Although the summer often felt like inspiration had flown, like some inverse migration ritual, retrospect shows it in a different light. Amidst the remorseless flow of atrocities and the shock of Brexit, I managed to get a year older without shedding a tear. Amid the hills of Frome, I may even had shed a pound or two. Albeit, mostly to market stallholders
And then the same again at WOMAD, drifting happily from one musical discovery to another (while still slightly shamefully, given the comfortable whiteness of the audience – any more middle-class self-righteousness and one could have been at a Corbyn rally, dahling…)
There were one or two other pleasant surprises along the way. Although a lot of my writing explores the relationship between past and present (and individuals’ relationships with both), I haven’t often though of this as translating into the labels ‘sci fi’ or ‘speculative fiction’. A love of the works of William Gibson, however, may force me into a rethink.
A piece written as both homage to and pastiche, inspired as much as his non-fiction collection as his novels, has been selected for inclusion in the second printed Holdfast anthology. Fingers crossed that they collect another British Fantasy Society award for this, and I’m hugely flattered to be included. If you’d like to chip into their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, the link is here.
Another story, Epilogues, has also been longlisted for the Sunderland Short Story Award in association with Waterstones, to my delight and surprise. Inspired by listening to care home workers and to the things they usually don’t say, it’s a tribute to listening and observing as a way of guiding your own focus – and an exploration of the impact of stereotypes on men and women when it comes to emotional self-management. But enough about me…
Selected Summer Reading
If a story about two gay men in their eighties living in isolation, one of whom is declining into dementia, sounds off-putting… think twice. I won’t deny that this is a grim read in places (and one section that follows from one character’s profession as a taxidermist is particularly harrowing), but it is also a stunningly beautifully written account of how love can endure in the most remarkable circumstances. And of the price it can extract along the way: things are only truly grim if there was already an underlying care. If recent generations have ‘reclaimed queerness’, Frank and Wendell’s reaction to a late 1940s world that would reject their love is very different: they embrace the outcast isolation that the world wishes upon them, choosing it over separation and losing each other.
Ultimately, it is age that threatens to separate them, and the delineation of complex emotions and of a relationship that has endured so much is masterly. It is also surely universal writing: it is not the gay relationship that might offend here – ’till death us do part’ is a truth that hits everyone, eventually – but squeamishness about family pets. In terms of writing that addresses love and tenderness, the journey from young love to old age, and what a lifetime vow means, however, this is about as good as it gets. In witnessing an enduring relationship that would, legal scenarios aside, count as marriage to any observer, it also provides a valuable portrait to add to broader understanding of both similarity and difference: love is an impossible but irresistable hope for all of us.
A book read in reaction to having read Fred Ulhman’s Reunion (see earlier review), set in Berlin at the turn of the Thirties. Haffner was a social worker and journalist, and this his only book, burned and banned by the Nazis a year after it appeared in 1932. If Cabaret shows us the Weimar Berlin as the relatively privileged experienced it, here we see the local underbelly and meet those whose lives depend on suckling from it. (Much as I love the works of Isherwood and Auden, this is the story of the boys they bought for beer money, and for whom that beer money was possibly most of their income.) There is a feeling of documentary here, although this remains conjecture: we know the author’s professions but not his fate – his fate after the mid-30s remain unknown. Yet this is compelling storytelling too. While we might suspect that many of the street gang members here – men just leaving boyhood, selling whatever they can steal or offer, themselves included, merely to survive the economic catastrophe that would later extract an even greater price – may have also met fates far grislier than the beatings and the social diseases that face here, this is more than just a tale on lives in the margin: it also an implicit exploration of the difference between interdependence and the rule of dog-eat-dog, but without the moral lecturing usually served as a side dish to that message.
Velosi – Nomadism: one of the personal discoveries of this year’s WOMAD festival, a Polish string quartet who combine the sophistication and technique of the classical musician with the energy of the folk performer. The videos may suggest a hint of branding – a cellist in evening dress, dripping sweat – but the music is far better than this suggests.
Kefaya – Radio International: another WOMAD discovery, and one of those bands that manage to launch from the melting pot of musics that often speak more to virtue-signalling than to innovation and to achieve escape velocity without resorting unduly to populist gestures (a pounding four-four beat, veneers of electronica or a lazy icing of the current dance music tropes). Possibly helped by the considerable displays of musicianship here, guitarist Giuliano Modarelli and keyboard player Al McSween most prominently.