Thursday, 29 December 2011

Scribble City Central's Best Books of 2011

Best Books of 2011? How on earth to choose?  I've read so many wonderful books this year - 2011 has been a veritable treasure-house of offerings.  There have been new novels from authors who are already favourites of mine, and I've also had the exciting adventure of reading great debuts from new writers who I know will be favourites of the future. The books I've chosen here are ones which have stuck in my memory for one reason or another - and from me that is the ultimate compliment.  I read very very fast indeed, and don't tend to retain much.  If I did, my brain would overload and explode.  I make no apologies for the fantasy-heavy bias - that's what I enjoy most, and this list is about what has given me most pleasure.  So, without further ado, and in no particular order (except alphabetically by author), here are my choices for 2011....

Cold Magic (Spiritwalker 1) by Kate Elliott
This is the first in a new adult fantasy series from an American writer I've rated highly for a long time.  I've enjoyed watching her style develop and mature with each series she writes, and I particularly liked this book because, while the quasi-Victorian/Industrial Revolution world she has created is still rich and full of colour and imagination, I felt that this time she reined back on the tendency to overcomplicate her plots, which sometimes make her earlier books harder work than they need to be.  I'm always a fan of strong, rebellious female characters (being a rebel myself), and Cat Barahal spoke to me very strongly indeed.  Kate Elliott mixes together the Wild Hunt, ruthless mages, dragons, and a new kind of magic in a brew which I'm eager to taste further.  The second book, Cold Fire is out now, and I'm off to indulge my Kindle habit!

The Scottish Prisoner (A Lord John Grey Novel) by Diana Gabaldon
Diana Gabaldon's Jacobite hero, Jamie Fraser has been my guilty pleasure for many years. This is not one of the 'main' novels about him, but rather covers the years when he is employed as a groom in the Lake District after he is released from prison.  I'm not, in general, such a fan of the spin-off series about Lord John Grey, but the moment I heard that Jamie featured largely in this one, I knew I would be hooked, and how right I was. You know how satisfying it is when an author fills in backstory details about one of your favourite characters? Well, that.  The writing here is as good as the early books, and I'd recommend it as a morsel to satisfy those of us who are waiting hungrily for Diana to give us the big finish of Jamie's series sometime in the distant future! If you haven't yet encountered the Outlander books, then do read the first two at least before you delve into this one.  I promise you're in for a treat. Go and buy them immediately (but only if you like historical romance with a bit of time-travel thrown in, and a seriously adult hot hunk of kilted wonderfulness).  Told you it was a guilty pleasure!

David by Mary Hoffman
Why this wonderfully imagined tale of the boy who was Michelangelo's model for the eponymous statue has not been on every prize list this year, I cannot fathom. 2011 Book Prize judges, are you listening?  You are clearly barking not to have included it.  Not only does Mary write quite beautifully and tell a gripping tale but by golly she knows her Italy and her history. When she was a guest on SCC earlier in the year, this is what I said:
After reading Mary's marvellous book, [David] exists inside my head, 3D still, but reincarnated as a living, breathing, gloriously beddable Renaissance boy called Gabriele. To be honest with you, dear readers, I could go on about this book for hours. Not only is it a marvellously plotted story, taking known historical facts and interweaving them with nuggets of possibility into a seamless whole, but it also rekindled my long-buried interest in art history. It made me look at Michelangelo's sculpture in a whole new light, made me, as a writer, think as well about the hidden things behind all art--the myriad histories lost in time and waiting for a teller to give them life.
I haven't changed my mind.  Read it.  You won't be disappointed.

Graveminder by Melissa Marr
I suppose you could call this a zombie novel, which is why it is all the more extraordinary that I am including it in this list. Anybody who knows me even slightly will be aware that I loathe zombies like the plague.  But what Marr has done with this novel is a laudable feat of re-imagining the genre, and I salute her for it (whilst still shuddering gently).  Rebekkah Barrow is the reluctant inheritor of her grandmother Maylene's post as Graveminder to the small town of Claysville, where the dead are walking, unquiet and needing to be laid to rest.  This is a new departure for Marr, best known for her Wicked Lovely faery series, and I will be fascinated to see where she takes Rebekkah's story next.


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller 
SCC's BOOK OF THE YEAR
You knew there'd be at least one Greek myth-based novel in here, didn't you? This is one of the best retellings I've read in years (if not ever), and that's why I'm making it my Book of the Year. For a debut novel, it's extraordinary - and I think we may have a new Mary Renault on our hands here.  Yes, she's really that good. Miller has brought alive the old story of Achilles and Patroclus (the book is told from Patroclus's point of view),  and given it a fresh and interesting angle.  She clearly knows her Homer and associated sources, but what I really appreciated was the deft, spare beauty of the writing itself.  I hope Bloomsbury know what a treasure they've got here, and I'm hoping this one will win prizes in 2012.  It surely deserves to.  If you only buy a single book on this list, make it this one. 

How to Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran
The only autobiographical entry in my list, and definitely my favourite non-fiction read of the year.  I came across this on Twitter early on in its life, thought I'd give it a go, and laughed my socks off.  If there's a bible for the New Feminism, then this is it. Also, I'm entirely with Moran in the matter of the awfulness of high heels.  This is definitely my most-given-away book of 2011 (to date I've bought 18 copies*), and Lovely Daughter and friends are all talking about it as well - it's definitely polarised opinion among the teens in my life. This is one I shall return to many times.  (*Caitlin - where's my commission?!)



The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Without doubt, this one gets the SCC prize for Most Beautiful Book of 2011, with its sumptuous design and black-edged pages.  It's also a damn good read, and a book I just can't stop thinking about. Surreal scenes from the circus of its title flash across my brain like jewelled hummingbirds, exploding into sparks and snowflakes.  It is unique, original fantasy storytelling at its best, and if Erin Morgenstern can come up with a second novel with as much wow factor as this one has, I shall be positively jealous of her talent!  Fantastical stuff, quite literally.




The Opposite of Amber by Gillian Philip
I've been spoilt for choice by Gillian in 2011, what with this one, and also the second in her marvellous Rebel Angels series, Bloodstone, featuring the fascinating faery brothers Seth and Conal MacGregor, who I've talked about lovingly elsewhere in these pages. However, in this book, Gillian has tackled a difficult subject (teenage prostitution) with great sensitivity.  I already knew she was a great writer.  I know it more now, and The Opposite of Amber had me so gripped from start to finish that I am surprised my fingernails survived the tension.  Here's what I wrote about it in my original review:
This is a brave, wonderful novel which should not just be read by teenagers. It should be read by everyone who cares about making sure that the many real-life girls like Jinn who find themselves in situations similar to this can get help and support and above all knowledge that they absolutely can have other choices in their lives. Buy it for yourself, buy it for others. A real 5* book.
Once again, I haven't changed my mind, and that's why it's here.

The Wise Man's Fear (Kingkiller Chronicle 2) by Patrick Rothfuss
I'd put Patrick Rothfuss in the Robert Jordan, George RR Martin, Melanie Rawn school of epic fantasy.  If the first book in this series (The Name of the Wind) was good, then the second is even better.  The canvas is broad, the imagination on a similar scale, and I particularly like the central framework of Kvothe's inn as the pivot around which the whole story revolves.  There's a sort of zen-like quality to him which reminds me of 'Young Grasshopper's' teachers, Master Po and Master Kan in the Kung Fu movies.  Rothfuss is just a damn good storyteller - the only complaint I have is that I want to read on, and I can't, because the next book won't be out for aeons.  However, as a fellow writer, I understand that it takes time for fantasy worlds to brew and come to the boil, so I forgive him.  If you are a patient sort, do try him out - I think this series will be seen as a classic in years to come.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
This is one of the most recently published on this list, but I know I'll remember it for a long time. I liked Stiefvater's debut series about shapechanging wolves, but this one is in a league of its own (and is, I think, a standalone book).  Kelpies have always fascinated me, and I'm clearly not alone. The particular kelpies in this YA novel are fierce, bloodthirsty - and they sometimes demand the ultimate price from those human jockeys who dare to take part in the Scorpio Races on the shore between land and sea.  Stiefvater's love for and knowledge of horses shines through, and that, together with a bad boy hero and feisty heroine makes for a page-turning read.  I could almost smell the salt and feel the wind on top of the cliffs, and the whole thing has the feel of the wild Western Isles of Scotland. It's nice when an author rings the changes so successfully and doesn't just write the same old same old.  I was really impressed with this one.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Much has been written about this book, and much praise heaped upon it.  Deservedly so, in my opinion, and also in that of Lovely Daughter, who was up all night finishing it (a rare accolade for her). Once again, it is the richness of Taylor's language which impresses, as well as a superbly imagined story. The way she uses words make me feel as if I've eaten a medieval banquet in a sumptuous room hung with brightly woven tapestries - kind of full and satisfied in both body and spirit.  I had the same sense when I read her 2009 novel for younger readers, Blackbringer, so it's definitely a hallmark of her writing. This one just missed out on being SCC's Best Book of 2011, but only by a whisker.  I think Taylor has a rare talent, and I look forward to more banquets of words from her in the years to come.

That's my Eleven for 2011 - I hope some of them will entice you to read them .  A very Happy New Year and very best wishes to all my Dear Readers when 2012 makes its appearance on Sunday, and thank you all for sticking with me this year. Scribble City Central is in the process of having a blog facelift, so watch out for an exciting new look in January!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Guest Post - The Weird and Wonderful World of Synaesthesia by Nicola Morgan

I'm delighted to have the inimitably Crabbit Nicola Morgan here today to talk about synaesthesia, which is the subject of her just-republished debut novel, Mondays are Red.  I first came across synaesthesia in the US paranormal TV series Heroes, in which one of the characters, Emma, is a form of synaesthete, and sees music as colour.  I wanted to know more, but somehow never got around to finding out. Luckily Nicola has enlightened my ignorance, both here, and in her book, which I finished a couple of weeks ago.  Nicola's rich imagery both made my imagination take off like a rocket and made me want to lick her words, which drip off the page like melted chocolate.  If I'd written a debut novel like this, I'd be bloody proud of myself - and so should she be! Do read it - it's marvellous. Anyway, enough of me.  Welcome to Scribble City Central, Nicola, and over to you! Make yourself comfortable... *pops a celebratory cork*

Hello, Lucy, and thank you for letting me visit your lovely blog today. Excuse me while I remove my shoes and wriggle my toes a bit. So, where’s the fizz? Ah, there. Cheers!

So, synaesthesia. You’d like me to talk a bit about it. Since it’s one of my favourite topics, I’d be delighted!
What is it?
First, it’s NOT a medical condition or a negative thing. Second, almost everyone who has it has had it since birth, so they don’t know anything different. Often they don’t even know they have “something” that makes them different from the rest of us.
Yes, but what IS it, you annoying woman?
Well, it’s when two (usually, but occasionally more ) senses are oddly combined. The most common combination is hearing combined with seeing colours. So when you hear a particular sound you “see” a colour. Everyone with synaesthesia is different, but here are some examples of things that might happen:
  • Certain sounds could make colours – for example when you hear particular musical notes or musical instruments, you see certain colours.
  • Letters and numbers could have colours. If, for example, the letter ‘a’ was pink for you and ‘p’ was black, but ‘l’ was blue and ‘e’ butter yellow, the word ‘apple’ would produce all those colours.
  • Similarly, days of the week (and months) could produce colours. That’s possibly the most common form of synaesthesia.
  • Sounds could have shapes or tastes. One man talks of going to buy an ice-cream and finding that the voice of the ice-cream seller put such foul tastes in his mouth that he couldn’t face buying an ice-cream!
  • Tastes could have shapes. In The Man Who Tasted Shapes, by Richard Cytowic, he tells of eating at someone’s house and the host talking about the chicken needing more spikes. (I can relate to this hugely.)
There’s more info here.
How do I know if I’ve got it?
Well, if you see yourself in any of those descriptions, you probably have. But there are some “rules” to establish if it’s true synaesthesia.
  • The sensations must be physical and automatic. You would not have to think about them. For example, I can relate to giving shapes to tastes (and colours to sounds) but I can only do this by thinking, “What shape would salt be?” And I know it would be slightly curved, rounded, and warm. BUT, I’m doing this by thinking and it’s not an automatic reaction, but a cerebral one, taking into account meanings and sounds and everything. I do not have true synaesthesia. (When I visit Mary Hoffman’s blog on Dec 9th, I’ll show how most of us can “do” synaesthesia and how we can use it as a powerful writing tool.)
  • The sensations must be the same every time. If Mondays are red to you today, they won’t be blue next week.
  • You will be able to describe the sensations in extreme detail. Mondays won’t just be “red”, they will be the most specific type of red, and you’ll be able to describe it easily because you can really “see” it, either inside your head or actually in front of your eyes, like a screen. (Which is how Luke in Mondays are Red sees it.)
Is it useful for writers and artists?
I argue that true synaesthesia isn’t necessarily particularly useful! This is mainly because the correspondences are too individual and “odd”, rather than “meaningful” in a traditional or accessible way. (I’ll explain more on Mary’s blog.) So, they will feel surreal to the rest of us – nothing wrong with surreal but it makes it hard to share meaning. But some famously interesting writers and artists have or had synaesthesia and it certainly did them no harm! The writer Vladimir Nabokov, artists Kandinsky and David Hockney and the composer Messiaen and are the best known.
What’s it got to do with Mondays are Red, my novel?
Luke wakes from a coma and finds he has a very overwhelming synaesthesia – highly exaggerated and confusing. But he discovers that it gives him huge power, the power of language, which I argue is the greatest power of all – the power to change minds. He even discovers he can fly. (NB: you can’t. Please don’t try. Also, his power corrupts him, so you wouldn’t want it. Really.)
An amazing test
This works for people who have a very vivid form of coloured numbers or letters and is an amazing objective proof of the condition. (It’s rare for people to have it this strongly.)
Create a sheet of paper with lots of rows of the number five, but interspersed with a very few examples of the number two. Get a load of people to find and count the number 2s. Most people would take some time to do this, needing to look at each figure. BUT…people with this particular form of synaesthesia would find them instantly because the 2s would appear as a different colour to them. Even though they are printed in black. Amazing! (This test appears here and there are more interesting facts.)
Do you have synaesthesia? Do any of these things seem familiar?
At the launch of Mondays are Red, several adults discovered they had it because they all got into an argument about whether Mondays were red, green or silver! Whether you have synaesthesia or not, I hope lots of readers will want to enter Luke’s world. You need to let your imagination go but I promise you an exciting ride, even if you don’t actually fly!
Do hop over to Mary’s blog on Friday to read more about synaesthesia! Thank you, Lucy!
Thank you, Nicola. As always, it was a pleasure - and now I know I am not a colour synaesthete, although I do seem to feel particular tastes in my mouth with certain people and places...

PS: There's a fab (and very revealing) post about Nicola's music choices for writing over on Ros Morris's blog, The Undercover Soundtrack today, which ties in perfectly with this one.  Do go and read it!

Mondays are Red was Nicola Morgan’s debut YA novel, published in 2002. Nicola is now delighted to be producing the ebook, with a new cover and brand new extra material, including creative writing by school pupils inspired by the book. For details about how to buy see here.  You don't need a Kindle to download it, and the price is approx £2.23 on Amazon and will be similar on other outlets (coming soon). There's also a wonderful trailer, made by Nicola's daughter, which you can see below:
About the bookWhen Luke wakes from a coma, his world has altered. Synaesthesia confuses his senses and a sinister creature called Dreeg inhabits his mind. Dreeg offers him limitless power – even the power to fly – and the temptations are huge, but the price is high. Who will pay? His mysteriously perfect girlfriend, with hair as long as the sound of honey? His detested sister, Laura, with the wasps in her hair? When Laura goes missing, Luke realizes the terrible truth about himself and his power. His decision is a matter of life and death, and he will have to run faster than fire.
Nicola's next stop will be at Mary Hoffman's Book Maven blog on Friday 9th December.
Nicola's website is here
You can also find Nicola on Twitter (where she Crabbits regularly as @nicolamorgan).

Monday, 7 November 2011

Making It All Worthwhile - One Amazing Reader

You don't expect much from a dreary, dreich November Monday morning. A bit of rain, a bit of fog, bills in the post, spam in the mailbox.  This particular Monday morning is different, though.  Today I received an amazing boost from one reader, Amber, who devoted a whole blogpost to why she is thankful for Atticus the Storyteller's 100 Greek Myths, which her grandmother gave her when she was 10.  She's now 18, has her own book blog, and reads like a demon.  As an author, it's reading stuff (like the quote below) from readers which makes all the struggling and cursing and the days when the words wriggle like worms on a hook worthwhile.  Thank you, Amber - and all the hundreds of readers who've written to me about Atticus and my other books. I am thankful for every one of you.

"This was one of the last books my nanny bought me before being diagnosed with cancer for the second time. ... Ever since the day I began reading this book, I've been in love with Greek myths. It's more than love now, it's an obsession. It's a genuine love of mine, and I found it through the best circumstances. But that's not why I'm thankful. I'm thankful because I can now pick up this book, and as well as reading the stories for the hundredth time, I can remember my Nanny and how she was before she became ill."

Monday, 31 October 2011

Crone Moon - a poem for Samhain

On All Hallows Eve, Hallowe'en - or in the Celtic way, Samhain, I make a little compost and sow a few seeds for the soul.  Samhain is the end of the Celtic year, the beginning of winter, a time to reflect and consider, a time to slough off old, unwanted things and plant new hopes which will start to sprout with the spring snowdrops.  Here's a poem to mark the turning of the year. 

Crone Moon
Samhain 2011

Tonight I pass from blood red moon’s curve
to soft crone sag, wrinkled wisebelly.
I am not sad.
No more so than the yellow birch leaf is,
which skips and skirls over the October lawn,
celebrating its own downfall.
There are twelve crows across the sky.
I hear them caw counting bones,
their harsh tongue telling the days and hours
till I am ash and earth and brittle maggot flesh
for bears to gnaw on.

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Fantasy Dinner Party on Serendipity Reviews

Today I'm with Vivienne over on the wonderful Serendipity Reviews, talking about my perfect fantasy dinner party (with lots of literary guests and a few eccentric choices).  There's also a fantasy menu which will make your mouth water.  Do go over and visit, and tell us whether you agree with my list! If not, who would your choices be?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Child of Mine

National Poetry Day is with us again, so I thought I'd give you one of my own poems to celebrate.  Enjoy!

Child of Mine

You and I, we lived in our enclosed world
of earth-shattering cries,
and lullabies sung out of love and memory.
Each living inch of you was miracle,
your salt-stained smile a kaleidoscope thing
of ever-changing wonder.
I had no words then, was dumbfounded,
too entranced, exhausted, enchanted,
to commit you to a paper prison where
fascinating plump-braceleted wrists
and the endless scent of milk-warm skin
stayed frozen in some verbal snapshot trap.
But now, child of mine, memory frays,
and I fear losing our then amongst
the grey, dead-end paths of my aging brain.
Words are the only tool I have
to keep my pasts alive and unforgotten.

© Lucy Coats 2011

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Talking About Gay YA and Children's Books

Fellow Orion author James Dawson (Hollow Pike is coming from Indigo/Orion in Feb 2012) has an excellent post about diversity in children's books over at Tall Tales and Short Stories, which ties in nicely with my own post about the gay YA debate on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure yesterday.  Lots and lots of children's authors and others commenting on the latter, so well worth joining in. It's an important subject to discuss, I think. 

Monday, 5 September 2011

A Writing 101 Production: Part 14 - How to Reach The End (1)

I was delighted to be nominated as one of the Top 10 Children's Literature Blogs in the UK last week. I wasn't so sure about being the Number 5 Influencer of Kidlit on Twitter, though.  That particular title made me feel I should be wearing leather, and carrying a cosh to bludgeon people into reading children's books...(actually, is that such a bad idea? *thinks*)....

But I also felt that I hadn't done much to deserve those nice accolades lately, having been totally absent from Scribble City Central due to the necessity of finishing my YA novel (which I'd promised Lovely Agent I would by the end of August).  I did warn you about that though...see, here's the evidence.  Anyway, while it's fresh in my mind, I thought I'd talk a bit about how I got to that all important moment of writing those two fantastic words
THE END
on the bottom of my manuscript.  There may be some stuff that's helpful to you too, as you rush to the finish line of your own Great Work.

I don't go in for all those stupid writing rules (see Writing 101 Production No 8 for more about this), but when I have a book to finish, I know I must put all else aside and concentrate on only that. So, what worked for me (and what may work for you) is the following:
  • apply bum firmly to comfortable seat 
  • keep door firmly closed
  • turn off phone (firmly)
  • take an (almost complete) break from Facebook and Twitter*
  • tell teenage children/dogs/partners/mothers/all and sundry that if they interrupt you for trivial matters they will suffer an imaginatively painful death (be very very firm about this)
That's a start.   After that, I took Raymond Chandler's advice.
'Write with the solar plexus' 
he said.  For me that meant climbing onto the rollercoaster ride that is creating a book, not looking back too much, just cracking on and getting it all down on paper.  Sounds simple, doesn't it?  It's not.  So I'll break it down still further. Here's some other stuff that worked for me:
  • Setting a word target (75,000 words in this case)
  • Doing complicated mathematical computations (if I have x days till D-day, with y days or hours when I can't write because of (insert annoying real life stuff like laundry, housework, cooking etc that can't be avoided here), how many words do I have to write a day to meet my deadline if I give myself rest day z on a Sunday?) Hey-it IS complicated-I failed Maths O level 4 times--OK?
  • Making sure I have loads of water (with fresh lemon in it) to drink, eye drops (just don't ask about the ongoing eyestrain saga), and plenty of healthy snatch-and-eat-at-the-computer food (this includes chocolate, which is, naturally, one of my 5-a-day)
I know, I know--sounds totally obsessive.  But this is how getting to the end of a book feels for me.  I AM obsessed with my characters, with the minutiae of their lives--and I want to know what happens to them desperately. They're talking to me by this stage--I can hear them, see them, smell them (not always delightful in the case of the latter).  And however much chapter planning and pre-book research and work I've done before I start, however much I know where I want to be in the end, I don't always know how I'm going to get there, or what will happen on the way.  There are always surprises--like the lovely Gillian Philip, at this stage I tend to write by the seat of my pants (applied firmly to that aforementioned comfy chair). Writing the most exciting story I can and getting to the end of is is all that matters to me at this stage--tidying up can come with the revisions and the second draft.  But for that stage I need my lovely Official Teenage adviser--of whom more later.  I'll tell you about her in Part 2, which will be up very soon.  Meanwhile, let's leave this post with me at the end of my first draft.  See me all excited and with 63,425 words under my writing belt (I started out with 20,000 in mid-July).  I feel like I've run a marathon.  Now where's my Lucozade, my medal and my lie-down?
*Um, on the Twitter and Facebook break--I was pretty firm about that, but did slip and creep on once or twice.  People did notice I'd been gone, which was nice.  I missed them too. See my Awfully Big Blog Adventure post on abandoning the Social Networks....

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

This Is Not a Political Blog, BUT...

This is usually a writing blog. A blog about childrens books and myths and all that.  Usually, I say. But sometimes I make statements about stuff I feel strongly about.  This is one of those.  Feel free to look away if that sort of thing upsets you.

Last night I sat and watched as parts of  London were smashed to bits, set alight, looted. My husband and son were there (luckily safe, thank you for asking).  I also followed the riots as they unfolded via Twitter--admittedly through the lens of the (mostly) bookish or journalistic people I follow.  There I heard about more personal stories. Friends locked in and terrified by sounds of sirens and breaking glass (or by an ominous-seeming sudden silence--the calm before another storm?). Another friend told by a teenage girl who had just looted an i-Phone that 'I'm just getting back my taxes'. A whole road of Turkish people in Dalston who stood against the looters. Unconfirmed reports of restaurant guests who, when threatened by rioters demanding their jewellery, were defended by staff brandishing knives plucked hurriedly from the kitchens. A young woman escorted to safety by gallant youths 'because you're a girl, innit?' Motorbikes pelted with stones amid cries of 'who's next, man?'. A Waterstones bookshop left untouched, but a Gay bookshop smashed.  There was a lot more--I merely give you snapshots.  I didn't look at Facebook much, after I heard that an event page had been set up, inviting people to the 'riot party'.  (I'm pretty fed up with Facebook at the moment, actually.  It's turned rather nasty over the last weeks, what with the vile online bullying of my friend Amanda Craig, and some very unpleasant 'class-hatredy' comments about Horatio Chapple--the wretched 'polar bear' boy.)  But I digress....

This morning the papers are full of doom and woe. The mindless destruction has spread to other cities. The COBRA committee is sitting. The recriminations have begun.  Most of it is not at all attractive to witness, and I'm not proposing to go into the rights and wrongs or causes of it all here (though I just want to say that I did lose all respect for mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone last night, when he started using the riots as an election platform). But I'd like to ask a question.  What is going to happen when the police start arresting and bailing all the young people who took part in the looting and general smashing up (which they already have, because the incontrovertible evidence is out there in the form of all those clever 'trophy photos'--we live in an age where if it is not 'posted' then it hasn't happened)?  I say 'young people' because a lot of them were. (And to be very clear,  I'm not talking about beating people up, or injuring policemen or any of that--I'm talking about the criminal damage and the looting).  Are we really going to lock all of them up in our overcrowded prison system?  Because there just isn't room is there? And we can't afford to build more yet more places to detain people at Her Majesty's pleasure, can we?

We've been somewhere like this before, of course. There were the London riots over university fees last year, in which, for example, a young man called Charlie Gilmour got photographed hanging off the Cenotaph, jumping on cars and other drug-fuelled and destructive idiocies.  He recently got sent down for six months, and is currently locked in a cell for 23 hours a day.  His mother, fellow author and Twitterer Polly Samson says he shouldn't be.  I think I agree with her, but not for the reasons you might imagine.  I don't condone what he did one iota as far as the Cenotaph is concerned.  I am the daughter and grandaughter of ex-serving officers.  I was sort of in the army myself for a time (yes yes, it's a little known fact about me--get over it).  I think that what he did was a disgrace.  But here's what I would have done.  I would have tagged him, put him in a very cheap B and B near Headley Court (run by Help for Heroes), and I would have made him work with injured servicemen for those six months (or even three). Scrubbing floors, cleaning loos, changing sheets, talking to and being around those guys all day (and maybe some night shifts too), seeing just what sacrifices they have made (and no--I'm not getting into the rights and wrongs of Afghanistan here either).  Want to teach him a lesson about respect and civic duty, dear judiciary?  That would be a far more effective, cheaper and more salutary way of doing it than locking him up for those 23 hours.  But it's not how our system works.

So back to last night and those inevitable future arrests and chargings with looting and criminal damage.  What would I do with all those rampaging young people?  I'd make the punishment fit the crime. Make them clean up. Make them damn well apologise face to face to all those small shopkeepers and business who have had their businesses ruined and their staff's jobs put in jeopardy.  Make them work hard to repair the damage. I believe strongly that actions should have consequences. But I also believe that prison for this particular sort of thing is not necessarily the answer. Throwing those kids in jail will solve nothing at all.  But making them take physical responsibility for the mess they created and face up to what they did in a way that had a positive outcome for the victims would make damn sure the punishment fitted the crime, and would teach a much more valuable moral lesson than either a short stint in the pokey, a suspended sentence, a derisory fine or an ASBO. If I was Home or Justice Secretary, I'd implement it tomorrow (literally) and call it 'Positive Sentencing'. It's what I reckon any responsible parent would do.  That's what I think, anyway, but I'm not a politician, and (apart from in the case of the proposed disgraceful closures of libraries, about which I feel passionately) I am not a political campaigner either. Feel free to disagree among yourselves about all this, but please try and be vaguely polite if you comment. I did warn you this wasn't a normal post, after all!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Mars and Venus - 'The David Blog Tour': Guest Post by Mary Hoffman

I first encountered Mary Hoffman's David back in February this year, when Mary was kind enough to send me a very early proof.  Last year I 'met' the man himself, in sculptural form, when I visited Florence. To me at that time he was, though utterly beautiful and mesmerising to look at, still only a cold, marble statue in 3D.  Now, after reading Mary's marvellous book, he exists inside my head, 3D still, but reincarnated as a living, breathing, gloriously beddable Renaissance boy called Gabriele.  To be honest with you, dear readers, I could go on about this book for hours.  Not only is it a marvellously plotted story, taking known historical facts and interweaving them with nuggets of possibility into a seamless whole, but it also rekindled my long-buried interest in art history.  It made me look at Michelangelo's sculpture in a whole new light, made me, as a writer, think as well about the hidden things behind all art--the myriad histories lost in time and waiting for a teller to give them life. 

Mary herself is a magical teller and teaser-out of hidden histories. When I interviewed her for Mslexia magazine earlier in the year, she told me that David was the perfect story for her as a writer of historical fiction. 

Mary and David

"There were some incontrovertible facts, but absolutely nothing known for the crucial part of it.  Nobody knows who the model was--or even if there was a model. That was the ideal scenario, because you've got your framework and the ability to bring historical characters alive--but then you can get in and tell your human story any way you damn well like!"

I can tell you that Mary's 'any way you damn well like' is pretty damn good as far as I'm concerned.  I consider this to be her best book yet (and her previous books have all been fabulous). Buy it. Read it. Read it again. Trust me on this one!

And now, that's quite enough from me.  I'm going to hand you over to Mary herself, who, this being the marvellously mythic Scribble City Central, has chosen to talk about Mars and Venus for the very last stop on her David Blog Tour.  Welcome to SCC, Mary!

The David Blog Tour: Final Day - Mary Hoffman talks about Mars and Venus

“Men are from Mars, Women from Venus” – so says the book title.

I think that’s pretty much nonsense. But certainly back in Renaissance Florence women didn’t go to war as soldiers. And you wouldn’t have found many men being hands-on dads either. In other words, the gender roles were pretty clearly divided. We are talking about over five hundred years ago, when women could not vote or hang on to their own property if they married.

Aristocratic women might have had some say in the ordering of their lives but marrying for dynastic reasons rather than love was common. Ordinary people of both sexes had hard lives in the Middle Ages and Renaissance and life expectancy was not all that long.

So the story of Gabriele and his many loves should be viewed in the context of that background. He poses as artist’s model for the painter Leone, as Hercules, Mars, Bacchus and Theseus – all  mythological characters or legendary heroes. Like David, he is well suited to representing these figures, at least physically.

But he doesn’t feel heroic. He feel that he has betrayed Grazia  by accepting her help and not loving her enough, the way Theseus betrayed Ariadne by allowing her to help him kill the Minotaur and then abandoning her.. But as he tells Leone, he has posed for Bacchus too – the god who rescues Ariadne so, in a sense, Grazia, who also poses for Leone sometimes, ends up with him anyway.

‘I think all of us are part Theseus, part Bacchus,’ [Leone] said.
‘And part Minotaur?’ I asked. ‘That’s what I’ve been thinking.’

‘You are very young, Gabriele,’ he said. ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all make some mistakes as we are growing up.’

They are talking about the difficulty, as they see it, for men, to behave well in their love relationships with women. And it comes to them naturally to express this in terms of mythology, not just because of the subjects of Leone’s current paintings, but because everyone knew those stories then from the many representations of them in art.

And it is complicated for Gabriele by the fact that women – and men – throw themselves at him all the time! He means to behave well to all of them but it just too inexperienced and unsophisticated to handle the situations in which he finds himself. Thinking of himself as Mars – or any of the other classical figures – is a way of distancing himself from the actuality of relationship with a flesh and blood woman of his own time. And of telling himself that he is not the only male who has ever got himself into a pickle with females.

The god Mars has always struck me as rather stupid. And Venus was pretty dumb too! He did his he-man warlike stuff and she went around being beautiful. Apollo and Hermes (Mercury), Artemis and Athene (Diana and Minerva) are much more interesting, don’t you think?

Now if the book was “Men are from Mercury, Women from ...”  But there is no other planet named after a goddess, is there? Perhaps that tells us something too.

Fascinating and illuminating stuff, Mary--with much mythic food for thought too.  Thank you so much for visiting Scribble City Central.

You can find out more about Mary at the sites listed below:
www.bookmavenmary.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Novelty of Writing


Clementine and Mungo by Sarah Dyer (Bloomsbury 2004)
 You may have noticed I haven't been here much lately.  I know, I know, you've missed me and all that.  It's been a manic summer so far, what with all that ABBA Litfest shenanigans going on, and other stuff as well. 

There's also been quite a lot of writing excitement for me over the last month or so. I'm delighted to say that I've had two picture book texts accepted--one, with wonderful artist Sarah Dyer (see picture on left for her inimitable style), will be published by Bloomsbury in 2013, and the other with fab new publisher Nosy Crow (about which there will be more news later in the year, I hope).

I'm also in the last stages of writing a YA novel.  I'm very excited about it, and so is Lovely Agent, but she's sworn me to secrecy on what it's about, so mmmmmmm *sound of lips being firmly zipped*.  What I can say is that I have a new writing regime for this book, and I'm loving it.  Up at 6.30am, write in bed (very lady novelist, but without the fluffy Pomeranian), healthy brain-boosting breakfast, more writing till lunchtime, no Twitter or Facebook or blogging or any other damn thing till then. Target 2500-3000 words a day, which means that I should--should, I say--have it finished by the end of the month (and now that I've said that publicly, I'll have to do it, won't I?).  The last 10,000 words were tapped out looking over the island of Elba in a mixture of glorious Tuscan sunshine and very scary thunderstorms. But it's been nice to get back to my own desk and all my books.  Books in a rented house aren't the same, somehow, though it's fun exploring someone else's shelves, especially since they belong to another writer--Elizabeth Palmer.  I'll tell you more about the novel when I can--I promise!--and I know you'll forgive me if I'm absent with the Muse for a bit over the rest of the summer.

Meanwhile, this Thursday (4th August), I have a treat for you, as Scribble City Central is hosting the very wonderful Mary Hoffman on the last day of the blog tour for her novel, David.  Come back and visit again then!  

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

WIN 18 FAB BOOKS! COMPETITION CLOSES 20TH JULY!

You can still win 18 fantastic books in my Awfully Big Blog Adventure Online Litfest competition! But only just, as entries close at 10pm (UK time) tomorrow, 20th July.  All you have to do is to leave the name of your favourite god, goddess, hero or heroine (from any pantheon) in the comments section of my funny dog video over on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure.
JUST CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS

Good luck!  Winner will be announced soon....

Saturday, 9 July 2011

ABBA Litfest is Open For Business - Hooray!

ABBAlitfest opened for business this morning at 9.30am and wow! What a programme it's been so far.  Blogs on writing, videos--and some fantastic giveaways and competitions.  Even Conal MacGregor is featuring! And the equally decorative (am I allowed to say that?), but just slightly younger, Tyger Drew Honey from Outnumbered is there too, being interviewed.  So do go over and have a look, because it's brilliant (if I say so myself).  And if you like it, please do say so on Twitter (at #ABBAlitfest hashtag) or on the Facebook page. Have fun, and look out for my video (Beware: Contains Fierce Animals) at 4pm today.  Can't wait to hear what you think of me as a cross between Joyce Grenfell and Barbara Woodhouse!

BREAKING NEWS! Here's that MAD VIDEO I was talking about earlier...

Friday, 8 July 2011

In Which I Talk to @Serendipity_Viv about The ABBA Online Litfest

To kick off the fab festival weekend, here I am over at Serendipity Reviews, talking to the lovely @Serendipity_Viv from Twitter and the blogosphere about ABBAlitfest--and what I'm going to do when it's all over!

Serendipity Reviews: The ABBA Online Literary Festival - Interview with Lucy Coats

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Mythic Faery Interview – Conal MacGregor, Smouldering Sithe Warrior

Gillian Philip's faery warrior, Conal MacGregor--what a treat that man is to talk to!  And today I'm sharing him with all of you, because I'm generous like that.... 

A little while ago, I was lucky enough to be given the very first sneak preview of Gillian's new novel, Bloodstone--the second in her 'Rebel Angels' series and the sequel to Firebrand, which The Times dubbed their 'best fantasy of 2010'.  Naturally I was sworn to secrecy about the contents--and I'm not going to put up any spoilers here.  Suffice to say that the action has moved on 400 years, into our own 21st century, there are new and exciting characters as well as old friends--and the fast-moving, viscerally real action is just as gripping as ever, if not more so.  The wickedly feral, amoral Seth (the 'red-hot faery boy' of my last Mythic Interview) tells the story, just as he did in the first book, and I'm as entranced as ever by what goes on inside his head (and by the reasons why he acts and thinks as he does). I still want to smack him half the time, and hug him (well, that's the polite way of putting it...) the rest of it.  But there is a new storyteller's voice too--Finn MacAngus, the stroppy, wild, rebellious Sithe girl who has no idea how powerful she really is.  I think you'll like her as much as I did--and I look forward to seeing more of her in later volumes.  All I will say now is that there's a treat coming for those of you who loved the first book--and some heart-stopping surprises too.

However,  it's neither Seth nor Finn who is the star of this interview.  Conal MacGregor is the quiet one--the 'good brother', and I feel that sometimes he's overlooked for that very reason--though he's just as..um...'huggable' as his younger brother. I also really wanted to know a bit more about what made him tick, and to get inside his head.  So Gillian very kindly agreed once more to act as amanuensis, and write down Conal's answers to my fearsomely intrusive and personal questions.  (Honestly?  I'm just really nosy! But Shh! Let's just pretend I'm an intrepid journo on assignment for Hello! for the moment....)

SCC: Conal, you  seem to be pretty perfect all round—selfless, noble, responsible, loyal, gentle, caring and all that (which might be annoying if you weren’t so obviously nice). Your rude brother calls you ‘the insufferable saint’. But everyone has a dark secret hidden in their character somewhere. What’s yours?
Uh... am I all those things?! Well, thanks, Lucy... It’s no surprise that Seth is rude about me; he’s pretty insolent about everyone and he’s easily wound up where I’m concerned. As for my dark half – well, I wish I were as perfect as the man you describe, but I’ve had my moments, and being under orders doesn’t excuse anything. If it’s a character fault you’re looking for, I know what Seth would say is my worst – the temper. I take a while to get riled, but when I do, I overreact. And Seth knows exactly which buttons to push. I'd better not say he can push my buttons anytime, had I?  *oops, too late*

SCC: You’ve had to make a lot of choices and hard decisions, both for yourself and your Clann. If you could go back and do one thing differently in your life so far, what would it be and why?
One thing, or many? There have been plenty of things I’d change, but if I had to choose one moment that could have made a difference, I’d have challenged Kate NicNiven earlier. Seth reckons I could have taken the crown from her way back, before the worst of it happened, and he might be right*. The trouble is, I didn’t want it; I only wanted autonomy over my own dun. But yes, I should have challenged her more strongly and a lot earlier. If I’d done that, it need never even have come to fighting.
* Ohhh! How I wish you had too.  She needs a good walloping, that one!

SCC: Your brother Seth is clearly very important to you—and you’ve made a lot of sacrifices for him. Tell us the thing about Seth that you most love—and the thing you most hate.
Ha! Yes, I love the little toe-rag. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it...

What do I love most? His cheek. He’ll insult anyone, even me, and sometimes it takes a while to realise he’s done it. It’s got him into all kinds of trouble, but there’s a kind of reckless bravado about it that echoes the way he fights.

What do I most hate? The way he won’t let himself be loved. The little git, he needs to bind to someone, but he’s what you might call a commitment-phobe. And it’s insane, because he has a lot to give, he just won’t let himself. He isn’t doing himself any favours there**.
** No, he isn't.  And I wish he'd learned that lesson too.  But emotional maturity is clearly going to take him several more centuries to get a grip on--if the annoying little cuss survives that long!

SCC: First you were a kind of father-figure to Seth, and now, in Bloodstone, you’re doing it all over again with Finn. You and Eili have had no children of your own (so far). I know it’s hard for the Sithe to have kids and that they’re incredibly important to you—so what would be the most vital piece of advice you’d want to pass on to your own bairn?

I know that’s a sore point with Eili, and I do feel guilty about it. One of these days, though, gods willing... anyway, what advice would I give? Don’t be scared to speak your mind to people you trust. Listen to the counsel of your friends and your lovers. And never turn your back on a smiling Lammyr.

I’d give myself a bit of advice, as well. I would never, but never lie to my child***. I’ve seen where that goes.
*** I'm so glad you said that.  Lying to your kids will always come back and bite you in the bum.  And what's the point?

SCC: I once asked Seth whether he saw himself as a kind of mythic hero—and he went all embarrassed on me (have you ever seen him blush? It’s rather sweet!). You yourself have actually been described as ‘heroic’, so how about you? Do you feel like a hero? Who would be the hero you most admire and relate to in any culture—and why?

Really? You made Seth blush? Brilliant - that I’d like to have seen. I can see why, though – what a question! If somebody has described me that way, it’s nice of them, but no. I don’t feel heroic. I feel as if I’d like to be heroic, but never quite get there. I have a lot of ground to make up, mistakes to correct, sins to expiate. Besides, I haven’t achieved what I need to achieve, not yet.

Which hero would I most admire? Tristan^. He was a warrior and a fantastic horseman, but he knew about love and loss. He wasn’t perfect, but he did his damnedest to do the right thing. And for the same reasons (minus the swordfighting) – Iseult too.
^ Tristan is the perfect choice for you--I can quite see why you'd pick him.  It seems to me that real heroes (ie you and Seth) are so because you don't have that kind of hubris which tells you that you're perfect.  The flaws and doubts make the man, I think.


SCC: The Queen of Elfland, The Faerie Queen, even Galadriel...we humans have so many tales of the ruler of your world. She’s always eerily beautiful, often cruel and human men seem find her irresistible. I hate to bring up Kate NicNiven, but why would anyone find her character attractive? You yourself say ‘she’d start a war for the fun of it on a dull weekend.’ She’s even more of a monster than the Lammyr, isn’t she? Why is she such a...well, ‘cow’ would be the politest term, I suppose! And why do all the Sithe put up with her?

It’s hard to explain, Lucy. If you can suspend your disbelief long enough, I could tell you that she’s...charming. And so beautiful, of course. And incredibly indulgent of her favourites.

Most of all, though, she knows how to win affection. She’ll say just the right thing, pay the right compliment, give the most apt favour at exactly the right moment. She knows better than anyone what you want or need – sometimes she uses witchcraft, sometimes it’s simple instinct – and she can give or withhold it as she likes. Most often she gives – so long as it suits her. She can make you dance to a tune you never knew you knew; she can play you like a fish on a hook, and persuade you no bait ever tasted better. It’s political nous, I suppose, and it’s better than any magic spell^^.
^^ Ah! So she's really a bedamned and thrice-bedamned politician.  That explains everything!

SCC: Talking of those human men—did you ever meet Thomas the Rhymer or Tam Linn? Why is music so important to the Sithe? And what would be the one modern song you absolutely have to have on your i-Pod?

I never met either of those two personally – before my time, I’m afraid – but they’re both still well-known by reputation. It seems Tam was a little humourless, but utterly devoted to Kate. Everyone knew she had him bewitched, and a lot of people lost a lot of bets when the full-mortal girl got him away from Kate. Thomas Rhymer was smarter, I reckon. He charmed Kate as much as she did him, and he flattered her, so when he asked to go home, she let him. You see? She rarely makes the kind of mistake she did with Tam Lin. And of course, he came back to her in the end, and died at a fine old age, still spouting those wacky prophecies that amused her so much.

I have met more than one other full-mortal, though, tempted across by Kate or by someone else. Lots of people fall for a full-mortal now and again, and want to show off. But the difference with Kate is that she has a nasty habit of, say, employing pipers and fiddlers for an evening’s entertainment, just when she knows the time’s going to warp. When they go back, they don’t survive longer than it takes to find out the date. She really is La Belle Dame Sans Merci. It’s cruel. Some Sithe think it’s funny; some don’t, but it’s damned difficult to say so to her face.

Speaking of full-mortal musicians, though, you’re right – we’re fond of music. You are too, though, aren’t you? After a hard day’s work or horse-training or fighting, there’s nothing better than a party. Even I know that, and you won’t catch me singing for love or money (unlike Seth, the show-off. But then he’s good).

As for my own iPod – I play Paolo Nutini a LOT – I never get tired of him – and I’m really fond of Brown-Eyed Girl by Van Morrison. Seth tells me I’m hopelessly unadventurous, but you should hear some of the shit he likes^^^.
^^^ Yep.  I'm certainly a music girl. But Paolo Nutini annoys the crap out of me, I'm afraid--and I'm not such a fan of Van the Man either--though I'll listen to him.  I fear some of my musical tastes may veer towards Seth's.  Eclectic, that's me! Hildegarde of Bingen one day, Lady Gaga or Seasick Steve the next!  

SCC: The Sithe are clearly excellent fighters, and enjoy a good brawl. You are one of the best with a sword. But if you didn’t have a sword, dagger or anything else long, sharp or pointy, what would you do? Do any of the Sithe practise any type of martial arts combat which involves no weapons? If not, shouldn’t you use all that time you’ve spent in the human world and start training your Clann so that you’ll have an advantage over your future enemies?

There’s no formal martial art, with special moves and rules or indeed any spiritual dimension – but oh, yes, we can fight barehanded. There’s a certain ability we have to kind of stay in the air and move, with nothing solid for leverage. It’s a mind thing. But we can’t do it for long. It’s not like we have those wee gossamer wings+, whatever anybody tells you.

Anyway, people tend to work out what works for them, depending on their size, speed, talents...and we’re nothing if not adaptable. Some Sithe fight pretty dirty. I could introduce you to a guy called Cuthag. Not one of my favourite people.
+ I'd give anything to see you and Seth in a pair of wee gossamer wings...! *has small fantasy moment*

SCC: Cù Chaorach, ‘The Sheepdog’, is your true name. While sheepdogs are wonderfully faithful and intelligent animals, they also tend to do what they’re told. How did you feel when you first found out what you were called? Did you secretly want to be something more glamorous like a wolf, or a bear or a stag? Do you think a sheepdog is really cut out to be a leader of men?

Don’t get me started. There’s a rumour I didn’t speak to anyone for a month when they found my name, but that isn’t quite true. I wasn’t very enamoured of it, though. And yes, you’ve got it: I wanted to be a wolf, or an eagle, or... hell, at least a stoat or a badger would be a proper predator.

But I’ve grown accustomed to it. I still don’t...quite...get it, but people say it suits me. Apparently I am sometimes annoyingly bossy and I-know-best++. The gods know, Eili tells me that often enough.
++ I guess dogs are descended from wolves--you can comfort yourself that you're a civilised wolf who can get people to do what he wants.  How's that for an idea?


SCC: Finally, I’m always wondering this myself (and am always changing my greedy mind), so I’m going to indulge myself and ask you what your last ever meal in the world would be, if you could choose. Mine currently involves eggs, chicken, truffles, purple sprouting broccoli, asparagus, mashed potato, a lot of cream and butter—and chocolate (obviously). Where would you eat your final supper? And with whom?

You know what, Lucy? I think I’ll join you...

But if you absolutely made me choose my own, I’d go for really fresh fish, straight out of the waters beside the dun. I’d like it grilled over an open fire, just with some butter and lemon and herbs. And artichoke hearts+++, because they’re so much fun to eat. And then I’ll have some rare steak, cooked over the same fire; and since this is a fantasy meal, I’ll take some proper modern Scottish chips with it, incredibly fatty and straight out of the local chip shop near Tornashee. But forget the deep-fried Mars bar afterwards – I’ll have Strathdon Blue cheese and plenty of whisky. Macallan, I think.
+++ Artichoke hearts--oh! I am SO stealing those for my last supper.  Mashed with plenty of butter and salt and pepper. Yum!

And of course, I’d eat it with Eili, and we’d sit on a hill overlooking the dun. And I know you said ‘final’ meal, but hey, you’d let us have some time with each other afterwards++++, wouldn’t you...? ++++ Says he, wistfully!  Yes, of course!  The night is yours and Eili's to do with as you will.  I'll be down the road with your dear brother...

Oh gods, now I’m sounding like Seth! Thanks for a terrific interview, Lucy. You’re an amazing lady and you’re welcome in my dun any time – once I get it back. I know you’d spin us some fabulous stories.

Thank you, Conal--and Gillian.  You've spun us all some fabulous answers, and I know many many readers will be even more desperate to read Bloodstone when it comes out on 19th August from Strident Publishing.  In fact, I think I'm away now to read it again myself!

Gillian on Twitter
Gillian on Facebook

Monday, 20 June 2011

Announcing The First Ever Online Literary Festival...

...RUN ENTIRELY BY CHILDREN'S AUTHORS!

If you'd like to see what all the excitement is about, please click on

AN AWFULLY BIG BLOG ADVENTURE

I'll be there on 9th July with a BRAND NEW VIDEO. But that's all I'm saying for now...!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A Writer's Right to Die - My Reaction to Terry Pratchett

I've been away for a while.  Thinking.  Dreaming. Playing with words.   But I've chosen to come back today and write about my personal reaction to a difficult and emotive subject which polarises opinion.  You'll probably know what I'm talking about.  Terry Pratchett's BBC documentary, Choosing to Die was screened on the BBC last night.  I cried throughout, though not for the reasons you may imagine.  It was a dignified, wonderful and moving programme made with unflinching bravery and infinite compassion.  Much will be said on both sides of the fence about the rights and wrongs of assisted suicide. I can only speak for myself here.

Terry Pratchett is above anything else a writer.  He has long been one of my favourite authors in the world. He makes me laugh, he makes me cry (more crying), he makes me think how damned clever he is and how I wish I could construct the kind of punes he does without looking like a complete fule. He also happens to have Alzheimer's.  He's made 'coping with it' jokes about that--at the beginning wondering "what kind of vegetable would I be?".  Now, as the condition progresses, he is confronting his own end--and how he would want that to occur. 

"When I can no longer write my books, I am not sure I want to go on living" he says in the programme.

I understand that.  I do so understand that.  In the last weeks, I have had a scare with my eyes.  I have thought hard about not being able to read, to see--to type the words which demand to be let out of my head.  It was and is a fearful terror and it made (and makes) me feel sick and scared and lost.  So, as a writer, not to be able to rely on one's brain to come up with the goods--to lose the words which make you who you are--must be unimaginably horrifying to contemplate.  Terry says that the things which would make him consider ending his own life are:

"Not being able to dictate any more; not being able to be a writer any more; not being able to communicate."

There are many dreadful and horrific things going on in our world right now.  Please, don't think I'm ignoring those when I say that one of the greatest pleasures in my life is looking forward to a new Pratchett novel.  A world in which that could no longer happen would be less bright for me, but I know that it will occur, probably sooner rather than later.  (I feel the same way about the fact that there will now never be another Diana Wynne Jones book, by the way).  But that is a very personal and probably selfish reaction. More importantly, what Terry's programme has crystallised for me is that I do now believe more than ever before that anyone with a terminal or incurable condition should have the right to choose the manner of their death and the time of it, if they wish to do so and are mentally capable of making that decision for themselves. Very few can afford £10,000 to go to Dignitas. Those who do go there from this country would much rather die in their own homes with their own things around them, with no fear that their loved ones will be prosecuted. 

"Who owns your life?" Terry asks. 

Who owns me? I do.  And if I ever find myself in Terry's position or that of Andrew Smedley, Rob Colgan or Hugo Claus, I would like to have the choice of when to let my words go quiet. Or not to let them go quiet. That is the nature of the word 'choice'.

You can find out more about Dignity in Dying here.
 
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