In Florence, Thessaly proof, poison, and a rant about sources

I am in Florence. in my beautiful and carefully chosen apartment, where I will be until early July, sometimes on my own and more often with visiting friends. The plan is that I will immerse myself in Lent, which is going well, and do all the necessary physical research as well as getting on with writing it.

Naturally, this morning I received the PDF proofs of the one volume Thessaly trilogy which will be out in September, and which I therefore need to read and check for error. If anyone has noticed any typos, easily fixed errors, or anything similar, please let me know. Email me — — because I still don’t have comments working properly. My desire to re-upload these books into my head right now is zero. But oh well. There will doubtless be a Poor Relations copyedit at the worst possible moment too, because that’s how it works.

I’ve been so busy and also travelling that I haven’t really had time to miss LJ. But I do. I really missed it a few days ago when I wanted to ask people about arsenic poisoning. Pico and Poliziano were poisoned in 1494, Poliziano died a few days after, and Pico lived for six weeks. We know they were poisoned, and with arsenic, because their bodies were exhumed in 2006. We don’t actually know who did it or why, though suspicion mainly falls on Piero the Unfortunate. For the book, I have no problem with murderer or motivation, what I want is realistic symptoms of Poliziano dying fast and Pico dying more slowly.

The internet has clinical sites that are mostly about people being poisoned by small amounts in water over time, and Twitter has people telling me to read Sayers — honestly? I am kind of amazed how people would think I’d want information from something that’s not only a secondary source but so old. I’m positive Sayers did her research, but in 1930. We have learned some things since. And she went with what she wanted, which is a very different thing from what I need. But in any case, while there are lots of useful things to be learned from reading period fiction in terms of what people of the time read and said and how they behaved and what tech they had (who would have imagined Californians ever having hot water bottles if not for Kathleen Thompson Norris?) there are things which it’s a terrible idea to get from fiction. Sayers is a primary source for people saying “What we need is an ‘Itler” and for contemporary pro-Fascist attitudes. But taking plot details and technical details from fiction leads to the kind of sloppy unobserved warmed over “like that because that’s how people write it” third rate writing, where whatever was true is smudged like a multi generation photocopy. I don’t want the details of how people die from arsenic poisoning filtered through somebody else’s story-brain before they can get to mine.

Posted in Lent, Thessaly, Writing

In Nimes

…The so-called temple of Diana was an Augusteum, the niches in the cella also suggest some library use…

I’m in the South of France.
Far off, a flute is playing Vivaldi’s measured Summer
And all around unmeasured profligate summer
Is flinging itself in my face, fluting birdsong,
The heady scents of jasmine and honeysuckle,
A thousand greens and one impossible high blue.

I walk up the hill to the Roman watchtower
Where I eat my delicious picnic,
Roast chicken, rosemary potatoes,
A whole punnet of strawberries
Dipped in a scoop of Chantilly cream.
From three stalls in Nimes market.

Down through the trees to the so-called temple,
With the dome half-fallen.
Of course it was a library, of course,
You only have to look at the pediments
You can see where the scrolls —
Where the scrolls —

And suddenly I’m in a ruined library.
Nemausus, it was, Gallia Narbonensis,
And the voices in my head are wailing:
“Where are the books!”
“Where, oh where are the books, the books?”
“What have they done with the books?”

So, sitting on a slab, I pull out my kindle, Gaius.
I read Ovid and Cicero and Homer
Marcus Aurelius and Plato and Livy
Until the voices in my head are calm.
Then I mutter, just in case,
“Tell them to write on parchment.”

Fortunately there’s nobody in sight
Except for one Livy-loving lizard
Who had crept close while I was reading,
Startled at the sound of my voice,
Freezes for an instant, looking up wildly,
Then skitters off over my sandal.

(If ever there was a journal poem this is it. The symbol of Nimes is, and has been since Roman times, a crocodile, but the lizard was real, they are everywhere up in that park, which claims to be the first public garden to be laid out in France.)

Posted in Human culture, Life as it blossoms out in a jar or a face, Poetry


With your made-up eyes and your grown up gown
And the glitter on your cheek
When the pink balloons come tumbling down
You’ve been waiting for all week…
Dance little girl,  dance with delight
Let nobody tell you that it isn’t right.

To a Latin beat, when you twist and sway,
With your body wild and free
Where nobody cares who’s straight or gay
And you’re just where you want to be…
Dance little girl, for the world is good
Let nobody tell you you never should.

With your slicked back hair and your rose tattoo
To the heavy metal beat
And your friends are singing and dancing too
Who you came tonight to meet…
Dance little girl, dance for today
Let nobody tell you that it’s not the way.

So dance, for no one can stop the dance
They may try to make us fear
But for Manchester, for Orlando, France,
We will keep on dancing here…
Dance little girl, we’re all dancing still
It’s right to dance and it’s wrong to kill.

(In an interview in Paris yesterday somebody asked me if I was engagee. I didn’t know what it means. It means “an activist”. I don’t know that I’m an activist, but I’m alive in the world and I’m not a stone, I can’t not have a reaction when things happen, and if I can find a way to process that into art, well, I’m going to.)

Posted in Life as it blossoms out in a jar or a face, Poetry

So full of a number of things

1) Poor Relations has a cover. I have not in fact written an ineluctably masculine seventies SF novel, but it makes me happy to have a cover as if I had. Nothing represents anything specific in the book — there is Mars, and there are spaceships, but Mars is half-terraformed and the spaceships aren’t like that. But I don’t care, this is the right kind of representation, down to the black and white fonts. Why, it could be a Greg Bear cover or even a Ben Bova cover! The fact that it’s actually Mansfield Park on Mars just makes it better.

2) I’m off to France this evening, flying to Paris and going to Epinal for Imaginales next weekend, then signing in Dimension Fantastique in Paris next Tuesday. And that’s just the beginning of my summer travels!

3) Life is good. That is, my life is good. The world, maybe not so good. And I already wrote a book about that, so I can’t even think of it as a research experience. Gah.

Posted in Life as it blossoms out in a jar or a face, Poor Relations

A Burden Shared

I have a new short story up on today, A Burden Shared. It’s about familial love and the future of disability. Well, actually, it’s about pain. I had the idea for this one in conversation with Doug Palmer at Boskone last year.

Posted in Writing

Thud: Lent

Words: 2070

Total words: 15817

Files: 2

Tea: Jin Die bio with hand added ginseng

Music: only power up music

New beginning.

So I have been doing a ton of research for Lent, and now I am ready to really write it. I decided it needed a new beginning to make it more like a fantasy alternate history novel — it’s still not much like a fantasy novel, but at least this way it will be apparent what I am doing.

I am now writing it in third present superclose, like Wolf Hall. I may change my mind about the present, but right now I like it. This is half a chapter, maybe more than half.

This is the first paragraph:

“There is a demon leering in the corner of his cell. It’s a small one, no more than a misshapen head with a pair of hands attached below the neck. Brother Girolamo scowls at it. It sticks out its tongue, which is forked, and longer than the rest of it. He throws a shoe at it, and it scuttles away crablike on its bent fingers. He walks over and retrieves the shoe, turning it over in his hands, smoothing the creases in the worn leather. The sole is starting to come loose again, but he will never again take it to the cobbler, nor wear out any more shoe leather.

There is a powerful comfort in knowing that nothing else you do in this world can matter.”

Huh, until I implement comments you can’t tell me if you like it. Oh well, if you really really like it I guess you can go to the trouble of emailing me.

Posted in Lent, My Books, Writing

In Praise of Procrastination

If time were all a day, they say,
then earth whirled in, late evening,
like a drunkard, threw up life,
five minutes to midnight,
all human history compressed
to less than a sec.

But see, gentle in the twilight,
the silent roedeer, slipping slowly
between the birches, stop still, sniff,
four feet, formal as forms,
to be off on an instant
bounding through the bushes.

And as for us, just in time!
Civilization, spaceships, sunsets,
meditations on modernity
pantomimes, popovers, and poetry,
ability to appreciate art and the artful,
the poised pose of the deer.

If we had happened earlier
we’d be done in by now
whirled away on the wind
eliminated by entropy.
Seems something’s to be said for
evolving in the eleventh hour.

(This is for Michael Von Korff and the Vericon Auction, and sponsored by my terrific Patrons at Patreon.)

Posted in Poetry, Whimsy

Video Interview, Fast Forward

Mike Zipster interviewed me at Balticon last May, and it’s now online for anyone who wants to watch it. It’s mostly about the Thessaly books as I remember.

Jo Walton Fast Forward Interview.

Posted in Uncategorized


I’m not sure what I’m going to do about new poems.

Traditionally, when I write a poem I put it on livejournal and on my Patreon — always the best way to support me writing poetry and make me feel positive about human nature. Then after a while, if they still feel worth it to me, I put them here, on my website, in the poetry section. The poetry section is organized thematically by the utterly intuitive sections “Love, Pain and Death”, “New Myths for Old Gold”, “Red as Blood”, “Shakespeare”, “The News”, “The Turning Year”, and “Whimsy”. (Well, they’re intuitive to me. I seldom have to think where I’m going to put something.)

But if my blog is also here, then I’d be duplicating them — I didn’t copy poems when I copied my old entries, for that exact reason. But then again, there would be no way of knowing there were new ones if I just slot them in to their sections. So I guess they will go here, and then get sorted out into sections later.

Working on getting comments working, it’s harder than I thought. My Patreon has a community function which I haven’t been using, but I could, if people wanted.

Posted in Writing

I would have stayed on Livejournal forever

Somebody bought me a permanent account — an anonymous person, in 2005. And I really would have stayed there as people left in droves, through thick and thin, through changes in format and bad service and whatever. I had all those years of journal, and I had a friendslist where I could see how people were doing, even if it wasn’t as vibrant as in older times and more people were lured away. But I can’t take terms of service that mean I can’t talk about politics and I have to put warnings for any mentions of any LGBT stuff. That’s just unacceptable.

Six transit gloria internet. I still miss usenet. Well, we go forward.

We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it.

Tom Stoppard, Arcadia.

I have just spent the entire day doing triage on fifteen years of posts and putting any of them that were worthwhile here. (The poetry was here already, in the poetry section.) I didn’t bother with the wordcount posts, or things I thought were trivial. Sometimes I’ve consolidated things — like making all the posts about one trip into one post for better chronology.

I will be posting here. It’s in my control, and nobody will suddenly change the terms of service on me. I don’t know how often I’ll post or whether anyone will be reading. I’ll try to figure out how to turn comments on for this blog bit only, without turning them on everywhere.

All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Posted in Life as it blossoms out in a jar or a face