Casual Fridays: From the SFX Weekender

Hello from wintery Prestatyn, where the SFX Weekender is in full swing. Last night was excellent, marred only by the fact that, on my way to bed, I, erm, fell into a tree. I ought to say I got into a fight about canonicity. The split lip means that I may try to persuade SFX that their plan to photograph me this weekend may now not be on. Sylvester McCoy was just in great form, and I'm looking forward to the author panels later today. The interiors at Pontins are so warm and the outside so cold that I'm sure we're generating powerful winds. The queues have been long, owing to a technical problem with the tills, but all seems packed and jolly.

My big news this time is that my novelette 'The Copenhagen Interpretation' has been included in Locus magazine's Recommended Reading List for 2011. This pleases my inner SF fanboy no end. Thank you, kindly reviewers.

This week I've been finishing up the final draft of the novel, Cops and Monsters (final meaning the draft before the line by line edit, which may yield all sorts of extra notes), which I sent in on Wednesday, and also finishing the latest Saucer Country script. And that's it, because, honestly, that took up what to most people would be several full working days, and several full working nights too. I was working to excellent notes, from Stacy Hill, an editor at Tor in the US, as well as the wonderful Bella Pagan over here. Part of the work was compiling a glossary of British terms for the US audience, which turned out to be quite long, encompassing everything from 'hoodie' to 'twat', and including a lot of police jargon which we may keep as a stripped-down glossary in the British edition.

My wonderful publishers, Tor, have a new blog, where I look forward to seeing all the Cops and Monsters news as we approach publication date, which now looks like being in either November or December. I'll let you know when it's fixed.

Last weekend, I attended the recording of the new audio version of Love and War, the first Bernice Summerfield novel, with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred joining Lisa Bowerman, and of course a full guest cast. It was a pleasure to hang out with that lot as always, with Sylvester carefully telling us nothing at all about his part in The Hobbit, Sophie being persuaded to join Twitter, and Lisa looking forward to returning to Coronation Street. And I'll tell you about the guest stars when their identities are revealed. I popped into the recording booth myself to perform a cameo role. More about L&W as the release date approaches.

This week we also went to see The Muppets in a special presentation at the BFI. It actually defeated my critical abilities, being a work of tremendous love and joy. I was entertained so continually and at such high speed that the movie seemed to be about five minutes long. The Muppet ethos is that hope and friendship are powerful, but that hope has to be torn out of the hands of despair. As with Frank Capra, it's not an artificial, easy bliss, but a bliss that's continually undercut by how hard the real world is. The jokes all come from 'hey that's cute... but look at the terrible thing that's happening to that cuteness!' And after everyone's happy smile has shut down into a shout of horror enough times, the Muppets have earned their happy endings. I have no spoilers. It's all good. Well, perhaps the voice of Frank Oz is missed more than that of the other performers, because that's not quite Fozzie. The movie was introduced by Kermit. 'So, do you want to see the movie?! I can't hear you! No, I mean I literally can't hear you, I'm on video.' It played with a new Pixar Toy Story short, which is, of course, another work of genius. And at the end we got an interview with director James Bobin, who seemed delighted by the audience reaction. Go see.

We also caught up with Arrietty, out on DVD in the UK before it airs theatrically in the States. This is the new Studio Ghibli animated feature, written if not directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It's a relief to be able to say that structually it's a return to form after the awkward shapes of Howl's Moving Castle, Earthsea and Ponyo. The story is simple, but has weight, and it probably helps that it doesn't claim to be an adaptation of The Borrowers, but just takes characters from it. It's about the tiny titular girl who's helped by, and forms a distant friendly relationship with, a sick young boy of normal size. Miyazaki always returns to the same theme: things initially might seem scary, but they'll turn out to be a lot less frightening than they look. (The same moral as The Muppets, but with the heft in different places.) This is that theme writ, erm, large, as fourteen year old Arrietty, having heard hints that her people might be 'a dying species', has not quite a crush on someone who is simply and genuinely unobtainable. He's literally too big for her to deal with. I remember that feeling from my own youth. However, the movie says, your first crush might well be out of your league, but that's okay. It's not one way traffic, either. He feels the same way about her. And that's equally hopeless. But together they can do good in the world, and both go on to better futures. All that will pass nicely over the heads of the child audience who'll see a splendidly brave young adventurer in a meticulously-designed world of tiny objects. 'I'd like a daughter like that,' I said to Caroline, 'only, you know, larger.'

Today's favourite music reflects the fact that I intend to spend as much time as possible during the Weekender on the dance floor. It's one of the great under-appreciated geniuses of dance, Roisin Murphy...

I always think she's poorly-served by her videos. This track for me conjures up a wistful, passionate, romantic narrative which is trampled all over by these visuals. The best such representation of her work would always be her performing before a dancing audience. She understands that dance is about atmosphere. I love how her lyrics and her plundering of classic disco (the finger snaps, the hand claps) all work towards the same end: helping along the drama of the dancefloor, that is an end unto itself. Pop music is about the associations the audience add to it. Roisin invites those associations, asks us to be part of her romantic wonder.

If you see me dancing this weekend, mind you, I shouldn't think 'romantic wonder' will be the words foremost in your mind. More like wonder about whether or not I'm having a stroke. Today's guest is Anne of the website Pornokitsch, and she will shortly explain herself. Take it away, Anne...

Greetings! Paul has graciously offered to host a guest-post from us, his bouncy friends over at Pornokitsch. In theory, we're to be discussing our literary award, The Kitschies, which we'll be presenting at the SFX Weekender. Paul was probably hoping we'd writing something very serious and elevatory about current issues in geekdom or the problems of genre fiction or something. Instead, we've taken the opportunity to have – and document – a full-scale panic attack.
In 2009, Jared and I founded an award on our geek culture blog, Pornokitsch (SFW, we promise!) – mainly as a way of talking about our picks for the most interesting books of the year. We did it again for the 2010 books, but made a bit more of a production out of it: we made our criteria public, published our shortlist, reviewed all the shortlisted books one by one, and chose our winners a little in advance of the other, significantly more respectable, genre awards. It was really fun! And, for the second year in a row, we anticipated the Clarke Award winner.
'Man,' we said to each other, 'this award stuff is dead easy. Next year let's do even more.'
We really threw ourselves into the process for the 2011 award. This time, we put together proper judging panels, found a sponsor, and basically made as big a deal out of the award as we could.
Knowing that we'd be announcing the 2011 winners the same weekend as the GORDON'S ALIVE?!
*Will the authors/editors/publishers/artists be present to receive the awards?
*How can we let the winners know - without letting them know - that they really should be there?
*What does the stage look like?
*Can we make some sort of on-screen presentation, with photos of the books and authors and stuff?
*Do we want a presentation?
*How can we make a presentation not look like a presentation?
*Powerpoint's not really that tacky, is it?
*Will we have time for a dry-run?
*Does this mean we can't drink till Saturday?
*How will we get all the enormous (handmade) tentacle trophies to the Weekender without anybody seeing them?
*How will we get fifteen bottles of The Kraken rum to the Weekender?
*Wait, who drank all the rum?
*What are we going to talk about for forty-five minutes?
*Does this mean we have to write some sort of script? Do we have to memorize it? What if we forget our lines?
*Are there crickets in Wales? Why can we hear them in our heads, whenever we envision the awards ceremony?
*Is it appropriate to flash giant photos of octopusses/squid/our very cute cats on screen whenever we sense we're losing the audience's interest?
*And, seriously. What are we going to wear?

We can panic all we want, but the fact of the matter is: this isn't really about us. This award is about the authors. Is it totally cheesy to say that, with this list of amazing finalists, we're all winners? Oh, it is. A little. But, it's true.
With only a few measly hours left to sort everything out, we find we're in pretty good shape. We have a fresh crop of handmade tentacle trophies and bottles of rum to present to the winners, fancy-schmancy clothing to tootle around in on stage, and an estimably calm and able friend to handle all the technical stuff.
So, if you're heading up to the Weekender, please consider this your invitation to attend the Kitschies Awards (the squiddiest show on Earth) – if only to cheer on a load of great books and incredibly deserving authors. At the end of the day, that's why we created the award: to celebrate the authors and the books we love so much.
There will be tentacles.

Thanks, Anne. (That tentacle is one of the awards!) I'm going to be there, at 7pm tonight, and I hope I might see you there, too. If not, then until next time, Cheerio!

2 Response to "Casual Fridays: From the SFX Weekender"

  • Al R Says:

    She's wonderful, Roisin Murphy. As you say, very underappreciated.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    Great to see you at the weekend, and yes, I think she's a major star who hasn't yet quite achieved that status.