Saturday, June 18, 2005

"Reflexes" - the story behind the story

I want to tell you the story behind a story of mine. The story is called “Reflexes” and I think it is one of the best things I’ve written yet it has taken me two years to find a home for it.

“Reflexes” tells the story of a mixed race Australian couple caught up in a near-future war in the Pacific. It’s an emotional read that isn’t always comfortable. It contains sex and violence and politics but it is about love and loss and the choice we face between forgiveness and revenge. The title alludes to the fact that so many of our actions are not choices but reflexes.

I think part of the reason it took so long to find a homes was that it doesn’t fit easily into a genre – it has sex in it but it’s not erotica – it’s sf but the sex is a little too graphic for some of those sites (hopefully the success of Richard Morgan’s books will make the SF press re-think some of their attitude to sex).

But I think part of the reason I couldn’t place it is that the cynically named “Patriot Act” and the Orwellian wet dream of “Homeland Security” together with the rising number of dead in Iraq have created the perception that it is risky to publish a story like this. It’s ok – even trendy – to publish thoughtful erotica or speculative fiction that deals with difficult issues on far distant worlds but something like “Reflexes” is too close to the here and now and too “un-American” for most websites to handle.

“Reflexes” now has a home at Sedona’s Attic

Sedona’s Attic provides the perfect venue, focused as it is on sex and politics and religion.

Writing “Reflexes” was a strange experience. It met a need in me that just wouldn't leave me alone.

It was 2003 and the war in Iraq was just underway. The Americans, with the mandatory appeal to motherhood and apple pie, called it “Operation Iraqi Freedom", the British, with their usual obscurity, called it “Operation Telic” (which, when you look it up – and I think most people had to - means “Directed or tending toward a goal or purpose; purposeful.”) and the Australians, with a dash of romance or a nod to sports called it “Operation Falconer”.

Together with a lot of folks in Europe, I was depressed by the ease with which European powers slid into America’s wake and another war was started. Living outside the UK and with easy access to the French and German press, it was startling to see the tenuous links being made to weapons of mass destruction and operational support for Bin Laden. When Bush gave Hussein 48 hours to get out of Dodge, it seemed incredible to me that any one could see this as something other than a war driven by Bush’s personal agenda.

It wasn’t America’s involvement I was angry it – it was the countries that followed them, including my own, who, it seemed to me, were either cynically currying favour with Bush or had lost themselves to a rhetoric that could only produce more and more dead bodies. I felt they should have known better and behaved better. I believed that they should have listened to the wishes of their own citizens.

Then I was sent to Australia on business. It was my first time in the country and I’d been looking forward to the trip. I’ve always enjoyed working with Australians back in Europe. I tended to get on well with them – we got each other’s humour and shared a fairly straightforward view of how to get things done – what I think of as the Oz version of Nike’s slogan, “Just Fucking Do It”. And I was staying in Sydney at the Four Seasons Hotel, right in the middle of downtown.

I went to Australia expecting to slide into the place and the culture with only a minimal amount of effort. Maybe it was the timezone difference (which meant I was awake in the middle of the night) or the fact that I was in the uncomfortable role of being the “bloody Pom from headoffice” who had been sent to Sydney to “kick some Ozzy arse”, but I had a difficult time.

In those circumstances, small things grow out of perspective and I became over-sensitive to how white Australia is. I’d just come through India and Thailand and ended up in country that felt more white than the UK (in fact the numbers are about the same).

So I found myself sitting up at night, thinking about the war and researching Australian politics on the web. I realised that part of my reaction to the war had been driven by the exposure I’d had to multinational teams. I’d travelled widely and made friends (and enemies) in many countries and it seemed to me that the war just ignored the humanity of the people on the receiving end. Then I realised that that was too simple – the war ignored or discounted the impact on the soldiers who went to war and on their families.

In the isolation of my hotel room I analysed what I felt and I realised that it was partly anger at politicians who choose to lead through creating fear and hatred, partly contempt for those who let themselves be lead, but mostly sadness for how ordinary and predictable and “normal” it all was. It had happened before. It will happen again.

I used “Reflexes” to discharge some of that emotion: to free myself from a sense of helplessness; to ground myself back in individual human reactions to “regime change” and “pacification”.

I don’t mean this to be a political rant. The whole point of what I have to say is that politics are not the driver here. I wanted to focus on the decisions of individuals in difficult circumstances.

Please take the time to read “Reflexes” and let me know what you think.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


I’ve just spent a few days in London on business. After years of living in a place where, in the nearest big town, the traffic lights turn to flashing amber at 8pm (after that the volume of traffic is too low to need traffic lights) London now comes as a shock to me: the volume of people and traffic, the noise they make, the just-below-the-surface mix of tiredness, aggression and endurance in the faces in the crowd, the ethnic mix, the tourists, every fashion style known to man; it all results in a kind of sensory overload that forces you to tune parts of it out.

I lived in London for a few years, in Belsize Park, down the hill from Hampstead Heath. I enjoyed the energy of the place and it’s resilience, but it never felt like home.

Actually, I can’t think of anywhere that feels like home. The place where I grew up is in my blood but I was pleased to leave it and I visit it rarely. Besides, I’m no longer the person who grew up there and it’s no longer the town I lived in. No one steps into the same river twice and all that.

I travel a lot. Last year I made multiple trips to Australia, Brazil, the US, and India. When I travel, I become an extreme version of myself. On the one hand I isolate myself, never choosing to speak to others, resisting asking for help, trying to stay inside my head. On the other, I absorb the flavours of the place and the behaviours of the people avidly. My job means that my days are long and filled with people talking English and acting within the boundaries of corporate culture. At the end of such days I just want to eat and sleep. Occaisionally, the corporate forcefields are switched off and I make contact with people: one colleague cooked me a meal at her home in Germany, Indian colleagues shared the festival of colour with me and invited me to their homes, Latin American colleagues value longevity in relationships and now embrace me on meeting and keep me out late at night drinking.

But mostly, I’m an outsider. Hell, who isn’t? J The difference is how you react to being outside. If I’m not careful, I turn it into a badge of honour. What a thing to have on your gravestone “I stayed outside and sulked”

Strange isn’t it, that someone who writes so much of intimacy, should avoid it so often? And yet I wonder whether that is one of the reasons why I can write about it.

Or maybe writing is part of how I deal with locking myself up so tightly.

This time around in London, I was being pitched as the major expert on the topic of the month: one large consultancy giving advice to one very large company on how to make more money than before. Being a a major expert is a comfortable place to be. But it wasn’t always like that. My first year or two working for a big consultancy I felt sure that someone would finally notice that I had no right to be there. I would enter our big headquarters and feel I had more in common with the guys running security than the guys running the company.

On the way home from one of those visits I wrote the first draft of story called “London”. It’s one of my few gay stories. I don’t know why I made the character (me) gay. Perhaps to reinforce a sense of difference. Perhaps, because, as the author, I can do what I want to characters.

I’ve decided to include the story here so you can see the overlap between Mike Kimera and the guy who pays the bills.


© 2002 Mike Kimera All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without written permission from

I had forgotten how pretty London can be. Full of energy and life, light and money. Dressed in Christmas finery, it sparkles and displays itself. Beckoning you to eat here or watch a play there, but never to pause, to just stand and breathe in the night. London streets are like rivers, you swim or you drown.

Pushing through shoals of tourists, I descend into the Underground at Piccadilly, heading to the discrete hotel in Marylebone where you, I hope, will soon be running my bath. I imagine your strong forearm testing the temperature of the water.

I fell in lust with you because of your forearms. You looked so fierce in the club, naked to the waist, arms folded across your sculpted chest, blue eyes blazing in challenge. New boy in town, signalling top not bottom and determined to be taken seriously. I might have passed you by, found less troublesome company, but I needed to trace the corded muscle of your forearms, wanted to test the softness of the blond hair that covered them. The club was too loud for conversation. I placed my hand over yours, waiting for an invitation. You stared at me but didn’t move. Gently I slid my fingers down towards your elbow. Still you did not move. I made to turn away, disappointed but not surprised. Most likely you wanted someone younger. Then you did it. You grasped my wrist, pulled me to you, and kissed me. With that first kiss you sucked out my soul. With the second you gave it back, marked as your property, to be used for your needs.

Taking my seat on the Tube I place the bottle of champagne that I was given today, between my legs. It sits there proudly. I know you will sneer at its pretension, swigging straight from the bottle to show your contempt. I smile at the thought of your lips around it.

The champagne is a token of my visit to Head Office today. The place stinks of alpha male aspirations. The entrance is a vast cave of green marble with water flowing over lighted glass and tasteful uplighters highlighting the vaulted ceilings and the corporate art. “We are here” it says, “By the river, rich, successful, see how well we’ve done”. My heart should swell with pride as I exercise my right to go there. Except I keep wanting to click my heels together and have my ruby slippers bring this game of vanity and boast to an end. “Surely” I want to say, “You can not be serious.”

I’ve was called in to HQ to be blessed for a year of achievement; stroked and petted and encouraged. It is so much a boys club (though half the people there were women). Gold stars for over achievers and a nice report card to take home to mummy. If only they knew who I really go home to.

Many of my colleagues are nice people: pleasant dinner companions; well travelled; well read; well bred. I am their token rebel. The one who has such an amusing disregard for forms and procedures. Perhaps a little too intense. A little too critical. Never quite relaxes. Never quite becomes… one of us.

There perhaps is the thorn on the rose. That little prick of class. Of Eton and Cambridge or Harrow and Oxford. Of generations of education and money and ease. Not their fault but mine. I cannot, will not, become… one of us.

Of course a much bigger prick, yours, separates me from them. You are my class warrior, with your working class voice and your fuck-off-and-die attitude to the chattering classes. I wonder how they would react, these colleagues of mine, if they knew that I daydream of the taste of your cum in my mouth and the fierce heat of your cock in my arse.

The tube spits me out. The night is cold and cloudless. I stand in the relative quiet of the square, in front of our hotel, the first place where you ever let me sleep the whole night in your arms, and realise that because of you I can stand still in those London streets. I can let the river of people flow past me and I will not drown. For a few seconds I let myself absorb the London night. Let myself feel the beauty of new light on old stone and see the red of the buses and the black of the cabs in the warm glow of the stores and cafes and theatres. The city doesn’t care that I’m back, but I’m glad to feel its pulse again.

I shed all thoughts of work like a coat on a too hot day and mount the steps of the hotel with the same eagerness that you will soon mount me and eclipse the tiresome world with the intensity of your lust.