Month: August 2014

A Few Observations on Irish Adult Speculative Fiction Publishing from Shamrokon

As a budding speculative fiction writer, one of the panels I attended with high expectations at Shamrokon was the one entitled Where are all the Irish Adult Speculative Fiction Novels?  Of course I was hoping to pick up some tips – whom I might submit to, what pitfalls to avoid and so forth.  But it was pretty dispiriting fare, in some cases because of the truisms ably articulated by the panellists and in other cases, unfortunately, owing to the, at times, rather limited world-views of those selfsame panellists.

On the positive side, we were told that Poolbeg and O’Brien were in hock to the Irish Arts Council up to their eyeballs and that if either as much dared to touch a genre novel, their senior executives would be dragged off to the Hill of Tara and water-boarded. At least I think that’s what was said.  For most of the hour I could only make out about one word in three from the panel, as the public body in question had apparently smuggled a banshee or two into the back of the room, no doubt in a forlorn attempt to keep the lid on this revelation.  Whatever, it was good to have the heads up.

Then we were seeded with the idea that Ireland, with its rich mythology and folklore, was a natural breeding ground for writers of a fantastic bent and that this could explain the rather lower incidence of home-grown speculative fiction writers.  Undoubtedly there’s a lot of truth in that, even if it’s hardly rocket science.  The token curmudgeon on the panel even aired the view that in times past, while the genre was emerging in other countries, there were no Irish speculative fiction writers at all in existence.  I wonder what the likes of John Francis Maguire, Fitz James O’Brien, Tom Greer, Francis Stuart or James Creed Meredith, to name but a few, would have made of that assertion!

Greer is an especially interesting case, which I’m going to elaborate on here, even though the panel said nary a word on him (yes OK, I’m sure it’s bad form to do that in a panel write-up, but, but…)  Whilst, for most wannabe Irish republicans of the time, the essential literary calling card was a volume on Irish legends (yet who now remembers the likes of Darrell Figgis or Ella Young), Greer took the technology route.  He was no doubt inspired by the work of the Fenian Brotherhood on submarine development (still the only example in history of, depending on your colour, freedom fighters or terrorists leading the way on the emergence of a major new weapons system) and came up with A Modern Daedalus, his story of the invention of a winged superhero suit with which the plucky republican hero visits destruction upon the evil British.

We heard, heard quite a lot actually, about how Young Adult speculative fiction is flourishing in Ireland and this was contrasted with the situation in corresponding the adult market.  In all cases though, what the panel was focussing on was the example of Irish writers being able to be published at home, which for YA at least, is a real option.  The overarching message seemed to be ‘Yes Irish Adult Speculative Fiction writers have been around for a while but they’ve had to and still have to go outside of Ireland to get published and that’s bad.’  Is it?  I’m not so sure.  If someone writing in English is published by an English language publisher then isn’t that good enough?  Have a séance with James White.  Ask Ian McDonald or Wayne Simmons.

In a truly Kafkaesque moment the publisher on the panel then admitted that he didn’t accept unsolicited submissions.  Gobsmacked by this, I later asked some of the small Irish presses in the dealers’ room what their policy was and yes, it does seem to be commonplace that submissions are by invitation only at our indigenous speculative fiction publishers (or as I now like to think of them ‘private glee clubs.’) The publisher has his cosy business model, the lucky insiders are doing all right, thanks mate and then we dare to bemoan that the rest of us have to look overseas.  Face.  Meet palm.

But it got worse.  There were a few oblique allusions to a misty, half-seen, Tir na Nogish sort of place called ‘Up North’ where things *hushed, vaguely unsettling tones* ‘Were Different.’  In general, no-one wanted to elaborate, although to be fair one panellist did put in a plug for the work of the excellent C.S. Kane.  During the questions at the end, I felt obliged to speak up for Blackstaff Press, publishers of Laurence Donaghy’s fine Folk’d trilogy and who actually *shock horror* Accept Adult Speculative Fiction Submissions.

All in all, then, a disappointing listen, and all recorded for posterity too, by the nice foreign gentleman with the yoke on the  tripod.

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World War I: Some Fantasy and SF Connections

A few days ago a nice copy of Talbot Mundy’s Hira Singh, illustrated by Joseph Clement Coll, dropped onto my mat. Published in 1918, it’s a novel inspired by the true story of some Sikh troops who were captured by the Germans in Flanders in 1915, imprisoned in a Turkish PoW camp and who then escaped that, to trek overland back to their depot in India.

As it’s the 100th anniversary, this set me thinking about what other fantasy and SF connections to WWI I had come across. What follows is not intended to be exhaustive; it’s just a survey of a few things I’ve come across over the years.

Mundy, of course, did not see active service, having a few years before emigrated to the USA. His most direct connection with WWI was with its aftermath in Palestine, which he visited in the early 1920s. He became a friend of Faisal I, who featured in his novel The King in Check (aka The Affair in Araby), one of several works Mundy wrote to try and expose British and French duplicity towards the arabs.

One of the most eminent genre writers to die in WWI was horror master William Hope Hodgson who was killed by a shell at Ypres in April 1918. Irish poet Francis Ledwidge, whose output included a number of mystical and mythological works also died at Ypres, in July 1917. Lord Dunsany was his patron. Dunsany himself served in the Royal Enniskillen Fusiliers, spent time in the trenches and later wrote propaganda for the War Office. His experiences fed his 1918 collection Tales of War, which included the short story The Road, written as a tribute to Ledwidge.

One of my favourite WWI works is Letters to Helen by Scottish artist and illustrator Keith Henderson, who later did the marvellous illustrations and decorations for Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros. The work intersperses the (often extraordinary) paintings he made as an artist serving on the Western Front, with the letters he sent home during that period.

A very eminent SF writer who took part in WWI was Olaf Stapledon. As a quaker, he objected to combat and so served as a driver in the Friends Ambulance Service. He later wove these experiences into his episodic, visionary novel Last Men in London.