Italy Part 4 – Veni, Vidi

It has been a very long day involving a lot of walking. The archaeological area devoted to ancient Rome, which includes the Forum, the Palatine Hill the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus, is vast. You need all day to see it properly. And that’s without starting on any of the museums. Rome, as the saying goes, cannot be seen in a day. I have done my best. There are pictures on Twitter, and there will be a whole lot more later. Right now, however, I am going to find the foot spray that I thoughtfully brought with me.

Italy Part 2 – The Venue

I have been to a fair few conferences in nice venues around the world, but I am pretty sure this is the most spectacular.

On Wednesday I tweeted that the landscape in Italy is very like parts of California, but with more sheep and castles. Something else I should have noted is that Californians mostly build on the flat because that’s easier for cars, but Italians, more particularly old-time Italians, build on the top of hills because that’s easy to defend.

Sometime in the 10th century, maybe earlier, a warlord build a castle on top of a hill in Bertinoro, a small town between Bolonga and San Marino. It continued to have a military role up until the 15th century, and at one point in 1302 Dante Alighieri found refuge there. From 1581 it became the palace of the local bishop, and it remained as such until 1969. In 1994 it was purchased by the University of Bologna and converted to a conference center.

Quite aside from being in a fabulous medieval building, the views are spectacular. On a clear day, which yesterday was, you can see the Adriatic and the Croatian coastline in the distance. My phone camera doesn’t have a good enough zoom to show the coast clearly, but look!

And here’s the room where I gave my paper today:

The residential area is in a former seminary just down the hill from the Palace. I confess that I am well out of breath by the time I have walked up the hill in the morning, but I am sure that the exercise is good for me.

Italy Part 1 – Train Adventures

Here I am in Italy. I am attending a conference called “Literature, Translation, and Mediation by and for children: Gender, Diversity, and Stereotype”. (That’s their title, don’t complain to me about the commas.) It is being put on by the University of Bologna at their country convention center in Bertinoro. More about the venue tomorrow, but first I need to talk about trains.

I suspect that a lot of Americans won’t believe this, but getting around Europe by train is really easy. I flew into Rome last night and stayed at an airport hotel. This morning I caught the Leonardo Express into Roma Termini. It is a half hour journey and costs €14.

Roma Termini is the main station in Rome where all of the inter-city trains stop. I caught a Frecciarossa service that runs from Napoli to Milano, calling at Roma and Bologna only. We even breezed through Firenze without stopping. It took just over 2 hours from Rome to Bologna, and cost under €30 for business class, including free cookies, water and espresso on board.

It should have taken just under 2 hours, but we were a bit late leaving Rome and there was some slow running through Firenze so I missed the local connection from Bologna to Forli. I had booked my tickets online in advance, and though I was able to read the timetables and find an alternative train I wasn’t sure if my ticket was valid. There are fewer people who speak English at Bologna station than Rome, but I got on the train and the conductor elected not to charge me any more. The cab driver at Forli spoke English.

So here I am, having a great time already, and having consumed a fair amount of fine local wine. I have discovered that dunking almond biscotti into sweet wine is a thing. I approve.

Bristol Festival of Literature, 2017


We are only a few days away now. Those of you in or near Bristol can find a full list of events here.

I won’t be at BristolCon this year as I’ll be in Italy at an academic conference, but I do have an event on Friday: “Stories of Strong Women – Unconventional Heroines”. I will be sharing the stage with Becky Walsh, Lucienne Boyce, Virginia Bergin and Jean Burnett. I expect to be talking quite a bit about Amazons, both fictional and historical.

There’s also a possibility that some of us will be on Radio Bristol on Monday. I’ll give you more info about that nearer the date. You never know with live radio.

Well Done B&NES


Yesterday I represented The Diversity Trust at a small celebration at Bath Guildhall to celebrate the fact that Bath & North East Somerset Council is once again #1 on the Stonewall Education Index. Huge thanks to Chair of the Council, Cherry Beath, for organising this, and special thanks to Kate Murphy for piloting the whole effort.

Given the level of hysteria being whipped up against trans people, and trans kids in particular, at the moment by the mainstream media, it is really encouraging to see a local council put so much effort into safeguarding trans kids (as well as LGB kids). Here are a couple of examples as to why this is important.

Firstly here’s a study showing that pressure to conform to gender stereotypes is causing mental health problems in young people the world over. That, of course, doesn’t just apply to trans kids, but the fanatical insistence on biological determinism by anti-trans campaigners doesn’t help.

And secondly here’s an academic paper showing that treating trans kids with love and respect, rather than forcing them into cruel “conversion therapy”, significantly improves their mental health. You wouldn’t think that needed saying, but the number of news articles and social media posts we have had recently accusing loving parents of trans kids of “child abuse” for failing to try to “cure” them is just horrific.

So well done, B&NES, and thank you! You are making a significant difference to the lives of local trans kids.

Podcast Workshop in Bristol

On Thursday October 12th my Ujima colleague, Miranda Rae, and I will be running a Podcasting for Beginners workshop at the BBC offices. Here’s Miranda’s blurb:

Want to launch your own Podcast but not sure where to start? Or perhaps you have already started one but would like to improve it or develop it further? If either applies, this is the workshop for you! Podcaster, producers and broadcasters Miranda Rae (Radio 4, Radio 5, Sony Award Winner, Galaxy Radio, Ujima Radio) and Cheryl Morgan (Publisher, Critic, Hugo Award Winner) will guide you through a three hour crash course that will leave you with all the confidence and know how you need to get going with your very own podcast!

YOU WILL LEARN:
What makes a great podcasting story
How to conduct a good interview
How to get your Podcast out there
Branding your Podcast
Basic technical skills (Recording/Editing)
Recording a Skype Call
What equipment and software need to produce a Podcast

That’s 6:30pm to 9:30pm on Thursday, 12th October. A bargain at £30 per head. There’s a Facebook event with booking details here.

Missing in Blogdom

Yeah, I know it has been very quiet here of late. When I got back from Worldcon I basically had to do a whole month’s worth of day job in two weeks. I really shouldn’t have taken a couple of days off to go to Hove for the cricket, because things have been a bit crazy since then. Of course it was glorious, so I don’t regret it, but it made the past week even more frantic than it needed to be. I took yesterday off, but today it is back at work again and the coming week looks like being equally busy.

Anyway, I’ll have a little bloggery today, and tomorrow I must do the post for last week’s Ujima show. Other stuff may or may not happen. I will at least be on social media a bit.

Still in Finland

As I had some suspicion of just how exhausting Worldcon would be I planned to spend a couple of days after the convention hanging out with my dear friend, Irma Hirsjärvi. This involved taking a trip up to Central Finland where the internet connectivity is not as world-beating as it is in Helsinki, so I am offline much of the time.

I am, however, getting to write. There will be a con report in due course. Nor have I forgotten about the Emerald City Best Dressed at the Hugos Award. I will do that post once I have been able to catch up with Paula again and get the rest of her photos.

In the meantime I continue to be absolutely mortified about the number of times during the convention that I mistook someone for someone else. Whether this was just tiredness or the signs of impending senility, I am not sure, but I’d like to apologize profusely once again for my rudeness.

I’m signing off now as apparently I have to go for a cruise on a lake this evening. It is a tough life, and I will probably get eaten to death by mosquitoes, but I am willing to make that sacrifice for you.

Tomorrow I will be spending a few hours in Tampere, the proposed site of the 2032 Worldcon. The convention center we plan to use has not been built yet, but work on the city’s brand new tram network is underway, and of course the new Moomin museum opened earlier this year. Guess where I will be going. Hopefully there will be photos on Twtter.

We Are Officially Received


Worldcon isn’t due to start until tomorrow, but this evening a bunch of us were invited to attend a civic reception at City Hall here in Helsinki. Obviously the city couldn’t fit all 6,000+ attending members in, so the convention ran a lottery weighted by contributions to programming. Kevin and I were both lucky enough to get in. There were also fans from Finland, Sweden, Ireland, France, Croatia, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, China and doubtless many other countries as well. It all looked very official (and incidentally gave some of us a great opportunity to check in with senior convention staff in a relaxed and informal fashion).

Of course it also made the forthcoming convention seem so much more welcome in the city. Comparisons were made with Winnipeg in 1994 as the last time a city had pushed the boat out for us in this sort of way.

The building now used as City Hall was originally built as an hotel in 1833. The style is Russian Imperial, Finland having been annexed by Alexander I in 1809.

After the reception a lot of people disappeared off to a karaoke bar. I got registered and went back to my hotel because I was very tired day looking around the city. My Fitbit says I did almost 25,000 steps today so I think I have earned a rest. What worries me is that the con hasn’t started yet. Ooops.

Em & Cheryl Do TV

Today, and Thursday and Friday, I am at the Creative Histories conference in Bristol. I’m there primarily to talk about steampunk, though I do hope to come back with some photos of animatronic dinosaurs that they have on display. Selfie with my head in a T-Rex’s mouth? I’ll see what I can do.

However, I will be taking a short break on Thursday evening because the amazingly talented Emma Newman and myself will be on Made in Bristol TV that evening. We’ll be on The Crunch some time between 7:00pm and 9:00pm. We will be talking about the Clarke Award, After Atlas, the Hugos, Tea & Jeopardy, and doubtless Doctor Who as well.

Don’t worry if you miss it, or are outside of the catchment area. The Made in Bristol folks are normally very good about letting guests have an MP4 of their segment, and I’ll stick it online once I have it.

My Worldcon Schedule

As I noted yesterday, the Worldcon draft program is now available. I have four panels as follows:

Thursday 17:00 Publishing Translation
With Liz Gorinsky, Gili Bar-Hillel & Didi Chanoch. I’m moderating.

Friday 11:00 Juried versis Voted Awards
With John-Henri Holmberg, Neil Williamson & Haijun Yao

Saturday 11:00 Gender and “Realistic” History
With Thomas Årnfelt, Gillan Polack, Jo Walton & Scott Lynch. I’m moderating.

Sunday 16:00 The Power of the Reviewer: Promoting and Hiding Diverse Voices
With Greg Hullender, Emma Humphries, Elizabeth Hand & Erin Roberts

Hopefully I will see some of you at one or more of those panels.

Now I need to look through the schedule in detail to see what else I want to attend.

Catch-Up

As people on social media may have noticed, I have been traveling a lot of late. To add to that, I had no wifi in my hotel room in Germany, so I was online a lot less than usual for a convention. Consequently catch-up is required. I owe you folks a post on the Eurocon, and I still owe you one about the British Museum’s LGBT History Trail. I’ll be at home for a few days, so hopefully I can get those done. In the meantime you’ll get some quick posts just so you don’t forget me entirely.

Historical Fiction at the Zoo

As a kid I was addicted to the Animal Magic show on children’s BBC, fronted by Johnny Morris. As the older readers among you may remember, it was set in Bristol Zoo. Little did I imagine that I would one day end up being on display in the zoo myself.

No, don’t worry, this is nothing to do with my having cat genes. Nor do I expect to be put in a cage. Rather I will be speaking at Creative Histories, a conference on the intersection of history and fiction. My paper is going to be on “Challenging Colonialism through Steampunk”. Also on the programme is my OutStories colleague, Andy Foyle, who will be talking about telling LGBT history through maps.

The conference is at the end of July (and I’ll be going straight from there down to Brighton for Trans Pride – yes, I know, I’m mad). I’m looking forward to it. If anyone has any recommendations for anti-colonialist steampunk besides Everfair, Buffalo Soldier and Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion, please let me know.

Mad Week

Yeah, I know, I have been quiet for a while. Things have been busy.

I left you folks on Wednesday last week after having done a radio show. On Thursday morning I did training for a bunch of PHSE teachers in Bristol, then got on a train for London.

I accidentally ran into Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer on Thursday evening, which was lovely, but my main purpose for being there was to spend Friday at the Stonewall offices being trained to do role model events at schools. It was a lot of fun, and I met some really great people, all of whom will be fabulous role models.

After the training I spent a couple of hours in the British Museum checking out their LGBT History exhibit. There is some good material in there, but it could be a lot better. When I get time I will do a proper post about it. Then I spent a whole lot of money in Forbidden Planet, as one does.

I was up early on Saturday and off down to Egham where I was speaking at a conference on Rethinking Gender at Royal Holloway. I got to meet Justin Bengry, the mastermind behind the Notches blog. People seemed entertained by my tales of queer Romans, even the Italians. Then it was back home.

On Sunday I was in Bristol for Borderless, a one-day event put on by the feminist cooperative, See It From Her, which exists to improve the ways that women and non-binary people are portrayed in the media. I got to chair a panel on Identity, which had some amazing participants.

It would have been nice to get home in time for the Canadian Grand Prix and collapse in front of that, but instead I got home rather later and fell asleep.

June is going to be like that a lot. I know, it is entirely my own fault.

Today on Ujima – Dinosaurs, Afrofuturism, Psychology & Feminism

It was radio day again today. I think I had a great bunch of guests on Women’s Outlook. Hopefully you do too.

We began with DB Redfern from the Bristol Museums Service telling us all about the fabulous new dinosaur exhibit they have open this summer. Actually it is not strictly a dinosaur thing, because the star attraction, Doris the Pliosaurus, was a sea dweller. She might have eaten dinosaurs, though. Anyway, she was a magnificent monster: as long as a bus with teeth the size of bananas. Doris would have eaten great white sharks as snacks. DB and I had a great discussion, covering important topics such as dinosaur poop and whether Nessie exists. Kids of all ages will love this one.

After the news I was joined by Zahra Ash-Harper and Edson Burton to discuss the Afrofuturism event, Afrometropolis, that I attended a couple of weeks ago. We had a great chat about what Aforfuturism, and an African-centered future, might mean. I got in a plug for Worldcon 75, Nalo and Karen. I do hope we get more events like this in Bristol.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

For the second hour I was joined my a new friend, Clare Mehta, who is a psychology professor from Boston. She’s doing some really interesting work on human ideas of gender and how they are affected by social settings. This all harks back to some of the things that Cordelia Fine was talking about in Testosterone Rex. Fascinatingly, your social environment, and the sort of things that you are doing, can affect your hormone levels. And yes, women do have testosterone in their bodies, and men have estrogen.

Also in that segment I had a pre-recorded interview with Nimco Ali that I did when she was in town doing a talk on the campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation. One of the things she talks about in the interview is having to leave Bristol because she was getting death threats. Ironically today on Twitter she was talking about getting death threats for standing as a Women’s Equality Party candidate. Hopefully once the election is over I can catch up with her again and talk about her experiences as a candidate.

To go with the interview I played the wonderful song, “My Clitoris”, produced by a local charity. I had to check the OfCom regulations carefully for that, but apparently it is perfectly OK to say “vagina” and “clitoris” on the radio. Thank goodness for that, because if we can’t talk openly about this stuff then we are never going to put an end to FGM.

My final guests were Byrony and Liza from See It From Her, a wonderful new group that exists to promote women and non-binary people in the media. They are putting on a one-day event called Borderless on Sunday, and it is sort of a Women’s Outlook co-production because both Yaz and I are on the programme chairing panels. Yaz is doing the one on racism, and I’m doing the one on identity. It is a free event, but you do need to book via Eventbrite so that they can keep an eye on the numbers. Even if you are not interested in what Yaz and I are doing, do come anyway because food is being provided by Kalpna’s Woolf’s amazing 91 Ways project. There’s lots of other stuff too. The full programme is on the Eventbrite page.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

The playlist for today’s show was as follows:

  • Whitney Houston – Love will save the day
  • George Clinton – Walk the Dinosaur
  • Janelle Monae – Dance Apocalyptic
  • Sun Ra – Blues at Midnight
  • Integrate – My Clitoris
  • Michael Jackson – Human Nature
  • Meet Your Feet – World Party
  • O Jays – Love Train

And because the video is so good (and we had to cut the song a little short) here is the You Tube version of “My Clitoris”.

In The Papers

The nice people at Bristol 24/7 have a new featuring up and running in which they interview interesting people who have a connection to the city. This week said “interesting” person is me. You can find the article here.

Obviously I’m very grateful to Caragh and the rest of the B24/7 for this. Caragh’s job at the paper is community outreach, so I’m expecting to be working a lot more with her in the coming months, both on LGBT issues and through Ujima. (For the benefit on non-Celtic readers, her name is pronounced “Kara”, like Supergirl.)

Normally I try to go easy on the egoboo stuff here, but I’d be grateful if the article got a lot of traffic because that will help make the case for B24/7 having more LGBT+ content.

A Trip Into The Past

Today I have been in Southampton. I was there because I needed a university library to do some research, and that’s the only one I can get into easily these days, due to being an alumnus.

So I spent a happy day browsing the stacks for books about Roman eunuchs, and duly found a number of them, which was very useful.

I also got to see how the place had changed in the 35 years or so since I was last there. Parts of it were still very familiar. The library, the student union and the chemistry building are still where they always were, but the bookshop has mysteriously migrated up onto Burgess Road near where the oceanography building used to be. There is also a lot of new build. This has had the effect of diluting the maritime theme of the campus, and I think removing a lot of green space. Still, time can’t stand still. It was good to see the place thriving (and to see a lot more women and non-white students than in my day).

While the day was very useful, it could have been so much better if it were not for the disaster that is academic publishing. No university library takes paper copies of journals these days. They are all online, and you pay for access per student and staff member. There are very strict controls over who can access them, even though they are all “in the library”. Even worse, they don’t seem to buy paper books any more. New books seem to be mostly held only in electronic form and on license. This makes it next to impossible for anyone who isn’t either a member of staff or a student to access anything in an academic library.

Fortunately I can get access to a lot of journals through J-STOR, though I often have to pay for them. Books are more difficult. These days new academic books go for between £80 and £100. I can’t afford that. I’d start to think seriously about Helen Marshall’s MA in science fiction because at least then I’d be a student, except I can’t afford £7k in tuition fees either (or the time to do the course).

Knowledge, we guards it jealously, my precious.

On TV Tonight

This week is Mental Heath Awareness Week in the UK. Because of this the nice folks at Bristol MIND have been asked to be on local TV to talk about their new trans+ helpline. The TV people wanted an actual trans person to talk to, and as I had done all of the training for the helpline volunteers I got asked.

I will be on the Crunch the Week show with Steve LeFevre from 7:00pm tonight, along with Liz Sorapure of Bristol MIND. We are apparently the first item on. Made in Bristol TV is available on cable throughout the South West so you don’t have to be living in Bristol to watch, though you do need something like Sky.

A Day at the Seaside


This afternoon Jo Hall had a signing at the delightful Books on the Hill store in Clevedon. Being a loyal publisher, I went along to support her. This also gave me a reason to visit Clevedon, a seaside town on the North Somerset coast just south of Bristol.

One reason for wanting to go is that the town is the birthplace of Jan Morris, a pioneering trans woman and brilliant writer. I don’t think there is a blue plaque or anything. Probably you can’t get one until you are dead. But Jan deserves one.

Clevedon is most famous, however, for its pier, which the poet, Sir John Betjeman, once described as the most beautiful in the world. As you’ll see from the picture above, it is a funny-looking old thing. It was built in Victorian times when steamships were still a common means of getting along and across the Severn Estuary. (If you look under all those clouds you can just make out Wales, and with better focus you’d be able to see Newport.)

Perhaps the oddest thing about the pier is its height. Why, you might think, is it perched so far above the water? Well, it isn’t. Clevedon has a maximum tidal range of 47 feet, second only to the Bay of Fundy in Canada. It ought to be a good place to build a tidal power installation, but George Osborne decided it would be better to borrow billions from the Chinese to pay the French to build a new nuclear station down the coast at Hinkley Point instead. Presumably Brexit will put an end to all that and the government will re-open some coal mines instead. Get all those Welsh people off benefits and back down the pits. That’ll teach them to vote Labour, eh?

Which reminds me, my colleague Yaz did a great show on Wednesday, and among here guests were some people from Coal Action talking about this campaign. Aberthaw power station directly affects the air quality in Bristol, so it is a matter of concern to us as well as to people in Glamorgan.