About M's Winding Path

I enjoy writing about life, books, poetry, music, pop culture, SF, feminism, LGBTQ+ issues, mental health & whatever else occurs to me.

Being human under lockdown

When we can’t make direct contact with each other, we exchange stories, art, film, television, books, jokes, recipes, and, yes, cat videos, as proxies, the means for indirect contact and to share comfort. We use them to connect through mutual emotions: laughter, joy, hope, fear. We use them to reflect on ethical behaviour, on compassion and kindness and the suffering of others.

Professor Sarah Churchwell, Being Human Under Lockdown

March reading round-up

A hardback copy of My Real Children by Jo Walton. The cover shows a woman sitting on a beach and looking out to sea holding an umbrella over her head.

Jo Walton, My Real Children (2014)

I’ve been meaning to read Jo Walton for ages and My Real Children did not disappoint. The novel is the story of Patricia Cowan, a woman whose life splits into two timelines after a phonecall in which her boyfriend asks her if she will marry him immediately. One of her selves answers “yes” and the other “no”. My Real Children begins at the end of Pat (or Trish’s) life when she is elderly, has dementia, and is living in a care home. Somehow able to remember both lives, she tries to sort through the memories and understand what has happened to her. In one timeline, she experienced an unhappy marriage and terrible loneliness; in the other, she had a happy same-sex relationship, but lived in a far nastier world. This is a brilliant novel about society, about women’s lives and the choices we make. It has a powerful, if restrained, ending. I look forward to reading the rest of her books.

CN: graphic scenes of marital rape.

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

A comfort book if there ever was one. Pride and Prejudice is a delight to read, of course, but as I get older I’m more and more impressed by what a clever, subtle and nuanced novel this is, with its layers of irony.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893)

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is another old comfort read. I went through quite a Sherlock Holmes phase when I was a teenager. It’s enjoyable, but I prefer The Return of Sherlock Holmes. ‘The Musgrave Ritual’ and ‘The Naval Treaty’ are strong stories, but there are others in which Holmes doesn’t do much detecting; he’s just kind of present as things unfold (‘The Yellow Face’, ‘The Gloria Scott’, ‘The Stockbroker’s Clerk’). ‘The Yellow Face’ is an attempt at an anti-racist story which is nice, but then ‘The Crooked Man’ really hasn’t worn well in terms of race or disability! ‘The Final Problem’ is ridiculous and to me just feels like a way for Doyle to get rid of Holmes, which of course it was. I mean, he has Holmes go on a walking holiday when he’s being chased by the two most dangerous men in England, without taking his revolver out with him. Still fun though and I’ve already started on The Return.

Anthony Horowitz, The Sentence is Death (2018)

I keep trying with Anthony Horowitz because I loved The Magpie Murders, but nothing else has come up to that standard for me. The Sherlock Holmes novel was okay, but overly grim and I thought Moriarty was dreadful! Like all his books, The Sentence is Death is very well written. It has a decent mystery and I liked the meta touch of the author inserting himself into the story as a character. It could have been annoying, but I thought it was the best thing about the book. However, I found The Sentence is Death really misogynist, to the extent of practically being a tirade against powerful ‘uppity’ women. The women who aren’t horrible are weak and flaky, or loyal, hardworking wives. I think Horrowitz was aware that he was straying into dodgy ground becasue there were a couple of defensive comments about being fine with feminism! (as long as it’s not too extreme). One of the characters is even a racist ‘dragon lady‘ stereotype. Finally, the investigator, Hawthorne, is so deadly dull and also unpleasant I couldn’t engage with him as a character. I finished it because it was like a car crash and I couldn’t look away, but don’t think I’ll attempt any more.

Sunday post: early morning walks & batch cooking

A pink sunrise over a calm sea with the sun shining throug white clouds.

Life

I was very glad to see the Easter break approaching this week. We haven’t had time off since Christmas and the current situation is very tiring. Otherwise, things are okay.

We ordered a veggie box from a local supplier which has helped a lot with cooking decent food. I made a big vegetable curry, a stew and coleslaw. We also baked a malt loaf which came out very well.

I’ve been keeping up my early morning walks and have seen a lot of bird activity: goldfinches, greenfinches, wrens, dunnocks, song thrushes, and some kind of swift-type bird (swallows?).

Reading

I finished reading All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke. It’s a good, well-written mystery with an interesting premise.

Movies

We enjoyed watching Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears. It’s been a long wait for this film. My expectations were not high and, overall, I think they did well. The only thing I didn’t like was the way they reset Phryne and Jack’s relationship to appeal to new viewers (seriously, the ONLY people watching this film are existing fans of the show). But all I wanted was plenty of fan service and for the romantic tension to pay off and, on that score, it delivered.

Music

The track of the week is this lovely cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Not Dark Yet’ from Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer. Chills!

Soundtrack to February and March

Cassandra Wilson, Coming Forth by Day (2015)

This is just a gorgeous album of slow, atmospheric Billie Holiday covers (plus one original). There is such love and respect for the material, but the interpretations also sound new and inventive. Cassandra Wilson is amazing.

Top tracks: You go to my head, Good Morning Heartache and Strange Fruit

Adwaith, Melyn (2018)

I bought this album after hearing it playing in a local record shop. Adwaith are a welsh language, indie, feminist rock band. This is such exciting music. Wearing its indie rock influences proudly, but completely fresh. Brilliant melodies and instrumentation.

Top tracks: Lipstick Coch, Fel i Fod, Y Diweddaraf

Jaimee Harris, Red Rescue (2019)

One to watch in country music. Jaimee has a fantastic voice and this is such a fun album. Soaring country songs with big melodies.

Top tracks: Damn Right and Red Rescue

Joan Baez, Dark Chords on a Big Guitar (2003)

Great album of covers from Joan. I love her later work.

Top Track: In my time of need

Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls (2012)

Raucous, bluesy album full of songs of resiliance and determination.

Top track: Hold On

Nina Simone, Gold

I’ve been listening to a lot of Nina Simone recently. Impossible to choose a top track, it’s all so good.

RIP Phyllis Lyon

Lesbian activist, Phyllis Lyon has died at the age of 95. Lyon and her wife, Del Martin, did an enormous amount to progress LGBTQ civil rights from the 1950s onwards. Here are some articles about their legacy:

The Advocate, Phyllis Lyon, Pioneering Lesbian Activist, Dies at 95

Autostraddle, Phyllis Lyon, Incomparable Lesbian Civil Rights Activist, Has Died at 95

The Guardian, Phyllis Lyon, LGBTQ rights pioneer, dies at age 95

Bay Area Reporter, Lesbian pioneer Phyllis Lyon dies

Rest in power.

‘Coronavirus isn’t a bucolic writing retreat—but a time to address deep inequalities in our society’

This response speaks of a total misunderstanding of how profound an impact inequality has on the material realities of people’s lives. Of it not just being a simple case of the haves vs. the have-nots, but between those who conceive of reality as something they have a stake in and an ability to control, and those who don’t. In an era of widespread, casualised work, which disproportionately affects minority and low-income people, time is not something we are alienated from voluntarily, but by necessity and in larger and larger quantities in order to survive. To put it plainly: “me time” does not exist outside of the comfortable milieu of middle-class existence.

Natahlie Olah, Coronavirus isn’t a bucolic writing retreat—but a time to address deep inequalities in our society

Thursday post – Life in Lockdown

We’re still doing pretty well overall. I usually get up early in the morning and go out for my allowed exercise. We set up our ‘workstations’ on the kitchen table and pack all the work stuff away when we’re done for the day. We do an online yoga class, make dinner and I’m falling asleep on the sofa by about 9 o’clock. Despite being at home, work and life feel very busy at the moment and, like a lot of people, I’m more tired than usual (Article: Here is why you might be feeling tired while on lockdown). The sense of monotony and sameness have been an issue, but I’m journalling every day and that helps.

Reading

I re- read The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, an old comfort book. I don’t think it’s a very strong collection really and ‘The Final Problem’ is so silly I can’t even. I think ‘The Naval Treaty’ and ‘The Musgrave Ritual’ are probably the best stories in there.

I’m still reading All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke. I need to finish that one.

Television

It’s been strictly comfort TV. Lots of Poirot and Death in Paradise. And season six of Brooklyn 99 has arrived on Netflix thank goodness!

We also downloaded The White Princess which is super trashy, but at least has Essie Davis as Elizabeth Woodlville. I kinda love how Philippa Gregory takes gaps in history and inserts the most salacious theories she can come up with.

The Miss Fisher movie is on Alibi on Friday so we’re looking forward to that.

Film

We arranged all of our comfort movies A-Z with the idea of working our way through them (we had some disagreements, A is insisting that Jaws is NOT a comfort movie), starting at the weekend with Back to the Future. I loved this film when I was a kid and it was quite fun to watch it again (Christopher Loyd is a comic genius), but I had forgotten how skeezy and rapey the storyline with Marty’s mum is! How was that considered appropriate for a kid’s movie?!?

Music

Still listening to Buffy Sainte Marie

Tuesday Post

Life

This should have been a Sunday post, but I didn’t have the mental energy at the weekend to compose even a lightweight weekly update.

I hope everyone is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances. We are okay. We’ve established a routine pretty quickly and are doing quite well on the self-care front. There’s a lot to get used to: working from home, the restrictions on going out, and supporting an older relative who is in self-isolation. The main things I’m struggling with are fatigue and loss of mental focus. I also need to find a way to create a sense of distinction between the days. It feels like they are all merging into one.

Books

I finished The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz. Like all his books, it’s extremely readable and the mystery was decent enough, but it lost of a lot of points for being misogynist and a bit racist. I really enjoyed Magpie Murders but this one was a real turn off.

Also in crime fiction, I’m reading All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke, which is book five in her Ellie Hatcher series. I generally find Burke very reliable as a crime writer, although her earlier books have some graphic violence against women. I think she gets better and better.

Television

We’ve been enjoying the documentary series, England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey . Alice Roberts’s Digging for Britain is also fun.

Music

My musical discovery of the week has been the later work of Buffy Sainte-Marie which is just fantastic. Here she is with Inuk throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, performing the track ‘You got to run’.

Ideas for Projects at Home while Social Distancing

Some things to get on with, my ideas:

  • Clean up this blog – I’ve been meaning to do this for ages and now have no excuse not to get on with it. There are posts on here from 2005 (!!!) and I want to go through it all, see what I want to keep, clean up images etc.
  • Do more regular blogging – work through that backlog of rough drafts and ideas
  • Do some DIY – I hate DIY (rubbish lesbian) but I’ve got a kitchen trolley to put together and I need to order a desk for the spare room, especially now that I’m working from home
  • Sort out the spare room – see above
  • Work through the TBR list which currently stands at about 80 books
  • Establish that daily yoga practice I’ve been going on about
  • Watch all those movies I’m always saying I don’t have time to watch
  • Do some drawing, another thing I’m always saying I want to get back into
  • Research my hobbies, such as how to identify fossils and different bird songs.

My COVID-19 Feelings Dump

I feel bad about writing this post because, honestly, we are in a much better position than so many other people right now. We both have steady jobs, which we can do from home. We have a pleasant flat to stay in and live in a quiet area where we can go out for some walks without getting close to other people. And we don’t have to try and cope with homeschooling anxious, upset children at the same time as trying to do our jobs. My mother is a worry, at eighty years old, but she’s being sensible and staying inside, and she doesn’t have any underlying health conditions. Overall, we are very, very lucky. I’m aware that it could be so much worse.

But the situation still SUCKS and we have to let ourselves feel our feelings. There’s no point in trying to repress the disappointment, fear, resentment, anger etc. So, I’m going to allow myself one feelings dump, after which I’ll do my best to be as positive and constructive as possible.

After a couple of weeks of stress and anxiety, during which most of my energy has been taken up by urgent tasks – cancelling everything, sorting out working from home, supporting colleagues and preparing my mother for self-isolation – reality has only started to hit me this weekend. I’ve been feeling depressed, tearful and resentful. Our routines are massively disrupted and we’ve had to cancel everything we were looking forward to over the next couple of months. Like everyone else, I’m worried about the future.

But for me, personally, the worst thing is feeling that my hopes for a peaceful year are now scuppered. I know this is self-indulgent and not important in the big scheme of things, but I had finally got myself to a place from which I thought I could start healing from the emotional battering I’ve taken over the last few years.

From January this year, though, the ‘thing’ that had been triggering all this emotional distress will be less present in my life. I was really hoping that I might get some mental peace, the chance to rebuild a bit of emotional resilance, perhaps even to start exploring the possiblity of healing. That now doesn’t seem likely.

So, that’s my self-indulgent FEELINGS dump. Now I’ll try and practice acceptance and think about what I can do from this point forward.

Sunday post: Stressed out Sunday

Life

What can I say? Everyone is stressed and scared. I’m trying to be sensible and stay informed, while also taking steps to protect my mental health, because stress isn’t good for the immune system either and panicking helps no one! We’re just taking it one day at a time and trying to focus on what we can control. I’m mainly concerned about my mother, who is eighty, but I’m glad to say she is at least taking it seriously.

One good thing, I finally got to watch a kingfisher for several minutes. I’ve seen them briefly, but this was the first time I’ve got a really good look. Those binnoculars have already paid for themselves.

Reading

I finished My Real Children by Jo Walton. It’s very good and I’m still digesting it. I also finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice for about the millionth time.

Television

We’ve mainly been watching documentaties to take our minds off things. We loved Elizabeth I’s Secret Agents, a thrilling documentary about Elizabethan spy networks. We watched two episodes of The Stuarts, but got a little tired of the way it was directed. Probably will finish it though.

Today we watched Hilary Mantel: Return to Wolf Hall which was excellent. I’m looking forward to reading The Mirror & the Light.

My partner watched this documentary about the surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington, and says it’s good too.

Music

I haven’t listened to anything this week, but my partner recommends ‘Blackbirds & Thrushes’ by traditional folk singer, Niamh Parsons.

Sunday post: Library Cards & Lesbian Movies

Life

Mental health has not been great this week. Waking up at 3 or 4am on two nights with bad dreams, which then caused spirals of negative self-talk and upsetting thoughts during the day. I’ve been doing my best to take care of myself, keeping up my exercise, going to yoga and having almost daily walks on the local wetlands reserve.

My friend Magpie at Midnight had a baby, so that’s pretty amazing.

One good thing I did this week was go and get myself a new library card. After several years of neglect, I’m determined to start using my local library again.

Reading

I’m currently reading My Real Children by Jo Walton (from the library) and really enjoying it.

Television

I’ve started watching Silent Witness from the beginning. It seems like a show I could get into and I like to do things in order. The first season is taking itself extremely seriously but I’m enjoying it.

Film

We went to see Portrait of a Lady on Fire at Chapter Arts Centre this evening and it was excellent.

Music

I haven’t listened to much this week, so here is a song by Townes Van Zandt who would have been 76 on 7 March and is one of my all time favourite country singers.

February reading round-up

Barbara Hambly, Dragonsbane (Winterlands #1) (1985)

I blogged about Dragonsbane here. It’s a fun fantasy adventure with interesting middle-aged protagonists, lots of action, and a great dragon. What more could you want? Perfect for a rainy afternoon.

Emily and Amelia Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle (2019)

I’m going to write a proper post about Burnout when I have a moment (hah!), but in summary, this is a mostly useful book. I found the chapters on the science of stress particularly helpful and have changed my own behaviour in response. It’s written for women and it’s nice to have a self-help book that actually names the problem (‘patriarchy ugh!’). However, I don’t think the book is so strong when it comes to long-term solutions and, while it nods to intersectionality, it lacks any class consciousness.

Elly Griffiths, The Outcast Dead (2014)

Book six in the Ruth Galloway series, which has been keeping me in bedtime reading for a few months now. In this one, Ruth is involved in a TV show about the bones of a woman accused of being a child murderer, while her police friends deal with the case of a mother whose three children have died in mysterious circumstances. Then another child disappears. I found The Outcast Dead enjoyable enough, although Griffiths has failed to make me care about Judy and her relationship with Cathbad, which is a major plot point in this one.

Nalo Hopkinson, Falling in Love with Hominids (2015)

Last, but definitely not least, Nalo Hopkinson’s fantasy/horror collection, Falling in Love with Hominids, was no question the best book I read during February. I’m hoping to write a post about it, so I won’t dwell too much here, but it’s a wide-ranging collection of thought-provoking and often startling stories, which ‘mix the modern with Afro-Carribean folklore’ (Goodreads). Hopkinson has an incredible imagination and a straightforward, direct style of writing that lures you into her tales of zombies, ghosts and monsters before usually subverting your expectations.

Sunday Post: End of February

Life

My goal this week was to get through it without letting stress take over my life. I knew it was going to be busy at work, and when this happens, I tend to let self-care drop just when I most need to keep it up.

I delivered online training on Tuesday, went to Mid Wales for an all-day meeting on Wednesday, and gave a presentation to an important meeting on Thursday.

Overall, I managed the stress pretty well. I kept up other activities and didn’t have any anxiety attacks. I even had drinks with colleagues on Friday which was nice.

I went to a really good LGBTQ History Month event at The Senedd on Saturday. The speakers were all excellent and it was nice to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen for a while. I learned about this project, Out in the Museum, which started at the V&A in London and is now being picked up by other museums across the UK. There was also a showing of a powerful short film, Invisible Women, about intersections between women’s and LGBT rights activism in the 1980s.

We were planning to see Portrait of a Lady on Fire but my partner has a cold so we’ll try and see it next weekend.

Reading

I finished Nalo Hopkinson’s short story collection, Falling in Love with Hominids. It’s a really good collection and well worth reading, although the stories were much closer to horror than I expected. Proper post to follow.

Pride and Prejudice is my current bedtime book.

Television

Mainly watching Schitt’s Creek at the moment.

Music

I’ve been listening to Nina Simone this week after twitter reminded me that 21 February was her birthday. So many incredible songs, but I think my favourite – right now anyway – is ‘Sinnerman’. The energy of this performance grabs me every time.

LGBTQ book legacy

An LGBT book collector “passionate about justice” has left his 30,000-piece collection to a university.

Jonathan Cutbill, a founder of Gay’s The Word bookshop in London’s Bloomsbury, died last May aged 82.

His collection, which dates back to 1760, will be moved from his Shrewsbury home to the University of London.

Geoff Hardy, a friend of Mr Cutbill, said the “incredible legacy” featured the history of LGBT issues and the oppression people had faced.

Mr Cutbill’s collection includes novels, pamphlets and newspapers, including all the copies of Gay News, which ran for 11 years.

BBC News Shrewsbury book collector gifts LGBT ‘legacy’

Why grief must be witnessed

Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is that no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed. That doesn’t mean needing someone to try to lessen it or reframe it for them. The need is for someone to be fully present to the magnitude of their loss without trying to point out the silver lining.

David Kessler, Our Experience of Grief is Unique as a Fingerprint

Sunday post: soup and stonechats

A round white bowl full of a red tomatoey soul with red peppers and chickpeas
Chickpea minnestrone

Life

I’ve been feeling the caffeine withdrawl this week. Despite sleeping well, I’ve been irritable and fatigued, especially in the mornings. I hope my body adjusts to lower levels soon.

But I did some useful stuff. Got my hair cut and went shopping for clothes for work. I had a couple of nice birdwatching walks on the nearby wetlands. I saw goldfinches, dunnocks, stonechats, greenfinches and some weird ducks which I don’t know how to identify.

We’ve been cooking from my beloved copy of Flavour by Ruby Tandoh. We made the tomato couscous, the quinoa with roast cabbage and the chickpea minnestrone.

Television

We finished up The Good Place. I wasn’t very impressed with the show’s ultimate take on the afterlife, but I did think the finale was a powerful episode about grief and loss. I cried through it and have been crying off and on today when I think about it.

Reading

I finished reading Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. A useful book and post to come. I’ve almost finished Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson and The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths.

Music

The album of the week is Dark Chords on a Big Guitar, (2003) an album of cover versions by Joan Baez. Top track, ‘Motherland’ by Natalie Merchant.

Barbara Hambly, ‘Dragonsbane’ (1985)

Dragonsbane begins in the bleak Winterlands, with a witch named Jenny Waynest meeting Gareth, a young nobleman who is seeking Lord John Aversin, a legendary dragon slayer. There is a dragon terrorizing the Southlands and Gareth has come to ask for Lord John’s help, with offer of a reward from the king. But when Jenny takes Gareth to meet his hero, he’s in for a shock. The famous Dragonsbane is a middle-aged, bespectacled scholar who is responsible for overseeing a small, muddy town. It’s true that he killed a dragon years ago, but by poisoning it and then sneaking up to hack it to death with an axe. John and Jenny are also long-term lovers and have two children together, much to Gareth’s disapproval. However, they agree to go with Gareth on the condition that the king will help them to defend their town against the bandits who plague the Winterlands.

But all is not as it seems. Gareth hasn’t been completely honest with them and the dragon seems to be a particularly ancient and powerful one. Worse still, there may be something even more dangerous than a dragon waiting for them in the shape of the sorcoress, Zyerne, who has wormed her way into the king’s affections and household.

Zyerne is seeking a source of magical power hidden deep in the caves of the gomes where the dragon has taken up residence. Jenny’s powers are average at best, and John isn’t much of a warrior, but they will have to find a way to defeat the dragon and prevent Zyerne from getting what she wants. Meanwhile, Jenny has her own internal battle to fight with the temptations and the price of power.

I’m not generally a fan of high fantasy, but I really enjoyed Dragonsbane. It’s a pacy, exciting read and the real strength is in the characters. Jenny and John are delightful protagonists. It’s so refreshing to have an older, experienced hero and heroine who have a healthy, adult relationship with each other. Gareth, the young, awkward man, trying to be a warrior, is also very endearing.

And then there’s the dragon. Morkeleb is the best dragon I’ve encountered in a fantasy novel since reading Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series. A complex alien being with his own needs and desires, I loved him.

I had one problem with Dragonsbane and that’s the representation of Zyerne. The novel is clearly working through its own ambivalence about female power, and when it comes to Zyerne, this ambivalence tips over into outright misogny. Without giving too much away, the character is a one-dimensional villain who uses ‘sexy’ wiles (of course) to get her way. There’s no attempt to give her any nuance or complexity, or to really dig into her motivations. She just wants power, so she’s evil. I felt this could have been much better done.

But overall, I found Dragonsbane a very enjoyable and satisfying read and I’ll be checking out the sequels. Recommended if you’re looking for a fantasy world to sink into.

Sunday Post: Rainy Birthday thoughts

A round white bowl containing red lentil soup topped with green kale
Lemony lentil soup with crispy kale by Anna Jones

Life

I turned forty-three on Monday. February is not a great time to have a birthday. It’s dark, the weather is usually dreadful and no one has any money after Christmas. We made the best of it, despite wind and heavy rain. We had lunch with my mother and went out for a nice meal in the evening. My sister came over yesterday with my brother-in-law and nephew, which was really nice. She bought me a box of plants.

I usually get the blues around the time of my birthday. This isn’t an aging thing (it’s been happening since I was about twenty), it’s more of a feeling that, despite all my efforts, I’m failing to make a mark on the world. Some years it’s worse than others. I felt a bit depressed as the week went on, but not too bad.

My age does throw up some big things to think about, though: impending perimenopause, greying hair, losing the possibility of having children … It’s not that I ever wanted to have children, it’s just a little weird to feel that door finally swinging closed for good. Perhaps I should address it in some way.

I’ve also been reflecting on my mental health this week and thinking about the steps I need to take to achieve some real healing, as opposed to just developing yet more ‘coping skills’. I’m sure some of these topics will become blog posts over the next year.

This week we’ve mainly been cooking from Anna Jones’s book, a modern way to eat. We made the lemony lentil soup with crispy kale (pictured), the chickpea and preserved lemon stew and the ‘proper chilli’.

TV

We watched a couple of Poirot features, Taken at the Flood and After the Funeral. Both were very enjoyable, but I do miss Hastings, Inspector Jap and Miss Lemon from the earlier series.

Film

We went to see the new adaptation of Emma last night. I didn’t think it was particularly good, although it was entertaining to watch. It went for broad comedy which Emma isn’t, so I don’t think that worked! But it was pretty to look at and a pleasant way to pass a couple of hours.

Reading

I haven’t read anything substantial this week. I’ve been picking at Pride and Prejudice and started the next Ruth Galloway novel. Everything else has been on hold.

Music

The album of the Week is Red Rescue by Jaimee Harris. It’s a really fun country rock album and she has a great voice.

Top track, ‘Damn Right’

Sue Burke, Semiosis: A Novel of First Contact (2018)

I’m pretty sure that Semiosis is going to be one of my favourite books this year. This novel is a refreshing take on the classic science fiction trope of humans attempting to establish a colony on a distant, possibly hostile, alien world.

The story is told from the points of view of different characters over seven generations of the human colony on the planet they call Pax. From the struggle for survival of the first arrivals, to the rebellion of the next generation, which moves the colony to a long-abandoned alien city, through the development of a co-dependent relationship between the humans and a sentient plant called Stevland, and finally a confrontation with the ‘Glassmakers’, the original inhabitants of the city.

I wondered if I would find the number of point of view shifts irritating, but no, I found it an extremely effective way to tell the story. It’s almost like reading a series of interlinked short stories, which allows Burke to play around with different kinds of narrative. There’s a murder mystery in the middle and a war story at the end. Telling the story of Pax over different generations also helps the reader to invest in the worldbuilding as much as the characters.

I suppose Semiosis could be called eco sci-fi. The theme that holds the story together is the relationship between the people and the other intelligences that live on the planet, especially Stevland, a kind of sentient bamboo. It’s an ambivalent relationship. Stevland seeks to manipulate the humans to its own advantage, while the humans want to access to benefits that Stevlend can provides, including protection from predators, medicines and liaison with other plants. It’s an uneasy compromise until an encounter with the beings who originally inhabited the city creates a crisis that forces humans, plants and Glassmakers to revaluate their relationships with each other.

I LOVE first contact stories and for me Semiosis had it all. An exciting world to explore, engaging characters and interesting aliens. If I have any criticisms, I would have liked more developed queer characters. It’s often implied that some people are bisexual in this society, but it would have been nice to have had more details about how LGBTQ people would fit in. It felt like a bit of an omission.

Recommended for science fiction fans. Semiosis is ultimately an optimistic novel, which some might call ‘hopepunk’. Try it if you like science fiction by authors such as Becky Chambers and Adrian Tchaikovsky.

I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Interference

Content note: While not a violent book in general, the few instances of violence are pretty nasty. There’s a graphic rape scene in the second narrative ‘Sylvia’, some gruesome murders in ‘Tatiana’ and scenes of violence and torture in ‘Lucille and Stevland’.

Sunday Post: Beginning of February

A gloved hand holding a grey stone in which there are the remains of two ammonite fossils although they are almost worn away
Ghostly ammonites

Life

My last week of being forty-two. I took a day off work and went for a very long walk on a local beach which is covered in fossils. My favourite find was this stone with two ghostly ammonites that have been worn away by the sea.

Yesterday, we went for another long walk, this time beside the river that runs through the city where we live. It was a beautiful day and we saw a lot of birds, including grey wagtails, wrens, tree creepers, coal tits, goosanders and a very elegant heron.

I’ve been doing a lot of cooking, mostly from Anna Jones’s book, The Modern Cook’s Year. I made the chard, lentil and bay gratin, the golden miso potato salad and pomelo and peanut winter noodles with carrot and coconut dressing. All were very good.

Unfortunately, I did have a cooking-related mishap and dropped boiling water on my foot, so now I have a large blister. My partner says I should be in a health and safety video about what not to do.

TV

We’re on a bit of a costume drama kick at the moment. We watched the Andrew Davies Sense and Sensibility from 2008. I don’t think it’s very good. It rips off the Emma Thompson movie something shocking and both Colonel Brandon and Willoughby are horribly miscast, but Charity Wakefield and Hattie Morahan are excellent as Marianne and Elinor and that makes it watchable.

Then we watched the 1996 adaptation of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall with Tara Fitzgerald and very young Rupert Graves and Toby Stephens. Overall, I think this is excellent, but it’s so relentlessly serious and grim, it’s not an easy watch. I do think the adaptation lacks a warmth that Bronte brings to the novel.

Reading

I finished Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. I had issues with a couple of things, but it was a very enjoyable read. Proper post to follow.

The poem of the week is ‘Cellular’ by Lizzie Harris

Life, in even the simplest form, has always
been a matter of finding the energy.

Music

I love ‘Melyn’ (2018) by the Welsh feminist band, Adwaith. It’s gorgeous, atmospheric indie rock and I’m really excited to see what they’re going to do next.

I’ve also been listening to Cassandra Wilson’s album of Billie Holiday covers Coming Forth by Day (2015). It’s a fantastic album and my song of the week is her version of ‘Good Morning Heartache’.

Sapphic Link Love #10

Sunday Post: So, we made it to the end of January

Life

Busy week at work. I had to deliver a workshop and travel to Mid Wales to give a presentation at an event. Everything feels stressful at the moment. Lots of bad news generally and on Friday the UK officially began the process of leaving the EU. The country feels horrendously divided over Brexit and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

On a happier note, I met up with a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while, so that was good. They had a baby last year and I think they were pleased to have some grown-up time. One of my other friends had a new baby arrive yesterday, which is nice.

I made it to the end of #DryJanuary without any difficulty. Cutting back on caffeine has been far far harder and I’m struggling to get below two cups a day.

I gave the flat a really good clean for Imbolc this weekend. I love the Imbolc clean. It feels very satisfying.

TV

We’ve been enjoying Neil Brand’s documentary series, Sound of Musicals. It’s a fascinating history of the genre and just a beautifully made series. The only downside of watching it is having songs from musicals constantly stuck in our heads.

We’re working our way to the end of The Good Place. I don’t think this season is very good – although its better than the last one – but I do like the characters and want to see how it finishes, so I’m sticking with it.

Books

The book of the week is Barbara Hambly’s fantasy novel Dragonsbane. I downloaded it on my e-reader because I was looking for a fun read and boy has it delivered. Hambly is very reliable and I should read more of her work.

Music

I haven’t listened to much this week. My partner put some Israel Nash on the other night which was good – lovely cosmic Americana – so I’ll pick ‘Rain Plans’ as my song of the week.


January reading round-up

Sue Burke, Semiosis (2018)

The first book finished in 2020 looks set to be one of my favourites this year. I’m not going to say too much because I’ve got a proper post in the pipeline, but I loved this eco sci-fi story about humans trying to establish a colony on an alien world and their relationships with the beings that live there. Told through the interlinked narratives of different characters over seven generations, Semiosis is an exciting and satisfying read.

JRR Tolkein, The Hobbit (1937)

I hadn’t read The Hobbit for years. I picked it up when I was looking for a comfort read in the aftermath of the UK general election. I enjoyed it, but I had forgotten what a children’s book it is and I felt I should be reading it out loud to an eight year-old. Enjoyable enough, but it does go on a bit!

Sarah Perry, Melmoth (2018)

As a fan of gothic fiction, I was looking forward to this one, especially since I seem to be one of the few people who has read Maturin’s 1820 shocker, Melmoth the Wanderer. In Maturin’s novel, Melmoth has sold his soul to the Devil and spends the next 150 years trying to find someone who is in such a depth of despair that they will agree to take on his burden. In Sarah Perry’s version, Melmoth is the woman who denied meeting Christ after the resurrection. In punishment, she is damned to wander the Earth alone until Judgement Day. The legends says that in her loneliness, she seeks out people who are racked with guilt and who she may be able to persuade to join her. Patched together from different texts, but centering on the story of Helen Franklin, a woman who’s entire life is dominated by her guilt, Melmoth is is a beautifully written, creepy and extremely clever book. But I have to say, it left me a little cold. Too clever perhaps.

Elly Griffiths, A Dying Fall (2013)

Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series has been one of my comfort reads over the last few months. Apart from being an expert on bones, Ruth is an endearingly ordinary woman and her life is a bit of a mess. She and her oddball friends stumble into various murder mysteries and just sort of poke around until the murderer is revealed. The endings are ridiculously dramatic and it’s usually all good fun. Without revealing too much, though, I was really disappointed to find a well-worn transphobic trope waiting for me at the end of this one, so be warned if that isn’t something you want to deal with.

Rolling over to next month

I’m still reading Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski (very helpful).

I’m reading Nalo Hopkinson’s collection, Falling in Love with Hominids, which is excellent but the stories are very intense, so I’m taking it slow!

I started Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly and have been tearing through this one over the last few days. It’s so much fun.

I’m still slowly re-reading Jane Eyre.