Thursday, 21 October 2010

"We Are Not Your Lords in a Mirror."

Finished the chapter of the Langdalehead uprising in Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland. Man, this draft is rough. There's one stand-out visionary scene that sank like hot nickel-iron towards the centre, where I discovered what Fiery Younger Sister is really all about, and what is going to happen with her at the arc's climax. The rest has been writhing like a handful of squid as I write it: bluff and manoeuvre everywhere, and a phoney war which nonetheless is genuinely capable of swallowing all concerned down into the grave if anything about it goes wrong. Of course, the nature of war being what it is... can everything go right? Yeah, sure!

Curiously for such a mediaevaloid setting, the single resource I've found most useful in planning Luke's strategy is something the US Marines went and told me.

I suspect that the diplomatic side - which will take centre stage in the severely tricky chapter to follow, where all my knots draw to their tightest - is going to require a lot of polishing of these shenanigans on the second pass. I am not yet convinced that the form in which the Cunning Plan leaves this chapter is going to convince anybody but me. There's been a lot of... improvisation... as my heroes dodge obstacles and seize opportunities I've only just noticed. Won't know most of what must stay or go until the Rising's done and dusted, the first time around.

The fundamental issue that's been riding me more and more with this chapter is one of the old themes of this whole story. It's about a profoundly necessary revolution, sponsored by somebody with no least illusions about the disastrous nature of that particular enterprise. It's reconciling the need to run a 'good' revolution against a full-on, no-quotes evil aristocratic regime, with the brute fact that the oppressed peasants are pretty well as systemically evil - or otherwise - as their 'class oppressors'. If I wanted to be really mean to my Fairfields good-guys, I could accuse them of trying to wage War for Peace, or on Terror, or one of those jobs like that. Granted they mostly don't suffer either the screaming hubris or bloody-handed cynicism that usually goes with such crusades, they surely have the same contradiction between means and ends. And they've a very real, very personal sort of devil rustling her wings together in the shadows, knowing she's due to collect her house percentage whether they flare or gutter.

Their true and secret game is to beat the dealer. From a distance, this looked like a violent and convoluted, but ultimately solid scam. Up close - Solid? Hah!

I so, so don't want this to end up as either the old story where the good guys are okay by fiat, nor yet the depressing would-be modern kind where everything gets sucked down into one flat grey moral quicksand. My chief characters were, I thought, pretty much proof against both faults all by themselves. It now turns out that there is a lot more devil in the detail than was evident before I started getting my own hands dirty in earnest.

And out of said detail, I can hear her laughing at me.

But as the Kateverse's maker, I still reckon I'm qualified to laugh later and louder. Since I'm only its maker, though, and nothing more inhumanly exalted...

...the last hands are still to play...

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

"Why Did You Come Too Late?"

Another chapter of Killer-Kate finished. Now the story returns to the Dales with a vengeance, and every character and their pet aardvark is finding tactical flaws in my plans and charging through them. And the Rising's barely even started yet!

The heart of this chapter is in Clover Clough, an attractive but not very fertile little limestone dale whose trefoil streams divide the great hills of Bulkefell and Hareborough. If you have the unspeakable misfortune to be reborn as a Northdales peasant, the Clough for all its hardscrabble inhospitality is probably the place to pick for it. Its lords are marginal aristocrats and fair-minded unpretentious paternalists, who have noted that if you want to cut your coat according to your cloth, it helps to be on frank and free terms with tailors. Their latest generation has set the record, with the younger son marrying a fairly remarkable woman who was essentially an upper servant (not his own). That is all part of the great elided story between the two halves of my diptych, and hardly comes explicitly into this tale at all. But it did point me rather clearly to the road my first Fairfields embassy would take into Allingdale. More is coming of that than I expected:

"He wielded sudden summer and he surfed the ocean skies:
He dived and broke his head upon a pair of icy eyes.
He swept a bow and from his sleeve he whisked the compass rose -
She cut it off with silence and her little penknife nose..."

Not very good, perhaps (as Bilbo might say), but to the point. Here I really meet for the first time somebody who began as a plot person with one crucial and heroically cynical line. She is still only a minor character, but were this story told from another angle, she might be as good a protagonist as Katy Elflocks herself. I don't know how many people could bear to read that tale - and I know I couldn't bear to write it - yet, even so. One of my secondary characters may owe his entire survival through the Great Speckled Redraft to the way that he's now met her.

As to this story... her advent really brings home what I was groping at in that earlier post. The Deed of Katy Elflocks is ultimately an ironical fairy-tale: Katy does great things, eventually because somebody needs to do them and she is the only one with the heart or sense to clean up after the hopeless Great Folk - but it's the failures who get something very much like what they thought they wanted, after learning the 'lessons' they were best disposed to draw from the affair. I think, and Katy certainly thought, that what she found was infinitely better. But...

...Killer-Kate is all about the ashes of the happy-ever-afters people thought they wanted, and what wonders might yet rise from them. It's also about the downtrodden masses who not only didn't get to be the Magical Princess, they didn't get to be fairy godmothers or even common guests at the ball either. All they got was dreams of hot iron shoes. Some of them looked for better than that.

Some of those are still limping from the hot iron shoes their betters rammed on them for their presumption. The sharper of them have not forgotten how it was also their own peers who held them down for it. Nor have they missed the 'Good Witch's' abject failure to aid those small folk whom her burgeoning legend lured to ruin or madness.

Part of what I'm coming to grips with here is how that, too, is part of the legacy of What Katy Did - every bit as much as the kindly counter-Utopia of Fairfields. Justice in some sort is coming, because this is still a fairy-story at heart, and because at the last bones-roll I can't write a story in which it is not. But if Katy's followers will judge, then judgement by their own lights they must abide.

Nor can even I prejudge that, or else dull lies must come of it.

The rumour runs wild through the Dales that at last, Good Katy Comes.

And now somebody at least as smart as I am - and a much braver mensch into the bargain - limps forward to make the case that it couldn't possibly matter.

Diplomacy next, and elsewhere the positive uses of what nobody sane wants to be saddled with: a war limited only on their own side. But inasfar as you get to choose the limits, sometimes there can be possibilities...

Friday, 8 October 2010

These Songs Are Our Songs

Via Boing Boing, I learn that Woody Guthrie in the early 1940s was in the habit of using possibly the best copyright notice ever:

"This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright # 154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do."

- Found by Joel Blain in Woody Guthrie: A Life, by Joe Klein.

This masterpiece returned to public attention, and thence by courier snail ultimately to mine, in 2004, when the bottom-feeding corporation which then claimed the necromantically reanimated 'rights' to This Land Is Your Land unsuccessfully used them to try and suppress a parody poking scattershot fun at the political establishment of the day.

Who certainly have no vested interest in conjuring a ceaseless stream of new 'intellectual property rights' for their friends and bankrollers out of blue ether. Nope, they're just looking after the humble author's title to his own natural creation!

Ain't they, Woody?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Roger Rock Candy

Luilekkerland, that is to say Cockaigne, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567 - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
This is a not very nice Kateverse folksong about a not very nice person. It's from Alland, about eighteen years after Katy Elflocks and twelve before Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland. Aren't millennarian insurgencies just peachy?


Roger Jackson got good drunk,
Dreamed as the Good Witch shared his bunk.
Said as she gave him an ashwand sword,
And bade him slay both priest and lord.

Hey, hey, Roger Rock!
"Pig wrapped up in a damsel’s frock!"
That’s how you named him, bold Sir Hugh -
Roger Hog was the bane of you!

Took to the hills with his hungry men,
Took all the lords stole, back again.
Wound about with Amend-All's charms,
He took no hurt from mortal arms.

Hey, hey, Roger Rock!
"Vaunting shriek of a dunghill cock!"
That’s how you scorned him, Lady Jane -
Roger Cock made you shriek again!

Knights charged forth, no foe did find.
Spies slunk out, doom struck them blind.
Rodge Rock Candy banged the drum,
And swore if we followed, Witch would come.

Hey, hey, Roger Rock!
"Rotted fruit of a gallows stock!"
That's all you drad him, Eaton Town -
Roger Rot plucked your dead sons down!

We broke and ran at Blaxton Neck
And all the Witch's boons did wreck.
The knights rode down our Roger brave.
Their curs to kennels home they drave.

When Roger Rock by Katy's kiss
Is raised from death to lively bliss,
The Dales-boys all shall fight like men,
And gentry heads we’ll reap again!

Hey, hey, Roger Rock!
"Come home soon, 'cause it's late o' the clock!"
We'll follow when thou bang'st the drum -
To Candy Country march us home!

In the 'real' Kateverse, Roger Jackson was turned out of doors by his lord for idleness and brawling. After some obscure months of tramping, he reappeared claiming to have been chosen by the Good Witch Katy Deathkiller as her lover and prophet, and sent back from her Sugar-Loaf Country to deliver his comrades from their false masters' oppression.

Fiery and infused with a new and wonderful eloquence, he swiftly rose to head a band of fellow-outlaws, and won fame by killing the unpopular and arrogant Sir Hugh de Beazle, staff against sword. With each success his following and his claims grew, and as 'Roger Rock Candy' he became a sort of evil Robin Hood figure to the downtrodden peasants of mid-Regency Allingdale. At last he came to lead a general uprising by the many disaffected of Lower Alland, raiding manors at will from his fastness in the broken and unprofitable country between Haresborough and Fenny Side. 'Lady Jane' seems to be a fictional figure, and none of the high nobility ever fell into his power - but the character and conduct of Roger and his rabble were by all accounts just like that.

When the free town of Eaton refused to join his crusade, he took it, burned it, and slaughtered all the burghal families, as well as every male over twelve who had not joined him. But now Roger had too large a force either to hide or to well control, and earned many mortal enemies among the commons by his massacre. Pursued by Lord Dunstan Hammerfell's heavy cavalry from the north, and menaced by a strong combined force mustering at nearby Wark under the able Sir Raymond Ridout, he rallied his folk by the promise that Good Katy herself would join them if they dared to meet the knights openly in her name.

So inflamed, the rebels cut off Lord Dunstan at the pass of Blaxton Neck - an excellent move, had they not shattered at the knights' first charge. Good Katy conspicuously failed to prevent Roger's ignominious slaughter, and a detachment of light horse and woodsmen sent in a surprise flanking manoeuvre by Sir Raymond made bloody hash of his fleeing followers. The entire rebellion lasted one summer, and had no lasting effect except to impoverish the rich lands of Leadale and to increase the general level of class hatred and oppression.

Naturally, Alland is full of people who want nothing better than for Roger to come back and do them even better next time. Needless to say, had Katy Elflocks ever really met him, she would have loathed him far more even than she loathed her personal aristocratic back-monkey, the Golden Margravine of Alland.

Only the faintest trace of this is likely to appear in the actual story, but this is the kind of crap my good guys have to work with. I could almost feel sorry for them, sometimes!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Attacked by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, photographed 1859 by Macaire Havre, engraving by T O Barlow 1871 - public domain, via Josette at Wikimedia Commons

A Diet of Lizzie

How have I loved you? Let me taste your ways:
First tender, fresh like chicken (I was chicken too
Until you made me answer!); sweet like cake;
And hot as chilli pepper, all in turn.
Then course on course of wedding-banquet, capped
With Extra Cheese and corn; and honeyed moons
And moons of sundaes, till our palates cloyed.
Next, bread and butter, beer and Ploughman’s years
And hot sweet tea like kisses, cockshut time,
And kisses too, like blood-flushed vintage wine.
And last: tough, gamy, strong as good jugged hare,
And salt and full of pepper – so I loved you best!
Now one more course, and here’s my heart to eat,
For there you go, served up as broken meats.

Oh, I could count our ways! – But who’s to care?
They all add up to Blot, now you’re not there.
My tongue is shrivelled and my lips are dry.
My eyes scooped out, or something there should cry.
Our feasting-days have come to one last crust –
I’ll taste you when it’s time to bite the dust.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Felicity, Indeed

Last night I dreamed a dream and thought it true. Now, when an Englishman of a certain age happens to dream about Felicity Kendal, he generally ought to count himself lucky and shut up about it. Alas - and despite there being quite a lot of impropriety in the backstory - none of it was onstage, or with me, and it was not that kind of dream at all.

The basic conceit of the dream appeared to be that Kendal's characters in The Good Life and Rosemary and Thyme are in fact one and the same person, at different stages of her life, the latter being a self-reinvention after the catastrophic failure of her first marriage. This was mostly Margo Leadbetter's fault, and of course my fabulator decided to dramatize not the mildly kinky comedy-slashfic episode implied, but its lasting emotional fallout many years later. Played absolutely straight. I wonder about my Muse, sometimes.

So, you pointedly refrain from asking, just what did I and the fair Rosemary spend this dream doing? I will tell you. We spent most of it trying to rescue my maternal grandmother (here alive, but about eighty and desperately infirm) from the high-tech Villain Compound of a vile and brutal SFnal dictator. We never ran into the Big Bad himself, nor did I know nor care about his name; but supremely unreliable sources have since dropped me a heavy hint.

We went in as sneakily as we could, but inevitably got involved in enough unarmed action heroics that both Ms Kendal and I will certainly have to resort to the services of stunt doubles in the forthcoming blockbuster movie. At some point we became separated, and I never did ascertain whether Rosemary made it out. I managed to break out with Nan, and to get her to a hospital - where the docs also detained me, since I had incurred rather a lot of damage along the way. The end of the dream was devoted to bluffing and dodging searching stormtroopers, whilst waiting for medicines, test results, and emergency surgery. In this phase I also contrived narrowly to avoid being eaten by a big shark, though precisely how this became an issue in a hospital A&E department is now strangely opaque to me.

This morning I am ever so much tireder than I was when I went to bed last night. And yes, it is because I spent most of the night dreaming about adventures with Felicity Kendal. I would not previously have expected that total experience so closely to resemble that of dreaming about being shot to shit by the Governator!

However, at least I did unearth a good Goat Quote, during what passes for my research when perpetrating posts such as this. Interviewed about her rôle in Mrs Warren's Profession by the Independent's Rhiannon Harries, Kendal makes this timely observation:

"...the classics are the classics because human nature does not change. The emotions are the same – love, loss, jealousy, greed. We haven't invented a new emotion.

"But what we don't have a lot of these days is the acceptance. It's all 'Look – baddy! Baddy broke the rules!' My question is, maybe we have to change the rules, because at the moment it doesn't seem like there are enough people able not to break the rules. And if people think that it's only the wealthy or famous, I really think we have no hope."

Very true. It's not just the way the state sets up more rules than I like - it's also the prevailing tone of shrill, frivolous, and hollow-hearted legalism across so much of our culture, which sets up the foundation upon which our evil overlords' high-tech Villain Compounds must rise, or else sink ignominiously into the clay. Zero Tolerance. That Is Not Considered Appropriate. He Broke The Rules, End Of. She Must Be Accountable For Her Example. Love It Or Leave It. Obey Or Die...

Here is another rule, for those whose entire business model does not depend on maximizing the rattling of empty vessels. An honest gentleman faced with the same urgent question as Kendal once resolved it thusly:

He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. (John 8:7, King James Version.)

And who better than Kendal to highlight how that peaceable ridgeway, and not the stony slide downwards, is the only path with any hope of leading through a Good Life?

Friday, 1 October 2010

A Very Sanguine Maxim

Carmilla Karnstein pre-emptively strikes to save Laura from the lustful Turk, or whoever.  David Henry Friston (1872), via Wikimedia Commons - public domainThe whole world knows that I am very far from being its bravest man. But over the last week or so, I seem beset each way I turn with voices demanding I imitate the world's worst coward and dastard, for fear of what Osama bin Liner will do to me should our masters' stern but fair vigilance be abated for an instant. - Or their cashflow. - Attempting to get my head around this clash of worldviews, I have come up with the following rough-and-ready explanation:

The authoritarian securocrat thinks that giving up our liberties for fear of terror is like having a mole removed when it starts itching. They were unsightly, useless, and not very salubrious at best. When a question of danger arises, we dispose of them soberly, and are only improved by having the occasion to do so.

The liberal securocrat thinks that sacrificing our liberties is more like gnawing off one's limb when it gets caught in a deadly trap. We have really lost something. We hope it is a finger-joint - at worst, it may be an arm or a leg - and we bitterly regret the necessity; but it is done, and there is no undoing it, and it is surely better than the alternative.

But people like me think that sacrificing our liberties for fear of terror is like letting Carmilla Karnstein suck out your heart's blood, because she has sensibly convinced you that you are at severe risk of a recurrence of malaria.