Writing and Gender Reminder

This is to remind you that on Sunday 28th of this month Cat Rambo and I will be teaching an online course in Writing and Gender. This is what Cat has to say about the course:

Every writer hits the question of how best to write characters other than ourselves, and gender can pose one major difference. How do you write about a gender other than your own? How have Western ideas of gender fractured and what words do we use when speaking of the expanding awareness of trans, genderfluid, genderqueer, asexual, aromantic, and more? How have F&SF writers approached gender and what pitfalls should be avoided? Join Cat and Hugo Award-winning publisher and critic Cheryl Morgan for a workshop that will not just inform but inspire. 2 Plunkett slots still open.

Further details are available here, including how to apply for one of those Plunkett slots and get on the course for free.

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2018 Tolkien Lecture

The 2018 J.R.R. Tolkien at Pembroke College will be given by V.E. (Victoria) Schwab. It is on May 1st. I would say “rush to book”, but the announcement went up yesterday and it is already sold out. Whoa, that’s impressive.

Anyway, there’s a waiting list. Good luck.

While I am on the subject of literary events, I see that Jack Zipes is going to be on a panel at Hay this year. He’s talking to Marina Warner and Philip Pullman about “Tales of Wonder, Magic, Resistance and Hope”.

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Diversity Works

One of the most obvious arguments for diversity is that if the top people in any given field are almost all straight white men then we must be missing out on talent from other segments of the population. Those who support the status quo will, of course, argue that straight white men are just vastly more talented than anyone else, and thus naturally end up on top in a perfectly functioning free market. The rest of of laugh at their hubris.

But can we prove them wrong? If we do go out and look for more diverse talent, do we get better results? Well, this year, thanks to being on the Tiptree Jury, I have been doing a lot more reading than usual. Probably more than I have done since I stopped doing Emerald City. Back then I would see a lot of talented writers coming through, but most of them would be straight white men. This time around I have read five very impressive debut books by women of color, plus two impressive novellas by a non-binary person of color. I can’t say much more than that because they are all being considered by the Jury (and the fact that they are great books does not necessarily make them great books about gender), but I think all of these books are worth your attention in one way or another.

  • The Tiger’s Daughter – K. Arsenault Rivera
  • Her Body and Other Parties – Carmen Maria Machado
  • An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
  • An Excess Male – Maggie Shen King
  • The City of Brass – S A Chakraborty
  • The Red Threads of Fortune & The Black Tides of Heaven – J Y Yang
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Life Goal

If you are going to be EVIL, you might as well be EVIL with style.

For those of you who don’t have Netflix and are not enjoying Star Trek: Discovery, our heroes are currently trapped in an alternate universe where the humans are the bad guys and most of the crew has an evil self. Cadet Sylvia Tilly, a wide-eyed, nervous goof in our world, has become “Captain Killy”, the most feared starship captain of the Terran Empire. It is very silly, and a lot of fun. And I want that uniform.

Isn’t it interesting, though, how so much American TV these days is all about alternate worlds in which the bad guys have taken control. I wonder why that could be…

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Launching the Horror

This evening I was in Bristol to attend the launch of The Hotwells Horror, the anthology that has been put together by local writers in honor of David J. Rodger. I’m delighted to report that it was very well attended. Pete Sutton, who edited the book, tells me that he sold 43 copies all told, which is good going for a launch.

All of the proceeds from the book are being donated to Mind, the mental health charity. You are unlikely to find it in shops, but it is available from Amazon (Kindle only at the moment but hopefully paper to follow).

Jo Hall has reviewed the book here. She was very kind about my story, so I thought I should say a little more about it.

It is set in New York in the 1920s during Prohibition. All of the named characters in the story are real with the possible exception of Nyarlathotep.

One of those characters is Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

There is some wild sex, but it happens off camera.

There are Nightgaunts, and they do what Nightgaunts do.


Art by Michael Whelan

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PKD Award Finalists

The short list for this year’s Philip K Dick Award were announced last night. They are:

  • The Book of Etta by Meg Elison (47North)
  • Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty (Orbit)
  • After the Flare by Deji Bryce Olukotun (The Unnamed Press)
  • The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt (Angry Robot)
  • Revenger by Alastair Reynolds (Orbit)
  • Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells (Tor.com)

Of these, some have been submitted to the Tiptree jury so I can’t talk about them. Tim Pratt’s book has been getting a lot of love on social media and I’m looking forward to having the time to read it. Revenger is a lot of fun and I am impressed with how well Al has got the feel of Treasure Island into the book.

And then there is Murderbot, who is one of my all time favorite science fiction characters. All Systems Red is on my Hugo list for sure.

First prize and any special citations will be announced on Friday, March 30, 2018 at Norwescon 41 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport, SeaTac, Washington. This year’ Hugo finalists will be announced at the same convention.

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David Olusoga on Empire

For those outside of the UK, David Olusoga is a British TV historian. He’s charming, erudite and witty, which is exactly what you need for a TV presenter. He’s also black, which is a very rare thing among British historians. Yesterday he gave a talk at Bristol University as part of Bristol Museum’s winter lecture series. It was excellent.

The subject of the talk was the British Empire, a topic on which Olusoga is currently writing a book. It also ties in with the Empire through the Lens exhibition at the Museum. As a Nigerian-British person, Olusoga has a very different view on this history than your typical white male British historian. He’s not shy in expressing his political opinions, but equally he is very honest about the complexity of the subject.

Some of that complexity is, of course, historical. The British Empire as a project began in Tudor times. (It was, in large part, John Dee’s idea.) From there the British went on to found a vast empire in North America, lose half of it to revolution, found a new empire in the far east, go on to colonize large parts of Africa, and then give that empire away because it no longer had the means to hold it. As Olusoga noted, there are Nigerians who were alive before their country became part of the Empire, and who lived to see it free again.

The complexity also arises from how we teach and remember empire. If we did so well, surely idiots like Boris Johnson and Toby Young would not be able to get away with waxing all nostalgic about our supposed glory days, and dream of Empire 2.0 as an outcome of Brexit. Olusoga described them as being like some lonely bloke looking up his exes on Facebook and wondering if they might get back together again. He didn’t mention the bloke’s rather poor record of domestic violence, but then he didn’t need to.

Part of the remembering is about how we connect with Empire. As a man of black and of white working class ancestry, you might expect Olusoga to regard himself as morally above the whole “our Empire” thing. And yet he confessed that his genealogical research suggested that his white ancestors might have been involved in slave trading, and his black ancestors might have sold slaves to the British.

That willingness to confront complexity also came through in a brilliant answer that he gave to a young Bangladeshi woman who asked about Churchill. Her own family had been badly affected by the famines that Churchill refused to try to alleviate. Olusoga notes several other examples of Churchill being a deeply unpleasant human being. And yet there was that one moment when, had he not been there, the Tories would have made peace with Hitler and the world would be a very different place now.

Sometimes Nazis need punching, and you may need someone who is prepared to do that.

I was a lot kinder with my question. I tossed him what I hoped was a juicy half volley and he obligingly whacked it out of the park. I asked him about the ridiculous notion that the British Empire somehow brought “civilization” to the world. He noted that when the Empire began the Chinese and Mughal empires were far richer and technologically sophisticated than the Europeans. The Ottomans weren’t bad either. The idea that there is somehow a single strand of human civilization stretching from Greece through Rome to London is ridiculous. He didn’t mention, though I would have done, that one of the most egregious acts of barbaric vandalism wreaked by European colonialism on the world was the spread of homophobia and associated neuroses to previously far more sensible cultures.

Those of you who have access to BBC iPlayer are warmly recommended to try Olusoga’s current TV series, A House Through Time. I loved the first episode. The second was broadcast last night. I didn’t get home in time to watch it, but I’ll be catching up this evening.

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Innovative Student Media Projects

My colleague, Berkeley, and I spent today down at Bournemouth University, but this time we were not the ones giving the presentations. The University’s media studies course had come up with a great idea for their final year projects. Rather than make up some sort of media campaign as an exercise, the students had to go out, find a charity, and work with them to develop materials to suit that charity’s particular needs.

The projects we saw were very varied. Some of them were straight-up feel-good social media campaigns for people like Woofability. Others were more geared at helping charities recruit volunteers. In some cases the students could get great results simply from teaching a small charity to use WordPress and Hootsuite. In others there was a need for more sophisticated technical skills. I loved the fact that the two students working with Hengistbury Head had hired a drone so they could do state-of-the-art nature documentary work.

The two lads who had been working with Berkeley for Diversity Trust had done a great job, but again their requirements were very different. No way were we going to encourage them to do a Twitter campaign about trans health. They would very quickly have got on the radar of the TERF hate squad and the University’s Vice Chancellor would have received several hundred identikit protest emails demanding that the course be scrapped and the lecturers responsible sacked. What they did for us was make material we can use on our YouTube channel, and as a useful by-product give their classmates, lecturers and friends an amazing grounding in trans issues. It isn’t hard to understand why food banks are a good thing, but those two lads had an incredible learning curve to climb and did a great job. Thanks guys!

Finally I’d like to give a plug for one of the other featured charities. Ododow is, as an elevator pitch, Google Maps for charities. As their founder explained, it is easier to find a coffee shop or pharmacy on the Internet than a local service that can help if you’ve just been diagnosed with a rare disease, or your kid has come out as gay. So if there is anyone out there who runs a charity and wants to get on the map, just hop over to their website and sign up. Brilliant idea, and well done the two young student women of color who are working to help promote the site.

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

No More Fringe (For Now?)

I was expecting to be hosting the new season of BristolCon Fringe starting next Monday, but I’m afraid it looks like that isn’t going to happen.

I’m not involved in setting the events up, booking speakers and so on. I just turn up and yap, and then post the audio. Tom Parker has been doing all of that for the past year. He has let me know that there won’t be any new events. I gather this is something to do with a decision of the BristolCon committee, but I don’t know details and no one other than Tom has talked to me so I don’t want to go into that here.

Anyway, I still believe in having readings, but I don’t have time to organize them myself. Nor can I afford to subsidize them financially unless it is something Wizard’s Tower can do, and get benefit from. At some point Tom and I will sit down and see where we go from here, but right now I am crazy busy with LGBT History Month and trips I am taking in March so I won’t have much chance to think about this until April.

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Award Eligibility Post

It is that time of year again when I do an award eligibility post to make my author friends less self-conscious about doing their own.

I have very little eligible work this year.

Technically this blog is fan writing, but I’ve already won a Hugo for that.

I did have one story published: “Camelot Girls Gone Wild” in Fantastically Horny from Far Horizons. Few of you will have read that, and frankly I don’t expect to win any awards for comedy erotica about a gay satyr.

The one thing I have done that might be award-worthy is my essay on trans characters in SF&F in Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction from Luna Press. However, that’s just one essay in a book full of good stuff. If you are going to nominate this I’d prefer you nominated the whole book and gave the award to the editor, Francesca T Barbini.

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Of Myths & Monsters

Myths & Monsters is a 6-episode, British-produced documentary series on Netflix which looks at a variety of mythical themes and the reality behind them. Numerous historians are used as expert commentators, including Liz Gloyn whom I have chatted with on Twitter and who is currently writing a book on Medusa (though the Classical version, not the Bronze Age version which is far more interesting to me).

I binge-watched the series over New Year and enjoyed it, though I didn’t encounter anything much new. There were times when I wanted to disagree with things they said, particularly when they strayed into psychological explanations for myths. On two occasions where they stated firmly that no Norse woman ever went viking, let alone fought. This was based in part on an assertion that there was a psychological function for the Valkyrie (a sort of reverse birth thing) and that therefore all references to women warriors must be purely mythological. Even more bizarrely they used Thor’s silence at Thrymm’s Wedding (for which he had the good reason that his voice would give away his masquerade as Freya) as proof that Norse women were not allowed to speak much at home.

That said, there was a lot of good stuff to the series. I was particularly interested in the bit in episode 5 on social change where they started to talk about the witch panic of the 17th Century being a result of harvests failing due to climate change. I still haven’t read the new Ronald Hutton book, but it did sound plausible and, rather more scarily, it postulated the general theory that people are more likely to believe fake news, no matter how bizarre, during times of economic stress.

Anyway, it is still up on Netflix, so if you have access why not give it a look and let me know what you think.

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Ujima Today – Review of 2017

My first Ujima show of the year was today, which was also the first day we were back live on air after the holidays. Indeed, I was the first live show. I marked this by being half asleep as I had been kept awake most of last night by the storms. I do wish that the Jotun would manage to hold their New Year parties on the right night.

Anyway, as I didn’t expect that anyone would want to be a guest today, and there were no back office staff on duty, I decided to make the show a look back at 2017 and re-run some old interviews.

First up was the Sarah Pinborough interview from BristolCon 2016, which was totally 2017 news because last year was the year that Sarah changed from being a moderately successful writer of dark fantasy to a global superstar. Behind Her Eyes has sold over 100,000 copies each in paperback and ebook, and has been listed as one of the 100 top selling books of all kinds in the UK last year. Well done Sarah, I’m absolutely delighted for you. Can I come and stay with you when you buy your Caribbean island? 😉

Also in the first hour I re-ran my interview with D.B. Redfern of M-Shed about Doris the Pilosaurus, because there are still parents wondering what to do with the kids between now and school starting.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

The second hour began with a look back on the women’s cricket season with triumphs both for England and for Western Storm. That included interviews with Lisa Pagett and Stafanie Taylor.

Next up I re-ran my interview with anti-FGM campaigner and WEP parliamentary candidate, Nimco Ali.

And finally there was my interview with Nalo Hopkinson at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

The music for today’s show was inspired partly by the New Year’s Eve shows on the BBC, and partly by the trip that Kevin and I made to New Orleans back in the days when I was allowed into the USA. The connection is the very fine Trombone Shorty & New Orleans Avenue who are this year’s discovery from my watching the Jools Holland Hootenanny.

  • The Beat – Mirror in the Bathroom
  • Trombone Shorty – Here Come the Girls
  • Cedric Watson – Zydeco Paradise
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band – When the Saints Come Marching In
  • Jamil Sharif – On the Sunny Side of the Street
  • Chic – Rebels Are We
  • Liane la Havas – Midnight
  • Jamiroquai – Blow your mind

My next show will be on February 7th and will doubtless have an LGBT History focus.

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The Hotwells Horror

Well, today seems to be a day for book announcements.

The Hotwells Horror is an anthology put together by my friend Pete Sutton in honor of local writer, David J Rodger who sadly took his own life in 2015. The book is named after one of David’s own stories and features contributions from a number of authors who knew David, including me.

There is a launch party planned for Saturday Jan. 13th. The venue hasn’t been confirmed yet. I have to be in Bath that afternoon, but as the event is scheduled to run until 19:00 I hope to make it to Bristol before the end.

All proceeds from sale of the book will be devoted to Mind, the mental health charity. This delights me as they have been very supportive of trans people over the past year.

In case anyone is interested, my story is set in New York in the 1920s and is told from the point of view of a Mrs. Sonia Greene. There may be hideous creatures from beyond the stars too.

And if you want to know a little bit more about David work, he did a reading at BristolCon Fringe back in 2014.

Posted in Books, Personal | 1 Comment

The Green Man is Coming

Well, technically his heir.

Juliet McKenna mentioned on her blog today that she has a brand new novel scheduled for this year. It will be called The Green Man’s Heir, and Juliet describes it as, “a modern fantasy, drawing on the folklore of the British Isles, and prompted by looking at urban fantasy from a few different angles.” I am delighted that Wizard’s Tower will be publishing it.

Obviously McKenna fans out there will be asking, “when will it be available?” Well I have done the ebook (subject to proofing by Juliet and a few little things that need adding). The paper version will take a bit longer because there’s a whole lot more involved in producing a paper book. Once Juliet and I have a timeline in place we’ll let you know.

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February Schedule Firms Up

The various events at which I am doing LGBT History talks in February are starting to go public with their schedules. A while back I mentioned the Women in Classics event at the University of Reading. I can now add the Historical Fictions Network conference which is February 24/25 at Stoke-on-Trent. I will be giving a talk titled, “If Your Past isn’t Queer it is not Realistic”. The full program is available here, and booking details here.

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

More Seasonal Cheese Tasting

I promised you some more comments on my holiday cheese purchases.

First up, after due consideration, I think I still prefer the Eve over the Rollright. I think it has a much more interesting texture.

The other two I tried were flavored hard cheeses. One was Meldon from Curworthy, which uses wholegrain mustard blended with spices and garlic, sourced from Chiltern Ale brewery. It was pleasant, but not particularly special.

The other was Devon Sage, which I believe is also from Curworthy but isn’t currently listed on their website. I’m very fond of a good Sage Derby, but these days what you find in shops is normally made with bright green coloring. A proper sage cheese is much less excitable in color, and much more tasty. The Devon offering looked and tasted right, but not having a proper Derby cheese to compare it with I can’t say too much more.

Anyway, there was cheese, it was good, and I have eaten it. I hope you had some good holiday food too.

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Self-Fertilizing Fish

Every so often I come across a news article that is relevant both to trans science and science fiction. Yesterday was one of those magical days, because I discovered the existence of self-fertilizing fish.

I should probably go back a few stages here by way of explanation.

To start with there is the whole question of what we mean by “biological sex”. Fish do not share the same XX/XY chromosome system familiar from mammals. In fact there are a wide range of different biological mechanisms that fish use to differentiate sex. When I talk about the biological sex of a fish here I mean whether the fish produces eggs, fertilizes eggs, or both.

Readers in the UK are probably familiar with the recent episode of Blue Planet II in which David Attenborough’s team filmed a Sheepshead Wrasse in the process of changing sex. There are, in fact, many fish species that practice what is called Sequential Hermaphroditism, in which the animal is male for part of its life cycle and female for another part. The much loved Clown Fish from Finding Nemo is another example. These fish only exhibit one sex at any one time in their lives.

There are also many fish species that exhibit Simultaneous Hermaphroditism. That is, they are capable of producing eggs and fertilizing eggs. Some species of Sea Bass have these abilities, which is something worth pondering next time you eat one. However, these fish have to have sex with other, similarly hermaphroditic, fish in order to make baby fish. How else would genetic diversity be achieved, right?

However, there is one species of fish (well, more properly two closely related species) that can make babies by individuals having sex with themselves. Enter the spectacularly named Mangrove Killifish.

The killifish is pretty amazing on several levels. It can live in both fresh and salt water, and it can survive for up to two months on land. But self-fertilization is seemingly the most miraculous ability because surely all of the fish would be clones, so how would they evolve? Mutation doesn’t seem an adequate explanation.

However, it turns out that killifish come in two sexes: both and male. The males are very rare, but very popular. If a clone family of both-sex spots one they’ll seek him out and make lots of baby fish. In that way a certain amount of genetic diversity is maintained.

For those who are interested, there is more scientific detail here.

And for those of you thinking of interesting ideas to use in alien biology, have at it!

Posted in Gender, Nature, Science Fiction | 4 Comments

A Pro-Diversity Literary Agency

Some of you may remember that back in September Random Penguin ran a series of events looking for new authors from diverse backgrounds. One of those workshops was in Bristol and was coordinated by local writer, Nikesh Shukla. Nikesh is currently best known for crowdfunding the anthology, The Good Immigrant, which explores what it means to be Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic in Britain today.

Just before Christmas, Nikesh announced the formation of a new literary agency, The Good Literary Agency, to be run by himself and Julia Kingsford. The agency will be a social enterprise, so not taking a profit from the business, and this is what it has to say about its objectives:

Inspired by a desire to increase opportunities for representation for all writers under-represented in mainstream publishing it will focus on discovering, developing and launching the careers of writers of colour, disability, working class, LGBTQ+ and anyone who feels their story is not being told in the mainstream.

They are not yet open for submissions, but you can sign up to be notified when they do at their website.

I note that the agency is part-funded by the Arts Council, which appears to think that “genre fiction” is commercial and not in need of support, whereas “literary fiction” — that is the stuff that publishers pour fortunes into marketing, and the media will always write about, despite it not always selling — is in need of loads more money. However, that’s not their only source of money. My guess is that you can get away with calling your SF&F “literary” if it is not about straight white men, because “everyone knows” that only straight white men read SF&F.

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Merry Cthulhumas

Sleep fitfully, little cultists, for tomorrow the Stars may be Right.

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Resist

Image by Monika Gross who has more queer flag color designs available here.

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