Next month the people of Scotland will take part in a referendum to decide whether or not Scotland will become an independent country, or whether it will stay in the UK…

Good Luck to all concerned!

Two years ago, I published my short story collection, Storm Damage, and the collection opens with a story called Unicorn One.
To quote from the book’s blurb – “Mission Control in Edinburgh has made a strange choice of astronaut for Scotland’s first ever Independent Space Program”

Or to quote from Unicorn One itself:

“…it is all the weirder to know that, within ten years of standing on that hill with Tommy, I would be selected as Scotland’s first astronaut. Not the first Scot to go into space of course, but the first one to be chosen for Scotland’s Independent Space Program. The world’s media had regarded our endeavour as a joke. Too long had we been seen as England’s or America’s poodle. The German press had shown photographs of our most delapidated, forsaken housing estate ghettoes and asked what kind of people would begin a Space Program with this kind of poverty rampant in their back yard. The most effective journalistic coup against our mission had been perpetrated by a French journalist who placed a YOUWATCH video on the internet which showed a little girl from Glasgow, her front teeth all rotted away from sucking Irn Bru through her baby bottle, being asked if she would like to go into space one day. The little girl had giggled with the stumps and nodded. What hope, the grinning, porcelain-veneered French reporter had asked, for a country with such clayed feet to turn its cheek to the stars?
     Even within the Space Program, I had not been a popular choice for first astronaut. They had turned down pilots and scientists, Marines and arctic explorers, mountaineers and deep sea divers, only to choose me, a hairdresser from a remote Scottish town.
     “It’s necessary nowadays,” they had told me, “to find people the public can relate to. We were going to do it a bit like Z Factor, you know, but we went to the insurers with the idea and when we told them we would be sending the winner into space they pointed to Sarah Doyle and said they would have nothing to do with the idea.”
     “Sarah Doyle’s got a lovely singing voice,” I had replied to them. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of ladies who’ve come to me asking for Sarah Doyle’s exact style, after the makeover I mean.”
     “Yes,” they had said, “but we would not want to send her into space on her own, would we?”
     I could see what they meant, but then why had they chosen me? I know I looked good in the press release photographs, though. The silver suit hugged my hips. I kept the helmet off until the last minute so I wouldn’t crush the light feathering I’d gotten into my hair at the sides by the ears when I blow-dried that morning. For months after that, I’d seen that good photo on the sides of buses and trains. They showed it on the TV news, every time the story came up.
     The media around the world kept asking why on earth Scotland had decided to send an unknown hairdresser into space, when they could have chosen some celebrity the public worshipped. It really seemed to the slick reporters who kept labouring this point that Scotland was out of touch with the zeitgeist of its times.”

          So…Scotland chooses to send an unknown hairdresser into space…
          The Australian book reviewer, Caleb Blake, in his review of Storm Damage on Papyrus Independent Author Reviews, had this to say:

     “Starting off with the unusual "Unicorn One", a hairdresser from Glasgow becomes the first in space for the much maligned Scottish space program. The story is carried forward with a particularly mundane narrative given the topic. Personally, I like to think of this story as a statement about the cult of celebrity. The absurdity of a hairdresser becoming an astronaut for reasons of photogenicity is compounded when Russia also wants to claim her as spokesperson. I'm left remembering the countless times that celebrity has been sufficient to give someone a platform for which they are unqualified.”

          Another reviewer, on Amazon, Hannibal the Carthaginian, also commented on Unicorn One:

     “In Unicorn One, an independent Scotland sends a woman to the outer reaches of the Solar System as an act of patriotism. They don’t choose an astronaut, or any other traditional sense of a professional. They choose a hairdresser. She’s escaping dodgy boyfriends and a dissatisfied life, but she finds empty space’s realities so much lonelier than down there. Even with a satellite filming her for TV back home.”

          Cheryll Barron also singled Unicorn One out for comment on her Post-Gutenberg blog, in a piece entitled:
     “Note at a publishing crossroads: is it time for Ian Rankin to move over and let younger Scots writers take his place?”

          Let us return to this hairdresser’s story, though, in her own words, as she voyages through space:

     “The reality of space itself turned out not to be what I had expected. It was not a vast, soothing, empty darkness with pin-point lights of hope on the far horizons. It seemed to be that something was perpetually seething out there, restless and aware. I felt as though I was travelling through the heart of a boiling mass. They had trained me to expect odd mental states, but they must have failed. I stood at the window of the spacecraft for hours at a time, looking out at the stars, and I reminded myself of my granny who had ended her days in a towerblock in Aberdeen. She had stood at her window like that, looking down on the toileting dogs and hooded teenagers. She always said that the world outside her high window was like another planet compared to the rural community of crofters she had grown up amongst. But people shift and travel on, expanding themselves like strange-gassed stars. Sometimes they end up so far from their beginnings there is no sense to be made from it. This is what started happening to me, I think, as I looked out the window into the blackness that was not empty.
     The spacecraft had hurtled on, taking me further and further from the home of my ancestors. What if I never returned, not even my dead bones? The craft could run out of fuel, then drift forever like a tin can on a river. Inside it, my bones would rattle.

“They’d said it would take me 105 days to get to Mars in Unicorn One. I’d only been going for eight days. The window was facing away from the sun but a glint of refracted light must have found its way through the thick quartz glass. I saw my image reflected amongst the stars. My hair looked terrible.”

“I went to my bunk area and lay down in a curled shape. I pulled the quilt tight around my shoulders to make believe that someone was holding me. I closed my eyes tight and hummed to myself. I snuggled my toes against the polyester fur of Angus, my ragged, childhood toy cat. I wished there was some wine on-board but alcohol had been strictly prohibited. Some hot, red dream came, jagged images like insects bouncing on the cells of my brain. There was no meaning to it, only noise. My eyes opened wide again as though they had never closed. I got up and went through to the sanitary unit. I rubbed steam into my pores. My neck and back clicked and relaxed definitely. I spread my fingertips against the silicon tiles and leaned there. I began the slow ritual of washing my hair. When it was squeaking I rinsed it. I combed it against the dryer’s belched hurricane air.
       I pulled on a clean, silver body-suit, tissue-thin, comfortable.
       I returned to the main module and sat at the computer terminal. I kept my eyes locked to the screen, away from the broad window. I called up the menu for Mission Abort. On the top right of the screen I could see the red light flashing, missed messages from Mission Control and a live message coming in right now. Again, European Legislation for the Workplace had stated that as an employee I had the right not to be available at all times, so the ability to allow me to ignore data from Earth for extended periods was built into the system. Of course, I had abused that. I ignored the red light and entered the first of the sixteen-digit codes. Thirty minutes later, the computer offered me a red screen with the final question, Did I really wish to abort Unicorn One’s Mission? I moved the mouse over the Yes option. Then I shifted it over to the No option. I looked out the window. I looked back at the computer finger shaking...
      Almost immediately, I felt Unicorn One slow down. The internal lights seemed to dim and flicker. I heard a sound coming from her nuclear core that was like a low moan, I had never heard it before. It sounded like her heart was breaking.

Unicorn One/Storm Damage available on Amazon UK:         

Unicorn One/Storm Damage available on Amazon US:


Áine said…
Each story in Storm Damage has its own cogent observations such as this unlikely astronaut in UNICORN ONE, traveling through the universe with only Angus the toy cat for company, describing the intense loneliness; the universal face; the restlessness and seething nature of the hearts of space. Independent Scotland may have a space program some day, but it will never have an Orange Pig which is my very favorite story in Storm Damage!
Anonymous said…
I'm in a poignant mood today. Rereading Unicorn One has emphasised that feeling.

"Did I really wish to abort Unicorn One’s Mission? I moved the mouse over the Yes option. Then I shifted it over to the No option. I looked out the window. I looked back at the computer finger shaking...
Almost immediately, I felt Unicorn One slow down. The internal lights seemed to dim and flicker. I heard a sound coming from her nuclear core that was like a low moan, I had never heard it before. It sounded like her heart was breaking.”

Such beautiful sadness, especially today.

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