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Fandom Past - A Talk Given at Nine Worlds 2015

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I'm Lillian or Lil Shepherd and I've written fan fiction under that name, (and Ermentrude Postlewaite-Smythe and EPS and, once, Lisa York) on and off (often with long gaps) since 1978.

At the same time I've been an SF and Fantasy fan, filk fan, comics fan, convention goer, and attempted pro-fic writer, all of them on and off for the said nearly forty years.

I've written in a number of fandoms, but during the late 70s and early 80s I was primarily involved with Blake's Seven and The Professionals fandoms, so don't be entirely surprised if those crop up rather a lot.

I've published fanzines, and edited fan fiction. For our sins, my best friend Inamac and I ran a fanzine critiquing a wide spread of fanfic fanzines for a couple of years in the early 80s. This was more acceptable then, but not by much!

And talking of acceptable – in the 1970s and 1980s most people did not have the same attitudes as today and the legal situation was different. Any talk about those times has to include those and this will.

Though Fan fiction and its fandom is now much bigger, faster and much more in the public eye, than it was when I first wrote a B7 story for fanzine publication, it is also very recognisable.

But first, a quick word on the origins of fanfic.

When all stories are regarded as belonging to everyone (because they are history or myth or a mixture of both) either everything is fan fiction or nothing is. It is when people start believing that their original stories and characters belong to them (and they make money from them) that you get fan fiction, and the same reactions to it from creators over a long period.

I'm not one of those people who think Shakespeare (and the other Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights) wrote fan fiction, though the actions of the anonymous person who probably sat in on a performance of Hamlet and took notes, then went away and published them as the First Quarto was definitely taking part in fanac. (Fan action.)

At about the same time as Hamlet was being performed at the Globe (at the turn of the 16th century) Miguel Cervantes was writing Don Quixote. (1st part published 1605.) A fan fiction sequel was written and published by someone calling themselves Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda. Cervantes was furious – much of the second Part of Don Quixote is a complaint against this pirate and a denial of the fan fic's legitimacy.

A hundred years or so later, another book published in several parts – this time over a period of nine years – was the subject of a great deal of published fan fiction, this time with the approval of the author! This was 'Tristram Shandy' and Laurence Sterne thought the fan fic was great publicity, keeping his work in the public eye. (I am indebted to the Sterne experts on the BBC Radio 4's In Our Time for this info, which I have not encountered anywhere else.)

We don't know what Jane Austen thought about fanfic of her work – perhaps she never saw it – but Alexandre Dumas tolerated it, Thackery waited until Walter Scott was safely dead and out of copyright before publishing Rebecca and Rowena and there was bags of Conan Doyle fan fiction (though the Holmes/Watson romances stay well undercover until My Dearest Holmes by Rohase Piercy was published in 1988.) In 1967 fan fiction by the Baker Street Irregulars was professionally published in hardcover by Allen and Unwin as 17 Steps to 221B.

 

Though fan fiction already existed, it was Star Trek that gave the fandom its original form, and a pattern for other fandoms to follow. Luckily, the birth of Star Trek fandom has been well documented (it's all on Fanlore, with links). And boy, did it develop fast.

Star Trek fandom was modelled on SF fandom because many of the early Trek fans were also SF fans (and some pros) who had run and attended conventions, and had also published and contributed to fanzines.

Fanzines – even the word – were invented by US science fiction fandom in the early 1930s. Mostly, they did not contain fiction, but there were fanzines for original fiction, and there were writers – HP Lovecraft is noticeable – who shared their worlds with other writers, fan and pro.

The first Trek fiction zine, Spockanalia was published in 1967.

The people behind that also organised the first Trek con (a small by US standards affair) in Boston in 1969, though it was the 'Star Trek Lives! convention in New York in January 1972, which really took off. The organisers expected a few hundred people and ended up with thousands.

Later that year, the first adult Star Trek zine, Grup was published. That zine published the first recognisable K/S story in 1974.

But what of the UK, you may ask?

Well, sometime around 1968 I had a letter about Trek published in the lettercol of the Radio Times. I was forwarded a letter from the fan running Shatner's fan club asking me to join. Ten years later, and after about episode 6 of B7, I wrote a letter of moderate praise which was also published in RT – and this time I was contacted by people who had already set up fan clubs and were publishing fanzines.

UK fan fiction fandom got going in the middle of the 1970s. The Star Trek Action Group (STAG) was founded in 1973, and the Doctor Who Appreciation Society in 1976.

Both were influenced by what was going on in the States, by the histories of Trek fandom and fan fiction published in the books The Making of Star Trek (1970) and Star Trek Lives! (1975), not to mention the professionally published (and acknowledged as such) Trek fan fiction in The New Voyages (1976 onwards) and Culbreath and Marshak's The Price of the Phoenix, a hurt/comfort ST novel (1977) which is as near K/S as you could get published at that point. Indeed, I'm still not sure how they got it past both the studio and publishers. (Though, on being told about K/S, Gene Roddenbery himself is said to have remarked, "That's really interesting. I never thought of that..." – a writer's reaction.)

These were not like many media and comic cons today which are commercially run and which exist to make money. They were fan organised and fan run, like the SF cons were. At the beginning, at least, the actors, writers and production staff attended to boost the programme or out of curiosity. Guests might be paid expenses. It would be a few years before they were paid appearance fees.

There is a lovely story, which if it isn't true ought to be about Ed Bishop (Straker in UFO and the voice of Captain Blue in Captain Scarlet) at the first Fanderson. Supposedly, apart from the disappointment of not being held for ransom by Donna of the Mercenaries League – all blond hair, black leather and bullwhip – he enjoyed himself so much that he approached the committee at the end of the convention and asked if they were going to run another one. Getting the answer, "Maybe," he then asked if they might invite him to be a guest again. The response was another polite maybe. "Well," he is supposed to have said, "if you don't, how much does it cost to attend?"

 

It was in 1978 that I came in...

You must remember that this is not just pre-internet but mostly pre personal home computers. The fan fiction world at that time leaped on the Amstrad PCW – which was a dedicated word processor -- with glee. My first computer was an Amstrad 1512 with a daisy wheel printer, and I bought that in 1986. It was not connected to the internet. That was first introduced into the UK in 1991 and in 1992 there were 150 or so sites connected to the Internet.

Fanfic fandom was smaller, then. Much smaller. Smaller because fewer people knew about it. While it wasn't possible to know everyone in, say, British media fandom, it was quite possible to know everyone in a particular fandom in the UK, to read everything that was being written (always supposing you had the money and the contacts) and to meet most of them at conventions or house parties.

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!)

 

Plainly, this made getting your story out there a lot slower, if you got it out there at all. It did, however, mean that most stories were edited. And there was a cachet in having your story accepted by a good fanzine – Alnitah and Grope set the standard in Star Trek here and I like to think my friends at Blue Jay press set it for multi-fandom zines.

Then there was getting hold of fanzines if you wanted to read them. Firstly, you actually had to know they existed. For this, you had to be a member of fandom! Getting them from other countries involved International Money Orders or exchanging currency – and other problems of which more later.

Some SF bookstores carried fanzines (not generally adult rated and/or slash.) Otherwise fanzines were sold at conventions (again, slash was under the counter) or by post (where age statements were required from the purchaser for adult material.)

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.

Feedback came via letter - including letters of comment – think comments on AO3 or FFnet, only taking a lot more effort and slower), telephone and face to face (including large house parties and minicons.)

This also made it less international, though there were fan fiction communities in Canada and Australia, and probably New Zealand, though I didn't know anyone there. You could always find people. When a well known (and Hugo winning writer) wanted to find me in the hope of me filing the numbers off a little B7 story for an anthology she was editing she contacted Pat E, a pro writer and B7 fan, who wrote a letter to Janet E who knew everyone in UK B7 fandom and she forwarded it to me. (Oddly enough, it arrived in my living room at the exact same moment a friend opened a book by Pat E.)

There were no warnings. Well, practically none. We gave warnings for slash and for 'adult' material, and very occasionally for a death story, but apart from that, no.

People from my period tend to be very snippy about warnings.

On putting my old stories on AO3, I started with an 'I do not warn attitude' but when I got to the story where I killed off five major cast members, and another which contained a mad Nazi magician and a death camp as well as horrific violence, I decided maybe I'd better warn.

Researching canon and writing meta. Ah, this was a problem, more so here than in the land of the Repeat across the Pond. The first VHS tape recorders arrived in 1979 and they were expensive. Most people rented theirs – and quite often if you were a single woman you had to get a man to sign a hire purchase or rental agreement. The tapes were expensive too. Quite often, a group of fans would fund both.

Before then you had to rely on repeats (and many programmes were never repeated, some never shown because of something the BBC/ITV considered more important and some of those tapes were wiped.) There was you and your memory (and boy, did mine get trained) and, if you were me, a sound tape recorder of some kind. I bought my first reel-to-reel recorder in the mid sixties. I would tape shows I was interested in, making 'movement notes' then I would type up the script. Later, I might 'novelise' the script. Ina and I wrote a lot of 'B7' and 'The Professionals' meta using cassette sound tapes.

What you did have was a lot of tie-in books with stories based on the original scripts. Unfortunately, these scripts were often sent to the writers' months before filming – and the casting got changed and the scripts themselves were changed and you couldn't trust any of it.

Ken Bulmer, who – apart from being a great friend and an all round good guy – was one of the at-least-two people writing 'The Professionals' tie ins under the name Ken Blake was GoH at one of the 'Weekend in the Country' minicons that I helped organise. He read us the character profiles he had been sent by Mark One and to which he had written the novels. Needless to say, they didn't represent what was on screen (particularly as said descriptions had been written when Anthony Andrews was cast as Bodie, who therefore was a sleek blond.) Ken leaped up and down a bit, and we all said, "There, there, Ken." He really, really wanted to read some B/D slash – but none of us had the nerve to show him any (I gather someone did later.) There is a bit of dialogue in an early episode called 'The Female Factor' on which a number of stories were based. Unfortunately, it is only in the books, and was never shown on the TV screen. As for films, you had to wait for them to come around to the TV screen, quite often a couple of years. Believe me, there was an awful lot of fanon accepted as canon in those days.

When an old show was repeated it was often around midnight in another part of the country or even on the other side of the world. Most of our Garrison's Gorillas tapes were recorded after midnight by a good friend in Southampton, who even stayed up to take the ads out, while three and a half tapes travelled all the way from Melbourne. (Later, a friend sent us tapes of Babylon 5 in the States long before they aired in this country – there were different standards for televisions and tapes between us and the States but there were ways around this.)

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 also fan art, and – just as soon as the video machines were cheap enough so that people could afford two – fan vids. (I was inordinately fond of the Vid which showed death after death of the alien lizards in V to 'Another One Bites the Dust.')

In the 70s and 80s many now common tropes in fan fiction had not yet been invented.

Slash dates back to at least Holmes/Watson but K/S was when it became widespread (and the word 'shipping' was not used until the 90s, and Smush names are even later.) I personally didn't see MPreg, Alpha/Beta/Omega and others on the market or in the writers groups at this point.

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.'

There was very little BDSM written and what was circulated privately or sold with heavy warnings.

Why were we underground? Well, we were paranoid and they were probably out to get us. Most of us used pseudonyms, particularly for slash, but because the numbers were so small, most people knew who everyone was behind the name but there wasn't anything like the anonymity of the early internet, or even of today's. Some of us worked for the government, local government, legal firms or other respectable organisation. On average, we were far older than today's stereotypical teenager writing High School or Coffee House AUs, and we had more to lose.

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.)

This all changed in the mid 1980s when Customs and Excise seized an cargo of sex dolls on importation. The importer, Conegate Ltd, sued on the principle that this was a restriction of trade.

The Judgement on 11 March 1986 was

1 . A MEMBER STATE MAY NOT RELY ON GROUNDS OF PUBLIC MORALITY WITHIN THE MEANING OF ARTICLE 36 OF THE EEC TREATY IN ORDER TO PROHIBIT THE IMPORTATION OF CERTAIN GOODS ON THE GROUND THAT THEY ARE INDECENT OR OBSCENE WHEN ITS LEGISLATION CONTAINS NO PROHIBITION ON THE MANUFACTURE AND MARKETING OF THE SAME GOODS ON ITS TERRITORY .

In other words, if something was legally manufactured and sold in the UK, then you couldn't ban its importation. As fandom was also producing zines in the UK, we jumped on that with glee.

It took a while to seep through, but, nowadays porn has to be especially violent (or snuff) or involve children to be banned.

Selling porn to kids could get you arrested under the Obscene Publications Act. Admittedly, you were unlikely to be convicted (if it went to jury trial – the man on the Clapham omnibus liked his porn), but it wouldn't do you much good with your employer. Many zine authors and publishers were married with kids, and not all of them had the nerve to drag their husband round Soho looking for a copy of 'The Joy of Gay Sex' as a friend of mine did! (Much, much later there was a report in the press of someone who had been sacked for writing Harry Potter slash. However, this turned out to be a lie. Google the MsScribe affair, but give yourself a couple of days...)

In the USA the situation varied from State to State USA – depending where you were. You could get arrested for selling porn. At the 1999 Worldcon in Melbourne, I met an old time US fanzine publisher who related the time she made it across the State border after a Trek con with a trunk full of K/S zines and the local Sheriff on her tail.

Then there was copyright. We were pretty careful because we knew we were probably breeching copyright and, though the fines for that would be small, it wouldn't look good if, like me and my fannish partner in crime, you worked for the government.

The law has now changed extensively and, in fact, there are fewer loopholes in EU copyright law down which fan fiction could slip, but toleration is much greater.

All zines carried disclaimers that they made no attempt to supersede copyright (and one of our more dubious claims is that we taught British fandom how to spell 'supersede') and that "no profit is made."

In some cases the "no profit is made" thing might have been a lie. We priced ours on used materials and any professional printing or photocopying – mainly covers – and a contribution towards the amount we paid for our duplicator. Authors were not paid.

Here's a thing. DWAS wrote to the BBC asking if they could sell telepics, the equivalent of a screen grab but using a film camera (1/16th shutter speed works nicely if anyone's interested.) They were told no. The secretary of the Liberator Popular Front wrote a similar letter to the BBC legal department and signed it Ann Harding, Solicitor. The reply she got back started, "As you are aware, Miss Harding, the copyright of any photograph resides with the person who owns the film in the camera..." In other words, "Sure, we can't stop you."

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.