Coronavirus – Day #18

Today was a day for me to be visible, so I went out.

Well actually that wasn’t the reason. I was starting to run out of fresh food, and today was forecast to be fine weather. If I was going to have to queue to get into a grocery store I didn’t want to have to do so in the rain. So today had to be the day for the expedition.

I decided to try the big Tesco mid-afternoon. I figured it would not be too busy at that time on the Tuesday. Even so there must have been around 100 people in the store. However, it was all very smoothly marshalled. The staff were great, and everyone behaved themselves. This was a great relief after some of the stories I have been seeing on Twitter. And I only had to queue for about 10 minutes to get in.

Also the car started, which was a relief. That meant I was able to buy a lot more that I could carry.

There was plenty of food in the store. Certain things were close to unobtainable: flour, pasta and rice were all in short supply. And there are certain brands that Tesco are not stocking during the emergency. But I came away with almost everything I wanted. I even got some eggs, so there may be some baking experiments in the coming days. There was plenty of toilet paper. Not that I needed any. I don’t go through it that quickly and I have one pack of 9 in store.

Aside from that it has been a very busy day. There was all of the social media fuss over Trans Day of Visibility. There was the Unjust Cause cover reveal. And I’ve just put a new issue of Salon Futura online. I’ll talk more about this tomorrow, but if you are keen to read it you can find it here.

Oh, and I watched the first episode of Batwoman, which was very promising.

Unjust Cause Cover Reveal

Here it is, folks! The fabulous Ben Baldwin cover for the new novel from Tate Hallaway, Unjust Cause.

Did you love Precinct 13? Do you just love contemporary fantasy in a crime setting with queer and poly characters? Hey, this book is for you.

Alex Connor thought that being the South Dakota Hughes County Coroner was going to be a boring, cushy job. She didn’t count on the fact that her first case would leave her with a magical, living tattoo and awaken her latent magical powers. Now she’s a full-fledged member of Precinct 13, a paranormal police unit, and is trying to make a life with her dragon familiar, Valentine. Just when things seem to be settling down, bodies start falling out of the sky… literally.

Publication will be on April 8th. I’m just off to set up the pre-orders. If you are interested in an eARC, let me know.

On the Trans Day of Visibility

Here we go again. Today is the day on which trans people all over the world are supposed to stand up and be counted. Already I have seen a flood of posts on social media celebrating the visibility of trans folks. I’m also seeing posts from trans people saying that they are fed up of being visible; that they are scared of being visible. Part of that is because the world has changed dramatically since TDOV was first concieved, but it is also a matter of how we do TDOV.

A little context is in order. TDOV was created because the only international day that the trans community had was the Trans Day of Remembrance. That’s a pretty depressing, if essential, experience, and it is also one many trans people want kept within the community. It is noticeable that anti-trans extremists now deliberately target TDOR in order to provoke offence and, they hope, mental health breakdowns. We needed a much more positive day.

TDOV is supposed to be that day. However, since it has become popular it has started to have the opposite effect that was intended. That, I think, is because in trying to make trans people more visible, it has ended up as an exercise of They Walk Among Us, which makes us seem different and scary.

Now it is important that trans people be visible. I’m certainly not advocating that we go back to the days of having to disappear into the cis population and fearing that your life will be over if you are ever outed. I’ve been through that fear. It isn’t fun. Not can we pretend that we are “just like everyone else”, because clearly we are not, especially those of us who live far outside the gender binary.

What we do need, however, is to be visible for things other than simply being trans. And there’s no reason why we can’t be, because trans people are fucking awesome. We have to be.

What I would like to see today, therefore, is not just trans people being visible, but trans people visibly doing things in addition to existing. That can be the day-to-day work that they do, but it would be even better to see what trans people are doing to help the community through the current health crisis. I’m sure there are loads of great stories out there waiting to be told. I’ll start.

  • I’m still working with The Diversity Trust, most recently doing an online talk on trans history for an LGBT+ youth group;
  • Through Wizard’s Tower I am helping authors continue in business when mainstream publishing and bookselling are collapsing around them;
  • Wizard’s Tower is also putting out a series of free-to-read short fiction to help people stay entertained during lockdown;
  • And I’m still doing my radio show for Ujima. The next one will be broadcast tomorrow.

Over to you, trans community. What are you doing that you would like to be visible for?

And cis folks, if you are thinking of doing posts, please stop thinking of trans people as a downtrodden minority that needs saving, and start thinking of us as hidden heroes whose contributions to society should be recognised.

Coronavirus – Day #17

I was hoping to get lots done today. I did, just not all of the things I expected to get done. This isolation thing is turning out to be exceptionally busy.

In theory you were supposed to get a new issue of Salon Futura today. In practice it is not going to happen. And I’m certainly not planning to stay up all night making it happen. It will be there tomorrow, which is shaping up to be an even busier day than today.

In other news, I finished off editing this week’s radio show today, so that will be broadcast on Wednesday as scheduled. Many thanks to all of the people who agreed to be interviewed.

Also the hardcovers of Juliet McKenna’s Tales of Einarinn books should be available today. Amazon appears to be having issues getting them, or the paperbacks, on sale, but given the state of the world right now that could be for a whole variety of reasons. I’m happy to allow them a little slack.

In other news I’m pleased to see that the numbers of new virus cases and new deaths in the UK have been fairly flat for the past few days. That may be a sign that the restrictions on movement are starting to take effect. For a full-blown epidemic those numbers should get larger each day. Then again, I suspect that numbers of cases are being massively under-reported because people with mild symptoms don’t want to bother the over-stretched health services. Who knows?

Introducing Women in Lockdown

My good friend Tamsin Clarke of the Popelei Theatre Company has been in touch about a new project that she is launching called Women in Lockdown. The blurb says:

This is not the first time in history that women have been isolated behind closed doors, and it won’t be the last.

Popelei are looking for writers to submit brand new theatrical monologues to the Popelei Seed Commission 2020, under the theme ‘Women In Lockdown’.

Popelei invite you to write and send in a new short monologue (maximum 4 minutes) for a female character who has had some kind of restriction placed on her liberty. Her freedom could be restricted physically, psychologically, emotionally, sexually or anything you can imagine. Her locks and bolts could be very overt or they could be very subtle. Her story could take place in past, the future or the present.

She is not a victim, she is someone who has found her own way of operating and communicating in a restricted world – be that quietly or loudly.

Popelei are looking for 25 writers (of any gender) to write these pieces, and 25 actors (of feminine gender) to peform them. Actors will need to be able to make video recordings of their performances as the final show will be displayed online. Chosen writers and performers will be paid £100 each. The deadline for submission of scripts and sample work is 5:00pm on April 10th. The full submission guidelines are here. Good luck!

Coronavirus – Day #16

Today was a cooking day. I made a batch of prawn and lobster risotto. That sounds pretty posh, but actually it is a mostly storecupboard meal. It needs an onion, but they keep well. Other than that it is rice, a tin of lobster soup, some frozen prawns, and seasoning. I flung in some sherry as well. Dead easy really, unless you start cooking the risotto before defrosting the prawns, which is a bit silly. You can tell I hadn’t cooked it for a while.

I have spent most of the day recording and editing interviews for Wednesday’s radio show. I have 8 interviews altogether, from different places around the world. While most people have similar experiences of government-mandated shutdowns, attitudes towards the effectiveness of government responses vary wildly. Hopefully it will be an interesting show.

Coronavirus – Day #15

One of the things that the current crisis has laid bare is just how international and connected our world now is, or at least can be.

On the one hand, my local residents’ group has sent round an email asking whether people are lonely, and offering to host a meeting by some strange new software system called Zoom.

On the other hand I have spent the day on Zoom, Google Hangouts and Facebook. I have given a talk on trans history to an LGBT+ youth group in Somerset. I have recorded interviews for my next radio show with people in France, Germany and the USA. I have chatted to friends in Finland and Greece. And I have participated in a committee meeting in the USA.

I don’t have the time to be lonely.

Coronavirus – Day #14

Two weeks in, and my life shows no sign of slowing down. Today has been mostly a Wizard’s Tower and Ujima Radio day. Huge thanks are due to all of the lovely people who agreed to be recorded for a slot on my show.

Today was also the final episode of Star Trek: Picard. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in Salon Futura next week, but basically I think that Michael Chabon has done a good job in what was a very difficult task.

The national news has been abuzz with the fact that both the Prime Minister and Health Secretary have tested positive for COVID-19. I’m not in the least bit surprised. When a junior health minister announced that she had tested positive a couple of weeks ago I expected the entire Cabinet to go down with it. This thing is incredibly infectious and also has a long incubation time, which is why it spreads so effectively. The UK had 2885 new cases and 181 new deaths today alone, and there’s no sign of it slowing down because most of the people testing positive now are people who have had it since before the lockdown began. As the only people getting tested in the UK are the very rich, no one has any idea how many actual cases there are.

That said, the vast majority of cases are in London. Most of the rest of the country is relatively quiet. Here’s hoping that it stays that way.

Coronavirus – Day #13

Where does the time go? I had another full day mainly on Wizard’s Tower work today. Tomorrow will be similar, but I also need to start work on my next radio show. Ujima is still on the air. A few people are allowed in to the studios to keep things running, and the rest of us are putting together shows at home. Personally I love doing live radio, but I’m happy to do pre-records if that’s all that is possible. Weirdly they might take me less time than doing a live show, so I might end up doing more shows. If it provides a useful service to people in these difficult times, it is worth doing.

Anyway, the plan for next week’s show is to interview people from around the world to find out how the pandemic is affecting them. I have the USA and France covered. I’m looking for people from other countries. If I can get enough I will only need a few minutes per person, which is about enough time to introduce yourself, say if you are well and have work, and bitch about how badly your government is doing. All interviews will be via Zoom. If you are interested, let me know.

In other news I gather than our government has promised a package of help for the self-employed. But no one will get any money before June. I think they are hoping that we’ll all be dead by then.

Colinthology Reminder

When Colin Harvey died, a group of Bristol area writers wanted to do something in his memory. Colin was a huge supporter of the NHS, and worked closely with a Bristol-based charity called Above & Beyond. They raise money for Bristol’s city-centre hospitals. So we decided that we would put together a charity anthology and donate all of the proceeds to Colin’s favourite charity.

Those hospitals currently need our help more than ever.

Colinthology is still on sale. These days I’m surprised if a copy sells. But it has stories by Gareth L Powell, Jo Hall, Roz Clarke, Stephanie Burgis, Jonathan L Howard and many others. As usual we get the most income if you buy direct from the Wizard’s Tower shop. And every penny we take in will go to Above & Beyond.

Free Fiction from Wizard’s Tower

With the Tales of Einarinn roll-out now in process, Juliet and I decided to throw something else into the mix. A number of writers have been offering content for free to help people entertain themselves while they are in lockdown. The BSFA has a list of these offerings.

To this, Juliet has added The Wizard’s Coming, a short story set in the world of Einarinn. The story is a prequel to the series, The Hadrumal Crisis, which is published by Solaris. The original version is no longer available, so we made a new version, complete with stunning Ben Baldwin cover art.

In the anticipation of the crisis lasting for a few more weeks yet, we have more releases planned. These will all be free. I’m hoping to add other authors. Also there’s a new Salon Futura due out on Monday. That will include an interview with Juliet, in which I suspect we’ll talk a but about what’s coming.

Coronavirus – Day #12

One of the interesting things about the current crisis is how quickly things have changed. Only a couple of weeks ago we were wondering whether travel would be affected. Now conventions as far out as August are being cancelled. And you can get caught out. I’ve been watching a documentary series about British Rivers on Channel 5. It is basically an excuse to do some local history of the back of the region that a major river flows through. The latest episode I watched was on the Warwickshire Avon. (There are lots of rivers called Avon in England because afon is Welsh for river, and the English are stupid.) This is the one that flows through Stratford, but it is also known for Rugby and its sport, Warwick for its castle, Leamington for its spa and several other things. The river is also prone to flooding. At the start of the show the narrator said that 2020 would be remembered as the year of terrible floods on the Avon. Ha, no mate. Nice try.

Keeping up with the pace of change has been hard for some organisations. Today I got email from Tesco to say that they have finally implemented a queuing system (with enforced separation) for getting into stores, and at checkouts, plus a rigorous cleaning regime. They’ve also cut down on the range of products they stock to make sure they have enough basic necessities. I’m not going to risk heading out there for a while though. Goodness only knows how people will be behaving.

What does seem to be working is the Internet. Today I had a long video chat with my friend Otto in Helsinki. That sort of thing is easy. Also Disney+ seems to have got through its UK launch with no capacity issues. But utility systems are complicated. We still have power, water, and connectivity, but what happens if things go wrong? I’ve just had email from my internet provider, Zen, who have been great, but they don’t own vans. If something were to go wrong on the network out in the country somewhere, it is a company called Openreach that would send an engineer to fix it. They have just announced that they can no longer keep to their advertised service level. If your internet goes down, and you are not a priority industry, then you are screwed. In theory I still have the mobile phone, but hopefully I won’t need it.

Without the Internet, of course, I would be completely cut off. I think I would probably still be OK for a while. I’m slightly boggled at the people who are getting cabin fever after a day or two of working from home. Obviously I don’t have kids, which helps a lot, but I’m used to this. I’ve been working for myself, mostly from home, since 2003. What’s more, as a trans person, I’m used to going 2 to 3 weeks over Christmas with no in-person social contact every year. In effect I have been training for this for a long time.

The Tales of Einarinn Roll-Out Begins

It has been a while in coming, but thanks to my being stuck at home all day I am delighted to report that the new paper versions of Juliet McKenna’s Tales of Einarinn series are finally coming on stream.

As part of the process, Juliet went through and copy-edited all five books. All of the fixes have gone into the ebooks as well, and those new versions should be available from the major stores now. If you bought the books direct, you can certainly download new versions from the bookstore now.

As part of that process, Ben Baldwin has kindly re-done the cover designs for all of the books, though we are still using the original, iconic Geoff Taylor artwork.

Please note that the omnibus ebook has not yet been updated. That’s still on my list of things to do.

But the main reason for this post is to tell you that as of tomorrow you can order paperbacks. Amazon says that they have them already, but officially the publication date is tomorrow.

On the other hand, you may want to wait a few days. Why? Because the hardcovers are coming, and they are gorgeous. I can’t wait to show them to you.

Juliet and I will look at putting together a deal to get signed sets. That might be a little complex in the current situation, but we’ll do our best.

More news later this week, I hope. It had better be this week anyway, because next week there will be news about the new Tate Hallaway novel.

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.

Coronavirus – Day #11

My cheese order arrived safely today, so I shall be eating well for the next few days.

I also had a bit of a cooking experiment. I have no mince, but I’d seen various people talking about using chickpeas instead. It wasn’t entirely a vegetarian meal because I had some pancetta I’d bought specifically for making bolognese, but it was mostly veg, and mostly storecupboard. Fresh onion and garlic, obviously. Anyway, I was pleased with the results.

Also I found a bottle of this stuff in the cupboard. It needed using up, and it worked fine with vanilla ice cream.

Because I needed to crack a bottle of red wine for the bolognese, I tried having a glass of it with the meal. As I rather expected, wine and a thick head do not go well together. On the other hand, the wine also triggered an intense coughing fit which was scary at the time, but brought up some of the muck in my wind pipe. I can breath a bit easier now. Who would have thought?

Today’s other excitement was the launch of Disney+. There is so much good stuff on there. And so much good stuff for kids as well, which I suspect will be a boon to many households. I am holding off watching the Mandolin Man thing because I figure there will be a lot of demand. Besides, there’s plenty of other things I want to watch. Is The Inhumans really as bad as everyone says?

Also, when are we getting Frozen II? It is on Sky.

Coronavirus – Day #10

One of the things I have been trying to do while I am self-isolated is find ways to support local small businesses. There’s not much in town. The shops are either chains, or too small to have websites. But there are places that I can support.

We’ll start with books. I get most of my books from Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, and have been ordering from them. You might also consider Books on Hill in Clevedon, and The Portal Bookshop in York, both of which are owned by lovely people.

Also, order while you can. California has banned bookstores from doing mail order, as well as ordering them to shut their doors.

And then there’s food. The supermarkets are completely overwhelmed, but some small food shops are selling online. I was delighted to be able to place an order with The Fine Cheese Company in Bath. Not only does that help the store, it also helps the small, artisan cheese-makers whose goods they stock. And it is really good cheese, which is all you need, right?

Well maybe booze and chocolate. The lovely folks at Independent Spirit do not have mail order, which is just as well for me. One of the ways in which I can tell that I am actually still sick is that I have no appetite for alcohol. But you can buy chocolate online from Hotel Chocolat, and delivery is free on orders over £20.

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 #9

It was a beautiful spring day here today again so I decided to venture outside. I’m getting worried that all of the dry air from central heating isn’t doing me any good. And I need some exercise.

There were a lot of people out. Mostly they were walking dogs or small children, but there were also the inevitable joggers. The majority seemed to have no great interest in social distancing.

There were shops open. That included the convenience store just around the corner, and the small Co-Op about 5-10 minutes walk away. The latter had food and was very quiet so I popped in and got a few things. There wasn’t much fresh, but I did get milk, bread, tomatoes and mushrooms. That should help me through another couple of weeks at home.

I’d spent the morning going through the food cupboards. Inevitably I found a few things well past their sell-by date. That included a lot of half-used bottles of various chili sauces. I suspect they will kill most things, except viruses.

For dinner tonight I tried a new toy. I found this top-end mini-blender going half-price on Amazon and ordered one. I got to try it out this evening. I put in some banana yoghurt, some frozen blackberries and raspberries, and some fruits of the forest juice. The end result was delicious. At some point I plan to try it with mango yoghurt, tinned peaches and orange juice, which I suspect will also work well.

Finally a bunch of British writers have been providing ebook stories, podcasts and so on for free to give folks stuck at home something to read or listen to. The BSFA has a page linking free SF&F stories. I’ll try to get something out from Wizard’s Tower this week. Alternatively, if you are into long reads, Galley Beggar now has an ebook store and you can get Ducks, Newburyport for only £2.50, which of course I have done.

A Taste of the Wild

Red Deer Stag

In early April Kevin and I were due to take a vacation on Vancouver Island off the west coast of Canada. Obviously that won’t happen now, but I’ve mostly been able to have today off and I took the opportunity to catch up with the BBC’s 2017 wildlife series, Wild Ireland: The Edge of the World. Like Vancouver Island, Western Ireland exists on the north-eastern edge of a great ocean, and it too has a wonderful assortment of wildlife. This two-episode series has the usual focus on mating and murder, but it also has some absolutely stunning photography. There are gannets, puffins, dolphins, red deer, pine martens, basking sharks and much more. It is well worth a look.

The thing that really struck me, however, was a story. Years ago a group of men from the Blasket Islands were on their way home in their curraghs when they heard an unearthly sound coming up through the bottoms of their boats. One of the men was a musician, and that night he made a song that, as best as he was able, captured the sounds he had heard. It is called Port na bPúcaí (the song of the pookas) and it became a very popular slow air. Here it is:

For a long time this was assumed to be nothing more than a fairly tale, but now we have had the opportunity to study such music we know exactly what magnificent creatures made it, and what a good job that ancient Irishman made of reproducing their song.

Humpback whale