30 September 2009

View from the Reg. Desk

Ooh, 10 days later... :-)

‘twas the night before Fcon, and after spending some quality time parked on the M-whatever-it-was due to an accident on the opposite carriageway, we managed to get a few minutes admiring the unchanging décor of the Britannia before moseying down to be sociable.

Ah the joys of Nottingham on a Thursday night! So there we were, the fabulous Gail Z Martin, the equally fabulous Jan & Pete Coleborn-Edwards, the rather awesome Debbie & Clare Bennett, dearest mama and yours truly. And the question of the night was: where, oh where, could a group that includes some of the pickiest eaters in the country get some decent food…

That’ll be the Big Wok on Parliament Street then, host of our anti-banquet foray from last year. All you can eat Chinese buffet plus sushi bar and, ladies and gentlemen please contain yourselves, a chocolate fountain! What’s not to love?
The charming young gentlemen that bear the titles of John Aitken and George Budge were also seen in that legendary establishment so it must have been good!

Have sympathy for poor Sir Coleborn-Edwards, as after enjoying such delightful repast, he had to drive all the way back to sunny Stoke to pick up many and various (and oft mysterious) items and was not seen again until Friday. Meanwhile, the rest of us engaged in that oldest of Fcon traditions and sprawled in the bar, gossiping and drinking until the faintest of hearts left for bed. Young Paul of the Clan McCampbell joined us for a spell and outlasted the best of us in our bar-sprawlerie.

So onward to Friday, the day that looms strongest in the hearts and minds of all Fcon organisers… will our many boxes still be there, are we going to find someone encamped in our function rooms (‘ware the ides of Walsall, for they were double booked and snippy about our quite reasonable setting up noises, the blaggards...)
Will anyone turn up?

Yes, no, and oh yes! And it was quite the calmest set up I’ve experienced yet.
The Dealers Room developed Tardis-like dimensions and managed to include far more tables than previously anticipated, the mountains of Goodie Bags didn’t avalanche and endanger the lives of small children and stuffed toys, and we were so laid back we were almost horizontal.

Apart from the slightly manic attempts at stopping Les Edwards and Peter Crowther noticing that their surprise party was in the program… :-> Apparently they were still surprised!

Alas, the life of a Registration Babe does not allow for such frivolities as actually seeing the panels and other Fcon amusements, so, dear readers, please sally forth about the internet and see what the unchained people had to say…
(see bottom of post for a few links!)

Done? Excellent.
So what other small snippets can be told? The Banquet! Ah ha! Edible. :-> Now despite the annual complaints, personally I didn’t find it that bad. (But then, my expectations go as far as – can I eat it? If yes, then success.) So the starter was lovely, the main was ok, the pudding would have been nice if they hadn’t been serving the same thing in the restaurant at lunch… Could have quite happily done without the main altogether, but that’s just me.

But let me tell you about our banquet entertainment. On our table we were sat with the fabulous John Lenahan, magician, comedian, voice-actor, and now writer. (yes, we bought his book!) Both Evil Twin Hells and myself managed to avoid deluging the poor man with Red Dwarf quotes (tempting as it was. Was he a waffle man? We will never know!) And the man has so many stories it would have been very easy to listen to him all night!

Praise be to Evil Overlord Pete, after the banquet there was no raffle! (And the entire Fcon population fainted in shock.) But, dear readers, you have no idea how close to peril you were, how discussions raged in the shadows about this fell ritual that plagues us…

So what did we have to amuse and entertain us instead? I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, the Fcon version. (No, I had no idea what it was either!)
But it was marvellously done with Sir Guy of Adams the erudite grandmaster trying to whip some control over teams of Sarah Pinborough & Julian Simpson and Jasper Fforde & (oh bugger, can’t remember who the other chap was. Was it Graham Joyce? Tim Lebbon? Mark Morris? Help!) Sarah Pinborough was definitely the highlight of that!
Oh, sorry, there was also the awards. Of which much has been written, both good and bad. Congratulations to everyone that won.
And after that, I believe that Talkie the Toaster (er, sorry, John Lenahan…) entertained with a stint on stage, thereafter followed by some chap name of Ramsey Campbell…

So to Sunday and the AGM. It overran. :-> But honestly, Sir Guy, only an hour allotted for the AGM? Pure craziness! :->

But with Sunday came the opportunity to escape the bondage of the Registration Desk and see the Art Show. Gosh. Never seen an art show before. Coo. That was excellent. Particularly liked the work of Vincent Chong, Anne Sudworth, Steve Upham, Andy Cooper and David Hardy.

Alas, no Fcon will let you escape its tender clutches without an assortment of books both freely given and bargain-bought. Mine for this year were: Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters, Robert Holdstock’s Avilion, Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands & Teeth, Katherine Howe’s The Lost Book of Salem, John Lenahan’s Shadowmagic, Stephen Lawhead’s Tuck, Juliet Marillier’s Heir to Sevenwaters, Kaaron Warren’s Slights, Vicki Pettersson’s The Scent of Shadows, a couple of Penguin Classics in the form of Fantastic Tales and 1984. (Can not believe I didn’t already own a copy of 1984!), a samplet from Allyson Bird entitled For You Faustine, the Mammoth Book of Wolf Men, and last, but definitely not least, some Newcon Press titles – being the Myth-Understandings anthology, The Gift of Joy by that there Ian Whates, and And God Created Zombies by the funky Andrew Hook.

And apparently I took 115 photos. If you’re on Facebook, hop on over and check out the ones that didn’t come out blurry or consist of the backs of people’s heads!

Other than that, one of the most relaxing Fcons I’ve had, so in that wave of bliss I’ll leave it at that and see you all next year!

Linkety Links!
Tim Lebbon, Gail Z. Martin,Angry Robot, Juliet McKenna, Adrian F. one & two, Cheryl Morgan - Settling In, Morning in Nottingham, Testing the Technology, Wimped Out, Snoozy Sunday and Final Report.

Mark Morris, Kari Sperring, Chris Fowler, Mark Deniz, Mark Charan Newton, Andy Remic

23 September 2009

The BFS Balance

(This is a long one, you have been warned…)

Another thing that happened over Fantasycon weekend was the explosion in the blogosphere over the all male content of the BFS’ newly launched In Conversation book. The book: In Conversation: A Writer's Perspective, Volume 1: Horror, edited by James Cooper is intended to be the first in a series of interview collections, with the two following volumes covering fantasy and SF.

Things were first picked up by Maura McHugh, with debate springing up on the blogs of Cheryl Morgan, Christopher Fowler and Publishers Weekly.
Then yesterday the Guardian picked up on it with an article by Alison Flood.

Commissioning Editor and BFS Chairman Guy Adams has issued a public apology and from his reactions when the issue was mentioned for the first time during the BFS AGM on Sunday, he is genuinely horrified that he didn’t notice the lack of women in the book. In Guy we trust. :->

Debate has wandered to the BFS Forums and a thread on the BFS’ Facebook page with responses switching between those that think the gender of the writers is unimportant and those that think otherwise. (Also, the phrase ‘feminist claptrap’ got used, but we won’t touch that one.)

For what it’s worth, this is my take:

When a fiction anthology is widely open to submissions, then of course, you take your chance on what stories the editor likes. Editors are quite capable of picking good stories that fall outside their normal reading comfort zone and no-one in their right mind is going to refuse a good story because of who’s written it (or who hasn’t).

When a fiction anthology is filled by commissioned pieces, then to fill it with all male authors seems somewhat archaic. (Unless that's the particular point of the anthology!) If the editor’s tastes don’t naturally run to stories that happen to be written by women (or anyone who isn’t the standard white male), then the editor needs to expand their reading or talk quietly to someone who can clue them in to what else is being written that might fit the theme of the book.

But when it’s a collection of commissioned interviews purporting to give voice to the sixteen most accomplished horror writers around, then to not have a single woman in it is just ridiculous. And this goes double when it’s being published by an organisation that, by its own constitution, is there to promote excellence in the genre.

I love the BFS. I’ve grown up with it – signing up for the first time as a fresh faced wannabe writer at sixteen and then getting quickly pulled onto various committees for things as folks jumped on my enthusiasm for helping out with odd bits. The BFS has always been filled with many wonderful people and meeting them every year at Fantasycon is one of my favourite things.

What frustrates me is two things. One of them is the apparent dominance of the male authors when I know there are plenty of female authors in the BFS. They don’t seem to get talked about as much as the chaps, but it’s from seeing them at Fantasycon that I discovered their work. Authors like Juliet E. McKenna, Sarah Pinborough, Freda Warrington, Justina Robson, Storm Constantine, Pauline Morgan (and her alter-ego Pauline Dungate), Raven Dane, Sam Stone, artists like Anne Sudworth. Editor Selina Lock produces the excellent Girly Comic amongst other Factor Fiction titles with her partner Jay Eales.

I know there must be more, but the men’s names come to mind quicker than their female counterparts. Authors, artists, editors, both small and big press. I could list twice as many of the chaps twice as quick. I’ve seen them on the awards lists every year, and they’re always getting news items and interviews and the like inside the pages of the assorted BFS publications.

(Incidentally, the other niggle is the apparent dominance of horror over fantasy, but that latter is a debate we’ve been having for years and is never one that gets resolved.)

So gender balance and the BFS - you’ve only got to look at the awards list this year. When the long list came out it was excellent, filled with a good mix of everything by everyone. I was proud to be a member of a society that produced that kind of a list. When it got voted down to the shortlist… it was mostly horror and mostly men authors. Good authors and publications, true, but nowhere near as diverse a list as I’d’ve liked.

I do think it’s particularly brilliant that out of the four women that made it to the shortlist, two of them scooped the awards in their categories… Go Sarah Pinborough and Allyson Bird!

Without seeing the current BFS membership list, it’s difficult to tell if this is indicative of the membership as a whole being predominantly male (which does make the brash assumption that the menfolks only like the work the other chaps are writing. Which I’m certain is not the case.) Or if it’s just indicative of the people that bothered to vote.
(And what’s quite interesting is that of the two juried awards, both were won by men too… and I know there was at least one woman on each list that went before the jurors…)

So Fantasycon then? How was the gender split there this year? Out of the prebooked attendees (including guests) we had 89 female vs. 167 male. On-the-day walk-ins were also predominantly male.
Panellists? Excluding the on-the-day reading sign ups & launch-ees, 50 men vs. 12 women.
Film show? Difficult to tell from the list in the schedule, but 11 films and only one listed as written & directed by a woman (with a couple of films uncredited).

Story competition – now that one was better, from the 5 finalists, 4 that made it were women. (For completeness, the first round reading panel was 4 women to 1 man, the celebrity final judges 1 woman to 2 men…make of that what you will!)

And the really frustrating thing is, none of the mis-balance is deliberate. The committees of both the BFS and Fantasycon work their asses off to keep things balanced so everything gets covered and everyone gets a voice. There are always women on both the committees, some years they’ve been in the majority, and not a one of them have ever been shy about voicing their opinion about things.

Women have edited the publications, they’ve organised the conventions, they’ve written reviews and interviews and poetry and fiction, they’ve provided cover art and internal illustrations. And yet women are still outnumbered by the men in pretty much every aspect of the BFS.

I want this to change. I’ve wanted this to change since I first joined and that was way too many years ago, and the only way things are going to change is if people keep shouting about the female professionals in our midst. Keep submitting to the BFS publications and keep their names on the radar, make it so that there’s a bigger range of names at the front of people’s minds when it comes to choosing guests and panellists for Fantasycon, when it comes to possible contributors to commissioned publications, and especially when it comes to voting on the shortlists of the awards.

I mean, seriously, the last time a woman won the Best Novel Award was Tanith Lee in 1980!!! 1980, people! And that was the only time it happened too. Come on. We can do better than that.

21 September 2009

Educational Goodness

Will post about Fantasycon once I get my brain back in gear.... but if you're on Facebook, I added a load of photos there - mostly of the awards banquet, but a few set up ones too...

Anyhoo, whilst I was nicely distracted by Fcon, the OU results came in. So I'm well chuffed to say I passed the Archaeology: Science of Investigation module. It was only a shorty 10 pointer thingy, but still nice to get the pass! :-)

Next on the OU list are another couple of short 10 -pointers - Perspectives on Leonardo Da Vinci and Life in the Oceans... fun things to keep me going until the big one starts in February. Namely, Arts: Past and Present.

This one's a proper sized module :-) and also apparently something of a foundation course for OU study as most of the courses I was looking at doing all say somewhere in their blurb that it's recommended to do the Arts one first. At least, if you've never studied with the OU before, which I haven't. (And given the distinct lack of prior education elsewhere, I figured it was probably not the time to blag it and leap straight to the World Archaeology module, which is a level 2 course...)

And the Arts course is quite the fascinating beast... it covers history, art history, philosophy, classical studies, history of science, religious studies, music and English. Plus there's nifty looking stuff on the reading list... Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (which I've never read, so this makes the perfect opportunity), an anthology of multi-cultural short fiction (which I've read and there's some good stuff in it!), a poetry collection (which has me mildly worried) and The Burial at Thebes - the Seamus Heaney translation of Sophocles' Antigone. (Which definitely has me worried!) And there's also the quite cool looking film Bhaji on the Beach to watch for the course too! (Hell, I just love the name of the film!)

And that's without whatever the OU sends out for the course... It looks quite hefty from the course description as the first part of the course is titled Reputations and is going to include case studies of Cleopatra, Josef Stalin, Michael Faraday and the Dalai Lama, as well as examining the artistic reputations of Christopher Marlowe and Paul Cézanne. Which is nice. :-) Apparently this part of the course is designed to develop close listening skills (for the music section) and basic competency in visual anaylsis and crticial reading. All of which I definitely would like to get the hang of, so it promises to be a good course...

(This has not been an advertisement for the Open University!) :-)

07 September 2009

In the Fcon Dealer Room...

Sell your pets, pawn your children, because this year the Fantasycon Dealers Room is stuffed with goodies from:

TTA Press -
On this years' British Fantasy Award shortlist not only are TTA Press are up for Best Small Press but their authors and contributors like Paul Meloy, who is up for Best Collection - "Islington Crocodiles" - and Best Short Fiction - "All Mouth" and "The Vague" - along with Joel Lane - up for "Winter Journey" plus Nick Lowe's regular Interzone column, "Mutant Popcorn" is up for Best Non-Fiction.
Obviously, after that list, Interzone and Black Static are up for Best Magazine. Such difficult choices but by then Interzone will have reached its 224th issue and Black Static will be coming up to number 13. They can't all win but you can, in the Fantasycon dealers' room where all these books and magazines will be on sale on the TTA table and Paul Meloy will join us. But if you can't wait follow those links.

Screaming Dreams –
Screaming Dreams is a small press based in South Wales, dedicated to all things fantasy, sci-fi and horror. Along with producing the free Estronomicon eZine and free eBooks on its website, SD also publishes a range of paperback books including short story collections, novellas and novels. Visit the website for more info at : www.screamingdreams.com
Also available on the Screaming Dreams table: assorted other books from Atomic Fez, Black Books and Pendragon Press!

Telos Publishing –
Purveyors of high quality collectible books for all fans of cult TV and film, and of genre fiction, you can find Telos at Fantasycon for one day only! If you miss them, check them out here: http://www.telos.co.uk

Gray Friar Press –
Gray Friar Press will have a whole range of superb horror titles on offer at FCon '09. The back catalogue can speak for itself, but fresh faced and bloodied this year are Pictures of the Dark, 23 powerful horror stories in Simon Bestwick's first out-and-out horror collection; Groaning Shadows, four superb novellas from Paul Finch; Mindful of Phantoms, a collection of 18 ghostly tales from Gary Fry; and The Castle of Los Angeles, a first novel from Bram Stoker-award winning Lisa Morton. Check out everything here: http://www.grayfriarpress.com/index.html

Elaine Hillson -
Elaine Hillson is an artist and jeweller working in a variety of metals and fibres. Her work incorporates chainmaille, wires, reclaimed antiques and felted wares. Metals used include sterling silver, copper, aluminium and brass, with her larger silver pieces fully hallmarked. Elaine's wire and chainmaille sculptures are unique flights of fantasy inspired by literature and the natural landscape around her home in the Welsh mountains. Find her at http://elainejhillson.artfire.com/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/elainechainmaille/

Houthe of Igor –
Purveyors of finely stitched beathties… http://www.houtheofigor.co.uk

NewCon Press –
NewCon Press is known for their high quality anthologies containing work from some of the most notable Science Fiction and Fantasy authors working today. As a special treat for Fantasycon attendees they will be launching their new title: And God Created Zombies by Andrew Hook (with introduction by Sarah Pinborough).

Dark Smile Productions –
Dark Smile Productions bring fresh talent and ideas to the realm of audio drama. They not only develop new work but also new artists, working with professionals and complete novices alike. Check out their work here: http://www.darksmile.co.uk

Morrigan Books –

Morrigan Books is dedicated to furthering the work of writers and editors working within the field of dark fiction. Morrigan Books will be launching their Dead Souls anthology with stories from Ramsey Campbell, Gary McMahon, Paul Finch, and many others.

Talking Dead / PS Publishing –
Talking Dead return with a vast selection of secondhand paperbacks, pulps and magazines and will also be selling choice goodies from PS Publishing! http://store.pspublishing.co.uk

Abaddon Books –
Dedicated to publishing the best in high-action Science-Fiction, Horror and Fantasy, Abaddon will be launching their latest title at Fantasycon.

Geoff Nelder with BeWrite Books / AB of Seattle -
Geoff Nelder is manning a showcase for three speculative fiction publishers. He is the British branch of Adventure Books of Seattle and will be selling Escape Velocity magazines of science fact & fiction and some scifi titles. For Double Dragon Publishing Geoff is toting his own Exit, Pursued by a Bee science fiction mystery. Geoff is the new administrator / publisher of long-established BeWrite Books. He is to start a speculative fiction imprint as a focus for the fantasy and scifi BeWrite now publish eg by John Grant.

Waterstones –
For one afternoon only, Waterstones Nottingham branch will be offering up a selection of titles from both Fantasycon’s finest authors and those who couldn’t make it! Catch them on Saturday between 4.30-6.30.

Raven Dane –
Raven Dane is the author of the Legacy of the Dark Kind series of Dark Fantasy novels. Described many times as 'beautifully written', 'original' and 'refreshingly different' with a fast growing and enthusiastic international fan base, her series is published by D A Diamonds. Read more about the books here: http://www.bloodtears.co.uk

Jon Webb –
For Saturday only, Jon Webb will be selling his debut novel – a single book fantasy thriller called Geas. Available online from http://www.librosinternational.com

05 September 2009

Fcon minus 13 days and counting

Yep, it's that time again, when everyone (yes, everyone! Even you, gallant reader!) wakes up and realises just how close Fantasycon is... (ye gods I love September!) :->

Am I panicking? Am I 'eck as like. This year my pre-con duties are fairly simple. Namely, 1) organise the Dealers Room and 2) Banquet decoration. (eep! Decoration sooo not my forte... There will be no squidgy eyeballs this year, oh no. And definitely no body parts to be thrown at the ceiling...)
After that, you'll find me lurking around Registration. Or possibly finding new and exciting ways to get up to the 10th floor where there's a bunch of stuff going on.

The program seems to be shaping up nicely, including a fab panel on Sunday entitled 'Pulp Adventure and Dodgy Archaeology'. Alas, it's on at the same time as the BFS AGM so what's a girl to do?

The Big Boss will throttle me if I dare divulge any more before he's got final confirmation on everything but I can reveal a stonking Steve Jones double launch/signing in the Main Bar. Yep, not only can you get the brand new Best New Horror signed by all attending authors, there's a Mammoth Book of Wolf Men coming out too!
And if that wasn't enough, Immanion Press and many others will be launching and signing many and various!

For more things Fantasycon, check out the website here!