Waterstones & Gender Equality. The good, the bad & the business case for doing better.

First, some context. Over the past year or more, I’ve repeatedly highlighted instances of all or majority male bookshop displays for SF&Fantasy. Back in May, I flagged up the monthly promotional email from Waterstones which featured the Everyday Sexism book. It was the first readily identifiable book by a woman in that email, half way down the page, and one of only five titles by women compared to eight featured men. That post prompted a lively exchange on Twitter and in comments on the blog with Jon Howell, PR chap for Waterstones. Check back here if you missed that or wish to refresh your memory.

In discussions elsewhere on this issue with concerned writers and readers, we soon realised that we need more data. Especially if Waterstones don’t keep records of how many women they promote compared to men, as was stated at the time. So I went away and searched my Gmail archive and managed to retrieve 23 of those monthly emails, from March 2012 to June 2014, while pals around the country went to do a promotional table count in their local branches of Waterstones. I got 20 surveys in all. Given Waterstones has 275 branches, that’s less than 10% so this cannot be considered definitive data. However I consider it strongly indicative and certainly a sound basis for discussion.

Because as Managing Director James Daunt has been saying, offering discoverability to readers will be the key to Waterstones’ survival. What all this flags up to me is key areas where that discoverability is seriously lacking and where Waterstones could improve, to offer customers something they will not get from Amazon whose ‘if you like, try..’ algorithm pretty much only offers clones, or from WHSmiths or the supermarkets who only offer a narrow choice of already high-selling titles.

One last note. I don’t propose to identify the branches, since the object of this exercise is absolutely not to name and shame, especially since quite a few booksellers expressed their own exasperation at the narrow and narrowing range of books they’ve been told to promote. I also won’t identify those who sent me data, since quite a few are either involved in the book trade or related to writers (except to say thanks, Mum!) and I don’t want to cause inadvertent hassles for anyone. I am, needless to say, hugely grateful to everyone who took the time and trouble to send me their findings.

So what do the numbers tell us? Firstly, those monthly Book Shelf emails, sent to loyalty card holders. As Jon Howell indicated back in May, Book of the Month choices are equally shared between male and female authors – with the proviso that women are over represented in children’s and romance choices, where men dominate other areas. In the emails I received personally, every single non-fiction History choice was by a man. That’s no reflection on some excellent books but an early warning that statistics don’t tell you everything.

Jon Howell pointed out that I would be seeing more titles by women if I’d ticked the Romance, and Children’s selections for the system to tailor my emails, whereas I have opted for SFF and Popular Fiction, along with History in non-fiction preferences. Well, all that offers me is further proof of the increasingly narrow assumptions about what women authors are being expected/encouraged to write.

The monthly email format is fairly consistent. Some sections come and go and I’ll indicate those. The sections that always appear are the New Books and the Books You Love. 75% of New Book titles appearing at the top of these emails are written by men. Of the Backlist promotions beginning in January 2013, 70% are for male authors. Once again, this section is at the top of the page, as are the promotional banner adverts beginning in January 2013 which offer 60% books by men.

However looking at the Books You Love section which is right at the bottom of the email, thus far less prominent, I find 48% by men, 46% by women and 6% gender neutral by virtue of initials or an unusual name. Click through on any of those titles to the main Waterstones site and you’ll find yourself on the Bestsellers page. This strongly suggests to me that Books You Love is driven by actual sales. So people are going to buy books in roughly equal numbers by male and female authors alike. So why aren’t they offered headline choices that reflect that rather than such a strongly skewed selection?

Similar skew is apparent in the ‘Coming Soon’ selection, appearing below New Books from September 2013 – 65% male – and before than in the Books in the Media – 76% male – and Reviewed in the Newspapers – 70% male – selections, running up to July 2013. This incidentally offers further proof of the established gender bias in the wider media, thus making the ‘but we’re promoting the books people are interested in, just look at the papers’ defence meaningless.

However looking at the Staff Picks and What We’re Reading selections, where I’m assuming staff have some input, those choices are 53% male, 47% female. Once again, this would indicate a lack of gender bias among actual book lovers, as bookstore staff invariably are.

So setting aside issues of natural justice between the genders, the significant thing here from a business point of view is surely the disconnect between what people actually choose to read and what they’re being offered. So where is the possible downside in offering readers a more balanced choice – and with women writers being more visible at the top of these emails rather than being relegated to the bottom?

Now to the promotional tables in the shops. Given the variation in size and layout of different branches, this data can only offer a broad brush survey but as I say, I still think these findings are strongly indicative of areas for improvement.

On the general Buy One Get One Half Price tables, in all but one instance the gender balance ranged from 45% male/55% female to 65% male/35% female and was evenly spread across that range, so for all intents and purposes, we can consider that a 50/50 split. This is very good news. More than that, my impression as a reader and customer is there’s a fair degree of rotation in titles in these choices, offering new books a chance in the sun alongside the guaranteed bestsellers.

The 50/50 split was even clearer in the Summer Reading promotional tables, in stores offering those. Though individual tables might be seriously skewed in larger branches, with one offering chick-lit and romance by exclusively female authors alongside another offering thrillers all by men. But that’s at least as much a reflection of what’s written and published as it is of marketing choices.

However different pictures emerge when we look at books by genre. Any preconception that Childrens and Young Adult reading is dominated by women doesn’t hold up. The gender spread is pretty equal over all though there were more individual instances of markedly skewed displays. One bookshop had a table with 85% male authors while another had one with 60% women writers.

Crime showed an even greater range of variation. There were as many tables with more than 50% female authors as there were with more than 50% men overall but these varied from 100% male (Euro Crime) to one with below 40% male authors.

No such luck in SF&Fantasy. There were no tables with less than 55% male authors with the single exception of one SF&F Buy One Get One Half Price table in a large, city centre branch with an established reputation for its excellent genre range. Of the 21 SF&F promotional tables counted, 17 were 75% male authors or more. 5 were 95-100% male, including one all-male Future Noir offering. Where stores are large enough to separate out SF from Fantasy, the bias against women in SF was even more marked than that in fantasy.

In most shops, Horror is folded into SF&F but in three instances where Horror got its own table (not included in that total of 21), those were all 95% male authors.

There were three instances, not included in the count of 21, of all-female SF&F tables in large, city centre branches. This is a mixed blessing. While it’s welcome visibility, it also makes women writers much easier to ignore and risks perpetuating the notion that female authors are somehow different and not integrated into the mainstream of the genre.

Overall, once again, there’s more to this than simply the numbers. As one respondent said, ‘I don’t actually bother looking at the SF&F table these days. It’ll just be this year’s books by men I don’t read anyway.’ Looking back at my own photos of displays over the past few years bears this out. The same names recur time and again – as is the case in crime fiction, though not quite to the same extent. This does as much disservice to those other male authors who rarely, if ever, benefit from this level of promotion as it does to the women writers who are so routinely ignored.

More than that, these invariably include the (few) SF&F guaranteed-bestseller titles that the supermarkets will routinely offer, and at higher discount than bookstores can afford. So the bookshop is competing for that trade at a disadvantage from the outset. Whereas the pattern used to be a best-seller would emerge from the bookshops as they offered a wide selection of midlist and WHSmith and the supermarkets would scramble to catch up.

Whereas the evidence elsewhere is that SF&F writers have no problem reading and rewarding books written by women. Just look at the recent tally of genre awards and prizes. Once again, there’s a serious disconnect between what the readership wants and what is offered in Waterstones.

Why does this matter, when serious fans can get what they want from Amazon anyway? For two reasons. If you’ve been following the current negotiations between Amazon and various publishers, you should be seriously concerned at the implications of ending up with a single retailer intent on securing a monopoly and more than that, by their increasing desire to dictate terms to both suppliers and customers, up to and including attempting to force Hachette to renegotiate contractual terms with their authors (even if only as a PR stunt). (Links to sound analysis on this in this previous post)

No, Amazon isn’t Evil and they’re not The Enemy. It’s a commercial company and this is capitalism. But capitalism only works in everyone’s interests if there is competition. We need bookshops to keep the system working. Does anyone with a scintilla of business sense believe Amazon will continue to offer free shipping, if there’s no one else for customers to do business with? Do we believe that they will continue to offer 70% royalties to authors, if there’s nowhere else for them to publish their books? Yes, that’s a worst-case scenario but irreparable damage will done well before we reach that point.

Secondly, in the current harsh economic climate, those high-volume, highly engaged SF&F fans are highly unlikely to prove a sufficiently large market to sustain the current and increasingly interesting and wide-ranging SF&F being written. We’re seeing new voices and new interpretations right across speculative fiction. This is excellent. This may also be a very short-lived flowering, if authors incomes continue to fall – something I can attest to from personal experience as I’ve seen my advances shrink, translation income vanish and backlist sales fall off a cliff in the last ten years. Some writers will be willing and more pertinently, able to continue working more for love than money. More won’t.

A sustained writing career relies on reaching beyond the core fans to the five-to-ten books-a-year reader. Offer those readers something new and bookshop may well increase purchases by such customers, to the benefit of their bottom line. Only ever offer them the same as before and that’s all the store will sell – assuming those readers haven’t already picked up those books along with their groceries at Sainsbury’s or Asda.

Yes, gender equality is a feminist issue. When it comes to bookselling it is also a commercial issue. If Waterstones wants to offer customers the discoverability which they’re not going find elsewhere, surely extending the range and rotation of books promoted in their genre sections, by male and female authors alike, to equal the choices they already offer in general fiction, is simply good business?

A Knight in the Silk Purse: Ghosts of Taux (Tales of the Emerald Serpent Book 2)

Do you remember Tales of the Emerald Serpent? The shared world anthology I’m part of, funded by Kickstarter? With its interlinked stories by a host of great writers, further enhanced by truly splendid artwork? All set in the mysterious city of Taux with inspirations drawn from Central American and other mythologies as well as the authors’ and artists’ fertile imaginations.

If so, you’ll recall we ran a second successful campaign and now the second volume is here! This anthology is even more intricate and ambitious. Our returning characters are caught up in official investigations as a Paladin tries to uncover the truth behind a gruesome murder while the Festival of Flowers fills the city with perfumes and parades, the perfect cover for some and their dark secrets…

Once again, I had tremendous fun writing my story, featuring Zhada the Lowl (a race of dog-headed men). If you’ve been at all curious about his romance with one of the city’s leading merchants’ daughter, you should definitely be reading this.

And yes, we’re discussing possibilities for Volume Three. We’re having far too much fun to stop, if we can possibly arrange it.

(I’ve linked to Amazon UK but obviously both books are available via Amazon US as well)

medallion

Links to some new books and to folk talking sense about the book trade.

I don’t often do link-round-up type posts but I think today’s a good day for one. I keep flagging up the issues of visibility for writers (all writers, male and female) so here’s a bit of signal boosting. Hopefully something for every taste.

Dark historical fantasy about medieval surgery? Try Elisha Magus by E C Ambrose.

Child of a Hidden Sea by Alyx Dellamonica. NPR Books discusses what happens when Fantasyland doesn’t want you…

Many fine writers continue to adapt and adopt new technologies to re-release their work. Check out Diana Pharaoh Francis’s re-release of The Cipher

J Kathleen Cheney’s Tales from the Golden City continue with The Seat of Magic

James A Hetley’s Stonefort Stories continue with Ghost Point at Book View Cafe – and if you’re not familiar with Book View Cafe, a writers’ co-operative, I strongly recommend you browse their splendid selection of books by excellent writers.

New from Joshua Palmatier (who also writes very fine books at Benjamin Tate) Shattering the Ley.

And lastly but by no means least, Mark Charan Newton’s Drakenfeld is now out in paperback. I asked him a few questions about what I found a thoroughly good read over at Fantasy Faction

Someone whose signal doesn’t need boosting is Hugh Howey. Honestly, he’s someone I ignore, and will continue to ignore until he stops making sweeping generalizations and insisting his view is The Only And Objective Truth when that is based on little or nothing more than his own personal and highly atypical experience.

Other folk are more generous with their time, pointing out the flaws and fallacies in his arguments, for the benefit of aspiring writers. I recommend you read

Brian McClellan on real publishing economics

John Scalzi on why publishing is a business not a football game and talk of taking sides is nonsensical.

Chuck Wendig on the idiocy of painting Amazon as an underdog.

Harry Connolly citing those articles and going on to add some good points of his own.

And since we’re here, a quick note that my new ebook Monster Hunters at Law is indeed now available via Amazon UK & US, Nook UK & US and Google Store Books.

Right, that should be plenty to keep you going while I crack on with the Work In Progress (which we’re not discussing in case that jinxes it) which is going really, really well…

Have a good weekend. I intend to.

“Challoner, Murray & Balfour; Monster Hunters at Law” – my new ebook out today.

As established fans may remember, I’ve had three stories featuring these characters previously published; one in the BFS ‘A Celebration’ anthology and two in Murky Depths magazine. If you’ve read those, you will recall one tantalizing loose end. What becomes of poor Bertie? Well, now you can find out. As well as those three earlier stories, this little collection includes a whole new story, The Fate of the Villiers, in which the hunt continues…

Artwork by Nancy Farmer

Artwork by Nancy Farmer

You can find the book here at the Wizard’s Tower Press shop and it’ll be rolled out to other ebook retailers over the next few days.

But hang on, I’m an epic fantasy writer. Why am I writing adventure stories set in the 1890s with supernatural monsters and steampunk apparitions? Well, first and foremost, I write to entertain; to engage and thrill my readers. I can do that just as well in late Victorian England as I can in Einarinn. Because one of the great things about writing SF&F is the immense freedom it offers.

Wait, what? Surely that’s a bizarre thing to say about writing in a genre – any genre. Isn’t the whole point of genre following the rules? Well, yes, and no. Bear with me.

When I’m writing epic fantasy, I’m looking to honour that particular genre’s core traditions while at the same time examining, testing and driving those traditions forward to ensure the genre still stays relevant to the world today and readers who live in it. Which is why aspiring fantasy writers really should be reading Robin Hobb, Kate Elliott, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Stephen Deas (among many, many other excellent current writers) as well as Tolkien, CS Lewis and Lord Dunsany – to see how the genre develops.

Er, how is this relevant to a book with a werewolf in evening dress on the front? Because as well as appreciating the roots of speculative fiction in Tolkien, Lewis and similar works, aspiring writers will also do well to read the classics of Victorian and Edwardian popular literature by the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, H G Wells, H Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. These are at least as much a source for modern SF, Fantasy and Horror as anything Tolkien or Lewis wrote. They are as much part of our literary heritage as anything by Dickens, Hardy or the Bronte sisters – and written to be enjoyed in an age before artificial genre boundaries arose. Indeed CS Lewis was a passionate advocate for the values and virtues of popular reading, as his letters to FR Leavis reveal when the latter was determined to embed literary snobbery in university English degree courses between the wars.

So I wrote these stories – and may yet write more featuring these characters if this collection proves popular – to honour these other forebears of our genre. Also, as you’ll discover on reading, I wrote these tales with an eye to both recognising and challenging some of those forebears’ less palatable assumptions about men, women and their respective roles a hundred-plus years ago. Because such debates are still relevant today.

Because it is never enough to merely revisit our literary sources. We should all aim to be breaking new ground, not merely trailing after well-trodden footprints which will only bring us back to our starting point. That’s where the real challenge – and the most fun – lies in writing genre fiction.

(And once you’ve written it, if you’re as lucky as me, you’ll have the immense fun of seeing your creations envisioned by a talented artist, in this case Nancy Farmer.)

Is it time for a Women’s Speculative Fiction Prize?

I’m heading into London later today for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. No, I have no idea who’s won. But I can tell you one thing for certain. All the prize winners will be men because the shortlists are all male this year. No, I’m not criticizing the DGLA administrators for that, or scolding the thousands of fantasy fans who take the time to nominate and vote for their favourites each year, and I absolutely respect and admire the shortlisted authors, hard-working professionals all.

But this does nothing to help the ongoing problem of lack of visibility for women writing epic fantasy.

Yes but, I can hear someone saying, this is just one award. Look at the progress towards gender (and other) equality in other areas.
Three of the last four winners of the Arthur C Clarke Award have been women.
The Nebula Awards were dominated by female authors this year.
The British Science Fiction Association best novel award has been won jointly by Ann Leckie and Gareth Powell.
The Hugo Award shortlists are encouragingly diverse, despite blatant attempts to game the system by die-hard sexists (and worse).
Even the British Fantasy Society is offering a wide-ranging slate for 2014, including a Best Newcomer shortlist that’s all women after so many years dominated by male nominees and a definition of fantasy heavily skewed towards horror.

All that’s absolutely valid. And that means this whole issue is worth a closer look rather than simply deciding it just means these Gemmell Awards are an unfortunate aberration.

Look closer and you’ll see all these recent awards and shortlists I’m citing come from Fandom with the active participation of juries in many cases. These are driven by the high-volume readers (and writers) who actively engage with genre debates and developments through conventions and online venues, blogs and forums. This is where so much recent change to broaden diversity and inclusion within SF&F has happened and continues to be driven forward, not without difficulty at time and with profound thanks to the determination of those who refuse to be silenced.

By contrast, the Gemmell Awards are a popular vote and as such, these shortlists reflect the entirety of fantasy readers, the majority of whose tastes and purchases are driven by what they see in the shops, what they see reviewed in genre magazines and blogs, and such like. Where male writers dominate. I’ve written repeatedly about the gender skew in Waterstones (and a full blog post on that is forthcoming) and just this week, I got a ‘Top Fantasy Titles’ email from Amazon, offering me fifteen books by men and just one by a woman writer. Female authors are still consistently under-represented in genre reviews and blogs.

Why? Because of conniving hard-core sexists upholding the patriarchy? Er, no. Because retail is a numbers game and that means it skews towards repeating successes rather than promoting innovation. To revisit an example I’ve offered before –

When a non-fan bookseller, eager to capitalise on Game of Thrones, is making key decisions about what’s for sale, and all the review coverage and online discussion indicates a majority-male readership for grimdark books about blokes in cloaks written by authors like Macho McHackenslay – that’s what goes in display, often at discount, at the front of the store. So that’s what people see first and so that’s what sells most copies.

Six months down the line, the accountants at head office look at the sales figures and think excellent, Macho McHackenslay is one of our bestsellers – and the order goes out to ask publishers for more of the same. Now, chances are, some editor will be dead keen to promote the second or third novel by P.D.Kickassgrrl. Unfortunately her sales aren’t nearly as good, because her book’s on sale at full price in the SFF section at the back of the shop or upstairs, where retail footfall studies have proved people just don’t go to browse any more, especially now that booksellers don’t routine carry authors’ backlists.

When it’s a numbers game like retail, that passionate editor will struggle to get a hearing, however much he insists the body count and hardcore ethics of P.D.Kickassgrrl’s excellent book will surely appeal to Macho McHackenslay fans – especially when that bookseller won’t have seen any reviews of P.D.Kickassgrrl’s work to prompt him to stock it at the front of the shop – because genre magazines and blogs have the same skew towards conservatism, on the grounds that ‘we have to review the books people are actually buying, because those are the ones they’re clearly interested in.’

And so the self-referential and self-reinforcing circle is complete. Which how we end up with all male shortlists for the 2014 Gemmell Awards.

And it is absolutely no answer to say ‘oh well, look, there are plenty of women coming in at the debut stage now, so we just have to wait for them to rise through the ranks.’ Because we have decades of evidence to show that this simply isn’t going to work. It hasn’t worked in the law, in medicine, in academia, in any number of other professions. If it did, these arguments wouldn’t keep recurring.

So how do we break this cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy? What would get women writers in SF&F noticed outside genre circles, which is what needs to happen if female authors are to have any chance of the sustained writing careers which their male peers can achieve.

How about a Women’s Speculative Fiction Prize? Because prizes garner press coverage and column inches outside the genre in the mainstream press. Just google any of those awards I listed earlier to see that. Prizes get the attention of publicists and booksellers who aren’t specifically interested in genre – any genre. The same’s true for crime, romance, etc. Shortlisted books get reviews because a magazine or newspaper that might not have otherwise noticed them now has a specific reason to take a look.

No, I’m not volunteering to set this up. I know full well how much hard work goes into administering and fund-raising to support an award, year round. As a judge for the Arthur C Clarke Award, I got a good look at the busy team behind the curtain and I’ve been a supporter of the Gemmell Awards since the first discussions about how to go about setting that up and whether it should be a juried or popular vote. Establishing a new award like this would not be an easy undertaking, even with the active support of genre publishers willing to supply yet more free copies of books, if this was a juried award rather than a popular vote. And that’s just one of the complex issues that would need discussing, alongside eligibility and other criteria.

This idea is still worth discussing though. And if you don’t think it’s a good idea, feel free to come up with some other solutions, to offer female authors of epic fantasy some reason to keep on writing in the current hostile retail climate.

Writing? As a Career? (The St Hilda’s Media Network Conference, May 2014)

As we planned this conference, we chose and briefed our speakers carefully. What we wanted above all else was to show the attendees the day to day reality of writers’ working lives here and now. The dedication to both deadlines and quality. The challenges and chances. Where we can compromise and where we hold fast. The flexibility that’s required more than ever as the publishing world adapts to new technologies and systems.

So they will have some answers when friends and family greet their ambitions with the incredulity or concern we so often encounter, as indicated by those question marks…

I’m delighted to say that all of our speakers delivered splendidly – and speaking purely for myself, it a fair while since I’ve heard so much solid good sense, and good advice offered, given how many sharks and charlatans I see out there in the ‘creative writing biz’.

What I can’t do is summarise everything that was said. Sorry, I’d be here for days. What I can offer is links to our speakers’ websites etc so you can have a browse for information and links of particular interest to you – along with my heartfelt recommendation that you take whatever opportunities you may have to hear them speak in future.

Hugh Warwick (ecologist, author & broadcaster) spoke on using specialist knowledge. www.urchin.info/

Discussing their own writing careers and also their work teaching creative writing
Julie Cohen (novelist & creative writing tutor)julie-cohen.com
Paul Vlitos (novelist & creative writing tutor at the University of Surrey) Paul at the University of Surrey
Nicolette Jones (journalist & literary editor) nicolettejones.com

John Simmons (copywriter & author) spoke about business writing – do check out Dark Angels for more on this very interesting topic.

Gill Oliver (journalist & copywriter) is really too busy doing all that to run a blog so I suggest you follow her byline at The Oxford Times and she’s @Justajourno on Twitter.
Charlotte Pike (food & cookery writer & blogger) can be found at Charlotte’s Kitchen Diary – and the samples of her baking on the day were a great recommendation for her recipes, especially the dairy and gluten free cakes.

You can find the latest news and updates from Justin Richards (SF novelist & scriptwriter) at justinrichardswriter.com
- and you don’t need a link to Juliet E. McKenna (fantasy novelist) since you’re already here!

Last but absolutely by no means least on the day, the panel offering the publishing perspective featured
Andrew Lownie (literary agent & author)of The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency
Andrew Rosenheim (publisher & author) is now editor of the Kindle Singles project for Amazon – more on this from The Bookseller.
Elizabeth Edmondson (novelist) elizabeth-edmondson.com

That should keep you going for a good while – and do free free to share and link to this post, for the benefit of other writers you know.

(Yes, I know this is a belated post, for a variety of reasons including but not limited to our home broadband going loopy for a week, now sorted)

Waterstones & Everyday Sexism – the book & the problem in action

So, I got the Waterstones ‘Books to Read in May’ email this morning.

Laura Bates’ book, Everyday Sexism was the first featured title by a woman writer, below books by six men, including three of William Boyd’s backlist, so below a total of nine featured titles, three of which are not even new books.

Of the five titles by women writers, three were in the last four at the very bottom of the email – and one of those is going by initials only so I had to google to establish if this was a male or female author.

With the most generous analysis that’s eight men being promoted against five women. Before we consider the relative prominence of their promotion and the fact that one woman is (understandably) presenting as gender neutral.

Bu does this stuff really matter?

Consider the all male-and-pale Gemmell Award shortlists this year. No one will convince me this doesn’t stem from the last few years of almost invariably all male-and-pale promotions of epic fantasy on the ‘If you like Game of Thrones, try this’ model.

Because that’s a fan voted award. And if all the reading-5-to-10-books-a-year fans (who are a significant sector of the market) ever see promoted is books by men, that’s going to seriously skew their reading. Lists like the 2014 Gemmells are a direct result.

This was a particular slap in the face for me this morning, after attending the Women in SFF event at Blackwell’s Charing Cross Road yesterday evening. Professor Edward James (a stalwart ally of good writers who happen to be women for decades) chaired the discussion between Karen Lord, Stephanie Saulter, Naomi Foyle, Janet Edwards and Jaine Fenn. All excellent writers by the way, highly recommended, and who have first hand experience of the issues and are intent on finding solutions rather than just sitting there wringing their hands.

All in all, it was an excellent event, with all seats taken as well as folk standing at the back – men and women and encouragingly diverse in ethnicity and origin. And one of the issues that came up several times was the cumulative effect of the little things – like not being promoted as often or as visibly…

Well, Blackwell’s Charing Cross Road were assuredly doing their bit with this event (sponsored by Jo Fletcher Books) and with a nicely prominent table of women SFF writers in the main selling floor. Though when I asked if other Blackwell’s branches round the country would be running the same promotion, the bookseller I spoke to didn’t think so. Perhaps if there’s a Blackwell’s close to you, you could see the next time you’re in there? If not, perhaps you mention the possibility of contacting their Charing Cross branch for information and suggestions?

Anyway. I came away from the event with pages of notes. Looking at them this morning, I don’t think there’s material for a single blog post – but for a series of posts highlighting and debating different aspects of this ongoing issue. Watch this space.

My Satellite 4 Eastercon 2014 Convention Report

I had a thoroughly enjoyable and extremely interesting time as Fantasy Writer Guest of Honour over the Easter weekend, thanks to the Satellite 4 Convention Committee and to all those who attended the convention in sunny Glasgow.

Since even a brief summary of what I did over the convention runs to a couple of thousand words, I’ve given the report its own page alongside other pieces I’ve written about travel and conventions as a writer.

You can find my convention report here when you’ve got a moment to settle in and read it with a cup of tea, coffee or equivalent. Enjoy!

S4

Invisible: essay collection edited by Jim Hines. See Why Diversity & Inclusion Matter in SF&F

I’m all in favour of diversity and inclusion. It matters to me personally and professionally. I have felt that bafflement at being excluded just for being female. I have felt that bitterness at being expected to ask permission to be included when men are not. I have felt bloody angry over things too numerous to mention; like being labelled arrogant and pushy where a male author doing far more self-promotion than me is congratulated for his initiative.

So I understand that the inclusion which I’m entitled to should extend to those of different race, sexuality, and mental or physical make-up to me as a matter of natural justice. The thing is though, I understand that by way of reason and logic. On an intellectual level if you like. I can sympathise with those who suffer the same or worse exclusions, for reasons different to me. I can stand beside them as an ally. But I struggle to truly empathise. I have never walked a mile in their shoes.

This collection of essays relates first-hand experience told with clarity and bravery, from the points of view of children, parents, those in the world of work and those with the life experience to see how things have changed. It really, really helps me see what those other paths are like. Not just for folk who I’d think of, if someone asked me to list excluded groups, like gay, lesbian and trans* or wheelchair users. You’ll find insights into living with mental illness in reality and as it’s portrayed on screen. I’d never noticed how gendered such portrayals are, in addition to their other flaws. Personally I dislike The Big Bang Theory TV show but discussion in another essay of what Sheldon means to those living on the autistic spectrum rocked me back on my heels. Then there’s the Evil Albino trope which I’d never considered until now and is truly chilling.

The ebook is $2.99 and all proceeds are going to the Carl Brandon Society, for Con or Bust – helping folk of colour/non-white people get to SFF Conventions.

You can find links to the book on all the usual ebook outlets – and if you’re not already reading Jim Hines blog (and books) I heartily recommend you start.

Meantime I will be continuing to do all I can for diversity and inclusion in SF&F. These essays have reminded me that for some, finding folk like themselves in fiction is literally a lifeline. So it’s not just enough for the books to be written. We have to make them visible both to those who need them, and to those who who will benefit in ways they never expected, when they look outside their own experience and broaden their mental horizons.

My Eastercon Schedule at Satellite 4

I’m really looking forward to this weekend, and not only because I’ll be a Guest of Honour alongside John Meaney, Jim Burns, Alice and Steve Lawson and Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell. The convention programme opens at 2pm on Friday, after the Committee and the Guests of Honour have had the privilege of meeting the city’s Lord Provost.

At 3pm Friday, I’ll be discussing how to find new authors to read and how best to get hold of their books, with Gillian Redfearn, Kris Black, Ian Whates and Joshua Bilmes.

At 5pm Friday, myself, Dame Jocelyn, Christine Davidson, Clare Boothby and Stephanie Saulter will be discussing the professional challenges that face women scientists and women writers, looking for overlap and shared solutions.

On Saturday morning, I’m running the first of two workshops on using visual references in your writing. These are sign-up items, so make your interest known at registration. You don’t have to bring any work, just a willingness to share your thoughts as we look at a selection of pictures and discuss how and where writers can find inspiration. Saturday’s looking at people, for character development, and Sunday’s looking at places, for scene-setting and building atmosphere.

And there’s a Kaffeeklatsch at 1pm on Saturday as well, if you fancy coming and having a chat.

Kari Sperring has kindly agreed to interview me so we’ll be talking about my work and probably a whole lot of other things around writing epic fantasy in this day and age from 4pm on Saturday.

Then at 7pm I compete with the other Guests of Honour Jim and John, to consign objects of hatred to oblivion in Room 101 I’ll be interested to see how the audience respond to one of my suggestions…

Sunday morning’s my second workshop and then at 1pm, I’m discussing politics in SF&Fantasy with Ken MacLeod, Nicholas Whyte, Traci Whitehead and Farah Mendelsohn.

Then at 5.30, I’ll join Paul Van Oven, John Meaney and Steve Lawson in celebrating Terry Pratchett’s work, under the sage tutelage of Edward James.

Now you can see why I cannot possibly pick a favourite item out of that programme.

Monday’s more relaxed, in the sense that John Meaney and I will be demonstrating our respective martial arts from 10am, so if you want to pick up some tips about writing realistic hand to hand/sword/knife fight scenes – or if you’re just curious – do come along.

Then there’s talk of a quiz in the afternoon… so I will try not to drop John on his head in the morning and if I’ve managed to get enough sleep thus far, I may even have a few answers myself.

This is of course, merely a fraction of the full, excellent programme. You can find full details here where I predict you’ll soon find you’ll be spoiled for choice.