Imagine if it had been William Shakespeare, England’s greatest playwright, who had discovered the truth about the Great Old Ones and the cosmic entity we know as Cthulhu, rather than the American horror writer H P Lovecraft. Imagine if Stratford’s favourite son had been the one to learn of the dangers of seeking after forbidden knowledge and of the war waged between the Elder Gods in the Outer Darkness, and had passed on that message, to those with eyes to see it, through his plays and poetry… Welcome to the world of Shakespeare vs Cthulhu!
I started attending conventions as a fangirl long before I was a professional writer. I knew what to expect and when I got my first Guest of Honor invitation I was over the moon. I still get a little thrill at the very idea that someone wants me to attend a convention... as a guest!
But it's not the same thing. Whether heading out on a book tour or invited as a guest to a small local sci-fi convention, attending programming at a larger conference, or visiting one of those monster book festivals or comicons there are some things I think a professional writer should always keep in mind.
So here, for your amusement (and perhaps education) are my highly subjective... Tips for the Traveling Writer
The first to hit the news, of course, was Zombie Elvis. To the delight of loyal fans and conspiracy theorists, he emerged from his Memphis tomb looking very well-groomed for a corpse, hips dipping and swaying as he tried to walk. Security cameras and cell phones caught his first steps, right up until he began feeding...
At the end of this year, three hundred years of history would be undone. The Act of Union would be dissolved… In London the law and order crisis was going to keep Parliament from its summer recess; that, and the struggle to make the process of dissolution look organised. Meanwhile, the Counterculturals had gathered in Hyde Park, at Glastonbury, at all the traditional sites around the country, and, notably, here at Reading. It was supposed to be a peaceful two-week rock festival. The media people were hoping for trouble, and doing their best to whip it up… But Fiorinda didn’t care about any of that. She had come to Reading following a rumour, on a mission half of longing, half of vengeance.
Gwyneth Jones’ 2002 Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novel Bold as Love opens some time around now or the near future, in Dissolution Summer, as England prepares to go it alone, dismissed by the wealthy Celtic nations. It might be fifteen years old, but Bold as Love is the most uncanny and necessary read for exactly this moment, as we face up to the latent divide in British politics that the EU referendum has brought to the surface. In Jones’ England, crisis is the new normal. Climate change and economic collapse are causing riots across Europe, and England will soon be further isolated by a devastating internet virus, and face the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees crossing the North Sea, D-Day in reverse.
This past spring a humble museum in a small Dutch city mounted the largest Hieronymus Bosch exhibition in history. Along with nearly half a million other acolytes, I made the pilgrimage to ‘s-Hertogenbosch, birthplace of the father of monsters. My way was snared with perils (I neglected to book tickets far enough in advance) but Providence cleared my path (the museum extended their hours, so I flew back to the Netherlands), and in the end I was given the keys to a garden of earthly delights (just not a key to the original Garden of Earthly Delights; the Prado won’t loan out Bosch’s most famous triptych, not even for an event of this magnitude). It was quite literally the event of a lifetime.
As humans living in the twenty-first century, I’d like to think we’ve come a long way towards achieving equality between the sexes and rejecting established notions of gender. But is it far enough? After all, we’re still having these debates, highlighting prejudice, challenging ourselves to ‘think outside the box’. If gender equality truly existed, there’d be no need to stage this conversation.
In fiction, men write women and women write men on a regular basis, some more or less successfully. Both genders ought to be able to relate to each other at the very least on an intuitive level without resorting to dangerous and unhealthy stereotypes. But, as Emma Newman recently discussed, there are still male readers who are hesitant to pick up a book authored by a woman, or featuring a female protagonist.
Why is that? Personally, I’ve never had a problem reading a book written from a male perspective; in fact the majority of epic fantasy I read growing up featured male protagonists. Why then are some readers unable or unwilling to relate to women?
Perhaps it suits the English temperament to look around at spring-time - the rebirth and fresh growth of the lush green land, with rough winds shaking the darling buds - and come up with a list of possible unfortunate happenings that might ruin everything. Or perhaps there's good advice lurking somewhere beneath the surface; I leave it you to decide. So here are five superstitions about May, four of which are warnings, and the final one is more in the way of skincare advice:
1. Don't wash blankets.
The belief that you shouldn't wash blankets in May seems to belong to Southern England in particular, and to be fairly new, from the turn of the twentieth century. Why shouldn't you wash blankets? It's all a bit vague really, attracting a range of warnings from the possibility of blanket shrinkage to imminent death. A proverb from the 1920s states:
Wash blankets in May
You'll soon be under clay.
Removing warm layers from the bed before the weather is reliable leads to feeling chilly, which leads to getting a cold, which leads to death. The same thought lies behind the next superstition on the list.
When Breaking the Glass Slipper was asked to identify some of the issues facing female writers in genre, the very first thing that each of us replied was ‘discoverability’.
Why is it that, with the exception of long-established authors, books by women do not seem to be as widely publicised as those authored by men? Our first episode considers ‘best of’ lists, which certainly play a part in discoverability. They also remain the clearest example of inequality. Why, we wondered, do these lists not feature more than the token woman? What material are the makers of such lists drawing from? Where exactly is the problem?
Well, admitting that there is a problem for starters.
Ignorance is as bad as outright sexism when it comes to the struggle facing female writers. Discoverability is a huge issue. Our sales and therefore careers depend on our ability to reach as many readers as possible. When a great swathe of the population is closed off to us, it isn’t only our finances that suffer; it’s genre fiction too. Female voices are desperately needed if SFF is both to flourish and to retain its longstanding distinction as the genre that challenges the status quo.
For the past few days the internet has revelled in the precipitous downfall of Microsoft’s chatbot, Tay. This software-generated teen was hyped by its creators for the intelligent algorithms that would make it progressively smarter, the more it chatted to human beings. Well, Tay certainly became more something – but it wasn’t smart. Within a few days, prompted by persistent needling from Twitter users, the bot began to produce anti-semitic and sexist rants. Then, for good measure, it started extolling the virtues of one Donald J Trump. Familiar stuff from human users of social media, but it was rather striking to see these views expressed by a robot.
A few days later, Tay returned, repatched and instructed to play nicely this time; but in a matter of hours, it had to be taken down yet again, having descended this time into a drug-fuelled meltdown.