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Entries by tag: the cambridge skirt mountain

After long silence

There are days when silence is the only answer. I've had a lot of those lately. There's not a lot to say when everything seems to be falling to pieces on all sides. And what use are the words of the powerless anyway?

But here's the thing. Today we were presented with a summary of Our Great Leader's Five Year Plan manifesto for our all-new, all-shiny, back to the 1850s Britain.
Our borders will be ironclad, to keep out anyone who isn't just like us.
Because this country should work for everyone.
Our schools will be streamed, divided and reshaped to ensure that social barriers not only remain in place but become harder to climb, and that only the children of the privileged can be certain of a rounded education, while the rest -- the majority -- are inculcated from as early as possible with a sense of their own inadequacy, stupidity and inconsequence.
Because this country should work for everyone.
Foreign-born workers will be sent away, hampered, demonised and blamed, in the name of jobs for locals -- even if the places they work for depend on them and cannot function without them, because, well, umm....
Because this country should work for everyone.
Firms will be forced to list the nationalities of their employees, and universities deprived of students; while landlords will be forced to spy on tenants.
Because this country should work for everyone.
All European laws will be signed into British law, so Mrs May's government can repeal all and any they wish, including protections for workers, LGBT people, people of colour, people with disabilities, women, children... anyone who can't afford the best lawyers.
Because this country should work for everyone.

And in return... There are airy promises of more medical training places -- but no mention of funding for these, or of doing anything about the huge debt burden education now places on students.
Firms will be told to employ locals. But they will not be told pay a livable wage (a real one, not the fake one of Osborne), or to offer decent working conditions. Zero hours contracts will not be outlawed.
Mrs May has lots of words about fairness, but she promised no action against major tax evaders, the use of off-shore havens, the corrupt practices employed by the wealthiest to avoid not only tax but all other forms of civic duty also. She made no move to close done the channels of influence that allow the richest privileged access to the halls of power. She made no move to put the brakes on Jeremy Hunt's wrong-headed attack on junior doctors, or the wider assault on the NHS. Her ministers have made promises left, right and centre to continue subsidies for large and influential groups that benefited from the EU -- but not to the smaller and less powerful ones (like the whole of Wales. Huge agribusinesses matter. But Wales does not). I have doubts that some of these groups will see these promises honoured in full -- but insofar as any do, it will, I strongly suspect, only be those at the very top of the wealth pyramid. The ones related to members of her cabinet, the ones who bankroll her party, the ones whose opinions Matter.

Because make no mistake, Mrs May's manifesto is for the few and not the many. This is a manifesto for right wing upper and upper middle class southerners, Daily Mail readers, and pirate capitalists. She offers money for new houses -- but her hoyusing minister Gavin Burwell is suggesting this be achieved by removing minimum size requirements on new builds. And she made no mention of clamping down on exploitative practices employed by some landlords, of ensuring tenants' rights and safety, of introducving fair rents in major cities. Tenants are not people. Only the rich are people.

Just before he ran away to regroup on 24th June, Boris Johnson said of the referendum result that you can't just ignore 16 million people. But -- as with so much else -- he was wrong. Mrs May can. Liam Fox can. David Davies and Jeremy Hunt can. May was theoretically in the Remain camp, but no trace of that can be seen. And it's not just remainers. The poor are not people. Tenants are not people. The ill, those with disabilities, those who are not British-born, those who are not southern, those who are not old enough to vote, those are not Perfect Little Englanders, are not people.

According the the Ashcroft polls, attitudes amongst the leave camp did not simply map against Euroscepticism (and plain Euroscepticism is not an inherently bad thing: the EU is not perfect, and there are serious concerns). Amongst those polled, the majority also wanted women's rights reduced, social liberalism rolled back, and, yes, grammar schools.

There was nothing in the referendum about grammar schools or about non-EU nationals -- yet here are the measures, pandering to the the kind of reactionary sentiments that the hugely wealthy owners of the right wing press espouse. This is the beginning, not the end.

Remember that some of the wealthy backers of the leave campaign want maternity rights rolled back, because protection for women with children costs businesses money. There is a wedge aimed at the heart of our society, controlled by plutocrats and Big International Money.

We can, eventually, vote out a government. But the Murdochs and the Desmonds and the Greens are accountable to no-one. And they are buying control of the world.

Skirt of the day: blue tiered.

Most Necessary for (Wo)Men to Know.

So, back in the ninth century, having established himself as king of Wessex, Alfred the Great initiated a programme of education of his male aristocracy and oversaw the translation into Old English of a number of books he considered to be 'most necessary for men to know'. These were mainly religious, but also included Bede's A History of the English Church and Peoples, and Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy.

What books would you recommend today, aside from sacred books and standard chestnuts like Shakespeare? Mine would be Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian, which to my mind is the finest early history we possess and a textbook introduction into how we construct, create, manipulate and interpret the varied histories that make up our past; Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which despite dated sections is still a clear cold look at the intersection of greed for money and power, faith and modern society; and Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a masterclass in plotting, pace and colour by a mixed-race author who was always proud to be exactly who he was, and as a result wrote characters who stand up for their principles. (I love the Musketeers more; and his best female characters are Claire and Manon in The War of Women, but Monte Cristo is probably his strongest book).

Over to you.

Skirt of the day: blue flags.

Murder!!!!!

MOUSE FOUND DEAD IN CAMBRIDGE SITTING ROOM.
Resident cats deny all knowledge.

An mouse was found dead earlier today in the middle of the floor of a Cambridge sitting room. The body showed signs of an attack. Resident cat Miss Telzey denied all knowledge of how this had come to pass. "Kill my own food?" she told our reporter. "I would never do that! I am a Princess, and I expect my food to be properly prepared and presented to me on suitable plates by my human servants. Perhaps it had a heart attack or something. And anyway," she continued, "I was upstairs asleep the entire time."

Her fellow feline residents Horus and Random were unavailable for comment, but sources close to this journal report that at both of them were recently involved in an assault on a juvenile wild rabbit. The household is continuing to investigate.

Skirt of the day: blue tiered.

On fear, permission and writing.

I don't like to write about writing.
I don't like to talk about writing, much of the time. There is a reflex in me that makes me close down whenever anyone asks me about what I'm working on, how I write, how I'm getting on. Oh, I can talk about the generalities -- voice and pace and dialogue and so on -- if I have to, but even then, I'm not really comfortable.
You see, in my head, writing and fear are all tangled up. And I do not like to be afraid.

If I have a single talent, it's fear. I'm really really good at it. I can fill myself up, inch by slow inch, until my skin is no more than a thin boundary on terror and every single part of me is sparking with alarm. I can turn enjoyment into duty and duty into fear in a matter of moments.

It doesn't really matter why this is so. Let's say it's how I'm wired, and move on. There are lots of things that scare me, mostly irrational (it's a fact that I am far more afraid of zombies than I am of being run over. When it comes to things like that latter, I'm fairly calm). And when the spiral, the heavy dead grip of fear takes hold, I find it almost impossible to break free. Once that shiver is under my skin, it takes over.

And writing is scary. People say this a lot, and there are endless lists as to why. Fear of being exposed, of failure, of taking risks... I understand all of those and I sympathise, but, for all their familiarity within the language of writers, they are not really what I mean when I think about the intersection of writing and fear. What I mean, what this fear means to me is this: I am afraid to lose permission.

It sounds ridiculous put like that. And, on the scale of real fears -- of being murdered for one's race or gender identity or sexual orientation or faith, of famine, of flood, of homelessness, of loss of freedom, of persecution -- it is a tiny, unimportant thing. It's ridiculous. I know it's ridiculous, and yet there it is, making me unsafe in my skin.

I'm not good at permission. There are lots of reasons for that. Some of them are socio-cultural, to do with class and gender. Some are personal, to do with lived experience. Many of them are just plain irrational. But in the end, most of the time I hover on the edge of feeling I am not allowed to write, that me writing somehow takes away from others, that it's wrong. I've felt this about writing since long before I was first published. It isn't about public space (though I worry about that too, because there are enough white writers already, and I'm nothing special). It is, quite simply, about whether or not it's okay for me to set down words in a line on a page. Even if no-one will ever read them but me and a handful of my friends.

This looks nonsensical, even to me. But for whatever reason, because of how I'm wired, because of the things that have happened in my life, I find it incredibly hard to give myself permission to do things. And writing matters. I've written since I was 7 or 8. It used to be easy. No-one minded me writing stories for myself and my friends. It was only in my 20s that I discovered how competitive some people can be, how confrontational, about writing -- which is not a competitive activity. And, well... if there is something I can do that others want, I'm wired to think its my duty to step aside and let them have that space. And once that happens, I find it very hard to try and find any new space for myself. Someone else wants it. So I mustn't have it. And I stop writing. Even just for myself, because someone else might not approve.

It's ridiculous. Writing is not a competition, though equally it is far from a level playing field and there are many many writers out there, probably far better than me, who face huge institutional, social and cultural barriers. It matters hugely that writers who face fewer barriers -- writers like me -- boost and support those voices. They matter far more than my nonsense.

But fear is funny and it smothers us. When that inner place where my writing, at least, comes from, is bound up in fear, it paralyses everything else, too. I stop feeling like me. And I am doing it to myself. Those other people are not withholding permission. I don't matter to them at all. And so I'm writing this, to remind myself that this is my fear, not something external to me. To expose the fear to the open gaze of the web, to remind myself of my own ridiculousness. To expose it, even, to anyone who does think I shouldn't have permission.

Because it isn't up to them. It's not up to anyone but me to grant that permission. And, well... I need to learn how to do that by myself.

Skirt of the day: blue cotton print.
So it's been a while since I posted here. I'm not sure why. I did Nanowrimo in November and hit the 50k, and am now trying to wrangle the book into shape. Then there was Christmas, which was quiet and pleasant. And January. Which was as it was. No drama, no crisis, just life. And my life is fairly ordinary.

We are now once again a three-cat household: Miss Telzey's little brother Random came to join us in early December and has settled down very well. He's a lovely, friendly, confident little boy and he's getting on well with both Telzey and Horus. Both of them let him snuggle up to sleep, and play long games with him. Here he is: CIMG3955


And that's me. How's everyone else?
Skirt of the day: denim.

Guns and cons (but no rock and roll).

Let's start with a link. I'll wait while you go and read it: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/10/18/shooter_opens_fire_at_fort_myers_florida_zombiecon.html?wpisrc=burger_bar

This is scary. Someone was killed at Zombiecon by someone who turned up and started shooting.
This time, for the first time ever, I looked up what the gun laws were for the place where worldcon was to be held, because some of the things that had been said in the run-up to it by some of the puppy-allies were seriously scary. I didn't enjoy that feeling, nor did I enjoy feeling I needed to know. Fan space isn't necessarily safe space -- indeed, often it isn't safe. But this is an added level of anxiety, which had begun for me two years earlier and is one of the reasons I didn't go to LoneStarCon. I come from a culture in which guns are rare and controlled. I'm outspoken, female and left wing -- very left wing by US standards. Texas feels scary to me (well, some parts of it do).
In the run-up to Sasquan, someone -- I forget who, and don't have the link to had -- called for worldcons in future only to be held in open carry states. Someone else threatened to hit anyone who dared to find his views frightening. That same person stated that he will only accept foreigners who agree with him that the US is the greatest country in the world and who place its interests above everything else.
I've had issues with sexual harassment and misogyny in fandom for years. I've witnessed incidents of homophobia, transphobia and racism at cons. I've witnessed one psychotic breakdown (the concom and site handled it well and with compassion for all involved) and many crises. I've twice been seriously assaulted in fan space and I've long lost track of the minor incidents. SFF has a long way to go. But until the puppies appeared, I've never worried about guns.
SFF is bigger than right wing gun lovers. It's bigger than US exceptionalists. It belongs to all of us, whatever our race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, whether we're cis or trans, old or young, rich or poor. My fanspace has room for everyone, even the puppies (though I'd prefer they left their guns at the door, for everyone's safety).
Yesterday, someone opened fire at a cosplay event.
I don't want this to happen on another day at an sff con. If you'd asked me about this a few years ago, I'd have said, 'That'll never happen.' Now... I know I'm not alone in feeling afraid. I know I wasn't alone in worrying in the run-up to Sasquan.
But here's the thing. This whole deal with guns is part of the US culture war. SFF does not belong to any one country, any one creed or race or gender or whatever. It's bigger than that.
And I want the culture war out of our space.

Skirt of the day: blue flags.

Comfortable misogyny

So there's this guy I know. I've known him most of my life: I'll call him Alfie, for now, though that's not his name. He's a nice bloke: good company, smart, funny, kind and reliable. For a while, we worked at the same place, and he was good at his job and, by and large, a nice colleague. I was at school with him, and we ended up at the same university -- you know how that goes. We didn't always end up in the same social circles, and we have some different interests, but he's one of those people, I guess: one of those people you just know and have always known.

I like Alfie: like I said, he's good company. I've never shared a house with him, but our mutual friend Bimla did, and she tells me he washed up after himself and sometimes remembered to do the vacuuming, just like her. He was a pretty good housemate (and he's a very good cook). He's married now, with two daughters who he adores and encourages to play soccer and study science. To use the old terms of the 80s, he's a new man: he helps around the house, has been known to change nappies and he treats his female work colleague Chantal well. Alfie's one of the good guys.

Except when he isn't. Because, you see, here's the thing about Alfie: he's a comfortable misogynist.

About this point, I can see the frowns starting. What's misogynist about what I've described, exactly? Alfie cooks and cleans and is nice to Chantal at work. He's a good dad (though his wife Daisy does sometimes wish this extended more to picking up toys and getting up when one of the girls is ill, and less to the fun stuff, like playing sport and going for ice cream). He's a good guy, I said so. He's a friend. He's not a sex pest or a male rights' activist. He thinks women should be allowed to work and he is outraged at female genital mutilation and all the news coverage of historic sex abuse cases. When it comes to big issues, Alfie's a feminist.

He feels good about that. And that's where the problem starts, because while he's great at the big picture, he is rubbish at seeing what's right under his nose. To this day, he doesn't understand why Daisy was so upset when he went on that month-long training course two weeks after their 2nd child was born. It was a great opportunity -- and while he could have gone on the next repeat of it, six months later, well, he didn't really want to go then because of his cricket side, and anyway three years on he got that great promotion. And Daisy managed. He thinks Chantal bears unnecessary grudges, because she's still sore that Edward got a pay rise when she didn't, even though they do the same job and her appraisal was better. But Edward's older than she is and he has a son at private school: he needs the extra money. Chantal's single. She'll get her turn. And it's not like the company's sexist: look at Frances at head office! She's practically a partner. Okay, there was that fuss about how she didn't get promoted that time, and Chantal and the other girls -- Grace who does admin, and whatserface, that old bat from human resources -- were up in arms about it and kept trying to get him to say something to Harry, the senior partner. But they didn't seem to get that Frances is, well, kind of abrasive and she can be really pushy, and anyway Alfie has to think of how it would look, him recommending her to Harry. He doesn't want to damage his own career. And it worked out all right, didn't it? Harry headhunted Ian from the competition and Frances got that great sideways move and a new company car.

And then there was that time Jim made a pass at that girl -- what was her name, Bimla's friend? Karly? She totally over-reacted: went on like he'd raped her or something, when it was just a few kisses and a friendly squeeze or two out in the car park. And Karly was being pretty naive, going off alone with Jim when everyone knows what a joker he is. And he was drunk: Jim's a decent bloke, everyone knows that. Yes, he makes some off-colour remarks, and yes, he can be a bit, well, *handy* when he's drunk, but it's just a bit of fun. Jim wouldn't really rape anyone. Alfie's sure of that. He wouldn't be friends with a man like that. (And anyway sometimes women exaggerate. He knows it's a bit edgy to say that, but he read this article in the paper the other day, and they interviewed a lawyer, and he'd know, right?) But Bimla and Daisy flew off the handle about that, and Daisy won't let him invite Jim round any more.

The thing is, Alfie thinks, is that women are just a bit... well, they expect miracles, right? It can take years to get where Ian and Harry are: Frances should know that. Her turn will come, if she's patient and doesn't make trouble. (Yes, Ian's a few years younger that her, but she took those two years out when she had her baby, so it evens out.) It's a hard word for everyone and these girls, well, they're being naive. There's laws and everything now about equality: people aren't allowed to discriminate any more. There's a level playing field. But some of these women insist on seeing sexism everywhere where it's not. If it was there, he'd know, and he'd be right there fighting for justice for them, just like in the old days when he used to go on those Reclaim the Night marches with Daisy and Bimla. He supports women's rights. That's one of the reasons he didn't go to Harry about Frances or Chantal: it would have been sexist, like they couldn't speak for themselves. And he was really busy that week anyway, and, well, this stuff is really hard work and he just doesn't have the energy for all that, some days.

Alfie means well. He understands the big issues and, despite how he looks from the above, he's a solid ally on those things: he really is a good dad and he doesn't expect rewards for doing housework. But sometimes, he doesn't get the insidious things. He doesn't mean to be hurtful, but he simply does not see the pattern of, say, Jim's behaviour, that makes Daisy and Bimla and Karly so uncomfortable. He doesn't connect it with the wider social problems of sexual harassment and rape culture. He really does think that Frances' abrasiveness is the main thing holding her back. (And he hasn't noticed that Ian is far ruder and far pushier, because, well, Ian is assertive and confident, isn't he?) They look to him like little, isolated problems, not part of a toxic cultural institution. And because to him, they're small, they're not worth getting wound up about (as he sometimes says to Daisy).

Alfie is fictional, of course. I invented him as a place-marker. He's a composite of hundreds and hundreds of men I've known over the years, mostly good blokes, people I like, people who are good people. I don't know anyone who so consistently trips over his male privilege as Alfie. But the thing is, we are an institutionally misogynist society, even with the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act and so on and so forth. We are rooted in a culture soaked in thousands of years of discrimination and sexism and assumptions about gender roles. We see where that operates on the large scale, but not always on the small -- and the less affected we are by it, the less we see. I could say the same about racism and homophobia and gender-essentialism and transphobia. The Alfies of the SFF world buy stories from women writers, and sometimes read books by them. They listen to the women they know. They are genuinely delighted when a new woman writer does well. They host guest posts from women on their webpages and link to things they write. They see and act on the big stuff. And sometimes, when historic inequities are pointed out, they help signal boost this.

And yet, and yet... If you talk to many women in sff, and particularly women who have been around a while, they'll often express a feeling of fatigue. We have been fighting so long to be seen and heard and yet our voices are barely any louder, and when new voices appear -- which is great -- older ones are dropped or forgotten to make space. I've said this before, over and over, but it is still predominantly older or established women who are expected to give way for the newcomers. A new book by William Gibson is An Event. A new book by multiple-award winning, genre-shaping C. J. Cherryh passes with barely a notice. And when this is mentioned out, men (and some women and non-binary people, yes, because #notallmen) point to the current clump of hot women writers and say 'But look at them!'

We have a culture that found it right and proper that after the death of Iain M Banks, no new GoH was announced for worldcon, but a debate started as to whether the female guest should be replaced with a different, younger woman, because the older woman 'wasn't relevant to younger readers' (which was itself wrong, as she is very popular with teenagers). We have a canon that repeats the same handful of women as members -- LeGuin, Russ, Butler, Moore, Tiptree -- without apparently seeing the problem that these women are used to stand for hundreds of others who are forgotten or dismissed (and *I* for one have not forgotten the male critic who told me that he didn't read 'the sort of mediaevalist stuff you write'. Fine, if that's a question of personal taste, but the fact is I don't write mediaevalist fantasy. But I'm a woman who writes fantasy, so he Knew, without troubling to check). I've not forgotten the fan who was incredibly vocal condemning an all-male awards' shortlist drawn up by a panel which was 50% female, but when he found himself in a similar position on a different panel, justified the absence of women by naming a couple of female writers and adding 'We don't want that kind of romantic slush on an awards' list, do we?' I've not forgotten the man who, after I was on a panel about sexual harassment in fandom, backed me into a corner to lecture me on what I was doing wrong in how I tried to protect myself (complete with 'how to dress' notes). The latter reminded me of the first iteration of Alfie I ever met, a boyfriend of a college friend, who used to censor her wardrobe on how 'feminist' it was. He forbade her to wear skirts, even if she wanted to, because it was unfeminist. And then there are all the men who say 'I need to step back; this is so tiring! I don't know how you women cope!'

We cope because we have no choice. We can't step out, not without harming ourselves. We can't endorse, say, panel parity for just a year, because these are our lives. The same is true, of course, for those engaged in anti-racist action, and that is often far harder, because the barriers are greater.

It doesn't help when the Alfies tell us not to get so wound up, or when they say 'Oh, but it's not my fight', or when they recycle the same list of women-who-matter, or Know what we write without looking it up. It doesn't help when they put up their 'Best of' lists, with only 2 women (both usually the current hot women writers). It doesn't help when they fence-sit, or fail to confront misinformation because they can't be bothered or don't want to 'dominate' (guys, you can speak up without taking over). It doesn't help when they say 'Oh, but that's so trivial'. It doesn't help when they say, 'SF by women doesn't sell' without thinking about the social and cultural reasons why that may be so (men get more reviews; their books are more likely to be promoted; men are more likely to recommend books by other men -- and to take recommendations from other men; bookshop buyers respond to numbers without looking at how they privilege male authors and order fewer books by women and so on and on). It doesn't help when men leave the women out when they talk about their influences. It doesn't help when women who self-promote are labelled pushy and aggressive while the men who do the same are seen as cool and clever.

I'm not saying most men do this on purpose. They don't. We are, as I said, an institutionally sexist culture. Women are embedded in this, too. I have had to have brisk conversations with myself more than once as to *why* I find self-promotional posts by women more worrying that those by men, for instance. We are all complicit in this comfortable misogyny, because we were all raised that way. And the same is true about other damaging, harmful social institutions, particularly racism.

Speak up. Take risks. Women have to, every single day. People of colour have to. This uneven division of labour we have, where women and people of colour and transpeople and queer people have to do the bulk of the heavy lifting is itself part of the problem. Yes, the voices and ideas and needs of those who are Othered must be front and centre. But those who sit silent, or act like Alfie are, in the end, part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Skirt of the day: blue parachute.

Strange Horizons

I'm over at Strange Horizons today, as part of a roundtable on representing marginalised voices in historical fiction and sff, alongside two writers I admire a lot, David Anthony Durham and Joyce Chng (aka J Damask). I loved getting to do this: Joyce and David are very insightful people and I learnt a lot; and our moderator Vanessa Rose Phin asked excellent questions. You can find it here:
http://www.strangehorizons.com/2015/20150427/2chngdurhamsperring-a.shtml

In other news, the cats are planting themselves in the flowerbeds where the sun is warmest, the wip is progressing slowly and the lilac bush just outside my window is coming into bloom. I like April.



Skirt of the day: denim
So I just learnt that both Mr Correia and Mr Torgersen debuted in 2009. I debuted (as a novelist) that year, too. From the sense of ownership and entitlement they express over sff, I had assumed they were old hands, who'd been working and writing for at least a decade, probably more.
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:

The confidence trick: skiing and writing

So, I'm most of the way up a French mountain, watching the cloud come down and the wind make waves in the snow, and I'm thinking about confidence and courage and technique. We're here, the marquis and me, to ski, but I am not skiing: I'm here in the hotel room with my tablet while the marquis skis out there in the wind and cloud.

Because for me, skiing is all about confidence and courage and, yes, technique. I'm an okay skier. I'll never be good: I started too late and I don't ski regularly enough and I don't have the confidence and only sometimes the courage. The marquis, who *is* a good skier, says I have the technique to cope with most of the conditions I might meet. Several ski instructors have said the same. But the thing is, I don't believe them. I've skied steep runs and icy ones, moguls and unpisted runs; in mist and thick cloud, in strong winds and in snowstorms, in flat light and, once, in almost no light at all. I've skied narrow tracks which are full of people. I've found myself alone on steeps and bumps and coped because I had to.

None of that killed me. None of that left me with anything worse than bruising (so far, touch wood). In that sense, I suppose the marquis is right: I have the technique I need. But the thing is, you see, I don't do any of these things perfectly -- and if I'm not perfect, then my head knmows for certain sure that I am not good enough, insufficient, wrong and not allowed.

And then there's other people. Ski runs are full of other people. The rule of the piste is that you look out for and ski to avoid worrying, inconveniencing or harming those who are downslope of you. Those who are upslope are not your responsibility. But I can't make myself believe that. I have to be the perfect skier to avoid inconveniencing anybody, up- or downslope. I have to be neat. I have to ski well enough so as not to cause the marquis to be ashamed of me and not to look too stupid in front of others. I have to be perfect in order to avoid causing harm, or doing wrong. And in my head, any failure of perfection is a potential wrong.

Writing is the same. In my head, always, there is a perfect book, the book of my dreams, the book I am writing towards, reaching towards, hoping to write. It's shaped just right: it says and does all the things I want to say in precisely the right way. It feels right -- and feel is a big thing for me in writing. If the words on the screen, the paper, give me that same tingle I get from my favourite parts of my favourite, most-admired books (the 'Place Royale chapter in Vingt Ans Apres; the death of Porthos; the end of Dying of the Light or of Ancient Light), then I know I've got it right. But it almost never happens. Like skiing, most of the time, the words -- the turns -- are not-quite-there, not shapely enough, not neat enough, not perfect. And the book -- or the properly skied challenging run -- remains something that, in my head, I essentially failed at.

And then, when it comes down to it, people do judge. And -- in the case of published work, at least -- that's fair enough. It's irritating and sometimes hurtful when strangers call out comments about my skiing (or my face or clothes or age or body). Reviews are fair game. But the art is avoiding inintended harm. One reviewer labelled Gracielis a Mary Sue, which irritated me, because a) how to suppress women's writing 101 and b) hello, reviewer, *Thierry* is my darling. Another however noted that in , the womenn suffer more than the men. I hadn't noticed that nor intended it, but the culture that made me taught me that women with power are at greater risk and I reproduced that. Right until the point where I started writing in the hope I might produce something publishable, I had always written female characters as the main protagonist. But first Valdarrien (in a drawer) and then Ghosts placed men at the centre. Aude was harder to write than either Valdin or Gracielis, because with every page I was fighting the script that told me she didn't belong in the limelight. (Aude herself disagrees profoundly with this statement.) Women's writing is policed and judged at every turn, and the definitions of perfection change all the time, vary between cultures -- but women, in particular, seem sometimes to be expected to satisfy everyone while simultaneously removing themselves from sight and hearing because public writing space remains gendered mostly male and women's work is inferior, imitative, irrelevant and, of course, much more likely to be failed and broken and evil. It would take a perfect writer to avoid that -- and I am not, never will be, a perfect writer. And then, this kind of perfection -- the perfection that satisfies others, avoids harm, does not take up space etc etc -- is closer in type to that perfect skier I cannot be than the author of the perfect book I sometimes glimpse. The perfect book is in my head, after all, but these other perfections are all about the needs and wants and demands and angers of others.

All this is, frankly, a pain in the rear. The marquis doesn't expect perfection and I've only met one ski instructor who did (and he was more interested in lunch than teaching anyway). Those upslope skiers have other things on their mind. I know perfectionism is a bad habit. But I can't break it. I can't break it because I have never yet in all my too many years managed to work out how I can possibly ever allow myself to be good enough, imperfect, without that being deadly wrong. (And it does sometimes feel like it's about life and death.)


I don't have these standards for others. Other people are allowed, most definitely, to be good enough. They can be rubbish, if they want (they usually don't). It's only me. And mostly, it's so that I won't be in the way, inconvenient, in someone else's light.

I'm told, over and over, the trick is to be more confident. That solves everything, it seems. A confident skier says, 'I have the technique, I can handle these conditions.' A confident writer says... Well, they say something. It just that, well....

What do people mean? What is confidence, anyway and where is the border with entitlement? And if I'm supposed to be confident for my own good, how come the request that I be so is so often phrased in ways that suggest it's really all about others. "You need to be more confident. It makes the department look bad." "Your underconfidence is really annoying." "Why can't you be more confident, then, if you don't like it when you get overlooked?"

And if I do speak up, things are inclined to fall (metaphorically) on my head. If I was perfect, presumably, they wouldn't fall; I'd have done confidence right and all would be well. I might never reach the perfect book (I don't think that's possible) but I might get to be that good enough skier who wasn't inconveniencing *everyone* just by being there and feel permitted to write without too mkuch fear.

But confidence, like perfection, is just out of reach.

SKirt of the day -- blue wedgwood (of course a skirt has come with me.)

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