Thursday, 26 April 2012

Bards and Sage, Some Zombies and Dying

Yes, it may seem like a horribly contrived post title, not to mention a lousy pun, but look past those minor imperfections and you'll see that, with a little assistance from those goofy funsters Simon and Garfunkel, I've perfectly summed up two fairly disparate bits of news into one punchy headline.  You get it now, right?  No?  Possibly you're reading the words in the wrong order or something.  Try squinting.  Maybe rub your stomach a little.

Or ... wait ... perhaps it would make more sense if I actually wrote what the post was about?  That could work.  Well, the first part refers to the fact that my A Stare From the Darkness came out just recently in Bards and Sages Quarterly - a fact cleverly hidden by their website, which doesn't seem to have been updated since the mid-nineties.  Stare is another of my older, much-redrafted stories; turning three pages of flashback into two lines of dialogue was one of those weird "oh, so that's how you do it," moments that come along every so often in writing.  It's about monsters real and created, mixed up with some of the anthropology theory I picked up during my MA on 17th century witchcraft and a fair bit of Hammer Horror.  Actually, its original, even clunkier title of A Stare From the Void and the overly-quoted Nietzsche blurb it's ripped from gives a good idea of what it's about.

As for the bit about zombies and dying, that's obviously a reference to the fact that the Slices of Flesh anthology came out a week or two ago, with my Wetback amongst the absolutely mammoth list of flash stories contained therein.  The line-up for this one is just staggering, with so many big names that I can't bring myself to pick any particular ones out, it's got a Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart cover and the proceeds are going to various literacy charities, so I feel really good about recommending it.

Right, there we go.  Bards and Sage ... that's almost the name of the magazine, yes?  And then the "some zombies and dying"?  That's a reference to Wetback, in which there are zombies and a load of people get horribly killed.  And if you read it really quickly and squint, it sort of sounds a bit like "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme", right?  You know, the song?  It's a pun ... or perhaps more accurately, a play on words.

Although, now that I think about it, possibly not a very good one.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Eastercon 2012: Part 2

So last time I talked very vaguely about my Eastercon experience ... which made sense because I was very vague throughout most of it, thanks partly to alcohol consumption of course, but mainly due to meeting lots of wonderful new people (and plenty of wonderful ... er, old people too) and because, let's face it, it's a damn good day when I'm not looking at least a little dazed.

But here, for whatever they're worth, are my more concrete impressions, as reconstructed by going through the programme and working out what the hell it was I actually did for three days:


Arrived in Heathrow around four, panic-finished the chapter of Prince Thief I was working on and then wandered over to the Eastercon hotel.  Or where Google Maps said it was - which was nowhere near where it actually was.  Wandered for an hour or so through the grim environs of Heathrow airport and eventually managed to find the convention using internet research and house numbering.  Entered the foyer, got slightly scared - could this vast and milling crowd in a posh hotel foyer really by Eastercon? - and rang Lavie Tidhar.  Assured that, yes, this was the place and I wasn't hallucinating.  Led through check-in and escorted safely to the bar, at which point normality began to resume.

Normality in this context, of course, meaning drinking and hanging out with writerly and publishering folks, with a brief diversion for one of my two proper meals through the weekend at a curry house down the road.  Watched Nir Yaniv suffer, thanks to Lavie's blasé ordering of some fairly virulent curries.  Back in the bar, introduced by Lavie to his friend Jobeda; somewhere along the line we decided to hang out at some panels the next day, not to mention her proposed stand up comedy act.  Left for my distant B & B somewhere past three, leaving George R R Martin damn near the only person left in the bar.  No wonder the man's a living legend!


Arrived back at the convention somewhere around lunchtime, feeling oddly guilty for missing Lavie's Non-Anglophone SF panel.  Wandered for an hour, trying to get the lay of the land ... not easy in a hotel designed to obfuscate the unwary.  Got lost.  Got found.  Got lost.  Ran into Jobeda on the landing between the first and the third floors.  (There was no second floor that I could find.  On the map it was marked mysteriously as the Non-Smoking Floor.)  Affirmed that we were both going to the How To Get Published panel, which we promptly did.  Felt a little sneaky being there, and very glad to have that particular hurdle behind me, at least for a little while.

Milled for a couple of hours, ate delicious apple crumble in the bar and went to Lavie's The War on Terror panel - which was interesting up to a point, but the politics / literature balance got a bit askew, until one irate fan pulled the panel up on it in no uncertain terms.  Killed time until the Masquerade and Cabaret, and Jobeda's stand-up act. So this is what people do at Cons when they're not in the bar! My eyes were opened to a brave new world ... as were those of the children left in the audience for Jobeda's hilarious but somewhat explicit stand-up, despite the compere's warnings, who got a crash course in male anatomy that probably saved their parents hours of muddled bird / bee analogies.

Back, inevitably, to the bar, with a brief diversion to watch a bit of A Tale of Two Sisters in the video room.  Discovered that Korean horror isn't necessarily to everyone's tastes.  (The room was empty.)  Briefly understood the plot for the first time, in one of those startling moments of drink-fuelled clarity.  Back to the bar for one last stretch.

I'm the one, sadly, who isn't Joe Abercrombie.


Suffering mightily from drinking from far too many pints of scrumpy.  Surely anything that's 7.2% and comes in a pint glass should come with a goverment health warning, or at the very least a free stomach pump?  My one and only panel, Wench, Fetch Yon Tankard Here, was at 12.00, which hadn't seemed so unreasonable two days ago.  Fortunately, I was far from the most hungover person there; at least I wasn't reduced to wearing sunglasses.  Somehow, it seemed to go very, very well.  Bella Pagan had actually prepared questions - lots of them! - and my fellow panelateers, Joe Abercrombie and Jaine Fenn, were in sparkly form.  (Even the one of them in sunglasses.  All I'll say is, it wasn't Joe.)  We had a good crowd, there were lots of questions, and I got to plug Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series for its cracking fight scenes, little realising that he was actually in the audience (and also Sir Apropos of Nothing by Peter David, who wasn't.) 

Next came the marvellously titled You Got Your Robot Elf Sex in my SF, which turned out to be possibly the best panel I saw, and one of the most well attended ... obviously we genre folks need to talk about (and possibly write about) sex a hell of a lot more than we're currently doing.  After that was the BSFA awards, which I mentioned a little in the previous post; all I'll say here is that it was another reminder that these things work best when they're open to the widest of audiences.  Eastercon, for me, was a success precisely because it nailed that so well, and jokes about writers aimed at their writer mates fell too wide of that bar.  Still, it was all worth it for the look on Paul Cornell's face when he won for Best Short Story. Sadly, even Paul Cornell couldn't save the last panel of the Con, Multicultural Steampunk - mainly because he wasn't on it.  With at least two authors openly not interested in the topic at hand and only Lavie making any real attempt to talk about it, not to mention a startling lack of multiculturalism and that wacky 9PM time slot, it probably wasn't the best panel to close out on.

 I had good intentions of an early night, mainly because I was fading fast, but interesting people kept appearing and talking about interesting things, and the upstairs bar was serving cheap - by Heathrow standards - wine.  Finally drifted B & B-wards around half one, leaving behind a crowd that was showing no signs of flagging after three days of hard-but-literate partying.

Tortoro does not condone T-shirt murder.
Had I realised how much was going on on the Monday I might have stayed on - my one very small criticism (apart from the other very small criticisms I've made, obviously) was that the final programme was released a bit late for those of us making long journeys to plan around ... but then I can only guess at the last-minute crises that were going on in the background.  As it was, I had no choice but to bid farewell to the Radisson Edwardian and to Eastercon ... at least for a few months.  Next year I'm doing the whole damn thing, I swear it!

If there's one thing I learned over the course of the three days it was that it's worth taking at least a little time to savour the wonders the organisers have slaved for months to put together.  And if there's another thing it's that while writers and editors are generally great people to talk to, there are other great people out there too, and some of them will cheerfully discuss Studio Ghibli films for hours when accosted by a random stranger who threatens to murder them for their Tortoro T-shirt.

Obviously, these are both valuable lessons.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Eastercon 2012: Part 1

So I can't honestly say that I just got back from Eastercon 2012, because I didn't have the stamina for day four, but this is about the first time I've felt properly recovered enough to say anything constructive about it.

A lot of that, obviously, has to do with alcohol consumption, lack of food or sleep and all the other stuff that comes with having too good a time to worry about keeping your body functioning on anything but the most rudimentary levels.  But also, as with just about every Con I've been to now, it takes a day or two for the sheer excitement of being surrounded by hundreds of wonderful, wonderfully like-minded people in an environment shaped specifically with your emotional and intellectual needs in mind, and to get back into the mindset of day-to-day life.  It occurs to me right now that Cons are kind of theme parks for writers and publishing types and genre fans - except that instead of making you slightly nauseous and fractionally more stupid, they leave you brutally hung over but a little happier, a little more aware about what you do and why and who you're doing it for and how it fits into everything else around you.

BSFA award winner Paul Cornell, about to explode with joy.
I think that's been true of every Con I've done so far to a greater or lesser degree, but far more so of this one, when I finally went through with my long-standing intention of actually doing some convention stuff and not just loitering in the bar.  The fact that I managed it has much to do with Lavie Tidhar introducing me to the rather wonderful and lovely Jobeda Ali, who - although she writes and makes films and performs stand-up comedy and does more interesting things than you can count on all three hands - was basically attending as a fan, not to mention a Con newbie.

 Either Jobeda took me under her wing or I took her under mine, or else there was some kind of chimeric mutual undertaking of wings, but the upshot was that I actually went around Eastercon 2012 with my eyes more or less open, attended panels that I wasn't actually on, listened to what people were saying even when I didn't need to, talked to people who weren't (or weren't primarily) writers, and generally felt like I saw a least of little of what the organisers had put what must have been almost unimaginable trouble into organising.

And it was a triumph.  It really was.  A few brief and very random examples:

- There was a room where people only played board and roleplaying games.  I got the impression that some of them may not have left it through the entire four days.  Someone had taken the thought to include them.  They seemed to be having a great time.

- Gender-balanced panels, more or less ... but more more than less, if you know what I mean.  What I mean is, someone somewhere tried damn hard to get it right, and mostly succeeded.

- The fact that we, as an industry, got the Guardian's ear - in a very good way - and deserved it.

- There were families.  Actual families!  With children!  Many of whom were probably scarred for life when Jobeda did her stand-up routine, but hey, if they don't learn about genital surgery at conventions they'll learn it in the playgrounds, right?

Sure, there were some slip-ups, and a couple of them were fairly monumental.  I was less offended by John Meaney's sort-of-comedy routine at the BSFA awards than many people, and found some of it actually pretty funny, but there's no getting around the fact that it was deeply exclusive, in a way that so much of the convention managed not to be.  The Multicultural Steampunk panel, by being pushed to the arse-end of the schedule and then being not even slightly multicultural, became something of a bad joke, one not helped by the panelist who went to great and repeated pains to point out how little the panel topic applied to her.

As an industry, we still have a ways to go.  But how nice to feel like we're on the right track!  A win is a win is a win.

Next: Some actual discussion of what I did at Eastercon 2012.