Archive for the ‘UK – 2009’ Category

So, it seems that 2010 – the dawn of a new decade which may or may not be called the tens, teens, tweens or tweenies – is finally upon us. Huzzah! This was the first New Year’s Eve I’ve ever spent overseas, and the only one where it’s been cold. Toby and I put forward a few suggestions as to how we might celebrate, but in the end, a 24-hour virus/flu on his behalf saw us stay in by ourselves and have a pleasant, if very quiet, evening of geekery. I bought us a box of Indian food from Sainsbury’s, which actually wasn’t bad, and courtesy of our hosts – or, more specifically, their DVD collection – we watched Stigmata, which was very 90s, but not unenjoyable, paused to have a discussion about the apocryphal Gospel of St Thomas, and then watched The Lawnmower Man, which was sort of hilarious, but which made up for it by featuring a young, sometimes shirtless Pierce Brosnan wearing hot glasses and an a gold earring as the Rogue Scientist. Then we caught up with a bit of the classic Doctor Who we’ve been watching recently – Tom Baker in Pyramids of Mars – and went to sleep. Also, I may have done some writing.

Speaking of which: the first draft of the Ambush Novel is now complete. There’s one more scene I want to add in, a made-up word I want to change and a conversation to be fixed, but these are all little things, and otherwise, I’m extremely happy with the results. So if nothing else, I’ve managed to achieve my crazy goal of finishing it before we returned to Australia. Yay!

Finally, re my predictions for the second part of Doctor Who: The End of Time, I was right about some things, and wrong about others. I’m happy with that. It was, by and large, a good episode, although in all honesty, I’m keen to move on from the schmaltz of Russell T. Davies and see what Stephen Moffat can achieve – especially given that he’s been responsible for all my favourite episodes.

Rock on 2010!

Warning: absolutely giant massive spoiler alert!

OK, so: part one of the final David Tennant episode of Doctor Who, The End of Time, has now aired in the UK. The fact that I’ve been predicting the return of the TimeLords ever since Tennant first announced his retirement has left me with a warm, glowy feeling of narrative vindication. (The fact that said glow has undoubtably been heightened by the large glass of eggnog sitting to my left is by the way and nothing to do with it.) As soon as the Ood declared that ‘they are returning’, I knew it was game on, which view was ultimately proven correct when Timothy Dalton appeared mid-episode wearing the unmistakeable red and gold of Rassilon. It makes perfect sense that the Tenth Doctor’s exit would in some way be tied to the return of the denizens of Gallifrey, as his tenancy (hah – pun!) has been entirely characterised by their absence. In terms of mining the original show, the other TimeLords are the single facet yet to be brought back, and as the Daleks have turned up numerous times despite their supposed destruction during the Time War, finding a means of resurrecting their enemies is an act of natural balance. In the trailer for the final act, it has also been revealed that the drumming tune in the Master’s head – the inspiration for the four knocks which are prophecied to preempt the Doctor’s death – is representative of the double beat of a TimeLord’s heart. Armed with this knowledge and a glipse of the final episode, therefore, here are my predictions for the final ever episode of David Tennant’s term in Doctor Who.

Back in The Sound of Drums, it was revealed that what originally sent the Master mad was the TimeLord ritual of staring into the Time Vortex through the Untempered Schism. From this point on, the drums in his head were always calling to him. We know, too, that the Doctor can sense the presence of other TimeLords alive in the galaxy – but there are exceptions to this ability. Consider that creator Russell T. Davies, much like Joss Whedon, has a habit of planning his storylines long in advance, such that he is in a position to drop hints as to their eventual conclusion. One such notable clue is the Medusa Cascade, a place the Doctor was reported to have sealed off during the Time War, but where Davros and the Daleks were later proven to be hiding, along with a number of stolen planets, at the end of Season 4, by being a second out of sync with the rest of the universe. I won’t venture an explanation as to how, but my speculative guess, after the Ood announced that ‘things which have already happened are happening now’, is that those TimeLords who survived the Time War did so by a similar trick of temporal displacement; perhaps even utilising one of the Nine Gallifreys of old. Which is why, when the Master gazed into the Vortex all those years ago, the sound of drums was embedded in his head: he could hear the future/present of the timeless TimeLords, and was irrevocably altered by their (which is to say, Timothy Dalton and his prophetess’s) call to war. The Ood can sense this displacement at a psychic level, and now that the Master has turned everyone on Earth into copies of himself, the fact of this will allow the rest of the TimeLords to return: because of what he is, and of what was originally done to him.

Which leads us to Wilf, who appears to be having visions of a female TimeLord council member, and to Donna Noble, who is no longer quite human, and who has been forced to remember everything she was made to forget. This is somewhat interesting, as the Doctor has explained that Donna can’t remember without dying; but if she can, then what does this say about her deeper nature? Perhaps – one might speculate – her survival has something to do with those Huon particles she imbibed so long ago, given their relationship to TimeLord technology. We were told ealier that there was no coincidence in the Doctor meeting Donna more than once, and now we know that there is no coincidence to Wilf’s continued appearences, either. Why is he the only man to remember his bad, precognitive dreams? Perhaps this is an example of cyclic time: due to the Doctor’s protection, he was never going to turn into a copy of the Master, and was therefore able to remember in the present what his future self would eventually learn. Wilf is a stargazer, a soldier who has never killed a man; alternatively, his significance might lie in the fact that he is human – wholly human, unlike Donna – and therefore represents a viable template from which the human race might be restored. But he also has a choice to make, a life to take: the Doctor’s, the Master’s, or perhaps Timothy Dalton’s.

So, to wrap up all these vague speculations, I’ll end on a more solid, if perhaps more obvious note: Timothy Dalton’s character will die; Gallifrey will return; the Doctor will be offered the mantle of Lord President (again) and refuse; the Master will escape to fight another day, as per his speciality; and Donna’s memories will be restored.

There. How’s that for a prophecy?

Much to my astonishment, while we were still in St Andrews, I managed to write roughly 45,000 words of the ambush novel in just over two weeks. This is a little bit scary, but also served as justification for my decision to take a break from it while we were in Leuven. That was four days off; since we’ve arrived back in Surrey, I’ve had a few more days of rest, and although Christmas loometh large, I’ve now decided to try and jump back in, albeit at a slightly reduced pace. The current total is 47,000 words, and my feeling is that the whole work will come out at somewhere between 85 and 100 thousand, depending on Reasons. In accordance with the fact that I am a Crazy Lady, I’ve set myself an impossible goal: to reach the end of the first draft before we return to Australia – that is to say, by 10 January 2010. Or, put another way, to write another 40,000-odd words in less than twenty days, days which contain Christmas and New Year’s Eve and trips to Bristol and London. I also plan, as a sort of New Year’s present to myself, to submit the polished earlier sections to a particular agent.

Did I mention I was insane?

What’s remarkable about this project is the extent to which the whole story is planned out – a much more organised approach than my usual scattergun habit, and one I’m going to try and harness in the future. Thinking on plotpoints as we flew into Belgium, I realised a need to return to earlier scenes and add in some extra detail so that the bit I’m up to now makes more sense, but other than that, I’m confident that the narrative is flowing well. There’ll be exposition sequences to trim down, of course, and overall editing to do, but it says something about my current levels of madness that I have also jotted down titles, key plot points and progressive storylines for a subsequent three books featuring these current protagonists.

‘Tis the season, I guess!

Leuven Walk

Posted: December 18, 2009 in UK - 2009
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’ ve just spent the past two and a half hours walking around Leuven, taking photos of pretty things. We arrived in Belgium yesterday in the middle of a snowy afternoon – everything was blanketed white, and the few locals we spoke to told us that it rarely snows so much over here, as evidenced by the fact that 400km of traffic was backed up in neighbouring areas as a result of the weather. As the plane touched down, we saw rabbits darting along beside the tarmac; one peeked up at us over the top of a bush, ducked back down as we rumbled closer, then tentatively began to re-emerge, ears first. On the train from Brussels to Leuven, everything outside was a white blur, and once we alighted, it was tricky to find a cab, because of the snow and the number of outside roads that were closed. Once we arrived at the hotel, though, everything was fine, and we went for an afternoon/evening walk through the falling snow. The lights from the churches, Christmas trees and shops turned everything golden.

Today, I walked through a Christmas Market, through parks and sidestreets, and was everywhere amazed by how beautiful a place this is. Perhaps it’s just the lingering snow and the bright blue sky, which conspire to make even mundane sights extraordinary; but it’s also the architecture, and the fact that everyone is friendly, with children, students and adults alike all stopping in groups to throw snowballs at one another. When I went to the ATM, I heard a familiar accent and realised that the woman in line behind me was also Australian; we chatted happily for a few minutes, and discovered that both our husbands were here to visit the university. Slush, slurry and ice cover every scrap of path and road; when I slipped, a random stranger travelling in the opposite direction stuck his arm out and kept me from falling backwards.

I bought a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and a proper European sauasge in a roll for lunch in the Christmas Markets, and listened to carols being piped through a soundsystem at just the right volume. There are evergreens everywhere, covered with lights and clumps of snow; it’s the first time, I think, that Christmas iconography has ever made sense to me, or seemed appropriate, or done anything to generate a sense that This Is Christmas in a way that doesn’t relate to commercialism. Cars, bikes, rooftops and benches are all covered with layers of snow, and in the markets, every second stall is selling Stella Artois, Irish coffee, Italian spirits, European beer and mulled wine to keep out the cold – when I bought my hot chocolate, even, it was a struggle not to ask for the version which came with Baileys and Amoretto, a temptation I resisted only because I hadn’t yet eaten anything. Later, when Toby has finished giving his paper, I intend to investigate it more closely, in conjunction with the many chocolate and waffle stalls.

There’s something I’ve heard people say before, that you can visit a place and leave part of yourself behind. I feel like that about Leuven. Everyone here seems to speak at least two of the four ambient languages – German, French, Flemish and English – such that it’s impossible to feel like an outsider, or anything but welcome. We’re only here for three days, but hopefully, we’ll be able to return at some point in the future – if only for another helping of the delicious Flemish-style rabbit I had for dinner last night.

I found out today that Thora Morris, a woman who was once a second grandmother to me, has been put in a nursing home because of dementia. This poem is about her.

Thora


Rose-thumbed, green to the elbow,

you smiled wide to see

a small girl in a flower-print dress,

barefoot, poking her head through the gate –

.

frowning, as children do, at the mysteries of rich soil,

bright violets, lush carnations –

.

you invited her in, down the dim hall

behind the screen door, past the old photos, out

to the veranda, sitting her down

beside the typical crocheted rug, the bowl of home-grown oranges

and told her stories.

.

Once, your hair was princess-red, burning a bright fire.

You rode a Clydesdale called Jack, whose broken gallop

threw you clear over the paddock fence. At school,

you were Puck, laughing as a stubborn boy vowed

that he weren’t sayin’ any thees or thous

when after almost seventy years, you still remembered your closing lines

.

and said them with me, word for perfect word.

.

Grown up more, you loved a man

who went to war, piloting the high skies. His name was Bing

and though you wished him home again

even his body never made it back, buried instead

with an English squadron, name marked up

alongside English dead.

.

I said, when I grow up, too

I’ll visit at his grave for you, or else

find his name on the memorial, so that one of us

could say we’d been. It’s not too late. I’m here, visiting the right soil.

I can still do it.

.

But your memory has betrayed us both.

These last few years, the older me has wilted away,

browning at the edges, peeling back like a dead petal,

falling aside; but there is no new blossom underneath.

.

Last time we met, your eyes wavered through me.

Here was some strange impostor, far too tall

and far too old to be Mary’s granddaughter –

Where is Philippa? you asked, and though I answered

here, I’m here,

.

you didn’t quite believe.

.

Now you’ve been taken away

to where the dementia can be kept at bay, ministered

by careful hands and careful minds.

I imagine you in a small, grey room, your tiny frame dwarfed

in a wooden chair, your clever hands idle, twitching for a trowel.

.

There will be no more gardening.

.

What will become of your roses? I try to imagine

the nurses will give you a plot of earth, some seeds to sow,

but in such institutions, life either visits, or fades;

a temporary gift.

.

It does not grow.

As anyone unfortunate enough to be reading my Twitter/Facebook updates will vouch, I’ve been somewhat engrossed this past week in writing an Ambush Novel. By which I mean, I wrote 3,000 words of backstory last Monday, 1 December, having suddenly realised that three different ideas I’ve been toying with for the past few years were actually, in fact, one idea, and since then – that is to say, over the past six days – I’ve written a little over 18,000 words in roughly seven chapters. This is sort of unprecedented, given that I am:

(a) lazy; and

(b) easily distracted by shiny things,

most notably television, the internet, and old-school games of Tetris. On the other hand, final changes to Solace & Grief are long since done, and as I finished the first draft of its sequel, The Key to Starveldt, when we were still in Bristol, I now have to wait the regulation month-or-so before my brain is able to cope with the notion of editing it. Up until this week, therefore, I’ve been in something of a unique (for me) position, viz: being totally free to write, but having no major project. I won’t deny the break’s been nice, but clearly the tiny scrap of enthusiasm currently doing double-duty as my work ethic has grown bored with this sudden influx of free time, and decided to collaborate with my imaginative hindbrain in mixing things up. Hence, we arrive at the Rise of the Ambush Novel.

I’m not quite sure what genre it is. So far, there’s magic, weird technology, political wrangling, frustrated romance, quite a lot of swearing and – oh, yeah – some murders to be solved. It’s an absolute blast, and even though we’re talking early dawn of days, something tells me I’ll see this one through to completion.

So, side project. Squee!

Despite the vehement protestations of my formerly nine-year-old self, chances are that I’ll have kids of my own at some point in the future. Even were that not the case, I’m still the kind of gal who routinely plunges her head into the ice-cold waters of the blogsphere, and am therefore reasonably up to date on the current furor vis-a-vis motherhood. Specifically, the fact that nobody seems to know what to make of it. As Lynn Harris points out, a lot of hate for the feminine side of parenting is being bandied about by non-parents; Emma Gilby Keller is making the case for women who haven’t heard the ticking of their biological clocks and refuse to see this as a personal failing; Gen Y mum Nicole Madigan is, not unreasonably, fed up with being treated as though mothers as a demographic are still entrenched in the 1950s; and more than one person is wondering about how children should (or shouldn’t) fit into the public sphere. No matter whose side you’re on, any discussion of modern motherhood seems to imply a certain amount of outrage, anxiety and general handwringing, which, given that the prospect of giving birth is already terrifying, let alone being responsible for a tiny helpless being encoded with an unspecified, potentially lethal mix of yours and your partner’s DNA, is about as close to notions of ‘helpful’ or ‘comforting’ as the Oort Cloud is from Earth. Which is to say, very fucking distant.

I’ll admit to being fascinated by the whole malarkey – not just because I’m an opinionated snark, or because the entire buisness reeks very faintly of rubbernecking, but because it’s something in which my future self is, presumably, invested. Like everyone else, I want to know how to do this right, but despite my historical belief in the idea that moral/social absolutes are arbitrary if necessary human constructs rather than universal fixtures, it is still something of a rank shock to discover that there is no inviolable Way of the Parent, let alone Way of the Responsible Adult. Except for that part about not sticking forks in electrical socks, which, really, is only common sense.

But I digress.

The point being, there’s a lot of parenting turmoil to wade through, most of it directed towards or inflicted upon mothers themselves. And while I’m hardly about to cut in on the stroller-bashing queue, I think I’ve finally pinned down what makes me, personally, uncomfortable about the whole buisness. It’s not the idea of the Yummy Mummy that stings, although I dislike the emphasis it puts on what are frequently unrealistic standards of beauty. It’s not the helicopter, cotton-wool parenting, either, although it makes both my inner sixteen-year-old and my outer twentysomething roll their eyes. It’s not even the obnoxious, ignore-the-kids-as-they-go-on-a-public-rampage non-approach to parenthood, or the designer stroller brigades. I might lament each one in turn, but they’re not trends I feel personally threatened by: call it crazy, madcap optimism, but I’d like to think that whatever neuroses I develop as a consequence of motherhood will have less to do with social ephemera than the quirks and peculiarities of my own offspring. No: what makes me edgy in all of this is the idea that motherhood has once again become a lifestyle.

It’s a thought which simultaneously intrigues and repulses. On the one hand, everyone has the right to choose their own life. Who am I to criticize anyone for wanting the best for their children, or for taking pride in the process? Feminism has failed, and failed roundly, if it says that a woman ceases to be a feminist the moment she decides to be a stay-at-home mother, or if she cares about the type of stroller in which she perambulates her child. But on the other hand, it feels as though the current argument that children should comfortably pervade every facet of adult life – pubs, restaraunts, movies – is a reprimand on the notion that parenthood is something adults might want to take a break from. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be easy for parents to take their children places, but even within the realms of shared public space, some areas – like parks – are more intuitively child-friendly habitats than cramped pubs. Children aren’t a disease or a nuisance, some squalid facet of humanity to be sequestered from polite society until their debutante ball: they are people, they are important, and every adult, no matter how vociferous on the subject of ‘breeders’, was one once. But neither are children accessories, undetachable scions that can’t be left off the parental radar without risk of permanent personality failure.

It’s a mess, in short, one we all have to sort through in accordance with our individual beliefs and intuitions, which goes some way towards accounting for all the different types of motherhood on offer. Sometimes, in the absence of absolute moral certainty, you just have to agree to disagree. But it’s the lifestyle element of modern mothering I baulk at: because lifestyles are all about appearances, and if there’s one thing I think childhood and parenting – and life in general, for that matter – shouldn’t boil down to, it’s an emphasis on how things look to other people, as opposed to how they actually work. And yet, this is exactly what I end up doing: looking at other mothers, who are after all the only rubric available, and judging, via their appearance, how likely they are to be engaged in the persuit of motherhood-as-a-lifestyle as opposed to motherhood-in-general. If I mistrust designer prams, Yummy Mummies and kids on parade, it’s because I worry that these are the trappings of motherhood-as-a-lifestyle, and while they certainly can be, particularly in conjunction, they are not definitive indicators. They are the accessories of stereotype, not its core. But with mothers and motherhood now so visible in public – which is a different part of the debate in and of itself -  it is frequently the case that these external signs are all we have to go by.

We are, in short, trying to find a definition for modern motherhood that suits. Women are juggling children and careers, personal lives and dedicated play schedules, the desire to spend time in adult company vs the practical difficulties of foisting one’s offspring off onto anyone else, even for an afternoon, in a climate where childcare costs approximately nine zillion squared to the power of sod off. We are having children at older ages, where an increased amount of disposable income to spend on the trappings of childhood – clothes, strollers, toys – often equates to time poverty, resulting in guilt and the desire to take the kids out wherever possible, even where that means sandwiching adult social time into a playdate at the local pub. And, as was ever the case, there is no easy answer. Society has changed, and mothers, intentionally or not, are changing with it. There is value in trying to stick up for what we think parenting should be, but if all that means is talking about the Good Old Days and judging by appearances, it won’t get us very far.

There has been some concern this week about sexism in Australian university colleges; specifically, at St Paul’s College, Sydney University, after it came to light that a group of male students had created a pro-rape/anti-consent group on Facebook called ‘Define Statutory’. Not without reason, this has sparked outrage in various quarters.

Allow me to add to it.

Prior to commencing my time as an undergraduate at Sydney University, I interviewed for a place in two of its co-educational colleges: St Andrews and Wesley. From all the reading I’d done beforehand, St Andrews had been my first choice. Ironically, given that it was where I ended up living in 2004 and 2005, Wesley was something of an afterthought; what swayed me was being introduced to the resident turtles, a trio of doleful chelonians camped in the courtyard pond. During my interview, I distinctly remember joking to the now outgoing master, Reverend David Russell, that any college with turtles couldn’t be all bad. He laughed, and as much as anything else, I suspect it was this which saw me accepted as one of his students.

I was also offered a place at St Andrews. I turned it down. Arriving for the interview, I was already nervous, and when the petite female student giving me a tour of the college mentioned having been stuffed into one of the dryers by a group of male yearmates, my trepidation was not improved. She waved off the incident as a prank, but with a sort of wry, wary eyeroll that wasn’t entirely reassuring. Her anecdote followed me into the interview room. I don’t recall whether I mentioned it explicitly or voiced instead a general anxiety about the behaviour of male collegians, but whatever my words, they caused the master to straighten in his chair, his voice to change. He admitted, seriously and with a mix of shame and anger, that there was still a ‘rugger bugger’ culture in the upper forms, but that I could rest assured that both he and the college as a whole were doing their best to stamp it out. Perhaps he assumed my knowledge of campus sexual politics to be greater than it was, or maybe my concern was more obvious than I remember. Either way, he went so far as to say that, though there had been ‘incidents’ even in recent times, he deplored them. Because of these assurances, he said, I could feel safe at St Andrews.

I appreciated his honesty, his forthrightness and his clear willingness to fix an entrenched culture, but I did not feel safe. On that basis, as much as for the turtles, I chose Wesley, where my chances of being bundled into a cramped metal box seemed smaller. Certainly, I never had to fight free of any laundry equipment in my two years as a resident. I did, however, have fun: I got drunk, I made friends, played copious amounts of MarioKart in lieu of attending morning lectures, went to parties at the surrounding colleges, and acted in most respects like the undergraduate I was. I was never sexually abused at college, nor did I know of anyone during my tenure, male or female, who was. But that is not to say that nothing ever happened.

In 2005, I went, alone, to a party at St Paul’s. I was feeling adventurous, rebellious, flush with the need to meet new people and enjoy my youth. Being an unaccompanied, slender blonde in a short blue dress and rainbow knee-socks, I soon found myself a group of new acquaintances – friendly lads, all of them, and not the least bit menacing. We drank together for most of the night, and at some point, the ringleader of our particular group suggested we retire inside, where the drinking continued in his room. There were about fourteen of us, I think – not a small number – and from hazy memory, I was the only girl. This was not an unfamiliar dynamic to me: the vast bulk of my school friends were male, and I’d often been the lone female presence at various teenaged gatherings. I was confident, if drunk; I laughed with everyone else when the guy whose room it was stripped down to his underpants and tackled a mate, and did not object to his occasional hugs. I did not feel threatened, or preyed upon, or vulnerable, but whether this would be true for every girl in that situation is a different question.

Twice during that night, I wandered into the hallway – not alone, but as part of the general overflow of bodies. There was a boy I didn’t know whose room was across the hall; I’d seen him throughout the night, and he seemed to have noticed me, too. The first time we met, he beckoned me over to his doorway. I went, wondering drunkenly what he wanted to talk to me about, only to find I was being quite unexpectedly kissed and pulled into a room. I disentangled myself as graciously as possible; he grinned as if to say ‘oh, well’,  and let me go. The second time, I was warier, but still lacking in sober judgement: it took several attempts for him to coax me over, proffering apologies and saying that, in all seriousness, he needed to tell me something. It turned out to be a case of fool me twice: I escaped again and left the party soon after, having been jolted back into my senses. Once outside, the cold air woke me up further. Had I drunk just a little bit more, been a little less in control of myself, I might have done something I later came to regret. The guy hadn’t been forceful, or aggressive: just hopeful. That’s not a defence, of course – or at least, it wouldn’t have been, had my decisions been less intelligent. He was soused to the nines, and so was I. We were both stupid, but we were also lucky. There are worse combinations.

On another occasion in 2004, I failed to lock the door to my room at Wesley. I went to bed after a party, fell asleep, and was woken up about half an hour later when one of my male yearmates climbed in next to me. He’d blundered into the wrong room, but after I pointed this out to him, he professed himself too drunk and too weary to correct the mistake: could he sleep on my floor, please? I was tired, he was persistent. After a minute of arguing, I took the path of least resistance and agreed. Inside of three minutes, he had climbed back into my bed, at which point I lost my patience and ordered him out. After some complaints and several futile promises to mend his behaviour, he finally staggered to the door and left. I locked it after him and went back to sleep with little more than a muttered complaint and a weary eyeroll. Really, college men. What else could you do?

Both times, I emerged unscathed. To say that alcohol was a key factor in either incident is an understatement: arguably, it was the only factor. I was never assailed, per se, nor was the behaviour predatory: rather, I chalk it up to drunken male optimism. But the fact remains that it was male, and it was drunken, and it took place at college. Does that make it a consequence of chauvinist culture? Arguably, yes. Had my resolve been less firm, or either male more insistant, this would be a much darker narrative. Physically, I was at every disadvantage. The boys I encountered were undeniably opportunistic, but they didn’t press the issue once my feelings were made clear. That being said, they both made more than one sally; a more tired, more hesitant, less stubborn girl might have made worse choices, or had the possibility of choice taken away from her altogether. Not having spoken to either male in a state of sobriety, I am no fit judge of their daylight personalities. Were they sexist? Did they take pride in their college culture? Were they rugger buggers? I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now, but there are those who would contend, not unreasonably, that it shouldn’t matter either way: sober, they might never have climbed into my bed or tried to pull me into theirs, but sobriety didn’t enter into it.

When I read about the St Paul’s Facebook group, I feel angry, outraged on behalf of men and women alike. Rape is not funny, and it is not simple. Throw alcohol into the picture, and a college environment, and it is even less so. Being too drunk to remember forcing yourself on someone is not a defence, no matter how out of character it is. The act of rape does not fall into a moral grey area, even if the circumstances surrounding it might conceivably, hypothetically, be said to do so. No matter how wonderful a time I had at college, it would be naive and inaccurate to say that there weren’t problems, and that these problems did not sometimes involve a combination of sex and alcohol. The fact that there is a documented history of such incidents is undeniable, which in turn suggests a pattern of behaviour within a particular context. Of itself, this does not invalidate the good times I had at Wesley, nor does it lay a shadow over my undergraduate years. But I will not pretend, for the sake of a rosy-tinted memory, that nothing happened at all, or contend that what did happen was insignificant. In my personal recollection, what matters most is that I was neither harmed nor threatened. I joked about it the next day. I was not the only girl to do so. But there will be others who couldn’t, and still can’t, and never will. In the end, I was lucky, and though it served to help me twice, it is not something I would encourage anyone – man, woman or college authority – to bank on.

Some names are big. The shadows they cast are long and deep, so that even people with only the barest grasp of that particular field of endeavour will have heard of them. After all, you can’t talk about tennis without mentioning Roger Federer. But there is a phenomenon I’m coming to loathe with a fiery, stabby vengeance – the dark side of such overwhelming notoriety in the literary world. It is the use, over and over and over, of a single speculative phrase. It consists of five little words. They are:

The Next J. K. Rowling.

Sweet merciful donkey-gods, I am sick of it. On hearing that I’m a writer, or a writer of fantasy/young adult books, the first hopeful-teasing reaction of far too many strangers is, ‘So, you’re planning to be the next J. K. Rowling?’ In that context, it’s not a compliment or a vote of confidence: it’s a grasping-after-relevance on behalf of the speaker, clutching at the most famous name they can think of to try and reverse-orient their perception of what it is I actually do, and whether or not I’m likely to succeed at it. Depending on my mood, this is either amusingly unoriginal or a source of withering despair, but at least, when it does occur, there’s a good Goddam reason: 99% of the time, I’m speaking to someone who doesn’t read much, or who doesn’t read fantasy/young adult titles, and the name-drop represents an effort on their behalf, however misguided, at finding some conversational middle-ground.

But literary reviewers have no such defence. Google the above phrase, and you’ll see what I mean: G. P. Taylor, Catherine Banner, Stephenie Meyer, Maggie Stiefvater, F. E. Higgins and Michelle Paver have all been described thusly at one time or another; puzzlingly, so has Philip Pullman, despite the fact that the first volume of the His Dark Materials trilogy was published in 1995, two years prior to the advent of Potter, with the final two books appearing in 1997 and 2000. It is a phrase currently in danger of being abused to the point of ritual castigation, and worse, it seems to be employed more out of hopes for hype and the preemptive desire to create yet another worldwide marketing phenomenon than as an admission that the book in question is brilliantly written. The public yearneth for another Cinderella story – which Rowling, with her initial poverty, blonde hair and squillions of rejection letters, personified – and journalists are eager to provide. There is a tendency to forget that she also wrote an incredible series of seven books, the popularity of which stemmed, not from her underdog status, but from the creation of a fabulous world, brilliant characters and a well-plotted story arc.

The latest candidate for the TNJKR mantle is an Australian mother of four, Rebecca James, whose teeange thriller, Beautiful Malice, has earned an advance of more than $1 million from Allen & Unwin and started a bidding war over the international publication rights after being rejected by the Australian market. More, the windfall came just as James’s business folded, effectively saving the family. Regardless of whether the book lives up to expectations, there is warmth in the story on those grounds alone: underdog victories are always emotionally satisfying. As for the book itself, I’ll certainly read it, if only because the application of the Rowling moniker will make me remember the author. There you go, Marketing Guys – viral publicity strikes again! Thank the writers at the Wall Street Journal. After all, they started it.

I wish Rebecca James every success, and I’m extremely happy that she’s managed to achieve her goal. But in future, can we please have a moratorium on calling each new writer to earn a big advance, publish in the YA fantasy genre and/or write their book as a teenager the next JK? It’s like hailing each new addition to the Australian cricket team as the next Don Bradman: unnecessary and, ultimately, inaccurate. Because what made the Potter phenomenon so powerful was that no one predicted it. Rowling didn’t earn a $1 million advance for the first volume. The series was seven books long, and they were published over an entire decade – that’s a long time to work up a fanbase, infiltrate the market and create hype for each successive instalment. Chances are, when the Next Big Thing comes knocking, most of the world will be two rooms over with their music turned up loud, and will have to hear about it on the evening news. So until then, let’s just keep our eyes peeled and defer judgement to the delivery of an actual product, shall we?

Yesterday invovled a rather interesting trip to Oxford – not just the town itself, but the actual university, as the whole point of going (apart from the opportunity to ogle the stonework) was for Toby to meet some logicians. This meant visiting New College and, once we’d taken in the atmosphere, dinner at the high table. I hadn’t really groked that this would be the case, and despite the abundant evidence supporting the notion that England Is Cold In Autumn, I also neglected to take a jacket. Combine this with a limited travel wardrobe, and the result was me sitting at table on a raised dias in a 600 year old building, drinking expensive wine and talking to academics while wearing a ‘Joss Whedon Is My Master Now‘ t-shirt.

Not surprisingly, this left me feeling a tad underdressed. The fact that the mathematician sitting opposite was a Buffy fan and promptly initiated a conversation about favourite episodes and seasons was both startling and a relief; learning that the Dean was a devout fan of The Wire may actually have caused me to do a double-take. I’m not sure why, though. It’s not like I’ve never had dinner with academics. It’s just, you know, Oxford. Had I gone in with any assumptions about probable topics of conversation, they would have involved a discussion of neo-Platonism, arguments about Rousseau and a lecture on transfinite infinities, not how much of a shame it was that Firefly was cancelled. (Which, totally, it was.)

We also discussed the hibernation rituals of tortoises and the appointment of an executive committee to choose a name for the college’s new kitten. Seriously, on both counts. The logician Toby was there to see has three pet tortoises, one of whom is called Xeno. Apparently, once they start trying to hibernate by digging into the garden, they are gathered up, shelved in an old refridgerator in the garage and left alone for five months, to eventually awaken from their prolonged stasis without having lost so much as an ounce of body fat. There was absolute certainty on this last point, as they are weighed before going into the fridge, and then again on removal. As for the kitten, some of the students have taken to calling him Socrates, but as some of the academics were concerned as to whether they might dislike his eventual, official name, steps have been taken to ensure that it will be chosen from a short list pre-approved by the faculty. Neither is Socrates the first ever resident cat: the previous incumbent had no sense of direction, the Dean said, and was frequently getting lost in the pharmacology department, which was far enough away that money was regularly spent putting him in a taxi back to the college.

So, Oxford. Beautiful place!