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11th January 2017

6:55pm: My CoSine Schedule
Next weekend, 21st-23rd January, I'll be in Colorado Springs, where I am Writer Guest of Honour at CoSine. Fan GoH is Jon Singer, and I think it will be a really fun convention. If you're not too far away, do consider coming!

This is my schedule:

3-4 pm Poetry Reading, Bring Yours to Share (Breckenridge)
5-6 pm Heinlein’s influence – the YA market then and now (Breckenridge)

10-11am GOH Interview with Jo Walton (Rampart)
Noon-1pm Coffee, Tea, or Poison – The creation and use of food, allergies, and stimulants in SF (Rampart)
2-3 pm Rewriting Myths and Fairy Tales (Breckenridge)
3-4 pm Pulling Time Apart – Time travel, Alternate Histories, and Alternate Universes (Rampart)
5:15 – 7pm Author Reception and Mass Signing (Ballroom)

10-11am How much does that Star Cruiser cost – fictional economics (Breckenridge)
2-3 pm You Don’t Have to be Dead: Accumulating and Dispersing Books and Other Collections (Rampart)
3-4 pm Closing Ceremonies (Rampart)

9th January 2017

12:28pm: Footfall
Sprawling relaxed, asleep,
On his ebony bed adorned with coral eagles,
Comfortable in the vigour of his flesh,
The prime of his youth,
Callous, unheeding, imperial,
On sleeps Nero.

But out in the marble hallway
The lares, the little household gods
Of his ancestors, the Aenobarbi,
Stand shuffling in their shrine,
Uneasy, trembling.
They have heard that dreaded sound
The din of doom ascending,
The tramp of iron shaking the stairs.
Then one moves, and the next,
Scurrying to the back of their shrine
Pushing and tripping, falling over each other,
All the lares, the tiny gods,
Trying to hide as best they can.

They have learned the footfall of the Furies.

(This is a translation of a 1909 poem by C.P. Cavafy.)

6th January 2017

1:09pm: Work is going well: a pantoum
Work is going well.
On a happy morning filled with pears,
a mysterious gift, and sunlight,
and words bubbling up.

On a happy morning filled with pears
You want to feel delight unconstrained
and new words bubbling up:
something casts a shadow.

You want to feel delight unconstrained
by knowing the future.
Something casts a shadow...
Intimations of the possible.

By knowing the future,
a mysterious gift, and sunlight,
intimations of the possible --
work is going well.

This is a formal pantoum, a very weird form. The pears are not all that mysterious a gift, except in their profusion, Ada's household sent them to us, and they arrived via a delighted FedEx deliverer. She clearly enjoyed taking people unexpected boxes of pears. And then as I was thanking Ada in chat, she used the expression "a happy morning filled with pears" which seemed worth commemorating. Also, I am starting a new thing. This poem sponsored by my formal form loving patrons on Patreon, encouraging me to do what I would do anyway and making me feel appreciated.

4th January 2017

4:09pm: A thing I keep noticing
For just a few minutes
On winter afternoons both clear and bright
The sun
Just before it slopes off into night
Pours into this room from below
And fills it like a bowl of golden light.

(Sponsored by my awesome and much appreciated patrons on Patreon, where I also have a new profile picture for the new year.)

25th December 2016

8:04am: A Trump Christmas Carol
So I didn't mean to post that poem in the last post, I thought of it as I was thinking about writing this post.

Laurie Penny, who is awesome, had the great idea of writing a version of A Christmas Carol where Trump gets visited by people of artists who died in 2016. And she and John Scalzi and Roz Kaveney wrote bits of it, and then Laurie asked me to join in, and I did, using Bill Higgins's excellent thought of artists who were born in 2016. And I wrote a poem which is part of it (and which really is not the Christmas poem you were looking for!) and the whole thing is up on Uncanny Magazine as a holiday special, despite the fact that we only thought of it on Thursday and didn't get it finished until last night.

7:58am: Not the Christmas Poem You Were Looking For
This is not the Christmas poem I was looking for
I wanted to have candles and a tree
A light against the darkness to be shelter from the storm
A place that would be safe for you and me.

I've got the presents wrapped, and I have special food to eat
I'm singing carols fit to beat the band
I've put my baby Jesus with the pandas round the crib,
And my head down with the ostrich in the sand.

It isn't like the world was ever perfect
There's always been a weight of work to do
But sometimes there's a burden that falls heavy on us all
So it's hard to celebrate as though it's true.

More nukes, more pussy, more corruption, threats against my friends
The fear that comes on cat-feet through the dark
Of do I dare, and should I risk, be careful now, again
Let's fight to keep alight the little spark.

When all the world is shaken by a storm out of the south
When Herod is elected to the throne
Ask what would Jesus do to overturn the tables now
And act for justice even on your own.

And even on this Christmas morning there is still the light
There's beauty, snow, and trees, sun shines above,
So we dance across the cracks and open presents merrily
And stand as best we can for hope and love.

(Sponsored by my wonderful and much appreciated patrons at Patreon.)

19th December 2016

10:15am: Moments
Poised in that moment when the light and dark stand balanced
On the crux of the year, on the turn of the way,
When the laminated water at the edge of the ice
Catches fire for a moment on the cusp of the day.

All the changing moments of the beauty of the Earth
And our sister planets turning on the spindle of our sun
The glory of the universe, held balanced on a breath,
As we see it in the moment, and as on the moments run.

Time that built us stands behind us, time the future stands before
In the moment stand the mountain and the sky.
And the meaning of the moment is to recognise the glory
Deserving in perception of the moment, if no more,
In the only moment ever we can act and change and try,
We can be the best we can, and tell the story.

(I saw the picture and had to write the poem. Sponsored by my Patrons on Patreon, who are wonderful.)

14th December 2016

8:36pm: Thud: Poor Relations
Words: 1612
Total words: 95360
Files: 5
Music: Power up music
Tea: Pu Erh with ginseng, elderflower and lemon
Reason for stopping: stopped for dinner, and now exhausted and going to bed early

So I cut some, and wrote a new bit, and expanded the alien bit I wrote the other day, and I now think it doesn't need any more new bits, it just needs a solid consistency revision. I have revised the first three chapters (they're long chapters, and there are thirteen of them) and will continue from there tomorrow.

I really will have this done by the end of the week. Go me.

13th December 2016

8:50pm: Thud: Poor Relations
Words: 3741
Total words: 93748
Files: 5
Music: Power up music, several times
Tea: Blue People, elderflower and lemon
Reason for stopping: stopped for dinner, and now done


It's not totally finished, the last alien bit needs serious expansion, and the whole thing needs a consistency revision, which I will start tomorrow, but I just wrote "and they all lived happily ever after".

12th December 2016

9:24pm: Thud: Poor Relations
Words: 5517
Total words: 90007
Files: 5 (names file)
Music: Power up, nothing since
Tea: Pu erh with ginseng, elderflower and lemon
Reason for stopping: stopped for lunch, dinner, now bedtime

My plan is to finish this book this week. This is a clear week, nobody here, not going anywhere, no looming obligations, I can do this, and here I am doing it.

Some of that today was salvage from a failed draft I wrote sometime in between when I last posted a thud and today, the rest was new. Probably about 4500 new words, three chapterlets, and the salvaged bit was reworked pretty thoroughly too.

Probably a little more than this much to go again to the end.

9th December 2016

12:36pm: Sapphic
"Men will talk of us in time to come..." Sappho fragment

Men will talk of us in time to come
And they will say "What do they do anyway?"
And "I think she was bi!" and
"How did she scan that?"

1st December 2016

8:15am: Fifty-two today
And it's been a very mixed year. Personally great in many ways, but the world has been through rather a lot. The question of My Real Children about living a good life in a bad world or the opposite is one that does occur to me uncomfortably sometimes.

Places I visited for the first time when I was fifty-one:

Walnut Creek, California
Orleans, France
St Malo, France
Fiesole, Italy
Indianapolis, Indiana
Kansas City, Missouri
Oka, Quebec

28th November 2016

9:27am: To a friend planting bulbs today
We grew up with a sense of certain doom
Tomorrow would come nuclear and bright
To end the world and plunge us into night
And blow us all to hell without a tomb.

And then it didn't. Suddenly, there's room
To live and grow and hope and love the light
This unexpected future where we might
Plant bulbs and hope to see them when they bloom.

New futures bring new fears, so now today
Worlds may go on and still find ways to end.
In darkest times not everything is grey.

The spring will come, we have a world to mend,
Hold on through this, and find a better way.
Our future is worth fighting to defend.

(This friend is my age, and she said in her LJ that half of her thinks the world will end in January, but the other half is planting bulbs. I think many people who were adult before 1989 lived with this one apocalyptic vision of nuclear war. I've had this great sense since 1990 of getting away with something, to be alive in this time.)

22nd November 2016

6:08pm: O City, City
Warm little cafes full of cake and tea,
Subtitled movies showing every hour,
A stranger on the metro with a flower,
Museums, bookstores, and the library.

Two dozen new cuisines for you to share,
Fringe theatres, and art, and symphonies,
Botanic gardens like bouquets of trees,
And transit that will take you everywhere.

Old architecture, grand, or cute, or pretty.
The markets, where the food is farmer fresh,
The baker, and the butcher, and the creche,
The diverse people making up the city.

Here things are made, and shared, and learned, and read:
All real as the pillow on your bed.

(This is Montreal. Your city may vary. Contents may settle in transit. But the people are all real.)
1:29pm: Routine Morning
She wakes the kids and fills the cereal bowl
Helps them to dress, locates an errant sock,
Glugs coffee down, with one eye on the clock:
Just like a real person with a soul.
Feeding the cat, she sees it start to rain.
The kids come clattering in, pour milk, and say
That science project was due yesterday,
The new coat's really dry but much too plain.
She hugs her wife and kids, then in the street
Cars swish on past, a man yells from one "You!"
Then "kike!" or "dyke", and leaves it incomplete.
Squelching to work, a hole in her left shoe:
An other, in the city, the elite --
A real person, hurting, just like you.

10th November 2016

12:58pm: Always a strange world: How I feel when people reference Farthing
Generally if something in the world causes somebody to think of something I have written, it's delightful. It means I've succeeded in encapsulating something, in finding a way of describing something that's useful to somebody. Something I've written has helped the world make more sense.

I remember when I was a teenager and somebody I didn't care for was in love with me while I was in love with somebody who was in love with somebody else. This reminded me of something at the time, and I realised it was Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle and sat down and I re-read it and cheered myself up instead of continuing to be miserable. (Some people call this "escapism". They're idiots.) I eventually got over being in love with that person. (I wonder where he is now, and whether he remembers I exist? Probably not actually. I hope he's happy. It's so weird to think he's my age, when he'll always be sixteen and golden in my head.) I got over it, as I said, and the person who was briefly in love with me (hi if you're reading!) got over it even more quickly, but I still think the description of that dilemma in I Capture the Castle is absolutely spot on. And I still have the book and I still read it. So if my writing does that recognition thing with something, anything, for somebody, it feels great.


This summer, my French editor emailed me to say that the Small Change books were referenced in Le Parisien and Aujourd'hui -- major French papers. And what they were saying was that these books were essential and unmissable if you wanted to understand Brexit. If you wanted to understand how Britain could be insular and inturned and petty and racism and fascist. I soon heard that German papers were saying the same thing.

And now I am seeing people saying that the situation with Trump being elected is reminding them of Farthing.

It's good, really, to have given people a way to think about something. We learn through stories, and fiction can often really help because it is shaped and simplified and given emotional context in the way history often isn't. And alternate history can be particularly great for teaching historical lessons, because we already know what really happened, and in alternate history events can come around a corner and surprise you. So it's good... but...

I just wish that thing wasn't fascism.

If there's any book I wrote that I wish was obsolete and that people would never be reminded of in any real world context, it's Farthing. "Gosh, that's dated," I wish people would say about it. It wasn't supposed to be a prediction. It wasn't supposed to be an instruction manual. (The actual specifics of the post-Brexit shuffle and May etc really are scarily like what I have in the book.)

People who don't read Science Fiction imagine that it predicts the future. People who read it know that it doesn't, that while Octavia Butler might have predicted a demogogue with the slogan "Make America Great Again" as part of a dystopic background, but that doesn't mean we're living in the world of Parable of the Sower. What SF actually does for its readers is let them know that the future won't be the same as the present. It doesn't prepare you for one future, it prepares you by giving you multiple futures for the unexpected weirdness that lies ahead and will be the one and only real now by the time we're living in it. It's a strange world. But it's always a strange world. And we don't know the future, and nobody ever did, but we know it won't be the same as now or the way we imagine.

Just as SF extends trends in the present, so things in the real now do recall for us things in SF, like Butler's slogan. Post-Brexit, an MEP from Luzemburg proposed that EU citizenship could be given to individual British people who didn't want to give that up. And as well as thinking "Please, please, please..." I thought that this was like a step towards the Hive system in Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning where a very different EU is part of the power system in the future and where citizenship in anything is by opting in.

We're never going to get that exact world with its flying cars and religious censorship, no more than we have Heinlein's Martians or Cherryh's spacestations. But just as I was prepared for iphones by a Heinlein character leaving his switched off in his bag so his mom couldn't call and a Brunner character using the map on his until it goes dead, bunches of things I'm reading in today's SF will be doing the same thing for me tomorrow.

But not fascism, OK?

I guess that means I'm past grief and denial and into bargaining.

On a more cheerful note. Fiction can teach us wrong lessons. One of the things we see in fiction is evil being much more competent and efficient than it ever is in reality. Some people think evil isn't real. It is. Auden, writing in 1936, said:
"Maps can really point to places
Where life is evil now.
Nanking. Dachau."
and he didn't know the half of it with Dachau, but it broke my heart reading that in 1981 and realising that he even knew half of it. One of the things I wanted to do with the Small Change books is look at the real evil there and answer the question of how people came to do it, people, not monsters. How do good people do evil things? It's so difficult to understand. How did actual women hear Trump saying "grab them by the pussy" and still move their actual hands on a ballot paper to vote for him?

I have been fortunate in not knowing all that many evil people, so I tend to base a lot of them on my mother. Some people never knew any evil people at all and so they can't write about them. McCaffrey would be an example. And the evil dark lords in some fantasy novels are laughable. You know what, it's amazingly wonderful that we live in a world where some people can believe that. Go them. I'd like to spread that privilege Anne McCaffrey enjoyed more widely, not take it away from her. But right now. Well. Onward and upward.

In Farthing, I gave Lucy's evil mother a really efficient and sane secretary who loved her, to keep her pointing in the right direction, as my own evil mother never did. In Among Others where the mother is a lot closer to my actual mother, I had Mori quote Tokien "Oft evil will doth evil mar" and said you can't count on it, but it does often happen. If you learn from books how evil is omnicomptent that's because it makes for better shaped stories. In reality Tolkien was totally right about evil will screwing itself up a lot of the time. Evil isn't any more competent than we are, and often less so because of a greater tendency to shoot itself in the foot or betray long term for short term gains. It can be defeated. And the good people doing evil things, sometimes they need to hear that this isn't the end and they still have souls and there is a way from here to there.

There is a tendency also found in fiction to embrace despair and cynicism because it's easier, what I called in yesterday's poem "the soft temptations of despair". People like the tragic ends of Farthing and Ha'Penny more than (spoilers!) the positive end of Half a Crown maybe because I didn't do it as well, and maybe I didn't because I was going uphill against the weight of narrative expectation and that's hard. But it's how fascism ended in Spain, King Juan Carlos did just what I had the Queen do in the book.

So if Farthing is helping you understand Brexit, or Trump, or Fascism, good, and I'm so sorry you need to. And it's in print, and the sequels are, in the US and the UK and France and Germany*, if you wanted to give it to people who it might help. It could make a great Christmas present for your challenging relatives, especially as it looks relatively innocuous. It's a mystery novel. An alternate history mystery. Not any kind of propaganda. And Ha'Penny won the Prometheus award. In my acceptance speech I said "I'm a cheerful positive kind of person. That's why I wrote these books."

(* It has also been published in Japanese, Spanish and Hungarian, but I don't know the in print status or availability in those languages.)

9th November 2016

2:37pm: 9th November 2016
The sky, and books, and those we love,
And if they crash down from above
With climate change, and censorship,
And jackboots drag them from our grip...

No easy comfort is there now?
When half of "us" are "them" somehow
And wanted this, at least to fuck
The world in rage and fear. Tough luck.

The tiny victories we mark
So slowly out of justice's arc
Lie trampled, as imperfect falls
To petty evil, how that galls.

But trampled weeds spring up again
And hope peeps out amid the pain
And whispers time will surely see
These things will pass: but so will we.

I'm getting old, four years is quite
A chunk of time to live despite,
And such a loss! And have we got
To keep on trying? And for what?

The future rests on people who
Won't even try to make it true...
Why give a damn? Why should I care?
The soft temptations of despair.

But actually we haven't lost.
A setback, yes, a real cost
But Sauron hasn't got the ring
It's not "the end" of anything

We go on now from here, today
And every day, and really "they"
Aren't orcs and trolls but people who
Can choose and change like me and you.

And we can reach each other, touch,
And work on what there is, as much
As we can, human, fragile, reach
Comfort each other, make, learn, teach.

(You know what, my patrons on Patreon are so awesome that they sponsored this poem. And that in itself helps me believe people are essentially worthwhile.)

30th October 2016

12:09pm: Canadian SF at Harvard
I'm giving a talk tomorrow at Harvard on Canadian SF and Fantasy, as part of their Canada seminar series. It's 4-6pm tomorrow, at the Knafel building. More information here. It's free and open to the public, so if you're around and interested, do come.

23rd October 2016

4:44pm: Joy of Reading
From Fox in Socks to Keats, the words delight
And tangle tongues to joy, a farrago
Of syllables and sound like leaves that blow
To settle in great heaps, red, gold, and bright.
And reading is enchantment, as we grow
We sink into a story every night
Holding our breath in hopes all will come right
And enter in a place that's known, and know.
The magic of reading eludes the empirical
But there we are caring, the everyday miracle
That rises from pages, and words plain or lyrical
That make us partake of some people, a place
That never existed, in time or in space
But move us to laughter, to tears, to grace.

(Thanks to my Patrons at Patreon who generously sponsor me for what I'd be doing for free anyway because they are awesome like that.)

20th October 2016

7:39pm: Jardin Botanique, 15th October 2016
Her arms are to the sky
her feet are in the dust
she is draped in careless drops of gold
(some down already, swirl around her)
the rain is coming
and wind is coming
and night is coming
and winter is coming
she is reaching
gold leaves against deepening blue
a tracery of branches, reaching,
the huge harvest moon
low in the sky
catches a moment,
hangs heavy in her net
through sudden burn of tears.

(Supported by my wonderful Patrons at Patreon.)

12th October 2016

3:15pm: "Cold, impossible, ahead"
How did we wind up here?
How when we left
so hopeful from the trailhead down below,
with all our sights set high
intending well
when all the peaks were shining up ahead?

But yet each turn
which each seemed at the time the best to take
and each false start, best guess, and compromise,
led winding through a trackless mire to this
this moment quaking on this precipice
with everything uncertain.

Far below
too tiny to make out
our starting point
and beckoning above
the peaks we longed to scale,
still lovely, still a dream, still out of reach.

So here we are at last
alone and cold
and after all this waste of youth and time
and this is all we have,
this moment, now,
bowed down beneath a solitary sky.

But calling this the end is to despair,
and to embrace defeat and bitterness.
No, this is where we start from,
here and now,
bogged down in this morass
and on this edge.

We can go on, and must,
sideways and up
on, step by step,
tired out, bearing our loads,
and trudging on our long and weary way
as slowly up and slowly on we go.

(The title is from Auden's "Now the leaves are falling fast". Sponsored by my wonderful patrons at Patreon. This poem, in addition to being written by me, is written by a character in a novel I thought of this morning and may one day write called Bright Moment)

9th October 2016

9:34am: Because you need your sleep... A very short love poem
I'll draw the curtains tight across so Dawn
Creeping across the sky, some hours from now,
Won't peep her rosy fingers through a crack
To see you sprawled out sleeping softly there
And fall in love with you, and wake you up.

5th October 2016

9:45pm: Death Just Sucks
There is no way to win, no best to make,
No comfort shining in the midst of loss
No matter what we dot or what we cross
Or short term realise, we lose our stake.
There's nothing fair, there is no even break,
We diet, exercise, we even floss,
We love our lives and live, but death will toss
To win it all again, and take and take.
So all of us inevitably die,
I hate it, but it keeps on being true.
We can't make bets or bargains, or know why.
Death comes to us, and die we must, and do.
Let's face it, there will come a day that I
Go down into that darkness. Also you.

27th September 2016

2:01pm: Thud: Poor Relations
Words: 1035
Total words: 84490
Files: 4
Tea: Jin Die with ginseng
Music: Startup music, then nothing
Reason for stopping: end of bit

This is the beginning of the last chapter. It will be a long chapter, probably 10,000 words, and there is a lot to go in it. I haven't been able to work on it for ages either because I have been too busy or because it was too hot when I was home. But here we go, moving again, and I should be able to jog on to the end now.

14th September 2016

3:54am: Come Get Me, Fairies
Come get me, fairies, come and get me soon
And take me off with you, I want to go
To magic lands beyond the fields we know
The land of hope, to fairyland, Annwn,

There's nothing here that's worth my love and life
My friends make fun of me, they have since school
"You still believe in fairies? How uncool!"
Just pettiness and boredom, pain and strife.

But just like Puddleglum, I will believe
Lions and suns are better, I want more
Than broken dreams and hearts, I want to leave.

My house is green, the windows, walls and door,
This world is cold and hollow, and I grieve.
Come get me fairies, like you did before.

(Another possible explanation of the green house in Narberth. Both these poems sponsored by my excellent patrons at Patreon.)
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