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Classic Relief!


Wednesday, 4th March. Calm skies after a night of wind and rain. Frog action in the pond has been playful and relaxed for about a week. This morning I see the holiday is over, the males have started clasping, the grim business of reproduction has begun.

Metempsychosis of the Machine: Out in the wind and rain last night, to see Slumdog at the Marina. Great show, terrific soundtrack. An expertly crafted, cruel and sentimental fairytale -the qualification is not an insult, all proper fairytales are both cruel and sentimental-, telling of the savage greed of poverty, the singleminded determination of the one that got away (keep your eyes on the prize, slumdogs); the "Jimmy Cagney" hero's death of the underworld system's luckless dupe;the dream girl, as good as she is beautiful, teasingly dangled and finally bestowed as the reward of virtue. A perfect Hollywood depression movie!

But enough of this frivolity. I'm here today with the serious yet delightful purpose of exhorting you to flock to Classic Relief, an extraordinary evening of laughter and great music, 7th March, 7.30pm at the Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, where among others you'll have a chance to see my lad Gabriel, luminary of the "stylophone chorus", eight Trinity Music College students in DJs and bowties (he assures me he can borrow the kit) playing The Ride Of The Valkyrie on tiny little primitive synthesisers. I thought he said xylophone, but no, it's electronica. After I'd bought the tickets I asked innocently, and will I see you after? Er, no, says my loving son. There's sort of a party. Ah well, Meet Mum in the foyer, party with the famous poet Alfred Brendel... I take his point

Interestingly, we watched Repo Man again the other night, and Peter spotted an actual stylophone, played by Emilio Estevez as he leans against a phone box, in one of the punk/rom gang scenes. So that's how you can check it out. Great movie, another excellent soundtrack. It hasn't lost its freshness, and yet so evocative of the early eighties. That cohabitation, punks, goths and New Romantics, sounds so bizarre and yet it seemed so natural at the time: as it appears here.

Fair Maids Of February


Monday March 2nd, weather same as it was an hour ago

Saturday, 28th March, a cool, still, calm day; grey cushiony clouds netted in a web of gilt, light the colour of candlelight. We drove out to Duncton to visit the famous native daffodils. This is all heathland, sandy underfoot, deadened, soundless walking through the tall pinewoods of Duncton Common, fenced transition to Lavington, the National Trust's purist swathes of last year's heather. Not quite the season for adders, but plenty of birds. At Burton House we admired the old Norman church, with some remarkable C16 brasses, including Lady Elizabeth Goring, kneeling at prayer in a heraldic tabard and riding dress. Why the male attire? Lost in the mists of time, but she's the only woman dressed like this on any C16 memorial in England (It says here, in the guide provided). Shallow indents in the stone show where her husband and her children used to be pinned. Further on, by a clear murmuring, winding stream, sheaves of perfect snowdrops warned us we'd come too early for the show on the headland above. Darn it, the host, the throng beneath the trees all present but all but a handful still firmly sheathed. Never mind, even one small native daffodil, candlelight trumpet, gold rays, freshly unfurled, is easily worth a walk in the woods.

Shock, horror, the pub at Graffam, The Foresters' Arms (more heraldry) is SHUT. As in foreclosed, as of 12 Feb, with the sticker for the Good Pub Guide 2009 still in the window. We suspect the proud insistence on "Traditional Hours" may have been the leasees' undoing. You just can't not be open all afternoon, especially at weekends, when every other pub in the countryside has capitulated. So, anyway, we had sandwiches and coffee at the village shop instead, and probably were no worse off. See that tally up at the top? That's my lenten alcohol fast. Can't say I feel hugely renewed or purified yet, but I'm sure it's going to do me good.

The Art Of Murder

Monday 2nd March, frost on the grass at seven, bright crisp morning of early spring.


The Art Of Murder, Jose Carlos Somoza. Deserves a post all of its own. Compelling, penetrating, extraordinary. To my mind a considerable advance on The Athenian Murders: far less self-consciously clever, far more immersive. Somoza takes on the phenomenon of Modern Art (ie, roughly, non-figurative to conceptual, latter part of C20 to present day), as an index of moral nullity, in a futuristic setting where human beings who have elected to become "canvases" for fashionable artists, have become staggeringly valuable objects. Need I tell you that a curiously substantial proportion of these canvases are adolescent or pre-pubertal girls and boys? That they are generally displayed nude, in brutally stressful, titillating poses? Already there's a big undercover market for the horrific, low-rent version of this trade in exquisitely altered and contorted living bodies, now someone has started butchering really valuable works. . .

For me, don't know if Somoza would agree, there's a powerful subtext about the massively profitable edifice of modern art, as the replacement, or the current form, of religion, and specifically the Catholic Church: the world of The Art Of Murder is dominated by corrupt cardinals, fraudulent miracles, deranged saints, a bizarre, suffering God. A fanatical Inquisitor, and a troubled unbeliever form the traditional pair of investigators; the two main characters on the other side of the action are Bruno van Tysch, at once a monstrous God, priest and sacrifice; and Clara Reyes, the iron-willed, utterly dedicated young "canvas" who finds a route to true transcendence in the fake revelations and impossible (profit-driven) demands of her Church. It's not a criticism to say the mystery is no mystery: this is not a puzzle, it's a fantastic spectacle, painted on the "canvas" of C21 Europe's beloved police-procedural serial-killer story. The dismount, however is a slight disappointment, as the void closes and "normal services" are resumed. The monstrous God/priest Bruno turns out to be rather un-interesting, and his relationship with Clara never really goes anywhere. So, four stars not five on one reading. If I was reviewing, I'd read it twice of course, and might well see things differently

The Art Of Murder is presented as a thriller, but I read it slowly because I didn't want to leave Somoza's repellent, fascinating world. Highly reccommended. I don't know if it was noticed in genre circles, but if I'd known about this when it came out in translation (2004), I'd have been lobbying hard for both the Tiptree jury and the Clarke jury to take it on board.

More On Spirit

Thursday 26th February
not much change, same low skies. Frog action in the pond, and my first Camellia.


More reviews of Spirit:

Brighton-based Gwyneth Jones' SF work had focused on Bold As Love, five books that explore utopianism and environmental politics via the bizarre, but quite brilliant, notion of rock musicians taking the reins of power. But how do you follow that? Initially, it seems, Jones has opted for light relief because Spirit has been trailed as a srollicking re-engineering of Alexandre Dumas's classic The Count Of Monet Cristo and, in part, that's exactly what it is. We follow the sotry of Bibi who, imprisoned for two decades, plots revenge after secret coordinates lead her to untold riches. Yet Jones never relies wholley on Dumas's template. This is also a serious, grown-up novel that riffs on current concerns by, for example, casting as its outsider heroine a woman born into a fundamentalist, tribal society.
Jonathan Wright, BBC Focus

Bob's book blog review of Spirit

Liviu's review of Spirit (one of the first)

Duncan Lawie's review on The Zone

I like 'em all, of course I do, or they wouldn't be linked here!, Jonathan Wright gets posted in full because his isn't available on line; but I have a special soft spot for Harry Ritchie in The Mail On Sunday, for his "warning, warning, astonishing adjective imminent, female SF writer Gwyneth Jones. . . "

I'm going to miss my father. I keep thinking of him, now that the parade's gone by. Family matters continue to occupy me, it'll be a while before I get my life back (but one never does, after such a transition, it will be a different life). Meanwhile, I watched Ivan The Terrible Part II last night, it was terrific, in spite of (because of) bearing as little relation to the historical notes provided as Shakespeare's Macbeth does to the historical record. Fantastically stylised, fantastic Prokofiev movie music. If they carry on like this I'll have to forgive LoveFilm for their relentless delivery of ancient culturally improving movies that certainly were not my "high priority" titles. Also watched Ghosts Of Mars, through not having the will to switch the telly off.

Reading: Charles McCarry's post-9/11 revival, Old Boys Can the grey tigers of the old school CIA reach the secret location in the Central Asian desert, where along with the Kirghiz Light, one can discover the secret scroll revealing that Jesus was a Roman agent, and Paul of Tarsus his case-officer??? Or will grizzly Osama bin Laden (okay, another name, and invented by McCarry 35 yrs ago) get to this world-destroying treasure first???

I've just discovered McCarry, which puzzled me, as I've been very curious about the fantasy/fiction half-life of World War II, for several years (cf Bold As Love). Oh, now I see. The first one I snagged was catch-up, filling in the ancient history of his main characters. Really it's Cold War spook nostalgia (though that means a world frozen in time circa 1945/50) In Old Boys the project is rolling back the callous, stupid current regime, and reinstating the old-school decent-conservative God's on our side days, when CIA operatives were a league of maverick gentlemen, doing good by stealth. Ah, how we all miss those guys! . . . It's nice enough, it's travelogue with violence, and interesting things to eat (which our heroes can't digest as they are all over 70 and used to proper American food). Don't think I'll pick up another.

Spirit, Gollancz, The Clarke


Ash Wednesday, 25th February 2009
cool, grey, low skies.


Jon Sullivan cover art for Spirit


SFX 178

The Guardian, 17th january

The Times Online

Fantasy Book Critic

reviewed in the mail on sunday


homepage SPIRIT entry with downloads

I've been rather preoccupied for the last two or three months (how time flies). Back at my desk for a brief spell last week, I finally looked at the reviews that had been arriving, from Gollancz and other sources, & also found I had an email from Tom Hunter, with a link to the list of books submitted for the Arthur C. Clarke award. That's funny, it was just a new space opera, nothing too noteworthy, but I'm sure I had a book out, a bit of a strange date, but definitely 2008. I wonder why...

A few emails later, and to resolve any confusion in the select band I call my reading public, I can now confirm (I think!) that due to circumstances beyond my control Spirit, Or The Princess Of Bois Dormant has been declared a 2009 title in some contexts, 2008 in others. Sort of. Ah, well. That's the way it goes. Anyway, I may yet do an explanations page, with some of my own refs for the novel, for those who wonder where the usual maniacal deconstruction has gone; meanwhile at least I've restored the link from here to the SPIRIT and Buonarotti downloads.

I'll get the hang of these Serendipity tools in time, I'm sure

Desmond Jones 21st September 1910-4th February 2009

Sunday 8th February, Brighton
Cold and grey, but no sign of frost or snow.

My father, who had been very ill since early December, died last Wednesday. He had a very good innings, a very interesting life: and he was the person who taught me how to tell stories. I've been up in Manchester for a couple of days, mainly with my mother in their Care Home. I'll be back in Manchester soon and it'll be a while before I'm really back at my desk.
My father on his 94th birthday

bold as love is back



Wednesday 4th February 2009

Bright sun, clear sky, withered scraps of snow.

So, it's been a long break, a lot has happened, to me and to the world. We have a new US President, Bold As Love pre-conditions continue to propagate weirdly in the real world, while in Gaza, in Central Africa, in the Middle East etc. nothing damned well changes much. Sadly, I don't think there's any chance of a half-Sudanese guitarist from Taunton turning up at the Carlsberg Weekend & saving the day, but anyway that future is now in my past, as I do believe I had a new book out (didn't feel a thing). The garden birds of Spring have already begun to show: starlings whistling by my window, greenfinch and goldfinch colonies seem intact, goldcrests come to feed on the fronds of last year's buddleia (can't tell what they're eating) & I keep seeing, separately, a thrush and a male blackcap mooching around the big sycamore, hope they bring partners and decide to stay. And here's a new blog, set up for me by my webmeister, which of course I plan to personalise and make beautiful. . . it'll never happen, I'll live in it the way I found it, but at least I promise to restore the full texts downloads page, and the links to Bold As Love and my content site