Women’s History Month – guest, Irene Radford

I know and love both of these women, which is why this post is today’s. The last few days have been quiet and frantic and what has got me through them is what often does: female friends and community. It’s a common factor that (until recently) was not seen as a critical part of historical cultures. Yet the shape of the friendships of women and the networks of women can determine the future of a society when it’s stressed. Irene Radford’s choice of subject illuminates this through the life of one woman, as well as reminding us that so many of humanity’s most interesting and important complexities are in the lives of people who are historically not always seen. I’ve written about this and spoken about this and, when I read this piece it struck me as gently ironic that my friends’ lives can illustrate it.

We’re changing the way we document people’s lives and the way we interpret them, but we need to remember that invisibility never implies unimportance and that communities matter whether they’re recorded or not. What Alma does with her fiction is remind us of this. She’s fought not only for her own visibility, but to change the way we read the stories of women. her fiction gives us that gift. Thank you, Irene, for letting us know and reminding us that just because a writer isn’t in the current spotlight doesn’t mean we should ignore her work.
Gillian

For Women’s History Month, I have chosen to write about a modern woman who I feel is making history in the stories she writes by granting us the privilege of looking at our world sideways.

How do I describe a woman whose command of the English language is better than mine and it’s her second language? A woman whose stories are beautifully crafted and speak to me as if she whispered them directly into my dreams?

Color me green with envy. At the same time I love her like an older sister, but she’s ten years younger than me. She can be fierce and determined. Her heritage from Central European royalty gives her the demeanor of an offended duchess. We have a phrase in the Science Fiction Convention world of the Pacific North West, “The Duchess is not amused.” We all know that something has gone terribly wrong. These episodes often follow bouts of extreme vulnerability.

But through it all she observes the world keen eyes and empathy while calculating how she can turn it all into a story that will teach us about the impact of our own actions.

Her biography explains a lot of it.

Alma Alexander’s life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career. She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, touched two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. She is a novelist, anthologist, and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. You can find out more about Alma on her website, her Facebook page, on Twitter or at her Patreon page.

I first encountered Alma’s work at a World Fantasy Convention. I had just lost my mother and her husband was in early recovery from a stroke. Hard times for both of us. We bonded on the shuttle from the airport to the convention hotel. I bought The Secrets of Jin-shei in the dealer’s room and read it on the plane home, quite a feat for a slow reader with ADD. If you’ve read this landmark book (billed as YA fantasy but so much more) you’ll understand why Alma is my Jin-shei sister.

Since then we’ve gone on to beta read and edit each other’s books. I find a depth in her work as she examines life through her characters from a far different perspective from my own. Part of it is her Central European family culture. Her history classes dwelt on Justinian and Theodosia where mine concentrated on King John and the Magna Carta. Both stories are important. But we tend to look sideways at the ones we came to later in life than grade school.

And then there is Letters From The Fire. a heart breaking love story. This book started when the UN bombed Alma’s homeland to punish their leader for “War Crimes,” never taking into account the innocent lives brutally taken while their leader hid in a bomb shelter. Alma was living in New Zealand at the time and went weeks without hearing from beloved family members. She poured out her rage and anxiety in a chat room in the early days of the internet to the man she eventually married. This book evolved out of their correspondence. It continues to haunt me and gives me a new perspective in looking at her other work. There are at least two sides to every story, more often three or four. And they are all valid.

Because her natal country of Yugoslavia no longer exists on maps, but lives in the hearts and culture of its former citizens, she can empathize with refugees in many ways that most Americans can’t. Until hurricane Katrina wiped out New Orleans, mainstream citizens of the USA had never been involved or witnessed their own people traumatized by catastrophe that led to homelessness and seeking shelter elsewhere. I was very proud to have a story included in her anthology Children of a Different Sky. A percentage of the profits go to refugee organizations. The stories are luminescent and opened for me a whole new way of looking at our world.

From pseudo Chinese royalty mixing with peasants and breaking many other rules, to shape changers, to epic historical fantasy, and heart wrenching contemporary fantasy, I find myself rethinking reality with each new book. And isn’t that what literature is all about?

Women’s History Month – Rosemary Hayes

Rosemary Hayes has kindly written us another piece that helps explain the lives of women writers. In fact, Rosemary kindly wrote it for me last year, following last year’s theme, but last year I was not-quite-well and this year it works wonderfully to help us understand a more complex picture.

The Highs, Lows and Bits in Between for a Writer of Historical Fiction

I’m not by nature a joiner of groups but I am very glad I overcame my reluctance and signed up to two or three authors’ societies. One of the best things about being part of a network of writers is the support, encouragement and advice you get from colleagues when things aren’t going so well.

Yes, it is great to share successes, but in my view, even more valuable to share the failures, the bad times, when your confidence is so shattered that you can’t believe you were ever arrogant enough to call yourself a writer.

Knowing that you are not alone, that all writers, however apparently successful, have been through these experiences, can be the only thing that keeps you going and spurs you on to dig yourself out of that deep hole of waning self confidence.

There have always been blips in my writing life. It had begun so well and, initially, been so easy. I had written an historical novel with a twist of fantasy; a story I really wanted to tell and believed in, which had been brewing in my imagination for years. I’d put it away for long periods and then taken out again, tinkered with it, asked others to read it, incorporated their advice. And then, finally, entered it in a national competition here in the UK, after which I forgot about it again and got on with my life, looking after my three children and an assortment of animals, working part time, doing voluntary stuff, visiting aging parents, coping for long periods on my own while my husband worked abroad.

Okay, so that’s what women do at these busy times in our lives. We multitask, switching priorities when we have to, juggling, keeping all the balls in the air and, if we are lucky, managing to fit a little time into our lives to indulge in our hobbies. And, back then, I did see writing as no more than a hobby. Having written my novel I felt that I had, at least, achieved what I set out to do and if it never saw the light of day, never got to be read by anyone except family and friends, then too bad. At the time, I knew nothing about the publishing process, about agents or editors. I was impossibly green. It was only much later, when I went to work for a large publisher, that I realized how lucky I had been.

The national competition was run jointly by a well known publisher and the Book Trust and the results weren’t announced until months later. I had genuinely forgotten about it when, to my astonishment, I heard that my story was runner up in the competition and that it would be published.

These were the good times. I worked with a brilliant editor who taught me so much and helped me fine tune my work. Four more books were commissioned and I began to believe that I was a ‘proper’ writer. But then the editor in question went on to higher things and, as so often happens, the new editor didn’t particularly like my work, was looking for new voices, and no more commissions came my way.

That was my first time in the wilderness and there was a long gap before I was taken on by Penguin Australia and had a very happy relationship with them, writing many books over a period of about eight years. Three of these were historical novels, all based on events in Australia’s history, with which I have a particular fascination (more of this later). Then again, the wonderful editor with whom I had worked moved on, my ideas for new books weren’t accepted, the work dried up and no other publisher showed any inclination to take me on.

At these points in your writing life, unless you have incredible self-belief, it is very easy to lose faith in yourself as a writer. Even though, by that time, I had a bunch of published books to my name, it made no difference. A lot of navel searching went on. I had no background as an historian, so maybe I should never have attempted to write historical novels. But even at this low point, some of these events from the past just wouldn’t let me go and I continued to mull over ideas, do research, jot down plot structures.

A couple of years went by when neither agents nor publishers seemed interested in my proposals and then, just at the point when I was ready to abandon my writing, a commission came from Hachette for a trilogy of historical novels – a family saga, this time, from early Victorian times to the second World War. Although the stories were essentially about an English family and their triumphs and tragedies, an Australian thread sneaked into them (transportation for a petty crime, the gold rush). But they didn’t sell particularly well and, although the editorial team wanted more from me, marketing and sales felt the books’ sales didn’t justify further commissions.

This was when I became aware of a shift in emphasis from publishers. Editors’ enthusiasm for a wonderful story, a great idea, frequently had cold water poured upon them by the sales and marketing departments and by the accountants who, as larger publishers gobbled up the smaller publishers, became more and more influential, their eyes always on the bottom line of the balance sheet. Editorial had to go through endless hoops to commission books and often a quirky, original idea that had so grabbed an editor, failed to pass the scrutiny of those looking for a ready market and guaranteed sales. Or, if it did, it became so diluted as to be unrecognizable.

Those Hachette books were the last ones for which I received an advance based on a first chapter and a synopsis. After that everything changed. Now you have to do all the research, write the full story and submit it and, if you are very lucky, it is accepted. Admittedly, this is not true for high profile authors but if, like me, you are ‘mid-list’ this is how it seems to be.

Post Hachette there were more fruitless years, then a new publisher and four more books; and just when I felt I had got my feet under the table there, the company was bought by a larger publisher, the Young Adult list was axed and all the YA editorial team were out of a job and their writers abandoned. But at least I was not alone on this occasion; there were so many of us that we staged a wonderful party – a wake to mark the burial of the YA list!
Since then, I’ve been taken on by a small independent publisher – set up by an editor, as it happens, who was involved in publishing my first novel, so I have come full circle. But who knows where this will lead, how many more books I shall have accepted? There is absolutely no certainly in this game.

I’ve been in the business for a long time now and seen a lot of changes. From being nurtured as a newbie, having long and wonderful associations with talented editors, having launches and promotion all done for me by publicity departments, to this new and scary time for writers when editors are either over stretched or inexperienced (or both) and an author is expected to do most of his or her own marketing and publicity.

Of course there are authors who actively enjoy putting themselves out there on social media, setting up school visits, turning every possible marketing opportunity to their advantage, but what of those of us who do not? I am essentially a private person, at my happiest being left on my own to research and read, dream up stories to flesh out historical facts and write them as well as I possibly can. I don’t mind sharing my professional life with those who are interested (like you!) but I want to keep my private life private. Of course, I do the social media stuff, but not regularly and usually reluctantly – and I resent its banality. It is not what I am and I don’t really enjoy engaging with total strangers just to blow my own trumpet. And yes, I know I’m missing out in terms of sales – but ideally I’d prefer that my books spoke for me.

Back, then, to what I mentioned earlier – to my fascination with Australia’s past. I have spent most of my life living in the UK, so why this urge to write about Australian history? Why does it hold such appeal for me? Well I suspect it is because I came to it afresh when I lived there. In particular, learning about the voyages of the early Dutch mariners, ploughing their way up the coast of Western Australia en route to the East Indies, years before Captain Cook landed on the Eastern side of the country in 1770, and discovering that the first European settlers in Australia were two young men involved in the infamous Batavia mutiny and massacre, marooned on the West Australian coast in 1629. Other shipwrecks followed with more survivors, no trace of whom was found. What happened to these people? Did they integrate with the coastal aboriginal tribes? DNA evidence suggests that they did. There are so many untold stories – extraordinary stories of hardship, endurance and bravery. A rich vein indeed, which I shall continue to tap, whether for my own interest or for a broader audience of young people.

Rosemary Hayes was brought up and educated in the UK but has also lived in France, America and Australia. She has written over forty books for children. Her first novel, Race Against Time, was runner-up for the Kathleen Fidler Award and since then many of her books have won, or been shortlisted, for other awards. For many years Rosemary was a reader for a well known Authors’ Advisory Service; she now runs creative writing courses and workshops for adults.
To find out more about Rosemary or to order her books, visit her website
Follow her on twitter @HayesRosemary
Read her blog.

In October 2016, Rosemary Hayes took part in the 400th anniversary celebrations of the landing of Dirk Hartog at Shark Bay and spoke to school children and other groups in Western Australia about their rich maritime history as well as showcasing a new edition of her book ‘The Blue Eyed Aborigine’, about the Batavia mutineers. She has recently written another book ‘Forgotten Footprints’ about what might have happened to the survivors of the Zuytdorp shipwreck in 1712.

Rosemary will be visiting Australia again in 2018 to talk about her books and to visit the Melbourne based film company, Picture Co, who are developing a film based on ‘The Blue Eyed Aborigine.’

Women’s History Month – guest post by Jennifer Stevenson

This year is about not forgetting writers who really need to be seen. Some of those writers are still very much among us. The shadows start even when women do their best work. Jennifer Stevenson writes about one such writer. I’m very, very lucky and know both these writers, through Book View Cafe. This means that I can point out an obvious place to check if you want to find out what Jennifer’s talking about or explore Jennifer’s own work.

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel has been writing science fiction and fantasy for a long time. Her Nuala novels are among the earliest science fiction romances, delicately romantic compared with the lushly emotional stuff of genre romance, but romances all the same. Her short fantasy stories each visit a single constellation of emotions surrounding a speculative idea, almost surgically.

What I’d like to talk about, though, is a set of books I wish desperately had been around when I was eleven years old. The series is commonly referred to after its first volume, Night Calls.

Night Calls, Kindred Rites, and Spiral Path follow the adventures of Alfreda Eldonsdottir Sorensson, eleven years old when we first meet her in the Michigan Territory of colonial America. Her parents are land-rich and cash-poor pioneers whose cash crop is fur; they trap responsibly and maintain a positive relationship with Native American tribes in the area. In their tiny village of mostly-Norwegian-descended pioneers, everyone makes what they need or barters for what they can’t make. Persons with extraordinary skills are more valuable than things or money. They get around.

Allie’s family are practitioners, that is, gifted with extra-sensory talents that are partly-formally trained but mostly self-trained. Their practice is like everything else they do, built for work, developed under pressure, expedient rather than elegant, and definitely lacking a magickal pedigree. Bits of what we would now call ceremonial magic are mixed with hedgewitchery and a massive amount of pioneer and Native American woodcraft. They do what it takes to get ’er done and never worry about whether they’re qualified. What works, works.

The woodcraft is what won me over. My own family’s form of hedgewitchery is founded in German nature-lore, so I was enchanted with Allie’s family tradition of taking the kids out, one at a time as they were deemed sufficiently learned in woodcraft, and leaving them for a space in the wilderness to build shelter, find water, and feed themselves. In the second novel this skill set comes mightily in handy when Allie, fleeing bad guys in the dead of winter through the wilderness, holes up for days in a hidden shelter she builds out of boughs and snow. Every bit of magic is grounded, sometimes literally, in the wilderness surrounding Allie. From the bedrock up to the smallest bird, nature interpenetrates Allie’s magical education. You smell the wet bark, the decaying leaves, the snow—my god the snow, all the books so far take place in deep winter. You feel the sap rising in the tree trunks and hear the chickadee in the darkest woods.

Like any pioneer with extraordinary skills, Allie is drafted early into service to her community. At eleven she is apprenticed to a cousin who lives quite far away and serves other wilderness communities as midwife, doctor, psychiatrist, exorcist, and, well, whatever else is required.

These novels expand ever-outward, full of episodes and references that seem random until, sometimes late in the series, they resolve into life lessons, valuable alliances, mini-apprenticeships that empower Allie and expand the reach of her responsibilities.

This cycle of ever-increasing responsibility, knowledge, understanding, skill, responsibility, friendship with the mere human and alliances with others, and yet more responsibility help protect Allie’s stories from devolving into the sort of high fantasy that never did me any good as a child. Those fantasies, so often about boys, bestowed rewards—wealth, power, and universal adulation—upon the young heroes until they swam in a sea of self-importance. At eleven, the girlchild I was had begun to be aware that these rewards were not meant for me. What seemed real to me at the time was the looming avalanche of responsibility that the world couldn’t wait to dump in my lap.

Like the rest of her pioneer family, Allie copes. In her world, nobody over the age of four just cries, waiting for rescue. Allie is confronted by medical emergencies, monsters, and disasters that would take those high-fantasy boy-children two weeks and an army of special friends to handle. Allie assumes she’ll have to do this herself, right now, with whatever tools she can find and allies she can make. And most of the time the adults around her merely shrug and say, Yeah, that works. There’s little to none of the congratulatory ceremony one finds in high fantasy when a boy magician saves the day. Such overpraise seems somehow to diminish that boy’s heroism, while the understated respect Allie wins from her family and from mightier powers has the potency of a journeyman’s nod to an apprentice.

The saddest thing about these books is that they were written thirty years too late to save my eleven-year-old sanity. (In this they resemble Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books, which also fill my inner child with might-have-been longing.)

The happiest thing about these books is that there will be more. Rumor has it that Kimbriel is at work on more Allie stories.

Women’s History Month guest – Adele Geras, writing about Dorothy Whipple

‘Dorothy Whipple was a popular novelist of the 1930s and 1940s whose prose and content absolutely defeated us.’ Thus Carmen Callil in an article in the Guardian celebrating the Virago 40th anniversary in 2008.

My immediate reaction to this was: ‘Have Carmen C and I been reading the same books?’ I couldn’t imagine why she had so taken against a writer whom I admired very much. Was she wrong or was I? In matters of literary taste, there’s no argument you can make to try and win someone over. We all have our blank spots. I, for example, am allergic to Tolkien. But Whipple? I could understand someone saying, ‘She’s not my kind of thing. I don’t like those sorts of books’. But to be ‘absolutely defeated’ by these novels? And to draw the infamous ‘Whipple line’ below which Virago wouldn’t venture? I didn’t get it.

My aim here is to persuade others that Whipple, in spite of a name that sounds like a brand of ice-cream dessert, is a writer more than worthy of their attention. I’d say she was astonishingly good and in surprising ways, too. Her novels are also enjoyable and readable. These are not qualities at which readers should scoff and, moreover, they are not to be taken for granted. There are highly esteemed books which are pretty well unreadable. It’s quite a relief to look at the first page of something and know immediately where you are and with whom and when. There’s no scratching of the head and thinking: Who’s saying this? What’s going on? When will things become clear?

Dorothy Whipple was not only a popular writer in her day but also a critically acclaimed one. Most of her novels became Book Society Choices and two of them (They Were Sisters and They Knew Mr Knight) were made into movies. Thanks to the admirable Persephone Books, whose beautiful silver-jacketed volumes truly do furnish a room, much of her work is now available. I’m going to discuss several of her novels, but before I do that, let me make some more general points about her work.

Whipple is a middle-class writer, and her subject is middle-class families. If you’re looking for deeds of derring-do, non-stop action, wars, thrilling landscapes and adventures; if your taste is for the experimental, the rebellious or the strange and fantastical, you’d be better off trying another writer. Whipple’s stories concern mothers and children, sisters, husbands and wives, and she is very good at delineating other relationships: with in-laws, with servants (and even not very rich people had live-in help in her day) and especially with those who intrude into a household in different ways and somehow wreck the careful balance that has been established there. She loves the daily detail of life: the food, the clothes, the running of a house, be it large or small. She is brilliant when it comes to financial matters, and They Knew Mr Knight has as its subject what happens to a family when money becomes all-important. Each novel has a moral, though it’s never overtly stated. Whipple sometimes uses her own belief in a benevolent God to provide comfort for her characters and an ending that might be deemed less than happy is made to seem better because, we are told, God is taking care of matters. I don’t regard this as any kind of barrier to my enjoyment.

Whipple may have an ice-cream name but she is neither sweet nor bland as a writer. Never less than acute, she’s sometimes positively Austen-sharp in her perceptions. She sees right through pretensions and often has a great deal of fun (there’s much to laugh at in even the most serious of her novels) at the expense especially of minor characters. Schoolteachers, neighbours, tradesmen, peripheral men and women on the fringes of the books, are as real as the main protagonists, without toppling over into caricature.

I particularly enjoy writers who pay attention to things like dress, jewellery, food, houses and gardens, but do not be alarmed if you think you hate that stuff. Whipple doesn’t go in for long descriptions which tire you out before you’re at the end of a paragraph. Rather, she manages to convey precisely what everything looks like and feels like in the most economical and deft of strokes.

Finally (and this is the most important thing of all about any novelist’s work), she makes her main protagonists come to life on the page and engage our emotions. We care deeply what happens to them. Occasionally, when truly ghastly things are going on, it’s very hard to read the words in front of you without holding your breath until matters improve. And sometimes, for some people (these are not cosy books) things get much, much worse. It’s also worth saying that while love is a very important part of Whipple’s subject matter, she is never sentimental and her style, whatever she’s describing, is never overwrought. She’s the least hysterical of writers, but that makes the emotional punch behind her words even stronger.

They Knew Mr Knight was published in 1934. This novel concerns Thomas and Celia Blake and their financial difficulties. It sounds as though it might be dull but that’s far from the case. The eponymous Mr Knight is in fact the Devil, though the allegory is subtly handled and what happens to each character is both fascinating and constantly entertaining. As an incidental pleasure: this novel includes one of the best and most amusing portraits ever of an irritating neighbour. Mrs Greene is a snob and a busybody. She is also jealous of Celia. At the lowest ebb of the Blakes’s fortunes, when Thomas has been arrested for fraud, we have this:

The arrest of her next-door neighbour was a godsend to Mrs. Greene. She was so absolutely in the know. To be able to tell everybody on the way to town, to sit in the café and tell it all over again, to walk home meeting fresh people and tell it again! She was quite exhausted and had to lie down after lunch before going out to tea and telling it again.

They Knew Mr Knight
is a story rich with event and incident, astute about the effects of poverty and wealth, interesting about what goes on between colleagues and neighbours and outstandingly sensitive in describing the nuances of family life: the problems which actually seem to grow out of the deep love you have for those closest to you.

In 1939, Whipple published The Priory. It’s a book in a genre I particularly like: the story of a house, Saunby Priory, and its inhabitants. The lives of the Marwood family, the way they’re bound up with the place, the financial difficulties involved in the upkeep of such a property, the upstairs/downstairs aspects of the story, and what happens to the protagonists, make for the sort of novel where drama and conflict, just because they are set in a reassuring context, might seem less unbearable, and yet the emotional force of every relationship is well-described and dealt with fully. Also, when twins are born to one of the Marwood sisters, we encounter Nurse Pye, a positively Dickensian creation who takes over the household in an almost sinister way. The novel is absorbing and wide-ranging, and particularly good about the problems of adjusting to being a mother for the first time.

They Were Sisters first appeared in 1943. Parts of this novel are so harrowing that I found it quite hard to read in places. The story is a simple one. There are three sisters. One (Vera) is unutterably vain and self-absorbed. Another (Lucy) is ‘the good sister’, anxious about the others and always striving to do her best for everyone. She is also the happy sister: happily married and with no children of her own. This makes her the ideal aunt and it’s thanks to her that the young children in the book have any kind of life. The children of the third sister (Charlotte) in particular need shelter and protection because their father, Geoffrey, is one of the most odious, abusive and loathsome men ever to be found within the covers of a novel. There are moments of unspeakable bleakness in this book, but the main thing I will remember it for is Geoffrey, who is a monster in a completely different way from other abusive men you’ve met in fiction.

Someone at a Distance (1953) is my favourite of Whipple’s novels. It’s a story about an English family: Avery and Ellen North and their children, Hugh and Anne. Avery’s mother hires a French companion called Louise Lanier and she acts as a kind of serpent in this Garden of Eden. It’s another book where you want at various times to shout out to the characters: Oh, don’t do that. Can’t you see what the consequence of that will be? Why won’t you listen to him? Why don’t you say something, etc. And yet Whipple has such control over her story, over her characters, that you are drawn along, deeply involved with everyone, even the detestable Louise. She is a magnificent creation and in this book Whipple does a really good job of describing French life as well. Having the book set in two places gives it its title. ‘Someone at a distance’ refers to Paul, Louise’s ex-boyfriend. He scorned her while she was still in France and everything that happens in the novel is as a result of her trying to punish him for his behaviour. The Norths are simply pawns in her extended and unpleasant game. It’s a terrific book, full of anguish, passion, jealousy and remorse.’Proper people in interesting situations’ is one definition of a good novel. I think that Whipple’s books are precisely that. If Carmen Callil is of the opinion that they are no more than women’s magazine fiction writ large, I think she’s mistaken. Do try these novels and see what you think. I’m willing to bet you’ll agree with me.

I know Adele through The History Girls. I’ve admired her works for such a long time and was delighted to find her also talking hsitory. That’s why I asked her here – she walks the talk, and the talk is beautiful. She offered me a rerpint for this celebration and it was so perfect, I said ‘yes’ for the writers of everyday life show so many wonders, and Adele explains why. This opens up Dorothy Whipple’s books, but also many others. This article first appeared in a magazine called “Slightly Foxed” in 2005.

Women’s History Month guest – Sharyn Lilley

I knew Sharyn first as a science fiction fan, an editor, and as a writer. She edited Life Through Cellophane (now Ms Cellophane) and a short storyof mine. I asked Sharyn for this, then, for the world is full of incipient irony, I was raced off to hospital myself. Most of this month will be writers talking about writers, but it’s important to see, sometimes, what lies beneath the surface. Some lives look as if their owner’s swimming upwater through shoals of pirhanas. It’s important to know this, that some of the prices paid are hidden. When we see the work of writers, this month, it’s worth keeping in mind the prices that some have paid. It’s another hidden element of history.

Gillian asked me a doozy this year. Ask me to tell you about Australia’s female bushrangers, and I can reel their stories off pat. Ask me about the Australian suffragette movement and I’ll not only tell tell you about Edith Cowan (who in 1921 became our first elected female politician) but also about the women before her, like Vida Goldstein, who ran for the Senate on three separate occasions (1903, 1910, and 1917) but – that’s not what Gillian asked me.

She wanted me to talk about me. Not about my experiences as a woman in fandom in more recent history (rural Australia of the 70’s and 80’s) But about how I write under interesting circumstances. She thinks I might have some pointers for others. Maybe she’s right, we’re about to find out. I’ve been stumped on how to approach this all month long. Then this morning two things happened. I read a quote about if all the people with rare, chronic illnesses were all put into one country, we’d be the third most populated country in the world. Our conditions might be different, but there are a lot of us, and we all deal with intriguing amounts of pain on a daily level. The second thing that happened was my dog tripping me over.

Welcome to my mind, it’s scatter-brained from pain and medication, but these two things brought me the realisation of how I write. After I picked myself up off the concrete, I hobbled back inside and posted this on facebook (please note the following doesn’t include my heart issues or my chronic illness, which I have lived with for the better part of three decades and lead to the heart issues):

Today: cartilage either side of sternum is inflamed, One shoulder is frozen, the other has multiple tears from joint through cartilage. Spine is degrading at base of skull and lower back region. Arthritis through shoulders and full length of spine, and sciatic nerves are not being friendly today. The idiot hound tripped me up as I stepped down off the back verandah, and I landed awkwardly on the concrete, grazing my knees and hands.
I sat there for a few moments, trying to work out which part of the body I could move first, in order to stand up. The idiot hound just looked at me like “What are you doing? Why are you sitting on the ground?” *sighs* No, I didn’t kill him, but today is going to need coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Then I opened up my current manuscript, looked over at my notes on my cork-board, and wrote another thousand words. Every time I felt my brain getting foggy, all I have to do is sit back, and I’m looking at my notes. I know there are all sorts of writing programs and apps to help authors keep their research altogether. And when I am specifically looking for something, those are great time savers. But those times when brain fog sets in and I don’t have the wit to open up anything, sitting back and staring at hand written pages until the words start to make sense, is the one method I can utilise to keep me writing.

Having a publisher who is absolutely understanding, and allowing me to work at the best pace I can, is an incredible blessing. I think this is where small press can shine. I am beyond grateful that Snapping Turtle Books took my Y.A. science fiction series, and me, on for the long haul.

My other recommendation for trying to write, deal with family and real life stuff, when every muscle in your body feels like it’s on fire, and you could sleep for a week, except if you did, you’d only wake up tired, and you’d be even more behind: Laughter. It’s easy to do the “Oh poor me, I’m in pain” routine. It’s a lot better to find something to laugh at. Hunt down some old Damn You Autocorrect entries, or Texts From Dog, like this one; laugh and get back to work.

Women’s History Month – Introduction

This year is celebratory, I’ve decided. Things are so very tough for so many people I know (including myself!) that I want a small time out from dealing with life and a month spent enjoying the wonder.

Initially, i was going to start this in February and give you the Women’s History Month I failed to deliver on last year because life was just a little too exciting. Merely. Barely. But then I started writing a novel while doing quite possibly too much else. Until now I’ve had the luxury of writing novels in the interstices. Even the novel full of chocolate and sarcasm and sheer rage from last year (which will be published in a year) was written when a lot of my teaching faded from view. This time, though, I’m doing everything at once. I had twenty deadlines of various sorts this week, and I should meet them all by working nice long days, but… this meant I had to rethink.

My celebration has a main theme, which is writers telling us about other writers who are flying under the radar and ought not be. It also has occasional posts on other women’s history subjects. I have some wonderful posts because my strict rule is to ask people whose work is also worth reading. Whatever these friends are writing on, they have voices worth hearing.

I’m so glad to be so much past the worst of a very challenging period, and to be able to be part of Women’s History Month again. One day, the Australian celebrations will mention those of us who started the ball rolling. I worked with a writer over summer and they had trouble understanding that one of the biggest chains on positive cultural change – to do with many histories, including those of women and minority groups – is the tendency for the wider community to forget and to silence. My celebration is another way, a happy way, of working to bring back many voices and to start conversations. We don’t have to accept the silencing being thrust on us.

News (mostly writing)

I’m seriously thinking that I need to create a newsletter, so that everyone who wants gets an update once a month. That’s how quickly things are happening.
The US (BVC) edition of The Time of the Ghosts will be out in March, all going well, and my short stories out soon after.

I”m working hard on the new novel. I’ve decided that both strands I shared are useful. Chronic illness is an iceberg. Not even the doctors know what most of them feel like. Having that intimate and probably uncomfortable first person view balanced by a third person view where one sees how little shows to the outside world will work, I think. The third person bit is where all the plot happens, and I’m still asking friends for road trips to various places to get more reference pictures.

Right now, I’m working on the intimate first person bit, because it reflects the hard work that’s going on the reduce how many symptoms I carry every day. I get to live the discomfort short term and to give my character all of it. She won’t have quite my symptoms, for her illness is different and harder to control, but I really want to get that emotional bond with her right for this part of her life. So many characters who are ‘othered’ in fiction are ‘othered’ by the writer not seeing them as part of their own lives. It’s so important I not do this with this cahracter.

She has a name, thanks to a kind patron and with that came came so much of her background. Some names are perfect from the moment they’re suggested and was delighted that this was one of them. I’ll announce it with the next Patreon newsletter.

I still need at least five more names (2 female, 3 male). Both female and at last one of the male characters will be major characters. The naming helps me with the income to write. It also does something that makes me realise how important my readers are to me: it gives readers a bond with the work. A path into it that’s not the regular path. I like this, a great deal. if it weren’t for my financial situation and my patrons’ generosity, I’d never have discovered it!

My research has ground to a near-halt. I wanted to write at least a chapter over summer, but, while Patreon has helped me put aside enough money to write the novel two days a week, the rest of the week still needed income. Thankfully, I have that income and am enjoying the work needed to get to it, but it pushes my research off the calendar. Not entirely. I’ve used my summer viewing and reading to work out more about how our world-building can create unintentional problems for minorities. The shock of that discovery (that friends of mine do it, with the best intentions!) has not quite worn off, but I’m well on the way to finding what I was missing in how we build worlds for our fiction and what that means to society as a whole. I’m at the stage where I can teach it but, alas, not many people are interested. They want classic world building courses. My compromise is to teach the classic world building, but to make sure that we talk about the ethics.

And that’s my news! (It’s both on Patreon and on my home page, so that few people miss out.) Actually, it’s not all my news. Three announcements (three!!) when the stars align. Watch all the spaces, or maybe subscribe to a newsletter if one magically appears in a week or so.

The other big news isn’t actually mine. It’s appearing here and it’s amazing, but it’s not mine. A group of writers is joining me in March for Women’s History Month. This year is extra special and there will be a bit of a lead-up with a couple of article that were due last year but that my impossible situation last year impeded. Watching spaces is a good thing. A friend once did an anthropological study where she watched a piece of ground for a few weeks to see what strange things appeared. Regard it like that. My spaces would make a fine anthropological study.

Happy New Year

After the last few years, I wasn’t expecting ‘normal’ to be a part of my life, but right now, it is. I have a novel to write and editing to finish, both in the next short while. I’ll post when I can, for I’m still researching. It’s like walking between the raindrops, however, and I won’t be able to chat as much about related subjects as I have been. I could do this and give up sleep, of course.

I’ll post when I can, therefore, and sometimes it will be passionate rants inspired by my research and sometimes it will be historical tidbits, but… if I don’t, it’s because, until March, things are busy. Given that I’m the kind of person who likes working twelve hours in a day, for me to say ‘busy’ is unusual.

This year my main publications will be two BVC editions of novels (The Time of the Ghosts and Langue[dot]doc 1305) and my first collection of short stories. Books and stories are falling all around me in a delightful but manic manner, and I can’t tangle my fiction with my research. The fiction may test the research (and it does) but they’re quite different processes and require quite different approaches. Walking between the raindrops…

The Wizardry of Jewish Women – sequel

ASIM published Impractical Magic and it was listed as recommended reading in a Year’s Best before the novel it was sequel to ever reached print. Processes are so much slower for novels in my life that the novel was written first and everyone met Judith through her sequel.

A few years ago, Bob Kuhn did a reading of Australasian SFF for a US convention, supporting Australian and New Zealand writing. Some of us followed up with him and he recorded a story of ours. His is the production copyright and mine is the story. To be honest, I hear Judith as more sarcastic and then complain-y than Bob does, but the tones of Ashmodai are precisely the way they echoed in my mind when I wrote the story. This recording always reminds me that any piece of fiction can be 1000 things to 1000 readers.

Happy Chanukah!

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(You can find Wizardry here.)

Chanukah present!

So many people I know are enjoying Star Wars. The present tonight is alternate universe Star Wars. It was the community open day for Canberra organisations. I was there being a writer and during my break (when I visited other stalls and gave bread to friends) this happened…