Week-end: particularly rapid unintelligible patter

The right hand front wall of a large wooden dolls' house stands open. A fluffy black and white cat is sitting in the first floor room

The good

Very enjoyable evening watching The Yeomen of the Guard with one of my brothers (and seeing his partner and son, hurriedly). More on that distributed through this post. Also, a work thing I’d been dreading turned out to be surprisingly fun.

Meanwhile, the Society of Authors’ AGM (for which I’d submitted my proxy vote) saw off two motions, one mealy-mouthed faux-motherhood-and-apple-pie maundering about free speech, one gloves-off nasty attack on Joanne Harris, the chair of the management committee. I think the most useful summary of what actually goes on in the SoA is this thread by Dawn Finch.

The Torygraph (and, to a lesser extent, the Grauniad) is of course reporting this as a victory for cancel culture. Interesting how it’s only cancel culture when it’s a particular set of views that encounter a robust rebuttal.

I often feel like a bit of a fraud as a SoA member, because writing isn’t and probably never will be my main source of income, but I came by my membership honestly and I’m very glad that the Society can continue to standing up for my fellow authors with, I hope, less of this infuriating distraction from a tiny but loud single-issue pressure group.

The mixed

Thursday got dreadfully complicated. It should have been a London day, but I ended up with a mid-morning appointment in Ely. That was positive and useful (and I didn’t particularly mind the half hour walk each way in the rain; I’d have cycled if I had) but it meant a dash down to London at the end of the work day, which meant cycling through an unholy combination of school run and Christmas fair traffic, again in the rain. And a late night, but that was always going to happen (and Tony had forgotten to leave the latch down for me, so I had to phone him to get him out of bed again).

Pleasingly, I got to Wagamama just as J and family got to the front of the queue.

The difficult and perplexing

My horrible noisy front mudguard. I must take a spanner to it. Again.

And I have very limited brain at the moment, and I’m finding it incredibly frustrating. I can get one or two useful/creative things done per day and that’s it.

What’s working

Well, not the bit of string that’s holding my mudguard in place, I can tell you that much. Hmm. Canned soup is proving very useful, though.

Reading

Not a huge amount (see: not much brain). I’m leading the readthrough of Destination Unknown (Agatha Christie) for my online romantic suspense reading group; it’s good fun and extremely of its time (touchingly naive about the McCarthy initiatives, for example). I started reading Meet Cute (ed. Jae), an anthology of extracts from various sapphic books; unfortunately it’s often more like Meet Cringe and hits my embarrassment squick hard. Although it has reminded me that I’ve occasionally thought of giving Vicki and Gianna from A Spoke In The Wheel their own book.

Writing

I returned to the Romeo and Juliet thing on Monday, but haven’t done much since.

Making

Mystery patchwork. One down, five to go.

Watching

The Yeomen of the Guard (English National Opera, London Coliseum) with my brother J. We were rather tight on time (Wagamama took a while to serve us) and got there half way through the welcome, and excoriation of Arts Council cuts, from the director. Which is not bad timing really.

Yeomen isn’t my favourite of the Savoy operas, but this production mitigated most of the reasons I don’t like it. They’d taken most of the thees and thous out of the dialogue (pastiche Tudor: not one of Gilbert’s strengths) and set the action in the febrile post-war period, with Colonel Fairfax a brilliant scientist and suspected spy. (I couldn’t help thinking of Destination Unknown.) This made sense both as an update on his alleged dalliance with the dark arts and of his character: he remains terribly poor stuff, but the ‘asshole genius’ treatment makes sense.

Most importantly, I think, they let it be what it always has been when you scratch the surface: a show about miserable people making terrible decisions. Pretty much everybody would end up happier if nobody took any of the actions they take. Except Fairfax, and he is, as I say, an asshole, not to mention pretty philosophical about dying until someone gives him an alternative.

They threw in the patter trio (except they somehow made it a quartet) from Ruddigore as a replacement for Rapture, rapture. I can’t say that Rapture, rapture is much loss. If they’d just skipped it altogether I might have got home half an hour earlier. On the other hand, I’m probably never going to object to the patter trio from Ruddigore.

There was some excellent singing (I was most impressed, I think, by Sergeant Meryll, and he was an understudy), some clever staging, some good acting (Jack Point, in particular), and, in among the misery, a lot of genuinely funny moments.

Cooking

Tagliatelle con cipolle, out of the Diane Seed book. I somehow managed to cook about half the tagliatelle that two reasonable people would want, so we ate in two phases.

Eating

Ginger chicken udon at Wagamama. Not bad, though I had to eat it too fast. Gingerbread fudge from the fudge shop in Ely (very nice; there’s black treacle, or something like it, in there, which makes it taste definitely like gingerbread as opposed to just like ginger). Last night I was too tired to cook so we got Indian delivered: I had chicken tikka makan palak with Bombay aloo.

Playing

Duolingo. Well, I’ve been doing it for ages and have a 600+ day streak, but this week I got the update that everyone’s been whingeing about. I don’t hate it, actually. It’s not as disheartening as the one that added five levels to every skill. I did in fact stop using it for a few years after that one, and then picked it up again when I was bored in lockdown.

Noticing

Long-tailed tits in the pear trees. A squirrel munching away on a bunch of ash keys.

A strange sound from the dolls’ house, which turned out to be the cat getting into the loft. I got a picture of two green eyes peering through the top window, and another of the descent of Ceiling Cat, but neither of them was as good of the one of her in the bathroom, at the top of this post.

Appreciating

The NHS. Affordable opera tickets, dammit (here’s the petition to get the ENO’s funding reinstated). The fact that you can phone people up and pay them money and they will bring you food.

Acquisitions

New bras arrived.

Line of the week

I subscribed to The Marginalian recently. This week they sent me some John Muir:

The scenery of the ocean, however sublime in vast expanse, seems far less beautiful to us dry-shod animals than that of the land seen only in comparatively small patches; but when we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

Saturday snippet

From the Romeo and Juliet thing:

‘I’ve seen him before. Only once, I think.’ She glanced at the closed door, drew a packet of cigarettes from her skirt pocket, and lit up.

This was promising. ‘When? Where?’

Rosa thought that it might have been at somebody’s party, though, now she thought about it, perhaps it was at some club somewhere. ‘I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m afraid he didn’t make as much of an impression on me as all that.’

‘Do you know who he is?’

‘Haven’t the foggiest.’ Rosa inhaled deeply and blew the smoke out again before she continued. ‘The odd thing is, he does seem familiar, but I can’t think how I would know him. We’ve certainly never been introduced.’

This coming week

Tidy things up at work before I take a week’s leave. Apart from that, not much. I might try to get to the Alexander the Great exhibition at the British Library. And maybe I’ll move the dolls back into the dolls’ house. Will Twitter fall over?

How about you? Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

Week-end: red plush seat season

Ornate theatre auditorium with a lot of gilt and red plush, seen from high up in the gallery

The good

A serenely joyful Monday. Visiting friends. A night at the opera. Red and yellow trees. Ripe pears. There have been some lovely moments this week. And there is encouraging progress on the Bicycles and Broomsticks Kickstarter.

The mixed

You know, I really could enjoy autumn if only I didn’t have to do so much. And by ‘have to’ I mean ‘want to’, ‘feel obliged to’, and ‘be contractually obliged to’. As it is, I find myself simultaneously getting irritated by the memes about the joy of crunchy leaves and pumpkin spiced lattes, while enjoying the crunchy leaves. (I have never tried a pumpkin spiced latte. I have never tried a plain latte, not being overly fond of milk.)

And! I finally finally finally got up to date with my accounts (I use You Need A Budget). It took an awful lot of coffee, but I did it, and nothing is telling me reproachfully that it was last reconciled nine months ago.

The difficult and perplexing

I’m boring myself here, but I’m tired. I’m beginning to wonder, actually, whether I’m not so far over Covid as I thought I was. But it may still be the time of year, combined with the nasty shock of things actually happening.

What’s working

High drama, sequins, lounging on the sofa, hot baths, soap made with coffee grounds.

Reading

I progressed a little further with The Master and Margarita. The Master has now shown up. In The Fellowship of the Ring we have reached the Old Forest and Tom Bombadil has shown up. In non-fiction, I read the introductory sections of Philip’s Guide To The Night Sky (see Acquisitions) and very much enjoyed the general Sir Patrick Mooreness of the writing. I will return to the seasonal specifics later.

Writing

Some editing on Book Bus Stories. Some connections in Starcrossers, which continues to head north towards ten thousand words. I’m going to finish joining it all up and then see what I can cut. Or throw myself on the editor’s mercy. Maybe both.

Mending

I’ve been having a lot of fun with the darning loom this week. I’ve darned a pyjama top (it’s very obvious that I mostly sleep on my right side), a pair of walking socks, a pair of ordinary socks, two pairs of jeggings, and one of Tony’s merino T-shirts.

Watching

Tosca (English National Opera, London Coliseum). I’d never actually seen Tosca and felt it was about time, and really, when you can get tickets for a tenner and I’m in London anyway, why not? So I did. It was an enjoyable show, very trad production (bicorne hats and all), good singing, understudy (?) Scarpia acquitted himself very well, Tosca herself was great, though I think Caravadossi ran away with it. My formative Tosca is Agatha Christie’s short story Swan Song, so (without spoilers) I’m always slightly surprised when the opera keeps on going for another forty minutes after Vissi d’arte (or Love and Music in this case, as ENO do everything in English). I am glad I did not accidentally leave at the interval.

Although I will say that the ten pound seats are proportionately tiny, front to back, and I was glad it wasn’t a full house and there was space for us to spread out.

Another three episodes of Heartstopper with my friend N, with popcorn and everything. It’s very charming, but my overwhelming reaction is relief that I never have to go to school ever again.

Also, what I need to get me through the dark evenings is a bucketload of sequins, unconvincing musical cuts, and dodgy scoring, and since figure skating doesn’t hit Eurosport until this coming Friday I’ve been watching Strictly Come Dancing.

Cooking

Bubble and squeak (accompanied by fierce debate as to whether you can really call it that when it isn’t made with leftovers); upside down chocolate pear pudding (experimenting this time with adding ground almonds and more milk than I’d meant to). I’ve just peeled and chopped up all the time-limited apples for apple sauce. I filled a saucepan with apples, resulting in half a saucepan of apple sauce, and there is still most of a bowl of (more durable-looking) apples left.

Eating

Pears. Some of them have been divine. The trouble with pears is that they so often go straight from rock-hard to rotten. I had one on Sunday that was both at once. I cut the rotten end off and sliced up the sharp remainder and ate it with Comté cheese. Very good.

I had a very nice paneer kebab at Le Maison Bab in Covent Garden before the opera. And a cocktail called a Paloma Pomegranate to go with it. Very nice. Very pink.

Playing

Ticket to Ride with N and M (not the Agatha Christie ones), followed by Labyrinth and Funny Bunny with M.

Noticing

How quickly the leaves are changing. And they really are lovely this year.

In the garden

As you might have guessed, apples and pears.

Appreciating

Pure distilled emotion. Lie-ins.

Acquisitions

It is always great fun to explore the charity shops of a town you don’t live in. I did very well, and came away with a knitted top, a Friedrich Hollaender/Marlene Dietrich songbook, the vocal score for Cowardy Custard (never heard of it, but it is a way to acquire a lot of Coward music all at once), Consider Phlebas, Philip’s Guide to the Night Sky as mentioned above, The Woman Who Stole My Life (I do like Marian Keyes), By Royal Command (Charlie Higson made a very entertaining interviewer; I’m interested to see what the Young Bond books are like), The Star of Kazan (to replace an copy with a snot stain – not mine), and all five acts of Mireille. Which I think I have only ever encountered on a pianola roll before now.

Hankering

Well, I was looking at a couple of leather jackets, but neither of them fitted well enough to convince me. This reminded me of my intermittent desire for a proper bomber jacket with a sheepskin or knitted collar. And I was very tempted by a darning loom with twenty-one hooks and a long board (the hooks more than the board, if I’m honest). Plus things I’ve mentioned in previous weeks and may buy now I’ve sorted out my money and payday has arrived.

Line of the week

In the Old Forest:

In the midst of it there wound lazily a dark river of brown water, bordered with ancient willows, arched over with willows, blocked by fallen willows, and flecked with thousands of faded willow-leaves.

Saturday snippet

A currently load-bearing bit of Starcrossers:

She used a word I didn’t know. “I suppose you’d call it a guess, though it’s more than that. You’re obviously from the Containment, you enjoy a certain level of rank, though perhaps enjoy isn’t the word, and none of the other Heir’s heirs have a reputation for venturing into Crew territory.” For the first time, she smiled. “And yes, they do also show me the news pieces.”

This coming week

A relatively quiet one at work. I think. I’d like to get the first draft of Starcrossers done and maybe even move on to working out what can come out. A Cursillo event on Saturday, which I am hoping will come together. And there’ll be some figure skating to watch.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

Hyperlocal travel writing: the sofa

I have been in Verona.

Not literally.

Well, technically, yes, I’ve stood in a very long queue for the ladies’ at the railway station between getting off a train from Venice and getting on one to Brenner(o). Technically, I have been in Verona. But that wasn’t my point.

Figuratively, I have been in Verona.

Dark screen showing DVD covers for three different versions of Romeo and Juliet, plus other Shakespeare plays

I started off in January in kitschy, fictional, Verona Beach, because I needed to remind myself of Romeo and Juliet in a hurry, and the version that was at that moment the most accessible was the Baz Luhrmann one.

Now, I am just the age to have hit compulsory school Shakespeare when Romeo+Juliet had been out long enough to become the version that English teachers turned to (and Titanic was just out, and Leonardo DiCaprio was a very big thing indeed). My teens are a bit of blur at this point (not for any sex/drugs/rock’n’roll reasons; it’s just that we spent an entire year moving house) but I’m reasonably sure that I studied Romeo and Juliet three times running at three different schools. I only really remember one of those with any clarity (it was, interestingly enough, the school I struggled with the most, but I did enjoy English): we watched the Luhrmann version; we watched the Zeffirelli version, too, but it was the tat-tastic, somewhere-on-the-American-West-Coast, Verona Beach that’s stuck in my memory.

Anyway, that was January. I finished off the thing I’d watched it for in the first place, and I thought no more about it. Then I fell down the rabbit hole. It was the discovery that Alan Rickman had played Tybalt (BBC, 1978) that had me leaving scorched rubber in the search bar and resulted in the delivery of a parcel of DVDs (it comes in a set with the major tragedies, and I thought I might as well add in the Zeffirelli version, not to mention the Branagh Much Ado About Nothing, and make the most of the postage charge).

BBC Verona is much like other BBC sets of the seventies: very much a stage set, earnestly reproducing balconies and battlements in painted plywood. Alan Rickman as Tybalt is pretty much exactly how you’d expect Alan Rickman to be as Tybalt. Perfect casting, to my mind.

Reminding myself of Zeffirelli’s Verona, I suddenly saw what the BBC had been going for, how much it owed to the earlier production. It wasn’t filmed in the real Verona but I had to look it up to check. (It’s not like I would know from the railway station lavatories, after all.) This Verona is made of stone: it’s all walls and pavements and battlements, and feels at once very authentic and very claustrophobic.

Then I remembered the existence of the musical. Musicals, plural, if you count West Side Story, which to my mind is one of the best musicals in existence, but is very much not set in any sort of Verona. The Presgurvic musical, though, very much is. Welcome to Verona, my beautiful Verona, the city where the families make the law, the city where everyone hates everyone else. (Translation mine, from the earworm: the original actually rhymes and scans and is probably in a different order.)

I’d watched the Hungarian version years ago and had vague memories of a grungy, punky set and a heart-breakingly optimistic Romeo. It’s still up on Youtube, so I watched it again. My memories were correct; also, there’s a lot of fire. There’s also a real sense of a city that runs on hatred. This isn’t the Sharks and the Jets floating on top of a city that doesn’t know much about them and doesn’t care at all; this is somewhere that wouldn’t even know what it was if it didn’t have the feud. I found the Italian version, too. That’s less fiery, more gothic. This Verona is somewhere between the Middle Ages and the apocalypse.

One cannot watch videos all the time, but one of the great things about working from home is that one can have whatever music one likes in the background (and so can one’s partner, at the other end of the landing). So I’ve been listening to the French version a lot. I have yet to fork out for Spotify Premium, so I get the government popping up and telling me what to do if I’m an EU citizen (alas!) in between Mercutio yelling ‘Je maudit vos familles! Je maudit vos maisons!’ and Romeo losing it. But then I also get people popping up to ask me to sort out their login problems, so somebody’s death scene is always going to get interrupted sooner or later.

Then I found my CD of the Bellini opera. Actually, I found the libretto booklet, which had somehow got separated from the CDs. Flicking through it, I discovered something that made me go, ‘Ohhhhhhhhh!’

… A grave reason spurs Capulet to this urgency. Maybe a sudden storm hangs over the heads of the Guelphs: maybe the Montagues are rising again in enmity! May they perish, ah! perish, those savage, insolent Ghibellines!

Now, all I know about the Guelphs and the Ghibellines comes from reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ introduction to her translation of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy several years ago, and about all I had remembered was that they were opposing parties. It hadn’t occurred to me that the feud in Shakespeare might have had anything to do with real world partisanship, but it seemed really insultingly obvious now. I looked it up on Wikipedia, and there it was staring me in the face: Ghibelline swallow-tailed merlons on the ‘Casa di Romeo’, of the Montecchi family of Verona.

Small collection of clutter including a battered paperback copy of 'The Divine Comedy: Hell' by Dante, translated by Dorothy L. Sayers, and the insert from a CD of I Capuleti e i Montecchi by Vincenzo Bellini.

I picked up Dante again – I’d been thinking of reading it over Easter anyway – and reread the introduction. I hadn’t remembered entirely accurately: there were plenty of family feuds going on alongside the Guelph-Ghibelline stuff:

… the Italian nobility was violently divided by internecine clan feuds like those of the Campbells and MacGregors, so that each great family was a law unto itself and its followers, overriding the native constitution, bearing rule according to its own tribal custom, and indulging in perpetual raids and vendettas against its rivals…

After setting out the broader political context, Sayers focuses on Dante’s life, following him from Florence into exile in (wouldn’t you know) Verona and, ultimately, Ravenna. Then I spent three quarters of an hour listening to Dr Eleanor Janega tell me about Boccaccio’s Florence, and now I’m trying to remember why it is that Ravenna’s stuck in my memory. Maybe the Diarmaid McCullough History of Christianity…?

Meanwhile, cycling season has been getting underway. I like watching the cycling: often it’s two hours of scenery followed by ten minutes of excitement, but the scenery’s worth it. Strade Bianche: the white roads around Siena. Tirreno-Adriatico: west to east, sea to sea, cypress trees and red roofs, hilltop villages, Roman ruins… This weekend, it’s Milan-Sanremo. Par for the course for a spring in which I’ve been seeing a rather lot of Italy, not to mention a whole lot of Veronas, from my sofa.

Map showing main rail lines in northern Italy

Upstaged! anthology out today

Prima Donna

I’m very pleased to say that Upstaged!: an anthology of women who love women in performing arts is available now, and that it contains my story Prima Donna. It’s a delightful selection of short stories published by Supposed Crimes, who specialise in F/F fiction across a variety of genres.

The ‘performing arts’ in question are many and varied – my story is (of course) about opera, while others feature panto, silent film, burlesque, plays and musicals.

The genres are many and varied, too. We have steampunk, sci-fi, romance, slice-of-life, and straight (or not-so-straight) historical. Settings range from the 1830s to the far future, from Broadway to New Helsinki. Not all the stories will be to everyone’s taste – that’s the nature of such a diverse collection – but all the same I think there is something in there for everyone.

There’s an interview with me about the inspiration for Prima Donna and about my future projects over at the publishers’ site today.

As for the book itself, here it is at Amazon.com…

… at Amazon.co.uk…

… at Kobo…

… at Smashwords…

… at Barnes & Noble

UPSTAGED cover-2

Upstaged: an anthology of queer women and the performing arts

UPSTAGED cover-2

I’m very pleased to say that my story Prima Donna will be appearing in Supposed Crimes‘ upcoming anthology Upstaged.

My author copy came through yesterday, and I’m planning on spending the weekend reading it. I know what’s in my story, of course (opera, travesti, people jumping to conclusions and having to find their way back from them, and more opera) but the rest of the anthology is new to me, and it looks very intriguing…

Presenting the Revial of Jan, Aila Alvina Boyd – Years after blowing her Broadway debut, a former actress is convinced by the playwright to come out of retirement in order to revive the role that pushed her to the brink of insanity.

The Helsinki Incident, Renee Young – After an unexpected, erotic encounter with a mysterious and beautiful stranger, the lead guitarist of a band touring mining outposts across the solar system rediscovers her love of music.

I, Stage Manager, Marolyn Krasner – A short love story about a stage manager, eccentric theater types, a kooky best friend, and leather daddies.

End of an Era, Althea Blue – In the years leading to the death of the silent film, many careers were ended prematurely. But do we really know everything there was to know about the silent stars who faded away?

Knife’s Edge, Geonn Cannon – Amid the insanity of the circus, Arlie and Ru must place absolute trust in each other. Arlie trusts that the blades will hit their intended target, while Ru trusts that Arlie won’t flinch. It would only take the smallest of mistakes to destroy that trust.

I Think I’m Gonna Like It Queer, Allison Fradkin – Theatre is an ensemble of inflection, projection, and rejection. So when 16-year-old Reyna—a performer who’s part prima donna, part dreamgirl next door—desires a duet with Melinda, the ingénue who plays her best friend, she can’t just run and tell that. Or even run and tell Melinda. But with the arrival of a triply threatening romantic rival, it’s five to places and ten to one that Reyna had better act on her feelings before the curtain closes on her chances.

London Lark, JL Merrow – Repairing a salvaged automaton becomes a labour of love for apprentice tinkerer Harriet Hodgkins. But the clockwork coquette is destined for resale, and Miss Pandora’s restoration will signal their separation—unless Hodgkins can engineer a more auspicious ending.

Prima Donna, Kathleen Jowitt – Everybody knows why the great Signora Valli left the Licorne opera company. Everybody, that is, except Monsieur Perret, who’s taken the brave – some would say foolish – decision to cast her opposite rising star Delphine Vincent-Leclerc in Rossini’s Tancredi. But what everybody knows is only half the story.

Oh No She Didn’t!, Debbie McGowan – Once upon a time, in the not so faraway land of small-town amateur dramatics, there lived a widow called Marcy and her beautiful, grown-up daughter, Ginny…

Rise or Shine, Sonni de Soto – What is Cadence Carrington to do? Her public life is colliding fast with her private persona, when her boss at the governor’s office sets his eye on shutting down the club she secretly performs burlesque at as featured dancer and femme fatale, Rebel Rouser. It’s only a matter of time before she’s found out, but the question is will she choose Cady’s steady, straight-laced life or will she choose to be the Rebel she knows she is at heart?

A. M. Leibowitz, the editor, says:

We had everything from actual plays to space operas to period pieces to contemporary romance. These talented storytellers captured womanhood, and women on stage and screen, in all their beautiful, wonderful glory. In the end, I was only able to take ten stories. These are the ones that made me laugh and cry and want to sing. There are erotic and sensual tales, gender non-conformity, trans women, lesbians and bisexuals, politics, falling in love, parenting, youthful crushes, opera, toe-tapping musical numbers, death-defying stunts, humor, and more. This anthology is a celebration.

Upstaged will be released on 15 July and is available for pre-order now.