Redfern Jon Barrett
Of course situations like this always leave behind a surplus of kind words, but there will be a particularly long list praising Maureen as an editor, I’ve absolutely no doubt about that. Both sympathetic and sharp, she had a keen eye for corrections which she then delivered with sensitivity and warmth, bringing together her considerable skills when it came to both language and people. I often write about very personal issues in my reviews, and Maureen had a way of making you feel heard—in the several years I’ve written for Strange Horizons, there wasn’t a single time when her feedback wasn’t greatly appreciated, and I know I’m not the only one who felt that way. Every writer remembers a great editor.
But what I really miss about Maureen are the long emails we’d sling back and forth. Though I’ve lived in Berlin a dozen years now, I’m originally from the British Isles, and the two of us first bonded over the xenophobic absurdity of Brexit. Bringing up politics isn’t the usual etiquette for a tribute, but it’s not something she ever shied away from: I’d often receive Maureen’s accounts of the impact on her home county of Kent, and—as is often the case when mass delusion rules—I think we both found solace in sympathetic company. Of course our emails also shared more personal details, of holidays and health problems, but it’s her forthright attitude and outrage at dishonesty and closed-mindedness that will always stick with me.
Maureen, it was an absolute pleasure to have had the chance to work with you. It was also a privilege to get to know you, even from afar. You will be fondly remembered.
With her wit and clarity, Maureen reminded me of my favorite university professors. I was a little in awe at first. Even though I believed in the book I’d pitched her, it seemed improbable that someone—a busy, accomplished professional—would take the time to reply with anything other than a polite rejection. So I steeled myself as I opened the email and read over her explanation of why what I’d sent wouldn’t cut it. But as I kept reading, the surprises multiplied. Maureen acknowledged my enthusiasm for the material. She offered a revise-and-resubmit option, which I gladly took. Over our next exchanges she guided me towards a better review, always in a generous and efficient way. When she finally accepted it, I felt a wave of gratitude. To be taught why the initial draft was rejected, and to be shown what errors I was making, was a huge gift. She didn’t have to stick it out through that process, and in my limited experience, she is the only editor to have extended the offer. Hitting the reject button and sending me on my way would have made her life a little easier. Yet, I don’t think the easy way was top priority for Maureen—the attention she put into her writing and reviewing proved she believed in the value of what she was doing. She cared, too, about the quality of the work. And that was, and still is, a deeply inspiring thing.
My first ever interaction with Maureen the Editor was when I was tweeting through Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last, and she reached out and asked if I’d like to review it for Strange Horizons (I had already written a couple of reviews for SH at the time). I was still very much a baby reviewer, and was struck both by the generosity of the invitation, and the rigour of her editing: three track changes with Maureen could leave you feeling that you had learned a whole new lesson about criticism in a morning.
I came to know Maureen much better—including a memorable meeting along with many other Strange Horizons staff members near King’s Cross, London, in 2018—but in my decade of reviewing for SH, her approach to anything I wrote never changed: it was as thoughtful, as kind, and as exacting as ever.
I know that whenever I write criticism in the future, if I manage to craft a line of sudden, unexpected clarity, I will pause, and I will remember Maureen.
I’ve been writing reviews for Strange Horizons for seven years now. Maureen was one of my editors for the entirety of that period. She was always encouraging, and never cared when I was late. (My reviews are always late.)
Part of that encouragement was general: as reviewers, we were always encouraged to pitch books or movies or anything, really, beyond what was assigned to us. I did. A lot. She never said no, which is an invaluable quality in an editor. But she also had a very fine sense of which text would fit which reviewer, and every so often there’d be a book in my inbox, with Maureen saying, “This seems like it would be a good fit for you.”
I never said no either. She was always right. One of the books was Lachlan Walter’s We Call It Monster, which had an opening line about an enormous, ungodly monster dragging itself out of the ocean in order to lay waste to a city. Maureen told me she’d read it and thought of me. A compliment if ever there was one.
That encouragement became more personal when it came to my own reviews, especially when those reviews were less than complimentary. (I much prefer writing reviews about books I like, but in the occasional text likeability is hard to find.) I’d send in reviews attached to irritated emails, and Maureen would send me a smiley face and an “I can’t wait to read it!” She was much more polite than I was, but beneath that cultivated exterior was a facility for quiet bitchiness that made me feel as if we were well-suited in our critical approaches. Once I complained to her about a particular failing in a particular book. Maureen commented that she shared the same impression, and elegantly implied that, knowing the party responsible as she did, she was not all that surprised.
She was also unsurprised when I bitched to her about a paper of mine that had been rejected by a journal, for what I felt were spurious reasons. (The Nobel Laureate in literature who had authored the text on which my paper was based was judged, by the journal, to be too obscure and lacking in interest for its readers. Not long after this, one of his major works was made into a film, which I subsequently reviewed at Maureen’s behest.) Maureen had a strong suspicion as to which journal was the culprit. She asked for confirmation, and she wasn’t wrong. “Narrow-minded,” she sniffed. Even years later, I feel the validation of that remark!
A shared interest in academia meant that Maureen was often saddled with my nonfiction reviews. Particularly critical texts, which all-too-frequently deserve the bitchy comments they get from me. That stodgy, inaccessible prose! It’s shit, it really is. And the more academic books that Strange Horizons sent my way, the more I felt that judgement was shared. At one point Maureen, then assistant editor at Foundation, was so convinced of my dislike for opaque academic writing, that she invited me to submit a paper there, in the hopes that I’d put my money where my mouth was.
I promised her I would. I never did.
I had a suitable high-level draft, too, though it needs one last edit. I’ll have to do that in 2023. I’ll have to keep my promise, even if Maureen’s not around to read it and side-eye the failures of the prose. It’ll be late, but then she must have come to expect that from me. As she told me once, “no worries about lateness or anything like that. Right now, every day someone reads or writes something feels like a miracle.”
Doesn’t it just.
I remember talking to Maureen about shrikes and how much we love birding. I will always remember her wry sense of humour and kindness.
Though I didn’t know Maureen personally, I always felt respected and heard whenever we corresponded. Her support of my SF in translation work over the years meant a lot, and I know that Maureen did a lot of good in this SF world of ours. She will be missed.
Maureen and I knew each other for something like seventeen years, and my biggest regret is that I never met her face to face. People who think that virtual, online friendships are not “real” friendships have never experienced the power of online communities, especially in the early days of the internet.
Maureen was the second person I followed on LiveJournal, which was great for allowing you, without recourse to intrusive algorithms, to find people who fell into the most obscure Venn diagrams of interests. I found my first friend there because she was a Classicist as I had been, one who read fantasy and science fiction. One of her friends was Maureen, whose username immediately identified her as someone who liked Alan Garner. I soon discovered she had a cat named Snufkin: my kind of person!! An Alan Garner fan who had read the Moomin books.
In her blog, Maureen wrote vividly and amusingly about her cats, her cooking, her reading, and the day-to-day events of her life in Folkstone with her husband Paul. She eventually deleted and purged her LiveJournal—I’m not sure exactly when, whether it was when she started a PhD or when LJ was sold to the Russians—but I so hope that somewhere there’s a copy of it. It was as wonderful as those who know her would expect.
I so nearly met Maureen several times. In fact, she’s the only one of a close circle of LJ friends active in the British SF and fantasy community whom I haven’t met. I was in London in 2006, on a personal odyssey after the death of my mother. Maureen and I were supposed to meet for lunch, but there was a mix-up with a manuscript that didn’t get delivered and she had to cancel. A week later, I was in Canterbury, but Maureen was in Wisconsin. I was in Bristol in 2009 for the Diana Wynne Jones conference; Maureen really wanted to be there, but it didn’t work out. After that, I worked with Maureen as she co-edited the collection of essays that were published after that conference, and of course later when I signed up to be a reviewer for Strange Horizons. After the demise of LJ, we kept in touch through Facebook and Twitter.
I admired her tremendously, as a writer, as an editor, but above all as a critic. I wish she’d had time to write her book about Alan Garner. I wish I’d had a chance to meet her and been able to have a long, wonderful conversation about all the books we both loved.
My first real recollection of Maureen is of our attending the Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in June 2008. I thought of myself as a reader and reviewer whilst Maureen talked about “fandom.” Her arrival in that world at a much younger age than me made it seem that Maureen was a generation older rather than a decade. However, the seriousness of her engagement with the material was an early indicator to me that one could be both “fan” and “critic.” Over the subsequent years, and despite our shared experience of the SFF Masterclass, we spent more time discussing things other than our shared interest in the field. This, I gradually understood, was how fandom worked. It was an expression of friendship. And so, over the years we have both lived in Folkestone, I learned from her about the disintegration of the local Lib-Dems; she shared her organic veg box supplier with me; I shared my favourite builder with her (I think he has done more work on the Kincaid Speller house but I’m not jealous); and, latterly, Maureen put me in contact with her accountant.
Along the way, Maureen also passed on her SF contacts—giving me the chance to review for Interzone, the print SF magazine I had been reading for decades. And her continued focus on reading better, reviewing better, writing better—expressed through LiveJournal, blogs, Twitter, and emails—have helped me see that I can, and should, continue to learn my craft as well as providing encouragement to continue to practice it.
I was first introduced to Maureen in 2014 when she took over as senior reviews editor at Strange Horizons. A few correspondences later, and I was following her on Twitter, where we followed a lot of the same people and shared a lot of the same content. We never met in person, and our direct communications were always related to a book I was requesting or a review I was writing, but there was a kind of kinship in the shared enterprise, the labor of love that is the online speculative fiction community. I still remember one of the first reviews we worked on seven years ago: I was particularly enamored of my own creative spin on an opening paragraph, and she managed to convince me of the wisdom of sacrificing that particular darling—and I felt the rightness of her counsel. It’s impossible to explain just how hard that is, to convince a temperamental creative that what they see as their own spark of brilliance is getting in the way of what’s important, and to do so without any hurt feelings. There is a gentleness, a deep understanding, a level of empathy required to pull that off so adroitly, and those characteristics were evident in all our interactions since.
That’s how I remember Maureen: quietly brilliant, gentle but firm in her guidance, kind and considerate—all the best qualities one could wish for in a colleague, an editor, a fellow human. LIke many in the SFF community, I was deeply saddened by her loss, and like many I find it difficult to articulate just how big of a loss to the future of the community this will be. There is a Maureen-sized hole in our future timeline, and it will take the work of many to try to fill it as best we can.
My favourite thing about Maureen was her sense of humour. As an example: she knew about my love for overblown erotic shifter romances and once asked if I would write a snapshot review of the genre for the Strange Horizons fundraiser—an endeavour that (perhaps fortuitously) didn’t come to fruition due to life having other plans.
But this by no means stopped us from spending hours in her DMs yelling about animalism and anthropomorphism and whether or not I was allowed to include Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno since it exists, is somehow incredibly sexual and not at the same time, and I always want to talk about it. Maureen would send back various sighs, dismantle many of my half-baked arguments with her wealth of critical knowledge, and also yell at me about how the reviews department had actual policies for word count.
I miss these interactions more than I can ever put adequately into words. I miss her. I miss her yelling about Viking horns and purple prose and her vocal horror when I deliberately used the word “mangasm” in her online vicinity.
She was a voracious and incredibly generous reader, both as a critic and editor, with a deft touch and a way of tightening up sentences that still let them sound like me. Over time, I found it really easy to trust her feedback because she invested in the relationship. It also made it possible for us to discuss disagreements when it came to edits, or even disagreements on how we each read the book, without that somehow being a judgement on who we were as reviewers or people.
In my experience, there is something magical about having an editor to work with who clearly has a lot of knowledge and information to draw on but who isn’t interested in bludgeoning you into agreement with it. Or isn’t interested in forcing every review to fit a template form of what is publicly understood as a “good review.” It’s rare to find an editor whose discussions allow you room to expand a reading, rather than forcing a sort of one or other system into it.
I am often encouraged by editors to think generously about books I dislike immensely, with little reciprocity for understanding what this dislike stems from or why I’ve chosen not to finish a book. This was not the case with Maureen. In my experience, she understood a clear line between critical generosity and acknowledging the need for discussion of where a book could have done better—and I appreciated this about her editorial hand.
All of this to say: I could trust Maureen. She encouraged trust because she worked hard at it, in ways I’m not sure people acknowledged or realised at the time. She built a space that welcomed me, and was part of what made SFF something I wanted to explore and be a part of publicly.
More, she understood that reading and reviewing kindly could mean different things to different people, and she encouraged a variety of styles and shapes to reviews. For me, this remains an immense testament of her work and leadership at Strange Horizons—the sheer variety of reviews and reviewers published. The joy of them.
I miss her.
Reviewing for Strange Horizons was a long-time dream of mine before it actually happened in 2015. I’d started reading the magazine during the Great Recession, when I was underemployed and had no spare money and so was reading for free from the library and the internet, and I was impressed by the magazine’s reviews and stayed impressed over the ensuing years. Much of the rigor and expansiveness of the reviews section over the years, singly and as a whole, was due to Maureen. Along with Dan and Aisha, she made Strange Horizons a home for considering works from writers, creators, and places that were often overlooked even within speculative fiction fandom, and she made the genre richer for it. I know many times I pitched a review of something that I knew was a bit weird or out there, and many times Maureen was game to run it—but not always, as that expansive vision was very much the product of well thought-out views on what to cover, not mere permissiveness.
Reading emails from the dead is a bittersweet exercise, but looking back through seven years’ correspondence with Maureen, in my inbox and on Twitter, I’m struck again by her rigor and clarity of vision. She was extremely supportive of and patient with me as I found my feet as a reviewer for the magazine, which isn’t quite the same as writing reviews for one’s own blog, and I always knew that I could rely on her to home-in on any part of my work where my thinking had gotten sloppy or I hadn’t expressed myself well. Unfailingly, when I got back her marked-up version of my submitted copy, she would have left to-the-point comments asking me to revise or to clarify or questioning what I really meant in that paragraph. Working with her made me a better writer, and for that I am and will remain profoundly grateful.
For years my sporadic tweets about my current reading have coincided with the early morning, UK time, and it was always a treat when Maureen responded—in particular, when I undertook a partial (re)read of Alan Garner books in 2021, she had quite a lot of interesting things to say. She was a sensitive reader of Garner and wrote about his works brilliantly for multiple venues, including Strange Horizons. I was planning on having read the last few Garners I haven’t gotten to, including his newest (and presumably last) novel Treacle Walker (2021), and talking about them with Maureen in person in Glasgow in 2024. Instead, I hope to raise a glass to her at some point during the convention, preferably in the company of other Strange Horizons colleagues. I don’t prefer the change.
It’s a cliche to say that the discourse on the internet has shifted in recent years, but it’s certainly correct to observe, as Maureen, Aisha, and Dan did in their wonderful editorial on criticism from January 2022, that the mainstream discourse about the purpose of reviews has changed a lot since the three of them took over as reviews editors in 2014. Maureen of course, and the rest of us at Strange Horizons, had no truck with the notion that the purpose of reviews is to say something nice or nothing at all. As well as her co-written editorial on criticism, I find myself returning to her (expansive! insightful!) review of Treacle Walker, published in that same special issue on criticism, for words that sum up both Maureen’s own critical practice and which I take as a north star to guide me in my own, as I continue down the road:
And it is the insight I’m in search of, both when I read criticism and when I write it. I’m not interested in whether X likes a novel, any more than you should be interested in whether I dislike a novel. The questions should always be, “What is this piece of fiction doing, does it work, and if not, why not?” Everything else unfolds from that.
Farewell, Maureen. And again, for the words and for the insight, thank you.
“On the other hand, if I get out my binoculars …”
It was so lovely to correspond with Maureen. I looked forward to having the excuse to do it when I was working on a review. You just always knew you wanted her eyes on your work, and wanted to talk to her about what you were trying to do.
Sometimes I’d get lucky and a bit of my own domestic data, relayed, would produce an account of what she had been up to lately. My impression from these accounts was that she continually worked to locate more unexpected angles, find more useful vantage points, for thinking things over. An email from Maureen might contain news of cats getting out into the garden, where she wondered what weird forms of access they could be persuaded to use to re-enter the house (a cat’s eye view of an interpretative problem, if you like.) Or it might be about an unusual snowstorm that led her to the window, binoculars in hand, to assess the state of a car in a snowbank two miles away.
Of course she had binoculars. She believed deeply, it seems to me, in using every instrument that would help you see what was going on, where you were. It seems to me, she didn’t want to miss anything at all if she could help it. That was a wonderful thing to witness. Maybe needless to say, I will and do miss her very much.
If I start by saying I really cannot remember when or how I got to know Maureen, it’s partly a question of fading memories of times long gone and far away, but mostly, I think, a question of there seeming to be no part of my fannish life which didn’t include Maureen. I assume we first met during that period (1986-1990) when she was editing the British Science Fiction Association’s Matrix and was also, for part of that time, the BSFA’s Co-ordinator, although we were certainly exchanging letters earlier than that.
Indeed a search in the Sawyer Archive (all right, the Shed) failed to uncover the fanzines I was looking for (which probably became part of the Science Fiction Foundation library when I retired a few years ago), but did unearth some zines which were part of Marureen’s APA activities which she must have sent me in the mid-80s, as part of a flurry of correspondence in which we discussed the music of Richard Thompson and Mr. Fox much more than SF. In fact, I still have the cassette-tape copies of a number of albums she sent me at the time, notably those of “Mr Fox” alumni Bob and Carol Pegg, and very fine music it is too.
Maureen edited Matrix for the BSFA from August 1986 to February 1990, also contributing fanzine reviews in her Fire and Hemlock column. She became Co-ordinator of the BSFA (and believe me, the BSFA really needed some co-ordination!) in 1989. Looking through copies of Matrix of the time, we have Maureen as she became known to a much wider range of fandom—committed, determined to pull the organisation through, and displaying that combination of welcoming hand and insistence that people pull their weight and avoid sloppy thinking which characterised much of her subsequent approach. When she first took over as Matrix editor, I had been editor of the BSFA’s reviewzine Paperback Inferno for a year, and it was another of what might euphemistically be called the BSFA’s “periods of change.” (When I wrote a short appreciation of her role on her “retirement” as Co-ordinator for the Matrix of February 1991, I couldn’t help likening the BSFA’s turbulence to another band we appreciated: “I’m reminded of what Fairport Convention violinist Dave Swarbrick is alleged to have said to a journalist when announcing that yet another member had left the band: ‘… and if you ask if this is a logical move in our progression, I’ll slosh you.’”)
And soon afterwards, in fact, Maureen recruited me into the “Acnestis” APA. The “acnestis,” as I discovered, is that part of the back which, when it itches, you are unable to reach to scratch it: a wonderful metaphor for the obsessions and irritations of book fever, and being part of Acnestis was a remarkable time.
Looking through those zines and letters on my desk, I can see that they are only a brief record of our shared interests and engagements. Maureen published a rather dismal short story of mine in her brief editorship of the fiction magazine The Gate (1990). She contributed numerous reviews to Paperback Inferno, and later drew me into reviewing for Strange Horizons. At one point, we developed a shared fantasy that our cats (her Snufkin and my Billy), from their quirks of behaviour, surely must be long-lost cousins. Others have lamented that Maureen never produced a lengthy volume of cat-writing. I can see why she didn’t—one of the reasons might have been a worry that this would have stereotyped her as “cat woman.” But Maureen was too clear a thinker and too incisive as a writer to fall into stereotype.
Were I to have referred to her, in her presence, as a “woman of letters” she would surely have done to me what Swarb threatened to do to that journalist, only much, much harder. Yet, as her many reviews and longer pieces in so many venues and her academic career (B.A. and M. A. at the University of Kent) showed us, she was an absolutely classic example of the kind of critic who never lost the enthusiasm and sense of wonder of the fan, but never gained the ennui and rigidity that “The Academy” can so often cast upon those who succumb to its attractions. For Maureen, I think, literature remained an acnestis rather than an anatomy. If I must cite an example, I can only point to her writing on Alan Garner, another of our shared enthusiasms, which was rich, deep, and nuanced and which taught me a lot about an author I myself have never dared to attempt to write at length about. It is also significant, perhaps, that when Maureen chose an “academic” specialisation, it was not science fiction. After all, she already knew much more about that than most Literature specialists in universities: she wanted to expand her own horizons.
Although we had so many connections, after the BSFA years we only met at conventions and the occasional Science Fiction Foundation event, and (largely because of geography) increasingly fewer of them. (There was that time, after a Liverpool SFF conference, when my wife and I took her to see Anthony Gormley’s “Another Place” at Crosby beach and mightily impressed her with the quality of the thunderstorm we’d laid on to heighten the impact of the sculptures …) But I’ve valued her help, inspiration, friendship, and occasional kicks immensely, and I know I am not the only one who can say that. I’m glad that I was able to tell her, and her husband Paul, this; though saddened that it had to be remotely, by letter and Facebook.
But I am pleased that I can say more publicly:
Thank you, Maureen.
Editors: Reviews Department
Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department