Skip to content

Expedition to Pirbright

Saturday 16th January, a clear bright winter's day for the delayed Jones, Gwilliam and Sinclair-Jones Seasonal Outing: an expedition to the wilds of Surrey; daring Ministry of Defence scary yellow notices, and the proximity of the scary Pirbright Institute, on tracks potentially littered with things that would blow up in our faces, in search of that "well-travelled Victorian journalist" Henry Morton Stanley. Especially thrilling to me when we found him (or his memorial, in Pirbright churchyard) since I hadn't spotted the dry wit of our guide to byways of the Kent and Surrey borders, and had no idea we were looking for the Dr Livingstone I presume Stanley. So here he is, presented in triumph by the successful explorers, except by the way Mr Guidebook, that's not an obelisk, that's a menhir. What a harsh and eventful life! How fitting he's buried with the UK's National Rifle Association alumni lying all around him! Shame about the vicious brutality; well attested, and judged out of order even by the "African Explorer Hardnut Hero" standards of the day. Bula Matari, the Congolese called him, breaker of rocks, and they were the rocks that got broken.

My Fracking Round-up

. . . There's so much to say; and so little. What's the use in asking you to write letters, when the planning officers no longer have their power to say no? What's the point in going over the arguments? Well, no point at all, but I believe I will mention how disgusted I was at Amber Rudd's performance on South East Today last week. She says fracked shale gas start-ups will give us control over the price of our fuel; will create new jobs; will give us fuel security. She knows (good grief, she's the Energy Secretary) that these are outright untruths. But there it is. Just lie, that's our rulers' motto* Fool most of the people, most of the time, and you're home clear, so why worry? The blithe and rugged determination of this government: still dead set on its lets get fracking drive, what can I call that but obvious, blatant corruption and cronyism? No other explanation stands up. Given the state of the industry (BHP Hilton writes down $6billion of shale assets)
Given the climate-change floods . . . "We live in a warmed world. All our weather is affected by climate change" (New Scientist)
Given inconveniences like the defection of even the frackers themselves.
Not to mention the promises in Paris. No, we won't mention the Paris deal*.
Many thanks to Caroline Lucas, and Chris Matheson, for questions asked in Parliament this week
&Many thanks (I suppose) to Kevin Hollinrake MP, Ryedale, for his tasteful resignation.

More details on drill or drop. Me, I'm taking myself to the public meeting about the Horse Hill well tests, in Oxted on February 6th. See you there, if you come from round here.


Prime Minister's Question Time,

On the tv in my gym last week. Harriet Harman maliciously needling Our Dave, over that targeted drone strike. Could the Prime Minister possibly provide us with his protocols, something in writing; before next time? With the proper security clearances, of course. So parliament knows when this long distance, without trial or charge, execution thing is legal, and when it isn't? Nope, he couldn't. Okay, next: could he at least clarify just a little. What would be crossing a line? If there was, say, a small child involved, out there in Syria? Would the Prime Minister then order the small child's head to be blown off? No use, he just can't get his head around it at all. The question is too complicated, too long and bewildering, sorry (mops brow, mugs helpless overload): he's getting hopelessly confused. But he's clear on one point. I reserve the right, says Our Dave, to act without consulting parliament.

Hm. There's a word for people like that, and it isn't Prime Minister.

Anyway, how very Churchillian. But all I'm thinking is, how dearly all leaders love a war. & why wouldn't they, because that's all they're really good for, isn't it? Dux bellorum. Everything else is too complicated, conflicting, confusing: impossible for one man to handle. For running a country, decently, in peacetime, you need a government. That's why we haven't got one.

Those Romans, they knew what they were doing; for a while.

The World At War

We're getting there. We're through D-day (What the hell went wrong on Omaha? Just awful. I know a story about that, but the uneven distribution of Hobart's Funnies didn't get a mention from Olivier. Episode 18, Holland in the Occupation last night. Possibly the grimmest yet. The Greater Germany; a collaboration path that really did not work out well. The moment when you realise what's been done to you, what they've turned you into, and already there's no way back . . . One man, telling the story of how he encountered a chained-up consignment of Jews, on a railway platform in Amsterdam. This was 1944, he knew they were on their way to be gassed. It was early morning, he was alone with the prisoners and their guards. He's crying, on the tv screen. "If I'd had my pistol, I could have shot three of the guards," he says. "But what about the fourth? And if I got all four, then what? They are chained, I'm alone, what can I do next?" He went away . . . & joined the resistance, and blew up stuff with plastic explosive provided by US air drops, which made him feel better. But the gas chambers were already lit, and they kept on burning, and the tears of shame and pity are still ready to fall. You can't undo what you've let happen. You can never make it better.
Salutory. Horribly up to date. Right on the money


When The Floods Came
, Clare Morrall. Haven't liked her last two books much. But I think she's back on form

War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy. (Just become my new classic read, bumping the King James Bible on the grounds that getting the Ring to the Fire took me no time at all) Hey, this is a soap opera. This is very nice, but it's purely a soap opera. No, really.

Oh, it is a soap opera! Well, I'm not watching it. That would be unpatriotic, when I don't watch Eastenders. The print version will do me fine.

Approaching With Caution

Microsoft 10. The screams of rage and groans of agony from downstairs have ceased, Peter is now convinced he was one of the unlucky few, or no, in fact it was all his own fault that M10 destroyed his profile those times, & wiped his machine once, & all that. But he has a funny glazed look in his eye now, when he tells me everything is fine, and there's no need to worry, you can turn off all the spyware . . . No, actually. I have an update. Not approaching at all.

Farewell To A Year Without Flowers

I think i've never known such a dark festive season, but one early morning, I think it was the 6th January, the sun came out, sending sickles of coloured light-shadow from the Chinese Lantern across the ceiling (the lantern which traditionally hangs across the way from the mistletoe bough; glimpsed to the left of the picture); and I made them dance to Ginger's delight, by giving the lantern a poke.

But did not make a video.

And so farewell to a year without flowers . . . I don't know why, but I didn't bring in any flowers this last year, not after the pine sprigs on New Year's Day. It wasn't planned, but it began to seem like a statement and then I thought: might as well make it one. This year I plan to fight the gloom; if the flowers will let me. No sign of an accelerated Spring here as yet. Snowdrops lagging, native daffodils and pussy willow about where I'd expect them to be, in a normally mild winter & Roger Hall, my only surviving camellia, has just one bud showing colour.

New moon tonight, and the next new moon we'll be moving on to a Year of the Monkey.


Festive Reading

Forlorn Sunset Michael Sadleir

I read Fanny By Gaslight years ago, picked it up at a Jumble Sale: Victoriana docu-fiction about (f) prostitution, written in the forties, when Central London was still as Dickens left it; in parts. The far less famous Forlorn Sunset was a charity shop find (I'm a great fan of the British Heart Foundation's bookshelves) it's a darker and more forthright version of the same story, a sensual, spirited little girl, "ruined" as the saying goes, and ruined is absolutely right, by skilled child-prostitute groomers; and what becomes of her. Nothing much good, you can bet. Once a forlorn curiosity tale, I suppose. Very contemporary feel, nowadays, P.S Michel Faber (The Crimson Petal and the White) may also be a "Sadlier" fan.

The Sculptor's Daughter. Tove Jansson, tr Kinglsey Hart, intro by Ali Smith.

Christmas present. Brilliant. I absolutely loved it.

The Shepherd's Life James Rebanks

A memoir. By the dirt beneath our nails, we horny-handed Herdwick Sheep farmers are better men! In fact we're the only REAL men! The rest of you, especially if you visit Cumbria with a volume of Wainright in your turquoise cagoule pocket, are not fit to wipe our proud bottoms! Okay, well, Rebanks does comes over as a callow, arrogant s*d & his righteous contempt for, well, everyone, really, wears a bit thin, esp when you take in his actual career arc (failed at secondary school; belatedly realised he'd like some qualifications, stormed Oxford, currently combines small traditional farm with a globe-trotting career in the international heritage site business). But, on the other hand, in his favour he's a W H Hudson fan (the title is a tip of the hat to A Shepherd's Life); & it's a delightful book about sheep, & hill-farming & he's a fine nature writer.

On the other other hand, I bet his wife sometimes wakes up in the night and finds herself staring at the ceiling, musing on her choices. MY GOD, why did I go and marry Ted Hughes? What was I thinking!

Festive Watching

The Tale Of Princess Kaguya Isao Takahata (Christmas present, of course) Very, very pretty; a bit insubstantial.

The World At War Jeremy Isaacs et al

Before Christmas, the broad top shelves of the Dead Media Wall held stacks of video tapes, some of them dating back to the Seventies. They suffered their last winnowing in December, and two bin-liners-full made their melancholy journey to Sheepcote (tip) just yesterday. The favoured, remnant tapes, including Vanya on 42nd Street, and Peter Brook's Mahabharata, are now taking their last slipping and sliding trip through the way back machine. (Tampopo, for some reason, has survived in mint condition). We started watching The World At War again on tape, the very same set I used when I was researching White Queen. Had to give up before we even got to Stalingrad, it was too stop and start. We're watching on Youtube now. Harrowing. Unsurpassed, Unsurpassable; like (as I said in those White Queen days) knowing exactly what Achilles really said to Agamemnon about the sacrifice at Aulis. We watched the Chindits, last night.

Good grief. I see (on Amazon) people are paying actual money for the original tapes. Well, get in touch if you're interested. But hurry . . . Sheepcote is waiting.

Fortitude (Sky Atlantic!)

Aka "Twin Tusks" Preposterous. Watchable. No zombies yet, but I can't help noticing that Christopher Eccleston's* corpse remains curiously intact, in the cold storage drawer, as for some reason it's impossible to chopper-in (no pun intended!) a pathologist, or ship him over to a lab on the mainland. Although, deep in the depths of this Arctic winter, the sea all around is very modishly unfrozen. And the only doctor on this tiny island with the massive police force has, of course, been eviscerated with a table fork by her daughter, the rather tactless fat girl weird Marcus with the food fetish was trying to kill with chicken soup.

*Yes, I can remember the name of the fictional character. But I don't see why I should.

Next time, Christmas Truce over: the bad news . . .

Traces in the Cloud Chamber of Time (the half-life of Bold As Love)

Thursday 10th December. Grey skies (of course), cool and still; 10 degrees outside. Sitting at my windowside desk, I'm watching a thrush, who is watching a young male blackbird pick bright red holly berries from our bush, now there's a photo opportunity. If my eyes had cameras in them. Oops, gone . . . Every now and then, having spotted that Bold As Love the novel is still leaving traces in the cloud chamber of the internet, I have a look to see what I can find. Here's my latest discoveries

Reviews, esp. in retail venues, don't usually count in this game, but Bob Sherunkle is a star, just for this observation:

. . .The book’s appendix has long lists of rock albums and of books (mostly about rock music) supposed to have inspired the story. I recognised many of the song quotes, e.g. “just a singer in a rock and roll band”, but if the book contains explicit motifs based on these sources I had trouble finding them, and I own half of these albums! I fear the list is no more than Gwyneth's fave raves..
Bob Sherunkle (amazon) June 2015

Fantastic. Bob, you are the first person ever to comment on my discography, and you are absolutely right! The dilemma, way back then: Bold As Love obviously should have a discography, but how to construct this fictional artefact? The solution was to go down to our basement and survey the Dead Media Wall, with special emphasis on the vinyl. My criteria were simple. An album has to be first, a beloved favourite of mine*, plus either be contemporary with the Hendrix album, or have some direct relationship (even if known only to me) with the action in the novels; or, preferably, both. Eg, "Cigarettes and Alcohol" as a chapter heading, that gets Definitely Maybe in.

PS, Wow. You review a whole lot of stuff!

Here's a nice one. A Fiorinda inspired Bold As Love Playlists, from July 2015

& here's an unexpected honour, Barefoot and Pregnant The things those Wikipedia people come up with!

And, although I probably posted this before, a podcast of the original story (via Dark Fiction magazine)

The two beautiful Anne Sudworth pictures (Lost Thoughts and Footprints) featured as cover images for Castles Made Of Sand and Midnight Lamp. The "Ax Preston" portrait is by Bryan Talbot.

Bold As Love (1) ebook, is available on Smashwords. The whole series (ebooks) is on Kindle. Print copies are readily available from many dealers. You can even buy them from me.

That's all for now!


There's no DVD and none planned says the BBC; you can't buy it, but someone has posted Shoulder to Shoulder, the BBC 1974 series on the Suffragette Movement, on Youtube. I think the whole thing is up, I've watched two episodes so far. The video quality is not exactly HD and the sound is a bit blurry, but it's worth the effort. NB, the first episode, pocket bio-pic devoted to the Manchester middle classes radical-leaning Pankhurst family, is slow going, but this is history, so I don't begrudge them their backstory. Besides, there's a line referring to the place where I was born (Blackley village). Anyway, don't give up. Episode 2 is gripping. I find I remember it all surprisingly well, especially the character of Sylvia, the most complicated Pankhurst. More engaging, and more challenging than the recent movie, which I ended up feeling was rather tepid. This is the real people (flaws and all), who had the ideas and did the deeds, not some luvvy imaginary characters.


I've just finished A River Runs Again. I read the last chapter, on gender inequality, this morning. Brilliant.

The first time I went to India, I was genuinely shocked by billboards in Delhi, advertising new tvs with the image of a dark scrawny fist flinging a stone at a middle-class plate glass window, with the tagline "DON'T ENVY! BUY IT!" (On the never-never, I suppose). Envy was something I had never been taught, and never ever seen openly encouraged like that. It's a mean-spirited, demeaning emotion, what do I care if you've got a fancier car? Nice car, congrats, but we're all as good as each other . . . I suppose I was brought up in a more equal society than India's masses have ever known. Everything's changed now. I've learned how to feel resentment, irysha. I do indeed resent post-capitalism's super-rich. I bitterly resent all those bloated, domineering corporations and smirking tax-dodging billionaires. And I've learned not to be decently reticent and measured in my demands; in my protests. Reticence is not the way to change this world.

"To negotiate such changes is to ask for everything you want, knowing you might only get a fraction. It is to remain unflinching as you look forward into the future of (India's) women and girls, and the generations they will bear . .."

Just started Johanna Sinisalo's The Blood of Angels

Special mention (Carol made me think of this) Wylder's Hand, Sheridan LeFanu. Which I read as part of my Gothic spree this summer, having remembered liking it very much, years ago. Not only a great Victorian Gothic thriller, but also a perilous love story, and . . . I can't tell you, must avoid spoilers. If original period Gothic, unexpectedly and subtly Sapphic, appeals to you, seek it out.

*including Definitely Maybe, beloved favourite Gwyneth? You were a bit long in the tooth, weren't you?
I am never going to be long in the tooth.
Plus, beloved favourites of Gabriel, my niece Catherine and Gabriel's best friend Pat Mays also qualify (except Fat Boy Slim), esp. owing to my cunning ploy (which I have mentioned before) of making my 2 heroes the exact same age as Gabriel and Pat, so I wouldn't have to wonder what their musical tastes had been, growing up; I would know

My Fracking Round-Up (COP21 edition)

Wednesday 9th December, around 14 degrees outdoors. A clear morning, clouding over now. The big news in fracking UK is of course, that Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, will be, pursuant to a change in the rules quietly implemented, with special reference to shale gas, last September, "making the final decision" on Cuadrilla's plans to frack at Roseacre and Preston New Rd, near Blackpool in Lancashire. I put "making the final decision" in quotes there because if Clark doesn't intend to overturn the planning committee's ruling, I don't know what else could be going on. Why do they even bother to pretend, eh? I'll tell you why. Because to most of the population, what's seen to be done is what's done. That's why. So Greg Clark, out of the kindness of his heart is having to go out of his way to puzzle over the evidence and think of the right answer, just to satisfy everyone, see? For more fracking&related UK news, turn to Ruth Hayhurst at drill or drop . Also the news desk at Frack Off

New legislation allows fracking in National Parks. Our government calls this "making National Parks do more, and do it better" I kid you not, that's what they're saying.

A first taste of the real extent of the damage to come, when those National Parks are doing their job so much better: evidence that Third Energy is planning (for starters)at least 10 horizontal boreholes from its first well pad in Kirby Misperton, North Yorks.

Find out more; prepare to take action:

But the real story this week, of course, is Paris! COP21. It started off so well, as reports, with "many world governments aligned around a very ambitious target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, thanks to the bold demands of leaders on the front lines of the crisis."

But then, alas, inevitably things start to go downhill . . .

"now that optimism is starting to fade, as ministers back off from making the hard committments that would get us there." (

Ah, well.

I haven't been following the show, I'm afraid. I'm sure it's very exciting to be there, but tell the truth, about 30 seconds of Dave Cameron's three minutes of fame turned my stomach so badly, I've had to refrain to protect my health. Did I hear him claim excitedly "Climate change is doable!" I think I did.

Yes indeedy, Dave. Very doable. And you, we know, are eager and determined to do your bit.

I saw the unfortunate Rory Stewart on C4 News last night (what an odd turn his career has taken!) dripping in Cumbria. Newperson Jon Snow asked him mildy was climage change implicated? With a look of sheer despair, like a damned soul writhing on the coals. Stewart answered obliquely, this is utterly unprecedented. We're going to need much, much higher flood defences. On the coast of Lincolnshire, on the Fylde coast . . . To protect the fracking wells, indeed they will. Poor man.

Keeping the fossil fuels in the ground is no longer just the big Green idea, by the way. Nor is fracking for shale gas the movie star it used to be. We have coal gasification now. There are staggeringly huge deposits of coal, the world over, to deep to be mined, but not too deep to be burned: talk about having your cake and eating it. And nobody can see the emissions, no need to take them into account. Until the whole thing goes a bit pearshaped, which sometimes it does . . .

I bet Paris, unlike Copenhagen, is somehow going to come up smelling of roses (I think that's the top priority), all inspiring and happy: further bets are off. For one thing, a world conference expects a world solution, one size fits all, and that's no good. Over in India, the immediate need is to quench the cooking fires, whose thick yellow smog cloud sits over the Subcontinent like that Garbage Blob in the Pacific;coal-fired electricity probably still needs to be part of their mix. Here in the UK we're past that. We need to go all out for wind and wave and solar, and we need to go all out for energy efficiency. It's not rocket science it would work, and we should just get going.

Protest, okay, but it starts with people, individual people: not flying, turning down the heating, recycling, all that boring stuff. Me, I'm trying, failing; trying to change my lifestyle. Are you?

Beyond Paris . . .


A London Spy

Piffle, utter histrionic piffle from start to finish, featuring Ben Wishaw as a bruised, courageous little flower, Jim Broadbent as a bruised, courageous favourite uncle, and Charlotte Rampling reprising her "abject, whip me harder, snotty toff-lady" act; same as she has been doing since the Sixties. Interesting drag act in the drinking club they all frequent. The reveal was idiotic, none of it made much sense. But we watched.


Lovely to look at, sumptuous ultra-feminine Fifties fashions (esp Carol's cut to the bone ensembles, which I bet even Cate Blanchett didn't try gracing without a corset); a bit underwhelming emotionally. It bothered me that rich suburban lady Carol, the mother already threatened with the loss of her child, and doe-eyed poor girl Therese, the talented young woman on the brink of life, don't talk to each other about what they are getting into, circa 1950! I haven't read the book, which sounds a lot more interesting. I intend to seek it out.


A River Runs Again, Meera Subramanian

Mixed race US/Asian Indian Meera Subramanian explores the global near future (ie, present day India). Crowded, hot, subject to violent swings in climate, with a government unable or unwilling to face the most vital challenges, the rich and poor living in worlds apart . . . Is there any hope? Well, yes there is.

Absorbing, lyrical, down to earth and visionary. This is an beautiful and important book. You should read it.


Right now at with Jim Doty, Stephen Palmer, Chris Reher and the boss Dag Rambaut, discussing standalones, series, working habits and other writerly matters.

There were other things I wanted to say, but this is too long already. Maybe I'll post again to say happy Christmas.

The Cuts, The Bombs, The Blue Dot

Capitalist Realism

Winter Journey, Sunday 29th November. Lines out of Brighton are in disarray, as usual. We take the slow Victoria train to Hove, where nearly everybody scuffles off and scampers onto the fast train, waiting impatiently and stuffed, across the platform. The mood is bleakly resigned and exasperated, bleak because we've been waiting for the storm to hit us since May, and now it breaks. Osborne's Choicest Cuts (round one); Osborne's Energy Policy Dictatorship. The planning inspector who turned down Cuadrilla's fracking plans in Lancashire is overruled, a government minister will "decide" what happens to Cuadrilla's appeal in January/February.

Exasperated because . . . Will the people who keep telling us "we" won a victory over tax credits please shut up and do your sums? Will the people who ask us to Rejoice! because Amber Rudd says the UK will be the first major power to divest from coal please recall that politicians (see above) tell blatant lies and hope you never check. Oh, but I'm sorry, I'll read that again. Amber isn't lying, she simply has no "Energy Policy". Her policy is profit, she says whatever serves that end, and would not understand you if you accuse her of untruths.

Forget her lips, watch "her" actions. This government is going all out for shale, while ripping up subsidies for renewables. Green policies have been ditched, Climate Change denied, & if this counts as a war crime in some lights, given the already devastating effects of climate change for the world's poor, Amber and her masters don't appear to care a bit.

Don't Bomb Syria

Wind and spiteful gusts of rain at the gathering point, where we share an (organic) ham sandwich in the shelter of the Wellington Arch. An odd couple lurking in the crowd, with a bottle of champagne and a bicycle, display a homemade placard that reads WHAT IF IT'S ALL A HOAX? (the media folk seem to like this pair: I wonder who they are). A penny band plays O Tannenbaum; how Christmassy . . . But no, of course it's not Tannenbaum it's the song that shares this tune. The People's Flag is deepest red, stained with the blood of martyrs shed. Jeremy Corbyn is around here somewhere. Good for him: I hope he survives the current impasse. Of course he's right! What the hell gets into people, I don't know. Airstrikes did bxxxer all good in Libya, did they now? Airstrikes are blxxdy useless (except for killing civilians, which I suppose might reduce the number of the dreaded refugees); without boots on the ground. And we know what happened in Iraq, don't we. Hello? Forgotten what happened (is happening) in Libya; in Iraq? Forgot how we got to this pretty pass?

Osborne, Cameron, I can understand. Simples. War means profit! But the Parliamentary Labour Party are just total idiots.

I'm marching, notionally, for a Parisian who can't march, (Bonjour, Gatien!) because the Paris March has been cancelled. I'm reflecting, as we file slowly through the underpass, reading the Iron Duke's timeline on the walls, that the Paris masscare was really not a lot to do with attacking the "city of light", "city of love": nothing so romantic. Probably a lot more to do with French intervention in Africa; in Mali for instance. And I'm thinking about Phiippe-Joseph Salazar's historical comparison with those long ago days when it was the French turning the world upside down; in his Weaponised Words essay (Paroles Armées).

Armed Words is the received translation but I prefer mine.

If he's right, in some sense, and this is another French Revolution, then . . .

1 THE CALIPHATE wins the battle; under the leadership of a despot who has already betrayed all their ideals.
(Napoleon crowns himself Emperor 1804)

2 BUT the Empire of Global Capitalism regroups. Practically within a decade, the Caliphate has comprehensively lost the war.
(1815: Waterloo)

3 THEREAFTER, those who destroyed, conspired; betrayed their ideals; committed the most appalling crimes, in the name of a dream, will have to be contented (so to speak, they've mainly killed each other) with a sort of Caliphate-flavoured version of Global Capitalism (called ooh, I don't know? Western Civilisation?) that lasts for just about 200 years.

3 NONE of which bodes any good at all for my people, I mean women, because the flavour of the Caliphate (new flavour, liberty and equality are so over) is about nothing if not subjugating women. Trampling them underfoot indeed (coincidentally, one of the arabic "words" you can make out of the Daesh acronym, I believe)

Climate Justice

Off we go; from the foot of the London Hilton Tower (HQ of Pigsty's dreadful regime, in Bold As Love, as some of you may remember. The Rock and Roll Reich was founded at a meeting in the Garden Café, Sub-ground level, at the back) We're marching with the Polar Bears, ie Greenpeace. The white bears' case is so hopeless, maybe they're not the best Poster Furries but I like Greenpeace. They do stuff. They're the NVDA daredevils (like my MP), and I think daredevilry is called for. We try to keep up near the front so we can see the beautiful animals, the giraffes, the zebra, the impala, I never got a chance last climate march, having got myself kettled behind Greenpeace's Polar Bear; I wonder if they're moonlighting from The Lion King. How nice it is to see London, all these splendid nineteenth and twentieth century buildings, glory-days architecture, at the old posh end of town. The canyon of Pall Mall rings with our wild, formless cries (nobody seems to know any songs, alas). Bullion brokers and wine merchants peep through their plate glass, a position that makes them look scared, though of course they are not. Police presence throughout is minimal. The only guns I saw were safely tucked away behind the fortified gates of Downing Street. Looks like nobody thinks we need protection from a jihadist massacre today. Or maybe they don't mind? Lose a few annoying activists, put a scare in the rest, and gain a huge endorsement for Bombing Syria! Could be a win-win situation!

Do I believe climate change could be turned around?
No. We're stuck with the damage that's been done. Could climate change be halted, and mediated? Of course. Renewables could be powering the world in a decade. Energy Efficiency is a goldmine. Masses of room for change.

Do I believe any of the planet's beautiful megafauna will survive this century (outside zoos)?
Don't ask me. Ask Africa. They hold the keys. Ask China. They have to stop fuelling the slaughter.

The close of play, as usual, is at Horseferry Park. Someone announces we are sixty thousand strong (it's gone up to 70,000 today). But what's 60,000? Two million of us, read that again, TWO MILLION UK citizens came to London in 2003, in bitter weather, to protest against the Iraq war. For all the good it did. Tony Blair was just determined to go to hell and take us with him.

But qui tacet consentit videtur (look it up, if you don't know). That's the law. So I will always be here. Standing up for this blue dot. This living world. It's the only one.

The river is full now (tide was low when we arrived), a creamy toffee coloured turmoil. We dance on the ringing pavement in the Horseferry Park children's playground, and repair to Tate Britain, (not all 60,000 nb) for cake and coffee and pictures & walk through the main hall to a disembodied, deconstructed Last Post; played on the Balaclava Bugle*.

*That's the bugle that sounded for the Charge of the Light Brigade, by the way.

Four Posts About Life

And now the end is near . . . It's very sad, but never mind, it's been great, I'm delighted to have been in such good company (not to say humbled by some of your levels of committment to the project!). So long, Elizabeth Hand (Aestival Tide), Kathe Koja (Cypher), Pat Murphy (Points Of Departure), K.W.Jeter (Dark Seeker), Lewis Shiner (Frontera), William Barton (Acts of Conscience), Kay Kenyon (Maximum Ice), Walter Jon Williams (Knight Moves) & Sarah Zettel (Reclamation), I salute you all.

A big thank you to Timmi Duchamp and her crew at The Aqueduct Press, publishers of Life, for supporting me and letting me join this project.

And a special salute and thank you to Jason Chen, and to Lisa S Mason (Summer of Love), our tireless and amazingly organised curator.

& Congratulations to everyone who invested a few dollars (or a few dollars more!) in this wonderful story bundle.

I'm saying goodbye now, because I don't quite know when the lights go out on the PKDick award storybundle event; as I am English, I live in Brighton, and I am rubbish at timezones. Maybe I'll say goodbye again tomorrow, UK time. If so, see you then. If not, here's a reprise of the four posts I've posted about "Life" these last three weeks:

Margaret Atwood and the Third Wave

Women In Science

Life Is A Road Movie

Life Has A Cover Story

Enjoy your storybundles!

Suffragette Review on Ada Lovelace Day

No red carpet protestors at the Brighton opening of Suffragette last night, (no red carpet, of course) just the Brighton branch of the brand new (March 2015) Women's Equality Party, with green and purples rosettes and sashes: (and the best of good luck to them) The movie? For me, it was good, but not terrific. I thought it was great the way they focused on the use of early movie technology and covert cameras. I wasn't sure about the way the Pankhursts were reduced to Meryl Streep beaming fatuously out of an upstairs window. And In the end I felt a bit let down. Firstly on a purely visceral level, because the movie chooses to ends on a bum note: fade to sad and the rest is silence; instead of a chorus of Mary Ethyl Smyth's March Of The Women. Secondly by the whole decision to present Emily Davison's Derby Day stunt as the climax of the Suffrage campaign (definitely not true!), and worse, the fudged suggestion that Davison's act amounted to suicide (I don't think so), but this suicide bomb created a hugely trending social media event, so the tactic was justified. (Ouch. On reflection, you can see why the movie, having struck this note, fades out uneasily).

"It felt very 21st century in a way" says Abi Morgan, screenwriter. (Interview with Caroline Criado Perez). Indeed.

Like any dissatisfied critic, I sat there as the credits rolled, writing my own version of the scenario, which I have now figured out pretty nicely. Carey Mulligan, great in her role as the "inarticulate but eloquent footsoldier" is seen hero-worshipping Emmeline Pankhurst from a distance, as in the crowd scene as in the movie, BUT, she actually connects with Sylvia (that's Sylvia in the photo, by far my favourite Pankhurst). "Maud" and Emily both volunteer for the stunt of trying to attach a WSPU scarf to the bridle of the King's Horse on Derby day. They are seen practicing this stunt (with Sylvia, who disapproves, it's too dangerous). They study the course, agreeing on the Tattersham corner; with expert, female advice (I'm sure you could find or create a female, WSPU sympathising racegoer and gee-gee fancier if you tried). In a word, they are organised. On Derby day, by chance Emily gets in, "Maud Watts" doesn't. Emily dies, & the media event follows. The suffragettes, however, are not last seen wallowing in an orgy of white lilies; they are seen in a montage of the very interesting subsequent events.1914: Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst "patriotically" ditch the struggle and join the War Effort. Maud Watts is disgusted and goes on working for peace and justice, and the welfare of working women, alongside Sylvia & her comrades. She is seen (rather tight-lipped, yet still determined) welcoming the1918 victory for well-heeled women over 30 . . . Now you can fade out to the roll call of the votes for women international roster, but over a rousing chorus of the March of the Women

Okay, more than you wanted to know. The movie made her think, you are saying to yourselves. So she dissed it. I hate it when reviewers do that . . .


The Third Wave

"Feminism is having a new wave. The first was about the vote; the second was about identity and . . . the pressure cooker of women being in the home; this third wave is about violence. It’s about women being murdered and raped. It’s more self defence than self assertion."


If you have a strong aversion to extreme examples of sexism and discrimination, this is probably not the book for you. Rena McGee, reviewing Life

"Daz stared at the muddy river. “If you don't understand, I don't think I can tell you. Anna, where you and I live, women's rights is old news. Intelligent women want to be judged on their own merits and find the whole feminist thing embarrassing and whiney. But here, where I come from... it's a can of worms. If you start applying the concept of ‘human rights” to women, in Asia and Africa, you uncover a holocaust . . . (and) It's getting worse, not better."

I never took to Third Wave Feminism. By the time it reached me, TWF was Feminism Lite. Not so much a compromise between feminism, and women who identified primarily as African Americans; and who didn't want to condemn misogynist male behaviour, because that involved stigmatising the African American male. Not so much Grrls Can Be Punks Too . . ! More a kind of fancy diet food, whereby "we" can be just as righteous as Second Wave Feminists, without giving up any of our sexy, feminine treats! Lapdancing, power-heels, the pretty dresses, the boob-jobs, the whole armoury, yum! It just wasn't for me.

But I can definitely get on board Margaret Atwood's Third Wave. Rape, murder, mutilation . . . Film-maker Leslee Udin's movie India's Daughter, examining the horrific attitudes of India's men, revealed in the wake of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case. The women of Forward (Tackling Female Genital Mutilation) whom I first met at an Amnesty International UK conference, in 1994. They were Africans, but not in the least sentimental about African traditional culture, male or female. No more than I feel sentimental about the misogynist traditions of the UK; why should they? People like these are my Third Wave Feminists. You can probably all think of your own examples, at home or abroad; wherever you are.

The FGM situation in the UK has not improved. Far from it. All sorts of brutal pressures on women and girls, the world over are getting worse, not better, in this twentyfirst century. The indignant, feisty, so-called Second Wave Feminism of the Sixties and Seventies starts to look pitifully naive.


“I think,” said Anna slowly, “that human sexuality will be changed. This thing is not a fashionable fad: it’s bound to change everything, some way or other. And I think it doesn't matter. In the liberal world we already live as if people can choose at whim whether to take on a “male” or “female” lifestyle . . . In time, TY may create a situation where there are no genetic traits exclusive to “men” or “women”: when sexual difference is in the individual, not a case of belonging to one half of the species or the other. Will that be a lot different from the way we are now?"

My lack of interest in transgender issues has upset some readers of Life. "I wish Anna didn't have to be so cis and heterosexual", said one Goodreads reviewer. But as I couldn't help knowing, after the research I did, the "third sex" phenomenon is nothing new. People who don't feel themselves to be either one sex nor the other; people who are sexual mosaics (often a benign condition; sometimes, before successful treatments, a life of misery). Women who choose to live as men, men who choose to live as women; "inters" and all shades between, have been around forever, in every culture. It's a perfectly normal situation. What's new, what would be new, would be a world where sexual difference does not define a person's chances in life. This is the hope, and the ever-receding goal, that I call feminism.

Why aren't we there yet? Why aren't we even nearly there?

Because feminism is hard. Feminism is hard, and the world is huge. Changing this huge world of seven billions and counting is far, far more of a proposition than "we" imagined, back in the naive Seventies. We have a long way to go, that's all.


Space is hard, as they say at NASA, when we demand to know what happened to that dream about colonising the galaxy. Feminism is hard too. We'll get there.

This entry is the fourth in a series inspired by the PKDick award storybundle. Available only for a few more days. Offer ends on the 15th October!


Saturday 10th October, in company with other people inspired by Friends of the Earth all over the country, Peter and I went to Barclays Bank on North St. I closed my account, as promised, talked to the cashier about why I was doing it (what's fracking? he asked. I've never heard of it. . . ) and handed in a letter for Mr Daniel Quinlan, the Branch Manager. (One cannot have an appointment to see the Branch Manager, that's not allowed). Then we stood on the steps and handed out flyers to the customers as they passed. The bank staff did not molest us or discourage us in any way.

What was it all about? Third Energy, a company 97% owned by Barclays Bank Group, is proposing shale gas fracking operations in Rydale, starting with 19 wells, on the borders of the North York Moors National Park. Very unwelcome precedents are involved. Read all about it here: And here's a quick summary:

This is the first time a high street bank has been openly involved in backing fracking in the UK.

This would be the first "exploratory" operation on the borders of a National Park (& as you know, if you've been paying attention, that means also permission to drill horizontally under the National Park)

& thirdly, we just don't want the extreme energy industry to get started in the UK.

Plus, of course, a fine opportunity for me to display my Barclays Is Cancelled artwork again!

Life Is About Women In Science

1996: I had been writing science fiction for more than a decade, without ever going near a lab. For the "Anna Senoz" novel I needed to enlist a scientist, and this was alarming. I asked someone I knew at the University of Sussex, UK, to be my matchmaker. Could he find a Molecular Biologist, preferably female, willing to talk to a scifi writer? Someone who might even let me come into a lab, and be a fly on the wall? Eventually, Dr Jane Davies agreed to see me. One morning in November, I approached Dr Davies’s office door. I thought I'd state my case, go away and wait for her decision. I was concerned because I would have to talk about feminism right away, or I'd be under false pretences. In my experience successful professional women were very wary of that word. It's demeaning.

I saw a woman in a white coat, a few years older than myself; with a warm smile. I stumbled through my intro and then, Dr Davies showing no signs of impatience; unprepared and probably babbling, I began to tell my story-

"Anna isn't interested in sexual politics. Or any kind of politics. She's not anti-feminist, she'd say she just wants to be treated like a human being. She's secretly, wildly ambitious. She’s heading for a First but she gets derailed, by bad luck involving a male student who probably resents her talent. She ends up in human fertility studies. Then she spots something, a tiny change in a sample of male sex chromosomes, which she sees at once could have weird implications . . . I know the X and Y don't usually exchange bases, but could they? And could something like that happen, and for generations it would appear and disappear, the way I need it to do?”

I trembled every time I had to use a technical term. Mitochondria, how do you pronounce that?

"She keeps coming back to the thing she saw, losing it and finding it again, getting more and more excited. She knows it's the key to a BIG discovery, about life itself, but she also knows that the sex angle will be her downfall. It's what happens to women in science in real life. They keep running up against the sex angle. The story’s meant to be read doubly . . .

I have pages of scribbled notes from this meeting. I have no notes about my state of mind. My sense of astonished daring, my feeling that I'd entered a sanctuary, a holy place where I had never expected to tread, was no part of the interview. But it was to become part of Anna:

A transfer of material from the Y to the X?
The X and the Y don't usually exchange recombination, they're too different in shape, but there is a small area where this male donation could happen-
What's needed is a horizontal transfer
Transposons. What about transpons?
(Transposons were my big idea-)
What do you see? When that happens? A band changes in size?
Spontaneous change causes transposable elements to mobilise.
At least 10/15% of our DNA is made up of transposable elements.
They can act like viruses... She would note this change, publish a paper in "Trends in Genetics" a scientific journalist would pick it up from a database
Very bad news if your supervisor doesn't know what's in your graduate paper. If it's published without her supervisor's name, that's a crushing blow-

I hadn’t decided when my story would be set when I walked into Dr Davies' office. The near future? As we mapped out Anna's career (a game of snakes and ladders: and that's not going to change), I made an instant decision. She starts from 1996. From the here and now. She knows nothing about Seventies Feminism (She’ll have a crazy feminist friend, but she’ll never take her seriously). She's eighteen, proud and brave, and the Spice Girls have just released "Wannabe" . . .

She gets a good first degree
A science department gets a quota of grants
Your supervisor puts you on a project
For three years. It's not enough time.
The nature of lab-based science makes it impossible to survive for the fourth year. Industry sponsored studentships, for top-up grant support. Student works w. industrial partner, but no guaranteed employment.
Many supervisors use their students as technicians, you could end up without much choice of work.
In academic science you can keep going on short term contracts. But you have to have a permanent job by 35-40. Teaching, administration, grant organisation.
Publish! Publish! Publish!
Her own research is always going to have to give-

Not many young women in science will suffer all the crushing blows Anna struggles to survive; Life is fiction, a fairytale about how change, real change in the world comes about: how difficult it is for change to take root, how many false starts and dead ends litter the route (the establishment of a benign mutation has exactly the same drunkard's walk of a path) . . . But every single one of them has endured, or ignored, relentless, casual, intimidation and denigration from male fellow students, and then, most likely more of the same casual, relentless intimidation and denigration from an adult male mentor or supervisor (the case of Dr Tim Hunt's unguarded comments earlier this year is not unusual). Women are far more likely than men to be struggling from one short term contract to another, well into their thirties or forties. Experimental science is demanding, unforgiving work: it's (still) usually women who have to choose between career success and family committments. And in the face of all these obstacles, they also have to make the less obvious choice: between compliance and protest. Nobody loves a whistleblower. You're dedicated, inspired; desperate to get on. What do you do?

Sf feminists, fans and reviewers were very critical of Anna's catalogue of disasters; and of her response. Why so negative? Why doesn't she stand up for herself? It's just unbelievable! . Women in science (the women trying to change science) felt differently. In 2006 I joined an event at Hay Festival, reading from Life; as the preamble to a discussion run by Clem Herman and the pioneers of SET (women in Science Engineering and Technology). Due to a natural confusion about my role, I somehow ended up attempting to answer questions about the maths and science curricula in UK schools: I did my best.

In October 2007 I joined the same gang at the WiSER conference at Maastricht University (Get More Women Into Science Education And Research). The trifling task of giving a reading from Life earned me the right to be a fly on the wall in this terrific pop-up lab of ideas. So much to be said, so much energy, so many pathways opening for women returning to, embarking on, succeeding in, careers in Science, Engineering, Research. An inspirational young astronomer and instrument-engineer, Maggie Aderin-Pocok was there, talking about giant telescopes. I felt I was close to change; real change in the world. It was thrilling. I wrote it up for Aqueduct:

One step forward, two steps back. Change happens.

Read your copy of the latest Gender Science and Technology journal, ed Clem Herman, here:

extracts above are from a chapter called "True Life Science Fiction": Tactical BioPolitics: Art, Activism and Technoscience: eds Beatrix da Costa and Kavita Philips; MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts; July 2008


This post, the third in a series, has been brought to you by the PKDick award storybundle.

My Fracking Round Up: Barclays Is Cancelled

Monday October 5th, a chilly day, grey skies, interludes of driving rain. It's a long time since I had a fracking round up, and maybe no wonder. Such a rising tide of disasters engulfing the world; and not so slowly now. Such a vomiting of dreadful promises pouring out of George Osborne's Westminster, what's a comprehensive carve up of the National Parks and the countryside among so many? Hardly seems relevant, does it, next to a staggering refugee crisis, the killer floods, the wildfires, the war-fuelling famines. Still, it's a hobby, and this week I shall close my foreign cheques account at Bad Baron Barclays and from now on plan to rely entirely on my much smaller building society bank, and Transferwise for foreign transactions (I hate paypal).

Read helpful guides about why and how to move your money here:

and here:

Read all about the action I'm joining here:

And all about the last straw for me and Barclays here. (Nostalgic to see the same ingenuous, transparent deceptions and tame "experts" employed by the industry, just like we saw in Sussex.)

Meanwhile, preparations for drilling at the only remaining active Sussex site, at Broadford Bridge near Billingshurst, remain at a standstill, as my old Wisborough Green friends Celtique Energie are still "tied up in a legal dispute" with their backers Magellan Petroleum. Something about Celtique owing Magellan $2mn and Celtique is like: can't pay, won't pay!

& here's another little ray of sunshine:

Many thanks to Ruth Hayhurst for all the brilliant drillordrop links

So, it's now 4pm, and having listened twice to the pieces Gabriel is going to play tomorrow (filling in for the song recital after Marianne had to cancel), having made pumpkin soup, baked bread, read New Scientist, created my funky Barclays Is Cancelled visual (as you can see, this took hours of painstaking effort); reviewed the fracking situation out there, and otherwise frittered my time, clearly I am not going to do much more with the day, and another PKDick story bundle catchup will wait until tomorrow.

But finally, just in from Athena Andreadis: here's a preview of the beautiful cover for her new anthology "To Shape The Dark" (which has a story by me in it). Read about the anthology here:

Life Is A Road Movie

Lost In France

The first car I ever bought; the only car I've ever bought entirely by my own choice and with my own money, was in 1986: a sand gold Ford Capri, SFX 761V. I had only just learned to drive. I'm not a natural driver! I can't tell left from right (a brain-quirk that gets worse under stress), but I loved that beautiful car, even if it wasn't very young or very healthy, and I loved the adventure of driving. The most exciting trip we took together was the time I spent three weeks in Cumbria looking after my big sister's hens, in the long dry summer of 1989: alone with Gabriel after Peter spent a weekend (except briefly visited by Lisa Tuttle). . . It was punchy stuff. My skills at getting a long-nosed motor around stiff bends on narrow lanes had to improve rapidly. My sister's house, an old farm, doesn't exactly have a road leading to it. More like a very skinny track, with a nasty drop to the side . . .

SFX 761V replaced the little old red Renault, which was such a dog. I can't recall its registration number: I vividly recall the hours we spent crouched under a plastic tarp outside our front door in the freezing rain, in the month of the Challenger disaster, trying to fix the carburettor). When my lovely car had pretty seriously died (and we nefariously sold it; in that order), we bought a white Toyota Corolla. It looked more ordinary but served us well for a decade; if you don't count the time the drive belt snapped in media res, on our first road-trip, summer of 1990. This was the car of the Aleutian Trilogy years. Which then became, folded differently, the years in which Life, my science fiction that would also be a mainstream novel; my mainstream novel that was really science fiction, was conceived, gestated, and carried to term.

Up and down the motorways to visit my parents in Manchester; a trip best enjoyed on the way home, in darkness, at speed, in the mesmeric dazzle of those streaming lights. Around and about the lanes of Sussex, Kent, Essex, with my Ann Halam kit, visiting schools, libraries, Adult Basic Education; gatherings of librarians and teachers. Always perilous adventures, because I was okay on the road, no good at destinations. Streets, augh! The last half-mile could easily take me most of my journey time. But best of all, the Lost In France trips,

When writing a literary novel, you tell the story of your own life. It is de rigueur. You base your story on your family's tussles and foibles, etc etc. I may have taken to science fiction and fantasy partly, or even mainly, because of my distaste for this idea. Not to mention my healthy fear of repercussions. But when devising a fictional biography, obviously it makes sense to use the biography you know best as a scaffold. Saves thinking time*. So I did, and of that scaffold, the sequence that survives close to intact in the printed organism (so to speak), is Anna's road movie; her relationship with the road.

In the nineteen nineties I knew all about global warming (I just had no conception the brute could move so fast). I knew the dreadful cost of recreational air travel, but I went on flying long haul, and not only for work reasons. Africa, India, Thailand. I knew I should either stop hypocritically worrying or sell my car and take the bus; but I went on driving. Those road trips in France, all summer long, were my compromise with physics** in its purest, most perfect form. Pack the car. Double-lock the front door, leave it all behind. Live in a tent, in the beautiful lonely places of La Belle Fance, where there's always a donjon, a river, a magical forest; forage your food and don't ask where you're heading, just keep going, driving forever, into the thrilling dark . . .

Okay with roads, not good at destinations. Could be an epitaph.


*(I used the same technique in Bold As Love. Near-future rocksters Ax Preston and Sage Pender were born in the same year as my son, so that I would know, I wouldn't have to make it up, what music they'd loved when they were eight, or twelve, etc).

** You can't. But we all behave as if you can. As if you can say to the wildfires and the rising tides, "okay, let's make a deal, let's both make concessions". See Obama and the Arctic

This post, the second in a series, has been brought to you by the PKDick award storybundle

Blood Moon and Mushrooms

Monday 28th Sept, a very fine sunny day with a deep blue autumnal sky; a bit breezy.

Up to London last night to deliver Gabriel and his goods to his latest roost, first via Clapham, where he'd left the stand for his keyboard, and then, in a line straight as if the Romans laid it, to Deptford via Coldharbour Lane; at one point Peter plaintively wondering what had happened to the voice, that nice lady who lives in his smartphone. "I am the voice now," intones our son's bordering on mystical reply: and no word of a lie, Like my brother, Gabriel has a startlingly deep knowledge of the secret arteries of the capital, cutting right through the dazzle and dark and confusion. On the way back the supermoon had crossed the road, and was looking a little less impressive, as higher in the sky, but the sky was so clear I was inspired to set the alarm for So now I'm exhausted, but I've seen a blood moon, at first like a murky round fruit set in a silver-gilt bowl; then red brown all the way. I like these night sky phenomena, if conditions are right and you take the trouble they're a treat. Better still, our view of the autumn stars was as good (once the moon was brown) as we can ever expect. Orion and the Pleiades on one side of the house, Cassiopeia, Perseus and Andromeda on the other. Image is from UK huff post.

& yesterday, escaping from town for the first time since we got back from Green Man, we went walking. Such a profusion of small flowers, self heal and wild thyme, bell heather, toadsflax and gorse, in the purple, gold & bright magenta colours of the season. Peter gave me a present, a spray of Traveller's Joy in fruit (aka Old Man's Beard); astonishing seeds in nests of silvery lace, in the shape of isocelated dodecahedrons (?) green at the heart, the tiny pointed spurs dark red. The lace has faded to wool now, so I won't try to take its photo. We met the longhorned cattle of the Friston Forest grazing project, didn't didn't catch sight of any Konik Primitive Ponies, just the ordinary kind; but spotted some Herdwicks far from home. Funghi foraging was very good, but we did not pick sloes.
We need to tackle that huge jar of plums in whisky first.

Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex?

Okay, I get that its none of my business, as I'm no Rugby fan, but I'm allergic to that new ad. Designed to appeal to wives and girlfriends and children, of course (the market hates a specialism) & I'm thinking why not just stick to appealing to the fans? Have the guys chomp the heads off small animals, something harmless like that. Those monstrous, beefy, bloated, hypermale giants, stomping across the land, while the fool populace scampers to worship at their feet: that's a little too true to be comfortable. That little tiny fragile child-woman, in her dainty babydolls, kissing her supersized husband through the bedroom window. Good god, what happens when he . . .

The reference (Man of Steel etc) is to Larry Niven's 1971 "satirical essay" of the same name, in which Niven dwells lovingly & at length on the consequences of sex with Superman for Lois Lane. Exactly how he would tear her apart, "from crotch to sternum" How his ejaculate would blow the top of her head off . . . All in fun of course, so you're a killjoy if you take offence. And still going the rounds today, as a cool, funny curiosity.


Finished my post-summer New Scientist fest, catching up after the break in routine. A magazine with issues, these days! Horribly schizophrenic on Climate Change (at least one big spread on "the terrifying truth" a week; turn the page, and next item is all about supercars. And Fred Pearce, of all people, taking Drax's money and flying to Carolina, as prep for a journalistic, neutral account of the whole "White Rose" debacle.) Ouch. And what's going on with this ever more bloated "Opinion" section? Shouldn't we be trying to reduce that element, in a science magazine? Complaints, complaints, yet I keep coming back. Can't see to help myself, but I'm going to have to recalibrate my respectometer.

Looking Forward To

Suffragette, currently. Coming to the Duke's soon. Surprisingly twenty-first century, I heard someone say. I don't think surprising is quite the term I'd be looking for. I hope it's good. Women with bodies of kleenex, and hearts of steel.

& last but not least, the PK Dick award bundle is still out there: Still yours for a trifling sum.

LIFE: Has A Cover Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading, Watching, Looking forward to . . . And coming soon.


Last night I finished reading Remembrance Of Things Past (or, if you insist, À la recherche du temps perdu , but I can only read it in English) for the sixth time in this iteration. So farewell to Marcel, and his inexplicable weakness for high-society buddies; farewell to the great work's long, blurred, dying fall, written when Proust's health was failing for the last time, and robbed of all his obsessive attention to revision. He compares himself to a seamstress in the final pages, so much cutting and tacking together and patching went into his creative process. I think of lacquerwork, immense numbers of meticulous painted layers, each contributing another invisible scintilla to the finish.

It used to be The Tale Of Genji, followed by Proust, followed by Gravity's Rainbow. Then I put Gravity's Rainbow aside (so twentieth century, you know) and added the Bible instead. (It's set in the Middle East, inn'it? Maybe I'll pick up some tips on our current End of Days scenario), but I've decided to give the classic St James version a break. I'm going to read Tolkien instead this time round. The Lord Of The Rings, in the 1973 impression hardbacks, the same books that I bought for my father, with my first earnings, back in the Seventies. Ten years later, I was writing Divine Endurance for the same firm, under the tutelage of Rayner Unwin. . . Somewhat less dense and slow than À la recherche, I wonder how long it will take me.

Also just finished a duo of novels about French colonialism, from my father's eclectic francophile library, Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique, Marguerite Duras, and Port Tarascon, Alphonse Daudet. The same story, told as tragedy in the Duras (1950); as comedy sixty years earlier in Daudet, equally biting in both forms. The Marguerite Duras story is engaging, romantic Indochine cocktail hour bleak; full of hopeless pity equally for the hapless French victims of a vicious colon system; and the destitute natives. I now want to see the 2008 movie (The Sea Wall). Also taught me something I never knew. Marigot is the french word for a backwater; a marsh. Ah! So that's why those glossy yellow flowers are called "marsh marigolds". Nothing to do with the metal, or with the Virgin Mary!


Hard to be a God, Aleksei German Irresistible one off opportunity at the Duke's last weekend. A three hours, sludge and entrails immersive experience, this masterpiece felt like every minute of three light years. But how can I describe the experience? Like standing behind a rail, watching a huge storm at sea that never lets up, but luckily you are just out of reach of actual contact with the tepid, mighty waves of mingled human dung, blood and mud, so it's somehow fascinating and you never want to look away. The film-making is extraordinary, characters (so to speak) stare straight into the lens, like wildlife caught by a nature-cam (probably disguised as a heap of dung. Or a dead pig. Or a scholar buried head first in a cesspit). Vague memories of the original Strugatsky novel were very helpful. After about two hours I recalled that all I had to do was wait for Kira (Anton/"Don Remata's" native girlfriend) to reappear . . . . I will struggle to avoid spoilers, and just tell you, when she turns up again, it's soon after the hedgehog I think, the endgame is in signt. Whew. You won't regret it!

And so goodbye OdysseySeries One. If you haven't been following this action drama (retitled from "American Odyssey" a month before it aired) don't worry, you can pick it up anytime, it's going nowhere. Series Two (no spoiler, this was the trailer) enters science fictional territory. Global tensions have miraculously relaxed, following the revelations of brave soldier Odelle. A condemned US traitor on the run has no problems with border controls. A minor alteration in hair colour, no need even to change your style: queue up and get your passport stamped.

Looking forward to . . .

Songhoy Blues on tour. They're in Brighton on November 3rd. Other tour dates here. I strongly recommend you get hold of a ticket.

The Seagull, Young Chekov season at Chichester Festival Theatre. I'm trying to educate myself. Don't know what to expect, it's one of those ones where you have to buy a pig in a poke (english expression meaning there are no reviews until the tickets are all sold out)

And finally, the PKDick storybundle is out this week

a bunch of ebooks including Life, my 2004 novel about a woman scientist and a revelation (well, more of a realisation, as I think we now know) about the nature of human sexual gender. Available 23rd September to 15th October, and if you read ebooks, quite a bargain to add to your library.

Lisa Mason told me I was one of only four female writers (no longer so! A fifth this year) to win the actual award, since its inauguration, so I'm glad to be onboard, and here's to celebrating all the great, slightly off-kilter special books in this bundle. Yours for a trifling sum. Or as much as you feel like paying.