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

UPDATE: The TFFX flash fiction contest has been extended!


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.


July Round-Up

Last month felt like a sort of ramping-up to the release of Regeneration and the conclusion of the ®Evolution trilogy, with an interview and a couple of guest posts, several unexpected mentions, and much squeeing and Twitpic-ing as reviewers received their advance copies. Of course the first review was back in June, courtesy of the Birmingham SF Group (p8); they judged it “an excellent and thoroughly recommended story that examines regeneration on many levels.” An overview of the series and mini-review of Regeneration made it onto Holdfast magazine’s Bookshelf in July, and were equally complimentary. And then there were tweets like this:

… which is about as perfect a reaction as any author can hope for.

The first chapter is available to read over at Carabas. As sometimes happens scene breaks haven’t carried over to the web format, but the shifts are pretty clear I think. Old friends, new characters, and the hint of big new problems …

I wrote about Spreading the ®Evolution for Civilian Reader and Leading Characters for Liz Loves Books, and was interviewed by A Fantastical Librarian. Paul Weimer recommended Gemsigns as a particularly good SF choice for readers of mainstream literary fiction on the Reading Envy podcast. And Itcher Magazine put me on their list of 20 Top Female Science Fiction Authors, which is just … mind-blowing. I’m on a list with Ursula le Guin.

Top that, August.

Monday madness! Or is that magic?

What a grand day I’ve had. A few weeks ago I received a request from Civilian Reader to write a piece for the Influences & Inspirations series; and as often happens, having to write about it made me think about it, and see connections that were always there but that I hadn’t been consciously aware of. The post turned out to be all about stories, and went up early this morning:

Influences & Inspirations | Civilian Reader

Then the first review of Binary was posted – and it’s a corker:

Rewriting the Script: A Review of BINARY by Stephanie Saulter | Over the Effing Rainbow

And … corker redux! A new review of Gemsigns:

GEMSIGNS by Stephanie Saulter | Bookworm Blues

Will I ever turn into one of those writers who ‘never reads the reviews’? Not as long as they’re like this.

(I’m even feeling chuffed enough to put up another link to this post. Because Friday was pretty marvellous too.)


New interview! plus reviews

I did an interview this week with Jasper de Joode of The Book Plank (another blogger from The Netherlands, a country that seems to like Gemsigns a lot). He asked the kind of questions that made me hold forth on the thematic underpinnings and technical challenges of my books – I ramble on about both Gemsigns and Binary. You can read that here.

The interview was a follow up to his Book Plank review of Gemsigns from a month ago, which was a delight. And although I’ve been diligent about linking reviews via the menu, I’ve been less good about publicising them on the main page (no prizes for self-promotion, me). So without further ado, here are five favourites from the last three months:

The Founding Fields | Bane of Kings review of ®Evolution: Gemsigns – 28 September 2013

The Book Plank | Gemsigns – 18 September 2013

British Fantasy Society | Gemsigns review – 8 September 2013

A Fantastical Librarian | Gemsigns review – 20 August 2013

Interzone review of Gemsigns – Issue 247 – July/August 2013 (scanned print review)

#WomenToRead and Reviews

A quickie post to draw your attention to two cool things that happened yesterday, both discovered by me during what *should* have been a fifteen-minute tea break. One was the #womentoread meme on Twitter, started by Kari Sperring in response to the Strange Horizons analysis of SF book reviews in 2012, broken down by gender of author and gender of reviewer (the not-so-surprising conclusion: more books by men were submitted; more books by men were reviewed; more reviewers were men).

The analysis is interesting but hardly surprising, certainly not to anyone who’s been paying attention to the storm of controversy surrounding the Hugo and Clarke awards shortlists and the broader and deeper issues they illuminate about the challenges facing female writers of science fiction. For those who haven’t, the headlines are: it’s felt that it is generally harder for us to find an agent and/or publisher; that our books are less likely to be stocked by bookshops; and less likely to be reviewed, either by bloggers or more mainstream critics.

(I have to pause here for a moment to shout from the rooftops that MY AGENT AND PUBLISHER ARE EXCEPTIONS! Ian Drury represents a clutch of female authors who write SF, and Jo Fletcher Books has published not one, not two, but THREE science fiction novels by women so far this year: Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds in January, Naomi Foyle’s Seoul Survivors in February, and Gemsigns by yours truly in March. Gemsigns is being carried by most bricks-and-mortar retailers – and is being added by more – and all online retailers. And I’ve been getting a steady stream of reviews, long may they continue. That doesn’t mean the problems people are talking about don’t exist, of course; just that so far I personally have nothing about which to complain.)

The #womentoread hashtag unleashed a torrent of names, in which I was flattered to find myself included several times by several contributors. For an author who has, as of today, been published for all of a month it feels like a real validation. But more importantly, there are literally dozens and dozens of authors listed there – maybe hundreds by now – writing in all genres, from all over the world. They are the writers other writers turn to for inspiration, instruction and entertainment, and they are well worth checking out.

The second cool thing was another good review of Gemsigns, by Sophie Atherton for Starburst Magazine. Thank you Starburst and Sophie – both for the review itself, and for bucking the trends described above.

I should note that, as promised a couple of weeks ago, I have reorganised the menu structure of this site in order to put up a Reviews tab. I’ll post links to every review I’m aware of there (unless they contain unflagged spoilers, which I will NOT link to, no matter how good the review might otherwise be). And I do mean every review; so far they’ve all been really positive, and of course I hope that continues to be the case, but as I said in an earlier post I expect – and respect the right of – reviewers to not all like the same thing. So as long as reviews are decently written, not spoiler-y and not abusive, I’ll include them.

The week in review

I’ve just about caught up with myself.

If you’ve been keeping an eye on blog posts and tweets you’ll know how much was happening how quickly last week. Over Monday and Tuesday I was interviewed by the Free Word Centre, and on Wednesday by Cheryl Morgan on Ujima Radio, following which I got to go to Foyles and Blackwell’s in Bristol and sign books. Then on to London for publication day on Thursday, at which I got to sign even more books. I’ve already written a post for the Jo Fletcher Books blog about what it feels like to be published; in it I talk about one of the undisputed highlights of the day, seeing a signed copy of Gemsigns in the front window of Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue. Hard on its heels came another. As I tweeted the moment a mention popped up on my phone – a recommendation from no less a luminary than the great SF writer Ian McDonald. Exit dewy-eyed author stage left, enter stunned fangirl stage right.

Then on to a meeting with Jo herself, and a review of what’s happening now and what happens next. There was some Very Big News that I cannot share on pain of being shot, but it’s got me properly excited. Celebratory drinks were had with Jo, newly (and deservedly) promoted Assistant Editor Nicola Budd, and my super-agent Ian Drury. Then we went to the Goldsboro Books Fantasy in the Court party and had even more drinks. I’m not blessed with a high alcohol tolerance, and there was a moment when I knew I had to slip out of there, sit down, drink about a gallon of water and have something to eat before things went from the sublime to the queasy.

Then on to Eastercon in Bradford. I was waiting to check in at my hotel on Friday morning when a video interview that I’d given to Anna Bialkowska in York 10 days earlier finally made it out of editing and online. I watched it in the cafe, amazed that I don’t seem to come across as the gibbering idiot I’d felt at the time; tweeted and hastily blogged; and then took myself off to the convention.

My first Eastercon. What can I say? It was great, it was mad, it was exhausting, it was wonderful. I met fantastic people – far too many to list, but they’re on my Twitter feed now and my world feels expanded. My three panels – Debut Authors, The Far Future and Why Is the Future Drawn So White? – were all lively and engaging and went very well (the last, about the exclusion of non-white characters in SFF, went so well it kept going for half an hour in the lobby after we got chucked out of the room). I did a surprisingly effective reading from Gemsigns and sold about three books on the back of it. I signed at the signing and I signed in the Dealer’s Room and I signed at the JFB party on Sunday night and I signed in the hotel restaurant the next morning. I signed until there were no books left. That’s right – Gemsigns sold out at Eastercon.

And then the reviews started coming in. There were two on Monday, and I read them on the train from Bradford to Bristol. Here they are.

Over the Effing Rainbow

And Then I Read A Book

What else is there to say? Not much. This week feels like a miracle. And yet, and yet … in light there is darkness. Rumours began to swirl over the weekend about the health of Iain M. Banks, masterful author of both SF and contemporary fiction (the latter under the clever pseudonym of Iain Banks). I hoped against hope they would prove untrue, but I knew there was little chance of that – the people who knew were people who would know. It’s since been confirmed that Iain is, as he puts it, Very Poorly and unlikely to grace us for much longer. It grieves me more than I can say. He’s one of the writers I’d hoped one day to meet; one of the ones who I count as inspirational, though the far future space opera of the Culture novels may bear little resemblance to the ®Evolution. But it was reading those books, along with works by Richard Morgan and others, that got me thinking about what kind of near-future decisions might lead to those far-future developments. What’s the starting point for a society, in order for it to eventually become the Culture? was one of the questions I asked myself. I wondered what the creator of the Culture might think of my answer. I doubt either of us will ever find out. It makes me sad, and it reminds me that our time is limited. You never know how long you’ve got left to check off all the things on your list, to get the work done.

And so it’s back to Binary for me, and then on to Gillung, and hopefully many more books and launches and wonderful weeks. There’s no time to lose.


I think I may put up a ‘Reviews’ tab in the menu, but for now I’ll link these here:

Cheryl Morgan’s review of Gemsigns

Gemsigns on Amazon UK

In the lap of the reviewers

So Gemsigns is in. Not in my hot little hands, sadly – I am still camping out at a Premier Inn in Leeds, not really the place to have cases of books sent. But it’s in at the publisher’s, wherefrom copies are flying right back out again, into the hands of reviewers and bloggers. I’m nothing if not a realist, and excited though I am by this, I know that not all of them will love it. The chances are good that not all of them will even like it, or get it, or think that it’s about the things that I think it’s about. As a friend said to me last night, it isn’t just mine now, and it will have as many meanings as it has readers.

That’s fine. No, really. Gemsigns is about many things to me, and one of them is truth – more specifically the way truth differs depending on who you are and where you stand. And as in art, so in life.

So before any of them have had a chance to read and comment, to love or loathe or be lukewarm, I want to thank all of the reviewers. Thank you for entering the world of the ®Evolution. Thank you for getting to know its people. Thank you for taking the time to say what you think; thank you for your truth.

  • 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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