Bye, Dad

Yesterday we cremated my father. My older daughter (Verity) and I travelled down to Cardiff by train, and rented a car at the station – it cost a little more than driving, but saved time and stress.

The service was pretty moving (the vicar looked to be about 12 years old – maybe working toward his Scout vicarring badge) and there were a lot of people there, including some family I’d not seen in 30 years, and some I’d never met.

I said a few words. These are those words:

___

Let’s face it – he was a stubborn old bugger.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

We know he loved his kids, and he adored his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

But that’s not what I want to talk about, either.

He wasn’t much of a traveller. The journey from the living room window to the kitchen was a major expedition, and the last time he left South Wales was when he visited me in York, to see Verity just after she was born, and that was ten years ago.

But that’s not what I’m here to say.

When he was well enough to be out and about he had lots of friends – Doreen Jones, who he loved, Idris Morgan, his best friend in the world, and even my mum, who never stopped being concerned for him, even after they divorced.

But that’s not what I want to tell you.

So, maybe I should talk about what I want to talk about, rather than what I don’t.

Perhaps surprisingly, for a funeral, I’m not here to share specific memories of things he said, or things we did together. I want to tell you something that occurred to me, too late. Something that I only truly realized after I received the phone call to say he wasn’t here, any more.

We lived apart for a long time. Not just distance, but in our experience of the world.  The distance added to that, it’s true, but in recent years we found it harder and harder to really talk. He was housebound, and so his news was limited to what he saw on TV and what he could see through the living room curtains. I live hundreds of miles away, and so most of my news was about people he’d never met.

Sometimes the silence before finding the next thing to say was painful. But then one of my daughters would start telling him something about what they were learning about at school, or what they were looking forward to doing later in the day, and his eyes would light up.

I never rang him enough. But he was always, always happy when I did.

I never rang him enough. But you could hear the absolute delight in his voice when he spoke to the kids on the phone.

I never rang him enough. I was busy – there was always going to be next week

And then I got the call.

And then I realized that there wasn’t going to be a next week, that he would never again be happy to hear my voice, that the kids could never again delight him.

I want to tell my family – my brother Michael, my sister Sandra, my mother, my Aunty Pauline, my nieces and nephews and younger family members with titles too complicated to work out. I love you all. I don’t see you enough. I don’t speak with you enough. But know that I love you.

And when you leave here today, when you get home, think about someone who you haven’t spoken to enough recently, and give them a call. Let them know you love them. Don’t think: I’ll do it next week. Because I thought that, and I was wrong.

I’m going to try to pick up the phone a little more often, from now on. You should do the same. Don’t end up thinking, “I never rang him enough.”

So, thanks, Dad. I love you, and thanks for the lesson.

I’m sorry I learned it so late.

It’s Only a Play

Last night I was lucky enough to see another Broadway production. This time it was a revival of Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play - a show that ironically uses celebrity and star-power to draw in audiences, while condemning the cult of celebrity, onstage. A self-referential show that uses the power of meta more even more than a bottle episode of Supernatural.

ioapI didn’t know much about the play, going in. I like to go in blind, sometimes, and not have any preconceptions, or prejudices. I did know who was in the cast, though – Nathan Lane, F Murray Abraham, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint, Matthew Broderick and a newcomer (Micah Stock). As the play is only running until January, I was happy to be able to get tickets.

It’s the story of the opening night of a new play by Peter Austin (Broderick). His best friend (Lane) has come to see the show and support him on opening night, but also to confirm to himself that he was right to turn down the lead role.

I have to admit that I did go in with one prejudice – I liked Megan Mullally in Will and Grace, but have not been able to watch anything else she has been in without grimacing. Her performance in It’s Only a Play, though, was surprisingly low-key, considering the nature of this (and her previous) role/s. I can’t say I liked her in this, but I didn’t dislike her, as I was expecting to.

Micah Stock, playing a coat-check boy/wannabe star was wonderful, and should get all the roles when this closes, early next year.

F Murray Abraham wasn’t in the show I saw – his understudy was ok in a role that was woefully underwritten.

Stockard Channing looked as if she felt out of place. Her plastic surgery didn’t help, and limited the range of emotions she was able to portray.

Matthew Broderick was the biggest disappointment of the evening – a self-consciously wooden performance. A shame, as he was one of the two main leads.

Rupert Grint surprised me. Despite being cast in a role that must surely have been written for a man at least 10-15 years older than him, his performance was confident and assured (despite an unfortunate, ill-considered scene with a glove puppet).

And Nathan Lane? Oh, Nathan Lane… Nathan Lane can surely do no wrong. The absolute highlight of the show. Thank goodness he was cast in the lead.

The play itself was a little light, and the humour a little broad – it felt like mid-career Alan Ayckbourn.

And what is it with American audiences and standing ovations? I’ve not yet seen a production that didn’t end with a standing ovation! These should surely be kept back for superlative productions and performances? Stand at every show, and you have nowhere to go from there! What do you then do when a show is truly brilliant? (Probably best not to answer that!)

So, a relatively harmless way to spend two hours, but for over $300 for 2 tickets, I’d expect more than “relatively harmless”.

Choosing a school

I never thought I would get to be this old. No, scratch that – I never thought I would get to be this grown up. You see, for the last week or so, my wife and I have been accompanying our 10 year-old daughter on trips to various local secondary schools, to see which one we’d like for her when she moves up, next year.

Our first visit was to what we believed at the time was going to be our fall-back school. She would be guaranteed a place, but we weren’t sure about it due to its reputation (a reputation that it has worked hard to overcome these last few years – somewhat successfully). We were very pleasantly surprised – the teachers were warm, the school felt welcoming, and the kids’ grades were good (and improving). Our second visit was to a school that I thought would put me off completely, but which I found myself loving. But the third… oh, that was something else.

Last night we visited the third school (we have one more after this). I thought this would be our first choice. It’s a local Catholic school (but with no requirement for all the pupils to be in the faith), and academically it has a decent record. The tour we were given, however, was shambolic. The 11/12 yr-old pupil tasked with giving us the tour was pleasant, knowledgable and enthusiastic, but there were too many families, too little traffic control and too much repetition (after seeing the room they use for French lesson, for example, there was little need to spend the same amount of time in the room they use for German lessons – it was, to all intents and purposes, the same room, with different words on the wall). We were surprised by how cold the school felt, too – socially, not physically. The building was lovely, but there were too few signs of childhood creativity. It didn’t feel like a warm and nurturing environment, despite what the headteacher said during the speeches.

And oh, the speeches! This was the only time in all three school visits that I felt like leaving after a few minutes. The headteacher tried his best to enthuse, but it didn’t come across – and this is the part that was supposed to impress the families in the room, this was the part that was supposed to sell the school to us. The worst part, though, was yet to come. Four of the pupils stood to give their speeches, to give their impressions of the school – two of the youngest (and tiniest) as well as the head girl and head boy. They were all very presentable, and they all read their speeches with enthusiasm, and their speeches were full of praise for the school. So what went wrong? It was the speeches, themselves. Now, it is entirely possible that all four pupils (2 x 11 yr-olds, 2 x 17 yr-olds) just happen to write speeches in the style of the same middle-aged marketing copy writer, but I think it unlikely. If we had been treated to speeches they themselves had written, I would not be feeling quite so ill-disposed toward this school (which has a solid reputation). The fact that these children were acting, that they were presenting words given to them as if they were their own, rankled. I felt the school was trying to deceive me. And I don’t want my children to attend a school that sets out to mislead the parents into sending them there. It left a really bad taste in my mouth.

After the speeches it was time for part 2 of the tour. We declined the invitation and went home, instead.

Still, at least it makes our decision a bit easier – that’s one school we no longer have to consider…

WorldCon and the Hugos – A Convention Report

LONCON3_logo_270wIt’s 10.45am on Monday the 18th of August as I write this – the last day of LonCon3 – the 72 World Science Fiction Convention. Every year I seem to find something that makes that particular WorldCon my favourite, so far –

  • Montreal 2009 was my first WorldCon
  • I didn’t do 2010
  • Reno in 2011 was my first ever trip to the good ol’ US of A
  • During Chicago 2012 I discovered my favourite city in the world.
  • San Antonio 2013 was the best one socially and
  • London 2014 I attended as the senior editor of a new imprint for Tor.com, and also as a frickin’ Hugo nominee! (More on that, later).

Spokane 2015 has a lot to live up to!

I’m currently the Chair of this year’s FantasyCon, so I know the amount of work that goes into running a relatively small (400+) convention. This year, WorldCon had over 10,000 members, and I understand that around 7,500 of them attended the convention. With those numbers, it was pretty inevitable that there would be some hiccups.

I got to my hotel on Wednesday – the day before the event started – and decided to register for the convention early. I had a 2.30 meeting elsewhere, but there was just enough time to register, as registration was due to open at noon. I got there at 11.50, and was delighted to discover that I was one of the first 10 people in line! Woohoo! Unfortunately, Registration was not yet ready to open, and we were informed it would be open 30-45 minutes late. This  would have made me late for my appointment, so I left, and returned at 6.30. The queue was a bit longer, but not too bad, and it didn’t take me long to register.

Unfortunately, there was an additional registration area for programme participants (those of us on panels) and this registration kept different opening hours. This meant I had to come back the following morning to continue my registration. I got back to Registration the following morning (around 10.00am) to find that the lines to register were about a mile long. Luckily, I only needed Programme Participation reg, but the people managing the main registration queue didn’t know where that was. So I queued for the Information Desk. They knew, and directed me. I went and picked up my pack (my third visit to Registration, so far) and walked away, a relatively happy bunny.

My pack contained information on which panels I was on (I knew these), instructions on how to moderate a panel (I know this, but it’s certainly useful for newbies) and a folded piece of card with my name on it (not needed, as every panel I was on had this on the table, already). What it didn’t have (and what I had been told it would) was my Hugo pin and ribbon. As a virgin Hugo nominee, these are very important to me. So I headed back to the Registration (for the fourth time) to query this. They handed me a second pack, which had been misfiled, and I checked it. There was a certificate, my pin (yay) and a couple of Hugo Party invitations (one for the pre-ceremony party, one for the post-). The ribbon was missing, and I was told they hadn’t been delivered, yet. I managed to pick mine up a couple of days later on my fifth visit, so all was finally resolved.

My hotel was the Ibis Styles (nicknamed the Abyss by Adrian Tchaikovsky) – the worst hotel I have ever stayed in (and I’ve stayed in Britannias!). Nice to see mock wooden flooring in carpet form, though – I’ve never experienced that. It was special.

Thursday night saw our first panel. I hosted a game of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, with Paul Cornell and Emma Newman playing against Catherynne M Valente and Seanan McGuire. It probably took me 16-20 hours worth of prep to get everything ready for this, and I was fully expecting an audience of 20-30 as it was on at 10.00 at night on a Thursday – the first night of the convention. Not only was it full (500? 600? 700 people?) the door staff were having to turn people away. And it worked! The audience laughed where they were supposed to, they anticipated the regular gags and cheered, and there were a few rows of Americans who had never heard the show, looking suitably mystified at Mornington Crescent. I predicted – correctly – that it would be the highlight of the convention for me. The panelists were all brilliant, and a special shout-out goes to Seanan, who had been pretty ill the previous couple of days, and who still made the panel (and was hilarious). Knowing she was poorly, she even lined up a replacement and rehearsed with him. He wasn’t needed, but thanks for being there, Heath!

A Literary Beer the following day went well, and I moderated a panel on what it’s like to be an editor – the audience were quieter than usual at this one, which worried me, but I had a few people come up to me afterwards to say how much they enjoyed it, so that  was nice.

And all through the week/weekend, I had meeting after meeting after meeting, talking about the new novella imprint I’m setting up for Tor.com. There’s a lot of excitement around for this.

And then, on Sunday, we had the Hugos!

I always enjoy the Hugo ceremony. I go whenever I’m at a WorldCon. I love the pomp and pageantry, the celebration of our genre. And I called a lot of the winners, correctly, including the winner of the category in which I was nominated – Best Editor (Long Form). From the instant the nominees were announced, I’d named Ginjer Buchanan as the winner – the woman is a genuine legend in the industry, and anyone would have been foolish to bet against her. Because of my unwavering conviction that Ginjer would win, it really took the pressure off, and I found that I wasn’t nervous. I wondered if I would become a little nervous as they announced my category during the ceremony, but I wasn’t – not even a little. My wife (who had travelled down from York for the night to support me) found her heart beating that much faster as the nominees’ names were called out, but I surprised myself by being calm, even then. And who could possibly argue with the result? As we were walking back to the hotel I asked my wife if it was odd that I wasn’t even disappointed not to win.  As it turned out, I came 5 out of the 5 nominees, but I’m the only British editor to ever be shortlisted in any Hugo editing category – that’s a big enough win for me! (And I’ll probably post my speech here, soon).

Alt-Universe Wesley Chu, collecting his Campbell Award.

Alt-Universe Wesley Chu, collecting his Campbell Award.

I was a little disappointed that neither of my Campbell-nominated authors (Wesley Chu and Ramez Naam) won their category, but the Campbell this year was the hardest category to call, and again – no-one could argue against the winner; any of the nominees would have been appropriate. I was delighted by Kameron Hurley winning 2 Hugos for her fan writing (Best Novel Nominee (at least) prediction for next year for The Mirror Empire) and I jumped to my feet when Ann Leckie was announced as the winner of Best Novel for Ancillary Justice. It was a fabulous year for diversity, and for the middle finger of justice to be presented to the small number of small-minded bigots who try to derail the ongoing progression that the genre is largely achieving.

It’s odd to think that – even though I no longer edit novels – because of the books I’ve worked on recently, I’ll still be eligible for the Long Form Editor award for the next 2 years, but I really hope that we’ll start to see some more Brits appear on this list in future – folk like Julie Crisp, Gillian Redfearn, Marc Gascoigne and Jo Fletcher (among many, many others).

GinaLeeThe pre-ceremony party and the losers’ party were nice – folk had dressed up for them, and the writers of Game of Thrones and one of the Orphan Black writers had flown over. Doctors 5 and 10 (Davidson and Tennant) were there, too, which was nice, and I got to shake Tennant’s hand and tell him I enjoyed his work. Luckily, someone had informed the bar/restaurant staff at both parties, how dangerous we genre folk can be, and so they put away anything that would conceivably be used as a weapon – glasses, crockery, metal cutlery – and replaced it with flimsy plastic versions (including plastic wine bottles!). I don’t see that as being tacky and insulting to us, at all, no – it was no doubt a tragedy well-averted. And if it was all-but impossible to cut the cheese with a plastic knife the thickness of a paperback cover, well that’s just the price you have to pay to stay safe.

Looking forward to the next one (in Spokane, USA, next year), and to all the great cons in between, but most of all looking forward to getting home and seeing the kids after being away from them for 9 days.

Where to find me at LonCon

As always: in the bar.

If I’m not there, these are the panels I’ll be appearing on:

Thursday 10pm
I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue
I’ll be hosting this panel game, with panelists: Catherynne M Valente, Seanan McGuire, Emma Newman and Paul Cornell

Friday Noon
Literary Beer

Sunday Noon
The Editorial View (moderator)
With Jenni Hill, Betsi Mitchell, Joe Monti and Anne C. Perry

Sunday 8pm – late
Hugo Awards Ceremony

Monday 1.30pm (yes, seriously!)
What Does an Editor Do?
With Ginjer Buchanan, Abigail Nathan, Steve Saffel and Jane Johnson

Where to Find me at LonCon

In the bar.

If I’m not there, chances are I’m on a panel. This is what I’m up to:

Thursday (14th August)
10pm – 11pm : I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue - Capital Suite 7+12 (ExCeL)
The antidote to panel-games.
Two teams of fans/authors enjoy a battle of wits, and are given silly things to do by their chairman, Lee Harris.
Games include: One Song to the Tune of Another, Sound Charades and Mornington Crescent. The panelists are: Paul Cornell, Seanan McGuire, Emma Newman, Catherynne M. Valente

Other than the Hugo Awards Ceremony (which I always enjoy), this is the one thing I’m looking forward to more than any other. Please come along and support!

Friday
12 Noon – 1pm : Literary Beer - The Bar (ExCeL)
Sit for an hour with me and a few others to shoot the breeze. Grill me, if you wish, but medium-rare.

Sunday
12 Noon – 1pm : The Editorial View – Capital Suite 4 (ExCeL)
There’s a good reason our field gives two Hugo Awards to editors each year. From Jonn W. Campbell’s Astounding to Lin Carter’s Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, from Terry Carr’s Ace Specials to Malcolm Edwards’ work at Gollancz, editors have long been central to the history of the field, shaping how science fiction and fantasy have been written and read. In this panel, today’s keepers of the flame will discuss where and from whom they draw their inspiration, the challenges and opportunities facing a modern editor, and what they seek to achieve with their own editorial work.

Lee Harris (M), Jenni Hill, Betsy Mitchell, Joe Monti, Anne C. Perry, Gordon van Gelder

3.30pm onwards : Hugo-related stuff 

Monday
1.30pm – 2.30pm : What Does an Editor Do? - Capital Suite 2 (ExCeL)
Publishing is like Rubik’s Cube, only with more words and less logic. What exactly goes on in one of these publishing houses? Do editors do more than edit? How do sales and marketing interact with editorial? This panel will take a look into the hallways of publishing, pulling back the curtain to reveal the mysterious Oz that controls all the books. Is it a grand mysterious wizard behind there or just a bunch of word gerbils spinning their hamster wheels like the rest of us?
Ginjer Buchanan (M) , Lee Harris , Jane Johnson, Abigail Nathan, Steve Saffel

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