Tolkien Lecture 2014

2014 Tolkien Lecture


Sadly I can’t make this one, because I will be in Finland. It looks like it will be a great event. Also it is free, though you do need to sign up. The official press release follows.

(Oxford, April 9, 2014) Pembroke College have invited award-winning author Adam Roberts to deliver the 2nd Annual Pembroke Lecture on Fantasy Literature in Honour of JRR Tolkien. This lecture in the series designed to explore the history and current state of fantasy literature will take place on May 2nd at 7 pm, it was jointly announced today by Robert O’Shea, President of the Pembroke College Middle Common Room (MCR), and Kendall Murphy, Annual Fund Officer for Pembroke College. Professor Roberts will also participate in a free signing and wine reception following the lecture.

The series is intended to memorialize Tolkien, who was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke for twenty years; he wrote The Hobbit and much of The Lord of the Rings during his time at the college. The lectures are sponsored through a grant from the Pembroke Annual Fund.

‘The Tolkien Lecture was a great success in its first year, with attendees drawn from the university and the community’, said O’Shea. ‘We are pleased to have Professor Roberts as a lecturer this year, given his reputation not only as a science fiction author but as a critic who knows Tolkien well. We feel that Professor Roberts will continue the high standard established in the series’ first year’.

‘The Pembroke Annual Fund connects our alumni to current students and allows them to work together to make an immediate impact on college life’, said Murphy. ‘The Pembroke Tolkien Lecture is precisely the sort of project the Annual Fund was designed to support, thanks to its resonance within and beyond the Pembroke community’.

Adam Roberts is Professor of Nineteenth-century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. He has published fourteen science fiction novels, the most recent of which are Jack Glass (Gollancz 2012), which won the BSFA and Campbell awards for best SF novel of the year; and Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea (Gollancz 2014; with Mahendra Singh). With his academic hat on, he has published articles and books on a range of topics including Tolkien. The Riddles of the Hobbit (Palgrave 2013) is the most recent.

Both the lecture and the signing reception are free and open to the public, but online registration is required to ensure a place for the lecture. Please go to pembrokemcr.com/Tolkien for more information.

Posted in Academic, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

Today on Ujima – Local Politics

Today’s show was a Women in Politics special. With both City Council and European Parliament elections coming up in May, we took the opportunity to invite a bunch of local women politicians into the studio.

The first hour saw us highlighting a couple of minor parties: TUSC and RESPECT. These are both essentially Socialist alternatives to Labour (who these days have drifted a long way from their roots). For the RESPECT lady we also had a group of kids from a local school doing work experience in the studio. I think they did very well for their first experience of political interviewing.

As Ellen from RESPECT was talking about the party’s origins in the anti-Iraq War movement, I did ask about the issue of arms fairs at a local university, which I know is getting some of the students very concerned. Sadly Ellen wasn’t aware of that one, but I hope to have some of the students in the studio next week.

The Listen Again link for the first hour is here.

In the second hour we had a more high powered group in. There were two ladies from the Lib Dems, one from Labour and one from the Greens. The Conservatives, sadly, were unable to send us anyone. Apparently they all have jobs and were unable to get time off.

Topics covered included the proposed biomass power plants at Avonmouth, the withdrawal of the Tory nominee for Lord Mayor over his alleged homophobic comments (both mentioned here), the “Boy’s Club Britain” report from the UN, and the need to get more women involved in local politics.

The Listen Again link for hour two is here.

I’m sorry that this week isn’t of much interest to people outside of Bristol, but I will make up for it next week. My first studio guest will be a certain Caroline Symcox who will be talking about life as a trainee woman vicar and possibly a little about being married to Paul Cornell.

Posted in Current Affairs, Radio | Leave a comment

The Warrior’s Bond Is On Sale

As promised yesterday, copies of Juliet E. McKenna’s fourth book in the Tales of Einarinn series is now on sale in the Wizard’s Tower store. Get your Warrior’s Bond here. It will be on sale in the other usual outlets in due course.

As with the other books in the series, this volume contains updated maps and a new introduction by Juliet talking about her thought processes in writing the book. You can learn more about it (and the rest of the series) from her blog.

Posted in Books, Wizard's Tower | Leave a comment

Murder Most Magical

The next Fringe event will be on Monday May 19th, and will feature Cavan Scott and Justin Newland. Details here. Before that, however, we have an additional event for Bristol folks.

On Friday, May 16th at 7:00pm in Waterstones, Bristol I will be hosting “Murder Most Magical”, a presentation of fantasy-themed crime novels featuring Ben Aaronovitch, Paul Cornell and Jasper Fforde. The event is ticketed, costing £3, and currently you can only get tickets at the store. However, I’m sure local people can be persuaded to pop in on your behalf should you need them to. I suggest that you book up early, because this will probably sell out.

Thanks are due to CrimeFest, which is taking place in the city over that weekend. They kindly allowed us to borrow three of their guests for the evening.

Posted in Readings | 1 Comment

That Was The Fringe That Was

Well, I survived. :-)

Public speaking doesn’t bother me, of course. Heck, I host the Fringe events, and that’s way easier than doing live radio. Reading my own fiction, on that other hand, that’s scary, especially when I’m actually quite pleased with what I have written. However, no one laughed (in the wrong place), no one walked out, and no one told me afterwards that what I had read as utter shit, which is definite progress.

More to the point, we had seven other fine stories. I’d like to extend a particular welcome to Pauline “Mazzy” Masurel, who had us all in stitches with her stories of an itinerant comet and a pregnant Brian Cox; and to Louise Gethin who appears to agree with me that garden gnomes are not to be trusted.

The Q&A turned into a discussion of the pros and cons of writing flash, but not before I had managed to lower the tone of the evening with some probing questions. Further to which, those of you who don’t know Talis Kimberley’s song, “Clever Men”, can download it (and read the lyrics) here, or listen to it below.

Audio of the evening will follow when I have had time to edit it.

Posted in Music, Writing | Leave a comment

Coming Soon

The Warrior's Bond - Juliet E. McKennaIt will be new book time at Wizard’s Tower very soon now. Juliet McKenna fans, please take note.

Posted in Books, Wizard's Tower | Leave a comment

Living Without Privilege

We hear a lot about privilege these days. It seems that everyone want to prove that other people have more privilege than they do. David Cameron thinks that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world, while men’s rights activists are convinced that men are far more oppressed than women. There are even quizzes you can do to prove to your friends how little privilege you have. But what is it actually like being at the bottom of the social pile? Well readers, let me introduce you to Monica Jones.

Monica is a trans student in Arizona where they have a law against “manifesting prostitution”. Ostensibly it is a means of cleaning up the streets and “rescuing” women from the sex trade. The practice is, of course, very different, because all it takes to be found guilty of this crime is for a police officer to decide that you look like a prostitute. And what does a prostitute look like to an Arizona police officer? Obviously she’s female, she’s not white, and probably she’s trans.

Monica was brave enough to speak out against this law. Not long after she was arrested. Yesterday she was found guilty, solely on the word of the arresting officer. She has been sentenced to a minimum of 30 days in prison, and a $500 fine. As a trans woman, she will be sent to a men’s prison.

The silence about this from the white, liberal feminist media is deafening.

That’s what it means to be without privilege. You can be arrested simply for walking down the street, convicted without any evidence of wrongdoing being required, and subjected to what in any civilized country would be described as a cruel and unusual punishment. And the supposedly liberal media doesn’t fucking care.

Oh, and before anyone starts saying, “that’s just America, the UK is so much better”, read this.

Update: I’ve had people on Twitter asking whether there is anything that can be done about this. The most important thing to note here is that there are trans women of color who are all over this, and have been since Monica was arrested. There are very high profile people such as Janet Mock and Laverne Cox involved. What the rest of us need to do is keep an eye on what they are doing, and lend support where it is requested. The hashtags being used by activists are #IStandWithMonica and just #StandWithMonica. Checking those on a regular basis should keep you up to date with what is happening.

Posted in Feminism, Gender | 4 Comments

Some Bristol Politics

Those of you who listened to last week’s Women’s Outlook show will remember that we were visited by Tasha from the Avon Coalition Against Big Biofuels. She talked about plans for new biomass power stations at Avonmouth. There was day of action yesterday, and it seems to have got the attention of the city’s Elected Mayor. Here is George Ferguson writing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to add his voice to the campaign. Tasha and George are quite right. While it is perfectly possible for a biomass plant to class as renewable energy, one that relies on importing wood cut from rain forests in South East Asia is another matter entirely. George says in his letter, “Bristol has loudly and very clearly said ‘no’ to these developments, yet the UK Government has chosen to override our local decision-making process.” I’ll be interested to see what sort of response this personal intervention gets, and I’ll try to get Tasha back on the show so we can discuss the issues in more detail.

Talking of mayors, you may remember me waxing lyrical about Bristol Lord Mayors. We have had some good ones during my time in local radio. Two years ago we had Peter Main, the city’s first gay Lord Mayor. Last year the Council appointed Faruk Choudhury who is the city’s first Muslim Lord Mayor. I’ve met both of them as part of the work I have done for Out Stories Bristol and local radio, and they are lovely people.

While George was elected by popular vote, Lord Mayors are appointed by the City Council. The major parties take it in turns to put forward nominees, who are generally accepted unopposed. Peter was put forward by the Liberal Democrats, while Faruk came from the Labour group. It is almost time to appoint a new Lord Mayor, and the turn of the Conservatives to put someone forward. Their choice, Councillor Chris Windows, was known for his opposition to LGBT people. Most notoriously he tried to stop Sir Ian McKellen (yes, Gandalf) from visiting Bristol schools as part of Stonewall’s gay awareness campaign.

Understandably the local LGBT community was not best pleased. A petition was started. I didn’t think it had much chance, because there is a strong tradition that Lord Mayor candidates are unopposed. The fear is that if one party starts trying to interfere with another’s choices then their next choice will probably be opposed regardless of who it is, and the whole thing will descend into petty bickering.

On Friday, out of the blue, Cllr. Windows withdrew his candidacy. As per this BBC report, he blamed an “unpleasant and slanderous attack upon my character” by “a very vocal minority”, and said he was withdrawing to avoid further distress to his wife. It was a classic piece of victim politics, but one I was rather suspicious of because I know a lot of the people involved in the petition, and they are sweet and lovely folks.

Yesterday Daryn Carter, the Director of Bristol Pride, got his chance to put his side of the story in the local paper. While you can argue over whether slanderous things have been said forever, the key point in the story for me was this:

It has also emerged today that Bristol’s Labour councillors yesterday withdrew support for Mr Windows’ nomination.

Labour Chief Whip, Cllr Chris Jackson said: “We had initially believed that Cllr. Windows had genuinely learned after his offensive comments in the Council Chamber, but regrettably this does not seem to have been the case.”

There’s a lot more from the Labour councillors in the paper. So it seems that while Cllr. Windows and his family may indeed have been distressed by the campaign, he didn’t actually withdraw until he had already lost the support of a significant part of the City Council.

It so happens that we have a bunch of city councillors on Women’s Outlook this coming Wednesday. I may ask them a question or two.

Posted in Current Affairs, Environment, Radio | Leave a comment

Bookstore: End of the Road

As some of you will know, the Wizard’s Tower bookstore never made a profit (apart from that one amazing month when the Finns came to party). However, revenue had been increasing at a slow but steady pace throughout. I always believed that if I kept working away at it, that we’d get there in the end. I even had a bunch of big plans for improvements for this year.

However, the first few months of 2014 saw a significant drop in sales. The figures for March were around half what they had been for the same month last year. Sales for April thus far show every sign of being as bad or worse. Much as I enjoy selling good books to eager readers, I can’t carry on paying out money in hosting fees, and spending a lot of time running the store, if no one is buying books.

I’ve also noted that some of the publishers I stock have stopped sending me their latest releases. As a publisher myself, I totally understand that. There is no sensible distribution system for the ebook market, and small presses can only justify the time it takes to get books stocked in a store if that store is actually going to sell a significant quantity. But of course if I don’t get the latest books, that means fewer visitors to my store, which results in a downward spiral.

So I have decided to close the store at the end of this month. I’m not sure of the exact closure date because I’ll be heading off to Finland around the end of the month which messes up my schedule. However, I’ll definitely keep the store open for the next week because some people are still buying copies of The Secret History of Moscow in preparation for Åcon and I don’t want Kathy to miss out on any sales. So if there is something that you had been planning to buy, get it now.

The good news is that this will not negatively impact the publishing business at all. I sell far more copies of Wizard’s Tower books through Amazon than I do through my own store. And for those of you who prefer not to buy from piranhas I’ll always make copies available through a few other stores.

I guess that it also means that I will have a bit more free time, but I may use that to try to be less exhausted and stressed, rather than start any new projects immediately.

If you have bought books from the store and manage to lose your copy, don’t worry, I have records of who bought what. Just email me and I’ll replace the file.

Finally, my huge thanks to everyone who supported the store during its lifetime, either by selling their books there, or buy buying them. I shall miss the happiness boost I used to get from checking my email in the morning and seeing that someone had bought a book I love.

Posted in Wizard's Tower | 5 Comments

Beer Tasting (and Croatian Art)

Bevog Baja - Filip Burburan


I have been saying for some time that Bath has two superb independent bookstores, but it also now has a really good whisky shop: Independent Spirit. Indeed, I will be there tonight for a tasting of Japanese whiskies (so make sure you are following me on Twitter then). Chris and Christian, who run the shop, are super friendly, incredibly knowledgeable, and always happy to chat to customers. If you are in Bath, do pay them a visit.

They don’t only sell whisky, of course. I’ve been trying to learn a bit about rum from then in advance of meeting Karen Lord at Åcon. I can heartily recommend this stuff. But I can’t really afford to stock up on whiskies and rums, so mostly what I buy when I go into the store is beer. Which brings me to the picture at the top of this post.

Recently the store has started stocking beers from Bevog, a new microbrewery from Austria (specifically a town with the lovely name of Bad Radkersburg) which is making huge waves in the beer community (#3 in this list). They do have a pale ale and an IPA for those of you who like English beers, but much more interesting from my point of view are the oatmeal stout and the smoked porter. They are both delicious (though I do admit that I’m a sucker for anything smoked and your mileage may differ).

What’s more, all of the beers have superb artwork on the bottles. The picture above is from the oatmeal stout. The artist is Filip Burburan who is from Rijeka in Croatia (a city I visited last year). Croatian friends, you need to make more noise about this guy. He’s amazing. The signature character for the smoked porter is below.

Bevog Ond - Filip Burburan

While I’m talking about beer, I can also recommend Floris Mango. It is a Belgian wheat beer stuffed full of fabulous mango goodness. Of course the dudebro real ale fans are going to hate it. It is a wheat beer for a start. But I reckon it is absolutely perfect for a warm summer’s day. Delicious.

Posted in Art, Food, Whisky | Leave a comment

Nick Harkaway at Mr. B’s

Bristol and Bath people, here is an event to look forward to. On the evening of Wednesday June 18th Nick Harkaway will be appearing at Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights to promote his new novel, Tigerman. Nick is, of course, well known for his first two novels: The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker (the latter a Clarke Award nominee and winner of the Kitchies Red Tentacle). I’m given to understand that Tigerman is somewhat less speculative in content, but Nick is a great author regardless of subject matter. Mr. B’s is quite small, so I expect this to sell out fairly quickly. Book up now. Full details here.

Posted in Readings | Leave a comment

Today On Ujima: Er, Everything!

Well that was a bit mad. Today we had a very busy show.

We started off with some ladies talking about fostering and adoption services in Bristol. Apparently there is a major shortage of families willing to foster or adopt children from ethnic minority backgrounds, especially as the authorities would like to place them with families from similar cultures so as to make them feel more comfortable.

Then we had the fabulous Rita from Bristol’s Palestinian Museum, which is allegedly the only physical museum of Palestinian life outside of Palestine (please do correct me if I am wrong here, but it is the first one that comes up on Google). It is a real shame that we didn’t have TV because the embroidery that Rita had to show was beautiful.

Next up we had Sian and Cezara from Bristol Women’s Voice and the Bristol Woman magazine, talking about all sorts of woman-centered projects (and NOT pulling faces when I mentioned intersectionality — Yay Bristol!). Ovarian cancer was one of the main topics.

And finally in the first hour we were joined by Tasha from the Avon Coalition Against Big Biofuels to tell us all about how Bristol power stations are involved in rainforest destruction.

Yes, that was all in the first hour. You can listen to it here.

In the second hour I was joined by Lucy from Stand and Stare, an amazing company that is revolutionizing museum exhibitions by making them much more interactive. (Off air Lucy and I talked quite a bit about augmented reality and hacking QR codes — I wish Tim Maughan had been there.)

Also in the studio with Lucy was Ade, one of the back office volunteers at Ujima. She has kidney problems, and is running a campaign to make people in Bristol more aware of the need for donors, especially if they are from ethnic minorities. People like Ade find it much harder than white folks to find suitable donors when they need them.

I sent Lucy and Ade off talking about interactive exhibits to educate people about organ donation, which I was rather pleased with.

In the final half hour we had three ladies in from the Bristol & Avon Law Center. Paulette came and tormented them. Do not worry, they are good friends of ours. Indrani runs a regular immigration clinic from our offices, and Noopur has a regular slot on Paulette’s Thursday show.

You can listen to the second hour here.

The playlist for today was:

  • Feelgood by Numbers – The Go Team!
  • Codeine Blues – CN Lester
  • Talking ‘Bout a Revolution – Tracy Chapman
  • Back Street Luv – Curved Air
  • The Man With the Child in His Eyes – Kate Bush
  • Theme from Mahogany – Diana Ross
  • Irreplaceable – Beyoncé
Posted in Environment, Feminism, Health, Radio | 3 Comments

Fringe in a Flash

The April edition of BristolCon Fringe will be devoted to flash fiction. That means that we have not two, not three, but a whole eight readers for you.

Well, I say whole. We were going to have the fabulous Gareth L. Powell, but the poor guy is on crutches right now and he needs to be fit and ready for Eastercon so we have excused him his duties. Someone else will fling monkey poo on his behalf.

So the line-up we have is as follows:

Louise Gethin writes about love, death and anything in between. She self-published a collection of short stories, Anecdotes of Love and Death, in 2013 with the help of Andy Gibb (actually, it wouldn’t have happened without him). Otherwise, she has read at The Thunderbolt as part of the Word of Mouth Series and been included in a number of short story anthologies including: Unchained — published by Tangent Books in 2013, Hidden Bristol — published by Tangent Books in 2012. She has been a member of Bristol Writers Group for 11 years and was one of the four founding members.

Justin Newland is a regular attendee at Fringe and is doubtless well known to podcast listeners for being the person who helps Cheryl out by asking questions from the audience when no one else is willing to.

Jonathan Pinnock is the author of the novel Mrs. Darcy Versus The Aliens (Proxima, 2011), the Scott Prize-winning short story collection Dot Dash (Salt, 2012) and the forthcoming bio-historico-musicological-memoir thing Take It Cool (Two Ravens Press, 2014). He blogs at www.jonathanpinnock.com and tweets as @jonpinnock. He read at Fringe in February.

Pauline Masurel has been writing tiny stories for over twelve years now, which is long before most people were calling them flash fiction. Her short, and even shorter, stories have been published in anthologies, and online in both print and audio versions. Two of her short stories were broadcast on Radio 4. She is amply qualified to write flash fiction inspired by astronomy, because she used to live a couple of doors down from the Herschel Museum in Bath and she once watched Patrick Moore falling asleep at a public lecture. You can find out more about her work from her website.

Peter Sutton has lived in Bristol since the late 80’s, on and off, and now considers it his home. Like most authors he had a wide variety of jobs. Unlike most authors he only started writing post 40 after a lifetime of procrastination. He’s always had a passion for books and once tried unsuccessfully to have a publishing career, going so far to get a PGDip in publishing, but it didn’t take and he ended up working for the BBC instead in just one of those ‘any jobs’. He now works for a major telecoms company. He is one of the organisers of Bristol Festival of Literature and has had stories published on 1000 Words, storieswithpictures.org and Hodderscape. He is a contributor to the Naked Guide to Bristol and an event organiser for Vala publishing. You can follow him on Twitter at @suttope and read his blog at http://brsbkblog.blogspot.co.uk/.

Jonathan L. Howard is an author, game designer, and scriptwriter, creator of Johannes Cabal (a necromancer of some little infamy), and the YA SF series The Russalka Chronicles. He can be found on Twitter as @jonathanlhoward and at his site www.jonathanlhoward.com. He read at Fringe last November.

Kevlin Henney is the organizer of Bristol’s annual contribution to National Flash Fiction Day. His work has been published in a variety of venues, including New Scientist. He read at Fringe last December, and this event is All His Fault.

And finally, Cheryl Morgan is a publisher and literary critic who is absolutely terrified at the prospect of having to read her own fiction in public for the first time, especially in the company of such distinguished persons.

As always, BristolCon Fringe takes place at the Shakespeare Tavern in Prince Street (round the back of the Arnolfini). Readings start at 7:30. Full details are available from the BristolCon website.

Posted in Readings, Where's Cheryl? | Leave a comment

Nalo Hopkinson Interview

Sister Mine - Nalo HopkinsonAnd because it appears to be Caribbean day here, I’ve just published a podcast version of the interview that I did with Nalo Hopkinson for Ujima. It covers most of Nalo’s novels, especially the latest, Sister Mine. We also discuss the state of LGBT rights in the Caribbean.

My apologies for the poor sound quality on my voice during the interview.


Posted in Books, Podcasts | Leave a comment

Book Review – Binary by Stephanie Saulter

Binary - Stephanie SaulterI have a new book review online. This one is for Stephanie Saulter’s new book, which I warmly recommend. Don’t take my word for it, though. Juliet McKenna was enthusing on Twitter about the skill necessary to pull a plot together the way that Saulter does here, and she knows far more about plotting than I do.

And take note, America: Saulter’s first novel, Gemsigns, is coming your way in May. Look out for it.

You can read my review of Gemsigns here, and that of Binary here.

Posted in Books | Leave a comment

March Fringe Podcasts

I got the March BristolCon Fringe readings edited over the weekend, and they are now available for listening below.

First up we have Rosie Oliver who treated us to a short story, a fragment from a novel, and a preview of a new story about C.A.T, her robot cat hero. As she had to catch an early train home, we did her Q&A immediately after her reading.

Next at the microphone was Scott Lewis, freshly escaped from his ordeals rescuing farmers from the floods in Somerset. Scott read the first chapter of the aforementioned novel, which I think is called Aetherjack. It involves a gunfight in a brothel and a rickshaw chase. Please note that in the Q&A at the end of the evening Scott makes it clear that Dash is by no means the hero of the novel.

Our third reader was Roz Clarke, who is probably better known here as one of the editors of Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion. Roz also read a chapter from a novel in progress. As we reveal later in the Q&A, it is set in an alternate world version of Bristol. Roz is a Clarion West graduate, and I think you’ll agree that it shows in this reading. In fact if you are an editor or agent looking for a hot new novel to sell I suggest that you give this a listen, and then drop me a line to ask for Roz’s contact details. If the rest of the book is as good as this, I’d love to publish it, but I know that Roz deserves better than what Wizard’s Tower can do for her.

While Rosie had to rush off and catch a train, Scott and Roz stuck around to answer questions. The Q&A turned into a bit of a meditation on novel-writing technique. We talked about the problems of second chapters, and about the pros and cons of outlining. Kevlin Henney shocked everyone by mentioning the F-word: “finish”. As everyone in the business knows, novels are never finished, they are only abandoned.

Kevlin also gives us a preview of the April Fringe event, which he is curating as it is a flash fiction event. It will take place next Monday (April 14th) — somewhat earlier than usual due to the Easter vacation. As the stories are all quite short, there will be eight readers in total. One of them will be local favorite, Gareth L. Powell, who still holds the record for the most downloads of a Fringe podcast. Also reading will be Kevlin himself, and Jonathan Pinnock, both of whom are Fringe veterans. In addition there will be a story that will feature in The Girl at the End of the World, Vol. 2, forthcoming from Fox Spirit later this year, which will be read by me because I wrote it.

Posted in Readings, Writing | Leave a comment

First Avenger – Hollywood Wimps Out

Yesterday I finally got around to watching Captain America: The First Avenger. I know I’m quite late to this, but Cap has never been a favorite character of mine, and I’m not very interested in WWII stories. I finally picked up a copy because a) I had heard a lot of good things about Peggy Carter, and b) the buzz around the new Captain America film has been quite good so I figured I should watch the first one.

From now on I’ll be referring to the film as Captain America: His Part in the Peggy Carter Story. I feel a bit sorry for Chris Evans because Hayley Atwell pretty much stole the movie, except for the scenes with Hugo Weaving in, which of course he owned. I’m not surprised that there is going to be a Peggy Carter TV series.

Following a Twitter conversation with Tade Thompson I checked up on the character of Sharon Carter. It turns out that she was originally Peggy’s younger sister, and then was retconned* to her niece to make the timeline work better.

Peggy aside, my main interest in the film was the appearance of the Howling Commandos. As I said, I’m not big on WWII stories, however, the Howling Commandos are an interesting bunch because they are, in a fumbling 20th Century sort of way, a genuine attempt at diversity. Stan Lee didn’t create a group of American heroes, he drew his characters from several of the Allies. There’s a British character, and a French one. There’s also Gabe Jones who is one of the first African American characters in Marvel, and quite remarkable in terms of the US Army which did not have racially integrated regular units until 1948. The film adds a Japanese-American character, Jim Morita, which is also fairly radical given that most Japanese-Americans had been interned.

So far so good. These characters are all fairly stereotyped, but this is comics and movies we are talking about.

Then I watched the extras, in particular the one about the Howling Commandos, and I realized that something terrible had been done.

The British character in the film is listed as James Falsworth. JJ Feild, who plays the character, says that he goes on the become the costumed hero, Union Jack. That’s not what happens in the comics. James Falsworth is a real Marvel character, and he did take the role of Union Jack. However, he did so during WWI. By WWII he’s an old man. He does try to come out of retirement, but is badly injured on his first mission and hands the role of Union Jack on to his son, Brian.

(By the way, Falsworth’s daughter, Jacqueline, becomes the superhero, Spitfire. As she’s a vampire, she has no time problems and is a prominent character in Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI13 series.)

So why did the film not use Brian Falsworth? I have this sinking feeling it is because he’s gay.

Well, that’s contestable. The Falsworths were created by Roy Thomas in the 1970s for the Invaders comic book. Thomas insists that he did not intend Brian Falsworth and Roger Aubrey to be lovers, and given what I have read of the comic I tend to believe him. This is the closest they came to a romantic moment.

Brian & Roger

However, in more recent comics Brian & Roger have been retconned as lovers, and they are now known as Marvel’s first ever gay couple.

Hollywood couldn’t be being that crass, could they? Well yes, they could. Because you see the Falsworths should not have been in the Howling Commandos at all. There was a British character, but his name was Percival Pinkerton. His nickname was “Pinky”. And yes, he was gay. Stan says so. You could argue that is another retcon, as original comic never explicitly stated his gayness, but you only have to look at how he was introduced to see what Stan had in mind.

Pinky

You’ll also note that JJ Feild’s character in the film has been modeled very clearly on Pinkerton. He looks nothing like any of the Falsworths.

So it seems pretty clear that at some point during the production of the film someone took a decision to re-do the characters so as to avoid two separate gay characters. I don’t blame Marvel for this. They are, after all, perfectly happy to have all sorts of QUILTBAG folks in their comics. It is much more likely to have been someone at Paramount who insisted on it. I am very disappointed in them.

* “Retcon” is short for “Retroactive continuity”. It refers to the practice of writing new stories which appear to re-write the past history of a character.

Posted in Comics, Feminism, Movies | 4 Comments

Remembering The Missing

Jordan Howe drawing


One of the things I always make a point of emphasizing when I host a Trans Day of Remembrance ceremony is that while the statistics we have represent actual killings, we have no idea how many trans people take their own lives because they are unable to face the bullying and discrimination that is a daily part of their lives. In the UK, suicides are likely to outnumber murders. Last year we all heard of the case of Lucy Meadows. Today I received another tragic piece of news.

Jordan Howe was just 19 years old when she ended her life. She was from Northern Ireland, a huge Lady Gaga fan and a talented DJ. The picture above was drawn by her to try to express her feelings about being a trans girl, and is taken from this Tumblr memorial by one of her friends. The Lady Gaga fan community has also rallied round.

According to my source, an Irish activist, the local paper misgendered Jordan in reporting her death, and repeated some of the slurs flung at her by bullies.

And people wonder why trans folk are so angry all of the time…

Posted in Gender, Journalism | 3 Comments

New Free Fiction Magazine from Australia

D6 issue 1A new science fiction magazine was launched in Australia today. It is called Dimension 6 and it comes from Coeur de Lion Publishing. The first issue contains three stories: by Richard Harland, Charlotte Nash & Jason Nahrung. You can download copies for free via the following links:

Like I said, it is free. Why not give it a try.

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Introducing The Bristol Cable

After the show yesterday I had a meeting with a couple of young lads from a very promising alternative media initiative. The Bristol Cable bills itself as a citizen media co-op. That is, it will be local news, by local people, for local people. That is as opposed to local-ish news largely content-farmed by a national organization that owns many “local” newspapers and is itself part-owned by the Daily Mail, which is what we (and many other British cities) currently have. Alon and Adam turned out to be very personable and full of big ideas. You’ll get to hear more from them on April 23rd when I have them on the radio show, and there’s an in-depth article about them today on journalism.co.uk, but I wanted to write about them now because they have a crowdfunding initiative going that had a deadline at the end of next week. The money is being used in part to fund a series of free workshops for local people that will help teach them journalism skills. It all sounds very promising.

One of the things I like about the Bristol Cable team is that they are not all white. Around 94% of UK journalists are white and, as Christina Zaba said on the radio show last week, the increasing cost of education is making that situation worse rather than better. Media Diversified, the organization behind the excellent Writers of Colour Twitter feed, is also running a crowdfunding campaign, in this case to help create a directory of minority ethnic experts who can be made available to the media. If you don’t feel that supporting a Bristol initiative is appropriate for you, maybe that one will appeal.

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