Women in Translation – The Numbers

Over at the Three Percent blog Chad W Post has some data on the gender of writers whose work gets translated. This is for all fiction, not just SF&F, and the publication dates covered are 2008-2014. The numbers are stark. Post says:

I suspected going into this that there would be significantly more male authors published in translation than women, but I figured it would be more like a 60-40 split, not 71-27. That’s brutal.

Breaking the data down, there are 14 countries that manage 50% or better. Mostly this is because the actual numbers are very small. Wales, for example, has 100% women, but only one actual book in translation. Croatia does pretty well with 50% from 8 books. However, the only country in that group with significant numbers of works is Finland with 62% from 28 books.

I note in passing that Croatia and Finland are both countries that have made me very welcome.

Also I should note that Post appears to have assumed that gender is binary. The missing 2% in his figures above are books which are co-authored by people of more than one gender (for example the Engelfors Trilogy). Given how hard it is just to get binary gender data when dealing with other cultures, I’m not going to complain too much about that.

Posted in Feminism, Finland, Translations | Leave a comment

Introducing Sanctum

A very strange and innovate performance art event will be taking place in Bristol shortly. For 24 days in late October and early November Temple Church (built by the Knights Templar and now a Grade II listed building) will be taken over by a rotating sequence of artists providing 522 hours of entertainment. The event is the brainchild of Theaster Gates, an artist from Chicago and is part of the Bristol 2015 European Green Capital celebrations. For details see here, and this Guardian preview.

Why am I telling you this? Because one of the performers taking part is me. I don’t know yet which day I will be on, or even if I’m allowed to tell you when I know, but I am listed on the website so I guess it is official.

That’s off the back of my being part of the 50 Voices for Malcolm X event earlier this year, so thanks again to Roger Griffith and the Ujima crew.

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Angry Robot Open Door Period

I was talking the other day about how one of the barriers to getting published for people from diverse backgrounds is the agent system, whereby you can’t get your book in front of a publisher unless you have an agent, and agents often assume that publishers won’t buy from anyone but straight, cis, white writers. Well, there are ways around that. The folks at Angry Robot are currently having an Open Door Period, which means that you can send them your manuscript direct. What’s more they say:

We want to explicitly invite writers from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences to submit to this Open Door.

They mean it too. They have published Wes Chu and Ramez Naam. They published Colin Harvey’s Damage Time, which is a book about a Muslim man and an intersex woman; and Laura Lam’s Bisexual Book Award winning Pantomime. They publish Kameron Hurley, who takes no prisoners on any subject. And they published Lauren Beukes even though she lives in South Africa and had no track record in novels at the time.

Full details of how and went to send your book to them can be found here.

Posted in Publishing | 1 Comment

Data, Lovely Data

Many of you will remember Nicola Griffith’s investigations into who gets to win literary awards, and who they have to write about to get one. The most interesting thing to come out of Nicola’s work is that not only are men more likely to win awards, but women are more likely to win if they write books about men than if they write books about women.

As with all such things, more data is always welcome, and the folks at Ladybusiness have been busily studying SF&F awards. Their data is now available, and it pretty much backs up what Nicola found. I haven’t had time to look into it in detail, but here are a few highlights.

More books by men about men have won awards than all books by women that have won awards.

Books by women about men winning awards are roughly twice as common as books by men about women winning awards.

In terms of the gender of the author, the three worst-performing awards (in descending order) are The British Fantasy Award, The David Gemmell Award (which is UK-based) and the British Science Fiction Association Award.

Nicola’s observations about the data can be found here. I’m going to be interviewing her next week. It will be mainly about Hild, which is out in paperback in the UK this week, but the subject of awards may well come up.

Update: By the way, I see that the Ladybusiness folks got themselves into a bit of a mess through not knowing who is trans (even fairly prominently out trans people). They’ve made a few corrections. What they can’t do is make corrections where people are not out, so their data may well still be wrong. There are also issues with the way they have presented the data which appear to exclude trans women from the general category of women.

Posted in Awards, Feminism | 2 Comments

Another Essay on Writing Trans Characters

While I was writing my essay on writing trans characters for Strange Horizons, a young person called Vee was writing one for The Gay YA, a website that focuses on LGBT+ issues in YA fiction (of all genres). Vee’s essay is very different from mine. They’ve been looking at the whole range of trans narratives in YA, including fairly high profile books such as Luna by Julie Anne Peters. When I reviewed that book five years ago I felt that on balance it was a good thing because there were so few trans narratives about. A lot has changed in five years, and I’m a lot less forgiving of books that disturb me. Vee has done a fine job of articulating exactly what is wrong with this type of book. If you are planning on writing a book with a trans character in it, or have an interest in trans issues, please read Vee’s essay and take on board what they say.

Posted in Gender, Writing | Leave a comment

Last Day for GUFF Ballot

Today is the final day of voting for this year’s GUFF ballot. There is only one candidate, Jukka Halme. However, it is important that people do vote because voting is the only way that GUFF gets any money. Without votes, there will be much less money for to send Jukka on his trip around Australia and New Zealand, and he might have to miss out on some places. This would be sad, because Jukka is a lovely person and I want all of my Aussie and Kiwi pals to meet him.

Oh, stop laughing. Wales haven’t played Australia or New Zealand in the World Cup yet, so I can’t be wanting revenge for anything. I’ll actually be cheering for the Wallabies on Saturday.

No, seriously, Jukka will be a great GUFF delegate. Plus he’ll be able to enthuse everyone Down Under about making the trip to Helsinki in 2017. Please vote. Details of how to do so can be found here.

Posted in Australia, Fandom | 3 Comments

The Wonders of Science

There are many ways in which life is easier for trans kids these days. Of course there are ways it is harder too. I don’t know if I would have survived going through school as trans. But I could have avoided male puberty that way, which is an enormous incentive. It’s all about choices. What medical intervention do you want to risk? What can you afford? What are the payoffs? Some decisions are hard, and some are easy. If I were a teenager now I would be saving every penny I had for this.

It’s probably just as well I didn’t have the option, of course. I suspect I would have made a dreadful mother.

(Oh, and please don’t tell me that people with XY chromosomes can’t bear children. They can, and they have.)

Posted in Gender, Science | 5 Comments

Bath Does Diversity

Yes, yes, I know. Diversity in Bath generally means something like whether you would allow people to have Merlot with Sunday lunch rather than the more traditional Claret. However, yesterday the Bath Children’s Literature Festival ran a Daily Telegraph Debate” on the subject of diversity in children’s books. “What could possibly go wrong?” I wondered. I was also pleasantly surprised.

Although the event was billed as a “debate” it turned out to be anything but, at least to begin with, because all of the members of the panel were convinced of the need for more diversity in books for children. We live in a very multi-cultural society, and it is just plain daft that the majority of books published for kids cater to middle class white children from wholly cisgender, hetero-normative backgrounds. The situation is even more stark in the USA. A recent Nielsen survey has revealed that only half of child readers under the age of nine are white.

The panel was made of of Lorna Bradbury (Daily Telegraph book reviews editor, Chair), Liz Kessler (author, also lesbian person), Shannon Cullen (Random Penguin, Kiwi) and Bali Rai (author, also non-white person). Basically Lorna asked the questions, Shannon tried hard to convince is that that the publishing industry was doing all it could, Liz was kind and conciliatory, and Bali did the Angry Brown Person thing. Bali was awesome.

There were some slight mis-steps, most notably when Bali appeared to give the impression that sexuality was a choice. When called on it he immediately realized his mistake and apologized for his poor use of words. Aside from that you might have come away with the impression that all was rosy and multi-cultural in KidLit land. Certainly the Bath Chronicle did.

It wasn’t until we got to audience questions that we actually got some debate, and mostly that centered around what doing diversity actually means. If you have read my essay on writing trans characters over at Strange Horizons you’ll be aware that there can be a great deal of difference between writing a trans character and writing a trans character that trans people are actually likely to identify with. That sort of problem doesn’t just happen with trans folk. It can happen with just about any “minority” group if the books being written are all written by, and intended to appeal to, middle class white folks.

Where I got involved was when the panel started talking about “universal stories”, because so often that is a code term for “stories that white people can relate to”. Of course things like falling in love, having parents die, and so on can happen to anyone, but the way we tell those stories can be very different. Someone mentioned that if you have a story about aliens visiting Earth, why couldn’t they drop in on a Somali family rather than a white one? Well, there’s Lagoon, a book that I dearly love. It is a book about an alien invasion that happens, not in New York or London, but in Lagos. Nnedi has made no compromises in writing it. It is a book full of Nigerian people and full of issues of interest to Nigerian people. I’m delighted, and somewhat surprised, that it got published in the UK and USA. It is not what most people would think of when they talk about “universal stories”.

Bali made a very similar point when he noted that he’d been taken to task by white editors over the language his characters use. He knows far better than they do how kids of South Asian ancestry living in Leicester actually speak.

Of course it isn’t easy making diversity happen. We are very lucky to have people like Shannon championing the diversity cause within publishers, but she can’t just publish what she wants. She has to work withing the constraints of the industry. Go back and listen to Kristine Kathryn Rusch in the Coode Street podcast I linked to yesterday for an industry insider’s view of how changes in the structure of the book industry have resulted in an obsessive focus on best-sellers.

As a publisher myself, and as someone with a lot of friends in the business, I know a bit about how things work. When you ask publishers why they don’t publish more of a particular type of book they’ll probably note that they don’t get enough submissions of that type from agents, and that they have trouble placing such books with the major bookstore chains. Let’s look at both of those issues.

Yes, publishers could go out and look for the books they want, but they use agents for a reason: it saves them lots of time and effort. Agents, of course, may have fixed and erroneous ideas of what publishers actually want. And they may not have the right clients. Bali made the point that most of the non-white writers he knows are self-publishing rather than going through the traditional publishing route because they assume that the overwhelmingly white publishing industry won’t be interested in their books. Shannon was impressively voluble on the subject of helping writers who are not from white, middle class backgrounds to navigate the gatekeeping process so that people like her get to see the sort of books they want to publish.

At the other end of the process, failing to impress the buyer from Waterstones or Barnes & Noble can be the kiss of death for a book. That’s less of a problem if you are Random Penguin and can offer to throw a fortune at marketing a book, but a real issue for smaller publishers. The bookstores, on the other hand, will say it isn’t their fault. They know what sells and what doesn’t, and they have to make a living just like anyone else. If the only people coming into their shops are middle class white people, they will only stock books aimed at middle class white people.

Now of course the reason other people don’t go into bookstores might just be that the shops only stock books aimed at middle class white folks. However, some of those middle class white people claim to be pro-diversity. Here’s Lavie Tidhar:

He has a point. It is all very well campaigning for more diverse books on Twitter, but you have to buy them too. Six weeks ago I re-issued Colin Harvey’s novel, Damage Time. The lead characters are a Muslim man and an intersex woman. Colin could have done things a bit better, but how many books do you know of with intersex characters who are key to the plot and have agency. I wrote a blog post about why I was republishing the book. Want to guess how many people bought the book on the strength of that?


Posted in Books, Feminism, Publishing | 6 Comments

Writing Better Trans Characters

Oh, really? What would I know about writing characters? Quite. But I do know a bit about being trans. So I have had opinions, over at Strange Horizons.

Posted in Gender, Writing | Leave a comment

Kristine Kathryn Rusch on Coode Street

As everyone knows, no women wrote, or even read, science fiction before 2014. Indeed, historians disagree as to whether women even existed prior to the 21st century. Maverick historians like Amanda Foreman have advanced the theory that the human race would not exist if there were no women around to have children, but for those most part this idea is given no more credence than similarly far out concepts such as evolution and “round Earth” theory.

Nevertheless, people like Foreman keep coming up with these crazy ideas. Recently the Coode Street Podcast interviewed Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who is utterly convinced that women not only read science fiction in the 20th century, but actually wrote it as well. You may think that this is controversial, but Ms. Rusch does have a fairly convincing argument. Failing all else she does a really good rant. I recommend it.

I’ll probably write more about this later. I think I want to listen to it again and take notes. I’ll probably also be dropping Ms. Rusch an email. In the meantime you might want to check out her new website which is devoted to her Women in Science Fiction project.

Posted in Feminism, Science Fiction | 2 Comments

That Was BristolCon

A con report. I have written it. Here.

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Well Done, Boys

Welsh flag

Bring on Fiji.

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Coming Soon from Wizard’s Tower

Southern Fire - Juliet McKenna

The Colin Harvey hardcovers will be on sale at BristolCon, and through other venues soon thereafter. My next project is the Aldabreshin Compass series from Juliet E. McKenna. We’ll be publishing all four books, one per month, from October onwards. All of them have fabulous new covers by Ben Baldwin, such as the one for the first volume, Southern Fire, pictured above.

By the way, as the Aldabreshin Archipelago is located towards the equatorial regions of Juliet’s world, most of the characters in these books are black.

Posted in Art, Books, Wizard's Tower | Leave a comment

Total Self Indulgence

Janelle Monáe, Nile Rodgers and Simon Le Bon. What could possibly go wrong? I am so playing this on my next show.

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The Ascent of Woman, Part 4

So there was another episode of Dr. Amanda Foreman’s wonderful documentary series This one took us up to the present day, and focused on revolutionary movements. It also took us back to Africa, which I was very pleased about.

Foreman started off with the French Revolution and the pioneering feminist, Olympe De Gouges. Sadly it turns out that Napoleon was a right misogynist, and between him and the Jacobins women ended up worse off after the Revolution than before it. And that despite them playing a key part in the Revolution via the March on Versailles.

Women also played a key part in the Russian Revolution, and for a few glorious years under Lenin Alexandra Kollontai made Russia a world leader in women’s rights. Sadly the men gradually took back control, and Stalin was having none of that feminism nonsense. Foreman got to interview Pussy Riot, which was interesting.

Meanwhile in the USA Margaret Sanger was pioneering the concept of birth control, and managed to find a wealthy backer to finance the development of the contraceptive pill. Apparently in the bad old days of the early 20th century the US Postal Service regarded mention of contraception to be “pornography”, so mailing leaflets about it was a felony.

Eventually we arrived in Africa and an interview with Lindiwe Mazibuko who was once Leader of the Opposition in South Africa, and another with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka who heads up women’s issues at the UN. We had some very brief mention of South America thanks to the liberation movements there, but it was very superficial. It is such a shame that they only had budget for four programs.

The overall thesis of the program was that we are moving into a time where social revolution will be driven by women, and will take place through education rather than bloodshed. It is a lovely idea, though I am not entirely sure I believe it. There are other things going on in the world that worry me deeply. At one point Foreman noted, “When a country is in crisis one of the first things to go are women’s rights”. There are plenty of countries in crisis right now, and more being added all the time.

Then again, she also said, “True revolution comes not from the death of millions, but from the death of prejudice”. That’s such a cool sound bite that if I was her I’d already be asking for it to be on my tombstone.

Foreman did a Q&A on Twitter after the show, which is storified here thanks to Gabrielle Laine Peters. The main point of interest is that she’s working on a book, which I will pounce on the minute it comes out.

I have all four programs recorded on my Sky Box. I might just watch them all again if I can find the time.

Now all I need to do is figure out how to persuade Dr. Foreman to do an interview for Women’s Outlook.

Posted in Feminism, History | Leave a comment

Today on Ujima – BristolCon, Stephanie, Art & Refugees

Today’s Women’s Outlook show had a lot of science fiction content. For the first half hour I was joined by Joanne Hall, the Chair of BristolCon. We discussed the various things that people will be able to see and do at the convention, and then we went on discuss Jo’s new book, Spark & Carousel, which is launching at the convention. We may have noted that Jim Burns like a beer or two.

One of the many fine authors who will be attending this year’s BristolCon is Stephanie Saulter. Last week I did a phone interview with her about her latest novel, Regeneration, which I broadcast today. The whole thing is about half an hour long, so I had to cut it down quite a bit for the show because of ads, music and news. I will post the extended version on Salon Futura in due course.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

The second half began with the studio full of artists. They were all people involved with the Art on the Hill art trail, which is one of many such trails in Bristol. Nicolette de Sausmarez provided all of the admin details, Jane Lee & Sue Jones talked about their art, and Alan Gibson represented Nota Bene, a local a cappella group.

Finally we got serious and discussed the refugee crisis. Paulette, who is back from Jamaica at last, announced a new initiative from Ujima to help people in Calais. I talked to Dr. Naomi Millner from Bristol University who wrote this fine article about what we can do to provide practical help.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

The playlist for today’s show was as follows:

  • Earth, Wind & Fire – Fantasy
  • Janelle Monáe – Tightrope
  • Pointer Sisters – We are family
  • Bob Marley – Could you be loved?
  • Prince – Art Official Cage
  • Nota Bene – Let’s do it
  • Jamiroquai – Emergency on Planet Earth
  • Jama – No Borders

And finally, here is a news report about Ujima’s recent win at the National Diversity Awards.

Posted in Art, Books, Conventions, Current Affairs, Music, Radio | 1 Comment

Spontaneous “Sex Changes” – For Real

OK, so “sex change” is not a approved term these days, and anyway doesn’t really happen as such, but that doesn’t stop people wishing. I know when I was a kid I used to go to bed dreaming that when I hit puberty I’d grow breasts and start to menstruate. It didn’t happen. I guess that trans boys go to sleep at night dreaming that when they hit puberty they’ll grow penises. And the interesting thing is that some of them get lucky. It really does happen.

Currently BBC2 is running a short series of medical documentaries fronted by Michael Mosley and titled, Countdown to Life. They are all about the weird and wonderful things that can go on during embryo development in the womb. Doctors tend to call these things “developmental disorders”. I prefer to call them expressions of natural human diversity. Some of the conditions Mosley talks about in the series are trans- and intersex-related.

Depending on exactly how things go as you are growing from an egg into a person, interesting things can happen that mark you out from the mass of humanity. You might become left-handed. You might become an albino. You might grow six digits on your hands and feet instead of five. Or you might develop an intersex condition.

You may have heard me talk before about Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. This is an intersex condition in which the body is unable to process testosterone. The child has XY chromosomes, but the Y has no effect because testosterone can’t do the job of masculinizing the body. These people are born looking perfectly female, grow up as girls, and go through puberty as girls. They grow breasts, but probably don’t menstruate. Often they don’t discover the truth about their biology until they have treatment for infertility and discover that they have no wombs.

Last night’s program introduced me to a different testosterone-related condition. It is known as Guevedoce, a term derived from a small Puerto Rican community where it is quite common. Children who have this condition lack the ability to make a special version of testosterone called dihydro-testosterone without which male genitalia do not develop in the womb. Consequently the children are assigned female at birth. But, like the people with AIS, these kids have XY chromosomes. The term Guevedoce translates as “penis at twelve”, because when puberty hits and a new surge of testosterone floods the body the developmental process gets kicked into gear and the kids, quite naturally, grow penises.

The really interesting thing about these two conditions is that most kids with AIS identify as girls, even before puberty, and tend to be distraught when their condition is discovered, especially if, as is generally the case they can’t have kids. In contrast, Guevedoces tend to identify as boys long before puberty reveals the truth about their biology, and they are delighted when they grow penises.

Here we have two very similar intersex conditions, one of which normally results in a gender identity at odds with the chromosomal sex, and one of which normally results in a gender identity congruent with the chromosomal sex. That’s pretty impressive circumstantial evidence that gender identity is a biological thing.

Mosley agrees. Later in the program he features a trans girl from California and explains, as I already knew, that the embryonic process that results in gender differentiation of the brain is separate from, and occurs at a different time to, the process that results in gender differentiation of the body. He sounded convinced that a biological explanation for being trans will be found.

Of course it isn’t that simple. It may well be that the process that causes someone with XY chromosomes to be trans is different from that which causes people with XX chromosomes to be trans. People who are non-binary may turn out to have a mild form of one or other of these conditions, or they may be something else entirely. In any case it shouldn’t matter. Trans people very obviously exist, and treatments are very obviously highly effective. We shouldn’t need a biological explanation to treat trans people as ordinary, sane human beings.

However, the more science like this we discover, the more obvious it becomes that those people who try to claim that “science” proves that trans people can’t exist make no more sense than those people who say that the Bible proves that trans people can’t exist. I think we’ve reached the point where we have to lump them in with evolution deniers and flat earthers.

Posted in Gender, Science, TV | 2 Comments

I Am Cait – Episode 8

The show has clearly been building up to a grand finale of Caitlyn and Kris facing off, and indeed has trailed this whenever they could. Thankfully, while it did take up a substantial part of the show, it was not all of it.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again. When it comes to family, there’s no point in arguing. Unless they have treated you really badly, people will always side with them rather than you. So do what they want. If that means no further contact, or putting up with them going on about what a selfish bastard you are, you just have to put up with it. Any attempt to do otherwise will just prove them right in most people’s eyes. Also, if you really do care about them, give them space to come to terms with what is going on. You have the benefit of finally being free, they don’t.

Anyway, the first half of the show was cringe-worthy. The second half was thought-provoking. Cait decided that she needed a re-naming ceremony, and so Jenny brought in Allyson Robinson, a trans woman who is also a Baptist Minister, to perform it. Candis managed to drag along Boy George to sing, and a great deal of sisterhood was on view.

One way of looking at this is that it was a cynical attempt to get Christian America onside, but Cait does seem sincere in her beliefs so despite my deep distrust of reality TV I’m happy to go along with it. There’s no reason why trans women shouldn’t be spiritual. We have, after all, been deeply involved in religion for millennia.

It was the fact of the re-naming ceremony that got to me. As Cait said, most trans women don’t have one. One of the reasons for that is that we mostly go through the process with little or no support, and often in secret. When I did my official name change I had no one nearby I could celebrate with. When I got my new birth certificate I was in the UK and Kevin was in California, and anyway I didn’t want to be public about it.

I think it would have been nice to have had some sort of celebration, but it would have been even better to have been able to go through the transition process with a bunch of friends. Even Caitlyn didn’t manage that. Perhaps, with all of this new visibility, it will happen more often.

Anyway, I was really happy to see Chandi play a major part in the ceremony, and to see Geena Rocero among the guests at the re-naming. Hopefully that will make trans women of color think that whatever benefits flow from Cait’s show will help them too.

I see from the social media gossip today that the show has been renewed for a second season, despite disappointing ratings. Apparently the audience for the final episode was 1.3 million. I’m guessing that a substantial proportion of that was trans people. There are probably more than 1.3 million of us in the USA. I know that’s cynical of me, but I don’t think most cis people care enough to want to listen to our stories.

Posted in Gender, TV | 2 Comments

BristolCon Next Week

Yep, it is only a week to go to BristolCon. Because I host the website I see the committee emails go through and I know how hard Jo and her team are working. But that’s all under the surface. I’m sure that on the day everything will seem as serene as ever. If you are thinking about going, look who else will be there:

  • Jasper Fforde
  • Jaine Fenn
  • Chris Moore
  • Paul Cornell
  • Jim Burns
  • Emma Newman
  • Pete Newman
  • Gareth L Powell
  • Anne Lyle
  • Huw Powell
  • Stark Holborn
  • Jonathan L Howard
  • Adrian Tchaikovski
  • Stephanie Saulter
  • Juliet E. McKenna
  • Ben Galley
  • Sarah Ash
  • Janet Edwards
  • Danie Ware
  • Jen Williams
  • Graham Bleathman

And many, many others. And me, of course. See here for my schedule.

Jo Hall will be in the Ujima studios with me on Wednesday to preview the event, and I’ll also have an interview with Stephanie Saulter.

Posted in Conventions, Radio | Leave a comment

National Diversity Awards

So I’ve been up late and pacing around nervously. No, it was nothing to do with England’s last second try in the rugby. I have been watching the results come in for the National Diversity Awards.

Commiserations to my pal Kathy Caton who didn’t win the LGBT Role Model category, but she was beaten by a trans woman, Megan Key, who I believe is the most senior trans person in the Civil Service. Well done, Megs!

Congratulations are also due to Trans* Masculine Support & Advice who took away the award for LGBT Community groups.

Commiserations again to BCFM who did not win the multi-strand community award, but like Kathy thoroughly deserved their nomination.

And then there was this:


I may be more coherent about this tomorrow. Then again…

Posted in Awards, Radio | 2 Comments