Looking back at 2015

To say this past year went in unexpected directions for me is a dramatic understatement.

This time a year ago, the UK government was just starting to understand the full, disastrous ramifications of the changes to EU VAT regulations on digital sales. Along with a handful of other women in various different sectors, I began writing letters and blogging about this and we soon realised we needed what became the EU VAT Action Campaign.

Since then, the Campaign has convinced the UK government to introduce various easements, to avoid putting small online traders out of business entirely and convinced the European Commission of the need to introduce a threshold for these regulations, to avoid killing the grassroots Digital Single Market stone dead. Over the course of the year, we’ve helped resolve any number of queries from affected businesses and managed the fallout from various cock-ups by different tax authorities. Consequently, governments across Europe are now aware of the need to substantially improve the ways in which they communicate and consult with the small independent traders and companies which now make up such a significant sector of the economy. The team I’m working with have all been invaluable allies; Clare Josa, Rosie Slosek, Megan Kerr, Rachel Andrew and Lorraine Dallmeier. We’ve also had essential support from umpteen others, including but by no means limited to Wendy Bradley and Nicholas Whyte.

All of which has entailed me writing tens of thousands of words in blog posts, letters, briefings for government ministers, European commissioners, heads of state and journalists, as well as writing up evidence submissions for the House of Lords and the OECD. Plus spending hours on phone conversations and dealing with thousands of email. I’ve visited the European Parliament in Brussels, No.10 Downing Street and made repeated visits to HM Treasury and HMRC in Whitehall.

All of which goes a long way to explaining why my fiction output this year has been a handful of short stories. I am intensely thankful to the various editors who gave given me at least that much opportunity to get writing!

In other fantasy fiction news, we’re now half way through releasing The Aldabreshin Compass series in a new ebook edition from Wizard’s Tower Press. I couldn’t ask for a better partner in this project than Cheryl Morgan, or for more perfect artwork than Ben Baldwin’s pictures. Not forgetting the contributions and support of fans and friends like Michele and others.

In fandom and related news, I administered the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy and helped organise and run the Awards Ceremony at Nine Worlds Convention in August. Then I was Mistress of Ceremonies at the UK’s Fantasycon in Nottingham – where I was the startled and incredibly honoured recipient of the Karl Edward Wagner Award.

In domestic news, as of December this year, my beloved husband and I have been together for 30 years – 26 of them happily married, as of September. I turned 50 years old and decided to mark that by preparing for and successfully grading to 3rd Dan blackbelt in aikido, the martial art which we both study.

Is that it? I think so.

Then that’ll do.

I shall now spend the rest of Christmas Eve doing some baking, before welcoming various family members here for Christmas Day tomorrow.

Very best wishes to all, however you celebrate the season, and I’ll see you in the New Year.

The Lays of Marie de France in relation to short stories and the history of epic fantasy fiction

As mentioned previously, this has been a year of writing short stories for me, so I’ve been thinking rather more about shorter form fiction than I would have done if I’d been focused on writing a novel.

So naturally I seized the chance to contribute to SF Signal’s Mind Meld on ‘What Makes the Perfect Short Story?’ There are a whole load of other excellent contributions by very fine writers, including a good number of recommendations for you to follow up – since, as many people have been noting over the past year or so, short form fiction is currently going from strength to strength as people are finding it very well suited to reading on smart phones and tablets etc, on their daily commute and in other snatches of downtime.

The thing is though, this is nothing new – and I don’t only mean we should celebrate the role of magazines and periodical publications, especially in creating popular genre fiction, from The Strand Magazine publishing the Sherlock Holmes stories through to Hugo Gernsback and the launch of Amazing Stories.

My pal Julia recently lent me this book; Lays of Marie de France and Others. According to the author biography Marie was, ‘Born circa 1140, probably in Normandy. Spent most of her life in England. Died circa 1190.’

MdFr_0002

Not much to go on there. Well, (published in 1966, so now rather dated), the book’s cover flap copy gives us a little more –

She wrote in the last quarter of the twelfth century in a dialect known as the Langue d’öil but she may have come from any part of Northern France between Lorraine and Anjou, she may have been a Norman or Channel Islander, an Anglo-Norman or Norman-Welsh. After all the academic debate of the last sixty years her identity remains as misty as ever. But this lady, who seems to have composed her tales for the very sophisticated court of King Henry II, was an admirable narrator, and the justness and fineness of her sentiment in all that concerns the delicacies of the human heart are also remarkable. A more excellent writer of romances it would be hard to find. It was something of a feat alone to have written a story about a werewolf neither horrific nor disgusting.

The werewolf story was the one Julia and I were discussing – and believe me, a retelling would easily find a place in any modern urban fantasy anthology – but obviously I read the others. I was struck time and again, how well they tick all the boxes for what we consider to be the merits and appeal of modern popular short fiction, once allowances are made for the archaic language and the fact they were meant to be recited aloud rather than silently read. Which shouldn’t really be a surprise, since these were the popular fiction of their day. Let’s not forget that taking the long view of humanity’s relationship with narrative fiction, the novel and private reading are both comparatively recent developments.

I’ve always been interested in looking for the origins of fantasy fiction beyond the founding fathers who are usually cited. And yes, I use that term advisedly because so often it’s the female writers who have historically been ignored or dismissed for writing ‘women’s stuff’. That’s not in the least to disparage those male writers. Anyone looking for the origins of epic fantasy should assuredly go back to Beowulf, and to The Song of Roland, The Arthurian Cycle and all the rest.

But as this book makes so very clear, that’s by no means the whole story. Marie’s tales are full of action, treachery, tragedy, love, betrayal, magic and high heroics by men and women alike. Everything that keen readers are looking for in the best of modern epic fantasy writing – long and short. My understanding of the history of our genre becomes so much richer and more complex when I come across authors like her.

So many authors are getting their backlists out as ebooks!

As an aside from flagging up my own books, it’s great to see so many authors making their backlists available as ebooks now, and by a variety of routes.

Just this week, Kristine Smith’s Code of Conduct comes out again, courtesy of Book View Cafe – an authors’ co-operative which you really should check out for new and backlist work from any number of excellent writers.

One reason Code of Conduct particularly caught my eye is I reviewed the original paperback release, so if you’re curious you can read what I thought of it here

Smith-CodeofConduct

Other writers such as Liz Williams and Kate Elliott are partnering with companies like Open Road Media.

Elsewhere, authors are epublishing independently, with all the fun and games that entails. Walter Jon Williams’ experiences making his Praxis novels available as ebooks for UK readers make for an interesting read. The full – and impressive – list of his works now available is here. Go, browse, it’ll be well worth your while.

Glenda Larke’s Isles of Glory trilogy and a standalone Havenstar are now available from the usual ebook outlets and similarly well worth checking out. To learn more about Glenda, visit her blog and her website.

Likewise Martha Wells has made her four out of print books available via Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, etc. That’s The Element of Fire, City of Bones, The Death of the Necromancer, and Wheel of the Infinite. Incidentally her Raksura novels are very well worth reading, as is her blog where she regularly posts quick updates/reviews of recent fantasy fiction.

So if there’s an author whose early work you’d really like to get hold of, it really is well worth keeping your eyes open, checking in with their websites from time to time, maybe running a few web searches, to see what you turn up.

Feel free to add details of other authors’ backlist availability in comments.