Eating Authors: Neal Asher

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Neal Asher

As has been the case with the last few posts, this one is being prepared in advance because on the date it goes live, I’ll be traveling. Specifically, I should be recovering from my time as a GoH at APSFcon in Beijing. That ended yesterday, and I need to rest up because now it’s time to play tourist and tomorrow the plan is to visit the Great Wall, something which I suspect this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Neal Asher, could certainly appreciate.

Neal is probably most known for his Polity Universe and the multiple novels and series he’s set there (some sixteen books, to date), including his Agent Cormac series, his Spatterjay trilogy, and the Transformation books.

Much of his shorter fiction (including many novellas) can be found in six collections. He also has several fantasy novels and series that he’s still tinkering with, which we can but hope will surface in bookstores soon.

His latest novel, The Warship (the second book in his Rise of the Jain series) came out from Night Shade Books earlier this month.

LMS: Welcome, Neal. Please tell me about your most memorable meal.

NA: The meal was memorable not because of wonderful food but circumstances, perspective and background. First the background: It had been decades since I’d dreamed of being a writer, of seeing my name on lurid covers like the copy of A Princess of Mars I held in my hand as a teenager. I had nearly twenty books to my name, had completed to first draft a trilogy before I needed to hand in the first book, and my wife and I were embarking on another extended and enjoyable Summer on Crete. Life was good and, even when she turned round and told me, ‘I’m bleeding, down there,’ this being some years after her menopause, life had yet to descend into a nightmare. The trilogy written was called ‘Transformation’ and to some extent concerned people undergoing nightmarish transformations. Synchronicity I guess.

The Soldier

I’ll be brief, and it was all quite brief considering how these things often run. Steady blows at doctors and in a hospital on Crete: the mass of black blobs under ultrasound, the MRI showing a growth the size of a baby’s head, the Greek oncologist never quite saying the truth, the hideous hospital where relatives cleaned down the beds and all around them before their loved one took that place, and the subsequent escape and flight to the UK. All steps ever down. In the UK: emergency rehydration and feeding through the arm, the massive operation and the news of ‘Bowel cancer, stage four’, vomited green bile measured in a jug, and recorded, another operation and the ileostomy bag, carrying my 5 stone wife to the toilet, the decision to stay at home and that final, ‘Oh no,’ as she threw herself across the bed to escape something, and did not. Seven months from that bleeding, to a coffin sliding into a crematorium.

Dark Intelligence

I came out of the other side of this walking. They say that people try to handle grief in four different ways. They take pills, hit the bottle, work excessively or exercise excessively. I chose the last of these, along with ceasing to drink to excess, as I had before, and having quit smoking using an ecig. I walked every day to try and keep the black dog from my door, starting with just a few miles and getting up to about seven miles every day. I shed weight, helped by the fact that I ate infrequently, and toughened up. Returning to Crete I continued with this, now walking steep paths in the mountains and finally settling on an eight mile walk to a place called Voila (pronounced voy-la). I considered writing a strange book incorporating SF and my experiences called ‘Walking to Viola’ – something I started then found too painful to go through with.

I added swimming to my regimen, often walking in the morning then swimming for a mile in the afternoon from a local beachside bar. How much this had toughened me I only truly realised when I started gorge walking there. Meanwhile, I went through days when my body registered its objection to running on empty. I would wake up feeling incredibly hungry, eat something then fall asleep for a couple of hours, then repeat this sequence all day. Food obviously being a necessity I could not ignore I resorted to the giros. This is pork sliced from a skewer (a giro) and along with salad and chips wrapped in a pitta bread to form a cone. They are a meal in and of themselves.

Prador Moon

One particularly hot day I went on a long gorge walk. I think this might have been ten miles through rough terrain in the mountains. Returning to the coast I swam for a mile, then relaxed. However, a Greek guy I had been joking with at one time about a swimming race, chose that day to challenge me. We raced for a mile and he won (he was 20 years younger). Afterwards, as I cooled down, I decided I really needed food so ordered in two giros. I went for another short swim and on the way back cramp hit me first in one calf and then in the other. It felt like being hit there with a hammer and I finished the swim using arms only, then limped out of the sea up to the bar. My giros had arrived and, after sipping a beer, I dived in. I ate a chip and it just did not taste right. Adding salt improved the next chip, so I added more. At the time I remembered a gym instructor once ranting about how extra salt is unnecessary and we have too much. Laughable in the circumstances. By the time the giros tasted right I could hardly see its contents for the salt, and I could feel my body sucking it up and saying thank you. I enjoyed it immensely.

My memorable meal.

One would have hoped this marked a point of transition, of transformation, as would be the case in any story well told. Perhaps now I would stop pushing myself so hard and make my peace with the past. No. The bar owner introduced a new plot element when he told me he had a kayak I could use, and the story continued in a similar vein for years, and continues still. Life can be a story, but infrequently has a satisfying denouement, I know.

Thank you, Neal. I usually close out these meal posts with some attempt at a clever remark. Not this week though. I think I’ll just sit with this one for a while. Peace.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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