I'm a professional writer of epic fantasy novels and assorted shorter fiction which includes forays into SF, dark/urban fantasy and occasional tie-in fiction. I review across the speculative genre online and in print magazines, notably Interzone and Albedo One. I've also written genre criticism and related articles. I'm currently serving as a judge for the Arthur C Clarke Award and for the James White Short Story Award.

What can SFF fandom do about the inherent bias of Wikipedia?

Well, that was an interesting experience. Last Friday I was alerted to the fact that my Wikipedia page had been flagged for deletion. Well, I say my page but one of the few things I know about the whys and wherefores of Wikipedia is that the subject of a page is not allowed to actually edit it. Anyway, I clicked a few links and established that the argument for my deletion was that I was not notable, and had not created a notable body of work. There was apparently a dearth of evidence that I was in any way a notable person, and as such, I had no place on Wikipedia.

Somewhere between startled and baffled, I noted this on social media. Consequently, I have learned a whole lot more about the whys and wherefores of Wikipedia. First and foremost is their idiosyncratic definition of ‘notable.’ This means statements about a subject must be backed by citations, by which they means links to material elsewhere on the internet to prove that a person has not merely done stuff but other people have written about them doing it, to establish proof. Not all online material is acceptable however. Blogs are not. Amazon reviews are not. Goodreads pages are not. These things are all deemed too likely to be unreliable.

Given my work on issues around representation and diversity, one thing in particular immediately strikes me about such insistence. This desire for verification is wholly laudable. It is also indirectly and unintentionally discriminatory. The fact that this discrimination isn’t deliberate in no way excuses it.

When 60-70% of all review coverage, media mentions and other online material that provides these verifying citations goes to white western male authors, then women, writers of colour and LGBTQ+ authors are always going to find it harder to provide ‘evidence’ and their pages will be much easier to challenge, given our consequent far greater reliance on our own blogs to publicize our activities and other special interest blogs and websites that won’t appear in a cursory search, looking for example at Google News reports.

It seems Wikipedia is aware of its systemic bias, as detailed in this article. Read this, and related pieces, and I imagine many of you will note, with the weary contempt of familiarity, the repeated insistence that it’s up to women themselves, and other under-represented groups to do all the hard work here. Though I haven’t found anything addressing the issue I raise above, explaining what we’re expected to do when sufficient acceptable citations simply do not exist, and those references that do exist are not deemed acceptable. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

On the plus side, I have learned that there are dedicated groups of female and other special-interest Wikipedians spending considerable time and effort updating and expanding pages, intent on correcting this bias. Mind you, I also learned their work is frequently challenged and even undone by other Wikipedians applying the all too prevalent and far too often white western male logic of ‘not of interest to me personally = not of interest to anyone’. And of course, such challenges can very easily be a thinly veiled cover for actively discriminatory behaviour. Having read the Wikipedia page on handling tendentious editing, I am not in the least reassured that this is in any way satisfactorily addressed.

So what do we do? Give up and leave Wikipedia to perpetuate its skewed world view, further erasing women, writers of colour and LGBTQ+ authors?

How about no, we don’t?

A couple of constructive ideas emerged from last Friday’s conversations. The first was having panels at SF conventions where experienced Wikipedians could explain the idiosyncracies and intricacies of editing and updating to people like me who are, for example, unaware of the specific ways in which Wikipedia defines ‘notable’ and ‘citation’, and the vulnerability of certain groups to deletion and challenge.

The second suggestion was making a time slot and space available at conventions for Wikipedians and fans to get together to update and expand author and other SFFnal pages. That would definitely help out all those authors, not only women, writers of colour and LGBTQ+ folk, who don’t have personal assistants, web-elfs or other people who can routinely do this without being struck down as a biased source.

At least as importantly, informed and engaged fans are going to be able to find acceptable citations that a cursory websearch simply will not locate. My updated and now apparently acceptable page is a prime example of this. When I flagged up this issue last Friday, online pals rallied round and crucially, since they already knew all about the many things I’ve done over the years, they used specific and targeted searches to find Wikipedia-acceptable material to link to.

Get a bunch of like-minded fans together at a convention and I’ll bet that adding their knowledge together will prove extremely productive, as someone flags up a Best Of, or Recommended Reads list online that other folk are unaware of, just by way of one example.

How about we try this?

Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar – release moved up to June 15th

All fans of ZNB’s fabulous anthologies will be thrilled to learn that this year’s three wonderful projects will now be released on June 15th rather than August as originally scheduled 🙂

For those of you in the US, this means copies will be for sale at the various summer conventions where ZNB are in the Dealers Room (or equivalent), so do check in with them on social media, to find out where they’ll be.

Kickstarter supporters will receive their copies in customary fashion, and everyone else can pre-order the ebooks online, and the trade paperback via ZNB’s online store.

Wondering what on earth I’m on about? Here’s what’s on offer for your reading pleasure –


Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar:

For thousands of years the immortal Gilgamesh has presided over the legendary Ur-Bar, witnessing history unfold from within its walls. Some days it is a rural tavern, others a fashionable wine shop. It may appear as a hidden speakeasy or take on the form of your neighborhood local. For most patrons it is simply a place to quench their thirst, but for a rare few the Ur-Bar is where they will meet their destiny.

Join R.K. Nickel, Rachel Atwood, Kari Sperring, Jean Marie Ward, Gini Koch, Jacey Bedford, William Leisner, Garth Nix, Diana Pharaoh Francis, David Keener, Mike Marcus, Kristine Smith, Aaron M. Roth, and Juliet E. McKenna as they recount all new tales from the Ur-Bar. From humor to horror, from the Roman Empire to Martian Colonies, there’s something to please everyone. Just remember to beware when the mysterious bartender offers you the house special …

Preorder SECOND ROUND here:
Trade Paperback
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Nook
Kickstarter Edition (limited)

The Razor’s Edge:

One man’s insurgent is another man’s freedom fighter…

From The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to The Hunger Games, everyone enjoys a good rebellion. There is something compelling about a group (or individual) who throws caution to the wind and rises up in armed defiance against oppression, tyranny, religion, the government—you name it. No matter the cause, or how small the chance, it’s the courage to fight against overwhelming odds that grabs our hearts and has us pumping our fists in the air.

Win or lose, it’s the righteous struggle we cherish, and those who take up arms for a cause must walk The Razor’s Edge between liberator and extremist. With stories by Blake Jessop, William C. Dietz, D.B. Jackson, Gerald Brandt, Sharon P. Goza, Walter H. Hunt, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Kay Kenyon, Steve Perry, Seanan McGuire, Christopher Allenby, Chris Kennedy, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Alex Gideon, Brian Hugenbruch, and Y.M. Pang.

Preorder THE RAZOR’S EDGE here:

Trade Paperback
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Nook
Kickstarter Edition (limited)

Guilds & Glaives

Stop right there!

If you like your fantasy filled with fellowships and noble quests, this anthology is not for you. And if you love lengthy tales of politics and power, then it won’t be to your taste either. But if you like a little intimacy with your evil, and your vengeance short and sweet, with perhaps a pinch of silliness in the witchcraft, then these fourteen delicious sweetmeats of sword and sorcery will prove right up your alley. And it will be a dank, twisting, fetid alley, too.

In this book you will find no high elves (only low), no politics (unless assassination is involved), and certainly no nobility. Join Lawrence Harding, Howard Andrew Jones, Esther Friesner, Jenna Rhodes, Gini Koch, Violette Malan, Leah Webber, David Farland, R.K. Nickel, Ashley McConnell, D.B. Jackson, James Enge, Jason Palmatier, and Amelia Sirina as they explore the perilous streets and clashing blades found in GUILDS & GLAIVES.

Preorder GUILDS & GLAIVES here:

Trade Paperback
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Nook
Kickstarter Edition (limited)

Victoria (V.E.) Schwab’s Tolkien Memorial Lecture – video available. Does not contain Tolkien.

For those who couldn’t be in Oxford last Tuesday, the video of this year’s Tolkien Memorial Lecture is now available. Victoria (V.E.) Schwab gave a fascinating talk entitled ‘In Search of Doors.’ Set aside an hour for her thoughts and then the Q&A. It will be time well spent.

This an excellent series of lectures exploring many facets of fantasy fiction, as varied as the speakers who have delivered the talks thus far. You can find videos of the full series here.

Meantime, my life continues to be divided between World Fantasy Award reading, and my own writing. Along with being inordinately thrilled by how popular The Green Man is proving. 🙂

If you’ve been writing while I’ve been reading? Links of interest…

The WFA reading continues absorbing and yes, time-consuming. I am also writing and there’ll be news of new projects in the fullness of time 🙂

In other news, from Tor.com

On May 1, 2018, Lee Harris, Carl Engle-Laird, and Ruoxi Chen will be reading and evaluating original novellas. We are reading from May 1 around 9:00 AM EST (UTC-1:00) to May 15 9:00 AM EST (UTC-1:00).

This open period is intended for authors who have completed works ready or close to ready for submission. We will reopen slush a second time in July 2018 for authors who are actively working on (or beginning) something that would fit our list. In other words, don’t panic if you’re not ready to submit in May! We would rather see a polished novella in July than a rushed one in May.

Until the end of this open period, Tor.com Publishing will be considering novellas of between 20,000 and 40,000 words in both the science fiction and fantasy genres. If it’s speculative and fits the bill, we want to take a look at it.

Lee Harris, Carl Engle-Laird, and Ruoxi Chen all actively request submissions from writers from underrepresented populations. This includes, but is not limited to, writers of any race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, class and physical or mental ability. We believe that good science fiction and fantasy reflects the incredible diversity and potential of the human species, and hope our catalog will reflect that.

In addition to reviewing the guidelines, we also encourage you to take a look at our existing list to get a sense of the work our current authors are producing and Tor.com Publishing’s vision and tastes. Good luck—we look forward to reading your work.

Over at Mslexia

We are proud to launch the first Mslexia Women’s Fiction Awards – a stable of competitions that includes our popular Short Story and Novel competitions, our second-ever Flash Fiction competition and our all-new Novella competition in association with Galley Beggar Press!

As well as cash prizes, we also offer publication, mentoring, writing retreats, manuscript feedback and personal introductions to editors and literary agents for winners and finalists. As a result, many have gone on to see their work broadcast and/or published beyond the pages of Mslexia, and to achieve agent representation and publishing deals.

Open for entry now, and all with a deadline of 1 Oct 2018.

>Women’s Fiction Awards 2018: Flash Fiction Competition
>Women’s Fiction Awards 2018: Children’s Novel Competition
>Women’s Fiction Awards 2018: Short Story Competition
>Women’s Fiction Awards 2018: Novella Competition

For those looking for a SF&F writing course, check out The Arvon Foundation course tutored by Emma Newman, Peter Newman with guest author Gareth Powell.

SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
How to build worlds and develop your writing
Aug 20th – Aug 25th 2018
The Hurst

Science fiction and fantasy encompass a dazzling array of potential worlds and stories. The scope is so wide it can be hard to know where to begin. Designed for budding writers of SFF, this course gives you the tools to understand the opportunities these exciting genres can offer. We will cover specialised techniques such as world building, the creation of magical and technological ‘systems’, and a robust grounding in aspects of the craft – storytelling, character creation and writing style. This course also gives you the opportunity to examine and overcome your own writing blocks.
Single room price: £800

Second Round: A return to the Ur-Bar.

This August/September will see SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE UR-BAR, one of three new anthologies from Zombies Need Brains. As with all ZNB’s anthologies, you’ll find stories by established and best-selling authors alongside new authors who’ve impressed ZNB’s eagle-eyed editors.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Ur-Bar, it’s a time-traveling hostelry where patrons are served by Gilgamesh. The Assyrians invented beer, after all…

(If you’re already intrigued, you can read the first anthology AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR, available from DAW Books in mass market paperback and ebook – Amazon US Amazon UK)

The stories in this new collection are –

“Honorbound” by Russ Nickel

“Forest Law, Wild and True” by Phyllis Irene Radford

“The Wizard King” by Kari Sperring

“A Favor for Lord Bai” by Jean Marie Ward

“A Lawman, an Outlaw, and a Gambler Walk Into a Bar …” by Gini Koch (writing as A.E. Stanton)

“Make Me Immortal With a Kiss” by Jacey Bedford

“Bound By Mortal Chains No More” by William Leisner

“Welcome to the Jungle Bar” by Garth Nix

“But If You Try Sometimes” by Diana Pharaoh Francis

“The Whispering Voice” by David Keener

“Ale for Humanity” by Mike Marcus

“West Side Ghost Story” by Kristine Smith

“Thievery Bar None” by Aaron M. Roth

“Wanderlust” by Juliet E McKenna (…in which we go to Mars…)

Personally, I can’t wait 🙂 If you want to guarantee you’ll be reading these stories as soon as possible, remember this anthology and the year’s two other projects can be ordered direct in advance from ZNB.

Meantime, we can enjoy the fabulous cover art by Justin Adams of Varia Studios.

A Follycon comedy video and a podcast on The Green Man’s Heir.

I had a splendid weekend at Follycon, the Eastercon up in Harrogate. Listening to Guest of Honour Nnedi Okorafor in conversation with Tade Thompson was a particular highlight, among many excellent programme items. Listening to Professor Farah Mendlesohn’s presentation on Robert Heinlein makes me increasingly keen to read her forthcoming book on the author. My own contribution included panels on the ways economics is handled and mishandled in SF&F, and a discussion of employment, present and future. As has long been the case, I find SF&F conventions pretty much the best place these days to find informed social and political debate based on sound analytical thinking.

Alongside the serious stuff there was plenty of fun. Alongside estemeed authors Jaine Fenn and Jacey Bedford, with our glamourous token man Adrian Tchaikovsky, we tackled the thorny questions besieging Men in Science Fiction. For those of you who couldn’t be there to gain vital insights, this trenchant debate has been immortalised on YouTube.

Personally and professionally, the enthusiasm I found for The Green Man’s Heir gave me a real thrill. Copies in the Dealers Room sold out swiftly, while established pals and new acqaintances alike took the time to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Given the book is quite some departure from the epic fantasy I’m best known for, that’s all the more gratifying. Keen readers are already asking about a sequel… well, that’s one area where the facts of life are constant in publishing, from the multinationals to independents like Wizard’s Tower Press. Sequels stem from sales, so if you’d care to boost the signal with reviews on Amazon UK and US, and Goodreads, as you prefer, that will be very much appreciated.

Talking of The Green Man’s Heir, quite literally, before I went off to Follycon, I was able to have an enjoyable chat with Joel Cornah about the book, about the differences I found writing a novel set in this world, in the present day, and oh, all sorts of stuff. That’s now available as a special episode of the Writers of Fantasy podcast from the Scifi Fantasy Network.

Enjoy your viewing and listening.

My Follycon/Eastercon programme, and your chance to play Suffragetto!

I’ll be off to Harrogate on Friday morning, to spend the weekend at Follycon aka this year’s Eastercon, where my programme items are interestingly varied and where I’ll also have plenty of time to chat and enjoy the programe myself, so that’s a win-win. If you’d like to say hello, feel free.

Edited to add – I can now confirm paperback copies of The Green Man’s Heir will be for sale in the Dealers Room 🙂 If you’d like me to sign one, or any other book I’ve written (however well read) I’ll be happy to obliged.

I’ll be at the BSFA Awards on Saturday evening, appreciating the honour of being shortlisted for the Non-Fiction Award. Incidentally, for those who are interested, there’s an excerpt from my paper on ‘The Myth of Meritocracy’, discussing gender-related barriers and associated issues in SF&F writing and publishing in the current edition of Books from Scotland, since Luna Press who published that collection of essays are Edinburgh based.

On Sunday morning at 11 am, I’ll be running a masterclass in SF criticism, looking at ‘The Moon Over Red Trees’ by Aliette de Bodard. It’s an excellent story with plenty of layers so there’s lots to discuss. If you’d like to participate, sign up at Registration, where hard copies of the story will be available. You can also read it online here.

On Sunday evening, at 6 pm I’m part of Follycon Fast Forward. This takes as its premise “all the best Eastercons fit into an hour” and offers entirely serious compressed programme items, including the whole of The Empire Strikes Back. Intrigued? I know I am…

On Monday afternoon, at 3 pm, I’m discussing Genre Economics, specifically the role that economics plays, or so frequently doesn’t, in SF&Fantasy. We’ll discuss the implications of not including economics in plots and world-building, and hopefully find some examples of books and screenplays etc actively benefiting from an understanding of economic principles, and how this can be done without boring everyone rigid with explanations of post-neo-classical endogenous growth theory.

At some point, I’ll be in the Games Room, as the Husband and I have just spent this past weekend making up two sets of Suffragetto! The board game which sees martial arts trained suffragists taking on the police in the fight for votes for women. You can find out more about all this here, at the Suffrajitsu website.

The Green Man’s Heir – available now!

Purchase links – ebook edition
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble – Nook (US only)
Google Play
Kobo

The paper edition is also available, though be prepared for the unaccountable delays that afflict small press books from Amazon that aren’t actually published through them. You should be able to order it from any bookstore and the ISBN is 978-1-908039-69-9. Do remember that ordering physical copies through actual bookshops does encourage them to stock small press books.

Provided we can sort out the logistics, there will be copies available for sale at Follycon, the UK Eastercon 2018. For other sales and availability information, see Wizard’s Tower Press.

In some ways, this book is very different from my previous novels. As I’ve learned from my own experience, and through advice from countless eminent authors, the best way to grow and develop as a novelist is to continually challenge yourself with something new. In other ways, it reflects many of the same interests as my previous writing, even if they’re examined from new angles here. The story also stems from the broad scope of my reading which has always gone well beyond epic, secondary world fantasy, across the whole spectrum of speculative fiction and into thriller, crime and mystery novels.

This is a modern fantasy, set in the readily identifiable Peak District in England, although the towns and villages in this story are all invented. It’s an area I know well, and love, thanks to frequent childhood holidays with relatives living in Chesterfield, and subsequent visits with my own family. The area has a fascinating history reflecting the centuries of change that rural communities have experienced, with impacts that are still being felt, as I know well from living in the Cotswolds. The Peak District also has a wealth of local myths and legends, like so much of the English countryside. I’ve always drawn on myth and history in my writing, so using these sources as the foundation for a story was familiar territory.

Setting events in the everyday world was a wholly new challenge however. I soon realised I had to factor in everything and anything from the Internet and modern media to police procedure and the economics of the contemporary English countryside. Every invented name and place had to be googled, to avoid inadvertent libel or misrepresentation.

Modern, urban fantasy so often explores the interaction of mythical beings with contemporary towns and cities. Since so many excellent writers have already done that, I was drawn to exploring the challenges for a modern mortal human encountering rural mythical creatures and their very different, deep rooted concerns. Meantime, he still has to deal with the everyday demands of work, money and relationships, romantic and otherwise. So in that sense, this story is like my previous novels where I’ve explored the impact and demands of classic high heroic events on ordinary people and their lives rather than focusing on rulers and princes.

On the other hand, exploring the themes and conventions of urban fantasy was a whole new challenge for me, including but by no means limited to surrounding a human man with powerful, sensual female mythical beings, as an alternative to writing about a modern woman interacting with super-masculine supernaturals. Along the way I realised I was reflecting on various aspects of modern ideas of masculinity.

I hope that new readers and existing fans of my work alike will find this a satisfying and exciting read.

The Green Man’s Heir – a modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.

Alongside this fabulous artwork by Ben Baldwin, I thought I’d share some of the inspiration underpinning this new novel from Wizard’s Tower Press.

I grew up with the folklore of the British Isles, by which I mean English, Welsh, Cornish, Irish and Scottish legends, from the Lowlands to the Highlands and Islands. These were stories of giants and witches and dragons and trolls and goblins and boggarts and serpents and will o’the wisps, to name but a few. There were all sorts of fascinating books in the library alongside The Hobbit and the Chronicles of Narnia. Publishers like Pan and Picador offered paperback collections of folktales, retelling the legends of Jack the Giant Killer, Jenny Greenteeth, the Lambton Wyrm and many, many more besides.

I saved up my pocket money and bought some of them; second-hand, dog-eared paperbacks that have somehow vanished over the years through umpteen house moves. That doesn’t matter. The stories have stayed with me and with the benefit of hindsight, I now realise those tales have had a lasting effect on my own writing. Most of them weren’t about heroes and princesses. They were about ordinary boys and girls finding themselves in extraordinary situations, and in very real danger. Getting out of potentially lethal trouble meant using your wits and courage to outfox and defy these mysterious supernatural beings. I still buy books on folklore, from scholarly examinations of the social and psychological underpinnings of stories of witches and fairies, to collections of local legends found in English Heritage, CADW, Heritage Ireland, and National Trust bookshops. I am still fascinated by that intersection between the everyday and the eerie that was part of everyone’s life for centuries.

So I suppose it was inevitable that when I found myself with an idea for an urban fantasy novel, it wasn’t going to be about vampires and werewolves. Those weren’t the creatures that lurked in the shadows outside the window when I was growing up. Similarly, the story wasn’t going to be any sort of urban fantasy, but a tale set in the countryside because that was where these legends took place, amid the forests, caves, rivers, stone circles and barrows that still link these islands to its mysterious past.

How might such ancient eeriness intersect with the modern world? I first started thinking about that when Patricia Bray and Joshua Palmatier invited me to write a story for an anthology they were editing, “The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity”. What would supernatural beings do in the 21st Century if, for instance, a local authority wanted to drive a new road through their grove or watermeadow? That made for a fun story. But the thing about authors is, once we start thinking about something like that, it can be very hard to stop…

BSFA Award shortlisting, and other news.

I am very pleased and honoured to be shortlisted for this year’s BSFA Non-fiction Award, for my paper on gender related issues and barriers in SF&F writing careers “The Myth of Meritocracy and the Reality of the Leaky Pipe and Other Obstacles in Science Fiction & Fantasy”.

You can find the full shortlists here, for Best Novel, Best Short Fiction, Best Non-fiction and Best Artwork. As you will see, I am shortlisted alongside an array of very fine writers in all these categories, and make sure to check out these talented artists’ work too.

Yes, of course I’d like to win, but it really isn’t just a platitude to say that it’s genuinely an honour to be nominated 🙂

What else have I been doing lately, since I’m self-evidently not doing much blogging? Well, we’ve been getting The Green Man’s Heir ready for publication, and that’ll be happening soon. I’m also busy with a couple of other projects that are still in the sufficiently early stages that it’s not really the right time to be talking about them. Apologies for vagueblogging there.

I’m also doing an inordinate quantity of reading for the World Fantasy Awards, and that’s pretty much the thing that’s stopping me blogging most of all, and not just for lack of time. There are all sorts of posts I could write, exploring ideas sparked by all this reading, but that would be pretty much impossible to do without people identifying the books I was referencing, however obliquely. It would be horribly unfair to raise Author A’s hopes – because many excellent books will not win – as it would be to leave Author B wondering ‘why no mention of my lovely book?’ – because their novel is still on the ‘Pending’ pile, or I simply haven’t chosen it to illustrate a particular point.

I can certainly say I am reading some excellent books, novellas and short stories, and getting an unparalleled overview of the range and strength in depth of speculative fiction at the moment.