HFRN 2022 – Call for Papers

The Historical Fictions Research Network (of which I am a Trustee) has elected to hold their 2022 conference entirely online. The situation with the pandemic is too confused for us to be able to make any other plans.

Of course the great thing about being online is that we can get papers from all over the world. As with this year, we are aiming to schedule timeslots that will allow everyone from New Zealand to California to particpate.

The dates of the conference will be February 19-20.

Our keynote speakers will be:

  • The George Padmore Institute: An archive, educational resource and research centre housing materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe.
  • Amy Tooth Murphy: A Trustee of the Oral History Society and a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the blog Notches: (re)marks on the history of sexuality. Dr. Murphy will be talking about her project on the oral history of the Butch Community.

The Conference Registration Fee for this year is £75 for regulars and £40 for concessions (PhD students, low-income). Tickets are available here.

Paper proposals are due 1st September 2021: they should consist of a title, and up to 250 words abstract. The decisions on acceptance would be communicated by 1st November 2021. All papers will be delivered live and we will schedule across time-zones.

The theme of the 7th annual conference of the Historical Fictions Research Network is “Communities” and spans a wide array of topics across the disciplines of Archaeology, Architecture, Literature, Art History, Cartography, Geography, History, Memory Studies, Musicology, Reception Studies, Linguistics, Cultural Studies, Museum Studies, Media Studies, Politics, Re-enactment, Larping, Gaming, Transformative Works, Gender, Race, Queer studies.

For the 2022 conference, HFRN seeks to engage in scholarly discussions and deliberations on how communities construct their own pasts; how different versions of the past are used to create – or question – a national memory and identity; how communities challenge the narratives that have been foisted upon them or are used to oppress and discriminate; how communities challenge their own consensual understandings of their past; or how a re-evaluation of the past and past events may change a communities’ self-image. We welcome paper proposals across historical periods, with ambitious, high-quality, interdisciplinary approaches and new methodologies that will support research into larger trends, and which will lead to more theoretically informed understandings of the mode across historical periods, cultures, and languages.

The conference will prioritize (but will not be necessarily limited to) the following thematic strands:

  • Past, Present and the community writing
  • Literature, Language, and community building
  • Historical Fiction, Gaming and Community
  • Gender Writings, Health and Community
  • Textual retellings, revisions, and Community construction
  • COVID, Community and resilience
  • Queer Space and community development
  • Social Media and digital communities
  • Web series, Film adaptation and community
  • Memory, community, and identity
  • Ecological writings and community
  • Community, worldbuilding and historical imagination
  • Cultural histories of communities
  • War, Migration, and community restoration
  • National memories and identities

Each presentation will be of 20 minutes followed by an interaction session.

To register your interest in presenting a paper, please fill in this form.

Visit our website for more details and regular updates. You can also email us.

Coronavirus – Day #466

It is a time for experiment here on Plague Island. For the few weeks we have been running an experiment involving huge crowds at sporting events, and large numbers of people getting very drunk and running around the streets. That is set to continue throughout the summer, though probably with not quite the same level of drunkeness and violence now that the football is over.

As of this time next week, pretty much all COVID restrictions in England will be removed. We are apparently still encouraged to wear masks in high risk locations such as on public transport, but it won’t be mandatory and the government is crowing about it being “Freedom Day” so lots of people will doubtless stop doing it.

In view of this you will doubtless expect that the pandemic is well under control here and all of the danger indicators are at very low levels. You would be exactly wrong.

Today we had almost 34,500 new cases of COVID and are now over 300 cases per 100,000 people. The rate is rising fast. Hospitalisations are now shooting up, with over 550 today. Deaths are still quite low — only 6 today — but everything will ramp up as the restrictions come off. The good news is that last time we had this many infections the death rate was over 600/day. Clearly the vaccines are having a major effect on the lethality of the disease. But government scientists are apparently predicting we could get up to as many as 200 deaths per day in the near future.

Bozo is telling us that this is a risk we must take for the good of the economy. It is very much a case of, “You people must die so that my share prices can remain high.”

Technically I still have in-person conventions planned for September and October, and I’d still love to get to Canada for World Fantasy in November. I have no idea what will happen with any of them, though I suspect that the Canada trip will be the least likely because other countries will not want people from the UK visiting them.

For comparison, the UK had the second highest number of COVID cases of any country in the world today. Only Indonesia had more. I believe that we have more cases per day than the rest of Europe combined. I would love to be heading to Rome this week to enjoy Eurocon and to congratulate my Italian friends on their victory in the football, but that isn’t going to be possible.

New From Luna Press

The lovely people at Luna Press Publishing have a new non-fiction collection on the way. This one is titled Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction. I have an essay in it. As you can probably guess, it is about queer animals. You can read a bit about it here.

Obviously there will be many other essays in the book, all of them covering different aspects of worldbuilding, and doubtless most of them better than mine (if perhaps less funny). There are posts about some of them on the Luna Press blog, and more will be coming in due course.

Coronavirus – Day #455

Now that the third wave is well underway here we have some interesting data. The daily infection rate is now over 27,000, which is where we were in mid-December last year. However, at that time we were seeing a death rate of over 400 per day. Yesterday’s death count was 22. Equally in mid-December the hospitalisation rate was just short of 2000/day. Currently it is under 300.

Obviously I’m not an epidemiologist, so my analysis of this data should probably be taken with a very big pinch of salt. But what I think I am seeing is that the pandemic is once again raging out of control, but amongst a population that is far more resistant to its effects. Vaccines work.

Is that a good thing? I guess that depends. It should mean that more people can feel safe going to work, going to entertainment venues and so on. But it will also mean that there will be less concern about biosecurity, and therefore those at risk will be more likely to get sick when they are less able to fight it off.

Anyway, it doesn’t make much difference to me. I’m old. My lungs are distinctly dodgy. And I’m highly likely to be discriminated against in a healthcare setting. I’m taking no risks.

Coronavirus – Day #439

Well, here we go again. To very few people’s surprise, the current levels of Lockdown restrictions in the UK are being extended, rather than being eased next Monday as was originally planned. Why? Because infection rates are soaring, as they have been for around 3 weeks now. The current restrictions haven’t slowed that, so there is no reason to think that simply extending them will have any effect. Things will have to get substantially worse before the government will admit that there is a problem.

I must admit that I was a little nervous about going to Clevedon on Saturday, but I also knew that it was likely to be my only chance of any sort of break. Also I am fully vaccinated which ought to count for something. But from now on it is back into security mode.

That means definitely no Eurocon for me. Probably no Bristol Pride, which is currently scheduled for July 10th. Further out on the planning horizon I have FantasyCon in September, BristolCon in October, and World Fantasy in November. I’m much less hopeful for all of those now, but at least come August we’ll have a better idea of what this current wave looks like.

In the meantime, if you haven’t booked up for my trans Romans talk on Thursday, there is still time to do so. Remember that you don’t have to listen live, you have a whole week to watch it on replay. Tickets available here.

Clevedon Tomorrow

This is a reminder that Juliet McKenna and I will be in Clevedon tomorrow for their literary festival. Juliet is appearing on the Fantasy Fringe panel at 3:30pm, but the lovely people from Books on the Hill, who are organising that event, have a stall there all day, so I’ll be going over early to give them some books to sell.

Mind you, given that Clevedon is a seaside town, and the weather is forecast to be excellent, I might not be at the venue all day. A little bit of breathing in of sea air might be necessary.

At the Movies with Lana & Lily

Recently I was honoured to be asked to make a guest appearance on the podcast, Women Make SF. It is a series about women in science fiction movies, which isn’t normally my bag, but in this case the subject was the Wachowski sisters so I did have things worth saying. Also Amy and Kyle, the hosts of the podcast, are huge fans of Jupiter Ascending, so we got off on the right foot immediately.

It was a lot of fun to record, and the episode is now live. You can listen to it below:

Time and the Romans

My HistFest talk on transgender Romans is coming up next week. Many of you have already booked up for it, which is lovely, but inevitably a few of you have had issues with the timing. Well I have good news for you: it doesn’t matter. Sure, if you can’t be there on the night, you will miss the live Q&A. But you know where to find me, right? Other than that, if you buy a ticket, you will get a link that you can use any time in the next 7 days, because the HistFest people are lovely like that. So if you were planning to go to the pub, have a D&D night that you can’t cancel, or live in Australia and can’t be up in the middle of the night, it is OK. You can catch up on replay.

Tickets available here.

By the way, I’m not hassling you on my behalf. I get a fixed fee regardless of the audience size. But if we can get a really big attendance for this then HistFest will see value in doing other trans-related talks. And that will be a good thing.

Coronavirus – Day #426

It has been a while since I did one of these, but I had my second vaccination today and I figured that was worth marking. For the record, I’m fine, other than being very tired, which may be a result of it being warm and muggy today rather than the virus.

Other than that, life on Plague Island is pretty much as usual. Not content with trying to be responsible for more deaths than Winston Churchill, Bozo is also trying to have more wives than Henry VIII. Here in the South West we are currently in a mostly COVID free phase, but elsewhere the new Delta Variant is running amok with the result that national infection rates have been rising for several days now. Those with long memories will remember that Bozo delayed imposing travel restrictions from India for many days because he was planning a visit to that country, and that’s the main reason why we are heading into a new wave of infections.

The big difference this time is that our vaccination rate is pretty good. As of today, almost 75% of the country has had one dose, and almost 50% has had both. It will be interesting to see what difference that makes to the spread of infection.

Anyway, we have sunshine, which is good. Also I still have plenty of work and don’t need to go anywhere. And if I have got through 400+ days of this I’m sure I can do a few hundred more if need be.

UK, What Are You Thinking?


No, this is not a post about the Cummings and Goings in Westminster. This is about book. That lovely cover is for Tate Hallaway’s fabulous Unjust Cause. It is selling like the proverbial hot cakes in the USA — well over 100 copies a month at full price. And it has the magic 50 reviews so it should be nice and visible. In the UK it has been priced at around £2 all month. Nothing to do with me, it is an Amazon thing that they didn’t tell me about. And yet, in 26 days of it being on sale, not one UK customer has bought a copy!

People, what are you thinking? This is a great fun book about a girl coroner and her dragon boyfriend, with a very serious punch to the ending. I know it is book #2, but you don’t need to have read Precinct 13 to enjoy this one. Get out there and snap it up while it is cheap.

Non-Binary Translated Fantasy

I have just backed a Kickstarter for a book called Alia Terra by Ava Kelly. It is a short book of fantasy stories, based on Romanian folk tales, about non-binary people, by a non-binary writer, that will be in both Romanian and in English translation. The money is being raised primarily for the illustrations, which will be by an American-Romanian trans artist, Matthew Spencer. The project is being put together by the lovely people at Atthis Arts.

You can get the ebook for $7. That has to be worth doing, right? Pledge here.

Target Achieved #My125Miles

Well that’s a relief. My fundraiser for One25 hit the target today. Thanks so much to all of the lovely people who pledged. Of course I still have to finish the distance. I have 25.77 miles to go, and 7 days in which to do it. If it would just stop bloody raining…

By the way, you can still pledge. There are no stretch goals, but there’s nothing wrong with raising more money than I’d hoped. I’m sure that One25 can find uses for the money.

Green Man Sale Final Week


If there are any of you, and I confess I’ll be a bit disappointed if there are, who do not yet have the full set of Juliet McKenna Green Man books, you have just one week left to pick them up cheap. Amazon has The Green Man’s Foe at 99p in the UK and Europe. We’ve reduced prices elsewhere, and on the other two books, though ebooks only I’m afraid. But you do need to buy before June. After that it is all back to full price.

On the Big Stage


Today it was announced that I will be doing a talk for HistFest (June 17th, 7:30pm UK time, booking details here). This is huge.

No, seriously. The sort of people who get on that platform are TV historians, eminent professors, or people with books coming out. Often they are all three. Recent events have featured Michael Wood, Alice Roberts, Olivette Otele, Sir Michael Palin, David Olusoga and Janina Ramirez. And they want me to talk about trans people. It feels kind of like being a finalist for the Best Novel Hugo without having actually written a book. I am so grateful to Rebecca Rideal for asking me to do this, and of course to all of the professional Classicists and Assyriologists who have helped me get the skills to make this possible.

Now all I have to do is perform, and thanks to years of experience with LGBT+ History Month I know I can do that. What I’m hoping some of you will do is buy a ticket. I want this to sell out, not for me, but to show people that LGBT+ history has a market.

By the way, if you saw my talk at the University of Durham in February, this will be mostly the same material, but made a bit more accessible for a more general audience. However, there will be some new stuff about trans men in this talk.

WiFi SciFi Returns


In theory today is Hug Day in the UK, the day when we are finally allowed to hug other people. In practice, of course, COVID restrictions have been getting gradually looser for some time, and both the infection rate and death rate are now on an upward curve. Everyone is hoping that that the vaccination programme will mean that things don’t get out of hand again.

In the meantime, virtual events continue to be staged, and that includes a return for our very own WiFi SciFi. What’s more, we are full-on international now, with a whole bunch of guests from across the Atlantic. It should be fun. It will be on May 29th at 5:00pm, UK time. And it is free. Welcome, one and all. Full details of all the fabulous guests (and me) are available here.

Half Way #My125Miles

Well, this is proving challenging. Every morning I wake up wondering if I will have got fit enough that my calves won’t ache, and every morning I am disappointed.

That’s not the hard bit, though. It is the bloody rain that is the problem. Cats hate getting their fur wet, but finding time to go for a walk when it isn’t raining is proving challenging. That’s the main reason why I am barely up with the required rate of 4 miles per day. But up with it I am. I’m at 55% of the distance, in 55% of the time. Here’s hoping the weather doesn’t get any worse for the rest of May.

The fundraising is going a little better, being at 65% of target, but it is going very much in fits and starts. There’s a lot happening right now, and if you are deciding to spend your money on helping people in India, or Palestine, or Colombia, or any one of many other deserving causes, that’s entirely understandable. But if you can spare a few quid/bucks/whatever for One25 I would be very grateful, and so would the unfortunate women that they exist to help.

I’m told that the team has raised a total of £2,243, which is great news. I have been stuck on £226 for a while. I’m hoping to get to £350, so that’s only £124 more. If 25 of you could give just £5 each I’d be there. Here’s the link to donate.

Guy Kay’s Tolkien Lecture

I have just been listening to Guy Gavriel Kay give this year’s JRR Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature. It was, as with every lecture that Guy gives, very amusing, and well worth listening to.

The topic that Guy settled on for the evening was that of how much light an author should shed upon the workings of magic in their books. Guy, of course, is famously reticent in such matters and, while he defends the right of others to write as they wish, he nevertheless wishes to advocate for his own approach. He loves to leave things to the imagination, to make, as he said, his books a dialogue with the reader, and not just a monologue by the author.

The entire lecture is available to watch on repeat on YouTube. Here it is.

Personally I am a big fan of ambiguity. One of the examples Guy used is probably my favourite scene from any of his books, that alarming encouter with a force beyond the ken of mortal men on a country road in Sailing for Sarantium.

I also like ambiguous endings, and to show that they have a place in fiction, and perhaps as a gift to Guy if I might be so bold, here is an example. It is taken, not from modern fantasy fiction, but from the work of the 16th Century playwright, John Lyly, a man much beloved of the sort of gender-bending that Shakespeare would later use, much toned down, in his own comedies.

The plot of Gallathea tells of a village that has offended Neptune and, to avoid destruction, must offer up its fairest maiden every five years to the god of the sea. As the fateful day arrives, the fathers of the two most obvious candidates disguise their daughters as boys and send them off into the woods to hide.

Both girls, Gallathea and Phyllida, are very frightened, and nervous that their disguise might be insufficient. Both are therefore delighted to meet a handsome young man from whom, they hope, they can learn how to behave as a man should. Before long, both girls are deeply in love with each other.

Woods being woods, the gods are about. Diana is hunting, and Cupid is looking for mischief to make. Seeing what has happened with our heroines, Cupid decides to make Diana’s nymphs fall in love with the “boys” too. The nymphs, of course, are supposed to remain virgins, so Diana is furious, and she summons Venus to put things right. Eventually all is revealed, and even cruel Neptune is mollified.

There remains the question of our two lovers. “How like you this, Venus?” asks Neptune.

“I like well and allow it,” she replies, “they shall both be possessed of their wishes, for never shall it be said that Nature or Fortune shall overthrow Love.”

She does, however, offer to change one or other of the girls into a boy, that they might be married. The girls’ fathers immediately start arguing over who shall lose a daughter and who gain a son. Seeing a problem, Venus suggests that the girls need not decide until such time as they present themselves at a church door. Her solution is acceptable to all and there, save for the resolution of a subplot, and an epilogue about the need for ladies to surrender to love, our story ends.

Who becomes a boy? Is it Gallathea? Is it Phyllida? Or do they choose to both remain female and eschew the strictures of heteronormativity? We are not told, and nor should it matter. As Venus knows well, all that is important is that Love shall conquer all.

I should add that the play was first performed in front of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, on New Year’s Day, 1585. No one lost their head, and therefore we can perhaps infer that the Queen was as well pleased as Venus with the ending.

If you would like to know more about John Lyly and his amazingly queer writing, you can do so via this fine podcast.