#greatfirewallofcameron Christmas Challenge

Gosh we genre writers are a dangerous bunch – apparently. Last night my partner Dave Gullen and I discovered both our websites were blocked by O2, under their ‘Parental Guidance‘ controls.

A few tweets established that other genre writers, such as Gareth Powell, (Ack-Ack Macaque) had the same block in place. So we checked a few more:

Genre Writers Blocked
Adrian Tchaikovsky (Shadows of the Apt)
John Scalzi (RedShirts, Old Man’s War)
Emma Newman (Split Worlds)
Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book)
Robin Hobb (Assassin’s series, Ships series, Dragons series)

Children’s & YA Authors Blocked
Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowle)
Philip Pullman (Dark Materials)
Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games)
Philip Reeve (Mortal Engines)
Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar)

They even blocked Jane Yolen, ‘the Hans Christian Andersen of America’.

Not to mention various publishers, such as Angry Robot, Solaris, Gollancz, and Jo Fletcher Books.

Don’t worry, people – it gets better. Scholastic’s web site specifically for children’s books and encouraging children to read is – Blocked!

It turns out that a surprising number of sites are potentially risky – like that well-known bunch of dodgy geezers, the Directors Guild.

Best of all, O2 have wisely blocked Save the Children, and – wait for it – Childline.  So potentially a child might have to go to their abuser and ask for the parental controls to be unlocked so they can get help to deal with abuse. Right?  (Because we all know that abuse only happens in households where the adults are Poor and therefore Feckless, and not where they are the kind of responsible sort who switch on parental controls and please tell me I don’t need a sarcasm smiley here).

If you think this is nonsense, there’s a petition you can sign here.

Our Christmas challenge – find a web site or blog specifically aimed at helping children that is NOT blocked by O2. The first three entries will win a free copy of Dave’s SF novel, Shopocalypse. The next three will win a copy of the first ‘Babylon Steel’ novel.

Here’s the link to the O2 checker. (We haven’t covered BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, or Sky – it was late and we were tired).

Happy holidays.

Andromeda One

Spent a delightful Saturday at Andromeda One – a brand new baby con, run by the indefatigable Theresa Derwin. Who almost certainly cloned herself to get it all done.

For a one-day con it managed to pack in an extraordinary amount – workshops, kaffeeklatsches, and panels galore, covering small press publishing, gender/race/disability in fandom, steampunk, zombies, urban fantasy and SF, among others.

I would have liked to get to more panels. It’s a depressing and unexpected side effect of being a guest that you can’t go to all the interesting stuff that’s on while you’re doing something you’ve actually been booked for. As it was I attended one panel while frantically filling in signing-sheets and trying to rustle as little as possible, like someone eating wrapped sweets at the cinema. It was a good panel, too, on technology and prediction in SF, which sparked some intense discussion in the pub later. What I did get to was generally interesting and well-moderated and I also had some great conversations in between dashing hither and yon.

I was on a panel on tropes in Urban Fantasy, which (aptly enough) led down some fascinating alleyways, and a round-table on race/gender/disability barriers in fandom, which, while not managing to solve all the problems (that would have been pretty impressive) opened up the discussion in useful ways.

I was also on my first ever Just a Minute.  This was no less terrifying for being run by the entirely delightful Paul Cornell, especially when your opponents are the brilliant Jaine Fenn (that gal has a wicked hand on the imaginary buzzer) and a madly gesticulating Jacey Bedford, and you get sudden random insect subjects from Adrian Tchaikovsky, who is practically a giant bee in human form. It all resulted in a hysterical stew, with chocolate-filled locusts and evil wombles thrown in. The audience might have been throwing actual chocolate-filled locusts and evil wombles by the end of it, I was too far gone in hyperventilating overload to notice. It was, in a weird and panicky way, fun. I have just about stopped shaking.

The Custard Factory where the con took place is colourfully repurposed industrial architecture with some amazing artwork –  a giant green man (wearing a box. A window box, in this case), a fantastic 14ft bronze dragon (I’m not sure of the actual measurements, I was going to say ‘life-size’ only, yeah, dragon), and a startled bright orange squid.  Oh, and there’s a really good Nigerian restaurant called Jeun. (Brand new, so there’s not much on their website but an email address). Spicy, yummy, fresh – and huge portions. If you live nearby I’d book now before they’re full up every night.

On a practical note the con space could have done with a central meeting place/bar, better accessibility and possibly a map, but it all seemed to work OK – there was a pleasant nearby pub and the bar at the con hotel, the Paragon, was a good place to end the evening.

Ah, the Paragon. A truly astonishing piece of Victoriana which, entirely unsurprisingly, used to be a lunatic asylum. Vast façade of blood-coloured brick, adorned with Hound of the Baskerville-esque gargoyles, and the occasional small but definite tree growing out of the brickwork. Inside, a lot of walls painted Institutional Green (a rather disturbing homage to its former purpose), drips, leaks, and strange whooshes and burblings that one can only hope came from elderly plumbing. There were also, apparently, phantom footprints burned (yes, burned – one wonders exactly who was stepping out of that shower) into the carpet of at least one room. I rather hope the con itself will be held there next year. Luxurious it wasn’t – intriguing it definitely is.

Adromeda was well worth it, and it was a delightful experience to be at such a very small con, where you actually get a chance to speak to most of the attendees.  I suspect, given the energy and commitment of the organisers, it won’t stay that way for long.

This Dilemma has Pointy Horns

Well, this is interesting.

I’ve been invited onto the “Broads with Swords” panel at World Fantasy. The one about women and heroic fantasy that’s been causing some, shall we say, ructions. (See Cheryl Morgan’s blog, Jess Haines’ blog, and Kameron Hurley’s twitter feed @KameronHurley. There are probably others).  Very short version – the name is problematic, since ‘broads’ is generally considered a (female-specific) insult.  And the panel specifics suggest that women in fantasy writing about women who fight is a recent development, which as a number of people have pointed out, (see the links) is hardly the case.

I decided to accept.  I did so because I thought that the best place to have a discussion about the naming and assumptions of the panel might be actually on the panel. (I was not aware at this point that Kameron Hurley had dropped out. I understand why she did so, though I am rather selfishly sorry that she did, because it would have been more than somewhat awesome to be on a panel with her).

I am now, of course, second guessing myself; will I look like a patsy?  Will it appear I am not aware of/don’t care about the issues?  Will I be sitting there all on my own because everyone else has taken a stand and dropped out? (Yes, all right, I realise that’s unlikely as if everyone else drops out they’ll probably cancel the panel, but it’s the kind of nightmare scenario my subconscious does so love to throw at me).  But eventually you have to decide to take a stand, in the way that seems best to you.

On a less self-obsessed and rather more relevant note, am I helping to support untenable attitudes towards women and the history of women’s writing by accepting?  That’s the bother, actually, that’s the one.  This stuff is important, in case anyone hasn’t got that yet.  It matters.

I get that the name was an attempted pun on ‘broadsword’ but…no.  (I started to think of equivalent titles that you really wouldn’t have for, for example, a panel on crime writing by People of Colour, and shuddered).

As to the content: women have been written out of the history of science, of art, of war and of literature, for centuries.  Their contributions have been dismissed as minor, irrelevant, not theirs or simply not there. So this is a conversation that needs to be had, and keep being had, until people do, finally, get it.

But should it be had on this panel?  I’ve been to more than a few panel discussions that have skewed wildly away from the stated subject matter towards panelists’ personal hobbyhorses.  This can be interesting, but is often irritating.  Is it fair to the audience, not to mention the other panelists, to go on a panel actually intending to turn the discussion to the wider issues it brings up, rather than sticking strictly to the listed subject?  But since this panel has been, so to speak, pre-subverted, simply because the discussion is already taking place, maybe it’s better simply to go with it.  One cannot, and should not, pretend that the issues are not there.

Whatever the difficulties, I think it’s well worth having this discussion offline as well as on, in a public venue.  Among other things, it encourages people of different opinions to engage face to face, rather than with the intervention of a screen.  It’s generally harder for things to descend into CAPSLOCK RANTAGE under those circumstances.

So, I’ll be there, and I’ll hope to contribute something useful to the debate.   I also hope that I am doing the right thing.

Opinions are invited.  However, I reserve the right to delete any CAPSLOCK RANTAGE, unless I find it entertaining.

Jungle Drums

My Dearly Beloved likes ferns. We have royal ferns, maidenhair ferns, bird’s nest ferns. Oh, and tree ferns. Lots of tree ferns.

One of these is a particularly splendid specimen that has to live in the conservatory because it’s too delicate to go outside. This is a cyathea cooperi. It has lovely long green fronds which unfurl from tight hairy fists, very slowly, like vegetable ballet.

It has recently produced a new frond, which is in the process of unfolding. Before it started unfolding, however, it grew up. And up. And up, until it was taller than Dearly Beloved.

We looked up cyathea cooperi.

Oh dear.

This delicate beastie is in fact a very large fern. The individual mature fronds can be 20 feet long.

20 feet. That’s one leaf.  If I stand under it in a gauzy dress I’ll look like something out of an old children’s book illustration.

So once they’ve all unfolded, that’s a circle of about 40 foot width. The conservatory isn’t that big. And it certainly isn’t 49 feet tall, which is, apparently, what cyathea cooperi can grow to.

There’s a reason why they’re called tree ferns.

And there’s another frond unfolding.

If you don’t hear from me again, I’m living on the street because my house has been taken over by a very large plant.


I’m honoured…

I’m Guest of Honour at the BSFA/SFF mini-convention – Saturday 1st June, City of Westminster Archives Centre 10 St Ann’s St London SW1P 2DE. My slot’s at 2.30 (being interviewed by the ever splendid Helen Callaghan) and I’m also doing a panel, details to follow.

That’s this coming Saturday for those of you, like me, who didn’t realise June was quite so close at hand, (ulp). The con runs from 10am to 5pm, and includes the BSF and SFF AGMS.

I’ve never been a Guest of honour before.  I shall have to smarten up my act and try and be…um…coherent, and witty, and stuff.  Or at the very least present and conscious.

I usually manage these fairly basic requirements pretty well, but considering that I managed to schedule major dental surgery three days before my first ever panel, and turned up looking as though I’d just run face first into a wasp’s nest and emerged with a Fu Manchu bruise ‘tache, not to mention being flown to the wide on painkillers, I am aware that I don’t always.

Fingers crossed that life decides to be better organised this time.

You Ain’t Jack Sparrow

I’ve just found my books on a pirating site. Again. Second time in a month, this is, that someone’s decided it’s OK to pass on my work for free. And this particular site seems to think that they’re doing something rather wonderful; with patronising little cartoons about how piracy isn’t ‘theft’ because with ‘theft’ you take away the original of something, whereas with piracy you only take a copy, the original’s still there, so you see, it’s all fine and dandy and anyone who believes otherwise is a big old silly.

Well, no, actually, it isn’t fine. The ‘copy’ argument is utterly meaningless. What you’re taking away is my living, mate. That’s actual money for things like buying groceries and paying bills that I now don’t get. Any copy of one of my books that’s stolen, not sold, is money taken from me exactly as though you’d taken physical coins out of my pocket.

Just because I didn’t sit down and write out every single word of every copy of my books by hand on vellum like a medieval monk, that doesn’t mean they’re not my work. Hours, days, months of work, that I spent trying to make it as good as it could be.

You’re also stealing the work my publisher did on it, like the many hours that went into editing. Work they did to make it a better story. They’re not a huge company. They’re not Monsanto. They’re just people – people like me who have mortgages, babies, bills. When you pirate you’re making it that much harder for a good publisher to keep going, to keep producing the stuff you like so much you’re prepared to stuff it under your jacket and walk out of the shop whistling.

Except you don’t even take that risk, do you?  You sit safely behind your screen, merrily stealing away, knowing you’re extremely unlikely to get caught and making lots of self-justifying statements that only go to show you do actually know exactly what you’re doing.

You might like to define yourselves as some kind of revolutionaries. But me, I think you’re  grubby little crooks, no better than someone who nicks a granny’s pension out of her handbag. You don’t make theft into untheft just by calling it something else. You can call the sky the ground, and spend the day walking around on your hands calling anyone who disagrees with you an old-fashioned misery-guts, but it doesn’t mean the sky is actually now the ground – it just means you’re walking around with mud on your hands and your arse in the air.

If you like it enough to read it, bloody pay for it. It’s only a few quid. If you’re so broke you can’t afford that, borrow it from the library – that way I still get something. Not much – pennies  – but it’s better than nothing, and it proves you had enough respect for another human being not to steal from them.  Borrow it from a friend! I have no problem with borrowing, I borrow and lend books all the time –  it does mean that somewhere down the line the author and publisher actually got paid, if only once.

And you know what matters even more? It’s not just the money. It’s the fact that if you steal my work you’re showing you don’t care about me at all; you’re happy to exploit me. Just because you’re doing it at a distance, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And it hurts, emotionally as well as financially. I’ve been an obsessive reader since I learned how. I write for readers. I write to make a connection with them, to give them something fun, involving, a few hours out of the world. If a reader then acts as though it’s OK to rip me off, it’s like being turned on by someone you thought of as a friend.

If you like to think you’re not the sort of person who would come into my house and walk out with my mother’s necklace, then don’t be the sort of person who walks off with my book. And don’t be the sort of person who encourages other people to do it. That’s no more moral or revolutionary than a kid egging other kids on to nick a bag of crisps from the corner shop and run away laughing.

Grow the hell up. Stop stealing and pretending you aren’t. And stop pretending you aren’t hurting me by doing it. You are.