Skip to content


Tuesday 23rd February, not raining right now and the sky is a brighter shade of grey.

One ball of fresh spawn, though I've seen only one frog, definitely not carrying a freight of eggs, and no mating action. The spawn doesn't look too good but I moved it out of the fish pool anyway.

Last year there was a lot of action, but all the spawn died. Same complete loss in 2006. In 2007, 2008, tads survived and about 20 or so succeeded in becoming froglets.


Monday February 22nd, February fill-dyke. It's still winter further north, here it's just rain, a raw fresh air, huge puddles when I sneaked out between downpours.

Warning, this post is mainly of interest to Rock&Roll Reich fans.

Band of Gypsys 2nd edition free online

When he read Bold As Love (published Aug 2001), Kim Stanley Robinson told me it was one of the few books that year that could have been written after 9/11. I'm not totally sure what Stan meant, but in fact the first three Bold As Love books were "written" before September 2001. I had them all worked out, just had to fill in the details. I don't think it made any difference. People talk about "9/11": for me it was 03/03. It was March 2003 when I knew I'd woken up in a different world, and a worse world (of course, it depends on your point of view). As I've said elsewhere, by my reckoning "9/11" was a proposal. Hey George, sez "Osama". You're cute. How about you and me wreck Western Civilisation together, hell, we can wreck Islam too, I don't care. Let's destroy everything that's decent in both our worlds! C'mon, it'll be fun! In March 2003 the courtship was over, the marriage was consummated. Tony and George leapt joyfully into their mentor's arms.

So in my chronology, Band of Gypsys was the first post 9/11 episode. The consequences can be seen from page one, in which my "West Wing"-style benign US President gets written out of the script. That wasn't meant to happen: I just couldn't stand the sight of him. Another consequence is that the other three stories were out of my reach & the online 2nd editions had minimal changes. Band Of Gypsys is set in the world I'm living in now, and has had a complete overhaul.
It's still as loopy as ever, don't worry.

"Ax's government tried to sentence him to assisted suicide a few weeks ago, after an incident involving a high-ranking official. When he refused to cooperate they gave him a palace to live in and a tv show of his own, on which he'll continue to criticise government policy. . ."

In the original plan, this one was supposed to cover Ax's "Second Chamber Presidency", how it ended, and the whole adventure of the Chinese invasion. But the book got too long and unwieldy, I was running out of time and I didn't like the way the action fell into two completely different halves. That's why Band, unlike the other episodes, ends on a cliffhanger.

Moomins Unmasked (The True Deceiver)

Ash Wednesday, 17th February, clear skies, mouse ice, 9 shoots of native daffodils now, and a frog vertical in the weeds, seeming to look up from under the ice in the little new pool. Alive or dead? Can't tell until the sun warms it. Christmas reading feature, final entry

There are two women. One is young and harsh and good with figures. The other is an old, sweet-natured, unworldly artist. Both are outsiders in a small Nordic community: the old woman isolated by status in her big house, the young woman isolated by nature, and by her ambivalent status as the community's fixer; she solves minor business problems, but her solutions make people uneasy. There's a dog, controlled but untamed companion; there's the harsh girl's simple-minded brother. There are other characters, serving to illustrate the central problem. The young woman wants something from the old woman. Basically, she wants a share of the old woman's wealth, but the catch is that she cannot bear to ask for the money, to earn the money, or to deserve the money. Her self-esteem requires her to ask nothing of the world, she has to take. But she has to take by what she considers fair means, and that means (it turns out) by besting the old woman in mind games.

The clueless old woman paints pictures of the forest floor. Her ability to concentrate on the finest detail of what's going on in the living world, right under everyone's feet,is her obsession. Somehow, a population of cute rabbits, rabbits with flowery fur, invaded this passionate life's work. The flowery rabbits irritate her, but they have made her famous. She's plagued by floods of letters from little children, which she tries to take seriously, and floods of international business proposals: which she does not take seriously. She lets herself be cheated, because she isn't interested in figures and she doesn't care.

If you are a Moomin fan, and since this is Tove Jansson talking, you will get the picture. You loved The Summer House, you loved A Winter Book; you may find this one a little disquieting. You may find yourself thinking, hang on, I don't know if I want to know this. . .

The whole action of the novel is contained by the dark, icy snowlit months of a Nordic winter, during which the calculating young woman strips the old artist of her elective naivety about business and other matters, and the old artist strips the calculating young woman of her pride and her self-containment. It's a gripping introverts' adventure, I can't explain how such petty drama and unsparing candour can be so attractive. Like, let me see, Cranford distilled to a fiery strength, but with the cosy warmth and light surgically removed. I think it's the old artist who turns out to be the stronger (did you guess?) but you must make up your own mind.

Spoiler warning, don't get too attached to the flowery rabbits. But if you didn't know already that the Moomins are really people, showing the very peculiar, almost chilling, characteristics that quite ordinary people display (Nordic or not; when you look close, with an unsparing eye); then I can't help you.

Digital Future

Tuesday 16th February, much milder. A grey, damp, breezy morning, a charm of goldfinches squabbling

Here's something I've been waiting to post. Gill Spraggs analysis and investigation of the Google Book Settlement (spoiler warning: she's not in favour of those Do No Evil lads' approach to the Digital Future) now has a blog and a mailing list

If you're a writer and you think you've opted out but you've had no confirmation you can check your name on the lawyers' list of no-thanks responders:

Look carefully, the name order is a bit weird

In the genre world, Ursula Le Guin is also being very active.

Now what? Just saying no is easy enough, if you have an ounce of bloody-mindedness in you, and what writer does not, you can easily skip through the Do No Evil team's obstacle course. Thinking of another way, and putting it into practice, especially supposing you are not incredibly rich and powerful: that's the challenge.

Candlemas: the morning news

Tuesday 2nd February, still raining. Candlemas did not dawn bright and clear.

Not likely to be any Fair Maids of February in my garden, either. Only two of my new native daffodils (responsibly sourced) are showing above ground, the rest of the narcissi not very far advanced either.

We interrupt this belated review of Christmas and New Year books with some other essential reading, just to show I'm not entirely cut off from the world.

PW on Macmillan vs Amazon

Gill Spraggs on the GBS

My agents, David Higham Associates, are pursuing this issue strongly too. Also from Gill Spraggs, this morning, in my Inbox, a call to arms. I'll post you the URL if I get one.

& here's two entries from Common Dream

Peace Prize President's War Budget

Afghan geological resources worth trillions

Now I can't think of a single other thing to do at this desk, so I'll have to do some work.

Stravinsky (Stephen Walsh) postscript:

Tuesday 2nd February, no frost, grey rain.

For completism.

I read the second tome of Stephen Walsh's Stravinsky biography (Stravinsky: The Second Exile: France and America, 1934–1971) in December when I had the flu. The massiveness of the book was a friend to me, when the misery of flu was making time pass very slowly, and I'll remember it fondly for that reason.

Whoever said (commenting on my first Stravinsky post), that biographies of artists/musicians are a bit of a pitfall she was dead right, but I'm always curious, it's the History of Ideas student in me. On the whole, I learned a little about Modernism, both brands, and that was interesting (and thanks for the Penderecky tip greywyvern, but I'm not really a convert. I'll dip in and out of Modernism, same as Jazz, but it's not for me). Stravinsky himself becomes more human as he gets older, sheds first the Enfant Terrible and then the HardNosed Marketplace Artist persona. He said, in the end "All artists are carried on the shoulder of tradition", (and went on to reference the St Christopher and the Christ Child legend, which kind of positions Stravinsky as the Christ, ha!; but never mind). He refused, withering the suggestion with scorn, to "interview" Shostakovich, when he visited the USA. "What's the point in talking to him? He is not free!", which shows more sense than other expats tactlessly trying to get the man to denounce the Soviet State.

I listened to a lot of Stravinsky, liked some of it very much (probably, apart from The Rite Of Spring, the least-Stravinskyish works: couldn't get on with the Sacred music at all), & the biography gave me the entry, because I'm the slave of words. But every biographer has a thesis, of course they do or it wouldn't be a book it'd be a list of dates. In Ian MacDonald's dramatic "secret dissident" reading of Shostakovich's career, it's about Soviet history and music-politics and relates directly to the music. Stephen Walsh's big idea is the unmasking of a third party: not Stravinsky, for all his faults, but Robert Craft, Stravinsky's amanuensis, companion, secretary, substitute son. Stravinsky, a "bad, hard-hearted father", who demanded his children's devotion and treated them like chattels, got his come-uppance when he fell into the clutches of a "son", maybe neither bad nor hard-hearted, who worked the old man into the ground, alienated him from his (first) family and treated him like property. . . You can't call this inadmissable, because nobody disputes that Craft did take over Stravinsky's papers. He controlled the composer's post-mortem reputation. If he suppressed, edited, deleted, "interpreted" anything he didn't like, that's got to be fascinating, also very annoying, for any biographer who comes after, and detects the traces. I'm not sure it's all that fascinating for someone trying to place the composer in his times. But you can read Craft's immensely detailed refutation here, if you're really interested.

Madame de Staël

Monday 1st February, bright clear day, fading now: hard frost, dead calm

Name a world-famous female UK artist, working now, who is also an outspoken and highly influential political figure. Doesn't have to be a novelist or essayist, can be anything: film-maker, painter, musician.

No, you can't have Tracy Emin. Complaining that you have to pay too much tax when you earn a lot of money doesn't count as a political opinion.

You're struggling, right? Maybe they manage these things much better in France, and if I were not so insular & ignorant, I could name a half-dozen arts-celebrity salonistas who make or break all the State's policies. But even if it were so, it's not the point: first because she has to be famous outside her own country, and second because she has to be a public figure in her own right, an independent voice, not a female power-behind-the-throne. I think we need to go further afield -ironically, to countries where the inequality of women's rights is far more openly acknowledged. Nawal El Saadawi ; Arundhati Roy
They'll do, though they don't operate on the same scale (realtively) as De Staël.

Why did she pretty much vanish from the halls of political fame? It could be because she was incapable of changing her mind.

When Napoleon stopped being the darling of the intellectual liberals, and ran a police state at home, while parcelling out Europe as his family's private fief, it wasn't a change of plan or a change of heart (at least I don't think so). It was more that the intellectuals and artists of the world, such as Beethoven, had been seeing what they wanted to see. In France most of them went on doing just that. Men in public life, or who wanted to be in public life, reverted instantly to the Ancien Regime mindset. You've got to have a position at Court. As you may remember, there were draconian laws in the Ancien Regime, forbidding anyone remotely "noble" from earning a living, but that was only part of it. You didn't have to be greedy for money, you only had to be greedy for influence, for visibility, for power-to-do-good even. In post-Revolutionary France everyone who was anyone, from the hardest of hard Left Jacobins to devout unreconstructed Royalists, started scrabbling for positions in Napoleon's Government. My old friend Francois de Chateaubriand among them (tho' he did resign when D'Enghien was assassinated, and he did it before he knew how his colleagues were going to jump). It was shameless, it was horrible. Germaine De Staël was disgusted & she refused to kowtow. She said destiny was not morality, and she would stick with morality. She ended up in exile, banished from France, her writing suppressed, her new books pulped. She knew she was ruining her children's lives, as they would never get a decent job. She had good reason to fear for her life, but she never surrendered.

Mind you, she didn't have a lot of choice, when it came to public office. The French Revolution had played out (for women) as several others have done since; cf Iran 1979. They womaned the barricades, they ran political clubs, they had impasssioned speeches made in defence of their talents, their rights. They ended up explicitly restricted to the domestic sphere by the Constitution, 1791, long before Napoleon got going.

But she could have been a salonista. Napoleon would have loved her to be his salonista. She wouldn't do it. She didn't change her mind because, like Albert Camus, she met one of those moments (Camus was speaking of fascism) when one has to decide, do two and two make four? Or do they not? She decided not to agree that two and two makes whatever the Emperor says it makes.

Now, why the full body scanner image at the head of this post? (The comments on the page at Jaunted are the most interesting part). It's about visibility. If you want to be a public figure, then you have to be visible, cost what it costs. In our day, that means, just for instance, you have to accept the War on Terror security lines, though you know it's appalling. You cannot say, this is too much, because you can't afford not to step on the plane. Where would, oh, I don't know, Jeremy Paxman be, or Stephen Fry, or any of our modern-day "intelligentsia" of the media, if they said: No, actually, I won't stand for this. . . You might be notorious for a week or so, but you wouldn't stay a public figure for long.

History isn't written by the victors, it's written by the writers (or film-makers, or journalists, or artists, or musicians). But mainly by the ones who are ready to do whatever it takes, swallow whatever they have to swallow; to stay in the picture.