June 25, 2011

Fearsome Things


FIRST THINGS FIRST.  There have been several wistful queries on the forum, Facebook and via email, about the London signing:  can you bring copies of my books that you already own for signature?  On the understanding that you will also buy a copy of PEGASUS at the store, YES.  As to how many other titles you can bring . . . well, be a little restrained.  I don’t myself mind all that much—I’m pretty good at signing my name, and I’m not JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer and I’m not likely to have damaging numbers of readers show up with shopping bags of books—but if the queue is long, expect to have fewer extra titles signed, and if the queue is short I’ll sign ’em all and the cake boxes.*

            There’s also an interesting conversation on the forum about suitable clothing for this peak London season event.  Ajlr is going to get the diamante pink catsuit back from the Folies Bergere understudy who was called up for duty unexpectedly**, and I, in an expression of solidarity with the mod who is dedicated to making this event unique, have offered to wear the black leather mini.***  We will, however, need support.†  There may even be a dressing up to the nines competition if we can figure out how to do it without frightening the horses.††

 * * *

Meanwhile . . . I had another of my Silly Adventures today.  Oisin was going to be playing in a music festival halfway across the frelling planet no no no no only a (relatively) few miles down the road.  Except that I hate motorway† driving.  Hate.  Hate.  I especially hate anything to do with the MfortysixthousandandtwelvewithTEETH which was going to be involved if I was going to get to Dranglefabbingford in less than three days with obligatory Sherpa accompaniment.  Oisin had given me directions so I knew that at least theoretically this was something I could do. 

            So I set out with trepidation and lots of spare time to get lost in.  And the first thing that happened was that the slip road on to the MfortysixthousandandtwelvewithTEETH was backed up to the roundabout most of a mile away where you have to choose to get on the slip road. . . . The temptation to hang a left and go to London three days early for the frelling party was very strong.†††  However the thought of eight legs, four pleading golden eyes and two whipping tails stopped me.  Thus do critters make fools/responsible adults of us all.‡

            The problem with traffic jams is that they’re difficult to knit during.  A known long stoplight is the perfect two-row activity.  A traffic jam when you may be expected to surge forward another five feet or fifty yards at any moment is not.  I did not produce my best work.  On the other hand, I didn’t jump out of Wolfgang, yank out an overpass stanchion, and start beating to death the moron in the SUV at the head of the queue either, so I feel it was a worthwhile trade-off.

            When I finally got on the MwhatsitwithTEETH I was immediately surrounded by gigantic gurning lorries, so I could neither change lanes nor read any of the road signs.  ARRRRGH.  I recognised enough bits of the passing countryside however to make a break for freedom at the right moment, got off the godsblasted motorway . . . and then of course became instantly, astonishingly lost in the eleven-dimensional super-reality that is village Hampshire.  HECATE ON A POGO STICK.  GAAAAAAH.

            I arrived at last, more by luck than judgement.  And then for my next trick I got to try and find the festival parking.  You get to the T-junction in the middle of Dranglefabbingford and you know where you are and are about to burst into tears of joy when . . . you notice that that sign for parking is to the right when (according to your directions) the church with the organ in it that you’ve come to hear Oisin play is to the left.  As you hopelessly turn right, you glance back over your shoulder and . . . yup . . . there’s the church.  Diminishing in your rear view mirror.

            The parking is a very, very, very long way away from the church.  Very.  It’s also across a very large, very lumpy field that probably seemed like a perfectly good plan for the parking last year when they were organising the practical details, and before we had three months of drought followed by three weeks of solid, gravity-enhanced rainfall.  My next car is going to have four-wheel drive. ‡‡

            I got out of Wolfgang and looked around dubiously.  Fortunately there were other cars boing-boinging across the field and coming to muddy, juddering halts on either side of me, lending credence to the idea that possibly there was a music festival‡‡‡ and this was the parking.  I was now completely lost again.  It’s all very well that I managed to follow the signs successfully, but WHERE had they led me?   I addressed myself to the elegant gentleman getting out of the car to my right.  I was somewhat comforted by his aura of bewilderment and mild outrage.  And then we found out we were both there because we knew Oisin, and decided to combine forces in our quest to refind the frelling festival church before either the concert was over with or we died of exposure. 

            . . . I was the only person knitting.  And, just like at the opera, I had several people say, oh, what a good idea!, and ask me what I was making.  (Er . . . )  The problem with the concert, I’m embarrassed to admit, which we did arrive in time for, is that I’m now used to Salisbury Cathedral in Oisin’s music studio, on his electronic megamonster.  This was a quaint little old organ in a little old church§ and you kind of wanted to pat it on its beautiful etched pipes and hand-fitted cabinet and say there, there, very nice, dear. 

            Oh yes and when I left the church afterward I had no grangblatting idea where the car park was. 

            I got home.  I hurtled hounds.  I went to tower practise.  I rang Grandsire Triples (more or less).  And I have HOOKED A NEW HANDBELL RECRUIT.§§  Mwa hahahahaha.  Ask me again next Thursday§§§.  Survival rates vary.

* * *

* I believe there will be details about the cake aspect soon. 

** Ajlr lives in a very interesting neighbourhood.  And clearly herself has a very interesting past.  

*** From my interesting past. 

† Stop that sniggering. 

†† Okay, I know I’m old, do people still use Mrs Patrick Campbell’s all-purposes quote, Does it really matter what people do, so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses?^  The original reference was to illicit canoodling, but it has much wider applications.  And I think a pink diamante catsuit—with feathers—might very well frighten the horses.

^ A quick riffle through the internet produces three different versions, but this is the drift.

† Highway.  

††† There are yarn shops in London. 

‡ Peter would cope.  The hellhounds, however, would go into Tragedy Mode, which would be hard on Peter.  

‡‡ I did snicker a little at the thought of all those standard music-festival goers arriving in their Mercedes and BMWs, looking at the field, and having the vapours.  

‡‡‡ Or anyway something to attend. 

§ I was tempted to go up during the break and examine the space between the benches and the screen in the choir stalls, but I didn’t want to force Oisin to pretend he didn’t know me.  

§§ Poor, poor, poor woman. 

§§§ We’re having a special early practise this week to get it in before Peter and I go grab some culture.  We weren’t going to meet this week because Colin is gone and I was cinema-theatring, but you don’t want to give your novice time to change her mind.

A Day Rich in the Wrong Kind of Incident


. . . My brain is hoarse.  I won’t say that two and a half hours of choir practise fly by but they do chunter along pretty briskly, and you don’t realise that you’ve been through the wringer till you walk (feebly) outside afterward and the wind blows you away like a piece of paper.*

            When I joined I thought Thursday was going to be a good night for me to be going to choir rehearsal and then all these things keep happening.  I’ve already missed the Thursday when district bell practise was at Crabbiton. Next Thursday Peter and I are going to The Cherry Orchard.**  The Thursday after that I’m going to be in London signing zillions of copies of PEGASUS, right?  Because you’re all coming.*** 

            And two days later, on the Saturday, is the Muddlehampton Choir’s summer concert.  Frell.

            I went up to Ravenel at the break tonight and said er, um, I need to beg your something or other, it’s not enough that I dithered around for weeks being cowardly and so started rehearsals late and have already missed one. . . but I’m about to miss the last two as well.  I realise I won’t be in this concert, and that’s fine, but I hope you’ll let me start up again for the winter concert and I’ll try to improve my attendance record.†

            He looked at me for a moment and said mildly, you could sing in this concert if you wanted to.

            Ah blah, I said.  Blerg.  Gah.

            I’m giving you permission, he said.  Think about it.  We’ll have a final rehearsal on the day.  You could come to that, and make up your mind [and I quote] if you feel you have something to contribute.

            GAAH.  Gaah. 

            With the exception of the dreaded off-beat plink song, which we’ve had a whack at all the rehearsals I’ve managed to get to, I’m still seeing some of this stuff for the first time.  Tonight included two Vaughan Williams arrangements—one for Greensleeves, and while I love Greensleeves, still, it’s a frelling great cliché, but also The Turtle Dove††, and . . . I would love to sing The Turtle Dove.  I think I may have made the mistake of saying this out loud. . . .

Meanwhile . . . this morning I had an email from marketing at Penguin UK saying, just checking that you’re sure you’re not coming to our summer party next Monday.  Your what? I said to my computer screen.  First I’ve heard of it.  So I answered slightly irritably that I wasn’t much of a party goer but even if I wanted to it’s too late for me to drag myself together about a party in London four days away that I knew nothing about.  I copied both Merrilee and my UK editor.

            By return electron I received a distressed email from the marketing person saying, the party invites went out months ago, do we have your address wrong?  (No.)  Didn’t you receive the follow-up email a fortnight ago?  (No.  But my email is possessed by demons, although this is the first time in a while that street mail has been any worse than late.  I suppose the invitation could still arrive.)  And then I had another distressed email, this one from my editor saying that she should have followed up on this herself but since she knew it was difficult for me to get to London, etc, and if I should suddenly take it into my head to canter up to London on Monday they’d be delighted to see me.

            This email—also copied to Merrilee—came in while I was on the phone with her.

            Go, said my agent.

            I don’t want to!  I said.  I hate parties!  Ugh!  Parties!  No!

            Go, said my agent.  Go.

            I think I’m going to a party in London on Monday.  

* * *

* I still wish we stood up more.  Nadia asked me if we spent most of rehearsal sitting down and I said YES and it DRIVES ME CRAZY.  Especially because I’ve made myself a first soprano.  I need a run at some of the top end.  So she told me how to sit to give your voice as much room to move around in as possible and . . . the frelling benches are so close to the frelling screen—we’re in the choir stalls—that there isn’t ROOM.  I’ve got my feet jammed up against the frelling kneeler as it is, and my knees, speaking of knees, want to stick out through the gaps, leaving them judiciously arranged to be clobbered by the tenors stampeding for the tea urn.  I’m sure there’s an answer to this too.  Little old English churches are thick about the landscape, and I imagine the architecture is frequently similar.^  I will, of course, ask Nadia.  But she says that choir directors have to let you sit down a lot so you don’t get too tired.  Fie.  It’s a lot more tiring longing to stand up.   

^ In the old days, potential choir members were carefully vetted for the possession of short thighs.  

**  The National Theatre has started experimenting with live relay broadcasts, like the New York Met Opera.  They’re doing The Cherry Orchard next Thursday.  Long before the Muddlehamptons were an issue I informed Peter that we were going.  He was inclined to writhe and squirm but I told him it would be good for him.  I’ve actually never seen The Cherry Orchard—or any other Chekov for that matter—which is of course very embarrassing and proves that I’m a barbarian really.  I did read it in college.^  But I liked Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead^^ better.  This production at least sounds interesting.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/may/18/the-cherry-orchard-review

Peter is not an ‘I told you so’ type, but I prefer not to listen to him not saying ‘I told you so’.   I should be able to hold my head up after having forced him to see this.

^ I didn’t have to.  I read it because I wanted to.  Doesn’t that count for extra?

^^ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosencrantz_and_Guildenstern_Are_Dead

*** And zillions of people read this blog.^  The link to the Forbidden Planet signing is right there,  at the top of right-hand column on this blog. 

^ I am creating my own reality here.  I am creating a reality where this blog has ZILLIONS of readers.  Who then rush out in their zillionhood to buy copies of my books.  The hellhounds need to eat, you know.+  And I’d quite like to finish the work on Third House.  And possibly buy more sheet music.  And yarn.

+ Whether they will or not is a separate matter.  

† There’s also a choir party the following week.  Last rehearsal there was a lot of discussion about the date of said party, and the date that was finally chosen is out for me, because Peter and I are going to see Simon Boccanegra as a Met Opera rerun at the cinema.  My Views on the Attendance of Parties are well known and furthermore there is NO WAY I would go to what is in effect a cast party for a performance I’m not anticipating being in AND with a group I have only barely joined and know the name of about one person and that only because I’ve heard someone else using it.  But it interests me that none of the regulars said, no, not Wednesday the 13th, we’re going to the opera. 

†† http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgaHvHxCXVw   There are a remarkable number of really excruciating performances of it on YouTube.^   This is a good one.  But if you want a reason to burn your sheet music and enter a convent with a vow of silence, try this one:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKncDIeqfck&feature=related  But then I think Bryn Terfel (mostly^^) walks on water.  Usually listening to a bass-baritone is, you know, free:  I’m not a bloke, and I don’t sing baritone, and I don’t have bother beating myself up about it.  But Terfel . . . well.  Terfel is a universal principle.^^^ 

^ If anyone tries to tape the Muddlehamptons I will run away and disavow all knowledge. 

^^ I’m a snob.  And he sings a lot of crap too.  The Impossible Dream.  Spare me.  

^^^ Also I’ve sung several Songs of a Wayfarer—speaking of Vaughan Williams—and Finzi’s Let Garlands Bring.  And I’ve got Terfel on CD singing all the above.  I am a glutton for discovering new possibilities of self-punishment.

Rain and Fiona


Fiona has been here today.  The minions of entropy and mayhem tremble and, wailing, flee.*   She hauled another 1,000,000 books off to Oxfam . . . which leaves me only about 1,000,000 left to deal with.  It is fatal to re-sort through books Marked for Dea—I mean, marked to go to the used-books shop where they can find nice new owners who will APPRECIATE them.  Siiiigh.  However, Fiona had quite enough to drag off to Oxfam today—I don’t want them to lock the door and run away the next time they see her coming.  And you don’t know . . . I might have RE-re-sorted the books I re-sorted today and put them back in the Oxfam mountain by the time she comes again next month.  I might.  And pigs might fly, it might STOP raining, and I might finish PEG XXIV tomorrow.  But it’s not very likely.  Especially the flying pigs. 

            Fiona then went on to tackle our backlist.  Was there ever a heroine so heroic?  She began by carrying an awful lot of it upstairs because I keep not quite getting around to doing this.  I will carry a box or two and then remember that my roses need feeding and clearly that needs to be done first.**  So while I was resorting*** Fiona was staggering up a lot of stairs.†  And hellhounds were lying aggrievedly in a corner of the sitting room where I could quell them with a Hellgoddess Look.  This actually works pretty well, it’s just it keeps needing to be reapplied . . . like a sort of high-speed fertilisation plan.  I shovel food onto my garden a few times a year.  I pin my hellhound with a beady eye a few times a minute.  Chaos in particular—Darkness has the occasional impulse toward adulthood††—has the most extraordinary creep.  The moment I looked away he was halfway across the floor—still obediently lying down, mind you—merely by stretching out his long hellhound legs and somehow arranging that his body should remanifest at the other end of all those legs—without actually moving at all.  While staring at me hypnotically with huge golden eyes.

            Hellhounds think that Third House exists to torment them.†††  But they were spoilt for choice today in terms of hellhound affliction.  It’s been raining so heavily that I think some nasty old git of a rain god has got rain’s gravity designation changed so it literally falls harder.  Ow.  We’re now working on our third inch of the stuff since someone at headquarters found the ‘on’ button again.  So when after our abbreviated morning hurtle I brought them indoors at Third House you could see them trying to decide what to, you know, object to.  If they objected too hard to Third House I might make them go outside again.‡

            The Original Plan had been that I would meet Fiona at Third House, having already hurtled hounds.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  So, she came to the cottage first.  And as we were (finally) collecting ourselves to go up to Third House she said, You know, I think you’re the only person I know who has flowers in their attic.‡‡ 

It's a total waste of a window NOT to have flowers. And geraniums will grow ANYWHERE.

But Fiona also says that Secret Project #1 doesn’t look nearly as awful as I think it does.  But she would say that, wouldn’t she?  She’s IMPLICATED. ‡‡‡

 * * *

 * Do you suppose I could train them to run away at the sound of her name?  —If my Training Effectiveness Rating with the hellhounds, those spirits of lawlessness, is any indication . . . No.  

** My Tour de Malakoff is flowering nicely.  She’s been sitting in a dark shady corner and a pot too small for her for the last three years not because I’m like this, although I am like this, but because Tour de Malakoff is purple http://www.davidaustinroses.com/english/showrose.asp?showr=402

and the creature wearing her label, whoever she is, is white.  I suspect that whoever she is, she’s going to turn out to be large, and after three years I’m still deciding where I want to put an unscheduled, unknown Large White Thing That Furthermore Only Flowers Once—and am meanwhile stunting her growth by keeping her in a weeny pot.  However she gets full points for tenacity since I have tended to forget her in her corner.  I finally fed her during the early summer top-up this year . . . and next year she’ll be mugging passers-by on the footpath.

 ***  Resorting to threats of violence.  You, there!  Yes, you!  You book!  Get back in your box or I will re-re-re-sort you!

† I could hear tiny minion cries of frustration and despair in the background.

†† In that idiotic-but-not-entirely-useless dog-years calculator, they’re in their mid-thirties.^

^ Okay, I have known human males who are still pretty silly in their mid-thirties.+

+ I was saying thoughtfully to Fiona about some embarrassing aspect of hellhound behaviour, that I was just very unused to Entire Males, that the hellhounds were pretty much the first time I’d ever dealt long-term with Entire Males.  Fiona with a perfectly straight face said calmly, I think Peter might object to that remark.

††† Lie on THOSE BLANKETS?  Are you JOKING?  Those are the WRONG BLANKETS.  We can’t POSSIBLY lie on the WRONG blankets.

‡ One has critters because they’re fun to watch, of course.  Jodi has drawn up an inventory of How Being a Writer Is Like Being a Ferret


And I was thinking that it’s a lot like being a hellhound too.  I have a great creep away from my desk.  Zero attention span?  Check.  Looks to fickle goddesses (whose omniscience I dare to doubt:  see:  The Away-Desk Creep) to get me out of trouble?  Check.  Likes to lie on sofa with a good book?  Check.  And all three of us watch TV.  When we get the chance.^

^ It’s quite disconcerting to glance down at two pointy little faces staring straight at the screen with their ears pricked.  What are they seeing?

‡‡ And, speaking of my aversion to horror fiction, I’m glad I didn’t know V C Andrews.

‡‡‡ But she’s also bought a pair of rosewood needles AND subscribed to the same evil yarn site that I am in thrall to.^ Mwa hahahahaha.  Hellgoddesses always get some of their own back.

^ Which this week is having a sale on the other yarn I’ve been looking at.




It started with a tweet in response to mine about my blog post two nights ago.  I post links both on Facebook and Twitter, and for ‘Good Horror’ I tweeted:  Yes. Books even wimpy I will read. http://t.co/vdYjO14

            Someone—and while I usually try to be punctilious about acknowledging, I’m not going to put her (or his) Twitter name here, because I don’t want her to feel jumped on—responded:  Author of DEERSKIN wimpy about horror?  I think not!

            And I went, huh?  I retweeted, which means that everyone who ‘follows’ me would see this comment, and added:  How interesting.  I have never considered DEERSKIN horror.  Rough read, yes.  Not horror.

            And people started replying.  The first responses seemed to agree that DEERSKIN while it may not be pure or mainstream horror was still far enough over the line to be sometimes or semi-classified as horror.  I was . . . well, I was appalled.  But I put my cool professional hat on* because I do know that readers have a very very very veryveryveryvery** different view of a story than the writer does, and serially tweeted [Twitter abbreviations reinstated as English, and I’m sorry if this is still confusing]:

* * *

Interesting, all you arguing for DEERSKIN as horror. I may have to say something in blog about this.  I know why I think it isn’t . . .

But not in 140 characters, and I’m also not sure where I draw the lines, although this partly because the whole ‘genre’ thing gets up my nose, as if—

—as soon as something has a label then it’s one thing rather than another [ie cannot be another, cannot be more than one thing]—and I hate seeing SUNSHINE in ‘horror’ because people like me [ie wimpy] won’t find it. [Because it’s labelled ‘horror’]

* * *

In the middle of me being cool and professional (and distressed, which I’ll get to in a minute), Malinda Lo tweeted, and I fell on her gladly and retweeted.  Bless you, Malinda Lo! 

Oh good. :) RT @malindalo Who thinks DEERSKIN is horror?! It is not horror

And then I went on, feeling a little more cheerful:

* * *

[There is an] important distinction to me between horror and fairy tale [several tweeters having mentioned that a lot of fairy tales could pass for horror, like most of Grimm] although yes there is bleed between [genres] and some stories are hard to define as one or the other.

Perhaps most crucial to me is the difference between ‘horror’ & ‘horrible’. I don’t myself feel horrible things in DEERSKIN are ‘horror’. They are—

—horrible things that happen in a context of fantasy/fairy tale. Which is one way of working with horrible, but doesn’t make result ‘horror’.

My two cents. I agree that the author isn’t always right, but I’m glad some of you agree with me.

* * *

Now a lot of you have since said something very like what I’m saying now, so forgive me for not doing a better job of cutting and pasting and pulling it all together in a grand and lofty overview.***  But the reason I find the suggestion that DEERSKIN might count as horror distressing is because what is horrible about it is real.  It’s not that horror can’t be horror if it’s too close to ordinary reality—and I’m thinking less about serial murderers than about, for example, WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, which wouldn’t be anything if the narrator’s voice weren’t so, well, real, in a horrible sort of way†.  But I find most horror to be a way of distancing what is horrible.  It may be distancing it because you can’t cope with it any other way:  the input I-the-writer had on SUNSHINE was mostly my fury and despair about the mess us humans seem to be making of our world and our planet, and without any Others to blame. 

            But the horror of DEERSKIN is the rape.  The rest of it is straightforward fantasy.  There are no zombies or vampires, and the toro is just a great big animal.  And rape is real.  I hate the idea—and let me reiterate I’m not saying DEERSKIN’s readers do this††, only that this is my reaction to the suggestion that DEERSKIN might be classified as horror—that anyone reading it could, as it were, get out of it by putting it in their minds with the zombies and the vampires.  Rape is real. 

            The line between fairy tales and horror for me—and for a number of you who have posted or commented or tweeted to this effect—is that fairy tales tend to be about working through your traumas, your horrors, your fears, your great big insurmountable obstacles.  Horror tends to plonk them down and say yup, there they are.  Trauma, horror, fear and insurmountable obstacles.  Have fun.  People die in fairy tales and the happy endings may be a little crinkly around the edges but generally some kind of something worth having is won through to.  In horror . . . at best you learn coping mechanisms, you build your enclaves.  The zombies and the vampires don’t go away.  I believe that Lissar is going to be okay.  She’s won.  She’ll always have the scars—but she’s won. 

            . . . So it turns out I had more to say about this than I realised, and it’s late and I need to go to bed. †††  I may come back to this.  I wanted to quote more of what all of you have said—especially when I asked you to comment about this—and I haven’t even touched on whether SUNSHINE is horror or not.  But, all of you, thanks for being interested.

* * *

* Yes, I do have one.  Believe it or not.  It’s maybe a little . . . dusty. 

** I’ve wasted several minutes trying to think of a better adjective than lots of ‘very’s.  None of them do it.  ‘Profound’ doesn’t even scratch it.  Writer and reader are different species. 

*** Back in my school days I could never organise all those frelling little facts and quotes—forty years ago you wrote them down on individual file cards, and gods help you if you dropped the box—into a smooth advancing narrative with a conclusion.  Brrrrr. 

† I know that unreliable narrators who turn out to be nuts are a commonplace in horror.  But CASTLE is the first one I read and I can’t believe—I who rarely read horror—it isn’t still one of the best.  It’s just that good.

†† Although . . . I’ve told you before that I still get hate mail for DEERSKIN.  Rape is an ‘unsuitable’ subject and I have betrayed my audience, etc.  This is some of where the violence of my loathing for genre labels comes from—genre as a form of cheap safety^—and for the kneejerk labelling of, in this case, me, as someone who, since she wrote BEAUTY, will always and only ever write books like BEAUTY for the rest of my working career.  Uh.  No.  And I’ve told you I get a fair amount of . . . if not quite hate mail then abusive mail . . . about SUNSHINE.  They don’t like my morals and they don’t like my language.^^  Blah blah blah blah blah.

^ Someone on Facebook said this very well, I think: 

Genres are fuzzy sets, tools for organizing thoughts. Think of Venn diagrams. A particular work can be nearer the center of one than another. It’s entirely possibly that these are in the center of the fantasy circle (or sphere) and at the edge of the horror one.

But I’m not identifying her either because she went on to say something I want to disagree with fairly forcefully, I don’t know where the lines of power might be felt to run and I don’t want her to feel publicly jumped on:

But an author gets exactly one vote in the debate over the classification of a work, and doesn’t get to tell readers how to classify the work.

I’m having another big huh? reaction here.  I’ve said many times—including at the end of my burst of tweeting about DEERSKIN and horror yesterday—that the writer isn’t always right.  But this seems to me a very odd take on the question of the balance between writer and reader.  I don’t think voting or democracy is a useful model because writer and reader are, in my metaphor du jour, different species.  A writer’s view of her story is unique.  The writer is the only person who saw the story before it was written down, you know?  She’s also the only one+ who knows the stuff she didn’t write down, the stuff she chose not to include—give or take the spin-offs that some writers are good at (and I wish I were, but I’m not).  This may have given her so eccentric a view of her story that what she says about it to its readers doesn’t relate much or usefully to their experience, even if it’s a terrific story on its own terms;  and no she doesn’t get to order them to have this or that reaction.  And some authors (sigh) are simply big pains in the butt and should be ignored.  But I don’t agree that discounting a writer’s unique knowledge of what she’s written as one ‘vote’ among a crowd of readers is a valuable or even valid way to look at it.

+ Or possibly including a small circle of friends, family, editors and agent.

^ I’ve just been having a Twitter conversation with a new SUNSHINE reader about the latter.  All the euphemisms out there for genitalia give me a blood pressure headache and I’m not going to use them.  Make a note.   If I write another dark urban fantasy, or whatever they’re calling them by the time I write it,  it’s going to have sex and bad language in it.

††† Fiona is coming tomorrow.  Yaaaaaay.



I went to my voice lesson today in Tantrum Mode.  I knew I was in tantrum mode, I’m nearly sixty years old*, I’m only doing this for fun** and I haven’t done it for very long, so it’s not like this was going to be a world-melting tantrum or anything—also I’ve been listening to the finals of the Cardiff Singer of the World this week, and if there’s anything better calculated for making a nearly-sixty-year-old new singer who can just about be heard across the room on a good day, chiefly because she’s piercingly SHRILL***, feel like a very good baker of brownies and hurtler of hounds, I don’t want to know about it.  Cardiff was enough.  And of course you don’t, when you’re an elderly new amateur singer, compare yourself with fabulously talented and optimally trained young singers hoping to make a career of it.  No, actually, I’m not being ironic, you don’t.  But what happens is that you still fall in the chasm.  I can stand not being a finalist for Cardiff† like I can stand not making it to the national dressage championships.  But there’s a difference between being able to do nice round elastic transitions, and maybe even a flying change and a half pass or two, in your semi-flat back field with your nice (relatively) sound (relatively) cooperative half-bred nothing horse with whom you have a long-standing (relatively) friendly relationship and with whom you communicate pretty well (relatively)†† . . .  and cantering around your back garden on the broomstick you have named Desert Orchid††† and made a bridle for out of shoelaces.  I do not want to canter around my back garden on a broomstick. ‡  But I feel that’s what I’m doing with my singing.

            Blondel managed to distract me somewhat from my essential awfulness by flinging music at me:  I was so busy learning tunes I didn’t have time to get stuck on what I sounded like ( . . . relatively).  Although I think this halcyon phase was coming to an end anyway;  I took lessons from him for about a year and he managed to magick me from ‘hopeless’ to ‘something there to work with’.   And once you start thinking that maybe there’s something there to work with the Quality Police are all over you like pink on Mme Isaac Pereire. ‡‡  And the problem with singing folk songs—even Benjamin Britten’s settings of folk songs—is that they’re so frelling naked.  As Nadia herself says, with a glint in her eye, singing something simple like a folk song well is very difficult.  Yes, I know, I reply.  Kathleen Ferrier.‡‡‡

            Anyway.  The point is, I suck.  I suck.  I mean, the Quality Police would probably take my broomstick away from me. §  It’s all very well that I’m only doing it—singing—for fun and I haven’t been doing it for very long and my goal is only to be able to sing in an amateur choir a rung or two of the ladder above the Muddlehamptons—which goal has a lot less to do with perceived quality than with choice of material:  no stupid frelling pop songs§§—it doesn’t matter.  I SUCK.

            Tantrum.  I told you.

            So I went in and told Nadia that I was having a tantrum, and that I’m tired of being a squeaky, useless little nebbish, and that practising at home is just an exercise in self-loathing and that the only reason the Muddlehamptons will have me is because they’ll take anyone,§§§ and when I can listen to Marilyn Horne or Joyce DiDonato on CD why am I BOTHERING?

            And she listened to me calmly, asked me a lot of questions toward a more practical definition of the description ‘suck’, reminded me that one of the things practise is for at the moment is merely getting my voice fit enough to, you know, do stuff, suggested a few alterations to the how and what I practise . . . and then did her Teacher Magic so that by the end of the session I was singing The Ash Grove with almost more good notes than bad ones.  And shot me back out of there absolutely hot to get another week’s practise laid down so I can get closer to my goals. . . .

            A good teacher is worth her weight in gold.  Or, in Nadia’s case, more than that.  She’s quite a small person.  And she’s worth quite a lot of gold. 

* * *

Earlier today someone on Twitter referred to DEERSKIN as a horror novel.  I retweeted saying, it is?  And there’s been an interesting conversation about this—and about whether SUNSHINE is horror either—I don’t myself think either of them is, and while I understand the argument for SUNSHINE (I just don’t want it in the horror section of your local bookstore/library) I was pretty startled to see someone suggest that DEERSKIN belongs in that category.  I managed to blurt most of what I’d want to say about the matter in a series of 140-character bursts, but I’m still thinking about writing a blog post about it.  If any of you wants to weigh in, either in the forum here, Facebook, or Twitter . . . please do.  Hey, the more interesting comments there are the less I have to write. 

* * *

* Eeeeep

 ** As I keep reminding myself.  I’m only doing this for FUN.^

^ I’m only bell ringing for fun.+

+ I’m only KNITTING for . . . ~

~ Trauma, lumps, too many ends and despair

 *** Peter keeps claiming he likes to hear me sing.  Isn’t that sweet? 

† And a good thing too.  No, but I like being a writer.^

^ Um.  Sometimes.

†† Anyone who does it all perfectly all the time is either an alien or lying.  And their horse is either an alien or lying too.

††† http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_Orchid

‡ All witch/hag/crone/sorceress references here will be scorned. 

‡‡ http://www.davidaustinroses.com/english/showrose.asp?showr=551

‡‡‡ Because I am totally hopeless and stupid, I have just wasted a good ten minutes looking for a YouTube of Eileen Farrell singing Blow the Wind Southerly, when eventually it occurred to me that who I meant to be looking for is Kathleen Ferrier.  Shoot me, I’m too dumb to live.

But meanwhile, if you have the stomach for it—and anyone under the age of fifty probably doesn’t—listen to the frelling quality of this voice.  Shoot me again, before I start singing (again).


Oh, and yes,  I have sung Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms.^  I play it (on the piano) too.  How can you resist a lyric that goes ‘Let thy loveliness fade as it will/ And around the dear ruin, each wish of my heart/ Would entwine itself verdantly still.’

Anyway.  Here’s what I meant to be finding for you:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjvHg9cBriw


And, just because I love it^^, and because Blondel let me sing it . . . and because it provided one of those critical Moments of Ultimate Trauma, in this case when I had to come in ALL BY MYSELF WITHOUT THE PIANO . . . argle gargle blerg whimper, but listen to this voicehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68j0aCur3lM   —Just by the way, I feel only someone with a Kathleen-Ferrier voice would dare take it this slowly.

^ You call that SINGING?  —Only very late at night, after a couple of glasses of champagne.  Hic.  Which would be now, since you mention it.

^^ Unfortunately, Oisin says that the Muddlehamptons sang the Messiah fairly recently.  Oh well.  I’m not going for any solos anyway. 

§ Not to mention all my pink t shirts.

§§ But it probably would involve passing an audition.  I’ll think about that later.  Like, 2015 or something. 

§§§ See:  not having to pass an audition.

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