As the living embodiment of somebody who has been dead for over 300 years*, I'm feeling pretty sprightly. Or should that be spritely? No thanks, I'll have an Irn Bru.
I'm full of fizz at the thought of it only being a week away from my show at Leicester Comedy Festival. I've done a couple of sneaky previews, where the bones of the show have been lain before an audience. It's gone pretty well actually, so I'm quite pleased. I had the idea that I wanted the show to be as arts and craftsy as my paper and glue collage poster design, so I even did one show in my front lounge (the front of the lounge, really. I only have the one lounge. It is knocked though into the back one, mind) and made a bit of a party of it. It had a very homemade feel, and I felt very much at ease doing, manly because I was surrounded by my own books and cats and personal cider collection, so I think it's something I'd like to try again. I've seen gigs happen in all sorts of unconventional places - even outside of Edinburgh - from people's kitchen's, to shops, to cinemas. And there are even daytime gigs now for parents with young babies. Why not? Comedy shouldn't be some exclusive thing for the unfettered drinking set. Or even the fettered one. Or the one that is fettered at the start of the evening and loses one of the fetters in the gutter on the way home and never goes back for it.
My show is on a topic that I am particularly fired up about: social justice. And hasn't 2017 really made us all pay attention to that topic? From the women's marches to the airport protests, this year people are ANGRY. And what's that monster with the unruly hair, odd-coloured skin and ill-fitting clothes with his bottom lip sticking out? It turns out that POTUS is the Incredible Sulk, and angry people make him sad. So sad.
Only today, Donald Trump has been going in again about "fake news", and his PR, inept and error-bound as they seem to us relative sophisticates in US and Europe, is actually doing a good job of making a lot of people look the other way using good old-fashioned scapegoats. 'Twas ever thus with people in tenuous positions of power, as I have found out by researching my show and for my forthcoming article: "Truth, Justice and Obscurity", coming out in Arts Lab's 3rd magazine, Indigo is Bullshit, on the theme of science and magic - the first edition being Peasants With Pens, and the 2nd being the takeover of the final edition of Northampton Herald and Post, in which a certain Frugal Wench had something to say about JAM (and speaking of JAM, that's the theme of the Arts Lab's next event, on 4th March at The Lab in Northampton, and yes I shall be there). Anyway, "Truth, Justice and Obscurity" delves into the lives of the accusers and accused in the 1612 Northampton witch trials, examining historical records to find out who the people were and their possible motives for accusing the unfortunate victims and consigning them to torture and death.
Oh yeah, Trump's all in favour of torture, isn't he? Like I said, plus ca change...
My show, The Pleasant Revolt is all about historical acts of rebellion, about 2000 years' worth. I hope that's enough for you. Anyone would think we'd have learned to stop oppressing people by now, but it doesn't look like we're going to stop anytime soon. Anyway, I keep it light and jolly, so hopefully you'll come and see it and leave with hope in your heart as well as a head filled with PURE FACTS! Real facts... not fake facts.
Here's what audience members have said so far:
This is going to be a super busy month for me. I am deep into my latest editorial project - working with a best-selling military science-fiction duo on the latest incarnation of their mega series, but took a break yesterday to record another narration for Pseudopod. Look out for Jenny (A Fairy Tale) by Michael Byrne, due for podcast on 25th March.
This weekend (5th March), I will be winging my way to Cambridge to attend the Watersprite Film Festival Awards - I am told Sir Lenny Henry will be there. Brilliant! As a fellow Black Country comedian who appreciates a good rest in the purple-liveried hotel chain that puts his face on cards on the pillows, I will be trying my best not to waylay him and drunkenly tell him of this, or of how I have re-imagined the latest BBC John Le Carré drama starring House and Loki, with him in it. Especially as I know one of the 'night managers' of that illustrious chain. Well, he works there at night. Anyway, I've told you now, so hopefully that won't happen.
Saturday 17:30 - 19:00, Deansgate 2&3 (Hilton Deansgate)
The BSFA awards are presented annually by the British Science Fiction Association, based on a vote of BSFA members and – in recent years – members of the British national science fiction convention Eastercon. They are fan awards that not only seek to honour the most worthy examples in each category, but to promote the genre of science fiction, and get people reading, talking about and enjoying all that contemporary science fiction has to offer.
Our MC will be the fabulous Liz Williams, author of the marvelous Inspector Chen novels, as well as being an awesome witchcraft shop diarist. Find out more about the awards here.
Sunday 11:30 - 12:30, Deansgate 2 (Hilton Deansgate)
Sometimes it's hard to tell whether you're watching a horrific comedy or a comedic horror. Some works, such as Scream or Shaun of the Dead, exploit our urge to laugh at the macabre; others may aim for shock but end up in camp; a few, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, manage to evoke both responses at will. Why does the line between horror and humour seem to be so thin? What does it say about our psychology that we react this way? And is the tension between fear and laughter easier to exploit in cinema than on the page?
Piers Beckley will be running the panel with humble little me and these amazing people: Ramsey Campbell, Sarah Pinborough and Charles Stross (!!! :-0)
2015 is almost at an end, and as I write I am also binge-listening to the Book Shambles podcasts, feeling like death, but not actually dead. Lemmy is though.
Apologies, I don't have the option to add umlauts, and it seems wrong to refer to his band as Moeterhead, but this is a happy-sad memory of them. Back in the day when you were allowed to be a famous musician over the age of 25, Motorhead were often in the pages of glossy full-colour pop rag Smash Hits. I remember walking to my friend Steph's once and the back page poster sort of melted onto my hand as I walked along in the summer sun. By the time I got to Steph's I had a Lemmy transfer on my palm. Not that you could really tell it was him still, or indeed any human. As I attempted amateur puppetry with his imprint, it looked like I was just doing a rendition of "The Ace of Spades" with dirty jazz hands. I'm sure Lemmy would have approved.
I don't have much in common with Lemmy, apart from a defiant pride in my own facial wart (which, as the alternative is slicing off part of my face, I'll stick with the wart). But even if you didn't like the music, you may well agree, Lemmy said some cool things. Today, Rolling Stone are referring to these sayings as "The Tao of Lemmy."
Gearing up for my own end of year ramblings, which may well include some alcohol-inspired philosophies and promises to the world it will be hard to live by. In the meantime, trying not to be a wuss about my cold. Lemmy not Lemsip!
Anyway, bless you, Lemmy, and fuck cancer.
I got to talk a bit about the history of witchcraft trials in Northampton on BBC Northampton this Halloween.
You can listen again to it via this link; I talk to James Carpenter who then goes on to speak to a present day witch from Wellingborough called Clinton Burns. It starts around 1 hour 22 into the programme and is available for 28 days, so almost the end of the month.
Sorry, Clinton, my questions were abysmal!
Fantasycon is over for another year, and I have come away feeling as inspired as usual, but with a glint of extra challenge in my eye. Mwa ha ha…
For me, Friday was a day of fretting. Both of my ‘panels’ were on Friday evening, and I had to go to work during the day, so there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth as panel-fronting nerves competed with finishing work-on-time nerves and getting there-nerves.
In the end, we made it to the East Midlands Conference Centre just in time for some cursory hellos and rushed to the Pendragon Press launch of m’friend Mark West’s novella duology, co-written with Stephen Bacon entitled The Lost Film. We have read bits of this in our writing group and I’m looking forward to reading it in full! Most of the pictures in existence of me from this weekend are from this launch when I had no slap on and my plaits were looking distinctly bedraggled. Never let it be said that I can’t lend a book launch the necessary degree of glamour… but go ahead and think it, you won’t be wrong.
A swift swig of wine, and off we went to actually check in to our hotel. The Orchard Hotel is just adjacent to the conference centre and is a modern and attractive place. I thought our room was pretty nice. I changed into a velvet ball gown. As you do.
My first panel was at 7pm on humour in fantasy, and I thought we had a lovely thoughtful discussion, if not many belly laughs. My fellow panelists were Craig Saunders, Heather Lindsley, Stephen Jordan, Terry Newman and the delightful as ever Frances Hardinge. I thought it was fabulous to have panelists with so much to say on the subject, and they weren’t panelists I’d seen again and again at things, in fact I met most for the first time that night, which made it all nice and fresh.
More cursory hellos, as the panels swapped over, and I missed Kim Lakin-Smith going into her panel on love and sex with Hal Duncan, Cassandra Khaw, Foz Meadows and Den Patrick. Shame, because that sounded fun! Instead I went to my room to panic and guzzle a pot noodle, as I was back in the theatre at 9 for my show – The Atrocity Exhibition.
Well, that went pretty well. I worked my guests rather hard, but they were amazing and we got lots of laughs and a lot of great feedback afterwards. One chap said I reminded him of Victoria Coren-Mitchell, to which my husband said, “I wish.” Charming! I am indebted to team Charles Darwin – Del Lakin-Smith and Mark West, and team Kingdom Brunel, Emma Newman and Gareth L. Powell.
After we all hit the bar and the karaoke. Why not? However, I can’t believe that got so much attention on Twitter when there were more people up singing than watching!
Saturday was much more relaxed and I spent rather a lot of it walking round the leafy, autumnal campus with all its sporty, young students running about. I met up with Kathy and Sue Boulton and went into some panels, and also hung around the Edinburgh crew including Ian Hunter, Neil Williamson and Hal Duncan. Not risking the dodgy-looking/sounding hotel food, Neil and I went out for chips before joining the disco, run by Marco Gascoigne. It was a bit flat until Del managed to fix the speakers. Thank you to my lovely dance troupers: Kim, Del, Kathy, Gareth, Kai, Corinna, Adrian, Annie, Mark, Mellors, James, Lucy, Laurel and you other blurry, beautiful people. I bet you never knew you had to Irish dance the slow bits of the Time Warp before.
On Sunday I stayed for the banquet and the British Fantasy Awards ceremony. We had a couple of nominees on our table – the creators of Holdfast magazine, and I kept my best poker face throughout as I knew they had won (Their magazine is fantastic). I am so pleased for all the winners, but so much so for Emma Newman and Frances Hardinge, who are not only extremely talented writers but fantastic people.
So sad to have to leave, and it all went too quickly. Rushed hellos to a few more people, and resolutions made to spend more time together next time. Especial gratitude to all the hard-working red coats, and to my old boss Lee Harris who I’m not sure got to sit down until 2am each night. You’re all brilliant. Can’t wait until Scarborough!
This is what I'll be up to over the weekend at Fantasycon in Nottingham:
Friday 23rd October
Room: Conference Theatre
7.00pm Funtasy: Comedy & Humour in Genre Fiction
Arguably the greatest legacy of Sir Terry Pratchett was to prove that fantasy can be funny without reducing its power to tell great stories and move readers. But it is a delicate balance — being funny can be a serious business. Our panel discusses uses of humour in genre. Hilarity ensues.
Moderator: Donna Scott
Panellists: Frances Hardinge, Steve Jordan, Heather Lindsley, Terry Newman, Craig Saunders
Room: Conference Theatre
9.00pm The Atrocity Exhibition
A distinctive show betwixt Victorian parlour game, debauched freakshow and kitsch cabaret. Most wicked jollity with Mistress of Ceremonie Donna Scott.
Panellists: Kim Lakin-Smith, Emma Newman, Gareth L. Powell and Mark West
Sunday 25th October
Room: Banqueting Suite
2.30pm The British Fantasy Awards Ceremony
Join your host Juliet McKenna as we hand out the British Fantasy Awards 2015. You do not have to attend the banquet to attend the awards ceremony.
(I am a judge in two categories: Best Artist and Best Magazine/Periodical)
So, Saturday, I'll be in the bar a lot. Come and say hello!
I have a lot to look forward to at the upcoming Fantasycon - the schedule is being finalised butI will be on this panel, which I'm looking forward to:
Funtasy: Comedy & Humour in Genre Fiction
Arguably the greatest legacy of Sir Terry Pratchett was to prove that fantasy can be funny without reducing its power to tell great stories and move readers. But it is a delicate balance -- being funny can be a serious business. Our panel discusses uses of humour in genre. Hilarity ensues.
- what is the role and effect of humour in fantasy writing?
- what type of funny? Narrative tone, situation, language, character etc.
- different humour for different readers eg. humour for YA readership
- does a humorous book have to be a comedy? How to balance humour with action, suspense, tragedy, darkness etc.
- which genre writers make us laugh?
The awesome and much-missed Pterry.
I will also be at the BFS Awards, and I'm on two juries this year: Best Magazine/Periodical and Best Artist. I am looking forward to slogging it out with my fellow jurors on these - actually, everyone's been nice as pie, and I don't see that changing. Imagine us with pitchforks if you like... but it's more like cake forks. Mmm... cake. Mmm... pie. So yeah, the cake and pie we are all drooling over can be found here. I may have some early favourites... not telling though.
Also - it's still very much in the air, but I am hoping to be able to run my show The Atrocity Exhibition at Fantasycon. It's a weird combination of kitsch Victoriana weird cabaret mixed with an insidiously genteel parlour game geekshow nerdesque sort-of-thing - with special guests! I've got one date sorted for it - September 18th at NN Cafe, where I have been recently MCing the Edinburgh preview shows for Ed Aczel and Mo Shapiro. Watch this space for more details... soon...
I've also just booked up for my very first Eurocon - in Barcelona, baby!
I am delighted to have been interviewed by the lovely Francesca Barbini for the ScifiFantasyNetwork about my love of Science Fiction, humour and my work with the BSFA. She has also rather nicely given a bit of a plug to the BSFA/SFF AGM and mini-convention that we are having this coming Saturday in London with legendary authors Brian Aldiss and Pat Cadigan! I hope to see many friends there.
Filmmaker Dan Brophy has sent me the following link to a short film he made for Inspiration FM about the event in Northampton's Guildhall for International Women's Day. I am happy to put you in touch with Dan if you would like to hire him as a filmmaker.
And talking of inspirational science fiction written by women, I am currently reading Memory of Water by Emily St. John Mandel next. What are you reading at the moment?
I recently got to return to Keele University where I did my BA to talk to current students about opportunities in writing. This event took place in the sustainability hub in Home Farm - a corner of the campus I'd never actually been to before! It's a lovely little complex, but not outwardly farm-like at all now, as the huge, shiny medical school looms over it.
Also taking part in the event were Deborah Alma - the emergency poet, who tours round in a Seventies' ambulance dispensing poetical cures for all ills, and Hannah Hiles - a journalist. We had a lovely discussion, prefaced by the Dean, David Shepherd, and moderated by author and creative writing tutor, Joe Stretch. Event coordinator, Timothy Lustig, who is a senior lecture in American Studies, was there to welcome us all, but unfortunately had to rush off before the end.
Here we all are having a lovely time!
After the event, John Easom, the Alumni and Development Officer, took me on a little tour of the campus so I could see what has changed in the 20-ish years since I was a student there. I'm pleased to say it's still as green and luscious a campus as it was back then, albeit with shinier signage. The bars look pretty much the same, although there was a dancing pole being set up in the nightclub... mm, I think that might have been for "pole-a-cize". Mmm....
The cherry trees were in full bloom, and it looked like a gorgeous place to be. I want to go back. I think I will, one day.
Due to the distancing effect of the space-time continuum (this happened weeks ago), please do not expect this to be a very long post.
But report I must! Because I did go to Heathrow, and rather than catch a plane to somewhere dull, I attended Eastercon!
I travelled down with my husband and friends, Jess and Cris, on the Thursday, and we had a chilled evening relaxing in the Three Magpies with them, Ian Watson, Christina Macia and John Guy Collick. The calm before the storm! What storm? There was no storm... at least none at Eastercon.
My main mission while I was at Heathrow was to manage the BSFA desk in the fan area. So, while I did get to spend rather a lot of time in the busy (and flipping expensive) hotel bar with friends old and new, much of my days were spent there, chatting to passers by about all the wonderful things the BSFA does and encouraging as many attendees as possible to come and vote in the BSFA Awards.
Friday night was brilliant. Australian comedian John Robertson had bought his choose-your-own-adventure comedy show The Dark Room and it was fantastic. This was followed by a fabulous set from Professor Elemental, of whom we are now confirmed fans. We are indebted to Miss McKeown, not only for furnishing con-goers with free samples of her delicious tea, but for lending us the dosh to buy a CD!
On Saturday, I ran a workshop on how to polish a text before submitting it for publication. We looked at individual writers' propensities for redrafting and styling their work, and had a look at some examples of published texts and their draft originals, as well as some published texts that really should have had another look. I had a few extra people turn up, but we squeezed them in. I hope everyone enjoyed the workshop as much as they seemed to.
On Sunday, the big event was the BSFA Award ceremony. Presided over by Mr. Ack-Ack Macaque himself, Gareth L. Powell, looking very dapper in his tux, this went very well indeed. The James White Award went first, presented by James Bacon, and the winner was Midnight Funk Association by Mack Leonard.
The BSFA wishes to thank the Dysprosium team, Claire Briarley and Neil K. Bond for assisting with the count, Awards Administrator Farah Mendlesohn, trophy designers Skulls and Robots aka Lauren Hubbard and Dan Brodie and our guest presenters – Caroline Mullan, Jaine Fenn, Kari Sperring and Ian McDonald, as well as Gareth L. Powell of course!
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
Best Short Fiction
“The Honey Trap” by Ruth E. J. Booth, La Femme (Newcon Press)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers and the First World War by Edward James
“The Wasp Factory” after Iain Banks by Tessa Farmer
Here are the winners (Ann Leckie's award was collected for her) and Mr. Powell. Don't they look awesome?
It's that cherry blossom time of year when we suddenly start feeling more energized and inspired and for us creative types this sensation of dynamism can only be augmented by a recent con-experience. Once you've got over the hangovers and con-crud, that is.
The season began for me with a trip to North Wales where Hafan y Mor gave us welcome once again for the Sci-Fi Weekender. The journey to the sea was long and, in parts, perilous, affording us views of sheer drops down into sheep-filled valleys from the narrow roads, and little detours into the Snowdonia National Park.
Myself and a couple of friends, Jess and Cris, arrived in time for the Thursday pre-party, at which I managed to meet a brand new face from my own hometown. A nice, chilled way to start the weekend.
On Friday morning, an early start was required to go and watch the eclipse. We trundled down to the shoreline with our makeshift pinhole camera (a large piece of white card and a Strongbow box), having been unable to acquire the de rigeur black glasses as worn by Professor Brian Cox on the cover of Radio Times. Other people were there with various combinations of attempted pin holes, made from colanders and torn granola boxes. Hey, ours looked pretty good in comparison. The sky was fairly clear, and already turning a violet-grey, the gulls floating subdued on the placid sea. Our camera revealed the moon had already taken a nibble from the sun, and we observed the mica in the air, the stillness, the chill descending. Nearby a small girl we had been trying to encourage to look at our nibbled sun found a rotting stick which she found much more interesting, we had to laugh. Her mother meanwhile was taking photos of the starlight speckles of sunlight on the water as the sun's reflection paled and retreated.
Just as the eclipse was nearing its peak, the birds flew off and the sea went crazy, roaring and splashing over the few visible sticks of the jetty. Another woman appeared and let us look through her glasses for a few seconds, and I was shocked to begin with because I'd forgotten ours would be an upside-down image. The sea calmed for a few minutes before going mad again. I saw one of the gardeners drive by with a palm tree in the back of his truck - what a shame to miss this! And yet... a palm tree in North Wales is probably odd enough.
Later in the day, we were joined by more friends and my husband, brother and nephew who had travelled up together after school. My nephew Ash is six - it was his first convention - aw! He mainly spent it playing crazy golf and kickabout football, though.
My Friday highlights included a very interesting publishing panel, featuring David J Howe, Terry Martin and Theresa Derwin, Charles Ross's brilliant One Man Star Wars, and interviews with Game of Thrones stars Julian Glover and James Cosmo. We missed most of the Imaginarium, but Darth Elvis and and the Imperials were brilliant and funny. Didn't all go to plan for them though - a staged interruption to their set from their friend dressed as Jar Jar Binks was misinterpreted by a security guard and the hapless fellow was dragged off stage. We also managed to watch a film called Hungerford, written, filmed and acted in by a plucky 19 year old Drew Casson - very promising, especially for someone so young, but all the shaky camerawork was motion-sickness inducing and there were some big old plot issues.
On Saturday, I took part in a couple of panels: Writing Horror with Terry Martin and Alison Kershaw, and I moderated Writing Alternative Worlds with Kim Lakin-Smith and Gareth L. Powell. We had some great audience questions, and the time flew by. For my second panel, Gareth had only just finished taking part in Just a Minute with Bryony Pearce, Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy, and when we concluded he'd done 5 and a half hours of talking on panels. What a trooper!
Other Saturday highlights for me - seeing my friends' children winning the Cosplay competition and going to watch Festival of the Spoken Nerd - I've known Helen Arney for ages from the comedy circuit, and she's brilliantly funny and has a gorgeous voice. Go see her and the Nerds if you can!
It was a lovely weekend full of cheesy dancing to cheesier music, cosplay, comedy and mild sunshine.
Nothing to do on the Sunday, so a trip to Portmeirion Village on the way home was in order. A beautiful day, the flowers were in bloom. Shame I had to leave, really.
Did I? You will find out in the continued adventures of this con-goer!
To see this post with pictures, click here!
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of going to the beautiful city of Bristol for a convention. My hubby and I were lucky enough to receive tickets as a wedding present from our friend Andy Bigwood, who was part of the organizing committee (a splendid job they all did of the organizing bizznizz too!). He's an award-winning illustrator and artist, and one of the other lovely things he did was to make an extra badge for all the children and babies attending with their name in Gallifreyan - turning phonemes into beautiful circular patterns. Mmm... wonder if he's taking commissions to do more of those? That'd be Christmas sorted!
There were three Guests of Honour at Bristolcon: the awesome John Courtenay Grimwood, who has written some fantastic novels including Stamping Butterflies; the equally awesome Emma Newman, who is the author of the fantastic Split Worlds series and hostess in the tea lair at the divine Hugo-nominated podcast Tea and Jeopardy (if you haven't already done so, I insist you go listen to one - it's interesting and cultural because it's about writers and stuff, and also sadistically funny. And has singing chickens. Very quiet ones. Who doesn't want quiet singing chickens?); and also artist Julian Quaye, who does kitsch steampunk. Go to his site and see if you can spot Batman and Robin... It's not what you might have expected.
There were also a lot of my friends there, either doing panels and things or just chilling. I did a lot of chilling... I was so laid back I was almost horizontal. Well, that's free book launch wine for you.
Anyway, the day kicked off for me with a rather splendid panel on "Music in My Writing". GoH JCG was joined by m'friend Kim Lakin-Smith, Gunnar Roxen and Sarah Ash, with Cheryl Morgen there to welcome everybody to the convention and moderate the panel. Afterwards, Kim did a reading from her novella Black Sunday set in the realm of her novel Cyber Circus.
After lunch, there was a Newcon Press book launch event, featuring Kim's new edition of her lush and lyrical novel Cyber Circus. Crazy circus music and twinkling lights abounded - as did the cake and wine. Mmmm... cake and wine... It was not the only book on offer, and Neil and I were delighted to make part of the signing line up as we signed copies of Shoes, Ships and Cadavers. We're a little bit proud of that.
To make the most of our weekend, I also signed us up for a workshop - "Getting Unstuck", with Peter Newman. This was extremely useful, and I know Neil found it useful too. I have a sticky situation with voices in my current WIP - a supernatural crime story. Sometimes you have to ask the questions your head is asking out loud, and hear what your head is saying back out loud as well. Unfortunately, other current projects are limiting my time to fix this - but I can fix it, and that's what's important. Thanks, Pete!
Plots untwisted by Latimer the Butler from Tea and Jeopardy... It would be great to always have your own WIP butler to turn to. Sadly, I have no such person/thing... (you just can't get the staff!). However, I do have an inner chimp. Here's an audio recording on Youtube of an interview with Professor Steve Peters if you have no idea why I might be talking about inner chimps. Apparently it helps to give your inner chimp a name. Neil is a very good name for a chimp, don't you think? Why? Well yesterday for example, my inner chimp made me eat a lot of Stilton on crackers...basically, Neil my actual chimp husband suggested it and my inner chimp Neil said yes. Mind, it was lush. If I made my inner chimp behave and dress up as a WIP butler, would that be animal cruelty? Does Gareth L. Powell have an inner chimp, or just an inner macaque? So many questions... no sane answers.
Bristolcon 2014 will always have lots of happy memories for me. It was great to watch Neil be a silly monkey uncle-type with our friends' children. Some people I saw all too fleetingly, as per usual, but I was brimful of joy to receive this gift, a gift that will keep on giving.
Moments of joy: Jasper Fforde gave me and Ian Whates some much needed chips; I got Gaie Sebold to sign a copy of Babylon Steel for me (I'm reading it now - it's very good, and a little bit saucy ;-P); I loved what I got in my goody bag; and I went a bit Johnny Vegas while playing Cards Against Humanity - which is basically a politically incorrect version of Blankety Blank.
Thank you my lovely friends for spending time with me.
The day after, a few of us met for a long and lazy lunch at The Hole in the Wall - oh my goodness, they pile the plates high there! And it was all very scrummy. I'm afraid I didn't quite manage to spot the eponymous hole, which was used for looking out for press-gangs in the 18th Century, lest you found yourself all at sea when you had slept off your beer.
Then, with the sky greying and the air turning crisp, spotting with rain, Neil and I went to explore Bristol harbour and dream of sailing tall ships. We would have gone for a cruise, but we weren't in time for any, and the last trip only had one space left.
Bye Bristol, I'm sure we'll be back.
Next Bristolcon takes place 28th September 2015 at the Hilton Doubletree.
This week I will be at Fantasycon in the beautiful city of York. Viking city! O hear me, mighty Odin!
My schedule has changed a bit, so this is what I'll be doing (besides hanging around the bar).
Friday 5th September:
7.30 pm - Round Robin Poetry
(There's a simultaneous karaoke happening too elsewhere... I'll get me clone)
Saturday 6th September:
11.00am – The Reign of the Geek
With Game of Thrones, Marvel’s franchise and Doctor Who all mainstream staples, the fantastic is no longer the reserve of the lone outsider. Geeks won the culture war – but what do we do now?
Max Edwards (m), Joanne Harris, Alasdair Stuart, Kim Lakin-Smith, me
As an aside, I've promised my nephew a souvenir from York if I hear he's behaved well this week... he's very nearly ten, a gamer and an aspiring comic and filmmaker. I've no idea what though. Any ideas?
I'm pleased as punch to be able to say that I have been made Keelite of the Month!
I loved being a student at Keele University, and very recently met up with a load of my old Hole in the Wall mates for a reunion-type disco thing.
Follow the link to read an interview with me to find out what kind of student I was, and to see more photos of me looking young and foolish, like this...
Does it suit me?
London. Londinium. The City... as Daisy Steiner would say, and the setting for the 72nd ever World Science Fiction Convention. Of course I had to go! A week ago already, and I still have an awful lot of BSFA admin to plough through.
Not that the weekend was entirely work, work, work, but sometimes it did feel like it.
I arrived on Thursday, with two big, unwieldy rolling things - one a suitcase, one a Good Food Show shopping trolley full of books, testing the chivalry of Londoners on the Underground. People actually helped me! I was so glad. I got off on the wrong DLR stop, so got my first glimpse of the fate that awaited me - the humongous queue for registration - as I went through the Excel Centre, saying hello to Ruth Booth , who scared me with tales that she had already been queuing for an hour and was nowhere near the front.
After securing my lodgings in the Ibis, I headed back to plunge myself into the convention... queue. Two hours. TWO HOURS. After this, I was desperate for a cup of tea. I headed to the fan village, found some friends, and that tea turned to a cider. It left very little time before I had to head off for the meeting with Ian McDonald at Canada Water library. The desk was left adorned with freebies and that was that.
Due to some crap info at the library, I actually missed the meeting! So I went back to the fan village for some more cider.
On Friday there was a performance by a Philharmonic Orchestra, which I went along to with my friends, the writer Sue Boulton and her daughter, Kathy of Spacewitch . An excellent rendition of many science fiction themes, including Superman, Star Wars and Doctor Who, as well as Holst, which is always lovely and some horrible piece called "The Unanswered Question". Apart from that, it was excellent, and an opportunity not to be missed.
I understand I missed some very good parties on Thursday, though. Damn!
At the risk of sounding boring, pretty much every day was the same for me, sitting at the BSFA desk, but it also felt like the con came to me. We gave out freebies and ribbons; we sold a lot of tombola tickets; we ran the Tweetstream fiction challenge; we ran the BSFA selfie competition to win signed Adam Christopher books from Angry Robot. We got ourselves a few new members and had some great chats with lots of people I might not ordinarily had the opportunity to get to know if I'd stuck to my circle of friends. I am indebted to fellow desk-sitters Glyn, Alex, Dave and Audrey - my team! Also the Martins, Shana and Farah who brought stuff we needed. Farah and Shana were run off their feet as volunteers in the exhibitions hall, so I hardly saw them, but what a fab job they did. They are heroes, absolute heroes!
...and there was always something interesting going on in the fan village! From piratical entertainers, acrobats, morris dancers, to the attractions of the Tardis and the Game of Thrones chair, the gaming tent and WOOFA craft area for the kids. Also, the beer was not too far away! I loved seeing all the people going through in their costumes. My favourite was a lady dressed up as the TARDIS as a Victorian bustle dress. There was also a very cool No-Face from Spirited Away and some of the sand people from Star Wars, who were very convincing.
I also got to chat to Brad Templeton, attending another conference in Canada. The only way he could attend Loncon as well was by internet-link on a telepresence robot. He actually rolled around using this, talking to people and going to panels. Wow!
Also in the fan village I got to snuggle the babies of my friends Sam and Paul, and Neil and Gemma. YES I'm BROODY. Also, I saw Paul Cornell over the weekend with his son Tom - also very, very cute!
The only other things I managed to attend that were part of the actual con, were the discos, a play, a reading, a book launch or two and my own panel. Due to needing food very urgently, I missed yet again the screening of a film what I am in a bit (at least in the DVD extras) The Search for Simon.
Gareth L. Powell's reading of Macaque Attack and his new novel were excellent. I am so glad I got to hear it. He's already won a BSFA Award - what next for this excellent writer?
The discos... brightly lit and cheesy, the Saturday night disco was nonetheless fun. I enjoyed hanging about and dancing stupidly with my friends including Ian Whates and his partner Helen, Kris and Jess Black, Kim Lakin-Smith and Del Lakin-Smith, Terry Martin, Ellie and Nick, Ruth, James Worrad, Dominic Harman and Debs, Adam Osbourne, Saxon Bullock and Emma Jane Davies, Prof and Dom White, and new friends Mark Yon, Annie and Roz. Some of these people may not have danced. Almost a repeat for the following night, except they'd worked out where the light switches were, and we were joined by Francis Knight. However, the music was struggling... British rock. Who knew it would be so hard to pick something you could actually dance to?
The play... this was The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. A great story, but we'll leave what the play was like to your imagination. I had to leave 2 hours in to go back to the BSFA desk.
The two book launches I made were the Newcon Press one, where we bought the new antho Fermi Paradox. Kim Lakin-Smith was also launching the second edition of the very excellent Cyber Circus. At the time I failed to pick up Chris Beckett's Marcher, but I'm sure I'll remedy that soon. We also went to the Rob Shearman launch, which he was sharing with Helen Marshall, and got his last two story collections.
The panel I was on was Working for a Living, and I appeared with Martin McGrath, Susan Connolly, Alison Page and Heather Urbanski. We had an excellent and lively discussion about the representation (or lack of) the lower classes in genre television, and what we would like to see next as progress.
And so soon it was over! Work went on, but it was also very fun. Next up, Fantasycon in York!
The Timeout 100 Best Sci-Fi Movies Poll is out - and I am one of the contributors!
I am hugely grateful to Tom Huddlestone for inviting me to take part in this brain-scratcher of a poll. I love so many films that it was hard to come up with a top ten. I mostly erred on the side of films that I can watch again and again without getting bored of them, or ones that reveal extra detail every time you view them. My own top ten can be seen here.
Do you agree with the results? Some of the comments so far seem a bit interesting... "AI was an abomination, rip off of Disney Pinocchio." Pffft!! Whatever you think, Disney didn't flipping well come up with all the folk tales, nor does it own them.
Anyway, I don't care. I'm just supremely happy to be on the same list as Brian Blessed, sorry, BRIAN BLESSED!!
I am pleased as punch to announce that I will be on the following panel at this year's Worldcon - Loncon3 at the Excel Centre, London which takes place from 14th - 18th August.
Sunday 17th August, 10:00am - Working for a Living
Most SF TV focuses on (and is written by!) professional/white collar/middle class individuals. But a few recent examples - such as The Walking Dead, True Blood, Orphan Black and Misfits - have included a greater focus on working class/blue collar experiences. how does this affect the stories such shows tell, the range of characters and identities these shows include, and how they use their fantastic elements?
Wow - so I get to talk about some of my favourite telly!
It gives me great delight to write that I have been invited onto the jury for the British Fantasy Awards for the Best Magazine/Periodical category, along with Aleksandra Kesek and Jim McLeod.
The rest of the juries can be seen here.
The shortlists will be announced at the next British Fantasy Society Open Night on 6th June in London, where the guest writer is Adam Christopher, interviewed by the editor Gillian Redfearn, and Journeys Into Darkness - an anthology dedicated to the memory of the brilliant Joel Lane - will be launched. See here for details.
The winners of the awards will be announced at Fantasycon 2014 in September in York.
If you enjoyed the story "The Violin Family" that I read and that appeared on the PSEUDOPOD podcast here:
Please consider nominating the story for a 2014 Parsec Award at the following link:
Lots of other stories are eligible and are really good, so give them a whirl. My story fits the Best Speculative Fiction Story: Small Cast (Short Form).
And for the sake of not quite impartiality, the latest episodes of Starship Sofa with the BSFA Short Fiction nominees are also eligible. :-)
Quite a lot of the time, I will be behind a desk with BSFA on it, or in the bar. But I will also be at these.
Friday 18th April, 6pm
Newcon Press Book Launch
The brilliant Ian Whates is launching four books that I know of: Strange Visitors a new collection by Eric Brown; The Moon King by Neil Williamson and a duo of anthologies called Femme and Noir that I might have already mentioned (my story is in Noir!)
The panel explores SF literature in the context of what stories actually are, or are not, being told. Who gets to be in the future; what happens to everyone else; and who gets to decide?
Fran Dowd (M), Ian Whates , Laura Lam, Donna Scott
, Stephanie Saulter
Does poetry allow exploration of challenging issues concerning gender, race and identity in ways that prose cannot?
IAN HUNTER (M)
, Donna Scott , Jo Fletcher, Susan Bartholomew, Amal El-Mohtar
The annual BSFA Awards as voted for by members of the BSFA and Eastercon for Best Non-Fiction; Best Art; Best Short Fiction and Best Novel. Also, the James White Award: results of the competition to find the best short story by a non-professional writer for 2013Donna Scott (M), Martin McGrath (M), Farah Mendlesohn (M), Andrew J. Wilson, Alice Lawson , Jim Burns, Steve Lawson, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell , Stephanie Saulter
I've received word that the limited edition box sets of Noir and Femme are now available to pre-order. Look at the pretties...
The NewCon Press Little Black Box
Hardback copies of both volumes of the duo anthology
An envelope filled with a quartet of sheets signed by all the contributing authors
A black tea-light candle shot through with silver, couched within a purple organza bag woven from the wings of dark fairies. The two books will be bound together with ribbon to protect the unwary reader, the inside of the box lined with black as an added precaution:
The NewCon Press Little Black Box is strictly limited, with only 100 available, each box individually numbered. When they’re gone, they’re gone…
As well as this very pretty box set, the individual anthologies are also available £9..99 for the paperback and £15.99 for the hardback. You don't need to buy them from Amazon either, as they are available from the rather wonderful Indie Bookseller Spacewitch.
I am delighted to be able to post this impressive wraparound design for the Noir anthology, launching this Easter from Newcon Press.
Reminds me of the black album from Metallica!
I will soon be able to post a full itinerary of my appearances at Eastercon. I'm currently down to appear on a couple of panels, and will be at the BSFA Awards ceremony on Sunday 20th April too.
I will next be at the BSFA meeting on March 26th upstairs at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, London, EC1Y 8ND for a panel to discuss the BSFA awards. The guests for this meeting are novelist Gaie Sebold, author of the Babylon Steel series of books, and eminent critic Paul Kincaid. Proceedings commence at 7pm.
Last night I attended the BSFA Open Evening at The Artillery Arms in Shoreditch. It was a fantastic night. The Glass Republic author, Tom Pollock , was being interviewed by the fantastic Emma Newman. It was a very interesting evening in which we learned that Tom has faced deadly snakes, deadly pirates, and mildly painful scorpions in his action-packed life. I already love Emma's books... I'm going to have to read some of Tom's now!
There were lots of other authors, and movers and shakers from the world of SF at the event last night, packed into a very warm function room. Two Philip K. Dick nominees, no less, were there, in the forms of Anne Charnock and m'friend Ian Whates - who is of course the owner of Newcon Press, hence my editor for the forthcoming anthology Noir. He greeted me as soon as I walked through the door with a massive pile of signing sheets to go into the limited edition of the book, and with just a few minutes to go before the interview started upstairs, I zipped through 150 squiggles of my name... see here my 'system' of signing the left sheet, then signing the right while Ian whips the signed sheet out of the way.
I am hugely pleased to announce that my short story "The Grimoire" will be appearing in a forthcoming Newcon Press anthology Grim, and will shortly be available to order. The anthology is going to be launched in conjunction with another called La Femme. Both anthologies will be available separately as paperbacks, and there will be a special signed limited edition presentation of the duo-anthology available to buy too.
How exciting! Look at the ToC!!!
My story is next to the one by my Northampton Science Fiction Writers Group fellow member and poetry buddy Emma Coleman. Yay us!
I am delighted to have recorded this creepy short story, written by James Douglas, for horror audiozine Pseudopod. This came second place in The Escape Artists Forum's Flash Fiction Contest 2013. Third place was Robert McKinney with "Whispers from the Trench", and the winner was R. K. Kombrinck with "Mr. Flyspeck". All three stories can be heard here.
I will be talking part in the Poetry Showcase in the "Library", off the main Hilton lobby at World Fantasycon from 8-9pm. The event will be hosted by Allen Ashley and is bound to feature some other rather good poets, as it always does, so poetry lovers, I'll see you there!
Poetry haters - I'll see you in the bar afterwards.
This week, the BSFA magazines Vector and Focus were posted out to members. Guest editorial for this issue of writing magazine, Focus, was the fantastic writer Kim Lakin-Smith, author of Tourniquet, Cyber Circus, Queen Rat, and her latest novel, Autodrome , and I got a little co-edit credit in there too. I'm proud of this issue which features lots of brilliant and useful articles aimed at the writer of genre fiction. The theme of this issue is writing groups, so if you fancied joining one, you can read all about the different writing group experiences here.
I would like to thank Kim and Alex Bardy, Steve and Clive and all the other writers and contributors who made this issue possible. Also Kev Rooney for his beautiful cover art.
I will be attending World Fantasycon in Brighton from 31st October to 3rd November, and though I'm not planning to be on any panels, I will be around in the bar and dealers' room if anyone would like to chat.
I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of friends and colleagues from the publishing industry and celebrating the end of my Go Sober challenge, as you do. To explain, I am raising money for Macmillan throughout October by not drinking. People who know me, know I like my cider, and so they know this will be quite a feat for me. If anyone would like to sponsor me, the link is here.
Tickets for the Natural High Cabaret night at The Legendary Labour Club - at which I am performing on November 28th - have now gone on sale. Buy your tickets here for a very reasonable £3.
My editorial work continues to bring me much delight. Besides the work I do for publishing companies, I also provide individual editorial services for individual writers. Last month I had the pleasure of working on a fantastic supernatural crime story set in the 1920s. I hope to see that do very well. Currently, I am working with an exciting new young writer who has written a compelling science fiction YA novel, despite only having just turned seventeen. It will be interesting to see where this young lady's writing career leads...
I was recently a guest on Unseenn Radio's Bedge Music Corner, and the show went out this week. I review local artists Strangers, Jamie Benkert and Arcade Crossfire. Listen to that here . I am possibly a bit mean... to some of those. Some were jolly brilliant. But I now own a ukelele that I don't know how to play at all, so I'm sure I've got much, much worse to come.
Fellow guests are the writer Tom Jordan and Jimmy Beaumont, music journalist for the Herald and Post (also to be seen currently in the Mod exhibition at Northampton Shoe Museum - wearing a parka!).
Also out this week was this interview with me on Northampton Science Fiction Writers Group's website. You can read that here and find out about how I became I writer. If you want to, that is.
On Sunday August 4th, contestants will once more vie to become the latest Bard of Northampton at this year's Bardic Picnic at Delapre Abbey.
I was the first, back in 2009!
This year, I am performing at the picnic once again, along with a host of other poets, musicians and storytellers.It's a fantastic community event and totally free.
This year the theme is roots, and you are encouraged to come dressed as a green man or woman. I don't think they mean Jolly Green Giant.
So - this is what I'll be up to at the weekend.
|Friday||4pm||Boardroom||"Small Press Stories"|
|What’s it like running a small SF/F Press? Editors from some of our local publishers share stories about their business. Colin Tate (Clarion Press) moderates Bob Neilson (Aeon Press), Pete Crowther (PS Publishing), Donna Scott (Immanion) and Ian Whates (Newcon Press).|
|Friday||10pm||Rowan||"Just a Minute"|
|Four amusing people are invited to talk for one minute without hesitation, deviation or repetition by the finest Nicholas Parsons impersonator a pint can buy (that’d be Owen Dunn, then).|
|Sunday||12noon||Boardroom||"Ready, Steady, Flash"|
|Lee Harris challenges authors to produce short themed fiction to a very tight deadline, and then read it out. Paul Cornell, Cory Doctorow, Roz Kaveney and Emma Newman scribble, and Donna Scott entertains while they write.|
|Sunday||7pm||Main||"BSFA Awards / LonCon 3 Update"|
|Award Administrator Donna Scott and Master of Ceremonies Paul Cornell, assisted by our Guests of Honour, present the BSFA Awards for 2012. They then hand over to the LonCon 3 team for a presentation and update on next year’s UK Worldcon.|
What a whirlwind weekend it has been!
I had a fantastic trip to Richmond on Friday night to take part in a storytelling evening at the sweet and bijou Teabox. Pennywise, I used my Network Railcard for discounted travel to the gig and took a hot meal with me (heated up in the office microwave and popped in my insulated lunchbox before I got on the train) so that I wouldn't be tempted by all the overpriced goodies you can buy at the station (although, I have a Bite Card, which you can get for free and that gets you 20% off a lot of station shops should you ever get stuck).
The Teabox is a lovely cafe with a lot of vintage appeal. A vast cornucopia of tea and tea-making paraphernalia are there for you to buy, and your tea comes served in pretty china with silver spoons and a triple timer so you can time your brew between 3 and 5 minutes exactly. They are open in the evenings now for all sorts: poetry, music, storytelling, comedy (go on 21st January if it's your neck of the woods - the lovely Joey Page will be there) and even a knitting circle. My choice of brew was a delicious vanilla black tea. I used to drink oodles of that as a student living in France, where flavoured black teas seemed to be a lot more common than the jam-scented fruit teas such as we had in the UK.
I told the crowd about Elizabeth Woodville, the Northampton girl who married a king, and her mother Jacquetta of Luxembourg who was accused of being a witch, and her claimed ancestor the water witch Melusine. Paul Eccentric told tale after intriguing tale - he's an excellent writer and hosts the evening once a month. I liked his stories of apocalypse, obsession and bravado - his characterisation is spot on. Fellow guest storyteller Gabriella Appicella (formerly of Northampton herself) told a thrilling tale of chic psychopathic killers, which was lush in its detail and really drew you in.
I have narrated this short story for Pseudopod, What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night by Michael Marshall Smith .
It's a very creepy story. It's my first attempt at recording something by myself, so there are things I've learned in the process. Hopefully I'll get to do some more!
It has been a busy few weeks and my head is in a whirl. Sleep is not my friend, though very often my travelling companion (good job I don't drive).
I had a great time down at The Forbidden Planet Expo, and it was really busy in there. I just went as a punter (and I did buy a couple of books), though when m'friend Gareth L Powell dropped out, I was almost tempted to grab his poor neglected author name tag. "No, honest, I am him." As it happened a couple of books I was in did happen to be on the sale tables that day. One day, hey?
...and this is me there with m'friend Paul Cornell.
The following weekend was spent on a stag and hen weekend in Brum, with very many of the same people. We went to a gin palace, played street ping pong and then went on to Eddies which has moved and is now in what looks ike an Estate WMC and has reassuringly sticky carpet. RAWK!
Since this time, my life has been taken up with three major things: the witchcraft exhibition, the play, and comedy nights.
The 1612 Northamptonshire Witch Trials exhibition opened on 21st July. We'd managed to get quite a bit of advance publicity thanks to BBC Northampton Radio. On the day I was putting the exhibition up, they were sending someone to interview me at the museum. typical then that my bus got stuck behind an accident.
I weighed up my chances of making the interview on time if I stayed on the bus. I was 2 miles from the town centre, there were no footpaths for a mile of that... but I had no helpful information from the driver either, and so I took my chances, left the bus, and commenced wading through the tall grass, stumbling across brambles and rabbit holes, heading for town. About ten minutes into my walk, the bus went past. Nooooo!
I got to the top of London Road, a long hill that goes past Delapre Abbey. I mostly ran down that. My phone was ringing as I neared the Carlsberg factory. Had I missed them? No - they were there, but hurry! I ran through the doors and almost hurt my face on the interviewer's microphone. No time for a drink or to stop the drippy sweat tap, it was straight into the interview. The interviewer kept asking how you could tell a witch so he could see if his girlfriend was one... oh dear.
But how Alan Partridge was that?!
We heard the interview after and it was fine. They were playing Frank Sinatra's 'It's Witchcraft' in the background, which made me think of Peter Kay and how he said in his biography that he "improved" a production of The Crucible he was in by singing it at the end.
I did another radio interview the morning of the exhibition opening, this time in the studio. It must have worked as we packed the small exhibition space out with people. I gave a talk, and Anne-Marie Sandos was telling witchy stories in character. The white wine went very quickly.
The following night I held a cabaret night down the Vic Inn. It being the exact anniversary of the witch trials, I felt it should be marked in some way, so I wrote a long theatrical poem (with props!) called 'Waking the Witch'. We had to put the show back an hour to get an uadience, but otherwise all went well and we got some great responses. Justin Thyme of Raising the Awen, Milton Keynes Poet Laureate, Mark Niel and comedian Hannah Silvester all came to lend their talents and we had a really nice time.
This cleared a bit of space in my head to concentrate on the next thing: comedy at The Racehorse. It's a fairly new thing for us and a venue we love, so we want to make a good fist of things, but it's very hard to relax just yet. Playing that night we had Dan Wright, doing his Edinburgh Preview Michael Jackson Touched Me. Also playing was local legend Mark Cram, who did a really excellent job, and feminist comedian as most recently (and bizarrely) seen on The Bachelor Kate Smurthwaite . She did a little bit from her Edinburgh show News at Kate, and went down very well with the crowd, so hopefully she will be back sometime.
Last night I got to work with Imaginary Ordinary puppetry expert Lisa Shepherd ready for The Arabian Nights next week, where I will be manipulating the talking bird character. I'm so glad to have been given the role - it's my favourite character, and the puppet is simply beautiful. I will post pics up when the play is done. For now, you'll just have to come and see it live.
Anne-Marie Sandos and me were interviewed about our exhibition for BBC Northampton's John Griff show on Tuesday. It's at 1 hour 37 minutes in, if you want to catch it on Listen again here.
I am dead excited to be bringing comedy to the legendary Northampton Racehorse! Beginning this Wednesday, 27th July, we will be holding monthly comedy nights, and the first couple of shows will be Edinburgh previews.
This will be a great opportunity to see theatre shows in development, for whatever price you think fits.
First up, we have Vikki Stone, musical comedian extraodinaire. She's amazingly talented and immensely funny. Next month, we have Dan Wright, who is a brilliant storytelling comedian, usually seen with his partner Steve Marsh of Electric Forecast. You might recognise them both as they've been on TV a fair bit. They're not the ubiquitous panel-show types, but they certainly beat my one appearance in the audience of Central Weekend into a cocked hat.
Vikki's show is called Hot Mess, and Dan Wright's is Michael Jackson Touched Me. Explains the glove(s), I suppose?
I'm hoping to bring a lot of fresh and diverse comedy talent before The Racehorse's lovely and peculier clientele, who are a mish-mash of alternative types. I'm looking for acts that are original, different, and who may be left off mainstream bills in favour of samey, laddy, unpolitically-correct comedy.
This night will be the comedy break in a week chock-full of editing work (I loves it!). Then at the weekend, I am going to go to a couple of literary things.
First up children's writer Andy Briggs is giving a talk at Northampton Central library on Friday 29th June from 7-8pm. If you fancy going along, I advise booking a space on email@example.com
Then, on Saturday, it's down to the big smoke. Old London tahn... where m'friends Ian Whates, Mark West and Kim Lakin-Smith are among many fab writers attending Forbidden Planet's Small Press Expo . Newcon Press's anthology Hauntings can no longer be pre-ordered from Forbidden Planet as it's selling so fast, but do pop down on the day to grab your copy and get it signed personally. Should be a really good day out, and I may be partaking in a bit of red wine. Look out for the many photos that will inevitably be taken of me with red wine lips.
I've just got back in from an absolutely brilliant afternoon. I was running a creative writing workshop at Northampton Central Library themed on the town's1612 witch trials and had a good number of really keen and enthusiastic people turn up. I was blown away by the quality of some of the pieces that the group came up with in such a short space of time, running the gamut of lyrical, clever, witty, funny and awesomely emotional stuff.
I got home from the BSFA Awards discussion panel last night, groggy from train snooze, fuzzy from red wine, and full of the wibbles you get after the rush of adrenalin has died down, and the slightly shaky feeling from thinking that I may, just may have heaped a whole bucketload of tee-ar-uh-double-burr-ull-TRUBBLE on my head through admitting to things I did or enabled with the BSFA Awards that people may not have liked... only everyone (present) seemed to understand after all. Phew!
Still, I thought, all controversies dealt with, but controversies get people talking, don't they?
This morning no one is talking about me. I'm like a pouty Oscar Wilde.
Duncan Lawie and Dave Hutchinson were extremely pleasant guests and though we did talk around opinions of works on the shortlist, we veered towards the postive and no former or current comedians-who-also-write were injured by the process. Possibly the positivity was helped by one of the shortlistees being in the room, somehow representing (in my head) the aw-pshaws, smiles and blushes of those who could not be there. Comparison with the recently published Clarke Award shortlist was also made, and I was disappointed by the absence of Tom Hunter, because he is quite often in attendance and I thought we could tease him that our shortlist was more Clarke than the Clarkes this time round. Nonetheless, we concluded that we do have a pretty good list with some quite literary aspirations, and both lists offer good stuff to read.
Also, revolutionary fervour was seeded with discussion of my little controversies: the non-fiction award being a bit too general and why we had an extended nominations amnesty. Suggestions were made, people were enthusiastic and my heart was gladdened.
I'm relieved I didn't know about Chris Priest's latest blog before last night, because it could well have coloured the conversation and taken the focus away from what we are trying to achieve with the BSFA Awards. It might have been a lot less pleasant. One of the Clarke shortlistees, Charlie Stross, was brought up by a couple of people as someone people thought was missing from our list, and I pointed out that he had only narrowly missed being so. Just goes to show how subjective opinion can be.
But why would it have changed things, some of you may be asking, if we had known what Christopher Priest had written? All the books on both lists were published last year. The content or quality does not change based on a blog written yesterday. However, the readers are human, and not inured to the temptations of gossip or scandal, and especially in the puddle-splash of the sf community, some of the things that were said concern people many of us know and possibly even like. Oh, and the BSFA actually appointed two of those judges as well!
There is nothing wrong with voicing an opinion. It's okay not to like something and it's fine to explain and justify why you might find a piece of work wanting. I was shocked when I first read the post, but going back through there are only a few points that are hugely shockworthy, or that I can even argue against as I don't know the work in question. For the most part, Priest does go for the work and not the person, although that line is blurred in places. Calling for the cancellation of the Clarkes is more than a tad bombastic and he probably realises this. I feel most sorry for Mark Billingham, and his character Tom Thorne would have trouble identifying exactly what crime he is meant to have committed here. Agreeing to be a pannelist at Oxford Literary Festival? How dare he grace the same stage? After all, his books are only eminently readable and popular crime fiction novels with engaging narratives, rounded characters and squeeze in political topicality to boot. Plus he's a very funny chap. Saying he employs 'heavy-handed' puns in his novels knowing full well that comedy was his first success is akin to pointing to something on him that isn't there and flicking him in the face.
But I do want to make a point, because Eastercon is only round the corner now, and this is when I will get most of the votes for the BSFA Awards. The Islanders is on that shortlist. I'm not sure if Christopher Priest has forgotten how small the pond is, or if he doesn't care, or if his eye was only ever on the Clarkes, but I am hoping that potential voters will remember that they certainly don't have to agree with any of the shortlistees opinions about people, books, politics, or anything. This book is part of the very good shortlist that the BSFA meeting was discussing last night. It is still made up of the same words in the same order. With the BSFA Awards and the Clarke Awards you can discover some excellent science fiction, and with only one book on both lists, you have variety and plenty to form your own opinions on... if you feel so inclined. You can also just enjoy them.
Last month, my brother, James, his wife, Annie and my littlest nephew Basher took a city break to Lille, had a lovely time, and thoughtfully picked up some waffle biscuits for me (I like these very much). As I live in the same town, it should have been a simple matter of me popping round one night for a cuppa and picking these up.
I looked at my schedule, however, and couldn’t find room to squeeze a visit in: I had meetings, gigs, planned nights out, museum stuff. I’ve not even had time to catch up with TV I’ve planned to watch on iPlayer. No – I haven’t even seen Dirk Gently!
Eventually I got to see James and Annie – they had to come to one of my gigs to catch me.
Now, whilst that was no hardship, I’m sure (it was an excellent We are Most Amused night, with an amazingly good line-up of Jay Handley, Colin Hinchley, Paul Broad, Paul Mutageija, Celia Wilding, Susie Amato, Nick Clarke, Matt Diggle Davies as Johnny Dazzle and magic Al Rudge, performing to a packed out room) I did feel guilt pangs a-plenty. My own brother, who lives, what, twenty minutes’ walk away, and I couldn’t find time for him?
Granted, I’ve deliberately made myself very busy since Christmas, just to chase the bad clouds out of my head. But I should be making time for family.
But Spring is here and it’s time for a post-Winter, post grief-coping strategy declutter. And because I need method for my metaphor, this weekend I had a chuck out of my beloved but worn out shoes (goodbye tartan DMs, ruined whilst fishing for mackerel), some makeup I’d been clinging on to since university and a load of other hoarded junk. Office – you’re next! *shudder*
N has urged me to look at my ever-growing to do list and sort out my priorities. I need to keep the stuff that will help my literary endeavours and with the pursuit of my dream career, drop the fun stuff that hurts my pocket but doesn’t help my CV. Oh, yes, and probably do more of something – write.
I’ve dropped a couple of open-mic poetry gigs I’d fancied going to in the past couple of weeks – I wouldn’t necessarily have performed, but they would have been fun to be at in any case. Now if I, or anyone else, wants me to do something, I have to be able to complete the phrase “This will be good for me because…” with a really good, non-idiotic ending. “There will be cider,” for example, is not good enough.
Instead, I’m forging ahead with editorial work and am now embarking on a new post-slush reading role, which makes me happy. I’ve got edits coming back to me on a short story that should be out later in the year and I’m also researching the 1612 Northamptonshire witch trials for an exhibition at the museum this summer. So far, my imagining brain has led my feet to the supposed gallows site in Abington Park (where afterwards I sat eating muffins in the café, bewildered by the owner’s numerous photos of himself with James Blunt), and my researching brain to the basement at the library, and back to the museum where, by chance, I bumped into the chairwoman of Heritage Hunters a (local history group) and chatted to her about the gallows site.
I’ve also been speaking with local folklore history expert, Peter Hill, who has been telling me about the mysterious imagery that abounds in Northamptonshire churches. Did you know, for example, that Northamptonshire is teeming with Green Cats? Green Cats Think not of Mooncat or genetically moggified jellyfish creatures – these Green Cats are akin to Green Men, Pagan imagery that has found its way into churches all over the place. There is apparently one in St Peters on Black Lion Hill, and Peter is giving a talk on the Green Man in the Black Lion pub next door to the church on Saturday 19th May at 2pm. I’m particularly keen to hear Peter’s theory on why there are carvings in the church of men holding sweetcorn, dating from before the supposed discovery of the Americas.
All of this is also feeding the fuel for Waking the Witch - a shortish solo poetical performance that I will be doing on 22nd July with some musical and spoken word guest artists.
I’ve also been given my panels for Eastercon, which are as follows:
Friday 6th April – 6pm Commonwealth – Just a Minute I seek to emulate Sue Perkins in this regard, and if I can win this, I claim the right to go eat things with Giles Coren at some point in the very near future. Thanks.
Saturday 7th April – 3pm – 41 (Winchester) – Running an Award “How do you run an award? Who are awards run for - is it the industry, or the readers? How do you engage with your audience? How do older awards stay fresh and relevant to the field, and how do newer awards find a place for themselves?” These are questions the audience wants answered, right? Okay – just checking.
Sunday 8th April – 6pm Commonwealth – the BSFA Awards. Acclaimed writer John Meaney is MCing and presenting the awards will be Cory “Little Brother” Doctorow, Paul “Demon Knights” Cornell, Tricia “Lightborn” Sullivan and George R “Game of Thrones” R Martin. Squee! I will be running round like a mad bird in a dress.
Oh – and my Supermarket challenge continues. If you want to know more about that, you need to be on my friends list on Still Not Enough Rice Pudding.
X-posted from Still Not Enough Rice Pudding
This week, I think I have moved a little closer to finding the art of my heart... at the very least what I appreciate the most in others. The trouble with this sort of realisation is that you think you've been working hard, but there's going to be lots to do yet.
On Wednesday I went to the big smoke in that there London to see my mate Ian Whates interview the marvellous Liz Williams. It was a fascinating night and some of the discussion was also pretty useful to me in gleaning the perspective of a modern practitioner of witchcraft (Liz)as I am writing the bulk of the 1612: the witch trials of Northampton exhibition. also nice to have a little drinkie with some of my pals from sf.
On Thursday I joined in with the Milton Keynes massive once again and headed to Bilston - my old town in the Black Country - to a packed out Bilston Voices in the Cafe Metro. This is the baby of Emmma Purshouse, who most ably MC'd the night, and a sweet gig it is too. It was lovely to be able to meet up with Jane Seabourne and Eileen Ward-Birch, also of the now sadly defunct Wimmin Wot Wroight. Unfortunately, my dad was waylaid by motorway traffic on the way home, so I didn't get to see him there.
The evening was kicked off by Al Barz reading some of Geoff Stevens' poems in tribute to him. With Geoff's passing, the poetry scene is missing one of its great and good.
Then we had readings from newcomer Alan Glover, who had poems about his depression to make you think... and smile. More smiles came from Lichfield poet Janet Jenkins. I liked her frog poem a lot.
Then I came on, and according to Gary Longden's review, I performed with brio and chutzpah... I like that... makes it sound like a crime-fighting duo. Or maybe a music hall act in the Edwardian style - Brio and Chutzpah! I was presumably their Betty: Brio, Chutzpah and Betty.
Penultimate act was the very brilliant new bard of Stony Stratford, Danni Antagonist, whose poems are extremely well-crafted, the narratives touching light as a butterfly wing, leaving hurricanes of thinking in their wake. I think Embrace is a new favourite of mine.
Mark Niel is newly a full-time professional poet and actor and he writes and performs with extreme skill. His poems' themes are light-hearted and universal, and very entertaining and though I might not be prepared to take off my shirt in the middle of a poem like he does (sorry, I know some of you are disappointed by this), I look to him and Danni for inspiration and guidance down this road of performance poetry. I'm so very glad they took me along with them.
It was a fun night... also I sold some magazines (which paid for my share of the petrol,yay!) and I inroduced Mark and Danni to the delights of the Black Country orange chip! Nom, nom, nom.
On Friday N and I went back to Milton Keynes to see the amazing Jordan Reyne play The Stables Studio and we made a little 'sf' table with our friends Jessica and Cris. Jordan is also someone we know from the world of sf, and though I have been in love with her sound for a while, N hadn't really heard any... so I had that lovely moment you get when you introduce your partner to new music and you see the look on their face that says this is the best thing, ever! To be honest, the lot of us were astounded at just how brilliant and accomplished she is live. If you have not heard her, check out www.jordanreyne.com and then make sure you get to one of her future gigs. Her music is a mix of Trent Reznor and traditional folk, flavours you think will never work on paper... but they so do! She has the kudos of awards and a cult following, but she deserves to be immensely famous.
Then of course, the weekend went too quickly... full of meetings and work and housework. But you know what? I am feeling super organised. I know what I need to do and I think I'm going down the right road now. Wish me luck!
X-posted from Still Not Enough Rice Pudding .