friends

The Lists

So, I had a bit of an odd evening yesterday. Mainly because this happened.

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The British Fantasy Society announced the shortlists for their annual awards (the British Fantasy Awards). And I was delighted to find I’ve been included in the list for the Sydney J. Bounds Award, given to a newcomer every year [insert debate about all possible meanings of the word “best” here].

I was even more delighted to see the other names on that list – partly because there are some wonderful books on there, and partly because I’m lucky enough to be able to call a good few of the authors of them friends – particularly Kim Curran, Anne Lyle and Helen Marshall. All three of them are doing very different things – something which extends to the rest of the shortlist, incidentally – but I’d be more than happy for any of them to win. (Of course I won’t win. Don’t be so silly.)

The point is that this is an exciting shortlist. I can’t claim to have read all the books on it – although I certainly will try to – but of the ones I have read, there’s an enormous amount of scope. There’s YA in there (and not crossover YA, either: solid, properly-teenage YA) and there’s historical fiction and there’s SF and there’s literary. And there’s urban fantasy peppered with angels and a fair amount of swearing. Cough. Moving on…

It’s a shortlist I’m immensely proud and honoured to be part of, because it’s completely unpredictable and reflects what’s emerging from writers working in genre right now.

That made me happy.

And then there was this.

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Which – I’ll be honest – gave me a funny ringing sort of sound in both ears and made me need a bit of a sit down. It was a shock, let’s put it that way, and I still don’t quite have the words for how I feel. The closest I can get is a sort of “Snnnngggzzztzttp” noise, followed by a high-pitched giggle and needing to sit down again.

I cannot even begin to emphasise how much I won’t win this (because come on. Seriously.) but I will enjoy seeing someone else win it (and I know who I’d like it to be…) because it’s a fantastic party to be invited to.

It’s also a lovely thing to be able to say that the Solaris Books “Magic” Anthology is also on the shortlist for best anthology (and it’s a very tough category this year) and there are appearances by friends throughout the nominations. All in all, it’s an exciting list – and I can’t wait to see what happens.

I should also point out that Blood and Feathers being there at all has everything to do with the members of both the BFS & FantasyCon, who nominated for the shortlists. And it also has to do with the tremendous trust and hard work of my editor, Jon Oliver, and everyone at Solaris. So thank you all. You’ve rendered me speechless(ish) and that’s pretty damn hard to do.

Take it away, Dean…

 

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Sir…

There’s no getting around the fact that e-mail (and the internet in general) has revolutionised the way we communicate. This being a blog is kind of a case in point.

But there is one thing about old-timey letters that we’re missing. The paper.

I’m a notepaper fiend: it stretches far beyond the typical notebook fare, and into the realms of stupidity. Take, for instance, the gorgeous decorated & die-cut writing paper I was given one Christmas when I was around 7 or 8. There were two sets: one was illustrated with a swashbuckling swordsman, complete with domino mask and lightning-struck castle perched over a stormy sea. The other had a circus, and was mostly pink.

There were two of each, plus plainer lined paper to act as continuation pages. I think the idea was that I used them to write my thank-you notes (ever practical, my mother) but I couldn’t bear to. The first time I opened the cellophane on the swashbuckler was when my eldest cousin was little (which would have meant I was in my mid-teens) to write her a letter. I opened the circus one two weeks ago, to write an RSVP to a birthday party my son had been invited to.

It struck me that I’ve been hanging on to this paper for my entire adult life (and then some) without knowing quite why. Saving it for something “special”, I suppose – but what qualifies as special enough?

Perhaps if we wrote more letters on lovely paper – and in proper ink (I went to a school where writing in biro was right up there with spitting in your great-grandma’s dinner in terms of Things We Don’t Do: from the age of 6, it was fountain pens all the way…) – then all letters would feel special.

I’m not actually sure I remember the last time I received an actual letter – not a card, not an email, although I’m always delighted to get any of those –  but a letter, through the post. I know I’m not alone in this: I can’t remember the last time I wrote one, either. We’re all so pushed for time, busy rushing around and barely running off a quick e-mail or text message that the idea of sitting down to read (let alone write) a letter has become an alien impossibility.

Perhaps if we had paper like this, though, that might change: Famous Letterheads, 1900 – 1997. (There’s also a whole Tumblr site devoted to them: Letterheady, a sister site of the brilliant Letters of Note)

Naturally, Tesla has the coolest paper ever… and while I can’t see myself having something quite that extraordinary, I’m rather taken with the idea of writing letters again.

Our e-mails can’t be bundled up & tied up with ribbons, packed in a trunk in an attic for our grandchildren to find, and wonder that there was more to us than the self they knew.

The texts we send our friends, our lovers; the messages of congratulation or condolence – the confirmation of affection – can’t be revisited.

And while for most of our daily drudge of correspondence: the spam, the receipts, the work mails… it’s a relief not to have to sort and file – what about the special ones? The ones to and from the people with whom we choose to surround ourselves: the ones who actually matter?

I rather like the idea of finding myself some beautiful paper and a new pen..

Anyone with me?

SFX Weekender 3

North Wales.

February.

Chalet.

It takes a special kind of circumstance to make me even consider contemplating those three ideas in combination. It takes the marvellously over-the-top geekfest that is the SFX Weekender.

Other people have already covered the majority of big things that need to be said: Sophia McDougall‘s blog post on the gender issue within programming has already been widely discussed, and as far as I can tell, what that all boils down to is the old chestnut about visibility on a range of levels, including publisher.

On a more positive note, I was pleasantly surprised by how many women were there, and there for themselves (as opposed to wearing the standard “My boyfriend / husband / son / best mate brought me along–but in 37 hours, I’ll be out of here” expression). I frequently bang on about how inclusive the SFF & genre scene can be, so it’s heartening to  see it playing out on a larger scale.

SFX Weekender bar (photo borrowed from Jonathan Green)

And talk about scale. There were thousands of attendees, making it by far the largest convention I’ve been to, and the first non-writery one. It’s a bit of a bemusing experience for writers: we’re not quite sure what to do when a bunch of cosplayers wander past us, and I still can’t quite get my head around Darth Vader pulling pints behind the bar.

I’ve also seen more 11th Doctors than I ever imagined possible, and a startling number of 10th Doctors who were women (and while I applaud your cosplay, ladies, you’ve left me slightly… confused as to my 10th Doctor-related feelings…).

I think I handled it pretty well–particularly the moment when Anne Lyle, Amanda Rutter and I were ambushed by a Dalek demanding we open the door for it. Thinking fast, Anne and I did what every loyal friend would do, and threw Amanda to our new portal overlord. She was rewarded with the promise she’d be exterminated last, so technically we did her a favour. Stop judging.

I also particularly enjoyed seeing a Dalek aggressively refuse a massage (where do you even start?) and hearing yet another Dalek tell a passing Stormtrooper that “I am not the droid you are looking for.” Like a true Rebellion girl, I spent a significant portion of my time hiding from at least one Judge Dredd, because He Scares Me.

There were a lot of great moments: the roadtrip (because one does not simply walk into Mordor) up to Prestatyn with my fabulous chalet-mates Amanda and Anne, as well as the lovely Will Hill. Being shouted at by Amanda for “doing it wrong” when someone asked about my book. Sitting in Adam Christopher’s car with Adam, Will and Laura Lam on the way to the Tor party, driving down the narrowest lanes imaginable and trying to decide who we’d send out if a hook-handed serial killer started banging on the roof. Sorry, Will. We needed Adam to drive, and Laura and I will be required later for the role of Screaming Female #1 and #2…

I got to catch up with friends: people like Sarah Pinborough, who was incredible at the Just A Minute session–which is up on Youtube: the first part’s here, and I cannot encourage you to watch the whole thing strongly enough–and I met some fantastic new people–Joe Abercrombie is just as awesome a person as he is a writer, quite a dancer, and a bloody sight better at getting pizza than I am. Dammit.

I magicked G&Ts out of thin air, and was presented with a half-pint of wine (Johannes Roberts, you’re a man after my own heart….).

I had huge fun, too, hanging out with the Solaris, Abaddon & 2000AD crew, who are a fantastic bunch and who feel like family. I don’t get to see them in force that often, but the Weekender marked 2000AD‘s 35th birthday, so they were there en masse, and what a fine masse that was.

I danced like a loon to Craig Charles on the decks on the Saturday night, and am fervently hoping that no video of the event exists. I will also keep the photo of a certain editor and a certain author playing “Dinohunt” with intense concentration to myself. For now.

The SFX disco (photo borrowed from Jonathan Green)

I may also have inadvertently started an “Alasdair Stuart for god!” campaign. I would totally vote for that ticket, by the way.

So: I went to very little of the programming, and I’m sure I missed catching up with a whole bunch of people, but that wasn’t really the point. Part of the Weekender’s appeal is that you never quite know what’s coming, or who’s round the corner… summed up best by walking straight into Dave Monteith from Geek Syndicate on the Saturday night. Many moons ago, we used to work in the same incredibly boring office and haven’t seen each other in years–so when we did bump into each other, there was a lot of hugging, squealing and general “Ohmygod!”ing. It was nice.

The downside, of course, is that the site is so large it’s easy to lose people: there were several times I got separated from friends in the middle of a conversation, and many chats which went unfinished–but I hope they can be picked up again next time. A common complaint was that there was nowhere to sit and catch up with people, and that’s true. Hopefully it’s something that can be remedied next year. Because, yes, it’s back next year… and yes, I’m already provisionally booked in at the hotel across the road.

To conclude, then: a good weekend, made–as always–by the people. And in this instance, quick shouts go out to Will Hill, Amanda Rutter, Anne Lyle, Jon Oliver, Dave Moore, Mike Molcher, Simon Parr, Tom Pollock, Lizzie Barrett, Sarah Pinborough, Johannes Roberts, Alasdair Stuart, Jonathan Green, Lee Harris, Adam Christopher, Laura Lam, Jared Shurin, Anne Perry, Andrew Reid… and so many more people who’ve been obscured by the post-convention fug.

If you weren’t there, and you want to get a feel for the weekend (or maybe you were there, and you’d like to relive it from the comfort of your own home…) you could do worse than to check out Jonathan Green’s fabulous vlog & slideshow here.

Meanwhile, and for reasons which I don’t altogether understand, I seem to have got this song stuck in my head as my SFX Weekender theme-tune, probably because I have a strange little ipod. Still, y’know. Let’s go with it…

The One Where She Forgets to be Cynical (For a Bit)

You’ll have noticed there was no blog yesterday. Of course you will, because I know you come by here every day, don’t you? Right? Right?

I figured I’d give myself the day off, fully expecting to be gibbering incoherently (alright, more incoherently than usual) under a pillow.

The truth? Well, the truth’s better. The truth saw me stuck to the phone (arguing about scatter cushions, no less. It’s a very long story, and one that will make no sense to anyone. I’m still not entirely sure I understand it myself…) then shovelling Thai food and cake down my throat as fast as I could, and pondering why Team Jacob suddenly looks like a good option. A really good option.

My birthday’s sort of been running since the weekend – when I was hauled off to a surprise dinner at Belgo in Covent Garden, and met by several of my best friends. Belgian beer. Mussels. How can you go wrong? We were entertained by an unofficial cabaret of a table of plastered men who were downing shots of schnapps faster than they could count. Until they forgot how to count. And beyond…

I’ve been given some wonderful gifts: gorgeous art, tickets to see the ballet in the spring with my girlfriend, a copy of a favourite book from my misspent youth (“The Perfume”, one of the Point Horror series) and in a couple of days, I’m being taken to New York – somewhere I’ve always wanted to go – by my husband on a surprise trip. On top of all this, I’ve had so many messages and lovely phone calls I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.

Two things strike me at this point: first, that somehow, I’ve been lucky enough to wind up in the middle of these extraordinary people–all of whom mean the world to me. They’re family. I hope they realise that: I probably don’t tell them often enough.

Secondly: I have incredibly cool friends.

Thank you–all of you. You rock.