Comet Weather is a totally brilliant book, a grown-up version of the sort of book I liked best as a child. Liz Williams is also totally brilliant, and entirely grown-up.

milfordsfwriters

book_comet_front_2dMilford: First of all, Liz, could you please give us a very quick introduction to Comet Weather.

Liz: It’s the only novel I’ve ever written which is set in contemporary Britain. It’s set partly in Somerset, where I live, and in London and Wiltshire. The plan, however, is to write 4 novels, all of which are set in the Southern counties of England. Although I come from a Welsh and Scots background, I feel that a lot of Celtic mythology has been mined to death and there is so much folklore and myth in Southern England – in the West Country, and counties such as Hampshire and Dorset, that it would be interesting to explore it.

Milford: In the last two decades you’ve had fourteen or so novels published, as well as a couple of novellas, short stories and short story collections encompassing both science fiction and fantasy, but this…

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Those who know me at all well will be aware of my deep-seated and passionate loathing for the education system, at least in England – I hope it is better in other cultures, and I’m fairly sure there are some where it does not inculcate a contempt for intelligence. Where else is the word “clever” an insult?

One thing that riles me is the assumption that the only way to become educated and knowledgeable and civilised is to stay at school for years and years.

I left school at sixteen, my sister and parents left school at sixteen. We were about as educated, civilised, intelligent, knowledgeable and well-read a family as I have ever met. My grandparents left school well before sixteen, the three I knew were also intelligent, knowledgeable and well-read. All of us could follow a logical argument, and behave in a rational way. We all read books for pleasure. None of us was stupid, coarse, brutal, or wilfully ignorant. My parents gave me a thorough grounding in poetry and Christian theology, which neither of them studied formally. My mother’s father was an engineer’s patternmaker, an immensely skilled job I couldn’t do in a million years – he did an apprenticeship. My father was a chartered accountant – he started at sixteen as an articled clerk.

Somewhere the idea got in that everyone must go to university – whether or not that style of learning was what they were suited to, whether or not their particular talents were served by that route. I would not argue against the idea that everyone should have the chance to go to university – which now is becoming more difficult, as it is so expensive again. But if a person’s talents or temperament are better served on some other path, that should be an equal option, and equally respected.

I sometimes think I might have been more successful if I had taken a degree, in so far as it would have changed people’s perception of me. I also think I might have gone terminally round the bend. But I don’t really think I would have been more intelligent or generally well-informed. (Those who know me are free to argue to the contrary…)

There is a point after which you can only educate people with their consent and co-operation. There is also a point after which you cannot stop people acquiring education, short of locking them up away from all sources of information, and even then they will go on thinking. And that point generally occurs before they are twenty-one, or even eighteen.

I have dear friends with a university education. I have dear friends with none. I perceive no consistent difference in their intelligence or all-round awareness and knowledge of things in general. If a person’s calling is to be a surgeon, they should be given every facility. If their calling is to be a street-sweeper, likewise. Streets need sweeping, and to assume only stupid people can do it is really rather insulting.

My brain is on strike at the moment, but revisiting some old poems. This is a villanelle, if I remember rightly

Gifts

In my fingers, in my lips,

lie powers of healing and of sleep;

peace is at my finger-tips.

 

When sorrows salt the sun eclipse,

coolness for your heat I keep

in my fingers, in my lips.

 

In the healing river dips

bitterness too sere to weep;

peace is at my finger-tips.

 

Balm to soothe the sting of whips,

oil the troubled waves to sweep,

in my fingers, in my lips.

 

Lonely passion burns the lips,

love unloved and longing leap –

peace is at my finger-tips.

 

When your foot with fainting slips,

seek for healing and for sleep

in my fingers, in my lips;

peace is at my finger-tips.

 

(Marion Pitman)

Ben Jeapes is always entertaining

milfordsfwriters

Originally posted on Ben Jeapes’ blog

HM StarshipGo to the book’s home page

Slowly but surely His Majesty’s Starship approached completion … and approached it … and approached it. For a very long time indeed I was almost there, with just a couple of thousand words to go, and I simply wasn’t writing them. I self-diagnosed the problem, which was that I had a life and I was unwilling to lose it. The solution was to start getting up earlier, writing before going to work. It’s a habit I’ve kept.

Placing it with a publisher was quite atypically easy. Two friends from my writers group already shared an agent, Robert Kirby. Robert had been sufficiently tickled by their descriptions of the group to ask if he could have first refusal if any of the rest of us ever wrote a novel. I sent His Majesty’s Starship to him in August 1995…

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I enjoyed this, you might too

milfordsfwriters

Originally posted on Ben Jeapes’ blog on 10th December 2018

Like me, Babylon 5 was also on a mission to do right what Star Trek got wrong. Its key innovation was the story arc – the idea of an overall plot across the entire series that would take many episodes to unfold. Nowadays it’s almost unknown for a series not to have an arc. Babylon 5 gave us a universe of consequences – if a character broke a leg in one episode, they were on crutches in the next. In one episode a fighter pilot was killed and the closing shot was of Commander Sinclair composing a letter of condolence to the next of kin. Humans in Babylon 5 were a minority species, one among many, as opposed to the apartheid-like setup of Trek in which humans are clearly the minority yet equally clearly in charge of almost everything…

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via How (Not) to Write a Steampunk Novel by Gaie Sebold

I’ve never really got the hang of romantic love. Even in my teens and twenties, I wasn’t looking for someone to bring me flowers and gaze into my eyes, or someone to settle down with in a semi and have two point three children. I wanted someone to have my back in a fight, and stand beside me on the barricades. Not really surprising I never married, I guess.

Then again, some ideas of romance are just downright reprehensible. They were talking on the radio about the film Elvira Madigan, and since I’ve never seen it and knew nothing about it, I looked it up. In case you don’t know either, it’s about a young girl who works in a circus and an aristocratic older man who falls for her; they run away together, and finding no means of earning a living they agree to commit suicide. This is considered by many to be romantic.

Then I looked up the historical incidents on which it was based. The man apparently pursued the girl, writing her endless letters, threatening to kill himself if she didn’t go with him. He omitted to mention that he was married, or that he had frittered away all his money. In the end he persuaded her to go with him, and in the end he shot her and then himself. This is apparently also considered by some to be romantic.

The other day I had occasion similarly to look up a very well-regarded 19th century novel, Effi Briest. Young woman marries older man, has affair, husband and lover fight duel, lover dies, and young woman goes to pieces and dies young. Again, I looked up the “true story”. Not too far off – except the woman didn’t go to pieces and die young, she devoted herself to good works and died at an advanced age, full of honours. But that, of course, is not romantic, nor a fitting end for a faithless woman.

And I thought, there are far too many people who find women acceptable only when they are dead, and this is very distressing.

A poem I wrote many years ago:

Dantean Eyes

This is the splendour of Christ

To see each other as I see him –

angel in canvas shoes

Apollo with a fag in his mouth

a god walking

a fool and a violent man

a god walking

another woman’s lover

a god walking

a man at a factory bench

a god in a public bar:

to know his dull humanity, and still

to see in every turn of his head

every muscle in his arm

every line of his back

my lovely lad

a god walking

 

Marion Pitman  1985

 

I have a problem with politics. Well, lots of problems, obviously, but the one I’m thinking of is this – both sides, as it were, start from the premise of Big Business (not the Cold Comfort Farm bull, no). If you don’t work for the government, you are either a Boss, rolling in dosh, and employing many Workers; or you are a Worker, obliged to obey the Boss in order to eat. (Actually if you do work for the government it’s much the same, except the Boss is the government.) So self-employed small business people, sole traders, freelancers, hiring out their wares or skills, answerable to no Boss, but employing few or no Workers, simply don’t appear on the graph. We make the place look untidy, and should be done away with.

Since I cannot imagine myself at all comfortable as either Boss or Worker, I find it hard to support either side. I would like to think the Green Party would not regard me as merely a piece of annoying grit, but I’m not entirely confident. However, a party for People Who Don’t Want to be Told what To Do or Tell Anyone Else What to Do doesn’t sound very likely to hold together…

Source: Why everyone should be a science fiction fan, by Ben Jeapes