My Schedule @Worldcon75

header-1200x200WorldCon in Helsinki is coming up shockingly soon. Hope to see you there. I’m unlikely to have much time to post while I’m there, but I’m sure to be tweeting. I hope to meet up with a lot of friends I’ve not seen in a while (relatives, too!). My schedule is conveniently grouped for single day attendance (though I’m arriving Wednesday night):

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For the academic track I will be talking once again about Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (yes, when I get obsessed, I stay obsessed to adapt John Irving’s words). The title of my presentation is ‘Lollard Magician: Jonathan Strange & the Reform of English Magic’ so you can get a sense of where it’s going (assuming you know who Wycliffe is).

But I better get back to finishing it —

NYC with the QoE

Spring break has mostly been work but I did manage to make another escape to spend the day with the fabulous Stephanie down in the city. Just before another collaboration escapes on Monday, Respectable Horror, which I edited and she supplied the wonderful cover art featuring cover model Poppy. She’s not just skin and bones either!

More photos in a FB album — they’d take up too much of my storage space here — but here’s a few highlights which included stops at the NYPL, Society of Illustrators and the Met as well as fine Belgian and Thai food. Click to embiggen any of the images.

Sounds of Dundee

I’ve put up a recent field recording that I made in Dundee last month. On Peter Street just off the Murray Gate there’s a little passage way where you’ll find the Grissell Jaffray memorial, a blue plaque and pair of mosaics. She was the last witch executed in the city. I just hung out for a few minutes with my DR-40 and captured ambient sounds (and a little wind–need a better wind sock). Close your eyes and listen.

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I’ve got a new sound project coming out on Monday: you can get a preview of the Cities & Memory project here. More about it then. Yes, obsessing a bit about sound lately. So many things colliding in my mind. You’ll be hearing (!) more about medieval Scots literature, too. I just submitted a recording for a fascinating project, Soundmaps for the Dreamer at Sonoscape. And there’s more: my presentation at the Ken Russell conference will be about sound, too.

And of course I’ll be writing up my experience curating WeTheHumanities for a week. So many things — and also Respectable Horror is almost here!

FFB: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

dark-is-risingAlthough a classic I’d not read this novel before, but stumbling across it at the Oxfam Bookshop this winter, I found the combination of the title and the folk horror revival vibe in Michael Heslop’s cover irresistible. Will is the seventh son of a seventh son, which he did not know as one of his brothers died very young. He’s been born to a special task, uniting the forces of light against the darkness:

‘It is a burden,’ Merriman said. ‘Make no mistake about that. Any great gift of power or talent is a burden, and this more than any, and you will often long to be free of it.’

It’s full of history, pagan symbols and eternal struggles. The struggle of dark against light is rather simplistic as many myths are. The contempt for women is striking within the narrative: ‘typical females’ are silly. There are maiden, mother and crone for symbolic purposes, but the maiden has to be rescued by Will, the mother falls and sprains her ankle to provide emotional ammunition and the crone has to be brought back by Will as well. Not that any of the characters are especially well drawn: they’re just pegs to carry the narrative forward, and it moves at a good clip.

This sounds more negative than it is in sum. The vivid scenes of magic and myth really leap off the page. The mysterious mask, the snow that falls for days, the almost sentient fire Will discovers in the past all offer a thrill. Her poetry sings:

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.

The Wild Hunt at the end that awakens Herne is truly magnificent. We all need inspiration to fight the dark that is rising now. There’s much to inspire here.

See all the overlooked gems at Patti’s blog  make that Todd’s blog.

Reflections on Celts

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I dropped by the McManus to check out what was on and caught the Reflections on Celts exhibit which combined a few of their own treasures with borrowed items from the British Museum and the National Museums of Scotland. You can see my pictures here (along with the other two exhibits on) and read more about it here. I was unable to resist buying things in the shop but mostly kept myself to buying cards to send off to other people and a book on medieval Scotland because that is a woeful lack in my knowledge (and a potential site of new research). As you can see, Duncan’s Riders of the Sidhe has come down from the upstairs gallery to gallop through this exhibit.

Revisiting Anglo-Saxon Magic: #FolkloreThursday

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The days are just packed! So forgive me if I offer a little repeat: my first two posts for Witches & Pagans as ‘History Witch’ dealt with Anglo-Saxon traditions of magic and healing. Just the thing for the #FolkloreThursday madness.

Introduction to Anglo-Saxon Magic, Part 1

Introduction to Anglo-Saxon Magic, Part 2

Check out all my posts at W&P to find out about magical history. Or you could just buy Rook Chant (click image):

Review: Radio Girls

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Sarah-Jane Stratford

The Great War is over, and change is in the air, in this novel that brings to life the exciting days of early British radio …and one woman who finds her voice while working alongside the brilliant women and men of the BBC London, 1926.

‘If we have the sense to give [broadcasting] freedom and intelligent direction, if we save it from exploitation by vested interests of money or power, its influence may even redress the balance in favour of the individual.’

Hilda Matheson, Broadcasting (1933)

Did you know talk radio was started by a woman? Did you know she wrote a handbook for radio broadcasting in 1933? And was also an agent of MI5? And worked with Lawrence of Arabia and Lady Astor? Does it sound like too much to pack into a novel? Are you now shouting aloud, ‘Why has no one told me about this amazing woman before!’ because I certainly was. Hilda Matheson was a pioneer, a visionary, spy, writer, insightful revolutionary, lover of Vita Sackville-West — well, it’s all gilding the lily a bit. If she hadn’t existed, you’d have wanted to invent her.

In this novel Stratford does a very wise thing: she looks at Matheson through the eyes of a young Canadian-American expat whose life is transformed by working with her. In so doing she gets to use all the fun of a novel (adventure, romance, intrigue, friendships) to show the glories of the beginning of the institution that is the BBC. It was once full of women who were over time systematically driven out. As I’m also immersed in early electronic pioneers Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram, it’s easy to see how women keep getting nudged out of history by neglect because men are trumpeted for genius and women are loathed for it.

Stratford’s protagonist, Canadian-American Maisie Musgrove, is gauche and a bit overwrought at first, but this allows us to see the peculiarly British system that makes up the BBC. It’s one that has the latitude to offer opportunities to women — when everyone thinks it will fail — and then squeeze them out casually once the power of the institution becomes clear.

Musgrove’s transformation is gradual and affecting. Though desperate for a job, any job, at the start she soon comes to realise the power of sound and voice. She begins to listen to the people on the trams, the click of heels on lino, and appreciates the artistry but also the science behind the broadcasts. When an emergency requires use of the old 2LO transmitter, Hilda introduces Maisie to its intricacies and she’s captivated by its magic ‘but it wasn’t magic. It was better. This was the result of endless questions, the search for answers.’

The pace is breezy: I read two-thirds of it in one evening, but there’s a lot of history and information here too. In the lead up to the second world war, there are a lot of people who want to commandeer the power of the new medium and very real intrigues went on behind the scenes. Matheson’s determination to keep the plurality of voices represented is something, alas, the BBC seems to have lost.

I appreciated the author’s note at the end and just ordered Kate Murphy’s Behind the Wireless: An Early History of Women at the BBC which Stratford recommends. The book is out in the US too (though the cover isn’t as pretty, as usual). A very fun read that’s also chock full of interesting history.