Here’s what I have to say on Twitter Silence Day- and look how many places I have to say it!

Here we are, on Twitter Silence Day. And that’s a significant part of the point, as far as I am concerned. Yesterday I saw a lot of opposition to this idea on the grounds that it was letting the trolls win by default, with people being silenced. Er, no, see here, this piece you’re reading, this is me being not in the least silenced. Because Twitter is by no means the only place on the Net to share opinions and enthusiasms, discuss differing points of view and generally communicate in a civilised and enjoyable fashion.

So that’s something Twitter might like to bear in mind. If enough people decide that Twitter’s particular corner of the Net is becoming a place it’s no longer fun to be, on account of the trolls, then Twitter is finished. So they might like to take some action – some more effective action than a ‘Report Abuse’ button which is itself open to all manner of abuse and in any case leads to a form for the target to fill in, for each and every vile tweet. How practical is that for an answer, when those who are targets of what increasingly seem to be co-ordinated attacks are getting threats and insults on a minute by minute basis?

What else will Twitter Silence achieve? I’ve also seen it dismissed as a ‘pointless gesture’. It’s certainly a gesture but I don’t see that it’s pointless. When you are the target of an unjustified and unpleasant online attack, no amount of other people muttering between themselves about how it’s appalling is worth anything at all to you unless those people also make some public show of professional respect and/or personal sympathy and solidarity. Otherwise the tacit statement is ‘well, since it’s actually not my problem, you’re on your own and it’s up to you to deal with it as best you can’. And yes, I am talking from personal experience here. So as far as I am concerned, joining Twitter Silence to make that statement to those who’ve been abused is very well worth doing.

But isn’t it just some ego-trip? That was another of the accusations being levelled at people when I signed out of Twitter last night. Oh, right, you think that you’re so important people’s lives will be empty if they can’t read about what you had for breakfast? Er, once again, no. There are certainly some people whose absence will be noted and noteworthy – and I was very heartened to see the likes of Val McDermid, Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Balding, to mention only a few, signing off around the same time as me last night. People with that level of public profile making a stand does send a message.

For the rest of us, this is about collective action and that’s what makes Twitter Silence not in the least about individuals being silenced or the trolls winning or anything of the kind. Collective action works in ways that individuals trying to fight back on their own does not. Ask Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Look at the effectiveness of shunning in pacifist communities. One person making a stand by staying away from Twitter as a means of saying online misogyny is not acceptable can easily be ignored. Hundreds, hopefully thousands, ideally hundreds of thousands are much less easy to dismiss.

Maybe that will encourage people to be bolder in shutting down trolls online and demanding properly moderated websites rather than simply muttering about how it’s appalling but hey, what can you do? Maybe it will give someone pause for thought before they launch into posting about how something or someone is WRONG and being sucked into the online equivalent of shouting the same thing over and over again because they’ve come to believe the way to WIN at THE INTERNET is having everyone saying they are RIGHT. The road to trolldom is paved with such knee-jerk reactions.

And lastly, no, this isn’t about blaming Twitter alone for all the online misogyny there is out there. It’s about using Twitter to make a stand against online abuse, whatever its target, wherever it can be found. Because Twitter is supposed to be about communication, isn’t it?

Clockwork Universe – Steampunk vs Aliens Anthology!

Here’s something you may well be interested in supporting. You’ll hopefully recall the two splendid anthologies I have had stories in, edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray – namely ‘The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity’ and ‘After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar’. Well, they’re at it again and this time, via Kickstarter.

Initially, this will fund a science fiction and fantasy anthology – CLOCKWORK UNIVERSE: STEAMPUNK vs. ALIENS, containing approximately 14 all-original short stories from established SF&F authors — including Bradley Beaulieu, Caitlin Kittredge, Gini Koch, Scott Lynch, Gail Z. Martin, Seanan McGuire, and Ian Tregillis. There will be others, obviously.

Including me? Dunno, just at the moment and that’s not what’s important here.

Because this project is more than that. It will help start a new small press called Zombies Need Brains LLC – a publishing house focused on original anthology projects open to outstanding authors, regardless of their publishing house affiliations and spanning the gamut from bestselling authors to new, previously unpublished voices.

So do check out the project, not least to see the splendid initial artwork for the Clockwork Universe anthology.

At the moment, you’ll see an excellent rate of progress towards the final goal, so now’s an ideal time to chip and see the project’s stretch goals reached – and to help establish this new publishing venture.

Defiant Peaks – overdue website update

Ahem, after a genuinely helpful reminder from a kind reader, that doing this had somehow vanished below my To Do Event Horizon, I have put a Defiant Peaks page on my website – as you will see from the left hand menu bar. I have also tweaked the other Hadrumal Crisis pages a little, if you’re curious.

I will just say that I was absolutely up to my ears with Eastercon and Arthur C Clarke Award stuff around publication date – not an excuse but certainly an explanation…

What have I been doing since then? I keep promising updates. Soon, honestly…

Nigella – a perspective from a woman with 30 years martial arts experience.

I don’t often blog about political issues and I can’t recall ever commenting on a ‘showbiz’ story before. This is different.

My responses to those appalling photos of ‘celebrity chef’ Nigella Lawson being attacked by her ‘millionaire philanthropist and art collector’ husband Charles Saatchi have been rather different to most. ( For those of you abroad, the story is here).

I haven’t been sitting here muttering (or tweeting) ‘she should have slapped his face/punched him in the nuts’. I haven’t even been muttering ‘I would have kneed him in the nuts’. Firstly, both those responses come uncomfortably close to victim blaming as far as I am concerned. Secondly, I know exactly how difficult doing either of those things would actually be, especially from a hold like that, with both participants seated at a table. That’s setting aside the risks that a violent response from the weaker participant in a physical quarrel will simply generate more and worse violence from the stronger assailant and that’s not going to end well.

Which is not to say there aren’t things you can do in that situation. I have studied the martial art Aikido for thirty years now, which specifically enables smaller, lighter, physically weaker individuals to get the better of any sort of opponent,. So I can say with a fair degree of confidence that anyone trying to grab my throat across a dinner table will end up face down in the crockery. For someone without any such experience? That’s a very different matter indeed.

As an instructor, one of the first things we must do with new students is get them accustomed to being attacked. The ‘fright-freeze’ response is deeply ingrained and it short-circuits conscious thinking pretty much entirely. Learning not to panic under attack takes time – and that’s in a friendly, relaxed dojo atmosphere, where senior coach/my husband Steve and I have already demonstrated that however hard and fast we might launch a blow, we have the experience to make sure we won’t actually make contact, if the new student fluffs the response. Most usually by standing still, wide-eyed and mentally gibbering ‘ohshitohshitohshitI’mgoingtodie’. Incidentally, gender or physical size has nothing to do with this. The biggest, strongest chaps will respond in the exact same way, especially when they are taken by surprise. Which is something I do every so often, just to make the point. That they’re being unexpectedly menaced by a grey-haired, middle-aged woman in glasses half a foot shorter than they are, makes absolutely no difference to their instinctive response.

So one of the most important things we teach from the outset, is how NOT to get grabbed. Once your opponent has a solid hold, your options are much more limited and depending on the nature of the hold, getting free will require a higher level of skill and experience. We very rarely practise neck holds – not least because they are so dangerous. I once saw a very experienced black belt try, and fail, to get out of a strangle and end up unconscious on the mat. So primarily we teach people how to NOT get caught by the throat, and only examine escapes from dangerous holds with senior students with considerable care.

The other thing about neck holds is they often involve nerve strikes to inflict pain. We do teach more advanced students to use attacks on nerves as part of other non-neck-gripping techniques which involve controlling the freedom of movement of an attacker’s head. A good many of these nerve points are underneath and along the inside edge of the jawbone. Looking at those vile photos, I think it’s perfectly possible that Charles Saatchi could have struck one by accident. You don’t have to have martial arts skills to get lucky. When we’re training students in pins and holds that involve nerve compression, we always caution them to go slowly at first. Just because they’ve never done it before doesn’t mean they can’t get it agonisingly right by complete fluke.

The point of nerve strikes is not to inflict pain for its own sake. It’s to inflict pain in order to completely short circuit the attacker’s thought processes. To turn the tables entirely, so they’re now the one under attack, and crucially derailing their aggressive intent with a good dose of ‘ohshitohshitohshit-she’s going to rip my arm/head/leg off and club me to death with it.’

Not that we do things like that in aikido, the clubbing to death bit, I mean. The central aim of aikido is not to break your attacker’s ability to attack (by breaking their arms, legs, faces and ending up in court charged with assault) but to break their will to attack, by various means such as not letting them even make contact in the first place and thereafter, taking the initiative in the combat away from them so they end up being thrown or pinned as the aikidoka prefers. But I digress.

Learning how to do that calmly and effectively, especially when you’re caught off guard, particularly if a nerve strike is involved, takes a good deal of time and application. Advanced cookery skills will be little or no help.

So much for that. Why are we even talking about what Nigella could or should have done? Let’s talk about what Charles Saatchi actually did, as proven in those photographs. He grabbed her throat, hard. Are there any circumstances when doing this is a legitimate part of a conversation between two people, irrespective of their ages, gender or relationship? No, there are not. He assaulted her, as anyone with even passing knowledge of the law knew yesterday, even before news of his police caution broke. He assaulted her. I have no interest in Charles Saatchi’s self-serving version of events thereafter. Playful tiff? Fuck off. He assaulted her.

According to the papers, Nigella has now left home. I hope she gets all the support she needs amid all this furore and I am very glad to think that she has the money to take whatever action she sees fit, legal or otherwise.

But let’s just take a moment to consider all the victims of domestic violence who don’t have the protection of money, fame and influential family and friends. The refuges and services that have offered them quite literally a lifeline, have suffered sustained and increasing cuts in funding. Tory party thinking has long been that charities will take up this work, funded by wealthy philanthropists, the great and the good whose interests they so assiduously protect. Patrons of the arts, like, oh, Charles Saatchi for instance. Do we think that he will be donating to unglamorous causes like domestic violence charities? Well, he might well do so now, for the PR value. He is an ad-man after all.

But should vulnerable women’s lives be dependent on the capricious generosity of supremely privileged individuals like him? No. They should be protected by the society of which we are all members and by the government which is supposed to act in all our interests.

A Knight in the Silk Purse update – wow!

Let’s just have a quick look…

Well, as of this morning, 6th June, here in the UK, we’re already a third of the way to our first target in under twenty four hours. Whoo hoo. Though of course, that’s not nearly the sum of our collective ambition. As you will see from the stretch goals, we really want to see this as a whole series of books, and we’ve been kicking around some awesome ideas between us these past couple of months.

Incidentally, thanks to Martha Wells, here’s a link to buy Tales of the Emerald Serpent on Nook if you prefer, or hard copy via Lulu so you can see exactly what we’re doing.

Meantime, I will go and get on with writing the next instalment of my Aethernet Magazine story, The Ties That Bind.

And yes, I will be sorting out a blog post about what I’m currently writing and why, just to bring you all up to date.

A Knight in the Silk Purse – a second Kickstarter from the team who brought you Tales of the Emerald Serpent

Do you remember Tales of the Emerald Serpent? The shared world anthology I was part of last year, alongside Lynn Flewelling, Harry Connolly, Todd Lockwood, Mike Tousignant, Martha Wells, Julie Czerneda, R Scott Taylor and Rob Mancebo? Successfully funded via Kickstarter?

Which committed me to a summer of cross-stitch which was fun to do with the added bonus of having unsuspecting folk come to see what I was doing, such a nice genteel hobby, er, oh, you’re embroidering an ornately decorated skull, how, er, quaint etc.

You can now buy and read that first book any time you want, by the way, paperback or ebook, on Amazon UK, or Amazon USwhere you will also find enthusiastic endorsements from a bunch of happy readers.

Well, we’re at it again and this time we have ambitions to write more than just one more book. Though that will do to be going on with in the meantime. Once again, we’re taking the Kickstarter route, so you can find out more at A Knight in the Silk Purse Kickstarter

Further reflections on the writing life from Judith Tarr

After my own recent piece for Fantasy Cafe reflecting on changes in the UK book trade since I was first published, I have naturally been fascinated by this series of articles by Judith Tarr, hosted on Catie Murphy’s blog, considering the changes she has seen over her much longer career. Thoughtful writing, well worth reading, for all of us interested in book trade issues whether as readers alone or readers and writers.

Escaping Stockholm Part One

Escaping Stockholm Part Two

Escaping Stockholm Part Three

How ten years and more hard work is the basis for overnight success!

Have just heard from a chap I’ve known on and off for oh, a couple of decades, friend of family friends kindathing. He’s long wanted to be a writer. He’s written a few things I’ve seen and commented on – very overwritten, as I recall, but that’s nothing surprising in a writer’s development. We’ve all been there.

But an awful lot of would-be writers stop there, because they’re convinced what they’re writing is perfect. These days they go down the self-publishing route, convinced that ‘traditional publishing’ is biased against their genius or some such.

Not this guy. That last piece of his that I saw? He tells me “sent the book to an editor, got torn to shreds, learnt from my mistakes, moved on. . .”

He’s written plays to improve his dialogue – and had them published and performed. He’s sent out spec film scripts and got useful feedback from Hollywood. He’s been all through the cycle of agents’ letters saying ‘thanks for the novel, no, it’s not for us, but here’s a good deal of relevant feedback’.

Now he’s written The Novel that’s been picked up by a highly reputable agency, who offered it to some excellent publishers who ended up in a bidding war and a multiple book deal for very respectable money has resulted.

This really is splendid news to start a Monday, as far as I am concerned 🙂

And yet another instance of that arcane and mystical secret to publishing success – persevere and write a good book!

I’ll share more info as and when things go public.

Women in SF&F Month – Inequality of Visibility for Women Writers

Over at Fantasy Cafe, April has seen a truly splendid array of posts by female writers exploring a wide range of issues relating to women’s writing, recommending any number of great books, highlighting some of their own favourite authors, flagging up examples of favourite sorts of characters – and more besides. Treat yourself to a good long browse.

Given my year so far has been majorly taken up with the Arthur C Clarke Award and with EightSquaredCon – UK’s 2013 Eastercon, my contribution is what’s turned out to be a lengthy piece examining the lack of visibility for women writers – how it arises, what it means and why it matters. Because it does matter – to us all, irrespective of gender. You can find the piece here.

Eastercon down, Clarke Award to go… meantime, here’s something to read.

So, that was a tremendously successful Eastercon, thanks to the dedication and hard work of a great many people before and during the weekend. I will write more fully about it all later – when I have completely got rid of the truly vile cold that I came down with last Friday. I’m over the worst but the post-viral fatigue is proving particularly vicious. Fortunately my main responsibilities this week have been addressing the Clarke Award shortlist and that can be done from the sofa without too much physical exertion. The cat approves.

Meantime, you will recall me mentioning Aethernet, the ebook serial fiction magazine I’m writing a story for. That was successfully launched at Eastercon and you can get a taste of the story which Adrian Tchaikovsky is writing here. Er, unless you’re an arachnophobe – it is called Spiderlight…

You can also read interviews with and extracts from the stories by other contributors – and there’ll be something from me coming soon.