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Grey Skies, Goodbye Summertime

Sunday 26th October, grey skies, goodbye Summertime, the garden put to bed, foxgloves and meadow flowers sown for the spring, the holly tree has fifteen or so redding berries (why so few survivors, must try to find out what I'm doing wrong). Sad beautiful discovery, a silvery, prickly dead stickleback floating in the cup of a red maple leaf. I hope the others are okay. We rarely see them esp not at this season. Autumn has just begun, and should be nearly over . . . Must try to make it out onto the downs or to the woods again soon. Went up to see Electra at the Old Vic last night, excited by passionate reviews, and found the show disappointing. Kristin Scott-Thomas does a good shrieking, stubborn, ageing adolescent, "absolute in grief", but she seemed stripped of gravitas, and the play stripped of tension. Maybe I prefer my Ancient Drama either rewritten, or left as is, not just vaguely tweaked about. Or maybe it was just an off night. Ah, well, caveat emptor. Diana Quick as Clytemnestra took the best part, in my opinion.The best of the evening was walking along the Southbank, watching the crowds mill and drift, taking the uncannily lukewarm October night air. I don't have any use for the London Eye myself, but it does look eerily pretty, inching around up there in the dark.

My Fracking Round Up

Predictably, the West Sussex County Council debate on whether to declare themselves a frack free zone, which I did not attend, was a damp squib. How could they take on Cuadrilla? Already ensconced at Balcombe? Just not going to happen. Apparently they have resolved, almost as if this wasn't supposed to be their statutory position, to consider each application on its merits . . .

Predictably, Celtique Energie are contesting the WSCC planning committee's July 22nd decision to refuse their application to drill at Wisborough Green, and we'll have to wait and see on that one.

Predictably, not only is the change in the trespass law going through, but with enthusiastic additons from Baroness Kramer the Lib-Dem peer with the good fracking connections.

Predictably, Nature magazine has discovered that fracking won't help the climate change problem . . .

I'm tired of that word. Can't remember when I last saw the qualification used in a positive sense. Yet I still have a feeling we could win this battle, one NO THANKS AND HERE'S WHY at a time, and maybe even more than locally. But the war? No, nothing like. We lose the war, and the next generations live with the consequences.

Reading (My library books)

The Abomination, Jonathan Holt. Venice, police procedural with two strong female leads; the political dimension of a stunningly corrupt state, and the evil machinations of the US military. Thriller addict that I am, I thought for a while I was going to like this a lot better than the "Millenium Trilogy" it is supposed to rival, even if the online world element is very irritatingly handled, and the eponymous "abomination" is neither shocking or particularly relevant. Not quite: the last third or so of the book loses all chiaroscuro, and with it all illusion of depth, but still, a good fast read. I'll look out for the next episode.

The Girl In The Road Monica Byrne. A travelogue road trip around India and Africa, in a day after tomorrow world where no we didn't get around to doing anything about global warming, but yes the technology did go on getting more and more marvellous. Don't be fooled by the cute Rough Guide details, and pay attention when our free and easy heroine casually tells you, around page two, that she is psychotic. Of course she's psychotic, we're all psychotic, we are brutally murdering our own, literally our own, flesh and blood. NB if you don't like magical realism, walk away now. An impressive debut, full of wonderful invention but perhaps not meeting the criteria for positive, corporate-compliant sf, in territory where older "Western" writers might fear to tread these days. Recommended

Nice that quite a few people took me up on the free Ann Halams offer this month. November's giveaway will be Crying In The Dark and The Fear Man, dates to be announced. Did I say that bringing out a POD book all on my own was a breeze? I was wrong about that, but luckily I have had friends to help me along. The Grasshopper's Child print edition is now making real progress, and I should soon have proof copies to send out. NB this means the current ebook will be going off line, but it will be back, same price, with the print version revisions.

And Finally

Usually I just delete spambot comments before they see the light of day. Poor things, that is their fate, unless and until their humans teach them how to read. But this one was too cute, so here it is, (somewhat redacted):

Author: underwear size chart calvin klein: In reply to Home By Christmas

It is a clever thought to be cautions with your money when you'll strive a new style of underwear.

HSBC The Frackers' Bank

Tuesday 14th October, grey skies, feeling chilly. Up to London again on Saturday (sigh, this anti-fracking is a demanding hobby!) for the Global Frackdown action, an early morning trip that involved sitting in Golden Square, staring at the two fine hornbeams I know so well, and the blurred nondescript Georgian monarch (I think) in Roman fancy dress: watching various bods assemble, and guessing before we saw them morph which of them were here to carry a mock-up drilling rig around Central London, and which were just passing by. Time for a coffee at the best place in Soho Soho Grind, along with several officers of the law: confirming we were in the right area. &off we went, working well & feeling welcome, to preach on HSBC occupied street corners. Charles Metcalfe from Balcombe, an impassioned speaker from Romania; a highly articulate Algerian, citing the neo-colonial aspect of Total (French oil company) and Chevron (French oil company), exporting to a previous French colony a dirty, doomladen and destructive activity banned in La Belle France. But who are we after today It's HBSC, the frackers' global goto bank of choice. There was someone recording footage for an Asian station said we were 20,000 strong, Well, I wouldn't go quite that far but we were visible, we snagged a lot of support from the passing populace, and the police were wonderful.

And thence to Parliament Square, where the STOP TTIP rally seemed to hover on the outskirts of a massive and totally peaceful, turn out of London-based Kurdish communities, gathered in grief and fear, and in solidarity with Kobani . . Anti-fracking protest has traction now (not the same as power, good lord no!) Stop TTIP Stop CETA not so much. It'll be a while, another year or so, I'd say, before the protestors manage to wake up the people on the street. Never mind the featherbrained politicians (Vince Cable???) allegedly overseeing these secret treaties. Is there that long? Or will we look around, and find all the horrible implications of those Investor State Dispute Settlement Clauses actual and irreversible?

The "Emma Thompson" Effie Gray last night. Came over as a little bit slight in the end because so long, and because John Ruskin (Greg Wise) such a blank that even his (genuine) staggeringly spiteful lines couldn't make him interesting. But very beautiful to look at, and sumptuously coloured. Just wondered slightly, did Effie really have an English accent? Very good news about the Parliament vote on Palestinian Statehood by the way.

Not A Rocketship In Sight: An Evening With English PEN

Wednesday 8th October, torrential rain in the morning, rolls of thunder, clearing now, I've been staring out of my window watching the trees tossing their branches about, just happy that autumn seems to have arrived at last, though all the leaves I can see are still green (or dark red, in the case of the Maple). Did I mention that the squirrels are back? They vanished, after two-doors-up had a family of the little darlings evicted from their loft. (We have never had the courage to ask by what means). Our crocus corms were unmolested, bird tables were for the birds. Then, at last, a brave outlier or two appeared. The other day our neighbours down the hill came home to find Summer and Buddha (terrier and cat) leaping around the house, beside themselves with pride and joy. Why? Turns out they'd left a liittle furry corpse displayed on the patio. Cue adult consternation, weeping children, shocked, silent teens, a solemn burial. But I bet that'll be the only lesson necessary. Squirrels will now be back to normal levels of insolence and impunity.

Not A Rocketship In Sight

Science Fiction the natural home of literary activists? Huh? The only activism I've ever seen at work in sf, unless you count active involvement in nefarious US government warfare and weapon projects, is feminism, and that revolution wasn't a resounding success: more a case of the wiser rebels heading off to found a new colony, and those who stayed behind going underground. Dear PEN, are you perhaps, and understandably, confusing "activism" with "writers expressing common sense opinions"?

But my mistake, the discussion wasn't about taking action, it was about ideas; and about generally, helplessly, sharing the problems of Cassandra. You tell people, in the course of your story, something bxxxding obvious (eg, global warming is a real threat to our civilisation, and maybe it's already too late), and they react as if you invented the danger on purpose to annoy them; or even created it, you pinko tree-hugging scare-monger . . . But how refreshing to see what a good, varied crowd had turned up. Almost as if the barrier between science fiction and proper literary activities had become porous at last: as melty as the barriers between all the other genres. Maybe it was the Loncon effect, maybe I've just not been paying attention (except I have) but I felt I was sitting between two boddisattvas (Nick Harkaway and James Smythe), neither of them women, but you can't have everything: who had achieved the impossible quest, succeeding where the New Wave, Feminism, the Cyberpunks, and who knows how many other heroic expeditions, had struggled, left a few footprints and fallen back, defeated.

It's not that I don't like rocketship fantasies. I like some of them very much. It's not that I don't take fairytales seriously: I do. It's the exclusiveness/exclusion thing. I don't like it, I never did.

Time will tell, but I went away strengthened in my determination not to have SF on the spine of my books ever again (okay, an easy enough rash vow when you're a sixty plus female feminist, and you don't live in the US, but it means something to me). Since Spirit came out, I haven't tried to get another sf contract, and I'm not going to. One day, when I've tied up all my loose ends, and Ifinally have a new book to offer, something that doesn't have to have SF on the spine, I'll take it to market and we'll see. Meanwhile, the DIY route. Publication date for The Grasshopper's Child POD coming soon: there have been a few issues. Ironically, one of them was identifying a publisher, as Create Space doesn't accept that responsibility. Luckily it wasn't hard.


House of Cards, the US, Kevin Spacey version. I'm finding it addictive, but gradually getting interference from memories of the 1980s version, which I did not like. Is there more gravitas to the story when the prize is getting to be the ci-devant Leader of the Free World, rather than the PM of the UK? Or do I just like the US actors better? Especially Robin Wright, very cool turn as the Lady Macbeth character. Black farce.

Looking Forward To

Activism of the active kind:

Global Frackdown, 11am Saturday 11th October

and Parliament Square 2.00pm Saturday afternoon, opposing the TTIP.

Gabriel Jones and Marianne Wright, premiering a new song cycle at St Nicolas Church Dyke Road Brighton, Wednesday 22nd October, lunchtime 12.30pm

&Marianne's opera debut is the week after, in Britten's Turn Of The Screw; more on that later

And Kristin Scott-Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic, which apparently is the original script, so for my homework I will have to look up Sophocles on line

Karlheinz Stockhausen, PEN and the Solar System

October 2nd, a pleasantly cool morning after a horribly warm, clammy night. Orion and Sirius in the landing window on nights that seem clear, but are hazy. A white anemone tangling in the branches of our giant bonsai pine seems the right keynote for autumn, but really the garden still full of vivid colour: cosmos and verbena, gauzy showers of gaura and the little pearly yellow lotus buds still rising and opening in the goldfish pool. What amazing luck! says the BBC news. The driest September since records began! And almost the warmest. I'm such a curmudgeon, all I can think of is tree disease, the mass-death of the world's non-human animals announced this week, and the floods. I mean, right now, the floods of people, at our gates. (A prison fence around Calais, to keep them out. Just like the Mexican border! How Breaking Bad cool of us).


Saturday, we finally got round to visiting Shrinking Space's Digital Brighton show : a rare example of Peter and Gwyneth thinking must go and doing nothing, and yet actually getting round to it in time. In a huge dank hangar, graffitied like an underground car park, but which I think used to be a covered market, pairs of stools set by roof pillars dotted the endless grey concrete floor, some far in the distance, some close at hand. We get given headsets and MP4 players, and a quick induction by way of a very sketchy map. We wander. Disappointed at first: I never read the advertising properly, I'd been expecting an update on NASA's "music of the spheres" (sound transcription of the radio emissions of the different planets), and instead I was getting human voices, telling me solar system exploration things, I slowly became hooked. Interestingly, I didn't like Earth, it was too mundane (the Moon was a bit mundane too), and I didn't like the Sun, it was too big. I liked Venus and Mercury best of the planets, and Enceladus best of the moons, because it was most active, but it was difficult to hear Mercury: the Sun kept eating it. I liked Voyager a lot, because it was so thrillingly quiet, so mysterious; and I got confused by Rosetta.

Remote embodiment note: All the voices (apart from Earth and Moon) use the second person plural, uniformly, without a second thought. It's not a device out there, it is we. It is the people who are running the experiment, themselves. They have made a transition.

How fitting that the vast exhibition space was cold, drab and had no kind of atmosphere.

Ash Dieback

It's time I updated on this. So, the phony war is over. The real size of the invasion is emerging. There are currently 849 confirmed cases in the mainland UK and Northern Ireland. Do not be afraid, says the forestry commission site, like a doctor telling you what stage your cancer is at (not really, but it's rather the tone). These new figures represent better surveying, not new cases. I'm not afraid, I'm past that, but oh, I hate that horrible big outbreak in Lancashire, where I come from. I knew only God (ie, some level of genetic variant immunity) could save Sussex, the geography says so. But I was hoping . . . Anyway, it's not new bad news, right? Nor is it new bad news that we have more elms succumbing to Dutch Elm Disease this year, here in Fortress Brighton and Hove. It's expected that losses will continue: just the normal noises of the 21st century. A hiss and a sigh, a crackle of disembodied humanity.


Fred Vargas
and William Ryan, I only just discovered "Fred Vargas", lucky me. I think she's great. William Ryan isn't such a star, but I've just read both his books, police procedurals set in Stalin's Terror, and liked them both. Sounds bizarre, but it works. I also like his website, and the way he lists his sources, like a proper historian indeed; and as if people would like to know, like to find out for themselves. That's always been my attitude too.

Plus, and by no means least, James Smythe's The Machine, and Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker; in preparation for my date with them at the Southbank Centre on Monday 6th. I've cast myself as the critic on this panel, but if you are reading this, dear co-panellist writers, don't worry! I'm reaching into my activist-writer and critic past, with a piece from Imagination/Space.


And finally. . . belated congratulations to Gabriel Jimi Jones, who has handed in his Masters dissertation "Irrational Nuances: Stockhausen and the Performer in Klavierstucke I-XI". Fascinating stuff, almost spooky in a way, but maybe I better just hope he never reads the story I've handed in for Lynne Jamneck and T.S. Joshi's Gothic Lovecraft anthology...

I've spent the week wearily fixing the mistakes in my first proof of The Grasshopper's Child in solid form. It's coming along, this project, but now I also have to get Barry back, to fix the cover. Don't hold your breath.

For Your Diaries: October 11th . . . Is coming up fast. To TTIP or not TTIP? Me, I think I'll go to London and make it a combo: catch the GLOBAL FRACKDOWN event first. More on this later.