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LIFE: Has A Cover Story

"what you see's nothing, I got a Balinese dancing girl tattooed across my chest"
The Big Sleep


It all started with the Aleutian Trilogy. By the time I'd finished, I knew too much, far, far too much: about real sex science, and also about the rotten deal that women had to put up with, in any kind of science in the real world. I had to write another story. Like mother nature herself I love folding things. I soon worked out that I could write a story about women in science that would also be about the collapse of binary gender. Job done!

I started work well before the third Aleutian book was published in 1997. It was a labour of love and bricolage, a fictional biography, and a "science fiction" about something I knew to be science fact. I called it The Differences Between The Sexes (in honour of a famous nineties collection of sex-science papers; hard to get hold of now); then Differences, which I hoped was more catchy. Didn't matter what I called it, I couldn't sell it (Jo Fletcher, my editor at Gollancz handed it back metaphorically using tongs: "Sometimes I'm not sure if I like you, Gwyneth," was her verdict). Stan Robinson had nagged me for a copy of this unpublishable work. In the end, around the turn of the century, I sent it to him. It passed from Stan to Timmi Duchamp, then in the throes of setting up The Aqueduct Press. She bought it, for her first list.




A book needs a title. Differences no longer appealed. We settled on Life, while we thought of something better. A book needs a cover. I have no luck with covers; I make my own bad luck with covers, take your pick, both apply. Timmi and Kath Wilham came up with a street scene, dark colours, people hurrying face forward, overlaid with streams of the letters AGCTU, the tumbling dice of our genetic code. Well, I didn't like it. I Iiked a lotus, rising out of heart of light (symbolising god knows what about the actual book: I've competely forgotten). I roughed this out and tried the image (above) on my new publishers; they didn't like it.

So I tried the Balinese Dancer idea on them. Bear with me. The legong dancers of Bali, Indonesia, are pre-pubertal young girls, possibly possessed by angelic spirits. Their training is remorseless, depersonifying, their exquisite costume bizarrely constricting. Within these constraints, physically imprisoned by "tradition", they dance, and the dance is very beautiful. I've liked the legong dancer, for an image of what socially constructed gender role does to a talented young girl, for a long time. See Divine Endurance, and Flowerdust

("tradition" is what I point to when I say it. Legong is not ancient.)



Patiently, Kath sourced a painting of two Indonesian dancers. What she hadn't noticed, no wonder, given the costumes, was that one of them was a man. I vetoed the mixed sexes like a hellfire Presbyterian minister! To me Life was (still is) about two women, Anna and Ramone: Anna the gentle, modest, unassuming and chaste high achiever. Ramone the aggressive, shameless, rabid troublemaker: the acceptable and the unacceptable faces of liberated womanhood. (Damn, I've often thought, in retrospect, why couldn't I leave well enough alone? Those figures, almost indistinguishable, dancing together. Everyone who reads Life seems to thinks it's about "man and woman", anyway)

Anyway, Kath then sought for and found a Balinese Dance school in Washington State. She went and took pictures of actual legong dancers, practicing their moves. Amazing. I was just stunned. So there you have it. The cover story.

Except, now we're on the subject of Life, The Aleutian Trilogy and covers, I have to share a link. It's old now, but still so funny. Sometimes writers feel they might as well meddle with covers, not because they'd like to have a voice, but because how could they make things worse? The writers are wrong. See here: Phoenix Cafe. Good show, sir! Worth every penny of my pain.

This post was brought to you by the PKDick award storybundle, out today



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