Eastercon Part Deux - male authors twice as important as female authors, really?

First off, I have to share my exciting news – Booklist Online (American Library Association) has included Midsummer Night in its TOP TEN SF & FANTASY NOVELS for 2011. Here’s the link: http://www.booklistonline.com/Top-10-SF/Fantasy-2011/pid=4825017

This has made my editor at Tor very happy, as he has two authors in the Top Ten!

Secondly, a quick heads-up that this Saturday, 28th May, The Write Fantastic are hosting a literary event at the Jacqueline du Pré Building, St Hilda’s College, Oxford… Lots of fabulous authors are guesting so do get there if you can. More info here… http://www.thewritefantastic.com/event2011.html

Lastly and briefly, the rest of my thoughts on Eastercon…


The main theme of the con was military SF. As a counter-point to this, there was a sub-theme in the form of a series of panels about women in SF – and the imbalance of attention given to male and female SF writers. Ian Sales had produced an impressive list of 150 well-known, highly-regarded female SF authors (or slightly fewer, as he’d accidentally put at least one name twice) – a handy reminder that there are many of them out there, and every bit as worthy of critical attention as the boys. Taking part in one of these panels, I’d unearthed some disturbing statistics compiled from several sources on the web. These apply pretty equally to literature in general as well as SF/ fantasy in particular. Boiling it down to basics, books are published more or less half and half by men and women – just over 50% for men, just under for women. And yet, when it comes to book reviews, male writers get (roughly) two thirds of all reviews, women only one third or less. Yes, male writers are getting twice the attention given to females. (In some SF magazines the figures were particularly biased – as few as one in ten books reviewed were written by women!).

While I don’t want to get bogged down in statistical detail, to me this shows that the battle for genuine, taken-for-granted equality is never completely won. It has to be fought and refought constantly. Seems that the ingrained mindset that men’s work is more important than women’s work, merely because they are male, will be with us for a depressingly long time yet.

I suppose it could be worse. If only one in ten books published was by a woman, and only one in a hundred getting reviewed, that really would be rubbish. We’ll no doubt be talking about this some more in Oxford on Saturday – and covering ageism too!

Knit your own what?

Ha ha ha. That’s made my day! This morning I made my pilgrimage to Costa Coffee and there was a lady and two gents sitting with all the ‘Knit Your Own Royal Wedding’ figures displayed on their table! I had to stop and admire them – wish I’d had my camera. They were hilarious, especially the knitted Archbishop of Canterbury. The woman who’d knitted them had made a beautiful job of them. She complained, though, that her grandson kept posing the corgi with its leg cocked against the Queen figure!

Just so funny. I giggled all the way home.

PS. For the benefit of US readers, KYORW has become a surprise best-selling craft book after being featured in the daily newspapers... the results are very comical. I'm sure there's plenty about it online. I was so startled, tho, to see the woolly figures in real life!

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My Illustrious Blog, Part One

Another Eastercon under our belts… The thing with conventions is that, after a couple of days, the idea of going home to peace and relaxation is enticing – but as soon as I’m home, I wish I was still at the con! We miss our friends, and the gentle pleasures of wandering around the dealers’ room, attending panels, sitting in the bar looking out at the beautiful spring weather and trees…

The Hilton Metropole at Birmingham NEC was a pleasant surprise – it’s surrounded by mature woodland and a lake, which I wasn’t expecting, and insulated by high grassy banks so you’d hardly know the surrounding road network is there. Mike and I took a pleasant walk around the lake, saw loads of wildlife including a heron. Not what you expect at most conventions! As a con hotel, the layout was superb – all conference facilities were on the ground floor, with lots of huge rooms, lots of shiny marble, the art show leading straight off the bar (instead of tucked away down corridors several floors up). We spent lots of time with friends, saw some good panels, enjoyed watching Dr Who on a big screen surrounding by a large, enthusiastic audience. It was well worth my while displaying some items in the art show, and I sold a few copies of Elfland, Midsummer Night and Dark Cathedral too – all good stuff.

Negative points? Ah well. An animated advertising board invited us to ‘Enjoy a coffee in the lobby bar’ or words to that effect. I half-seriously expected the next screen to read, ‘Ask us about our easy credit terms!’ Yes – PRICES. The hotel food and drink was insanely overpriced. Apart from a small counter in the fan lounge (tea £1, baguette £4.50 and so on), and a reasonable buffet in the early evening, the regular bar prices were mad. £4.40 for a cup of coffee! £6.50 for a glass of wine! £15.00 for fish and chips! Mike and I got round it by sharing things, which obviously only works if you have similar tastes, small appetites and no communicable diseases J. One small-press publisher, who wanted a mere 8 bottles of wine for a book launch, was hit by a bill high enough to make a politician-on-expenses blanch. And yet the hotel’s ‘corkage’ policy made it impossible for the convention to bring in its own booze. As a result, most launch parties and other events where free drink is traditionally offered, were cancelled. And that was a huge shame.

As I understand it, a large number of folk who’d registered for the con didn’t actually come, because of the high room-rates. A lot of familiar faces were missing, which was sad – because we missed them, and they missed out on a lovely hotel, lovely setting, perfect weather. I can’t help feeling that if the hotel had been more reasonable and less money-grabbing, they would have made a lot more profit out of us!

Next time, I have things to say about panel discussions that revealed some shocking gender-biased statistics in the literary world…

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The great thing about Costa Coffee is that they give you a really big receipt, almost big enough to write an entire chapter on if you happen to have forgotten your notebook. Magic seems to happen when I go in there – doesn’t matter how noisy it is, no sooner have I taken a sip of coffee than I have to get my pen out and start scribbling. Perhaps it’s the coffee, or the wi-fi connection having a funny effect on my brain… whatever, I was stuck on Chapter 16 (of Grail of the Summer Stars) and now I am unstuck. Only one problem, now I’m back at the computer I’m struggling to read my own tiny writing! Especially when it continues on the printed side at ever more bizarre angles trying to avoid the printing…

I’m sure I can sort it out. My concern, though, is that as a chapter it’s going to end up too “talky” as I’ve got six people, all with complicated histories and motives, stuck in one place with nothing to do but… talk. Well, I suppose they can have other stuff to do… like explore, and worry about how they are going to escape. Actually I’ve already written the chapter cliff-hanger… it’s how they get to that point, without it taking too long, that is the question.

Having discovered a scrap of lined notepaper in my handbag (oh, the glamour!) I then wrote another scene where two other characters roll up in Las Vegas… fun… all I have to do is decide where the dickens it fits in the story. I keep steaming ahead with the main narrative and forgetting there are all those tricky side-scenes and flashbacks to go in, too…

Fantasy Cafe II


Adding a link to Part Two of the Fantasy Café interview, because although part two links to part one, part one doesn’t link to part two… if you see what I mean!



It’s also time I did a little updating of my website… can’t spend too long on it, though, so just a quick tidy up!

Fantasy Cafe

The website Fantasy Café has just posted a brand new interview that I did for them, talking about Elfland and Midsummer Night and writing in general. You can take a look here:


It’s in two parts and they’ve made a beautiful job of it. FC is a really lovely, stylish site and well worth taking a look.


Thrilled by simple things!

Part of the reason for my long silence is that I have been writing in stereo! I’d sent a proposal to my agent and editor for a young adult novel - a synopsis and three chapters - but both declared that they wanted to see more of it. So, I had to write another three chapters, despite being very behind with my current novel. Somehow I found myself working on both manuscripts at the same time – main novel up on main screen, YA chapters up on side screen, swapping between them as ideas occurred to me.

Anyone else ever tried this? I rather enjoyed it. I’m not sure whether you could be twice as productive by always working on two projects at the same time. I doubt it would work in the long term. However, for a couple of weeks at least, I felt less inclined to waste time. Whenever I had a brain-fade on one novel, instead of staring out of the window or surfing the net, I’d turn to the other screen instead and write a few more lines. Rather as I’m doing now – “Grail” in front of me, LJ to the side! I honestly don’t know how I managed with one monitor – I’m using both of them constantly.

Talking of surfing the net… and completely changing the subject… I’ve been driven nuts for years by memories of a black-and-white puppet show that I saw when I was very tiny. It had characters in 17th century costume with long curly wigs. That was all I could remember about it. I suppose I was too young to follow the stories, but it scared the living daylights out of me for some reason! I don’t know why it took me so long to think of googling it. It didn’t help that I couldn’t remember the title. I thought it was something like “Rube of Rubovia” – except I knew this wasn’t quite right. By the time it popped into my head again a couple of weeks ago, even the “Rubovia” word had vanished from my memory! However, I searched “old children’s puppet shows” on YouTube and YIPPEE! There it was – a solitary clip called “Rupert of Rubovia”. I didn’t dream it! As soon as I watched the clip, the memories came back. And there were lots of comments from others who, like me, had been driven mad by eerie memories of a strange puppet show that no one else could remember…

Set in a castle somewhere in Eastern Europe, it was made in the late 1950s by Gordon Murray, of “Camberwick Green” fame. I’ve since discovered a fantastic website dedicated to the show, which was properly titled, “Tales of Rubovia” or “A Rubovian Legend” or sometimes just “Rubovia”. Honestly, take a look if you want to see something quirky and nostalgic. The website itself is beautiful, with a lush purple background and great attention to detail – even the link buttons are rubies!


Simple things like this are just so thrilling at times!

WFC Day Four, and Home

Happy New Year to all! Well, it’s taken me forever to complete my account of our trip to the WFC but better late than never. Wow, it feels so long ago now. Nice to revisit those pleasant autumnal memories of Ohio…


Sunday, the last day of the con, was a busy and fun day. It started well, with the most delicious omelette in history, so good that I went up and thanked the omelette chef for his skill! Then I went to the best panel I saw all weekend – a discussion of Urban Fantasy with all female writers, Holly Black, Sarah Hoyt, Cinda Williams Chima, Michelle Lang, Linda Robertson. Very lively and fun. One of them was forecasting that the next ‘big thing’ after vampires will be zombies. But zombies have already been and gone, haven’t they? I hope she was wrong, because I loathe zombies. They’re just not sexy!

The main event of Sunday was the awards banquet in the afternoon. Normally, Mike and I would not have attended this, as the food is often dreadful at such functions and the event itself a bit boring. However, as we were invited to sit at the Tor table, we couldn’t say no! And I’m happy to report that we had a very pleasant time with good food and excellent company. We named it the ‘colonial table’ as, apart from Jim (my editor at Tor), we were all British or Canadian!

One of the bar staff startled me by asking if I was from Birmingham! I replied ‘close’ – I’m always amazed when Americans can tell British accents apart!

The awards ceremony was worth seeing, although I’d have to consult the website to recall who won each award. I know the Brits did quite well, there was one for China Mieville (he wasn’t there to collect it) and a Lifetime Achievement award for Terry Pratchett (who also wasn’t there, understandably). It was very moving, too, to see some of the American greats such as Gene Wolfe.

The only unfortunate thing was that Jim had to leave early to catch a flight to NY – and he had to leave just while Mike was in the loo, so missed saying bye to him. Ah well – shame Jim had to zoom off early, but it was great to meet him after communicating by email for years.

Once the banquet was over, M and I had a pleasant change of scene and took a walk in the nearby Goodale Park. It was quiet and sunny, lots of colour in the trees. Then a rest, and in the evening we went out for a meal at a pub-style restaurant with Kari and her bloke Phil, John Jarrold, Walter Jon Williams, Esther Friesner and another couple I didn’t know. It was nice to spend a relaxed time with people we knew (mostly!). The legendary Esther was lovely.

The next morning, we finished packing and made an early start back to Canada. The weather was beautiful for driving, so we were lucky and again felt smug that we’d avoided being stranded at airports by windstorms. We stopped for breakfast en route at the most amazing restaurant advertising, ‘Amish-style home cooking’. It was a huge place with a big restaurant, a pie shop, banqueting rooms and an absolutely beautiful gift shop upstairs. And as we walked in there was a family of actual Amish people breakfasting there, so it was genuinely Amish all right. Or ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’, should I say. We’re used to seeing Mennonites in Canada, who are very similar, so this sight didn’t take us too much by surprise. However, I was rather startled to see a whole rack of ‘Amish novels’ in the shop – stories about their way of life and beliefs. I kind of wish I’d bought one. I suspect the plots might be rather lacking in the sex and drugs department, somehow… but who knows?

Anyway, a picturesque nine-hour drive later, we were back in Canada for a quiet few days with our friends, and then back to the UK. The journey went like clockwork and we arrived two hours early! This was weeks before the snow hit Heathrow. Now it feels a little strange to be spending Christmas and the New Year at home instead of with our friends in Canada… strange but quite pleasant. What with the snow and freezing temperatures, it felt pretty much like Ontario in the UK last week…

World Fantasy Con, Days Two and Three

It’s always a little nerve-racking meeting an editor in person. Even though we’d been emailing for around five years, you never know if you are going to get on in real life. However, with Jim I had a feeling there was nothing to worry about, and I was right. He treated Mike and me to breakfast and he was absolutely lovely – very talkative, very funny. We spoke a little bit about WORK although not too much, as that is really agent/ business territory. Mostly we talked about all sorts of stuff – and we were breakfasting for two and a half hours! I’m sure the poor waitress through we were never going to leave! Oh, and I was introduced to the great Tom Doherty, the big boss of Tor. He seemed really nice too, although we spoke only briefly.

All in all, it was great meeting Jim. He gave me a first, precious copy of Midsummer Night, hot off the press! We saw him again at the Friday night mass signing. There must have been 300 authors lined up in the huge banqueting hall and I thought I’d sit there like a wallflower, ignored all evening… far from it, lots of people came up to get books signed, mostly their freebie Elflands but also some of my older stuff too. And I was photographed for ‘Locus’ magazine. That made me feel great, so hurrah!

Another highlight was Patricia McKillip’s reading. I didn’t actually speak to her, but really enjoyed the story she read out, a children’s story featuring crows and witches. It was written in long-hand. It was so nice to see her ‘in the flesh’ at last. I kind of wish I’d spoken but I couldn’t think of any way to start a conversation except along the lines of, ‘Duh… I really love your books…’ As good a way as any, I suppose!

In between these events, Mike and I took a few walks around Columbus. As I said before, it’s a rather strange city – very modern and clean, but seems as if there’s nothing there! The one street of interest had a market, a Greek Orthodox cathedral, lots of little art galleries and restaurants – but if you wanted proper shops, you had to travel seven miles out of town. We didn’t bother, since we were there to socialise, not to shop. Saturday, we were treated to the sight of lots of little cheerleaders running around the corridors on their way to a cheerleading competition!

Saturday was probably the most tiring day for me – I was on a panel, ‘The Viability of Epic Fantasy’ with four male authors whom I hadn’t met until that moment, and the hall was packed, so I was a little nervous beforehand. (Oh – you can see the panel on ‘YouTube’ if you search on World Fantasy Convention Columbus 2010 or something along those lines. I’ll warn you though – it’s in four parts, and very long! How could it take us an hour to say, “Well, er, YES, of course epic fantasy is still viable”?)

Afterwards, Mike and I went for a longish walk, and when we came back I attended two panels which seemed nearly identical – different angles on the moral distance of the author from his work – then Mike and I went out again to a very noisy restaurant. I was extremely tired by now and didn’t enjoy it that much. All I wanted was sleep, but we had to get ready for the Tor party at 9 – we couldn’t miss it! This was held in a hotel suite and was so hot, crowded and noisy I don’t know how I got through it. Jim was introducing me to loads of people and it all went straight over my head – now I can only remember about one person in three, unless it was someone I’d met before the party.

Apologies then if we were introduced and I just looked stunned. I was stunned! Wow, I was SO glad to get to bed that day. Pooched.

To be continued…

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