I’m not exactly the most zealous of bloggers, so it is with a slightly shamed face that I admit I’ve been unfaithful; I’ve blogged for someone else. Still, the someone else is the excellent Penumbra magazine, and a single click, right here, will take you to my guest blog slot, where I ask the question, why are there no jokes in speculative fiction?
Now, pdfs and all the other technological and digital whizz bangs that allow files and pictures to be shared between computers and tablets and pills and potions and what not are all very well, but, believe me, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to compare with holding the first paper copy of the book you’ve spent the last three years working on in your hands.
There it is, pictures, words, the whole blessed shebang: a real, actual, frankly all-but-breathing thing! You can take your Kindles and your iPads and all the other devices that depend on moving electrons around and shove them. Give me paper, give me vellum, give me inky fingers and pages you can flick through marvelling at the pictures, the design, the way the words sit upon the page.
Two years ago this month, my then six-year-old son lost his best friend. Uchenna and his family had gone to Hawaii on what really was a dream holiday if you live in a grey, autumnal London, but while there, Uchenna – always a live wire fizzing with energy – slipped away. He was found, drowned in one of the hotel’s pools.
At his funeral, Uchenna’s mother read out this prayer:
Uchenna My Son
Who would have thought I’d stand here to say your days on this earth are done?
Uchenna my bright shining Star
So near in my heart, but now you must shine from afar
Ever playful, ever joyful, my Uche Boy
A true big brother,
Always most likely to give up your favourite toy
Gone but never forgotten
You’ll always shine on my son
You were heaven sent; a special one.
Now it’s time for us to say a fond farewell
Until we meet again in his kingdom where we all shall dwell
I’ll miss you, I love you
Uchenna My Son.If I could turn back the hands of time,
You’d be right here tightly in these arms of mine,
But it is not so and we must all accept
That a greater being than I has a purpose for you now
I know not where, or when or how
But I trust all will be revealed on that final day
When I will see you again and most surely say
I missed you, I love you
Uchenna, My Son.
In the two years since Uchenna’s death, his parents have displayed quite extraordinary faith and forbearance. Now, to help others who have suffered the loss of a child, Chioma (Uchenna’s mother) has set up a You Tube channel with her testimony to life after loss. You can see it here.
And there is a Facebook page for families who are grieving for lost children, here.
The good people at This Is Northumberland (www.thisisnorthumberland.com) are running a competition in which the prize is no less than a free copy of my very own Northumbria: The Lost Kingdom. So, if you want to diddle your dedicated author out of his hard-earned and frankly rather low royalties, get along to the site, enter your details and cross your fingers, that this time it’s you!
The wave of urban fantasy novels that began in the ’90s (‘Neverwhere’) and went into overdrive in the 2000s (twinkly vampires in suburban America) appears to be a move into the mainstream for magic realism. Rather than levitating nuns in exotic South American destinations, we now have policemen using magic and personified river goddesses in London (Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series).
It might seem strange, for a modern city can be the most prosaic of environments, but a slight change of perception reveals that wonder and mystery lies all around. A woman sitting on a wooden chair on the platform at King’s Cross tube station (District Line) was one of the strangest things I have ever seen. Walking home one evening, down a quiet suburban street where no one moved and life continued behind doors and windows, I realised that it would be no surprise to walk out of this world entirely.
The new urban fantasy novels show an inchoate sense that there is wonder all around, and that it might break in on our ordered, sensible lives at any time, with unpredictable, possibly disastrous but never dull consequences. It’s only a matter of time before someone reports seeing a unicorn in Kensal Rise, or dwarves in Dulwich.
Now, as you may know (and if you don’t, I’ll need to make my self-advertisement even more blatant), my ebook on Tolkien, Professor Tolkien of Oxford, has just come out, and my old-fashioned paper book on the history and archaeology of Northumbria: The Lost Kingdom is out 1 October. What I had not known before is that other eyes than mine have seen the connection between the two. When places are touted as the inspiration for Middle-earth, the areas around Birmingham where Tolkien grew up (which were then bucolic expanses of greenery rather than suburbs) usually win out. But, it turns out, and this will not be a surprise to visitors, Northumberland fits better today. For the poster for The Hobbit features Gandalf striding across the Shire, but the backdrop is Northumberland. The ruined castle to the right of centre is Edlingham Castle. The hills are the Simonside Hills, according to folklore the home of dwarves, the duergar, who lead travellers astray.