Thanks very much to Stephen E. Andrews for this youtube interview for his Outlaw Bookseller podcast, providing an overview of all my books. Steve is based in Bath, in Somerset, and his extraordinarly encyclopaedic knowledge of books is matched by his infectious enthusiasm. I first met him when he invited me to give a talk in Bath’s Waterstones.
I proposed the song ‘5.15’ as theme music for my previous post. The Who, from my perspective now, seem to me to have represented better than anyone else what it was like being an alienated adolescent in the 1970s. And, of their many takes on this subject, ‘5.15’ (about a stoned teenager riding a commuter train out of London) is, I think, the best. So many things are captured in this song – the free-floating sexual frustration, the sense of detachment from the adult world (‘Why should I care? Why should I care?’) – but my favourite verse is:
Magically bored On a quiet street corner Free frustration In our minds and our toes Quiet storm water M-m-my generation Uppers and downers Either way blood flows
‘Magically bored’ is perfect!
See also, obviously, ‘My Generation’, its stammering refrain referenced in the above verse, and in particular ‘See me feel me’. This last (from Tommy) is more of a fragment than a song, but its eight, several times repeated, opening words can still bring tears to my eyes, so powerfully do they represent to me now the longing and fear of a 16-year-old from a somewhat dysfunctional family who has never been kissed, never even met a girl of his own age in a social situation, who has only just begun to make real, if rudimentary, friendships, but knows that in another year, he will have to go out into the world.
It’s an odd thing. To my 16-old-self, anyone over 40 was in some way emotionally already dead (‘…The things they do look awful cold/ I hope I die before I get old…’), so, if he could see me as I am now, that adolescent me would probably not recognise me as being in any way like him, but I feel an affinity with him all the same, a greater affinity, in a way, than I feel with all the other iterations of me that have existed in the years between. Why is that, I wonder?
I think partly it may be because, now, past the age of retirement, with my bus pass and my pension (yes, baby boomer, alright for some… etc etc), I have reached a kind of second adolescence, when I am no longer required to go to work every day or to have long-term plans, and when I can, if I wish, spend a Tuesday morning sitting around for several hours, listening to songs, and asking myself what they mean to me. (The magical difference is that I no longer have to cry into the void ‘see me, feel me, touch me, heal me’, because I have the things I feared I would never have.)
But it’s also partly because I have always tried in some way to be true to that 16-year-old, and not to embrace the kind of adulthood he despised. It seems odd in a way for a fully grown man, with a lifetime of experience to draw upon, to want to stay true to a clueless 16-year-old. But there it is. Foolish as he was, he saw something that I don’t want to forget. Like Wordsworth said (I’ve just looked it up! I had no idea it was him), ‘The child is father of the man.’
Cue for another song fragment from a man who burst up from a miserable childhood to explode like a firework into brilliant colours, and then crashed to the ground before he could finish writing the album this song was supposed to be part of.
Interview here with Chris Gregory, at Alternative Stories, interspersed with readings by actors from my books (Including preview of my next novel, Tomorrow.)
Here’s an audio drama put together by Chris Gregory for his Alternative Stories and Fake Realities podcast, based on an extract from Two Tribes. You’ll see the names of the actors when you click the link. What makes this a exceptional feat is that the actors were not together in the same room, each one recorded their lines separately – or rather several versions of each line- and Chris G selected the delivery he thought worked best, spliced them together, and added sound effects. It’s constructed around a central scene in the book where Harry and Michelle, meeting for the third time, go together to the Tate Modern in London, where they have their first big row.
The unusual format of this podcast is that I and the two interviewers (Ben and Nick) had each written a mini-story with the same title (‘I’m alone’) and we began by reading these.
Here’s me talking to Sam Ruddock, on behalf of National Centre for Writing, about dialogue among other things. Many thanks to Sam and to NCW for having me.
George Hrab has recorded an audio version of my story ‘The Peacock Cloak’ (a particular favourite of mine), here on Starship Sofa.
I’m very pleased to be part of this original audio collection of six SF stories, which have just been published by Audible. Most of my books, including my latest short story collection Spring Tide, are available as audio books, but this is the first time that I’ve had a story whose first appearance was in audio format.
My story is called ‘When Will We Get There?’ (the title being a deliberate homage to one of my very favourite stories, Philip K. Dick’s ‘I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon’), and it is beautifully read by Clare Corbett.
The other five stories in the collection are by An Owomoyela, Nikesh Shukla, Lauren Beukes, Ken Liu and Paul Cornell, so I’m in distinguished company.
Possibly the most cheerful piece of music I know of. You definitely need to watch this until the two soloists do their chicken dance.
A bit random, but it’s something I’ve just been listening to and I thought I’d share it. This lovely aria is from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.
Orpheus is a poet and musician whose music is so beautiful that even stones are enchanted by it. When his beloved Eurydice is killed by snakes, he travels to the underworld to try and win her back. Even the hearts of the rulers of the underworld are softened by his sweet music, and they agree she can return to life on the one condition that he doesn’t look at her, even once, until they have emerged again into the world of the living.
In this aria, after various travails, Orpheus finds himself in the Elysian fields. ‘How pure the sky,’ he sings, ‘how bright the sun…’ But none of this can make him happy until he has Eurydice back again. At the very end of the aria, the chorus announces the arrival of Eurydice. Heart-stopping moment! To be in her presence again, when he thought he’d lost her forever and yet be forbidden to look at her, or even to explain to her why he must constantly turn away his face.
It fascinates me the way old stories from different places tend to echo one other. No doubt this is sometimes because a story from one culture is heard and taken up by people from another, like the story of St Josaphat. But I’m sure it also happens because certain stories reflect deep structures in the human mind which are universal, and perhaps even hardwired into our brains.
I think of the biblical story of Lot’s Wife, who would be turned to a pillar of salt if she looked back at the city of Sodom. But a much stronger resonance is with the Norse story of Balder, who like Orpheus was capable of stirring the hearts even of animals and stones.
In the Balder story it is Balder himself who dies and his mother who sends a messenger down into the underworld to beg for his return. As in the Greek story, the ruler of the underworld grants the request on one condition (albeit a different one), and as in the Greek story (though not in the opera!), the condition is almost met but not quite, and the beloved one is lost forever.