Tuesday, September 13, 2005

NOVA SCOTIA: Scottish SF/F Fiction Anthology

One of the most beautifully designed books I've encountered recently arrived courtesy of Neil Williamson and Andrew J. Wilson, editors of Nova Scotia (trade paperback). When I say beautifully designed, I mean a lot of thought went into the selection of papers and textures as well as the layout. A title box in gloss lies up against the matte of the rest of the front cover, with this effect duplicated on the spine and back cover. The typography is excellent--invisible yet sharp--and the cover flaps are an elegant additional touch. The anthology was a hit at WorldCon recently, and I can see why. Nova Scotia showcases some familiar names like Charles Stross, but also gives space to several newer or lesser known Scottish writers, which is all to the good.

Reviews have been good thus far, including:

'enthralling contributions from established talens…also many stunning works from rising authors due to flourish on the shelves in coming years…' Daily Record

'excellent… consistently ambitous' The Scotsman

'Sampling 22 single malt whiskies in one go might not do you much good. But sampling 22 Scottish writers in one anthology will likely do you a power of good. Go on, give it a go.' Emerald City

'A truly weird and frequently wonderful line-up' Independent

'An excellent collection… A good mix of SF, alternate history and horror, interspered with some dry humour. It's a handsome paperback that deserves to do well.' www.bestsf.net

An Interview with Neil Williamson and Andrew J. Wilson

I recently had a chance to interview the editors via email.

Jeff: When did you get the idea to do this anthology, and how did you find a publisher?

Neil Williamson: Simple answer: Worldcon. When we heard that Worldcon was coming back to Scotland this year we felt there was no better time to big-up the local talent. So we began planning it when the announcement was made a few years ago.

We wanted to go for an entire made-in-Scotland package, and were hopeful that Scotland's healthy (if bijou) publishing scene would contain a publisher as keen as we were to showcase the talent of contemporary Scottish writers, albeit in a genre they may not have been familiar with. We were very lucky that our ideas snagged Mercat's interest, because they've not only been immensely supportive of the whole project, but they also produced a gorgeous book for us at the end of it.

Andrew J. Wilson: I think I would suggest that the germ of the idea goes back a lot further than that -- to the 1995 Glasgow WorldCon! The Glasgow SF Writers' Circle put together an anthology of Scottish material called Shipbuilding for that event and we both had stories in it, along with many other up-and-coming local talents. Shipbuilding was a great little book, but I always thought we could raise the stakes and get a publisher involved if we did something like it again. This year's con was the perfect marketing opportunity...

JV: What do you think distinguishes Scottish SF/F from work from other countries?

NW: We had a panel on this subject at Worldcon, but to be honest I'm not sure we really came to a conclusion. It depends on the outlook of the writer. For every writer that tackles the issues of contemporary Scotland in a Scottish narrative voice, there's another who's more interested in adopting a mid-atlantic voice and a more universal style of story. I'd say in Nova Scotia we've defintely gone more for the former than the latter, and there a few things that to me make the anthology feel authentically Scottish. Firstly, most of the authors have to some extent gone for realistic dialogue, from dropping in the occasional word or phrase into their characters' mouths to Matthew Fitt's "Criggie" which is written entirely in the Scots language. Secondly, as should be with stories set in Scotland, there's a distinct sense of place, of landscape. And lastly, the book is absolutely drenched a sense of humour that just screams Scotland to me (check out Gavin Inglis' "Pisces Ya Bas" for a primo example).

AJW: I think that what distinguishes it now is the attempt to find our own voices -- both as authors and as a diverse nation. What this means is that, by and large, Scottish writers are no longer ashamed of their native dialects or culture. There was a time when, if you were Scots and wrote SF, in particular, you adopted a mid-Atlantic accent and wrote about American astronauts, for example. In Nova Scotia, we have a Scottish astronaut (a minister of the Church of Scotland no less) and many other very Scottish angles on the tropes of speculative fiction. Importantly, this new confidence has allowed newer authors to rediscover and acknowledge some classic works of Scottish literature (e.g. by Burns and Stevenson)...

JV: Who should we be on the look out for as the next generation of Scottish SF/F writers?

NW: Well, anyone in the book that you've not heard of, I'd say. There are of course quite a few Scottish writers now making there way in the scene, as I wrote for a recent article in Infinity Plus , but of those coming up next, fans of Hal Duncan will enjoy a lot of what Philip
Raines does too. And devotees of Charles Stross will enjoy Hannu Rajaniemi a lot I think. And I've been personally very pleased to see Gavin Inglis' aforementioned story in the anthology gaining a lot of attention in the press.

AJW: Neil has covered this very adequately, but modesty has prevented him from mentioning himself -- John Jarrold's literary agency has just taken him on, and I really want to read his novel-in-progress, The Moon King. He's got a cracking story in the latest Electric Velocipede that I would have put in Nova Scotia if I'd got to it first.

JV: What kind of response have you gotten to the anthology?

NW: Very positive. Both from the genre press and from the local and
national papers.

AJW: There hasn't been a bad review yet and we're into double figures! I feel compelled to quote Sierra Charriba, the Apache warrior leader from Sam Peckinpah's "Major Dundee": "Pony soldier, who do you send against me now?" (But without the associated massacre, of course!)

JV: Was WorldCon as much of a mad-house as it sounds? Joe Gordon from Forbidden Planet indicated Nova Scotia did quite well there?

NW: Worldcon was ... a logistical and organisational challenge for sure. Eventually I cottoned on to the fact I'd just have to *not* see half the people I wanted to because it physically wasn't possible, and I began to enjoy it after that. I think Joe mentioned that Nova Scotia was Forbidden Planet's best seller for the duration of the con, which is amazing.

AJW: WorldCon was a blast! A sleep-deprived, pell-mell, bedlam of a blast! It should carry a health warning.

JV: Do you have plans to do any further anthologies?

NW: At the moment the sum total of my plans include turning my novel into my agent by the end of the year. After that... well, yes, I think Andrew and I found that we work pretty well together and there have been ideas mooted for other anthologies, so expect to hear more from us in the future.

AJW: Mercat are talking to us about some possibilities. Other publishers have taken an interest too. I'd like to work on an INTERNATIONAL anthology next... Nova Scotia 2 has been mooted... And I keep upsetting publishers with my idea for something called Hard-Boiled Haiku... Watch this space.


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