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:
A NIGHT AT THE MINISTRY by Damian Murphy THE BLISSFUL TINCTURES by Jonathan Wood THE TARTEST OF FLAVOURS by Rose Biggin THE DEVIL’S SNARE by Timothy J. Jarvis THE INVISIBLE WORM by Ron Weighell CHATTERTON, EUSTON, 2018 by Nina Antonia OUT AT THE SHILLINGATE ISLES by Lisa L. Hannett THE OTHER PRAGUE by George Berguño THE JEWELED NECROPOLIS by Sheryl Humphrey NOT TO BE TAKEN by Kathleen Jennings THE GARDEN OF DR MONTORIO by Louis Marvick OF MANDRAKE AND HENBANE by Stephen J. Clark BEYOND SEEING by Joseph Dawson I IN THE EYE by Yarrow Paisley CANNED HEAT by Jason E. Rolfe WORDS by Alison Littlewood AN EMBRACE OF POISONOUS INTENT by Carina Bissett
Then a review of Helen’s Storypopped 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.”
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.
The US edition of Helen’s Story is now available from Aqueduct Press. This edition is also available as an ebook in Kindle (mobi) and epub formats – you can find the Kindle link here. It’s the very first time I’ve had my own ebook out, so I’m excited. You can read more about this in Aqueduct’s blog.
The startling and sensuous cover image from the 2013 PS Publishing edition will also grace Aqueduct’s version, with thanks to Seattle-based artist Erika Steiskal. However, the bods-that-be on Facebook have not been jumping up and down in joy. In fact, FB has been suppressing new posts with the image despite the fact that it’s been all over social media since 2013. When I first tried to post the link from the Aqueduct blog, it was blocked as ‘spam’. When I clicked that my post was definitely NOT spam FB informed me that my post would be reconsidered as to whether it breaches ‘community standards’.
That was over a month ago. When I didn’t hear back I tried posting the link again and the same thing happened. Others have reported similar results.
This is gobsmacking. Either the folks at Facebook can’t write a decent algorithm or some techie is terrified by the mere sight of a finely drawn nipple and/or a luxuriant bush. It’s been suggested that the nipple might’ve led to the ban. To test the hypothesis I posted this gorgeous painting by Klimt, foregrounded nipple and all, but had no problem there. Go figure!
Meanwhile, Nancy Jane Moore has written an excellent post about Helen’s Story on the Bookview Cafe blog. She discusses the suppression of the cover image and also has lovely things to say about the book itself: “It’s an excellent book. I found it both delightful and disturbing, which is always a good mix.”
The good news is that I’ve managed to post a link from the Aqueduct website (rather than the blog), which has stayed up for a day or so. Perhaps it works because the image uploads in a smaller format. Fingers crossed that the algorithms of the great Lord Zuck have passed it by! And here’s the uncensored book cover, by the way. I love the portrait of Mary Shelley on the back cover too.
Now, it’s been a good few months since I’ve last posted in this blog. In that time I’ve been to WorldCon in Helsinki and held forth at a few panels. Two stood out for me. One was Fantasies of Free Movement, where we talked about borders and the dissolution of borders in fantastic fiction – with reference to Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, Chris Beckett’s Marcher and the Fractured Europe series by David Hutchinson.
And I especially enjoyed Beyond the Cash Nexus. We had a big audience eager to discuss the following:
Ursula K LeGuin has called on F/SFwriters to imagine alternatives to capitalism: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.” Have things moved on since The Dispossessed? Is the opposite of dystopia necessarily utopia, is there are terrain where we can avoid the oversimplification of either? Can we portray radical visions when writing about the here and now, as well as secondary worlds, far future or extra-terrestrial universes?
This has actually turned up on YouTube, recorded in its entirety. Though it was a great panel while it was happening, I find I’ve only lasted ten minutes during attempts to watch the video. I’ll leave it to readers to do the search and be the judge.
Then I enjoyed a post-con holiday in the countryside. I spent time with some brilliant writers, especially the hospitable Anne Leinonen. Here’s a 2011 interview with her about the state of Finnish science fiction.
And when I returned it was time to move house. I’ve not actually moved far – up from the first floor to the ninth floor of the same block. It should have been an easy move but there’s been a multitude of hassles. It took over a month to get my WiFi on, which has been a definite contributing factor to the lateness of this post!
I’ll wrap up with some other news: I will be publishing a collection of stories with those wonderful folks at Eibonvale Press, purveyors of modern horror, magic realism, slipstream and the surreal. I previously had “The Turning Track”– a collaboration with Mat Joiner – published in Eibonvale’s anthology Rustblind and Silverbright and I look forward to working with Eibonvale again. Watch this space for more details.
I’m very pleased to announce the first US publication of Helen’s Story by feminist SF publisher Aqueduct Press. So I’ll be joining a roster of authors that includes Nnedi Okorafor, Karen Joy Fowler, Rachel Swirsky, Lisa Tuttle, Gwyneth Jones, Ursula K LeGuin, Vandana Singh… well, loads of great people. Helen’s Story will also be released as an ebook, so it’ll be available to a wider audience.
Here’s a quick shout-out that Helen’s Story has received another late review, this time from Peter Coleborn. He writes:
“Helen’s Story is so well written the novella flows effortlessly through the reader’s mind, subsuming him or her into this exotic and very erotic tale… Helen’s Story is a tour de force of one woman’s fight to understand her nature – and is quite simply a masterpiece. I’d place it in the same class, the way it mixes the real and the myth, as Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce and Among Others by Jo Walton.”
Thanks for your kind words, Peter!
In addition, Helen gets a mention on a Spanish website. I’m not sure exactly what they’re saying, but I think it’s good.
“Rosanne’s evolved fragment becomes an evocative summoning of the cranes as the girders of a cat’s cradle genius-loci of South London, now and then.”
Anthony Watson has also selected Something Remains as the year’s best anthology on his Dark Musings blog:
“The stories within are inspired by, and based on, notes left by Joel and each individual author has done a remarkable job in creating them in such a way that you would believe Joel had written them himself. It’s a superbly produced book and I can think of no better way to honour his memory.”
And now for some more downbeat news… non-profit independent publisher Jurassic London has wound up its operations. We’re very sorry to see them go. However, we can take some small comfort that a new home has been found for Jews vs Aliens and Jews vs Zombies at Ben Yehuda Press. The proceeds will continue to benefit Mosac, a charity that provides support to non-abusing parents, carers and families of children who have been sexually abused.
Moving on to another story published by Jurassic London, I’ve decided to put “Keep Them Rollin'” on my new free fiction page. This story first appeared in the 2015 Jurassic anthology We Need to Talk. While ghost stories are usually the tradition for this time of year, I’m going for some SF: quantum computing meets Universal Credit.It’s the first time I’ve put my own fiction on line, and I enjoyed illustrating it with some appropriate bits and pieces.
I’ll close this post with the song that gave “Keep Them Rollin'” its title – the theme from Rawhide. Below you’ll find my favourite version by The Men They Couldn’t Hang.
On the story page itself I’ve included another cover by US ska punk band Sublime. While it doesn’t have the best sound quality, the clip from Sublime does evoke that late 1980s/early 1990s festival atmosphere.
It’s been a while since my last post, to put it lightly. What can I say? Deadlines, deadlines, day job and all the usual. I should know by now that the best way to blog is to fire off quick items, otherwise you’re faced with the prospect of knitting together disparate events. But that’s life, a series of disparate items.
I’m pleased to announce that I’ll have a story in an anthology X Marks the Spot, published by NewCon Press to mark its tenth anniversary in July. It doesn’t seem long since I went to an event to celebrate the publisher’s fifth anniversary.
I previously published with NewCon in the anthology Conflicts. Some time ago at a bar, editor and writerIan Whates told me he wanted stories for an anthology called Conflicts. Conflicts? You want conflicts, I’ve got conflicts! So I sent him “Harmony in My Head”, a story set around the time of the 2005 7/7 London bombings and the anti-G8 mobilisation in Scotland. Tinnitus and parallel universes were also involved.
It turned out that Conflicts (2010) was primarily a collection of military SF, which my story wasn’t, but Ian published it anyway. At least one reviewer expressed bemusement that the only military hardware in the story was a quick glimpse of a Chinook helicopter in a newspaper photo.
I’m very pleased and proud to have a story published by NewCon again, and be on board to celebrate its tenth anniversary.
I attended Eastercon at the end of March. It’s been my first Eastercon for several years. I felt sentimental about it being in Manchester, site of the first con I ever attended – Eastercon 1998. I went to some good panels, but now that I’m looking back over a few months and my memory is hazy I have to admit that a high point was dinner in the Greek tapas bar over the road in the company of Simon Bestwick, Nina Allen, Cate Gardnerand Priya Sharma. And here’s a nice photo of myself (left) and Cate (right), taken by Cate. I’m notoriously camera-shy but I’m glad I gave in to the cajoling for a selfie. A ‘good’ photo of myself is one where I don’t look like a zombie or an axe murderer – so I think this one fits the bill.
Great God Pan – the opera Those of you who enjoyed Helen’s Story might be interested in a forthcoming opera based on The Great God Pan. While I’ve not been an opera follower myself, I’m taking a great interest in this one. Composed by Ross Crean, the opera sets out with similar aims to give the vilified Helen Vaughan a voice. In her final aria she sings:
We will raise the living dead
Through the power of horned head,
Cloven foot and revelry.
Thus the Lord of Trickery will
Set this mortal coil on fire
With every succulent desire.
Pan is all, and all is Pan,
And we will hence return again!
Here’s a clip with some background information and music. Apparently, the production will be given a steampunk aesthetic. I really hope I have the opportunity to see it some day.
Vi Subversa (Frances Sokolov) 20.06.35–20.02.16
So now we’re going to hark back to earlier in the year… If you recall, my last blog ended with reactions to the deaths of David Bowie and Paul Kantner. Since then, we’ve lost even more creative people, including Prince, Victoria Wood and Vi Subversa.
Several months gone, I still want to say something about Vi – guitarist, singer and songwriter with feminist punk band Poison Girls. She died at the age of 80 last February.
I first went to see Poison Girls in 1980, and went to their gigs many times throughout the decade. Conway Hall, Chat’s Palace, the Cricketers at the Oval, the squatted ambulance station on the Old Kent Road, other venues with names that have long slipped away into the spaces between my brain cells.
I also remember when Vi performed at a picnic in the garden at the occupied South London Women’s Hospitalin the summer of 1984. She was accompanied by one guitarist, 17-year-old Debbie Smith. I have a vivid recollection of Vi performing “Under the Doctor”, very appropriate to the hospital setting: “What I’m trying to say… is you’ve got to be strong, so strong/Because nothing takes the pain away for long!” Sadly, the garden where this took place is now a carpark for the Tesco superstore that replaced part of the hospital.
In December 2015 I went to Brighton to attend what was to be Vi’s final gig, thrilled to see her performing again. Along with her own songs she sang several Brecht & Weill compositions including “Pirate Jenny”. Her voice was perfect for Brecht. Songs such as”Old Tart’s Song” and “I’ve Done it All Before” (just about the only love song I can stomach) acquired even more resonance when sung by an 80-year-old woman. I especially liked the little polyamorous flourish she added at the end: “I’ve done it all before, but not with you… and you… and you.”
I ended up sitting across a table from Vi before she went on stage. She was talking to one of the gig organisers, then to another musician. I wanted to say hello since I interviewed her for radical women’s magazine Bad Attitude in 1995, which marked the release of a retrospective CD and a grand reunion gig at the Astoria. I also went to her 60th birthday party and had the pleasure of getting to know her a little then.
But as I sat there at the Brighton venue I was thinking: ‘Better not disturb her before she goes on stage, she might be preparing for her performance and getting into the mood… etc etc… I’ll catch her afterwards.’
But I didn’t manage to find her that night, so that didn’t happen. Perhaps she left just after her performance. And now I know it won’t ever happen.
I deeply regret that I was too stupidly shy to say hello, but I am grateful that I had a chance to see that wonderful gig. Vi Subversa was – and still is – an inspiration to me.
Here are a couple of songs from that gig, “Persons Unknown: and “Old Tart’s Song”. As you might expect, the acoustic version of “Persons Unknown” is quieter than the original, but even more powerful: “Survival in silence isn’t good enough no more…”
And here’s the original “Persons Unknown” for a bit of contrast… I believe this was the first Poison Girls record.
I’ll now share a scan of the article I coauthored in Bad Attitude. The other article on the spread is about an ill-fated UN women’s conference in Beijing, in case you’re wondering. Back in the day I suppose our prevailing aesthetic was: “We’ve got a new font and we’re gonna use it!”
If you have fond memories of any Poison Girls gigs or want to find out more about Vi and her wonderful music, you might be interested in joining a Tributes to Vi Subversa Facebook page. There you can find personal reflections and links to music videos, interviews, obituaries and tributes.
There may be trouble ahead…
Now I’m just getting up to speed. The events of the past few weeks weigh heavily, but this post is long enough. I’m sure more ranting, writing and serious thinking is called for in the near future. So at the risk of appearing flippant, I’ll close with a certain old Nat King Cole tune…
And a few years after the fact, two new reviews of Helen’s Story have recently appeared. Bobby Derie writes in the Innsmouth Free Press:
Helen Vaughan is alive and well in contemporary London, both more and less than the genderbending changeling that Machen had made of her. A century after the events of Machen’s novella, she has set up as an artist in Shoreditch, seeking through her art to make contact once more with her elusive fey companion. The language is sensual, the imagery vivid, the critical eye on the inhabitants of the art scene perceptive and penetrating, creating caricatures from which characters emerge like blooming flowers, Helen Vaughan the busy honey bee spreading the pollen from one to the next, all while reliving the events of “The Great God Pan” (and, skillfully intermixed, elements of Machen’s “The White People”).
He also pays me a great compliment by comparing my writing to Caitlin R Kiernan’s. Nice one there, too.
Mythogeography, a site dedicated to psychogeography and the art of wandering, also featured a review. Crab Man describes Helen as “a lovely read; an unembarrassed and unembarrassing hymn to pleasure and to an interwoven world of material and metamorphosis”. Thanks be to Mytho!
I’m very pleased that people are still reading and commenting on this book. And it turns out that there are still signed hardback copies left at PS Publishing, which are now on sale for a mere £4. Many more excellent titles are available at knock-down prices in this general clear-out at PS – I have my eye on a few – and there are reductions on postage for multiple orders.
The opening month of 2016 has been cruel one for the loss of musicians.Like many others I was stunned and saddened by the death of David Bowie only days after the release of his new album and his 69th birthday. And hadn’t I been belting out “Rebel Rebel” at a karaoke in the not-too-distant past? It all came back to me.
Much has been written about Bowie since his death and doubtless more will be written. I was stunned and saddened, but this was shared with many people – especially since I’m based in the general Brixton area. When I turned up at the mural off the High Street around 11pm, people were still gathering, playing his songs and remembering ‘our Brixton boy’. Candles are still burning there as I write. There was both collective mourning and celebration of the music he has left behind.
For the record, I’ll mention that my favourite Bowie songs are “Suffragette City” and “Panic in Detroit”. Before there was punk, there was Bowie. You could almost pogo to “Suffragette City”. Here’s a live version from the Hammersmith Palais – sadly, this renowned live music venue is now a gym. As I watch this video, I can see a lot of headshaking and handwaving from the audience… perhaps a few demi-pogos can be detected as well.
Then… A couple of weeks after Bowie’s death, I was stunned again to hear that Jefferson Airplane founder Paul Kantner had died. This hit me even harder. It was only a few months ago that I’d rediscovered his more recent folk-inspired music and its link to the legacy of the Weavers.
The grief at Bowie’s death was shared with many around me, and it was tempered by a massive celebration of his music. But my Facebook feed was pretty quiet on the loss of Kantner. I suspect it’s because many of my friends are younger than me. To them, the Airplane was just one of those hippie bands from 1960s/70s. Yeah, the Jefferson Airplane had some good songs like “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”. But my younger friends didn’t grow up with those guys. The very first album I bought was Crown of Creation. For many of my friends it might’ve been something by Ian Dury, Madness or the Specials, Alison Moyet, Joan Armatrading or the Slits – or perhaps Bowie.
One friend did post an item that that the Jefferson Airplane’s first female vocalist, Signe Toly Anderson, died on the same day as Paul at the same age of 74. She had left the group when she had a baby, then Grace Slick stepped in. Anyway, here’s an early Airplane song where she duets with Marty Balin.
Back in the day my Airplane-love focused very much on Grace and her magnificent voice, but I later appreciated that it was Paul who brought the political and science fictional themes to the band. I was just starting to read SF and all things weird, and hearing it infuse my favourite rock music was sublime.
I later turned to Twitter for people sharing similar memories, though that first album financed by after-school newspaper routes or carefully accumulated allowances tended to be Surrealistic Pillow rather than Crown of Creation.
I feel as if I already wrote a tribute to the Jefferson Airplane and Kantner in particular in Soliloquy for Pan: It’s Not Just About the Pipes. The story that appeared in Soliloquy, “The Lady in the Yard” was also such a tribute, though I didn’t think of it that way at the time of writing. So I intended to add to these homages by posting a live version of War Movie here, since the album version from Bark already appears in my earlier post.
However, I couldn’t find one on YouTube or anywhere I else. A friend remarked that “War Movie” has been overlooked on all the compilation albums and I gave the matter some thought. I’m just very fond of it, though other tracks from this band may have stood up better to the test of time. Well, specifying a long-departed date for when the revolution takes place may be why! But that’s part of its charm for me, and perhaps it lends the tune a certain poignancy. And like any piece of outdated SF, it shows us more about the era it was written in than the future it envisioned.
I remember hanging out with a few friends in my college dorm in 1976, listening to this song rather glumly since nothing of the sort had happened in ‘nineteen hundred and seventy-five’. Then we put on ‘Volunteers’ followed by ‘Suffragette City’ to cheer ourselves up.
We were well and truly ready for punk.
In that spirit I’ll end with a fast(er) and thumpin’ version of “Volunteers”. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I am a lover of speculative fiction. And I do like to speculate and will do so at any opportunity. So I immediately imagined Paul Kantner jamming on this song with Joe Strummer. What a ‘heavenly’ racket those two powerful rhythm guitarists would make! And Pete Seegercame into this fantasy too. Maybe he’d pull the plug, as he did when Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Or perhaps he’d shake his head with a bemused chuckle, then get out his banjo.
I’m letting you all know that Soliloquy for Pan, which includes my story “The Lady in the Yard”, was released at the end of June by Egaeus Press(yes, deadlines + day job have put my bloggage behind once again). Like anything produced by Egaeus, Soliloquy is a spectacularly beautiful book – as you can see here.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to buy it now. According to Egaeus, the edition has sold out entirely during pre-ordering. Editor Mark Beech however has hinted at the strong possibility of another printing in the autumn, so you can add yourself to the Egaeus email list to keep informed.
In “The Lady in the Yard”, Pan takes on female form and visits the yard of a Bronx apartment block in the early 60s. In my last post Musical Interlude 3: Farewell Ronnie GilbertI suggested a connection between this story and the recently deceased Ronnie Gilbert of the Weavers. So here it is… “The Lady in the Yard” began as a follow-up to “She Lives in the Deep”, which appeared in The Monster Book for Girls in 2012. The Weavers are present in the narrative and provide a musical motif throughout the piece.
In “She Lives in the Deep” I wrote about Suzy, a little girl trying to lure a green and blue parakeet into her hand on a snowy day so she could take it back to her apartment and look after it. Nothing supernatural happened, and I literally left my character dangling. But in the follow-up story, the Lady in the Yard has appeared, saving Suzy’s life but not all of her toes, which she loses as a result of frostbite.
The 1960s Suzy brings a record into school by the Weavers, a lefty folk group popular in New York at the time. But teacher disapproves, saying this is a bunch of Communists. Suzy however loves the Weavers and she’s especially impressed with Ronnie Gilbert: “But all four Weavers look very friendly on that record cover, especially the fat guy. The lady wears a shiny sleeveless black dress. Her head is thrown back and her mouth is wide open to let the song out. Suzy leans her head back like the lady from the Weavers as she sings…”
With “The Lady in the Yard”, Suzy reappears in the 1970s as a pot-puffing flute-playing teenager who fervently wishes to meet the Lady in the Yard again. She’s an outcast in her high school, and escapes through reading mythology and science fiction, plus furtive late-night radio sessions listening to the likes of WBAI’s Bob Fass and Alison Steele ‘the Nightbird’ on WNEW-FM. She creates a world of her own in an abandoned swimming pool surrounded by underbrush, where she plays the flute and records on her reel-to-reel.
Perhaps the Soliloquy book resembles the old edition of Bullfinch’s Mythology that Suzy treasures. It looks like the kind of book Suzy would read it in bed while listening to her favourite late night DJs.
In “The Lady in the Yard”, I drew on the early versions of the myth that concerned me in Helen’s Story – Pan as a shapeshifter and gender-shifter as well. Though this is the older Arcadian myth that didn’t quite find its way into the familiar classical mythology, there are still some representations of female Pan figures in Greek and Roman art. The most well-known one was found in the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii, where a female Pan figure suckles a young goat while a male Pan figure plays an instrument.
Once again, Suzy doesn’t fare well when she shares her literary and musical interests. At school she gives a ‘book report’ on the post-nuclear apocalyptic classic, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. She identifies with Sophie, a friend of the protagonist who has six toes. Sophie has to hide her extra toes so she isn’t seen as a mutated abomination, while Suzy must hide her missing toes. After she explains the themes of this favourite book to her classmates, she is derided as ‘Mutant Sue’.
The Chrysalids(or Re-Birth in the US) had certainly been a cherished book when I was in my teens. I gather it is now part of the school curriculum in the UK, but in those days it was one of the books I had to hide under my desk during lessons. I must’ve read it at least five times. My reading pleasure was heightened by the thrill of recognition when I came upon this dialogue towards the end: “Life is change, that is how it differs from the rocks… you are the crown of creation and you’ve got no place to go.” Wow! I was reading the lyrics to the Jefferson Airplane’s “Crown of Creation”.
Now, Crown of Creation was the first album I ever bought. Through my pre-teen and teenage years the Airplane was one of my top bands. Later I’d be blasting out songs like Volunteers, and listening to the likes of Sunfighter,Blows Against the Empire and Bark. Even the Airplane’s sillier songs like Have You Seen the Saucers (I did have an interest in UFOs at the time, and my favourite band singing a song about them was especially exciting) found their way onto my reel-to-reel.
So while the Weavers provided a soundtrack to “She Lives in the Deep” – along with the theme song from Diver Dan– “The Lady in the Yard” is definitely propelled by the Jefferson Airplane. And imagine my amazement when I uncovered links between these two musical inspirations: it was just like discovering the lyrics to “Crown of Creation” in a beloved book.
As I cruised about YouTube at some ridiculous hour in the night, I came across a 2008 incarnation of the Jefferson Starship singing “Drinking Gourd”, an underground railway song popularised by the Weavers in the 1950s. I found this was part of an album called Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty.
So here’s the Starship doing “Drinking Gourd” at a festival in Bedford. You might also want to check out the studio version, track at 3.38, which has an infectious boogie woogie roll to it (However, I thought the picture of the slave-owning Thomas Jefferson appearing alongside a song about the underground railroad a bit dubious, though it is the album cover.)
Much of this album is a tribute to the Weavers, covering songs like “Wasn’t that a Time”, “Drinking Gourd” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” along with music from Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs and recent compositions. The current band has a lovely way of rewriting the old songs, adapting them while keeping the spirit of the original. Starship singer Cathy Richardson ably fills the formidable shoes of Ronnie Gilbert and Grace Slick, while putting her own soulful stamp on the tunes. I stopped listening to the Starship long ago when they blanded-out with numbers like “We Built This City”, so this was a surprise and a revelation.
I found this interview with singer, guitarist and band founder Paul Kantner, where he talks about the influence of the Weavers.
“I was primarily and greatly inspired and energized by the Weavers, a folk music group from the forties and fifties that was one of Pete Seeger’s early bands. In so many ways The Weavers taught me “how to be a band”. There was a combination of beautiful three-part harmony singing and the rich folk music as well; there was also the connection to social responsibility that led to a mentality that drove our own band to the act of supporting and doing benefits for any number of people and causes in need, and then there was just the overall joy of life that shown forth from The Weavers. I treasure The Weavers still. It was for me… a memorable beginning.”
“The Weavers were my prime teachers. I sit at the feet of the Weavers, still. They were all very different people. Probably all together they make up one perfect human being, sort of like our band, Jefferson Airplane or Jefferson Starship. The Weavers and Pete Seeger particularly. What got me into music was Pete Seeger’s How to Play the 5-String Banjo book. I was a banjo player, played in college, still play banjo, love banjo. Ronnie Gilbert was the reason I wanted to work with a woman singer, just because she so obviously added a great unknown quantity that takes you far beyond even the expectations of a known. I never saw the Weavers perform, that was my one great loss, only Pete, and he was good on his own. I really wish I had seen the Weavers because they were so invigorating to my songwriting approach, to life, and to what you’re supposed to do as a band, whether you are a rock and roll band, a folk band as they were, or whatever. It’s just sort of an overall Grecian equivalent of everything you are supposed to do : good, bad, indifferent, drunken party boys to severe ascetic, almost Amish kind of Pete-Seeger-dedication to the cause.”
The Starship also has a page on its website devoted to the Weavers, and there’s more about the Weavers and their influence on the Jefferson Airplane here. Kantner does add somewhere that the Weavers themselves would’ve been horrified by the drug-taking and excesses of their late-1960s psychedelic musical descendants! But listen to the harmonies, and the way a strong female voice holds the centre in both bands. I loved the Airplane because I loved the Weavers as a child. So there you have it – Pan, the Lady in the Yard, the Weavers and the Jefferson Airplane. Have you seen the saucers? 🙂
Meanwhile, Des Lewis has written a real-time review of Soliloquy for Pan, and he says this about “The Lady in the Yard”:
‘A satisfying leisurely story… [involving] a singing wisteria, cannabis joints, flutes, Peter Pan, Panisca as the female Pan, listening to late night radio, a Lady with mutable wings, cavorting with mixed-sex naiads, Wyndham’s Chrysalids…”
I’ll end with another song from the Jefferson Airplane. Call it hippie shit, call it what you will, but I did really like this one when I were a lass. All together now!
“In nineteen hundred and seventy-five / all the people rose from the countryside / locked together hand in hand / all through this unsteady land / to move against you, government man / do you understand?”
I’m excited to announce that Jews vs Aliens – which includes my story ‘The matter of Meroz’ – is now out! Jews vs Aliens and its companion volume Jews vs Zombies are both edited by Lavie Tidhar and Rebecca Levene, and published as e-book originals by Jurassic London. A limited paperback edition will follow in the autumn.
Proceeds from these books will benefit Mosac, a charity that provides support to non-abusing parents, carers and families of children who have been sexually abused. Based in Greenwich in south London, Mosaic offers a national helpline, as well as counselling, advocacy, support groups and therapy.
I’m proud to find myself in a stellar line-up that includes The Big Bang Theory’s writer/co-executive producer Eric Kaplan, BSFA Award winning science fiction writer Adam Roberts and Nebula Award winner author Rachel Swirsky. Another name that stands out for me is Orange Prize winner Naomi Alderman, since I’ve read and enjoyed all her books – Disobedience, The Lessons and The Liars Gospel. I’ve also been wanting to read Shimon Adaf’s novel with PS Publishing, Sunburnt Faces, so I look forward to his story in JvZ.
My tale ‘The Matter of Meroz’ takes place in Russia in 1905, in the wake of a partial revolution and the reaction that unleashed a new wave of pogroms against Jewish communities. Naturally, there were different views on how to deal with this threat. Raizl is an activist in the socialist General Jewish Labour Bund who takes part in militant self-defence groups and labour agitation. Meanwhile, her kid brother Samuel has taken to kabbalah in a big way, but regards golems as passé. Instead he gazes at the stars, pores over the Talmud and looks for solutions in the ‘leaping of the roads’ and the ‘crumpling of the sky’.
Yankl, a member of the Bund, Odessa, 1900. Photo by K Mulman (YIVO)
It’s still early for reviews for JvA. However, Horror Uncuthas received a mention from James Everington. In fact, it’s an enthusiastic recommendation for Horror Uncut:
“Its theme of modern day austerity, its victims and its monsters, makes this a timely anthology, but the sheer quality of stories on display makes it one for the ages as well. Thoroughly recommended; buy it before your native currency collapses.”
On my contribution, he writes: “‘Pieces Of Ourselves’ by Rosanne Rabinowitz contained a brilliantly evocative description of modern day protesting before becoming enjoyably surreal.”
The second review is not such a new one, but it is now making its first appearance online. Peter Tennant’s review of Helen’s Story originallyappeared in Black Static 36, where he reviewed Helen along with a recent edition of Arthur Machen’s Great God Pan. All this is now online in Peter’s Trumpetville blog.
Of Helen’s Story, he concludes:
“Rabinowitz has created a work that remains true to but at the same time reinterprets its source material… Her Helen remains an outsider, the archetypal stranger in a strange land, but at the same time she is somebody more feared than she is fearsome, a victim of others’ terror of the unknown, often codified simply as the desire to avoid scandal. At the end her story marks the power of creativity, the fecundity of both nature and the human mind, while at the same embodying those things in the figure of the shape shifter Pan and the abilities with which his children are endowed.”
Peter’s perceptive observations on Machen and the qualities that continue to inspire contemporary writers also offer a good introduction to new readers. He writes that Machen “carefully constructs a schemata in which the ineffable seems just a heartbeat distant from the everyday, with the wonders of the natural world shining through the story, but all the same at the calm centre of the tale is the idea that the mysteries will forever be beyond our grasp…” This mingling of the mundane and the fantastical is what inspires me in the work of writers such as Elizabeth Hand, Caitlin Kiernan, M John Harrison (especially Course of the Heart and Signs of Life), the late Graham Joyce and Joel Lane, and many others.
Meanwhile, writing about Yiddish culture and Jewish radicalism gives me a fine excuse to play some music. So here’s Daniel Kahn singing a Bundist anthem “In Struggle”, a ditty that crops up in “Meroz”.
And since I’m the kind of geek who doesn’t just simply play songs, but plays versions of songs… Here’s a rendition of “In Struggle” by the Klezmatics, in a video dedicated to the Israeli direct action anti-occupation group Anarchists Against the Wall:
Another Yiddish song that appears in “Meroz” is “Daloy Polizei” also known as “Down with the police”. Here’s an early version:
And here’s a revised version by Geoff Berner:
And a Colombian folk-punk version: Finally, thrash metal!
And now I’ll end the post with a more recent song, though it’s based on a very old tune. I saw these guys live last January, and they were excellent. Highly recommended if they come to your town. Dumay dumay! Think!
Just a quick note to mention that Kristin Centorcelli has interviewed me over at SF Signal about Helen’s Story and its Shirley Jackson Award nomination, and Charles Tan has also had a few words with me on the Shirley Jackson Awards site.
As for the award itself, well… I didn’t win. But as I wrote in a previous post, it was a thrill just to be nominated. And the novella that received the award, Veronica Schanoes’ Burning Girls, is an excellent story that is available online at Tor.com. You can also download it as a free ebook here. It was a very strong list and I was honoured to be on it, among some great company.
I’ll be back again very soon with some publication news and updates, plus my doings at Geekfest, LonCon and Fantasycon.
PS has certainly made a strong showing on the Jackson shortlists. Other books featured in this special sale are Stardust (containing nominated novella “The Gateway”) by Nina Allan, nominated novella The Last Revelation of Gla’aki by Ramsey Campbell, Exotic Gothic 5 edited by Danel Olsen (with nominated short story “The Statue in the Garden” by Paul Park ), and Michael Marshall Smith’s short story collection Everything You Need. All these books are half the usual price at PS now!
And if you’re in London, you can also find a couple of unsigned copies of Helen at theFreedom Bookshop.
Meanwhile, you can read more here about Helen’s shortlisting and my gibbering joy at the news, along with some background on Shirley Jackson.
I’m very pleased to announce that Helen’s Storyhas been shortlisted for the 2013 Shirley Jackson award in the novella category. I first read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in school (along with Edgar Allan Poe) and she is also the author of The Haunting of Hill House, which I read when I was 12. I never suspected that I’d be nominated for an award in her name “for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic”. I’m thrilled. I’ve resolved to read more of her work now, and revisit what I read long ago.
When I received the email informing me of my nomination, I was gibbering in surprise and amazement in a way that would do any Lovecraftian cultist proud. It appeared in the email account connected to this website, which I often forget to check. But now I resolve to be more diligent about logging in there, because you never know what you’ll find.
I couldn’t sleep that night either. Insomnia’s always been a problem for me, but it made a welcome change to be sleepless for the right reason – joy and excitement.
When I eventually related this news to my friends, I realised that Shirley Jackson isn’t very well-known in the UK. So for those unacquainted with this classic American writer of dark fiction, the Weird Little Worlds blog gives a good summary of her life and work. Meanwhile, the Criminal Element website provides some fascinating background to “The Lottery”. In the post-war US, many town governments across the country sponsored weekly cash-prize lotteries to draw people in from the surrounding farms. They aimed to stimulate the economy for local merchants. And this takes on an especially sinister turn in Jackson’s story…
When I had a good read-through of the shortlists, I realised that I was in some fabulous company. I was very pleased to see fellow PS publishee Nina Allan among the novella nominees. She is shortlisted for her excellent novella “The Gateway”, which is in her collection Stardust. In addition to reading more of Shirley Jackson, I’ve decided to check out as much of the nominated work as I can. It turns out that Burning Girls is available as a free ebook from Tor.com, for those who don’t enjoy reading longer pieces online. Another PS-published writer, Ramsey Campbell, is also on the list for The Last Revelation of Gla’aki.
I also noticed that there are seven nominees for best novella, the longest shortlist of the lot. Does this indicate that novellas are burgeoning as a particularly creative form for writers of dark and strange fiction?
This article from Buzzfeed gives further information about the nominated works, though it does not provide details in short story and novella listings. Otherwise, it’s a good brief guide for further reading. I’ll probably start with The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates. I’ve read Oates’ realist fiction, and have yet to investigate her fantastical and gothic work. This looks like a good place to start. I’m particularly fascinated because the book is set in Princeton, New Jersey and the nearby Pine Barrens. I used a similar setting for part of my 2006 novella In the Pines, which involvedrenegades from the Princeton physics department and an appearance from the Jersey Devil.
The pulp version
The Shirley Jackson Awards began in 2007, and they differ from many other genre-oriented awards because they are entirely chosen by jury. I’m probably very biased, but I imagine this gives books published by independent presses in small print runs a better chance.
When I vote on the shortlist for the British Fantasy Awards, for example, naturally I’ll choose the books I’ve read. Given the price of many limited edition books (and specialist publishers don’t always do ebooks), it’s unlikely I’ll have been able to read through the vast number of new books within the year of publication and unearth the gems. However, most publishers will send copies or PDFs to awards bodies straight away.
I am still getting pleasantly adjusted to the fact that five highly accomplished writers, critics and editors – who don’t know me! – have not only read my novella, but have also chosen to list it among seven of the year’s best. Whether or not I win, this is a compliment and honour of the highest order.