March Links Post

Things my friends have done

  • My friend Liza, recording under the name “Lizzie Borden”, has covered “Folkin’ Around” by Panic at the Disco, with her trusty ukulele.
  • A friend of a friend, B. L. Becotte, was taking commissions recently and has a brilliant, Bisette-reminiscent style, so I splashed out on having a scene from As Simple As Hunger illustrated.

Things I have done

Things strangers have done

  • Written about the sex diaries of respected economist and apparent bisexualist John Maynard Keynes.
  • Made a theremin out of a dead badger. Why, you may ask. Because it’s cool.
  • “Proven” (according to my sister) that “all rich people are bastards”. Or at least, are prone to cheating.
  • Created, played, and recorded a piece on violin strings made of spider silk.
  • Written about royal same-sex marriage … in 17th-Century England.
  • Discovered that bees have personalities! Some are apparently thrill-seeking, neophile bees, and others are cautious bees that like to stick to what they know best. I’m sure most apiarists would have said this before.
  • Come forth with another theory for what causes autism. I have an autistic spectrum disorder myself, and I can’t say I’m thrilled by the idea of “cures”. It does sort of suggest absolving society of having to be a little more tolerant of people who are different.
  • Provided a lot of X-rays of various families, genii, and species of fish. I love anatomy.
  • Written an eloquent and wide-ranging essay linking various protest movements around London, the grime scene, and a work of art created by a deranged Victorian arsonist. I often have mixed feelings about China Mieville’s work: while I broadly agree with his politics and find his stories fascinating sometimes I take issue with his use of language and I eternally find his eagerness to marry dance music and political protest somewhat embarrassing. However as with anyone the way to my heart is through an unyielding affection for London in all her dirty, broken, ever-changing glories, and China is never, ever short on that. Well worth reading.
  • Investigated giant squid and colossal squid eyes. It seems that their vast eyes might help them to spot evidence of sperm whales coming to eat them.
  • Flattered everyone who writes by suggesting that writing is really hard and requires loads of brainpower. I’m sure for good writers it’s something that requires a lot of delicate footwork but certainly not the way I do it!
  • Written about Casanova, who was more of an intellectual than his playboy depiction in popular culture would lead you to believe.

Extract From a Letter 2

Life continues chaotic, busy, and wearing, meaning that all writing or planning outside of another long letter is simply not happening. This blog will see a little more action in a day or two when April starts and the infernal nuisance of National Poetry Month begins, but until then have another extract from the never-ending letter:

An odd question occurs to me: what is the earth like where you are? Is it hard or soft? Is there topsoil? Is it the acidic stuff of where I grew up, or the chalky alkaline that turns out blue flowers and spindly trees? The landscape of my childhood was a split between windswept moors with the odd bent tree – the stuff of Brontë novels (I know you love Wuthering Heights) – where the grass is sheep-cropped short and the bracken comes up to your shoulder and every time you fall over you don’t land on the springy heather but on a vicious gorse bush. It is a landscape of rain and continual up and down, with granite bursting out of the thin soil, and bogs you could (and have) lose a horse in.

These vast windswept mountain ranges were interspersed with deep valleys of the sort that end up in Lord of the Rings – shallow, fast-flowing rivers and moss-covered boulders, streams full of slippery round rocks, and mossy, old oak trees. An old landscape and according to some documentary or other it is a totally unique habitat, globally.

The rest of the time I lived in a land of chalk downs and long grass, but both were largely treeless landscapes characterised by butterflies of rarity: Dartmoor had the Common Fritillary (a misnomer, it is very rare), which is orange-brown, and Somerset had the Chalk Blues. These places are so close together by Australian standards, but geographically so different.

What you may take from my letter excerpts is that I spent a lot of time rambling about West Country landscapes in the vaguely nostalgic manner of someone who has absolutely no intention of ever leaving London again.

T-shirts!

All of these are available from my Etsy shop for the terribly reasonable price of £14.99 plus P&P.

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Navy blue stretch girly cut t-shirt to fit a UK12, with attached vintage rosary. Tired of having to constantly reposition your necklace to get it lying just so? Can’t quite achieve the perfect rakish angle? Fed up with necklaces irritating the back of your neck? Well, we’ve solved that for you: this rosary is affixed to the t-shirt in the option rake position, and the ends of this dainty little beauty stop at the shoulder – enough for a necklace effect, but not enough to scratch your skin.

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Girly cut stretch t-shirt in grey, to fit UK size 12, featuring red thread, glass bead and acrylic bead embroidery on the shoulder. Perfect for convincing people – temporarily – that you’ve been mauled by a werewolf.

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Fits a UK size 16, can be worn by women or particularly hip men, as demonstrated by the long-suffering model; features black and white embroidered swirls, and a triple string of beaded chains and a detachable cross charm on the shoulder.

 

Jewellery Post: Statement Pieces

All of the following pieces are available to buy from my Etsy Shop, and I hope that you feel moved to give them a new home because I’m moving house soon & would quite like to move slightly less jewellery!

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19 inch / 48 centimetre gold plate chain, acrylic bead, glass pearl necklace with vintage glass pearl accents and vintage pearl and green paste gem spider pendant.

Have you ever seen a spider web holding the morning dew? Now everyone who passes you will get the benefit of that beautiful experience too!

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16 and a half inch / 42 centimetre gold plate, glass pearl, cut glass crystal, and amber lucite necklace with acrylic accents and gold-tone connectors.

This elegant looping necklace is the perfect fit for costumes and parties, and pairs well with all warm colours.

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24 inch / 61 centimetre vintage silver plate chain necklace with genuine jawbone (vinegar-boiled) wrapped in silver wire featuring red Czech glass crystal and signature House of D wing charms (Tibetan Silver) and Noveau letter D.

Stand out from the crowd with this edgy and unique long pendant necklace! Guaranteed one-of-a-kind.

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16 and a half inch (on smallest strand) / 42 centimetre three-strand necklace with gold plate chain and findings, acrylic and glass beads including glass lampwork pendant and glass foil bead, gold tone connectors, gold tone charms, Czech glass crystal beads and a paste gem pendant.

This luxurious, extravagant green and gold bee-themed necklace is perfect for summer, bringing to mind grass meadows and wildflowers and the gentle humming of bees going about their business. Although very striking, it can even be worn during the day with the right outfit. A great gift for any glamorous gardeners in your life!

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Gold plate fish-hook ear wire earrings with rose cake cut glass crystals, acrylic beads, and glass pearls.

Cute and classy, these elegant earrings pair perfectly with pale pink or garden green. Look like a regular queen with these dangling beauties!

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17 inches / 43 centimetre black lace ribbon choker, 2 3/4 inches 6.5 centimetres wide, two-popper closure, with brass frame and resin cameo.

Delicate lacy Victorian mourning choker perfect for goths, lolitas, cosplay, or just adding a little old-time style to an outfit. Wear it over a high-necked top, or on bare skin!

Patron of the Arts Part 2

As I’ve previously mentioned, one of the great joys of having even a little spare money knocking around is the opportunity to commission artists to illustrate my work. Now, I’m not exactly flush at the moment, but I can spare enough to bring some beautiful black and white art to my living room, and to help an artist who needs money very fast.

I was so impressed with B.L. Becotte‘s work on the last commission (an illustration for a key scene in my most recent, first-draft-stage novel, As Simple As Hunger) that I immediately jumped for another; this artist’s style is perfect for the darker, gothic turns that some of my novels  have taken, and it’s art with a real grasp of the dramatic in terms of angles suited to storytelling.

Another of my books which was crying out for some illustrations and which I thought was perfectly suited to B. L. Becotte’s inky, Bisette-esque style is The Other Daughter, and so I eagerly flung a section of prose at the artist with a note reading “anything from this bit would be wonderful”.

I was right about it being wonderful.

Polly Mazlowsczy attacks Nancy Oakes, by B.L. Becotte

I just can’t get enough of those thick, solid, deep shadows, and the delirious and alarming sense of action this low angle gives to the scene. The indignity of the violence, Nancy’s position, the way Polly is standing with her chair-leg raised; everything here screams of a situation gone terribly awry and tells you you’re right in the middle of something. It’s masterful.

(You can buy The Other Daughter if you like – and you should, it’s a terribly compelling story – but I’m afraid this illustration isn’t in it!)

The Illustrated Woman

On Saturday I went to a tattoo studio in Greenwich, arriving via a series of unfortunate events just on time, whereupon my tattooist was late and we didn’t get started until an hour after we were supposed to.

I had not had any work done by this fellow previously, in part because he only moved to England in December, and one of the important parts of tattooing for me is being able to manage a reasonable conversation with the person tattooing me so that I don’t actually fall asleep. As it was I was overtired and became drowsy a few times (and oddly cold), but the conversation itself was satisfying as we dissected music, sound recording, legends and mythos of musicians, the difference between music performance and stand-up, the story-telling properties of songwriting, books we both liked, and cultural change.

The first of the two tattoos I received was discussed at length in a previous post:

quote from "The Ghost Road" by Pat Barker

The second, which I kept schtum about, is a depiction of Narcissus taken from a pencil drawing by Gillian Blekkenhorst, which I have had for several years, folding it and unfolding it as I move house. Narcissus was the subject of one of my Creative Writing projects at university, and naturally represents here the notion of self-love and also a caution against excessive self-involvement:

Narcissus by Gillian Blekkenhorst and Owen Williams

Fairytales are all around us.

One of my chief pleasures about the spring after the long misery of the winter is that I can return home from work in daylight. Sometimes this results in moments of exquisite beauty, such as when the vapour-trails of the planes overhead, illuminated in gold by the setting sun, line up perfectly with the route one’s bus is taking. Sometimes it merely means the hordes of schoolgirls swamping one’s bus are visible as human beings rather than a terrifying mob of shrieking zombies.

Yesterday it meant that as we passed before a wooded section of waste ground near the old railway bridge, I looked down from my lofty bus seat at a brief tableaux:

Two men had evidently been running, and had stopped for a break. One was drinking water. The other, heavily-built and muscular with it, clad entirely in black, was leaning against the iron railings separating the pavement from the woods. He was panting from his exertions, but he was also leering.

The object of his interest was trotting quickly up the road, under the bridge, in a red coat with the hood up. This really happened. She was really wearing a red coat which came down to her mid-thighs, and whatever she was wearing underneath didn’t. She had the hood up, and there was a lupine if barrel-chested gentleman panting after her in the woods.

Now tell me you didn’t immediately think “Hang on, that sounds familiar” too.

Interview/Review: Protect Me From What I Want

Protect Me From What I Want is a not-exactly cold-case novella set on Jersey in the Channel Islands, available for Kindle, PDF-reading devices, and in good old-fashioned paperback.

A friend of mine, the polymath genius Holly Yagoda, recently sent me an email which, amid ranting about the invisibility of female scientists in popular consciousness and some questions about writing, included this sentence:

I have just finished Protect Me From What I Want and need to talk to you at some point about ALL MY FEELS regarding the kind of narrator Hennessey is.

My ego being a vast and very fragile entity, I immediately replied:

Please do shout at me about Protect Me From I What I Want, I’ve had very little feedback about that one…

Holly replied – with some spoilers for the book – thus:

PMFWIW got me thinking about a particular type of narrator that I like, the reluctant confessor. Telling a story about something that happened to them, but kind of uncomfortable about the bits that involve them. They downplay their part, downplay themselves, and will only gradually, grudgingly tell you anything personal – or throw something horrible about themselves at you as a punishment for daring to be interested. Michael Marshall Smith has done that kind of narrator, one who wants you to know exactly how much of a cunt they are so you might not notice the string of pretty decent things they’ve done during the book. Maybe I just don’t trust narrators who don’t have at least a little bit of self-hatred festering inside. Ahem.

Hennessey may be a dreadful person, but he was a bloody joyous narrator to read. Very funny and foul, with moments that could be quite heart-breaking but Hennessey won’t let you dwell on them because he’s already done that and all that happened was more booze and no epiphany so why fucking bother and HEY HEY HERE’S A REPREHENSIBLE THING I DID NEXT PAY ATTENTION TO THIS INSTEAD OF THE SAD THING.

Now, as I am pretending to be a writer I seem to have acquired that terrible affliction of enjoying discussing my work with people, which is oft-parodied and with good reason; writers and other “creatives” can be terribly self-involved and self-important people:

[…] Your comments on Hennessey made me dig out my proof copy of the book and reread about a third of it. He’s oddly evasive and blunt at the same time, which seems to be a recurring character trait (certainly from fanfic characters I’ve written) and also … a problem with me. […] Overall I kind of pitched him to myself as a romantic tragedian who doesn’t quite accept that this is what he is; his self-hatred is down to older seeds and his decline, in steps, is just symptomatic of the deeper malaise. I think the original point of the story was actually consent, comparison of his relationship with Mon with the Haut de la Garenne boys, but it kind of got away from me a bit.

This is, I am sure you’ll agree, a little high-brow for a book which is effectively not even a detective story, but allow me my moment in the sun, because Holly had one final spoonful of honey to administer:

The idea of consent is still very much in the foreground – I think the scene with Mon’s parents really brings it home. Their raging decibels over a consensual relationship contrast with the hushing up of the very nonconsensual abuse of many children. And then there’s so much more to it; John and Mon’s relationship is legally nonconsensual because of her age, and is pretty drunkenly fucked up, but it’s the only place where she gets the attention she needs – non-judgemental, positive attention from another human. I think it was the “at least he helps me with my homework” line that sealed it for me. It ties together with Haut de la Garenne with the idea that the “official” best place for a child to be – with their parents, in a care home – is not always the best place for them in reality.

Outside of this baffling enjoyment of my work (I kid, of course, I wouldn’t be inflicting it on the public if I thought it was that bad), Holly Yagoda has pretty damn good taste, and has previously recommended to me: Memoirs of a Master Forger (William Heaney), The Raw Shark Texts (Steven Hall), and The End of Mr Y (Scarlet Thomas), the latter of which I enjoyed until the ending and the rest of which I enjoyed without reservation.

Jewellery Post: House-Moving Exodus

All of the following jewellery (along with many other pieces) is available from my Etsy shop.

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19 inch / 48.25 centimetre red copper tone chain necklace with swarovski crystals and fire-polished Czech glass beads and a watch closure, plus free earrings.

Hot colours for the fire-loving person in your life! These glittering red, orange, and gold crystals draw the eye inexorably to them just like dancing flames.

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BLUE: 20 and a half inch / 52 centimetre acrylic bead blue and silver necklace with ceramic skull pendant and tiny silver star.

GREEN: 16 and a half inch / 42 centimetre glass bead and silver plate pin necklace with silver plate findings and ceramic skull bead, and silver plate cross pendant.

These funky, exciting necklaces are perfect for parties, raves, carnivals, or any other event where bright colours and cool designs are called for. Not for the faint of heart!

27 and a half inch / 70 centimetre silver plate, acrylic bead and freshwater pearl necklace.

This unique bit of work is colourful and eye-catching, perfect for anyone who likes making a statement. The rainbow beading ensures that no matter what you wear, this will suit it!

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16 and a half inch / 42 centimetre rigid gold plate collar with hook and ball closure, with adjustable width cascade of mixed gold plate chain & acrylic accent beads at base: cascade is 9 inches / 23 centimetres at longest point.

This luscious, luxuriant collar-based necklace is perfect for the most glamorous of occasions, and looks very good with strapless dresses, black, and a glass of champagne!

Extract from a letter.

Our landlady has very kindly decided that since our house is, not to put too fine a point on it, falling down, we have to move out. She’s not given us the hugest of windows to get on with this, there aren’t many places I really want to live, and we own a lot of things (this is primarily my fault because I am to books what magpies are to tin foil). As a result of this I’m even less able to get my head around writing anything intelligent at the moment, so here’s an extract from a letter I started writing during my lunch break today.

Almost anything can be an act of devotion if you want it to be one.

We have beautiful churches here. What makes them ‘holy’, or gives them a sense of the divine, is the shape. It produces echoes that move upwards, and keeps the place cool and strangely silent: there is self-imposed order in these buildings designed to make you feel small but in touch with something bigger: Leonard Cohen captures it sometimes in his songs of adulation, sacrifice, and self-abasement. His passion is masochistic, religious – whether sanctified or decidedly profane, he understands that there is pleasure to be found in kneeling before something.

One of the beaches we used to drive to in the evenings was a long narrow scar cutting inland between a huge high cliff and a lower one made of sandwiches of dark rock run through with wide quartz seams. It was a terrible place for swimming – I nearly drowned myself on a number of occasions – but on our way in and out of the deep valley there was a graveyard up on the cliff top.

It was small, full, and completely surrounded by a stone wall that came up to my chest – filled with plants and birds’ nests – and with a roofed-over gateway of the sort that is common in churchyards in Southern England. But if there was a church it had gone. The graves lay in a sort of order, but the rows had grown higgledy-piggledy and everywhere long pale grass was taking over the land of the dead, just as the branches scaled the walls. I have always loved cemeteries of the old English sort because they are quiet, empty, and home to exciting wildlife, but this one, with its view to endless blue skies and nodding ox-eye daisies, with the wind bringing the sea into my hair at sunset, was always my favourite.

It was unusual for an English graveyard for its lack of trees, specifically the heavy yew that haunts most. Somehow the bright and breezy loneliness of it seemed more appropriate than the stifling mourning-scent of yew, a bit like the Chinese preference for white for mourning being somehow more sensible than the European predilection for black.

It is a very long and meandering letter of the sort I haven’t written in a good long time, and I’m fairly pleased to find myself in the right frame of mind for writing to people at all. It places the sci-fi short out of commission for the time being, perhaps, but there was no deadline on that.

Currently readingThe Charioteer by Mary Renault (a reread and a comfort read, which I’d already found I needed before the eviction notice), and Where Angels Fear To Tread by E M Forster, with occasional digressions into David Cronenberg by John Costello as I have returned to my old, bad habit of reading several books at once.

Currently listening to: A return to obsessive re-listenings of Virtue by Emmy the Great, although I have promised a friend I would give her my thoughts on England Keep My Bones by Frank Turner.

Currently watching: No television, although I intend to catch up with The 10 O’Clock Show to mitigate the poisonous seepings of the newspapers I can’t help seeing on the way to work, and a kind of fervent fascination with cut scenes from the 1987 film adaptation of Maurice.

And a small favour: If you have been eyeballing anything in my shop, between now and early May would be a lovely time for you to buy it, as I need to get stock out of my house before I move.