Women in Fantasy: Thoughts on Disrupting the Circle

Yesterday, I must be honest with you, I felt a little down about the fantasy genre. Mostly I am an optimist (an angry, angry optimist) but sometimes a flurry of stuff comes along that can (briefly) turn me the other way. I don’t like it much, but it’s true. There was the all male short-list for the Gemmell awards, the ongoing examination of what books tend to get display space in book shops, which books tend to get more review space (spoiler: books by men get the majority of both of these) and the usual stuff I see on forums devoted to SFF; someone asks for recommendations of what to read next, and they get a list of the usual five or six male names. Etc. And so on. I can deal with this most of the time but every now and then it gets a little much. It starts to feel like I might be unwelcome in this genre, what with my being a woman and my tendency to write characters who are women.

And I don’t have any answers, either. Do I think women just aren’t as good at writing fantasy, and the coverage/attention reflects that? Emphatic no. Do I think women just aren’t writing fantasy? Uh, obviously not. Do I think the fandom in general is sexist? No. Do I think the editors and the people in charge of getting the books out there, the “gatekeepers”, do I think they are sexist then? No, and certainly not in my experience. Is there, perhaps, a pervasive, insidious vicious circle of sexism that spins male authors into the spotlight and twirls women off into darker, less obvious corners? Possibly…

It would be a case of: here, these men are best-sellers. Let’s get more books like this, because this is what the reader wants. The reader thinks, hey, I like stuff by this bloke here, and oh, there are lots of very similar books by blokes on this table. I shall buy more of these. Books By Blokes are obviously a success, so let’s keep going round and round in this circle. A simplification, and one that has been written about by better and clearer thinkers than myself, but I suspect that is closer to being the answer than dolloping the weight of sexism on any one group.

So what can I, with my somewhat dented optimism, do? Well, I think we can try to disrupt that circle a little bit. Push some of these women who write fantasy (and other SFF) back into the spotlight a little. Talk about them, recommend them to each other. Get some titles on to tables and face-out in sections. Spread the love and disrupt the circle.

With this in mind, yesterday I asked the bookish denizens of Twitter to recommend me their favourite women writing fantasy, and/or their favourite female characters in fantasy books. I wanted to demonstrate that women are a powerful force in fantasy, both outside (as writers) and inside (as characters). I wanted to mention those men who also write excellent female characters because reminding readers that women are real people with their own agency and adventures also disrupts the circle. Fantasy isn’t a sausagefest, never has been.

SO, with enormous thanks to @Estetio who was kind enough to actually compile a list of everything that went down on the #WomenInFantasy hashtag, here are some of the writers,books and characters that twitter mentioned yesterday. It was an amazing thing to witness; so much passion for women in fantasy. By the end of it my optimism had been restored, and I had one monster of a TBR pile. Have a look. Get stuck in. And maybe we can disrupt the circle a little more.

P.S) The list is in no particular order, and we’ve included those authors who were mentioned but did not have a book attached. It’s a list pulled directly from twitter, so it’s rough and there may be mistakes, bits missing, etc, but I suspect you can find what you need with a quick google search. It’s meant as a starting point really, and is by no means exhaustive. A number of people were kind enough to recommend THE COPPER PROMISE too, which I haven’t included in the list because, well, I am British and we don’t do that sort of thing, but Wydrin salutes you.

(and feel free to add more in the comments!)

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale

 

Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie

 

The Dragonlance books, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

 

Dragonriders of Pern, Anne McCaffrey

 

Hint of Frost, Hailey Edwards

 

Deryni books, Katherine Kurtz

 

Kushiel books, Jacqueline Carey

 

Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, Robin Hobb

Wild Rains Chronicles

The Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Quadrilogy)

 

Legend of Eli Monpress, Rachel Aaron

 

Horsemaster, Marilyn Singer

 

Obernewtyn sequence, Isobelle Carmody

 

Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig

The Empire trilogy, Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts

 

Pantomime, Laura Lam

 

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, Catherynne Valente

 

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N. K. Jemisin

 

Miserere, Teresa Frohock

 

The Belgariad, Mallorean, and Elenium series, David and Leigh Eddings

 

Black Magician Trilogy, Trudi Canavan

 

Poison Study, Maria Snyder

 

Graceling, Kristen Cashore

 

The Split Worlds series, Emma Newman

 

Deverry series, Katherine Kerrs

 

Castle series, Steph Swainston

 

Paksenarrion books, Elizabeth Moon

 

Monstrous Regiment, Terry Pratchett

(and Discworld in general, Granny Weatherwax forever, yo)

 

Skulduggery Pleasant, Derek Landy

 

The Black Jewels Trilogy, Anne Bishop

 

Seven Waters, Juliet Marillier

 

The Dresden Files series, Jim Butcher

 

Riddlemaster trilogy, Patricia A. McKillip

 

Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness

 

Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Laini Taylor

 

Mortal Engines, Philip Reeve

 

Spellcracker books, Suzanne McLeod

 

Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

Deep secrets.

Charmed life.

Year of the Griffin

 

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

 

Sabriel, Garth Nix

 

Northern Lights, Philip Pullman

 

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke

 

Three Days Till Dead books, Kelly Meding

 

Empress, Karen Miller

 

King’s Dragon & Cold Magic, Kate Elliott

 

Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold

“The Paladin of Souls”

 

Geist, Philippa Ballantine

 

Hero and the Crown, K. T. Davies

 

The Blue Sword and Sunshine, Robin McKinley

 

War for the Oaks, Emma Bull

 

The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon

 

Eon, Allison Goodman

 

Falling Kingdoms, Morgan Rhodes

 

Ash, Mary Gentle

 

Babylon Steel, Gaie Sebold

 

Blood & Feathers, Lou Morgan

 

The Drowning City, Amanda Downum

 

Perdition, Ann Aguirre

 

The Iron Hunt, Marjorie Liu

 

Skulk, Rosie Best

 

Wolf at the Door, J. Damask (aka Joyce Chng)

 

Shambling Guide to NY, Mur Lafferty

Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson

 

The Dark Is Rising, Susan Cooper

 

Nights at the circus, Angela Carter

 

The Innkeeper’s Song, Peter S. Beagle

 

Immortal Empire series, Kate Locke

 

Zoo City, Lauren Beukes

 

Living with Ghosts, Kari Sperring

 

Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross

 

The Runemarks series, Joanne Harris

The Gospel of Loki

 

Threshold, Sara Douglass

 

Cherry St Croix, Karina Cooper

 

Toby Daye, Seanan McGuire

 

Symphony of Ages saga, Elizabeth Haydon

 

The Doomsday Book, Connie Willis

 

The Merlin Series, Mary Stewart

 

Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth

 

The Golem and the Djinni, Helene Wecker

 

Outcast Chronicles, Rowena Corey Daniells

 

True Game books, Sheri Tepper

 

Walking the Tree, Kaaron Warren

 

Brides of Rollrock Island, Margo Lanagan

 

Flesh & Fire, Laura Anne Gilman

 

The clever Dark Heavens, Journey to Wudang and Celestial Battle trilogies, Kylie Chan

 

Otherland series, Tad Williams

 

Winter of Magic’s Return, Pamela F. Service

 

Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson

 

Outside Over There, Maurice Sendak

 

The Lark and The Wren, Mercedes Lackey

 

‘Parasol Protectorate’ series, Gail Carriger

 

Down the Long Wind, Gillian Bradshaw

 

Classic Trek novels, Ann Crispin

 

The Queen’s Thief series, Megan Whalen

 

Urban Shaman series, CE Murphy

 

Mercy Thompson series, Patricia Briggs

 

Ash, Malinda Lo

Mindspace Investigation, Alex Hughes

God’s War, Kameron Hurley

Writers who were mentioned without a particular book attached:

Juliet E. McKenna,

Kate Griffin,

Aliette de Bodard,

Nnedi Okorafor,

Angela Slatter,

Helen Oyeyemi,

Tamora Pierce.

The Meaningful Five

 

sofas

Well it’s been an odd sort of a day, where I’ve mostly been exasperated and twitchy, but this morning there was a slightly lovely happening on twitter: I was bored waiting for the bus, so I decided to ask people what were the five most important books to them personally, with the hashtag #meaningful5

It went down quite well, and I was greatly cheered by the outpouring of book-love and enthusiasm. A big thank you to everyone you contributed today, and especially to Alasdair Stuart and Emma Maree, who actually went and wrote blog posts about it. Huzzah!

If you wrote a blog or if you want to contribute your Meaningful Five, please do stick details in the comments.

Super Relaxed Fantasy Club needs YOU! *big pointy finger*

Ha, you thought I’d forgotten about this, didn’t you? You thought I’d have a couple of glasses of wine and wipe such things from my memory (and I couldn’t blame you for thinking that) but no! Plans are afoot, my lovelies. We’ve had a bit of a talk about potential website stuff, and thanks to the marvellous Den Patrick, we’ve poked some people about potential meeting up spaces (still wrangling that), and thanks to the fabulous Jenny Haines, I’ve seen a little teaser of what could well be the best badger-related badges in all of existence. So despite the Super Relaxed nature of SRFC, things have been happening.

It’s come to that stage now though, where we’re starting to need to know exactly who’s going to be involved, and how. So let’s see some hands going up in the comments, and let’s see some of your feedback.

Do you want to be part of SRFC?

Would you perhaps be prepared to submit our very first “This fantasy book is amazing and you should read it” articles?

What sort of website would you like to see? A straight up blog, with articles from a wide range of people, along with updates on when/where the next meet-up would be? Or perhaps a forum based thing, with articles on the side?

Would you come to a meet-up? What would you like to see at one? Will you buy me a drink?

Would you be interested in a short story anthology? At some point it would be ace to have actual physical badges to give to people, and one way of funding that would be a little ebook anthology. What do you think?

Let me know in the comments! SRFC needs you, and your laid back ideas, dude.

(please imagine The Dude from The Big Lebowski, except now he’s a badger. Got that? Excellent)

Super Relaxed Fantasy Club: The first rule of SRFC…

 

So, strange things happen on Twitter. Yesterday, I babbled on twitter about how I would like some sort of club for talking about Fantasy books. And it would have to be a super-relaxed sort of thing, because I’m easily confused and hideously busy and slightly sleepy. The essential idea was this:

To join, you write something about your favourite fantasy book. We stick it on a blog type thing.

For this, you receive a badge* (I’m a big fan of badges)

Eventually, we have a little site full of happy articles about how brilliant fantasy is, and they’re all tagged up somehow so it’s really easy to find stuff you want to read.
We can flag up new authors and stuff we’re eagerly anticipating.

And once or twice a year, we all get together in a pub somewhere and talk fantasy and show off our badges. There will be carousing, and maybe even readings and signings and shenanigans.

And that’s about it.

Super Relaxed Fantasy Club. What do we think? Is this something we can do? Is it even possible? How would it physically work? I’m not one of life’s great organizers, this is true, and anything like this would require a great deal of help from all sides, but I think this could potentially be a beautiful thing: a club where everyone is welcome, you don’t have to pay an alarming fee to join, and you don’t have to be versed in the ancient history of the genre to be a part of it. You just need to love Fantasy, and badges, and beverages.

If you’re interested and can see yourself being a part of SRFC, slap a comment on this and let’s get talking.

*badges will be badger themed. Obviously.

The Copper Promise: Beautiful, Beautiful Proofs!

proofs

proofs2

Probably the most ridiculously gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen. My book! A box full of my books! And tomorrow, I get to touch them. And smell them.

(out on the 13th of February, 2014! There’s an ISBN and everything)

Geeky Book Chat Club 2: Chat Harder

So, it’s the slightly awful Tuesday back after four days of eating chocolate and watching episode after episode of Game of Thrones (that’s how our weekend went, anyway) so I thought I’d attempt to make my day less dreary by trying out another Geeky Book Chat. Just like last week, I’ll pop up a handful of questions and you, fabulous people, can drop in answers to some or all of them in the comments. Lovely!

Let’s talk about books and ignore the fact that it’s still bloody freezing despite the arrival of APRIL and everything. Huff. Here are the questions:

What was your favourite childhood book?

How important is a book cover to you?

Is there a genre you consider a “no go” area? Is there a section of the bookshop you won’t bother browsing?

Who is your favourite fictional baddie?

What is your “comfort read”?

Fantasy in the Court

I popped along to the Fantasy in the Court event at Goldsboro Books last night, an evening of wine and writers and fantasy books – how could I not? Anyway, I thought I would put a small note on here just to say if you’re in London and looking to browse bookshops (and that is the main thing you should be doing in London, really) then you have to go to Goldsboro. So many beautiful things! More than once I was distracted from really very interesting conversations by an extremely beautiful copy of Watership Down…

It was lovely to be in such a beautiful space with so many chatty, mildly inebriated book fans. I managed to meet a whole bunch of new people, catch up with a few old mates, and further my campaign to get Lavie Tidhar to have a Bender Burger in Wimpy. Utterly failed to talk to Jeff Noon, thanks to be slightly star struck, but Marty had a good long chinwag with him so I feel like I was there in spirit at least.

In conclusion, good times! And I have a new bookshop to haunt.

THE AGE ATOMIC Teaser #3

TheAgeAtomic-144dpi-329x500

So a special Friday treat for you today (and what else are Fridays for?) – a sneaky peek-peek of Adam Christopher‘s soon-to-be-released novel, the follow up to the excellent Empire State. Are you ready for THE AGE ATOMIC? (click for super-big vision)

atomic

Pre-order The Age Atomic.

Come to the official launch at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, London, Thursday April 4th, 2013.

Books That Made Me Cry

On twitter yesterday I was briefly embroiled in a conversation with the lovely Kim Curran, regarding what makes a good opening paragraph; when you start reading a book, what is it about those first sentences that keeps you reading? I’d just started reading The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis and it had occurred to me that I like books that start with dialogue, or with characters doing things – I also like a good descriptive passage of course, but it has to be really good. My priority when starting a book is finding out if I want to go on a journey with these characters, and dialogue or action can be a good indicator. “The opening of a book has to up and kick you in the eyeballs” I said.

Anyway, it got me thinking, on this, World Book Day, about books that kick you in other parts of the anatomy. Namely, your guts. Your heart. Books that leave you shocked and diving for the tissues in your bag, or bravely attempting to keep a stiff upper lip on the top deck of a bus. Which books, in short, make you cry? In no particular order, my top three (there may be mild spoilers for these if you haven’t read them yet):

storm

A Song of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

The chances are if you’ve read this book, then you will know which bit made me cry. And you will know what a punch to the gut it was too. This series is chock full of shocks and surprises, a series where no one is safe and the worse could always happen. It’s one of my favourite things about it, actually. In the first book, A Game of Thrones, sure, everything looked quite bad for Ned Stark, but I was still confident he would be okay. He was the hero, after all. Even more so, he was a good bloke. ASOIAF is a brilliant lesson in how effective a book can be when it decides to a) ignore the tropes and b) not give a fuck about your feelings on the matter. I didn’t cry for Ned as such, it was almost too much of a shock, but I cried for Arya and Sansa. As for A Storm of Swords, well… let’s just say I can’t wait to see this series depicted in the HBO series. It’s going to be amazing.

220px-Knife_of_Never_letting_Go_cover

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Gosh, these are some emotionally exhausting books. I’ve actually had to give myself breaks between them because I am a wimp and couldn’t quite deal with it all at once. Ness’ brilliant YA series about a world where men’s thoughts are broadcast out loud is a tremendous piece of work touching on all sorts of very important subjects – I genuinely hope they are being taught in schools, because the truth in this fiction is devastating and real. Ahem. Anyway. The relationship between Todd and his dog Manchee in the first book is so well crafted it absolutely cuts you to the core. I’m still a little bit heartbroken over that book, to be honest.  

185px-I_Shall_Wear_Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight by Sir Terry Pratchett

I’m a huge fan of everything Sir Terry does, of course – he is a genius and one of our greatest writers – and I think the Tiffany Aching books are pretty special. They’re “Witch” books, which immediately puts them above everything else for me of course, but they’re also terribly wise books about growing up and making your own way in the world. I imagine they’re incredibly important to young people experiencing that right now, but as an adult reader remembering that time, I Shall Wear Midnight struck a deep chord. It’s also an incredibly brave book, willing to speak about things that are rarely discussed by adults, let alone in children’s books; domestic abuse, old age, euthanasia. I’m not too proud to admit I cried several times reading it, but at least I had a watery smile on my face by the end of it.

That is the power of books; they take us on journeys, and they make us care, and sometimes when they’ve broken our hearts they mend them too.

Which books made you cry?

Book Meme!

Here we go! This one is doing the rounds at the moment, and it gives me the opportunity to waffle on about books for ages. Excellent stuff on this meme over at Unbound: http://hagelrat.blogspot.com/2010/07/meme-with-relish.html and at Adam Christopher’s Blog: http://www.adamchristopher.co.uk/

One Book That Changed Your Life

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams– I read this when I had just started senior school I think. I’d had one life changing book previous to that; The Lord of the Rings had blown my tiny little mind the summer before, and caused me to dump the chronicles of Narnia faster than a very hot thing. LOTR opened my mind to the idea of epic adventure, of truly risking your life for a noble quest, of heroics and true love and all that good stuff. Hitch Hiker’s Guide had a more subtle, but altogether deeper impact, because it gave me an adult sense of humour. I don’t mean I developed a love of knob jokes, but rather that my idea of funny was utterly changed. Over the course of that book I think I grew up a bit, and it introduced me to science-fiction too.

It’s also the sort of book you can read over and over again at different times in your life and get something new from it every time. Douglas Adams gave us a gem with that book, and he remains my hero because of it.

One Book You Have To Read More Than Once

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett- I’ve read HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy around about 30 times now. Consequently, I don’t think I can read it again for a very long time without going slightly loopy, so for this one I’ve elected Good Omens. I have two copies of this book- the pristine one signed by Mr Pratchett and the copy that has since fallen to bits due to endless readings. It’s enormously funny, full of absolutely memorable characters and even has some nifty things to say about nature, nurture, and humanity. Odd phrases from this book continually float around in my mind, so that I will often think “Buggre ye alle this” when I’m stuck doing something boring, or think of Crowley when I hear Bohemian Rhapsody.

How could I not adore a book that combines two of my favourite authors?

One Book You’d Want On A Desert Island

The Stand by Stephen King- Now, if I was really stuck on an island I’d want quantity as well as quality, and The Stand certainly has that. I love that King appears to have avoided all editing on this book (well, mostly. I’d make sure I’d have the uncut edition) and gives us the juicy details on all the characters and shows us the world falling apart in widescreen. This is King at his absolute best, introducing us to characters we know and love within a couple of pages, then taking us with them on a truly harrowing journey beyond the end of the world. I remember them all, and what they went through, as well as if a good friend sat me down and told me the story.

If nothing else, at least I could reflect that I’m only stuck on a desert island, which isn’t nearly as bad as dying of Captain Trips.

Two Books That Made You Laugh

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson– I don’t read much non-fiction. In fact, thinking about it Bryson is about the only non-fiction I do read, and that’s because he is both laugh-out-loud-on-the-bus funny, and incredibly knowledgeable. Small Island is my favourite because he’s writing about England, and even though I haven’t actually been to all of the places he talks about, the familiarity of the peculiar English character had me giggling like a loon. Gods, we are a strange bunch. An American with a deliciously dry sense of humour, he understands us better than we do, and managed the near impossible task of making me feel patriotic. Even if it’s only for our near obsessive love for stodgy puddings.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe– These little books have me in fits all the way through. Written for a bet to impress a girl (supposedly) they contain more thrilling pirate action, monkeys, and prize winning hams than you can throw your wooden leg at.

One Book That Made You Cry

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R Martin– Alright, I’ve cheated slightly with this one, but I think it’s worth noting that as a whole, this series has caused more actual blubbings than anything else I’ve read- even a few in public! I read them only recently, finally giving in to the general hubbub of praise surrounding the books, and my goodness… they were an absolute joy. Apart from when I was crying, obviously.

The thing is, Martin is excellent at creating characters you really love (Tyrion might be one of my favourite characters in a fantasy book ever) and then really putting them through absolute hell. I had the misfortune to read about the Red Wedding while on the way to work- I had to catch my breath and stare furiously out of the window so that no one else on the bus would see me struggling not to cry. Strong stuff. Excellent stories.

It’s also worth noting that A Song of Ice and Fire has also given me the biggest number of “OH MY GOD WHAT THE CRAP- ??!” moments. Seriously good books.

One Book You’d Wish You’d Written

American Gods by Neil Gaiman– One of my favourite books of all time, so yes, it would be lovely if I’d written it. It contains all the stuff I’m crazy about; mythology, gods, horror, mystery and weirdness. It’s the sort of book that pleases me deeply as a reader because it gives you credit- there’s stuff running all the way through that’s right there for you to figure out, if you can see it. Each time I read it, I see a little more. I would love to write something that has so many layers to it, and uses the wealth of folklore and mythology so well.

Just before A Boy of Blood and Clay imploded in on itself, I realized it was my own sort of American Gods- a London Gods, perhaps. I hope I can finish it one day.

One Book You Wish Was NEVER Written

Dark Tower 7 by Stephen King– I don’t want to speak ill of books really, especially not when two of the books in this series are some of my absolute favourites. But let’s be honest- this is an easy choice for me. The last book in a series of 7 written over, I dunno, a very long time indeed, this was the biggest disappointment I’ve ever read. I can’t really go into why without major spoilers and getting all narked about it again, but suffice to say that I’d rather have had no ending than the one we got. This is a book where Stephen King himself interrupts before the final chapter to tell you that you probably won’t like the ending, so maybe you’d be better off not reading the rest… The only book I’ve ever thrown across the room at the finish. And it’s a really big book.

Two Books You Are Currently Reading

Storm Front by Jim Butcher, Dream Songs Part 2 by George R.R Martin– I’m also reading The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, but I’ve finished the first part so I’m taking a little break (apparently “fantasy literature” means completely bananas, but I am enjoying it). The first Harry Dresden book is great fun so far, and G.R.R.M is a master of short stories.

One Book You’ve Been Meaning To Read

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury– I’ve wanted to read this since I read Stephen King’s comments on it in Danse Macabre, but for some reason I’ve never gotten around to it. One of the panellists at Alt.Fiction mentioned it in the Genre Books You Must Read panel, so I really need to get my arse in gear.