ConFusion, Eastercon 2021

I have spent the weekend at the online Eastercon. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about it’s a convention that has run for over 70 years. It is run by teams, it’s a participant convention not a ticketed festival. It’s a community. It has traditions.

I don’t usually write convention reports (although I love reading them) but this year I have had Thoughts.

As this report really doesn’t belong here, you can now find it at Ansible. If you need a Word file or another format, please email me.

And to make the obvious response: we all screw up. It’s how you understand your screw ups that matters

Working Class Heroes (at Eastercon 2021)

I’ve moderated a panel last night on Working Class Heroes. Guests were Ali Baker Brooks (UEL), Stewart Hotson, Ken MacLeod, and Charles Stross. We roamed over the issues of what is the working class, is there just one, what are the things that shape working class experience. Below are some of the books we mentioned that covered living as working class people, struggling against capitalism, achieving and coping with moving out of the working class, and the issues of intersectionality

This is the reading list from the Working Class Heroes panel: Ali Baker Brooks, Stewart Hotson, Ken MacLeod, Charlie Stross.

·       Courttia Newland, A River Called Time
·       Hilary Mantel, Beyond Black
·       Eleen Lee, Liquid Crystal Nightingale
·       Michael Swanwick, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter
·       Simon Morden, Gallowglass
·       Temi Oh, Do you Dream of Terra Two
·       Homer Hickam Jr. Rocket Boys
·       1632, Eric Flint.SM Stirling
·       Nalo Hopkinson, New Moons Arms
·       Philip Reeve, Railhead
·       Elizabeth Hand, Waking the Moon
·       Helen Wecker, The Golem and the Djinni, 
·       Nathan Lowell, The Quarter Share books, 
·       Liz Wiliams Precious Dragon (fantasy) and 
·       Nine Layers of Sky (SFF)
·       Kari Sperring The Grass King’s Concubineb
·       Tricia Sullivan, Maul
·       Oisin McGann, Small Minded Giants (YA) 
·       BB Alston, Amari and the Night Brothers -upper end of middle grade and lower YA
·       ➢ Also see blogon unions in SF;…/witches-of-world-unite.html

Wow! Awards Season Edition

The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein has received nominations for the Locus Award, the BSFA Award, and tonight, the Hugo Award.

Awards are idiosyncratic things. We really shouldn’t read too much into them.

But I am enormously honoured that so many of you in the UK (BSFA award) and across the world (Hugos) thought that my book was worth nominating.

Thank you.

On hearing that Mr. Whiteside of Greggs is going vegan… An Open Letter to Greggs. With a response!

Dear Mr. Whiteside
Once upon a time I was an avid fan of Greggs. As a school kid I used to regard your sausage rolls as just the best, the iced fingers a high treat, and the strawberry tarts a Friday wonder.
I even worked for you briefly in 1993 before I got my first academic job, in a small store on an estate at the edge of York. I used to eat sausage rolls and Russian slices in the breaks.  A deputy Vice Chancellor who was one of the best managers I’ve ever had was one of your factory managers when she was younger.
I have huge affection for Greggs.
But the last time I tasted a Greggs’ sausage roll was 1997.
Which is why I am asking–begging in fact–when you’ve nailed the vegan thing (which I heartily approve of) please please turn your attention to producing a gluten free pastry range, because anything Greggs produces will knock all competitors out of the park.

Farah Mendlesohn

Dear Farah
Thank you for your message. That is a long time to go without a sausage roll.
We recognise the growing demand for gluten free and have introduced some choice in sweet bakery and soups for example. So far a good tasting gluten free pastry product has eluded us but we will keep on trying.

On classrooms and classroom acoustic design, lack of.

by Fjm

Yesterday I talked to people about the struggle to hear when I’m teaching a group of students and someone, in all innocence, said “at least it isn’t an 18th century lecture hall”.

Folks, if we still used 18th century lecture halls I would have been able to function a lot longer. 18th century lecture halls were designed for the unaided voice, and for a population that expected to lose hearing with age and didn’t have hearing aids. 40% of us lose some hearing after the age of 40 after all. When I stand at the front of one of those curved, steep tiered lecture theatres, all those audience voices are directed at me, I am the focus of the sound.

Modern classrooms are all sorts of shapes and they each raise issues. Here are just three (there are others).

The classroom full of tables for group work: suddenly a third of the class have their backs to me, a third are side on, and the only way I can hear is if I walk right up to someone.

The rooms where the microphone is at the very front of the room and there is a huge empty space in the centre, into which the teacher walks to talk. Which means the students with hearing impairments can’t hear a thing because while the teacher is conforming to current pedagogy and moving around, the technology is still there, fixed on the podium.

The classroom with sound baffles so that students can focus on the sound from the front of the class (ie the lecturer): that was fascinating, it was only the day I went to the back to listen to a guest that I realised the classroom was deliberately designed to make the lecturer voice central and to dampen student voices. I could hear every word the speaker at the front said.

I only ever found one book on classroom acoustic design (I’ve just tried to find it and can’t) and of twelve essays every single one assumed it was the student who might have a hearing impairment. But 40% of us will lose some hearing as we age, making it far more likely to be the teacher,




An interview with Susan E. Honeyman, author of: Child Pain, Migraine and Invisible Disability (Routledge 2018)

We talk a lot about #OwnVoices in fiction, but less so I think in academia, where we are all supposed to be neutral. In both race, sexuality, indigenous and disability studies, however, the mantra “Nothing about us, without us!” is beginning to have an effect.

A few months ago I spotted this title. I felt actively sick when I saw it, but I spoke to my friend Kenneth Kidd, and he put me in touch with The Lion & the Unicorn, and when my review is available I’ll link to it here. 

Full disclosure: I began to get sick around the age of 6 (“tummy troubles”), was having serious fainting attacks by the age of 8 (three days in isolation also introduced me to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe so some good came out of it) and by 12 had a diagnosis from the coldest, most dismissive doctor I’ve ever met. The year I turned 14 was a disaster: occasionally I get asked about my rather spotty education and poor school record, to which the answer is “migraine”, but until recently I had to hide that under more generic answers as people never really “got” what I meant. I’d like to think that’s less true now, but Honeyman’s book suggests not.

This book impressed me as an academic, for its interdisciplinarity and for its research, but it also gave me the feeling of being recognised. Like all academic books it’s expensive, but there is a much cheaper e-book available And Update! the pb is coming out this month!


Interview with Susan E. Honeyman

Why did you decide to write this book?

I got tired of waiting for someone else to write it.  I had casually read about migraine all my life with hopes of finding anything that might help, but I got frustrated by the seeming limitation of works to the self-help genre.  Then, when I first read a testimony of child migraine I felt less alone. And interviewing others was amazing in that respect.

 Experiencing migraine as a kid presents a unique constellation of problems, especially confusion about why it is happening. I hope that in the future more ethnographies with a larger sample size will come out. In fact I am starting a new book series (Cultures of Childhood) and hope to be able to facilitate more ethnographic studies of child cultures (of pain, of institutionalization, medicalized identities, alternative education… oh the possibilities!). One thing I didn’t find through my interviews but wanted to is more folkloric evidence of superstitions and obsessive-compulsive beliefs we invent in attempting to control pain. Migraine gives you a lot of time when bedridden alone with pain and your thoughts.

 Another reason I convinced myself to write the book was the naïve hope that it would be therapeutic for me. It wasn’t. Not at all. As I mentioned before, sometimes I wrote with a plastic bowl nestled between my arms kept in place by my body and the keyboard. The writing usually made me nauseated, and learning about Jeffrey Lawson was actually retraumatizing for me. It pierced right through my resolve to not know what interventions had saved my life at birth, and what happened in the 24-hours before my parents could even see me. Let me just put it this way: when I had my first MRI and discovered, with great embarrassment, that I was extremely claustrophobic, my mother matter-of-factly attributed my fight AND flight reaction to my “difficult birth.” I didn’t believe her until I read about Jeffrey Lawson. Now I know exactly what she meant and don’t want to know any more.

 What makes you most angry about the current situation?

The ease with which adults suspect children of lying…I was still so frustrated about this issue that I wrote more about how this disproven prejudice affects gravely ill children in my most recent book, Perils of Protection. Even my neurologist asked, when I told him about my book on migraine, “but how do you know the kids aren’t faking it?”  It is terribly offensive. Children know when they are being called liars, and they know what an insult that is. But it also blocks kids from having any say, contributing to their own healing and coping through self-report. In short, it makes them less safe.

What do you want people to take away from this book?

I want families, schools, and medical personnel to stop denying that children can and do experience dysfunctional pain. Child migraine and chronic pain are more common than often thought, but, like any invisible impairment, they can be ignored or worse. Though we can’t possibly understand a stranger’s pain without report, we can become more aware of the ideologies we live by.

No one is immune to compensatory defense mechanisms. For example, someone dies and we ask how old they were (this is to soothe our own fears: “oh, he was older than me”); someone gets lung cancer and we want to know if they smoked, not consciously blaming the ill but certainly trying to contain that illness in a reality outside of our own. We can be more aware of our compensatory defenses and break such reasoning with empathy instead.  And if you catch yourself knitting your brows in preparation for a pity party, just don’t.

Do you think migraine pain in children can cause PTSD and is there grounds for offering support along these lines?

 This is one of the issues that most surprised me in interviews (which I later confirmed by consulting studies): many migraineurs told me that the anxiety of having an attack was almost as debilitating as the attacks. Only one interview subject spoke of flashbacks to the brain injury he’d sustained two decades before, after which the migraines began.

Personally I had never experienced much anxiety surrounding the attacks, but I realize that one of my bad habits (poor concentration, selective memory) has actually helped me in this department. I have a massive capacity for denial. Even after four decades of migraine I’ll catch myself saying things like “hmmm, 8 days without a headache, I think (whatever new supplement I’m trying) is working!” or “11 painfree days—that’s a record. Migraine season* must be over.” Of course saying such things doesn’t make them true, but they do keep me hopeful and feeling proactive.

 *Of course there is no such thing, though I read somewhere that dropping barometric pressure in autumn can affect them, and certainly migraineurs can tend to have attacks in response to similar weather. January is always my worst month and October the best!

Final Question:

You describe What Katy Did, by Susan M. Coolidge, as teaching docility as a way of managing pain. But that book probably saved my mental health as the only thing I read that reflected my experience (I also managed to hurt my back in much the same way when I was a teen). I’m wondering if there is a book you encountered as a child that did the same for you? Ie acknowledged you and gave you a paradigm or model for coping?

For this a have a pretty dull response: honestly, I didn’t read for pleasure as a kid because I was a remedial reader with processing problems, perhaps from my encephalitis as a kid. Reading was such hard work that it gave me more headaches. I didn’t read for pleasure or bibliotherapy until my 30s when I finished my Ph.d. I still am a remarkably slow reader. But there are all sorts of alternative ways we can collaborate in ability. My partner usually starts reading off subtitles unprompted when we are watching a movie and they scroll too fast—so I can switch to audio, follow the movie, and not keep pausing. It works pretty well!

Thank you very much Susan. 9781138207868.jpg




Don’t write beautifully, write precisely….

Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to be taught by me will have heard me say,

“Don’t write beautifully, write precisely….”

Nowhere is this more relevant than in the use of conjunctive adverbs/connectives/cause and effect signal words (whatever you or Michael Gove wants to call them). There is lots of advice on how to use them. Have a page.

At some stage in our education we are taught that thus, however, therefore, despite, etc. are incredibly powerful words to make us seem clever.

Unfortunately, relatively few people seem to learn before starting a PhD either what they actually mean  or when, or even whether, to use them. The result is that they are sprinkled like confetti, randomly.

My friend Gabrielle Lyons puts it this way: “They are taught that connectors makes their work look more coherent. Sadly, they haven’t learned that connectors help to express logic: they don’t produce it.”

The worst mistake is using words that imply causality where no causality is evidenced, but the second worst mistake is often just using them in the first place, too often they are redundancies. When you are line editing, go through and strike out any that do not move the meaning on.

A short table of conjunctive adverbs (and one annoying phrase) and their meanings or uses.

accordingly as a result
also in addition; too.
besides apart from.
consequently as a result (there must be causality involved)
conversely introducing a statement or idea which reverses one that has just been made or referred to
despite without being affected by; in spite of.
equally in the same manner or to the same extent, or, in addition and having the same importance (used to introduce a further comment)
finally used to introduce a final point or reason.
furthermore in addition
hence as a consequence; for this reason
henceforth from this or that time on
however used to introduce a statement that contrasts with or seems to contradict something that has been said previously.
In fact Just don’t use this one: if it’s a fact you don’t need to reinforce it. If it isn’t a fact it doesn’t become one for making the claim.
indeed used to emphasize a statement or response confirming something already suggested
likewise in the same way; also.
meanwhile in the intervening period of time, or, at the same time
moreover as a further matter; besides (an intensification, adding detail)
nevertheless in spite of that; notwithstanding; all the same
nonetheless in spite of that;
on the other hand alternatively (which is also a less coloquial form)
otherwise in other respects; apart from that.
significantly in a sufficiently great or important way as to be worthy of attention
similarly used to indicate a similarity between two facts or events
subsequently after a particular thing has happened; afterwards (unlike consequently, it does not imply causality)
therefore for that reason; consequently (there must be causality)
thus as a result or consequence of this; therefore (there must be causality)





On the ideology of citation methods.

I am sure I am not the first person to write on this topic so please feel free to link me to more considered analysis and also to tell me the purpose of citation methods in your discipline.

I began academic life as a historian. As such I learned to work with and to love Chicago. As an editor and author however I have used MLA, and as a student I have used Harvard. Being a dedicated Chicago person I have sworn long and loud about both MLA and Harvard. This post is not about that.

In recent years I have begun to notice that when citation methods are presented to students, they are always presented in discussions of plagiarism. The choice of citation method is always taken for granted as “this is just what the department requires”. There is relatively little discussion of why the choice of a particular citation method in a discipline. The consequence is that students get very anxious about whether they have cited enough or properly and citation becomes functional rather than part of their research process. Below are my own thoughts on why we do what we do with each method. These thoughts may be wrong, but I’ve found that discussing it this way has helped students to see citation as intrinsic to what they write, rather than defensive.

Chicago/footnotes (or if they force you, endnotes): as a historian I am wedded to footnotes. A Chicago footnote gives all the detail you could possibly want; it lets you cite letters, web sites, personal correspondence all in great detail. A standard footnote in my PhD was two lines long

  1. Ie Esther Farquhar to AFSC, 2 February 1938. Committee on Spain, 1938: Correspondence, Murcia, Esther Farquhar (Box 8).

It would have been longer but that (Box 8) unpacks as General Files 1938 Foreign Service – Spain (Correspondence, Murcia, Esther Farquhar – 
Finance) in the Bibliography.

What on earth is the point of this? Well as I found last year, at least one person has followed back these detailed footnotes in order to check if I got things right, to recontextualise what I wrote on the basis of the letters either side, and generally to make a very different use of the material than I did.

Chicago enables you to track material to the source and use it for very different purposes. One way to think of it is that Chicago is the thread you follow back in the research labyrinth. Also one asset of Chicago is that it always reminds you when something was produced and can draw your attention even in secondary works to different editions or versions of something.

MLA in text citation and expansive endnotes: MLA citation looks like this (Shakespeare: 2009, 35) the first time it’s used, then (Shakespeare 45). It is usually placed at the end of the sentence, although Debbie Gascoyne offers this configuration if the edition doesn’t matter:

 (Hamlet I.ii.75) for act, scene and line – applicable to any printed version of the play but with the full details of the specific edition in the wks cited. Your DWJ book would be (Mendlesohn 43) if that was the only work cited, and if I had more than one work by you it would be (Mendlesohn, DWJ 43). Only (43) if I had mentioned your name in the sentence.

(And that as an author I’ve been asked to use all of these and a few more approaches is one reason why I continue to prefer Chicago).

It can drive historians to distraction. What do you mean Shakespeare 2009? How can you cite him as writing in 2009? But of course that is not what it means and it’s very unfair of historians to complain (although as an editor I’ve seen unfortunate mistakes in which an author has come up with a line of influence that would have required time travel, because they didn’t check dates).

MLA citation is there so that you can check the veracity of what was said: did the author get it right? Have they honoured the context and the meaning of what was said? Which edition of a text are they using if there is an argument over which version of a classic they should use (particularly relevant if there one is working with one of several translations, or a text which the author returned to such as an Agatha Christie novel). MLA is less good for a researcher looking for snippets they can use on an entirely different project but it is good if you are engaged in critical argument and you all want to be (literally) on the same page.

MLA does sometimes use endnotes, but they are mostly not for citations: instead they tend to be used for asides and expansions and sometimes for quips.

Harvard in text citations. These look like this (Mendlesohn 2009). They appear immediately after the summary of an idea. So:

It has been argued that there are four primary modes of genre fantasy (Mendlesohn 2009).

Only if you actually quote do you give a page number: It has been argued that there are four primary modes of genre fantasy, “Portal-quest, Intrusion, Immersive and Liminal (Mendlesohn 2009, p. 5).

To users of MLA or Chicago, the first approach is bizarre. It gets even worse if you offer:

Fantasy has been defined as an exercise in belief (Todorov 1975; Attebery 1982; Clute 1995; Mendlesohn, 2009).

What is this about? How are you supposed to track down these ideas given that these are all books?

The answer is that you are not. These are not citations as MLA and Chicago understand them. Instead they are an exercise in situating your argument. It is a sad fact that you can get away in Harvard with not having actually read any of those authors, but only another author who has described their opinions. But this is acceptable because what you are actually doing is establishing to which school of opinion, or methodology or political stance you subscribe, or which school etc. you think has got it terribly wrong. You are identifying your critical family, and the line of descent of your thinking.

If you are a student, I hope that helps. If you are an academic of any discipline or an editor, please feel free to weigh in.

Citation matters, and the ideology of why we cite helps us to get it right.

I want to finish with a quote:

Citation is a politics of desired and sometimes aspirational affiliation that the one who is being cited cannot control. Tao Leigh Goffe, @taoleighgoffe Twitter, October 3 2020

This made me think again about all of the above. When you cite someone consider it part of a conversation with them. Cite with respect, and cite with the understanding that one of the things you are doing when you cite is rendering the hard work of others more visible.

Farah Mendlesohn

Delivering a conference paper: supporting your colleagues with hearing impairments, or, there’s no point speaking if no one can hear.

“Approximately 9 million people in the UK have a hearing loss. This is approximately 19% of the total population or 1 in every 7 persons. Hearing loss increases sharply with age. About one third of the population aged between 60-70 years and three quarters of the population aged over seventy years have a hearing loss.”  Deafness – UK Statistics and Facts

For some reason, deafness is the neglected disability in the classroom and in conferences. Even though it is probably the commonest disability–and the one that is coming to most of you one day–it is routinely dismissed as a minor problem. Before I begin I want to emphasise that even though my own mother is deaf, and it’s her progressive hearing impairment I have inherited, I was every bit as blasé until it came to me.

NB: if you are Deaf or Hearing impaired and wish me to edit, clarify, add to the following please email me. This is a work in progress.

Edit: My attention has been brought to his fantastic post from Sarah Sparks about using a Cochlear Implant.


There are a number of key things to understand before I start.

  • Some people are born with hearing impairments, others gradually lose their hearing. The former if they are able/choose to use hearing aids, are likely to have very good mechanisms for dealing, and very high functioning hearing aids. The latter may be in the process of getting used to hearing aids which do strange things to sound; or may be waiting for upgrades as their hearing is changing. Both groups will have made choices about what they want to be able to hear and will have made some sacrifices. Hearing aids are, in their efficacy, less like spectacles than they are like a walking stick. Sarah Parker in the post I have linked to, describes them as prosthetics and that seems about right to me.
  • Different people have different impairment: older people tend to have high frequency deafness. I have low frequency deafness. It’s perfectly possible to have very acute hearing in one range and dreadful hearing in another.
  • Not all hearing is about volume: some hearing impairments are about interference (tinnitus) or processing disorders (what was that consonant you just made? do you know you sound like a really lovely babbling brook but I have no clue what you just said to me?).
  • Add any foreign accent and not only is hearing harder, but so is lip reading: I once had a student from country x who was used to lip reading her own country people speaking English; but in her class, the tutor was from a different country and her class mates were from around ten other countries and her well practiced lip reading just didn’t work.


  1. If you are organising a conference, make sure there are microphones in every single room. Avoid rooms with very high ceilings or glass on two sides.
    • Hearing aids are electronic devices that actually work better on electronic sound. No loud voice is as clear to someone with hearing aids as is a voice through a microphone.
    • If you are using a university setting, then the university owns them. Simple battery operated portable mics now cost below £50 a set. There is simply no excuse any more.
    • If it is a discussion panel, then you need one mic per person (max one between two).
    • You need a roving mic for the questions (everyone will be grateful for this, most people can’t hear if a question comes from someone in front of them).
    • All keynotes should be live captioned. (In an ideal world we’d live caption everything but it’s not cheap).
    • T-loops are good but not all of us use them for a range of reasons (including, if you have a t-loop next door my hearing aid would pick up next door’s meeting or their tv).
    • Consider Sign translation for the Deaf, but be aware that there is no “universal” Sign Language so that for international conferences you need to know the language of the user before you start, and that this will not help those with acquired deafness.
  2. If you are presenting there are generic tips here:
    • look up when you speak or read;
    • speak to the back of the room; do not turn your back when you are speaking;
    • do not cover your mouth when answering a question–some of us need to lip read;
    • don’t try to fit in too much: you may be able to speak faster, but your audience can’t hear faster;
    • put any data on to your slide, as this will help someone understand what you are talking about if they cannot hear it well;
    • put proper names on slides: much of our hearing (and this is true for everyone) is contextual, so I know what you have said because my brain fills in the gaps (when I use subtitles on the tv my brain is convinced I can “hear”); but this doesn’t work as well with proper names.
    • take important theoretical words or names slowly, even if you have said them a million times;
    • if you can, offer to circulate notes/slides in advance so that someone like me may read your paper and be in a position to ask questions (I have more than once followed a paper through someone’s twitter feed);
    • And finally use the microphone!!!!
  3. Learn how to use a microphone:
    • There are plenty of guides on the net, mostly for singers but everything they say is just as useful for speakers. Basically it needs to be close but not in front of your mouth: if it’s too close you will sound breathy. Do not do what one beloved friend does which is to wave it in front of his mouth so the sound goes in and out.
    • If offered a lapel mic take it; they are much better (if you are wearing a dress for a presentation, you will need a belt to put on to hang the mic from);
    • Teach others how to use microphone technique: if you are a supervisor, then when you teach people how to present make this part of the teaching.


Thank you for reading this.

Please circulate it, and please, if you have good hearing, be an ally and join in demanding microphones and that people use them.