There the road ended.

I had the idea that I was going to write about What I Did On My Holidays in the company of excellent people in Newcastle and Glasgow.

But I dug a hole under a flowerbed and buried my cat tonight, so I’m not feeling as cheerful as otherwise I might. Even the contemplation of Saturday afternoon at Barter Books

Barter Books, Alnwick

Barter Books, Alnwick

and Sunday at Housesteads…

Housesteads Roman fort, Hadrian's Wall.

Housesteads Roman fort, Hadrian’s Wall.

in glorious company, of custard and cake in a café with pictures of cows on the wall…

A café in Hexham, after dark.

A café in Hexham, after dark.

… is not able to make me a cheery human tonight. Nor the contemplation of Glasgow and lovely people and a delightful second-hand bookshop (Caledonian Books) where I found copies of Oxford Classical Texts in mint condition really cheap.

I brought things home, and the memory of good company.

Things from Newcastle.

Things from Newcastle.

Things from Glasgow.

Things from Glasgow.

But Vladimir is as cold and stiff and dead as my grandmother, and it makes me gloomy as fuck.

INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair: last, and shortest, set of notes

There were two things I wanted to attend on Sunday, before heading out for my flight. The first was 1015’s “Polish-Canadian Voices,” in part because of a conversation at the Polish Consulate/Polish-Canadian Institute booth the previous day, in part because of the large Polish community right here in Ireland. (What does the literature of the Polish diaspora look like, I wondered? And found some answer to what the Canadian kind does.) It featured Andrew Borkowski and Ania Szado, the children of Polish immigrants, and Jowita Bydlowska and Eva Stachniak, themselves immigrants from Poland. Stachniak was the writer I was very interested to hear from, because not only is she a professor of literature in Canada who moved there in 1981, she writes historical fiction set in Russia around the time of Catherine the Great. (Yes, I bought a book and asked her to sign it. History: I like it.) It was a very interesting, albeit poorly-attended panel, and I have to wonder how the literature (and experience) of the post-Communist immigrant generation will differ from what they were talking about.

I did not have any plans until Maggie Stiefvater’s 1500 main stage panel, and so took the opportunity not only to see the CN Tower (it’s a nice view, I guess, but I don’t see what all the enthusiasm is for and why they bother with bomb-sniffing machines) but to get another meal of poutine before returning to the fair to poke my nose about and ask some attendees and booth-runners what they thought of the fair itself. A couple of random locals I asked believed that there was definitely a niche for the book fair, particularly with a big-name author present they wanted to see every day. They thought the line-up was fantastic, and were very surprised that a first-time fair attracted so many high profile names. Most of the booth-people I talked to considered that they would have liked the fair to be busier – more footfall and more sales – but (with a handful of exceptions) generally felt that they’d got their money’s worth out of the event. (I will confess to not asking the indie-publishing booth-runners, for fear of encountering indie-pubbing evangelists.)

I hung out for a while longer in the geek corner, and had a couple of pleasant conversations with Michael and Matthew and Julie Czerneda, before catching Stiefvater’s panel. Stiefvater is one hell of a performer, that much I will say: knows how to hold and entertain an audience.

And then – farewell, Toronto.

Don’t ask about my flight home.

INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair: in which I write up more notes

Continued from the previous post:

Doing some more wandering around the fair floor, I found my way to the geek corner of the book fair, where SFWA and ChiZine had booths right beside each other. Since I was sticking around for the SFWA Showcase on one of the small stage areas at 1700, this was serendipitous, and I made the acquaintance of Matthew Johnson, as well as that of Alyx Dellamonica, her wife, and Karina Sumner-Smith, with all of whom I had absolutely delightful conversations, and with all of whom I deeply regret not being able to spend more time in conversation.

The 1700 SFWA Showcase consisted of a series of short readings from Alyx Dellamonica (reading from very intriguing short story), Ed Hoornaert (my notes say: “sexist. Middle-grade? Indie-published? WHAT AUDIENCE?!” It is possible my notes were a bit cranky that evening.), Robin Riopelle (reading from debut novel Deadroads, sounds pretty good, my notes add: “find publicist, try to acquire copy for column reading”), and Karina Sumner-Smith (reading from debut novel Radiance, excellent reading, will read the book).

Thereafter, I was a touch on the tired side, and returned to my hotel room to stare at the internet, drink half the can of courtesy beer I’d been provided by Tourism Toronto (something called “Steam Whistle,” really not to my taste but it was that or go looking for caffeine), and arrange dinner plans en group via Twitter – where I learned that we would be joined by the most excellent Michelle Sagara/Michelle West/Michelle Sagara-West, who I’d had the very great pleasure of meeting at LonCon3. So of course I went to the hotel restaurant far too early from eagerness to talk to ALL THE PEOPLE again – but that was okay, because there was a very nice member of the hotel staff from the Ukraine there, who commiserated with me on how incomprehensible baseball and American football are.

Then dinner with Ana, Thea, Jane, and Michelle – I cannot remember if Kelly was there too: my memory grows faulty, and it was dinner so I took no notes, of course. It was delightful. I was still full from breakfast and lunch, but there was a delicious soup, and a plate of things called “sliders”: tiny burgers in tiny buns. Very delicious. All the talking. So much talking. So much excellent talking in marvelous company that I wound up talking to Michelle in the foyer of the hotel until after midnight, after all the others had headed off for sleeping.

That was Friday. I slept well in the gigantic hotel bed and rose in time to do a tourist thing and find a Tim Horton’s to eat doughnuts for breakfast. Delicious, delicious doughnuts. You don’t get doughnuts like that around here.

Then it was closing on 1100 Saturday, and I went to Deborah Harkness’s panel even though I’d never read any of her books. According to my notes, I found her talking about being a historian much more interesting than her talking about her books: all the notes I took were to do with history, not books. “As a historian, I’m concerned with errors of interpretation,” she said. “As a historian, my goal is to use history to teach empathy.” Writing fiction gave her “permission to imagine the past.” Harkness is an engaging speaker, and listening to her talk almost made me want to read her books – although from the sounds of them, they are strongly marked Not For Me.

I had a lunch (I think) and wandered back over the the Geek Corner of the fair floor, where I fell into conversation with Jaym Gates, Matthew Johnson, Robin Riopelle, Crystal Huff, and Michael Matheson (not all at once, but over the course of the afternoon), in between attending William Gibson’s and Kathy Reichs’ respective panels at the main stage. I do not have any notes for the Gibson panel bar: “haunted by the idea he was working with a 1984 idea of contemporary weirdness” “change in human society is now driven by emergent technology,” and re: the future, “I navigate by looking for resonance,” while for the Reichs panel I wrote one thing down: the interviewer/host is a boring ass.

Back at the Geek Corner of the fair floor, Michael Mathesen extolled to me the virtues of David Nickle’s Rasputin’s Bastards by telling me it was a “Cold War spy novel with X-men powers and telepathic giant squid, and I wrote down titles of books that also sounded interesting: Nancy Baker’s Cold Hill Side, Caitlin Sweet’s The Door in the Mountain, and Gemma Files’ new collection/not-mosaic-novel, We Will All Go Down Together.

Then at 1700 there was another SFWA panel, “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be,” with Andrew Barton, Stephanie Bedwell-Grimes, Julie Czerneda, and Douglas Smith, for which my notes are mostly illegible, but at which I recall being entertained. Then there was “Y(oung) A(ncient) Literature,” which was a discussion/set of readings featuring Patrick Bowman (my notes say: “Classicists, only read his book while drunk”), Christian Cameron (“has done research, but sounds very grimdark”), Beth Goobie (“literary”), and Caitlin Sweet (“Minoan retelling: sounds like a good book, but probably not to be recommended to Bronze Age Aegeanists like your supervisor”).

After this, I found myself generously enfolded into the dinner plans of Michael, Jaym, Crystal, two Andrews, and at least one other person whose name I embarrassingly do not recall. ETA: Matthew Johnson. (I am extremely grateful for their welcoming friendliness.) Dinner was at a sushi place, where I would never have ventured solo, and I paid the learning-new-things tax to discover that no, sushi is really the very wrong texture for my mouth. But gyoza udon is fucking amazingly delicious.

I still cannot use chopsticks, though. Seriously. I know how you’re supposed to hold them, but damn if I can pick anything up with them. (It is not like one gets a lot of practice in Dublin in general or at my dining table in specific.)

I ate dessert in the hotel, because I was craving chocolate and they had a chocolate cake thing. And then I went to my giant comfy hotel bed and slept like a dead thing until Sunday morning

INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair: in which I write up some of my notes.

As this is me basically consolidating my handwritten notes into something a little more like narrative, it is a somewhat rough account.


On Thursday, with much regret and much gratitude, I left one of the most friendly and welcoming households to which I’ve ever had the privilege of being welcomed to check into the hotel where Tourism Toronto had arranged for me (and other bloggers) to stay for the duration of the Book Fair, the Renaissance Hotel. It was snowing when I emerged from Union Station, and I had a printout of Google Maps directions that was not exactly the most helpful of helpful things. I ended up going down and around a large thing called “The Rogers Centre” and heading off up a hill when a helpful Torontonian noticed me standing at a corner looking puzzled, and pointed me in the right direction.

It turns out that the Renaissance Hotel (which is part of the Marriott chain) is actually part of this thing called “The Rogers Centre.” Which was formerly known as the Skydome, and is a covered baseball stadium. The rear half of the hotel, including the hotel restaurant and several hotel rooms, overlooks the baseball pitch-field-thingy. There was some trouble getting me checked in – apparently the hotel had been informed I was arriving on the 12th, and was rather surprised to find I’d been informed to turn up on the 13th – and the nice lady at the front desk, in the tones of one granting a very great treat or especial favour, informed me that to make up for the delay they’d given me a room overlooking the baseball pitch-field-thingy. (I’m sure she used the proper word for it.)

I’m sure someone who liked baseball would have found it more of a treat. Me, I would have preferred a view of the traintracks and downtown, because it would’ve meant my room had access to natural light and fresh air. But I am Irish, and do not find much of interest in these North American games of baseball and “football.” (I can definitely see the appeal of ice hockey, though. Elegance and brutality: of such things are the best games made.)

But, on the upside: the hotel room itself had about as much square footage as the ground floor of my house. (It was at this point that I understood I was staying in a Fancy People hotel, and immediately began to fret lest they realise that I was guaranteed to Lower The Tone, and ask me to leave. No, really. I’ve stayed in a few hotels, but the vast majority of them have had space for a bed and a cupboard-sized shower-toilet-room, and not much else. I’m much more used to borrowing someone’s futon and sleeping in the office.)(This might be a case of “everything’s bigger in North America,” though.)

At this point it was 1600 local time, and I’d been invited to a “blogger meet-and-greet” in the Metro North Convention Centre for 1700. Since I hadn’t eaten lunch, and suspected dinner would be hard to come by in the convention centre, I took myself off down to the hotel restaurant-bar and enquired how long it would take them to make me a poutine. Poutine! I had never eaten it before. “Ten minutes,” the nice person said, and indeed it took no more than that.

Poutine – my reaction to it varied between what the hell is this? and this is amazing. Chips, gravy, cheese curds, topped with meat – a kind of ham that resembled a light Italian ham, but that goes by “Montreal smoked meat” in Toronto. Amazingly tasty. Really filling. You definitely know you’ve been fed, with that dish.

So, very full, I betook myself off to the convention centre, which was practically right next door. There, I made several inquiries before I was able to determine where this “blogger toast” thing was supposed to take place. Eventually I found it, only to discover that the door to the green room was still locked to keep the peons out.

While waiting, though, I made the acquaintance of Kelly from Book Riot, and soon thereafter the mother-daughter blogging team of Chapter By Chapter, also bloggers present for the book fair, at which point we’d acquired sufficient mass to get up the necessary impetus to actually knock on the door in question.

Behind the door lay members of the PR team for the book fair; a Media Relations Manager for Tourism Toronto, a lovely woman, Vanessa Somarriba by name; and (at the time) two members of the “executive team” of the book fair, Rita Davies and John Calabro, who were later joined by Steven Levy (who conversed like a man who’d already had a couple of beers for tea, but maybe that’s just a personality thing). I dubbed them “the money people” afterwards, because much of the conversation that lingered in my memory were the bits where they were talking about how they spent money like water to set it up: lots of money to get international and indigenous writers on board, approximately CAN $100,000 in honoraria for authors, and so on. They seemed quite proud – and y’know, they have a right to be – in how hard they worked to build diversity into the programme for the fair from the ground up.

Partway through this slightly-awkward conversation – small talk combined with PR talk combined with talk about people’s genuine interests – Jane of Dear Author arrived, another of the bloggers and someone who it was a great pleasure to meet. Eventually we adjourned, only to find the Book Smugglers just outside the door – I think I am getting the order of events and arrivals right, but I could be mixing things up.

Like a bloggerly hive mind, we adjourned to the actual fair floor to investigate what was on offer – and to spy out the preparations for the 1900 “Lift-Off Party” that would open the book fair proper. We were all, I think, fairly impressed with Simon & Schuster’s design aesthetic, as they’d set up their booth like the rooms of a house, complete with chairs, pots and pans, and air mattress. Poking around to get my bearings – and conversing with the other bloggers – was an awful lot of fun, but from the start I felt that perhaps the fair’s layout was not optimised for footfall, visual impact, and sales. I later learned that for the official signings, one was required to purchase the books that one wanted signed from the official signing sales booth – not elsewhere on the book fair floor, and god help anyone who wanted to bring in their own books from home. I think perhaps the organisers did not have their best thinking hats on when it came to considering the book-selling portion of the entertainment, rather than the book-celebrating.

We discovered that the Lift-Off Party was charging $6 for a cup of soft drink and $10 for a beer, and several of us – Kelly, Jane, Thea, Ana, and me, if I recall correctly – hied off to find a better place to talk and drink. Fortunately, my fellow bloggers had a place already in mind: The Library Bar. I had some ginger ale while my fellow bloggers sampled the delights of Canadian literary cocktails – and passed them round the table so that everyone could sample each once.

They’re great conversationalists, and I’ve seldom had so much fun in a den of upper-class iniquity.

And that was Thursday.

Friday morning, it had been arranged that all the bloggers would take breakfast together, courtesy of Toronto Tourism. At breakfast we were met by Vanessa, another Tourism Toronto person whose name I shamefully cannot find among my notes, and the hotel’s rep, Dominique, whose surname (and business card) I have mislaid also.

It was a breakfast of very great fantasticness. The kind of breakfast where if one mentioned one enjoyed a thing, one would find one’s plate heaped with it and perhaps the kitchen sent to for more. Salmon eggs Benedict. Bacon, lovely bacon. Sausages. French toast banana bread (to die for). Fruit. Delicious fruit. Yoghurt and tasty, tasty croissants and cheese and ham from the cold buffet. Orange juice. Sample smoothies. Basically the deluxe hospitality experience, and the kind of breakfast that would leave a body feeling full all day.

Instead of permitting us to return to our rooms to nap (a tempting option) we were ushered into a van for a tour of some of Toronto’s independent bookshops, led by Michael Kaminer, a journalist who’d written an article on those bookshops for the Washington Post. At the first bookshop, we met a group of local bloggers who would also be taking the tour with us: Ardo, Michele, Wendy, and Chandra.

Jane on INSPIRE.
The Book Smugglers on INSPIRE.
Kelly on INSPIRE.
Chapter by Chapter on INSPIRE.

So, book shop tour. It was interesting – and god, BMV and Bakka Phoenix (where we met Jeff, who it turns out is a reader of the Book Smugglers and my column), geek book heaven. Kaminer was a little bit heavily inclined towards book fetishism (“ebooks aren’t real books”) and very much not in favour of chain or online bookshops, for which my feeling is: it’s complicated.

For a city of six millions of people, it seems to have a really healthy literary/reading community.

Also, I got to get cupcakes in Almond Butterfly a second time.

On our return to the convention centre, the other flown-in bloggers went off to do their own thing in the hotel, and I found myself welcomed to lunch with the lovely local bloggers – who were very good about me essentially inviting myself along. They were great people, and showed me a great place for food called The Canteen (om nom glorious burger nom nom nom), and great conversationalists.

I kept wanting to bloody hug people in Toronto, I met so many lovely ones.

And then I returned to the convention centre for the first thing I was interested in, a main stage panel called “I Don’t Give A Damsel,” featuring Gayle Forman, E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Meg Wolitzer, focused on young adult literature. There was some initial interesting discussion of feminism, and likeable vs. unlikeable as terms applied to female characters, and whether or not this was a feminist problem: Forman said, “Imagine Sherlock [from the BBC’s Sherlock] as a woman – that would not fly.” But the panel soon devolved into a defence of the value of Young Adult literature. In itself this could have been an interesting panel, but to that audience, I doubt one needed to make an argument for YA’s worth.

The first questioner of the Q&A period was “dismayed by the preponderance of the supernatural” in Young Adult literature, and I was out of there.

INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair – I am in Toronto

I’m in Toronto to attend the Toronto International Book Fair, on foot of a train of events that led to said Book Fair’s publicity people paying for my flights and attendance. (Thanks, Book Smugglers! Wouldn’t be here with you.) It is a bizarre and unexpected occurrence, and until the fair begins I am crashing on the truckle bed of marvelous and generous friends.

I flew with Air Canada via Heathrow, in one of the more painless long flights of my existence. The aircraft was the very latest in shiny passenger-flying, with actual headroom and windows that could be tinted five different shades of green, and they fed us. Recognisable and tasty food: dinner, a snack, and then a hot wrap thing that actually tasted of its ingredients. Plenty of soft drinks: I had some Canadian ginger ale and discovered I liked it.

I landed to sunset in Toronto, and felt as though I’d stepped onto a film set.

I find the skyline, and the layout, of North American cities surreal, when I see them in person. They are so much a part of English-language television, and so different to the cities I am used to, that visiting them feels rather like stepping out of reality and into a fictional dream where people might be uncommonly handsome and even the tenor of street noise is different. The straightness of the roads and the height of buildings messes with my sense of scale. The sky seems larger.

Surreal, like I said.

I shall conclude this I am on another continent! post by saying that Toronto has some very tasty dumplings and noodles on offer among its eateries. And an impressive amount of fallen leaves.

Some final thoughts on LonCon3

It is still very weird to me, that I have finally met so many people in person whom I have known or encountered on the internet… and having the conversations in person feel like a completely natural extension of our previous conversations. A mental/intellectual/emotional comfort level translated really smoothly into a physical comfort level: I was hugging people left, right, and centre, because it felt perfectly appropriate. (If it wasn’t, I apologise.)

To be fair, by Sunday my general level of excitement/apprehension/overstimulation/lack-of-sleep turned into a sort of semi-drunken giddiness, without need for any alcohol. So my grasp of the appropriate may have suffered accordingly.

I should mention that I was able to attend the convention because of the generous support of the Dublin 2019 Worldcon bid towards my flights, as an Irish person up for a science fiction award and thus Promoting Science Fiction And Ireland. Think kindly of them: they did me a damned decent favour.

There have been a couple of posts floating around about the “generation gap” between LonCon3 and Nine Worlds, and drawing various different conclusions over which was “better.” For me, I was only at Nine Worlds for one day, and for that day very sleep-deprived, but my observations suggest that there were just more people at LonCon3 overall. I mean, sure, a majority were probably in the 40-60 age bracket, because that’s a demographic group with high odds of disposable income, independent mobility, and spare time, with a long tail off to the octogenarians and a more scattered spread of people from 0 years to 40 years – but that’s pretty much par for the course when you’re talking about doing anything. I saw an awful lot of family groups and quite a few college-aged people, and it was far more diverse than I’d been expecting – my previous experience being with attending a couple of Irish conventions, at which I mostly had far less fun that I have had at academic conferences, Worldcon in Glasgow 2005 (which I almost abandoned in tears because of existential alienation) and World Fantasy in Calgary in 2008 (which I attended as an experiment in trying to figure out how the professional writing/editing world worked when it was talking to itself, and which did drive me to tears of alienated loneliness).

Which is not to say it was a magnificent triumph of social justice and diversity. Just that clearly a lot of people did a shitload of work to reach out, and failed while trying to do better, rather than failing by not trying. This is my impression, anyway.

(And mad props to Programming, for the sheer amount of work that went into having a programme with so many different things going on. The Programme Guide terrified me with All The Things it contained, but also was pretty exciting.)

There’s one difference between the two London conventions that stands out to me, though. What startled me about Nine Worlds was the impression of affluence I got from the majority of people I saw, panellists aside – rightly or wrongly: maybe people were just wearing their Sunday best, I don’t know. But at LonCon3, I felt more comfortable because a lot of the people I encountered were either there to work or because it was their One Big Chance to meet everyone they knew and/or admired from their work.

(And a few Rich Old Entitled White Americans, but shit, you get those playing tourist all over Dublin all the time anyway.)

I’m a working-class sod with middle-class pretensions. The smell of Money makes me uneasy. And LonCon3 had less ritzy surroundings (seriously, the Radisson is always going to stink of the rentier classes, leaching the lifeblood of the working people) and it seemed more people who were there to Do A Thing, rather than Be Entertained.

(This distinction probably explains why I’ve always been more comfortable at academic conferences, where everyone is usually there to Do A Thing.)

Anyway. I don’t have an argument. I had fun. Have a cat picture.

Vladimir says hello.

Vladimir says hello.

Adventures In Visiting England and Conventions: Part V: No really, there was a lot of party

The Hugo Losers’ Party was an awful lot of fun. There was a lot of going EEEEEE at the statistics (I came fourth) and excited gushing, and FRUIT. And also little chocolates and tiny chocolatey cake things, but I was most excited about the fruit. I got to meet E. Lily Yu (who is lovely) and finally talk to Jenni Hill for more than three seconds, and have a conversation with HUGO-AWARD WINNING NOVELIST ANN LECKIE, who is kind of amazing in person and looked pretty happily dazed. Kate Elliott and I had a long conversation about editing as a learned skill, particularly editing other peoples’ work; and I had a brief conversation with Roz Kaveney about how she and Kameron Hurley need to divide up the genre between them to make ambitious messes with genre furniture.

But mostly there was a lot of sitting around in circles eating fruit and drinking drinks (Tansy Rayner Roberts, Alisa Krasnostein, Rhiannon Rasmussen, Kate Elliott, Ann Leckie, Foz Meadows, Jenni Hill) and talking about how amazing the winners were and how brilliant Kameron Hurley’s and John Chu’s and Sofia Samatar’s speeches were.

Then I went back to my hotel room, quite late in the evening. And found Aisha already there. And I was rather hyper from copious amounts of caffeine and there was a lot of bouncy talking and at some point we thought it was a good idea to record the tininess of Tiny Shower for posterity.

And I tried to pack. It involved a lot of pushing on the suitcase. The suitcase needed duct-tape, because the seams split. Fortunately, I travel with twine, duct tape, and electrician’s tape.

And mostly a penknife with a flashlight and compass attached, yes, I may be weird. BUT YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU’LL NEED.

(Mostly I need the bottle-opener for other people. And the scissors.)

Monday morning comes too soon

I recall waking up at 0530, while Aisha was doing something, muttering “Dawn. Fuck that,” and rolling over to go back to sleep. I had an 1100 panel – with Aisha, too – on “Critical Diversity in Science Fiction,” and somehow we made it to the green room in advance of the panel, where we met Fábio Fernandes and Erin Horakova before repairing to our panel room, where we were joined by our moderator Andrew Butler. I had caffeined up, and was possibly a blithering hyper idiot: mostly I remember that the panel opened with a mic test that sort of turned into, in Erin’s words, “the inadequate filking panel.”

I’m not sure how much of the meat of critical diversity we actually managed to cover. It was Monday morning. Forgive me: I was out of it.

even more people

Afterwards, some of us repaired to lunch with Maureen Speller and Paul Kincaid, at a table on the Boulevard that just kept expanding to incorporate more people as they drifted up against us and stopped. I know at one point the table included Aisha, D. Franklin, Zoe, me, Maureen, Paul, Erin, Fábio, Lal, David Hebblethwaite, Kev McVeigh, and STILL MORE PEOPLE…

…then I left for the fan village to try to meet up with Niall and Nic, and got sidetracked by meeting Kate Elliott and Rhiannon Rasmussen and Michelle Sagara, and some others (including Alex whom I’d met at Liverpool last year. Sorry, Alex! I have forgot your last name) and had a long discussion about books and book reviewing and things.

I did finally fetch up against another table, encompassing Niall and Nic and Erin and Abigail and Aisha and OTHER PEOPLE whose names I do not now remember or never caught, and had much fun discussions. At this point, though, I was punch-drunk. I don’t really remember what we were actually talking about, apart from Tiny Shower and DubCon jokes.

Eventually I extricated myself – with great sadness – from the convention, collected my bags from the hotel, and got the DLR to the Ibis Docklands Canary Wharf, where I had a room for the night so I could sleep before traveling home. The Ibis Docklands Canary Wharf is a red-coloured Ibis and is Slightly Less Budget. The shower was not inhumanly small! I had a whole comfortable double bed to myself, not a tiny plank of a bed. And god, I slept.

I had no idea how long it would take me to get to Heathrow in the morning, though, so I ended up getting up far too early to trek across London, and fetched up at LHR before check-in and bag-drop for my flight even opened. But it was all good! Once I made it through security I had a delightful breakfast of ham and cheese croissant, followed by vanilla croissant, at a café called Cappuccino. Very tasty.

I slept on the plane. My mother picked me up at the airport. I got home, unpacked, shoved things into the washing-machined, showered, and went to bed for five hours. I woke up long enough to eat tea and check my email, and went back to sleep for another fourteen hours. And it was glorious.

And that, my friends, is the story of my adventures.

Adventures In Visiting England and Conventions: Part IV: ALL THE PARTY

At some point over the weekend up to Sunday afternoon, I met any number of lovely people whom I’ve forgotten to mention to date, like Sophie Calder (of Gollancz) and Joe Monti, a very nice bloke who works for Saga, and Lee Harris (of Angry Robot and now and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, and briefly in passing Ada Palmer and Madeleine Robins and Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. And C.E. Murphy and Sarah Rees Brennan and Ursula Vernon. And Abi Sutherland. And Tobias Buckell. And probably bunches of other people whom I’m forgetting I was introduced to.

I did not realise heretofore that if you were vaguely acquainted with all the lovely people from the internet, a convention is actually a multi-day party. Now I kind of understand the appeal.

from some other encounter

Scott Lynch and Zoe Johnson.

Scott Lynch and Zoe Johnson.

Zoe attacks Scott for books. That man is a very good sport.

Zoe attacks Scott for books. That man is a very good sport.

The Dealers’ Room calls

After “Seeing the Future, Knowing the Past,” I stopped into “A Queerer War,” a panel featuring Tanya Huff, Ann Leckie, and S.J. Groenewegen, and moderated by Duncan Lawie. Question time seemed to devolve a little into 101, but on the whole I enjoyed the panel…

…and then I broke my resolution and went to the Dealers’ Room. I acquired rather more books than I intended, especially since I also visited the Library area of the fan village, where books were being given away with great enthusiasm. I picked up another… three? free books. YAY FREE BOOKS. (I will list acquisitions later.) OOPS SUITCASE PACKING.

I don’t really remember who I was talking to Sunday afternoon. I dropped in on the Hugo Rehearsal (ie: stand here, walk this way, don’t fall over if you win) and ran into Aliette and Foz and Mary Robinette Kowal there, and then… Laura Lam at the green room, maybe? And Amal. Almost certainly Amal. At some point I know I ate half a rotisserie chicken from the chicken place on the ExCel centre’s Boulevard, and shortly thereafter was afraid I’d get lost on the way to the Hugo Reception. So I went to find it early, and ended up waiting for 30 minutes.

All The Party

Hugo Reception was amazing fun. Props to the volunteers and organisers for getting things as smoothly run and organised as it was. I spent most of the time hanging out with Foz and Max Gladstone and his partner Steph, I think, with occasional hanging out with Kate Elliott and Abigail Nussbaum and Neil Harrison and Nic Clarke. There was free food, and it was very tasty. And there were FAMOUS PEOPLE.

We were very uncool when Peter Davidson showed up. Very uncool. It was the amazing brave Amal who lead us in a posse over to him eventually to shake his hand and say “I like your work,” and he seems like a lovely guy.

The entire room was really uncool a short while later, though, when David Tennant showed up. The poor man. Mobbed by geeks who wanted to shake his hand. He was an exceptional good sport about it, but one does feel a little sorry for him. (Not so sorry that I did not go shake his hand and say “I loved your performance in Hamlet,” though.)


Wow. So ceremony. I ended up sitting beside Amal, near Max and John Chu and Wes Chu and Ramez Naam, directly behind George R.R. Martin. Justina Robson and Geoff Ryman did an excellent job as hosts, as did the other guest hosts, and seriously, it was a really pleasing ceremony. That Kameron Hurley, what? ON FIRE.

The whole ceremony is on ustream somewhere. What the recording does not show is how three-quarters of the auditorium stood up to applaud Ancillary Justice‘s victory, when Ann Leckie made her way to the stage.

Being in the auditorium for the ceremony was an awful lot like being part of an extended group hug. And not just because Amal is a really great person to be seated beside if you are a very nervous nominee.

And when it was all done, it was Hugo Losers’ Party time. And that was exciting. Because there were FRUIT PLATTERS.

Adventures In Visiting England and Conventions: Part III: AT LAST FRUIT

View from the hotel room window.

View from the hotel room window.

Saturday morning was the morning of the Strange Horizons Brunch, 1000-1200. It was also the point at which I began to realise that I wasn’t ever going to get more than about four hours’ sleep in a night at this convention.

Fruit is exciting

Strange Horizons Brunch took place in the fan village, and was very thrilling. IT HAD FRUIT. As the ExCel centre and environs was a bit of a fruit and veg wasteland, as far as I could tell, this was incredibly exciting to me.

I did finally get to meet Niall Harrison and Nic Clarke and Mari Ness and Stephanie Saulter and Tori Truslow and Foz Meadows (properly) and Abigail Nussbaum and some other people whose names I am forgetting – were Shaun Duke and Paul Weimar and Erin Horakova there? Lal whose surname I cannot spell? Maybe. They are all truly excellent people to talk to, and it was lovely to finally meet them in the flesh – although Niall is insanely tall and skinny, it’s kind of wondrous.

Your humble correspondent breaks a resolution

Saturday was also the day I broke a resolution and bought a book. And thereafter the floodgates kind of opened. I DIDN’T MEAN TO, HONEST. But they were also giving away books in the “Library” area of the fan village – it seemed that Gollancz had brought absolute crates of books to give away, particularly from their SF Gateway Omnibus series but some others also – so I wandered out of Saturday having acquired a Kate Wilhelm omnibus and having bought Pat Murphy’s The Falling Woman from the Gollancz table.

For lunch I met the amazing Lesley Hall, and shortly thereafter tried to attend the panel called “Your ‘realistic’ fantasy is a washed out colourless emptiness compared to the Rabelaisian reality.” Discuss. But the room was standing room only, and half an hour in to what bid fair to be an excellent panel involving Kate Elliott, Nic Clarke, Edward James, Kari Sperring and Jenny Blackford, security kicked the standees out. After trying to hop into another panel, I felt ill, and ended up going back to the hotel room to nap for a while.


Naps are wondrously restorative. I came back to the convention in time to sit in on two panels that I wasn’t scheduled on, “Travel in fantasy,” starring Michelle Sagara, Leigh Bardugo, Scott Lynch, Jenny Blackford, and Katie Rask, and “The Joyful Poetry of Space Opera,” starring Adam Roberts, Hannu Rajaniemi, Elizabeth Bear, Rosie Oliver, and Carl Engle-Laird, which sort of mostly turned into the Adam Roberts show. But both were fun to attend.

Then I was on a panel with Mari Ness, Justin Landon and Nic Clarke. Unfortunately, this panel was moderated by Myke Cole, and his style of moderating rather clashed with I think the kick-back-let’s-have-fun bloggers-vs-epic-fantasy snarkfest that I think the rest of us really wanted the panel to be. (He seems like a nice guy, just the wrong guy to moderate us for a 2000hrs “fun stuff” panel.) Justin and Nic took great pleasure in my blushes when they kept bringing up the Michael Sullivan review and responses thereto.

Afterwards, I met Chance Morrison for the first time, whom I’ve known on the internet for what seems like forever. That was pretty excellent. Also pretty excellent was the party in the fan area bar, where I got to chat some more with some more excellent people, including Aisha and Irene and Carl and Foz. (I missed the Gollancz party that was going on that evening. Too much stuff! Too many people!)

Then back to the hotel to (try to) sleep, so that I could be prepared to moderate an 1100 panel the next day.

Irish people talk shit about Irish stuff

I could not bring myself to be serious about the “What Does Ireland Have To Offer” panel at 1100hrs on Sunday. I dressed up in Hugo-award-ceremony-going clothes and got myself to the convention in time to take in the 1000 panel on “The Spies We Still Love,”, and loaded up on caffeine, and rocked up to the panel that I was having at 1100 with the lovely Ruth Frances Long and Susan Connolly and our token American, K.A. Laity. And I introduced the panel in Irish, and then tried to the direct the conversation in fun directions (in English) thereafter…

…there were two American blokes in the audience who asked weird questions. One wanted to know if there was any science fiction being written in Ireland, as if fantasy did not count, and the other wanted to know what influence Irish folkore had on Irish science.


The panelists had some fun, I hope, talking about how Irish mythology is basically “Don’t piss off the weird people who live over there.” I had fun, anyway.

But then I had to run to my 1200 panel, “Seeing The Future, Knowing The Past,” moderated by a lovely bloke, one William Brad Hafford, writer and Middle Eastern archaeologist specialising in the Bronze Age, and starring Kari Sperring, Karen Miller, Sarah Ash, and, well, me. Sarah Ash was a rather quiet panelist; I feel Karen Miller talked over her once or twice. Miller was very engaged, and wanted to talk mostly about the demands of the middle of the market; while Kari and I (aka the Socialist Historian end of the table) basically leapt in with Cool History Stuff ™ at every opportunity, and talked about how grand narratives are simplified consolatory ones, and that the really interesting stuff happens in the rough unsmoothed edges of history.

Something along those lines. Someone who was in the audience might have had a better view of what we actually succeeded in talking about.

Adventures In Visiting England and Conventions: Part II: “Tiny Shower Is Our Nemesis”

“An experience not to be missed. But not to be repeated.”

The Ibis London ExCel Docklands Hotel is a budget hotel. It is apparently the middle grade of Ibis: the Ibis “Budget” is even less fancy, while the Ibis “Styles” is slightly less compact. Aisha and I discovered, upon investigating, that the shower of our Ibis was inhumanly small. (On Sunday night Aisha made a video of tiny shower: somewhere PROOF EXISTS of its tiny dimensions.) The experience of showering was rather akin to sealing oneself inside a torpedo launch tube. Keep your elbows tucked and don’t try to turn around.

As I said to Aisha, when I emerged (slightly more claustrophobic than before), “That’s an experience not to be missed, and also not to be repeated. Except it has to be repeated, or we’ll turn into Cat Piss People.”

“Tiny shower is our nemesis,” became the refrain of our morning convention experience. “Hello, Tiny Shower! We meet again. Who shall have victory this morning?”

Spoiler: not us. It came as something of a relief on Monday morning to be able to say, “Farewell, Tiny Shower! We shall never meet again and I WILL BE VERY HAPPY WITH THAT.”

But I get ahead of myself.

Sad breakfast

Thus Friday began. I discovered that the hotel, much like the convention centre, did not believe in fruit. Breakfast was a slightly sad affair for me. It would only become sadder over the weekend, for on Saturday and Sunday the array of yoghurt on offer – not very vast – grew more pathetic.

It was lovely to meet Wes Chu and Justin Landon in the breakfast room, though one wonders how Justin coped with the Tiny Showers. Shortly, I shuffled off to the convention, where I saw the Dealers’ Room (so many pretty books) and inflicted myself on the magnificent Amal El-Mohtar at her signing. She didn’t seem to mind me camping out for a gossip session alongside her, because shamefully few people came along to worship her awesomeness. I met Ibraheem Abbas and Eng. Yasser Bahjatt, who were signing at the table beside the amazing Amal, and they were lovely too.

Two lunches and free cake

First lunch was with Amal and Tansy Rayner Roberts and Julia Rios and Jo L. Walton. (I think.) Second lunch was with Fran Wilde, in which we encountered Michael Swanwick and did a LOT of talking. Then somehow it was late afternoon and I wandered back into the Dealers’ Room for Tansy Rayner Roberts’ signing – where she had shamefully few people come to get books by her signed, so I camped out at her table and gossiped away. She is just as lovely in person as she is on the internet, and everyone should be reading her very fun MUSKETEER SPACE serial.

Then it was dinner time, and my friend Martin who lives in London now came to have dinner with me. It was really lovely to have a break from meeting ALL THE NEW PEOPLE and be able to relax and have dinner with someone I’d known in person for longer than an hour. So we had dinner, and then we went on a tour of the parties – Jo Fletcher Books, Tor UK, and Titan Books were all having parties in the Fox bar, and it wasn’t a badged area, so Martin could come visit too. We ran into D. and Zoe, and Charlie Stross and Féorag, and I talked Martin into buying a book I hadn’t even read. (Also the JFB party had free cake.) After Martin left to get home to his partner, I hung out at the party a little longer, where Joe Abercrombie and Mark Charan Newton ganged up on me at the bar to twit me about that old review of Michael Sullivan’s book on Strange Horizons, and I met Jared and Anne while I was actually awake, and Justin introduced me to George R.R. Martin (and I shut my teeth on anything beyond “Hi, nice to meet you,” because I don’t much like his books). And then I fetched up – while trying to extricate myself from party – at a table with Aliette de Bodard and Tricia Sullivan and Sophia McDougall (among others) and Much Was The Talking.

I do not think I managed to attend above four panels besides the ones I was scheduled to be on, but I sure as hell talked to a lot of people.

Adventures In Visiting England and Conventions: Part I

You may or may not recall, dear readers, that I was traveling to foreign English lands all last week, in order to attend Nine Worlds 2014, and LonCon3: the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention. Many were the adventures of your intrepid correspondent! Much did she travel! Far did she wander on untrodden paths…

…Well, maybe not so much with the untrodden.

Nine Worlds 2014

I arrived at Heathrow early on Sunday morning, after about 30-45 minutes’ sleep. In between the neighbours’ dog shutting up, and my alarm going off, there was not all that much time – so I don’t actually recall all that much from Sunday. I had a panel to participate in. I arm-wrestled Geoff Ryman (and won): he is a very clever tall skinny geek. I met the very smart Zen Cho, and blurrily encountered Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry, and Jenni Hill, a lovely editor from Orbit UK. I recall having lunch with Elizabeth Bear and Alex Dally MacFarlane, and meeting Scott Lynch in passing, but I was seriously out of it.


Towards the evening, the amazing writer and historian and all-around lovely person Kari Sperring and her man Phil bore me off to Cambridge, where I got to meet their cats, among them a very affectionate half-grown catling who wanted All The Attention.

The inimitable Telzey.

The inimitable Telzey.

I am immensely grateful to Kari and Phil for their impeccable and delightful hospitality – and for introducing me to young Michelle Yeoh in Hong Kong action movies. They are truly wonderful people.

Cambridge has pretty architecture.

Cambridge has pretty architecture.

Some tourism (and bookshop tourism) happened on Monday, when I received a whirlwind tour of Cambridge and environs, including the famous Soup Pub (whose real name I cannot now remember). On Tuesday D. of Intellectus Speculativus and their partner Zoe trained down to Cambridge and I spent the day with them, doing tourist stuff like looking at buildings:

Pretty buildings

Pretty buildings

And inside museums:

Cambridge has many museums

Cambridge has many museums

…where we agreed that it was sometimes nice to be able to look at stuff that had nothing to do with any of our subject areas (all Classicists/ancient historians, us) and just admire it as a collection of pretty objects. (The museum did try to educate us about the objects in the collection, but we were having none of it. Bad historians were bad on Tuesday.)

And repaired to a pub called the Maypole, where many beers were on offer and I sampled only one.

Wednesday contained a lot of wibbling on my part and attempts to convince myself that LonCon3 would not actually be terrifying.


And then Thursday was con-going. Were it not for the amazing Kari and the amazing Phil, I doubt I would have made it to and across London: the Tube attempted to kill me, and proved rather confusing to hideously apprehensive me. But I survived the journey in time to check in to the tiny green-coloured Ibis (the middle grade of Ibis, I understand) near Customs House DLR station, and to make it to the convention centre in time to register for panels.

I arrived sometime before 1130. The queue was immense. Props to the volunteers (especially to Oscar and Katherine [sp?]) who were keeping things moving, and who, as it approached 1230, took me out of the line down to registration proper so I could get badged up for my 1330 panel.

I did not get my Hugo nominee stuff at this point in time! But I went back for it the following morning.

The 1330 panel was titled “The Changing Face of the Urban Fantastic,” and had a 1330-1500 timeslot. It was my first ever Worldcon panel, and my first ever gig as moderator. I had done no prep, but with Sophia McDougall, Paul Cornell, Robin Hobb, and Freda Warrington as panellists, I didn’t have to do much work at all. At 1345 approximately, the skies opened and we had a very dramatic thunder and lightning storm as our accompaniment: dramatic soundtrack!

I do not actually at this remove remember what was discussed on the panel, only that I had a lovely chat with Sophia (and Liesel Schwarz and Laura Lam and maybe some other people) in the green room after the panel ended, before I went to meet Kate Elliott and Mahvesh Murad, whom I’d arranged to meet before the con for coffee/drinks/chattings at 1600. We repaired to the Aloft bar and talked endlessly for two hours – they are lovely smart people, both an utter delight to have conversation with – before I had to leave to meet some people from for dinner.

Irene Gallo and Carl Engle-Laird are just as lovely in person as they are on the internet. So is Justin Landon, who is bizarrely tall and broad of shoulder – people are so much more three-dimensional in person than they are on the internet, it’s quite weird. Then I ran into Fran Wilde and some of her people after dinner, and later on found myself beside the Cool People Table in the fan area, where I met Max Gladstone, Django Wexler, Ann Leckie, Roz Kaveney, Charlie Stross, and Tom Pollock, among others. They are all startlingly lovely people – and Tom, at least, stands out in a crowd.

At some point, I made it back to the Ibis, and there I met my roommate-for-the-con, the utterly amazing Aishwarya Subramanian, for the very first time – and we talked a lot before finally deciding we’d better sleep.

In the morning, we were to discover an unusual feature of our hotel…


It is full of people, and they are all interesting. So people. Very con. Much tiring. Wow.

(Thunder and lightning storm like the hammer of god between 1345 and 1430 today. Panel had DRAMATIC SOUNDTRACK.)

Me at Nine Worlds Geekfest

When a certain person learned I was going to attend the Sunday with a press pass, he said: “I HAVE A PANEL FOR YOU.” (Or words to that effect.)

Spock vs the Sorcerers: F or SF? The Genre Deathmatch Smackdown!
11.45am – 1.00pm
County C&D

The vicious genrepocalypse that we’ve all been waiting for. There can be only one.

Debate: Anne Perry (Moderator), Daniel Polansky (Fantasy), Liz Bourke (Fantasy), Zen Cho (SF) , Geoffrey Ryman (SF)

I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing (and dammit, I wanted to report on “Writing Historical Fiction and Fanfic: is RPF okay when the person is dead?”) but somehow I let myself be persuaded.

My Loncon 3 schedule is here. (Note to self: remember, Hugo rehearsal Saturday 1800, pre-Hugo and Hugo ceremony, Sunday 1800 on.)

I’m going to Loncon3, the 2014 Worldcon

And the people responsible have been so foolish as to put me on panels.

Three of them.

Chivalrous critics of fannish dimensions

Saturday 20:00 – 21:00

What makes a good epic fantasy? Does quality of prose matter, or is insisting on literary rigor killjoy and elitist? Is it possible to ‘overthink’ your experience of reading epic fantasy – or is it patronising to the sub-genre to suggest it should be given an easier ride than other types of writing? What are some of the primary critiques of epic fantasy and how can they be used to improve the genre moving forward?

Seeing the Future, Knowing the Past

Sunday 12:00 – 13:30

Fantasy’s use of prophecy – knowable futures – often parallels the way it treats the past, as something both knowable and stable: details of history known from a thousand years back, kingly bloodlines in direct descent for several hundreds of years, etc. In reality, George I of England was 58th in line for the throne and there is a Jacobean claimant still out there somewhere. No one really knows where France originated. History is messy and mutable. Why is fantasy so keen on the known?

Critical Diversity: Beyond Russ and Delany

Monday 11:00 – 12:00

The popular history of SF criticism might just be, if possible, even more straight, white and male than the popular history of SF — but things are changing. Online and in journals, diverse voices are starting to reach a critical (if you’ll excuse the pun) mass. Which publishers and venues are most welcoming to critics from marginalised groups? What are the strengths and weaknesses of academic and popular discourse, in this area? And most importantly, whose reviews and essays are essential reading?

I’m not sure if the panel participants have been finalised yet.

How much do the insects of Athens love me?

This much.

This is how much the insects of Athens love me.

This is how much the insects of Athens love me.

There are two more insect bites under my watchstrap and another three on the underside of my arm. And three on my hand. My right arm has fared slightly better: there are only five insect bites in total.

They’re the large kind that start to leak a clear lymph if you somehow refrain from scratching them raw.

This one is the size of a twenty-cent piece.

This one is the size of a twenty-cent piece.

I am really, really glad that Athens is not malarial. That’s all I’m saying.


David Constantine, In The Footsteps of the Gods: Travelers to Greece and the Quest for the Hellenic Ideal. I.B. Tauris, London, 2011. First published 1984.

This is a book about the image of Greece in the writing of French, English and German travelers to the Ottoman lands during the 1700s. Constantine’s background as a scholar of German literature is clear in his particular focuses. He deals with Winckelmann and Riedesel, Guys and Wood, Spon and Wheler, Chiseul and Tournefort, Robert Chandler, the reflection of Hellenism in the German literature of the late 18th century – but this is not the book I hoped to read. Its focus is literary, rather than technical and historical, and it does not ever give a Greek or even Ottoman perspective on all these interfering northern Europeans. Still an interesting book, but unsatisfying to the archaeologist.