“As the dawn was just breaking he found himself close to Covent Garden…”

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my story “All That is Solid”grande_scarlet1 in The Scarlet Soul from Swan River Press, a collection of stories inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and its themes of art, obsession, love, lust and sorcery.

Editor Mark Valentine suggested we all choose a quote from Wilde’s novella to kick off our stories. Dorian had gone strolling in Covent Garden; so does my protagonist many years later. It’s the summer of 2016 and she hears a bunch of lads singing: “Rule Britannia… Britannia rules the waves, first we get the Poles out then we get the gays”.

The title ‘All that is solid melts into air’ comes from a quote by Karl Marx. That solid thing melting into air can be the ground beneath our feet when we think too much about the space in its atoms; it can also be the ground beneath our feet when our right to live in the place we call home is threatened. So what does this have to do with Dorian Gray and his famous portrait? More than we might think, especially when anxiety and art therapy are involved…

I’m in the company of nine fine writers – Lynda E Rucker, Reggie Oliver, Caitriona Lally, John Howard, DP Watt, Timothy J Jarvis, Derek John, Avalon Brantley and John Gale. I look forward to seeing how they’ve approached the theme.

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I also have more news about my forthcoming collection, Resonance & Revolt. The pre-order page is up at Eibonvale Press, including a preview of the cover. We’ll be adding more images to the mix, perhaps a flying gefilte fish or two (in reference to The Matter of Meroz). Who knows? It’ll be exciting. I’ll write more about this project in the next few weeks.

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Helen’s Story returns – to be censored by Facebook!

rabinowitz-helen-cvr-lrThe US edition of Helen’s Story is now available from Aqueduct Press. This edition is also available as an ebook in Kindle (mobi) and epub formats – you can find the Kindle link here. It’s the very first time I’ve had my own ebook out, so I’m excited. You can read more about this in Aqueduct’s blog.

The startling and sensuous cover image from the 2013 PS Publishing edition will also grace Aqueduct’s version, with thanks to Seattle-based artist Erika Steiskal. However, the bods-that-be on Facebook have not been jumping up and down in joy. In fact, FB has been suppressing new posts with the image despite the fact that it’s been all over social media since 2013. When I first tried to post the link from the Aqueduct blog, it was blocked as ‘spam’.  When I clicked that my post was definitely NOT spam FB informed me that my post would be reconsidered as to whether it breaches ‘community standards’.

That was over a month ago. When I didn’t hear back I tried posting the link again and the same thing happened. Others have reported similar results.

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This is gobsmacking. Either the folks at Facebook can’t write a decent algorithm or some techie is terrified by the mere sight of a finely drawn nipple and/or a luxuriant bush. It’s been suggested that the nipple might’ve led to the ban. To test the hypothesis I posted this gorgeous painting by Klimt, foregrounded nipple and all, but had no problem there. Go figure!

Meanwhile, Nancy Jane Moore has written an excellent post about Helen’s Story on the Bookview Cafe blog. She discusses the suppression of the cover image and also has lovely things to say about the book itself: “It’s an excellent book. I found it both delightful and disturbing, which is always a good mix.”

The good news is that I’ve managed to post a link from the Aqueduct website (rather than the blog), which has stayed up for a day or so. Perhaps it works because the image uploads in a smaller format. Fingers crossed that the algorithms of the great Lord Zuck have passed it by! And here’s the uncensored book cover, by the way. I love the portrait of Mary Shelley on the back cover too.

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Now, it’s been a good few months since I’ve last posted in this blog. In that time I’ve been to WorldCon in Helsinki and held forth at a few panels. Two stood out for me. One was Fantasies of Free Movement, where we talked about borders and the dissolution of borders in fantastic fiction – with reference to Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, Chris Beckett’s Marcher and the Fractured Europe series by David Hutchinson.

And I especially enjoyed Beyond the Cash Nexus. We had a big audience eager to discuss the following:

Ursula K LeGuin has called on F/SFwriters to imagine alternatives to capitalism: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.” Have things moved on since The Dispossessed?  Is the opposite of dystopia necessarily utopia, is there are terrain where we can avoid the oversimplification of either? Can we portray radical visions when writing about the here and now, as well as secondary worlds, far future or extra-terrestrial universes?

This has actually turned up on YouTube, recorded in its entirety. Though it was a great panel while it was happening, I find I’ve only lasted ten minutes during attempts to watch the video. I’ll leave it to readers to do the search and be the judge.

Then I enjoyed a post-con holiday in the countryside. I spent time with some brilliant writers, especially the hospitable Anne Leinonen. Here’s a 2011 interview with her about the state of Finnish science fiction.

And when I returned it was time to move house. I’ve not actually moved far – up from the first floor to the ninth floor of the same block. It should have been an easy move but there’s been a multitude of hassles. It took over a month to get my WiFi on, which has been a definite contributing factor to the lateness of this post!

I’ll wrap up with some other news: I will be publishing a collection of stories with those wonderful folks at Eibonvale Press, purveyors of modern horror, magic realism, slipstream and the surreal. I previously had “The Turning Track”– a collaboration with Mat Joiner – published in Eibonvale’s anthology Rustblind and Silverbright and I look forward to working with Eibonvale again. Watch this space for more details.

 

 

Helen’s Story to be published in the US

I’m very pleased to announce the first US publication of Helen’s Story by feminist SF publisher Aqueduct Press. So I’ll be joining a roster of authors that includes Nnedi Okorafor, Karen Joy Fowler, Rachel Swirsky, Lisa Tuttle, Gwyneth Jones, Ursula K LeGuin, Vandana Singh… well, loads of great people. Helen’s Story will also be released as an ebook, so it’ll be available to a wider audience.

Watch this space for more information!

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In Scarlet Town

murder-balladsMurder Ballads is now available for preorder from Egaeus Press, producer of dark and imaginative books. My tale “In Scarlet Town” will mark my second appearance in an Egaeus anthology. I’m proud to be included among a host of fine writers such as Angela Slatter, Reggie Oliver, Philip Fracassi, Helen Marshall, Timothy J. Jarvis, Alison Littlewood, Daniel Mills, Avalon Brantley, Stephen J Clark, Lisa L Hannett, Louis Marvick, Brendan Connell, Colin Insole, Rhys Hughes, Charles Schneider and Albert Power.

When editor Mark Beech sent me the guidelines, I took many trips down my musical memory lane. There’s such a wealth of material. I found my interests gravitated towards the more contemporary(ish) side of the genre. I considered PJ Harvey’s Down by the Water, Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullaby and Inkubus Succubus’ The Rape of Maude Bowen with its angry chorus:

“Now here is a tale, a story to be told
Of a young girl but fifteen years old
Impaled as a vampire, her mother burned as a witch
Now these were the crimes, the crimes of the rich…”

But it was Gillian Welch’s enigmatic “Scarlet Town” that captured my imagination in the end. So what the hell was going on in Scarlet Town? The name itself conjured up a dry and dusty place, but one that is full of colour, fragrance and the timeless pursuit of pleasure. I saw menacing beauty that disguised a host of ugly secrets.

I discovered that Bob Dylan also wrote a song called “Scarlet Town”, which came out after Gillian Welch’s tune. Dylan portrays a place with the “evil and the good livin’ side by side”, where “all human forms seem glorified”. I mulled over a fascinating discussion on the themes of the Dylan song, with its echoes of the traditional ballad Barbara Allen alongside more current concerns. Dylan’s imagery is complex and contradictory, complementing the starkness of Welch’s song.

Gillian Welch references the traditional ballad “Pretty Polly” with the line: “You left me here to rot away, like Polly on a mountainside”. I’ll add that conflicting interpretations have appeared: some song lyric websites seem to think she’s singing “like holly on the mountainside”. But it sounds like ‘Polly’ to me and it makes more sense, so my story contains a pinch of that old ballad too –  have a listen to an old-timey Appalachian-style version by Patty Loveless and Ralph Stanley.

angel-trumpet-509445_960_720The final ingredient for this story was suggested by notes I made over a year ago. I was walking down the road near a friend’s house in North London. I was so lost in thought that I walked right into the overhanging branches of a tree full of incredible yellow flowers as big as my face. What the flowering fuck indeed… I’d never seen anything like it. And the scent was intense and entrancing. Honey-sweet, but lemony too with a touch of spice. It was a complex scent I needed to keep sniffing at… addictive and enthralling.

I later looked up these flowers, Angel’s Trumpet aka brughansia. I discovered that these plants have a long history of lore and myth, along with close cousin datura or Devil’s Trumpet. Their hallucinogenic and potentially toxic components have been used in shamanic rituals; it was believed that they enabled people to communicate with the dead and denizens of other worlds. According to some accounts, brughansia and datura were used as aphrodisiacs in brothels. And the plants also had more prosaic medicinal uses, such as treating asthma and haemorrhoids.

I’ll note that one component, scopolamine, plays a less than enlightening role in the weird Netflix series The OAThese plants have also been used to induce disorientation and docility.

I read an article about a town in Louisiana where teenagers were raiding front gardens for drug-related purposes. It got to a point where the cops went knocking on doors if they spotted Angel’s Trumpet growing in a garden. A few people actually destroyed their plants. But many of the comments at the end of the article basically went: Fuck the police! They’re not gonna mess with my brugs!

I made notes about all this and put them in one of those little folders on my computer that just sit around for a while. But I came upon the material again and realised that these beautiful yet deadly blossoms will show me the way to Scarlet Town…

My story also includes a tip of the hat to Leena Krohn’s novella Datura, Or a Figment Seen by Everyone, where a woman acquires a datura plant, uses it to help her asthma and becomes addicted. She observes:

“I hope you understand that plants, too, are conscious. The consciousness of plants resembles human dreaming. That, too, is consciousness.”

Some heady thoughts to go along with a very heady scent…

Reviews, reprint news and a new free fiction page!

Helen's Story coverHere’s a quick shout-out that Helen’s Story has received another late review, this time from Peter Coleborn. He writes:

Helen’s Story is so well written the novella flows effortlessly through the reader’s mind, subsuming him or her into this exotic and very erotic tale… Helen’s Story is a tour de force of one woman’s fight to understand her nature – and is quite simply a masterpiece. I’d place it in the same class, the way it mixes the real and the myth, as Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce and Among Others by Jo Walton.”

Thanks for your kind words, Peter!

In addition, Helen gets a mention on a Spanish website. I’m not sure exactly what they’re saying, but I think it’s good.

Meanwhile, Something Remains has been given one of Des Lewis’ legendary real time reviews. He describes my contribution “The Pleasure Garden”:

“Rosanne’s evolved fragment becomes an evocative summoning of the cranes as the girders of a cat’s cradle genius-loci of South London, now and then.”

Anthony Watson has also selected Something Remains as the year’s best anthology on his Dark Musings blog:

“The stories within are inspired by, and based on, notes left by Joel and each individual author has done a remarkable job in creating them in such a way that you would believe Joel had written them himself. It’s a superbly produced book and I can think of no better way to honour his memory.”

jva1And now for some more downbeat news… non-profit independent publisher Jurassic London has wound up its operations. We’re very sorry to see them go. However, we can take some small comfort that a new home has been found for Jews vs Aliens and Jews vs Zombies  at Ben Yehuda Press. The proceeds will continue to benefit Mosac, a charity that provides support to non-abusing parents, carers and families of children who have been sexually abused.

6a00d8345295c269e201b8d12175b2970c-200wiMoving on to another story published by Jurassic London, I’ve decided to put “Keep Them Rollin'” on my new free fiction page. This story first appeared in the 2015 Jurassic anthology We Need to Talk. While ghost stories are usually the tradition for this time of year, I’m going for some SF: quantum computing meets Universal Credit. It’s the first time I’ve put my own fiction on line, and I enjoyed illustrating it with some appropriate bits and pieces.

I’ll close this post with the song that gave “Keep Them Rollin'” its title – the theme from Rawhide. Below you’ll find my favourite version by The Men They Couldn’t Hang.

On the story page itself I’ve included another cover by US ska punk band Sublime. While it doesn’t have the best sound quality, the clip from Sublime does evoke that late 1980s/early 1990s festival atmosphere.

A time to tweet, a time to swear

tweeeeep2I resisted Twitter for a long time because I saw it as a prime procrastination outlet, similar to the one I find in Facebook.

However, I began to tweet for campaign groups a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. But there I had a defined brief. I tweeted on specific days about specific subjects, which stopped me from getting obsessed or giving into temptation to pile into arguments with well-known timewasters.

Campaign style, however, rules out swearing – and that’s fair enough. However, with recent events I’ve had an increasing urge to send out my very own sweary tweets.

So I’ve joined Twitter at last. I’m still finding my tweeting feet… But I can say that there’ll be a lot of tweeting about writing, reading and ranting. There may be occasional links to articles about quantum physics that I don’t understand.  And I’ll share plenty of music, satire and general geeky things.

Anyone who’s interested can follow me on Twitter here.

I’ll finish with a song by Dubioza Collectiva that I tweeted recently. Dosta! Enough!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ll come from the shadows

“Yesterday I was a writer who was lost for words. I expect to find them again soon…”

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This was my Facebook status on 10 November, prefacing a link to an article in the Independent about spontaneous protests responding to the election of the fascistic Donald Trump – and I’m not one to use this particular F-word lightly. For more details check out the links on An anti-trump masterpost and A final response to why Trump is a fascist.

So I was lost for words on 9 November… and while I’ve managed to scrape together a few of them now, I think it will be a work in progress.

The gloom cast by the US election results deepened when Leonard Cohen’s death became public a couple of days later. I loved Leonard’s music when I was growing up. Now, perhaps I’d be critical about some of his idealised images of women. But a lot of the music still works. One of my favourites is The Partisan, a song that he didn’t write but popularised for a new audience in the late 1960s. And this song needs to be shared now, more than ever.

winter-is-hereLike many I’m full of fear and foreboding, and I’ve indulged in many a post-apocalyptic meme along with some darkly satirical ones.

Meanwhile, I’ve been inspired by the expression of strength, endurance and hope as well as grief in “The Partisan”.

A line in this song – the frontiers are my prison – has haunted me since I first heard it decades ago. It echoes in my mind as we prepare to resist those who aim to impose more borders and frontiers within our societies and throughout the world.

And then there are these lyrics:

“Oh the wind, the wind is blowing
Through the graves the wind is blowing
Freedom soon will come
Then we’ll come from the shadows” 

It’s early days, but we’re already fighting. I read stories about growing opposition to Trump & what he represents – this includes longer term initiatives as well as demonstrations. The American Civil Liberties Union is taking up the mettle, city councils declare their determination to remain cities of refuge to immigrants despite threats to cut off federal funding; universities, legislatures and other bodies are declaring to stand firm. We’ll also see what happens when more US workers find out just what billionaire Trump’s promises to them are made of. Meanwhile, struggles such as Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock continue.

I’ve also been trying to take hope from the high proportion of young people involved in the demonstrations.

Yes, winter is indeed here but perhaps we’ll see a hot and lively spring…