Probably maybe

The RSPCA had a strong case all along, of course, but Schrödinger’s defence finally foundered on the discovery that the cat was most definitely dead.

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A good name

It was a good name. A strong, Danish name, a name that had travelled through his family as far back as his great-grandfather. It stood for strength, tradition, pride. But still, Cnut hated receiving mail. No matter how many times he told them, they always spelled it wrong.

Coalface

Coalface, yes: a face made of coal. A coal golem, animated and at work, joints grinding, black dust squeezing from each movement. The Word in his head tells him to dig, to dig, to dig, to haul the substance of his own body from the ground, to pry it from the great seams that thread the earth, to smash it into bricks, to bag it and banish it into the light. He digs, yes, and he dreams — incineration, immolation, white heat.

I didn’t mean to start like that. Sorry. Just a thought that ran away with itself. Reminds me of a David Hartley story.

I’m trying to write a little. This year has been exhausting. As well as the house renovations, things have been difficult in college, where we’ve struggled to find regular staff and I’ve done double the admin. My brain has turned to glue. I’ve spent my evenings editing student scripts and then having no energy for my own, though that’s no one’s fault but mine. Something else I need to work on.

But yes — writing again, just a little. I don’t have a name for it yet, and I’m reluctant to share too much of it publicly. I’m very conscious of the hope, emotion and effort I’ve invested in the novella, two novels and three half-novels I’ve written since The Visitors was published. The ideas are still there, battling for attention, but in truth my confidence is shot. I’ve lost some of my sense of what and how to write — the compass that helps me navigate through plot, characters, prose.

Reading and writing (and rest, probably) are the only things that will help me get the balance back, but I’m not good at giving myself that sort of a break. I have such little time to write, and I feel a huge pressure to fill it with perfect words — to feel like I’m making progress. When I don’t it brings me down. Writing 4,000 or 5,000 words a day feels a lifetime ago. A good day is 1,000 now, but I guess that’s the deal. If you want the diamonds, you need to be carving out the coal.

Watch out for golems though.

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Lost in the woods

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My reading time is pretty precious these days, and these three are monsters — but I’ve finally finished Brian Catling‘s epic Vorrh trilogy. It’s been quite the trip.

I could say I’ve never read anything like the first book, but that wouldn’t be true, because there are other stories that are as sublimely transporting and otherworldly as The Vorrh, and all of them are titans of their type: Gormenghast, Dune, Earthsea. I’m not exaggerating to place Catling in the company of Peake, Herbert and Le Guin. The Vorrh is a titanic work of imagination, simply sensational in its scope and reach. Essenwald and the forest make for a hypnotic kaleidoscope of the real, the surreal and the metaphysical, while the supporting characters simply sing, a chorus of humanity adrift in a world both wonderful and godless. 

Sequels The Erstwhile and The Cloven round off the trilogy, and they are narratively compelling, but flawed. Modern publishing hasn’t done Catling any favours, as both books are littered with typos and read as an edit short of finished — rushed to market, I suspect, when they needed the craft and care of the first one. The big ideas are undercooked and confusing. The trilogy consistently considers questions of being and belonging, but where The Vorrh explored the boundaries of human consciousness in a sort of careful, measured ambiguity, The Erstwhile and The Cloven crash through them in bouts of confusing exposition.

As works of speculative fiction, they’re essential. As works of literature, they offer diminishing returns on a staggering beginning — the sequels still brilliant, but bound to fall short of the first. Frustrating, inspiring, bewildering, mesmerising, sincere — completely crucial to all writers and readers of speculative fiction. I’ll carry The Vorrh with me for a long time.

Wolves and horses

I work in a school. I hate my job and I hate the children. After a bad day trying to deliver a lesson on the inevitable demise of the Cinque Ports in the 15th Century, I went home, put something awful in the oven, and turned on the television. I watched a documentary about a nomadic herder in Kyrgyzstan or somewhere like it. His entire life revolved around keeping the wolves away from his horses. All day, every day. Even as he talked to the camera, his eyes flicked beyond, scanning for dark dots on the horizon. I laughed out loud in my empty flat, trying to imagine what it would be like, living in such a ridiculous way, your entire existence reduced to a balance of wolves and horses.

Later that night, as my ceiling crawled with insomnia, I realised that I didn’t have to imagine. My life was exactly the same.