I have done a thing and signed up for SFWA. That may seem weird given that I am banned from entering the USA, but the organisation is looking to become more international. They’ve also made significant changes to their eligibility requirements of late. Technically I’m eligible for full membership, but most of that income happened decades ago under my deadname and I have no proof of how much I was paid. I might also be eligible for Associate, except a significant part of my fiction income has come from Wizard’s Tower anthologies and I’m not going to count that even though I am sure Jo & Roz would have told me if my stories were not good enough. Non-fiction sales don’t count. But with one or two more fiction sales I’ll be able to upgrade to Associate and then you can all pester me to vote for you in the Nebulas.
Last weekend I finally managed to attend one of the writing retreats run by Jo Hall and Roz Clarke. It was held on what is basically a large farm near where Roz & Jo have their own farm. Details here.
The format of these retreats is very flexible, depending on who attends. Jo & Roz are very happy to do workshop type things if people want them, or they can do individual tuition, or they can just let us get on and write. This time turned out to be mostly the latter.
My own situation was that I had several story ideas that just needed time to turn into prose. I ended up writing two short stories, or at least producing first drafts thereof. Other attendees also seemed very busy and produced lots of words. I think we all went away happy.
I would have got more done had I not needed to spend part of Saturday in Carmarthen, but that was worthwhile too. That included a lovely run along the B4300 which follows the course of the River Tywi for much of its length. Sadly there are not many places to stop, and the one I did find had the view obscured by trees. (Sorry, Nicola).
The farm didn’t intrude much on us, though I will note that geese are indeed horrible (to everyone, but especially to large cats). Also the call of a peacock sounds very much like that of a cat in extreme pain.
Anyway, it was fun. Hopefully I can go again soon. Being away from the world for 4 days (wifi is very limited at the farm) was great.
The eagle-eyed among you (assuming that anyone actually still reads this) may have noticed something new in the sidebar of this site. It is a little badge saying that I am a member of the Society of Authors. This is a UK organisation, and unlike SFWA it caters to authors of all sorts. I note that Joanne Harris and Juliet McKenna are both members of the elected Management Committee, and Joanne is currently the chair of that group, so I’m well connected.
Some of you are doubtless scratching your heads and wondering why a professional association of writers would let in someone whose fiction is as poor as mine, but that’s not why I joined, and presumably not why I was accepted. I’m doing a lot of history writing these days, some of it for books from mainstream publishers. The academic stuff tends to be unpaid, but it does lead to speaking gigs and those are often paid. Talks have to be written.
The main reason I wanted to join is because the Society provides good value professional indemnity insurance which is geared specifically towards writers, and writers who do public appearances. Given that some of the people I do talks for now have contracts asking me to indemnify them against a whole range of risks, and given the ever increasing litigious nature of the anti-trans lobby, insurance is essential.
Anyway, I now a professional writer of a sort. Which is nice. Even if it doesn’t make me a lot of money.
I have just been listening to Guy Gavriel Kay give this year’s JRR Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature. It was, as with every lecture that Guy gives, very amusing, and well worth listening to.
The topic that Guy settled on for the evening was that of how much light an author should shed upon the workings of magic in their books. Guy, of course, is famously reticent in such matters and, while he defends the right of others to write as they wish, he nevertheless wishes to advocate for his own approach. He loves to leave things to the imagination, to make, as he said, his books a dialogue with the reader, and not just a monologue by the author.
The entire lecture is available to watch on repeat on YouTube. Here it is.
Personally I am a big fan of ambiguity. One of the examples Guy used is probably my favourite scene from any of his books, that alarming encouter with a force beyond the ken of mortal men on a country road in Sailing for Sarantium.
I also like ambiguous endings, and to show that they have a place in fiction, and perhaps as a gift to Guy if I might be so bold, here is an example. It is taken, not from modern fantasy fiction, but from the work of the 16th Century playwright, John Lyly, a man much beloved of the sort of gender-bending that Shakespeare would later use, much toned down, in his own comedies.
The plot of Gallathea tells of a village that has offended Neptune and, to avoid destruction, must offer up its fairest maiden every five years to the god of the sea. As the fateful day arrives, the fathers of the two most obvious candidates disguise their daughters as boys and send them off into the woods to hide.
Both girls, Gallathea and Phyllida, are very frightened, and nervous that their disguise might be insufficient. Both are therefore delighted to meet a handsome young man from whom, they hope, they can learn how to behave as a man should. Before long, both girls are deeply in love with each other.
Woods being woods, the gods are about. Diana is hunting, and Cupid is looking for mischief to make. Seeing what has happened with our heroines, Cupid decides to make Diana’s nymphs fall in love with the “boys” too. The nymphs, of course, are supposed to remain virgins, so Diana is furious, and she summons Venus to put things right. Eventually all is revealed, and even cruel Neptune is mollified.
There remains the question of our two lovers. “How like you this, Venus?” asks Neptune.
“I like well and allow it,” she replies, “they shall both be possessed of their wishes, for never shall it be said that Nature or Fortune shall overthrow Love.”
She does, however, offer to change one or other of the girls into a boy, that they might be married. The girls’ fathers immediately start arguing over who shall lose a daughter and who gain a son. Seeing a problem, Venus suggests that the girls need not decide until such time as they present themselves at a church door. Her solution is acceptable to all and there, save for the resolution of a subplot, and an epilogue about the need for ladies to surrender to love, our story ends.
Who becomes a boy? Is it Gallathea? Is it Phyllida? Or do they choose to both remain female and eschew the strictures of heteronormativity? We are not told, and nor should it matter. As Venus knows well, all that is important is that Love shall conquer all.
I should add that the play was first performed in front of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, on New Year’s Day, 1585. No one lost their head, and therefore we can perhaps infer that the Queen was as well pleased as Venus with the ending.
If you would like to know more about John Lyly and his amazingly queer writing, you can do so via this fine podcast.
Another academic conference that I’m a regular at (and now a Trustee of) is the annual meeting of the Historical Fiction Research Network. The conference is normally in February, and that’s now definitely uncertain as far as in-person events goes, so we are going virtual. Hopefully that means we’ll be able to pull in people from all around the world (though in fairness a bunch of lovely Aussies are regulars and we had two Russians last year).
Anyway, in keeping with the times, our theme for 2021 is depictions of catastrophe. It was the end of the world, or at least it seemed like it at the time. From the Great Flood in Gilgamesh to the Heat Death of the Universe, humans have always imagined disasters. There’s so much to talk about. Here’s the Call for Papers, and the link to buy memberships.
HFRN 2021- Online
Theme: Remembering Catastrophe
Please submit papers to the Paper Proposal Form:
Deadline 30th September.
We welcome paper proposals from Archaeology, Architecture, Literature, Media, Art History, Cartography, Geography, History, Musicology, Reception Studies, Linguistics, Museum Studies, Media Studies, Politics, Re-enactment, Larping, Gaming, Transformative Works, Gender, Race, Queer studies and others.
We welcome paper proposals across historical periods, with ambitious, high-quality, inter-disciplinary approaches and new methodologies that will support research into larger trends and which will lead to more theoretically informed understandings of the mode across historical periods, cultures and languages.
This year we are using a form. Please submit papers to the Paper Proposal Form.
Deadline, 30th September.
Tickets from Helm: £40/£15
If you missed the panel today, then you missed out. I was very pleased with it. But the good news is that you can still watch it. Here.
Panels at CoNZealand Fringe contine to happen. The team is working very hard. I’m paying less attention to them right now because the CoNZealand panels will vanish on August 9th while the Fringe one should be there for longer.
If you want to watch my panel on Sensitivity Reading, which starts at 4:00pm on Sunday, here is the YouTube page:
Today was all about Zoom again. I now have three interviews in the can for next week’s radio show, and there was the convention that I have just posted about.
The convention featured some breakout rooms in which we attendees got to chat. It was interesting to hear from people around the world who are being affected by the pandemic in different ways. The two most extreme experieneces were both from the USA. One person had been in strict quarantine for 30 days, the other said hardly anyone locally was taking self-isolation seriously.
Several people bemoaned the lack of physical contact with others, which I am not finding a problem but I totally understand. Some were happy being able to spend more time with their families, but one person reported folks on a parent chat group who just can’t cope with having the kids at home all the time.
Most people seemed to think that communities were coming together during the crisis, which is great to hear. Of course it also bepeaks a certain amount of privilege in that they must be comfortable being part of their local community. People from minority groups are often scared of their neighbours.
We spent quite a lot of time talking about the sort of fiction that might come out of this shared global experience. That too will be very varied, I suspect. Some people will find benefit in writing through the trauma. Some won’t be able to talk about it for a long time. And some will use the techniques of speculative fiction to talk about it obliquely.
Finally one piece of good news that I have noticed thanks to having it pointed out by my Finnish friend, Otto. Telephone spam has pretty much dried up. It used to be that when I worked from home I could expect 2 or 3 spam calls every day. I can’t rememeber when I last had one.
Oh, and I was sent a cake in the post. You know who you are. That was very kind of you. Thanks!
My good friend Tamsin Clarke of the Popelei Theatre Company has been in touch about a new project that she is launching called Women in Lockdown. The blurb says:
This is not the first time in history that women have been isolated behind closed doors, and it won’t be the last.
Popelei are looking for writers to submit brand new theatrical monologues to the Popelei Seed Commission 2020, under the theme ‘Women In Lockdown’.
Popelei invite you to write and send in a new short monologue (maximum 4 minutes) for a female character who has had some kind of restriction placed on her liberty. Her freedom could be restricted physically, psychologically, emotionally, sexually or anything you can imagine. Her locks and bolts could be very overt or they could be very subtle. Her story could take place in past, the future or the present.
She is not a victim, she is someone who has found her own way of operating and communicating in a restricted world – be that quietly or loudly.
Popelei are looking for 25 writers (of any gender) to write these pieces, and 25 actors (of feminine gender) to peform them. Actors will need to be able to make video recordings of their performances as the final show will be displayed online. Chosen writers and performers will be paid £100 each. The deadline for submission of scripts and sample work is 5:00pm on April 10th. The full submission guidelines are here. Good luck!
I’m delighted to announce that my workshop, “Writing Queer Characters from History,” is now available from the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. Those of you who participated at FantasyCon, and at the Writing Historical Fiction conference at Bath Spa University, seemed to enjoy it. Bath Spa folks in particular should note that the online course will be 2 hours, not 20 minutes, so there will be a lot more time to explore the issue.
The first course will be on Saturday, January 4, 2020, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific time. Further details about the course and how to sign up are available here.
Well this is embarrassing. When I did my Hugo Eligibility Post last week I completely forgot one of the stories I had published this year. That story was “The Poet’s Daughter” in Rainbow Bouquet from Manifold Press. I have updated my original post to take account of that.
Not that I expect to get anywhere near the final ballot for either of them, but if you are going to do an eligibility post you might as well get it right.
I spent yesterday at Bath Spa University (the beautiful Newton Park campus) at a conference on writing historical fiction. This is a brief report on the event.
First up I should note that this conference differs from the Historical Fiction Research Network conferences in that it is primarily for students of creative writing, and for working writers. I think I was the only speaker presenting as an historian as opposed to a writer, literary critic or publishing industry expert. Both conferences have value in their own way.
I knew that it was going to be an interesting day right from the start when the opening speaker, Alan Bilton from Swansea University, started talking about postmodernism and whether we can ever know what really happened in the past. We largely managed to avoid going down any Alt-Right rabbit holes, but it did lead to someone asking about authenticity, own voices and so on. And straight down another rabbit hole we went.
When these discussions start (and particularly when they start on social media) they tend to devolve into an argument with people on one side saying that writers should be allowed to write whatever characters they want, and people on the other saying that only people with lived experience of certain types of characters should be allowed to write those characters.
Repeat after me, please: All binaries are false.
As it happens, I’m a big fan of own voices work. If I’m going to read a book set in, say, Mexico City, I would much rather read one written by someone who has lived there (e.g. Silvia Moreno Garcia) than by someone whose knowledge of the city comes entirely from Wikipedia. (And yes, that is another false binary.) But this isn’t the entirety of the disucssion. When it was my turn to get up to speak I made the point that if only trans people were allowed to write trans characters then only around 1% of fiction would contain trans characters, and this would be a bad thing because we desperately need positive portrayals of trans people in fiction right now.
One of the ways around this is to employ a sensitivity reader. Of course that term is a red rag to the more conservative end of the industry, but it shouldn’t be. There was a good example to hand, because Alan had been talking about his forthcoming novel which happens to be set in Russia. He mentioned that he’d relied heavily on a Russian-born colleague for advice. That’s using a sensitivity reader. Most science fiction readers would applaud an author who had worked with actual astronauts, or actual astrophysicists, to get scientific details right. That too is using a sensitivity reader. It is no different from asking for help to make sure that you get Polynesian culture, or non-binary identity, right in your book. Except that if you are asking for help from someone from a marginalised group for help you should probably be paying them, rather than offering a few beers or a favour in return.
My talk, by the way, was a slightly rushed and less interactive version of my workshop on writing queer characters from history. A few folks on Twitter expressed interest in it. I’d be very happy to run it at other events in the future.
The final session of the conference was an industry panel featuring literary agent, Kate Horden; novelist and publisher Lorna Gray; and the historical fiction reviewer for The Times, Antonia Senior. It turned out that Antonia is related by marriage to Amal El-Mohtar and can therefore talk knowledgeably about the difference between the SF&F and historical fiction communities. I found myself nodding along to pretty much everything she said because every book critic has the same issues with too many books and the foolishness of the publishing industry. She had also read and reviewed Shadows of Athens, which made me very happy.
Because the attendees of the conference were almost all women, there was some interest in questions of author identity, use of initials and so on. If anyone wants to follow up on that, I warmly recommend Juliet McKenna’s essay, “The Myth of Meritocracy”, in Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction, the British Fantasy Award Winning book from Luna Press. Juliet goes through the entire pipeline of the publishing and bookselling industry and shows, with data and references, how it is stacked in favour of straight, white men at every turn.
If it were up to me I’d make that essay required reading on all creative writing syllabi.
There were other great sessions as well. I enjoyed discussing theoretical approaches to writing historical fiction with Melissa Addy (I hope you enjoy Guy Gavriel Kay, Melissa). I was delighted to meet British-based Serbian writer, Senja Andrejevic-Bullock, who had really interesting things to say regarding writing about recent wars when you are from a people who are regarded as the bad guys. I learned a lot about women at sea from Sarah Tanburn, and about the hidden meanings in Pieter Bruegel’s paintings from Lisa Koning. I even met someone who has written feminist science fiction. Hello Lania Knight!
Huge thanks to Celia Brayfield and Bea Hitchman for organising the event. I understand that there are plans to run the conference again next year, and it will be at the University of Gloucester. I’ll let you know when I have more details.
This is very much advance notice. I’ll be pushing it much more once I am back from Ireland. But in November (assuming that the UK has not descended into full scale civil war) I am going to be giving a workshop on “Writing Queer Characters from the Past” at a symposium on writing historical fiction at Bath Spa University. The date is Saturday, November 16th. The fee including lunch is £85, though there are concessions available for students. Full details here.
On Sunday I will once again be co-teching a course for Rambo’s Academy for Wayward Writers. Cat Rambo and I will be talking all about writing gender and how not to make a
John Boyne idiot of yourself when doing so. It will be fun. There are still places available on the course. Details here.
Many of you will know Zoran Živković as one of our finest contemporary writers of weird fiction. Fewer, I suspect, know that for many years he taught courses in creative writing at the University of Belgrade. Now a book based on his teaching is to be published in English. It is called The Clay Writer and will be available from Springer in August. The book consists of a lengthy essay on writing, followed by a number of short stories that Zoran used to demonstrate technique. I’m looking forward to reading it.
The lovely people at Trans Bare All are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. Normally I would just point you at their website, but they are dealing with a little malware issue at the moment so I have just linked to their Twitter so you can see who they are. This is what I wanted you to read:
We want to mark the occasion by creating a book of art and writing that reflects some of what TBA is all about, and, as it is all about our community, that means we need you.
We are welcoming submissions of original writing and art on the theme of TBA and gender (perhaps what TBA means to you), or on gender alone, and we actively encourage not only those of you who regularly write or create art, but also those who might need a little encouragement.
You can write in any form you wish (poetry, prose fiction, life writing non-fiction etc) and, if your submission is accepted, you will have the chance to work with an editor to polish your piece for publication in the book. We are also welcoming submissions of visual art that explore the themes above – please see below for image specifications.
The workshop plan below will guide you step by step towards a piece of life writing with a creative approach, and you can also use these workshop exercises to generate ideas for a visual art piece.
- Following the TBA age limit, you must be 18 years or older by the submissions deadline
- You do not have to have attended a TBA retreat or party before
- You do not have to live in the UK
- Please submit your original work to email@example.com
- You must include the following in your covering email, as it helps us understand our community better and make our work more accessible:
- the name you want your piece published under
- your gender
- your ethnicity
- if you consider yourself to have a disability (no need to state what it is)
- your age on the submissions deadline
Deadline for submissions is 11.59pm Friday 8th February 2019
- submit your piece as a fully compatible Word document, or .txt if .doc is not possible
- 2000 word limit for prose (fiction and non-fiction)
- 80 line limit for poems (including stanza breaks), with maximum 60 characters per line (including spaces)
For visual art:
- Submit your piece as a high quality JPEG or TIFF file that is
- Sized for A5 publication, so 154mm x 216mm portrait, with no important images within 15mm of each edge as these may be trimmed off in print
- 300dpi (dots per inch) so it is at print-quality
- If text is incorporated into your piece, please ensure that it is legible at A5 size
- Please contact us if you need more detail about image requirements
- You can submit more than one piece of writing or art or both, and, if selected, our editors will choose their favourite piece for the book
- Submission does not guarantee that your piece will be included
- All submissions will be notified of our selection decision within eight weeks of the deadline. Please be patient – we are volunteers!
- if you want your piece attributed to ‘anonymous’ then please state this clearly in your covering email
- All accepted submissions will undergo an editorial process with our editors and designer
- All submissions must be free from publishing restrictions for the next two years. If your piece is currently published or under consideration elsewhere, please contact us to discuss.
- As we are an unfunded volunteer-run organisation, unfortunately we cannot offer a fee for accepted submissions; however, all contributors will receive a copy of the finished book!
There you go. Obviously a charity project, but hopefully some of you will take an interest. Good luck if you do.
This is quick heads up that Cat Rambo and I will once again be offering the Writing & Gender course this spring. It is one of many fabulous courses that Cat has scheduled, but it is the only one with me co-teaching it, which is why I am mentioning it here. The course will take place on April 28th. I’ll remind you again nearer the time, but if you want to be sure of a place book now. A full list of all Cat’s courses (some co-taught by amazing people such as Seanan McGuire and Rachel Swirsky) is available here.
Feminist bicycle science fiction is a thing. Who knew? Not me, clearly, but I should have done because the fabulous Elly Blue has produced four volumes of it already. Volume five, Bikes Not Rockets, is currently raising money for publication via Kickstarter. Volume 6, Dragon Bike, is currently being edited, and Elly has just issued a call for submissions to Volume 7, provisionally titled The Great Trans-Universal Bike Ride. As you might have guessed, this is a trans volume. Elly says, “For this issue, we’re looking to feature trans and nonbinary writers writing trans and nonbinary characters.”
So, I have until Nov. 15 to write something. And apparently it should be about actual pedal bikes, not motorbikes. Insert sad face emoji here. Full details are available here.
Also of interest is Disturbing the Beast from the fabulusly named Boudicca Press. This is going to be an anthology of weird fiction by women. Kirsty Logan is already signed up. They appear to be looking for work in a similar vein to Carmen Maria Machado’s fiction. The deadline is Sept. 14. Full details here.
This is to remind you that on Sunday 28th of this month Cat Rambo and I will be teaching an online course in Writing and Gender. This is what Cat has to say about the course:
Every writer hits the question of how best to write characters other than ourselves, and gender can pose one major difference. How do you write about a gender other than your own? How have Western ideas of gender fractured and what words do we use when speaking of the expanding awareness of trans, genderfluid, genderqueer, asexual, aromantic, and more? How have F&SF writers approached gender and what pitfalls should be avoided? Join Cat and Hugo Award-winning publisher and critic Cheryl Morgan for a workshop that will not just inform but inspire. 2 Plunkett slots still open.
Further details are available here, including how to apply for one of those Plunkett slots and get on the course for free.
Some of you may remember that back in September Random Penguin ran a series of events looking for new authors from diverse backgrounds. One of those workshops was in Bristol and was coordinated by local writer, Nikesh Shukla. Nikesh is currently best known for crowdfunding the anthology, The Good Immigrant, which explores what it means to be Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic in Britain today.
Just before Christmas, Nikesh announced the formation of a new literary agency, The Good Literary Agency, to be run by himself and Julia Kingsford. The agency will be a social enterprise, so not taking a profit from the business, and this is what it has to say about its objectives:
Inspired by a desire to increase opportunities for representation for all writers under-represented in mainstream publishing it will focus on discovering, developing and launching the careers of writers of colour, disability, working class, LGBTQ+ and anyone who feels their story is not being told in the mainstream.
They are not yet open for submissions, but you can sign up to be notified when they do at their website.
I note that the agency is part-funded by the Arts Council, which appears to think that “genre fiction” is commercial and not in need of support, whereas “literary fiction” — that is the stuff that publishers pour fortunes into marketing, and the media will always write about, despite it not always selling — is in need of loads more money. However, that’s not their only source of money. My guess is that you can get away with calling your SF&F “literary” if it is not about straight white men, because “everyone knows” that only straight white men read SF&F.