I've just read BRING THE JUBILEE by Ward Moore -- don't know why it took me so long to get around to this one, because I've always heard good things about it. Not sure when I acquired my copy, but it is an ancient British paperback ("First Four Square Edition November 1965" Price 3'6 but someone wrote 12p. on the cover in biro), so my best guess is I picked up at a jumble sale -- could have been at any time in the past 30 years.
I've often heard this book cited as one of the first/best Civil War alternate histories; I don't know how many of those were around when Ward Moore wrote it back in 1955 -- there are certainly loads of them around now. Understandably, as the American Civil War continues to be discussed, dissected, argued over and refought to this day.
Anyway, it surprised me. It was nothing like I expected. (I think the title made me think there would be lots of marching and battlefields.) It is set mostly in the 1930s-1940s in the defeated United States, a small, backward, impoverished and very racist country, and is a first-person account by a poor, bookish, very ordinary young man from the country -- mostly it is about how he stumbles towards maturity, falling into fraught, argumentative love-affairs with women who are far more ambitious and intelligent than he is (he knows it, too), until at last he settles down with a quiet, intuitive woman who adores him... although he still hardly knows what he wants to do with his life.
The theme of the book (I wouldn't exactly call it a moral, but it might be) seems to be that non-action is as powerful as action. Refusing to choose is also a choice; you can't opt out of life. Even trying to stand by and do nothing can have drastic consequences.
I did like the way the decisive moment that changes the outcome of the war was handled. It seemed as likely as what really happened, too, although I was less convinced by the resultant history as experienced not only by the defeated side, but the rest of the world. But it is a good read -- I'm glad I finally got around to it.
Edith Olivier wrote a strange and wonderful short novel called "The Love Child" about the relationship between a young woman and the imaginary friend of her childhood who comes alive years later; it was reprinted by Virago in the 1980s, which is when I discovered it. She wrote some other books, none of which I'd ever read, until, just now, as I was going through my too-many volumes, I came across her memoirs, "Without Knowing Mr Walkley." I wasn't really sure why I had it, and thought I might get rid of it -- but of course I could not do that without having read it, so I began.
Right away, I came across something rather wonderful -- it reminded me of so many of my favourite children's books from the past, but it also made me wonder if any children today could possibly live like this. Bear in mind, she was one of 10 children and grew up in an English rectory in Wiltshire:
...the Rectory was, like all houses, far bigger for the children than for the grown-ups. Children use parts of the house which are hardly even seen by their elders. There were at Wilton Rectory long secret passages in the roof, which were entered from the attic through bolted doors. Here we stepped, in semi-darkness, from beam to beam, over spaces where lay a hollow plaster floor; and now and again we came upon a complicated barricade of interlacing roof supports which had to be got through somehow.....Then there were numbers of cupboards in the walls, in which we spent our afternoons when it was too wet to go out. In every house, an immense amount of space is lost to the grown-up people who never sit in cupboards.
But the best bit of the book, and obviously the reason I had to buy it in the first place, are the chapters called "Revenants of the Plain" and "Things Past Explaining." Not only was Edith Olivier related to the famous Miss Moberley (one of the "two ladies " who famously time-slipped at Versailles, and wrote about it in "An Adventure") but she had her own time-slip adventure at -- of all the wonderful places -- Avebury. She also had some other odd and interesting things happen to her, although I admit I did skim-read much of the book.
My copy is only an old "Reader's Union" reprint from 1939, so it doesn't have the lovely Rex Whistler title page of the original Faber edition. But even that one does not seem to be wanted; I notice that someone tried to sell their first edition on e-Bay last month -- 99pence as the opening bid, no reserve -- and did not get a single offer.
I've had regular, paid book-reviewing slots in the past, but not now. But even though I informed the various publishers who had me on their lists for free review copies so they wouldn't waste money sending me books, I still get a few, from time to time. Some, I very much appreciate, because I can't afford to buy all the books I'd like to read, and neither can our local library service. Some are of no interest to me -- I wouldn't want to read them even if I was being paid -- so I recycle them as quickly as I can, hoping they'll find the readers they were meant for in the wider world beyond Torinturk.
A long time ago, I wrote quite a lot of reviews for free -- the book itself was payment enough. And when I was very young, even though I'd bought the book myself, writing reviews for fanzines was a way to get published and join in the wider conversation. I still like talking about books, sharing my opinions with others, but writing reviews gets harder and harder for me. I'm not even talking about serious criticism, just a few paragraphs. Whenever I have to do it, I agonize over every word. Part of this is to do with my awareness that the author will see what I've written -- and knowing how the slightest misunderstanding or negative remark can wound. So if I'm going to say something negative (and even sticking with books I've enjoyed reading, there's usually something that could be improved) I want it to be as accurate, substantiated, and yet as gentle as possible. But I am also thinking about potential readers, not just the author; I want to give them a clear idea of whether or not they might like this book. Is it worth their time and money? People don't all like the same things. I love making recommendations to my friends and to people who come into the library when I'm working there -- I can do that because I know something about their taste and interests, and what other books they like. I'm always suspicious of those books that supposedly "everyone" will love -- that's why I've never read "Captain Corelli's Mandolin", for one.
OK, all the above is me trying to work myself up to writing a couple of brief book reviews, in response to books I was sent for free by publishers and publicists....either that, or to justify why I will never write another review, anywhere, ever....
Reading THE HAUNTED BOOK by Jeremy Dyson (try it, you'll like it) in which he mentions a book that had a powerful impact on him (or at least the narrator of the book, which may or may not be the same thing) -- HAUNTED BRITAIN by the wonderfully named Antony D. Hippisley Coxe -- sent me back to that very book, which also had a major impact on me, although I was rather older than Dyson at the time (and still am). I bought my copy in The Atlantis Bookshop on Museum Street in London during my first visit to that city in the late summer of 1976. I don't have my own (fading) memory to thank for my certainty about this; the book carries a small sticker on the inside cover with the logo and address of The Atlantis Bookshop. Do bookshops still do this? I love finding those unobtrusive reminders of where a book was originally purchased.
Anyway, I ADORED this book, which bears signs of much reading, including marks in yellow high-lighter -- that was me, making notes to myself for places I hoped to visit someday, if not during my first visit in 1976, then at some later date. My next visit to Britain was in 1979, before, during and after the Worldcon in Brighton. Just the other day, while trying (and failing) to clear out some of the clutter in my office, I came across an old notebook, dated August 1979, that I used on that trip. In the first few pages are notes I made before leaving home -- details of my flight numbers and times, addresses (that of The Atlantis Bookshop among them), lists of people I intended to buy presents for (for my sister "Baboon print or etching" -- I found it, too) -- and also lists of my fave haunted spots, culled from "Haunted Britain", that I thought I might visit, divided by location: three in London, three in Wales, and three in Scotland. I didn't actually make it to Scotland in 1979, but of course I have now been living here for the past 22 years. Here's my Scottish choice from back then:
Ashintully Castle -- N.E. of Kirkmichael in Angus - Most haunted house in Scotland [n.b. have still never been there!] Dunbarre castle -- site on Barry Hill; Guinevere's tombstone in museum in Meigle [nope, nor there] near Kilberry in Argyll -- the seat of the Cailleach "the hollow of the mare"
....and we have a winner. Amazingly, I ended up living on the Kilberry Road, less than 10 miles from "the hollow of the mare" -- which I probably drive past several times a year, at least -- but still haven't had any supernatural experiences. That I was aware of.
I've been thinking about ash trees a lot recently, for the obvious reason -- ash die-back crisis, possible extinction event looming.
There was an ash tree in the backyard of the house I lived in for about the first twelve years of my life, and because my parents bought the house as it was in the process of being built, I suspect the tree was about my own age. I always loved that tree -- it was the first tree I ever climbed, and the only tree big enough for me to climb in the general area. Other memories connected to it include a pinata hung from the lowest branch for a birthday party, and the way the leaves curled up as they died and fell, some of them becoming fragile brown rings that I would (briefly) wear on my fingers.
The memory of that tree was the reason I chose to plant an ash sapling in our back garden in Scotland the same winter that our daughter was born. I imagined it would be a good climbing tree for her...but in fact it remained quite small, with high slender branches, for far longer than I had expected, and she never did climb it. (She wasn't much of a tree-climber anyway.) Someone could, possibly, climb it now, but they would have to be a good bit more monkey-like than I am, and not weigh too much. Gazing out at it (it is, finally, after two decades, taller than the house, but still very slender and somewhat spindly) I finally realized ("twigged"? would that be the word to use here?) that I don't actually know if American and European ash trees are the same. When I checked an encyclopedia, I found a listing of fourteen different varieties that grow in the western and south-western United States. So...they all belong to the genus Fraxinus, but otherwise have their differences.
Although it didn't register with me until more recently, there's also a deeper family connection to this tree, as my great-grandmother Eugenia (that's her picture above) was born Eugenia Ash. Her father's family came from Maryland, and prior to that I have not been able to penetrate, but his Ash ancestors most likely came from England. The surname "Ash" in Old English would originally have signified "dweller by the ash-tree".
Here's something else I didn't know when I planted it (and I bet my parents didn't either): "...it was once considered to have a benign influence on the newborn. ... Long, long ago there were probably several ritual acts practised in honour of the ash, for its benefits and uses were numerous and diverse, unsurpassed in its values by any other tree." (from WARRIORS AND GUARDIANS: Native Highland Trees by Hugh Fife, Argyll Publishing, 1994.)
Of course, the world-tree of the ancient Norse culture, Yggdrasil, connecting heaven and earth, was a gigantic ash tree.
I first read Ernest Hemingway's wonderful memoir A MOVEABLE FEAST when I was in my late teens and fell under the spell of the idea of that place (Paris) and time (1920s) and, above all, of the image of that type of bohemiam literary/artistic life-style and world. I remember living in Austin in the 1970s, when I was in my early twenties, and that was MY version of Hemingway's Paris. (And not just because Howard Waldrop used to greet my boyfriend and me when we arrived at a gathering with loud, glad cries of: "Scott! Zelda!!") This all came back to me in a rush a few nights ago in Aviles (Spain) where I was attending the first Celsius 232 festival (an offshoot of the long-running Semana Negra in nearby Gijon) -- earlier, I'd been on a panel with George R.R. Martin, discussing how we came to write WINDHAVEN (recently published in a new Spanish edition as REFUGIO DEL VIENTO), and in the evening a young woman came up to me, eyes shining, to say how exciting it had been to hear me talking about the 1970s, and being a writer then, and had it been hard to be a woman writing science fiction back then? And I saw that for her, the 1970s were as distant and magical as the 1920s had seemed to me when I was her age...
Of course. It seemed strange to me, but it is not. In some ways, my years in Austin feel like they're just around the corner, as if I could easily go back and reconnect. (Although, when I do go back, I can't help noticing all the differences.) In other ways, I'm well aware that it was a different world in the 1970s.
Hemingway was only a couple of years older than I am now when he committed suicide. I think he felt everything he had been, everything that mattered to him, was gone. I don't feel that at all. But then my generation seems to be refusing to get old -- at least, in the old-fashioned way.
Fretting today over possibility (e.g. got an email to say photographer was being sent, but no reply to my reply re: how to find me) that my picture may be taken for Scotland on Sunday this morning...what to wear? I love this top, but will my bra-strap show? Beads or scarf? (But I NEVER wear a scarf, except for practical purposes. Looks very arty...but is it ME?) Does it matter what jeans/leggings/etc I wear? Surely this isn't going to be a head-to-toe job? I have been assuming B&W, but what if it is colour -- then I'll wish I had picked something other than a grey top. I need a quick conclave with my most stylish girlfriends...but that is not so easy to arrange at short notice, with my friends so scattered, especially as me doing a style-show before the webcam really does NOT appeal.
And, of course, I am getting my hair cut this evening. What timing!! Why didn't I get a psychic flash last week to make the appointment for Tuesday instead?
Anyway, I would prefer to run a picture of my ancestor, as here.
"Local author Lisa Tuttle...is touring Argyll promoting her book and, having already visited Campbeltown Library, there are plans to visit Lochgilphead Library in the near future."
Not only that, but I'll be in the Tarbert Library tomorrow! (Working, but if the chance should arise to promote my book, well, naturally, being a thoroughly modern author, I shall seize it, and hope I don't scare off customers intent on a quiet little browse.)
Oh, yes, the publicity tour for THE SILVER BOUGH is well underway...
"Don't forget Livejournal!" advised Kate, my charming web-guru who created a website for me out of the goodness of her heart, when she had her own novel to rewrite. I haven't forgotten, but I have never been good at keeping a journal. Still trying to change, though. Anyway, in case anyone reading this does not know I DO have a website now; perhaps if enough people visit it often enough, that will eventually draw it to the attention of Google and other search engines -- not to be confused with the "other" Lisa Tuttle -- please check it out at: www.lisatuttle.co.uk
I can't say for sure that Ray Bradbury was the first writer who turned me on to the wonders of science fiction, but he was certainly the first who impressed me not only with his stories but with the way they were written -- they were so beautiful, poetic, expressing a love of language as well as a joy in life, and also they were full of wonderful, surprising, unexpected ideas and images. Not only did I want to read everything the man had written (and I read it again and again), I wanted more than anything to be able to write like that myself.
It's not always easy to point to influences, but Ray Bradbury is one about whom I have no doubt. He influenced me very strongly when I was just starting out as a writer, and his work still inspires and influences me to this day. THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES is one of my favourite books. Actually, nearly all of his books are favourites. And I could fill an entire list of "my favourite stories" just with stories by Ray Bradbury.
I wrote him a fan-letter -- I don't remember how old I was, but I remember coming home from school and my mother meeting me with an excited smile and the news that "You have a letter from Ray Bradbury!" Yes -- my idol actually took the time to write back!
He was a wonderful, kind, vibrant, inspiring, inspired person as well as a wonderful writer, and I am glad we were privileged to have him in this world for as long as we did. I'm also glad that because of his books, I don't even have to be religious to believe -- indeed, to KNOW -- that Ray Bradbury is still with us.
For many years I have been buying far more books than I can read -- whatever I can afford, that look interesting to me -- and it has finally caught up with me. Stuff has to go. Although a friend who is a fellow bibliophile suggested we might get rid of the furniture instead, I'm afraid it is beyond that. So, I have been looking through boxes of books, stored in the loft for lack of anywhere else to keep them, and many of those books are, surprise surprise, unread. So, even though it is probably too late to ever catch up with my constantly expanding to-be-read pile (5 new books arrived in the post only yesterday -- review copies although I am without a review outlet now, unless you count this) this is what I've read lately:
1) THE SHORTEST WAY TO HADES by Sarah Caudwell. Copyright 1984, but this edition is from December 1995, and the price sticker on the back tells me I bought it at Murder One -- presumably on one of my trips to London in the late '90s. I may have been attracted to it by what looks like an Edward Gorey cover illustration -- I don't know for sure that it is, because there's no credit given to the artist. (Don't you hate that?) I don't know why I never read it before, but the first chapter is a bit turgid -- being devoted to the details of a complicated family Will; there's even a family tree to help you follow the lines of descent. But once past that, it's a delight for anyone who enjoys an amusing, very mannered, story...classic "cosy" mystery crossed with comedy of manners. Here's a tiny sample, a description of what happened after two young ladies had partaken of some "remarkable" fudge at an unexpectedly louche party:
..."She cast off all conventional restraints and devoted herself without shame to the pleasure of the moment." I asked for particulars of this uncharacteristic conduct. "She took from her handbag a paperback edition of "Pride and Prejudice" and sat on the sofa reading it, declining all offers of conversation. I have never known you, Selena, so indifferent to the demands of social obligation." ...
2) THE GUYND by Belinda Rathbone. This is a true story, a memoir by an American woman who married a Scot (heir to a lovely but crumbling Georgian mansion) about her ten years living there. As another American in Scotland I was obviously attracted to this, but her experience could hardly be more different than mine! The circles she moved in were much grander (even when down at heels), and not on the west coast, which makes a surprising difference. "The Guynd" is the name of the house, and should be pronounced to rhyme with "wind", apparantly.
3) ALL SOULS by Javier Marias. Not sure when or why I bought this, but think it was on the strength of a review I'd read of the author's latest novel. Anyway -- I just finished reading it, and am still in that pleasurable, excited haze of discovery that comes when you've discovered a new author to love. It is hard to explain just what impressed me so much, but it is more to do with the tone, the narrative voice, the observations (often quite striking) made by the narrator (an academic from Spain spending two years in Oxford), and lots of little incidental things -- echos, reflections, remarks that crop up from time to time and reverberate. The quotes on the cover refer mostly to the humour and wit which is certainly there, and the clever, sly and accurate depiction of Oxford University, but that wasn't what impressed me most. There isn't a lot of plot, it's like a kind of musing memoir, someone looking back on his few friendships and a love affair that stood out in an otherwise rather bleak and arid period of alienation. The narrator is also a book-collector with a particular interest in Arthur Machen -- then he decides to look for books by someone even more obscure, a writer who called himself John Gawsworth -- I had never heard of him and assumed that Marias had made him up until I came across the two photographs in the book -- one of Gawsworth (real name: Terrence Fytton Armstrong) in RAF uniform, the other of his death mask -- then I looked him up and found he was for real, a friend of Arthur Machen and M.P. Shiel (among others) -- and my enjoyment of "All Souls" kicked up to another level of fascination. A wonderful book, one I will certainly not be getting rid of -- I may even want to reread it; it feels like a book that should be read more than once. And if -- when -- I allow myself to buy some more books, some will be by Javier Marias.