Author and Scriptwriter

'Among the most important writers of contemporary British horror.' -Ramsey Campbell

Friday, 22 April 2016

Things of the Week: 22nd April 2016

As the clock ticks steadily down towards the wedding day, this week has been a jumble of good and bad stuff.

Tuesday saw a day trip to Manchester, and then on up to Bolton; as those of you who've met me in real life I will know, I am on the large side - larger than most clothes shops will cater to. Luckily Bolton boasts a little place called BigSize which caters to the larger gentleman. So now I have a suit for the wedding. All that remains are the alterations, since the damned legs are about a foot too long.

It was funny, travelling up through Manchester and in particular Salford, where I'd lived for twelve years before moving away with Cate. Already a lot of stuff has changed. Things change all the time, out there anyway; buildings are knocked down or built up, are given a makeover; streets are pedestrianised. All this stuff happens incrementally, day by day; you barely notice it when you're living there, but when you come back after a break, it smacks you in the eye.

I love Salford and the area around it. It's where I went to University and many places there hold fond memories for me. It's full of hidden beauty spots and places where I've found quiet and peace: the Landslide, Clifton Country Park, Lightoaks Park, Peel Park. Nearly everywhere I looked, there's a memory. And they're being slowly washed away. The Black Horse pub, with its beautiful carved keystones above the doors, where I got merrily drunk more times than I can count back in the '90s and where the jukebox included both Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd and First And Last And Always by The Sisters Of Mercy, is scheduled to be demolished to make way for more overpriced apartment buildings (as if Salford doesn't have enough of those.) There's an online petition to save it, for anyone interested. Although I suspect that money will get what money wants. It usually does in Britain.

So yeah: bittersweet.

Still on a temporary break from Devil's Highway; the project I started working on has kicked into some form of life and I should hopefully have a first draft in a couple more days. After that, I have a short story to write. And then...? Then it'll be back to the book, or on with some dull but necessary stuff I've been vowing to get around to for the last couple of months. Probably the latter.

There've been some delays with my author copies of the Hell's Ditch paperback - NOT the fault of Snowbooks, I hasten to add! But they arrived today! I have now stopped drooling over them. My first royalty statement from Omnium Gatherum for Angels Of The Silences arrived. My agent returned, knackered, from the London Book Fair.

Oh, and the shit hit the fan in the Horror Writer's Association.

Controversy flared over the appointment of British editor and author David A. Riley (hereafter DAR) as a juror for the HWA's Stoker Awards. DAR's past association as a candidate for the far-right National Front in the 1980s is well known, and although he's said he no longer holds such views, the evidence is also that he's remained sympathetic to the goals of the far-right in subsequent years. So there were always going to be issues with his taking on a role that requires impartiality, especially at a time when the SF/F/H community is trying to include writers who aren't white, straight and male (and there are bloody incredible writers out there who aren't, and who demand to be read.) DAR has now stepped down from the position, and I think this was probably the right thing to do under the circumstances. Simon Dewar has more here.

However, this was (for lack of a better term) Rileygate 2.

Rileygate 1 came along last year, when DAR was to have co-edited Weirdbook with Douglas Draa; an online campaign blew up, principally led by Scott Nicolay. DAR quickly stepped down, but the campaigners then switched their attention to anyone still associated with DAR in any way, shape or form. Paul St John Mackintosh's article gives some further details.

Those still friends with DAR on Facebook were pressured to drop him; there were calls for him to be banned from conventions (even though he's been attending them for decades without incident), ejected from fan organisations (even though he'd done nothing to breach their rules) and it was implied that publishers should not publish his fiction (even though his fiction does not express racist views.)

If DAR harassed or abused people at cons or used his position in fan organisations, I'd be the first to call for his expulsion/banning. But he hasn't. If his fiction spewed racial hatred - well, I doubt most editors would handle it anyway. There comes a point where a kid has to be allowed to play in the sandpit, whatever you think of him. No-one's saying you have to play with him.

There was also an elephant in the room.

One of the prime movers behind exposing Riley - this year and last year - is an individual with a personal grudge against him, because he gave one of her books a bad review. This individual framed the review as bullying, a personal attack brought on out of prejudice; unfortunately, they have a history of doing so with negative comments on their work.

That's well-known on the UK horror scene; less so outside it, and the individual concerned is now widely regarded in the US as a champion of social justice.

The reason I'm mentioning all this is because during Rileygate 1, British horror authors in general were accused (repeatedly) of 'defending racism and fascism' and during Rileygate 2, claims were repeated that 'the Brits had ganged up' against those who spoke the truth.

It's not true.

I do not, never have, never will, defend racism or fascism. Pretty much everything I've ever said and written comes out of foursquare opposition to both. (There isn't really much more I can say than that; I'm painfully aware I'm one of a group of people (British horror writers) who are collectively regarded in some quarters as being in bed with the far-right, so a number of people out there are probably already discounting every word I say on this subject. I can't do much about that.)

But you DON'T get to tell me, or others, who we can and can't associate with, much less accuse us of sharing their views. I have Christian friends, conservative friends, Muslim friends, Jewish friends, liberal friends, anarchist friends... I could go on, but the bottom line is I can associate with whomever I damn well please without necessarily agreeing with them or endorsing/condoning their views. To assert otherwise is to assert guilt by association - not only a logical fallacy, but a favoured tactic, to anyone who ever read a history book, of totalitarian regimes (of all political persuasions.) 

Another reason I'm mentioning this is that I and Gary Fry were recently accused of bullying this person when she posted comments about 'the Brits ganging up' on a third party's Facebook thread (in reference to Rileygate 1.) I took issue with the comment. As did Gary. The thread was rapidly deleted, the incident was described as 'an attempt at bullying' and Gary and I were both blocked by the third party. 

Phew. Pause for breath.

Right on the heels of that, of course, came another controversy, this time surrounded Dark Regions Press editor R.J. Cavender/Randy Joe Huff. Not only long-standing issues of editing work paid for and not done, but allegations of sexual harassment and assault, and of enabling it in another case. Again, Simon Dewar offers considerably more detail here

I've heard a lot of reports of harassment at cons in the US in recent years; I don't know how big an issue it is on the UK scene - I really want to believe it isn't much of one - but this comment by Graeme Reynolds caught my eye:

There is not a great deal I can do about this apart from say to my female friends that if you are ever at a convention where I am and something like this happens, then come get me (I am usually in the bar) and I will put the offenders head through the nearest wall. In the meantime I will be boycotting any press that continues to have an association with this fucking predator.

Of course, Graeme's a big guy, and ex-military, who's more than capable of hammering some nasty piece of work where necessary. Sort of a good-natured Geordie Chewbacca. :) In terms of physique, I'm closer to BB-8, but I can only reiterate the general sentiment: if you're at a con that I'm attending and something like that happens, please come and find me. I will do whatever I can to help. That kind of behaviour has no place at a convention. Or anywhere else, come to think of it.

This week also saw the deaths of two highly talented and creative individuals. I wasn't a huge Prince fan, although it would be impossible not to respect his work. But the death that saddened me most was that of the writer, actress and comedian Victoria Wood.

I grew up watching her show: she was, beyond doubt, one of the funniest women ever to draw breath. Keenly observed, hilariously funny, but never cruel. There are any number of screamingly funny monologues, sketches and songs that she penned, but this one is a particular popular favourite. So here it is.


Anonymous said...

Happy to see that you're not naming people. As usual.
It's well-known that the female you mention in regards to 'Rileygate' has never received any reviews. I know that for myself after checking.
Facts should always be accurate when accusing.

Simon said...

Thanks Emma - the review in question is in the Winter 2010 Issue of the BFS Journal. It's not available online.

Unknown said...

I think you speak very good sense on all counts.

Simon said...

Thank you, Molly.

Unknown said...

Hi Simon, I posted this elsewhere about the Riley thing and talk about "Brits rallying around."

As a 'Brit' when people talk about 'the Brits rallying around' or whatever I don't take that to mean every single writer and reader in the British Isles. I take it to mean that a lot of people who did rally around to defend Riley were British writers and readers.

I've not been following the HWA stuff all that closely (too knackered after work to write, let alone follow FB storms) but last year when everything came out about Riley it *was* overwhelmingly folk from here that were defending Riley. Maybe I just noticed that because a) I'm a Brit and b) I was worrying that speaking out loudly against Riley being involved in things was going to damage my nascent writing career.

The whole furore last year made me extremely cynical about the British horror/weird scene and has made me strongly disinclined to become more involved. I did actually find it rather shocking quite how many people don't grasp the basic political principle that "Nazis are bad." I dunno if it's because I come from an archaeological background maybe, we do after all have a long history of setting about Nazis, but that does seem to be a fundament of post-WWII political thought. Or it should be anyway.

#NotAllBrits ;)

Simon said...

Hi Andy,

I agree re facism and Nazism, I have no time for either, and I would not want it thought otherwise.

I think part of it is that there's a long tradition in fan organisations of 'leaving politics at the door' - whatever you do outside is one thing, but in terms of organisations like the BFS, the point is to come together in a mutual appreciation of the work you love. Also, as I say above, there was a widespread perception that both 'Rileygates' were instigated out of a personal grudge, which I think muddied the waters; what a lot of people looking in from outside saw as a straight black and white political issue, was seen closer to home as being a more murky affair.

Plus, as I say, it's about the right response. An avowed fascist not being in a position that demands impartiality - awards juror, etc - is one thing. I support the eventual HWA decision for DAR to step down, but agree with Brian Keene that trying - for example - to expel him from the HWA would not have been fair.

I don't think speaking out about Riley would have harmed your career, and I certainly don't think anyone on the UK scene had any desire to defend fascism per se. But yeah, I don't doubt there were a lot of well-intentioned and fair-minded people who saw it like that.

I'm fairly disillusioned with the horror scene too at the moment - not because of this specific case, but because it's the latest of many ugly, petty squabbles. I've just seen so many nasty little fights, too many toxic individuals, too many posturing no-marks... maybe I'm just worn out and how I feel right now will change.

But I don't feel the solution is for good people to step away. I've made many good friends through this scene, and I still look forward to Fantasycon later this year. I know from experience how much renewed energy and enthusiasm it gives me as a writer, a sense that I'm not wasting my time, just from talking both to other writers at the same level as me, striving to make their way up, and to other, established authors. I wouldn't want others to miss out on the opportunities that offers, or to leave the scene in the hands of exactly the people who shouldn't own. (Perhaps I'll see you there! It would be nice to chat properly over a beer.)

Incidentally, I like the #NotAllBrits hashtag - might use it the next time Boris Johnson says something horrible and crass. (I.e. in about five minutes)



william said...
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