Crunching Hugo Stats

The lovely people at Vector asked me if I wanted to do an article looking back on the decade. This gave me the opportunity to crunch some Hugo data. The results are really quite remarkable. If you take a look here you will see why I titled the article, “The Decade That Women Won”.

I should dedicate that article to Joanna Russ. I wish that she was still alive to see it. We still have a long way to go, but the fight is not impossible.

Wild, Wild Wales

I spent much of today in Cardiff helping kick off a project to create queer history tours of the National Museum of Wales. This is being run by the fabulous Dan Vo who also created the similar tours at the V&A in London. The museum is mainly natural history and art, but there’s plenty there to talk about. I will have more to say about the queer stuff in due course, but today I want to highlight one of the more bizarre things I found in the museum.

Whenever I visit a museum I am always on the lookout for Amazons, so my interest was caught by this painting of a woman dressed as Diana herself. She has a bow and quiver, and even a little crescent moon headdress. Who was this woman, I wondered?

Well, her name is Diana Pryce (not Diana Prince), and her father was Sir John Pryce, the 5th Baronet of the Pryce family of Newtown Hall in Montgomeryshire. Sir John was what the museum descibes as a “well known eccentric”. This refers to the fact that he kept the embalmed bodies of his first two wives in his bedroom, until he got married for a third time and his new wife insisted that he got rid of them.

Wife three also pre-deceased him, whereupon Sir John hired a local faith healer, Bridget Bostock, to bring her back from the dead. Sadly the woman’s skills were not up to the task.

People had some very strange ideas in the 18th Century.

A February Heads Up

My speaking schedule for February is starting to firm up, and a number of events are starting to post their programmes. I’ll do a full schedule later in the month, but I did want to share one thing with you. It is this.

Yes, that is me giving a talk at The Shakespeare Centre, Stratford-upon-Avon. How cool is that?

The description is a little weird. I’m sure that’s not what I submitted to Schools Out. But the talk is about a play. It is a play by Byron, not by Shakespeare. And the story involves Ashurbanipal and Romans and Byron’s alleged bisexuality. It should be fun.

By the way, if you are coming to the Historical Fiction Research Network conference in Salzburg later in the month then you will get the academic version of this talk which will be more about sources and translations, and probably a little less about Byron’s sex life.

Today on Ujima: Feminism, Black Queerness & TV Careers

Today was my first day back at work that involved leaving home. I was back in the Ujima studios for another Women’s Outlook. It had been a bit of a challenge pulling this one together because no one was answering email before Monday, so I had two days. Nevertheless, we had some guests.

The first slot was empty so I played some music to talk about the unpleasant prospect of at least 5 years of the UK being ruled by Blue Meanies. I then played a few songs to send a message to a certain orange-faced person over in the USA.

My first guest was Carolyn from Bristol Women’s Voice. There was a time when people like me were distinctly unwelcome at that organisation, but I’m pleased to report that they have turned a corner and are happy to include all women again. Carolyn was particularly there to promote their Volunteer Network Event later this month, but we also discussed current campaigns, and of course the International Women’s Day event in March.

Next up was Helen from Royal West of England Academy. She was on the show to talk about the amazing Celebrating Black Queerness event coming up in February, and the associated Africa State of Mind exhibition. Celebrating Black Queerness is a joint event with Kiki, Bristol’s QTIPOC organisation, and will feature luminaries such as Lady Phyll and Travis Alabanza.

My final guest should have been Jo from Diverse Insights, but she suffered a transport malfunction on the way to the studio so I had to fill in for her as best I could. The event she was due to talk about is Screen Futures 2020, which is an amazing day of workshops for people interested in pursuing a career in television and radio.

You can listen to the show for the next few weeks via the Ujima Listen Again service.

Here’s the playlist:

  • Ike & Tina Turner – A Little Help from My Friends
  • Aretha Franklin – Bridge Over Troubled Water
  • Angelique Kidjo – Once in a Lifetime
  • The Temptations – War
  • Culture Club – The War Song
  • Eddy Grant – War Party
  • Alicia Keys – Superwoman
  • Chaka Khan – I’m Every Woman
  • Little Richard – Good Golly Miss Molly
  • Bessie Smith – A Good Man is Hard to Find
  • Bow Wow Wow – TV Savage
  • Andy Allo – If I was King
  • Janelle Monáe – We Were Rock ‘n’ Roll

BSFA Award Long Lists

The British Science Fiction Association has released their long lists for awards for works published in 2019. I’m deighted to note that The Green Man’s Foe features twice on the lists. Juliet McKenna is listed for the novel, and Ben Baldwin for the cover. There is, of course, a long way to go yet. There are two more rounds of voting to go before they end up with winners. But hey, this is unexpected and much appreciated success for Wizard’s Tower. I am really pleased.

Hugo Voting Opens

Unless you have been avoiding social media, you will probably know that Hugo Award voting is now open for this year. If you are eligible to vote you should have had email from CoNZealand explaining how to nominate. If you haven’t then you should contact them.

As a reminder, here’s my eligbility:

The only one I’m really concerned about is Fanzine, and that’s only because participation in the category was very low last year and I’m hoping to encourage people to take an interest in it again. If you have a fanzine that you think is eligible, let me know and I’ll tell my readers about it.

Where Are We Now?

Most of you will probably be aware that the UK will now formally leave the European Union by automatic operation of law at the end of January. Lots of people, however, including many within the UK, are uncertain of what this actually means. I must admit I’m pretty confused myself at times. But there are helpful explainers on various websites which seem to more or less agree.

The important point is that while the UK will reach the point of no return on January 31st, nothing much will change. There will be an 11 month (at least) Transition Period during which life will carry on pretty much as before. You can find explanations of this at The Institute for Government and the BBC.

Most importantly, there will be no immedite change to international trade, and no change to freedom of movement, during this period. Those things will only happen at the end of the Transition Period on December 31st 2020.

Equally I suspect that there will be little in the way of changes to UK equalities law during the Transition Period. In theory, at least, we are still subject to EU law. I can’t see the government wanting to make an issue of this, because they have made it clear that they want to pretend that we are already fully out of the EU as of the end of this month, so they won’t do anything that makes it clear that we are not.

Of course, as we have seen in the USA, it is entirely possible for government to ramp up discrimination against minorities without changing the law. I expect there to be a raft of government notices that target Muslims, trans people, EU citizens and so on. But this will not be anywhere near as bad as will happen once EU law is off our statute books.

So basically we have a year of being in a sort of dreamlike state where we are on a train, heading for a precipice in 11 months time, but the government will be telling us that everything is fine because we have aleady passed the precipice and gravity has not taken effect.

I guess we should be using that time to get stuff done.

New Year, New Look

No, not me, the blog.

As you have presumably noticed, there’s a new theme in place here. This wasn’t planned. Some very old themes don’t support mutliple screen sizes very well. In particular they tend to be designed for PCs rather than tablets or phones. Modern themes are designed with portability in mind. Now you can get clever stuff that will adjust your theme for mobile devices (in the Jetpack plugin, WordPress veterans), but that is being retired this year.

There are a lot of sites that I manage, and many of them use a themes that are up to 10 years old and which need an update. Also many of them are text-heavy, and most modern blog themese assume that every post will have an associated image. So finding a replacement theme that a) works on a text-heavy site; b) is free; and c) isn’t likely to become unsupported in a year or two; will not be easy.

This theme is Penscratch which looks specifically designed for a text-heavy site. It is also created by Automattic who own WordPress so it is likely to stick around for a while.

The header image is from Pixabay. It has cats and books, which seems kind of appropriate.

I will probably fiddle with the look of the thing for a while yet. In the meantime if you spot anything that is not working in the theme (not broken links, there are bound to be lots of those) then please let me know.

December 2019 Salon Futura

A new issue of my fanzine, Salon Futura, went live today. Here’s the things I reviewed:

In addition there’s an interview with Kate Macdonald from Handheld Press, and cover art and an editorial.

Happy reading.

Scary Solstice, Everyone

Well this is cheerful. I’ve just spent a couple of hours listening to Neil Gaiman and friends telling scary stories on Radio 3, and now I’m trying to find one of the HPLHS carols that doesn’t sound horribly prescient. But maybe a little dark humour is what we need to get us through these dark times. So wherever you are, little cultists, hang up those elder signs. The world hasn’t ended yet, so enjoy it while you can.

Holiday Cheese Blogging

As is my wont, I bought a large quantity of top quality cheese to see me through the holiday season. Some of it you will be familiar with from my past posts: Stichelton and Gorwydd Caerphilly. The Gorwydd, by the way, finished 11th in this year’s World Cheese Awards, which pleases me greatly. But there are others that deserve a mention.

This year’s goat’s cheese is Ragstone, made by the folks at Neal’s Yard Creamery. It comes as a fairly firm log, but will soften up with time. Mine is still firm in the centre, but quite gooey around it. It has quite a strong taste for a goat’s cheese. I’m very pleased with it.

As you’ll see from the above picture, Renegade Monk now has a splendid new steampunk-like packaging. Its taste is every bit as robust and uncompromising as usual. It gets eaten last, despite being a soft cheese.

This year’s discovery is Gallus. How could I possibly resist a cheese with that name? It is Swiss, and made by Affineur Walo who are also responsible for Red Wine Farmer. Gallus is not named after the devotees of Cybele, but rather after the Swiss town of St. Gallen. The original saint was Irish and a close companion of St. Columba. Given that he was called Gallus, I think it entirely likely that he was a eunuch. The abbey in St. Gallen is famous for having been home to St. Wiborada, the first woman to be formally canonized by the Vatican (thank you, Pope Clement II).

Sorry, I digress. The cheese is a Gruyére, and looks like it might be one of those tasteless continental cheeses we are used to. It isn’t. It has a strong, nutty taste. What’s more, it finished 7th in this year’s World Cheese Awards.

The usual warnings apply. These cheeses are made from unpasteurised milk and are not recommended for pregnant people and anyone else particularly at risk from bacteria.

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

I was feeling a bit guilty yesterday being so happy about the Galley Beggar fundraiser because there are so many people in dire poverty in the UK. Now that they’ve reached their target, Sam and Ellie are directing people to this fundraiser which is raising money for the Trussell Trust, a food bank charity. They’ve been going for longer, and have raised considerably less money.

But the scale of the problem was brought home to me later yesterday when I saw news of an important court case. An anti-trans activist had gone to court to claim that her belief that I, and women like me, are “really men”, is a protected belief under the Equality Act, and that she has the right to tell us so to our faces whenever she wants. Freeze Peach and all that. The judge threw the case out, in no uncertain terms.

But the point is that in order to bring this case the woman has raised £80,000 through crowdfunding. And she’s already raised a similar amount to appeal the case. One of her vocal supporters is JK Rowling, so there’s clearly no practical limit to the money she has access to in order to pursue this case. If she can’t win in the courts, I’m sure the current government will be only too happy to change the law for her, once we are no longer beholden to the EU.

So there you have it. £160,000 raised to bring legal cases so that people can have the right to harrass trans folks. How much good could that money have done for food banks? Or for women’s refuges, or rape crisis centres? Where are those three ghosts when you need them?

Well Done, Book Lovers

Today I was expecting to be writing a post asking you to help a friend out. Instead I’m writing one congratulating book lovers for being wonderful people. Given how awful things are in the UK right now, this is a very welcome piece of good news.

Some of you may remember Sam Jordison as the author of a bunch of book reviews in Salon Futura back in the days when it was a semi-prozine. He’s probably better known for running the Not the Booker contest in The Guardian. But these days he should be best known as one of the people behind a small press called Galley Beggar.

While that name might not be immediately familiar, you have probably heard of a book called Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann, which has been winning various prizes over here and was on the short list for the actual Booker. Now being up for a major prize is a potentially complicated thing for a small press. Because Juliet was up for a British Fantasy Award this year I took myself off to Glasgow for a few days. Wizard’s Tower can’t really afford to send me to conventions, but I could afford this myself.

Being a finalist for the Booker is a whole different ballgame. People want your book. In Galley Beggar’s case that included an order from a company called Book People for 8,000 hardback copies of the book. That was an order worth just over £40,000. Yesterday Book People declared bankruptcy with many outstanding debts unpaid, including the invoice from Galley Beggar.

I have no idea how much money Sam and his partner take from the company, but £40,000 is round twice my annual income, and that’s from three jobs of which Wizard’s Tower is the least profitable. I’m sure you can imagine what sort of a hole that would make in the finances of a small press.

So this morning Sam’s partner, Eloise Millar, launched a crowdfunding campaign so see if the great book-loving public could help them plug that gap in their finances.

It fully funded earlier this evening.

That’s incredible, people. Well done. I am so happy that a great little publishing company has been saved.

If only we could channel that sort of sentiment to save the country.

Writing Queer Charcaters from History: Online

I’m delighted to announce that my workshop, “Writing Queer Characters from History,” is now available from the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. Those of you who participated at FantasyCon, and at the Writing Historical Fiction conference at Bath Spa University, seemed to enjoy it. Bath Spa folks in particular should note that the online course will be 2 hours, not 20 minutes, so there will be a lot more time to explore the issue.

The first course will be on Saturday, January 4, 2020, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific time. Further details about the course and how to sign up are available here.

Up On the Aqueduct

It is that time of year again. My review of the year post has gone up on the Aqueduct Press blog. There are already lots of other fine entries to the 2019 series, and doubtless many more to follow.

I need to apologise to Kate Heartfield because I totally forgot about her Alice Payne novellas when writing that post. However, I have now read Alice Payne Rides, so that will be reviewed in the next Salon Futura.

I still haven’t got to see Frozen 2. Maybe tomorrow.

Farewell, Noisy Neighbors

I don’t pay a huge amount of attention to the NFL these days. I gather than the 49ers are having a fairly good season, though you wouldn’t have thought it from last night’s implosion. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, however, a momentous event has taken place. Yesterday the Raiders played their last game in Oakland before heading off to Las Vegas for the new season. There are, of course, those who will say that Vegas is entirely in keeping with the Raider aesthetic, but how many of their devoted fans will be able to make the trip to the new stadium is very much open to doubt. The Raiders might have been noisy neighbors, but they were our neighbors and now they are leaving. We will miss them. More importantly, Oakland deserves better.

To mark the event, I would like to direct you to this article that I wrote for Emerald City back in 2003. It attempts to explain Bay Area sterotypes by way of the local football teams. Along the way it gently pokes fun at both groups. A few thngs have changed in the intervening years. The 49ers no longer live at Candlestick Park, and mobile phones are now well within the price range of Raiders fans, but much of it still holds good, I think.

Salon Futura Website Updates

In search of something constructive to do today, I decided to write some code. There are now some helpful indexes on the Salon Futura website. I’m particularly pleased about having automated the author index for book reviews. Of course it is sorted by first name, because computers are silly like that and getting it do to it right would be a whole lot more work. But it is an awful lot better than having no index at all.

Now that’s done, I can work on porting over all of the reviews from this site, and eventually adding all of the reviews from Emerald City as well.

February: Women in SF&F in Bristol

Normally in February I am rushing around the country doing LGBT History stuff. Next year, however, I will also be doing a panel on Women in SF&F at Foyles in Bristol (assuming that no apocalyptic events have destroyed Cabot Circus in the meantime, as tends to happen with great frequency in books by local writers). This event is the brainchild of Kate Macdonald from Handheld Press, and is going to be part of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival. I am hugely honoured to be asked to feature alongside three brilliant local writers: Liz Williams, Emma Newman and Emma Geen.

It is a paid event, which I’m making no apologies for because the number of times I have turned up for a sold out free event and fewer than half the number of people who have booked have turned up is ridculous. You can get a ticket, and learn more about the event, here.

I am very much hoping that Ian Whates will manage to get some copies of Liz’s new novel, Comet Weather, to us for sale.

Election Week

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that we have a General Election happening here in the UK. I’m over 60 years old and I have no hesitation in saying that it is the most important General Election of my lifetime. If the Tories are still in power on Friday the consequences for anyone who isn’t a moderately well-off straight, cis, able-bodied person of English descent will be quite terrible. They will be particularly bad for people of colour, people who moved here from Europe and their families, and for trans people. They have, of course, been terrible for the very poor, for disabled people, and for anyone associated with the Windrush generation, for some time.

I’m delighted to see so much discussion of tactical voting happening on social media. I hope it works. Personally, however, there is little I can do. For most of my life in the UK I have lived in constituencies where it would take a political earthquake of immense proportions to unseat the incumbent Tory. I have comforted myself with the thought that having so many Tory voters in one place is a good thing for the rest of the country.

In my current constituency, the sitting MP, who is Brexit Party in all but name, got 60% of the vote at the last election. The next best performance was by Labour who got 26.5%. It is probable that some of those Tory voters will follow the lead of John Major and Michael Heseltine and vote for the LibDems, but I can’t see half of them doing so. I normally vote Green, but will be voting Labour this time just in case.

The opinion polls have all been uniformly depressing and point to a significant Tory majority. I am hoping that they are as wrong as the rest of the mainstream media coverage of the election. But even if we do end up with a coalition government led by Labour the prospects for trans folk don’t look good. Diane Abbot and Dawn Butler have been very supportive, but John McDonnell has made it clear that he expects Labour to roll back trans rights. I think the best we can hope for is that they will have far too many other things to be doing before starting on us.

This certainly isn’t the sort of situation I expected myself to be in at this point in my life. But then again when I began the transition process I didn’t expect to live much longer anyway. To have survived for 22 years has exceeded my wildest expectations. So I’m going to try to keep busy and not worry too much about things. I will trust those of you who have a more useful vote to do the right thing. And I plan to thoroughly enjoy the holiday, because it will probably be the last one I get to spend in this country.