Computers Can’t Make Coffee

I know, it’s been a while and not a lot of that time has been spent writing creatively. The books is currently in various bits and pieces having been carved up, chopped out and messed about with. It’s a task and a half putting it all back together. I had to keep something ticking over and I’m now pretty safe in the knowledge that I’m far more comfortable writing strange science fiction than I am doing more ‘domestic’ stuff. With that in mind I decided to just writing something short and stupid to stretch the cells again. It’s rough around the edges but I won’t be spending time going back to it to sharpen it up because it’s supposed to be fun. Here then is ‘Computers Can’t Make Coffee’. Enjoy and leave any comments down below.


The sound of birdsong filled the streets before the sample ended and it looped round again for another minute long duration.

Desmond was the last person the sun would shine on. The sleep of the last few hours had been interrupted not by any noise from the street outside or the late-night TV his neighbours always watched but more the absence of any human activity. His was the only street left illuminated, two lamps standing until the end. The traffic signals were turned off a few days ago. The shops had left only the moonlight to cast shadow on the empty shelves.

Desmond’s notification had been slow in arriving. Once the idea of leaving Earth had left a touch screen somewhere and the pictures of the settlements had circulated, he had sat waiting. Looking out of his window each morning he saw more and more floors on the housing grids becoming vacant. Every time another light out and wind turbine still. The eldest residents had been first, forming a queue to get into the monorail terminals leading to the ports. Herbert down the corridor had refused to go whilst spending each evening shouting up at the night sky from his balcony. Desmond had ran into him one night outside the local shop. “I was born on Earth and I’ll bloody die on Earth” he growled whilst stabbing his walking stick forwards as if he were fencing. A few weeks ago his wish was granted. They didn’t fill his house afterwards.

Each evening the bright blue jet trails of the rockets had bled through the black. Desmond had grown to be familiar with looking out for the final scattering of colour as the ships left Earth’s atmosphere. The final distant thump of another one entering space above was a comfort to him as one day he’d be up there too. This morning the skies were empty as even the clouds had given up flying overhead. The blazing heat from the sun rays has already melting the tarmac across the road. Desmond could see the bubbles from his window.

“Looks like another warm one”.

The familiar voice chimed in from the screen across the room with the usual tones of cheer.

“Morning Theia” said Desmond still slightly unsure if he should be giving such wishes to a computer programme.

“Do you want a full weather report for the day?” the software enquired.

“Is it going to be you asking me to put lots of sunscreen on and avoid going out in the sun until this evening?”.

A silent few seconds followed as this questions was hurled through processors and memory.

“That would be where I was going”.

“Well in that case I think we can save it”.

The window began to darken automatically, shielding Desmond from the harsh light. A protective protocol in action.

“Your flight leaves in a few hours, your last few bags are waiting at the space port having been checked in at 3:08am this morning”

“Thanks” came the only mutter from Desmond’s mouth as he peered back to the tinted window at the sunlight bouncing off the electronic advertising boards on the building opposite. His own personal adverts had been scrolling on these screens for so long now he could follow along with them word for word. He had cut himself shaving around three weeks ago, the bathroom mirror had recognised the blood and played him an advert for instant Cut Sealer. A whole minute had passed by showing the miraculous properties of a sprayed layer of plastic across any size of wound. After Desond had answered the following survey the mirror had deemed it suitable to dispense a sticking plaster.  A free sample had turned up unannounced through his door not long afterwards but it remained unused. Life away from Earth would surely not need Cut Sealer.

“Is this the end of the world?” asked Desmond of the computer.

“Far from it, it’s a new start for you”.

“But what happens to all of this here?”. Desmond gestured to the outside world in what looked like a half hearted attempt at Semaphore.

“Do you want the answer?”

“I do”.

“Very well then Desmond, the coastal areas that aren’t flooded already soon will be and the heat from the sun rays will take care of most of the rest”.

Desmond considered this information for a few seconds. If he had stayed around on Earth for any longer he would probably try to see if he could convince the computer to stop asking his permission in order to give him plain facts. It had originally started with it suggesting he took an umbrella outside rather than just saying it was raining. Before long it was telling him about the benefits he could have by taking a long walk before actually telling him the trains had been cancelled. Over time the software had learned that Desmond liked the plain facts. It had also learned to not make him coffee in the mornings. When the kitchen appliances had all been registered in the network the software had taken the liberty of ordering in the best selling coffee flavour in the city, taking in a general method of preparation honed through the data received from over one thousand hours of consumer focus groups and only then splotting forth something that Desmond could only describe as tar. The easiest solution would have been to disconnect the network card from the back of the coffee maker but, like all appliances, it refused to work without one.

“I shall heat the water for you” came the robotic chirp.

“Just that, nothing more”.

The water sizzled inside the machine and the jet of black. Desmond slowly added the dark oily gloop and mixed it together.  He took a sip of the bitter concoction then smacked his lips together.

“Are they growing real coffee beans in the orbit?” he asked?

“I’m afraid I don’t know for sure Desmond, my network doesn’t stretch that far”.

Desmond took another sip and thought about the stations in orbit and how, if they truly were meant to be the next step in mankind’s journey, they would surely be a space on each of them for growing some proper coffee. The videos that had been sent back down showed whole forests being grown in large sections of the stations. Spotlights reflected off the water of streams and lakes as animated figures danced and ate picnics on the riverbanks. All was perfectly possible when you were off the surface of the now crumbling Earth. He put down his coffee cup and was about to clean it in the sink until he remembered he wouldn’t need it tomorrow morning.  

“The taxi is waiting outside” said the computer.

Desmond was about to jolt himself across the housing pod in his rush to get changed. Upon processing it further he came to the conclusion that the taxi wasn’t exactly going to pick up anybody else afterwards. He allowed himself the time to put on the last clothes he had that weren’t in space by now.

A few minutes later he found himself adjusting his belt in the mirror.

The computer chimed in for what seemed like the final time.

“I hope you enjoy your flight, it’s been a pleasure being with you these last few years”.

“Do I get something like you when I arrive up there?”.

“I don’t believe they have the structure yet for such systems. Perhaps in time but you’ll have to make your own coffee in the meantime”.

“I think I might be able to manage that”.

Desmond stepped out into the hallway, thought initially about locking the door behind him but instead left the keys hanging in the lock before walking down the corridor.

Remove By Friction

A book seems a really big and all consuming thing right now. Having finished the latest draft a couple of weeks ago during lockdown I’ve touched up a few chapters but not gone back to it since. I’ve taken to doing smaller writing tasks that provide much more of an instant gratification upon completing them. I’ll spent time reviewing a cheap game over on the video game blog my son and I keep. I’ll write some more about wrestling and put that up on Bad Education. I’ve also discovered single player role playing games during the lockdown, one of which is scratching that writing itch just dandy right now. It’s called The Machine by Adira Slattery and Fen Slattery and it’s something of a revelation.

The Machine involves the keeping of a journal detailing how your character makes the titular contraption. It can be anything you want it to be. In my case it’s quite small like a pocket watch and able to sing songs from within. You play the game alone but the idea is that, once your character meets their demise, you pass the journal onto a friend so they carry it on as somebody who has found or been given the same journal. My current character is a discreet magician (I figure he’d have to be in order to keep his tricks under wraps).

You select two options from a list of about sixty jobs and characteristics, crossing them off the lost so nobody else can choose them. Using a deck of playing cards you lift the card on top and the number and suit influences what has happened. For example my first entry proper was the six of diamonds which gave me ‘hateful’ and ‘a sleepless night’. There followed a frantic half hour as I described my character pacing around his elaborate study in the early hours sketching his grand plan for the construction of the machine that would gain himmhis fortune. After those thirty minutes I was done, I could move on, I had achieved something. No long think times, no sitting infront of a blank page and no going back to rewrite. The Machine is part game and part creative writing exercise and if you’re a writer at a loose end or needing something of a writing based distraction then it’s a good $5 to spend.

The book still hangs over me though and it’s something of a problem to work on it knowing that there’s a whole heap more to do before I get that ‘done writing’ hit.

When I Get Back From Hell Again (I’m Going To Be So Elegant).

A few months ago I found myself wishing that the world would just stop for a bit so I could find the time to get this draft of the book finished. The original March 4th deadline aim had completely gone by and progress was scrappy again.

Then the world suddenly stopped, the government told everybody to remain indoors as much as they can and my work sent me home for the next six weeks on full pay.

If I can’t get it done now then it’s really pretty hopeless isn’t it?

I’m down to the last twenty or so pages as of today anyway. Once that’s done it’ll be going through each chapter and polishing it up as far as dialogue goes and seeing if at all hangs together okay. At the moment the engine is in place, the body work has nearly done being put on top but the paintwork needs a going over.

Nearly there though.

Phantom Footsteps

Since I moved house I’m no longer within walking distance from my parent’s house. My Dad and I used to meet each other for a morning coffee once a week but recently we haven’t had the chance until today. As my Dad’s car pulls up into the car park of the local Distillery cafe he waves a magazine in the front window. I can just about see that it’s Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine, a local publication covering events in the near vicinity. I have no clue as to why he’s brought it along though.

Turns out it was this…

Turns out it’s a story about ghost sightings in Gretna written by my good friends Mostly Ghostly. I had no clue they were going to mention me and seeing the word ‘writer’ before my name in a magazine is certainly a buzz.

Probably time to live up to that.

Hip Hop Development

I haven’t really found somewhere to write in the new house yet. At the moment I’m sat at the kitchen table which is very much a similar idea to the breakfast bar in the old place. There’s a sunroom next door but, being January and about 3c outside, that’s not the most comfortable place to sit right now.

I opened up the file for the book today for the first time in what seemed like weeks. Word tells me that the last time I did anything with it was October 20th last year. Even the small bubble on the sidebar that usually takes me straight to the point when I had stopped before had given up. I was back at page one, chapter one having to scroll down to find it. November was taking up with house moving, December was Christmas and some vague sense of normality has returned in time for mid January. My writing momentum has been shot though and trying to get started today proved something of a nightmare.

There isn’t that much further to go though and this version of the book will be done.

To All The Districts

Scanning down my Twitter feed (@cripleh if you’re interested) I see that’s it’s just over one year since I started this rewrite of the book. I reached the middle of Chapter 27 today, there are 36 in total and I’m thinking we’re on the home stretch.

The home stretch of this lap anyway.

I’m getting back to the parts I patched together though. The chucked in, nonsense, half baked stuff that is really just there as a place holder until something better comes along. Now is the time for that ‘something better’ and it involves a lot of rewiring. It’s a tough thing because now I’m reading parts back and asking myself if I’d be happy reading this out aloud in front of people. I have an odd dream of being at a book event, one of those ‘Meet The Author’ things and being asked to read a section to the gathered audience. Currently there isn’t really a stretch in the book that I could do that with confidence. I’m aiming to sort that out on the next spin around though. This turn is all about getting the plot in the right order and the right pace. All the colour comes next and then we might have something approaching a readable story.

The aim is to have this run through done by Christmas and then possibly have the next finished by March 2020 which would mark three years since I started it.

Add The Strange Stuff

I think I’m starting to go back over all the bits in the book that I patched over the first time around. There’s also he recurring problem of this story originally being thought out as a low budget film. I’m still using the same four or five real world location and not really appreciating that I can go absolutely anywhere when I’m just writing it as a book.

A fine example was today’s chapter in which my missing girl, who has returned to her home town after ten years, is trying to track down her Mother. In this first run through I’ve had her bumping into a random character who isn’t named and is never seen again. All he ends up doing is telling her where her Mother might be. It’s awful, clunky and seriously needed to be chopped out.

Considering she has something of a alien power about her now I’ve made her warp through memories of some distant planet just before it is destroyed completely before she is able to find her Mother by having a natural link to her regardless. It’s a chance to put in all the strange stuff I wanted to and to move away from the ‘real world’ descriptions that have been in there a fair bit now.

I’ve discovered I really like going crazy with the mad alien stuff.

As a side note I’ll hopefully get this draft done by Christmas. It seems strange to be talking about the end of the year in September though.

Phoney Beatlemania Has Bitten The Dust

Three weeks off wasn’t something that I intended to happen but it did. Upon reaching the halfway point in the second rewrite I just seemed to have stopped dead and through various reasons I haven’t been able to get back to it until the last couple of days.

There have been a couple of changes that seemed small on the surface but have caused a few ripples to turn into waves throughout the wider story. It’s been a problem having to delete entire chapters from the middle of the book and rebuild them from scratch. It makes it feel a bit like walking through treacle again and this was the reason the writing shut down in the summer of 2017 during the first draft.

I’m starting to warm it up again bit by bit to avoid that complete shutdown again. It’s just about working but some chapters I’ll have to come back to later and fill out.

The Sound A Zebra Makes When Spotting A Lion

I’m being too visual again. Part of the problem with this whole story starting as a film is that I’m occasionally skipping past descriptions of location with the mistaken assumption that the reader can see it already. It results in underwriting certain scenes. As a rather good example this evening I’ve managed to take one sentence and up it to two paragraphs.

I’m not saying those two paragraphs are any good though, just that they describe the surroundings in a far greater manner.

It’s also the only section I’ve done this evening. Whilst minimal it’s certainly better than nothing at all.

3-2-1 Let’s Jam.

I’ve developed something called the ‘three location rule’. When this book was going to be a film it was quite possible for one character to move from one location, to another and then a third fairly quickly. When I tried to write all that into a chapter it came across as really cramped.

It read a lot like ‘Arrive at location one, write description, action, move to second, describe surroundings, action, move to third…’. As such it was terrible so the new rule is a maximum or two locations in any one chapter.

I originally had the Mother in her house realising that her daughter had not returned home after many hours, she then went to the local pub to ask around and she then ends up at the police station reporting it. Now it’s just the first two, the police interaction will be another chapter. This does mean I have a whole ream of text currently homeless and floating around the file but we’ll patch it in later.

The next two chapters were ones I’d already built up from scratch in the last rewrite and they’re not too bad as a result. With this in mind, as of this afternoon, I’m about a third of the way through this rewrite.

I might watch some Doctor Who tonight as a celebration.