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Not A Rocketship In Sight: An Evening With English PEN

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


Not A Rocketship In Sight


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

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

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

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


Watching

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


Looking Forward To

Activism of the active kind:


Global Frackdown, 11am Saturday 11th October


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

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

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

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

Karlheinz Stockhausen, PEN and the Solar System

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

99.3

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

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

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


Ash Dieback

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

Reading

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

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

Congratulations

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

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

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

The Art of Protest

. . . deserves an entry of its own.

Thursday 25th September, another relentlessly sunny day. Sometimes artists scandalise their public without meaning to. You're just doing your best, trying to get to the heart of things, and suddenly the Salon critics, the very people whose approval is essential for your survival, are absolutely furious! Often, often, at least for the last hundred and fifty years, they've been doing it on purpose: pour épater le bourgeois, a game that went off and began to stink a long time ago, to my mind. I am so tired of hearing that some Turner Prize nominee, artist, or work of art's whole fabulolus claim on my attention is that he, she or it is disturbing, challenging, and so on. To disturb, to challenge is the collateral damage of great art. If it's all you've got, dear, why don't you just put a slug in my sandwich? Sometimes angry, grotesque and rebarbative art is scandalised instead of scandalising; shocked instead of shocking. Picasso's Guernica: the artist's angry, immediate reaction to a Fascist bombing raid on a Basque town was instantly, and remains, a potent anti-war icon, and focus for art-activism.



And then there's Protest Art; something different again. Art being put to use by activists (who happen to be artists), as a means of changing the world. There's a lot of it about, more than you'd think. At the Climate March on Sunday, besides admiring the banners and placards, I talked to people who'd been witnesses at bp or not bp's Deepwater Horzion performance (first staged July 2010) in the Great Court at the British Museum. I looked at the photos, and wondered if bp or not bp were in danger of getting themselves shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Why not? A choice that could defintely enhance the Turner's reputation. I've seen plenty of protest material in art museums. And notoriously, candidates for the notorious prize are nominated by the jury members*. They can choose whoever they like, and protest has been judged to be Turner prizeworthy before now (Mark Wallinger, 2007)



As I was leaving Westminster, a kind woman carrying a box of fortune cookies, obviously seeing how tired and hungry I looked, stopped and gave me a cookie. I can't show you the cookie, because I ate it, but when I checked the small print, I realised I'd been Protest Art bombed by the Belarus Free Theatre.



And that's all about the Climate March. It was an enriching experience, as you can tell. Much to think about, much to follow up, lots of art to seek out. You missed this event? Well, that's a shame but you have nothing to worry about. The one day Climate Summit in NYC** achieved absolutely zilch (I'm sorry, did I say zilch? I meant, non-binding pledges, of course). There'll be plenty more marches.


*the public are supposed to be able to nominate, but I wouldn't take that seriously if I was you; the Director of the Tate is rumoured to have a casting vote: wouldn't know about that.

**Okay, the Chinese. I grant you the Chinese. I put my faith in them (in Bold As Love) not because I admire their methods, but because they have a history (so to speak) of taking the long view. It's what we need right now. Maybe they'll come through. Eventually.

Climate March

Monday 22nd September, yet another relentlessly sunny day. Remarkable turn out on the Climate March in London yesterday, estimated 40,000; (who's estimate, I don't know. If it was the police that means 80k in real numbers, good grief what must the streets of NYC (est 400,000) have been like? Maybe they do the estimating protesters thing differently over there. Much more about the event I can't really tell you: having obediently gathered in Victoria Embankment Gardens for the pre-show, said a prayer written by Desmond Tutu and tied a label on a tulip tree. We all then spent about an hour and a half kettled by Greenpeace and their polar bear, and the sheer unexpected weight of numbers. By the time my contingent reached Westminster, the rally done and gone, no Vivienne Westwood, no giraffes, no zebras, nothing. Ah, well. Splendid array of placards and banners, anyway. Confess a weakness for the avaaz one with David Cameron awful fetching in a sort of Game of Thrones* fur cloak and broadsword ensemble; also loved the brave philodendron accompanying the There Is No Planet B team, and the very cute baby from Lancashire, who was Fracktose Intolerant. Clean Energy for London now! Why the hell not? It was an outing. It was fun. Effective? Don't ask me. But if the battle to save the future is lost, rather than being another of those damned near run things we specialise in, it won't be because I was too selfish, cynical, or stupid to stand up and be counted.



Progress Report on The Grasshopper's Child POD


I finished the cover with Barry over the weekend, and now the grasshopper is green, an important point, for which thank you Gabriel (actually there are five of them all told, but you can only see one here). First proof copy has shipped. The only bad news is that this trade paperback type book will be as expensive for the buyer as mainstream tpbk, whereas I can make my ebooks very cheap. POD has no economy of scale. I wonder what it's going to look like in real life? They warn you it can take several tries to get it just right. I must say, this is far more fun than getting published old style. If you like playing games, that is.

*smart dress and repulsive ultra violence (white collar kind) a speciality!

2015!

Monday 15th September, a clearing overcast, and yet another day when it isn't going to rain around here. Went to see the last night of Ben Power's Medea at the Duke of York's yesterday (not live: 'encored' from the National Theatre). A great amenity, and you only have to sit through ten minutes of NT fundraising, which is your own fault for turning up early. NB it's a version, not all that close to Euripides!; but I'm fine with that sort of thing. Helen McCrory excellent in the name part, and Jason impressive as the imposing, successful man who's so good at compartmentalising, putting the brutal piracy and all that business in Colchis out of his mind; astonished that the foreign wife he needs to discard is cutting up rough. The type of man I would say, if I was a savage or an Ancient Greek, which I am not, who positively calls down on himself (and others) the unstoppable, black, implacable force of a Medea. Great music too. Not so totally keen on the obligatory 'modern psychoanalytical terms' rationalisation provided in the intro.

A bit of a surprise to walk out of that into the Sunday afternoon sunshine.


2015!

And so we're here at last, the Referendum. Let me make this clear: I hope the answer is NO & I still think it probably will be NO; as in the end the voters will do a 'Neil Kinnock', or a 'Bush Second term' on us. On the other hand, why shouldn't Scotland say YES? England is a rotten borough, and I'm not all that convinced by the 'hard economic arguments'. The welfare state is punishingly expensive? So is having an unhealthy number of disgustingly rich people on board, and a 'government' indifferent to anything but their own personal financial advantage. Free University tuition is expensive? Student loans have proved a ridiculous waste of money. I could go on, but I digress. I DO NOT think the Dissolution of the United Kingdom is a good idea. I didn't think it was a good idea back in 1999, when I wrote Bold As Love: I just saw that it was, eventually a likely future outcome. Little did I know how near future it might be; and how bizzare, (you couldn't make it up!), to think that if what I don't want to happen, happens, this week 2015 really might be the Year Of Dissolution. My best wishes, neighbours, and forgive my English cheek (esp in Band of Gypsys). Do what you think best, as your conscience dictates, and good luck for whatever future you choose.

Reading

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
.
Excellent. I was completely wrapped up in this book, and devoured it in a sitting. Only thing, I thought the storytelling ended too soon. I wanted the reunion, when the sisters meet again, for the first time, to be part of the story. Just that moment, no need to go further, let the rest be (as it is) righteous and necessary footnotes. (And see, no spoilers! You'd better not follow the link, though).

and looking forward to Haruki Murakami Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, but I can't read it until after Gabriel has read it, I can only admire the very beautiful cover.

Watching

Two Days, One Night
Another movie from the Dardennes brothers, author of 'Kid With A Bike', which I also loved, but I liked this one more. So good at passionate drama about ordinary things happening to ordinary people. What I liked best about this movie was the way I spent most of it thinking, oh no, this isn't going to work. It's no use, Sandra isn't coping. If she wins this cruel little game and gets her job back, she won't get her life back, which is what she's really lost. It'll be awful, terrible, she won't last a day . . . But the Dardennes were ahead of me. I can't tell you how or why (even though, after visiting with the Ancient Greeks, i'm cfeeling more annoyed than usual with that 'spoiler' concept). But it totally does work.

And the new Scott and Bailey, which has returned with the female trio, via a bit of handwaving, safely unchanged. Still entertaining, but dear me, what a lot of goody goodies they are at GMP these days, it's like a girls' boarding school. And completely blase about their disintegrating role in society. Like, it's perfectly natural and right that just encountering the police, just in passing, (never mind, god forbid, while exercising your legal right to peaceful protest) instantly strips you of all your purely conditional civil rights.

Speaking of which . . .

The Climate Change March in London next Sunday. Tired of hearing about tipping points? Spotted that Climate Change is the greatest threat around to human rights, including yours? Horrified by the price paid by the most vulnerable, while the rich and heedless carry on regardless? Or just frightened of that fragmented World War Three thing? I know I won't be alone, but hope that this time there will be a lot of people. Come and join me.

Something Special About This Place . . .

Sunday 14th September, yet another sunny day emerging from another misty morning, and the garden having a late warm flourish (or maybe the first of the late flourishes, who knows with the weather these days). Bounteous garden foraging this year, plums in jars, a kilo of plums soaking in whisky, stewed plums with everything, and with the dregs Peter made several pots of slightly sticky jam. Masses of pears, still on the tree, and masses of August tomatoes, regrettably enjoyed mostly by the slugs. Another refulgent Super Full Moon last week, rather denting the excitement, but a few nights after TTIP, in a clear sky in the early hours, I saw Orion sneaking into the landing window. The last of summer can't last forever now.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Well, it was indeed a hard sell on the London Road. Just try saying all that, before your target has vanished beyond the 99p store. But I think I've got a handle on the problem now (NB there's another of these agreements sneaking around in secret, called CETA, with the same toxic issues), and the problem is something called the Investor/State Dispute Settlement clause. Devised to protect companies whose assets have been appropriated or destroyed by some rogue state's latest revolutionary government, the ISDS clause allows an injured company to bypass the laws of the State where the injury has occurred, and take their case to a 'neutral' arbitration panel. The panel is neutral in the sense that when assessing liability, it has no interest in right,wrong, legality or the public good: the only question this panel asks is whether the Investor has suffered financially through the actions of the State.

Oh my! cry all the financial and business pages! Why is anybody making a fuss??? How harmless can you get! What could possibly go wrong? What sillies the general public are!

If the EU decides that the evidence is overwhelming (which is d**n well is), and ban the pesticides that are destroying the pollinators, the birds, and (I bet!) the insectivorous wildlife of all kinds, the SIDS clause enshrines the right of Syngenta and Bayer to sue the respective governments for reducing their profits.

If a Labour government decides to roll back the privatisation of the NHS, and tighten up drug procurement, the pharmaceutical giants have and extra-legal right sue the UK government for reducing their profits.

This would never happen? What, you mean the lawyers won't leap on this feast with cries of joy, billions of dollars sparkling in their eyes? You mean the corporations won't just have to mention SIDS, to have a government cave in at once? It's happening already. Read all about it here.

http://acta.ffii.org/?p=1942

The next EU day of action is on 11th October.

The irony is an actual rogue state would be totally unimpressed.


My Fracking News

. . . The Fernhurst decision: is not exactly making the front pages. I got my ticket for the Planning Meeting, and went to Midhurst last Thursday (took a photo of H.G.Well's blue plaque, as Midhurst Grammar is right next door). The planning officer had advised that Celtique Energie's application, to do a little bit of exploratory drilling in the South Downs National Park, should be refused. A succession of eloquent locals spoke in favour of the refusal. Celtique Energie's spokeswoman made a statement, (featuring the rather cheeky suggestion that since 83% of visitors are car users, the SDNP should be all in favour of having the park fracked-out), A Celtique Eenergie consultant also spoke in support. The committee 'debated' their decision: or rather, a succession of committee members spoke passionately about their love for this tranquil, untouched, beautiful and secret place, hidden in the depths of the Milland Basin. The decision to refuse was unanimous.

Mr Geoff Davies is struck all of a heap! He can't understand why he's been turned down, what's going on with all this emotional, subjective rubbish about beauty and tranquillity, precious treasures of landscape character and food for the soul? I wonder about Mr Davies. Is he quite on the ball? Who did he think was running the South Downs National Park? He gets passionate and emotional enough about money-making. You'd think he'd understand. Read his response here.

http://www.celtiqueenergie.com/article.php?id=54

How did I get to the meeting? Public transport, of course. How could I do anything else (hm, learn to ride a bike properly, I suppose). Obviously, If the SDNP is serious (and I think they are) about reducing car use, they need a lot more buses, a least in summer and at weekends. But I did wonder, as I crossed the road to my bus stop, how many of the other passionate opposers of the fracking industry, who had packed the hall, had made the connection, and left their cars at home?

The Fernhurst decision is a huge precedent. The first National Park application, and the people said no. The people said, if we're going to frack at all, obviously we Frack the National Parks Last. Not first. No wonder this story didn't last long on the BBC. And that makes two. But the fracking industry will be back.

And Finally . . .

The Grasshopper's Child: Just a brief note to say the eversion of my new book is now available. Print copies to follow soon, more on this later & if anybody would like a pdf for review purposes, just let me know.

Hurricane Weather

Thursday 28th August, cool and bright. Heavy rain last night, and a damp, clammy, gloomy morning, but apparently we're going to have a pause before we get caught by the lashing tail of another storm. Last Friday we went out walking, right over in the west, a classic route we haven't walked for five years: from Harting Down to Hooksway, from East Marden to Up Marden's quiet little church, around to Compton and back up to Harting Down again in twilight; deer barking in the eaves of the wood, and one unearthly owl. Excellent walking weather, splendid foraging of chicken mushroom from the trunk of a dead oak tree (US readers caution: our species is "edible, delicious, and quite unmistakeable". I don't know about yours). Hordes of free range pheasant poults scampering underfoot, in the shadows of the golden rolls of wheatstraw and once a hare, leaping across a vast shorn cornfield, stopped and sat up, looking back at us, very coolly. Handfuls of small sweet blackberries to keep us going and good food at possibly the most picturesque pub in Sussex, the Royal Oak at Hooksway. The harvest is already home down here, and that's probably last of our summer outings.

Was it a good one? It seemed very long, very confused, and full of bad news for the world. It had heatwaves, it had thunder and lightning. It had its great moments, good outings, good trips away (although unfortunately we didn't get to the Green Man festival: that'll have to be next year). Great camping under Dark Skies at Compton Bay, a wonderful walk back from Lewes over the downs, under the Hungry Ghosts "Super" full moon, in the teeth of a warm southwesterly gale. (This year, I noticed, HK and Malaysia decided to spread the festival over a whole month. Was this because the ghosts were thought to be especially lively? Or recognition of an under-exploited commercial attraction?) But all our fun was overshadowed. We have lost our big cat, Milo. He went missing in July, on the night of one of the terrific thunderstorms, and has not come home. It's been six weeks. Maybe he's okay somewhere, I hope so. I expect we'll never know what happened. Many thanks to lostcatsbrighton, for their support



My Fracking Round-Up

Interesting times for the nascent fracking industry uk . Could go either way, couldn't it? On the one hand, the current government has stuck to its plans, and put vast swathes of the country up for grabs. They're apparently still set on changing that pesky law about having to ask every landowner in your way, for permission before you drill, and their Consultation on the issue provoked a gratifyingly subdued response from the public (but Greenpeace are challenging that) . . . On the other hand, here in Sussex, Celtique Energie's Wisborough Green application got turned down, Balcombe residents really are taking West Sussex County Council to the High Court, for permitting Cuadrilla to renew their operations at Balcombe (if they feel like it; currently they don't), and meanwhile the Labour Party is trying to square the circle, in the run up to a General Election, by promising to "significantly tighten regulations". Not that it matters, election promises are not worth used toilet paper, but this is NOT going to work. As Mr Francis Egan and Mr Geoff Davies have explained to us, ingenuously and often, "environmental and regulatory conditions" and fracking just do not go together. Fracking's going to make a heap big mess, for derisory returns (unless you are a cowboy driller, and you have grabbed the money and run away very quickly). Everybody knows that now. And if people can say no, they will say no.

But who can say no? That may be the question. The Keep Kirdford and Wisborough Green people were amazingly well organised, well-heeled and very, very savvy. I was at the meeting, in Horsham on the 22nd July. As a fly on the wall, a head to be counted, I shared the joy. I also couldn't help noticing that the public in the hall, and the members of the planning committee, were absolutely indistinguishable. And I thought, good for you KWG (including me, nb. I don't really look like a dangerous radical at the best of times, and I had left my frack free sussex badge at home). Not a whiff of the culture of protest. So where does that leave us? If the way to fight this blight is to shut up about Climate Change, Rare Bats, and the like, and make a fuss about HGV traffic, cricket games being interrupted, house prices falling, instead; then whatever works, but it's not enough. Nowhere like enough.

Anyway, I'll be at the South Downs National Park meeting on 11th September (if I can get a ticket: apply here), to find out what happens about Celtique Energie's application to drill at the so-called "Nine Acres Copse" site: also nestling among tiny, fragile country lanes; also next door to a village; also in the teeth of overwhelming public opposition, and the first attempt to frack in a National Park. So, we'll see.



Looking Forward To:


TTIP national action day on Saturday 30th August: Pavilion Constiuency, Brighton


Er, in a sense. . . I'll be one of the hardy souls, out in the rain, on a stall on the London Road, (bottom of St Ann's Street site, next to Costa, 12.00 to 2.00pm) attempting to explain to passers-by why they should be very afraid of the Transatlantic Trade And Investment Partnership. Luckily I'm going to be prepared & the hard-copy briefing is in the post, but I've a feeling this will be a tough sell. Wish me luck.

With more enthusiasm . . . Peter's So Long And Thanks For All The Fish dinner, marking the final day of his teaching contract, tomorrow night.

Listening To

Arctic Monkeys at Reading. I wasn't there, I'm never going back, but weren't they great.

Massimo's New You Tube release. I'm proud to know this guy. Hope he runs another Baroque concert soon.

Meanwhile, I'm very pleased that Lightspeed is hosting The Grass Princess, I've just turned in my Lovecraft anthology submission and I'm hoping to get my new book out soon, finally. Last minute issues (got to get together with my cover man next week) More later.

The Wacky World of Celtique Energie

Monday 21st July. In Brighton the heatwave continues, blue skies with a sultry overcast, heavy warm air, 29 degrees in our garden this afternoon. The most terrific thunderstorm I've witnessed for many years on the night of Thursday 17th, nothing similar since.

My Fracking Round Up

What a palavar! First we learn that senior planning officers have advised that Celtique Energie's exploratory drilling at Wisborough Green should be refused, owing to the huge HGV traffic/tiny country lanes issue. (and possibly also to the Celtique Energie persistently, and insultingly, lying about everything issue) Hurrah! Then we learn that Geoff Davies isn't going to let this happen. The planning decision must be deferred again, pending new information he needs the committee to consider. Otherwise, he threatens to withdraw his application and re-apply, thus plunging the people of Wisborough Green and Kirdford into further uncertainty. Hm. "Further uncertainty" for another year or so; or horrible devastation of the villages, the roads, the countryside etc, right now? Tough one! So the planning meeting is on, the planning meeting is off, and then, just now, the planning meeting is on again!

I'd like to think that WSCC planning officers viewed Mr Davies' new information, and found that it was rubbish, in about 30 seconds. The downright insulting language employed by Mr Davies helped to confirm their opinion, and the refusal will be delivered as planned. But who can tell, in this strange world we live in? Maybe the committee were told by Big Dave that local opinion and common sense and all that can go to hell. They either approved the fracking bonanza, or it's a short trip to the basement and a bullet in the back of the neck . . .

In short, Celtique Energie are fighting tooth and nail the precedent of a single successful NO! From their bewilderment, and their extremely coarse and heavy-handed tactics, they had no plan for how to deal with resistance. They thought they'd greased the right palms, and it was a done deal! (And they could still be right. There are palms, there has been liberal application of grease: this nobody can deny.

Meanwhile, bitter revolt against extreme energy extraction gathers strength in the USA. Claims of injury and damage are mounting up, and getting costly, and rumours that Climate Change is a real and present danger seem to be spreading, in the most unlikely quarters. But who can tell? Not me! I just know to keep on saying two and two make four, no matter how often I'm told the answer is five or three.

Reading

My Real Children
Jo Walton, of which more later. And Farthing; same. Which seems like a nice read, except it's a wren, not a robin. I expect Jo Walton has heard that from a lot of people, and I apologise, but there you go, one really can't help noticing! There's a character called Angela Thirkell. Woah, I hope she's dead! Also Waverley, Walter Scott. I don't know where, but I picked up a reference to Waverley from some site recently (maybe something to do with Bonnie Prince Alex's chances), and immediately wanted to read it again. I still love it. I still owe Sir Walter Scott so much. Along with Stevenson, my formative influence, and the reason why (along with the Brontes) many years ago I could not understand why my teachers savaged my use of the colon and semi-colon; and why I am since, enduringly, helpless on the subject. Like a generation brought up on Imperial and forced (without success) to change to Metric, the result is I just can't measure anything.


I read the end of Waverley this morning, before dawn. A weary wakening from a wild dream (that's from Redgauntlet, actually) that I've so often tried to capture and cherish; like the Old Master's technique of using real, obscure, minutia of historical incident, reportage and dialogue, to colour my fictional (future) history. But the savagery of what happened to the examplars, tried for High Treason after Culloden. That gives me pause, in a way I never dreamt of long ago. Walter Scott wrote as if he was a world, and an eternity, away from the hideous executions in Carlisle, 1746. To be hung, drawn, and quartered, in a world that had daily newspapers and (approaching) democratic government . . . Awful, unthinkable, but it happened. How far away are we now? Just a click away. Not even that. No, not even that.

Summer, summer. Always some kind of hell. There's only one thing to do with summer: run away until September, and after tomorrow's trip over the border, I'm about to do so. So long.



In Search Of The Mezentian Fiorinda (rainy day activities)

Friday 12th July, rain rain rain. Stuck indoors, for my errands are not the amphibious kind, I have spent half the day messing about, creating a glyph for a new ebook, my first actual new book in this medium (it is a Bold As Love world story, and couldn't possibly interest any mainstream publisher except myself*); by my own string-and-glue roundabout methods. I'm quite pleased with the result. The other half of the day so far has been wasted in trying to find an online and therefore shareable image of the original Fiorinda; Eddison's Fiorinda, the lady in the frontispiece of The Mezentian Gate 1958 edition (I don't own a copy, and it is now rare; apparently and some may say understandably!). Drawn by Keith Henderson, on Eddison's instructions, from a painting of a lady (unnamed) 1596, which currently belongs to the Hispanic Society of America.

It's an odd choice, if you ask me. El Greco, fine, dead right as to period: but if the Lady Fiorinda is an El Greco you might want her to look like this (the lady in a fur wrap, who may or may not be a portrait of El Greco's long time love Jeronima De Las Cuevas) But no, Eddison seems to have taken great pains to make sure we know she looks like this tough looking bird:who is very difficult to find online, although
I'm sure I saw her there just the other day. This detail from the Keith Henderson drawing I stole from the fan-ficcer "fiorinda_chancellor"'s archive of our own site. The Chancellor, btw, is Fiorinda's brother in the story. Make what you will.

Eddison. What a problem child! Hard to believe he went to the same school as the so sensible and normal Arthur Ransome. Never mind the undeniably fascist imagery (whatever he called his world view, I'm afraid the truth is obvious): those sentences! Sumptuous prose is one thing, but Lessingham, love, she's gone to sleep two paragraphs ago. I remember thinking, even when delighted with Mistress of Mistresses, many, many years ago, people don't talk like that. Not to each other. They don't even talk like that in Jacbean tragedy, except in soliloque; theatre's internal monologue feature. But I can't claim I'm not attracted, obviously. Eddison's Fiorinda is a case in point, she says everything about the dubious allure of it all for me. She's a goddess, the Demiurge of Eddison-world, the uber-avatar of Aphrodite, but all her powers are bestowed on her by her father (well, of course: name of Eric Eddison, but you know what I mean). She's the top sex-doll in the range, the ultimate uber sex-doll, but that's all she is, for all her smouldering Jacobean periods. And collusive too, as she doesn't even say anything sarcastic about being a puppet, not once, just sits there smugly saying ca, m'amuse; which for years I misremembered as Je m'amuse, subtly much more acceptable. . . Yet I wanted to ask Eddison, was he also thinking, surely, as I was when I borrowed her name, of Blodeuwedd (=Fiorinda, in Italian), the woman made of flowers by her "father" Gwydion the magician, in Welsh mythology. Who broke free, and became a person, kind of like Pinocchio; and got into terrible bother with her dad, over her cunning plan to escape from a forced marriage. All these stories about what men think women are (we can start with owned); images of sensuous fragility, fearful enchantment . . . Which can equally be read (re-visioned) as stories about how women get trapped by looking at themselves in that mirror . . .

Why am I looking up Fiorinda? Because I'm planning to ask Bryan Talbot if I can use the "Fiorinda" portrait he did for me, way back then, in my cover design. Interestingly, this portrait was another magic mirror. I was taken aback when I saw it for the first time, far more so than with eg "Aoxomoxoa"). Huh? Is that what she looks like? Admittedly I don't think I ever have a clear idea of what my characters look like, but I'm sure she was much younger, a lot less like a haughty super-model, and far more vulnerable. But you write them, and then somebody else sees them: I'm lucky to have had a glimpse, and I have long accepted that this is the face my character lives behind.

It's stopped raining, I'm going out. The keynote picture is a cheat, the most forward of my Lilium Regale (outside the front door in a tall pot, as they are poisonous to cats) looks like this.

*Still coming to terms with the idea that if there's a print edition (I mean, a print on demand edition and a few samples), it will have to be with Create Space An Amazon Company. But I've looked into it, and realistically there is no alternative. None that I can see.


Seven

Wednesday 25th June, another fine day, blue sky and white clouds; cooler, and an easterly breeze. Looks like our dark skies camp-out #1 this weekend is cancelled, and serious rain for Glastonbury. Last week I was poorly, flat on my back. This week I'm moonlighting, taking a couple of hours off here and there from my proper occupation (being flat on back). Next week I'll be well, I hope: but meanwhile, I've been reading storybooks, it's amazing how much print I can get through. See below. Before I admitted defeat we went to Woods Mill again. No white moon this time, no nightingales, no cuckoo. What a difference a week makes, at the cusp of Midsummer. The flood of evening birdsong stilled, wild roses and honeysuckle just a delicate motif, no longer dominanting the tapestry of lush greenery. We didn't see the Barn Owls, maybe their owlets had fledged, but watched one of the kestrel parents sitting in the kestrels' oak, tearing away lustily at some prey or other, while one kestrel chick made its first flight: thrills I can't share, as we do not have either one of those giant cameras or the skills required. So here are the Woods Mill cygnets instead, seven of them, the magic number, just like a fairytale. The other adult swan is just out of the picture. The female (I bet) was spitting at me, which was a bit of a cheek, as she had deliberately brought her brood over to the bank, evidently to teach them you can intimidate humans into giving you picnic . . .

My Fracking Round Up (and related topics)

Good news (for now): SOCO have retreated from their plans to drill in Virunga National Park, and "will do nothing to threaten the Park's World Heritage status" (presumably, this weasely promise means they'll be looking in to suborning UNESCO). Charles Metcalfe and the Balcombe anti-frackers really are going to take West Sussex County Council to the Crown Court. And quite right too. More details here:

http://www.leighday.co.uk/News/2014/June-2014/Balcombe-anti-fracking-group-in-High-Court-challen

Bad news, a Minister getting up on hind feet and explaining that there is no methane leak risk to aquifers or groundwater from hydraulic fracking as the fracking happens much deeper down . . . God give me strength, even Scientific American knows that the methane has to come up to the surface. Or there would not be much point, would there? Just another proof that our masters "know" (using that term advisedly, in individual cases) that they don't have to make sense. No more than William the Conqueror had to "make sense", when he raped Saxon England. They have force majeure, and no boundaries.

Not to mention Armageddon coming charging to their aid, over the hill. Remember that Green Horse I was telling you about?

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/06/24-3


Not new bad news, the Wisborough Green and Kirdford (ie second Weald Basin fracking site after Balcombe) drilling application is to be "determined", finally! on 21st July, at an unknown location. This delay does not mean WSCC has been reconsidering their predetermined approval.

http://www.wisboroughgreen.org/oilexplorationsite.htm


I don't yet know what happened to the West Sussex County Councill Oil And Gas Exploration Open Day advertised for the 21st. I couldn't make it, myself. And I was so interested, especially in that item "how to influence planning". That must have been a short session:

"You can't. We're just following orders, and our orders are to ignore you. Soon there isn't going to be any "planning", anyhow.")

Still can't track down WSCC's oil and gas expert, "John Pucknall". I suppose he's on a staff list at Portsmouth Uni, which the Uni isn't sharing, but not a trace of any other internet presence; not a name-check, which is unusual for a reputable scientist.

The Infrastructure Bill Protest

the thirtyeight degrees petition is now closed, but I have a report on the story so far from Jacky Smith, who organised it, that makes interesting reading. Further action in July, meanwhile here's Owen Adams on the topic https://owenadamssubjectobject.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/the-infrastructure-bill-enables-the-sell-off-of-all-public-land-this-is-not-wholly-unfounded-speculation/. Another of the bright ideas in that bill, besides the notorious change to the trespass laws, is selling off the Land Registry. Bizarre, isn't it. How this fracking thing unfolds, endlessly, opening up great seams of ruthlessness and corruption, far and wide, uncovering the wild extent of our masters' will to destroy civil liberties; civil society: an anatomy of this government that I find far more compelling than the Coulson Case. I will admit, less immediately scary than the destruction of the NHS, but it depends what you think about Climate Change, and how far its right now scary ramifications extend into every aspect of our civilisation.



My Flat On Back Storybooks

Natsuo Kirino, The Goddess Chronicle

A Japanese Creation Myth tale, lovely reading for Zelda, Ghibli and Okami fans. (I was thrilled to get a name check, I mean "I" in my avatar sense, as the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, in Okami). A poignant, strange reminder of what "Okinawa" and "Iwo Jima" might have meant, if they didn't mean The War In The Pacific. Have to admit it's all about Death, and mainly about women (or Yin) getting the short end of that stick. Still recommended. Will now seek out Natsuo's "hardboiled detective" novels.


Tobias Hill. The Love Of Stones

By a poet, about the adventures of a real, amazing mediaeval jewel (actually several jewels), through hundreds of years, and finally a fictional thriller set in C19 Bhagdad/London;1990-something/various global locations. Mesmerising. A book to get lost in. And incidentally you get a startling reminder of how far away the Nineties are now. Like Life On Mars.

Rubbernecker, Belinda Bauer

I like Belinda Bauer, but at first I thought this one was a bit of a conjuring trick. You say Our Hero has Asperger's, then you can do anything you like with him, plus being able to make any quirky internal musing, such as we neurotypics might easily indulge in, sound like you Know Everything about the Autistic Spectrum*. I changed my mind. Really liked it by the end. Gruesome, and fun, with compassion and a good heart. What more can you ask?
(*btw, this is how I felt about Mark Haddon's Curious Incident the whole way through).

Erin Hart, Lake Of Sorrows; False Mermaid

These are the second and third episodes of a murder story set in Minnesota and in different counties of Ireland (the Republic, that is). Long, comfortable, triple-decker kind of detective stories, with a female Minnesota-Irish pathologist main character, fair amount of gore, lots and lots of Irish colour, and one or two, okay, several, very lucky coincidences and very helpful murderers, longing to explain themselves . . . These books come with a publisher's Suggestions For Reading Circles in the back, rather giving the impression you have in your hand not so much a novel as grist for a female-oriented nattering-mill. I've never been nearer to a Reading Circle than Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club (which I liked a lot, but that was close enough). But I liked them, they kept me quiet for hours, and I'd read the first if it was in my library.

And Finally:

Inspired by having visited St Peter's Ad Vincula again, I revised the story The Flame Is Roses I wrote for MIT Technology Review's SF anthology. Now posted on my Gwynethann site, page Seven (see sidebar). Featuring the Many Worlds Superposition theory, and Tom Eliot and Emily Hale timeshifted and somewhat rearranged by the experience plus I didn't count how many other Four Quartets references, and of course a rose garden.

Here's the direct link: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/gwynethann/TheFlameIsRoses.htm

Got to get back on my back now.


Free Meriam Yeyha Ibrahim

Tuesday 17th June, cool air, sun and blue sky; silver-rimmed clouds . . . I don't think I've ever seen a cloud with a silver lining, but the effect today is pretty, without being platitudinous. This entry dedicated to Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman at present imprisoned with her 20 month old son and new baby daughter, sentenced to death by hanging for "apostasy" (she was brought up a Christian and married a Christian; her Muslim father left her mother when she was six), and "adultery" on the grounds of her marriage outside Islam. Her husband, a wheelchair user, supports her in her refusal to recant, and says he doesn't believe she'll back down. I think he may be right: she looks like a proud woman. She was denounced for her marriage by "Muslim relatives": the police tried to dismiss the case, the relatives came back with the charge of adultery, and somehow made it stick (CNN). Global outcry might save her, so continue to spread the word. There's a facebook page, needless to say, and Amnesty International is involved. As are we Europeans, Hooray!

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-14-186_en.htm

Years ago, when I wrote "Life" (working title, The Differences Between The Sexes) I had one of my characters, a Malaysian human rights lawyer, tell another, "Anna, where you and I lived at University, Women's Rights is old news. Intelligent women want to be judged on their own merits and find the whole feminist thing embarassing and whiney. But here, where I live it's a can of worms. If you start applying the concept of human rights to women's lives in Africa, in Asia, you uncover a holocaust. And it's getting worse, not better. "

Two things have changed since around the year 2000*, approximately when I wrote that. One is globalisation. The holocaust is no longer far away, no longer out of our sight, it's in our midst. Honour killings and forced marriage are inescapably a global issue now. Female Genital Mutilation is practised with impunity, performed by qualified doctors, in the UK . . . The other is that the billions of women suffering that silent, immemorial holocaust, women still oppressed by staggering cruelty, are speaking up: with their own voices, insisting on opening the can of worms, and even making men listen, sometimes. It's horrible to see what happens to the martyrs in this cause, but I can only support them, and speak out in solidarity.

For what it's worth.


https://secure.avaaz.org/en/womanifesto_modi_rb_loc/?tknnDab


(I expect you've signed that petition. If not, please do. But then try typing Petition against rape into a search engine of your choice. See what you get: it's a corrective.


*No, wait, there's a third thing. Young women seem less likely to regard feminism as whiney and redundant, right now . . . But I'm not sure that's a positive sign.

Looking forward to another trip to Woods Mill (Sussex Wildlife Trust Reserve) this evening. Last week, with the moon nearly full in a clear blue evening sky, we sat and watched a pair of kestrels and a barn owl hunting in the meadow. One cuckoo calling in the distance, a tapestry of birdsong filling the air.



Public Event about Oil and Gas Exploration and Extraction


Wednesday 11th of June, warm and overcast. WSCC are holding an open day all about oil and gas exploration and extraction, at Pulborough Village Hall on 21st June, where they'll answer all our questions and explain about how to influence planning policy. What an interesting idea! It's a drop-in, but you have to register by email: oilandgas@westsussex.gov.uk


Here's the full details:

Public Event about Oil and Gas Exploration and Extraction

In response to demand for more information about oil and gas exploration and extraction, West Sussex County Council have organised a free drop-in session on Saturday 21 June at Pulborough Village Hall. The event runs from 9.30am to 4.00pm.

You will be able to find out about the processes involved and our role as the local planning authority in determining applications. However, WSCC will not be able to have site-specific discussions on current planning applications.

Officers from the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive, Department for Energy and Climate Change, and the County Council will attend the event. Representatives from local resident groups affected by oil and gas extraction will also be in attendance.

John Pucknall from Portsmouth University will be deliverying the Science and Techonology information session. As a Petroleum engineer for 30 years with BP, he has a unique insight to the methods used by companies to extract oil and gas.

More information about the venue, including travel directions, can be found on the website: http://www.pulbvh.org.uk/index.htm

There is a small public car park next to the hall (please note there is no parking available at the hall) and a train station within walking distance.

You can drop in at any time to get information or ask questions. However, due to limited capacity at the village hall, please confirm your attendance in advance by email to oilandgas@westsussex.gov.uk.



Footnote To Roumeli: Wisborough Green In Flagrante

Monday 9th June, quiet, cool and overcast. Have torn down the rocket that had shot into flower, and am hoping to get away with having stirred some of the admittedly slightly embittered leaves into tonight's salad. Have not transferred my third indoor froglet to the outdoors, but I must. Yesterday, back to Wisborough on a perfect English summer day, to repeat a walk we remember with fondness from before fracking reared its head. The sky so blue and white it glowed, the sun as warm as it ought to be, and no more; the hollow thwack of leather on willow pursued us as we left the Green. Open Gardens. Teas. Birdsong everywhere, there must be a blackbird pair for every square metre of this landscape, this summer (but never a cuckoo, and very few swallows, martins or swifts). Dragonflies, damselflies (damselflies are hammerheaded, that's the essential difference); yellow water lilies, pink and white dog roses, creamy lace elderflower platters, herons starting up from the Adur canal, or from the reeds by the Adur river next door. We lost our way, when avoiding a field where a bull had been put with the cows; also there were fields and fields where vast thickets of nettles pressed on either side: so it was okay, authentic, all the trimmings, but I was glad to reach The Mens. Very glad to have seen those great beeches, one more time, in all their shadowy glory. And always, except in the beech woods, the slim grey spire of St Peter ad Vincula on its headland (thirteenth century wall paintings, a mysterious void under the sanctuary) inexplicably shifting round our horizon: very Proustian.

And I'm thinking, as we walk through the beanfields in flower on our way back, about the people, the comment-column mavs, even anti-fracking activists, vengefully delighted to think of the Low Weald getting trashed, just because places like Wisborough are so picturebook. Huh? I can't get along with that sort of attitude. Really can't. Neither class war, or a few trollish comments, are going to make it any easier for me to accept the trashing of the Forest of Bowland.

St Peter's ad Vincula is the church featured in the T.S Eliot-inspired story, The Flame Is Roses The Smoke Is Briars I wrote for an MIT venture into sf, a couple of years ago. Although nowhere near the sea.

Footnote To Roumeli

My library books #n: Of course not starring Philip the object of our quest last year, but still unable to resist an archaeological thriller called The Tomb of Alexander, the star of Macedon on the cover, and written by Ernest Hemingway's grandson, who happens to be a curator at The Metropolitan Museum Of Art. It's nice. Not going to set the Thames on fire, and you have to really like archaeology, but that's beside the point. Turns out the plot is full of The Mummy Returns stuff about a secret book; a lost tomb full of untold treasures, amazing mediaeval prophecies and a battle at the End of the World. Couldn't resist looking it up, and what d'you know, it's all true as the internet. So now I must at all costs seek out a copy of The Alexander Romance. , but obviously digital won't do. Maybe I'll have to put it on my Christmas List But the strangest part is that I remember this story. I remember, when I was a very small child, five or six, that I was convinced someone, one of the holy nuns at my school, had told me about a last battle, in which a human hero, a champion of God, would fight with the devil and all his demons, at a pass at the end of the world, and it would be the end of time . . . I repeated this story at home, got soundly told off for making up disrespectful nonsense & have spent all my years between puzzling over the mystery, because I know I didn't make it up.

Well, well, I'll keep you updated.

Still have not caught my froglet, although with the best intentions. It's hard to reason with a tadpole, even at the four-legged stage.


So much to be devastated and furious and ashamed about . . .

Thursday 5th June, very sunny, not all that warm, no sign of the eight or ten local swifts (I've seen very little of them, no screaming parties, I think only a single pair may be nesting at the Brighton General site). And that was brilliant, Greenpeace. Immaculately put together and timed! "The police are absolutely right", says Greenpeace spokesperson, as they were led away from their pretend fracking installation at Dave Cameron's house yesterday morning. "Nobody should frack under somebody's home without permission."

Interestingly (well, okay, predictably) the plan to change the trespass law did not turn up on the list of bills destined to become law before the end of this Parliament. It's going to consultation! You can make your views known, and I encourage you to do so. Here's the link: Underground Drilling Access. Just for fun, nb, and to be annoying. This isn't Passport to Pimlico, I'm afraid. No happy ending is planned. These are the Bad Barons, they mean to have their way and they will have it. But in terms of the future of fracking in the UK, Mr Francis Egan's response says it all. If the trespass law isn't changed, that's the end of fracking in the UK. Why? Because if you have to ask, and nobody who can say no to a fracking operation next door will say yes, that's just about it. Nobody. Not even for £20,000. Quite an admission, you'd think.

Not entirely unconnected: about that British Geological Survey, did you know both Cuadrilla (the major player in Extreme Energy extraction/exploration plans) and Celtique Energie (the exploration operator in the Weald) are cited as advisers in the report? (See ppiii) Confirming publicly that they knew all along, despite the passionate vows they have made to the contrary, with tears in their eyes: a) that nothing could be extracted without thousands of wells employing the controversial technique known as fracking. b) that in the South East there's no nice-sounding "natural gas" at all: only a tiny fraction of "tight oil".


That isn't my tweet (above), by the way: I borrowed it from the Australian research into twitter response, in this case to Australia's Rightist, Climate Change Denier Tendency regime's 2014 budget cuts. Twitter is an interactive graph of public mood (it says here). Twitter's emotional storms are fleeting, lasting only hours. They can be read, obviously, and can influence the equally fleeting moods of our politicians. But can they be manipulated with longer term effect? I wonder. "Demosthenes" did it, with great success, back in 1984 in Ender's Game, as I'm sure you remember, dear reader. Admittedly, that was science fiction

I was hardly likely to expect anything that even sounded good to me, on MP recall, on zero hours contracts, or even on plastic bags, from the Coalition's last "Queen's Speech"; and I was not disappointed. Not at all, just devastated, furious and ashamed, same as usual. Greenpeace's stunt had to put a smile on my face (reference to the row between Mr Gove and Ms May has been deleted here as I've realised I have no idea who did what to whom or why). And now, back to my flowers; and a talk about HG's Time Machine that needs to be written.





To Tashkent, with snow on our boots . . .

Monday 2nd June, official summer weather for official Summer: blue sky and cloud, sunny actually warm outdoors (still don't know how that was the third warmest Spring on record, however). Congratulations to Gabriel and Marianne, who made their comeback in fine style at St Michael & All Angels in the Brighton Festival Fringe programme on Saturday. After the misery of months of serious illness (cancerous bowel polyps, thankfully successfully treated by surgery in the end); horribly compounded by the failings of the NHS hospital most concerned, so glad and happy to see Marianne on form again, and singing beautifully. They now embark on a big season of engagements, with confidence.

"What do you think of creative writing groups?' was the question.

"Playground for bullies," was my instant response. "If there's a dominant unscrupulous person in the room, and there probably is, given the territory, she or he will take over, cow those who can be cowed, crush opposition and what's worse, make it a crime to have an original voice. You need an organisation you can trust, like Arvon in the UK, an experienced, practitioner, non-bully workshop leader, and the leader needs to be properly in charge, which definitely isn't always the case. Otherwise, avoid like the plague! If you can't give up the habit don't ever pay, and if you don't like what happens quit immediately!"

Turned out we were at cross-purposes, Mary-Elly was talking about Creative Writing as a degree course prospect, for the daughter of a friend. Oh, well that's different. A good Creative Writing course, the way it's taught today, just as good as say, English Literature in the old days, as an all-purpose undergraduate choice. You don't have to be a prospective academic to benefit from Eng.Litt; don't have to be a prospective novelist to benefit from studying Creative Writing. All kinds of useful mind-nurturing stuff and practical skills in there, applicable in all kinds of contexts.

Not so sure about the post-grad phenomenon. I might go "university of life is better for you" on that one.

But then a mailing from Clarion turned up (I wish I could stop them wasting the postage, I have email!) & that night I dreamt, a long and rich and complicated dream, about a band of sisters and brothers, setting out for . . . and having . . . many dangerous adventures, but all that remained for me, a couple of moments after waking, was Tashkent. Going to Tashkent, with snow on our boots.

My response to what I thought was Mary-Elly's original question was based on my response to the fairly recent (I'm a slow burner) airing of views on "Creative Writing" as a social activity in the press, and on anecdotal reports from writer friends who'd fallen for a paid "course" that turned out both rubbish and distressing. But as so often, you bounce out a crowd-sourced response, and then memory kicks in . . . I now admit tried the UK "Milford", ie a residential group for and by sf practitioners; I went back for a second bite so it can't have been that bad, though I wasn't tempted to carry on. I'm not group material, me. Too much of an outlier, plus privately & recalcitrantly convinced proper writers ought to be "outliers". But I once co-led an Arvon week in Devon, and that was okay, except Colin Greenland had much more exciting accommodation than me, ah well. I did a week's stint as a Clarion workshop leader, twice, hopefully in charge at least part of the time; hopefully not too much of a bully. 1999 Clarion West in Seattle, the year they had Octavia Butler as a tutor was my first. Accepting the job on grounds of "Free views of Mount Rainier included" (absolutely true), I met a classic, a legendary group, the one including Andrea Hairston, Sheree Thomas, Margo Lanagan, Trent Walters, Joe Sutliff Sanders etc. It was intense. There was trouble! I would never sign up for the 6 weeks marathon as a student, never. Vicariously it was thrilling, I shared a small part of the excitement, the gruelling, addictive writers'-bunker mentality, the wild-eyed gallows humour; all of it.

Do it once, that's my non-crowd-sourced advice. Dive into the concentrated company of fellow writers, and discover that your weirdest, most secret behaviours are shared with them. Don't become an addict. You'll lose all power to judge your own writing, you'll fall victim to groupspeak. And remember the old adage, writing workshops are good for novelists, bad for short story writers. (Reason being, novels don't get the full treatment, they are too big to fit in the room. The short story that gets taken to pieces in its entirety is much less likely to survive the process with its outlier credentials intact. You will revise it to make it more like what everybody else did . . .) But have a go. Adventure, bizarre comradeship, peril, cold feet. What more could you ask?

Meanwhile, why not sign up for the Clarion Writathon?


http://clarionwriteathon.org/members/login-register-form.php?registeras=writer



Objection! Objection!

For UK readers only: there's still time to object to Celtique Energie's application to drill beside Wisborough Green, in the Weald, an area now certified to harbour reserves of around 2mths UK supply of "tight oil" that can only be extracted by the controversial method known as "fracking". If you don't like the idea of fracking in sussex, or anywhere in the UK, why not object? And while you're at it, why not copy your letter to David Cameron, your own MP, and Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel and the South Downs. Just to be annoying nb. I was at the last planning committee meeting. They bin all objections to extreme energy extraction. But they get cross first. You have until 20th June. The planning meeting is currently scheduled for 24th.

http://www.no-drilling.co.uk/how-to-object.html


You probably can't make them out, either that or they all flew away, but this is supposed to be our wall campanula, my June flower of choice, full of honeybees.