Monster Fest

A Dreamwidth community I belong to (ushobwri) has a Monster Fest during October when members are prompted to write about various ‘monsters’ and link to things they have written in the past as well as reccing work they have enjoyed by others. At the end of October they are encouraged to upload their offerings to a collection on AO3.

(At this point they go into support mode for members who are doing nanowrimo in November. The group’s name is a condensation of ‘you should be writing’.)

Not all the work is fanfic. AO3 is happy to host original work if it is part of a fannish collection or uses obvious fannish tropes. Members of the group are mostly interested in fanfic but write original stuff too.

One or two of the things I posted are already on this site in among other ‘free stuff’ and poetry, but most of the ficlets apart from the first one are new. The shifter ficlet is mm romance (nothing explicit) but otherwise the fics are gen. I have still used ‘not rated’ and ‘chose not to warn’ because my volunteer work for AO3 showed me you can never second guess what will trigger readers.

They are, inevitably, very short, because there were only a couple of days between prompts. But taken as a whole I’m quite pleased with them. I hope you will be too!

https://archiveofourown.org/works/27267490

The picture was made for the community as an icon and we were told we could share it. I have no idea who made it.

A choice of tropes: my preferences in fiction.

I was going to write about what appeals to me in the books I give four and five stars then I saw this meme. It’s one a few of my friends have done. I think it was originally conceived for the world of fanfiction but it works for original fiction tastes too, although it doesn’t cover crime stories which I also like. If you want to play, copy and paste the whole thing then post substituting your choices.


Slow burn OR love at first sight

Slow, please. Love at first sight always seems more like lust at first sight and either unrealistic or realistic but doomed. It can be fun, but not for longer stories or novels. Besides, I like following the details of decisions made over time.

Fake dating OR secret dating

Fake dating, because it’s fun to read as it gradually turns into not-so-fake. Secret dating – if that means people are in the closet about their attraction to each other and don’t want to be seen together – no, not for me. Again, if it means one or the other is already in a relationship, it’s a no-no. Not that I don’t think it can happen, and might make a good topic for a novel, but it isn’t a trope I go for.

Enemies to lovers OR best friends to lovers

I like both. If I have to choose I’ll have best friends to lovers because, as with the previous tropes, I like the slow realisation. With the enemies trope it sort of depends why they’re enemies in the first place.

Oh no there’s only one bed OR long distance with correspondence

I like long distance correspondence fic. I find it amusing and it’s usually a nice slow burn. I’m not keen on the one bed trope – it’s been done to death, and I don’t find it all that realistic.  

Fantasy AU OR modern AU

I write fantasy… So I’ll say fantasy but I prefer urban or sci fi fantasy and don’t go much for the heroic kind unless it happens to be Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. Modern AUs are fine in their own way – I assume this mostly refers to fanfiction. I can’t be bothered with many coffee shop fics, and college fics are a turn-off, but sticking the characters of e.g. SGA in an urban American setting can be interesting. I’ve personally written modern police characters in a mediaeval setting and find using a different period/location is a good way of exploring the core character. I do think quite often the writer ends up with an original story, merely hung on the names and character traits of the originals.

Smut OR fluff

I don’t really like smut if that means erotica. I tend to skim long sex scenes to get to the next bit of plot. I don’t really like fluff, either, since I like stories to have something serious about them as well as the romance element. Above all, I’m there for the story, not the details of the sex or romance. If I have to choose, I suppose fluff. I have read some very sweet short stories but I would quickly lose interest if they were longer.

Mutual pining OR domestic bliss

Mutual pining can be interesting. Domestic bliss rarely is. The details of other people’s domestic trivia simply don’t appeal. Having said that, I do like domestic details – if the characters don’t seem to shop, cook or eat I start to suspend disbelief.

Alternate universe OR future fic

Both please. In fanfiction I’m very happy with AUs in which canon characters don’t die, or make irrevocable bad decisions. I’ll even write it/have written it. I like future fic – I think good sci fi lets us explore our own society in a new context, and the same goes for any story set in a future, near or distant.

One shot OR multi-chapter

I have read lots of short stories I’ve enjoyed, but if I have to choose, the longer the better. And I do like people to break their work into discrete chapters, preferably with chapter headings. I actually seek out trilogies, too. I have a horror of unfinished WIPs, though, so each book has to stand reasonably alone. Think Robert Jordan… until Brad Sanderson took over there were a lot of angst-ridden fans, and at the moment the same applies to George RR Martin

Kid fic OR road trip fic

Kid fic if it’s well written. But I suppose that goes for anything, really. Road trips are OK as part of a longer story but I wouldn’t choose to read something with a road trip as the focus unless it was written by a friend and I felt obliged…

Reincarnation OR character death

Neither if it can be helped. I am very wary about reincarnation or anything similar that presupposes religious premises. And I dislike major character death quite intensely though I don’t mind if someone is recovering from losing a loved one who died before the story starts.

Arranged marriage OR accidental marriage

I think arranged marriage is interesting as a concept. In fact, I’ve just written a novel based around it. I find accidental marriage unlikely and can be irritated by the trope. It almost has to be a comedy and I don’t choose comedies often.

Time travel OR isolated together

Isolated together stories (e.g. snowed in cabin) can lead to some good character exploration. I don’t like time travel much.

Neighbours OR roommates

I think I prefer neighbours. Room mates tend to be college fic or very young adult fic which is not really my scene. Neighbours demand some serious world building which I enjoy.


Sci-fi AU OR magic AU

I like sci fi – as I’ve mentioned once or twice already. I also like magical universes and write them… So both, please! If I have to choose I’ll go with the magic but be sad about abandoning the space. Having said that, I don’t much like space opera any more than I like earth-based military fiction. So it rather depends on the context.

Bodyswap OR genderbend

I’m not particularly keen on either of these. Bodyswap is difficult for authors to present in a way that lets me suspend disbelief. Genderbend can be interesting, but frankly, I’d sooner read a story about someone who was trans, or cross dressing, or something more seriously in need of fictional exploration.

Angst OR crack

What a strange pair of tropes to set against each other. I’ve read brilliant versions of both and can’t choose.

Apocalyptic OR mundane

I quite like post apocalypse future fic but am rarely keen on zombies. Mundane modern stories have to be extremely good to hold my interest over a whole novel but some authors do a fantastic job.

A sort of birthday meme

I thought since it is almost my birthday I would try this ‘over the past year’ meme, adapted to include both original writing and fanfiction. Incidentally, I removed my birthday from all social media when I read an article that suggested it was an easy hook to enable hackers to access and use my personal data. I have read nothing to encourage me to put it back. I cheerfully help other people celebrate but I’d prefer to keep my own celebrations confined to close friends and family. If you want to wish me a happy October, go ahead!

Have I been consistent in my main writing over the past year?

I haven’t included previous figures for comparison because it was hard enough to tease this lot out. I’ve gone with dates of publication/posting which is by no means the same as writing… Any other data set was too convoluted to share.

Total works October 2019 to October 2020

Fanfiction: 3 stories plus 1 piece of meta.

Published works for sale: 3 novels and 1 collection of 5 short stories.

Free original works available on my website (includes ficlets, short stories, meta and poetry but not critiques): 11

So: 23 or 21 if you want to subtract the meta.

What’s your first and second most common work rating?

For fanfiction on AO3 I always use ‘not rated’. Occasionally my work is totally general and needs no ratings but I prefer to use ‘not rated’ as a default. I know some people will therefore not read but frankly, that’s not important for me.

For original work I sometimes put the adult warning on Smashwords. It really depends how I think parents would view a book if a younger teenager read it. By that, I don’t mean my own attitudes, just the majority ones.

I don’t write ‘erotica’ in either format, but I do take the characters as far as sex. This is usually non-explicit but definitely present in the text.

How many fics have you written in each relationship category?

 The fanfiction and the original stories, free and for sale, are all either mm or ff (or both) except for Answering Amanda which is for children even though it’s in my fae ‘verse. (It’s on my website.)

What are your top four fandoms by number?

For fanfiction I’ve written three auction fics this past year. One was SGA and the other two were Star Trek spin-off shows. I’ve written quite a bit of SGA in the past. Star Trek was a new venture.

For original work I’ve finished my fae series and my elf detective series and written some short stories, some of which were actually written earlier but polished for publication or posting since October 2019.

Who are your top seven characters?

In fanfiction this doesn’t apply this year. The three fics were totally different characters and pairings.

Obviously in my original work the bulk of my time was devoted to the main characters in my two series. The short works were very diverse and not connected with the series, apart from Answering Amanda as already explained.

And top six relationships?

Again, not really applicable.

If we’re thinking about the ones I’ve most enjoyed writing and have put a lot of work into, for fanfiction I had fun exploring John Sheppard and Todd the Wraith from SGA, and then Hugh and Elnor from Picard.

For my original fiction, I’ve brought both series to a conclusion and am sad to say goodbye to the characters. The focus of Living Fae is the mm relationship between Harlequin and Yarrow. The strong sub plot in The Skilled Investigators is the mm relationship between Fel and Rath. In the final volume I gave the major character, Genef, a possible romance in her future when a would-be suitor turned up, but she’ll have to get on with it without my assistance.

I started wondering about word count.

A lot of people are a great deal more prolific than I am but often their works are much shorter. I do have ficlets (and poems) in the mix and it was difficult to come up with an exact count but I think taking everything above into consideration I’d give a ballpark figure of 272,000 which I consider quite respectable and about average for me.

Meanwhile I’ve written a short story for Christmas which is about 10,000 and have extensively polished a short novel which is about 60,000. These are both in the editing/formatting process so I haven’t included them above. I’ve also written 7 ficlets for a writing community monster fest – more about that when I post the collection. That adds about another 40,000.

Altogether I’ve worked on approximately 382,000 words in the past year. Maybe I should look back next year, too! But the projects I have in mind are nowhere near as word-intensive so maybe not!

September Reviews

TV and films

The recommended if you can still find them anywhere.

Galaxy Quest***** (1999) I adore this film and was seriously happy to watch it yet again. A wonderful spoof of Star Trek but also a wonderful space adventure in its own right.

Manctopia**** BBC looking at the building boom in Manchester (where I live) and assessing the effects on various slices of the population.

Cyberbully**** Maisie Williams (think Arya in Game of Thrones) is alone on the screen for a riveting hour in a drama about cyber bullying.

Opioids Inc ****   Interesting look at the start of opioid addiction in US and the results, plus the influence of the big Pharmas.

Plague Fiction BBC4**** A look at literature written during and about plague, particularly the Black Death throughout the ages.

Des (and factual follow up) – with David Tennant****   The arrest, interrogation and trial of Desmond Nielson, who killed and dismembered at least fifteen young men. Gripping and gruesome. I quite like these docu-dramas that revisit crimes I was aware of at the time; somehow they put everything into context.

The Princess Spy **** Noor Inayat Khan was a young woman who was Indian royalty but died as a spy in occupied France, working on behalf of Britain, her adopted country. A blue plaque has recently been placed on her home in London.

The watchable but not highly recommended.

Secrets of Center Parcs*** How the holiday venues were founded and made popular.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 1*** I watched with intense concentration so that I could write a fanfic for an auction bidder who is thankfully pleased with the result. Plot and characters are interesting but I could do without all the space battles and special effects so might not get round to watching Season 2.

The Cult that Stole Children (Storyville) ***   The chilling story of a woman and her friends who got away with kidnap, child abuse, and a great deal of falsification of documents in Australia. They had friends in high places and although they were brought back from US to answer for their crimes, they were merely fined. The woman died recently in her nineties, in a care home for those suffering from dementia. I would have liked more detail and less drama.

Books

The wonderful

Galaxies and Oceans by NR Walker***** An mm romantic mystery set on Kangaroo Island off the south coast of Australia. Gorgeous.

In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin***** Siobhan, Malcom and Rebus are catapulted into a cold case when a body is found in an abandoned car. The usual vivid detail about Edinburgh, the characters, and modern policing.

Romancing the Undercover Millionaire by Clare London***** An exciting mm thriller set in the wine trade.

Alike as two bees by Elin Gregory***** Stonemasons, stone carvers and the people who employ them in Ancient Greece. Lovely romantic mm story that brought the period and place to life. I was reminded of Tom Holt’s The Walled Garden but this had a more delicate touch.

Dark/Darker by Paul L Arvidson***** Bks 1 and 2 of Dark Trilogy. What I want to know is when book 3 is coming. It was supposed to be published earlier this year. Fascinating sci fi with memorable characters. To say anything further would give spoilers; a lot of the pleasure stems from the gradual unfolding of the plot and the world. Warning: it could have used better proof reading but in spite of that I give it five stars.

The excellent

In the Middle of Somewhere and Better than People by Roan Parrish**** Two sweet and well written rural mm romances, neither quite gripping enough to make me buy the sequels.

A Vineyard in Andalusia by Maria Dueñas****  Great historical detail about nineteenth century life in Mexico, Cuba and Spain and excellent writing but I didn’t like the characters.

The readable

The Unspoken by Ian K Smith*** Too many gangsters in Chicago. I nearly abandoned this thriller but wanted to see what happened. I believe there are sequels but I won’t be buying them. (I didn’t buy this; it was a free read from Amazon Prime.) Well done, just not to my taste.  

The Brandy Trade under the Ancien Régime by L.M.Cullen.*** Some interesting information about the growth of the international trade in spirits but too much dry financial and legal detail so I skimmed.

The Layered Mask by Sue Brown*** Regency mm with rather stereotypical characters and a somewhat contrived ending. Well written.

My Anti-Marriage by DJ Jamison*** Too much sex and a very slight story though it’s a pleasant plot and well written.

Short Stories

Rain by Nick Thiwerspoon*** A nice ficlet on Nick’s blog.

Abandoned

Nothing abandoned this month! Is this a first?

Fanfiction

Torchwood High by Pooky1234 **** Very clever and well done. Alexa has been promoting this on her author FB page and I can add my recommendation. A convoluted story about the staff (and a few kids) in a Welsh high school. However, I like Torchwood for the aliens and really missed them… It’s long: 290619 words so take a deep breath!  https://archiveofourown.org/works/22937830

Riders of the Purring Sage by Edonohana **** A delightful very short story (2906 words) about cat herding in the old wild west. No romance, just lots of cats and a possible ghost. Could be a good Hallowe’en read. http://archiveofourown.org/works/12934236

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…)

May reviews

TV and films

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Russell T Davies version)***** Absolutely gorgeous with lots of magical effects and slight twists on characterisation. BBC but I think it’s available to buy.

Valerian and the city of a thousand planets***** A re-watch. I love it. Lots of well done aliens and an underlying standard thriller plot with endearing main characters.

Science and Islam (BBC 4)***** I’ve watched one or two of this history of science series. Excellent. (I knew most of the history but my grasp of the science was shaky…)

Vera Series 3***** Still loving this – set in my native region with a quirky but extremely competent female detective.

Books

The brilliant non-fiction

Becoming Human: New Scientist Collection***** Excellent collection of articles about up to the minute research about evolution.

Pale Rider by Laura Spinney***** The Spanish flu of 1918 and how it changed the world. Excellent historical research. Stunningly relevant to our current pandemic even though it was written a couple of years ago.

Myths of Gender by Anne Fausto-Sterling***** As the author says:‘…an extended argument against lodging social difference in the body’. Fascinating account and critique of research into gender differences.

How Baking Works by James Morton*****
This really explains why we whisk, fold, etc. and how ingredients can be substituted. Kept for reference though I would prefer a hard copy.

The brilliant fiction:

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo*****Wonderful interweaving of black female lives in modern Britain. Amazingly good use of tense changes to underpin different periods and points of view. (And that’s something I never thought I’d say!) Well worth the Booker Prize!

A Carriage of Misjustice by Charlie Cochrane***** Vol 4 of the Lindenshaw series. As usual, I enjoyed the mystery and loved the dog, Campbell, who somehow manages to cement the relationship between the policeman and his teacher husband. A masterclass in how to juggle large numbers of suspects and witnesses – something I really needed for the book I was writing at the time.

Finders Keepers by N R Walker***** Heart warming story of two guys brought together by a dog (who gets lost) on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Thicker than water by Becca Seymour***** Thatch and Callen are shifters in law enforcement in Australia. Interesting characters and location.

The good:

You let me in by Lucy Clarke**** Psychological thriller with a very gripping plot but the final mystery had no real clues in story which I found disappointing. I guessed ‘whodunnit’ or rather ‘wasdoinit’, but the why was totally unclear until the last chapter.

Song for the Basilisk by Patrician Kilip**** Lovely story about music and magic with fascinating characters. However, too much purple prose with no breaks became hard to read.

The readable:

Thicker than Water by J D Kirk*** Sequel in the DCI Logan series. Well written and plotted but not as exciting as the first one. ‘Tartan noir…’

The poor and the dire:

Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg**
First in the Eve Ronin series. Poor world building and some unpleasant characters

Canis Falls Academy: Year One by Imani L Hawkins* Dire structure, characterisation, plot…..

And the abandoned: (Only one this month)

Sword Dance by A J Demas. A confusing Graeco-Roman/mediaeval Japanese world with fantasy and mm elements being introduced too slowly. I simply gave up.

Short stories

Not highly recommended but others might like both these:

Under the Law by JP Bowie*** More of a novella, perhaps. Tired tropes and unmemorable plot but the writing was competent and anyone who likes short mysteries with an mm focus might enjoy it.

Australia: a Romance Anthology. Various authors.***
OMG. I bought this because the profits went to Australian wildlife victims of the fires. Good value with a lot of stories, all but one of them het romance (and the mm one was a vampire tale). Too many were spin-offs from series but could be read stand-alone. However, I will never (?) complain about the amount of explicit sex in mm romances again. I am still reeling from the content of some of these! One or two really good pieces; all readable.

Fanfic

I frequently recommend Small_Hobbit and some of her collaborators on things like the Marylebone magazine. I do enjoy their writing but I think the main reason they keep cropping up here is that their work, as well as being good, is often accessible to readers who don’t share their fandoms. This month I also read a number of stories by Brumeier (another writer I like) but they all needed in depth knowledge of SGA for true enjoyment.

Five times Lucas met Pooh Bear and friends by Small_Hobbit***** (all you need to know is that Lucas, Adam, Ros and Harry are spies and that the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood sometimes stand in for Sherlock Holmes) https://archiveofourown.org/works/24352783

Welcome to Castle Elsinore https://archiveofourown.org/works/24004696 and On to March Ides Woods https://archiveofourown.org/works/24115366 *****by Small_Hobbit. Imagine a coach tour and people the staff and tourist groups with characters from Shakespeare, The Hobbit, and other classics. Short but powerful!

Reclaim (poem by okapi)**** https://archiveofourown.org/works/6848800/chapters/58468873