raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
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)
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)
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.


Jun. 27th, 2016 05:21 pm
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
So, A. said half-joking last night that it was a shame I wasn’t going to be on the morning train that passed the Flying Scotsman, it’d be the one before. I considered it for a bit and thought, well, I can get up twenty minutes earlier, maybe, though it’s a silly and foolish whim (self, why are you such a nerd and such a multidimensional one at that).

Friends, it was a great decision. The 7.45am Cambridge > King’s Cross train is a lonesome creature. It’s usually silent save for snoring and the tapping of keys and it crams up with people and misery after Royston. I sat by the window watching it cross the frosted landscape and started seeing people on the trackside, in the station car parks, on the ridges in farmland which pass for elevation in Cambridgeshire. There were people standing with binoculars on bridges and people dotted like stars across the fields. I was following along with realtimetrains, which is a great resource that not a lot of people seem to know about, and that was fun in itself –watching the train I was on cross its passing points, and watching as the other train got closer. A little way along from Stevenage there was a whole family holding up their kids on the garden fence to see, and then the 7.45 crossed the Flying Scotsman at Welwyn.

I only had a glimpse of it – the faceplate, the billowing steam, the fresh paint – but that's okay! It was beautiful regardless. The BBC described its departure from King’s Cross amid a cloud of mist as something out of a British Pathé newsreel; on the suburban commuter platforms at 7.30 in the morning it seemed like a dream.

Here’s the thing, though: so many people. People pressed against trackside fences. A man opposite me on the 7.45 who perked up from commuter somnambulism at the words “Flying Scotsman”! Some guys in Network Rail high-vis standing around the trackside, very ostentatiously not doing any work. Crowds crammed onto platforms three deep at the arse-end of the morning, happy and excited. It was freezing overnight and the wind was biting and people had been standing there since dawn to see it flash past at eighty miles an hour. I feel much better about the whole godforsaken world.

Random things spotted on the internet:

-The BBC's live blog of the entire journey, now the train has arrived in York;

-Great Northern at Welwyn, ruining someone’s life as ever – this was the train I was on!;

-The namesake electric Flying Scotsman passes the LNER Flying Scotsman somewhere near Peterborough, despite several hours’ head start.

I am shortly to stop commuting on this line, after two and a half years; this was the way to see it out.
raven: black and white street sign: "Hobbs Lane" (quatermass - hobbs end)
Oh, friends, I am discouraged and mostly broken. Writing is terrible. I'm stuck right in the middle of a slough of despond about the stupid novel - it's a terrible book, even if it's not a terrible book it's a book about things literally only I care about, no actually it's a terrible book, it will never be finished and I will be writing it forever, and it will still be TERRIBLE - and the house move is, well, not. It's not off. But it's not on. It's glorious limbo. It's not glorious. I have a death-rattle cough and am miserably ill inna head but I have not been able to not work, which has not been excellent. (As ever, the job is a little more important than - well, me.)

Enough of that. About the only thing that has cheered me this week is Kings Rising, the last Captive Prince book.

books one and two, minor spoilers )

I feel like this is a lot more about me, and my id and kinks, than it is the book? But I suppose that's the risk with something like this.

book three )

Ex Machina

Feb. 6th, 2016 10:07 pm
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
So today I decided to break my streak of going-into-London-thirteen-days-in-a-row! It was a good choice. I spent some of the day literally lying on the couch with my face in the cushions. But I also wrote a couple of thousand words, and submitted to POC Destroy SF, and read a trade paperback of the Brian Vaughan comic, Ex Machina.

Which I feel weird writing about here, because what the shit do I know about comics, nothing at all, that's what. (Fake geek girl, yep.) But, omg, you guys, I love this so much. I've just finished volume 3 (there are 10 in total, I believe) and I'm just hoping and praying it stays this good because so far it could've been made for me. Basically, the story goes like this. Mitchell Hundred, a working-class boy from Brooklyn, the only child of a single mother, grows up loving superhero comics and machines. Then, in his mid-thirties, as a civil engineer for the city, he has a strange encounter with a mysterious artefact in the water below the Brooklyn Bridge, and when he wakes up he's - changed. He can talk to machines. They do what he tells them to do.

So Mitch becomes the Great Machine, a superhero with a jetpack! With his two closest friends, they fight crime!

...and it's a total disaster. He saves some people. Like, a few. But a lot of people are very angry about it. The police commissioner tries to arrest him a couple of times. Insurance premiums are a problem. The NSA get involved. It's messy as shit. Mitch gives up superheroing and retires, and mopes, and drinks.

Then 9/11 happens.

This is a New York City that has one of the Twin Towers still on the skyline. And in the rush of public acclaim following his very visible rescue of a lot of people, Mitch runs for Mayor of New York City and wins. And that's what the comic is about. The first trade paperback is subtitled "The First Hundred Days", I love it. It doesn't have the straightforward idealism of The West Wing and Parks and Rec - for one thing, Mitch is an independent - but it's warm and loving and very invested in the idea of the city itself as a machine that only works because of the people working every day doing things like cleaning out the sewers or driving the subway trains or ploughing snow. And while there are some superhero comic plots - like the ongoing mystery of just where Mitch's powers came from - there are also complex and delightful political plots. It's the early 2000s, they do a gay marriage plot, obviously, and there's also stuff about Mitch being called for jury service and deciding to Be! An! Example! and it's all just wonderful. And my favourite bits are where the two bits of the story intersect: so there's this bit about how Mitch has a no-cell-phones no-other-technology rule in certain parts of City Hall, because machines talk to him and it's exhausting and this is a reasonable adjustment! And there's also a lurking thread I'm interested in, whereby he clearly has some kind of delayed trauma related to 9/11, but the story is spinning it out slowly.

Of course, as mentioned, I'm only at the end of volume 3 so perhaps this isn't an unqualified rec (also fake geek girl feels, omg). But I'm enjoying the hell out of it.
raven: (middleman - sleepy wendy)
Here are my [community profile] festivids recs, from a very scattershot trail through the list. I suspect - and in some cases, know - who made many of these vids, but I refrain from comment on that front.

Gonna Get Through This World (An Adventure in Space and Time)
A vid in praise of Verity Lambert and Waris Hussein. Crisp and heartfelt and with such a sense of glorious promise (I love the brief appearance of Matt Smith).

Galaxyrise (Apollo 13 and others)
A lovely vid, that is not quite fannish in sensibility - it's a vid about the idea of exploration, of what's to come. I wish I'd made it.

Firework (The Gymnast)
For a source I haven't seen and now desperately want to: it's a love story that builds and builds. I love it.

Sailboats (Master and Commander)
Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin love each other a lot, though not quite as much as they love the beautiful world around them, and the sea. This one is so meditative, so beautiful.

Rescue (Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries)
THIS IS IT THIS IS THE SHOW. Phryne, and Dot, and then also Jane and Aunt Prudence, and how they don't need rescuing! Hearts in my eyes.

Say Her Name (Black Lives Matter)
A vid in praise - and in witness - of black protest, and black lives. Like the vid up above (and like more than one of the Hamilton ones, which I haven't got through yet), it's not a vid with a fannish sensibility: it's a vid that positions itself as a transformative work of art at the nexus of many complexities, many of which are so painful that perhaps art is the only thing. I don't really have the vocabulary for this one, but the vid itself does.

This Sullen Welsh Heart (Pride)
This one just - just - edges out in front to be my favourite of what I've seen. It makes really good use of all the beautiful imagery of the film, and the song choice is perfect, and put all together it's a vid about hopeless causes, and why they matter.
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
I have seen Star Wars! Here are my not-very-profound thoughts on it: )

raven is also at Dreamwidth: there is or are comment count unavailable comment(s). Comment there or here.
raven: (middleman - sleepy wendy)
Happy new year, friends. I had a very pleasant new year with my people, toasting it in with champagne and singing Auld Lang Syne out of the window, with the fireworks over the river just visible above the skyline. I unashamedly love New Year - I think there are many worse things than a non-religious ritual and an excuse to sing at people in the street.

I am here just to say, hi, I wrote a story for Yuletide this year:

live inside whatever flies (1018 words) by Raven
Fandom: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley
When Mori wakes up again, Thaniel is in his bed, his weight making dips and hollows in the sheets.

At the time, I was mostly just glad I hadn't defaulted, and it's a hard style to get down right, but I think it worked out okay in the end. And now this is 2016: which I have many hopes for, but today I hope to sleep, and to write, and paint my nails a colour that isn't blood-red.
raven: (middleman - sleepy wendy)
I just finished The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. (Who is - to save y'all my strained thought processes - the same person as Sarah Monette! She's the same person who wrote Mélusine, the tortured terrifying idfic of my inner teenager's heart!) But The Goblin Emperor is not like that at all. Well, it's a secondary world fantasy of elves and - surprise! - goblins, with a very little magic and also airships. It is not at all the sort of thing I like, except I loved it, it made me happier than any book has in a long time.

Here is the non-spoilery premise: Maia, who is half-goblin half-elf and the despised exiled last son of the emperor, is woken up one evening by a messenger who tells him that his father and all his brothers have died in a freak airship accident and he needs to come home and be crowned. The court is complex and full of warring factions; no one there knows him and many people already hate him; his merest courtier has had about ten years' more education than he has; also his abusive guardian is coming with. He is eighteen years old and terrified. Hijinks, as they say, ensue.

I didn't think I would like this. I loved it. Without spoiling it too much, but spoiling it a little )

I've seen criticism of this book that suggests it's too nice, it's too lovely, it's just too damn delightful. I'm not unsympathetic to that criticism in general - I've levelled it at other books, most recently Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen - but on the one hand, I think the narrative does earn it for the most part, and on the other, I don't care. Here at the dying end of the old year I am glad to have read something so sustaining. I don't think it's a coincidence that I was recommended this book by one of my colleagues, who has been seen reading it with one hand outstretched loosely over a sandwich. Having had a great deal of my faith in human nature eroded this year, it has been so nice to sit here and read five hundred pages of people being people: kind, decent, moral people, as much as they can be, in troubling circumstances, which is more than a little. Such a gift.
raven: (vorkosigan - creepy planetary conquest)
that was the year that was; my goodness I talk a lot )

An older version of this meme asked for a song lyric, or a life lesson, or some such good place to end. In lieu of both, here is something I have been listening to a lot just recently: from Lin-Manuel Miranda's first musical, In The Heights, "Alabanza".
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
As we all know, friends, my misanthropy is great and awesome on Christmas Day. I am in the Frozen North; it is raining; I have slept very little, and written about two paragraphs about my spies, and all is as ever. But I've had a very quick look at the Yuletide archive and here we are. (I made out like a bandit!)

Firstly, my gifts! Both for The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, both just lovely:

A Different Sort of Complicated (1592 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley
"I know you enjoy your work," said Mori. "But Parliament's about to make things more complicated."

I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. A and I woke up early this morning and I was reading this at 8am with the light rising over the woods and saying, over and over, "Someone wrote me a fic about the Labouchere Amendment. Someone wrote me a fic about the Labouchere Amendment!"

You guys, someone wrote me a fic about the Labouchere Amendment. Someone who knows me at that! It's this lovely little fic about Thaniel and Mori, settling into a quiet life together, but with the various stings and shadows of what might have been, or might be. And the Labouchere Amendment, as part of the Criminal Justice Amendment Bill 1885, has just been passed - the one that will be used to prosecute Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing (and plays a major role in my spies' story, as well). I'm so happy about this.

I also got:

Revisions (3927 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley
Love and friendship, like learning another language and everything else in life, require practice to perfect.

I read this too quickly to start - 8am on Christmas Day, in bed without my glasses - and I'm glad I did reread it because it is so bloody clever. When did we meet, Thaniel asks - not for the first time, the real time, but the first maybe: and Mori tells him a long and complicated story about Thaniel as a figure with grey eyes, who appeared and disappeared in all that might be remembered. So subtle, so interesting. I love this so much.

And the fandom as a whole killed it, because I also loved:

The Watchmaker's Apprentice (3007 words)
Fandom: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley
Thaniel and Keita form a family.

This is so sweet. So sweet, and believable, and sad in places, and aaaaah my feels.

And other things I have read and liked, in other fandoms:

The Amber Stone (2060 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Cadfael Chronicles - Ellis Peters
In olden days, gems as well as herbs were thought to have healing powers. Cadfael knows better — but beyond the realm of knowledge, faith still remains.

This is just so good. It instantly conjures up Cadfael's quiet and beautiful world, and features Hugh Beringar and Aline, which makes me happy. It has one line in it in particular that I adored but the whole thing is just wonderful.

A Piece in the Game (2457 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Kim - Rudyard Kipling
Many years after the events in Kim, 1919, he is once again in play. Kim must decide whether he's Sahib or not.

This is fascinating to me. Kim, a little older, choosing between selves.

Ephialtes (5270 words)
Fandom: Doctrine of Labyrinths - Sarah Monette
Ephialtes: Lit. Jumping on you. A term for nightmares coined by Greek physician Galen, 2 CE. An anxiety disorder defined by Dr. John Bond, 1753 CE, about the sense of being crushed or sexually assaulted by an incubus which accompanied a nightmare: "As soon as they shake off that vast oppression, they are affected with a strong palpitation, great anxiety, languor, and uneasiness – which symptoms gradually abate, and are succeeded by the pleasing reflection of having escaped such imminent danger".

'ware warnings on this, friends, please. I haven't actually finished reading the Doctrine of Labyrinths books yet, mostly because they are ridiculously ridiculously long and also very traumatic, so I have to read them in short bursts and constantly text [personal profile] soupytwist my constant feels. (And also feeling grateful I didn't read them as a teenager. I mean, I would have loved them. Loved, loved, loved them and read them all at once and cried and cried and destroyed myself.) But nevertheless: this is the story of how Felix left Malkar. And it's terrifying and breaking and sad, but Felix is brave, and still able to be kind, despite everything. I liked this a lot.

A lovely Christmas to those who celebrate it, and a peaceful Friday to those who don't, and love to my fellow misanthropes. We're mulling wine. My father has accidentally bought three crates of oranges. (He said he was standing in the aisle and surrounded by people doing their Christmas shopping and couldn't move in any direction and hey look oranges.)
raven: subway sign in black and white, text: "Times Square / 42 Street station" (stock - times square)
I wrote this a little while ago for [personal profile] happydork's birthday and then, what with everything else happening, forgot all about it. Here it is.

(NB - though this is a fic for The Sparrow, a book both [personal profile] happydork and I love for the exquisiteness of its wrenching despair, there are actually no content notes for this story.)

Fic:: Tipping
by Raven
700w, The Sparrow, Emilio and John Candotti. The aircraft circles O'Hare with care, wings tipping and straightening in clean angles. John touches the glass with reverence, then Emilio's shoulder. "Look," he says.

Christmas was four days ago )
raven: white text on green and yellow background: "ten points from Gryffindor for destroying my soul" (sbp - destroying my soul)
Dear Yuletide author,

What a pleasure it will be to meet you - after all, I already know you have great taste. :) Thank you very much for writing for me. This letter is to set out various things I like and don't like, and a handful of prompts that happen to be in my mind, but if you have the story of your heart planned out and ready: go forth, my friend! I will love it whatever it is. These details are only if you'd like them.

Just so you know, I have no triggers or squicks. I'm ophiodophobic, but not in text format.

Generally, here are some things I like:

-Dialogue, wit, banter. Straight-up competence and people being good at what they love. Found families and unusual friendships. Queer gen. Quiet moments between people amidst crisis, and otherwise. A sense of place.

Things I don't like:

-PWPs, and changing characters' queernesses (straightening queer characters, or making bisexual characters straight/gay - if on the other hand you want to queer up the straight characters, I am here for that!).

In terms of ships, go wild - I'm good with anything you like, if you want to make the attempt to convince me.


Hilary Tamar mysteries )

A Spy Among Friends )

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street )

Grantchester )

A final note: even those who love me best could not honourably describe me as a ray of sunshine. (Perhaps you know me, and know this already.) Which is to say, if the story of your heart is a sad one, or a dark one, or with a bittersweet resolution - I want to hear it. Equally if it's a joyful fluffy delight! But just in case, I mention it.

Just for your reference: my AO3 name is [archiveofourown.org profile] singlecrow.

All best to you:

October 2017

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