Who is Hal Brandt?

I think I’m getting the hang of Twitter. It’s for those news stories that don’t merit a full blog post, just a quick one-liner. Those where the idiocy speaks for itself.

This post is not about smoking or politics. It’s about the inner workings of a writer’s mind and where ideas come from. It may bore you to tears. You have been warned.

My job at Local Shop requires little thought, most of the time. It has been most helpful in showing me how happy, compliant drones think, which is very useful for ‘Panoptica’.

Stimpy, the new guy, is absolutely perfect. He switches off if the conversation gets away from his narrow comfort zone. Literally. It’s like watching a robot go into power-saving mode. Bring it back into his comfort zone and he’s fully animated again. I’d never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it. You can turn him on and off like a light bulb, with just a few words. Imagine a society full of people conditioned to do that. You don’t have to imagine very hard.

Since the job is on autopilot I can let my mind wander and hope it comes back. Sometimes it comes back with ‘Hey, what about this then?’ It did that today.

One of the other stories in the works is ‘Channelling’, about a TV fake-psychic who finds the ghosts can really talk to him. This is the one I wrote as a short story, but then found I had a ‘Chapter One’. The first part ends with his total mental collapse. The ghosts can talk to him but he cannot control or filter any of it. He is in a permanent shouting crowd.

In the hospital, he is dosed up with drugs that stop ‘the voices’. This stems from a thought I had years ago when hearijng about such drugs foir schizophrenia. The drugs stop the patient hearing the voices – is that because the voices aren’t real and the drug fixes something? What if the voices are real and the drug just blocks the patient’s ability to hear them?

If he takes the drugs he doesn’t hear or see the ghosts. The hospital won’t let him leave with the drugs at the strength they are using. He has to be on a lower dose or no dose to get out. If they lower the dose, he sees and hears the ghosts again. No way out.

This is where two ghosts come in. The psychic manages to reason with the ghosts. They want him to get messages to their families. He can’t do that if he can’t get out of the hospital. They have to leave him alone so he can convince the doctors to let him go.

The ghosts agree. All but two leave him. One of the two is called Hal Brandt.

That name has a history. Years ago, when rummaging through EVPs posted online (recordings of claimed ghost voices) I came across one that had sparked an argument over what it said. To me it sounded like someone saying, very slowly and clearly, ‘My name is Hal Brandt’. So there might actually be a ghost of that name out there.

I had this fictional ghost introduce himself in the same way. He spoke slowly and clearly. I had no idea why, other than that was how I heard it all those years ago.

There comes a point in writing a story where it’s not work any more. You are no longer struggling to work out what happens next or what a character would do. They come alive and the story wrirtes itself. Motivations and histories just appear. All you are doing is documenting it. This does mean that the beginning will often change completely.

That happened with ‘Channelling’ today when the thought came –  ‘Who is Hal Brandt?’

I realised that he has been doing things that mark him as ‘different’. He has a plan. An agenda. He has a very big use for this psychic and he is not yet telling what it is. Even that introduction – the name spoken slowly and clearly in a ‘Remember this’ kind of way. Hal Brandt is up to something.

Who is he? Where did he come from? How did he die? What is he planning? Hal Brandt has a very interesting backstory and it is linked to the story’s bad guy. This is where a lot of new stories come from. Offshoots of existing ones. It’s why the Blackthorns keep showing up, and why so many stories take place in or near Marchway. One day I will see how all the bits join together – if they do – and the result will probably keep a whole team of psychoanalysts occupied for a very long time.

I think I might have my short story for Halloween. The origin of the ghost called Hal Brandt.

Enough talk. I have plenty of finger-fuel but not much time tonight (early start tomorrow). Still, the wind is howling beautifully, the rain sounds like teeth on the windows and I hear the sound of things breaking in the distance. It’s a perfect writing night.

Have to make the best of it. I might even take the little Acer to work tomorrow, for those quiet patches.


42 thoughts on “Who is Hal Brandt?

  1. I like the cut of your jib with these stories. I am not really a science fiction fan, however your prose is good and transcends the usual ‘lets make a space thing happen to fix the plot’


    • Science fiction isn’t my usual. I’m a scientist so tend to get bogged down in the detail. The writing side tends more towards the supernatural because you really can do whatever you want there.


      • One hypothesis that has the theoretical physicists and astronomers absolutely having kittens is that the underlying physical laws of the universe may not be constants. Granted, the theories do say that under the extreme conditions of the very early universe things were different, but modern theory holds that the entire universe is running on EXACTLY the same set of rules everywhere.

        What if this is not the case?

        If so, this blows Dark Matter out of the water completely, and it also explains a few paranormal things. Before the Internet, and specifically internet search engines, nobody thought that folklore, ghosts and UFO sightings might be linked. After search engines and internet forums became common, it became very obvious that the geographical areas with a lot of UFO reports also had a lot of ghostly activity, and a lot of assorted other folkloric activity.

        Effectively, the rules change from place to place. Some areas are simply easier for these sorts of paranormal things to manifest in than are others. People differ, too; some simply cannot tolerate a dose of the weird or the unknown, whilst for others the certainty of fairies or boggarts or ghosts in the neighbourhood is not at all unsettling (with the exception of one man who lived in Solihull, and knew for certain he had Fairey’s at the bottom of his garden, but that’s an entirely different shaggy dog story).

        Your Marchway area may just be one such area. Pendle district, where I live, is reputedly quite unusual, as are the Pennines and places such as Lothersdale and indeed Longdendale. Weird things happen in such places.


        • I made some use of the Pendle witches in ‘Jessica’s Trap’ (set some time after their deaths). Also the old magician-monk that Elizabeth Southern took her ‘Demdike’ nickname from. It’s a place I really must visit one day.

          This town doesn’t have much in the way of ghostly activity, despite having a great deal of evidence of continuous occupation for at least 2000 years. There’s even a Pictish stone in the middle of a housing estate. There’s really only the river ghosts and they are recordings, not actual ghosts.

          There are, as I understand, six critical constants that must all be precise or matter can’t hold together. However, we can only measure them locally (in universe terms) so if two changed in a complementary manner in a distant part of the universe, it might still work. There’s no way to know.

          Well, not until we travel to distant galaxies and find our form of matter doesn’t work there… oops.


  2. “He switches off if the conversation gets away from his narrow comfort zone. Literally. It’s like watching a robot go into power-saving mode.”

    I’ve seen it dozens of times, usually when talking about something more substantial than Premiership football, Dr Who or soaps. It’s the reason we now have unelected bodies ruling every aspect of our lives. Ignorance-driven apathy has a lot to answer for.


  3. I came home the other day to a ghost scene. Before I left for a lunch, I had trown some clothes into the dryer and spent 5 minutes killing ants with a heat gun. They overwhelm my basement. When I came back from lunch, the heat gun was on and running, the dryer had been opened and there were a few clothes on the floor like they had jumped out of there, and I was ready to go screaming made because all of this was impossible. It is the little thungs that get to you over the years….


    • Ants are VERY intelligent you know… colony mind. And they are also the only species outside of home sap that knows how to wage war.

      You made the mistake of firing the first shot.

      Be afraid.

      Be VERY afraid.

      After you’ve been dragged into an ant nest, no one can hear you scream….

      – MJM


    • To get rid of ants, you need to work on their gullibility. Ants, you see, whilst smart as a colony are stupid little buggers out on their own. They can never pass up a free drink, and being silly little sods tend to share the good news with all their mates.

      What you do is make a solution of borax in water, then mix this into some treacle. Put a drop of this where the ants can find it. If they turn up their noses, you’ve got too much borax in it; dilute it with a bit more water and treacle. The reaction you’re looking for is lots of the little sods turning up and forming a ring round each drop of treacle-borax solution, scoffing away.

      As long as there are ants in the basement, keep on supplying them with this borax-laced treacle solution. After a week or so, you should be seeing a marked decrease in the ant population (if not, increase the borax concentration a bit).

      What’s happening is that the first ant to find the drop of sweet poison has a good long drink, then runs back home secreting a smell that says to other ants “An ant just found something yummy to eat!”; other ants then follow this trail and also find the drop. All these ants take the poison back to the nest in their stomachs and feed it to their friends, and to the queen ant.

      Borax is a slow stomach poison for insects, so the effects take several days to build up but the advantage with ants is that as they share food, the entire colony will end up getting a lethal dose.


      • Hmm… Dan, I wouldn’t WANT to kill the whole colony though: I *LIKE* ants! They’re clean and harmless and have their own little communities doing their own little things and I try to avoid killing them unless they really start to invade my space at unreasonable levels and attack my foodies! I don’t want to poison the poor li’l Queen… she’d got a tough life as it is!

        What I prefer to do is one of two things:

        1) Find their pathways in and lay something down that they don’t like and won’t cross. A thin smear of dishwashing liquid works great if the weather is humid enough to keep it from drying out too quickly, but I’m guessing there are probably things with a scent that ants don’t like that might work as well.

        2) Blow smoke at them. They CERTAINLY won’t like the odor, and neither will their nest mates. The message they’ll bring to the nest is “DON’T GO THERE! HE/SHE is a SMOKER!!!” :> Heh, seriously!

        3) If all else fails, just concentrate on wiping out the incomings for a few days. I don’t know this for a fact, but it seems to work, and I *think* they may have an evolutionary behavior involving their scent trails that tells them something like, “Hmm.. I see a lot of footprints in the sand walking toward the patch of forest, but no footprints of anyone coming back from it. Must be a big tiger living in there. Best to go another way today!”

        Soooo…. try being nice to th’ po’ li’l buggers: it *might* work without resorting to Weapons of Mass Destruction!

        Michael, who actually, literally, apologizes to most li’l buggers if he is pushed into killing them. But not to mosquitoes or fleas: they’re attacking ME: they deserve no mercy!


  4. I find the Greens work on the switch on and off topic strategy. They hate fracking and want it stopped and don’t let any facts get in the way of denouncing the good work that they do. Brighton is a good example of their stewardship and Edinburgh is heading along those tracks also (tram reference there).

    Dumbing down has been very popular in the UK for a while now. Poor education equals poor quality intellect does it not? Poor quality jobs, poor quality housing, poor quality life choices. Survival is all.

    Slight aside. Great pity that Utopia didn’t get the promised series 3 & 4. Probably down to it being more of a documentary than fiction. Oh well…


    • Did the Utopia series manage to at least finish Season 2 with a satisfactory pseudo-ending? I always respect a network that gives a series enough notice so that they can try to wrap things up, even if in a less satisfactory fashion than originally planned. Both “The Last Resort” and “Dollhouse” were good examples of that approach.


      • Yes to a degree. There were a few things left. It was reported that they were to get two further seasons but alas no. They may have been sailing close to the wind and getting closer to reality than may have been sensible.


  5. I remember commenting when the foul Wilson was pm that Liebour’s education and defence policies meant that we’d eventually be too thick to be worth defending. I think prescient is the word you’re looking for.


  6. XX Still, the wind is howling beautifully, the rain sounds like teeth on the windows and I hear the sound of things breaking in the distance. It’s a perfect writing night.XX

    Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
    Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
    As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
    “‘Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
    Only this and nothing more.”


  7. It’s a funny thing about ghosts and the paranormal.

    We in the west tend to be sceptical about the existence of ghosts, but in other parts of the world ghosts are an accepted part of life. My wife is from Thailand, and despite being well educated, having a degree and being a professional accountant (about as mundane and down-to-earth a job as you can get), she talks about the paranormal as if it is a real, tangible part of life. Ghosts are normal, and dead relatives regularly manifest themselves in one way or another. She regards my scepticism as a foreigner’s foolishness and lack of understanding of the realities of life.

    Who knows, maybe she’s right.


    • Nun… my Grandmother was from Gällivare, in Sweden. Further North is virtually impossible to go, without getting seriously wet, and nearly as far West as is possible at those latitudes as well, and she was a shaman, whos whole LIFE is spent dealing with the spirit world. And she was one of many.


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