Tales of the Civil War — out now

Tales of the Civil War, another City of the Saved anthology, is available to buy now and shipping in physical form now-or-very-shortly! It’s edited by Philip Purser-Hallard and contains stories by Kara Dennison, Kelly Hale, Louise Dennis, Helen Angove, Selina Lock, and me.

Book cover, text "The City of the Saved", "Tales of the Civil War", "Edited by Philip Purser-Hallard". Behind the text a comic-style drawing of various people supporting/grabbing/fighting over a flag.
Cover art by Blair Bidmead

For a taster, try Kara Dennison reading part of her story, ‘The Tale of Sir Hedwyn’.

My copy hasn’t come through yet but I am greatly looking forward to everyone’s stories.

Tales of the Civil War announcement

Forthcoming later this year: another City of the Saved anthology from Obverse Books, Tales Of The Civil War. Featuring a story from me, alongside other excellent people:

“War has come to the City of the Saved. Once immune from harm, the resurrected Citizens of the universe find themselves once again most terribly fragile – and just as in the universe, too many of them now strive to take advantage of the fact.
In this unfamiliar City, the resurrected must revive the long-forgotten skills of their original lives. Knights, courtiers, detectives, killers, nurses, adventurers, spies: the afterlives of all will be irrevocably changed by the Civil War.
“These are their tales.
Contents:
* *The Tale of Sir Hedwyn* by Kara Dennison
* *The Age of Meeting Ourselves Again* by Kelly Hale
* *The Queen of Clubs* by Louise Sellers
* *To Die by the Sword* by Helen Angove
* *Just Passing Through* by Juliet Kemp
* *Angels on a Hoverbike* by Selina Lock
* *Interlude from a Civil War* by Philip Purser-Hallard”

Mancunicon 2016 — book recs

Note: these are not books that I am recommending personally, because I haven’t read any of them yet. They are instead books that other people at the con talked about sufficiently enthusiastically that I now want to read them. Some of them are on my (now much larger) to-read pile, either in dead tree form or electronically; some aren’t yet.

First up: two people I know had book launch parties at the con! David L. Clements released his collection of short stories, ‘Disturbed Universes’ (from NewCon Press); and Siobhan McVeigh has a story in the collection ‘Existence is Elsewhere’ from Elsewhen Press (scroll right down for buying options). I heard various of the authors reading extracts from their stories in this book at the launch and they all sounded great.

The rest of my recs are from the Feminist Fantasy panel:

  • Jo Walton ‘Lifelode’ (annoyingly, it seems to be out of print, and expensive second-hand)
  • The Chinese myth series Dream of Red Mansions
  • Elizabeth Gouge (note that not all of her books are fantasy)
  • Octavia Butler ‘The Wild Sea’
  • Someone mentioned the Green Knowe series of children’s books, which are sort-of historical fantasy. I read them as a child (a long time ago now) but am now minded to have a look for them the next time I’m in the library and see how they’ve held up.
  • Tanith Lee
  • Lois McMaster Bujold ‘Paladin of Souls’ — I have read this one and it is GREAT. Very strongly recommended.
  • Kate Elliott — both fiction and non-fiction. (Just looked at her post about her own books/series and am now wondering how I missed all of this for this long. Looks great!)
  • Mary Stewart — Merlin trilogy
  • Andre Norton ‘Year of the Unicorn’. (I should probably have read this already…) (but I haven’t, so.)

To enlarge your (my) reading list further, E. G. Cosh (who was on a panel with me and is v cool) has a recs post too.

LonCon3

A fortnight ago I went to LonCon3 – not just my first Worldcon, but my first SFF con of any sort. Given that they were holding it about 20 min tube/DLR ride from me, in ExCel, it would have seemed churlish to skip it. 

There were a lot of panels. A LOT of panels. And I went to quite a few of them. I found myself ducking out of this one 15 min early so I could have a quick break / snack before dashing back for the next slot. It reminded me of when I first went to music festivals (20-odd years ago now) where I would pore over the programme planning how if I left *this* then and dashed over here I could catch half an hr of *that* on the way to *the other*… Another time I might endeavour to take it a little easier and give myself more time for everything else. (I entirely missed the Art Show, for example.)

Having said that, I enjoyed nearly everything I went to, and could happily go back and start over with a whole different set of things. (I missed most of the science track, for example). I have many pages of notes I am not about to type out, but a couple of panels particularly stuck in my mind afterwards (ie came to mind without checking said notes while writing this).
— Race and British SF: a really interesting discussion about who is writing what, where, and why, which left me with a much longer to-read list. 
— Ideology vs Politics in SF: the premise was that ideology (noble ideas) shows up in SF more often than politics (the grubby business of hammering out solutions), probably because the former is in general more interesting to write/read. Lots of discussion about the value of both about writers who do tackle politics, and about the radicalism of imagining a political alternative. 

There was also one talk (on worldbuilding) I left after getting too annoyed by the panelist who invariably referred to a hypothetical character as “he”. A shame as there was good stuff from the other panelists, but it was just too irritating. I cheered myself by getting some dal for a late lunch. 

I saw “kaffeeklatsch” repeatedly on the programme with no explanation, then when I established what it was, was too shy to sign up. Then I found myself sitting next to Stephanie Saulter (author of the excellent novels Gemsigns and Binary, about which I was most enthusiastic at her) at another panel. She mentioned her kaffeeklatsch, which gave me the courage to sign up. I’m glad I did – it was a lovely hour, and I also got to meet and chat to Anne Charnock (whose novel A Calculated Life I have since read and enjoyed), Cindy of Draumr Kopa review blog, and someone from Birmingham SF group whose name now escapes me (oops). Buoyed by this I also went to Teresa and Patrick Neilsen Hayden’s one, which was interesting if less chatty. 

Despite my extensive panel attendance, I also managed to do a bit of socialising with people I didn’t know at all, and thus award myself a Big Gold Social Person Star. (I had a drink with a couple of folk I did know, too, but that is less challenging because I already know that they’re nice.) The fan village in many ways was great from a social point of view – lots of opportunity for mingling – but it was also very noisy (and echoey, being as how this was ExCel and therefore it was inside a big concrete box) which made life harder. I left one thing because I just couldn’t hear anyone, which did nothing for my intermittent social anxiety. 

Sunday I missed most of everything that didn’t involve hanging around in the fan village, as Leon came along for the day. He was delighted with his badge and First Worldcon ribbon and very enthusiastic about running round the ‘village green’ with a hula hoop. He is, however, still not panel-compatible. I went home with him and D at dinner time rather than staying for the Hugos. I was a little sorry, but following it on Twitter over pizza and a glass of wine at home was still pretty exciting, and also involved pizza. A very pleasing set of results. 

(Given how Sunday panned out and that I would have had L with me on Monday too, I somewhat reluctantly stayed home on Monday and missed the final day, bah.)

Brilliant weekend, if exhausting. I would go again like a shot if it ever comes back to Europe. And after over 20 years of being a fan of sorts but never going to a con, I am now signed up for both Eastercon and 9 Worlds next year and greatly looking forward to both. 

Permaculture Parenting in Juno

I wrote a piece on applying Holmgren’s 12 Principles of Permaculture to parenting for the current issue of Juno, now out online and in shops.

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Other things in this issue include an interview with Shelia Kitzinger; an extended feature on home education; Sarah Ockwell-Smith discussing bed-sharing myths; Talking Point on organic cotton; a mum sharing her positive experience of elimination communication; ideas for free outdoor activities for Spring; eco-holiday recommendations; encouragement to become a Flexitarian and simple gardening inspiration. I’ve just finished my copy and thoroughly enjoyed it; it’s all worth a read.

Forest Garden update

My forest garden is really more of a forest fence, but nevertheless, over the winter I have started planting up. At a workshop recently someone mentioned that you should try to get a photo from the same place once or twice a year as your garden develops, so here is my first one:

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Very far right, in shade, is a blackcurrant bush with some daffodils by it, and to the left of that, a space where I will plant tomatoes in pots again this year as they did very well last year. (Not really part of the ‘forest’.)

In the bed right of middle, I’ve planted a fig tree against the fence, in a paving-slab box. There’s some volunteer parsley in that bed too, and some ground cover strawberries. I’m planning to plant some fennel, chard, and perhaps Good King Henry in there later this month as a herbaceous layer; and probably some rocket will show up as it does everywhere else. I may well train the fig against the fence, which is a bit against the forest garden theory but more practical in this tiny space.

The left-hand bed has a grape vine, which I will train up the fence and over to the left. There’s also a Daubenton’s Kale (looking a bit toppled-over; it seems taller than the one I have had before but we’ll see how it does), some chard and rocket, and I’ve moved my thyme in there. I’m considering moving some of the other perennial herbs in there too.

Then looking left again there are the herb pots; and since taking that photo earlier in the week, I’ve moved the mini greenhouse again so it too is against the fence. I planted a dwarf cherry tree in a pot against the fence at the other side, and an autumn olive at the shady end of the garden, so there are lots of things to keep an eye on this year. I’ll take another photo like this in late summer to see how it’s all looking.

Emergency Squash Cloche!

Somewhat to my surprise, my volunteer squash has actually produced a couple of baby squashes. (It turns out that it’s a butternut squash. Hurrah!) But as we head conclusively into autumn, there isn’t enough warm weather left for them to grow to a decent size, let alone to ripen.

Tiny butternut squash, still green, on compost
Really very small indeed

Apparently you can use unripe winter squashes (like butternut) in much the same way you use summer squashes (like courgettes), so I anticipate experimenting with Butternut Courgette in the near future. I’d still like them to get a little bigger first, though, so I raided the pile of bamboo poles, and the big stash of bubble-wrap in the garage, to construct an Emergency Squash Cloche:

Raised bed covered with bubble wrap hung on bamboo pole frame
Not the most attractive thing, but hopefully functional

I’m not sure if it’ll work, but it was free and took only 15 or 20 minutes to set up and tie together. It’s not a good long-term cloche, either, as it’s hard to get in under it, but it’ll do for the next couple of weeks to see what happens. My main problem at this point is preventing Leon from pulling it down in order to pop all the bubbles.

The Garden Project: 2013 analysis

As part of the ongoing maintenance of the permaculture design for my back garden, I made a list of the issues highlighted in my successes and problems posts:

  • Lack of time for maintenance; this led to no blueberry fruit (lack of netting and fertiliser) and a poor strawberry harvest (lack of watering).
  • Lack of time? inclination? for harvesting.
  • Snails eating seedlings (and the grape vine).
  • Some under-utilised space.
  • More of an observation than an issue: the things that have done best are the things which require the least input, and are the least vulnerable. (eg tomatoes, which largely look after themselves once the seedlings are robust enough to go outside, especially with the self-watering containers.)

After thinking about it for a few days, I concluded that the maintenance and harvesting problems actually break down into three factors:

  1. Real actual lack of time.
  2. Not spending enough time out in the garden. (“The best fertiliser is the gardener’s shadow”). This is largely because it is so very hot out there in good weather.
  3. Watering is a big faff: the watering can is slow to fill from the butt, and heavy to fill from the tap, and one watering can isn’t much for a whole garden.

I took a look at the permaculture principles while thinking about designing a solution. (The whole design maintenance process is about principle 4, “Accept self-regulation and feedback”.) (Italics are conclusions or things I need to add to my to-do list.)

Living with the snails

My very first conclusion was that however many solutions there are to snail and slug problems, my preferred solution was to learn to live together with the snails. (Principle 1, “Observe and interact; beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”) As a vegan, I can’t really justify killing the snails, who are after all only trying to feed themselves, the same way I am. Observing the plants that struggled, the ones most at risk are small annual seedlings (carrots and turnips, courgette, basil), and that grape vine. This suggests a multi-layer approach (principle 10: “Use and value diversity”):

  • Just give up growing carrots and turnips. They’re not a great crop for a small space, I’ve always struggled to germinate carrots, and I’ve never been that impressed by the taste of my home-grown ones.
  • Work on getting plants big enough to resist snail attacks. That means protecting my annual seedlings (bean, courgette, basil) better (starting in the already planned mini-greenhouse, perhaps also using copper tape for the basil pot), and planting more perennial veg, which are better able to resist attack.
  • For the grape vine, which I really want to try again: a mechanical solution. An anti-snail fence did seem to work this year, but the plant was already too damaged. Next year I can use it from the start.

Lack of time, and lack of time in the garden

My next problem was the lack of time, combined with the lack of time spent in the garden. The obvious solution to a lack of time is to grow plants that need less attention, which broadly speaking again points to perennials. (Snail-resistant and easier to grow! Principle 5: “Use and value renewable resources and services”.) A second solution is to plan what maintenance I do need (eg checking the soil pH of the blueberries, fertilising fruit trees) a bit better over the winter, ready for summer. (Principle 2: “Catch and store energy”; that is, use my winter energy to better direct my summer energy.) Making comfrey and nettle tea is also on my agenda.

The lack of time in the garden is strongly related to our excessively warm south-facing patio. We have a patio umbrella, but it doesn’t provide much shade, and it doesn’t shade the wall of the house which then radiates heat back out. It’s actually a difficult space to shade, because it is so very south-facing! One solution might be an awning with a ‘curtain’ falling a couple of feet around it. However, my preferred solution is another grape vine, trained over the patio. This will produce a grape crop, provide all-day shading for the house wall, and the transpiration of the green leaves will cool the space under them. I thought we would need a pergola for this (difficult to install on our concrete patio), but in fact installing strong wires should do the trick at least initially. (Principle 9: “Use small and slow solutions”, principle 3: “Obtain a yield” (of both shade and grapes!), principle 2: “Catch and store energy” (grapes store sun energy), and principle 8: “Integrate rather than segregate” (two functions, one solution).

There were other awkwardnesses in the patio space which I’ve already fixed and which are already meaning I spend more time out there and water a bit more, as the weather cools:

  1. The table and chairs are an awkward shape for the space — the table is too big and the chairs are in the way. However, it turns out that the chairs hang quite neatly on the otherwise-unused tall patio fence, which meant I could move the table out. It’s now much easier to navigate.
  2. Leon’s paddling pool was similarly awkwardly sized. Ebay provided a smaller, easier to manage second-hand pool.

Watering and harvesting

I’m currently working on watering and wicking solutions to make watering required less often, and easier when it is required. I’d like something in all the annual beds and anywhere else (eg the blueberry and cherry pots) it’s needed. I also need to add a longer hose to the tap for when I need to use that, to make the watering can easier to fill.

The planned perennial beds, with full ground cover, will also help retain moisture in the earth, as will adding more compost as it becomes available. I’m going to abandon the strawberry tower which doesn’t work at all well, and use the strawberries as perennial ground cover.

Harvesting: we don’t use as much rocket as we have; but as a self-seeded low-maintenance plant which gets eaten sometimes and is nice to nibble on while gardening, I’m happy to just let it keep on keeping on. I’m going to stop planting annual lettuce, but might plant a salad-type perennial leaf (low-maintenance, available if wanted).

I am going to put sticky notes on the herb jars which are for things we have outside, to remind cooks that the fresh herbs are there!

Under-utilised space

Finally, in terms of under-utilised space (principle 6: “Produce no waste”), a handful of different solutions:

  • Two small and slow solutions (principle 9): a cherry tree to replace the satsuma in the big pot (principle 3: “Obtain a yield”), and a couple of raspberry canes to go into the wild east border. The raspberries should need little maintenance once established, the cherry might need netting once it starts bearing fruit. It will also help shade the patio a little.
  • A mini-greenhouse for the sunny south wall by the door. (Principle 2: “Catch and store energy”). As above, this will also provide a safe place for seedlings to grow big enough to resist snails.
  • Perennial plants in both west beds, using forest-garden-style stacking underneath tall plants against the sunny fence. (Principle 11: “Use edges and value the marginal”.) This also, as above, helps to solve the watering, time, and snails problems.
  • Moving some of the herbs (thyme and oregano, most notably) into the north-east raised bed next to the herb garden, where I think they will do better and will also act as ground cover. This is really part of the perennial bed planting and reduces my outlay on new plants in favour of ones we use.
  • An autumn olive in the far south-west corner, above the rhubarb, for fruit, beautiful berries, and nitrogen-fixing. (Principle 11: “Use edges and value the marginal”, and principle 8: “Integrate rather than segregate”.)

Overall…

Generally, my aim is to set things up so that, as much as possible, they manage themselves. It’s going to require a certain amount of work over the winter to set things up, and over the first year or two to help them get going, but in the long run this should significantly improve the way the garden works, heading towards the “harvesting as maintenance” goal.

The big part of the plan is forest-garden style planting in the two western raised beds. I’ve worked out my plan for that and will write about it in my next post.