Hello again. Time for another update. I started writing this on (mostly) sunny Barra, at the end of a short holiday. As always happens when we go there, we both relaxed … oh, pretty much at full tilt, really: walking on pristine beaches, listening to the quietness – or distant Atlantic rollers – eating just-caught seafood, chatting to the friendly islanders, going to Cockle Strand to watch the daily plane land on the beach, and either collecting cowries (Adele) or building dams (me). Basically Barra brings out the inner six-year old in both of us. And if I fail to mention the scallop pakora it’s only because I want to make sure there will always be enough for us whenever we make it back here.

We then spent a few nights in the Isle of Eriska hotel, mostly contemplating all our good intentions regarding doing lots of sporty stuff – actual swimming, attempting to play badminton, even just walking round the island – from our hot tub. (Adele points out that this is basically just a bath on the outside of your house, but it seems so much more socially desirable than having a lav at the bottom of the garden.)

The latest medical news is that my bilirubin level continues to fall and I have an appointment for a CT scan at the end of the month. If my bilirubin is below 50 – and if the tumours have behaved themselves – then chemotherapy will be an option, with these new CT results forming the base line for measuring the improvements chemo might provide. If the scan shows the tumours have been over-enthusiastic during the last couple of months, then – as I understand it – chemo would be pointless. Assuming it is an option I’ll probably try chemo and see how I react, but if it wipes me out each time I shan’t be persevering.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading the posts on the site. So far I’ve reached page 60, which is getting on for a third of the way through. Still knocked out by the love and the depth of feeling coming from so many people; thank you, all of you. A few posts with unlikely-sounding cures get skimmed and an even smaller number skipped, following mention of one or more religious Arooga! terms, but together they account for less than one percent of the total.

I wish I did have the time to reply to everybody individually but I don’t. I think I’ll only comment on any of the posts if there’s something factually wrong mentioned in them, and so far the only point I can remember is one where an ex-neighbour of ours recalled (in an otherwise entirely kind and welcome comment) me telling him, years ago, that my SF novels effectively subsidised the mainstream works. I think he’s just misremembered, as this has never been the case. Until the last few years or so, when the SF novels started to achieve something approaching parity in sales, the mainstream always out-sold the SF – on average, if my memory isn’t letting me down, by a ratio of about three or four to one. I think a lot of people have assumed that the SF was the trashy but high-selling stuff I had to churn out in order to keep a roof over my head while I wrote the important, serious, non-genre literary novels. Never been the case, and I can’t imagine that I’d have lied about this sort of thing, least of all as some sort of joke. The SF novels have always mattered deeply to me – the Culture series in particular – and while it might not be what people want to hear (academics especially), the mainstream subsidised the SF, not the other way round. And… rant over.

And now a word about cars. Six years ago, to the immense chagrin of my then girlfriend, now wife, Adele, who was just getting used to heated leather seats, doors that close with a reassuring thunk rather than a tinny wobble and the sight of the adjacent landscape blurring past in bewildering pulses of extreme acceleration, I decided to get rid of all the flash cars (this is another odd little myth that seems to have grown up; that Adele somehow forced or persuaded me to do all this. Ha ha. I don’t think so. I’m an easy-going individual, but I’m immensely stubborn too, and the instant I think somebody’s trying to get me to do something just because it suits them, I tend to go into High Umbrage mode. Also, Adele thinks it’s hilarious that anyone imagines she could persuade me to do something I didn’t want to do). This was no dramatic conversion to the Green cause; just thirty years of reading New Scientist and finally admitting to myself that regardless of what anybody else thought or did, I had to acknowledge the force of the argument and the evidence behind it and stop trying to fool myself; even if it was just a matter of clearing my own conscience I had to reduce my carbon hoof-print. (I stopped flying, too.) However… in the light of my recent bad news, I decided that – as it looked like I was going to be saving on the next twenty/thirty years of personal carbon output – I could indulge myself a bit. Hence flying to Venice. And also hence, even before we got married, buying a six year old BMW M5. An M5 V10 with 500 of your Earth horsepowers. So I am back to scudding round the Highland roads again with a big grin on my fizzog (well, when I can grin, and the acceleration/braking force isn’t distorting my face like somebody taking part in an early NASA rocket sled experiment). Got heated leather seats, too…

Anyway, it suddenly strikes me that a lot of the above is digressive. Apologies. To get back to the real point of all this, I want to say thank you to all of you for your messages, your memories, your wit, your sympathy and your kind, supportive thoughts. It means a lot, almost more than I can say, and – whatever type or size of screen I read the comments on – I come away from the computer, laptop, iPad or phone with a happy smile on my face.

Oh, and that bit in the last update, about telling the writers and artists you most admire now, before they’re dead? Done it; or at least started the process. I sent what was basically a fan letter to Alasdair Gray a couple of weeks ago, telling him how much his work has meant to me, then last night I got to tell Mike (as in M John) Harrison something very similar. Doing that made me feel good too.

All the best


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