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Ian R MacLeod: a short autobiography

I was born in Solihull in 1956 and, apart from one or two short excursions up and down the country, have mostly lived in and around Birmingham ever since. My father is Scottish, which accounts for the name, and my mother's family are from the south of Birmingham; they met each other when they were stationed at an East Coast town during the Second World War.

My academic career was unimpressive, but I scraped enough grades at 15 to join some of the posher and cleverer kids at grammar school. For no particular reason other than that I liked the whole idea of books and huge dusty libraries, and to stop being bothered by the careers master, I elected to study law afterwards, and was persuaded by the interviewer at Birmingham Polytechnic, my local college, to do a proper degree rather than take a lesser and more specifically job-related qualification.

I read avidly throughout my early and mid teens, almost entirely science fiction; I had little reason or cause to read "proper literature". These were the days of the New Wave, of 2001: A Space Odyssey, of Dune and Zelany and Delany and Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions - I sucked it all up. Here, I was sure, was something new and daring. Then I read Tolkien, and fell in love with his books, too, and Lin Carter's Ballantine Adult Fantasy. Eventually, I was required to read some of the modern classics at grammar school for 'A' level English: D H Lawrence and T S Eliot soon made a big impression on me, whilst at the same time I was still reading and adoring Ballard and Silverberg. I rather fancied the idea, in fact, of doing what they did, of combining the two streams. Thus, at the age of about 15 or so, began my first abortive attempt at writing a novel. It was set in an alternative world where the Third Reich really had lasted for a thousand years.

College, and law, turned out to be more enjoyable than I'd really expected. I read less, wrote nothing, listened to a lot of music and went out a lot. I also met my wife Gillian. I got a lower second honours degree without too much effort: the professional law exams, though, weren't for me, although Gillian sailed through them and became a solicitor. I still had no idea what was for me, but, after drifting through various jobs, I ended up working in the Civil Service by my early twenties. It was there, on a hot afternoon and with the old bloke in the desk opposite nodding off to sleep in the sunshine, that I finally grew bored enough to set aside the file I'd been pretending to study, and put biro to a scrap of paper. Soon, my efforts grew more serious. Life - the life of work and seeming adulthood - didn't seem enough on its own, and I was never one for heading out on wild adventures, apart from those which took place in my head. Within a year or so, I was at work on the novel which was to see me through the rest of my twenties. When it was finished, and after I'd learnt typing, I sent it off to various publishers, fully expecting fame and riches.

A few years, and another couple of half-done and unsold novels later, I found myself working on the odd short story - a genre I'd previously avoided because, with the exception of sf, I preferred reading novels. Unsurprisingly, and like my novels, most of these short stories seemed to fit broadly into what I thought of as science fiction, which also meant horror and fantasy and anything else which took my fancy. I refocused a little bit more on the genre when I realised - or remembered - that there were magazines out there, those fabled names I'd noticed in anthologies during my childhood but never been able to find, magazines which bought and paid for short science fiction. I still managed to get a lot of my writing done on or under the desk at work in the Civil Service, and largely stuck with the job because it gave me the time and the leisure to write, both at work and at home. Despite - or perhaps because - of this, my Civil Service career progressed well, or did until I found the whole idea of being seen as a high-flyer, whilst at the same time having another objective in my life about which I remained almost entirely secretive, got to me.

Meanwhile, by now in my mid-thirties and probably heading for some kind of crisis or breakdown, I was starting to get encouraging replies to my submissions to sf magazines. My first sale was to one of the most fabled names of all: Weird Tales. Then I sold to Interzone, and to Asimov's. All of this was a big thrill. After all, I was a writer! When Gillian became pregnant with our daughter Emily, I was very happy to give the idea of being a full-time house-husband and writer a bash.

That was in 1990. Since then, I've sold about 30 short stories to most of the main SF markets, including F&SF, Amazing, Interzone, Asimov's, Weird Tales, Pulphouse, Pirate Writings, etc, along with a few articles and poems, many of which have been repeatedly anthologised. Funnily - or weirdly - enough, my very first sale, "1/72nd Scale", was nominated for the Nebula Award for the year's best novella. I also managed to sell separate stories to each of The Year's Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in my first full year of being published. Since then, I've continued to make almost annual appearances in The Year's Best SF. I've also been nominated for the British Science Fiction Association Award, and the James Tiptree Award. My work has been translated into many languages, including Italian, French, Japanese, Polish and German.

Having switched to writing short fiction, it's taken me a long time to get far with novels - and even longer to sell them! However, my first novel, The Great Wheel, was published by Harcourt Brace in 1997, and won the Locus Award for the Year's Best First novel. A second, an alternative history entitled The Summer Isles, won the World Fantasy Award as a novella, and will now receive first publication in French. I'm a slowish worker, but almost everything which I've finished to my own satisfaction in this decade has found a decent market. My first short story collection, Voyages By Starlight, was published in 1997 by Arkham House, and my second, Breathmoss and Other Exhalations, was published in 2003 by Golden Gryphon.

My two recent novels, The Light Ages and The House of Storms, are both set in a world close to our own where magic is the main driving force of the industrial revolution. It's a world I'd like to visit again, although it's my firm intention to make sure that every book I write is different. It's certainly been the case in recent years that I've focussed on the novel at the expense of, and to the exclusion of, short fiction. At some time in the future, that will probably change. Seasons come and go in writing, just as they do in every other aspect of life. As long as I still feel I've got things to say, in whatever format, I'll be happy. Meanwhile, I also teach English and creative writing: it gets me out of the house, remains a fresh challenge and is a great antidote to the essentially navel-gazing task of writing fiction. I just wish I had more time to fit everything in...

Vernon Brown: by himself

I was born in 1939 and an avid sf and fantasy reader before I reached double figures, although I have long since relinquished the latter. Despite meeting and talking with hundreds of people through my work at Aston University and my active hobby of ballroom / Latin dancing, I did not meet anyone else with the slightest interest in sf until I was 28, when then the formation of a university sf group was advertised. I became a founder / committee member. and through this I met Pete Weston, Rog Peyton and Bob Rickard, who later pitchforked me into really active fandom by volunteering me onto committees running Eastercon 22 and the resurgent, now formally organised, Birmingham Science Fiction Group.

Prior to this, though, I’d joined other ASFG members at our first two cons, Galactic Fair ’69 (an Eastercon) and, a little later, a very low key one-day fantasy con in Leeds. These events made us think of organising a con ourselves somewhere between the two, thoughts which eventually led to Novacon. So the years 1970/71 were somewhat hectic for me: chairman of both the ASFG and of Novacon, and committee member of the BSFG and Eastercon 22. Needless to say, my “active hobby” had long since bitten the dust.

The problem was that Galactic Fair ’69 had introduced me to and hooked me on conventions, and apart from the Eastercons there were none in the UK, the Leeds affair having been a matter of local fans hiring a function room at an hotel for the day and arranging a very informal programme (everything else, like accommodation, was left to attendees to sort out themselves). So I looked through the various fan publications I’d accumulated and found that the 1970 Worldcon was to be held in Heidelburg, Germany. I’d only been abroad once before, on a package tour to Benidorm, just when it was developing and before it was discovered by the British public, but a few letters, phone calls and a couple of phrasebooks later, I was on my way across Europe by train. This was a totally different con, in particular the room parties with gallon bottles of whiskey and baths full of canned drinks. I thoroughly enjoyed it and the city itself: I flunked my only foreign language at school, but a decent phrasebook can work wonders.

During Heicon, a group of fans from several European countries decided to organise a series of biennial conventions, the Eurocons, to rotate between those countries having a large enough fan base to organise them. The first was held in Trieste, Italy, in 1972, when I found myself appointed British Fan Representative, with John Brunner as Professional, a position which lasted through Grenoble, France, in 1974 and Poznan, Poland, in 1976. These were yet another type of con, having evolved from an academic rather than fannish approach to sf and being run with the blessing of the local authorities. The programme would be held in an official building such as the Town Hall, complete with receptions, etc, while attendees stayed at local hotels. Poznan, hosting the first ever sf con in the communist bloc, did itself proud, putting up representatives at the town’s expensive businessman’s hotel, complete with microphones in the bedrooms, as well as providing a huge reception at a hunting lodge in the forest, followed by an exhibition of national dances and mugs of hot liqueurs.

Then, in 1973, the Beneluxcons started in Belgium and, bit firmly between my teeth, I began organising annual fan-trips to those. We’d leave Birmingham early Friday evening to catch the boat train to Oostende, then the 3am local to the con, staying Saturday night and returning mid-Sunday afternoon. By now I could ask for the local beer / dish / place of interest in more than six languages or dialects!

Back in England, there were ASFG and BSFG meetings to attend, Eastercons and Novacons to go to, as well as the smaller cons that were springing up, more like programmed parties. So it’s just as well that I didn’t meet anyone during that time who could compete with that life. However, things changed in 1976 when I met Pat at an sf (of course) party in London. As a grammar school teacher, she did not have the leisure time that I did, so apart from Eastercons until we married in 1981, and Novacons, my active fan life ceased except for European worldcons and a couple of UK-based Eurocons, plus a short stint as BSFG Chairman in the ‘80s and my current, much longer one. But we did have one last fling in 1977. when we travelled by Greyhound bus for five or six weeks down the East coast of North America to attend the Worldcon in Miami, staying with fans all the way except when we attended a con in Orlando. However, now we are both more or less retired / early retired, with luck I’ll have to learn a few more languages.

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