The Art of Empathy: New column in Shoreline of Infinity 7

Yesterday was the Spring Equinox, so that means both a new issue of Shoreline of Infinity and a new installment of my column, Noise and Sparks. This one arrives during interesting times, and for that reason, I feel like it needs a little preamble.


Some columns are tricky because you can’t decide what to write about, and some columns give you trouble because you don’t know how to write about that what. This one was like a blinding light in pitch darkness, as if there was nothing else to write about. I can’t remember when I’ve had such a clear idea of what I’ve wanted to cover – or been so terrified about doing so.

Writing about empathy in art at a time when anti-human rights movements have control of major governments across the world seems like a fool’s game. Yet I’ve never felt so strongly about its importance. Books and art and movies and music are the ways by which we learn about voices other than our own – and those ways will become ever more important as these voices become drowned out by those who should support them. Empathy is the core of truth in an artist’s work, no matter what the subject. But for those who equate empathy with agreement, this can be a controversial statement. In this column, I talk about this knot, and ways in which artists have endeavoured to untangle it in times of hatred – and a little known portrait of Hitler by a failed soldier, a man who’d later become author of one of the most celebrated Fantasy trilogies in history, Mervyn Peake.

Amongst the rest of the issue, you’ll find poetry from Jane Yolen, as well as an interview with the woman herself, stories from David L Clements, Dan Grace, and Katie Gray, the latest in Monica Burns‘ SF Caledonia series, comics and more, all wrapped in a new Stephen Pickering cover. It’s available online now.

Oh, and by the way: if you’ve not yet voted for this year’s Hugo Awards, did you know Shoreline is eligible for Best Semi-pro Zine?

Just saying.

*UPDATED* Reading Party, Oliver Langmead’s Metronome, and GIFCON

Blimey, February already. Here are three bits of news for you, in chronological order:

Firstly, I’ll be reading in Glasgow this Monday 6th February, as part of the University of Glasgow’s MLitt in Fantasy Reading Party. It’s a casual affair, BUT will feature a rare UK appearance from Canadian YA author Caighlan Smith and Dark Star author Oliver Langmead, as well as the chance to hear some exciting fresh new writers and some performative readings. So why not come join us? We’ll be starting at 6:30pm at Dram, where we’ve hired the backroom.

Talking of Oliver Langmead, I’ll be doing interview honours when he launches his second novel, Metronome in Glasgow on 9th March (event page). Ollie’s a witty guy with a love of language, so I’m looking forward to discussing his writing – and considering his first novel was an SF detective noir in the form of an epic poem, this should be a fascinating chat. Join us at Waterstones on Argyle ST from 6:30pm. UPDATE: You can now find the facebook event page here.

Finally, a little academic news. I’ll be presenting my first paper at GIFCON, which takes place the end of March at the University of Glasgow. ‘Gods Rebooted: Liminality in the Neil Gaiman Multiverse and the Expansion of the Superhero Canon’ will be an exploration of Neil Gaiman’s use of America as a liminal space in American Gods as rooted as much in comic books as the great American novel, tracing this back to his earlier work on the Sandman series (and possibly Black Orchid, if there’s time).

I should add that, while I have been helping out with GIFCON, the abstract judging used a double blind procedure where the reviewers (who did not include me, in this case) were unaware of the authorship of the paper. Unfortunately, that means it’s a good idea on its own merits and now I have to make a good paper out of that. Bugger.

If you’d like to see if I manage it, GIFCON takes place over 29th – 30th March at the University of Glasgow (see www.gifcon.org for more details).

Add about ten thousand words of non-fiction writing, creative writing, classes and photo editing, and that’s my schedule until the end of March. Hope to catch you at one or more of these!

2016 Roundup

I hope everyone is enjoying a peaceful and restful holiday at the moment, and looking forward to a better year ahead. With this being the time of year for reflection, here’s a rundown of what I’ve been up to in terms of Fiction, Non-Fiction and Poetry.
This year saw my first published poetry, including ‘The Love of a Season’ in Winter Tales (Fox Spirit), and ‘Coronal Mass Ejection (Solar Minima)’ in The Speculative Book (Speculative Bookshop). Particularly special to me was the last of these, ‘Picture, of a Winter Afternoon,‘ which appeared in Thirty Years of Rain, celebrating 30 years of the Glasgow SF Writers Circle. I wrote this poem around the time I first decided to move to Glasgow, so it was lovely to see this published in the group’s anthology shortly after I arrived here in the Autumn.
I started writing the Noise and Sparks column for Shoreline of Infinity, which was one of the more unexpected joys to have come out of this year for me. Ostensibly about my experiences as a new writer (though generally it covers whatever’s been occupying my brain, from the weight of expectation, to making decisions that may be better for you than your writing), it’s allowed me to return to a style I haven’t worked in since the days of Thrash Hits, and I’ve greatly missed that. So I’m very grateful to Noel Chidwick and the rest of the team for allowing me the space to explore and discuss ideas about creativity in this way – because, after all, art is a discussion. The third of these columns, ‘Interlude,’ is in Shoreline of Infinity #6, the latest issue, and can be picked up at the official website.
In fiction, ‘Dame Ammonia Dastardly-Truste’s Evil Genius College for Ladies Class of 2014: Graduation Speech [Transcript],’ my tale of love, betrayal and porpoises, came out in Fox Pockets: The Evil Genius Guide (Fox Spirit Press). And there were a couple of reprints: I was proud to be part of NewCon Press’s 10th anniversary celebrations, when ‘The Honey Trap’ appeared in Digital Dreams, the e-book only anthology celebrating their best SF by women stories. Meanwhile, Far Horizons were kind enough to put ‘Good Boy’ into their April 2016 Staff Picks issue, which has a rather lovely cover by Stephen Briggs.
There were a few other firsts. I did my first stint as panel moderator to a packed crowd at Mancunicon (this year’s Eastercon) on a panel containing Ian McDonald, Kari Sperring, Tiffani Angus and Russell Smith – and I did not die. I also did my first book launch interview with Becky Chambers, as she promoted A Closed and Common Orbit to a very enthusiastic audience at Waterstones in Glasgow. The latter was particularly fun, as I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of books in the Wayfarer series, so getting the chance to ask her about sensory analogues was a joy.
Outside of SFF, I photographed Emma Pollock for Drowned In Sound. I also ran another half-marathon after only seven weeks of training*, raising more than £300 for the Scottish Association for Mental Health. Thank you once again to everyone who took the time to sponsor me and support the vital work of the lovely folks at SAMH, helping sufferers of mental illness and their carers.
And, finally, I quit my job and moved to a new country to start a Masters degree in Fantasy. Which kind of explains why, despite all this, it’s actually been a relatively quiet year for me, creatively. Underneath my fiercest wishes for the coming year – for a restored belief in the rights of all humans to love and respect, and that considered, heartfelt words can still lead to the best of all consequences – my quiet, most selfish hope is that I can find that space to be creative again.

So a busy, and in many ways, tough year. Let’s see what 2017 has to offer.

*In just 12 seconds over last year’s time – but never again!

Shoreline of Infinity 6

With all this end of year nonsense, I’d clean forgotten to post about my latest column for Shoreline of Infinity. S0 here’s a belated bump for it.

shoreline-issue-6-cover-1000w-194x300

This one is called ‘Noise and Sparks: Interlude‘ – and it is, in a way. ‘Interlude’ reflects on the change of the seasons, and thoughts this provokes as we hurtle inexorably towards the year’s end.

Also in this issue, you’ll find stories by Bo Balder, Hannah Lackoff, Victoria Zelvin, Katy Lennon, Russell Jones and many more. There’s an interview with Steven Palmer, and a review of Empire Games by Charles Stross – which makes a great preview for his upcoming appearance at Shoreline’s next Event Horizon showcase in February. Chris Kelso gives a glowing review to Thirty Years of Rain, the Glasgow SF Writers Circle anthology which features my poem ‘Picture, of a Winter Afternoon.’ Additionally, this issue boasts the first of a new cover series by Stephen Pickering. So it’s well worth a look, I reckon. Click here to pick it up from the Shoreline website.

Becky Chambers interview and Thirty Years of Rain launch

Here’s a quick blog about a couple of upcoming events you might be interested in, if you’re in the Glasgow area…

becky-chambers

TODAY! I’ll be interviewing Becky Chambers at the launch of her new book, A Closed and Common Orbit, sequel to the magnificent The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I’m incredibly excited about this – the Wayfarers series is one of my favourite SF series of the last few years, and I’m looking forward to a great chat with Becky about AI, fandom, and what it means to be human. So come join us this afternoon from 3pm at Waterstones Sauchiehall St. Click here for the facebook page.

Thirty Years of Rain

Then, this Thursday, the Glasgow SF Writers Circle will be hosting a special line-up of readings to celebrate the recent release of Thirty Years of Rain, their 30th anniversary anthology. While I’m not sure of the reading schedule yet, I’ll definitely be on hand to sign copies of the book, which features my poem ‘Picture, of a Winter Afternoon’. Additionally I’m told the line-up for the night will also feature a rare appearance from Phil Raines, so this is definitely not one to miss. Everything kicks off at the Gilchrist PG Club from 7:30pm. More information here.

Hope to see you then!

Ruth Runs: The Great Scottish Run 2 – Run Harder

I’d been wondering why everyone was taking so long. As the crowd moved, the full length of St Vincent Street appeared ahead, from the tickertape starting line to, at its far end, a startlingly abrupt 30 degree slope — the kind of horrific steepness that, as a kid, your Mum would tell you off for biking down without your brakes on. My impatience vanished, leaving a single thought: “how the hell am I getting through this?”

So, of course, I’m doing it again on Sunday 2nd October, tackling the Great Scottish Run to raise funds for SAMH (the Scottish Association for Mental Health).

SAMH Shirt

The theme of this run is Sabotage. It’s been a tough year. My health hasn’t been great — I’ve lost three months of training to injury — a broken toe and a twisted ankle. Life issues have proved difficult to deal with, and that’s impacted on my well-being and my creativity. At times, it’s been overwhelming. Whether physical or mental — Beastie Boys or Cancer Bats — Sabotage has dogged my every step this year.

But I’m still here. More than that — I’m in Glasgow, living amongst good friends, studying a fascinating course in Fantasy, and beginning to find my own way in the world.

So what better way to celebrate that than running 13 miles through one of the hilliest cities in the country — and raising money for charity to boot?

So why SAMH? SAMH support those living in Scotland with mental health issues, as well as their families and carers. There are community-based programmes for everything from housing to addiction. They run the national anti-stigma campaign See Me, and the anti-bullying campaign Respect Me. They also provide employment support, as well as a host of information and advice. Whether you’re a student looking for a bit of extra support as you make this massive life change, or a carer looking after a someone with a mental health condition, this is the place to go.

If you’d like to help me support SAMH and their excellent work, please head to the link below to sponsor my run.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/RuthRuns-GSR2

Alternatively, if you can’t afford a donation, why not leave me a little encouragement on the Great Wall of Support?

http://greatscottishrun.com/wall-of-support/

Finally, if you want to watch, why not check out BBC2 Scotland‘s coverage on Sunday 2nd October from 11:00 – 13:45?

I’ll see you at the finish line!

Thirty Years of Rain

During the near two years I tried and failed to move to Glasgow, two things anchored me to my goal: firstly, my good friends who live and work in the city. Secondly, the thought of the passionate, creative community I would be joining when I moved here. At the point I’d begun to wonder if I’d ever make it up, the folks of the Glasgow SF Writers Circle invited me to make good on the handful of meetings I’d made as a visitor, and join as a full member. It was the foothold I needed in the city. From that moment, I didn’t look back.

Thirty Years of Rain

A year on from that day, I’m proud to say a poem of mine has found its way into Thirty Years of Rain, the new anthology celebrating the 30th anniversary of the celebrated crit group. It’s fitting that while this book features many of the Circle’s most famous alumni, it also showcases some startlingly original work from up-and-coming writers too: Louise Welsh, Hal Duncan, Gary Gibson, Neil Williamson, Amal El-Mohtar, TW Moses, Heather Valentine, Eliza Chan, Peter Morrison, and many more besides. Thirty Years of Rain is not just a taste of the myriad fall from the group, but hopefully a foreshadowing of bigger things to come.

Edited by Neil Williamson, Elaine Gallagher and Cameron Johnston, and with layout by Hal Duncan and photography by Andrea Heins, Thirty Years of Rain is available now in paperback (Amazon/Lulu) and ebook (Kindle/Other Formats).

Alternatively, if you’re in the Glasgow area, why not join us this Friday 30th September (anyone would think we’d planned it that way, eh?) at Waterstones on Sauchiehall Street? We’ll be launching the book at 7pm, with readings, chat and more, plus the biggest gathering of contributors we can muster.

Here’s the official facebook page (ignore the bit about reservations – you can just turn up). Hope to see you there!

Fantasycon By T’ Sea and the British Fantasy Awards

Fantasycon By The Sea

This weekend sees the latest installment of the British Fantasy Society’s Fantasycon, Fantasycon By The Sea (or Fantasycon-by-t’-Sea, in Yorkshire fashion), in sunny Scarborough. And I’ll be there too! When I’m not slurping ice cream, or trying to find a seaside donkey who understands my inner Eeyore, here’s where you can find me.

SATURDAY

3pm – 4pm: NewCon Press and Glasgow SF Writers Circle Launch
Main Ballroom, The Grand Hotel
The GSFWC‘s 30th anniversary anthology, Thirty Years of Rain, is having a preview launch in Scarborough ahead of next week’s official party in Glasgow. With stories from Louise Welsh, Hal Duncan, Amal El-Mohtar, William King, as well as stunning up-and-comers like Eliza Chan and Peter Morrison, it’s an astoundingly good collection, and II can scarcely believe the company I’m keeping here. NewCon Press have kindly cleared us a space at the table for their launch, so here’s a chance to not only get a copy ahead of release, but get it signed too! You lucky ducks!

SUNDAY

12pm – 1pm: GSFWC Reading
Cocktail Bar, The Grand Hotel
If you’re still not persuaded to pick it up, hear me, Neil Williamson and Ian Hunter (and Cam Johnston, if we can persuade him) reading from Thirty Years of Rain in the Cocktail Bar. Extravagant booze and brilliant stories – what better way is there to spend a lunchtime?

Thirty Years of Rain

2pm – 3pm: A Little’s Enough
(Palm Court Ballroom, The Grand Hotel)
With moderation from George Sandison of Unsung Stories, Storyological‘s E.G. Cosh joins myself, Lynda Clark, Stormblade‘s Neil Buchanan and David Guymer for a natter about what makes a great story. If you missed mine and Emma’s stint on the Short Story panel at Mancunicon, here’s your chance to see it again – but with rebooted cast and an intriguing new direction…

3:30pm – 5pm: The British Fantasy Awards Ceremony
Royal Ballroom, Royal Hotel
Finally, not strictly an appearance, but an announcement I’ve been looking forward to. Over the summer, I joined Martin Petto and Kevin McVeigh on the Non-Fiction Jury for this year’s British Fantasy Awards. It’s been a really interesting experience — not least because of the quality of the shortlist — but also because of the conversations we’ve had around the nominated works. I can’t wait for you all to find out which entry won.

Because you’ll be there too, right? I mean, it’s Fantasycon-by-t’-Sea! You know what “t'” means, don’t you?

September Shenanigans: Event Horizon, Fantasycon, Thirty Years of Rain and more.

I’ve got a bit of news. Well, quite a lot of news, actually. Earlier this year, I put in an application to the University of Glasgow’s MLitt programme in Fantasy — and to my immense delight, they accepted me. So I’m currently condensing my life into a dozen boxes, as I’ll be moving myself and them up to Glasgow this weekend. It’s both terrifying and utterly exciting (and I’m not just talking about the ability to buy a tonne of books and call it work), but I can’t wait to be living in such a vibrant, creative community of writers and artists. The hard work begins here.

September is looking to be a busy month already, with book launches, events, and two new things coming out. While I’m taking a breather from boxing up, I thought you might like to know what’s coming up in the next few weeks…

Event Horizon 11

5th September: Event Horizon XI (Edinburgh)
Next Monday, join me, Bram E. Gieben, Harry Giles, Elaine Gallagher, The Spiders, and Russell Jones for stories, slam poetry and some stonking performances that’ll knock your SFing socks off. We’ll be at the Blind Poet in Edinburgh from 7pm. For more details, check out the facebook event page here, or last week’s blog.

23rd September: Shoreline of Infinity 5 is out! (Everywhere!)
The next issue, featuring my latest Noise and Sparks column, hits the shelves! Pick it up from Transreal Fiction or Deadhead Comics in Edinburgh, or order direct from www.shorelineofinfinity.com.

Additionally…

Thirty Years of Rain

23rd – 25th September: Fantasycon-by-the-Sea (Scarborough)
This year’s Fantasycon ships up in sunny Scarborough for a weekend of fun, frolics and the world famous Fantasycon Disco Karaoke, the Karaoke is the best. Kev McVeigh, Martin Petto and I have just finished judging for the Non-Fiction Award of the British Fantasy Awards, which will be announced that weekend. I’ve also been booked for a panel, so more on that when it’s been officially announced. For now, I can say I’ll be at the NewCon Press & Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle Book Launch on Saturday (24th) at 3pm, where we’ll be signing copies of the GSFWC‘s 30th anniversary anthology, Thirty Years of Rain. If you’re about, why not join us?

30th September: Thirty Years of Rain – Glasgow launch (Glasgow, funnily enough)
Naturally, it wouldn’t be right to have a Glaswegian book without a Glasgow launch. Come join me and even more GSFWC authors at Waterstones (Sauchiehall Street) for free booze, readings — and, of course, we’ll be on hand to sign any 30th anniversary anthologies you may have just bought that evening. The event kicks off at 7pm, so do join us then.

If you’re not able to make either of the two launch dates for Thirty Years of Rain, you’ll be able to order it online nearer the time, and I’ll post details of that when I have them. In the meantime, if you’re wanting your new story fix, don’t forget Fox Pockets: The Evil Genius Guide (feat. ‘Dame Ammonia Dastardly-Truste’s Evil Genius College for Ladies Class of 2014: Graduation Speech [Transcript]’) is out now in paperback, with e-book to follow soon.

I think that’s it — until Glasgow!

Event Horizon XI

More news — I’ll be reading in Edinburgh on 5th September as part of Shoreline of Infinity‘s free Event Horizon night.

Event Horizon 11

Event Horizon has a steadily growing reputation for nights of cracking variety under the SF banner — Ken MacLeod, Jane Yolen, Andrew J. Wilson, and Pippa Goldschmidt have all appeared in the past — so it’s well worth popping along.

Event Horizon XI will be no different. There’s multi-talented headliner Bram E. Giegen (aka Texture) — who I’m really looking forward to seeing for the first time — the excellent Harry Giles, and powerful performance poet Elaine Gallagher. Meanwhile, The Spiders will be spinning us some cracking tunes — and there’s a special bonus movie to close — all abely hosted by MC Russell Jones. It’s rare you’ll get so much from a free night out. So if you’re in the Edinburgh area, come join us at the Blind Poet Bar (West Nicolson Street) on 5th September for 7:30pm. We’ll make it worth your while.

Before I go, Elaine Gallagher has also set up a Patreon page to fund her upcoming MLitt in Creative Writing. It’s worth noting Elaine is not only a gifted poet, but one of the co-editors of the upcoming GSFWC 30th anniversary anthology Thirty Years of Rain (see last week’s post), and contributes short story ‘5am Saint’ to the contents. Please take a moment to check out her work at this link here – and if you like what you read, why not consider funding her?