Friday, March 28, 2014


Thanks to the twinned miracles of my credit card and the international postage system, I took possession of this fine piece of work yesterday:

For those not in the know, it's an exploration of the writing process by the delightfully brilliant author Jeff VanderMeer, whose work on the writing life, Booklife, is one of my most dearly-held biblical texts. This volume is overflowing with illustrations by Jeremy Zerfoss that are the kind of semi-surreal and absurdist illustrations I love, and would be worth the price of admission alone if not for the fact that VanderMeer is a wonderfully deep thinker about the authorial process and his words would be worth the price of admission alone if not for.... it's a grand looking book. You get it.

It's also backed up by a fantastic web page filled with extra content, which you'd know if you'd clicked the picture.

However, the purpose of this post is not to pimp VanderMeer's work, but to have a bit of a play with my own. Because while I was aimlessly flicking through, looking at all the pretty pictures, I entertained myself by reading some of the opening and closing lines he'd collected to support his chapters on the art of creating memorable images with which to bookend your stories-- readers remember the last and first things they read, we all know, so there's an art to giving them memories that will walk away from the story with them.

Which prompted me to scroll through my own work and see just how well I'd done with that particular art throughout the years. The answer to which is

So, for your education and entertainment, here are 15 of my favourite opening and closing sentences from my work-- ones that still, to me, communicate a resonant image in a single sentence-- for no other reason than it took me a while to look through, and I still like them.
Make of them what you will.
Deep in the middle of the Poolshug Swampland, where even the Giant Grells tiptoe lightly for fear of drawing attention to themselves, lives Vortle alone in his little hut.-- Vortle
We fell upon Moscow like hungry dogs. -- The Emperor of Moscow
Jim Smith had a bald patch at the back of his head the size of a table tennis paddle. -- A Star is Born
From where I lie I can see the puddle changing colour, red neon pink neon green as the lights from the bar’s sign flicker and change. -- Making Two Fists
It was the second sunrise of the day.-- Father Muerte & the Rain
There are very few completely true things in Costa Satanas. -- Father Muerte & the Flesh
Rain batters the road, the footpath, the buildings, and the top of Mallory’s unprotected head. -- Love Me Electric
I have stood on this spot since my father the Sun shat the Earth and pissed the oceans and farted the sky.  -- Though I Be Stone
The first thing they made Marianne do was strip naked and submit to a body search. -- The Imprisonment of Marianne
So they picked him up, the broken-shelled, loose-limbed motherfucker, lying unconscious in a pool of his own piss.  -- , Rabbit, Run
 What does it take to murder a city? -- Europe After the Rain
What little world there was, belonged to the sand. -- At the End, There Was a Man
The only parts of this story that exist are the man and the knife. -- Truthful Remains
The storm had turned the world into a swirl of broken lines. -- Disciple of the Torrent
We had been in Anguilar for seven months when the river began to attack. -- The Canals of Anguilar
Then I know that Vortle is well and hunting, and that the pods of the strange creatures will not reach our beautiful Epicity just yet, and that I am still the only person who calls him friend.-- Vortle
Through the window, oblivious to all that has happened, Merrilee dances. -- Through the Window, Merrilee Dances
And when we were finished, all that remained were bones. -- The Emperor of Moscow
Oh, how they bite. -- Decimated
The real joy comes when you keep them alive. -- Pater Familias
Who gave them the photos, Thierry, and what did they hope I would see? -- Amygdala, My Love
I began crying when the first bombs fell. -- Silk
Smiling, crying, happy, Markus bent forward and leaned beyond the mirror. -- Alchymical Romance
Then it, too, faded away, and moved on to other destinations. -- Doctor Who: The Time Eater
We marched out, and he led us, singing, back home through the ashes of our dead. -- Europe After the Rain
The column of smoke stayed in the air for days. -- At the End, There Was a Man
I will not burn alone. -- The Claws of Native Ghosts
I raised a hand, held my breath, and reached out to touch the monster. -- Beached
They laughed, until the only sound in the entire world was the pounding of waves in his ears. -- Disciple of the Torrent
She turns away from the unloving air and walks through the crowd, out of the Centre and into the cold world. -- Comfort Ghost

Thursday, March 27, 2014


"The hard part is cutting them in half"
This is the sort of shit that keeps me up at night. All those people with ducks flying up the wall. Why ducks? Why not swans, or moths, or 707s? Keep that up long enough, and the cute-thing-slaughterometer starts kicking in.
Why not cherubs? Why not, indeed?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Nine years ago today, this happened:

It was the best decision I ever made. Marriage to my wonderful Lyn continues to provide me with love, support, and peace, and nothing in this world makes me happier than making her happy. It's been nine amazing years, and the only thing better than the time we've had together is the knowledge that there are many more to come.

Love you, my darling.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

15 in 15

There's a meme that whizzed around Facebook last week, in which you listed 15 authors ("poets included", said the meme in parenthesis, as if "Hey! Poets have feelings too!") who have influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can recall, the meme commanded, and take no more than 15 minutes.

So, for the sake of posterity, here is my list. Recommendations on what to do with the remaining 13.5 minutes of my allotted time can be sent via email.

Adrian Henri, Brian Patten, Roger McGough: Let's start with some poets because Hey! Poets have feelings too! Their collected volume The Mersey Sound is one of my most treasured books, well-thumbed and falling apart, held together by sticky-tape and willpower. Their style and approach have informed my own efforts at poetry, and Patten's poem Little Johnny's Confession is my favourite poem of all time. You may not guess it from the procession of gross-out moments and nob gags that have comprised my novelistic career so far, but these guys are right at the top of the list as far as influences go.

CS Forester: One word: Hornblower. Immensely readable combination of swashbuckling adventure and character development; a flawed hero who continues to rise above his limitations and occasionally prospers because of those limitations; flowing language, salty humour.... if you wanted the stock ingredients for the Marius dos Hellespont books, you can see it in these volumes. Like The Mersey Sound above, my collection of Hornblower books are falling apart at the seams from over-reading, and it's well past time I got me a bound box set.

George MacDonald Fraser: And here's where the rest of Marius comes from. If you've not read MacDonald Fraser's Flashman books, you've missed out on some of the funniest, cleverest, sharpest writing ever committed in the English word. Flashman is a knave, a coward and an amoral bounder who, despite his continued caddishness and weaselly-hearted opportunism, somehow ends up a greater and greater hero with every adventure. Sound familiar? The books are pure historical fantasy, but the history is so perfectly realised, so detailed and seemingly accurate, that you accept every word as gospel. Reading a Flashman book is a masterclass in writing fantasy, history, humour, character, dialogue and outright lies all in one. Sheer brilliance.

Spike Milligan: poet, playwright, novelist, scriptwriter, stage performer, memoirist, film actor, trumpeter, TV star, genius. The man I wanted to be when I grew up. The career I wanted to have. The first inkling I had that an author does not have to be bound by genre, or form, or expectation, but can live by the sheer virtuosity of his work alone. I'm still striving.

Bruce Dawe: The first poet I wasn't forced to read. Came to me via a school text book, but the language was so dazzling, the rhythm and metre and in-your-faceness of works like Enter Without So Much as Knocking-- a performance of which was, for years, my party piece-- blew me away after years of da-da da-da da-da da-DA da-dum da-dum da-DUM... Still, for me, the best poet Australia has ever produced, a world class talent, with power, grace and laser-like accuracy in his words.

Chuck Palahniuk: At his best, there's nobody better at balls-to-the-wall gonzo insanity than Palahniuk. There's such a spiralling whirlwind of circumstance going on in his plots that it's easy to overlook just how beautifully his best novels are constructed. Read his best work, Rant, backwards-- I have-- and you'll discover a work so cogent and narratively solid that it works equally well in both directions and is still utterly bugfuck as all get out. The first time I read Palahniuk's work it wasn't just a revelation: it was permission.

Terry Pratchett: If you think Pratchett is a fantasy writer, you've not been paying attention. He is, simply, the best social satirist of the 20th Century: Tom Sharpe with attitude, and the keenest eye and turn of phrase in literature. He's not just funny, he's accurate. I couldn't believe, when I first read him, that he was getting away with so much, so blatantly, and being so awarded by the very people he was skewering so unmercifully in every book. There is no better writer, and arguably never has been a better writer, at creating an unbelievable world so utterly, painfully believable. He is the Masterclass.

Harlan Ellison: At his best, in that period between the late 60s and 1980, Ellison was a whirlwind of narrative rage, a maelstrom of language, emotion and pyrotechnic literary tricks who created stories that nobody in their wildest dreams could match. Ellison danced across ice too thin to hold anyone else, fenced with demons, used words and concepts as weapons that slipped past every plate of working class armour I wore and pierced my preconceptions about society, storytelling and just what was supposed to be right, damn you! in a way I've never truly forgiven him for or been able to thank him enough for. He taught me that attitude is the byword of our trade, that words are created to be accurate, that the right words in the right order was not just hyperbole but was, in fact, the secret of our power. For all his faults and subsequent fall into mere humanity, he will always be the first, most important, and greatest of my literary teachers.

Ray Bradbury: If Ellison taught me chaos, Bradbury taught me peace. There is a stillness to Bradbury's writing, a simple and nostalgic beauty, that is all too often dismissed as mere simplicity. Bradbury was the first author I set out to collect, because every merely simple tale like The Veldt or Golden Apples of the Sun or The Anthem Sprinters was so fucking simple I knew I'd be trying to unravel his tricks and powers for the rest of my life. He makes it all look so easy, so fucking easy, that at times I could weep for one ounce of his simplicity. Of all the authors who have influenced me over the years, and there are far more than just these 15, it is Bradbury who lingers, whose plots and moments I remember best. He reminds me that the fantastical can be joyful, and that happy endings can contain much more then just happiness.

Roger Zelazny: has there ever been an SF writer who so easily and delightfully brought so much outright weird to the table? Read Eye of Cat. Read Isle of the Dead-- my personal favourite. Read that glorious failed collaboration with Phillip Dick, Deus Irae. Nobody pinned such narrative solidity to such straight-out oddballery as Zelazny, and I love him for it. The guy saw everything through his third eye.

Howard Waldrop: Yeah, we're really out in the crazy lands now. If you don't get Waldrop then you just don't get him. If you do, then you know the joy of picking apart thirty separate influences and allusions every damn time you sit down to read a story. Waldrop showed me how to over-stuff a story, how to fill it to the rafters with bits of business and sotto voce asides and in-jokes and momentary lapses of reason and still, still, create a story of such narrative strength that the actions of the characters will have you crying out in delight, frustration, and glee. Often simultaneously. Every Waldrop story is like a waltz through someone's memory cathedral with a blindfold on. Just trust that there's an exit somewhere.

Jack Womack: They don't build futures like Womack's anymore. At a time when William Gibson was the Official New Best Fashion among my fellow University students, I was slumped in the corner with my copy of Ambient wondering what all the mainstreamers were fussing over. Womack spits and scratches and bites where everyone else's futures, no matter how punky and cybery they try to be, are still glossy video game analogs. His novels don't just have dirt under their nails, there's powdered glass and dried blood and flakes of skin from the last person they attacked. If my works have grit and grime beneath their fantasy lingerie, it's in large part because I read Womack.

Kurt Vonnegut: The absurdist's absurdist. The optimist's realist and the pessimist's realist. The man who loved and pitied the world simultaneously, who despaired and despised and believed in and doubted and gave up on and passionately, oh so passionately, hoped for the world to just catch up and understand what it was doing to itself, and to us, and to him. The most beautifully humanist, wonderfully funny, darkly cynical, frighteningly prophetic, damaged writer I have ever read. Of all the writers I have listed here, Vonnegut is the one from whom I have lifted not only literary lessons but attitudes towards my own life. Of all of them he is, to borrow a concept I have lifted from his works and applied to my own life most assiduously, a key member of my karass.

So. 15. I could give you another 15, and another. But these were the first that came to mind, and them's were the rules. Who influenced you? Who stuck their needles into your cerebellum and refused to withdraw? Whose shoulders do you stand on?

Thursday, March 20, 2014


"Jedi, Sith, we don't care as long as it's healthy."

Met my wife at an SF convention, got married at an SF convention, sadly, never quite pulled off the trifecta by giving birth at an SF convention.

Still, it would have been more interesting than yet another fucking Firefly panel....

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Review: Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography

Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography
Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography by Alex Ferguson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After all the hype surrounding Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement after 26 years as manager of Manchester United, and the subsequent hype when he released this volume with somewhat indecent haste almost immediately afterwards, it was always going to be interesting to see whether those elements of the book slavered over by the media-- the charatcer assassinations of Keane, Beckham, Benitez and assorted enemies; the alleged 45 factual errors scattered throughout the pages; the rose-tiunted view of his managerial achievements-- were all the book had to recommend it, or whether there really were lessons and insights to be gleaned from over a quarter of a century managing one of, if not the, highest pressure job in football.

The answer is: a bit.

Truth is, I don't care whether Roy Keane played for 11 or 12 years at the club, or whether Fred Nurk signed in 1997 or 98, or all the piffling little errors that seemed to ruin everyone's enjoyment. What I wanted was a bit of blood and guts, an insight into the larger than life pantomimes that afflict the sport that is the obsession of millions, myself include. And I wanted this elder statesman to dispense words of wisdom, to drop insights and strategies down upon me from his time as the sharpest mind in the game. And, overall, while the stories were told with some flair, and the assassinations were entertaining enough-- strangely, his assessment of Roy Keane as a overly passionate time bomb struck me as less personal and acerbic than his continued reflection that David Beckham was a silly boy and a disappointment who would live his life regretting the waste of his talents-- the book came across as far too comfortable to be compelling.

It's the beery after-dinner ruminations of a man with nothing to fear and no concern for contradiction, told with an almost Falstaffian bonhomie where even the worst characters in his journey are dismissed with an almost-forgiving "odd lad, that" or similar faint praise. Yes, he bashes some select targets, but by and large, there's no heat behind it, just a careful and cold-blooded totting up of the debits column. Rarely do we get beneath Ferguson's skin, to really find out what made the man tick or how he views the sport he affected in such a mammoth way.

This is a safe book, taking care to burn no bridges already burnt. Entertaining enough, but no more or less than anyone else who should probably put a few years between them and their work before truly telling all.

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 13, 2014


I have nothing really to say about this one, except that the alien appears to be holding the cigarette backwards. That crazy alien.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Sorry about the lack of action round here, folks. I'm bang up against an editorial deadline for Magit and Bugrat-- Magwitch and Bugrat with editorial feedback regards naming conventions applied-- and haven't much time in my off hours for anything else. After an edit-heavy weekend, in which the entire structure of the novel was revamped, and chapter one was disassembled, scattered throughout the rest of the novel and reassembled, I've completed the first round of edits and inputs and am now just smoothing out the seams and bumps that such a major edit usually leaves. It'll be back in the hands of the editors by the end of the week and then you and I can sit and chat.

Except that I've got to get Father Muerte & the Divine to Agent Rich. But I'm just about done with those edits and I reckon I'll have them to him by, what, mid next-week. Then we can sit and chat.

Except I have to rewrite Cirque and add the 35 000 words it needs to get it finished and sent to Agent Rich because it's on my goals list for this year and I don;t want to spend the entire goddamn year just editing: I actually want to write some new words if it's all right with everyone. But after that....

After that, we can chat.

Unless I start work on something else.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: Lost, Stolen or Shredded: Stories of Missing Works of Art and Literature

Lost, Stolen or Shredded: Stories of Missing Works of Art and Literature
Lost, Stolen or Shredded: Stories of Missing Works of Art and Literature by Rick Gekoski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Entertaining, idiosyncractic and absorbing essays on the subject of art theft, destruction, and lost opportunities which have had varying effects on our understanding and appreciation of the history of art and artistic culture. Gekoski is by turns witty, philosophical and strident in the treatment of his subjects, as varied as Graham Sutherlands portrait of Winston Churchill and the bronze plaques of the old City-Kingdom of Benin. Like his other volume, Tolkein's Gown, each essay is accorded a discreet chapter, but here they are longer, chattier, filled with more of the asides, observation and bon mots that make reading Gekoski's work an intellectual pleasure. While it's not always possible to agree with him-- he describes NASA's space program as an appalling waste of money, for example, a view with which I heartly disagree-- it's always possible to revel in the company of Gekoski's unique voice. This is book by way of after dinner conversation: convivial, declamatory, and as much performance as thesis. Wonderful stuff.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


If you enjoyed yesterday's post on Charlotte Corday for the Cranky Ladies of History Blog tour-- a woman for whom I have some intellectual admiration-- then get across to Battblush, Lyn's blog, and see what happens when she writes about two women who have had a profound and lasting effect on her from an emotional and inspirational point of view: her family friend Maureen and the superbly cranky Beate Klarsfeld.


Last weekend, Luscious and I braved the overpowering heat and made our way to the Perth Writers Festival. Lionel Shriver, Lyn's favourite author, was the keynote speaker for the Festival and amongst the honour roll was Margaret Drabble, another author much admired by the Luscious One. And me, well, I'm just a massive writing geek and can find panels to go to like a weasel sniffing out trouser legs.

Plus, of course, I was running a workshop on the Saturday, so I had an artist pass that got me into paid sessions for nada. Which was nice.

Our first call was the opening address by Lionel Shriver on Thursday night. I've yet to read any of Shriver's work, but Lyn has read 9 of her 11 novels-- and picked the other 2 up at the Festival-- so I was looking forward to witnessing the sort of author that could get inside her skin so heavily. She was due to speak on her relationship with religion and the relative absence of it in her work-- a hot topic in our household, and one with enormous potential for discomfort for Lyn, especially if her literary hero started to spout the sort of anti-religion rhetoric she finds so hurtful.

Which, of course, she proceeded to do.

I found the lecture intensely uncomfortable-- a strange experience, given that I am the staunchly atheistic one in our relationship. Shriver was everything we had hoped she would be: intelligent, articulate, passionate, and -- eventually-- reasonable. But she took the long path to get to the point where her speech levelled out and she showed any sort of empathy to what she acknowledged might be as much as 84% of her audience, and in the meantime she was so supercilious and patronising to anybody who might not share her views that I found her genuinely unlikeable, despite agreeing with her sentiments. Turns out I can't stand the sight of rabid zealotry, not even when I agree with it. By the time she softened her argument, I'd stopped caring. It's not often I can find someone entertaining and disappointing at the same time, but there it is.

After an artists party that was notable mainly for catching up with the lovely Satima Flavell Neist and Meg McKinlay, and he rare occurrence of being gobsmacked into silence by a McKinlay bon mot-- much to the undying amusement of the Luscious One-- we returned on Friday for the panels we had earmarked as the potential highlights of the Festival. For Lyn, it was a chance to hear Margaret Drabble speak. For me, after a panel that was advertised as a discussion of real 'spy fiction' jobs but turned out to be a conversation between self-published types about self publishing, it was a panel on art theft by author, broadcaster and rare book dealer Rick Gekoski.

Art theft is a current fascination of mine-- I've got a novel idea that refuses to sink back into the morass of story goo inside my head and keeps bubbling back to the surface-- and Gekoski turned out to be an erudite, entertaining speaker, combining a deep knowledge of his subject with a fine line in pithy quips: asked for his opinion of the Elgin marbles controversy, he responded with a plan to extract a thank you from the Greek government for rescuing them, and to transport the Acropolis to London and reassemble it in Hyde Park. Notes were taken, plot points considered, and on the basis of the talk I scurried over to the Festival bookstore and got me two Gekoski books signed before meeting Lyn for lunch. You can check out my review of the first of them, Tolkein's Gown and Other Stories of Famous Authors and Rare Books here.

Saturday began with my writing workshop on building believable fantasy worlds, Universal Law. With 18 eager students at my beck and call, including familiar faces in Meg Caddy, Anthony Philips and Richard O'Brien, I had a fabulous time delivering my usual dancing monkey-puppet act and forcing total strangers to write 'My mother-in-law is so fat..." jokes and unicorn v narwhal death matches. There may have even been learning involved. Three hours on stage was just the tonic I needed-- I've become increasingly uncomfortable in panels, and had really not enjoyed my last experience, where I felt trapped into skewering the work of a person I like while he sat in the audience too mortified to squirm. Performing on stage where I can control the time, the flow of information, and the interactions with the audience, has always been more enjoyable to me than the awkward collaboration of a panel, and this was a fun workshop indeed. Perhaps it's a measure of my ego, but the older I get, the more I feel like sharing the stage with others results only in me pissing them off. If I'm going to piss people off, I want to mean it.

Another Gekoski panel beckoned for me in the early afternoon, this time in partnership with author Chris Womersley, and it was as entertaining as the first. Gekoski proved to be the highlight of the Festival for me. Highly intelligent, articulate, funny, erudite and principled, he was the perfect panellist, bringing a deft yet telling touch to all he discussed. And, of course, he was new to me, so had the advantage of novelty as well.

My final stop for the day was a panel on the future of graphic novels with the crew from Gestalt Comics, including my buddy Emily K Smith, and a number of digital comics storytellers, followed by a screening of Comic Book Heroes, the documentary on Gestalt that I had managed to completely miss when it aired on the ABC due to my lack of terrestrial TV. The debate was lively, the documentary made for compulsive viewing, and apart from telling the audience in no uncertain terms that gestalt are not looking for new authors at the moment-- thus scuppering my dreams of adapting The Claws of Native Ghosts for them-- I was able to introduce myself to publisher Wolfgang Bylsma and briefly discuss some day job exhibition possibilities.

Sunday was Family Day, and Lyn and Miss 12 declined to attend. Lyn had not enjoyed the Festival-- she discusses her reasons briefly in this blog post-- it had been fiendishly hot, too many of the panels were ticketed to make for affordable attendance, and too many of the free panels had been of the "buy my book" variety, leaving her isolated and bored; and Miss 12 simply wasn't interested. That left Master 9 and me to wander the grounds. It was a day of tree climbing, digital car racing, face painting, ice creams and balloon animals, as much as day out at the Fete as attendance at a writing event. But it was just what Master 9, so often a prisoner to his illness, needed. A day in the sun, running around the beautiful gardens of UWA, viewing what he wanted when he wanted to, with the bonus of a signed book and the opportunity to create his own 8 page novel.

The Castle of Death by Connor Battersby. Because of course.

It was exactly what he needed. And the Festival was, in many ways, exactly what I needed. My long, slow, disengagement with SF continues, and the opportunity to view a multi-disciplinary event like the Festival from the inside has certainly gelled a number of nebulous desires for my career, as well as reminding me that what I enjoy from working within that environment is the illusion of expertise, and the opportunity to outlines my artistic philosophies without feeling like half the room is waiting for the chance to deride or argue. I've come away from it thankful for the opportunity and with a crystallised view of what lies ahead. In career terms, the experience has been golden. Whether I spend the entire three day weekend in attendance next year will very much depend on Luscious, who had a very different experience than me, and whether that continued exposure has career benefits.

I'm inclined to think it will.

Monday, March 03, 2014


This month is International Women's History Month, and my good friends at Fablecroft Publishing are using the month to crowdsource funds for an anthology of inspirational women entitled Cranky Ladies of History.

There's a Pozible campaign aiming for $8500, and they're well on the way. It's a fabulous project, and a great time to bring to light women who have had a profound impact upon the history of the blue green marble, so I'm doing my bit to assist by signing up for Fablecroft's Cranky Ladies Blog Tour. You read the blog, you give a little at the Pozible shopfront, they print a seriously cool book, we all buy it, everybody happay!

To whit: Charlotte Corday.

Charlotte Corday, by Francois-Seraphin Delpech

It is July 1793. The Revolution has replaced the corrupt, bloated Monarchy, and has, in turn, been replaced by the Terror. France is caught in the grip of a political trio of unimaginable imagination, influence and power: Maximilien Robespierre, father of the revolution, whose reforming zeal has been eaten away by a cocktail of paranoia and ambition; Jean-Paul Marat, the political commentator and hatemonger who now finds his declamations, and enemies, at the heart of political policy; and Jacques-Louise David, painter, zealot and fascist chronicler of the revolution, the Leni Riefenstahl of his day, pervertor of his exquisite talent to the cause of tyrants.

Liberty, egality and equality are years away. For now there is only fear, repression, and institutionalised murder the likes of which France has never before witnessed.

Deep in the heart of the country, near Caen, the Girondins-- moderate members of the National Assembly who had campaigned ceaselessly for a constitutional monarchy-- watch the endless processions to the guillotine and despair. Marginalised by the extreme right wing at the heart of the Assembly, they have lost the revolution within the revolution. Wishing to accommodate a limited monarchy, they have watched helplessly as the King and Queen are imprisoned and beheaded. The National Assembly has rejected them, and become an instrument of oppression. The Jacobins have seized exclusive power, and run the country according to their whim. The Girondins are powerless, ejected from the halls of government and in fear of action, lest they become the core members of that league of disenfranchised who make the daily troop to the blade. In the Terror, it is not necessary to disagree with the Government to lose your life, but doing so absolutely guarantees it.

Charlotte Corday is 25 years old, a committed Girondist living in Caen with her cousin. Horrified by the breadth of institutionalised murder being carried out in the name of the Revolution her compatriots had fought so hard for, and convinced that another civil war is heading inexorably closer, she makes her way to Paris, intending to murder Marat in full view of the National Convention. Without its voice, distributed daily via Marat's widely-read newspaper The Friend of the People, the Jacobins will be deeply weakened. The Revolutionary Government will remember its roots. Government will be returned to the people.

Except that Marat is not at the National Convention. Stricken by a debilitating skin condition, he has ceased to appear in public. Instead, he lies in a medicinal bath for hours on end, writing lists of Girondist collaborators and enemies of the people to be sent to the National Assembly. They have stopped answering, and their policies have begun to swerve away from the increasingly despotic measures Marat continues to call for, but no matter. Marat is in the grip of revolutionary zeal. They will see. All he needs are the right words, the right names on the right list. When Corday calls upon him, on the evening of 13 July, claiming to have a list of Girondists planning an uprising in Caen, it is exactly the list for which he hopes. He has her brought into his room, where he lies in his bath, writing, always writing.

Corday gives Marat her list. As he begins to copy it, she pulls a kitchen knife with a six-inch blade out from her skirts and drives it into his chest three times, piercing his lung, aorta and left ventricle. He has time to call out a single imprecation before he dies.

Corday is immediately arrested and put on trial. The result is a forgone conclusion: she readily admits the murder, stating "I killed one man to save 100,000." Her words are a clear taunt to Marat's friend and collaborator Robespierre, who had uttered similar sentiments at the execution of the King. Four days after Marat's death, Corday is executed, another victim of the guillotine.

Charlotte Corday being led to her execution, by Arturo Michelena

The Terror continues, but the triumvirate at its heart is broken. While the engine rolls on, the engineers are chewed up by the machinery. A year later, Robespierre himself is arrested and guillotined in an act of high irony. David is inspired by Corday's act to create his masterpiece, The Death of Marat, immortalising the paranoid, evil mouthpiece of the Terror, but eventually he too is arrested.

The Death of Marat, by Jacques-Louis David

Spared the guillotine, he is eventually released, but his career enters serious decline and he spends many years painting the most inoffensive portraits of the new, post-Revolutionary aristocracy: the merchant classes and politicians who become the new power base until the rise of the Emperor, Napoleon. With a new boot to lick he finds momentary favour, producing one of the most iconic portraits of his new Master, but it is all in vain. With the return of the Bourbons he is exiled, and never sees France again. Struck and killed by a carriage in Brussels in 1825 he is denied a return to France, and is buried in Belgium. His works are auctioned off cheaply, and his reputation as a regicide and apologist for the Terror forever stains his legacy.

Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass, by Jacques-Louis David

Like the murderers of Julius Caesar, Corday's murder of Marat was performed out of a fear of tyranny and despotism, and was a concentrated political act designed purely to destabilise, and hopefully topple, a political system that had appeared to spin out of control. What fascinates is that it was so easily accomplished: there was no security around Marat, and nobody thought to check Corday's credentials or political history, or even pat her down. And it is hard not to escape the conclusion that this was because she was a woman: indeed, after her execution, Jacobin leaders had her autopsied to discover whether or not she was a virgin. They simply could not conceive that the act could have been performed by a single woman, acting alone, without the planning and assistance of a male.

Another, later, view of the murder: Charlotte Corday, by Paul Jacques Aime Baudry.

Charlotte Corday, acting alone and out of a sense of political outrage, severed the first link that led to the unravelling of the French Revolution and the eventual ascendancy of arguably the greatest legal and judicial reformer since Augustus: Napoleon Bonaparte. Without her single act of rebellion, the political and social map of Western Europe may have evolved very differently indeed. She is the first clear hero of counter-revolutionary France, but because she is a woman she is forgotten in the shadow of the man she murdered, and the overwhelming horror he helped visit upon the French people.

The Cranky Ladies of History Blog Tour is set to roll right throughout March. If you'd like to connect with more brilliant, iconic, unique, iconclastic, insiprational and downright important women from history, you can check out the blog roll at the Fablecroft website.

Review: Tolkien's Gown and Other Stories of Famous Authors and Rare Books

Tolkien's Gown and Other Stories of Famous Authors and Rare Books
Tolkien's Gown and Other Stories of Famous Authors and Rare Books by R.A. Gekoski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I saw Rick Gekoski speak at the 2014 Perth Writers Festival and was struck by his joviality, his quick wit and his passionate attachment to the book as what editor Ellen Datlow describes as 'objects of adoration'; that is, the love of the book as an objet d'art in its own right, even before opening it to read the text within.

This book is a further examination of this passion, but without Gekoski's unique spoken voice it takes some effort to uncover the wit behind the anecdotes. Well-written it certainly is, and the majority of stories are engaging, but it becomes plan very early that Gekoski's main passion is the trading and economic system surrounding something he sees as nothing more than a commodity-- occasionally beautiful, often startlingly unique, with rich histories and provenances, but ultimately no different to a piece of furniture or a vase, with value aligned only to the balance of payments it attracts. This is not necessarily a bad thin-- you don't have to love houses to sell real estate-- but it does change the nature and flavour of the book as it is being read.

The stories are, largely, entertaining, and the anecdotes suitably intriguing if, like me, you are a geek for writers as much as you are for their works.Part memoir, part gossip column, part catalogue, it's a diverting volume, perfectly pleasant for reading while lying in bed or relaxing at the end of the day. I just wish Gekoski had come across as more of a lover of books for themselves, as well as someone proud of his ability to spot profit in an obscure art object. But that's my failing, not his.

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Review: Batman: Odyssey

Batman: Odyssey
Batman: Odyssey by Neal Adams

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I love Neal Adams. For me, he is the definitive Batman writer, the one I grew up reading who gave the Dark Knight the perfect balance between the suave elegance of Bruce Wayne and the grim reality of a man who engages in fistfights with freaks and escapes from insanely complicated and dangerous traps for kicks. But this story is pure nonsense, shoddily compiled and involving far too many leaps of faith to maintain reader interest. It's a tower of silliness with no underpinning or logic, and ends up being nothing more or less than a sloppy melange. Doubly disappointing for having come from such a great Batman writer, but this is dreadful.

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