Covid Dreams (a poem for today)

As the pandemic passes it would seem
Each night and every morning
Before dawn
I step into a vivid world of dream.

Lurid landscapes beckon
With skies bluer than before con trails disappeared.
Vast disasters threaten
With casts of everyone
I’ve ever known.

I cannot call
These nightmares; I am unscathed,
Barely concerned for my own safety through it all.
I watch events unfold,
Never able to warn or aid,
Just seeing the world around me fall apart
In brilliant pieces as if the jeweller’s art
Applied itself to our humanity
Creating necklaces of catastrophe.

Like a horseman of the apocalypse
I assist
At death.
Disease, destruction,
Revolve before my gaze
And those affected
Are my parents (long gone)
Or others from my past,
From days
Before I ever heard of a pandemic,
Before our world
Was suddenly undone,
Before figures of mortality or cases
Filled our news,
Assaulted us with dread,
Never knowing who would, next, be dead.

Try as I might,
Avoiding cheese, coffee, alcohol or blue screens
Late at night,
Reading uplifting books,
Watching heartwarming films,
Still,
Even while my family remains untouched it seems
I am fated to live, each time I sleep,
In Covid dreams.

(Like others, I’ve been having long strange dreams since the pandemic took hold here. So I wrote about them, wondering how many people’s sleep is similarly disrupted.)

August reviews

TV and films

The one I love:

Vera season 6*****

The watchable:

Woodstock: Three Days that defined a generation**** Interesting. My generation but I think we were on our honeymoon at the time – at any rate, we missed even mentions on the news!

George V: The Tyrant King**** Fascinating look at the life of a rarely mentioned monarch.

The Teacup Poisoner **** Another programme about Graham Young the psychopathic serial killer, or just possibly a re-watch

Teacher with Tourette’s**** Interesting and I hope her career goes well

True Lies *** (again) Once the novelty and suspense have worn off, the film loses its sparkle. Try telling my husband that.

Novels

The highly recommended:

Master Wolf by Joanna Chambers ***** (Capital wolves bk 2) Werewolves in historical Edinburgh. Delicious.

Nightvine/Shadebloom by Felicia Davin***** The Gardener’s Handbook 2 and 3. Gorgeous trilogy which mixes fantasy, politics and lgbtq themes.

Spellbound/Starcrossed by Allie Therin***** Rory and Ace with magic in 1920s Manhattan – look out for Wonderstruck in 2021!

Romantic Renovations by Blake Allwood **** a TV reality show plus skulduggery. Very readable.

Moonstone by K-lee Klein**** Stone Magic bk 1 Tattoos and magic. Nice story and I might buy the sequel.

Echoes of Blood by Fiona Glass**** Liverpool vampires. A slightly dark story, outside my normal reading. Very well done.

The readable:

Don’t make a sound by TR Ragan *** Unmemorable thriller centred round a disfunctional US family and their partial memories.

Paper Girls by Alex Smith*** Humdrum UK police procedural.

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths*** Another humdrum UK thriller. Merely having a detective of colour is not enough…

Meet me in Cocklebury Bay by Nicola May*** Nowhere near as good as the first because it lacks the novelty and suspense but I’ve bought the third so will read it.

As Big as the Sky by Amy Aislin*** nicely written but ultimately unmemorable mm romance.

Summer with the country village vet by Zara Stoneley*** Basically boring romance (chicklit?) with a lot of repetition/padding.

Work for it by Talia Hibbert*** Another sweet but unmemorable mm romance set in a small English town during the elderflower harvest.

And the dire:

Edinburgh Twilight by Carole Lawrence
* Poor writing and research. It began to be obvious that this was an American author with a sketchy understanding of Scottish culture.

Short Stories:

None this month

Abandoned books:

The Herring Seller’s Apprentice by LC Tyler – a boring whodunnit

A Light Amongst Shadows by Kelly York – it didn’t seem worth wading through present tense

Trust No-one by Debra Webb – a prologue that gives away part of the ending put me off

Stealing the Crown by TP Fielden – an odd concept with crime in Buckingham Palace.

Murder at Melrose Court by Karen Baugh Menuhin – too much forced humour

Fanfiction

The Hawk and the Wolf by Fledhyris
***** Loosely based on Supernatural and Ladyhawk, with echoes of various mediaeval books and shows. Lovely writing though I would say that as she’s my daughter. https://archiveofourown.org/works/25004080

Perpetual Motion by esteefee***** SGA/Sentinel fusion in an alternate universe. Probably accessible to anyone with the faintest idea of the characters and the concept. https://archiveofourown.org/works/23990572

Enemy Mine: another fanfiction story

https://archiveofourown.org/works/26286616

I’m telling you about my fanfiction again because I spent a great deal of time this year writing for the Fandom Trumps Hate and Fandom For Australia auctions in which someone bids for your work. The highest bidder gets a fic and pays to a specified charity. I foolishly agreed to write another fic for my second highest bidder in FTH and am still working on that.

My highest bidder wanted Stargate Atlantis, which is one of my fandoms, and requested an unusual human/alien pairing. I had great fun researching and writing the story and so far, people seem to like it.

Writing fanfiction is interesting and in no way do I regard it as less valuable than my original work. It does require slightly different skills with regard to plot, location and character, but it demands the same attention to language and story structure.

I explored the breakdown of team dynamics in the face of one member moving in a different direction, and possible aspects of the culture of an alien race who were only ever depicted in the show as a stereotypical enemy.

The story is very loosely based on canon, with an alternative perspective on some events, until near the end when it veers off into an alternative universe altogether with a happy ending. I think if you know the show at all you will probably find it all makes sense, but I also think anyone who doesn’t know the show and characters might find the story confusing at times because I condensed various references to canon in order not to spend ages writing about things fans already know.

Readers might notice that all the chapter headings are based on quotations from various books, shows and songs. The graphics are by me. The title is the title of a film I like which also has a human/alien romance though nothing else in common with my story.

Anyway, some of you might like sci-fi and some of you might like the human/alien romance. If so, give it a try and I hope you enjoy it!

The ballad of o guerreiro

Just a brief post to let you know what I’ve been doing. The first of my fandom auction fics is posted. My winner in the Fandom For |Australia auction is a close friend and when she asked for this particular pairing I had to watch the show rapidly! My story has spoilers for Season 1 so unless you’ve either watched or don’t intend to watch, don’t read! It was hard work turning ten minutes of screen time into ten thousand words but I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I hope some of you will enjoy it too. I especially hope my giftee likes it!

I don’t often mention my fanfic here but thought I would since it occupied a huge chunk of my time and was also for a very worthwhile cause. I think between us my winner and I contributed a great deal more than buying the odd bracelet!

So, if you’d like to read the result, see https://archiveofourown.org/works/26159467

The River: final volume in my elf detective series.

Finally!

The last volume in my Skilled Investigator series is live on Amazon and Smashwords and will be distributed to Smashwords’ varied retailers. (I use Smashwords as well as Amazon to let people choose which e-reader they prefer.)

This time around I’ve had a battle with formatting because Word, which both sites prefer, chose to hide formatting from me and the mess only showed up when Smashwords tried converting to EPub. I think Word hates me. I certainly hate it back! It really shouldn’t be necessary to convert to EPub to see hidden formatting. I know all about pilcrows etc. but this really was hidden – different font sizes appearing in other formats when they were perfect in the source document. As Smashwords said, the only answer was to ‘nuke’ the formatting via Notepad and start again.

It seems like forever since I started this series, and indeed the first volume was already a chaos of plans and notes before I published anything else. I’ve lived with the characters and world in my mind for about ten years now, longer than some relationships last. Genef has, I hope, grown during the series and is now a fully fledged Investigator, mentoring Scratch, who is nearing the end of his own training. There will soon be a dragon Investigator in the Guild after this final case, which takes place in Stoneyhill, Genef’s childhood home, and closely concerns both her friends and the mine where she found Scratch hatching from his egg. There’s the usual gay romance sub-plot for Fel, who finds a happy ending, and there’s romantic hope for Genef too. In case that sounds too sweet and sickly, let me add that there is plenty of death, disappearance and detection for Genef and her dragon companion to solve. I’ll miss them but it was perhaps time we parted company.

Now that this series, and the Living Fae one, are finished, I’m wondering whether to try creating boxed sets. Any thoughts?

I’ve also written a short story in the Living Fae ‘verse, and that’s with my editor; I expect to post it as a ‘freebie’ round about Christmas. Besides that I’ve been working on the rewrites for my stories written for the fandom auctions.

Anyway, all that, especially the formatting fiasco, explains why I’ve been fairly absent this month. I haven’t even managed my monthly in-depth review. All I can say is that I was away on holiday for a week then plunged into formatting which stole my brain.

Meanwhile, buy links:
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1039364
Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08GGC7M32

July Reviews

Well, yes, we’re half way through August but I’ve been on holiday. I didn’t forget my reviews but simply didn’t find time to write them. Here you are at last!

TV and films

A brilliant film and a brilliant TV season.

The Dark Crystal ***** I rewatched the original Jim Henson movie after seeing the new prequel series that was a homage to Henson. Amazing film work and fascinating story.

Vera Season 5***** Never ceases to delight.

Then a disappointment.

Local Hero. Abandoned – plodding US comedy set in Scotland.

Books

The highly recommended:

A Gentleman Tutor by Harper Fox***** This story of a job that was too good to be true, followed by a nail-biting rescue was beautifully written and fascinating from start to finish.

All That Remains by RJ Scott***** Lancaster Falls Bk 3 The whole Lancaster Falls trilogy has been a delight with small town detail, interesting characters, mm romance, and the ever present undertone of evil and murder.

Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin***** A typical Rebus novel that covers so much about Edinburgh, modern Scotland and individual psychology that it’s hard to point to specific parts. I like Rankin’s writing very much indeed.

Thornfruit by Felicia Davin*****The Gardener’s Handbook Bk 1. A gorgeous start to a trilogy set in another world with a strong ff main pairing fighting a terrifying attempted coup using magic, intelligence and courage. Needless to say, I have bought books 2 and 3.

The History of Underclothes by Willett and Cunnington**** An intriguing look at how underclothing changed over time (mediaeval period to WW2) and how it both supported and mirrored changes in fashion and in social mores. A pity this was written in the ‘50s because I’d really like to have read more about the immediate post war period which they didn’t cover. Beautifully illustrated and worth reading for anyone with an interest in fashion or social history.

The reasonable reads:

Divided House by JK Dalgliesh*** Dark Yorkshire Bk 1 A police procedural in which the main police detective doesn’t follow procedure. Surprisingly gory and not quite believable.

The Woman on the Cliff by Janice Frost*** A woman starts to reinvestigate a death that occurred when she was at uni, when her daughter starts to study at the same place. Interesting but not really memorable.

Miracle in the Library/Lessons in Love/Pride of Place by Helena Stone***. Three novellas that form a sweet trilogy about romance between Mitch and Cian. Well written but student romance is not my favourite genre. For anyone who likes it, this is lovely.

The Doll House by Phoebe Morgan*** Quite a chilling thriller in which pieces of a doll house keep turning up. Lots of suspects though I guessed the solution quite early.

The Pick, the Spade and the Crow by Bill Rogers*** A police procedural with a lot of info dump and so much procedure that I got bored. I prefer some character development, even in the crime genre, and would point to Rankin’s Rebus as a model.

The Woman in Our House by Andrew Hart*** Creepy thriller in which a nanny not only turns out to be not quite who she seems, but involves the family in a dangerous problem.

The poor:

Forsaken by JR Gray** Titus is part of a religious cult, He rescues Angel who has been beaten and abandoned. Romance and escape ensue but there were too many plot holes and I never really got to care for the characters.

Short Stories

When the Smoke Clears: edited by Meg Bawden**** An mm romance anthology set in the aftermath of last year’s Australian bushfires and sold in aid of associated charities. The stories were mixed but mostly good. I was pleasantly surprised I was able to enjoy them despite my Portuguese experience of wildfires.

Love starts with a smile by Nick Thiwerspoon**** (ficlet) https://nikolaos-thiwerspoon.blogspot.com/2020/07/love-starts-with-smile-ficlet.html
A nice though very short story by a writer who is a friend and member of the writing group that helped me at the start of my writing career.

Taxes and TARDIS by N R Walker**** This was almost a novella. It’s set in Australia, like most of this writer’s work, and deals with the attraction of opposites.

Abandoned

The Visionary by Charli Coty. I gave up. I think it was about zombies and paranormals but I’m not altogether sure.

Firebolt by Adrienne Woods (Dragonian series 1) Dragon shifters in a magical boarding school…

Fanfic

Only one recommendation – a murder story set in the world of Lewis, but capable of being read as a stand-alone.
Et Mors Ludos In Arcadia by asparagusmama **** https://archiveofourown.org/works/24853942

Everything else I read needed too much fandom knowledge to have general appeal.

Visiting Zenda

I recently re-read a book that had appealed to me first time around – in my teens! The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope. I had and have no idea why I liked it so much. It’s a novel with romance and adventure set in a fictional small kingdom in Eastern Europe in Victorian times. The plot is unlikely and the characters are fairly two dimensional: the feuding royal brothers, the princess whose hand might solve the problem of succession, the Englishman who just happens to resemble the crown prince closely and also just happens to be near the royal lodge at the crucial time, and the men who support their masters.

I think perhaps the lure of the story is that whilst apparently set in our own world it actually transports the reader to a fantasy world where good and evil – and princes – rule. The Englishman, having saved the throne and the princess for his ‘double’ returns to the quiet life of an English gentleman so there is no immediately happy ending, just a distancing of the entire situation into the realms of fiction, and a suggestion of how the hero can tug at our heartstrings without ever getting the prize. Despite this, the book works.

Of course, the tropes it uses were not ‘tired’ at the time it was written (1894) and it must have caused quite a sensation among the readers it reached. The writing somehow appears fresh even today, and I found myself drawn firmly into the world of make-believe where a wicked step brother could imprison the heir to the throne and an intrepid trio of supporters could defeat him and his henchmen. The book is sold as a historical novel but of course it was nothing of the kind. It was set in the time at which it was written.

This brings me to the reason for re-reading it. KJ Charles recently published The Henchmen of Zenda. I enjoy her writing, recalled the original, and decided to re-read before embarking on her novel, so that I had some idea of the world she was writing about.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Henchmen of Zenda too. It’s basically the same story, but told from the point of view of a different Englishman, one of the supporters of the ‘wicked’ prince. The plot details his growing feelings for another of the henchmen. The same caveats apply: the story is so basically unlikely that the reader is advised to treat it as fantasy and most of the characters are two dimensional. The princes are both wicked in their own ways but we are never given details of their sins.

The story does, in this case, have a happy ending for the hero, who escapes from the fictional kingdom with his lover. Unfortunately, I disliked the hero and his romantic partner intensely and was therefore unable to celebrate their eventual romance adequately. (I should probably say that I didn’t particularly like Hope’s heroes either.) This is in no way a criticism of the book, which is a very well written and absorbing tale. I think it probably needs knowledge of the original to make it work well or at least to add layers to the enjoyment. However, I would recommend it anyway.

In both books the combination of romance, fantasy, and excitement is fascinating. We are taken into a fictional world that has more in common with mediaeval ballads than Victorian industrial and empire scenarios, and given a story full of sword fights, dungeons, betrayals and loyalties then returned to the end of the nineteenth century leaving Ruritania lost in the mists of time, somewhere that never really existed but that we almost wish was part of history.

Charles manages to let the reader think this is a retelling by Hope – her style is a brilliant echo of the original but with modern overtones such as the same gender love at the heart of the story. I know Hope wrote a sequel (Rupert of Hentzau) which is completely at odds with Charles’ narrative, but in such a fictional world I think both plots have equal validity.

Obviously, Charles is ‘playing in Hope’s sandbox’, something that is often done in the case of classics that are well out of copyright. This is not only permissible but to be applauded. We have only to think of a few examples: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a modern one as is the BBC Sherlock, and then there are things like most renderings of the Arthurian legend, and Shakespeare’s use of previous plays in his own portfolio. The author who retells an old favourite with a different twist, whether that’s in the plot or the characters, is adding to our cultural storehouse of dreams and memories. (If the original is still in copyright the ‘twist’ is called fanfiction, but that’s another subject…)

Altogether, I enjoyed my second trip to Hope’s Ruritania, and my first to Charles’ re-imagining. I’m so glad she wrote about the henchmen and re-introduced me to the romance of Zenda.

June reviews

TV and film

Picard: Season 1
***** I watched because I’d been asked for a Picard fic by one of my auction winners. Anyway, I was hooked, and binge watched.

Vera Season 4 ***** Continues to be one of my favourites, partly because of the location and partly because she’s a competent cop and quite different from the average TV cop.

Sleuths, spies and sorcerers: Andrew Marr. **** Interesting critique of and support for genre fiction. Three programmes. They were a repeat, and I think they’ve now disappeared from catch-up TV but I did find them enjoyable.

Dispatches: Coronavirus: Did the government get it wrong? **** Good but not outstanding.

Books

The excellent

A Killer’s Wife by Victor Methos*****
I couldn’t put this down. Very exciting and surprising thriller. A serial killer’s wife (who had no idea of his activities) later becomes a public prosecutor. She is then drawn into an investigation of seemingly copycat crimes.

Slippery Creatures by KJ Charles***** Delightful story set in London between the wars. There’s some mm romance and some spying skulduggery. No HEA as yet, but there are sequels to come.

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (1894)***** – This was a re-read before reading the KJ Charles book (see below). I’ll post at greater length about the two books.

Without a Trace by RJ Scott***** (Lancaster Falls Bk 2). As gripping as the first, with well developed characters in this portrayal of undercurrents and betrayals in a small town.

The very good

Sparks Fly by Clare London****
Nice story with a computer hacking mystery underpinning the mm romance, presented as a serial in the author’s newsletter. Not a format I often turn to, but I enjoyed this.

The Killing Code by JD Kirk**** Another ‘tartan noir’. Very competent writing but somehow after the first book I didn’t really warm further to the characters. I bought three so I read three…

Lessons in following a poisonous trail by Charlie Cochrane****
Nice Cambridge Fellows episode where it isn’t really clear for some time whether people have been poisoned or not, and why.

The Henchmen of Zenda by KJ Charles**** I’ll be posting at greater length about this and the original Anthony Hope novel.

I perhaps ought to point out that the difference, for me, between five and four stars is whether I’d re-read the book rather than any difference in quality.

The acceptable.

Deadly Obsession by DS Butler*** Police procedural with some loose ends and some unlikely police behaviour leading to danger for the hero, etc. Acceptable but I won’t be following the series.

Salt Lane by William Shaw*** (DS Alexandra Cupidi 1.) Gripping story but I didn’t care enough about the detective or her family to follow the series. There were plotholes and a strange lack of thought by some police officers which landed them in more trouble than necessary.

Abandoned

Constable on the Hill by Nicholas Rhea. This is the book the TV Heartbeat was based on, but it lacked the charm of the TV adaptation and I got bored. Also, the ‘hero’ was full of the attitudes and prejudices of the time and was therefore not someone I liked.

I appear not to have read any short stories in June, and the same goes for fanfic though I have, I think, read a few drabbles and ficlets in friends’ blogs. I’ve been too busy writing…

Another way of looking at Tube maps

Once upon a time, when our daughter lived near Croydon, I became familiar with South West Trains, particularly the Caterham and Tattenham Corner lines, because they were the easiest way to access central London. I had started writing my fae saga, and I suppose fae were on my mind. We (my daughter and I) went to the Tate Modern where I saw some wonderful ‘maps’ with different names of all sorts imposed on actual maps. Then we went home by train and I picked up a map of our route. I played about with the names and the shape of the lines until I was reasonably happy with them.

I thought I’d share the result with you. I’ve included the real map too, for comparison purposes. I don’t imagine the rail company will care about their copyright as it’s a very old map and definitely out of date (and possibly out of print). We usually alighted at Gnome…

I wonder whether, during the lockdown, and the reduced train services everywhere, the fae might have crept out to play again, and whether they would approve of my station names! And whether any of you might spot them, out of the corner of your eye, when travelling.

I photographed the unicorn at a forge just south of Croydon where there was a fabulous display of mythical creatures.

Black Lives Matter

Where to start?

I spent much of my career in antiracist education. We produced teaching materials which were going well in schools but were overtaken by the National Curriculum. We worked with children, especially in ‘all white’ areas, and with teachers, both longstanding practitioners, trainees and their trainers. We attended conferences and marches, and helped organise both. When I say ‘we’ I include colleagues and close friends from all ethnic minorities, ethnic majorities and political persuasions. All our work was, it would seem, for nothing. That, I think, sums up my own long term stance on the matter.

I could and should also mention that I am white, with all the privilege that includes, and that my best friend ever (met at uni) was black, of Caribbean origin. She died of cancer in 2005 and I was devastated. I valued her friendship and also her opinions on the world, including her views – personal, professional and political – on issues such as racism. Towards the end of her career she was the first black female professor of law in the University of the West Indies and on her retirement which was imminent, she hoped to work with UNHCR who were, I think, looking forward to her services. Sadly, that was not to be.

My last service to her was to act as her executor. One of her nieces, who inherited some money in her will, is a young black woman from Trinidad and is currently practising in medicine in New York. Slightly ironic, I suppose, in the way it connects me, at however much of a distance, with current events in both the pandemic and the protests. (I am not in touch with the young doctor, only with one of her aunts.)

When I was doing a postgraduate diploma in antiracist studies I wrote my thesis on literature in English (not in translation) by writers who were not from the obvious first world countries. Most of the work I considered was from authors in places like India, South Africa, The Caribbean, Bangladesh, etc. I argued that works like this should be included in the British school curriculum alongside our teaching materials on history and antiracism. My work was well received – and part of it was published in an educational magazine. Again, it would appear all the effort was wasted.

Not wasted for myself, of course. I read countless novels and poems that enriched my life, and helped inform me about the experience of people from other countries and cultures. And at the very least I am able to understand the current riots, arguments, etc. without having to do any further research.

Which is just as well, because all my notes including all references to sources went up in flames in our Portuguese fire. So no, I can’t recommend any specific books. Blame climate warming…

The protests are totally justified. Totally. No arguments. If there is state-condoned thuggery and violence, there will and should be protests. Even the violence of a tiny minority of protesters is explained by the way the protests were triggered. And of course the state will use that as a distraction from those same triggers. The protests elsewhere are heartening. There has been systemic racism and poor policing in countries such as UK, France and Australia. The current US riots, along with lockdown and the internet have brought about a world outpouring of rage which I can only applaud even whilst wishing it had happened decades earlier.

Toppling statues? I think they should have been toppled long ago and feel ashamed that in the twenty first century we feel able to glorify men who were involved in the slave trade. We would not welcome statues of Hitler, however much he did for things like German motorways. So yes, I think the statues should be removed if the person commemorated had a personal connection with slavery, and maybe if they didn’t, if ‘just’ their family (and their wealth) was involved the statues should either be taken to a museum or given a plaque or one of those display information boards. Yes, toppling a statue is a violent and ‘lawless’ act, but how would any of us feel and react if for example a present day murderer was honoured with a statue? Or someone like Jimmy Saville for his charitable work? And what do we think about people who broke Nazi laws? No, I am not comparing our governments to a Nazi regime, but there are points of similarity which cannot be ignored.

What can we do? All live matter, of course, but black lives are being treated as expendable in so many places. So our focus should be on those at present. In policing, in the effects of the pandemic, in education, and so on. There’s a useful petition you could sign: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/324092/signatures/new

You’ll have gathered that I have very ‘violent’ views on this. I am sad that my age and state of health stop me from participating in marches or any public protest. All I can do is write my blog and hope it gives either information or comfort to someone reading it.

As always, if you want to discuss the matter further I am here for comments or you can email me. I can probably dredge up a few titles and authors to talk about, but for now, scroll back in my blog to read in depth reviews of works on racism by modern Black British authors.

(The illustration is my current FB photo which is why it has a camera in the way…)