A brief Aldabreshin Compass update

In among a great many other things on the To Do List at the moment, I’m writing up website pages on divination in the Aldabreshin Archipelago, to go live when we start publishing the series in an ebook edition.

I’m aiming to strike a balance between providing clear and comprehensive explanations and creating confusion through information overload.This is trickier than you might expect…

Other preparations are going well, notably the map and progress on the cover art. Keep an eye out for updates!

Online life for authors. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Three unrelated things last week have prompted a series of related thoughts on aspects of life online, particularly for authors. Because while the good is self-evident, in terms of interaction with readers and other writers that’s never been possibly before, it’s by no means an unmixed blessing.

The first thing was an author whom I’d don’t propose to name or link to, posting an explanation for cancelling a particular engagement. Not a guest of honour gig or something like that, just explaining their absence from an upcoming event. Because that author was forced to explain in order to quell successive waves of speculation. Simply saying, ‘unfortunately I won’t be there’ wasn’t sufficient. The author had tried that, only to find people were attributing this absence to a particular controversy tangentially involving them. No, the author said, it’s nothing to do with work, it’s a personal matter. Cue another round of speculation about possible domestic discord and such things. No, nothing like that, but a medical matter in the family. Oh no! Is it—?

At this point, the author chose to explain that a close family member is undergoing a challenging medical procedure that now clashes with the aforementioned event, and the author wishes to be on hand for their relative at that time. And rounds off that blogpost with a fervent wish that those reading this information will now forget it, since explaining has involved giving details about the family member and their condition which would otherwise have remained known only to close friends and relatives.

Which is why I am not linking. If you know the author, you don’t need telling. If you don’t, you don’t need to know who they are in order to think about the level of intrusion that’s increasingly hard to avoid when authors are now routinely expected by publicists and fans alike to live their lives online. Just to be clear, there’s no question that the vast majority of that concern for this author stems from positive motives. People wanted to know what they could do to help, what support they could offer. And that’s by no means a bad thing. All of us will be able to think of instances where online support, whether we’ve been offering it or receiving it, has been invaluable in the midst of some sort of strife, on or offline.

But managing how and when to draw demarcation lines between public and private life is becoming increasingly difficult.

On the other hand, there are some crucial things which an author is very much expected to never go public with. I’ve been thinking about that since last week’s second thing. A journalist contacted me asking what I thought about the Society of Authors campaign for fair and enforceable contracts for writers in their dealings with publishers.

You won’t be surprised to learn I’m all in favour of this. Because, since signing my first contract in 1997, I’ve seen attitudes among publishers to contracts that simply wouldn’t be tolerated in any other industry. By no means all publishers and certainly not all of the time, but things which have been clearly agreed are not infrequently completely ignored, from supposedly guaranteed time for a writer to review edits and proofs through to print runs being cut back or clearly contractually agreed editions of a book being cancelled without warning or recompense. I recommend having plenty of time and strong drink to hand before starting any conversation with an author about their experience of trying to get their rights in a book reverted.

Sometimes a publisher will offer a justification, invariably based on their business interests and unconcerned about the damage to a writer’s career. At other times the protesting author gets the email equivalent of a shrug and ‘if you don’t like it, lawyer up’. Right, because that’s something very few authors can ever afford to do.

And there’s always the implication, mostly unspoken though on occasion mentioned as a barely veiled threat, that an author who goes public with anything like this will be tagged as a troublemaker whom other publishers won’t ever want to work with. Because the book trade is a pretty small world.

It’s getting worse. These days, non-disclosure clauses are starting to crop up in publishers’ contracts, notably for anyone dealing with Amazon’s in-house imprints. This is a very worrying development. How exactly is a new author supposed to find out whether or not they’re being taken for a fool, if they’re not allowed to compare notes with better informed and more experienced writers?

So we’re expected to live our lives online, including sharing aspects which we’d personally rather keep private, as a trade off for the undoubted benefits we get – while at the same time, there are business matters vital to our own interests which we’re very firmly discouraged from openly discussing.

Obviously, writers do chat about such things privately and discreetly, but that’s not much use to anyone outside those confidential circles. And this silence definitely does nothing to help eliminate the persistent sharp practise which most readers would be horrified to learn of.

One way around such problematic aspects of online life is the pseudonym, especially for whistle-blowers dragging bad practice into the light. Except that can be highly problematic as well.

The third of last week’s unrelated things relates very much to that aspect of online life. A blog post went up revealing the real identity of the thoroughly unpleasant person who’s presented herself at various times as Winterfox, Requires Hate and most recently as Benjanun Sriduangkaew. Who has assiduously taken advantage of online anonymity for many, many years, to be calculatedly vile to people, so that’s the ugly right there.

I’m not going to link to that unmasking post – googling will find it for you fairly easily if you’re that curious. Firstly, the post includes serious accusations unrelated to online activity by RH/BS within SFF, about events of which I have no knowledge, or any way to verify, so that’s a cause for concern as I’ve no wish to risk spreading misinformation. Secondly, those who have linked to the post, predictably, have been assailed online by RH/BS and her acolytes with exaggerated and downright false accusations. The RH/BS clique have also done their best to play the victim card with obfuscating deliberations over what does or does not constitute doxxing. I have far better things to do with my time than get dragged into such tedious games.

Lastly if you google the name itself, you only get a handful of not very informative posts. While these serve to confirm her background of significant wealth and privilege, this has long been suspected by astute observers of things she’s let slip. The key identification in this saga has been tying the fake innocently sweet masquerade of Benjanun Sriduangkaew to Requires Hate’s now-well-documented history of spite.

For the purposes of this discussion, the fact of this unmasking is sufficient. For me the question’s never been if the prime mover behind RH/BS would be revealed, but merely when? Because even someone as diligent in deleting their internet history is going to leave some traces, and when someone’s behaviour is as sustained and vicious as hers has been, sooner rather than later, someone who’s been on the receiving end is going to be sufficiently provoked to do the necessary investigation and circulate their findings as widely as possible.

And unfortunately, that goes both ways. There are plenty of instances of people acting with the best of motives, for whom online anonymity has been a vital protection, who have been unmasked by those with hostile intent, with serious consequences for them personally and professionally.

So what do we do? How do we allow people the privacy they should reasonably be able to expect and the protections of anonymity which individuals may sometimes need, as well guarding against the consequences of people being pressured into silence and defending those subjected to anonymous malice?

Because at the moment, the balance seems skewed and the Internet’s not going to go away any time soon…

Thoughts and comments are invited and welcome, though please do not post links to either of the posts which I’ve chosen not to link to.

Hugo and Puppy thoughts

I’ve not blogged about the whole mess that’s been made of the Hugo Awards this year by overlapping cabals of the narrow-minded and entitled along with a clique of politically motivated, spiteful wreckers. I am extremely busy and besides, I’d largely be repeating the main points from this post on the Great SFWA Uproar of 2014.Why the SFWA Shoutback Matters

Also, a great many other thoughtful and engaged writers continue to explore the issues here. Two recent posts that I found particularly worth reading are

What’s the Point? Human Minds and Sad Puppies by Matthew M Foster, who shows remarkable level-headedness, considering this ego-driven exercise in malice and pique has effectively destroyed any chance of a posthumous Hugo for his late wife, Eugie More on that here.

BREAKFAST OF BULLSHIT: FUTUREPHOBIA, THE HUGOS AND THE INVENTION OF SF’S PAST by M D Lachlan – an emphatic deconstruction of the bogus arguments underpinning this nonsense – which have left so many of us utterly bemused and wondering just what SF these Puppy people have been reading and watching because their experience is light-years away from our own.

And now, back to my own work.

A quick glance at Waterstones recommended reading in June

Just in case you’re wondering I am still keeping an eye on Waterstones and gender bias issues. At some point I will do another analysis of their monthly promotional emails.

The latest for June will certainly help those statistics – a quick and dirty count shows ten books by female writers promoted alongside twelve by men.

There are still issues – apparently women don’t write history/non-fiction as all those titles are by male authors.

But detailed analysis will have to wait as I contemplate the best way to tackle digitizing the Aldabreshin Archipelago map :)

Musing on the Half-life of Humour

I’ve been reading ‘A Slip of the Keyboard’, a collection of non-fiction by the late and so very much lamented Sir Terry Pratchett. It’s an interesting read on many levels. There’s one trainee journalist I know who definitely should read it. But that’s not what this is about.

There’s reference made in passing to ‘Spem in Alium’, a famous piece of English choral music by Thomas Tallis, composed in 1570. I am incidentally a great fan of such choral music and sang in a very highly regarded church choir in my teens, got my Royal School of Church Music medals and we once sang in Salisbury Cathedral. But that’s not what this is about either.

The thing is, as an erstwhile Classicist, I can’t read ‘Spem in Alium’ without mentally translating it into ‘Hope in Garlic’ and inwardly giggling, as an inveterate fan of puns. It’s actually ‘Hope in Another’, for those of you who don’t have the Latin, as the late Peter Cook would say. (And how old do you have to be, for that reference to make any sense?)

Given I’m reading Terry Pratchett, I immediately think what a great Discworldian motto ‘Spem in Allium’ would make for a family of vampire hunters! Until they met the Count de Magpyr – but that’s a different story. ‘Carpe Jugulum’ to be precise. Which is another Latin based joke, of course, riffing on Carpe Diem.

So now I’m wondering, how long will these jokes be funny now that Latin is no longer taught in any widespread sense? Satirists like Flanders and Swann in the 60’s could get a roar of laughter in a packed theatre when they’re talking about newspapers on the ‘At the Drop of a Hat’ recording, and translate ‘O Tempora! O Mores!’ as ‘Oh, Times! Oh Daily Mirror!’ Could that happen today?

And this goes beyond Latin and indeed goes beyond humour. Just as Classics courses at universities now offer places to those with no Latin or Greek and include intensive language study from the start, so English Literature faculties are now including texts like the Bible in their first year courses because they can no longer assume that students will arrive with sufficient ‘cultural Christianity’ to engage as fully as possible with Milton’s Paradise Lost, for example. Is that a good thing, or a bad one? Or is it simply a thing to adapt to and move on?

What does all this mean for popular or indeed, high-brow culture? Who knows? But we can definitely see this shift taking place.

Not that this is a recent phenomenon, as evidenced by a conversation I had a few months ago with a Son. Son was passing through the lounge, where I was reading and there was a concert playing on the telly.

He halted, his attention caught by the music. ‘Oh, I know this – what’s it called?’
Me, not looking up. ‘Elgar, Nimrod.’
Son, affronted. ‘I only asked.’
Me, glancing up, slightly surprised. ‘And I only answered.’
Son, still indignant. ‘You didn’t have to call me a Nimrod.’
Me, putting book down. ‘What are you talking about? It’s the name of the piece – Nimrod, the mighty hunter. It’s by the composer Elgar.’
Son, baffled ‘How did that end up meaning a stupid person?’
Me, now equally baffled. ‘What on earth are you talking about?’

Well, it turns out that for the sons’ generation, ‘Nimrod’ is indeed an insult and they have no knowledge of the Biblical reference to contradict it.

For that, believe it or not, we can thank Bugs Bunny. Back in the 1940s, he would refer mockingly to Elmer Fudd as ‘poor little Nimrod’, ‘what a Nimrod’ and so on. US cinema audiences began using it as an insult for buffoons like Elmer. With any knowledge of the Biblical origin? Who can say – but the mocking term was soon standing alone without any need for explanation, certainly in American English.

Given the exponential proliferation of pop culture these days, I am wondering where future writers, humorous and otherwise, will find sufficiently common references to draw on? What will they do, when there’s a distinct possibility that only a handful of people will get a particular joke? Use it or lose it?

What about the people who don’t get the joke? How will they feel? For instance, in the first Avengers movie, the use of a quotation from Ezekiel instantly identified those few of us who laughed out loud as the ones in the cinema who’d also seen Pulp Fiction. How distracting was that for the rest of the audience? Realising they’d missed something but having no idea what it might be. I still wonder.

I don’t have any answers. Anyone got any observations or thoughts?

Brussels update. Now we need action from Westminster.

I’ve been following the debates on EU VAT and the digital single market in the European Parliament last night and this morning.

They now accept these new regulations are causing massive problems. However their timetable fortaking meaningful action is measured in months at best and years at worst.

We need immediate help for UK businesses. That means an Extra Statutory Concession to suspend this fiasco.

Please help the EU VAT Action campaign make enough noise to convince every government minister and MP to support this.

You don’t have to be running an online business to have your say on this. It hits everyone, buyer and seller alike. (See my previous post for links to articles on how far-reaching the damage is)

This is a very handy online resource to help you write to all or some of your local, national and international elected representatives at once – the ‘Write to Them’ website.

You can find details of your MEPs here.

MPs in UK Parliament

Scots – find your MSP
Northern Ireland – your MLAs
National Assembly for Wales – members

Consider contacting your local press and media, as well as national newspapers and broadcasters. One letter or email will probably get filed as trivial. A whole batch of letters or emails on the same topic suggests there’s a story to be had – and the UK’s relationship with the EU is very much a hot topic at the moment!

Why it’s a vital week for another round of email and letters about EU digital VAT

Today and tomorrow, the European Parliament will be debating –

– the problems they’re now aware of, relating to the new regulations on cross-border digital sales now needing to be taxed at the VAT rates applied in the customer’s country rather than the sellers.

– the impact this will have on hopes for a digital single market across Europe.

Since most companies are avoiding the many and varied problems with this new system by blocking sales outside their own country, ecommerce across Europe looks to be massively set back.

Thanks to 6 months of intensive lobbying, the EU Commission and various coalitions of MEPs now recognise the need –

– to review and revise these regulations to make them fit for purpose

– to establish a turnover threshold below which businesses are exempt from the frankly ridiculous costs and other burdens of compliance.

This really is a tremendous achievement when you consider that when this news broke last November, we were being told not to worry, the VATMOSS system had it all sorted out and everything would be fine…

HOWEVER the EU Commission are still talking in terms of a review process leading to new proposals which will take at least 2 years to see meaningful change.

The MEPs who’ve been most active supporting this campaign are making it clear that such delay is unacceptable with digital traders already forced to restructure their businesses or shut up shop.

What we need is an interim suspension while that review process is underway.

The more voices that support them, the better the chances of getting that suspension.

Please contact your MEPs – and if you get a stupid form letter full of Treasury waffle, send a reply straight back saying that’s unacceptable!

If we don’t get any immediate relief from the European Commission, then we need the UK Parliament to act. There is provision in law, and precedent, for an Extra Statutory Concession to save UK businesses from the destructive effects of this legislation.

Even though Parliament’s not yet sitting after the general election, MPs are in their offices, sorting out their priorities. You can help make sure this issue is high up on your MPs agenda. And if you get a stupid form letter full of Treasury waffle, send a reply straight back saying that’s unacceptable!

This is a very handy online resource to help you write to all or some of your local, national and international elected representatives at once – the ‘Write to Them’ website.

You can find details of your MEPs here.

MPs in UK Parliament

Scots – find your MSP
Northern Ireland – your MLAs
National Assembly for Wales – members

Consider contacting your local press and media, as well as national newspapers and broadcasters. One letter or email will probably get filed as trivial. A whole batch of letters or emails on the same topic suggests there’s a story to be had – and the UK’s relations with the EU is very much a hot topic at the moment.

There’s a whole lot of information available over at the EU VAT Action website now.

The damage done to consumers by all this

Discrimination caused by these new rules

Why some simple IT solution is not going to appear, now or in the future.

Why selling through 3rd party marketplaces isn’t an answer

The EU VAT Action Team’s impact study

Temporally Out of Order – more proof that I am still a writer!

Regular readers will hopefully recall the kickstarter for the proposed SF anthology, Temporally Out of Order. It was all inspired by a typo on a sign author and editor Joshua Palmatier saw on an airport phone booth. No science fiction/fantasy writer could possibly pass that without wondering what “temporally out of order” could mean for modern day—or perhaps not so modern—gadgets, such as a cell phone, laptop, television, radio, iPod, or even the microwave or refrigerator!

I was one of the ‘stretch goals’ and I wrote about what inspired my particular story idea here.

Well, we didn’t make that particular stretch goal but the anthology overall was funded (and then some!). So what was I going to do with my idea? Well, reader, I wrote it and submitted it for one of the collection’s open slots. To my intense satisfaction, it was accepted and will be part of this intriguing table of contents.

“Reading Lists” by Seanan McGuire
“Salamandar Bites” by Elektra Hammond
“Black and White” by David B. Coe
“Dinosaur Stew” by Chuck Rothman
“Not All Is As It Seems” by Faith Hunter
“Batting Out of Order” by Edmund R. Schubert
“Grand Tour” by Steve Ruskin
“A is for Alacrity, Astronauts, and Grief” by Sofie Bird
“The Spiel of the Glocken” by Laura Resnick
“The Passing Bell” by Amy Griswold
“Destination Ahead” by Laura Anne Gilman
“Where There’s Smoke” by Susan Jett
“Alien Time Warp” by Gini Koch
“Cell Service” by Christopher Barili
“Temporally Full” by Stephen Leigh
“Notes and Queries” by Juliet E. McKenna
“Temporally Out of Odor: A Fragrant Fable” by Jeremy Sim

The publisher’s currently designing the ebooks and paperbacks and we should see a summer release, maybe June, more likely July or August. Check out the ZNB online store for information on how to preorder. Otherwise, keep an eye on your preferred online retailer – and as soon as I know listings are up, I’ll pass that on.

Rune photos – a quick note

After a couple of queries from readers unsure if they’re visualising the Einarinn runes as intended, here are photos of the cardboard set I made to use when I’m writing a piece of fiction that involves them.

Hopefully these should clarify things.

An in-depth look at the world of documentaries – day conference in Oxford

If you’re interested in documentary film making – or know anyone who is – and within striking distance of Oxford, the St Hilda’s Media Network is presenting a day conference with a stellar programme.

It’ll be an in-depth look at the world of documentaries led by expert film-makers and radio producers. It is aimed at a broad audience, including students who are interested in a career in documentary-making, people who have just started out in the industry, and media professionals who are passionate about this fascinating creative sphere.

There will be five sessions that will explore different documentary genres:

HOW TO MAKE A DOCUMENTARY: FROM COMMISSION TO TRANSMISSION
(10:30am-11:30am)
Nicolas Kent, Creative Director Oxford Film and Television
Anna Hall, Freelance Series Producer/Director
Ian Michael Jones, Freelance Arts Documentary Producer
David Leach, Producer/Director and Development Writer
How do film-makers get a documentary on to television? This session will provide an overview of the processes involved, from the original concept of an idea, to delivery to the broadcaster. There will also be a focus on the particular challenge of producing arts documentaries in ways that are new and different.

FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY: CREATING FACTUAL MOVIES
(11:45am-12:45pm)
Clio Barnard, Director The Arbor, The Selfish Giant
Nicolas Kent, Creative Director Oxford Film and Television
Mike Brett, Director Next Goal Wins
How does making a feature-length documentary differ from creating documentary for television? Some issues are unique to the feature-length documentary, such as development of ideas without commission, funding, distribution, and submission to festivals. Speakers will also consider its role as an art form which does not have the constraints of working to a channel brief.

LUNCH
(12:45pm-1:30pm)

ST HILDA’S LIVING HISTORY PRESENTATION
(1:45pm-2:00pm)
Alumna Elizabeth Dorsett presents a sneak preview of the incredible audiovisual project currently in progress which documents the social history of St Hilda’s, the last women’s college in the University of Oxford to go co-ed, through filmed interviews with former students from the 1930s to present day.

WILDLIFE DOCUMENTARY: ALWAYS WORK WITH ANIMALS!
(2:00pm-3:00pm)
Bill Oddie, Presenter and Writer
Nigel Pope, Head of Keo North, Director Mara Media
Alexandra Griffiths, Series Producer BBC Natural History Unit
Ruth Sessions, Head of Operations Atlantic Productions
Why have British film-makers won worldwide recognition for this genre? This session will examine the filming techniques and aims of wildlife producers from the BBC and independent production companies. Bill Oddie will talk about his experiences of wildlife film-making over the last twenty years.

RADIO DOCUMENTARY: MAKING PICTURES IN SOUND
(3:15pm-4:15pm)
Simon Elmes, Former Creative Director BBC Radio Documentaries Unit
Neil Trevithick, Senior Radio Documentary Producer
Sara Jane Hall, Documentary Feature Maker
Christine Finn, Writer and Radio Producer/Presenter
What makes a subject appropriate for radio rather than for television or film? Our panel will look at the challenges of bringing very visual ideas to life in a purely aural medium, and at the tricky and often fraught process of achieving commissions for radio documentary ideas.

After this session on radio Simon Elmes has kindly offered to host a workshop for a limited number of interested attendees on the presentation of ideas for radio documentaries. This will take place in the Old JCR in South Building during the Observational Documentary session, and attendees who wish to take part should sign up in advance on Eventbrite by selecting the ‘additional workshop’ when filling in registration details. Seats will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

OBSERVATIONAL DOCUMENTARY: THE BARE NAKED TRUTH
(4:30pm-5:30pm)
Anna Hall, Freelance Series Producer/Director
Nigel Pope, Head of Keo North, Director Mara Media
Ruth Sessions, Head of Operations Atlantic Productions
Why is observational documentary so popular and so controversial, and which subjects are most successful in this genre? We will look at the importance of in-depth research and good access to compelling contributors, as well as the issues and ethics of gaining trust. Our speakers will examine the special filming and editing techniques involved.

Ticket price includes mid-morning and afternoon refreshments, a light lunch and a post-event drink.

Click through to book – and spread the word!