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xmas me
So, after missing my initial flight, dealing with a flight delay out of Orlando, temporarily losing my wheelchair in Dublin (that was fun), and going through Secret Back Alleyways Through Paddington Station (that actually was entertaining. Like spy stuff.) This is usually the part where I complain about Heathrow, and, trust me, there are several things I could say about Heathrow, none kind, but in comparison I feel that Heathrow's ongoing "Hi! How can we get you to hate this country as quickly as possible" is mild in comparison. Also Heathrow did push me all the way to Heathrow Express, so that was kind.

Unfortunately, the advertised as disabled friendly hotel where I am staying is not quite as disabled friendly as advertised. To get in and out I have to wait for the porters to bring me a little temporary ramp, not kept in the lobby. This also means that they have to realize I'm there, which so far means waiting outside hopefully for another guest to enter the hotel to alert them that I need the ramp. The main hotel restaurant is not at all disabled accessible, and the bathroom - but this should be a cheery post.

It's perhaps not surprising that I have had four separate people come up to me and ask, in excited voices some equivalent of "you are really doing this? Where? How? Does the bathroom actually work for a wheelchair?" All of them know wheelchair users.

My other favorite comment of the past two days: "All the Americans I've met are so friendly which is strange because you always seem to be shooting each other." Yay, USA!

All right. One last visit to the unlit disabled bathroom, and then I am off to See Stuff.

Loncon 3 schedule

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It's been brought to my attention that I haven't posted my official Loncon 3 schedule. This is true, mostly because for the most part I was trying to AVOID having an official Loncon 3 schedule. That flopped, if, I'm pleased to say, not too badly. So, the official Loncon3 schedule, in between arriving at some point Wednesday and leaving at some point Monday:

Chivalrous Critics of Fannish Dimensions
Saturday 20:00 - 21:00, Capital Suite 16 (ExCeL)

What makes a good epic fantasy? Does quality of prose matter, or is insisting on literary rigor killjoy and elitist? Is it possible to 'overthink' your experience of reading epic fantasy - or is it patronising to the sub-genre to suggest it should be given an easier ride than other types of writing? What are some of the primary critiques of epic fantasy and how can they be used to improve the genre moving forward?

Myke Cole (M), Liz Bourke, Nic Clarke, Justin Landon, Mari Ness

(I am tempted to show up with some sort of mash-up of The Belgariad and Finnegan's Wake, but perhaps not. I mean, to do that, I'd have to look at Finnegan's Wake again.)

I'm also on as an emergency back up add her to the panel thing, so it's possible this might get extended. I will also probably be making some sort of appearance at one or all the following: the Friday night SFWA reception (given the nature of these sorts of things, the chances that I will be lingering at this event are slim, slim indeed); the Saturday morning 10 am 12 am Strange Horizons Brunch, Fan Village, Tent A; one or more of Strolling with the Stars, assuming accessibility isn't an issue (I'll be Rolling with the Stars, but I feel that counts); and the, or at least a bar during the Hugos, to place large imaginary bets on the Hugos.

Also, my hotel room, for multiple naps.
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Not that anybody has asked, but: "Hey, what it is like to get solicited for a major upcoming project?"

It goes like this:

1. Email comes in. You read it. It's a request - an actual request - for a poem. You figure the people sending you the email just wanted to cheer you up because you had a crappy day, but, you know, poem! After a couple of reassuring emails you agree, because this is going to be a nice, fun little webzine, right? No pressure. You cheer up.

2. Time passes. You don't think much about it because of myriad and massive computer issues and a few other things. And then the Kickstarter announcement pops up on Twitter. You click.

3. You see the freaking list of solicited authors" and squeak, because this list includes Paul Cornell, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jim Hines, Rachel Swirsky, Scott Lynch (!!!!), E. Lily Yu, Ken Liu, Sofia Samatar, Amal El-Mohtar, several other amazing names and --

Neil Gaiman.

(For the record NONE of this was in the initial email.)

Did we say no pressure? Right.


3. You realize that you really really really want to read everybody else in this.

Uncanny Magazine!

So, er, go pledge! For everyone else in this.


Speaking of projects that you should be funding, I'm VERY pleased to note that An Alphabet of Embers, Rose Lemberg's upcoming anthology of Unclassiables, has funded, which also means that the companion book, Spelling the Hours, which is a really cool little thing containing poems about women scientists, has also funded.

What hasn't funded yet, though, is the second stretch goal, which includes music from The Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours, which sounds totally awesome.

Plus, the initial books just sound really cool.

(Full disclosure: I submitted something for Spelling the Hours, but to be honest, given the other people submitting to this project, I don't actually expect to be in it since Rose has such an amazing wealth of talent eager to work with her to choose from. Which right there says everything you need to know about her editing skills (i.e., excellent.) However, I AM in one of the incentive books, Here We Cross, so if you've always wanted a copy of that, this is an excellent opportunity.)


And since this has turned into a pimp out worthy projects post, Clarkesworld Magazine is very close to publishing three more stories every four months thanks to Patreon support; they only need a couple hundred more dollars in pledging to make that goal. I'm an obvious fan of Clarkesworld, not just because they've published me twice, but because they continue to publish outstanding fiction every single month, forming a large part of the stories I nominate for the Hugo and Nebula awards, so I highly recommend this, if you can. And you can always buy Clarkesworld directly from various online retailers as well.

(Though, full disclosure again: this is a bit of an incentive for me as well, since it might get me over my current "AUUGH I CAN'T WRITE SCIENCE FICTION" if I know people like a zine that I've published science fiction in to support it through Patreon. But mostly, you should be supporting Clarkesworld since they are publishing such groundbreaking work.)


(I have to write a poem for a zine that also solicited a poem from Neil Gaiman. NO PRESSURE.)

(ok maybe pressure)


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My little flash story, Survival, popped up at Goldfish Grimm over the weekend, along with a short interview with me.

In other survival stories, I left the house today thinking, oooh, the sun is still shining. I won't get wet. YAY ME.

Ten minutes later I was soaked completely through, and I do mean completely (well, my butt was kinda covered by the trike, but still.) We're talking every inch of clothing totally plastered to you soaked. Water dripping from my nose soaked. Having to stop because I can't ride the trike in heavy rain soaked (the rain gets on my glasses.)

During all of this?




Ok, that didn't last too long - the clouds swept in - but Florida. Where you can be in the sun, and still be wet.

But I now have my bananas, which was the main point of going against Florida's weather, so all good.

Beans and Lies

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Beans and Lies just went up at Daily Science Fiction. It's very short, I promise. And it's - almost - a fairy tale. Kinda.

Death and Death Again

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My short story, Death and Death Again, just went live up at Nightmare Magazine.

Since I've been yelled about not warning people about this sort of thing before, warning: this story is pure, unadulterated horror. Like horror movie style horror. Not one of my usual indulgences, but sometimes fear and terror just has to crawl out.

There's also an interview here where I chat about my inability to come up with character names. This has actually reached the point of being a pretty bad joke, but in this case, it happened not because I couldn't figure out the right names (the usual problem) but because I was writing in a fit of pure irritation, and quite honestly reached the end before realizing that I'd done it again. Ah well.

Anyway, enjoy!

Apparently, this does need to be said

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My comment policy:

1. I welcome disagreement and dialogue. Anonymous comments are disabled because the spam from those was just getting too overwhelming to deal with, but generally people are more than welcome to disagree/comment using LJ accounts, Facebook, Twitter and so on. does moderate comments on my posts, but as far as I'm aware the only comments that have been deleted were things like people trying to sell rip off designer shoes. Years back there was a small issue with one commentator, not because of any disagreements, but because does not allow commentators (or, for that matter, me) to promote their own works repeatedly on the site. Otherwise, the only comments I have reported to were on the Song of Ice and Fire thread when I spotted spoilers.

I should also note that I'm not a moderator on that site and have very limited powers there (read, none) so if you do have an issue I'm really the last person involved with that you should chat with. I don't even have the email addresses for the moderators. Or many (read, most) of the editors.

2. In twelve years, I have banned several Russian and Japanese LJ spam accounts, and one other user for non spam reasons, but that's it.

I didn't even ban the user who popped by to defend Roman Polanski although I was, admittedly, very tempted.

3. All that said:

If you come to this blog and tell me that the United States Constitution prohibits me from making moral judgements about historical people, I am going to get annoyed. If you further, in your comments, make any attempts whatsoever to defend pedophilia, stalking, stalking 14 year olds, or attempt to suggest that the stalker/pedophile in question was a tragic victim of the 14 year old, then EVEN IF THE FOURTEEN YEAR OLD IN QUESTION later grew up and murdered the stalker (in the 1940s), I AM GOING TO GET PISSED OFF. If you further suggest that I need to read more first hand, primary sources about this entire depressing story, and some excellent articles on this, then yes, I am going to get irritated, and the ban hammer will come up.

4. Thanks.

Disabled, with reservations

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In a little less than a month I head off to the United Kingdom and Ireland for WorldCon and Shamrockon. Since people have asked, I will also be in sorta the general area for Nine Worlds as well - in fact, I realized that I might even run into people at Heathrow arriving for Nine Worlds - and if people want to meet me for dinner that weekend that's awesome, but I wasn't planning on attending. Not because I have anything against Nine Worlds, which actually seems like more my sorta thing than the other two cons, but because at a certain point you hit Con Overload, and three cons in three weeks is absolutely that point for me. And although I initially thought about doing Nine Worlds and WorldCon, well...Shamrockon is in Ireland, where I've never been.

And like others, I will be in London between Nine Worlds and Worldcon. Let the hijinks ensue.

But this isn't about my con schedule, but rather about making reservations.

This isn't my first trip to the UK, or my first time making reservations there (although on one trip I just showed up at the train station and was lucky enough to find a cheap space in a Westminster boarding house sorta thing, which was fun).

But this is my first trip traveling via wheelchair, not to mention my first attempt to navigate Grade I and Grade II buildings - which historically can't be altered - some of which are transportation points, and others of which are hotels.

And, that, as it turns out, makes things interesting well before boarding a plane.

For instance:

1. While in London pre-Worldcon, I won't be using the London Underground much - even post the Olympics, many of the Tube stations are not wheelchair accessible. Fortunately for my budget, the London buses ARE fully accessible, and the bus system has a very helpful website where you can type in where you are starting from and where you want to end up and it will list all the buses for you. As it turned out, the buses pretty much cover everywhere I want to go, which solved that problem. (There's also special tourist buses, even better.) That's great, and meant that one of my main criteria for choosing a hotel was "Near Bus Station."

2. London hotel websites, however, assume that tourists are all going to want to use the Tube - so although they usually announce proudly how close to they are to a Tube station, few of them mention the bus stations. And if you go to the bus system website, it doesn't always tell you how far the hotel is from the bus.

3. Enter Google Street Maps, which have been, bluntly, a livesaver - not just for this reason, either, but you can type in the hotel address and see where the bus station is, on street view, and note any potential problems.

4. Google Street Maps are a godsend in another way: you can click on the little person on street view, look around, and see if the entrance to the hotel is, in fact, wheelchair accessible, since by "wheelchair accessible" the hotel sometimes means "you can use a wheelchair on the ground floor in the public rooms," not necessarily "you can get in."

5. And speaking of hotels in Bath, not London - I was initially cheered to see just how many hotels in Bath popped up when I searched for disabled accommodations in Bath.

Not surprisingly - most Bath hotels are in historic buildings that can only be accessed by two to four stairs - that turned out to be an overly optimistic search. As it turned out, Bath actually only has four hotels I could stay at. One is an absolutely gorgeous luxury hotel that is seriously beyond my budget, but where I am immediately heading to the instant I win the lottery. A second had only one disabled room which was already booked.

Which means that I am staying in a hotel that has been pretty universally described as "overpriced" in all of its internet reviews, who urge visitors to head to other, better value hotels. Having looked at the hotel's website I am already inclined to agree with the internet reviews, but the reviews also say that the hotel has a good sandwich place nearby, which is a plus, so there's that.

The other option, of course, was to stay in cheaper, more modern Bristol - an option I used for most of my clients back when I worked in the travel industry. The issue with Bristol, however, was that its hotels with disabled accommodation were for the most part not near the train station I would be using to take to Bath. By the time I worked out the transportation costs, I realized that I was going to be spending almost as much in transportation as I would be saving in hotel costs, so although Bristol is really not that far away, it seemed easier to stick with Bath after all.

6. Buckingham Palace, which is open during July/August, and is wheelchair accessible.

Wheelchair accessible tickets, however, have to be booked separately - and can't, unlike regular tickets, be booked online. (Apparently there's only one elevator accessible for tourists, so this has to be scheduled. Also you go in via wheelchair accessible golf cart.) Instead, you have to make an international phone call - or alternatively, email, and have them call you, which was working great until Buckingham Palace's computer systems went down. You fail me, Windsors, you fail me.

(Technically I think this is a sorta independent group that "operates" tours of Buckingham Palace while the Windsors are out windsoring, but it's more fun to assume this, like so many other things, is all Prince Charles' fault.)

I may end up at Kensington Palace instead, also wheelchair accessible, which has tickets available at the door.

7. But at least it is wheelchair accessible: it's been mildly crushing to realize even things that sounded like they would be fully wheelchair accessible aren't. The Tower of London is one thing; the Cartoon Museum, though, was a bit of a surprise.

I find myself comparing previous trips, with the "what shall I do today?" the spontaneous wandering, the surety that I could find someplace in London where I could sleep - and reach - without worrying too much. Some of that remains: my London schedule, for instance, is fairly flexible up until Worldcon, though that's partly because some plans are still getting finalized. It's not all disabled issues, either - some of this is just meeting up with various people here and there in London (hilariously, mostly Americans from Florida so far - it says something that it seems easier to meet up with them in London than Winter Garden, but moving on.) But there's still a fundamental change from previous trips, and it has me a bit twitchy.

On the other hand, London! Also, Dublin! Castles! High tea! And getting to see many of you again! Awesomeness.

Available for purchase/preorder:

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Available for purchase today, the July issue of Nightmare Magazine, which includes my story "Death and Death Again." You can pick it up here. It's a little foray into pure, unadulterated horror.

And available for preorder today, Upgraded, an anthology of cyborg stories edited by Neil Clarke, containing my story, "Memories and Wire." You can preorder it here. The book should be available later this month; I'm really looking forward to seeing the other stories in it.

That both these pieces are appearing in the same month is a fun coincidence, given their somewhat similar themes and tinges of horror. Well, ok, in the first story, not tinges so much as outright horror.

(The other little story coming out this month from Daily Science Fiction is something else entirely, but more on that later.)

Various Things Which Do Not Make a Post

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Wow. Hadn't realized just how much time had gone by since I blogged here. Partly this has been illness; partly the complete lack of a blogging bug. But, still, a few random things from here and there:

1. A biography/history that for once, I don't have any real complaints about: Superman: The High Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero. Definitely on the popular side, with sex! Murder! (Ok, to be fair, insinuations and discussions of murder.) Flying accidents! Lawsuits! Quotes from basketball players! Gossipy little tidbits! A failure to completely get all the decisions made with Smallville! (We all feel you there, Mr. Tye, we all feel you.) Interviews with all of the (not murdered) still alive people involved with Superman! Analysis of why the dude is so popular. The book stops short of reviewing Man of Steel, since it went to print before the movie, but otherwise does a pretty thorough job of following Superman through newspapers, comic books, radio, television and film. Nothing deep here, but a fun pop culture history with more Superman gossip than you probably ever needed to know.

2. I'm not against the general idea of leaving politics out of Hugo voting, but if you really want me to seriously consider, say, your novelette for a major literary award, it might help if you did not spend the day spreading false allegations about a professional writers group that I happen to be a member of.

Just saying.

3. Speaking of the Hugos, I seem to have most of my plans in place for my upcoming trip to World Con and Shamrockon in August. This is my first trip to the UK in awhile, and my first trip ever to Ireland, so this should be interesting. Also I will be crossing the Irish Sea in a boat, which should be very interesting, so this is a general warning to those I'm meeting in Dublin that I don't expect to be overly coherent at first, especially if Macnamman mac Lir chooses to be unkind. Let us hope.

4. On a World Cup note, I was very sad to hear that today's headlines about the Biter From Uraguay did not, in fact, mean that the World Cup is now featuring teams of vampires biting each other between ball kicks. World Cup, you disappoint me. On the other hand, VAMOS COLOMBIA!

Twittering the Stars

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After a week where I was seriously considering checking out of the writing business and just admitting that the entire effort was futile, some good news this morning:

"Twittering the Stars," my science fiction story told entirely in Twitter format, a story that can be read backwards and forwards, is now available from Upper Rubber Boot Books as an ebook from the following locations:

Barnes and Noble.


Amazon (Also other worldwide Amazon storefronts.)

Canadian readers can also purchase the book through Chapters Indigo.

I'm very pleased about this. "Twittering the Stars" was one of my hands down best received, best reviewed stories. However, it was only available in an anthology, which limited the number of people who picked it up. I'm delighted that it's now available as a separate short.

I'm also delighted to be part of, in however small a way, Upper Rubber Boot Press, which apart from doing this series, also publishes speculative poetry collections, something I always want to see more of.

My email brought me one other snippet of good news, about which more later, making me feel like a touch more of a writer today. Maybe I will get this story finished after all.
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Just a quick note that my poem, The Loss, has been nominated for a Dwarf Stars Award. A collection of the nominees is forthcoming soon; I'll have a post up at that point.

Now back to writing more poems to the sound of the neighbor's lawnmower.

Jay Lake

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Speculative fiction writer Jay Lake passed away this morning.

Apart from being a Campbell award winner and Hugo and Nebula nominated fiction writer, Jay Lake was also funny, and extremely supportive of fellow writers. I had the amazing luck to spend time with him at more than one ICFA, chatting writing and publishing and alligators and films, and I am incredibly grateful for the unstinting support and encouragement he gave to a complete stranger.

Thanks for everything, Jay. You will be missed.


Call Me Burroughs, Barry Miles

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A few weeks back, supergee discussed Call Me Burroughs, a new biography by Barry Miles of influential Beat Generation writer William Burroughs, using it to raise the fascinating question of whether an artist's work can allow us to overlook his or her life. It sounded like exactly the sort of juicy, gossipy biography that I love, so I got the book from the library as soon as I could. This may or may not have been a good thing. The biography is detailed, gripping, enthralling in more than one section. It also left me feeling faintly to seriously unclean as I read. This was a book I had to put down frequently.

Cutting because although I think all of this is important, it also got much longer than I anticipated. Rant ahead. Also, brief mentions of child abuse and animal torture. You've been warned.Collapse )

Mary Stewart, 1916-2014

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Romance/suspense fantasy author Mary Stewart died at the age of 97 this week.

My favorite book of hers was Touch Not the Cat: mystery, Gothic, telepathy, archaeology, identical twins - it kinda has everything. It was enough to get me to rush through the rest of her Gothic/suspense novels, of which the best is arguably Nine Coaches Waiting, although I also have a soft spot for The Moon-Spinners.

But her most influential book on me was unquestionably The Wicked Day, her retelling of the Arthurian legend from Mordred's point of view, which I picked up back in high school and was transformational. To be honest, I haven't read it for years, and it probably doesn't live up to my memories - let's go with it certainly doesn't live up to my memories - but it was the first book that got me to think about the villain's point of view, and to think about how history and stories are determined as much by viewpoint as by anything. And that, in turn, led me to relook and reconsider many of the characters from myth and fairy tale, something I continue to do today.



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Sometimes, when I start to write a story, I know exactly where it's going.

And sometimes the story does not go at all where I thought it was going. I knew vaguely that I was writing about a coffin - even the coffin, but this story took an unexpected turn into the present day with the phrase "satellite photos" and then just kept changing from there, and by the end it had nothing to do with what I was originally thinking (a caper story) and everything to do with other things.


The Silver Comb/Water Babies

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The latest issue of Mythic Delirium is up, featuring poems by Jane Yolen, Cedar Sanderson, and me. Enjoy!

Also out: the latest post, on The Water-Babies. I can't exactly recommend the book for enjoyable reading, but it does provide some interesting commentary on the Victorians.
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Brandon Sanderson has a post up about the Hugo Awards as a whole and the Wheel of Time nomination in particular.

In the spirit of his final paragraph, allow me to say that right now, the major reason I am unable to read all the works in the novelette and novella category has nothing to do with the nominated authors, their politics, their ability to write Latin, or the stories themselves, and EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT WINDOWS 8.1 SUCKS. MIGHTILY SUCKS.

Specifically, it does not like Adobe Digital Editions, a program I have used for YEARS to organize, open and read epubs and pdfs. Windows 8.1 allows the program to open, kinda, but then has FEELINGS about whether or not you can actually read the file. Microsoft will helpfully point out the other reading apps available, but a: most of my ebooks are NOT from Amazon/Kindle, Barnes and Noble/Nook, or Kobo Books, so shut up Microsoft; b: the Kindle app on Windows 8.1 didn't open up the epub file either (however otherwise it is a very nice app and does not crash my system, so kudos Amazon); and c: I don't want to have to jump through a lot of different and competing reader apps just to open up a 36 page book.

As it turns out, if you restart the computer several times Windows 8.1 will grudgingly admit that just maybe Adobe Digital Editions has a right to exist and be used, and hopefully - hopefully - I will manage to get the rest of my books to open up in it. (That particular epub was DRM free.) HOWEVER.

This is only the start of many issues that I have with Windows 8.1. Auugh. I will adjust, I know, and at least this time Windows hasn't added that terrifying paperclip thing, but seriously, Microsoft, can you try checking with users to find out what they actually want and need before launching Windows 9.0? Thanks muchly.

Hugo Awards

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So if you missed it, the Hugo Award nominations were announced over the weekend. You can find the list here:

Cut for those of you that don't care about the Hugo awards.Collapse )


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Ah, Victorian England: prim, proper and also touched by the occasionally horribly gruesome murder of a three year old, as detailed in Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which I just finished and highly recommend.

But first, a bit of a rant: throughout the internet and on other forums, I keep coming across the insistent myth that the labor force greatly changed in the 1960s when women started to work outside the home and/or in professional jobs for the first time.

And then I read books like this one, discussing events in 1860 and the later 19th century, where nearly every woman discussed or mentioned in the book at one point or another held down full time jobs – most for their entire lives.

These included, I need to add, middle class women. And a woman convicted of murdering a child.

The jobs varied. The second Mrs. Kent worked full time as a governess and housekeeper before marrying her employer. Once married, she employed three young women in their 20s as full time servants: a cook, a housemaid and a nursemaid, and also hired a fourteen year old girl to come in and assist the nursemaid on a daily basis and a charwoman to handle the heaviest cleaning. Even with these servants, and with sending the laundry out on a weekly basis, the evidence given at the trial shows that her two oldest step-daughters, technically members of the middle class, continued to do significant amounts of physical labor with household chores – preparing food, running errands, carrying the laundry, cleaning, helping to supervise their younger siblings, doing the household sewing (apparently no small task) and other jobs. They later worked full time as governesses and nurses.

It is possible that these servants were slow, lazy, inefficient workers, which is why the household (a three story home described as "comfortable") needed so many of them and still needed the oldest girls to help out? Maybe, but Mr. Kent never hesitated to fire unsatisfactory servants, and even in the midst of a murder investigation, no one accused the cook and the housemaid of not staying busy and working. The same went for the oldest two girls. The nursemaid was accused of sleeping around and not immediately reporting a missing child – but one reason she didn't report the kid's absence was that she had so many tasks to do in the morning.

Outside the household, we see women working as bakers, as novelists, as skilled, professional naturalists and watercolorists focused on creating scientific books, actresses, singers, nurses, artists, schoolmistresses, laundresses, governesses, innkeepers, boarding house managers, and seamstresses.

Even the convicted murderer worked as a skilled artist in mosaics – her work is still displayed – and later as a highly skilled, trained and greatly respected nurse.

The exceptions? A wife who seems to have been too sick to work, the first Mrs. Kent, and various thieves and prostitutes. If we put "prostitution" under "job," the percentage of women working full time increases.

Look, I don't want to sugarcoat things. The types of jobs available to women were clearly limited. At no point does anyone suggest that one of the Kent girls can go and study marine biology with William Saville-Kent at the British Museum or Brighton Aquaria, for instance (although both of his wives later helped him with his work). The detectives and police are all men; the lawyers, judges, and members of the jury are all men; the doctors are all men; the government employees are all men; the major religious figures (with the exception of one Anglican nun) are all men; the journalists are all men; the politicians are all men. And so on. The women who did manage to work as novelists, scientists and artists on their own were clearly limited in their options – Constance Kent eventually gave up mosaic art for the more lucrative nursing profession which based on her possessions when she died was not all that lucrative. (She may also have had other reasons for giving up mosaic art beyond money.) It is also clear that most of these jobs were very badly paid: at one point, people point out that one of these working women, a seamstress, is near starvation because her job pays so little money. It's very clear from contemporary reports that working as a nursemaid – or at least Mrs. Kent's nursemaid – was a thankless job even if you didn't end up getting suspected of murder. But it was work, paid work, and it is fully documented in the historical records.

And of course, the history of women is not particularly linear – at any given decade in history, women might be doing very well in one place, and not at all well in another place. Louisa May Alcott made some pointed observations on the roles of married women in the 19th century United States, comparing them, not all that kindly, to women in 19th century France. It gets even more complicated when we look at other eras where the historical record is more scanty, or non-European cultures where some of the underlying principles differed. And even in those cases we see variation: the roles and rights enjoyed by women seem to have varied from city to city in the ancient Roman Empire, for example, if the documents we have are any guide – including documents often very hostile to women.

But what I do want to counter is the idea that women just began to enter the labor force in the 1960s, since this is not borne out by the historical records.

What makes this particularly notable is that this is not even a focus of this book, which is interested in how Victorians viewed detectives, not women's labor. The jobs are mentioned casually – in part because they were taken for granted by contemporaries. Victorians did worry about governesses and servants and allowing these outsiders into the inner sphere, and worried about whether or not they were effective (since most of the first Mrs. Kent's children died young, and since the second Mrs. Kent lost a child to murder despite having two servants specifically directed to care for her children, this worry apparently had a pretty valid basis). But for all of the mythology that the Victorians believed that a woman's place was in the home, they also accepted that women could and did work.

Ok. Rant over. Back to the book, which is actually a lot more interesting than I just made it sound since it's about murder not Victorian employment options. Summerscale uses the evidence given at the various trials and investigations and newspaper interviews to reconstruct what happened in the home of the Kents on Friday, June 29. Or at least the agreed upon details, since by the following morning, Saville Kent, the three year son of the household, a cute if occasionally mischievous child, was found brutally murdered, throat sliced through, stuffed into an outdoor privy.

Suspicions immediately fell on the nursemaid, who did not immediately report that the child was missing. The nursemaid countered that she had assumed the kid had gone to his mother (another child did sleep in the parents' bedroom). Many assumed that Mr. Kent was sleeping with the nursemaid – he had, after all, married the governess of his oldest child. Rumors ran rampant. Scotland Yard sent one of its first detectives, a Mr. Whicher, to investigate. Mr. Whicher had another theory: the murderer was the young teenage Constance Kent.

As I noted, Summerscale's main interest here is in murder, and in the development of the detective in both a literary and real life sense. The Kent murder mesmerized the British press and many readers, who all turned themselves into amateur detectives, much like the Casey Anthony trial would years later. It also helped to inspire a number of mystery and sensation novels, eventually leading to the great Golden Age of detective fiction.

And it also offers a mystery for contemporary readers to solve. After all, someone did eventually confess to doing the murder – but did she? Or was she covering for someone else, or deciding to sacrifice her life to save an otherwise innocent person under suspicion?

Summerscale doesn't say, since it's impossible to tell, which may leave readers somewhat unsatisfied – but there's enough here for anyone to create a theory, not to mention a variety of other tidbits.

Bonus: a sidenote here is the biography of early marine biologist William Saville-Kent, who studied, drew, painted and categorized numerous species in Australia's Great Barrier Reef for the first time. His work The Great Barrier Reef was a standard reference book for years; you can still find it in many research libraries. (I've seen a copy although Pacific corals, not my field/thing.) He also liked owls. Those with an interest in this sort of thing, or in the history of cultured pearls, might want to check this book out just for this (I'll be honest, that's why I picked up the book) even though, as said, it's sidelined.


xmas me
Mari Ness

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October 2014



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