Authors/New Voices Tom Heaton

Writer’s Blog: Tom Heaton – How To Resurrect a Head

First you need a head.
And if you want an ancient head then you have to be lucky. You’re aware of perfectly preserved mammoths trapped in ice flows? Same principle here. You need a head that’s been cryogenically frozen thousands of years before the technology was available. Imagine a freshly severed head falling directly into the ice flow at the moment of death. The blood freezes in the veins. The nervous system shuts down. Thoughts, memories, emotions are trapped like insects in aspic.
Good. Now you have your head. Remove it carefully from the ice but do not allow it to defrost. Not yet.
The general idea of the next stage is that you’re going to provide the head with everything it needs from a body, but without having to actually supply and maintain a body. You don’t need a stomach, lungs, legs, arms, guts and genitals. Far too much hassle. All you need is blood of the right type carrying the oxygen and nutrients that the head needs, because that’s all the body supplies. Reasonably straightforward.
Now you need to hook up a whole bunch of the nervous system. Psychologically the head is going to need this. Since the nervous system essentially uses a series of electrical impulses, you should be able to save those signals out as data, store them and play them back. Backward engineering the nervous system is going to require significant biotech that hasn’t been invented yet, so do that first.
Your head is likely to be prone to infection, so keep it in a completely sterile environment. You’ll need to think about power supplies and mobility, things like that, but these are a doddle compared to everything else you’ve already tackled.
Finally, please have on hand a dedicated team of therapists and psychoanalysts. They’re not going to be much use, but at least the head’s subsequent mental breakdown won’t be entirely your responsibility.
And good luck!

Authors/New Voices Tom Heaton

Writer’s Blog: Tom Heaton – Misunderstanding Borges

Tom Heaton’s short story The Last Roman is published in Breve New Stories Issue Three. Read it now!

I think I must have read Borges’ Labyrinths just before I wrote ‘The Last Roman’. Certainly I read it around that time. I was taken with the Borges’ demonstration that a story didn’t have to be contemporary, didn’t have to ‘relate’, could be quite abstract and cold, could appeal to the intellect rather than the gut, and yet still be compelling.
Critically, a story could create its own world, governed by its own laws, and that autonomy could extend to the structure of the story itself, to the rules of its own construction, its use or abuse or ignorance of familiar techniques, its implicit rejection of the idea of #writingtips, though Borges of course missed out on that most blockable of hashtags.
(Digression. It’s worth spending a few minutes working out what #writingtips as dispensed by Borges might look like. I think he’d stress the importance of alienating the casual reader, the need for ridiculously portentous titles, the necessity to confuse, baffle and then frustrate.1)
Due to Borges’ dense allusive and playful style, many of the stories in Labyrinths are almost impossible to read, and yet contain ideas that are utterly unforgettable. They reveal a difficult path to knowledge. Labyrinths are designed to confuse, of course, to entrap, to house secrets at their core.
I can’t claim that my little story is Borgesian. Borges is inimitable. But I think I wouldn’t have written it if I hadn’t read Borges. I took Borges as permission. My story borrows the trick of starting with a bold and even unsustainable metaphor, then sustaining it, rationalising it, making it concrete. And it also hides2 somewhere in its labyrinth of scenes whatever truth it may contain.

1 Aha, it seems that Borges himself has already beaten me at this game.

2Even from its author.

Authors/New Voices Tom Heaton

Writer’s Blog: Tom Heaton – Decline and Fall. The idea behind “The Last Roman”

Tom Heaton talks about what inspired his short Story ‘The Last Roman’ published in Breve New Stories Issue Three.

In times of great political, social and cultural upheaval, it’s vital to maintain the supply of serio-comic short stories.
In our own apocalyptic moment, I took it upon myself to shoulder that burden.
Surveying the rubble of a collapsing civilization, I thought it might be helpful to get the viewpoint of someone who had been there before. So I resurrected a Roman. A Roman, I thought, would at least have first-hand insight into declines and falls.
Unfortunately I got the wrong sort of Roman. I’d hoped for a statesman, an intellectual, someone used to the cut and thrust of politics, a meditative and observant actor in the great events of the day. Instead I got Marcellus, an insignificant centurion posted to the very edge of the empire. A self-regarding, small-minded nonentity, blind to the great changes that were happening around him, uninterested in politics: sentimental, petty, fickle. Someone it turned out, who would fit right into our contemporary crisis.
And then Marcellus took over the story. I’d thoughtlessly placed him in a world that he could not begin to comprehend. His mind was stuck on boyhood memories and love affairs from millennia ago. He was static while everything changed around him, a man adrift on time. And there were things he needed to reconcile within himself. Aspects of his character. Regrets. Even after two thousand years, Marcellus still had unfinished business. With himself.
So I failed to write the great short story that would enlighten these dark days for democracy and liberalism. I’m sorry. Instead I give you Marcellus, who will be around long after you are gone, listening to the hum of his glass case, rotating his head, watching and not comprehending.