An ikonic day amid the books in Brum

The Ikon Gallery

I must say, I really enjoyed visiting the Birmingham Independent Book Fair which took place at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham today.  As much for the people as the books!

Time certainly flies when you’re having fun, and it’s testament to the extremely diverse and intriguing range of publishers and authors represented there that hours passed by without me really noticing the time. In fact I could have easily spent days there!

The quality of the work and standard of publishing on show was excellent, and anyone who didn’t have the time to visit this event surely missed a real treat.

As you might expect, though, I immediately gravitated to the usual suspects – my local friends Theresa Derwin and Adrian Middleton of KnightWatch Press and Fringeworks as well as serial event organiser and publisher Alex Davis of new publisher Boo Books from Derby – and hopefully new friends Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards of The Alchemy Press.  It was also good to see author and editor Mike Chinn again, who works with both Fringeworks and Alchemy Press.

Exhibitors at Birmingham Independent Book Fair

Great to chat with Theresa and Adrian about what they’ve got coming up, and future possibilities.  Hope we can do something together before too long!  I snapped up an Angry Robot book from Theresa, Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis, right up my rather weird mean street…  I also took the opportunity to pick up The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes 2 edited by Mike Chinn, looks like another good read!

Exhibitors at Birmingham Independent Book Fair

Doing the rounds offered plenty to fascinate, though as you might expect it was the steampunk, science fiction and fantasy that held most interest for me.  It was great to meet Sophie Sparham, who was showing off her book Snow in Hell, which looks like great gothic fantasy/sf fun.  Had I enough spare cash on me I would have picked up her hardback edition, but I will just have to check out her publishers Gingernut Books (I wonder if they do biscuits too?).  Good luck with the book, Sophie!

One author whose work I certainly want to take another look at is Adam Millard of Wolverhampton via Shrewsbury, who writes some very distinctive horror, fantasy and steampunk and had a range of his dead good (pun alert!) books on show. I made off with some of his promotional material and will come back to that when I can.

And I really want to find out more about Pigeon Park Press, another Birmingham publisher with a diverse output.  I’ll be beating a path to their Facebook page and website “real soon now”.

There was some intriguing work on show on the table of Black Pear Press from Worcestershire, who aim to bring their local novelists, short story writers and poets to a wider readership, and more power to their elbows!  I came away with a few interesting ideas and food for thought from them.

Exhibitors at Birmingham Independent Book Fair

I also had a very enjoyable chat about suspense and supernatural stories to author Ellie Stevenson, and am looking forward to reading her book of ghost stories Watching Charlotte Bronte Die which she kindly signed for me – who knows, after that I may follow up on one or two ideas myself :O)  Also on Ellie’s table was her fellow author JJ Franklin, who was promoting her Warwickshire-set crime novel, Urge to Kill.

Last but not least I was spotted by eagle-eyed fellow Walsall Writers’ Circle member Dawn Rhind-Tutt who kindly introduced me to another publisher I also need to revisit, Offa’s Press, who are doing some very interesting work in publishing and promoting West Midland poetry and poets.  After Thursday’s poetry workshop at the WWC I know many members will find them of interest.  Thanks, Dawn!

Pictures

I took just a few panoramic photos at the Fair, some of which you’ll see above (click on the picture for a big version) and all of which you’ll find in a set on my Flickr site here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/swilliams2001/sets/72157643857852053/

- it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that if you’re one of the authors or publishers who were exhibiting today, you are very welcome to use these photos, if they are of any help to you, subject to crediting me as the photographer.  The quality is a bit variable but they’re fun I think :O)

Conclusion

This was a great little event, I hope to see it grow next year and raise its profile to the benefit of everyone taking part as well as of the many readers who don’t yet know what they’re missing.  Who knows, I might even have a table myself next year.  And I’ll be watching out for other similar events in the Midlands.

Finally, since this is a very subjective post by it’s very nature, and not intended to cover everything on show by any means, it’s well worth listing all of the exhibitors below, as I’m sure many of you will find their output interesting and worth supporting. Be sure to check them out – and most importantly, buy some books!

List of exhibitors:

William Gallagher / Twin Books / Fringeworks / Flarestack Poets / Boo Books /Pigeon Park Press / Cinnamon Press / Silhouette Press / The Cassowary Press /Cannon Poets / Shadow Publishing / TJB Press / Offa’s Press / Black Pear Press /The Alchemy Press / Ellie Stevenson / Nine Arches Press / Gingernut Books /Crowded Quarantine / The Foxwell Press / Fair Acre Press / Five Seasons Press

 - A. Stuart Williams

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On the Brummagem book trail today!

20140412-091527.jpg

Well, it’s time for some book fun today – and a little experiment in mobile blogging – I’m editing and uploading this live from my iPad Mini on the bus from Walsall to Brum as I beat a path to the Birmingham Independent Book Fair!

This looks like a fascinating event for book-lovers, and if you see me there, do say hi :0)

The Fair, which is taking place at the Ikon Gallery (see website below for location) between 11am – 5pm, offers free admission and the opportunity to buy and discover new books, many of which you may not have seen offline.

Of course, the most interesting thing about this event is that it will be jam-packed with independent publishers from the West Midlands and beyond, selling their books direct – books you probably won’t find in many of the big corporate book shops, so now is your chance to fill up on some great new or less well-known authors and fresh ideas, not to mention chatting directly to the publishers and probably some of the authors themselves.

I’m hoping to renew a few acquaintances and see what everyone’s up to. I might even let a few moths out of the wallet :0)

According to the organisers the West Midlands Independent Publishers’ Network (which is convened by Writing West Midlands) there will be everything from poetry pamphlets to prose fiction, graphic novels to science fiction and fantasy, and a wide range of forms and genres will be represented. Sounds good!

There will also, they say, be a programme of events running throughout the day.

The publishers involved are:

Twin Books http://www.twinbooks.co.uk/

Fringeworks http://www.fringeworks.co.uk/

Flarestack Poets http://www.flarestackpoets.co.uk

William Gallagher http://williamgallagher.com/

Boo Books http://boobooks.net/

Pigeon Park Press http://www.pigeonparkpress.com

Cinnamon Press http://www.cinnamonpress.com

Silhouette Press http://www.silhouettepress.co.uk

Cannon Poets http://www.cannonpoets.org.uk

Shadow Publishing http://www.shadowpublishing.webeasysite.co.uk/index.html

TJB Press http://tombrysonwriter.wordpress.com

Offa’s Press http://www.offaspress.co.uk

Black Pear Press http://www.blackpear.net

The Alchemy Press http://www.alchemypress.co.uk

Ellie Stevenson http://elliestevenson.wordpress.com

Nine Arches Press http://www.ninearches.press.com

Gingernut Books http://www.gingernutbooks.co.uk/sophie-sparham.html

Crowded Quarantine http://www.crowdedquarantine.com

Foxwell Press http://www.facebook.com/FoxwellPress

Fair Acre Press http://www.fairacrepress.co.uk

Five Seasons Press http://www.fiveseasonspress.com

The Cassowary Press http://www.casspress.com

The event is organised in collaboration with Ik0n. http://www.ikon-gallery.org

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Pebbler Webster – hero of ‘Gravship Turbinia’ in real life

I’ve just this week published my latest local history article in the Walsall Chronicle newspaper, and it’s about Walsall’s, and at one time Britain’s, greatest aviator, S.N. ‘Pebbler’ Webster of the Royal Air Force.

As you may know, Webster features as a fictionalised character in my steampunk/alternative history story Gravship Turbinia, which is set in a very different Victorian England of 1897, so I thought my readers might find it interesting to discover something about the real Webster, who in 1927 became the fastest man in the world!

I’ve posted an image of the article below for your interest, but I will find the time later on to add the unedited and slightly longer version of the article, which has a few things in it which have been trimmed off by the Chronicle editor to fit his layout.  Click on the image for a larger version.

You can also read the published article in the Walsall Chronicle online edition via the following link:

http://www.expressandstar.com/free-editions/

It’s also in the Cannock Chronicle.

Anyway, I hope you find Webster as fascinating as I do – he really does deserve to be as famous in Walsall today as he was world-wide in 1927!

- Stuart Williams

Memory Lane article on Flt Lt Webster, Walsall Chronicle 13 Feb 2014 p12

Memory Lane article on Flt Lt Webster, Walsall Chronicle 13 Feb 2014 p12

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Hot-off-the-press – my latest history book!

Stuart Williams with a proof copy of his new book

As many of you will know, in my ‘day job’ I work as a local historian and photographer at Walsall Local History Centre, the archives and local studies service for Walsall metropolitan borough in West Midlands, England.

As part of that work, I have in the recent past written two local history books for the Centre – Billy Meikle’s Window on Walsall and Reflections of Old Walsall.

Now, I am delighted to be able to announce that my latest book for the Centre, Walsall Borough Past & Present, will soon be available to buy, just in time for Christmas!

Walsall Borough Past & Present includes Aldridge, Bloxwich, Brownhills, Darlaston, Pelsall, Rushall, Streetly, Walsall, Walsall Wood and Willenhall, and aims to reflect the fascinatingly diverse heritage of the borough while illustrating that time never stands still.

An A5 format softback book, illustrated in both black and white and colour, it offers brief ‘edited highlights’ histories of each of these ten towns and villages as well as fifty period location photographs plus fifty matching pictures specially taken by me in 2013. Each place gets a two-page history plus 5 past photos and 5 present photos.

Stock is expected to be delivered to the Centre on 13 December, though they might have a few copies in the preceding week.

The price of the book is £7.50 plus postage if required – contact the Centre on 01922 721305 to check postage costs.

Book signing at Waterstones

I’m also very pleased to say that Waterstones book store in Walsall has invited me to take part in a special book signing session at their Park Street shop on Saturday 14 December between 3pm – 5pm, where I will be signing the new book as well as my previous two books.

Signed copies will also be made available on request at Walsall Local History Centre in Essex Street.  Customers are advised to telephone the Centre on 01922 721305 or email localhistorycentre@walsall.gov.uk to check stock availability and opening hours before making a special journey there.

Walsall Borough Past & Present will also be available from Walsall Leather Museum, Walsall Museum and Waterstones Walsall bookshop once stock is available.

I hope I may see some of you in Waterstones on 14 December!

My thanks go to my local history centre colleague Libby Warren for taking the picture above.

Stuart Williams

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Predicting the unpredictable

The young HG Wells

Yesterday I was delighted to be able to attend the brand new ANDROMEDA ONE literary science fiction, fantasy and horror convention at the Custard Factory in Birmingham, England.

Oddly enough, it turns out that the day of the convention was also the 147th birthday of one Herbert George Wells, Esq. (pictured, above).  Did you notice that, conference organisers and attendees?

It was a very enjoyable event, with a wide range of great interviews and discussion panels from authors, publishers and fans as well as workshops, books and book launches.  My congratulations to the organisers – “I’ll be back!”

One of the most thought-provoking panels I was able to attend was entitled ‘Does my rocket look big in this?  Technology and prediction in SF’, a discussion which was ably moderated by Stan Nicholls and debated by Janet Edwards, Ian Whates, Adam Christopher, Lynn M. Cochrane, Chris Amies and Dave Corby, with occasional voices off from the audience (mine included).

There was considerable and excited debate about whether the science fiction writer’s role is to predict the future, future technology and the future of societies, whether on this Earth or elsewhere in the universe.  And indeed how unpredictable the future actually is, with technology, it seems, sometimes outpacing writers’ imaginations today.

There was of course the old chestnut about whether the technology ought to be accurate (‘hard’ SF), at the heart of the story, or just a narrative tool which ought not to be too rigid as long as it doesn’t degenerate into magic. Certainly, there’s room for both.

Whether it’s the author’s role to predict is debatable of course, and depends on the story (which is all-important) but inevitably that comes into play as we are, generally, talking about the future (or a future) in mainstream science fiction.  The accuracy of the prediction, as you might expect, depends to some extent on the writer’s own scientific knowledge, their willingness to research, and how consistently they adhere to the scientific principles that back up their story or at least the background of the world(s) in which it is set.  Some predictions may, ultimately, turn out to be impossible.  Some may be possible but we may never live to see them, and may not be able to predict their outcomes.

This all set my own little grey cells fizzing.

Those of us sitting in our comfy chairs with our flat-screen voice and gesture-controlled TVs, smartphones, ebook readers (and writers), tablet computers and robot vacuum cleaners may look back smugly on our Golden Age predecessors banging away on their mechanical typewriters about relays (which could never have built a robot brain) and rockets (which cannot get you from Earth to Mars in a couple of days), and faster-than-light travel (which most theorists say is impossible, though it’s never quite that simple).  But we would be wrong to look down on them.

We know so much that they could never have predicted, yet we have not achieved the half of what they envisioned in matters such as space travel, a branch of technology whose growth has been unpredictably stunted by the stupidity and short-termism of politicians and their preference for “we’re better than you are” posturing and global mass-murder instead of peaceful international co-operation in space.

Even the amazing real-world Apollo Moon landing programme of the 1960s-70s was done all in the wrong order thanks to political priorities; both science fiction writers and scientists had predicted that rockets would be designed for the purpose of building a space way station, and only then would a much larger moonship have been launched, from orbit, to enable bigger, more sophisticated craft to land on the Moon and set up long-stay bases and eventually colonies.  Thanks to politicians, the cart was put before the horse and despite the heroic achievement, which is not to be denied, in essence all we did was cock our collective leg on the Moon and come back.

Decades later, we have our space station, in the form of a science lab, but (thanks again to politicians) no more reusable spacecraft and no way to get men/women to the Moon.  Now, there is a generation in schools to which that greatest adventure looks like Golden Age science fiction, a future fading rapidly into the past.  Are little remote-controlled cameras scootering about the surface of Mars, despite their remarkable achievements, a real replacement for the mighty dream of manned spaceflight? I don’t think so. And who could have predicted humanity’s climbdown from that one small step?

In other areas of predicted scientific and technological development we are a long way from being able to walk into parallel universes (which theorists now say are real), travel in time (but what is time?) and beaming ourselves up using matter transmission (which would require masses of computer power we can only yet dream of).

But in yet other ways we have begun to reach beyond what past predictions of technology offered.  Portable computers in every pocket. Digital cameras with mass storage beyond that used by Mr Spock.  The ancestors of real robots (and one day Asimo may have the brains to match R. Daneel Olivaw). Powered exo-skeletons for peace and war.  Anti-personnel Heat Rays. Personal flying wings with miniature jet engines.  Jet packs.  Flying cars. Lasers in the classroom and the lecture theatre, in our music players (and almost obsolete there!), and now capable of bringing down aircraft or sinking ships.  Electric railways.   And electric cars – almost a commonplace, with only cost and convenience yet keeping them out of the hands of the majority of ordinary people; and that too will come to pass.

The Internet, which is in most houses in developed countries and accessible by portable computers around the globe, was predicted in E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops (1909) and may yet achieve spontaneous intellectual combustion and self-awareness, but perhaps not in an interplanetary form as predicted in Fredric Brown’s ‘Answer’ (published 1954) – because the laws of physics may prevent it.  Or will they?  I used to know a man, the late Fred Archenhold, one of whose family friends was Albert Einstein, who regularly came round to tea, to play music and to chat at their house in Berlin before WW2, and to whom Einstein once said “I never said you cannot travel faster than light.  Just that you can never REACH the speed of light.”  Make of that what you will.

We are even now on the verge of achieving universal power via the clean, pollution free process of nuclear fusion.  Just a few decades should have us there.  Yet here we are arguing about global warming, the burning of coal and the mass-building of windmills to hold it back.  Are we in the 18th century or the 21st?

Finally, returning to the serendipitous timing of the Andromeda One convention on the birthday of Mr Wells (many happy returns, H.G.!), we can safely say that he was one of the greatest ever predictors of the technological future, though his stories mainly had a social and political intent.

He predicted the Heat Ray (in The War of the Worlds (1898) wielded by the Martians, today wielded by us in the form of lasers and the US Army’s Active Denial System).  Genetic engineering (strictly speaking, vivisection, in The Island of Doctor Moreau, 1896), where we now routinely alter plants and animals, and even ourselves (stem cells, gene therapy, bionics) – only politics is keeping what we now call transhumanism in check.  Automatic doors (in Wells’ 1890s story The Sleeper Awakes, but popularised in Star Trek in the 1960s, when real sliding doors arrived).  Invisibility – something which scientists and engineers are working on with early success today, but predicted in The Invisible Man (1897).  The Atomic Bomb – The World Set Free, published in 1914,  describes a world devastated by ‘atomic bombs’! Thankfully the consequences of that particular invention have so far been largely averted.  Tanks – predicted in his 1903 The Land Ironclads.  Mobile phones – similar devices were predicted in The Shape of Things to Come (1933) and similar facilities to modern email and voice mail in Men Like Gods (1923).

Perhaps even Mr Wells’ description of the deeply divided, artificially evolved society of the Eloi and the Morlocks in The Time Machine is only the ultimate expression of the social divisions that are now once more becoming abundantly clear in the dividing lines between the excessively rich (the 1% in modern parlance) and the 99% (the rest of us).  I think he would have appreciated the irony of how his prediction, based on the social divisions of his time, is still coming to pass despite the so-called progress we have made since then.

Whatever we may seek to predict as writers, and however we may consider the future of technology and its effects on society, it sometimes seems that the only thing holding us back from the future is us.  And when we ourselves change, how then will our predictions fare?

- Stuart Williams

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This week’s ‘Memory Lane’ in the Walsall Chronicle

Memory Lane by Stuart Williams Walsall Chronicle 25 July 2013

For the local history fans out there, my latest Memory Lane feature (see above and click for larger version) is published in the Walsall Chronicle newspaper this week (cover date July 25 2013), on page 18.

Titled Relics of proud industrial borough between the wars, it’s a look at some of the images one can glean from those proud civic publications which promoted the many advantages, especially industrial, of Walsall County Borough, as it was then, in the 1920s and 30s.

There are some great and rare pictures to be found in these and other old books about Walsall, and some wonderful cover artwork like the Art Deco examples shown in the feature.

There’s only so much one can put in a half page, as you can see from the scan reproduced above, so if this piques your interest for more, why not drop into Walsall Local History Centre some time?

See:  http://www.walsall.gov.uk/localhistorycentre for details of the Centre and its services, location, opening times etc.

As ever, if you don’t receive the Walsall Chronicle through your door, you can catch up with it in the electronic version online, which is usually available from the Saturday of the week in which it is published.

It and other regional editions are available via this link (the site requires Flash so may not work on some mobile devices):

http://www.expressandstar.com/free-editions/

Stuart Williams

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Glittering prizes – and more

Stuart Williams receives the Marjorie Green Trophy from Margaret Wood

The past twelve months have been exciting in many ways.  Two highlights for me have been awards made to me by Walsall Writers’ Circle, a group which has been around since the early 1960s but of which I have only been a member for a few short years.

The first was back in October, when out of the blue they awarded their prestigious Norrey Ford Cup to me for my writing over the previous year.  The cup is given annually.  Norrey Ford was a well-known Walsall writer of novels, short stories and articles and one time chairman of The Romantic Novelists Association.  She started the Walsall Circle in order to encourage local would-be writers.  Norrey gave the cup to be awarded to the member who achieved the most success during a twelve month period with the accent on new writers.

And last Thursday I was presented with my second award by the Circle in twelve months - the Marjorie Green Fiction Trophy for my winning entry in the Circle’s competition themed this year as “Where there’s a Will…”  My winning entry was a story of suspense, criminality and spooky goings-on at the Bard’s grave in Stratford Upon Avon. Barbara Carr, judge, had said when announcing the result last month that it was very difficult to decide on a winner as there were so many excellent entries, but she felt that my entry had the winning edge, which was very kind of her.

The Marjorie Green Trophy, a small silver tankard, will now sit proudly on a shelf in my study for a year, until the next lucky recipient takes charge of it.

There was some sad news for the Circle as a whole, however.  Thursday was also the AGM and members were sorry to hear that Margaret Wood, Chair, who had just presented me with my latest award, was standing down after more than 12 years at the helm. She was presented with an engraved trinket box and thanked by the Treasurer, Carol Atton, for all her hard work over the years. John Lester, another long serving member of the Committee standing down was also thanked for his help and presented with an engraved key ring.

CIRCLE NEWS

Happier news was that the Circle’s first ever book of members’ work had been entered into the bestselling national Writing Magazine’s Writers’ Circle Anthology Award (self-publishing) where it received an honourable mention in the July issue. 

‘Satchels, Inkwells and Milk Monitors’ was deemed by Writing Magazine to be a ‘simple idea, well produced’. It is a compilation of the latest non-fiction competition entries on the theme ‘My early school days’. This competition attracted a record number of entries and the judges (John Lester and myself) said that they found it far from easy to make a decision due to the generally high standard that was reached. New member Ronnie Carleton had been chosen as the winner with his entry ‘Red Bricks and Candlewax’. 

To buy a copy of the book ‘Satchels, Inkwells and Milk Monitors’ price £3 + £1p&p, please email Walsall.writerscircle@hotmail.co.uk

The Circle’s new programme will begin on Thursday 12th September (7.30 pm) at the Broadway North Centre, Broadway North, Walsall WS1 2QA. Further details can be found on the website walsallwriterscircle.webs.com or by ringing the secretary on 01922 458595.

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