February 24, 2014



Tra la la la la la la . . .

I’m going to be Guest of Honor at Boskone next year.

Boskone, I hear some of you saying?  I think it’s one of the oldest and most regularly annual of the (American) SF&F conventions* but I’m afraid I don’t pay any more attention to the fan-run end of the book world than I do to the professional publisher end** so I could be wrong.  But it was my first big SF&F con, back when BEAUTY was new, and I was living next door in Boston.  I attended sporadically for some years before I got kind of burnt out about the public-author thing generally*** but I’ve retained a soft spot for Boskone.

I had an email from next year’s chairperson about a fortnight ago inviting me to be next year’s GOH and I thought BOSKONE?  I WOULD LOVE TO BE GUEST OF HONOR AT BOSKONE . . . and have since been in agonies not so much of indecision but of trying to figure out what the frell I could do about the hellpack if I said yes.†  Pav isn’t a problem;  given the basic facts of bull terriers she’s, you know, normal.  The hellhounds, now. . . .

But a friend dropped round for a cup of tea this afternoon and in the process of trying to force said hellhounds to eat their lunch I found myself moaning to her about the situation.  She, having extracted the salient facts that (a) YES I WOULD LIKE TO BE GOH AT BOSKONE NEXT YEAR and (b) no I haven’t been anywhere in the last seven years because I have these bizarrely-constituted hellhounds†† . . . said, FOR PITY’S SAKE SAY YES.  GO.  GO.  You’ve got a year:  we’ll figure something out.†††

So I said yes.  ::Beams::

I asked the chair to let me know when they announced it so I could time it to go up more or less simultaneously on this blog.  That was about seven hours ago and she answered by return electron that they were going to be putting it up on NESFA’s web site by the end of the day and I could go ahead as soon as I liked.  I don’t think it’s up yet—although as I say Google does not love me—I’ll add a link when it does.

BUT HERE’S YOUR OPPORTUNITY.  SEE AND HEAR MCKINLEY LIVE IN PERSON.  Although you want to remember that I’ll be sixty-two by next February, so don’t expect much:  I’m old, wizened and EVEN CRANKIER THAN YOU REALIZE.  But I’ll be there.  Smiling in a dangerous manner.


* * *

* Here’s Wiki’s stub about it:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boskone  The New England Science Fiction Association has a web site but it’s kind of full of this year’s Boskone at the moment, which is only just over and also, I am stupid, and Google doesn’t love me.

** That sound you hear is Merrilee banging her head against a wall

*** That sound you hear is Merrilee banging her head against a wall harder

† I’ve spent a fair portion of the last fortnight making phone calls toward this end.

†† Remember that in my life this isn’t as appalling as it sounds.  I like staying home and hurtling and ringing bells and planting rose-bushes and so on.  But it would be nice to go back to America SOME TIME and not be a foreigner the minute I open my mouth^, and while day to day I don’t think about it, and year to year the idea of author touring is about as appealing as going into battle in your nightgown^^ . . . the invitation from Boskone made me fall over the edge immediately.

^ Except that I will be because while my accent hasn’t drifted east much my usage sure has

^^ Now I wonder why that image occurs to me

††† Peter said exactly the same thing, only faster.  And his kids will keep an eye on him in my absence.

Drums and trumpets . . .


. . .  I am taking the night off.*

However I don’t want to leave you entirely without reading material.  Those of you who follow me on Twitter will already know this because Stephanie Burgis, who writes funny, charming novels of her own,** and who nominated it, tweeted the news a few days ago.  But my editor sent me a link today so it must be true.  SHADOWS is on the short list for the Cybils award.


SHADOWS is down there near the bottom under Speculative Fiction.  But read through the rest of the categories:  several of these books are going on my amazon wish list . . . or are already in one of the tottering health-and-safety threatening TBR piles scattered around the cottage.

* * *

* I think I got some sleep last night.  It was very disconcerting.  I hardly know how to behave.  But I thought I might try it again.  It might, you know, grow on me.  I might decide—whatever—that I liked it.

But I’ve just spent rather more of the evening than planned hanging out with the other St Margaret’s Street Pastors.  I’m not sure how we particularly have got stampeded into this^ but Llewellyn, our area head, is eager that local SPs go round to other local churches and talk about how wonderful SPing is and how they want to do it too.  And Jonas is all, why certainly.  Anyway we seem to have been nailed for our first gig and so we’re all making fish-mouths at each other and wondering what we say.

And I have to get up way too early tomorrow and take Peter to the big farmers’-and-miscellaneous street market in Mauncester.  New Arcadia has its own farmers’-and-miscellaneous market but it seems to be specially designed not to have any of the stuff we want.  The cheap beaded jewellery is actually pretty nice, but not weekly—the same with the hand-woven baskets—and the eighty-seven kinds of fudge in vibrant decorator colours^^—no thanks.

But the possibly-tentatively-eeeeep big news is that there may be a softening attitude among hellhounds toward food.  Don’t make any sudden gestures.  It might go away.

^ Actually I do know:  Jonas is relentless and he just assumes the rest of us will come along

^^ I can’t imagine what they use to get those colours.  Dulux?

** http://www.stephanieburgis.com/

Also:  http://robinmckinleysblog.com/2011/08/10/a-night-semi-off/


Letting sleeping hellhounds lie






Do you ever have the feeling we're being, I don't know, WATCHED?

Do you ever have the feeling we’re being, I don’t know, WATCHED?


Oh . . . I suppose I might give it a try. . . . Right after I finish my nap.

Oh . . . I suppose I might give it a try. . . . Right after I finish my nap.


This is a VERY inadequate blanket.

This is a VERY inadequate blanket.





Oh yes, that's MUCH better.  Maybe a little nobbly though . . .

Oh yes, that’s MUCH better. Maybe a little nobbly though . . .







Oh, and how about fabulous little origami chapter head ornaments?  Yes?

Oh, and how about fabulous little origami chapter head ornaments? Yes?

So I had it all planned, what I was going to do this week, assuming that the BOOKS would arrive in time for some kind of Big Ta-Da on Thursday.  And then the books did arrive, um, today, and I totally LOST IT and had to POST IT RIGHT AWAY.  RIGHT NOW.  TODAY.*

And Peter and I are going out to dinner on the 26th.  I’ll take a photo of a glass of champagne, okay?


* * *

* And yes, Pav was going entirely mental while I was doing stuff to/with the hellhounds and not to/with her.  But it’s all in the prepositions.  I haven’t the energy to discuss posing politely accompanied by a book to/with a hellterror.  I was gardening with her this afternoon and then we swept the floor TOGETHER and . . . THAT’S ENOUGH.^

^ Also, recent photos have tended to favour the hellterror.  This imbalance must be redressed.

I did what?


So.  Um.  I rang a quarter peal at the abbey today.  I rang a quarter peal at the abbey today.  IT WAS ONLY ON SIX BELLS AND I WAS ONLY ON THE TREBLE.  Still.  I rang a quarter peal.  At the abbey . . . *

            Today kind of began last Friday.  Gemma and Niall and I were ringing handbells, and Gemma and Niall were saying, and you’re going to come to New Arcadia tower practise with us after this, RIGHT?  And I was saying, well, no, I’m not.  The old tower politics are beginning to re-emerge from the shadows and show their teeth and while I’m delighted to realise how little of it matters any more, still, life is short, and I think I’ll stay home and polish the goldfish or knit or something.  No, no, they said, come on, it’ll be fun, it’ll be fine.  So I finally said, I wasn’t going to come to tower practise and therefore I haven’t given the hellhounds their evening hurtle yet.  But I will listen, and if you’re short of ringers I will hustle hellhounds home, take them out again after practise, and come along.

            They were ringing five.  Five is marginally okay on Sunday morning when you’re usually short, but it’s pretty sad for a practise, especially when one of the ringers is a beginner.  Sigh.  So I hustled only mildly outraged hellhounds home again** and went along to the tower.  And it was fun because Niall likes torturing us with peculiar methods.***  I also wished Niall and Gemma luck, because they were trying for a full peal on Saturday—yesterday—Gemma’s first.†  I texted Gemma later saying to let me know how it goes, if she feels like it.

            I didn’t hear from Gemma yesterday, so I thought, uh-oh.

            Now tower practise is open, while Sunday service ringing is usually done by members of the home band.  This is standard.  But there’s also a feeling that if you attend a practise regularly, if you’re a low-level ringer who is using the practise for your benefit, you owe that tower something.  If you can’t ring at their Sunday service because it’s at the same time as your own, you can at least say ‘yes’ if they phone you some day and ask you to ring for the vicar’s dog’s birthday on Saturday.  I’ve been ringing Sunday afternoon service at the abbey because that’s when they’re short of ringers and I don’t like getting up in the morning.  But that leaves me hideously available for, for example, New Arcadia morning service.

            Never mind that the hellhounds are going through a serious anti-supper phase which means I’m catching up on a lot of old magazines at mmph o’clock in the morning.  Given the somewhat touchy situation at New Arcadia, if I went to practise on Friday, I’d better frelling show up on Sunday morning.


            Well, with me, we were six, so I was serving a useful purpose.  Fine.  Paying your dues is a good thing.  And Niall told me they’d lost their peal yesterday.  I’m sorry, I said.

            But I went home feeling limp and soggy.  It’s very muggy, I’m short of sleep, and bell-ringing, as I keep saying, is a demanding and complex skill . . . especially on Sunday morning.  I had just settled down with a nice cup of tea and a new knitting magazine when Pooka started barking at me.  I assumed it was Peter with a weather report††.

            It was Gemma.  What are you doing this afternoon? she said.  How would you like to ring a quarter peal at the abbey?

            WHAT? I said.  ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR TINY FREAKING MIND?  —or words to that effect.  I’m not the most reliable ringer at my best, and I’m a nightmare on the abbey bells.

            Well, we can’t find anyone else, said Gemma, at the last minute like this, and you’d enjoy it, it’s a nice friendly band.

            Whuffle whuffle whuffle, I said.

            The thing is, Gemma went on, you know we lost the peal yesterday?  Well it was for [insert standard celebratory life event here] and we were thinking, we could have a go at just a quarter . . . but we’ve only got five ringers.††† 

            Whuffle whuffle whuffle, I said.

            We need you, said Gemma.‡

            Siiiiiiiiiiiiigh, I said.  Okay.  Put me on the treble.  I should cause the least damage there.

            . . . We got our quarter.  We did have to stop and start over—not my fault!  Not my fault!—and there were a few hedgerows along the way that Albert had to drag people out of‡‡ . . . but the treble actually managed to hold her line when not everyone else was holding theirs. 

            Yaay us.‡‡‡

            And then Gemma invited us back to her house for tea.§  And somehow, I can’t imagine how, we found ourselves ringing handbells.  And even more astonishing and inexplicable, it appears that Gemma and I have arranged to drive to Albert and Leandra’s house in Greater Footling on Wednesday so that we can ring more handbells.§§

            I thought that August was going to be a desert of non-ringing. 

* * *


** They possess such touching faith that I’ll make any shortfalls up to them.  And I did.  We went out for another walk while everyone else went to the pub.  Never mind.  It was a lovely evening and it turned out Peter had put a bottle of prosecco in the fridge at the mews. 

*** Catch hold [of your rope] for Marmalade Zanzibar Fruitcake minor!

            You can also torture your beginner much more effectively when there’s six of you, which is a proper method-ringing number.  You ring on five if five is what you’ve got, but it’s a little bogus.  

† I will never ring a full peal—I know, famous last words.  But I pretty well can’t, I haven’t got the stamina.  It’s three-plus hours of non-stop ringing, and the person with ME who folds in the last quarter-hour will be justifiably unpopular.^  It’s not that peal attempts aren’t lost all the time—they are:  bell ringing is a complex and demanding skill, and maintaining your concentration for that long is difficult—but you want to start out with as much on your side as possible.  I’m a bad risk.  Also I can’t imagine not having a pee for three-plus hours. 

            Niall hasn’t given up on trying to persuade me to ring a full peal on handbells however.  They go a lot faster than tower bells, you can sit down . . . and you can keep your legs crossed as necessary toward the end. 

^ I realise this is poor-spirited but ringing a full peal doesn’t actually sound like a good time to me. 

†† Saying, approximately, Get out NOW before the rain starts. 

††† The peal had been eight.  But not everybody wants to get back on the horse that threw them the very next day. 

‡ Note that I have a strong suspicion that Gemma was doing a little boost-Robin here.  It’s perfectly true that you are likely to have trouble coming up with a scratch band at the very last minute on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in August^ to spend forty-five minutes in a dark, hot, clammy ringing chamber getting blisters from sweaty hands on sweaty ropes . . . but it’s not impossible.  I’m sure they had already gone through a lot of better ringers who turned them down.  I doubt I was their last hope.

^ . . . during the Olympics 

‡‡ You know how I keep banging on about the 3,211 bells at the abbey.  It was very funny deciding which six bells we were going to ring . . . although some of this was my fault and I shouldn’t laugh.  Albert had been planning on using the very frontest front six, but the two littlest bells are REALLY LITTLE and I’d yank my poor little thing right out of the belfry, because I overring anyway but the more nervous I am the more I overring.  So Albert said, okay, fine, and we ended up ringing something middle-ish which actually sounded rather nice, nicer, I think, than if we’d been on the tinkerbells. 

‡‡‡ Don’t tell . . . but it was fun.  In spite of the almost-blisters. 

§ And I ate about twelve pounds of gorgeous fresh cherries.  I adore cherries, and the season for fresh ones is about six hours long. 

§§ Bob major!^  Yaaaaaaay! 

^ Four people/eight bells


Several Aspects of Sunday Ringing



I wait breathlessly for the decision on the MGB. I realize it would be more practical to get rid of it…but practical isn’t much fun. 


…my vote’s for fun now. Driving to the Abbey for ringing in an MG would be…enormously helpful to the writer’s mood. 

Diane in MN

Because the hellhounds won’t fit in the back seat! I said.

In our young days, my husband had a Fiat 124 Spyder ragtop with one of those pretend back seats in it–the kind someone’s two-year-old child might fit in if she was small for her age–and we had a Lab/Shepherd mix and a Great Dane who BOTH rode in it. That would have been, oh, 200 pounds of dog. And they couldn’t squirm around, which was a very good thing. You may need to rethink the bit about the hellhounds.*

Yup! I vote for fun now, as well. You’re still amazed at yourself ringing at the Abbey every time you approach it – without any disrespect to the loyal and faithful Wolfgang, wouldn’t it feel even better and more exhilarating to be driving to the Abbey in the MGB?! 


practical isn’t much fun.

AGREED. Also, I looked up pictures. It’s a PRETTY car. I’m just saying. 

About a dozen emails:



1.  My All Stars are deeply practical.  They are also fun. 

2.  EMoon, you ratbag, you are a writer so you know these things.** 


4.  I thought about this.  There is that spectacular view as you come over the hill into town.  But the thing that really caught my feeble and easily distracted attention is the idea of parking in the close.***  Generally speaking only archbishops and the queen are allowed to park in the close.  But us bell ringers are also granted special dispensation.  Hmmmmm.  Descending gently through the maze of the old town and penetrating at last to the, you should forgive the term, cloistered abbey grounds . . . as I said, hmmmmm. 

5.  It’s a very pretty car.  It looks a lot like this:  http://www.oselli.com/items/226?back=%2F   There’s a reason they’re a cult car.  Aside from the excuse to wear motorcycle leathers without driving a motorcycle.

            Not that I’m against motorcycles, although I think it’s unlikely I’ll ever have one again.†  An MGB will still cruise happily at speeds that the cops will pull you over for, and the boot may be small, but it’s bigger than panniers on a motorcycle, big enough for a haul home from supermarket/garden supply/old bookstore.†† 

And, speaking of bell ringing, as I so often am . . . I seem to have rung twice today.  This is one of those things that I promised myself (and possibly my husband) that I would never develop a habit of doing:  ringing more than one Sunday service.†††  Well, it’s not a habit . . . yet.  But I knew that Penelope was away, and Penelope is one of the core group of New Arcadia Sunday ringers.  So I went along again this week.  And  . . . as I was strolling toward the tower in plenty of time I was thinking a little drily that if I’ve stopped not going, if you follow me, I’m going to hate sitting in the kitchen drinking tea on a Sunday morning I’m ringing in the abbey in the afternoon just as much as I’ve hated putting a pillow over my head and pretending to go back to sleep these last six or seven months.  Feh.  I got into this whole mess again after I quit ringing twelve years ago when the ME knocked me over because I’m now two garden walls over from a bell tower and can’t frelling HELP hearing them ring.  Okay.  I’ll worry about the habit thing later.  Next week.  Or the week after.  Or the week after that.  Edward is away for three weeks, so they’re going to go on being short. . . .

            Oh, and it’s our first beautiful day since about . . . March.  And as I was driving into the abbey I was thinking it would be a great day to be driving the MG.  Robin, will you please think about something else?

            And on our first beautiful day in about a year and a half we had a turnout of twelve which is very good for a Sunday afternoon.  We rang Grandsire Triples for me‡‡ (seven bells plus tenor-behind) because the peons need to be kept cheerful (so they’ll keep coming back) and then the fancy guys rang Stedman caters (nine bells plus tenor-behind) which is almost beyond my tiny mind to grasp the implications of, if I ever really ring Stedman triples (seven bells of this twisty volatile nightmare method with tenor-behind) I will be very happy, and then we rang plain hunt on all twelve because that’s the only thing their twelfth ringer—me—can ring on twelve.  And they put me on the treble.  I hate trebling‡‡‡ for a lot of bells.  It brings out all my frelling performance anxiety.  But Scary Man was on the two and he didn’t yell at me . . . much . . . maybe he was tired. . . . 

* * *

* Diane in MN continues:

 GODS. The things one does when one is culpably young and even more culpably stupid. This was before I discovered single malt, however.

And if your youth was like mine, it was before you could AFFORD single-malt, too. 

YES.  Remember Thunderbird?  Ripple?  Cold Duck?  Ewwwww.  It amazes me my attitude toward booze wasn’t permanently ruined by these early experiences.  And I’m pretty sure I’ve told the blog that I was put off champagne for about twenty years by a traumatic encounter with cheap rosé.   

** One of the things I found myself telling Colin on Thursday was that while driving was and still is the ordinary daily activity that is probably the most conspicuously restricted by my ME^, one of the things I remember the most vividly about the summer of the year after I started getting up off the sofa again after the eighteen months of acute horizontality, was wandering around the back roads of Hampshire, at about 20 mph, in the MG, with the top off.  Clearly it was a better summer that year.^^ 

^ which is really more to say that it’s harder to disguise with smoke and mirrors.  I’m good at smoke and mirrors—my old friends who also read the blog might call it more Jekyll and Hyde—but driving/not driving is not terribly susceptible to guile and subterfuge.  

^^ Although I still have the heated gloves and the Harley Davidson black leather chaps+ from my one winter of bell ringing with the MG.  Put the top back on?  What would I want to do that for?  As soon as you put the top on it’s just a car.++ 

+ I’m failing to find a good on-line picture.  But mine are the proper full length kind:  legs with a belt to hold them up.  They zip up the sides.  They are very cool.  If you’re into retro biker chic.  With the pink All Stars an onlooker could injure him/herself laughing.  There are ladies’ leather chaps# but twelve years ago when I was looking the only full-length ladies’ chaps were really cheezy.  This is mysterious to me:  a woman connecting with a road surface at high speed needs good quality leather between her and it just as much as a bloke does.  Anyway, for other reasons concerning heat retention, I bought blokes’.  

# I’ve even seen a rumour of pink ones 

++ Also the claustrophobia, when you’re used to the top off, is kind of extreme.  Headroom in old MGs is not too generous.  

*** I’m not sure abbeys have closes.  But it’s a close-like space, and since the Dissolution I daresay closes have grown up around ex-abbeys.  The early 1500s is a long time ago.  

† Although I totally fancy a Vespa.  http://www.uk.vespa.com/#/vespa/UK/uk/Model/Vespa-LX/Vespa-LX-125-3V ^ It’s probably a good thing they don’t come in pink. 

^ I don’t really see the point of a 300cc Vespa.  If you want a real engine, why don’t you buy a motorcycle and get it over with? 

†† We are not discussing the transportation of hellhounds.   

††† Of course there are loonies in places like London where it’s cough-cough feasible, who spend their Sundays sprinting from one tower to the next and knock off half a dozen before going home to the Sunday roast. 

‡ All else being equal, which it never is, if I were doing her up to sell her, I could probably afford it.  If I’m doing her up to keep her . . . 

‡‡ Scary Man has this infuriating habit of shouting Listen to your bell! when I start going astray.  If I could frelling hear my frelling bell I would be a much better ringer.   

‡‡‡ The treble is first.  It all begins with you.  There are various arguments about who ‘really’ sets the pace or the rhythm.  The stronger argument is that the tenor does for the simple reason that it’s the biggest bell and the rest of us have to make space.  But the treble is still first—and totally exposed.  Ugggggggh.

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