My LonCon schedule

I’ve packed seventy boxes of books this week, so please forgive brevity. The house-move is next Friday, so there is likely to be a blogging hiatus while we get ourselves sorted, but I’ll be looking forward to posting again as soon as I have a) internet and b) an office space that is halfway sane.

In the meantime, here is my schedule for the WorldCon. I have to say that from what I’ve seen so far (my own panel events, plus those of friends and colleagues I’ve been made party to) the programming for LonCon looks fantastic. The committee have clearly been working very hard to bring us a programme that is adventurous, relevant, diverse, entertaining and enjoyable to be involved with and I for one want to congratulate them on that.

I’m looking forward to LonCon. All the more so because I’m hoping we’ll have all our books out of boxes by then.

Friday 10:00 – 11:00 Don’t Tell Me What To Think: Ambiguity in SF and Fantasy

What does ambiguity (of setting, plot, identity, and so on) bring to a work of fantastic fiction? How is ambiguity created, and what effect does it have? Does it always work? Can a story be too ambiguous? The panel will discuss stories by Thomas M. Disch, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and M. John Harrison, exploring exactly how they achieve their effects, and asking what divides a satisfyingly ambiguous story from an unsatisfying one.

(David Hebblethwaite, Nina Allan, Scott Edelman, Patrick Nielsen Hayden)

Friday 11.30 – 12.00 Reading (probably something from The Race)

Friday 16:30 – 17.30 NewCon Press launch event

This event will see the official launch of The Race, along with a thoroughly revised edition of Chris Beckett’s novel Marcher, Adam Roberts’s collection of reviews and essays Sibilant Fricative, and the new NewCon anthology Paradox. I’m very much looking forward to this. Do please come along, say hello and get your signed copies!

Saturday 10:00 – 11:00 The Lexicon Gap

Prose Stylings, Voice, and Narrative Structure: As a reader, why should I care? These terms are often thrown around, but what do they really mean? And more importantly how should a reader translate them in to something useful for evaluating what they read?

(Alistair Rennie, Nina Allan, James Patrick Kelly, Stanislaw Krawczyk, Gary Wolfe)

Sunday 13:30 – 15:00 The Wrong Apocalypse

Zombies, aliens, and monsters from the deep are all very well, but — unlike climate change and other ongoing environmental damage — they’re not actually likely to cause the downfall of industrial civilisation. Are contemporary TV and film neglecting the apocalypse-in-progress? Where can ecological perspectives be found in SF and fantasy on screen, and how are they portrayed? What are the strengths and weaknesses of visual climate narratives, compared to their prose counterparts?

(Ramez Naam, Nina Allan, Jeff VanderMeer, Tiffani Angus, Ivaylo Shmilev)

Sunday 16.30 – 18.00 The Darkening Garden

John Clute’s The Darkening Garden (2007) argues for horror as a core mode of twenty-first century fiction. It proposes a narrative “grammar” for horror stories that progresses from SIGHTING through THICKENING to the REVEL and then AFTERMATH. What implications does this structure have for our understanding of horror, as a commercial genre and as a literary form? What works escape its grasp, and why?

(Paul Kincaid, Paul March-Russell, Nina Allan, Lisa Tuttle, Jeff VanderMeer)

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Various updates

So – in just a couple of weeks we’ll be moving house.

We began this process back in February, and it’s been the predictable combination of acute stress and not much happening for ages, but finally we’re set to go and about to begin packing our books into boxes.

We’re both tremendously excited. It’s a new chapter, a new landscape, new sources of inspiration. More on all of this in due course.

Since my return from Australia back in April, I’ve been concentrating on short fiction – I’ve had some commissions pending, and also the whole house-moving thing has been so distracting that I decided to leave off working on the new novel until after the move has been completed. I’m itching to get back to it – and I have the feeling this short hiatus will have proved actively beneficial. In the meantime I’ve written two brand new stories (both should be out later in the year) and rediscovered a rather interesting novella that I’m currently in the process of redrafting. This has been an exhilarating experience – I’d forgotten how fascinatingly unpleasant the protagonist is – and I’m hoping to have the work complete by the end of this week.

After that, it’ll be time for some serious book-packing. We are in the interesting predicament of actually owning more books by weight than furniture by quite some distance…

Just a couple of random updates:

My story ‘Higher Up’ is being reprinted in Salt Publishing’s Best British Fantasy 2014, edited by Steve Haynes. This story was originally written for my limited edition collection Microcosmos, for NewCon Press. The ToC hasn’t been officially released yet, but I’ve seen the list, and with writers like Tim Maughan, Carole Johnstone and E. J. Swift in the lineup there’s no doubting it’s a fine selection, with a good balance between science fiction and fantasy as well. The book is due out in July.

I can also announce that I have a story in Solaris Rising 3, edited by Ian Whates. Similarly, the ToC hasn’t been officially released yet, but with Adam Roberts, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Ken Liu. Ian R. MacLeod. Aliette de Bodard and Rachel Swirsky among the contributors it looks like being a fascinatingly varied, thought-provoking anthology with some truly diverse interpretations of where science fiction is at in 2014. The book will be launched on August 13th, at Foyles bookstore on Charing Cross Road, and with a second launch event at LonCon just a day or two later.  I’m delighted to be a part of this one – my story, ‘The Science of Chance’, has a significant relationship with the novel-in-progress, which makes it a special story for me.

Talking of novels, ARCs of The Race are currently being sent out, pending the book’s official launch, also at LonCon, on August 15th. It was a deeply strange moment, finally holding the book in my hands, and seeing the stories of these characters – Jenna, Christy, Alex and Maree – take on reality in the world beyond my hard drive. I’m very excited about the launch, and about LonCon in general. I’ve just received my draft schedule, and this, together with various bits of info I’ve gleaned from friends and colleagues, leads me to believe that the organisers have come up with a once-in-a-lifetime-calibre programme. Can’t wait to get stuck in.

Finally and belatedly, just to mention that I have two nominations in the British Fantasy Awards, both in the novella category, for ‘Spin’ and for ‘Vivian Guppy and the Brighton Belle’. It’s thrilling news of course, and it’s particularly pleasing to see that Rustblind and Silverbright, the railway-themed anthology that David Rix edited for Eibonvale Press and Vivian Guppy’s original home, has also been shortlisted in the Best Anthology category. In her year’s summation for Best Horror of the Year 6, Ellen Datlow describes Rustblind as ‘a terrific anthology’ and notes that ‘the interstitial material by editor David Rix is consistently fascinating.’  For me personally, Rustblind demonstrates a quality of cohesion, of thematic intent, that is all too often lacking in anthologies. The stories that David has selected feel like they belong together, and each is strengthened and accelerated, if you like, by the others’ presence. Too many anthologies end up having a disparate, ‘rag bag’ feel – you don’t know where to start, and all too often you lay the book aside long before the finish. Rustblind is the opposite of that – you sense you’re being taken on a journey, which to my mind is the whole point of the format, and in a book about railways especially so.

The full list of BFA nominees can be found here.

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On playing catch-up

David Hebblethwaite of Follow the Thread recently wrote this fascinating post about his recent experience of being a ‘shadow judge’ for this year’s Desmond Elliot Prize and Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, as well as reading and critiquing this year’s Clarke Award shortlist and last year’s Man Booker. The conclusions he draws are worrying for SFF:

“I think that, ten or fifteen years ago, [SFF] was certainly keeping pace [with the literary mainstream]: writers like China Miéville and Jeff VanderMeer were emerging at the same time as (say) Sarah Waters and Michel Faber. These days, however, it seems to me that SF is struggling to keep up.”

David argues that SF has become increasingly conservative, not only in terms of textual form, but also in its willingness to actively engage with contemporary political and social issues – the arena where SF is naturally constituted to excel, in other words. I’m afraid I would tend to agree with him, and would probably go on to add evocative and original use of language to the charter of lack.

Of course, one year’s Clarke Award shortlist does not reveal the full picture of what is (or is not) happening in SFF. The six books we end up shadow-judging have not been selected by an infallibly correct AI, hardwired to home in on objectively the best (as if there even were such a thing) science fiction novels published in the UK in any given year, but by five very human judges whose personal tastes and inclinations are always going to vary considerably and thank goodness for that. And yet, in a year when our five judges could have selected works by Marcel Theroux, Margaret Atwood or Robert J. Lennon yet somehow conspired to come up with Ramez Naam and Philip Mann, instead of forewarning the terminal decline of SFF, might it not be more reasonable simply to ask (as per usual) what the hell were they thinking? The Kitschies had Ruth Ozeki, Anne Carson and Thomas Pynchon on their shortlist, after all, so the game can’t be over just yet.

But we all know perfectly well that David isn’t talking about Pynchon or Carson, writers who, brilliant and innovative as they are, are drawing their influence from SF, rather than contributing actively to the SF conversation. It is not the SF conversation that interests them – I’m sure they barely know it exists – but the metaphorical possibilities of speculative ideas within a mainstream literary context.

(Before I go any further I ought to add that I get terribly nervous around these concepts – or not nervous around the concepts themselves so much as the difficulty of explicating them. I am a writer who works largely by instinct – by touch, if you will, rather than by sight – and my critical apparatus for analysing positions I instinctively understand are fundamentally opposed is not anywhere near so finely tuned as that of Ethan Robinson, say, who earlier this year produced an essay on this subject that is so articulate, so adroit and so necessary I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it in all the months since.)

David writes:

“I’m excited to see authors like Eleanor Catton (who, to my mind, is squarely at the cutting edge of English-language fiction) and Eimear McBride emerging in the mainstream – and especially to see them winning and being shortlisted for multiple awards. But, when I look at genre sf published in the UK, I simply can’t see that they have equivalents emerging. I wish I could.”

The term ‘genre’ is often employed as an adjective of general disparagement for writers or works that are ‘not literary’, but what science fiction critics mean when they talk about ‘genre SF’ is something rather different and a lot more constructive: works that are written from within science fiction consciously as science fiction, as active contributions to the SF conversation, as opposed to essentially mainstream works that happen to make use of science fictional conceits.

I have wasted a whole lot of time in my time, trying to pretend that the latter can be the former, but it just ain’t so (for reasons why, see Mr Robinson’s essay. The only example of a contemporary mainstream writer I can think of who has written ‘proper’, contributory SF is, ironically, Margaret Atwood). The former can and do leapfrog their way in among the latter, though – a fact many mainstream critics dislike so much they will seldom if ever admit the truth of it – and this is where the crux of David’s argument lies. He maintains that fewer SF works than previously are making that leap, and that SF as a whole is on a downward trajectory as a result. I agree. But why is it so? And what needs to happen for this unfortunate trend to be reversed?

I had an interesting experience the other day. I was sitting on the floor of my office, trying to put a call through to the council tax department of Hastings Borough Council (long story). Beside me on the floor was a stack of books (it’s still there) and while the hold music droned on I picked up the book on top of the pile and began leafing through it. That book was/is Samuel R. Delany’s Driftglass, in its Gollancz ‘yellowjacket’ edition. Out of curiosity and perhaps in an attempt to prove something to myself (the issue at the core of this essay is on my mind a lot of the time) I began reading the first paragraphs of all the stories in that collection. I found, as I suspected I would, in each and every one of them language that was chewy and textured and gorgeous and capricious, ideas that sneaked out and bit your ass, storylines that had you caught from the first sentence. Fuck, I thought. This is how it’s done. Out of idle curiosity (and because I still hadn’t got through to the council tax office) I then glanced at the book’s back flap, which displayed a list of ‘Recent Gollancz SF’. Not classics, or Masterworks, just recent Gollancz SF. The works listed there, in no particular order, were by Philip K. Dick, George R. R. Martin, Frederik Pohl, Ian Watson, Robert Silverberg, Algis Budrys, and Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

I thought about this – what a fascinating snapshot of the science fiction writers Gollancz just happened to be publishing in 1971 – and then I found myself wondering what a comparable back flap from a book published today (let’s say a Gollancz book, for the sake of consistency, though I want to make it clear that this argument is by no means about Gollancz specifically) might have to tell us about the current state of British SF publishing and I tell you, it didn’t make for happy contemplation.

With M. John Harrison, Christopher Priest, Adam Roberts, Ian McDonald and Simon Ings on their roster, Gollancz still surely boasts some of the finest writers in the business. But we’d do well to remember that authors with decades-long careers behind them will always constitute less of a financial risk for the publisher. When it comes to new blood – where the risk lies, in other words – aside from Hannu Rajaniemi I couldn’t think of one new-generation writer Gollancz publish who is actively innovative, who comes anywhere even close to doing what Delany was doing in 1971. That was a scary, scary thought. And if Gollancz, with their venerable back catalogue of masterworks and estimable track record in promoting fresh talent, isn’t actively seeking out newer writers who want to do more than write commercial core genre, who the hell is?

I heard from a reliable source recently that [a certain major SF publisher] are steering away from ‘difficult’ SF at the moment, because the sales of [probably the best book they'll publish this year] have proved so disappointing. If sales are so disappointing, perhaps they should ask themselves if this might have anything to do with the fact that they’ve devoted precious little effort to publicizing the book – they didn’t even organise a launch event for it. Perhaps it’s they that have fallen down on the job, because it certainly isn’t the author, or the book. I heard from a second trusted source that another big SF imprint have only acquired one new writer in the past twelve months – too bad then that the book they decided to give their backing to is a pallid, half-hearted dystopia that will make zero impact on the genre and will fade away unnoticed within two months of publication. Meanwhile, one of the few seriously good new writers is being threatened with contract curtailment due – again – to disappointing sales figures, and not a word about the likely cause of those figures, that the imprint cocked up their marketing policy, effectively separating the book from its core readership.

I think there’s actually a serious problem with the way the larger publishing imprints view SF in the current market. Back in the day, when Gollancz was publishing Delany and Disch and Dick, SF was seen by publishers as the next big thing, the literature of the new, wilfully different from mainstream social realism, something they might well benefit from promoting. We had Faber publishing new young SF writers like Christopher Priest, Brian Aldiss and Kit Reed. We had Kingsley Amis writing New Maps of Hell. We had the formal innovations of the New Wave. I’d go so far as to say that science fiction was viewed by both its readers and its promoters as a warrior literature that threw down a challenge to the old order. It’s always tempting to hark back to ‘the good old days’ as a kind of golden age of literary enlightenment, and I don’t mean to suggest that was the case at all – but it does seem to me that SF today, far from being a warrior literature, is seen by the industry as a readily marketable, easily packaged, tasty junk food full of ‘cool stuff’ and bits of shiny. They don’t want it to throw down a challenge, because conventional wisdom states that challenge frightens readers. So much easier to publish another low-grade zombie novel, especially when that’s precisely what your colleagues over at [-] will be doing, too.

It would seem self evident that cowardly publishing makes for cowardly writing, and it’s a vicious circle. The SF commentariat has preoccupied itself a great deal – and rightly so – in recent years with the industry’s continuing inequalities in terms of gender split. When faced with the question of why they don’t publish more women, industry representatives have often tended to fall back on the truism that they can’t publish what isn’t being submitted. To me at least it would seem self evident that if these same industry representatives genuinely considered it important and/or financially worthwhile that more SF by women be published, they would be pretty damn quick about getting off their arses and finding some. I would suggest that the same principle is also true of innovative, challenging, paradigm-shifting SF: the reason that so little of it is being published is not because it’s not being written, but because the industry is not going out of its way to find it, promote it, stimulate demand for it. Because stimulating demand, promotion, acquisition of talent – are these not after all the industry’s key functions?

If that’s what’s (not) happening, what can we do about it? In one of the comments on David’s post, Tomcat in the Red Room writes:

“You’d think 10 years after Light and the New Weird and the rise of Michael Cisco etc, that there would, indeed, be more new writers trying/(influenced by) that kinda stuff. Does SF need its own David Foster Wallace to write a novel in fractals, I wonder?”

The short answer to that, Tom, is yes, we do. We also need a publishing industry that believes enough in its readers to offer them something more than the literary equivalent of processed white bread, we need readers to keep on complaining and debating and arguing the toss. Most of all, we need writers to stop drawing their influences from Supernatural and The Walking Dead – to switch off the crap SFF derivatives and start taking some risks. As writers, we need to remind the world that we are still a guerrilla literature. Writers who let themselves be conned by the major imprints into moderating their voices may think they’re buying themselves some security, but they’re not. What they’re actually purchasing is their own expendability.

Tell them you won’t buy it.

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Complications wins GPI

Thrilled to announce that Complications, the French edition of my story collection The Silver Wind, has just been announced as the winner of the prestigious Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire in the Foreign Short Fiction category. In the GPI, which is roughly the French equivalent of the Clarke Award, the Short Fiction prize can be awarded either to a single short story or to a collection. In the case of Complications, the award is for the book as a whole, and I’m particularly delighted to report also that my translator, Bernard Sigaud, took the Jacques Chambon Translation Prize for his work on the collection. Congratulations, Bernard!

To have Complications singled out in this way by the GPI jury is a huge honour, one that’s only just starting to sink in. Every commendation and my own hugest possible thanks should go to my publishers at Editions Tristram, Sylvie Martigny and Jean-Hubert Gailliot, for having confidence in my book and in me as a writer, in bringing my work to French readers, in providing such amazing support and commitment to this project. This is every bit as much their prize as mine.

A full list of GPI winners and shortlistees can be found here.

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“Science fiction allows us the possibility of transgression.”

“To read good speculative fiction from multiple perspectives is to get a little drunk on unfamiliar liquors, so that one can no longer walk straight and oblivious through the pathways of one’s unexamined assumptions.  We need to intoxicate the imagination.  How else than through speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy that has realized its transgressive potential?”

If you read one new thing today, make it this scintillating essay on Alternate Visions by Vandana Singh. Inspiring, inclusive, positive and constructive, it should be absorbed and considered by everyone and anyone in the field of SFF, and beyond.

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Bloghop: three things I don’t write (& three things I do)

OK, so people have been stepping into summer with this latest writers’ meme. I was tagged by Douglas Thompson – you can find his typically forthright and entertaining (watch out, vampires) post here.

So what don’t I write about? This is actually a harder question to answer than it first appears. because I’d like to think that nothing is off limits. Off the top of my head, I’d say I don’t write space opera. But then that isn’t because I don’t want to – it’s more that I don’t know how. I haven’t yet found a way into it that will compliment the way I write and the way I think about things. I don’t tend to think in terms of intergalactic conflict – I prefer a smaller canvas, because detail is important to me. But the idea of creating fictions with a vast reach and universal implications presents an enormously attractive challenge, and if and when I feel I have something to say in this subject area, it’s a genre I’d love to have a go at overturning.

Similarly, although I have no great love for genre staples such as vampires, zombies, satanists, werewolves, I also consider that these tropes are there to be subverted. There are always new ways of telling a story, and I’d like to believe there’ll be life in these old favourites for as long as there are new writers to write about them. And as for the Cthulhu Mythos, I don’t care how often people rework it, add to it, embroider it, because I love it. There’s always room for one more Mythos story, somehow, and if I’ve not ventured into these unhallowed grounds myself, it’s simply because I consider that I Am Not Yet Worthy. One day, though, definitely. In fact, I already have plans…

And although I’m almost prepared to wager I’ll never write secondary world high fantasy because (along with its boring twin brother, sword and sorcery) it’s probably the area of the fantastic I’m least interested in, I can’t alter the fact that Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter – a blistering and beautiful subversion of high fantasy tropes – has long been and will doubtless remain one of my favourite works of fantastic fiction. Which only goes to show you should never say never.

What do I write about, then? As a writer, I often find I’m too close to my subject matter – too wrapped up in its minutiae – to be able to coherently state what it’s ‘about’. Readers are often much better at such summing up than writers, actually. But if pressed, I’d say that the main subject of a lot of my fiction is probably creativity, and by extension the nature of obsession. People don’t just write things in my stories, they paint, take photographs, compose music, conduct experiments, make gloves, collect stamps, play chess, train racing pigeons. The pursuit of the creative impulse – God in man, as Nabokov would have it – is the driving force of these characters’ lives, and they’ll do anything to safeguard that freedom. A recent example of this kind of character is Layla in my novella Spin, a science fictional re-enactment of the Arachne myth, but really just a story about what it means to give your life to art. But these characters are everywhere in my fiction. I suppose to a greater or lesser extent they’re all versions of me.

Place, and how human beings relate to a landscape, a city, a house, even, has always been a defining characteristic of my fiction. Why? Because for me, place has always been as important as character in the role of story’s prime generator. Place automatically suggests history, both real and imagined. For me, writing about a place is the only possible way to make sense of it – and once I’ve written about a place, I will always feel some residual attachment to it. There’s no such thing as a ‘boring’ place – ask Nicola Barker.  Even an empty room suggests a narrative (what’s outside, why is it empty, what was there before?) and every writer will interpret a landscape differently. I cannot think of a single story of mine that is not somehow concerned with a sense of place. It’s a touchstone for me. My forthcoming novel The Race had its beginnings primarily in my reaction to moving from London to the south coast of England in 2011, and my subsequent reworking of that landscape into an alternate future version of itself. It’s what I like to do!

Memory, and the passing of time, are not just important subjects in my fiction, they also form a key element in the way my fiction tends to be structured. I have always enjoyed non-linear forms of storytelling – linked sets of stories, multilayered narratives, alternating time streams – and by coincidence (or otherwise) these modes of narrative also provide a fascinatingly tangible reflection of their own subject matter. My story cycle The Silver Wind, which plays out in a manner that somewhat resembles a musiscal theme and variations, is itself a literal representation of the duplicitous nature of time, the unreliability of memory. My most recent collection, Stardust, is based around its characters’ memories of a central but barely seen character that none of the rest of them really know. I don’t intentionally set out to play games with form – I just happen to gravitate naturally to this very fluid kind of storytelling, narratives that always leave room for doubt, or for an alternate explanation. I find the idea of a straight beginning – middle – end-type narrative a little scary, to be honest, because I’m not sure I could sustain my own belief in it. I think I’d constantly be looking for the second, secret story hidden behind the apparent outward reality.

Well, that’s me done. Now it’s over to my brave tag-ees. Firstly Rhys Hughes, who just happens to be one of the most original and imaginatively gifted short fiction writers currently working. His stories are so unique, so technically accomplished, they blow my mind every time. The only thing that’s certain about his ‘three things’ is that they’ll be very different from mine. Go Rhys! And secondly Carole Johnstone, whose superbly chilling novella Cold Turkey is out now from TTA Press. Read this one and you’ll never light up a cigarette again (or buy an ice cream from one of those weird little vans, either… )

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Not us, guv

In a minor victory in the war on arse, Hastings voters, at least, manage to ditch their only UKIP councillor.

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Hab’ mir’s gelobt…

Take a look at this YouTube footage of  the Irish mezzo soprano Tara Erraught, talking about her experiences of performing at a gala concert, and proving in just a few short moments of onstage coverage that a more stunningly vivacious, intelligent and communicative singer would be hard to find. The desire, as she puts it herself, to ‘tell stories’ through her music just explodes out of her. Her singing voice, it goes almost without saying, is effortlessly sublime.

To think of a musician of such high calibre and such obvious personal charisma having to read reviews of her recent Glyndebourne performance as Octavian in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and see herself described – and this in the broadsheets – by people who are considered to be some of this country’s top music critics, variously as ‘a chubby bundle of puppy fat’ (Andrew Clark, FT), ‘a dumpy girl’ (Michael Church, Independent – only there’s no point in my linking to that review, because it has since been reworded), and ”unbelievable, unsightly and unappealing’ (Richard Morrison, The Times), is utterly shameful. ‘It’s hard to imagine this stocky Octavian as this willowy women’s plausible lover’, insists Andrew Clements of The Guardian.

As Jessica Duchen says in The Independent, ‘why shouldn’t the women in [Octavian's] life be attracted to personality rather than height? Richard Jones’s production offers a bright, sassy, postmodern approach, ditching every one of its tradition’s sacred cows – Octavian included.’ She goes on to point out that ‘opera’s men do not face the same problem. Take the eponymous hero in Wagner’s Siegfried. Like Octavian, he is probably meant to be about 17. But we don’t generally hear complaints about the hefty Heldentenors who sing him not looking like petulant adolescents. Consider this at leisure.’

The sexist abuse – because I’m afraid that’s what it is – handed out to Erraught is distressing to read. It also highlights the continuing problem of sexism in classical music generally. It’s only a couple of months since we heard Vasili Petrenko, chief conductor of the RLPO, insist that ‘when women have families it is difficult to be as dedicated as is required in this business’ and ‘a sweet girl on the podium can make one’s thoughts drift towards something else’. There’s something seriously rotten in the fabric of the classical music world when a musician in such a senior role – and in all other respects immensely talented – feels that it’s normal and OK to express opinions that, had he actually stopped for a moment to think them through, he would surely have realised were not only offensive but poorly informed.

Similarly, I felt upset and dismayed when, just a couple of days ago, I happened to pick up a classical music magazine from a station news stand and the first thing to strike my eye was a double-page photo of the trumpet player Alison Balsom, in a gold off-the-shoulder dress, reclining on a sofa, hugging her instrument. Balsom is an amazing musician. Why then is she being marketed as a sexual commodity? Why are things like this still happening in classical music, not just occasionally but as a general rule?

Is classical music turning out to be one of the last bastions of this kind of conservatism, an arena in which it’s still perfectly permissible to criticise a woman for being too old, too heavy, not photogenic enough? As someone for whom classical music has been a hugely important part of her life since the age of twelve, I find that thought profoundly appalling. If classical music wants to stop being thought of by most of the world as a weird, stuffy, outmoded culture where everyone speaks in plummy accents, where you have to know all the secret passwords to gain access, and that no one under the age of sixty is even remotely interested in anyway, then it’s time for its movers and shakers to damn well wise up.

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One year old…

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Some lovely news to share

I’m very happy indeed to announce that my story The Gateway (Stardust/PS Publishing) has been nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award in the Best Novella category.

Every year I look to the Shirley Jackson Awards shortlists for a year end summary of the best in horror and dark fiction, checking to make sure there’s nothing I’ve missed, feeling pleased that the judges have taken note of works that have particularly impressed me. If you look back at the nominations slates since the award’s inception in 2007 you’ll find they include much of the most original and accomplished contemporary horror being written, and the list of winners is more or less a who’s who of modern dark fantasy. To find my own work being acknowledged in this way is nothing short of mind-blowing.

This year’s lists highlight some fantastic works, as always. It’s particularly lovely to see my PS and TTA Press cohort Rosanne Rabinowitz being nominated for her Machen-inspired novella Helen’s Story, the amazing Rob Shearman for his short story ‘That Tiny Flutter of the Heart’, and the perennially brilliant Tanith Lee for her novelette ‘A Little of the Night’. (Indeed, British talent makes a grand showing across the board this year.) Other favourites among the nominations include Kit Reed’s collection The Story Until Now, Ramsey Campbell’s novella The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, Nathan Ballingrud’s collection North American Lake Monsters, Livia Llewellyn’s short story ‘Furnace’, and in the novel category I shall be rooting particularly for Joyce Carol Oates’s resplendent The Accursed. But really, every nominee deserves a special mention because they are all such amazing and inspiring writers, every one.

Congratulations and good luck to all.

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