Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Midwest FictionFest

Midwest FurFest kicks off in Chicago at the end of this week, and I’m pleased to announce I have stories in two anthologies that will make their debut at the convention.

First up is ‘Star of the Savannah’ in Reclamation Project - Year One from FurPlanet. This is a project conceived and edited by my longtime friend The Gneech, set in an optimistic post-catastrophe solarpunk future. It was fun to write (it’s basically The African Queen with furries), and lovely to work with Gneech.

‘The Catch’ features in Patterns in Frost, published by Sofawolf. This is the third anthology set on the ice world of New Tibet; the series is part of furry publishing history, and I’m delighted to be included.

I wrote these stories several years apart - Patterns in Frost has been some time in the making, while Reclamation Project came together quickly - so it’s funny, and pleasing, that they should be coming out at the same time.

Both are shared world stories, with a setting and lore created by someone else, which was an interesting learning experience for me.

Both have protagonists whose boat is their livelihood: Amma, the sea otter in ‘The Catch’, nets and sells fish, while Chuck the hyena in ‘Star of the Savannah’ delivers mail and cargo along the river.

Amma’s life revolves around protecting her stroppy teenage daughter. Chuck unwillingly becomes the protector of a human child. The story starter for each is their coming into possession of something the Bad Guys want.

They’re two very different characters, with very different lives, who would probably hate each other if their worlds somehow collided. I’m not saying you should buy both anthologies, but the option’s there...

reclamation01 PIF-Cover-Front

The Chains of Fenric Will Shatter

I'm doing very well out of my BFI membership. Yesterday it was a 30th anniversary screening of The Curse of Fenric, probably my favourite Sylvester McCoy Dr Who adventure.

Many people don't like the mid-80s version of the theme tune and opening titles, but they're what I grew up with, and when it kicked in I could feel myself getting just as excited as I did when I was 11.

There's a lot going on in this story, what with Vikings, Russians, chess and computers, ancient alien evil and vampires from the future, and there were moments when I was as mystified as I was at the original broadcast. I got the Maidens' Point innuendo this time round, though.

(Hard to believe there are people complaining the current incarnation of Who is too leftie when in 1989 we had someone warding off vampires by waving the Communist Party emblem at them.)

As well as the film cut of the story, we were shown a bundle of goodies from the upcoming Season 26 release. There was footage of Sophie Aldred's final dive into the sea off Lulworth Cove, which made us realise what a terrifying stunt it is, plus this piece of joy:

Afterwards, there was a Q&A with Aldred and writer Andrew Cartmel, followed by a chance to queue for their autographs. Ace has always been my favourite companion and the one I most wanted to be (kowarth decided I was Ace the moment we met, and strange_complex has said something similar), so this was not a chance I was going to miss. Used, after 30 years around the fandom, to dealing with awkward people, she was a total delight and said Alice was a nice name.

Promo artwork for the Season 26 DVDs, signed by Sophie Aldred

Today I have been at a Hundred Man Kumite, a karate thing where you do 100 rounds of sparring.

I should make it clear that it's not 100 rounds of beating the living daylights out of each other, because nobody is going to learn anything productive from that. Instead, we were given a technique to practise, and spent a couple of minutes on it before moving round to the next person and trying again, or being given something new.

It was still a pretty intense four hours, though. And I must have bowed at least 300 times - at the start and end of every bout, plus every time you move round. I was very ready for a bath when I got in.
The Spy Who Loved Me

Judi vs Judy

My lovely local indie bookshop, Bookseller Crow on the Hill, is in financial difficulties and running a series of fundraising events. The latest of these, last night, was a debate: who is better, Judy Garland or Dame Judi Dench?

I very much wanted to go, but that evening I had arranged to meet two friends, one of whom was visiting from the States. Would they, perhaps, like to accompany me? I wasn't quite sure what we would experience, but it would be...very British?

It was.

First up was Susie Boyt, reading from her memoir My Judy Garland Life - a surprisingly deep and touching account of what it's like to go through life trying at all times to make other people happy.

The opposition was a total contrast: Barbara Brownskirt, poet-in-residence of the 197 bus stop on Croydon Road, Penge, performing her works on life, love, manspreading and, of course, Judi. I cried with laughter.

There was a quiz on Judy and Judi, at which we did pretty dismally (serves me right for having Dench's autobiography on my To Read shelf for two years), plus a chance to handle a pair of Garland's shoes and look at Judi Dench's British Airways boarding pass and menu, obtained no doubt by nefarious means.

Then we went for a pizza at the Sardinian restaurant, where the proprietor told my friends off for not eating their crusts, going so far as to bring his sourdough starter out from the kitchen to demonstrate how much work went into it. A very Crystal Palace evening.
The Spy Who Loved Me

24 Hours Of Spies

It's been a weekend in which I came home at gone 1am on both Friday and Saturday nights (or Saturday and Sunday mornings, if you prefer), which is unusual for me these days.

My pal Jeff of has been holidaying in the UK with his wife, staying in what turned out to be an incredibly swanky flat in Mayfair. On Friday night I was part of a gathering of likeminded souls who assembled to talk espionage fiction over wine and cheese, and it was well worth getting the night bus home from Brixton for.

On Saturday I went to A Celebration of ITC 2 with my friend Hannah, since we'd had such a great time last year. As is our tradition (i.e. we've done it twice now), we met around lunchtime in Elstree and settled in Wetherspoons for the afternoon before our evening at the studios.

As in 2018, the format was Q&A sessions with guests from the world of TV and film. The focus for 2019 was Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), fifty years old this year. Annette Andre topped the guest list; Kenneth Cope was unable to attend, but sent us a lovely phone message. I've heard Annette speak on two previous occasions, but I'll never get tired of hearing what a happy family Randall and Hopkirk was, and how actors in other Elstree productions would pop along to their set in spare moments because there was such a nice atmosphere.

The last and perhaps the loveliest guest was Derek Fowlds, best known to me as Bernard from Yes Minister but also longstanding in Heartbeat and as Basil Brush's straight man. Wonderfully warm and funny, he concluded by saying how lucky he was to have had such a long career in showbiz, which was the perfect end to the evening.

I was unable to find a white suit for the occasion, so I elected to dress as Roger Moore. I think he'd have liked it.

Cat Air

Make Some Noise

I spent yesterday afternoon standing in the rain at Dunsfold Aerodrome, waiting for a Vickers VC10 to make some noise.

I appreciate this is a niche pastime.

This particular aircraft was a Super VC10, the last of the model off the production line at Weybridge and now the property of Brooklands. I, along with 70 or so other punters, had come to see/hear it start up and taxi along the runway.

Riding round the perimeter track of an active airfield to the parking area, past security and a barrier at the gate, was a thrill in itself. At 1PM, a volunteer came to tell us that things would be delayed as the plane wouldn't start: "It started beautifully at 8:30 this morning!"

Ten minutes later, the engines began to run. It was worth the wait. Whenever I thought that this must surely be maximum noise, it got just a little noisier. Finally, the plane began to move, turned around (blowing a volunteer's hat off, to much hilarity) and made stately progress up the runway, turned around, and came back.


Then they ran the Napier-Railton, a beast of a 1930s race car with a 24-litre aeroplane engine. It has no starting-handle and requires bump starting, which on this occasion took five men running behind the car and getting a faceful of smoke when it eventually deigned to get going.


After things had quietened down, I went on board the VC10 to learn about its history and sit in the cockpit. When I was in the Air Training Corps, I went on a refuelling flight in one of these (we filled up two Jaguars and another VC10, and it was awesome), so I was a little sad to see it reduced to a museum piece. Walking past the huge fuel tanks in the rear of the aircraft brought it all back.

It was raining more heavily when I emerged, so I chatted to the Napier-Railton crew for a bit. (One of them was the dead spit of Bill Pertwee in Dad's Army, which was nice for me.) Of course, they all said "Nice bike you've got there! What'll it do?" and showed me photos on their phones of their own cherished, classic bikes.

When the weather eased I extracted myself and they waved me off with cries of "Mind how you go! Don't brake in the corners!"
The Spy Who Loved Me

Three Bonds

Taking out BFI Membership was an excellent decision. This month it has brought me priority tickets to James Bond Day, a triple bill of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (50th anniversary), Moonraker (40th anniversary) and The World Is Not Enough (20th anniversary, yikes, how can this be, I swear it came out a couple of years ago).

I went with my Twitter friend Hannah, who travelled down from The North for the occasion. We met at Waterloo and just had time to buy a drink before the first film.

OHMSS is in my top three Bond films anyway, and it's my #1 for settings and costumes. '1960s ski lodge' is very much my aesthetic (see also North by Northwest). The Connery films might have that early-1960s cool but in 1969 we get Bond in an orange rollneck/brown polyester suit combo, and even Miss Moneypenny has a wedding hat with psychedelic swirls.

Afterwards, we had the very wonderful experience of a Q&A with George Lazenby, hosted by David Walliams. Lazenby was amiable and sweary and I'm pretty sure at least 50% of what he told us about filming Bond was lies, but charming ones. st_crispins, they played his scene from The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.! (He looked mortified.)

We were told that George would be signing autographs on the balcony, and we got in the queue. It was...costly, but we agreed we would only regret it later if we didn't go for it.

While we were queuing, I spotted my friend Ed of James Bond Food below me. Luckily he saw me before I was forced to shout his name from the mezzanine. Then someone else in the queue asked if I was Alice, and revealed himself as a fan of my Twitter. Hello there!

At last it was my turn to select a photo and have it signed.

"A-L-I-C-E?" George asked. "YesandthanksforbeingBonditmeansalottome," I replied. He nodded vaguely.

Then we had to rush back to the auditorium for Moonraker. Roger Moore is my least favourite Bond (sorry, Rog; sorry also, Hannah) but I'll admit his films are the most fun to watch on the big screen with an appreciative audience. I managed, for once, not to blub at the end of OHMSS, but made up for it by crying with laughter at the end of Moonraker ("I think he's attempting re-entry!")

(It turns out that Austin Powers 2 has completely ruined me for this one, and it was only a superhuman effort of will that kept me from yelling out "JOHNSON!!" in the middle of NFT1.)

I thought we'd have up to an hour's interval between films for a coffee and a chat. As it turned out, it was all a bit of a rush. There certainly wasn't time to eat, and if Hannah hadn't given me half a Scotch egg and some Milkybar Buttons I would probably have died.

We did manage to visit the bar in preparation for The World Is Not Enough. I filled Hannah in on the rules of the Pierce Brosnan Drinking Game, and we clinked our plastic pint glasses as the lights went down.

One is a lot more forgiving of all the innuendo and horndoggery in Moonraker than in TWINE, partly because everyone should have known better by 1999 and partly because Roger is Roger while Pierce always has a slight aura of sleaze about him (sorry, Pierce). But there's lots to enjoy in the Millennium Bond Film. Just not always in the way the producers intended.

We made our exit during the end credits and headed back to Waterloo.

I was so excited about having met an actual Bond that I couldn't sleep.

Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Found in La Mancha

I didn't think there was anything I wanted to see at this year's London Film Festival, but then they announced a surprise late addition: a preview screening of Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, plus Q&A with Terry afterwards. I bought a ticket as soon as booking opened.

Years ago I watched Lost in La Mancha, the documentary cataloguing the series of disasters that prevented the film from being made the first time round, so I was eager to see the final product. I loved it to bits.

It's got lukewarm reviews elsewhere, so I should include a couple of disclaimers: 1) I am very easy to please when it comes to Don Quixote, and 2) we all got free T-shirts. (Terry made us put them on after the film, and took a photo.)

The plot: film director Toby, played by Adam Driver (whence my new favourite movie credit, 'Driver to Mr Driver'), revisits the location of his student film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, and discovers that the Spanish cobbler he chose to play the lead is now convinced he really is the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance. Toby, in the role of Sancho Panza, is dragged into a series of surreal, spectacular, silly and scary adventures.

Jonathan Pryce is perfect as Don Quixote, and clearly having a whale of a time with it. Terry said in the Q&A that Pryce, an old friend, had wanted the part from the very beginning, and Terry had to keep fobbing him off because he wasn't old enough or skinny enough. Finally he has matured into the role.

I love Don Quixote - I think it may be the greatest story ever written - and I love that it keeps changing and evolving. As the film promises, Don Quixote will never die.

The icing on the cake was bumping into two friends on my way to NFT1 who were also heading for the screening, and going for a coffee afterwards. In our T-shirts.

Life, the Universe and Everything

Today is my 42nd birthday (thank you for the virtual gift, st_crispins!) and also the first day of my new job. Or rather, the first day of a bewildering week of inductions in which I met many people and was told many things. We were constantly reassured that we didn't need to remember it all right off the bat.

I am one of 20 interns in four digital specialisms, and we'll be seeing a lot of each other over the coming year. Today was in central London, then we have two days in Croydon and two days working from home to absorb all the information we've had thrown at us.

There was an introductory talk, at which we were told we'd each beaten hundreds of applicants to get where we were. Then we had the dreaded 'talk to the person next to you and find out an interesting fact about them'. My interesting fact was that it was my birthday, which worked out well because someone bought a coffee for me in the break.

We were given new laptops, and it was a while before we all managed to get logged in, online and sorted. Then it was lunch, then we split into our specialisms to talk to our new colleagues and mentors.

The day started at 10:30 and was over by ten to three, but I had to absorb an awful lot in that time, and there is more to come.

And now: pub.
Husky Airways

Balloon, Mein Herr?

Thursday's BFI film treat was a newly restored print of The Third Man.

The restoration, and the big screen, made the locations and cinematography extra impressive, and put more zing in the zither. I also noticed details I hadn't spotted before, like Anna sleeping in Harry's pyjamas (they have 'HL' on the breast pocket).

Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart definitely went on the same military training course as Trevor Howard's Major Calloway. And got his army duffle coat out of the same skip.

I was keeping an eye out for Bernard Lee but failed to spot him as the comedy sergeant who's a big fan of Holly's novels. He aged a great deal between 1949 and 1962's Dr No.

Another important Bond nerd point: The Living Daylights, which has several scenes in Vienna, nods to The Third Man in the fairground scene. (There is, of course, also a Remington Steele episode involving a system of underground tunnels accessed by advertisement hoarding.)

So, what did we learn?

  • You're probably better off dead

  • Cats, puppies and small children will grass you up

"I have this urge to watch The Living Daylights now," I informed my companion as we emerged.

"Don't you have that urge every single day of your life?" he asked.