It’s That Day Again #IWD2021


Yes folks, once again we have arrived at that day in the year when some people spend all day on social media reminding the rest of the world that there is indeed an International Men’s Day and it is on November 19th, because apparently many men cannot let any day devoted to women go past without making it all about them.

Thankfully I am also seeing a lot of good stuff on social media this year. I would do a post of my own highlighting wonderful women, except I know so many. There are brilliant women authors, brilliant women human rights advocates, brilliant historians and people from history, brilliant sportswomen and so on. I wouldn’t know where to start, or when to stop.

So I’m just going to leave you with the little card above, which was made as part of this year’s festivities by the lovely people at A New Normal. My thanks to Laverne Cox for the inspirational quote.

Coronavirus – Day #337

Wow, it is a long time since I did one of these. Of course I was crazy busy during February, but to a large extent nothing much has changed. We are still in Lockdown and will be until April. Infection rates have been falling steadily for a couple of months, but are still scarily high. And locally they are not going down. Having had rates well below the national average over the winter, we are now well above the national average. If nothing else that shows that the Track & Trace system is not worth a dime, let alone the £22bn that the government spaffed away on it.

Meanwhile Bozo has ordered schools to re-open, and I’m already seeing claims that the infection rate is surging amongst young children.

We had a budget, apparently. It seems like no one is happy about it. And yet the supposed opposition party is doing such a bad job that the Tories now have a much bigger lead in the polls than they did when they won an 80 seat majority back in late 2019. It is almost as if refusing to challenge the government on any of its policies isn’t a vote winner. Who would have thought it?

In much less good news today I learned that the Loyalist Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland have denounced the Good Friday Agreement. That is, they are blaming the Catholics, and the South, for Bozo’s complete disaster of a Brexit agreement which saw a border created in the Irish Sea, something he had promised would never happen. It seems entirely in keeping with modern Britain that someone else is getting blamed for a government screw-up. But the outcome is likely to be renewed sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, which will please no one except a few die-hard survivors of The Troubles, and the Tory right wing who have always hated the fact that peace was declared.

Ah well, at least I still have work, which is getting me to talk to people, even if it is seriously interfering with my book-reading habit.

Crawford Award Announced

The winner and runners up of this year’s Crawford Award have been announced. I’m delighted to see that the winner is one of my favourite books of the year: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo.

The Crawford doesn’t have a jury as such. Instead a group of people make recommendations to Gary K Wolfe and he decides on a winner based on what the group says, and on his own reading. What that means is that no one has to read every debut fantasy novel for the year. Many of them are very long. That way lies madness.

Usually I am one of the group of advisors, and that was the case this year. I have linked to my reviews of the winners and runners up below. I hope to catch up with the others soon. I have also provided links for UK readers to buy via Bookshop.org (they might work in the US as well). I have no idea why the Jennings isn’t available.

Winner: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (buy)

Runners up:

  • Night Roll, Michael DeLuca (buy)
  • Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel, Julian Jarboe (buy)
  • Flyaway, Kathleen Jennings
  • In Veritas, C.J. LaVigne (buy)
  • Beneath the Rising, Premee Mohamed (buy)

Purchases through Bookshop.org help to support independent bookstores and, if made via my links, Wizard’s Tower Press.

New From Academia Lunare

The lovely folks at Luna Press Publishing have a new project underway. It is the 5th in their Academia Lunare series of non-fiction collections. You may remember that book #3 in the series, Gender and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction, won a British Fantasy Award. Also book #4, The Ties That Bind: Love in Fantasy and Science Fiction, is a finalist for this year’s British Science Fiction Association Awards. What’s more, the books have achieved these honours despite both having essays by me in them.

So, book #5. It is titled, Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy & Science Fiction. As usual it has a stellar international cast of contributors, and me. You can find the full contents list and contributor bios here. My offering is titled, “Worldbuilding with Sex and Gender”. It is, of course, about queer animals, because if our natural world is full of outrageously queer behavior there is no reason why your invented world can’t be either.

Pre-orders will open sometime in the spring, and in the meantime Francesca will be doing the PR thing by releasing abstracts of the various essays to whet your appetites.

Also the CFP for book #6 in the series is now out. It will be titled, Not the Fellowship. Dragons Welcome. The idea is to write about one of the lesser characters from The Lord of the Rings. You can pick anyone except a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, including Smaug. I wonder how many proposals they’ll get arguing one way or the other about Tom Bombadill. Guess I’d better put my thinking cap on.

In Search of Trans Celts

On Friday I gave a talk for the lovely people at Aberration as part of their LGBTHM festival. They asked me to look for evidence of trans people among the Celtic inhabitants of Britain. This isn’t easy, and my talk was hedged around with caveats. I promised a blog post that would explain things in more detail. Here it is.

I need to start off by explaining what I mean by “Celtic”, because the Romans did not use that word to describe my ancestors. The people who lived in France were called Gauls, and the people who lived here were called Britons. Beyond that they often used local tribal names such as Brigantes, Silures and so on.

However, the Greeks used the word “Keltoi” to describe people who lived up the Danube, so north of the Balkans, including places like Hungary and Slovakia. The modern word “Celtic” is used to denote a group of Bronze/Iron Age tribal cultures that are united by a common language and culture. They spread all the way from Britain and Spain to Eastern Europe and possibly even China. Archaeologists will refer to Hallstatt Culture (named after a town in Austria) as a general term for these people. There are regions of Spain and Poland known as Galicia because the Romans knew them as home to Gauls.

This is all very simplistic, of course. The reality of the archeology is much more complex as we shall see. Also shared culture is not proof of shared ethnicity. The fact that we drive Japanese cars and watch anime does not prove that we are ethnically Japanese.

The only reference I could find regarding trans people in possibly-Celtic culture comes from Tacitus in his book, Germania. As far as the Romans were concerned, “Germany” was somewhat displaced east from our modern idea of the country. The people he was talking about were a tribe called the Nahanarvali, who were part of a larger confederation of tribes called the Lugii. Their home territory was in modern Poland, between the Oder and Vistula rivers. Tacitus wrote:

Among these last is shown a grove of immemorial sanctity. A priest in female attire has the charge of it. But the deities are described in Roman language as Castor and Pollux. Such, indeed, are the attributes of the divinity, the name being Alcis.

On the face of it, that’s pretty good. Sacred groves are things that we associate with Celts, and these people lived in an area where Hallstatt materials have been found. But were they Celts? And if so, would the same gods have been worshipped in Britain? Well, it is complicated.

Depending who you read the Lugii are described as Celtic, Germanic, or proto-Slavic. We do know that the Germanic tribe known as the Vandals lived to the north-east of Lugii territory, and that they gradually pushed westwards through the Roman era. But Tacitus says that the grove is very old, so hopefully that indicates a Celtic origin.

Then there’s the language. The Lugii sound like they are associated with the Celtic god Lugh (Irish) or Lleu (Welsh). There is an unrelated tribe with the same name in Scotland. But the name of the god, Alcis, suggests a Germanic root and an association with deer.

Also, sacred groves are not unique to Celts. I have turned up evidence of one in Sweden, and Cybele (the patron goddess of trans women) was worshipped in a sacred grove on Mount Ida in her home in Phrygia.

Then there is the nature of the gods. Tacitus says they are twin boys, and compares them to Castor & Pollux. But those gods are traditionally associated with horses, not deer. There is good evidence of a pair of twins associated with horses being worshipped by the locals in the Spanish Galicia during Roman times, but we’ve still got the wrong animal.

Of course none of this proves anything about the ancient Britons, so I turned to the Mabinogion to see what surviving Welsh legend might tell us. Somewhat to my surprise, I found something.

In the Fourth Branch, as a precursor to the tale of Blodeuwedd, we get a story about two sons of Dôn, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy. Gwydion goes on to have many other adventures, but Gilfaethwy is known only for his obsession with a young girl called Goewin. She’s not interested, and she’s a special virgin servant of King Math of Gwynedd so untouchable. Gwydion and Gilfaethwy therefore kick off a small war by stealing some pigs from a rival king, Pryderi of Dyfed. While Math is away dealing with the inevitable retaliation, Gilfaethwy is able to rape poor Goewin.

When Math gets home he finds out what the boys have done and is furious. He turns them first into deer (significant?), then into boar, and then into wolves. In each case one of the boys becomes a male of the species, and the other becomes a female, and they have children, whom Math adopts.

So what we have here is a tale of divine brothers who go through species and gender changes and produce offspring, which is all a bit reminiscent of Loki. Also the boys’ sister, Arianrhod, becomes the mother of Lleu.

At this point the story is so complicated that it is impossible to say anything concrete without sounding like Robert Graves or James George Frazer. You start to understand why they wrote the things that they did. My mind has been racing down rabbit holes ranging from Castor & Pollux and their sister Helen on the one hand, to Freyja and Freyr on the other. I could easily concoct a whole neo-pagan theology around this.

But I am a responsible historian, so I just have to say that we don’t know. It is all very mysterious.

In the meantime, if you have been sent here by the folks at Aberration, you can find a lot more about trans Romans in my academic writing. And the books that I mentioned on Friday are:

History Month Round-Up

Well, that’s over for another year. History Month is great fun, but exhausting.

A lot of people have been asking about recordings of my talks. There aren’t any. There are two reasons for this. The first is copyright. If you are giving a talk to a small audience then it is generally OK to use images that are of uncertain provenance. If you make something available for free online that’s very different, especially for places like museums and heritage properties. So we err on the side of caution.

Reason two is the transphobia that is rampant in the UK these days. At least one of the events I was involved with this year had people try to shut it down. A recording that is freely available online is a magnet for anti-trans trolls, and I’m not surprised that organisations don’t want to have to deal with that.

However, if you missed everything, then there is one recording that you can watch. The lovely people at A New Normal wanted to do an interview with me, so I sat down with Theo, their social media guru, and we recorded this.

There is one more video yet to come. Dan Vo has been doing some work with National Galleries Scotland on their Ray Harryhausen exhibition. There will be three videos, but there’s a lot of editing to be done and currently only the one with John Johnston is online. He’s talking fairly generally about Harryhausen, including the Sinbad films and Jason and the Argonauts. It is worth a watch.

My film (assuming that Dan can find something useable in the material we recorded) will be about Medusa, who is totally a feminist icon (and possibly a trans one too).

Finally while I am here, the Call for Papers for next year’s Historical Fictions Research Network conference is available. The theme is Communities, and we very much hope to be in person in London. Full details here.

The Final Week – #LGBTHM21

Only four more events to go, and then my life will return to normal. Here’s what you can enjoy in the coming week.

Wednesay 24th, 11:00am – The History of Gender in Sport
My final M Shed event. I’m just chairing this one. My panel: Sonja, Sammy, Verity and Noah, will be doing most of the talking. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing them. Free. Book here.

Wednesday 24th, 6:00pm – The Transitioned Empire: Trans Lives in Ancient Rome
I’m a bit proud of this one. This is the Annual Public Lecture of the Department of Classics and Ancient History of Durham University. Proper Classicists asking me to give a lecture. Way cool. And yes, that title is a pun on That Book. It is free. Book here.

Thursday 25th, 7:00pm – Queer: LGBTQ Writing from Ancient Times to Yesterday
This will have me in conversation with Frank Wynne, the editor of the aforementioned anthology. It is a great book, and having chatted to Frank on the phone I’m sure we’ll provide entertainment. The event is hosted by Bristol Libraries and is free. Book here.

Friday 26th, 7:00pm – Between the Lines
This is an event being staged by Aberration, a queer events group based in Aberystwyth. My talk is titled, “Trans People in Celtic Britain” and I’m on first. You do have to pay, but it is on a sliding scale and they’ll take £1 if that’s all you can afford. There are many other good things happening on the night. I have heard Jane Traies and Norena Shopland before and can promise they will be brilliant. Book here.

Talks This Week #LGBTHM21

LGBT+ History Month continues apace. Here’s what’s happening in public this week.

Tomorrow evening, I will be at the M Shed in Bristol in conversation with the wonderful Nicola Griffith. We’ll be talking about her novel, Hild, about sexuality in early mediaeval times, and about a whole lot of other things. You know, women warriors, Sutton Hoo, co-option of ancient history by the far right, and so on. This is a free talk, and you can book here.

On Wednesday evening I will be at Strawberry Hill House in South London where I will be talking about Charlotte de Beaumont, Chevalière d’Eon and being trans in the 18th century. This one you have to pay a small amount for, but it should be well worth it. I have had so much fun doing the research for this and could easily talk for two hours rather than one. The talk will have war, espionage, gender transition, ridiculous quantities of wine, two revolutions, the Hellfire Club, Rousseau, William Blake and so much more. You can book here.

Also I did a talk for a student group at Cambridge today. I’m doing one for a private client on Wednesday afternoon. And Thursday thru Saturday I’ll be helping run the Historical Fiction Research Network annual conference, and giving a paper about Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s hugely successful novel, The Last Days of Pompeii.

LGBT History Month – Part 5

First up I need to remind you that it is almost too late to sign up for my talk on Michael Dillon for the M Shed Museum in Bristol. This is going to include some of the latest research on Dillon.

The following day I’ll be participating in the seminar on trans rights for the lovely people at Bristol University Law School.

There’s also a new talk gone live. This one is on “Trans People in Celtic Britain” for the lovely folks at Aberration. Tickets are paid, but they are very cheap. I’ll be part of a line-up that includes the amazing Jane Traies and Norena Shopland. It is on Friday, February 26th from 7:00pm. Full details here.

As you may have seen from Twitter, I have been talking to Dan Vo about the movies of Ray Harryhausen. Sometime soon our little chat about Medusa will go live on the National Galleries Scotland website as part of their Harryhausen exhibition.

Also still to come are a podcast, and a talk on Trans Romans for an actual university Classics department.

New Salon Futura

Here’s a quick reminder that the January issue of Salon Futura went live last weekend. The books reviewed were as follows:

  • Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
  • The Four Profound Weaves by RB Lemberg
  • Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender
  • Seven of Infinities by Aliette de Bodard
  • Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

There’s also a bunch of TV reviews:

  • Agents of SHIELD – Season 7
  • Star Trek: Discovery – Season 3
  • His Dark Materials – Season 2
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks – Season 1

Tomorrow in Leeds #LGBTHM21

Tomorrow I get to be part of a fabulous day of LGBT+ History being put on by Leeds Art Gallery. I’ll be doing a talk on Michael Dillon, focusing mainly on what was different about gender transition in the 1940s. There’s plenty of other great material as well. I’m particularly looking forward to the talk on Queer Nature. If you want to come along, registration is free and apparently still open. See here.

And for those of you on the far side of the Atlantic, my talk is at 3:00pm, which is Noon on the East Coast and 9:00am on the West.

Thank You, Osman #LGBTHM21


Well, that got LGBTHM off with a bang. The presentation this evening, by Osman of Hidayah, went really well. I learned a lot, and the audience did too. Plus we got some Rumi poetry, which is always worth having.

If the person who asked the question about The 1001 Nights is reading this, here’s some useful background. There are some great queer stories in the Nights, especially those featuring Abu Nuwas (who was a real person).

Next up for me, a day in Leeds. More about that tomorrow.

Hidayah Tomorrow #LGBTHM21


The first part of our Bristol LGBT+ History Month festival is tomorrow. Osman, an outreach officer from the queer Muslim charity, Hidayah, will be talking to us about “Muslim views on queer relationships over time”. I’ve just seen a trial run-through of this, and there was lots that was new to me. It should be a great evening.

Booking is free, so if you’d like to join us, please register here.

I also spent part of the afternoon recording something with Dan Vo. It involved movies and Greek mythology and queerness and you’ll be able to watch it soon.

The List is Live

It being February, the Locus Recommended Reading List has been published. As usual, I had a part in selecting which long-form works appear on it. Also as usual, I am only one of a large number of people involved, so I am not solely to blame for anything you don’t like about it.

On the other hand if there are things that you think are missing, I’d be happy to hear from you. Liza guested on Coode Street the other day and they had an interesting conversation about known biases of the List. I think that things like the Nth volume on an ongoing series are always going to be at a disadvantage, because reviewers tend to shy away from such things. Getting people to notice books that are not easily available in the USA is also hard. But hopefully the list is getting more diverse.

LGBT History Month – Part 4

February is here, and there are more talks I can tell you about.

On Thursday, February 11th at 5:00pm I will be part of an event titled, “What’s next for Queer Britain?” This is a seminar put on by the Law Department at Bristol University. I will be on a panel with the renowned civil rights lawyer, Jonathan Cooper OBE, and with two of the university staff, Dr Sandra Duffy, and Dr Peter Dunne (who helped write the Irish gender recognition act).

On Monday, February 15th at 5:00pm I will be talking about “Byron and the Lion King” on behalf of Christ’s College, Cambridge. This is my talk about Byron, Ashurbanipal and the strange story of Sardanapalus, Last King of Assyria. I did this a couple of times last year, but to very small audiences and Cambridge have given me more time so there will be new stuff.

On Thursday, February 25th at 7:00pm I will be part of an event being staged by Bristol Libraries. I will be interviewing Frank Wynne, who is the editor of Queer: LGBTQ Writing from Ancient Times to Yesterday. This is a great book. It has Homer, it has Sappho, and it has Catullus (translated by Roz Kaveney). It has Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Anne Lister. And it has modern writers including Lawrence Schimel and Juno Dawson. I’m looking forward to dipping into it and chatting to Frank.

All of these events are online and free, but you do need to register.

Twitter followers will have seen news of an event in Aberystwyth too, but I don’t have booking details for that yet. There’s at least one more public event to come, which is right near the end of the month. I’m also doing two talks for corporate clients, which are invitation only.

It is going to be a tiring month, but I am getting as much done as I can because I expect it won’t be long before doing this sort of public event, at least through councils, universities, etc., is banned. If you don’t know what Section 28 was, here’s a reminder.

Attention, Feedburner Users

Back in the day, Feedburner was a useful way for people to stay up to date with blogs. That was before Google effectivly killed off RSS. But it isn’t gone. Websites still pump out feeds, and slowly the infrastructure around them is returning.

Meanwhile the WordPress plugins that used to enable people to subscribe to FeedBurner have all gone. I have a dead plugin that I need to get rid of as it might be a security risk. But I have some 30 people still apparently subscribed to this blog via Feedburner. If you are still out there (and not just dead email addresses), I don’t want to lose you.

What I have done is sign up to a new RSS service called Follow.It. You can subscribe to my feed there. It looks to be somewhat more flexible that FeedBurner, which is nice. But I now need to close the Feedburner account for this site. I’d like to make sure I don’t lose the existing subscribers. I have all of your emails so I can transfer you over. If one of those people is you, please get in touch so I can check that the transfer has gone OK.

Coronavirus – Day #306

Greetings once more from Plague Island. I am pleased to report that Lockdown is definitely having an effect now. All of the major indicators are dropping. The national case rate is only 273/100k, and locally we are down to 137. Parts of Bath are being marked clear.

Of course this is normally the point at which Bozo announces that, thanks to his super-manly chromosomes (XYYY or something, I guess), he has personally defeated the virus and we must all go back to school, work, restaurants, pubs and so on. He’s never learned from any of his failures in life before, so I don’t suppose he will have learned from the “Saving Christmas” disaster.

Glasgow Does D&D

The lovely people at the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at Glasgow University, in collaboration with the univeristy’s Games Lab, have run an online event about the origins and history of Dungeons and Dragons. It was fun, and really heartwarming to see so many young people who love RPGs watching the event. As history, however, it could have been better. That’s one of the things about having been there when it happened. You remember stuff.

John D Rateliff, who was the principal speaker, used to work for TSR, and for the company we tend to refer to as Wizards of the Cost, so he knows his stuff. But he didn’t start playing D&D until 1980 so he missed a lot of the frenzy of development in the early years. Heck, Runequest was two years old by then.

Rateliff did mention a book by Jon Peterson, The Elusive Shift, which chronicles the early history of the hobby with some reference to fanzines. A quick scan through shows that the fanzines referenced were mostly American (many of them from Bruce Pelz’s collection), but I did see a few names that I recognised. Peterson does mention postal Diplomacy quite a lot, and En Garde!, all of which is very familiar.

When it comes down to it, there are basically only two main debates about RPGs. The first one is about whether the game should be set in a closed world (e.g. a game based on Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or on the Arthurian legends), or in an open one where GMs are free to create their own world. D&D started off open-ended, went through a phase where the owners were trying to lock people in, and has now apparently gone back to being open-ended again. Given that Tékumel is older than D&D, you can argue that this debate has been raging from the start. I was pleased to see Rateliff cite flexibility as D&D‘s key selling point. Back in the 1970s we all used say that we played “D&D“, even though most of us had tossed those first edition rulebooks and made up our own rules.

The other main debate, which has absolutely been with us from the start, is the narrative v rules debate. Those on the narrative side see the game as what we used to called Improvised Freeform Theatre (a term I think Paul Mason may have coined), and the rule-players see it as a form of wargame where knowledge of the rules is crucial to success. I’m delighted to see that the young gamers at the event were pretty much all on the narrative side. Maybe that’s because all of the rules-players have gone off to do Warhammer.

Rateliff, who is a highly-respected fantasy fiction scholar, was very solid on the fictional roots of the game. He seemed to know a bit less about the wargaming side. I was a bit surprised to see no mention of Tony Bath’s legendary Hyboria campaign. But the two elements have always been side-by-side. I bought my first D&D set thanks to an ad in one of my father’s copies of Minature Wargames. I played my first game thanks to friends who had discovered it through the Tolkien Society at St. Andrews.

With all this academic interest in roleplaying, I hope that someone will one day write a history of the early days of the hobby in the UK. Most of us are still alive. They could interview Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone, Marc Gasgoine and so on, and a lot of us hobbyists.

In the meantime, you can watch tonight’s show below:

LGBT History Month – Part 3


On Saturday, Feb. 6th I will be speaking as part of a day of queer history talks curated by Leeds Art Gallery. I’ll be talking about Michael Dillon again (well he is one of the icons of this year’s LGBT History Month), and I will do my best to make this different to the talk at M Shed on the 10th.

There are lots of great talks on the day, and attendance is free. You can register to attend here.

Coronavirus – Day #301

Here in Plague Island we have passed the milestone of 100,000 deaths. Bozo says that he is terribly sorry, but he’s done everything he can so it can’t be his fault. His loyal newspapers are saying that it is entirely our own fault that we are dying because we are too fat.

In other news, a new anti-trans organisation has been founded here. It’s stated objectives are to obtain the repeal of the Gender Recognition Act and to “eliminate transgenderism”. They have immediately received enthusiastic support from all of the usual suspects. I’m looking forward to seeing film of one of their rallies. I will be very disappointed if they don’t all chant, “ELIMINATE! ELIMINATE!!!” in silly voices. At least that will give them a good excuse to be on the BBC.