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Falconer's Lure, recently reprinted by Girls Gone By Press, fills in a lot of the gaps that confused me as a child reading Antonia Forest's Kingscote books; how the Marlows seemed to live a long way from the school at first, and then much closer, and who Patrick was, and why he only appeared later on, and where the hawks came from. It's a much more "typical" children's holiday story than The Marlows and the Traitor, or indeed Peter's Room which I finally read a couple of years ago, with a loose and episodic plot covering typical (and not so typical) summer holiday activities; swimming, riding, hawking. Forest being Forest, though, this isn't your typical sunny summer holiday book; death and bereavement loom large, and the Marlows continue to be deeply dysfunctional in a stiff-upper-lip kind of way and not entirely likeable.

There are some really stunning passages in this book; the scene where Nicola and Patrick are on the Crowlands, watching Jon's plane in the distance, struck me in particular (I knew from reading later books, online synopses and fic what was going to happen, but it was still incredibly well done). I love how Forest shifts the viewpoint from character to character, never letting the reader completely sympathise with anyone but giving everyone, even the rather difficult characters like Ann and Ginty, at least a moment of sympathy. And Peter's diving scene reminded me of the thing I most loved about the Marlows as a child, and still do now: the way they use quotations and scenes from fiction and poetry to understand and interpret the world. I never really identified with any of the Marlows; they were all too brave and sporty and outgoing for me, apart possibly from Lawrie in whom I can see a lot of the things I least like about myself, but I absolutely recognised that way of filtering life through art, and I don't think I'd ever seen it described before. Certainly not in such a recognisable way. (Also, the idea of Peter and Selby earnestly debating whether Childe Roland defeated what was in the Dark Tower or not until the person behind them got fed up is wonderfully entertaining, and also absolutely the kind of thing I would do too.)

There's now only one Marlows book I haven't read, The Ready-Made Family. I was going to wait until Girls Gone By reprinted it, but having just realised that it comes after The Thuggery Affair and not before and is therefore likely to be more like 18 months away than 12 I have ordered an expensive secondhand copy. I hope this one turns up - I did try this once before and was then told that the book had been returned to the sender after being damaged in the post, though I can't help wondering if they actually had it to send in the first place.
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I bought Mary Beard's new(ish) book about Rome* to read on holiday, though in fact I only started it on the last leg of the journey home. This was probably just as well; it's interesting, well-written and very accessible, but it is a serious academic book and not really the ideal thing to read to unwind after a tough day's walking. (Or, indeed, after a busy day at a convention, so I read very little of it last weekend.)

Beard concentrates on the first thousand years of Rome, from its mythical founding (bringing a sceptical eye to the stories of Remus and Romulus and Aeneas), through the growth and fall of the Republic to Caracalla's extension of Roman citizenship throughout the Empire in 212CE. Her focus is mainly on events in Rome itself, though one of the final chapters takes a wider look at the Empire and its provinces, and necessarily more on the wealthy and powerful men whose words and memorials still survive than on women and the lower classes, but she tries to look beyond the obvious stories. Rather than taking the more traditional approach of presenting Rome as the great empire we should learn from and model ourselves on, she considers Rome largely in the light of its influences on our world, from models of government to rhetorical devices. The structure isn't strictly chronological; she starts with Cicero's conflict with Catiline, towards the end of the Republic, and then goes back to tell the story of how Rome got to that point and forward into the empire, although all the way through she makes links between events in different periods and references later retellings (Cicero in particular looms large across the whole Republican period).

I feel I learned a lot about Rome from the book**, though I'm not entirely sure how much of it is going to stick!

* not, as I keep worrying I've told people, Mary Berry's book about Rome, which would be a very different beast. Dormouse pie, anyone?

** probably not hard, as most of my prior knowledge of ancient Rome came from Rosemary Sutcliff, who has been thoroughly Jossed by modern archarology, and I Claudius.
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Last year I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy a day ticket to Nine Worlds and see what a con was actually like. I enjoyed it enough to buy a full weekend ticket at the early-bird rate (not much more expensive than the day ticket bought just before the con) and this weekend was my first ever full three-day con experience. Now I wish I hadn't let shyness keep me from taking the plunge and actually going to a con for so long, because I had a brilliant time. I went to some really interesting and engaging panels; particular highlights were Twin Peaks Wild Speculation, a talk on Minerva in London, Transformative Works and the Colonisation of Historical Space, Recreating Ourselves With Stories, the Joss Whedon Singalong*, The Limitations of Strong Female Characters and Historical Headcanons, though everything was good with the exception of the panel on "Writing Utopia" where none of the panellists appeared to have a very clear understanding of what a utopia actually was.

Also, somewhat ironically given that I didn't go to cons for so long because I was worried about not knowing anyone, I spent a lot of time just hanging out and socialising, largely with friends-of-friends I'd only met for the first time that weekend; by the end of Friday I'd found myself introducing myself to a complete stranger who I recognised as someone [personal profile] aella_irene had told me to look out for by her costume and knitted BB8 and spending half an hour drinking tea with her, playing a game with three people I'd only just met via [livejournal.com profile] triskellian, who'd had to go off to babywrangle, and spending half an hour after a panel having an in-depth conversation about feminism and parenting and life choices with C who I know as a knitter and two of her friends, as well as spending some time chatting to [personal profile] coughingbear and [personal profile] hano and briefly seeing [personal profile] sir_guinglain (who I did manage to catch up with properly later in the weekend).

The venue this year was the Hammersmith Novotel, which was much better than last year's, both in terms of location (it made it very easy to stay elsewhere and get to and from the con, and to pop out to buy food and just have a bit of a breather) and also in terms of layout (wide corridors that didn't feel overcrowded when people were milling about between sessions, and enough food and drink outlets that getting tea and snacks didn't take up the entire break).

I've already bought my ticket for next year (super early bird rate until the end of August).

*which I found surprisingly emotional, as well as really good fun; something about singing "Going Through The Motions", which absolutely nails how depression feels for me, while feeling so happy and alive and surrounded by likeminded people had me getting a bit tearful.
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So, I have now walked the whole of the Hadrian's Wall National Trail. The official website says that the trail is 84 miles long, but T's Runkeeper app claims that we actually walked a smidgen under 112 miles; some of this is due to having to divert away from the trail to get to our overnight accommodation (a couple of times this was two or three miles out of our way) but we were consistently getting higher numbers than we expected and eventually decided that this might be because the mapped distance is calculated as if it was a two-dimensional line whereas the app takes elevation into account and a mapped mile up or downhill involves travelling further than a mapped mile on the flat. Well, that or the app is just inaccurate, which is also a possibility, but it did seem to be most inaccurate on the hillier stretches.

While the trail isn't rated as a very difficult path and can be attempted by anyone who's reasonably fit, as people without a great deal of walking experience we did find bits of it quite challenging, particularly in the central section which does, essentially, cross the north Pennines*; the uphill bits were OK, if slow, but getting down almost-vertical slopes was less pleasant, though the views were spectacular and there's also a lot of the Wall remaining through that section, presumably because it was too remote for people to bother carting the stone away for building as happened in a lot of the lowland bits. We'd planned an itinerary which gave us plenty of time to stop and look at the sights along the way, as well as stopping for refreshments and just to admire the view, though it turned out that our shorter days (about 9 miles) were a bit too short and the three longer days at the end (16 miles each) were almost too much for us**; I think 12 to 14 miles would probably have been perfect.

If you don't follow me elsewere on social media (in which case you'll have seen them already) you can see my photos on Instagram.

We used Sherpa Van for baggage transfers and also booked our accommodation through them (mainly B&Bs, but also a couple of pubs with rooms and, on the last night, a wigwam, which was surprisingly cosy and actually had the best shower of the trip) which made it much easier, as we then only had to carry daysacks with waterproofs and water and snacks rather than lugging absolutely everything around.

After a week and a half at walking pace it feels rather odd to be home again, and not walking, though also quite nice to have a break; my new walking boots were really comfortable, but my legs were pretty tired by the end of each day. Still, it was a brilliant holiday, and I definitely want to do more long-distance walks. I feel much more relaxed than I did before I went away, and even found myself enjoying knitting again and finishing the pair of socks I started in February. It makes me realise that the reason I seem to have stopped enjoying all the things I used to like recently is probably just because work has been taking up so much time and energy that I simply haven't had anything left for fun. However much I love my job, I really need to try to stop myself getting to that point again.

*I'm not sure I would have suggested the walk as a holiday if I'd realised it would involve walking across the Pennines, because that sounds stupendously hard, but we managed it.

**The second-to-last day was the one that felt like a real slog; by that stage we were close enough to Carlisle that there were no more remains of the Wall to see, and we just seemed to spend most of the day trudging through fields and increasingly suburban villages. It also didn't help that the pub in Crosby-on-Eden had closed and that meant that there was nowhere to stop for a drink or to go to the loo until we got to Carlisle itself. On the last day there were still no Wall remains, but we were leaving the city behind us and there was the Solway Firth and saltmarshes to add interest.
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I ended up reading rather less on holiday than I normally do, which I suppose isn't entirely surprising as mostly after spending the day tramping up hill and down dale by the evening I wasn't fit for much more than watching something undemanding on TV before falling asleep at 9pm, even we hadn't staying in B&Bs where there wasn't anywhere to sit but on the bed(s), which invariably led to lying down on the bed(s), which in turn led to sleep rather than reading; so in the end I only managed to finish the book I'd been reading before we left and read one other.

I wanted to like Nicola Griffith's Hild a lot more than I actually did. It had some brilliant moments and some clever ideas; I loved the sense of place I got from the writing, and Griffith's depiction of seventh-century Britain as a complicated melting-pot of cultures and races: Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Britons, Franks; pagans, Celto-British Christians, Roman Christians, all living, working, trading and fighting in a shifting web of alliances which felt much more real and vivid than the segregated world Rosemary Sutcliff imagines in Dawn Wind, set about fifty years earlier. I also loved the themes of spinning and weaving that run through the book, both as literal activities carried out by the novel's female characters (the ubiquity of spindle whorls at every museum I've visited lately only goes to demonstrate just how important the production of cloth was in pre-industrial societies) and as metaphors for the interconnections between the various kingdoms of Britain and the pattern of history being formed between them. I appreciated the way Griffiths was obviously trying to create a women's history in the gaps of the official records, a story of influences and intrigues rather than power and battles, and I liked that novel's emphasis on trade as the main driver of its history, rather than battles (for a long time I had a very 1066 And All That view of history as being about battles and kings and thought trade was boring, but in recent years I've come to realise that it's actually utterly fascinating, and also where the real story lies). And because I was walking through Northumberland the Northumbrian setting felt appropriate (even if I'm pretty sure that when Griffith talks about people riding along "the Redcrests' Wall" she actually means they were riding along the Stanegate, which is a couple of miles south of the Wall itself and much more suited for riding, and which goes through Corbridge and Haltwhistle which she name-checks).

Despite all this, I didn't find the plot terribly gripping; it's very slow-moving, with a string of episodes from Hild's early life interspersed with reports of events that Hild isn't actually present at. I was surprised to discover that the book's 560 pages barely get Hild to adult life; I was expecting the novel to cover her whole life, but in fact it appears that there will be at least one sequel. More than this, though, despite the thoroughly-researched historical background, I increasingly found myself feeling that, particularly in matters of personal relationships, the characters behaved with a very modern sensibility that didn't really ring true to me. Obviously, records of the time are limited and deal more with politics than personal lives, so there's a lot of scope for authorial imagination, but while it seems quite plausible that women would have had bawdy conversations among themselves the default assumption that sex would be pleasurable and the sheer amount of extramarital sex going on seemed much too modern, while the suggestion that any unwanted pregnancy could be easily dealt with by taking the right herbs struck me as downright irresponsible in an age where access to abortion is still far from universal. I was also not particularly happy with Griffiths's decision to invent a formal partnership structure between women for which there is absolutely no historical evidence and make this central to the Anglo-Saxon society she depicts; I don't think that the absence of evidence that something didn't happen is sufficient grounds for inlcluding it in a historical novel when it's something that significant. I suspect I might have been more comfortable with Hild if it was a work of historical fantasy, but as historical fiction it didn't really work for me, and I don't intend to read the sequel.

After finishing Hild, I wanted something light and entertaining and suitable for a walking holiday. John Buchan seemed to fit the bill perfectly, so I read Castle Gay, the second Dickson McCunn novel and one I hadn't read before. I liked it a lot; the McCunn novels are gentler and less full of danger and intrigue than the Richard Hannay books, and the two of the three I've read so far both start with their heroes embarking on walking holidays, which seemed appropriate. This was a mainly peril-free caper with some delightful descriptions of walking in south-west Scotland (not too far from where I was myself, just across the Solway Firth), some entertaining commentary on the role of the Press in British society (maybe things haven't actually changed that much in 80 years) and a plot about a timid, isolated rich man being redeemed by contact with nature which was rather reminiscent of a Chalet School book. All in all, great fun from start to finish.
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My mother mentioned Hunter Davies' 1974 A Walk Along the Wall to me a few weeks ago as something that might be ideal reading for someone preparing to spend their summer holiday walking the Hadrian's Wall National Trail, so I sought out a secondhand copy and read it over the weekend. It's an interesting and enjoyable read, a mix of personal travel journal, history (though I suspect that many of the archaeological details Davies recounts may have been Jossed in the 42 years since the book was published) and reportage of life along the Wall in the early 1970s. It's piqued my interest in the sights of the Wall more than just reading the guidebook managed (though I read most of it with the guidebook and maps beside me) and made me feel much keener on the prospect of the walk than I had been, though in fact what I found most interesting was the glimpse of the world I was born into, which seems unimaginably distant now: a world where the Swan Hunter shipyard was still a thriving concern, with the workers out of strike for an increase in their wage of £34 per week, where many of the farmers, landowners and government officials Davies spoke to had held their posts since before the War, which was still very much a living memory, and where the Hadrian's Wall tourist industry was very much in its infancy, with very few decent hotels and even fewer restaurants to be found. Even on the Wall itself, some things have definitely changed; Davies walked along the top of the Wall remains, where there were any extant, which is very much not allowed now, and occasionally had to pay farmers for the privilege of following the trail across their fields whereas now the whole trail is open to the public, and several features which were barely visible in his day are now fully excavated tourist attractions, although I suspect that if anything the decline of industry and agriculture and their replacement by services and tourism will only have increased the sense of isolation and suspicion of visitors and government officials expressed by some of Davies' interviewees.

It's not a perfect book; Davies doesn't have the charm of a Patrick Leigh Fermor or a Robert Byron, and I was particularly put off him by a quip about having made his wife carry the rucksack when they went hiking in their student days, except through villages for the sake of appearances. I also thought for a while that he didn't know the difference between a monogram and a monograph, but later typos make me suspect dodgy OCR in the production of the 2000 edition I had coupled with inadequate proofreading. It's a book to read for the subject-matter and not for the writing, but it was definitely a good thing to read in preparation for my own walk.
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I decided that what I needed was a comfort read, by which I don't mean fluff. I don't find fluff particularly comforting; it doesn't occupy enough of my brain to drive away the fear and anxiety. What I want in a comfort read is something engaging and entertaining, with vividly drawn characters and a plot that catches my interest. What I really wanted was another Lymond book, but having read the last one a few months ago I decided to start on Dunnett's House of Niccolo sequence instead.

Niccolo Rising is a slower burner than The Game of Kings, and Nicholas, when we first meet him as the large, clumsy, cheerful apprentice Claes, is less immediately attractive than Lymond, althogh it quickly becomes clear that there is a great deal more to him than meets the eye, and his cheerful approach to life is a nice change from Lymond's epic manpain. The large supporting cast includes a number of interesting and likeable characters (I particularly like Marian de Charetty) as well as a few interesting and definitely unlikeable ones and some who are just interesting and ambiguous. I enjoyed the setting, and having discovered a previously unsuspected fascination with trade history while reading The Ringed Castle I loved the setting and the background detail of the world of 15th-century merchants and bankers. The plot doesn't seem to twist and turn as much as the Lymond plots do, but I think that may actually be deceptive as the last fifty pages or so turn quite a lot of things on their heads.

I think the main difference to The Game of Kings is that that is a book that can stand on its own, presumably because when Dunnett wrote it she had no idea whether it could be published, let alone that it would be the start of a series, whereas by the time she came to Niccolo she was an established author, and Niccolo Rising very definitely feels like the first act of a much longer story. I'm looking forward to reading the others, in time, and I suspect that I'll like the Claes of the first book better when I know more of the later Nicholas.
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Although I have loved Garner's children's fantasy novels since I was a child, I have been slow to read his adult novels. This one is really four linked short stories, focusing on four generations of children from the same family in Garner's familiar territory of Alderley Edge, learning how they fit into the world and the community of artisans and labourers they live in. It's a short book, but beautifully written, vividly evoking the place and the life of the community.
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Rosemary Sutcliff's Dawn Wind is full of the tropes of YA postapocalyptic fiction. It opens with the 14-year-old protagonist waking up to the realisation that everyone he ever knew is dead and he is all alone in the world; later, he and a girl he meets eke out a living in the burnt-out and deserted ruins of their home city, foraging for food and having to avoid lawless bands of armed men. So far, so standard; but the difference here is that the book begins in around 680AD, and is historical fiction, not science fiction, and the world that has ended is the last relic of Romanised Britain, crushed by the Saxons in the battle that takes place just before the story begins. Somehow this was the book Station Eleven most reminded me of, and made me want to re-read. It's also a hopeful book, as Owain serves out the years first as thrall and then as trusted retainer to a Saxon family and sees the beginnings of co-operation between Saxons and the British remaining in Wales; the "dawn wind" of the title beginning to blow after the dark century when the remains of the Roman civilisation were slowly destroyed by the invaders.

Dawn Wind isn't my favourite Sutcliff; that will always be Frontier Wolf, and more generally I much prefer the novels set in Roman Britain. The Saxon Britain of Dawn Wind is a much poorer place, a land of isolated farms in clearings in the woods, each settlement much more cut off from its neighbours than the Roman towns, as the roads crumble away and groups of bandits roam the land. It's a sad book; there's a real sense of how much has been irrecoverably lost. In the light of Recent Events, I got a bit teary at this bit:

For the space of two men's lives at least, we have stood alone, we in Britain, cut off from all that Rome once stood for, from all that we thought worth dying for. And today we have joined hands with those days of the Long Wandering [...] - a light clasp yet, and easily broken, but surely it will strengthen. [...] Not the dawn as yet, [...] but I think the dawn wind stirring.


Actually, I got a bit teary at quite a few bits. It's not an easy read, but I found it very rewarding this time round; I think it's probably one of Sutcliff's less well-known books, and that's a shame, as it deserves a wider audience.
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I generally try to avoid postapocalyptic novels, on the grounds that they only tend to exacerbate the underlying fear of the end of the world that I've lived with since I was a child in the 1980s. (I didn't always avoid them; I can remember reading Children of the Dust and Z for Zachariah searching for some hope, a faith that there might actually be something on the other side, a future after the Bomb dropped. Children of the Dust is actually quite optimistic, a few generations on. Z for Zachariah, not so much.) But lots of people had told me how good Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven was, so I thought I'd take advantage of the fact that the current political situation has made me so gloomy that I don't have much room for the fear of everything falling apart, so I thought I'd give it a try.

In essence, Station Eleven tells the stories of a group of people, all loosely connected by an actor who collapsed and died onstage the night that a devastating flu pandemic began. The stories circle around that night, lives before and after the coming of the illness that wiped out almost the entire human population and brought about the collapse of modern civilisation. The book doesn't follow a linear structure, moving instead between the post-collapse future, where people live in small isolated communities in the ruins of the modern world (one of the largest communities is in an abandoned airport, where people live in tents on the airport concourse or inside planes which will never fly again), the only fragile links between them traders and a travelling band of actors and musicians who perform Shakespeare to the communities they pass through, and the mundane pre-collapse lives of jobs and relationships, marriage and divorce and friendship, global travel and instantaneous communication.

It's actually not a gloomy book. The post-collapse world is short on comfort and long on danger, and the sadness at the loss of the old world is always present, but Mandel is good at conveying the beauty of the natural world, and of the world returning to nature, as her characters move through it. There is still art, and friendship, and love, and a hope for the future. The pre-collapse world, on the other hand, is full of people communicating with each other without really saying anything, people who spend their lives doing things they hate surrounded by the bleak impersonality of cities. Like the more optimistic post-apocalyptic novels of my youth, there's a sense that maybe a return to a simpler world might be a good thing, and as far as ways of killing most of the human race go a virulent flu virus which results in death within hours of infection isn't as bad a way to go as some (we only actually see one character succumb to the virus, and it seems relatively painless). And it's beautifully written. On the other hand, I'm not sure it was the ideal book to read in an afternoon while alone in the house...
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I had very little memory of The Fifth Elephant, though I knew I had read it before. I bought it in hardback the day it was released, and I think I ended up skim-reading it and finding it disappointing, as I did with a lot of mid-period Discworld books; I missed the broad comedy of the first books, and didn't appreciate the subtler humour of what Pterry was trying to do.

It probably is still one of the weaker books, but a weaker Pratchett is still worth several of most other people. Reading it this week was an interesting experience, because it turns out to be about diplomacy and international relations, and trade agreements, and werewolves who are basically Nazis (but really, quite English Nazis - two are called Nancy and Unity), and racism (well, all the Watch books from Men At Arms on are about racism) and how to be a leader, and what happens in a society when some people want to embrace new ideas and accept people's differences and others want to stick to the old ways, and a lot of it hit very close to home. And then there was this footnote:

Vimes had once discussed the Ephebian idea of 'democracy' with Carrot, and had been rather interested in the idea that everyone had a vote until he found out that while he, Vimes, would have a vote, there was no way in the rules that anyone could prevent Nobby Nobbs from having one as well. Vimes could see the flaw there right away.


Ouch.

Rereading now, I continue to be amazed by the complexity of the Discworld books from the late 90s, and also by the incredible clarity of Pterry's reflection of humanity. I thought I was politically engaged and well-informed about current affairs, but there are so many things recognised here that I didn't become aware of until a good five or ten years later. And I wish, more than ever, that we hadn't lost him so soon, not just because the world is a much poorer place without him, but because we really need people who can see that clearly and the explain it to the rest of us.
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I bought Robert MacFarlane's Landmarks because there was a whole tableful right next to where I was queuing in Waterstones to buy a birthday card, and picked it up to read last weekend because I was looking for a book just after coming back from a seven and a half mile walk and it seemed appropriate.

It was a good book to be reading this week, as the actions of so many of my compatriots appalled and distressed me, because it reminded me of the things I actually love about my country. I'm deeply suspicious of patriotism and don't feel any more commonality with someone born five miles from me than I do with someone born on the other side of the world, but I love the landscape of Britain and I love the English language, and MacFarlane's book marries the two. It's a study of the way the English language shapes our sense of place; chapters discussing the work of particular writers are interspersed with glossaries of words describing different types of landscape; woods, mountains, moorland, coasts. I found it a fascinating, entertaining and gentle read, by and large. The glossaries are particularly delightful to read, and I found myself reading them slowly, savouring the sounds of the words; the chapters on particular authors are more variable, and I think I would have preferred a more general survey of writing about the different landscapes rather than the particular focus on individual writers. In particular, I felt that the chapter focused on John Muir, whose work led to the creation of America's first national parks, seemed out of place in a book whose focus was otherwise on British landscapes, and was deeply disappointed that a chapter entitled "Stone-books" didn't mention Alan Garner (who is actually not mentioned at all, despite being a writer whose work is absolutely steeped in place, but then most of the works discussed are non-fiction, rather than landscape in fiction). On the other hand, I particularly enjoyed the chapters about Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain, which I may have to seek out, and the one discussing the work of Peter Davidson, who was my tutor at university and who is now a member of my faculty.

I have the paperback edition, which includes an additional glossary of words sent to MacFarlane by readers following the book's original publication. I'm not sure this really adds much, especially as quite a few of the words seem to be people's personal terms rather than anything more widely used; there are a lot of terms tagged as "Childish", as if children's babble was a universal rather than an individual thing, which I have to admit I found particularly irritating, and I rather wish I'd stopped after the original postscript, despite the inclusion of some interesting additional regional words.
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Maybe I'm just a pessimist*, but I called the Leave victory as soon as it became clear that the Tories had won an overall majority and Cameron wasn't going to have to regretfully drop the commitment to a referendum as part of his coalition negotiations. So I'm not as surprised as some people seem to have been, but I have spent the last 24 and a bit hours mostly swinging wildly between the "depression" and "anger" stages of the Kubler-Ross cycle, with occasional ventures into "bargaining". I started yesterday at work by getting teary at my line manager, which was probably good as it kind of got it out of my system so I could spend most of the rest of the day trying to be calm and reasoned and a little bit optimistic in a "the next few years are going to be really tough but it isn't the end of the world" kind of way for my staff, who were all horribly distressed. Even though part of me is still really worried that actually, it is the end of the world. Acceptance is going to be some time coming, I think.

I know that I am wildly lucky in all this. I live in an affluent, fairly liberal area of the country (Tory MPs notwithstanding). I may have Anglo-Indian heritage, but I'm white enough to pass. I may be bisexual, but I'm married to a man. I don't have a disability**. I don't have children. We own our house and I have a job which allows us to afford the mortgage payments quite comfortably, working for an organisation which, as our VC's all-staff-and-students "Keep Calm and Carry On" email yesterday said, has weathered worse in its long history, and whose arcane and antiquated governance structures mean that it can't even consider redundancies for people at my grade without the majority consent of around 5,000 academics and senior administrative and library staff who are not known for their tendency to support modern employment practices. And three of T's grandparents were Irish so he can claim citizenship by descent which gives us a route out if it comes to the point where we need one. I am probably one of the most fortunate people in the country right now, but I'm still appalled and terrified about what this is going to mean for everyone else; unlike our inglorious leaders I'm not capable of thinking that if I'm OK, it doesn't matter about everyone else. It matters hugely, and I need to work out what I can do to help, either by giving time or (more likely) money.

Today I am mostly back in "anger". I'm furious with David Cameron for being such an overprivileged bastard that he never imagined that he wouldn't get his way, and leading the whole country into this just to prove a point to his party. I'm doubly furious that the only consequence he'll suffer personally is going down in history as the Worst Prime Minister Ever. He's not going to struggle to keep a roof over his head, or eat, or afford medical care. I'm furious with Boris Johnson for using the whole country as his pawn in a game where the only objective is for him to get what he wants. I'm furious with the Leave campaign for running such a hateful, dishonest campaign and with the Remain campaign for being so lacklustre it was never going to win anyone over. I'm actually less furious with Nigel Farage, though still furious enough that the sight of his face makes me want to punch the TV or computer screen, but he is what he's always been and I'm far more furious with the media and politicians who've taken him seriously and turned someone who should never have been more than a lunatic fringe candidate into an actual political force.

Still, despite having very rarely had a greater desire to get absolutely stinkingly drunk as I did last last night, I didn't have a drink. And I actually slept better last night than I have in ages (by which I mean that I woke up at 5:40 instead of 4am, but that's nearly two hours more sleep than I've been averaging!). And at some point this weekend I'm going to do the only really constructive thing I can, and email my Tory MP asking her to do what she can to make sure that the next Prime Minister is someone moderate and sensible who will try to negotiate the actual exit on the best possible terms for the country.

* That's what growing up left-wing in the South-East under Thatcher gets you; I automatically assume that any political opinion I hold must be in a tiny minority, and that I'm doomed to disappointment. Sadly, my life as an adult voter has tended not to prove me wrong (with the exception of 1997, but look how that turned out).

** While I do have mental health problems which make living my life harder than it would be without them, I'm (again) fortunate that they aren't bad enough to prevent me working, and they aren't a visible disability.
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This was the book of Madeleine L'Engle's which made the biggest impression on me when I read it as a child. I didn't remember all that much of the story itself, except that it had something to do with Welsh communities in Patagonia, but I remembered the novel tackling the idea of facing up to the possible end of everything, and I particularly remembered a character talking about living through a winter when everyone thought that nuclear armageddon would come before spring, and noticing the pussy willow each spring thereafter, made all the sweeter because once she had thought she'd never see it again. So, at the end of a week when the news has made me feel that the centre is very close to no longer holding, it seemed like a good choice for a comfort re-read.

Sadly, L'Engle doesn't quite retain the magic she had when I was younger. The spiritual aspect of the plot, clearly grounded in Christianity, didn't bother me as a child/young adult in the way that the camouflaged Christianity of the Narnia books did when I worked it out, but as an adult it felt a bit cringeworthy. Especially the sparkly unicorn. I had forgotten that there was a sparkly unicorn. It also seemed slightly implausible that all the key events and choices affecting whether the president of a South American country was a deranged warmonger or a jolly good chap should happen in exactly the same spot in present-day New England, and it wasn't at all clear how Charles Wallace's experience of the lives of the various inter-related young men and boys who had lived in that place over the years actually changed anything (though maybe L'Engle was implying that he changed it just by observing it; perhaps Branzillo is basically Schrödinger's dictator). I don't think the portrayal of Native Americans is one that would be considered in keeping with modern attitudes, and the women are all terribly passive, wives and mothers; even Meg, while still nominally the heroine, is reduced to the role of observer while everyone worries about her taking care in her pregnant condition. And as if all that wasn't bad enough, a reference to a Welsh character not knowing what a snake was left me with a nasty suspicion that L'Engle has got Wales and Ireland mixed up. I think that, basically, some childhood favourites really shouldn't be re-read.
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I bought Kari Sperring's Living With Ghosts in January; as I recall, Amazon recommended it to me while I was buying something by Ellen Kushner because I'd read a post where she cited Lymond as an influence on her, and as it sounded interesting and I'd read a couple of Sperring's LJ posts which made made me inclined to like her and want to support her work I bought it as well.

Living With Ghosts is historical fantasy, set in a city with a seventeenth or eighteenth century feel and a strong French influence, although with a rather different gender balance to the actual seventeenth century (not only is there a queen, but her chief councillors are women, and we also meet a prominent female merchant, among others, while the aristocratic men are mostly playboys) and a much more relaxed attitude to same-sex relationships. There's swashbuckling and duels, ghosts and magic, seduction and intrigue and politics. I liked Sperring's characters a lot, particularly Thiercelin and Gracielis, and Amalie the sensible merchant. I enjoyed the story, too, though I felt the plot got a little confused occasionally (of course, that may just have been me being exhausted) and the resolution seemed very sudden and, actually, rather simple after a long complicated buildup. Also, this may not have been the right week to read about rain and the disintegration of a society. Generally, though, I'd say I liked this a lot.
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Not Jane Austen's original, which I re-read last year and loved for its commonsense deflation of the conventions of Gothic melodrama and its delightfully anti-romantic romance, but Val McDermid's 2014 contemporary reworking.

I'm really not sure who thought that what Northanger Abbey really needed was a modern Edinburgh Festival AU, but I don't agree with them. McDermid's version follows the structure of Austen's novel exactly, even to the number of chapters, and the writing is a rather uncomfortable mixture of Austen pastiche and teenage slang, as "Cat" Morland tweets and texts and Facebooks away to her friends about how "totes amazeballs" the Festival is. Instead of Gothic novels, Cat's predictable obsession is Twilight and its ilk; she spends quite a bit of the novel suspecting the Tilneys of being vampires, which seems unbelievable even for an implausibly sheltered 17-year-old. McDermid explains her heroine's naivety as being down to her being the homeschooled daughter of a vicar in rural Dorset, but what seems endearing and plausible in Austen's heroine just feels ridiculous in a modern teenager. McDermid writes well, and there are some mildly entertaining moments (I did like her reimagining of John Thorpe as a boorish Oxford-graduate City boy, and his carriage as a red sports car), but all in all it just felt like a waste of time. And, to add insult to injury, instead of Austen's frank admission that Catherine fell in love with Henry Tilney, or perhaps the idea of Henry Tilney, largely because he was almost the first personable young man she'd ever met, and he ended up returning her feelings because he was so flattered by her being in love with him (which I love because it is so pragmatic and so contrary to the normal one-true-love message of romance; the world of Austen's Northanger Abbey is a world where you can feel sure that most people would be equally happy with any of a wide range of people they might happen to encounter), McDermid decides that her young people will have been attracted to each other from the moment they met, Henry just as much as Cat. Pshaw!
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Prompted by seeing the film last week, I thought maybe it was time I actually read some of Austen's juvenilia and unfinished works. Lady Susan is a short novel and is told entirely in epistolary format; the film appears to have been a pretty faithful rendering, though with a couple of additional minor characters and some extra scenes to add more background. The plot wasn't altered, though, and nor was Lady Susan's wonderfully self-centred and manipulative character which is the most memorable and enjoyable element of both; yes, she's awful, but you can't help a sneaking admiration for her sheer brazen nerve. As a book, it's fairly slight, but enjoyable none the less, and the characterisation is really impressive for a teenage writer.
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I heard of this book because the author, Shira Glassman, is one of the regular posters on the This Is What A Feminist Knits Like group on Ravelry. It's a fantasy romance, set in a Fantasy Hot Country which differs from the usual run of Fantasy Hot Countries by having a culture that is rooted in Judaism rather than Christianity or Islam-through-Western-eyes; in it, the young Queen Shulamit, elevated to the throne much earlier than anticipated after her beloved father's sudden death, embarks on a quest to find herself a girlfriend, accompanied by her woman bodyguard and a horse which can turn into a dragon.

It's a short book, which spends as much time, if not more, on developing the characters' back stories as it does on plot, and there isn't a lot of tension or even mild peril. Nevertheless, it's a very sweet book, about friendship and love and it being OK to be who you are and not have to change to fit in with other people's expectations. It's not a deep or serious book, but I found it very charming and will probably read the sequels as well.
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I read Patrick O'Brien's Master and Commander some years ago, and while I enjoyed it enough to seek out secondhand copies of the next few in the series, I didn't recall much about it except that the sailing bits were very detailed, possibly too detailed from the point of view of a confirmed landlubber like me. Still, I decided to give the next in the series a try this week, and though the sailing and action remain a bit of a blur to me I loved the relationship between the two central characters, and felt that Stephen Maturin's character in particular had developed interestingly since the first book, becoming considerably more complicated than I remembered. There's more social comedy than there is seafaring, and all in all I found it very enjoyable.