Today on Ujima: Comics, Bristol Pounds, Kids & Trans Pride

First up on today’s show was Lorenzo Etherington, the art half of Bristol’s highly successful comics creation scheme, the Etherington Brothers. Lorenzo and Robin work primarily on books for comics kids, but comics are comics no matter who they are aimed at. Lorenzo and I shared our mutual love of Calvin & Hobbes.

The next segment saw me talking to Steve Clarke of the Bristol Pound, our city’s very own currency. I restrained myself from talking economics. My thanks to my colleague, Judeline, for playing the part of the Woman in the Bristol Street.

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

The second hour opens with a group of kids who have been working on the National Citizenship Project. Most of them were a bit shy, but they told me how they put together a charity fundraising event in just a week so they clearly have a lot of talent.

Finally I ran some of the audio from Trans Pride. It includes parts of the opening ceremonies — featuring Fox, Sarah Savage, Steph Scott & Caroline Lucas, MP — and an interview with trans model, Nicole Gibson. Judeline sat in to do her Woman in the Bristol Street thing again.

You can listen to the second hour here.

The playlist for today’s show was as follows:

  • Dance Apocalyptic – Janelle Monáe
  • Beat It – Michael Jackson
  • Simply Irresistible – Robert Palmer
  • 10 Out of 10 – Paolo Nutini
  • Let’s Dance – David Bowie
  • Lose Yourself to Dance – Daft Punk
  • Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant
  • Bright Side of the Road – Van Morrison
Posted in Comics, Economics, Gender, Radio | Leave a comment

Published Author

Girl at the End of the World, Vol 2
OK, so it isn’t exactly at SFWA rates, but at least it isn’t in a book I’m publishing myself. And I am getting paid for it. Besides, just look at that cover.

So yeah, paperback copies of The Girl at the End of the World, Vol 2, containing my story, “The Dragon’s Maw”, are now available from Amazon UK. They should spread to the US soon, and ebook editions will follow shortly. With any luck they’ll also be available at Nine Worlds, Worldcon and Eurocon.

I feel a little happy dance coming on. This looks suitably apocalyptic.

Posted in Books, Music, Personal, Writing | 5 Comments

America, Meet Tigerman

Nick Harkaway’s brilliant novel, Tigerman, launches in the USA today. Nick talks about it on John Scalzi’s Big Idea here. And if you want to know more you can listen to the interview I did with Nick for Ujima Radio.

Nick and I touch on a number of issues, including fatherhood, comics, geopolitics, men being daft, famous fathers and why writers never grow up.

Posted in Books, Podcasts | Leave a comment

The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot

Every few years our Australian friends get into a frenzy of interviewing, aiming to highlight as many of their fine writers as possible. It is a fine tradition started by Ben Peek and known as the The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot. Some information on this year’s edition can be found here.

Probably the best way to follow the whole thing is via the #2014Snapshot hashtag on Twitter. That will give you links to everything posted thus far. And there is a lot. This year they have even gone so far as to interview someone who only lived in Australia for two years. The results of that should be online some time tomorrow.

Posted in Australia, Personal, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

More Trans Pride TV Coverage

Trans Pride has also been covered by The Latest, a Brighton-based community TV company. Their coverage is on YouTube and embedable so I can share it with you here. You may want to close your eyes for the first few seconds as there’s a brief section of the march in which I can be seen messing with a microphone. The horror is over after about 10 seconds.

Posted in Gender, TV | Leave a comment

Music for Airships by Cauda Pavonis

Our good friends Cauda Pavonis have published the first video of their performance at the Airship Ball, one of the launch events for Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion. Our thanks to them once again for doing a special acoustic set for us in order to keep the venue happy. Here is “Terror in the Nursery”.

Posted in Airships, Music | Leave a comment

Trans Pride on TV & Radio

The local ITV channel covered Trans Pride for their evening news broadcast. They’ve made the video available online, but sadly no embedable, so to watch it you’ll need to go here.

You’ll be relieved to hear that I’m not visible at any time during the film.

I’ve passed some of my audio over to Shout Out. There should be something very newsworthy on this Thursday’s show, and we’ll be doing some in depth coverage on Aug. 14th.

Posted in Gender, TV | Leave a comment

Trans Pride – Day 3

The only activities today were the beach picnic and the group swim. I had to leave before the swim took place, but I spent a few hours at the picnic and grabbed a few more bits of audio.

The picnic also reminded me why, much as I love Brighton as a city, and the people who live there, I don’t think I could make it my home. I grew up on the sandy beaches of South-West England and South Wales. Brighton doesn’t have a beach, it has a pile of rocks. Even super-tough Aussie flip-flops designed for walking on coral reefs won’t save you, because the rocks move and get between you and the shoe. Also the water is freezing, despite Steph Scott saying that it was the warmest for 15 years. Lake Doom in Jyväskylä was warmer, although I suppose that Doctor Doom’s secret lake-floor lair generates a lot of waste heat.

The final numbers for the event are not in yet, but everyone seemed confident that it was larger than last year. There seemed to be more stalls too, and more events.

One thing I did say to Fox & Steph today was that we need some more uplifting stalls. Aside from the committee stalls, Brighton*Transformed and the food vendors, every stall was about helping trans people in some way. We are apparently in danger of catching sexually transmitted diseases; of suffering violence, domestic or otherwise; of having mental health issues; and so on. Where help was offered, it was always from cis folks: from local councils, social workers, health workers, trade unions, parents. Anyone but ourselves.

Now obviously for some people these services are desperately needed, so they should be on offer. However, I’d like to see a few more positive stalls next year. Something that recognizes the creativity and positivity that you see on the performance stage, in the film festival and so on. These days by no means all trans people are desperately in need of help. Some of us are standing on our own two feet, holding down jobs, starting and running businesses, and blossoming amazingly thanks to transition relieving us of the burden of trying to live a lie. I want to see more of that being proud of ourselves in Trans Pride.

One final organizational niggle that I think will go away with growth is program planning. The main stage and the afterparty both mixed types of acts. I’m not convinced that an open-air stage is a good venue for stand-up comedy, or even for poetry reading. You want somewhere smaller and more intimate. The afterparty should have been a better venue for Beth, but because she was just the opening act for a band and a dance party she had to deal with a whole bunch of people who were only there for the music, many of whom were wandering in while she was on. Beth, of course, has dealt with some really bad audiences, so it didn’t phase her, but it didn’t make best use of her talents either.

The problem is that a small event can only run with the hand it has been dealt. There are only so many trans and trans-friendly performers, and only so many places to put them. A bigger event might be able to do better. Then again a bigger event would need more volunteers, and could easily outstrip the ability of the local community to support it.

Finally, of course, we all want to maintain the friendly and politically aware nature of the event. While the attendees were all very cognizant of the many political issues facing trans folk these days, there was none of the divisiveness you tend to see on social media. Also we don’t want to turn into a big, commercial party, a fate that has overtaken so many LGBT pride events.

Anyway, well done to Fox, Sarah, Steph, Sabah, E.J. and the rest of the crew in Brighton. The weekend was a momentous achievement. Here’s hoping that it continues to build on that success.

Posted in Conventions, Gender, Personal | Leave a comment

SDCC Does Trans, Badly

San Diego ComicCon is taking place this weekend and has lots of reports from the event. Yesterday I was alerted to a post about a panel on trans themes in comics. This is, of course, something I know a bit about. I had a read of the article. Head, meet desk, repeatedly.

It is hard to tell where the fault lies, because I wasn’t at the panel so I don’t know whether it was badly done, or badly reported, but the overall effect was not good. The starting point appears to be that there were no trans people on the panel, and the article was not written by a trans person. Did any of them have a clue what they were talking about? I know it is really bad to make comparisons with race, but so often articles by cis people about trans issues remind me of a white person trying to write about race by talking about Al Jolson.

Obviously Michelle Nolan is a comics historian and I’m just an amateur who has been diagnosed insane, and it could be the article writer at fault, but anyone who is researching trans characters in comics and manages to miss Madam Fatal, Wanda in Sandman, and Rachel Pollack’s run on Doom Patrol isn’t really trying.

There’s also quite a bit to say about how you interrogate cis people’s portrayals of gender switching. I have a lot to say about that Superboy Becomes A Girl story in my LGBT Superheoes talk. Nolan, and again this may be the fault of the article, appears to have missed all of the nuances.

I suspect that quite a lot of people in the audience will have challenged what was said by the panel. The article certainly suggests that robust discussion took place (even if some of it did come from Ashley Love — *sigh*). But can we just let trans people talk about themselves for once?

Oops, sorry, I forgot. I’m a Dupe of the Patriarchy who is causing division within the trans community with my out-moded views of what being trans is all about. I shall put on a fake beard and go and read some Judith Butler as penance.

Posted in Comics, Feminism, Gender | Leave a comment

Trans Pride – Day 2 Revisited

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Brighton. I gather from Bethany Black that other parts of the country were actually hot (by which I mean over 30C), but here it was warm with a cool sea breeze. It was ideal for just about everything except spending the whole day out in the sun on your feet, which is of course exactly what I was planning to do.

I began with an hour’s stroll along the sea front from Hove to Kemptown. You can very quickly tell why Brighton has a trans pride, because trans people don’t particularly stand out here. I passed a lot of people in (fake) grass skirts on their way to an event in Hove. When I got to Brighton there was a big group of obvious gay boys heading to the beach wearing Victorian women’s bathing costumes. Later in the day there was apparently a mermaid march through the town in aid of marine conservation (something I would love to have supported). And at night the stag and hen parties come out, both of which appear to involve adopting over-the-top feminine gender presentation.

This year saw the first Trans Pride March, and by “first” I mean not just for Brighton, but apparently for the whole of Europe. I know, San Francisco friends, what took us so long, eh? But we have got there. The marchers, some 450 in all, assembled at the Marlborough and walked up St. James St. through Kemptown to the park where the Pride was being staged. I was lucky enough to be invited to sit in on the rehearsals for Rainbow Chorus, Brighton’s LGBT choir, who provided some of the music for the march. You’ll be hearing more from them on the radio in the coming weeks.

The event was officially opened by Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion (and therefore for Kemptown). She gave a rousing speech calling for an end to discrimination against trans people by the media, the government and the health service. I was very impressed.

After the opening ceremonies I went for a sit down out of the sun, finding a lovely little Thai restaurant called Sawadee just around the corner. There was a large party of young Thai people in there, so you don’t need my recommendation.

The afternoon was spent gathering interviews. I have a bunch of vox pops that I need to edit together, plus a number of longer pieces with people like Sarah Savage, Fox & Lewis, and trans model Nicole Gibson who was MCing the event. Alice Denny gave me a reading of a poem that she had written for the event, and I can guarantee you’ll get that on the radio soon.

During periods when there were rock bands on stage and interviewing was impossible I tried to get some shade and rest. Huge thanks to the barmaid in Neighborhood Kitchen who made me a wonderful non-alcoholic mojito when I desperately needed something long and cool that wasn’t water.

Part of the celebrations for the day were provided by Brighton*Transformed, a local history project focusing solely on the trans community and managed by my friend Kathy Caton who also produces the Out In Brighton radio show. They had got large posters featuring photographs of their subjects in many of the shop windows along the route of the march. In the evening they projected 30-foot square photos onto the wall of the (very supportive) Unitarian Church. Here’s the one of Sarah:

Sarah Savage

As you can see, this took place in a very busy location, with lots of local people and tourists out on the town for Saturday night.

The final event of the evening was the afterparty, for which the opening act was comic, Bethany Black. Beth has given me a lovely interview about the new Russell T. Davis TV series that she has been acting in. That too will be on the radio soon. And of course I finally got to see Beth perform, which was great.

I managed to get back to the hotel just before midnight. The damn seagulls woke me up at 6:00am again. It is definitely seagull pie for them if I catch them.

Update: I forgot to note that, despite it being Saturday night, I got a table at Indian Summer, one of the finest Indian restaurants I know. It is a foodie place — obviously, I like it — but if you like that sort of thing it is well worth going to.

Posted in Gender, Photos, Radio | Leave a comment

Trans Pride – Day 2

I should write a very long blog post, but it is gone midnight and checking the audio recordings is more important so I’m just going do describe the event thus: mostly awesome, with a side of sore feet and mild sunburn.

Special thanks to:

  • The Rainbow Chorus
  • Caroline Lucas, MP
  • The barmaid who made me the non-alcoholic mojito
  • Fox, Lewis & Sarah
  • Kathy Caton
  • Alice Denny
  • Bethany Black
  • Indian Summer restaurant
  • The weather
Posted in Gender, Music, Personal, Weather | Leave a comment

Trans Pride – Day 1

Today I headed down to Brighton for their annual Trans Pride. The trains, thankfully, more or less behaved themselves, and I got a good chunk of Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon read. I’m loving it thus far.

The only event today was the film festival, which took place at the Duke of York’s Picturehouse. It is a fabulous old building, and claims to be the oldest continually operating, purpose-built cinema in the UK — it opened in 1910.

For those who don’t know, Brighton has a long and honorable history in the movie business. William Friese-Green had a studio here in addition to the one in Bristol. His sometime partner, Alfred Esmé Collings, went on to shoot a number of short films in Brighton in 1896. That includes one with the fabulously Brighton name of Train Arriving at Dyke Station, though sadly that actually refers to a local beauty-spot called Devil’s Dyke, not to any actual dykes.

There is a full history of Brighton’s involvement in films available here.

But enough digression. Back to the evening’s entertainment. The first hour was mainly material from Fox & Lewis’s My Genderation series, much of which was being screened for the first time. The star of the show was undoubtedly a 9-year-old trans boy called Kai who is totally lovable. There were a lot of really moving scenes of trans folk with supportive friends, families and partners. Fox and Lewis have also shot films interviewing their own families. My mum would totally relate to what Fox’s mum says.

The rest of the program was a diverse range of films from around the world, plus some comedy shorts featuring Claire Parker (and at one point guest-staring Lewis as a sexist laborer).

My favorite of the additional material was a Scottish film called James Dean. It is shot entirely in a car as a family — parents plus two teenage children — is about to set off to visit an aunt. One of the children is trying to get her parents to admit that the aunt is a lesbian, but the parents insist that the kids are too young to know what that means. Meanwhile the other child is trying to come out as trans. It is very funny, and brilliantly acted.

It all went very well, and then many of us headed down to the Marlborough. Part of the celebrations this weekend is the launch of Brighton Transformed, a local history of trans people in Brighton. You’ll hear a lot more about that from me on Twitter tomorrow. But as a taster here is a montage of images posted on one of the outside walls of the Marlborough.

Brighton*Transformed display

Posted in Gender, Movies | Leave a comment

Just Human

Over Pride weekend in Bristol some of the young journalists from Rife Magazine work with a youth LGBT group to make a film about what people want from a relationship. There’s a rather lovely twist at the end that I don’t want to spoil, but the main message of the film is that we are, all of us, just human.

The thing I love about this film is the way it explodes boxes. The more I see about how we monkeys use labels such as “lesbian” or “trans”; how those labels get redefined by each new generation; how labels are defined with a view to exclusion; and in particular how people in non-oppressed groups seek to re-define labels to make it seem like they are more oppressed than anyone else; the less useful I think labels are.

Of course we’ll still need labels, because how else can we identify groups that are oppressed. But the more that we can define variations in human characteristics as all “normal” the fewer excuses we have for creating division.

Posted in Feminism | Leave a comment

A Brief Booker Comment

The Longlist for the 2014 Booker Prize has been announced. This year the prize has been opened up to inhabitants of the rebellious former colonies of North America, as well as citizens of the Commonwealth, presumably as an act of forgiveness by the Booker people for the treasonous behavior of their forebears. The British literary establishment is in something of a tizzy over this, predicting the Death of the Novel, Barbarians at the Gates and the End of Civilization As We Know It. “Whatever next,” said well known critic J.M., “will they be letting in science fiction? Or the French?”

However, one effect of this change to the Booker rules has been the presence of Karen Joy Fowler’s wonderful We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves on the Longlist. You can read my review here, and listen to my interview with Karen here.

David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks is also on the list, despite the fact that it won’t be published until September. I must try to get a copy before his appearance at Mr. B’s.

Posted in Awards, Books, Podcasts | Leave a comment

Today on Ujima: WWI, Music Courses & Fair Trade

I’m online at the Ujima studios because I have a meeting this evening and won’t be home until late. Getting some blogging done is a much better use of my time than going shopping.

Today’s show began with my friend Eugene Byrne talking about his new book about Bristol during World War I. Eugene has collected a lot of great stories. The book, Bravo Bristol!, is available on Amazon around the world, but if you want to get a preview of the material there is a website and a free app (which includes suggested walking tours).

The next half hour featured some people from the Trinity Centre who are running music courses for young people. As luck would have it, I had a studio full of teenagers on a National Citizenship Scheme course. They didn’t have a lot of interest in WWI, but once we mentioned music they all lit up and basically took over the show. One of them was even texting his mates getting questions to ask.

You can listen to the first hour here.

The second hour of the show was all about the Fair Trade movement, featuring our good friend Jenny Foster whom I have had on the show before. With her was Lucy Gatward from the Better Food Company. It was an interesting and wide-ranging conversation. Also I got to explain who Thor really is. Because it is radio you did not see me playing air guitar in the studio.

You can listen to the second hour here.

The playlist for today’s show was:

  • My Heart Belongs to Daddy – Ella Fitzgerald
  • It’s Too Darn Hot – Billie Holiday
  • Hot Stuff – Donna Summer
  • Boogie Nights – Heatwave
  • It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls
  • Purple Rain – Prince
  • Higher Love – Denise Pearson
  • Dr. Meaker – Dr. Meaker

The final two tracks were recorded live on the main stage at Bristol Pride and appear courtesy of Shout Out Radio.

Posted in Books, Environment, Food, History, Music, Radio | Leave a comment

Beth Gwinn Photo Kickstarter

Neil Gaiman

My friend Beth Gwinn, who has been the main photographer for Locus for as long as I can remember, has a Kickstarter campaign going to fund production of a book of her photographs of science fiction and fantasy writers. The above photo of Neil Gaiman is a sample of her work. I used that photo because one of the rewards available is that Neil will be signing 3 copies of a previously un-published print of him. Beth is a great photographer. I do hope this gets off the ground. More more information, see the Kickstarter page.

Posted in Books, Photos | Leave a comment

The Kids Are Revolting, In a Good Way

Last night’s BristolCon Fringe meeting was very interesting in two ways. Firstly, Ken Shinn had us agog with a tale about a demonic version of Benny Hill who has a drunken otter for a familiar. In addition our other guest, Andy Goodman, had some very interesting things to say in the Q&A.

Andy writes fiction primarily aimed at teenage boys. I asked him about that market, and was delighted to hear him say that there is now pressure from publishers for authors to move away from the “books for boys / books for girls” marketing philosophy, and instead to produce books that can be enjoyed by young people regardless of their gender.

It is not entirely clear why, and it may well be in part due to the pressure that parents have been putting on them. However, Andy’s anecdotal evidence suggests that practical experience has played a part. I’ve been saying for years that if you pinkify a book then boys are not going to read it. It appears that the message has got through to publishers that by packaging books by women as “for girls” they are cutting off half of their potential audience. Here’s hoping that this message spreads throughout the publishing industry.

The audio from the readings should be online early in August.

Posted in Feminism, Publishing, Readings, Weird | Leave a comment

Leah Moore Interview

I have just uploaded the full version of the interview with Leah Moore than I made while I was in Liverpool. In addition to the material that we broadcast on Ujima Radio, this version contains a discussion of the Electricomics venture that she has started with (amongst others) her father and her husband, John Reppion, with the support of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.

For more information about Electricomics see their website, or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is a £7 million fund from Arts Council England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nesta to support collaboration between arts projects, technology providers and researchers to explore the potential of increasing audience engagement or find new business models. Separate Digital R&D Fund for the Arts are being run in Wales and in Scotland.

DRD logo

Posted in Comics, Feminism, Podcasts, Salon Futura | Leave a comment

August Plans

People have been starting to ask me which conventions I will be at during August, so I thought that a post would be useful.

I won’t be at Nine Worlds. I have to get work done some time, and there’s a limit to the number of conventions I can afford.

I will be in London during Worldcon. I won’t be on any panels, and I’m not planning on spending much time actually at the convention. This is mainly a case of self-care. However, I do want to catch up with as many visiting friends as possible, so if you fancy getting together for a coffee or something please let me know.

I will be at Eurocon in Dublin, and I’m hoping to be on program. I have to leave on Sunday because of an event in Bristol on Monday, but the flight is very late so I should be there for all of the official stuff except the Porterhouse.

I have hotel rooms booked for both events. In both cases these have double beds but they might be switchable to twins. Let me know if you are looking for somewhere to stay.

Also Kevin has a membership for Dublin that he won’t be able to use. If you are looking for one cheap, get in touch.

I have one accommodation issue outstanding. Every year I have to get declared sane by a gender specialist in London (otherwise they’ll stop my hormones, which will drive me crazy). I have an appointment for the Tuesday after Worldcon, but no hotel booking for Monday night. If anyone can put me up for that one night I’d be very grateful.

Posted in Conventions | 1 Comment

Juliet & the Waterstones Count

Yesterday Juliet McKenna put up a long post looking at the issue of how SF&F books are promoted by Waterstones. She has had some friends doing a survey of stores around the country. It looks like there is some pretty good evidence that the feature tables for SF&F are biased in favor of male authors. This is one of the issues we discussed at the Women & Publishing panel at Finncon, where I noted that the last time I was in the Bristol store the counts were 5/35 for fantasy, and 0/35 for SF. If you assumed that the store staff thought Robin Hobb was a man, the fantasy count would change to 3/35.

Juliet makes some excellent points about how Waterstones are hurting their own sales by this behavior. There are plenty of women who read SF&F. Indeed, as another data point, the majority of members of The Emporium Strikes Back, the SF&F book club at Mr. B’s, are women. But why is the effect Juliet notes happening, and what can be done?

Obviously lack of knowledge by buyers and store staff is a contributing issue. Heck, the SF&F table at my local store has disappeared completely since we’ve had a change in management. But even when there is knowledge it doesn’t always filter through. Last year, when Juliet first started making a fuss about this issue, my local manager wrote to head office asking why she was given so few women SF&F books to stock. The buyer wrote back enthusing about something called Ancillary Justice that they expected to be a big seller. And yet, when it came out, my local store wasn’t sent any copies, and the book still isn’t getting pushed much in any store I have seen despite the heap of award wins.

Then of course there is the whole issue of publishers, the editorial staff of whom appear to be mostly female. Yet they too appear to mostly push SF&F by male writers at the expense of women. At Finncon Elizabeth Bear noted that she found UK publishers much more hostile to women SF writers than in the USA.

With all this in mind, I found this article on Mashable very interesting. It reports on an academic study of middle managers in large US corporations, and looked at how those managers’ performance was rated on the basis of their hiring choices. As a back-up, the study was replicated as an experiment using college students role-playing the senior management, and this produced similar results.

What the study found is that, although the corporations has policies advocating diversity, and although white male managers were praised for making diverse hires, female managers and PoC managers were given negative performance evaluations if they recruited people like them.

This appears to be telling us two things. Firstly prejudice is probably much more ingrained and subconscious than we like to think. And secondly women and PoC who are in a position to improve diversity within in their organizations are likely to damage their careers if they do so. No wonder this stuff is so hard to shift.

Posted in Feminism, Publishing | Leave a comment