… in which I try to catch up on basically everything…
It has been an age since I wrote one of these. Things have been manic. I’m gonna therefore do a massive info-dump now. Are you sitting comfortably?
Penelope 2 a.k.a House of Odysseus is published in hardback this week! Hurrah! Book 2 continues the story of Penelope and the women of Ithaca as they do their best to keep the western isles safe in the absence of Odysseus and the men of the islands. (Most of whom, unbeknownst to the women, drowned several years ago in punishment for eating the cattle of the sun, one of mythology’s more significant culinary oopsies.) The latest list of troubles and travails facing the women of Ithaca include but are not limited to:
- The madness of Orestes. Madness is politically far more problematic than simple death – it creates power vacuums where you really need stability, and leaves the door open for sneaky power grabs and exploitation in murderous, creeping ways.
- The arrival of Menelaus, hero of Troy. ‘Hero’ is a complicated word when applied to Menelaus, and it would perhaps be better to say ‘one of the very few people still left standing after a bloody, violent war’.
- The arrival of Helen, wife of Menelaus, cousin of Penelope and, depending on how you look at it, maybe the cause of the single greatest war the ancient world has ever seen. Or perhaps just an innocent pawn in powerful men’s machinations – it really could go either way.
And of course there’s always the usual troubles of Ithaca – plotting suitors, murderous schemes, cunning plans to nefarious ends – but that’s frankly just an ordinary evening in the isles.
In a shift from book 1, book 2 is narrated by Aphrodite, goddess of love and desire. I was surprised and delighted at the response to Hera in the first book, but I also sorta felt her interest in the isles would have waned after the events of that yarn. Aphrodite is a very different kind of goddess – and a very different kind of woman. She embodies a power that even Zeus fears – the power of desire and love – and has to navigate the difficulties of the world in very different ways. Her femininity and sexuality – and how they both empower and limit her – are a world apart from Hera’s, which is what makes her so interesting to hang around with. In Aphrodite I wanted to explore a different kind of female power, and all the consequences that it brings.
She was also, incidentally, kinda a blast to write. I am not naturally gifted at writing the voice of the goddess of love, but eventually found a linguistic muse in Jonathan Van Ness of Queer Eye fame, who is, let’s not kid ourselves, as close to a modern Aphrodite in many (excellent, non-creepy) ways as we’re likely to get.
I am going to be in Nottingham on September 13th rambling all things Ithaca-related with the wonderful people at Waterstones! If up north, come say hi!
It also seems likely I might be at London Comicon in October, mostly likely on the Saturday – will confirm once I have precise info there.
I’m also coming to France! If you are going to be at Les Utopiales in Nantes this November, then looks very likely that I will be there! And maybe also in a few bookshops around Paris/Dijon/Lille afterwards – again, will holler once it’s all confirmed and good.
If you want signed copies of the House of Odysseus hardback, then Forbidden Planet London and Goldsboro Books will be having copies signed on publication day (August 25th) and there are also 500 copies scattered around all your favourite independent bookshops in the UK.
Finally another huge shout-out and thank you to Celcius 232 for having me in Aviles a few weeks ago; every time I go to Spain I am blown away by the warmth and joy of everyone I meet. Equally the lovely folk at Cymera are always brilliant and the festival is fast becoming one of the highlights of UK book nerdery; thank you for having me. (And as an Edinburgh footnote, the Holyrood Parkrun is one of the most stunning I’ve ever done, even if I’m convinced we ran 4.9km up Arthur’s Seat and somehow, magically, only 0.1km down.)
Now that the book stuff is covered, a few life-updates to cover where things have been at the last few months….
I’m autistic. After two and a half years on the waiting list (footnote: please use your voice to vote and protect the NHS in next year’s general election) a pair of psychologists sat me down, asked a great many questions, and then informed me that yes, but actually, this is a thing. As a topic of discussion, this merits far more than the 100 words I’m gonna give it here, but as a bullet point: that happened.
I took the train from London to Munich for a holiday! As I may have mentioned in passing, there’s a bit of a climate crisis. I have the unusual privilege of enough time (courtesy of being freelance) and enough cash (courtesy of a lucky career and the instinctive scrimping that comes from freelancing) to be able to afford the time and slightly (though not that significantly if you book in advance) elevated costs of train travel. My route was London-Brussels-Frankfurt-Munich, and it should have taken approximately 8-9 hours. I say should. On the way there the Eurostar was delayed meaning we missed our first connection… then it turned out there were repairs on a stretch of line somewhere on the Belgian border, and before we knew it we were on a rail replacement bus service between Duren and Aachen… long story short, it turned into an adventure. An adventure that ended around 20:30 the same day at Munich Hauptbahnhof, and felt pretty glorious in both the doing and completing.
As for Munich – it is a fabulous city. It felt like one of the easiest, most comfortable and enjoyable weeks off I’ve ever had. Special joys were hedgehog watching in the massive, wonderful Englischer Garten, as well as being able to take the S-Bahn 45 minutes out of town to glacial lakes with views of the mountains and glorious walks through luscious forests. And on a personal prideful note – in 2021 I became a dual-German citizen, and have been working on improving my language skills ever since. Being able to communicate in German without anyone pointing or laughing was absolutely a win.
Short version: Munich was fabulous, and I still love a train.
I’m now also a black belt. I am surprised I didn’t mention this in earlier posts, but again – it’s been a bit of a time. After 12ish years of training, I passed what’s called the ‘TG’ grade in escrima, and am now expected to sort of know what I’m doing perhaps. (I say sort of – every grade introduces a new idea and often a new set of weapons to flail around with, so the feeling of never quite knowing what you’re doing doesn’t really fade.) The day of the exam felt like a triumph, but a bit like training for a marathon there was the experience of waking up the next morning with a sense of ‘well… what now?’ So in a fit of cognitive backlash, I joined a local muay thai club, which was a lot of fun, albeit one I’ve had to suspend after 6 months owing to various work-related and medical things….
… the medical things aren’t urgent or vital, I should add! I failed to donate blood this month ‘cos my iron is low enough that I’ve been sent to my GP for a stern talking-to, and there’s a few other chronic but unexciting things churning in the background. It’s more tiring than exciting, honest, but tiring enough that training muay thai, and weapons, and attempting to run 1000km (my knee-jerk reaction to feeling a loss of agency is usually to do something physical to regain the illusion of control) this year while lighting gigs… just all sorta exploded.
Fun Sidebars (because I never seem to talk about what I do for fun)
I am grateful I knew Across the Spiderverse was a part 1 of 2, instead of a whole movie within itself. I had a blast and was non-verbal afterwards. If you haven’t seen the Spiderverse movies, whatcha waiting for? (Also, as the multiverse is currently a thing: I still get teary just thinking about Everything Everywhere All At Once, one of the most glorious things I’ve ever seen and another movie that left me unable to use words after from sheer sensory overload.) I also do my TV subscriptions in one month bursts per service, so only got round to Andor recently and was blown away by how good it was. Book-wise, The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty was a joyful romp (which is high praise) and though it was nothing like what I expected, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green had one bit that made me cry happily. Although I was stuck in a theatre in Suffolk at the time, and perhaps not very well emotionally regulated.
My library hold on the collected short stories of Ursula Le Guin also finally came good, and was absolutely worth the wait – her craft and humanity and intelligence drips off every page. Currently I am enjoying What If? by Randall Munroe of XKCD fame who does absurd science in the most beautiful and fascinating way.
On the PC, I am currently playing Jedi Survivor. I am not especially good at it. The flat regularly rings out with cries of ‘no, Cal! No what are you doing? Oh for goodness sake….’ It is still a lot of fun, though it raises some questions. Such as: who is hiding the secret on how to grow a moustache in locked chest at the end of a sheer valley gorge guarded by monsters behind cliff walls climbable only with semi-magic powers? Why?
I’m also drumming my fingers impatiently for the release of Cities Skylines 2. I can get more invested in nice railway junctions than is perhaps healthy. Also, did I mention? Turns out I’m autistic.
I continue to DM DnD games with mates, a habit begun, in clichéd manner, over video during lockdown. We have absolutely reached the point where I am struggling to keep track of everything that’s happening, but when I last checked my players had adopted a Marxist Magma Mephit called Bernie Cinders, and the classic, somehow inevitable, five kobolds wearing one big coat. At some point I’m sure I will also play Baldur’s Gate 3 on PC (Baldur’s Gate 2 being a defining gaming experience for lil’ me, back in the day) but as with so many games, I’m gonna wait for a few more patches, and a drop in price.
This wouldn’t be a Claire North post if I didn’t point towards some eco-sources that I’ve enjoyed. In particular, a big shout-out to a newish podcast called Climate Denier’s Playbook. It’s from the excellent folks at the youtube channel Climate Town, and feels especially pertinent right now as the climate ‘debate’ has increasingly moved from ‘is it real though?’ (it is) to a slew of frequently bad-faith arguments as to why it isn’t our fault (it is) and how we can’t do anything about it. (Again: it is, and we can.) Climate Denier’s Playbook does the research into and the thinking around why these arguments are nonsense, so that you don’t have to. And for that, I am breathtakingly grateful.
Penelope 3 is long since finished, though there are some final rounds of edits to go. Meanwhile I’m still writing space opera. (Pew pew!) Turns out space opera is hard. I have spent, by my dump-file of abandoned text, a good 80,000 words that will never see the light of day just trying to narrow down the bigness of space into a narrative I feel I can contain. It’s a craft that feels like I’m having to learn almost from scratch, which is in many ways its appeal and its frustration, and my awe and admiration for those many fabulous writers (huge respect to Adrian Tchaikovsky in particular) who can juggle the enormity of space with the intimacy of story is currently off the charts. Touch wood I won’t have to burn too many words more to nail this thing down. Meanwhile it’s been a joyful blast – but a real reminder to honour and respect craft.
I suspect I should finish this up by saying you can buy House of Odysseus in hardback, digital and audiobook format from all good (and excellently independent) bookshops everywhere. But if you’ve got this far, you probably already knew that!