Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

Category: Science Fiction

Writer’s Lab Session 3

Four photos from the third session of Writer’s Lab at Shrewsbury Library. A great time was had by all!

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Session Two Writer’s Lab photo

Just a photo (courtesy Shrewsbury Library manager Katherine Berry) of the second session of the Writer’s Lab. Session three is on Tuesday 2nd July at 5.30pm.

Writers Lab Session two

Writer’s Lab Session Two

A second terrific evening of writerly chat! Many thanks again to Joe Shooman, and all the writers who turned up.



Writer’s Lab Session 2

Next Tuesday…

Writer’s Lab Session 1

We had a terrific hour at the opening session of the Writer’s Lab yesterday. A really great, positive, happy and generous group of about 20 writers, with whom Joe Shooman and I worked. Very good vibes for the remaining sessions!


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Writer’s Lab, Shrewsbury Library

Today is session one (of six) of the Writer’s Lab series being hosted at Shrewsbury Library by myself and non-fiction writer Joe Shooman, who works part time at the library. The event is aimed at all those looking to improve their writing skills, get inspiration, and generally pull all the threads together!

Event is 5.30pm – 6.30. Session two will be in a fortnight.

writers lab Shrewsbury

Dorothy Rowe RIP

I discovered Dorothy Rowe and her work by accident. Reading Erich Fromm and Nicholas Humphrey at the time, I was attracted by book cover quotes citing the humane quality of her work, her interest in meaning and uncertainty, and her capacity for compassion for those in psychological distress. As Fay Weldon put it: ‘She sets us on the road to personal and political utopia – if only we would take it.’

Born in Australia, ill during childhood, and suffering difficult family circumstances, she somehow had the inner strength not only to come through those times but to use her experiences in her work. A trailblazing explorer of depression, she came from an entirely different place than her overwhelmingly male counterparts, explaining that depression was a condition of meaning, not necessarily of biology.

As a feminist and an atheist she was fearless. I loved her quote that the Christian church “… gave her plenty of work as a psychologist.” She derided the way men run the world and did a huge amount for the feminist cause, for which we all, male or female, should be grateful.

Her books were amazing. Gifted with a clarity of prose that matched her insight, every book was full of gems. Beyond Fear was of particular importance to me, although the true significance of its message didn’t reveal itself to me until I was a bit older. Her work on money, meaning, success, and the nuclear bomb was all groundbreaking.

Alongside Fromm and Humphrey she was one of my great influences, which was why I dedicated the second volume of the Factory Girl trilogy, The Girl With One Friend, to her. Alas she was not as well known as she could have been. Her books were as complex and hard-hitting as real life, which meant she did not find the wide audience she deserved. She offered no easy answers because she grasped that life is difficult, requiring effort and persistence in order to find peace, love and happiness. Truth therefore was fundamental to her, and she realised that our best interests lie in facing up to it, not ignoring it or pretending some random spiritual belief system to be true. But even at the height of her writing success that was not an easy sell to those used to the platitudes of Californian self-help gurus.

We are fortunate to have so wonderful a legacy as the work of Dorothy Rowe. Perhaps in years to come her books will be reassessed and made more popular by those who, like me, consider the truth of our human lives to be the benchmark for a compassionate, peaceful, just and wise society.


Beltane 2019

An extract from Memory Seed for today, May 1, Beltane.


On Beltayn Eve, Haquyn, acolyte of the Goddess, chaperoned children around southern Kray, helping them in their task of decorating twigs and branches earlier snapped off by defending groups. The younger children – at least, those who did not spend time teasing their elder siblings – made crossed hoops of bedecked cane, straw dolls and garlands for decoration.

Meanwhile thousands of young friends met at inns serving free ale throughout the night. From safe roofs and from the open windows of high towers came the sounds of horns and drums, klaxons and conches, and reed pipes three yards long, accompanying the festivities.

But in the Green and the Archaic Quarters, in the passable districts of the Andromeda Quarter – even down as far as the Temple of Felis – and in those parts of the Carmine Quarter smothered by plants overflowing from the Gardens, there was silence. Silence, except for the swishing of trees and the pattering of rain. North Kray heard no music. This year, Beltayn was confined.

At sunrise Arrahaquen returned to the Carmine Quarter with her charges, everyone singing, then let them go in order to begin the house decoration; well-liked people would be favoured with flowers and leaves around their windows and doors, while the unpopular had nettles and creepers thrust upon them. Gifts could then be requested from Kray’s older residents. Arrahaquen looked upon all this with the eye of one who had lived most of her life in the bland buildings of the Citadel.

Collecting Zinina from the house, Arrahaquen led the way to a dew pool. It was the custom for women to bathe their faces with dew to ensure what in Kray was the ultimate beauty – a clear complexion.

An hour after dawn, they walked south. A light mist of yellow drizzle fell from bright clouds, filling the air. Already, feats of strength, singing and dancing, pyuter graphics and archery were being exhibited in the streets. Food and drink was to hand in every road – free from the Food and the Water Stations. Arrahaquen gazed east towards the Citadel. Somewhere atop its summit the Portreeve would be sitting at breakfast, apart, with a sour face.

Mystical figures appeared as the dances became more boisterous. The Leaf Man, a woman jigging in a bulky costume, danced along the street, flowers and coloured ribbons decorating her face. Elsewhere stalked the Moll and the Fool, the latter, dressed all in white and attended by girls in white jumpsuits, attacking those already drunk with a bladder affixed to a hazelstick. Arrahaquen, not quite able to join in with the jollity, feigned insolence and was rewarded with a clout on the head. Zinina laughed at her, but Arrahaquen’s face remained glum.

They walked on. The drizzle stopped, though the sky remained overcast. Music swelled from windows and from street bands led by aamlon conductors with leaves in their cuffs. Noon passed by. The two women walked to the garland-strewn Market Square, where this year’s Kray Queen was to be crowned. It would be a momentous occasion for many since it was widely believed that today marked the city’s final Beltayn. Girls wreathed in flowers danced around poles, the slabs below their feet a ring of colour where their adornments had fallen away. Others sat on leafy posts that they had made, comparing size and quality with those of others. From behind a vacated post Arrahaquen watched the tall, blonde and rather mysterious priestess Tashyndy crowned. She had nominated herself Kray Queen on Vert Day.

Taziqi, the High Priestess of the Goddess, had departed the temple to see her spiritual student crowned. People avoided her. Dressed in a sheath of lime and emerald silk, emeralds on her fingers and toes, she wore a three-faced mask, to the left a maiden, central a woman, to the right an old woman. When she spoke in encouragement, silence fell…


Beltane is for love.

Memory Seed ebook cover

Memory Seed

Gene Wolfe RIP

I quoted Gene Wolfe’s The Book Of The New Sun as the greatest SF novel ever written on a shelf strip when I ran the SF & Fantasy section at Waterstones in Exeter. After hundreds of sales over four or five years from that recommendation, only one person returned it, as I recall because he said it was mis-described. Not a bad record!
Of course, Wolfe really was one of the all-time masters of SF, and I felt perfectly justified in naming his magnum opus as the greatest genre novel.
And so, two weeks ago today, he passed away aged 87, a stack of plaudits at his side, and any number of adulatory obituaries.
Why was he so great? I remember reading TBOTNS for the first time – I was instantly smitten. The world was deeply imagined, complex, haunting and evocative. I devoured the books, then began recommending them to my SF-loving friends. Wolfe had a way of using mystery, enigma and beautifully written prose to convey a world profound in its operation and sensual in its feel. He really made you imagine you were there – the mark of a master craftsman. Add to that wit, humanity and wisdom and you had the whole package.
And he was left-handed, as am I. Sometimes I wonder if that 10% fluke of nature added to his imagination. Although I don’t subscribe to the old dominant hemisphere theory of neurology, I do think left-handers have something a bit different about them, which often comes out in creativity.
His other novels showed a wide range of interests and skills. The Fifth Head Of Cerberus was labyrinthine in its plotting and deeply enigmatic. Free Live Free was funny and light, There Are Doors moving, the Soldier books fascinating, and he was one of the greatest writers of short stories going – his collection The Island Of Dr Death & Other Stories & Other Stories being essential reading.
I didn’t like everything he did. I think for instance that most of the remainder of the Sun books were flat in comparison with TBOTNS, especially the second series.
So, what should I say in conclusion about this extraordinary man, who delighted, entertained and influenced me, and so many others? That the world was a better place for having him in it. He took from the world, he enjoyed it and learned from it, but he contributed too in equal measure.
His legacy will live on.


Shrewsbury library workshop

A couple of photos from last night’s workshop. It was good fun! Many thanks to librarian Joe Shooman for setting it up, and for the photos. Joe is in the process of setting up a writers’ group for Shrewsbury Library.


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