Coronavirus – Day #24

Slowly but surely I am running out of urgent things to do. I might actually be able to enjoy some of that free time at home that everyone else is talking about soon. Of course there are plenty of non-urgent things, or at least slightly less-urgent things, to be doing. I’m not expecting to be bored any time soon.

Today marked the last of my near-future convention cancellations. Finncon 2020 is no more. However, the Finns have taken the decision to roll everything forward to next year. The 2020 convention has become the 2021 convention with the same location, guests and so on. There’s talk of some virtual events this summer, but I don’t suppose it would be very easy to have a virtual sauna.

This does mean that I won’t be visiting Finland at all this year, unless I make a special trip once the panic is all over. Maybe I should go in the winter. There are, after all, things to do.

The next physical trip that I have planned is to an academic convention in Germany in September. I’m keeping my paws crossed for that one.

I made a pot of chili in the slow cooker today. That will keep me fed for several days.

WiFi SciFi – First Impressions

Today I participated in my first online science fiction convention. It was a small thing, just two panels and a quiz, but you have to start somewhere. It went very well, all things considered. Of course not everything went according to plan, but the attendees weren’t expecting perfection because we all knew it was an experiment. One of the purposes of the experiment was to find out what worked and what didn’t, so that next time can be better.

Part of the success was definitely down to a great list of panelists that included Mike Carey, Dave Hutchinson, Aliette de Bodard, Gareth Powell and Tade Thompson. Part of it was also due to Anne Corlett and her team who, I understand, have been working hard in the past few days getting to grips with the Zoom software and discovering all of the advertised features that don’t actually work as advertised.

Another great part of the event was the international nature. We had people from the USA (including one Californian who was up at 7:00am), from Canada, from Finland and Croatia, apparently someone from India though I don’t know who that was, and one very keen Australian for whom the con was in the middle of the night. This gives me a lot of hope for Worldcon becoming truly international.

I will be catching up with Anne and her team over the next few days and talking through some of the issues that came up. There are certainly some things that can be improved with minor tweaks to the way things are run, and others that would be better if the software wasn’t so buggy. If anyone who attended it has feedback they want to pass on, do get in touch. The objective is to do a more in-depth review for the next Salon Futura.

The first panel was also streamed live on YouTube. You can watch it below.

I’m not sure what happened to panel 2, but I’m sad if it is not available as it was great (apart from Tade’s internet woes).

Coronavirus – Day #21

Wow, three weeks, doesn’t time fly?

I have been much more quiet on social media today as the insanity of yesterday has gone away. Juliet seems to have sold a good number of books, which is very welcome.

Instead today I have been doing interviews for next week’s radio show. The main focus of the show will be on mental health as I think we are all struggling a bit these days.

I also got the opportunity to watch some of HistFest: Lockdown, the online history festival that replaced the big event due to take place in London this weekend. My good friend Dan Vo was one of the presenters, and there were several other talks I found very interesting. The whole thing can be found online here.

By the way, if all goes according to plan then Dan and I will have some exciting news for you next week.

Tomorrow I get to attend my first ever virtual science fiction convention.

And finally, for those of you who have access to the BBC, this Mark Gatiss documentary about the great Aubrey Beardsley is well worth a watch.

The infection and death rates in the UK continue to accelerate. There were just short of 700 deaths reported today. For comparison, it appears that the number of people who die of the flu in the UK in an average winter is around 17,000. We only have 3,605 COVID-19 deaths in the UK at the moment, but the vast majority of those have occured in the last two weeks and things are getting worse.

A Virtual Convention, On Saturday

While I have been busy making books, one of our local writers has been busy making a convention. Anne Corlett has created WiFi SciFi, which will take place on Saturday afternoon over Zoom. It is only a small convention, but it has a great line-up. Gareth Powell, Mike Carey, Tade Thompson and Aliette de Bodard are all involved. And it is free to attend. For more details, go here.

March Salon Futura

The latest issue of Salon Futura went live last night. Here’s what you can find in it:

Reviews

Other Things

Conventions Go Virtual

The global pandemic is affecting a lot of the ways in which we live our lives, and science fiction conventions are no exception. Many events, including this year’s Eastercon, have been cancelled, but others are going virtual. On Sunday SFWA announced plans for their annual Nebula Conference to be an entirely online event. And yesterday CoNZealand said that Worldcon too would be a virtual event.

This is good for me. I’d been expecting to have to miss Worldcon this year because of visa issues. Now I can play a full part in it (assuming I can stay awake theough the night). It is also good for SFSFC. Kevin was due to chair next year’s Westercon, and had selected a site in Tonopah, Nevada which is dirt cheap but 200 miles from the nearest airport. We’d been planning a lot of online content for those people who couldn’t make it. Lots of people had derided the idea, but the pandemic has made things that were previously viewed as radical and impossible into things that are necessary and not as hard as people said.

First thoughts, of course, should be for Kelly, Norm and their team who have been working incredibly hard for 10 years on bringing Worldcon to New Zealand. I was there at the covention in Wellington in 2010 when the bid was first officially discussed. This will have been incredibly hard for them, and hugely disappointing. But in the long term I think this will be good for conventions, because it will open them up to lots of people who previously had no chance of attending.

I’ll have more to say about this in Salon Futura next week.

BSFA Awards News

As most of you will have heard by now, this year’s Eastercon has finally been cancelled. That must be a huge relief to the organisers who were potentially on the hook for the cost of the event if it hadn’t been possible for the hotel to claim on insurance for the cancellation. It is a risky business running a convention in the UK, because creating a corporate shield is much harder than it is in the USA.

However, this now raises the question of what happens with the BSFA Awards. Thankfully the folks at the BSFA are well on top of things. It is now possible to vote online, as long as you are a BSFA member or had an Eastercon membership. Full details here. Don’t forget to vote for Juliet. (What, biased, me?)

Coronavirus – Day #5

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about symptoms, I recommend this post over at the Long Now Foundation. It backs up what I said yesterday about us not really understaing the virus very well yet. The fast-and-stealthy scenario that suggests the virus is a) much more infectious, and b) much less deadly than we think does fit a lot of the facts.

In the meantime there’s some potentially good news from Japan about a possible treatment that will help people survive if they do get a bad case.

Today has been a day for more stuff being cancelled. Both Åcon (May) and Cymera (June) will no longer take place this year. There’s no word of a decision as yet on Finncon (July) or Worldcon (August).

The spectacularly malevolent British government continues its efforts to have the world’s worst response to the crisis. One of the major drivers of social inequality in this country is the move into buy-to-let by the wealthy. What this means is that even moderately rich people have one or more extra properties that they own and rent out. You can get a lot more income in rent than you have to pay out in a mortgage, even after paying a rental management company to do most of the work. A side effect of this is that it has become extremely difficult for young people to get a start on the property ladder. People who own rental properties will mostly have voted solidly for the Tories, and Johnson is paying them back by giving them protection while forcing renters to get into debt. It is straight up class warfare, not an attempt to manage the crisis.

Fortunately, though my work for The Diversity Trust has totally dried up, I still have plenty of work from my energy economics consultancy. I won’t have a problem paying the rent, and could even buy food if that was possible. (I don’t know, I haven’t been to Tesco since Friday, but my Twitter stream is full of photos of empty supermarket shelves and people complaining that they can’t get deliveries.)

Tesco, incidently, have just emailed to explain the various measures that they are taking to deal with the crisis. Good to see them taking steps to prevent panic buying.

And talking of work, there’s Wizard’s Tower to be taken care of as well. Which means that these little babies have arrived. I have sent a set off to Juliet for approval, so it won’t be long before they are available for sale.

And then the hardcovers. Honestly people, just wait until you see the hardcovers.

Coronavirus – Day #3

It was a beautiful day here today. After a couple of days staying at home I would have loved to go for a walk. However, isolation is isolation. Of course all I have is a cough, and some of you might think it would be OK for me to go out with a mask, but such things are hard to get here. Pharmacies didn’t routinely stock them to start with, and now you can’t get one anywhere. In any case, our health service doesn’t trust people to use masks correctly, or to remember not to touch people. Their advice is that if you have any symptoms at all then you should stay at home for at least 7 days. So that is what I am doing.

And today that stay-at-home period has been extended to 14 days.

All of which is causing people to wonder how long this is going to last. When I went shopping last Friday I figured I needed food up until the end of April. That now looks like an underestimate.

The big issue today, however, is the rest of the government’s idiotic announcement. Most countries around the world have been ordering big gatherings not to take place, and ordering venues to close. Heck the Irish government has ordered pubs to close, just a few days before St. Patrick’s Day. That’s a measure of how seriously they are taking the need to prevent infection. Here our government has just advised people not to attend large gatherings.

The key difference here is “advised” rather than “ordered”. If an event or venue is ordered to close by government then it can claim on insurance. If all that happens is that the punters don’t turn up because they have been advised not to go, then there is a problem. Right now all sorts of businesses around the UK, from theatres and concert halls, to pub and restaurants are facing ruin because their custom will plummet and there is nothing that they can do about it.

To bring it closer to home, consider a science fiction convention. Swecon, which I was due to attend, was cancelled on government orders. That means that they did not have to pay for the venue. CostumeCon 38 in Montreal was cancelled on government orders the day before it was due to start. Kevin, who is on the board on CanSMOF, had been quietly worring to me about it all last week. But the government intervention saved them from a financial disaster. In the UK I expect Eastercon to have almost no attendance. Hilton are fully refunding hotel bookings, but because the event hasn’t been banned they won’t refund the function space rental, because they can’t claim on their insurance. The convention may also be on the hook for failing to deliver enough hotel bookings, such targets normally being part of convention hotel contracts.

There are still a couple of weeks to go before the con, so it is possible that someone will step in and save them. But Bozo is way out of his depth, and Cummins, who pulls his strings, is actively malevolent, so I don’t expect anything to change.

Anyway, time to worry about how far into May I can last without leaving home. And sadly that probably means no Åcon for me. The rest of Europe may be coming out of the crisis by then, but I can’t see the UK doing so.

Convention Planning

I hadn’t been planning to attend Eastercon this year. However, with The Green Man’s Foe being up for a BSFA Award it seemed entirely appropriate that I should be there with copies to sell. You’ll therefore be able to find me in the Dealers’ Room. And if all goes well there will be something rather special Juliet-related available.

I warn you in advance that I will not be very awake. I will be fresh off a plane from Western Canada and in the middle of jet lag recovery. I may hide in my room quite a bit.

So that’s one extra convention on the calendar for this year. I also have one fewer. For complicated reasons I will be unable to attend Worldcon in Wellington. I am very disappointed about this as I have been looking forward to this particular Worldcon for 10 years, but my life gets complicated by things outside of my control. I would like to stress that this is not the fault of the ConZealand committee, who have been incrediably helpful, nor are the particular conditions affecting me likely to prevent anyone else from attending. Have fun in NZ, folks. I will miss you all.

Love Diana?

No, not the Goddess. Not even Diana Prince. I am, of course, talking about Diana Wynne Jones.

Last year an academic conference about Diana’s work was held in Bristol. My friends Farah Mendlesohn and Cathy Butler were the main movers behind the event. An ebook of papers from the conference has since been published. You can get a copy here.

If you buy it, you are buying direct from the publisher, i.e. the conference. Everyone who provided content and helped create the book has given their labour for free, so all of the money from sales goes back into the project. The plan is to use revenue from book sales to finance another conference. Just 25 copies of the £10 will generate enough income for a deposit on the venue.

It would be great if other academic conferences worked like that, instead of getting tied in to the scam of academic publishing.

Update: Farah tells me that some independent professionals were involved in creating the book, and were paid for their services, But I understand that those costs have now been covered. So all future revenue will go towards the next conference.

Historical Fiction at Bath Spa

I spent yesterday at Bath Spa University (the beautiful Newton Park campus) at a conference on writing historical fiction. This is a brief report on the event.

First up I should note that this conference differs from the Historical Fiction Research Network conferences in that it is primarily for students of creative writing, and for working writers. I think I was the only speaker presenting as an historian as opposed to a writer, literary critic or publishing industry expert. Both conferences have value in their own way.

I knew that it was going to be an interesting day right from the start when the opening speaker, Alan Bilton from Swansea University, started talking about postmodernism and whether we can ever know what really happened in the past. We largely managed to avoid going down any Alt-Right rabbit holes, but it did lead to someone asking about authenticity, own voices and so on. And straight down another rabbit hole we went.

When these discussions start (and particularly when they start on social media) they tend to devolve into an argument with people on one side saying that writers should be allowed to write whatever characters they want, and people on the other saying that only people with lived experience of certain types of characters should be allowed to write those characters.

Repeat after me, please: All binaries are false.

As it happens, I’m a big fan of own voices work. If I’m going to read a book set in, say, Mexico City, I would much rather read one written by someone who has lived there (e.g. Silvia Moreno Garcia) than by someone whose knowledge of the city comes entirely from Wikipedia. (And yes, that is another false binary.) But this isn’t the entirety of the disucssion. When it was my turn to get up to speak I made the point that if only trans people were allowed to write trans characters then only around 1% of fiction would contain trans characters, and this would be a bad thing because we desperately need positive portrayals of trans people in fiction right now.

One of the ways around this is to employ a sensitivity reader. Of course that term is a red rag to the more conservative end of the industry, but it shouldn’t be. There was a good example to hand, because Alan had been talking about his forthcoming novel which happens to be set in Russia. He mentioned that he’d relied heavily on a Russian-born colleague for advice. That’s using a sensitivity reader. Most science fiction readers would applaud an author who had worked with actual astronauts, or actual astrophysicists, to get scientific details right. That too is using a sensitivity reader. It is no different from asking for help to make sure that you get Polynesian culture, or non-binary identity, right in your book. Except that if you are asking for help from someone from a marginalised group for help you should probably be paying them, rather than offering a few beers or a favour in return.

My talk, by the way, was a slightly rushed and less interactive version of my workshop on writing queer characters from history. A few folks on Twitter expressed interest in it. I’d be very happy to run it at other events in the future.

The final session of the conference was an industry panel featuring literary agent, Kate Horden; novelist and publisher Lorna Gray; and the historical fiction reviewer for The Times, Antonia Senior. It turned out that Antonia is related by marriage to Amal El-Mohtar and can therefore talk knowledgeably about the difference between the SF&F and historical fiction communities. I found myself nodding along to pretty much everything she said because every book critic has the same issues with too many books and the foolishness of the publishing industry. She had also read and reviewed Shadows of Athens, which made me very happy.

Because the attendees of the conference were almost all women, there was some interest in questions of author identity, use of initials and so on. If anyone wants to follow up on that, I warmly recommend Juliet McKenna’s essay, “The Myth of Meritocracy”, in Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction, the British Fantasy Award Winning book from Luna Press. Juliet goes through the entire pipeline of the publishing and bookselling industry and shows, with data and references, how it is stacked in favour of straight, white men at every turn.

If it were up to me I’d make that essay required reading on all creative writing syllabi.

There were other great sessions as well. I enjoyed discussing theoretical approaches to writing historical fiction with Melissa Addy (I hope you enjoy Guy Gavriel Kay, Melissa). I was delighted to meet British-based Serbian writer, Senja Andrejevic-Bullock, who had really interesting things to say regarding writing about recent wars when you are from a people who are regarded as the bad guys. I learned a lot about women at sea from Sarah Tanburn, and about the hidden meanings in Pieter Bruegel’s paintings from Lisa Koning. I even met someone who has written feminist science fiction. Hello Lania Knight!

Huge thanks to Celia Brayfield and Bea Hitchman for organising the event. I understand that there are plans to run the conference again next year, and it will be at the University of Gloucester. I’ll let you know when I have more details.

October Salon Futura

In case you missed the announcements last week, the October issue of Salon Futura is now available. You can read it here.

I have a guest article this time — an update of Kevin’s legendary article on designing convention badges, because this is one con-running lesson that people never seem to learn. There’s also my report on FantasyCon, and an audio interview with Ellen Datlow. But as usual the main content is book reviews and in this issue we have:

  • The Warrior Moon by K Arsenault Rivera
  • FranKissStein by Jeanette Winterson
  • The Pleasant Profession of Robert A Heinlein by Farah Mendlesohn
  • Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield
  • Shadows of Athens by JM Alvey
  • David Mogo, Godhunter, by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
  • Brightfall by Jamie Lee Moyer

Steampunks in Space

I have email from the UK’s National Space Centre. Later this month (23rd/24th) they will be having a steampunk convention at their museum in Leicester. It looks like a pretty full on two days of events. Sadly I don’t have the time to arrange to go and sell books, but hopefully some of you will have the opportunity to attend. For more details, click here.

Well And Truly Launched


Photo by Donna Bond

BristolCon happened, and Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion II is now well and truly launched. Above you can see most of the crew posing at the launch event, and below there is a close up of the magnificent cake that the convention provided for us.

As is usual with conventions, not everything went entirely smoothly, but a great deal of frantic paddling ensured that it was almost all OK on the day. I will have more to say about the convention in the November issue of Salon Futura. For now all I really want to talk about is the fact that I sold 74 books on the day. I sold 50 at Worldcon, which was great, but 74 in one day at a much smaller convention is spectacular.

Of course I still want to sell more. Airship II won’t earn out just yet. I doubled everyone’s advances on the basis of how well the first book sold, and I’m pretty confident that there will be royalties eventually, but in the meantime you folks need to buy copies.

The book is in all of the major stores. You can find links here. Google will follow in due course. They are just a bit of a pain to deal with.

Paperback copies are available from Amazon, and from all good bookstores. Just quote the ISBN (978-1-908039-91-0) and ask them to order it. The hardcover isn’t available yet because Andy Bigwood is snowed under at work and hasn’t had time to do the cover for me, but we’ll get there eventually.

Bay Area people, I’ll be working with Kevin to get both this book and The Green Man’s Foe to you for next time he’s at BASFA. Look at for an email about orders on the BASFA mailing list. Or just get Borderlands to order it for you.

Australians, I know you are still sore about the rugby, but you can get Wizard’s Tower books in your country now, either from Amazon or from bookstores. We print in Australia so they only cost an arm, not an arm and a leg.

Why should you buy this one? Well there’s a whole load of reasons, but my favourite one is that we have three stories in it by trans women. Bogi, I’ll be sending you a copy to look over for the next Transcendent anthology.

FantasyCon – Days 2 & 3

I guess I have been busy. The Dealers’ Room was quite quiet, but I sold some books. Also my panels and workshop went well. I live-tweeted the awards. Juliet did not win, but my pals at Breaking the Glass Slipper and GV Anderson did, so I’m very happy.

I’d like to say a special hello to The Portal Bookshop who were in the Dealers’ Room here and will be opening for business in York next week. If you happen to be in or near York, please do give them some custom. Not only are they a specialist SF&F dealer, but they have a particular interest in books with queer and other marginalised characters. They are, as far as I know, the only bookstore in the UK that is currently willing to stock Wizard’s Tower books.

I will do a proper con report in the next Salon Futura.

Now I could do with some sleep.

FantasyCon – Day 1

Hello from Glasgow. I arrived here late yesterday afternoon and have done nothing much except socialise since I got here. The hotel is modern, comfortable and spacious. The restaurant is good and the bar is cheap. Programme, what programme?

Actually I did attend one item. The lovely people at Handheld Press are re-publishing Vonda McIntyre’s debut novel, The Exile Waiting. It is set in the same world as her Hugo-winning Dreamsnake. Well worth a look.

Off To FantasyCon

I will be spending the next few days at FantasyCon in Glasgow. The full schedule is available online here, but if you are just looking for me this is what I’m doing:

Saturday, 14:00 Panel Room 3 – Reviewing and Non-Fiction (with Rob Malan & Alasdair Stuart)

Saturday, 17:00 Panel Room 3 Panel Room 3 – Fantasy in Translation (with Ali Nouraei, Max Edwards & Tasha Shuri)

Sunday, 11:00 Panel Room 2 – Writing Queer Characters From History (a workshop, run by me)

Sunday 13:00 Waterhouse Room – British Fantasy Awards Banquet (cheering on Juliet)

The rest of the time I will either be a) at the Luna Press table in the Dealers’ Room or b) watching rugby, presumably in the bar. There will doubtless be some eating and sleeping as well. And showering because I am a good con-going-person.

Obviously I am very much hoping that Juliet wins the Rob Holdstock Award (for Best Fantasy Novel). But it is an incredible honour for a little press like mine to be a finalist so I really can’t complain if she doesn’t. It will be a great weekend regardless.

The BristolCon Programme is Live

The BristolCon programme went live today. There are things that I will be doing. Here they are.

Friday 20:00 Programme Room 1 Open Mic — I and a number of other authors will be doing 5 minute readings. Some of the readings will be from Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion II.

Saturday 12:00 Programme Room 2 Broader Horizons: Despite some sterling work in recent years, big commercial fantasy is still in thrall to the tropes of medieval Europe. How do we break out of that setting? (With Ian Millsted, Zoe Burgess-Foreman, Mark Lewis & Anna Stephens).

Saturday 14:00 Programme Room 1 Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion II Launch

Saturday 17:00 Programme Room 1 Opening the Door: The Panel share their experiences of discovering genre and the world beyond the everyday. A celebration of childhood imagination. (With Jo Hall, Steven Poore, Janet Edwards & Phil Gilvin).

At all other times you will be able to find me at the Wizard’s Tower stall in the Dealers’ Room.