I'm a professional writer of epic fantasy novels and assorted shorter fiction which includes forays into SF, dark/urban fantasy and occasional tie-in fiction. I review across the speculative genre online and in print magazines, notably Interzone and Albedo One. I've also written genre criticism and related articles. I'm currently serving as a judge for the Arthur C Clarke Award and for the James White Short Story Award.

Convention programming, inclusiveness and diversity.

I see the programming at the recent WorldCon and for the upcoming World Fantasy Con is being widely discussed, most particularly concerning perceived lack of fairness/relevance of the topics under discussion to anyone other than comfortably-off, mature, white men.

Panel parity is a very good way to address the very real problem of cultural inertia in fandom, as we discovered at UK’s Eastercon this year. Because panel parity is NOT about giving poor inadequate girlies/others a place on platforms which they cannot otherwise win on merit.

It’s about expecting convention/event organisers to offer the best possible breadth and depth of current viewpoints & opinions that they can muster from their programme volunteers.

The whole event will benefit by way of more interesting and varied debate – because a homogeneous panel of four white men (or women or any other group) will be far, far more inclined to only offer four variations of the same viewpoint or to debate the pros and cons of a single argument based on generally the same experience.

Looking forward, hopefully seeing that inclusiveness will encourage other folk from under-represented groups within fandom to volunteer in future.

Provided they don’t see bombastic white men talking over and dismissing any one else’s contribution – which apparently did happen at WorldCon. That’s something else con-organisers/panel moderators need to come down on hard.

For those who haven’t already seen them, here are the related bloposts before and after our event.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, Mary Robinette Kowal has posted an online survey to get some actual data on the current state of fandom. Please do go and complete it and then read the current results – quite an eye-opener! Her blog post and link to the survey are here

Is lack of a genre-reading-culture at home a factor in the low number of SF writers of colour?

Let me explain – and then please let’s share as many perspectives as possible in comments. I was at a crime and mystery fiction conference this weekend, where the future of that genre was discussed. The lack of black and Asian writers among up-and-coming writers was noted, and regretted, not least given the importance of new perspectives in encouraging a genre’s development for everyone’s benefit.

A comment from the floor was particularly interesting. A keen crime reader recounted a conversation with a male, Muslim, British Asian colleague at work. He explained that crime fiction wasn’t something that would ever be read in his household and among his wider family since its focus on death and violence would be considered unwholesome and negative on cultural and religious grounds. Not ‘forbidden’ in any heavy-handed or dogmatic fashion but simply because, well, why would people want to read something like that, as opposed to more positive, uplifting fiction?

This is one story. As we all know, the plural of anecdote is not data. However, given my interest in the complexities of systems leading to unintended negative outcomes, as opposed to simplistic answers like ‘publishing is sexist/racist/ableist/other-ist’, I’m really curious to know more about this, in the UK, in the US and from as many other places and religious and cultural perspectives as possible.

I know I became a fantasy writer in no small part thanks to being raised reading Tolkien, CS Lewis, Alan Garner, Edith Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones – during a childhood spent in markedly non-multicultural areas of the UK in the 1960s/70s. I have absolutely no clue what my contemporaries from a black and Asian background might have been reading at the time.

Come to that, I don’t know what kids in Birmingham, London, Leicester, Bristol and other culturally diverse areas of the UK are reading at the moment – though I do know that writers such as Malorie Blackman are being read and enjoyed in schools here in the Cotswolds – where it can still entirely possible to count the visible ethnic minority kids on the fingers of both hands in schools with over a thousand enrolled. So that much (and more) has changed for the better.

Okay, folks, over to you. Let’s see what where this discussion might lead us.

The Gambler’s Fortune – Livak’s back on the road with old friends and new enemies.

By the end of The Swordsman’s Oath, it was apparent that now the initial mystery of those eerie artefacts had been solved, people were going to want to know a lot more about the ancient magic, Artifice, which had created them. People meaning both readers and the characters in this unfolding narrative; the Archmage and the Tormalin nobility in particular. Livak certainly wouldn’t pass up the chance for whatever profit was to be made doing this. Ryshad on the other hand, would surely be recalled to serve his sworn master’s interests. Was there a way they could do both together? Or would it be more interesting to have them go their separate ways, not least to discover whether the lure of their former lives would be stronger than their attraction to each other? I decided that would be much more interesting, for the readers and for me as a writer.

So where would Livak find some ancient lore that learned wizards and scholars in a mighty prince’s pay would overlook? One thing that’s long interested me is the way odd fragments of knowledge are carried down through the generations in oral traditions, from Homer to English folk songs. Since I’d already mentioned Livak’s father was a travelling minstrel, that was a plausible thing for her to notice – while mages and Tormalin archivists would doubtless dismiss the idea as readily as former generations of Oxford dons. Furthermore, this would give me an opportunity to look more closely at the Forest Folk, to challenge some unrealistic conventions of epic fantasy about merry life in the greenwood, and to explore Livak’s relationship with her father’s people. Would she be accepted if she found them, or was she going to be caught between the two sides of her heritage, neither one nor the other?

Would she set out on this quest alone? Hardly. While Livak is determinedly independent, she has never been a loner, relying on a network of friends and allies across Einarinn. So who would she call on now that Halice isn’t at her side? The obvious choice was Sorgrad and his brother Sorgren (commonly called ‘Gren to avoid confusion and a lifelong lesson to authors not to give characters inconveniently similar names in a throwaway line in a debut novel). For one thing, as Mountain Men themselves, they would be the ideal people to introduce her to the upland culture. For another, exploring why the two of them had left their homeland behind would add another level to this story.

They’re also interesting characters in themselves, and yes, like Livak herself, Sorgrad and ‘Gren had been adventuring in our D&D group long before The Thief’s Gamble was written. My husband Steve played them both with a cheerful amorality which I’m thankful to say he keeps strictly for the gaming table. He and I had a good many long conversations about adapting those characters into the far more complex personalities required for a book. As we did so, I realised the brothers offered me the chance to look at male heroes from a sideways perspective, in much the same way that I was reimagining female roles in epic fantasy through Livak. They are mercenaries, so let’s look at all the implications of that lifestyle. Sorgrad enjoys making money by whatever means necessary while Gren genuinely relishes the violence that goes with robbery and dishonesty. When push comes to shove, they can both be utterly ruthless. That’s not very nice, is it? So how come they’re friends with Livak? It’s because on a personal level, they are great company, loyal allies and skilled fighters. Exploring those tensions in the notion of an epic hero (and Livak’s blind spots about her friends) offered all sorts of possibilities.

So far, so good, but I still didn’t think that would take this story far enough. What more did it need? Well, conflict is the essence of drama but setting up someone to oppose Livak’s new quest directly would essentially repeat the plot of The Thief’s Gamble. Okay, what else could I pull out of the Big Bag of Writerly Inspiration? How about the tragedy of good men in opposition? That was a useful starting point but I’d just been writing from a good man’s point of view in The Swordsman’s Oath, and I already knew I’d be doing that again in The Warrior’s Bond. Besides, looking at Sorgrad and ‘Gren got me thinking about contradictory characters. How about considering an epic fantasy hero who really had feet of clay? A man leading an unquestionably noble cause whose personal character is reprehensible? Enter Jeirran, who divides opinion among my readers more sharply than any other individual in my writing…

Weaving Livak’s quest into the inherent conflict between uplanders and lowlanders with very different aspirations gave me exactly what this story needed – especially once I’d added in this new (old) magic. I’d already established how the Archmage’s authority governs elemental magic. With this story focusing on aetheric magic’s potential, now I could explore this very different power’s potential uses, the restrictions on its use and how and why someone might be tempted to abuse such enchantments… and what happens then…

Okay, that’s about as far as I can go without risking spoilers for new readers – and it’s about as much as I can recall of my thinking back in 1999 when I was actually writing this story. Now I’m eager to learn what those coming new to the tale make of it!

So head on over to Wizard’s Tower Books to buy it in your preferred format, DRM-free Purchasing for Kindle, Nook etc will come online in a few days.

GF-ecover

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