Log in

The Idle Solitary [entries|friends|calendar]

[ website | My Website ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ calendar | livejournal calendar ]

Cover reveal! [27 Nov 2015|01:11pm]
It's strange how I keep forgetting to do this, given that I love it so much: but here I am remembering at last. So:

My 1994 novel Paradise (let's call it a contemporary thriller about faith and power, what happens when they coalesce and what happens when they collide) will be reissued by Book View Cafe next month in e-formats. The cover is by Hugo-Award-winning artist Elizabeth Leggett (who is also doing artwork and occasional illustrations for my Crater School Patreon project, yay!), and it looks like this:

2 comments|post comment

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas [25 Nov 2015|08:45am]
Oranges and cloves and allspice and cinnamon: of course I can't be the first to declare these the harbingers of the season, but for me they are emblematic. Like coming out of a brightly-lit department store in mid-afternoon and finding it dark outside already. It's a palpable hit, a fifty-year fall back to where anticipation made my breath catch and my skin shiver with delight.

I hope there are still cranberries in the stores. I made Thursday's turkey's cranberry sauce yesterday - after a long wibble about recipes on Facebook, I just kinda improvised with the juice of a tree-orange and a healthy glug of port, spices in muslin, half a cup of sugar stirred in at the last - and we may have eaten almost all of it with the roast pork instead. (It was supposed to be smoked pork, but the smoker kept tripping the fuse for reasons unknown as yet.) So that is all to do again, alas.

The turkey is dry-brining in the spare beer bacon fridge. I shall make its stuffing today, which we shall not call dressing, because silly. Apart from that, I'm not sure. I've a recipe for a prepare-ahead mashed potato casserole that I might try out, to avoid last-minute stressings. And lots of cleaning, of course, and more shopping. Oh, and I should sharpen the knives. There's a thing.
9 comments|post comment

Crater School girl! [23 Nov 2015|04:53pm]
Courtesy of Hugo-Award-winning artist Elizabeth Leggett (I do like saying that), here's our first glimpse of a Crater School girl in her uniform coat and beret:

crater school girl
8 comments|post comment

School badge! [20 Nov 2015|11:19am]
So someone on social media said they wanted a sight of the Crater School badge, so they could embroider one. So I had a word with Hugo-Award-winning artist Elizabeth Leggett...

Behold, people: the Crater School badge.

school badge
5 comments|post comment

Getting by on getting high on cooking, words and wine [17 Nov 2015|04:28pm]
I am not so much having a good day today. I am seemingly still sick, in that annoying way that's practically without treatable symptoms but just leaves me feeling headachy and bleah, so I am doing nothing with the passing time. Still reading Raffles, but that's about it. Oh, and I made rillettes:


And I was going to bake a new kind of bread, but then I looked at how much time had passed already, and decided not to start it. And I took a letter to the mail, and decided not to go on to the library because walking a block to the mailbox was as much as I could manage. This is how we double-check ourselves: are we really sick? Can we really not walk a negligible distance? Very well then: back to the sofa we go.
6 comments|post comment

It's all work, I tell you [16 Nov 2015|01:16pm]
Gardner says I can boast as much as I want to, so let me just say that my story "The Astrakhan, the Homburg and the Red Red Coal" (aka "Oscar Wilde on Mars!") from Lightspeed's Queers Destroy SF issue will appear also in The Year's Best SF, vol 33, edited by Gardner Dozois.

Which makes me two for two, in respect of the Mars Imperial stories. Which will not stop me writing more, and tossing 'em out there to take their chances. Sibling rivalry, guys: it's all about setting a high bar.

That was yesterday's news, which actually reached me at Tachyon's 20th anniversary party in the city, while I was gazing in awe at Effie's rhino cake.

Then I had to sit for an hour on a freezing railway station (Millbrae, why no waiting room? Seriously? You don't even have to heat it, just let us get out of the wind...), and today I don't feel so good. These two facts may be entirely unrelated; post hoc propter hoc is totally a fallacy, and you don't get colds by getting cold. Regardless of what Elinor Brent-Dyer thought. (It is an abiding fact of Chalet School life that the remotest unmuffled exposure to cold weather will instantly put you in bed and under Matron's care for a week. I find this oddly charming.)

However. I haven't even opened up my word processor today, except to print out the contract for Gardner (and I haven't even taken that to the mailbox down the road, I feel that crappy), but nevertheless. I have actually been secretly at work all the morning, as I lay on the sofa reading Raffles.

For I am all Mars all the time these days, as you know by now - and I have said before that there is a Raffles story in the mix. If Mars were a province of the British Empire, of course Raffles would have gone there, with Bunny haplessly in tow. One more reinvention of themselves and each other, one more chance to start a new life, one more set of new leaves overturned as irresistible temptation meets undeniable need. The whole thing is just inevitable. (The only thing I'm hung up on is what two names they'd use this time. Because it would be nice if those sounded inevitable also.)

Also, I have ordered two more Chalet School books, and that as you know counts as work also. Properly, as I'm sick, it should be Chalet School books that I'm reading; but I'm on hiatus in my extant reread until I've bridged the current gap in my collection, and I find I can only do that little by little, a couple of books a month. Ordering half a dozen at once is apparently beyond me, even though I know that I am going to order them all eventually.
5 comments|post comment

In which I blame the parent. [14 Nov 2015|06:51pm]
It's probably ironic that now, right now is the first time I've ever written a book that my mother would have thoroughly enjoyed.

She used to collect my books with pride, and insist that I signed them for her, and keep them on a special separate shelf where visitors could see - but no, she never read them. Not her sort of thing; she had no taste for speculative fiction, and couldn't stand violence or gore.

But what I'm doing now, the Crater School books - oh, yes. I think she'd have loved these.

It may actually be her fault that I'm writing them. I fell in love with the Chalet School books in my single-digit childhood, because my sisters brought them home from the library and it was a house rule that I read everything, their books as well as my own. I don't know if Mum had nudged either one of them into choosing those books rather than something else - but I do know that fifteen years later, when I had rediscovered the series (I was a young man writing for children, and took a couple home from the library as a pure shot at a venture, "I used to love those when I was a kid; I wonder if they're actually any good?") and was enthusing about them to her, she knew whereof I spoke because she had read and loved them all in her own girlhood. She had a deep and abiding fondness for English girls' boarding-school stories of all sorts, and these in particular (as do I, aye, obviously). And okay, the Crater School is set on Mars, and old Mars too, with canals and air and Martians and all sorts - but she would have shrugged at that, I think, and enjoyed the stories regardless.

Which, aye, gives a bitter twist to my cocktail of pleasure, but hey. I never did like sweet cocktails. And I finished Chapter Six last night. And I might be slightly anxious that we're a quarter of the way into my projected two dozen chapters and term hasn't even started yet; but that wretched naiad did insist on rising from the lake, and what can you do...?
5 comments|post comment

Today I bake two loaves of bread: one for the quick, one for the dead [11 Nov 2015|11:25am]
It's Veterans Day*, here in the US; in the UK, it's still Armistice Day. Despite the leaf-blowers, the traffic and the trains, I had my own little moment of silence at eleven o'clock.

Both my grandfathers fought through WW1 (and, necessarily, survived it: my parents were both born in 1920). My mother's father was a career soldier, and still in service with the Scots Guards in WW2. In Singapore, so he lived through the fall and spent the latter half of the war in Changi as a prisoner of the Japanese. He survived that too: tough man, my grandad.

When I was a kid, we always went to the Armistice Day ceremony at St Giles in Oxford. Wreaths laid at the War Memorial, squads from all the armed services (and Americans in shiny helmets) and civic dignitaries marching by in their robes of office, all the councillors (my dad, briefly!) and the aldermen (is it my imagination, or did the aldermen actually wear purple?), cannon fired for the two-minute silence. It's something to hang on to.

I don't actually know what my mum did through WW2, but she was of an age to be called up for war service, so there must have been something. Dad had spent half his childhood in bed with asthma, as well as having eyesight as bad as my own, so he was deemed unfit for military service - so they sent him to do farm work instead, which, yeah. Seems an obvious thing for a young man crippled by asthma. (I believe he was so ill that they relented after a year or so and gave him office work instead, but I may be making that up.)

Now they're both gone, of course, there's no one I can ask about any of this - but actually you couldn't ask either of my parents while they were alive. They separated when I was seven or eight and divorced a couple of years later, when Dad wanted to remarry; my own narrative here says that they'd made each other so unhappy for so long, neither one of them could bear to talk about the past at all.

However that actually went, it leaves me with no real sense of continuity, that notion of family as an unbroken story leading back as well as forward; all I have is shards of story that can't be put together. I'm fairly sure that lack of coherence contributes to my own fractured relationship with my relatives. Family was kinda like school, an isolated period of time that you had to survive before you were allowed to leave it. (As it happens, I am fond of both my sisters, but I think that's incidental; as we know, post hoc, propter hoc is a fallacy.)

*The official form carries no apostrophe; it's attributive, rather than possessive.
4 comments|post comment

News from far away [09 Nov 2015|10:00am]
My mother died last night. She was ninety-five, and in hospital after a fall and a major operation to pin a broken hip, but she'd come through that and seemed to be doing well. Then she had breathing difficulties, and a doctor came, and she slipped away very quickly.

She was an extraordinary woman. Army brat between the wars, classic child of empire - born in Rangoon, raised in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, sent home to boarding school while her parents stayed out east - then somehow making the shift from that life to something entirely different, winding up raising four difficult children alone through the '60s and '70s, and then living a long, quiet and happy retirement in Cornwall with my sister right on hand, grandkids and great-grandkids to make a fuss of.
44 comments|post comment

Damp man walking [08 Nov 2015|12:40pm]
The subject line comes to you courtesy of m'wife, to whom all complaints should be addressed. *nods*

But it is true! I went to the store and got wet! Because rain!

For the second time this week, rain fell. On Monday we had an all-nighter, serious heavy downpipe-pinging stuff, and I mostly lay awake listening to it. Today is quieter, but the ground's getting a happy soaking. And this is not El Nino, that bad boy is still a month away; this is just regular rainy-season rain. First since February, yay.

And meanwhile, I have never been to the store before to buy potato peelings. Still on the potato, but nevertheless. The point is the peelings. Growing bored with my own cries of "I need a new omelette pan!", I ordered one. This is my first carbon steel skillet; I love my cast-iron pans so much, it seemed likely that I would love this too. Especially as the seasoning instructions as posted begin "Fill your new pan with potato peelings, top up with water and boil for fifteen minutes." Okey-doke, then. Doing that.
7 comments|post comment

Chapter Five! [08 Nov 2015|11:20am]
I just posted Chapter Five of my ongoing English-schoolgirls-on-Mars adventure, Three Twins at the Crater School. Nearly a quarter of the way there! (Maybe.) If you want to support this amazingly worthwhile project - and read the story as it comes - the Patreon page is here. Nearly halfway to the next stretch-goal, which is, y'know. Another book.
3 comments|post comment

...and print. [06 Nov 2015|06:34pm]
It's not real, until it's in hard copy.

That used to be my mantra: how could one ever trust pixels and disks, be they hard or floppy? Nothing was safe, unless it was on paper. Which being true, I used to print my fiction page by page as I wrote it; which led to charming little discontinuities, stutters between one page and the next, where I had revised yesterday's work but not bothered to reprint it because it was just a line or two at the bottom of the last page...

But these days, where storage is cloudy and so even less reliable, I no longer bother to print page-by-page, nor even day-by-day. But I do still like hard copy, and I do revise on hard copy; so I tend to print out chapters as I go, if only to show my work. (One of the joys - one of the lost joys - of writing on a typewriter was watching the stack of paper grow beside the machine. I do still miss that, apparently.)

Which is a long-way-round of saying that I just finished Chapter Five of Three Twins at the Crater School. and have printed it out. M'wife will read it, and then m'webmistress, and I hope shortly after that I can post it for m'Patreon sponsors to enjoy...
3 comments|post comment

Remember, remember [05 Nov 2015|12:56pm]
My informants tell me that Guy Fawkes Night is all but forgotten in the UK these days, certainly neglected in favour of that candy-coated Hallowe'en import thingie. This obviously makes it all the more incumbent upon we happy exiles, we emigrants, to look back in hunger at those blue remembered fireworks and do what we can to keep the bonfires burning, in the way of expats everywhere.

Tonight I will be feeding the Thursday horde on baked potatoes, with chilli and beans (separately, because here we have this bizarre notion that the only true chilli must be beanless, because somebody did it that way once in Texas or something) and cauliflower cheese and such. I was going to do sossidges, but actually I don't think we need them, and, y'know. If you want a proper British banger you have to make it yourself hereabouts, and that's more work than I'm up for today. I may put meatballs in the chilli. And I'll make apple cake, because baked apples are so seasonal but I don't really like 'em that much, so.

And we will drink to failed rebellions everywhere, and the King over the Water; and Dave will play a fanfare to the Immortal Memory (yes, yes, we're mixing traditions here; I don't care. If you're not careful I'll put the bloody beans in the bloody chilli, and then where will we be?), and what with one thing and another Guido will not be forgot. (I'm not quite sure that the author of the rhyme meant him to be memorialised in quite this way, but, y'know. Wrong but Romantic will win every time.)
24 comments|post comment

Draft! [31 Oct 2015|09:37am]
So at half-past midnight last night, I finished a story that's due at midnight tonight. I may have written four thousand words yesterday, which it's nice to know I can still do that. If I am to cut this story to length, I need to lose five thousand words today. Hey-ho.

Or call it a novelette and sent it somewhere else. I guess I should read it first. (For the curious, yes: this is another Mars Imperial story. Currently called "Of Mussulmans and Muscovites and Motive Force on Mars". Because I could.)
post comment

The acquisition of merit [30 Oct 2015|12:28pm]
As you know, people, I do like to cook. As you've also probably picked up by now, I do also like cookbooks. When I emigrated [eventually, I suppose I will learn to say "immigrated", but at the moment I still feel that I came from, not that I came to] 95.83%* of what I shipped was books, and the bulk of those were cookbooks.

Since I came, I have acquired ... more. They used to fit on the shelves in my study; since the move I have added more shelves, and now they overflow to stacks on the floor.

You may also have gathered that I don't often cook from recipes. Most of my kitchen time comes down to habit, built from experience with a pinch of experimentation. Also, when I do need a recipe to work from, the internet is full of 'em.

So why all these books, a study full of books that let's face it I don't really need?

Partly again, that's just habit; I date from a time pre-internet, when I had fewer acquired skills and recipes were more useful, and books were what they came in.

Partly, of course, it's that collectors' instinct: books have always been my thing, in every interest I pursue. And collections have a critical mass: once they reach a certain size, you kind of have to keep adding to them, or you're not doing it right. Did anyone ever say "This collection is now complete"? Not in my hearing, they didn't.

And partly, I confess, it's a fetish. Cookbooks can be lovely in themselves, desirable objects to possess: pictures, bindings, paper, silk ribbons, the whole shebang. Where design rubs against craft snuggles up to art like a frotteur, I am so there. Which is probably why I don't want them as e-books, because who wants to snuggle with a tablet?

But - since we are now in the realm of the confessional - I have also figured something out this week. For me, cookbooks are a balm against inadequacy. It's magical thinking at its most profound, where it fastens onto impostor syndrome like a tumour to a blood supply: if I buy a better book, I can be a better cook. Of course I'll fail again, but surely I'll fail better if I just have this other book to help me...

And for that, I suspect, there is no cure.

*Actual fraction: that's 115 boxes out of 120.
8 comments|post comment

The train I ride is twenty-one coaches long [24 Oct 2015|03:26pm]
Twenty-one dollars, people. That's how close we are, how far shy of the pledges we need to tip the Crater School project over into its first stretch goal. Extra stories, every quarter-day! I really want to be doing this: I want to find out how Sister Anthony first came to be matron at the school, and what head girl Rowany does on her holidays, and...

Twenty-one dollars. T'isn't that much, in the scheme of things. Seven of you, at three bucks a month. Four-and-a-fraction, at five. Two and a shaving, at the ten-buck level.

Sponsor a pupil through the academic year. You know you'll feel better about yourself.
1 comment|post comment

Crater School - Chapter four out in the wild... [24 Oct 2015|09:35am]
Just as a record of progress, and a reminder that things are happening elseweb: yesterday Chapter Four of Three Twins at the Crater School went live to my Patreon subscribers. It's not too late, people: you can still take advantage of the opportunity to patronise an author, and read about English schoolgirls on Mars even as they happen...
3 comments|post comment

All Mars, all the time [16 Oct 2015|03:10pm]
For my own reference, mostly: I thought I'd just list the Mars stuff that I'm working on. And just for fun, the Mars stuff that I'm not working on, because finished.

So, from most-troublesome to least:

Mars Beneath, aka Kipling on Mars - the novel, half completed and dreadfully broken, so stuck I have no idea how to fetch it home. It kind of turns out not to be about Kipling after all, which is some of the trouble, but I do still like having Kipling there, if only so that the narrator can discover for himself that it's really not Kipling's tale after all, despite all expectation. I kind of like that, actually, to set the reader up as the characters too are set up to think it's all about RLK, only to find that it really isn't. Mars is no country for old men. But narration is a problem too; I may have to rewrite it from multiple points of view. [I never do this massive rethinking mid-novel, never ever: which is one reason why this one has run so hard aground.]

Broken Symmetries, aka Lord Peter Wimsey on Mars - the novel I started in a rush of inspiration, sent chapter one to my agents in a spirit of enquiry, received wildly positive feedback and promptly abandoned to work on Kipling instead. No, sometimes I don't understand myself either.

Human Engines - the YA novel also begun and set aside, though there too I love the premise. There is a whole sub-genre of fiction that deals with the long-lost heir returning, in which of course it transpires that they either are or they aren't (my favourites in this field being Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar and Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree, not necessarily respectively). This is my own entry to that field, with the third alternative.

"Champ de Mars" - a short story, that treats not with how the Irish of Mars saved their people during the potato famine (though they did) but rather with an unexpected sequel, decades down the line: a treatise on the nature of secrets. And a great frustration to me, because it needs fixing and I don't know how. I'm not even sure what's wrong with it.

"Fair Stood The Wind For Frost" - actually there's nothing wrong with this, it's just a setting (of course they would have frost fairs on Mars, every other Christmas, when the great canals themselves freeze over) in search of a story. That'll come. I'm only impatient with this one, because frost fair!

"Name and Nature" - A E Housman on Mars. Nothing happening with this one yet. I know what he's there for - whom else would you summon but the greatest classics scholar of his time, when you're trying to interpret the incomprehensible? - and I know he'll have a jolly time with his splendid young men, but none of that is a story.

"On the Accretion of Mattering" - urgh, argh. This must have been a story idea once. Now it's just a title and an opening paragraph, and I have no idea. Maybe it'll come back to me? I should have taken notes...

"The Man Who Lost The War" - again, I have no memory of this at all. Which is rather more than frustrating, because this is five pages of solid fiction. At a guess, from context, it's the backstory of the protagonist in Broken Symmetries - but this should not be a matter for guesswork, surely. Surely I ought to remember a thousand words of fiction? At least the writing of it, if not the destination? The British have always done well in defeat; the British on Mars would do no less. - damn it, I want to write this story...

”...They call me the Wabi-Sahib, d’ye see? For I am most ingloriously imperfect.” - not a title at all, as you can tell, for this story doesn't have one yet: it's just an opening, three lines of dialogue. But at least I know what it is, who it is and roughly where it's going - for this is Raffles and Bunny on Mars, because of course they would have gone there after Spion Kop. And of course, once there, they would run into egregious characters like this. The only real question is, can I write a story Hornung-style and have people know what I'm doing and who I'm talking about, if I never mention "Raffles" or "Bunny"? Because they'd have to be strict in their pseudonymity, even with each other in the privacy of their bedroom. (And yes, we are eternally grateful to Graham Greene for outing them in The Return of A J Raffles, and thus making the slash canonical.) Actually I suppose there is one other question: does anyone read Raffles any more? He was rather well televised with Anthony Valentine being eponymous, but, y'know. Even that was nigh on forty years ago.

"36 Views of Cassini" - not a story yet, just a framework that can hold a story, but that's okay. It's still new.

"Of Mussulmans and Muscovites and Mars" - this is even newer, being the piece I started this morning and have been picking at all day. "Wherever Britain leads, the Raj is sure to follow. It was too freshly coined to call a saying, perhaps too obvious to count as insight, a mere truism. Nevertheless: every truism starts out as mere truth. Wherever the sun has dragged his weary load of light, the British have followed; and as the sun the light, wherever the British cut a path, they haul the Empire behind them as a boat hauls the water of its wake. And where they say the Empire, they mostly mean the Raj." Etc - 300 words of preamble, so far. Now I only need a story (is this beginning to sound familiar?).

"The Girl Who Mapped Mars" - T E Lawrence on Mars. Except that it's much more about Claire Cazenove - Any map is an act of autobiography. It speaks to the cartographer’s ideas of fixity and possession, of what is mutable and what remains. Every mark of ink on paper delineates a journey more profound than mere instruments can measure. - and I have written, ooh, 20K words of this. And every time I'm not working on it I think it's broken, I don't know what it's about, I don't think it makes any kind of sense at all - and then I open it up and work on it some more. So really all I need to do is finish this. Also, it has a sandcat. Camels too, but mostly a sandcat.

"The Burial of Sir John Mawe at Cassini" - done and dusted. Published in Subterranean, picked by Gardner Dozois for the Year's Best SF.

"The Astrakhan, the Homburg and the Red Red Coal" - also done, also dusted. Selected by Seanan McGuire for her guest-edited edition of Lightspeed Magazine, and still accruing rather charming notice.

The Crater School on Mars - or a Martian edition of the Chalet School, for those of you to whom that might mean something. English girls' boarding-school stories, on Mars. Trotting along nicely, with a Patreon project to support it; do indulge yourself. Indulge me. This is fun, after all that stern literary solemnity. And there will, I promise, be a sandcat. Sandcats are great.
15 comments|post comment

No bees, no buzz [16 Oct 2015|10:27am]
Here. Have another hummingbird, just chillin'.

2 comments|post comment

The bird and the bees [12 Oct 2015|04:16pm]
So some fucker stole my phone today [serious question: what do they do with stolen phones? They had about half an hour, before my supplier cut them off; during that time they ran up $200 in charges. But doing what? Uploading, downloading, phoning their mums in Peru? What? If there's profit in this, I struggle to see it].

So to cheer me up, look at this: I nearly got the bird in motion. With a loaner camera, from some distance off, with the lens telephoto'd to its maximum. I really didn't think this would come out at all. But see:

9 comments|post comment

[ viewing | most recent entries ]
[ go | earlier ]