‘Mosaic of Air’ is an interesting parable featuring a proto-post-feminist lead, a computer programmer whose programme becomes sentient which surprisingly encases an abortion debate.
If you read nothing else in this book you must read ‘Arachne’s Daughters’; this takes apart a myth about Arachne (a human) challenging Athene (the goddess): ‘”Now, can you believe anyone would be so stupid?” ‘. It’s set as a speech given at a women-only meeting with a clever twist on why so many women shouldn’t fear spiders despite the extra legs and pincers ‘ “Forgot something though didn’t they?…[Men]… How many Cancers and Scorpios are in the audience?” ‘.
Two stories came from the same picture, which I have been completely unable to trace. I think it is from an edition of The Snow Queen, and the illustrator might have been Kay Neilsen or Edmund Dulac or possibly Arthur Rackham, but as I’ve been unable to track it down I can’t confirm; maybe, like the rest of the story, I dreamt it.
The Bone Box (Mosaic of Air) definitely owes something to Kay Neilsen, whose illustration of the North Wind for East of the Sun, West of the Moon (a book I haven’t read!) influenced the design of the story and the language too. I had a reproduction of this picture on my pin board for about eight years. Neilsen’s North Wind is a solid, rather Art Deco god. This lent simplicity to the language I used, while my heroine, Adamanta, got her stubbornness from the frowning wind, and her good sense from the girl in the lost picture, in her voluminous coat. If this was a real fairytale its origins would be in Siberia, despite the lack of snow.
Another girl in an oversized coat features in All Hallows, (Tales Told Before Cockcrow) where she embodies my objections to TS Eliot’s claim that London Bridge is swarming with ghosts – ghosts don’t go anywhere, I remember thinking, and started wondering about the everyday ghosts, the homeless, with nowhere to go, and I imagined this ghost rooted to the spot, in all the surging humanity that is London and the more I thought about her the further back in time she went. This could have been really long, but I reused some scenes for the beginning of another novel, and this remains what it started as: concerned with what it is that keeps a ghost rooted to a place through time and how they might be set free by the right intervention.
Getting a book ready for publication (Typesetting, proofreading) even second time round and twenty years later, does send me back to the roots of the stories, and with so many of the stories in Mosaic of Air I can remember exactly where and when the idea first stuck its claws into me.
Ladies Pleasure, the cover story for Mosaic of Air this time round, came from a session in the darkroom. I like the radio on when I’m printing up photographs, and normally that would be radio 3 or 4, but in this case there was nothing I wanted to listen to, so I spun the dial and got Radio 2. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve listened to R2 (apart from the folk music programmes). It was an afternoon, midweek in about 1984 and Michael Aspell was talking to elderly women living in a care home.
All I remember about the programme was one woman saying how difficult it was to get a male partner for dancing, and how it wasn’t the same dancing with a woman. I laughed quoted Alix Dobkin to myself and got on with what I was doing, but the seed was sown. What if like me, that woman had prefered dancing with women? What if she had always wanted to dance with women, or what if due to circumstances, women and dancing had always gone together? And there she was, Grace Carew-Petrullo, a minor character in one of those movies about brave gels on the home front, a bit player in a book from sixty years earlier, given her own voice, her unspoken jealousy of, and desire for, the glorious Jessica Markham still fresh after a lifetime of experience.
The first story I ever got published, Penelope is no Longer Waiting ( A Very, Very long time ago) came from my finally reading Homer (not in the original Greek, comprehensive schooling isn’t that kind of comprehensive) as opposed to interpretations of… and I found that what I thought I knew about the Odyssey was not all there was to know. I found myself thinking Really? Really?Ten years of war, ten years to get home? Someone as clever as Odysseus? Would Penelope really have waited?