raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
2010-07-20 07:06 pm
Entry tags:

[sticky entry] Sticky: introductory notes

I was [livejournal.com profile] loneraven on LiveJournal - which is to say, I still am - but now I am [personal profile] raven as well; hi. Er. I am reading here, and I am reading there. If you want to move your journal-based activities to DW I am perfectly happy to read/subscribe to you here, if you don't, then let's hang out at LJ.

I have no blog policies as such. If you want to know what I think about something, do ask.

Here are some things that I don't exactly assume you know about me, but might be useful/interesting; and here are my stories at the Archive of Our Own. I am entirely okay with people podficcing, translating, continuing, or otherwise-transforming my stories, but I'd love to see the end result if that's what you're doing, and please credit me as an original author.

Really, I'm pretty easy-going.
raven: TOS McCoy and Kirk frowning, text: "Well that's just maddeningly unhelpful" (st - MADDENINGLY UNHELPFUL)
2017-04-24 10:09 pm

this post turned into a morose diatribe about racism, I am the worst

Friends, I am so tired, jet-lag is the worst. (I do not always like William Gibson, but he is spot-on about jet-lag: ".... her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can't move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.”)

(On this basis, my soul left Singapore four days ago and is currently slouching towards Bethlehem. Onwards, onwards.)

Australia was wonderful, I really enjoyed it. I (mostly) enjoyed New Zealand; I was in Christchurch, Wellington (briefly), Lake Tekapo and Hanmer Springs. I do tend to feel uneasy in NZ though. The first time I went to Hanmer, a pack of white teenagers stared at me with hostile fascination until I cracked and left. It wasn't particularly pleasant and was replicated elsewhere in the rural South Island. So partly it was that, and partly it was the place in itself, but I really enjoyed Singapore. It's not my favourite place for various reasons - not least, I was travelling without my drugs because they're controlled substances there - but, well. I went on about this elsewhere but in Singapore people look like me. People on the street, popstars on TV. Adverts for make-up, adverts for wedding venues, adverts for law school - they all had girls like me in them. I wonder how much less utterly neurotic I'd be if I lived in an environment like that all the time, because there is a psychological pressure you don't notice until it's gone - until you spend a day thinking, oh, hey, I look pretty today, oh, hey, I said something funny and people laughed, and all those casual quotidian thoughts aren't followed with "Despite..." and a giant asterisk.

I read a fair bit while I was away, which is what I originally opened this tab to talk about I've been meaning to read the Moore graphic novels for years, and finally got around to it on the long flights. Watchmen - I wanted to like it more than I did. It's a critical darling, yep, I get it, and even on a visceral level, I get it, it's rich and complex and fascinating, I was swept up in it. But in the end I just found it distasteful and unsatisfying, which is a bit tragic. The women in the story exist to be raped or denied agency. And I loathe Rorschach - I loathe being placed in the mind of misogynist, homophobic, racist, anti-Semitic, tragic-childhood-waaaah men, and I particularly loathe ~narrative ambivalence~ in respect of them. Rorschach is not an anti-hero. I do not admire his integrity. It's a virtue in itself, but I don't admire it in bricks. And ultimately I don't know what the text is trying to tell me. Is it that being a superhero is possible, that being a hero is possible? Or is it 300 pages of nihilism? Either way, by the end I didn't care.

I liked V for Vendetta much better. I thought it was interesting and clever and hit a lot of the narrative tropes I adore. And then I had this thought, which I share with you because it's a sad, pathetic little thought and I'm sort of ashamed of it. Here it is. V for Vendetta is set in a near-future dystopian Britain, where the fascists are in charge and totalitarianism has seeped into the public's skin. It's richly and devastatingly imagined. It's a world in which there are explicitly no brown people and no queers - they've been destroyed by the regime. And I - the brown queer reader - am being placed in the position, as reader, of feeling empathy and concern for those who are left. For a now wholly white and non-queer society. For the story to work, I must be invested in what becomes of it. And I'm capable of it - this is the task of the brown queer reader, to find empathy and commonality of self, in that distant human for whom existence and interiority is permitted - and capable of it to the deeply ingrained, deeply socialised extent that it took me 200 pages to have this thought at all.

But I had it. And then I didn't enjoy the rest so much - but I did enjoy it a bit. Because, as I said, I've had the practice. In some ways, I'm wondering why I participate less and less in media fandom, and in other ways I know the answer: it's that I no longer want to encourage this tendency in myself. To queer the text, or run the fic challenge focusing on the browns, or whatever, is work. Unpaid female labour, in fact, which in my non-fannish life I yell about all the time. And I know I'm missing the point deliberately - fandom was never about the labour-for-capital economy, quite the reverse - but it's also emotional labour, isn't it. It's emotional labour to centre the brown or queer experience in stories that were not written about those things. It's emotional labour to just write or consume the white dude pairing du jour while carefully Not Thinking about the other thing - and as I get older I get crankier and less willing to do this. For me, the way through the Gordian knot is to write my own stories. It'd be different for someone else, perhaps, but that's it for me.

I also read Marbles, by Ellen Forney, which is a graphic memoir about living as a writer and artist with badly medicated bipolar disorder. I was both interested and nervous about this book, because it focuses on something I'm worrying about a lot lately: the relationship between creativity, medication and mental illness. It's a lovely book, actually. It's all grounded in a single experience, melodramatic and abrasive, without purporting to generalise. Forney decides that to be medicated is better for her, even if she does worry about its effect on her creativity, and makes significant effort to emphasise it wouldn't be the same for every mentally ill creator. It wasn't reassuring, but it wasn't meant to be. I liked it.

I read other things, but they'll have to wait for the next post. The drive-by rec though is for Tansy Rayner Roberts' Castle Charming novellas, which are sweet and colourful and queer fairy tale parodies. And the first one is free!

(Urgh. My soul is still plodding across the Middle East. It's taking in the sights. It's ordering olives and shakshuka. HURRY THE FUCK UP oh my god.)
raven: white text on green and yellow background: "ten points from Gryffindor for destroying my soul" (sbp - destroying my soul)
2017-04-12 05:55 pm


Hello friends. This is either my last or second-to last crossposted-to-LJ entry, I think. There are a lot of you I'd be reluctant to lose touch with so I'm not going to delete straight off, but it does seem that after 16 years it has become untenable. I am here as I always am and I've tried to gather up as many people I'm aware of as having recently moved to Dreamwidth. If you haven't been here before and I might not recognise your username, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know - thanks much.

(Other news: am in Christchurch (the one in New Zealand!), having had a very pleasant time in Sydney and Wagga Wagga, which is underrated. Coffee good, wine awesome, driving down to Mount Cook tomorrow.)
raven: (misc - inside the box)
2017-03-27 09:25 pm


I am rereading Awakenings, the Oliver Sacks book about encephalitis lethargica and L-DOPA. I first came across the story as a teenager and predictably found it completely fascinating. But I bounced off the book a bit the first time, probably because I was too young for it and also it has a lot of quite boring prefaces. But this time I found it entirely compelling, prefaces and all, and have been talking about it quite a bit, so here we are.

The story in brief, for those who don't know it (and also to give me an excuse to tell it again): after the First World War, there was a worldwide outbreak of Spanish flu, which killed more people than the war did, but has mostly been forgotten. And following that - and yet more forgotten - was an epidemic of an illness later called encephalitis lethargica, also called sleepy-sickness. It was prevalent between about 1918 and 1928, and has never really been seen since (beyond isolated cases). People who got it tended to fall asleep - for weeks or months. And then, when they woke up, they were changed in some deep, indefinable way: neither asleep nor awake, but something in between. They sat motionless in chairs and stared into space. They could be "posed", their arms outstretched, like living statues. They couldn't be woken, and some of them didn't appear even to age - so forty years later some had been frozen in place for decades, still looking largely as they had in the late 1920s when initially struck down by the disease.

In 1969, the neurologist Oliver Sacks - who was one of the few clinicians with responsibility for a large number of post-encephalitic patients, about forty of them, in a hospital in New York - hit upon the idea of giving them L-DOPA, which at the time was a brand-new drug. (It's a chemical precursor to dopamine that can pass through the blood-brain barrier.) So without a great deal of knowledge of what would happen, but that something would, he started giving L-DOPA to these patients who had been out of the world for four decades.

And they woke up. This is the amazing part of the story, and Sacks writes about it like a dream: this glorious New York summer, in which these people not only woke up, and spoke, and moved, but became the people they had been. Sacks mentions one patient who had been a flapper, and the nurses going to the NYPL to look up the people and places she spoke about. He mentions another who had been a young Jewish emigrée from Vienna in the 1920s, and startled the staff because they had never known it until she spoke with an Austrian accent, and asked for a rabbi. It's just incredible to read about. And heartbreaking too, because L-DOPA turns out not to be quite the miracle that it promises. There's a honeymoon period, where Sacks and his colleagues are convinced it's just teething problems and they'll figure it out - and then the realisation that they can't stop the effect of the drug wearing off with time, or giving the patients side-effects that are too much to bear. So while some of the patients stay "awakened", others slip back into their pre-L-DOPA state, or into a coma this time. It's tragic and has an awful inevitable feel but it doesn't take on the feel of a Greek tragedy - you never lose sight of these people as real, individual human beings, not archetypes or fairy tales. I am not always convinced by Sacks' theoretical approaches, which draw a lot more from straight philosophy than I'm accustomed to seeing in a book that also purports to examine the scientific method. And it's also a book of its time and place, and a medicalised book - it doesn't always shine in a good light when considered through the lens of disability activism and theory - but Sacks is always interesting, always humane, and always interested in individuals and their stories.

The coda to this is that I hadn't really gathered, the first time I read this book, that Sacks was queer (although I was reminded of his lifelong friendship with WH Auden, which is the kind of historical congruence I love). And then [personal profile] happydork linked me to this beautiful article: My Life With Oliver Sacks, by Bill Hayes, who was Sacks' partner at the time of his death. It's one of the loveliest things I've read in ages - a snapshot of queer work, a queer life, as well as a love letter and obituary. I adore it. i've been rereading a lot of formative things just recently - all the best-beloveds of teenage crazies, so The Bell Jar and Prozac Nation - but also Slaughterhouse Five, Gender Outlaws, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, and Wild Dreams of a New Beginning. (The last of which because I read a poem: Lawrence Ferlinghetti Is Still Alive.)

I feel like there ought to be some sort of conclusion to this thought, something about my foundering mental health, but actually I think it's just, there are always books, and that precious kinship of inquiring queers.
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
2017-01-20 12:05 am

we write history with our feet

In the last week of my twenties, I sold a story; concluded a piece of litigation in the Court of Appeal; agreed to remain on secondment through to March 2018; and spoke a little Gaelic with some kind strangers. And here we are.

A friend of mine, to mark a similar occasion, wrote a letter to her younger self. I thought that was a lovely idea, though I'm too tired to write very much and perhaps I don't have to. To me at eighteen, from me at just-now-thirty: I am glad I was you, and you, I think, will be glad to be me. I have done what you set out to do, and it has been hard work that was worth doing, and it has been transformative.

But you will never be more or less queer than you are right now. The language thing won't ever hurt less; writing will hold you and keep you; sleeping or eating will never become any easier; you are, and have been, and will be loved. And you and I both have an unknown self - the one for whom the Trump inauguration will be the past and the Bush inauguration the distant past - who lives in the glorious unknown uncertainty, in that which can yet be made. I hope she thinks of me with the same affection with which I think of you. And for the world she lives in, I want to believe this, from Rebecca Solnit's essay on Hope In The Darkness:

"The sleeping giant is one name for the public; when it wakes up, when we wake up, we are no longer only the public: we are civil society, the superpower whose nonviolent means are sometimes, for a shining moment, more powerful than violence, more powerful than regimes and armies. We write history with our feet and with our presence and our collective voice and vision. And yet, and of course, everything in the mainstream media suggests that popular resistance is ridiculous, pointless, or criminal, unless it is far away, was long ago, or, ideally, both. These are the forces that prefer the giant stays asleep.

Together we are very powerful, and we have a seldom-told, seldom-remembered history of victories and transformations that can give us confidence that, yes, we can change the world because we have many times before. You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war chant of our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future."
raven: (middleman - sleepy wendy)
2017-01-16 11:01 pm

Kushiel's Dart

So a few of you asked me to write up my thoughts on Kushiel's Dart, once I'd finished it! (It took a while. It had somehow escaped me that the print edition is NINE HUNDRED PAGES, wow.) My thoughts are - complicated. I liked it! I really did. But I probably won't read any more in the series.

Okay, so. Kushiel's Dart is set in the mythical land (actually Renaissance France) of Terre d'Ange. It's not high fantasy with magic, at least not really: it's a little like Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief books, in that this is a world with a polytheistic pantheon that actually exists. Phedre, the narrator and main character, is an "anguisette" - it's all there in the etymology. She feels pain as pleasure. Kind of. It's complicated. Phedre's parents sell her off into indentured servitude when she's very young. She's raised in the Night Court, the complex arrangement of high-status brothels that form part an institutional component of Terre d'Ange. At the age of ten, her bond-price is bought by a dissembling aristocrat called Anafiel Delaunay, who already has another bond-slave, but chooses to take her when he realises what she is.

This story did not go where I thought it would.

Well, it did, but not how I thought. In broad sweeps, it's the story of how Phedre becomes a high-status sex worker (which, in her world, can be a form of religious service, and is so for her) who's also uniquely well-placed to gather intelligence from her patrons. Slowly, it becomes a story about shifting court and national alliances, and about revolution and war. It's about power, of course. I think if I'd read this at fifteen, I would have adored it. Firstly, so much consensual kink in a mainstream fantasy book! And not not-remarked-upon, but not secret; acknowledged as an ordinary thing for people to want. And secondly, it does the thing I still love, which is to take the power dynamics between individuals, and use them as a lens to look at power generally, political and personal. I don't think it does it particularly well, for reasons to come; I'm hampered here by not being fifteen and having read the Captive Prince trilogy relatively recently. But it does try to do it, and I like that.

And you know, I'd probably have read it and liked it fine. I like Phedre (not so much as a child, but I do like the trope of the adult narrator speaking fondly but despairingly of her younger self). But then it turns out IT'S A FOUND FAMILY STORY. It really is! I love to itty bitty bits how much Delaunay loves Phedre and how much she loves him, and how much they both love Alcuin. Delaunay chooses to give them his name and they both choose to carry it for themselves. They choose to be what they are to each other. Ah. My heart, my id.

And speaking of which, Anafiel Delaunay, poet, scholar, spy, Gaelic speaker (!! what! what even!), literally no one is surprised that he is my favourite character in this book. If I'd read it at fifteen, I'd have found it completely vital. Not only is Delaunay unremarkably and unapologetically queer (bisexual, even, be still my heart), it's his SPOILER, IT'S AN ENIGMATIC PAST )

So I liked it a lot! The reason I don't want to read any more of the books is partly because I'm just not cut out for 900-page doorstoppers, seriously, you could have told that story using half the trees, and partly because, well, the elephant in the room. I find Carey's worldbuilding really rich and interesting, for the most part. And I do like the quasi-real pantheon, and I even like the idea of a nation who are a little bit preternaturally beautiful because they're descended from a god. What I do not like is that of course it's white people are descended from a god. I like fantasy worldbuilding that draws heavily on real people and cultures. But I'm so not into petty criminal Roma people, and charming but "uncultured" Gaels; I don't really want to know what happens when Phedre meets brown people elsewhere, because I'm not thinking it will be good. And as a brown person, I'm used to fantasy that equates beauty with whiteness. It's another thing in this book, though; never, ever is it deconstructed that the people of Terre d'Ange may not be exactly their own account of themselves, perfect, beautiful, God's chosen people, and white.

So there we are. And it kind of sucks, because I liked a lot about this book, and I'd nominate Delaunay and Phedre for Yuletide in a heartbeat.

(Also, the Diana Gabaldon school of literary Gaelic lives on! Dear Ms Carey, "goirm" means blue. Sometimes it means green. Mostly blue. It's a real language, with living speakers. If you weren't such a white lady I would have given you the benefit of the doubt.)
raven: TOS McCoy and Kirk frowning, text: "Well that's just maddeningly unhelpful" (st - MADDENINGLY UNHELPFUL)
2017-01-07 09:42 pm

blah blah blah me etc

Thanks to [personal profile] st_aurafina there are some new people around! Hi! I'm glad to see Dreamwidth a little more active - I tolerate Twitter because it's the place people hang out, but I'm really much more verbose than it allows me to be. I like it here.

By way of introduction: I'm (very very nearly) thirty; I've been in fandom for sixteen years; I'm a pro(ish) writer under another name; I live and work in London; I'm a lawyer and civil servant; I'm interested in a fair few things but predominantly languages and land rights. I mean, that's basically it. I lead quite a dull life. I work, I read, I write, I learn languages (though I'm not as multilingual as I ought to be), and sometimes I leave London and can breathe again.

What else? I realised I forgot to make any New Year's resolutions, or at least, forgot to write about them. My resolution for this year is just: do less. Work less. Spend more time reading trashy romance novels/on long aimless walks/hanging out with friends. If there's anything you want to know about me, or anything you want to start a conversation about, please comment!
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
2017-01-01 01:52 pm

Yuletide reveals

Happy new year, my friends. Unexpectedly, I had a beautiful day yesterday - a matinee performance of Rent at St James's, and then friends, pink wine and sparklers to bring the new year in. We still have a [personal profile] soupytwist on the sofabed and all is delight.

For Yuletide, I wrote two stories:

your shadow at evening, rising to meet you [NASA Mars posters]
It was a source of consternation to certain of Earth's constitutional bodies that the original Mars mission made landfall on Christmas Eve.

This is an even-less-than-two-minute fandom (the posters are great: they're these delightful official NASA posters in the vintage travel style) and on Christmas Eve I saw this request in the spreadsheet and decided - at 7pm, why - to write this in one frantic go. My darling [personal profile] soupytwist did an incredibly quick beta and I got it up just before the collection closed for posting. This story is so visibly by me I'm amazed more people didn't guess (hi, [personal profile] toft). It's basically original, which is in-keeping with 2016, the Year Without Fanfic, but I'm really glad I wrote this for Yuletide and not in any other context.

I also wrote:

Things By Witchlight [Society of Gentlemen - K.J. Charles]
In this year of our Lord 1819, in the tail end of December, a boy is hanged at Newgate for unnatural vices.

Dominic and Silas, a hanging, and a misunderstanding. If I'd had more time, I think the story in this story could have done with about 10,000 words and a lot more on-screen kink, but, bah, humbug, you do what you can do. I wrote it for [personal profile] marina, which was cheering.

I have nothing planned for the rest of the day except more quiet hangouts. All iz well.
raven: (vorkosigan - creepy planetary conquest)
2016-12-26 04:18 pm

Rogue One

I wasn't originally going to see Rogue One, and then [personal profile] happydork said some things that changed my mind. So A. and I went to see it on the lunchtime Boxing Day showing, which was an awesome idea. We walked in just before the start time and the two chaps who were the only other people in there smiled at us and announced, "Welcome to our cinema!" By the time the actual film started, there were about ten people scattered around the seats, all wearing Christmas jumpers and comedy headwear. About ten minutes in someone realised that they hadn't dimmed the house lights, took off his Santa hat with an elaborate sigh and went off to see someone about it.

So that was a Star Wars movie. I was thinking for basically the first three quarters of the movie, ahhh, self, you always forget you don't actually like epic fantasy. (What I like about SFF is the reimagining of the quotidian, and this is basically the reverse of that.) But, you know, it was fine. And then I was about half an hour from the end, still thinking, hmmm, this was a perfectly nice way to spend a holiday afternoon, and then suddenly I got what they were doing and how the story was going to have to go. spoilers )

okay I'm done shouting at clouds. I'm trying to spend Boxing Day not doing much but now I'm going to tidy my desk of eighteen months of papers! Hurrah, etc.
raven: white text on green and yellow background: "ten points from Gryffindor for destroying my soul" (sbp - destroying my soul)
2016-12-25 09:48 pm


It's been a strange but beautiful day around here; I still don't think I celebrate Christmas? But I do observe it, in a manner of speaking, and this is one of those times where I'm grateful for all the things of my life, my family and community and marriage. So there we are.

Yuletide! I got two gifts:

And Bear Unfaltering (1157 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Sense8 (TV)
Jonas in his cell, remembering.

This is really, really good: so richly textured and thoughtful. I liked it so much.

Only Time Will Tell (1340 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Oxford Time Travel Universe - Connie Willis, Hilary Tamar Mysteries - Sarah Caudwell, Doctor Who (1963)
Hilary Tamar gets some unexpected visitors.

And this is just ridiculously delightful. Hilary Tamar has visitors! And concerns about Professor Chronotis's scholarship! (A Cambridge man, though one can't blame the man for his misfortune.) It's everything I love in 1300 words.

There are two full-length stories by me in the collection. Both of them are so recognisably me it's obvious! from! space! so no points to anyone for guessing. (I've just given up on not sounding like me all the time. I have written nothing that doesn't sound like it's by me.) Have a lovely day, friends: I appreciate you all so much.
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
2016-12-04 11:46 pm

(sing for the coming of the longest night)

I got up before 10am today, something which I have not done in days and days, and went out to brunch with a friend at a place by the Serpentine. I walked back from Knightsbridge to Covent Garden, through freezing, diamond-brilliant cold, under a cloudless sky.

And you know, it turns out London is a beautiful, ancient city. I went through three of the royal parks - allodial land; held without tenure, without mark, for eight centuries - and along past Hatchards, where a hundred people were queueing up to get their books signed by Tim Peake; and through Piccadilly Circus, which is currently hosting an exhibition in praise of Frank Pick, a shy, unassuming lawyer who lived a shy unassuming life at the start of the last century; who believed that as the London Underground belonged to the city, and all the millions of people who used it, every aspect of it should be a work of public art. I bought a book and a cup of coffee and I did some work in a cafe like the ghastly cliché of a writer I am, and I saw the sun begin to set over Hampstead Heath with the skyline glittering behind.

And though tha sinn anns an dùbhlachd, and it is so very dark - not forever. Nothing lasts forever, except this place that we live in.
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
2016-11-13 10:08 pm

not to kill ourselves with a nameless gnawing pain

Like so many, I have been asking myself, what can I do? And the answer seems to be: my job. That's it. I've given my bit of pen money to the ACLU. And I've read a lot of poetry over the last few days, of which some follows.

"Quarantine", Eavan Boland

"Fix", Alice Fulton

"Flight 1067 to LA", Ursula Le Guin

"To be of use", Marge Piercy

"What Everyone Should Know About Grief", Ingrid de Kok

"Note To Self At A Certain Point In The Future", Michael Bazzett

"Nightmare At Noon" (1940), Stephen Vincent Bénet

and "The Art of Making Possible", Nancy Scheibner, via Hillary Rodham Clinton.
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
2016-11-03 09:11 pm

as ever I'm trying to take pleasure in the small things of life

So my life is full of extraordinary things I'm not allowed to talk about. But they are extraordinary things; and though I haven't been dealing with human fallibility well by which I mean my own, I'm glad to be doing the work I do; I'm glad that because of the work I do I have been invited to three work team Christmas lunches on three consecutive days; I'm glad the civil service choir are practising in the stairwell and that if the winter comes as a long spear the tip is diamond-bright.

I am glad to be nearly thirty years old and to look it, suddenly; I found a snarl of grey in my hair and saw just for an instant someone I'm going to be. Perhaps it's strange to find that an extraordinary thing but it's coming at a time where I keep seeing those glimpses; I'm still being piecemeal appraised but my supervisor has been saying, make a note of this thing and that thing, it may be years from now but you will go before a board again. The last time I did was the last time I felt like this - like I was shedding a past self despite myself - and that was another winter. It's the time of year.

Also, my teacher watched me slowly, painfully pick what I could out of a bit of Gaelic poetry, and said, "You have a mind like a steel trap" - which made me so wonderfully and instantly happy that I'm writing it down here. I have been thinking about the language a lot just recently, and why I love it so much, so deeply, without being able to articulate a single thing about why. But I am glad to have it, to have found it, to be held by it. Tha mo cuid-Ghàidhlig ro mhòr, ach làtha na làithean, msaa.
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
2016-10-06 09:07 pm

Dear yuletide author:

Dear yuletide author,

Hi! I'm delighted you're writing for me. I hope you have a good time, writing whatever you want to write: optional details are optional and in any case I'm much more interested in the story of your heart than anything specifically below - this is just in case it would be helpful to you to have more detail.

Generally, I like: friendship; kindness; competence; people expressing their love for each other in small ways; interesting power dynamics; breakfast.

There's very little I don't like. I don't like men in positions of power over women and I don't like the erasing of queers and that's basically it. I'm not super into PWP as all there is to a story, though sex and kink are both things I like. I have no triggers, but I'm ophidiophobic.

Also: you don't have to write fluff for me. (You can write fluff for me! I'd love that!) But if the story of your heart is sad; if it's bittersweet; or wistful, or just less hilarious than the canon - I want to hear it.


KJ Charles - Society of Gentlemen )

Connie Willis - Oxford time-travelling historians )

Sense8 )

Hilary Tamar Mysteries - Sarah Caudwell )

Having said all of that: optional details are optional. Have a lovely time!
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
2016-09-25 12:27 pm

The Arrival; some other things

I am weepy and tired and verklempt. I spent yesterday afternoon "reading" The Arrival, by Shaun Tan; [livejournal.com profile] troyswann recommended it to me when we were up in Scotland and I saw it in Housman's bookshop at King's Cross and bought it on impulse. (And had a weird encounter at the counter, where the clearly-very-new person behind the counter asked me if I were a student or a trade union member, for reasons of discount, because it's that sort of bookshop. "You don't look like you're in a trade union," she said, which made me huff a bit, because what does a trade union member look like? I am in two, for the record, depending on how you count: both on the roll and as a civil servant. Hmph.)

Anyway, The Arrival - it's a fantasy graphic novel told without words, depicting the story of an immigrant family's journey to a strange new place. And I find I don't want to use words to describe how powerful and beautiful it is as a piece of art. I just cried wordlessly at it. This is an unqualified recommendation but it's not something where a brief snippet will give any sense of the enormity of the whole.

So there's that. Here are some other things:

-I've had the flu all week, and am still feeling insubstantial; I went to work on Friday and realised in the middle of the afternoon that September 23rd represents the halfway mark of this posting that is killing me. (I will be glad to have done it I've learned a lot everyone pays their dues etc, you've heard it.) I look back on the last eighteen months and I'm not proud, exactly, because that's not a word that means much in these circumstances, but I have made it this far and I'm glad of it.

-Gaelic restarted this week, and I trundled down to the class on Wednesday and enjoyed it moderately. It's the beginners' class, and the teacher kindly suggested afterwards that gratifying as it may be for one's ego to be the best in the class, it's much better for me to be remedial. So I've been bumped across to the second-year class, which is scary because I really will be the worst in it. Tha mi ag ionnsachadh an-dràsda, etc. After a couple of months away, I still love the language inarticulably outwith its own terms.

-A. and I are going out tonight to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We have been married for three years, together for nine. I ran out of things to say about this years ago. We are what we are; we go on.

-I have several batches of beta comments on the novel, and keep crying at these also; not because they're sad - they're helpful and heartening - but because I've been working on this thing alone for a long time and the externalisation has been a process. (And also because I've now got to pick it up again, in a while, and go on with the work. The first six months I was writing it I never backed it up, because of a secret hope that I'd knock my laptop off a table and bam, I wouldn't have to write it any more.)

But: in a while. The next book on my to-be-read pile is Lavie Tidhar's The Violent Century. Right now I'm going to sit on the couch and watch Star Trek on Netflix.
raven: TOS McCoy and Kirk frowning, text: "Well that's just maddeningly unhelpful" (st - MADDENINGLY UNHELPFUL)
2016-08-19 10:20 pm

Things I have learned

Friends, here is my post about Things What I Have Read For The Damn Book. I'm writing this up because, well, I do feel rather a fraud about this. I am by no means a historian. Nor am I a particularly good researcher. Here's some things I read about and then wrote a book about?

-Spies! Though I decided very early on that although there is a lot written about spies in Britain during the Second World War (which is what the book is about, in case that wasn't clear), I could not use any of the real history of the WW2 spies in my story. It turns out, you see, that they were ridiculous. In September 1940 a German spy parachuted into a field in Northants. His radio transmitter came down on a separate string. Unluckily for him, the transmitter's parachute was higher than his. He was found by the farmer in the morning with a concussion and his boots sticking out of a hedge. Also in September 1940, four German spies came ashore in a fishing boat on the Kent coast. Two of them were drunk. One was noticeably of Japanese heritage. They demanded alcohol in a pub at 9am. They were all arrested. Another spy landed in Ireland, in the wrong place, walked 70 miles across County Wicklow, swam the River Boyne and was found on arrest to have all his own WW1 medals in his pocket. By the end of 1942 every single German spy in Britain had been shot, executed or persuaded to turn double agent.

Interestingly, the Gestapo at this time was producing a handbook of Military-Geographical Data about Britain for the proposed invasion force – and spies, presumably – to carry. Among otherwise useful information it included the English phrases (and Welsh, and Gaelic!) for “sewage works”, “submarine contours”, “War Office” and “lunatic asylum” several times under various headings, for inexplicable reasons. Later in the war the RAF dropped equivalent handbooks translating English into German, including the phrases: “Was that a bomb - a torpedo - a shell - a mine? We are seasick? How much do you charge for swimming lessons? See how briskly our captain burns!

(I am reminded of [livejournal.com profile] littlered2's charming 1950s phrasebook for English non-speakers of French, which helpfully includes the phrase: "Eleven hostages were shot here.")

-Some stuff about when women were first admitted for degrees at Oxford, all of which I ignored. (When I wrote Quarter Days, I got at least one reviewer complaining that it was unrealistic to have women as judges and academics in 1919. I nodded and agreed yes, terribly unrealistic, THEY CAN DO MAGIC.) And then a fair bit about a part-time academic's life at Oxford during the 1930s; I ended up getting a lot of this out of Dorothy Sayers and of Death on the Cherwell, a lovely contemporary murder mystery set at thinly-disguised Hilda's.

-The life and in particular, the death, of William Joyce - the last person in Britain to be hanged for a crime not murder. The wording is advised; Joyce almost certainly wasn't the last British person in that category. I spent some time reading the report of the appeal, which was brought on the basis that there was no jurisdiction in respect of treason over Joyce, who was an American citizen. The appeal was dismissed on the basis that during the 1930s, Joyce had tried to apply for a British passport (and failed) – because that meant he had made allegiance to the Crown (!). I got a lot of this out of a 1950s edition of Kenny on Criminal Law which was also helpful on treason, hanging, and the distinctions between sodomy, buggery and gross indecency, and the scope of the Labouchere Amendment. (Around this time [personal profile] isis wrote me a Watchmaker of Filigree Street fic about the passage of the Labouchere Amendment, which I appreciated a lot.)

-A lot on the wartime history of the Underground (no one is surprised). I went down to Clapham South last winter on one of the TFL Hidden London tours, and it was fascinating – it's a tour of one of the deep-level shelters, preserved underneath the existing station. It's this incredible, dimly-lit warren of tunnels. There were miniature hospitals, canteens, whole communities a hundred feet below ground. People put on plays on the tracks after the trains stopped. They published their own newspapers. There's still seventy-year-old graffiti down there, etched into the bare rock by the shelterers. Hidden London are doing another tour in December, this time of Down Street: the disused Underground station which was the secret headquarters for Churchill's War Cabinet. It's the first time they've opened the station to the public since it closed in 1932 and I am very excited about it.

(I did a lot of reading on this subject, out of several books, on a long train journey to Liverpool. After a couple of hours of sneaking glances, the chap next to me gave me his phone number.)

-The passage of land by entail. After the Law of Property Act 1925, you could no longer create new entails but the old ones continued to exist (and in fact I acted on the drafting of a deed of disentail in the year of our Lord 2011, so). What I was interested in here was whether you could by way of testamentary disposition settle entailed land on an illegitimate child. (Answer: no.) But this led to a lot of reading on the rectification of the legal position of such children, starting with the Bastardy Bill 1920 and spearheaded by Neville Chamberlain, of all people, who was also upset about the use of "bastard" in English law and wanted the committee to avoid the word in second reading. The bill didn't actually pass.

-Project MKUltra, the post-war CIA project to develop mind control techniques on unwitting human experimental subjects. I had heard of it vaguely before writing this story, and thought, hmm, I need to read up on top-secret experimentation on human subjects! There's the place to start. Foolishly I did this while A. was away for the evening and I was alone in the house. By the time he got home I was curled up in bed waiting for something to jump out of the shadows and get me. I thought about maybe watching The Manchurian Candidate and then decided that cowardice was the better part of valour. After a few evenings scaring myself witless, I tried looking for British history on the same topic and ended up reading a lot about the Ministry of Defence experiments at Porton Down, in which a nerve agent was tested on an RAF volunteer in 1953; the inquest into his death wasn't held until 2004.

-The annals of the Petroleum Warfare Board, and their ongoing efforts to set the sea on fire. (Spoilers: they never succeeded, although they were the proud inventors of the Flame Fougasse, forty-gallon drums of oil to be set alight in the event of imminent invasion.) I was delighted to discover that there is a beautiful, pretty-much-original Yuletide fic on precisely this subject: On Shingle Street, by [archiveofourown.org profile] halotolerant.

-Victorian prisons and their notion of punishment by isolation. Pentonville, built in 1842, was built on the basis of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, with the idea that the prisoners would constantly be observed, but would not themselves ever see another face. They were masked so only their eyes were visible, isolated from one another, and kept forcibly silent. Surprising no one, the level of mental illness in the prison was much higher than in the incoming population. (This wasn't the easiest thing to read up on! I wasn't actually able to find out when they stopped doing this.)

-Post-nuclear semiotics, which I love as a concept. It's basically the question of how to deal with nuclear waste: not actually how you store it or whatever, but what you do after that. Can you really bury something time out of mind? And if you can't, how can you communicate across that wasteland of time - more thousands of years into the future than human civilisation extends into the past - and say, this is not a holy place. This is not a place you should be. See also Into Eternity, a completely fascinating documentary on this. It's about Onkalo, in Finland, an underground depository for nuclear waste which is grappling with this problem.

-Racial slurs through the first half of the twentieth century, particularly for mixed-race people. (My commitment to sparkle motion has been lacking. I probably should have been more vicious about this, but it does make for some dispiriting reading, not to mention it's a nightmare to google for – all you get is white supremacist websites.) I had better luck looking for terminology and detail about 1940s queers. They did call themselves that, delightfully, and lots of people found the blackout conditions very useful for sneaky kisses.

-Quaker conscientious objectors. A lot more has been written about WW1 than WW2 on this subject, but the Friends Meeting House library on St Martin's was very helpful, as was the Peace Pledge Union. The WW2 COs suffered less outright violence than the WW1 ones did – they could apply for conditional exemption, joining ambulance units, doing agricultural work, and (best for my purposes) joining fire watch volunteer teams once fire watch brigades became compulsory on public buildings in the winter of 1941. I ended up reading on this subject from two directions: the British Quakers, but I also needed to read up on the effect of starvation on the human body, and it turned out that in 1944 a number of American Quakers volunteered for what was later described as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. Thirty-six conscientious objectors volunteered to be semi-starved for six months, with the research team undertaking the experiments with an eye to conditions in post-Nazi Europe.

That was by no means all - I read up on many, many things. Of course the moment I conceived of writing something set in WW2 I went back and read Connie Willis's "Fire Watch" (which I still love utterly, desperately) and following that, was lucky enough to find a copy of St Paul's In Wartime, which has been out of print for decades. I was delighted to discover that the Very Reverend Dean WR Matthews was just as delightful in real life as he is in Connie Willis's stories. I was often to be found manning the telephone, he writes. "Not because I was particularly good at it, but because I was particularly bad at [everything else]." There's also the bit where he and the Surveyor to the Fabric "interview every government department we can think of" on the subject of whether St Paul's is a haven or a deathtrap. Maybe, suggests the War Office, you can disguise it. As what, Dean Matthews wants to know, a barnyard? A good time is not had by all.

And then there was stuff on 1940s cocktails, and campanology, and defrocking, and Debretts, and CS Lewis, and other things - but I think I've probably bored you all for long enough. I wrote already on Twitter about the May 1941 bomb that landed on a house in Regent's Park and inconvenienced the 100 Californian cultists who were there worshipping the moon, and also the woman in January 1941 who found an onion at great effort and expense, and then thought it was too beautiful and perfect to eat so she posted it as a gift to the Minister of Food. ("Dear Lord Woolton, I hope it will bring tears to your eyes as it has brought them to mine.") I have no idea if this book will ever sell, but, hey, now I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of 1940s air raid precautions? &tc.
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
2016-06-27 05:21 pm


I am in New York City with a whole bunch of friends; we're having a good time, and we go to see Hamilton tomorrow night. We left the UK on Saturday afternoon. I won't be back until 9 July. As for the other thing - my heart's broken. I'm on an almost-complete Twitter embargo because I can't bear to hear or think about it at all, let alone the awful commentary from people who should know better.

Comments off - I am not in the mood to discuss this now or ever. But eventually I'll want to write about Hamilton, I suppose, and New York City in the twilight, so I had to get this out of the way.
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
2016-06-23 11:37 am

(no subject)

Notes on voting in a referendum, my first:

-The British summer. You could wring out the air like a dishcloth. We were waiting in for the plumber. At the polling station I explained to the tellers that in an outsized efficiency Islington had registered me to vote twice, in two different names. They seemed mildly concerned, thanked me for letting them know, and asked me what my legal name was, and then apologised for asking. I voted, once, with a stub pencil. The lady next to in the queue said to the tellers, “I don’t read well. Can you go through it with me?”

“Of course,” they said. On the way out, someone in a car with all the doors open was playing “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover”.

-On Seven Sisters Road, two girls holding REMAIN banners, picket signs and stickers waved cheerfully at passing traffic. A woman with a table further down was explaining very earnestly to an old white man that to remain leaves our options open; if you have the slightest doubt, you know what you need to do, and also, do you trust Boris Johnson? Her companion said to me, have you voted. Yes. Would you like a sticker? I’d love one, I said, but I’m a civil servant. Oh well, she said, best be safe, hope your day is lovely.

-Outside Holloway Road Tube station, the same two campaigners I’ve been seeing most days this week were both standing out in the rain. One was explaining EU parliamentary democracy to a passer-by; the other asked if I’d voted. Inside the ticket hall, in the midmorning lull, a woman had forgotten about the lift she was waiting for and was shouting across the barriers to the station staff. “It’s about our children’s future!” she was saying, as I rummaged for my Oyster card. “Not for us, but for them!”

“Absolutely,” said the ticket barrier guy, sounding fervent. I said earlier this week that of course TFL have no political views, but they’re running an experimental trial at Holborn that’s trying to get people to stand on both sides of the escalators. The signage has started to say things like “UNITED WE STAND”.

I am afraid that in the years to come I may look back upon today as the last breath of the leftist consensus of my childhood; that things were bad and growing worse all the time, but some days mark a steeper descent. But if the terrible thing happens, it isn’t because a lot of people weren’t doing the job that was in front of them.
raven: black and white street sign: "Hobbs Lane" (quatermass - hobbs end)
2016-04-09 04:57 pm

getting through this world

I have been away from home for two weeks. As I had only lived in this house for two weeks and four days before that, I'm feeling a bit discombobulated. Hello, internet.

I spent my first week of holiday at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye, on a short course in beginners' Gaelic. It was - I don't know. Perfect. Beautiful, transformative, all the other inadequate words. Interstitial, perhaps. I have no idea. It was - I went there, and I learned a lot, and the clear space inside my mind is quieter and larger for it. I am supposed to be writing about it under my real name elsewhere, but - haven't. Not yet. Perhaps soon.

I was on Skye for a week, Sunday to Friday, and on a clear, still, beautiful day midway through I went with a new friend to get her ticket for the ferry to the mainland. We'll sell it to you for now, Cal Mac said, but 'ware warning - there probably won't be a Friday sailing. On Thursday night I was at a ceilidh - there was an Orcadian strip-the-willow; they made me sing - and stumbled to bed in a ruffly dress and pink-wine-haze while the weather hit with an oceanic violence. I left the island entirely due to the kindness of strangers and ended up in Glasgow feeling like it was me who had been washed out to sea and returned with smoother edges. I had a booked train south on the Saturday on the west coast line, and it was one of those mornings where everything seems crisp and perfect. I had a table seat and wrote a few hundred words over a cup of coffee while the landscape flashed past.

At Oxenholme I failed to prevent a disaster ("Shall I just step on the train on a moment?" said someone, as I was clambering off. "Just to see you settled in!") and then [personal profile] happydork had texted to say there had been a slight navigation failure, so I sat on the platform for a while drinking more coffee and smiling at strangers, and then the next week after that was just the same kind of contented. I was in the Lake District because last summer I had a bright idea (how about I ask eleven of my closest friends to share a cottage with me in the Lake District for a week?) and wiser minds than mine had brought it to fruition. When I originally looked into it, I found a farmhouse we could rent that seemed big enough, and nice, and in a reasonably pretty part of the Lakes, and suggested it to my friends; it wasn't me who figured out that it was, in fact, the house in Swallows and Amazons, and is still in the ownership of the Altounyan family. I'm still not quite sure how that happened. And then when I actually saw it, it turned out to be an eighteenth-century farmhouse with ancient beams and slate floors, a claw-foot bathtub and a kitchen you could cartwheel in, and a view over the river tumbling through the valley. Over the week I helped cook, did some fetching and carrying, went on shortish walks around the surrounding lakes and fells, and wrote a fair bit at that giant kitchen table, accompanied by people with whom one can be quiet, and the smell of baking bread. I went on a steam train and played Poohsticks on a bridge over the River Leven, and met an owl. Writing is hard, currently; I had a couple of writing-related disappointments, but it's all right, I think. I am still trying.

Back in London, anxiety )
raven: black and white street sign: "Hobbs Lane" (quatermass - hobbs end)
2016-03-15 09:07 pm

A Seditious Affair

A week post-move and we still don't have internet at home. I'm reading a lot! It's rather nice. But apologies to all the people to whom I'm being a terrible correspondent, which at this point is just about everyone. Apparently we have internet from Friday, I live in (moderate) hope.

So I've recently been reading a lot of KJ Charles - I liked A Charm of Magpies, her historical fantasy about an aristocrat-former-smuggler and his magical practitioner partner, but didn't read any of the sequels because her magical system is very close to mine - and I really liked Think of England, a standalone historical romance which is this delightful queer King's Solomon's Mines pastiche. Then to get me through the move I idly bought A Seditious Affair, on the basis that it looked sort of fun and it had the sort of cover I could troll A. with. (Also in this category: Mélusine and all the Vorkosigans!)

Anyway, so. A Seditious Affair is a novel which is, technically, a Regency romance - two people fall in love; it's England in 1819 - but does not, ah, bear much resemblance to books that normally carry that descriptor. It's 1819, and Silas - I keep wanting to write Silas Marner, but that is not in fact his last name - is a seditionist pamphleteer and bookshop owner. He's a well-read if not a formally-educated man; a radical and a latent revolutionary. One fine day in the middle of the night, he's asked by a couple of brothel-keeping friends of his (who think they are, and are in fact, hilarious) if he fancies a well-paid side-gig - does he, they ask, want to rough up an enemy of the people. A well-spoken, well-educated, casually privileged, Tory.

This does not go to plan.

Well, kind of not. It turns into a weekly arrangement, maintained on their determination to remain nameless to each other.

Obviously, they fall in love.

And everything that happens next could have been written just for me, my goodness. Quoth [personal profile] happydork, who had to listen to all my thoughts and feelings on this book while sitting on a van tailgate in a bus lane on the A1, I love how much you love your Tory - but I do, oh my goodness. Silas falls for his "precious, peculiar Tory" mostly through arguing with him - through lending him books and borrowing his books - and through their very careful exploration of the Tory's willingness to be hurt. ("Whatever is wrong with me," he says, "that I want this" - but he's not broken, and he's not wrong.)

And everything is beautiful and nothing hurts, at least not non-consenusally, until Dominic Frey (Tory; principled; cynical; driven, to the point of self-destruction; anti-seditionist) walks into Silas' bookshop with the whole might of the Secretary of State for the Home Department behind him.

I love this book. I love it so much. I love that love makes nothing easy; that it won't save them; that they will not try and change each other; that they change each other regardless. That Dominic (who is my favourite fictional character of the year so far, probably) says at one point, with a soft, amazed, loving wonderment: "My friend called me a Whig!", while his internal monologue is telling him to shut the hell up, that's the worst sweet nothing ever oh god. I love Dominic's hilariously ironic name - yes, he does use Dom for short - and characters who are trans for no immediately plot-relevant reasons and most of all, that they argue with the best versions of each other. Is it right that the common man should be ground under the paternalism of his alleged betters? How do you account for the worst as well as the best of human nature? Is an unjust law a law at all? And what happens after the revolution? I'm here for that, layered and organic, a part of a story that is an examination of power and control as well as a hard-edged and lovely romance. The juxtaposition of those themes in the private and the public spheres reminds me of the Captive Prince trilogy, in a strange way - it's the same double-edged sword of personal and political.

Generally speaking, I think the novel suffers a little from having shifted out of its genre but not quite into another slot. The pacing feels a little off to me; if I’d written it, I’d have lingered more lovingly on the delicious identity porn stuff and rather less on the political resolution - which we know can't be happy or easy, so the tension is rather lost from the narrative. I wasn't completely convinced by the ending. But – nota bene – this is not the sort of analytical criticism I usually think to level at a romance novel I bought for £1.50. I'm not sure if anyone who doesn't happen to be me would enjoy it quite as giddily much, but it's a very good book and I really recommend it to the people who like the sort of thing I like. It's actually the second in a series, but I didn't suffer from not reading the first one first.

Also, a content note for this book in respect of consent )
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
2016-02-29 08:07 pm

can you feel gravity falling / calling us home

Friends, A. and I are telling the whole internet piecemeal, but here we are: we exchanged contracts today, we move to London next Monday, 7 March.

I'm so happy and so relieved. I was so afraid we'd get right down to the wire and then it would all fall apart again - we have, lest we forget, been trying to move house now for eight months - but it's done and there's no going back.

I'm sure I have some feelings coming about all this departure and arrival; I'm sure some of them are just, disbelief and awe at this house, we're leaving this house. Five years, four workplaces, three jobs and two weddings, and this - this small place, this unremarkable ground - has been my home. It's part of a life I thought I'd have, something that never came to pass. I'm glad it didn't.

So here we are! One week left. I'm excited.