Companion Piece

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Companion-Piece-cover-web-200x300 I may have squee’d when the request to write for Companion Piece, the latest in the Chicks… range, arrived. Could I possibly write an essay on Barbara Wright?

Could I? I snapped it up, then squee’d even more when one of the editors, Liz Myles, asked if I could actually cover Barbara and Ian Chesterton. Only my favourite ever companions, the ones I love more and more each year. The ones I admire for all kinds of reasons.

The essay I turned in may be one of the most personal I’ve written. It’s about being a fan who came to the show in the pre-video era. It’s about how fans experienced Hartnell before you could download Marco Polo off iTunes. And it’s about how the fan narratives developed between 1989 and 2005 have broken down the walls of canon/non-canon.

Companion Piece: Women Celebrate the Humans, Aliens and Tin Dogs of Doctor Who is edited by LM Myles and Liz Barr, and published by Mad Norwegian Press on 7 April.

You can read the full table of contents over on the publisher’s site.

You can also pre-order through the usual channels: print amazon | kindle | kobo.

Feel free to go off and order it now, as I’m about to get all political, in a post first drafted in late 2013 and therefore not mentioning a hate campaign targeting geek women that blew up in 2014…

ian and babs

My essay in Companion Piece is also about being a female fan when we were invisible. When a male fan could denigrate me in a convention bar as “not a real fan” because I didn’t care precisely how many episodes were in a Pertwee story. When I could literally name every fem fan in UK fandom (and most of the Australian ones). When I buried my romantic textual reading of Who because it made me too fem for fandom.

I’d love to say all that has changed. But there is still a culture in fandom that would prefer female fans to either not be fans, or not be fem in their fannishness. This manifested in 2013 with an element of fandom saying “good riddance to fangirls” when a subset of female fans said they’d stop watching as Capaldi was not a hot young man. As I pointed out at the time, if fem fans treated the response of a minority of male fandom as representative of all male fans, they’d rightly complain of stereotyping. Yet using “fangirl” as a derogatory term is still seen by some male fans as acceptable.

There’s a more subtle form of gender bias at work too. Paul Cornell has experienced this when he began his campaign for panel parity. There is a pretence that women as capable of discussing comics/books/films as men don’t exist. That if only there were more women to chose from then of course editors and con programmers would pick women. And you still get articles that think Jenny Colgan is the first woman to write a Who novel, over 20 years after Kate Orman became the first original novelist to be female.

There’s a risk that fem fans self-ghetto-ise. We did it in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I still laugh at my wikipedia entry and its claim about the Who fangrrl movement. Which was me, a Tav’zine and a yahoo group. There remains an understandable urge to create a space where we feel comfortable to respond to Who with our whole self, including the more fem elements we used to hide. A virtual room of one’s own where fanfic and going “Paul McGann! It’s Paul McGann! Squee!” to Night of the Doctor doesn’t attract sneers.

But that room of our own risks creating an echo chamber. It’s the problem of “women in [x]” panels at conventions, where the presumption is our gender alone is a worthwhile topic. This risk, that we end up being sidelined, would mean we fail to challenge the old patriarchal fandom culture. Our room of our own would keep up hidden, invisible and safely out of the way of “real” fandom. We mustn’t end up in a room with no doors. This was one of my concerns when first asked to write for the Chicks… series of books.

Like many fandoms that unite people who felt “other”, our fan culture has degrees of otherness. Go to some comic conventions and you see the same: women, cosplay or – the horror – cosplaying women are not as “real” as Grayson Perry’s (white, straight, middle class) default man. It’s this cultural problem that leads a convention like the World Fantasy Con 2013 to treat victims of sexual harassment as the problem, rather than the harassers.

I’m not prepared to accept those fan cultures. Comics conventions like Thought Bubble are inclusive. They don’t reinforce the old hierarchies. They understand that fan cultures can evolve to embrace all the fans, not just those in traditional positions of authority. And it’s important that those of us who want to have those more inclusive fan cultures support it.

In the end, I decided the Chicks… range is not a room with no doors. We don’t get endlessly poured over by fans on Gallifrey Base like some non-fiction books but no – no – non-fiction editor or con programme organiser can ever claim there are no women experts any more. There’s three books with dozens of fem fans writing about Who to chose from. We’re here, and we’re not going to be invisible.

When people began to complain there were disproportionately few female subject matter experts on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, the initial defence was that there weren’t any female experts willing to appear. In response, The Women’s Room, a database of female subject matter experts was set up. In the last two years, as a listener, I’ve noticed a shift towards proportionality. Over breakfast I’m now as likely to be muttering “nonsense” about a woman as a man. The Today programme is, in effect, moving towards current affairs panel parity.

Consider the Chicks… books to be the Who version.

Hello.

We are fangrrl: hear us roar.

babs and ian and dr

Since I first wrote that in late 2013, things have improved. Women fans are more visible, and not confined to talking about traditionally fem interests like the emotional intelligence (or otherwise) of the Doctor. But we mustn’t stop creating rooms where everyone is welcome, irrespective of gender, colour, age or sexuality.

Chicks Dig… Gaming

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

I’ve a new essay due out.

Professor Layton and the Passive Princess will appear in Chicks Dig Gaming on 11 November 2014.

Chicks-Dig-Gaming-cover-MNP2-192x300

In Chicks Dig Gaming, editors Jennifer Brozek (Apocalypse Ink Productions), Robert Smith? (Who is the Doctor?) and Lars Pearson (editor-in-chief, the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig series) bring together essays by nearly three dozen female writers to celebrate the gaming medium and its creators, and to examine the characters and series that they love.

Catherynne M. Valente (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, Indistinguishable from Magic) examines Super Mario Bros. through the lens of Samsara, the Wheel of Birth and Rebirth; Seanan McGuire (the October Daye series) details how gaming taught her math; G. Willow Wilson (Alif the Unseen) comes to terms with World of Warcraft; and Rosemary Jones (Forgotten Realms) celebrates world traveler Nellie Bly and the board game she inspired. Other contributors include Emily Care Boss (Gaming as Women), Jen J. Dixon (The Walking Eye), Racheline Maltese (The Book of Harry Potter Trifles), Mary Anne Mohanraj (Bodies in Motion), L.M. Myles (Chicks Unravel Time), Jody Lynn Nye (the MythAdventures series), and E. Lily Yu (“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”).

Also featured: exclusive interviews with Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens and Dragonlance writer Margaret Weis.

What I like about this collection is that it has women of all ages talking about every kind of gaming. So there’s triple-A computer games, LARPing and chess. Gaming covers every kind of game, and gamers come in every gender, age and race.

The OED defines games as “A form of competitive activity or sport played according to rules”. [1]

There is no right or wrong way to be a gamer. Unless you follow that weird auction rule in Monopoly (yes, it’s in the rules but seriously, who does that?).

Confessions of an Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy

Monday, 3 February 2014

What’s most startling about reading this 1963 book on advertising is how much of the advice is still valid.

Ogilvy

There are some elements of Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy that have aged, such as a comment that women should should leave the workplace to care for their babies. There’s also reams of name-dropping, and a cosy Old Tie Club element to sections of it which sits uncomfortably with modern propriety.

The chapter on writing copy, however, could be used word-for-word for explaining succinct writing now. Most of Ogilvy’s rules on copywriting are the same as the rules on writing in plain English. This book actually made me think on how to use it the next time I’m told plain English is some modern fad…

There are even elements that apply for writing online link bait now. Ogilvy loved a numbered list more than buzzfeed does, and he knew you had to get your keywords into the headline.

The cover of the edition I got cheekily steals its design from Mad Men, the TV series that stole its entire character from this book to start with. So here’s a bonus video.

Walk the Lines, by Mark Mason

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Tube map is one of the greatest works of fiction in the world. It takes the messy reality of a scattered city and turns it into measured beats, clusters of connections and something that makes sense. Also, the map (technically a schematic) doesn’t actually show real distances between what’s above ground. I love it.
Walk the Lines cover

Mark Mason decided to follow the map above ground, walking every mile as closely as possible. Walk the Lines is the result, his travelogue of each suburb and interchange.

Initially I dove into this book with enthusiasm, much like Mason as he prepared his project and walked the first line. Then, as the lines progressed and common themes emerged (countryside, suburbia, industrial, inner city and reverse) I started to want something more than I was getting, and by the end I was dawdling along with decreasing energy.

Some stations were skipped over: perhaps something that makes sense in some of the Metroland areas but there was no Russell Square. There’s both recent and old history there. I’ve been incapable of going through it without thinking of the 2005 bomb, just as I always think of the 1987 fire when I see the stopped clock in Kings Cross tube. But go back further and walking as the pigeon flies from Russell Square to King’s Cross you go through Coram Fields and past the Foundling Hospital – one of the most heart-breaking museums in London and well worth a note in a book about London’s more obscure corners.

There’s also a couple of points where the tone shifts into a kind of moroseness, almost a “bah humbug, youth of today” element which changed Mason from the kind of person you’d like to walk the length of the Picc with and into a grumpy bloke you’d try to avoid chatting to on a bus. That may have been a consequence of his own tiredness, or my own threshold for “…and all this used to be fields” talk.

There are some wonderful sections within the book though: the chat with a cabbie-to-be on learning the knowledge includes some laugh out loud moments, and the interview with Bill Drummond about his cake circle is a joy.

There’s also some good musings on the personal maps we create of a city. I can rat run around Soho, Fitzrovia and the South Bank but even last week I was filled with a mild terror as I was going to the Barbican. I explained when I got there and found my friend that I had last visited as a sixteen year old, got lost and never dared venture back in until now.

Overall, I’d recommend this for people who like maps and That London, but do prepare yourself with some Kendal Mint Cake for some of the later sections.

Bonus recommendation: watch out for repeats of Metroland on BBC Four. The DVD goes for outrageous amounts these days…

Moranthology, by Caitlin Moran

Sunday, 26 January 2014

It’s taken me a while to pin this one down: why did I enjoy Moranthology, a set of essays by Caitlin Moran?
image

Was it the fangirly glee about Sherlock, the righteous ire about politics, or the alarmingly plausible late night conversations with her husband. In the end, the best way to illuminate why this book is worth reading is that Caitlin Moran loves libraries.

On a cold, rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead. A human with a brain and a heart and a desire to be uplifted, rather than a customer with a credit card and an inchoate ‘need’ for ‘stuff’.

The whole essay resonates so strongly. The idea that, as a teenager, you might come to believe you’ve read every book on the shelves of your local library. That you can order up some dream of a book through inter-library loan. For free. Well, for a minor fee for the inter library loan but still…

Unlike Caitlin, on her Midlands estate, I grew up surrounded by books. I tried to mentally count the number of bookcases we had at home the other day, and failed because I’d keep remembering another one. But once a week, I’d head down to my local library and max out my card with books. Ones I wanted to read again, ones I wanted to take a risk on, ones we didn’t have in the house and I couldn’t afford to buy. You can imagine my delight at discovering my card actually let me take out eight books at once rather than the four I thought I was allowed.

As an art student in a freezing bedsit, the heaters you could sit on in Exeter Central Library were an added bonus, as were their huge collection of vinyl and plays and screenplays and heavy books on modernist art…

There are essays in this collection I disagree with, or that made me snort with laughter, or whatever. But I’d recommend reading it for the essay on libraries alone.

You can always borrow it from one…

The Victorian Detective, by Alan Moss and Keith Skinner

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Another off the Christmas book pile, this time diving into non-fiction for a look at the Victorian Detective.

Sherlocks3

No, not that one.

Instead The Victorian Detective is a slim non-fiction volume looking at the rise of the police detective in Victorian Britain. There’s no doubt Alan Moss and Keith Skinner’s book is well-researched and fully sourced. The problem comes in if you’ve already read The Suspicion of Mr Whicher, which covers the same ground through the prism of a single case.

In attempting to avoid the grisly “true crime” style, this book skims over the cases themselves in favour of, well, HR updates on which station a detective is based in. Overall, it felt rather too dry.


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