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conventions, new podcast ventures, and judging at the BFAs

kat kourbeti
kat kourbeti
welcome back to honest to blog (working title), a newsletter with thoughts about writing, movies, music, science fiction and fantasy, and general creative process blah

from zero to sixty in no time flat—what’s more on-brand for ya girl?
gratuitous self-portrait from a couple of weeks ago… oh yeah, i wear glasses now!
gratuitous self-portrait from a couple of weeks ago… oh yeah, i wear glasses now!
well, hello there friends. once again, it has been a minute since i last wrote you, at first for a lack of things to say, then for a lack of will to live, and then for a lack of time, as i went back to work on the london riverbank. (oh yeah! i survived redundancy! and i’m selling tickets for the theatre again! while we’re still in a raging pandemic! woohoo! this excitement isn’t the slightest bit sarcastic!)
can u tell i’ve been mentally exhausted? 😅
but hey! let’s jaunt through the last few months of news—mostly sf related, because that’s where all the fun has been lately.
first off—conventions!
i got one of ConZealand’s Inclusion Initiative membership sponsorships for underrepresented voices within the sff community, which was super neat! it meant i could go to WorldCon, which was originally going to be held in New Zealand, but due to *gestures at world* became virtual.
the con was mostly fun, though the GMT+11 time zone was not; i missed most panels i was interested in as they were happening in the middle of the english night, and ya girl needs her sleep to function. in a spectacular show of can-do attitude and moxy, some of the raddest people i know—claire rousseau, alasdair and marguerite of EA, adri from Nerds of a Feather and a few others—put together a Fringe series of panels (which are still up on claire’s channel, here), broadcast at a time more friendly to european timezones. between that, and staying up till 4am some nights, i had a pretty decent con experience overall. hightlights included hanging out on kaffeeklatches with cat rambo and the skiffy & fanty show lot, and watching webinars on self publishing and social media stuff for authors. on the tech side, i was really impressed with how well the zoom/discord combo worked, and overall it felt great to gather with the sff brethren again, even if we couldn’t bump into each other in the hotel corridors.
the hugos, on the other hand, were an unmitigated disaster; i started to draft a newsletter about this back in august, but figured that others got there faster and better than i ever could have, and dropped it. here’s an excellent recap for ya that captures the essence of what the fuck, man? around the whole thing. suffice it to say that it was even more aggravating for me as it went on past 3am… like, yikes george my guy, shut yer trap will ya?
this was going to be my newsletter header for the worldcon issue, so rejoice - you get to see it 3 months later!!
this was going to be my newsletter header for the worldcon issue, so rejoice - you get to see it 3 months later!!
so after that enraging conclusion to the convention, and with ConTamination, the con you might remember i’d been working on since march, looming close with just a month to go, my pals and i on the committee realised we didn’t have enough time to sort out the myriad loose ends that remained before the con started… so we regrettably had to postpone it. looking back, the writing was on the wall even before august, but we were four foolhardy optimists with zero con-running experience, and we held on until we couldn’t anymore.
at this stage we’re not sure if it’s going ahead at all; mostly as the focus of the event was kind of all over the map, and other virtual conventions—including WorldCon, such as it was—filled the void we had initially sought to fill ourselves. but! as we made connections with many wonderful scientists, researchers, and authors, we are looking into converting some of our planned panels and talks into webinar events for writers, through spectrum! so if you like the idea of talks by scientists and authors on topics relevant to your science fiction interests… watch this space. :)
and then… came FIYAHCon🔥
FIYAH is a literary magazine of black speculative fiction, and their inaugural convention naturally aimed to center non-white voices and topics. the con had been in the works since the summer, but grrm mispronouncing the magazine’s name during the hugos lit… a… fire (heh) under the community at large, and drove more support towards both the magazine and the convention (which would include the inaugural Ignyte awards as well). i managed to snag a membership giveaway on Dream Foundry’s twitter by posting a photo of my partner’s cat (true story), so big thanks to them and my benevolent anonymous sponsor; you truly helped a poor writer in an hour of need.
and friends, words can’t describe how much fun FIYAHCon was, but i’ll do my best.
the tech setup was similar to conzealand in that there was a webinar platform and a discord server, and that too worked splendidly—i’d even say better, because the number of attendees was limited from the get-go, so it never felt overwhelmingly crowded in the chat, at least for me. most crucially, everything was organised in a way that made damn sure everyone was respected and heard, and that manifested in an atmosphere that was just… transcendental. there was no grandstanding at panels, no egregious mispronunciations anywhere, no coddling white people and starting all panels from ground zero. we could begin the conversation on a deeper level from the outset (no question on whether lovecraft was a racist, for example; no need to define and explain things like afrofuturism; no glorification of imperialism, colonialism, and the West in general), which made each hour-long panel and its overspill in the discord chat that much juicier and more interesting.
there were two panels in particular that really resonated with me, on different aspects of non-anglophone writers who write for an anglophone/Western audience. one was on the practical aspects of publishing in the West while not living there, and one was on the implications of dumbing your culture or language down for an anglophone audience. the first was moderated by alexandra manglis, who is from cyprus and has a very similar education/culture background to mine, and featured some excellent advice from attending writing workshops to signing contracts and self-publishing; the second featured haralambi markov, a bulgarian author who isn’t on twitter right now, who said something that really resonated with me: he doesn’t even think to write about bulgarian characters, because almost every story that was seminal for him was written in english and set in the US/UK. it was unthinkable for him to even write about his own culture—who would even want to read that, or find it interesting?
that, my friends, made me look back at my own writing, and i had the realisation that i too have felt this, but never put it into words; it hit me so hard, i had to sit and cry for a minute. i feel like i’ll be unpacking that in future editions of this newsletter, when i’m writing fiction again, so stay tuned for existential panic and complicated home feelings!
these conversations wouldn’t happen at a place like WorldCon, where the established canon of the first golden era of science fiction looms large over anything written since. the hugos this year were a prime example: instead of celebrating this year’s nominees and their current work, martin told stories from worldcons 50 years gone. FIYAHCon looked forward where Worldcon looked back; it was a space for the writers of today to take stock of where the genre is right now and where it’s going, putting BIPOC in the foreground, and allowing white non-anglophone creatives to share that space while de-centering the US and UK from all conversation, and recognising that other european cultures experience the world differently to the generalised West. it’s quite a simple thing, really, but in terms of sff conventions, it was groundbreaking.
and then, the Ignyte awards!!! they were everything the hugos were not! respectful of people’s names and pronouns, celebrating the nominated works and the people that created them, and short—just over an hour. One Hour, george, not three and a half. we ain’t got all day for your shenanigans.
i made so many connections at FIYAHCon (i’ve joined not one, but two post-con discord servers) and had so many ideas about Cool Things We Could Do off the back of an incredible weekend full of stimulating, respectful, and exciting conversation.
honestly, your fave con could never… though they certainly ought to try!
so what’s next?
tomorrow is AugurCon, a one-day virtual event hosted by Augur magazine. i’ve signed up for a poetry workshop and some other bits and bobs, so if you’re around virtually do give me a poke on the twitters or the discords.
also, in the last few weeks, Dream Foundry started up work on their second virtual con (they were the first to do it, back in May of this year), and since ConTamination is kinda dead in the water, i’ve jumped on the conrunning committee to help with marketing and outreach, programming, and registration. so look out for updates on that, especially if you are an emerging creative in the speculative arts.
i’ve been posting on twitter through my quiet time on here, but as not all of you follow me on there, lemme fill you in on the happenings:
  • i am ecstatic to be joining the award-winning speculative magazine Strange Horizons as one of two new podcast editors!! i will be doing readings of stories each month, and at some point probably take care of a special issue or two. my first episode came out on the 16th november and it’s here on podbean or here on the SH website for your listening pleasure :) oh, and we are also now on spotify!
  • i am also on the special jury for Best Non Fiction in the British Fantasy Awards! super super happy about that too, and an honour to be deliberating on books spanning horror screenwriting, black fantasy, biographies on joanna russ and robert heinlein, and (small bias here) alasdair stuart’s kickass reviews newsletter :) right now i’m neck-deep in reading, and we’ll be making our decisions by the end of next week.
  • i’m also working on a cool new podcast series concept with my scottish film friends at kneel before blog; the idea being, we put a film “on trial”, bringing forth evidence and witnesses to declare it good or bad once and for all. we’re taking suggestions for our first six episodes, so don’t be shy!
geeky gadgetry update
as i’m sure many writer friends will sympathise, i am always on the lookout for the next Thing that will help elevate my writing or make it easier or more fun. admittedly, sometimes the search becomes more of a thing than the writing itself, whether it’s learning how to use writing software like Scrivener or Campfire, or that time i got a chromebook so i can write on the go, or that time i replaced the chromebook with a samsung tablet, or when i bought a kindle because my eyes were straining from reading on my phone a lot… (turns out i needed specs anyway, lol!) there’s always something that will theoretically make things easier or more convenient, and you bet i’ll be first in line to test it out.
today, i bring you news of the freewrite traveler.
two years ago, i came across this indiegogo campaign for a device best described as a smart typewriter. it would have an e-ink screen, like my kindle, and no internet functionality other than cloud sync back-up. its solitary purpose: to get you to put words down on the page. no editing capabilities, no formatting, no faff. just you and your words and a comfy lil screen with no LED nonsense or notifications of any kind.
i forked over ~£200 for an earlybird discount on the finished product, because of course i did.
kat kourbeti 🔜 FIYAHcon 🔥
So I just shelled out a couple of hundred quid for a distraction-free device that you can ONLY write with. No internet, no bright screen, no browser. It's called the Freewrite Traveler and I need it YESTERDAY. See their campaign here: @Astrohaus #freewrite
well, after two years of waiting and a lot of bumps on the road for Astrohaus… it’s finally in my hands!!
it comes to me in the middle of a terrible creative drought, where i’m looking at it fondly wishing i had something to write right now (because none of my myriad projects speak to me at the minute, and writing feels miles away from me)—and hopefully i will, soon.
but look at it. ain’t it pretty. it’s so much more refined than the initial prototype, as the fine folk at Astrohaus have been tinkering with more than just component parts during the lengthy R&D and manufacturing process.
  • write using multiple input languages; it’s all editable via a web portal, and languages can be added and removed at will. looking forward to maybe sprinkling in some greek into my stories! who knows, sky’s the limit!
  • sync documents, both on the web portal and to the cloud service of your choice. i’m syncing mine to gdocs as that’s what i mostly use for editing. but imagine: no need for usb transfers, automatic syncing so you can edit immediately, safe back-up to at least two sources so you never run the risk of losing your work (side-eyeing you, evernote). i’m over the moon.
  • automatic word count and reading time estimates. a lifesaver, tbh!! stops me having to check the google doc for it, and is great for short stories where you’re working with a limit most of the time.
  • a timer, for sprints! we do workshops and write-togethers on the spectrum discord server, and methinks i’ll bust this guy out for the next session i can join.
  • initially there were going to be just three documents available, but they’ve expanded the code to allow folder storage, and several docs within each. exciting if you’re someone like me, with multiple ideas on the go at any one time (under normal circumstances).
i’m sure there’s even more, but i’ve only played around with it a tiny bit so far. i’ll let you guys now how it fares when i’m properly writing again—perhaps having a new toy is the perfect time to try and come back to it.
je suis gamer, allegedly
my partner got a PS5 recently, and we both got time off work to stay home and play games for four straight days. it was great. we’re playing the remastered Spider-Man game (which neither of us had played before and it looks amazing!!)—them on medium difficulty, me on super-easy because i mostly care about the story. the PS5 graphics are out of this world.
i also finally got Hades on the Switch!! i’ve seen a lot of friends on Twitter play this and get very into it, and as a Greek person i had to see what all the fuss was about. you play as Zagreus, son of Hades, trying to escape the underworld and getting your ass kicked in the process by all sorts of ghoulish spirits that get in your way. you’re also aided by the Olympian gods and a few deities from down below, with boons that boost your weapons or your stats.
right off the bat i’ll say the big winner is the art style and the music—they just give the game the exact right kind of mood throughout: epic but also a little decrepit, and a helluva lot of fun. there’s some sort of lute in the soundtrack that sounds pretty authentic, and the heavy rock sound is appropriate for the underworld. even if you don’t plan to play this, put the album on your playlist:
Hades: Original Soundtrack - Full Album
Hades: Original Soundtrack - Full Album
so far i’m really loving it, even if i’m really not very great at killing Wretched Louts. i’m just here for the story, dammit!
that’s it from me this week. as always, feel free to share your responses to anything above by twitteremail, or lightning bolt.
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above all, stay safe, wherever you are!
speak soon,
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kat kourbeti
kat kourbeti @darthjuno

writing, media and arts commentary from a queer g(r)eek writer of science fiction and fantasy works.

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