Rebellion: Writing Fantasy

Arachne Press

 Rebellion: Writing Fantasy, author talk and workshop

Author Cherry Potts reads from her new novel The Dowry Blade, and discusses ways of writing fantasy with an opportunity for a short writing exercise for the audience.

World building, weird logic and rule breaking at

Brompton Library

210 Old Brompton Road

London SW5 0BS

Thursday 14 April 18:30-19:45

Attending the London Book Fair?  This event is on the final day and Brompton Library is one stop on the tube/overground away from Olympia, at West Brompton, then a short walk.

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The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 28th

Today let us raise a glass to

Jane Rule

28 March 1931 – 27 November 2007

Jane Rule was the author of many lesbian novels, and an early exponent of the happy ending, most famous for her 1964 novel Desert of the Heart (filmed as Desert Hearts), what a relief it was to find her books!

In 1954 Jane met Helen Sonthoff, a work colleague who became her life partner until Helen died in 2000.

I didn’t want to be a boy, ever, but I was outraged that his height and intelligence were graces for him and gaucheries for me.


Love is the terrible secret people are suspected of unless they’re married, then one always suspects they don’t.


The message of women’s liberation is that women can love each other and ourselves against our degrading education.


Coming out, all the way out, is offered more and more as the political solution to our oppression.

“What were we meant for then?”

“To love the whole damned world,” Ann said…

“I live in the desert of the heart,” Evelyn said quietly, “I can’t love the whole damned world.”

“Love me, Evelyn.”

“I do.”

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 19th

Alice French aka Octave Thanet

March 19, 1850 – January 9, 1934

Alice French was an american writer of  stories, journalistic essays and novels, using the pseudonym Octave Thanet – she chose Octave for being non gender specific.

In 1883, Alice and her widowed friend Jane Allen Crawford set up  home at Clover Bend Plantation in Lawrence County, Arkansas. They lived there for several months each year holding  literary and social entertainments.

Alice had a woodworking shop, where she built shelves and  furniture, and a darkroom, where she developed and printed photographs.

Her stories were very successful,but unfortunately Alice, like many other writers of the time, was casually racist and xenophobic, and firmly looked down on people she considered her social inferiors. She even went to the trouble of speaking against women’s suffrage.

Late twentieth century reading of her stories has found some sympathy for the conditions of women, and even some well hidden lesbian themes.

Not really good enough for me. Alice doesn’t get an invitation.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 18th

Not strictly a birthday, as all I have for today’s admirable woman is a baptism date, but never mind, it will do.

Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne, Comtesse de la Fayette

(Baptised) 18 March 1634 – 25 May 1693

I love those french aristocratic names, they go on for ages.

Anyway, so Marie was a writer and the lifelong friend of fellow writer Marie de Sévigné. She married in 1655 and had two sons but was deserted by her husband in 1660. She moved to Paris where she became a great favourite of Minette,  duchesse d’Orléans and fell in love with the writer, La Rochefoucauld. She lived with him till he died in 1680. She used th pen name J.R. de Segrais and set up a literary circle. She disapproved of the convent school of St. Cyr, being so close to Versailles because she considered it put the girls at risk from court rakes.

Marie wrote La Princess de Montpensier 1662, Zayde 1670, La Princesse de Clèves 1678 (a lightly disguised autobiography), her final book La Comtesse de Tende was published posthumously. I’ve read La Princesse de Clèves and I have to be honest I found it hard going, but I think Marie was a good sort, especially in the light of her concern for the girls of St Cyr, and her great affection for Marie de Sévigné.

to Madame de Sévigné in 1691:

believe me, you are the person in the world I have most truly loved.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 17th

No Birthday today, so lets look back to yesterday and celebrate

I. A. R. Wylie. 16 March 1885 – 4 November 1959.

Ida Wylie (known to her friends as Uncle) was a novelist, screenwriter, magazine writer and poet. More than 30 of her works were made into films between 1915 and 1953. Ida had a complicated home life, and identified with the strong women in her life. She was largely self-educated, and wrote to entertain herself, and sold her first story to a magazine at the age of 19 and quickly became financially successful as a writer. She became a suffragette and provided a temporary home for women who were recovering from hunger strikes when released from prison. in 1917 she set off to America on a road trip with a companion Rachel. She then settled in Hollywood where many of her stories were adapted into films, including Keeper of the Flame, with starred the lovely Katherine Hepburn.

Ida lived with Sara Josephine Baker, and Louise Pearce for many years.
In her autobiography My Life with George (George is her alter-ego) Ida said

I have always liked women better than men. I am more at ease with them and more amused by them. I too am rather bored by a conventional relationship which seems to involve either my playing up to someone or playing down to someone…  fortunately, I have never wanted to marry any of them, nor with the exception of that one misguided German Grenadier, have any of them wanted to marry me.

N.B. There may not be an official birthday, but today is Alix & my anniversary: 32 years together, 8 of which we’ve been in a civil partnership. In their infinite wisdom, when the government legalised gay marriage, they neglected to sort out how we ‘upgrade’ so those who haven’t yet made a commitment to each other in front of a registrar can get married next month, and we can’t. How bloody ridiculous is that?

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 13th

Today we raise a glass to Janet Flanner, March 13 1892 – November 7 1978.

Janet was a journalist, writing for the New Yorker, and as a war correspondent. She lived in Greenwich Village and there met and fell in love with Solita Solano (Sarah Wilkinson). Janet and Solita featured as Nip and Tuck, a pair of  journalists in Djuna Barnes’s Ladies Almanac (1928). During this time she wrote her novel The Cubical City.

Although she loved Greenwich Village Janet wanted to get out of the city and eventually ended up in Paris, where they became friends with Natalie Barney, Gertrude Stein and many other ex-pat American Lesbians. Janet sent articles to the New Yorker from Paris under the pseudonym Genêt, and later from London.

When war broke out they moved back to New York and Janet met Natalia Murray, fell in love and moved in with her, helping her raise her son. This did not put an end to her relationship with Solita.

After the war Janet returned to Europe and Solita, covering the war trials, and the devastation the war had left behind. When Solita died, she moved back to America and to Natalia, and when she died, her and Natalia’s ashes were scattered together where they had first met.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 11th

Una Troubridge

Una Troubridge painted by Romaine Brooks

No particular birthday today, so going back to that 8th March that was choc-a-bloc, lets share cake with Una Troubridge 8 March 1887 – 24 September 1963.

At the tender age of ten Una lost her heart to a

splendaciously ample and properly upholstered principal boy… whose sex was never for a moment ambiguous … I sat in silent worship before the well filled silken tights … the dominant gait … the clustering curls … of this peerless wonder.

Una passed the entrance exam for art college at the age of 13 and was an accomplished sculptor. She married Admiral Troubridge and they had a daughter Andrea, who lived with Una when not at boarding school after their (acrimonious) separation.

Una met Radclyffe Hall (known as John, but more on her later) in 1915 while Una’s cousin  Mabel Batten (aka Ladye) was John’s lover.  Mabel died the following year, and Una and John moved in a year later.Una described her relationship with John as the first time she had known sexual rapture.

The couple had a wide circle of lesbian friends and thought that it was their duty to be visible, have no time for closeted lesbians (or gay men) who were financially independent and answerable to no one.

They had a lot of fun, partying with their friends, showing daschunds at Crufts and so on. On one occasion during a bicycling craze, John bought Una a bicycle which was christened Clara. Una insisted on a ‘loud and aggressive’ bell which she rang a great deal until John asked her to spare the neighbours.

Neither of them could be described as feminists, and Una saw her role as to make it as easy as possible for John to write, although she also wrote herself.  She took on everything to do with the house, including supervising, with every sign of enjoyment, drainage works on their house in Rye, for which she dressed in a boiler suit.

They lived together until John died, in her arms, in 1943.

Una of John:

I could not, having come to know her, imagine life without her.

Una had John’s suits altered after her death and wore them herself.

Una died in 1963 in Rome, she had wanted to be buried with John and Mabel in Highgate cemetery but her instructions were not found until too late.

her tombstone describes her as

The friend of Radclyffe Hall

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party March 9th

Raise your glasses, it’s the birthday of

Vita Sackville-West

9 March 1892 – 2 June 1962 writer, gardener and serial womaniser.

Vita’s relationship with Violet Keppel (later Trefusis) is detailed in Portrait of A Marriage, by her son Nigel Nicholson. They met at school and at one point eloped to France. In her autobiography Violet said of Vita that when they met again for the first time after school

No one had told me that Vita had turned into a beauty. The knobs and knuckles had all disappeared. She was tall and graceful. The profound, hereditary Sackville eyes were as pools from which the morning mists had lifted.

Vita on Violet:

I go down country lanes and meet a sign saying: Beware, unexploded bomb. So I have to go around another way. You are the unexploded bomb to me. You gave me a coal black briquet. It lights up in the flame of love which burns in my heart whenever I think of you. You said it would last for three months, but our love has lasted forty years.

This was not Vita’s only high-profile affair, she also had a long relationship with Virginia Woolf. However she started young and kept at it, her first lover was Rosamund Grosvenor, another school friend,

I don’t remember very clearly, but the fact remains that by the middle of that summer we were inseparable, and moreover were living on terms of the greatest possible intimacy…. Oh, I dare say I realized vaguely that I had no business to sleep with Rosamund, and I should certainly never have allowed anyone to find it out, but my sense of guilt went no further than that.

Others Vita had affairs with were Muriel Clark-Kerr, Mary Garman,(who wrote of Virginia’s book Orlando

Vita darling you have been so much Orlando to me that how can I help absolutely understanding and loving the book… Through all the slight mockery which is always in the tone of Virginia’s voice, and the analysis etc., Orlando is written by someone who loves you so obviously.)

The list continues: Journalist Evelyn Irons and Hilda Matheson of the BBC. Most of Vita’s affairs were long-lived and she was often keeping more than one lover on her string. She was not averse to flirtations: she kissed Christabel Gertrude Marshall ( known as Christopher St John, lover of Edy Craig) behind Sevenoaks station, and Chris was ‘never the same again.’

I’d be a bit nervous of having Vita to a party, there’s no telling who she’d leave with, but she is magnificently unapologetic, and quite aside from her romantic shenanigins, an innovative gardener and her novels aren’t bad either, I’ve read All Passion Spent and The Easter Party and enjoyed them. So an invitation will go out, but with a secret hope that Ms Sackville-West might decline.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 23rd February

Today we celebrate, a day late, Jane Bowles February 22, 1917 – May 4, 1973. Jane was a writer who apart from her husband Paul, (also gay) had relationships exclusively with women. On the whole, these were short-lived. Virgil Thomson said of her

all her life Jane was promiscuous. She didn’t really care too much who she slept with, as long as they were female.

Jane, in a letter to her husband said

I slept in a different bed every night, including Iris Barry’s.

Jane’s life was short and eventful. She developed tuberculosis of the knee in her teens, and spent two years in a sanatorium. perhaps not unsurprisingly she developed a wide range of neuroses making her fearful and insecure. Her sexual relationship with her husband lasted only 18 months, and despite her hatred of travel they travelled widely, which must have been very wearing.When they lived in Paris she spent most evenings at lesbian bars, getting home at three in the morning.

Jane’s writing came almost exclusively from these early years, and she wrote relatively little, a novel Two Serious Ladies some short stories and a play.

Jane met Helvetia Perkins in Mexico in 1940, and they travelled and then lived together in Helvetica’s house in Vermont for a few years, and stayed friends throughout Jane’s life though no longer seeing much of each other.

A peculiar menage developed in the winter 1940-41 when Jane and Paul lived briefly with  W. H. Auden, Chester Kallman, Benjamin Britten  Peter Pears, Carson McCullers, Golo Mann, Richard Wright and his family, and Gypsy Rose Lee in Brooklyn Heights (can you imagine what breakfast was like in that household?)

Jane met  Amina Bakalia known as Cherifa in 1958 when she and Paul were living in Tangiers. Cherifa lived with her until her death. No one has a good thing to say about Cherifa, indeed she was thought to have poisoned Jane and precipitated the stroke that semi blinded her in 1957. Jane’s alcoholism may have had more to do with it. The last few years of Jane’s life were marred by mental instability and she was eventually hospitalised in Malaga, Spain.

I have gone to pieces which is a thing I’ve always wanted to for years but I have my happiness which I guard like a wolf and I have authority now and a certain amount of daring which if you remember  correctly I never had before.

If I’m honest, lesbian though she undoubtedly was, Jane doesn’t pass the cup of tea test. I think I would find her exhausting.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 18th February

Raise your glasses in honour of Audre Lorde, 1934-1992 who described herself as black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet. One of the women who taught me it was ok to be angry, in fact, more than ok, essential.

My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds

Audre had two longterm female partners, Frances Clayton  and then Gloria Joseph.

Revolution is not a onetime event.

I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.

I remember how being young and black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell.

But the true feminist deals out of a lesbian consciousness whether or not she ever sleeps with women.

That last quotation could stand for where I’m coming from with this party idea – no, not all these women actually slept with other women, (and believe me, there is such a thing as a woman who does identify as a lesbian who has never slept with another woman, so why not?) but they have a world view, or a mindset, or a sensibility… that makes me want to include them.