Saturday, April 30, 2005


Claire Weaver has done a wonderful job for me in the United Kingdom (along with the publicist at Pan Macmillan) promoting City of Saints & Madmen in mass market paperback. I highly recommend her work. She now has a new site, which coincidentally has a lot of good information on City of Saints & Madmen.

(And, in other news, it appears Bantam Books will use this cover for their trade paper version--or a variation on it. Which is great--I love this cover.)



If you want to read manifestos to do with SF/F, you could do worse than check out this thread on my messageboard.

I'm still looking online for Richard Grant's "manifesto"/essay about Clarion/Nabokov's Ada, which appeared in SF Eye. It's an interesting one, as is Lucius Shepard's spirited response in the issue after the one with Grant's piece in it.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

NEXT NOVEL--Where to Begin?

I'm thinking about beginning on the new novel soon, but I have multiple ideas. I'm going to choose one of these. Any feedback welcomed.

Summary: It's one of the guys who played a teletubby on the BBC series, and his getting involved with a gang of E-cstasy drug dealers. There's also an Eastern European assassin and a love interest who only has one leg. It becomes a kind of road movie book half-way through as the teletubbies go on the run because of a weird millionaire who is searching for his lost daughter, who, unbeknownst to him, has been starring in off-off-Broadway productions of The Crysalis, a play about a woman who wants to become an insect. Then the shit really hits the fan.

Summary: A scar on televangelist David Rubin's arm from his days in the army begins to obsess him. He names the scar. He begins to talk to the scar. Eventually, he begins to write a memoir about how he got the scar--and this forms the bulk of the novel, which covers the 24-hour period during which the scar incident occurred, and will probably be about 300 pages long, since it covers the period in minute detail. Rubin is searching for some truth or awakening that he can't get from religion, through this examination of the scar and the events surrounding its creation. At the end of the novel, in an ironic scene, he determines that his problems have nothing to do with the scar and that he probably just needs "a lady friend".

Working title: MANDIBLES OF FEAR
Summary: An entomologist becomes obsessed with a research assistant of his and begins to write love poems to her, etched into the carapaces of Rhinoceros Beetles, which he trains to fly in her general direction. When this doesn't work, he sends out hundreds, Leaf Cutter ants, using a complex series of pheromone signals to get them to bring a letter written on a banana leaf to her desk. Due to a competing pheremone trail, the letter is delivered to the wrong woman and she, also an entomologist, begins to send back love letters to the original entomologist, who works in a different research building. Over time, the male entomologist begins to emit his own pheremones, drawing the female entomologist to him. When he sees that she is not the woman he thought he was corresponding with, he tries to get away from her, but she uses a complex series of chemical reactions to bind him to her. At the end of the novel, they are communicating entirely through pheromones and have, in essence, discovered a new kind of language. The original object of the male entomologist's desire, meanwhile, steals all of their research work and publishes it herself, but they don't really care by then.

Working title: THE LARCH OF TIME
Summary: This novel takes place under the leaves of a larch tree, over a period of over 100 years. The main characters, the tragic lovers Edmund Rerache and Tiffany Anglepart, meet there once a year to discuss how they can get out of their doomed marriages, but never manage to do so. Meanwhile, their partners meet under another tree, where their conversations, due to the limited structure of the novel, cannot be heard. Gesticulations are allowed to be represented in the novel. Edmund and Tiffany live for a long, long time, and each time their conversations are more tragic and heartfelt. They come to realize that although, over the 100 years they've known each other, they've only spent 100 days together, it's felt like a lot longer. The last 20 years or so is spent in reminiscence over the past 80 years, with Edmund saying, "Do you remember our larch tree conversation in 2007?" Or Tiffany saying, "You really broke my heart during the larch tree conversation of 2010." Finally, the larch tree is cut down and they meet for the last time, where the stump still stands. They realize their conflict/dilemma cannot be resolved in this lifetime and decide to volunteer for cryo-genic freezing, hopeful that when they wake up their equally long-lived spouses will have kicked the bucket. "Like this larch tree," Edmund says to Tiffany in the stirring last scene, "our love must be cut down to grown again." Then they each take a piece of larch bark and go off to get frozen.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


I've had few pleasures as pure and unabashed this year as reading Steve Aylett's Lint, which purports to chronicle the life and career of fiction writer Jeff Lint. Along the way, Aylett sends up everything from various writing subcultures to pulp fiction, the pulp era, editors, and pop culture.

For once, PR from a book's publisher is astonishingly accurate:

Steve Aylett has always gone a step farther than his contemporaries. In Slaughtermatic, he pushed the limits of science fiction, and for that he was named a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award. Now, in Lint, he offers the first-ever biography of one of the great minds of our time: Jeff Lint, author of some of the strangest and most inventive satirical SF of the late twentieth century. Lint transcended genre in classics such as Jelly Result and The Stupid Conversation, becoming a cult figure and pariah. Like his contemporary Philip K. Dick, he was "blithely ahead of his time."

Aylett follows Lint through his Beat days, his immersion in pulp SF, psychedelia, and resentment, his disastrous scripts for Star Trek and Patton, and his belated Hollywood success in the 1990s. It was a career haunted by death, including the undetected death of his agent; the controversial death of his rival, Herzog; and the unshakable "Lint is dead" rumors, which persisted even after his death. This hilarious mock biography is outrageous and remarkably funny, Aylett is an Evelyn Waugh for our time.

Lint is an amazing book, in my opinion, but it wouldn’t work if you didn’t have a great deal of underlying sympathy for Lint as he bumbles his way through yet another absurd episode of his own life. There’s a great deal of love in this book—for writers and for their work—as well as insight.

Not to mention, I laughed out loud while reading Lint more than I ever have reading any other book I can remember. It’s a stunner, and will be on my best-of-the-year list for 2005.

Walking the Plank: Five Questions for Steve Aylett

Why should readers pick up your new book as opposed to, say, just about anybody else's book?
LINT’s guaranteed to have at least 95 times more original ideas in it than any other book on the market. The fact that it has anything original in it at all makes it a throbbing alien artefact in today’s bookshop. I like it.

Does your book have any socially redeeming qualities? If so, what are they?
I think that's irredeemable at this point.

Does your book have any medicinal or mental health value to readers?
I suppose LINT promotes individuality and honesty with oneself, so, with society operating as it does, no, I think it would only make things worse. The words “armed seige”, “shot officers and then shot self” come to mind.

Assume your book has been filed under "Ages 8 to 12" in the children's section, perhaps by mistake, perhaps not. How horrified do you imagine a child would be after reading your book, and why? How many years of therapy would the child take to recover from the experience?
If they were like me at that age they'd find it like water in the desert. Even at this age I would experience it like that if I was a reader and found one of these books out there. Things are pretty arid these days. But, of course, it would irreversibly alienate the child from his peers, if he wasn't socially severed already. Because it makes the brain work faster.

If no one buys your book and you are unable to continue publishing your fiction due to the intense vilification that occurs in the media, what line of work will you go into?
What would I be if I wasn't a writer? Martin Amis, probably. Ho ho. Actually if I had my life again I'd do everything differently. I'd be female, for a start. And I wouldn't want to be English or American. I'd be French at the very least. Not Italian, obviously. Spanish would be okay. So, a Spanish woman. I'd be a lesbian so as to have as little as possible to do with men—I guess that part would carry over from this lifetime. I love animals so I'd want to work with animals—so, something like a zoologist, or someone who observes apes or dolphins. So there it is, a Spanish lesbian zoologist. That's the life for me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


I'm somewhat distracted from emails and messageboards and other electronic ephemera by the edits I'm currently working on for Shriek: An Afterword. My editor at Tor, Liz Gorinsky, has done a superb job of being sympathetic to the text while not letting me get away with stuff. It's wonderful because the comments help me to see the novel in a fresh light. It'll be a much stronger novel as a result of her work on it. This is the first time I've been edited, really, in that the indie presses I've worked with haven't had an in-house editor per se, so I've been my own editor. And when Pan Mac and Bantam took City and Veniss, the text was pretty much set. Shriek, being a wilder, more expansive, and deliberately less tightly structured novel really needs the edit, and I'm really beyond happy to have the opportunity to work on the book with Liz.

In other news, I just realized what my New Year's Resolution was. I found it where I had written it in tiny letters on a back of a Chinese fortune from Jan. 2: "If a certain talented technophiliac British fiction writer who should know better tries to make some kind of generalization about British SF based in part on the Hugo Awards, you will not enter into the discussion. You will not waste hours debating it. In fact, Jeff, you will not engage in any such discussions of *any* kind in 2005, about *anything*. Because, if you do, you won't get all your fiction writing projects done."


Evil Monkey: "Is it just that you'd rather try to create a well-turned sentence?" Jeff: "I think it's because I'm almost 37 and I'm sick of wasting time." Evil Monkey: "Was this blog entry a waste of time?" Jeff: "No. All that's on TV is some dumb-ass reality show about a girl who wants to look like Jennifer Aniston." Evil Monkey: "Really? What channel?" Jeff: "Oh, go look it up yourself, monkey."

Saturday, April 16, 2005


Best line we heard on our Seattle-Vancouver-Victoria trip was "Do you know squishy?" in a pub in Victoria. It made us do a double-take, until we realized that someone was talking to a Japanese man whose English was incomplete and he wanted to know if the man knew what the word squishy meant.

Here are photos. But not of the man saying "Do you know squishy?"

And the photo that will probably replace the Evil Magician photo here on my blog. It was kind of funny--showing up for a fancy tea (we hadn't planned it) dressed in a Mexican day-of-the-dead t-shirt and old jeans...

Thanks to Clare and my sister for posting blog entries. I feel utterly roasted by my sister, although, in my defense, the reason I hate flying cockroaches is that in Fiji, as a child, they would burrow into your ears. And I believe I only ran down two flights of stairs before realizing my mistake at the Don Cesar. At least I had more of a sense of self-preservation. :) Anyhoo, thanks to both of them for posting.

I'm now back and will be posting a few things soon. Steve Aylett has answered the five questions, for example. And I want to talk about his amazing, hilarious, brilliant new book, Lint. Also, L. Timmel Duchamp's new novel, and much else besides.

In the meantime, let me just say that in another life, I'd like to be one of Neko Case's Boyfriends. Me 'n' Neko at Coney Island, me winning her a teddy bear from a corner stall in a game of darts...Me 'n' Neko getting manicures in Soho...Me 'n' Neko doing a duet in the East Village...feeding the elephants at the zoo...skydiving from the top of the Empire State Building...

I discovered her CD The Tigers Have Spoken recently and the title track and "If You Knew," in particular, have been on my iPOD's play-replay for weeks and weeks. I don't get tired of it.

More soon.


Cockroach: A Jeff Story...

Hello again! This will probably be my last blog (I am going to try to get our little brother, Nick, to make a contribution in the next few days), so I thought I would end with another fun Jeff story, a brief review of Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World, and a few last words on biodiversity.

First, more about Jeff! At the age of 15, Jeff had certain phobias involving Florida fauna. We lived in a concrete block house which was not well-insulated or fauna-proof. Geckos often scurried in through breaks in mesh screens, and then had to contend with our marauding cats. And daddy long legs would often be found meandering along the walls. But the geckos and docile arachnids did not set off Jeff’s fear...
One evening, I had settled into my bedroom to read, when suddenly a high-pitched screech tore through the house, rattling windows and the glass on my night table. It came from the living room, and it just kept coming. I ran towards the sound, unsure what was making it. One of the cats?? Or had one of the cats captured some poor little creature, which was now screaming for its life? I reached the sliding glass doors that opened onto the living room (built as an addition to the house) and was surprised by the source of the noise. JEFF, crouching cornered by a flying cockroach on the other side of the room! He continued to let out a screech of complete and utter fear as the roach circled above his head. He was obviously afraid to move, for fear of losing sight of it, and he knew that if he stood up, the bug would be that much closer to his head. “Make a run for it, Jeff!” I encouraged, “Come on, you can do it, only a few yards to the kitchen!” He looked at me, eyes large and etched with terror. I could see him rocking a little, as if he was preparing himself to move. And then he did. With flailing arms and pumping legs, Jeff barreled past me, and he just kept going, probably heading for the farthest point away from the “beast”. Now imagine this kind of scene replayed over and over during the course of our stay in that house! And once again, Jeff chose flight.

I haven’t had too much time to read books that aren’t related to my thesis work, but I do try to squeeze in the odd novel now and then. For a few years, I’ve been in a Chinese and Japanese fiction and non-fiction phase. My latest read was a book by Kazuo Ishiguro called An Artist of the Floating World. Ishiguro gained fame for The Remains of the Day, so many of you are probably familiar with his work. I do highly recommend An Artist. Basically, it’s the story of retired artist, Masuji Ono, who begins to describe his life in the years after the war (1948); but Ono’s memories of his past, his growth as an artist, are pivotal to the book. I love the way Ishiguro subtly reveals Masuji Ono’s character to the reader. And we slowly begin to question Ono’s perspective on events. It’s beautifully done. Here’s a brief excerpt, which describes the meaning of the “floating world”:

“[Our teacher’s] influence over us was not, of course, confined merely to the realms of painting. We lived throughout those years almost entirely in accordance with his values and lifestyle, and this entailed spending much time exploring the city’s ‘floating world’—the nighttime world of pleasure, entertainment and drink which formed the backdrop for all our paintings.” (p. 144-145)

I thought I’d conclude with a few more words about biodiversity, by recommending the two books I previously mentioned. Feminism and Evolutionary Biology, edited by Patricia Adair Gowaty, does not specifically address the concept of biodiversity, but I have used this book as a reference. Several chapters would be of interest to a wide readership (not just biologists). In Chapter 4, “The Mask of Theory and the Face of Nature”, Lawton, Garstka, and Hanks do a wonderful job of presenting reinterpretations of sociobiological studies of birds. They reveal biases in research based on competitive individualism and gender that have ultimately shaped theory. Russell Gray’s chapter, “In the Belly of the Monster: Feminism, Developmental Systems, and Evolutionary Explanations”, provides a strong argument for “decentering” the gene in sociobiology.

I’ll just quickly introduce David Takacs’ book, The Idea of Biodiversity: Philosophies of Paradise. Takacs conducted interviews with key contributors to the concept of biodiversity, including Tom Lovejoy, Walter Rosen, and E.O. Wilson (to name a few), and these provide the backbone of the book; this is probably one of the best ways into the subject, if you’re interested. Takacs gives a sound critique of the economic value argument for biodiversity protection.

I’ve enjoyed sharing some of my work and interests on Jeff’s blog, hope you’ve enjoyed it too!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Don Cesar and Darwin

Due to a huge number of requests (thanks, JM!), I’ve decided to begin this blog with an entertaining childhood story about Jeff. Actually, Jeff was a teenager (18, I think), but he acted like a child in the situation I’m about to describe (we all did!):

Jeff, Duane (best man at Jeff’s wedding), and I went to St. Petersburg Beach one spring break. We soon got bored with our dump of a motel (the Shalimar—not as exotic as it sounds!) and decided to check out what we were missing down the beach at the very posh Don Cesar, a pink art deco 5 star hotel frequented by the rich and famous. We arrived in the lobby and wandered around, admiring marble, golden oak, and chandeliers. Duane and I were curious to see much more than the lobby; we were determined to somehow get to the top penthouse floor. But how? The elevators would not allow us access. But the stairs might be an option! I remember Jeff consistently mumbling, “doesn’t sound like a good idea, really, doesn’t sound like we should go up there.” Duane and I ignored the mumbling, grabbed Jeff’s arm, and headed for the stairs. The three of us started clomping up flights and flights (we weren’t exactly being stealthy), Jeff trailing behind and grumbling. We finally approached the penthouse floor (I think about eight or nine flights up), and reached for the door to enter paradise. Just as we reached for the door, it swung open and a security officer stood before us, yelling, “What the hell are you kids doing up here?!” There was a flurry of movement behind me and Duane, and a string of curses uttered (mostly “shit, shit”) as Jeff high-tailed it, rushing down the stairs as fast as he could. Security guy shoved past us to run after Jeff, screaming, “stop, stop, you little truant!” Duane and I were still standing at the top of the stairs, mouths open as we watched the guard gaining on Jeff. Long story short, the security guy (who we aptly named Weasel-faced Arse) caught Jeff, escorted us all down to the lobby (all the while telling us he had the power to put us in jail for trespassing) and banned us from the hotel. Moral of the story: When faced with a fight or flight situation, Jeff will choose flight.

Now for something completely different! Another great book I’ve come across during my studies is the second volume of a biography written by Janet Browne called Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. Browne does a brilliant job of locating Darwin in the Victorian context, explaining reactions to his work, both far and wide. She also challenges misconceptions concerning Darwin’s theoretical positions (based on her painstaking research--she refers to correspondences, notebooks, etc, so she presents a comprehensive picture of the man).

By referencing Browne’s biography, I was able to build an argument for what I consider to be Darwin’s “feeling for the organism”. Social scientists like David Pepper have called Darwin a perpetuator of the imperial tradition in ecology, but in fact, I’ve found that this reading is based on cursory engagement with Darwin’s work. Joseph Hooker, who collected plant specimens for Kew Gardens, was the imperialist, while Darwin (after his Beagle voyage—the only time that he traveled far from England) stayed at home, absorbed (for instance) in the lives of worms and climbing plants. Here’s an example of Darwin’s method of study (which relates to McClintock’s), in an excerpt from the thesis:

Darwin challenged scientific orthodoxy through his explanations of climbing plants’ movement: “It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the tip of the radicle thus endowed, and having the power of directing the movements of the adjoining parts, acts like the brain of one of the lower animals.” (p. 428, Darwin, The Power of Movement in Plants) Julius Sachs, a well respected botanist at the time that Darwin published The Power of Movement in Plants ridiculed the conclusions presented because they gave plants an agency that at the time was only afforded to animal species:
“Darwin discounted mechanistic explanation and believed he could show
that the tip of the root was the active agent…plants were not thought of as actively responsive agents like animals…Darwin’s proposals were made
some years before the concept of animal and plant hormones was fully articulated.” (p. 467, Browne)
Darwin, like McClintock, was thinking beyond the scientific paradigm, or orthodoxy, of his time; his conclusions derived from close observations that transformed objects of study into subjects of study.

Thanks for your comments, look forward to reading more!

Next blog: Cockroaches and An Artist of the Floating World

Monday, April 11, 2005

Environmental Ethics and Biodiversity

Hi! First I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading Clare’s blogs (just didn’t have time to comment). And like Clare, I thought I’d start by briefly introducing myself. I’m Jeff’s (“little”—well, younger anyway!) sister, Liz. I’ve been living in the UK on and off since 1997, when I decided to do a Masters degree in Environmental Ethics at Lancaster University in England. I began a PhD in October, 2000, and now live in Edinburgh with my cat, Schmoo. Unfortunately, I’ve taken longer than anticipated to finish due to financial difficulties, but I am in the final months now!

My research is associated with the Institute for Environment, Philosophy, and Public Policy at Lancaster University (so I’m focused on applied ethics). Generally, I have examined the concept of biodiversity, considering how it conceives of and values non-human organisms. I show how and why I consider the current conceptualization of biodiversity to be lacking (detrimental for non-human and human beings). Then I explain the compatibility between the sustainability ethic (as understood in the mainstream) and systems ecology, which has been referenced to protect biodiversity. I conclude with support of a different ethic (feminist-based) and introduction to a particular kind of evolutionary ecology (through deep engagement with Darwin’s work), describing how these are compatible and can re-conceive of biodiversity; this ethic, referring to evolutionary ecology, can “fill in” much of what is missing in the popular conception. At this point, your eyes have glazed over--that’s often been the reaction I get when I explain what I’m doing to anyone!

I’ll conclude with something more interesting. I’ve come across some fascinating books while writing the thesis, and I thought I’d mention a few in this week’s entries. The first is a biography of the life of Barbara McClintock by Evelyn Fox Keller, called A Feeling for the Organism. McClintock discovered the transposition of genes (jumping genes) in maize plants and proposed her theory in the early 1950’s; other scientists remained constrained by the orthodoxy of the time, so McClintock’s work was dismissed as foolishness (this reminds me of what Clare told us about Wegener’s theory of plate tectonics). Her theories have become the orthodoxy now. Keller wanted to understand why McClintock was able to make this discovery while her colleagues did not—-Keller concluded that McClintock had a unique relationship with her study subjects, she had “a feeling for the organism”. I’ll include a short passage from my thesis, which refers to the book, to give you an idea of this “feeling”:

For McClintock, having a “feeling for the organism” required intense observation and “patience to hear what the material has to say to you”, the openness to “let it come to you.” (p. 198, Keller) Keller explains the relationship that developed between McClintock and her study subjects: “Over the years, a special kind of sympathy grew in McClintock, heightening her powers of discernment, until finally, the objects of her study have become the subjects of her study in their own right; they claim from her a kind of attention that most of us experience only in relation to other persons.” (p. 200) So, rather than imposing herself on the organisms (by anticipating what she should be seeing), she allowed the organisms to “possess” her in a sense, to talk to her.

McClintock was also acutely aware of individual difference (“no two plants are exactly alike…I know every plant in the field. I know them intimately).

There’s much more, but I think I’ll end it there for now. I can save three equally interesting books for next blog (Charles Darwin, The Power of Place, Feminism and Evolutionary Biology, and The Idea of Biodiversity: Philosophies of Paradise). Thanks for reading! (I won’t have time for another entry until Thursday, unfortunately, but more then).

Friday, April 08, 2005

The End of Things

Now that the talk is finished I can pack away my research - boxes of books and files of notes - so much work for such a little thing. In a way I hate to see it go. I always feel slightly bereft when I come to the end of a book. After living with it for months or years it is gone and I feel like I have lost something.

But there is always something new to investigate though and I love the research almost as much as the writing. It is fun becoming obsessed with a topic and for a short while becoming an expert. I am the sort of writer that needs to live the book I write - at the moment I am in nineteenth century Patagonia, and I begrudge coming into the real world.

Today I met a couple of friends for lunch and it was weird coming out in daylight. Apart from the odd poetry evening and shopping trip (when things have got truly desperate and my poor children and husband are standing there with serviettes tied around their throats and knives and forks in their hands demanding to be fed) I haven’t been outside for weeks. The sad thing is that even though I enjoyed my friends’ company I was secretly dying to get back into the book. Is this a clinical obsession I wonder - it certainly doesn’t seem healthy. Some people manage to hold down normal jobs and write but I can’t seem to. I tried working as a part-time university lecturer recently but I had to give it up - the book was just fading away, it was either work or write, and the writing won - quite easily. People told me they thought I was mad to give up such a job, and maybe I am. I know I will be poorer and more isolated and I do keep wondering if I’ll regret it but it is something I felt I had to do.

It doesn’t matter if I don’t get published again, I tell myself, it doesn’t matter what reviewers say, the important thing are the words on the paper and this curious feeling of satisfaction I have when I think it has come out right...and I try to believe that.

So the Hoffmann book is gone now, finally and absolutely, up into the loft in boxes and I think and hope that the next book is half way through. I am already thinking of the book after that and applying for grants and funds. My next one, I think, will take place a little in the future which will be a bit of a departure for me and I don’t know if I can do it but I am determined to find out.

Before I go I would just like to add that I now have a copy of WEIRDMONGER by D.F. Lewis which I have enjoyed dipping into - quite an extraordinary view of the world - and THE GENIZAH AT THE HOUSE OF SHEPHER. I read the first few chapters on Tamar Yelin’s website and it was so enticing I ordered it straightaway. I’m glad I did. It’s beautiful writing - I open page after page at random and there is always something to delight.

Anyway, those two are now at the top of the tottering pile (I am actually beginning to doubt that I will ever live long enough to read them all - even if I do emulate George) and I’ll hand over to Elizabeth - we have already exchanged emails and I am looking forward very much to reading what she has to say.

So with that I end my fortnight’s blogging stint. I have enjoyed it and thanks for reading my thoughts and especially for the comments which I have much appreciated.


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Leeches and Paper Cranes

Well, the talk is prepared in all its gore, and Sarah Salway, author of something which is classed as chick lit but I think is something deeper and more intelligent than that (ABCs of LOVE in the US and SOMETHING BEGINNING the UK) suggests that sick bags would be an unusual but appropriate prop. I briefly considered it, even thinking about putting a picture of the cover on the outside but then decided there was something symbolically wrong with the concept so I have abandoned that one.

I have pictures of leeches, spinning chairs, scarifyers, galvanism, instruments for blood-letting, cupping...all the so-called tools for ‘heroic medicine’ and some of these are still going strong today.

My great uncle Jimmy, for instance , was the heavyweight champion of Wales some time in the first half of the twentieth century in Swansea. Of course he used to come back home with some pretty impressive black eyes - the remedy for which was leeches - one or two to an eye, apparently, used to be very effective. The descendants of these leeches are still being used in medicine today - there is a leech farm in Swansea that supplies hospitals world wide. I went to see some as part of my research. They are kept cold and immobile in the pharmacy until the doctor, usually a surgeon, writes out a prescription for them.

‘Two paracetamol and a couple of leeches.’ I imagine it says...

The leeches are ideally designed to extract blood. They have mouths like the Mercedes symbol on cars so the wound doesn’t shut and they inject a special anticoagulant chemical so the patient keeps bleeding after the leech has had its fill and dropped off. They are used in plastic surgery - apparently it is quite easy to reattach thick-walled arteries but not so easy to join up veins so sewn on bits after burns and reconstruction are liable to become engorged and would fall off if it were not for the help of the wriggly little creatures. I actually think they are rather attractive - on your hand they attach one end very firmly and then search moving like the wax in lava lamps - but in water they ripple like black bands of tagliatelle.

Ah, enough already...maybe I ought to finish with something literary. I recently replied to an academic who is looking at books we read in childhood and whether it influences what we read and write as adults. My favourites were the CS Lewis Narnian tales with THE LAST BATTLE the one I liked the best - a common choice apparently - but I also liked the science fiction trilogy THE TRIPODS by John Christopher and THE CHILDREN OF THE PAPER CRANE: THE STORY OF SADAKO SASAKI AND HER STRUGGLE WITH A BOMB DISEASE edited by Masamoto Nasu and translated by Elizabeth Baldwin. This book haunts me still.

Fantasy, Sci-Fi and historical fiction - pretty much what I am interested in today - but then that is quite a wide canvas.


Monday, April 04, 2005

Happy Birthday George - 100 years old and still going strong

My friend’s father was 100 years old yesterday. He lives on his own with a couple of visits from care assistants a week, and every Thursday he still goes to the supermarket down the road for groceries. He is attentive to his health, visits the doctor regularly to be checked and apparently is quite wary of medications, always making sure that anything he takes has no long term side effects...

Until last year he drove around the town in his car, and he eats well, a great plateful of food. Things change though, nowadays he regularly indulges in a bit of chocolate and a bag of Murray mints because no one lives for ever.

A hundred years seems such a staggeringly long time, hardly human time at all, but a span belonging to a tortoise or something with a very slow heartbeat. I keep wondering how things seem to him, whether the memories of youth are fresher than the ones of yesterday, and how those memories are laid down so well that even after all this time they can resurface.

It seems like more of us live to find out - when I went to buy him a card there was quite a choice with ‘100 today’ on the front, and BuckinghamPalace has a department, and presumably a team of people, devoted to sending out greetings, so there must be quite a demand. My friend showed me the letter she’d received (by Royal Mail, second class) asking her to inform them if there was a ‘change in circumstances’. However there was not and an attractive card duly arrived on time with a picture of her majesty on the front - presumably first class this time, I hope.

Since this is not very literary I’ll finish with a book recommendation: THE BURNED CHILDREN OF AMERICA introduced by Zadie Smith which only seems to be available on There are some totally brilliant stories in here, my favourites are I CAN SPEAK about an extraordinary educational toy by George Saunders, TIMESHARE, a haunting story about a father by Jeffrey Eugenides, INCARNATIONS OF BURNED CHILDREN by David Foster Wallace which is incredibly stunning writing, the memorably poignant FAITH or TIPS FOR THE SUCCESSFUL YOUNG LADY by Amanda Davis and DENTAPHILIA by Julia Slavin which starts ‘I once loved a woman who grew teeth all over her body.’ Excellent.

Also been reading SECRET LIVES by one J Vandermeer which is equally good. My favourite so far is FLIGHT FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT PASSED OVER YET- the end was unexpected and quite magical.


Saturday, April 02, 2005

On Talks and Readings

I went to a poetry reading last night - unfortunately some members of the audience chatted all the way through so it was difficult to concentrate. Afterwards one of poets, a friend of mine called Sheila Parry whose poetry I love ( seemed unperturbed by the reception. Apparently she’d had worse than that, she told me, outside the town hall in Liverpool they had had to compete with a steel drum band, but whatever happens they always persist in carrying on...

I suppose persistence is one of the most important qualities of a writer. We keep going in spite of everything, persist in sending stuff off, persist in spite of lousy reviews...Sometimes I think it is a form of insanity This weekend I have to prepare a new talk to go with my new book to take around Literature Festivals around the country. It will take some time but once it is done I know I’ll be able to refine and reuse it, but as I’m doing it, and as I set off to each talk I shall be asking myself, why am I doing this? But in the end I know I’ll enjoy it because the audiences are usually so appreciative. It hasn’t always been like this though...

One of my earliest experiences was in a library near Manchester which was hoping to start a reading group. Taking the recently announced Orange Prize long list as a theme, the librarians had gone to a lot of trouble with supplies of books, orange balloons, badges and streamers, several tables of opened wine and food...

I’d been invited to talk on writing and reading, it was the first time I’d ever done such a thing and had spent a long time in preparation. I got there a little later than I’d planned because the traffic was bad, but it was a pleasant evening, not wet or cold, no reason not to expect a full-house. ‘We’ve had a lot of interest,’ one of them told me as I arrived, ’We’ve given away fifty tickets.’

At 7.30 pm the first member of the audience arrived...but unfortunately no one else did. Giving a talk to one person seemed to me to bit strange and I was hoping that I would just be able to go - but this woman was enthusiastic and wanted to stay - so I ended up giving a talk, well more of a discussion really, to this one member of the public and three librarians all of us filling up on twiglets at the end.

This was close to the first talk about Wegener I gave at a local Science Festival. There was quite a build up to this one, weeks of letters, discussion, trying out the audiovisuals and forty tickets given away. A few friends came with me, the local bookshop unpacked a big box of books...and three members of the public turned up, two of whom were parents of one of the organisers of the festival.

Since then things have improved. The talk I gave then has been modified several times and I am more selective - I give free talks only to established societies otherwise I do events where people have paid just a little to come - and in the last couple of years my audience has not been less than thirty, which my publicist at Hodder Headline says is good. Whenever I used to complain to her about my audience she always used to have an example of a well-known film director or comedian who’d had to speak in a huge great theatre to an audience of...nine. It’s quite reassuring to know that Chester Poets and I are not alone.