This is my first audio story, a reprint of one that originally appeared in Far Horizons in 2015. And I have to admit, it’s been a curious experience: the sheer delight at Pseudopod taking this on mingled with nerves about how a story so rooted in my native North East England might be handled by someone else.
That’s why I’m grateful to Andrew Reid for narrating this one, as I think he brought out some really interesting nuances to the story, particularly in the pacing and cadence of his reading. Incidentally, Andrew released his debut novel Kingdom’s Fall just last year, which is well worth picking up from here.
Additionally, I’d like to thank Alasdair Stuart, who not only encouraged me to submit this to Pseudopod, alongside his partner Marguerite Kenner, but also handled the difficult outro to this story with such deft care.
You can hear Andrew’s reading of Good Boy as part of episode 549 of Pseudopod, which also contains a splendid pair of tales from Samuel Marzioli and Richard Farren Barber. Please be warned, it’s a very dark episode. Here’s the link to listen.
Here’s a quick update on things academic and fictional.
Firstly, my latest Shoreline of Infinity column is out now! In ‘The Legend of the Kick-arse Wise Women’, I unpack some of the ideas I had about age and writing when I was younger, and what made me change my mind about them. You’ll find it under Noise and Sparks in Issue 8 of Shoreline of Infinity, which you can pick up in all formats at their website.
Secondly, a couple of bits of Worldcon news. I’ve had a poster proposal accepted to this year’s event in Finland, where I’ll be presenting on the relationship between landscape and themes from Taoist philosophy in the first four Earthsea novels by Ursula Le Guin. I’ve also been offered places on a couple of panels on the provisional programme, so more on that when things are finalized.
Finally, I’ve accepted a spot on this year’s British Fantasy Awards‘ Best Non-Fiction jury. This’ll be my second year on the jury for this award, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in to the shortlist. You can find out the results of our discussions first at this year’s Fantasycon, which takes place in Peterborough over 29th September to 1st October.
I think that’s it for now. More news when I can share it.
Before I moved, I made a mental checklist of the places and events I wanted to see and go to when I got to Glasgow. Near the top of that list was Stag & Dagger, the all-day music festival that takes place over the May bank holiday weekend. Friends up here are big fans — their festival, a feat of meticulous planning: listening to and rating bands weeks in advance, all in preparation for the final line-up announcement just a few days beforehand, and the creation of The Spreadsheet: a document with the full listings and the planned route between their top picks of the line up.
If it sounds nerdy as hell, that’s because it is — but frankly, I don’t blame them. Stag & Dagger’s hosted early gigs from the likes of Ed Sheeran and Kathryn Joseph, and a bit of early effort means you can narrow down fifty bands to the eight or nine favourites you can squeeze in before close of play.
This year, that effort definitely paid off. Though some last minute shoogling in the stage times meant we missed the sublime Kathryn Joseph this year, I got to see some ace bands: five of whom made my festival, three of whom who rocked my tiny little world. Here’s who you might want to watch out for in the next few months.
Thank god the Priory held off unleashing the house puma to allow ARTIFICIAL PLEASURE a few minutes in their dungeon*. This was one of those sets a festival goer dreams of: secreted away in a tiny venue, a band near shuddering with electricity and playing out of their skins, the only witnesses the handfuls of folk they managed to stuff inside. A clash of funky synth pop, that day fronted by the candlelit ghost of early eighties Bowie, Artifical Pleasure was the one band all three of us had agreed was a must-see this year. Felt good to be right.
*The Priory’s aesthetic is part venue, part Furry sex lair, complete with scratch post decor on the pillars.
One man and a box, a spotlight from above, on stage that was built for a choir: this MATT MALTESE cuts an unassuming shape, right before he sets your world on fire. A voice that you could float on, singing sweeping ballads about love, the end of the world, and wanking in the bath: Matt Maltese elevates the mundane (and slightly sticky) to the glorious epic, in a way seldom seen outside of Scott Walker or John Grant. He’s a treasure — and, for all these schedule changes, one witnessed tonight only by a precious handful. I can’t help but feel sorry for all those who missed him.
I’ll admit it. My reason for seeing this band, before any other consideration, was the name**. My second was a little less laudable, but then, no band of 14-year-olds I know have generated this much buzz since S-Club Juniors. LET’S EAT GRANDMA are gleefully indefinable, blending dance pop, trip hop and indie rock into their own multi-instrumental alternative sound. The hair hiding, hand-claps, the sudden collapses and climbing about under the keyboards, are as much part of the musical performance as the mandolin, recorder, and keys.
It’s a quintessence of artistic playfulness: it’s not that they’re not self-aware — they are — just they’re also unwilling to surrender to either side of the cusp between childhood and adulthood. In short, they’re refreshingly themselves, making them not only the coolest act in their teens you’ll have heard since early Kate Bush, but an utter fucking joy to watch.
**I still regret never seeing Darlington band Neil, Your Bedroom’s On Fire.
I hadn’t intended to see these guys, but I was left at a loose end for a bit, and decided to join my mates there. Live, their indie rock aesthetic has much more of a shoegaze vibe, at times reminding me of a harder-edged, poppier My Vitriol. But it’s their frontman, David Le’aupepe, who deserves the credit for this mention — an energetic soul, brimming with a passion like wildfire. One day people’ll talk about their gigs like a religious experience.
A victim of last minute schedule changes, sadly, we missed KATHRYN JOSEPH this year — but let me persuade you why you shouldn’t. I first saw Kathryn Joseph at the West End Festival All-dayer, skipping up to the auditorium at the Òran Mór, and stopping in my tracks at the top, as this bare music of unbearable strength trembled out, dappling like the afternoon sunlight across the Alasdair Gray mural. A voice like a bird trapped in the ice, able to make a piano sing between your bones, Kathryn Joseph is a genie — her gigs are a transformative experience. Be careful of who you want to become.
It made sense on paper. Bouncy, arrythmical pop sound, sweet melody, and some fantastic David-Byrne-Discovers-His-Hands dancing. This should have ticked every box on my list, but… Ever have one of those gigs where your friends have raved about a band for years, and when you got there, you weren’t quite feeling it that night? Honestly, I think this was more me than them, so I’d gladly give them a second go.
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?
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!
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 Horizonswere 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.
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!
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.
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.
Here’s a quick blog about a couple of upcoming events you might be interested in, if you’re in the Glasgow area…
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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!