2 July 2010

Even for someone with more spatial awareness than I have, my workplace’s location would be best described as ‘the back of bloody beyond’ (with, of course, all due respect). If you miss the bus – no thanks to the print shop man who’s commandeered the street outside his shop front for huge posterboards that obscure the single-deckers coming – there’s no margin for error. Run out of sticky tape before an authorised person can procure you some more through the approved channel, and it’s going to be the best part of an hour’s round trip.

Somebody has wheeled a supermarket trolley on to a grass verge by the road. This isn’t (you would think) a favourite area for drunken louts. I can’t imagine anyone was wheeling their shopping home with it until an acquaintance drove past and offered them a lift. That supermarket doesn’t even have a branch anywhere near here.

So what did they think that they were doing with it?

Anthropology fail

1 July 2010

Marie Brennan, the author of Doppelganger, Warrior and Witch and the Onyx Court series (and a trained anthropologist), is not very impressed with the representation of her discipline on Bones:

How is she atrocious? Let me count the ways, starting with her lack of people skills. Fieldwork is a fundamental part of cultural anthropology, and the primary component of fieldwork is talking to people. Building a rapport with them. Being a student of what they have to say (rather than lecturing them on what you think), and trying to learn to see things as they do (rather than explaining how their ways of seeing don’t make sense). You have to have patience, and respect for alternate points of view, and a knack for making friends.

None of which sounds like Temperance Brennan.

On ghostpigs

29 June 2010

Instead of a proper post today, some advice on opening paragraphs from Catherynne M Valente, who recently became the fiction and poetry editor of Apex Magazine:

Dudes, a short story is not that long. You do not have 50 pages to hook a reader (you don’t, really, in a novel either, but that’s another post), you cannot lazily dick around for a page and a half before being all CHECK IT OUT GHOSTPIGS. Because no one ever made it to the GHOSTPIGS, who were buried under: “Robert walked down the street. The sky was cloudy. All the houses were brown. He thought about work.”



27 June 2010

It may be another quiet two weeks, I’m afraid. Sorry.


24 June 2010

This tennis match. This eleven-hour, more-than-a-hundred-game, longer-than-a-Test-match tennis match, that managed to obsess the entire British public apart from me.

Actually, because of work, and football, and those things, I didn’t see a minute of it. By the time I thought I might, Isner had broken Mahut’s serve at last. They’d gone off court with trophies for breaking every endurance record going, before any impresario could suggest they play on into a new kind of dance marathon for the next Depression.

(Isner and Mahut: I’d never seen a photograph of either man before the morning papers on day three. Their surnames make them disappointing in the flesh; they sound like duelling warrior hulks from Steven Erikson fantasies, the pair of them. Though Isner does stand at six feet nine inches tall.)

David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest imagined nearly every surreal thing that could go wrong among the professional tennis players of the near future. Mind-altering drugs. A corporate takeover of the US state whereby each calendar year is sponsored by a brand of groceries. The violence of a separatist insurgency waged from Quebec. The author of a Guardian sports liveblog, Xan Brooks, pictured the evening of the second Isner/Mahut day as a scene of zombie horror:

7.20pm: And so this match goes on and on, on and on. Somewhere along the way, the players have mislaid their names. The man who was once Mahut is now a string-bag of offal. The man who was Isner is a parched piece of cow-hide. The surviving members of the audience don’t seem to care who wins. They just cheer and applaud whoever looks likely to make a breakthrough and bring this nightmare to a close. Invariably they are disappointed.

The offal looks fresher, possesses a piercing backhand and still throws itself about the court on occasion. But the cow-hide can serve and has the advantage of going ahead by one game and forcing the offal to catch-up. This the offal is only too happy to do. It hits a backhand down the line and then follows that up with an ace, and the score now stands at 45 games apiece.

Zombies mashed up with Wimbledon seem to work better than zombies mashed up with Pride and Prejudice. We might regret saying that, of course.

Teaser Tuesday 18

22 June 2010

This is how it works:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) ‘teaser’ sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your ‘teaser’ from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

The Standing Pool by Adam Thorpe. Two left-wing English academics rent an intimidating country house in the South of France for a six-month sabbatical… and so far it’s an exceptionally well set up thriller, or ghost story, or whatever it’s going to be. (They’ve moved there with their three children: I wonder whether it’s going to go all Don’t Look Now.)

The couple are both historians of the western exploitation of Africa, and Thorpe knows how to use their characters to deliver a large amount of exposition (our communication culture’s bloody dependence on coltan mining, for just one thing) while playing out clashes of class, politics and transatlantic ways-of-being with their expat landlords from the USA. The narrative bristles with foreshadowing, from an estate agent warning of torrential rains to a mother who can’t see her children playing beside a pool without wondering which one, if there were to be an accident, she would save first. I may want to read this all again straight afterwards to see what I can learn from how he does it.

‘Mend him, Mummy,’ she ordered, tearfully, after an account had been given to their mother in the kitchen: a din of overlapping narrative chords obliterating the earnest voices on the radio.

‘There are certain things you can’t ever mend,’ said Sarah, with an air of significance. She felt more disappointed than shocked, partly because the girls tended to embellish. ‘Are you sure it was going that fast? I can’t believe anyone would go that fast with kids around.’ (p. 57)


21 June 2010

The summer’s longest day: it’s as inappropriate as possible for me to be thinking about winter. I ought to be outdoors, picnicking and barbequeing, staying out without an extra layer, taking advantage of however brief an interval it’s going to be before the weather reminds you where Southampton really is: a rain funnel and wind trap in the middle of the English Channel.

I wonder whether I’m a winter writer. I can’t concentrate at all on new ideas in summer, can’t even think myself back into the old ones I had to store up back in spring. In summer, I want to be experiencing. Maybe it’s the legacy of too many school holidays when I managed to experience nothing at all, except teaching myself how to write macros for an Excel spreadsheet or retype a teenage diary on that second-hand old Mac.

Go out and make something happen, I start thinking when the sun comes out. And make it something a bit more constructive than the provocative things you used to do in term time because you’d read ahead through the whole syllabus and you were bored.

I mediate and season things in autumn. (Kirsty Logan, a few days ago, posted about personal clichés. The longest thing I wrote while I was still at school had red/gold light and trees and sodding chestnuts up the wazoo. I never want to see any of those things again.) They’ve dissolved into a meniscus of ideas by wintertime, when the air is cold and darkness starts at half past four and experiencing things means zipping up a winter coat so high I can’t see out.

Somehow I managed to hit an anthology deadline that comes up in July. Still, that may be it for proper writing for a month or two, until the evenings start reversing and a shadow in the kitchen makes me say: ‘Bloody hell, since when has it been dark at suppertime?’