fantasy

Archer’s Goon

A little while back, SFX Magazine approached me and asked me whether I’d be interested in contributing to their regular “Book Club” feature. It runs at the back of every issue, focusing on a different book each time. And you know me. I like to talk about books. I particularly like to talk about books I like, and why they’re… y’know, awesome.

So of course I said yes, and the first book I’ll be discussing is ARCHER’S GOON by Diana Wynne Jones.

Funnily enough, it turns out this will be the 100th SFX Book Club, and given the current concern about level of representation female authors receive in the SFF world, it’s a wonderful coincidence. 100 feels like a significant number, somehow: and given the context of those two (brilliant) blogposts, it’s nice that the slot goes to a book by an outstanding fantasy writer who happens to be a woman, and whose loss is still felt so keenly by the genre.

The great thing about the Book Club is that it isn’t just me blathering on (after all, I do plenty of that here). So, if you’ve read ARCHER’S GOON, get in touch! You can comment on the book – did you love it / hate it / never read it because… – on the SFX forum, their Facebook page or via their Twitter, or you can always leave me a comment or tweet!

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British Fantasy Awards: voting now open

In case you hadn’t noticed – which by now, I highly doubt (but that’s me – always late to the party) – voting for the British Fantasy Society’s annual awards, the British Fantasy Awards, is now open.

This year sees an overhauled system with a view to creating more interesting and relevant awards: one which nominees are genuinely excited to be shortlisted for, and which the eventual winners feel proud to be taking home.

We want people to care about these awards. We want them to reflect the passion that so many of you have for genre literature – whether you come down on the horror or the fantasy side of the fence; whether your thing’s major publisher or independent press… or whether you love all of the above.

We want it to mean something when a book wins a BFA: we want it to be seen as an endorsement of quality, voted for by readers, writers, editors… anyone who loves genre.

We can’t do it without you.

Without your votes.

Without you shouting for the books you’ve loved; the books you think deserve it.

You don’t have to have read every single book out there. You don’t have to have read every genre book published in the last year. You don’t even have to have an opinion on every award category. All we’re asking is that you recommend a couple of books. That’s it.

You can recommend three things in each category (ideally giving us as many details, like publisher, as you can – it makes our lives easier and helps the team check that your recommendation is valid). You don’t have to recommend three, though: one recommendation in one category is enough, if that’s all you want to include. It still counts.

Don’t tell me you’ve not read at least one genre book in the last year that you think is worth nominating – I simply won’t believe you.

You will need to be a member of the BFS (or a member of FantasyCon 2011 or FantasyCon 2012) to be eligible to vote. If you don’t already fall into one of those categories, why not join the BFS? Or get your membership to FCon 2012 – I can guarantee you’ll have a great time.

And if you are already eligible, go and vote. Now. Use your voice. Thank the writers, the editors, the artists, the publishers… everyone involved in making the books, the stories, the art you’ve enjoyed over the last year.

This is your chance to champion them. Don’t waste it.

Fantasycon 2011

I’m a little behind on things at the moment (I’m fairly sure I’ve still not got round to rambling on about the House of Fear launch yet….) as it’s been a pretty solid week. But really. Fantasycon. Wow.

This year’s convention, organised by Paul Kane & Marie O’Regan on behalf of the BFS, was held in Brighton, in the same hotel as WHC2010 (an event with the dubious honour of being my first ever convention!), and – ever contrary – Brighton laid on its best and hottest weather of the year. In a packed hotel. With enormous picture windows. And broken air-con. Score!

Minor niggles about the hotel aside (it’s an eccentric place, but the location as a Con hotel couldn’t be better) this was roundly declared the best Fantasycon ever, and the best convention many attendees had ever seen. Beautifully run and with a packed, varied programme spanning all aspects of genre writing and film (including film shows, masterclasses and panels on editorial practice, YA literature and how to scare your readers…) it was an excellent example of a convention put together with the broadest possible tastes in mind. As a result, the convention sold out, with 500 weekend memberships sold, and around 100 additional day memberships for the Saturday. To put that into perspective, that’s a higher attendance than Fantasycon has ever seen – including for the year when Neil Gaiman & Clive Barker were guests.

One particular high-point for me (nerve-wracking as it might have been, and indeed was) was that I got to do my first ever public reading from “Blood & Feathers”. The fact I was doing this in Brighton – where I now live, of course – and in the very same building that saw me walk in 18 months ago without the faintest idea what I was doing; in front of a surprising number of people, many of whom I’ve come to see as family… it was very, very special. I’m immensely grateful to everyone who came – and only partly because they didn’t throw things – and asked questions which were far, far too clever for me…!

I went to a couple of other readings, too: notably by Tom Pollock (whose book I’m so excited about), Adam Christopher (whose book I’ve already read… and am still excited about!) and Helen Callaghan‘s (which left me basically wanting to find myself a man who can rip a stiletto apart). I really do wish I’d been able to make it to Anne Lyle and Gaie Sebold‘s readings, but just couldn’t get there.

The YA panel was interesting – and, I think, the only panel I made it to, thanks to all manner of scheduling clashes. After a lively debate about what’s appropriate in a YA book, and the challenges of writing for a teenage audience – and the dangers therein (a point raised by Sarah Pinborough, who talked about having seen some YA readers “stick” there and not progress further) the panel wound up wondering what YA really was. It was a good panel, and it was great to see serious programming time given over to discussing YA.

I was proud to see how packed the Solaris Books event & signing was… mind you: free books, free wine… at Fantasycon, this is always going to guarantee a full house. Even better, they made the fatal mistake of putting me in charge of the bar for a while….. That was a good afternoon.

It’s particularly worth noting, I think, that there were a lot of first-time attendees there: newbies not only to Fantasycon and the BFS but to conventions in general. Hopefully, like me at my first one, they liked what they saw enough to keep coming back. With the exception of the disco. I could totally understand if that made them run like their lives depended on it in the opposite direction. I know. I was there. I’ll be sending the therapy bills to all involved.

For me, though, the convention was – as ever – about the people. I got to spend time with old friends, and to make new ones. Fantasycon is, in my experience, a very relaxed and sociable place – too sociable, maybe, as there were at least five people I would have liked to spend more time with (or indeed, any time at all with!). And let’s not forget the unique double-act that Bella Pagan and I developed on the Saturday night: standing around, looking similar…

Spot the difference...

 

Like all these things, it’s the people who make it. So enormous thanks to Paul, Marie and all the team who organised a convention we’ll all be talking about for years to come – for all the right reasons. And thanks to everyone who made my convention so much fun: in no particular order….

Will Hill, Rob Shearman, Vinny Chong, Jenni Hill, Jon Oliver, Mike Molcher (chopstick ninja!), Scott Andrews, Tom Pollock, Lizzie Barrett, Anne Lyle, Adam Christopher, Michelle Howe, Paul & Nadine Holmes, Mike Shevdon, Sarah Pinborough, Guy Adams, Rio Youers, Gary & Emily McMahon, Joseph D’Lacey, Adele Wearing, Amanda Rutter… and so many more people I’ve lost track of.

Thank you, FCon2011. You *rocked*.

“Swords & Mutton”

While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

Well done to the New York Times, and most particularly to Ginia Bellafante, who have between them managed to insult and – not to put too fine a point on it, anger – lots and lots of ladies with their review of the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones.

A review is, of course, an opinion – and everyone is entitled to one. However, there’s a line between a genuine and honest opinion, and emptying the scorn-bucket:

If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.

Thank goodness, then, for the fantastic response to this review posted on the Geek with Curves site – a response which manages to be entirely fair at the same time as being beautifully snarky when I would have exploded into violently pink femrage. And, for extra added bonus points, it manages to create a whole new genre: sword ‘n’mutton.

The series is hardly “boy fiction.” Where does this phrase come from?  Is it automatically for boys because there are swords and mutton?

So, NYT. You want to tell us we can’t like epics? You seriously want to say that women don’t care about fantasy – or the stories the genre gives authors scope to tell? That we’re only interested in this sort of thing if there’s a bit of shagging in it? Really?

Put it this way- in which woman’s company would you rather pass a few spare hours: one who’s read, followed, inwardly digested and understood the sprawl of stories like Lord of the Rings or A Song of Fire & Ice… or one whose favourite film was “Sex & the City 2“?

Thought so.

The Lost Thing

How pleased were we when Shaun Tan won this year’s Oscar for Best Short Animated Film?

Very. We were very pleased. So pleased, we had to make ourselves plural.

Anyway, courtesy of Ellen Datlow‘s link, you can watch it here.

It makes me smile, and the big set piece reminds me of my favourite artists–people like Miro and Kandinsky. It’s beautiful and warm and sweet and poignant. And the ending… oh, it’s wonderful.

If you’ve not seen it, I hope you love it as much as I do. We do.

Just watch it, OK?

(Also, how did it manage to pass me by that Tim Minchin is the narrator? How? How???)

Synchroni-City

So there I was, talking about London and its slightly odd underbelly, when the forces of synchronicity came and walloped me round the head.

Jenni Hill, one of the editors over at Abaddon & Solaris—as well as one of my favourite people on Twitter—posted something to the effect of being tired of “alternate Londons”, and wondering why writers in the UK didn’t pick a wider range of cities for their urban fantasy works.

Of course I’ve got my own views on that (don’t I about everything?) which boil down to the fact that, as I said in my last post, London has a long, muddy and bloody history. It has more superstitions than you can shake a rat at—and heaven knows there’s enough of those about if you believe the stories. That’s not to say that Winchester or Edinburgh or York or Bath couldn’t rival it in the history stakes, nor that there are places with superstitions just as abiding as here—but London has its own gravity; it exerts its own pull, and perhaps that isn’t limited to the real world.

I can come up with a good number of alternate Londons off the top of my head: there’s—of course—Neil Gaiman’s London Below (“Neverwhere”), which was the first book to give me that ‘why-didn’t-I-think-of-that?’ moment, with its Black Friars and Angel Islington. There’s China Mieville’s umbrella-stalked UnLondon; Suzanne McLeod’s London populated by witches, vampires, trolls & goblins. There’s Kate Griffin’s London where sorcery battles kebab-shop grease-monsters and hoodies with spray-paint and the best pseudo-Latin I’ve ever seen; Mike Shevdon’s version of a city which overlaps the land of Feyre, and which can be crossed in a heartbeat if you know the right roads, and Mike Carey’sFelix Castor” London, where the dead walk, talk and hang out in abandoned cinemas.

The thing is, I love these almost-Londons. I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to several of these authors about their work (and hopefully those interviews will slowly creep into the light of day. They’ve been hideously delayed for reasons I can’t control, and for which I’m immensely sorry to the people who’ve given up their time to talk to me: their answers were all fascinating, particularly when it comes to the question of “Why London?”) and every one of them has a different thing to say about the city—or City. Each of them has picked another side to explore in their alternate universe: Kate Griffin chooses the London of now, with its graffiti and concrete. Suzanne McLeod opts for the bustle of Covent Garden: magic in plain sight, melding with technology. With Felix Castor, Mike Carey explores a particular sort of man—the kind you’re more likely to find here than anywhere else—who taps into the dead (of whom London has more than her fair share), while Mike Shevdon overlays the arcane traditions that the City perpetuates with something much more exotic, conjuring life from dust.

I can understand why people might tire of the alternate-London sub-genre (and I agree, it’s definitely becoming one), particularly as there seems to be a new book every couple of weeks. Ben Aaronovitch’s “Rivers of London” and the first of Sarah Silverwood’s “Nowhere Chronicles”, both recently released, have been getting great reviews. I’ve not read either yet, mostly due to my slight case of Everything-I-Own-Being-In-Storage, but I can certainly believe that these too can draw something fresh from a city I love. There’s a lot of books out there already—but I can’t say that any of the ones I’ve read have felt stale or samey. Each of them has brought something new, and each of them has made me look at the same old chewing-gum clogged pavements in a bright new way.

And for me, at least, that’s what it comes down to: I want fantasy to show me new faces to the familiar. I want it to take words I thought I understood, streets I thought I knew, and to turn them around—to show me the magic that was always there, unknown and unseen all along.

In my case, that’s most likely to happen in London. I was born in a small town in Wales, but in so many ways I was bred here, in London. My parents met here, married here. I came to university here at 17, and I never went home. It’s in my bones and in my blood; I love it and hate it and refute it and need it. I accept that might not be true of everyone… but to bring wonder to London—to a cynical Londoner (and that’s what I am) who’s been here a third of her life..?

Surely, however well-used it might be, there’s still some magic in that?