Who is Cameron Forrest?

In which the real author reveals his fictional self.

Well, obviously Cameron Forrest is not my real name. It says so at the back of the novel. Or maybe it is my real name. Psyche!

No, really, it isn’t. Cameron isn’t a real person, but he is a lot like me. He is male and heterosexual. Married with at least one child. If you’ve read my novel Respite, you can probably guess that I am Canadian, that I use cannabis and love saunas. Really, if you’ve read the book, you likely think you know a lot about me already.

But I’m not really Cameron, and he is not really me. And neither one of us is Mark, the central character in the novel, who ends up being a writer as well. It’s pointless to deny that there are similarities between Mark and myself. For me at least, it’s easiest to write about what I know. But it’s also true that this is a work of fiction, not an autobiography. Some of the events in Respite could have happened to me, and maybe some of them even did, although not exactly as they are portrayed there. It makes it kind of fun: an alternate reality, the way my life could have turned out, but didn’t.

The decision to write under a pen name, and not to reveal my true identity, was a tough one, and I’m still uncertain about it. After all, I’m certainly not ashamed of Respite, in fact I’m very proud of it. I’ll go into the reasons for that decision in another post. And I’m pretty sure that if someone really wants to make the effort, they can find out who I am; after all, I’m no expert at cyber security. But I’m not too worried about that: at least it would mean that someone has read my novel! Still, dear reader, I’d prefer to remain anonymous, at least for the time being. Why not just accept that, and have fun with it? Try to guess which parts of the novel are more true-to-life than others. Try to imagine yourself as Mark, or as Monica; what it was like to be one of them. That’s what I did.

Why did I use a pen name?

I’m not ashamed of anything I wrote in Respite. In fact I am proud of the novel. Of necessity I’ve read it several times and actually think it is quite good for a first effort. Certainly better than many other self-published books I have struggled to read.

So why not publish it under my own name?

It wasn’t an easy decision, and I laboured long and hard over it. In the end, it just seemed that publishing under a nom de plume was the easiest way, the path of least resistance. In a sense, I lack the courage to publish Respite under my real name.

I am a working professional, and the face I present to my colleagues is probably not someone they would expect to write a book like this. My other friends and some of my family would probably be similarly surprised. Of course there is nothing wrong with revealing a new and perhaps surprising side of yourself to people who think they know you, but you have to be prepared to deal with the consequences. My fear was and is that family and friends I have known for years would see me in a different way, and that would affect our relationships. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I am actually quite content with my life the way it is. I feel no need to rock the boat.

These days, self publishing is so easy, convenient and cheap that anyone can do it. There is no need for anyone else to be involved. It is therefore completely possible to publish any number of books without anyone else knowing. It must have been much more difficult to do that back in the day: at least a handful of people would have known the true identity of the author and they would have to maintain the secret. Even so, there is a long tradition of authors publishing under pseudonyms, including such well known names as Mark Twain and George Orwell.

Publishing under a pseudonym allows me to keep my ordinary workaday life separate from my life as an author. I can have a secret identity, and that’s actually kind of fun. It also avoids any awkwardness that would result from old friends finding out that I could write a book like this. Some people are less open minded than others, and in my experience people become more closed-minded with age. And I am of an age… All that said, I am not that concerned if my identity becomes known. After all, it would mean that someone cared enough to bother. I am no expert at cyber security so I expect it wouldn’t be a difficult task to find out who I am. If it happens, so be it. But I had the choice, and I chose to remain incognito, at least for now. If (as I expect) hardly anyone reads the book, I won’t have to explain myself to those people close to me who might. The book will have to stand on its own merits. So will Cameron.

Why did I write Respite?

Good question. I’m not really sure…

Although I’ve always been an avid reader, I have never had a burning ambition to be a writer. I do write quite a lot in my regular work, but it is, in the main, highly technical stuff. Every statement backed up by a citation and a reference. No humour and not much style. Pretty boring, really. It’s not the kind of writing I think anyone enjoys, but it has to be done so I do it. I’m pretty good at it, too.

I’ve often heard or read about authors who claim they love writing. I respect and admire that, but it is not the case for me, most of the time. That said, the way I ended up writing Respite made it much more interesting and fun than it would have been otherwise. But most of the time, for me at least, writing is drudgery.

A few years before I started writing Respite, I started a blog. It had a miniscule audience, consisting mainly of my Facebook friends. But it was during this period that I discovered the inspirational power of cannabis. That, more than anything else, inspired me to write the book. It just seemed to me that now I had something to say. That I could write a novel that would be original and new and not like anything else out there. And it seemed to me that if I could do it, I should do it.

So I set a goal for myself to write a novel. Just one. I had and still have no ambition to pursue a career as an author. I just wanted to complete one book.

So I did. It wasn’t easy. It took about three years, albeit certainly not working on it anywhere close to full time. After all, I still had to make a living doing my real job. But I found that if you keep plugging away, writing just a little bit every day, it slowly comes together. And then, suddenly one day, it is finished, and you wonder, what now?

I am under no illusions that this book will be a best-seller and make me famous. It is likely that it will be read by very few. After all, not even my Facebook friends will know that I have written it, so even my former audience is out of reach. But I hope that some will. In the end it is just something I thought I could do, a goal fulfilled. I am satisfied with that. If a few people read and even enjoy it, that will just be icing on the cake for me.

How did I write Respite?

I am gloriously high right now, reclining on a chaise-lounge in my back yard, facing the forested ridge behind. I am well shielded from the neighbours here and no one can see me unless they really make an effort. My housecoat is open, exposing my naked body to the sky. It’s fall now, crisp and cool and the stars are bright. I can actually see vapour coming off my body, still hot and wet from the sauna.

I take out my little solid state voice recorder. I try not to use it in the sauna –  not a friendly environment for electronics: I have already fried two predecessors that way. I press record and just start talking. The words seem to flow quickly and effortlessly from some deep corner of my mind. I am just the narrator: the story seems to come from a place that I can’t get to any other way.

And that, in essence, is how Respite got written. It is true that the entire book was composed while I was high on cannabis. My usual modus operandi would be to vape some cannabis while the sauna was warming up, inhaling about five draws from the tiny amount of weed in the glass crucible. Not too much: just enough. Then I’d enter the sauna, letting the waves of heat and loyly (steam from tossing water on the stove rocks) wash over me, relaxing every fibre of my being. Letting the cannabis high take hold. The combination of cannabis and the sauna is one of the best things in life.

After I was sufficiently broiled I would troop outside, recorder in hand. Or sometimes I would wait until I had finished the sauna and record afterwards. Either way, I found that ideas came to me easily this way. They just flowed. But, as anyone who has used cannabis will know, it does have an effect on memory. It is very easy to forget those mind-blowing ideas you had a few minutes ago. That is why an easy way of recording was so important to getting this done.

A typical recording would be ten or twelve minutes long, and contain enough material for a few pages. I made a rule: I would not make a new recording until I had committed the old one to paper. That way they stayed fresh in my mind, and I didn’t build up a backlog of recordings.

Some of the recordings were very complete, and were transcribed almost verbatim. But usually, they  supplied the basic ideas, which I filled out during my evening writing sessions. A couple of times I did try to actually write while high. It didn’t work. The ideas still came, but I found I couldn’t type them in fast enough to keep up with myself. And I made a lot of mistakes: I am not a good typist while stoned. All in all it was far better to make recordings and transcribe them later, while in a more sober state of mind.

By the time Respite was finished, I had made 223 recordings. I still have all of them…

This worked for me, and I am pretty sure that Respite would never have been written if I hadn’t found this way of doing it. Writing isn’t fun for me: I know some authors say it is, but for me it is, in the main, quite tedious and I find it difficult to stay focussed. But doing it this way kept me going. Every time I got discouraged, I would get some more ideas while stoned in the sauna, and the cycle would continue. Eventually, the book got finished.

I have no plans to write another book. For now, I am happy to be able to just let my mind wander in the sauna. Let the ideas and thoughts remain ephemeral. But who knows? I never really expected to write a novel, so I can’t rule it out. And there is a lot more I could tell about Mark and Monica.

Why so much sex?

There is a lot of explicit sex in Respite. Many would say that there is too much. But really, what is the “right” amount of sex for a novel like this?

A lot of – maybe most – modern mainstream fiction has at least some sexual content. In most of the fiction I read, it is more implied than graphic. The lovers meet, a passionate kiss, collapsing on the bed, then the chapter ends. The reader knows what has happened, but is left to fill in the details in her imagination. To me this is unsatisfying.

It is undeniable that most people are very interested in sex. And why shouldn’t they be? It is one of the most important motivators in our lives. In a very real and tangible way it connects us with all other life on earth. Lets us be who we are as humans, and as animals with a connection to our past and our future.

I also think that most people, with some exceptions, find nothing morally repugnant about sex, as long as it occurs between consenting adults. If you’ve managed to get through Respite, it is highly unlikely that you are a prude.

For those few who do find my graphic and detailed depictions of sex between loving, consenting adults to be offensive, I have a simple message: you shouldn’t have read the book. Of all the storytelling art forms – film, theatre, music – the written word is the one that requires the most effort by the audience. It is beyond easy to put down a book. Sure, you can leave a film, or skip a song, but that requires effort and decision. To not read or stop reading a book is actually easier than reading it. So if you don’t like it, stop reading. No one is forcing you.

I enjoy reading depictions of sex, but I am not a big fan of genre erotica, although I do read it occasionally. The sex can be enticing, spicy and well-written, but to me there is something missing. A lack of balance. I want to read about real people in genuine relationships, facing real challenges, experiencing real joys and sorrows. And having super-hot sex, described in exquisite and loving detail. Because that’s a real and important part of life too.

It also seems to me that most genre erotica depicts sex in a way that is unrealistic for most people. Sure, it can be hot to read about people fucking in a way that you probably never will. But sometimes the depictions are anatomically impossible or, even more commonly, unlikely to be pleasurable for one of the partners. This latter is a turnoff for me: sex should be a joyous experience for all participants.

So I don’t think there is too much, or even a lot of sex in my first novel. I think there is just the right amount. And it is sex between people who care about one another, who want to give each other that greatest of human pleasures. That to me joy to read and fun to write.