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

10th November 2016: How I feel when people reference Farthing

Generally if something in the world causes somebody to think of something I have written, it’s delightful. It means I’ve succeeded in encapsulating something, in finding a way of describing something that’s useful to somebody. Something I’ve written has helped the world make more sense.

I remember when I was a teenager and somebody I didn’t care for was in love with me while I was in love with somebody who was in love with somebody else. This reminded me of something at the time, and I realised it was Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and sat down and I re-read it and cheered myself up instead of continuing to be miserable. (Some people call this “escapism”. They’re idiots.) I eventually got over being in love with that person. (I wonder where he is now, and whether he remembers I exist? Probably not actually. I hope he’s happy. It’s so weird to think he’s my age, when he’ll always be sixteen and golden in my head.) I got over it, as I said, and the person who was briefly in love with me (hi if you’re reading!) got over it even more quickly, but I still think the description of that dilemma in I Capture the Castle is absolutely spot on. And I still have the book and I still read it. So if my writing does that recognition thing with something, anything, for somebody, it feels great.


This summer, my French editor emailed me to say that the Small Change books were referenced in Le Parisien and Aujourd’hui — major French papers. And what they were saying was that these books were essential and unmissable if you wanted to understand Brexit. If you wanted to understand how Britain could be insular and inturned and petty and racism and fascist. I soon heard that German papers were saying the same thing.

And now I am seeing people saying that the situation with Trump being elected is reminding them of Farthing.

It’s good, really, to have given people a way to think about something. We learn through stories, and fiction can often really help because it is shaped and simplified and given emotional context in the way history often isn’t. And alternate history can be particularly great for teaching historical lessons, because we already know what really happened, and in alternate history events can come around a corner and surprise you. So it’s good… but…

I just wish that thing wasn’t fascism.

If there’s any book I wrote that I wish was obsolete and that people would never be reminded of in any real world context, it’s Farthing. “Gosh, that’s dated,” I wish people would say about it. It wasn’t supposed to be a prediction. It wasn’t supposed to be an instruction manual. (The actual specifics of the post-Brexit shuffle and May etc really are scarily like what I have in the book.)

People who don’t read Science Fiction imagine that it predicts the future. People who read it know that it doesn’t, that while Octavia Butler might have predicted a demogogue with the slogan “Make America Great Again” as part of a dystopic background, but that doesn’t mean we’re living in the world of Parable of the Sower. What SF actually does for its readers is let them know that the future won’t be the same as the present. It doesn’t prepare you for one future, it prepares you by giving you multiple futures for the unexpected weirdness that lies ahead and will be the one and only real now by the time we’re living in it. It’s a strange world. But it’s always a strange world. And we don’t know the future, and nobody ever did, but we know it won’t be the same as now or the way we imagine.

Just as SF extends trends in the present, so things in the real now do recall for us things in SF, like Butler’s slogan. Post-Brexit, an MEP from Luzemburg proposed that EU citizenship could be given to individual British people who didn’t want to give that up. And as well as thinking “Please, please, please…” I thought that this was like a step towards the Hive system in Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning where a very different EU is part of the power system in the future and where citizenship in anything is by opting in.

We’re never going to get that exact world with its flying cars and religious censorship, no more than we have Heinlein’s Martians or Cherryh’s spacestations. But just as I was prepared for iphones by a Heinlein character leaving his switched off in his bag so his mom couldn’t call and a Brunner character using the map on his until it goes dead, bunches of things I’m reading in today’s SF will be doing the same thing for me tomorrow.

But not fascism, OK?

I guess that means I’m past grief and denial and into bargaining.

On a more cheerful note. Fiction can teach us wrong lessons. One of the things we see in fiction is evil being much more competent and efficient than it ever is in reality. Some people think evil isn’t real. It is. Auden, writing in 1936, said:
“Maps can really point to places
Where life is evil now.
Nanking. Dachau.”
and he didn’t know the half of it with Dachau, but it broke my heart reading that in 1981 and realising that he even knew half of it. One of the things I wanted to do with the Small Change books is look at the real evil there and answer the question of how people came to do it, people, not monsters. How do good people do evil things? It’s so difficult to understand. How did actual women hear Trump saying “grab them by the pussy” and still move their actual hands on a ballot paper to vote for him?

I have been fortunate in not knowing all that many evil people, so I tend to base a lot of them on my mother. Some people never knew any evil people at all and so they can’t write about them. McCaffrey would be an example. And the evil dark lords in some fantasy novels are laughable. You know what, it’s amazingly wonderful that we live in a world where some people can believe that. Go them. I’d like to spread that privilege Anne McCaffrey enjoyed more widely, not take it away from her. But right now. Well. Onward and upward.

In Farthing, I gave Lucy’s evil mother a really efficient and sane secretary who loved her, to keep her pointing in the right direction, as my own evil mother never did. In Among Others where the mother is a lot closer to my actual mother, I had Mori quote Tokien “Oft evil will doth evil mar” and said you can’t count on it, but it does often happen. If you learn from books how evil is omnicomptent that’s because it makes for better shaped stories. In reality Tolkien was totally right about evil will screwing itself up a lot of the time. Evil isn’t any more competent than we are, and often less so because of a greater tendency to shoot itself in the foot or betray long term for short term gains. It can be defeated. And the good people doing evil things, sometimes they need to hear that this isn’t the end and they still have souls and there is a way from here to there.

There is a tendency also found in fiction to embrace despair and cynicism because it’s easier, what I called in yesterday’s poem “the soft temptations of despair”. People like the tragic ends of Farthing and Ha’Penny more than (spoilers!) the positive end of Half a Crown maybe because I didn’t do it as well, and maybe I didn’t because I was going uphill against the weight of narrative expectation and that’s hard. But it’s how fascism ended in Spain, King Juan Carlos did just what I had the Queen do in the book.

So if Farthing is helping you understand Brexit, or Trump, or Fascism, good, and I’m so sorry you need to. And it’s in print, and the sequels are, in the US and the UK and France and Germany*, if you wanted to give it to people who it might help. It could make a great Christmas present for your challenging relatives, especially as it looks relatively innocuous. It’s a mystery novel. An alternate history mystery. Not any kind of propaganda. And Ha’Penny won the Prometheus award. In my acceptance speech I said “I’m a cheerful positive kind of person. That’s why I wrote these books.”

(* It has also been published in Japanese, Spanish and Hungarian, but I don’t know the in print status or availability in those languages.)

Posted in Human culture, Life as it blossoms out in a jar or a face, Small Change, Writing