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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.

A BSFA Award longlisting for my paper on ‘The Myth of Meritocracy’.

This morning’s very gratifying news is the inclusion of my paper on gender related issues and barriers in SF&F writing careers on the long list of nominations for the British Science Fiction Association’s Non-fiction award.

The full lists of nominations in all categories, and other details, can be found here.

For more on the paper itself, “The Myth of Meritocracy and the Reality of the Leaky Pipe and Other Obstacles in Science Fiction & Fantasy” click here.

All told, Luna Press who published this paper in their collection ” Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction” have ten authors nominated across the fiction and non-fiction categories. For a small press in its third year of publishing that’s a commendable achievement!

A few New Year thoughts…

… starting with why you didn’t read this yesterday. I thought about posting something but when I took a glance at the Internet, the first thing I saw was a SF&F row swirling around. I thought briefly about trying to determine where the lines between misunderstanding and bad faith might lie on either side – and then logged out to spend the day with my family instead. We can call that a New Year’s resolution, if you like. There’s more than enough negativity around at the moment, so I’m not interested in looking for more.

I’m currently appreciating my family, those nearest and those further away. 2017 saw some ups and downs but overall, both the sons and the husband are on an even keel, hopefully set fair for 2018. My parents and step-parents continue pretty hale and hearty – and long may that continue. I really appreciate being the off-spring of a teenage romance these days, now that so many good friends are supporting increasingly elderly and infirm parents with all the practical and emotional challenges that brings, up to and including bereavement.

Somewhat unexpectedly, 2017 also saw me branching out into editorial services. Two writers whom I’d taught on residential courses contacted me asking if I ever worked one-on-one with authors. Knowing that both were tough enough to take realistic appraisal of their writing, I accepted this new challenge, and it’s been very rewarding. They’re two very different writers, with two very different and interesting projects. Both have been applying themselves diligently to addressing the issues I’ve highlighted, drawing on my own twenty years in this business. Both projects are progressing and improving. And yes, this added income stream is welcome amid the ongoing flux of the book trade that sees author advances and earnings continue to fall. (And no, I’m not touting for trade – the time that I can spare for such work is currently fully committed.)

All such ticks in the plus column are all the more welcome against the bigger picture that’s been so uncertain and troubling throughout 2017. Here in the UK we have the divisive and destructive idiocy that is Brexit, whose equally destructive economic impact is only just beginning to be felt. Across the Atlantic, US pals have the horror show that is the Trump administration. If ‘administration’ is the right word for such a shambolic and nakedly predatory presidency.

All of which makes it very tempting to bar the front door, stop reading/watching the news, and opt out of social media beyond staying in touch with family and real-life friends. The thing is though, one of the last things 2017 handed me was confirmation that individuals really can make a difference. In December 2014 new regulations on the taxation of cross-border digital sales across the EU looked disastrous for the person-to-person digital economy. All the small traders who would be worst affected were told there was nothing we could do. I was one of half a dozen self-employed women who refused to take that for an answer and spent 2015 and subsequent years lobbying and campaigning for change. December 2017 saw the changes we need signed into law, effective 1st Jan 2019. In legislative terms, we achieved pretty much the impossible, far more quickly than might be expected.

Not without cost. For me and Clare Josa, it meant pretty much abandoning our own businesses throughout 2015 in favour of campaign work. It was the first year since 1997 that I didn’t write a full novel – though I wrote around two novels worth of words in blog posts, letters, reports, and submissions to organisations like the OECD and legislative bodies like the House of Lords. The other women of the EU VAT Action team similarly sacrificed time they’d otherwise have spent on work and family, according to the contribution they were able to make.

But we did it, and that’s something to take forward into 2018. We can make a difference and we can bear the cost. Let’s make our voices heard against the selfishness and greed that’s leaving so many destitute and desperate. Let’s reclaim the reins of power in the interests of the many, not merely the few. Write letters, make phone calls, protest.

What else will I be doing in 2018? Reading. A lot of reading. I’m serving as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards, which promises to be fascinating and demanding in equal measure.

I’ll also be reading for the background and research required for a new publishing project, of which more details in due course. After several years of primarily small-press and short-story publication, this New Year sees the prospect of my work on the mass-market shelves in 2019. As I say, there will be more news about all that later on. There’ll also be a few short stories from me here and there through the year.

Meantime, and more immediately, Wizard’s Tower Press will be publishing my next novel shortly. The Green Man’s Heir is a modern fantasy, drawing on the folklore of the British Isles, and prompted by looking at urban fantasy from a few different angles. Once again, I’m indebted to Cheryl Morgan’s technical and publishing expertise. Ben Baldwin’s artwork is fabulous, and Toby Selwyn has done a stellar job as the book’s editor. All of which reminds me of all the positive, supportive and constructive people there are in SF&F fandom, always there to far outweigh outbreaks of negativity and back-biting.

So I will get back to checking over the ebook version Cheryl has sent me, as my first task of 2018. Watch this space for more, and soon!

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.

VATMOSS – the last post (?)

As promised, we’ve been keeping an eye on the progress of the promised VATMOSS reforms, over at the EU VAT Action Campaign.

Today, the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) signed off on the reforms. Here’s the official press release.

There are a couple of things in the small print that we’re double checking. Meantime, the tl:dr version is – we won! Below cross-border digital sales of €10,000, national VAT rules will apply, which in the UK means small businesses are free of that particular burden. And if you are doing that amount of digital business, there are now payment/transaction systems that are a viable overhead at that level. Up to €100,000 the rules are also simplified, again reducing costs and admin.

This doesn’t come into force until 1st January 2019, alas. But bear in mind on 4th December 2014, I was sitting in a meeting with the relevant department heads from HM Treasury, HMRC and a government minister, telling me and everyone else that there was nothing to be done, it would all be fine, and we should just go away and not worry our pretty little heads about it (I am paraphrasing slightly…)

Half a dozen of us self-employed women weren’t about to accept that, so we went off to find somewhere for lunch and the EU VAT Action Campaign was the result.

What does this mean in practical terms? If you’re new to the VATMOSS fiasco, here are a few reasons why the 2015 regulations, devised with minimal understanding of the current state of digital commerce, were so disastrous.

VAT rules to catch Amazon will incidentally crush small businesses.

The damage done to consumers by all this

Discrimination caused by these new rules

Why selling through 3rd party marketplaces isn’t an answer

The EU VAT Action Team’s impact study.

What does this mean for me personally? I am hugely thankful for my colleagues in the EU VAT Action Campaign, most notably Clare Josa who put in so many dedicated hours, and such effective, charming intransigence when faced with officialdom repeatedly trying to brush us off.

We owe an incalculable debt to Nicholas Whyte known throughout SFF circles, as a Doctor Who fan, an able Hugo Awards administrator, and indefatigable reader of a prodigous quantity of books. In his day job, as senior director, global solutions in APCO’s Brussels office, has more than two decades of experience in international affairs, advocacy and research. He counsels APCO’s clients on ally development and coalition building, advocacy, public affairs and strategic communication. He got in touch after my first blogpost about this, to convince me that yes, the EU Commission could be convinced this was a mistake, and here’s how to start going about it…

We can be very precise about the contribution made by Jason Kingsley of Rebellion . It was absolutely vital that we sent Clare Josa to the Fiscalis Summit in Dublin, in September 2015, to convey the full extent of the damage being done to the Finance ministers and chancellors of the European states. Jason stepped in to make sure we reached our fundraising target to cover the costs of sending her. As co-founder and CEO of one of the UK’s largest computer games companies, and of Rebellion Publishing, he really understands the digital economy. Outside the office, he’s also, quite literally, a knight in shining armour on a white horse. Seriously, click that link.

Given SF&F publishing took to the digital realm early and enthusiastically, this was set to hit our genre hard. The flipside of that was the widespread and ongoing support our campaign got from small presses, independent authors and fandom, in spreading the word, boosting the signal, writing letters and helping raise funds. Once again, I am very grateful to all.

Lastly, I was given the BFS Karl Wagner Award in 2015 for my work on behalf of authors and independent presses on this issue, alongside my writing. Today’s result puts the final polish on that. Okay, I didn’t imagine they’d ask for it back, if for some reason we couldn’t see this through but still…

“The Myth of Meritocracy and the Reality of the Leaky Pipe and Other Obstacles in Science Fiction & Fantasy”.

Here’s something that should be of interest to those of you who’ve been following my writing on Equality in SFF. Last year, Luna Press put out a call for papers, with a view to publishing a non-fiction volume on ‘Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction’. You can now pre-order this wide-ranging collection of papers exploring ways in which speculative fiction in all its forms is dealing with current issues and debates relating to gender identity and sexuality.

I decided to pursue my interest in exploring reasons for the persistent under-representation of, and lack of visibility for, women authors and writers of colour, gay and non-binary writers.

In particular I decided to test that comfortable assumption that as women and others enter writing careers in equal numbers to the established white western men, those diverse authors with sufficient talent will naturally rise to the top. The far less palatable flip side to this being of course, that if such writers don’t rise up the ranks, well… they’re just not up to it, self-evidently…

The thing is though, this idea that parity of entry will naturally lead to equality of opportunity and representation at all levels has been tested and found badly lacking over the past twenty, thirty years, for women and others in the law, medicine, academia, banking and a whole host of other professions as well as careers in STEM fields. Why should SF&F be any different?

Crucially legislation has made it impossible for those responsible for recruitment and retention in those areas to simply shrug and say well, they tried and it’s a shame but what can be done? Research and analysis has identified successive barriers to equality of opportunity which are remarkably consistent across those professions and careers mentioned above. There are Gate Keepers, there is the challenge of The Sticky Floor, and then The Leaky Pipe. Only those determined enough to defeat such obstacles can face the final challenge of Breaking the Glass Ceiling.

All of which sounds remarkably like an epic fantasy quest to me – but I digress.

So I decided to take a good look at the evidence from such research in other fields, to see what might be applicable to the ongoing issue of lack of diversity in genre publishing, and to see what factors might be specific to SF&F. Because if we’re to tackle this problem in any meaningful fashion, the more thoroughly we understand it, the better our chances will be.

1st Chapter Friday – The Assassin’s Edge

Yes, I know I’m early with this but I’m off on a train to Durham tomorrow, and very much looking forward to the Nerd East convention at the university on Saturday.

If you’re around at the event, feel free to ask me any questions you might have about the opening chapter of The Assassin’s Edge!

When I get back, now that I’ve got a significant and tedious tranche of seasonal administrivia off my desk this week, I should have a chance to write a few more interesting blog posts.

1stChapterFriday and Nerd East News

Okay after last week’s trial run, we’re going to go with #1stChapterFriday – that’s singular, no ‘s’ – on the interests of disambiguation. We’ll also see how we get on with that hashtag on Facebook as well as Twitter.

And for sake of completeness and for those who don’t use either of those platforms, here’s my link to the first chapter of The Swordsman’s Oath, free for you to read, your friends and family etc.

In other news, I’m very much looking forward to a trip to Durham for the 3rd of June where I will be a guest at Nerd East, the North East’s original Roleplay and Gaming mini-convention, running since 2010.

Nerd East 2017 will be runing on the aforementioned Saturday 3rd June in Durham Students’ Union, New Elvet, Durham, DH1 3AN. I’ll be talking about books, games, film, TV and how they all relate to each other in current SF&Fantasy culture. Plus, y’know, whatever other interesting things come up for discussion. Did I mention I’m looking forward to this?

For those within striking distance, click here for the Nerd East website.

“Journeys”, “The Road to Hadrumal”, and a story’s journey

Today sees the publication of an anthology which I’m very pleased to be part of: Journeys (from Woodbridge Press) offers fourteen epic fantasy stories of daring, death and glory from an array of talented and interesting authors. To be precise, there are tales from John Gwynne, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Gail Z. Martin, me, Julia Knight, Juliana Spink Mills, Jacob Cooper, Samanda R Primeau, Steven Poore, Davis Ashura, Dan Jones, Charlie Pulsipher, Anna Dickinson, and Thaddeus White.

My own story? Well, I may not be writing novels set in Einarinn at the moment but that world is still very much in my thoughts, both in terms of what’s going on with all the characters we know and also, I find I reflect now and then, on key moments in that world’s history. The Road to Hadrumal picks up on some hints dropped throughout those books, from The Thief’s Gamble all the way to The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, about the origins of wizardry’s organisation. I thought I’d look a little more closely at Trydek, the very first Archmage. Who was he, before he became the revered father of magic? Before he made his way to Hadrumal? What prompted him to make that particular journey? What sent elemental magic down the path that’s lead to its power and influence in Einarinn’s present day?

Well, you can read the story to find out. What I want to talk about here is how writing this particular story enabled me to show a group of aspiring SF&Fantasy writers the journey that a piece of fiction takes, whether you’re just starting out, or whether you’re someone like me with fifteen novels and umpteen short stories to your credit. More than that, I’m convinced that every story must take this journey if it’s going to be worth reading.

Last December I was teaching on a residential course at Moniack Mhor, the Scottish Creative Writing Centre, up near Inverness. As part of my preparation, I had submissions from the students to critique. This means I arrived a folder of pages extensively marked up with red pen… Now, getting your work back covered in queries, suggestions and corrections is not necessarily an easy thing to handle. Writing’s such an intensely personal thing and we invest so much time and effort in it, that seeing it criticized can really sting. I know that full well myself. So what could I offer these keen writers, to ease that impact?

I realised I could show them the editorial notes that I had been sent for this particular story. As it happened, that was a page’s worth. Now, Teresa Edgerton knows what she’s doing. She started off by telling me what she particularly liked in the story, highlighting original angles that had caught her eye and complimenting me on my clean prose. That was about three or four lines worth.

And then… she highlighted the things which I needed to address in that final draft story. Points where the pace needed looking at. Points where character motivations and their reactions needed further consideration. Points where what I had written might challenge reader engagement. She offered a few thoughts on possible routes to pursue, though of course, as all good editors agree, deciding what to do was up to me. It’s my story after all.

Those notes filled the rest of the page. Did this mean this was a bad story? Did this mean I was kidding myself calling myself a writer? Did it mean that I’d learned nothing over those fifteen novels and however many stories? Not at all. I’m an experienced author and I’ve learned to demand a high standard of myself. (Go and read some of these free stories if you want to check.)

But every story needs fresh eyes. In this particular instance, Teresa’s viewpoint was invaluable and all the more so because she’s not an established reader of my Einarinn books. Her comments made me realise that I had been subconsciously writing for people with a far greater knowledge of my existing work than was either fair or desirable in a story like this. Among other things, I was presuming background knowledge that would generate tension that wasn’t there on the page. I was including additional details to tweak tantalizing loose threads from the novels which played no direct part in these events.

Was I thrilled to learn this? No, of course I wasn’t, not initially. I told you that feedback can sting, even now, even just a little bit. Surely my story was perfect? I must have grumbled into my coffee for oh, at least two minutes…

Then I told myself that was more than enough self-indulgence and got to work. Because on my personal journey as a writer over nearly twenty years now, I’ve learned that this is how writing good fiction works. So I sat and thought and then I tightened things up here and there. I cut and trimmed elsewhere, and clarified this and that. It wasn’t a great deal of work but now that I had seen this story through Teresa’s eyes, I had a whole new, sharper focus.

So that’s the story of this particular tale’s journey. Enjoy!

Oh, and those aspiring writers at Moniack Mhor? They worked with me so positively on my feedback that I have great hopes of their future success.

“Journeys” on Amazon UK

“Journeys” on Amazon US

The ‘Journeys’ Anthology. My first publication of 2017!

Pre-publication news! As of 15th February, the new anthology ‘Journeys’ will be available. Fourteen tales of daring, death, and glory, by fourteen talented writers – to be specific: myself alongside John Gwynne, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Gail Z. Martin, Julia Knight, Juliana Spink Mills, Jacob Cooper, Samanda R Primeau, Steven Poore, Davis Ashura, Dan Jones, Charlie Pulsipher, Anna Dickinson, and Thaddeus White

Better yet, the ebook’s currently available for pre-order at the princely sum of 99 pence (Amazon UK) or $1.19 (Amazon US)

My particular story is The Road to Hadrumal which longstanding readers will be interested to learn features Trydek, the very first Archmage of Einarinn. Not that you have to have read any of my work for this story to make sense. Indeed, making sure of that was one of the most interesting aspects of this particular writing process. But I’ll write more fully on that in due course.