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A Game Of Margins

I can't believe how much this General Election has got to me. I think party politics are ruinous, and yet I joined a political party for the first time in my life. All the real issues have been banished, there's absolutely nothing going on. I am not a party faithful animal: activism isn't fun, it's a reluctant obligation, and yet I have hosted activists from Newcastle; I have been out canvassing; I'm the worst cold caller in the world, but I can tell you exactly why the majority of respondents on my beat who didn't intend to vote for Caroline Lucas, and were willing to explain why not, had come to their decision. It was traffic calming. 100%, a clean sweep of them. I even met a bus driver who hated buslanes and wanted them all killed*. And today I spent two hours pounding the streets again, doggedly pushing Eve Of Poll cards through long-suffering letterboxes. All this, and for why? Huh. Even if as a I fairly confidently hope my excellent horse, best MP in the House, is first past the post in Brighton Pavilion, what's the best I can hope for? Not much. A second term of this kind of government. You realise what that means? More of the same villainy, powered by narrow selfishness and a complete disregard for the common good, only this time the people know what to expect, and they voted for the same shower anyway. Beggars belief but it's a sure thing. I saw the odds in the window of Betfred on the Lewes Road. Still, I can't help myself. It's a game of numbers, one vote at a time, and I'm too stubborn not to try and win a game of margins.


Speaking of magical thinking, many thanks to Dominik Becher, who gave me a chance to read his as yet unpublished dissertation (Enchanted Children); because he was using Ann Halam's Inland Trilogy for his Exemplary Analysis. Enchanted Children is rich and fascinating, and right up my street: took me back to my History Of Ideas courses at Sussex Uni, in the long ago (Alchemy, Witchcraft; the birth of the Modern Sciences in C17 Europe). But how touching and strange to meet Zanne of Inland again! Like looking in a mirror, as I told Dominik, and seeing a much younger face.

I remember well how I came to write those books: a chat over lunch with Judith Elliott, my editor at Orchard books. I'd had one very respectable success with her (King Death's Garden). Fantasy and feminism both seemed to be trending. Was the time right for a series about a powerful girl magician? I'm not Joss Wheedon (much less J.K. Rowling), so the world had to wait a few more years for that massively popular kick-ass magic heroine. I did something very different (Judith, my apologies). I was a "Seventies feminist": and in those days feminism was all about building the Good State. Can't put all the blame on Joanna Russ though, the connection between Feminism and Utopia is much older. Why was it ever there? Well, that's another story. So, anyway, when I was given licence to write about a powerful girl, in a world where girls could be powerful, obviously I invented a post-apocalyptic, survival-subsistence situation; where ideas and the material world are one and the same thing, and wrote about the consequences. Inland magic is all about building the Good State. Literally. Soil, crops, sky, everything. The future we make for ourselves is made of thought was my message, and I stuck to it.

The books snagged a few positive reviews, but they are didactic, there's no getting around it. I'll never be able to re-edit and put them on the market again. I would change them too much. But you can get hold of them quite easily, if you're keen.

What is magic? The word means power, but that's not the whole story. I've given this some thought, over the years (it's amazing how often, and how consistently, the topic comes up. Inland. The Aleutian Trilogy. Bold As Love). My science is always magic & what I talk about when I talk about magic is always the mind/matter barrier: a strange feature of the human/physical universe that ought to puzzle people a lot more than it does, in my humble opinion. Magic is the belief that:

a) this barrier can be broken, violently, with the aid of ritual, words of lore and possibly huge underground (or space based) tunnel structures; by a powerful human will (or a number of human wills acting in concert).

b) the barrier is weakly permeable all the time; and sometimes dangerously permeable. Trees and rocks can have consciousness, ill-wishing can do people material harm . . . Old school anthropologists used to call this hypothesis "magical thinking": some of them had respect, while others made out it was pitiful and primitive. Nowadays, of course, we know it's the simple truth. The material and the immaterial "worlds" (electrons are not things!) are a continuum, although we haven't even begun to scratch the implications.

(So don't fret, Mr Stoppard. Nobody is ever going to take your ghost away from you, and leave you with just a squishy grey machine. There is no machine, it's ghost all the way down.)

c) both of the above, with permutations.

Enough for now.


Elementary! Revisiting the first series, which we didn't take much notice of at the time, I'm delighted with this show. Liking it so much better than the UK Sherlock, which is watchable but rather hateful: Sherlock Holmes as an infantile, helpless, self-satisfied fop is such a travesty of the original character, and such a depressing insight into the image of "brainy" characters in the mind of the media-consumer. Also, I soon got tired of that no, no, splutter, splutter we're not a gay couple joke.

Have just found out that Kevin Spacey's House Of Cards is going to a fourth series. Sickening. Here was I all keyed up for the suicides, ghosts, bodies all over the stage, and then the show morphs into a sort of rudderless, spun-out anti-West Wing. I'll watch it, of course. All the way to the smug grin borrowed from Ian Richardson, if that is my fate.


The Girl In The Red Coat Kate Hamer

A single mother loses her little girl at a story-telling festival, the little girl stays vanished. Gradually and fuzzily over many years of double narrative we learn that maybe there was some kind of spooky family history behind the disappearence.

Didn't work for me. Just doesn't hang together, and seemed amateurish.

The Girl On the Train Paula Hawkins

USP = descriptions of a very sad young woman (in every sense) getting stinking vomiting drunk on a commuter train journey; over and over again. A page-turner but vapid and unpleasant. Definitely won't be going near the movie.

& that's how my luck ran out, and the end of my bestsellers foray for now.

The Walking Whales J.G.M "Hans" Thewissen.

What a relief to be back in the real world! Brilliant book. The topic sounds very specific and it's true, this really is about a "walking whale" = the revelations derived from a specific fossil find. But the author's skill as an educator and an interpreter makes the experience much more than that.

Looking forward to reading An Indomitable Beast, Alan Rabinowitz next

& so farewell, government of 2010-2015. I'm sure we'll meet again soon. If I wake up on Friday morning and you are not around, I'll be very much surprised.


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