My Oscar Bets 2012

As always at this time of year, I like to share my shame.  For the last few years, I've made a small profit out of the Academy Awards, but I think we may have got to the end of my winning streak.

I laid five of my six bets before the nominations were announced, to get better odds.  One of those bets (Leonardo DiCaprio as Best Actor for J. Edgar) failed at the nomination stage, but it was a second thought anyway when I became convinced that my initial Best Actor punt wasn't going to make it, but Leo (playing a real person, with a quirk, far from his own type) might.  It turned out that my original thought was indeed nominated.  So here's what's left:

Best Actor: Gary Oldman (10/1)
Best Actress: Viola Davis (5/2)
Best Picture: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (12/1)
Best Director: Michael Hazanavicius (6/4)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Moneyball (5/1)

I've put £10 on each.  So if I make over £60 in total, I'll have made a profit.

Now, you may, looking at the above, think I've gone completely mad.  This is surely the year The Artist is going to sweep all before it!  Well, I agree.  It very probably will.  But the odds reflect that.  My nod in its direction for Best Director is because that was the only place where any value at all could be found.

I bet on Extremely Loud before it got such damning reviews, on the basis of the subject matter and how it's treated.  I very much doubt I'll win that one.  It's now gone much further out than 12/1.  Viola Davis, however, was second favourite when I bet, and has now moved in to become favourite (because the Academy voting for Thatcher?!) I think she's my best shot apart from Director.

I added Moneyball very late when I checked on post-nomination value saw an Aaron Sorkin screenplay at 5/1.

I'd love to see Oldman win, but the film did no business in the States, and I really don't think he will.  Unless Moneyball rescues me, I think the most likely outcome is that I'll wake up tomorrow £20 down.  Cheerio!

Casual Fridays: The Week of Living SFnally

It's been a packed week.  Last Saturday was Picocon at Imperial College, which was, as always, small but perfectly formed.  I went along out of a pressing sense of need, wanting to huddle with my fellows in genre like we were a group of otters (no, I can't find out what the proper collective noun is).  I get like that sometimes, when I feel distant from my peers.  And the controversies of the week before had left me feeling that distance.  Picocon has a real lecture theatre, the acoustics a luxury compared to the usual convention space, and guests Justina Robson, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Tricia Sullivan made good use of it.  I spent something like six hours in the bar, chatting and chatting, and by the end of it felt pretty centered in my genre again (well, that's one way to put it).  Then I joined Justina and Adrian's team for a ridiculously hard quiz (I contributed little of note, we came third) and train problems meant I failed to get back in time to record the new edition of The SF Squeecast, so in terms of genre-friend-hanging-out-with: swings and roundabouts.

Monday brought lunch with my editor.  Just those words are enough to please me.  That I have an editor at all is sheer pleasure, and something I don't take for granted.  We talked about the current novel, and about plans for books to come.  It's not often in the business these days that you get the chance to indulge in such blue sky thinking.  I was challenged and encouraged (and really well fed).  I like my editor.

On Wednesday I was in town again, this time for Liz Williams' appearance at the monthly BSFA open meeting. Liz was interviewed by Ian Whates, and performed splendidly.  She, like me, often finds herself having to square a mystical world view with a rationalist one.  I bought a copy of her non-fiction Diary of a Witchcraft Shop. (The shop Liz runs in Glastonbury is as mad a world as you expect it to be, and then some.)  And once again, I got to huddle with my SF otters.  I have a friend, it turns out, who wears a quote from 'Sympathy for the Devil' on the soles of his shoes, a true modern dandy.

And on Thursday, there was yet more, as I went along to the inaugural Science Fiction Social at the Gower Street branch of Waterstones.  These events are an idea of Clarke Award organiser Tom Hunter and the gang from Pornokitsch, basically a single panel, with a lot of audience interaction and wine.  Nick Harkaway, Gillian Redfern and Jared Porno talked about the different shapes of award systems within the genre, and not only was every seat taken, but the spaces around were filled with people craning their necks.  Meaning, unfortunately, that those who'd come to the Law Department of Waterstones that evening seeking knowledge of Torts or Shipping Regulations were out of luck.  Nick (in a splendid Vivienne Westwood jacket that I craved on sight... is this dandyish the impact of cosplay on the mainstream SF audience?) was literally standing in the way of Civil Rights.  The great and the good of genre were once more in attendance, and... bloody hell, weren't they all getting as tired as I was?  I journeyed across town to meet up with a gang of UK Comickers who'd assembled to welcome US artist Kevin Maguire, had a chat with Si Spurrier and Kieron Gillen, they hauled myself all the way back to the Marlborough pub, where, I was told, the Social was still continuing.  Indeed, it was still in full swing, bigger that at the shop even, right up until last orders.  'Hip check!' yelled Jenni Hill, commissioning editor for Orbit, who does Roller Derby, nearly breaking one of mine with one of hers.  Don't these people need sleep?

During this time, I have also, incredibly, been working, finishing up the first arc of Saucer Country (it's called 'Run'),  chipping away at an article for Vector about London (tied in with my upcoming London-set urban fantasy novel), and finishing the plotting on a new project, working with a friend, in a medium I haven't dabbled in before.

On the suggestion of Sophie Aldred, I've also taken up as my Lenten sacrifice this year the idea of doing a Random Act of Kindness every day.  This means that I will have to get out of the house even more, since doing such things for my wife seemingly doesn't count.  It would have been far kinder to my own body had I chosen to go without beer.

In short: frigging hell, I'm knackered.

In other news...

Down the Tubes is running a series of creator tributes, celebrating the 35th birthday of 2000AD.  Mine can be found here.

Now it's finally arrived in the UK, we've been enjoying Grimm.  The first episode I wasn't so keen on, though the 'supernatural creatures have modern social issues too' trope, so much a part of Angel, and used surprisingly little since, was welcome.  But the second episode seemed to widen the world ten per cent in every direction, revealing some interesting background.  The fact that this is a forest-based fantasy, rather than an urban one, makes it feel different.  It's also photographed differently, with chocolate box colours obviously designed to remind us of fairy tales.  I'm not so sure of the bedrock of the premise: 'fairy tales are warnings' is the most concrete way of expressing what's quite a vague idea, and it doesn't quite get there.  But there's a freedom there too.  We could see all sorts of creatures, and have their systems explained to us in new ways (rather than the 'roll for a supernatural creature and then for an exciting profession' school of urban fantasy).  The second episode showed us that our hero intends to police, rather than slay, these creatures, seeking, to some extent, their cooperation, and the well-thought-out werebears told us that this isn't just going to be a hodge-podge of whatever the hell we like this week.  I was also pleasantly surprised by (slightly more characterised than usual) Nice Black Partner and Wife Without A Connection To Work surviving the pilot. And there were some moments of extremity that one doesn't often find in genre television.  All of this might be expected from Angel veteran David Greenwalt.  I look forward to seeing how it develops.

Several of you will have scored points in our This Time Next Year game as the first couple of writers on the next season of Doctor Who have been announced, but I'll wait until the full line-up becomes clear and sort out all the points at once then, rather than bit by bit.

And I gather from my sources that if you watch The One Show tonight on BBC1, several comics folk will be in evidence.  (And, as it turns out, some cake-baking friends of my mate Penny.  What are the odds?) This is mainly because Stan Lee is in town for the London Super Comic Con.  I'll be going along to that convention, spending some considerable time at my table, and helping to judge the cosplay contest, but I won't be appearing on the DC panel because, in the face of my Panel Parity Plan, the organisers decided the simplest course of action, rather than find an equal number of women who could talk on the panel in an informed way about DC Comics (there's no reason everyone on the panel has to work for the company) was to chuck me off it.  I've considered a few responses to that, but I think in the end the most reasonable course of action is to go along and talk to people about the situation.

It's also the course of action that involves the least grandstanding from me.  The placement of my ego in this plan has caused me a lot of soul-searching in the last couple of weeks.  A wonderful woman of my acquaintance got in touch with what I can only describe as a life-changing email, and since then I've been trying (and sometimes failing) to point to women already working to achieve parity (and things like it) and making this much less about me, me, me.  When the new female-led Fifty Fifty Festivals organisation is up and running (I'd link to it now, but there's only a placemarker website as yet) I'll basically become someone who works for them, and continually points people towards their work.

And on that subject, let me introduce today's guest, Adele Wearing, Programmer of the alt.fiction events for Writing East Midlands (WEM) and creator of the Un:Bound books blogzine.  She's also one of the people behind the upcoming 50/50 gender parity for convention panels campaign.  If you'd like to get in touch with her to help out with that, she tells me she can be found at or as @Hagelrat on Twitter.  I think that's the best thing you can do to help with Panel Parity, and I'd especially encourage people who found my approach to be wrong-headed to communicate with her.  Welcome, Adele...

This is my third year volunteering with Alt.Fiction and like any relationship, it’s evolved in that time. The first year I stepped in to record some small panels, added late into the programme. It was great fun to do and was wonderful to be able to put some panels up on the internet for people who couldn't make it. The second I did the same over two days and they were planned in from the start. This year, sadly, Alex who started and always ran the event stepped down. How could I resist? So I volunteered and took over the programming. I'm very glad I did. 
     It’s surprisingly easy to get drawn further into this event, it’s fun, friendly and always has a fantastic line up of genre writers and publishers. Scheduling is a challenge, but it's exciting to see it take shape and begin to make announcements. 
     We made some changes this year. Most obviously is the move to Leicester. The plan is that the event will move every year or two, between suitable East Midlands venues, giving new people the chance to try it out. We’ve also pared back the programme a little. I know it doesn’t look that way, but it really is less intense. Alt.Fiction has always had a strong social element and we’ve tried to make more room for that this year.
     There is also an expansion occurring of what Alt.Fiction actually means, with games and TV writing being a little more evident this year, the mixed media strand being something we all want to strengthen in the future. Making a living as a writer is hard and there are opportunities out there not tied to novel form. 
     We've tried to be as representative as possible and have a good proportion of women on panels, as well as a mix of writers and expert fans to bring a blend of viewpoints and more discussion. At this point I want to make a personal pledge for 2013, on top of WEM's commitment to equality. While it is impossible to promise I will achieve 50/50 panels next year, because it will depend on who approaches and who accepts an invitation, I can pledge personally that I will approach as many women as men with invitations to participate under the 50/50 campaign. 
     So aside from the formal programme, what these things are really about for me is spending a weekend surrounded by people who share my passion for stories. Writers, publishers, fans, all spending a weekend sharing their knowledge, enthusiasm and company over a few drinks. Really it's the perfect way to spend a couple of days for a fan like me. It's absolutely the best reason to attend any genre event, because when else do you get to do that? 
     I started Un:Bound because I wanted to talk about books, in the last few years the book blogging community has exploded and I've found myself more and more drawn into the world of genre fiction. It's a good place to be.

Thanks, Adele, and particularly for that Panel Parity pledge.  I look forward, as always, to this year's Alt.Fiction.

This week's selection of my favourite music is something I've loved ever since I first heard it, as a child, on Carl Sagan's Cosmos series (the soundtrack to which is very difficult to find).  Then it was used to illustrate, with a suitable animation, the progress of evolution, and it still speaks to me of mathematical sequences, equations somehow working themselves out.  It's a deliberate piece of art, but it feels to me as if it contains a knowledge of the systems underlying the natural world, of emergent behaviour, that it's a depiction of the regularity that can be created by non-sentient forces.  Or perhaps it's just that the first time you encounter something fixes many things about how you always experience it after that.

Phew, we got to the end of that one safe and sound.  I look forward to seeing some of you tomorrow.  For, dear God, more socialising.  Until then, Cheerio!

Casual Fridays: Redux

So I felt so ill and exhausted last Friday that I let myself off the hook of doing this blog.  I don't think it was actually post-convention crud, but the downer of no longer being surrounded by lovely friends and an audience of 6000 didn't help my condition.  Now I'm feeling a lot better, but still kind of tired, after (before this week) two of the busiest work weeks I've ever had, plus the SFX Weekender.  And this week has also been huge, life-changing, in fact, in a number of ways, some of which will only become clear in the long term.  Before we get to the meat of this blog, though, with a report on the Weekender, some important announcements...

This year's Eastercon still seeks female panelists, particularly in the areas of science and comics.  Everyone should do Eastercon this year: see George R.R. Martin!  Tricia Sullivan!  Cory Doctorow!

There's a new edition of the SF Squeecast out now, without me in attendance, but with the gang discussing each other's work (including some flattering words about my stuff).  Probably a good thing I wasn't there, I'd have blushed and looked at my shoes.

Last Saturday, I popped along to Big Finish Day in Barking.  Brilliant to see such a large turn-out, to have so many BF writers in one building, and to meet Benny's new companion (well, more of a best friend really), Ayesha Antoine.  (Who is such a sweetheart, and such a geek!)  Onstage, me, Ayesha, Lisa Bowerman and Benny producers Gary Russell and Scott Handcock (hey, two out of five, close enough for Panel Parity!) talked about plans for the character's twentieth anniversary this year.  There are two special projects.  Firstly, there's a new audio adaptation of Bernice's first appearance in Love and War, with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred (here's the full cast list).  It's especially pleasing to have James Redmond (who was in some of my Casualty episodes) playing Jan.

Secondly, and this is very exciting, there's Many Happy Returns, a new Bernice audio adventure written by, and starring, every major Bernice contributor.  This is that secret project I visited the BF studios a few months ago to take part in, and it was like Bandaid, with writers and actors coming in to do their bit and hanging around in the green room to chat about old times.  We've come together in aid of Let's Do It For ME, a charity dear to all our hearts, furthering awareness of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by funding research into this terrible condition.  We all donated our time for free (the studio included), so every penny goes to the charity.  The drama is also a proper celebration of Bernice's history, visiting every aspect of her life.  I'm very proud of my bit.  (And as you'll notice if you visit either of the BF links, Scott's even running a marathon for the cause.  Do chip in.)

In other news, The Sensible Folly, the story I had published in booklet form to support the Folly Trust in my old hometown of Faringdon, has been made into an audio book.  You can hear me talking about the project on this edition of Faringdon Local, and my whole fifteen-minute reading is here. It's a pleasure to actually record one of my own stories.  I hope I get to put my voice to similar use again sometime.

My lovely publishers, Tor Books, have a new blog, which includes a competition relevant to the interests of those of you who were at the Weekender.  I suspect as November approaches I'll be sending you in their direction often.

The latest issue of Esli, the Russian SF magazine (#228) has arrived...

Containing a translation of my Jonathan Hamilton novelette 'The Copenhagen Interpretation', with an illustration of this rather dashing 1980s-style Hamilton...

Which actor does he remind me of?

If you're a member of the British Fantasy Society (and if not, you should really think about joining), voting has started for this year's BFS Awards.  For the first time, these awards include a category, the Robert Holdstock Award, for Best Epic Fantasy Novel, a change designed to move the Society away from being a dark fantasy/horror group and embracing all kinds of fantasy.  Epic fantasy has, oddly, not many awards to its name, and I hope this one will be welcomed.

And finally, I'm proud to be one of six judges for the Sci-Fi London 48 Hour Film Challenge, which, as the title suggests, is a contest involving making a short film in two days (you need to have a representative in London to announce your work on April 14th).  If you've ever fancied getting behind the camera, this wouldn't be a bad place to start.  I look forward to seeing your entries.

Following the delivery of the novel (and how easily do I dash off that phrase now!), last week was all about Demon Knights for me, as we get to two-thirds of the way through the next arc, about which I can reveal nothing.  But there are loads of connections with the wider DC Universe becoming apparent.  And this week, I plotted out a Saucer Country arc, and went back to work on the new Hamilton story.

Last week we went to see The Phantom of the Opera, something Caroline's wanted to do for some time, and it was... okay.  Great music.  But the amount of cross-singing meant that the plot was often obscured, and... I just didn't get onside with the Phantom.  The owners of the theatre are nice guys who find themselves saddled with the mother of all health and safety issues.  ('Sir, nowhere in your bill of sale did you mention a Phantom!')  The program made much of this version of the tale getting rid of Hollywood's 'revenge on copyright thieves' motivation for the Phantom (now that I would have cheered for), and going back to the novel's approach.  But if the owners are cool, and the Phantom literally kills people just for making fun of him... why am I meant to think he's tragic and misunderstood?  I was waiting, thus, for his own opera to at least be a work of genius, but actually it's as cliched as all the others.  And the Phantom writes such dull, prosaic threatening notes.  This is quite an accurate study of the behaviour of an obsessed stalker, but... he's sort of the hero?  Is he meant to be annoying?  And the whole thing's framed as a flashback at the start... which doesn't get closed at the end.  After twenty-five years, you expect a production not to feel like a work in progress.  But I should mention the marvelous production design, and the entirely up for it cast, and again, the quality of the music.  And if this uber-Goth show had heightened its reality by just a couple more notches, I might yet have bought in to the tragedy of it all.

I went on from Phantom to Nick Harkaway's launch party for his new novel Angelmaker, a gathering which included a (real) priest with a Phantom-esque black hood over his features.  In my feverish circumstances, that rather freaked me out.  The do was held at an extraordinary Sumerian-themed nightclub in Camden (how often do you get to say that?) and it was cool to meet both Nick and Patrick Ness for the first time, and to catch up with Ellen Datlow, John Clute, Pat Cadigan, and the continuation of the Weekender social whirl.

So, yes, now we come to it, the SFX Weekender, where to begin?

I drove down to Prestatyn on the Thursday (listening to Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint), and booked in for my one-night stay in my Pontins chalet early.  Which, as it turns out, was a good idea, because soon an enormous queue built up outside reception, lashed by freezing winds like penguins in Frozen Planet.  (I think it's the temperature differential between the boiling interiors and the chill outside that creates those conditions.)   There have been some major complaints about queues and facilities and about the lack of gender equality onstage and in terms of dancers, and some of them (including all the gender parity complaints) are entirely justified.  I hope you'll forgive me if I don't go into much of that here.  The SFX gang are my friends, and I know that plans are in motion to make next year better.  And, you know, following on from my last blog, I'll be extending my year of doing that to include their next event and provide one litmus test of that change.

My own experience was: best convention ever.  A sheer joy.  It isn't just that there were so many friends present, or that there was such a big audience to perform to, but that that audience formed some sort of platonic ideal for me of what a genre audience should be.  This lot were nearly fifty per cent women, ordinary people, who regarded SF as something one could sample as part of a balanced diet.  They weren't locked inside a self-built ghetto.  They were in the world, and in SF, at the same moment.  And because they were mainstream, they were more diverse in general than the regular convention audience.

That audience showed up for authors.  So many authors, this time.  All experiencing bigger panels than they'd ever encountered in the UK.  The thematic panels did better (as 101s for newcomers) than attempts to encourage debate, because said debates were new to this audience.  Marc Gascoigne of Angry Robot books told me, in terms of book sales: 'best convention ever'.  Danie Ware at Forbidden Planet reported the same thing.  This is the Dragoncon effect at work: you put interesting books in front of a 'media' audience and they'll buy and read them.  In truckloads.  The FP stall sold out of everything of mine they'd brought along.  Several authors I knew reported the same thing.  Lavie Tidhar is a brilliant, edgy, writer who challenges mainstream thinking.  That he should get a convention book sellout is testament to the fact that this lot were here for a bit from column A, a bit from column B: some Brian Blessed; some Dan Abnett; some Lavie Tidhar.

I think I'm only going to be able to describe the weekend in snapshots.  It seems such a long time ago now.

There were a bunch of Scottish lads in the bar on the Thursday night, who were (ostensibly) there to support their fanboy mate, saying things like 'I don't know anything about sci-fi', but obviously interested, positive, and quite surprised to be in surroundings which already felt like an enormous party.  It was thanks to them, I believe, that I got lost on the way back to the chalet, and had a sudden and unfortunate encounter with a tree, which led to me sporting, for the rest of the weekend, a split lip which resembled a very small moustache.

The Tor Books 'cottage' this year, where my editor Julie Crisp and her team accommodated myself, Peter F. Hamilton, Mark Charan Newton, Adrian Tchaikovsky and China Mieville, was more of an enormous fortress.  Located on a brow several miles from the venue, it boasted an observation deck, several kitchens, and enough party space for the publisher to host the mother of all soirees on the Friday night.

(Photos of Fort Tor by Mark Charan Newton.)  I wandered from conversation to conversation with the ease of someone who looks like they've been roughed up by experts, and we finished the night with champers and my Mum's apple crumble.

We only had eyes for Julie's very small and perfect baby, who Julie and her husband had brought to her first convention.  To be honest, the party of our friendly rival publishers, on the following night, was not up to the same standard, being in Chalet 40.

A rolling game of Apples to Apples in the Queen Vic pub involved the Angry Robot drinking team (Marc and Lee), Juliet E. McKenna (whose kung fu powers allowed her to slink out of her convention wristband), Emma Newman (dressed as a Skyrim Tavern wench, with a little card indicating her allowed range of responses), and the guys from Third Row Fandom, as well as many authors who popped in for a round or two.

The Kitschies went down very well, in a packed screening area (the secondary sit down area, with pub tables, a bar, and an enormous movie screen, the most sociable hang out that weekend), with the attitude of the SFX audience being rather like that of the magazine itself: we don't know much about the books that are being feted here, but this is clearly the high end of what we're into, so we want to participate and we want to know more.  That's the lesson I think fandom always comes away from the Weekender with: the mainstream are just like us now, there's nothing to be afraid of.  I like an award that one can cuddle, and I did some of that with a Kitschie 'inky tentacle', so much so that I nearly absconded with it.

I did a really fun panel with Ben Aaronovitch, Benedict Jacka, Stacia Kane, Mark Charan Newton and Same Stone about urban fantasy.  Again, a bit of a 101, but with a big audience who were clearly up for it, and with all of us on the panel with experience of, and something to say about, the subject.  Stacia was hardcore, one of several cool authors I met for the first time this weekend, like Maria Dahvana Headley (the girl with the Horus tattoo), Sophia McDougall and David Tallerman.  One of the interesting effects of having something approaching a 50/50 gender balance in the audience is that when a female panelist makes a feminist joke, or calls out a male panelist about something (like when Jaine Fenn threatened Alastair Reynolds' gonads), there's supportive laughter and cheering.

It was also great to introduce Mark Buckingham and his wife Irma to my author friends, my comics and SF worlds meeting.  I like it when the media get along with each other, it makes it feel less like I've got one foot on one boat and one on the other.

That woman I met in Cardiff was going round, you remember, the one in the top hat who asks creators about their favourite cheeses and is compiling the results for her website.  Whenever I was in conversation with someone she hadn't 'got', she'd zoom up to my shoulder and ask for an introduction.  The world of cheese fancying benefited hugely that weekend, with input from Mark Newton (a typically connoisseur answer), Phil Ford (cheese of the people) and Lavie (five minutes about the impossibility of such a choice).

Oh, and Phil Ford, he's the man to go to if you want to share the chips of the star of the Sarah Jane Adventures.  Very welcome at that point in the evening.

There are guests to spare at the Weekender, they just show up.  Like Brian Aldiss, introduced onstage by Stephen Baxter at the Awards, there to pick up a lifetime achievement gong, and feted, absolutely feted, standing ovation from the biggest crowd he's probably ever encountered.  There, again, is one of the reasons why the Weekender is a force for good.  They can also put on an Awards ceremony where those who can't be there send videos, and those who can pop in just for the evening, so one learns to expect surprises.

I didn't see many of the actors.  I got a hug from Sophie Aldred (the world's sunniest person, whose verdict about being trapped on a train for seven hours was 'it was great, I got to read!')  I was in the Green Room with Brian Blessed, enjoying the Presence.  (He did well, as many other blogs have told you.)

So, okay, the two panel games.  These packed out their rooms.  This audience are also here for comedy.  I have never seen a Just A Minute panel that was so nervous beforehand.  But Toby, China, Sarah and Joe got into it right away, and, well, see for yourself...

One of the best, I think.  And I'm now talking to three different conventions about doing the game for them.

The other panel game was one I was taking part in, Ready Steady Flash, hosted by Lee Harris.  The idea here was to write a story in five minutes to a given title.  I was playing against Stacia Kane, Tony Lee and Juliet E. McKenna, and while we frantically wrote, the audience were kept entertained by Lee's monologues, and by comedy from Donna Scott (hey, Panel Parity again!)  I was so focused on the writing I have no idea what they said.  Here are the three titles given to us, and what I wrote for each...

The Old Gods

'My back is killing me,' said Odin, rubbing his lower spine with his Odinhands.  'Sorry, that should be my Odinback.'
     'My arms are killing me,' said Kali.
     'Well,' said Pan, 'if you have more of something, then it's bound to hurt more. I may have mentioned my own particular ache.'
     Odin glanced his Odinglance up at the clock on the wall of the Happy Cloud Rest Home for Old Gods.  'I wonder,' he said, 'what's for dinner?'
     'I hope it's not bloody Ambrosia,' said Kali.
     'We should never have got old,' said Pan.  'Why did we allow it?'
     The others looked -

And that's where that one finishes, as the five minutes were up and I had to grumpily throw down my pen.  You can see some obvious attempts at crowd pleasing smut with that one, but as you can see on her blog, it was Juliet's excellent entry that won the day.  The next title was...

The View from the Future

There was once a town called Prestatyn here, built by coal and blood and work.
     But it vanished.  It's not there any more.  And the thing that stands in its place now, well, you've seen how empty the space is, especially when you look down on it from those lookout posts on the hills, where the rich have fled.
     Prestatyn died, I'm told, in 1983.

Ouch.  I put down my pen early, very smug about that ill-advised attempt at social comment.  (I don't even know if there was coal mining in Prestatyn!)  I had my arse handed to me on that round by Tony Lee, who went for a poem about Anthony Head's absence owing to a train derailment.  Which suited the mood of the crowd perfectly.  The last title was...

Unicorn Sandwich

'I can't believe,' said Isolde, 'that you'd think I'd cheat on you, Tristan.  I am in fact still a virgin, and I will take any magical test to prove it.'
     'Well, you see,' said Tristan, 'that's why I invited you to lunch.'
     'You mean to clear the air?'
     'No, to establish your innocence.  You managed to eat the sandwich.'
     'Oh,' said Isolde, picking the horn out of her teeth.  'I thought that was unusually crunchy.'

Which was okay, I thought, until Stacia, who until this point had been hitting us with serious slices of urban fantasy, decided to take the audience to another level of smut entirely, with, well... check it out.  Lee decided that we were all the winners equally (which he told me later was because he couldn't face announcing that each of the other contestants had won a round, leaving them all the joint winners, and me... well, let's call it second).  As you'll see from the length of those entries, most of writing, even in those circumstances, is thinking.  Juliet, Tony and Stacia all made very quick and useful calculations about story shape and audience expectation.

The phrase 'unicorn sandwich' cropped up a lot after that.

I don't get Pat Sharp (we love to dance to cheese, but he plays cheese you can't dance to), but Craig Charles, showing up just to DJ, was awesome as always.  It didn't feel like a fan disco, with that tremendous release of wanting to dance but being afraid to, and then finally giving in when it feels safe.  This lot had arrived with the absolute certainty of boppage.  It was a costume ball, and there were loads of them, wall to wall, fun and well crafted and above all omnipresent.  That's another huge lesson: visible geek unity, here are our people, and they're having fun within the culture of being our people, and there are 6000 of them, and everybody's cool with that.  I wandered happily from camp to camp, just gazing around most of the time, finding groups of my friends talking in different corners.  Every conversation you came to, everyone was already smiling.  It felt like geek victory.  My wonderful agent put on a domino mask and enjoyed the romance of anonymity.  Ambassador Kosh turned out to be able to really cut a rug.  I finally drove China back to the Fort at 3am, blissed out on fan sweat.

No guest today because, hey, look how big this post is already.  But, signing off, here's another piece of my favourite music.  This time, it's Bobby Darin, with a prime piece of the theatrical in popular music.  I love how the jolly form conceals the horrifying lyric.  'We're all people of the world,' the song says, 'we're cool with how things are.  It's kind of glamorous.  Isn't it?'  And that depicts America in the early 1960s so well.

I hope to see some of you at Picocon tomorrow (just popping in, not on any panels).  Until then, Cheerio!

Panel Parity

Okay, so this was something I came up with yesterday, and it's mad, and is, frankly, a rod for my own back, but what the hell, it's going to make this coming year a lot more interesting.

I think there should be gender parity on every panel at every convention.  I'm after 50/50, all the time.  I want that in place as an expectation, as a rule.  Now, to make that happen, what really should be done is a ground-up examination of society, huge changes at the heart of things which would automatically lead to women being equally represented everywhere, not just on convention panels.  Well, we've all wanted that and worked for that for decades, especially those of us in fandom, and it just hasn't happened.  So, this year, I've decided that I'm going to approach this problem via the only moral unit I'm in charge of: me.  I'm going to approach this problem from the other end.  And this approach is going to be very much that of a blunt instrument.

If I'm on, at any convention this year, a panel that doesn't have a 50/50 gender split (I'll settle for two out of five), I'll hop off that panel, and find a woman to take my place.  

If I know of a professionally qualified woman (a fellow creator or critic or someone with specific knowledge of the subject) in the room, I'll start by inviting her up.  If there's nobody like that, I'll ask for hands up, and hope that bravery counts as virtue enough for them to hold their own on the panel.  I will ask such women that they don't spend their time on the panel criticising the convention or the companies I work for.  That would make me a very rude guest.

EDIT: I've been persuaded that I shouldn't attempt to stop someone who replaces me from saying what they like.  I hope that doesn't lead to horrors, but it's true, I've no right to try and limit anyone.  I just hope I don't end up being the person who invited a guest to the party who ends up berating his friends.  

I will then stay in the room to listen to the panel, and then, due to the small possibility that someone might have come to the panel purely to see me, make myself available outside afterwards, so no audience member is short-changed.

On some occasions, I may be able to make the panel gender-balanced in another way, by asking more women to join in to even up the numbers.  I actually think that's much more invasive than me getting off the panel.  I've got a right, I feel, to replace myself, but not to haul lots of other people on.  (We've all been in panels where someone says 'hey, I know of some people who'd be great on this panel, you guys come on up' and the results are rarely charming.)  But sometimes when it's just a panel of mates, and we're all onboard with it, that might be possible, and I'll try it when it is.

I intend to do this is a very non-confrontational way.  I'm pointing a finger at the world, not at specific convention organisers or fandoms.  And certainly not at my friends on the panel.  I'm hoping for laughter and pleasure when I hop off a panel, a collective sigh.  I want this to be a flag that says 'we can all do better'.

I won't make arrangements with specific women beforehand.  This isn't about me picking and choosing who I think is worthy.

There are a couple of situations in which this doesn't apply.  If the panel has a very project-specific subject, such as 'meet the creators of Saucer Country' or 'here are the writers of Wild Cards', then as long as every female creator involved with that project who's in the building is on the panel, I don't feel we should pull people out of the audience to even it up.  However, I don't think this rule can be applied so widely as to cover the entire output of a major media company.  You probably won't find enough female DC Comics creators to make the panel 50/50, convention organisers, so how about some women who write about comics?  If it's just me being interviewed, I'll seek a female interviewer.  If it's just me with a microphone... I honestly don't know what would be best to do in that situation.  I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

That last rule has been really hard to decide on, and I feel for the conventions that have got in touch, since I announced this on Twitter, saying 'but the panel is just every DC writer we have'.  I am being hard on you, and I do apologise.  But this is a blunt instrument, and if I started allowing such enormous get-outs this plan would all soon be wittled away to nothing.  I anticipate hopping off panels at conventions run by close friends, where everyone in the building is in agreement about putting more women on panels.  It's not about me getting at you.

Obviously, me doing this can't solve the problem.  But the first convention that announces they're going for 50/50, across the board, will have started to solve it.  And I'll trumpet their decision far and wide.

I'd also like to hear from other male panelists who are willing to do the same thing I'm doing.  (But I won't be finger-pointing at those who don't.  I understand that this can't be for everyone.)

50/50 will result in some horror stories in the short term.  There will be women put on panels who are obviously there just to fulfill the rule.  There will be brilliant and interesting men left in the audience.  Over time, as the expectation sets in, as the rule becomes just something our communities do, then these problems will go away, as more and more interesting and communicative women are encouraged and allowed to step up.  That virtuous circle has to start somewhere.  And it will take an entirely artificial decision to do it.  Change isn't going to happen naturally.

50/50 will be called, and is, all the following: 'positive discrimination'; 'tokenism'; 'treating the symptom, not the cause'; 'political correctness'.  Those words are just descriptions convention organisers are going to have to get used to, until the point, in a couple of decades, where 50/50 has become 'the way things have always been'.

There are all sorts of arguments I've heard from good people on the other side of this debate.  None of them will change my mind (though I'm sure I'll see some of them re-hashed again in the comments).  I'm going to do this anyway.  And I'd like to hear from a convention that responds to my plan with an announcement that they're going to achieve 50/50.  Not just on my panels: on all of them.

I'll be back on Friday with a vastly packed blog, including my long-delayed SFX Weekender report.  Until then, Cheerio!

Saucer Country in USA Today, Demon Knights and Bastards

Just too damn much happened today for me to avoid blogging about it, despite the all-time record post-convention crud/comedown combination.  (Ironically, I think I got the cold off Caroline.)  The SFX Weekender was an incredible blast, just one of the best events ever, and I'll be blogging it on Friday.  Right now, I miss it so much, and I wish I was still there, and life is bleak and pitiless.  (Until tomorrow night, when I'll be seeing some of the usual suspects again at a book launch.)

First and foremost, I've just been interviewed by USA Today!  And they were also kind enough to preview the first six pages of Saucer Country #1 by me and Ryan Kelly, out next month.  You can see that right here. Isn't that artwork amazing?

Or next time you're in your comic shop, you could pick up the free Vertigo Preview 2012...

Which includes, alongside Vertigo's other forthcoming delights, another Saucer Country preview.

While you're in that comic shop, out today is Demon Knights #6, of which you can see five lovely preview pages here.

And the latest issue of SFX Magazine...

Includes another interview with me, also about Saucer Country.  Which is getting some of the most favourable advance reactions I've ever experienced.  Thanks very much, everyone.

Meanwhile, also to my great delight, the latest edition (#224) of SF podcast Starship Sofa, which always features several short stories, includes an excellent reading of 'One of our Bastards is Missing', the story in my Jonathan Hamilton series immediately before 'The Copenhagen Interpretation'.

And speaking of that story, since it's on Locus magazine's Recommended Reading List, it also features in that magazine's poll and survey, where anyone can vote, but the votes of subscribers to the magazine count double. (Upon reflection, I actually rather like that system.)

And now I'm going to stagger back to my sickbed.  By which I of course mean Skyrim.  See you on Friday for that convention report (with complete Just A Minute videos).  Until then, Cheerio!

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!