Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Play's the Thing



For years my play Feeding the Roses, often working under the alias of different titles, has stared up at me from the page. Winning in the Virtual Theatre Project's Pen is a Mighty Sword international playwriting competition last year brought me to a week in North Carolina and the chance to watch my play through a compacted rehearsal period of four days, culminating in a staged reading.

I chose not to have my script with me at all. That gave me the thrill of having the company present the play back to me as something new, their own developing creation, fueled by their care and expertise and training and full-tilt engagement. It was quite a gift.

First was the 'stop and start' process, the play rehearsed in small sections, blocked as it went along so that I could see it opening out, filling the stage, using the space. I've worked in many genres of writing but this piece for me has always been a play, a world designed to be contained on a stage.

Through discussion, through read-throughs, it kept taking shape. It wasn't only the actors and the director, Whit Andrews, who kept discovering new things in it. The play kept revealing fresh layers to me too, so I understood the characters and their motivations and interactions much more than I had before.

It has been a joy to have a sense of being part of a troupe again, and to be at the receiving end of that utter dedication you get from true professional actors. A sign of the extent of that came from how much had happened between the last rehearsal and the staged reading. The actors had clearly been inhabiting the characters in a real way, maturing and growing, the performances then replete with the intimacies of gesture, animal movement, nuance and inflection and interaction. Though scripts were in hand and being read, they engaged so well that the existence of scripts never intruded.

It was a decent-sized audience, a lot of students from here at Wake Forest. I've been wanting to experience an audience's reactions, to see how this play worked through the prism of their experience. It's easier to interpret laughter, which was healthy - sometimes where expected, sometimes pleasingly unexpected, sometimes not coming when expected. Silences seemed attentive, but that's hardly a subjective analysis, and the final response felt like a powerful one.

The whole experience, let me tell you, was a joy!

(The pictures come from a rehearsal. The cast was Tom Paradise, Kimberly Van Luin, Sean Mahon and Ian Vogt - blessings and thanks to one and all!)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Up in Lights

I'm off for the tech, then the performance of my play Feeding the Roses here at Wake Forest, NC.

It's been fun to see its name up in lights at last!

Kendall Messick and the Projectionist

My father hired a projector and reels of short films for my birthday parties when I was a kid. Then one year none of my friends wanted to watch the show. The latest episode of Dr Who was on TV and they preferred to watch that.

Parties and me are often not the best fit. I couldn't see how anyone would prefer TV to a genuine movie show in your own home. I got my private viewing the next day, then the projector and films were returned and were never brought to our home again.

I've been to a few private viewings since. Most spectacular was during a visit to Hong Kong in 1984. Rolls Royces and Bentleys lined an upward swirl of driveway to the hilltop home of Sir Run Run Shaw, the island's movie mogul, all very Citizen Kane. I sat next to Sir Run Run for dinner, then the party descended to his private movie theatre and a preview screening of Gremlins.

The theatre had red plush seats, but even so lacked the magic of days of yore. Those days were brought back splendidly on a visit to a heartwarming multi-media installation, The Projectionist, at Wake Forest's Charlotte and Philip Hanes Art Gallery yesterday. The photographer Kendall Messick celebrates neglected lives, often of the elderly. In Gordon Brinckle he has discovered a real charmer.

Brinckle was a film projectionist for many years, moving like a dancer between two projectors he termed his 'girls'. Movie theatres truly were palaces, where regular punters could taste the lives of the splendidly rich for an evening, with ushers and uniformed staff among the palms and the marble statues. Brinckle believed in creating beauty. Fine though the theatre was where he plied his trade, it still fell short of the ultimate magic.

So he built his own miniature theatre in the basement of his home, The Shalimar. It was available for private showings, but he would also come and sit there to achieve a sense of calm. It is kitsch, but kitsch as true art. Seats are sited over the backs of resting fawns a seagull flies across the ceiling, a miniature organist on his wurlitzer brings in that whole shebang of bigscale entertainment. It's a matter of living the dream and finding comfort in it, sustaining your own vision against the odds.

The show begins with a grand collection of portraits of Brinckle and his work, with museum pieces of his life in glass cases. Highlight is a recreation of the Shalimar, with a documentary of the man's life as the main feature, Brinckle inviting us all into his world. It's a magical place to be.




Monday, February 26, 2007

On Being Edited


Hours before flying off (or at least sitting on the runway at Gatwick Airport) I emailed in my edits for my John Scott Haldane biography Suffer and Survive.

My editor at Simon and Schuster UK, Andrew Gordon, gave me five pages of notes. My first step was simply to accept them all. The notes were delivered in a kindly manner, following on from a heap of praise on the first draft and a clear delineation of why he felt the book was working well. Knowing he had seen into my book, seeing his critique was in accord with what I was hoping to achieve, the notes were easy to accept. They were moving my book along the lines it was already heading, were knowledgeable as well as sympathetic, designed by an expert to make the book even better.

The notes gave areas to change or develop, sometimes just to consider, but weren't strong on how to do it. That for me is helpful. It's good to be shown where and possibly why a book is not fully conjuring the clear experience in a reader that was intended. My job is then to mend that. Mending might happen in some other area of the book ... for example, the editor wondered about more of an authorial overview at the ending. I liked the current editing, so brought that authorial overview in at an earlier stage, setting up the ending I already had in a way that made it work better. So the editor flags what's not working, and you address it in your own way.

The book grew by 5,000 words in the process. Usually for me editing means shrinking a book, but I had already done much of that paring down. I like lean books and writing on the whole. I had kept back some details just to deliver close to my 100,000 word deadline ... but the editor's seeking details to personalize the story still further, and include some 21st century perspective, gave me license to grow the book.

I actually enjoy good editing, engagement with an expert mind who, wondrously, has focused on my work. I learn from the process. Sometimes I've had such editing from editors, and more often not. A couple of books I've wondered whether the editor has read it at all - some tossed out comments suggested skimmed reading at best. I'm glad Suffer and Survive is in secure hands.

Copyediting next ... that's a process that can intrigue me, and more often drives me mental. We'll see which the coin drops.

The picture is of John Scott Haldane using his breathing apparatus down a coalmine.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Psycho Beach Party - and an actor to watch


I never got to see Charles Busch perform in is regular New York residencies, and had never seen his plays at all. But my very English play Feeding the Roses is having its staged reading here in North Carolina, so seeing a Busch play here for the first time makes relative sense.
It was a tight, cheerful, bright student production of Psycho Beach Party, a spoof on the beach movies of the 1960s, brazenly camp and sometimes joyous. In Busch's cross-dressing star turn as Chicklet Erich Jones, in his last year at Wake Forest blazed away with an endearing, inventive performance. Chicklet suffers multiple personality disorders ... signified by lightning shakes of the actor's body as different persona flew out of him. He's next up here in the role of Romeo ... What I'm admiring as my own play is rehearsed is the intelligence as well as control actors bring to a part. Erich Jones seems to bring that all into play. He aims to be a fulltime actor from the summer. With Oscar night just hours away, I predict a starry future for him (with a different photo to this one .. the only one I could find on surfing the Net).

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Drama at Wake Forest



The sun shines, warblers are pumping their hearts in birdsong, and the Virtual Theatre Project's giving their all to a staged reading of my play Feeding the Roses. what a fine Saturday this is.

They're taking a brave attitude to the process ... scripts are in hand, but the performance really is to be staged rather than just read. It's so encouraging having your characters embodied, given voice, discover their own movements around the stage ... and to have intelligent professionals inhabit the characters so much that they speak from inside them. Fine to know that the structure of the play actually works in practice too. It's also fun to be welcomed into the rehearsal process, and to have my own thoughts and insights make a difference.

The actors were finding the laughs today ... perhaps helped that the audience consisted of me, and I was laughing. Any North Carolina readers out there, please do come on down to Winston Salem for the performance on Tuesday night.

Pictures of Wake forest campus, with its February TPing tradition ... all the trees of the main quad festooned with toilet paper. I got caught in another local tradition this morning, waylaid by a gang of bobbing, banner-waving miniature girl scouts insisting I take on home a box of girl scout peanut butter cookies at eight o'clock in the morning. Yum.

Hello from Winston Salem

Some theatrical postings due this week ... I've JUST made it to Winston Salem, North Carolina, for rehearsals of my play FEEDING THE ROSES. A fine old 26 hour delay enroute, which let me read E.L.Doctorow's Ragtime. A terrific novel, wonderful interweaving of so many strands of story, terrifud detail, and the guy is one of the best writers of sentences ever.
Meanwhile time to sleep and give jetlag a chance to kick in.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

How long does it take to write a book?

I gave myself four months to write my new J. S. Haldane biography Suffer and Survive, though a deadline extension was always likely and I grabbed it. I've just taken a week over a new draft following my editor's edits - submitted just moments ago. Words from editor and agent such as 'fantastic' and 'splendid' gave encouragement to that final spurt.
So the writing took six extraordinarily zealous months, following two years of research. Six months seems as good as I can do with a book in terms of speed.
One curious feature this time around is that I have lost my sense of time passing. My internal clock keeps assuring me that it is still October 2006. I've found myself asking people not only the date, but the year. Maybe that's just a result of living so exclusively in somebody else's era all this time, while working to bring them alive into my own.
It's been worth it. J. S. Haldane is a veritable hero.

The picture is of J. S. Haldane at the temple of Sounion in Greece, taken on his last dramatic world tour shortly before he died in 1936

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Miranda Miller

I had a very fine tea with Miranda Miller last week. Her new novel Loving Mephistopholes is set to erupt out of the house of Peter Owen this week (if you're in reach of London, head for the launch at Daunt's main bookstore on Thursday evening).
This is one of those works so wondrous it takes its time in finding the right home. Peter Owen were surprised and delighted to have her back in their fold. For me they have long been one of the prime havens of fine writing in Britain ... I remember them, perhaps rightly, as publishers of Paul Bowles and James Purdy, for instance, doing for the UK what black Sparrow and City Lights have done for the US. Miranda is rare at stepping out of their illustrious past as a successful Peter Own author of old, proving herself not only very much alive, but kicking out splendidly.
Loving Mephistopholes finds a London chanteuse making a pact in in the 1920s to maintain her looks and figure. She wields the power of the whole gorgeous ensemble of her being through the rest of the century, till payback time arrives ... the book's a feminized Dorian Grey for the 21st century. I started talking to Miranda about nonfiction but clearly wasn't striking any particular chords. She can't face a fact, she tells me, without wanting to make grand fiction out of it.
It seems she and I share a penchant for fantasy, letting the imagination go wild in its search for that particular kind of truth only to be found where reality gets warped. Miranda's reached that stage where publishing is a bonus: the real essential purpose of life lies in the daily act of writing.

You might also enjoy visiting Peter Owen's new blog

Monday, February 19, 2007

International London

A week of culture has brought a fine dash of national stereotypes to London. The Alban Berg Quartet were magnificent, almost inverting Beethoven so some great Germanic soul was revealed. The American Ballet Theatre were sheer verve, a thrill of togetherness and daring, a vibrant company. And Vadim Repin capped the week last night with a violin performance of utter virtuosity, a tall heavily-built phlegmatic and phlegmatic man, marching on and off the stage. Ravel had provided him with some gypsy flourishes, but the man needs someone to write him a truly impossible piece so he finally has a real challenge. Or maybe he should try Heifetz's trick of playing Bach's double violin concerto as a solo on one violin. I'm told Heifetz barely cracked a smile in performance either.
A Scottish writer friend recently surprised me by coming to live in London. Why London? I asked ... you hate England. London isn't England, he replied. it's an international city.
As an Englishman I'm not ready to be denied my capital ... but I get his point.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Nonfiction reading list

In designing a Nonfiction MA course for City University here in London, I came up with the following reading list. It's a 'work in progress' - all such lists are partial. These works are exemplary in some way, but it's also possible to be annoyed by parts of them and have your own writing develop through working out why.

I sought a mid-Atlantic list, so a balance of British and American writing. I also looked to balance male and female writers. The next step was covering the various genres .. so a little travel, memoir, crime, nature, biography, immersion, new journalism, war, history etc. Essay collections, fine as they might be, I avoided in favour of books with a sustained narrative arc. But for the H.V.Morton, the list comes from the latter half of the 20th century.
Having got rid of most of my books over the years, I've started collecting these titles again in secondhand editions. It's fun to be reacquainted.

Jan Morris, Venice

Tracy Kidder, Among Schoolchildren

Jonathan Raban, Soft City

Colin Thubron, The Lost Heart of Asia

Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

Bruce Lamb, Wizard of the Upper Amazon

H.V.Morton, In the Steps of St Paul

Gitta Sereny, The Case of Mary Bell

Anthony Beevor, Berlin; The Downfall 1945

Patricia Hampl, A Romantic Education

John Hersey, Hiroshima

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

Hunter S Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge: an Unnatural History of Family and Place

Claire Tomalin, The Unequalled Self

Piers Paul Read, Alive

Anna Funder, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall

John Krakauer, Into the Wild

Simon Winchester, The Surgeon of Crowthorne

John McPhee, The Curve of Binding Energy

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

James Thornton and Natural Wonders

A country walk with my partner James is always an intriguing affair. His parents learned patience along woodland trails, pausing to share all the beauties he discovered as they inched along the path. He shows me how insects emerge, perfectly camouflaged, to sit in wait on particular flowers with which they have co-evolved. He cries with delight at some miniature flower clinging to a crack in a wall, or suddenly skips away across the undergrowth in pursuit of a beetle in flight.
He has appeared in three of my books—in I was Carlos Castaneda he is Kevin. In On Sacred Mountains and In Search of the Divine Mother he is himself. Those books tell something of our story together, and being with him and the training he’s brought me feeds into all my work.
In Search of the Divine Mother is the biography of the Indian holywoman known as Mother Meera. James and I first met on the doorstep of her German home. It was our first visit. James stayed with her for a year. I’ve just discovered another book appearance of his that stems from that time, when the writer and performer Nina Wise came to visit. This passage of fine crisp prose comes from her A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life.

I was walking one afternoon with my friend James along a country path in Germany that traced its way between villages through pastures and planted forests. James suddenly fell to his knees. I thought he was hurt.
“Careful,” he whispered, and pointed to a leaf where a tiny dot of a bug had come to a halt. He reached for his Swiss Army knife, unfolded the miniature magnifying glass and handed it to me.
I stared at a natural wonder: the bug’s iridescent blue wings lay folded over it shining black back, a yellow band shimmered around its neck, and red eyes popped from its pointed face.
We stayed on our knees for a time, passing the glass back and forth until the tiny miracle crawled away.
“Amazing!” I said, and James smiled like a docent.

It’s James’s birthday today – yo Jamie, happy birthday.

(Check out some of James's writings at TheBiggestIdeas)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Cellar Door

I watched Donnie Darko the other day, which introduced Tolkien's notion of 'cellar door' as the most beautiful phrase / word in English. Wikipiedia has a good piece on the provenance of this idea - including Stephen King's use of the image on the cover of his On Writing, all light on the surface with something dark lurking beneath.
The Scotsman has writers choose their own compelling words.
My own is a choice between pool and pond. I like the sounds of the words, strong and simple, while both have that 'cellar door' notion of opening into depths.
One of the hardest parts of my new novel Ectopia involved a scene set in a cellar. Such scenes are potentially fraught with subconscious material. In Donald Antrim's weird Elect Mr Robinson for a Better World the cellar is home for a torture chamber for children. Ian McEwan puts cellars to dastardly use in The Cement Garden. John Fowles similarly in The Collector. Cellars in literature are a place of sick turbulence waiting to unleash itself.
The cellar door in my novel was taken away to make fortifications, and replaced with bricks. I took my cellar scene out until I had worked on what I saw were faultlines in my own make-up ... then wrote a different scene back in. 'Cellar doors' are nothing to do with beauty, a lot to do with the excitement of fear as you plunge on down through the subconscious, wondering what you might drag back up to the surface.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Edinburgh Review goes to India

The Edinburgh Review has released its latest issue ... called 'Calcutta Connects', it runs with an Indian theme. Some fine essays on the city, and a charming biography of a Miss Plumb.

If you're in Edinburgh on Thursday, head along to Blackwell's at 6.30 for the official launch.

And if you're not, treat yourself to a subscription. You'll find my own story 'India, by design', the third in a sequence about Arnold, on page 89. An upbeat gay life story, it's told in seven year leaps. The tale of Arnold's twenty-first birthday party is linked from my Stories page. There you'll see how he meets Pete. The opening of this new story has Pete come to collect Arnold from a mountainside in India.

(Sadly things are awry in Calcutta's own bookworld, where the Literary Saloon points out no books are available at the Kolkata Book Fair.)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Snowbooks


Snowbooks is proud of being small and feisty and doing independent publishing differently.

SO it's sad that they're not that different to the big boys when it comes to being run by committee and being aware of writers' sensitivities.

A writer friend was dancing at Christmas to be told by Emma, the company's MD, that she had read his novel 'in one sitting! It's one of the great luxuries of the festive season. I have really enjoyed it, and I will be taking it to our next editorial meeting which conveniently happens to be next week to pitch it to my colleagues...I do hope that my colleagues agree with me that it is an excellent, pacey and well-researched thriller.'

Then Emma goes on holiday, worms turn, calls are no longer returned, and eventually a new email arrives. '
It was a very close call. I'm thus so very sorry to say that we've decided against making an offer for it. It is, of course, a work of immense quality, but no-one here felt that they loved it quite enough to make it theirs.'

Not even Emma, the MD, who so loved it in the first place?

Snowbooks doesn't particularly like dealing with agents ... but really if they are going to spin with the emotions of writers in his way they should require agents as filters.

And they do seem just like all the big boys. Times I've had that same reaction from the biggest houses ... editors wildly enthusiastic, then somewhere down the line somebody (often in marketing) pulls the plug. What I like about independents is that they can decide to run on the basis of an editor's decision ... That way good books that fall at committee stage can get through. The more people you get together, the more likely you are to have someone dislike a book that someone else has loved. Seems like at four people, Snowbooks is already too big for itself.
Oh well. They can keep on growing, wait for a corporate take-over, and start again I suppose.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A view from my window ... West Hampstead

Stef Penney and the art of being there

Stef Penney has just won one of Britain's biggest awards, the Costa Book of the Year, for her first novel The Tenderness of Wolves. Set in the Canadian wilderness of the 1860s, she wrote it without ever visiting Canada. As an agarophobic, geting on the London bus to the British Library was challenge enough.
Clearly she made a success out of conjuring an imaginary world, howver like the real thing it was. And you have to be glad she didn't feel bound to write from experience and give the tale of being locked in a small room. She's now over the agarophobia - maybe the writing worked up a cure. H.R.F.Keating wrote his series of Bombay detective novels without ever visiting the city. Research and imagination can take you a long way.
For myself, one of the greatest aspects of writing a book is the chance to visit its landscape, to walk around the place. It counts the same for fiction as nonfiction. I was on a train heading across the Ghobi desert for Tibet when I decided I'd rather go to Bangladesh and write about that country. A mammoth diversion saw me survive a week in Bangladesh before being flown back to a hospital isolation ward, and I returned to the country for my research a year or so later. It made my novel Slippery When Wet possible (entered by my publisher for this year's Costa Awards but hey ho).
For my new biography of J. S. Haldane, Suffer and Survive, I wanted to tour the Victorian sewer system of Dundee. That was blocked my the size of my advance - for insurance purposes I needed to pay for a week's training course first. I conjured that world from the writings of others, but I know my own experience would have made it still more vivid. Travelling in Haldane's footsteps to Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak last summer did let me inside the heart of his 1911 experience of the place. I hadn't fully understood it before. Aspects of the landscape, the views, the wildlife and flora, the walks, the effects of altitude etc were all transferrable from my 2006 experience back in time.
That Haldane book was helped enormously in its early stages by a visit to The Big Pit, a terrific mining museum in Wales where miners lead you round an actual mine rather than a simulation. The surroundings, those miners' tales, plus a visit to Tylorstown in the Rhondha Valley where Haldane made a big breakthrough, all fed my understanding of Victorian mines.
One especial moment in developing that book came in walking the grounds of what was Haldane's Oxford family home of Cherwell, now Wolfson College. Crossing the bridge across the river into the meadows beyond, and so to a place that has not changed much since his day, I felt a very real wash of connection with the man.
As much as getting physical details, it is that entering the spirit of a place which I love so much.
I guess I'm maybe something of a travel junkie too - something like the opposite of an agarophobic, not truly happy without being open to big wide spaces. A new novel I'm developing takes place in Turkey, Athens and Washington. That Athenian chapter is next up. I know the city fairly well of old, but have not been there for years. The book has stalled while I'm waiting to make a refresher trip. A curious form of writer's block perhaps, since I certainly could write on if I chose to. Sitting here in the London snow on a February day, it's time I suppose to follow Steff Penney's example and write myself into a more evocative place.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Nonfiction as 'creative writing'

I’m reading Tracy Kidder’s Among Schoolchildren at the moment – one of the finest examples I know of nonfiction plus great writing. In the UK we surge away from our island to become fine travel writers, we have a great bevy of biographers who often manage bracing first chapters then become ponderous, and we have memoirists, but nonfiction in America is generally more wide-ranging … with the likes of Kidder and John McPhee reaching outside that strict life-writing framework.

I’ve been reviewing the field while setting up a new Nonfiction stream to the MA Creative Writing program at City University in London. It’s pending final authorization just now, looking to be up and running this Autumn, complementing the Novel Writing and Plays & Scripts strands already in play.

It will be the first of its kind in Britain, I believe. Birkbeck is seeking authority to extend its MA to include nonfiction, but specializing on life writing and biography, a track others are already on. Imperial curiously runs an Msc in nonfiction, focusing on science writing. All have dissertations as a significant part of the student workload. City’s MA Nonfiction would take its cue from the Novel Writing program, which sees students (who may well be established writers) submit complete books. I was outside examiner on one of those novels this summer … a grand and odd book which took away a distinction and was snapped up by an agent.

The nonfiction creative writing route in American universities is firmly established, pioneered by Lee Gutkind. At his suggestion I pulled back from calling the City course ‘Narrative Nonfiction’, which he felt might frighten people away, but I do still see a tendency towards life-writing in these American universities. I’m much more interested in helping writers develop books through the arc of story. I’d hope the City course attracts a truly mixed bag of writers: biography, travel, true-crime, immersion (e.g. ‘Homage to Catalonia’), science, memoir, history, war and whatever, writers learning, enjoying and deploying tricks of the trade and cross-fertilizing each other’s work as they reveal their own great stories. I like the fact that the City course would come under its Journalism and Publishing school, rather than dropping anchor in the more literary and establishment waters of an English department.

At the Biographer’s Club Christmas Party in London I was chatting with a historian. She kept insisting she was a ‘historian’ rather than a ‘writer’, as though ‘historian’ were the better thing to be. She’s not on her own. I can’t get through such historians’ books, yet Hugh Trevor Roper for example delights me with his prose and conjured me into his historical world.

I’ll post here how the City course progresses through its final approval stages … and mean to give this blog something of a nonfiction spin through these coming weeks.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Book away!

'Tis done.

My finger was poised on the button, ready to mail off my completed manuscript to my J. S. Haldane story, when the post arrived. Fresh from New Zealand, a white envelope brought a new batch of materials from a wonderful trio of brothers who are the sons of one of Haldane's fromer colleagues, J. Ivon Graham. It's touching that Haldane conjures such devotion down through the generations that they got in touch, riffled through their family archives, and provided me with a good deal of illuminating material.

So it was later yesterday afternoon that my finger hit the button and the newly revised manuscript sailed through the ether to both agent and editor.

I found my closing lines in a letter from a colleague of Haldane's some weeks ago. They made me cry then, and I cried again as I penned them in and concluded the book. Haldane was a wondrous man. It's been a struggle and a joy to have spent these last years with him.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Pezilla de Conflent

I'm home from the hills ... though home does actually seem to be in those hills. A busy week saw me head to France without the necessary attachment to get online, but with just about everything else. Furniture was moved in from England, I hauled things about and sat and shivered, and finished my Haldane biography (more of which anon).

The village, in the Pyrenees Orientales, goes quiet in winter. The dog of the last posting, now old, was clearly shagged out from his season of hunting. And climate change had hit with a vengeance. One joy of walks in the village is looking out to the sacred peak of Mont Canigou. Astonishingly for mid-winter, it is bare of snow. You can walk across the big river in the district, the Agly, it is so dry. No rain has fallen in the region since I was last there at the end of October. What little snow lasted an hour on cars but never settled on the land.

One worries ... but it was also wonderfully cleasning to be back amidst the landscape.