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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.

Three Sisters

There's a book I've wanted to get hold of for a long time, The Brontës' Web Of Childhood, I think it's by someone called Elizabeth Rachford, or Ratchford?, about the imaginary histories the Brontë children invented; lived; experienced; were obsessed by well into adulthood. I'm pretty sure I wasn't much interested in Charlotte, Emily and Anne (or Branwell, the favourite, terminally drunk and fatally incontintent brother who painted this group portrait) before I found out about Gondal and Angria. The ability to create make-believe worlds and live in them has fascinated me since I first realised I had a major share of the talent -or mental health issue?- myself; which takes us back. (I wonder, now and again, why the neuroscience boomers aren't more interested in this, and would be grateful if anybody could point me in the direction of some research). But that was then. We've come a long way since the Sixties. Fantasy is big business & to my mind the games are a special case, replicating the physical immersion effects a born-that-way fantasist experiences, the way the printed page or a movie narrative cannot. I once got a chance to talk about this on a panel with Phillip Pullman; who is always interesting (still on Youtube here).

But Gondal and Angria in the novels? I'm sure I was told so once: I'm sure I was told, or taught, that the drastic, violent, highly-coloured behaviour and action in Wuthering Heights and in Jane Eyre was lifted from the fantasy scenarios . . . I don't know why, but I decided to re-read Brontë novels this summer, books I hadn't touched for many years, and I don't think so! The brutal, infantile inter-sibling violence, the destructive power of completely untamed emotion, the wild melodrama that ensues if there's a full-on alcoholic in the house, all of this awful and gripping stuff is painted, I will stake my word on it, Mr Lovecraft, directly from life. Yep, in these wild times of ours I'm certain of it. These gently bred young women, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, they all drew what they knew; what they saw; what happened where they lived on a daily basis. Maybe the literary critics of the twentieth century, that lost civilisation, just could not believe it.

Wuthering Heights is amazing. Right on the money; the cranky nested-narrative, persuading us that this is a true tale, remembered and relayed, not invented, offset by an effortless, underlying formal structure. If she was here now I'd see Emily, saved from TB, as the enfant terrible type, growing up to be a multi-talented intellectual. If she didn't kill herself with anorexia; still the plague of young girls who struggle with the strength of their own personalities today. (She gives herself away on this point. Check it out, see if I'm right. Charlotte's the same. They really don't eat much, in Brontë world!)

I read Shirley straight after Wuthering Heights. I wish I could say that this "big nineteenth century novel"' a character-driven, but analytical study of social change, industrial revolution, and the role of women; realist and yet imbued with the same post-Enlightenment nature worship as I found in Selma Lagerlöf, was Charlotte's perfected work, to match Emily's. But Emily herself, the real "Shirley", dazzling, fierce and tender captain of Charlotte's life, died when the book was being written (as did Anne and Branwell, in swift succession). The break is horribly obvious, the writer's flight from dreadful grief and loss comes out mawkish, the novel never recovers. Charlotte is different, and not only in that she didn't die, or at least not at once. I think she had a less wilful talent than Emily (no comparison is possible between either of them and Anne). She wanted to reach people. She was prepared to compromise, critical of the melodramatic tastes they all shared, and willing to reconsider: I'm sure (see a 2012 post), she came to look on that lovely gothic fairytale Jane Eyre as juvenilia, and wrote Villette as a corrective: the same story, equally as closely based on her own experience; but no fairytale.

Charlotte is my top Brontë. I'm afraid I can't stand Anne. Having embarked on my Brontë fest, I discovered that the minor sister is tops with the Goodreads Gang, and now regarded by some as having been wronged; or overlooked. I barely remembered anything about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, so I gave it a try. It isn't so bad. I can see why Anne's naive frankness on Early Victorian Drunk-Dining And Adultery won notoriety at the time (& did her sales figures no harm!); otherwise the book is just ordinary. Could have been written last year. Then I tried Agnes Grey for completism. Ouch! Whiney, wish-fulfillment of a storyline, dull and disengenuous, chiefly used as a vehicle for monstrously self-satisfied religiosity. Her views on womanhood are horribly conventional. I'm sure the "Old Maids" chapter in Shirley is a direct rebuttal of Anne's nasty dismissal of unmarried females: dried up, spiteful, worthless and repulsive . . . In ways the germinal Brontë for the 21st century boom in Mash-up Gothicism. Like Jane Austen with Zombies, like Charlotte Brontë with Vampires, Anne writes a shrivelled husk of a story, attached umbilically to a senseless, lurid bladder of the supernatural.

Emily dominated her, and kept her captive in the Gondal and Angria continuum for longer than was quite decent. Charlotte suppressed a reprinting of that over-frank The Tenant after Anne's death. She had reason, if you know the Branwell story, but I don't know if I'd have done the same.

Positive News

Thursday 3rd September. A cool morning, sheets and fibres of white cloud threadbare over blue, but now the grey is gathering again. So many, many calls on my slender purse! (can you tell I've been reading the Brontës?). I do what I can, when I can and forgive the chugging, which I feel it's okay to resent on the street but not in your email. They're only asking! Right now, the refugees from the warzones are the top of my list, so thank you to Positive News, who not only bring me cheering stories, but also tell me practical things I can do besides despatch tiny sums of money. And thanks to Maude for the steer.

Meanwhile Dave Cameron on Thorney Island persists with his King Canute* act: bidding the tide to stop rising. As I'm sure you know, dear readers, the genuine King Cnut, emperor of the north inc the Anglo-Saxon part of these islands, twelve hundred years ago, was admonishing his smarmy courtiers in this apocryphal demonstration of the limits of his power. I'm pretty sure that when Dave says "We must bring peace to these war-torn countries", he's simply drumming up Weapons Trade custom-and-kickbacks, and hasn't a further thought in his tapeworm head*: but if he was channeling Canute/Cnut maybe he wouldn't be far wrong. This tide will not stop rising, and just as no statesman in England is going to stand up, and speak with Churchill's forthright compassion** of his own accord, and say "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. They're refugees. We have to let them in", still even now when the great waves are picking us up and tumbling us, throwing us around, dumping us down deep and grinding our faces into the sand, nobody in our government is going to say to us, not until it's far too late, THIS IS CLIMATE CHANGE. THIS IS ONE DEGREE OF WARMING! THE DAMAGE IS DONE, YOU DON'T WANT TO FIND OUT HOW MUCH WORSE IT CAN GET, FORGET THE PROFITS, F*CK THE CORPORATIONS! WE'RE KEEPING THE FOSSIL FUEL IN THE GROUND.

Nah, nobody ever says anything like that until it's May 1940 and the Panzer tanks have crossed the Rhine (please excuse me, noble Germans). You can suppress the truth as much as you like (as I once said in another context). Because it's only the abstract truth, and who cares? You can't suppress the facts, because, well, there they are, all over the place . . . I just wonder how many facts does it take?

*He's not alone, of course. The Gulf states are equally as guilty. More so, in their shameless denial of Islamic duty. This does not let Europe off the hook: it's an emergency. Call Dubai, Saudi, Qatar and the rest all the names you like. Shame them if you can: we still have to let the people in.

** Many thanks to Peter Gwilliam for providing the Churchill quote from February 1945 (see below, Comments)

Anyway, moving on.

My Summer Library (and other) Books

The Blazing World Siri Hustvedt
Phantasmagoria Marina Warner

I enjoyed both these books, they are fat but comely, they bounced off each other and around each other splendidly, and the Marina Warner has the added value of many interesting pictures & conversations. I didn't quite get art-historian Warner's thesis in Phantasmagoria. It was a bit cloudy? Something about how art and artifice have related, in both senses, to the changing status of the unconscious? But it was a wonderful ride, encompassing the first waxwork, a breathing Belle Dormant; mummified nuns, Fata Morgana, photographed fairies, spiritualists and mediums, skying the clouds and Rorshach blots. The Siri Hustvedt is a fairytale of the New York post-Warhol Art World, wherein an unwise fairy godmother, herself an artist whose career was blighted by her sex (maybe: Hustvedt is equivocal on this issue), decides to bestow the same perilous magical gift on three male artists in succession. The first lad is weak and foolish, the second lad is kind and wise, but the third, oh dear, turns out to be the devil himself, Andy Warhol in all but name. . . So now you know all you need to know, and if the Art World interests you, get hold of a copy. Except that this fairytale is cast as a scholarly monograph, (on the subject of the unlucky fairy godmother's experiment, of course); complete with contradictory interviews, tampered videos, and an ocean of staggeringly erudite footnotes. For god's sake, woman, enough with the long, discursive footnotes! On practically every page! Discursive footnotes at the back of the book, where they belong; and where they can be ignored should the reader so choose.

(Don't worry about Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, eminent C17 Royalist; natural philosopher, and "proto-feminist", author of the original "The Blazing World", She doesn't feature much, except as a reference point.)

I recommend Phantasmagoria unreservedly, for fun and as a valuable reference work, to anyone interested in the uncanny, ghosts, spookiness, eerieness, in any capacity. The Blazing World had features designed to annoy me. Including, among other exasperations, the artist as dumb medium. Art as ectoplasm; some kind of amorphous stuff that some people, through no intervention of their own, just happen to be able to channel; from the Beyond or the Collective Unconscious or whatever. The artist as insane commodity (closely related). But the tussle energised me.

Gusta Berling Saga Selma Lagerlof

Picked up by chance, as I was wandering around the library thinking about Booker candidates. Hey, why not try a female Nobel Prize winner?

The time is the 1820s. Deep in the heart of Sweden, beside a long lake, surrounded by hills and forests, there's a prosperous domain called Ekeby, ruled over by the major and the majoress (in England they'd be lord and lady of the manor). There are ironworks in the woods, there's timber in the forests; there are golden fields of grain and bountiful orchards, there's trade up and down the lake and an abundance of fine crafts, splendid woven cloth, exquisite embroidery. The household supports, besides a crowd of useful people, a cohort of dependents, mostly superannuated soldiers, known as "the cavaliers". They're not good for much, they mostly spend their days playing cards, drinking, and getting into absurd scrapes, but each of them plays a musical instrument, each of them has stories; each is a story in himself. They are the leaders of all revelry, and add a glorious element of misrule to Ekeby's rich character. But their acknowledged chief is a young man, Gusta Berling, a minister who has disgraced his cloth, a poet and a dreamer, continually falling in love and then falling out again, to the sorrow and outrage of a succession of fine, deeply respected young women . . . . Then one day something goes wrong. The disaster involves a pact with the devil, and I really can't explain it here, but the upshot is that the major departs, the majoress is banished and takes to the roads like a beggarwoman, and for a year and a day (I put the day in because in English there's always "a day") the cavaliers are left in charge. I absolutely love this book. It's described on the back cover as a Swedish Pickwick Papers, only written by a woman, but that doesn't really tell you much. It's entertaining, lyrical and tragic, and slightly, lightly fantastic. The landscape, the seasons, the animals, trees, flowers hills woods and forests are characters in their own right (you'll never get that in Dickens), and I loved the sly, affectionate way the cavaliers are presented: as a burden on society; tolerated, pathetical, and helplessly destructive.

Like Cranford in trousers, only funnier, more beautiful, and much more powerful

Go Set A Watchman Harper Lee

Is poor stuff, not much of a story and I particularly didn't like the ending. Not the bit where Atticus Finch turns out to have the prejudices and the convictions of his time and his background. No, it's the bit that comes after that, when Jean Louise (Scout) calms down and realises that her burst of outrage was just a bit silly. Her honoured and honourable dad, her charming uncle and her prospective husband aren't bigots. They're only protecting their way of life, and the grand old traditions of the South. Nothing going on here worth quarrelling with your family about . . . And so we leave her, wisely deciding to avoid conflict and getting ready to hold up half the sky for her menfolks' reasonable, moderate and kindly contempt for "the negro".

That just won't do. Not even in a first draft*** Maybe it's because of where I'm standing, looking at the USA today, but I can't stomach that. It wouldn't do then, and it won't do now. Do not condone. Not peace but a sword. Walk away.

NB: links to Amazon books in this blog in no way represent an encouragement to purchase from the store. I do it for the reviews.

Okay, I take that back, a first draft is a novel's private life, and entitled to be full of blunders, errors in taste, etc. But a published book is a public utterance, and you have to be careful what you say.

Upping Tools

In other words it rained, and the rain was beautiful. I almost resented the intervals of sunshine, the great trees of the Glanusk estate were so beautiful in the damp mist. The towering lime west of Main Stage was my best act, the oaks and sycamores that graced the Outdoor Spa excellent in concert with the little birds that darted about high in their branches, the Sequoia Gigantica at the Box Office, and not to forget the Second Huge Small-leaved Lime, on the track by the Far Out field, lit purple and green after dark, a thick canopy that kept the last carpet of dead leaves dry for al fresco dining; until finally vanquished on Sunday. Songhoy Blues were absolutely wonderful, I don’t even mind that I missed a glorious thunderstorm while dancing like a loon. For that hour there was no distance between us and the performers, they had put heartbreak aside; they loved to play, and dance, we loved to dance: we were on a level. Illusion? Escapism? If so I preferred it to the different illusions of corporate rock, or aspiring corporate entertainment.

The nearest I ever got to Mali was a bus-stop out in the middle of nowhere, in Cameroon. That, and looking up about ancient Malian astronomer observations of Venus, for my "Old Venus" story. Dismissed as fantasy by early Europeans, because how could anyone, much less in darkest africa, record such accurate naked eye observations. But they can, they did. West African people make such long journeys! I wish I could go there. To Bamako. Maybe, one day. I wouldn't have to fly, which is a bonus because I don't. Great thing about Africa and Europe, but for a tiny sea crossing I could walk, if I had the time and the legs for it . . .

Me, I didn’t come to Green Man for the music. Or for the neo-paganism, although we did visit the Green Man in the rain, and admired web of cedar tile petitions strung around him; to be burned on Sunday. The exact same form of pleas and prayers as we'd seen preserved at Dodona, Dion, Delphi. (Nothing changes in human nature. Shame the same can't be said for the effects of human nature on one small planet . . .) Or for the beer. To my mind there’s few certainties in life, but one of them is that if 500 different craft beers are offered, every brew you try will be cr*p. (I was right) I came for the food, the fresh air, and the scenery. But once we got here, of course I started playing Pokemon. Got to catch them all! Calexico, loving the rain and grieving for wildfires in Arizona and CA. Hot Chip, highly satisfactory; going out on Dancing In The Dark. Oops, we missed The Temples. D*mn there goes Courtney Barnett! How the hell did we miss Atomic Bomb??? But Songhoy Blues, my MUST HAVE, safely secured, plus The Staves (such musicianship, and such cool stagecraft, so ladylike and affable), Father John Misty (so avuncular, so tv host and ditto), St Vincent So icy and distant, such wincy little lyrics, but still you really should see Annie Clark & co live. I do not personally like the stilted (literally!), alt. Lady Gaga gynoid act or costume, but she really can play guitar. Catch her now, while she's young and innocent.

And a lovely acrobatic ballet/masque/ by Citrus Arts at Fortune Falls about the ghost of a slaughtered stag, the bad baron’s beautiful daughter & the revenge of the wild wood. And many more.

& all the while I was looking around, & I was thinking I invented you people. Back in 1998 when I was dreaming up Bold As Love, this phenomenon, this inescapable summer feature of our modern world did not exist. Rock festivals were a laughable minority sport, something students did and got over it. Wellies for the over-fives came in green for toffs, plain black, or a very practical shade of mud. Glamping at Glastonbury hadn’t been invented & my agent said, but Gwyneth, nobody’s interested in Jimi Hendrix. Who he?

Did I forget Einstein's Garden? Place the Zen Self tent here, alongside the Botanical Garden of Wales, the man with the hydrogen engine demo and the people from NPL; with their interesting information about a sublimating kilogram

Not really very Green at all, no, no, no. Take a glance at the vast sea of shining cars. Forget that illusion! No more than the fictional Festival of Dissolution was. Not at all dangerous to the State of Things around here either; sad to say. But still.

Very late Sunday night, having gone neither to Lethe, Wolfsbane, Nightshade or any other reality enhancement (there comes a time . . .) I lay awake, listening to Manchester Man being led away by a mildly coaxing female. from the gazebo party next door; into the rain at last, full of beer and god knows what, roaring to one of the other guests, at the top of his mighty, infantile lungs “Right! Bastard! I’m going off to do a great big poo in your tent now!”

Aoxomoxoa, I thought, in his intemperate youth, cannot be far away.

It’s September. I have upped my downed tools. Normal service, media reviews, sarcastic revelations, exhortations to protest against this and that, etc will be resumed next post.