Fandom Past - A Talk Given at Nine Worlds 2015

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Title: Fandom Past - A Talk Given at Nine Worlds 2015
Creator: Lillian Shepherd
Date(s): 2015
Medium: in-person presentation, online transcript
External Links: at AO3; archive link
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Fandom Past - A Talk Given at Nine Worlds 2015 was a talk by Lillian Shepherd given at Nine Worlds in 2015.

The transcript of it in the form of a meta essay was posted at AO3.

The creator describes it as "this is as much a memoir of Fan Fic and its Fandom mainly in the UK in the 1980s."

Topics Discussed


Fewer writers meant less fan fiction – fewer stories were probably written in a year in the UK than are loaded to AO3 in a few hours -- and even fewer people were publishing fanzines.

For a start, Fanzines were plain hard work. It wasn't a case printing out your masterpiece – some submitted stories would be in long hand, and some would be typed in all sorts of different fonts and layouts – because unless you could borrow a photocopier at work (and then there was always the possibility of leaving the originals actually on the machine, which could be very, very embarrassing) – or could afford professional printing (something normally done only for artwork and covers) you would probably resort to a second hand rotary stencil printer, a Roneo or, like ours a Gestetner (it was called Puff the Magic Duplicator and the long arm stapler used to put smaller zines together was Elmer.) You had to cut the stencils on a typewriter, and stencil correcting fluid did strange things to your head as you laid pink blotches on the grey white stencil and then tried to line them up on the typewriter to get the correction in the right place.

Then you had to print, and, cripes, that was that messy! We used to slip sheet – that is, as the pages shot out into the tray we would insert another sheet of paper by hand to keep the print bleeding through onto the next sheet. You had to be damn quick. Some people typed every copy. Some people tried to use big form printers called Bandas, which gave a very strange result.

Even the layout of fanzines caused controversy. Those people who were professionally trained secretaries tended to Block Type with a line between paragraphs, now standard on the internet, but not used, even now, for printed books and almost never for magazines, both of which indicate paragraphs by indents. Block typing wasted paper like no-one's business. I was all in favour of more words per page and less paper!

I had an extraordinary experience over this when arguing in the Starsky and Hutch letterzine. A well-known fan told me that I would have – and I quote – "told Rembrandt how to paint the Mona Lisa" – which has given me a prejudiced view of American education ever since. (At the same time, another US fan wrote to me saying that I was quite right, but that she didn't dare say so in public. A situation I think most of us can identify with today!)
In other cases stories were photocopied (normally at work) and passed around a circle of friends – though these escaped into the wild all too quickly as I know to my cost – I gave nine copies of what I like to call my Avon/Blake/Cally story to friends with pleas not to copy it or show it to anyone without my permission. It ended up being copied right across the United States and eventually published there without my permission. In Hatstand fandom – that's Bodie/Doyle slash, the name coming from a remark by Terri Beckett, that she thought the pair of them were as bent as Hatstands while Stuartsky turned it into a noun, a verb and various other parts of speech – nearly everything was privately circulated (and mostly for free). That circle still exists today in the form what is known as The Circuit, which has gone from paper, to floppy disc of both varieties, to CDs and USB sticks.
The production and actors in a TV show might have an effect on the series fan fiction. The various fan clubs in B7 fandom were close to the show (the Liberator Popular Front's first act was to invite the whole cast to a party, and about half of them turned up) the director's secretary was a fan, so was one of the cameramen – which was how we got to see shooting scripts before broadcast! – and one of the actors became engaged to and later married one of the committee. He also made a scurrilous fan fiction tape for his girlfriend...

This had a downside in that all the published fan fiction ended up being passed round the studio, with the explicit stuff right on top.

Which brings me to why there was no B7 slash in this country until the show had gone off air.

When Pat T was editing the first 'adult' B7 fanzine, Alternative Seven, she went to see Gareth Thomas in 'The Canterbury Tales', met him at the stage door, and bore him off to the bar to feed him vodka and slimline tonics. She told him about Alternative Seven. Naturally, his first question was: "Who does Blake get?" to which Pat said, "Well, in one story so far, Cally." "Oh," came the disappointed response, "why not Jenna?" At which point Pat told him that "If things go the same way here as in the States you're lucky it's not Avon." She had to spend the rest of the evening feeding him more booze and promising him that she wouldn't let such a thing be published. Such was her rep in fandom that, until she went back to the States, it wasn't.
Oh, and filing the numbers off is nothing new.

Tanith Lee's 'Kill the Dead' is a famous example and all good B7 fans had a copy. We all knew Avon/Vila dialogue when we saw it and the book was dedicated to 'Valentine' which is Paul Darrow's middle name. I spent a whole evening arguing with a fan of Tanith's who was determined that she had far, far too much integrity to do any such things.

Then there was the well known Starsky and Hutch fan writer who won a first novel award for a story that was plainly S and H with the numbers filed off. Not that it wasn't damn good.

Since then many writers have admitted to the insertion of characters and fans.
There was RPF, starting with Visit to a Weird Planet by Jean Lorrah and Willard F Hunt, which had Kirk and Co visiting the ST set. Published in 1968, it's a trope that has now been ripped off in almost every fandom and has made its way to the small screen. I am very fond of the Stargate variation on this. The sexually explicit stuff (both Het and Slash) was kept underground – or the writers attempted to keep it underground. Unfortunately, the instant you circulate something reasonably widely people show it to their friends... the Purple Pages (Soul/Glaser slash) ripped Starsky and Hutch fandom apart at one point. Perhaps circulating it with the S&H Letterzine was not the best idea anyone had had. Bandom started mainly with the Beatles in the 1980s – a long suffering Paul McCartney has, apparently, remarked that, "At least they admit it's 'fiction.'
Our Problems included the Obscene Publications Act, the Customs Laws Consolidation Act 1876, Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 and the various Copyright acts! Customs confiscation. Back in the Victorian era schoolgirls importing erotic chess sets led to a law where a customs officer could seize and destroy anything they considered "indecent or obscene." Some very expensive artwork went up in flames – book showing explicit scenes on Greek vases, Robert Mapplethorpe photographs etc. (And no, Leslie Fish, printing the hot stuff in red on red mottled paper just meant that no one could read it, not that it could sneak past customs. Nor did a trip to London to demand her K/S zine back work for the one, quite formidable fan, I know tried it.)
Incidentally, in the early 90s, when Jenkins was doing his research for the seminal 'Textual Poachers' (published 1992, and before which there was little interest in fan fiction from academia), there was still a strong tendency to keep our heads down. I was working for Customs and Excise and refused permission for Henry Jenkins to quote from one of my stories. It also has to be said that Henry did not need my permission to quote my work in this context, but he is also a fan, and was being careful not to offend anyone in fandom.
So, has fanfic changed? Well, Sturgeon's law still applies to it, even though there is lots more of it, and 90% of it is indeed crap. But it's probably not the same 90% for you as it is for me. Fandom? Fandom is people and people, on the whole, don't change very much. Oh, the mores change, but there are still good people and good writers and they aren't always the same. Fandom has the usual combination of saints and bastards, but most of us lie in between and we may see or remember things differently, even from old friends. I had occasion to go onto Fanlore to look up some facts for this talk, and I'm pretty sure they're right. Other things I discovered written about fandoms I was involved in don't seem right. I've tried to indicate here stories that I know happened, or that I am pretty sure happened almost the way the original participants told them to me. However, people's memories differ, so remember that no one has the true gospel of fannish history. Enjoy your fandoms, new and old, read and write what you want to read and write, argue over canon, and character, and discuss whether you find actors hot. Be welcoming to newbies, don't be a dick, but always be a little sceptical about what you're told. There's always bias, folks.