Saturday, March 31, 2012

Unexpected pleasures

A few days ago Kelley and I went to Carkeek Park, just to trundle about and smell spring. We stopped by the creek, as we always do and listened to its burble and chatter. It sounded different: lighter and less serious. I was about to mention this to Kelley when I realised I'd been staring at something for nearly a minute without seeing it:

I said to Kelley, You see it, right? She opened her mouth, to say (I could tell), See what? but then her eyes rounded, and she nodded. We watched the heron for several minutes. It studied the water intently. I can't imagine what it thought it might catch; as far as I'm aware there aren't fish or frogs at this time of year. But perhaps it knows best. It certainly seemed settled. At one point it turned it head:

But then it went back to its watery watch and forgot us. We continued on our walk, then went home and had lunch. But I found myself thinking of the heron on and off all afternoon, and how life is like that: wonderful surprises around every corner, if only you can see.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Support an emerging quiltbag writer

In August the Lambda Literary Foundation will hold it's fifth Emerging Voices writers' workshop/retreat for quiltbag writers. (LLF uses the term LGBT but I prefer quiltbag, a word I've been using for five or six years* because, frankly, it's just a hell of a lot easier to say than "L,G,B,T". And it's more inclusive. For more on this see a recent piece by Julia Rios.)

I've taught the fiction workshop at the Emerging Voices retreat** because I believe that it's vital we nurture our voices. If you can spare any money, please give to LLF now. Your gift will support students directly. You'll feel fantastic, you'll be making a huge difference in some individual's life, and you'll be growing our culture. It's simple: without support from you, none of this is possible. Queer books save queer lives. Please take a moment to read Tony Valenzuela's thoughts on the matter:

Emerging writers need professional instruction and mentoring. They need to learn the basics, including writing query letters, finding an agent, using social media, and understanding trends in a publishing industry still in transformation. They need all of these tools - and more. They need a community of supportive mentors and peers committed to sharing the LGBT experience in a publishing environment that doesn't always feel welcoming of our stories.
Lambda's Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices provides participants with all of this. Entering its fifth year, the Writers Retreat - July 28 to August 4 in Los Angeles - is unlike any other writing program in the world, the only residency specifically for promising LGBT writers. The Retreat is a one-of-a-kind experience that combines rigorous instruction from teachers who are also leading writers, and a veritable fellowship of peer support. This year's extraordinary faculty includes Dorothy Allison who will teach the Fiction workshop; Alex Sanchez, Young Adult Fiction; Cris Beam, Nonfiction; and Jewelle Gomez, Poetry.
Applying to the Retreat is a daunting task for many emerging writers who simply can't afford the tuition. Yet they may be among the most promising of our future writers. You can make it possible for them to attend. Your gift to the Retreat Scholarship Fund can advance their future, and ours.
After four successful years of offering the Writers Retreat, this is what we know about our graduating Fellows. They're deeply committed to their lives as writers and to telling our stories as LGBT people. They give back to their communities as influential leaders, outspoken advocates, and inspiring artists. They're prolific writers with an impressive record of publishing.
With your help we can offer scholarships and, together, invest in our literary community's future by making sure the most talented lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender writers attend. For this reason, your tax-deductible contribution to the Retreat Scholarship Fund is crucial to the program's success.
You can make a direct, meaningful difference in the life of a writer by making a tax-deductible contribution to the Retreat Scholarship Fund today. Consider funding a full scholarship of $1650 (tuition, room and board) to bring a talented emerging writer to Los Angeles this summer. Please give whatever you can - $50, $100, $250 - and NOTE: every dollar will go directly to our community's most promising writers!
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Thank you for your support. We could not do this work without you. It is that simple.

* I used it a lot in email, though because of various hard drive failures over the years (before Dropbox, sigh) the earliest example I can find is in this essay, "War Machine, Time Machine," written in 2007.
** My account of that week is "Fire in their bellies and mouths filled with light."

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bump!


This morning I've been playing with the coolest toys: Bump, and Bump Pay apps (those are iPhone app links, but they're also available for Android). With one fist bump you can swap photos, contact info, and money. Assuming everyone you know has a smart phone, you'll never have to drag cash around again. The video is almost unbearably schmaltzy, but it shows you, more or less, how it all works. I love technology.

I've seen tech review complaints about having to be in fist-bump range when making payment, but that's one of the things I like; it feels like a handshake. It's personal.

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Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich died the day before yesterday. This is a quote from Rich from Victoria Brownworth's obituary piece at Lambda Literary:

Whatever is unnamed, un-depicted in images, whatever is omitted from biography, censored in collections of letters, whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult-to-come-by, whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language–this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable.
A poet's job is to observe, to recognise, and to name without blinking what others are too blind or afraid to see. Rich never blinked. I'm sorry she's gone.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Origins of Hild, part II

[This is a continuation of Origins of Hild, part I, which was a response to a reader question. Everything between the triple asterisks is lifted (mostly--I've tweaked a bit here and there) from my Hild research blog, Gemæcca, 2008.]

***
This is the novel that I've been aiming for my whole life. I didn't really understand that until early last year when I wrote my memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner Notes to a Writer's Early Life (a multi-media memoir-in-a-box about my life in the UK before I came to the US when I was 29). Here's an excerpt from that:
Apart from the family I was born into, the most important factor in my early life was where I was born. Yorkshire's history is stamped on its landscape, literally and figuratively; it moulded its language, which I absorbed with my mother's milk (and grandmother's whiskey). 
Leeds is a large city in the West Riding of Yorkshire. If you look at a map of Great Britain, you'll see that Leeds is on all the big north-south roads, on a navigable river, and almost exactly at the centre of the island. Not at the centre of England, though. In English terms, Leeds was the wild and woolly north. 
My father, raised in London (he moved to the inimical hinterland as a teenager when his parents fled the civilised capital to escape his father's disgrace), clung to the notion of Britain, of inheriting empire, because in this way he wouldn't feel exiled to the fringe. My mother's primary allegiance, on the other hand, was to Yorkshire (rather like a Texan's to Texas, and only secondarily to the United States; Yorkshire is by far the biggest county in England and has its own identity). In their own way my parents wanted to feel secure and at the centre of what mattered. 
In island terms, Yorkshire has often been the place where the important things happened. A quick survey of Yorkshire place names (from natural features, to street names, to towns, to pubs) is like cutting a language core: in the sturdy bedrock of Anglo-Saxon there is the occasional gleam of Brythonic Celt heaved up from an earlier age, the pale glint of Norse, even strangely evolved fossils of Latin and Norman French.This hybrid and textured language is largely responsible for who I am. To explain, let me give you a few broad strokes of West Yorkshire history.* 
In the Iron Age, the place that was to be Leeds was an agriculturally various land enjoyed by the Brigantes, Brythonic Celts. In the first century the Romans arrived, and started building forts which became cities. Then they built nature-defying roads across hill and dale between those cities, followed by armed camps to guard those roads. The Romans left the region after about three hundred years and left the native Britons in charge again. They formed the polity of Elmet, whose people probably called themselves Loides. Around this time, Angles, Saxons and other Germanic peoples started visiting Britain and staying, forming kingdoms and acquiring territory. One of these kingdoms, Deira, absorbed Elmet. A couple of hundred years later the Norse--Danes, mainly--arrived and the region lived under the Danelaw, with its own language and coinage and culture. Gradually, after battles and negotiations and marriages and so forth, the Danelaw melded with England. And then the Normans came. 
By the time I showed up, 894 years after the Battle of Hastings, layer after layer of language was stamped on the place names of Yorkshire. The first street I remember living on was hilly street called Balbec Avenue. Bal is from a celtic word for hill. The city, Leeds, was the market town of the Loides. Our family would drive for day trips to Otley Chevin, a big rocky outcropping overlooking an ancient market town (Otley bears the distinction of having the most pubs per capita in the British Isles). "Chevin," it turns out, descends from a word very similar to the Welsh (also a Brythonic language) cefn which means "hill." On the way to the coast for a holiday, we'd drive through Wetherby, a name that comes from wedrebi, a combination of wether, that is, neutered sheep, and -by, a Norse word for settlement. The hills were called the fells, from fjell, a Norse word for hill. York (oh, I could write two pages of the evolution of that name) was built on the river Ouse, a name that comes from a Celtic root word, -udso, meaning water (water, in Irish--a Goedelic Celtic language--is uisc, which is the root of "whiskey"). The name of the River Esk, which bisectsWhitby (a town on the North Yorkshire coast), also comes from that Celtic root word for water. The River Aire, which flows through Leeds, empties into the Ouse at Airmyn, "myn" being an Anglo-Saxon word for rivermouth. Esk, Ouse, Airmyn...I had a childish vision of waves of invaders, marching along with their Roman short swords or Anglo-Saxon leaf-bladed spears or their beautiful long Norse swords, coming to a river and saying arrogantly to a local fishing along the bank, "You there, what do you people call this?" and the local scratching her head and saying, "This, your honour? We call this 'water'. 
I imagined the officer nodding self-importantly and reporting to his commander, later, "...and so we forded the river, which locals hereabouts call the River Water..."And, just like that, history to me was no longer what you found in history books, but was thronged with real people. Words assumed hidden power; I began to understand them as keys to the puzzle of the universe. 
Words are like icebergs; nine tenths below the waterline. We don't see the entire meaning immediately but it has mass and momentum; it matters. To me there is all the difference in the world between "muscle" and "flesh," or "red" and "scarlet." Rhythm and grammar matter, too. Yorkshire syntax, more than many regions of England, shows its Celtic roots, its periphrastic, roundabout manner of speaking: "Dyuh fancy going down t'pub, then?" I'm the product of two thousand years of history.
But I read what I'd written and thought, Oh, it's time. I'm ready.

I've been preparing for this book, researching it physically, since I was a child, when the family would holiday in Filey and Hunmanby and Scarborough. In my teens I'd take day trips to Robin Hood's Bay.


In my early twenties, I was living in Hull, a depressed (and depressing) industrialised city on the river Humber (the southern boundry line of Deira, which became part of Northumbrian). For a holiday, my partner and I went north up the coast, to Whitby.

The first thing I saw at Whitby was the ruined abbey on the north cliff. I didn't wait to unpack but climbed the hundred and ninety-nine steps with my gear on my back. It's difficult to describe how I felt when I first stepped across the threshold of the ruined abbey. It was a though the history of the place punched up through the turf and flooded me. It was like swallowing the world. I knew my life had changed, I just didn't know how.

After that, every year, sometimes twice a year, I visited Whitby. I walked the coastline. I roamed the moors. I spent hours at the abbey. I started picking up brochures and leaflets and imagining how it might have been long, long ago. Even after I moved to the US, I would come back once a year.

The photo on my first novel was taken at Whitby, when I was thirty:


On one visit to England, I picked up a battered 1959 Pelican paperback edition of Trevelyan's A Shortened History of England. I started reading it on the plane on the way back to Atlanta (where I lived until 1995). I read about the Synod of Whitby and, frankly, don't remember the rest of the flight. This, I thought, this Synod, was a pivot point in English history.

Two or three years later, I stumbled across Frank Stenton's Anglo-Saxon England. And I was off.** For the last ten years I've been groping my way through ever more modern scholarship. I've been reading bilingual versions of Old English and Old Welsh poetry, absorbing the latest translations of Isidore's Etymologies, thumbing through translations of Bede, thinking, thinking, thinking. Dreaming in the rich rolling rhythms of another time and place. This is the most exciting project I've ever embarked upon. It's changing my world.
* I wrote this as story, not scholarship. Still, if I've made any egregious errors, do please let me know.
** If I recall correctly, I had vague notions of writing a book--but an alternate history, in which the Synod decided against 'Roman' Christianity and for 'Celtic' Christianity. That would have changed the world as we know it radically.

Refs:


  • And Now We Are Going to Have a Party, Nicola Griffith (Payseur & Schmidt, 2007)
  • Anglo-Saxon England, Frank Stenton (OUP, 1989)
  • A Shortened History of England, G.M. Trevelyan (Pelican, 1959)
  • The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, ed. Barney, Lewis, Beach & Berghof (CUP, 2006)

  • ***
    If you've read yesterday and today's posts, you'll have a sense of just how much I've learnt--and how much I have still to learn--in the service of this project. I've had to invent a lot, too. But here's the thing: I've loved every minute of it. I live for a challenge. When I began, I thought it would be impossible. But it's turning out not to be. Not quite. At least not yet. But every day there's something I have to invent--either in terms of world-building or writerly technique--and there isn't a minute where I can coast. Being alert every second makes me feel vital, alive. And it's an absolute blast to build a whole world and grow Hild inside, watch her respond to the people and events around her.

    Walking across that threshold may turn out to be one of the best steps I've ever taken.

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    Tuesday, March 27, 2012

    Origins of Hild, part I

    From: Kate

    where did hild come from? i recall aud was first a dream but what was the inspiration for hild?
    ...maybe a little background to the question: it seems to me that "hild" isn't like anything you've written so far (not that i've read all you works...); immersing oneself into 7th century britain is like earning a phd so where on earth did the motivation for something like this come from? it made me speculate: is it some kind of back (i mean, reeeally far back) to the roots thing? human curiosity strikes again!

    This question is taken from comments on a previous post. I'm going to answer in two parts.

    The first part is a reposting of the very first piece I put up on my research blog, Gemæcca, four years ago. "History Meme Game" details what is known to be known about Hild, followed by speculation.

    Be warned: there are very possibly, depending on how you squint, SPOILERS AHEAD. In the writing of the novel I answered many of the questions discussed, dismissed others, changed the terms of still others, and have not yet got to the rest. But even asking the questions might give you a notion of the shape of the book. Personally, I don't give a flying fig for spoilers, it's the actual unfurling of the narrative that matters to me. But I understand mileage varies. So if you're fanatical about that sort of thing, consider yourself warned.

    ***

    I'm writing a novel about Hild of Whitby, also known as St. Hilda, who lived in seventh century Britain [yes, fourteen hundred years ago]. For about ten years I've been researching, on and off, the basics: language, the politics of conversion, food, arms and armour, textile production, etc. The more I learn the more I realise I don't know. So I started fossicking about online and came across a few early medieval blogs (where I suspect I've made a bit of a nuisance of myself). One of the bloggers, Michelle at Heavenfield, has tagged me for a blog game. One is supposed to:

    • Link to the person who tagged you.
    • List 7 random/weird things about your favorite historical figure.
    • Tag seven more people at the end of your blog and link to theirs.
    • Let the person know they have been tagged by leaving a note on their blog.

    But in order to play, one has to have a blog. So after some thought I'm building this one. I hope lots of people drop by and offer friendly advice, ask interesting questions, or just say hello.

    Not much is known about this fascinating woman, and all of it is from Bede--a monk, born in Hild's lifetime but writing mostly in the early eighth century, that is, within living memory of many of the events he describes.

    (From here on, everything in this post in parentheses is speculative, i.e., I made it up.) Hild was born c. 614 CE, after her mother had had a dream about unborn child bringing light to the land (this sounds like a good ploy from a homeless, widowed pregnant woman: don't hurt me, what I carry is important!). Father: Hereric, of the royal house of Deira (possibly son of Æthelric, king of Deira 599-604 when Æthelfrith killed him), who was killed at the court of Ceredig, king of Elmet just before Hild's birth. Mother: Breguswith, family unknown (but I'm thinking possibly--per a conversation on Heavenfield--she was a sister of Rædwald, king of East Anglia). Older sister: Hereswith, who married Æthelric, son of Eni--who was brother of King Rædwald--and brother to King Anna; Æthelric was briefly co-king of East Anglia, with Sigiberht, before Anna took the throne. Hild, along with many of Edwin's household, was baptised by Paulinus c. 627 in York. She then disappears from the record until 647, when after a year in East Anglia she's about to take ship for Gaul to join the widowed Hereswith in an abbey (Bede says Chelles--but Chelles wasn't founded until Balthild took the veil, so I think probably Faramoutiers). It's at this point Aidan, bishop of Lindisfarne (essentially the go-to God Guy for Northumbria, invited from Iona at the behest of Oswald, who is currently king), recruits her to his church, and Hild heads back north. There she spends a year on a plot of land on the R. Wear (I've never been wholly convinced of this location, but I don't have alternative suggestions), where she is essentially being deprogrammed--stripped of worldliness--and retrained as an abbess. Then she is sent to Hartlepool to restore order (Heiu, the previous boss, goes off and founds another house--in/near Tadcaster?). At Hackness Hild does a cracking job and is given a bigger, better abbey, Whitby/Streanæshalch (which she may or may not have founded). Oswald's brother, Oswiu, now king, sends his infant oblate daughter, Æfflæd, to Whitby. After Oswiu's death, his widow Eanflæd (Æfflæd's mother) joins the abbey. At Whitby, Hild trains five bishops, and hosts the Synod where Oswiu rules in favour of Roman practise. She is known as 'mother' and is a consultant to kings and princes. She persuades Cædmon, a cowherd, to write the first vernacular poem. She dies November 17 680, attended by the usual hagiographic visions of her soul ascending to heaven, and is declared a saint almost immediately. (She was probably buried at Whitby, and then had her remains translated to Glastonbury some time later.)

    Everybody who has read Bede knows all this. So writing seven weird/interesting/obscure facts seems rather pointless. Instead, I'll write seven things no one knows about Hild (because I made them up--some informed guesses, some wildly speculative, some naked fictionalisation for dramatic purposes).

    1) Hild's real name. Hild is half a name. Her full name could have been almost anything, but I think the two most likely are Hildeburh and Hildeswith. They follow the alliterative H (Hereric, Hereswith). The -with suffix is extremely likely, given Breguswith and Hereswith, but for some reason I don't like the notion of Hild being Hildeswith. It just doesn't sound strong enough. So I'm thinking--per Christine Fell--that -burh is better. 'Hild' means battle, and I think she lived up to it.

    2) The murderer of Hild's father. I think Edwin did it. He wanted to be king, and was busy forming alliances all over the country (they all went wrong, with a vengeance; clearly, he wasn't a likeable man)--but so was/did Hereric. So Edwin paid Ceredig of Elmet to remove him , and then used the murder as an excuse to drive Ceredig from the forest and annexe Elmet. (The murder also could have been an early move by Cadwallon--prince and then king of Gwynedd--in the kill-the-foster-brother game that he and Edwin played over decades.)

    3) Hild's husband. Much as I'd rather, for dramatic reasons, she didn't marry, Hild would definitely have done so. Firstly, all women did. Secondly, she was a valuable game piece in the endless politicking and alliance-forming/-breaking of the 7th C. Thirdly, Bede never refers to her as 'virgin'. But I can't decide who Edwin--the man ultimately in charge of her life--would have wanted to hook into his web of allegiance/obligation/hegemony. He already had Mercia (via his wife, Cwenburh--though, again, it went disastrously wrong) and East Anglia (Hereswith) so maybe he tried for a British alliance e.g. Alt Clut. The fact that Bede doesn't mention Hild's husband means she married someone beyond the pale--either a pagan, or a British or Irish royal, or someone equally unsuitable for as-yet undisclosed reasons. But who? I'm utterly stumped here. If anyone is willing to speculate, please help.

    4) Why Hild preferred the Ionian to the Roman way of doing things. She was baptised by Paulinus (Roman) and recruited by Aidan (Ionian) while waiting, supposedly, to take ship to Faramoutiers (or some other Gaulish abbey) which would have been more Roman than anything. She was hooked into the Gaulish church six ways from Sunday (probably related in some distant way--through her mother, maybe, or at the very least though Hereswith's marriage--to Balthild) so why didn't she go over there and run something Roman? Instead, she ran Hackness and Whitby under the aegis of Lindisfarne. And she hosted the Synod of Whitby where the vote (okay, Oswiu didn't exactly vote, being, y'know, king) went to Rome.

    5) What Hild's role in the early church really was. I think she was a facilitator--my guess is that although Bede doesn't say so, it was Hild's influence and presence in the room at Whitby that kept things civilised, that engineered the appointment of an acceptable compromise candidate to Lindisfarne upon Colman's departure.

    6) How well she got on with her family. Hereric died (could have been poisoning--deliberate or accidental--could have been appendicitis, no way to tell) and that death left Hild and her mother and her sister at the mercy of the world. I imagine there was a bit of irrational blame there: you bastard, you left us alone! And then the three women would have to have stuck together to face the world. But mothers and daughters don't often get along so well after puberty. And Hereswith got the good marriage (at least insofar as we know). There again, Hild was the one who got the from-mummy prophecy about being a light of the world. Also, for dramatic purposes, I've given Hild a half-brother, Cian.

    7) Why she chose Whitby/Steanæshalch. It has a great harbour, yes, and a high cliff--always good for contemplative-while-seeing-trouble-coming purposes--and there were plenty of Roman roads and old tracks leading to and from busy places. But, still. It's a long way from York, Bebbanburg, Dùn Èideann etc.

    So here are the seven things I'd most like to know about Hild:

    1) Why did she spend a year in East Anglia? Did she?

    2) Who did she marry, and why? What killed her children--plague? War? Malaria?

    3) Why did she choose Whitby/Streanæshalch? Was there already a small church there?

    4) What did Whitby look like? Built of wood, yes, but dormitories or huts? How many people lived there? (When will the latest excavation be published?)

    5) What was her favourite colour? Yep, sounds trivial, but it's not. I mean, women of those times would spend about 65% of their days on textile production (cf Penelope Walton Rogers), and when you're that intimately involved in your own clothes, colour choice is a big deal. Plus there would have been rules--at least customs--about who was allowed to wear what. So what does the granddaughter of a deposed king get to wear? And what colours were possible? (How deep a blue could you get?)

    6) What time of year was she born? I think autumn. Why? Well, Old English poetry reeks of elegy, and the most elegaic season is autumn, so I like the notion of making the end of September/beginning of October her particular time.

    7) What made her tick? Bede tells us Hild ran her abbeys in orderly fashion, and that everyone called her mother. It makes sense, then, that this was possible because she was reasonable, calm, competent, flexible, able to adjust to the evidence i.e. she's like a disciplined scientist who sees an odd result and thinks, huh, that's weird, let's find out why... I bet she loved the Easter calculus. I bet she loved the inherent mathematics (though she wouldn't have know that what it was) of the soaring music James the Deacon brough north. I bet she loved Isidore's attempt to explain and codify the known world in his etymologies (though it's pretty unlikely she had access to this book; but it's not impossible, so I think I'll take some licence). I bet she encountered an abacus at Gipswīc when she accompanied Edwin to East Anglia to sort out Hereswith's marriage. She was probably an accomplished linguist, speaking British, Anglisc, Irish, and Latin. How else could she be held in such high regard by so many people? She talked to them. She listened. She let them know they had been heard.

    • Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon, Penelope Walton Rogers (CBA, 2007)
    • A History of the English Church and People (don't remember which translation I used or who published it but, y'know, it's Bede--go look it up)
    • Women in Anglo-Saxon England, Christine Fell (Blackwell, 1987)
    ***

    Why this lengthy preamble? So that those of you who don't know how much research I've done, and so don't understand where Kate's question is coming from, can get a sense of the scope of work. Otherwise my explanations might sound rather pompous and self-congratulatory. Though it might well ending up sounding that way, anyway. Oh, well. We'll find out tomorrow.

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    Monday, March 26, 2012

    Three good books

    I read Beyond Binary, ed. Brit Mandelo, this last week. Seventeen stories of genderqueer and sexually fluid people living, laughing, lusting and lying their way through the world. Seventeen points of light burning like beacons above the plain of "normal." Seventeen tales written mostly in the twenty-first century about the future, the past that never was, and alternate universes that might never be (or always have been). Look for it in May.

    Finished at the weekend. The second in Mary Stewart's brilliant Merlin sequence. The first, The Crystal Cave, is easily the best. But The Hollow Hills, though slow to start (comparatively), is a fine book.

    And this is an ARC of Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel's latest, the sequel to Wolf Hall--which I admired tremendously. I'll be reading it this week (and possibly next--it's long).

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    Sunday, March 25, 2012

    Winter to the west, spring in the east

    The last two days we've had practically perfect Seattle spring weather: wall to wall sunshine and 58°. Trees are blooming insanely (I'm allergic to tree pollen). Yesterday I sat outside for an hour, finishing Mary Stewart's Hollow Hills, with a cat asleep on my foot (and my foot asleep between his head and the deck). I didn't mind. I was deep in the fifth century, listening to the trees making that no-leaves-yet whisper in the afternoon breeze rising from the sound, to the rooster crowing far away, to the people across the ravine mowing their lawn.

    Spring is definitely here. This is how the neighbourhood a little south and east of us looked earlier this week:


    I breathe this every day

    And here's our street the same day: fewer trees in bloom, all that snow still on the Olympics. A handy reminder to enjoy these days to the hilt, because in this neck of the woods, it's possible to get snow as late as May.

    And then here's a picture of a daffodil I took a week or so ago, just because it makes me feel as though spring might stick around:

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    Saturday, March 24, 2012

    Dirty Old Town

    This is "Dirty Old Town," by Ewan MacColl. As Prospero, the Economist art blog, points out: "Although about Salford, it could be the soundtrack to any industrial town in Northern England." It looks very much like parts of Leeds, my home turf.

    Why am I in nostalgia mode? Because today I'm missing England, and I've just finished Jeanette Winterson's 'memoir' (I don't know what else to call it), Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

    Like Winterson, I grew up in a Northern town, in a house with no books but access to a library; I, too, became a writer. I, too, fell in love with a girl in my teens and was shunned. My mother, too, was very religious, and towered over the family and died relatively recently. Unlike Winterson we moved a lot (always in the same city, but never in one house longer than two or three years), and I came from a big family who are all, unquestionably, related rather than adopted. But we both wrote 'memoirs'. (Though those memoirs are utterly unalike.)

    So I'm pondering the relative weight of things like siblings and education, home and church, on temperament and sanity, choices and belonging. I'm dwelling on this notion of 'normal'. Which makes me introspective. Which means you get a YouTube video.

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    Friday, March 23, 2012

    22-minute Game of Thrones featurette

    Not much that's new, but some tantalising glimpses of luscious scenery. And in just over a week, we'll see the beginning of Season Two.

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    Fast car...

    Today I got my haircut. One of the tracks that was playing was a weird cover--by a white boy--of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car." It felt very, very wrong. I shook my head (well, okay, I kept my head very, very still while the razor was at the nape of my neck, but I imagined shaking it).

    But later, as I was going through the photos I took in the UK, pondering a Hild blog post, I came across this (one of those hasty snaps-of-snaps I've mentioned). I'm guessing I'm three or four. Clearly planning on going places...

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    Thursday, March 22, 2012

    Is Aud butch?

    From Joslyn

    You probably get this question all the time, but I couldn't find the answer anywhere online, and the ardent fangirl within demands satisfaction: how would you say Aud identifies? On a lesbian/homogrown spectrum, I mean. My girlfriend insists that she doesn't identify, but in the book there's one (juuuust one) reference to "the big bad butch club" and...that got me curious. Also, she's described in the clubbing/billiards scene as wearing a waistcoat, which is something lovely. Help?

    Aud? She identifies as human, which means she wears whatever she likes: sometimes the tiny dress, sometimes the waistcoat and boots. But, yeah, I'd say she leans on the whole towards the utilitarian, the sharp-but-stripped-down look: always ready. The dresses etc. are more chameleon-wear, not baseline behaviour. But in her head, especially in The Blue Place, she's often playing a role, being a legend in her own living room, performing. Particularly at times when she is (as they used to say where I grew up) 'out on the pull'.

    If she had to identify as any one thing, I'd say 'sleek'.

    And here's a clue: she never, ever carries a purse. Read Stay and Always for more insight into Aud's clothing choices.

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    Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    Publishing history of the Aud novels, part III

    [Recap of Part I and Part II: The Blue Place was published in 1998 by Avon, which was then absorbed by HarperCollins; they currently publish the ebook, and Perennial the trade paperback. Stay was published in 2002 by Nan A. Talese; the trade paperback is from Vintage and the ebook from Knopf Group.]

    I'd always intended Aud's story to be four or five books long. In 2002 or so (my memory of this time is a bit hazy) I sat down to write a detailed outline of Book III, working title Always, and a lighter sketch of books IV and V. I wrote the first few chapters of Book III, then took it to my editor at Nan A. Talese, Sean McDonald... Only Sean had left Talese and taken a spiffy new job at Riverhead (part of Penguin).

    Due to contractual obligations (aka an option clause), I had to submit the chapters and outline/s to Talese anyway, where they were read by the new editor. He liked it well enough and made an offer--though only for one book. (I think he was uncertain about a) my ability to pull off the layered double narrative I had proposed, and b) its utility.)

    The offer was okay, but I didn't know this editor, and I didn't want a one book contract, I wanted a three-book contract. I wanted all the rest of these Aud books to come out from one publisher, in a unified design, and no faffing about. So I approached Sean. He made an offer--for two books. (Reading between the lines--I have no inside knowledge about this whatsoever; I'm speculating--Penguin was not allowing three-book deals at that time.) But it was a good offer, and it included the foreign rights for all the Aud books (which made me think they might all be published, in unified design, in the UK, which was a huge temptation). I accepted the offer.

    I settled in to write Always. It was tricky; I couldn't make the emotional arc work with the structure, the two-ply narrative I'd outlined. (In which Aud, in the first timeline, goes to Seattle where she meets her mother and has sundry other adventures, and in the second she comes back to Atlanta to teach a bunch of awkward women self-defense.) Emotionally, it just didn't add up. I tried everything I could think of. It didn't work. So I threw away the structure, started again, and wrote a single narrative timeline. It came in at 140,000 words (or 135K--long, anyway). I thought it was pretty damn good. (When I read bits of it now, I still think so--just different from what was published.)

    I sent this uni-layer book to Sean. No response. I sent a follow up email. Silence. I sent more email. He said: Hmmn, still thinking. Not good.

    Months passed. Kelley and I sold our house. We bought another in a completely different part of town. We did a big remodel (complete with insane contractor--but that's a story for another time). Plus a whole bunch of other stuff.* We moved. Still no word from Sean. I was, to put it mildly, tense. In February of 2005 I got email: Sean was coming to be in Seattle next week, would I like to have dinner?

    When we met he said, What happened, why didn't you give me the book you outlined? Because I couldn't make it work, I said. The emotional arcs don't make sense with the split timeline. Hmmn, he said, have you thought about doing Atlanta/the self-defense first?

    I blinked. I ordered another drink (a kamikaze, my third--very large, very strong; the bartender liked me). I sipped. I said, Let me think about that. We moved onto other things and then I said, abruptly (in the middle of a conversation about Dan Brown's books), Bloody hell, Sean, that's a lot of work! I'd have to throw away a perfectly good 135k novel and start again! Yes, but could you do it? he said. I don't know, I said. And he said: If you write this book, the one I know you can write, I'll break you out.

    Break you out is a magic phrase in publishing. It means a game change, a state change, a full-bore effort from the publisher.

    I went home. I phoned Sean the next day. We chatted some more. He reiterated his offer. I said, Give me two weeks to think about it.

    I quailed. Time was short. It would be a brutal amount of work, tight turnaround, fiendishly difficult. But it would make it a better book... I phoned back. Yes, I said, as I'd known I would, as I'd had to, as I always do. And then my MS reared up and bit me: I went numb from the armpits down and stayed that way for seven weeks.**

    It didn't stop me working. I wrote an enormous multi-layered novel is just a few months. I wrote about 160,000 words in three timelines. I thought it was pretty damn good. I trimmed it, squeezed it, sent it to Sean...

    ...and in return got the hugest editorial letter in the world: pages and pages and pages. We went back and forth, hammer and tongs (etc.). But time was very, very tight now. I kept getting cover comps; I kept rejecting them.*** I had to work with everything switched on, wide open, no time for second-guessing. It worked. Eventually we agreed it was good. The book went to copyediting. I went back and forth with the copyeditor. Hammer and-- ah, never mind. The galley proofs arrived less than a week before Christmas with a note: please turn this around within ten days, proofreaders are waiting.

    The next day my mother died.

    It was a nightmare. I tried on the proofs, I really did, but I did a sad job. And the production of Always was horribly rushed; the hardcover ended up riddled with errors. I didn't like the cover we ended up with. No one would give me a blurb (it's a big book; there was no time). There was no tour to speak of. Publishing was in a terrible state, book review pages dwindling to almost nothing. Sales were not good.

    So until a few months ago here's how things in Aud World stood: three novels in the same series from three wildly different publishers. Foreign rights languishing. Unpublished in the UK. One Aud novel still owed to Riverhead but Sean, my editor, no longer with the company.

    But I'd left Aud in a really good place. All three books have won awards. All are still in print. New readers discover Aud every day and fall in love; I'm proud of those books. And now I've got the foreign rights back. It's possible that one day the planets will align and I'll write the last two books. But only if I can publish the whole set under one roof, with unified design and gorgeous, lush, non-noir covers. And, hey, I'm a writer. I have psychotic self-belief.

    And now there's Hild--and the story about that I'm not allowed to share, yet. Let me just say: things are looking up...




    * I joined the board of the Multiple Sclerosis Association, which turned out to be a dreadfully broken organisation. I poured eighteen months of my life into that thing before I finally understood it was like pouring water into sand. Also, I published a chapbook of short stories. And wrote a memoir.
    ** At the time, I had no idea whether I'd get my feeling back. It was entirely possible I'd stay that way. Can you spell stress?
    ***
    They look a lot better with hindsight--and certainly a lot better than what I ended up with. Ah, well.

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    Tuesday, March 20, 2012

    Publishing history of the Aud novels, part II

    [A continuation of Part I, in which The Blue Place, originally titled Penny in My Mouth, is published by Avon.]

    What I forgot to mention yesterday was that although the sales of TBP were many times the level of my second novel, they were not as high as everyone had hoped, partly because that's just the breaks, and partly, I suspect, because the book was orphaned just before publication.

    Three or four months before a book is published used to be the most crucial time for marketing and publicity. This is when the publicists were cajoling media producers and editors to schedule programming, articles, and reviews. This is when the tour is laid out. This is when the major trade journals, like Publishers Weekly, are printing their industry-leading verdicts. This is when independent bookstores are ordering titles, when editors are talking up the novel at cocktail parties, and scouts are sniffing out possible translation deals. So when I tell you both my editor and my publicist quit Avon in this period, you'll understand why I got bent out of shape.

    A book going out into a cold hard world with no support is as pitiful as The Little Match Girl. There's not much an author can do about it except hope that her agent can bully the editorial team to assign other champions. That didn't happen for me (Avon was going through organizational upheaval). But the book sold a very reasonable number of hardcovers in the US, scored some juicy translation deals, and won and was shortlisted for a variety of awards. It's still in print, in both paper and digital.

    I tried not to think about the fact that no one in the UK, my native heath, had bought it. Tried not to dwell on commerce and focused on Aud. I started book two, working title, Red Raw.

    Red Raw was to be all about Aud's grief. Which meant I had to dig deep into my own experience of grief--the death of my little sister, Helena. It was difficult work and took longer than I thought. But I wrote the book and thought it was good. I gave it to my agent. She took it to HarperCollins (who had acquired Avon in 1999 and, along with it, the contractual option of first refusal). They didn't really understand what I was trying to do with the book.

    Meanwhile, through Colleen Lindsay, the new publicist at Ballantine/Del Rey (who were reissuing my two previous novels in new editions), I'd heard about this editor whose sensibilities might match my own. His name was Sean McDonald; he was at Nan A. Talese, a small but super literary imprint (Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, etc.) of Doubleday. I nagged and nagged and nagged my agent until she agreed to approach him and talk to him about Red Raw.

    Long story short(er): in 2000 I found myself face-to-face with Sean in New York telling him he should buy my book. (Yeah, I know, what can I say. I thought he should, so I said so.) Three weeks later, he did. I felt about ten feet tall: Nan A. Talese wanted to publish my novel! Nothing bad could ever happen to me again!

    Sean is a real editor. He looked at my book and said, Well, there are going to have to be some changes. We went at it, hammer and tongs. He was wrong on some things, and right on many. I rewrote the book. He asked for more changes. Hammer and tongs. I began another rewrite. A UK publisher (The Women's Press) made an offer for both TBP and Stay, and planned to make them their lead titles. Foreign publishers--Italian, French, German--made offers. Everything was going brilliantly.

    Then my older sister, Carolyn, died.

    It's not easy to write about someone else's grief while going through your own. It's like pulling the scab off, over and over. I nearly gave up; it felt damaging. But I didn't give up. I rewrote Red Raw thirteen times. Somewhere along the line, I changed the title to Stay.

    It was gorgeously published by Nan A. Talese in spring 2002: a really handsome object. I did a lovely little West Coast tour with very gratifying attendance at readings, etc. Reviews were sparse, though--book reporting was going through a huge contraction--and although they were complimentary, they were also clearly puzzled. The book was packaged as noir, but it isn't; it's essentially a hopeful novel. Readers and reviewers felt the dissonance.

    Sales were okay in hardcover but very poor in trade paperback. Vintage/Black Lizard more commonly published noir and hard boiled fiction: Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Raymond Chandler etc. Stay just didn't fit.

    Then the UK publisher went bankrupt. No one else there wanted the books. (One comment, "Oh, we've already bought our lesbian book for this year.") This was before Stieg Larsson. (Sidenote, a friend of his told me last year he gave Stieg a copy of The Blue Place. I have no idea if he ever read it.)

    Part of a writer's job is blithe unconcern with the market, i.e. psychotic self-belief. I had a vision for Aud. I knew it I could write it. I wanted to write it. I set to work on Aud III.

    [to be continued...]

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    Monday, March 19, 2012

    Publishing history of the Aud novels, part 1

    From: Kate

    1) I always wondered why the three aud stories came from different publishing houses? it breaks my heart to hear that this is one of the reasons there won't be a new aud novel anytime soon... [This question is from a comment on a recent blog post which I've elected to answer here, in full. Or, er, in part. I'll continue in another post.]

    In 1995 I wrote the outline for the first Aud book, The Blue Place (working title, Penny in My Mouth--"Who's Penny?" my agent asked). It was to be my third novel. My contract with Ballantine/Del Rey, the publisher of my first two novels (Ammonite and Slow River), included an option clause: Ballantine had the right of first refusal of my next science fiction novel. The problem was, Penny in My Mouth wasn't science fiction, it was sleek, unreliable-narrator literary crime fiction. My then-agent and I decided we'd see if Ballantine wanted it anyway.

    They didn't--it didn't fit their notion of a mystery. This wasn't surprising: it's not a mystery. So then my agent approached HarperCollins...who snapped it up, along with a collection of mixed short stories and essays (working title Women and Other Aliens). I was delighted: not only was (still is--even more so) it almost unheard of to publish such a strange collection, HarperCollins were offering a terrific amount of money: four times what I'd been offered for Slow River. And I hadn't even written the whole novel: just an outline and three chapters. The collection, at this stage, was still purely imaginary.

    But then the acquiring editor resigned to become an agent, and my agent and I weren't convinced that anyone else at Harper was enthusiastic enough about the novel and collection. So we pulled them, and tentatively approached Avon. They, too, were wildly enthusiastic--about Penny, at least. They didn't want Women. I thought about that, then shrugged. I'm a novelist first and foremost; novels are more important to me.

    So I made a deal with the Executive Editor at Avon, for not quite as much money as I would have got from HarperCollins (though still a lot, compared to SR) but lots of flattering enthusiasm: bouquet of white roses, handmade chocolates, big fat cheque. For a kid from the sf ghetto, this was heady stuff.

    I set to work on finishing the novel. I finished it on time. I thought it was pretty good. The editor thought the ending was all wrong. She asked me to change it. I said no. She asked me if I'd be willing to stop the book just before the ending so as to leave the ending in doubt. I said no. She asked me if I'd change the title. I said no. She passed me along to the Senior Editor.

    The Senior Editor and I went through the will-you-change-things dance: no, I said, no, and no. SE sighed and bowed her head--over everything but the title. We went at it hammer and tongs. By this time it was spring of 1997. Time was getting short (publication was set for spring 19998). Marketing was brought to bear. My agent was dragged into it. "We need something with more movement," said marketing. "Who is Penny?" my agent still wanted to know. On and on and on. And then one day I had an idea, a way for everyone to get what they wanted (I thought): "Let's call it Thaw!"

    Ringing silence.

    Thaw, it turns out, wasn't what they had in mind. Well, what did they have in mind? I asked. The Blue Place, they said. I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard. But they told me they could sell it, and, besides, it would make an awesome cover. So, for the first time in my publishing life, I gave in. For the record, I still wish I hadn't.

    The Blue Place, with a blue cover depicting a woman nothing like Aud, was published in April 1998. It got stellar reviews. It sold pretty well. I got angry letters from dozens of readers about the ending--but asking when the next one would be out. I was already hot on the trail of Aud II, working title Red Raw...

    [to be continued]

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    Sunday, March 18, 2012

    Blog tweakage

    Before Hild is published, I'll be doing a tear-down of my website, this blog, and Gemæcca. Meanwhile, I've been futzing about with the Aud books.

    There are three novels about Aud Torvingen. But each is from a different publisher, so readers of one book might not know about the others. One day I'll buy back the rights and republish all three as a sleek and coherent package. Until then, I've been experimenting with the notion of meta-publication. I've built some additional pages for this blog just for the Aud books: one for the series, one for The Blue Place, one for Stay, and one for Always. Right now they're just bare bones: no excerpts, no audio, no video. But there is new art work. Go take a look.

    If you have opinions on whether the new look works or doesn't work, I'd love to hear them.

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    Saturday, March 17, 2012

    New Prometheus trailer

    Edited at 6 pm: I had the wrong trailer. This one is much, much better. Oh this looks so cool! Scott is returning to his big-screen scary sf roots. Wow! (Via @GalleyCat.)

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    One of Hild's relatives?

    I wrote a long post for my Hild blog, Gemæcca. It's all about a new archaeological find: a 7th-century Anglo-Saxon woman found in a high-status bed burial, complete with a fantastic gold and garnet pectoral cross.

    Both bed burials and gold-and-garnet pectoral crosses are rare. Add the fact that this find might indicate the presence of a religious foundation for which we have no records, and things begin to get interesting...

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    Friday, March 16, 2012

    Too cool for school

    One afternoon last month, my father dragged out the photo album. (No, not a typo; there's only one.) The pictures are carefully arranged behind plastic and Not to Be Disturbed. The only way to get copies is to take snapshots in situ.

    Here's one of the half a dozen or so pictures I took that afternoon while Dad was in the kitchen making coffee:

    I'm guessing I was seven going on eight and my little sister, Helena, four. Behind us is my older sister, Carolyn. The car was a big Ford Zephyr with a bench seat at the front (hey, you try driving a family of eight--parents, two kids, one grandfather--in a more English-sized vehicle). It's parked outside the bungalow we rented every year for a fortnight in a tiny one-road hamlet, Hunmanby Gap.

    I loved that place (the hamlet, not the house--which was decrepit). It felt like home away from home, one of the solid things in my life, even though the cliffs were crumbling into the sea. (We moved house all the time, but we always came back to that bungalow in summer.) In fact, Hunmanby Gap was such a comfort to me that when I was first ill in 1989 and needed a place to convalesce, I rented the house four doors down from that old bungalow for three week. It worked wonders.

    Never could find a substitute for those super-cool sunglasses, though...

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    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    The last time I'll answer this question

    From: Sue Reilly

    I can only assume you’ve been asked this many times, so I apologize up front. But, are you planning another adventure for Aud? I miss her terribly. Thank you.

    You're right, I've been asked this question a million times. I try to never say never, but the odds of me writing another Aud book anytime soon are slim. I love Aud, love being in her head, but I'm so wrapped up in my current work--about a woman of the seventh century, Hild--that I just can't imagine pulling away long enough to get back to Aud.

    Plus there are other reasons. I explain some of the more personal in my interview with Cobalt:

    I gave Aud a love interest who is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis late in [Always]. When I realised where it was going I nearly stopped working on the book.

    I hate having MS (no one in their right mind would enjoy it). It already takes up too much space in my life. I most certainly didn’t want it taking up all the air in my work, too. But that’s what my story brain brought me. I told myself that, just as Aud’s grief wasn’t my grief, was different in many respects, Aud’s love’s MS was not my MS. I did the work.

    Always is where the story stops, for now. There are several reasons for calling a temporary halt–I’ll talk about the main one later–but one is certainly that to go on would mean having to examine what it’s like to love someone with MS. I’d have to dissect how it might be for my partner, Kelley, to love me. I’d be spending my entire artistic life dwelling on a disease I loathe in order to separate reality from fiction. And, in the end, no matter what I said in the Author’s Note, half my readers would secretly believe the novel was about me.

    (There's more about Aud--and many other things--in that interview. Read it here.)

    But there are brutally practical publishing reasons, too. All three Aud books came from--and are still available from--different publishers (The Blue Place is Perennial, Stay is Vintage, Always is Riverhead). For a series, this is impractical at best and career death at worst. They look different; they were sold differently; readers had--still have--no clue that each book was part of something greater. Until this changes, trying to sell a fourth would be madness. I hope one day to buy back the rights to those three books and publish them coherently, as they deserve, with unified jackets, marketing, and so on. If I do that, it's entirely possible that I will feel motivated to write a fourth. (I have books four and five roughed out in my head.) So, yes, while one day there might be more Aud it won't be for quite a while.

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    Wednesday, March 14, 2012

    Randomhouse Author Portal

    I've been playing with the Randomhouse Author Portal: RH have done an excellent job. I can now access all my sales data--including sub-rights sales (book clubs and the like)--for Ammonite, Slow River, and Stay. Today I learnt, for example, that in its mass market format, Ammonite sold around 35,000 copies. That Stay sold more hard covers than trade paperbacks. And from Slow River to Stay hardcover numbers doubled. Also that Slow River has sold about seven times as many copies in trade as in hardcover.

    What good does this do me? I'm not sure, but it's pretty nifty. And I love the clarity of the site. Plus, authors get 50% off any books they buy direct from RH. Then there are the handy-dandy tipsheets on how to do things like set up an author profile on Goodreads. Pretty cool.

    Someone at Randomhouse, or many someones, have been working very hard and, more to the point, very smartly. I salute them. I imagine other publishers will follow suit soon. It certainly makes me think it might be worth writing a little something to publish with RH in the future.

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    Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    Caught up on email

    I'm now caught up on email after my trip to the UK. If you haven't heard from me by now, your email got lost and wandered off somewhere more interesting than my inbox. So feel free to resend.

    There are many posts I've promised but not yet delivered: my anti-MS food regimen, my trip to England, the good news I got last month. I haven't forgotten. I'll get to them. Really. Maybe also something about Full Metal Jousting, my new Most Favourite Eva TV show.

    Meanwhile I've been working on Hild. More about that anon.

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    Monday, March 12, 2012

    MS is not a disease of the immune system

    Dr Angelique Corthals' magisterial reframing of MS as a result of faulty lipid metabolism, first published three months ago in the Quarterly Review of Biology, has finally been indexed on PubMed: Multiple Sclerosis is not a disease of the immune system. If you have MS, or know anyone who does, send your/their physician to take a look. Why? Well, read my blog posts here and here. Or watch the video. Or read the explanation at io9.com. Meanwhile, just trust me and send the info to your doctor. You can thank me later.

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    Sunday, March 11, 2012

    Spring is coming

    I loathe and detest the time change. It's pointless. And irritating. But it's a marker of spring. Plus, our flowers never lie.

    Spring is coming soon. Yes!

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    Saturday, March 10, 2012

    Song of Ice and Fire speculative map

    I have serious map envy:

    Created by theMountainGoat and Tear, copyright George RR Martin (via @tordotcom)

    I urge you to go look at it in detail here. You can see Westeros, Essos, Sothoyos, Ibben, etc. And there's wonderful Google Earth satellite imagery overlaid on the desert, forest, and so on. Wonderful. Go play.

    I'm going to have to step up my game for Hild's maps...

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    Friday, March 9, 2012

    Galactic Suburbia and freelance award design

    My inaugural Galactic Suburbia Award arrived in the mail yesterday. It came wrapped in a lovely red and black ribbon:

    I unwrapped it and admired it for a couple of minutes:

    It has my name on the bit at the bottom, that you can't see, because, hey, I'm not a careful photographer and there had Been Wine that evening. Perhaps because There Had Been Wine, I thought she looked sort of lonely. I decided she might like company, so I put her in the corner of the Alisha Baker room (a/k/a the TV room), along with Clementine. Clementine, as you can see, is of superior height, so I put my prize (she does not yet have a name) on what is usually a candlestick holder:

    Here's a close-up:

    I'm hoping she'll be happy. She is certainly getting more fresh air than all my other awards (which are stuffed in cupboards and boxes and attics in various people's houses). I love winning awards but, frankly, I never know what to do with them. I wish more people made decorative and/or useful things. I'd really like, for example, some hardy, beautiful doorstops, and book ends, and sculpture for the garden, perhaps something to hang on the wall in the kitchen, or use as a trivet (a handsome tile--waterproof, greaseproof, heatproof).

    Anyone out there doing freelance award design?

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    Thursday, March 8, 2012

    Orange Prize 2012 longlist

    To coincide with International Women's Day, the judges of the this year's Orange Prize (the UK's only annual book award for fiction written by a woman) have announced their longlist:

    • Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg (Quercus) - Swedish; 1st Novel
    • On the Floor by Aifric Campbell (Serpent's Tail) - Irish; 3rd Novel
    • The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen (The Clerkenwell Press) - American; 4th Novel
    • The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue (Picador) - Irish; 7th Novel
    • Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Serpent's Tail) - Canadian; 2nd Novel
    • The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape) - Irish; 5th Novel
    • The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki (Headline Review) - British; 5th Novel
    • Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (Quercus) - American; 4th Novel
    • Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding (Bloomsbury) - British; 3rd Novel
    • Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (Faber & Faber) - British; 2nd Novel
    • The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) - British; 2nd Novel
    • The Blue Book by A.L. Kennedy (Jonathan Cape) - British; 6th Novel
    • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Harvill Secker) - American; 1st Novel
    • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury) - American; 1st Novel
    • Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick (Atlantic Books) - American; 7th Novel
    • State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury) - American; 6th Novel
    • There but for the by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton) - British; 5th Novel
    • The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard (Alma Books) - British; 2nd Novel
    • Tides of War by Stella Tillyard (Chatto & Windus) - British; 1st Novel
    • The Submission by Amy Waldman (William Heinemann) - American; 1st Novel

    Wow, look at all those historical novels (the Guardian has some commentary on this). It strikes me as a very story-focused list. If some organisation bundled the whole lot for sale as ebooks, I bet they'd make some serious money. Just saying.

    The shortlist will be announced on 17 April, the winner 29 May.

    FYI, today, International Women's Day, is the 30th anniversary of my band's very first performance. Writing songs is what led me to writing fiction, which is what led to me to writing this blog. All very circular and satisfying. Here, for your delectation and delight (uh-huh), is a fourteen-minute video of the fresh-faced Janes Plane (three of us were 21 or younger but, oh, we thought we were so worldly...) talking about what it took to make music in a man's world:

    I'm not entirely sure how much has changed.

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    Wednesday, March 7, 2012

    Connectivity problems

    Today was going to be a photo post--of, well, dolls. But thanks (uh-huh) to Comcast, my upload and download rates have dropped to crawling-about-aimlessly-and-not-getting-anywhere speed. So instead I'll tell you it's a fantastic, bright day here in Seattle. A bit cold, but by the time I head off for my splendid, by-the-lake lunch things should have warmed up. So I'll cope. I imagine you will, too. Go get some sun, or have lunch or a drink with a friend, or read a good book. I'm thinking I might get to do all three today. Life is good.

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    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    How to fix gender bias in book journalism

    As my jet lag recedes and my brain returns I'm beginning to catch up on reading. Over the weekend I encountered Alison Flood's Guardian piece on gender bias in book journalism:

    Vida, an American organisation supporting women in the literary arts, has compiled statistics on the gender split in books coverage at publications including the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, the New Yorker and the New York Times Book Review, each of which showed a substantial bias towards using male reviewers and covering male authors.

    At the LRB last year 16% of reviewers were women (29 out of 184) and 26% of authors reviewed (58 out of 221); at the New York Review of Books 21% of 254 reviews were by women, 17 of 92 authors reviewed were female and 13% of 152 articles were by women. Of 1,163 reviews in the TLS in 2011, 30% were by women, and of 1,314 authors reviewed, 25% were women. Granta was the only publication to have more female contributors, at 53%, but much of this was down to its women-only feminism issue.

    No surprises here: reviews in top-notch literary journals are still overwhelmingly written by men about men. (But go read the Vida piece anyway--they do great work. And if you're unsure of my feelings, and a few thoughts, on the subject, read here and here.)

    Nothing new, then. But this time around I was struck by the attitudes of various editors. Most of them seem to be sighing, and trying: to be aware of the bias, to compensate for it, to recruit more women. Some, however, appear not to be too bothered; I read their quotes and imagine them shrugging, as if to say, Well, women have to drag themselves up the heap, and when they do we'll pay attention.

    I understand both perspectives. Women most definitely need to write more, submit more, and risk more. But men need to help. They, we, all of us, need to be active and proactive. Let me explain. In the interest of getting to my point, I've boiled down my thinking to a simplistic statement which, inevitably, will seem--to many--to be a sweeping generalisation. You can either take my word for it or, if you need a step-by-step guide through the thinking of Feminism 101 and the mechanics of the patriarchy (oh, yes, it's still very much alive and nasty), go do some learning, e.g. Finally, A Feminist 101 Blog.

    Men grow up being encouraged to take risks--physical and intellectual--in a culture of competition and hierarchy. Being singular and above the herd is a goal. Women are raised to collaborate and fit in. We are taught to value belonging and being liked. We learn that to stand out from the herd is to lose the shelter of the herd.

    To many men, therefore, I'm guessing it's often not that big a deal to write an essay critical of another writer, or to write a monograph on some weighty intellectual subject in which they have a modicum of expertise. If they get attacked in print for it, who cares? It's just a variation of an intellectual shoving match. They learnt the rules of that game in school.

    For a woman, on the other hand, it can be dangerous. Women voicing opinions are routinely attacked. (Think about the recent Rush Limbaugh attack on law student Sandra Fluke. Or go read John Scalzi's blog post on how women are treated badly in social media.) As a result, women generally feel that they need greater qualifications and deeper experience to be allowed (oh, yes, I use the word advisedly) similar authority.

    To change this imbalance, a lot of people need to do a lot of work. Editors of all stripes must reach out personally to women writers; they must actively encourage women to take risks. Acquiring editors at publishing houses, particularly non-fiction editors, must cajole women to write something; they must help women get over their diffidence. Fellow writers--and friends and lovers and family of writers--must support women writers. This support should be verbal, emotional, and practical. (For some examples, read this Guardian article on counter-balancingthe old boys' network.) All these supporters should understand that many women will be (irritatingly) reluctant to respond. Supporters must persist.

    Most of all, women need to be brave. Yes, people might say mean things about you. Yes, they might not like you. Yes, there might even be lunatics out there who will threaten you--but you will have a lot of support. And it (mostly likely) won't kill you.

    I understand why some women are reluctant to put themselves forward, I really am. (I taught women's self-defence for many years. I'm cognizant of the danger, real and imagined.) But if you've ever hesitated to write a Wikipedia article, hesitated to write a review, hesitated to apply to that editorial job/promotion/pay rise, stop it. Stop hesitating. Stop second-guessing yourself. Stop gaming it out to the nth level. Get over it. Just do it. Take the plunge. Nothing will change until you step up. So take your place, don't expect to be given it. Own your expertise, don't expect to be led every step of the way. Accept the compliment (or the pay rise, or the promotion or the help) and don't make others work so hard to give it to you.

    And on the way, don't hesitate to name behaviour, don't hesitate to demand help. I assume you have love at home. What you need in the world is respect. Take it. Own it. Demand it. Accept it.

    Be brave.

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    Monday, March 5, 2012

    Game of Simpsons...

    The opening of The Simpsons last night parodied Game of Thrones. I love to watch people play... (Via JeaxActu.com and Galleycat)

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    If I owe you email

    Being away from my desk for over two weeks means I have a river of detail, business, and work to deal with. If I owe you an email, please be patient. If you haven't heard from me by Sunday 11th it means your email has been washed away in the flood. Please feel free to resend at that time.

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    Sunday, March 4, 2012

    Beer is good

    Wine, also, pretty much rocks the thunderdome. That's all.

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    Saturday, March 3, 2012

    Robot ping-pong, robot music

    Jet lag means I'm doing nothing but roam around the kitchen munching on random food items, then folding in a heap thinking it's two o'clock in the morning. But knowing I can't be productive frees my mind to roam (and munch on random items of weirdness).

    Here, for your delectation and delight, are the fruits of others' intellectual roaming:



    Thanks, Karina

    We all need down time. It's where the weird and wonderful comes from. Today I'll do nothing in particular. I urge you to do the same.

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    Friday, March 2, 2012

    I'm teaching a one-day writing workshop in April

    I'm teaching a one-day writing workshop for Clarion West here in Seattle on Sunday, April 15th.

    I don't teach very often, but every now and again I love to get a group of beginner, intermediate, and advanced writing students together and help them make a joyous leap forward--a leap that's particular to each writer's style, genre, and goals. This time I'm only taking twelve people.

    Sign up in the next three weeks and I promise you a thrill ride into your own work.

    Exciting Writing: Making the Reader Believe
    Sunday, April 15, 2012
    10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
    Nicola Griffith


    A writer's job is to make the reader believe. This workshop gives you concepts and tools to make your reader breathe your air, walk your landscape, and connect with your protagonist. Through exercises and discussion you'll learn how to get readers to long for your world and dream your characters' dreams. Be prepared to work hard and take risks. Register by March 22 and you'll receive an in-class critique of your current project’s most important page: what works, what doesn't, and how to fix it.
    Nicola Griffith is an English novelist, editor, and essayist living in Seattle. Her five novels, three anthologies, and multi-media memoir have won the Tiptree, Nebula, World Fantasy, and six Lambda Literary awards. She has taught writing at all levels, including at Clarion West in 1997. Her current work is set in seventh century Britain. She drinks just the right amount of beer and takes enormous delight in everything.
    • Attendance is limited to 12 students on a first-come, first-served basis.
    • Cost is a nonrefundable fee of $125. Full-time students are eligible for a $15 rebate at workshop session.

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    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    Back from the UK

    Blurry because, well, we'd all been drinking...

    It's a little after noon here in Seattle and a brilliantly sunny day. Which is confusing, because my internal clock believes it's still night time, dark time, noisy cheerful pub time in Yorkshire (or London, or Whitby, or Hull).

    I went to the pub a lot. This picture was taken about three days into the visit. I talked to a lot of people: my father, my sisters, my nephews and nieces, my aunt, my cousin, my ex (and her partner, and their two kids), some friends of the science fiction persuasion, my agent, the drummer from Janes Plane whom I hadn't seen for nearly thirty years, two women I bumped into in the street outside a cafe whom I hadn't seen in longer than that... And a very great deal of it occurred in bars. About ten days into the trip, feeling liverish, I totted up the drinks and concluded I'd been averaging about five pints a day. UK bitter--Tetley's, Timothy Taylor's, Caffrey's--is a bit lower proof than the stuff here, but it was still an enormous amount on a regular basis.

    As ballast, I ate a lot. In Yorkshire it was mostly liver (delicious) and fish and chips (if you ever get the chance to go to Murgatroyd's, in Yeadon, jump at the chance--and, yes, they serve beer). In Hull it was Indian food. In London drool-worthy Portuguese-influenced fish (mackerel, sardines, anchovies).

    I can't possibly tell you how many cups of tea I drank. In Yorkshire it was builder's tea: strong enough to make you tremble, harsh enough to strip the mucous membrane from the lining of your gut and hot enough to melt lead.

    I'll tell you more over the next few days. For now, I'm happy to be home.

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