Sunday, 30 December 2018

My Mountain of Unread Books

This is getting a bit silly now.
I've come to the end of the year and there are 58 books on my 'pending' shelf that I haven't read yet. 20 of those came from FantasyCon. And there are more on my list of books that I want to buy, just as soon as I've read a few more of these....
At the moment I'm racing through NK Jemison's Obelisk Gate, but I haven't yet allowed myself to buy the third in that trilogy, so I may go on to Miracle Brew by Pete Brown (about beer), or Lionheart by Sharon K Penman (Richard I in the Holy Land)…. Or there's Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths (a forensic archaeologist in Norfolk), or Provenance by Ann Leckie, Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, The Cogwheel Brain by Doron Swade (about Babbage's Difference Engine)….
History, SF, Fantasy, murder mystery with archaeology, real ale - there's a good variety to keep me entertained in the coming months.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Great Cross-Over

I'd forgotten I had this picture, copied from somewhere on Facebook, I think.
I thought it would be a nice thing to share now, in memory of Stan Lee - here being enthusiastic about Doctor Who, with Matt Smith.


Sunday, 18 November 2018

California Fires Threaten Famous Movie Locations

California is burning.
The wildfires are destroying whole towns (the entire town of Malibu has been evacuated), and over a thousand people are missing. There have been many deaths, and thousands of people have lost everything.
So it's really only a small footnote to the situation to be concerned that Sherwood Forest is in danger - or at least, the stand in for Sherwood Forest that was used for locations in the 1938 Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland movie The Adventures of Robin Hood (still my favourite Robin Hood film).
The area is actually known as Bidwell Park, and 5 acres of Upper Bidwell Park are burning. South of the Park, around the town of Chico, 700 acres have burned.
Meanwhile, at the Paramount Ranch, the Western town outdoor set has also burned down, according to Backlots blog. It's been used as a movie set for 90 years, most recently for the series Westworld.

Thursday, 8 November 2018


I'm not sure now how I found out about Native Realities Publishing, but I'm glad I did. They publish comics by Native American authors and illustrators. The first comic I bought from them was Captain Paiute, the origin story of a Native American superhero, and since I enjoyed that I thought I'd treat myself to Deerwoman, an anthology of stories by a variety of Native writers.
The name that was familiar to me (and I will get round to buying Trail of Lightning eventually, when the Mountain of Unread Books gets a little smaller) was Rebecca Roanhorse. Her story is called The Taste of White Flowers, Staining Her Lips. It's only two pages, but it draws you in, so that you're there in the bar drinking with the characters, one of whom is more than she seems....
The artwork is in a variety of styles, and the stories are about modern Native women, who go to High School, live in modern apartments, are in lesbian relationships - and always there's the threat of violence from men, and sometimes Deerwoman takes revenge.
Some of the stories that stood out for me were Deerwoman: A Vignette, by Elizabeth LaPensee, illustrated by Jonathan R Thunder and Wives by Darcie Little Badger, with illustrations by Tara Ogaick, and Changing Woman by Tatum Bowie - but it's all good stuff.
It's not necessarily easy reading - and it's suggested for mature readers - but it brings up serious issues. The publishers are supporting Arming Sisters, an organisation that is helping indigenous communities through self-defence. Indigenous women have a high risk of violence, and organisations like Arming Sisters and the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women (these and other organisations are listed at the back of the book) are working to improve the situation.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Manchester and Charleville-Mézières

I heard a forgotten piece of Manchester history on Broadcasting House this morning.
As part of the coverage of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, the reporter had uncovered a story that had been forgotten in Manchester, but which was still fondly remembered in Charleville-Mézières. This was a town that was one of the first to be taken over by the German forces, and the last to be liberated, just before Armistice Day - and the Germans destroyed large areas of the town as they retreated.
Hearing of this, the people of Manchester rallied round and raised money to rebuild the town, providing a hospital and school and other buildings, and it's lovely to see that the road going past the hospital is called Avenue de Manchester. Then the Mancunians forgot all about it, but the people of Charlevills have recently got back in touch with Manchester to celebrate their ties of friendship.
The town is close to the border with Belgium, and also close to the Ardennes national park. It's also famous for it's World Festival of Puppet Theatres!

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Chester Cathedral

I don't think I ever went into Chester Cathedral when I was last in Chester - which must have been the 1970s, which is a fairly scary thought. I certainly didn't remember the Addleshaw Tower, which was built in 1974 to house the bells.

It's well worth visiting. One of the first things I came across was the Consistory Court, which used to be used to try cases pertaining to the Church, including accusations of slander. It's arranged round a big table, with benches on each side, a witness stand, seat for the judge, and a seat perched high on one corner like an umpire at a tennis match. All this enclosed with a wooden partition. I think it's unique in the country.

I also loved the Abbot's Chapel, which became the Bishop's Chapel at the Reformation, accessed up spiral tower stairs.
Heading towards the East end, I passed through the Quire, with the magnificent misericords. Then I came to an area with a lectern, and seals of the saints in the tiling of the floor, which made me grin delightedly. This is exactly what Katherine Kurtz was describing when she wrote Deryni Rising - the climactic magical battle in the cathedral depends on the young King finding the seal of St Camber in the tiled floor to trigger his powers.
I also lit a candle to St. Werburgh, the patron saint of the cathedral - the shrine was rebuilt in the 19thC after being damaged at the Reformation. St Werburgh was the daughter of King Wulfhere of Mercia and St Ermenilda, and her grandmother was St Sexburga, Queen of Kent. She became a nun, and was put in charge of all the convents of Mercia. Her most famous miracle is of bringing her pet goose back to life when it had been killed for the table (I suspect she also sacked the steward responsible!). She died around 700AD.

While strolling round the cloisters, I was approached by two young school children (with teacher in tow), who were handing out leaflets for a sale they were putting on.
This was in the Chapter Room, where they'd laid out clocks made from an old LP, splattered with paint and fitted with a clock mechanism, and painted mugs. There were a few other, smaller gifts as well. I asked how the clocks had been made, and a little boy gave me a detailed description of how they had put the records on a turntable, powered by an exercise bike, which they had then squirted paint onto. I remember making pictures like that at school fetes. They seemed to have had great fun making the clocks.
All this was to raise money for Passion For Learning - they were also looking for volunteers to join the team, to spend between one and three hours a week working with kids to make learning fun, and to help children reach their full potential.
I bought a mug. It's hideous.

The cathedral café is in the medieval refectory, with a magnificent lectern built into the wall, with stairs, for the monk doing the reading while the rest of the brothers ate.
And back to the gift shop, which was full of very beautiful things (and they already had the Christmas stock on display) but very little which was specific to that particular cathedral. I had to ask the staff if they had anything about St Werburgh, and all they could come up with was a postcard.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Walking Round Chester

From the riverside, I walked along the wall walk as far as the racecourse (once the Roman quayside), and around Chester Castle, which was extensively rebuilt to house the Shire Hall, now the Crown Courts, and the headquarters of the Cheshire Regiment - the Regimental Museum is still there, along with what is left of the medieval castle.

I'd done enough wall walking for a bit, so I followed the main road back into the centre of Chester to explore the Rows. These are unique to Chester, with a raised and covered walkway going over the top of the ground floor level of shops, and with the first floor shops set back.
Right in the centre of Chester, by the crossroads, is the Victoria pub, where I stopped for a welcome half of Adnams. There was a busker with a guitar outside, and further along one of the streets was a violinist (both very good). At one point, they swapped their pitches for the rest of the afternoon.

Moving on to the square, where the Roman forum once was - and the remains of the Legionary strong room are displayed down the side of the market hall. This was part of the decoration at the end of the Rows nearest the square:

Also in the square, this gift from Chester Zoo:

And then more walking around the Walls until I came to the Cathedral.
On the green near the Cathedral there was a falconry display going on - I watched for a bit beside the King Charles Tower.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Chester - St John's Church

Just by the Roman amphitheatre is a church which claims to be the original cathedral for Chester, built somewhere in the 4thC (or possibly even earlier!), and later being rebuilt in stone to become the Saxon minster for Chester. At that time, the amphitheatre was being used as some sort of fortified residence, with buildings in the arena and most of the entrances blocked up. It is, of course, outside the City walls.

These are some of the ruins at the east end - I was too early to go inside the church, which opens at 10am. The church was reduced in size at the Reformation, and this bit was converted into Tudor flats! Now the churchyard is home to these cute little things:

I'm sure they were posing for me!

I then crossed the amphitheatre again to get to the Roman garden, which runs along the outside of the City Wall, and is full of columns found in the City, as well as more recent mosaics, and a replica hypocaust.

I didn't expect to find some Civil War history there as well - there's a portion of wall in the picture which has been rebuilt, after being breached by the Parliamentary forces, who set up their cannons at St Johns. There's a plaque at the base of the wall to remember the dead of both sides, set up by the Sealed Knot.

The Roman garden leads down to the river:

It must have been somewhere close to here that my grandad hired a rowing boat to take my gran out on the river, not long after they got married. They'd come down on the train from Manchester for day trips - it must have been 1937 or 38.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

At Leisure in Chester

It's a long time since I've been to Chester, so I was glad to have a half day to explore before I went home from FantasyCon. I was able to leave my suitcase at the hotel, which was a blessing - it was full of books and a lot heavier than when I'd arrived!

This amused me, at the Westminster Hotel right by the Belgrave Hotel.

A short walk up City Road, and there was this view:

And a little further on, a nice example of late nineteenth century social housing:

Then the familiar sight of the Eastgate Clock:

I was heading to the Roman amphitheatre, which I remembered when the building next door, which covers half the site, was still a girls' school. I was sad to see that the building is now derelict. The amphitheatre itself has been improved though:

There's still only half the amphitheatre visible, but now there's a walkway across the semicircle, with a public space beyond it, where I found this model:

There's been a major dig since I last visited, with new walkways put in, and the positions of the original seating marked out in wood, and with rebuilt walls. The altar to Nemesis in a small room just off the arena is also a replica - I think the original is in the Grosvenor Museum:

Monday, 29 October 2018

Rosa - Doctor Who

I no longer have a working TV - when the local area went digital I decided not to bother, because I only really watched Doctor Who.
So an added bonus of being in a hotel on Sunday evening was the working TV in the room, and the ability to watch Doctor Who!
I'm really glad that the episode I managed to watch was Rosa, and not Arachnids in the UK.

Now I've seen the new Doctor in action, I like her a lot, and I also like the new Companions, especially Graham. I was completely unaware of Bradley Walsh before he was cast in Doctor Who (not being a watcher of game shows) so I had no preconceptions about him. The fact that he was a retired bus driver worked really well in this story. And Vinette Robinson was brilliant as Rosa Parks.

From what I've seen so far, it seems that Chris Chibnall really is taking the show back to basics - bigger Tardis Team and more historical episodes, just like 1963 but with better production values!

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Sunday at FantasyCon

I started gently on the Sunday, in the dealers' room, chatting to people like Ian Whates, who runs Newcon Press, about the Tanith Lee collection on his stall, short stories chosen by her friends (and which I must get at some point....).

The first panel I went to was From Fanon to Canon, moderated by Cheryl Morgan, who mentioned that she had interviewed Joanne Harris for her radio programme the day before, while demonstrating good mic technique.
This was about ideas that grew up in the fan community which might (or might not) make the leap across into official show canon - such as Kirk and Spock being more than just good friends....
This led to a discussion of the literary canon being authoratitive - and who gets to decide? Who gets to enforce canon? In the early days of the Christian church, it was the Council of Nicaea, choosing which books and scriptures to keep in the definitive Bible and which to discard, or move to the Apocrypha.
Adjusting the canon to suit the fan is a subversive act.
In The Number of the Beast Heinlein suggested that all fictional universes existed in the same multiverse or fictional space, so anything can cross over with anything else. So it totally makes sense that there were hieroglyphs depicting R2D2 and C3PO in the Indiana Jones films, or that E.T. was a Jedi.
Historically, the King Arthur stories written in the Middle Ages were fan fiction of the original Welsh legends, and so were most of the Robin Hood stories, being added to over time with new characters (Lancelot, Friar Tuck).
On the video game front, there's the question of who actually stole the Death Star plans? One of the panel was adamant that it was him! Never mind the "many Bothans".
Video games encourage people to invest themselves in the characters more than traditional story telling did, which is why it's important to have more characters who look like the players, and why people feel so intensely about their pet theories about the world they're playing in.
Authors who are writing licenced fiction for established universes, like the Star Wars and Star Trek ones, are not allowed to read fanfic, in case they use an idea that a fan has come up with, and then get sued for royalties. This has happened. So that makes it difficult for fan theories about characters to make that leap to official canon.
And in Avengers: Civil War, many fans were disappointed that Tony Stark didn't go to Peggy Carter's funeral, because in fandom it was widely accepted that Peggy had become Tony's honorary auntie, because of her (canon) friendship with Howard Stark and Jarvis. But then, as another panellist said, maybe Tony was just being a dick!

The Mythologies panel was next, with a late substitution of Jeannette Ng for Micah Yongo.
To the question of what mythology was, the best answer from the panel was that mythology is the best we can make of history - showing the highest ideals, for instance King Arthur being the ideal King. Mythology can also be the spiritual tellings of a culture - but there is a difference between mythology and folklore.
Tolkein was trying to create a mythology of England when he started writing Lord of the Rings.
There's an online game called Smite, in which gods of different pantheons fight each other - but some of the gods in the game are actually still worshipped in some parts of the world, so is that really okay?
This led on to a discussion of the Norse pantheon, with the point being made that the records of the myths are incomplete, so the evidence we have about the different gods and goddesses is skewed in favour of the ones (like Odin) who were written about most. Thor, for instance, was not only a god of Thunder - he was also a healing god, on the evidence of a charm which asks Thor to kill the invisible elves who cause headaches!
The Prose Edda is an example of myths being written down as a way of defining a group identity - and also writing stories down when it seems that they're about to be lost, which was an important incentive for Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century.
As Jeannette Ng was on the panel (showing a comprehensive knowledge of Arthurian myth, among other things) her book Under the Pendulum Sun was mentioned, with the comment: "Come for the fairies, stay for the theology!"
She also talked about how Chinese religion is contradictory, between Tao, Buddhism and Confucius. She called herself a Source-lander, a term I hadn't heard before (but which makes perfect sense when I think about it) as opposed to Diaspora - so stories change when the people of a Diaspora tell them compared to how the people of the Source land tell them, and that's okay. American Gods is a good example of how this works. It's also important to pay attention to the sources you're drawing on when writing a story with cultural diversity, and paying attention to the voices of the people of those cultures.
They also talked about the mythic trope of the Damsel who basically leads the Knight through his Quest, and explains it all for him.
And also, Hawai'ian dwarves are known for their skill in building canoes.

Then it was upstairs to the Gladstone room for the panel on Renaissance Fantasy. Jeannette Ng was also on this panel, and it was impressive how she mentally changed gears in the ten minutes between one panel ending and the next beginning.
The panellists were first asked about their recommendations for good Renaissance fantasy, and came up with Marie Brennan who writes about Tudors and fairies, Mercedes Lackey, and Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards. Mary Gentle's Rats and Gargoyles was also mentioned.
And, why Renaissance? The coolness factor of having both guns and swords was a definite plus.
They all agreed that Renaissance stories needed more contact with the East, and more trade (all that silk had to come from somewhere).
And apparently the Elizabethans invented the drive-by shooting!
There was some discussion of societies where the authorities say "this is the way it's always been" but which are actually changing, in some cases quite quickly, and some of the authors on the panel had examined that idea in their writing.
Printing presses led to an explosion of books, because if a press isn't printing something, then it's not making money, so all sorts of things were put into print.
At the end of the panel I managed to get to the corridor at the same time as Jeannette Ng so that I could ask her to sign my copy of Under the Pendulum Sun.

One of the panel for Renaissance Fantasy had to leave early because he was going to the Banquet in the Jubilee Room. This lasted from 1pm to about 3pm (I went off for a more modest potato and leek soup in the hotel bar, which was very nice) and by 3pm I was outside the Jubilee Room with an increasing crowd as the waiters cleared the plates away and more chairs were brought to seat everybody. The room got very full indeed! But it was well worth it to be there for the presentation of the British Fantasy Awards. The complete list is widely available online now, but I was very pleased to see Under The Pendulum Sun win the Best Newcomer Award. It was lovely to see Francesca Barbini and Noel Chadwick going up for awards too, as I'd been chatting to them in the dealers' room - Francesca for the Best Non-Fiction Award and Noel for Shoreline of Fantasy, the Best Magazine.

And so the Con ended. I had an absolutely brilliant time, and met lots of really interesting and lovely people, and my brain has been stretched with new ideas. I'm not sure I'll be able to get to Glasgow next year (and my main Con next year will be WorldCon in Dublin anyway) but I'll certainly try to get to another FantasyCon in the future.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Saturday Afternoon and Evening at FantasyCon

I had lunch at the Town Crier, and as I was ordering my ham baguette one of the staff there noticed my Con badge and asked me what was going on across the road. They'd seen several customers with the same badges. Now I had my official Con programme, I was able to give her the printed sheets for the weekend's programme, so they knew what was happening. I saw her pinning them up in the kitchen area.

I also had time to go round the dealers' room, where I treated myself to lots of things - well, mainly books.... I got a Christmas present for my sister from a lady who made jigsaws. I'm not sure now how the topic came up - possibly talking about historical re-enactment, and she mentioned an axe making workshop. I know someone who would love to learn to make his own axe, so she gave me the details. The chap from Elsewhen Press, at the stall next door, said: "That's what I love about these Conventions - a person mentions something random like making axes and someone else has the details for doing it!"
I also treated myself to a pewter pendant of a stag done in the style of the Uffington white horse. Apart from the jigsaws, jewellery, a t-shirt stall, and a Japanese Steampunk in full costume selling Japanese SF memorabilia, most of the stalls were for books. Even the artist from Ireland was selling some of his work in the form of picture books. He belongs to a group of artists who live and work in the top corner of the island of Ireland, "further north than Northern Ireland!" on the Inishowen Peninsula.

At 4pm I went to the Disraeli Room, upstairs, where authors were reading from their work all day. This particular session had Tasha Suri, who I'd seen in the Religion in Genre Fiction panel earlier in the day. I wanted to see what her work was like.
I also was treated to extracts from the works of JA Browne and Suzie Wilde - I really want to know what the heroine of the YA story saw by the side of the car in the storm. The author left the audience in suspense with "Oh. My. God!"
The other author had written what she felt was a historical novel about Vikings (with lots of research) but it had somehow been chosen as one of the best fantasy novels of the year by a newspaper columnist. She read an extract about a dam about to break and drown a village.

At this point, more or less, there was a mix up in the printing of the programme so that the Edward and Albert rooms were swapped over, so when I got to the Albert for What's Changed in Worldbuilding, the room was full. I was told I could stand at the back if I wanted, but I decided to head for the hotel bar instead.
It was a bit disappointing that the two handpumps on the bar were out of action all weekend (or at least, every time I went in), but at least they had Brooklyn Lager in bottles.

6pm, and time for Women in Genre Fiction in the Gladstone room, upstairs next to Disraeli. There were doubts about the usefulness of the microphones for this panel, so it started with the moderator, Teika Bellamy, asking "Can everyone project?"
"I'm American - I'm really loud," said Tiffani Angus.
All the members of this panel were newish authors, and the only note I have about this panel is that there was some discussion of 2D characters and how to avoid them.

Then it was down to the Jubilee Room (down that really long corridor with the Romans) for the Guest of Honour interview with Farah Mendelsohn - who turned out to be absolutely fascinating. Farah has written about Diana Wynne Jones and Children's Fantasy, and was also involved in organising the whisky exhibition in honour of Iain Banks at LonCon in 2014. Iain Banks was going to be one of the Guests of Honour at that WorldCon, but died a few months before. The exhibition got together whisky bottles representing every single whisky mentioned in Iain's book Raw Spirits. Most of them were empty, donated by fans, but they had to go out and buy the last few to complete the exhibition. Asked which whisky was Farah's favourite, they said "Strathisla - it's what Southern Comfort wants to be when it grows up!"

They also talked about Geoffrey Trease (one of my favourite children's novelists), and how to write a historically accurate Regency lesbian romance - which Farah has also done. It's called Spring Flowering.
As part of the research for this, they found that a theatre they wanted to use in the book had been quickly closed down by the local Quakers. Apparently, Quakers had no problem with performance - music hall was fine. Theatre, on the other hand, involved people pretending to be another person, which was lying, and so frowned upon.
They also talked about black people in British history. During the Napoleonic Wars, the French brought over black Caribbean soldiers to fight for them, some of whom were captured by the British and imprisoned in Devon. When the war was over, these prisoners were released, but they didn't go back to the Caribbean. They stayed in Devon.
The Regency period was also the time when the marriages of daughters was fraught with danger. Before this, there was a good chance the family knew the suitor and his family, so no problem, but by the Regency period the suitor was likely to be a stranger to the family, who might abuse the daughter and have control of her inheritance. This is why cousin marriages became more common, and also marriages to the friends of the bride's brothers.

Farah was also fascinated by historical diaries where the clothing allowances of the writers were discussed in minute detail - it seemed almost like anorexics counting calories, until they realised that this was the only money that the women controlled themselves, so of course they were fanatical about exactly what they wanted to do with it. The other area women had legal control over was the tools of their trade, which often meant kitchen equipment - which is why gifts of toasters, electric mixers and vacuum cleaners were so popular at one time.
There was a brief digression about the Times Literary Supplement "Who reads that anymore? It's increasingly pompous!" Leading to the comment: "Most of us are sitting here because we ignored people's ideas of respectability."

They also mentioned a book called Glorifying Terrorism, which was written as a response to the Terrorism Act, and underwritten by Iain Banks - I think the reasoning was that, if the authors weren't prosecuted for writing this book, it undermined any other cases for prosecuting people under the act.

And finally, a recommendation: Robin Stevens, who writes books which are basically Agatha Christie crossed with the Chalet School!

The final panel of the evening for me (my brain was full by this time!) was Writing and Representing Queer Characters in Genre Fiction, in the Edward room.
This panel got off to a fairly rocky start, as the moderator had to excuse herself and leave - she looked quite upset about it, but said she really couldn't carry on. However, the rest of the panel had the list of questions they had been going to discuss between them, and carried on quite well.
PR Ellis described themselves as gender-fluid, and writes detective fiction in which the detective is a trans person in the process of transitioning.
Joel Cornah said he was asexual, and added: "In this world of beautiful people doing amazing things who would want to be straight?"
Powder is American and grew up on a cattle ranch in Texas - he didn't meet another gay person till he got to university. When asked about including homophobia in his work, he said, to applause, that "we deal with enough phobia - sometimes I just want my awesome gay knight on a dragon!"
While talking about writing historical fiction with gay characters, someone said that it shouldn't be a case of "parachuting a gay Edwardian in!"
The response being: "It should be an emergency service!"
At the end of the panel (which started with more panel than audience, but ended with about 20 in the audience), the panel asked for any more questions. After a short silence, Powder suggested: "We can do an interpretive dance?"

Friday, 26 October 2018

Saturday at FantasyCon

After breakfast at the Town Crier, Saturday morning started for me in the lovely courtyard at the heart of the Queen's Hotel:

I was planning for a full day of attending panels - as much as I could manage while remembering to eat!

First was Feminism and Feminist Themes in Genre Fiction, in the Albert Room. Teika Bellamy, who I'd met the previous night, was on this one, along with Cheryl Morgan (member of the Women's Equality Party, among many other things).
One of the questions was what constituted anti-feminist themes, to which the immediate answer was "Chainmail bikinis!"
It was also pointed out that there is a clear difference between novels and TV/film - and more people are likely to have seen something on TV than read a novel, so it's a pity that films and TV series are lagging behind the novels in terms of feminist themes. It surprised one panellist that Star Trek Discovery had gender parity in casting, which is a step forward (but problems with the gay relationship, so still some way to go....).
The book edited by FT Barbini, Gender Identity and Sexuality in Science Fiction and Fantasy, from Luna Press, was recommended - the book later won the British Fantasy Award for Best Non-Fiction.
Black Shuck Press are also re-publishing work by lost women writers.
Another writer who was recommended was JY Yang, so I was pleased that I'd picked up her Descent of Monsters at Forbidden Planet earlier this year (that list of books I want to read keeps getting longer and longer!).

Next, in the largest panel room, the Victoria, was Breaking the Glass Slipper. I had no idea what this might be when I went in, but it turned out to be a live podcast (they were also up for a British Fantasy Award, but beaten by Anansi Boys). That was a highly entertaining session, with Claire North the third Guest of Honour and RJ Barker bouncing ideas off each other and being very funny. Claire North also writes as Kate Griffin - I'm sure I've seen some of her books around somewhere.
Top tip from the panel was that koalas have human-like fingerprints, so if you're planning a murder always take a koala bear with you.
They talked about plotting and how they plan stories out. RJ Barker said that "My subconscious is looking after me because I'm an idiot."
They also talked about murder mysteries, with RJ Barker saying that "There's no pity in Miss Marple! Even Sherlock Holmes sometimes gives a villain a 24 hour head start, but Miss Marple would never do that." And, in answer to a comment that Sherlock Holmes was chill: "I don't think Sherlock's chill - he's off his tits!"

Following on in the same room was the Writing for Children panel, with Francesca Barbini (who edited the Gender Equality book and runs Luna Press as well as being an academic) and Pauline Kirk on the panel. I didn't write any notes down for this panel because I was too busy agreeing with what they said about children's imaginations and some favourite fantasy books. Several of the panel go into schools to work with children, so they see what children are interested in first hand.

And following on from that was the Religion in Genre Fiction panel, with a diversity of religious groups represented. Rosanne Rabinowitz writes about Jewish Kabbala and socialism in early 20th century Russia, Tasha Suri has a Hindu and Sikh background and her epic fantasy based around Indian mythology is out shortly, and Iain Grant has written a book about Satan losing his job and going to live in Birmingham. There was also a Quaker lady who had been an activist in Palestine. Again, I was too swept up in the discussion to take notes!

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Friday at FantasyCon

As a newcomer to FantasyCon, I'd intended to go along to the New to FantasyCon meeting at 4pm.
Then I got distracted. The Blogging in Genre Fiction panel started at 3.30pm, and looked interesting - and I'd already seen two familiar faces by the registration desk. I first met Babs at Baskerville Hall near Hay, at one of the regular Wednesday night music sessions, with her friend - they're both from Holland. And then Russell Smith dashed by in a Red Cloak vest (they're the stewards for the convention). I first met Russell at LonCon 2014, though I only got to speak to him properly at the Dysprosium EasterCon, when we were both at a panel about swords (the speakers brought some really cool swords along for people to handle).
So, Blogging in Genre Fiction it was, then, moderated by Kit Power, who writes for Gingernuts of Horror (it was the first panel he'd moderated, and he was quite nervous). Another panellist was Alisdair Stuart, who writes for the Doctor Who RPG (he said the background info on the Tenth Doctor nearly killed him!), and then there was Kate Coe, and Micah Yongo (who is from Manchester, so instantly endeared himself to me). On the basis of this panel, I later went off and bought Kit Powers' book containing some of his columns for Gingernuts of Horror, and Micah Yongo's novel Lost Gods.
I bought a lot of books in the dealers' room over the weekend....

The next panel in the same room (the Edward, right at the end of a maze-like corridor) was on The Role of Class in Science Fiction and Fantasy, with some more interesting panelists. Alison Baker (she pointed out this was her posh name - she's usually Ali) is a researcher in children's literature, and introduced herself by proclaiming "Hogwarts would never pass an Ofsted report - buy a drink and I'll tell you why!"
The conversation was fascinating, discussing working class characters like Ser Davos Seaworthy in Game of Thrones, who came from Flea's Bottom in King's Landing and is raised to be advisor to Stannis Baratheon without really wanting the honours. Another good working class hero is Commander Vimes in the Discworld books, who is slightly embarrassed to be raised to the nobility when he marries Lady Sybil (and wouldn't it be interesting to get those two characters together for a chat?).
The books of Patrick Ness were also recommended.
The discussion went on to talk about the Chosen One (in so many fantasies, and Buffy, of course), and it was suggested that the loss of the apprenticeship model has led to writers emphasising innate talent over learning a skill, and led to the rise of the Chosen One in fiction.

Russell Smith was one of the panellists talking about Robot Companions in Film and Television in the Albert, the other room down the maze-like corridor, for the next panel I went to. One of the thoughts I brought away from that panel was - never be a villain with a robot sidekick, because they always turn on you in the end, the classic example being Maximillian in The Black Hole! The conversation bounced around from Metropolis to the present (was it this panel where they hated KITT from Knight Rider? Or thought he was insufferably smug?).

At 8pm it was time to go to the Jubilee Room for Welcome to FantasyCon, down another long passageway. This was more modern, leading to the new extension to the hotel at the back (the King's Suite) and had specially built niches in the wall on one side to display the armour of several ranks of Roman soldiers (and a gladiator) suspended over real Roman column bases on loan from the Grosvenor Museum in Chester.
The first thing the organiser said was: "I'm very sorry."
This was because the printed programmes had not yet arrived, so they had been giving out sheets with the programme details on them. He went on to talk about the good will that Conventions such as this run on - the people prepared to be on panels, the Red Cloaks, and so on, working together to make a good, smooth-running convention. Then he introduced two of the Guests of Honour, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Farah Mendlesohn. I'd seen Adrian before, at EasterCons - he's quite tall and has a distinctive dark beard, and I've even read some of his Shadows of the Apt series.
Farah Mendlesohn is a historian and has written a book about Robert Heinlein, and a book on Children's Fantasy Literature, amongst other things.
The third Guest of Honour, Claire North, wasn't due to arrive until the following morning.
In the queue for the prosecco, I met Teika Bellamy, who has edited books of modern versions of fairytales - and her name means fairytale in Latvian (she is half Latvian and half Russian in origin), and we had such an interesting conversation that I ended up buying three of the fairytale collections in the dealers' room the following day. The series title is The Forgotten and the Fantastical. And I discovered later that she is actually Doctor Bellamy - there were such a lot of very intelligent, articulate, and interesting people at the Convention, I had to work hard to keep up!

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

FantasyCon in Chester

This will be the first of several blog posts - I had a fantastic time, and I want to write down as much of it as I possibly can!

This was the first FantasyCon I'd been to. I wasn't able to go to EasterCon this year, and I'd heard some customers in the bookshop where I work saying how much they enjoyed FantasyCon last year, so I decided to go - and it was brilliant! My brain isn't used to working quite so hard these days - I went to lots of thought-provoking discussion panels - so now I'm really tired, with a lot of new information to digest, and a large number of books to read!
I wasn't sure what to expect when I arrived, but FantasyCon seems to be very much about getting authors and small presses and editors and agents, and a surprising number of PhD students and academics, all together in the same space, and seeing what happened.

And this is where it all happened:

The Queen's Hotel, Chester, conveniently just opposite the railway station.

I was not staying there - I thought I'd be trekking in from the other end of City Road, but as it turned out, the Belgrave Hotel was just across the road from the Queen's:

My window was the narrow one at the far end of the first floor. Some of the corridors in the Queen's Hotel were wider than that room, but it had everything I needed - tea and coffee making facilities, a TV, a bed, shower and toilet, so I was quite happy. What the Belgrave didn't have over the weekend was a working kitchen, but I had been assured that there were "many cafes" nearby which did breakfasts. That was probably true, if you were prepared to walk up into Chester city centre. Fortunately for me, there's a large pub called the Town Crier, also facing the railway station, which turned out to do excellent breakfasts. I also went there for other food during the day - they did a very nice sausage and mash which kept me going for the rest of Friday, served with a pint of Greene King IPA.

The holiday really started on the train, a tiny two coach affair that goes all the way round the coast of North Wales eventually. I sat next to a lady who was reading a Terry Pratchett novel, Unseen Academicals, and who was just coming back from a holiday in Glastonbury, all the way to Criccieth. So we had a lovely chat.

Once I'd checked into my hotel, and had a substantial lunch in the Town Crier, I headed for the registration table in the Queen's. They didn't have the Convention programme book yet, but they did have sheets showing the timetable. So I started off with a cup of coffee from a table by the dealer's room, to see what events I wanted to go to.
The dealer's room was off a corridor which runs round a courtyard with tables, and a variety of interesting statues, and it was warm enough to sit out there all over the weekend, which felt very civilised.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Earl Cameron, actor

BBC Two have shared a short video of the actor Earl Cameron speaking about his life. He's just over 100 years old, and in 1951 he was the first black man to star in a post-war British film (Paul Robeson, Elisabeth Welch and Nina Mae McKinney had all starred in the 1930s). The film was Pool of London, and he played a sailor who got involved with a local white girl.

He also played the astronaut in the 1966 Doctor Who story The Tenth Planet. It had always impressed me that a black actor had been chosen to play the astronaut, and I never imagined he was still alive now.
He's had a varied career on stage, film and TV, appearing in Tarzan and Bond films, and many British TV series.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Filk Singing

I first became aware of filk - science fiction folk music - in the 1980s, when I was a regular attendee at Star Trek Cons, and (one of the highlights of my Con going) Conspiracy 87, the WorldCon in Brighton. There I went to a filk concert - I think it was on at the same time as the Hugo Awards - and heard groups like Technical Difficulties perform. I bought cassette tapes, and song books like The Old Grey Wassail Test and A Wolfrider's Reflections, which I still have. I discovered Off Centaur Publications, and singers like Julia Ecklar and Leslie Fish, and songs celebrating the novels of Mercedes Lackey and CJ Cherryh.

Every week I go to an acoustic session, where I sing. Occasionally I'll sing one of Kipling's poems that Leslie Fish set to music, but I don't normally do anything more esoteric than that, simply because no-one else in the room will know anything about the stories that the songs are based on.
But I'm heading off to FantasyCon soon (this year it's at the Queen's Hotel in Chester), so I thought I'd dust down one of the old filk songs I know to celebrate. I chose Threes, which I learned off Julia Ecklar's tape Horse-Tamer's Daughter, which tells (more or less) a Mercedes Lackey short story.
It occurred to me that I last sang it in public at the Wrexham Folk Club in 1989, which seems like a very long time ago. I was working on an archaeological dig at Bersham Ironworks, and got some of the other girls there interested enough in the song that they said they'd be my backing group if I got up to sing it. On the night, they chickened out and left me up there at the mic on my own. I have a distinct memory of seeing them in the audience, where it was nice and dark and anonymous, singing along quietly.
This time, I've got a lot more confidence when I'm singing, and it actually went pretty well - it's a song that doesn't need any prior knowledge of the books to understand the story (an ambush that goes really badly for the bandits).
Maybe I'll try Pride of Chanur next.... :)

Friday, 28 September 2018

More Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley Circle has maintained its very high standards.
Series 2 has the group of women, who had been code-breakers at Bletchley Park during the war, trying to prove the innocence of another Bletchley girl who has been accused of murder. The victim is a scientist played by Paul McGann.
That story deals with Cold War spying and experiments at Porton Down, while the second half of the series (only 4 episodes to a season, sadly) deals with Maltese gangsters trafficking girls into the country, via a little 'harmless' perfume smuggling. Spivs selling dodgy nylons were still around, as was rationing, in the early 1950s.

The beauty of the series is that there are four main characters who work together, so when Susan leaves, she is replaced by Alice, and by the time of the third season, set in San Francisco, there are only two members of the original team left, Millie and Jean.
They discover that a murderer in San Francisco is killing women in exactly the same way as one of their colleagues at Bletchley during the War was murdered, and travel there to see if they can bring him to justice. But they need some local knowledge, so first they have to track down an American code-breaker Jean was in touch with during the War, who they know only as Major Six.
The story takes place against the backdrop of the Fillmore district, where mainly black families are being forced out for re-development to take place. During the War, the area was home to a Japanese community, who were also forcibly removed.
And for the second part of the series, it all goes a bit Peyton Place, with intelligent women trapped in loveless marriages and meaningless lives in the suburbs, until one of them is killed in what seems to be a hit and run accident - or was it murder? (The only really happy marriage seems to be between Iris and her husband living in the Fillmore).

I'm looking forward to seeing Millie, Jean, Iris and Hailey in Part Two.

Monday, 24 September 2018

RIP Gary Kurtz

I just heard that Gary Kurtz, the film producer who worked on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back (among many other films) has died.
I remember seeing him as a guest at a British Star Trek Convention in the early 1980s, where he spoke about making the Star Wars films, and was very courteous in answering all the questions he was asked. Back then he had a beard with no moustache, and I'm pretty sure he talked about being a Quaker as well as the film related stuff.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Some More Sights of London

We passed a few interesting things while on the way to other places over the week. One of them was this church spire:

It's St George's in Bloomsbury, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the sixth and last church that he designed and built in London. The spire appears in the background of Hogarth's famous picture Gin Lane. The lion and the unicorn were added in 2006, as the originals had been lost.
Looking at their website, I see that the memorial service for Emily Davison was held here in 1913. She was the suffragette who threw herself under the King's horse during the Derby. The horse, Anmer, completed the race without his jockey, who was also injured in the fall. Emily Davison died in hospital two days later without regaining consciousness.
The basement of the church houses the Museum of Comedy, and the church itself holds services in Korean.

And then there was this mews, down the hill from the Horniman Museum:

It's called Havelock Walk. The houses were decorated like this all the way along the row, and there's also an artist's studio.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Buses and Daleks in London

I'm fairly easy to please, so a long bus ride sitting on the top of a double decker right at the front was an ideal way to start the day.
We went from Woolwich to Greenwich to start with, and met a chap on the market who turns London landmarks into Daleks in his art - it's very cleverly done, and he also takes stalls at Comic Cons around the country. I took his card - but now I've lost it.
Anyway, we went on from there (the bus stop is by a building that claims to be the oldest in Greenwich - now a takeaway), roughly following the river through Deptford, Canada Water, and Bermondsey (I caught a glimpse of a plaque marking medieval Bermondsey Abbey). Then the Young Man told me to turn to look, and I could see the end of Tower Bridge at the end of the road as the bus turned away from it down Tower Bridge Road and then onto the New Kent Road. I'd heard of the Old Kent Road, but never thought that there must be a New one to go with it. That took us to Elephant and Castle, and then to Waterloo, where we got off.
I had expressed my desire to buy a pith helmet, for Steampunk costuming purposes. My original one was quite cheap, and the webbing inside had broken so it came down over my eyes. The Young Man knew just the place for me to find one - an army surplus shop along The Cut near Waterloo.
The shop is so crammed full of stuff that we had to climb over a pile of rucksacks just to get in. The chap behind the counter produced two different styles of pith helmet instantly, though, together with a tiny mirror so I could see how I looked in them. I chose the one with the more pointed brim - dressed up with a flowing silk scarf it will be just the thing for my Victorian adventuress.
Feeling in the need for sustenance, we had a look at the local cafes, and decided on noodles for lunch. We ate at Culture Grub, a Chinese café that served green tea in glasses. The noodles were very good.
Then the Young Man took me off the main road and down a back street - to the very spot where some of the outdoor filming for Remembrance of the Daleks (Ace's first full story as Sylvester McCoy's Companion) was done. Coal Hill School, the main location for the story, was somewhere else, but Daleks were blown up right where we were! This Doctor Who story was written by Ben Aaronovitch, who also wrote the Rivers of London series we had been visiting locations from earlier in the week.
Then we set off for a little retail therapy in the afternoon, finally getting the bus to Trafalgar Square to get the train back to Woolwich from Charing Cross Station.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Historic Woolwich

One of the days that I stayed in Woolwich was spent just looking round the local area.
I was impressed with the shopping centre - it's about as big as Hereford! And the market sells all sorts of interesting foods, including African snacks. I even saw a cage of live giant snails outside one shop! It's a very ethnically diverse area, which is fascinating for me, as it's very different from Hay. There are women in African dresses and head wraps, women in saris, men in shalwar kameez, and there seems to be a fair sized Turkish community, too.
There's also a lot of history locally. The Victorian town hall has been retained for weddings and so forth, with a modern civic centre across the road.
This is the Victorian library:

And here's the new library, which is bigger than Hereford Library, and seemed to be busy every time we passed by:

There's also a Victorian bath house and swimming pool - I'm not sure what the building is used for now:

Across the main road, is the old Woolwich Arsenal, now being redeveloped into luxury apartments, and it's like stepping into a different world. It's much quieter, for a start. A lot of the Arsenal buildings are still there - there's also the Firepower Museum and the Greenwich Museum, but both were closed when we walked through.
There are plenty of cannons around, though:

And, of course, several bars, including this one - the brewery is just down the road in a nearby industrial estate:

Monday, 3 September 2018

Farewell, Servalan

Just heard the sad news that Jacqueline Pearce has died. She was a wonderful villain in Blake's Seven, and also appeared in Doctor Who (with the Sixth Doctor) and some of the Big Finish audio Doctor Who adventures. She was 74.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

The London Stone

The Young Man used to drink in a basement bar called The London Stone - which now seems to have been renamed the Cannick Tapps - near Cannon Street station.
The London Stone itself is an important part of the mythology of London, though opinions are divided about what it actually represents - the centre of the City? an object of Druidic worship (very unlikely)? part of the Roman governor's villa? Several ley lines are supposed to pass through it, and John Dee is alleged to have chipped bits off it for his alchemical experiments. It's even been suggested as the Stone that the Sword was stuck into, when King Arthur pulled it out!

Whatever it is, it used to be housed behind a grille right by the bar.
We couldn't find it, so we went into the All Bar One, where the Young Man remembered it to be, to ask if they knew. The barmaid was very friendly, but wasn't sure where it had gone to - she thought it might be next door but one, where the building was behind hoardings, being renovated.
According to Wikipedia, the Stone is presently in the Museum of London, on display, and will be replaced at 111 Cannon Street when the rebuilding is finished.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

The London Mithraeum

This was the highlight of the week!

Back in the 1950s, an excavation of a bomb site unearthed a Roman temple that had people queuing round the block to see it. It was only near the end of the dig that the archaeologists found the conclusive evidence that it was a Temple of Mithras.
The Temple was reconstructed nearby, and so things remained for many years.
Then a company called Bloomberg acquired the site to build a new office block, and they offered to put the Temple back in its original position as part of the rebuilding work. As the Temple was discovered 7 metres under the present ground level, this was not as easy as it sounds. Also, some of the Temple was discovered to be still in situ, so the reconstruction is actually slightly to the west.

They have done a magnificent job, in consultation with a team from the Museum of London. They also conducted an archaeological dig of their own, between 2010 and 2014, discovering many artefacts that are usually not preserved, but survived here because of the marshy nature of the ground.
And all this is open to the public for free (except on Mondays). When the Temple first opened, it was necessary to book, but now you can just turn up, and friendly staff are there to help you.

The top layer has a display of architecture, and beyond that a cabinet of finds from the site beneath our feet. Anyone who wanted could look at a touch-screen device to show what the artefacts were, but I always feel this is cheating slightly. So we lingered by the writing tablets, and sandals, and the merchant's scales, and the piece of door (!) and the pottery for a while, and then we went down the stairs to the next level (there's a lift, too, I think). The black marble walls are inscribed with the ground levels over the centuries, such as at the time of the Great Fire (which destroyed everything above), and the date (1505) that Thomas More moved into a house on this site.
The room downstairs is dim, with pictures being projected on the walls along with a commentary spoken by Joanna Lumley. There are also three plinths, each with information about the cult of Mithras, the Temple itself, and the head of Mithras that was found in 1954. You have to wait here for a little while (and there are also seats) because visitors are only let into the Mithraeum itself every 20 minutes.
I knew some of the information, but was surprised by the strong links between the cult of Mithras and astrology.
And then, the Mithraeum itself.
There is a sound and light show which is very effective, with voices speaking Latin and mist. Then the lights go up and you can examine the ruins more closely. There's a walkway right around the outside, and also over the part of the Temple nearest the door. There's a central aisle, with 7 pillars down each side, and between the pillars and the walls a narrower space where the congregation sat. At the top end there's a Perspex copy of the altar slab, showing Mithras slaying the bull (or at least waving a dagger around in the general area of the bull's throat - opinion is divided about whether he's actually killing it or not).
There's also a square well in one corner.
No-one is really sure what went on in the Temple, because it was a mystery cult, and nothing was written down - but we do know it was all-male, and popular with soldiers. The temples that have been discovered are also rather too small to get a bull inside, so there probably wasn't any ritual sacrifice involved in the worship. The London Mithraeum is actually larger than average - about 100 temples have been discovered across the Roman Empire. This one is also oriented towards the East, like a Christian church.

It was a ridiculously exciting experience for me. I first found out about Mithras when I read The Eagle of the Ninth, aged 12. Rosemary Sutcliff would have been drawing on recent news stories to write the scenes inside the temple. So along with my archaeological knowledge, I was sitting in the dark with Marcus Flavius Aquila, in his Raven mask, in the flickering torch light.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Trip on the River

The last time I went on a boat on the River Thames, I was eleven years old, and it was part of a school trip to see the Tutankhamum Exhibition at the British Museum. One highlight of the trip was seeing the gold death mask; another was getting lost on the Tube! I don't think we went a long way, but I remember passing HMS Belfast, and taking a photo of the dome of St Pauls.

I was delighted to learn that the river buses are integrated with the rest of the London public transport system, and I could use my Oyster card to pay.
Woolwich Pier is the furthest down the river that the river bus goes, and only when the tides are right. Here's the city clipper Tornado coming in to the pier:

It was a bit of a grey day, but very comfortable on the boat. It's even got a little café. There was some sort of nursery school outing on board, too - I think the children were young enough to travel for free.
We passed the Woolwich Ferry, and went through the Thames Barrier:

We went past the Greenwich Naval College and the Cutty Sark:

The river does a big loop, where we passed the O2 building, and then we were getting more central, around Tower Bridge.
We passed several other city clippers, with names like Monsoon and Jupiter.
We got off at Blackfriars Pier, and walked back to where we wanted to go along the Thames Path.
Travelling through London feels very different on the river - it was great fun!

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Victorian Pubs of London

It was research for my story, honest!
The Young Man told me he knew of some wonderful Victorian pubs in the centre of London, which would be just perfect for some scenes in the story I'm writing.
And Victorian pubs are cool anyway.
So he took me to the Salisbury:

This is a magnificent pub, all etched glass mirrors inside, with a staircase with wrought iron bannisters, lots of brass candelabra, and a white marble top to the bar. They've also been serving fish and chips since 1860, so what to have for lunch was an easy decision! The fish and chips were really good. And it had all the features I wanted my fictional pub to have - we could even point to the table where my characters sat down for a drink!

Having enjoyed a real Victorian pub, we waddled across the road (full of fish and chips) to a fake Victorian pub. Mr Fogg's Tavern is also a very pleasant place to have a drink. It's a bit lower class compared to the Salisbury - the bar top is zinc rather than marble - and there are all sorts of things suspended from the ceiling, including a model Chinese junk and a spinning wheel!

I had a half of Whitstable stout, which was very nice, and admired the barmaid's Victorian skirt.

Another wonderful Victorian pub nearby is the Princess Louise, which has excellent tiling, snugs right up against the bar, and more etched glass:

While we were near the British Museum we went into the Plough, which is not far from the Atlantis Bookshop - we went in there because I remembered that they have a portrait of Macgregor Mathers in the shop, who was one of the leading lights of the Order of the Golden Dawn, and he has a cameo role in my story. This pub has an upstairs room that was once used as a meeting place for London pagans. The beer I chose was Naked Ladies from Twickenham.

On the last full day I was in London, I foolishly failed to pack my raincoat in my backpack, and when we got off the bus near Trafalgar Square in the afternoon, the rain was bouncing down! Fortunately, the bus stop was right next to The Old Shades, and we huddled in the doorway for a moment or two before deciding that we might as well enjoy a half there while we waited for the rain to ease off. This pub dates from around 1898, with lots of wood panelling and pictures of Prime Ministers around the walls. The beers we drank were Trumans and Lewes Castle.
On the back window ledge there's a shelf of books, including a set of four that had got separated. I embarrassed the Young Man by insisting on leaning over a table of other customers, with the words: "I'm sorry - I work in a bookshop!" and putting the set back together again!

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Following Peter Grant's Trail

Ben Aaronovitch uses a lot of real locations in his Rivers of London series, about wizard policeman Peter Grant, so we had a lot of fun tracking down some of them, mostly from Moon Over Soho.
The first murder in Moon Over Soho took place here:

This is on Cambridge Circus, and the theatre showing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is just next door.
And while we were in the Soho area, we also had to try to find the entrance to the Mysterioso club, a basement bar on Bateman Street, which we think may be under a Japanese restaurant.

We also had to stop at Patisserie Valerie to sit at the Peter Grant table and eat cake. The scene is on page 93 of Moon Over Soho:
"Simone grabbed my hand and practically dragged me inside, where the display cases glowed in the afternoon light.... [she] had a favourite table by the stairs, just the other side of the cake displays. From there, she pointed out, you could watch people coming and going and keep an eye on the cakes - just in case they tried to make a run for it....I wondered if I was being seduced or driven into a diabetic coma."
Like Peter, I had the chocolate cake with cream and more chocolate. It was, as Simone would say, scrumptious. The Young Man has to be more careful about his diet these days, and had something savoury.

We also went to Russell Square to try to find the Folly, where Peter and his boss Nightingale (not forgetting Molly the scary maid and Toby the dog) live. This was our best guess for the Folly's front door, though I think most of this row is actually owned by the British Museum:

And while we were walking round Russell Square, we found the perfect place for lunch:

This is the Little Green Hut, built to serve the hackney cab drivers who had a taxi rank there, and now open to the general public. We had delicious rolls so full of Cumberland sausage, bacon and egg that my nose was bumping on the fried egg every time I bit into it!
There were some trailers parked along one side of the square too, belonging to Monumental Films, who were filming there - but we didn't see anyone famous!

Covent Garden is another site we visited - in the first book, Peter Grant is guarding a murder site just by the church when he finds himself taking a witness statement from a ghost. The Punch and Judy pub is just opposite.

Monday, 27 August 2018

The Horniman Museum

I've been on my holidays, and doing some research for my latest story.
It involves the Order of the Golden Dawn, and I knew that they met at what is now the Horniman Museum, back in 1896. So that was the first place to look at.
And it just shows the value of going to the places you're researching, because the original villa no longer exists. The original Museum was opened in 1890, but the collection continued to grow, so in 1898 a new Museum was built on the site of the house in Forest Hill, which opened in 1901. There are also extensive gardens - a Farmer's Market was taking place by the bandstand when we were there - and the museum has had various extensions over the years.

Here's the mosaic over the original entrance (the Young Man remembers going in that way as a child) and the bandstand, which has a fine view over the city.

So we had fun looking round the free exhibitions - the music gallery underground is absolutely brilliant, crammed with all sorts of instruments from all around the world, including experimental instruments like a harmonica/flute. We also said hello to the walrus, in the middle of the natural history gallery, which is famous enough to appear in a mural under a bridge near the station.

I'm going to have to use my imagination for the scenes in my story that take place at the Horniman residence, though, since the house no longer exists.

The Horniman family were tea merchants, as shown on a brick frieze further down the hill:

It's quite long, and seems to show scenes related to local history.

Monday, 13 August 2018

The Bletchley Circle

I've watched the very last episode of the Librarians (and what a brilliant finale to the season it was) so I was looking round for something else to watch when The Bletchley Circle came to my attention.

I first became aware of Anna Maxwell Martin when she played Rev. Merrily Watkins in the TV adaptation of Midwinter of the Spirit by Phil Rickman - but before that, she played Susan, a code breaker at Bletchley Park during the War, who gets a team together to solve a series of murders that the police are not managing to solve, using the skills they developed during the war as code breakers, but which they are not able to use (or even mention) in peace time.

I saw the first episode last night, and it was brilliant stuff, so I'm looking forward to the rest of the mini-series. I understand there's a second series, too, as well as a spin off set in San Francisco.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

The Librarians Fourth Season

….or, How Could They Cancel This?

I've been working my way through the last set of DVDs, the fourth season of the Librarians.
It's been fun so far, but nothing out of the ordinary compared to the previous three seasons - Flynn gets to meet his hero, Victorian Librarian Darrington Dare, Ezekiel goes home to his family for Thanks-Taking Day, and the Librarians are all considering whether they want to stay with the Library, and whether there should be only One True Librarian.

And then I came to The Librarians and A Town Called Feud, which starts with American Civil War Re-enactors, and the story of a feud between brothers during the Civil War - and it turned into a story about how important it is to remember history accurately, and tell the stories of the past truthfully. Which is something I passionately believe is important. And the true story turned out to be far better than the falsehoods the museum owner was peddling.

And then there's The Librarians and a Guy Named Jeff, in which Jenkins has his body swapped with a guy who lives in his mom's basement and plays D&D. And I finished the episode wanting to hug Jenkins, because he dealt with the D&D nerds and Jeff's mom so graciously - and the D&D nerds got to go through a real dungeon with him. Part of the fun, too, is seeing Jenkins fighting with a light saber, but mainly it's seeing him treating all Jeff's friends and family with respect and kindness.

This is uplifting, joyful television - and it's been cancelled so there will never be any more of it.

Friday, 13 July 2018

A Proud Day for Manchester

Celebrations on Sunday at St Peter's Square, where the plinth for the Emmeline Pankhurst statue is going to be unveiled at 11am. Manchester author and singer Rosie Garland will be leading a rousing rendition of the March of the Women, in full suffragette dress, to mark the occasion.
The statue will show Emmeline Pankhurst giving a speech, facing towards the Free Trade Hall - like this:

The sculptor is Helen Reeves.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Goodbye, Peter Firmin

This is far more upsetting than Harlan Ellison's death - Peter Firmin (and his collaborator Oliver Postgate) made children's TV that was a huge part of my childhood.

The Clangers (sad whistling, and glooping from the Soup Dragon)
Pogles Wood (it took me years to work out that Tog was supposed to be a squirrel!)
Ivor the Engine (a sad song from the Grumbly and District Choral Society, with solo from Ivor)
Noggin the Nog (the Men of the Northlands sit by their log fire, and they tell a tale....)
Bagpuss (when Bagpuss goes to sleep, all his friends go to sleep too)

He also created, with Ivor Owen, Basil Brush.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Cathy Gale in the Bahamas

I was quite surprised to see Honor Blackman appearing in an episode of The Saint. The setting was a country house in Nassau, the episode The Arrow of God. There were two black maids with speaking parts, and several black policemen, but the "Indian mystic" was played by an actor with the very un-Indian name of John Carson.
And there was Honor Blackman, playing the Other Woman that one of the other characters wanted to leave his wife for.
And it reminded me that, in the last episode of The Avengers where she played Cathy Gale, Cathy said she was going to the Bahamas for a holiday, well away from Steed. I suppose the script writers knew that she had got the job on the Saint coming up.

It's a pity she didn't agree to do another season of The Avengers, but then she wouldn't have been able to do Goldfinger, and there wouldn't have been that lovely in-joke where Steed gets a postcard from Mrs. Gale and asks "What on earth is she doing at Fort Knox?"

Honor Blackman had a harder job in the Avengers than Diana Rigg - at the beginning, they performed the episodes live in the studio - so everything had to be right first time, and if anyone fluffed a line they just had to carry on. The Saint was done on film right from the start, and you can really see the difference.
Even so, Patrick McNee and Honor Blackman obviously worked well together - you can see how relaxed they are in their scenes together. I also hadn't realised until I watched the season through just how reckless Steed can be of his partners' safety, and just how much he relies on Cathy's expertise while he's muddling through and relying on his wits to get him out of trouble. Way back in the Venus Smith episodes, he deliberately puts her into potentially dangerous situations without telling her what she's getting into. Cathy Gale has a few choice words to say to him about that, in several episodes, leading up to her deciding to make a clean break of it and head to the Bahamas.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Harlan Ellison

I've just heard, via Diane Duane on Twitter, that Harlan Ellison has died.
Harlan Ellison provided one of my earliest tastes of real, grown up, science fiction as the editor of the anthologies Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions.
He wrote one of the best episodes of Original Star Trek - City at the Edge of Forever.
He was one of the great science fiction writers, and I'm quite surprised at how upset I feel about his passing, since I didn't know him as a person at all - just the stories, which will continue to be read and appreciated.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Simon Templar - New Head Canon Origin Story

I watched the fourth episode of the Saint, involving a plot dating back to the French Resistance in the Second World War. Simon meets an old friend from those times, who remembers him being part of the Resistance himself. "You were very brave, and so very young," he says.
At which point I spluttered: "Young? He must have been about ten!"
So I started thinking about it. "Twenty years ago" in 1962 would just about have worked to make Simon a young teenager during the War - but what was he doing in Occupied Paris?
Leslie Charteris is no help at all on the origins of the Saint - I don't think he ever mentions the Saint's family, and besides, the Saint of the books was an adult in the 1920s, when men were men and cars had running boards.
But for the Saint of the TV series - could he have been living in Occupied Paris because his mother was French? I've always been led to believe that the Saint was English, but cosmopolitan, and there is no way anyone English could have been living in Paris at that time. I doubt very much that Simon was ever in any sort of armed forces, and he would have been too young to be a spy.
So now I have the image in my mind that he was the kid who hung around with the men of the Resistance, running errands for them. Which would be why he wasn't present at 'The Drop', the incident when the villain of the piece betrayed the Resistance and 27 out of 30 of them were killed. We also meet all three of the survivors in the episode.
It works for me, anyway.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

The Saint - Thoughts so far

I've now seen the first three episodes of the Saint, and I'm really enjoying it - but I have some thoughts. For instance, the series hasn't passed the Bechdel Test yet. There are quite a few women, with decent parts, but they're all in separate scenes so never interact with each other. And they're all blonde (apart from one Italian girl and an old lady).
On the plus side, Warren Mitchell guest stars as a delightful Italian taxi driver (and he and the Saint are speaking real Italian). Warren Mitchell seems to have been one of those actors often called upon to play dodgy foreigners - he was also a Russian spy in the Avengers.
I think they may actually have gone to Rome for some of the establishing shots of the Saint walking around, before returning to the studio - or if not, they made it look convincing.
In episode 3 David Kossoff is a bomb maker for a corrupt US Union boss. There's even a speech at the end where the Saint praises honest union bosses. This is also the episode that introduces Hoppy, beside whom two short planks would look intelligent.
So far, too, it has been established that the Saint speaks Italian and understands enough Latin to send a coded message to a Latin professor (now State Governor), and has a wide knowledge of antiques - and that the gun he is licenced to carry in the US, is a Beretta .32.
The series also made use of several American actors (the chap at the US Embassy in Rome sounded very like Phones from Stingray, too). I'm sure this was to appeal to the American TV market.
Next up, the Saint is in Paris dealing with a plot that dates back to the French Resistance....

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Simon Templar - The Saint

We had Hay Festival at the end of May, so I didn't have time to do anything else, like posting here. The procession of Handmaids from Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale, on the day she gave her talk at the Festival, was just brilliant, though!
But after that there's been all the news of children separated from their parents and locked in cages at the Mexican border with the US, and I didn't really feel like posting anything frivolous for a while.

Sometimes you just have to take a break from watching the news, though, and yesterday I found something that made me very happy. It's an incomplete set of DVDs of The Saint, starring Roger Moore before he went on to Bond stardom. I remember loving these as a kid, and I bought all that were left in the charity shop, hoping that they would still be fun to watch.

I watched the first one last night, and loved it.

The Talented Husband was first broadcast in 1962, and you can tell right from the start that they had a decent budget - there was location filming (a railway station, the Saint's car driving along, a small town street), and the unfortunate wife of the Talented Husband was Patricia Roc, a well known actress who co-starred with Margaret Lockwood in The Wicked Lady. The Avengers at the same time had a much more limited budget, and they were still doing the episodes mostly live, rather than on film, as the Saint was. 1962 was the year that Cathy Gale left the Avengers, so it's interesting to compare the two series.
Despite a couple of good parts for women, this episode of the Saint doesn't pass the Bechdel Test - they never actually speak to each other, but the woman insurance investigator is treated as a professional by the Saint when they join forces.
It also struck me that no-one seemed to think it was unusual to see an Italian running a British pub/hotel, where the Saint stays when he arrives in the small town of Cookham.