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More Free Days for Divine Endurance Flowerdust Edition

Friday 18th January, and it's snowing outside my window, looking very pretty at the moment, but down here in Brighton the snow is not set to persist, alas.

More free days for "The Last Days of Ranganar", a reworking of Divine Endurance and its "midquel", Flowerdust, into a single narrative. You can download the ebook for free from amazon next week, 22nd-24th January, & then 2nd-4th February And that's the lot. I won't be enrolling Escape Plans (my next epub) in KDP Select. Unlike the above the epub Escape Plans will be the same as the print version, only with the lightest editing, and the print book is readily available, for modest sums; or you can buy it from me any time you like, and the money goes to an operation, originally a spin-off from Anmesty International Medical Division, that looks out for victims of torture, and helps them recover.

Spent the entire day yesterday converting EP scans to a word docx, and spraying my citrus trees with Vitax oil wash, to combat scale insect infestation (a tip from the Australians, which I embraced as more helpful than the RHS advice: ie to the effect that scale is ineradicable once established).

On mature reflection, fish oil tree spray probably should not be used indoors.

Big Aid!

Wednesday January 16th. A faint dusting of snow on Monday morning, a hard frost and a bright coloured dawn today, first hard frost we've seen here since the cold snap at the end of November. I saw on a newsstand paper, the "deep freeze" to persist until Valentine's day, but we shall see.

Big Aid! What Is It Good For?

Clicktivism I think I have a handle on. Click and sign, click and share, on a mailing by mailing basis, but no regular donations, no unreserved endorsement, as I know for a fact (facts of course readily available) that I don't by any means support all their campaigns. Other small, case-specific operations likewise: I know where I am with Compassion In World Farming. But (continuing my blog thoughts on the humanitarian aid industry, see Christmas Is A Time For Giving), what's going on now with that new, improved faith hope and charity based benevolent religion "Human Rights"? Supposed (like Islam, btw) to replace the flawed Christianity model;founded in the UK, Western Europe, and the US, in the post-WWII Age of the Liberal State; and now on the brink, or over the brink, of going global: escaping from the dwindling shadow of the so-called West, the way Christianity burst out of a small corner of the Eastern Mediterranean basin.

From the Acts Of The Apostles to the mighty Mediaeval Papacy in five or six decades, that's really quite an achievement: but there are costs, and some may say the costs have been considerable. Humanitarian Aid for a war-torn African nation can end up in the cynical hands of the combatants, allowing them to prolong the agony for their own advantage. Skilled, courageous professional volunteers can end up the dupes of the perpetrators of genocide. Closer to our own time, uncomfortably close indeed, the work of "Western" Aid Agencies can be implicated as tools of a "Western" occupying army, with predictable, devastating results, both immediate and enduring. Better by far then, in future, for the aid concept to be visibly and actually independent of the White West. The movement has move, bodily, to the places where it can be genuinely important. And maybe make whatever compromises are necessary; to be seen as a valid organisation, and have influence under local conditions. It's been done before, and it worked (sort of, partially, but better than nothing). You start by being crucified and thrown to the lions...exhilerating but tricky in terms of expanding the operation. You become Caesar! Problem solved!

But is globalization on the international corporate model really the answer? No longer one of the problems, but the big solution? The logo, the brand, the landmark offices, the impressive, macho CEO salary? Financial gain, economic growth and territorial expansion, as the measures of success? Last Saturday I was at an Extraordinary General Meeting, where the UK section of probably the world's most respected Human Rights organisation debated (essentially) these issues. They're all doing it. Going global is the big idea in charities all round, but I came away unconvinced.

I'm thinking about it, and meanwhile I'm reviewing my own modest list of regular donations. Giving is a nice thing to do. I'll hold up my hand, yes, I find it a pleasurable activity. But I don't want to be one of those charitable ladies who just likes knitting socks for the Poor Black Babies, and doesn't want to know whether the Poor Black Babies actually need the socks. Or whether the socks are even getting to the babies...Or how much it costs to run the company that handles the export. Or any of that.

I'm looking for horizontal-style payscales, I'm looking for human rights defenders "on the ground" already. Small operations, start-ups, maybe that idea about micro-investments?

Not that I'm giving up on the big hitters, not at all. I'm just, like I say, reviewing the situation.

Watching Went to see Les Miz last night. It was okay, although I'm glad I didn't pay for the stage show. A few problems, such as being very, very long, too many lashings of artificial squalor on the giant stage sets, having no good tunes (not even I dreamed a dream, in my opinion), and far to much conviction that there's nothing so dreadful a few candles and a chap in a white lacy frock won't put right. But it was a fine spectacle, with knowing that Victor Hugo did, really and truly, get his hands dirty in the 1848 affair, providing an assist. Tom Sutcliffe in the independent (I think) complained Les Miz makes le peuple in their poverty, and on the barricades, look rather horrid. Hm. He doesn't know much about revolutions, that's all I can say.

The New Ik

Friday 11th January, very pretty day (first time I've been able to say that in a while): blue sky, white cloud, calm and chilly. Peter, from Lewes, reports The Railway Land is flooded deep today, all the streams running strongly, and some new opportunistic streams charging about too. The Ouse brimming its channel through town and the tide still rising. But that's why The Railway Land is there, and there'll be no trouble.

News Flash! The Institute of Arts and Ideas has released a video of the very interesting and entertaining Philip Pullman panel on Fantasy, from their "How The Light Gets In" Festival, and would love you to watch it. I'm on the panel too, but don't let that put you off:

Climate Change, Is It A Real Threat?

At first I was bewildered by climate change deniers. How wouldn't the huge presence of the human race, all that mass and heat and chemical activity, be changing the planet's climate? That's like agreeing there's an elephant in the living room, but insisting it's isn't taking up any space.

Then I felt resigned: It's human nature, innit, naturally they don't want to get off the gravy train, they'll wake up in time. Then I found them cynical: all these people who keep saying "how arrogant to think humans can change nature!" (for God's sake), and "it's just natural cycles" know fine well what's going on, of course they do. They just think the bad stuff will only happen to poor people, far away.

Now I don't know what to think. This is insane! The old hippie expression "freaked out" might best describe my state of mind.

Not to worry, children. Listen to Matt McGrath over at the BBC. He'll calm you down. Keep spending, keep driving your cars, preferrably at least two each! It's all very confused, so probably everything's fine!

The War On Women:

Isn't Africa worse than India?
Africa isn't a country, but the point bears discussion. Leaving aside places where women's rights aren't even considered, are there countries/cultures in the former so called Developing World (the World Of The Future) where women's rights are not under attack? This is not a competition, nb. It's a holocaust.

Not entirely unrelated to my first topic, I see a "scientific" study has "proved" that Chinese born since 1979, ie under the one-child policy, are damaged goods, "less trusting, more risk averse, more pessimistic"; leading to the conclusion (I hazard a guess) that the policy is antisocial, and can be dropped.

Funny thing, apart from the "risk averse" (!) you could say much the same about the same UK generation, born since 1979, and call it the Thatcher effect. Could it be that vicious, rampant neo-capitalism has been damaging China's kids too? What do you think?


Rio Bravo, with Gabriel. Not new to either of his parents, of course, but it's still very watchable, in all its limpid, Right-thinking simplicity. How good Dean Martin is in this movie! & I love his singing voice, soft as butter. Downside is Angie Dickinson's shamelessly Bacall-stealing role as the nameless girl, esp that very creepy last scene, when she dresses up so pretty in her revealing showgirl uniform, allegedly* for the pure joy of hearing Big John Wayne tell her that he now owns her body, and will not allow skimpy attire.
*Metareading shows us that Angie's undress also benefits the cinema audience...

Also watching: Alec Guinness version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, to be followed by Smiley's People, boxed set I bought for Peter. Brilliant. I now despise the 2011 movie's money-no-object C21 lovingly recreated period detail forever.This shabby, muted world looks like what I remember it looked like, when I was there. Or am I just remembering tv of the Eighties? Interestingly, I don't really recall a single scene, but vividly recall the nesting dolls credits and the Nunc Dimittis theme tune.

John Le Carre fest continues in reading matter. Currently, The Honourable Schoolboy (which the BBC were too cheap to film) is keeping me post-festively happy. Nice and fat. Like Dickens, only with tradecraft.

Troubling signs of Zelda addiction: looking out of my window, and seeing a whirl of seagulls, circling over Racehill, I think Ooh! Big Octo!

keynote image is just random, one from my search for cover design inspiration, for the epub of Escape Plans and Kairos, since I can't, I suppose, use the scribbled "tear in the fabric of the universe" from the original Kairos cover, which would be ideal. A work in progress.

Twelve Days

Tuesday 8th January (& Elvis Presley's birthday, I believe), still very mild, grey and humid, but a little light in the sky this morning for a change. And so farewell, another festive season. I love Christmas, it's so steeped in ritual in my small world: the pre-Christmas present buying, the holly scrumping, the bringing of the green wood into the house, the over-indulgent meals we will eat, the people who will share them, the losses and absences, even final absences, we will regret. The way Ginger adores Christmas, and Milo hides away, believing the season is a plot against his life. Like genre fiction, it's not what happens, it's how it happens this time. The foraged-chestnuts chestnut pavé worked better than usual; Ham Night was varied by Gab (as distinct from our Gabriel) having decided he's finally a total vegetarian; and next year Gwyneth will buy the cheese, from the Sausage Shop, not from Sainsbury's and the board will not include "Blue Wensleydale with Cranberries" or similar monstrosities... The watching of The Muppet Christmas Carol, to reaffirm our committment to being good, and doing good; or at least trying. The obligatory model-making, better not be too demanding in my case (see above, that's my butterfly) The tv we will mean to watch and mostly miss (Tove Jansson Arena programme was the star). Like a powerful dream, it's a reboot. It refreshes the mind, at least for a while. And now to begin again.

Two Movies About Life And Death... But Mostly Death*

I saw Haneke's Amour the week before Christmas, alone, and wasn't as affected as I thought I would be. The first passages were terrifying, because that's how I'm sure it will be for me. We'll be pottering along, Peter and I, our powers diminishing gently, nothing too scary, and then one day (one night, probably) BAM! Whatever happens will happen, our life will be over, our death will begin... Once Anne had hit her wall, everything was too familiar, a road I've followed too recently, and it's a trudge. Honestly? For the last hour I was clockwatching. Almost as if I couldn't appreciate Haneke's icy method, without the usual adjuvant of cruel perversity (I suppose Death By Old Age took on that role). But I did like the pigeon, so insouciant (who?) had the honour of being the only free spirit in sight. Like that falling apple shot in Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, I bet everyone will remember that pigeon. To Georges it was his wife, of course. He could catch her, he could hold her, but he didn't know what else to do with her, and by the look of her tired smiles, by the way she lived around him in that very interior life, before disaster struck, he'd never known.

What do women want? It's a mystery, allegedly, and the hero of the tale is the one who finally guesses the elusive answer. What a woman wants is her own way! Well, as Joanna Russ used to say, that's your way of looking at it. Maybe what women want is not to be owned; not to be possessed. Self-determination.

The Life Of Pi, was a fabulous spectacle, a splendid Xmas outing. Do I feel differently, now I happen to know it was the movie the couple in that cause celebre gang-rape in Delhi had just seen, before they boarded the fatal bus, with the six Jack-the-Rippers? Can't be helped, of course I do: I focus on different colours, different shadows. I see that the only female human being with a speaking part in "Pi", is defined as a wife and mother, who very swiftly gets changed into a dumb, helpless animal anyway, and then gets tortured to death. I see the way a thrilling, powerful movie "about the human condition" is naturally going to be about a man, a young man surviving terrifying trials, an old man facing death... If it was about a woman, it would be minor, and either a feminist movie, or a woman's movie (and don't you dare try to tell me different).

I feel differently about the final tagline too. "Which version do you prefer?" asks Pi, the teller of tall tales, and of course, like his listener, we're all inclined to answer, with one voice "The one with the tiger in it!". The company of a terrifying, utterly savage beast, even a beast that shares our soul, seems a small price to pay for a world full of glorious, awe-inspiring, sublime spectacle...**

It's a point of view. When set alongside the story of the six Jack-the-Rippers, acting in concert apparently, in a single city, and not feeling too out of place, by all accounts, in their views at least, if not their actions, the Man as Tiger option app doesn't look so attractive. Does it?

I knew twenty years ago; no, longer, twenty five, that when the struggle for women's rights really hit the so-called Developing World, all hell was going to break loose. That reprisals would be intimate and savage. (I was just a westerner, an ex-pat in south east asia, a tourist in India, but it wasn't hard to work out. Eve-teasing isn't a new phenomenon, you know). I wrote about this horrible coming storm, bigged-up with sf politicial fantasy in The Aleutian Trilogy, realisticallyin Life, and worked alongside international activists, the women who fought, passionately, to convince Amnesty International that Women's Rights were Human Rights. Inspired by two courageous and eloquent West Africans at a Women's Action conference) we got Amnesty to recognise Female Genital Mutliation as torture, and put FGM on the agenda as a campaigning issue, which was a big deal at the time. (Ironic, huh? As everyone knows, caring traditional parents can get their little daughters tortured with ease, at many shiny, respectable UK clinics these days).

And where have I been since? Taking a long break. The point came when I realised Amnesty International could defend women's rights, could proclaim (as it does), that domestic and economic rights are as vital as public and political rights, and that states must protect all their citizens; but could not become a radical feminist organisation, and trying to force it into that role would do more harm than good. We'd achieved what could be achieved, so I dropped back into the rank and file. You take things as far as you safely can, you stop hustling, and make do. That's my story... I think the same could be said for a lot of women, in the privileged world, in the last couple of decades. Dropping back, dropping back. Seeing things slide, seeing gains lost, and still keeping quiet. Smiling politely and slipping out of the room, when asked to approve of the lap-dancer tendency in our own communities. Making accommodations, while all the while, in the BRIC countries, in the Middle East, and maybe especially in South Asia, other women were fighting and dying for the right just to walk down the street. For the rights "I" (that's the feeling) had told them were human and ordinary, and well within their grasp... But the tiger does not agree, and the tiger knows no restraint. You can't tell a tiger it's unthinkable to shoot a fifteen year old schoolgirl in the head, for saying she wants to go to school.

You can't tell a tiger it's beyond the pale to unleash a lethal drone program against civilians, against children, either. The tiger won't listen, can't listen.

That tiger just has to go. Cost what it costs.

The last three thousand or so real, live, flesh and blood "Richard Parkers" wouldn't miss him. Man as Tiger is a devil to any beautiful animal worth money dead.

Utopian demands are cheap and fruitless. In the real world, where absolutes do not apply, I'm left feeling that there's been a betrayal, and I have been part of it,, and I don't know what to do.

But this isn't about me. Self determination. The future isn't about "me" or anyone like me. The situation for women and girls, getting savagely attacked for being uppity, in India, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, is far more frightening, far more dangerous, than, say, it would have been in the UK in the ninteenth century. That cannot be denied. It doesn't, however, mean things are getting worse. It means things are getting better. Savagery towards women and girls is being forced into the open, and I feel the same way about that as I did about the Women's Rights Are Human Rights campaign, long ago. It looks very bad, but it's got to be a good thing. A culture has to get sick before it gets well. Horrific injustice is protected, behind the closed doors of the "home". It has to be seen and recognised as injustice, before it can be shamed and outlawed.

So, anyway. I ought to get back to polishing my Wayward Botany story now, but I worked on it all yesterday, and I have to go to see the dentist in a couple of hours. I think I'll prune my citrus tree instead. I've been promising that overgrown indoor tree a haircut and some thinning for ages.

This tree is not a keynote of the year tree. It's just an incidental tree, one of a pair of venerable, and wayward, ginger birches, guarding the entrance to a cave under a sandstone outcrop, in a part of the Ashdown Forest near Hartfield (home of the Anchor Inn, as BAL fans may remember) where we got lost on Sunday, failing to find the Roman Road, under a lightless sky, in dropping mist, far too much mud; still, it was good to get out.

*the quote is from The Independent & was originally "about love and death but mostly death" But I changed it.

** All references are to the Ang Lee movie, nb, and excellent performances from Suraf Sharma and Iraf Khan. In print the teller of tall tales was far too pleased with himself, a party bore. It was the wondrous CGI, the virtual movie-making, that made his survival story glorious.