Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Luther Arkwright and the Knights of God

When I first picked up Grandville, and got enthused about the adventures of a badger Inspector at Scotland Yard, I had no idea how influential Bryan Talbot was as a comic artist.
I'm starting to get an inkling now.

Bryan Talbot's ground-breaking work, back in the 1970s and 80s, was The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. I was vaguely aware of it, but the price of copies secondhand made me think twice about looking any closer, while at the same time showing how desirable they were.
This year, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright were re-published in a huge volume along with the sequel Heart of Empire. It seemed like a good chance to see what all the fuss was about.
At the same time, I noticed that Big Finish had produced an audio version of Luther Arkwright, with David Tennant as Luther and Paul Darrow as Cromwell (and what a voice that man has for a good villain!). I sent off for that, too. I thought that if I listened to the story first, I might have a better idea of what was happening, as the hero jumped between parallel worlds, and if I had a grasp of the story, I could take more notice of what was happening in the background of the comic panels.
And what a treat it is! I can highly recommend the 3CD set.
I'm now about halfway through the graphic novel, savouring it slowly.

I've also been reading the interviews in the new volume, and getting a feel for just how influential the story, and the way the story is told, was when it first came out. People like Alan Moore and Michael Moorcock talk about the influence it had on their work.
I've just recently been revisiting that obscure children's series from the 1980s, Knights of God, so it struck me very strongly that Luther Arkwright influenced this series, too. Both have a religious military order, with an autocratic leader - you could swap Cromwell for the Father Abbot of the Knights of God and never notice the difference, including the descent of both of them into madness (though without the sexual perversions of Nathaniel Cromwell - it was a children's TV series, after all). In each case, a big military rally is planned (though the one in Knights of God never takes place) and both organisations are big on black uniforms and motorcycles. There's even talk of an uprising in Wales in Luther Arkwright, which is an important part of Knights of God, and in both the rebels are trying to put the original Royal family back on the throne.
There's a plot against both Cromwell and the Abbot by high ranking members of their organisations, though in Cromwell's case it's more like the failed coup against Hitler in the latter days of the Second World War. In Knights of God, it's all about Brother Hugo's personal ambition. Knights of God swaps the dimension-jumping between parallel worlds for Arthurian myth, but otherwise I think there are very close similarities indeed.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Abbey Cwm Hir


There's not a lot left of Abbey Cwm Hir, the Cistercian Abbey which was the last resting place of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, the last independent Prince of Wales.
His head, of course, was elsewhere. It had been taken to London to be exhibited on London Bridge.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the Prince's death, near Aberedw, on the banks of the River Wye, just outside Builth Wells. Builth had a fine big castle then - it was an important centre - and Llewelyn spent the night at the smaller castle at Aberedw (nothing much remains of that now). He was with a small party when they were attacked by English soldiers, and Llewelyn was killed by an English man-at-arms called Stephen of Frankton. He had been going to meet with local leaders, with a view to them joining his rebellion against Edward I, while his main army was just outside Builth. They were defending the Orewin Bridge across the River Wye - but the Marcher Lords managed to outflank them by using a nearby ford. It was a rout, and the last rebellion of the independent Welsh was all over bar the shouting.
Dafydd, Llewelyn's brother, held out for a little while longer, but he was finally captured and taken to Shrewsbury, where he was hanged, drawn and quartered - a style of execution which had never been used on a man of such high rank before, and which Edward I had personally insisted on. I think that's the worst part of it - Edward and Dafydd had grown up together, and played together as children, when Dafydd's father was held hostage in the Tower of London, and Edward was ruthless enough to do that to him.
Llewelyn's head was reputedly washed in the spring at Cilmeri, near the spot where he was killed, and there is now a memorial to him there. That's a very Welsh thing - the legends of Welsh saints are littered with people who have their heads cut off at holy springs - the most famous being St Winifred at Holywell, who was revived by her saintly uncle - and there are other, less Christian, legends like the story of Bran's miraculous head, which entertained his followers magically for years after it had been cut off, and was finally buried at the Tower of London to protect Britain from attack. Bran is also the Welsh word for raven, hence the legend that there must be ravens at the Tower of London, or there will be disaster.
The big standing stone can easily be seen from the main road, and there's a ceremony there every year to commemorate his death.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Women Warriors - Armoured Battle Dress!


I have no idea who might have worn this, but it's rather wonderful!

The Landeszeughaus in Graz, Austria, is the largest collection of arms and armour in the world, and this is one of the pieces that is kept there. Originally it was the Armory of the State of Styria. From the 15th to 18th centuries, they needed to defend themselves from the Ottomans and the Hungarians, and this was a central depositry of everything they needed. When armoured fighting became obsolete, the collection was still added to, and they now have around 30,000 pieces, mostly of Austrian and German manufacture. The building the museum is housed in was built between 1642 and 1647, around the time the English Civil War was happening, and the displays cover four floors.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

"Let Paul Robeson Sing!"

The other night, I was at a poetry evening in honour of the singer/songwriter Nick Drake, part of a series of readings and concerts. During the evening it was suggested that another singer who should have a similar commemoration in Wales was Paul Robeson.
Paul Robeson was a black American singer - what connection could he have with Wales?

It started in 1928, when he was starring in Show Boat on the West End in London. That's where he sang the song he is most famous for - "Ole Man River". A group of unemployed Welsh miners had walked to London to bring attention to their hardship - a smaller version of the Jarrow March, and Paul Robeson met them and marched along with them.
Paul Robeson was not only a singer - he was what we would call now a human rights activist (and what MI5 later called "a fanatical communist" in their file on him - he had close links with Soviet Russia). Not only did he meet the miners and support their campaign for better treatment, but he also sang in concerts all around Wales right up until 1960 - for the 1957 Miners' Eisteddfod he performed via transatlantic phone line, because his passport had been revoked.
The CIA had a thick file on him, too, and considered him a dangerous subversive who said inappropriate things about race relations in the US and colonial rule in the British Empire. When he got his passport back in 1958, Welsh miners had been part of the campaign to allow him freedom to travel again, using the slogan "Let Paul Robeson Sing!". In later years, Welsh miners were part of the movement to free Nelson Mandela, partly because of their associations with Paul Robeson.
In 1939, he lived in Wales while filming Proud Valley, the story of a black American who became a miner in Wales. It was based on a true story, and was the film Paul Robeson was most proud of, because it showed the struggles of working class people honestly, and because he was portraying a man who happened to be black, rather than a stereotype.
He only took part in three more films in the rest of his life, Native Land and Tales of Manhattan in 1942, and The Song of the River in 1954. Native Land was a documentary about trade unions, which he narrated, and Tales of Manhattan is an anthology film about a tail-coat passing from hand to hand and changing the lives of the people who wear it, with the tattered jacket being put on a scarecrow at the end. The Song of the River was an East German film about six great rivers of the world and the international workers' movements along them.
All of which is a far cry from the 1935 film Sanders of the River, which is the other famous Paul Robeson film, where he played a native chief in Nigeria, and sang while paddling a canoe. That was not a film he was proud to be part of in later life, though initially he thought it might be a good way of looking at colonial life in the British Empire.
He died in 1976, after a long period of retirement and ill health, though he supported the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Paul Robeson's son, Paul Jr., continued his father's associations with Wales, inviting the Onllwyn Male Voice Choir to Carnegie Hall in 1998 to sing at a concert commemorating the centenary of Paul Robeson's birth, and travelling to Wales to talk to school children. He also spoke at the Senedd in Cardiff in 2008 on the 60th anniversary of the start of the NHS.
Paul Robeson's grand-daughter Susan came to Wales to the Eisteddfod in 2010, where Swansea University were launching a new "learning resource" based on a successful exhibition called "Let Paul Robeson Sing!" It can be found at People's Collection Wales online and the South Wales Miners' Library. Susan Robeson was keen to meet anyone who remembered her grandfather while she was at the Eisteddfod.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

"Rouse, Ye Women" - Chainmakers Strike of 1910

Chainmaking is a job that's usually thought of as heavy labour, and the biggest chains were made by men in factories - the sort of chain that would hold a big anchor for a ship, for instance. But smaller chains were made by women at home, in little forges in the back yard, and the short lengths they made were joined together into longer chains.
I remember reading about a typical woman's day in one of the areas where chains were made, where she got up in the morning, stoked the fire, made a yard of chain, and took it down to the foreman who gave her the money for it - and then she could go and buy enough food for breakfast for the family.
In 1910, 800 women chainmakers went on strike in Cradley Heath in the Black Country, after a minimum wage was set for chain making which their employers refused to pay. This was the princely sum of tuppence ha'penny an hour, which was about double what some of the women were getting. The strike lasted for ten weeks, and in the end all the employers agreed to the new wages. Twelve of the women strikers were over 70 years old and one of them, Patience Round, was 79. She combined chain making with caring for her crippled husband, and was quoted in a newspaper article saying "these are wonderful times - I never thought that I should live to assert the rights of women."
There was even a song "Rouse, Ye Women!" to the tune of Men of Harlech, and there is an annual Festival in the Black Country celebrating the women chainmakers.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Let's Have More Boy Fairies

When did fairies all become female, anyway?

Back in the 1920s and 30s, Cicely Mary Barker painted boy flower fairies as well as girls


There was no thought here that fairies were just for girls.

Shakespeare was much closer to the old traditions, when fairies could kidnap babies and leave a screeching changeling in their place, or lure you off to Fair Elfland like True Thomas, or trick a human into being their "tithe to hell", as in the folk song Tam Lin.
So he had a fairy feud accidentally involving the humans who were wandering round the wood - and not only were there male fairies, but Oberon and Titania were a quarelling married couple.

Brian Froud's fairy pictures come from this tradition, too, and there are plenty of male fairies in his work - but his Tarot cards, and even books like Good Fairy, Bad Fairy, are for adults rather than small children.

And recent stories for young children? It seems not. I got my hopes up when I found an article about a new boy fairy on the Disney website Pixie Hollow - but was disappointed to find that they couldn't even bring themselves to call him a fairy. Slate is a "Sparrow Man". Everything else, even the re-issued Flower Fairies, seem to be relentlessly pink and frilly, and female.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

"Look to Your Own Defences"

This morning, there was a piece on the Today programme about flood defences in Snettisham, in Norfolk, where government funding is about to be withdrawn, and the local people have been told they will have to sort out their own, voluntary-funded, flood defence scheme. This affects farmers, caravan site owners, and residents of the village, some of whom will not, or cannot, pay towards their own defence. As one woman said - why should they? It should be a government responsibility. Another man involved with the scheme said that, if people didn't pay into the voluntary scheme, they would have to think very carefully about where they put the flood defences - in other words, they would not be protecting some areas.

It made me think of the Roman legions leaving Britain (the traditional date for this is 410AD), leaving behind a letter to the civilian leaders which basically said; "Look to your own defences."

Not far from where my Young Man lives, in Abbey Wood, South London, there are the ruins of Lesnes Abbey (after which the Wood is named - the trees come right down to the edge of the ruins). Although it was close to London, and had the patronage of several wealthy families who sent young men there to be monks, the abbey was always short of money. Why? Because they were legally responsible for the flood defences along that stretch of the River Thames.
So the medieval government took steps to make sure that protection was in place, by making the biggest local landowner responsible, but our government today withdraws from the responsibility that they have had, and expects a voluntary arrangement to be enough to protect the people of Snettisham, and all the other coastal towns and villages that they are withdrawing funding from.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

London buses: and now London's Museums: Eltham Palace

I went with my Young Man to Eltham Palace a while ago, and had a lovely time.  The great hall was more than a little influenced by Errol Flynn's Robin Hood film - we had fun up on the Minstrel's Gallery pretending to shoot King John down at the top table. 
The bathrooms were quite impressive, too, and  I was fascinated by the pet ring-tailed lemur, (you could buy stuffed toy ones at the gift shop), having been brought up on Dotty from Animal Magic, who used to sit on Johnny Morris's shoulder eating grapes.

London buses: and now London's Museums: Eltham Palace: The Courtyard Eltham London SE9 4QE Monday September 8 th 2014 Easily accessible by train and bus, Eltham Palace is an intri...

Monday, 17 November 2014

Who Belongs in the Kitchen?

A friend put a picture up on Facebook recently with the caption
"Women belong in the kitchen. Men belong in the kitchen. Everyone belongs in the kitchen. Kitchen has food."
One of her friends commented that things were different when men's jobs "involved hard labour and the risk of death", so that, back then, a woman's place was in the kitchen, cooking for the men who worked down the pit or whatever.

In the Middle Ages, though, many men earned their living by cooking, in castles and manor houses and with marching armies and in taverns. Here's a medieval baker:


and here's a mobile pie baker:


Brewing was traditionally a job for women (the only two women mentioned in the Hereford Domesday are brewsters) but men did that too. The Industrial Revolution had plenty of coal miners and steel workers and men who worked in all sorts of difficult and dangerous jobs, but they all had something in common - they drank beer, and the breweries employed men to brew it. Here's a medieval brewer:


and here are the staff of Adey and White's Brewery, around 1900 (this picture comes from St Alban's Museum).


By the Victorian era, kitchen staff were mainly female, but throughout history, both men and women have cooked. Everyone belongs in the kitchen.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Inspiring Advice

I was reading Kate Elliot's blog I Make Up Worlds today, and came across some comforting advice to remember when I doubt whether anyone will want to read my stories. She has a very interesting blog generally, which is well worth reading. She said:

"You don't know how your creative work will be recieved. All you can do is offer up what is present in your imagination."

So all I can do is make the story as good as I can. After I've done the best I can with the story I have to tell, the only thing I can do is launch it on the world. If other people like it, that's brilliant, but the important thing is that I created something I'm happy with.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Remember, remember....


Here's the gatehouse of Ashby St Ledgers manor house, near Rugby, where the Gunpowder Plot was planned. In fact, that's probably the very room where the plotters gathered. Guido Fawkes came from the Rugby area, too, and it was a convenient location to get to the young princess Elizabeth, nine-year-old daughter of James I and VI, who the plotters intended to make Queen - with themselves as her advisors, of course, and after they had converted her to Catholicism. She was being brought up as a Protestant, and had no idea what was planned for her.
I used to visit Ashby quite often. It's a beautiful village, with estate cottages designed by Lutyens, and at the time the local pub, the Olde Coach House, was well known for real ales. The church, with the unusual dedication of St Leodegarius, is also interesting, with several medieval wall paintings.
It is also possible to trace the route that the plotters intended to use to get to Princess Elizabeth, who was staying at Coombe Abbey. I've walked out about a mile or so from Ashby, and the landscape is reasonably unchanged, though a railway line now cuts across the original path that the plotters would have taken. Some of the plotters were at nearby Dunchurch, pretending to be a hunting party.

Of course, it all went horribly wrong....

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Medieval Welsh Instruments

When I first invented the character of Mal Petroc, I made him a harper - because that's what everybody does, when they're seventeen and don't know much about history, and want to write about a musician.
If I was thinking about it today, I could choose from a far larger range of musical instruments, and today I discovered a new one - the pibgyrn! (other spellings are available!)


Here's a selection from the maker Moch Pryderi.

I was at a craft fair called The Big Skill, and one of the stalls was an instrument maker who had one of these. At first, I couldn't work out how to play it, because it seems to have a wide horn on each end. He showed me the reed (like a clarinet) inside the smaller of the two horns, and blew down it. He said it's like a Scottish bagpipe chanter, and can be fixed to a bag in the same way, though with a gentler sound. The pipe in the middle is made of elder wood, and the ends of sheep horn, and it was a thing shepherds could make while they were out on the hills, from readily available materials.
He also had a crwth, which is sort of a medieval Welsh fiddle - but he said that, when he came to make his first crwth he realised that it's a very different instrument to the violin. The bowing technique is different, and the aim seems to be to make a droning background sound for other instruments, such as the pibgyrn, to play melodies over the top. I once heard a crwth player, on Radio 3, and it is a very different sound to a violin - in fact, players back in the middle ages were told that they should not strive for a sweet sound. The chap on Radio 3 was playing as accompaniment to a singer, who must be the only Jamaican lady who can sing in medieval Welsh!


A crwth and pibgyrn

Friday, 31 October 2014

Women Warriors - French Resistance Fighter


This is Simone Segouin, in a photo from 1944. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre for her actions during the Second World War. She was eighteen when this photo was taken, during the Liberation of Paris, and had previously been involved in the fall of Chartres, where she was interviewed by a journalist for Life magazine.

Happy Hallowe'en

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Grandville and Luther Arkwright

When we were at WorldCon this August, my Young Man and I dressed up as Inspector LeBrock, of Bryan Talbot's Grandville novels, and his girlfriend the Divine Sarah (who are, of course, both badgers). We were delighted that Bryan Talbot himself took a photo of us, and that photo is now on his website at www.bryan-talbot.com


This picture was taken by our friend Becky - Bryan Talbot took our photo in the main concourse of the Excel centre, just outside the hall where he was about to give a talk.

The latest in the Grandville series, Grandville:Noel, is being launched on 27th November, and Bryan and Mary Talbot will be at Forbidden Planet in London doing a book signing on the evening of the 26th November.
Also out now is the re-issue of the Luther Arkwright stories, also by Bryan Talbot, called Arkwright Integral, which is an enormous tome, comprising the Adventures of Luther Arkwright and Heart of Empire!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Travelling in Costume

When I was eleven, my family went to the Peel Viking Festival on the Isle of Man. To get there, we went on the bus from Douglas across the island - and sitting in front of me, so close I could touch the fur on his collar, was one of the Viking re-enactors in full kit.
It was very exciting - and I wanted to be able to do that.
Thinking back on it, his kit was not all that authentic, but it didn't matter. I was sitting on a bus with a real, live Viking!
So ever since then, I've made a point of travelling in costume whenever I can.
As a student, I travelled from Lancaster to London dressed as a Lord of the Rings elf, to the fascination of a little girl sitting across the carriage from me, who plucked up the courage to ask me if I was real as we were pulling into London. "Yes, I am," I said, and she looked so delighted she could burst!
I've also, as a dare, worn my Star Trek original series miniskirt uniform on a train from Liverpool (where the convention was being held) to London. I was also being an Andorian that weekend, so I was painted blue with a white wig and antennae, too. I was with a group of friends, also in costume, for most of the journey, but not when we were crossing London on the tube on the final leg of the journey home.
It was also the weekend of the Notting Hill Carnival, and my clearest memory is of a tube train stopping at the platform, too cram packed with people for us to get on. The doors opened, people saw me and screamed, and the doors closed again.
And now I'm a historical re-enactor. The first time I wore my wimple in public, I was mistaken for a nun.
On another occasion, I was dropped off in Hereford to go home from a show, while the rest of the group went on somewhere else (I had to get home, unfortunately). I had an hour or so to wait for the bus home, so I went into the cathedral, just as a service was about to start. The chap giving hymnbooks out didn't turn a hair, even though I was lugging a suitcase with a longbow tied to it. I was very impressed.
More recently, I've been attending Hereford History Day (it's been running for three or four years now). I travel by bus locally often enough to recognise the drivers, and they recognise me, so I explained as I paid the fare where I was going, in my full medievals with a big wicker basket full of spinning and weaving supplies. "I wasn't going to say a word," he said.
This year, the emphasis was more on the First World War, so the medieval group I belong to wasn't there, and I went in dressed in a long linen skirt, Laura Ashley blouse and a solar topee - obviously just back from the Raj in time to wave goodbye to Our Brave Boys as they went to the Front. And because I wasn't part of a group that day, I could also go to the Beer on the Wye Beer Festival.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Divination with Sheep's Ankle Bones

I'm coming to the end of my first draft for my medieval fantasy (the dragon is slain, so it's all over bar the shouting), so I've been keeping an eye open for ideas to incorporate into my next story, which will be a Steampunk adventure set in China and Mongolia. I know the basic shape of that story, too - Miss Amelia Harper and her friend Li Bic are sent to discover the whereabouts of an expedition lost in Mongolia, and they come across a group of bandits who ambush pack trains loaded with romantic novels! This was a real thing - Chinese novels translated into Mongolian were fantastically popular, and the pack trains really did get raided by bandits. I read about it in a blog about Victorian life beyond London and the Empire, where most Steampunk stories seem to be set, and thought it was too good an idea to let go (possibly by Ayleen the Peace-Maker? I forget now). My bandits, though, are all going to be women, who want to read the romantic novels for themselves before they sell them on.
All of which is a pre-amble to a lovely snippet of information I found in a blog called woolwinding. The writer of the blog has been looking at the long co-existence of humans and sheep, and mentioned a method of divination using sheep's ankle bones which I must find a place for in my story. The bones are roughly cuboid, like dice, but with convex and concave sides, which stand for lucky and unlucky things (the horse is the most lucky roll). It's called shagai, and it all adds a bit of local colour to the narrative.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Designing a Magical System

Too many rules? Not enough rules? How should it work in the world you've designed?

Jamie Schulz said this on io9 recently:

"Good magic systems have a framework, a set of limitations that is fairly clear to the reader, such that magic doesn't run the risk of blowing the internal logic of the story to Hell."

which I thought summed it up quite nicely.

I don't have too many rules - for one thing, I'd never remember them - but on the other hand I don't want a character to have a "get out of jail free" card whenever they need one. So I have five sorts of magic users, roughly speaking - they can manipulate one of the four Elements of Earth, Fire, Water or Air, or they can influence human (or animal) minds. So they can be powerful, but only in restricted ways - a Fire user can't float in mid-air like an Air user, for instance. I use bastardised Welsh terms for them, because I'm not a Welsh speaker but I wanted a Welsh flavour to it, so my family of fire users are called tanwch - tan for fire, and -wch is a suffix which makes a word into a command, like when Arafwch is written on the roads, meaning Slow!
I purposely didn't have any healing magic in my world, because I really think it's a cheat. If a character is wounded or sick, they shouldn't be able to leap up and do important stuff immediately - they should lie down and suffer for as long as it takes.
But then I added unicorns to my world, and unicorn horns in the Middle Ages were traditionally used for neutralising poison, and healing. They're pretty rare - but it is a "get out of jail free" card, as long as the user of the unicorn horn is a virgin, of course.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Women Warriors - Ancient China

I found a book today called Iron and Silk, about the experiences of a Western martial arts teacher in China. His name is Mark Salzman, and he chose an extract of a poem to start the book off. It's called "On Seeing a Pupil of Lady Kuan-sun Dance with the Sword" and it's by Tu Fu, who lived between 712 - 70AD. This is Mark Salzman's own translation:

"Her swordplay moved the world
Those who beheld her, numerous as the hills,
lost themselves in wonder.
Heaven and Earth swayed in resonance....
Swift as the Archer shooting the nine suns
She was exquisite, like a sky-god
behind a team of dragons, soaring...."

Monday, 20 October 2014

Formative Images of a "Writer"

Kameron Hurley has written an excellent article over at Fantasy Magazine, at http://www.fantasy-magazine.com/new/new-nonfiction/language-and-imaginative-resistance-in-epic-fantasy/.
She's talking mostly about women writers and epic fantasy, but she also talks about how people form images of "cheese" or "police officer" or "nurse" from their earliest exposures to those things, and thereafter, everything cheese-like has to be measured against that first experience of cheese to see if it fits.
So, her first experiences of writers were of white men, and this affected how she thought about writers for a long time.
Which got me thinking.
I never had the thought that I couldn't be a proper writer because I was female, because most of the writers I became aware of as a child were female. Enid Blyton was a massive influence - as a child, I desperately wanted to be George from the Famous Five, and go camping in the woods with my faithful dog. I didn't have a faithful dog until much later in life, but George's dog Timmy was the reason I always wanted one.
Later, I discovered historical fiction through the medium of Rosemary Sutcliff, and to a lesser extent through Henry Treece and Geoffrey Trease - so I was aware that men wrote books, but I wasn't excluded because women wrote books too. The other great favourites of my early teenage years were Mary Renault and Mary Stewart.
As a Star Trek fan, I was aware early on that DC Fontana's first name was Dorothy, and that she had written two of my favourite episodes, Friday's Child and Journey to Babel. So women could clearly write good science fiction. Among all the Asimov and Clarke and Zelazny and Silverberg, there was also Ursula Le Guin and Marion Zimmer Bradley and CJ Cherryh and Anne McCaffrey. And fantasy didn't just mean Tolkein and his many imitators, it meant Joy Chant's Red Moon and Black Mountain, too, and Gillian Bradshaw and Mary Gentle and Andre Norton.
Which makes it strange to me that a new generation of readers seem to be unaware of the women writers who have always been there in SF and fantasy, and who inspired me to write.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The American Civil War and Britain

I met a chap today who was browsing the American Civil War books in the shop where I work. He was a re-enactor, but he said that English Heritage no longer hire American Civil War groups for events.
So what's the American Civil War got to do with English history?
Quite a lot, as it turns out, and this chap knew an enormous amount about it. There were the 179 ships built in Scotland for use as blockade runners to provision the South, for instance. Meanwhile, (something that I knew) Lancashire cotton mill workers were refusing to handle cotton from the American South in solidarity with the slaves. "Liverpool grew rich while Lancashire starved," the chap said. There was even an incident where a British ship was captured by the Union navy - which should have been an act of war, but Britain didn't have enough troops, and couldn't get troops to Canada quickly enough, so it was all smoothed over. If Canada had joined in the war, there could have been a very different outcome - Britain might even have got some of the Colonies back! (Or the Union could have conquered Canada!)
The French got involved - Napoleon III sent troops over to Mexico, though in the end it didn't help France, as the Mexican Civil War started just after the American Civil War ended.
So the American Civil War had serious repercussions in the British Isles - it's not just a foreign conflict that had nothing to do with us, so it seems quite reasonable to have societies re-enacting it.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Dysprosium EasterCon

Dysprosium is the 66th element in the Periodic Table, and 2015 is the 66th EasterCon.
It's also going to be the first EasterCon I've ever attended - I had such a brilliant time at LonCon3 that I want to experience more of the same, and EasterCon seems to be the nearest thing on British soil.
It's going to be held over the Easter weekend of 3 - 6 April at the Park Inn at Heathrow (I've already checked the buses from Hereford, and I can get right to the front door!).
There are four guests of honour - Jim Butcher, who is best known for the Dresden Files and is now writing a steampunk series; Seanan McGuire, who has been nominated for Hugo awards several times over the last couple of years (why have I never heard of her? I must find out more!); Herr Doktor, who was involved in the recent Longitude Punk'd exhibition at the Greenwich Observatory along with the lovely Dr Geof - my Young Man knows his work; and Caroline Mullan, who is Famous in Fandom, and was the guest liason for Robin Hobb at LonCon this year. And of course there will be panels and all sorts of other good things and this time we're going to be in the hotel so we don't have to go home early (we may possibly forget to sleep!).
We met some lovely gentlemen with a small steampunk Dalek at LonCon, who were advertising EasterCon - their efforts certainly paid off with us. I might not have known about EasterCon otherwise.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Death of Prince Dafydd

Poor Dafydd. It can be argued that he brought some of his bad fortune on himself, because he was notoriously disloyal to just about everybody in power - but he must also have had considerable personal charm, because he was always forgiven. Until that last time.
I hadn't realised it when I planned a day trip to Shrewsbury last week, but I chose 3rd October, which was the date when Dafydd was executed there in 1283, by Edward I of England. Dafydd was the last independent Prince of Wales, after his older brother Llewelyn was killed in a skirmish near Builth Wells the previous December. Dafydd held out against Edward until June, when he was captured near Rhuddlan after several weeks on the run. He was condemned to death for high treason on 30th September, and finally executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered, the first prominent person to be executed in that manner.
There are two excellent fictionalised re-tellings of the story, one being Edith Pargeter's Princes of Gwynnedd series, and the other being Sharon K Penman's The Reckoning, the third of her Welsh trilogy, and a book that I spent the entire last 200 pages weeping through because I knew how it was going to end for the Welsh!
When Caergwrle castle, near Wrexham, was being excavated by Powys Archaeological Service, I was the archaeologist who led the guided tours daily, so I knew the history very well indeed. It was from Caergwrle that Dafydd launched his Easter Day attack on nearby English-held Hawarden Castle, that started the last rebellion of an independent Wales against England. His brother Llewelyn was still attempting to keep the peace by diplomatic means.
The castle suffered a fire shortly after Edward I decided to make it a holiday cottage for himself and his wife - which amused us greatly at the time, because we were digging at about the same time as Welsh Nationalists were burning down English holiday cottages locally. (We weren't amused that people were having their property torched - it was just the historical irony of the same thing happening to Edward).
Next time I go to Shrewsbury, I will look out for the commemorative plaque about the execution, which is on the wall of Barclay's Bank at the top of Pride Hill.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Dic Penderyn

When I was in Cardiff earlier this week, I went into the Indoor Market, and noticed a blue plaque by the door:


(Click to make bigger)

The Merthyr Rising was more than just a riot - the coal miners who were protesting about low wages, high unemployment and the price of bread took over the town for about eight days, setting up road blocks and forming their own paramilitary organisation. They even managed to ambush the baggage train of the 93rd and beat off a hundred cavalry, while the coal mine owners and other members of the ruling elite were trapped in Penydarren House, guarded by members of the 93rd Highland Regiment, who had been forced to retreat there, leaving the rest of the town to the rioters. The authorities must have been having nightmares about the French Revolution starting again in Wales.

It seems that poor Dic was a scapegoat - the authorities wanted to hang someone after the riots in Merthyr Tydfil, and it didn't matter who. 11,000 people signed a petition pleading for his release, and there were appeals for clemency from members of the Welsh establishment, all of which was ignored by Lord Melbourne, the Home Secretary. He was hanged outside the gaol on St Mary's Street in Cardiff, not far from the plaque. He was only 23. Thousands turned out for his funeral, and he was widely regarded as a martyr.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Women Warriors - Fu Hao, Chinese general

We go back into the mists of time for this woman warrior, though as it's China, there are written records to consult. It's the very end of the Bronze Age, around 1200BC. In Europe, it was around the time of the legendary Trojan War, and in Britain Stonehenge and that whole ritual landscape on Salisbury Plain was in use.
Fu Hao was one of Emperor Wu Ding's wives. He was a member of the Shang Dynasty. He took a wife from each of the tribes under his control, and had around sixty. Fu Hao worked her way up the hierarchy until she was able to conduct religious rituals on behalf of the Emperor and prepare oracle bones, an extremely important part of the Emperor's duties. She also became his chief general, with thirteen thousand men under her command - a large army for the period. It was under her command that the Shang's rivals, the Tu-Fang, were decisively defeated in a single battle, after generations of conflict. She was also responsible for the first large-scale ambush in Chinese history, in a campaign against one of her husband's other enemies, the Ba.
She died before her husband, who built an impressive tomb for her - and held rituals and sacrifices there to ask for her help from beyond the grave in further military campaigns. The tomb was found in 1976, and is now open to the public. Fu Hao was buried with an impressive collection of jade, two huge battle axes (which were symbols of her military rank) and sixteen slaves.
When the Shang Dynasty fell, they were replaced by the Zhou Dynasty, who greatly reduced women's roles in politics and military matters - they were ridiculed as "hens reporting the dawn" and were treated as rebels. Women also lost the right to own property under the Zhou Dynasty - Fu Hao had owned her own land, and administered it herself.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Peterloo and The Manchester Man

I grew up knowing about the massacre of Peterloo. It's part of the history of Manchester. All I really knew as a child, though, was that ten people had been killed when cavalry charged a crowd that had gathered to hear a speaker on St Peter's Fields - which became known as Peterloo as a reference to the battle of Waterloo.
It was much later that I read Mrs Linneus Banks' novel The Manchester Man, which went into far more detail about the massacre, pieced together from eye witness accounts from her own friends and family.
There was no doubting whose side Mrs Banks was on - and it wasn't the one wielding the sabres and firing cannons down the streets of Manchester at unarmed men and women.
The time was 1819, and the country was still in economic difficulties following the end of the Napoleonic wars. Food was scarce, and there were protests about the Corn Laws, which kept bread prices artificially high. Protesters were also concerned about parliamentary representation - most working men were not allowed to vote (and no women could vote, of course). One of the leading radicals was Henry Hunt, who was going to speak at the meeting on St Peter's Fields.
Newspapers reporting on previous meetings had poured scorn on the scruffy appearance of the working men who had attended, so for this meeting there was a concerted effort to wear Sunday best, and many women there wore white dresses. They wanted to look respectable, and they wanted a peaceful rally. They carried banners, and groups were led by bands.
Meanwhile, the magistrates of Manchester were horrified by such a large gathering - some estimates say 80,000 - and they wanted to arrest Henry Hunt. So they called in the military. There were 600 men of the 15th Hussars; several hundred infantrymen; a Royal Horse Artillery unit with two six-pounder (2.7 kg) guns; 400 men of the Cheshire Yeomanry; 400 special constables; and 120 cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, relatively inexperienced militia recruited from among local shopkeepers and tradesmen. It was the Yeomanry who started the charge with drawn sabres against an unarmed crowd - and the first casualty was a two year old boy who was being held in his mother's arms as she crossed the street, just as the Yeomanry galloped along it. She wasn't even involved in the meeting.
On occasions such as these, the Riot Act was supposed to be read to a crowd before any action was taken, to give them the opportunity to disperse - in this case, as Mrs Banks says, the Riot Act was read "in an inaudible voice" from a house in Mount Street where the magistrates were directing events, and not on the Field itself.
She goes on: "Thus Nadin [one of the magistrates], the cowardly bully, having a warrant to apprehend the ringleaders - although he had a line of constables thence to the hustings - declared he dared not serve it without the support of the military.
His plea was heard; and thus, through the blindness, the incapacity, the cowardice, or the self-importance of this one man, soldiery hardened on the battlefield, yeomanry fired with drink, were let loose like barbarians on a closely-wedged mass of unarmed people, and one of the most atrocious massacres in history was the result."
Henry Hunt was, indeed, arrested, but at the cost of between ten and fifteen lives, and between 400 and 700 wounded.
The authorities arrested several journalists who had reported on the massacre, and the Manchester Observer was closed down after several police raids - leading to the formation of the Manchester Guardian. By the end of 1820 every significant working class radical reformer was in jail. Four members of the Manchester Yeomanry were also taken to court, but were all acquitted on the grounds that they were dispersing an illegal gathering.
In due course, the Free Trade Hall was built, partly on the site of St Peter's Fields, and there used to be a blue plaque commemorating Peterloo. However, it didn't mention any of the deaths. In 2007, a new plaque, with the following wording, was put up instead:
"On 16 August 1819 a peaceful rally of 60,000 pro-democracy reformers, men, women and children, was attacked by armed cavalry resulting in 15 deaths and over 600 injuries."

Mrs Banks said that she remembered marches in commemoration of the massacre, but that they had been discontinued by the time she wrote The Manchester Man. Looking around the internet, I saw a picture of a modern march, with banners that were copies of the originals - but as soon as I clicked on the page I was informed that the Police had blocked the site and if I carried on I'd be liable to a £100 fine!!!! (it's called deathtotyranny). So I didn't.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Women Pirates - the Lioness of Brittany

An everyday tale of love and revenge in the Middle Ages....

Jeanne-Louise de Belleville had an unremarkable early life - as the daughter of Maurice IV of Belleville-Montagaiu and his wife Letice, she was married at the age of 12 to Geoffrey de Chateaubriant, who was 19, and they had two children. When Geoffrey died, she married Olivier III de Clisson, and had five more children with him. During the Breton War of Succession, Olivier was accused of treason, and executed by the French crown (he had, in fact, defected to the English side).
Jeanne swore revenge on King Philip VI and Charles de Blois, who was one of the claimants to the Duchy of Brittany, and who had her husband arrested. She sold her lands, raised money from other Breton nobles who were in favour of independence from France, and bought three warships, which she had painted black with red sails. They were known as the Black Fleet, and patrolled the English Channel, attacking French shipping. She may also have assisted in getting supplies across the Channel to the English troops at the Battle of Crecy in 1346.
After thirteen years of successful piracy, Jeanne married an Englishman called Sir Walter Bentley, Edward III's Commander in the Marches, but later returned to live in France. In fact, King Edward granted her the Belleville lands that he held, and in 1359, when she died, her son Olivier IV did homage to Edward in order to continue to hold those lands.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Trophic Cascades - Wolves in Yellowstone Park




This is the sort of thing that George Monbiot talks about in his book Feral.
I'd love to see wolves back in Scotland - there might even be places in Wales that would be suitable!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Women Warriors - Sayyida al Hurra

It was Talk Like a Pirate Day yesterday, so in honour of that, I thought today's woman warrior should be a Pirate Queen.

Sayyida al Hurra's full name was Sayyida al-Hurra ibn Banu Rashid al-Mandri al-Wattasi Hakima Tatwan, and she was governor of Tetouan in Morocco in her own right from 1515, the year her husband died. In fact, when they arrived, the city was in ruins, and her husband got permission to rebuild to house the refugees from Granada.
Together with Barbarossa of Algiers in the east, her ships controlled the Mediterranean in the west. She was also the last woman in Islamic history to hold the title of Queen (which is what Hurra means) in her own right.
As a refugee from Spain, when Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada in 1492, one of her long term aims was revenge against the Spanish, and piracy was her means of achieving this. She also married the King of Morocco, Ahmed al-Wattasi, but she made him travel to Tetouan to do so, to underline the point that she wasn't going to give up ruling the city. He was the only King of Morocco to do this - all other royal marriages took place in Fez, the capital of Morocco.

So, Sayyida didn't fight personally, like Grainne O'Malley, but she was in command, and she was respected around the Mediterranean. Eventually, however, her son overthrew her, and her ultimate fate is unknown.

Friday, 19 September 2014

The No Vote Prevails

I can't pretend I'm not disappointed. Here's hoping that there will be changes for the better in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Women Warriors - Colonel Anne

Daughter of the chief of Clan Farquharson and wife of the chief of Clan MacKintosh, Lady Anne Farquharson-MacKintosh was a staunch Jacobite who raised troops for the Stuart cause. Her husband Angus was leading the Black Watch for the Hanoverian government at the time. She was given the nickname "Colonel Anne" by Prince Charles Edward Stuart himself. While the Prince was staying at Moy Hall, her home, she thwarted an attempt to capture him by sending five men (making a lot of noise) to frighten away 1,500 of Lord Loudon's men - which became known as the Rout of Moy. Her husband was later captured by the Jacobite forces at the Battle of Prestonpans, and was paroled into Anne's custody.
After the Battle of Culloden, she was arrested, but later released without charge into her husband's custody.
She did not personally lead her men in battle, but handed over the command to Colonel Alexander MacGillivray, also of Clan Chattan.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Knights of God and The Crystal Cave

One of the panels we went to at WorldCon - in fact, the very first one we went to - was about children's TV. They talked about lots of programmes that we both remembered with fondness - and then someone mentioned the Knights of God.
"Huh?" said the Young Man.
"Oh, you'd love Knights of God!" I said.

It was only broadcast once, in 1987, and it's never been put out on video or DVD, though there is a paperback. I had quite a job to track down a copy, which I eventually got from vintagetelevision.co.uk
To be honest, all I really remembered was John Woodvine, as Prior Mordrin, the leader of the fascistic Knights of God, being evil - and the fact that they blew up a helicopter in the final episode! I'd never seen all the episodes, and I'd completely forgotten that Patrick Troughton was in it, as Arthur, leader of the resistance movement. In fact, his character behaved more like Merlin than King Arthur, but the whole thing had a vaguely Arthurian feel to it.
The series was set slightly in the future - 2020 - when a devastating civil war had been won by the Knights of God, who were ruling from Winchester, London having been mostly destroyed. However, there was still resistance in Wales, led by Gareth Thomas - who had experience of this sort of thing, having recently been Blake of Blake's Seven, and in the Wastelands, which was basically Yorkshire, led by Don Henderson, who spent a lot of time wandering round the moors with a machine gun.
As it was a children's series, though, the main hero was Gervase Edwards, son of Gareth Thomas's character, and his girlfriend Julia, who were imprisoned in a "training camp", pursued across the moors, shot at, and generally had a pretty rough time of it over the thirteen episodes. Co-incidentally, Julia was the daughter of the Brigadier of the Guards Regiment which came over to the side of the resistance near the end. They were played by George Winter and Clare Parker.
It was soon clear, as I watched, that the most interesting thing about the story was not the youngsters trying to survive and find out what Gervase's destiny was (it would have been a lot shorter story if Arthur had just told him, and by the time he discovered it, the only person to be surprised was him!) but the power struggle between Prior Mordrin and his deputy Brother Hugo, played with oily malevolence by Julian Fellowes (more recently seen in Downton Abbey).
I could see why it was never repeated - I spent some time when I'd finished watching it trying to make the plot work better in my head, but it was quite fun, and interesting to see how TVS had made the most of their limited budget - they made the most of the helicopters, but also kept making the point within the story that everyone had very limited resources, which was why they were using horses and carts, and sailing boats, and - once - a steam train as well as the military trucks and armoured cars.
There weren't that many female characters, either - a Yorkshire woman who helped Julia (so at least those episodes passed the Beschdel test!), Gervase's mam, and a nurse at Knights of God HQ were just about it. Also, everybody was white - one would hope, if it was being made now, that at least a couple of the Yorkshire resistance movement might be Asians from Bradford or something.

George Winter later turned up in another Arthurian series, The Crystal Cave, as young Merlin, but doesn't seem to have done much acting since then.
I was horribly disappointed by the Crystal Cave. I love the book, by Mary Stewart, that the series was based on, and Robert Powell played Ambrosius, which he did very well - but the script.... Some scenes were almost word for word from the book, which was great, but others - just weren't.
I remember looking forward with some excitement to the scene where Merlin solves the mystery of why the tower keeps falling down by leading everyone to a Roman lead mine which is causing subsidence - where he has a vision of two dragons fighting, one red and one white, just as in the traditional legend. In the books, Merlin has no control over his visions, and they affect him like having a fit. In the series, he makes the prophesy about the dragons, but by means of a trick, so he comes over as a con artist rather than the genuine prophet that he was in the book.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Ladylike Behaviour


I've been having a discussion on Facebook about fighting women, starting off with the recent Viking study and broadening out from there. So I thought I'd share this medieval picture of a woman defending her castle again, to remember Nicola de la Haye at Lincoln, defending the castle against the French who invaded when King John died.


And here's Brampton Bryan Castle, which was defended during the English Civil War under the command of Lady Brilliana Harley, while her husband was serving as an MP in London. They were Puritans in the middle of Royalist territory, and before the castle was attacked, neighbouring Royalists had stolen livestock from the Harley farms, and stopped Lady Brilliana from getting the rents from her tenants by forcing the tenants to pay directly to the Sheriff of Hereford, the Royalist Fitzwilliam Coningsby.
In 1643, the castle was besieged for three months, the Royalist forces only withdrawing when they were needed at Gloucester. The castle was defended by around 50 troops and 50 civilians, commanded by Lady Brilliana. There were around 700 Royalist troops, and their bombardment of the castle with cannon left the building roofless, though only one death among the defenders is reported. Around one tenth of the attacking force were either killed or injured.
After the siege was lifted, Lady Brilliana sent 40 troops to raid the Royalist camp at nearby Knighton.
Later in the year, though, she died of pneumonia. The following year the castle was besieged again, this time defended by the Harley's doctor, Nathanial Wright, who eventually had to surrender. The castle by this time was even more badly damaged, and was burnt by the victorious Royalist forces.
She was also a noted letter writer, keeping her husband in London informed of the political situation in Herefordshire and the surrounding area.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Viking Women Warriors

There's been a recent study showing that 50% of the burials at a particular Viking site were women who had come from Scandinavia - they can tell this by isotopes in the bones - and some of those women were buried with weapons.
This does not mean that half of all Viking warriors were women. For a start, the sample is too small to extrapolate like that. It does mean that people should stop making assumptions and start looking at the evidence.
Previously, it has been assumed that a man buried with a sword was a warrior, and that a body with a sword was always a man. Occasionally, it has been shown that women were buried with weapons, but instead of making the same assumptions as one would if it were a man, the excuses begin - oh, it didn't mean she fought; it was just a symbol of authority. There's a burial from the Isle of Man which is mentioned in Anglo-Saxon Women by Christina Fell which always cheers me up when I re-read it, because there is no doubt that this was a woman who fought, and did embroidery as well. Why shouldn't that be true? And why shouldn't men be allowed to both fight and do embroidery?
Not everyone fits into neat little gender-assigned boxes, and things which are "obviously" feminine in one generation or in one part of the world can be "obviously" masculine elsewhere. I once saw a documentary which included a group of people in Madagascar or somewhere similar where only the men did embroidery, because the women "obviously" didn't have the fine motor skills necessary for the best work.
There's another class of burials which are obviously of women, but who have a "sword-like" object with them. And instead of saying "It's a sword", this has been interpreted as being a tool for weaving. Having done a bit of weaving, frankly I doubt it.
Let's look at the evidence, rather than the assumptions, which will undoubtedly show us that the past was more interesting and with greater variation than we ever assumed.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Enjoying Witch Prime Beer

I've been supporting the makers of The Minister of Chance audio play (available on iTunes) in their efforts to make the series into a film. One of the ways they are raising money is to ask for sponsorship from local firms in Cheshire, where they will be doing the filming - there is already a 10 minute Prologue, filmed at the beautiful Little Moreton Hall. One of the firms sponsoring the film is Woodlands Brewery, and they have brewed a special beer in honour of one of the characters in the Minister of Chance - the wicked Witch Prime, ruler of the technologically advanced but superstitious country of Sezuan, which invades scientific but less technological Tanto, where most of the action takes place. In the audio play, the Witch Prime is played with gusto by Sylvester McCoy.
So I sent off for some of the beer.
I had hoped it would come before I went to London for LonCon, so I could share a bottle with my Young Man, but it didn't arrive. It hadn't arrived by the time I came back, either, so I sent a slightly concerned email to the brewery. When they got back to me, they told me that the beer had got broken in transit, and the courier hadn't told them - so a new case was on the way, along with an extra case to make up for any inconvenience!
I am now awash with beer!
Fortunately, it is very nice beer, light and hoppy, and made with pure Cheshire spring water and magic, as the label says.
Believe! As the Witch Prime himself says (or maybe "Keep Calm and Drink More Woodlands Beer").

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Masquerade at WorldCon, and Crafts

One of my fondest memories from Conspiracy in 1987 was the Masquerade - the costumes were wonderful, and there seemed to be lots of groups taking part - the Elric group which won, and the High Deryni, and Masters of the Universe.
This year there seemed to be more solo masqueraders - though the worthy winner was a group of eight depicting gods of the Silmarillion. The other big group was 1970s Doctor Who monsters, some of whom had to be guided into position by stage staff because they couldn't see out of their masks!
The youngest contestant was eleven, with Elsa's costume from Frozen - she got a prize for Most Beautiful. Another Elsa costume was worn by a ballet dancer who danced on points. It's always good when the beautiful costume is combined with a performance, and there was also a woman who danced with a spear, and a Native American dancing costume, as well as an Ood girl. There were a couple of Game of Thrones costumes - the Harpy of Astrapor and Cousin Tony Stark, and another Doctor Who one - entitled A Glamorous Evening of Galactic Domination, an inventive version of a Dalek.
There were a couple of Steampunk costumes, one in the junior class, a Lady Loki and a drow, and A Message from the Ministry of Magic, which featured that nasty teacher at Hogwarts - simple, but very effective. The most creepy costume award went to the Slender Man, who had been wandering round the Con on stilts during the day.
We were lucky enough to see some of those costumes up close the following day in a Show and Tell session, where we also saw the electronics on the costume of the 1930s dancers (they brought their own neon signboard that said Dine at Joe's), and various head dresses and other accessories were passed round. The lady who had worn the dress depicting the Odyssey was also there - she was wearing a version of a 17thC court dress which looks as if the skirt has swallowed a fence panel, so it's very wide, but narrow fore and aft, and a good shape for applique of Odysseus' ship - with him tied to the mast so he can hear the song of the Sirens. And it had a cloak part which folded back to reveal more panels.
The drow was there, too - he uses the costume for LARPing in Germany, and he was also on the panel of the make-up session, explaining how to get that solid black all over his face. It took him two hours to start with, and he's now got it down to fifteen minutes. He was also on the arms and armour panel.
There was also a slide show showing how they had made another girl on the panel green - there are lots of reasons to be green in fandom, going right back to the Orion slave girl in the very first pilot episode for Star Trek, where she dances for Captain Pike, and right up to date with Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. The makeup they used, which was theatrical makeup, is good even for dark skins.
The panelists said that they had got a lot of good advice from local theatres, who had always been happy to help. The lady who had made most of the Silmarillion costumes said that she had been advised by a local theatre where to get a particular type of material which stretches in three directions, but not at all in the fourth direction, which was useful for portions of the winglike parts of her costumes which spread out and lit up at the end of their stately dance.
It reminded me of a girl who portrayed an Orion slave girl at one of the Star Trek cons I went to in the 1980s - she thought it would be a good idea to get the green skin effect by using food dye. It took two weeks for the dye to wear off - she couldn't wash it off - and she had to go to work like that.
The SCA were in the Fan Village during the day - they did some fighting practice, which we missed, but we did see their weaponry. They use padded foam stuff, which is a bit of a disappointment - re-enactment groups in the UK use blunted steel. Still, the chainmail was nice.
At several of the panels we went to, there were a couple of people knitting, or embroidering as they listened. There was also a good panel on medieval textiles in London, which I went to. It was given by a German lady who also had a stall in the dealers' hall, and the next day I went down and bought one of her hand-spindles, as it's a different design from any of the others I own. She took the yarn making process right the way from carding the wool and putting it on the distaff, through spinning and weaving and a bit about dyeing.
Textiles do not survive well in archaeological contexts, and plant based fibres like linen or nettle are almost impossible to find remnants of, so throughout all Europe in the whole of the middle ages there are only 180 examples of cloth - most of them dirty brown and the size of a postage stamp! Even so, there's something to be learned from them, and we do know quite a bit about different weaving methods, and the Viking art of naalbinding - a sort of knitting with only one needle (there was a whole sock done in naalbinding found at York). One of the good things about the Crossrail excavations across London at the moment is the vast wealth of archaeological material it's bringing to light, including artefacts related to textile production.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Doctor at WorldCon


Here I am, outside the Tardis, which was parked in the middle of the Fan Village. Some time during the Con, a second Tardis appeared at the other end of the Fan Village - but there was a note in the Con newsletter, Pigeon Post, declaring that there obviously were NOT two Tardises in the Fan Village, because that would cause a rupture in the space time continuum (or something).
We weren't the only people having our pictures taken beside the Tardis, of course.
The best Whovian costume I saw - well, it's a tie, I think. There was an amazing Lady Sixth Doctor in a patchwork dress, and a superb Cyberman.
There was a Dr Who Party on the first evening in the Fan Activities tent. We all got blue wristbands marked "Wholapalooza@LonCon3" when we went in - and a raffle ticket.
I won the raffle!
I never win raffles!
I got a copy of Doctor Who The Essential Guide - I was delighted!
We couldn't stay very long because we had to get the DLR home, but what a lovely end to the first day that was.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Kaffeeklatches and Literary Beers

I don't think this had been thought of back in 1987, but it's certainly a thing now - you could sign up at the information desk the day before to have coffee in a small group with the author of your choice, or in the case of a literary beer, hang out at the bar with the author of your choice. I put my name down for Kim Stanley Robinson - I greatly admire his work, but then I had a bit of a panic because I haven't actually read any of his books for long enough that the details had got a bit fuzzy. I wondered if I should do some homework to get up to speed.
As it happened, none of that was needed. It was a very relaxed affair, with people chatting around a table - and there were so many of these scheduled that there were two tables going at the same time in the London Suite where we were. It was also quite interesting that everyone around the table, as they introduced themselves, was either a writer, aspiring writer or computer programmer!
So we talked about the inadvisability of basing major characters in your book on members of your own family, as KSR did in Forty Signs of Rain. The toddler is heavily based on both his own sons, and for the later books he shifted the focus from that family to another character because it was a bit awkward at home.
He also talked about the new lease of writing life he's got from writing outdoors, which he's been doing for five or six years now. Of course, he lives in California, rather than Wales, and has a tarpaulin to shelter under if it rains, and bird feeders with humming birds visiting them right by where he's sitting. He wrote Galileo's Dream like that, and it had been the most enjoyable writing experience he'd had for years, which made me happy because I'd just bought it at the dealers' hall.
Later, I bought Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable, critical essays edited by William J Burling and published by McFarland, who had a stand in the dealers' hall with a range of scholarly works about SF authors and subjects. I was tempted by several there, but they weren't cheap. I think I made a good choice with this one, though.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Hugo Awards

It was quite exciting to be in the audience of the Hugo Awards this year. We could even see the press table, where journalists were tapping away on their laptops as the awards were given. The ceremony was also making the most of the big screens behind the stage to put up live action and art and clips of film - all the Short Form Dramatic Presentations had clips shown before the award was given - which was quite Doctor Who heavy! Two Doctors were actually there - David Tennant attended the Hugo Losers party after the event, and Peter Davison was in the audience, in the reserved seats at the front, in case his short film The Five(ish) Doctors won the award.
Sadly, many winners were unable to be there in person, but they had all written speeches to be delivered by proxies.
The Hugo statuettes themselves were displayed in a mock-up of the White Tower at the Tower of London, which slid aside to show the shelves where they were standing, and at the beginning of the evening the whole thing was guarded by two men in the uniform of the Yeoman Warders, or Beefeaters. Later in the Con, the shelving was on offer to whoever could take it away - and it was pretty big!
The first award was not a Hugo - it was the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and that went to Sofia Samatar.
Then we had the best Fan Artist. Most of the fan art I saw in the Hugo package was pretty much on a par, but one artist stood out head and shoulders above the rest, and I wasn't surprised when she won. I learned later that this was the only category in the Hugos this year where the first vote was decisive - it's a form of proportional vote where the votes for the one who comes last are re-distributed until there is a clear winner. Sarah Webb won hands down - and apparently she's only nineteen! So she's got a great future ahead of her.
The best Fan Writer was Kameron Hurley, which I was pleased about, because I follow her blog, and her work at A Dribble of Ink blog, which won Best Fanzine and the Best Related Work category, in part because of Kameron Hurley's essay We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative (which is excellent - I recommend it). Kameron Hurley's acceptance speech is also well worth reading, and there was a good podcast on tor.com about the awards featuring Aidan Moher and Foz Meadows, too. Other Fanzines up for the award included two I follow regularly - The Book Smugglers and Pornokitsch, both of which are also excellent. There's a lot of talent out there.
The Best Related Work category had a lot of good stuff in it. I rather enjoyed Queers Dig Time Lords: a celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans who love it, and I was also very impressed by The Wonder Book by Jeff Van der Meer. In fact, I started taking notes from the extract that was included with the Hugo packet, and I bought the book at the Con. It's a writing manual, and I'm picking up a lot of good tips from it about constructing scenes and so on.
The Best Fancast was SF Signal Podcast by Patrick Hester.
The Best Semiprozine was Lightspeed, edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton and Stefan Rudnicki, and then it was time for the Professional Artists. Julie Dillon won this one (I like her work, too) but the quality was incredible, and I liked a lot of the work that I saw.
I didn't feel I knew enough about it to vote for the Best Editor. The Long Form editor award went to Ginjer Buchanan, who came up in person - and she's about to retire, so what a wonderful thing to get at the end of her career. The Best Short Form Editor was Ellen Datlow.
In the Short Form Dramatic Presentation category, none of the Doctor Who related work won - it was The Rains of Castamere episode of Game of Thrones that took the (Iron Throne) prize. The Best Long Form Dramatic Presentation was Gravity, which some people have quibbled isn't really science fiction at all.
There was more Doctor Who in the Best Graphic Story category, The Girl who Loved Doctor Who by Paul Cornell - I liked it best, although it was clearly aimed at a younger audience than I am, but the winner was Time, from XKCD. One of the other nominees was Volume 13 of Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio, which is now on my wish list the next time I get to a Forbidden Planet.
The winner of the Best Short Story award was John Chu, for The Water that Falls from Nowhere, and he was a very emotional winner - he'd obviously encountered a lot of resistance to his work in the publishing business, some of it racist, and the Hugo was a huge vindication of his work. I went back and re-read the story after the Con, and he really is a superb writer - and I just wanted to give his main character a big hug at the end! He's an author I'll be looking out for in future. One of the other nominees in that category was Sofia Samatar, who won the John W Campbell award, with Selkie Stories are for Losers.
We were getting near the end of the evening now, and to the longer fiction. Best Novelette went to Mary Robinette Kowal's The Lady Astronaut of Mars, which was the one I liked best of the selection, though I also rather liked The Exchange Officers by Brad Torgersen.
The Best Novella went to Equoid by Charles Stross, who looked very smart in a dark kilt, and the Best Novel went to Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, who has been sweeping all before her in the awards this year.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Urban Fantasy at WorldCon

I was sorry not to get to any of the panels or reading that Paul Cornell was on, as I enjoy his Doctor Who work, and some of his comics - and his London Falling urban fantasy series. I did pick up a hardback of The Severed Streets, the second in the series, though. I also enjoy Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, and I'm now awaiting the fifth book, Foxglove Summer, in which PC Peter Grant comes to Herefordshire. I'm looking forward to seeing what he makes of Merrily Watkins/Phil Rickman territory.
But there's more to urban fantasy than those two series, though like Steampunk a lot of it is set in London. That was the title of the panel we went to on the Friday, with introduced us to the work of Tom Pollack and Russell Smith, among others.
I was quite impressed by Russell Smith. Not only has he moved from London to Manchester (and seems to enjoy living in my old home city), but he's a Tudor re-enactor as well as an author, and an entertaining speaker.
This was the second panel that we saw Russell Smith on - he also took part in Liechester Square: Getting London Wrong on Thursday, which was very amusing, being about all those mistakes about the city, like a certain Norse god trying to get back to Greenwich on the Tube in a recent film, for instance. After the Con, we spent a day in Greenwich, and tried to work out exactly where at the Naval College Christopher Eccleston's dark elvish spaceship had torn up the lawns - worryingly close to the Meantime brewery!
There was a lot said, in both panels, about the history of the city and its many layers, as well as the good advice (I think from Tom Pollack?) "Look up!" There are all sorts of details lurking above eye level that can be very interesting indeed. And there was some discussion about other cities that might lend themselves to urban fantasy - why should London have all the fun? It made me want to go back to my own urban fantasy about Norwich, which ground to a halt after three or four chapters - but I might be able to resurrect it with a bit of thought.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Steampunk at WorldCon

Those goggles get everywhere!
There were quite a few well turned out gentlemen in waistcoats and top hats wandering the halls - and Dr Geof was in the dealers' hall, with his amusing patches. He specialises in tea related ephemera, which is why he is exhibiting underneath the Cutty Sark at the moment. The last day is Sept 30th. He's also involved in Longitude Punk'd at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, until January 4th, 2015. On the hand bills (illustrated by Dr Geof) it says "Discover a fascinating world of Steampunk creations, inspired by the quest for longitude". We didn't have time to visit the exhibitions while I was in London, but we did stop to chat with Dr Geof in the dealers' hall when we passed by.
And there were panels, too. Steampunk is also a literary phenomenon, and comes under the umbrella of SF. We got to Beyond Blighty: world steampunk, where the panel was made up of one Venezuelan and three Germans, to represent writers beyond the Anglo-sphere. Joseph Remesar sets his work in London, all the same, though he has a Latino Scotland Yard detective, who is assigned to a difficult case because he can speak Spanish, so it's a different look at the greatest Steampunk city in the world. There was some artwork associated with this series in the art show, too, which looked intriguing.
One of the German ladies on the panel, Romy Wolf, has set her Steampunk series in Edinburgh. It's called Die Spione von Edinburgh, and is only available in German. This led to a discussion of other towns and cities that could easily be used as a setting for steampunk stories, rather than going back to London all the time.
One of the questions that was asked was why there was so little German steampunk, when Germany had been a great 19thC industrial area - I can't really say "nation" until 1870, and that's really one of the problems. German history is fragmented into the different principalities and electorates and so on. One lady on the panel was writing about the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and we learned some interesting German history on the way, like the importance of the date 1866 - the Austro-Prussian war, which threw up some interesting possibilities for alternate histories. One Dane in the audience suggested that for him, 1864 was more important, as Denmark had been invaded by the Germans - for which the panel apologised.
Sadly, the Germans considered that there was too small an audience for Steampunk literature to support them at the moment. I just wish I could read German better - the glimpse of the stories that the panel were telling was fascinating.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Vampires at WorldCon

There really was something for everyone on the huge programme.
Vampires and Identity was a panel on the academic track that sounded interesting. It was just a pity that no-one in the room had read the books that Nin Harris had based her thesis on, so it was difficult to make any comments about it. She did say a couple of interesting things about vampires in Malaysia, though, blood sucking women who lived in the forest, and owl women who swept down from the trees, and I wish she'd said more about that. She kept things going until Deborah Christie arrived, fresh off the plane and craving caffeine, and the third member of the panel never managed to get there at all. Then the discussion really opened up, though, and became quite jolly.
I saw Deborah Christie the next day, looking much less jet lagged in a long green dress, lounging across the Iron Throne!
On Saturday was a panel called The Daughters of Buffy, which was only slightly vampire related - it was more about female characters in TV since Buffy, and what the legacy of the programme had been in terms of gender equality. So Foz Meadows, LM Myles, Dr Tansy Rayner Roberts and Sarah Shemilt talked about the way Buffy had female friends to back her up as well as looking at modern programmes like Orphan Black (which was up for a Hugo Award). I particularly enjoyed this panel, because I've been following Tansy Rayner Roberts' blog for a while now, and I've also read stuff by Foz Meadows on the web, so I was interested to see what they were like in real life - and the answer is, great fun, and full of interesting opinions.
On Sunday, the Young Man wanted to see a panel with one of his favourite authors, Kim Newman. This was called Making Old Tropes New: Vampires, and was very entertaining, going over the history of vampire mythology beyond Bram Stoker to things like Varney the Vampire, and forward to how they have been used in films and books and TV more recently (with a brief mention of sparkly vampires....). I think they even mentioned the Salt Vampire from original Star Trek. The other members of the panel were Alys Sterling, Keffy RM Kehrli, Mur Lafferty and Marianna Leikomaa, who talked about how there wasn't really a Finnish vampire mythology, and why that might be. We saw Nin Harris in the audience of that one.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Comics at WorldCon

One of the highlights of WorldCon for us was Bryan Talbot (who turns out to be a lovely man!). As Guest of Honour, he gave several talks - the first we attended was on the history of anthropomorphic animals in comics, which was very comprehensive. Mind you, I felt a little bit of a fraud when I put my hand up to knowing about 1930s annuals like Teddy Tail and Tiger Tim, because I knew about them from my time working at the Children's Bookshop in Hay, rather than from my own childhood experience. We're now eagerly awaiting Grandville:Noel, which is due out in November.
There's also a film called Graphic Novel Man, which was shown at the Con (my Young Man bought a copy - it's fascinating), about Bryan Talbot's life and work - and he also gave a talk called How I make a Graphic Novel which will make me look at the layout of comics with new eyes. He talked about making things absolutely clear on the page, to lead the reader's eye to speech bubbles in the right order, and to draw the eye across, and how it made sense to finish one scene at the bottom of the right hand page, so you could turn over and see that you were in a new scene - "It's no use having people wonder about so-and-so's secret identity on one page, if you can see him taking his mask off in the next!" He also showed the perils of letting the letterers choose where they put the speech bubbles over the picture, with an image of Magneto - but all you could see of him were his feet, the rest being hidden by the speech bubble!
Another panel we went to was called In Space, No One Can Hear You Ink: the Best SF Comics. Here we had a French perspective on comics, from a physicist (I think - certainly a scientist) called Sakuya - the French are seriously into comics as an adult literary form. Also on the panel was Phil Foglio, who was up for a Hugo for Volume 13 of his Girl Genius comic. Being unfamiliar with any earlier volumes, when I read the Hugo packet I hadn't got a clue what was going on, so I didn't rate the series very highly, but after the panel we went back to the Girl Genius table in the dealers' hall to find that Volume One had already sold out, so my Young Man got Volume Two to start off with - and suddenly it made so much more sense. He'll be looking for more, I think. We also noticed that Agatha, the Girl Genius of the title, looked uncannily like Phil Foglio, complete with large round glasses. He said he had no problem in getting the domain name on the web, because the words "Girl" and "Genius" were never used together! Other members of the panel were Ade Brown and Scott Edelman.
The last thing that we went to on the Monday, after the Closing Ceremony where the gavel was passed from LonCon to Sasquan in Spokane, Washington, complete with their own Sasquatch (and the audience was pelted with huckleberry sweets), was a film called Comics Britannia - Anarchy in the UK. I've never been much of a fan of Viz, but the other stuff was interesting - and it also showed how different things were in the 1970s, when young men on the dole could spend that time honing their creative skills or, in the case of Viz, starting to put out a comic from their back bedroom. That sort of thing would probably get you 'sanctioned' these days.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Science at WorldCon

I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised that there was a lot of real science on display at WorldCon. There was even a meeting advertised during the Con for alumni of MIT - there were enough of them there to fill a room.
In the Dealers' Hall there were several science stands - the Royal Holloway Department of Earth Sciences was monitoring methane and carbon dioxide during the Con and presenting their research into changing global methane emissions. The University of Dundee was also showcasing their research in Life Sciences.
There was plenty about space, like the Herschel Telescope and Planck satellite, and the ALMA and e-MERLIN radio telescope arrays from Chile and Jodrell Bank.
On the first day of the Con, across the room I saw a man flapping his arms around in front of a screen - this was Pigeon Sim, where you could fly like a pigeon over London. That one came from University College, London.
While we were dressed in our white coats as UNIT scientists, we got talking to the students at the Proxomics Project, which was absolutely fascinating. The Young Man was interested in the way they are looking at cells individually, to look at the differences and ways of treating cancers and dealing with problems of aging. He came away with an invitation to visit the lab at Imperial College!
I was more interested in the display that showed, with magnets and ball-bearings, how a mass spectrometer works. It was something I remembered vaguely from my A levels, but I'd never heard of it being used with proteins, as this group were doing.
There was a display about the Mars Desert Research Station, in Utah, where people are practicing how to live on Mars, and there was a Deep Sea Crawler, down at 900m in the Canadian Pacific, which was sending live video data back.
And, speaking of remote viewing, there was a man in Idaho who was "present" at the Con via a moving TV screen, so he could actually move around and talk to people in real time. He even asked a question at the Astronomer Royal's talk.
There were many science talks. We really enjoyed The Science of Discworld, particularly as I had just read the second book in the four book series, the one about elves invading Roundworld, and the wizards trying to make sure that Shakespeare is born and writes A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Discworld bits of the books are written by Terry Pratchett, and the alternate chapters describing the science are written by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart. Ian Stewart, a maths professor at Warwick, was giving the talk, and he was very entertaining, and explained things very clearly. I remembered Jack Cohen, who is a biologist, from Star Trek Cons years ago - he gave some very amusing talks, with slides, about alien sex, including the real biology of tribbles. They are also, now, honorary wizards of the Unseen University, the ceremony taking place on the same day as Terry Pratchett became an Honorary Doctor of Warwick University.
The most impressive talk, though, was the Astronomer Royal's lecture The Post Human Future. Like Ian Stewart, Lord Martin Rees explained his ideas clearly - but we still needed to concentrate to keep up! He talked about the discovery of exo-planets by the Kepler telescope, which was so fascinating I looked it up when I came home (there's a lot of information on the NASA website), and evolution and astronomy, and science interacting with politics, and we came staggering out with our brains full and needing beer!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Retro-Hugos for 1939

The first ever WorldCon was held in 1939 (only 200 people attended) - but the first ever Hugo Awards didn't happen until 1953. Therefore, this year, voting took place for the 1939 Hugo Awards - with the benefit of hindsight, of course.
It seems strange now to think that Carson of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Galactic Patrol by EE Doc Smith were published in the same year as The Sword in the Stone by TH White - which was voted the winner of best novel category. Out of the Silent Planet, by CS Lewis, was a contender, too, the fifth choice being The Legion of Time by Jack Williamson.
For Best Novella, it really had to be "Who Goes There?" by Don A Stuart/John W Campbell - the story which became the film The Thing, just as the best dramatic presentation (short form) had to be The War of the Worlds by HG Wells, put on radio by Orson Welles to famously cause widespread panic. Nothing else in the category came close to that sort of notoriety. There was no category for best long form dramatic presentation, so I suppose there were no SF films put out that year.
The choice for best novelette was Rule 18 by Clifford D Simak - though Pigeons from Hell by Robert E Howard sounds intriguing, and I don't think I've come across Werewoman by CL Moore, though I'm a fan of her work (especially Jirel of Joiry).
The wonderful thing about the Hugos now is that voters are able to receive a package of the nominated works - that couldn't happen in 1987, when I was last eligible to vote. Computer downloads are so much lighter than a pile of books coming through the post, even if anyone had been able to afford to give out so many books back then. So I was able to read quite a few of the works that had been nominated. I was already familiar with most of the novels, but the shorter stories mostly appeared in SF magazines, and are harder to track down. I did enjoy (though I thought it was terribly sad) Lester del Ray's short story The Faithful, about genetically enhanced dogs in a time when humans have been wiped out, who embark on a project to make themselves new humans from genetically enhanced apes so they will have someone to be faithful to. Arthur C Clarke won that category, though, with How We Went to Mars.
The best editor, and certainly the one whose fame has lasted best, was John W Campbell, and the best artist was Virgil Finlay.
I didn't feel qualified to vote for best fanzine, though there seem to have been a few to choose from - Imagination!, edited by Forrest J Ackerman, Morojo and T Bruce Yerke, won there. "Morojo" seems to have been Myrtle Douglas in Esperanto. Forrest J Ackerman was also nominated as best fan writer, and was beaten by a man who went on to greater things - Ray Bradbury!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Art at WorldCon

The Art Show at this year's WorldCon was one of the biggest ever, with over 2,000 pieces of art on display.
I had to take two goes to get round it - my brain was too full!
And what wonderful stuff it was.
Chris Foss was one of the guests of honour, so some of his work was on display, as well as some Grandville panels by Bryan Talbot. They were for sale, too, though well out of our price range - and an auction finished off the art show at the end of the Con.
Jeanne Gomoll, the fan guest of honour, is also an artist - she designed the James Tiptree Jr quilt which was on show on the other side of the dealers' hall, along with Tracy Benson. The quilt is on its way to a permanent home, which I think is a museum or library in Oregon.
Out of the many brilliant artists exhibiting, the one whose work really jumped out at me was Anne Sudworth, who paints wonderfully detailed, realistic pictures. Greetings cards of some of her work were on sale, and I wasn't surprised to find that the one of Whitby Abbey had sold out by the time I made my choice. It was an added bonus to meet the artist herself while I was standing in the queue to pay - and the person in front of me was also buying some of her greetings cards. She has a website at www.AnneSudworth.co.uk
It wasn't just paintings that were on show - there were sculptures and masks and jewellery and embroidery and clothes with LED lights running through them and model spacecraft and weaving and pictures made with cut out paper. There were even jigsaws, from Judy Peterson.
One artist, Vincent Jo-Nes (there should be an umlaut over the o and an acute accent over the e), paints pictures that glow in the dark, incorporating discarded electronic components. Paola Kathuria creates works of art on computer - the Young Man was very impressed with her work, especially the glowing snail-shell shape called Hexodus. She, too, has a website, at www.paolability.com
I rather liked the travel posters, modelled on the 1930 - 50s British Rail posters, but for SF destinations, by Auton Pursur.
Alastair Reynolds turns out to be a man of many talents, too - I knew he was a writer and astronomer, but I had no idea what a good artist he also is.
Each of the stands for the guests of honour to meet and greet had been decorated, too - stuffed dragons and a life sized Wizard of the Pigeons sitting on a bench surrounded by stuffed pigeons for Robin Hobb, for example. There were even some live pigeons on Saturday, of the nine different varieties that Charles Darwin owned and studied.
Costumes were on display, too, as well as photos of people wearing costume - my Young Man knew some of them (he was able to point out Anne Sudworth to me, as well).
There were also Artists in Residence throughout the con, talking, and working and selling merchandise. They included Chris Achilleos - the other really famous Chris who has painted many famous book covers.
There were demonstrations and art classes, too - we passed by while people were sitting in a circle sketching a couple of models in the centre (and yes, one of them was a rather good looking young black man with his shirt off, but it was a complete co-incidence that we kept going past!) There were also demonstrations of bead jewellery, gold leaf, acrylics and oils and watercolour, and clay modelling.
Where writers have the Hugo award (named after Hugo Gernsback, the magazine editor), SF artists have the Chesley, named after Chesley Bonestell, who painted pictures of the Earth from space in beautiful detail before we had ever gone into orbit.
There was even a book of the exhibition, a bargain at £5, fully illustrated in colour.