From Dublin to Belarus

I’ve just accepted an invitation to guest at Phoenixcon in Dublin in March, 2007.  Yes, 2007, so that’s lots of time to get some sort of 2p a flight deal from a terrifying budget airline.  It’s a great pleasure for me to have that set in the future, because, as with a lot of conventions I go to, Phoenixcon is like the school reunion for the school I’d have preferred to actually go to.  The same people pop up every time, and they’re wonderful.  Which is just as well, because a convention in Dublin during Lent (thus no alcohol for me, weight falling off me, thank you) could be a special circle of Hell.  
     Our host, Pádraig, is really far too cool to be running a New Age Bookshop.  I always mean to go and see it, because it strikes me there’s a Black Books style sitcom there for the nabbing.  He’s laid back like something out of The Invisibles, his wife Deidre bounces like a sock puppet version of a cheerfully homicidal pixie.  (No, these are flattering descriptions: look into my eyes.)  Pád thinks I’m ‘cheerful’.  Which is weird, considering the circumstances in which we meet.  Something terrible, work-wise, always tends to happen to me while I’m on holiday in Dublin.  This is often because, well, I’m on holiday in Dublin, when I should be at my desk.  This time round, struck by a sudden quaking in my bowels, I asked my wife why I was feeling awe and fear while browsing the National Museum.  Why had we been to the lower floors, while never venturing… upstairs to… Egyptology?  
     ‘Well’, she said, carefully, ‘we always get those phone calls when you’re here.  The ones that say you’ve been sacked from something.  Like last year it was that BBC detective series…’
     She caught up with me in a bar where I was throwing back a Slimline Tonic, my hands shaking, staring hard at a pint of Guinness.  
      It’s no wonder I’ve won Phoenixcon’s Just a Minute quiz twice in a row, it’s sheer nervous tension.  This year I shared the title with Charlie Stross, who I also awkwardly shared a panel with on new developments in FTL drives and the future of Mars.  I say awkwardly because I’m the softest of Hard SF writers, and Charlie, as he explained, was the wrong sort of Hard SF writer.  Also competing there were the magnificent Dave Lally, who is the kindest, most gentle man, but, well… he wanders.  The mere concept of ‘deviation’ is something he could tell you a lot about… eventually.  And there was Nicholas Whyte, a man of tremendous learning and a great European (a trait that’s wonderfully common in the Republic) who, having been practicing in front of a mirror for a year, gave us a good run for our money.  Nicholas works for an organization which I’m very glad to share the world with, the International Crisis Group (www.crisisgroup.org)  They’re an independent body, and their remit is ‘to prevent and resolve deadly conflict’.  They’re who you ask if you want to know just how dangerous the situation in a country is, what’s going to happen next, and what steps can be taken to calm everyone down.  In a century where fixing the world has become ridiculously unfashionable, they offer governments the tools to do just that.  So it came as no surprise that, while hosting a panel about Doctor Who, Nicholas started to field calls from the BBC about the death of Slobodan Milosevic.  I’ve never previously been involved in a discussion concerning favourite old monsters the chairmanship of which varied according to the situation in the Balkans.
     There was also a comics panel, featuring a gaggle of the glorious Millarworld lads, who popped in to collide my various different worlds (Phoenixcon is one of the few places where I get to be a TV writer, a Doctor Who writer, an SF novelist and a Comics writer at once).  
     My old friend Juliet McKenna was also in attendance, having turned me on to this convention a couple of years back.  She’s always a source of good chat, her head so thoroughly screwed on about the business side of writing books that you’d need to put her under warm water and use a towel to get the cap off.  (Hmm.  Metaphors I Just Got Away With.  I think.)  She interviewed this year’s Guest of Honour, someone I’d never met before, but who turned out to be absolutely delightful: Susanna Clarke, the current Hugo holder for Best Novel in the form of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (http://www.jonathanstrange.com/), who was attending with her multi-award-winning husband, author of the Plenty books, Colin Greenland.  Plonking all those awards next to their names here feels a bit weird, frankly, because better company across a dinner table you couldn’t hope to meet, and I cannot think of a better author to conquer the world, as she’s currently doing.  Caroline was surprised to be hauled out of the audience by Susanna to join in on an admiring C.S. Lewis panel, in which I sat at the back sighing through all the interesting contributions because, frankly, as the odd sort of Christian I am (is there any other sort?) I can’t stand Lewis.
     Also good fun, and part of our rather too guest-heavy pub quiz team on the Saturday night (Colin won it for us), were Leah Moore and John Reppion, authors of Albion, the modern comic book recreation of all those ancient British comic characters like Captain Hurricane and Robot Archie (http://www.moorereppion.com/).  Once more, the best company, all of us sharing a memorable dinner with the hosts.  
     So it’s lovely to think that next year I’ll be returning to see how everything’s changed amongst my time-lapse convention friends.  Only next year I’ll make sure I don’t have any TV work in progress at the time.

Belarus played Faringdon last night, which was not some sort of Inter-Toto-We’re-Not-In-Kansas-Anymore football match between a troubled state that Nick would know all about and the democratic navel of the world, but the homecoming (or rather homegoing, because they’re off on a national tour now) gig of this area’s biggest export to the music world thus far.  
     Hmm.  Let’s pause to take a look at that sentence.  It’s tottering, isn’t it?  Standing in the wind like a house of cards.  I’m just going to leave it, okay?
     Belarus are a rock band from Faringdon, and they’re going to be world famous.  Their single, ‘Standing in the Right Place’, is out now and available for download on ITunes.  They probably wouldn’t like me making such comparisons, but if you like Coldplay, with a bit of the guitar jangle and anthemic, melodic, swagger of U2, then you’re going to love them.  Standing in a packed out Junior School hall (Lee Alder, the lead singer, recalled that last time he’d played there it had been in a puppet show of The Wind in the Willows: he played Ratty), I realised that I felt I should be standing in a stadium, as these guys, with major support behind them now, soon will be.  It’s not the first time a Faringdonian has got in the charts in the last couple of years (Riot Act, that is, my mate Tim, with ‘California Soul’), and the town now has a flourishing local music scene, with bands including Bobby Moore’s Shorts being well up to the task of support last night, and the Fifteen Minute Club at the Corn Exchange on the first Sunday of every month packed with exciting new acts.  But Belarus are something special.
     I didn’t let Gawain on the door rip my ticket.  One day it’s going to be very valuable.  
     
     

And, I Should Have Said Before...

I really should commend to you a couple of friends of mine in other categories on the Hugo ballot: John Picacio for Best Professional Artist (check out his work here: http://www.johnpicacio.com/index2.html); and Chris Roberson for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.  I’m proud to be a part of their gang.  

Furthermore, I’d like to add my voice to the campaign for Best Editor to be divided into appropriate book and magazine categories, and isn’t it astonishing (or amazing!) that there isn’t a Hugo for Best Anthology?  

Hugo Awards

Wonderful news on the Paul Boasting Now front. I'm incredibly proud to say that I've been nominated for a Hugo Award, in the category of Best Drama: Shortform, for my Doctor Who episode, 'Father's Day'. (For those of you who don't know, the Hugos, dating back to the 1950s, are the 'Oscars' of the international SF community.) This is something of a dream come true for me, having devoured every novel my local library could find with the words ‘Hugo Award Winner’ on the front when I was a kid. And I get to go to my second Nominees Party, having presented the award to Battlestar Galactica in Glasgow. The ceremony is at the Worldcon in Anaheim, California, on August 26th., and I'm going to be there in my tuxedo, as, I think are my fellow nominees from Doctor Who, Rob Shearman and Steven Moffat. Wish me luck!

Those nominations in full:

http://www.emcit.com/hugo_section.php?nom.htm

I’ll blog again soon about Phoenixcon in Dublin, but this was too exciting for me to wait before posting about it. It makes me tremendously, utterly happy just to have been nominated. Wa-hey!

Microcon. Me for the Unknown.

I’m between conventions as I speak, Microcon last weekend, Phoenixcon tomorrow.  (And I’m hoping that my Robin deadlines continue to fall just right.)  I always enjoy Microcon, which lives up to its name by having a tiny audience, but is hugely friendly with it, more in the nature of a recurring party than a convention.  Everyone goes to everyone else’s panels, the organisers are always the same gorgeous bunch of onna otaku (and I mean that in a nice way, loving as I do the squeeness of all things, and being particularly pleased this weekend to have heard about the sheer number of Doctor/Rose/Captain Jack stories out there… and who knows if I got those slashes in the right place…), and Exeter always seems like a lovely, if hilly, somewhere else.  It was good to see Mags, Jasper Fforde and so many others again, and to meet Veronica Mars and Legion fans in unexpected places.
     But the main attraction of Microcon for me is always the monster hunter.  The cryptozoologist Richard Freeman.  Richard will, I’m sure, one day be famous, the sort of charismatic expert television loves.  He’s a goth with a black waistcoat, a penetrating heavy metal stare, and a degree in zoology.  He goes on expeditions to distant places, and summarises them on panels where he paces back and forth like a badly-housed polar bear, throwing out extreme travel anecdotes that are funny, true and shaped by the mind of a great storyteller, but do not, in the end, ever actually involve the mysterious beast he set out to encounter.  Being a good scientist, though, the fact that the yeti hair samples he took turned out to be from a dog, and that the Great Mongolian Death Worm shows every sign of turning out to be the Small Mongolian Harmless Limbless Lizard are mere grist to Richard’s mill.  Said Limbless Lizard is nevertheless unknown to science, and being the first to describe it would, one happily feels, be as joyful to him as sharing a lift with Bigfoot.  He is one of the best sort of Fortean investigators, the sort who know that the Fortean method is exactly the scientific method, allowed to run free of funding and politics.  His latest book is Dragons: More than a Myth, and, apart from a weird tendency on his part to hyphenate words that never should be hyphenated, I heartily-recommend it.  
     Richard’s work is part of the whole spectrum of Things Unknown that I adore.  I like it when the last shot of the movie is that of the real beast, still in hiding when the fakes have been exposed and the police cars are rolling away.  I like the idea that some of the things now regarded as Fortean (see the Fortean Times link for a definition of that word) may soon move into the realm of the accepted.  My bets (no, no, come back… okay, let’s say my… favourites to be proved true…) would be Anomalous Black Cats (one was run over and stuffed in Yorkshire, and you don’t get much more real than being stuffed in Yorkshire), acupuncture (not particularly controversial anymore), and some sort of faster than light drive  -

http://www.newscientist.com/channel/fundamentals/mg18925331.200

That’s a New Scientist article, and what with the recent ‘red rain’ over India, seemingly containing replicating organic material from an exploded asteroid, reading that magazine lately has become every bit as much of a thrill ride as Fortean Times is.  
     I love stories of the unknown.  I like the feeling of archetypal myth exploding into the real world, in everything from how genuinely weird ‘bogus social worker’ encounters seem to be (the photofits always look like medieval witches) to how obvious ‘alien abduction’ is, as an oft retold folk tale rather than as an actual event.  It rather irks me that FT has now decided the whole business of UFOs is a bit too wacky for them, and takes pains to always mention weather balloons, which doesn’t really display Fortean open-mindedness.  But recent revelations concerning how the USAF used the UFO thing from the start to make people see a flying saucer rather than the U2 may have influenced their decision.  (I also wonder if the ‘Men in Black’ thing, where UFO witnesses really do seem to occasionally be harassed by very strange individuals, might be some sort of air force ‘hazing’ ritual, something new recruits do to freak out civilians and get laughs back on base).  Mind you, I always get annoyed at the inclusion of articles in support of Intelligent Design or We Never Landed On The Moon, so I have my subjective weirdness acceptance levels too. I do wonder though if, buried within the whole military industrial complex/archetypal fairy unconscious collision that was the Twentieth Century, there might be a couple of instances of actual alien spacecraft passing by.  That moment in the 1950s where UFOs looked as real as NATO seems to me to be the height of romance: RAF night fighters launched to meet something shiny on the radar screen.  Ah, they don’t make them like that any more.
     I won’t go into how freaked out I was at college by the whole Whitley Strieber thing.  Should never have read that book.  All I can say now is, I don’t believe it, but I still wouldn’t put him up in the spare room.  
     Ghosts: I’d love to meet one, just so I’d know.  Conspiracies: nah, you guys would just like them to be true because it’d mean that someone was ruling the world.  Spring-Heeled Jack: isn’t it wonderful how there’s always a new version of that mysterious figure at the end of the street?  
     In the end, I like the unknown to stay a little way off, so we can just see the shape of it, but not the details.  I like it that the apparent size of the Sun and Moon, as seen from the surface of the Earth, is the same for no good reason, that the splendor of a total eclipse might be unique to us in this galaxy, that we are scientifically very special as a world after all, and that that is sheer coincidence.  Because that seems to me like a hole in the plot of the universe, a clue to something bigger, that doesn’t necessarily lead anywhere… but could.       
     I was just along from Exeter for the total eclipse of 1999, and I should have realised then, as the shadow of the moon swept over the sea at us at supersonic speed: I was in the best possible place to meet alien visitors.