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black death

Books: Sketches by Boz

Posted on 2015.11.21 at 08:10
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Recently I've been reading Charles Dickens' first book, Sketches by Boz.  It's not a novel, it's a collection of some observational pieces about the lives of ordinary Londoners.  It was written in 1835, during the reign of William IV.  It's funny, people always think of Dickens' novels as taking place in Victorian times, but while most of them were written during Victoria's reign, many are set earlier.

Anyway, there are some interesting parallels between London of 180 years ago and London now.  There's a passage discussing the Hackney carriage drivers (the horse-drawn predecessor of the famous London black cab) being furious that cheaper, faster independent cabs are becoming more popular and threatening their business.  The same week I read in the newspapers that there was controversy over the rising popularity of minicabs threatening the black cabs!

This passage was also interesting, in light of perennial news stories decrying binge drinking and claiming that women are becoming more violent:

"On one side, a little crowd has collected round a couple of ladies, who having imbibed the contents of various ‘three-outs’ of gin and bitters in the course of the morning, have at length differed on some point of domestic arrangement, and are on the eve of settling the quarrel satisfactorily, by an appeal to blows, greatly to the interest of other ladies who live in the same house, and tenements adjoining, and who are all partisans on one side or other.
‘Vy don’t you pitch into her, Sarah?’ exclaims one half-dressed matron, by way of encouragement.  ‘Vy don’t you? if my ’usband had treated her with a drain last night, unbeknown to me, I’d tear her precious eyes out—a wixen!’
‘What’s the matter, ma’am?’ inquires another old woman, who has just bustled up to the spot.
‘Matter!’ replies the first speaker, talking at the obnoxious combatant, ‘matter!  Here’s poor dear Mrs. Sulliwin, as has five blessed children of her own, can’t go out a charing for one arternoon, but what hussies must be a comin’, and ’ticing avay her oun’ ’usband, as she’s been married to twelve year come next Easter Monday, for I see the certificate ven I vas a drinkin’ a cup o’ tea vith her, only the werry last blessed Ven’sday as ever was sent.  I ’appen’d to say promiscuously, “Mrs. Sulliwin,” says I—’
‘What do you mean by hussies?’ interrupts a champion of the other party, who has evinced a strong inclination throughout to get up a branch fight on her own account (‘Hooroar,’ ejaculates a pot-boy in parenthesis, ‘put the kye-bosk on her, Mary!’), ‘What do you mean by hussies?’ reiterates the champion.
‘Niver mind,’ replies the opposition expressively, ‘niver mind; you go home, and, ven you’re quite sober, mend your stockings.’
This somewhat personal allusion, not only to the lady’s habits of intemperance, but also to the state of her wardrobe, rouses her utmost ire, and she accordingly complies with the urgent request of the bystanders to ‘pitch in,’ with considerable alacrity.  The scuffle became general, and terminates, in minor play-bill phraseology, with ‘arrival of the policemen, interior of the station-house, and impressive dénouement.’ "

It's also interesting to note that the characters are speaking in a form of cockney accent that has died out over the years - replacing W with V, for example.  Some people like to be disparaging about the dialects used by working-class people (here in the UK, at least), without really realising that language is not static, it is constantly evolving.


Working in a record shop

Posted on 2015.11.12 at 13:57
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I feel very privileged to be able to say that I LOVE my job, and I wake up each morning excited to go there and get stuck in.  I've had some very mundane jobs in the past (DIY store cashier, the meat counter in a supermarket, horrendous office/accounts jobs surrounded by obnoxious twats), so I'm eternally grateful to be working with great people doing something I love.  It's even better than my previous "best job ever", working at a cinema.

Independent record shops, sadly, are closing down all the time.  This is probably down to the usually blamed factors like downloads, vinyl being an obsolete format (unless you're an aficionado or a hipster).  Most of the customers that come into the shop are DJs (as are three of the staff members).  My stepdad talks of a time twenty years ago when he didn't get to sit down all day and the store would be packed with people eager to obtain the latest rare grooves, but nowadays most business is done online.  Modernisation has been key to the shop's survival, as has a keen eye on the latest trends in record-buying.  1960s-70s classic rock sells well, as does rare Northern Soul and reggae.  Surprisingly, 90s indie/rock vinyl is scarce, due to lower demand at the time the records were pressed, when CDs were the format de jour.  A copy of Oasis' What's the Story Morning Glory on vinyl sells for upwards of a hundred quid.  Whereas a once popular 80s album by an artist like Eric Clapton or Dire Straits is now worth peanuts because there are bloody millions of them floating around.  Surprisingly, Elvis records are hard to shift because there were so many cut-price compilations put out over the years.  It's only the original pressings that are worth a goldmine.  CDs are generally worthless.

So my time working in the shop is largely spent putting records on to a range of websites - Discogs, eBay, and our own site, which is linked to MusicStack.  Often I'll have to clean and photograph records and record soundfiles of them for the site.  Record collections are obtained by furiously distributing flyers around London and the South East (a job I've previously done for my stepdad).  We take phone calls and ask people questions about their record collections (how many, what format, condition, genre), then my stepdad spends evenings traipsing around in a van collecting the worthy stuff.  He might pay, say, £1000 to someone for a box of old reggae 7" records, but there will be a handful of records in there that are worth £500 each.
Photos...Collapse )

iain banks

Bizarre Rejection

Posted on 2015.11.06 at 10:32
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This week I received my first detailed rejection e-mail, which was a welcome change after all the copy-and-paste replies I've had previously.  It was from one of the publishers that had asked for the complete manuscript after enjoying the opening chapters.  Most of the rejection made sense.  The publisher thought my writing style was "stuffy" and overly-formal, which I can accept.  They did say some complimentary things too - they liked the premise, the story and the characters.  But the part that made me go, "What the deuce?!" was this - the publisher said that I'd used too many long, obscure words and he/she had required a dictionary to look some of them up!!  I'm racking my brains to recall what ludicrous words I might have employed.  Supercilious?  Asinine?

I believe that, when trying to write in an interesting manner, one has to strike a balance between not overwhelming the reader, nor patronising them.  Perhaps in my efforts to write dialogue that's appropriate to the historical settings I've gone over-the-top with the flowery language?  On the other hand, maybe the staff member who wrote this response has a vocabulary that is insufficient for a job in publishing?!   I should add that this publisher deals exclusively with historical fiction, so I would have assumed that they'd be used to archaic language!  

zombie aphroditemf

Halloween 2015

Posted on 2015.11.02 at 09:41
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Me, Paul and the kids went to a friend's party to celebrate Halloween.  All the adults and kids went trick or treating together, which was hilarious, and my first ever trick or treating experience (it just didn't happen in England when I was a kid - even dressing up is a relatively new phenomenon).

I went as Kirsty from Hellraiser.  I opted for this costume because the character has the exact same hair as me, and wears a white t-shirt and denim jeans - the EASIEST costume imaginable!  Though I did go to the effort of making a fake puzzle box, from a handy template I found online.

Scarlett was a creepy clown (I did her make-up), and Dylan was an adorable skeleton (I cut his hair and ballsed up the fringe, so he looks like Baldrick from Blackadder):

Scarlett carved her own pumpkin, I carved a Danzig-themed one, and then made a delicious pie from the innards of both.  It was my first attempt at pumpkin pie (I usually make pumpkin cake), and I was rather pleased at how it turned out:

goth aphroditemf

My bro is getting married... again!

Posted on 2015.10.25 at 14:09
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My brother and sister-in-law are having a second wedding!  Last year they got married in Bali (they have lived in Korea for the last few years, and been backpacking around the Far East).  Here's the LJ entry with pics of their first wedding:


Angela, my sister-in-law, is from West Virginia, so that's where they're having their "proper" wedding, next year.  So it looks like we're all having a holiday in America!  After Jim gets his green card he'll be moving there too.

I think Scarlett and I are going to be bridesmaids, which is awesome, because if there's one thing we both love it's a fabulous frock!  

I finally finished the photo album I was putting together for my mum!  The entire process consisted of scanning every single one of my late grandmother's ancient photos, restoring them on Photoshop, reprinting them, and putting them in chronological order from the 1900s-1950s.  At the same time I researched all the people in the photographs on ancestry.co.uk, assembled family trees, printed them out and stuck them in the back and front of the album. Then I annotated all the photos with names and dates gleaned from ancestry.co.uk.


zombie aphroditemf

Sugar Skull Make-up

Posted on 2015.10.22 at 13:52
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The Guides and Brownies had their Halloween party on Tuesday, and as I previously mentioned I went in Day of the Dead sugar skull make-up:

This year I shall require two Halloween costumes. One is for the Brownies'/Girl Guides' ludicrously early party this Tuesday (note for my new LJ friends: I'm a Girl Guide volunteer leader), the other is for a friend's party on Halloween itself.

I've already decided that I'm going as Kirsty from Hellraiser for the friend's party. This will be comfortable, cheap and easy since the character a) has the same hair as me and b) wears a plain white t-shirt and jeans.

For the Brownie/Guide party I'm opting for another easy costume. I thought I'd put some flowers in my hair and paint my face like a Day of the Dead sugar skull. But I'm concerned that this is a form of cultural appropriation and some people might find it offensive. Does it make it more acceptable that it is a Brownies' party and is to raise money for charity? Does the fact that we are British and thus do not have any border-related tensions with Mexico or history of oppressing Mexican immigrants mean that the connotations are different?

Halloween traditions of dressing up and trick-or-treating have only recently become popular in the UK so the concept of certain costumes being racially sensitive is a discussion that doesn't tend to appear in our press. Bearing that in mind, please forgive me if I sound ignorant!

iain banks

Book purchases August-October

Posted on 2015.10.12 at 14:23
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Yesterday I spent THREE HOURS rearranging my bookcases to make room for the new acquisitions.  I was proud of myself for getting rid of TEN books!  These outcasts will go on eBay or to charity shops.  Their replacements are...

These came from the trip to Hay-On-Wye (the town of books in Wales).

1. The Life and Times of William IV - I've been writing a short story set in 1835 so this was very useful.  Also, William IV is an often overlooked monarch, coming between his notoriously inneffectual older brother George III (best remembered as Hugh Laurie's Prince Regent in Blackadder) and his iconic niece Victoria.

2. Victorian Toys and Games - Ostensibly bought for Scarlett, but really purchased for my own delight.

3. The Neanderthals - This was published in the 70s so I hope it isn't too inaccurate.

4. The Canterbury Tales - I've wanted a nice edition of this for ages and this is a glorious fully illustrated and annotated one.

These were bought on a shopping trip to Romford, from cheapo chain book store The Works.  This is the one store loyalty card that I make proper use of, spending my vouchers every month.

5. Edwardian Farm - I had just finished watching the series so this was a well-timed purchase.  I'm addicted to this series of BBC documentaries.  They've done Victorian Farm and Tudor Monastery Farm too, and most recently a series in which they built an actual Medieval Castle using the construction methods of the period.

6. Bedlam by Catherine Arnold - I read her book on the seedy history of London's Underworld and really enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to reading this, her previous book.

7. The Romford Outrage - Local history!  This is about a famous case in which a policeman was murdered in 1885, close to where I live.

These were bought in September, during a bountiful shopping trip to Brentwood.

8. How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran - Yeah, she's irritating as hell, but in a weird way I feel I can relate to her, as she was raised on benefits on a council estate, and there are few articulate working-class role models for British women.  In a climate where the poorest in society are vilified by the media it's refreshing to see a woman proudly declaring her roots and showing what can be accomplished even when one is from an impoverished background.

9. Victorian Farm - The other book from the historical documentary TV series.  I now have the accompanying books for this, the aforementioned Edwardian Farm, and Tudor Monastery Farm.

10. A Brief History of Life in the Middle Ages - I've read so much Victorian, Tudor and 17th Century stuff that recently I've felt inclined to delve further into the history of this fair isle.

11. Life on the Home Front - I'm in the process of researching the sequel for my mostly-Victorian-set Vampire novel, which is to be largely set between the 1930s and 60s.

12. Michael Jackson: King of Pop.  The Unseen Archives 1958-2009 - This is actually a Christmas present for my Jacko-obsessed daughter.

13: London: A Celebration in Photos - I love London.

14. London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd - Did I mention I love London?  I've read one of Ackroyd's previous London-based historical books and really enjoyed his writing style.

15. Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens - This is Dickens' oft-overlooked first book, a collection of newspaper articles he wrote in the 1830s, concerning the lives of ordinary Londoners.  Again, it's research for my 1830s-set short story.

16. The Preraphaelites - This is my favourite period of art.

17. Van Gogh: The Life - I've always been fascinated by Van Gogh's tragic story of poverty and madness.  This is a brand new book and is Biblical in its proportion.  It was written by two art historians, in collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum, over a 15 year period, and is regarded as his definitive biography.

18. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley - A reimagining of Arthurian Legend.  My cousin recommended it to me about 12 years ago and I've been meaning to read it ever since.

19. Captain Cook - A historical figure with local connections, for he was married in nearby Barking Abbey.  I've read a few nautical-based books and love the romanticism and brutality of seafaring life.

I watched a documentary last night comparing the lives and reigns of Queen Victoria with our incumbent monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.  This documentary aired on the BBC when the queen recently overtook Victoria, her great-great-grandmother, as our longest reigning monarch after 63 years on the throne.

It was interesting, and full of rare historical paintings/photos/footage showing both queens in a variety of unexpected circumstances.  The young princess Victoria's impressively anal retentive collection of dolls, meticulously catalogued and given their own fictional family tree, and princess Elizabeth stripping a car engine during WWII were two of my favourite moments.

Overall though, there was too much pandering to Elizabeth and too little historical context of Victoria's reign, so the result was something that came across as a royalist propaganda piece with scant lip service played to the history buffs in the audience.

I feel conflicted over my feelings on our monarchy.  On one hand I'm a staunch leftie who abhors elitism, inherited power, hereditary titles, snobbery, and the cultural stranglehold of the ruling classes.  But at the same time, as a feminist, I feel a distinct admiration for these women who presided over our nation throughout periods of great social change, cultural and artistic productivity and technological development, while maintaining fierce determination to stay abreast of all political developments.  

The thing that I most admire about the Queen is that she encapsulates what feminists so desire of female portrayal in the media: She is a smart woman who is good at her job.  Seriously, that woman has had the eyes of the world on her for over half a century and she has not fucked up once.  Plus, she married a hottie (as did Victoria) and she always looks immaculate.

The other reason that, despite my leftist principles, I feel inclined towards preserving the monarchy for the time being, is my interest in history.  I've derived so much pleasure from reading about the kings and queens of yesteryear that the thought of future generations of children not witnessing this ancient institution in all its ludicrous pomp and patriotism saddens me.

goth aphroditemf

My Kickass Dolls House

Posted on 2015.10.05 at 10:14
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My summer project has been renovating the dolls house I've had since I was four.  My grandad built it for me, Christmas 1988, and after years of getting played with constantly by various children it was starting to look a bit shabby.  So I re-papered some of the rooms, painted the ceilings, put some new carpets in, and ordered some replacement furniture from eBay.  I also painted on some white Georgian-style brickwork around the exterior windows.  Then I stuck on a fake porch and printed picture of a Georgian front door onto the plain front door.  The thing I'm proudest of is the little paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artists Millais, Rosetti and Waterhouse (plus a Van Gogh because I adore him) that I printed off of Wikipedia and made tiny frames for out of card and enamel paint.

Photos of tiny thingsCollapse )

I'm a bit jealous that Scarlett is the one who'll actually get to play with it!

I was really excited when I heard Withnail and I director Bruce Robinson had spent 15 years researching the Ripper crime. Then I read what his theory was. No, Bruce, no!
Bruce's 1st claim: The Ripper was the brother of James Maybrick, "author" of the most-definitely-fake Ripper diary. The fact that he gives any credence to the hoax diaries immediately makes me dismiss his theory on the Ripper's true identity.
Bruce's 2nd claim: The Ripper letters are all real and all written by his suspect, music hall songwriter Michael Maybrick. Nope. They all have different freakin' handwriting and are (with the possible exception of the From Hell letter) all from the pens of enterprising journalists and attention-seeking nutjobs.
Bruce's 3rd claim: The Ripper was a homosexual. Which seems very unlikely when you consider that every documented homosexual serial killer has targeted men.

Bruce's 4th claim: The Ripper was a wealthy man who did not live in Whitechapel.  Personally, and this is the belief of a lot of Ripperologists and crime historians, I think the Ripper HAD to have been extremely familiar with the twisted alleyways and claustrophobic courts of Whitechapel in order to so neatly evade police and witnesses and return home with bloody clothes and hands.

Bruce's 5th claim: After the Whitechapel murders the Ripper moved to the Isle of Wight and became mayor.  Again, it is my belief that something must have happened to terminate his escalating crimes - namely mental breakdown or death, or perhaps immigration.  Serial killers don't generally give up at the height of their mayhem and retire to the Isle of Wight.

Bruce's 6th claim: The anti-semitic graffiti "The Jews are the men that will not be blamed for nothing", had nothing to do with anti-Semitism, and instead reflected that the Ripper was a Mason.  Now, aside from the fact that it's likely the Ripper didn't even write the graffiti, I think the particular local slangword for Jew that he allegedly yelled at Israel Schwartz (the Jewish man who witnessed the attack on third canonical victim Elizabeth Stride) indicates that the Ripper's attitude towards Judaism was more symptomatic of the prevailing anti-Semitism in the East-End at the time.  It's also been theorised that Schwartz refused to identify the Ripper in a line-up because he was a fellow Jew, in which case it is interested that the Ripper would make an anti-Semitic remark, being himself Jewish.  It is assumed, based on the autobiography of Police Commissioner Robert Anderson and footnotes by Chief Inspector Donald Swanson, that Aaron Kosminski was the suspect that Schwartz refused to identify.
You failed me, Bruce. Still, I'll probably buy your book anyhow.


goth aphroditemf

Death of a Hard Drive

Posted on 2015.09.15 at 17:03
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One of my hard drives (I have two internal and two external) is not working.  The data is all safe and uncorrupted, the problem lies with a faulty USB port.  I took it to the local computer-fixy chap who advised that since replacing the USB slot would require soldering, it would risk corrupting the data.  His suggestion (which came gratis) was that I remove the casing and instead put the innards into a hard drive caddy.  I'd never heard of one of these devices (thought Jort from AFG suggested something similar on Facebook).  Taking the case off of my faulty 500gb Western Digital hard drive and putting the drive in this gizmo sounds simple enough, let's hope it's as easy in practice!

I really hope this works because of all my hard drives, this is the one with the most crucial stuff on it (some is backed up in the cloud, but not nearly enough to make me feel comfortable just writing the hard drive off).  All my writing, photos, family tree research, Pink Floyd interview transcripts, Michael Fassbender penis photos... You can see how imperative it is that I get this hard drive functioning!  

black death

Mr. Crowley

Posted on 2015.09.08 at 13:46
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I recently listened to the Last Podcast on the Left episode about British occultist/writer/drug experimenter Aleister Crowley.  The podcast was both informative and hilarious, and prompted me to listen to the episode of Dead Writers' Podcast in which he features.  This podcast is hosted by "HG Wells", who has a real time machine which he uses to visit other famous authors and interview them.  I have to thank diello for recommending this show.  It's a bit hit and miss at times - HG Wells is consistently brilliant, but the actors playing his author interviewees don't always deliver the goods.  For example, while Crowley is portrayed as the snooty, irascible creep you'd expect him to be, and William S. Burroughs as the drug-crazed southern fruitloop he comes across as in his work, others are not quite so satisfactory.  Lewis Carroll sounds 100% American, and Roald Dahl is undoubtedly played by a small Scottish actor, when he was in fact a towering Welshman.

Anyway, Aleister Crowley led an interesting life.  While on Honeymoon in Egypt in 1904 he claims to have had visions of an ancient Egyptian entity that named him a prophet and dictated to him a book of law that became the basis of his religion.  Later he claims to have been an active spy for the British government during World War 1.  I'm amazed no one's made a film about him.

This lead me to read one of his books of poetry, White Stains.  The poetry itself is in a rather mundane Victorian romantic style, but what's interesting is its niche eroticism.  There's a poem about having anal sex with a dead man, and another about performing cunnilingus on a woman on her period.  The book was both tedious and riveting.  

Last week was spent in a lovely old cottage in the middle of the Welsh countryside, close to the small, picturesque town of Abergavenny.  I took literally hundreds of photos, here's a selection depicting what we got up to.

Photos of WalesCollapse )

goth aphroditemf

Answer for question 4491.

Posted on 2015.08.24 at 14:13
Do you have any books that you have been meaning to read, but just haven't gotten around to? What are they? How did you hear about them, and why do they interest you?
Ha! I have whole bookcases of books I've bought and not yet read. I usually buy half a dozen books every month, and aim to read one per week. This means that the backlog is always growing.

As to where I hear about these books, it varies. Some I read about online, others are mentioned on podcasts, many are recommendations from friends, and occasionally they are books that have been adapted into TV shows or movies (Outlander, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, The Last Kingdom).

There are certain authors whose books I'll always pick up if I see them cheap and I don't have them in my collection - Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Philip K Dick and Kurt Vonnegut, for example. And I like to add classics to my collection whenever I can - the last three fiction books I bought were Paradise Lost, The Canterbury Tales, and A Pair of Blue Eyes.

Quite a large number are non-fiction history books that I seek out because I'm interested in a particular period of history. I'm currently reading a biography of King William IV because I wanted to learn more about the early 19th Century.

goth aphroditemf

Summer Clothing Blow-Out

Posted on 2015.08.13 at 13:56
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I gave my wardrobe its annual overhaul and snapped up these bargains online and in charity shops:

Clothes!Collapse )

July was an excellent month for book purchases!

1) Samuel Pepys: The Unequelled Self by Claire Tomalin.  I read an abridged version of Pepys' diaries last year, and absolutely loved it.  Not just for the first-hand account of the aftermath of the English Civil War, the restoration of King Charles II, the plague and the Great Fire of London, but also for Pepys sexual exploits, which are shocking by the standards of any time period.  So I was delighted to pick up this modern biography, and hope that it might shed more retrospective light on Pepys and life in 17th century London.

2) Story of O by Pauline Reage.  This is a classic 1950s erotic novel about a young woman who volunteers for a life of submission.  I seem to recall that one of my LJ friends recommended this, but I can't for the life of me remember which of you it was!  I had some eBay beef with this purchase.  I ordered a funky retro green cover because the other editions were either this boring black one, or 50 Shades copycat covers which I most certainly did not want, lest I get mistaken for a Grey fan when I'm reading on the bus.  So the generic black cover arrived and I complained to the eBay seller, who gave me a refund.  Free sexy book!

3) Paradise Lost by John Milton, illustrated by Gustave Dore.  Obviously I purchased this because David Gilmour's new album references it in the lyrics, haha.  Seriously though, this edition combines several things I like - deluxe hardback books, Gustave Dore's fabulous Victorian Gothic illustrations, and Satan.

4) Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer.  This book was a childhood favourite that I somehow misplaced.  It's about a girl at boarding school in the 1960s who finds that every night she time travels by swapping bodies with a girl who attended the same school during the First World War.  The Cure wrote a song based on it.

5) The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Stories by Edgar Allen Poe.  I own and have read another, similar Poe anthology, but I thought I'd get this one too because I like the Raven on the cover.

6) Manson, in his own Worlds by Charles Manson and Nuel Emmons.  I really liked Helter Skelter, the Manson case book written by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi.  It's an infinitesimally detailed, sprawling true-crime book that reads almost like a novel.  After hearing the guys at Last Podcast on the Left read excerpts from In His Own Words (in a hilarious Manson impersonation) I was curious to read the other side of the story.  Not that I have any sympathy for Manson, I just find him an intriguing character, in the sense that it's hard to fathom what was so charismatic about a scrawny career criminal douchebag that he was able to bend an entire harem of hippy girls to his will.

7) The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth.  I have pisceanblue to thank for this recommendation!  It's a recent historical novel about the Norman invasion of England in 1066.  It's written in a made-up dialect which is partly based on Anglo Saxon Englisce, and has almost no puctuation.  I sense it is going to be a bit of a trial to read at first, but hopefully it's one of those books like Dune or A Clockwork Orange or Trainspotting where once you adjust to the unfamiliar vocabulary and speech patterns it becomes a more instinctive read.  This is a line, for example: "when i woc in the mergen all was blaec though the night had gan and all wolde be blaec after and for all time."

8) The Satanic Bible by Anton Szandor LaVey.  This is a book I've been interested in reading for some time, and then felt the urge to buy it right away when it was discussed on Last Podcast on the Left.  I'm a hardcore atheist, but there was something about the philosophical approach of Satanism as a celebration of free will and enlightenment.        

I've been gradually sending out submissions to agents for the last ten weeks.  So far I've sent 42.  Of those, one has requested a full manuscript, nine have sent form rejections, and 32 are yet to reply.  After coming to the end of the list of agents I'd compiled from the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2015 I was starting to feel disheartened.  I mean, I realise it's a very drawn-out process, but the UK-based literary agents I'd looked didn't seem, by and large, to be receptive towards sci-fi/paranormal/fantasy novels.  Most say firmly, "NO SCI-FI!"  Many further specify "NO VAMPIRES", which buggers me right up.  So I started to look at the listings for US agents who accept submissions by e-mail, on http://www.writersservices.com/.  I can't recommend this site enough as a free, no bullshit resource.

I managed to find around twenty US agents who WELCOME WITH OPEN ARMS submissions of genre fiction!  Many of these agencies even have a dedicated sci-fi/fantasy agent working for them!  It strikes me that across the pond, the difference in attitude towards genre fiction is astonishing.  I get the impression that the UK industry is very disparaging towards anything not considered literary fiction.  And yet, a glance at the UK and US bestsellers lists does not reveal any noticable difference.  The majority of the lists consists of the same titles, the remainder is a similar mix of literary, romantic, historical and crime fiction.

So why the snobbery towards non-literary fiction in the UK?  I wondered if this was related to the social background of those employed in the publishing industry.  But then, I suppose it's probably the case in both the UK and the US that someone from an impoverished background who lacks cultural capital, parental support and the appropriate social network would find it difficult to take on an unpaid internship in an arts-related company.

So why is it that not one single UK literary agent lists, for example, "paranormal romance" among the genres it is seeking, while damn near every US agent is open to such books?  Is it simply that UK agencies are inundated with works of genre fiction that they are unable to sell to a diminishing market?  But then, why would the situation differ in the US?  I question whether this comes down to the opportunities in the US market to sell TV and film rights for genre work.

I'm reminded also of a quote from a journalist who interviewed Roger Waters for Word magazine in 2008:

"I have this theory that American media embrace [rock music] because they’ve got less cultural history – F Scott Fitzgerald is up there with Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg and Madonna; they’re all part of popular culture.  But there are still sections of the British media that find it hard to take rock music seriously in a cultural history that includes, you know, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hogarth and Dickens."
So, is it the case that a culture that has produced Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, HP Lovecraft, Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula LeGuin, Stephen King, William Gibson, and Anne McCaffrey, not to mention massive success stories of recent years like those of George RR Martin and Stephanie Meyer, is more accomodating to authors whose work concerns the bizarre and other-worldly?

Obviously, I'm not saying that I feel entitled to any attention from agents on either side of the Atlantic, because it could very well be the case that the quality of my prose is just not up to scratch.  But I'm more hopeful of response from the seemingly much more approachable agents of New York than their London equivalents.  

After seven years of staring at my Oxfam-purchased paperback of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I finally got stuck in and read the whole thing!  I must say, I'm glad that I watched the TV show first, though usually I'd prefer to read a book before seeing a screen adaptation.  The reason is pure laziness.  The book is such an immense tome that it would have been a real slog to take it all in without prior knowledge of the world.

Overall, the TV series is very similar to the source material.  The book offers a more in-depth look at the history of English Magic, in the form of extensive footnotes detailing in-universe myths and legends of the Raven King and other figures.  I believe there is a short story book by the same author that further delves into this pseudo-history, so I'll look into getting that.

Where the series improves on the novel is that it streamlines some sequences, in particular the time that Strange spends as the Duke of Wellington's personal magician during the Napoleonic war.  This means that the series is faster-paced.  At the same time, the show gives more time to developing the female characters, namely Mrs. Strange and Lady Pole, who feel a little short-changed in the book, which is very male-centric.  Unfortunately, the show removes some book scenes concerning Stephen Black, who is much more fleshed-out and endearing in the novel.  There are also some passages shifted around and high-stakes situations added to the show, which make sense in the context of writing for fickle television audiences.

In the book, as in the show, Childermass and Vinculus are the most interesting characters, so I'm even more optimistic about the forthcoming sequel.

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