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Musing on the Half-life of Humour

Originally published at Juliet E. McKenna. You can comment here or there.

I’ve been reading ‘A Slip of the Keyboard’, a collection of non-fiction by the late and so very much lamented Sir Terry Pratchett. It’s an interesting read on many levels. There’s one trainee journalist I know who definitely should read it. But that’s not what this is about.

There’s reference made in passing to ‘Spem in Alium’, a famous piece of English choral music by Thomas Tallis, composed in 1570. I am incidentally a great fan of such choral music and sang in a very highly regarded church choir in my teens, got my Royal School of Church Music medals and we once sang in Salisbury Cathedral. But that’s not what this is about either.

The thing is, as an erstwhile Classicist, I can’t read ‘Spem in Alium’ without mentally translating it into ‘Hope in Garlic’ and inwardly giggling, as an inveterate fan of puns. It’s actually ‘Hope in Another’, for those of you who don’t have the Latin, as the late Peter Cook would say. (And how old do you have to be, for that reference to make any sense?)

Given I’m reading Terry Pratchett, I immediately think what a great Discworldian motto ‘Spem in Allium’ would make for a family of vampire hunters! Until they met the Count de Magpyr – but that’s a different story. ‘Carpe Jugulum’ to be precise. Which is another Latin based joke, of course, riffing on Carpe Diem.

So now I’m wondering, how long will these jokes be funny now that Latin is no longer taught in any widespread sense? Satirists like Flanders and Swann in the 60’s could get a roar of laughter in a packed theatre when they’re talking about newspapers on the ‘At the Drop of a Hat’ recording, and translate ‘O Tempora! O Mores!’ as ‘Oh, Times! Oh Daily Mirror!’ Could that happen today?

And this goes beyond Latin and indeed goes beyond humour. Just as Classics courses at universities now offer places to those with no Latin or Greek and include intensive language study from the start, so English Literature faculties are now including texts like the Bible in their first year courses because they can no longer assume that students will arrive with sufficient ‘cultural Christianity’ to engage as fully as possible with Milton’s Paradise Lost, for example. Is that a good thing, or a bad one? Or is it simply a thing to adapt to and move on?

What does all this mean for popular or indeed, high-brow culture? Who knows? But we can definitely see this shift taking place.

Not that this is a recent phenomenon, as evidenced by a conversation I had a few months ago with a Son. Son was passing through the lounge, where I was reading and there was a concert playing on the telly.

He halted, his attention caught by the music. ‘Oh, I know this – what’s it called?’
Me, not looking up. ‘Elgar, Nimrod.’
Son, affronted. ‘I only asked.’
Me, glancing up, slightly surprised. ‘And I only answered.’
Son, still indignant. ‘You didn’t have to call me a Nimrod.’
Me, putting book down. ‘What are you talking about? It’s the name of the piece – Nimrod, the mighty hunter. It’s by the composer Elgar.’
Son, baffled ‘How did that end up meaning a stupid person?’
Me, now equally baffled. ‘What on earth are you talking about?’

Well, it turns out that for the sons’ generation, ‘Nimrod’ is indeed an insult and they have no knowledge of the Biblical reference to contradict it.

For that, believe it or not, we can thank Bugs Bunny. Back in the 1940s, he would refer mockingly to Elmer Fudd as ‘poor little Nimrod’, ‘what a Nimrod’ and so on. US cinema audiences began using it as an insult for buffoons like Elmer. With any knowledge of the Biblical origin? Who can say – but the mocking term was soon standing alone without any need for explanation, certainly in American English.

Given the exponential proliferation of pop culture these days, I am wondering where future writers, humorous and otherwise, will find sufficiently common references to draw on? What will they do, when there’s a distinct possibility that only a handful of people will get a particular joke? Use it or lose it?

What about the people who don’t get the joke? How will they feel? For instance, in the first Avengers movie, the use of a quotation from Ezekiel instantly identified those few of us who laughed out loud as the ones in the cinema who’d also seen Pulp Fiction. How distracting was that for the rest of the audience? Realising they’d missed something but having no idea what it might be. I still wonder.

I don’t have any answers. Anyone got any observations or thoughts?

Originally published at Juliet E. McKenna. Please leave any comments there.

I’ve been following the debates on EU VAT and the digital single market in the European Parliament last night and this morning.

They now accept these new regulations are causing massive problems. However their timetable fortaking meaningful action is measured in months at best and years at worst.

We need immediate help for UK businesses. That means an Extra Statutory Concession to suspend this fiasco.

Please help the EU VAT Action campaign make enough noise to convince every government minister and MP to support this.

You don’t have to be running an online business to have your say on this. It hits everyone, buyer and seller alike. (See my previous post for links to articles on how far-reaching the damage is)

This is a very handy online resource to help you write to all or some of your local, national and international elected representatives at once – the ‘Write to Them’ website.

You can find details of your MEPs here.

MPs in UK Parliament

Scots – find your MSP
Northern Ireland – your MLAs
National Assembly for Wales – members

Consider contacting your local press and media, as well as national newspapers and broadcasters. One letter or email will probably get filed as trivial. A whole batch of letters or emails on the same topic suggests there’s a story to be had – and the UK’s relationship with the EU is very much a hot topic at the moment!

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Originally published at Juliet E. McKenna. Please leave any comments there.

Today and tomorrow, the European Parliament will be debating –

– the problems they’re now aware of, relating to the new regulations on cross-border digital sales now needing to be taxed at the VAT rates applied in the customer’s country rather than the sellers.

– the impact this will have on hopes for a digital single market across Europe.

Since most companies are avoiding the many and varied problems with this new system by blocking sales outside their own country, ecommerce across Europe looks to be massively set back.

Thanks to 6 months of intensive lobbying, the EU Commission and various coalitions of MEPs now recognise the need –

– to review and revise these regulations to make them fit for purpose

– to establish a turnover threshold below which businesses are exempt from the frankly ridiculous costs and other burdens of compliance.

This really is a tremendous achievement when you consider that when this news broke last November, we were being told not to worry, the VATMOSS system had it all sorted out and everything would be fine…

HOWEVER the EU Commission are still talking in terms of a review process leading to new proposals which will take at least 2 years to see meaningful change.

The MEPs who’ve been most active supporting this campaign are making it clear that such delay is unacceptable with digital traders already forced to restructure their businesses or shut up shop.

What we need is an interim suspension while that review process is underway.

The more voices that support them, the better the chances of getting that suspension.

Please contact your MEPs – and if you get a stupid form letter full of Treasury waffle, send a reply straight back saying that’s unacceptable!

If we don’t get any immediate relief from the European Commission, then we need the UK Parliament to act. There is provision in law, and precedent, for an Extra Statutory Concession to save UK businesses from the destructive effects of this legislation.

Even though Parliament’s not yet sitting after the general election, MPs are in their offices, sorting out their priorities. You can help make sure this issue is high up on your MPs agenda. And if you get a stupid form letter full of Treasury waffle, send a reply straight back saying that’s unacceptable!

This is a very handy online resource to help you write to all or some of your local, national and international elected representatives at once – the ‘Write to Them’ website.

You can find details of your MEPs here.

MPs in UK Parliament

Scots – find your MSP
Northern Ireland – your MLAs
National Assembly for Wales – members

Consider contacting your local press and media, as well as national newspapers and broadcasters. One letter or email will probably get filed as trivial. A whole batch of letters or emails on the same topic suggests there’s a story to be had – and the UK’s relations with the EU is very much a hot topic at the moment.

There’s a whole lot of information available over at the EU VAT Action website now.

The damage done to consumers by all this

Discrimination caused by these new rules

Why some simple IT solution is not going to appear, now or in the future.

Why selling through 3rd party marketplaces isn’t an answer

The EU VAT Action Team’s impact study

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Now that I've been graded to 3rd dan in aikido, buying a new hakama to mark the occasion seems like a sound idea. Come to that, Husband could do with a new one - our current kit is showing signs of hard wear. Not that these hakama owe us a lot, more than twenty years after we got them, as we've just worked out.

Which makes this a good time to find out exactly what we've had written on ourselves for the past couple of decades. These hakama were bought for us in Tokyo by a friend and given how thoroughly mangled 'Juliet' and/or 'Jules' has been by assorted Japanese instructors over the years, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if something had got lost in translation.

So over to those of you with some knowledge of Japanese characters. What does this say?



And this one?



Husband has also pointed out that I should by rights have my own chop now, for stamping grading books and certificates. Which leads us to wonder what's actually written on his... apologies for the quality of this picture, I won't be surprised if no one can make anything of it.



Any suggestions?
Regular readers will hopefully recall the kickstarter for the proposed SF anthology, Temporally Out of Order. It was all inspired by a typo on a sign author and editor Joshua Palmatier saw on an airport phone booth. No science fiction/fantasy writer could possibly pass that without wondering what “temporally out of order” could mean for modern day—or perhaps not so modern—gadgets, such as a cell phone, laptop, television, radio, iPod, or even the microwave or refrigerator!

I was one of the 'stretch goals' and I wrote about what inspired my particular story idea here.

Well, we didn't make that particular stretch goal but the anthology overall was funded (and then some!). So what was I going to do with my idea? Well, reader, I wrote it and submitted it for one of the collection's open slots. To my intense satisfaction, it was accepted and will be part of this intriguing table of contents.

“Reading Lists” by Seanan McGuire
“Salamandar Bites” by Elektra Hammond
“Black and White” by David B. Coe
“Dinosaur Stew” by Chuck Rothman
“Not All Is As It Seems” by Faith Hunter
“Batting Out of Order” by Edmund R. Schubert
“Grand Tour” by Steve Ruskin
“A is for Alacrity, Astronauts, and Grief” by Sofie Bird
“The Spiel of the Glocken” by Laura Resnick
“The Passing Bell” by Amy Griswold
“Destination Ahead” by Laura Anne Gilman
“Where There’s Smoke” by Susan Jett
“Alien Time Warp” by Gini Koch
“Cell Service” by Christopher Barili
“Temporally Full” by Stephen Leigh
“Notes and Queries” by Juliet E. McKenna
“Temporally Out of Odor: A Fragrant Fable” by Jeremy Sim

The publisher's currently designing the ebooks and paperbacks and we should see a summer release, maybe June, more likely July or August. Check out the ZNB online store for information on how to preorder. Otherwise, keep an eye on your preferred online retailer - and as soon as I know listings are up, I'll pass that on.

Rune photos - a quick note

After a couple of queries from readers unsure if they're visualising the Einarinn runes as intended, here are photos of the cardboard set I made to use when I'm writing a piece of fiction that involves them.

Hopefully these should clarify things.

Originally published at Juliet E. McKenna. Please leave any comments there.

If you’re interested in documentary film making – or know anyone who is – and within striking distance of Oxford, the St Hilda’s Media Network is presenting a day conference with a stellar programme.

It’ll be an in-depth look at the world of documentaries led by expert film-makers and radio producers. It is aimed at a broad audience, including students who are interested in a career in documentary-making, people who have just started out in the industry, and media professionals who are passionate about this fascinating creative sphere.

There will be five sessions that will explore different documentary genres:

HOW TO MAKE A DOCUMENTARY: FROM COMMISSION TO TRANSMISSION
(10:30am-11:30am)
Nicolas Kent, Creative Director Oxford Film and Television
Anna Hall, Freelance Series Producer/Director
Ian Michael Jones, Freelance Arts Documentary Producer
David Leach, Producer/Director and Development Writer
How do film-makers get a documentary on to television? This session will provide an overview of the processes involved, from the original concept of an idea, to delivery to the broadcaster. There will also be a focus on the particular challenge of producing arts documentaries in ways that are new and different.

FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY: CREATING FACTUAL MOVIES
(11:45am-12:45pm)
Clio Barnard, Director The Arbor, The Selfish Giant
Nicolas Kent, Creative Director Oxford Film and Television
Mike Brett, Director Next Goal Wins
How does making a feature-length documentary differ from creating documentary for television? Some issues are unique to the feature-length documentary, such as development of ideas without commission, funding, distribution, and submission to festivals. Speakers will also consider its role as an art form which does not have the constraints of working to a channel brief.

LUNCH
(12:45pm-1:30pm)

ST HILDA’S LIVING HISTORY PRESENTATION
(1:45pm-2:00pm)
Alumna Elizabeth Dorsett presents a sneak preview of the incredible audiovisual project currently in progress which documents the social history of St Hilda’s, the last women’s college in the University of Oxford to go co-ed, through filmed interviews with former students from the 1930s to present day.

WILDLIFE DOCUMENTARY: ALWAYS WORK WITH ANIMALS!
(2:00pm-3:00pm)
Bill Oddie, Presenter and Writer
Nigel Pope, Head of Keo North, Director Mara Media
Alexandra Griffiths, Series Producer BBC Natural History Unit
Ruth Sessions, Head of Operations Atlantic Productions
Why have British film-makers won worldwide recognition for this genre? This session will examine the filming techniques and aims of wildlife producers from the BBC and independent production companies. Bill Oddie will talk about his experiences of wildlife film-making over the last twenty years.

RADIO DOCUMENTARY: MAKING PICTURES IN SOUND
(3:15pm-4:15pm)
Simon Elmes, Former Creative Director BBC Radio Documentaries Unit
Neil Trevithick, Senior Radio Documentary Producer
Sara Jane Hall, Documentary Feature Maker
Christine Finn, Writer and Radio Producer/Presenter
What makes a subject appropriate for radio rather than for television or film? Our panel will look at the challenges of bringing very visual ideas to life in a purely aural medium, and at the tricky and often fraught process of achieving commissions for radio documentary ideas.

After this session on radio Simon Elmes has kindly offered to host a workshop for a limited number of interested attendees on the presentation of ideas for radio documentaries. This will take place in the Old JCR in South Building during the Observational Documentary session, and attendees who wish to take part should sign up in advance on Eventbrite by selecting the ‘additional workshop’ when filling in registration details. Seats will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

OBSERVATIONAL DOCUMENTARY: THE BARE NAKED TRUTH
(4:30pm-5:30pm)
Anna Hall, Freelance Series Producer/Director
Nigel Pope, Head of Keo North, Director Mara Media
Ruth Sessions, Head of Operations Atlantic Productions
Why is observational documentary so popular and so controversial, and which subjects are most successful in this genre? We will look at the importance of in-depth research and good access to compelling contributors, as well as the issues and ethics of gaining trust. Our speakers will examine the special filming and editing techniques involved.

Ticket price includes mid-morning and afternoon refreshments, a light lunch and a post-event drink.

Click through to book – and spread the word!

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Originally published at Juliet E. McKenna. You can comment here or there.

Did anyone get the memo saying this was going to be the week for folk listening to me talk? I must have missed it…

Today sees the broadcast of an episode in the BBC Radio Four ‘A History of Ideas’ series where I was invited to contribute.

Philosopher Jules Evans is exploring Jung and the shadow inside all of us. Including archive contributions from Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud; plus Mark Vernon, author of Carl Jung: How to Believe – and me.

(another nice reminder that life isn’t all EU VAT!)

I wouldn't be in the least surprised if some folk might be starting to doubt if I am actually still a fantasy novelist. Because there are days and weeks when I really do wonder amid all the VATmess stuff taking up my time, energy and word count.

But look! Here's proof!

I had a lovely chat with the amiable and entertaining Skiffy and Fanty podcast crew at last summer's Loncon3 WorldCon - and the episode's just gone up.

It's for streaming at the moment, the download will be along later.

Why the time lag? Well, I know they took full advantage of their opportunities to talk to as many writers as they could in London, so goodness knows how many hours of material they amassed from all sorts of fascinating people.

So that gives you every reason to bookmark the site and keep checking back, doesn't it?

The David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy 2015

Originally published at Juliet E. McKenna. You can comment here or there.

The new website for the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy is now live!

Click on through and you’ll find this year’s nominations for the Legend, Morningstar and Ravenheart Awards.

Voting on the longlist opens tomorrow, 10th April and closes at midnight on Friday 15th May.

Voting on the shortlist opens on Monday 1st June and closes at midnight on Friday 17th July.

This year, the Awards presentations will take place at 8pm on Saturday 8th August at Nine Worlds Geekfest. This year’s choice of venue continues the Gemmell Awards’ ongoing quest to share enthusiasm for epic fantasy fiction as widely as possible, and to reach all those readers who’d like to join in and do the same.

Since I’m helping out with the Awards administration this year, and that brings a duty of impartiality with it, I won’t be commenting on any individual titles. Though regular readers of this blog will know pretty much where my personal tastes lie on the broad spectrum that our field now offers, and which I’m extremely pleased to say is very well represented in this year’s long list.

Regular readers will also know that if anyone else’s personal tastes are different to mine, that’s perfectly fine with me. I’ll make my case for what I like to read and I’m always interested to learn more about what other people see in, and get from, different styles of writing and types of story. We may or may not end up agreeing but on my side at least, I’m not going to fall out with someone for making different choices. It takes a broad field to make a horse race after all!

What I’m really hoping to see over the next few months is enthusiasm for all styles and types of epic fantasy fiction shared between keen readers. So head on over and if you see a book which you’ve read and enjoyed is listed, let your fellow fantasy fans know – about the book and about the Gemmell Awards. Check out the details of any books and authors you see listed who are new to you. Head for your local bookstore or library to try their work if you can. Have a look at the nominated authors’ and artists’ websites; that’s a great way to learn more about the wealth of talent currently working in our genre.

Most of all, go and vote. Everyone’s voice is equal and while our choices will differ, we’re united in our love for tales of epic adventure!

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