Apparently there’s a big controversy around the British Fantasy Awards this year: One of the most out-spoken and much-forwarded commentaries came from noted anthologist, Stephen Jones.
I wasn’t there and can’t say anything about the specifics (which look, by all accounts, particularly egregious). But I can comment on the general issues of awards presentations and perhaps more particularly, small presses in Jones’ comments. Apart from the condescending equation of “small press” as necessarily the opposite of “professional publisher” (which is simply ignorant), it sounds like every other awards presentation: how often has the best film actually won the Oscar or the best music a Grammy? Even in benign situations (i.e. outside multimillion dollar industries), people vote for the names they know, not the books they haven’t read (that with luck they might finally read when they are still being recommended to them ten or twenty years on). This is how the old boy network goes on and on, not necessarily through outright malice but through “friendship” of a kind. It’s just that the group of insiders got even smaller this time around at these particular awards. Ridiculous: sure. But a difference of degree not kind.
An example: there is no “best of” category in the last couple of decades that a Stephen King novel deserves to have won, but if you check the records you’ll find that he consistently wins. Why? People know his name. Those of us published with small presses (whose size is no indication of their professionalism) — and women, people of colour and queer writers — struggle to get on ballots because we often sell fewer copies and have less name recognition. So yeah, we tend to look at awards with a skeptical eye or face the arguably ghettoising effect of starting our own awards. We don’t begrudge Jones and others’ their vitriol, we’re simply mildly amused that they’ve just noticed that awards aren’t always given to the best after all.
And yes, I have received awards. And yes, I always give gracious thanks. And no, I don’t expect anything to change.
UPDATE: The winner of the best novel returns her award. So far no male award winners have been bullied into returning theirs.