Take a seat”.

I looked at the much smaller seat on my side of his desk, I suspect that he also loved the 80's idea of power relationships and I suspect that this is why he had me waiting outside his office for so long. I threw myself into the chair and waited while he looked down on me.

All this alpha male behaviour was somewhat let down by his round face making him look like a friendly teddy bear.

“So, Mike, how are you? Keeping well? Family all right?”

I sighed inwardly, I guess that he'd pulled up my profile on his computer, the one that was by now terribly out of date. “Fine, not bad at all, no changes”.

“Good, good”, he nodded, eyes flicking over to the screen to one side of him. “Glad to hear it, you've been turning in stuff for us for a few years now haven't you?”

I was certain he was reading from my profile now, while I'd been drinking with him it was only as part of a work's 'do' and as I hadn't been in the office for some time it was no surprise that he was checking the records.

“Yep, regular as clockwork. Erm, is there a problem?”, I asked.

He looked upset, “No, no, far from it. Very far from it in fact.”

He sipped from a cup of tea and stretched back into his chair.

“What I have for you”, he said, “is a special project for you. Probably right up your street given your previous work for us.”

My mind started whirring, going back over the things that i'd written in the last few months, I couldn't think of anything unusual – just interviews and the like. A bit of science commentary, that's all.

Steve must have seen that I was thinking, I know that I tend to break eye contact when I think, looking towards the corner of the room as if the answer to my question was floating there, just out of reach.

“We are looking for someone with a bit of background in science and who can travel. I've been reading your recent stuff and it's good. Human interest work and talking to people, which is what I'm looking for”.

The only word that I was really take note of was 'travel'. I'd spent the last two years stuck in London, mostly in my flat, talking to folk over the internet or haunting the conventions and conference circuit. I think that the furthest I'd traveled of late was to Cambridge for a bioscience announcement. The thought that I might head off to somewhere sunny filled me with joy.

“So, are you interested Mike?”, Steve looked at me with expectation.

“Sure”, I said, “As long as the travel expenses are up front, I can't be waiting months for reimbursement”.

“Oh, that'll be no worry, you're going to be sponsored”.

That piqued my interest, who was willing to sponsor me to write something, was this going to be a PR fluff piece for a company that had more money than sense?

The thing is, readers today are much more acutely aware of journalists taking bribes and getting 'free' samples in return for good copy. I mean, it's something that has been going on since QQ Samuel Pepys first wrote about the delicious buns of Miss Hattersley's cake shop QQ, but in recent years, as bloggers started to get courted by PR companies the good ones needed to be whiter than white in order to stop haemorrhaging readers. Me, I know that I'm barely a journalist. I'm a jumped up blogger and my reputation means something to me (and ultimately the Finsbury Group), so I can't be seen to be getting any sort of grift.

He continued, “It's been two years since CLBD-7 was discovered, since the scientists discovered that it was contagious, your sponsor wants you to write a series on the impact CLBD-7 has had on the world. From a personal perspective, which means going around the world on a free ticket to speak to anyone affected”.

“Hold up”, I said, “Everyone has been affected”.

“Well, yes… But we normally only read about white western people with the disease. It's like AIDS in the 80's – most of the reporting was about the 'gay plague', then about celebrities getting it. It took years before the problems in Africa were written about, years before the deniers were named. Your sponsor thinks that we need to jump a few years from the headlines of 'TV celebrity goes mad with CLBD-7”.

I could see his point, after the initial panic, the media had settled down into the cycle of famous people, how it affected business and the occasional heartbreaking personal story. Despite CLBD-7 turning the world upside down in the last two years, it seemed that any serious reporting of it had slipped into the background.

I spoke to a journalist at his retirement party – he told me that when the motorcar had been invented every accident had been national news, every fatality a tragedy accompanied by front page news. Where was the news now that QQ 2,000 QQ people a year died on the roads? It was seen as the province of the local papers, and even then it seldom warranted a picture of the deceased, unless they were a child. Or pretty.

CLBD-7 was no 'War on Terror', there weren't daily updates from some warfront, no arrests could be made, no legislation could make infection less likely. Instead it was the slow accumulation of personal loss and the presumed work of white coated scientists in labs working on treatments.

And that doesn't make headlines.

Hold up. Steve said 'travel the world'.

“Steve, did you suggest that I travel the world? On a free ticket? How rich is this sponsor?”

“Very rich, but they expect a return, this isn't a chance for you to galavant around on a holiday you know. We've people back here arranging your itinerary as we speak, all I need is your agreement and we can start putting your name on the tickets. You do have a passport don't you?”

I had to think where it was, the last time I'd used it was for a holiday in Spain for me and my sister Judith.

I pushed the memory of that holiday aside.

“Yeah, I've a passport. But, and don't think I don't want to do this, but I don't have a lot of experience in travelling…”

“Don't worry about that”, Steve smiled, “We've someone a bit more experienced than you travelling with you. They'll make sure that you don't piss off the natives. And that you catch the right trains.”

“OK Steve, I'll do it.”

To be completely honest, I'd pretty much wanted to do it once he'd mentioned travel, I'd only have refused if the sponsor had been trying to push racist ideas, or pay me to spy on other companies. I'm normally the first to admit that I'm pretty shallow – but life is too short, especially these days, to worry too much about the deep questions in life. This looked like a chance to travel the globe on someone else's ticket, talk to interesting people, and maybe write something that'd improve my Google Pagerank. I couldn't see the downside.

Day One Of NaNoWriMo (Waking Up)

So here is the first bit of my NaNoWriMo project. Be aware that this is a first draft, there has been no editing and I'm making it up as I go along.

I hope you enjoy it and find it interesting – not every blogpost will be self contained, it'll just be as far as I have got during that day. In other words, I'm not writing to any sort of cliffhanger, or short form structure – it's just a wall of text.

If I do finish this draft it'll be interesting to see how it differs once I start editing it.


For some reason I find myself awake at this ungodly hour. I can’t see what time it is as, although my brain is awake, my eyes are yet to get the message and so I can’t see the digits on my alarm clock.

I’ve had less than five hours sleep and while I can’t remember dreaming I’m guessing that the reason I’ve woken myself up is because I’ve been having one of my dreams again.

Eyes still stuck closed with sleep I reach down one hand and try and find an unopened can of energy drink on my bedroom floor, I manage to find three empty ones before my hand closes on a full can. I pop the lid, drag myself somewhat upright and take a swig.

The bones in my back crack and pop as I feel the sugary drink hit my stomach.

As ever I’m reminded that the caffeine in the drink doesn’t so much wake me up as it does just reactivate the starving receptor sites on my nerve cells. Like a junkie I need a certain amount of this chemical stimulant to remain normal.

A couple of minutes of rubbing my eyes and they can finally focus on the alarm clock.

5:26 in the morning.

I suppose I should be thankful that my flat wasn’t hit by one of the rolling brown-outs, it’s always a pain in the arse when the power goes out in the middle of the night and you wake up late for work with the clock flashing 00:00 at you.

Sometimes I wish I knew what it was about my dreams that woke me up, mostly I’m glad that I don’t.


I grab my phone and pull up my newsfeed – checking the news sites, the blogs, Twitter and Wave, my phone pulls all the information down for me and then a clever little programme called an agent on my phone sorts them by relevance. There is too much data for me to follow personally, but my phone can sift through it for interesting stuff.

Nothing unusual today, some young celebrity diagnosed with CLDB-7 who’d gone crazy and stripped naked on stage, some small countries still fighting a war and the usual government spin about the second generation ID cards.

My local feed, made up of blogs, waves and tweets geographically near where I live are full of the same old stuff – once the personal stuff is filtered out by my agent most folks just want to know what we are going to do with the Olympic park.

I walk over to the window of my flat and look down at the Olympic stadium and swimming pool. I wonder how different my world would be if we’d actually had the games in 2012.

My phone tells me that I’ve an appointment with Steve this morning down in the Kings Cross offices, he’s not told me what he wants but as I work from home most of the time it’s got to be something special.

I shave, shower and shit – the water is hot so I silently thank whoever got up this morning to make sure the national grid is still working and then I get dressed.

I keep most of my daily kit in a grab bag by the front door, so I sling it over my shoulder and leave the flat for the tube station.

Despite the virus, Stratford remains the same, graffiti, dog shit, stolen cars dumped down back alleys. The main door to my block of flats is broken, I don’t think I’ve ever known the door to be lockable. Some folks would blame the virus, but I’ve been here from 2008, before the virus, and I’ve never seen it locked.

It’s a short walk down to the tube station, thankfully last night’s rain has stopped and so I reach there without getting wet. I queue in the ticket hall with the other people being held until the train arrives. I’m surrounded by people, aware that any of these people could be contagious. It’s not an uncommon thought, which is why half of the people are wearing masks over their faces. It doesn’t matter that the virus can get through it, or that the masks keep getting reused despite the outside being contaminated – what matters is it makes people think that they are doing something, anything, to protect themselves and their families.

For all the good it’d do they may as well tie a dead frog around their neck.

So I stand in the ticket hall, waiting for the guards to let us down onto the platform. A train arrives and the guards throw up the barrier, allowing us onto the platform. It’s an orderly crush, although you always have a worry that someone is going to pickpocket you, that or something worse. I flash my RFID at the reader and, without checking to see if it’s read it right, I get onto the train.

The train is packed with people and it amazes me that with the amount of people who have died, and the drop in the population of London, let alone the world, that the trains are still overcrowded. Of course people’ll remind you that train drivers also died, and so there are less trains, but it still seems that the universe hates commuters.

Some people are reading their feeds, they have the new glasses that link up with the display of your phone – the train is crowded so there is no way you could read a newspaper here. Instead the carriage has a handful of people, early adopters, focusing on the blue or green text scrolling up in front of their eyes.

All I can see is a bright blur, their focusing makes it impossible to read over a person’s shoulder.

Sometimes their lips move as they read.


I reach Kings Cross and leave the station, as always my eyes are drawn to the memorial plaque for the fire here in 1983 – I was five years old when it happened and it’s one of my earliest memories. I sat under my mum’s ironing board, the smell of hot, damp clothing surrounding me while I stared at the pictures of blackened firemen stumbling up the stairs into the air. I wondered what it was underground that had made them so dirty. I asked my mother if their mums would tell them off for getting so dirty.

“I doubt it”, she said softly and continued ironing.

The Finsbury Group offices were a refurbished old build, grey and imposing on the outside, only somewhat less so on the inside. Thankfully it’s only a short walk away from the station so I only have to ignore three prostitutes and two beggars. Somewhere down one of the side streets I can hear a familiar wailing cry. It’s there every time I visit the office.

The Finsbury Group was formed five years ago and is a collection of three of the larger ‘old’ media companies and a handful of media startups. Not forgetting the two PR companies and one marketing firm that it swallowed up in those early years. It’s purpose, besides making the shareholders plenty of money, is ‘media’ in all it’s myriad forms.

The section that I work for was once called ‘journalism’. It’s now called ‘Comment’.

Back in the bad old days, when media companies were collapsing under the trifecta of the internet, lack of sales and lack of advertising the precursors of the Finsbury Group realised that being first, having that scoop, was no longer the point. Instead it had to create the news while having the resources to investigate it more thoroughly than a citizen journalist with a Freedom of Information request.

It also recognised that this in depth analysis needed to have a ‘voice’. It was no use writing some passive report when people could Google the blogs and twitter feeds of the people for who the story was actually happening.

That’s how I got my job. I have a writing ‘voice’ that resonates well with a key focused demographic.

I told you about the PR and marketing components, right?

I walk in through the big wooden doors into the main reception, another new face sits behind the desk – for some reason the receptionists here tend not to stay too long. She’s pretty and I try giving her a smile as she takes a look at my battered work pass but I don’t think that she notices me. Pushing a clipboard towards me I sign into the building and make a note of who I’m here to see – Steve Hughes, sub-ed of ‘Comment’.

She tells me, or rather reminds me, that Steve’s office is on the fifth floor and that I should go right up.

I debate between the stairs and the lift. I’m aware that I’ve been putting on a bit of weight lately, too much typing into a computer while eating unhealthy take-away meals. I’ve almost forgotten myself, I’m thinking of the future, a future, that I’m not guaranteed to have. With CLBD-7 around, do I really have to worry about looking after my health? In six months from now I could be dead, a drooling vegetable, or worse – the old worries of coronary heart disease seem a lifetime away.

I punch the button for the lift.