Skulk & #BFawards2016

Fox Spirit BFS

Whoohoo! Glad to see some Fox Spirit skulk nominated for British Fantasy Society awards, including Fox Spirit as best small press AGAIN! After winning last year, it’s really great to see that Aunty Fox AKA Adele’s commitment to quality continues to be recognised. It’s a strong field all around, which speaks to the richness of the community. I must say I’m pleased to see a nomination for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, too, as I don’t think it’s got near enough acclaim.

Here are the Fox Spirit nominees:

Best independent press
Fox Spirit Books (Adele Wearing)

Best artist
Sarah Anne Langton

Best anthology
African Monsters, ed. Margrét Helgadóttir and Jo Thomas (Fox Spirit Books)

Best collection
The Stars Seem So Far Away, Margrét Helgadóttir (Fox Spirit Books)

See the whole list of nominees here: congratulations to all for such excellence!

Do Awards Matter?

Fox Spirit BFSI was away in Brigadoon for Write 4 a Day on Sunday, so it wasn’t until I got to my office Monday morning that I discovered Fox Spirit Books had won the Best Small Press award at the British Fantasy Society Con. It was a great moment for the skulk and for our fearless leader, the muse who punches you in the face, Adele Wearing. Since there was no one to celebrate with me here, I had a little happy cry and jumped up and down all by  myself — and then furiously congratulated everyone online because this was a skulk victory and we were all very happy.

I may even have burbled about it to a colleague who congratulated me politely if somewhat nonplussed by my sudden animation. I don’t usually talk about my writing amongst my colleagues because of The Great Divide. With a foot in both sides of the divide (as is my wont) I always end up arguing against the divide as well, but that’s my fate. I was brought down to earth a bit on the question of awards just by chance at a meeting where we worked on the text for yet another new website initiative imposed from above.

I made a suggestion to combine the sentences about the literature faculty and the writing faculty because, while it is an administrative split in our department, it is not necessarily a useful distinction to our students, actual and potential. So the sentence then read that courses would be taught by ‘award-winning scholars, poets and novelists’ which seemed to be good.

‘But do we have any award winning scholars?’ my department chair asked with a laugh.

Surprised, I said, ‘Yes, of course.’

‘Who?’

‘Well, me for one!’ I was unable to hide my disbelief and a bit taken aback. I am more than accustomed to my colleagues having no interest in what I do: I write genre fiction and study medieval literature, so it’s to be expected. Among my awards the Fullbright, however, is a rather mainstream sort of award, but I felt as if I had been caught being gauche yet again (let’s not digress into matters of academia and class, though I might well go on for a long time about that). We don’t mention awards, I guess, even in a climate where a huge percentage of the faculty are going to be for the chop this year.

So awards don’t matter, as I ought to have learned from Edina’s PR PR Award. That’s okay. But we who devote our lives to creative endeavours fight a daily battle to keep going on in the face of almost constant dismissal, rejection and perhaps worst of all, blank indifference. We all know that struggle, we’ve all lost hope on occasion, maybe many of them. A kind word, a friend’s pep talk, a good review that understands a work, and yes, an award, all help us pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again.

Awards don’t matter — except when they do.

[List of the BFS award winners here.]

British Fantasy Awards/On the Radio

More reasons to celebrate this weekend: Fox Spirit Books got not just one but two spots on the short lists for the 2014 British Fantasy Awards. Woot! I am so chuffed for Adele and the whole skulk, because it represents a group effort — though none of it would have happened without Adele’s vision, persistence and a few well-placed kicks to the muse.

What a way to celebrate the second anniversary!

Lots of great folks on the list, including the fabulous Maura McHugh and her team for the Jennifer Wilde comic, the amazing Graham Joyce — you know, folks whose names you know. When people say ‘it’s an honour just to be nominated’? WOW, it’s an honour to be nominated as part of such a great slate of creative folks. It’s an amazing feeling.

Hey, Tirgearr is celebrating too: guess what their 100th release will be?

High Plains Lazarus by KA Laity - 500

I’ll be talking about High Plains Lazarus and White Rabbit and more when I am on the radio tonight on Tea Time with Dellani Oakes. It’s 4pm Eastern which is 9pm here in the UK. I’m on with Meredith Skye and Eden Baylee, so it should be fun. You can call in (1–646–595–4478), listen live or catch up later with the archived copy here.

Re-Imagining the Olympics

Image of Thomas Heatherwick’s Olympic Cauldron ©James Richmond

The 2012 Olympics are over. If you weren’t in the UK you might not have been aware of just how transformative these two weeks were. That I’m even talking about it is evidence enough. Like many of my geek and writer friends I’ve often found myself in the position of fighting against the popular attention to the millionaire sports industry.

But this was different. It took me back to something I lost long ago: a love of sport. I grew up with four baseball diamonds and a football field behind my house and a huge field beside it where we practiced driving golf balls. We had an archery target in our back yard. And every Saturday my family plonked ourselves down in front of the television to watch Wide World of Sports, where I first learned about things like hurling.

I played sports: it may surprise some of you to know that I have a letter in softball. We played baseball non-stop, mostly with abandoned equipment from the teams who played behind our house: lost baseballs, cracked bats, discarded bases. We all had our own mitts and I was always pleased when my older brother would choose me ahead of some boys, because I knew he was ruthless when it came to teams and chose the best player.

Where did it change? High school, where the social divisions were sharply drawn. I dropped off the tennis team to devote more time to studies. Then there’s the whole thyroid thing which eventually led to trading mine for a five inch scar on my neck. And sealing the deal was working the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Eleven hour shifts in the gift shop, non-stop work and no fun. I never wanted to hear the word again.

I did get to hold a gold medal. The woman who won the sharp shooting gold, a Canadian on her own in Los Angeles, wore it into the shop so we all gathered around her to ooh and ahh. It was heavy and beautifully designed. But I pretty much ignored sports after that. Easy to do with all the bloated hype around professional sports in the US; worse, the scandalous proto-professional world of college sports. Nothing makes grad students more bitter than a library falling apart and wrapped in plastic while a new bronze Husky dog statue gets installed in front of the sports arena.

I’ve slowly gotten sucked into real football over the years (Go Gunners!). Unlike American football, there’s usually plenty of action and it’s not all about the money (Man United cough). But what got me into the 2012 Olympics initially wasn’t the sports per se; it was Danny Boyle’s orchestration of the opening ceremonies. An intense demonstration of the power of narrative, it offered Britons a new vision. Unlike the canned catch phrases of politicians, this reimagining acknowledged the past and honoured the present. Watching it with the live commentary on Twitter I saw its effects take place as the cynicism surrendered to the magic. Boyle’s theatrical ritual used humour but also touched people through powerful images from childhood and ancient representations of the past (the tor, the maypole). And Evelyn Glennie!

At the centre was the cauldron — I was amused to find it had been codenamed “Betty” and just love it.

“We’re normally designing buildings,” Heatherwick said. “It is like the biggest gadget that anyone can make in a shed but this shed is the most sophisticated shed in Harrogate. It was like the Bond gadget workshop.

“When we were thinking about the cauldron, we were aware they had been getting bigger, higher, fatter as each Olympics had happened. We felt we shouldn’t try to be bigger.

“The idea is that, at the end of the Games, this cauldron will dismantle itself and come back to the ground. Each of those elements will be taken back by each of the nations and put in their national Olympics cabinets. Everyone has got a piece.”

The power of that image — and its lighting by the torch literally passed from the old generation to the new — lighted a new vision that so many people embraced and lifted the games from mere sporting event to a truly international celebration. The joy and the tears over the next two weeks resonated and not just with Britons. The radiant face of  Jess Ennis, the tearful one of Hoy, the embrace of Heather and Helen, the American women exploding as they won the 4×100 relay (not literally). All eyes were on Bolt as he raced to his expected victories, but how much more people loved him when he did the Mobot.

Go Mo!

Many writers have been inspired by sport; they released a newly discovered Nabokov piece on boxingJoyce Carol Oates has written on the sport as well. I’m not going to suddenly become all Sporty Spice on you. But I have enjoyed the spirit that suffused Britain the last couple weeks. As a few people said on Twitter, the crass closing ceremonies — full of glitz, supermodels, joyless musical reunions (when Freddie Mercury on video proves the most spirited performer, you know you’re in trouble) and the extinguishing of that remarkable cauldron — may have been the polite way to get house guests to leave, but I hope the joyful moments continue to echo in the subconscious for some time to come.

Read poet laureate Carol Duffy’s encomium for the games.

Where’s Marlon?

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.

Picking up the Chalk Again

I have to be on campus early to teach today and I’m still playing catch up, so here’s a “golden oldie” and a couple of bits of news:

There’s still two more days to vote for my voodoo zombie western “High Plains Lazarus” as best horror short of 2010 in the Predators & Editors poll.

Keep your fingers crossed: I may soon have some good news to announce regarding a non-fiction project that has been in the works for a while.

Kit Marlowe and I are both doing guest blogs tomorrow! More later on that. I have a Tuesday’s Overlooked Film, too.

And the certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies received state approval! Hurrah, it’s official.

The re-run is my essay “Picking Up the Chalk Again” which was written when I was teaching in Houston. Although it’s written about returning to teaching after the summer, in some ways the return for the spring semester is even harder (and that’s without the subzero temperatures predicted for tonight). The break is just too short and usually full of events that don’t help with getting work done. By the end of it I’d been feeling so exhausted that I just wasn’t being effective any way. I have to remind myself that my brain needs rest and refilling, too. So as I type this Sunday night, feeling dissatisfied with my work this weekend, I remind myself of Emerson’s wise words:

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Let it be so; let today be a day of high spirit and some satisfaction.

Honest Scrap Award

In the midst of the swirl of the first week of classes, I was very charmed to be told by Jane Kennedy Sutton that she had selected me as one of the recipients of the Honest Scrap Award. You are so kind, Jane!

“The award rules are simple – pass the award to seven worthy bloggers who post from the heart, and list ten honest things about yourself.”

Well, here’s the ten honest things about me:

1. I have a very ambiguous relationship with academia.
2. I do think Old English is the most beautiful language to speak.
3. I would generally rather be in London.
4. I don’t think there is a greater pleasure than writing when it’s going well.
5. There is no more disconcerting feeling than not being able to write.
6. At present I am inordinately irritated by not being able to get into Facebook.
7. Becoming a medievalist taught me there is nothing original: very freeing.
8. Now, Voyager always makes me blub.
9. Peter Cook is the genius I would most like to be, but I’m not funny enough.
10. Sometimes I fantasize about getting in my car and just disappearing, drifting from town to town, working jobs that pay in cash and just writing, writing, writing. But I don’t think Kipper would like to live in my car (and where would I put the catbox?).

Now here are the seven bloggers I’ve chosen to pass this award to.

Elena Steier

The Raven’s Ecritoire

Marja Leena Rathje

The New England Anomaly

Kim Clune

Dana Fredsti

Shades of Purple

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