(Not a Brexit joke, but I'm tempted.)
This week we're back on books, but don't worry, it is really just thinly-veiled self-promotion. Here's the fun part: I'm editing The Best of British Fantasy. It is a new series, with the first volume out next year.
A moment of back-patting. This ticks a few items off the bucket list, specifically, editing a 'best of' and getting to work with NewCon's Ian Whates, who is a publishing legend. When Anne and I were setting up Jurassic London, Ian was very generous with his time and advice. This is (another) opportunity I can owe him.
Now, on with the over-thinking. 'Best' 'British' 'Fantasy' is a brief, and if there's one thing I love to do, it is dissect a brief. This is particularly relevant here, as two of its three words see recurring use in marketing.
Let's get that third term out of the way:
I've always taken a broad view of what constitutes fantasy, so we're not lingering on this one. Parsing genre definitions is fun, but a little too niche, even for this newsletter.
Best is meaningless, an appalling weasel-word that should be promptly beaten out of any brief. (Also worthy of the red pen: 'objective: raise awareness' and 'audience: everyone'. You know who else tried to raise awareness with everyone? NO, YOU DON'T. BECAUSE THEY FAILED. BECAUSE THAT'S A SHIT STRATEGY.)
I have always been obsessed with the 'unmodified best'. Any brief, listicle, tweet, innocent bystander, whatever, that blindly uses 'best' earns the full wrath of my sealioning. "BEST WHAT, MY DEAR SIR? A CIVIL QUESTION ABOUT HOW EXACTLY YOU HAVE DETERMINED THE UNDISPUTED PRIMACY OF YOUR SELECTIONS". (I'm coming off very well here, aren't I?) But, come on, people, 'best' literally means 'most goodest'. Substitute that in next time you see a 'best', and you'll realise how utterly silly it is.
So, 'best' for this book? In the immortal words of the Atlantic Monthly's Ellery Sedgewick: "My selection is made according to the whim of one individual." If 'best' is subjective, I may as well own it. But as to practical use... there is none. Which is why 'best' should never be on a creative brief.
The third term:
British is a different species of weasel-word. There's a practical definition, but is buried under a pile of emotional baggage. From definitional standpoint, my book has it easy: so long as an author is a citizen of, or long-term resident of, the United Kingdom, their story counts as British. Sorted.
But what makes 'British fantasy'? (Again, not making a Brexit joke. Admire my restraint!) How is a British fantasy different from a French one, or an Irish one, or Chinese one? What makes for a quintessentially British imagination? Fantasy is a fascinating genre because it is a sandbox: no rules, no limits; all the possibilities in the world and the freedom to apply them as the author sees fit. In this case, that freedom - and that choice of application - is viewed through the tea-tinted perspective of Britishness. How does one's British identity steer the imagination?
And what is British identity anyway? For a legally inarguable descriptor, 'British' can be applied in surprisingly flexible ways (just ask Andy Murray). There's a darker side as well - elements of the media, Twitter and mainstream political parties enjoy challenging the 'Britishness', for example, of the UK's Muslim or Jewish populations. They use the term exclusively, to imply that others may lack the particular social norms or loyalties that are necessary to 'Britishness'.
Conversely, there does actually exist a small, but not insignificant, minority of the population that questions their own Britishness. According to DCMS's Community Life survey, 85% of the country feels that they 'belong' in Britain. This number is higher for rural areas (89%), lower in urban ones (84%); higher for the elderly (97% of 75+) and lower for youth (81% of 16-24s). The survey also reveals that, the more deprived your local area, the less likely you are to feel 'British'. It is important to note: this is not unique to 2018. These figures have been more or less consistent since the survey began five years ago.
To come full circle: that minority of 'British?' potentially includes fantasy readers. According to YouGov, people who say they enjoy reading fantasy or science fiction are significantly less likely to agree with the statement "I am proud to be British". As opposed to, say, the aforementioned Muslim or Jewish populations, both of whom are as - or more - proud of their British identity than the national average. The Daily Mail has a lot of concerns about British Muslims, but maybe they should be worrying about Game of Thrones fans instead.
...which, of all things, is a challenge I can get my teeth into. What is The Best of British Fantasy? A showcase of stories that - through themes, relevance and pure quality - will make its readers proud to be British. That's the brief as I see it, at least.
Get: Anyone writing a brief
To: Avoid weasel words
By: Showing how people (like me) will take advantage of them
I could use your help. I want The Best of British Fantasy to draw upon all the voices and talents and backgrounds present with the UK. If you can, please share the submissions link far and wide.
Also please share your own reading recommendations - your favourite stories, authors, anthologies, magazines, websites, etc. of 2018. Tweet them to me at @straycarnivore.
I'll be talking about the 'Podcast Opportunity' with Acast's Sophie Herdman for the PRCA at the end of the month. M&C Saatchi will be hosting in Golden Square. Tickets online here.
For those baffled by the cryptic broken link in last week's newsletter - when I talk about advertising having peaked, this is what I mean. How can we top that?!