Eighteen jam-packed months

by Duncan Lunan - 21:57 on 14 February 2018



Eighteen Jam-Packed Months


I haven't written anything for this Blog since August 2016, and that's because far too much else has been happening. Like some of the people I've approached for contributions to Space and Scotland magazine, below, I've been too busy doing it all to write about it.


In September 2016 Linda and I went up to Sutherland to see my mother Gwen. We hadn't seen her since her 101st birthday in November 2015, and because we'd had to miss some of them in the past due to health issues and weather, we decided to arrange a trip while the weather was good and we could be more assured of making it up and back. It all went very well and we found Mum in great form. Sadly, though, she took a fall in October and died just short of her 103rd birthday. I'm very grateful for Gerry Cassidy's help in attending the funeral, as well to everyone who looked after Mum so well in her later years and final days.


At the end of September 2016 we'd had the launch of my book of time-travel stories, "The Elements of Time", illustrated by Sydney Jordan and published by Shoreline of Infinity. The four main stories in the collection cover time travel by earth, water, air and fire, hence the title, and there are three shorter stories for good measure. This was the same collection of stories published by Gary Gibson's Brain in a Jar as an ebook in 2012, but with the addition of 'Galileo at the High Fontier', commissioned by the Centre for Contemporary Arts the same year and first published in Laura Brown's anthology "To Arrive at Where We Started". The 'air' story 'With Time Comes Concord' was illustrated by Sydney when it first appeared in Analog (the drawings were reproduced in Vol. 2 of the Rosellini Foundations's tribute to him in Italy in 2014), and for this issue he illustrated all the other stories and provided a colour cover based on 'Riding the Fire'. Sydney and his new wife Jan came up from the south of England for the launch, and we had music from the Shoreline team, Noel Chidwick and Mark Toner, as well as by Alistair Milton, Stewart Horn, Paul J. Brunton (aka The Sundancer), and readings by poet Russell Jones and myself, as well as an interview with Sydney. He was also interviewed by Gerry Cassidy for Space and Scotland, below.


The meeting was hosted by Astronomers of the Future, and in December 2016 we had another joint event with Shoreline of Infinity, at which Gerry and I launched the first issue of Space and Scotland magazine for the Club's parent educational charity, ACTA SCIO. Covering all aspects of astronomy and space affairs in Scotland, the magazine traces its roots to an enquiry by the Scottish Branch of the British Interplanetary Society in 1962-63. Financed by a grant from another Scottish charity, the first four issues had a print run of 5000 with 32 pages each, in full colour. The need for the magazine was clearly shown by the response, in which the entire print run was taken up in free distribution to astronomy societies and others, libraries, schools, space-related companies, observatories, university departments, Glasgow Science Centre Planetarium and many other outlets. We could easily have distributed twice as many copies and one education authority has asked for 15,000 copies, so we need to find funding to take the project forward on a more advanced basis. We are about to publish the first four issues online on the ACTA SCIO website.


Meanwhile, for Linda and me, there were big developments in our personal lives. Linda is Irish and has long hoped to go back there, and in the wake of the Brexit referendum it seemed like a good time to do it. We spent a year planning and saving, and on September 30th 2017 we emigrated to Clonakilty in County Cork, having disposed of our furniture and other assets to go with just a suitcase and a backpack, intending to start a new life. I donated my collection of books, magazines, journals, manuscripts, notes and records to University College, Cork, so as to have access to them once we were settled there.


Unfortunately it all went wrong. Linda took a bad fall on the way there and her health continued to worsen while we were away. Our landlady had second thoughts about giving us a tenancy agreement, which meant we couldn't get help with medical treatment, travel or other forms of state aid. We moved in just in time for the worst weather in 50 years, as a result of which the house became uninhabitable, and having retreated to a refuge hotel, we took stock of the position and realised we had to return to the UK while we still had some funds with which to restart.


We came back on my birthday, October 24th, and are very grateful for help from friends with the difficult return journey. We were a week too late to get our old flat in sheltered housing back, but were able to get a private let from a friend. Meanwhile our former neighbours made it known that they wanted us back, and after reassessment by the Housing Association we have been allocated a better flat than we had before, on condition that we moved in right away. So we did that on January 26th, and have been back on landline and internet for just a few days, so there's lots of catching up to do. This flat is upstairs, well away from the problems of cold and damp which we previously had through being next to the unheated binroom. We're on the sunny side of the building, away from the tannoy announcements from the railway station above; we can see the aeroplanes going in and out of Prestwick, and the ISS going over, can see at a glance whether it's worth going outside for the stars... have got a mobile phone signal indoors – it's like night and day. Linda is having treatment for her injured shoulder and it's gradually getting better, though the cold winter we're having doesn't help.


Obviously now there's a huge amount to do, to get settled again and catch up with life, the universe and everything – but we're getting on with it. We've had some lucky breaks: some help with moving costs from the Murdoch Trust and the Society of Authors; we've won a meal in the Troon Times crossword, which will be our Valentine's Day celebration (a day late); having had to transfer to Sky because Virgin doesn't serve this building, Linda's got a Samsung tablet out of it; some of the paintings and other things which we gave away have come back to us – we've a lot to be thankful for.


Before leaving, I completed my contributions to Jeff Hawke's Cosmos, and the last of my quarterly astronomy columns and 'Space Notes' there have now appeared in Vol. 10 No.3. The last four stories, including my one 'Out of the Ecliptic', will appear with my 'Hawke's Notes' on them and other articles in a final book later this year, bringing the Jeff Hawke Club's publications total to 5 books, 30 magazines and a supplement, reprinting all 114-115 Jeff Hawke and Lance McLane stories (depending on how you count them) with my Notes on each. It's been a great achievement on the part of the editor William Rudling, and as it's taken since 2003, I shall miss it when it ends. When the strip ended in 1988 I had sold another story for it ('Ice-Needle') to Sydney Jordan and was negotiating on another called 'Dire Straits'. The story-lines for each have now been published by Chris Tubb on the Jeff Hawke Club Blog, after all this time, and he's adding a model of the Ice-Needle spaceship to the series of characters and spaceships which he's produced over the years.


I gave up the chairmanship of the Troon Writers in November 2016, and before leaving for Ireland I'd handed over ACTA SCIO and the Astronomers of the Future Club to Gerry Cassidy and Alan Marsh, respectively. I came back as Treasurer of both and we had the AGM on December 8th, followed by the usual December social meeting at the Maharani. The accounts were reviewed by David Bandeira, to whom our thanks as always, and have now been accepted by the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator.


The quarterly version of the astronomy column will resume in Space and Scotland, online and also in print (we hope). Meanwhile the monthly version continues regularly in Troon's Going Out, intermittently in the Ayrshire Post, and on my website and ACTA SCIO's, along with my write-ups of the AOTF meetings for the Troon Times and Ayrshire Post. I'm looking for other outlets to continue the 'Space Notes'. I've also continued book reviewing and have two coming up for publication in Interzone and Shoreline of Infinity, as well as two more to write for Interzone and one for Concatenation.


Michael Collins has also been publishing me. Michael had previously published a lengthy 2-part interview with me in Winterwinds, in spring and winter 2011, my obituary for Reginal Turnill on his blog ‘Glasgow and Surrounding Beasties: 2013 in Memoriam’, 3rd December 2013, and one of my previously unprinted stories, 'Demon', in 40p Magazine, March 2016. I contributed an Introduction to his “By the Dying Tree, a collection of horror shorts”, The Other Side, 26th June 2017, and he’s now reprinted my only other fantasy story to date, ‘The Great Australian Vampyre’, in “The Second Christmas Book of Ghosts”, Other Side Books, 14th December 2017. They say every hard-SF writer has one vampire story in him and it’s nice to see that one back in print after 30 years. The collection is an e-book and may be available in print later this year; it’s for a charity, Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland, so do seek it out and support the good cause.


I also contributed an Introduction and a new story, ‘I Believe that This Nation Should Commit Itself’, to the 30th anniversary anthology of the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle - Elaine Gallacher, Cameron Johnston and Neil Williamson, eds., “Thirty Years of Rain”, Taverna Press, September 30th, 2016. A story that I read at one of the Thirteenth Note ‘Word Dogs’ sessions, and two other new stories, are pending with Shoreline of Infinity, who will also be reprinting “Starfield, science fiction by Scottish writers”, which I edited for Orkney Press in 1989, later this year.


Over the last two years I’ve continued to contribute to BBC Scotland programmes including Good Morning Scotland, Newsdrive and the Sunday edition of GMS, on which I took part in a discussion on science education just this week. I gave a talk on ‘Exoplanets’ to the Astronomers of the Future Club just after we came back in October, I’m giving another on ‘The Earth from Space’ on February 22nd, I’m speaking on the Hubble Space Telescope to the Skelmorlie Branch of the Workers Educational Association on March 14th, and I’ll be talking about Past Contact (Epsilon Boötis, ancient astronomy and the Green Children of Woolpit) at the Scottish UFO and Paranormal Conference, Queen Margaret Union, Glasgow, on July 28th.


All work and no play would be a bit wearing, so we’re going to claim the meal we won on Thursday, and going to see ‘Private Lives’ at the Ayr Gaiety Theatre on Saturday. No doubt by then more will be happening!




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