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A snippet, just because.

" His name was Blais Begart, and he was an Eschappé. A troublemaker, the mayor would most likely call him, a rabblerousing criminal dedicated to nothing more than destruction.
The mayor might have been surprised to learn that Blais agreed with him. It was only their views on the value of that destruction that divided them. The mayor and his friends clung jealously to their wealth and property. The Eschappés sought to tear it from their grasp."

4k into the rewrites, and this book is nailing its socialist colours firmly to the mast.

In other news, spring/summer seems finally to have arrived and, along with it my summer SAD. Oh, well. The majority will be happy to see the sun, I guess.

Skirt of the day: gold silk wrap

Why I started #Womentoread

Living With Ghosts
So, yesterday I decided to indulge in another round of that intermittent habit, poking the internet with a stick, by starting a hashtag -- #womentoread -- over on Twitter. I asked people to recommend sff by women. The response was astonishing: I'd hoped that some of my friends would pick it up, but... One of the very first to do so was seanan_mcguire (Thank you, Seanan!) and it just took off. All afternoon (my timezone) and well into the evening, people were naming their favourites, exchanging names and recommendations and ideas. It was huge fun and the enthusiasm and engagement and excitement was just wonderful. I am profoundly grateful to everyone who joined in and help this happen. Towards the end of the day (my time) writer Harry Connolly (burger_eater) gave me the idea of capitalising on all this momentum by linking it to a series of blogposts about specific women writers and post links to these pieces on twitter using the hashtag. (You can read Harry's article here.) I've written about women writers whose work I love before, of course, but the problem has been that relatively few people saw them -- mainly my existing social circle and readers. And that is a key issue for many women writers: underexposure. But the hashtag, as I said, has some momentum, so this seems like an opportunity to try and raise the profile of writing by women and to address that underexposure to some degree.
But why now, exactly. I've done something like this before (last year with the fantasy by women thing). That's part of it. I am an activist to my bones: it's coded into me to try and *do* something when I see an injustice. And I know far too many really great women writers who are underrated, under-reviewed, under-recognised. I see male writers praised for doing things in books which women did before them, which women are doing as well as them -- but the women are ignored and sidelined. It is a fact that books by women are reviewed less frequently than books by men, and that prestigious review locales pay less attention to women than men.
This year's review survey came out two days ago. During the day, my twitter feed was full of men -- many of them high-profile and influential -- decrying the under-representation of women writers in reviews (and I am very glad to see them recognising this and commenting on it) but immediately going back to talking about, promoting and praising works by other men. Last week, jemck found ourselves in a major branch of a major UK book-chain in Oxford and noticed a promo table for fantasy. We're both fantasy authors, we took a look. The theme was clearly 'If you like George R R Martin, try this". It was a table about 4 foot x 4 foot square, piled high with fantasy. Great.
Except... all but three of the writers represented were men. And of the remaining 3 -- the women -- two were not epic fantasy writers but established Big Name Bestsellers -- Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins and the books by them on that table were both sf. That's fine. I love sf by women. But those two books -- The Host and The Hunger Games weren't there because they were 'like' A Game of Thrones; they were there because they're already bestsellers in a related field. The other women present was an epic fantasy author and a good one -- Robin Hobb. Who has a gender-neutral name.
I'm not saying the men on that table aren't good: there were some excellent books there, by excellent writers. There were also books by men I've never heard of, which are quite probably also excellent books. But the overall impression was 'This is A Man's World'. Jules and I started making a list of who was *not* on that table, of women who are epic fantasy writers and published in the UK.

Kate Elliott
Judith Tarr
Freda Warrington
Gail Z Martin
Trudy Canavan
Karen Miller/K E Mills
Glenda Larke
Cecilia Dart-Thornton
Gaie Sebold
Juliet E McKenna
Tanith Lee
Amanda Downum

That was in about a minute. Now, you can argue, very reasonably, that some of those women are out-of-print here (but you might like to think about how they came to fall out of print in this context, given that contracts depend on sales, sales depend on exposure -- and women do not get the exposure).
A table that censored women from a genre.
A twitter feed that decried a wrong -- and then went back to the male default
I saw red. At some point on the 22nd April, I asked, rather wistfully, if we could declare the next day -- yesterday -- promote women writers day. I got two responses, both from women, saying, yes, lets, and so...
I did.
You can see some of the responses and recommendations here. You can find more by going to twitter and hunting for the hashtag #womentoread.
You can share the idea. You can write a review of a book by a woman. You can blog about a woman writer you admire. You can post a list of links to the websites of women writers you love. It doesn't have to be ep;ic fantasy or even sff. It can be any genre. And then, please, go to twitter and tweet that link with the #womentoread hashtag. If you're not on twitter, post the link here in the comments and I will tweet it for you.
This isn't about me. I know how it can look, I'm a fantasy writer. But really, it isn't. This is about all those fantastic women writers whose books I've treasured for years, about Tanith Lee and Evangeline Walton, Judith Tarr and Kate Elliott, Anne Gay, Storm Constantine, Sherwood Smith, Rumer Godden, Juliet McKenna, Barabar Michaels, Elizabeth Goudge, Liz WIlliams, Dion Fortune, Sheila Gilluly, R A McAvoy, Barbara Hambly, Leah Bobet, Sarah Monette, Justina Robson, Amanda Downum, Claudia J Edwards, Sharan Newman, Freda Warrington, Stephanie Saulter, Lisanne Norman, Jaine Fenn... I could go on and one and on. Some of those writers are long-established, some are out of print and out of contract, some are new, some are dead. But they are all great.
And me? Later today I'll be blogging here and on my website about a woman whose books were a lightning bolt to my writing world, Nancy Springer.

PS: another interesting piece on the gender imbalance in reviews here

The Next Big Thing

I've been tagged to do this at least 3 times -- by Kat Richardson over on Google+, by Jaine Fenn on Facebook and by kateelliott here. And I've procrastinated, because I'm not really sure what to write about. However....

1) What is the working title of your next book?
Death and the Madwoman
2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
It's the sequel to The Grass King's Concubine, concerned with what happens when Aude and Jehan return to the Brass City.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
Fantasy (with socialism)
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Aude -- Indian actress Vidya Balan.
Liyan -- the great Yuen Biao c.1989, with the long hair from his film The Iceman Cometh, but with red and orange streaks.
Qiaqia -- Brigitte Lin Qin-Hsia c.1982 (think Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain)
Madame de Faumont -- probably Farida Jalal
Remi de Faumont -- this is a tricky one. Maybe Sharman Joshi, but less handsome than usual!
Monsieur des Roces -- Jean-Hugues Anglade
Jehan -- argh. I can never cast Jehan, though I'd know him if I met him. He's one of those pleasant faced ordinary people; a plain Saif Ali Khan, maybe, or Atul Kulkarni (without the usual moustache).
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Umm, the title, with added revolution
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It's under contract to DAW, and was sold by my agency (Zeno)
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
A year.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Oh, help. The Anubis Gates, maybe, or The Labyrinth Gate but with more revolution than those to.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Dumas! (As ever.)
10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
No ferrets, this time, but a lot of it is about Liyan and Qiaqia and their story. And about revolutionary politics, workers' rights, and the awakening of the dead.

We are the zombies

Goth marquise
I do not, if I'm honest, care much for zombies. They squick me. I'm not keen on anything which seeks to eat me alive: call me a coward, call me atavistic, but when it comes down to it, the idea of being ripped to pieces simply does not appeal. Nor would I wish that fate on others. As anyone who knows me well can attest, I'm just not keen on the whole being chewed on thing. Sharks? Beautiful creatures, in need of respect and protection. Alligators and crocodiles the same. But do I wish to share space with them? No, thank you. I will fight to protect their environments, but I will not get into that water. (Nor the swimming pool, until I've checked it thoroughly. And as for blue bedsheets... Well, let's just say that the marquis has a wicked sense of humour sometimes.)
And at least sharks and alligators would have a reason for eating me. They are living creatures, they need to feed. Zombies, in popular culture mode, not so much. The mass market zombie exists to create fear. It's a mindless, unreasoning thing, without scruple or thought or code, its sole function is to consume.
Which was, of course, the point George Romero was making when he filmed Night of The Living Dead all those decades ago. Across the western world, human volition, human agency, is stripped away by advertising and big business, replaced with desires for more possessions, more wealth, more for the self. They consume, therefore they are. It's a 70s vision of a world in which the culture of mending and making do was slowly being replaced by one of throw-aways and expensive, often false, short-cuts. Capitalism eats itself and looks for more.
And yet, even in the disillusioned 70s, Romero's films were cult, not mainstream. The vampire, the ghoul, the werewolf remained mainly in the realm of Hammer Horror and straight-to-video.
I don't know what changed. I'm not that clever. I don't have a clear-cut explanation for our twenty-first century Dawn of the Undead. And yet, and yet... Vampires and werewolves have minds and wills, can be spoken with, reasoned with, can be projected onto ourselves. Zombies? I'm not so sure. If the vampire is the secret lover and the werewolf the troubled misfit self, what is the zombie, that mind-stripped, ever-hungry, massed, unrelenting threat? What are we afraid of in our bubbles of things, our palaces of possessions? What lurks, just out of sight, trying -- or so we fear -- to steal our comfort? What haunts the heavy type of the tabloids?

The poor.
The immigrants.
The foreigners.
The stranger.
The have-nots.
The people who aren't like us.
The excluded.

They -- and it's always they, not us -- want our comfort. They want our privilege. They want homes and jobs and health care. They want food and clean water. They mass at the gates of the rich man's ghetto, on the steps of the corporation headquarters, on the refugee boats, at the soup kitchens and food banks, in the dole queues and on the street corners, hoping for their share. When they go through legitimate channels, we call them scroungers. When they reach out and take, we call them looters and thieves. When they ask why they can't have a share, we talk of deficits and boundaries, cuts and social necessity, responsibility and 'we're all in this together'. But we don't open the gates. Some of us want to, but are prevented by others with more power. Some of us stumble and are thrown out to join the mass outside. Many of us read the words of the red-tops and identify ourselves as the inhabitants of the mansions and the boardrooms, not realising that, to those who really do, we are just another type of danger, another hungry mob to be barred.
To be turned into demons. They are never counts or earls, those zombies. They aren't beautiful, they don't tug at our heartstrings. They're dirty and nameless, the mob, the crowd. They're the underclass of the undead world.
They're the underclass. The recent obsession with them speaks too closely, to me, to the fears that we are encouraged to feed, the interests we're encouraged to support, the image we're supposed to uphold -- that property is sacred, that rights are only for the few and that anyone new or different asking for help is out to eat our brains.
They're the midnight fear of big money, the Paris mob at the doors of Versailles, the poor asking for a fair wage and decent working conditions and decent treatment.
And popular culture -- that huge consumerist money-making machine that sucks in the beliefs and possessions of other places and peoples and times and turns it into Product -- popular culture gift-wraps that fear of loss of privilege, that fear of having to share, and transforms those asking for change into a mindless crowd that will eat our brains.
They're a metaphor. But they're no longer the anti-consumerist image Romero offered. That appealed to the few. This new version appeals to the many, to everyone who does not want to share, to help, to support healthcare and a social contract. This new version is the capitalist nightmare, that the poor might ask for some of the wealth, that immigrants might want to live next door. It's our fear of change, of difference, of loss of those things with which we keep ourselves safe. I doubt that any of the writers who write zombies currently have any of these things in mind when they right them. Most of them, indeed, seem to me to be concerned with ways of rebuilding society, of improving and reshaping it. But the zeitgeist, the ubiquity of zombies concerns me.
Because in the end, we are being told we are right to fear those things which differ from ourselves, we are right to label them dirty, dangerous, wrong. The words of the writer are overwhelmed by the weight, the mass of the cultural load.
And that is why I don't like zombies.

Skirt of the day: cream, black and white tiered.

And it's done

It's done. Death and the Madwoman is finished and submitted to DAW.
Colour me shattered.
It's okay, I think. I reread it and fixed typos and egregious errors over the weekend at the Cambridge Folk Festival, which was.... interesting. Particularly the bit with the Huge Hailstorm. I was soaked through to the skin, literally. The manuscript stayed safe and dry.

Did I mention that I'm shattered?

Skirt of the day: blue flouncey.

This blog supports Betsy Wollheim for Best Editor (Long Form) at the Hugos.


A really good writing day, today -- the marquis is up in Bradford, on a site visit for EightSquared so I have no excuse not to be writing. 2120 words, an important chapter finished and another, equally important one begun. Here's a snippet:

"Mado knelt beside it, arms wrapped about herself, rocking back and forth. Blood spattered her, soaked into her gown and apron, coated her forearms and hands, streaked her face. She moaned as she rocked, low, regular sounds from her diaphragm. The curtains had not been drawn: through them, Mothmoon shone, riding high behind a lace veil of light cloud, tinting everything in the room with a faint, luminous grey sheen. He could see himself by its light, reflected in the great gilt-framed mirror that his mother kept above the hearth. Himself, tired and a little dishevelled in his uniform; the scatter of cluttered small tables with which madame filled the room; the harp-backed easy chairs kept for guests, the sofa, one end in shadow.
"The corpse on the rug."

De Faumont is enraged; Aude is rabble-rousing; and Qiaqia... Well, Qiaqia is about to do what only she can.

Skirt of the day: denim


I have made a metrics post for a while, it occurs to me. Death and the Madwoman is gathering pace and the end-game (if not the end) is in sight, I think. I hope!
1604 new words added today. Jehan is watching and Aude is pondering, as the city begins to fall apart. Here's a snippet:

"The men and women who owned factories and mines and mills could choose, as she had, to visit them, to inspect conditions and ask questions. They could choose to care, if their employees were content, if they were well-fed and well-treated. Most of them did not. Most of them were like her uncle. They did not mean to be cruel, they did not set out to do harm, but they simply did not know enough to avoid either – and they took no steps to learn. They looked at balance sheets and profits, at the ups and downs of international trade and the pressures of supply and demand and they placed those interests first. To her uncle, a factory hand was as much as piece of equipment as a loom-weight or a shuttle or a spindle."

My politics are on my sleeve.

Skirt of the day: green floral cotton wrap.


From al_zorra:

The rules:

1. Go to page 77 (or 7th) of your current ms
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines – sentences or paragraphs – and post them as they’re written. No cheating.

"Earlier this morning, while madame slept and Mado and the cook were occupied in the kitchen, she had slipped into the small room that de Faumont used as his study and gone through the papers in his desk. They were, almost without exception, requests from this person or that for de Faumont to pay money in exchange for goods or services he had received. Qiaqia knew about money: she had had numerous opportunities to observe it in action on her journey with Aude and Jehan. It struck her as a flawed system, easily subject to abuse or falsification. But then, the..."
Death and The Madwoman, p.77, l.7-14, as requested.

Skirt of the day: red, cream and black striped.


Ray Bradbury

If you had asked me when I was 13 who my favourite writer was, I'd probably have said, 'Ray Bradbury'. The first of his stories I read was 'The Veldt', which was given to us by our English teacher, Mr Buck. It was strange and elegant and spiky and threatening and wonderful, all in one. The first book of his I read was, I think, The Martian Chronicles, which I fished off the shelf in our local library because of the title. I read it in one gulp, and rushed back to the library for more. I found 'The Veldt' again in one of those, and realised, with delight, that this wonderful tale was by this same writer whose way with images and words and people so thrilled me. Over the next few years, whenever I had enough saved up, I bought his books, so that they were always at hand to reread.
He taught me that there were many different ways to see the world, that there are different angles, different views, different ways of knowing. He taught me the way that history flows, that we remember and rework and tell over our past. He taught me that words can think, there in front of you, on the page. To this day, along with Rumer Godden, he remains one of my touchstones for prose style.
I never had the privilege of meeting him. I don't know if I would have wanted to, indeed. He was a legend, a hero, one of those great figures of the literary mind: what mattered was that he was there, that he wrote. He was, when I first met his books, already immortal.
I have a quotation from Zen and the Art of Writing stuck to the shelf over my desk ('You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you') which I look at several times a day.
I am so glad he was so well-recognised in his life-time, that his books and stories are widely read and taught and thought about, that he received the acclaim of his peers and colleagues. Too many great writers never receive their due. I'm not hubristic enough to claim him as an influence -- he was a prince out of my star. But I am so very grateful too him for being there, for writing those crystal clear bright stories and opening up a world.

Skirt of the day: black pinstripe.



Living With Ghosts
So, I'm seeing a lot of posts and items lately celebrating the appearance of fantasies that are not 'European'. Which is fair enough. Writers will and have written books inspired by all sorts of things and places, it's what writers do. It's important that books reflect a world that is wider than just Europe or 'the West'; that it reflects the experiences of all peoples, not just a privileged (pale-skinned, all too often) subset. It's important that we recognise and respect the experiences of others, although we must *not* pre-empt their right to speak for themselves, arrogate that right to ourselves, silence their voices, misrepresent or warp their experiences and cultures for our own self-seeking ends. It's important that we recognise that, even if we are related or descended from that people or culture or both, the culture and people are not identical to us, will have changed, will have different interpretations and usages that we should not 'correct' or represent as debased or damaged or wrong; and that in many ways their interpretations, experiences, and usages are the primary ones and their claims on their myths, stories, traditions, beliefs, history and culture take precedence over ours. (And yes, this applies to me as a person neither Welsh nor English. Being of mostly Welsh descent doesn't make me Welsh, and I don't own that culture.)
But here's the thing. I'm European. Most of the European fantasies I have read and loved and delighted in -- and the ones I've read and found dull, and the ones that I hated -- were not written by Europeans. And that's fine. I believe writers should explore and expand and think outside their place of origin, and examine the stories of their ancestors and so forth. I am deeply unhappy with a model that says that a writer can only write about their very own backyard (a position which, amongst other things, restricts writers like Meera Syal, say, to only writing about being British-Indian and the 'British-Indian Experience', which is, frankly, a form of ghettoising). Some of my favourite books were written by outsiders or descendants. But -- you knew there would be a big but in here, didn't you? -- there's a knot of annoyance somewhere inside me at all this jubilating over the new wave of non-Euro fantasy.
Because, you see, many -- most, indeed -- of those books do not read European to me. They are based on our cultures but they are not rooted in them. They represent us, but they do not, all, speak for us or even about us. Mel Gibson can never be William Wallace, not with that script and that set of beliefs and assumptions about who I am, who the Scots are, what our history is. (Braveheart is an easy target, because it's so historically fake and so marked with Gibson's own prejudices. But it's also a well-known one, so...)
This does not mean that these aren't good books -- some of them are. It does not mean that I think they shouldn't have been written. All it means is that they feel like outside narratives to me.
None of which matters, of course. It's easy to argue that Europe has had its day, that we are a bunch of ex-Imperialists still whinging because we lost our Empires. That we have been culturally significant for far too long and we should shut up and let others shine. There is probably a lot of merit in this view. We spent hundreds of years plundering and silencing others. That's an inescapable part of the histories of at least some of us. We are not, of course, a monolith, and there are many parts of Europe which did not have that experience of Empire, or had it in a distant past, or were on the conquered, not the conquering side. (For the interested, Ireland did, in fact, have its colonialist, dominant phase, in the period from the 2nd down to the mid-9th centuries. Scotland, culturally, is an Irish colony, whose indigenous practices and leaders were supplanted and overridden by an invasive culture which remains the major one to this day, although in a distinctive regional form.)
But part of me still watches the currently dominant culture metaphorically shaking the dust of my stories, my histories, off their feet and moving on to something fresh, while declaring my past, my myths worn-out and useless.
They're still useful to me, thank you, in my home context. I still see the footprints of that past outside my windows, travel in its traces, speak and think and explain through the lens of its stories and experiences. And I will deny to my last breath the changes that the outsider narratives have tried to impose, the re-readings that simply feel wrong. I will not relearn my past to include liberated 'Celtic' warrior princesses and tree-cuddling druids. They are not there, they did not exist, they are a fantasy and they belong in fantasy. And they are not my fantasy. When I see an outsider reading European books and complaining that those writers don't have a right to say what they said, or that they got the -- European -- stories wrong -- I see red. Because the outside narrative does not trump that of the inside. It is not 'more right'. It can't be. It can only be different, and much of the time it will remain outside. (This includes anyone telling me that their coven leader/spirit guide/avatar of the gods told them that Mists of Avalon, say, is 100% true and I have no right to question is, or am 'too English' possibly to be right. Without even getting into the large amount of French influence on the Arthur stories, and the ways in which the Welsh stories borrow from the latter, and the ways in which the early traces of the stories are nothing like the story everyone knows, the bottom line is that that book is not history and, as a Briton, I get to say that as loudly as I want. My country, my story. And, y'know, my academic specialty.)
I really, really love the Cardinal's Blades series of books by Pierre Pevel. Part of that is, of course, because Pevel is drawing on Alexandre Dumas, who, as we know, I adore. But an equally big part of it is that, when I read them, I heard the voice of the Europe I know. They are rooted in our experiences, our interpretations. There are no high school heroes (and I am so over high school football team hero d'Artagnans) or kick-ass Buffy clones. The series reads French, not French-flavoured.
I am, of course, not French and I am myself guilty of French-flavouring and I get it wrong and I try to do better. I am not in anyway innocent of going outside my own culture and being careless, though I do try not to do it on purpose. I'm not better than anyone else, and I'm a lot worse than most. As I said at the top, I don't believe in putting writers in boxes of their own culture and not letting them out. There are reasons why I write what I do -- there's the whole write-what-you-love thing, and I love Dumas and Balzac and Sagan and Moliere and Hugo. I read academic French history for pleasure and have done so since my late teens. And then, I am, by training, a historian of early mediaeaval Britain and Ireland. The histories of the English, Gaelic and Celtic speaking peoples in the British Isles are work, to me, and I don't like to mix work of that kind with fiction writing. And -- and this is the one I rarely say -- there isn't much space for me to write fiction in my own histories and myths any more. It's pretty full, mostly with outside voices, and the Big Audience has declared it dull, over, cliched. As I write, I'm trying to think of a British writer currently writing British-set, British-inspired fantasy and I'm not coming up with many names. Stories based in the myths of the British Celts written by British Celtic writers or even mixed up mongrel writers like me is even rarer. I'm coming up with Mike Shevdon, whose books are partly rooted in English folklore, and, umnmmm... someone help me out. It's getting hard, going into bookshops, to find fantasy by British writers altogether (though they are not as rare as British sf by British women published here). We are there, but we are writing other things, or we are only published overseas. But the last major sff series inspired (partly) by British Celtic materials by a British writer I can think of is Gwyneth Jones' Bold As Love sequence, which was finished in 2006 (and is, as I said, only partially and obliquely inspired by Celtic or English myths, though it is very rooted in our recent histories).
And so, and so... I suppose what I'm saying is this: fashions change, cultures rise and fall in terms of their influence and importance, and this is how the world seems to work. It's good for old Empires to decay and face their own evils. But to people inside a culture, that culture will not feel 'over', those myths and histories are still part of them. They still need them, even if it is only within their own small space. Those stories may not be what outsiders think they are, too. (Personally, I am baffled by the 'hanging on to Empire' thing, as that has never been part of my experience as a British woman. Worried by and distressed by and guilty over, yes. And there may well be politicians who long for that kind of power, and scions of some upper class families who want to behave as though they still had their grandfathers' privileges, but they are not part of my normal experience, nor are their narratives the dominant ones I hear in our media. The problems caused by that Empire, yes: those are everywhere and we continue to struggle with them and -- I hope -- try to do much better, now.) But the bulk of may experience of the myths of my country have come to me in foreign accents, since 1980 certainly, and in some cases as long as I can recall. And now those outside voices are bored, feel -- in my head -- that they have wrung us dry and are ready to move on -- and -- and here's the kicker -- in some cases are saying that they are the ones who can say it best, far better than the peoples whose histories, stories those are first.
And that latter is not on, frankly. Certainly, step outside your home box, but do so with respect, please, and don't claim to speak for or trump the native voices. And remember that what bores you is still a living culture to someone else. And they get to go on valuing it, and telling stories within it.

Skirt of the day: heavy black cotton.

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