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:
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
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 email@example.com 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.
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
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?
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):
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.
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.firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
I’m proud to say that I’ve had a pulp science fiction story accepted for publication by Pro Se Productions, one of the top US publishers of an incredibly diverse range of quality New Pulp work.
More about that in due course, but in the meantime may I cordially invite my readers and followers to check out Pro Se’s great new website, launched today?
You’ll find a remarkable range of New Pulo and related fiction magazines and novels which they have published and are set to publish, both in hard copy and ebook editions. Plus info on their published authors and much more.
If you like your fiction two-fisted, hard-boiled, out-of-this-world and with a classic feel plus a modern edge, look no further than Pro Se to begin your journey into the amazing, exciting world of New Pulp.
Image courtesy of Pro Se Productions
Just a quickie for those of you interested in local history!
You may or may not know that I’ve been writing a monthly local history feature for the Walsall Chronicle newspaper since 2001, on behalf of Walsall Local History Centre.
Originally these illustrated articles were entitled ‘Local Heritage’, and currently the somewhat different features are published under the ‘Memory Lane’ banner.
Last week’s feature was about the fascinating historic photos which can be found in old local books, these are often unique and the originals don’t often survive.
Anyway, in the article I talk about this and present some great images from the late Victorian volume ‘The Walsall Album’, which you can see in the local studies library at Walsall Local History Centre.
The image presented above will give you an idea of the article’s visual contents, and if you don’t take the Walsall Chronicle you should still be able to read this edition online until the end of this week.
See: http://www.expressandstar.com/free-editions/ and click on the Walsall Chronicle link – the article is on page 14.
Hope you find it interesting!
- Stuart Williams