Arast was accompanied by two of his own people, and though they seemed uncomfortable about dining with him, Tilka not only insisted but went out of her way to include them in the conversation. On his home worlds, Arast would be used to elaborate ritual, formal attire, haute cuisine, power-jockeying innuendo, and deference, yet he was all affability at the meal, praising but not overpraising the natural beauty of the estate, the simple food. If he noticed that meat or fish wasn’t served, he gave no sign of it. His trace of an accent would be deemed charming by most women. The few times he addressed his companions directly, he spoke as if to equals with an ease that many diplomats took years to acquire, the wet bite of his mother tongue unnecessary to his purpose, his fluency in Kearth Standard a given, the disarming lilt and tease of the vernacular demonstrating that he had no need to assert the authority of a man who, all knew, controlled the workings of an entire planetary system. Luc didn’t trust him. A tactless offworlder might have asked about their wings. Kearthers were the only humans to have evolved them-—the only intelligent winged species yet encountered, though Luc sometimes felt that birds were decidedly smarter than people. There were several theories to account for the origin of flight, none fully backed by empirical evidence, and only the sketchiest hypotheses to link human and avian lineage. Most evolutionary biologists preferred a convergent evolutionary model but still could not answer such fundamental questions as why here? why us? Origin myths seemed almost as satisfactory, and rather more entertaining.
Another taster from Over Which Scavenger Angels, my new novel.
A short excerpt from Over Which Scavenger Angels, my current novel-in-progress.* Lily, one of the main characters, is a photographer, at least on this world.
After ringing her cleaner, Lily packed an overnight bag, some sandwiches, and a bottle of decent Merlot. And then went back to the kitchen for a packet of prunes. Recently, she’d begun to read about ageing, the ‘never again’ of Simone de Beauvoir an antidote to Pilates porn. It felt important for an assessor to take with her an understanding of what it means to grow old, and frail. It felt as if it would make her a better assessor, though she wasn’t sure why. You could only mine an experience if you actually, well, experienced it, and hers would always be a pseudojourney into decline, however stiff her gait on rising. At least her vision was still sharp, or sharp enough, though she needed reading glasses now. For years she hadn’t left her house without a camera, but no longer, another sign that her time here was coming to an end. It was her way of readying herself, akin to the leave-taking from a slowly dying companion: rehearsing the irreversible, what people here call the incomprehensible, as though by dismantling the scenic elements one by one, detaching the lift lines, they could face the final curtain. And yet, here she was, trying to accustom herself to the loss of this wrinkled face, this draughty tower, this script. She had come to acquire a taste for irony. She fetched her Hasselblad.
Children’s writer Nick Green hears strains of My Way accompanying Lily’s rather ironical voice:
*Regarding my progress: I too have a taste for irony.
There’s been quite a bit of hype lately about Garth Risk Hallberg’s forthcoming debut novel City on Fire, and since million-dollar deals are a grand way to inspire envy in the breast (or maybe belly) of lesser mortals, and make the day’s work impossible for writers plagued by doubt and uncertainty (who, me?), yesterday I dug out my copy of Best New American Voices 2008 to read his story Early Humans. And guess what? It’s good. The narrator’s voice is spot on, undiluted 21st century West Coast American, so exasperating that you’re soon hoping for a really monstrous quake to hit California and sink Stan along with every one of his fellow agents—writers will know what I mean.
Except. Except that Hallberg pulls off the wonderful (and extremely difficult) task of making this already sinking agent sympathetic to us. It’s the sort of balance between repugnance and empathy that satire aims for, or at least ought to. I’m always skeptical about narration in the first-person present tense, but in Hallberg’s hands it’s Stan’s sad bulwark against his quaking world. Hallberg gets it just right. He gets us.
My favourite ladle (from a Cape Town craftswoman)!
A friend sent me this quotation from Paul Klee, which I’m thinking of using as the epigraph to my new novel, Over Which Scavenger Angels.
In any case, it is thoroughly appropriate!
I’m terribly proud of my daughter Esther, who was recently awarded one of the New German Directors’ Showcase Awards.
Here’s a still from The Egocentricity of Desire, Esther’s ‘impressive and intelligent own production’- the short film which won the prize:
And here’s Esther in Hamburg clowning with the other winners:
You’ll note she’s the only woman amongst them. There are still too few women directors. Or perhaps too few who are getting noticed?
I’m always pleased when a good writer offers a short story online, and James Bradley, Australian writer and critic, is better than good. On his website he has just posted The Flats, well worth your time to read. And then reread, for it’s the nature of the short story to require several readings. A powerful and elegant piece, marred only slightly by the occasional melodramatic touch (‘And then they see the girl.’) and – perhaps – a gimmicky final line, The Flats will introduce you to a writer you ought to be acquainted with, if you aren’t already – even though he uses my detested c-word (‘conversation’) from time to time in his, ahem, conversations.
I’ve been working on a new short story recently, title still undecided. Titles are a bitch. Either they come to you all at once, sometimes at the outset, or you search for days and days. And days.
Here’s an excerpt:
This would have to be the last time Oliver wore his Lion King costume. Guri was turning nine tomorrow, and at dinner he’d already said, Not that mouldy old thing again. Puberty wasn’t supposed to begin till twelve or thirteen, but Oliver could still remember how embarrassing your parents suddenly became. After the party he’d dryclean the costume and fold it away in Anna’s cedar chest, where he kept her grandmother’s wedding gown, Guri’s baby clothes, the lace-trimmed heirloom pillowcases she’d always launder by hand, and all the costumes she’d sewn for Guri as well, the last one unfinished. Not for her the same costume for Halloween and Fasching, either. Each occasion was special; each day, a work of art. No one else he knew could spend an hour designing breakfast. He held up the papier-mâché headpiece to his face and regarded himself in the mirror: her masks had about as much in common with a ready-made-in-China one as her face, so vivacious and character-driven, with the way it had looked when he’d removed the pillow.
Oliver replaced the mask above Anna’s sewing table and retreated a few steps to check that it hung straight, eased it into place, then bent and blew off the dust which had settled on her sewing machine since morning. Dust, he’d read, was mainly composed of dead skin sloughed from the living; he seemed to do a lot of shedding, just not the right sort. Tomorrow, he promised himself, tomorrow he’d carry the sewing machine out to Mirjam’s car. He could sew on a button, mend a seam by hand, but Anna’s machine was a temperamental dinosaur inherited from her mother, and if Guri ever showed the slightest inclination to take up anything which didn’t involve pixels as a hobby, his aunt would gladly return it. You’ve got to start letting go, she’d told Oliver last week. And the week before. Tomorrow she’d bring Guri a brilliant gift that he, Oliver, would never have thought of, one of Andrei’s luscious chocolate cakes, and enough energy to subdue an entire planet of rampaging rodents. She’d run her dad’s restaurant very capably since his stroke, even adding a second star to its Michelin status, but her turnover in husbands threatened to rival her turnover in employees. Her latest divorce would soon be finalised. She had always been the beautiful sister.
He heard a cry from Guri’s room. It had been several months since the last nightmare, and Oliver had been hoping they were gone for good. He swung round to face the mask. Leave him alone, he muttered. A week after the funeral, he’d buried it under the wedding gown, which had only made things worse; then encased it in bubble wrap, crated it and tried the storage cellar, which made things worse still. He was afraid to burn it. He gave the mask a pleading look, the same sort of look that Anna had found so endearing when they first met, then went to reassure his son.
What the fabulous Welsh actor Ioan Hefin gets up to when he’s not being pestered to narrate another of my novels:
Ioan is the man with the terrible teeth, which he assures me has nothing to do with the NHS. You can see him near the end of the trailer (at ca. 41 sec.).
The DVD of The Darkest Day will be released next month.
It has always been a privilege to work with Ioan, who is immensely talented and thoroughly professional. His podcasts of Corvus have brought the novel to life in ways I could otherwise never have imagined.
Ioan, thank you.