Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Friends, Romans, Countrymen and Some Flash Fiction

Slowly but surely I'm getting back into the swing of things after my holiday. I always end up a bit off balance when I return from being away, especially when I really, really enjoyed myself and can only think about going back again. In this case I went to Rome, which was one of my "must-see-before-I-die" places. And it did not disappoint in the slightest. I got to see almost all of the cool ancient Roman stuff, and squeezed in the Vatican, the river Tiber and the Castel Sant'Angelo (I didn't know what it was either, apart from it being in Assassin's Creed games). There was even a top floor on my hotel to sunbathe on with a pool. Absolute heaven.

Rather than do a big old travelogue post I thought I'd write a short story inspired by that beautiful city and its crazy, wonderful inhabitants and the huge amount of history it has.


  Hurrying through the cobbled, narrow streets my eyes watch my feet, determined not to trip once again.
  Tourists wander past, their gazes drawn to the surrounding walls. All I feel is a sense of confinement, a desperation to escape these towering structures, their facades seeming to crumble before my eyes.
 Reaching the top of the Spanish Steps, a groan escapes my drawn lips. The crowds are thick and oblivious to others, soaking up the sun so the passage through is small and ever-shifting. Taking a deep breath of the hot air, the stench of humanity thick in it, I steel myself and dive into their depths, asking for forgiveness rather than permission as I hurry past them. Most barely notice me, but a few, mainly children, turn and stare as my thick skirts swish past them. Others do a double take, smiling before turning to their fellows to mention me. By the time they turn back I will be gone.
  The sun is high in the sky but I don't have much time. I have to reach the fountain before the sun starts to dip. Cars screech and honk when I run across the road, but no more than they always do in this loud, cacophonous place.
  Finally I reach the piazza, with the lone fountain spurting forth life itself. I slow my pace, a sudden reluctance making my feet drag. Here I am, in the bright light of day, about to give it all up again. But it is the price I must pay. That I will always pay.
  I step over the slack chain that lines the fountain edge and step into the blessedly cool water, glittering topaz and green. There suddenly seems to be few people around as I reach out with my left hand, the ring on my third finger glinting darkly, even in the bright of day. As always, I hesitate, wondering if there is a way. A way to not got back. The exact same thought I have every year before I come here and when I leave. But I know I could never give up that other place entirely, whatever my mother may tell herself; no matter what she tells me when I'm within earshot. Just as I know I can never entirely give up this place either, or the maternal figure always waiting for me.
  My fingers brush the carving of Romulus and Remus suckling on their mother's teats, her wolf's head staring deep into me. Another strong mother figure. Is there ever a way to fully escape them?
  A whirling of light and water surround me, almost drowning me and suddenly I am no longer in the daylight. There is no heat upon my shoulders, no smell of cars, sweat and dreams. Instead there is only blessed coolness, the scent of just fallen rain and the shadows.
  "My love, you have returned at last. I feared you would change your mind."
  The same words. The same words every year and yet my heart beats that little bit faster, and I close my eyes in anticipation as I turn around and open them to look upon my husband.
  "I will always return to you my dark one. Not even my mother can keep us apart forever."
  With the ritual words out of the way he embraces me, his hands cold against my back but his eyes glowing with a fire I could never resist. The same fire that made me leave with him all those many moons ago.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Can Art Be Separated From A Flawed Creator?

Trigger warning: This post features links to accounts of sexual abuse and rape, though details in the actual post are minimal.

Here in Britain we're currently going through seemingly never ending discoveries of sexual abuse at the hands of people in powerful positions. Rolf Harris, the much loved presenter of Rolf's Cartoon Club and Animal Hospital, was convicted on twelve counts of indecent assault and sentenced to five years and nine months. Prior to that Max Clifford, was sentenced to eight years for a string of indecent assaults and it's common knowledge now what Jimmy Saville was up to, though without a trial his accusations will remain forever unproven.

Gathering less attention, but certainly something that seems fatefully timed, has been the revelations about the science fiction and fantasy writer Marion Zimmer Bradley. There had been conjecture about her, and even certainty that she'd covered up her husband's crimes of rape and abuse of boys.  She admitted as much in her deposition in 1998, with the transcript leaving no room for doubt. But far more shocking, to me at least, is the heart wrenching account from her own daughter, Moira Greyland, revealing that Marion Zimmer Bradley herself was committing sexual assault, among other types of abuse, towards her throughout her childhood. And that there may be others. It isn't easy reading and I felt physically ill reading Greyland's poem, "Mother's Hands", but Greyland's words are incredibly moving and brave and deserve to be read.

So far I've never read any of Bradley's works. Interestingly she was never a writer my mum rated much, and as I experienced Science Fiction and Fantasy through my mum's collection it meant I wasn't really all that aware of her. There was a copy of Mists of Avalon on mum's shelf but I never got round to it. I have it on my wish list but I'm in no hurry to read it. I'm not in favour of blacklisting artwork even if it's created by a monster though. Sometimes even the most evil of people can create something of worth or meaning to others. I can't imagine what these revelations will do to those who loved Bradley's writing, who got started on the writing path because of reading her work or submitting stories to her anthologies. One has pledged to give all of her profits from the stories she got published that way to RAINN, America's largest anti-sexual violence charity. It's a wonderful way to handle the dichotomy of being proud of work you've done, even though it's connected to someone who has done such terrible things.

Australian councils are working to remove all Rolf Harris artwork from their buildings and in the local areas, and the price of his art has plummeted since his conviction. Likewise, I imagine less SF and Fantasy fans will be interested in reading Bradley's works. But I don't think what someone does in their life, no matter how horrendous, means their creations should be destroyed. If that were the case we wouldn't have a lot of the classical music, paintings or stories we have today. Then there's the question of the value you can get from art created by undesirables. My mum's response when I told her about all this was that she'd always felt there was something a bit "off" in Bradley's works, even though she fit the feminist, female, science fiction writer mould that my mum prefers. She couldn't put her finger on it, but said she wasn't entirely surprised by the revelations about Bradley.

It's often claimed that art can reveal far more of the artist than they intend, and for that reason alone I won't write off the chances of me reading a Bradley book one day. My interpretation of her works will be heavily influenced by what I know, just as reading Mein Kampf or looking at one of Hitler's paintings is impossible to separate from what he was responsible for. It's also a lot easier when the perpetrator is deceased; because no matter what you think of their art, at least you know they aren't benefiting from your purchase. At the same time though I can completely understand people never wanting material near them that was created by someone who committed terrible crimes or atrocities. Because even though art can exist on its own merits, it is always, inevitably, entwined with the person who created it.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Book Review: Frozen In Time

Frozen In Time
Ali Sparkes
Kindle Edition

Every now and again I buy a book simply because of the description, without reading a sample. Something about it makes my eyebrow meet my hairline and I'm intrigued enough to make that knee-jerk purchase. Frozen in Time is one of the few that's done this, and it did not disappoint me.

Very much based on the Enid Blyton mysteries, Frozen in Time is set in modern times, with siblings Ben and Rachel condemned to a dull, wet summer in their countryside house. Their parents are away and all they're left with is a broken TV, no internet and their erratic Uncle, who is more interested in his latest experiment than entertaining two pre-teens. As soon as the weather clears up, they make their escape into the woods. But the storms have revealed something; a hatch leading into an underground vault, where two children have been cryogenically frozen since the 1950s. Suddenly Ben and Rachel's summer isn't so boring.

I really wish I could have read this book when I was ten. Seriously, it would have been one of my favourite books of all time. It has mystery, science fiction, conspiracies and just enough tension to keep you turning the pages. There is also a lot to enjoy as an adult, in particular the references to 1950s mores, especially with the shift in gender-dynamics since then. The language changes are also played with and the teasing of Enid Blyton type exclamations are, well; just super. The story is great, and would be a wonderful way to introduce younger readers to the Cold War in a fictional setting.

Highly recommended for anyone who doesn't mind reading books for younger readers and especially for younger readers themselves. With no swearing or inappropriate violence or sexual imagery it's a safe book to buy for the kid in your life just hungering for some time bending adventure.