Sunday, November 29, 2020

London Award Finalists Announced!



The International Union of Writers has announced the finalists the the London Literary Awards, a new and ambitious five-yearly award given in six categories to writers in the Russian and English literary communities. And I believe I've scooped the major news outlets!


 Here's their press release:


Major New Literary Award Announced by International Union of Writers


The International Union of Writers (IUW) is pleased to announce the creation of the international London Literary Award, to be presented once every five years. The award will bring together some of the finest authors from around the globe, as well as promoting new writers on the world stage.


The goal of the London Literary Award is to encourage communication between English-language and Russian-language writers and two to create a common cultural space for sharing and understanding between these two great literary communities.


The London Literary Award will be given out in six categories:


The Charles Dickens Award for novels, short fiction, or journalism.


The Lord George Noël Gordon Byron Award for poetry or essays


The Samuel Johnson Award for criticism.


The William Shakespeare Award for dramatic works.


The Lewis Carroll Award for science fiction and fantasy.


The Mikhail L. Lozinsky Award for literary translation from Russian to English and English to Russian.


Each award will be given in three categories: New Authors, Established Authors, and Grand Masters. Our jury has compiled a preliminary list of finalists, each of whom, in our opinion is deserving of the title, Best Author of the Year. From this, a short list of finalists (listed below) was chosen.


Recognizing the difficulty of comparing works written in different languages, each award will be given out to one Russian-language author and one English-language author.


Our jurors have been working since 2018 to compile long lists of worthy writers and then to pare those down to the short lists below. Making the preliminary lists is an accomplishment in itself. So all finalists will receive medals and certificates from the International Union of Writers.


The English language long list for the Charles Dickens Award (Grand Master) is as follows:


            Woody Allen (USA)

            Dan Brown (USA)

            William Gibson (Canada)

            Joe Hill (USA)

            Peter Ackroyd (Great Britain)

            Kazuo Ishiguro Great Britain)

            J. K. Rowling (Great Britain)

            Stephen Fry (Great Britain)

            Tibor Fischer (Great Britain)

            Alexandra Adornetto (Australia)

            Birimbir Wongar (Australia)

            Richard Glover (Australia)

            Bradley Trevor Greive (Australia)

            Greg Egan (Australia)

            Eleanor Catton (Great Britain)

            Nick Cave (Australia)

            Peter Carey (Australia)

            Desmond O'Grady (Australia)

            Lex Marinos (Australia)

             Kiril Kadiiski (Bulgaria)

            Wilbur Smith (Republic of Zambia)

            Dina Rubina (Israel)

            Colm Tóibín (Ireland)

            Yu Jie (China)

            Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Lebanon)

            Laimonas Tapinas (Lithuania)

            Laila Lalami (Morocco)

            Robert MacNeil (Canada)

            Dorota Maslowska (Poland)

            Pier Bayar, Alain Fleischer (France)

            Antjie Krog (South Africa)

            John Maxwell Coetzee (Australian)

            Mongane Wally Serote (South Africa)

            Marlene van Niekerk (South Africa)

            Jonny Steinberg (South Africa)


The finalists of the Award in all categories have already been announced at our website:

 T he winners will be announced on December 11th, 2020. Initially, it was planned to hold the award ceremony in London, so that the winners could get to know each other and their fans. Plans were made to include a tour of the city’s historical and literary sites, starting with Westminster Abbey and ending with 221B Baker Street, the address of Sherlock Holmes. However, due to the pandemic, such a large gathering is not currently possible. So the awards will be held online, with the time and location to be announced shortly.


Russian winners will receive a grant to translate their book so it can be published in the UK. For the winner of the William Shakespeare Award for Drama, the winner’s play will be produced on the stage of the Royal Court Theater.


For further information or for a complete set of the long lists, please contact the IUW at




Friday, November 27, 2020

Our New Thanksgiving Tradition



Marianne and I came into the Thanksgiving season feeling a little down. Normally, we have guests for Thanksgiving dinner, sometimes family, sometimes friends. Last year, we had family and friends.

The great fantasist T. H. White used to say that the best cure for depression was to learn something new. Me being more of a folkloric turn of mind, I decided that we should create a new tradition. So we stole one from a friend in New England.

One thing I like to do around this time of year is to ask people what foods you absolutely have to have on Thanksgiving for it to be a proper holiday feast. The spread of answers on this one is very wide. Some people say there has to be turkey and the rest doesn't matter. Others say the same thing of ham or lasagna. Some claim to have absolutely no preferences; one of these admitted to ordering Chinese take-out the year before.

Others are more interesting. Some have to have cranberry sauce, others green bean casserole. For me, there must be clear cranberry sauce--the kind with the ridges from the can on it. Also mashed potatoes, stuffing (the proper kind--no chestnuts or oysters), celery, radishes, creamed onions... well, the list goes on.

But the absolute winner was our New England friend, whose list begins with three kinds of cranberry sauce and concludes, much later, with three different pies for desert--apple (or is it pumpkin?), pecan, and squash.

And the squash pie had to be made in a square pan.

Children soak up the family lore. They only rarely question it. It was only when our friend's mother announced that she passing on responsibility for all the cooking that our friend discovered why it was the squash pie was made in a square pan.

By the time she'd cooked everything else, square pans were all that were left. All the round ones had been used.

So we decided to adopt this custom as our own. Marianne made squash pie in a square pan, and even made a small crust acorn squash to go on top.

It tasted fantastic.

She'll be making it again next year, of course. Because it's a tradition in our house.


Friday, November 20, 2020

Virtual Philcon 2020



Philcon begins today and normally I'd be in an out of the Cherry Hill hotel, shmoozoing, nursing a drink at the bar while chatting with old friends, checking out the books in the huckster room, and sitting on the occasional panel.

 All of that has been coronavirused into the past. Save for the panels. I'll be virtually participating in the virtual events this weekend with great enthusiasm.

 Here's my schedule:

 Friday, November 20

6:30 Reading: I'll be reading "Nirvana or Bust," which is, despite the title, not a wacky comedy satire of New Age enlightenment-seekers but a thoughtful science fiction tale of infrastructure and the future of humanity. With robots!

Saturday, November 21

10:00 a.m. Heinlein's Third Rule of Writing

7:00 p.m. Pandemic Fiction Versus Pandemic Reality

Sunday, November 21

11:30 a.m. Ray Bradbury Centennial


See you there!



Wednesday, November 18, 2020

"We Are All Heroes..."


Add caption

Recently, Vasily Vladimirsky interviewed me for Gorky Media in Russia. The article is online and English speakers can get a rough idea of what was asked and what was said by using a translation engine. 

Machine translation is not yet an exact art, alas. It's miraculous that it can be done at all. So if you read it in English, I should warn you that what I meant to say got distorted from time to time. Here, however, are two questions and answers from the original English:

Five Hugo awards went to you for short stories and a Nebula award for novels. What is the difference between working with a small form and a medium form from working on a novel?

Short stories are verbal machines constructed to deliver a single result: to make the reader laugh, cry, think, wonder, whatever. So they should be clear and clean, with an absolute minimum of moving parts and no wasted words. A novel is a great shaggy wandering beast. There’s room in it for small jokes, scenes of random beauty, dialogue whose sole purpose is to be entertaining to the reader. So long as the plot keeps on moving forward, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the most efficient way of getting where you’re going. A short story is an experience and a novel is a world.

Howard Waldrop put it best when he said that a short story is about the single most important event in the protagonist’s life and a novel is about the most important period in the protagonist’s life.

As for the difference in writing them, a novel allows the writer the pleasant experience of living in somebody else’s life for a long period of time. But a short story has the potential to achieve perfection. I’ve written several perfect short stories. Nobody’s ever written a perfect novel.

Your novel "The Iron dragon's Mother", the final part of the "Iron Dragons" trilogy, is published by Azbooka publishing house this month. More than a quarter of a century has passed since the first novel of the trilogy was published. How has your view of the world described in Dragon novels changed during this time?

I don’t think it has. I saw the world as a beautiful, alluring, dangerous place back then and I see it as beautiful, alluring, and dangerous now. Life is full of pain and loss and ecstasy. It’s no place for wusses. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again here: There should be a sign by the womb door reading: HEROES ONLY.

We are all heroes, descended from thousands of generations of heroes.

You can read the original interview, in Russian, here. 



Thursday, November 12, 2020

A Story or Two from the Scribbledehobbledehoydenii



Last night, I was idly writing microfictions on collages I'd made in my notebook (as one does), finished the one above, and read it aloud. My son Sean, who had dropped by, suggested I post it here. So that's what I'm doing.

You can't possibly read the text since it's blue ink on a dark blue background, so the fiction in its entirety is below:

When I was a boy, I shot holes in traffic signs with my .22. When I graduated from high school, I took my sweetheart out in the pickup truck I'd been workiing on for years. She got pregnant, we got married, and I got a job. Fifty years later, I look back on my life and think: Not bad, Boy. Not bad at all.

This is not autobiographical but it is the life story as it was played out by a lot of boys in Winooski High School, back when I lived in Vermont. Except for the pickup truck. They all had sedans with big back seats. 

At the time, I was appalled at the thought of having your entire life signed, sealed, and delivered at age 18. But age has a way of mellowing harsh judgments. So I was glad to be able to give a happy ending to some of those guys. I hope it's true.

And in case you'd like to see another story . . .

Here it is:

If you look carefully, you can see the story written on the woman's face.

Above, top and bottom: Scribbledehobbledehoydenii is my collective title for my notebooks. The singular is Scribbledehobbledehoyden. Some have individual titles, others don't. This one doesn't. Yet.



Tuesday, November 3, 2020

A Fine Clear Cold Day for an Election


With my lungs and, it has to be said, age, I'm a prime candidate to die from Covid-19, so with immense reluctance, I'm not working the polls in this election. As anybody who has put in the exhausting fourteen-or-more hour days doing so knows, it's exhilarating. You get to watch democracy in action. You get to help keep it honest. 

Alas, this year I'm on the sidelines.

But if Marianne and I can't work the polls, we can still do our bit as support staff. So we dropped off our son, the judge of elections, at Ward 21, Division 19 early this morning and are keeping our cell phones close so we can supply sudden needs that arise. So far, Sean has put in a request for cola, an iced coffee, and gloves for the outside worker who forgot to bring a pair. The weather is raw and when Marianne arrived with the gloves, she could tell by the red hands who she'd brought them for. 

He received them gratefully and said, "How much do I owe you?"

"Not a thing," Marianne said. And it was true.


Monday, November 2, 2020

All of Jack Frost's Wake On One Page.


My apologies for not posting this yesterday, All Saints Day, as promised. "Old Dusty," my trusty CRT monitor, abruptly died and by the time I had acquired a new flat screen monitor (the smallest and cheapest one they had, which is to say, huge) and installed it and undone all the new buts attendant thereunto, it was late and I forgot my promise. Mea culpa.

But to make up for that, here it is now, the full text of . . .


Jack Frost's Wake

Jack Frost dances merrily through the trees, turning green leaves brown, red, yellow, orange. All the world is his canvas.


Not only is Jack an artist, but he’s an avatar of Death as well. In his wake, plants die, insects die, birds die, mammals die. Occasionally, people too. This is why we close the shutters tight when the nights grow cold and the windows are rimed with frost.


But Jack has his playful side. Sometimes he writes words on leaves: AUTUMN, perhaps, or DEATH. He’ll take twin leaves and label one ORIGINAL and the other COPY. People find his handiwork scattered behind him by playful winds. No harm done.


Other times, he’ll write an entire story, leaf upon leaf. Passing through a graveyard, you snatch up the first word and then the second. It might be a ghost story or it might, like this one, tell of a gathering of werewolves, witches, ghouls, and other ghastlies to toast the memory of some departed soul. Oh, it gets rowdy then! Cemetery wine is poured and drunk, and whiskey from Hell’s own cellars. They dance and leap and howl. They perform dreadful deeds. A good time is had by all.


Scurrying after Jack Frost’s coattails, you grab each leaf as it falls, reading avidly. It is only as you reach the final paragraph and, indeed, the ultimate sentence that you realize that the dead soul whose wake they’re celebrating is you.


Michael Swanwick, September 25, 2020