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Behind The Beautiful Forevers; and other success-stories

If winter's over, can festival season be far behind? Massimo stopped me on the corner this morning, as I was on my way back from the Post Office, and handed me a copy of the original score of a Bach Partita, the one Gabriel's playing in his Fringe recital in May. It has the post-print alterations and decorations Bach added, listed in the front. Gabriel and Marianne's first recital of the season is even closer, they'll be playing St Michael All Angels on Saturday 28th March: but more of that later. So tired,kept awake all night by a cat with a cough (it's okay, nothing too serious), I'm good for nothing today and just getting by doing errands & clearing off my desk. First, some entertainment from boingboing via Peter.

(The Belle vs Cinders one is much better, and neither really bawdy)


And now to one of my occasional light-reading roundups.

I don't often buy new novels. I save my money for academic and popular science books, which cost a bomb; and nosing around in secondhand bookshops (a dying breed, but there's always the British Heart Foundation, Oxfam & Amnesty), picking up strange flotsam & jetsam. On the other hand, I've become addicted to the library reservation service, as a means of checking out bestsellers. You should try it, only 50p a pop, and if people don't use it, it will go away. Here's my latest catch.

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August Claire North

Billed as a "time-travel story"; more like a claustrophobic vampire vendetta saga. There are people called kalachakras, it means "time-cyclers", who live through the same lifetimes, over and over and over again. Like reincarnation only inexpressibly boring and soul-destroying. As a consequence, as our narrator freely confesses, most kalachakras are miserable s*ds, while many become really really wicked & plan things that will end the world. The story's most ingenious ploy, and also its downfall in my humble opinion, is that these serial immortals, born remembering everything that happened last time, can change the world every time they step into it: by introducing technology "prematurely" and by communicating interesting facts to each other, up & down an aeons-long chain of lifetimes. The ensuing paradox-burden is enough to disable a better story than this. Also, there are far, far, far too many torture scenes.

It was interesting enough to keep me reading. But not by much. If you like the real spying is grim and dreary British school, and you haven't a clue about time travel paradoxes, you may get on fine. Habitual &/or inquiring sf readers should avoid.

Weathering, Lucy Wood

A barely-there literary ghost story, with a Devon river running through it; and a ramshackle house, always on the point of sinking, invaded by the water, where two women's ramshackle, wilfully drifting lives are somehow grounded. There's a mother, there's a daughter, there are the woods, the moor; the birds, glimpsed flashes of kingfisher and heron that the older woman's camera catches; and there's a little girl, a stubborn, naughty little girl called Pepper. In ways nothing much happens, just cranky rural characters getting on with their lives, through many seasons of penetrating damp, icy cold, and ever-threatening flood, but I found this one absorbing. The rising tide of domestic incompetence did start to get me down about half way through (GET THE WOODBURNER-BOILER FIXED for God's sake!) But then Ada, the younger woman, turned out to be very competent at something, and I was hooked again. Lucy Wood has an MA in Creative Writing and it shows. Normally I'd avoid using the expression "beautifully written", believing that it has become a kind of insult, but here I mean it as a compliment. Lovely to read. And Pepper's great. Pepper has stayed with me.

Elizabeth Is Missing, Emma Healey

Maud, in her eighties and struggling with dementia, has become obsessed with the idea that her friend Elizabeth is missing. She's never in when Maud calls round, and her house seems to be empty. Something must be done! Cue exasperated and frustrated carers, and much amusement at the local cop-shop. What nobody realises is that the "missing" Elizabeth, who isn't really "missing" at all, has become a stand-in, in Maud's tumbled thoughts, for another lost loved one, her beloved sister Sukie, who disappeared in 1946. . . Maud has found a heart-stopping clue, and in a moment of clarity she has realised what it means. She's right, but nobody understands, least of all Maud herself, who is doomed to spend the entire book being mocked, feeling like an idiot and forgetting where she put yet another cup of tea that she made and omitted to drink. What was it I was supposed to remember? Train, hammer, pineapple? And why did I have to count down from 100 in sevens . . . ? If you're over sixty, or even over fifty, you may well find this book more disturbing than entertaining, although Maud's tribulations are handled with a light, comic touch (from the viewpoint of a granddaughter, entertained and tolerant; not a hard-pressed middle-aged daughter). But it's really pretty good. I liked it more the further I got from actually having read it.

The Miniaturist Jessie Burton

*A certified massive bestseller, this one; and an interesting and enjoyable historical novel. Young Petronella arrives alone in the big city, to join the sparse household of a merchant husband she's never met, and who shows a total lack of interest; plus his puritanical sister, a manservant from Dahomey and a maid of all work. She witnesses stuff. I can't tell you more, because it would spoil the surprises. Deep emotional attachments spring up from nowhere, likewise outbursts of flashy, soap-opera violence; as if the characters are no more than puppets in the writer's dollhouse, with no inner life at all. There's a crucial strand of the fantastic which is never resolved . . . These elements left me feeling the book was slightly unbalanced, but you can't argue with star quality. It's mysterious (and nor is it true that bestseller status can be bought. It can't. Money can be thrown away on hype, if the public says no). Relax, this isn't War and Peace, it's just a proper good read.


Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre (live at the Duke's last week)

Highly recommended. Great cast, inspired production. Like Les Miserables with teeth, because this is happening now The only quarrel I had was with the promotional material inviting me to admire the characters' "drive" and their determination to "get ahead". To me the worldly wisdom of the slum dwellers was part of the tragedy. W're all drinking the same dirty water, breathing the same dirty air, and even the poorest of the poor are fooled by those beautiful forevers roaring by over their heads. We all need to learn that corruption is not normal, it's a blight on society, and the greed that drives it is not good.

I love going to see National Theatre productions at the cinema down the road. Sort of reminds me of Proust dialling up a concert on the telephone. & guess what, I have reserved the Katherine Boo book.

The Wind Rises

Finally, last Friday week . . . I didn't want to watch this, I've seen Grave of the Fireflies, thanks. But it's not harrowing, nor is it glorifying war: almost dodges the whole issue, in fact, by ending this bio-pic of the creator of Japan's WWII fighter planes before war actually begins. But not entirely; the message of tragic helplessness is there. (The wind rises, we can't stop it, or drop out, we must just try to live, as best we can). Beautiful and sad, and maybe, if you don't share Miyazaki's passion for those magnificent men in their flying machines, a tiny bit pointless.

Not planning to watch . . .

Televised election debates.

*The book cover montage features flotsam and jetsam from a day when I walked down to the sea in January. The book "If Winter Comes . . . " was a massive bestseller for decades, from 1921 when it took the world by storm, apparently. I really defy you to understand why, should you ever read it: but the WWI patriotism strand is salutory.

Graffam Daffodils: Losing the Map

Saturday 14th March, another dry, chilly, still and overclouded day, we drove to the other side of the world, beyond Petworth if you can believe it, & all to see the native daffodils at Graffam. This walk, which is a very good one but not to be undertaken lightly, now involves negotiating the Heathland Project, currently in process = the NT and Sussex Wildlife Trust conspiring to make a desolation out of the pine plantations of Lullington, Lavington and Graffam Common, (100 yrs old or so and ready for harvest) on the way to restoring the ideal state of land use (around 1763, I think). I'm not really complaining, I like adders, and on heathland there might be boletus, which I can eat, but at the moment it's a heap big mess. Anyway, we weathered it, with the help of directions from a friendly woman on a v. pretty chestnut: found our way to the stream and the woodland ridge above; where the daffodils grow. Whoever called them a "Wordsworthian profusion" hasn't visited Ullswater in the season, but they were lovely, and stretching far away under the bare trees, if not actually fluttering and dancing. Previously too early or too late, we made it on time this year: make a note of it, said Peter, & so I have. We lost the map later on, which involved some racing with the sunset, so as not to spoil a very good day out with a mishap. It was where it had been dropped, safe & sound; so an end to racing, & the two of us sitting looking across the powdery-blue shadowed valley, listening to the thrushes shout their evening song; me rubbing my sore feet.

My Fracking Round-Up: What About Balcombe?

If you don't already know, Celtique Energie made a surprise announcement last week: Greg Davies has decided to abandon his appeal against the council's decision to refuse permission for senseless unconventional oil/gas extraction at Wisborough Green. & also abandon all plans to drill at Fernhurst, inside the South Downs National Park. Good of him, eh?

Will Francis Egan of Cuadrilla now realise that oh, wow, never noticed, Balcombe is in an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and officially abandon his plans there? I suspect not. He'll want to keep a foot in the door.

The Wealden frackers will be back. They've not even gone away. The CE/Magellan Billingshurst fracking site, with all the usual prevarication in place, is still due to be drilled this Spring

Despite everything we're hearing about a committment to dramatic carbon-emission targets, and a "growing realisation" that catastrophic climate change actually IS a terrifying disaster it would be a good idea to avoid, nothing's changed since we heard that story last time, and even the UK shale gas bonanza surges on.

Oh well. Congratulation KKWG. It's still good news.

The daffodils are standins. These ones, although native species, are in my garden

Even If and Old Venus

Saturday 7th March, 7.00pm at the New Venture Theatre Brighton. "Following our success, reading Even If We Lose Our Lives (interviews with Afghan Women Human Rights Defenders, scripted for Amnesty as part of the Afghan Women's Rights Campaign) with Radio Free Brighton last May, we decided to look for a venue for a live perfomance. The New Venture Theatre, a not-for-profit theatre company with a great reputation, is donating a cabaret performance space with all facilities (including a bar for snacks and drinks) for a one night show in March; to be followed by a talk and discussion on the current situation in Afghanistan, lead by Christine Usher, Amnesty UK Country Coordinator for the region.

Even If We Lose Our Lives, an account of what three women have done and sacrificed for their country, through years of danger and war, is a powerful and moving experience, for the performers as well as the audience. We hope we can do them justice, and make our show on 7th March (International Women's Day weekend) a celebration of their achievements and their courage.

To reserve a seat contact:
Booking essential as space is limited.
No ticket charge. Donations to Amnesty International at the event."

Congratulations to George R R Martin, Gardner Dozois and all the contributors, on the official publication day for Old Venus. It was great fun writing my story, and I'm delighted to be in your company. Here's my submission email for "A Planet Called Desire" (anyone who tells me where the title comes from gets a prize, you naughty person.)

"Dear Gardner,

Having read around the subject of Old Venus, in fact, fiction and speculation, and discovered the Ancient Venus Habitable Zone hypothesis, I decided to channel Eddison, with a splash of H.G.Wells, and embed my story in a contemporary frame; just as the Old Masters did. I invented a hero of our times, and a sorceress-queen of Venus, and came up with the attached submission. I hope it fits into your brief. I really enjoyed this task, thank you for inviting me."

And here's a selection of my Venus/Old Venus trail links:

Venus Morning Star, Venus Evening Star (the phases)

Lore of the Dogon

Was Venus Once A Habitable Planet?

Colonising Venus With Floating Cities

Guest voices: Venus in Transit

Out in the garden the sun is bright, signs of Spring begin to gather, and we're onto our seventh clutch of fertile spawn. These frogs, almost vanished a few years back, are on a hiding to nothing, a boom and bust cycle, we'll just have to do our best.

Listening to Tasmin Little playing the 2nd movement of the Ligeti violin concerto, one of my favourite pieces of music, and my favourite performance

Credible and Reliable Evidence

What to look for in spring:

A pair of collared doves sit, absorbed in grooming themselves, on the falling-apart fence atop the wall at the bottom of the garden: ruffling neck feathers, combing wing feathers with those wicked-looking hooked black beaks. One leans over, and worries ferociously at the other's neck plumage; it's mate (male and female are pretty much identical nb) returns the favour: tugging out and then smoothing down the other's tail fan. A robin picks at dried mealworms, darting to and fro from the bay laurel: keeping the doves under observation. In the garden pool, six frogs, or maybe seven, enjoy a mating party in a tangle of weeds, bellies, kicking feet and golden eyes, while three red goldfish drift around them, basking in the sunlight.

I've done good work on my story for the estimable Athena Andreadis this week, but today I'm slowed down, head thick with a cold, and its Friday. The sunshine is a little wasted on me.

Credible And Reliable Evidence

Announced on Common Dream this week, "credible and reliable evidence of US Military torture in Afghanistan"

Well, fancy that! I also hear there's credible and reliable evidence that, despite pleasant rumours to the contrary, Shaker Aamer, along with one or two others, is still incarcerated, and likely to remain so, in the most brutal conditions, in Guantanamo Bay.

And if by chance you have not yet watched this movie, you really, really should. Watch it now.

Doctors of the Darkside

Nobody's stopping you. When you've watched the movie, you might wonder why not.
They know they don't need to stop you. You'll shudder, but you won't do a thing.

Everybody should "know" about these things (easy problem). Everybody should think about what these things mean, in the context of the "radicalisation" of young Muslims, and equally, in the rising level of acceptance, globally, of the legitimacy of torture, and the evil power this acceptance has over all our lives. Hard problem. Everybody should think, think think about where the heart of darkness in this 21st century world of "terrorism" lies; exactly where it all springs from. And fight this plague with all their power. Harder still. We do nothing, or nearly nothing. We just go on, dimly feeling that the world is getting to be a worse and worse place, an evil place, even. Never joining the dots, and mostly never considering taking any remedial action.

"It's pointless. You'll never get anywhere."

I'm not Amnesty International's biggest fan, and I definitely did shudder when I came to the line in their "recommendations" that says "a qualified medical practitioner should be present" at every interrogation. Aaargh! But follow this link, if you want to do something, not nothing. Stop Torture.

My Fracking Round Up

When I saw the last minute amendment, effectively clawing back the concession that fracking was to be banned from Natural Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, I thought to myself, immediately, Balcombe is in an Area Of Outstanding Beauty. The Wisborough Green proposed drilling site is embarrassingly close to two extremely beautiful, valuable and highly protected nature reserves, Ebernoe and The Mens; not to mention a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve immediately adjacent, and the South Downs National Park boundary 500m away.

Both these sites are showcases, flashpoints; centres of resistance in the Weald. Both of them were protected . . . for about ten minutes.

Infrastructure Bill amendment


September 2014, WSCC finds that the Celtique Energie proposal is fatally flawed. Road access to their proposed site is impossibly constricted, and they really should have picked a more suitable spot, in their huge licence area. Maybe further from nationally and internationally protected nature & wildlife preserves? For the first time, a community and a consortium of Natural Beauty & Wildlife Defenders have managed to get a fracking proposal turned down!

February 2015, WSCC suddenly decides to demolish a little bridge on a narrow lane, and replace the whole stretch of road involved with a 2 lane highway. Thus removing two major obstacles to the drilling plan: a weak little bridge, and a tree-canopied lane; both of them features that the villagers treasure. WSCC's spokespersons deny that this "improvement" nobody wants has anything to do with the drilling proposal, which Celtique Energie is still pursuing, through a public inquiry .

Do you believe these people? I hate to hurt anybody's feelings, but I'm afraid I don't.

There's nothing I can do. Road improvements in West Sussex aren't my business. But for the record, there's a petition. If you have a WS postcode, please consider signing

Sign here

And by the way, if you were clinging to the belief that "of course, fracking will be safer here" just have a look at this other adjustment in the small print:

Fracking redefinition

I started off objecting to the proposed fracking operations in the Weald because I live here*, I know what fracking looks like, and when I checked the facts, I soon found out that, even if you believe that cr*p about methane being a safer alternative to other fossil fuels, there were no commercial reserves, so it was just pure nonsense. But what I've learned since is all about corruption. The dirty rotten private personal deals that those who govern us make, with the corporations and their lackeys, to steal our land, our water, our natural resources, even the air we breathe. The world over.

Oh, and another by the way. Remember how we were promised that the NHS would be protected from TTIP? So the corporations would not be able to take the NHS to court, at ruinous cost, for trying to be affordable or for reversing privatisation? It isn't happening

Nowhere is safe. There is no protection.

(no, I don't. I live in Brighton. Why don't I live in the countryside if I love it so much? Because I believe in cities, and in urban development, as the real solution to the housing crisis. And because am just about bright enough to realise that the UK is a small place and if we all go and live in the country, there won't be any countryside left.)


I don't like the new set up in New Scientist, relegating the letters to the back pages. This might not sound serious, but it is. New Scientist is read by scientists but written (bless) mainly by journalists. Practically every week, there'll be letters, from well-qualified persons, refuting, questioning, clarifing; and arguing with the content of the main articles. New Scientis letters aren't a cutesy extra, like Feedback (excuse me Feedback, but you are cute). They're integral. So, New Scientist people, please change it back! Now!
I may start a petition.

& looking forward to the third episode of the "Jonathan Holt" (it's a pseudonym) Carnivia trilogy. The second episode The Abduction featured such a visceral and phenomenally accurate account of those practices the US government has defined as "not being torture" (start with walling, proceed to waterboarding. Don't forget the diapers the naked victims must wear, to save the torturers a messy job) I wonder where on earth Mr Holt is going next. Warning, some amazon respondents (.com) have found Mr Holt's treatment of this sensitive subject "anti-US". And some have not.

New Herbs #n

Cold wind, grey cloud growing luminous and showing blue as the morning progresses. I went out early, to cut "new herbs" for the new year for my bedside, pine twigs and rosemary. Nothing in flower, not even a first daffodil, but two starved looking little white dianthus in a pot, but in the fish pool a first clump of spawn had sprung into being overnight. I scooped it out (goldfish eat spawn).It's now in the plastic tadpole bowl, pending proof of fertility, and so another year begins.


I've finished The Autobiography Of Alice B. Toklas. It was very interesting, full of famous people, and occasionally arresting insights: cubism, the link between "Cubism" and its compartments, its rigid print inclusions, with the usual display of items for sale in a Spanish shop window of the time: a pipe, set in a frame of its own, and so on. And Picasso one day seeing a camouflage-painted cannon rolling down the Boulevard Raspail, and being transfixed; saying look, "C'est nous qui avons fait ça", because that was what cubism had done to buildings in a landscape: it was "the way of building in spanish villages, the line of the houses not following the landscape, becoming indistinguishable in the landscape by cutting across the landscape. It was the principle of camouflage." (1907-1914)

Still don't know what to make of Gertrude Stein though. Neglected genius, who wasted her talent through arrogance, and on providing a wonderful salon and support system for male geniuses? Or a crank with inherited income and a knack for spotting celebrities early, and hanging on to them; like Mme Verdurin in Proust? She certainly could pick them, and she certainly did like them male; with all their tinder-fragile maleness about them (picasso, hemingway).

Still can't help feeling there's something slightly naff about writing a pretend autobiography for your spouse, all about yourself. As if she's a pet animal or something.

Looking forward to

An embarrassment of riches, all forced on me more or less.

I've been reading W.H.R Rivers on Medicine, Magic and Religion, for my anthropology story, so now I really have to get hold of Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, which I've never read.

I've snagged about the last two tickets for Antigone at the Barbican, and damn the expense, because I couldn't miss Juliette Binoche in that role.

And The Hard Problem live from the NT, at the Duke's in April. We went to see Arcadia at The Theatre Royal a week or two ago, and it was a delight. So nostalgic for those heady days in the eighties and nineties, when Science was outing itself as a pathetically limited enterprise, just beginning to dare to open up to the real world, with kindly computers holding it by the hand; and Chaos Theory, and Fractals, and that particular brand of sparkling, witty, "classless" male academic, University of Sussex all over him. . . Besides breaking a jinx for me. Everything I've paid to see at The Theatre Royal for years has turned to mud, but not this time.

I don't think The Hard Problem will be as good. It's a daft hard problem, it will vanish, when all the "easy" problems of consciousness are solved. Like the hard problem of the mysterious irreducible binary differences between men and women. Fix the non-gendered human rights issues involved, and I promise you, the mystery will melt away, because it doesn't exist.

Plus Behind The Beautiful Forevers, also live at the Duke's, and two Shaffer plays at the New Venture Theatre, one of our local non-profit theatre companies. And now my pockets are empty. Have to wait for them to fill up again.

Okami footnote.

Catwalk wall, cakewalk. I hate that marlin. I hate that fish so much I might even be defeated.

A very frivolous post. Makes a sheepish change.

My Darkening World Round Up

Cold rain outside my window, just the same as Friday Yesterday it was as warm as sunshine, and we sat in the garden, watching the cats; it's a stop-start pre-spring season, even my hard as nails Roger Hall camellia is nowhere near in bloom.

So, darkening worlds. I found out something I really didn't want to know, when I was following my "H is for Hawk" trail over Christmas and New Year. H is for Hawk itself was harmless, if a bit disappointing (like the original Goshawk, slightly the utilitarian approach to nature writing: in a wet field, in a tangled wood; by expropriating the "freedom" of a wild hawk, you too can escape from being human!) . . . but The Goshawk itself was ouch. The Midnight Folk (1935) was pure, unadulterated magic, incredibly graceful and insouciant blend of fantasy, glorious adventures for a lonely child who gets to turn into wildlife, and adults are up to no good comedy. The Box Of Delights, the "sequel" is not so wonderful, the fantasy a bit clumsy, but I read it in tandem with Jessica Cornwell's The Serpent Papers, which made me very conscious of the mediaeval illuminations strand. The Box of Delights, you see, (the treasure guarded by Ramon Llul, aka "Cole Hawlings", travelling Punch and Judy man) is a portal to the magical nature of the living world, cue the most beautiful descriptions of flowers, trees, birds, beasts, that make you feel as if you are indeed falling into one of those exquisitely crowded, brilliantly coloured mediaeval pages . . . But The Sword In The Stone was the worst.

" . . . glades in which the wild thyme was droning with bees. The insect season was past its peak, for it was really the time for wasps on fruit, but there were many fritillaries still, with tortoiseshells and red admirals on the flowering mint . .

That hurts, because I know it isn't fantasy, I have seen this, I was there. I was there thirty years ago, when the downs were shouting with larks, and storms of blue butterflies rising from the wild marjoram in june, and nobody thought twice about crowds of wasps around fallen fruit (or fallen sticky ice lolly papers); flocks of lapwings, marvellously tumbling over the flatlands of Northhamptonshire, which I could always reckon on seeing, on the train up to Manchester, no more than a decade ago. I know it was real, and I know its gone. The most ordinary things, that you never thought you'd outlive: trees, rivers, mountains . . . So, I say darkening world, a shadow rushing over everything around me, and I count the losses in my own small patch; and look for chinks of hope:

Hope Farm @RSPB

"Nightingale threat" goes to public inquiry
(this is not a chink of hope!)

Barn owls back from the brink; Early results from farm bird survey

The But Its Not Amazon Dilemma

Well, I do my best. I swore off amazon for Christmas shopping, but was a bit disappointed at the BINA choices offered by the @AmazonAnonymous squad: it seemed not too many alternative online retailers were able to swear all their staff had a living wage, either. Anyway, I found these two gave good service:

& on the other side of the counter, you can buy The Grasshopper's Child BINA now, (but not the other Bold As Love ebooks yet, apart from Bold As Love. It's a work in progress.

And finally

The white and red cat? That's Kabegami, god of walls from @OkamiOfficial (the deviantart link didn't work last time, maybe it will today: I promise you this avatar of the divinity is in there somewhere). She's there to celebrate that I climbed the Catwalk Tower late last Thursday night, with the support and inspiration of GadgetGirlKylie. I can't really explain the attraction of this pointless challenge. There's no trick, and no great skill or feat of endurance required (beyond the usual, remember there is no spoon). It's just the way it goes up, and up, and up, and up. And then, if you like, you can take a running jump, and glide all the way down.

I did it again, yesterday, just to collect a stray bead. Dreamy.

Off To See The Witches

Friday, just after one. Wind and rain outside my window. Good! I was getting sick of that dry barren cold weather, it had such a mean-spirited feel. Off to see the witches tonight, for my birthday treat, only about nine years after Amy Rowan (Rowan-Buckley now) recommended Wicked so highly. My first Modern Musical! I don't usually move so fast in embracing new trends, it's the effect of having walked past the Apollo at Victoria so often, going up and down to London. (Gabriel thought I should prefer Woman on the Verge, but that was too much of a leap into the unknown).

My Fracking Round Up

A lot's been stirring the pot since I last wrote about fracking. The New York State ban. The bumpy progress of the Infrastructure Bill. which became law yesterday. The oil price collapse, the troubles in the North Sea. Wales and Scotland both voting for a moratorium on the dirty business. But what exactly did we end up with, after all the excitement about a proposed entire UK moratorium (never going to happen!); the infamous change in the trespass laws, with Kramer's nasty addition; the pressure put on Labour by the major unions, not to support the moratorium; the apparent "reprieve at the foot of the gallows" for our National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest?

Not a lot of joy I'm afraid. The protection for Protected Sites clawed back, in a horrible amendment that says fracking wells can crowd around the gates of any National Park, AONB, SSSI (imagine that effect on the beauty and tranquillity, eh?) and horizontal drilling can just ignore the whole idea of protection . . .

Why is this still happening? The extractable reserves in the UK, where they exist, are, at the most optimistic estimate, piddling in terms of our future energy needs, and everybody in the business knows it. You really want to understand why Mr Francis Egan, Mr Greg Davies and their cronies are still going to be allowed to make a vile mess of our countryside, when everything in the world says no, and the current price of oil makes their alleged, potential, distant product look absolutely lunatic? Wilful ignorance accounts for a lot, of course. The house is on fire and we know it, but we won't get out of bed until the flames are licking our pillows. But there are other factors. Study this diagram, which puts together some facts that should be better known:

But there's the cheap oil factor, which may not last, but it might last long enough. And there's the tide of climate change action, creeping up. Wait and see.

Watching and not-watching

I like Wolf Hall. I tried the book and gave it up, it was just too much like reading A Place Of Greater Safety (about Danton, and I liked it), all over again. Same type historical man-mountain main character, same tone, same prose, same everything. But it's like Harry Potter, much better on screen. Thomas More's very good, waspish, cranky, monster of integrity. Cardinal Wolsley and Cromwell maybe a wee bit too cuddly? Haven't seen any heads roll yet, but it's got to start soon.

Broadchurch is just ridiculous tat.

Birdman I liked better than any other Inarritu movie I've seen, but that is not saying much (as I walked into the cinema I suddenly remembered having vowed never again, after finding Babel very irritating, but it wasn't that bad). Another of those luvvie movies. Give the guy an Oscar, he really gets us! Give him five Oscars!

Ex Machina I think I won't pay good money for.


Just come to the end of a trail I started following at Christmas; instigated by H is for Hawk (which turned out, oddly, to be mainly an extended, in depth review of T.H White's The Goshawk. It went from The Goshawk, to The Midnight Folk and The Box Of Delights (John Masefield, very old favourites of mine, clear precursors of T.H.White's The Sword In The Stone, and also, in the case of The Box of Delights, starring the great Ramon Llul (aka Cole Hawlings;then doubled back to The Heart Of Midlothian; where you will find the precursors of the witches and that excellent character the Rat, in the first and best of the Masefield stories (The Midnight Folk). The Sword In The Stone, to my surprise, stood up well in this august company. A fine lineage!

More on these later.

I'm now going to read The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, which Gabriel bought for me yesterday. Always meant to, never got further than the cookbook, which I have never yet used in anger, but it's interesting; esp. the Picasso Fish Dish, and other insights.

The Annotated Grasshopper's Child

Monday 9th February, a cold dry month so far, here in Brighton; a couple of mornings just a feathering of snow on the roofs, ice on the garden pools and frost on the grass. One pair of mating frogs under the ice on the fish pool, on the 1st February. One panicking stickleback accidentally hauled out with a bundle of excess weed from the "wildlife" pool, so it can't be as unhealthy as it looks (always does, this time of year nb). Noticeably fewer winter birds, even in a back garden context, than I used to see ten years ago (& I know this because I've been wandering down memory lane).This is partly because some of my neighbours have cut down garden trees, but where are the blackcaps? The hedgesparrow that used to sing so fervently, from the topmost branch of the cypress? Where are the greenfinches that used to gather, ten or twenty at a time? I'm just glad the goldfinches are still around, and the robins I had a very Secret Garden whistling exchange with one of them this morning. (Robins will whistle back to you at the drop of a hat, if you sound even vaguely birdlike), and the wren that creeps on the wall. Yesterday was springlike, today low grey cloud.

But to business. In honour of the more-or-less publication of The Grasshopper's Child print edition, here's the book's all-new entry on the Bold As Love site:
The Annotated Grasshopper's Child

Also very pleased to note that The Grasshopper's Child has made the Locus Recommended Reading List (young adult section). Thank you, dear Locus people.

Down Memory Lane

My smart new blog (a work in progress to some extent, as my nephew and webmeister is currently recovering from laser surgery) now includes access to all the material on my smart new gwynethjones site: a restoration project that has kept me happily occupied, turning up many forgotten curiosities, for the last few days. I will display my finds here, from time to time. Today, a dusty gem from March 2003 (much syndicated, I seem to remember: by which I mean, it got onto infinityplus). Shuffle, shuffle, grumble, grumble. . . I didn't know I was born, did I?

Peace Demo report

Ah!, the sun has come mistily out. I have to take my aimless walk now; I do it for my health, until I'm fit to get back to the gym. Also, it's my new year's resolution: no more long blog entries.
More soon.

The Peacock Butterfly

Thursday 11th December, brilliant china blue sky and gentle cloud outside my window, no sign of any Weather Bomb around here. Yesterday I was ill in bed, and plagued by cats, galloping over me and racing each other up and down the stairs: behaviour I tried to ignore until suddenly I heard Milo, under the bed, making his ferocious, unmistakeable, I'll kill you if you touch my prey noises. I investigated. Something dark fluttered furiously in his jaws; it escaped, it was a peacock butterfly. I caught the gallant creature in my cupped hands, and transferred it to a small box. It's looking fine this morning, alert and composed: I'm just about to take it outdoors, to a safe hibernating spot. You cut a vertical slit in the box, so the butterfly can get out, leave it some where unheated and out of the light and in the Spring, if all goes well, you find the box empty. Amazing things, butterflies. A lot tougher and more intelligent than they are given credit for.

There. Butterfly in a box is in the greenhouse, under a rack of seed trays, cool and dark.

Up to London on Wednesday for the RSPB/Wildlife Trusts/League Against Cruel Sports
Rally For Nature & their allies. Originally a Birders initiative, about the devastation wrought by the Shooting Industry, scope had widened as the thing got organised. "Many people here" said one of those responsible proudly, "have never been involved in a political action before". Hm, I wouldn't be too sure about that. I was sitting nexted to a LACS activist from Bridgwater, who didn't seem scared of the smell of gunpowder, or the crack of a shotgun. You don't have to be, if you're resisting the badger cull. As is often the case, many in the rank and file probably far more radical than most of their leaders.

Here's the main points I took away with me:

The Government must Protect the European Species and Habitats Directives.

More important than ever under the very dubious recent appointments. "No country should secure a competitive advantage by trashing the environment". We don't need new laws, the wildlife and environmental laws we have, in Europe, are very good, balanced, professional. What we need is for the laws to be observed and protected.

We call for A Full Public Inquiry into the Shooting Industry's practices, including wildlife crime.

Shooting landowners who like to make money out of their rich cronies regard themselves as guardians of their grouse moors and the lowland woodlands (where caged pheasants are released). This is no longer the case. Besides devastating the populations of iconic birds of prey, shooting for sport is an unregulated industry these days, destroying fragile peat uplands, with calamitous effect; releasing staggering masses of caged pheasants every autumn, with a shocking, ever-increasing impact on the survival of our struggling wildbird and small mammal species. Caged pheasant rearing and release has been banned in the Netherlands (2002). Why shouldn't it be banned here?

We want to see the landowners who employ the gamekeepers brought to book. We want to see existing laws enforced (the quote was that in a survey, 60% of wild bird hunters admitted they still used toxic lead shot even in protected areas.)

We need the Well Being and Nature Act, and we need it to be a good one.

"Every political party needs to play a part in rebuilding society's relationship with the Natural World. We need to defend the existing laws but we also need to wake up to the value of nature as the foundation of our quality of life"

I was least impressed by the third heading. Yeah, it sounds hopeful, in the sense that an Act like that could be passed, by a new and eager government, I agree. But (unless we get that Green Party/UKIP coalition I'm praying for) they'd pass it knowing they'd got themselves a pretty bit of greenwash, and make sure it had no teeth. . .

I've met the European Directives in my activism against proposals to frack for shale gas in West Sussex. They're impressive, I admire them very much. I think the Shooting Industry Practices inquiry could be as important to the public, if they knew the scale of what is happening, as the proposed sell off of the Forestry Commission a few years ago. I have access to "wild nature" within five or ten minutes (in the Brighton and Preston Cemetery) in the centre of Brighton. I've seen rewilding in central Manchester (where I come from). I know these things are possible. So never say die. Always keep trying.

Interestingly, the soi-disant "Natural England", our lovely government's alleged "guardian of the natural world" was not represented, and did not get a single mention. And are even the Wildlife Trusts to be trusted? Some doubt about that. Some suggestions that the Trusts accept the guidance of the Shooting Industry and the Farming Industry far, far too readily.


The Golem and the Djinni, Helene Wecker. Debut novel. In many ways a lovely book. A well-characterised pair of mediaeval monsters, a golem from Yiddish Poland and a Djinni from the Ottoman Empire's Greater Syria, provide the frame for a big nostalgic travelogue of 1890s New York, with its patchwork of ancient cultures (all of them, including the culture of the ruling WASP caste, fairly inimical to women). Altogether too much starch, or stodge as we call it in my country, and the finale is a long, handwaving, and lumpy blur. But still cosy and enjoyable.

And Jessica Cornwell The Serpent Papers. What is Jessica like? "Uber promotable!" it says here. Ouch! But believe me, you cannot judge a book by its cover, or an author by her publicists. More on this later.


Read and sign. Please.

The Season Of Giving

Oooh! My fuel allowance arrived. £200! Excellent. Have passed it straight on to Project Antifreeze, as I can afford to do that, unlike many people. & If you are in the same position, I advise you to do the same: but keep it local . . . More festive cheer: The Grasshopper's Child is back on Aamzon Kindle. The POD edition is put to bed, to be published (notional date!) 7th Feb 2015. Many thanks to all my amazingly generous and kind early readers including Kath Langrish. & finally, The Powerhouse, the last Ann Halam giveaway, will be free from amazon kindle on 19th and 20th December. Merry Christmas

Ban Neonicotinoid Pesticides Now

I blame my Catholic Socialist, Socialist Catholic upbringing. Sometimes it happens, it even often happens that I set aside the causes that are really dear to my heart, I make them wait: No, it isn't about people. No, it isn't about saving the future, no, you can't place the living world above the people who live in it, and need to eat, and have places to live . . . But then finally I let myself get round to it, so here is my winter of 2014 BAN NEONICOTINOIDS NOW item at last. 'Five neonicotinoid dressed maize seeds, or 32 dressed oilseed rape seeds, are enough to kill a partridge', says the expert. The Soil Association is worried about bees, everyone's worried about the pollinators, but (see the reports linked below), the bees are only part of the problem.I bet you the same neonicotinoids are implicated, silently in the catastrophic decline of many, many native animals, including insectivorous mammals like this Norfolk hedgehog here. I used to see hedgehogs, they're not very elusive if they're around, often enough to know their numbers, in Cumbria, in Sussex, in Norfolk, and even in the centre of Brighton, were good enough, despite our modern world's dangers. No longer. Their disappearence (I nearly typed demise, which is not far off), no doubt has multiple causes, but I bet I'm right about the neonics. Skylarks are insectivorous too . . . The evidence of the pervasive toxicity of these pesticides is damning, at least as strong as the evidence that pesticides in the food chain were killing off our birds of prey, back in the nineteen sixties. And we turned that around, amazingly: so we could do it again. Why aren't we doing it? Because the corporations have grown so mighty that we can't say no?

Watching . . .

Not very impressed by the final, sloppy, loose-ends littered episode of House Of Cards,, hardly more entertaining than Ian Richardson smirking off to the Palace . . . until Gabriel kindly pointed out that weasel word Trilogy, on the front page at Netflix. Okay, we're old, we miss things, so now we're waiting in hopes of being enthralled again, and in hopes this isn't another of those cases where a good thing gets squeezed too dry.

Not all that madly impressed by Mr Turner, either. Mallard by name, mallard by nature, eh? Clearly this is the way things were, but the great man's habit of routinely grabbing female flesh of suitably inferior status & rogering her as complacently as he would take a bite from a veal and ham pie was not endearing.
Interesting to compare with Effie Grey: although you have to sympathise with poor Turner being faces with the lurid colours and hopeless drawing of the Pre-Raphaelites, I kind of began to see how his modernism (the modernism of the age of revolution) could pall, which of course it did. Palled and palled away to mist. Comparing the two John Ruskins, I'm not sure, but I felt Mike Leigh had it wrong with his infantile fop. Although it's a long time since I read anything by Ruskin, I know he had power & I think the twisted bully in Effie Grey was nearer the mark.

Very much impressed by Ida. This is SUCH a beautiful film, such clarity, such economy of storytelling images: & absolutely amazing, as many people have said, to know that this is entirely digital. And a story from the past, but timeless as the light on wintery Poland (unfortunately). What do you do, after the genocide? Years after, however long after, it's never going to go away.

Good article from the director about the making of the movie here (if a little bit cocky):

I have no idea what anyone sees/saw in Interstellar; possibly because although I never demand that the science in science fiction has to make sense, it's sadly impossible for me to get excited about concepts like "time dilation" or "the fifth dimension", whether sense is made of them or (as in this case) not, on their own merits as cool-sounding bizarre science words . . . Or possibly because it was boring, very much too long, & hogwash. But we finally watched Guardians of the Galaxy the other night, and thought it was pretty good.

A kind reader of this blog provides a link to the comments of someone more annoyed than I was (or with more time on their hands?)

You can tell this is a real photo of my garden in December, as I have not had the wit or the imagination to make our holly berry display look more impressive. Yes, it's true, I am a pleb, I never had any doubt. On the other hand, a judge who believes police officers lack the ability to lie with flair and conviction really should not be in post. It's Tuesday 2nd of December, by the way, and for a wonder it's almost cold. I've just uploaded what I sincerely hope is the final version of The Grasshopper's Child, and the ebook should be back next week; I'll let you know. Ann Halam giveaway this month, 19th-20th December (dates to be confirmed!) will be The Powerhouse; the proto-techno-music and rock scene one, set in Manchester (ish) and featuring an early version of Immersion art. Enjoy, and that's the lot.

Dismal Weather Anselm Kiefer's Lead Cathedral; My Fracking Round Up

Rain all day, heavy rain, drizzly rain, a dismal mild climate change Sunday as the year draws to an end. We do not yet need the heating, but our new dehumidifier hums all night in the basement. I feel penned up, this was the first weekend in a long time we could have gone walking, but not a chance. Went up to London on Friday to see the Anselm Kiefer Retrospective at the RA; having done our prep by watching the Imagine feature on the artist the night before (the staggering humungous scale of his operations had a somewhat chilling effect on me). Very impressive exhibition however, and not too crowded at all, but I still ended up feeling most moved by the "Attic" pictures, that I first saw in the Liverpool Tate many, many years ago, and immediately co-opted into White Queen, my London-based, Wagnerian alien invasion story.

(Interestingly, the "Attic" picture I quoted, a copy of which hangs in Braemar's house, and gives Johnny a premonition of Liebestod, Parsifal I was the only print available on sale when we exited through gift shop. Maybe she bought it here! I didn't: just felt a little spooked, by a ghost of the fictional future.)

But also, okay, I admit, the mesmerising Aschenblume, and the Shulamith and Margarethe, and the Black Sunflower ones; and watching people make the alarm go bleep by peering too closely at the embedded diamonds in the leaden dirt (I forget the titles of that series, oddly enough). And Eis und Blut (pictured), which got me wondering, is that deliberately meant to be a leafless Linden tree, directly behind Kiefer in his father's uniform>. Or am I overdoing the references to the masters thing? (Lindenbaum, the Schubert song "that became a folksong" is Thomas Mann's leitmotif for the 1914-8 War, in The Magic Mountain)

But move over, I kept thinking. Move over, Holocaust, we are entering uncharted territory now, you are no longer the terrible, absolute, unrepeatable, high water mark you were. Our damnation is not in the past, it's engulfing this new century, and the huge mass of Keifer's evidence weighs against his ethereal promise of hope like a lead catherdral against a feather . . .

Installations of piled up paving stones, with a coulis of red grit, did nothing for me, however.

My Fracking Round Up

Still awaiting the verdict on Balcombe residents' High Court judicial review (held on 6th/7th November)

On the other hand, Celtique Energie's appeal against West Sussex County Council (who turned down their application to drill at Wisborough Green, back in July) has now been lodged, and you are cordially invited to send in renewed objections (or to withdraw previous objections) before December 19th by email:
or by post (3 copies) to:

Alan Ridley
The Planning Inspectorate
3/26 Hawk Wing
Temple Quay House
2 The Square

Given the government's current leaked plans to drill everywhere! In the whole world!; their support for Ineos's monster raid on Central Scotland (devolved Scotland got anything to say about this??), and determination to remove all forms of regulation or local authority, there is hardly a cat in hell's chance that Greg Davies won't get his way, but weight of numbers is always worth something. You'll probably want to refer to the original application and objections, which you can find here:

Why do I keep banging on about fracking, when there is so much else to complain about? I don't know, maybe because I started? Because I want to save the future? Because the need to halt climate change is real to me, and a passion for extreme energy extraction on the same page as "Climate Change Fund recieves $9.3bn pledge" just sets my teeth on edge? (not as irrational as it sounds, however.The trick is in that word "pledge"). Or possibly even the snake-oil lies being sold to believers, in contrast with the miserable, short-term yield that's even possible from UK shale gas and tight oil reserves?

"The government is increasingly indistinguishable from the fracking industry it's supposed to be regulating."

Caroline Lucas is dead right.

If 75% of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground, there is no question the UK's shale gas and tight oil, derisory in quantity, corruptly financed, brutally destructive of the countryside, of the economics of renewable energy, and of the development of clean alternatives to petroleum based products, belongs near the top of the list.

Meanwhile, the skylark and the lapwing are on the Red List, can you imagine that, no more skylarks? And the hedgehogs too, so many humble, familiar commensals of ours, in this land, on this earth, just vanishing, and what is to be done? (there's something to done: on which more later...)

But it's dark outside my window, and the cats seem to think I should be heading downstairs. Glad to see another healthy response to my November Ann Halam giveaway, there's one more to come, dates to be announced. And finally, Amazon Anonymous has an action for you, boycott Amazon for your present-buying, this Christmas, and tell them you're doing it, to help them to become a better employer. I felt I could make the pledge without being too much of a hypocrite, as I personally only sell, I don't buy, and it does say Kindle usage at your discretion . But if you join me, spare a thought for those many obligate Amazon partners, the writers (including me) of ebooks and print books, and make sure you do keep buying books and ebooks elsewhere!

Happy New Year

Marking the change of the year a little late, we were in Durham last week for a squeezed down autumn holiday: a wet, mild couple of days in an apartment right down on the riverside. Mainly to see the cathedral, which Peter had never seen, and I remembered as amazing; glimpsed on a dark and rainy night in November 2000 when I was up here (by train) for a North East Books Festival as Ann Halam, in the middle of the worst floods. My, I had problems getting home, but it was pretty interesting, although very cold and wet, so I didn't really mind. Nothing had changed, the great sacred cavern with its amazing massive thousand year old pillars very thrilling and mysterious to enter on All Souls' Night. Faure's Requiem at Evensong, and then we walked about, recalling our dead; bringing them to mind, (& avoiding a student Pub Run). Durham town centre is relentlessly generic now, and we didn't find much else to do (very poorly researched trip, we hadn't noticed it would be the closed season), except to visit the Durham University Oriental Museum, a perfect gem of a place. I loved the Korean section, ancient and modern; also home of the famous boxwood Servant Girl, maybe the most beautiful single Ancient Eygptian work of art I have ever seen, 18th Dynasty of course; highly unconventional. What a nice face she has.

The Botanic Garden is where I found out about crinoid marble.

Durham cathedral is about to cash in its World Heritage Site First Class tokens btw, and explode into huge new shiny visitor's centres and beautifully restored monastic halls and I don't know what, so we got there just in time. Look out for the beautiful crinoid marble, esp in the North aisle, slender black glossy stems, blossoming in white frost flowers of fossilised Northumbrian sea-lilies.

Tired out after finishing my talk for Kent Anthropology department last night, I'll leave my latest fracking round up comments etc for next time.

Looking Forward to . . .

Reading The Goshawk again: in preparation for Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk. The first time I saw H is for Hawk advertised, and learned that goshawks like to play, I thought I'd go straight out and buy it, same as I did when I saw Otter Country. But after a few more double page spreads, all going on about how it's really about someone losing her father, and being devastated, and the mourning process . . . I decided to reserve it from the library instead. I'm 8 of 69 at the moment. I first read The Goshawk (which is interrogated by the modern austringer in H is for Hawk) when I was fifteen; thrilled because I'd loved The Sword In The Stone and Mistress Masham's Repose (not mad about the rest of his Arthur epic, however), and it was rare, and my mother had found it for me: and accepted T H White's foray into austringery (sp?) on his own terms, because what did I know? I now accept, with relief, that it is a bizarre and cruel book, but still I think worth a revisit, for old time's sake

Seeing and not-seeing . . .

Yesterday I followed the BBC live coverage of the Rosetta mission, what an absolutely amazing fear, that little bug, leaping onto the back of a flying comet; beyond the orbit of Mars . . .Fantastic. & from the sublime to the ridiculous, I have booked tickets to see Interstellar tomorrow night. I didn't plan to go near it (stick to Supercomics, mate), but then I got tempted to read the reviews on IMDb & they were so hilarious, and the negative ones so laugh out loud exasperated funny, I had to give it a whirl, in their honour.

Probably won't go to see The Imitation Game though; it's just too familiar, that story. I'll catch it on tv or Netflix later.

But tonight, the last episode of Kevin Spacey's House Of Cards. Which is brilliant, despite some slackening of tension in the mid-term. Loved the penultimate two episodes. Loved Robin Wright's implacable Lady Macbeth turn. And how will it end? I am happy to say I do not know. (know how the rather silly Ian Richardson one ended, obviously, but not this, and nobody is allowed to tell me).

Grey Skies, Goodbye Summertime

Sunday 26th October, grey skies, goodbye Summertime, the garden put to bed, foxgloves and meadow flowers sown for the spring, the holly tree has fifteen or so redding berries (why so few survivors, must try to find out what I'm doing wrong). Sad beautiful discovery, a silvery, prickly dead stickleback floating in the cup of a red maple leaf. I hope the others are okay. We rarely see them esp not at this season. Autumn has just begun, and should be nearly over . . . Must try to make it out onto the downs or to the woods again soon. Went up to see Electra at the Old Vic last night, excited by passionate reviews, and found the show disappointing. Kristin Scott-Thomas does a good shrieking, stubborn, ageing adolescent, "absolute in grief", but she seemed stripped of gravitas, and the play stripped of tension. Maybe I prefer my Ancient Drama either rewritten, or left as is, not just vaguely tweaked about. Or maybe it was just an off night. Ah, well, caveat emptor. Diana Quick as Clytemnestra took the best part, in my opinion.The best of the evening was walking along the Southbank, watching the crowds mill and drift, taking the uncannily lukewarm October night air. I don't have any use for the London Eye myself, but it does look eerily pretty, inching around up there in the dark.

My Fracking Round Up

Predictably, the West Sussex County Council debate on whether to declare themselves a frack free zone, which I did not attend, was a damp squib. How could they take on Cuadrilla? Already ensconced at Balcombe? Just not going to happen. Apparently they have resolved, almost as if this wasn't supposed to be their statutory position, to consider each application on its merits . . .

Predictably, Celtique Energie are contesting the WSCC planning committee's July 22nd decision to refuse their application to drill at Wisborough Green, and we'll have to wait and see on that one.

Predictably, not only is the change in the trespass law going through, but with enthusiastic additons from Baroness Kramer the Lib-Dem peer with the good fracking connections.

Predictably, Nature magazine has discovered that fracking won't help the climate change problem . . .

I'm tired of that word. Can't remember when I last saw the qualification used in a positive sense. Yet I still have a feeling we could win this battle, one NO THANKS AND HERE'S WHY at a time, and maybe even more than locally. But the war? No, nothing like. We lose the war, and the next generations live with the consequences.

Reading (My library books)

The Abomination, Jonathan Holt. Venice, police procedural with two strong female leads; the political dimension of a stunningly corrupt state, and the evil machinations of the US military. Thriller addict that I am, I thought for a while I was going to like this a lot better than the "Millenium Trilogy" it is supposed to rival, even if the online world element is very irritatingly handled, and the eponymous "abomination" is neither shocking or particularly relevant. Not quite: the last third or so of the book loses all chiaroscuro, and with it all illusion of depth, but still, a good fast read. I'll look out for the next episode.

The Girl In The Road Monica Byrne. A travelogue road trip around India and Africa, in a day after tomorrow world where no we didn't get around to doing anything about global warming, but yes the technology did go on getting more and more marvellous. Don't be fooled by the cute Rough Guide details, and pay attention when our free and easy heroine casually tells you, around page two, that she is psychotic. Of course she's psychotic, we're all psychotic, we are brutally murdering our own, literally our own, flesh and blood. NB if you don't like magical realism, walk away now. An impressive debut, full of wonderful invention but perhaps not meeting the criteria for positive, corporate-compliant sf, in territory where older "Western" writers might fear to tread these days. Recommended

Nice that quite a few people took me up on the free Ann Halams offer this month. November's giveaway will be Crying In The Dark and The Fear Man, dates to be announced. Did I say that bringing out a POD book all on my own was a breeze? I was wrong about that, but luckily I have had friends to help me along. The Grasshopper's Child print edition is now making real progress, and I should soon have proof copies to send out. NB this means the current ebook will be going off line, but it will be back, same price, with the print version revisions.

And Finally

Usually I just delete spambot comments before they see the light of day. Poor things, that is their fate, unless and until their humans teach them how to read. But this one was too cute, so here it is, (somewhat redacted):

Author: underwear size chart calvin klein: In reply to Home By Christmas

It is a clever thought to be cautions with your money when you'll strive a new style of underwear.

HSBC The Frackers' Bank

Tuesday 14th October, grey skies, feeling chilly. Up to London again on Saturday (sigh, this anti-fracking is a demanding hobby!) for the Global Frackdown action, an early morning trip that involved sitting in Golden Square, staring at the two fine hornbeams I know so well, and the blurred nondescript Georgian monarch (I think) in Roman fancy dress: watching various bods assemble, and guessing before we saw them morph which of them were here to carry a mock-up drilling rig around Central London, and which were just passing by. Time for a coffee at the best place in Soho Soho Grind, along with several officers of the law: confirming we were in the right area. &off we went, working well & feeling welcome, to preach on HSBC occupied street corners. Charles Metcalfe from Balcombe, an impassioned speaker from Romania; a highly articulate Algerian, citing the neo-colonial aspect of Total (French oil company) and Chevron (French oil company), exporting to a previous French colony a dirty, doomladen and destructive activity banned in La Belle France. But who are we after today It's HBSC, the frackers' global goto bank of choice. There was someone recording footage for an Asian station said we were 20,000 strong, Well, I wouldn't go quite that far but we were visible, we snagged a lot of support from the passing populace, and the police were wonderful.

And thence to Parliament Square, where the STOP TTIP rally seemed to hover on the outskirts of a massive and totally peaceful, turn out of London-based Kurdish communities, gathered in grief and fear, and in solidarity with Kobani . . Anti-fracking protest has traction now (not the same as power, good lord no!) Stop TTIP Stop CETA not so much. It'll be a while, another year or so, I'd say, before the protestors manage to wake up the people on the street. Never mind the featherbrained politicians (Vince Cable???) allegedly overseeing these secret treaties. Is there that long? Or will we look around, and find all the horrible implications of those Investor State Dispute Settlement Clauses actual and irreversible?

The "Emma Thompson" Effie Gray last night. Came over as a little bit slight in the end because so long, and because John Ruskin (Greg Wise) such a blank that even his (genuine) staggeringly spiteful lines couldn't make him interesting. But very beautiful to look at, and sumptuously coloured. Just wondered slightly, did Effie really have an English accent? Very good news about the Parliament vote on Palestinian Statehood by the way.

Not A Rocketship In Sight: An Evening With English PEN

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

Not A Rocketship In Sight

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

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

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

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


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

Looking Forward To

Activism of the active kind:

Global Frackdown, 11am Saturday 11th October

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

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

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

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