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The Ordinary Woman in a Strange World

The day is soaked and grey. I sit here with wet cloths on my bad sunburn and shiver slightly in the damp breeze. Such is life on an island at the edge of the world - one day fierce summer, the next day a storm.

I suppose it's a perfect time for swaying between (re)reading the ostentatiousness of Gormenghast and the eerie bare bones of The Owl Service. I will come down ultimately on the pleasant ground of Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword, with its cheerful ordinary kind of heroine: I always seem to end up with ordinary.

But I have to say that, despite my own ordinariness, and while I love the grand and marvellous wonder of a Gormeghast or a vivid summer's day, this is an eerie world when you look at it properly, and that's what feels real. More real than clocks, tea tables, swords. Ordinary is, I think, our defence against the wild truth. I have lived in forests and behind old mountains, in the city and suburbs, and everywhere I've seen watchers, I've heard whispers, I've felt the power at the edge of the light. Often, often, I've sensed that humankind shares a border with forces that are not supernatural but deeply, profoundly natural. I wrote about it in Suburban Magic, although perhaps more benignly than I ought to have. A storm always reminds me that humankind's sweet, busy, ostentatiously ordinary world can be stripped away any moment, and beneath it there is an otherworld that we used to understand, centuries ago, but have now walled up (or so we think) behind apartment blocks, electric lights, breakfast dishes, smartphones.

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