Young Mrs. Clarke

Tour of Argyll

Seen in the Argyllshire Advertiser (6 July 2012):

"Local author Lisa 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:
Young Mrs. Clarke

Ray Bradbury

And there were giants in those days.

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.
Young Mrs. Clarke


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.
Young Mrs. Clarke

Metaphysical Mysteries

It has been so long since I posted here that it took me awhile to recall my password and log in! I didn't make any New Year's resolutions this year, but now that the Chinese New Year is nearly upon us, and I am after all a Dragon, so it is, or should be, one of my years, I think I will make a new start and try to visit LJ more often. Yes, I've been seduced by Facebook and am now looking back fondly at earlier, perhaps more meaningful, relationships...

I just finished reading DARK MATTER by Juli Zeh (translated from the German by Christine Lo) -- not to be confused with another book of the same title, by Michele Paver, which I also liked -- anyway, this one is one of those unusual novels that falls into a personal category I think of as "metaphysical mystery." There aren't too many of them around -- or so I thought. As it happens, this is the second book to fall into that category that I've read in the last six months. The other was CITY OF THE DEAD by Sara Gran. So, perhaps there are more people writing in that area now. It's not really a genre, but I think it equates rather to crime novels/mainstream novels the way that "slipstream" does to SFF/magic realism.

The first one I recall reading that made me think this was a new kind of mystery was a novel by Colin Wilson...the title of which escapes me, just when I need it! (The perils of an aging brain.) It was not "Ritual in the Dark" -- oh, never mind. I'll think of it when I wake up at two o'clock this morning. Anyway, I read it sometime in the 1970s. "Existential mystery" might have been a better description, but about a decade later, I heard M. John Harrison saying that he was writing a "metaphysical thriller" and I started quizzing him on what constituted one of those -- the only name I can remember now was Charles Williams, and, yes, I would certainly include his books in this genre.

More on this later -- I have just been called to chauffeur duties.

Happy New Year, to all who read this.
Young Mrs. Clarke

(no subject)

I used to read a lot of new poetry. Then, I don't know what happened, but I stopped enjoying it so much -- was the change in me, or the quality of what was being published? Maybe a bit of both. After one year when I didn't care for (probably didn't read more than a few pages) any of the PBS quarterly selections, I mostly just gave up trying out new authors, although I still re-read many of my old favourites.

Then, on a whim (and because it had a lovely cover) I bought something entirely new, the second collection by Annie Freud (whose work I'd never read), THE MIRABELLES by Annie Freud. (Which was a PBS selection last year.)

I don't write poetry, and I don't know how to criticize it -- I mean, I can't explain why I think one poem is wonderful, another ok, and another totally rubbish, except to play the personal preference card. But I'm going to have a stab at reviewing this collection, because it's bugging me.

I began by enjoying it. "Squid Sonnet" -- which is what it says, quirky and vivid and odd. Liked the second "The Mirabelles" even more -- so much, that upon reading it I read it again and thought, with a warm glow, "ooh, I'm SO glad I bought this book!" It is a little story about memory and treasures (poetry and plums), succinct and lovely. Then, "Pheasant", a description of road-kill, which somehow reminded me of some of Sylvia Plath's very early, overworked poems. Then a couple that I thought were "OK" but immediate forgot. Then "The Intermediate Zone" which was sort of like a mini-travel essay with some memorable lines and at least one interesting insight -- I liked that; it sort of reminded me of some of the (probably) autobiographical poems I used to read with such half-puzzled enjoyment a couple of decades ago, like bulletins posted from people I almost imagined I knew, as if those slim volumes of poetry were the forerunner of today's blogosphere/twitterworld...

Then a few I found more puzzling than anything. (Sorry, don't get it; it's probably deeply meaningful and/or very clever) Then some which seemed like something you might write if you went on a weekend poetry course: "But I've never written a poem in my life! Can't!" "Of course you can, dear. Don't try to be "poetic." Don't worry about rhymes or metaphors, just think of something that happened to you and write it down. Now take out any unnecessary words. Let's chop this line up and see how it looks...there, there's your poem! I told you anyone could do it..." Probably more entertaining to write than to read.

Then -- the "found" poetry. THis is not just "borrowing", but... a newspaper report from 1892 of a billiards game. A chunk of prose reformatted to look like a poem, from a book about Lucian Freud; used with the author's permission & attributed to him (I should hope so!). "Marc Almond Poem" "based" on an interview that appeared in 2007. And the last six poems in the book "derive from letters and conversations with my mother, Kitty Garman, over the
last twenty years." I did enjoy these, which are like vivid glimpses of the speaker's (K.G.?)travels and other experiences, but I felt uneasy, wondering how much was "borrowed," and what "created" -- maybe it shouldn't matter, but -- I think it does.

And this is such a short book -- the traditional "slim volume" -- little more than 60 pages, including lots of white space, table of contents, a few blank pages. In all, 36 poems, or what are identified as poems. I hate to reduce everything (or anything) to economics, but £8.99 seems a bit steep, regardless of the paper quality.

I don't think I will be rejoining the PBS, even though I think it is a dreadful shame that the book-club founded by T.S. Eliot when I was a mere babe in arms should now be on the brink of destruction because it has been denied funding. Sorry.
Young Mrs. Clarke

Eugenia Tuttle & The Titanic

Ninety-eight years ago today, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank.

My great-grandmother, Eugenia Ash Tuttle (that's her in the picture, circa 1890) used to claim she had psychic powers, and the example that was remembered by her grandchildren and passed along to my generation -- intriguing me so much that I'm presently researching her life and times -- was that back in 1912 a precognitive dream had caused her to change her plans, give up her ticket on the Titanic and take another ship home from Europe.

Well, Eugenia was certainly fond of travel, especially during the years she resided in Chicago with her second husband, Clarence Tuttle, and she did go to Europe that year. Thanks to records at, I was able to find her on the passenger list of the Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm, which sailed out of Southampton on March 24, bound for New York. So, if Genie really did have a precognitive dream, it must have come awfully early, and got her back to America well before the Titanic sailed, not afterwards, as one might expect. Also, she habitually sailed on a German line, one which advertised in the Chicago Blue Book, and I'm guessing she purchased round-trip tickets, so, although it made a good story, it strikes me as nothing more than postcognitive hindsight.

Understandable, though, as she would not have been long home when the news about the Titanic shook the world; how many friends and relatives must have exclaimed at how lucky she was to have taken a different ship home, until, perhaps, she began to feel there was something more than "luck" involved, something more like Fate...
Young Mrs. Clarke

Alice in Wonderland

So, Emily and I went to Glasgow yesterday to see the new "Alice in Wonderland" in 3D. I'd read enough advance comment to know it wasn't going to be the real "Alice" -- just most of the familiar characters, but a grown-up Alice and new story -- and my expectations weren't all that high, but still, what a disappointment.

Yes, it looked great. And it has Johnny Depp in it. (But with horrible scary fake eyes!!) And the 3-D angle was fun.

It wasn't as weird as I'd hoped it would be. Tim Burton has made some really strange films, so why was this one By which I mean obvious and bland and predictable, with a little feel-good proto-feminist "message." I'm sure you all know I have no objections to feminist messages, but I said "proto" because this is about as safe and old-fashioned a "message" that could be imagined, and wouldn't surprise anyone born after 1890. I don't think girls today really need to be told that they should be brave enough to refuse to marry a man they don't like, and maybe they can even have adventures!

And as for the story.... oh, dear. Alice starts out asking awkward questions and being stubborn (like the character in the book) but ultimately, inevitably, is forced into the usual genre fiction/Hollywood movie mold: she has to be the hero, save the world, there has to be the traditional story arc, and, surprise surprise, she has to learn that she must do as she is told, only not in the traditional good-woman Victorian manner. No, she has to be a hero, which means she has to kill something. Of course, problems have to be resolved by physical violence.

I guess the last three big-screen movies I have seen could all be classed as movies for children (AVATAR, PERCY JACKSON and now ALICE) but the combined effect is to make me feel that as movies are getting more and more sophisticated technically (and the characters in ALICE really do look amazing) they are correspondingly simpler, even stupider, in terms of plot, character and ideas.
Young Mrs. Clarke

Maybe it's a guy thing

I've been thinking about women writers and horror fiction. Yes, again.

Step into the Way-Back Machine, and let us return to the year 1988 A.D., dear reader, when the man known to his publishers as "the conscience of horror and dark fantasy" (don't ask me why!) unveiled his epoch-making anthology of brand-new stories written by "the masters of modern horror." Every author he had invited to contribute was a man, but, even more worryingly, in his "heretical" introduction, proposing that horror should be perceived not as a genre, but as an emotion evoked in a wide variety of literary texts, this well-read and thoughtful editor mentioned only one female writer.

Who was this paragon of her sex? Mary Shelley? (Often recognized, as the author of FRANKENSTEIN, as the mother of science fiction as well as horror.) But no.

Was it Shirley Jackson? Anne Rice? Edith Wharton? Patricia Highsmith? Daphne DuMaurier? Ann Radcliffe? Gertrude Atherton? Chelsea Quinn Yarbro? Me?

None of the above. Only V.C. [a.k.a. Virginia] Andrews got name-checked, for dealing with the subject of child abuse in her best-selling novels.

The huge blind spot displayed in this anthology irritated me so profoundly that I felt obliged to edit my own anthology, just to show off a few contemporary women writers.

Leaping ahead to our own time, now 20 years after SKIN OF THE SOUL was published, I'd like to say a big thank you to the two different women who approached me at World Horror Con in Brighton to tell me how inspirational they'd found my anthology.

At the convention, I attended a very thought-provoking panel on the subject of women in horror. Seems this is one subject that will not die... although at least now we have women talking about it, rather than the less-than-edifying spectacle some may recall from a long-ago World Fantasy Con, where an all-male panel gravely discussed the topic of "Why Women Don't Write Horror." Although I am getting the impression that a lot of men do still believe that's true.

But why should this idea persist, especially when the presence of women -- as writers and editors, not just wives, girlfriends and readers -- at WHC could hardly be ignored? It's not even necessary (as some do seem inclined to do) to enlist the names of all the women who write "urban fantasy" or paranormal romance, as if vampire romance were the same thing as horror. Some genre-crosses work -- a book can be both SF and horror, or romance plus suspense -- but not romance and horror. Try to mix those two genres and one or the other is going to get slaughtered.

Most best-selling urban fantasy/paranormal romance authors are women. (Stephenie Meyer, Charlaine Harris, Kelley Armstrong.) Most best-selling horror novelists are men.(Stephen King, Dean Koontz, James Herbert.) But that does not mean that only men can writer horror, or that all women who write about scary monsters are writing romances. (Sarah Pinborough, Alexandra Sokoloff, Caitlin R. Kiernan) Yet I get the impression that this perception is held by a lot of male readers... especially those who won't read a book written by a female author.

What's going on? Are men just too scared to read women's writing?

(to be continued...)
Young Mrs. Clarke

Kate and Leopold

I finally watched "Kate and Leopold", having resisted for years because despite having a weakness for time slip romances, and a fondness for Hugh Jackman, I always thought it would probably irritate me. Which it did, in many ways, although I set my annoyance meter low enough that I could enjoy it for the piece of undemanding (if somewhat suspect) fluff it is.

The worst bit? When Leopold shows up J.J. (Jay like Gatsby?) as a poseur by revealing he knows all about "La Boheme" and J.J. is faking. At this point, Kate should have stared at him and said, "I thought you said you were from 1876? So how come you're such an authority on an opera that wasn'r written until twenty years later?" (And then I guess, he reveals that in his copious spare time, in the hours left over between learning how to use the toaster,telephone and other modern devices, he watched it on DVD and memorized the songs.) But nooooo -- she swallows it, and why not; this is meant to be another part of his old-fashioned, cultured education, as the audience is presumed to be as clueless as Kate. It's The Past! When people talked all formal and women wore long dresses and there was all this cultural stuff going on in the background. Yet it could have been ANY opera -- Leo has to come from 1876 so the movie can start with the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. (I'm assuming that at least really was the correct date.)

And it's so unnecessary! ANY opera, or piece of music, or play could have been used to make the same thudding point.

That bit of stupid muddling with history really irritated me, yet I wasn't bothered by the pretense that this fictitious Duke of Albany had invented (or would invent) the elevator, and then name his elevator company after his butler, Otis. But, then, THAT was funny. A butler named Otis! Yeah, right.
Young Mrs. Clarke

Reading and researching

I've been doing research on the internet all afternoon and am now feeling faintly sickish. Why is reading on-screen so different from reading books? Or is it just the way I have to keep wading through stuff searching for one little nugget -- whether it is something listed in a university's special collection, or an item in a newspaper from 1890.

And I will have many many books to read this coming year, having agreed to be a judge for the Shirley Jackson Award. Here's a link to the press release, if you're interested:

Would I ever have believed, back in my teens when I was constantly searching for more stuff to read (and occasionally even running out of books I wanted to read) that there would come a time when I would actually OWN more books than I could manage to read in ten years? Not that I am tired of reading, mind you. Just feeling a little overwhelmed. Especially as so much of it looks so GOOD.

The rain is lashing down outside and the wind is howling, so taking a break to take the dog for a walk isn't on. Guess it'll have to be a housework break instead...