A Welsh Garden

One of the things you can’t miss if you drive around here is that the Welsh Botanical Gardens are nearby. The road signs are very prominent. Last weekend I got to pay them a visit, and was well impressed.

Those of you who know me will be aware that I am not a gardener. Plants tend to keel over and die if they so much as see me coming. But the Welsh Botanical Gardens are much more than that. They are located in the grounds of the former Middleton Hall (now demolished), a stately home built with proceeds from the East India Company. The Middleton brothers, who originally built the mansion, all died on voyages to and from India, and the estate was purchased by one William Paxton, who had made a ridiculous fortune from being Master of the Mint in Bengal. Thankfully the estate is now owned by the nation, and is doing its best to admit to its colonial legacy.

The point about building a Botanical Gardens on the site of a country estate is that you have ridiculous amounts of space. So yes, there are ornamental gardens. There are also tree collections. In the back of the picture you can seen the dome of the giant greenhouse that has plants from as far away as Australia and Chile. And there is still ridiculous amounts of space. There are lots of walks, many of them around the landscaped lakes and rivers that were built for the estate. Some of these are wooded, and are now inhabited by faeries and, recently arrived, a Gruffalo. Others are out in the open and have magnificent views over the Tywi Valley. There’s a bird of prey centre too. And a rock garden containing rocks from the many different geologies of Wales. A bunch of Presceli blue stones have been carved with Celtic symbols and set in a ring, as is right and proper.

I can see myself spending a lot of time at this place. That will be primarily for the walks and views, but also communing with raptors.

At the beginning of April they will have a food and craft festival. I am hoping for interesting cheeses.

Happy Equinox!

Our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are heading into winter today, but here in the Northern Hemisphere spring has sprung. Fertility goddesses everwhere are emerging from their underworld sojurns and brining new life to the world.

In Mesopotamia that means it is time for the Festival of Inanna/Ishtar (the two names are pronounced differently in Sumerian and Akkadian, but they use the same cuneiform signs). According to the Sumerian version of the legend, She has just been rescued from the underworld by a couple of gay boys who so impressed the Queen of the Dead with their singing and dancing that she offered to grant them any boon they asked for.

We have a contemporary source for the sort of thing that went on in Sumerian cities during the festival. Here it is.

The people of Sumer parade before you.
The young men comb their hair before you.
They decorate the napes of their necks with coloured scarfs.
The women adorn their right side with men’s clothing.
The men adorn their left side with women’s clothing.
The ascending kurgarra priests raise their swords before you.

If you are thinking that sounds a bit like a Pride parade, well, yes.

I’m wearing jeans. Back when I transitioned, the gender clinics used to class that as “dressing like a man” and therefore evidence of your lack of commitment to femininity. That will have to do for the cross-dressing.

If I had a working car, I would have driven up to my favourite butcher in Llandeilo and got some venison for a celebratory meal. However, the car is now with the car doctor and won’t be back for several days as the faulty part needs to be sent off to Fiat to be re-calibrated.

However, there is another festival day coming up soon. The Romans had so many gods that it was hard to fit all of the spring stuff onto the right days. Also, by Roman times, the connection between the goddess of sex and the goddess of queers had been severed so they needed two festivals. More on that later in the week.

Lammy Finalists

I’m trying to post here a bit more regularly. The announcement of this year’s Lammy finalists is a good excuse.

I’m absolutely delighted to see Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo on the list for LGBTQ+ Speculative Fiction. Spear isn’t there, but maybe it wasn’t submitted, or maybe Nicola thinks she has won enough Lammys.

I’m also delighted to see Wrath Goddess Sing, Maya Deane in the list for Transgender Fiction.

You may have seen both of those reported by Locus and other genre outlets, but what you may not have seen is that Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender, by my friend Kit Heyam, is a finalist in Transgender Nonfiction. I cite this book in many of the trans history talks I give now, because it provides an excellent framework for demolishing the nonsense “we can’t call them trans because trans people hadn’t been invented” excuse.

A full list of finalists is available here.

Regarding Eastercon

Eastercon is happening in a few weeks time, and I had a dealer table booked there. However, my car is currently sick and definitely not up to a lot of motorway driving. The fix isn’t huge, but it is time-consuming and I have no guarantee that I’ll have a fully working car come Easter.

I’ve looked into car rental, but I’d need it for at least 6 days and there’s no way I can justify the cost.

Also Eastercon has a long waiting list for dealer tables. Farah needed to know asap whether I would be using my booked place.

So I decided to hand back the booking and plan to travel to Birmingham by train.

That doesn’t mean I can’t sell books. It just limits the quantity I can take with me. A couple of people have kindly offered to help with book transport should I need it. And of course if I do get the car back in time I can take more.

So, if you want a book from Wizard’s Tower, and want to take advantage of convention pricing, I need to know in advance so I am mostly packing books that are actually going to sell.

To make things easy, I’m keeping the convention pricing very simple. Paperbacks are £10, hardcovers are £15; except for the bigger fantasy novels (the Tales of Einarinn series, the Aldabreshin Compass series, and The Tangled Lands), which are £12 and £18. I do expect to have copies of A Dark Way to Glory available, but they haven’t been delivered yet.

If you want books, please let me know, either here, by email or by social media. Contact email addresses for Wizard’s Tower are here. Pay me at the con. I will probably be spending some time at the Science Fiction Foundation table in the Dealers’ Room, and may be on panel.

Apologies for the inconvenience.

The Nebula Finalists

Award season is in full swing now. The announcement of the BSFA Award winners is only a few weeks away. Hugo and World Fantasy nominating is open. And last night SFWA announced the finalists for this year’s Nebula Awards. There are some fabulous books on the list, and a number I’m now looking forward to reading. I’m particularly pleased for my Trini pal, Rhonda Garcia, who has had a pretty rough time of life recently and very much deserves a bit of happiness. You can find the full lists here.

But that’s not why I am writing this post. In the most recent issue of Salon Futura I commented on Hugo eligibility and noted that the Locus Recommended Reading List was sadly literal when it came to category boundaries. I don’t blame Locus for that, because it has always been their policy. The Hugos allow more flexibility, and I’d hoped that the Nebulas would as well. However, they have Spear by Nicola Griffith listed in the Novel category.

From one point of view I’m delighted that Spear got onto the ballot despite having to compete with novels. But I still think it has been disadvantaged. Let me explain why.

The category boundaries do not, no matter what award-haters say, exist solely to increase the number of prizes given out. They exist to try to avoid voters having to compare appples with oranges. I’m not convinced about the distinction between short stories and novelettes, but short stories, novellas and novels are quite different things.

A good way to think about it is to compare it with car classes in motor racing. If you were to send Max Verstappen or Lewis Hamilton out in a Grand Prix in a Formula 2 car, they could come last. That’s because a Formula 2 car doesn’t have the same power as a Formula 1 car. It simply cannot drive as fast. In the same way, in fiction, if you are limited in the number of words you have, then you are limited in the complexity of the story you can tell.

From a reader’s point of view, the difference between a novella and a novel is that the former generally has a single point of view and single narrative strand. Novels are much more complex. To me, Spear reads very much like a novella, though Nicola has very cleverly relied on the fact that her readers will all be familiar with the Arthurian cannon to make the story seem much bigger than it is.

As far as awards are concerned, it is probably unreasonable to expect voters to distinguish between categories based on such distinctions. A word count limit is much simpler to understand. But word counts can and do result in works potentially being put into a catgeory that doesn’t suit them. Which is why the Hugos allow some flexibility. By Hugo rules, Spear could be categorised as a novella.

Sadly, with Spear now having been categorised as a novel by both Locus and SFWA, I suspect that Hugo voters will mostly consider it as such. And I suspect it will fail to make the final ballot because voters will see it as much less sophisticated than the many other fine works in that category. If they vote based on the quality of the writing (which I suspect SFWA members generally do) then there’s no question it should be a finalist, but Hugo voters tend to have a wider set of criteria on which they base their choices.

I’ve already got 12 books I’m trying to whittle down to five for my Novel nominations. I’m grumpy about having to add Spear to that list. But add it I will, because it is one of the best books of last year.

Ah well, at least next year we’ll have an honest-to-goodness Nicola Griffith novel to vote for. Menewood is coming, and you can now feast your eyes on the cover.

New Book, Contains Me

I am delighted to report that, following multiple adventures in the publishing business, a fine new book saw print today. It is titled, Imagining the Celtic Past in Modern Fantasy, and is part of the Perspectives in Fantasy series produced by the good folks at the University of Glasgow for Bloomsbury. This one is edited by Dimitra Fimi, who is a co-Director of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at Glasgow, and by Alistair Sims of Books on the Hill. Possibly foolishly, they agreed to accept an essay by me for inclusion in the book.

I say “possibly foolishly” because my essay has little to do with the Celtic Past. It is titled, “Celts in Spaaaaace!”, and it is about the very wonderful Keltiad books by Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. They are essentially space opera set in a far-future, Celtic-inspired civilisation, which naturally I love to pieces.

There are many other fine essays in the book as well. Topics include works by Alan Garner and Susanna Clarke. There is a full ToC on the publisher website.

This being an academic publication, it is ferociously expensive. However, I understand that an affordable paperback will be released in due course. In the meantime, you can always order a copy from your local library.

War With Scotland

Back when I was in school we learned all sorts of strange stuff in history. One of the things that caused much mirth in the class was the fact that there was a major war between Britain and Spain called The War of Jenkins’ Ear. It was a dispute over the American colonies. In 1731 a British ship called the Rebecca, captained by one Robert Jenkins, was boarded by Spanish coastguards off the coast of Florida (then Spanish territory). Captain Jenkins was accused of smuggling, and his left ear was cut off as a warning to other British sailors. Eight years later, Parliament used this incident as a pretext to declare a war that was fought mainly in the Caribbean.

Now we have something even sillier. The Westminster government has precipitated a major constiutional crisis over the issue of Scottish devolution, and their pretext for doing so is access to women’s toilets. Perhaps it will be called the War of Ladies’ Loos.

As you are probably aware, the Scottish parliament has passed a law simplifying the process of legal gender recognition in Scotland. What they have done is by no means unusual. Many countries around the world have already passed similar legislation. Ireland did it in 2015, and none of the terrible things that anti-trans camapigners have predicted for Scotland have come to pass there. But Westminster has chosen to make this issue one over which they will activate their nuclear option of a Section 35 Order. This is a part of the Scottish Devolution Act which allows Westminster to strike down any law passed by Holyrood if that law is deemed a signifcant danger to the Union (i.e., the political union of the component countries of the UK).

Yes, you read that right. The question as to where I am allowed to pee is so important as to pose a significant danger to the Union.

Westminister had earlier threated to simply refuse to recognise any Gender Recognition Certificates (GRCs) issued by Scotland under the new law. It was pointed out to them that they already recognise certificates issued by many foreign countries under similar legislation. Their reaction to this was to say that they would withdraw recognition of GRCs issued by any country whose procedures they deemed to be insufficiently rigorous. This would include Ireland, Belgium, Norway, Portugal, Iceland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia. Practically speaking it would also include Australia, Canada, Mexico and the USA, where such legislation is devolved to state legislatures and it may be difficult to discern from someone’s ID where their GRC was issued.

The fact that Australia, Canada, the USA and Mexico all have different regulations for legal gender recognition in different parts of their country, without any apparent difficulty, has apparently not yet penetrated the thick skulls in Westminster.

The justification for triggering Section 35 is also so flimsy as to be practically transparent. Westminster claims that the Scottish law will negatively impact the UK’s Equality Act by making it too easy for someone to obtain a GRC. However, the protections afforded to trans people under the Equality Act are independent of whether we have a GRC or not. You acquire the Protected Characteristic of Gender Transition simply by declaring publicly that you are undergoing such a process. That is, you aquire it by self-identification, in a manner much less robust than the Scottish law which requires a Statutory Declaration, with heavy penalties should you make such a declaration fraudulently.

It is also worth noting that the entire process of medical gender transition is predicated on self-identification. Once you have been accepted as a patient at a gender clinic you are required to begin living full-time in your desired gender. To facilitiate this the doctors will give you letters allowing you to change ID such as your driving licence and passport to match your new gender. A Gender Recognition Certificate only affects your birth certificate, which is explicitly not acceptable as a form of ID.

In other words, the whole thing is a storm in a teacup into which Westminster has been backed by the combined efforts of the right wing media, the religious right elements within the Conservative Party, and probably substantial donations from a certain wealthy author.

Interestingly, the Scottish law was backed by the Scottish Labour Party. The Welsh Government, which is a Labour government, has expressed support for the Scottish law. But the English Labour Party, or at least its leader, has expressed support for the Westminster line.

Goodness knows where this will end, but it appears that we are in for another year of Interesting Times in UK politics.

LGBT History Month is Approaching

At least for those of us on this side of the Atlantic. There is a rational explanation for why it is celebrated at different times of the year on different continents, but I’m not going to go into that now.

Anyway, because things are ramping up here, online talks that I am doing are starting to be advertised. The first three all went live today.

First up I am doing a talk about Le Chevalier d’Éon (or perhaps La Chevalière d’Éon, and there’s a whole discussion to be had about the correct French, let alone the correct gender) for Histfest. That’s on the evening of Feb. 24th. You can book for that one here.

Next up I am doing a talk about Aleksandr Aleksandrov for Bristol’s M-Shed Museum. I’m rather pleased to be able to do a talk about someone from Ukraine, even if he did fight for the Russians (against Napoleon). That’s on the evening of Feb. 21st, and you can book here.

Finally I will be hosting another talk for M-Shed. I’m very much looking forward to this, because it features the Queen of Girls with Swords, Claire Mead, talking about the utterly irrepresible Julie d’Aubigny. That’s on the evening of Feb. 15th, and you can book here.

The M Shed talks are both free. The HistFest one has a £5 price tag. I very much hope that lots of you will sign up for the HistFest one. It’s not much more than the price of a posh coffee, and getting a good audience means that high-profile history organisations such as HistFest will have the confidence to do more talks about queer history. It is great that Bristol City Council is prepared to sponsor the M-Shed talks, but for queer history to establish itself we must show that people are prepared to pay to learn about it.

Talking of HistFest, they have a weekend event coming at at the British Library in April. I’m not on programme, because I don’t have a TV show or a book coming out. But other, much more famous, historians will be there. I’m planning to be in the audience. Dates here, and the programme will be announced before the end of the month.

The Muppets do Lovecraft?

On Twitter today Adam Roberts did a brief Muppets pastiche of The Silmarilion. You can find it here. While Tolkien definitely needs the Muppet treatment, I think it would be far more fun for them to do Lovecraft. It practically writes itself. Fellow mere humans, I present, The Muppet Mythos:


  • Kermit the Frog as Robert Olmstead
  • Beaker as Herbert West
  • Gonzo as Randolph Carter
  • Sam the Eagle as the Chief Cultist
  • and presenting Miss Piggy as the Femme Fatal

Female Chorus
“It’s time to start the chanting
It’s time to speak the rites
It’s time to worship Dagon in old Innsmouth Town tonight”

Male Chorus
“It’s time to wear monks’s habits
It’s time to douse the lights
It’s time to do black magic in old Innsmouth Town tonight”

“Why do we always come here?”

“I guess we’ll never know”

“We always end up tortured”

“By beasts from down below”

They are dragged off by Deep Ones

“To introduce our guest star
That’s what I’m here to do
So it really makes me happy
To introduce to you…”

Cthulhu rises from R’lyeh.

Everyone runs away screaming.

Up on the Aqueduct

It being that time of year, my annual review post is up on the Aqueduct Press blog. It was a little late this year due to my being in Montréal for part of December, but I got there in the end. It went live on Christmas Eve, but I didn’t think there was any point in publicising it then. There are lots of other great contributions too. You can read mine here.

Happy Solstice

For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, days will start getting longer now. Please join me in welcoming back the sun. Those of you in the Southern Hemisphere have my commiserations.

As always, by card is sourced from by friend Dru Marland. This one is titled, “Fox at Avoncliff”. You can buy Dru’s art on a variety of items, from Etsy.

Squidmas is Coming

It is that time of year when I break out the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s delighfully bizarre versions of Christmas songs. As I don’t see why I should be the only one to make sanity rolls, I normally torment you folks with something suitably abhorrent. However, I’m feeling generous this year and I’m going to let you off. Instead, as I had the pleasure of hearing this live recently (in Bath Abbey no less!), I’m going to treat you to an actual Solstice song. Here’s Jethro Tull. Enjoy!

My Octocon Schedule

The lovely Irish people have been very kind to me this year. You can catch up on my interview with translator, Julia Meitov Hersey, and on the launch event for Juliet McKenna’s The Green Man’s Gift, via their Twitch stream. The convention itself is just a week away, and the programme for the weekend has been released. It is a hybrid event and I’m part of the online entertainment. Here’s what I will be doing.

Saturday, 15 October – 17:30

Found in Translation – There’s so much amazing SFF we would love to read but that wasn’t written in a language we know. Fortunately, translators can bring those stories to us by choosing just the right words to convey the nuances and flavour of the landscapes, characters, and dialogue of worlds beyond our experience. Our panel discusses the secrets behind the linguistic alchemy of translation. With Jean Bürlesk, Faranae (M) & Julia Meitov Hersey.

Sunday, 16 October – 10:00

Monarchy and Nepotism in Fact and Fiction – “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.” Divine right, heroic lineages, secret legacies and cronyism are all often used to explain why a character is important within a story, whether they – or the audience – know about their birthright or not. But considering we find it hard to tolerate these ideas in our own societies, what are the alternatives in fiction to the random lottery of inherited power, wealth and privilege? With Jean Bürlesk, Aliette de Bodard, Ian Moore & Gillian Polack. I am moderating.

Memberships, both virtual and in-person, are still available from the convention website. A virtual membership is only €20.

Introducing The Green Man’s Gift

It is that time of year again. A new Green Man book is nearing publication. Today we debuted the fablulous cover that Ben Baldwin has produced for The Green Man’s Gift. If all goes according to plan, ebook pre-orders will be open on Monday. The book is scheduled for publication on October 6th. If you want an eARC, let me know.

Octocon Presents (me)

I’m delighted to report that, on Tuesday September 20th, I will be participating in the Octocon Presents programme for 2022. This is a series of online events leading up this this year’s Irish National Science Fiction Convention. I will be talking to Julia Meitov Hersey, a translator who works with Russian language books. She is the translator for Ukrainian authors, Maryna and Serhiy Dyachenko, and the winner of last year’s Rosetta Award for SF&F translation. The show starts at 8:00pm Irish time which, miraculously giving how stupid my government is, is exactly the same as British time.

My FantasyCon Schedule

As promised, here’s what I will be up to at FantasyCon:

Saturday 17th, 11:00 – Angry Robot Room – Non-fiction Genre Writing – Reviews and Critiques (with John Dodd (m), Maura McHugh, Steven Poore, Kit Power)

Saturday 17th, 16:00 – Atlantis 1 – Writing in Collaboration (with Emily Inkpen (m), Gary Couzens, LR Lam)

Sunday 18th, 10:00 – Atlantis 2 – Writing Older Characters – What happens when the chosen one grows up (with Jen Williams, Gabriela Houston, Liz Willams, WP Wiles)

If you are wondering about the writing in collaboration one, I’m told that the panel will encompass many different ways in which that happens and I’ll be talking about sensitivity reading.

I think this is the first time I’ve ever been put on an old person panel, though it looks like everyone else on it is younger than me (and in some cases a lot younger).

Hopefully I will see some of you there.

Worldcon Approaches

I see that Chicon 8 has now published their program schedule. I’m not on it. I did apply for programming, and I was offered three interesting panels. However, two of them were potentially quite controversial, and something happened that made me not feel 100% safe to be involved, so I withdrew from participation.

I’d like to note that this is unlikely to be an issue for the vast majority of people. I’m an easy target, for a whole variety of reasons, and I have a very high comfort threshhold. I’m still happy to do smaller conventions, and indeed have three panels at the upcoming FantasyCon which I will write about in a day or two. But I am thinking very seriously about being involved in Worldcons in future because they are so high profile and therefore get targeted by people who want to cause trouble.

Weightless Once More

No, I haven’t been on a diet. I am pleased to announce that Wizard’s Tower Press books are once more available via Weightless Books, a very fine independent purveyor of ebooks.

Those of you with long memories may recall that we had to stop using Weightless back in the days of the Great EU VAT Debacle. Much has happened since then. To start with, the UK is no longer part of the EU. Also Weightless are now preventing sales into the UK and EU. So all of the legal issues seem to have gone away. Obviously folks in the UK and EU can’t take advantage of this, but for folks elsewhere I would encourage you to buy from Weightless rather than from the Evil Empire.

I’ll be adding purchase links to the various book pages on the Wizard’s Tower website as soon as I can get it all done.

Imaginales in Crisis

Long-time readers will remember that I very much enjoyed my trip to Épinal (the ‘home of comics’) in France for the Imaginales festival. It had a lot of the feel of a traditional science fiction convention, but was run in conjunction with the municipal authorities which meant that it was a) free and b) very well attended.

Well, it was good while it lasted. The trouble with working with local government is that the people you are working with can get voted out and replaced by people with very different attitudes.

Thanks to friends from France (primarily Aliette de Bodard and Lionel Davoust) I have learned that the new mayor, Patrick Nardin, has fired Stéphanie Nicot, the Creative Director of the festival, and many other staff are leaving in protest.

Stéphanie was the founder of Imaginales, and has been in charge since it started. She is getting on in age these days, but had put a succession plan in place. Possibly more importantly in this case, Stephanie is a trans woman, and one of the better known advocates for trans rights in France. I’m hearing of various women and people of colour complaining that their role in Imaginales has been reduced since the new management took over.

M. Nardin has also accused Stéphanie and her team of being unprofessional. Having been to the event, I’m happy to say that’s absolutely not the case. However, I suspect that what is meant here is not ability to do the job, but desire to make profits. My guess is that M. Nardin wants to see Imaginales run more like San Diego ComicCon, and have the festival bring in big money for the town. If that’s the case, he certainly won’t be interested in the top quality literary guests that Stephanie used to bring to the event. He’s also going to have to find a whole lot of fans daft enough to work for free to make money for him.

There’s an interview with Stéphanie (in French) here.

It is all very sad, but probably kind of inevitable given the rightward drift of politics around the world. I hope that French fandom rallies round and finds somewhere to put on a new event. They may not be able to do it in conjunction with a local council, and they might have to charge for memberships, but at least they’ll be in control. Hey, they might even bid for a Eurocon…

British Fantasy Awards

So, yesterday the British Fantasy Society announced the shortlists for their annual awards. Much to my delight, I have some involvement in this.

First up, Wizard’s Tower Press is a finalist for Best Independent Press. We are not going to win. Two of the other finalists have won before, and all three have books as finalists in at least one category. But it is nice to be nominated. It certainly brings the press to the attention of more people.

Next up we have Best Non-Fiction where we find Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction. This is the book with my Queer Animals essay in it. It has already won the BSFA Award in the same category. And basically Francesca should win All The Things, because she’s awesome.

And finally, in Best Fantasy Novel (The Robert Holdstock Award), we have SisterSong. I’m really happy for Lucy. This is one of the best uses of a trans character in fantasy that it has been my pleasure to read, let alone be involved with. She’s up against She Who Became the Sun, which is very stiff competition, but I’m keeping my paws crossed.

These being British awards, obviously I know a lot of other people on the shortlists. I don’t have space to congratulate everyone I know individually. But I do want to put in a special mention for my pal Pete Sutton who is up for Best Collection with The Museum for Forgetting. And I want to express my extreme delight that Premee Mohamed has got some recognition for These Lifeless Things, which is a wonderful novella.

See you all at Heathrow in September, folks.