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The White Hind

Tuesday 18th October, rain and wind in the night, pale brilliant sunshine now, warm through glass, chilly outdoors.

Sunday 16th October we went out to the beechwoods of Angmering Estate, a foraging walk; wondering if we'd got it right this year. The straight and slim ranks of beeches still green, signs of recent and careful thinning everywhere, the harvest just over for this year. It's very soothing to be under their canopy, and think of nothing but the woods, the blue sky, the signs of autumn; for an hour or two. The tracks near Patching littered with sweet chestnuts, already picked over but we gleaned about a kilo from the leaf litter without even trying, or robbing the local squirrels and mice too much... the spiky urchin shells stinging our fingers, the nuts plump but mostly small, never mind they're okay to peel when they're fresh (says I, with optimistic amnesia, and because slightly addicted to wild gathering). No funghi bar a few large and ancient puffballs, because the woods were very dry, amazingly, alarmingly dry for October. Then we took a detour to the Woodman Arms (was, Hammerpot) for an impromptu lunch, ostensibly to give my foot a break; on the way met a remarkable caterpillar (see above, but that's not our photo, I've given you the benefit of a better nature photographer), and did not meet but maybe startled a goshawk, that went rowing and jinking away through the tree boles. Raptor action also evident in splattered rosettes of wood pigeon feathers, seems like there's been a lot of feasting going on all round.

On the way up from The Woodman, beyond the Estate paddocks, we went to investigate a tiny disused quarry, become a dump inevitably, and thereabouts I found the second four leaf clover in my life, which I have carefully preserved, but luck I don't expect. The luck is in the finding, the little thrill of unexpected treasure & then just a short way further, Peter spotted the white hind, a pure white red deer hind, watching us from a thicket of reddening bracken... She looked like a strange-shaped fallen branch, weathered white, until she moved, and kept on watching us, from farther off.

Wonder if the man with the highpowered rifle, whom we noticed twice, though he was trying hard not to be noticed, was trophy-hunting? Ah, well, Red deer must be culled. On the way back, in Patching meadow (where two or three Munjacs were browsing, quite unphased by passing walkers), we picked a box of juicy sloes, just because they were there. Now we'll have free sloe gin, as long as we buy the gin...and the sugar...

Reading: Sophie Mayer's collection, Incarnadine, which she sent to me when she ordered books from me last month. Really engaging and impressive cycle of poems. And the latest issue of Chroma (A Queer Literary Journal), from the same source, and curated, or edited by Sophie it has a sci-fi theme, or should I say (more like it) it turns out that scifi themes are interesting to literary young writers now, quite irrespective of genre. I liked the story called "Inhale" best, a small gem by Sandra Aland.

This signboard stands at the eaves of Patching meadow, obviously not a threat, after all aren't we in a National Park now? Isn't this land bound to be protected commons anyway. Not anymore, it looks like. The Chairman of the National Trust says: there is ample brownfield land available for development, but "we're up against some very rich and powerful people". So when do you think the proposed lobbying review will move in, to clean up that dirty shop? Not holding my breath, me.

Occupy the cold equations #1

Saturday 15th October, fine and clear.

Mail from a friend of mine early this morning: wish me luck, I'm off to join Occupy LXS. Good for you, we texted back: with you in spirit. But that's not exactly true. I don't think I'm entirely one of the 99%. My allegiance is different: our name is legion, but it's getting to be a little smaller, this legion, every day and every hour. I want the redistribution of wealth, sure, I want this feral global elite tamed, of course I do, but that isn't what I really want. In fact, be honest, what I want requires everybody to get poor. and live poor.

So, anyway, I wish her well, and hope things go well, but our police, especially the Met, don't have that reputation, do they? Looking at it from our rulers' point of view, you cannot guarantee that protestors will be violent, and discredit themselves. But you can easily guarantee that the police will be violent -you just have to give the order, or the licence, and hey presto! A violent demonstration!

What if the good, decent police people scratched their heads and thought, hm, actually, these guys are on our side. And on the side of the police work we want to do, except we're being eviscerated by these cuts... And decided to renounce violence?

I suppose you never know.

Oh, Mister Punch! (Violence is Childish)

Friday 14th October, chilly morning, quiet skies, cloud lifting to sunshine.

Last night Occupy Wall Street finally made it to the BBC ten o' clock news, and was given the BBC's mild seal of approval. Now what? Will Obama realise that these dignified, articulate small groups are the best friends his failing Presidency could hope to have, and try to win them over? Or is it far too late for that? I shouldn't have called them sans culottes, by the way, although The Daily Reckoning certainly did. Sans culottes means rabid mobs (probably not wearing any pants), although it shouldn't. Back in 1789 it simply meant the 99%; it meant, if you were a man, you had no call and no desire to wear the breeches and silk stockings that were de rigueur for court dress... But anyway, irritated by my ignorance, I had already tracked down the Mainstream Media coverage, yesterday afternoon. Ah, they're equating Occupy with the Tea Party! As in, compare and contrast, these two movements, they both want to bring the government down, you can hardly tell them apart, they must be twins... Ingenious move, very.

Folk Art: Went to see Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur on Monday night, thought it was good not great. Sincere, but childish, crude not in a bad way, but like a child's drawing... Olivia Coleman was great, no question, but I kept noticing how Eddie Marsan, as the abusive husband, was always weirdly lit, curved nose, curved chin, bulging cheeks, to look like a Mr Punch puppet, and whether this was intended or not, it seemed to fit the case. Gabriel, who had very high hopes of this movie, was also muted in his response, having happened to watch Fear Eats The Soul earlier the same day. Which is not really fair, since Fear is a work of genius, but I'm glad he's making these distinctions.

I thought Shane Meadows Dead Man's Shoes was equally limited, by its too-sentimental view of the protagonist. But there are exceptions, there's real class in this Northern Soul (okay, "Northern" in spirit) genre. A Room For Romeo Brass ; London To Brighton; absolute stand-outs.

Watching and Partly watching: I'm still watching Ringer, just because I like Sarah Michelle Gellar and she's always watchable, even though a) I don't like twin stories, and this one certainly isnt' convincing me to change my mind, and b) the Manhattan Rich Folk setting is getting on my nerves I keep seeing them ballooned out with blubber, it's all Adam Roberts's fault.

Also watching and partly watching Hidden, the Philip Glenister vehicle tv thriller. I suspect made by someone who admires and has studied Edge Of Darkness, and David Suchet adds gravitas, but what's it all about? It's like, someone thought to self, London riots, corrupt PM, got to be a story in there, and then forgot to make up the story.

I think my taste for fantasy gaming has spoiled me for these run around and panic shows. I'd rather be Link, and run around and panic under my own steam.

The 1% Curtain

Wednesday 12th October, weather same as yesterday, less cloud, more blue, quiet skies, still very mild.

I haven't anything new to say today, but I just have to record that it really is uncanny, the way the Occupy Wall Street thing is not-reported. Not a peep. It's hard to believe your eyes. I keep thinking, despite the evidence, well these Boing Boing types, easily excited, its probably about ten people and a dog, a handful of college kids? There can't be much in it, or we'd be hearing about it, hey, if there was really even a little bit of a revolution brewing on the streets of the USA it would be somewhere on the bbc's front page. At least their World News front page. Surely?

What on earth's going on?

I don't know. My pet profiteers' Think Tank mailing from The Daily Reckoning, took the trouble to trash the sans culottes this week, and they weren't bigging the thing up from friendly motives, believe me. On the other hand, that occupystream is, shall we say, charitably, not making a lot of sense. Oh, well. Nobody's been killed yet, no tanks deployed. Maybe the news media just sincerely aren't interested.

My Brain Does Not Reject Negative Thoughts

Tuesday 11th October, mild air, grey low sky, a thin, dropping rain. Frog action and birdsong.

.... but I'm not a pessimist. I'm just not that stupid.

link is from a trusted source, ie Darko Suvin

Also in the news, Avaaz, clearing house for positive negative thinking, announcing today they've hit 10 million members. Are they actually achieving anything? I think It's worth a shot.

Technology Review TRSF: The Flame Is Roses

Monday 10th October, cool grey skies, luminous cloud. Yesterday, the wabi-sabi traditions of autumn, we planted out wallflowers and scoured the pools, savaging the clumps of yellow flag and exhuming soggy sheaves of dead leaves from the depths. Five fish and sundry frogs seemed to appreciate the clean-up. Flames of Roses keynote photo by Pattoise (Patrick Bouquet)/click through to his Flickr site.

TRSF, MIT's Technology Review Science Fiction anthology, out very soon, be sure to order your copy. My story for this exciting new collection has a story behind it: I was invited to submit back in May, with the brief that it was to be about near-future technologies, and went off to the Hay Fringe, where I was on a panel discussing the utility of vast projects like CERN... Some young people asked me, on the way out, what thrilling apps did I expect to "come out" of bizarre massive experiments in high energy physics?

If you've read my books and stories you'll know the answer: I write about a form of faster than light travel, "coming out" of a combination of information space science and high energy physics. But the Buonarotti Torus is a metaphor, not an extrapolation. It just means there has to be some huge shift, in basic science, before we can be starfarers. Something's got to give. What I said was, very firmly: I DON'T KNOW, because I thought that was the point of the lively discussion we'd just been having. You can't know. You can't put in an order for truly novel science, or it wouldn't be really novel, would it? But then I tried to think, because I had a story to write. What kind of app would I like? How could I link it to current cutting edge ideas? Then I read (classically) a timely New Scientist article about Bousso and Susskind's quantum global multiverse, which you can also read about in TR: I felt immediately drawn to this. Hey, weird and totally cosmic scientists in need of an experiment/ What do I have in the locker that I could use, to make a story out of that...? I went to sleep one night, and woke up with the words the flames are roses, the smoke is briars. I knew it was a quote from T.S.Eliot's The Four Quartets, but it seemed highly suggestive. Flames, the pattern of fire of the neurons, I've often used that one. Roses, the pulsing, convoluted false-coloured rose of a brain scan, I've often used that one too... But what about that random T. S. Eliot connection? Was it just a pretty title? Or was there anything useful in Eliot?

Our Big Science throws up perverse hints and glimpses of a hidden level of reality, where time does not exist (and therefore neither does space); where everything is contiguous. Maybe, who knows, best described as a fantastically complex single object (mathematically speaking), that contains all possible universes. We can't observe this reality, we can't live in it, though it must be all around us, all the time. We can only deduce the immanent, enormous presence from the most fleeting phenomena, the faintest traces. And yet the fact that we have these glimpses seems to suggest that there is some bridge, some intersection, between what goes on in our causation-bound, flaccid jelly and chemistry brains, and the contiguous universe of information. Meanwhile artists and poets, such as Thomas Stearns Eliot, have wrestled for millenia with a strangely similar, aesthetic and spiritual dilemma. How human life; how consciousness itself, only exists painfully poised between physical, bodily existence, and ungraspable eternity. On the intersection, as he puts it, between the timeless, and time.

So, anyway, out of these scattered hints and traces I made an art/science sf story: realised it was far from being "good old fashioned clunky near future sf", and decided to send it off anyway, with apologies for being so undisciplined. But good old fashioned clunky sf had its moments of poetry too, after all...

The church on the headland, with the mysterious void below the Sanctuary (it's probably just a disused mediaeval crypt) is St Peter Vincula at Wisborough Green, West Sussex. If you know the Four Quartets, you'll know why there had to be a river.

I hope I haven't put you off, but I trust not. The list of contributors is stellar, the rest of the stories certain to be thrilling, and just what you need, a generous dose of the real stuff of science fiction.

On The Beach

Monday 3rd October, a cool breeze through my window, morning sun burning white in a clear sky, but it won't be so hot today as it's been over the weekend

Sunday afternoon, after the banquet and the awards, the former enlivened by very good company at my table; in the latter, I only had one shout (so to speak, I am not a betting woman so my money had stayed in my pocket) and it was Tom Fletcher's The Leaping for the Best Novel. Alas, my boy didn't win, but there you go, I still think he's a very promising writer, had the despair and anomie of the call centre work/life really nailed. I slipped away to change and join Peter, musing on the curious things that worry fantasy ie horror writers...

Zombies can't see

I've visited a morgue, there's no question, they can't possibly see

Mm. Visual cortex also well on its way to becoming soup, I'd have thought. Realistic zombies, you know, I would never have thought about it, but I see it's a tough one.

... and we drove over to Hove, away beyond King Alfred's where crowd thins out and the shingle gets finer & there's even a patch or two of sand, and we went in the sea together, swimming for the first time this year, the endless sea dead calm and silver blue, sailing boats, against the white, declining sun, the water chill and wonderful, I love swimming in the sea.

Look at that, says Peter, noting a handsome red setter charging around, threatening our towels. Dogs on the beach! That's not allowed

Peter, that's in summer. It's 2nd October, the dogs are perfectly within their rights.


It's called global warming, you know. You just be thankful you live here, not in Western Australia, or Kenya or somewhere.

& I wonder, while basking in this glorious weather, do other people secretly also have that strange feeling you get, when nothing overtly nasty is going on, but you know your dream is actually nightmare? & we just none of us say it out loud.

Name Day Vow

Thursday 29th September, weather the same as it was 10 minutes ago.

It's also Gabriel's name day, and here I formally record his name-day vow.

Casualties for this summer include:

1 nice phone
1 Linux digital compact camera, gift from his father
1 i-pod
1 wallet and contents, including the badger.

The vow is that he will stop losing things.

I'm hoping to welcome our famous and much loved baseball bat home again, after rounders in the park this afternoon. But not totally confident.

Please don't ask how old my son is.

Dale Farm Gate: Invisible Ideology

Thursday 29th September, haze clearing to a hot blue day, a late rush of Summer in full burn, and likely to last until Martinmass (11th November) so the weather doctors say. NB, as I'm sure I've told you before, some other September, an Indian Summer, New England style, where the expression comes from, is supposed to happen after the first hard frosts: making it the meteorological phenomenon we've known as a "St Martin's Summer" over here, for a thousand years or more. St Luke's summer, occuring around the 18th October, has been known as another of these, same timescale. Before the saints? I don't know, ask your nearest megalithic sun-worshipper or animist. Anyway, take your pick, today it is hot.

I'm not a huge great fan of the Traveller lifestyle. In my observation, and personal experience, a Travellers' camp (settled or transit, Irish, hippie, or whatever persuasion) does not step lightly on the earth. Not at all. Maybe things were different once, but right now, I'd put Travellers, as lovers of the land, somewhere on a par with agribusiness farming, though on a far smaller scale. On the other hand, take a closer look at the Dale Farm case, and it doesn't seem to be a clear cut case of trash-and-tyre-fires. It seems more like a storm in a Basildon Council teacup, fueled by inequalities in the laying down of the law; and all in a region of the South East (you wouldn't think there was room, but we do have strong regional variation) where rich or poor, organised or clueless, off the map, planning-permission-what's-that, opportunistic development is a bit of an ancient tradition in itself. So why am I not surprised that the Dale Farm eviction affair, a full-on, illegal, chained-themselves-to-the-railings, Direct Action has been basking in the sunshine of so much mainstream news coverage? Why so warm and sympathetic? What have these people got that other protestors haven't got? Is it because they is non-political? Or is it because in this case, grass-roots protest is serving an approved cause?

I think the answer may be here:

and here:

Of course new houses are needed. Preferably, mostly, in towns. In cities and urban areas, where human infrastructure already exists, where public transport already exists. But the new National Planning Framework isn't designed to make that happen. Check it out. This is designed to make profit happen, by making things easier for opportunistic, greenfield, greenbelt developers. Everything will be much simpler, just jump straight in and take your profit straight out, without facing all that annoying red tape, or heaven forbid, actually doing something useful for the future. Brownfield sites, the land that needs improvement, the urban wasteland and post-industrial dereliction that needs investment will be shunned, even more than it is now.

The countryside is safe? Please. Like the NHS, Dave?


Gwyneth Jones on Social Networks

Monday 26th September. Indian summer yesterday, we walked by the sea, sharing two ices between three and admiring the volley-ball meet at the Barefoot cafe, but this is a cool, tossing grey morning, where has the sun gone?

To whom it may concern. If I get a Linkedin invitation from someone I know well, or someone with whom I've had recent contact that makes the invitation plausible, I accept. If the invitation has no provenance and comes without a personal message, I will always ignore it. That way, I never inadvertantly accept automatically generated invites.

Monday morning, as I've been promising myself, clearing off my Facebook page. As I've said before, I'm not really one for social networks, never will be, the whole thing is too corporate and controlling, and I like to be in charge of my own sandwich. But welcome aboard to all new friends, though you won't see much from me, personally, barring use of Facebook wall as free advertising for Avaaz alerts and such.

Time to come indoors...

Thursday 15th September, crisp bright morning, the next storm-tail not due until the weekend. Did I say crisp? Apparently there was a frost in parts of the UK last night, "in rural areas". That's good enough for me. Time to come indoors, citrus trees.

They won't be sorry, fresh air hasn't been fun this year. Not a single lemon made it. (The other citrus doesn't have fruit, it'll never be big enough, it's a pip-grown I-don't-know-what in a pot, kind of bonsai, very ancient.)

Many thanks to Sophie Mayer for her book order, £21.25 relayed to Amnesty International.

Arctic Ice Melt in the news again, and the Common Dreams comment-teamsters as usual have a lot to say. I finally read Cormac McCarthy's The Road this summer, and am now puzzled by reports that the catastrophe is "unidentified". Surely that's blatantly a Nuclear Winter/following a Global Nuclear War scenario? Or possibly, or both, a fantasy-heightened record of the mournful adventure of fatherhood. You mean everything to this kid, he worships you and keeps you holy, and then in the end he just grows up and moves on. As an sf reader, I found this slipstream novel engaging, moving, old-fashioned and highly conventional. Where have you been since 1960?, sort of thing. Touching, yes, but disturbing in its message: in short, nothing can be done, and no change in behaviour is required or even advised. Nuclear Winter or Capitalist Summer, we just plod on, we dauntless pursuers of life, liberty and happiness, plundering whatever supplies we find, and it will all come right in the end.

Hm. No wonder book and movie made such a hit with the public.

The Twelve Planets: Summer put to bed

Wednesday 14th September, a blue and sunny September day between the tails of the Atlantic gales, a slight cool breeze, the tangled autumn garden full of spiders, opportunistic tomatoes smothering the rosemary bush, and bully teazels making goldfinch food (that's their story) in the cottage garden patch.

Finally, finally the summer without a summer may have been debriefed, although I'm still booked this Friday morning to courier Gabriel's suit and good white shirt up to London for a lunchtime concert with Marianne (soprano) at Regent Hall, Oxford Street, Friday 16th 1pm. Come along if you like, it's free entry. The Walton songs (lyrics by Edith Sitwell) and the Debussy songs are my favourites, the Debussy so beautiful.

I've been reading The Twelve Planets' latest selections, and enjoying them very much, starting with Deborah Biancotti: police procedural with a sinister undertow of the weird, progressing through Tansy Rayner Roberts (Romanpunk), Lucy Sussex (Thief of Lives), and Sue Iles (Nightside). These collections, just four stories in a slim paperback, are an excellent idea, a tasting menu of Australasian female genre writers. Romanpunk has an intriguing twist on the noble vampire and mortal girlfriend* story (see, these vampires are really Lamia, they're Roman in origin, and very well connected, but they find the C21 street has its uses). Ever wondered why pretty-boy Caligula was such an unmitigated horror in private life? Or why Nero was finally forced to kill his mother? Refreshingly, unlike Buffy, the mortal girlfriend is not allergic to education and actually has a life... Lucy Sussex I can safely say needs no introduction: I loved her beautiful story about modern and ancient Babylon, "Alchemy". Sue Iles has created a daunting, yet not hopeless day after tomorrow Western Australia; linked stories all set in the same moment, the moment, for various characters, when you realise that climate change has won, and civilisation is not coming back. So you stop mourning, and you move on... Made me wish there was a novel.

Someone said, recently, the Finnish sf community gives me hope for the future of the genre... These Australians give me hope for the future of female, and even feminist, writers in sf.

Saw The Guard, don't think it was a patch on In Bruges, a gem of a movie. My two Irish companions were better pleased, but we were agreed on uneven as a final verdict. I'd have added annoyingly self-satisfied; there, I did. Also saw Amoldovar's The Skin I Live In, and then a week later, Les Yeux Sans Visage, (warning, spoilers if you follow the link, but if you read my blog you don't care about spoilers, do you?); the original version, which I've been wanting to see for years, only lovefilm would never send it to me... Thanks to the Duke's cunning timing I did actually enjoy the Amoldovar (a late Amoldovar, rather over-fed: and you could hear the great man thinking, damn it, I love Les Yeux, I long to remake it, to praise it, to enshrine it in my own work, shot by shot and almost frame by frame, but I am going to shove transgender surgery in here anyway. I know It's stupid, but it's my favourite thing and I don't care!. My god, what a difference. Les Yeux Sans Visage is wonderful, so stylish, so truly full of pity and terror too.

Getting back to the long-delayed novel. Accepting no more invitations or commissions certainly not until after Katcon, a wild weekend by the North Sea in March, how could I resist? People say they don't like winter, they hate grey November, January and February are the slough of despond. Couldn't disagree more. Summer summer summer, always some kind of hell.

Madame de Stael & the Globalisation Salon

Friday 9th Sept, unpleasant weather, a breathless, heavy, humid morning, thick grey mist and cloud down to the rooftops across the valley. Think this dead air effect may be because the tail of another big storm (Hurricane Katia) is on its way. Birdsong again. I think the robins must have a late brood.

This post is in belated response to a comment from Alison Smith, about Mme de Stael, back in May. Alison, you mention P D James, Annie Lennox. I thought of Bianca Jagger, Arundjati Roy... But Germaine de Stael wasn't exactly a human rights defender, or a lady of mercy, or an oustandingly charitable and righteous wealthy WAG. I think we have to shift up a few gears, and I think we have to accept she was no angel. She was (to paraphrase a famous description of Einstein's emotional and sexual behaviour) "a very normal woman". She was an old-fashioned establishment figure, whose novels were laden with convention: who had no problem with her privileges, who sought wealth and position; a lifelong Daddy's girl, who traded shamelessly on her feminine charms. Yet still, she commands my immense respect. There hasn't been a woman like her, operating on her level in world affairs, since she bowed out.

So let's imagine... Imagine the daughter of a hugely important, unimpeachably liberal and honest financial advisor to the White House, possibly Canadian or Mexican by birth; anyway, a bit of a foreigner. That would be, I think, the modern equivalent of Jacques Necker, Swiss financial minister to Louis XVI, who lit the fuse for the revolution of 1789. I'm scratching my head over a name, so, cut a long story short: imagine if Obama himself were thrown out of office, after providing the assist for a coup by the Progressives? They find him totally discredited. He's thrown so hard that he actually has to leave the USA, and goes into dignified retirement, with Michelle, in the Pacific somewhere not far from Hawaii. His only daughter, or his older daughter, say, has cunningly got herself married to somebody safe from the displeasure of the new regime (Germaine was married off at thirteen, to acquire a patent of nobility for the family, a prize she herself treasured all her life: the deal was decently conducted, the marriage wasn't consummated until she was eighteen). Anyway, Malia Ann, at first trading on her father's name, starts a blog. This blog, liberal, principled, outspoken, incredibly well connected and well informed, is a total internet sensation. Nobody can shut her down, nobody can shut her up, she has friends on all sides, and shrugs of the occasional death threat. (Her best-selling books go platinum instantly, but they are just spin-off.) Everyone, every single member of our bizarrely varied C21 global High Society reads Malia Ann, from Hu Jintao to Victoria Beckham; from Shanghai to Sao Paulo, from Tehran to Los Angeles. From Mark Kermode to Angela Merkel. Even the Pope reads Malia-Ann: you just have to. He probably consults her when he's preparing his encyclicals.

It's important that she looks like a simple woman of the people, of the Coming Race, but she isn't really a peasant or a sans culotte, so (be clear about this) she isn't threatening to the bankers and the Ministers, she just makes them want to be admired in her terms: not the terms of War is Profitable and Greed is Good... It's important that she has no office, and belongs to no party. Imagine what a counterweight she'd be to our feral elite: how they'd be dragged towards decency by her decent, liberal and humane voice. How they'd be held in check, instead of treating the world (as they do now) as their playground, and their blood-spattered larder.

It can't last. The Progressives, after a period of turmoil, finally throw up a new pretender for the throne of Leader of the World. He's nominally Progressive, like Obama before him, but soon he shows his fangs. He wants Malia Ann on his side, and she rather fancies the position of being his restraining guide, but it doesn't work out. When Malia Ann tries to get herself recruited as his Muse, he tells her the most celebrated woman should be the one who bears the most babies. So that's the end of that flirtation...and Malia-Ann becomes radicalised at last, and pays the price.

Anyway, I just wanted to explain what and who Germaine de Stael was, this barely-famous historical figure, so eclipsed now (as a writer) by, say, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. And the moral of the story is that I can explain, now, because for the first time since her day a woman like Germaine makes sense. Conversation was her passion, and the medium of her power: and now, again, different technology, different scale, it's the conversation that matters, the unstoppable conversation that rules the world.

Other moral, put not your trust in patriarchy. Not if you want to last.

Germaine died at 51, I think because she never recovered from a dangerously late pregnancy, but the story doesn't end there. It ends in a quietly well-heeled country house, many generations later, on another planet (as good as), with a soft spoken android guide, who really has no idea why Germaine was famous, except that she's one of the ancestors...

In Geneva again this July, we finally managed to make the visit to Coppet, the manor house to which Jacques Necker retired, when the French Revolutionary government no longer had a use for him, and which later became the HQ in exile of his redoubtable daughter. Listed among the Castles of Switzerland, Its actually a restrained C18th manor house, close to Nyons, on the shore of Lac Leman; still occupied by the present Comte de Haussonville, the property having descended through Germaine's daughter Albertine, duchesse de Broglie, and Albertine's daughter, Louise d'Haussonville. The rooms we saw, restored to what they were in Mme De Stael's time, are simple, stone tiled, cool and graceful. Aside from the inevitable family portraits, including a massive King Louis in white satin (sort of thing monarchs of the ancien regime used to hand out, as marks of great favour), it has the air of a slightly primitive country retreat, a place to rough it in comfort for the visitors from Paris. There's not much sign of Germaine's public and literary career. Our guide seemed mildly bemused when I bought the second volume of D'Allemagne, (the book that made Napoleon so furious); the only copy in stock, from the gift shop. A guided visit to Coppet today is all about family, nobility; the honour of having been passed down in the same line for nine generations; romantic celebrity connections. Juliette (Mme Recamier) is the star among these, what a beautiful creature she was. And a true friend too.

I Walk Into The Picture

Thursday 8th September, cool and grey, glimpses of sun, the air outdoors heavy and humid, but no rain yet. The gale winds have died down completely now. There's been a bird singing, a robin I think, first birdsong in the garden for a long time.

In the last week of July, the night after the first of three alcoholic and carnivorous meals shared in Geneva, I slept uneasily and dreamed I was at a festival. It was in steep forest, the teepees, benders, tents, log huts, buried in bracken and mossy thickets along hillsides. I was looking for someone Norwegian called Anna Petersen (see what I did there, my husband is called Peter). I found her, dressed in pale blue denims: tall and slim, with black rough hair, white skin and blue eyes. She was some kind of leader of this politically engaged festival. She'd been trying to get in touch with Ax Preston, I was here to tell her that Ax Preston doesn't exist, he's a fictional character. And if you've read the books, I said, you'll know Ax didn't change the world, he didn't think that was possible, he only tried to change it, for a while. I'm not that kind of Utopian, I explained, like a child, absentmindedly dropping the make-believe. I'm afraid of that route. Ideally, I'd be trying to make the best world we can of what's already here, what's in us. But that's not what's happening now, it isn't what happened in the books. This is a time for saving what you can. The dream went off on a tangent after that. There were foxes, friendly little foxes in the tents with the people, and I copped a couple of flirty, definitely sexual advances (from men). I realised they didn't know how old I was, I didn't know what I looked like in this dream of course. Have you ever looked in a mirror in a dream?; I felt I ought to explain, only it was embarrassing.

Long afterwards, I realised the figure I called Anna Petersen had looked very like my best friend Mary Curran, only the Mary of a long time ago.

I rarely if ever dream about my fiction, in any shape or form, but I suppose I couldn't help it, in this summer without a summer. The faces of those children (adults really, but my son is twenty four, so children to me) lined up on the screen. Watching NASDAQ tumble, on the tv in the departure lounge at Gatwick, as I broke my non-flying vow -not really broke it, I'll fly for a serious family reason. Watching the fighting in the streets in Manchester, on another tv in an outrageous Celtic Tiger Years gin-palace of a bar in Peter's hometown, in the early hours.

My treat. If you write about full-on scifi disaster-futures (Nuclear Winter swallows us; Yellowstone blows its top; the Flood or the Ice Age engulfs us in an afternoon), I suppose you don't get these flashes, much less have them strengthen over years and years. My ruin was cumulative and slow, the Devil's work; not an Act Of God.

To get back to Les Aiguilles Rouges. The picture above is of me, unbelievably cold and wet, walking into my jigsaw picture, sadly with zero co-operation from the weather around Mont Blanc. If you look carefully, you can see the glacier called the Mer du Glace, across the Chamonix valley, but of course no needles, and if there had been, they couldn't have been reflected in sunset or dawn light in the Cheserys lakelets. That would take very different timing. As it was, I was forced to pretend I was Tommy Voeckler, utterly determined to hang onto the yellow jersey one more time, to set a pace that got us back to La Flegere for the last telephorique down to the valley. One lives and learns. Next time, maybe.

But the flowers were beautiful.

On the last evening, me very footsore with the trouble that's going to ground me completely one of these years, we took a short stroll up a tiny, raspberry dangling path between the chalets of Les Mousseaux to find John Ruskin's stone: Ruskin placed here in honour by local worthies on a great medallion set in a granite boulder, wood sorrel and wild strawberries clustering around it, under steep forest trees: really like the grounds of Brantwood, oddly enough. Looking remarkably rugged, wild haired and Beethovian, I must say. 1925. He loved Chamonix, of course. He'd hate it now, but he'd be wrong to get too upset, it's just like Cumbria. You don't have to go very far, to leave the crowds. We were alone most of the time.

Did someone say, yeah, well look at the weather you went out in...

You have a point.

The Abundant Lake: An Illustrated Post

Thursday 14th July, mild silvery overcast warm sun, a still morning. The keynote is a video of Gabriel playing young composer Alex Drosos's The Abundant Lake, a very cool piece, cool water, abundant numbers if that means anything to you (Gabriel's dad very pleased by the mathematical connection), the performance was for Alex's final.

Monday we walked out in the evening, from Woodingdean along the Juggs Road track to Castle Hill, down through sheets of vivid rosebay willowherb and between walls of bramble to the flowers and butterflies in the combe, out the other end past the old lost damson orchard, up again over the hill & down the Bostle path and the lane into Rottingdean, under battalions of swifts to Kipling's garden and a sojourn at the Black Horse, which was rather gloomy and very quiet, and back along the undercliff walk. A very still evening, an old-gold three-quarter moon in a mist, the sea hardly making a sound, gracile black-headed gulls, (a pleasing change from the brutish herring gulls who have made Roundhill Crescent their clifftop colony), sleeping on the water, turned up at both ends The Tour is on the tv, the last two-legged tadpoles, four-legged tadpoles and mini-frogs have been released, the year is about to break in half, no long trip this time just a short holiday, Geneva and Chamonix where I hope to keep my promise to self and walk into my jigsaw picture of Les Aiguilles Rouges, but still, symbolically and from old habit this is the changeover, the end of my summer term.

A mailing from Orion? Whoa, that's weird, what can it be? To be approached with caution, but it's okay, only the SFX team deciding to elect Ax Preston as one of their Summer Reading feature's sf heroes. I'm touched, SFX people, and to satisfy Ax's multitude of eager fans here's the great dictator's portrait by Bryan Talbot.

Hoping to polish off my review of Paul Bleton's intriguing study of French espionage fiction (see what I did there?) La Cristallisation de L'Ombre today. And pay my library fines, post my letters cancel the milk and all that. It's time to hit the road.