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Change of Direction… & CALLS FOR WORK!

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So, after years of commenting on other people’s books, other people’s writing decisions, other people’s publishing decisions; and after two years of selling books… I’ve decided to extend my tentacles into yet another arm of this industry.

I’m incredibly pleased and proud to be able to announce the foundation of GALLI BOOKS, a small press with inclusion and intersectionality core to its mission and themed anthologies of short speculative fiction as its (initial) output. Right now, we’ve got a website – galli-books.co.uk – and, indeed, we’re already opening our first anthology up for your work!

There is currently a Call for Submissions open for writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and a Call for Portfolios for artists – with the intention in mind of hopefully finding an artist who can grow alongside and with the press, doing the covers for all our future anthologies, dependent on how working together on this one goes!

Unfortunately, because I’m now a publisher (and that’s still a weird thought!), I’m having to reconsider the future of my reviewing; is it appropriate to review the work other publishers put out? I’m not deleting this site but there may not be any reviews this week while I think about the question. If you’ve got thoughts on the topic, please do comment so I’m not just thinking into the void of self!

Things Can Only Get Better by John O’Farrell

cover

Things Can Only Get Better is the personal account of a Labour supporter who survived eighteen miserable years of Conservative government. It is the heartbreaking and hilarious confessions of someone who has been actively involved in helping the Labour party lose elections at every level: school candidate: door-to-door canvasser: working for a Labour MP in the House of Commons; standing as a council candidate; and eventually writing jokes for a shadow cabinet minister.


Along the way he slowly came to realise that Michael Foot would never be Prime Minister, that vegetable quiche was not as tasty as chicken tikki masala and that the nuclear arms race was never going to be stopped by face painting alone.
~~~~~
Do you remember the evening of May 1st, 1997? Do you remember the morning and day that was May 2nd, 1997? Do you remember that things can only get better? That was the first day in my life that I lived under a Labour government. It’s my second political memory. It’s a memory full of joy, and awe, and amazement, and surprise. For John O’Farrell, it was the culmination of nearly two decades of hard work as a Labour activist; and so, over the course of the six months following victory, he wrote his political memoirs of Labour’s time in the wilderness: the result is, of course, Things Can Only Get Better.

This isn’t a standard memoir; really, it’s a series of snapshots in the life of a Labour supporter, taking in each election in which O’Farrell took any active part from the General Election of 1979 that brought Margaret Thatcher to power to that of 1997, which finally removed the Conservative government from office. Things Can Only Get Better is therefore a little parochial at times: Scotland, for instance, which underwent a political earthquake in 1997 unparalleled until 2015, gets only a brief mention, and England outside London barely more than that. When talking about the political mood, it’s notable how often O’Farrell means the political mood in London specifically, or even just in Battersea.

However, that limitation aside, Things Can Only Get Better is actually rather fascinating in one particular way that is often overlooked: the hard work of actually running an election campaign on the local level. O’Farrell worked as ward secretary, campaign agent, and campaign organiser in various elections of various scales over the course of the Tory dominion, and he talks about the processes involved in running a campaign operation. The complete lack of glamour and lack of general recognition volunteers get is something he drives home to the reader with a real sense of the importance of the work.

O’Farrell’s history of the Labour Party’s 1980s wilderness years seems to presage a lot of their new wilderness years in the 21st century; the infighting and desperation, and the arguments over the soul of the party. Things Can Only Get Better sides solidly with the Blairites, because they brought Labour to power, even while acknowledging that Blair was pawning the soul of the party for victory. Obviously, written in 1997 and published in 1998, the decade that followed was something that O’Farrell couldn’t predict, from the Iraq War and erosion of public ownership of public services (such as health and education) to the huge expansion of gay rights and the strengthening of our relationship with Europe.

The biggest theme of O’Farrell’s book, though, is also the reason I’m posting this review out of sequence, the day before election day; as Things Can Only Get Better hammers home time again, it is vital to take part in democracy. It is vital to vote. Polls, time and again, are proved wrong in the book, because people don’t turn out, or because they lied to pollsters; a counsel of despair is a false counsel, because you, the voter, can take part, and O’Farrell has some very choice words for those who claim that both sides are the same:

Other people told me they were not voting because ‘they’re all the same’. As if the party of Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit and Nicholas Ridley was the same as the party of Neil Kinnock, John Prescott and Dennis Skinner. The idea that there’s no point in voting because ‘they’re all the same’ is just intellectually lazy. You don’t have to wholly endorse everything one particular candidate stands for, you just have to consider one person as preferable to the other. If all of them are completely unacceptable, then stand for election yourself. Nothing gets my hackles up more than people who should know better copping out of the political system because they think they are above it. (p215)

That quote also illustrates one of the great strengths of Things Can Only Get Better; O’Farrell, a writer for Have I Got News For You and Spitting Image, and occasional joke-polisher for then-Shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown, is funny. He’s angry, he’s passionate, he’s political, and all of that is interspersed with brilliant bon mots, and moments that undercut his moral severity; O’Farrell isn’t above poking fun at himself or at the foibles of the Labour Party, any more than he’s above making cracks at the expense of the Tories. Some of the things O’Farrell goes after are the easy, obvious targets, but he’s also willing to do the harder political lifting too.

In the end, Things Can Only Get Better is a paean to the importance of getting stuck in and persisting to create change; I look forward to O’Farrell’s sequel, Things Can Only Get Worse, to be released in September, bringing the story up to the current election. Now, go out and vote on Thursday, write O’Farrell’s last chapter for him… and let’s make it a hopeful, progressive one!

Sponsorship and Blogging

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m asking for money on Patreon. This post is about explaining why I’m asking for money, and justifying asking for money. You don’t have to give me money. You don’t have to do anything with your money you don’t want to! I won’t be offended! But I thought I should lay out my reasoning a little. And to start with, I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine, Gollancz publicist and vlogger Stevie Finegan, aka SableCaught, who recently made this video:

(Transcript on her tumblr)

What I do here is labour. That is’s labour I do out of love makes it no less labour than my paid work as a bookseller, which I also do out of love; no less than the events I organise at work for authors I adore, for which organising I am paid; no less than writing a novel, which we all (I hope) agree authors should be paid for. It is effort, and time, and not always pleasant, especially when writing negative things about a book by someone one knows and likes. It is, in fact, work, and work is not necessarily its own reward.

I’m looking at a slightly different aspect of paid-for blogging than Stevie, though; while her subsequent video was directly paid for by one sponsor, in advance, I am asking you for money. Neither of these is intrinsically more honest or better a method than the other, I hasten to add – one is simply more open to me! I am doing this because I’ve blogged before, more than once, in more than one space, and fallen off the bandwagon. There is no positive reinforcement, no feedback, for blogging the way there is for, say, tweeting; at least not on the same scale; and writing a post takes more time than even a long tweetstream does. So not only is this labour that is expected to be its own reward, it can be lonely labour, too.

So, why put out my cap? As mentioned earlier, I work as a bookseller. The book industry is, as we all know, going through interesting times, and has been for a while; being a part-time employee in a bookshop keeps body and soul together and (thanks to a generous staff discount) in books, but at times rather tightly so. A little breathing room afforded me by your patronage would be a relief in those tighter times, and as someone with depression, that extra anxiety taken away would be a boon to my productivity here.

However, the greater reason, prompted by Stevie’s video, was that it’s positive reinforcement. Every time I post a review, or an essay, I’ll get a direct reward; every time I get a reward, I’ll know it was for doing the work, and that’s an incentive to do the work, even when it’s hard (and writing reviews, as any reviewer will tell you, often is hard), even when I don’t want to do it (no one wants to criticise their friends!), even when it seems pointless to do it (see also, depression). The Patreon sponsorship will reward me for doing the work, and thus, I’ll do more work, with reasons to do that work – especially once people build up an expectation of posts; extrinsic pressure to do the work, plus a reward for doing it? Yes, that’ll do.

So, in sum? Please put some money in the cap, and help me blog!

money-hat

Finally, a disclaimer about sponsorship and bias. As Stevie says, sponsorship means you’re paying for my time, not my endorsement; I’m not going to pretend a work by someone who sponsors me is better or less problematic than it is (or conversely, a work by someone who doesn’t worse or more problematic!).

Queering the Genre: A Personal Project

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Science fiction and fantasy – “genre” – fiction has, over the last few years, increasingly been the subject of a number of conversations about the dominance of the kyriarchy not in telling stories so much as deciding what stories are worthy; women have always written, to paraphrase Kameron Hurley, but their writing, like the writing of queer people and people of colour, has been erased. The same has happened to characters who break out from the unmarked default; novels centring on women, on people of colour, on queer characters, on people who sit on multiple arcs in oppression, have been erased from the canon, whether conciously or not.

Joanna Russ is, of course, both an exception to this rule (The Female Man is one of the few non-straight, white, cis male centred novels published as a Gollancz Masterwork) and the most cited descriptor of it (How To Suppress Women’s Writing is a classic of feminist critique of literary conservatism, and incredibly readable to boot). But what of the queer, the female, the non-white narratives that have been erased? As a sexually queer and genderqueer genre reader, I rarely see myself reflected in the novels I read; and so, I am embarking on a project to follow in the footsteps of others, and try to read (and possibly unearth or resurrect) some of these erased works.

This isn’t a novel project, of course. Tor.com has published, and continues to publish, similar quests by both Alex Dally MacFarlane and Brit Mandelo, both more widely read and more incisive than myself, and I intend to use those resources as recommendations for my own reading; similarly, Liz Bourke’s BSFA-nominated column Sleeps With Monsters has also touched on the topic, as have any number of other projects elsewhere both online and off. I am not breaking new ground with this project, and the only reason it is even slightly radical is because, as a genre, we continue to embrace the unmarked default; from behemothic publishing companies down to the level of individual readers, we aren’t working hard enough to overturn it, to queer the genre, and this will be my own small contribution to that effort.

So, for a little while I’ll only be reading “queer” genre fiction – that is, featuring either genderqueer and/or non-heterosexual characters; and I’ll be reviewing and discussing those works. I also hope to get some guests in to write about the topic, and as I go I intend to write a few more discursive pieces of my own on the topic. We kick off tomorrow with a review of Shadow Man by Melissa Scott, followed on Wednesday by Stephanie Saulter talking about ‘Gender, Language and Understanding’, and we’ll see where it goes from there – preferably with your help and recommendations! For now, keep queering the genre; D out!

Oh, and if anyone is willing to do me a logo design for this series – a basic rocket in the pride colours, say – I’d be incredibly grateful! Thanks to Alyssa Hanson for a fantastic logo, as seen at the top of this post!