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Saturday, June 20, 2009


On a panel

I've been invited to speak on a panel at the British Science Fiction Association's upcoming AGM. If anyone feels like hearing me speak, do pop along.

Here are the details: The panel will be at 10 am on Saturday June 27 at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London. The other panelists, I believe, will be Nick Harkaway, Juliet McKenna, Paul Kincaid and Paul McAuley.

So, anyone who's free next Saturday morning and wants to say hello, that's where I'll be...

Thursday, June 18, 2009


It's my birthday...

... and today I'm thirty-two years old. So, as is my wont on birthdays, I shall be posting some of what passes for wisdom in the confines of my own mind. This year, a saying I invented as an undergraduate; I'd forgotten I used to say it until a friend recently reminded me:

Blessed are the easily pleased, for they shall be often happy.

And a picture of my wedding bouquet, which my wonderful godmother made for me herself - only one of her many generosities. And of the cake, made my some very clever people who were fascinating to talk to as only profound experts on a subject you didn't previously know existed can be - did you know there's a sugarcrafter's guild?

Monday, June 15, 2009


Why do I write made-up beasties and that?

It's a question my husband put to me over the weekend: why, given that I read a lot of realistic fiction, do I write the kind of stuff I do?

A very interesting question, in short. I never particularly set out to write fantastical stuff; my writing just tends to come out that way. What's the reason?

I think the reason is twofold. Part of it has to do with reality, and part of it has to do with authority.

Authority is the simpler answer. I don't like to base my characters on real people; I feel uncomfortable setting my stories in real places. Real people and places are fascinating things, but if I try to depict them, it's like a drag on my tail. I slow down. I labour. I grind. The stuff I produce comes out slow, laboured and grinding.

This, I think, is a question of conscience. I often quote Ruskin's 'You will never love art well, until you love what she mirrors better,', and I love reality. The world is a wonderful place. Depicting it badly throws me back on all my self-doubts, my uncertainties about my own perceptions, the horrible sense that if I fail to depict things properly, I will be betraying my beloved world.

This, of course, is block demon talk. But writing imaginative fiction dodges neatly round it. I may make mistakes depicting the life of a London cabbie, but if I say that the life of a lycanthropic activity police officer is thus-and-so, I'm betraying no one. I'm making it that way by fiat. I cannot misrepresent what is imaginary. This takes off the brakes: I can run wild into saying whatever I please. Imaginative fiction frees me up to be a bad girl. Or even a bad person. Writing doesn't have to be virtuous; in fact, if you block off the dark places of your mind, you're blocking your source. Conscious comparisons between your writing and reality lift you up out of the subconscious, and from there there's nowhere vivid to go. Other writers probably don't have this problem, but for me, obligations to beautiful reality can weigh me down.

Which takes me into the second reason why I write imaginative fiction: beautiful reality.

The world is utterly extraordinary. Most of the time we're used to it, but this is one amazing place we live in. When I was a child I read an autobiography in which the writer described regaining her sight after years of blindness and being continually astonished by the vivid loveliness of everything she can see, and that made an impression. I like to stop and stare as if I'd never seen the world before.

Writing, at its finest, can depict that. But this is a trick I use in my own: one way to convey the feeling of never having seen the world before is to create a world nobody has seen before, because it's imaginary. Invented situations are entirely new to both the writer and the reader, and into that you can pour all that first-sight passion of observation that makes the real world so numinous.

I try to write my imaginary situations as if they were real. Because, in a way, they are: they're a caricature of reality, a slight exaggeration of how startling and curious the world really is.

Monday, June 08, 2009


A concept in search of a word

Here's a linguistic challenge. You know that not-really-an-apology people sometimes give? It's usually rendered as, 'Well, I apologise, but I only said that because you provoked me,' or 'Sorry, but I only did it because...' The device is basically to embed the word 'sorry' or 'apologise' deep in a renewed self-justification or recrimination. The word's there, but it serves a purely decorative function.

It's a rather tricky argumentative strategy, because there's a social taboo against refusing to accept an apology. But if someone does refuse to be mollified by this, they're not really being unreasonable: the apology didn't express genuine contrition or desire to make amends, but instead was just a word, used as perfunctorily as possible in order to get the 'making amends' bit over with as quickly as possible before returning to the fray. It wasn't really an apology, any more than saying, 'Yes, but you're still wrong' is an agreement. But if one rejects it, then one can be accused of being ungracious, attributing bad faith, and generally giving your opponent a weapon to use against you.

We need a word for this. Things that happen a lot need words. If we can say, 'That isn't a reason, it's an excuse,' we ought to be able to say, 'That isn't an apology, it's a ... something.'

Let's have some suggestions. The best I can come up with is 'apolofication', a portmanteau or 'apology' and 'justification', but if anyone has a better one, let's get it in circulation.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


American proofs are here!

This morning a package arrived, containing the author galleys for the American edition of In Great Waters. The US release looms closer...

Reading proofs requires discipline. There's always the urge to fiddle, and in this case it's an urge I have to resist as far as possible: the UK edition is already out, and I need to keep the two as consistent as possible. This makes it rather nerve-wracking: if I spot something I regret, I may just have to leave it.

I've decided to treat it rather like a workout. There are about 400 pages; these I'm breaking into chunks, aiming to get through a certain amount per day. But I've already noticed a tendency to glance at the page I'm on much like I glance at the timer when I'm working out. 'Three minutes gone - okay, I only need to do that nine more times and I'm done...' or 'Four pages gone - okay, I only need to do that ninety-nine more times...' This is a long haul, and I'm in for the duration, and it'll probably do me good.

Having said that, the print is really rather nice: legible and attractive, well laid out and generally pleasant on the eye. I'm looking forward to the finished product.

Which nobody will get if I don't proof the darn thing, so I should stop blogging and get back to work, really. While I'm doing that, how about declaring this an open thread? Anyone who has something they want to promote, be it their own work, a recommendation, a blog or anything else: this is your moment.


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