May 29th, 2012

(no subject)

I'm making sense of things today. Finishing some stuff, sorting some stuff, and, of course, teaching Latin. I've realised I can't do all my messages this week and do all the work I must do and get to all the medical/dental appointments. I will do the one non-postponable message tomorrow and as many as I can on Friday after the dentist and the rest can wait. I want the insurance stuff finished, but there is a limit to the number of hours in a day.

In better news, I finally have my own copy of Brian Wainwright's The Adentures of Alianore Audley and of the last two books of Felicity Pulman's Janna series. Flick sent me hers, for which I'm very grateful. Her next book's about Norfolk island, and I'm kinda hoping it's a bit like Ghost Boy. Brian's next book will be another straight historical, but it's a way off yet. (I don't know why I didn't own my own copy of Alianore - these things are a mystery). I also found a copy of Jennifer Fallon's new book in Target when I was doing some insurance shopping and somehow it snuck into my shopping basket.

I've also received a bunch of review books this week. The sword and sorcery one appeals particularly, but one that calls itself "Tribal Science" is going to be interesting reading.
I won't get to these new books until after Continuum, I suspect, but I have a good chance of finishing all the older ones before then. And of finishing my various deadlines. This latter is because I have someone to drop dire hints - it makes a *big* difference to my willingness to work when things get tough, having someone who also has deadlines and who is willing to work alongside.

One day, maybe, I'll be through this curious stage of my life and my blog will be all kinds of interesting again.

I don't get lunch until I finish filling the holes in the review essay. I'm afraid I left gaps for examples when I was too pressed for time. When they're filled in I can do a final revision and lo, one deadline will be done.

Time and space in all kinds of writing: a rant

My beef-of-the-second is writers who feel they have conquered time. Writers who take a bit of this and a bit of that are capable of annoying me, for some of them completely fail to understand why there's no underlying unity to the this and the that they have welded together in their work. They can't see a difference between nineteenth century England and twenty-first century America, or between Mainz in the eleventh century and in the sixteenth. A lot of history of Jews is written with this approach. Jews are universal, after all*, and so are not culturally confined by time and space in the normal way.

My favourite history books (focussing on any subject) have an acute awareness of the long patterns of time and the short patterns and how geography and status and gender help configure time in a culture and how different people experience all this as themselves, not as projections of theory. My favourite recent book on this is by Elisheva Carlebach (Palaces of Time). It's a masterly study of the kind of things I think writers and historians need to understand.

Right now, I'm reading a study that does the opposite. It contains such good ideas, but the author doesn't have much of an insight into how the cultural contexts of the works she examines actually operate. This means that the text is muddled and the conclusions are muddied and the whole work rests on insecure foundations.

What I think I'm finally realising is that time and space in cultures operate the same way the palette does in painting. They need to be understood at a fairly deep level. They don't always need to be expressed. They help inform a writer's decisions. Quite often a work itself progresses with hardly a mention of them, but the solid understanding is working hard in the background, assisting the story or the argument.

Moving to fiction for a moment - it's not a question of whether a society has clocks or if people travel a lot. It's a question of how time is measured and how time is perceived (both - not either/or) and how space is visualised and used. There are so many different ways a society can operate and still have most of its members limited to a 30 mile radius in their lifetime, for instance. It might be the difference between a housewife in 19th century outback Australia (on a Steele Rudd type property - since these things count) and a cockney woman in 19th century London: the two woman might be born in the same year and travel the same total distance in their lives and still have hugely different spatial awareness. And their lives! So vastly, vastly different.

I suspect that one reason some books are more easily accessible to a wider range of readers is because those books have this awareness informing them. The writers either understand space and time and build their world to manifest that clearly (taking this and that, but taking this and that with scrupulous care), or they select very narrow boundaries and stick so closely to those boundaries that the palette is consistent**.

Some readers (of fiction, of general non-fiction, of academic studies) also lack that time/space cultural understanding. They couldn't care less if the palette jars sensibilities. Some of us care very deeply and things jar easily. Most readers are somewhere in between and a modicum of care and a bit of a reach to develop a palette will make most readers much happier.

And that's an end of my rant. it's a pity, because it only has two footnotes.

*So a popular assumption says, anyhow - I don't feel particularly universal.
**For some books, of course inconsistency is way important. The Adventures of Alianore Audley, for instance (which is where this rant came from - the contrast between Wainwright and the other authors I'm looking at today). It's done intentionally and for comic effect, however - the writer still has a deep understanding of the place and time. It's one of those instances where someone who knows something very well can mock it very effectively.

Next CSFG Anthology

Callout to Australian writers - the new CSfG anthology is seeking submissions.

Submission Guidelines

Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild is delighted to announce:
Submissions for the next CSFG Publishing anthology, ‘next’, are welcome between 20 May and 15 October 2012.

Sequence. Succession. Cause and Effect. Show us what happened. next.

‘next’ will be edited by Simon Petrie and Rob Porteous. Stories may be any length up to 5,000 words. All approaches to the theme are welcome, as long as they are by nature speculative.
Payment will be a copy of the print version of the anthology plus $10 for stories under 1,500 words and $30 for all others based on published word count.

Submissions are encouraged from Australian writers of all levels of experience, with special encouragement given to CSFG members.

Multiple submissions (up to 3 per author) are OK; simultaneous submissions and reprints are not.
Submissions should be sent (as .rtf attachments only) to
Please make sure that the following information is in the email proper:
Email address
Author's name, as you would like it to be published
Name of Story
Word Count
Other contact information

If you wish to contribute to the interior artwork, please contact

Small Print: If your story is selected, we will be seeking assignment of First English Anthology Rights, First World Anthology Rights, and First Electronic Rights, for its publication in the English language. We'd like an exclusive licence to print, publish and sell your work (story or artwork) for one year from the date of first publication. We will use your work only in the print and e-book versions of the anthology and re-printings of it.

Visit the CSFG website

(no subject)

Back from teaching and the phone rang. I answered and it was a phisher. I said, three times "Are you sure you meant to ring a business? Who did you want to talk to?" He finally picked up the word 'business' and became very, very apologetic and hung up before I could say "Goodbye."

It might have helped that I used my teacher voice. This is because I have just come from teaching Latin and Latin Requires a Teacher's Voice. Latin especially requires a teacher's voice if one teaches using 19th century versions of nursery rhymes. My students needed to start seeing the language as a language and not just as a set of grammatical constructs, and I thought it was far better to ruin "Bye Baby Bunting" for them forever than to ruin Cicero. They thought so,too, and have asked for a reprise in the final week.

In an ideal world, I shall find more silly texts to use. The short poems really helped my students sort out how sentences fitted together and what I meant by the grammatical explanations. If anyone has any suggestions (with accompanying text - they need clear English translations even if the translations are loose - as they were tonight - for 12 hours is not a lot of time to learn Latin) I promise to credit you in class.

I also took in some food (based on Cato) and that made my students very happy. One of them admitted that it seemed a shame to have a course by me and not taste my historical cooking. No-one ever says that it seems a shame to have a course by me and not get my personal view of the chansons de geste. I guess some specialisations are sexier than others.

The Official Guide to Avoiding Gillian at Continuum

I ought to apologise for so many posts today, but I'd have to apologise more if people weren't given the wherewithal to avoid me at this year's NatCon. It's very important to me to make sure that this opportunity is given to everyone. Not everyone can take advantage of it - note that some souls have to suffer the ignominy of sharing panels with me. If you turn up to support them, I will completely understand.

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