I 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.’
‘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.]
Happy St. Urho Day! As usual, we commemorate the saint (or his wife) who chased the grasshoppers out of the vineyards in Finland in the usual manner — by fire-grilling the grasshoppers! No, wait — that’s just a cool design made by S. L. Johnson who thought this holiday a little crazy but a good excuse to make a hellfire hopper. I love it.
Today brings another episode of SpeakEasy Radio: I chat with Fox Spirit Books head, Adele Wearing, who talks about starting her small press, folding in her love of martial arts and how much she loves her readers, writers, artists and staff. Fox Spirit Books include TALES OF THE NUN & DRAGON, EMILY NATION, THE STARS SEEM SO FAR AWAY, EUROPEAN MONSTERS, WHITE RABBIT, DRAG NOIR and the entire Fox Pockets series.
Harrogate — or to give its proper name, Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival — is always full of shenanigans. Put a bunch of writers together at a vintage pub in a spa town in Yorkshire when it’s far too hot and well, what would you expect? While usually I’d call the cheeriest writers either romance writers or horror writers (yes, really and if you’ve sung showtunes at dawn on a Rhode Island beach, you’d know that) this is the year dubbed #happygate because there was no happier place to be (in your face, Disney).
A big part of that is due to the surprise proposal Scott made to Jo at the end of the “In Space, No-one Can Hear You Scream” panel — but the screams were all of joy. Sly boots all: a happy couple even before the surprise, and it was pulled off with aplomb, champagne arriving on cue and a speechless Jo quite overwhelmed. Since Scott made it the last question from the audience, I think people were looking expectant at the end of every panel when the moderators queried, “Are there any final questions?” Congratulations!
The panel itself was an interesting one, hosted by program chair Steve Mosby and discussing with Lauren Beukes, Sharon Bolton, James Smythe and Lavie Tidhar the mixing of other genres with crime, which always seems to get sneers — yet also seems to enliven the genre each time there’s another cross-genre hit (I may be biased here). Since we no longer have to face the tyranny of the genre bookshelf, why stick to one label?
The interview with Denise Mina had kicked off the morning. I never get tired of hearing her speak. She’s funny and frank, and so inspiring. I loved how she talked about the pull of politics as someone who adamantly fights for change, but also realising the cost of political work — and the horror of the people who are often drawn to that life. She called them men with “suits too expensive for their faces” which seemed perfect. Politics will eat artists alive.
Martyn Waites hosted a panel of folks who represented the range of publishing paths out there: James Oswald (without his coos), Mark Edwards, Mari Hannah and Mel Sherratt. The upshot of the discussion is what William Goldman wrote long ago: Nobody knows anything. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket because we’re still in the midst of change.
I went to see ‘Robert Galbraith’ better known as J. K. Rowling because I figured I’d not get another chance to see her in quite so intimate surroundings. Although the event was held ‘off campus’ the town hall was still rather small and I was in the 4th row. Val McDermid had us laughing from the start (as usual) by teasing her about the name and declaring she would call her Bob. Although Rowling seems quite polished these days, the eager enthusiasm remains plain. She loves what she does — and she loves her audience. And she says there’s no limit to the Galbraith books.
Although out late, I steeled myself to get up early to see Lynda La Plante and I am so very glad that I did. Like Rowling, here’s someone who’s had a lot of success and yet the thing that came through was how happy she is to know people read her and watch her stories. Her RADA training shows in her seasoned persona, though she made sure to play down her acting as “lots of prostitutes” and of course that appearance on Rentaghost. La Plante is a hoot and a half; if you get a chance to see her, do. Someone asked what she does when she procrastinates, but she said she can’t wait to write. I think she felt the air leave the room then, but before all the writers could faint she added that she knew herself to be in a very fortunate place where people were waiting on her words. “I keep a sign over my desk that reads ‘Rejection does not mean NO!'” Nobody knows anything: to seize luck, you have to be in a position to do so.
Sophie Hannah and S.J. Watson talked a lot about the mysteries that other people are to us (and we to them). The film of Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep looked rather good. The new blood panel with Val McDermid was fascinating to see just how different all the new stars she’d picked were — from a Chastity Flame-like secret assassin, to migrant workers in the UK to a novel on the Axeman murderer in New Orleans and a dead child in a Irish convent school (which won the Dundee prize).
As usual, most of the fest was spend wandering around and chatting, passing out promo things for my own books (the Extricate chocolates went very fast) and apparently missing more people than I found. Some of that may have to do with disappearing to eat and play with Adele, Vince, Kat and others because they had a flat across the road.
The town was still full of Tour de France decorations — everything rather yellow. Harrogate’s a pretty town. I think I saw more of it last time, at least the lovely gardens. I always mean to try the Turkish baths. I did have a quiet lunch at the pub where P. G. Wodehouse used to drink on my way out of town.
The only problem with going away is trying to catch up again with all the things. Bit by bit…
For the next few days, this is where you’ll find me: Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. Loads of writers will be there including that Galbraith fellow. I’ll try to tweet from the panels or share any interesting (or blackmail-worthy) photos I get. The good news is I’ll also be seeing friends like the fabulous Adele, so skulk magic will doubtless happen. If you need to occupy yourselves in my absence, try reading my story “The Bride With White Hair” that was inspired by my first visit to Harrogate and the fest. It can be found in either of the two fine tomes below (click on the picture to see more).
Another Fox Spirit triumph and one very close to foxy hearts: the first volume of The Girl at the End of the World is out now! Before there was a Fox Spirit, there was UnBound, home of wild conversations about zombies and bug-out bags with Dana and Jack and all, which led to The Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse. That girl lives on in this volume — and so much more! Here’s the table of contents:
1,1 Antichristine James Bennett
1,1 Change of Address Rob Harkess
1,1 Coming Back Tracy Fahey
1,1 Skin James Oswald
1,1 The Borrowed Man James S Dorr
1,1 The End of the Garden Catherine Mann
1,1 The Ending Plague Andrew Reid
1,1 The Wife of Watsorous Nathan Lunt
1,2 A Sailor Girl Goes Ashore Margret Helgadottir
1,2 Blueprint for Redwings Ruth E J Booth
1,2 Demon Runner Dash Cooray
1,2 Little Daughter Dayna Ingram
1,2 Rolling in the Deep Cat Connor
1,2 Sophie and the Gate to Hell Carol Borden
1,2 The Glaciers Stone Alexander Danner
1,2 The Last Rushani Jonathan Ward
1,3 In the Absence John Perkins
1,3 Only So Far Adam Rodenberger
1,3 Saint Salima Alex Helm
1,3 Somebody to Play with Geraldine Clark Hellery
1,3 The Beast Within Christian D’Amico
1,3 Zompoc in Nashville (anonymous) discussed by Dr. K. A.Laity
1,3 All things Fall Chloe Yates
As you might guess, mine is a bit unusual. I analyse a handwritten sheet of lyrics and a scratchy recording found in the rubble after the apocalypse. Who wrote them? What could have prompted this outpouring — and did it make the charts?
Yes, volume two is coming! This girl has a future — though it might not be what you think…