Back in Bristol

It’s less than a week to Bristolcon! I’ll be there in voice (though not in person) a few days early, as an interview with Cheryl Morgan on Ujima Radio at 12pm Wednesday 23rd. Here’s the livestream link; it’ll be available on Listen Again after the broadcast. Cheryl will also be talking with Bristolcon director Joanne Hall about what this year’s con has in store. As we say in Jamaica, and on Ujima: CHUNE EEN!

The con itself is Saturday 26th September at the Doubletree Hotel in Bristol. Here’s what I’m doing:

15:50-15:55, Programme Room 1

Reading – a short passage from Regeneration (which will be available from con booksellers Forbidden Planet).

17:00-17:45, Programme Room 1

Bad-ass with a Baby

It’s still fairly rare to see depictions of parenting in SF&F. If a character has a child, does that mean they’re no longer allowed to be a bad-ass? And how difficult is it to juggle childcare and saving the universe?

Lor Graham (Mod), Amanda Kear (Dr Bob)Jasper FfordePeter Newman and Stephanie Saulter

Despite the fact that I dislike the term ‘bad-ass’ almost as much as ‘kick-ass’ (and for much the same reasons), I’m really looking forward to this discussion. The absence of children and family in SFF is something I’ve been writing and talking about for a while. Agree? Disagree? Do come listen, challenge and share.

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TFFX writing contest, 9W con report(s) & a couple of cool reviews

UPDATE: The TFFX flash fiction contest has been extended!

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Further to last week’s post: as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations, The Future Fire is holding a flash writing contest for speculative fiction stories of no more than 500 words, on the theme of the number 10. The deadline is midnight on Sunday 23rd August (yes, that’s THIS SUNDAY!), entry rules are here, and the prizes are copies of Gemsigns and Binary (which I’ll be happy to sign or inscribe for you if you win) and Jennifer Marie Brisset’s Dick- and Locus-nominated novel Elysium. Don’t forget to check out (and tweet links) to the TFFX anthology crowdfunder!

In my first couple years of going to cons I would always write up a report/ review afterwards. I seem to have fallen out of the habit, largely because I’ve become so busy following up on things that arose from or at the con (or that I was ignoring until the con was over). Suffice it to say that Nine Worlds was, once more, an intelligent, thoughtful, fun-filled, inclusive, kind and curious celebration of every nook and cranny of science fiction and fantasy creativity and fandom. The two sessions of the Writing the Other workshop were both exceptionally good and full to capacity; the two panel discussions I participated in – Arcadia or Armageddon? on the question of fictional utopias and dystopias, and I Don’t See Race on how aliens, mutants and robots are often stand-ins for the ethnic “other” – were lively, engaging, thought-provoking and packed to the rafters; and I loved catching up with friends, fans and fellow writers. But the thing that makes Nine Worlds so distinctive is the way in which it embraces those who don’t necessarily find public events and spaces as easy to navigate as I do – so here are two proper con reports that describe what makes it different, and why it matters.

Of course it was particularly special for me this year because of Regeneration, now making its way in the world. It was lovely to chat with folks who’d read Gemsigns and Binary (and in one case someone who’d started with Binary and was about to take up Gemsigns … it’s totally okay to read them out of order, as I explain here), and were looking forward to seeing where the story goes next. The reviews are coming in thick and fast; they can all be found under the Reviews tab above, and so far they’re all very good indeed. No reasonable writer can hope to appeal to everyone, nor expect that their intentions will be clear to – let alone appreciated by – every reader; but every writer, I think, has a soft spot for those readers who not only like what we did, but who get what it was we were trying to do. So on that note, here are two of my favourites.

Over the Effing Rainbow: Lisa observes that, “This is not a story for anybody who’s not interested in change.” She’s right.

A Fantastical Librarian: “What happens when the status quo is challenged?” Thank you, Mieneke. That, indeed, is the question.

Regeneration! Fantasy in the Court! Nine Worlds!

6 August 2015. The day the ®Evolution ended.

Well, not quite. There’s a short story, Discordances, yet to be released; Regeneration won’t be out in North America until next year; and publication in various editions and territories will roll on for a few years yet.

But: Regeneration, the 3rd book in the ®Evolution trilogy, is out in the UK today. 

Four years ago I was about two-thirds done with the manuscript for what would become the first book. I didn’t know that anyone besides a handful of friends would ever read it, and I had no plans for any more. I didn’t have an agent, let alone a publisher. If you had told me in August of 2011 that this is where I’d be in August 2015, I’d have laughed and bought a lottery ticket.

So how am I celebrating? At Fantasy in the Court, which will entail a suitably epic trek across London town, seeing as there’s a Tube strike on. Given the troubled times the ®Evolution chronicles, hiking on a day of industrial dispute from the urban wilds of Hackney through traffic-choked streets into the literary heart of this ancient city seems entirely apt. Then it’s off to Nine Worlds, the annual tribal gathering of writers, readers and fan-folk of all descriptions, where there’ll be a launch at Friday night’s Jo Fletcher Books summer party, and discussions throughout the weekend of utopias and dystopias, representation and exclusion, and what it means to tell stories; what makes them meaningful, how we reflect and transform ourselves in their image, why they may be the most important cultural artefact we create.

The power of story is something I’m thinking about a great deal at the moment. It’s going to be the big theme of the next book. (It’s also a concern of The Future Fire, a magazine of social-political speculative fiction currently celebrating their 10th anniversary – look out for more on them next week.) It has, I realise, become the big theme of my own life.

I know what stories I’m going to write next. But which ones, I wonder, will I be written into? Four years from now, what tale will I tell?

Con Schedule: Nine Worlds 2015

The Nine Worlds Geekfest is once again right around the corner, and the lovely folks there have once more invited me to teach a workshop and talk on panels. I also get to launch the book I was writing during last year’s con, and generally marvel at the completion of the ®Evolution trilogy. I’ll be happy to sign and chat, so do come help me celebrate – tickets are still available!

Friday 7 August, 6.45pm-8pm, Room 38

Arcadia or Armageddon? – an exploration of utopian and dystopian futures

From the (arguable) utopia of Iain Bank’s Culture to the dusty carnage of Mad Max, why are we so keen to explore our future and what’s the allure of the downfall of civilisation?

Francesca Haig, Geoff Ryman, Kim Lakin-Smith, Gareth L Powell (moderator), Dave Hutchinson, Stephanie Saulter

Friday 7 August, 8pm-10pm, Room 38

Jo Fletcher Books Summer Party & Book Launch

It’s the long-awaited launch of Regeneration! Also Tom Pollock’s Our Lady of the Streets in paperback, Sebastien de Castell’s Knight’s Shadow, and Snorri Kristjansson’s Path of Gods. Forbidden Planet will be on hand to supply books, authors will be available to provide signatures, and an abundance of good cheer and merriment is guaranteed.

Saturday 8 August, 10am-11.15am, Room 31

Writing the Other – learn to write outside your own experience

How does one write with sensitivity, avoiding the traps, tropes and clichés that reinforce stereotypes and produce one-dimensional characters? Back for the third year running and hosted this time around by the Fanfic track, I’ll help participants to identify their own preconceptions and develop strategies for addressing them. This interactive workshop provides a primer on pitfalls to avoid, and techniques for improving representation.

Based on Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. Suitable for all writers. Sign up in Room 12, from 4.30pm on Friday.

Sunday 9 August, 11.45am-1pm, Connaught B

“I Don’t See Race” – on telling PoC narratives without PoC

Looking at using aliens, mutants, robots and anything else other than people of colour to tell stories about racism.

UPDATE: Georgiana Jackson-Callen, Natalia Mole, Stephanie Saulter, Russell Smith

Sunday 9 August, 3.15pm-4.30pm, Room 31

Writing the Other – learn to write outside your own experience 

This is a repeat of the Saturday session.

April. Back in the Hole.

I quipped to a friend recently that my March workload, if not my public appearance schedule, is following me into April. I was so busy last month I barely had time to talk about things as they happened – I only managed quick posts about the WOW Festival and University of Notre Dame appearances. I can report that the North London Lit Fest was also rather wonderful: after ninety minutes of conversation there was a further hour of recorded interviews with Aliette de Bodard and myself, mostly intended to be a resource for students but which will also (I think) crop up in promos for next year’s Lit Fest. I also had a great time at the HOLDFAST anthology launch party, where I did a somewhat guerilla reading from Regeneration to a very appreciative audience. In between I attended Farah Mendlesohn’s intriguing BSFA interview with fabulist and poet Suniti Namjoshi, and finally made it to a session of the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, where I got to drink wine, listen to readings, and have no responsibilities whatsoever.

That lasted for all of a day. Binary is now out in the UK in paperback (does a happy dance), and in honour of the occasion I was invited to guest post by a couple of bloggers who admire my books. Asking the Next Question is about the challenge, and the opportunity, of writing an unplanned sequel; while it deals specifically with how I took the Gemsigns story forward into Binary, I think it has a more general relevance. Plausible Fictions and Strange Realities grew out of a conversation I had at Loncon; it talks about what types of speculation readers find easier to accept, and how much of that is down to a greater comfort level with simply seeing more of what we’ve seen before. Anyone with a passing interest in the vexed question of what constitutes ‘real’ SF might find it worth their while. And with Binary out in the US in exactly a month (yikes!), I’ve also written a post to coincide with that. I won’t pre-empt mine host by telling you where it’ll appear or what it’s about, but it is rather fun …

I was very honoured to have been asked last year to be one of the judges for the 2015 James White Award, but I didn’t want to announce it ahead of the organisers doing so. And there were delays on their end for various reasons, not least because, despite a submissions period of over six months, the majority of the 255 submissions were received in the final two weeks. That made winnowing them down into a shortlist a frankly mammoth task; but they got there in the end, and Dave Hutchinson and Gareth Powell and I read and deliberated, and a winner has been chosen. The announcement is traditionally made alongside the BSFA Awards, so I expect you’ll hear the news on that one this very evening.

Rereading the above I truly don’t know how it’s been possible, but I have also, since finishing Regeneration structural edits, written a short story (which turned out to be rather less short than I anticipated). It’s for a Jo Fletcher Books’ Secret Project and I finished it yesterday, which means I don’t actually know what I think about it yet. But I won’t have time to think about it at all for a while, because *sigh* Regeneration copy edits are back, and there are still a couple of character and plot elements that need tweaking, and with the July pub date just around the corner in delivery terms there’s no time to waste; so this entire post has really been a long-winded way of saying I’m diving back into the black hole of editing for a couple of weeks. See you on the other side.

Back to School

Yesterday evening I found myself in an undergraduate literature class for the first time in more than twenty years, giving the lecture on Gemsigns that I mentioned here. The students were smart and engaged, and had insightful things to say and intelligent questions to ask. We had a wide-ranging discussion, which I thoroughly enjoyed; and I was delighted that so many of them spotted the references, literary and otherwise, that are tucked away here and there in the text. Hard work is meant to be its own reward, but there’s nothing like someone else’s appreciation of your efforts to remind you why it is you do what you do.

There was a moment, when they all came in and sat down and took their notebooks and copies of the novel out of their backpacks, that just about floored me. I remember being that student, coming into class and taking out the assigned text, ready for discussion. I never imagined, back then, that one day the book another bunch of bright young people would be tackling would be mine. I’m not even sure, back when I was a student in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at MIT, that any of the texts we studied were by living authors. Certainly none of them were sufficiently earthbound and available to have come in and talked to us. In a rather lovely irony, I find myself exalted by the experience of being an author who is and who did.

So many thanks again to Professor Tony Keen for asking me, and to his class at UND’s London Global Gateway for being such an interested, interesting bunch. I was very, very happy to be back in school.

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(Further bonus: Tony was able to make the BSFA interview I did last year with Kate Keen available to the students as a resource, and I now have a copy of it: Stephanie Saulter BSFA Interview | 25 June 2014.)

WOW Festival 2015: Hollywood, Sci-Fi, Computer Games & Rape

It’s International Women’s Day, and the final day of WOW – the Women of the World Festival, now in its fifth year at London’s Southbank Centre. I was there yesterday as one of the panellists for Hollywood, Sci-Fi, Computer Games and Rape, to talk about the use of sexual violence and ‘fridging’ – the rape, murder or abuse of a female character to provide motivation for a male protagonist – in fictional narratives. The others were Joanna Bourke, Professor of History at Birkbeck College; Laurel Sills, co-editor of HOLDFAST magazine; David Moore from Abaddon Books; and our chairperson was Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman.

It was an intense and in-depth discussion, before a standing-room-only audience in the Festival Village. Here’s what we – and they – had to say.

 

March! and the end of hibernation

February passed in a blur of editing, and it ain’t over yet – I’m stealing a few minutes to post this before I get back to turning Regeneration from a decent draft into a manuscript fit for publication. (Someday I must write something wry and witty about the paradox of struggling to generate as many words as possible during the writing, only to then delete as many words as possible during the editing. When I have time and wit to spare.)

Finishing isn’t the only reason I’ve been looking forward to March. A number of cool things are happening this month:

The Women of the World (WOW) Festival runs 1-8 March 2015 at the Southbank Centre. I’m on the provocatively titled panel discussion Hollywood, Sci-Fi, Computer Games & Rape next Saturday, 7th March from 12-1pm, along with Joanna Bourke, Professor of History at Birkbeck College; Laurel Sills, editor of Holdfast Magazine; and David Moore of Abaddon Books. We’ll be chaired by Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, and will be discussing why so many plotlines across so many platforms revolve around cruelty and sexual violence against women. It’s a difficult, emotive and necessary topic; I’m very honoured to have been asked to participate. The entire festival is wonderful, so get yourself a ticket (Day Pass is only £20 and gets you into everything all day long except the Stand Alone events).

Next up is an event that isn’t public, but I’m so pleased about it I’m going to mention it anyway: on 17th March I’ll be giving a talk to students who are reading Gemsigns as part of “London in the Literature of the Fantastic”. The course is being taught by Anthony Keen at the University of Notre Dame’s London Undergraduate Program. They’ll also be reading E. Nesbit, The Phoenix and the Carpet; P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins; John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids; Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere; Kate Griffin, A Madness of Angels; Paul Cornell, London Falling; Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, The Wicked and the Divine; and watching Doctor Who: The Web of Fear.

On 24th March I’ll be at the North London Lit Fest, in conversation with Farah Mendlesohn and Aliette de Bodard. When Farah contacted me about this she said we’d be talking about migrations and crossing boundaries, so come for what I imagine will be a wide-ranging discussion!

And finally, on 26th March I’ll be popping along to the HOLDFAST Anthology launch party. Laurel and Lucy have done an excellent job with the magazine in its first year, and I’m looking forward to celebrating their latest milestone. There will be wine and books and readings and wine. It’s a fitting start to spring.

Calabash Highlights & Conde Nast

The Calabash Literary Festival gets a five-page spread in Conde Nast Traveller! Worth a read, and if you’re wondering, yes: I am one of the distant figures soaking up Red Stripe and sunshine on a rickety driftwood platform in the middle of the ocean. I put in a slightly more dignified appearance on the festival’s highlight reel, which captures a few moments of my reading from Binary, and I talked about some of my personal highlights in this post.

Nine Worlds: The ‘Just Don’t’ list from Writing the Other workshop

One of the things I did at the Nine Worlds convention over the weekend was run a workshop, Writing the Other (well two of the things really, since there was a repeat session on Sunday morning for those who couldn’t get in on Saturday). Writing the Other is intended to help writers learn how to identify and avoid harmful tropes, stereotypes and associations when creating characters that depart from the dominant paradigm; and to write with greater accuracy, sensitivity and insight. Many thanks to all the attendees – you were engaged and interested and lovely, and I learned at least as much from you as I hope you learned from me.

The reference text is Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, which for the purposes of the workshop I summarised, Anglicised and crammed into just under ninety minutes. I ended with a checklist of some of the tired, offensive and oft-repeated devices that serve only to reinforce unfounded prejudice, unearned privilege, and unquestioned presumption. I’ve been asked to post my notes on this section; so here is my plea to …

DON’T. JUST DON’T: 

  • Cast heroes/villains exclusively along lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or any other form of ‘other’ – a classic example is embodied in the line “The dark hordes attacked.”
  • Use the issues which affect a minority/marked group to reemphasise the importance of, and say generally positive & uplifting things about the majority/unmarked group – Glory syndrome
  • Create a marked secondary character whose sole purpose is to validate or create a motivation for the central character – i) the cool sidekick phenomenon, ii) “fridging”
  • Reinforce power imbalances; often done even when characters are beautifully and sympathetically drawn, but nevertheless and for example: all the Asian women just happen to be timid & obedient; all the black men just happen to be sexually promiscuous; all the poor people just happen to be uneducated. This is a subtle form of victimisation, but it’s still victimisation.
  • Cast the unmarked-state hero as saviour of the marked-state victims.
  • Fetishise difference, by an unmitigated focus on the characteristics of otherness. Examples include: the Noble Savage; the simple-minded spirit-worshipper; the ‘beautiful flower’ sexual stereotype of Asian women.
  • Use a specific instance to imply a general truth; where an assertion or action of one member of a group is taken as representative of the entire group.
  • Be disrespectful with dialect. I don’t hold with the view that the marking of accents and dialects in the text automatically deprivileges them by flagging them up as nonstandard; pretending variations don’t or shouldn’t exist is just as deprivileging. But the careless use of dialect, diction and language is a very easy way to be unintentionally and terribly offensive. Be careful.
  • Emphasise evil by ramping up innocence – the Saintly Victim trope. The target of racism does not need to be honest, quiet and hardworking; the child who is abused does not need to be the most adorable infant ever born; the rape victim does not need to be a nun; for racism, child abuse, rape to be abhorrent.
  • Use abuse as a catalyst for positive transformation – for example the rape victim who emerges stronger, smarter, better from the experience, with the implication that it was the thing that finally ‘turned them around’, made them ‘get themselves together’, etc. ad nauseum. (To say nothing of the victim who falls in love with his/her rapist. Really? Don’t.)
  • I love stories.
    My new novel, Sacred, is all about them. Publication info will be posted as soon as I have it.

    In the meantime check out Gemsigns, Binary and Regeneration, available wherever good books are sold.

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  • UK edition

    REGENERATION

    The 3rd Book of the ®Evolution

  • UK edition

    BINARY

    The 2nd Book of the ®Evolution

  • UK Edition

    GEMSIGNS

    The 1st Book of the ®Evolution

  • US Edition

    REGENERATION

    The 3rd Book of the ®Evolution

  • US Edition

    BINARY

    The 2nd Book of the ®Evolution

  • US Edition

    GEMSIGNS

    The 1st Book of the ®Evolution

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