TeleRead readers with long memories may remember when I previously covered a controversy around the British horror writer David A. Riley. That was around the editorship of a relaunched anthology series. However, there’s recently been a much higher-profile blowup around the same figure in the context of a much larger institution: the Horror Writers Association (HWA).
This blew up because, as David Riley wrote in his blog in early April, “the HWA were short of a couple of Active members to join their Bram Stoker Award Jury for anthologies, so I volunteered as I’ll neither be publishing nor editing an anthology myself this year.” Given Riley’s past association with Britain’s neo-fascist National Front, this news caused more than raised eyebrows. The HWA was forced into reactive comment to try to cool down the affair, but eventually decided that Riley would no longer be asked to serve on the Bram Stoker Award jury.
The HWA’s own blog is still innocent of comment on the affair – a little surprising, given how much it must be affecting public perception of the organization. But the blogosphere and cyberspace is full of it. Some disgruntled commentators went through a whole list of past grievances against the HWA. Others archived as much relevant comment as possible for our reading pleasure.
HWA President Lisa Morton made an interim Facebook post before the final decision was reached, here, and archived here. Again, the horror community were not impressed. One commented on her Facebook post, “every minute he stays on that jury another HWA member disavows the Association.”
Riley, meanwhile, protested on his blog that: “It has been alleged by some people that I would be prejudiced against anything written or published or edited by non-white writers/publishers/editors. Utter twaddle. Yes, I am so prejudiced that I have paid for covers on two of the books I have published by Vincent Chong – one of my favourite artists. I am also in an advanced stage of negotiating with a black British writer to publish a collection of his stories.” Following that comment, the same Facebook respondent also posted: “That’s like saying I’m not racist I HAVE A BLACK FRIEND.”
Since I’ve found that my own past writings on the previous Riley controversy are being quoted in this context – as somehow “less negative than most” – I want to be quite clear where I stand on this go-round. Editorship of a revived horror anthology franchise is a totally different ball game to serving on a jury for a major award. Lisa Morton may say that “in specific regard to HWA’s Bram Stoker Award juries, the HWA will certainly act if/when a juror’s personal views have a provable impact/bias against a writer or his/her works,” but I can’t see how a juror’s potential bias can not be an issue when appointing them to an awards jury. Would some worthy candidates boycott the Awards simply because Riley is on the jury? It’s already happened. Would the Stokers be tarnished by association? Ditto.
Nick Mamatas made a Facebook post about this, bringing in the subject of Scottish nationalism. “Why submit work … to a juror who belongs to a group that believes that Scottish independence is a trick by EU ‘string-pullers’ and ‘traitors’ in Westminster, and that the Scots language is illegitimate?” Now, I’m not sure if Nick is referring to the NF itself here, because Riley apparently no longer belongs. However, I am a horror writer, and a committed and very vocal Scottish Nationalist. I do have a new book coming out – plug plug. Under the circumstances, if Riley was still a juror, would I worry about my chances in the anthologies stakes, or for any anthology that had a story of mine in it? Absolutely I would. I don’t need to poll social media, or pore over the timeline of Riley’s current and past associations, or agonize about the pros and cons, to work that one out.
Anyway, in principle it’s all water under the bridge – except that I’m not sure how soon the HWA’s reputation will recover from this fiasco. Or whether it deserves to. What were they ever thinking in the first place?
Update: Ellen Datlow contacted me via Facebook to let me know that the HWA officers and board took action as soon as they could following the revelations regarding David Riley – in this case, less than 24 hours.