Friday, March 30, 2007

Poetry Friday 43

I don't know about anyone else, but I pick up Poetry Friday "cues" all over the place. Last weekend I was reading an article about the launch of "Doctor Who" Season 3 which referenced T S Eliot's Burnt Norton and Milton's Lycidas, so I pulled up both poems online to re-read them and thought I would share portions of them both with you this week.

Burnt Norton

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
                  But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
                  Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?

The full poem is available here.


Return Alpheus, the dread voice is past,
That shrunk thy streams; Return Sicilian Muse,
And call the Vales, and bid them hither cast
Their Bels, and Flourets of a thousand hues.
Ye valleys low where the milde whispers use,
Of shades and wanton winds, and gushing brooks,
On whose fresh lap the swart Star sparely looks,
Throw hither all your quaint enameld eyes,
That on the green terf suck the honied showres,
And purple all the ground with vernal flowres.
Bring the rathe Primrose that forsaken dies.
The tufted Crow-toe, and pale Gessamine,
The white Pink, and the Pansie freakt with jeat,
The glowing Violet.
The Musk-rose, and the well attir'd Woodbine.
With Cowslips wan that hang the pensive hed,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears:
Bid Amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And Daffadillies fill their cups with tears,
To strew the Laureat Herse where Lycid lies.
For so to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise.
Ay me! Whilst thee the shores, and sounding Seas
Wash far away, where ere thy bones are hurld,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit'st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou to our moist vows deny'd,
Sleep'st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded Mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona's hold;
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth.
And, O ye Dolphins, waft the haples youth.

The full poem is online here.

I can just imagine the faces of some literary types I know - the association of Eliot and Milton with "Doctor Who" would make them look very sour indeed, but such combinations don't make me bat an eyelid - I have no problem linking "high culture" with "popular culture". In fact, I think it's an excellent way of introducing adherents of one to the joys of the other (note I'm not saying that either one is better, more valuable or more worthwhile than the other). This is an intelligent and well-written article about a popular culture show, that also references some beautiful poetry - of course, if you don't know either poem, both references will go straight over your head, but if you've read either one, then the references leap off the page to your attention. I think both the references are nicely done - and I've had the line "Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth" in my head all week...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Terry Pratchett news

From the Discworld Monthly email newsletter:

There is a new petition up on the UK Government's official Number 10 website to suggest that Terry is awarded a knighthood for his service to literature. You need to be a UK resident to be able to sign the petition and to have a valid email address as they will email you back to confirm your signature. On Thursday 29 March at 5.15 pm there was a grand total of 334 signatures, so a bit of work is needed.

If you're a UK resident or hold UK citizenship and work overseas (eg. in the Armed Forces), please pop over to the Petition website and vote.

If ever anyone deserved a Knighthood, it's "Lord Terry of Pratchett" (as he's affectionately known to me and my family), so spread the word far and wide, please !

Also in the newsletter are details of the 2008 UK Discworld Convention:

On behalf of the committee for the 2008 Discworld convention, I am very happy to announce that we have confirmed our venue and date for the 2008 convention. The 2008 Discworld Convention will take place from the 22nd to the 25th of August at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole Hotel.

Full details of membership and hotel costs will be announced when we launch the revamped website at Easter, but we are planning an introductory membership fee of 50 GBP (a 5 GBP increase on the 2006 starting price).

The previous three conventions were hosted at the Hinckley Island Hotel and many of the attendees at those events have very happy memories of those events and of the hotel. For many members (and committee staff), the Hinckley Hotel became almost synonymous with the Discworld convention. However, while the 2006 convention was a
great success, the hotel itself did not provide an entirely perfect experience, although the friendly and helpful attitude of many of the staff was, once again, an important contributor to an enjoyable weekend.

The committee thought very hard before choosing a new venue for the convention, but we are very excited by the possibilities of the new hotel. In particular, we are looking forward to making the most of a main event room that can seat the entire membership (so no more people missing out on the opening ceremony or Terry's interview).

Most of all, though, we are excited about seeing you there. We want to see our old friends and regular attendees, who have done so much to create the happy memories of previous Discworld events that motivate us to work towards the next convention. We want to see the new members and the surprises and new ideas they will bring. And
Terry will be turning up at some point, don't forget.

Much more information will be available when we re-launch the website. Until then, hello again and I'm looking forward to seeing you in Birmingham.

Can't wait!

Bruce Richardson, Chairman, Discworld Convention 2008


Now that the venue details are finalised and the announcement has been made we would also like to welcome you to some new discussion groups for fans interested in the 2008 Convention:

You can subscribe to the new mail list here. There is also a LiveJournal community to join here

It sounds like fun !

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - cover art revealed

The Times has today revealed the cover art for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - children's edition and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - adult edition from Bloomsbury. I have to say, I prefer the adult one this time around. I don't know who's drawn the children's cover (the article doesn't say) but I find it unappealing. However, since I have all the other books in the children's editions I will buy this one not the adult one, which features the rather nice Slytherin locket that's believed to be a Horcrux. I'm also slightly alarmed by the black borders on the children's cover - that doesn't bode well - and yes, I know we knew there'd be deaths, but...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Book News: Tolkien, Harry Potter

An unfinished book by J R R Tolkien will be published on April 17 after being completed by the late author's son. Christopher Tolkien has spent 30 years working on The Children Of Hurin, which his father started in 1918 but later abandoned. Extracts from the novel, which is set before the events of the Rings trilogy, have been published before. It has been illustrated by Alan Lee, who won an Oscar for his artwork on The Return Of The King film in 2004. The Children Of Hurin will also be available from on April. 17.

The full story is at the BBC website.

* * * * * *

The audiobooks of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be released July 21, the same time as the books. The Grammy-winning Jim Dale will once again be narrating the US version, whilst the British Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows audiobook will be narrated by Stephen Fry. Apparently the unabridged novel will come in at around 21 hours.

Doctor Who Quote of the Week

Rose: So when it says guests, does that mean people?
The Doctor: Depends what you mean by people.
Rose: I mean people. What do you mean?
The Doctor: Aliens.

("The End of the World", Season 1 New Doctor Who)

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Price of Paradise - Colin Brake

Colin Brake's The Price of Paradise is the last of the New Doctor Who Adventures novels to feature Rose (played by Billie Piper) as the companion of the Doctor (played by David Tennant).

The TARDIS picks up an emergency distress signal from a spaceship that's crash-landed on Laylora, the Paradise Planet, a world of breath-taking beauty, where the peace-loving natives live in harmony with their environment. However, the Doctor and Rose arrive to find that the once-perfect eco-system is showing signs of failing and the paradise planet has become a death trap where terrifying four-armed creatures with very sharp and dangerous claws have reappeared from ancient legends and are stalking the natives. Is there a connection between the human explorers whose spaceship has crash-landed on Laylora and these savage creatures? And what price might one human have to pay to save the only home he has ever known?

This was a gripping story. The Doctor was presented at his most talkative and utterly baffling to strangers. The issue of ecological harm wasn't too over the top. Brake's tale isn't too didactic or bullying in its presentation of ecological concerns. The Price of Paradise is also available as an Audiobook and from

Future New Doctor Who Adventure novels will feature the Doctor's new companion, Martha Jones, as played by Freema Agyeman, whose screen debut will be in exactly 5 days time on BBC 1.

Book Discussion Group - Reminder

Just a quick reminder that the Book Discussion Group will begin discussing Terry Pratchett's A Hat Full of Sky next week (Tuesday April 2) This is the second in the Tiffany Aching series, so you may want to read The Wee Free Men first.

And I wanted to confirm that, following last week's successful Book Giveaway, the book for December 07 (through January 08) will be Charles Butler's The Fetch of Mardy Watt (which is also available from The full schedule for the year is available here.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Obsidian Dagger - Catherine Webb

Catherine Webb's The Obsidian Dagger: Being the Further Extraordinary Adventures of Horatio Lyle is the sequel to The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle (which I reviewed last August - and which was longlisted for the Cybils SF&F award). The Obsidian Dagger is a much darker book than "Horatio Lyle", and I think Catherine's made Horatio less Holmesian and more Doctor-ish (as in the lead character in "Doctor Who") - and I don't think that's just my current "Doctor Who" obsession talking. I marked a couple of passages in the book that read as if they'd come from a "Doctor Who" novel. I'm not suggesting plagiarism, let me make that clear, but influence. Horatio seems like the Doctor in his righteous anger at events endangering people about whom he cares.

Special constable Horatio Lyle has been ordered to investigate two mysterious deaths for Lord Lincoln. Lyle is aided and abetted by Tess (a former thief), Thomas (the son of Lord Elwick - a bigwig as Tess calls him) and Tate his dog. These are well-differentiated characters - we even occasionally see things from Tate's point of view. Lyle is a reluctant detective as he's far more interested in scientific experiments, and he uses a range of explosives and unpleasant chemicals to move his enemies out of the way. He has also developed, with Thomas' help, a primitive flying machine. This proves extremely useful when Thomas and Tess need to rescue Lyle. The plot is complicated and involves supernatural elements, including a mysterious character who's been transported from an island overseas in a stone coffin, and the stones of London themselves coming to life and re-shaping themselves.

There are some very humorous moments in this book, including this very funny line:

It is said that fortune favours the brave. Horatio Lyle, as the world filled with fireworks, smoke, noise and confusion, was of the increasing opinion that not only was this statement wrong, it was probably spread by malignant people hoping to prove by elimination that cowardice was the more favourable Darwinian characteristic.

This book was received for review from Atom books, the publisher.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Five Non KidsLit Blogs I Read

Liz, over at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy tagged me to participate in this one - and I panicked a little because I wasn't sure that I read five non KidsLit blogs, but here goes (in strictly alphabetical order):

1 - I'm cheating already - I simply have no shame ! BBC Cult Doctor Who News isn't strictly speaking a Blog, just a News Feed, but I'm totally hooked on it as the start of Season 3 rushes towards me !

2 - Juliet E McKenna's Live Journal - Juliet writes fantasy for adults set in a secondary world called Einarinn. Her novels are intelligent, feature feisty female protagonists and utterly grip me. She also writes about the writing life (including her experiences of Conventions and leading creative writing courses), and she happens to be a good friend (lucky me!)

3 - Lowebrow Blog - L Lee Lowe contacted me and invited me to read her YA short stories (at Into the Lowelands) and we became friends. The Lowebrow Blog is about writing, reading and the Lowelife!

4 - Petrona - Maxine's totally prolific, I've lost count of the number of Blogs she owns. "Petrona" is "Thinking and linking about books, reading, writing, publishing, the web and more".

5 - The Write Fantastic Live Journal - The Write Fantastic is a "collective" of fantasy authors who work together to promote fantasy books to new or lapsed readers of fantasy fiction. They do conventions, library talks, book signing events, all sorts. And Blog about it on their Live Journal.

I hope Liz won't disown me now for such blatant cheating...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Short Story Conference: Edge Hill University

I saw this press release today and thought "I'd love to go!":

Edge Hill University will be hosting "The Story Shall Be Changed": Tales and Re-tellings in the Short Story on Saturday 21st July 2007.

The short story is a protean form, encompassing myth, fable, anecdote, tall tales, yarns and literary experimentation. Rooted in oral tradition, storytelling has a special affinity with popular genres such as science fiction and tales of the supernatural.

In this second one-day conference on the short story at Edge Hill, we focus on this multiplicity of forms and genres. We also consider the re-imagining of familiar narratives, themes and imagery; and the invention of new ones. How is the short story being transformed in the twenty-first century?

The conference is linked with the inaugural presentation of the Edge Hill Prize, for a published single author collection from the British Isles. The winner will be announced on the eve of the conference, and it is hoped that writers from the shortlist (announced May 2007) will take part in the conference reading.

Confirmed speakers include:

Professor Alan Wall (Richard Dadd in Bedlam and Other Stories)

Andy Sawyer (Science Fiction Foundation, University of Liverpool)

Cecilia Morreau (Leaf Books)

Call for Papers

Proposals for 20 minute papers are invited from all those writing and researching the short story, whether as practitioners or literary scholars (or both). Practice-based presentations are welcome. Suggested topics:

Genre and sub-genre – crime – horror – the ghost story – fantasy – science fiction – gothic – erotica – autobiography – online writing – multi-media – hybrid genres.

Intertextuality – myth and symbolism – image-based fiction – the epiphany – adaptation - oral storytelling - modernism and postmodernism.

Individual authors – re-readings and reworkings – writing in translation - postcolonial fiction – experiment and innovation – novellas – story sequences – flash fiction – anthologies.

Please email 100 word abstract to Ailsa Cox Friday May 11th 2007.

This is the second annual conference hosted by the North West Short Story Network, supported by Lancaster University, Liverpool Hope, St Martin's Lancaster, University of Chester, Bolton University, Salford University and Manchester Metropolitan University (Cheshire). Following last year's conference, The Short Story, a selection of papers, including A. L. Kennedy's opening speech, will be published by Cambridge Scholars Press in 2008.

Booking Fees: £55/£30 (students, unwaged).

For further information please contact: Dr Ailsa Cox, Department of English, Edge Hill University, St Helens Rd, Ormskirk L39 4QP Email:

I confess that I spent a good many years avoiding reading stories that were less than novel-length as I found it frustrating to have the story end so quickly. But in the last two or three years I've really come to appreciate the art of the short form story (whether it's a novella or a genuine short story) - and have rather gone off reading hefty (doorstop) novels (unless they're "Harry Potter" ones). And it's probably just as well that I have come to appreciate the short story form since I now find myself writing novella length stories - which seem perfectly suited to "Doctor Who" fan-fiction - it's about the length of an episode if converted into a visual form (and I can quite often "see" the story unreeling as an episode in my head - which makes writing it easier, I find).

Poetry Friday 42

Last Saturday, I mentioned watching the David Tennant/Catherine Tate sketch from the Comic Relief TV marathon - it featured Catherine Tate's character Lauren the annoying schoolgirl reciting - at almost breakneck speed - Shakespeare's Sonnet 130. Because of the pace of its delivery (and Lauren's accent), I had trouble making out all of the verse, so I Googled it afterwards (I caught "damask'd, red and white" so I knew that was a good place to start). It's an interesting choice from someone (Catherine Tate ? Someone else ?) because it's not a conventional love sonnet, in fact it could almost be called an anti-love sonnet with its pragmatic, far from flowery descriptions:

Sonnet 130

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, - yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress when she walks, treads on the ground;
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

William Shakespeare

If you're interested in a commentary on this sonnet, you'll find one here.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Art of Destruction - Stephen Cole

Stephen Cole's The Art of Destruction is the fifth of the New Doctor Who Adventures to feature the Doctor and Rose as played by David Tennant and Billie Piper in the BBC TV series.

In the 22nd Century, the TARDIS materialises in Africa, in the shadow of an apparently dormant volcano. Agri-teams are growing new foodstuffs in the baking soil that surrounds the volcano in attempt to feed the world's starving millions, but the Doctor and Rose have detected an alien signal somewhere close by, hence their arrival. When a nightmare force begins to surge along the dark tunnels under the volcano, the Doctor realises that an ancient trap has been sprung. But for whom was the trap intended, and what is the secret of the eerie statues that stand at the heart of the volcano? The Doctor and Rose find themselves dragged into a centuries-old conflict and trying to elevate survival into an art form, as ancient alien hands practice arts of destruction all around them.

This book is also available in Audiobook format and from

* * * * * *

The BBC officially launched the third season of New Doctor Who (which starts in nine days time) last night, airing "Smith and Jones" for the press. And poor David Tennant got asked for the umpteenth time when he was leaving the show. He graciously refused to answer - I'm not sure I'd be half so gracious in his shoes since he's been asked that question at regular intervals ever since being cast in the role of the Doctor (great way to make someone feel wanted, press people !) Even if he wasn't going to continue to play the role for the officially commissioned fourth season, he and the BBC aren't very likely to say so when the new season is about to begin airing. The news of Christopher Eccleston's departure was leaked before the first season had barely begun and it really cast a shadow over the show. I'm quite sure the BBC has learnt a lesson from that debacle and would only announce David's departure towards the end of the season which would be his last.

Some fun facts about series three of Doctor Who - it required 20 gallons of latex rubber, 40 gallons of silicon rubber, four tonnes of clay, 10 litres of prosthetic adherent and three sets of prosthetic dentures.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Book Giveaway - All books are taken

Those of you involved in the Scholar's Blog Book Discussion Group will know I was contemplating including Charles Butlter's book, The Fetch of Mardy Watt in this year's schedule, but I've been hesitating because of the issue of availability in the US. However, Charlie is generously offering seven Signed and FREE copies to the first seven people who contact me ! So if you want a copy email me with your postal address - it's purely a case of first come, first served, so get your skates on if you want a signed copy of a terrific book that I'm desperate to discuss !

Edited to add - as of 7pm GMT there are only six copies left to claim.

Edited to add - as of 5 am, March 22, there is only one copy of The Fetch of Mardy Watt left.

Edited to add - as of 2.15 pm March 22, all the books are now gone.

Congratulations to everyone who will be receiving a copy.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

News items

Unfortunately owing to timing issues and being out all day Saturday, I found out too late that Midwestern Lodestar was hosting the 12th Carnival of Children's Literature, but do check it out - it's huge ! (And if you want to know what a "Carnival of Children's Literature" is, check out this explanation from Susan at Chicken Spaghetti). Fortunately, I already know that Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page is hosting the next one, so the date's firmly in my "diary" to participate.

Talking of the lovely Jen, she's the latest Blogger to be interviewed by Jules and Eisha over at the fantastically named Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (because why stop at Six ?!) Blog. I love "7-Imp" as it's affectionately known, though I've only recently started reading it (and must add them to my Blog roll !). Jules and Eisha also do a new series on a weekend called (at present) "Seven Good Things Before Monday", to which everyone's invited to contribute seven (or more, or less) good things that they've read, seen, heard, experienced - it's meant to be a celebration of the good things in life, to make up for all the dire news and grotty things that fill the newspapers and news stories.

And finally, Camille over at Book Moot linked to this FANTASTIC Hobbit House that was designed as a "fitting repository for a client's valuable collection of J. R. R. Tolkien manuscripts and artifacts" - I SO want to live here !! Do check the page out as the photos are awesome.

Count Karlstein - Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman's Count Karlstein won the Whitbread Award and is based on a play he wrote (when he was a middle-school teacher) for his class to perform.

The story is set in a Swiss village in 1816 and revolves around wicked Count Karlstein, his two wards, the English orphans Lucy and Charlotte, and the very nasty Faustian bargain Karlstein struck with Zamiel, the Demon Huntsman, ten years ago. Zamiel annually haunts the local woods on All Souls' Eve and everyone usually stays safely at home in order to stay out his way. Pullman adds further interest to the mix of characters with the appearance of the orphans' former schoolteacher, the indomitable Augusta Davenport ("I was able to console myself with the reflection that an English gentlewoman can rise above any circumstances, given intelligence and a loaded pistol"), and the actor (and sometime mountebank) known as Doctor Cadavarezzi (aka Signor Brilliantini), a conman who's as charming as he is sly. The tale is briskly narrated by a variety of characters, including Lucy (who is heavily influenced by such contemporary Gothic novels as The Mysteries of Udolpho) and the bumbling, hilariously self-important police sergeant Snitsch (almost all the names in this tale are puns). The plot undergoes a series of twists and turns that are both complicated and delightfully improbable, yet also funny. In an exuberant conclusion that's reminiscent of the best comic operas, the orphans find a true protector, the evil Count is served his just deserts and the formidable Miss Davenport is reunited with her long-lost love. Children will love this tale!

Count Karlstein is also available as an Audiobook and it's available in the US from And you can read the first chapter at the Random House website.

Doctor Who Quote of the Week

(Taking Rose's cell phone) The Doctor: Tell you what, with a little bit of jiggery-pokery...
Rose: Is that a technical term, jiggery-pokery?
The Doctor: Yeah. I came first in jiggery-pokery. What 'bout you?
Rose: Nah. I failed hullabaloo.

("The End of the World", Season 1 New Doctor Who)

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Firework Maker's Daughter - Philip Pullman

In Philip Pullman's fable, The Firework Maker's Daughter Lila was, as a baby, "a cross little thing, always crying and refusing her food, but Lalchand [her father] built a cradle for her in the corner of the workshop, where she could see the sparks play and listen to the fizz and crackle of the gunpowder." Once out of her cradle, Lila shows a marked talent for pyrotechnics, even inventing her own fireworks with names like "Shimmering Coins" and "Tumbling Demons". However, when Lila tells her father that she'd like to become a master firework-maker, like him, he's appalled. Firework-making is no job for a girl, he tells her; besides, with her burned fingers and singed eyebrows, he's afraid he'll never be able to find a husband for her.

If Lalchand is horrified by Lila's ambitions, his daughter is equally appalled by the prospect of having to marry, so she decides to run away to Mount Merapi, where every firework-maker must go in order to claim some of the royal sulphur from Razvani the Fire-Fiend. Lila's adventures on the road to Merapi alternate with those of her best friend, Chulak (and his talking white elephant, Hamlet) who set out after her when they learn something that could mean life or death for Lila. Along the way, they meet wild animals, pirates, and supernatural beings of every kind until, at last, Lila must face the scariest obstacle of all: her own fear.

This is a charming tale, beautifully illustrated, and will appeal to girls who are less fond of "girly" things.

The Firework Maker's Daughter is also available from

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Write Fantastic Event - Update

Despite the fact I feel like I could fall asleep at my keyboard, I thought I'd do my write up on the "Write Fantastic" book signing now whilst it's still fresh in my head (plus, I want to spend most of my free time tomorrow in typing up chapter one of my new Doctor Who novella !).

Sadly, neither Diana Wynne Jones nor Mark Chadbourn could make it as both were poorly - which was a disappointment as I'd heard nice things about both of them and was looking forward to meeting them (especially Diana as I've read so many of her books).

However, I met Jessica Rydill, Stan Nicholls and Stephen Hunt (whose debut novel, The Court of the Air (out April 2) I'm really eager to read). And I got to have a very fangirly conversation with Jessica about "Doctor Who", as well as talking about writing and books too. (I should say that I got to Bristol and back thanks to the generosity of Juliet E McKenna, who was the other "Write Fantastic" author at the signing.)

* * * * * *

Talking of Doctor Who, fans of David Tennant might like to check out this very funny sketch (via YouTube) from yesterday's "Comic Relief" charity TV marathon on the BBC. He and Catherine Tate (who played Donna Noble in the Doctor Who Christmas Special "The Runaway Bride") are fantastic together, and he's such a star to allow her to send him up so much. Oh and it features Shakespeare (his poetry, not the man) - definitely not to be missed !

Write Fantastic Event

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, today is the Write Fantastic event at Bristol's Forbidden Planet. So I'll be off to Bristol later and will spend most of the day away from my computer. Therefore expect a write up of the event tomorrow. Diana Wynne Jones is going to be there - I'm hoping for the chance to speak to her - and that I can say something coherent to her !

Friday, March 16, 2007

Poetry Friday 41

In honour of St Patrick's Day tomorrow, I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite poetry by Irish poets. First two poems from William Butler Yeats:

He wishes for the cloths of heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evenings full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear the lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

And then one from Seamus Heaney:

Death of a Naturalist

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles.

(The rest of the poem, with an audio reading, is available here.)

Happy St Patrick's Day for tomorrow !

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cyrano - Geraldine McCaughrean

Geraldine McCaughrean's Cyrano comes with the words "For anyone who's ever been hopelessly in love" on the cover, and it's a tragic tale of a love triangle. I confess that I've never seen or read the play by Edmond Rostand, nor seen the 1990 movie starring Gérard Depardieu, so whilst I knew the general gist of the story, I came to this tale fresh.

Cyrano de Bergerac is a flamboyant character: a skilled swordsman and poet, who's not afraid of drawing attention to himself in public; he can be highly amusing, even at his own expense, making jokes about his enormous nose. But he has a weakness too as he's fallen in love with his beautiful cousin Roxane, but he's too ashamed to declare his love because of his looks. Roxane in the meantime, is completely besotted with a handsome, but rather foolish young man named Christian, who is in the same Guards' company as Cyrano. Cyrano is devastated when he learns of Roxane's obsession, and quite horrified by her request that he protect Christian when they are set off to Arras to fight. Roxane begs Cyrano to encourage Christian to write love letters to her. Unfortunately, writing such letters is rather beyond Christian, so Cyrano writes them for him, pouring out his own feelings for Roxane, whilst breaking his heart by pretending to Christian that its only his poetic talents that allow him to say what Christian cannot. Cyrano risks life and limb every day to cross the Spanish encampment that surrounds the town in which the Guard Company is besieged, just so that he can get the letters out to the mail for Roxane. And then one day, Roxane turns up, somehow persuading the Spanish to let her through their blockade merely because she wants to see her lover. Unfortunately the day she arrives is also the day that the Spanish decide to attack the city and the day ends badly for more than one of the members of the love-triangle.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Only Human - Gareth Roberts

Gareth Roberts' Only Human features the Ninth Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack as played by Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper and John Barrowman respectively. It's set after "Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" (two of my favourite episodes from Season 1 of New Doctor Who), but before "Boom Town".

The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack are about to head off to Kegron Pluva, a planet with a very unusual ecosystem and seasonal cycles, when a device in the TARDIS indicates that there is a temporal disturbance somewhere. Explaining that it's caused by a "dirty rip engine" (an extremely primitive and dangerous form of time-travel) that's causing the disturbance, the Doctor pilots the TARDIS to Bromley. They arrive to discover a Neanderthal Man, twenty-eight thousand years after his race became extinct. The only way to discover just what Das is doing in the 21st century, is for the Doctor and Rose to take a trip back to the primeval dawn of humanity. They can't take Das with them as he is unable to travel in Time: the primitive "dirty rip engine" has warped Das' cells so that a second trip through Time would tear him apart. The Doctor therefore deputises Jack as Das' "babysitter", telling him that he has a month to teach Das about life on 21st century Earth, whilst he and Rose investigate.

Arriving back in the past, they find a mysterious group of humans from the distant future (beyond the 21st century) who are now living in the distant past. They also discover some hideous monsters who are trying to escape from behind a "Grey Door", and Rose is told she's going to have to marry a caveman, one of a group of humans who are keen to kill off the local Neanderthal population. Rose and the Doctor find themselves desperately trying to learn the truth behind the Osterberg Experiment before the monstrous Hy-Bractors can escape to change humanity's history forever.

I enjoyed the presence of the outrageous Captain Jack, who, on being asked by the Doctor to provide a distraction, promptly strips naked and streaks through Bromley, in this novel. He's part of the reason I enjoyed "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" so much - he had some of the best lines in that two-parter (they'll be turning up in later "Doctor Who Quote of the Week" posts).

Only Human is also available from

Doctor Who Quote of the Week

Rose: If you're an alien, then how comes you sound like you're from the North?
The Doctor: Lots of planets have a North!

("Rose", Season 1 New Doctor Who)

* * * * * *

Season 3 of New Doctor Who starts airing on the BBC on March 31st. Am I excited ? Am I ever !! I can't remember the last time I was ever this excited about a TV show. Mind you, it's been years since I regularly watched a TV show as it aired (I saw all seven seasons of Buffy on tape, since I came to it not long before Season 7 aired). The new season sees a new Companion joining David Tennant's Tenth Doctor in his adventures, and whilst I grew to love Rose, I'm excited about meeting Freema's "Martha Jones" (above). So a warning - I'm going to review each episode after I see it, which means 13 weeks of me waxing lyrical - or maybe just raving madly - about my favourite British SF show. Don't say I didn't warn you !

The Edge of the Forest Volume II - March issue

The March 2007 Issue of The Edge of the Forest is now up. Here's what's in store this month:

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Scholar's Blog Book Discussion Group Reading Schedule

It occurs to me that not everyone will necessarily have seen my post over on my Spoiler Zone Blog that I've finalised the reading schedule, more or less (I'm still not sure about the Charles Butler book), for the Book Discussion Group, so here's the list in calendar order:

April 3, 2007: Terry Pratchett - A Hat Full of Sky (This is the second in the Tiffany Aching series, so you may want to read The Wee Free Men first.)

May 1, 2007: Garth Nix - Lady Friday

June 5, 2007 Philip Pullman - The Ruby in the Smoke

July 3, 2007: Louis Sachar - The Boy Who Lost His Face

August 7 (through September as well), 2007: J K Rowling - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

October 2, 2007: John Gordon - The Giant Under the Snow

November 6, 2007: Alan Garner - The Owl Service

December 4 (through January 08 as well): Charles Butler - The Fetch of Mardy Watt

If anyone has any queries, comments or (I hope not!) complaints about the schedule, let me know. But we're definitely going to be reading A Hat Full of Sky in April!

Winner Takes All - Jacqueline Rayner

Jacqueline Rayner's Winner Takes All is one of the first New Doctor Who Adventures novels and features the Doctor and Rose as played by Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper. It's also one of the funniest, yet it also has some very dark moments. It borrows the plot device "What if the video-game you're playing is actually real?" used by Terry Pratchett in Only You Can Save Mankind and in the movie The Last Starfighter where a video game called "Death to Mantodeans" isn't nearly as harmless as it seems. On another world, an alien war is raging: the Quevvils (who look like giant porcupines)need to find a new means of attacking the ruthless Mantodeans (who look like giant praying mantises). The Quevvils search the galaxy for a cunning, warlike, but gullible ally, and find the ideal soldiers on Earth. Rose and the Doctor finds themselves caught up in the game, literally, as they're taken to the home planet of the two alien races. Rose finds herself participating in the game, with her nervous system wired up to a control device which is linked to a game controller, which the Doctor is forced to use to ensure that Rose wins the game, and destroys the Mantodeans. In case he feels inclined to refuse to play, the various people who've supposedly won a free holiday (but have instead been transported to the alien planet) are threatened, including teenager Robert, whose single mother is also somewhere inside the "game".

Interestingly, of the handful of New Doctor Who Adventures books I've read featuring the Ninth Doctor, I think Rayner's book does the best job of depicting him. Winner Takes All is also available from