Supporting Rochita.

Rochita Loenen Ruiz is a brave, generous and talented author and all round lovely person. She has suddenly, tragically lost her beloved husband, the father of her two young children, to an ultimately fatal heart attack.

We cannot comprehend her bereavement. But we can understand the practical challenges she and her family will face in the next little while. That at least is something we can help with.

A fundraising campaign has been set up by her closest friends via GoFundMe

As you will see on clicking through, an array of writers and publishers are offering rewards by way of thanks to those offering their support. The number of us doing this (as well as putting our hands in our own pockets) is testament to the very high regard Rochita is held in, within our community.

For my part, if you can offer some donation, however modest, you’ll be in with a chance of winning an ebook bundle of all five Tales on Einarinn, or a hardcopy set of the Chronicle of the Lescari Revolution trade paperbacks. I’ll cover the cost of posting those, not the fundraising campaign, to wherever in the world.

On mythmaking and on writing in general – my guest posts elsewhere this week

I’m still catching up from last weekend’s UK Fantasycon – which was always going to be memorable as I was the Mistress of Ceremonies this year, which duties included hosting The British Fantasy Society’s Awards. What I hadn’t remotely anticipated was being honoured with an Award myself. So more on that later…

Meantime, to mark the ebook edition of Southern Fire, I’ve shared some thoughts on Mythmaking where there are no Myths for Laura Anne Gilman’s blog, exploring the reasons for and the consequences of my decision to make the Aldabreshi a people whose spiritual beliefs do not include any gods.

‘How do writers write?’ is as common a question as ‘why do they write what they do?’. Tony Ballantyne has been asking a range of writers to share insights into their process for a while now It’s a fascinating series of articles and you can find my contribution here. As well as glimpses of the new Aldabreshin Archipelago map in progress.

And do make sure to check out both Laura Anne’s and Tony’s own books while you’re there. These are two very fine writers in my opinion.

Southern Fire.  Artwork by Ben Baldwin

Southern Fire.
Artwork by Ben Baldwin

(You can find full info on Southern Fire’s availability here from Wizard’s Tower Press)

Southern Fire – the ebook is here!

Hurrah! With huge, huge thanks to Cheryl Morgan, Wizard’s Tower Press and indefatigable fan Michele, the ebook edition of Southern Fire is now available.

As of today, it’s listed for sale on Google and Kobo and instructions are currently wending their way through whatever arcane processes are required before the book appears on Kindle and Nook – that should take a day or so. You can check current availability via Wizard’s Tower here.

With the fabulous new artwork by Ben Baldwin. (Click to see the full size version)

Southern Fire.  Artwork by Ben Baldwin

Southern Fire.
Artwork by Ben Baldwin

And yes, work is ongoing to get Northern Storm to you next month, followed by Western Shore and Eastern Tide. And trust me, you’re going to love the new covers for those too!

Fantasycon – my schedule

I’ll be at the UK Fantasycon in Nottingham from Friday afternoon and through to Sunday’s banquet and BFS Awards ceremony.

And I’ll be busy – it’s a packed programme. Those of you there will be spoiled for choice, given the range of panels, kaffeeklatsches and readings.

My personal timetable is:

Friday 23rd October

3.00pm Opening Ceremony
It’ll be my pleasure at Mistress of Ceremonies to welcome everyone to the convention, to introduce the Guests of Honour John Connolly, Jo Fletcher and Brandon Sanderson – and to see what indiscreet notable convention memories they might care to share.

5.00pm Stealing from the Past: Fantasy in History
I’m very much looking forward to discussing how fantasy writers use – and misuse – real world history, with Susan Bartholomew, Jacey Bedford, Susan Boulton, Anne Lyle and Toby Venables.

Saturday 24th October

10.00am Blades, Wands & Lasers: Fighting the Good Fight-Scene
We’ll be looking at the realities of fight scenes, from one-on-one to full-scale battles, and the writerly challenges of conveying all this to readers in a meaningful way. That’s me, James Barclay, Clifford Beal, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Jo Thomas and Danie Ware.

2.00pm Guest of Honour interview: Brandon Sanderson in Conversation.
I have the very welcome opportunity to chat to epic fantasy author Brandon Sanderson about his writing, career, inspirations & influences. Don’t worry, I will make sure there’s time for audience questions as well!

Sunday 25th October

10.00am By the Gods! Religion & Beliefs in Fantasy
I’ll be moderating this discussion on how and why to include plausible belief systems in genre writing – and the pitfalls for the unwary writer. I’m very much looking forward to hearing the opinions of John Connolly, Adam Dalton, Iain Grant, Jasper Kent and Susan Murray.

2.30pm The British Fantasy Awards Ceremony
After the banquet at Sunday lunchtime, I’ll be hosting this event, and we can all find out who’s won what, among this year’s nominees. Remember, you don’t have to attend the banquet; you can join the audience as the coffee cups are cleared away to be part of the ceremony.

Apart from these commitments, I’ll be around and about, so feel free to come and say hello and have a chat.

If you have any free time. It really is a programme with plenty for everyone, wherever your particular interests are within the fantastic scope of speculative fiction.

Make your voice heard on EU digital VAT & VATMOSS impact

Here’s an important new route to making your voice heard on the VATMOSS system and related problems stemming from the new regulations.

Most crucially if you are a non-UK business, your answers will help prove that this isn’t just a UK issue. Which it really isn’t. There’s no wonderful solution available to Hungarian or Danish businesses, after all – or anyone anywhere else. We’re all facing the same difficulties.

Please find 15 minutes for this – and please spread the word through your personal and professional networks. The more responses they get, the more likely we are to see meaningful change on a worthwhile timescale.

“As part of the study on e-Commerce in Europe, Deloitte was invited by the European Commission to assess the effectiveness and impact of the 2015 place of supply changes and the MOSS system. The survey forms a part of this evaluation exercise and focuses on microbusinesses and on the impact of the implementation and application of the 2015 place of supply rules and MOSS system.

The information on administrative burden impact on microbusinesses provides a valuable angle to our overall analysis. Therefore we would appreciate your responses to the questions below. The results of the survey will be included in our overall analysis and presented in the report, which will be published early next year.

Participation in the survey should not take more than 15 minutes. Please provide us with your feedback by Monday 26 October.”

Click here to complete the survey

Let’s hear it for the quiet girls

Sue Lloyd Roberts has died this week. For those of you who didn’t know her or her reporting, she was a pioneering journalist who secretly filmed and thus exposed human rights and other abuses in some of the world’s most brutal and dangerous regimes. There’s an excellent feature here on the BBC website, written by Lyse Doucet, one of the many women who’ve followed her into such vital work. Do check out the selected reports linked at the bottom of the piece.

Sue was also a Hildabeest; which is to say, she was a graduate of St Hilda’s College, Oxford. Through my work with the Alumnae Media Network, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting her several times and hearing her astute and amusing insights as she contributed to Network events discussing careers in the media, including particular issues for women. While she was very clear on current gender challenges, she was able to point out that things have improved. As a new trainee for ITN, with all the analytical skills honed by her Oxford degree, ready to make her mark contributing to the nightly news – her first job was standing ready beside the camera with the glass of whisky demanded by newscaster Reginald Bosanquet as soon as the end credits rolled. Just that. Nothing more. A suitable job for a woman.

So how did she end up filming ground breaking reports from inside Burma, North Korea and Syria while her male colleagues ground their teeth in frustration at closed borders? By quietly and calmly keeping her nerve as she posed as an unremarkable, unthreatening woman in a variety of occupations. A quiet girl who could readily be dismissed by those in power. More fool them. By being one of the first journalists to see the potential of small, tourist-friendly video cameras – disdained by those of her colleagues enamoured with the latest in hi-tech toys. More fool them. As she got older, she calculatedly and gleefully took advantage of the social invisibility that descends on middle aged women.

We need such women in fiction as well as in fact – and in books for all ages – as evident in comments in various places on my contribution to Alyx Dellamonica’s exploration of heroines last week. In particular, I was reminded of the number of strong-minded, capable and effective women I know who identified first and foremost with the quiet girls in their early reading; Lucy and Susan in Narnia, Beth in Little Women, Anne in the Famous Five, Peggy Blackett and Susan Walker in the Swallows and Amazons. Quiet girls who nevertheless always make a contribution, even if it’s largely doing the cooking, and they are certainly essential to the group dynamic.

The tomboys in these stories who so enthralled me as a child held no such interest for my friends. Would they have stopped reading these books without having someone else to identify with? Would that have hampered the development of their love of reading that’s carried them through to academic and other careers where they’ve made significant contributions to other people’s lives and wider society? Only they can say – but time and again, when diversity in fiction is discussed, the importance of representation in fiction for everyone comes up time and again. So let’s not dismiss the value of these quiet girls.

Thinking about my own writing, a good few of these same pals – and other fans – have told me how the quiet girls in my own novels are some of their favourite characters. Allin, in the Tales of Einarinn; Risala in The Aldabreshin Compass, Branca and Failla in The Lescari Revolution and Zurenne in the Hadrumal Crisis. Do I pride myself on my cleverness in creating them? Hardly. I needed other people to point out such characters’ potential before I could start to consciously work with quiet girls, to explore different aspect of my own preconceptions as much as readers’ assumptions.

Allin started out as no more than a writerly convenience in The Thief’s Gamble, even if she is a magewoman. The pompous wizard Casuel needed someone to talk to, in order to inform the reader of various bits of background and plot development. As my editor at the time pointed out with a grin, an author can only get away with a man musing as he shaves, gazing into a mirror, once in a career. Given Casuel’s so warped by personal insecurity, Allin needed to be meek enough for him to feel superior enough to loftily explain key aspects of life and magic to her. Or as we’d put it nowadays, mansplain.

The thing is though, Allin turned out to be so much more useful to me as the author by the time I was writing The Assassin’s Edge. Because a quiet girl who isn’t out there taking action and provoking reaction is still listening, watching and thinking while she’s doing the darning. When people dismiss her, they don’t care what they say around her. Which means she can end up being the one who has all the pieces of a particular puzzle. Knowledge can be power that’s just as decisive as force of arms. Risala knows that full well, as she travels the Archipelago, doing her very best to stay unremarkable and unnoticed. No one could call Charoleia unremarkable but the foundation of her wealth and influence is everything she learns from the likes of ladies’ maids and scullery girls going about their work unnoticed.

Does this realisation come naturally to the quiet girls, even if I was slow on the uptake as a writer? No, it doesn’t. It takes Zurenne three volumes of The Hadrumal Crisis to throw off a lifetime’s expectation that she would be dutiful and biddable and yield to male authority. The current focus on everyday sexism in everything from pay gaps in Hollywood to media obsessing over a female politician’s shoes instead of discussing her policies shows us the challenge of entrenched attitudes facing today’s young women. Which brings us back to the need for role models in fiction who show the quiet girls there are other routes and strategies which will work for them, even though they lack the tomboy’s inclination for toe-to-toe confrontation. As well as role models in real life.

Let’s celebrate Sue Lloyd Roberts’ life and work as we mourn her loss, and let’s make very sure we honour her legacy. Let’s hear it for the quiet girls.

The Heroine Question(s) – Alyx Dellamonica asks some interesting things…

Regular readers will be well aware of my ongoing interest in female protagonists – as hero or villain (here and here, so when Alyx Dellamonica invited me to contribute to the ongoing discussion of heroines, over on her blog, I jumped at the chance to consider key female figures in my early reading.

I found myself searching out C.S.Lewis’s books on the old favourites’ shelf – which was not at all what I expected, since as and when the question of Lewis’s treatment of women comes up these days, I’ll generally shake my head with mingled regret and exasperation over The Susan Issue.

You’ll have to read the piece to learn which book I ended up re-reading

I also strongly recommend you read the other interviews in this series – not least because I’m by no means the only writer to look back at Narnia. scroll down after mine and you’ll find them all.

(And while you’re there, get to know Alyx and her work, if you’re not already acquainted!)

Guest Post! Laura Anne Gilman on the origins of ‘Silver on the Road’.

Since I’m going to be madly busy this next week with VATstuff, I’m extremely grateful to Laura Anne Gilman for offering to entertain and intrigue you all with these insights into her new book, Silver on the Road which is already attracting enthusiastic reviews.

For those of you yet to discover and enjoy her work, check out Laura Anne’s website. Not only is she a talented and inventive author, her background in publishing means she also talks a great deal of good sense about all aspects of the book trade.

So, without further ado, over to Laura Anne!

After the Writing, the Classification (and the Understanding)

A few years ago, I might have been the last person you expected to write a Western. The genre wasn’t one I particularly favored, despite having personal experience with horses, guns, and sleeping outdoors. Or perhaps because of all that, who knows? But Westerns as a genre didn’t draw me in. And Weird West? I’d read it, liked it, but most of the tropes left me cold.

But…. There’s a reason we never say “never.”

In 2011, I wrote a story called “Crossroads,” followed the next year by “The Devil’s Jack.” They were strange little stories, in a vaguely historical, vaguely high prairie setting. But I quickly realized that the next story – originally called “A Town Named Flood,” wanted to expand into a novel – a novel set in a mostly-recognizable west-of-the-Mississippi North America, circa 1801.

“I’m writing a Western?” I asked my agent, somewhat bemused.

“Nope. You’re writing an American fantasy,” he responded. “Like American Gods, only … not.”

I backed away quickly from the comparison to American Gods, because, well, who the hell needs that kind of pressure? But his comment made me think. SILVER ON THE ROAD is set in the American west, yes. And there are horses, and guns, and conflict between native residents and immigrants, and all the tropes that we recognize as “Western.”

And magic, so that by default tips it into the “Weird West” category.

So… I was writing a Western?

Yes … and no. For most of us, the “Old West” calls up images of cowboys and sixguns, of stagecoaches and saloon girls, gold prospectors and cattle ranchers. But those images come from 1820 and later. In 1801… well, I’ll spare you the historical neepery, but the territory west of the Mississippi didn’t look anything like that.

But the Western story isn’t only that. It’s the story of our histories, our cultures, and our myths… and I use the plural of those words intentionally. Because America’s history isn’t simply the United States – it’s Canada and Mexico as well, started long before the first European immigrants landed on the eastern (or southern) shores, and our shared identity is not simple one, the pot only half melted together, and half clumped together stubbornly, parts overbaked and the others still painfully raw.

SILVER ON THE ROAD is a fantasy of that North America. Not the quest of empires, or the clash of armies, but the movement of people, and the ever-shifting thing we call a frontier, where one person’s home becomes another person’s hope – and conflict. About dividers and demarcations – and the human urge, and need, to cross over them.

And a Western – and yes, Weird West, invoking and involving the tropes of the restless frontier, and twisting it – was, for me, the only way to tell this particular story.

So it looks like my agent and I were both right.


Diversity in SFF – some thoughts on some recent reports.

This week sees some important data on who wins SFF awards and by writing about what, from Lady Business. Their survey was prompted by Nicola Griffith’s earlier work looking at the gender balance in mainstream literary award winners.

The central finding in both cases in that books by men about men win awards far more often than anything else.

I wish I could say this came as a shock, but as regular readers of my Equality in SFF post will appreciate, I wasn’t in the least surprised.

Instead my first thought was to recall Viola Davis’ speech at this year’s Emmys, where she was the first African-American woman to win best actress in a drama. She nailed the central problem for women of colour (and other under-represented groups) in film and TV: “You can’t win Emmys for roles that don’t exist.”

You can’t win awards with books that just aren’t there. So where are the books by women and black, Asian and other ethnic/minority writers? Cheryl Morgan recently attended a discussion at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival on diversity in children’s books and her report has some highly relevant observations, which make it well worth reading in full.

The panel included Bali Rai; an award winning writer from multi-cultural, multi-racial Leicester who is eminently qualified to speak with authority and experience on such matters. Experience which includes being taken to task by white, London-based editors over his characters’ language. That’s the language being used by children of Asian heritage in the Midlands…

More than that, he said that most of the non-white writers he knows are self-publishing rather than going through the traditional route because they assume that an overwhelmingly white industry won’t be interested in their books.

Is this racism or just the numbers game, when the bookshops protest they have to sell what sells? And the publishers protest that they have to publish what the bookshops will buy from them. But if what they’re publishing and selling only ever targets the white, middle-class majority, what possible incentive is there for black, Asian and other ethnic/minority writers and readers to ever engage with them?

Does it actually matter whether it’s active racism or an unintended consequence of a numbers-driven system when the end result is the same exclusion of black, Asian and other minority/ethnic participation?

Which brings us back to the vicious circle prompted by systemic inequalities in visibility which I (and others) have been highlighting for oh, so long now. They sell what sells which means what they sell sells so they go looking for more of the same.

How do we break this cycle? How and where could some sort of affirmative action be useful?

Because after five years of writing about this, I really don’t think anything’s going to change on its own.

Is a ‘Women’s SFF Prize’ an answer? I’ve pondered this before.

If anyone has new thoughts or observations, do speak up.

The latest VATMOSS update & how to help EU VAT Action towards still vital goals

The Telegraph (and other papers) have been triumphantly proclaiming victory in the VATMOSS fight. The EU has conceded that the legislation needs revising to include a threshold. Hurrah!

Well, as the saying goes, up to a point…

Securing this sort of solid, on-the-record commitment by both the European Commission and the UK Government to researching and enacting such revision as soon as possible is undoubtedly a major win for the EU VAT Action campaign. A year ago they were all saying there was no need for any such thing, everything would be fine and anyway, nothing can be done if it wasn’t.

But we still won’t see any long-term relief for the thousands upon thousands of businesses hit by this for another two years – maybe eighteen months at very, very best. Which means we still need vital interim suspension or some other easement to stop the ongoing damage being done to the grassroots digital economy.

This could come from Westminster – and yes, we know it’s asking a lot but we’re asking on the basis of informed, expert opinions by legal and academic authorities.

Not least because the deficiencies in the consultation process (laid bare here) before all this was brought in are so appalling that could be the basis of a legal challenge – if any of us had the money to instruct the appropriate lawyers…

So please feel free to write more letters to your MPs and MEPs stressing just how and why we need to see action now.

Interim relief could come from Brussels, especially if as many people as possible reply to the current consultation on modernising VAT for cross-border ecommerce. If this affects you at all, please do so – no questions are compulsory and there are plenty of boxes for you to go into detail about your problems, and most likely, why a lot of the questions being asked are in themselves inappropriate, revealing dangerous flaws in the understanding of the new problems.

Please complete the survey if you’re not yet a digital seller but only deal in physical products. Although ‘plans to roll this out to physical sales in 2016’ have been revised to ‘plans to discuss plans to roll this out in 2016’, it’s still vital that the law makers understand the needs and concerns of those posting actual parcels who will be affected by any extension of what’s currently still such a mess.

As part of this consultation process, EU VAT Action Team members (specifically me and Clare Josa) are off to Brussels again next week. Then we’ll have another trip in November, focused on meetings with cross-border, cross-party groups of MEPs, looking to nail the misapprehension that this is only a UK problem.

As before we’re having to fund all this ourselves, at time of writing. The previous Just Giving appeal was focused on getting Clare Josa to the Fiscalis Summit in Dublin and hoping to fund one further trip to Brussels. Now that we’re looking at two Brussels trips plus more meetings in London to make our case up to ministerial level, any and all donations to the campaign fund via PayPal will be most gratefully received, however small those might be.

(If anyone wants to discuss other methods of making a contribution, email me as per the information on my Contact page. And yes, I am very well aware how generous the SFF community has already been – we are extremely, profoundly grateful.)