Mari’s reading Life: Four Books from my Kindle

Wrote this in the Summer House office: beautiful sunny day!

Are you a Kindle or a paperback fan? I admit to preferring paperback (easier to underline, and flip back or even forwards …). But, the Kindle’s useful: to buy and read books which aren’t stocked in our local Independent Bookstore (tiny, and very exclusive) or our large but tourist-oriented emporia – Waterstones and Blackwell’s.

So, Four books from my Kindle…

My books featured on postcards - a touch of publicity
My books featured on postcards – a touch of me-publicity

I write books about women’s lives … (Baby, Baby, and The Labyrinth Year …)

I read books about women’s lives (though not exclusively – I just read one (by a man) about Mindfulness …)

But it’s a paperback, back to the Kindle…

Two are Austen re-writes: the Austen Project rolls on …

I read Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible (updated Pride and Prejudice) with interest. Northanger Abbey was a set text at school. (Ever noticed that name – North Anger Abbey?)  We were set to read, alongside Jane’s ‘spoof’, The Mysteries of Udolpho (published 1794) by Ann Radcliffe, to appreciate the irony of her take on women’s popular literature of her time. Girls back then were in a Gothic Novel phase: sound familiar?

McDermid moves further into ironic observations of teenage girls obsessed with boys, and with reading scary tales of vampires and mysterious discoveries, in this amusing story. Reviews on Amazon vary, some even in the ‘I threw the book across the room’  style. Some reviewers had not read Austen’s original.  Unless you have read Austen’s novel, how can anyone fully appreciate this clever update? McDermid exploits both the Austen writing style and the recent teenage/YA fascination with Gothic themes. Moving the action from fashionable 18th century Bath to the contemporary Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the story is a silly riot just as it should be. A fun read, well written and well observed.

The Sittenfeld, (which I read second) is set in Middle America, Cincinnati, Sittenfeld’s family home. I noticed, after I’d read it, that Amazon advertises the book as ‘humour’. Humour it may be, but satire is more like it. With far too much about specific Cincinnati eating places, roads, neighbourhoods. Sittenfeld’s Prep I enjoyed, but in her Sisters I found a sleazy and uninteresting slightly satirical take on the foibles of humanity. So how does Eligible do Pride and Prejudice?

The updated characters – Elizabeth is a thirty-something magazine journalist with a selfish married boyfriend, who on fancying Darcy indulges with him in ‘hate sex’ left a nasty taste, because it didn’t capture and update Austen.  Sexual tension between Elizabeth and Darcy in P and P expresses itself cleverly in witty dialogue, not in simple lust. The fact that this is how a 30-something might behave today doesn’t justify substituting foreplay for that Austen’s stylish sharp amusing verbal interplay. Which credits her Elizabeth with a self-confident intelligence and ability not usually allowed a woman of her time. And Austen’s subtle irony doesn’t imply contempt for those she depicts as ridiculous (Mr Collins in P and P). Darcy is attractive, yes, but in Eligible we have the updated Colin Firth in wet shirt, not the Darcy of Jane’s novel. Sittenfeld’s writing lacks stylishness. And she’s lost the plot, updating with no more reference to Austen than writing a loosely based ‘comedy of manners’ which picks out social types and holds them up for our prejudice and amusement. Austen uses wit: Sittenfeld relies on curled lip contempt.

That said, some of it is indeed quite funny, especially the lampoon of a wedding (Jane Bennett the pregnant bride) on reality TV, which brings the story pretty much to a close. But no, I wouldn’t call this, as it is advertised, The Summer Book’. Plenty more out there to choose from for beach reading. Or is it simply that I don’t go for this writer’s work?

Two by One

My other two latest reads in the ‘women’s novels’ genre are delightful books by an unknown, compared to McDermid and Sittenfeld: Vivienne Tufnell’s Square Peg and Strangers and Pilgrims. Tufnell is a fellow member of ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors).

These are straight novels, placed in unusual settings and displaying a deep observation of nature (as in human) and nature (as in the wilderness around us). They are pleasure to read, as Tufnell writes well about what she knows, displaying a real eye for compassion and acute observation/insight.

Square Peg tells the story of a young woman whose husband is studying to be a Vicar. Without satire or lampooning, but with incredible insight, she accurately captivates the culture of a residential College. The men study, while wives languish producing endless babies or darting into the outside world to work in the real world of contrasting environment. It didn’t have to be a Vicar-factory of course: any residential College would do, but an extra spin comes from the religious angle.  Group hysteria among the wives with their inward looking lives, deprived of a wider community or a job, creates the crisis, for the main character, Chloe, (a civil engineer by training, but raised by a sensible, but hippy-type, Gran) is so ‘different’ in so many ways that they spook themselves she’s some kind witch. Okay, today such colleges are mixed: but it totally captures when they weren’t…

Strangers and Pilgrims explores another assorted group, who gather at a remote venue in hope of healing from emotional pain. Cleverly Tufnell weaves her story to demonstrate of how the healing takes place: not by the miracle workings of the mysterious Warden or the holy Well, but by the relating, co-operating, living together, of the six lonely and hurt individuals, over about a week. It is realistic, and down to earth, and the surprise at the end gathers up the meaning: who is this Warden, who nobody has seen?  Does s/he exist? (And it is not a predictable solution, nor is it a spirit or God …)

Tufnell deserves a wider audience. Her books are delightful: great reading on the beach, or anywhere that a person can curl up, undisturbed, with a glass of wine or a mug of tea.

And the Mindfulness book?   That’s for another time!

Hawkesbury Literature Festival Two!

The First Venue: The Fox Inn

This year’s Hawkesbury Literature Festival (the second, and expanded, version) has spawned a whole host of author blogs: so where to begin? As we drove West to the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton, rain lashed down from a uniformly grey-ed over sky. It didn’t look promising. It continued raining steadily as some us gathered at the Methodist Hall to help lay out the pop-up cafe and display our books. Outside the Fox Inn the marquee, put up for the children’s art and writing activities, stood in the downpour.

But the weather’s total turn-round overnight meant Saturday promised a wonderful day. Moving between the Fox, the tent, the Methodist Chapel and the Hall, authors, visitors, and volunteers enjoyed  blue skies, bright sunshine, and attractive gardens full of spring flowers.

My home-made Lemon Drizzle Cake: already a quarter gone!
My home-made Lemon Drizzle Cake: already a quarter gone!

If there was anything wrong with Hawkesbury this time it was there was so much to do and to see. The Tent buzzed with children doing art or writing sessions, and adults viewing the illustrators’ work and the colouring books, the cafe buzzed with Tea-and-Coffee drinking, cake-eating, cheese-tasting the Cornish Yarg, chatting and book-browsing. (That’s the Yarg, in the bowl at the front of the photo, and William Fairney’s book title? Fifty Shades of Yarg … you get it?)

Performance poet Dan Holloway kicks off the poetry reading session

And there were sessions on poetry, (one beginning ‘I stubbed my toe on a  hedgehog ...) and on ‘Writing with or from Difference’, besides last year’s Fiction category, divided into several sections, and all featuring in both Readings and Panel discussion categories.

As a participating author, this year I enjoyed my first experience of being on a discussion panel (two: ‘Contemporary Fiction: Write What You Know – or Not?’, and ‘What’s the Point of Poetry?’).

It’s always interesting to learn how other people ‘work’, their motivations and their approach to creative activity. A number of us on the Fiction panel go for the ‘get the story all down, then edit’ method, and one at least said she doesn’t usually know how the book will end when she is at the beginning. I’m actually not usually that kind of writer: I’m apt to begin a writing session with a bit of editing on the last bit I wrote, it seems to get the creativity going. We all agreed that whether or not you set out to ‘write what you know’, research will enter you life as you turn your well-known environment (Jackie Kabler’s is working as a TV journalist/presenter) into the settings your plot.   Lynne Pardoe’s stories come straight from her experiences as a social worker – and have happy endings. Ali Bacon continues to experiment with how far or not she writes what she knows, and enjoys producing short stories. Jackie set her story within the TV Newsroom but someone had murdered her boss … which she certainly hasn’t witnessed … and Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn told us how her editor had suggested that although she had researched Venice and knew it well, the enthusiastic  descriptions needed editing down. Nikki Owen’s story features a woman with high-functioning Aspergers Syndrome, which she doesn’t have but obviously found fascinating enough to enter into and create a story. Thomas Shepherd does have Asperger’s, but his story, a fantasy, doesn’t feature this. Some find the research time a necessary evil: others really enjoy digging into what they don’t know. And we seized the chance to enlighten our audience about how much writing what we know is autobiography: no, it pretty much always isn’t.

So with sessions on contemporary, historical, sci-fi and fantasy, and writing fiction from a point of ‘being different’, what was the most popular with the audience? It was this one: the skill of writing about your or another’s difference or disability: making the ‘difference’ work for your writing, overcoming  by your  writing, sharing what it is like to be inside what counts as difference. Read Thomas Shepherd’s blog about participating in this discussion here.

Debbie Young, Festival Organiser, with Dan Holloway and ShIrley Wright, poets

At the same time, learning more about other authors, how they work, why they write, is tremendously unifying: books are the bottom line, and within that, a huge diversity of interests, styles, attitudes, and lifestyles.

Recently, we’ve hosted, as a City, the huge Blackwell’s Oxford Literary Festival – a chance for celebs and well known authors to be gathered into one place and for audiences to hear them speak and have them sign copies of their books.

Blackwells Oxford LitFest Festival Marquee … parked near the Sheldonian Theatre

A small Festival like Hawkesbury has a totally different feel: a chance to interact with readers, and fellow participants. Hawkesbury aims to be inclusive: we were a mixture of Indie and ‘trade published’ writers, of amateur and professional poets. None of us could claim ‘celebrity’ status, and this makes for a truly festive and for-the-people feel, offering a ‘platform’ to everybody and aiming to give exposure to new names in the writing business. And so back home, and to writing Love You to the Moon …

Find my books at Hodge website, or on Amazon here and here …

Photos of Hawkesbury Literature Festival with thanks to Joanna Penn, author and very active member of ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors), photo of Blackwell’s marquee and the Baby, Baby/The Labyrinth Year publicity card my own. 

HULF & to Pay or not to Pay? Author Pages …

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.56.30Here’s a very brief post on the  blog!  Here’s wondering if any of you nice followers have discovered my Author Page … or investigated what I wrote when I’m not writing the blog or doing one of a hundred thousand other things?

For example, this weekend, promoting my work (and hopefully entertaining an audience) at a book festival along with other authors, many of them, like me, members of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

On Saturday (23rd, Shakespeare’s Birthday …) the Hawkesbury LitFest will be taking place – all day from 10.00am to 5.30pm … a great  gathering of authors in the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton. H.U. is a friendly place – especially friendly to Books and  Reading … (Also to Italian food at the Fox restaurant, and to cakes, coffee and tea at the festival Cafe).  It’s friendly to authors and a crowd of us will be going along to read, discuss, promote, hopefully sell our work, and to meet other authors and our readers …

me reading at Hawkesbury 23 APril 2015
me at HULF 2015 (copyright Clint Randall)

You may live far away, in South Africa, Canada, or the USA – but have a look at the Mari Howard Author Page on Facebook anyway … have a look at the LitFest adverts to see what we’re (I’m) doing this weekend, and let me know, via blog comments (if you have an opinion: should Facebook ask authors to pay to promote their pages? I am undecided – this is not a rant either way – I am just wondering, would the promotion be worth the cost?  At $10 a day?)

And thanks for following .. welcome to several new readers …

HULF poster










Readers and Writers: Obligations and Entitlements?

You don't have to read them ...
Integrity creativity duty vocation

A selection of words (above) which come to mind … Lately I’ve read a couple of articles which surprised me with ideas I hadn’t thought of.

In this new situation …
For dancing with the fingertips …

Both seemed to be tied to the idea of ‘the digital age’: a strange but prevalent concept which sweeps up together everything which stems from spending time using our fingers to press buttons, sending messages across the ether.

One, about perceived obligations, the other of perceived entitlements. Like do we, as writers, have an obligation to our readers … to respond to social media, to appear at LitFests and interact with them?

Didn’t Charles Dickens perhaps kick this off, with his book tours, when readers could assemble to hear the author read to them from his books? And did Dickens feel he had a obligation? (Or were  his publishers responsible, sending him around on book tours to boost sales?) Whatever, if blame must be found for readers’ expectations of obligations, I’ll I blame Dickens!

You can read the article here:

I noted that A.L. Kennedy ‘isn’t convinced that new forms of communication have imposed any new duties on them to connect with their audience. Readers should, of course, be offered the same courtesy any human being can expect from another, Kennedy says, but any engagement beyond the “usual human stuff” depends on the author.’

And on the other side we have

Here we find Alison Morton, a successful Indie author, and member of ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors) who is tired of Indie authors expectations of entitlement … to be read, to succeed, to be listened to, on the difficulties of selling our books which face those of us who don’t belong to a big, well-known, publisher …

But I am entitled!

Am not sure I’ve ever felt ‘entitled’ to anything. But we do have to raise enough awareness of our existence, we are encouraged to develop a platform, to get heard of, and to work on having bookstores accept that our work has the quality and the care lavished on it to compete with what comes from the well known trade publishers. A question of balance, and of working on these areas with politeness, integrity, and actually delivering the goods. Great stories, well written, well edited, well packaged. The public does deserve that.

Advice from ALLi's professionals
Advice from ALLi’s professionals

Integrity, creativity, duty, vocation … words I’d prefer to hear of writers than ‘entitlement’. And reading the ‘comments’ I picked out this to agree with, (from the wise and balanced response of Fiona Cameron, an Indie author herself) ‘but I’d like to think we are all entitled to politeness (or, at the very least, we are entitled not to be dealt with rudely – I think there’s a subtle difference) from book-selling professionals.’

Morton ends by saying Our ‘competition’ is the non-reader and other leisure activities that seduce our potential readers, not colleagues published differently,’ and of course that’s the point: some people just don’t read, the digital/TV/game-playing ‘age’ offers other, possibly easier, ways to sit and engage in fictional worlds.

So Why Obligations and Entitlements?

What I wonder about is, why these words? Both seem to carry a lot of weight: why choose the heavily emotional, rather than lighter, more ‘friendly’, less self-directed, ones? Is this symptomatic of becoming a society which is divided, us-and-them, verging on hostility?

If so, what makes an apparently more ‘egalitarian, libertarian’ society likely to use demanding words?  Is the reading/writing world, the creative world, becoming increasingly solipsistic? If so, is the ‘digital age’ a legitimate cause?

How to spend a Bank Holiday Weekend: Selling and sorting

BB, H for H, TLY
Late summer bank holiday isn’t known for its predictably splendid weather, but we HULF Pop-Up LitFest people were hoping.
HULF Indie Authors arriving and preparing the marquee
HULF Indie Authors arriving and preparing the marquee

Here’s some of us at the Hawkesbury Village Horticultural Show showground, preparing our marquee, and hoping that our location – next to the Pimms Tent and opposite the Local History Society stand, will attract customers!

Saturday’s weather was fine, bright and warm …

There were lots of stalls and attractions …

and floats from the carnival procession (this one won 2nd Prize in the competition)

We’d thought we’d do some readings from our work to attract the customers … but look at the opposition!

the oppositionjpg

The marquee was also opposite the biggest, loudest, screamy-est fun fair ride!

We abandoned the readings idea (next year we’ll find a quieter spot maybe with the Teas)

But, we made some videos of readings, and we sold books!

What drives sales?
ALLi authors and their partners, selling briskly at 4.30pm ...
ALLi authors and their partners, selling briskly at 4.30pm …
  • Good covers,
  • a blurb that hooks the reader in …
  • enthusiasm from the salesperson (in this case, we were all there as authors selling our own books) …
  • belonging to a supportive community (we were all members of ALLi, re-meeting after the LitFest for World Book Night back in April, at the Fox, and re-meeting each other – authors Ali Bacon, JohnLynch, Ellie Stevenson… and more I’d not met before… ).
  • Glasses of Pimms from the Tent, and later cups of tea – all brought round by Debbie who’d organised our appearance at the Hawkesbury Show …
  • wanting to succeed …
  • and keeping on until the end … in the last hour, we all made more sales than through the previous three and half.

Find out more about Hodge Publishing at – where you can buy our books, Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year 

‘… just finished The Labyrinth Year and want to tell you I thought it was a super read.  Baby, Baby was good but the sequel is even better!’  (review extract)

Monday, typically, it rained

Back home, Monday was dark, damp, and drear. But the plan was already in place!  It was time to do some attic clearing …

Files of course notes, assorted mugs, roller skates, random clutter, and possibly that thing you've always been wondering where it went ...
Files of course notes, assorted mugs, roller skates, random clutter, and possibly that thing you’ve always been wondering where it went …

There’s always something which has gone past the sell-by date of memory lane stuff … 

Despite the rain, and the effort, a welcome day of family involvement and catch-up, plenty of stuff taken to the Dump, and plenty more for the charity shops …

A Bank Hol of Boots and Books ...
A Bank Hol of Boots and Books ...

A good late-summer weekend!

And now, back to the desk and the Mullins family, and what does ‘love’ mean?

Back to the Writing Life? (Or Towards the Desk: back to the writing life?)

So is it back to the writing life, or back to the writing life?

The Hawkesbury Indie Author’ Pop-up Readings (etc) is only a month away, time to re-discover the Writing Hat.

Gatekeeper, Hackney Wick Wood
Gatekeeper, Hackney Wick Wood

Before then, at last a ‘proper’ July post: the last guest has been waved off on her journey to Scotland, and the new lodger has moved in …Through June, and on into the holiday, I was taking walks and photographs of wild things to join in with the 30 Days Wild project, (see earlier blogpost featuring the wildlife of Wick Wood in Hackney, London,

(where we saw this lovely Gatekeeper butterfly on a beech tree,) and continued to discovered a few interesting things.

One, what we had assumed were caterpillars

of the Cabbage or large white butterfly, which cover our pink berbers bush every summer, and consume the leaves, are not. They are the lava of the Berberis Saw Fly.l

Large White Butterfly Caterpillar on Mullen
Large White Butterfly Caterpillar on Mullen

If you look carefully at the photos, you can see that also very similar, the beasts are distinguishable. We caught up with the caterpillars living and feeding a wild Mullen on the sandy cliffs above Sennen Beach, which they shared with several other creatures in kind of multi-occupied house arrangement.  (See right, e.g., green iridescent beetle)

On the same Sennen cove cliff ramble,

a lovely Skipper butterfly was resting on bracken. Notice its really strange, big black composite eye! skipper detail

 Many moons (well, probably only one, but it has felt a bit like many) have also passed, it feels, since we spotted large numbers of Moon (or common) Jellyfish at the cove, on beautiful Whitesands Beach..

moon or common jellysfish

Pity the poor Moon Jellyfish,

and its relatives: as I read on someone else’s blog, ‘they are 95%water, and have no brain’. The purple design inside the jelly bag is apparently its gonads … ‘I have sex therefore I am’?

So that was our summer holiday. Wonderfully, before the weather really slumped into cool and grey! On the way home, visiting a friend in Wells (Somerset), a swarm of bees was resting in the car park on a telegraph pole.swam of bels on tlegraph pole

Back home,

we were pleased to see again the day-flying moths: two Scarlet Tigers appeared dayflying moths 2resting together on Cranesbill Geranium leaves and for a few days afterwards these, and Five Spot Burnets (or narrow-bordered 5-spot Burnets) appeared doing courtship dances. Scarlet Tigers love nettles, and I’ve been allowing some to grow around the very edges of the garden the last couple years to encourage them.

I’ve also been watching the progress of a pair of swans who built a nest on the reed beds

nearby the canal.  Shortly before we went away, they appeared by the canal with their three Swans dad goes to join familycygnets. Lots of photos for another time, and I’m horrified to learn that ‘cygnets numbers are down by a third due to air guns’. How cruel and short-term some people’s thrills can be.

And this was a writing about writing blog? The desk has possibly begun to call at last …

Writing: Glasses full at Hawkesbury Upton

To become a writer is to expect disappointment…  wise words, from a wise writer. His quirky, lighthearted, semi-fantasy writings are deceptively wise. His name is Alexander McCall Smith. 

Wonderful, life-affiriming books
Wonderful, life-affirming books

And at a rather bad time in my life, a friend’s kindness was to introduce me to his wonderfully affirming stories.

An Indie Author Life seems about the worst idea in the world. Edit and publish your own books? Write, design, and print your own publicity? Promote yourself on social media? Find your own readers?

Fun at The Fox: the Hawkesbury Upton LitFest

One of many ways to promote our books  is to follow up every opportunity to appear before an audience, willing to invite them into your stories by reading an extract or two. Thursday  was World Book Night, and over a hundred people gathered at The Fox, Hawkesbury Upton, to celebrate.

The Fox Hawkesbury Upton
The Fox Hawkesbury Upton

It was a  warm sunny evening, and the initial readings could be held outdoors in the marquee, giving the event a summery feel.

Later, after the official opening by Katie Fforde of the Romantic Novelists Association, a  huge-er than imagined crowd meant we were packed in the Function Room like happy, book-loving sardines.  Authors (gathered partly via our membership of ALLi  were wreathed in smiles, locals curious enough to purchase a pint and join the fun gathered to hear a bit about the writing life. And more 5-minute tasters of Indie authors’ work.

Katie Fforde opens the Festival (photo Clint Randall)
Katie Fforde opens the Festival (photo Clint Randall)

Situated in a village rather than a large town or city, had a really cosy feel, and The Fox was providing not only the venue but dinner in the restaurant and/or B and B for some of us.

I was able to read from both my novels (Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year) about the Mullins family – Max the GP and his wife Jenny, genetic researcher – and my ‘Wannabe’ poem found a use illustrating the apparent romance of being writers … (see blogpost  Trips and Tropes ...  ) 

The LitFest Effect …

Friday morning was time to take a walk around the village: rolling green Cotswold countryside, wild flowers, a sloping lane bordered by woods, and the ancient, part-Saxon, St Mary’s church.

field of cowsWhere a friendly local dog-walker borrowed a key and showed us around. After a few over-busy months, and a series of appliance disasters in our house, elated by the country break, ‘Writing this now,’ I wrote on Saturday evening, with that quote from Alexander M S in my head, (Radio Four  Saturday morning)t- ‘I’ve still got that now all the exams are all over feeling … ‘ 

It was actually time to affirm the whole quote …

To become a writer is to expect disappointment…  until you remember that the glass that’s half empty is also half full.

Half full, half full, I am telling myself … Thursday to Saturday maybe it was completely full … but even  if I (and others) sold nothing, the glass is not half empty (as here in this intellectual city we so easily think) … no, it is definitely half full – and it will be full again …  Mma Ramostwe of the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is so encouraging, as she says,  ‘... it is well known …’

From an Amazon review … (G.Heppel, Kindle Edition,

… Alice and Zoe, Max and Jenny’s children, are beautifully realised characters in their own right, not drawing attention to themselves, fitting into the story exactly as they should.

TLY with MSF stickerThe conflicts begun in Baby, Baby of religious fundamentalism versus tolerance, scientific progress in genetics and fertility against the risks of new procedures, are more relevant than ever, and Mari Howard does an expert job of weaving these themes into her story without ever letting them weigh it down. In her wonderful, accurate portrayal of the different strands of Christianity, she shows how faith and science don’t need to be mutually exclusive …

P1200017 - Version 2 

Daze and Dr Guthrie: part 2

Two colourful Book Covers
Two colourful Book Covers

This is an Editor’s Cut …

It’s 1984. Daze, step-sister to Jenny Guthrie (of Baby, Baby and The LabyrinthYear) is applying to art college. Wandering around the Trewin Studio Sculpture Garden, St Ives, she discovered Dr John Guthrie, Jenny’s Dad, and a well-known fertility specialist. Now read on … (and if you didn’t, read Part One of the Extract earlier on the blog …)

MArket Jewry St Penzance 2004Seated in a cosy café in Penzance, cocoa and Chelsea buns before them, Daze wonders what else she might learn. From or about Jenny’s father, whom she hasn’t seen since they were about ten, though Jen and her birth sister have been to visit in the States.

‘Daze,’ he says, giving her a long look then cutting his bun precisely in two, ‘There in the garden in you long skirt with the button boots and the mittens, you reminded me of Maimie.’

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 20.35.21
Could Guthrie really have thought Daze reminded him of Maimie?

Who? Daze thinks. ‘Singer, is she?’

‘Kid in a book. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens with illustrations by Arthur Rackham. Our grandma read it to us.’   

‘Oh Rackham. I love his work. But I’ve never heard of her.’

‘It’s the …’

‘Yeah, lost look, innit? Jus’ fashion … So, we share the gene toolkit with the animals?’

‘Different models, same biochemical switches to turn the genes on and off.’

‘Cool. Same hammer and chisel, different sculpture. But that doesn’t explain how the different shapes -’ She frowns, and sips her chocolate. The windows of the café are steamed up, the two women behind the counter chatting with customers buying bread.

‘Environment’ your clue there, adaptation. And very slight variation makes a hell of a lot of difference to the animals.’  He counts them off on his fingers: ‘One, between species, and that’s fine.  Two, between individuals – and that’s fine too.  Three, when there is a mistake in the system – possibly in the toolkit’s functioning – say a heavier hammer or problem with the chisel’s edge – that’s when the problems arise.’

‘As in—?’

‘Maybe your animal won’t have the parts it’s meant to have properly formed, or formed but in the wrong places?’

‘Gross.  So that’s how it happens … we found pictures in Caroline’s medical books…’

‘Jeez – she shouldn’t have kept them where you kids… ‘

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 20.44.12
Scientists have now found a better way of doing it!

‘Once we cut up a chrysalis to see how the caterpillar was getting on – with becoming a butterfly …’

John shakes his head, then grins, ‘Any more you want to know?’

‘What your actual work is?’

‘Well, we use a lot of mice and rats in our line of business, and to be able to produce a whole batch of mice who are exactly the same is becoming kinda necessary.  So they’d react identically to identical stimuli?’

‘Any other use for cloning?’

‘Think about pandas. Then think IVF?  You must know what that is?’  Daisy nods.   ‘If we could extract some DNA from an endangered species, and then, somehow produce offspring by – well, by some method faster or bypassing sexual reproduction – by cloning – we could increase numbers so they can breed and re-enter the environment?’

‘And d’you think that’s possible?  My boyfriend’s into saving rare species –‘   Daze sparkles with interest.

‘Actually, I’m working on human infertility,’ John says.

Daze tries something out on John.  ‘Some people think we should let the environment alone so the animals can live proper lives.  Humans have been on top for thousands of years, but take a really healthy dolphin, and a human with dementia.  Which has a better quality of life? Should we sacrifice ourselves for them?’

‘You’ve read Singer, have you?  Animal Liberation?’

‘Speciesism is wrong. I wouldn’t say we have to sacrifice ourselves but if somebody’s life isn’t worth living, then what’s the point? Someone who has Stephen Hawking’s disease but not his incredible brain?  Can a person like that enjoy life?  Or a person in a persistent coma?’

‘So – let the incredible intellect live – but if the ability to reason and communicate is lost – that kinda thing – then an animal has more intrinsic worth?’

‘I hear what you say.’

Crap frustrating answer: what is his line on this? ‘Suppose we could modify ourselves – would that be useful?’

In reply, he glances again at his watch. Bored now conversation’s shifted from admiration to discussion, Daze wonders, disappointed. Needs flattery: well, she wants interaction. ‘Sorry – gotta go – Daze, that should cover the check – nice talking with you – ‘

‘You make science interesting – my teachers never did that.’ Dose of admiration to finish up, whatever.

And he smiles, and  plumps his business card down on the table. ‘Any time you want a vacation job – call me.  I’ve some stuff going on in Colombia you might enjoy …’  He shrugs into his coat as he crosses the café towards the door.

Meet Mari and other ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) writers at Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival on Thursday (23rd April) butterfly, March 2013

Hear more from Baby, Baby here ... World Book Night, April 23rd
Hear more from Baby, Baby here … World Book Night, April 23rd