Ten Minutes on Mars,
One of my favourtite albums from way back in the day was Black And White by The Stranglers, four men on top of their game with something to say and with all the artful means of saying it. The stand out track for me was Toiler On The Sea. Even as I write this I can hear it my mind which drifts and bobs, a fragile vessel floating rudderless on dark waters, slipping between icebergs of memory that could crush me to fine sand. I say memory but that is just my clumsy shorthand for unprocessed thoughts, half chewed and torn notions of reality. The shifting land mass that is the past, most of which only exists between our ears and which will only be around as long as we are, like a nick name or a tattoo.
Jonathan fisher, a toiler on the sea if ever there was one, does that with this collection of eighteen short stories collected under the title of Ten Minutes On Mars. He retraces his steps, he takes us back up north , loses us in a fog, to paraphrase the lyrics of that Stranglers Song. He loses us in a fog that drifts about the parameters of Halloween Town, a place that exists only between the authors ears and as long as he is around. His book is a record of that place and time and its recent past, placing it right here in linear time. Fortunately the author has not left us without a way out if things prove too much for us.
We escape off the edge of the page, lost in the dreamy wee hours in the author’s company because at night our stories come alive.
Not an option for the main character in the story The Long Day And Night Of John Callisto , a man battling a merciless foe in the battlefield of his own body. A never ending battle that occurs every day and all through the night, one that will never allow a day off, consider a truce or even a Christmas day cessation of hostilities. In heart breaking personal detail we follow the course of an average day in that man’s life as he prepares for another day, as he waits for the arrival of his nurses and care workers who get him ready for that day, their humanity as potent a tonic as any medicine, their company as valued as sunlight breaking through the foliage of ancient trees, like William Blake’s sparkling angel faces winking at him through the branches, promising him that everything will be okay.
It is an intimate tale, harrowingly so at times. Absorbing this amount of detail referring to the minutiae of getting ready to face the day, one cannot help but assume some level of autobiography. Particularly when one has some personal knowledge of the writer’s medical history, knowledge the author quite openly shares. For in his own words Jonathan Fisher is a survivor.
To be precise he is the survivor of an event called an Addisonian Crisis (Addison’s Disease is a long term endocrine disorder in which the adrenal glands do not produce enough steroid hormones), which affected him so badly doctors feared he would not recover, slipping into a coma which lasted three months. His Mother paid no attention to admittedly well-meaning medical advice to switch off his life support system as they said he was brain dead. However she became convinced he would recover after noticing he was reacting to her with occasional slight movements of his little finger, encouraging her not to give up on her son and his possible recovery. Against all the odds he has made a remarkable recovery, even regaining many of the skills he lost as a result of his condition. Addison’s Disease is a rare enough condition and it is also a rare enough thing for a sufferer to make the progress he has.
Jonathan Fisher is a familiar figure in his hometown of Lisburn in Northern Ireland as he gets about its streets in his electric powered wheel chair. Some of the effects of the crisis was to leave him with a considerable speech impediment and he also experiences great difficulty using his hands. Never the less he can operate a keyboard and has penned two books. The first being August Always while the second is Ten Minutes On Mars. Here is a short sound bite from the man himself as he speaks about the forces which compel him to write. “There are moments in life which define us, like birth and death. Along the journey there will be a crisis of passion, of love, of faith and desire, but none as devastating as an Addisonian Crisis. I am Jonathan Fisher, a survivor.”
The other inspirations and influences on the eighteen stories contained within the anthology are worn quite openly on the author’s sleeves,no where more so than on the beautiful painted cover by Lisburn artist Paul Malone which joyously celebrates a strong Ray Bradbury influence. A hand-painted wooden sign on the Martian surface is a tellingly wry visual clue to the path we travel down in Jonathan Fisher’s company. The stories vary in length and tone, some are funny, some are sad, some are exciting and insightful. Some, like reality itself, bleed off the edges of the page.
Jonathan was only twenty-two when he was subject to his full blown Addisonian Crisis , which manifested with appalling effect, leaving him speechless, paralysed, brain-damaged and almost given up on by medical authorities. After this steepest of learning curves he said; “one of my goals in life was to become an author. I have now achieved that. The other is to walk again. I am making slow but steady progress towards achieving that goal.”
I know that Ten Minutes On Mars is Jonathan’s second book but in truth it feels so much more the debut. Perhaps it is because we get a stronger taste of his genre busting abilities as opposed to the intimacy of a memoir which is what his first book was, both books as equally powerful for different reasons. Yet if you were to come to the table with a finished copy of Ten Minutes On Mars I would be surprised if you were not sufficiently intrigued by his writing not to also explore August Always.
Ten Minutes On Mars.
It really is a lifetime.