Friday, June 29, 2007

Perverted by Language: The Fall Anthology.

Pete Wild is on the BBC Newsnight Review tonight (around 11pm BBC2, I'd guess) together with Matt Thorne and 'The Great MES' (Mark Smith legendary Fall founder) to celebrate the launch of Perverted by Language - an anthology inspired by the Manchester-based group the Fall and will be officially released on Sunday at the Manchester Festival.

Pete has also been busy on the Guardian Blog here. I know I've said this before but how this man accomplishes all that he does is beyond me.

I'm really proud of having a story in this book - the other contributors are: Steve Aylett, Matt Beaumont, Nicholas Blincoe, Richard Evans, Michel Faber, Niall Griffiths, Andrew Holmes, Mick Jackson, Nick Johnstone, Stewart Lee, Kevin MacNeil, Carlton Mellick III, Rebecca Ray, Nicholas Royle, Matthew David Scott, Stav Sherez, Nick Stone, Matt Thorne, Jeff VanderMeer, Helen Walsh, Peter Wild and John Williams so there is a varied and highly entertaining selection.

All the stories are based on titles from the Fall and the publisher, Serpent's Tail, have done a fine job - the cover is one of the most original and witty I've ever seen.

Unfortunately I shall miss the launch on Sunday since we are going on holiday then, but I expect it will be amazing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Eight Random Facts.

Anne Sydenham of Cat Politics tagged me while I was away at my retreat.

Here are the rules:

1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
2. Each participant posts eight random facts about themselves.
3. Tagees should write a blogpost of eight random facts about themselves.
4. At the end of the post, eight more bloggers are tagged (named and shamed).
5. Go to their blog, leave a comment telling them they're tagged (cut and run).

Eight Random Facts:

1. This morning I had to send a letter to my agent ending our contract. It is the second time I have had to do this and once again it hurt so much it was like losing a friend. Which is stupid. Agents are not friends they are business acquaintances. I have to remember this.

2. So far I have spent three and a half years writing a novel but it is not finished yet and needs more work. This novel may never be published but I try not to think about this.

3. In order to write this novel I went to Patagonia, caught a bus which took me over the desert and I interviewed about 50 people about their lives and the lives of the ancestors. During this time I was cold, scared, tired and irritable. At the end of this trip I had big arguments with a waiter at a coffee bar, a woman at a till and the man at the airport desk. Thinking back I wonder how I managed to get out of the country - or more likely they couldn't wait to get rid of me.

4. Also for this novel I learnt to become a shaman and made many shamanic journeys while lying on the floor of a flat in west London. In order to make a shamanic journey you generally either need to take drugs, not sleep for several days or listen to a hypnotic drum-beat. I chose the drum-beat. When I reached my underworld (which was in the bole of a tree) I discovered I had a spirit helper which turned out to be a big turtle.

6. I am not religious any more although I used to be. When I was young I used to belong to an evangelical group of Christians because I was lonely and it made me feel part of a community. We used to spend a lot of time trying to convert people until one day I realised that the person I most needed to convert was me. Then I left.

7. Also for the novel (in point 2 above) I tried to learn Welsh which is the most illogical and also the most beautiful language in the world. After a fortnight of immersion in the language I felt so sorry to leave Wales that I experienced hiraeth - which is a special sort of homesickness unique to the Welsh.

7. I am an expert on the folk lore and culture of the nineteenth century Tehuelche Indians (northern tribes).

8. Sometimes my sadness incapacitates me for days at a stretch and all I can do is sit at my desk and write lists like this.

Now I have to tag 8 people so I tag the following people I encountered while on my retreat (I have come back early):

the inebriated member of the cloth who had the room below me and listened to the TV with the volume on max;
the wealthy landowner who told me I had no right to stand where I stood;
the builder who hammered at wood all day and every day;
the man who operated the cement mixer;
the god of rain;
the over-enthusiastic bell-ringer who decided that three hours was insufficient time to practise;
the slight, meek-looking woman who somehow irritated me for no good reason whatsoever;
and the cleaner who came into my room at the unearthly hour of 9.30am this morning and remarked that I was not one of life's early starters (even though I was dressed).

If they had blogs I would tag them, but unfortunately I suspect that they don't - so I won't.

(Additional Note) So instead I tag the following:

Susan of In Over My Head.
Lori of Chatoyance;
Crystallyn of Creator of Circumstance
Susangalique of Shedding the Inner Dialogue
Aydin of Snails Tales;
Jeremy of Peake-o-matic
Gordon of McCabism
Jonathan of Connaissances

Only if you have time and inclination of course!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Retreat

I am retreating to St Deniol's Library for a few days. The last few months have been a strain and I am going to do nothing for a while.

Friday, June 22, 2007

SHIFTING SKIN by Chris Simms

Hodmandod Major is now a resident of Manchester city centre. Immediately outside the entrance to his apartment is the Hilton Hotel. This is an unsettling structure since it is top-heavy and asymmetric and must be one of the highest buildings in the area. It looks so unstable that you'd expect a decently-sized sneeze to topple it. I think it has won an award and it is certainly very striking. It is part of the recently developed brown site of Manchester centre. Old buildings from the industrial revolution are being demolished to be replaced by even denser housing: large blocks of apartments each with bedroom, living room and bathroom. It is like a collection of insect cells - each one designed and furnished for single occupancy because this is how we apparently want to live these days, well at least most of us - on our own.

Also near Hodmandod Major's place of residence are remnants of older Manchester: canals in partly landscaped gardens, great bridges transporting railways, old pubs on street corners and new clubs in old factory buildings. Even the names of the streets evoke earlier times: Canal Street, Minshull Street, and Whitworth Street. These are the streets I used to hurry past when I worked at the university. By day they are dirty and dingy; in the night they become seedy and dangerous. And it is this area of Manchester that is the setting of Chris Simms's exciting crime novel SHIFTING SKIN. Chris Simms will be talking about his book at the reading week holiday next month, so I thought I would take a look.

Exfoliation is the theme of the novel - or at least desribes the book's major crime. 'Killing them wasn't enough' declares the words on the cover and indeed the corpses in SHIFTING SKIN are laid utterly bare. Their skins are 'shifted' to reveal the muscles and tissues beneath. It is a sickening act and one which detective inspector Jon Spicer and his newly appointed assistant, detective sergeant Rick Saville, are soon obsessively investigating.

But the detective work is not confined to the police in this novel. An interesting parallel plot (too important to be called a sub-plot, I think) involves accidental amateur sleuth Fiona who inadvertently overhears a crime and finds herself drawn to investigate it - as an exorcism for events that haunt her in her past and present life.

The writing is direct and accessible. Each line is clear and the story flows easily. Very soon it absorbed me and I was happily enticed along to the end to find out 'whodunnit'. It was not at all obvious. The red herrings were plausible and and the characterisation excellent.

For instance one of my favourite characters had just a cameo appearance (with a brief follow-up) but she was memorable. This is how she is introduced:

"In the DJ box was a tall figure with a hairdo like Marge Simpson's. She was wearing a satin dress covered in what looked to Jon like a collection of luminous pong-pong balls. As he and Rick made their way round the edge of the dance floor the song came to an end. But rather than another starting up, a beam of light swung across the room and settled on Jon.

Shielding his eyes, he squinted at the DJ box, the figure now barely visible in the spotlight's glare. 'Fuck me, this one's new to town.'

...When he reached the reached the bar, Rick grinned at him and said, 'That was Miss Tonguelash.'

Although I've never known a Miss Tonguelash, I feel that I do now and SHIFTING SKIN is stuffed full of people I now feel I know and would like to meet again. It is Manchester at night and it is worryingly close to the Manchester I used to know by day. SHIFTING SKIN, it seems to me is not only a crime novel but also a portrait of a city, or at least a part of a city. It goes underneath, it shifts this skin too, and reveals the shallow and tragic preoccupations of its citizens. It is edgy, grim and desperate.

It concerns me a little that Hodmandod Major is living in the middle of it right now but he seems to be coping all right. In fact he seems to thrive. Alongside the tragedy there is also the hope and excitement of a large dynamic city and SHIFTING SKIN shows this too. Excellent stuff.

Additional Note: The perceptive Crime Fiction Reader has also reviewed one Chris Simms's novels - BETWEEN THE WHITE LINES here. Please go and take a look!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wasp Death

'Ever heard of a skip?' We looked around the loft together at the piles of filled bin bags and boxes.
'It's my husband,' I said, since he wasn't there. 'can't throw anything away.'
'Well if I start to run, you run.'
I shifted a little closer to the loft hatch.
'I'm afraid that they might be underneath one of these.' He started to lift up the nearest bag and listened. 'I can hear them.'
He lifted slowly. Nothing. Then he reached for another.
I looked around me. The old nest was empty and the new one I'd spotted - the size of a golf ball - had been abandoned.
'Perhaps they're underneath the felt.' He took another step forward and directed his flashlight onto the rafters.
'Got a stick?'
I passed him an old pole attached to an old fishing net and he prodded at the ceiling.

We listened again and I looked around noticing all the ridiculous things we shove up here 'for later' or 'just in case': old pillows, old quilts, buckets and spades for the beach, an old windbreak, Christmas decorations, outgrown toys, my research for my books, and the old picnic hamper we bought dreaming of family picnics and somehow never found practical and soon will be redundant anyway.
'What is the point of keeping all this?' I asked the wasp nest eradicator. 'Once half this stuff goes up here it's useless anyway.'
His prodding stopped.
'I think I've found it.' He said quietly. 'It's a big one. Want to see?'
It was buried beneath lagging, spread from one joist to the next: yellow, buzzing, dangerous.
A solitary wasp came out and waggled its abdomen at us.
'What are you going to do now?'
'Pump some poison into them. They'll be dead by nightfall.'

Later we went outside to inspect his results. Peering up to the roof edge we could see just a couple of wasps flying groggily.
'See the white one? That means the powder got them. They'll be buzzing around for a bit, but in a few hours...'

Last night I slept. A storm threw down rain and lashed the air with lightning and gusts of ozone. But still I slept. I think I dreamt of annihilation and death. Blood dripped from wounds and the air was thick with white poisons and dust. My hand reached out and something touched it. I woke and something dripped on it again. Cold but not sticky. A big drop and then another one slightly smaller. I sniffed it. Not blood but water. Not the corpses of wasps but the rain flooding through some imperfect flashing by the chimney breast.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Insect Insomnia

So when you can't sleep you are supposed to write lists and dismiss worrying thoughts from your head. You are supposed to do something mundane and repetitive. You are supposed to make sure the room is free of extraneous noise... like wasps making nests in the roof space above the ceiling.

The thing is only I could hear them. At first I thought it was a moth caught in the room frantically searching for the window in the dark. But there was no moth. Then I thought it sounded a little like softly dripping water. But the rain had stopped. Then I thought the house was settling. This was a little worrying. Then I realised - insects.

Now, at last, Hodmandod Senior can hear them too (but only when he listens). I can hear them all the time: an almost continual shifting and scurrying. It is in exactly the same place as they were a few years ago. Last night I climbed into the loft to investigate. Below the scattered remnants of the old nest another grows. It is beautiful in its own way but it will have to go. Last time the wasp nest eradicator told us they settled down at night. But I have to report they do not. They are as restless in their sleep as I am in mine. Perhaps they have their own insect worries. For a couple of hours I have endured ear plugs and now I have given up and write this. I am hoping it will be an exorcism. But outside the dawn has come.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Green Tea

Over the last couple of days I have been doing a little research on the health-giving aspects of tea. I have to admit to being a bit of a cynic when it comes to alternative medicine but I am now convinced that there is something of great benefit in tea.

Green tea in particular seems to have some therapeutic qualities. Recent studies have linked it to the prevention of cancers (particularly squamous cell cancer of the skin and esophagus, the prostrate, the breast and the ovaries), cardiovascular disease, strokes, arthritis and Alzheimer's. In fact it appears to be some sort of wonderdrug.

The active ingredient in green tea is something called epigallocatechin gallase (EGCG) which is a sort of flavonoid. This is just the name of a set of chemicals that are derived from plants. In the freshly plucked leaf there is 10% EGCG by weight but this is destroyed when the leaf is 'fermented' and turned into the black tea we normally drink.

EGCG is a powerful antioxidant and this, until recently, was thought to be the reason for its anticancer action. The flavonoid was thought to work by 'mopping up' the harmful free-radicals that can damage cells and lead to cancer. However in March Professor Frei at the Linus Pauling Institute found that this was not what actually happened in vivo. Flavonoids only work, he says, because they are slightly toxic and the body can't wait to get rid of them. Only about 5 % is absorbed and in response to even this small invasion the body produces substances like uric acid to expel the toxin as soon as possible. And it is this expulsion that causes the anticancer effect. The mechanisms that expel the flavonoid also eliminates mutagens and carcinogens. The body is put in a state of alert and is sensitised to any invader. The system is purged. There is a detoxification on a grand scale.

So green tea is good, but you don't need too much. In fact too great a dose of flavonoids can be harmful so it is best to keep the doses small and often. A healthy diet of 5 - 9 portions of fruit and vegetables a day should do the trick, according to Professor Frei, there is no need to go mad.

And at least a couple of these portions can include green tea (which must be carefully stored and steeped at 100 degrees to extract as much EGCG as possible according to another study), and with a little persistence I am sure it is possible to get used to the taste - which is, unfortunately, quite disgusting. At least in my opinion.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Congratulations to (my big mate) Sir Salman Rushdie

Sir Salmon Rushdie (left (heh)) and, much more importantly, moi (right).

I hate this picture of me (I was just a little bit sloshed) but I think it's pretty good of the man himself. Six years ago now - ah, how time flies. It always amazes me how these famous people look so much like themselves in real life. I always expect them to look a little more ordinary - as if part of what they look like is something they can apply like a mask.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Should I or shouldn't I?

I have almost arranged a trip to Bhutan. I need to do something to shake myself out of my doldrums - and Bhutan seems just the thing.

I have liked the sound of the kingdom of Bhutan ever since I'd heard about it on a TV programme about happiness a year or so ago. In Bhutan there are no plastic bags, no traffic lights and no soap operas on the TV. Happiness counts - and I would like to see what such a place is like.

However, I am apprehensive. Before when I've arranged my research trips to remote places I've gone alone. And although I have enjoyed it I have to admit that I have spent a lot of the time terrified.

What would happen if I lost my sense of direction, I'd think, as I took a little stroll along some marshy bit of tundra to see a calving iceberg. How long would it take people to realise I was missing if I twisted my ankle in this gully? And is this the right bus? Am I sure? Did that man understand my rubbishy Spanish and my little diagram? Now are we going north or south? To Bariloche or south to Chile?

So this time I am planning to join a Lonely Planet little number and everything is arranged - A night in Calcutta and then a Bhutanese plane to Chomolhari base camp and a trek in the Himalayas on the Bhutanese-Tibetan border national park... And the two-man tents; yaks to carry our gear; down jackets and insulated sleeping bags... It all sounds fine to me in the morning but in the middle of the night I wake and think about it and it sounds more like an ordeal. What if my tent companion snores? What if I do? And is too indelicate of me to ask about latrines?

Having decided to go I find myself resorting to finding reasons why I can't:

(i) It's too self-indulgent.
Well it's either that or the mental hospital, says HS (and yes, dear blog-reader, things have got almost that bad)

(ii) I am not fit enough.
Nope, there's still time - only 3-4 aerobic activities a week for 4 months and the trip's in October;

(iii) the medical insurance will be extortionate.
No, it's not. Trekking doesn't count as harzardous;

(iv) Right knee is a bit dodgy.
No, it'll be fine says my wonderful doctor (who is enthusiastic and seems to think this is just what I need) - if I do the exercises he is demonstrating I shall have no trouble at all;

(v) my slight asthma then...surely if the air is thin...?
No problem - just take your medication - and go to the asthma clinic - you're two years overdue.

(vi) Too late for injections?
Nope, plenty of time for those too;

(vii) HS and HM will miss me.
No we won't!
Well, you could object a bit...
If you don't take this chance now, maybe you never will.

So I shall..

Well, maybe...

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Bad Day

Sometimes I need to do this...


I feel a little better now...

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Final post. I am about a quarter through American Scientist. Medium articles are followed by short articles and then a couple of general-interest essays.

A couple of the medium sized articles interested me a lot: one described a silicone sphere just 5 mm in diameter with a capillary tube stuck into it on either side. Rat heart cells are grown around it and the whole thing pulses 'in syn' pumping fluid in and out of the sphere - a micropump.

The other article was a phone for illiterate populations. Motorola have eliminated layer upon layer of menu lists - finding that people rarely use most of them - and have resorted to a menu of simple icons. Sounds good for this literate phone-user too.

Ah well, time for bed. I was going to keep blogging all through the night but when I told Hodmandod Minor my intention he reminded me that I had to be up early tomorrow to take HS to the station. 'And we'll just keep quiet about that idea of yours, shall we, mother?' he said, pityingly.

According to Hodmandod Minor the act of blogging in itself is tragically sad and embarrassing - but this experiment of mine today has, to be frank (and he always is), plumbed new depths.

'No offence.' He says. Finally.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Just been having a glass of Chenin Blanc with Hodmandod Senior. 'Soon be the longest day, can you believe it?' This is one of Hodmandod Senior's favourite topics. 'Days will be drawing in again, then,' he continues.

'Oh shut up,' I tell him affectionately. 'Why do you always have to say this? It's the same every year, you old misery. I've just got used to it becoming lighter.'

'Funny,' he says, 'that's just what they told me at work today.'

Hodmandod Senior is not happy. Apparently the thermocouples have been put in the wrong place in the plant which means that all the work he's been doing for the past year and a half will go to waste. A year and a half, I think...that's nothing.

'I want to move from here,' I tell him. 'I want to be somewhere else. I want to do something. I just feel so useless.'

So we agree, as we always agree, to wait - at least until Hodmandod Minor finishes at school.

Then I come back to this room and search for ways to go to Bhutan.

8.30 pm

Hodmandod Senior returns. We have a cup of tea together and then, an hour later, dinner which consists of a quick stirfry of chicken and vegetables and noodles...and then , at the last minute, eggs and bacon for Hodmandod Minor because he is a 'man', and prefers not to eat food that is not properly rich in saturated fats. Since he is mid-exams I comply.

Then a phone-call from Hodmandod Major, a longish email to a good friend and I'm back with the Scientific American. The tone of Scientific American seems to me to be somewhere between New Scientist and specialist scientific journals - more serious and of course Americo-centric.

It is interesting to view the world from different places. It is something I love about travelling. I often imagine myself sticking out from the globe of the earth like a clove stuck into a Christmas orange. It is hard to get into my head, to really believe it. Once, in 2004, I was in Europe one day and the next in South America...and yet everything seemed the same. There was the same sky, the same sun and even though it was autumn when it had been spring and woodfires burning old leaves when spring flowers had just come into bloom... apart from that it was so very difficult to tell that I'd really moved.

But once when I came back from the states I remember seeing the sun setting through the aeroplane window and then rising again just a little later. Then I was convinced that I'd travelled across a part of the globe or at least something had happened. It was disturbing and yet wonderful at the same time.

Then when you have arrived in a new place eventually you come to realise, after a few days, that you must look at the world from a new perspective. The place you now inhabit has new allies and neighbours and a different history. I think this discombobulation (I love that word) is good for the brain.

Looking through a country's magazines and papers is another way of travelling - and a greener and cheaper one - and you don't even have to move from your chair.


It is strange how the same themes come up again and again when I read. At the moment I am reading the editorial to May's edition of Scientific American. It is a great piece of writing justifying the inclusion of Peter Duesberg's article. According to some people Peter Duesberg is a crank. There seem to be so many so-called cranks in science I am beginning to think that in order to have one amazing idea in science it is also necessary to have several unacceptable ones too (Incidentally there were entertaining tongue-in-cheek 'how to' instructions on becoming a crank in a recent Denialism Blog (via Petrona)).

Robert Duesberg's crankish idea is that HIV does not cause AIDS. However he is also known as the virologist who first identified a cancer-causing gene and he goes back to this area in this article published in Scientific American. He proposes that a derangement of chromosomes rather than individual genes is the cause of malignancy in cells.

I haven't read the article yet but it sounds do most of the other articles. Ah, there is so much interesting STUFF in the many books, so many films, ideas, theatrical productions, websites, blogs... I wish I read, watched and thought with greater efficiency.

4.30 pm

That's better. Deep in the thick of work now and enjoying myself immensely. I'm just looking through magazines but this is research. Each page brings a new thought and idea: books I want to read, places I want to go - so many I feel as though they are settling on me like snow and I need to shake them off.

Evening is beginning to settle on the world outside my window now. The rush of teenagers walking from the nearby school has slowed and the their voices are more distant. One solitary figure dawdles behind the rest and I wonder if this is through choice. The light of the sun is dimmed and the leaves of the magnolia, that have been translucent all day, are now brightly opaque, and a slight wind has set them in motion. Shadows are creeping longer.


Well this is turning out to be a very educational exercise. It shows me exactly how much time I manage to waste during the day. I've always known I'm not really lark, and now, it seems, not a mid-afternoon chicken either.

So far this afternoon I have chatted on the phone, read the newspaper, addressed an envelope and done a small amount of proper work - about 15 minutes at the most if I'm honest.

Must try harder.


Little late again. All good plans interrupted by the arrival of 'Perverted by Language - Fiction Inspired by the Fall' posted through the door. 23 writers have chosen Fall song titles and used them as a basis for short stories. Mine is called THERE'S A GHOST IN THE HOUSE - which is yes, a ghost story. The publisher, Serpent's Tail, have done an excellent job - there's something about the book that is really inviting and I love the cover - one of my favourites.

Spent much too long leafing through the book and generally day-dreaming. Accomplished nothing.

Hodmandod Minor returns after his exam.
'How did it go?'
'Quite well,'
'Was there any you couldn't do?'
'Is that important?'

I think I'll take that as a yes.


A little late back through talking too much - one of my favourite occupations. Spent several minutes at the end of spinnin' comparing notes on child-rearing with the amazing Ali, the spinnin' instructor. As usual we came to the conclusion there is little a parent can do. You just have to let them go. Not that any of our children have done anything to make us anything less than proud of them but that doesn't mean they are any less of a mystery.

Ah, I feel better now - not that I was feeling too bad before but now I feel wonderful. Spinnin' (the apostrophe is obligatory) always makes me feel like this. It doesn't matter how tired I feel at the start there comes a moment, about ten minutes into the session, when I realise I am happy. 'Use your gears!' yells Ali, and we do. I can almost feel the seratonin let loose inside my brain. I pedal and it is as if I can go anywhere and do anything even though I know my bike is rooted to the spot.

Shower and then back to work again. It is a fine day.

8.30 am

Hodmandod Minor has just left for his AS chemistry exam. He seems to be more apprehensive about this than his other subjects and was muttering last night about how much there is to remember. The door slams and the house is quiet.

In the newspaper this morning there was an article about J K Rowling going to a gala and last night I read in a magazine how Amanda Ross, who runs the Richard and Judy book club, has made several authors millionaires - and how David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas was one of her favourite books. I am linked to both of these authors by editors and it struck me how extreme this business of publishing is - it seems to be either all or nothing.

Ready for spinning now - I just have to ring the arena to see if there is a place when it opens at nine. Until then I get on with some work.


Today, as an experiment in superlative navel-gazing, I am going to record my thoughts at two hourly intervals throughout the day.

Woke up with my age in my head and for a while I considered it. When did I start feeling washed up, as if the world has passed me by? Came to the conclusion it was about aged seventeen which seems utterly stupid to me now but did not when I was seventeen.

Kept thinking about this as I went to my study and switched on the computer and read that the world's oldest man is celebrating his birthday at 111. Since we seem so much younger to our later selves maybe the knack in dealing with age is to imagine yourself at say 111 and look back at the age you are now. To a 111 year old I expect I am a model of youthful vigour.

Outside everything is still and quiet and the sky has that kind of bright haziness that promises heat. An aeroplane passes overhead and for a moment I wish I was on it, going somewhere.

Decide to go spinning if there are any places left.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Dr Grump and the Full Moon.

Now this is an interesting article. Inspector Andy Parr of the Brighton Police force says that there is a link between the full moon and people becoming more fractious and argumentative. In consequence there are going to be more patrols on Brighton's streets during nights of the full moon. He says that he would be interested in contacting universities who may be interested in examining the link further.

However, the answer to Dr Grump is obvious. When there is a full moon the moon and the sun are on opposite sides of the earth and therefore people's brains are getting pulled in two directions at once. This no doubt has a profoundly unbalancing effect on the mind and, as the Ancient Greeks knew, this can ultimately lead to madness. Dr Grump is a genius in many fields not just those of sexual dynamics and etymology.

(Dr Grump experiencing the effects of a full moon)

When I told Hodmandod Senior about her theory he said that in his opinion it is not as complicated as that. He thinks it is just that the brighter nights allow people to get up to mischief for longer.

But he is wrong and Dr Grump is right. Obviously. She is putting together a grant proposal as I write. 'He'll be eating his words a few months down the line.' she said, then gave an odd little howl as I left the room.

Monday, June 04, 2007

FROZEN SUMMER by Crysse Morrison

Yesterday I read about a Polish man , Jan Grzebski, a railway worker, who woke after lying in a coma for nineteen years. It is hard to imagine how he must feel to have lost all those years of his life but from his interview it seems that what mostly concerns him is how things have changed. Only tea and sardines in the shops then - and now so many things...yet still people grumble, he adds wryly. It is a touching tale because his wife never gave up hope and insisted on taking his inert form to family events which he says he can now vaguely remember.

At the start of
Crysse Morrison's thriller FROZEN SUMMER, the protagonist, Kirsty (or 'Kirsten' as it seems she is now expected to call herself) has also lost time - but instead of languishing in a coma, Kirsty has lived a rather full life and a small knock on the head has caused her to forget her last nine years.

As far as she is concerned she is still a young student and cannot understand why a child calls her 'mummy'.

'I wish she wouldn't do that Mummy thing: it really spooks me.' she says.

There is also a man called Clyde who claims to be her husband and wants to know how long it will take her 'to get over that for Chrissake.'

But she doesn't know. As Kirsty says:

' I don't know him and I don't know her and I don't know how long before I understand why they have trapped me in this house, in this curious world called 1996. It's not the world I know.'

The world that Kirsty knows is 1987 (by strange coincidence Jan
Grzebski had his accident just a year later) when she was a photography student making a trip to Glastonbury with her friend Debs and their boyfriends Miles and Paul. For a while the book alternates between the two times (like Jan, Kirsty is incredulous at the way the world has changed) before concentrating on Kirsten's world of 1996 and the mysteries of the relationships around her.

I read FROZEN SUMMER in a day. It is a gripping story with an excellent plot and an ending that is both satisfying and yet unexpected - it would make an excellent psychological drama for the TV.

About the Author.

Crysse Morrison writes both prose and poetry and contributes a regular style column to Writing Magazine. Hailed by The Times as a 'superb storyteller' for her debut novel Frozen Summer, she has also written short stories which have been published and broadcast, and writes for the First Cut Theatre Company. Crysse grew up in London, gained her MA in Dublin, and now lives in Frome, where she is Spoken Word Coordinator for the Merlin Theatre. She performs her poetry at venues throughout the southwest, and runs Creative Writing courses - mostly abroad in warm climates and beautiful settings.

Crysse keeps a blog

Crysse Morrison is a guest author at the Seven Day Holiday in Languedoc in July (with me and the crime novelist Chris Simms) and she has kindly answered a few questions for this blog.

Interview with Crysse Morrison.

Questions about writing:

CD: How long have you been writing?

CM: All my life. I used to write plays for my teddy bears.

CD: How long did you take to write the book?
CM: The full draft of my first novel took 8 weeks - the 8 weeks of real time of the action of the book. All the radio songs & media stories are the current ones - even the weather is just how it was. Editing took longer.

CD: Did you think of the plot first or did it come to you as you were writing the book?

CM: Both. I knew Kirsty's story in essence from the start, the bits she knew herself anyway, but the part she was hiding from herself took longer to discover and I only did that by writing it.

CD: Is there any way the heroine, Kirsty, in FROZEN SUMMER autobiographical?

CM: I'm not, and never have been, a gorjus blonde (Samantha Janus, as the vulnerable-vamp in Game On, was my mental picture of my narrator) and I've never lost my memory or any of the other stuff - though I have been to Glastonbury festival. So I used to think the answer to that was No, but I discovered, after the book was published, that the question at the heart of it was actually very relevant to me: How did I get from the girl with such high hopes to the woman I am now? When I realised that I changed my life.

CD: Are the other characters in FROZEN SUMMER based on anyone you know?

CM: No.

CD: What research did you do for the book?

CM: I wrote the book from imagining the emotions, and then checked later with an OT (occupational therapy) that I was roughly on track with the medical response. It doesn't come in much, as it's not important to Kirsty who's telling the tale.

CD: Have you any tips for writers who want to make their work more thrilling?
CM: It's always a fine line between telling too much and revealing too much, isn't it. I think first person narration is great for tension, as readers tend to believe what an author tells them, but if the character speaks, there's no certain way of knowing if what's said is really true... so who can you trust?

The Seven Questions.

CD: Do you have any connection with snails?

CM: I have met snails, consider them more as passing acquaintances than friends. I wouldn't want my son going out with one.

CD: What is your proudest moment?

CM: Pride is to me more an ongoing pleasure - I'm mega-proud of both my sons - but I was extremely chuffed when I did the New Forest Marathon in 4 and a quarter hours. (I haven't bothered to run since, so pride really did come before a fall-off of enthusiasm.)

CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?

CM: I have lots of life changing experiences. That's the great thing about life.

CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?

CM: My father used to say "Of all the sad words that are heard or seen, the saddest are these: It might have been" and I think there's a lot of truth in that. Everything we most deplore seems to come from unnecessary wastage, and failure to love.

CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
CM: Eyelashes. I'd love to have lush long ones like my granddaughter. Seriously, I'd love to be much closer to my idea of the Perfect Me, but I don't think it's possible to change one thing without shifting everything. I guess I'd rather just stick to the challenge of what my friend Hazel Stewart calls 'my flawed irridescent madness'.

CD: What is happiness?
CM: It's a thing everyone has a right to pursue and most people want a shot at, which makes it sound like an endangered species, but I think it lies in doing small things with full awareness.

CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?

CM: Switch on the iBook and tap out some bleary 'morning page' writing while still half asleep

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Groby Granite

Some days, when the wind was in the right direction, at precisely eleven o'clock, I would hear a siren. It was a weakly thing, not at all urgent, indicating merely a distant danger. Some days I would barely register it, but always aware of what came later: a ground-shaking thud as the local quarry lost another layer of wall.

Groby (pronounced Grooby) granite was a commercial commodity during my childhood. Later I discovered it had another name that made it sound more important to my ears: diorite. It came in green and pink - hard crystals of interlocking feldspar, quartz and mica. When broken into chips it was a useful addition to the metalling of roads,

and the skills of a master-builder could turn it into a beautiful pollution-resistant wall.

Diorite is hard. Its edges never soften. Its origin is in magma which intruded into voids in other rock and cooled slowly allowing the molecules time to order themselves into large interlocking crystals. As a child it was one of my fascinations. After my parents used it to build extensions to their brick-built house I once prowled the village looking for it elsewhere.

I spotted it in the walls of cottages, sometimes partly hidden in rendering

in the walls of shops

and banks

and in the church - at the entrance

and in its tower.

For a project at school I did a survey. The quarry and its rock seemed to me to be a mixed blessing. Surely the regular shaking of the ground would loosen the foundations of houses, I thought, and I was curious if it worried or disturbed people, so I went around with my clipboard, pretending I was cub reporter. But no one seemed to mind and nothing seemed to be damaged. There were no cracks, no subsidence and everyone seemed to view the quarry blasting with equanimity. They shrugged at my questions and seemed bemused that anyone might object. The quarry, after all, came first. It was part of the deal of living here.

I recorded who felt the quarry shake and how hard it seemed to rumble. Did it move pictures? Did it cause people to stop what they were doing and reach out for something to hold? No, it did none of these. They heard it and went on with whatever they were doing. The ground moved slightly but that was expected and controlled and they knew it was nothing to fear. I tried relating the shaking with a geological map - pored over known faults and the many types of rock but there seemed to be little pattern. At the end of my little project I interviewed a geologist and he took me in to see the site. I was overawed by it. The hole in the ground was vast, magnificent and dizzyingly deep. The edge was sharp. Around it the ground was flat and then it suddenly fell away. Whole villages could be contained in it with space to spare. It was something little seen by the public and I felt privileged to be allowed so close. Behind the signs, small buildings and inconspicuous metal gates there lurked, completely unacknowledged, what must have been, I thought, one of the wonders of the world.

It is closed now, the supply of diorite exhausted or not required - I am not sure which. There are no sirens or blasts and it seems to me that Groby has lost a little of its character. There are other industries now - the smaller cleaner industries of the twenty-first century - making valves and specialised pieces of engineering. But every time I pass the old signs for the quarry I think of that chasm in the ground and wonder if it is still there.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


It is strange to go back to the place where I grew up. Shadows of trees slide across the grass: the silver birch I remember being little taller than a man now towers above the roof of houses, and apple trees, although still small, have the gnarled and twisted look of something old.

The greenhouse is empty, the borders at the bottom about to explode with their own small flames. 'What a pity you'll miss the clematis,' my mother says. 'flowers as big as plates.'

But I like the way green lies on green and how the small lilac flowers polka-dot the border and I remember the place where my horse chestnut tree grew: how the hard shiny conker I planted in a pot one autumn a few months later sprouted a slender stem and then a single broad five-fingered leaf. And then each year grew; green stem giving way to brown trunk, taller and taller, until about five years ago it had outgrown its transplanted place in the border and had to be removed - and I never did find out if it was red-blossomed or white.

It was mud when we came here: clay furrowed with tractor tyres and mysterious pieces of blue-and-white pottery I used to collect and try to piece together. Gradually my parents carved it into different levels, built walls and banks, raised borders, dug ponds, levelled and added sand and soil to improve the drainage, planted grass seeds and chased away birds - and one year, I remember, it was so dry they bought a sprinkler that languorously sprayed cold water back and forth over the young delicate grass - and, to our noisy happiness, us.

One brother played with knives here; taking it in turns with a red-haired boy called Geoffrey to balance the tip of a great long blade on a knee and flick it to see where it would land; while the other brother played with a friend called Simon, the two of them dressed in khaki, hidden in the grass, shooting at each other with sticks with the high-pitched imitation of a machine gun.

Once we had a small white tent pegged into the ground, and many times a rectangular paddling pool with corner seats in which I proved to myself that it was true what I'd heard - most animals including the school guinea pig could swim (with frantic furious movements) when I dropped him in over the side. Another time I noticed that wasps had made a hole in the ground, and later dug to find something like a white paper lantern of empty hexagonal cells. And it was here that, as a toddler, Hodmandod Minor persisted in following my mother's cat, reaching out for its tail, and ignoring all calls to come back, only to retreat a few minutes later examining quite quietly and with some puzzlement the red weals of claws upon his arm.

I remember badminton games in the evening and the curious ability of gnats to spin around each other and yet remain exactly where they were in a diffuse living cloud; and the smell of my father's red tomatoes in the greenhouse - the door opening and the damp heat slamming into my face like something more substantial than air.

Then I remember one of my brothers peering through a hole in the fence to watch the lodger of a neighbour sunbathe in the nude and the time I saw the wife of a member of the seventies pop group Showaddywaddy arrange their costumes along the line - pastel and day-glo colours like the feathers of too-exotic birds - and I remember a wedding: my brother's marriage to Yasmin, almost the last time we were all together, his turquoise waistcoat matching her turquoise sari and the little turquoise flowers in icing on the cake.

Now the only exotic colours are my mother's palms and shrubs. 'You should see it now,' she tells me on the phone.

And now I have. Each year it grows more splendid and impressive.