I wanna dance like we used to: replaying my playlist

Everything_Propagate CollectiveLast week I put on my Life During Lockdown playlist on Spotify for the first time in a few weeks. I started this list in early April and now we’re several months down the line. I’ve visited my partner (now known as “bubble boy” or “bubble buddy”) in Oxford for the first time since lockdown and wore a festive new mask for the occasion. Recently he made the journey to see me in London. And now it’s been announced that pubs will be reopening on 4 July.

Like many I have my suspicions about a premature end to lockdown, especially for those who are shielding and stand to lose benefits, or workers who could be forced back into unsafe workplaces or claimants facing sanctions again. I don’t want to go back to the same routine and the same air quality as before or risk a second wave of infections. But will I be able to resist a visit to the pub after a walk?

With these thoughts in mind I recently listened to my lockdown playlist again. I considered the songs that continue to resonate and the changes that have taken place since I began putting it together. Listening to other playlists and compiling my own helped me keep the pieces of my mind together during a stressful period while opening some new musical avenues. It also eased the completion of a particularly troublesome novelette.

At the beginning I did casual searches for words like pandemic, lockdown, corona, covid and plague. This revealed thousands of other playlists. Some concentrated on dance music for indoor exercising, others were mournful, dark and gothic, still others were upbeat and humorous. A few focused on queer themes and some – which were left unclicked – petitioned for salvation from the plague. Many lists focused on certain genres – country music, heavy metal, grime, classical, industrial, rap, blues, folk… A spectrum of musical subcultures are represented: lots of rave-oriented playlists and some good thrashing punk ones and I’m sure I came across a psychobilly one too. There were even playlists of original plague-era early music, like this 15h Century Medieval Party Mix: “Party like it’s yer last day because thou is dying of plague.”

I’m sure these lists will prove fruitful for analysis of this crucial moment in history as well as providing hours of listening pleasure. Let a thousand PhD dissertations bloom…

Rappers were especially quick to the comment on current events. One of my favourite rap attacks on the virus was Gotty Boi Chis’ Fuck the Corona: “Wash your hands and wash your motherfuckin’ feet!”

Some songs on these lists didn’t have such an obvious connection, or none at all. I imagined a very personal context. Nosy as I am, I always want to know more. Was a certain song performed at their last gig before lockdown, or did they listen to it while sick in bed? Or perhaps a song reminded them of a lover who doesn’t happen to share their household.

I also revisited some videos on YouTube. I found that the ones that featured shoppers fighting over toilet paper already seem like period pieces. And when I listened to my own list, I found that the anxious apocalyptic edge has softened. Yet I still respond to the most ominous tunes, which have meant other things at other times. For example, I loved the When the Music’s Over by the Doors since I was a kid. Did it have something to do with Altamont and the death of the 1960s counterculture (or a few countercultures past that)? Or maybe it’s about Death with a capital D or something that Jim Morrison ate that didn’t go down well. Now it means something else again. That’s what what I call a ‘classic’, even though I still giggle when Jim intones “the scream of the butterfly”.

When I hear the Specials’ Ghost Town I do remember the riots of 1981 and boarded-up deindustrialised towns – but 40 years on we’ve seen many other ways a city can die. I look out my window and see the development of Nine Elms, where flats are bought as investments and not actual places to live – a ghost town in the making. In any case, that eerie keyboard riff still sends a chill through me even as the bassline gets my feet moving.

And speaking of chills… this chuckle-provoking ditty about keeping it chill in New York City’s East Village reels out several apocalyptic scenarios and one hopeful one. Meanwhile, I continue my efforts to keep it chill in North Lambeth.

On my list I’ve also included songs about solitude and isolation, about death and grieving, about mutual aid and support as well as the solace of drink and drugs, and some plain silly stuff. There’s a lot about dancing and the desire to dance (Days of the Dance and Dancing While the Sky Falls Down. The embattled hedonism of Julie Delphy’s La La La (“I wanna dance like we used to…”) speaks to me again; this song also served in my post-election playlist. As my neighbour’s crap music pounded out his open window and into mine I added the reggae classic Man Next Door, which also expresses a need to escape: “I’ve got to get away!” That’s a recurring theme on several of my playlists.

However, a wider range of musical styles has made its way into my lockdown list. For example, I never got into electronic and industrial music before but I gravitated towards these genres on a few occasions here. I also wanted the playlist to touch on the history of plagues and pandemics and even some of the science, which cast another angle on the music I sought out.

These interests have taken me on some odd musical detours. So yes, I’ve chosen those lockdown staples like Ghost Town, Life During Wartime and End of the World as We Know It… but who else has the likes of Marcus J Buehler’s Viral Counterpoint of the Coronavirus Spike Protein? Buehler explains to ABC.net how his team analysed the “vibrational structure” of the coronavirus and created music out of it –and why this is a useful thing to do:

“Translating proteins into sound gives scientists another tool to understand and manipulate them… Understanding these vibrational patterns is critical for drug design and much more. Vibrations may change as temperatures warm, for example, and they may also tell us why the SARS-CoV-2 spike gravitates toward human cells more than other viruses…
Through music, we can see the SARS-CoV-2 spike from a new angle, and appreciate the urgent need to learn the language of proteins.”

You might expect ‘Rona to serenade us with some hardcore death metal. Not quite. It sounds rather beautiful, even soothing – in the beginning. Some comments on the YouTube page and elsewhere suggest a resemblance to Bjork’s music. Indeed, I came across a Bjork song with a very similar sound. And guess what it’s called – Virus. So this appears on the playlist just before Marcus J and it’s very creepy (“As the protein transmutates I knock on your skin, and I am in.”)

You might find it impossible to listen to an hour and a half of viral song in one go. I haven’t stuck out the duration either and I have a slightly shorter version on Spotify. Perhaps I’ve watched too many Ring films, but I can’t help suspecting that if I listen to the whole song I’ll be inviting a whole crew of those spiky little fuckers in for a party. Bueller himself does offer this analogy: “As you listen, you may be surprised by the pleasant, even relaxing, tone of the music. But it tricks our ear in the same way the virus tricks our cells. It’s an invader disguised as a friendly visitor.”

Meanwhile, others suggest (tongues firmly in cheek) the opposite; that listening to it might confer immunity!

In line with my folkloric interests, the most suitable follow-up to that long long song of the virus would be an 18th century ballad (with medieval roots) called Twa Corbies, which describes a conversation between two crows about what they’ll eat next as they eye up the corpse of a slain knight. I’ve chosen Maddy Prior’s haunting solo version. Perhaps a pun – which may be wearing as ancient as the folk song itself – lurks in there too.

I’ve followed this with another folk song,  Shaking of the Sheets, a jolly little ditty that revolves around the trope of death as the “Great Leveller”. It’s obviously untrue in our context where class and race have determined how people are affected by Covid; Boris Johnson had better options for treatment than a black nurse in Peckham who was left to die alone in her flat. But if you listen to Shaking of the Sheets, it seems to hurl defiance  at ‘sly bankers’ and “the politicians of high and low degree” and “lords and ladies, great and small.” The song warns: “Don’t think that you’ll escape and need not dance with me.” Consider an era when official ideology touted the divine right of kings to rule. This song is saying: you call yourself divine your royal fucking highness but you’re only human like us and you’ll die.

Many have noted that times of crisis may result in major changes that can have both negative or positive potential. In English history, restless survivors of the Black Death of 1348 unleashed the Peasants Revolt across large parts of England. It was sparked by the imposition of a poll tax and culminated with an assault on the City of London. This period produced the socialist vision expressed by John Ball and an expanded notion of rights and commonalities.

Could we be looking at another period of upheaval now? We won’t be emboldened by a labour surplus as folks were in the 14th century – quite the opposite. We could be facing another case of state ‘shock doctrine’ in the aftermath. On the other hand, the effects of austerity left a system unable to cope with the pandemic. It is now being challenged and much of the ‘culture change’ demanded by the architects of austerity has been derailed.  The logic of work at any cost, enforced by a regime of benefit sanctions, has also been exposed and held up to question – check out Pandemic Creations: Links to a New World for many perspectives on this. As Arundhati Roy notes in her article:

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

To mark the historical connection I searched for tunes dating from the Peasants Revolt; the only thing I found was The Cutty Wren. If you listen to the lyrics, it seems as if folks are getting out a lot of equipment (hatchets and cleavers, big guns and cannons etc) and going to a lot of trouble to do away with a small brown bird. But the unfortunate wren could symbolise young King Richard II, who is killed and fed to the poor in the song. Folk chronicler AL Lloyd put that idea on the table in 1944 and Chumbawumba popularised the connection by including the song in their album English Rebel Songs 1381–1914. Others claim there is no evidence to connect The Cutty Wren with the Peasants’ Revolt. In any case, this is the closest I could get to a song of that era so it goes in!

The Chumbawumba version wasn’t available on Spotify but I do like this one because it’s sung with a lot of verve and a touch of menace. The response: “We may not tell you…” followed by an explicit description of the hardware involved in wren-killing so reminds me of conversations concerning “security” in various naughty noughties actions in the days of yore! This was when ‘masking up’ meant something very different than it does now.

War Movie by the Jefferson Airplane previously turned up in this blog as part of a Paul Kantner tribute. Here it is again, with its SF high-tech vision of another kind of peasants revolt predicted to take place in “Nineteen-hundred and seventy-five”. So maybe this did take place in another timeline…

And now, in our own timeline, I can’t help but think that recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations, occupations and statue-dunking could herald the opening of the portal described by Arundhati Roy. This spirit came across in Saul Williams’ List of Demands. Though it was written in the early 2000s it feels very contemporary: “I got a list of demands written on the palm of my hands. I ball my fist and you’re gonna know where I stand.”

Meanwhile, the illness and death of John Prine from Covid-19 prompted me to think about how important his music had been to me when I was growing up. He was one of the singers I first enjoyed on late-night radio, probably on WBAI with Bob Fass – those mournful and wry tunes were just the thing for clandestine listening on a school night. That Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore, always made me laugh – it was the perfect antidote to Okie from Muskogee. Prine had been one of the first at the time to show that country music doesn’t have to be right-wing and flag-waving, and he’s been a major influence on recent “alt-country” (it might be called something else now) performers.

I’ve therefore put a bunch of his songs on my playlist and it’s been a bittersweet experience to revisit them. I had to chuckle when listening his song Donald and Lydia for the first time in years. It ends with:

“They made love in the mountains, they made love in the streams,
They made love in the valleys, they made love in their dreams.
But when they were finished there was nothing to say,
’cause mostly they made love from ten miles away.”

How’s that for social distancing?

If anyone thinks it’s in bad taste to put a John Prine tribute on the same playlist with Marcus J Bueller’s song of the coronavirus (or have issues with some of the more lighthearted comments in this post), please have a listen to Please Don’t Bury Me. It reveals a sense of humour that is both dark and humane:

I ended the playlist with a few songs about friendship and mutual aid (Carry Me and Stay Free), followed with Alison Mosshart’s Rise. The timing of its release in early April is coincidental but I’ve taken this song as an anthem about getting through lockdown and loss to “make it to the other side” – and opening that portal.

And if you get this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed the music!

 

 

Introducing Lucifer and the Child

Lucifer and Crab 4I am back with a long-overdue blog post, which begins with an exciting announcement: a lost classic of  London-based strange fiction that has figured prominently in previous posts has now been reprinted by the fabulous Swan River Press!

Yes, I’m talking about Ethel Mannin’s book Lucifer and the Child, first published in 1945. I recently discussed my research into Ethel’s life and work for The Shiftings, a tale that appeared at the end of last year in The Far Tower: Stories for WB Yeats. So I was very pleased and proud when Brian J Showers from Swan River Press asked me to introduce their reprint of Lucifer. Since my crab bell helped celebrate the launch of The Far Tower it is only fair it celebrates the launch of Lucifer – wearing a snazzy new facemask for the occasion.

Ethel Mannin’s best-selling books included fiction, journalism, short stories, travelogues, autobiography and political analysis. Born into a working-class family in South London, Mannin was a lifelong socialist, feminist and anti-fascist. She is virtually unknown today so I’m glad she is finally being rediscovered and reprinted.

Swan River Press writes about the book:

“This is the story of Jenny Flower, London slum child, who one day, on an outing to the country, meets a Dark Stranger with horns on his head. It is the first day of August — Lammas — a witches’ sabbath. Jenny was born on Hallo-we’en, and possibly descended from witches herself . . .
Once banned in Ireland by the Censorship of Publications Board, Lucifer and the Child is now available worldwide in this splendid new edition from Swan River Press featuring an introduction by Rosanne Rabinowitz and cover by Lorena Carrington.”

large_lucifer1This is the first intro that I’ve done and I found it a very enlightening experience. The form is very different to a review and it also differs from a critical essay. It was a challenge to avoid spoilers yet provide more depth than you would in a review. My introduction also appears on the Swan River website so you can read it here if you’d like to find out more about the book and its author. Here’s the page where you can order the book. Lucifer and the Child had been released on Lammas Eve, 30 April.

So why has it taken me so long to post about it? During the weeks of lockdown you’d think I’d be blogging up a storm. Instead I’ve been very distracted: struggling with deadlines, reading, listening to lots of news, trying to exercise, keeping in touch with friends through social media, zooming and listening to lots of music too. I’ve often felt like I was butterfly-stroking through treacle when I tried to get anything done.

I’ve discovered that many other writers have found that extra lockdown time hasn’t necessarily translated into more writing time. As I continue to haul proverbial ass to meet an extension of an extension of a deadline, I’ve only just realised why the protagonist in my new story keeps coming out as very disconnected from everyone. It’s because I’ve been disconnected! No shit, Sherlock.

I’ve been on my own because my partner lives in Oxford. I’ve always liked living on my own while welcoming my regular visitors. In past weeks I’ve had moments of regret for this choice, but also appreciate it when others write about the stresses of living with people they might not live with under other circumstances. I’ve been very fortunate to stay healthy, to not lose any loved ones and to be paid in full by my employer.

Like many other folks I’ve compiled a pandemic playlist on Spotify and I’ve enjoyed listening to the lists made by others – there are thousands upon thousands of them. I’ve found an amazing range of styles and moods. Some people concentrate on dance music and stuff for indoor exercising, others are dark and gothic, still others are upbeat and intended to cheer. Some songs comment on current events, others were chosen to forget and escape for a while.

I will be writing more about the songs on my list – very soon, believe it or not – and why I selected them but in the meantime have a listen to Life During Lockdown and hopefully enjoy. Here’s the song that kicked it off almost two months ago – a slice of angsty indie-ness that’s surprisingly catchy.

During this time I also wrote short reviews of two stories by Robert Shearman that are part of his 101-story three-book collection We All Hear Stories in the Dark. My two are only part of a massive cycle of reviews for each story on the Gingernuts of Horror website. Here’s an introduction to the book’s concept from PS Publishing:

“The premise is that stories always change their meaning dependent upon the order in which you read them—and as you work your way through the peculiar tunnels of We All Hear Stories in the Dark the odds against anyone else ever treading the same path as you become exponentially unlikely. Bluntly, every reader’s journey through the book will be entirely unique. You will be the only person who ever reads your version of WE ALL HEAR STORIES IN THE DARK.”

You can order the book from PS at the link above. Meanwhile, you’ll find the reviews at Gingernuts of Horror, kicked off by Jim McCleod’s introduction. At the bottom of Jim’s intro you’ll find links to four pages of reviews for all 101 stories. My reviews of The Cocktail Party in Kensington Gets Out of Hand and The Swimming Pool Party are in part 3.

Last, I’ll end with a recent review of Resonance & Revoltalong with a host of other fine books – from Terry Grimwood on theEXAGGERATED Website:

“Filled with subtlety and nuance, its narratives alive with passion, anger mingled with sympathy, empathy and gentleness, Resonance & Revolt is an intense read, sometimes difficult and ambiguous, sometimes funny and melancholy, but always rewarding.”

So if you fancy an “intense read” as the furloughed days grow longer, remember that the Kindle edition of R&R is still only 99p!

Some words of praise for All That is Solid…

All That is Solid cover

So “Brexit Day” came and went. There was fuss about whether Big Ben would bong and it turned out it would have been a very expensive “bong” indeed. However, my crab bell did get to emit an emphatic ding of disgust and dismay from her vantage point across the river.

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Crab bell in a pensive mood

Meanwhile, the chapbook edition of All That is Solid has received some positive reviews. I love the chapbook format and like the compactness of a single story with a cover all its own. But while chapbooks may be perfectly formed, they’re small enough to get lost in the shuffle – so these reviews are especially appreciated.  And the fact that they happen to come from writers whose work I enjoy adds much to the pleasure too. 

Des Lewis (who also reviewed the story when it appeared in The Scarlet Soul) writes in his blog: “I, too, have not been in a Wetherspoons since June 2016; one can’t say it enough. Put it in all fiction and I will quote it in all my reviews… This story will stay with me for a long time.”

You might have come across Des before in the pages of this blog. He is the author of The Big-Headed People and editor of several highly original anthologies like The First Book of Classical Horror, The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies and Horror Without Victims and also known for his creative “real-time reviews”.

Andrew Hook writes in his Goodreads review: “Thoroughly enjoyed this single story chapbook which packs so much – Brexit, anxiety, atoms & therapy – in so few pages. A neat dissection of dissociation against a background of dissonance.”

His most recent book is The Forest of Dead Children and he has also published an array of novellas, novellas and short story collections.

Priya Sharma commented in Goodreads: “Writers like Rosanne Rabinowitz are more important in this political climate than ever.” This is high praise indeed, which comes from the award-winning author of All the Fabulous Beasts and Ormeshadow.

Finally, science fiction writer and critic Dev Argarwal included All That is Solid in his roundup for 2019 in Vector: “This is a timely story that explores our Brexit tensions through activism and art therapy, in arresting and elegant prose.”

I’ll end with thanks to these four folks for their very kind words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Far Tower arrives in green and gold, I find the coveted crab bell and spin a post-election playlist

pn2dZqbSI’ve been very excited to see that The Far Tower: Stories for WB Yeats from Swan River Press is out in time for the festive season. I received my contributor copies the Friday before Christmas. And what a sight! I’ve never seen a book cover with gold foil. Cover artist John Coulthart has written about his design work on the book here and here. His cover took inspiration from Yeats’ 1928 book The Tower, which also featured a green and gold colour scheme.  

You can read editor Mark Valentine’s introduction to The Far Tower on the Swan River Press website, which will give you an idea of what lies within this stunning cover. Other contributors include Ron Weighell, DP Watt, Catriona Lally, John Howard, Timothy J Jarvis, Derek John, Lynda E Rucker, Reggie Oliver and Nina Antonia. Many of these authors appeared in The Scarlet Soul together, which was also edited by Mark Valentine. It’s great to be sharing a table of contents with the gang again.

My viewpoint character in “The Shiftings” is Ethel Mannin – a writer who had published over 100 books of fiction and non-fiction in her lifetime. She was a journalist, anti-fascist organiser, a comrade of Emma Goldman and a close friend – possibly a lover – of WB Yeats later in his life. I refer to her in my account of the Dublin Ghost Story Festival where her novel Lucifer and the Child came up in a panel on lost supernatural classics.

Ethel

Ethel Mannin

I first encountered Ethel in relation to Emma Goldman and their joint work supporting Spanish anarchists and solidarity efforts for refugees. This led me to my local library looking for her work. I didn’t find anything about her political activities but I did find old editions of Lucifer and the Child and Venetian Blinds, a novel about the price of upward mobility.

Much more recently I read about Ethel’s relationship with WB Yeats. It has been portrayed as an “intense friendship” and an affair of sorts; at one point they could have been lovers. He was pushing 70 and she was in her 30s. They had very different world views – Lucifer was her one engagement with fiction that could be considered supernatural. Though she had shared an interest with Yeats in Irish folklore, she had little interest in mysticism. She was also an active antifascist and socialist when Yeats was dabbling with the Irish ‘Blue Shirts’ and put out a pamphlet titled The Boiler, which has been described by even his most admiring biographers as a bigoted rant. With eugenics.

Yet they enjoyed each other’s company and kept up a correspondence until Yeats’ death. She had written in her book Privileged Spectator: “Yeats full of Burgundy and racy reminiscence was Yeats released from the Celtic Twilight and treading the antic hay with abundant zest.”

Ethel’s life has always fascinated me, so when Mark Valentine invited me to write a story for his anthology I thought about her and Yeats. At the same time, I’m also one for casting a wide net. While reading collections and biographies of Yeats I also tracked down Ethel’s writing on various websites. As usual, I totally geeked out on the research. It was in fact fortunate that I wasn’t able to locate all of Ethel’s 100+ books but did manage about eight. I found scraps of biography online and tracked down a book about her marriage to anti-war and Indian independence activist Reginald Reynolds in the Imperial War Museum reading room. I also received assistance from Sue George, who had written an MA thesis about Ethel and Nerina Shute, another ‘lost’ woman writer of the period. Check out this blog post from Jeanne Rathbone for a summary of Ethel’s life and work; it’s part of a series on notable women of Lavender Hill in Battersea.

My story starts with Ethel as she is approaching 80 and living in Devon, download-5where she is devoted to her rose garden. She is startled by a young visitor and then, a very old one – a long-dead friend by the name of Willy Yeats. She’d put a spring in his step in his later years… what effect will he have on her own?

Shortly after publication the mighty Des Lewis began his real-time review of The Far Tower. He describes “The Shiftings” as a “real Christmas Day treat” and writes: “Dare I say, even in its surrounding great canon… this is this author’s classic story, until she writes another one.”

I will now thank Des for providing me with a brilliant holiday treat of my own with his review.

And now I’ll backtrack to the weekend before Christmas, which boasted another astounding highlight on the Saturday… Not only did I get to hold this magnificent book, but I finally acquired my very own crab bell at the Hammersmith TK Maxx. A crab bell is very special  to the thousands in a Facebook group called the TK Maxx Gallery of Horrors. The group has been described as a cult. I’m not sure about that, but it’s true that I have felt positively uplifted after immersing myself in the array of absurd and surreal tat. Among the items most coveted by the denizens of the gallery is the crab bell – and I now have one! For another perspective on this realm of the ridiculous visit this post: We demand more crab bells

Here’s a photo of The Far Tower and my crab bell together, joined by a bottle of whisky.

Far Tower + Crab Bell

 

Post-Election Blues
Before the election on 12 December, I started to write a piece about antisemitism and how it is being manipulated by Tories and the Labour right. I didn’t finish it in time, but sadly the issue is still very relevant amid increased attacks on all minorities. The playbook is now being refined; in the US the charge of antisemitism is applied to lefty Jews such as Bernie Sanders and cartoonist Eli Valley. I usually hate it when nouns are verbed but in this case ‘Corbyn’ as a verb is spot-on for this process. Jewish people who refuse to be right wing tools or furnish apocalypse fodder to the fundies – prepare to be Corbyned! Meanwhile the most powerful antisemites among Republicans, Tories and the far right are waved on. I’ve so far made notes and collected links and plan to get something ready soon.

In the meantime, I’ll express my post-election rants and ruminations with music. Have a look at my Spotify playlist Post-election Rants and Reflections. Songs range from punk to reggae to klezmer to folk, rap and blues. Some have already appeared on this blog, others are newly discovered. Not all of these tunes are directly related to the election but they either express my mood or help lift it. I’ve tried to avoid pure misery on one hand and empty triumphalism on the other. Sometimes a touch of resolute melancholy is what you need.

At other times we need pure hedonism, at least for a day or two… So here’s a song that’s featured on my playlist.

“I wanna dance like we used to / Before the new world order ruled…” I wish further holiday fun and a happy New Year to you all!

 

 

 

All That is Solid – plus post-Worldcon musings on aromanticism, horror, politics and hope punk

All That is Solid cover

I’m excited to announce that my new chapbook All That is Solid is now available for order from Eibonvale Press. It will meet the public for the first time at Fantasycon, along with a host of other chapbooks and a new anthology from Eibonvale.

If the title rings a bell, it’s because the story first appeared in The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray. This anthology sold out very fast so the story has been out of print for a couple of years. Now this tale about art, anxiety and Brexit will be available again and accessible to a wider audience.

The best possible introduction to the story was written last February by Tom Johnstone, author of The Monsters Are Due in Madison Square Garden and the forthcoming collection Last Train to Wellsbourne.

Taking issue with some suggestions otherwise from Ian McEwan, Tom’s blog post asks if we are ready for ‘Brexlit’ and his answer is a resounding yes and suggests that “the best way of treating the subject in fiction is by means of fantastic or science fictional devices”.

He focuses on my tale and his own story Mask of the Silvatici as examples. I would also suggest Ali Smith’s Autumn for its evocative prose and sweeping Dickensian portrayal of a certain time in 2016.

I was struck by the way Tom’s post identified themes in the story that I hadn’t been consciously thinking about when I was writing it – but they are definitely there. For example, this:

The title’s from a line in The Communist Manifesto, “All that is solid melts into air”, referring to the inherent instability and tendency to crisis of capitalism, and the story’s Polish-born protagonist Gosia meditates on the disconnect between the apparent solidity of matter and its state of flux at the sub-atomic level, what quantum physicists would call ‘the uncertainty principle’, which mirrors the social forces turning her life upside down.

It was only after I read the piece I thought: “Uncertainty principle… Fuck yeah, of course!”

Dublin 2.jpg

The view from World Con at the Dublin convention centre

In my previous post I wrote about the impending World Con in Dublin. Since then I travelled to Germany with my partner for a wedding; I also visited family and friends in Seattle and I’m still recovering from jetlag. So the experience of Worldcon is receding into the smog of time and you’ve probably read many, many detailed accounts since August. Therefore I’ll limit myself to a few comments..

I liked being in Dublin again and on the whole I enjoyed the con. First, I’ll  speak highly of the Green Room set-up, complete with bars for coffee/snacks  and alcoholic drinks. It’s the first time in my Worldconning experience that I was able to get a freshly brewed cappuccino and in the case of my evening session on Sex Positivity in F/SF, a most excellent G&T. I was on four panels so I ended up in the Green Room on a regular basis. A well-appointed, relaxing Green Room made a big difference in feeling that my participation was valued.

It was also the first time I’ve done a late-evening panel.  I usually stick to three panels per con, but I decided to accept a later invitation to go on the Sex Positivity confab. I thought this was a good decision when subsequent email discussion referred to the feminist ‘sex wars’ of the 1980s-1990s. I therefore had an opportunity to talk about some of the writers who sustained and influenced me at the time – Jewelle Gomez, Cherie Moraga and Dorothy Allison.

The room was packed and the audience lively – it had the atmosphere of a gig – and discussion continued apace. Then during the Q&A someone asked: “How would you write a sex scene where the characters are aromantic?”

That’s ‘aromantic’, not ‘aromatic’ (though it’s true that scents tend to be the most neglected detail in prose). It was an off-the-cuff question but it set a train of thought in motion.

But first, I didn’t have a clue what the term meant. I had to excuse myself and have a google: apparently it refers to people who do not have romantic feelings and don’t fall in love and generally reject the idea. And I had to think: so what’s the big deal? It doesn’t mean you don’t have sex. I finally said: “But I write from that perspective most of the time! And in many cases, the writers we’ve been discussing have been doing that too.”

I suggested that a critique of the romantic ideal of love has been central to feminist thought for centuries, and important to socialist and anarchist analyses too (This 1998 article from the feminist journal Trouble and Strife is only one example). The ideology of romance is seen as a component of the emotional glue of patriarchy; and in our current case, part of the privatised emotional terrain of late capitalism. Rejecting romantic love or feeling distant from it doesn’t rule out enjoying sex and experiencing strong feelings of affection and desire.

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Taking time out from our busy convention schedules

I found the concept of ‘aromantic’ as an identity and sexual orientation somewhat bemusing. It seemed symptomatic of the way certain strands of queer theory (I believe that’s where the label comes from) parcel political critiques and opposition into a series of identities.

Another notable panel that provoked some thought was one on horror and politics. It was a pleasure to meet the other panelists. We talked about our writing and how we approach horror as politically engaged people. We swapped names of favourite writers, and I had a chance to big up the late Joel Lane. We also talked about writers like Victor LaValle who capsize regressive tropes by Lovecraft and others.

I also went to some excellent panels and readings. One that still stands out a month or two later was a panel on ‘hope punk’. I attended with some preconceptions and skepticism because I’m usually on the sarcastic, cynical and pessimistic side of the spectrum. But I was curious and wanted to find out what hope punk means in the first place.

The panelists emphasized that hope punk can be dark and sarcastic as hell but it is also be about resistance and fighting back – that’s where the ‘hope’ part comes in.  In a reference to  Ursula K Le Guin’s classic tale, someone said that hope punk is about the ones who walk away from Omelas – but return with pick axes and hammers.

On that note, I’ll sign off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Con panels and a Radical Art Review natter

D2019Hi folks! Here’s what I’ll be up to in Dublin at World Con. In addition to the panels below, you will be able to find my skulking around or hanging out at the bar. You’ll also be able to find copies of Resonance & Revolt and Helen’s Story at the Swan River Press stall – along with all the unique and strange literature published by the press.

You’ll see that I’m on four panels. Normally I do three, which seems to be just the right amount. But I was later asked to do a fourth and given the subject matter I couldn’t say no. Yes, yes, yes I said. This should contribute to an interesting and fun Friday night to start off my panels. It’s a good time too, just when some folks might’ve enjoyed a few drinks but not so late they’ll be snoring in the back row just yet.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Sex positivity in SFF
16 Aug 2019, Friday 21:00 – 21:50, Liffey Hall-2 (CCD)
Sex positivity encourages us to remove the stigma from consensual sex, allowing characters to explore sexual relationships without judgement. How has SFF’s relationship with sex, and sex positivity, shifted over time? Can characters be said to be ‘sex positive’? Can the alien nature of SFF societies offer opportunities to embrace sex positivity, and escape current systemic biases and repressions?
Annalee Newitz (M), Vina Prasad, KM Szpara, Rosanne Rabinowitz

The politics of horror
18 Aug 2019, Sunday 12:00 – 12:50, Wicklow Room-1 (CCD)
Is horror political? Should it be? How do the metaphors of horror map onto social and political concerns? What creators are using horror to engage with the contemporary political climate right now?
F. Brett Cox (Norwich University) (M), Rosanne Rabinowitz, Charles Stross, Cristina Alves (Rascunhos / Voz Online / The Portuguese Portal of Fantasy and Science Fiction)

The art of collaboration
18 Aug 2019, Sunday 14:00 – 14:50, Liffey Room-1 (CCD)
Collaboration isn’t always easy – learning to work with others, even your friends, can be tricky – but it can create some amazing results. Our participants share their experiences, advice, and questions as they reveal the joys and pitfalls of partnered art.
Gerald M. Kilby (M), Rosanne Rabinowitz, Alicia Zaloga, Mark Stay, J Sharpe (Zilverspoor)

Blowin’ in the wind: SFF and counterculture
19 Aug 2019, Monday 13:00 – 13:50, ECOCEM Room (CCD)
Both SFF stories and counterculture music are opportunities to imagine a different society. When they intersect they illuminate how people act in times of upheaval and change. Protest songs such as John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sun Is Burning’ present visions of dramatically different futures. Were the 1960s and ’70s the zenith of this style of music and fiction, or are modern creators putting their own twist on this valuable expression of vision?
Pádraig Ó Méalóid (Poisoned Chalice Press) (M), Renee Sieber (McGill University), Rosanne Rabinowitz

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And now for more nattering…
Check out this interview with Niall Walker at Radical Art Review. Subjects of my natterings include:

  • antifascist pop sensation Vengaboys (pictured right)
  • art for arts sake (or not)
  • ghosts and quantum physics and spooky solidarity at a distance
  • Hidden histories from Munich to Millbank

…and much much more!

Resonance & Revolt shortlisted for BFS award!

Screenshot 2019-07-30 18.03.32Some brilliant news – Resonance & Revolt has been shortlisted for Best Collection in the British Fantasy Awards. For a full listing of the nominees and jurors in all categories, check out the BFS link.

I’m in fabulous (and female) company on this shortlist, which also includes All the Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma, The Future is Blue by Catherynne M Valente, How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by NK Jemisin, Lost Objects by Marian Womack and Octoberland by Thana Niveau. I found it very interesting that this shortlist has turned out to be all women.

This is the first time that I’ve appeared on a BFS shortlist so I’m thrilled to be included alongside these brilliant writers. And I’m especially excited to see that women writers have made a strong showing in all categories as well as the collections shortlist.

27654537_1364622573643699_4256024437919273175_nI’m also very pleased to see that Eibonvale Press has done well – David Rix has been nominated for Best Artist and Humangerie (edited by Allen Ashley and Sarah Doyle) shortlisted for Best Anthology.

Meanwhile, to mark World Con in Dublin I’m looking back on my visit to the city last year for the Dublin Ghost Story Festival at the Milford SF blog with an update of my 2018 post: Return to Dublin. These are two very different cons: one will be massive while the other was designed to be small and intimate. But Dublin’s rich heritage in the speculative and the supernatural provides a common thread through them both. I look forward to visiting this city again to talk about weird stuff! I’ll be back very soon with more details about my panels in my next post.

20190803_07071620190803_070338In other news, I’ve contributed a two-part piece to zine extraordinaire Dykes Ink. This is produced by Dead Unicorn Ventures, an LGBT+ events company based in West Cornwall.  My old friend Julie Travis, who is one of the moving spirits behind this project, suggested I write something about dykes and squatting in the past. Seeking a connection to Cornwall, I hit upon my tender memories of the notorious Treworgey Tree Fayre, which has become legendary in the chronicles of festive excess and headbanging. Then I remembered that the festival was the second event of a paradoxical and exciting summer in 1989; the first event on our calendar was the International Revolutionary Women’s Gathering just outside Ruigord in Holland.

So I ended up writing about both: “From the vantage point of 30 years, these two events may stand in contrast to each other. Yet they were both very much part of our stream of partying and politics.”

Finally, the Pareidolia anthology came out last month. You can read about my story “Geode” and what inspired it here in my last blog post. Now I look forward to reading all the stories in my contributor’s copy. And here is an overexposed shot of my copy seated on a purple velvet cushion that seems suitably pareidolic.

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Resonating & resonacting

unnamedTime to highlight a wonderful and thought-provoking review of Resonance & Revolt from Rachel Hill at Strange Horizons. It’s been out for a few weeks so yeah, I don’t exactly blog at the speed of light. But in case you’ve missed it, I’m here now to share it and express thanks and appreciation for the knowledge Hill brings to the review.

To begin with, she has a winning familiarity with the history of south-east London: “A location which, from the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt to 1977’s ‘Battle of Lewisham’ (where local counter-demonstrators prevented the far-right National Front from marching), has a rich history of revolt and features heavily in her stories.”

Some reviews inspire writers to look at their own work in a new way and that’s the case with this one. Hill references the writing of philosopher Ernst Bloch on music and the utopian impulse when discussing my story In the Pines  (natch, Ernie now occupies a place on my TBR list):

stramge horizons-logo“Bloch places music as the foremost form of utopian impulse, as it affords “ways in this world by which the inward can become outward and the outward like the inward” (Spirit of Utopia, p. 231). These ways of being are full of productive “revolutionary tension.” In other words, music yokes together listeners in a shared experience of resonance which can be the basis of collective action. Similarly, Rabinowitz echoes Bloch’s structure of harmonious oscillation between self and world(s), prompted by music, as demonstrated by the collection’s first story, ‘In the Pines’.”

Hill coins a cool new word: resonacting or a “process of resonance which catalyses new action”. Such resonaction “refracts throughout the collection, propagating further revolt through new and extended frequencies”.

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She stresses the prominence of psychogeography in my stories and the role of the dérive, a concept that comes from Guy Debord (his classic text pictured left) and the Lettrist and Situationist International. A dérive is a critical wander through a city or a landscape that opens up our understanding of the environment and how it manifests its social history. It can involve breaking out of everyday relations and discovering new ways of occupying space. She suggests that Evelyn in Return of the Pikart Posse goes on a dérive through the town of Tábor and the ruins of a fortress that had been occupied by the free-loving anti-authoritarian heretics that she is researching: “Evelyn attunes herself to the resonances of the Czech landscape, enabling her body to become a channel, or a transtemporal site.” Transtemporal – I like that.

At the time I wrote the story I was thinking: hey, Evelyn’s pissed on the pivo and having a wander. As you do. While I’m no stranger to psychogeography and situationism – and I’ve taken part in activism where they were influences – I wasn’t thinking about these elements consciously.

But yes, my character is indeed dériving under the influence of heightened emotion and perception (perhaps helped by a few drinks) and a deep longing to connect with the past and a different kind of future. And then there are sensual encounters with “psychic residues”, an idea that casts some of my motifs in a different light too.

Hill also offers insight into The Turning Track – co-written with Matt Joiner – and the way its multidimensional train unites the layers charted throughout the collection. 

I’ll add that after reading Rachel Hill’s piece, I reacquainted myself with the general excellence of the reviews and critical essays in Strange Horizons – which describes itself as “a free weekly speculative fiction magazine with a global perspective”. And then there’s the fiction! This brings us to their current fundraiser and a link to their Kickstarter if you’d like to donate something to ensure that this good work continues. Be assured I’m not just making this plug because they gave me a good review – I believe it’s a project worth supporting. Really.

Des Lewis review book 3

And since we’ve been on the subject of inspiring critics and criticism… Des Lewis has collected his online ‘real-time reviews’ into a series of books. I’m in this one, alongside Nicholas Royle (as editor), Ron Weighell, Andrew Hook, Helen Marshall and Malcolm Devlin. Needless to say, I’m there in excellent company. If you haven’t read it, you can still check out Des’ real-time review of R&R online and see my comments about real-time reviews (and rugelach) here.

Finally, you might be amused by visiting a link to a humorous look at psychogeography in a cartoon by Tom Gauld. Pigeons and focaccia are involved!

 

 

Seeing Things

perf5.000x8.000.inddI’m pleased to announce that my story “Geode” will be appearing in a new anthology called Pareidolia, edited by James Everington and Dan Howarth. Here’s the lineup… needless to say I’m proud to be appearing alongside this group of talented writers.

Into the Wood  Sarah Read
Joss Papers for Porcelain Ghosts  Eliza Chan
What Can You Do About a Man Like That?  Tim Major
The Lonely  Rich Hawkins
A Shadow Flits  Carly Holmes
The Butchery Tree  GV Anderson
The Lens of Dying  Charlotte Bond
How to Stay Afloat When Drowning  Daniel Braum
Geode  Rosanne Rabinowitz
House of Faces  Andrew David Barker

When I was asked to contribute to a book about “pareidolia” I had to google the word and I confess that I still need to check the spelling every time I write it. So some of you might be wondering: WTF is pareidolia? This blurb from the publisher, Black Shuck Books, explains the concept:

Pareidolia is the phenomenon where the mind perceives shapes, or hears voices, where none apparently exist. But what if what you were seeing was really there? What if the voice you heard really was speaking to you, calling you?”

My story, “Geode”, was inspired by a few lines of poetry and a YouTube video. The poetry comes from Sleep of Prisoners, a play by Christopher Fry. I first read this as a teenager, and it somehow left an impression. I always liked these five lines:

“Dark and cold we may be, but this
Is no winter now. The frozen misery
Of centuries breaks, cracks, begins to move;
The thunder is the thunder of the floes,
The thaw, the flood, the upstart Spring.”

And now for the YouTube video. When I first saw this video of  an ‘ice tsunami’ or ice shove I was stunned with the power of it and its sheer noise – those thin fingers of ice tinkling as they break, the chugging sound as it moved. Very creepy. I imagined a Lovecraftian story but it turned into something else.

Pareidolia is now up for preorder and an ebook edition is also available. Release is set for 13 July, along with a launch event at Edge Lit in Derby.
No doubt I’ll have more to say about my story closer to the time…

 

 

 

May Day sale plus more reviews for R&R

Only a few more wicker-weaving days until May Day! You also have the opportunity to nab a book bargain…

To mark May Day, Resonance & Revolt is on sale with the Kindle edition going for a mere 99p! For those who prefer paper, the very handsome hardback edition is also slashed to a third of the price. In addition, prices are also cut on Hive and other online booksellers (or they were the last time I looked). 

priyaAnd if you want to find out more before you spend your 99p, Priya Sharma – author of the wonderful collection All the Fabulous Beasts and forthcoming novella Ormeshadow – gives a good rundown in her February 2019 review on Goodreads:

“Medieval activists lie side by side with modern scholars, Jewish protesters bend space to seek an alien Golem and a woman walks through the past in her pink patent leather boots… There’s a fascinating archeology in this book, some of the work revealing London’s sociopolitical geography by slipping through time. And it’s shot through with droll, knowing humour.”

The first review for 2019 was followed by several others that definitely put a spring in my step. On the morning of 30 March I woke up with a sore throat and a headache, sure I was coming down with something nasty. But then I came across a new review of R&R from Nancy Oakes on the Oddly Weird Fiction blog and I recovered from whatever ailed me. Oakes writes:

“The book is a beautiful blending of the historical, the mystical, the surreal, and the strange, but more than that, it is a book that is absolutely relevant to right now in her rendering of many recognizable contemporary issues. The stories do not easily yield answers, but the more you read the more in tune you become, as her writing not only crawls under your skin, but deep into your pores, your veins and your entire being.”

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Oakes’ review also includes a shoutout for Lynda E Rucker’s “excellent and most insightful introduction” and praise for the quality of books published by Eibonvale Press. She also suggests: “There is just something about this collection of stories that makes me want to buy a gazillion copies of it, then hand it out to people and tell them “you really need to read this.” 

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Supernatural Tales then published a review on 5 April. Editor David Longhorn mentions some difficult personal circumstances so I particularly appreciate that he took the time to write these kind words:

“These stories are fun to read, as playful and intelligent as anything you will find elsewhere… I recommend it to anyone who likes well-written imaginative fiction that has something passionate and thoughtful to say about our human condition, and how we might struggle to improve it.”

Melanie Whitlock’s review at Super Ink Arts first asked the question “Should I read this book?” I am pleased that the answer is ‘yes’:

“Rabinowitz has delivered us a collection of short stories and tales that are completely out of the ordinary, spanning from the medieval era all the way to modern day London, covering quantum entanglement and the often gritty anti-austerity life in-between. Rebellions, war-torn Munich, the swinging free-loving 1960s and Russia, all becoming key places of interest and stop offs along our journey back and forth between the past and the present. Each story set, linking to the last and filled with the mysterious, wondrous and often at times the weird.”

Screenshot 2019-04-25 20.28.46I keep hearing that it’s not the done thing to respond to reviews in any way. If you’re talking about arguing with a bad review or harassing a critic, I certainly agree. But I wonder how it could be wrong to thank someone for the time they took to read and review a book, or to respond to a thought-provoking point. 

So I’ll say here, on my own blog, that I was delighted with all of these reviews. Thank you to all the folks who wrote them. And I’ve been especially chuffed when the words ‘fun’ and ‘humour’ came up. I hoped to avoid any impression of worthiness and preachiness while I was putting the book together, and I’m very glad that it’s worked for at least a few people. 

Meanwhile, the voting for the British Fantasy Awards shortlist is open until 3 May. If you are eligible to vote I urge you to do so and support the authors you’ve enjoyed. R&R happens to be eligible in the single-author collection category but 2018 was also a bumper year for excellent collections from many of my favourite writers. So please vote for the books of your choice – it doesn’t have to be mine! And if you’re as indecisive as I am you’ll be pleased to find that several choices are allowed in each category.

I’m thrilled with the growing interest in short stories and collections of shorter fiction – not too long ago they were seen as a dying breed. Here’s a chance to affirm that’s not the case.  

Finally… here’s a fine version of In the Pines/Where Did You Sleep last night. I confess that I responded to the Super Ink Arts review, which mentioned this song, by tweeting the video below. So shoot me! 

 

 

 

A shit argument for Brexit

Featured Image -- 6112I’ve only just catching up with Giles Fraser’s reactionary warm-beer-and-cricket bexiteering spiel, though I gather that there’s been lots of twitting about it for days. So here’s an excellent counter-spiel from a blog called Wee Ginger Dug – with links to the original – tellingly titled A shit argument for Brexit. I imagine that Mr Fraser’s folly has already been a big generator of bottom-oriented puns.

The blogger’s titular ginger dog is as good as any an illustration for this article!

“Essentially, Giles’ argument about why ending freedom of movement is a good thing boils down to this. When you’re old and incontinent, it means that your kids can wipe your arse for you instead of some social services worker from the EU, and that’s great for family cohesion. We can all bond as a family over soiled toilet paper.
It’s telling that Giles in his piece felt it was the role of a daughter to wipe her father’s arse.”

Wee Ginger Dug

I wrote a blog article last night which was published in the wee smaa hours. Then this afternoon I published the weekly dugcast. So I had reckoned I’d done enough for one day to keep readers of this blog amused. But then I came across Giles Fraser’s apologia for Brexit and ending freedom of movement on the digital site Unherd, and now I’m fuming.

https://unherd.com/2019/02/why-wont-remainers-talk-about-family/

I’ve not been this angry since Magrit Curran was my MP. First off, a word of caution. Please don’t read on while eating. This blog deals with some unpleasant realities about the human body.

Essentially, Giles’ argument about why ending freedom of movement is a good thing boils down to this. When you’re old and incontinent, it means that your kids can wipe your arse for you instead of some social services worker from the EU, and that’s great for family cohesion. We can all…

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Shoutout for Helen’s Story from Rebecca Baumann

rebecca-baumannEveryone… listen to this podcast from Abebooks!

It originally came out in November 2018 but I was revisiting it yesterday. Because… Well, because listening to people say nice things about your book is just the thing you do on a Sunday afternoon to put off a long-delayed visit to the gym.

The podcast features librarian and rare books collector Rebecca Baumann, who shares her love for classic weird fiction. She also discusses contemporary writers who are inspired by the tradition, yet write against the sexism and racism found in the old texts.

She makes the point that the best critiques of classic fiction appear in other fictional works rather than formal literary criticism. And… ahem… this includes a big shoutout for my novella Helen’s Story, which she describes as “amazing”. And what’s more, I find myself inhabiting the same paragraph as Victor LaValle and his deconstruction of HP Lovecraft. That’s amazing too.

On the podcast page there’s a list of books discussed in the interview, which includes some from ‘lost’ women writers of strange fiction. This has opened some new reading territory. I’ve never heard of Rachel Ingalls, a US-born writer living in London, but found out about her here. I definitely want to check out her novella Mrs Caliban. In the podcast it’s compared favourably with the award-winning Guillermo del Toro film The Shape of Water. 

So this podcast not only bigged up my own book but pointed me in the direction of a few others. Highly recommended.