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I found an old notebook on the shelf.

It’s not dated, but judging from the handwriting and some of the things that are referenced, I’d say it starts around sixth form (that’s age 17) and goes up to some time after I went to university.

It’s a fun read – it begins with what I think was my first real attempt at properly planning a story – character maps and notes on the world government and all.  There are even some notes on architecture and little drawings – to scale – of some of the physics involved.

The story plan concerns the (highly probable) situation in which the moon’s orbit has started to decay.  Scientists managed to find a way to prop it up on giant struts, but clearly in the process some damage was done to the Earth’s atmosphere.  Now, everyone has to live in the shadow of the moon, otherwise they die of radiation poisoning.

Shadowland plot

The radiation has caused strange mutations in the twilight lands, where people get a reduced dose of the sun’s rays.  They don’t die outright, but they have mutations in the genes which cause features such as white fur to reflect the rays, dampeners in their eyes to reduce glare, etc.  These twilight people feel bitter because they are thought of as freaks, when in fact they are better suited to life now.  They grow crops which have also mutated, and try to sell them to the shadowlanders.

My main character was called Tim, and he was an “ordinary person” in his late teens/early twenties, who was claustrophobic – a problem since the moon hangs so low in the sky and everyone lives in a tightly packed space with lots of tunnels.  Apparently his parents were accountants!

For entertainment’s sake, I thought it would be interesting to take some of what I wrote then and compare it with what I would do now.  I reproduce it complete with spelling errors, amendments and so on.


Tim stepped out into the clear night air.  A slight breeze stirred his short brown hair.  Involuntarily, he glanced upwards, and shuddered.  His sad blue eyes closed, and he swallowed.  He could see the moon’s craters with his naked eyes.  It was too close, too close.

He looked out across the city, taking in the skyscrapers which rose tall as far as he could see.  Some of them were so tall you could almost reach out and touch the moon from the top of them.

Walking briskly down through the concrete jungle, Tim wrinkled his nose at the all-pervading stench of moon dust.

I bet they first men on the moon didn’t realise how bad it smells when the first put man on the moon, 2 centuaries ago, he thought bitterly.

And now:

Tim stepped out of the airlock and listened to the door swish closed behind him.  Within moments he was covered in a fine layer of moon-dust.  He cast a glance over his shoulder to check that the green ‘ready’ light had come on, confirming that he could re-enter the complex whenever he wanted.  It shone brightly, cutting through the gloom like a beacon welcoming him home.  With a slight pang he thought of his sister, left behind for now.  I will come back for her, he vowed, once I’ve found them.  We will be together again.

He settled his dust-mask more firmly on his face and squinted at the world.  Around him, towers rose high into the sky, packed tightly together.  Windows were few and far between, especially at ground level.  There was nothing to look at, after all, apart from dust and more towers.  He deliberately didn’t look up.  Tim had heard that from the highest towers you could see amazing views, even as far as the edge of the Shadow.  He’d heard that from the very tallest towers you could reach out and touch the moon.  He’d never been that high, of course.  Only the richest citizens were able to afford to live above the dust.

The gully he was in now was one of several that ran throughout the complex.  They were designed to give access to the outside of the massive building, for the maintenance crews.  In reality they were hardly used.  The complex was given the minimum maintenance possible to keep it standing.  There was no money for anything else, and no spare materials to do it with.  All of the dwindling resources of the planet were focused on one thing: the Struts.

He moved forward to the first cross-gully and looked to the left.  In the distance he could just make out Strut Three.  There were eight Struts in all, spaced evenly around the edge of the complex.  Each one was a couple of miles wide at the base, able to support massive weights on its own.  It still took eight of them to hold up the moon.  He shuddered as he considered what would happen if (when!) the Struts failed.  With the ozone layer and most of the upper atmosphere stripped away when the moon descended, the entire human race was packed tightly in the shadow lands.  If even one Strut gave way they would all be destroyed.

Tim smiled grimly.  Not all, not if the stories were true.  He hoped, needed the stories to be true.

Making sure his rucksack was firmly settled on his back, he set out towards the distant structure.  Soon he was breathing heavily.  Each breath in caused more dust to settle on his mask, clogging the filter.  Every time he breathed out he tried to dislodge some of it, only to have it settle again moments later.  He forced himself to carry on.  There would be less dust further out.  Everyone said so.  He tried not to think about how “everyone” knew such a fact when “no-one” went outside.

He wished he could have made this part of the journey inside.  The complex was interconnected all the way to the twilight lands, and even the broken-down air conditioning units and recycled oxygen would be better than this.  Ever since the corn riots last year the towers had been segregated, though, and coming up with good enough reasons to cross further and further from his home would be difficult.  He did not want to get arrested for travelling without permits or whatever made-up crime the government had come up with this month.

He plodded on, trying not to think.  After what seemed like hours he was jolted out of his half-doze by a sudden increase in the light.  He flinched, cowering towards the walls.  How had they found him so quickly?  He thought he had hidden his departure well enough that nobody would even be looking yet.

When nothing happened he looked around and laughed.  Along the walls of the gully lights were flickering on, illuminating everything.  It was night, and the lights were on a timer.  Almost every other bulb had blown, but the light was still brighter than the dust-filtered sunlight available during the day.  Why the outside lights were on when nobody worked out here he didn’t know.

Now that he had stopped he realised how tired he was.  Sinking down against the side wall he leant his arms on his knees and rested his head on them.  The movement knocked his dust mask sideways, and he breathed in a face full of moon-dust.

So there we go!  Leaving aside the totally plausible science behind the situation, I think my writing has improved. What do you think?

Burble, verb.
Flow in an irregular current with a bubbling noise.


The brook burbled over the smooth stones, splitting and rejoining as it meandered towards the larger creek.  Anthony followed it with a heavy heart.  Occasionally he glanced back, hoping against hope that the sight would have changed, but each time he was disappointed.

The woman stood by the house, a shotgun in her hands.  A shotgun pointed directly at him.  Every time he paused to look, the figure scowled and gestured with the metal tube.  Behind her stood a small group: her neighbours and friends, come to support her in her time of need.

He wondered how it had come to this.  How had it gone so far, so that everyone had turned against him?  Would not a one of them help him?

Apparently not.

He turned back to the stream and trudged onwards.  It sounded so merry, running along without a care in the world.  Anthony envied that stream.  It knew where it was from, and it knew where it was going, and if something got in the way it just flowed on around it, not worrying.

He approached the edge of the property, where the brook entered the woods.  Turning back, he took one last look at the house he had grown up in, at the people he had known all his life.

At his mother.

He entered the woods, never to return.

Today’s word of the day was nemesis.  Just a little snippet of real life.


Nemesis, noun.  A source of harm or ruin.


“And now, my fuzzy nemesis, your time has come!”

Jasper looked up at the human looming over him.  She was going away again, he could tell.  He stretched slightly and snuggled deeper into her lap, starting to purr.  She sighed and stroked his head.

“Really, Jasper, I need to go to bed.  You’re going to have to get up.”

He lifted his chin and she obediently started to stroke his throat.  She was so easy to manipulate it was ridiculous.  On a good evening he could hold her in place for half an hour or more past the time she first started trying to leave.

“I mean it,” she said.  “I’m going to bed.”

She stroked his head and sides for a few more minutes and then sighed.

Gently she started to insinuate her hands under his body.  Rebelliously, he went as limp as possible, almost sinking into her legs as she struggled to remove him.  Eventually, though, she managed to get enough of a grip to lift him, and then he knew it was over.

He shook himself slightly and stalked a few paces away before sitting down and looking reproachfully back at her.

She laughed and stroked his head again.

“Sorry, darling, but you should be used to this by now.”

“Get in the box.”

Katze hissed and swiped a claw at her human.  Her legs splayed outwards as she tried to make herself too large to fit.

“Katze, really.  It’s only a little box.  You like boxes normally.”  He lifted her away from the box and tried to manoeuvre her back legs into the space.  She hissed again and wriggled free.  Her human dropped her with a muffled oath.

From under the sofa she watched as he examined the scratch on his arm.  It was long and bloody.  Served him right, trying to put her in a box!

Tears were welling in the eyes of the little boy, and Katze felt a little shame.  It was true that normally she liked boxes, so it was only reasonable for Georgie to try to put her in one, and he was only four.  He didn’t know any better.

Today was not the day for it though.

The boy was looking at her again.  He sniffed.  “I don’t understand you, Katze.  If I left you alone you would probably go in the box on your own.  Why won’t you help me with my speriment?”

That, right there, that was why.  Experiment.

The boy’s father, Erwin, had explained enough of his experiments to her over the years that she was well acquainted with the word.  And given the experiment that Erwin had been describing to her yesterday, there was no way she was getting in any box today.

Not while the box was held by a Schrodinger.

As any self-respecting Brit will tell you, there is not a lot that a cup of tea can’t fix. Rough day at work? Put the kettle on. Broken heart? Pour yourself a cuppa. Alien invasion? You’ll be ready for an apocalypse as soon as you’ve had your brew.

(From the BBC.)

Alan had just put the kettle on when the classical music was suddenly silenced.  A shocked voice came over the radio in its place.

“This just in… a… I can’t believe I’m going to say this.  An alien space ship has appeared over London.  The craft, which is the size of Hyde Park, has so far not disgorged any aliens, or done anything except circle the city.

“Residents are advised to stay indoors and not try to leave, as the roads would quickly become impassable.

“We will give you further updates as they become available, so stay tuned.”

The music started up again.  A piano concerto, Alan noticed absently.  He mechanically reached for the tea-pot.  It was a beautiful cast iron pot, with a mesh basket for the leaves; it had been a wedding present many years before.  He pulled a tin out of the cupboard and put a spoonful of tea leaves in the pot.  The kettle clicked off, so he poured boiling water over the leaves and placed the lid on top.  By the time the tea had brewed, his mind was starting to work again.

Aliens!  I wish Maria was here, she would have loved this.  I hope they’re friendly.  I wonder why they haven’t shown themselves yet.  Maybe they’re trying to figure out who is in charge.

He poured a cup of tea into his favourite mug – a gift from one of the children, with “World’s Best Dad” splashed across the side.  As he settled into the sofa and picked up his book, the music on the radio suddenly cut off once again.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the spaceship has opened.  Five… humanoid creatures, with blue skin and what are being described as “rabbit-like” ears have emerged on what appears to be a floating platform.  They are floating towards the centre of London.  Hold on… yes, it appears that their target is Buckingham Palace.  We’re going live now to our Palace correspondent, Mark Aldridge.  What can you tell us Mark?”

“Thank you.  I’m standing here in the grounds of Buckingham Palace.  The Queen has refused the requests of her security detail and is standing out here with us, watching the platform approach.  Near her I can see a butler, he is carrying a silver tray containing a tea-pot, cups and saucers.  It appears that the Queen has decided to welcome the aliens to Britain by sharing with them that quintessentially British drink.  An interesting choice.”

“Thanks Mark.  We’re already getting some comments from listeners via Twitter and email.  Suzie from South London says ‘Cuppa tea?  Is the Queen mental?’, while Ron from Berkshire asks if the aliens will understand that it’s a drink.”

Alan searched around until he found the TV remote and flicked it on.  This he had to see.  The TV was already showing BBC News 24, but he suspected it wouldn’t have mattered – this would be on every channel.  Absently he turned off the radio.  The TV cameras were pointing away from the Palace, showing the aliens approaching.  There only seemed to be one reporter; he supposed it must be the same one talking on the radio and the TV.

Slowly, the platform descended.  The aliens – blue, with rabbit ears just like the reporter had said – stepped down onto the Palace grounds.  One of them opened their mouth and emitted a string of nonsense syllables.

“Alaoosh bokdai ik thandk berko, orch ik dram!”

Alan shook his head.  Languages had never been his strong point, but that definitely wasn’t English!  Turns out that aliens can’t all learn our language from TV.  Who would have thought?

The Queen stepped forwards, closely followed by her butler and what Alan could only assume was a bodyguard.

“We welcome you to the United Kingdom.  We hope you will enjoy your time here and make many new friends.  Would you like a cup of tea?”

She gestured to the butler, and he held out the tray.  The Queen took one of the cups and held it, and the man approached the aliens.  The tray shook slightly in his grip.  The lead alien poked the cups with a long finger – it had seven of them – and eventually picked one up.  The other aliens followed the lead of their comrade.

The Queen took a sip of her own drink, and this seemed to encourage the aliens to try theirs.  One of the aliens took a long slurp.  He started making excited sounds and the others all took drinks as well.  They all gestured wildly for a few moments, chittering at each other.

Suddenly, the first alien staggered.  His long ears drooped alarmingly, and he began to tremble.  The blue of his face was slowly turning purple, his eyes bulging.  The other aliens were alarmed, but were staggering and trembling themselves before they could do anything about it.  In a matter of moments, all five of the now purple aliens were lying on the ground, completely still.

The Queen took a step backwards, her hand raised to her mouth.  The reporter was droning on in the background about the terrible smell, but Alan wasn’t listening.  Had the Queen just killed five alien emissaries with a cup of tea?  He looked at the mug in his own hand with newfound respect.

A giant flash of light lit up the TV screen, and the camera shook wildly.  When the picture cleared the camera was lying on its side.  Alan could see the reporter’s unmoving leg, the rest of his body off camera, and behind him, the Palace in ruins.  It had been completely obliterated with one blast from the alien spaceship.  More flashes of light covered the screen, the camera shaking with each new impact.

And then, quite suddenly, the picture was replaced by static.

“It’s my daughter’s wedding tomorrow.”

The man stood confidently.  He was dressed in a sharp business suit and carried an ornately carved cane.  He wasn’t leaning on the cane; it was more an affectation, a sign that he was wealthy and should be respected.


The voice that came from the shadows was gravely and indistinct.  It was hard to tell whether it was a man or a woman, young or old, or even whether the person was interested.

“I want the day to be perfect.”  A hint of impatience touched the business man’s voice.  He had been assured that this person could provide what he needed, though at a price.  Why were they being deliberately obtuse?


“It can’t rain.  The ceremony is outside, it will ruin her day if it rains.  She’s my daughter, my little girl.”  He was almost pleading now.  Was this person, this absurdly named Weatherman going to make him come out and say it?

When the rumours had begun to circulate last year of a new invention which could control the weather, everyone had been sceptical.  Most had assumed it was some sort of internet prank, but there were a few who had made the effort to seek out the inventor and ask for their help.  Those who had, had reported success – sun for the holiday, rain for the garden, clear skies for fireworks.  It seemed there was no end to the power of the Weatherman, despite the fact that nobody had seen his face.

Of course, those who had met with failure likely wouldn’t admit it, given the exorbitant prices charged.  There were rumours of favours owed as well, which worried the businessman more.  Money he could afford.


The businessman’s hand tightened on the head of his cane and his lips thinned.

“Well?” he snapped, “Can you help me or not?  I’ll pay whatever it takes.”

There was a pause, just long enough for the man to become nervous.  He shifted his weight uneasily.  The shadowy figure leaned forward, stopping just short of the edge of the light.  The businessman could hear a certain tone in the voice that made him wonder exactly what he had just agreed to.

“I can.”

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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