Friday, 27 March 2009

Investigating Crime with Margaret Murphy

The Crime Writers’ Workshop, held on Saturday 15 March in Hanley Library, was a great success. About a dozen want-to-be writers turned up (including someone from London) and were entertained by, and learned from, Margaret Murphy. Margaret is the author of several crime novels, including The Dispossed and Now You See Me – copies of these two were available for purchase. We also discovered that Margaret is due to take over the Chair of the Crime Writers Association and that she was a founder member of the Murder Squad. The workshop was very relaxed and friendly. It’s a cliché, I know, but it is difficult to imagine such a charming person behind a series of crime books.

The workshop began with a look at villains, how to make them appear more natural – more human – rather than as ciphers. The first exercise was to write a paragraph or two to introduce the villain, who showed elements of empathy, a character who was perhaps monstrous but not grotesque. A few brave souls volunteered to read out their efforts.

After lunch, Margaret gave a talk about CSIs – they used to be called SOCOs in the UK, but our American cousins influence all aspects of our culture, including crime detection. Actually, a Crime Scene Investigator makes more sense than a Scene of Crime Officer since those involved now include civilian scientists and not just policemen and women. The talk, with PowerPoint presentation, covered advances in DNA and fingerprint evidence. Fascinating.

We discussed the extended metaphor, and then the final exercise of the day was to write a piece based on the elements covered earlier in the workshop. Margaret provided two opening sentences. Unfortunately, time was running out and there was no opportunity for everyone to read out their pieces.

Personally, I was surprised at how easily I found it to write in a crowded room. Of course, my piece was a tentative first draft and will require a lot of work, but it did provide an idea that I hope to use in the future.This was a jolly good session, and more importantly, it was inspiring. To find out more about Margaret Murphy visit her website.

© Peter Coleborn

2009 BBC National Short Story Award

The 2009 BBC National Short Story Award was launched on 26 March. This year's panel of judges are: singer-songwriter Will Young, broadcaster and journalist Tom Sutcliffe (chair), author Dame Margaret Drabble, Orange Prize winner Helen Dunmore and BBC Radio 4’s Editor Di Speirs. The shortlist will be announced on Friday 27 November with the five stories broadcast on BBC Radio 4 each weekday before the winner is announced. The five stories will also be published in a special collection. Entries are now open for the Award. The deadline for entries is 5pm on 15 June 2009

Go to the Beeb for details.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Here Comes The Judge

I was asked by Jo Fletcher if I wanted to be a judge for the World Fantasy Awards a few months into 2008. The request came out of the blue and left me stunned. I've never considered myself an expert although I like to think I was -- am -- widely read. It was an honour, of course, and so I agreed. I soon found myself working alongside -- in a virtual world sense -- Robert Hoge, Dennis L. McKiernan, Mark Morris, and Steve Pasechnick. And pretty quickly the books started arriving. Sometimes they came singly or in parcels of two or three. Sometimes huge boxes arrived pack full of hardcovers and trade and mass paperbacks.

The judges soon agreed on a score-keeper, to whom we were to send comments and scorings. It sounds harsh, but it came down to marking a book or story or collection out of ten (plus a comment or two); there was no other way. I also kept my own notes -- a notebook full of them -- in order to keep track of everything. My dining room became a library, with publications stacked all over the place. And then all the books and magazines needed reading.
As far as I was concerned, I wasn't simply looking for stories, novellas and novels I liked and enjoyed -- I was looking for books (and stories and novellas) that stunned me. I believed that an award winner should be outstanding. Thus the daunting task wasn't quite as bad as I was able to pass on from one title to the next. Of course, the more I enjoyed a book the more of it I read -- all of the it -- which takes time (I am not the fastest of readers). Many books were put into 'I must read this book next year' heap -- interesting and intriguing titles, but not quite there.

I was impressed by the quality of the novellas. This is a story length that suits fantasy, I feel, and those I read demonstrated this perfectly. Novels that formed part of a series were more difficult to judge. It took a lot more work to get into the story, especially if a knowledge of the previous title was a prerequisite. I felt that this put series books at a disadvantage, but ultimately each volume had to be judged on its own, not as part of a trilogy (or whatever). Some publishers seemed to have sent everything they produced in 2007, some were more selective, and some didn't bother sending anything without a reminder. I was especially pleased with the overall quality of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, so much so that I've now subscribed to it (but to be fair, I used to read it when Andromeda Bookshop sold it ... when Andromeda Bookshop still existed, actually).

In due course, we judges completed our tasks and following many, many emails bouncing between us we came to our shortlists and winners. I am more than happy with the finalists, even if my own favourite didn't get the prize. talking to judges from previous years, my experience pretty well matches theirs, so I felt I did a good job. Alas, I didn't get to convention in Calgary for the Awards presentation last Autumn; I suspect the winners all had a good time.

A couple of issues from this process. One is that the judges were criticised for being all white men. The complaints suggested that the Administrators were lazy and didn't search hard enough for a 'balanced' jury. Before I saw these comments it never occurred to me that a World Fantasy Award judge would be swayed by a writers' gender or colour or, perhaps, sexual orientation or religion. Yes, these moans did annoy me. I was told by one of the Award Administrators that securing the services of a 'balanced' jury was proving to be more and more difficult because more and more of those approached decline due to the heavy workload demanded of a judge.

The other thing is this: early on in the process, Jo Fletcher warned me that several judges in the past had found it difficult to retain the reading habit. She was right. Since I no longer have to read books, I find myself starting an awlful lot of them, but finishing few. I seem to be picking up more non-fiction -- such as a book on quantum mechanics recently (and no, I still don't understand it).

But, at the end of the day, when all is done, when the fat lady has sung, etcetera, etcetera, it was an experience well worth ... experiencing. To remind you, here are the winners:

Life Achievement: Leo & Diane Dillon and Patricia McKillip
Novel: Ysabel Guy Gavriel Kay (Viking Canada/Penguin Roc)
Novella: Illyria Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing)
Short Story: "Singing of Mount Abora" Theodora Goss (Logorrhea, Bantam Spectra)
Anthology: Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural Ellen Datlow, Editor (Tor)
Collection: Tiny Deaths Robert Shearman (Comma Press)
Artist: Edward Miller
Special Award—Professional: Peter Crowther for PS Publishing
Special Award—Non-professional: Midori Snyder and Terri Windling for Endicott Studios Website

For more information, visit the WFA website.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Hugo Nominations 2009

The internet is all a-flutter with the news of this years Hugo Nominations.. so for your viewing pleasure here are the contenders:

Best Novel
* Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Morrow; Atlantic UK)
* The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
* Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen; HarperVoyager UK)
* Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
* Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)

Best Novella
* “The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
* “The Political Prisoner” by Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF Aug 2008)
* “The Tear” by Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)
* “True Names” by Benjamin Rosenbaum & Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)
* “Truth” by Robert Reed (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)

Best Novelette
* “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Jan 2008)
* “The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2)
* “Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)
* “The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s Feb 2008)
* “Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)

Best Short Story
* “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Jul 2008)
* “Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe Oct 2008)
* “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
* “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
* “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Feb 2008)

Best Related Book
* Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan University Press)
* Spectrum 15: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art by Cathy & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood Books)
* The Vorkosigan Companion: The Universe of Lois McMaster Bujold by Lillian Stewart Carl & John Helfers, eds. (Baen)
* What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid (Beccon Publications)
* Your Hate Mail Will be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 by John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)

Best Graphic Story
* The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle Written by Jim Butcher, art by Ardian Syaf (Del Rey/Dabel Brothers Publishing)
* Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
* Fables: War and Pieces Written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Mark Buckingham, art by Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy, color by Lee Loughridge, letters by Todd Klein (DC/Vertigo Comics)
* Schlock Mercenary: The Body Politic Story and art by Howard Tayler (The Tayler Corporation)
* Serenity: Better Days Written by Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews, art by Will Conrad, color by Michelle Madsen, cover by Jo Chen (Dark Horse Comics)
* Y: The Last Man, Volume 10: Whys and Wherefores Written/created by Brian K. Vaughan, penciled/created by Pia Guerra, inked by Jose Marzan, Jr. (DC/Vertigo Comics)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
* The Dark Knight Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer, story; Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, screenplay; based on characters created by Bob Kane; Christopher Nolan, director (Warner Brothers)
* Hellboy II: The Golden Army Guillermo del Toro & Mike Mignola, story; Guillermo del Toro, screenplay; based on the comic by Mike Mignola; Guillermo del Toro, director (Dark Horse, Universal)
* Iron Man Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway, screenplay; based on characters created by Stan Lee & Don Heck & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby; Jon Favreau, director (Paramount, Marvel Studios)
* METAtropolis by John Scalzi, ed. Written by: Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder (Audible Inc)
* WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

* “The Constant” (Lost) Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof, writers; Jack Bender, director (Bad Robot, ABC studios)
* Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen , writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant Enemy)
* “Revelations” (Battlestar Galactica) Bradley Thompson & David Weddle, writers; Michael Rymer, director (NBC Universal)
* “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” (Doctor Who) Steven Moffat, writer; Euros Lyn, director (BBC Wales)
* “Turn Left” (Doctor Who) Russell T. Davies, writer; Graeme Harper, director (BBC Wales)

Best Editor, Short Form
* Ellen Datlow
* Stanley Schmidt
* Jonathan Strahan
* Gordon Van Gelder
* Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form
* Lou Anders
* Ginjer Buchanan
* David G. Hartwell
* Beth Meacham
* Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Professional Artist
* Daniel Dos Santos
* Bob Eggleton
* Donato Giancola
* John Picacio
* Shaun Tan

Best Semiprozine
* Clarkesworld Magazine edited by Neil Clarke, Nick Mamatas & Sean Wallace
* Interzone edited by Andy Cox
* Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
* The New York Review of Science Fiction edited by Kathryn Cramer, Kris Dikeman, David G. Hartwell, & Kevin J. Maroney
* Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal

Best Fanzine

* Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
* Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
* Challenger edited by Guy H. Lillian III
* The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia
* Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
* File 770 edited by Mike Glyer

Best Fan Writer
* Chris Garcia
* John Hertz
* Dave Langford
* Cheryl Morgan
* Steven H Silver

Best Fan Artist
* Alan F. Beck
* Brad W. Foster
* Sue Mason
* Taral Wayne
* Frank Wu

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
* Aliette de Bodard*
* David Anthony Durham*
* Felix Gilman
* Tony Pi*
* Gord Sellar*

Friday, 20 March 2009

Bootstrap SF competition

There's still time to enter the Hub Magazine Bootstrap SF competition... There's a prize of £100 and NO entry fee, and the winning entry and 12 runner ups will be published by Hub.

(See link above for full details)

The Pitch:

Bootstrap SF: A Very British Future.

The British are an unusual combination of heroism and fatalism, humour and malice. Their Science Fiction is unique, blending pragmatism with sarcasm and death with laughter. For the British, Science Fiction is something subtler than the standard utopias and dystopias, something more concerned with exploring the future with a healthy cynicism. The genre faces stagnation. Fans who discovered SF in the Sixties and Seventies are now actively resisting the very progress that they embraced when they were younger, cutting out new audiences by relentlessly defending stories which have little relevance to newer, younger readers. SF has built a wall around itself, and for it to survive we must break it down.

Bootstrap SF is designed to please the core fans whilst attracting new ones. By focusing on British stories about people, characters, the audience doesn’t feel excluded if they don’t quite grasp the science behind the plot.

And the authors? The authors are new. Previously unpublished in the professional arena, these people are brimming with ideas and passion, and aren’t blinkered by decades-old notions of what SF should be. The authors are what’s happening right now in SF. And SF has always been about progress.

In short, Bootstrap SF is about British authors who love SF. New British authors. New British SF.

The Rules: (see website for full version)

Deadline: 14th May
Writers must not have had any short story sold to any publication for a professional fee. For the purposes of this competition, “professional fee” equates to 5p per word or more.
Submissions via email only
Wordage: between 5,000 and 10,000
Winners will be announced 31st August

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Next Meeting

'ware the ides of April. :-> The next Alchemy Writers meeting shall be ::drumroll please:: Saturday 18th April. Sanity optional.

And just in case you'd forgotten, the challenge fic will be a story with the line 'I nodded. This I could talk about' somewhere within it. No word limit.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009


This is the blog for the Alchemy Writing Group. We are Pat Barber, Debbie Bennett, Mike Chinn, Jan Edwards, Peter Coleborn, Nicola Robson and Jenny Barber... Stay tuned for all kinds of fun stuff!