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Safe As Milk, anyone?

Wednesday 23rd March, weather same as yesterday, except no dropping mist at dawn. Clear skies, bright sun. Beginning to wish it would rain.

Publisher's Weekly says Google Book Settlement rejected by Judge Chin, read all about it here: That's most unexpected. I wonder what it means. The big money always wins, doesn't it? Weird...

Maybe because I've spent my life on the Opposition benches, and been proud of this status, I regard opposition as a choice, a vote, a wager, a hat tossed in the ring. Power corrupts, always, but that does not mean opposition to the party in power is necessarily, always, right. It's just that there should be some people pulling the other way from the unmindful, manipulated majority. So now I'm sounding like Adoy again, backwards talking and I'll shut up.

I've returned to my garden. Fukishima, hoping for the best. Global War creep by stealth thing that's going on: not a fan, not following it. Except have you noticed Libya has been moved to The Middle East? To keep all the eggs in one basket, I suppose. And hoping there'll be somewhere for the young men who don't wish to kill for money to run to... Canada? Don't think so. Tierra del Fuego?

Sunday sad, Tuesday happy

Tuesday 22nd March, same pattern as the last few days: a cold night here in Sussex, temperatures grazing frost level; a misty dawn, clearing to bright sun, but still an underlying chill.

Sunday I was sad, despite the brilliant success of Gabriel's Liszt Bicentennial concert, because all our fine young pianists gone away again, and practically all my little tadpoles died overnight. No obvious reason why. Also tired as a dead dog, from the parental stress of all that effortless success. Today I'm happy, because the newts are back, in clear water, looking very fine. (the small pool meanwhile is still churned to zero visibility, so I can't tell what's happening in there). Plus the miniscule company of survivors from my first batch of indoor frog-conservation endeavour are still wriggling merrily, having put on weight and developed frillier gills. I'm going to call them the Liszt Concert Six.

Meanwhile, over on Aqueduct Press, and alerted by David Golding, I see the (re-mastered) Aleutian Trilogy ebooks have appeared & that's nice to know. Job done. Really, I need to have Spirit re-mastered and up there before I reach closure, but I'm getting there.

Found a cool link for Rainbow Bridge (I'm so glad someone noticed the carefully researched sixties/rockstar/occult strand, at last) which I'm posting here to remind myself I haven't forgotten that I still have to re-master and epublish the fifth Bold As Love book too.

There's Life

Wednesday 16th March. Soft spring air yesterday, the garden at last and suddenly taking on colour, suddenly budding and flowery. Today a low sky, dropping mist, I could see my breath.

Two batches of spawn so far, I brought some of the first batch indoors, and already I have dumbells: there's life there. Have failed to relocate the little fish in the "wildlife patch" pool = introduced after the tads grew up last year, to eat mosquito larvae. I left it too late, the warm air has warmed the water, the frogs have become active and the water a muddy suspension. Oh well, opportunistic fishing will have to be my hobby (fish and tads don't mix well). In memory of Link's fishing obsession...

And meanwhile, have the Saudis effectively invaded Bahrain, the tiny state where masses of decent people, both sexes, all dress codes, peacefully came out on the streets to insist on reform? Looks like it

Stunningly callous assessment of the Japanese crisis on The Daily Reckoning (but that's what I hire them for, bless). I'm really annoyed at all the insulting denigration of Japan's twenty years of "stagnating economy". Getting to a good place and stopping there, creating social equality, ending the fallacy of perpetual economic growth. What is wrong with that?

"We don't need to replace fossil fuel with plutonium, we need to USE LESS ENERGY"


Friday 11th March, I get to my desk, and switch on the BBC to find out what's happening in Libya. No, Libya is no longer headlining. There's been a huge seabed earthquake and tsunami, affecting the whole North East coast of Japan. Utter devastation everywhere, and one of the Fukushima reactors is in trouble. At once I'm transported back to 1988/1989, when I was drafting White Queen. I had in mind an alien invasion, but not the Space Opera, "War of the Worlds" variety, with a Deathstar Fleet appearing from nowhere, bent on World Domination with sole emphasis on the USA (or UK, in Wells's day). I wanted to use the best real world models we have, ie the alien colonial invasions from Western Europe into the developed civilisations of Pacific Asia, India, Africa. World domination, in this model, come almost by accident, in increments, over generations, and the natives don't even try to resist, much. They believe the promises, they're divided among themselves, and they've already been weakened by complex homegrown factors. Given the heft and size of our current global civilisation, I think I need to invoke some major, politically neutral disaster, it's better wipe out a huge chunk of our notional capital in the bargain, now what shall it be? An asteroid? The USA and Western Europe must be physically, largely unaffected (except by the slow creep of global warming sea level rise), because I can speak with relative confidence in the voice of those cultures, so I'll need to use them as my venues. Likewise Africa, for different reasons. Did I read Sakyo Komatsu's Japan Sinks, and decide I'd found my catastrophe? Or did I think of Japan, and did that lead me to Komatsu? I can't remember.

So then I spent the weekend, which happened to be unsettling and eventful in my own private life, constantly referring to the live updates, hearing phrases and descriptions (the entire coastal plate, the reactor core may have been exposed, the fuel rods were not fully inserted) familiar to me from long ago, and feeling, creepily, that I was reacting like someone who sees a celebrity in trouble on the News, and cries excitedly "Oooh, Fukushima! I met her once!" But what has struck me most is the sheer ugliness of the sight (same as the wake of the Boxing Day tsunami a few years ago). The whole coastland and for miles inland transformed into a vast, foul, muddy, festering heap of trash, as if the lives of millions of the poorest of the poor of the urban tropics had been swept up and dumped there. And the humanity of the reaction of the Japanese government and people. How their first instinct was to minimise the damage, we're not much hurt, we'll be fine. But that's shock, it wears off, the pain sets in, they begin to realise the horrific extent of their injuries, and the invisible fear.

Nuclear Reactors may compare favourably, on environmental grounds with gas, coal, oil-fired power stations as long as nothing goes wrong.

Nobody would ever, ever build a Nuclear Power Station, if safety was the top priority.

No room for Libya on the front pages, and no hope for those rebels that I can see. Guernica is a very famous picture, but it didn't help to shift Franco, far from it. But from the start, I wasn't hopeful for the Libyan tranche of the Arab revolutions.There didn't seem to be a general will to change the paradigm. The men, and the young men, were just too willing to die, eerily willing to die gloriously in battle, while the women stayed in their houses, not in safety, of course not, but in "honour" bound.

Saturday 12th March, watery sun and haze, the waterlily tulips all wide open in the big blue pot, Gabriel home for the weekend, a buzz of preparation for the Liszt concert, and working on his share of a Fitkin eight-hand piano piece, part of an evening of Fitkin, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thurs 24th A vast site specific event, it says here. Should be fun, I'll be there.

Gloom and Sunshine

Wednesday 2nd March, cold but the sun has come out. Hazy sky, faintly blue, suffused with light. Lulu Belle Camellia may have to come indoors again tonight, however. Three frogs have been seen, no further action, no spawn. One of these years...

Sunday 27th in the grey stillness of a shrouded end-of-winter day, we found something strange outside Mayfield (=Maul's field in Saxon times, formerly the capital of the Sussex iron industry you know). A large rectangular pit, still partially clothed in swimming pool blue, a few inches of dead leaves and water in the bottom, the trees around leaning close to grab the open sky. Marked on the map, "swimming bath", wonder how it got here, who swam here, and when did it fall into dereliction. The answer to the first might be the spring close by, running strongly from a metal pipe into a mossy stone basin and spilling downhill to a tributary of the Rother. Spring recently adopted as an al fresco "Celtic Shrine", and declared sacred, which does not mean it was left alone in beauty, no, it means the young ash tree above it had been requisitioned as an eyesore: coat hanger for rags of coloured cloth, beads, twisty things. A notice wrapped in plastic invited us to add our own. Bloody Pagans, litter-louts. Where do they get off? Are we on Celtic ethnic territory here? I don't think so! Oh well, at least they didn't build themselves a lurid basilica. Yet.

But I tasted the water, and it was sweet.

This is richly populated country, since Saxon times. Walking around Mayfield woods and fields you're rarely out of sight of some human dwelling, mainly ancient and fine, or derelict and pleasingly spooky, but still it feels as if you're strolling through an extremely leafy extended garden suburb. Bit like the Shire, maybe, except no grass roofs. Yet. The footing also unspeakably slimy throughout, that's Wealden Clay for you, and sometimes vile (eg getting past the deer feeding station in Wadhurst Park, disgusting lakes of slurry). But there were primroses, the first we've seen, crowds of yellow hazel catkins, fully expanded; amiable sheep. I like sheep, as you may have gathered. Birdsong, non-stop and the sound of water; neither of these disturbing the quiet. A skein of geese went honking overhead, dropping rain and then a cold breeze got up towards sunset, but we didn't mind.

Many thanks to Mr Plashing Vole, for his book order. Universe of Things is in the post, and a donation of £13 has been made to Amnesty International. I have more Universes! It's for a good cause, come on.

Meanwhile, joy it was in that dawn to be alive seems to have segued into a dreary, deadly civil war in Libya, and no good news from Wisconsin either. The tight little group of regular respondents on Common Dream are convinced the anti-Gaddafis are being financed by the CIA, and maybe that tells the whole story.

Meanwhile #non-war news, Gill Spraggs has posted some new links on the doubtful future of copyright, and the issue of Mr Cameron's plan to adopt a US style system. Join the mailing list if you're interested:

Thunder At Valmy: Tales of Moon and Rain

Friday 25th February, morning mist, mild temperatures, three skinny frogs in the bigger pool: first sighting. A mating pair and a spare male. I hope there will be more.

Watching: Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari, a Japanese ghost story, one of my happier Lovefilm arthouse choices. "The feeling of wartime must be apparent in the attitude of every character," it says here, quoting the director. "The violence of war unleashed by those in power on a pretext of the national good must overwhelm the common people with suffering—moral and physical.". I don't know why these Japanese movies have such an intense appeal, or even why they are so revered by movie buffs. But knowing nothing, I'm drawn in.

And the BBC live updates from Libya, the rest of North Africa, the Middle East.

Reading (my library books) Jonathan Rabb's Rosa, a richly novelistic thriller woven around the death of Rosa Luxembourg. Also pretty good. Hello! I see it's a trilogy. Am I sorry about that, or pleased there'll be more?

Today it's earliest spring. The insistent see-saw see-saw see-saw of the great tits cuts through the mist, gathering again as the afternoon draws in. The murky damp weather persists, seems to have been hanging around forever, but I have a feeling winter conditions are not going to return, not down here

Intelligence Test For Cats

Monday 21st February, another new year's day for me. Weather same as it's been since I caught this mega-cold: grey, low cloud frequently deliquescing into day-long downpours & I take it those Coronal Mass Ejections did not bring Civilisation to its knees? No? Well, better get on with this.

Bahrain (sounding brave and hopeful), Algeria, Libya (sounding very frightening), and Wisconsin. That's a bizarre addition to the roll.

It's no use. It's over before we begin, due to the test's failure to match parameters. You see, Ginger can with ease communicate this sentiment to a human being ie me:

Get off me! Why are you suddenly behaving so weird?

But I have no means of expressing, in her language:

Calm down, it's an intelligence test, it won't affect your credit rating honest, it's just a bit of fun.

At least Ginger sticks around, curious as always. Touch the inside of your cat's ear with a finger or a pencil, it says here... Does she shake her head? Does she twitch the ear? Or does she (for full marks!) apply a paw to the ear?

Ginger intercepts the pencil with her nose, twitches and shakes in one movement; finally decides having her ear poked might be fun and sits there purring, with her head on one side.

Milo simply runs off and hides under the bed. Does his fear of the unknown mask a mighty intellect?

The Intelligence Test For Cats
was one of my birthday presents, birthday culminating in a visit to the Southbank to hear Pollini play Beethoven's Last Sonatas. For the record I didn't feel like standing up, though plenty did, but I thought he played 111, my favourite, really lovely although having crawled out of my preferred state (huddling, coffing and choking up wads of evil-coloured goop) for the duration I was mainly concentrating on getting through without annoying my neighbours.

For Gwyneth Jones completists in the UK, & if you didn't buy Grazing : If you want to buy The Universe Of Things collection I have some spares, and will not charge you an arm and a leg. It'll be list price, as this is a new book, which I make to be £11.20 in GBP, and the money ex-postage goes to Amnesty as usual. Details for ordering on my Books page.

Nocton and the industrial cows

Friday 18th February, weather same as it was 10 minutes ago only the sun is burning more strongly through the mist. Compassion in World Farming reports that Nocton Dairies has withdrawn its plans for the first industrial "dairy farm" in the UK, in the face of determined popular opposition both national and local. But Compassion in World Farming warns that Nocton hasn't given up. They're keeping the land, on Nocton Heath Lincolnshire, and they haven't withdrawn their planning applications for the slurry reservoir and pipeline required. They have not accepted the validity of the objections raised against their plan & the message seems to be that they'll be back.

This may seem like a storm in a teacup, from a global perspective. Why shouldn't Holsteins, bred and fed solely for milk production, be treated callously and packed in impoverished conditions? One has to be hard headed about farm animals. On the other hand, in other parts of the world prosperous people have what seems to me, here in this small country, a shocking tolerance (especially dairy and meat eaters, of whom I am one) for eating horribly dirty food. It was the same in the last industrial revolution, until protest and pressure turned things around. Why not be even-handed. We're good at that. We can always see a case for moral relativism these days, so why should cows take all the stick? Along with CiWF, I feel there's a case for being hard-headed about the real bad guys in all this, the ruthless profiteering drivers of this new industrial revolution, I mean the giant supermarkets.

I don't like violent revolution, because it doesn't have a great track record (and indeed, in the Bold As Love sequence it's the Extreme Right Wing, with occult connections and a genocidal plan, that finally "benefits" from the violence that overtakes the joyous young demonstrators of Dissolution Year). But I look back with pride at the targets I got right: Ax Preston co-opts the military and the police to his cause, while torching Asda, Tesco Sainsburys etc, on a massive scale. But I'm glad I didn't forget the reverse of the medal: as these Bastilles are stormed, and agribusiness collapses in their wake, Sage Pender is dragging starved mega-farm dairy cows into burial pits. How hard it is to right a wrong by violence!

Hey, who took my rat?

Friday 18th February, misty sunshine, calm and mild. Fragile pale crocuses, battered daphne still locked in winter, Lulu Belle about to burst into flower.

It was I, Buddha. I took your rat. I deduce from the fuss you made when you found it gone that you were planning an extended necrophilia session, well too bad. It was dead. Rats eat rat poison, and you have little children who love you. I'm going to keep you away from dangerous drugs if I can.

I cleared away the rest of the pigeon too. For this, I have no excuses, but from the state of the remains I believe you'd all finished playing with it, and it was making the place look untidy.

What's Happening In Egypt

Friday 11th February, a grey, moist day, the rain clearing off around noon, coming back again as daylight faded. Wet cats, wet birds, one yellow crocus and a blackcap on the sycamore tree

Just stopped work (ie, it's Friday afternoon, stopped reading New Scientist and listening to Rothko's Chapel: I'm slowly working my way through the listening list at the back of The Rest Is Noise), and decided to switch on the news. Well, amazing, would he wouldn't he, & the Saudis are backing him & Obama isn't backing the people, but what d'you know Mubarak did step down after all, with the dubious twist that he's handing over to the army. Mm. So, the army has allowed the people to retire one obsolete general. They have plenty more. Now we'll see how it turns out. But long live the revolution, anyway. What a feeling.

The Damage and The Lies

Friday 4th February, grey quiet day, fairly mild. Happy New Year.

As the Chilcot inquiry sneaks to an end, here's another stunning injustice that ought to be addressed:

Maude Casey, who wrote that first letter, is a friend of mine, a writer and an activist. Here's what she said to me in an email, reminding me that things are even worse than they look at first glance:

"The further point is that those four innocent young men (one was only 15 at the time of his arrest) would not now, in 2011, be given the jury trial which was their right in 2005. Today the case would be held in a secret commission in which even their barristers would not be allowed to see the evidence against them, and no doubt they would be dispatched to prison for life.

The jury foreman at their trial, Laurence Archer, has just published a book about the whole sorry affair. It has a foreward by Michael Mansfield, whose quiet and patient cross examination of the manager of Porton Down was instrumentental in revealing the chilling lie at the heart of this case."

Compare that female tv journalist who quit her job in Cairo yesterday, because the tv coverage was telling lies, she could see the very different scene that was unfolding out of her windows, but the public lies were becoming public truth.

For more on the Ricin prisoners and their fate, follow this link:

& please consider writing to your MP or to Kenneth Clarke at the Ministry of Justice (or both) raising the issue and appealing against this treatment.

Not at all connected, but I also have a link from Clarion for you. The estimable Clarion Foundation workshops are still looking for students, so if you thought it was too late, it isn't. Check it out and see if you would benefit. As you know, these gruelling immersion courses have been, and continue to be, a positive hotbed for future stars of sf and fantasy.

Hope And Promise

Candlemas, Wednesday 2nd Feb: low sky, mist and dropping rain clearing, grey squirrel looking exactly like a giant furry caterpillar, head down at the tip of a perilous twig stealing birdfood from a coconut shell. Robin blackbird thrush hedge-sparrow wren, blackcap garden warbler, great tit, blue tit, goldcrest (only one, this winter so far) goldfinches, greenfinches, starlings. Not counting jackdaws street pigeons wood pigeons (fat iridescent throated caterpillars, hoovering up the berries from a matted clump of ivy) and collared doves. . . I did not take part in the RSPB garden birds weekend survey, I think people with cats that go outside are barred, but I'm amazed at the variety of birds managing to survive in our gardens, despite the cats, the tree rats and the ground rats. They keep their wits about them and take advantage of being able to fly, I suppose.

I wish I wasn't old enough to have seen flowers tucked in gun turrets before now. I wish I couldn't remember 1979 (Iran, fall of the Shah), and 1991, (darkness at dawn for Russia). Not to mention what happened to the original Spirit Of Eighty Nine. Modern History is such a tissue of cliches! Demonstrations good. No major political reform can be achieved without the support of dedicated, single-issue Non Violent Direct Action. Mass Market bad. But when the millions on millions pour out into the streets,it will be the most power-hungry of the disparate groups, and therefore the most ruthless and oppressive, that leaps to fill the power-vacuum. Knowing what's all too likely to follow, would I have been out in Tahrir Square, decorously headscarved and shouting for joy? Of course I would. There's always a first time.

Actually my money's on Mubarak hanging on, like Mugabe. We're in a blocking system.

Watching: Splice, last night. (Warning, Spoilers) Lunatic nerd gender-essentialist Canadians descend into hell. I hoped this would be Blood Music by David Cronenberg but it ended up being Okay-not-great verging on absurdly predictable. The moment when two naked mole-ratoid synthetic lifeforms decide to go for each other in a territorial battle, and corporate Big Pharma gets engulfed in a wave of blood, goop and tank water; that was fun. The moment when doe-eyed Clive returns to child-abuse survivor Elsa, having been caught getting sexually active with the pubertal (but chronologically about three months old) ersatz little girl they made. And he's like "What are you looking like that for? Okay, I raped a toddler. So? It's not like I contaminated the polymerase chain reaction or anything" had a certain crazy charm. Everything after that point was desperately ho-hum. Still, we got those cool, Guillermo de Toro bouncy satyr legs. Compares extremely poorly with Species, 1995 "trashy" treatment of the same material (except the dodgy DNA is from ET, not lab built); where the reproductively predatory transgenic humanoid female definitely gets out more, and does not have to become male before she gains a voice, achieves her aim, and becomes really powerful.

Reading: The Bone Woman, Clea Koff Gripping. The details of how you unearth incontrovertible evidence of a genocide are relentless, the viewpoint is personal. I picked up this book because I thought I don't know enough. I don't know enough about Burundi, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo: about the supersized crime, genocide, which now seems to have defined the twentieth century, from first to last. The Bone Woman isn't about causes, but I'm learning. Don't read this if you prefer a tear-jerker. It isn't a tear-jerker, it's an account of the gritty, smelly everyday grind involved in forensic proof, when murder has been committed on such a scale. The squabbles, the discomforts, the grumbles about the UN (that cranky, stumbling old mothership). And the stubborn, unsentimental good will of some amazing people determined to bring the victims of genocide to light; to bring them home.

Les Aiguilles Rouges take the keynote photo spot, because it's that time of the year. No matter what happens to the weather from now on, the light has turned. Twigs and trees have begun to glow, birds have begun to sing and winter is on the downslope. There are plans to be made, and my plan is that I'm going to walk into that picture, this July.

The Universe Of Things

My second story collection from The Aqueduct Press was published at the beginning of this month, but distribution has been delayed (due to the extreme weather). My copies reached me yesterday. I'm not totally sure about the weighty introduction I got this time, I may prefer the one in Grazing The Long Acre , but I still love the cover image. Many thanks to Kath Wilham for following my suggestion up and sourcing it, plus many thanks to CERN Educational, for letting us use it.

Anyway, same as I did for The Buonarotti Quartet: the stories.
(warning: this is a bit long)

The Universe Of Things, Storynotes

In The Forest Of The Queen: The Monsec American Monument is a real place. The forest in the story is a real place, and cropped for firewood by the commune, just as described. We drove into it, we left our car at a meeting of green, smoothly mown, thickly tree-bordered tracks; just as described. We walked into the trees, and were walking over ground that was hopping with tiny dark-skinned frogs. Never seen so many little frogs. We got a little lost, and that felt a little strange: we found ourselves again, and there was (but this was at a different forest margin) an old French forester who said “You can go in, but you may not come out”. Back in the car, for a while it was touch and go: so many crossing trails, and surely far more trees than we’d passed on the way in. We knew we’d escaped when we reached the cottage converted into a bat refuge, but I wondered if maybe everything had changed; if this was really the same world as we’d left. The rest is fiction.

I’ve sought these liminal, uncertain experiences all my life. The most developed example I’ve written up as fiction is a novel called Kairos. It’s that Arthur Machen feeling, it’s what the term numinous actually means, and you should ask my brother David about it.

Total Internal Reflection. An early try out for the tech-and-drug mediated Grail idea.

Red Sonja And Lessingham In Dreamland. It’s about Red Sonja, ie Brigitte Nielson (a favourite movie). It’s about Lessingham, as in the heroic Renaissance Fantasies of Eric Rucker Eddison (who shared private tutors with Arthur Ransome as a boy, but I’m sure you knew that). Someone once told me that Eddison fans in the US found it “very offensive”. I'm truly sorry they feel that way, I meant no harm, I'm an Eddision fan, I even admire Mistress of Mistresses, which some might say proves my dedication. When my son was a little boy he was very, very keen on the Ballantine cover of The Worm Ouroboros and insisted I read it to him. I warned him, but he persisted, so I did. Didn't miss a word. Red Sonja is mainly supposed to be funny, with a sneak-out ending that finally refuses to condemn the dubious escapism fans, but I think its popularity rests on the fact that it is, inevitably, also mildly porny. Probably the most anthologised Gwyneth Jones story.

The Universe Of Things This one used to be called "The Mechanic", which may have been a better title. My poor mechanic gets into a panic, imagining he's a helpless component in a pumping, squirting, squishy Great Big Machine. When he stops frightening himself and calms down, he "hears" the alien's car say "Thank you". I take that to be a fleeting, genuine insight into how it feels to be submerged, encompassed by the living world, like an Aleutian: without being terrified. The key is kind-ness (as in that Oxfam tag, be humankind); even in our world held to be the root of all altruism. Ah, well. The city is Liverpool, by the way. Don’t know if I mentioned that in the narrative.

Blue Clay Blues. A Johnny Guglioli story. At the time of writing White Queen, I worked up a future USA that didn’t seem remotely likely, just for the hell of it, and in response to the Cyberpunk-Eighties version of near-future Europe. I knew I didn’t know anything like enough about the US to work up a likely future, so I didn’t try. Ironically, apparently, it stands up. I wrote this story because I wanted to use the lines “Is that a gun in your pocket?” “No, it’s a spare diaper.”

Grazing The Long Acre Somehow this got into one of Steve Jones’s horror anthologies. I don’t know how, pure kindness to Gwyneth on Steve’s part, most likely. This is not a horror story, this is a Polish story. It is not a mundane story either: it is obviously and very Polishly a story about an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Virgin of Czestochowa in fact. I wondered what that tricky concept The Immaculate Conception would look like, to a part-Jewish American girl who was trying to be Lauren Bacall in To Have And Have Not, and this is the result. The working girls on the E75 are real, or they were. Grazing has been translated into Polish, and published in Nowa Fantastyka, and I’m pleased about that.

Collision. I signed up to write a story for Geoff Ryman’s anthology When It Changed. The main attraction was that I would be shadowing a scientist, the way I shadowed Dr Jane Davies for Life, the way I’ve sneaked myself into a few real world scientific/academic conferences, over the years. It turned out that I couldn’t visit my scientist, who had promised to let me see a real (medical) particle accelerator roaring in its cage, as the trip would be too expensive. Then it turned out that Geoff, which through lack of paying attention I hadn’t known, was not just using a title that happened to sound the same, he was actually referencing the iconic Joanna Russ, seventies-feminism ur-text “When It Changed”, and saying his Scientific Revolutions anthology was inspired by that story. Geoff, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. The other contributors are free to do what they like: me, I'm going to have to write something about a feminist/post-gendered Utopia under threat from the Return Of The Sex-Role Dinosaur Police. And time was running out. So “Collision” was a bit of a scrambled egg, but in the end I sort of liked the result. Plus I loved “meeting” Dr Kai Hock (Dr Fortune) digitally. He’s a star. Also loved finding out about wake fields & all that from his online powerpoints.

One Of Sandy’s Dreams Sandy Brize is a character from Kairos.

Gravegoods The first properly scifi story I ever wrote (and the last, until "The Fulcrum", and the rest of the Buonarotti set); the first I ever got published, and the ur-form of the means of faster than light travel later to be known as a Buonarotti Transit. I took it to my second UK Milford week, in 1986. The delightful alien planet is Madeira.

La Cenerentola Won the BSFA short story award, in 1999 I think it was, which was a very pleasant surprise. A love song to the summers of the nineties, when I travelled (on a less well-heeled scale) very much the way Thea and Suze and Bobbi travel, around the sunbaked Mediterranean. Isn’t it interesting to look back, and see a world where the danger of having everything seemed like a real threat. The night at L’Ecureuil, with the flamenco guitar, and the mayor with her little shoes, is taken from life. Also the hangover.

Grandmother’s Footsteps. This was written for an anthology about haunted houses, but the haunted house seems almost incidental now. I believe I was writing at the time of a grim chemical pollution discovery in the UK (Was it Lindane? That wood treating stuff?). The horrible revelation that your child is doomed to a short life in pain, because you painted the barn with something you didn’t know was deadly... and this segues, naturally, if you’re writing a horror story, into the awful suspicion that everything, every greedy thoughtless thing your civilisation ever did to the world, everything that made you prosperous, is going to turn around and savage your babies. That's when you start being haunted by yourself. An existential yuppie nightmare.

The Earlier Crossing This was a dream, I dreamed it, word for word. So to speak. I was working with the Continuing Education Department at our local University (late lamented, it’s been axed), encouraging ordinary folk to do some creative writing, the result was to be a book, and everybody involved had to pitch something in.

The Eastern Succession Now where is this set? I think it’s set on the slopes of Mount Bromo, circa 1978, although there’s no active volcano on the summit above “Temple Pass” in the story. I recognise the town; I remember staying in that town, in a wooden-walled room, the pillows and sheets on the bed crusted with embroidery, that left patterns on my ears. It’s central Java anyway, and Bu Awan is Mount Merapi, but the bas-reliefs as described are in a temple near Solo. Endang was the name of someone we met, a dance student, she was a girl, but in Javanese boy/girl names aren’t exclusive. When I first drafted Divine Endurance, while living in Singapore, I went on to write several “Derveet and the gang” stories. DE the novel is as stylised as Javanese dance-drama. The emotions are real and intense, everything else is stage: same as European style ballet, in fact. I wanted that effect but I thought I'd also like to have the characters in their street clothes, and find out what really happened to the men and boys. I wasn't satisfied with the "Derveet" stories and discarded most of them. I thought this was more successful, and I took it along to my first UK Milford. Another one, much altered and with Endang brought in as a character, finally became the novel called Flowerdust

On Mount Bromo I met, and became short-term dear friends with, fully adult human beings, men and women, the top of whose heads barely came to my collarbone, and I’m 162cm. I think of those “hobbits” on Flores, and I think they didn’t entirely die out.

The Thief The Princess And The Cartesian Circle. From the collection “Seven Tales And A Fable”, published by Steve Pasechnik (of the late lamented Edgewood Press) in 1996. My fractured fairytales (though they were often taken out of the box, revised and some of them published separately over the years between), date back to my undergraduate days at Sussex University. The Thief is not a personal favourite. I prefer “The Snow Apples”, an early try-out for a character who would become Cho, the “innocent, perfect and incorruptible” metagenetic gynoid. Or “Laiken Langstrand”, if only because the lanky blue-eyed blond friend who inspired it is dead now. But it’s possibly the most interesting and most hard-hitting. I was working with fairytales, bringing them into collision with the real world, seeing what interesting fractures might develop, and I’m a long time admirer of I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, by Hannah Gordon (alternate title of another of the stories). In the real world, a young woman who believes she’s a magic princess, suffering under an evil enchantment, probably has mental health problems. The passage where Jennifer experiences a psychiatric hospital as a wild wood, and a corrupt, sexually abusive doctor as a “woodcutter” her “magic” may easily destroy, is closely related to Gordon’s description of how the psychotic yet beloved world of “Yr” interpenetrates the real, in her schizophrenic protagonist’s perception. "Sectioned" is UK shorthand for being compulsorily committed to a psychiatric institution. The Descartes part is not fiction, and I'd hesitate to call it philosophy: that’s me, at nineteen, wrestling with an angel.

Identifying The Object. A Johnny and Braemar story, narrated by a somewhat holier than thou observer. This story is a mash-up. I had never been to West Africa when I wrote it. The incident at the heart, the supposed alien craft splash-down site, actually happened in Madeira, it was one of those liminal experiences. Of course what we found was the spoor of a flash flood. It was flood water that had created the huge, weird, circular depression paved in red clay, flood water that had brought down the trees all around. But for a moment or two, well, we were on the brink... The original African connection was a terrific dubious escapism romance called The Golden Centipede, by Louise Gerard (1910). When I finally reached West Africa in 1995 (expedition to climb Mt Cameroon) I was stunned to find it was exactly the place Gerard describes. I thought she’d made it all up. The white lilies that grow in the river mud! The flowery natural “gardens”, up in the highlands! The weird peaks! Bit short on wildlife these days, but you can’t have everything. I was trying to work out something about colonialism, and how does it happen? How do the gold empires vanish? In this story Braemar and Johnny, natives of the planet about to be colonised, themselves about to become inferior beings, decide (she decides) to go down (pre-emptively) fighting. If it was as simple as that, I would sign up myself. But Anna thinks it is not.

Blue Valentine: Why I prefer thrillers

Wednesday 19th January, white roofs, frosty gardens, Venus bright and high at 7am. After a lengthy interval of heavy rain, mist and cloud, the cold has returned for a while.

Suckered into going to see Blue Valentine at The Duke's last night, because Michelle Williams was so good in Winter's Bone, and by accidental viewing of a tv movie "critic" programme, (not really, more just advertising). The gushing critical acclaim already online for this "painful, exquisite" movie raises a wry shake of the head. I have the perceptions of a different generation, a different social consciousness: I saw no bittersweet romance . . I thought Blue Valentine was pretty good.This is exactly how it happens. The lost dog, the cruel loss of the animal-person who was secretly holding a very shaky situation together, precipitates crisis. Long ago, when they were young, a clever girl from a poor background, in a routinely abusive family situation, sadly bereft of emotional support, was touched by the inventive, hollow routines of a self-centred emotional parasite (yes! It's Woody Allen come again!): she turned to him in her trouble, and he, intoxicated by his own make-believe, made the grand gesture. Now they're older, they've become themselves, as an adult the hollow man is unendurable: there's a wonderful little girl, but it's all going to hell.

Michelle Williams was terrific. Maybe her part in the two-hander was just easier, but for me it was a shame that her partner, played by Ryan Gosling, came over as terminally dislikeable, and for me almost unwatchable (which is different and much worse). On that modern world scale of snog, marry, avoid, the winsome "Dean" belongs, from the start, at the "run away screaming" end of the spectrum. Young girls are gullible, it's okay that "Cindy" fell for him. It's just what she would do, especially considering Dean's rival for her affections is a violent bully like her Dad. It would have been masses better if "Dean" had won my sympathy.

I don't like movies that set out to be soft-centred, I like grit. But I prefer gritty thrillers. In a thriller, if you don't get on with the human drama, there's always the story. In a human drama, if you don't like the people, it's no fun at all trying to guess what's going to happen.

What's Happening In Egypt

Tuesday 11th January, a gloomy mild grey afternoon. Here's a link from last week's news, better for morale than the news from Arizona, anyway, where Common Dreams tells me the relaxed gun laws are about to become MORE relaxed. Who would have figured that could happen?

And another Common Dreams link, equally morale-boosting.

Cat tragedy averted: did you know pampas grass can cause your cat to retch blood, cower in a shuddering heap, foam at the mouth and show every sign of being in desperate trouble? It's the sneaky two-way finish, smooth going down when they swallow a piece, viciously abrasive when they try to sick it up again, the way cats love to do. Last night we were facing a tragic bill for removal under general anaesthetic (plus nobody wants to put a small animal under general anaesthetic, it's always scary), but this morning we were off the hook, Milo had managed to rid himself of the problem, and the pampas grass is uprooted and bagged to be taken to the tip.

Are we all still here? Yes, I think so. Better get on with the year then.