This Dilemma has Pointy Horns

Well, this is interesting.

I’ve been invited onto the “Broads with Swords” panel at World Fantasy. The one about women and heroic fantasy that’s been causing some, shall we say, ructions. (See Cheryl Morgan’s blog, Jess Haines’ blog, and Kameron Hurley’s twitter feed @KameronHurley. There are probably others).  Very short version – the name is problematic, since ‘broads’ is generally considered a (female-specific) insult.  And the panel specifics suggest that women in fantasy writing about women who fight is a recent development, which as a number of people have pointed out, (see the links) is hardly the case.

I decided to accept.  I did so because I thought that the best place to have a discussion about the naming and assumptions of the panel might be actually on the panel. (I was not aware at this point that Kameron Hurley had dropped out. I understand why she did so, though I am rather selfishly sorry that she did, because it would have been more than somewhat awesome to be on a panel with her).

I am now, of course, second guessing myself; will I look like a patsy?  Will it appear I am not aware of/don’t care about the issues?  Will I be sitting there all on my own because everyone else has taken a stand and dropped out? (Yes, all right, I realise that’s unlikely as if everyone else drops out they’ll probably cancel the panel, but it’s the kind of nightmare scenario my subconscious does so love to throw at me).  But eventually you have to decide to take a stand, in the way that seems best to you.

On a less self-obsessed and rather more relevant note, am I helping to support untenable attitudes towards women and the history of women’s writing by accepting?  That’s the bother, actually, that’s the one.  This stuff is important, in case anyone hasn’t got that yet.  It matters.

I get that the name was an attempted pun on ‘broadsword’ but…no.  (I started to think of equivalent titles that you really wouldn’t have for, for example, a panel on crime writing by People of Colour, and shuddered).

As to the content: women have been written out of the history of science, of art, of war and of literature, for centuries.  Their contributions have been dismissed as minor, irrelevant, not theirs or simply not there. So this is a conversation that needs to be had, and keep being had, until people do, finally, get it.

But should it be had on this panel?  I’ve been to more than a few panel discussions that have skewed wildly away from the stated subject matter towards panelists’ personal hobbyhorses.  This can be interesting, but is often irritating.  Is it fair to the audience, not to mention the other panelists, to go on a panel actually intending to turn the discussion to the wider issues it brings up, rather than sticking strictly to the listed subject?  But since this panel has been, so to speak, pre-subverted, simply because the discussion is already taking place, maybe it’s better simply to go with it.  One cannot, and should not, pretend that the issues are not there.

Whatever the difficulties, I think it’s well worth having this discussion offline as well as on, in a public venue.  Among other things, it encourages people of different opinions to engage face to face, rather than with the intervention of a screen.  It’s generally harder for things to descend into CAPSLOCK RANTAGE under those circumstances.

So, I’ll be there, and I’ll hope to contribute something useful to the debate.   I also hope that I am doing the right thing.

Opinions are invited.  However, I reserve the right to delete any CAPSLOCK RANTAGE, unless I find it entertaining.

BSFA/SFF Minicon

Now have my schedule for tomorrow.  GOH interview at 11.  Panel on Humanism in SF at 3.30 with Roz Kaveney and and Paul Kincaid.

Sense of preening delight due to be swamped by conviction of utter inadequacy in 3…2….1….

The minicon can be found at City of Westminster Archives Centre, 10 St Ann’s St, London SW1P 2DE and the full schedule is here.

Jungle Drums

My Dearly Beloved likes ferns. We have royal ferns, maidenhair ferns, bird’s nest ferns. Oh, and tree ferns. Lots of tree ferns.

One of these is a particularly splendid specimen that has to live in the conservatory because it’s too delicate to go outside. This is a cyathea cooperi. It has lovely long green fronds which unfurl from tight hairy fists, very slowly, like vegetable ballet.

It has recently produced a new frond, which is in the process of unfolding. Before it started unfolding, however, it grew up. And up. And up, until it was taller than Dearly Beloved.

We looked up cyathea cooperi.

Oh dear.

This delicate beastie is in fact a very large fern. The individual mature fronds can be 20 feet long.

20 feet. That’s one leaf.  If I stand under it in a gauzy dress I’ll look like something out of an old children’s book illustration.

So once they’ve all unfolded, that’s a circle of about 40 foot width. The conservatory isn’t that big. And it certainly isn’t 49 feet tall, which is, apparently, what cyathea cooperi can grow to.

There’s a reason why they’re called tree ferns.

And there’s another frond unfolding.

If you don’t hear from me again, I’m living on the street because my house has been taken over by a very large plant.


I’m honoured…

I’m Guest of Honour at the BSFA/SFF mini-convention – Saturday 1st June, City of Westminster Archives Centre 10 St Ann’s St London SW1P 2DE. My slot’s at 2.30 (being interviewed by the ever splendid Helen Callaghan) and I’m also doing a panel, details to follow.

That’s this coming Saturday for those of you, like me, who didn’t realise June was quite so close at hand, (ulp). The con runs from 10am to 5pm, and includes the BSF and SFF AGMS.

I’ve never been a Guest of honour before.  I shall have to smarten up my act and try and be…um…coherent, and witty, and stuff.  Or at the very least present and conscious.

I usually manage these fairly basic requirements pretty well, but considering that I managed to schedule major dental surgery three days before my first ever panel, and turned up looking as though I’d just run face first into a wasp’s nest and emerged with a Fu Manchu bruise ‘tache, not to mention being flown to the wide on painkillers, I am aware that I don’t always.

Fingers crossed that life decides to be better organised this time.

You Ain’t Jack Sparrow

I’ve just found my books on a pirating site. Again. Second time in a month, this is, that someone’s decided it’s OK to pass on my work for free. And this particular site seems to think that they’re doing something rather wonderful; with patronising little cartoons about how piracy isn’t ‘theft’ because with ‘theft’ you take away the original of something, whereas with piracy you only take a copy, the original’s still there, so you see, it’s all fine and dandy and anyone who believes otherwise is a big old silly.

Well, no, actually, it isn’t fine. The ‘copy’ argument is utterly meaningless. What you’re taking away is my living, mate. That’s actual money for things like buying groceries and paying bills that I now don’t get. Any copy of one of my books that’s stolen, not sold, is money taken from me exactly as though you’d taken physical coins out of my pocket.

Just because I didn’t sit down and write out every single word of every copy of my books by hand on vellum like a medieval monk, that doesn’t mean they’re not my work. Hours, days, months of work, that I spent trying to make it as good as it could be.

You’re also stealing the work my publisher did on it, like the many hours that went into editing. Work they did to make it a better story. They’re not a huge company. They’re not Monsanto. They’re just people – people like me who have mortgages, babies, bills. When you pirate you’re making it that much harder for a good publisher to keep going, to keep producing the stuff you like so much you’re prepared to stuff it under your jacket and walk out of the shop whistling.

Except you don’t even take that risk, do you?  You sit safely behind your screen, merrily stealing away, knowing you’re extremely unlikely to get caught and making lots of self-justifying statements that only go to show you do actually know exactly what you’re doing.

You might like to define yourselves as some kind of revolutionaries. But me, I think you’re  grubby little crooks, no better than someone who nicks a granny’s pension out of her handbag. You don’t make theft into untheft just by calling it something else. You can call the sky the ground, and spend the day walking around on your hands calling anyone who disagrees with you an old-fashioned misery-guts, but it doesn’t mean the sky is actually now the ground – it just means you’re walking around with mud on your hands and your arse in the air.

If you like it enough to read it, bloody pay for it. It’s only a few quid. If you’re so broke you can’t afford that, borrow it from the library – that way I still get something. Not much – pennies  – but it’s better than nothing, and it proves you had enough respect for another human being not to steal from them.  Borrow it from a friend! I have no problem with borrowing, I borrow and lend books all the time –  it does mean that somewhere down the line the author and publisher actually got paid, if only once.

And you know what matters even more? It’s not just the money. It’s the fact that if you steal my work you’re showing you don’t care about me at all; you’re happy to exploit me. Just because you’re doing it at a distance, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And it hurts, emotionally as well as financially. I’ve been an obsessive reader since I learned how. I write for readers. I write to make a connection with them, to give them something fun, involving, a few hours out of the world. If a reader then acts as though it’s OK to rip me off, it’s like being turned on by someone you thought of as a friend.

If you like to think you’re not the sort of person who would come into my house and walk out with my mother’s necklace, then don’t be the sort of person who walks off with my book. And don’t be the sort of person who encourages other people to do it. That’s no more moral or revolutionary than a kid egging other kids on to nick a bag of crisps from the corner shop and run away laughing.

Grow the hell up. Stop stealing and pretending you aren’t. And stop pretending you aren’t hurting me by doing it. You are.