Salutations, Monday friends, and welcome to another instalment of Monday News – all the news that’s fit to print relating directly to the movements of Tim Clare in the upcoming week.

The post’s a little late up today because I’ve been travelling back from Ledbury Poetry Festival. Oh my stars, what a time I had. I spent the weekend out in Ledbury town centre writing poems for people who wandered past, alongside some fantastic local poets. I met some lovely, fascinating people, and wrote about cider, heartbreak and pirates. Someone even brought us some incredibly sugary flapjack. It was great.

On Sunday night I did my first full performance of Pub Stuntman. It’s still taking shape as a show. Weirdly, this time I elided the title poem, partly because I thought it might be a little brash for a lovely summer’s evening. The Ledbury crowd were fantastic though – engaged, responsive, not averse to a dash of colourful language here and there.

It just goes to illustrate the old Tao of Gigging – you never quite know what’s going to happen. Granted, you can guess – and sometimes you guess right – but you never know. Sometimes gigs you’ve put down as a slamdunkers turn out inexplicably tricky. Sometimes gigs you’ve imagined will be hard work wind up feeling like a lovely jape. It’s why performance is so addictive. Gigging is the best life.

This week, I’m doing a bunch of performances and workshops in schools – but if you want to catch me briefly, you can see me in Norwich.

On Thursday, I’m compering a performance by Benjamin Zephaniah – not convinced I won’t be a bit surplus to requirements, but I’ll do my best to point out where the fire exits are before getting out the way and letting one of our country’s most famous poets do his thing. Looking forward to it!

This Week, I Have Mostly Been Reading

The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin. Oh. My. Gosh. What a book.

The Left Hand Of Darkness tells the story of Genly Ai, a kind of envoy-ambassador to ice planet Winter, inviting a people without space travel to join a loose intergalactic confederation known as the Ekumen. Rather than send an entire fleet, the Ekumen prefer to surreptitiously observe prospective member planets before sending a single envoy to engage the locals. Their watchword is patience.

The other notable characteristic of the people of Winter is that they are neither male nor female, but remain neuter until, roughly monthly, they enter kemmer, and assume the sexual organs of one or the other sex, and are able to procreate.

What I enjoyed so much about this novel was how the SF elements are at once fundamental and completely irrelevant to the story. On one level, it’s a kind of love story, between Genly Ai and Estraven, the fallen prime minister who – in a roundabout way – tries to help him. On another, it’s a story of political machinations, and the action might just as well be transplanted from Karhide and Orgoreyn to Britain and the gulags of Soviet Russia.

But of course – although one could replicate aspects of the story without the fantastical setting – the dynamic of the space traveller, the societal differences created by life on a freezing planet and population for whom gender is a malleable state, and the cognitive estrangement created by the welter of new terms and customs, are all central to the novel, to its themes and purpose.

I’m not advocating this novel as some shining champion of feminist, trans and genderqueer issues – I’m still a bit clumsy and ignorant on the subjects myself, although keen to learn – because, after all, it’s SF, and not directly commenting on real world situations, but it’s certainly progressive, and human, and engaging. After reading the horribly bigoted short story The Crime and The Glory of Commander Sudzal by Cordwainer Smith, where the secret, clandestine horror of a planet is… gasp! Some of the residents are gay! The Left Hand Of Darkness comes as a bit of a relief.

Mainly, it’s just brilliantly sculpted, emotive, intelligent SF, that wears its Fantasy influences proudly. I thoroughly advocate you stop whatever you’re doing and grab a copy, pronto.