My Follycon/Eastercon programme, and your chance to play Suffragetto!

I’ll be off to Harrogate on Friday morning, to spend the weekend at Follycon aka this year’s Eastercon, where my programme items are interestingly varied and where I’ll also have plenty of time to chat and enjoy the programe myself, so that’s a win-win. If you’d like to say hello, feel free.

Edited to add – I can now confirm paperback copies of The Green Man’s Heir will be for sale in the Dealers Room 🙂 If you’d like me to sign one, or any other book I’ve written (however well read) I’ll be happy to obliged.

I’ll be at the BSFA Awards on Saturday evening, appreciating the honour of being shortlisted for the Non-Fiction Award. Incidentally, for those who are interested, there’s an excerpt from my paper on ‘The Myth of Meritocracy’, discussing gender-related barriers and associated issues in SF&F writing and publishing in the current edition of Books from Scotland, since Luna Press who published that collection of essays are Edinburgh based.

On Sunday morning at 11 am, I’ll be running a masterclass in SF criticism, looking at ‘The Moon Over Red Trees’ by Aliette de Bodard. It’s an excellent story with plenty of layers so there’s lots to discuss. If you’d like to participate, sign up at Registration, where hard copies of the story will be available. You can also read it online here.

On Sunday evening, at 6 pm I’m part of Follycon Fast Forward. This takes as its premise “all the best Eastercons fit into an hour” and offers entirely serious compressed programme items, including the whole of The Empire Strikes Back. Intrigued? I know I am…

On Monday afternoon, at 3 pm, I’m discussing Genre Economics, specifically the role that economics plays, or so frequently doesn’t, in SF&Fantasy. We’ll discuss the implications of not including economics in plots and world-building, and hopefully find some examples of books and screenplays etc actively benefiting from an understanding of economic principles, and how this can be done without boring everyone rigid with explanations of post-neo-classical endogenous growth theory.

At some point, I’ll be in the Games Room, as the Husband and I have just spent this past weekend making up two sets of Suffragetto! The board game which sees martial arts trained suffragists taking on the police in the fight for votes for women. You can find out more about all this here, at the Suffrajitsu website.

The Green Man’s Heir – available now!

Purchase links – ebook edition
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble – Nook (US only)
Google Play
Kobo

The paper edition is also available, though be prepared for the unaccountable delays that afflict small press books from Amazon that aren’t actually published through them. You should be able to order it from any bookstore and the ISBN is 978-1-908039-69-9. Do remember that ordering physical copies through actual bookshops does encourage them to stock small press books.

Provided we can sort out the logistics, there will be copies available for sale at Follycon, the UK Eastercon 2018. For other sales and availability information, see Wizard’s Tower Press.

In some ways, this book is very different from my previous novels. As I’ve learned from my own experience, and through advice from countless eminent authors, the best way to grow and develop as a novelist is to continually challenge yourself with something new. In other ways, it reflects many of the same interests as my previous writing, even if they’re examined from new angles here. The story also stems from the broad scope of my reading which has always gone well beyond epic, secondary world fantasy, across the whole spectrum of speculative fiction and into thriller, crime and mystery novels.

This is a modern fantasy, set in the readily identifiable Peak District in England, although the towns and villages in this story are all invented. It’s an area I know well, and love, thanks to frequent childhood holidays with relatives living in Chesterfield, and subsequent visits with my own family. The area has a fascinating history reflecting the centuries of change that rural communities have experienced, with impacts that are still being felt, as I know well from living in the Cotswolds. The Peak District also has a wealth of local myths and legends, like so much of the English countryside. I’ve always drawn on myth and history in my writing, so using these sources as the foundation for a story was familiar territory.

Setting events in the everyday world was a wholly new challenge however. I soon realised I had to factor in everything and anything from the Internet and modern media to police procedure and the economics of the contemporary English countryside. Every invented name and place had to be googled, to avoid inadvertent libel or misrepresentation.

Modern, urban fantasy so often explores the interaction of mythical beings with contemporary towns and cities. Since so many excellent writers have already done that, I was drawn to exploring the challenges for a modern mortal human encountering rural mythical creatures and their very different, deep rooted concerns. Meantime, he still has to deal with the everyday demands of work, money and relationships, romantic and otherwise. So in that sense, this story is like my previous novels where I’ve explored the impact and demands of classic high heroic events on ordinary people and their lives rather than focusing on rulers and princes.

On the other hand, exploring the themes and conventions of urban fantasy was a whole new challenge for me, including but by no means limited to surrounding a human man with powerful, sensual female mythical beings, as an alternative to writing about a modern woman interacting with super-masculine supernaturals. Along the way I realised I was reflecting on various aspects of modern ideas of masculinity.

I hope that new readers and existing fans of my work alike will find this a satisfying and exciting read.

The Green Man’s Heir – a modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.

Alongside this fabulous artwork by Ben Baldwin, I thought I’d share some of the inspiration underpinning this new novel from Wizard’s Tower Press.

I grew up with the folklore of the British Isles, by which I mean English, Welsh, Cornish, Irish and Scottish legends, from the Lowlands to the Highlands and Islands. These were stories of giants and witches and dragons and trolls and goblins and boggarts and serpents and will o’the wisps, to name but a few. There were all sorts of fascinating books in the library alongside The Hobbit and the Chronicles of Narnia. Publishers like Pan and Picador offered paperback collections of folktales, retelling the legends of Jack the Giant Killer, Jenny Greenteeth, the Lambton Wyrm and many, many more besides.

I saved up my pocket money and bought some of them; second-hand, dog-eared paperbacks that have somehow vanished over the years through umpteen house moves. That doesn’t matter. The stories have stayed with me and with the benefit of hindsight, I now realise those tales have had a lasting effect on my own writing. Most of them weren’t about heroes and princesses. They were about ordinary boys and girls finding themselves in extraordinary situations, and in very real danger. Getting out of potentially lethal trouble meant using your wits and courage to outfox and defy these mysterious supernatural beings. I still buy books on folklore, from scholarly examinations of the social and psychological underpinnings of stories of witches and fairies, to collections of local legends found in English Heritage, CADW, Heritage Ireland, and National Trust bookshops. I am still fascinated by that intersection between the everyday and the eerie that was part of everyone’s life for centuries.

So I suppose it was inevitable that when I found myself with an idea for an urban fantasy novel, it wasn’t going to be about vampires and werewolves. Those weren’t the creatures that lurked in the shadows outside the window when I was growing up. Similarly, the story wasn’t going to be any sort of urban fantasy, but a tale set in the countryside because that was where these legends took place, amid the forests, caves, rivers, stone circles and barrows that still link these islands to its mysterious past.

How might such ancient eeriness intersect with the modern world? I first started thinking about that when Patricia Bray and Joshua Palmatier invited me to write a story for an anthology they were editing, “The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity”. What would supernatural beings do in the 21st Century if, for instance, a local authority wanted to drive a new road through their grove or watermeadow? That made for a fun story. But the thing about authors is, once we start thinking about something like that, it can be very hard to stop…

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.

In tribute to Ursula K Le Guin – my review of “The Wild Girls Plus…” 2012

That price for this slender tome must prompt pause for thought. Well, I consider this book excellent value for Le Guin fans and for anyone interested in writing, irrespective of genre.

The titular Nebula Award winning story, The Wild Girls, is followed by an article ‘Staying Awake While We Read’, some poems, another article ‘The Conversation of the Modest’, then an interview ‘A Lovely Art’, followed by a bibliography and short biography. It’s soon clear that this eclectic material has been carefully selected and ordered for maximum coherence and impact.

The Wild Girls story returns fantasy to its folklore roots through clarity of language and the omniscient third person viewpoint so little used in these days of ‘show, don’t tell’ and too often reduced to an unconvincingly remote series of events. Le Guin manages this challenging style with effortless grace, engaging the reader’s emotions with the undeserved sufferings of the innocent and still more impressively, with those who cause such suffering. The intensely personal motives which drive these people enable us to understand them even amid their incomprehensibly archaic world.

While this brief tale of two kidnapped girls enslaved by a patriarchal society is written with lucid simplicity, it is not a simple story. The complexity of all the characters’ lives becomes apparent through successive revelations about the different societies of the city and of the nomads. Slaves do not necessarily bemoan or rebel against their lot. The elites can be imprisoned by the strictures of their caste. Not that Le Guin explains the origins of customs and superstitions any more than she outlines their wider world. There’s no need for this story’s purposes and moreover, this absence of knowledge draws the reader towards the underlying theme of the perils of ignorance. The story also shows how knowledge isn’t a prerequisite for recognising injustice. One doesn’t have to propose a coherent alternative to be able to say ‘but this is unfair’.

As the slave girls grow and marry in an absence of romance though not of love, they discover how they might influence those who control their lives. Thus Le Guin’s story meditates on the role of luck and chance in life as well as unintended consequences and whether or not individuals are rewarded or punished according to what they deserve. Punished by whom? What are our expectations of narrative as opposed to our expectations of reality? How does our experience of story inform our daily lives for good or ill? In forty five pages, this is one of the most-thought provoking tales I’ve read in ages.

The articles and interviews thereafter suggest answers to some of those questions while prompting readers to ask more of themselves. In ‘Staying Awake While We Read’ Le Guin explores mankind’s relationship with story through changing ages of education and literacy, making a compelling case against the commercialisation and commoditisation of books. Capitalism demands unbridled growth. In nature that means obesity or cancer. The consequences for the literary world are equally unwelcome.

While we’re reflecting on that, a handful of poems offer another master class on how much complexity of modern life can be distilled to essentials through the correct, carefully chosen few words. Not necessarily offering answers; I’m still rereading ‘Variations on an Old Theme’ in search of full understanding, while accepting it may not be there to be found.

‘The Conversation of the Modest’ explores the differences between modesty, humility and pride in relation to gender hierarchy in the modern west and also artistic endeavour and merit. If that sounds daunting and dull, never fear. It’s as articulate and entertaining as the interview by Terry Bisson where yet again Le Guin shows how to say so much by saying so little. As well she might. The concluding bibliography and biography summarise the breadth and depth of her work and rightly extol her many achievements. But only after her writing has spoken first.

Ursula K Le Guin The Wild Girls plus… PM Press 2011 Paperback $12.00 102 pages

Reviewed for Interzone 2012

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…

A writing opportunities round-up, for SF&F and non-genre projects.

I’m currently reading and writing about Mars, for the ‘Second Round’ anthology coming next year from ZNB. Don’t forget that the current ZNB anthologies have open submission slots and the deadline is 31st December. You can find the full guidelines here.

THE RAZOR’S EDGE is to feature science fiction or fantasy stories that explore the fine line between a rebel and an insurgent. It is a military science fiction and fantasy anthology. We are attempting to fill half of the anthology with science fiction stories, and half with fantasy stories. Stories featuring more interesting settings and twists on the typical themes will receive more attention than those that use standard tropes. In other words, we don’t want to see 100 stories dealing with the general fighting insurgents who joins their cause at the end. 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.

GUILDS & GLAIVES is to feature sword & sorcery stories where a guild is featured somewhere in the story. So thieves, assassins, and dark magic, but with a guild or guilds incorporated into the story somehow. Obviously most such stories will be fantasy, but we are interested in science fiction takes on this theme. Stories featuring more interesting takes on the guilds, and twists on how they are integrated into the story, will receive more attention than those with the standard thieves guild or assassins guild. So be creative and use your guild in an unusual and unexpected way. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE URBAR is to feature stories where the time-traveling Urbar, first used in the anthology AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE URBAR, is a central part of the plot. The story may start in the bar, end in the bar, or be in the bar somewhere in the middle, but at some point a significant plot point must involve the Urbar. Stories featuring more interesting historical settings for the bar, and twists on how the bar is integrated into the story, will receive more attention than those with more standard uses of the bar, or where the bar is only incidental to the rest of the story. So be creative and use bar in an unusual and unexpected way, preferably in an unusual or unexpected era of history.

I’m also thinking how amazing it is that I can access real photos of Mars from my computer here in Oxfordshire thanks to the assorted probes and rovers sent all that way. And rewatching The Martian is going to count as research, right?

In other interesting projects looking for submissions from unpublished writers, I spotted this from Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

Hometown Tales aims to celebrate regional diversity by publishing voices from across the UK. Each book will feature work from two writers – one established and one previously unpublished, found through open submissions – both writing about the places they think of as home.

The first initiative of its kind to focus on regional diversity, Hometown Tales will provide a platform for new writers, helping them to launch the first step of their careers, edited and mentored by our team. The books will be published in paperback and ebook in June 2018

There’s a lot more information and full submission details here.

Then there’s The Mechanics’ Institute Review Issue 15 Call For Submissions. No, you don’t need to be a mechanic! Or to have any link with Birkbeck College where this is based.

The Mechanics’ is a literary print and ebook publication that aims to champion the short story as an art form, promoting diversity, inclusivity and opportunity while publishing new work of the highest possible standard. Thanks to funding from Arts Council England, The Mechanics’ has gone national, widening its reach to find and develop talent from throughout the country. We are looking for unpublished short stories of up to 6,000 words from both new and established authors. The deadline for submission is 5 p.m. on Friday 9 February 2018.

Once again, full details here.

It’s really encouraging to see opportunities like this out there!