Scarborough bound… and a Remy Martin straight up

grand_hotel_scarborough_yorkshire_england_1890sSo it’s time for Fantasycon! This year it takes place in Scarborough, known for its fair and a faded seaside ambiance that horror writers find particularly attractive – I can see the story-spinning wheels whirring already. For more information, have a look at the Fantasycon by the Sea website.

This time around I’ll be involved with three events: a panel, a book launch and a reading.

On Friday 23 September at 4pm I’ll be on a panel called Out of the Woods. The programme poses these questions: are we growing out of rural and into urban horror? Is it safe to go back into the woods? Steve Shaw will be chairing, and other panelists include Simon Clark, Collen Anderson, Ian Whates and Charlotte Courtney-Bond.

Those involved have already exchanged some lively emails and this promises to shape up into an intriguing panel. Sense of place has always been a subject close to my heart. My South London surroundings have played a big part in recent stories like The Pleasure Garden and Lambeth North. Other stories have taken place in the Bronx and the semi-suburban reaches of New Jersey as well as the Pine Barrens (Jersey Devil and all).

Next on my schedule is the Alchemy Press book launch that takes place on Saturday 24 September at mid-day. The unique Joel Lane tribute anthology Something Remains will be launched along with The Private Life of Elder Things. A lot of authors will be on hand to natter and sign a few things and there will be wine! 

However, I will have to avoid over-indulgence in the wine because I’ll be involved with a reading shortly afterwards at 14.00-14.30. This will in fact be a joint reading with another Something Remains contributor, Jan Edwards. We will both be reading from our stories in anthology and we might say a few words ābout it too.

Speaking of Something Remains, it is the subject of a ‘realtime review’ from Des Lewis. I thank him for his in-depth coverage of the book, and for his kind  comments on “The Pleasure Garden”:

“Rosanne’s evolved fragment becomes an evocative summoning of the cranes as the girders of a cat’s cradle genius-loci of South London, now and then… Daniel reaches some Lane-like choreography (amid the ‘crane constellations’) with a music mix of old times and wrought passions, with not a diaspora but a regathering, a regathering, each to each, for this book, amid the still recognisable fragments of the Pleasure Garden…”

I will now close on a very different note. This hasn’t been a very up-close and personal kind of blog, but I will mention that my father died very recently. Though he was 91 and not well, it was a shock and it’s taken a while to sink in. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to Fantasycon, until I remembered that my dad was a very show-must-go-on kinda guy. He’d want me to get on with it and do the things I love – writing, reading and schmoozing.

In his honour I’ll share some of his favourite songs. The Weavers come top of the list of old family favourites, and I’ve already posted a few times about them. So you’ll find some great Weavers tunes in my post about The Lady in the Yard and my tributes to Ronnie Gilbert and Pete Seeger.

Another album my dad loved was Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera, specifically  the 1955 Broadway cast recording that features Lotte Lenya. He especially liked “The Army Song” (aka “The Cannon Song”) and sang along to it all the time. For years I thought the lines “Let’s all go barmy, let’s join the army” went ‘Let’s all go bombing…”.

Unfortunately all tracks from the 1955  album have been removed from YouTube but I’ve found a reasonable equivalent here.

Anyone familiar with the old US recording will notice some differences in translation. I find it interesting that “Because we like our beefsteak tartare” became “Because we like our hamburger RAW“.  I suppose an American audience in the 1950s wouldn’t have had a clue what ‘beefsteak tartare’ would be… I certainly didn’t.

Moving along into the 1970s, my dad got to be a Shel Silverstein fan and we all ‘dug’ “Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball”.

And needless to say, when we didn’t do our chores we were treated to this other Shel Silverstein number…

So I’ll also be lifting a glass to my dad sometime this weekend. I’ve already lifted a few over the past week. One of his favourites was Remy Martin – straight up!*

 
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*unmixed, without ice

Aliens, Jews, reviews and song!

jva1I’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)

Yankl, a member of the Bund, Odessa, 1900. Photo by K Mulman (YIVO)

It’s worth mentioning that the Bund was resolutely anti-Zionist and also that women played a major role in the organisation. You can find out more about the Bund from the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and this article at the Jewish Women’s Archive.

It’s still early for reviews for JvA. However, Horror Uncut has 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 originally appeared 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”. (NOTE 25.03.15: Oops! What a shame. YouTube has taken the Daniel Kahn vid down. I’ll leave this empty space up for now until I find a replacement or someone posts it again. In the meantime listen to it on the Arty Semite blog.)

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!

A nomination for Rustblind and Silverbright, and the scariest train song I ever did hear…

RustblindI’m pleased to announce that Rustblind and Silverbright has been nominated by the British Fantasy Society for Best Anthology. This is a great credit to the thought and care that editor David Rix has given to producing this book, and the way he drew together a varied and powerful group of uncategorisable stories themed around railways and train journeys.

This anthology includes “The Turning Track”, a novelette I co-authored with Matt Joiner, where a fantastical train runs through the multiverse to haunt the dreams of those struggling with a shabby and repressive reality. Another story in this anthology, Nina Allan’s “Vivian Guppy and the Brighton Belle”, has also received a nomination for Best Novella.

I’ve been meaning to write about Rustblind for a while, and now have an excellent excuse. I’ve also been wanting to respond to a few questions about a line sung by the dedicated station-master as he awaits this mighty multi-dimensional Train:

“I asked my captain for the time of day… he said he throwed his watch away”.

These lyrics actually come from a traditional song noted for ominous trains and lonesome forests:  “In the Pines” aka “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” The line about the thrown-away watch has fallen out of the most well-known renditions, but I think it’s one of the most haunting lines in a song full of train wrecks and decapitated bodies and desolation.

“In the Pines” is also a song about loss, and this echoes profoundly because the anthology contains “The Last Train” by the late Joel Lane. Last year’s launch for Rustblind was the last time I saw him, and that was the case for others involved with this book. I have a feeling that Joel was a guy who spent a lot of time in the pines.

While many people first came across this song through Nirvana’s 1990’s rendition, it actually dates back to southern Appalachia in the 19th century. Other musicians who performed “In the Pines” include Leadbelly, Earl Monroe, the Carter Family, Dolly Parton, Marianne Faithfull, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Greatful Dead, Hole and even Tiny Tim.

Many American folk songs portray the building of the railroads, the advent of train travel and the Depression of the 1930s when immigrants and working class people rode the rails in search of work or a better life. Music historian Norm Cohen wrote a book that explores this legacy, Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong. A good chunk is devoted to “In the Pines”, which belongs to a ‘cluster’ of songs. Songs in this cluster include the “in the pines” chorus, a stanza about ‘the longest train’ and one about a train crash where someone’s head is found in the driving wheel or ‘round the firebox door’.

I first heard this song as a teenager, and it has always fascinated me. Why does the girl hide in pines where the cold winds blow, and why do those who are outcast and bereft flee there? Some versions are addressed to a “black girl”; was she running from slavery to seek refuge in the pines? Or was she hiding there after her husband, ‘a railroad man’, was lynched?

Dominating the song is ‘the longest train’, which often stands outside time itself. The train might kill a loved one, take a loved one away, or transport a migrant worker to exile. But sometimes the protagonists ride that train back home.

This song inspired my 2006 novelette “In the Pines”, where it links three characters through space and time. This appeared in the anthology Extended Play: the Elastic Book of Music. And the melancholy chords of “In the Pines” continued to echo in my mind as I collaborated on “The Turning Track”.

To mark the nomination of Rustblind and Silverbright, I’m sharing a few of my favourite performances of “In the Pines”. It makes sense to start with Nirvana’s version, which introduced the old song to a new audience.

Kurt Cobain drew much of his inspiration from Leadbelly’s interpretation. In this recording, Leadbelly addresses the song to a “black girl”, though he sings ‘my girl’ in another recording.

Here’s a classic bluegrass version by Bill Monroe, which features that ‘high lonesome sound’. The ‘longest train’ is prominent from the first verse and we don’t hear about the severed head.

Leadbelly and his successors have left out the verses about the ‘longest train’ and the discarded watch. But this bluegrass rendition by Lori Lee Ray gets everything in, as does this Joan Baez performance. Lori Lee Ray’s video below also contains powerful images of trains, pine forests and clocks.

Finally, here is an absolutely eerie version performed by Hole. Dare I say that sometimes I prefer this to Nirvana’s rendition?

Of reviews and cats
While I’m at it, I might as well post a couple of reviews of Rustblind that came out last year, which I missed during a period of busyness and bloggage-drought. So here’s a review on Rising Shadow by Serengil and another from Nick Jackson in Sein und Werden.

Serengil describes “The Turning Track” as:

“A fascinating story about love, death and a mysterious train… a beautiful example of what authors can achieve when they know how to write good fiction and have plenty of imagination. This story is a sparkling gem of literary speculative fiction that will seduce the reader with good prose and strange happenings.”

And Nick Jackson writes in Sein und Werden:

“Mat Joiner and Rosanne Rabinowitz co-authored the final piece in the collection and take up the idea of an infinite train travelling between this world and the next. ‘The Turning Track’ concerns a gay man’s aim to complete a history of a mysterious train begun by his late partner.  This piece is particularly strong on characterisation and contains some wonderfully gory detail of human-to-machine transformation.  With all dual-authored stories, you look for the seams in the narrative.  In this case there don’t seem to be any but my money is on Rosanne for introducing a particularly characterful cat.”

Thanks Serengil and Nick. At this point I’ll offer a belated response to Nick’s comments about Fintan the cat. It was Mat who introduced the cat but I gave the moggie his name. And it was our critiquer, Joel Lane, who had urged us to make Fintan more than mere ‘furry freight’ – to give him more presence and render him ‘characterful’. My first response was ‘well, he’s cat and he does what cats do’. Then I thought again…

So I’ll leave with another thank-you to Joel.

Fryer’s delight – and a look at novellas and novels

Happy new year, everybody. And a happy first birthday for this blog. I committed my first posting here on 3 January 2013, which was mainly a tale of WordPress woe.  

As I enter my second year in the blogosphere, I won’t go on about resolutions except for the most relevant one… to blog more. But before I attack my blogging back-log, I’ll start the year on a complimentary note. Matthew Fryer, who gave Helen’s Story an enthusiastic review earlier in 2013, has also highlighted Helen in his best of 2013 roundup:

“Special mention also goes to the lustrous Helen’s Story by Rosanne Rabinowitz. Functioning as an update/sequel for Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan”, it will please anybody who enjoys a thoughtful reworking and fresh point-of-view on a classic.”

So extreme thanks for the recognition and positive words, Matthew!

I was also very interested to see that Matthew counted Helen in the novel rather than novella category. At just under 40,000 words Helen would be considered a novella in most camps, and PS Publishing advertises it as a novella on its website. I’ve always thought of it as a novella myself.

So Matthew’s article has inspired me to think further about these two forms.

When I write a short story, it usually threatens to grow into a novella – I am engaged in a struggle with such an unruly story as I speak. Furthermore many of my stories extend to 10,000 to 12,000 words, or what’s known as a novelette.

I’ve always relished a good novella, and nothing hits the spot more than a collection of these beasts. I’ve also noticed that some novellas read as a longer short story, while others contain the layering you usually find in a novel. I have enjoyed both types of novella, but maybe the latter satisfies and resonates the most.

Much of Alice Munro’s work lies in this category; she is able to convey the timespan and complex story arcs of a novel in about thirty pages. Elizabeth Hand and Nina Allan have also written this kind of novella.

So can we define these forms by word count, or is it the structure and mood that defines the short story, the novella and the novel? Could there be an essence of novella-ness that is neither extended short story or condensed novel, but a fictional form in its own right?

Answers on the back of a postcard, please!

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Helen’s here in some excellent company

New review of Helen’s Story!

Chris Butler has this to say about Helen’s Story:

“Rabinowitz’ writing is very fine, as fans of her short fiction will know, and she exhibits a sly sense of humour here that I very much enjoyed… for anyone interested in the Pan mythology, ruminations on the power of art, or simply interested in quality contemporary fantasy writing, I highly recommend it.”

See link for full review.

First review of Helen’s Story – and it’s a good one

Blue-footed-booby_public domain

My inner blue-footed booby doing a happy dance

Here’s the first review of Helen’s Story from Matthew Fryer. He likes it!

“Rosanne Rabinowitz paints the otherworldly moments with vivid strokes and effortlessly transports us between Victorian and contemporary London.  She captures the character and nuances of both periods and proves herself a great evocator in the Machen tradition.”

I love that word ‘evocator’. I take it as an extreme compliment. Thank you, Mr Fryer.

He does suggest that ‘purists may bristle’. But that’s not such a bad thing, is it?

Read the full review here.