National Diversity Awards

So I’ve been up late and pacing around nervously. No, it was nothing to do with England’s last second try in the rugby. I have been watching the results come in for the National Diversity Awards.

Commiserations to my pal Kathy Caton who didn’t win the LGBT Role Model category, but she was beaten by a trans woman, Megan Key, who I believe is the most senior trans person in the Civil Service. Well done, Megs!

Congratulations are also due to Trans* Masculine Support & Advice who took away the award for LGBT Community groups.

Commiserations again to BCFM who did not win the multi-strand community award, but like Kathy thoroughly deserved their nomination.

And then there was this:


I may be more coherent about this tomorrow. Then again…

Posted in Awards, Radio | 2 Comments

Treasures of the Indus

So I promised you a second post. Then I got distracted by emails from clients. Sorry, back on it now.

In fact, here it is. Treasure of the Indus is another 3-part history series. It is part of BBC4’s India series. The history of women rates a show on BBC2. The history of India and Pakistan does not. This is a shame, because this too is a very good series.

It is presented by Sona Datta who has the benefit of Indian ancestry, though she was born in London. Her family are from Kolkata, which puts her right in the mix as far as the whole India/Pakistan/Bangladesh situation goes. Yes, I know that is very recent history, but current affairs tend to have their roots in the past, if only because the idiot British will have messed things up with their inept colonial rule.

Episode 1 is all about Pakistan. Two things stand out. Firstly the people of Pakistan were building enormous cities 5,000 years ago when Europe was still in what gets called the Stone Age. Check out Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. Secondly, Pakistan was a Buddhist country long before the invention of Islam, and indeed it exported Buddhism to the rest of the world.

Episode 2 is all about the Mughal Empire; that is, the Islamic conquest of Pakistan and Northern India, and the subsequent flowering of a truly magnificent civilization. Someone had to build the Taj Mahal, right? And of course the Taj was a tomb for a much loved queen. Mughal emperors had lots of wives, but they were more fond of some than others. If you want to learn much more about Nur Jahan than Amanda Foreman had time for in Ascent of Woman, watch this program.

The final episode is about the rest of India, which today is predominantly a Hindu culture. Given the polytheistic nature of Hinduism, I had always assumed that it was a survival of more ancient beliefs. I was very surprised to find out that it is a more recent religion than Buddhism, and indeed displaced Buddhism in much of India. Hindiusm has a very neo-pagan approach to religion, allowing people to find their own path to God through a bewildering choice of deities. Datta couldn’t resist having a go at Western religions for their inability to adapt to a scientific worldview, and threw in some stuff that would make Fritjof Capra proud (yes, I’m am aging Hippy, sue me).

I love that we are getting more documentaries fronted by women, and by people of color telling their own cultures’ stories. There is so much history that we didn’t get taught in school.

Posted in History, TV | Leave a comment

The Ascent of Woman – Part 3

The third and, it seems, final part of The Ascent of Woman was broadcast last night. This one looked at more recent times, but continued the international flavor. There were six women featured in all, some of which were very familiar to me and others who were not.

First up was Empress Theodora of Byzantium, whom you all should know as she has been the subject of fine novels by Guy Gavriel Kay and Stella Duffy.

Then there was Hildegard of Bingen, who among other things was the first person in the world to write down musical compositions. The section in which Amanda Foreman chats to a German nun about Hildegard’s writings on the female orgasm is priceless.

Christine de Pizan is another character who should be well know as she is widely cited as the author of the first work of feminist philosophy. Her two books on The City of Ladies were apparently very popular with women politicians of the time.

Given that this was a BBC series, we had to have one British woman in it. The honor went to Queen Elizabeth I, and was accompanied by some rather jingoistic nonsense (not from Foreman) about the primacy of Shakespearean English in world literature.

After that it was off around the world again, and two women who were much less familiar to me. The first was Roxelanna, the chief wife of Suleiman the Magnificent. She is believed to have been a Russian rather than a Turk, and she played a very powerful role in the governance of the Ottoman Empire. Suleiman was no mug, of course, but together they made an exceptionally capable couple.

The final slot went to Nur Juhan who was the chief wife of the Mughal emperor, Jahangir. I knew next to nothing about her before the program, but like Roxelanna and Theodora she appears to have been an exceptionally capable politician and indispensable to her husband’s rule.

Overall I was really pleased with the series. It did turn out to be mostly a story of specific women rather than a history of womankind, but I loved the international focus that it had. I’m disappointed that it didn’t cover the Americas and Africa (save for a brief mention of Hatshepsut), and I’m sure than Foreman could have filled an entire season had she been given the budget. But it is a start, and judging from my Twitter feed something that has captured the imagination of women viewers.

I’d say “more please”, except that we actually have more, just not from the same person. There’s another post coming.

Posted in Feminism, History, TV | 2 Comments

Today On Ujima – Feminism and Fringe

Yeah, I have been back on the radio again. Paulette is still in Jamaica so I was allowed to put the whole show together myself. What I wasn’t expecting was that I’d end up learning to be an engineer on the job. I’ve had a bit of training on the desk before, but this is the first time I have actually done it live myself. There were a few very minor gaps in the flow where I had a panic as to which button to push, but mostly it was very smooth. Huge thanks are due to my colleague, Jack, who was keeping an eye on me and pointing out when I had forgotten something.

Anyway, the show began with discussion of the current furor in the UK over the election of Jeremy Corbyn to be leader of the Labour Party. As I said on the show, I’m not a Socialist, but the behavior of the mainstream media, the right wing of the Labour Party, and even the Prime Minister has been so childish that you can’t help but have sympathy and respect for Corbyn. I’m not surprised that there has been a flood of people joining Labour since he was elected. My colleagues, Judeline and Jack, offered their opinions.

Next up I talked a bit about the Ascent of Woman documentary series that is airing on BBC 2 at the moment. I’ve talked a lot about it here already, so I won’t go into that again.

After the news we were joined by Tom Parker and Jasmine Atkins-Smart of the Tobacco Tea Theatre Company. You may remember Tom from his appearance at BristolCon Fringe. The they have been up in Edinburgh performing in a play called The Accidental Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in which Tom played Doctor Watson and Jasmine played Sherlock. We chatted a bit about what it was like being at Fringe as performers, about the theatre scene in Bristol, and about Sherlock as a cultural phenomenon.

Next up we were supposed to have Cezara Nanu of Bristol Women’s Voice talking about modern slavery. Sadly she had caught a chill, probably from running the Bristol Half Marathon on Sunday (where she was raising money for refugees) so we gave the actors a little longer and then covered the slavery issue as well as we could by ourselves. Judeline and Jack had done some great research.

Finally we touched on an issue that arose out of the media panic over Mr Corbyn, the idea of women-only railway carriages. That naturally broadened out into the topic of safe spaces in general. I chipped in with the issue as to whether trans women were allowed in women’s spaces, and put poor Jack on the spot as our representative of men.

If you want to listen to the show you can find the first hour here and the second hour here.

The playlist for the show was as follows:

  • Tracy Chapman – Talking ’bout a revolution
  • Bob Marley – Revolution
  • Elvis Costello – Watching the Detectives
  • Isaac Hayes – Shaft
  • Mavis Staples – Eyes on the Prize
  • Nina Simone – Young, Gifted and Black
  • Duke Ellington – Take the A Train
  • John Coltrane – Blue Train
Posted in Current Affairs, Feminism, Radio, Theatre, TV | 2 Comments

I Am Cait – Episode 7

From my point of view the highlight of this episode was where Cait and Candis visit a support group for trans kids in LA that is run by Chandi. That’s partly because Chandi is fast becoming my favorite part of the show. She’s so sensible and grounded, and so amazingly herself. But it was also the real bit of the show. It featured actual trans kids talking about the problems they have getting their ID changed, and the hassle that they get in the meantime. This is the sort of thing that someone with Cait’s level of privilege is able to avoid.

When Cait says that what she is trying to do with the show is make the world a better place for those kids, and for others who come after them, it makes the whole of the rest of it worthwhile.

The rest, in this episode, is mostly about Kris. The show’s producers, understandably, are determined to play up the family drama for all it is worth. There is no way that Cait, or indeed any trans person, can come out of such a situation looking good. Cis viewers, especially female cis viewers, are always going to end up sympathizing with the trans person’s wife. Mostly, I suspect, they’d be right to do so.

The show has tried to make the best of a bad job by bringing in Jenny Boylan’s wife, Deedie. It is good to be able to show that couples can stay together through transition (Jenny says that about a third do), and in the long term come to love and accept each other again. But even Deedie admits that during the transition process she was caught between the terror of the future with Jenny, and the terror of the future without her.

Caitlyn, of course, is too caught up in the desperate need to be herself, and the giddy excitement of having made it happen. I remember that all too well. But she too is worried about facing the rest of her life alone. Having had her family life define her for the past decade or so of living it in the public eye, she’s not prepared to face the black pit of abandonment that so many of us have walked into because there was nowhere else to go.

Of course when I got to the bottom of mine I found Kevin there waiting for me, and things got mostly better from then on. Other people are not so ridiculously lucky.

Posted in Gender, TV | Leave a comment

Creating Comics – Book Now

The Eventbrite page for my Bristol Festival of Literature event on Creating Comics is now live. Waterstones has limited space and this is likely to prove quite popular, so please do book up in advance.

As a reminder, the panel for the event is:

While I’m at it, huge congratulations to Cav for having been selected as one of ten authors who will write a book for next year’s World Book Day. The books will retails for just £1 each, and kids all over the UK will be given £1 books tokens with which to buy one. Cav’s book will be an official Star Wars story, so I suspect it will be rather popular. (Ireland is in this too, though presumably pricing will be in Euros.)

Posted in Comics, Conventions | Leave a comment

Webs of Mistrust

Most of you by now will have heard that a group of Really Real Fans have decided to set up some Really Real Awards that will be voted on by Really Real Fans. And the way that we’ll know if someone is a Really Real Fan or not is via a Trust system in which Really Real Fans can vouch for their friends and denounce their enemies. A lot of popcorn is getting eaten as a result.

It’s kind of sweet that people still believe that there are Really Real Fans who like the same sort of things that they do, and Fake Fans who don’t. Me, I’ve always been proud of being a Fake Fan. So to make sure that I will have a Trust Level approaching negative infinity, here are some of the reasons for which I have been told that I am “Not Part of Our Community”.

– Because I am a newbie who has not been raised in fannish culture.
– Because I am one of the Old White Men who need to be kicked out of fandom so that it can be a safe space for others.
– Because I am an SJW.
– Because I only pretend to support Social Justice.
– Because I am a woman.
– Because I am “really” a man.
– Because I haven’t read enough of the Classics.
– Because I don’t read enough YA.
– Because I distributed my fanzine electronically, thereby destroying fanzine fandom.
– Because I am one of the leaders of those horrible old fanzine fans.
– Because I attend the Masquerade at Worldcons.
– Because I attend the Business Meeting at Worldcons.
– Because I like sports.
– Because I don’t hate Americans.
– Because I am a filthy pro.
– Because authors all hate me.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. I’d like to state now that any Really Real Awards that allow me to vote are clearly not Really Really Real, and should be viewed with deep suspicion by all Really Real Fans. Do not be fooled by Fake Really Real Awards. Really Real Fans should only participate in Real Really Real Awards. Accept no substitutes. Or I may have to denounce you. OK?

Posted in Awards, Fandom | 8 Comments

Her Story – Final Day

One of the big problems for trans activists is that we are not in control of the way we are presented in the media. We are, after all, a fairly small percentage of the population. In addition, until very recently we have been excluded from most forms of employment. So journalists, writers, directors, actors, all tend to be cis people. The result of this has often been inaccurate portrayals of trans folk in the media, and sometimes downright hostile ones.

Slowly things are changing. The Sense8 series benefited enormously from the involvement of Lana Wachowski and Jamie Clayton. Recent reality TV shows, and the sitcom on the BBC, have given trans people more prominence, and some say in how we are portrayed. But what if a group of trans people could make their own TV show, about people like them? That would be something special.

We are almost there. Her Story has completed principal photography and is crowdfunding $35,000 to fund post-production. They are 93% of their way to the target, and today is the final day of the campaign. The show involves Jen Richards and Angelica Ross, both of whom I have mentioned frequently here before. Most of the people involved in it are queer women of some sort. (There is one cis guy, because part of the story involves Angelica’s character struggling with the issue of disclosure.) I’ve backed it, obviously. I hope that some of you will be able to as well.

To learn lots more about the show check out the campaign page, or check out this interview on Autostraddle.

Update: They made it. Thank you everyone who backed the project.

Posted in Gender, TV | Leave a comment

Colin Harvey Hardcovers

Colin Harvey hardcovers
I have the proof copies of the new Wizard’s Tower hardcover editions of Winter Song and Damage Time now. They look OK so I’m confident they will be available for sale at BristolCon. The UK cover price is £20 per book, but for the convention I’ll be selling them at £15 each and £25 for the pair.

Naturally I don’t want to be stuck with huge quantities of stock, so I won’t be ordering many more books than I think I can sell. That means I need a good estimate of how many copies people want. So, to avoid disappointment, if you want copies, and can collect them at BristolCon, please email me and let me know. I’ll make sure I have enough copies to satisfy everyone I know wants them.

For those of you not able to get to BristolCon, copies will be available through our friends at Tangent Books in due course. Kevin and I are looking at how we make copies available in the USA without you having to pay postage from the UK. And of course the books will be available from the piranhas.

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

The Ascent of Woman, Episode 2

The latest episode of Amanda Foreman’s Ascent of Woman series focused on Asia. It began with a celebration of the Trung Sisters, two Vietnamese women who rebelled against the conquering forces of Han China. The sisters were not just heroes of Vietnamese nationalism, they were heroes of feminism, because women were allowed to hold positions of power in traditional Vietnamese culture, but not in China.

It was, apparently, all the fault on Confucius, who was very fond of saying the women are inferior to men. Later Confucian scholars even manage to subvert the traditional symbolism of ying and yang, claiming that the masculine yang was more powerful than, and superior to, the feminine ying. Confucius does not come out of the program very well.

Fortunately for Chinese women there was always the option of Buddhism. Empress Wu, the notorious but highly capable Chinese ruler during the Tang period made extensive use of Buddhism in her struggle against the patriarchal Confucians.

The high point of the program was the point where Foreman visits Japan and gets to see what is believed to be the actual inkwell with which Murasaki Shikibu wrote The Tale of Genji, the first novel ever written, over 1000 years ago. Foreman was visibly moved by the experience. Quite right, I would have been too. Here it is.

Murasaki's inkwell

Harking back to yesterday’s discussion of translations, doubtless F R Leavis would have condemned Murasaki’s work for failing to convey a sense of Englishness. Well sod that. I particularly liked the Japanese author and nun that Foreman interviewed who claimed that Genji was a feminist work because in it the male hero, Genji, has relationships with many women and none of them are made happy as a result.

The final segment of the program focused on the practice of foot binding which was once commonplace in China and survived right into the 20th century. Unsurprisingly, this was the aspect of the program that the newspapers chose to focus on when reviewing it. Stories of mothers doing unspeakable things to their daughters for the sake of fashion appeal so much more to the tabloids than tales of women like Murasaki doing amazing things. Also it allows British readers to feel smugly superior to the barbaric foreigners. But, as Foreman said to me on Twitter, it got the series talked about, and if that meant a whole lot more people watching it that was a good thing.

I have no idea whether you can watch the series outside of the UK, but it is available on iPlayer and TunnelBear is your friend.

Posted in Feminism, History, TV | 1 Comment

Judge Gove Speaks

Michael Gove is apparently not a wholly bad man. Oh, I know that the teaching profession is overjoyed to be rid of him, but the legal profession is leaping up and down with glee to have a nice, reasonable chap like Gove in charge of them rather than a grasping, amoral monster like Chris Grayling. That’s because Gove is rolling back some of the worst excesses of the Grayling regime at the Ministry of Justice. You know, things like the UK government setting up in business to advise repressive regimes around the world on how best to control their citizens. (Though apparently we will be fulfilling our contract with the Saudis because it would cost too much money to walk away.)

On the other hand, Gove is still Gove. That much is fairly obvious from the UK Government’s response to the recent petition on trans rights.

Just to be clear on this, the petition is not exactly asking for the moon. It is asking for UK trans people to have the same right of self-determination that has just been granted to Irish citizens. It is also asking for legal recognition for non-binary people, something that has already been granted by governments in places such as India, Pakistan and Australia. Sadly the response from the MoJ is not exactly encouraging.

Actually it is interesting that the response comes from the MoJ and not the Equalities Department within the Home Office, because they are the people responsible for trans rights. It is possibly also significant that the response comes a few days after the public evidence hearings for the current Transgender Equality Inquiry, because if any of the witnesses at that event had wanted to point out the desperate state of trans equality in the UK all they would have had to do was quote from the MoJ’s statement.

But wait, there’s another public evidence hearing this coming Tuesday. Get out the popcorn, folks, this could be a cracker.

So what did the MoJ actually say? Well you can read the whole thing here, but as you might have guessed I’m going to comment on the salient points. Let’s start with the outright lie. The MoJ says:

The gender recognition process in the Gender Recognition Act 2004 was developed as a result of the Government’s commitment to allowing trans people to gain legal recognition in their acquired gender.

Well, no. The UK government fought tooth and nail to prevent trans people getting any legal rights at all. The GRA was only introduced following a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (Christine Goodwin v The United Kingdom, Case No 28957/1995 for any legal wonks out there) which found the UK government guilty of discrimination.

Now let’s move on to the willfully naive. As I noted above, part of the petition calls for legal recognition for non-binary people. The MoJ’s argument against providing this is:

Non-binary gender is not recognised in UK law. Under the law of the United Kingdom, individuals are considered by the state to be of the gender that is registered on their birth certificate, either male or female.

It goes on to note specifically that the Equality Act provides no protection for non-binary people, but only for people who are male or female. I’d like to see that tested in court.

Actually, thinking about it, what the MoJ is saying here is that it is OK under the Equality Act to discriminate against someone if they look neither male nor female. That clearly affects trans people, because you can claim that you are perfectly OK about them being trans, but not about them not looking like a member of their preferred gender. In addition it affects LGB people, because you can claim that you are not prejudiced on the grounds of sexuality, but rather on the grounds of gender performance. So the MoJ thinks it is OK to discriminate against a gay man if he looks effeminate, or against a lesbian if she looks butch. This is an issue that affects the whole LGBT community.

Finally they note:

We recognise that a very small number of people consider themselves to be of neither gender. We are not aware that that results in any specific detriment

If ever I saw a call for a social media campaign, that was it. CN Lester noted:

And went on to say:

That hashtag is filling up nicely.

Having read a number of government responses to online petitions, it does seem that it is a standard tactic to quote existing law as an argument for not changing it. The MoJ statement has taken this to heart and goes into great detail about all of the hoops that trans people are forced to jump through in order to achieve legal recognition of their gender. As Maria Miller perceptively noted at the Transgender Equality Inquiry on Tuesday, those requirements are now far more stringent than those recommended by the medical profession when approving patients for surgery.

The key sentence in the MoJ response is this one:

A person’s gender has important legal and social consequences.

Basically what that is saying is that differences between men and women are enshrined in UK law, and if we allow trans people to unilaterally switch between genders then the whole fabric of Patriarchy will crumble.

Remind me again how it is that trans people are agents of the Patriarchy who reinforce the gender binary.

By the way, the petition currently has just over 30,000 signatures. If it gets over 100,000 that will force a debate in Parliament. You can sign it here.

Posted in Current Affairs, Gender | 2 Comments

Translation Conference, Day 2

I was up stupidly early on Thursday so that I could get to Bristol for a 9:00am start. The first set of panels was on the subject of self-translation. The presenters had very different approaches to this.

First up was Olga Castro talking about Galician fiction. Galician is one of the less commonly spoken languages of Spain. To reach the widest possible market a book needs to be translated into Castilian, the language we know as Spanish. According to Castro the Castilian publishers, knowing that they have economic power, insist that Galician writers self-translate their work into Castilian. (Apparently the languages are similar enough for this to not be a completely unreasonable request.)

Of course translation is one thing, but that isn’t necessarily all that is done. When a British novel is “translated” into American for the US market it is usually just a matter of changing spellings and substituting words. But translating a Galician novel into Castilian may involve changing the names of the characters to names that Castilian people might have, and also changing the setting of the story so that the action no longer obviously takes place in Galicia. This process is known in translation circles as “domestication”.

Because readers tend to shy away from translations, the Castilian publishers often present the translation as the original work. That’s why they want the original author to do the job. Because the Castilian publishers have much greater market reach, the Castilian translation will sell better. And when it comes to selling rights for translation into other markets at book fairs it will be the Castilian version that gets sold. Translation into other languages is done from the domesticated Castilian version, not from the Gailician original. That may even be the case for translation into Portuguese, a language which is much closer to Galician than Castilian.

Castro’s point was that by participating in this domestication process the Galician writers are actively participating in the erasure of Galician culture.

Next up was Jozefina Komporaly, an Hungarian academic who lives in Romania. Her subject was Matei Vişniec, a Romanian playwright who lives in Paris. Because he is fluent in both French and Romanian, Vişniec is able to write his plays in French for the much more lucrative French market, and also provide translations to Romanian for use in his home country where he is hugely famous.

Plays add a whole new level of complexity to the translation issue. To start with in both poetry and plays the languages choices are constrained by the requirements of performance. Simply changing the words is not enough. Plays, however, are not just words. The staging and the acting are equally important. Indeed, I’d argue that every time a new director stages a play the result is a translation of a kind. Modern staging of well known plays such as Shakespearian favorites often change the words dramatically too, of course.

I was very pleased to hear Komporaly mention the importance of literary awards recognizing translators. This doesn’t often happen. I am very proud of the fact that the Hugo Awards actively promote translations by allowing then an extra period of eligibility, and I was absolutely delighted that Sasquan chose to list the translators alongside the authors when two Hugos were won by translated works this year. Both translators got rockets of their own. That’s the way it should happen.

Anne O’Connor’s presentation was very different. She was talking about the various reasons for producing translations of Irish works in the 19th century. On the one hand, English translators wanted to produce works that showed how primitive and barbaric the Irish were. On the other, Irish translators had various reasons for promoting their own culture. The trouble was, of course, that by translating works into English the Irish translators made it unnecessary for Irish people to learn their own language. It is a thorny problem.

Of course one reaction to that problem is to refuse to translate. Some Irish writers took the view that translation was impossible. O’Connor read us a wonderful quote in which an Irish writer was opining that the English language was but a feeble brook into which the full raging glory of Irish literature could not possibly be poured.

The final paper of the session, by Liz Wren-Owens, was something of an anomaly in that she was looking at translation from Italian. Eventually her research will look at the different ways that the Italian writer, Antonio Tabucchi, has been translated into a variety of languages. For now all she could comment on was the English translations.

The most interesting thing for me in her presentation was where she talked about how Tabucchi’s celebrity translator, Tim Parks, has become as big a name as the original author. Parks is an acclaimed author in his own right, and he is now given equal billing with Tabucchi on book covers. It is very rare for a translator to achieve that sort of prominence, but it is good to know that publishers will exploit it when it happens.

The final session was about cultural stereotypes and how they impact translation. We began with David Norris whom I believe lives in Belgrade and has a Serbian wife. I was delighted to find that they know Zoran Živković well. David’s presentation was all about magic, that is the power of naming. When you translate a work, you are in effect re-naming something. You are changing it, molding it in an image of your own design.

Sometimes, of course, this can be a total misrepresentation. Jules Verne was a proud Frenchman, but in order to make his books more saleable in the Anglophone world his disdain for the perfidious British had to be excised from translations. A much more pernicious example is the way in which Steig Larsson’s profound feminism was watered down and even inverted by the English translations of his books.

There is a particular problem when translating works from a culture which is already in a minority position vis-a-vis the rest of Europe. Translations, and even the selection of works that are chosen for translation, can easily do damage to the reputation of that culture.

Norris also noted the Anglophone literary critics need to be taken to task for the way in which they assert the primacy of Anglophone culture in their theories. F R Leavis came in for a particular kicking. Apparently he claimed that one of the touchstones of literary greatness was the author’s ability to express Englishness.

Ursula Phillips brought Norris’s main point home in two ways. Firstly, as a proud feminist, she noted that almost all of the works of Polish literature available in translation are by men. When Polish literature is taught in Anglophone universities, it is the work of men that is foregrounded. Phillips has made it her life’s work to make the work of Polish women writers available to the world.

Secondly she noted that the way in which Polish literature has been translated (and chosen for translation) makes it seem like Poland is a very isolated country that has little contact with the rest of Europe except when our armies roll over it on their way to fight someone else. The works by women that she has chosen to translate make it very clear that Poland has always been part of a wider European culture, and has interacted significantly with that culture.

The final paper was by Antonija Primorac from the University of Split in Croatia. The title of her paper was “But you do misery so well!”. It was all about how the work chosen for translation by Croatian writers tends to be almost exclusively stories about the misery of war.

Of course Croatia’s struggle for independence from Serbia following the break-up of Yugoslavia is very recent. The war took place between 1991 and 1995. Memories of the war are very fresh, and authors can write from personal experience. As the war happened in parallel with the Bosnian struggle for independence, and the tragedy of Sarajevo, there has been a great deal of interest in these wars in the Anglophone world. Naturally publishers have sought out war narratives, and these have been pretty much all that has got translated.

There is a feedback loop too. Croatian writers are now very much aware that if they want to sell into English translation they need to write war stories, so that is exactly what they produce. The end result, of course, is that wartime tragedy has come to dominate the Anglophone world’s view of Croatian culture. Thank goodness for package holidays and A Game of Thrones which are picking away at that image.

Of course as a publisher of a book of translated stories by Croatian writers I had a personal connection to this paper. I have to admit that many of the stories in Kontakt are set in war time. Indeed, my three favorite stories by male writers in the book are all set in war time in one way or another. Living through a war has to have an effect on writers. But I hope one day I will get to publish another Croatian anthology, one that is perhaps informed far more by Croatia’s emergence as a country in its own right. That sounds good material for science fiction stories, right?

My thanks to Rajendra Chitinis and his team for two very enjoyable days, and hello to all of the new friends I have made as a result. Sadly I won’t be able to make the conference in Budapest next year as I have to be in Canada in March, but hopefully I’ll see one or two of you in Barcelona. The science fiction world does want to promote translations, why not come and see that in action?

And finally, if you want to come to your own conclusion as to whether Croatians are miserable or not, why not buy this very fine book?


Posted in Awards, Conventions, Translations, Wizard's Tower | Leave a comment

Joe Haldeman and Me, On Film

The fabulous Tony C Smith has posted all of the video from SofaCon 2 to YouTube. This includes my interview with Joe Haldeman, which I have embedded above. I wasn’t really thinking about being videoed. You can all have a good laugh, and my apologies about the poor video quality. The little camera on my laptop isn’t great.

Those of you who are going to be discussing The Forever War at the Mr B’s Book Club next month should take a listen. The interview is also quite interesting with regard to attitudes towards gay rights back when The Forever War was first published.

The full list of SofaCon 2 videos is available here.

Posted in Conventions, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Translation Conference, Day 1

Way back in February I attended a workshop on translated fiction in Bath. I mentioned at the time that there would be a follow-up conference in Bristol in September. That date has now arrived, so I was up early and off to the big city.

I did actually miss the first set of papers. It has been a very long week on the day job already, and there was no way I was getting up at the crack of dawn, but I made it there for morning coffee.

That was important because the first paper of the second session was by Paulina Drewniak from the University of Wrocław. Her paper was all about Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series, which is one of the few cases of a major international hit from translated genre fiction. It turns out that Paulina is a fan, and had been at the Eurocon in Dublin last year (where Sapkowski was one of the Guests of Honor). I apologized for voting for Barcelona. We agreed we’d be going anyway, and I’m trying to get her to come to Helsinki. We should bug her for a paper, Merja. Anyone who ends her academic talk with a picture of a Lego Witcher figure is OK by me.

Actually I want to know more about the figure of the Witcher in Slavic folklore. Apparently Sapkowski drew on pre-Christian traditions for his stories, as well as including a wealth of Polish in-jokes, most of which were omitted in the English translations.

Next up was Olivia Hellewell from Nottingham University who is working on Slovenian literature. I had a great deal of sympathy with the writer she interviewed who said that he now sends translations of his work to US and UK publishers under his own name, because if he says they are translations they go straight in the bin.

Finally in that session we had Richard Mansell of the University of Exeter on Catalan fiction. I love the Catalans. They are so proud and defiant. They refuse to be described as having “minority” language, but rather insist that it is a “minoritized” language. Nor is Catalan a stateless language. It is the official language of Andorra. While most Spaniards will have a copy of Don Quixote on their bookshelves to show that they are cultured, Catalans have it bookmarked at the page where Cervantes describes a Catalan novel as the best book ever written. I could go on. I am so looking forward to Barcelona.

There is a fairly well known Catalan novel that is a bit experimental and science-fictional. Richard didn’t think much of it as a book, but he noted that the central character spends the first few chapters talking about how he was once a member of the IRA. That section has been omitted from the English translation for fear it would offend delicate English ears.

I had managed to miss booking lunch, but I got really lucky and found a really good Indian restaurant across the road. This one. The little mint leaf in white chocolate that they gave me at the end was to die for.

The graveyard session was allocated to the poets, perhaps in the hope that they could entertain us and keep us awake. It is not an area I have much interest in (save for Roz Kaveney’s translations of Catullus), but I was astonished to hear that there are 119 books of Macedonian poetry translated into English. Apparently it is because they have a big international poetry festival in Macedonia and stuff gets translated for that. I was also delighted to discover that there are books of Cornish poetry in English translations. People write poetry in Cornish these days. I remember visiting the house in Mousehole where the last living Cornish speaker died. It is wonderful that the language has been resurrected.

The final poetry paper was about Cavafy, which was kind of appropriate because the conference was being held in the former home of another great gay poet. John Addington Symmonds is one of the superstars of Bristol’s LGBT history. He was also a translator. Up until he took a look at them, no one in the UK knew that Michelangelo’s poems were homoerotic. The original translator had gender-swapped some of the characters so that sensitive English readers need not be offended.

The final session opened up with Şule Demirkol Ertürk from Istanbul talking about two different translations of The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar (which is not SF, the title is a reference to clocks). The first translation was done by a small press specializing in Turkish literature. However, after Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize publishers looked for other Turkish writers to exploit, and a new translation of Tanpinar’s book was commissioned, with the involvement of Pamuk’s translator, Maureen Freely (though apparently most of the work was done by her student, Alexander Dawe).

Şule’s paper was fascinating in the way that it contrasted the different approaches, and wildly different commercial success, of the multinational and small press publishers. It wasn’t just the marketing muscle. Penguin also made a specfic effort to package Turkish culture in a way that would appeal to Western readers likely to be suspicious of the country.

Interestingly exactly the opposite is happening with Jules Verne. When he was first published in the 19th Century the big publishers of the time rushed to get him to the English-speaking market. They too were insistent on packaging him for their audience, including removing all of the anti-British and pro-Socialist rhetoric. Nowadays there is a movement to re-translate Verne and let the English speaking world read the books as they were originally written. This is all being done by small and academic presses such as the fabulous folks at Wesleyan.

The next paper was about Swedish women writers, which would have been great except that it focused on the 19th century and was half about poetry. If you are interested, there is a blog maintained by the researchers.

Finally we had a couple of Serbian academics telling the story of one particular translation. It didn’t help that the original was badly in need of an edit, but their tale of English translators and editors desperately trying to dumb down the book for the English audience was hilarious. Too many characters with funny names? Seriously? Have these people never read epic fantasy? Probably not. I wish I could have given those people a Zoran Živković book. If they had to put a dream sequence in a different font to help the reader understand what was going on they wouldn’t stand a chance with Zoran.

Anyway, it was a fun day. It also shone a light on a few cracks in the world. There was a very clear divide in the audience between those people who thought that translations were a good thing to do regardless, and those who felt that unless the project resulted in a major best seller like Steig Larsson it was all a sad waste of time. It was also clear that while international literature and poetry festivals were seen as a valuable way to promote the product, international science fiction conventions were mostly seen as an embarrassment to be avoided.

Anyway, my thanks to Rajendra Chitnis and his team for an entertaining day. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, if not exactly to getting into Bristol for a 9:00am start.

Posted in Books, Conventions, Translations | 1 Comment

My BristolCon Schedule

The programme for this year’s BristolCon was released last night. Here’s what I’ll be doing.

09:50 – 09:55 Room 2 : Welcome, by me (we don’t have opening ceremonies, we just do a quick welcome in each room).

10:00 – 10:45 Room 2 : Crossing the Genre Borders – They’re here, they’re respectable, and they’re taking our awards. These days more and more LitFic writers are dabbling in SF&F. This year’s Clarke Award shortlist contained several books marketed as mainstream fiction, rather than genre. Should we welcome these genre-crashers with open arms, or view them with suspicion? with Alex Davis (Mod), Adrian Faulkner, Cheryl Morgan, Dan Pawley and Sophie Sparham.

18:00 – 18:45 Room 2 : The Secret Life of an Editor – Editors stare out of the window and drink gin all day… or do they? What do editors actually do? Why do you need an editor? What can they do for you, and what can you do to help them get the best out of your work? with Cheryl Morgan (Mod), Alex Davis, Jaine Fenn, Jen Williams and Richard Bendall.

18:50 – 18:55 Room 2 : Reading: Cheryl Morgan.

Yeah, I’m doing a reading. But people will have time to flee before it starts.

There are lots of other great panels going on too. I am particularly pleased to see that we have found room on the programme for this one:

17:00 – 17:45 Room 1 : Bad-ass with a Baby – It’s still fairly rare to see depictions of parenting in SF&F. If a character has a child, does that mean they’re no longer allowed to be a bad-ass? And how difficult is it to juggle childcare and saving the universe? with Lor Graham (Mod), Amanda Kear (Dr Bob), Jasper Fforde, Peter Newman and Stephanie Saulter.

The full programme for this year’s convention can be found here.

Posted in Conventions, Personal, Science Fiction | 1 Comment

I Am Cait – Episode 6

Well that was a lot better. The latest episode of I Am Cait to be screened in the UK spent most of its time allowing trans people (almost all trans women) to talk about their problems, and let Caitlyn sit back, listen and learn.

The main focus of the episode was dating, and the very real dangers that trans women face trying to find love. A side issue is the fact that Caitlyn is deeply reluctant to discuss anything personal, and the implication that this is because she is primarily attracted to women and fears this will make people see her as less of a woman. Jenny Boylan is doing her best, but I’m not sure this is something Caitlyn can do in the public glare.

There were two key things that stood out to me from the show. The first is that Candis, despite being drop-dead gorgeous, incredibly sexy and a famous actress, can’t get a boyfriend. The other was where a bunch of trans women were having dinner together and they all agreed that there was no point in even trying to date cis men, they should just stick to trans men.

Obviously it isn’t the case that no trans woman can find love with a cis man. Janet Mock is an obvious counter-example. So am I. But dating is really hard, and incredibly dangerous. The best you can hope for is to be continually rejected and insulted; violence and even murder are always a risk. However, I find the idea that we should stick to only dating trans men (or trans women if you prefer) very troubling. Not because there aren’t some lovely trans guys out there, there most definitely are, but because it is a tacit admission that we are not women, we are only trans women.

As ever, the stars of the show are the support cast. Jenny Boylan and Canis Cayne were great as always, and I am becoming very fond of Chandi who is an amazing person.

Posted in Gender, TV | Comments Off on I Am Cait – Episode 6

The Ascent of Woman

The BBC has started a new, four-part documentary series called The Ascent of Woman. The title is, of course, a reference to the legendary 1973 series on the history of science, The Ascent of Man, fronted by Dr Jacob Bronowski. This series, fronted by Dr. Amanda Foreman, is more of a cultural history, specifically about the role of women in society.

It is, fairly obviously, a feminist history. One of Foreman’s objectives is to highlight great women of history. She’s also trying to explain why women have been so badly thought of, particularly in Christian and Islamic society. I was pleased to see her finger Aristotle, who really does have a lot to answer for. An expert on ancient Greek culture that she talked to in the first program said that the position of women in Athenian society, that supposed bastion of democracy, was analogous to that in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

From our point of view, however, a particularly interesting point made by Foreman regards the origin of literature. There are lots of ways in which women have set firsts in the arts. Mary Shelley is widely regarded as having written the first science fiction novel. The honor of being the world’s first novel appears to belong to the Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th Century. It is also worth noting that the first written musical compositions were produced by Hildegard of Bingen. But who was the world’s first author?

Obviously we don’t know. People will have been telling stories around camp fires since before the dawn of civilization. However, we do know the name of the first person to sign their name to a literary work. She was Enheduanna, the daughter of Sargon the Great who ruled over the Sumerian Empire in the 23rd Century BCE. She was also High Priestess of the Moon, and the most important religious leader in the country. Enheduanna wrote a considerable amount of religious poetry, mostly in praise of the goddess Inanna (Ishtar).

So there we have it. Women writers, they have been at it for more than four millennia. Perhaps it is time for people to notice that we exist.

Posted in Feminism, History, TV | Comments Off on The Ascent of Woman

Catching Up With Jazz

My friend Lynn Gold recommended the I Am Jazz TV show as a better representation of trans life than I Am Cait. It turns out it was available on my Sky subscription, and in the On Demand section, so I have binged on the first five episodes. Here’s my initial impressions.

By far the best thing about the show is Jazz herself. She’s a delightful kid, and I’m sure viewers will warm to her. Because she’s only mid-teens, there’s far less trans theory stuff in the show than in Jenner’s. However, Jazz’s life is real in a way like Caitlyn’s never can be. Her family seem well off but are not stupidly rich. She goes to school. And most importantly she’s been living as Jazz for around 10 years. She’s totally comfortable with her identity, and so are her family. Whereas Caitlyn’s story is one of someone coming to terms with transition while a celebrity, Jazz’s story is one of an ordinary teenage girl with something slightly different about her that can at times make her life a misery.

In some ways the show is simply one about a middle class American couple raising four teenage kids. Having twin boys is sometimes just as challenging as having a trans daughter. It is about the very normal fears that any teenage girl will have when she’s about to enter high school. But for Jazz every kid in the class will know that she’s a soft target for bullying, and dating is going to be an absolute minefield. As she’s so normal in every other way, the tragedy of that is really brought home. Anyone who has ever been the “only X kid” in a class can probably relate to what she’s going through.

Of course the show, just like Cait’s, is manufactured. There are things that don’t ring true. For the first four episodes Jazz is presented as this normal teenage girl, but in episode 5 we discover that she’s co-written a kids’ book that has sold over 10,000 copies and has an international fan base. Overall, however, I really liked it, and I think it is probably doing a lot of good.

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We’re All Sodomites

Earlier today on Twitter I passed on a news article being shared by the Irish drag queen, Panti Bliss. It was a story about how the Catholic Church has made a ruling that transsexuals cannot be godparents because they “do not meet the moral requirement”. This has caused a lot of confusion in social media because people today equate being “moral” with being “good”. The Church, of course, does nothing of the sort. It equates being “moral” with “not committing sin”, and sadly what constitutes “sin” has not been updated in quite a while.

To some extent this is all Aristotle’s fault. He taught that the human seed is contained solely within the male semen. Women are simply the fertile soil in which men plant their seeds in order for them to grow. If you think about that for a minute, perhaps with your Evangelical Fundamentalist hat on, you’ll see one can conclude that if a man ejaculates without placing his semen inside a woman then he is effectively aborting that seed. You can see where things will go from there, can’t you?

In fact Clement of Alexandria went one step further. In his view, in order to have sex morally, one had to do so with the intention of creating legitimate offspring. So not only was it sinful to masturbate, to have oral sex, or and sort of gay relationship, it was also sinful to have sex with any woman other than your wife. Oh, and it was sinful to have sex with your wife if she was pregnant, because again a legitimate child could not result. He wasn’t very keen on sex, was our Clement.

These days we tend to think of “sodomy” as having gay sex, possibly only as having anal sex, but throughout most of Christian history the definition has been much wider than that. The 16th Century Spanish theologian and pioneering economist, Martín de Azpilcueta Navarro, defined sodomy thus: “as when a man sins with a man, a woman with a woman, or a man with a woman outside of the natural vessel”. The latter was the case even if the man and woman in question were married. He was quite liberal, though. The 15th Century Diccionario de los inquisidores describes sodomy as “incomparably more serious than having sex with your own mother”, presumably on the grounds that getting one’s mother pregnant was preferable to “wasting” one’s seed.

My guess is that almost everyone reading this will classify as a sodomite in one way or another. Sorry about that, folks. Though you may find it useful to remember that when Mr. Wrong fulminates against “filthy sodomites” he doesn’t just mean Hal Duncan, he means you as well. (Mr. Wrong prides himself in being a classical scholar, I’m sure he knows all this stuff.)

But to get back to transsexuals, the thing isn’t that we are not just having sex in unapproved ways; we have modified our bodies in such a way that we can’t have sex in the approved way. For the folks in the Vatican, that is sin right up the wazoo and back again. Which is why they see us as “immoral”.

Posted in Gender, History, Religion | 4 Comments

Decision Time for #VATMOSS

A big meeting of EU finance ministers is taking place next week in Dublin. Some politicians do appear to have got the message that the current system is a complete disaster. However, many are still holding out and insisting that small businesses sign up to an administrative system whose costs, both to them and to government, far outweigh the amount of tax likely to be paid under the scheme.

As Juliet McKenna explains here, we have a chance at that meeting to persuade the EU to act. We may get some sort of emergency provision that will introduce a turnover threshold below which businesses don’t need to register. It doesn’t have to be that big. Wizard’s Tower would do way less than €1000 worth of cross-border business each year, were I able to trade. Hundreds, possibly thousands of other businesses are in the same position. But if nothing happens in Dublin it will be 2017 or 2018 before we are likely to get another chance.

So yeah, another thing I need to do this weekend is write letters to European politicians. If some of you can find the time to do the same, Juliet and I, and many, many small businesses all over Europe, would be very grateful. Details here.

Posted in Current Affairs, Wizard's Tower | Comments Off on Decision Time for #VATMOSS