Articles from October 2013



Genre sexism. Yes, it really has been one damn thing after another lately.

As I dash around getting the final things done before leaving for WFC, here’s a blog post from Adrian Tchaikovsky that’s well worth reading

Does SFF have a problem with women? Do women have a problem with it? A remarkable number of incidents over the last year or so have certainly put the issue in the foreground. It’s hard to avoid the feel of a storm getting ready to break. Here are some of the flashpoints. For the record, my personal opinion in each case is “yes, there is a problem”, but rather than tub-thumping, I’ve gone mad on links for those that want to read further

As well as all the points made here, I’m taking something else away from this post which Adrian probably never intended. You see, in recent conversations with other women within SF&F – writers and fans – about sexism in the genre, I’ve found myself saying ‘y’know, it seems to be one damn thing after another lately’.

But then of course, we ask ourselves, are we being over-sensitive? Because wider culture still encourages women to demur and defer and to put our own wants and needs second… So it’s good to see this post rounding up so many incidents, proving that no, we’re not just imagining this crap.

Though, of course, in those conversations, we remind ourselves that we have a duty to each other and the women who come after us to assert the value of women’s writing, just as the women who inspired us have done for decades.

But y’know what? It gets exhausting. If you’ve been wondering why some women writers’ tempers are on a hair trigger these days, the sheer relentlessness of this stuff is why. And I know I’m not the only one who’s found herself on the brink of saying ‘Y’know what? To hell with it…’ and just walking away…

My World Fantasy Convention Schedule

Here’s how my schedule looks for the next few days.

I’ll be arriving in Brighton around 2pm on Thursday so hope to be at the con by 3pm.

I’ll be at the Gemmell Awards from 8pm, and at the Legends Anthology launch thereafter, not least since I have a story in the collection and given the rest of the line up, I’m eagerly anticipating reading the rest.

On Friday, I’m on the ‘Broads with Swords’ panel at 4pm with Laura Anne Gilman, Robin Hobb, Trudi Canavan and Gaie Sebold. And yes, I know, that title… but our full brief invites us to talk about new female writers in this particular area and I’m very keen to share some of my recent reading.

I’ll also be at the mass-signing on Friday evening from 8pm, and if that doesn’t suit your own plans, I’ll be signing at the Solaris stand at 4pm on Saturday.

On 10am on Sunday morning, I’ll be joining my fellow authors for the launch of Tales of Eve, from Fox Spirit Books. There’ll be juice and fizzy drinks to revive you after your Saturday night and lots of fun as we celebrate this venture.

In between times, I’ve got a few meet-ups planned, and have some panels ticked to attend. If you see me around, feel free to say hello.

Assuming I get everything packed and sorted in time to get my train(s) tomorrow morning…

Right… ironing…

Weekend reading recommendation. Fade to Black by Francis Knight.

This is a secondary world fantasy with the distinctive and imaginative twist of a post-feudal world where magic exists alongside early experiments in electricity and gunpowder – and that’s a very uneasy mix for a whole lot of reasons. And no, this isn’t a quasi-seventeenth century world but something entirely of itself, the action all set within a multi-level city, both in terms of geography and society.

The central character Rojan Dizon is doing the best he can down in the depths, trying not to fall any lower. He’s doing pretty well until he gets caught up in a crisis involving the family he’s grown apart from. Now he must find his way through a maze of manipulation and misdirection. Will doing his best be good enough?

I really enjoyed this – the story’s well paced and nicely structured, I engaged with the characters and the author doesn’t take easy options or duck hard questions.

And why am I reading this? Well, I’m on a panel next week at the World Fantasy Convention, looking at new female voices in fantasy and SF. Since my reading over the past two years has been dominated by the Arthur C Clarke Award, I soon realised I had some catching up to do. I’m very pleased to find there’s some extremely good reading out there from new women writers.

And since I’ve been flagging up the issues of visibility for women writers at the moment, I decided it’s time to put this blog where my mouth is, and start posting some short, non-spoilery reviews, to flag up books you might like to look out for. So watch this space.

– and adding a link to the author’s website would be a good idea, wouldn’t it? Find out more about Francis Knight and her writing here

Authors in the Digital Age – a few observations and reservations about an article worth reading regardless.

Just found an interesting article about writing and selling books in this new online reality – from a marketing guru so I read it with salt cellar to hand. Firstly, the guy seems blind to the fact that a talent for writing and a talent for selling yourself are not the same thing and a lot of folk do not have both skills sets. Also he seems to assume that every potential book-buyer is fully accessible online, and the more I talk to people, the more I think that’s a myth.

That said, among the most useful advice I had when setting out, was how important it was to understand the business of writing, as well as the craft of writing. Working for Ottakar’s for a couple of years brought that home to me like nothing else could have done – and made a crucial difference to me taking that step from hopeful writer with a file of ‘thanks but no thanks/good but not quite good enough’ letters from agents and editors, to getting that amazing phone call from the man who wanted to publish my book – in fact, let’s talk a two book deal…

In particular, there are some undeniable cold hard truths in this article which the sharks and charlatans of the ‘creative writing biz’ work so hard to hide. Namely misconceptions about writing.

* The publisher will do the selling for me (Those days are long gone).
* I’m a literary purist and selling is below me (Good luck making money off of snobbery).
* I’ll post a free e-book on Amazon and wait for everything to take care of itself (Enjoy the long wait).
* I don’t have time to write and sell my work (The problem isn’t time; it’s prioritizing your time)

Full article here.

Who Gets to Escape? Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown ask a fascinating question.

These two extremely talented authors are currently working on Kaleidoscope – an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy. This is a crowd-funded project, or hopefully it soon will be. Click that link to get involved.

Meantime, Sherwood and Rachel have written a thought-provoking post considering the nature of protagonists in fantasy fiction, taking a quotation from Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories” as a starting point.(Longer than my excerpt here)

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories . . . Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison walls?

The key word here is ‘he’…

As the post goes on to say –

While it is not difficult to find excellent novels about homophobia and coming out, it is much harder to find books in which, for example, a teenage, Hispanic lesbian discovers that she has inherited magical powers—a plot trope for which hundreds, if not thousands, of books exist for straight, white heroines. You can substitute any social minority in American society, and similar issues apply. If you’re not part of the ruling class, you don’t get to escape.

Furthermore –

…the male heroes of fantasy novels are not average people, and do not have average lives. They are not merely the heroes of the genre of fantasy, but heroes of fantasies—heroes of escapist imagination.

These male heroes were not written to be average examples of their demographic, and we’ve never seen anyone make the argument that they should be. But that argument is applied to female characters constantly, to make the case that they should be average and demographically representative. It is a case for denying women escapism while lavishing it on men.

I urge you to read the whole piece, and you’ll see why this has particularly struck me, especially at the moment when the focus on epic fantasy seems to be defaulting to male writers and male stories for no good reason at all. This has been particularly notable in some conversations I have had about The Hadrumal Crisis, a trilogy where two of the three main point of view characters are women and yet interviewers ask me about ‘the hero’ Corrain. While they recognise how flawed he is as a hero, that’s apparently still his default designation.

At the same time, reader and reviewer reactions to Lady Zurenne, a woman whose story is driven by the fact that she cannot escape, are varied to say the least. Patrick Mahon’s joint review of Dangerous Waters and Darkening Skies in the latest BSFA’s ‘Vector’ magazine describes her as ‘manipulative and calculating’. Just to be clear, I’m not arguing with this review – it’s a thorough and thoughtful analysis of those books which I’m delighted to see – and he’s not wrong. He also sees why she acts as she does, going on to say ‘- although this is to some extent understandable, given her need to secure the future of her two daughters…’

The thing is though, I’ve spoken to readers and seen comments from men and women alike who have even less sympathy for Zurenne, while they’re able to give Corrain much more leeway when his attempts at manly heroics don’t succeed. And again, just to be clear, I’m not arguing with those readers’ reactions. I don’t get to dictate those, writer or not and none of those folk I’ve spoken to are making unfounded assumptions based on anything other than the story in hand. From the books as written, that is an entirely valid response.

Yes, I’ve been a little surprised, since that’s not what I expected – but it doesn’t bother me, since there are plenty of other readers with immense sympathy for Zurenne. I am certainly intrigued though, wondering why this might be so. And I think this question ‘Who Gets To Escape?’ may well hold some element of the answer.

Definitely something to think on.

How your choice of good books and new authors to discover is going to shrink and shrink

So, this week, Waterstones announced they’re expanding their range of kids and teens toys for 2014.

Er, were they not watching Borders’ demise? What part of ‘bookseller’ are they struggling to understand?

It seems other business minds are none too impressed by their current strategies.

“…so many copies of the latest Jamie Oliver and Sharon Osbourne there will be no room for the newest upcoming authors; Waterstones seems to have decided it is in competition with WH Smith and Tesco.

Recently one of my top authors went to his local branch to see how sales of his novel were doing: there were no copies left, they had sold out, and he asked if they’d be getting any more in. No, he was told, they wouldn’t. In what other business do you sell out of a product then not bother to re-stock what’s obviously popular?

Not to mention those of us who might like to point out the flaw in their reasoning that male SFF writers (sold at discount in the front of the store) outperform female authors (sold at full price, at the back/upstairs/behind signs saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’) More on that from Cheryl Morgan.

Not that things are any better in the US, now that Barnes & Noble are the sole book chain. As this sorry tale from Mindy Klasky makes clear.

Yes, I have a dog in this fight. I’m an author who’s seeing her income eroded year on year by changes in the industry I can do nothing about.

But if – or as looks increasingly likely, when – the day comes when I simply have to quit because it makes no financial sense for me to carry on – I will still be a reader.

And I don’t want to be a reader offered a narrow, impoverished, pre-selected by electronic sales figures morass of pap!

Farewell to a faithful feline friend

Our lovely, and beloved, cat Buzz collapsed and died last night. He’s been unwell for a while, with a digestive upset that’s defied diagnosis, despite our excellent vets’ best efforts. So the last month’s seen a succession of tests and treatments which have ruled things out rather than solved the problem. But he’s not been suffering and we had no reason to expect yesterday’s abrupt decline.

The sons are taking it particularly hard- Buzz, and Sable who died two years ago this month, were their childhood pets. Husband and I have at least been through this hateful business more than once before, not that it gets any easier.

So we’re all very shocked and sad today.

RIP-Buzz

Unexpected Journeys – Editing an Anthology for the British Fantasy Society

This has been a whole new experience for me. I’m used to reading my fellow authors’ published work for review purposes, and I’m used to reading submissions from aspiring writers when I’ve been teaching. But putting on the Editor Hat and discussing work in draft from my professional equals? That’s not something I’ve done before…

Why have I been doing this? Well, I’ve been going to FantasyCon, the British Fantasy Society’s annual UK convention for the past decade or so and last year, Lee Harris, the current Chair asked me to edit a new anthology for the BFS with a particular focus on epic fantasy. I understood what he was asking and why. The BFS is a fan-run organisation with a focus on speculative fiction from horror to epic fantasy. It so happens most of the volunteers, who do all the very hard work without which such organisations simply cannot exist, have been personally more inclined towards the horror end of the spectrum and this taste has been reflected in the society’s publications – one of those unintended consequences.

Meantime, the growing attendance at FantasyCon (an event open to all, not just BFS members) has shown the keen appetite for epic fantasy among those attendees, not least in the packed-out rooms for the fantasy-discussion panels and the interviews with Guests of Honour such as (but not limited to) Raymond Feist, Gail Z Martin and Brent Weeks. So this year sees two anthologies from the BFS, one horror-themed, and one specifically epic fantasy, to cater to all tastes.

When I agreed to take this on, I had quite a few decisions to make. Some were easy. At the project’s outset, I was doing my second stint as a judge for the Arthur C Clarke Award and was Chair of the forthcoming Eastercon, EightSquared, scheduled for the last weekend in March 2013. So there was simply no way I could declare this an open-submissions anthology and give the necessary, critical attention to however many hopeful stories might land in my inbox. I just wouldn’t have the time. This was going to have to be an invitation-only anthology.

What sort of stories would I include? I decided I wanted tales which appreciate the core strengths of epic fantasy; compelling heroes (male and female), battles with swords and sorcery, facing down evil both intentional and accidental, a sense of myth and mystery. I also wanted to celebrate the way our beloved genre is currently flourishing with so much more than simple tales of high adventure or the concerns of kings and wizards. Epic fantasy now offers complex stories of personal growth, of mature reflection, exploration of the rights and wrongs of power. These novels feature people and places from hovels to palaces, enriched by so many more cultures and history than the genre’s original quasi-European inspiration. All threaded through with magic, danger and wonder.

But who to invite? This really was the hardest decision of all, because the collection was only going to have eight stories. I could so easily list a couple of dozen excellent authors currently writing the sort of stories I wanted without pausing for thought. So I have done my best to find writers with different styles and approaches spanning the current breadth and depth of epic fantasy. Hopefully there will be something to satisfy each reader’s particular enthusiasms alongside something they haven’t encountered in their reading thus far, whetting their appetite for more.

The stories are –

A Thief in the Night by Anne Lyle
Seeds by Benjamin Tate
Steer a Pale Course by Gail Z Martin
The Groppler’s Harvest by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Oak, Broom and Meadowsweet by Liz Williams
The Sin Eater by Stephen Deas
King Harvest Has Surely Come by Chaz Brenchley
The Queen’s Garden by Kate Elliott

Reading these in draft was definitely a new experience. I’m used to being edited myself but now I was the one looking to nit-pick and ask awkward questions as I put myself in the place of the reader unfamiliar with this author and their work. Fortunately, working with talented professionals, there wasn’t too much of that to do, and our discussions were very amiable. Then I had to pick up my red pen and copy-edit, looking at the fine detail of the actual word-smithing. Actually the main thing I had to do was put my red pen down and sit on my hands, to make very sure I was only highlighting things which needed to be changed for clarity and flow. The temptation for me as an author, to think how I might have written a sentence differently, had to be sternly resisted. Otherwise I risked overlaying the rhythm and character of another writer’s prose with elements of my own writing style. That’s most definitely not an editor’s job.

Then I had to find some cover art. ‘Oh… help…’ was my initial reaction – swiftly followed by ‘thank goodness for the Internet!’ I began browsing various genre artists’ websites and discovered that, as well as their published covers and other art, some were displaying pieces of work which had been commissioned but for some reason or other, had never been used. These were available to be licensed. So I began hunting in earnest for such a picture which would somehow simultaneously manage to reflect the very different stories now gathered together. You can imagine how thrilled I was to find ‘Soldier and Sword’ by Geoff Taylor – one of epic fantasy’s most enduring and admired artists (among his other work – if you haven’t seen his wildlife art, do check out his website).

And now we’ve been doing the final proof-reading and the book is due to go to print. That’s both a relief, as the job’s finally done, and unexpectedly nerve-wracking, as I must wait to find out how far readers think I’ve succeeded in my aims. In the first instance, those readers will be current BFS members and those who join in the forthcoming months. Obviously, the authors retain the rights to their stories and they will doubtless appear elsewhere to delight their fans. For the moment though, this book is a gift from the British Fantasy Society to those who support it and I am very pleased to have been a part of the project.

soldier_and_sword-geofftaylor4
Soldier and Sword by Geoff Taylor