The Unvarnished Truth

First of all, a quick note to anyone who has posted a comment which I totally failed to reply to for months – sorry!  I’m still finding my way around all this stuff and I think I need a better notifications system.  Or a secretary.  Possibly both.

Anyway. On to the entirely frivolous matter of today’s post.

I really must stop buying nail varnish.

That may require a little explanation. Anyone who has ever met me knows I am not exactly a fashion icon – I am barely a fashion postcard, to be frank. And from about March to September, when the serious gardening is going on, my fingernails are less gleaming talons than fragmented mud-collectors.

But I do like nail varnish, when I have nails. It’s just so pretty. All those bottles lined up like lovely glossy sweets.

And the colours! When I first started looking at it (not actually buying it due to parental disapproval of anything so outré as a 14 year old girl with painted nails, I might as well have got a tattoo and some stripper tassels) the only colours I ever saw were variations from pale pink to bright red. Maybe a bit of glitter if you were lucky.

Then – the Eighties! I was away from home, I had money  – well, I had a brand new bank account and the beginnings of an overdraft that had not yet reached wake-in-the-night terrifying proportions. And there was this sudden chromatic explosion all over the cosmetics shelves. Cadmium yellow! Acid green! Cobalt blue! I could have nails the colour of a New York Taxi! A parrot! A set of Bristol glass! All the above at once! 

So I started buying varnish.

(I also flirted briefly with false nails, at which I was rubbish. I could never get them to stay on for more than a couple of hours, despite using so much glue they ended up about the thickness of a duvet. They used to appear on the floor wherever I’d been like small, gruesome clues in a murder case, or ping off into my drink. Or, worse, someone else’s drink. I even managed to set light to one while I was wearing it (I smoked back then. In the really-bad-for-you way, not the gosh-I-was-kinda-hot way.) Also, they were really expensive).

Anyway to drag myself back out of the false-nails segue, I bought nail varnish. Not every week, or anything – just enough that I had a colour that went with every outfit. I wish I could still get some of those colours, even though a number of the outfits themselves have since been deservedly consigned to oblivion – it was the Eighties, after all.

Then there were jobs, many of which I did not particularly enjoy. Outré nail varnish was a small, silly way of reminding myself that I was a creative, artistic, or at least slightly odd, person and my life was not limited to excel spreadsheets and management meetings and reports even if it sometimes felt like that.

But. The time came when I was working from home. And with all its joys, it means I don’t leave the house as often. I don’t spend the night before sorting out an outfit and making sure my nails are looking decent. So, I stopped using as much varnish.

Unused varnish goes claggy. You can try thinning it with nail varnish remover, at which point it turns into a cross between lumpy glue and Alien blood. Or the top gets jammed and you try and open it with pliers and the whole top of the bottle snaps off and your good trousers get doused in Aubergine Extreme and so does the kitchen floor and suddenly everything is purple and reeking of pear drops.

I have approximately 27 bottles of nail varnish in my nail-varnish drawer. I suspect many of them have already reached the state of no return. I need to fling out the enclagged ones, and not buy any more. At least for a bit.

There is no philosophical point to this post, although you could make a case for clutter-clearing or Letting Go or something, if you wish – or not spending money on stuff that you won’t use, or The Unexpected Side Effects Of Working From Home.

But in reality I just got sidetracked into wittering about nail varnish, instead of doing the stuff I should be doing.

And that, of course, is a whole other blog post.

#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.