My flying visit to Sweden – an absolutely excellent trip

I’ve been pals with multi-faceted writer Steven Savile for years now, so when he asked if I might be interested in doing an event in Sweden, naturally I said yes. A little while later, Jan Smedh of The English Bookshop in Uppsala got in touch to invite me to the evening he was organising for the city’s annual Culture Night. When everything was finalised, we had a mini-SF-Crime convention, with me, Steve, Stephen Gallagher and RJ Barker being interviewed together by way of an introduction, followed by us discussing crime fiction and then a session on fantasy fiction, since one way and another, we’ve all written across both genres. There were intervals for book signing, and to give fans of one genre or the other to come and go as they felt inclined – not least because there were so many other events going on. The city was packed all day.

Now, I’ve only ever met Stephen Gallagher on a handshake-and-hello basis before, and never crossed paths with RJ Barker, but once we met up on Friday, it soon became apparent that Saturday evening would go with a swing, as we chatted about what we write and what we read. That’s exactly how it turned out, as we had different things to say as well as enough interests in common to generate really interesting conversations. We were also made wonderfully welcome by Jan, his wife, and the bookshop staff, as well as by Uppsala’s SF and Fantasy fans. Feeling so at ease made Saturday evening even more fun, and the time simply flew by. The audience certainly seemed to enjoy themselves as much as we did.

Those of you who couldn’t make it will get a flavour of the event in a little while, as Stephen, RJ and I were all interviewed on video by Magnus, another of our new friends, earlier in the day. We did that on the deck of the floating hotel Selma, where we were staying, moored on the river. I’ll post links in due course. Those of you who travel to European conventions should also note that Uppsala fandom are putting in a bid to run the 2023 Eurocon – follow @Uppsala2023 on Twitter to keep in touch with their progress.

Before that – yes, we really did make the most of our time – Jan had arranged for us to have a short introduction to the city’s history and a guided tour of Uppsala Cathedral with a brief visit to the museum now housed in one of the original University buildings. The cathedral is beautiful and full of fascinating memorials and stories – and something of more personal interest. Thanks to local Swedish fan Jonathan, who I first met at the Worldcon in Dublin, I knew to keep a look out for the Green Man carved on a pillar capital as we went round. I could go on and on, but I’d be writing this all day if I attempted a full recap. Put Uppsala on your own holiday destination list, that’s the best idea. Seriously. There are great places to eat as well as everything else to see in the city.

The museum was equally enthralling, and has one of the most ornate and astonishing examples of a Cabinet of Curiosities in the world – the Augsburg Art Cabinet. Other treasures include the original prototype Celsius thermometer. Carl Linnaeus is by no means the only globally renowned scientist that the university is rightly proud of. Mind you, the students Linnaeus sent out worldwide to collect his samples often came to an unexpected and early end… Of course, as authors, we love this sort of thing, so I suspect echoes of our trip will appear in all our writing one way or another over the next little while.

So that was Saturday, and on Sunday morning, Steve, Stephen and I took a train to Stockholm to walk around and get a flavour of the city, old and new, before it was time to head for the airport and our flights home. Now I must find time to rewatch my DVDs of the original Swedish TV series adapting the Millenium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc.) and see what I can see differently.

But now I must get some work done today. Still, I know that will come all the easier after a trip like this. Not only did we see countless things to fire the imagination, but meeting keen readers and enjoying so many varied conversations always inspires me to do my very best for the people who I ultimately write for.

My Dublin 2019 Worldcon Schedule

I’m just back from a week away, and I’m currently dealing with the post-holiday admin pile up. While I do that, here’s what I’ll be doing in Dublin and when. It’s going to be a lot of fun!

Fantastical travel guide

15 Aug 2019, Thursday 15:00 – 15:50, Liffey Hall-2 (CCD)

Do you fancy a trip to a fantasy realm? Want to avoid stumbling into Moria or falling off the edge of the Discworld? Our panel of authors are here to help you by roleplaying as one of their characters and trying to persuade you to travel to their fantasy worlds.

Autographs: Friday at 11:00

16 Aug 2019, Friday 11:00 – 11:50, Level 4 Foyer (CCD)

Is epic fantasy conservative?

16 Aug 2019, Friday 13:00 – 13:50, Wicklow Hall-1 (CCD)

Back in 2013, Gollancz’s Twitter account made the claim that: ‘Epic Fantasy is, by and large, crushingly conservative in its delivery, its politics and its morality’. The question sparked a discussion that is still relevant and ongoing. Is epic fantasy politically conservative and, if so, what does this tell us about the genre?

The lack of technological progress in fantasy

18 Aug 2019, Sunday 11:00 – 11:50, ECOCEM Room (CCD)

From the cotton gin to the printing press, technology doesn’t seem to advance in many fantasy worlds – despite hundreds of years of history in which an industrial revolution could happen. Why doesn’t it? Does magic replace the need for technology? What about the growth of magic-powered technology within a fantasy world? What does it take to get a little scientific progress?

These islands: exploring Irish and British fandom

19 Aug 2019, Monday 11:00 – 11:50, Liffey Room-1 (CCD)

For decades fans from Britain and Ireland have participated in and even run each other’s cons. Has this created a shared British and Irish con culture, or does each country have its unique traditions? And have modern social media and travel options diminished or enhanced our close ties?

Reading: Juliet E. McKenna

19 Aug 2019, Monday 13:00 – 13:20, Wicklow Room-5 (Workshops) (CCD)

And yes, in case you were wondering, I will be reading from The Green Man’s Foe.

Speaking of which, one of my admin tasks this morning was picking up a box of books. Don’t these look good together?

cover art by Ben Baldwin

Problematic issues re Amazon reviews

Whatever social media you use, you doubtless see regular polite/pleading reminders from your favourite authors about how important online reviews are these days, and reviews on Amazon most of all.

This isn’t just needy writers looking for some ego boost. Publishers tell us authors time and again how reviews drive vital visibility when their numbers reach the ever-shifting tipping points that trigger different promotional algorithms. How even readers who don’t shop at Amazon use the site to see what other people think of books that interest them, as they decide to buy. How publishers can even use a title’s level of reviews as one measure of a writer’s popularity and a possible predictor (among others) of interest in a possible future project.

So please support your favourite authors with Amazon reviews. As long as you are allowed to. This is where all this starts to get problematic. A pal thought to do me a favour by leaving a genuinely favourable review on Amazon only to have it rejected because their spend on the site over the last six months didn’t reach the required threshold. I went to see what was what and found this on Amazon UK –
“To contribute to Community Features (for example, Customer Reviews, Customer Answers), you must have spent at least £40 on Amazon.co.uk using a valid payment card in the past 12 months. Promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the £40 minimum.”

Since I remarked on this on social media, various other people have confirmed that the same thing had happened to them. Though what that qualifying spend might be clearly varies from time to time and place to place. That doesn’t surprise me. We already know that Amazon regularly tweaks their algorithms’ review number trigger points as they look for the best way to maximise their revenue. Other things also became apparent. You don’t have to be buying books to qualify, just stuff, because this isn’t about books, it’s about Amazon making money. Indeed, when some people found they were unable to post reviews they were told that their Kindle purchases didn’t count because the spend had to be on physical goods. Whether or not an Amazon Prime subscription counts seems to vary as well.

Why are Amazon doing this? The obvious answer is it’s a countermeasure against bots and review spam. That’s fair enough, but it’s a very, very blunt instrument. It does nothing to stop astroturfing (faking ‘grassroots’ support) by someone with a lot of pals who buy sufficient stuff online. But that’s not Amazon’s concern. They’re in business to make money, first last and always.

So what can we do? Well, the reason that reviews matter is what sells books is word of mouth recommendation. That’s been the case for ever. All the Internet has done has enabled us to tell each other about a good new book in a whole lot of new ways. So carry on doing that – but now, please try to remember to look beyond Amazon when you want to support an author by boosting a book and when you’re looking for recommendations. If you have the time and inclination, check out Goodreads maybe, and/or look for the bookbloggers that share your particular interests.

Whatever social media you use, whenever you can spare the time for a quick mention, even just a line or so, it all adds up and it all helps to boost the signal, and that’ll help keep your favourite authors writing. Thanks.

Another diary update, and another preview for The Green Man’s Foe.

If you’re within striking distance of London on Saturday June 8th, I will be the BSFA guest of honour at the annual one-day convention jointly run by the BSFA and the SFF, alongside their respective AGMs. More from the BSFA here.

The venue is the Department of Physics, South Kensington Campus, Imperial College, and the programme is as follows:

1000: Intro/welcome
1005-1100: Panel 1 – BSFA
The Zero Sum of Literature: are some SF writers wrong to not welcome “literary” writers with open arms to the genre?
1105-1200: Interview/talk 1 – Rachel Livermore
1200-1230: SFF AGM
1300-1330: BSFA AGM
1330-1430: SFF panel – “Return to the Moon: how and why?” – GS (M), Dave Clements, Rachel Livermore
1430-1530: Interview 2 – Juliet E McKenna interviewed by Sophia McDougall.

The Convention is free to attend and open to the public. Hope to see you there!

And now as promised, here’s another taste of The Green Man’s Foe, using the Book Quote Wednesday word ‘promise’. If this seems a little opaque at the moment, trust me, it’ll all become clear when you read the book.

There was an edge of desperation in Ben’s voice. I have to admit, that did intrigue me.
‘Just come down to take a look at the place,’ he pleaded. ‘We really need to get the project moving, and I honestly can’t think of anyone better than you.’
I wondered how much of that urgency was some instinct stirred by his dryad ancestry. Then there was my dream last night to consider. I had learned the hard way that the Green Man didn’t like being ignored.
‘I’ll talk to Eleanor.’ I raised a warning hand. ‘No promises.’
‘Great.’ Ben’s relief was obvious. He took a pen from an inside pocket and scribbled on the front of the Brightwell folder. ‘That’s my mobile, and my email. Let me know a good time for you to visit. Later this week, if you can?’
I nodded, still non-committal. There were potential complications I needed to discuss with Eleanor that I couldn’t explain to Ben.

The Pixel Project – anti Violence against Women

This year I’ll be taking part in the “Read For Pixels” 2018 Google Hangout campaign (Fall Edition), in company with a veritable host of other authors supporting this non-profit fundraiser backing initiatives to end violence against women.

Google Hangout sessions will run on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings from September 1st to September 30th 2018. Each session will feature an author reading from one of their books and discussing women and girls in their books, why they support ending violence against women, and women in the media, geek culture, and popular culture. Each session will also include a live moderated Q&A session for fans and book lovers to ask their favourite authors questions in real time. My slot will be 4pm UK time, on Sunday 2nd September.

You can find the full schedule here, along with tech instructions, if you’ve yet to get the hang of Hangouts.

The first Read For Pixels Google Hangout live panel session will tackle Trashing The Rape Trope: Writing Violence Against Women in Fantasy. Martha Wells, Kate Elliott, and Jim C. Hines will be discussing violence against women in the Fantasy genre and techniques for tackling the subject without dehumanising female characters. There will also be a live Q&A segment for writers and fans interested in writing about female characters and approaching themes such as misogyny, sexism, gender, and violence against women with depth, empathy, and accuracy.

There are giveaways and gifts to be had from Adrian Tchaikovsky (with Macmillan Books UK), Aliette de Bodard, Ann Aguirre, Charles de Lint, Jodi Meadows, Ken Liu, Leigh Bardugo, Peter V. Brett, Steven Erikson, Susan Dennard, Juliana Spink Mills, and more. These include swag bags and book bundles, signed first editions or special editions of participating authors’ books, a chance to be a minor character in someone’s upcoming books, and more. Katherine Tegan Books at HarperCollins and award-winning NewCon Press are each donating a Mystery Book Box. Donations begin at as little as US$5 and the goodies are available to donors as “thank you” gifts and perks depending on the donation amount. I’m donating three book bundles; The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution trilogy, the Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, and my two Wizard’s Tower Press books, The Secret Histories of the River Kingdom and The Green Man’s Heir. I’ll cover the postage worldwide.

Fundraising will take place on Rally Up in tandem with the Google Hangout series over the month of September 2018. Authors involved include Alison Goodman, Brandon Sanderson, David D. Levine, Fonda Lee, Fran Wilde, Jay Kristoff, Julie Czerneda, Marie Brennan, Richard K. Morgan, Sarah Beth Durst, and Tananarive Due.

For more information about Read For Pixels, contact Regina Yau at info@thepixelproject.net or visit: http://is.gd/Read4Pixels.

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?

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.

World Fantasy Awards 2018 – as a judge, I’ll be doing a lot of reading…

In other news this week, the World Fantasy Awards Association has announced the judges for the 2018 World Fantasy Awards, and I am looking forward to serving alongside David Anthony Durham, Christopher Golden, Charles Vess and Kaaron Warren.

The categories are: novel, long fiction, short fiction, anthology, collection, artist, special award (professional) and special award (non-professional), as well as life achievement. So it’s going to be a lot of reading, which I’ll be approaching with keen interest as well as writerly rigour. The judging discussions promise to be very interesting.

You may be assured I thought long and hard before taking this on. It’s an honour to be asked, which made it all the more important to assess my schedule for the first half of next year, to be certain I could commit the necessary time to do a good job.

For more details, you can check out this File 770 post.

Update and links and daffodils

I was quite surprised when a pal pointed out it’s been a month since my last blogpost. Really? Surely it’s only been couple of weeks of doing all sorts of other things? Oh, yes…

I’m working on revising one book while continuing to send out another to agents. I’ve read Cory Doctorow’s “Walkaway” and written a review of that for Interzone. I’m writing a guest post for Marie Brennan and I spent a lovely hour and more chatting with the women of the “Breaking the Glass Slipper” podcast, and that will be available shortly. I checked over the edits for a paper I’ve written for Luna Press’s forthcoming book “Gender identity and sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction: do we have a problem?”

Plus there’s been a whole load of domestic and business administrative stuff hereabouts, none of which would make for remotely interesting blogpost material but which gets incredibly time consuming.

Best of all, we’ve been on holiday, and that was great. We headed for the Lake District, and got a very different view of the landscapes, compared to our previous visits, with the trees not yet in leaf and the undergrowth yet to start burgeoning. We also saw lots of sheep and the early lambs and the Husband became fascinated by just how different the shapes of sheep’s heads can be, when you start comparing breed with breed. We visited Penrith, and Acorn Bank, and Holker Hall, and the Lakeland Motor Museum which is highly recommended for those with even a passing interest in cars, motorbikes and cycles. The collection is very well displayed and has some real rarities and oddities. And yes, there are an awful lot of daffodils in the Lake District if you’re there at the right season.

By way of light relief, I’ve watched Marvel’s “Iron Fist” on Netflix… well, let’s just say that I am left with one question above all others… Who was that seeker of ancient truth and wisdom, who travelled all the way to the high Himalayas, and taught the monks of K’un Lun to speak English with a broad Stockport accent? That’s a story I’d really like to see told…

While we were on holiday we watched the first season of “The Expanse” in the evenings, and that was very good indeed. As are the books, though now I have to decide if I want to read on after the first three that I’ve already enjoyed, or wait, so I’m not spoiled for the TV adaptation plot..

Meantime, the Internet has been offering a whole lot of interesting things, so here are some links to pieces that have particularly caught my eye.

Six Things I Learned in My First Month of Using Patreon – Tobias Buckell. Thought-provoking reading for those who think crowd-funding can support the arts.

Mary Beard has a few things to say about the shared metaphors used to describe female access to power. And there’s a transcript if you prefer reading to watching the video.

An article about Josephine Tey “60 years after her death, the greatest mystery Tey created still may be herself”

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a feminist parable for everyone – including me” by Anthony Stewart Head (Twenty years ago?! I feel old…)

Martha Wells highlights a great selection of new books on her blog.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that I’m linking to Martha’s blog on Dreamwidth rather than Live Journal. In common with almost everyone else I know, I’m not about to sign up to LJ’s new Terms of Service. There are some big red flags and one thing I know about contracts is never sign anything with clauses for concern in the hope that ‘but it’ll never happen, right?’ In any case, this website and blog there have been my primary web presence for a good few years now. So I will be dusting off the Dreamwidth account I set up the last time it looked as though LJ was going down the drain, and looking to rebuild as much of my former LJ circle of friends over there, to continue keeping in touch. I am (unsurprisingly) JeMcK if you want to find me. I’ll be shutting down my LJ account some time later this month when I have the spare time to do the admin etc.

And lastly, to be going on with, some daffodils!

My Desert Island Books – the complete list and links

World Book Day seems like an excellent day to post this 🙂

To recap, as the Guest of Honour at Novacon last year, I got to pick and discuss eight SF&Fantasy books that have had a lasting impact on me over my decades of voracious reading.

Rosemary Harris – The Moon in the Cloud

E Nesbit – The Phoenix and the Carpet

Robert A Heinlein – The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Larry Niven – Tales of Known Space

Melanie Rawn – Dragon Prince

Terry Pratchett – Men at Arms

Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow

Dark Eden – Chris Beckett

Enjoy!