The Dark is Reading 1: Tonight will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond all imagining

I think if I were to read The Dark is Rising for the first time now, it would be a very different book. I was thirteen when I first read it on the beach in Hastings. Hastings is a town in south-east England, about as east as you can get and still be on the south coast, in Elizabeth I’s map of Britain as a woman, it would be the tip of the toe of the drawn in leg, while Cornwall is the leg that kicks out. The first book in Cooper’s sequence, Over Sea, Under Stone, is set in Cornwall. None of the books are set in Hastings, that’s just where I happened to have washed up in the summer of 1978, when I was thirteen. It was the summer after my grandfather had had a stroke and was in hospital trying to recover, and I was in Hastings staying with his sister, my Auntie Flo, who was my great-aunt really. I was there because she offered to have me, and to get away from my mother. My whole life for years was all about getting away from my mother. If this sounds familiar, well there you go.

My Auntie Flo lived in a tall narrow Victorian house full of stairs, and so far so comforting, that’s what I was used to at home. She lived in it with her husband, one grown son and his wife and little kids, and one grown daughter and her husband and middle sized kids. They were all as friendly and welcoming as was in their natures to the prickly teenager that was me, who wanted — well, I wanted people who were dead to be alive again, and I wanted to be a child with a home, or failing that a grown up with a home. As I couldn’t get what I wanted, I settled for being left in peace to read my book. This was not the weirdest thing any of them had ever heard of. John, one of Auntie Flo’s seven kids had been the same. I was told so many times I was just like John that I developed a great affinity for him without ever having met him.

By that time I’d read everything in the house. I hate it when people think I’m boasting about my reading speed, because why would I? It was 1978. There wasn’t any internet. There were only varyingly kind varyingly weird semi-stranger relations to talk to, who had nothing in common with me. Lack of things to read was like an ache. If I could have read slower and still been able to be absorbed in the book while the book lasts, don’t you think I would have?

Hastings has a beach, which is all pebbles, and utterly inferior to the sandy coves of South Wales, or for that matter Cornwall. It also has little steep streets of shops that always reminded me a bit of Roke in the Earthsea books, because it was easy to get twisted around and lost. It had a place that printed t-shirts. It had a place that sold belgian waffles. I was given a small amount of pocket money so I could sometimes buy a waffle but didn’t have enough for books. I was allowed out on my own, as long as I was on time for meals, and spent a lot of time wandering around, and also on the inadequate beach.

I had read every single book in the house, including books much too young for me and the soft porn Emmanuelle, which I found hidden, and replaced back into hiding when I’d finished it. I had borrowed a library card from a cousin two years younger and read everything in the children’s section of the library. They were not going to let me read things from the grown-up section with a card with a date-of-birth that said eleven, and they strongly discouraged me sitting in the library reading all of grown up books, though I often did it anyway on wet days until chased out. Non-fiction was safer than fiction from that point of view, and I read a lot of anthropology and folklore. (This was after I’d read the SF section of Aberdare library in alphabetical order, Poul Anderson to Roger Zelazny.)

I’ve just remembered the most peculiar thing. It has nothing to do with this story, to which I was about to get to the point, but I’ve thought about it for a long time because it makes no sense. Auntie Flo’s daughter, my cousin Judy, who was mostly looking after me and seeing I ate and wore clean clothes on Sundays, offered me a book by Malcolm Saville belonging to her son. Later she asked me if I liked it. I said I hadn’t much, and that I didn’t like Saville generally. Then she said “We don’t pay any attention to author’s names in this house,” as if I was at fault to do so. This remains as inexplicable a remark to me now as it did then.

Anyway, one of the books I read from the library there was Over Sea, Under Stone. I liked it. It’s a pretty good childrens book.

Then John came to visit with his wife and kids, and his brother, sister, nieces and nephews, father, and mother, all told him I was a bookworm. He had kids of his own, older than me. He wasn’t as interested in me as I was in him — of course he wasn’t — but he did take me to a little bookshop and say he would buy me any three books I wanted. The three books I bought were Mary Renault’s The Bull From the Sea, Heinlein’s The Past Through Tomorrow and The Dark is Rising. It was a remarkably kind thing to do. I have always been grateful, and I remain grateful to this day. I don’t know if I could possibly have sufficiently expressed my gratitude. I hope I wasn’t just surly. (Losing my home and everyone I cared about coincided so specifically with adolescence that I had no idea until my son was that age how much of my misery was due to my age and how much to circumstances. The circumstances sucked, but also, I was thirteen.)

I still have the first two of those books I bought that day in Hastings, the actual copies. But when my first husband and I merged out book collections I had to admit that his copy of The Dark is Rising was in much better condition than mine so we got rid of mine, and the one I have now is his. (When we de-merged our book collections, I got all the childrens books because I was also keeping the child.) But it’s the same edition, the one whose cover I’ve put in this post, so it feels like the same book.

As you can probably imagine, I’ve re-read The Dark is Rising a bunch. I read it a large number of times that summer, and I’ve read it aloud to my son, and I’ve read with the series, and without the series, and at Christmas as a standalone. I am extremely fond of it.

The first chapter does a wonderful job of introducing Will, and Will’s slightly worried point of view. It introduces his family without ever stopping to introduce them, and it shows us the way he is rooted among the forest of the others, both seen and unseen. It shows us and begins to characterise James, Mary, and Paul, and gives us the beginnings of shape on Steven and Max. It shows us the Dawson farm, with Maggie Barnes, Old George, and Farmer Dawson — two Old Ones and a recruit of the Dark, though we don’t know that yet. It shows us the Walker, and does the splendid unease of the animals and the radio reacting weirdly to Will on the eve of his birthday. And Will gets given the first sign. The uncanny blends into the everyday perfectly, the rooks, James forgetting the attack, the fear in the night. It’s a perfect first chapter, setting up a whole lot of things that will be important, setting up the atmosphere, not wasting any time or any words.

I read it sitting on the pebbles in watery sunshine. I started it after going out after breakfast — I’d finished The Bull From the Sea the evening before. I didn’t notice it was a chapter because I certainly kept turning the page. I read the whole book twice that day. I think I spent about a paragraph sad that it had a different character from Over Sea Under Stone, and then I just went into it and wasn’t thinking and wasn’t me and wasn’t sitting on a pebble beach in August but was utterly caught up in being Will.

If I read it for the first time now, I think I’d still like it and still notice these things about it. But it would be a different book, and not only that, but I’d be a different me.

Posted in Among Others, Books, Fandom, Human culture, Life as it blossoms out in a jar or a face

Scintillation: New goals, maybe better goals, and plenty

Very very exciting. Scintillation has reached it’s $15,000 stretch goal, and will be happening in 2018, 2019 and 2020. With 40 hours left on the Kickstarter, I have added some more stretch goals. Now people who support us at the $15 level, if we get all these funded will be getting 3 ebooks and a bunch of recorded Norse poetry.

Here are the new goals:

At $16,000, we will have a new e-book for 2020, for everyone at Supporter level and above! It will be edited by Alter S. Reiss and called “False Starts”. It will contain the beginnings of novels that were started and for some reason couldn’t be completed, by me, Alter, and other writers, along with some commentary about them. Then there will be a panel about this from the contributors at the 2020 Scintillation. This will include Those Who Favor Fire the unfinished sequel to Tooth and Claw and the fragments of Beside Ourselves the unfinished sequel to Among Others as well as work by other people. This will be sent out in advance of the 2020 Scintillation.

At $17,000, I will share with all backers the recordings of me reading my Norse poetry from Sassafrass’s Secret Album — previously available only to backers of Sassafrass’s Kickstarter.

At $18,000 we will have more great stuff for Scintillation in 2020, a readings track and a con suite and everything that at that point seems like a good idea.

At $19,000 I will make a new recording of me reading Mountain Doors my Loki poem, and Not in This Town, my Bacchae poem and share them with all backers.

And at $20,000, my new “we could never possibly reach that, but I said that before” goal we will have a new ebook for the 2019 Scintillation, called Better Dreams, for which we will pay the contributors professional rates. It will contain new work by wonderful Scintillation guests, and be edited by Alter Reiss. We’ll produce it before the 2019 convention, and send it to everyone who backed at Supporter or above.

Posted in Books, Fandom

Images

I just realised that the things I know about my books before I write them, the thematic image bits, are very like the things I remember about books I have only read once a long time ago and almost forgotten.

There are a bunch of Mary Stewart’s old romantic suspense books available as ebooks for $1.99 or $2.99 right now, and so I naturally grabbed them. Some of them I haven’t read in a long time. I was just reading Madam, Will You Talk which my library didn’t have when I was reading these a lot and which wasn’t in print. I bought it maybe fifteen years ago and read it on a plane. What I remembered about it was that it was set in France and that there was a car ride with an emotional atmosphere of chasing but the heroine not sure whether or not the man she’s with is hero or villain, and an omelette. (It’s one of those books written during or not long after rationing, and food is rather lingered over.)

But the kind of images, like driving through the dark in a rush not sure of the person beside you, are exactly the kinds of things I know will be coming up in a novel I’m writing, even if I don’t know how or when I’m going to get to them. Like with My Real Children I knew she had to look out of a window at the moon not knowing which world (or which moon) it was, and I knew that right away, as soon as I had the idea for the book at all.

I just thought that was an interesting observation.

Posted in Books, Writing

Scintillation

I am running a Kickstarter to fund a convention called Scintillation. If it’s funded, it will happen on Canadian Thanksgiving 2018, that is 5-7th October 2018, in Montreal. It’ll be a fun small convention I’ll be running with some friends. The Kickstarter is here, please support us and come if you can.

Posted in Fandom

How to make dinner for three days

You need a chicken, half a pound of lamb mince (or beef if no lamb), raisins, two onions, a leek, a container of mushrooms, a handful of pancetta or lardons (or 3 slices of bacon if no pancetta or lardons), olive oil, apple juice, herbs, salt, pepper, honey, a small amount of dried porcini (or nothing if no porcini), flour, an egg, and lots of rice.

I’m assuming two people, but if you’re just one person it would make dinner for six days. If you are four people, get two chickens and a pound of mince and just double everything.

If you are a busy person who works and comes in wanting dinner, you could do all the work on Sunday.

First Dinner: Roast Chicken

3 hours before dinner: Take the chicken out of the fridge, make a cup of basmati saffron rice with a handful of raisins in the rice cooker. You make saffron rice by boiling a pint of water and adding a few shreds of saffron and a smidge of honey, and then pouring that over the rice and raisins in the rice cooker. (It’s fine to do this the day before and eat half of it then and use the rest cold.)

2.5 hours before dinner: Chop an onion and a third of a leek and saute them in olive oil until clear. Add half your lardons/pancetta/bacon. Then add the rice, stir, turn off heat, add two spoonfuls of Greek or Italian herbs, or whatever herbs you like, and a slosh of apple juice.

Pre-heat oven to 180 C.

Take the rice mix, which is now definted as “stuffing”, and open the chicken up and stuff it in, using a metal spoon and brute force. It won’t all fit, and that’s fine, pack it as tight as you can and let the rest sit in front of the chicken in the pan.

Pour a slosh of olive oil over the chicken. Pour a slosh of apple juice over the olive oil. Sprinkle with herbs (as above) and salt and pepper. Take a teaspoon of honey and drizzle it over the chicken. With an ordinary fork, stab the breast twice on each side and each leg once.

Put into the oven

Dinner time: take out, eat with any vegetables or salad you want. Scoop out all the rice stuffing. Carve so that you eat one breast and one leg and as many wings as you want. (I eat a leg, and E eats a breast, and I have the wings cold for breakfast, but that’s up to you. If you are one person, then half the rice stuffing and a leg or more are for another day’s dinner.)

After dinner: strip whatever is left off the chicken. There’ll be a whole breast, a leg, and some other bits of meat. Take all the meat off the leg, Put the meat in a tupperware in the fridge.

Take the carcase and the leg bones and whatever juice/jelly is left in the dish. Put it all into a saucepan, and add 2 pints of cold water and a big teaspoon of herbs salee. (If no herbs salee, then salt, pepper, herbs, a little bit of leek. But herbs salee is totally worth it). Bring to the boil, turn down and simmer for an hour. Cool, put in tupperware in the fridge.

Second Dinner: Meatballs!

Three hours before dinner, put about a teaspoon of porcini to soak in about a quarter of a pint of water. If you don’t have it, consider a trip to Italy to get some. You know it makes sense.

An hour and a half before dinner, chop half an onion and a third of a leek and saute them in olive oil until clear.

While they’re doing, finely chop the other half of the onion and the last third of the leek. Put them in a bowl.

Add the rest of the pancetta or lardons (or chopped bacon) to the saute pan.

In the bowl with the finely chopped stuff, add the ground lamb (or beef), 2 ounces of flour, herbs, salt, pepper, a slosh of apple juice, and an egg. If you have it, you can add a tablespoon of apple jelly.

Add some flour to the saute pan, stir. Add the porcini and liquid if you have it. (You could add a splash of soy sauce if not, maybe?) Add the tupperware of chicken stock from yesterday. Stir. Turn heat off. Put oven on to 180 C. (It’s 350 F, actually.)

Look at the minced meat and etc in the bowl. Get an oven dish the right size to hold 16 meatballs and put it on the counter nearby. Wash your hands thoroughly. Take a deep breath and put both hands into the stuff. There, that wasn’t as bad as you thought. Using all your fingers, mix it thoroughly, with a twisting motion that mixes it together. When it is all mixed, squidge it into sixteen equally sized meatballs, using techniques you remember learning in kindergarten. Put each meatball into the oven dish when done. When all sixteen are done, wash your hands again. (If you’re doing this on Sunday night, stop at this point and refrigerate everything until you’re ready to be 45 minutes before dinner.) Then pour all the liquid from the saute pan over the meatballs. You think there’s too much? There isn’t. (If it really won’t fit in the pan, save some in a tupperware.) Optionally, sprinkle them with pizza mozzarella or other cheese. Put the dish in the oven. Put some rice in the rice cooker. (This is also good with pasta, if you prefer.)

Eat dinner in 45 mins. Eat 6 meatballs each, with whatever salad or vegetables, this is really great with green beans or peas. Put the remaining meatballs and all the remaining liquid in a tupperware and in the fridge.

Third Dinner: Leftovers Supreme

Well, you’ve got to call things something. This is the whole point of the exercise.

30 minutes before dinner put rice in the rice cooker. Put the oven to heat 180 C. (I suspect you could also microwave this. I haven’t tried, as I don’t have a microwave, but it seems plausible that you could.)

Then cut up the leftover chicken and put it in an oven dish. Take the leftover meatballs and, with a spoon, break them up into the sauce. Then put them and the sauce over the chicken. Put them in the oven for 20 minutes.

Eat with rice and whatever vegetables or salad. You think now that it will be disgusting, but it is really so delicious. And you literally cannot have it except by doing this for days and making it from leftovers. The first time I did it as improvisation, and since then I have been doing it on purpose because it’s great.

(If you are one person, you’re going to have this for two days, and you’re going to have meatballs for two days. But if you want, you can do something else with the other day’s portion of chicken.)

 

 

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

Lent

Lent is finished. 103565 words as of now, sent it out to beta readers, waiting for response. Kind of done, yay!

Posted in Lent, My Books, Writing

I’m home

This has been a truly epic trip. I’m home to Emmet and my rice cooker and my Damascus steel kitchen knife and my bathrobe and drawers full of clothes I’d forgotten I owned, as I’ve been wearing the same nine shirts for the last three months. My packing light and only taking the little pack really worked. I’d do that again. I’d do the whole thing again, really.

Highlights of the trip — Ada winning the Campbell, writing in Florence (I got about 40,000 words written in about a month, clearly I didn’t make Thud posts), seeing twelve plays in the Edinburgh Fringe, and the Viking restaurant in Stockholm.

I wrote a bunch of poems which I didn’t individually post here, sorry, but which you can see on Patreon, and incidentally Patreon pretty much paid for this trip and especially all the theatre. Patreon is great and life enhancing.

My plan now I am home is to settle down and finish Lent, and then we’ll see.

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

Petrarch and Laura

I see I have become a legend, my life, my love,

And her life and death, a legend.

In time it will all be remembered

In time it will all be forgotten

And remembered again, the wrack and refuse

Of all I did and meant and cared for

From fragments painfully regained

That is the nature of legends

And time and life and love.

 

So imagine my embarrassment

That what is known of me, that all I am remembered for

Out of everything I was and did,

Is my worldly love for an earthly girl

Not the symbol of Heaven’s love,

Nor the breeze dancing over the battlemenrs

To shake the laurel leaves,

The golden hills rolling away

From the waters of Bablyon where I sat down,

But the breath that moved in her real breast

And her small, individual, irreproducible smile.

 

Cardiff, 25th July 2017

Posted in Poetry

My Worldcon Schedule

Creating Rules of Enchantment

Wednesday 17:00 – 18:00, 207 (Messukeskus)

Magical worlds are wonderful places for readers to inhabit; however, they can be devilishly tricky places for writers to create. The magic must be powerful enough to be instrumental to the characters and storyline, and yet not so potent that the characters who wield it become indomitable and their stories therefore boring. Researching existing legends, mythology, and folklore can help an author frame effective magical systems.
Mark Tompkins, T.Thorn Coyle (M) , Jo Walton, Kari Sperring

Signing: Jo Walton

Thursday 11:00 – 12:00, Signing area (Messukeskus)

Jo Walton

Asexuality in SF

Thursday 13:00 – 14:00, 101c (Messukeskus)

Is romance always necessary? How have asexual characters been written in SF and who are they?

Todd Allis, Kat Kourbeti, Jo Walton

Reading: Eva Elasigue, Jo Walton

Thursday 19:00 – 20:00, 101d (Messukeskus)

Eva L. Elasigue, Jo Walton

Gender and “Realistic History”

Saturday 11:00 – 12:00, Hall 3 (Messukeskus)

The panelists discuss how people from the past (particularly women and LGBT+ folks) were much more prominent and awesome than most fantasy & alternate history would have us believe.

Cheryl Morgan (M), Thomas Årnfelt, Gillian Polack, Jo Walton, Scott Lynch

History as World-building

Sunday 15:00 – 16:00, 216 (Messukeskus)

Using knowledge and research of real-life history as world-building fantasy and science fiction.

Thomas Årnfelt, Jacey Bedford, Heather Rose Jones (M) , Jo Walton  Angus Watson

Note — I have no kaffeeklatch. 🙁

 

Posted in Uncategorized

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 — bluejo@gmail.com — 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