Bacon journalism at its best

bacon_sandwich_1379365cIt’s time to talk about that most important of subjects – bacon sandwiches at York train station. It’s unbelievable that a scandal of this proportion has not been picked up by the national media. I blame the Tories, myself.

For the weary traveller, there is nothing quite like a bacon sandwich to help kickstart your day (with tomato ketchup as the first stretch goal). So important is the bacon sandwich to the national psyche, that even vegetarians who fancy one every now and then would find that everyone else turns a blind eye, whistling, while pretending there’s something really interesting in the corner of the room – right there, by the ceiling.

It is with much regret, therefore, that I have to inform you that a good hot bacon sandwich is nowhere to be found at York train station.

Oh, it’s not for want of retail outlets – there are several options if you fancy a nibble of a bacon sarnie. No – the problem is that none of them are any good.

Let’s take a look at the main contenders:

The West Cornish Pasty Company
These sell bacon rolls by the bucketload. Unfortunately, they make so many, so far in advance, that they have to keep them warm under a heat lamp. This means that by the time you get to the station to buy one – even before 6.00am – the rolls have crisped up under the heat, feeling dry and stale, even if they were fresh that morning. Every now and then you’ll get one where the bread is soft and fresh to the touch, but it’s a game of Russian Bacon Roulette – and are you really willing to gamble on this most important of breakfast snacks?

Burger King
I’m one of the 1.07% of people that actually like Burger King breakfasts. Unfortunately the York station Burger King is never open when I get to the station in the morning. I know they do open – I’ve seen them after my return journeys. And on the (extremely) few occasions where I’ve bought anything from them they’ve always appeared to cook the food to order, which is a good thing in a sit-down restaurant, but less-so in a (theoretically) fast-food takeaway.

The Upper Crust
Everything always seems fresh at this stand. Good news for the bacon aficionado, surely? Oh, how I wish! Upper Crust bacon sandwiches come with scrambled egg (yay!). Unfortunately, the scrambled egg is of a powdery consistency that crumbles out of the sandwich when you bite into it. Not that it’s any great loss, as the flavor appears to have been extracted from the egg with scientific precision. And what of the bacon? Ah, well here’s where the real disappointment lies. The pieces of bacon in Upper Crust sandwiches are so thin one can only assume that they must have been sliced under laboratory conditions using unfathomably expensive equipment. Just because we can cut material to two atoms’ thickness, doesn’t mean we should! And the bread? Well, the baguettes they present are perfectly acceptable, but they are never sliced all of the way through – or even most of the way. This means that half of the width of the sandwich is bread only, and the other half is overfilled with the powdery egg stuff, on which is balanced the less-than-paper-thin rashers of bacon. Disappointing. The bread is responsible for most of this sandwich’s score.

One of those pre-wrapped microwavable sandwich things, beloved of no-one, and only ever purchased out of sheer desperation. Feels like it’s been grown in a vat and been given the all-clear by a quality control specialist who only ever once read about a sandwich in an old book.

East Coast Trains’ on-train sandwiches
Until recently these were perfectly adequate snacks. Freshly toasted bread in a choice of white or brown, with optional slices of tomato. Nothing wildly exciting about them, but they were decent enough. Unfortunately, East Coast must have realised that their bacon sarnies were not universally despised, and decided to do something about it. Now, instead of a choice of bread you get a panini. Nothing wrong with a good panini, of course, but now they’re not toasted – they’re microwaved (and nothing says fuck-you to your customers quite like microwaved bread). Microwaved paninis are tough to eat – rubbery, with a soggy undercarriage (and a soggy undercarriage is beloved of no-one). So, no choice of bread, and an inappropriate method of heating. Anything else? Oh, yes – they’ve taken away your tomato option. You can’t have it, you’re not to be trusted with it. And in removing your choice of bread, your choice of tomato and the grilling facilities they’ve increased the price by 50p! Well, they’re going to have to pay for extra customer complaints staff somehow, aren’t they?
Previously 6.5/10 but now

And so concludes this exposé of York train station hot bacon sandwiches. I’m surprised Louis Theroux didn’t get here first!

A discussion about Panel Parity

A week ago I got back from the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. One of my duties while I was there (in addition to representing Angry Robot and supporting our swathe of authors who were present) was to tell folk about next year’s FantasyCon (the annual convention of the BFS – the British Fantasy Society), which I am co-chairing with Sophia McDougall.

At the end of one evening I plonked myself down in a chair next to one of my favourite  BFS stalwarts (let’s called him Simon), and we chewed the fat for a while, until I said, “We’ll see you at next year’s FantasyCon, of course…”

Simon paused, and a look was passed between him and his wife, until he said, “Actually, Lee, I’ve been meaning to have a chat with you about that. I’m a little bit worried about this ‘Panel Parity’ thing.”

Pause. Rewind.

FantasyCon 2014 is operating with a “Panel Parity” policy, worded as follows:

Panels are drawn from the membership of the convention, and its Guests. We are dedicated to ensuring that gender parity is achieved across the programming at FantasyCon 2014.

It is possible that some panels may feature more men than women, but in this case an equal number of panels can be expected to feature more women than men. We will not be forcing an equal male/female parity on every individual panel, but will be seeking to ensure that across the convention as a whole men and women are equally represented on panels, including as moderators.

This is not something that FantasyCon has ever done, before (though it is becoming increasingly commonplace at other conventions), so it was inevitable that some members might be concerned by it. It is a truism that significantly more men than women appear on panels at SF&F literary conventions, not just in the UK, but worldwide. Panel Parity is a way of ensuring fairness.

Before my conversation with Simon, I’d already come to the conclusion that Panel Parity was the right thing to do, but hadn’t actually delved too deeply into the reasoning – it was more instinctual. My friend Paul Cornell has been living this policy for the last few years. I’m a relative newbie. The conversation with Simon helped me better understand the very policy that I had instigated for the convention.

The following is a fair representation of the conversation, though it has been paraphrased throughout (because (a) it was over a week ago and like most conversations I have, I didn’t record it, (b) a lot of wine was flowing, and (c) I’ve taken out some details which might identify Simon).

Simon explained that he was worried that the aim to get a 50/50 male/female ratio across programming smacked of political correctness, and that panel members should be chosen for their suitability to speak on the subject.

I disagreed with the former, but agreed with the latter and asked Simon (deliberately provocatively) if he thought that women were less capable of speaking on genre subjects than men.

He said no, but that there would be occasions where the best people for a particular panel would just so happen to be men. I agreed with this, and countered that it was equally likely that on another panel the best people suited to that subject might just as easily be women.

If a range of panels is chosen for a convention wherein the best possible combination of panelists happens to be heavily weighted toward men, then it isn’t the picking of panelists that’s the problem, but the picking of panels. A wider range of interests and skillsets needs to be identified and utilized, or the members of that convention are getting a very one-sided view of the genre.

I pointed out that I recently conducted a bit of informal research into the debut novelists we publish at Angry Robot – and the gender of the author is never a factor in deciding whether or not to publish. Only 37% of the debut novelists we have published are female. However, if we ignore the debuts that have come through agencies, and look only at those who we have worked with direct, this figure becomes 47% (and should a recent offer letter be accepted and go to contract stage, this figure becomes 50%). So, where we are approached directly, we find that 50% of the novels we deem good enough to publish are by women, and 50% by men. I don’t yet have enough data to determine why that figure drops significantly when the authors come through an agency.

So, if 50% of the debut authors we publish are women, it suggests strongly that there is as much good work being created by women as by men. If that is the case, shouldn’t women and men have equal representation on panels? Panel parity isn’t about tokenism, I explained. It’s about fairness. It’s about acknowledging that there are just as many good women working in the industry as there are men.

I could tell that this was sinking in, but Simon had another point to make: “When I see a panel I want to know that the best people are speaking on it. Sometimes that will be men.”

I made the point that this was precisely the reason that FantasyCon 2014 is not having panel parity across individual panels, but across the convention as a whole. Also, I pointed out that a panel that consisted of (for example), me, Mark Morris, Conrad Williams and Tim Lebbon might be an interesting and entertaining panel, and I’m sure the audience would find a lot to enjoy in it, but because of who we are, and where we come from, the panelists would only be able to speak from the experience of white middle aged, middle class men. How much more interesting would that panel be if it had an alternative perspective?

The conversation with Simon lasted about an hour. At the end he thanked me, and said I had given him a lot to think about, and I could tell that he was not paying lip-service, that he was actually considering what I’d said.

I saw him again at breakfast the next day, when he thanked me again, and said that he was slowly coming around to my way of thinking.

There are few people I admire more than those who are genuinely willing to listen to other people’s opinions, and who are willing to reconsider their own opinions as a result of reasoned debate. It’s a trait that is sadly uncommon, and to be admired all the more for it. Simon, if you’re reading this, you don’t know how much I admire you following our chat two weekends ago. I always did, but now even moreso.

It is true that when asked to appear on a panel a woman is much less likely to agree if she feels she has less to say on the subject, than a man with the same level of knowledge and experience. A man is often more likely to “have a go”. How many times have you attended a panel where the first words out of a panelist’s mouth are, “I’m not sure why I’m on this panel”? Is it really likely that there isn’t someone else at the convention who couldn’t do a better job? Isn’t it just as likely that that alternative panelist is female?

There are – of course – women who disagree with Panel Parity, just as there are men. No one policy, no one opinion, no one point of view is ever going to be universally accepted – of course, not. But until a fair gender representation across the convention scene is commonplace, until we don’t have to think about fairness any more, this seems to be the best we have.

If we are to have a range of interesting panels, designed not only to entertain and inform, but to encourage the next generation of creators to take part in panels and in the convention scene as a whole, we must design our programmes so that they appeal to as broad a range of attendees as possible. It’s not good enough to keep trotting out the same old themes and panel subjects if those themes and panels are heavily male-focussed, and then claim that we’re doing the best by our members. We have a duty not only to include women in the programming, but a duty to the convention members, to ensure that there is as broad a range of programming as time and budget will allow, to make the panels interesting to everyone.

And will Simon be at FantasyCon next year? You know – I’m pretty sure he will.

My Three Wishes

three_wishesOne of my authors at Angry Robot (Emma Newman) is performing a magical service, and helping to broker 3 wishes for anyone who wants to make them.

It would be inappropriate for me to go public with my actual three wishes, so here are the three most publishable ones:

1) I’d like to be able to afford a nice destination to take the family this October, on my 20th wedding anniversary.

2) I used to be an actor, and I’d love to appear onstage in a West End musical for just one performance (Matilda would be great, but any would be more than welcome).

3) A few years ago I co-wrote the pilot of a sitcom with my friend Scott Harrison (along with more material for later episodes). I’d like for it to be read by someone within the commissioning department of a TV production company.

So – those are my three wishes. What are yours? (Don’t tell me here – follow the link below for details of where to put them).

“These three wishes are part of a wish-making community organised by author Emma Newman to celebrate the release of the second Split Worlds novel “Any Other Name”. Can you make any of them come true? Come and see what other people are wishing for and find out how to join in at – who knows, perhaps someone could make one of your wishes come true.”

A poem wot I didn’t nick

Based on this story from This Is Cornwall:

A prize-winning poem in a prestigious West Country literary competition has caused a storm – because it bears a striking resemblance to an earlier work… Apart from a handful of words, the poems are the same, word for word.

There once was a poet called Ward
Who refused to lay down on his sword.
When accused as a fake
He claimed “Just a mistake”
When he’d stolen a poem from Mort. 

Now, from whom do I claim my prize?

The Tao of Lana

Lana: I love you, Daddy. I’ll be sad when you and Mummy are dead. I wish you wouldn’t die. That’s what I wish. I wish my family wouldn’t die, and my friends, and their families. That’s what I wish. And fairies. I wish they wouldn’t die.


Lana: Why have you got a beard and moustache, Daddy?
Me: I haven’t shaved. Do you think I should shave?
Lana: Yes, because then you’ll look like a daddy.
You look like a circus man, now.


Lana: I fallen out with Eleanor, today.
Me: Oh, no – that’s a shame.
Lana: It’s ok – I falled back in, again.

What I want to do this year

I suppose you could call them resolutions, but as I don’t make New Year Resolutions (I only make promises to myself that just happen to begin around the beginning of January), I’m going to call them targets. Or goals. Or something else. Whatevs.

So, this year I aim to:

Exercise more
By “more”, I of course mean “some”. I did appallingly, last year. I had a couple of trips to Go Ape (superb fun – go do it if you’re in the UK) but that’s about it. I need to exercise. Which leads neatly into:

Lose some weight
By “some” I mean “quite a bit, and hopefully close to three stone”.

and finally:

Read more books for pleasure
I love my job, I really do, but I do find it difficult to find time to read books other than for work. I have a colleague who reads around a hundred a year – that’s not possible with a family and a job like mine, but I should be able to do better than last year’s paltry three.

So – one a month minimum. And at least 75% of the books I read this year will be books by friends, as I have plenty of those on my to-read shelves.

That’s it – move along, now. Nothing more to see, here.

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