I am, frankly, gobsmacked. I cannot imagine the temerity. This is shared space and in the scheme of things, 2009 is very recent. It would never have crossed my mind to expect to control anything more than my own work, and to feel entitled to it -- to feel ownership in that way.
I got nothing. Maybe this is a gendered thing. Maybe this is a cultural difference. I perceive myself as pretty junior, in the scheme of things. They clearly don't see themselves that way.
I'm a decent enough writer, I think. I am, indeed, an award winning writer, though I feel silly saying so. But you know, getting published is a huge privilege. I am profoundly grateful to have been given that chance. I don't feel I need or merit more than that. Awards are nice things to have. I was honoured and astonished and delighted to win mine -- thank you, British Fantasy Society. But at the same time, I'm conflicted about them. The thing is, writing is not a competition, it's not a sport. It's a creative endeavour, a sharing of vision between writer and reader -- it is, as Lewis Hyde says in his perceptive and thoughtful book The Gift an offering. There is an inherent tension between creativity and capitalism anyway -- how do you define value in art, seriously? Popularity? Quality? No-one agrees what those are. Writing -- and painting and poetry and all the other creative arts -- produce objects whose value can be expressed in far more ways that simply financial. There is no pricing-system for the way a book can comfort or enlighten or support or heal a reader; the way a piece of music can induce sorrow or joy or a sense of immanence in those who hear it. Art has multiple values and msot of them are unquantifiable.
Most of Hyde's book -- which I recommend highly -- explores the dilemma of the artist, negotiating these different sets of values. Writers and musicians and photographers have to eat and pay bills like anyone else. They need for their work to have a level of financial value. But at the same time, many of us also value (hah) the other qualities of their work too. When a friend who has been facing serious problems recently told me that my The Grass King's Concubine helped her to feel safer, I was delighted and touched. I want my words to be useful and meaningful to others.
That is part of the function of awards, of course. They are a way for readers to express appreciation to artists. It's nice to be appreciated. And yet, they also set writers in competition with each other. They infect people with the idea that book X is 'better' than book y, because X won and Y came second. They create hierarchies -- and hierarchies create privilege and exclusion. And people start feeling, sometimes, that they are being unfairly overlooked because... Well, why will depend on the particular individuals. (When I feel overlooked, which I do, sometimes, because, well, human, I usually blame it on my own reticence about self-promotion. I am sh*t at self-promotion, and that harms me.) And that creates resentment and anger and culture wars. So I don't know. Because as writers we are all in this together. We are all committed to the same thing, creating our visions and sharing them. We are colleagues, not combatants, or we should be.
Now, of course, not everyone sees it like this. I've just been reading Hillary Rettig on writing (recommended to me by Stephanie Burgess and I am very grateful to her for that, for it is excellent). One of the things she writes about is how invested writers become in our work and its reception. It can sometimes become all tangled up in our sense of identity, and if it is rejected or ill-received, it feels like an attack on our inner, most sensitive selves. I've been in that place and it hurts. But, as Rettig points out, this belief, however natural, is also not the whole truth. We give others too much power over us, and she offers ways of retaining our love of our work without allowing others to destroy us through negative criticism or commentary. Like The Gift, it's an excellent book, and I recommend it -- it's called The Seven Secrets of Prolific Writers, which is the sort of title I usually avoid, for such books are often prescriptive, but this one is not. It's wise and kind and supportive. However -- to return to my muttons -- many many writers are tightly bound to their work and feel personally injured if it does not achieve as they imagined. (I will own up to having daydreamed of a World Fantasy Award nomination for Grass King for lo, I am human and rather romantic and silly [And, in my heart of hearts, I think it's a pretty good and pretty unusual book]. I didn't get one, and I didn't really expect to. But it was a nice daydream, and I was a little sad.) It seems to me that at least some of the so-called sad puppies feel precisely this -- excluded and ignored and unwanted. Which is not a nice space to be in. But, because of the world we live in, because of our narrow capitalist model of value, reducing everything to 'how much money does that make?', because everything is reduced to competition, they also seem to feel that this is someone else's fault. Someone else has cheated, or got an unfair advantage, or special treatment of something. And their solution is to blame those people and try to disenfranchise them. That the people they blame are people with far less privilege is also an artefact of capitalism, at least in part. White men have dominated the world for millennia through the subjection of those they deem non-white, of women, and, often, those who are not straight, not binary gendered, not cis-gendered, and who may face physical or mental challenges. It is also an artefact of cruel and narrow interpretations of religion, of fear and of bigotry created by fear and greed, and of generations of un-recognised social structures which have meant that rewards and recognition come much more easily to some than to others. If you come from an unmarked class -- from that group which is considered the social default -- of course you will tend to feel more entitled to success than others. You were taught that that was the way of the world. Which, I guess, explains the puppies, at least the sad ones, in part. They have been raised with expectations in a society which is changing (very slowly indeed) in ways which mean those expectations are fractionally more likely to be thwarted. But only fractionally. Not getting on a ballot is nothing in a world where young black men are murdered for walking in public. I don't understand the so-called rabid puppies and the only explanation I have is that they are very very good at groundless hate.
But the thing is, if a writer who is not like you wins an award, it doesn't take anything away from you, because we are colleagues, we are all in this together. You work is still valuable, your readers still value and enjoy it. It's still out there. Our genre is not a lesser place because it has got bigger. I loved Ancillary Justice: in addition to its use of pronouns, which seems to have upset some people, it's a wonderful space opera, and I love space opera. I love the works of Poul Anderson, and Edward Willett, to name but two small-c conservative writers. I am honoured to write and be published in a field which contained Clarke and Bradbury, Leiber and Heinlein. It also holds LeGuin and Delany and Russ, Hal Duncan and Roz Kaveney, Nnedi Okorafor and Aliette de Bodard and Ken Liu. We contain multitudes, and I love that. I love our variety, our scale. I want more writers, more visions of new futures and new worlds, not fewer. Because it isn't a competition. It's a universe and a universe has space for everyone, of every race and gender, sexuality and embodiment, ethnicity and culture and yes, political inclination if only we realised that. If only our cultures (some of them, anyway) weren't teaching us fear and competitiveness and greed.
So, you see, I don't know about awards. I don't want to compete with my colleagues, I want to share and learn, support and grow. I want to open doors, not shut them. And, if we have awards, I want them to be open to good writing from every possible culture and background.
I don't know if we can do that in a world that tells us to compete and be afraid. And that, that makes me sad.
Skirt of the day: blue flags, though given the above, possibly I should go and put on the red one!
Skirt of the day: