Song of Salome: hardboiled meets the lush, the sensual and the King in White

So, it’s been a while since I’ve been here – almost a year. You’ve read it all before… work from home, copyediting and copyediting, yada yada. Rather than go through a round of excuses about why I’ve not blogged, I’ll kick off my return with an interview with the most talented Tom Johnstone!

Last April I participated in a launch event for the release of Tom’s novella Song of Salome, along with Simon Bestwick and Kate Jonez. Afterwards, the two of us agreed that we had more to talk about but missed out in the limited time of the panel. To address this, I suggested this interview in my blog.

Along with our interests in writing and reading politically engaged fiction, me and Tom also have another thing common: we’ve both written stories inspired by Oscar Wilde. Tom’s new novella Song of Salome references Wilde’s play Salome. Meanwhile, I wrote ‘All That is Solid’ for The Scarlet Soul, a collection of stories inspired by The Portrait of Dorian Gray.

Perhaps we can start there…

Could you say something about Wilde’s play and the influence it had with your own Song of Salome? One of your characters, the writer of the titular film, refers to Wilde’s play as ‘degenerate’. Would you regard it as such? And how does it relate to virulent racism of the film in the novella?

I haven’t read it for years myself, but I did have a phase of reading quite a lot of Wilde’s work, including Salome. I wouldn’t say the play is ‘degenerate’. Decadent, maybe. But I can certainly see why someone like Hilda Abelard in the novella might regard it as degenerate. Then again, for repressive, reactionary regimes ‘degenerate’ and ‘decadent’ are almost interchangeable terms – I was thinking of the Nazis’ exhibitions of ‘degenerate art’. Wilde notably argued that art is amoral, which might imply that it’s apolitical too, at least in his eyes. Neither Hilda nor I agree with that, from different poles of the political spectrum. I suppose her calling Wilde’s play ‘degenerate’ might be said to disprove his proposition, as the Nazis no doubt staged their exhibition with the aim of discrediting art they saw as undermining their political project.

“Perhaps Dorian Gray is more of an influence on my novella than Salome itself in that respect. After all, that’s about a work of art having a definite influence on the real world if ever there was one”

Perhaps Wilde’s belief that art cannot be good or bad morally but only aesthetically is not as straightforward as it sounds. In The Picture of Dorian Gray there is the line about how books can’t be good or evil, only well-written or badly written, yet the story seems to contradict the idea that art doesn’t have a moral or social effect on the world it represents. Perhaps Dorian Gray is more of an influence on my novella than Salome itself in that respect. After all, that’s about a work of art having a definite influence on the real world if ever there was one. In Song of Salome, I wanted to explore this idea of art influencing reality as opposed to merely reflecting it by interrogating the conventions of the trope of the cursed art object – or in this case, film. As for the influence of Wilde’s Salome itself, what drew me towards it was the atmosphere of hedonism and sensuality around it, which makes it a lightning rod for the fictional screenwriter’s prurient, venomous hatred. There is also its status in popular culture, which makes it an easily recognisable reference point.

A work that immediately came to mind when I read Song of Salome was The King in Yellow by Robert W Chambers. This also involved art influencing reality, or perhaps the perception of reality by those who view the fatal play – who lose their sanity. In Song of Salome the effect was similar but it takes place in a social context that Chambers did not develop; the film codified and distilled hatred and racism while using the framework of Wilde’s play. It caused one woman to put out her eyes to avoid seeing it under duress and a black person to take on the views of the Klan. In fact, you might say that the titular King is wearing a white robe and a pointy hat rather than yellow! Had The King in Yellow been an influence – whether conscious or unconscious – when you wrote your book? 

I honestly hadn’t thought of it until you mentioned it, not knowingly anyway. But I liked the idea so much that the King in Yellow makes a spectral guest appearance on the front cover of the forthcoming Omnibus edition of all three Herb Fry/Dan Spiegel novellas. The Salome theme enables the novella to marry Fry’s hard-boiled voice with something more lush and sensual, I like to think, which borders on the deranged at some points. Maybe that comes more from Samuel G Fuller’s melodramatic cinema. The scene you mention of the black man with delusions of being an ex-Klansman is in fact a an homage to Fuller’s Shock Corridor, in which one of the mental patients in the hospital is a man so traumatised by his experience of being the first black student to be admitted to a desegregated, previously all-white school that he develops a similar delusion.

The King in Yellow must be an influence too though, as the cursed play in it is one of the roots of the lost film narrative. Cultural artefacts exerting a malign influence are a mainstay of weird fiction, whether books of forbidden lore like the Necronomicon, films like the one in John Carpenter’s ‘Cigarette Burns’ episode of Masters of Horror, or paintings as in David Morrell’s story ‘Orange is for Anguish, Blue is for Insanity’. I wanted to interrogate this trope and demystify it, suggesting ‘the book/film/play/painting told me to do it’ can be a convenient ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. At the risk of sounding pompous, the moral of my story might be that artists and writers have a social responsibility for the effect of their creation on others. But viewers and readers aren’t just passive consumers: they too have a responsibility to read and view critically. This can be challenging in the arena of the weird, which acts on the subconscious.

Are there any parallels with Arthur Machen, sometimes considered a Decadent, who deals with the trope of the cursed work and the idea that simply ‘seeing’ something can cause reality to unravel?

Hilda Abelard would seem to provide the more obvious parallel with Helen Vaughan from Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan. She exerts a malign influence through her film, which fulfils the role of catastrophic forbidden lore, causing mental collapse in those who encounter it, inciting them to commit grotesque violence to themselves or others. Like Helen, Salome is something of a femme fatale, and her presence contributes to the decadent feel of the novella, but this is somewhat undercut by the fact Hilda’s film is a low-budget ‘poverty row’ biblical epic! But Salome isn’t really a character in the story, more an archetype or stereotype onto which ideas are projected. The story focuses more on Louise Browning, who played her. Far from being a femme fatale, she is innocent to the point of being a martyr-figure, more like Helen Vaughan’s abused and manipulated mother.

Hilda Abelard is horrified by the licentiousness of Wilde’s play, and wants her film to counter its hedonistic decadence as she sees it, but that fits in with her visceral Nazi loathing of ‘degeneracy’. Returning to Machen, the idea of evil put forward in ‘The White People’ is a very metaphysical one. In the framing introduction to the text of the ‘found’ document that makes up the main story, one of the men discussing evil suggests that weird and unnatural phenomena are more profoundly, disquietingly evil than mere domestic murder. I always found that idea rather perverse, even if it did seem as if Machen in his way was trying to challenge conventional Victorian morality with a mystical value-system more in keeping with his fin-de-siecle mores.

If Song of Salome has a moral, perhaps it’s to reassert the idea that mundane evils like racism, inequality and cruelty are in fact more to be feared than supernatural forces. But of course, as with all the Herb Fry novellas, I have my cake and eat it. They deal with racism and fascism but in the form of occult detective stories, so the social forces menacing the characters have a paranormal dimension.

This is something I also do in my shorter fiction too. There’s a paragraph in The Song of Salome that’s also paraphrased in a short story called ‘Zombie Economy’, a tale of voodoo drawing upon Black Jacobins, CLR James’s history of the Haitian revolts against slavery.

This story appears for the first time in my new Alchemy Press collection, Let Your Hinged Jaw Do the Talking, which includes other historical horror stories dealing with colonialism, uprisings and resistance such as ‘Creeping Forth Upon Their Hands’, about the Elizabethan poet Spenser’s spell as a colonial administrator in Ireland, and ‘The Topsy Turvy Ones’, in which a couple encounter weird creatures left over from the suppression of the Diggers’ commune in Surrey.  


I’ll add here that I heard an extract from ‘The Topsy Turvy Ones’ at our Shock Against Racism reading in Brighton back in 2018 and now, at last, I’ll get to read the complete tale.

And I’ll now finish with a big thanks to Tom for answering my questions. Song of Salome and In the Friendly Dark are available from Omnium Gatherum Media and online booksellers. You’ll find Let Your Hinged Jaw Do the Talking through Alchemy Press and the online bookseller of your choice. They are all available as ebooks.

My own Dorian Gray story, All That is Solid, is now available as a chapbook from Eibonvale Press.

I’ll close with a link to the video with Kate Jonez and Simon Bestwick that kicked this all off. You can access it on the Omnium Gatherum Facebook page.

The rebel dykes are here!

Descendent of a Rebel Dyke banner by Emily Whitham, with Tales from Pussy Willow

For several years I’ve been posting about Rebel Dykes of the 1980s and my own history in that scene. I’ve also written about the Sluts From Outer Space, our band that started with a ‘Queer Riot’ singalong when making our way home from some proverbial ‘scuffles’ at a Clause 28 demo. You can read more about such matters in Rebel Dykes of the 1980s and the Sluts From Outer Space and Manchester, myth and music.

Rebel Dykes the film is now out in the world! It’s been turning up at various festivals around the world – online and increasingly in real life – and it will be on general release later in the year. It started as an oral history project initiated by Siobhan Fahey. Then it snowballed into a feature film, with Siobhan Fahey as creative producer and directed by Harri Shanahan and Siân A Williams. It also developed into an archive and gave rise to performance art.

And now we have an art show, produced by Siobhan Fahey and curated by Atalanta Kernick and Kat Hudson, which is dedicated to documenting rebel dyke lives and times. It emphatically does not go for nostalgia but aims to uncover a hidden history and forge intergenerational links.

The exhibition is based at Space Station Sixty-Five, Kennington, London from 25 June to 17 September 2021. Admission is free and booking isn’t necessary, though you might need to wait if it’s very busy. Check out Rebel Dykes Art and Archive Show and Space Station Sixty Five for more information.

I attended the art show recently, along with two friends who used to knock about the same haunts. As usual I’ve taken a while to get down to blogging about this show, having fallen behind on my own work amid a flurry of freelance editing. I’m only just beginning to grasp how to do the editing work and my own writing at the same time. Home-based work tends to spread and spread and suck up the rest of my time. However, there’s something to be said for being able to go to work in my jammies.

I’ve in fact visited the exhibition twice; at my first excursion I just gaped at the wonders before me. I was impressed with the variety of media involved: photos, videos, textile work, videos, paintings and drawings. The best thing is to get over to Kennington and see it for yourselves.

I’ve included just a sampling of the artwork in this post. To start with, here’s a collection of photographs taken at a party in a squat at Solon Road, London SW2 around 1986. You might recognise me: I’m very pink in one and I display a dashing ‘tache in another.

Photos by Lucy Martin

Portrait of Bird La Bird & Trixie by Roxana Halls

Tour Support Drawings and Big Joannie by Bella Podpadec
Figure by Kate Charlesworth, portrait of Debbie Smith by Sadie Lee

Brixton Dykes on the Rampage banner, photo by Lucy Martin
Banner by Rachael House

The show also features film footage that didn’t quite make it into the final cut – under the title of Dyke Tales – including a part of my interview. I think I was explaining some of the haunts and sartorial tendencies of rebellious dykes who weren’t really part of the Chain Reactions scene, which is a focal part of the film. I might’ve talked about the South London Women’s Hospital at some point, but my memory of the actual interview is vague. This was in 2016 and a lot has gone down since then. But in any case, during my interview I managed to maintain the facial expression of someone who can’t stop smiling at an oncoming bus as its about to hit them – so I suspect that some of my bits really were best left on the cutting room floor.

However, one additional segment I particularly enjoyed was an interview with Paula and Suzanne from the Gymslips, an all women punk band from the 1980s. It may be hard to believe but women-only punk bands were still unusual – after that famous first wave we had to look high and low for female punk bands. During the interview Paula and Suzanne talk about record companies and pressures on women in bands, which might offer some insight as to why. I saw the Gymslips several times and the Sluts From Outer Space played our first gig with them (in their later incarnation as the Renees). It was, in fact, a benefit for our ‘zine Feminaxe and here’s a flyer for it on the right. Below is a shot from the video.

Suzanne and Paula from the Gymslips

And we’ll wind up with a song by the gals themselves from 1982.

“See us walking down the street, monkey boots upon our feet, in our ragtag levi jeans… We’re the Renees here we come, One two three and up yer bum!”

On that note, I’ll say goodbye… and hopefully I’ll be back sooner than later. Meanwhile, here’s a gorgeous flyer for the latest appearance of Rebel Dykes on the film festival circuit – in LA.

Des reviews Bitter Distillations and Helen’s Story makes the Deep Cut

Ari is always thrilled when my author copies arrive

So it’s a new year – with two new reviews published over January!

Renowned publisher, writer and ‘real-time’ reviewer DF Lewis has now turned his attention to Bitter Distillations: An Anthology of Poisonous Tales. Limited editions usually receive few reviews so Des’ work is especially appreciated. He writes in his real-time review of my tale The Poison Girls: “This story will surely haunt me forever, and there is so much in it for me to tell you that, in the end, you can only tell yourself.”

Des’ selection of quotes from the story points to the circumstances that surrounded its writing: I completed The Poison Girls during the first lockdown last spring and summer. Though the poison in question did not concern viruses and pandemics those considerations certainly leached into the prose. After visiting her local poison garden my character Marla painstakingly washes her hands. She notices that the gardener wears a face mask (seen on the Alnwick Castle Poison Garden website). I wouldn’t have written details about careful hand-washing at any other time. A story might be historical – and even the 2019 sections feel very ‘period’ now – but current events draw different aspects of a historical setting to a writer’s attention.

Other stories in the book are:

THE DEVIL’S SNARE by Timothy J. Jarvis
CHATTERTON, EUSTON, 2018 by Nina Antonia
THE OTHER PRAGUE by George Berguño
NOT TO BE TAKEN by Kathleen Jennings
BEYOND SEEING by Joseph Dawson
I IN THE EYE by Yarrow Paisley
CANNED HEAT by Jason E. Rolfe
WORDS by Alison Littlewood

Then a review of Helen’s Story popped up in the Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein blog! This novella, if you recall, was published in 2013 and received a Shirley Jackson Award nomination in 2014. But that was a longish time ago. It’s always a wonderful surprise when I discover a review years after a book’s publication. It’s good to know that people are still reading and indeed, discussing something I’ve written. Bobby Dee, who coordinates the blog, invites readers to find out “why this is part of the essential reading experience of the Cthulhu Mythos”.

I loved the way the Deep Cuts review explores both the tension and inspirational relationship my novella has with its source material, Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan. “The final sentiment, the last revelation, the apotheosis or ipsissimus that Helen experiences…is utterly apt. It is both an homage to ending in “The Great God Pan” and a negation of it; because it is not an ending at all but a beginning.”

Each Saturday Deep Cuts will feature a specific work that is important to Mythos literature and lore. You’ll find a schedule here. Their definitions are broad and subtle – it’s not all tentacles and ichor in the Mythos. I am honoured that Helen was included, along with these comments in the review:

“It’s the kind of approach that the Cthulhu Mythos is built on. Stories written not just as sequels, but as commentary and expansion, to correct old ideas and add new ones… Rabinowitz knocks it out of the park in how she interweaves flashbacks that reflect on the narrative of events in “The Great God Pan” (and another Machen story, “The White People”) with the continuing narrative of what Helen Vaughan is doing in the present day.” 

Bitter Distillations and funny honey

Egaeus is the publisher of many beautiful and complex anthologies, edited by Mark Beech. I have the pleasure of contributing a story to their latest, Bitter Distillations: an Anthology of Poisonous Tales. This will be my third outing with them; previously I appeared in Soliloquy for Pan and Murder Ballads. Egaeus books feature evocative art and overall book design that complement the dark and mysterious wonders that lie within.

My story “The Poison Girls” is not about the band by that name. That might be a surprise to some given my love for that wonderful 80s-era feminist anarcho-punk collective. The story does concern a poison garden, funny honey and restless genius locii. Like many of my tales, it evolved from random images and longstanding ideas in response to an editor’s theme.

The first was a door arch sculpture in Southampton Row, Holborn. I was sitting on the top deck of a 59 bus heading back south when the image of two naked winged women drew my eye. I’ve travelled that way many times but it was the first time I saw this sculpture. I found the figures fascinating. I was bemused by their differences from your usual Victorian nude. They have wings but do not appear at all angelic – and I can’t recall any overtly female angels appearing in Judeo-Christian art anyway. These gals are slender and muscular, with rather stern expressions. There’s a sinewy, almost piscine quality to their bodies. I even wondered if they are meant to be some species of winged mermaid without the tails showing.

I googled the figures with no results. It’s only recently that I thought ‘hey, let’s go back there and check the address’. I’ve since discovered that the frieze adorns the arch over the bar of the Bloomsbury Park Hotel. There’s also a blue plaque honouring the conductor Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970), who was born on Southhampton Row, but I don’t see any connection of the figures with Barbirolli.

The hotel website doesn’t contain any information about the two winged women either. Perhaps the history might actually date from the 1970s. After all, images of thin small-breasted women were a thing in those days though you didn’t see them with wings. In any case, this image continued to nudge at my imagination and I filed it away in the mental data bank.

I’ve also been fascinated by ‘mad honey‘. This is honey produced by bees that gather pollen from a type of rhododendron with toxic and hallucinogenic qualities. This plant dominates the slopes in an area near the Black Sea in Turkey but there are other parts of the world characterised by this kind of monoculture.

Meanwhile, I’ve always wanted to fill in the gaps left at the end of Arthur Machen’s “The White People” where the young diary writer, who was exploring the ‘most secret of secrets’, is said to have ‘poisoned herself in time’. I initially thought it meant she’d been making potions and imbibing them to see visions and cavort with the White People. Maybe I still stand by that interpretation. Eventually, my tale moved on from its Machenesque origins so I suspect that initial fill-in-the gap story may still need to be written.

And finally, the Poison Garden at Alnwick Castle also played a role in the evolution of “The Poison Girls”. I didn’t visit the poison garden during my one stay in Alnwick but I always wanted to find out more about it. I imagined writing a story involving a poison garden like the one at Alnwick, but much more overgrown and wild. I saw it as the garden of a stately home morphed into a public attraction and museum, then closed down due to lack of funding. And then it was eventually abandoned… with the poison garden growing way out of control. 

Below is a meme about the Alnwick Castle poison garden that appeared in my Facebook feed. It provoked a few chuckles. Apparently, there really is a gift shop.

Alles, was fest ist

All That is Solid is getting a third print outing – in German as Alles, was fest ist. This will also be my first ever publication in translation, which is very exciting. The story first appeared in 2017 in the Swan River Press anthology The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray, a limited edition that sold out quickly and it re-emerged as a chapbook from Eibonvale Press in 2019

And this time around, German imprint White Train is publishing it in a special issue of Weird alongside stories by Joel Lane, Louis Marvick and Mark Valentine. In addition, Weird contains an update of a tribute to Joel Lane that I wrote for this blog in 2014. Weird is available at this link and you can also visit the websites for White Train and its sister publication Night Train to find out more.

Meanwhile the Eibonvale Press chapbook of All That is Solid has recently been reviewed by Stephen Theaker for the British Fantasy Society: “This is a compassionate and sensitive portrayal of what it has been like for our friends from the continent in recent years.”

The BFS also ran a review of Resonance & Revolt back in June. Pauline Morgan offers a perceptive account of some of the stories and themes that unite them across time and location.

“In the majority of stories, whenever and wherever they are set, characters are either engaged in revolution or have actively participated in protest in their past. It is perhaps significant than often they are older and have moved on from an idealistic youth. At the same time, many of the stories have a resonance, not just with the past of the participants but with other pasts and other stories… Most readers will find something among them that they will enjoy but don’t expect them to be conventional.”

Given that it’s been a year or two since publication, I appreciate the way the BFS highlights books that its reviewers find interesting regardless of publication date. I often read books several years after publication so why review them only when they’re hot off the presses?

In other news, a fine review of Lucifer and the Child came out on the Pretty Sinister blog.

“Ethel Mannin explores ethics, morality, faith, love, the inherent magic of the natural world and the ultimate mystery of devotion — both earthly and spiritual — and does so with stark frankness, uncensored sexuality and near mockery of convention… Lucifer and the Child uses a supernatural motif that makes one recognize that magic is ever present in the world. That the wonders of the natural world are as hypnotic as any spell or incantation chanted in a candlelit kitchen. And yet there is danger in that attractiveness and seduction of the unknown.”

The reviewer also has some kind words for the intro from yours truly: “The book includes a well researched foreword by scholar Rosanne Rabinowitz which sheds light on the novel’s re-discovery and Ethel Mannin’s fascinating life as an iconoclast and counterculture figure.”

Lucifer and the Child is also discussed in this episode of the Censored Podcast, a series that looks at books that have been banned in Ireland at one time or another.

In terms of new work, my story The Poison Girls will appear in what will undoubtedly be another beautiful Egaeus Press anthology, Bitter Distillations. Watch this space for more news! Egaeus hints at what’s to come:

“The book will comprise of eighteen sinister and intoxicating pieces courtesy of Ron Weighell, Timothy J Jarvis, Damian Murphy, Kathleen Jennings, Lisa L Hannett, George Berguño, Yarrow Paisley, Stephen J Clark, Joseph Dawson, Carina Bissett, Alison Littlewood, Rose Biggin, Jonathan Wood, Nina Antonia, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Louis Marvick, Sheryl Humphey and Jason E. Rolfe.”

And now, let’s move from poisons to pathogens… With another lockdown in force I’ve added a few more tunes to my playlist on Spotify. Recent additions include Skating Polly’s “Morning Dew” (much better than the Grateful Dead version) and Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, inspired by this excellent article in the Guardian about the class content of Sabbath’s songs.

You can find the playlist here and you can also read my blog post I Wanna Dance Like We Used To on the background to some of the songs I chose. Enjoy!

Personally, this lockdown differs from the first in several respects. “Support bubbles” mean I can continue to see my partner. And just as crucial (let’s face it), I now have a cat! Her name is Arya Up – named in homage to the stabby Game of Thrones character and the late Slits singer Ari Up. You’ve seen her snuggling with my author’s copy of Weird at the top of the page. Ari has also shown a great affinity to Zadie Smith, shown by her constant cuddling with a library copy of Grand Union. I first thought it had something to do with the ribbon bookmark with a tassly bit at the end (visible on the lower left of the photo) but maybe it is about the content after all. I hope to devote a post to Ari and the part that cats have played in my life in the not-too-distant future.

As I’m posting this, it looks likely that Trump will lose the US election. It will be such a joy to see the orange squit ejected.

Yes, the struggle will still continue on altered terrain. And we also have a lot of Downfall parodies ahead of us. Here’s one to start…

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 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 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 Marcus J’s 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… I’ve posted the original below but you can also listen to a live version where Paul updates to “two thousand and five”.

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 to 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, Stand By Me and Stay Free), followed by 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.

Crab bell_red light

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 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.


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


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.