Eastercon Report Card (& Hugos Micro-Comment)

I arrived home from Glasgow last night, into a soggy London. The weather wouldn’t be worth mentioning had not the entire Eastercon weekend been like this:

View From Satellite4

View From Satellite4

That was the view from my hotel room on arrival Friday, and it was a good harbinger for Satellite4, which on the whole was sunny, expansive and relaxed. I can’t claim vast con experience, but the Crowne Plaza Glasgow is my favourite venue so far. Apart from the beautiful setting, both sleeping and meeting rooms were spacious and comfortable, and the layout and lifts meant there were no accessibility issues that I was aware of. Screens in the larger rooms allowed those at the back to see and the hard of hearing to lip-read – something which I know at least one con-goer was particularly grateful for. And food and drink provision was decent in quality, sufficient in quantity, and to my mind quite reasonably priced (granted, I’m comparing with London prices; but still).

I did a fair bit of hanging out with bloggers Lisa McCurrach and Daniel Franklin – it was great to finally meet them in person – and of course my regular con companion, Nicola Budd from Jo Fletcher Books. I think the only fly in our ointment as far as the con was concerned was the lack of a bookshop; there were a couple of independents and a vintage stall, but no central retailer. That meant no Binary or Gemsigns, or indeed most other titles, which was desperately disappointing – especially since I spoke to several people who emerged bemused from the dealer’s room, wondering why they hadn’t been able to find my books! A bookshop is customary at every con, as far as I know. The organisers have since told me that they tried hard to get one in, and it just didn’t happen – I’m not sure why – but I think the lesson for future cons is that it’s essential and needs to get nailed down early. If you’re bringing together authors and fans, you’ve got to have books!

That aside, all my events went very well. Women in Science and Speculative Fiction was a thoughtful discussion of gender-related career challenges (it was a nice bit of accidental timing that my post for Fantasy Café’s Women in SF&F Month went up the next day). Future Representation explored the lack of diverse perspectives in traditional science fiction – and concluded that this is changing rapidly, and for the better. It was standing-room-only for this, which did as much as the engagement and concern of the audience and my fellow panellists to convince me that speculative fiction has indeed turned a corner in terms of who gets to populate the futures it imagines.

That does not, of course, mean that the destination has been reached. While Mark Barrowcliffe and I were hosting Read For Your Life! on Saturday night, the Hugo finalists were being announced. That meant double nominee Charles Stross arriving a bit late, to cap off our fun, fresh and slightly risqué open-mic event with a stellar reading from his latest work in progress. It also meant I didn’t get to find out the details of category shortlists and attendant fandom angst until I was back in my room in the small hours of the morning.

The internet is alive with lengthy comment, to which I will not add; SF Signal is doing its usual excellent job of rounding it up, should you wish to dive down that particular wormhole. I will merely tell you that I chuckled heartily. Yes, there are a couple of authors known for their right-wing racism, sexism, homophobia and the astonishingly toxic vitriol they aim at any and everyone who does not see the world their way. And yes, there may be an editor or two who still supports the types of narratives they produce. But those authors are sitting on ballots next to women and people of colour, and even – saints preserve us! – women of colour. Those editors are mere specks in a sea of progressive thought; far more of the finalists are among the genre’s most vocal feminists and proponents of diversity. This is especially so in the fan categories – and they, if you think about it, are more truly representative of where the genre is now, and where it wants to be.

So I laughed at seeing the shoe so firmly on the other foot for a change. I have spent decades listening to the carping and sniping, the presumptions of unworthiness and accusations of liberal conspiracy, every time someone who was not white and/or male and/or straight made it into a boardroom or onto a best-of list. I still remember the crap I had to put up with when I was at MIT in the 80s, from people who simply refused to believe that someone like me – Jamaican, mixed-race, female – was there on merit. I am so used to being in the minority, to swimming against the tide of conservative opinion. Is it ungenerous of me to be amused by this turning of the tables?

Maybe it is. I never claimed to be perfect. And there’s still a long, long way to go. But I have to tell you, when I looked at those shortlists it felt more like a battle won than lost.

Needless to say, the Hugos were much discussed on Sunday – though not that much by me. I was too busy enjoying the con. With only one programme commitment I had time to attend Professor Andy Miah’s lecture on the science and ethics of human enhancement, and the first hour of Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s talk on current conundrums in astronomy; coupled with the BSFA Lecture delivered by Dr Sara Wasson the day before on realities and fictions of organ donation and tissue harvest, it left me feeling that the science component of this Eastercon had been far more extensive, robust and relevant than in my previous convention experience. And I made it to various other panels and talks over the weekend, most of which were exemplary. But I have to say that one of my absolute highlights happened at the Loncon tea party, when I was introduced to the author Richard Morgan. Regular readers of this blog and followers of my commentary elsewhere will know that I’m a huge fan of his novels, and it was a proper fangirl moment – which he lived up to by being as charming, approachable, smart and full of opinion as I could have wished.

So I had already chalked up at least one unforgettable moment before the British Science Fiction Association Awards ceremony on Sunday night. I’d been asked to present the award for Best Novel, which is quite an honour, but I’m not given to nervousness and I wasn’t expecting anything unusual: introduce the nominees, open the envelope, announce the winner. All went to plan right up to the last moment. I’m told that the look of surprise on my face was priceless.

For the first time in the history of the BSFA, there was a tie. And so I got to jointly declare the winners – Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, one of the most interesting, adventurous novels I’ve read in many years, and Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth Powell, one of the nicest, most welcoming people I’ve met on the genre scene, and a darn fine writer to boot. It was a genuine pleasure to hand him the trophy (Ann wasn’t there; I understand that a duplicate has been commissioned, which will be sent to her).

And that was very nearly that. There was a brilliant aikido vs. karate demonstration on Monday morning by Guests of Honour Juliet McKenna and John Meaney, which I would love to see on the Loncon programme. And I had a long, lovely chat with Tori Truslow and Ludi Valentine about Nine Worlds. One con down, (at least) two to go …

 

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A redhead and a mutant walk into a bar …

So, Andrea Johnson would like to have a drink with Aryel Morningstar. Well, who wouldn’t? Although, as Andrea will discover when she reads Binary, it’ll take more than a couple of pints to persuade Aryel to talk about her childhood …

Speaking of Binary, it’s been a grand week for reviews. Upcoming4.me called it ‘an even better book than Gemsigns’; Jasper de Joode of The Book Plank agrees, and says it has ‘Great characters and a superb storyline that will make you stop and wonder.’ Cheryl Morgan’s review is typically thoughtful and nuanced, and very complimentary; I was particularly pleased that she found the ‘characters [are] all the more heroic for being so very human’. And according to Joanne Hall, ‘Binary is fast, witty, technically adept, with a warm heart beating through it’. (I should reiterate that I’m not only linking good reviews; everything I’m aware of is posted under the menu tab above. It’s just that so far they’ve all been good!)

Back to the delightful image of Andrea and Aryel shooting the breeze over a beer: I was reading SF Signal’s MIND MELD posts because I’ve been asked to participate, so look out for me popping up there to talk about a life-changing book sometime in the next week or so. I’ve also written an essay on damaging narratives for Fantasy Cafe’s Women in SF&F month, which I’m told will be posted on 19th April. My contribution to the Special Needs in Strange Worlds column on SF Signal is likely to go up on 6th May. And I’ve been opining on superpowers and social media, as well as doing a couple of interviews, all of which will appear online in the next few weeks, and will be linked under Press + Posts above.

I, of course, will be away at Eastercon next weekend; I’ll tweet from the con if possible, and as usual will report on the experience when I get back. Oh, and look out for another cool announcement coming soon …

Eastercon 2014 schedule

I’ve received my schedule from the organisers of Satellite4, the 65th Eastercon, which this year will be held in Glasgow at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Here’s what I’ll be doing:

Fri 18 April 17.00-18.00

PANEL: Women in Science and Speculative Fiction

Both female scientists and female writers face gender-related challenges in their careers. Are some of the issues the same and can we learn from one another?

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Clare Boothby, Christine Davidson (moderator), Juliet McKenna, Stephanie Saulter

Sat 19 April 15.00-16.00

PANEL: Future Representation

The panel explores SF literature in the context of what stories actually are, or are not, being told. Who gets to be in the future; what happens to everyone else; and who gets to decide?

Fran Dowd (moderator), Laura Lam, Stephanie Saulter, Donna Scott, Ian Whates

Sat 19 April 21.00-?

Read For Your Life!

A series of short, sharp readings from writers known and unknown. Some works are newly published, others still in progress, all offered up for your evening’s entertainment. Bring a drink and a friend, find your next favourite author!

Hosted by Stephanie Saulter and Mark Barrowcliffe

(Note to authors: You can use the Early Bird token in your registration pack to sign up from 3pm on Friday, with additional sign ups from Saturday morning. All sign ups are in Ops.)

Sun 20 April 19.00-20.00

The BSFA Award Ceremony/James White Award Ceremony

The annual BSFA Awards as voted for by members of the BSFA and Eastercon for Best Non-Fiction; Best Art; Best Short Fiction and Best Novel. Also, the James White Award: results of the competition to find the best short story by a non-professional writer for 2013.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Jim Burns, Alice Lawson, Steve Lawson, Farah Mendlesohn, Martin McGrath, Stephanie Saulter, Donna Scott, Andrew J. Wilson

 §

Apart from that I’ll be in and out of panels and talks, hanging out in the bar, and happy to have a chat. I don’t know whether there’ll be a formal signing session, but it doesn’t matter if there isn’t – I’ll have a pen in my pocket, so if you want me to scribble on stuff just ask.

The week in review

I’ve just about caught up with myself.

If you’ve been keeping an eye on blog posts and tweets you’ll know how much was happening how quickly last week. Over Monday and Tuesday I was interviewed by the Free Word Centre, and on Wednesday by Cheryl Morgan on Ujima Radio, following which I got to go to Foyles and Blackwell’s in Bristol and sign books. Then on to London for publication day on Thursday, at which I got to sign even more books. I’ve already written a post for the Jo Fletcher Books blog about what it feels like to be published; in it I talk about one of the undisputed highlights of the day, seeing a signed copy of Gemsigns in the front window of Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue. Hard on its heels came another. As I tweeted the moment a mention popped up on my phone – a recommendation from no less a luminary than the great SF writer Ian McDonald. Exit dewy-eyed author stage left, enter stunned fangirl stage right.

Then on to a meeting with Jo herself, and a review of what’s happening now and what happens next. There was some Very Big News that I cannot share on pain of being shot, but it’s got me properly excited. Celebratory drinks were had with Jo, newly (and deservedly) promoted Assistant Editor Nicola Budd, and my super-agent Ian Drury. Then we went to the Goldsboro Books Fantasy in the Court party and had even more drinks. I’m not blessed with a high alcohol tolerance, and there was a moment when I knew I had to slip out of there, sit down, drink about a gallon of water and have something to eat before things went from the sublime to the queasy.

Then on to Eastercon in Bradford. I was waiting to check in at my hotel on Friday morning when a video interview that I’d given to Anna Bialkowska in York 10 days earlier finally made it out of editing and online. I watched it in the cafe, amazed that I don’t seem to come across as the gibbering idiot I’d felt at the time; tweeted and hastily blogged; and then took myself off to the convention.

My first Eastercon. What can I say? It was great, it was mad, it was exhausting, it was wonderful. I met fantastic people – far too many to list, but they’re on my Twitter feed now and my world feels expanded. My three panels – Debut Authors, The Far Future and Why Is the Future Drawn So White? – were all lively and engaging and went very well (the last, about the exclusion of non-white characters in SFF, went so well it kept going for half an hour in the lobby after we got chucked out of the room). I did a surprisingly effective reading from Gemsigns and sold about three books on the back of it. I signed at the signing and I signed in the Dealer’s Room and I signed at the JFB party on Sunday night and I signed in the hotel restaurant the next morning. I signed until there were no books left. That’s right – Gemsigns sold out at Eastercon.

And then the reviews started coming in. There were two on Monday, and I read them on the train from Bradford to Bristol. Here they are.

Over the Effing Rainbow

And Then I Read A Book

What else is there to say? Not much. This week feels like a miracle. And yet, and yet … in light there is darkness. Rumours began to swirl over the weekend about the health of Iain M. Banks, masterful author of both SF and contemporary fiction (the latter under the clever pseudonym of Iain Banks). I hoped against hope they would prove untrue, but I knew there was little chance of that – the people who knew were people who would know. It’s since been confirmed that Iain is, as he puts it, Very Poorly and unlikely to grace us for much longer. It grieves me more than I can say. He’s one of the writers I’d hoped one day to meet; one of the ones who I count as inspirational, though the far future space opera of the Culture novels may bear little resemblance to the ®Evolution. But it was reading those books, along with works by Richard Morgan and others, that got me thinking about what kind of near-future decisions might lead to those far-future developments. What’s the starting point for a society, in order for it to eventually become the Culture? was one of the questions I asked myself. I wondered what the creator of the Culture might think of my answer. I doubt either of us will ever find out. It makes me sad, and it reminds me that our time is limited. You never know how long you’ve got left to check off all the things on your list, to get the work done.

And so it’s back to Binary for me, and then on to Gillung, and hopefully many more books and launches and wonderful weeks. There’s no time to lose.

UPDATE: MORE REVIEWS

I think I may put up a ‘Reviews’ tab in the menu, but for now I’ll link these here:

Cheryl Morgan’s review of Gemsigns

Gemsigns on Amazon UK

Interview! On camera! On the interweb!

Remember when I said I’d been interviewed on camera, and was really quite nervous about it, but would post the results no matter how cringeworthy? Well here it is:

I was really tired at the time and it shows, but cringes otherwise are minimal. I talk about Gemsigns a lot, myself a little. Near the end I share my sense of good fortune at being a Jo Fletcher Books author, and trail Eastercon appearances. For which I must depart post-haste …

All over Eastercon

This time next weekend I’ll be at the Cedar Court Hotel in Bradford, halfway through my first Eastercon; in its 64th incarnation this year and therefore dubbed EightSquaredCon. I’ve been sent my schedule, and am flattered to find myself on the programme more times than may be entirely seemly. (Of course I’m going to share it anyway.) Let me know in comments if you’re going to be there, and if you are please do say hello!

Friday 29th March, 6pm – Debut Authors Panel

New authors talk about starting out: how to get published, and what happens when you do.

Saturday 30th March, 1pm – The Far Future

Let’s not waste time: we should get on with solving the problems facing us in five or ten billion years (crashing galaxies, red giant Sun, possible gamma bursts …). If we make it that far, what will our civilisation have grown into? Will we be ready when the stars go out? Fran Dowd moderates Stephen Baxter, Stephanie Saulter, Ian Watson and Walter Jon Williams.

Saturday 30th March, 5pm – Author Readings – Gareth Powell and Stephanie Saulter

Gareth and I read from our latest work. Mine is likely to feature a hungry, headachey (super) heroine; his a foul-mouthed monkey fighter pilot. (Which makes our books sound far more similar than they are …)

Saturday 30th March, 7pm – Genre Get-Together – Science Fiction

Meet and chat to authors, and get your books signed!

Sunday 31st March, 11am – Why is the Future Drawn so White?

When the protagonist of Justine Larbalastier’s Liar was whitewashed in the cover art, both the author and the internet were outraged and the cover was eventually changed. Yet characters of colour are still all too often absent or elided. How can we work to challenge this and why does it happen? Caroline Hooton moderates Dev Agarwal, Aliette de Bodard, CE Murphy, Tajinder Singh Hayer and Stephanie Saulter.

Sunday 31st March, 7pm – Jo Fletcher Books/Quercus Party

Join the editors and authors of Jo Fletcher Books and Quercus for a drink and a chat. This year sees debut novels from Stephanie Saulter (Gemsigns), Naomi Foyle (Seoul Survivors), and David Towsey (Your Brother’s Blood). Come along to meet the writers and learn more about them and their books.

(And remember: no need to wait a whole week for a mega science fiction fix. I’m still giving away one of the best SF novels of the year to whoever comes up with the coolest alternate universe. Short – even tweetable – answers are perfectly acceptable.)

We’re all winning

My word, but I’m having a week.

First things first: congratulations to akaellisfisher for winning Blood’s Pride with an answer that was both thoughtful and contrarian (and a belated front-page shout-out to Mike Albright, who won A Cold Season a week earlier). And this week’s book giveaway is not to be missed!

Next thing most: over the weekend I finally took delivery of my own baby. That’s right folks, Gemsigns is 400 pages of big, beautiful book with weight and heft and texture, and that glorious new-book smell. Our inscrutable heroine (or is she the villain?) stares defiantly out from behind shards of red-tinted glass on the cover (or are they the fragmented planes of an unravelling double helix?), as if to say: You want a piece of this? 

Broad hint there about what’s on offer next week. Because next week is also Publication Week and Radio Week and Eastercon Weekend. There’ll be lots going on online as well as on air, and without pre-empting the Con programme (not yet published), I’ve had confirmation that I’m going to be on it as a panelist. The rate of bloggage and tweetage will rise sharply. With any luck there’ll be reviews and interviews  …

Which brings me back to this week: I was interviewed on camera for the first time ever today. It was a deer-caught-in-the-headlights experience. I’m told I wasn’t completely rubbish (though I have my doubts). You be the judge: it should be up on YouTube within a few days, and I promise to link it no matter how cringeworthy it might turn out to be.

Phenomenal thing finally: Last week was epic for my brother Storm, whose award-winning debut feature film Better Mus’ Come opened in New York’s Times Square and at the Downtown Independent Theatre in Los Angeles after sold-out sneak previews in Atlanta, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Seattle, Houston, Chicago and Port of Spain. The weekend numbers from NYC and LA were fantastic. The reviews from the Huffington Post and LA Times have been glowing. His Film Independent interview was fab (he’s much better at interviews than me, but then he has had more practice). He is brilliant and driven and generous, and he works incredibly hard. He deserves every moment of this.

I’m going to be on the radio! And other upcoming events.

A quick shout-out to Cheryl Morgan, who has very kindly invited me to join her on Bristol’s Ujima Radio 98fm Women’s Outlook programme from 12 – 2pm on Wednesday 27th March (podcast to follow). This is not at all coincidentally the day before Gemsigns is officially released into the wild, so we get to talk about books in general and that one in particular. It should be interesting – Ujima is largely aimed at Bristol’s Afro-Caribbean community, and I’m originally from Jamaica, so there’s an obvious link. But I don’t look or sound like what most people think a Jamaican ‘ought’ to look and sound like. Half the characters in my novel are people who are marginalised and discriminated against because of their origins, but those origins are not national, racial, religious or indeed anything else that we have experience with out here in the real world. Gender issues concern me, but only to the extent that I believe ALL issues of inequality and prejudice and presumption, ALL constraints and limitations and denials of freedom, should be of grave concern to ALL of us – whether they are constructed (or excused!) on the basis of gender, ethnicity, appearance, sexuality, religion, disability, or any of the other myriad stupid reasons we find to repress and abuse each other. So I tend not to place myself in niches because frankly, with so much nonsense to contend with on so many fronts, you need room to swing.

Then I’m at Eastercon (or EightSquaredCon as it’s known this year) in Bradford. I’m not sure exactly what (if anything) I’ll be doing as the programme isn’t out yet, but I’m told there’ll be a launch event for me and other Jo Fletcher Books authors who have novels out this spring. Anyway, if you’re there you can’t miss me; I’ll be the one floating three inches above the ground, grinning from ear to ear. And a couple of weeks later, on Thursday 11th April there’ll be what I’m grandly referring to as the London launch – basically a party in a pub with books, because with the best will in the world it’s a little too much to expect all my friends, fans, colleagues and alpha-readers to decamp to Bradford for Easter weekend (although some of them did volunteer, and I love them dearly for it). I’ll post the location once it’s confirmed; anyone who wants to come along will be very, very welcome.

Between now and the start of all that I will mostly be in Leeds, working on a very intense but short-term project to combat fuel poverty that will have me criss-crossing the Yorkshire countryside. I will be living in cheap-and-not-that-cheerful business hotels (unless I run into Lenny Henry in the lobby), which means that I should have no distractions and therefore no excuses not to write at night (I would so love to have the draft of Binary finished by the time Gemsigns is published). I will definitely be online daily (if not all day), and starting next Thursday I’ll be giving away a fantastic book every week. So it’ll be a busy-busy-busy couple of months, but it’ll be fun. Stick with me.

Bristolcon

You ever get the guilty feeling that you’re so late with a post that it’s now too late, the thing you thought you should have written about days ago is old news, the window has been closed, the moment missed? Well I sort of feel like that. But I had too good a time at Bristolcon on Saturday not to at least acknowledge the hard work of chairperson Joanne Hall, who invited me when we met a month ago in Brighton at Fantasycon. She is clearly one of those rare people who can combine grace and good humour with ferocious organisational and timekeeping skills, as a result of which Bristolcon was fun and relaxed and went off without a hitch, at least from where I was standing/sitting/moving between panel discussions. And I met other extremely cool people and had some really interesting, stimulating conversations: shout-outs to Colum Paget (who appears to have recruited me for a hypothetical panel two Eastercons away – I’m game), Cheryl Morgan (who I think is a Bristolcon grandee, and I suspect a grandee of rather a lot, but I confess to missing details in the general hilarity), Iain Cairns, John Hawkes-Reed, Simeon Beresford, John Meaney, Gareth PowellAliette de Bodard (I came in early for a panel, caught the tail end of her reading, and became a fan; even more so when I spoke to her after and she turned out to be friendly and charming and invited me to sit at their table for lunch), and the lovely woman wearing the Neil Gaiman T-shirt with whom I shared a gushing fangirl moment along with a rather more measured chat, and whose name has since gone completely out of my head. I knew I should have posted sooner.

So be warned, those whom I will meet for the second, or even the third, time at Eastercon; it’s possible that I might get a deer-in-the-headlights look when you swan up to me with a cheery greeting. Please don’t take it personally, any more than I will when I do the swanning and you do the stricken-Bambi. I suspect it’s a condition endemic to the Cons, to be overcome only by repeated exposure.

  • I love stories.
    My new novel, Sacred, is all about them. Publication info will be posted as soon as I have it.

    In the meantime check out Gemsigns, Binary and Regeneration, available wherever good books are sold.

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