All the Things You Shouldn’t Talk About?

Death, money, politics.

I haven’t blogged much this year. Partly that’s because I’ve been social media-ing on behalf of BristolCon, and maintaining two blogs has been a bit much for me, and partly it’s because of the state of my brain, trapped in a web strung between my health condition and the medication for my health condition (both make it hard to think). I’ve written a few obit posts, and not published any. I’ve made lists of things I wanted to talk about, and not written the articles. There’s been too much to say.

I’m writing now from what should be a very dark place – is, in many ways, a dark place, for me and the world. Lots of people who meant something to lots of people have carked it, mostly not young, but we mourn them all the more; they were our icons. Just today, Leonard Cohen.

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

The political situation I won’t bore you with; Brexit, Trump, the rise of the Right, post-factual politics, wars and famines. People I know and love are shaken and afraid. What slight optimism I’d started to feel about the world addressing climate change and global hunger and poverty is out the window; we are not going to do this the easy way. We are going to send the world up in flames, and devil take the hindmost.

On a personal level, I had found an equilibrium, this summer. Although not well enough to write, I made my peace with focusing on editing, and got some great manuscripts to work on. The Fight Like a Girl anthology was well received. Charley-dog repaid my faith in him, after I resisted calls to have him PTS back in March, by putting his faith in me. With mutual trust, having him around became a source of joy rather than stress. He has become genuinely beneficial to my health and wellbeing, as I’d hoped he would be.

This past month, Charley’s had to be in and out of the vets, first with injuries and then with some systemic problem that makes him itch all over. His hair’s falling out. His kidney function may be compromised. It seems he’s allergic to dust mites, but I’m afraid that won’t be the whole story.

A month ago, I was bumped off ESA onto JSA. From being in the Support Group (considered ill enough to require additional funds to manage my illness) to being asked to sign on weekly and pursue full-time work. I scored zero points in the work fitness assessment, despite the fact that I am more ill than I was when I was put into the Support Group. The assessor didn’t ask me about half the stuff she put in the report, she told me it wouldn’t harm my claim if I didn’t do the physical, which she acknowledged I was too tired and in too much pain to do, then scored me as if I had done all the physical tests without issue. In fact I was unable to stand by the end of the interview, and had to be assisted from the room. That didn’t make it into her report.  My benefits have been cut in half, and whereas on ESA I was allowed to work up to 16 hours a week and keep up to £400 a month of earnings, on JSA I have all income deducted from my benefits, regardless of when I did the work I’m being paid for, and there is no way to offset business expenses against business income, so I will actually make a loss, as my outgoings remain constant but my income is effectively confiscated.

With the help of my friends, I will be appealing the decision, but this is, as you might imagine, a source of immense stress, and everything about it is incredibly time-consuming. My editing work has had to go on the back burner, and I’m feeling incredibly guilty and miserable about it. My authors and lovely publisher all deserve better.

And I’m sick. And tired. Fibro is one of those invisible disabilities, but it’s very, very real. I may not tick any of the DWP’s boxes; I can stand up and sit down and walk around; but I can’t do much of anything and I can’t do any of anything without pain. I’ve sat here far too long typing this. I won’t be able to work my legs or arms afterwards. So it goes.

Then there’s BristolCon. After eight years on the committee, I’m standing down as Media & Publications this year. I may stay involved, I will certainly minion, but as soon as I have the interim changes made to the website that I promised for this year, I will be handing over to someone new. It’s been fabulous, amazing, but with the limited energy I have, I have to prioritise and I can’t do the role justice any longer.

Why, then, am I not in a dark place? In a hole, in the dark, with an owl? Because I have a plan. A cunning plan? Maybe. Maybe only in the Baldric sense. Watch this space.

Fight Like A Girl

Fight Like A Girl cover by Sarah Anne Langton

The date of the launch party for Kristell Ink’s new anthology Fight Like A Girl has been announced: The launch will take place at The Hatchet Inn, Frogmore Street, Bristol (one of only two surviving medieval inns in the city centre) on Saturday April 2nd from 1pm-5.30pm.

This is my 3rd collaborative anthology project with the lovely Joanne Hall, one I wasn’t initially supposed to be working on but due to the original editor being unable to continue, I was drafted in. Whilst it’s a shame that she couldn’t do it, I feel very fortunate to have been involved in this book, which is, well, arse-kickin’ good.

The launch should be a cracker, too. There’ll be swordplay from contributing author Fran Terminiello and friends, readings from the anthology and discussion of the role of women in SF&F. There will also be a buffet to munch. You can see Fran’s skills in action in this video of an impromptu display in the bar at FantasyCon in 2014. Also showing off her moves in the video is Juliet McKenna, another of our contributors, who will be at the launch and could well be persuaded to throw someone to the floor with her little finger; always a treat.

Copies of ‘Fight Like A Girl’ will be available to buy on the day. RRP £9.99

Tickets are available from eventbrite – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/fight-like-a-girl-flag-launch-event-tickets-20658444965

The entry price of £5 per head is entirely to cover the cost of the buffet. The extra 95p is a fee charged by eventbrite to cover their administration costs. So if you want to join in with the buffet, please buy a ticket so we know how many people want feeding!

You can also join in the fun on our Facebook Page.

WordPunk launched (softly, softly) and Stories for Chip released

WordPunk, the new incarnation of the audio fiction magazine Dark Matters, is now live online. Episode 17, the first under the new branding, contains 4 short stories, one of which is my own ‘Offerings’. It’s a soft launch; updates to the website are not 100% complete; but the stories are there and you can hear them for absolutely nuffink, free gratis.
The official release of Stories for Chip happened last week, with a reading in Seattle. Sadly no wormhole opened up to deliver me to the University Bookstore. I’d have given a lot to be there, but transatlantic flights are about as likely for me as wormholes, on my current budget! Looks like it went really well, and the book is garnering some great reviews. There are some links on the Rosarium Publishing facebook page.

People without willies riding bicycles, who knew?

I found out just now that while all the hoohah about the Tour de France has been claiming my attention, people with hoohoos have been cycling around Italy in the gloriously named ‘Giro Rosa’.

It’s the last fucking day of the race.

I’m an actual fan of women’s pro cycling, and yet this completely passed me by. I’m mad at myself for not keeping better track, but I’m also mad at the UCI and the media and my fellow cycling fans. Women’s cycling has had a bumpy ride over the years. Women’s Tours de France have been on and off and on and off – off since 2009 as audiences had been shrinking – and all the time with next to zero media coverage.

The UCI doesn’t let women ride races anywhere near as long as the men’s (the Giro Rosa is currently the longest at 10 days), so the spectacle is less, the money isn’t enough for many people to go pro in the first place, and then fans complain that the women aren’t as tough or as skilled as the blokes.

It’s a vicious circle. I don’t know how we get out of it, but I’ve bookmarked http://prowomenscycling.com/ and I’m going to try to keep in touch with the women’s events a bit more closely from now on. I’ve also re-upped my personal campaign to get decent coverage on TV and radio, by starting a petition on Change.org, directed at the BBC’s sports director Barbara Slater. I’ll be tacking other organisations in other ways.

Cap’n Clarke’s Airship Ball Report

Airship Ball 003 - sepia

…and it’s away! Saturday saw the second and final launch date for Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion, which now sails out into the world. Bon Voyage, old girl.

It was a… unique event, and an evening of firsts. The Folk House Cafe laid on a spread of cucumber sandwiches and superlative cake (I especially enjoyed the tiny coconut things), and folk turned up in their finery to eat it. We had the artwork from the anthology on display (unfortunately we had to tuck it out of the way, so you can get a better idea of it on Andy’s DeviantArt site.)

 

Airship Ball 009

John Hawkes-Reed talks robot elephants

The first divertissement came from John Hawkes-Reed, who gave us a world exclusive on an alternate history par excellence, of which you can read the transcript here: Hacking the Jaquard-7: the development of the steam-powered elephant automaton, complete with demonstrations of coding via organ-roll, and photographs telling of failed experiments therein.

We then had adaptations of two stories from Airship Shape; ‘Brass and Bone’ by Joanne Hall, adapted by Deborah Walker, and ‘Artifice Perdu’ by Pete Sutton, adapted by Pete and me.

Airship Ball 020

Ken Shinn, Myfanwy Rodman, Des Fischer & Jo Hall performing ‘Brass and Bone’

airship-artifice

Ken Shinn again, Duncan Thow, Scott Lewis, Claire Hutt & Pete Sutton performing ‘Artifice Perdu’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Airship Ball 026

Cheryl gets cheese

Jo and I wanted to thank Cheryl for prompting us to do a steampunk anthology, and for going through unspeakable torment figuring out how to get Wizard’s Tower’s first ever print book into shops and through letter boxes everywhere. I was going to get a bouquet of flowers, but Jo suggested a bouquet of cheeses, and that seemed to go down pretty well. Cheryl has links to more info about the cheese on her write-up of the evening, if you’re into that type of thing.

Airship Ball 032

Half of Cauda Pavonis (people’s heads kept getting in the way)

Pat Hawkes-Reed's octopus cake

Pat Hawkes-Reed’s octopus cake

Next up were Cauda Pavonis, a local goth band who left their uber-drums at home and did their first ever semi-acoustic ‘unplugged’ style gig. It fit into the evening perfectly, with dramatic songs about Weyland Smithy and the carnivale noire.

 

 

The cake at this stage took a turn for the weird, courtesy of Pat Hawkes-Reed:

 

 

 

 

queenie-green

Heike Harding-Reyland as Queenie Green

Finally, we awarded the prize for the best representation of a character from Airship Shape. Honourable mentions go to just about everyone; so many people dressed up and they all looked glorious. There could only be one winner though, and a signed copy of Eugene Byrne’s Unbuilt Bristol went to Heike Harding-Reyland for her Queenie Green outfit. Many thanks to Eugene for so kindly donating the book, and for supporting the anthology with his incredible expertise on Bristol history. Well done to Heike for a truly amazing costume. I’ll leave you with Heike, her budding fern people, and a few other pictures of the revellers. Thank you all for coming, and making it such a fabulous night.

Claire Morley

Claire Fisher

Piotr Swietlik

Piotr Swietlik

Scott Lewis as 'Airship Shape'

Scott Lewis as ‘Airship Shape’

Kolonel Mustard as 'Bristol Fashion'

Kolonel Mustard as ‘Bristol Fashion’

Ken Shinn

Ken Shinn

On Conventions

I’m talking about SFF conventions here, not the convention that you wear your pants under your trousers or the like. (Unless you are a superhero of course, or an American, in which case you wear your pants under your pants. Except they probably don’t call pants pants. Anyway, I digress.)

This week there has been much discussion about WorldCon, and whether it’s a safe space for anyone who didn’t sell their first novel in the 1950’s and/or doesn’t happen to be in possession of ‘outie’ genitalia and pale skin. Furthermore, even if it’s not actively threatening, isn’t it *dull*? There is a concern that whilst young people are going to conventions like DragonCon, they aren’t going to the big, long-running events. The ones that hand out the gongs.

In response to all this plather, Mary Robinette Kowal put up an online survey. I glanced through it, reading in particular the section where people wrote their own comments regarding what changes might encourage them to go to cons. My interest was detached at first, and then I remembered something. I am on a convention committee. Duh! Not WorldCon or WorldFantasy, obviously, so I can’t help them, but if people have problems with conventions, all con-runners everywhere stand to learn something from listening.

Mary has responses from over 3,900 people at the time of writing. 88.4% were white, 75.4% were American, and 53.7% were female (if this is representative of fandom, we really aren’t doing too well on racial or geographical diversity). 43% said they attend cons. There’s no breakdown within that con-going segment.

It’s only been up for 5 days, but the 1,300-odd comments I read didn’t throw up much that was new after the first 500, so I think it’s worth summarising them now.

By far the biggest factors stopping people attending cons are time, money and distance; nothing organisers can do anything about… Well, maybe, but there were a few people suggesting that the solution is more small, local conventions, run for a day or two, and keeping prices down.

The second strongest theme emerging was definitely inclusivity. Almost everyone (with one or two curmudgeonly exceptions) wanted cons to be made into safer and more diverse spaces. That’s for women, young people, old people, children, people of colour, disabled people, the non-gender-normative, anxious people, and those who’ve simply never been to a con before and don’t know anybody. The only recurring plea for banishment called for the removal of nasty smells (not the owners of the bodies producing the smells, just better personal hygiene all round, and possibly ventilation.) So far, so not rocket science. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Joanne Hall’s advice on surviving a con: be nice, don’t be smelly.

Some suggested changes that would support inclusivity were: strong -and enforced– safe-space and equality policies, gender parity in programming, good disabled access, chillout spaces, child-friendly events, YA and gaming topics, and discouraging ‘porny’ pieces in art shows and on dealer tables. Guides for first-timers and opportunities to mingle would help foster more of a community feel.

It seems you will never please everyone when it comes to programme content. Some wanted more literary focus, some wanted more on comics, some wanted more gaming and less on comics. Lots of people complained about unfocussed, boring and repetitive panels, and there seemed to be some consensus on wanting panels with more specific topics, and panelists who were both knowledgeable and well prepared. Several people suggested including more lectures as alternatives to panels, lots wanted more and better science, and some requested explicit literary craft, publishing and academic tracks (information over entertainment). At the other end of the spectrum were those who wanted more to do that didn’t involve sitting down and listening to people talk.

A surprising number said they didn’t attend cons because they didn’t know about them, which is a particular challenge for us small, local cons.

My favourite answers to the question (What changes would most encourage you to attend conventions?) were ‘my ex-boyfriend gets hit by a bus’ and ‘Neil Gaiman being there’. Yeah. Don’t think we can promise either of those, but fingers crossed for ya. No promises either to the whingers wanting to get comped into conventions because they are SFF professionals. I don’t know what the percentage is but I’m sure most cons would be struggling to stay afloat if they comped everyone who calls themselves a pro. We don’t even comp ourselves ffs. (Is it a coincidence that the reverse of SFF is ffs? Yes it is, but I like it anyway.)

The good news for BristolCon is that we are already ticking a lot of the boxes. No doubt there’s more we can do, and over the next few weeks as we prepare to put on the greatest con the DoubleTree Bristol has ever seen, we’ll definitely keep all this in mind.