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Thursday 9th September, damp garden, cool air, warm sunlight, blue sky and luminous cloud.

Reviewing the galleys for a story collection that spans thirty years is a salutory task.

It's nom de guerre, not nomme de guerre. I wonder how long that howler's been lying there, unquestioned by several copy-editors and proof-readers including me. Since the story first appeared in Interzone, I bet.

Colloidal cracking. Weirdly okay as an expression, but definitely a mistake. The well-known symptom of dry-rot infestation in an awful old wreck of a house is cuboidal cracking. I ought to know. I'm currently a reluctant expert on dry rot, again.

The pathological reluctance of Gwyneth Ann Jones to make up different names for her fictional characters. I can remember that Gwyneth Ann Jones character stating trenchantly on a convention panel platform that her characters didn't mean a thing to her. They weren't people they were labels, and she was too well aware that every "character" is really just a part the writer is playing. Didn't go down well. Did I know I was doing it? Ann, Anna? Of course I did. Francis, Frances, Francois? I think that one just sneaked in and established itself. On the other hand, the writers Francois Villon, Francois Voltaire and Francois Rene De Chateaubriand have meant something to me for a very long time; my father was deeply francophile, which had a big effect on me, I'm very fond of animals, and the other derivation of the name is supposed to be "free-man".

Guessing at near-future terms. The great William Gibson said, science fiction is not predictive, it's about the present (paraphrase). I totally agree, but in staging these dramas about our age's science/technology in collision with human society, we all make judgement calls on the sets, the decor, the language, etiquette, costumes of the future. I clearly thought I was onto something with "virtuality" (like, a reality, see, but virtual. . .) but nope, virtual world swept the board. I really was onto something with subscriber soap. The idea is, instead of watching highly trained celebrities wash their dirty underwear in public on so-called Reality TV, subscribers get their houses wired up for interactive surveillance, and anybody on the network can watch anybody else's little adventures, upsets and dramas of daily life. No holds barred exposure is hardcore, but "everybody" loves this game, and "everybody" starts acting as if they're in a soap opera the whole time (or in the Big Brother House). . . Spot the difference. I never was a docile consumer.

Merle is the French word for the black European thrush, the bird we call a blackbird in English, it makes a pretty name for a woman. Thrush, of course, is the name of the yeast infection. The pun's convoluted, but I'll let it stand.

What's left? A couple of stories deliberately suppressed, a couple of orphans (eg North Light) that simply never got chosen for reprinting. I hope I don't get pathologically convinced I have to make up another collection's worth before I die. Madness.

Curious Variant Form of the Online Interview (From Bar to Bar)

Friday 3rd September, clear blue skies, brisk autumnal temperature.

A curious variant form of the Online Interview landed on my desk a couple of months ago, courtesy of Kim Newman. It's a kind of prose-poem, in which the interviewer encounters the interviewed in a virtual version of the artist's (actually, both participants are artists) fictional world; not the world of a specific novel or story, but the ambience. I don't know, maybe "frombartobar" invokes not only the chance, somewhat altered-state encounter in half-light but the vital, elusive and universal ambience of a material alcohol den, the pan-cultural location so dear to many of our hearts,

Anyway, here Tibor Moricz interviews Kim Newman

Here, Jean Claude Dunyach

Here, Libby Ginway and here the artist's recent review of his experiences

I've been interviewed. I don't know if "I" so to speak, will make it to the gallery. Gwyneth Jones World may be a degree of separation too far.

Here's a thought

Tuesday 31st July, clear and bright, pure blue skies.
Here's a thought. If 17, 18, 19, millions of lives have been utterly disrupted (various estimates), and the people of the UK (at least) have been scraping out their pockets, for the sake of the Holy Month or the teachings of the prophet Jesu, or whatever inspires us Infidels to compassion, isn't it ludicrous that Pakistan, as well as struggling under the burden of climate-change related civil unrest, and decades of political corruption, has to suffer this huge ecomomic catastrophe while still servicing the old monster post-colonial debt? If you think this is nuts, then let somebody know. Here's the link:

Here's another thought, somewhat more frivolous. The Cheltenham Literature Festival has an exciting Science Fiction strand this year, curated by China Mieville, including a history of genre event in the Inkpot Tent on Sunday afternoon. Of course if you are in the region you want to come along, and I hope you can make it. Full details and a preview/review can be found here at Torque Control.

Post Hungry Ghosts

Thursday 26th August, cool air, rain clearing.

Sadly the photo isn't mine, it was taken by Bill of the Birds, but it's quite like the moon as I saw it rising over Racehill on Tuesday night. So now the year has turned and I'm back at my desk, though not fully back at work until after the fourth, as my schedule is too broken up.

Have paid ritual visits to the Interzone hangouts in Tanger, have played in the Atlantic waves, have endured a horrible train ride from Fess to Tanger (why can't we take the nice bus, says I? No, no, says Peter. See here where it says, trains are efficient, air-conditioned and comfortable. Pah. Rough on tourists, if you ask me. And might have been a reliable Guide if they'd troubled to do a proper update in the last decade). Have tramped for hours around the Prado, have walked in the hot night and found a real Eygptian temple in the Park of the West, shimmering above its reflection in dark water. Madrid is the city of dogs, Tanger is the city of Alpine swifts, Meknes is the city of storks. Worst bit, when we found that they've moved the shiny new ferry port half way to Algeria, so not only do we get the Airport Experience we were trying so hard to avoid (though thankfully without any evil War on Terrorism stuff), but they made it a Ryanairport. Best bit, and worth the price of admission, the Cedar forest of the Middle Atlas, a wonder of the world. And fantastic hailstorms. (is this normal? we asked the hotel manager. No! he said. Nature has been very strange this year).

The pools are brimming, the little frogs (such as have survived a summer with the cat population) are hopping, my little shorn meadow is a carpet of slugs and the plums are past praying for. We came back to sad news for this small part of the world: new outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease. It sounds as if it's really bad in the Friston Forest. Brighton and Hove City Council insist that within Our City quarantine is still being maintained, but we don't believe them. We can see the losses, another of the giants by the Pavilion gone, another of the survivors around the Level. And that's only in the most public places. There's a man in Essex says he's found and is propagating a resistant strain, and I'll try to believe that. But I think they'll all go. All our elms. There's no funding left you see. No money for proper removal of affected trees, no money for constant vigilance.

If the devastating floods in Pakistan have the same root cause as our cold winter (blocked jet stream weather systems, low solar activity, it says here) does that mean there were devastating monsoon floods in our seventeenth century little Ice Age? I suppose there must be records.

News of coming events to follow. Now back to family business admin, and preparing White Queen. The Aqueduct Press are going to bring out the Aleutian Trilogy as e-books, and I'm very pleased about that. I wanted to put the books out there again, but I wasn't totally happy about offering them for free on my website. Adult material, you know.

The Old Sofa

Monday 12th July. Cloud and sun, cool but very humid.

Breathless weather. Last week our weather was almost Aegean, cloudless sky, warm sun, cool constant northerly breeze. Now we're sitting under a blanket of moist air, that thickens and curdles into a mat of grey and dissipates for a while into swirls of white on blue, but the breeze is from the south and somehow doesn't stir the breathless closeness. Just glad I'm not in London. At least it rained this morning.

What shall we do with the old sofa? It is ancient and made of rattan, and used to live in the basement swathed in shabby generations of wraps, rugs, the faux fur blanket known as The Wolf, until I had a suburban moment and insisted on buying a proper sofa bed with a proper folding out mattress from the Futon company. Then it was moved upstairs to Peter's room, where it has stayed, looking all bohemian and welcoming and concealing the 1901 aspirational gentility of his fireplace, with the inlaid panels of different coloured marble that are really transfers. . . But Peter already has to share his study with a grand piano (I'd have taken the piano, of course, except that sadly my own room is up two more flights of stairs and much smaller) & he is feeling cramped. It is too old and battered, and if it ever had a fire regs label it lost that long ago, so we can't give it to the YMCA. Shall we haul it up to Sheepcote, perhaps on rollers, and dump it? Shall we leave it out on the pavement, with the traditional notice "PLEASE TAKE", so that the Roundhill corner boys can use it as their outdoor HQ, West Baltimore style?

I'm afraid we may fall back on chopping it up for firewood, poor old sofa.

But not now, because now we're going away.

It's been a hectic week, what with my brother's birthday, the Sci-fi event at Manchester Oxfam Emporium (which worked extremely well, and I met such nice people, including hosts Emma and presenter Florence, and the other writers, Paul Magrs, Steve Lyons and Tom Fletcher); Gabriel's phonecalls from Switzerland, daunted at first by the magnitude of being piano soloist in front of a whole orchestra, and then triumphant and delighted with the whole experience; the final concert with the BYO at Hove town hall on Friday, which ended in a stage invasion by the livelier parts of the audience(encouraged by the conductor) and impromptu Celtic stepdance, and then there was the HGWells society, a beautiful long trainride to Canterbury for me and an intriguing walk from the station, following the footsteps of Ariel Manto (I then proceeded to ask everyone I met who worked or looked as if they worked at Kent to convey my appreciation of The End Of Mr Y to their colleague Scarlett Thomas) Anyway, thanks for inviting me, Andy, and dear H.G people, thank you for being so tolerant, friendly and informative. I could and should have worked out the Zoological Gardens connection for myself, and I think I did know about the gruesome goings on at the butcher's next door when HG was a child. But I'd never heard of the Old Brown Dog

After such a flurry of activity (and I've missed out all the developments in my family's Forever War, which still continues to devour so much of my time), it's strange to be packing, discovering I have no teeshirts fit to be worn, choosing paperbacks, changing euros. But so it is. The Frog Nursery has been disbanded, the last tiny frog set free, along with about 100 well-grown tadpoles from the Plasterers tub. The swifts have swarmed in the warm evening sky for the last time that I'll see them this summer, and the next time I write anything in this secret diary (kept in an unlocked drawer) it'll be Hungry Ghosts, my year will have reached its turning point, and 2010-11 will have begun.

So long.

The General

Saturday 3rd July, warm and clear, tempered by a cool breeze, fair-weather cloud up high.

So, I watched Michael Hastings getting interviewed on Democracy Now, courtesy of Common Dream (who are having a fund-raising drive, by the way) and here's the link:

& then I thought I might as well read the whole Runaway General article on Rolling Stone, which I did & I was surprised, though not really, at what a tactful and patriotic piece it was, and how loyal to the approved War on Terror scenario, despite a few reservations of a pragmatic nature. Didn't spot the words Blood for Oil anywhere, not a whisper about mineral wealth, or any other ulterior motive for the growing death toll. Yes, throwing money at a corrupt government, while at the same time sending death squads to roam around racking up extrajudiciary kills of "insurgents" probably isn't the way to win hearts and minds, but all the corrupt officials were Afghanis, after all. Yes, President Obama instantly fell into the pit he'd been determined to avoid, does anybody think he didn't? Yes, the war is unwinnable and yes the President actually said so, practically literally in the same sentence as his promise to send a shedload more troops, but that's undisputed fact too, isn't it? And yes, McChrystal was actively involved in an unwise attempt to hide a celebrity friendly-fire incident; yes, he may have made the mistake of being in the same room while some torture -I'm-sorry-I meant-enhanced interrogation was going on & that was foolish. But again, this is not doing the dirt, the dirt is old dirt. At the worst, Hastings turned back the carpet. On the tv he gave the impression of being uncomfortable at the fate he'd brought down on those good old boys who'd hung out with him and trusted him a little too much. He claimed he'd been amazed that the general actually got fired & maybe that was even true. I don't think he should blame himself too much. Someone's got to take the candy from these ferocious (and vain?) military heroes, at least every now and then.

As we now know, it won't happen again & perhaps this reaction (wow, we better not let our military talk to journalists, we didn't know any of them still had teeth!) is as mistaken as McChrystal's unguarded openness. The USA looks good when it shows it has a free press
(I'm green with envy)

And all this is perfectly normal. All wars are like this. They go on too long, they become unpopular. The Generals hate the politicians, the politicians hate the Generals, the natural born fearless killers (some of them extremely bright and charismatic) just want to get on with their bloody work, in the fond embrace of the natural born fearless killers on the other side. . . (Afghanistan! What a culture! The Perfect Place to hold a Proper war, no wonder it's been so popular!) And most of the soldiers, most of the time, would rather NOT actually murder people but the culture makes it impossible for them to confess this shameful weakness, & so the game goes on. Nobody knows anything, every battleplan goes awry, the local chiefs are never credible partners, tell all that to Napoleon or Wellington, you'd see them shake their heads and grin. (Well, allowing for temperament). Nothing is wrong with the war in Afghanistan, as your average non-essential war it's just about average.

What happened in the USA in the sixties was a bit of an innovation, but that proud and positive refusal to fight a stupid war that was not worth fighting came from a particular historical situation. It couldn't happen again. Nah. Those songs are over.

Happy Independence Day, cousins.

Crisis In Charlton: Losing My Grip

Tuesday 29th June, unexpectedly much cooler, grey skies.

Making heroic efforts to organise myself, remember to charge phone before setting out for the South Bank this afternoon; still working on my H.G Wells talk for "From Kent To Cosmopolis", which has sucked me in, as essays tend to do; thinking about writing, horrified by how little time I've had for the core activity (ie writing fiction) any time in the last 18months. Or more. Failing to work out how to use Facebook for the benefit of the Oxfam event on 8th July. (This is the downside of having as little as possible to do with social networking. I don't mind if I cease to exist in the C21 sense of extended-personhood, but when I need to use the network for a good cause, it'd be an idea if I knew how. . .) And then a phone call from Charlton, Gabriel's, on the point of leaving for an extensive (well, Switzerland and Germany, I think) Brighton Youth Orchestra tour as piano soloist suddenly engulfed in a housing crisis, changing the plans for this evening: oh, and his clothes are all wet, as he left them out to dry last night and it rained, what to do?

Do not stuff them in a bin bag, says I. Drape them around your room.

My copies of The Time Machine and Dhalgren (Gollancz Masterworks) have arrived. The Time Machine's a solid little hardback volume, and the shades of gold livery suits it. Something a bit odd about Dhalgren, all the italics have come up in Bold, it looks stranger because the normal font is quite thin and spidery.

Last night, in the clear twilight about 9.30: swifts swarming up high, must have been fifteen or twenty of them, and later, what an amazing moon rising above Race Hill, just barely past the full, glowing pale apricot, the mares and brightest craters wonderfully clear through binoculars.

Think I'll go and check on Fred, my latest froglet, again. Called Fred because it is so tiny, arms and legs like thread. Timid too, how can I dump it in the big bad pool.

Sussex University Alumni News: someone wants respondents for a psychology survey. "In most ways my life is close to my ideal" Agree strongly. . . Disagree strongly.

My life is bounded by a walnut shell, and I am queen of infinite space. Except that I have bad dreams, and they are really bad.

Deep Horizon,
Blood for Oil in Afghanistan,
Starvation and desperation mounting in the wake of climate change;
already, and we've barely started,
The death of the living world, the casualty list growing longer and more grievous
Fresh Faced Public schoolboys governing to keep The Markets happy. . .
My family's gothic novel; but that's minor except it eats my time.

(just a random sample)

So how should I answer?

St John's Eve

Wednesday 23rd June, light breeze, clear and very warm. In the evening, having set aside my various struggles, I sit out on the patio re-reading "Life" so I'll know what I said about the "disappearence of the Y chromosome", should anyone ask me at the Seeing Further Cafe Scientifique next week. Balmy air. Swifts hawking and shrieking in the clear sky, those Nordic tiger moths, who seem to have settled down and colonised the gardens, batting about up in the treetops, a big white three quarter moon on the rise. It's midsummer, soon be July and time to pack up and go away. The squirrels have taken all our strawberries, it's nearly the end of another working year.

Black Ops

Friday 18th June, grey skies clearing to blue, it's going to be a warm calm day, a break from that chill breeze. Good swift-watching over the Crescent Gardens, am.

I'm trying to see both sides of the US Government's scrap with BP, and I'm failing. I keep seeing only one side, a falling-out among thieves. I keep seeing Hayward as the latest Saddam Hussein, Congress have their disgraced tool in the dock, they're pounding on him, all self-righteous. The Black Gold Saddam's stonewalling because he just doesn't get it, he's saying to himself, but they told me it would be okay, they ALLOWED me to break the rules, they told me all the crimes against humanity would be over-looked, as long as I made myself useful. They may not like me but they NEED me. . But now they're playing the old We never met you, game, and Hayward is thinking it's just a show trial, I just have to sit tight and say as little as possible, it'll be over and business as usual again

Sucker. I have no sympathy, and none with your Secret Masters, either.

Frog Nursery catastrophe. I moved the bowl to clean the tabletop, and the froglets' rock fell on Red Snail. I heard an awful little gasp, rescued the trapped casualty and put it in a water glass, where it slowly seemed to recover. I'm hoping it's okay, it is walking around again. But the rock crushed half the rim of the ramshorn, and I don't know what all else. Poor red snail, so sorry.

Frog Nursery Eschatology

Tuesday 14th June, blustery breeze, cloudy skies, cool. None of the promised thunderstorms for us as yet.

When you get your four legs, you are taken away. Nobody knows where, nobody knows why, nobody comes back. It's a kind of death.

Hello, a result. Incredibly, there may be five varieties of the Higgs Boson.
I never doubted it!

Red Dawn. . .

Sunday 13th June, cool and cloudy. The frog nursery is emptying fast, and the tads in the plasterer's tub are getting legs. I'm hoping I'll have them all safely transferred to the wild by the end of the month.

Safely, mm, lot of cats out there, and little frogs like to get out of the water and roam. . . Well, my part will be done.

How do you feel about racist 80s invasion film Red Dawn being remade with America being occupied by China instead of the USSR? Perhaps they'll take a leaf out of Rainbow Bridge and accept it… or perhaps not.

In answer to your query, dear plashing, I haven't really thought about it. I don't suppose I'll be tempted to go and see Red Dawn II if I even get the chance* However, now that you've poked me into looking up Red Dawn I, I may have to add it to my Love Film list.

I don't remember paying any attention to Red Dawn I in 1984, but I do remember watching the first V that summer, and finding it great fun. Despite the slightly disquieting notion of a great big country like the USA indulging in a not-fair-we-never-got-occupied-by-the-Nazis wish-fulfillment fest.

A nice little piece of news for me this morning. A couple of months ago I was searching "Universe" images, to get ideas for the cover of my next US short story collection, and fell in love with a quirky poster that turned out to belong to CERN (it's from Microcosm, their educational wing). Kath Wilham of Aqueduct Press wrote to them, nothing daunted, and asked what their terms for use might be. Our terms would be that we'd need to read some of the stories first, came the reply.

Ah, well, I thought. That's torn it.
But no, we have permission!
Excellent, and thank you Microcosm

*(Oh dear, it's just occured to me, maybe the mysterious delays dogging the release of this highly undiplomatic Homeland war movie are caused by a cunning decision to change the alliance. Now it's going to be the despicable Brits helping the Chinese out!).


Friday 11th June, at noon a lightening and clearing sky.

Rain. Real rain at last, drenching rain all night, brimming the pools. This morning everything in the garden beaten down, and looking fresher for it tho' in places precarious. The yellow flags in the fishpool, threatening to go splat, may need some remedial help to get back on their feet.

And at last I have the official letter, confirming that the long, troubled marriage between Gollancz and Gwyneth Jones is over. I'd been planning to leave since the firm treated Rainbow Bridge rather shabbily, and then they did the same with Spirit (a publication date of "29th December", plus "muddled" failure to submit her current novel for the Clarke award, sends a pretty clear message to an author). Fair enough, best for both sides. This situation made the Clarke award shortlist & event a little embarrassing, but never mind, it passed.

It's taken me ages to disentangle because I wanted to secure custody of the kids. Arguably I should have quit them long ago, for there was never, ever a good time, I'm a feminist, for heaven's sake: but I am so lazy, plus, fatally, I don't write for money. Anyway, no recriminations, so long, thanks for a modicum of fish, I'm glad it's over.

It's been such a long association, I decided I felt like making an announcement, quietly: but I didn't and don't mean to start a discussion on this, I'm just moving on.

Cave Of Ordeals

Wednesday 9th June, warm and overcast.

I beat the Cave of Ordeals! Last night, about ten minutes past midnight, I finished off the last Darknut, Level 49. I am so proud. It only took me about ten tries.

(This is my only tip. Don't save until you've beat it, there's no point.)

You may laugh, but how many other 58yrold female klutzes, whose FIRST KINETIC COMPUTER GAME was Pong, who remembers being in a cave full of twisty passages all the same...who have tackled Zelda TP's most absurdly extended and plot-token-free slaughterfest sidequest, and come out the other end triumphant do you know?

Tell me that!


Tuesday 8th June, soft grey sky, a dropping rain.

Saturday, warm and clear, a great day for swift-watching. To And's for a bbq in the afternoon, where I got into an argument with Lulu, and I think Suzy also, about the seal of the confessional of all things. When you come up against these long-ex Catholics, totally unbelieving Catholics, who once kept the rules by rote when they were children, and find them still defending the wicked ways of the organisation, while not meaning anything by it at all: well, it's an eye-opener. . . They really knew what they were doing, the great minds of the Mediterranean World, when they put that mighty machine together, circa 17 hundred years ago (when the Mediterranean World stretched from Britain to the Sahel).

I shouldn't be allowed out in public. I have opinions. Returned home in the June twilight, chastened by my inability to mingle, and we sat out on the patio for a long time, watching the swifts. Perfection in the evening garden, the young green plums, the clustered spires of aquilegia, foxglove towers, rising from drifts of forgetmenots, all the pale colours, instead of fading, coming out clearer as the twilight deepened.

Sunday I destroyed the moment, by ripping out the forgetmenot tangles, shaking them for seeds & planting in the Mediterranean Mix I've been nuturing in home grown plugs in the greenhouse, a haven of safety. Then it rained, at last, & the slugs came out. This morning I've lost the lot, except for a few refugees I dug up again and carried off to the concrete corridor. It's awful what slugs can do, to gardens where pesticides are forbidden. & if you tell me, like those coy Organic Gardening Articles, about garlic, sharp sand, beer traps, I will BITE you. Just because I believe in the impossible doesn't mean I'm stupid, or naturally subservient, or that I never think about it.

We go on trying, and find the plants that will survive.

Israel Raids the Aid: Check this out

Friday 4th June, cloudless blue a clear warm day, how quickly roses open, from buds to fullblown, the moment there is actually heat in the air.

This is from the comments box on a Common Dream link to the Guardian story of eyewitness activist accounts. I've heard of Israeli dual citizenship high ups in the US government, eg that Home Security fellow, before now, but I never knew it was like this!

From Common Dream:


"AMERICAN / ISREALI >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Dual Citizens
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> in the American Government

Attorney General - Michael Mukasey
Head of Homeland Security - Michael Chertoff
Chairman Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board - Richard Perle
Deputy Defense Secretary (Former) - Paul Wolfowitz
Under Secretary of Defense - Douglas Feith
National Security Council Advisor - Elliott Abrams
Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff (Former) - “Scooter” Libby
White House Deputy Chief of Staff - Joshua Bolten
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs - Marc Grossman
Director of Policy Planning at the State Department - Richard Haass
Trade Representative (Cabinet-level Position) - Robert Zoellick
Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board - James Schlesinger
UN Representative (Former) - John Bolton
Under Secretary for Arms Control - David Wurmser
Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board - Eliot Cohen
Senior Advisor to the President - Steve Goldsmith
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary - Christopher Gersten
Assistant Secretary of State - Lincoln Bloomfield
Deputy Assistant to the President - Jay Lefkowitz
White House Political Director - Ken Melman
National Security Study Group - Edward Luttwak
Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board - Kenneth Adelman
Defense Intelligence Agency Analyst (Former) - Lawrence (Larry) Franklin
National Security Council Advisor - Robert Satloff
President Export-Import Bank U.S.
- Mel Sembler
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families - Christopher Gersten
Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for Public Affairs
- Mark Weinberger
White House Speechwriter - David Frum
White House Spokesman (Former) - Ari Fleischer
Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board - Henry Kissinger
Deputy Secretary of Commerce - Samuel Bodman
Under Secretary of State for Management - Bonnie Cohen
Director of Foreign Service Institute - Ruth Davis "