This last week, now my own book has gone off, I have been catching up with those other diversions I’ve been forced to postpone. At the moment I’m reading six books and watching three movies and two box sets on iTunes. I am mainlining entertainment.
So, most recently I finished The Colour Black by Maia Wolczak.
Closed-off Silvia draws and paints live nudes in her sterile San Diego penthouse, engaging every so often in purely physical sex with her models. Silvia is chased by her own demons, and after the horrific murder of her mother is incapable of reaching out and forming connections.
When, at the last minute, Jack – a human rights lawyer – is substituted for one of her usual models, she finds herself breaking free of her reserve, and confessing her danger-ridden past. But very quickly, it appears that Silvia’s ghosts are moving to silence her. She and Jack go on the run…
Despite the set-up, the book is not a thriller, in any meaningful sense – rather it’s a very beautifully written, esoteric but not annoyingly New Age Californian romance and road trip exploring the opening up of a woman who has lived her life locked in tragedy and secrecy, and that is handled very poignantly.
The writing is lovely – the description of place, texture, and sense is exquisitely rendered, and it is a book that comes alive most when it is describing wild places and wilderness, which immediately made me warm to it. The author is also an artist and the book is illustrated, which was a lovely surprise.
I’d recommend it because it has that peculiar quality of inviting the reader wholly into its own world on its own terms, and its grace and atmosphere made it a wholly involving, immersive experience – thanks so much to Jazzmine at Jacaranda Books Art Music for sending it to me!
So, rather wonderfully, I&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8217;ve been mentioned in a review for &http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8220;Se
For my part it&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8217;s the first time I&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8217;ve seen my fiction mentioned in print, so I couldn&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8217;t be happier. I&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8217;ve always been very fond of Susannah and her unpleasant adventures, and I&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8217;m thrilled they found a good home.
A review, by jiminy. I feel all growed up&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8230;
Update: Alas, the review seems to be down at the moment, will try to find the new URL and post it when it reappears&http://www.helencallaghan.co.uk/#8230;
Update on update: But happily, Pete Sutton over on his BRSKBLOG has reviewed the anthology too!
The first draft of the new Bethan Avery went off to my agent yesterday, and I am having a little breather to try and catch up with books, computer games, and TV box sets.
Believe it or not, this is the only time I really get to do any box sets, and at some point I have to get up to speed with Games of Thrones before my colleagues and friends work out that I’m not even half way through the first season and are forced to stone me to death in the village square.
I’m also going to be reviewing The Colour Black by Maia Walczak, which I’m really enjoying at the moment, so that is something to look forward to.
So, I’d better get on with it…
So, a friend of mine mentioned that she was off to see Medea at the cinema, in a live broadcast from the its last night at the NT, which reminded me I’d not seen it despite having really wanted to. So, tonight I drove out to the Cineworld in Haverhill to watch it.
It was so powerful, so intense. And the sympathetic new version by Ben Power opened new windows into the driven, divinely insane, reckless world of Greek tragedy.
Directed by Carrie Cracknell, the play stars Helen McCrory as Medea, a woman with a desperate, violent past who has sacrificed all for love and is in the process of losing everything. There’s this sense that she’s hating what she’s doing even while she’s doing it, but she cannot stop herself.
On a set that inverts the traditional female domestic spaces of home and wilderness, the outer stage is a house, and yet the central space, where most of the action is framed, is a dark, shadowy forest. Medea is a witch, a devotee of Hecate and her inner world is that of the night and the Moon – she internalises the Wild. She draws her knives and poisons out of a trapdoor beneath her patterned carpet. She is barbarous and foreign to the royalty of Corinth, who want her husband Jason to marry Kreusa, the king’s daughter. Medea and her sons are to be banished.
In the gallery above, the picture-perfect and silent bride Kreusa and her father exist behind a blue veil, in a tableau of exquisite wedding preparations and stylised joy, contrasting with Medea’s combat-trousered, relentless and disordered misery. We see Kreusa not as she is but how Medea in her jealous rage imagines her.
The Chorus is composed of the women of Corinth, who, initially sympathetic to her as a woman, in their floral dresses, become increasingly horrified and unnatural as Medea’s terrible vengeance takes shape. Their floral patterns look increasingly like bloodstains, their coiffed hair growing wilder and their dresses more ripped the more the action rockets to its conclusion. Their twitching movements and spasming dances put one almost in mind of Silent Hill monsters by the end – the world has become monstrous, and all of the news is bad. At the denouement, they surround Jason like a forest of zombies.
The framing of the final scenes, where Medea staggers off into exile, carrying the bodies of her dead children, after Jason’s horrified rejection and denial, was also unbearably moving.
Yet McCrory’s Medea is also faintly, horribly admirable, in her absolute failure to accept any kind of soft-pedalling or compromise. She is suffering, and she will not go along with any plan to minimise or play down her own internal agony to make anyone else feel better, no matter who they are. She will do terrible things to herself rather than make terms with any of her torturers, even in the face of reasonable offers, or disinterested friends. She raises many more questions than she answers.
It’s also worth mentioning that I loved the music, composed by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp, which in its sombre strings and plangent passages perfectly complements the dark, disintegrating world of the central character.
All in all I thought it was a work of perfectly focused genius, never for a moment less than completely and utterly compelling. I am so sorry I caught it on the last night, as there are a thousand details in it I would have loved to have seen again. I can only hope they replay it in the cinema again at some point, as they do with the Danny Boyle Frankenstein.
On a world colonised by humans, Todd has been raised in a town inhabited solely by men. In Prentisstown, everyone is cursed with a kind of a telepathy called Noise which renders their thoughts and presence audible to others. This curse, considered a disease, has apparently killed all of the women. However, about a month before the birthday that will make him into a full-grown man according to the customs of Prentisstown, Todd meets someone whose ship has crashed in the swamp, and everything he knows will be turned on its head…
I was captivated by this visceral YA sci-fi book that explores the relationship between the sexes and the dilemma of telepathy in a new and intriguing way. The novel describes a chase, as Todd and the crash survivor flee across their world, relentlessly pursued by men of Prentisstown, and finding uncertain welcome wherever they go. Breathlessly paced and sharply imagined, I tore through this in days.
However, I was tempted into taking a star off as there are instances where I felt Todd (and therefore the reader) was being deprived of plot and character information to artificially create tension – for instance, what with the telepathy and notebooks and all Todd should have worked out the reality of Prentisstown within a couple of days of leaving, never mind having to wait till the end of the book (this isn’t a spoiler, as we know from the get-go that Todd has been deceived all his life).
On the other hand, the tension, even when I don’t believe in it, is undeniably there, and I’ve already downloaded the sample for the next one in the series, The Ask and the Answer.
So, this weekend I did something a little different. I’ve been thinking ahead to my future projects, and wondering which crime project will follow Bethan Avery, the first draft of which is nearly complete.
With this in mind, on Saturday I went out to Orford Ness.
Orford Ness is a nature reserve and historical site only accessible by boat from Orford Quay. It is composed of two parts – ancient artificial freshwater marshes that have cultivated since the eleventh century, and which are separated from the sea by giant dykes, and ridges of vegetated shingle on the North Sea side. Both sides, being fragile habitats and almost completely barred to human beings apart from very set, narrow signposted routes, host a lot of rare birds and wildlife.
Which is cool and all, but not why I went:
You keep to the paths not just because of the habitat, but also, despite the best efforts of the Bomb Disposal Squad stationed here, to avoid exploding yourself by stepping on any live ordnance they might have missed:
The island, or strictly speaking the peninsula, has been owned by the military for seventy years – from 1913 through to 1993, before it was bought by the National Trust. Throughout this period the activity on Orford Ness has been of a Top Secret experimental character - parachutes were tested here, it was an important site in the discovery of radar, and planes were lined up and shot to pieces in lethality and vulnerability testing to find out what kind of punishment they could take.
But the most interesting thing on the island, at least to my mind, is the way it teems with Cold War military archaeology – both the abandoned Cobra Mist complex and in particular the ruins of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment site:
The main business of the Orford Ness site was not to test the nuclear warheads themselves, but their explosive firing and triggering mechanisms. If you think about it, there is huge mileage in making absolutely sure that a nuclear bomb doesn’t go off in mid-air before you get it to wherever you, ahem, hope to apply it.
Equally, when you do apply it, you need to be sure that it will go off on impact, ideally when it hits the ground and not before.
The AWRE buildings take two main forms – the early labs, with their thick walls and thin aluminium roofs, now decayed away to skeletons:
They’re built that way to absorb the shock in case of catastrophic explosion – the shape is to funnel the blast upwards, towards the aluminium roof which would just be blown off.
Inside, the bomb is placed in an underground chamber, where air conditioning, vibrators, etc are applied to test how stable the device is in response to vibrations, temperature variation, G forces, etc.
The later, more imposing form the labs take are the “pagodas” which you can see from miles away (which is fortunate, because if you’re not on one of the Trust’s special guided tours you can’t get near them):
The spaces between the pillars were lined with thick Perspex (apparently glass was proved to be a very bad idea).
In addition, there is also the remains of the “Hard Target” – a reinforced concrete wall mounted with cine cameras, which bombs were fired at to test their impact capability:
A rocket-fuelled sled powered the warheads into the wall to mimic the correct impact conditions.
All of these ruined concrete structures lie surrounded by swathes of shingle – and vegetated or not, it does not inspire one with visions of rampant plant fertility:
The only life is inside the labs, where weeds run rampant inside the experimental cells:
You couldn’t wish for a more post-apocalyptic landscape in many ways. It is a science fiction landscape, like the triggering scene from some fictional dystopia.
And this is where the intrigue lies, because of course this is a scene from a dystopia – the one we all lived through while the Cold War raged. It’s a world you look back on when you reach the minimum safe distance and realise, wow, how profoundly screwed up all that was. Remember when we all thought we were going to perish in nuclear armageddon? Remember Protect and Survive and Greenham Common and When The Wind Blows?
It’s strange to consider now, but really, that world is only a few political accidents away again. Things once learned cannot be unlearned. And perhaps it’s worth considering that we may well be living out another dystopia now, one we cannot yet understand completely, because we’re not far enough away from its blast radius.
So, wonder of wonders, Sex and the Single Hive Mind, my black comedy from the Mind Seed anthology, is featured as the podcast over at Crime City Central! (NSFW, I’m afraid, due to strong horror, exceptionally rude language, and adult themes – like you couldn’t guess that from the title).
The story was read by Josie Babin, a biologist by day, which is just so super-apropos I may die of satisfaction, and book-ended by Jack Calverley’s introduction, which I also loved. Very strange to hear my bio read out – like listening to the description of a different person.
There is something deeply peculiar about hearing another voice reading your own work. My initial feeling was that it sounded slow, and then I realised, no, it’s not slow, it’s just that you know these words by heart, and in your head, they race by. Kind of like Inception in reverse. Or maybe not in reverse, because if dream time runs faster and seems longer, and a story being read it in may… ooh, ow, brain is sprained. Need to lie down.
Very strange to hear someone else add their interpretation to your work, and kind of awe-inspiring. It had not occurred to me that Mark would be the most fast-talking, upbeat character as read, but then, of course he would. And those little pauses and inflections where Susannah’s bitterness is made manifest. It was just great. I couldn’t be happier. So glad Susannah is getting her out finally!
P.S. If you’re interested in the unfortunate Susannah and how I came to write the story, I wrote a guest blog feature over at my writing buddy KD Grace’s website (KD writes erotic romance and blogs about erotica, so again be warned if you are visiting from work!)
Back from LonCon 3, which I only attended on Sunday – though have still managed to pick up some kind of bug!
Absolutely packed day, but looking back I didn’t do that much, compared to some.
Pirate programming is something that started up last year, and it is basically a way to run alternative readings and events at cons who don’t or won’t support amateur readings. It works like this – you turn up, you sign on the list, and then you read 10 minutes or 1500 words worth of your work. Everyone claps. Then it’s someone else’s turn. That’s it.
There’s something rather wonderful about the grab-bag nature of it all, since despite it being a con on science fiction, there was a wild variation in both the form and the content of the readings. Some read from their novels or works in progress (everyone in the afternoon sesh got a dose of Sleepwalker, for instance), some read verse, some read their short stories. One lady, a Japanese writer, read a beautiful, very short ghost story in her own language, while handing out printed translations. T Party bods Francis Knight showed up and read from Shellshocked, Martin Owton read from Shadows of Faerie. You never know what you’re going to get.
While there I ran into Gaie and Martin. Martin was running the T Party Writing critiques sessions, which appear to have been very well-attended. They’re on for Eastercon next year again after a year’s hiatus, which is great news for the group.
Then I tried to get into the gallery – part of what I’d wanted to do while there was look at the art, and maybe source an artist for the Sleepwalker covers – but it was shut. It was shut at noon as well, so that aspect of it was quite disappointing.
However, I got it together to wolf down a surprisingly good steak pasty (this con food can be terrible – I remember having an open sandwich at Fantasycon in Brighton a couple of years ago that nearly killed me and certainly put the end to my con) and then joined Sarah and Gaie’s workshop on character over in the South Galleries.
Gaie and Sarah ran several workshops over the con under their Plot Medics umbrella – but this was the only one on Sunday and since I have been wrestling with a character in Bethan Avery who I feel isn’t quite there, this worked for me. It was an interesting insight into how all the stuff I engage with on a daily basis – POV, show don’t tell, etc. sounds like to the uninitiated. Loads of the people there – it was booked out.
After that I manned the Pirate Programming and was Pirate Queen for an afternoon. Some guys showed up and read short stories and poetry (whimsical comedy poetry, fun and well-done and well-delivered). It was all good. And I read too, so that was also good, and interesting to see Sleepwalker’s opening effect on a mostly male audience. Gary Couzens ambled over, and it was lovely to see him.
Then we shut shop and I went to the launch for Mind Seed, an anthology celebrating the life of Denni Schnapp, T Party member and scientist who died last year. It was great, very well attended, and I signed a ton of books. Francis Knight, Peter Colley, Ian Whates, Deborah Walker and Rosanne Rabinowitz showed up – as well as all my other T Party buds. Fredericke Schanpp, Denni’s sister, was there with her partner, as well as John Holroyd, Denni’s husband, and I got quite emotional remembering Denni, who always backed my work with unfailing honesty and generosity.
(Also ran into Tom Pollock passing through, who had had his first-ever Kaffeklatsch, which apparently went really well).
Anyway, it was a lovely end to the day, and the launch felt like a success. Hopefully it will do well for Next Generation Nepal, the charity the anthology’s proceeds are being donated to, so if you fancy dreadful stories about man-eating drugs and body-snatching (as well as other, better put-together and less histrionic works) then you could do worse than support the Mind Seed anthology.
So, the other interesting thing that happened recently was that it was finally my turn to play with the Google Glass kit at work, and I did find that quite cool.
The bare bones kit comes not so much as glasses as a pair of frames that just sit across your brow. There is a tiny square screen in the upper right corner, and you could affix actual glass to the frames if you were so minded. You control them by tapping the part of the frame lying across your right temple and through voice control. There is a sensor inside them that works out from the angle whether you are using them or not, which can cause problems if you are the sort of person that pushes glasses up your head and brings them down when needed, like me. There’s also a sensor that works out when your right eye is winking, and it will take a sneaky photograph. You have to calibrate this feature (you can also take photos, videos, recordings by using voice control).
They are more of an accessory to go with your phone than a device in their own right, and definitely seem designed to appeal to the kind of person that creates social media rather than simply browsing it. That said, there is something wonderfully sic-fi about them – you can take photos simply by winking your right eye. Or rather, someone else can, because it turns out that I can’t wink my right eye to save my life. I tried, and tried, and tried. It was just not having it. In the end I had to hold my left eye shut with my fingers and blink slowly. So much for stealth photography.
You can take pictures, videos, notes and sound recordings, and upload them to Twitter, FB, Evernote, or, as they are keen to push, Google+. You can dictate SMS and emails, and call folk (though you have to choose a limited number of contacts – 10 at the moment – who you can interact with through Glass).
Rather wonderfully, you can also browse the internet, though you have to do it through voice control so no way to goof off during work. The voice control was astonishingly accurate – it had no problem finding baby sloths (watch out for diabetes if you click on that link) or any of the other strange things I suddenly decided I wanted to look at through futuristic glasses.
If there was one app that I felt would have been very useful, it would be Kindle or Kobo, or even Audible. I’ve often wished I could read while knitting, or doing other fairly simple tasks that nevertheless required both hands. And I could wish that the apps for the Guardian, Twitter, and FB allowed for a bit more browsing. One thing I liked was that you could have tweets and articles read to you, but it happened with this rather alienating robot voice and only seemed to be the headlines. Perhaps there is a way to have full articles read to you that I haven’t discovered yet.
I guess the bottom line is that I liked them as something to play with, and if I was a particularly bad spy or the kind of insane solipsist that thought my every move worth documenting for future generations (the sort of person that kept a blog like this, for instance) they might come in handy – but as it stands there’s no way I’d pay a thousand quid for a pair.