Thursday, 6 March 2014
When I first took those tentative steps into the realm of Fantasy and Science Fiction I was blessed to have a mum who loved these genres too. And who also had an unusual habit of picking stories by women. She did this for the same reason I now do; they tend to write about women main characters. It's not that I will discriminate against male writers. In fact I'm currently reading my fourth book in a row written by a man. And in all those cases the main protagonists have, in the main, been male. Again this isn't a problem but I begin to feel a bit under represented if I carry this on too long. Tellingly the next book I've chosen to read is written by Tanith Lee and is based around a female main character.
Mum's collection has definitely had an influence; growing up it never crossed my mind that women writing Science Fiction or Fantasy was unusual, or even something that would present any hurdles. I know better now. In any bookshop, in any genre (apart from Romance) it's a tough task to try to find new books written by women. Seriously, go count them the next time you're in a bookshop or online. It's thoroughly depressing. And yet women appear to make up the majority of readers. So what's going on?
Personally I see a great many women writers on my Twitter feed, but then again I would wouldn't I? It's classic subjective bias. In the industry itself we have women editors saying they'd love to sign up more women writers but find they just don't get the same amount of submissions as they do from men. We also have existing women writers (particularly in the Science Fiction & Fantasy genre) stating they've experienced discrimination because of their gender. I'd add that it's no coincidence that "Joanne Rowling" went with the moniker of "J. K. Rowling" when she came to having her fantasy series published that features a little boy as the main character. Because industry logic seems to be that boys won't read a book if it has a women's name on it and boys/men are the target market (despite not reading as many books as girls/women). Hell, it's no coincidence that I go by my initials rather than my name on the interweb - I get less hassles that way. I also want to use it as my writer name, but mainly due to liking the opportunity to use my otherwise forgotten initials and liking my privacy, rather than because I think it will help sales. Though I do admit, it crossed my mind.
A lot of this boils down to issues far larger than just the literary sphere. In Europe and the USA we still have deeply entrenched gender roles going on, along with the usual stereotypes this brings. If anything, I think we're becoming more obsessed with gender division, not less, if the current trend in gender segregation of toys is anything to go by. What it all means though is it marks women who write Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, or any genre other than Romance, as unusual (and the resultant curse of always being called a "woman writer" *shudder*) and it marks boys who read as "soft" or "wimps" *deeper shudder*. All thoroughly depressing but what can we do about it? Here's my plan:
1. Ignore it utterly and write the best stories I can in whatever genre I like.
2. Encourage everyone to read. Every. One.
3. Never be put off from doing something just because it's deemed "unusual".
4. Call out anyone who says otherwise, as long as it's safe and productive to do so.
It's not that we should read books because they're written by a woman, or not read them because they were written by a man, but we should, at the very least, notice if we tend to swerve one way or another and think about why. In fact, most choices we make in life could do with us stopping to notice if there is some bias in what we're doing that we weren't even aware of. But, for me, the most important thing is to keep being as unusual as possible.
Sunday, 2 March 2014
I wasn't sure what to expect from The Graveyard Book. While I love Gaimen's work the fact this was a children's book (and make no mistake this is very much a children's book) had me wondering what this was going to be like. While it seemed odd at first, with a very serial style to it I was not disappointed. This is usual Gaimen dark and twisted, but done with kids in mind. In fact this may be the perfect book to introduce younger readers to Gaimen's works and I know had I read this at 10 - 12 I would have been absolutely in love with it.
Tuesday, 25 February 2014
So the first thing I have to do is come up with a plan on when I do writing and making sure it's achievable. And what use is a blog if you don't get to use it as an idea board for these kind of things. Who knows - maybe it will help some other poor would-be-writer one day to do the same. My ego can dream.
Tuesday, 4 February 2014
I can safely say that "The Passage" was not what I expected it to be. With a literary language throughout, and a long opening (that I thought was the main story), it consistently turns your assumptions into a pile of dust. Which is appropriate for a book about a plague of "sort-of-vampires-but-we-don't-call-them-that-much".
Opening with glimpses into apparently unconnected people's lives, Cronin's literary fiction history comes through in his colourful and at times extensive descriptions and vignettes about these people's lives. From a man on death-row, to a woman's life and struggles to be a good mother to her daughter, it was really hard to work out where this was all going. I wasn't sure about the extensive forays into these lives but the language and intriguing nature of the characters kept me going. We meet Amy, a young girl who is far more than she seems. Wolgast, a secret service agent tasked with picking up men condemned to death and convincing them to take part in experiments, with the reward of their sentence being suspended. Carter, one of those men on death-row, and his reminiscing over his life and how he ended up where he is. Lacey, a nun who doesn't fit in with her fellow sisters who by pure chance finds Amy in her care. Except it isn't chance; nothing in The Passage is chance. Fate and belief play a huge role in this tale. And that's even more the case when over a quarter of the way into the story everything changes entirely and moves over 100 years into the future...
To say too much about The Passage would be to destroy some of its strongest appeal. The shift in narrative took me by complete surprise and in fact elevated a book from a (as I thought at the time) a poor man's version of The Stand, to a unique and highly enjoyable epic thriller that plays with your expectations at every turn. The characters are well developed and very greatly form one person to another. There were stereotypes throughout (the wise old lady, the warrior young woman, the callous secret service) but at no time did it make the story less enjoyable. These characters have histories, motivations and fears, all of which makes them fascinating to read about. Amy especially is an intriguing character, mainly down to how little is revealed about her from her perspective. Instead it's every one elses impressions and thoughts about her that colour her in and make her a strong lynchpin of the whole saga.
Throughout this tale the reader's attention is demanded - if you let it slip for even a moment you will be lost. With a huge scale and a large cast it's easy to lose the thread of the story. The literary style adds to this, as it lengthens an already pretty lengthy adventure. Though I don't read literary fiction much I have to say it didn't bother me, and in fact brought a lot of the scenes to life in a way that a trimmed down version likely wouldn't have. It also seemed appropriate, for a book that breaks in the middle to make up two disparate but linked stories, to have that as a constant.
If you haven't caught The Passage yet I highly recommend it. It's a long book, it has more than a passing similarity to The Stand (including the length) and it is the first in a trilogy, so those put off by those things will likely find little to inspire them. But if none of that daunts you then The Passage is a great read - I can't wait to start the second book as soon as possible.
Monday, 27 January 2014
I've never been that into Burns' Night - it always struck me as a bit odd and something the man himself would find ridiculous. Then again, I'm a sucker for any excuse to eat haggis, especially when the shops suddenly have some in stock where I live. As I was out on the night itself I instead made something for Sunday dinner and it was soooo delicious I have to tell you about it.
So, to start off; what is a haggis? Those of you thinking it's some disgusting lump of offal in a bag are only slightly right - it's true that less desirable cuts of meat can be used in haggis but this is one of the things I love about it. Too much perfectly good meat is wasted and not appreciated in my opinion and haggis is a great way to use up those bits you might not want to think about but are just as tasty. The McSween ones are made with cooked minced lamb and minced beef mixed with oats and lots of other secret herbs and spices. I love the McSween one because it's actually a proper spicy haggis, unlike some that can be bland as hell. If you've ever had a spicy sausage it tastes a lot like that. If you still think "eeew", then I hope you don't eat hot dogs - those have far worse ingredients.
Now, because haggis has quite a distinctive flavour it can be a bit much for folks on both sides of the border. I hated it when I was a kid but saw the error of my ways as a teenager. But I've rarely made it at home as I was never sure if I could get my man to eat it. Well thanks to a friend of mine I now have a regular go-to recipe that I know both of us like - and I really think everyone should try it. Head to Megabekatron's site for Haggis Pie. The cook is a friend of mine and I've been meaning to give one of her recipes a go for ages - Sunday proved the perfect opportunity. I'm not going to tell you how to make it - go to the link and see for yourself. And if you do want to experience the glorious scrumchousness make sure you get a decent haggis - MacSween is lovely.
Below is the results - served with some spinach and green beans along with a more tradition parsnip or two. The recipe made enough for four hungry people, so I have leftovers to look forward to later in the week. Assuming I can hold off and not eat it tonight... The plate below was eaten clean very quickly!
Monday, 20 January 2014
The other thing I've started to do in the a.m. is going to the gym. This is a big deal. I hate running and have avoided as many sports as I could throughout my life (I still get chilling nightmares about PE classes). But I'm at an age where I need to do something otherwise I run the risk of turning into a computer dude, with the chair fused to my ever increasing ass. The most shocking thing about all this is, so far, I'm actually enjoying myself. I may even turn into one of those people, the ones who wax lyrical about "what a rush" they get from the treadmill. But I'll try not to - I hate those arseholes.
Sunday saw the launch of a new version of The Three Musketeers from the BBC - I must admit I wasn't optimistic after the car crash that was Atlantis. However I was more than pleasantly surprised. As the book is one of my top 5 favourites of all time I can find "re-imaginings" of the story painful at best or just damned embarrassing at worst. This though was a decent adventure, with nice characterisation of our leads made quickly, creating a distinction between them within the first fifteen minutes. The acting wasn't too bad either. All in all I'm looking forward to the next one and hope it lives up to the promise of the first episode.
I'm writing this as I watch Lincoln (very good but very long!) so I'd better get back to pay attention - Lewis is making another speech about freedom or such.
Friday, 17 January 2014
Okaaaaaay… Bit random but I like a challenge. Hope you enjoy!
Thursday 28 August 1725
The winds are gone and the men are restless. These damned seas are silent. A fight broke out over the water rationing so I instructed my second Mr. Ealing to store what we have left in my cabin. I have the only keys. Those responsible for the fight were flogged in front of the others. One man, who killed another in the brawl, was thrown overboard; I will not have murderers on my ship.
Friday 29 August 1725
It is unclear how much longer we can continue. A week gone by and barely 5 knots done. Mr. Nibbens, on night watch in the nest, reported seeing a light on the horizon but there is no land here. I’ve removed him from watch duty. The men have started telling each other tales of some pirate known as “Dog Star” to lift their spirits. From what I recall he is known mainly for leading lost ships to fortune and glory by seeing the stars no matter the weather. A myth no doubt or else greatly exaggerated. I have told Mr. Ealing to discipline any man wasting his time on stories.
Saturday 30 August 1725
The light Mr. Nibbens reported has been seen by all and is shining through my cabin window. It’s an odd blue glow coming from a Western bearing, cascading over everything it touches. I have instructed the men to oars, winds be damned; if this is land we need it. One of the men jumped ship today, screaming about sirens. He was drowned before we could reach him. Please Lord let this light be your kind hand guiding us to salvation.
Sunday 31st August 1725
We came across an uncharted small island where the light was coming from. The light stopped as soon as the watch cried land. We reached land mid-afternoon and of all the things to find we came across a lone woman. She names herself Henrietta Peacock, marooned there a week ago by pirates. She wept and the men all agreed she would be travelling with us, despite the known ill-luck women bring to ships. Even I must admit this woman is a vision; raven black hair and a dark tanned complexion around the brightest green eyes I’ve ever seen. She directed us to food and water. Restocked, we plan to set sail tomorrow morning. I have no doubt the Lord himself has sent us this angel to lead us home.
Wednesday 3rd September
The weather has improved markedly and the change in the men is clear. Mr. Ealing and I have entertained our guest as much as we can but she asks to remain by the bow, looking at the figurehead or at sea. It’s as though she’s looking for something. I have witnessed some of the men speaking with her and they seem well pleased. I must confess to being surprised at their politeness; this crew were not of my picking and so far they have been rough and rude at every turn. But the change in them is a relief; we may make it back to port in time for our delivery.
Sunday 7th September
I am perturbed. Though orders are being filled I sense the men are not themselves. They have grown quiet and too polite. Mr. Ealing believes I am imaging things. I suspect our beautiful guest has something to do with it. She has an unnatural way of looking at you in the dark, long past the hour a woman should have retired. Her eyes have a glow I do not like.
Monday 8th September
I have become certain that Miss. Peacock (if that is even her name) is not what she says she is. Today I saw her talking to deck hands and walking among them as though she was one of their own. Despite my protests she has started assisting the cook Mr. Tawson. He assured me a woman’s touch was just the thing our meals needed. But my insides twist with a deadly certainty; this woman is unnatural. I have seen her speaking to the sea as though it can hear her - and it responds! Our way became clearer upon her words. It is against God to tolerate a witch. We are only five days from port; she will be in chains before we get there.
Wednesday 10th September
I write this from the life boat, headed to port, minus my crew and ship. Yesterday in the early morning I was awoken by four crewmen storming my room. They bound my arms behind my back and covered my head with a bag. Once I was on deck it was removed and of all people there was our very own Miss. Peacock, smirking at me. She offended my eyes by being dressed as a man, with a sword by her side. She said my services were no longer needed. I replied she needed a beating and was met with cries of “we’ll kill you first” from the crew. They were all bewitched by her. I stated as much and was struck by none other than Mr. Ealing. He said the crew were no longer under my command and would follow Captain “Dog Star” Peacock where she chose. The audacity of the woman; to wear that moniker for her own benefit.
The men were calling for my death, but Miss. Peacock refused. She ordered them to place me in a boat and send me on my way, unbound and unarmed. As the boat was lowered she threw down my logbook and pen and ink, saying she looked forward to the new legend I would write. Is there anything worse than a deluded, arrogant woman? I hope to reach land in a day or two, with the favourable winds that have moved me on far faster than I had hoped. Then we will see how much longer this “Dog Star” can run from justice.