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Of A Ross and Its Associated Thorns

Posted on by June in Media Critique, What, I Say! | Leave a comment

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On the 28th of February, the last day of early-bird discounts, I finally gave up my dithering and bought a pass to LonCon 3. The convention, I had decided, would be my  Big Con of the Year.

That was also the day it was announced that Jonathan Ross would be hosting the Hugo awards.

Things then happened at the Speed of Internet and then very quickly, he wasn’t anymore.

That link from Bleeding Cool exemplifies a lot of the responses I’ve seen to Ross’ resignation from the post. A lot of “he’s a SF/F fan, Neil Gaiman asked him to do it, I am ashamed that the community I’m in bullied him off like that.”

Neil Gaiman has now commented to say that he is “very disappointed” by the Twitterstorm that was sent Jonathan Ross’ way, and he has taken his Hugo pin off his lapel as a result.

Oh dear.

First things first:  I have  attended an event that was hosted by Mr Ross, a closed-door press conference for The Walking Dead at Comic-Con in 2012. (I present as evidence the shittily-taken iPhone picture above as proof!) Yes, he is as big an SF/F nerd as claimed, and no, despite his reputation he said nothing that morning that set my teeth on edge, sensitised as I was already from a day full of racial microaggressions (that entire junket was not one I enjoyed). Had he remained as host for the Hugos, I still would have attended, just with a critical ear out for anything problematic he might say (as I always do).

Neil  was also one of my instructors last year at Clarion West, and I respect him greatly as a writer and as a consummate navigator of the storytelling industry. In his week with my class, I found him to be an incredibly generous and warm soul who, above all, listened. Even to us tiny baby writers! I am sure he made the suggestion to Jonathan Ross in absolute good faith, and I can understand why he would be disappointed by the outcome.

I still think they’re wrong.

I take issue with the way the events have been framed: A bullying mob, reacting with unwarranted anger, sending mindless vitriol to Ross. They’re not the only ones who have put it this way – lots of people have – but they are certainly the most visible.

But putting it this way invalidates the concerns of the people who rejected Ross as a host for the Hugos. Their opinions and feelings, too, deserve respect and consideration, even if put in a harsh manner.

The fact of the matter is when one has a sizeable media presence (like Neil and Mr Ross do), one is automatically conferred certain amounts of credibility. Media presence gets you listened to. Media presence gets your side of the story told in major publications like The Guardian and The Daily Mail.

This post by livejournal user a-d-medievalist lays it out very well. It’s not a simple case of bullies versus the bullied: Neil and Mr Ross come from extremely privileged positions in the SF/F community and beyond. The phrasing of the term “disappointed”, shaped around patronising tones, is especially problematic  in this regard. It’s something a parent would say to a child. It doesn’t say, “I see you as a human being with thoughts and concerns as equal to my own”; it says “why didn’t you behave in a way i find acceptable?”

I think it would have been interesting, in the fallout to this, to discuss things like the difference between public and performative personas, or how accountable one should be for things that are said in jest. Unfortunately, I suspect the tidal wave of disappointment will overwhelm and overshadow anything else in its way.

CW 2013, Week 1: Rows Of Trousers…

Posted on by June in People//Places | Comments Off

CW roof view

It has been, by my count, a little over a week since Clarion West began. One by one, the class has been making the trip to the basement, returning hours later carrying warm bags of laundry, smelling of soap and heated cotton.

The first load of laundry is a ritual of ownership, the dividing line between a traveller sleeping on a borrowed bed, and one who has come to stay. There’s a sanctity in its mundaneness and understated necessity, yet a startling lack of pretension: It is what it is. There is no glamour in stuffing your dirty underwear into a heavy-duty rotating drum, along with your socks and bras and everything else. You can romanticise sleep, and eating, and the the taking of baths, but taking care of a bagful of manky shirts just says “Yeah, entropy fucking sucks, now run to the bank to get more quarters.”

(There’s a confluence of history here: My mother’s mother was a washerwoman, raising eight children on the money she got from washing other people’s clothing. Living in my mother’s house, I was never allowed to do the laundry as it all had to be hand-washed. “SIX WEEKS OF LAUNDRY FREEDOM!” I literally yelled to my classmates on the first day I was here.)

When I was packing for Clarion West, figuring out what to bring in the way of clothes threatened me with aneurysms. Six weeks! I’ve never been away from home this long. I pack on an outfit-by-outfit basis for vacations; in between luggage weight limits and the size of my wardrobe, that was clearly no option. And the weather. I was told that it rained in Seattle all the time, and my fuzzy memories of Seattle from fifteen years back said: Cold. Yet I was also told that it had hit 38 degrees Celsius at some points at previous Clarion Wests. Bad enough that I was packing for one climate, but one that switched sides at a whim was too much.

In the end, I packed clothes by categories. Tops, leggings, overshirts, undergarments: A least a week’s worth of each. Warm things to top up with. So far, it’s worked. It’s 29 degrees Celsius in my room as I type this: Earlier this week it was 19. I’m still alive. (I don’t particularly look forward to next Tuesday, which is forecast to hit a peak somewhere in the thirties. I don’t have a fan or an air conditioner in my room.)

At some point, I’m going to have to run to the store to buy more detergent.

 

** Title from a bastardisation of Radiohead’s Street Spirit to make it about laundry: “Rows of trousers/All hanging down on me/I can feel their/Their blue legs touching me” … all the way to “IMMERSE YOUR CLOTHES IN SOAP”

Tender Cuts

Posted on by June in People//Places | Comments Off

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Here’s the funny thing about poetry. I hated it in school,  avoided it like the plague, and glowered at it from the other side of the room even while I took classes analysing poetry in college. Lost in the heavy words of the likes of Hughes and Heaney I was convinced I didn’t understand poetry and would never come to appreciate it.

It’s a strange thing. Sometimes the things that you never thought you would love come to find a way into your heart.

On Friday evening my sensitive lungs and I waded through the haze to attend BooksActually’s launch + reading of Tania de Rozario’s first poetry collection, Tender Delirium. It was one of the bounty of poetry collections being launched that day. What a delight. BooksActually was keeping its doors open until the dawn as it marked a global 24 Hour Bookshop event, sponsored by Red Bull, which gives it something in common with Sebastian Vettel. When it gets this busy, its narrow aisles develop clots, and you have to fight your way through human thromboses just to get anywhere. A great deal of fun.

I’ll be brief about the event itself. It was co-hosted by Tania and her mentor Cyril Wong. The reading was lovely and tinged with humour throughout. Tania said there was not a single happy poem in the book (and having read it, it’s true) – but you wouldn’t know it from the energy and joy that filled the room.

As a bonus, the Q&A session turned into a lively discussion of the arts, literature and censorship in Singapore, particularly with respect to queer literature. There’s a lot of it published here, but you’ll never see it get into the mainstream, or discussed in schools.

I had a good time. Good conversations, good books, which I’ve spent the past few days reading over and over. I picked up several other poetry books that day, but Tania’s really resonates with me, with its tales of loss and longing. If you can’t make it to the bookstore itself, BooksActually has a BigCartel webstore! And plenty of other lovely books on offer as well.

Right. Selected photos of the event under the cut, featuring cats, people, and a Shameless Selfie.

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A Novel Idea (Perhaps)

Posted on by June in People//Places | Comments Off

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Two weekends ago I attended a novel writing masterclass organised by Writing The City (a project of the British Council), taught by Jean McNeil and Julia Bell. It was held at the Arts House (one of my favourite places in Singapore), and it’s the first time in a long while that I’ve sat down and given my fiction writing 100% of my attention without drifting off to check tumblr do other things.

Like the procrastinator I am, it’s taken me more than a week to get around to writing this, at which point I’ve mostly forgotten what I’ve wanted to say. (Whoops.) It was a fantastic three days, I have to say. We went over concepts that should be familiar to anybody who’s been writing for a stretch of time: Character, point of view, time and narrative… Yet as a developing writer you can never discuss and explore these topics enough. We had themed writing exercises every day, and we got to share our work with each other. It was a small class, about 14-15 people, so we all got several chances to read our own work. I even read them Google Car At The End Of The World. Although I didn’t read them the title, because spoilers. (At the end of the class, one of my classmates came up to me and said, “I liked your story about the car.” I had to ask, “…which one?” The tragedy of being me.)

Quite honestly, I think the most valuable lesson I learned from this is that I not as slow a writer as I’ve feared myself to be. Under conditions of duress, I am able to put my nose to the grind and churn out writing– and not just that, but writing which actually satisfies me.

Maybe, just maybe, I won’t die a terrifying death by writer’s tardiness during the course of Clarion West.

 

Writing exercise I: Observation

“Heavy-waisted and large-bottomed, she stood fixing her hair while her baby played at her feet with dusty hands and knees.” Something about fleshing out character with minute details.

Writing Exercise II: POV

“The car had belonged to the old man. It was a Nissan Sunny, bought back in a year when Nissan was content to be seen as that plain and reliable friend you had, the one who could be relied on to get enough sleep and file all their taxes on time.” Telling a story about a neighbour’s neighbour, from two different POVs.

Writing Exercise III: Time & Narrative

“She can’t find a dry bench to sit on and she isn’t wasting tissue to do the public service of wiping them dry, so she squats on one of them to eat breakfast.” Thinking of an event, and writing about it from one set of time points before/after.

Writing Exercise IV: Character, Event, Setting

“Before her shift starts Mary goes to the washroom and washes her hands twice: Once after she exits the cubicle, and once after she’s fixed her hair.” Like a party game, we got a random character, event and a setting. I wrote a short piece set in a story world I am currently inhabiting.

 

Well. All in all, I met great people, was introduced to great ideas, and wrung a few pieces of microfiction out of myself over the course of three days. It’s not a bad way to spend a weekend.

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Our instructors, Jean McNeil (left) and Julia Bell (right).

A Tale Of One Cat. And Two Boxes.

Posted on by June in Media Critique | 2 Comments

Okay, we’ve all seen that nifty thing where Lego sent free stuff to a kid or Samsung sent a man a free customised phone with a dinosaur on it.

I never thought something like that would happen to a friend of mine, but it totally did. Call it Sarah-Luck.

See, my friend Sarah Coldheart, she has a cat named Dawn. Like all cats, Dawn likes perching on things. Previously, it used to be the cable box from Starhub, one of the two cable providers in Singapore.

Then her family’s contract expired and they recontracted with SingTel, the other cable provider. Their set-top box turned out to be a lot smaller. Which meant that the new cat-to-cable-box ratio was, shall we say, less than ideal.

Sarah made a macro to illustrate this.

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As with all things containing a cat, it made the rounds of Twitter, and SingTel’s social media folks. According to Sarah, they then contacted her on Twitter to ask her address so that they could send her “a surprise”.

Fast forward to a few weeks later. Surprise arrives. I’ll just let the pictures do the talking, here:

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more dawn

I’ve got to say, I might complain about SingTel’s service or their customer service every now and then, but they did good on this one. This is the kind of social engagement, that gives the sort of publicity, that you can never buy with ad money. Because it needs as much heart as it does head to come up with something like this.

After all, there’s a happy cat at the end of the affair. What’s not to like?

happy dawn

(Thanks to Sarah for allowing me to use her photos!)

Speculative Fiction Tea-Party!

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A bunch of months ago, The Arts House put out an open call for literary events they wanted to host as part of their 9th anniversary celebrations. A bunch of us spec-fic-writing-types here – Joyce Chng, Dave Chua, Alvin Pang and I – decided to do something. So we came up with the idea of doing a speculative fiction write-in. With randomly assigned items used as prompts. We called ourselves The {؟} Collective** and booked ourselves a slot.

So that’s how we found ourselves at the Earshot Cafe at 2pm last Saturday, hauling a bagful of Random Shit I’d collected from friends over a couple of weeks. When I say Random Shit, I mean Random Shit, because there were dinosaurs and a squeaky plastic chicken and a discarded cellphone from the 90s and pages torn from French novels and a menu from a family restaurant and a pair of blue latex gloves. And a harmonica. And a jumbo pack of playing cards.

We handed them out (by lottery) and let the writers get to it. About 20 people showed up, which pleased me — we hadn’t publicised the event very well and I had actually expected only us chickens to be there. It was good fun — more photos after the jump!

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Kickstart something great! (A signal-boosty post)

Posted on by June in Miscellania | Comments Off
me at the reading

Me (on the right) and my friend Joey, whom I hadn’t seen in a while, catching up at the Body Boundaries reading last weekend. Photo c/o Gwen Kwan, via Etiquette SG’s Facebook page

A couple of brief signal-boosty updates before I have to run to work! No, this isn’t the specfic tea party post. Not yet.

ETIQUETTE 2013 FUNDRAISER

Etiquette are registering as a non-profit arts group dedicated to showcasing creative and critical work by  women artists. To do so, they need to raise money. Run by two amazing women, they’ve done a number of wonderful art projects in the past: Photography, written word, theatre… I’m involved with one of their projects: I have a story in their anthology Body Boundaries, which is coming out in July. There was a reading last weekend, a preview of sorts, which is where the above photo of me comes from. Anyway, they need to raise S$10,000, and I encourage everyone to contribute if they can. It’s a good cause, there’s a great community built up around it, and the art scene in Singapore could do with more woman-centric spaces, particularly those that explore women’s issues critically. Indiegogo page here! 46 days to go!

**Fun fact: I submitted two stories to Body Boundaries and the editors like both, so I asked them to take the one that was more personal, as I thought I could place the other story in other markets. The other piece ended up being the bulk of my submission to Clarion West… But I haven’t actually submitted it elsewhere because it needs a fair bit of editing and I haven’t gotten around to doing it. Argh!

 

Crossed Genre’s Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History

4 days to go! An anthology to collect stories of people whose voices are not often heard. It’s already met its base goal, hit two stretch goals (for a bigger anthology with more stories!) and is now pushing towards a US$30,000 goal so that each of the stories featured can get a B & W illustration. The anthology sounds like an amazing idea and the folks at Crossed Genres have been doing some fantastic work in representing diversity in genre fiction, so I’m always all out for their projects.