On awards and clever titles

February 7, 2018 1 comment

So this Monday1 Starburst, that magazine I write for, announced the nominees for the Brave New Words Award, which can be found here.

It’s a bit exciting. It’s also a bit different, in terms of its aims. It’s not a simple best2 book award. For a start, it’s not for a work. It’s for an individual, based on their work3. It’s also based around the name; Brave, New and Words.

Before I break that down though, let me explain how the award came about:

Back in 2016, Starburst had a film festival. It was rather special. Like many of the adventures that magazine has taken me on, it wasn’t the smoothest of affairs. However, it was also pretty amazing. People came from all over the world to show quirky and different genre movies. Stuff that was new and interesting. I met a whole load of actors, directors, FX types and of course script writers. It was a ‘2am in the morning, talking nonsense with interesting strangers’ sort of affair.

And amidst the more mainstream panels and movie showings, were some brilliantly curated gems.  Features like Blood of Tribades, a valiantly silly homage to 70’s Italian horror movies. Or Good Tidings, a flick about a rampage of killer Santas.  The latter won  ‘Best  Feature’ at the festival’s award ceremony.

But what really caught my eye was the Independents Day4 Award, given to  Christian Nicolson for This Giant Papier Mache Boulder is Actually Really Heavy. Nicolson’s movie is a gem. It’s from New Zealand and it’s a different sort of low budget sci-fi comedy. It does things that mainstream movies would never dare try and it’s clearly cobbled together with love and grit. Of course it won.


Papier Mache Boulder has done quite well at festivals

I walked away from the festival reminded that since it’s rebirth in Manchester, Starburst’s mission has been about encouraging and highlighting new talent.  After all, it’s first ever issue was founded on an indie movie, and it’s been promoting brave and clever stuff ever since. I knew then that we needed an award for people who wrote rather than people who acted or directed. Naming the award after the magazine’s book column, Brave New Words5, seemed obvious, and that helped define what the award would be about.

The ‘Words’ bit is obvious. We wanted written works. To widen it out though, the idea was to make it cross-discipline. We got a good variety of entries this year, which is encouraging as the award is in its first year and ‘what it’s for’ isn’t really set in people’s minds as yet.

‘New’ was easy as well; works from the previous year 6. But also new as in different, new as in fresh. New as in eye-catching.  New of course, doesn’t automatically mean debut. We have some quite illustrious types on our shortlist, because they’re all doing stuff that’s fresh and exciting with their writing.

‘Brave’ is perhaps the most nebulous. In a way, we mean striking. Different. Clever. Something that stretches the scope of the genre. Boundary pushing. Or simply something that needed writing that no one else seems to have written.

I think this award will fit in well with its fellow Starburst awards.  This year’s Starburst Festival should be fun.

In the meantime, I have six works to critically analyse, and an amazing panel of judges to debate with. See some of you at Starburst’s Media City Festival, for the results of the inaugural winner.


The shortlist for the Brave New Words Award, courtesy of the BNW Instagram.

1: As I write this.  Chances are you’re reading this in the future. Always check the dates. This applies as much to blog posts as it does to bacon.

2: There’s nothing wrong with ‘best’, of course. Except simply saying ‘best’ tends to obscure criteria. Besides, the name of the award rather tells you what it’s for.

3: Simply put, making the prize about the writer not the work makes it harder for the prize to become predictable over the years.

4: Independents Day is the name of a regular feature in the magazine.

5: Brave New Words is also the name of a podcast. Which is eligible for the Best Fancast, if you’re the sort of person who nominates Hugos. Just saying.

6: The Sudden Appearance of Hope got in thanks to the paperback version coming out in 2017. We’ll probably tighten that next year.  

Bonus Note: By the way, if want more cool book related pictures, check out the Instagram feed for the Brave New Words podcast.

Categories: Brave New Words

On Interviewing Authors

January 30, 2018 Leave a comment

I host a podcast and radio show for Starburst Magazine called Brave New Words1. It’s about books and the format can be summed up as “Ed tries to review a book. The other team members try to stop him”.2 Towards the end of the show there’s a section that’s come to be known as ‘an interview with a Lovely Author’ .

It’s an opportunity for an author to promote their work. It’s recorded separately 3, usually over skype. We’ve had a huge range of writers on the show, from Neil Gaiman, George RR Martin and Robin Hobb to a host of debut authors for whom I’m their first ever promotional interview. For all the ‘light and frothy’ nature of the show, we’re the book-business-part of a hugely popular national magazine with thousands of followers, listeners and readers4. The magazine has been around for decades, and has the cultural reach that brings.

I’ve recorded over a hundred of these conversations now, and I’ve always been delighted to help new writers get involved. With all that being said it seems time to throw out a few tips and some advice. Hopefully this will make things less nerve racking for all involved. Of course, writers tend to over think everything, so I’m not sure how much this will all help. Still, here goes:

Relax – The hard bit was writing the book. This is a chat about the book. With a stranger who’s really into books and who has already taken the time to find out more about your book. Chill. This is just a bit of promotion; it won’t make or break the book. It’s useful and important, but it’s really just a friendly chat. Take a moment to enjoy the achievement. Interviews can be fun!

Be On Time – It can be a haphazard affair, the life of a debut author. For most, it’s a hobby that’s gotten out of hand and/or the first step in pursuit of a life-long dream. Regardless, you probably have a day job and your work/life balance is likely enjoying a bit of a knock as you gear up to launch your book. Remember that most book bloggers/podcasters etc also have day jobs. So when a time is agreed on, stick to it. If it’s in the evening, make sure you’ve figured out enough time to eat/relax before the interview. Don’t try and do an interview on the bus, or while shopping, jet-lagged or anything else that will lead to you being not on the top of your game.5 As the person interviewing you, I want you to be relaxed and chill. 6

On air sign and microphone

Old photo from the old studio. Our current set up has more books

Set your expectations – A bit of media exposure is not going to catapult you into a world of glitz and glamour. Just have fun with it.

Be You – One of the most frequent occurrences from an author or their agent is a request to see a list of questions in advance. I understand the logic behind this, but it isn’t happening. Instead, I tend to reassure the author as to what the general vibe is going to be. For Brave New Words, we ask the author to talk about their work, talk a bit about why they write and then ask some ‘deep’ questions that aren’t really that deep, followed by some stupid ‘finishing off’ questions about The Simpsons or Doctor Who. The reason there isn’t a script is because we don’t want you sounding like a robot. This is a chance to meet, virtually, a bunch of amazing people who listen to the show. So we want you to be natural. It’s fine if you don’t know how to do that yet.

Plan –Here’s a useful tip; work out how to explain your book to an elderly relative. If your Nanna is going to wander off halfway through your pitch, re-think it. You’ve spent months or even years working on the book, so don’t worry about being over familiar or over rehearsed. Just figure out a way to ‘elevator pitch’ the thing. No work is so complicated that you can’t squeeze it into a pitch 7

Do-Overs are fine – Check first, but yeah, do-overs are fine. Stopping and restarting is fine. Taking a minute is fine. If you’re not up for it on the day, don’t worry about cancelling. We are here to help, so we want you to be full of vim and happy to go ahead.

Check your kit –Make sure your mic works, that Skype doesn’t need updating and that you can actually talk. If not, re-schedule.

If you are uncomfortable, stop – I’ve never had this happen to me, but if you’re not happy with a question or anything else, stop. Sanity and safety first.

Expect the unexpected – You’ll get a question that will cause your brain to freeze, or the microphone will fall off your desk. The dog will run off with your phone or a small child will suddenly decide to join in. These things go wrong, it’s not the end of the world. It will be fine. Laughter is good.

Ed and Si recording a show

Also making podcasts is really fun

1: Because it’s the season for these things: We are eligible as Best Fancast for the Hugo Award nominations. If you like the show and you do the WSFS/Worldcon stuff, gives us a nom. Fun fact : Despite being around for 40 years, nothing directly Starburst Magazine related has ever come close to winning a rocket.

2: This is doubly true for the live shows, where we get guest authors to join in as cast, rather than people to interview. The rather talented RJ Barker is especially good at stopping me in my tracks. Check out the Sledge Lit 2017 show here.

3: This is mostly due to logistics. The podcast is a labour of love and doing it all in one gulp is simply not practical. The podcast is not my proper job (*cough* hence the Hugo eligibility) but it is something I really like doing.

4: Oh, and that’s not including the radio station, Fab, which the show also airs on.

5: Avoiding excessive background noise is a good idea as well.

6: In the early days of the podcast, syncing up interviews with bigger names was tricky. I seem to recall interviewing Sarah Pinborough over the phone whilst huddling in the smokers’ shelter between shift changes. I was very lucky with the sound quality, and Sarah seemed to think it was all hilarious, which was nice.

7: That whirring sound is George Orwell spinning in his grave. Misery guts reckoned you couldn’t do a book review in under 400 words. Which is weird because I’ve heard many people review Fifty Shades of Grey in just one. Regardless, short pitches are a possible thing. Even if it’s the next Gravity’s Rainbow or The Dubliners.

Bonus foot note: The show used to be called The Bookworm. I always hated the name, and now it’s got a  cooler name with a better format.

Categories: Brave New Words

Goodbye to The Nice Guy ™

January 21, 2018 Leave a comment

Friends and random internet denizens; it’s time we got rid of the term ‘The Nice Guy’. For those of you lucky enough to have missed it, it’s a dating stereotype that has evolved, grown then devolved over the years.

So much so that not only is it now a pretty useless time, it’s also toxic.
Let me break it down.

Back in the 80’s1 and 90s, ‘The Nice Guy’ was a chap who could never get past the first or second date. They’d ask a person out on a date and then never get beyond a nice evening, being let down gently2 with the words “You’re nice, but”3. Such gents would seek advice after the nth rejection. Idiots would tell them things like ‘treat ‘em mean keep ‘em keen’, others would point out that maybe have a bath would help. Mileage varied. But the Nice Guy in this case was something of a doormat. Unremarkable and in media, the target of gentle mockery.

At some point, The Nice Guy turned into someone who didn’t even ask people out on dates. Instead, they mooned round after the target of their affections instead. Romantically incompetent and prone to whining that the people they fancy never fancy them back. Filled with fear and bad advice, this version is a common target of hilarious romantic comedies.4

That prick Ross from Friends.

Ross from Friends. Not your Role Model.

It was then a short hop and a jump to something a lot more creepy. It became Nice Guy™, someone who feigned affection in order to achieve goals, had an almost narcissistic expectation for people to like them and thought of other people as objects. This lead to a whole ‘people aren’t vending machines’ meme, in which everyone was helpfully informed that being nice to someone doesn’t mean they owe you anything.5

So what we have here is a mess. A shift in perspective from the shy and clueless to a mean and entitled predator. None of which addresses the issue. What we need, instead of Hollywood stereotypes and memes is a frank and brutal conversation about romantic intentions and expectations.

You see, I understand Romantic Incompetence. Dating is, for many of us, terrifying. It’s not just rejection; for every charming tale of love and adventure they are many real world anecdotes of embarrassment, harassment and bodily harm. Ending a date and simply being told ‘You’re nice but no’ is, in fact, a reasonable if not terribly satisfying ending.

But of course, when you’re young and filled with nerves and conflicting emotions, that is impossible to see.

It’s all made worse by the fact that others take to it easily. We are surrounded by love stories that make no sense when examined closely. Attraction, love and lust are highly individual things and humans like ‘one size fits all’ solutions. The lovely tale of how your grand-parents met might be someone else’s worst date ever, or the premise of horror novel.

We need to drop the notion of the ‘Nice Guy’. All versions of him. For a start, nice isn’t really a thing to aspire to. Nice is the lowest level of remarkable, it sits in the same set of words as okay and reasonable. People expect nice, so aiming for ‘above nice’ should be the target. Nice is a bit too close to boring, and that’s not something most of us want. Like anything worth doing, relationships can be hard work6 and we need to start being blunt about that. Men, Women and all points in-between need to have a frank and honest chat about their hearts. We need to stop laughing at the lonely, and stop pretending that it’s easy.

We need to work together to make a world where dating is less scary7, and romantic comedies are less awful.

1: I’m grew up in the 80’s. My timing is probably off, but this seems a decent yardstick.
2: No one like rejection, no matter how gentle. It’s easy to see how, after a while, frustration sets in.
3: “You’re nice but you don’t have a nice butt”
4: It becomes more common if you flip it so the Nice Guy is a Nice Gal.
Because Hollywood.
5: It makes me sad that it needed saying, but then the obvious often needs to be stated repeatedly. Look at traffic signs – people need to be reminded of basic things.
6: Though to be mushy for a moment, so much worth it.

7: This would be that ‘smash the patriarchy’ thing people keep talking about. But that’s another blog post.

Categories: Rants

Return of the Blog

December 28, 2017 Leave a comment

So apparently it’s been three years since I even looked at this old blog.

*blows off the dust*

That’s mostly because all of my review work has been appearing on Starburst Magazine and my general ramblings have been over on that Facebook thing the young kids are raving about.1

Except I really don’t use Facebook for that anymore. So it’s time to getting the old lightning rod out, crank up the Jacob’s Ladders and bring this poor old blog back to life. 2

Expect an update about 2017 (I had a very good if long year) and more general nonsense from me over 2018.  There’s a lot to catch up on, so we won’t be short of content.

1: Statement may contain lies.
2: Which makes me Igor. Oh well.

Categories: Uncategorized

Not The Actor You Are Looking For…

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

So, we1 made a little mini-vlog comedy YouTube thing. It’s called
Not The Actor You Are Looking For…
and as you can probably tell from the title, it’s inspired by Star Wars. More accurately, the convention scene.

The UK has gone crazy for conventions recently, mostly in the gate-show2 ‘Comic-Con’ style. This tends to mean that you get lots of older actors from classic sci-fi and fantasy movies doing signings and if you’re lucky, the odd panel or two.

I’ve spent a good chunk of 2015 going to these things, and also going to more traditional3 style fantasy/sci-fi conventions, which are also on the rise thanks to the popularity of all things geeky. Anyway, we were inspired to make this short movie. I hope you enjoy it.

1 – And by we, I mean myself and Anne-Louise. We have a very small (bijou, even) production company called Truly Outrageous.  This will be our first film project.
2 – Gate Show style ‘comic cons’ tend to be for profit and ‘pay on the day’ affairs. (Hence the name ‘Gate Show’, as in pay on the gate’. They have famous people as attractions and lots of stalls, cosplayers and loads of people. They’re a lot of fun, and MCM and SciFi Scarbs are great examples of the type.
3- Traditional conventions tend to more about the fans than fame. The attraction is catching up with like minded types first. You tend to buy the ticket in advance and there’s usually a schedule of talks and lectures over a few days.  More a conference than a convention, but with cosplayers, stalls and the odd famous person.  NineWorlds is my favourite traditional event.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sad Puppies and the Hugo Awards – A Summary

April 6, 2015 Leave a comment

Okay, so if you listen to Starburst’s BookWorm Podcast, or if you follow genre-related book news in general, you may have heard that 2015’s list of Hugo Nominations were a bit unusual. You may have even heard some wailing and gnashing of teeth, or some crowing and bragging, depending on what parts of the web you spend time on.

You may also have no idea what this is all about. I’ll try and break it down into steps, to give you an idea of what’s going on.

The Hugo Awards are an international award, presented at an event called Worldcon, an fan-run Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. They’re grand affairs, but are more about fans talking to fans than anything else, and revolve around the literary side of things mostly.  Worldcon’s have been happening for over 70 years, and the Hugo Ceremony is the cool thing that happens at the end of convention. The Hugo Awards are voted for by their members.

Worldcon Membership is split (broadly) into two types: Attending and supporting. Attending membership lets you attend the event. It also lets you nominate and vote in the Hugo Awards. Supporting membership does all that, except you can’t attend the event. Because Worldcon changes venue every year, supporting memberships allow fans to remain part of the event without spending huge sums of money to go to around the world.

The 2014 Hugo Awards were notable for their progressive and interesting content. Prizes went to a wide spread of creators from diverse backgrounds. It’s also worth noting that the bulk of the winners were already quite successful and quite popular, both in critical and commercial terms.

John Scalzi  is an outspoken science fiction author who is also very well regarded and very successful. He (and I quote here) believes that “women are entitled to the same rights and privileges as men, with everything that implies in terms of access to education, economic opportunity and personal liberty.”  He is also credited by some for helping raise awareness about less known but interesting authors, and some say the 2014 awards list is his doing. Many disagree.

Vox Day aka Theodore Beale is an outspoken science fiction author, who describes himself as a “Christian libertarian opinion columnist” and creationist. He was expelled from the organisation the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA).  If you want to go down that rabbit hole, the reasons why can be found here.

GamerGate is the name of a campaign about sexism in video games. It’s more complex than that, but for our purposes; they are a large number of sexist, misogynistic, anti-liberal, right-wing types in the GamerGate movement. It’s a loose organisation, so for every GamerGater who knows and is acting on the Hugos, they are many who have never heard of it and aren’t acting on it. (I have little idea as to how you’d get exact figures.)

The Sad Puppies is the name of a Hugo Awards campaign organised by Brad R. Torgersen, Larry Correia. They felt that they weren’t being represented by the Hugo Awards. They arranged a Hugo Slate (which can be found here). It was mostly composed of stuff they or their friends produced. It is a very narrow slice of the broader world of Science Fiction lit. The name, by the way, comes from a rant that can be found here.

The Rabid Puppies is the Vox Day’s version of the Sad Puppies slate. They’re very, very similar. The Rabid Puppies  recruited friends and members of GamerGate to vote in the Hugos.

The 2015 Hugo Shortlist  (a version of which can be found here) is very similar to the Sad Puppies Slate. The Sad Puppies and their right wings allies are currently declaring victory.

No Award is an option on the Hugo Ballot. It’s a run-off voting system. A running gag is to refer to the hot tipped 2015 Hugo Winner as Noah Ward.

Sir Terry Pratchett was a well loved science fiction and fantasy author who passed away recently. Upon the announcement of the 2015 Hugo Nominees, Sad Puppy supporters claimed that Pratchett never got nominated for a Hugo. This isn’t true; he was nominated for Going Postal in 2005. (If you want to read more on that, you can read it here.) It’s worth noting that Sir Terry was a regular at Worldcon events, and well loved by that niche.

George RR Martin is also a well known and well loved science fiction and fantasy author. He’s been to many, many Worldcons, and is well known figure in that community, and is also a regular at the Hugo Awards ceremony. He has blogged extensively about the whole affair, and you can read more here.

Trufan is the unofficial term for a fan of Worldcon and similar conventions. A JOF is a trufan who organises Worldcon and similar events, a SMOF is a trufan who organises the JOF’s and the events themselves. (Don’t assume there’s a hierarchy here, there really isn’t.) All these terms come from the in-jokey humour common in the community.


A lot of fuss about a little rocket.

I’ve probably missed a tonne of nuance here, but those are the footnotes.

Categories: Uncategorized

Loncon 3 and other things

December 22, 2014 Leave a comment

The report I did for Starburst Magazine on Loncon3 can be found at Starburst Magazine.

At that same event, I got to interview George RR Martin, and the interview was part of the BookWorm Podcast. You can find it here on iTunes as well as Mixcloud or as aDirect Download.

I was also lucky enough to talk to Robin Hobb, and we made that into a different show. Again, it’s available in load of different ways: iTunes or Mixcloud or Direct Download .

If you do go via iTunes, don’t forget to comment/like/subscribe. If you want to, that is.


Taken during Loncon. Very odd weekend, very nice to meet some top authors.

Categories: Uncategorized