Items that will appear on the News page

“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.

The River Kingdom Map for you to admire

For this new project, I took heed of the key lesson about maps which I learned when writing The Tales of Einarinn. Back then, I had a map quite literally scribbled on the back of an envelope as I wrote The Thief’s Gamble. Oh, I took considerable care calculating distances and travel times and all the variables that might affect such things. That sketch map was soon covered in notes and arrows and other hieroglyphs.

And then… my editor wanted a map to go in the actual book… Fortunately my husband trained as a design draughtsman and was able to reverse engineer a map from the final text. He then went away and drew a master map on actual draughting film as well as creating a digital version. Thereafter I could work from and update those.

This time round, I drew a far more careful map in the first place, as I developed the River Kingdom concept. Once we started planning the Shadow Histories collection, and being very well aware of my own artistic shortcomings, sought out a trained illustrator who could translate my efforts into something worth having.

Enter Sophie E. Tallis whose professional qualifications and experience are matched by her focus on getting a project exactly right. I thought I’d sent a comprehensive brief until she started asking questions! How high are the peaks in the hill country exactly? Which towns have ferries for crossing the river? Where exactly do those various roads go, because if there’s a road, there must be a destination. No one establishes a trade route unless they know there’s something worth having at the other end. And now, let’s talk colour samples and fonts and any number of other things that would never occur to me since I lack that sort of visual imagination. It really has been a fascinating process, and Sophie’s been a pleasure to work with. Also very patient whenever I’ve had to start an email with ‘ah, did I forget to mention such-and-such? It rather looks as though I did…’

The end result is this fabulous map. And there are a good few potential beginnings here as well. Sophie’s added in some lovely details here and there which are just crying out to have a story written around them… Well, that’s fun for another day. For now, enjoy this map, and you may also be interested in further details about the River Kingdom to be found here. Meantime I’m thinking about the best way to make an embroidery of that wonderful compass rose. Crewel work or cross-stitch? Hmmm…

Click on this map to go through to the larger version where you can zoom in for still more detail.

You’ll notice the watermark there to protect Sophie’s copyright. In due course we’ll have details of how to get prints etc.

The River Kingdom Map by Sophie Tallis
The River Kingdom Map by Sophie E. Tallis

A story of mine to listen to, thanks to Far Fetched Fables!

Click on over to Far Fetched Fables (one of the District of Wonders’ enterprises) and you will find an audio version of my story ‘She Who Thinks For Herself’.

I wrote this for the ‘Resurrection Engines’ anthology, back in 2012, alongside a slew of fine writers well worth reading. We were all invited to take on a classic of Victorian literature and find some new and specifically steampunk twist.

I chose H Rider Haggard as I recall reading his books avidly in my early teens, along with Edgar Rice Burroughs, H G Wells and other such classics found in a traditional girls’ grammar school library. I have always believed that our current speculative fiction tradition is rooted in these first mass-market, popular novels of the late Victorian and Edwardian era, written before genre boundaries and definitions became established.

Re-reading H Rider Haggard’s ‘She’ was an eye-opening experience. Naturally I was expecting to find outdated attitudes to race and gender and the influence of the Victorian ‘Great Man’ theories of history and society. Yes, indeed, I found them to a startling extent. I didn’t recall such things striking me so forcefully on first reading. In some ways, that’s reassuring. My world view doesn’t seem to have been warped as a result. On the other hand, this really does show the necessity of being alert to the differences between then and now, when revisiting the roots of our genre for inspiration.

Thankfully, there was already radical thought challenging such Imperial certainty, and growing impetus for reform in the late 19th Century, driven onward by men and women alike. There was a wealth of material for me to draw on, ensuring that ‘She Who Thinks For Herself’ is firmly rooted in historically accurate societal and technological movements of the time.

You’ll find this story alongside “Papagena” by Jay lake and Ruth Nestvold, so that’s another treat you have in store. Enjoy!

This is the very first piece of my fiction to be available in audio format. That sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Well, bear in mind that my first series came out when audio books were still being shipped as CDs and even audio cassettes. Yes, really… So only the very top-sellers got that treatment.

How things have changed, now that digital downloads are so quick and easy. Does that mean my books might get an audio release? Well, I have control over all those rights and would be happy to discuss such a project, so if you’re a fan of audio books, feel free to get in touch with your preferred provider and suggest they email me… 🙂

Resurrection Engines - a steampunk anthology with a twist

Bristolcon – my schedule and your chance to hold ‘Shadow Histories’ in your hand.

Bristolcon is a splendid one-day, regional SF&F convention in, unsuprisingly, Bristol. This year it’s on Saturday October 29th, at the Doubletree Hotel, which is convenient for travel by car or by train – within easy walking distance of Bristol Temple Meads station. Membership is £25 in advance or £30 on the door.

This year’s Guests of Honour are the artist Fangorn, and authors Ken MacLeod and Sarah Pinborough.

The full programme can be found here – click on through. Always bearing in mind that this is a month away and such plans are potentially subject to change.

My panels look very promising.

17.00 – Running the World / Cleaning the Toilets – One person’s utopia is another’s dystopia. How can we build believable and effective governments in SF&F, and how can we prevent our utopias becoming dystopias (and should we try)? And while we’re focussed on the action at the top, who’s cleaning the toilets?

Ken MacLeod (M), John Baverstock, Ian Millsted, Juliet E McKenna, Jaine Fenn

18.00 – After the Heroes Have Gone – We all enjoy a big battle, especially on the big screen, but what happens afterwards? Who’s picking up the pieces of New York after the Avengers have smashed it up, who’s living in the wreckage of a Godzilla-stomped Tokyo and what are the Alderaanians who were off planet at the time supposed to do next? Wars have knock-on effects that aren’t always explored – we ask our panel to think about the fate of the ordinary folk, after the heroes have gone.:
Danie Ware (M), Joel Cornah, Juliet E McKenna, Chris Baker, R B Watkinson

And most exciting of all,and with thanks as ever to the wonderful Wizard’s Tower Press, we’ll be launching Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom that weekend! since this will be both an ebook and a print-on-demand publication, there’ll be copies on sale which I’ll naturally be happy to sign 🙂

Artwork & layout by Ben Baldwin
Artwork & layout by Ben Baldwin

Got a story about Robots, Water or Death? Here’s your chance!

Excellent news – the ZNB Kickstarter to fund these three new anthologies has reached its funding target! Here’s what our lovely backers will be reading –

SUBMERGED is to feature science fiction or fantasy stories that are set underwater at some point. It does not have to be set completely underwater, but at some point the events of the story must lead in a natural way to an underwater adventure. There should be a significant reason for why the action must take place underwater; this should NOT be a story where it easily be rewritten on land and maintain its cohesion. We are attempting to fill half of the anthology with science fiction stories, and half with fantasy stories. Stories featuring more interesting settings underwater and twists on the typical underwater themes will receive more attention than those that use standard underwater tropes. In other words, we don’t want to see 100 stories dealing with Atlantis. If we do, it’s likely that only one, at most, would be selected for the anthology. So be creative, choose something different, and use it in an unusual and unexpected way. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

ALL HAIL OUR ROBOT CONQUERORS! is to feature stories where the robots of the story somehow harken back to the 50s/60s style of robots. The story can be set in the far future, but at some point there should be a significant nod toward the robots from that era—either a significantly advanced robot that is simply housed in a 50s/60s style shell, or a robot exactly like those from the 50s/60s but used in an interesting and believable way in the story. Stories featuring more interesting takes on the 50s/60s style robots, and twists on how they are integrated into the story, will receive more attention than those with more generalized robots. So be creative and use your robot in an unusual and unexpected way. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS is to feature stories where Death is a character in the story. The version of Death used should be unique, so consider all different types of versions of Death seen throughout history and in different cultures. Stories featuring more interesting takes on Death, and twists on how Death is integrated into the story, will receive more attention than those with more standard depictions of Death. So be creative and use Death in an unusual and unexpected way. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, one reason why I enjoy being part of these projects is each ZNB anthology offers open submission slots. This really is a great chance for aspiring writers to be involved in a thoroughly professional publication.

So while I get on with firming up my ideas for a ‘Death of All Things’ story, have you got a tale ready to be told, or even just the see of an idea for one or more of these themes? Get thinking and writing!

Always remembering to read the Submission Guidelines in full – click here.

znb-submerged

Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom – how about this for a cover?

Take a glance at the new Aldabreshin Compass covers and you’ll see why Ben Baldwin was the artist I wanted for this new book’s cover. Not because I wanted something just like those, far from it. Because I was confident that he could find the best way to give these stories and this entirely new fantasy setting their own distinctive visual character. If you’re not already aware of Ben’s versatility as an artist, do make time go and browse his website.

It really is a fascinating process for me as someone who’s always been very focused on words; handing over my writing to someone whose imagination and skills work in a completely different creative area. Trying to explain the sort of thing that I’m after, when I cannot actually visualise it myself, answering an artist’s questions as best I can – without being distracted by wanting to ask ‘Why choose that particular episode or character to illustrate?’.

Then there’s seeing the draft sketches and having discussions about detail, which invariably sees me hunting for the photos and other visual references I’ve used in the writing. Finally there’s the thrill of getting something that’s both utterly surprising that also makes me nod and think, ‘yes, that’s it.’

Not that that’s the end of the process. Ben’s done all the cover layout and other design work here. And that’s not the end of it either. You remember I said I use visual references as I write? Pictures so often stir my imagination. I’m already seeing prompts for new stories in this one…

So here it is for you to admire. You’ll get your chance to read all these stories and to discover exactly what inspired Ben soon!

Artwork & layout by Ben Baldwin
Artwork & layout by Ben Baldwin

Click here to see the full wraparound version as well.