On Irene Adler and outrage (and influences and Charoleia)

I’ve very much enjoyed both the movie A Game of Shadows and the series opener to the BBC’s updated Sherlock. Despite – and please do not underestimate the strength of my feelings here – the truly appalling way both stories ripped up (and worse) the character of Irene Adler as depicted by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

NB: If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read on until you’ve seen the film/programme.

In A Scandal in Bohemia, she is beautiful, a supremely talented singer and – this is the crucial bit – she outwits Holmes and departs to live her own life on her own terms. Now she is a pawn of Moriarty, to be killed off in the first instance, and in the second facing death only to be saved by Holmes’ melodramatic intervention. Yes, in the original story, she is ‘an adventuress’ in her youth, but at this point, she is devoted to the husband of her own choosing. Not some dominatrix whose power over men and women apparently begins and ends with her naked body.

This really pisses me off and I am not the only one. See here for CE Murphy’s reaction – and please do read the comments as well . Also this from Another Angry Woman and from The Guardian, Jane Clare Jones on ‘Is Sherlock Sexist?’.

These are only the pieces that have caught my eye, I imagine there are more. What I’d be very interested to know is if there are any similar expressions of outrage from men. Because it’s women I see getting really incensed by this, online and in person.

Why is that? Why am I so thoroughly and lastingly annoyed, tarnishing all my other enjoyment of both film and TV programme? I’ve been giving that some thought. Well, I first read the Holmes books in my early teens. Looking back I don’t think I consciously noticed the lack of female characters with any authority and agency; the realisation of such absences in ‘classic’ fiction and the misogynist implications when such patterns are followed unthinkingly by contemporary writers came later. But I’ll bet I noted it subconsciously, because I really loved those stories. The classic teen response to beloved fiction is to identify with the particular character whom one imagines is most like oneself, maybe even imagining oneself into the milieu in fan-fiction fashion. That’s really hard to do for girls reading Holmes – until we encounter Irene Adler. The Woman. A Woman we can all aspire to be, even if we don’t yet realise it.

Not in these two recent stories. Not any more. And for no compelling reason in either case. Not for plot purposes that couldn’t have been achieved in some other way. Thus betraying the enduring and infuriating blind spots when it comes to male film makers and script writers writing women characters – the way in which even the strongest so often end up defined by their relationship to men. Grrrrrr.

And I’ve realised something else that reflects back on just what a lasting impact this one character, only appearing in one early Holmes short story, had on me and ultimately, on my writing.

I’ve been doing one of those email interviews where we swap questions and answers (and I’ll post a link when it’s available for reading). One of the questions is about influences and I’ve said how I always find them impossible to identify. For instance, a good while ago, when conversation turned to the works of Alan Moore, someone, I forget who, remarked on the clear influence of Halo Jones on my first female protagonist Livak. I looked at them in astonishment. Not because they were wrong. Because they were so right – and I would never have seen that for myself.

With that in mind, and thinking about Irene Adler this morning, I’ve just realised what a major element she is in Charoleia’s character-DNA. For those of you who haven’t yet encountered Charoleia, she’s an ‘information broker’; which is to say, she gathers and trades information about the rich and powerful, profiting handsomely in mostly unspecified ways, thanks to her extensive network of contacts from highest to lowest in political and criminal circles (especially where those overlap) across all the countries that once made up the Old Tormalin Empire – and beyond. And here’s something crucial; she isn’t a kiss-and-tell, pillow-talk merchant. Yes, she’s strikingly beautiful and will use her allure as and when that’s the most effective tool to hand. But she’s no whore, nor even a courtesan. When Charoleia takes a man to her bed, it’s on her own terms, of her own choosing and not for coin.

She and Irene Adler have a lot in common, in my writerly subconscious at least. So that’s definitely one element in why I am quite so cross – though by no means the only one.

What other folk think about my book(s)

Publishers do like us writers to mention favourable reviews. Though this does clash rather with Traditional British Reserve, since custom and practise does rather frown on one blowing one’s own trumpet.

On the other hand, positive feedback from someone you don’t know in the least really is a great thing for writers. It validates what we’re doing and encourages us to do more and better, and that’s a big tick in the plus column on the first day back to work (officially) on a wet and windy January day.

So, for your consideration, check out the concise appreciation on page 31 of the Morpheus Tales #15 Supplement and then some particularly pleasing insights from Lady Fellshot

Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012!

I now realise I didn’t post my usual Christmas Eve sign-off for the holiday season the week before last. I still had so much prep to do, I just never got round to it – which sums up my last year pretty effectively. 2011 was remarkably hectic and not necessarily always in a good way, both personally and professionally.

I parted company with my literary agent back in the Spring since that working relationship was well, just not working. At least in part as a result of that, I certainly didn’t achieve all the things I had hoped to. In some instances that was down to factors beyond my control. Then there were a couple of happenings/wrangles which I could have managed better. So appropriate notes have been made and lessons learned and all that kindathing.

On the plus side, I did some things I hadn’t expected to, notably going to California, spending some days in the Bay Area as well as attending the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego. That was a fabulous trip. I’m also expanding my range and testing my mettle as a writer with some new projects of which more in due course.

I did far more guest blogging and I’m particularly pleased with the contribution my pieces have made to the vexed questions and on-going debate about equitable representation of women (and other minority) writers in the SF&Fantasy field as well as the challenges for all genre writers in the wider literary landscape. Being part of this conversation has also shown me that while very real issues remain to be tackled in our genre, there’s a lot worse goes on elsewhere!

We had a very pleasant Christmas to New Year break, including the seasonal slew of family birthdays. All told, it’s been a most welcome recharging of our mental and physical energies in this household – which has led to a degree of collective resolution not to let ourselves get as overscheduled and overtired as we did towards the end of last year. Not least because 2012 is Junior Son’s GCSE year and Senior Son will be finishing his college course in the summer and heading out into the world of work…

I say this, already committed to the SFX Weekender at the start of February, P-Con in Dublin at the start of March and Eastercon in April. I’m also deeply engaged in the Arthur C Clarke Award judging process and will be judging the James White Award short story competition. I’m chairing the Eastercon 2013 bid, EightSquared, and will be helping out with Congenial, the Unicon/BRS gaming convention in Cambridge, 10th-12th August, specifically on the book-related programming.

That’s all as well as working on an update and redesign of my own website and on publishing my backlist in ebook form. At least for those last two projects, I have the able and generous assistance of two splendid women with the talents and time that I lack.

On the writing side, I am in discussions with a new agent, of which more later. Darkening Skies, second of The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, will be published in March/April – precise date tba, and I have three assorted short stories in anthologies due this year, first of those being my contribution to The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity in March. Meantime, I will be getting on with writing Defiant Peaks aka Hadrumal Crisis 3, due for delivery in August.

So… time to draw up the first To Do List of 2012…

To Do List Update

So how did I get on with that list I posted on Monday?

Pretty well, actually. I have about a day’s work still to do on that steampunk short story but other than that, the rest is ticked off.

Which leaves the rest of the Christmas To Do List to be tackled.

Plus sundry essential domestic chores. Sigh.

Still, the lads have finished school and college and I’ve already given them fair warning that next week will see them doing their share, according to established custom and practise.

Now it’s time to cook dinner and open a beer.

The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity

Image

Some reaction to the anthology news in my last post goes along the lines of ‘but you don’t do steampunk, do you?’ To which the reply is rather, I haven’t done steampunk before now. The same is true of urban fantasy. No, I’ve not done it before and when I’ve been asked, I’ve said I would need a new and original idea since I have nothing to add to the current pack of werewolf/vampire stories.

That’s what I said when Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray invited me to contribute to this anthology. Ah but, they said, you might have an idea. You never know. Just see if something turns up. Well, it did, and there’s not a fang nor any fur involved, just so you know. My story, ‘The Roots of Aston Quercus’ will be there alongside tales from –

Seanan McGuire
Susan Jett
Kari Sperring
Avery Shade
Kristine Smith
Barbara Ashford
April Steenburgh
Anton Strout
S.C. Butler
Jean Marie Ward
Shannon Page & Jay Lake
Elizabeth Bear
Jim C. Hines

Stellar company to be in and all graced with this cover art. Pre-order your copy now or mark your diaries for March 2012

The week ahead will be a tad busy

Okay, here’s the plan

– review page proofs for Darkening Skies
– write catalogue/cover copy for Defiant Peaks (Hadrumal Crisis Book 3)
– finalise my steampunk story for ‘Resurrection Engines – 16 Extraordinary Tales of Scientific Romance’
– write and post Christmas/holiday season cards
– teach an aikido class (Tuesday)
– go to school concert to cheer on Junior Son (Wednesday)
– continue with the Arthur C Clarke Award reading

Then Friday’s the end of term and we get to start doing Christmas preparations.

So, overall, not the best Monday to wake up with a surprise new headcold. Sigh.

The Vital Importance of Language

No, honestly, this blog isn’t about to become an unbroken stream of feminist consciousness raising – but I cannot let this pass without comment.

A new study reveals the public find it hard to differentiate between the language used by convicted sex offenders and mainstream magazines.

– by which they mean the so-called ‘lads’ mags’. Full article in The Guardian.

Which is, in a ‘Nuts’-shell*, why I keep saying the increasingly prevasive pop-culture of sex/sexism is as much of an issue for the parents of sons as it is for those with daughters.

*because we’ve got to find some humour somewhere, even if it is in a very weak pun

The Good Guy Comprehension Gap

With the debate about harrarssment coming to the fore in a whole lot of places at the moment, I’m seeing a phenomenon I’ve noticed before, which deserves a post of its own.

The Good Guy Comprehension Gap. Which really does trip up the good guys, the nice guys, the ones raised man and boy to respect women and girls in the same way that they have always respected their mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, Miss Teacher and all the rest.

They would no more consider running naked down their local high street than they would, to take today’s example, send a 1615 word email to a woman berating her for not agreeing to a second date, while still clearly expecting one to happen. (see here for the story).

They would not dream of intruding, pursuing, or indulging in any of the entitled, obnoxious behaviours detailed in this post A Guy’s Guide to Approaching Strange Women without Getting Maced or this one, I Just Want To Go For A Walk.

So they can really struggle to comprehend the extent of the reality which women live with.

Which can, alas, so often lead to the minimising comments so ably skewered by Jim C Hines.

Sharing a personal experience with the good guys usually doesn’t help either. For example, if I tell the tale of the fat, sweaty sleaze who admired my tits in a lift when I was on my way to the library in the shopping centre in Poole and suggested we go and have sex – when I was thirteen years old.

The good guys’ eyes instantly give them away. Relieved, because now they know, they understand. Clearly I had this unpleasant, unusual encounter at such an impressionable age that’s so traumatised me I now have this skewed viewpoint.

Er, no. For the record, I was startled, repelled and yes, I took stairs everywhere in public places for months after – but I really wasn’t traumatised. I might have been if he’d tried to touch me but all he did was leer. Please believe me when I say it wasn’t a big deal. Not least because when I told my pals at school, pretty much every girl had her own equivalent story to tell. And that’s what should be the big deal. Why should a class full of teenage girls be forced to conclude this is an inevitable part of life?

But I digress. This post is for the good guys, the nice guys, the white knights and heroes. Mind the Gap.

Sexual Harrassment at SF&F Conventions

As some of you will have learned – actually, as I hope most of you will have learned – there was a particularly unpleasant individual at the San Diego WFC sex-pestering women, up to and including making physical contact, which is by the way, assault. He was eventually removed from the premises, not without difficulty.

This was a notable incident but harrassment in whatever degree is still harrassment, it’s vile to be on the receiving end, and it is as unacceptable in SF&F fandom as it is in any other walk of life.

Increasing numbers of writers are standing up to be counted, as people someone being subject to harrassment can count on to help them deal with such an incident. I am one. Never mind if we’ve not been formally introduced. If some creep is wrecking your convention experience with unwanted attentions, come and find me. I dealt with such cases in my time as a personnel officer and still have that particular skill set.

Whether you’re male or female – this doesn’t only happen to women. I will stand between anyone and these jerks.

If this has never happened to you personally, you’re still involved, if you’re involved in fandom and want that to be a safe and enjoyable place for everyone.