Great Creeping Jesus, my sisters, there is such a lot of unfinished business to get through before I leave you all ...
(That's right. By my calculations I have three issues to go. This is a serial, though I hope more entertaining or morally uplifting than Webs of Shade.)
NOW IT CAN
Where to start? Personal update, I think. OK. Well, since we last met, I've split up with Dick, my boyfriend of three and a large bit years' standing, and I'm really pretty alarmed at the prospect of getting on out there and finding another one. At my great age (33), single, straight, nice attractive men are bloody thin on the ground, let me tell you kids; as a matter of fact, I can't think of anyone I actually know who is even a remote prospect -- available, interesting (nudge, nudge), possibly interested, right sort of age, rich enough etc etc etc. And I never was any good at the dinner-party eyelash-fluttering till he asks for your phone number routine, and and and ...
STOP RIGHT THERE. I don't want your advice, We don' wan' no steenkin' agony aunts.
Well, not exactly. I have no doubt that I will be what my bus-conductor friend calls on the ear'ole at some of you over the next few weeks till it makes you scream, BUT I will go, in private, to the ones who are my sort of age, have my sort of background, have known me for some time, and just might know a few single solvent chaps from decent schools that they can introduce me to ... (No, not Paul Kincaid! Anything but Paul Kincaid!)
In short, the ones who can actually HELP; the ones I feel secure with. My emotional life is too important for you all to throw in your two cents' worth. No offence.
I mean ... just for the sake of argument, let's just imagine a few hypothetical responses. Only pretend, now. Joy might get into a convoluted argument along the lines that I only want to chain myself to one of these nasty sadistic domineering rapists because I've been brainwashed and am not a real sister. Lilian, I think, might say it's all very well for you you're THIN and you're in with all the BNFs anyway and you should make way for the young soul rebels. Helen would say cheer up you're a braw brave bonny lass and it'll all be all right in a thousand years' time. Kate would go all wide-eyed and say oh dear you're so good and wonderful but surely you must know millions of famous poets and artists and and and you know what CS Lewis said. Lindsey would say well there is an alternative you know. Eunice would say just trust in fucking Jesus. Linda (either of them) would say hey come on kid you're a real slick chick and Greg/Graham's got a Master List of 500 people who lust after you madly. Anne would say you should pay attention to your body language and Lisa would say ... Oh shit. They've left. I forgot.
Anyway ... it would all go on for ages. And it wouldn't actually help; it would just make me feel annoyed or embarrassed. And that, chapesses, is a major part of my gripe against TWP.
(Simon Ounsley? Well, he's one of my favourite people in the whole world, but I've honestly never exactly fancied him and anyway I couldn't afford the coach fares ...)
That was the first brick. You have to make something out of all this yourselves. I like my readers to do a little work, you know.
You may or may not have noticed that much of what I've written over the last year or so has had a sort of theme. Not so much in subject-matter, but in structure, approach. It wasn't deliberate, really, at first, this habit of disguising, leaving out, creating mysteries where one might as well speak in clear; it was just the way I like to write, I thought it was a relatively recent invention, but then I found TWP 10 under a pile of dirty stockings and realized I was doing it there too, Why? Well, I write fanzines primarily to make little bits of art. Art thrives on limitations: my mailing comment to Lisa in TWP 10 still gives me a secret bit of pleasure ... The limitation, of course, was the refusal to say outright what I objected to. But did You Lot give any hint of noticing?
Can't find TWP 11 (I expect it's in the fridge or something) but as I recall I got a certain amount of 'oh but it is the same for women as for queers and Pakis really' and, from Margaret Hall a drawing of her own lavatory -- fear (which I rather enjoyed, actually), No -- one noticed the real statement in the piece.
What I was SAYING was 'I don't like it when somebody talks in a general way about the fears or experiences or conditioning of "women". I think she's claiming to speak for me, when she knows only what she feels. It's quite as valid for me to claim that "women" are afraid of dogs, since I'm a woman and I'm afraid of dogs, as for Lisa to say that "women" are afraid of walking past pubs. This sort of appeal to a unanimous common ground, in matters of ideas as opposed to pure biology, is totally spurious and not worth a shit. That's what I think, anyway.'
(John Jarrold? HAVE YOU GONE RAVING MAD?)
The purpose of art is indirect communication of ideas, feelings, myths; whether those that can't be communicated any other way, or (as in the present case; I'm not claiming to be bloody Titian or TS Eliot) what the artist chooses capriciously to say in code.
I just thought it would be fun to write it that way.
Remember fun? That's what we had before the godbloodyawful shitblasted Easthope Affair. (Andrew Stephenson? You're joking of course.)
So just as in my hypothetical mailing comments above, I'm doing one thing and you lot are looking for something else entirely, so it all gets deflected into Serious Discussion of the surface content. Well, if that's what you want to do, it's ok I suppose. Can't stop, you after all. But I don't actually think you are playing the fanwriting game as I know and love it, and as I hoped at first it might be developed and transmuted for a women's apa. On the one hand, it's all so serious; on the other, so emotional, so personal, so special-pleading, and ultimately so CRUEL.
DEAR GOD I TRIED. I retreated completely into humour for a couple of issues, just to try and cheer everyone up, and what happened? Joy Hibbert started getting paranoid over a couple of jokes about Eurocon. (At least, that's how I read the relevant issues of Helpmaboab. A well-named zine, as it turned out. Poor old Jim, to be the centre of such a mass of shit-slinging over a casual recommendation.)
OH KNICKERS. Do we really need to go into all that? I suppose I owe it to Chris Donaldson, who's not an anti-'elitist' loonie, at least. Ok. But let's break for a bit of fun, because 1 don't want this to go on too long.
Right. Change gear. OK. Just for you, Lilian, here is:
HOW I SCREWED MY WAY TO THE TOP IN BRITISH FANZINE FANDOM
by Abigail Jenny Frost, MA (Oxon), LCPDipPP, KTF, MNF
(Cheap below-the-belt jibes apart, Lil, you actually are the inspiration for this bit. I'll explain, everyone: a stray remark of Lilian's at Leeds the other day sparked off a conversation between me, Simon Ounsley, and Steve Higgins, as to who'd first Got Into Fandom. Now, when I first met those two (Yorcon 1979), I had the impression that they'd been around for ages; but as it turned out, if you went by things like going to local meetings, rather than First Convention, I pre-dated them by several months. This aroused my curiosity, so I asked David Pringle if he could remember the first datable event I could -- a meal I had with him shortly after he came to London to work for the SF Foundation. 'January 1978', he said straight off, to my astonishment. So clearly, as far as first contacts are concerned, I go back to the misty antediluvian days of late 1977. Bloody Hell.)
But as far as any sort of public presence is concerned ...
(Phil Palmer? Don't you realize he's a married man?)
I usually say that I wandered into fanzine fandom on a young man's arm. (Whose? Ah, well, in the immortal words of Rob Hansen 'those who know know, and those that don't don't need to'.) Anyway, long before all that, this guy was working in Leeds, and having a serious and constructive interest in skiffy he naturally ran into Mike Dickinson. (That was before Mike and Dave P started the very wonderful Leeds Group. Like, when Walt Willis was a neo.)
They vaguely kept in touch after he cane to London; he published some stuff in a fanzine of Mike's, and went to the Tun from time to time. I sometimes went along too, to see Mike and later Kate Jeary when they were in town. Sometimes I noticed people handing >out funny little magazines; I knew they were called fanzines, but took little notice of them and the people they belonged to; I had a minimal interest in skiffy, and none at all in amateur reviews of it -- which I not unnaturally assumed would be in most of them.
In January 1978, we had that meal with David, Mike, the YM, and I; at Easter that year the YM went off to Skycon. I suppose he must have had as good a time as was possible in the circumstances, but even so he suggested we go to Yorcon the following year. I went along in a 'try anything once' sort of spirit; the real point of the trip, as far as I was concerned, was a few days' break at Mike's place in Chapeltown Road afterwards.
And yes, it was at Yorcon that I started my infamous career of fannish sex. (My infamous career as a fanzine editor really got under way in Chapeltown Road afterwards.) On the last night, we hit the room parties rather hard, and so it was that I acquired one of the deepest and most painful of the psychic wounds that have made me the social cripple that I am today. What happened was that I got pissed as a salamander and tried to get off with Rob Holdstock.
In those far-off days, you see, Rob still had his beard. Tall, dark, hairy, broad-chested -- he was a magnetic icon of pure masculinity. (And I didn't even know the Holdstock Legend then, either!) So what was a girl to do? I couldn't help myself, could I?
Besides, he had this dynamite article in Wrinkled Shrew. It was about his experiences working on a book for Octopus, and as it happened I was working then for a rather similar company, so I found it fascinating. (I still rate it as one of the best informational articles I've ever seen in a fanzine.) So there I was at this room party, telling Rob all about how I thought his article was triffic, but there were just a few points where I thought he'd got it wrong ... and all the time my hand kept sort of wandering -- quite against my will, of course. And for some reason, Rob's polite replies were increasingly peppered with references to 'my wife'.
After a time he got quite cross really. He said 'MY WIFE' so loud it gave Peter Sutcliffe a nightmare over in Bingley. I realized I was being given the old brush-off, and sort of crumpled inside. As I went off to lick my psychic wound, I think I noticed, sitting right behind where I'd been standing, this small, very pretty, obviously Irish woman ... Having got to know Sheila Holdstock/Kavanagh since, I suspect she was probably helpless with laughter the whole time. Meanwhile, though, in the dark days ahead, when girl-friends advised me to come on a bit stronger with Men, I would sob 'But last time I did that, the man got TERRIBLY ANGRY... ohgwhat'swrongwithmewhatisitoh ...' And it was something of an obstacle to my fannish progress that for months and months I dared not go within ten feet of any group of people that included Rob Holdstock.
I'm afraid we now have to digress a bit from the sex. At Yorcon, I became more aware of the appeal of fanzines. A lot of this had to do with the Charnocks, who were Fan Guests of Honour. First, they'd done an issue of Shrew for the con -- the first for a couple of years, and as it turned out, the last. I read and liked it, and was rather intrigued by some letters that referred to an article in the previous issue by D. West. I'd met D. at the con, and was surprised to learn that he was a legendary figure.
(Before Shrew, about the only fanzines I'd seen were Mike Dickinson's and Lee Montgomerie's Bar Trek, and Alan Dorey's Gross Encounters. GE helped me to understand that it was really all about in-groupery -- to which I was far from unsympathetic -- but neither made anything like the sort of instant sense to me that Shrew did.)
(Harry Bell? See Simon Ounsley.)
Shrew had -- more polish? I don't mean entirely in production terms, though it was much better produced than the other two. More that it seemed quite clearly the product, the characteristic artefact, of a whole and mature culture. It linked in to other things, other fanzines, whereas GE and BT could, without any diminution, have been seen as totally isolated productions, sports produced at random for some wayward individual's mates. So, intrigued, I went to the Charnocks' FGOH show (the only fan programme item I saw).
Most of the jokes -- Astral Leauge songs, and so on -- went right above my head, of course; but I didn't mind at all. It helped that I had an analogous model in my my past -- the undergraduate high society I'd known at Oxford. One could see fanzines as the gossip sections of Cherwell and Isis, the Charnocks' show as the Balliol panto or a revue. I didn't expect to be able to laugh on cue, but didn't anticipate any problems in learning the cues if I wanted to. And it all seemed like a return of something I'd been rather starved of in the six years since I graduated. Fanzine fans, and the Charnocks in particular, seemed like the sort of people I'd like to get to know.
(And, as a matter of fact, Pat Charnock, I still want to get to know you. For some reason we've hardly ever been in the same place at the same time since. And it occurs to me, that what with me leaving the apa, and you even more busy and unlikely to make it to the Griffin -- congratters, by the way -- I may just be losing the chance for ever. OK: my number's in the book. If you ask me over to tea some time I'll bring you Sir Sydney Smith's wonderfully gruesome autobiography.)
So with a head full of Charnockery I went to Chapeltown Road and buried myself in Mike's fanzine collection. How very astonishingly interesting, I thought. I really must get in on all this. All this going on. (Ah, life's little ironies. Hardly any of the fanzines I liked ever published again. The major exception was Stop Breaking Down, which had one last burst three years later when everyone thought Gregory was dead.)
New River Blues -- a fairly crummy and now Officially Suppressed pre-issue -- came out for my next con, the '79 Worldcon in August. Well, it was some kind of start in publishing, which was something, since the con was a total washout as far as sex was concerned. The next Worldcon had better be more the goods, Chris, or I won't pay Malcolm back the £1.00 he lent me to pre-support 1984con.
Just before the con there was a One Tun meeting, at which a very significant thing happened. David Langford gave me my first Very Own Fanzine -- Twll-ddu. A different way of doing the same sort of thing the Ratzines were doing; and on A4 yet. David was always encouraging to me; he and Joe Nicholas were the first people outside the Leeds Group I really felt were on my side, and for years Ansible was the only fanzine I wrote for apart from my own.
Back to sex. The YM and I split up; it was all rather traumatic and unpleasant, and I almost left fandom for good. The reason I didn't was that I couldn't face my older friends for various reasons, and so I became a bit of a hermit for a while. Then, one Thursday, my ex-YM rang up apologetically. There was an urgent message for Joe Nicholas which couldn't be delivered in person -- could I possibly go down to the Tun that night and ...
I was nervous and resentful, and didn't stay long; but I did find Joe and have one drink with him. And it occurred to me later that I rather needed somewhere I could go to talk to whoever was there without having to make a great effort or be formally invited, stay as long or short a time as I wanted, try and rebuild a social life of my own ... So I took to going quite regularly.
Next thing, dear god, there was another New River Blues; and then the Leeds Group started making noises about wanting supporters to go along and vote for their con bid at Albacon ... Albacon was a pretty rotten con by any sort of objective standard, but sexually it was an improvement on the Worldcon. Graham James gave me a backrub in the bar one evening when I was all tense from the hostility of the mindless media mongs; and Joe got called a homosexual by the vilest Scotchman I've ever seen, in my presence, so I felt ever so sophisticated. It was a reasonable start to my great period as a fannish siren. I was definitely on the way up. An article of mine from the Albacon NeRB came second in the Ansible poll.
Well . . joint second actually. With five other articles, one a D. West blockbuster from Dave Bridges's One-Off. After much in-depth analysis of the list of voters, I concluded that my votes had come from Langford and Nicholas. As far as I know, they were the only voters who'd had the fanzine. Next year, Dave changed to a more sensible electoral system. This was the highest I've ever come in any poll.
But encouraged, I decided to branch out, and not restrict myself to sex at cons. Almost immediately I was a wild success. At a party of Randal Flynn's, where for some reason I was feeling depressed and paranoid, Malcolm Edwards queued up to give me a cuddle. I finally looked Rob Holdstock in the belt-buckle and said Hello before running to hide in the Ladies'. I even had a brief affair with a fan (Hansen's Rule applies, I think), and at another party of the Flynn's I committed my first act of mindless degrading promiscuity in years and years, with someone who wasn't really a fan but knew some of us. Very nice too. (The only trouble with him was that ages later he turned up at a party of Mal and Chris's, and seemed to want to commit another act of m.d.p. But I was there with My Boyfriend, oh dear how embarrassing. I managed to wriggle away in time, and he went off to dance with someone else. When I went to get my jacket to go home in, I couldn't, because this woman was asleep all over it, totally immobile and with a great beaming smile. Not, of course, that I am suggesting any sort of connection ...)
Meanwhile, NeRB sort of chugged along. I really ought to apologize at this point for my habit, shared with a certain husband of a certain apasister, of regarding any fanzine I've so much as breathed over as MINE. Of course, Roz Kaveney was co-editing NeRB all this time, and making lots of typos. Anyway, the next issue came out at Novacon 1980 -- where I discovered the joys of flashing.
That was Kate Jeary's fault. She was crashing on my floor, and had arrived with only the clothes she stood up in. 'You can't wear those to the disco, Kate' I said magnanimously. 'Here, take my best party dress.' Unlikely as it may seem it fitted her (it was a genuine 1920s number, cut on the cross) and even rather suited her. So glowing with self-sacrifice, I went to the disco in my second-best party dress: a skinny knitted thing, hanging from very thin straps. You know those dresses. Can't wear a bra with them. You know.
I was having a friendly bop with this guy I sometimes talked to at the Tun, and really quite getting into my Mick Jagger imitation, when I noticed agitated signals from Kate who was sitting this one out. She's just jealous, I thought, she must be mad to think she can dance in those boots, Kate always gets in a state about the silliest things ... I made the 'I'm ignoring you' sign and continued grooving. Then dear sisterly Kate dashed over a grabbed me. Oh dear.
I froze my partner with my best Filthy Look. 'Listen, Kettle, 'how long have you been letting me dance with one tit hanging out, eh? Is this your idea of polite behaviour?' 'Er -- um -well I -- er -- couldn't think what to SAY. It's -- sort of -- embarrassing ...' 'Clearly you are not the gentleman I took you for. I shall never ever dance with you again. I shall never speak to you again. I shall CUT YOU OFF MY MAILING LIST you swine!' I turned on my heel and grandly left the hall. On the way out a nasty lowly little excrescence of a neo said 'Nice show.' I gave him almost as filthy a Look as Roy got. I think that was my first encounter with Steve Green.
(Ritchie Smith? I'd rather DIE.)
After such success I thought I could take time out to produce another fanzine. Roz was just back from a trip to the States, so we started work for a Christmas Tun NeRB. But then, in early December, I lost the great love of my life.
So we ditched the personalzine stuff and rang round everyone who was in that night to commission things for the Lennon Memorial Issue. Produced in great haste, it is hardly the best that could have been done if we'd had more experience, contacts or time. Six months or so later, Chris Priest said he wished I'd asked him. 'But I hardly knew you then ... I didn't have your phone number.' But we did it; and I still think that fanzines should be responsive to the world outside. Why have a medium which is capable of instant personal response and then not use it? Besides, Lennon was all we wanted to write about, and I'm still glad we did it.
By Yorcon II Dick was on the scene, and I was a medium-name fan and getting rather blasé. That's probably why I don't remember any sex; only tedious things like Dupers for Poland, talking a lot at a fanzine panel, getting to know Greg Pickersgill and meeting Dave Bridges.
Channelcon was rather the same: much Mexifandom, much leaning on bars and moaning about Things, meeting John Jarrold and going to Andie Burland's Blitz Kid room party. At Novacon 82, on the other hand, I sat on Harry Bell's knee for half an hour. Didn't go to Albacon II; no time for sex at Silicon 83; went to Italy instead of Eurocon -- and so we meet my Finest Hour in Fandom.
Yes, yes, you've guessed it -- the TWP meeting at Mexicon. A fitting end to the tale, I think. I knew I'd get round to Chris Donaldson's moan in the end. But the end of the page approaches, so see next issue ... Meanwhile, I hope I've shown that one way to find fame in this space is to jump in feet first and hang out with the boys ... no, I rephrase that -- or maybe not. Yes, it may have been particularly easy for me -- but not in the ways you probably think. More on that next time.
THIS CAME FROM ABIGAIL FROST, 69 ROBIN HOOD GARDENS, COTTON STREET, LONDON E14.
One down and two to go. I think we're now on the sixth or seventh brick.
The Women's Periodical (?1984)