Milford Writers Conference – A Week in North Wales

After a wonderful week at my very first Milford Writers Conference in gorgeous Nantlle valley, at the foot of Snowdon mountain (which continued to play a disappearing act), I am back in London. I wanted to write down impressions of this week before it was too late. While the impact is still fresh, though I am pretty sure the impact of it will stay a while.

You note I said my “first” visit,  and it certainly won’t be the last. Milford has that effect on people. 

By Thursday evening we critiqued altogether 26 pieces. That’s 5 days of intensive afternoon critique sessions. I hadn’t actually realised how taxing it was until Friday morning. I felt completely drained. Most people were pretty knackered on Friday, so just as well that we had the day off. We used that to explore the nearby town of Caernarfon, including the Caernarfon castle. It’s a lovely castle, restored well, and contains quite a bit of Welsh history. Half-a-day’s tour there and then we returned to Trigonos for Cake’O clock. In the evening, Suyi, Vaughan and I went for our last walk to Mordor. It rained on us, and as the evening was falling, we kept it short. But still, it was good to pay another visit to the slate quarry and the lake.

Friday evening was a rather subdued affair, but most of us hung out in the library together. On Saturday morning we all started making our way back out of Trigonos and to our respective homes. It was sad to say goodbye, as in one week, having spent most of our waking hours together, it did feel as if I was saying goodbye to people I’ve known for a long time.

While at Milford, I also created my “Post-Milford Action List” which involves being far more productive and proactive with my writing. On the way back, in the car, Sue and I discussed what we are taking away from Milford.

These are the things I learned/gained from Milford:

  • I really felt rejuvenated with my writing mojo. It’s incredible spending time with other writers who are committed to their craft. We basically spent the week focused entirely on writing. That was incredibly inspiring.
  • I learned more about my critique style and more about everyone else’s critique styles. This is incredibly valuable, not just to keep improving as someone who gives feedback, but also to keep developing my own critique style.
  • I had a fresh perspective on eliminating (unnecessary) busyness from life. During this week, we focused as little as possible on mundane life stuff. While that’s not really practical for a normal life, I think it is possible to waste a little less time thinking about necessary but unimportant life chores. I don’t know how exactly I am going do that just yet, but at least I am thinking about it, and hopefully will be able to implement some changes.
  • I need to make more time for writing, and for thinking about writing.
  • I met incredible people, who I hope will become friends as well as colleagues. Writing community is incredibly small and we all seem to cross paths, so there are many opportunities to work together and support one another as we go forward.

And as if to keep the Milford ties in place, today by a totally freak coincidence I ran into Suyi in Waterstones, Piccadilly. That is just continuation of Milford, not the end. I somehow ended up on the committee to help out with the social media. I look forward to doing my bit to spread awareness about Milford. A few of us have decided to do NaNoWriMo this year to make progress on our particular projects. There are many more plans for Milford in the works, and I believe it will flourish. It’s already got a great history behind it, and it still continues to be a solid place for support, networking, and inspiration for writers. I am really glad I am now a part of this community.

Milford is over. Long live Milford.

 

 

Leave a comment

Milford Writers Conference – Journey so far…

 

I am currently in gorgeous Nantlle Valley in North Wales. It’s a week of utter privilege as I am here to attend Milford Writers Workshop for one week, for which I won a bursary. It’s not just the bursary that makes it a privilege, but also the sheer luxury of being able to spend one week thinking about nothing but writing. For this one week, I have given myself permission to park all the other areas and problems and priorities of life aside. 

So here I am. Really excited and happy to be here. I arrived here on Saturday morning, with a fellow Milford participant Susan Oke who kindly gave me a lift from North London. We took the time to settle down on Saturday, met one another. It’s 15 of us in total. Some people I knew before, others I only knew online, and yet others that I didn’t know at all. But by Saturday night we were all at least acquainted, or getting better acquainted.

My room is a charming single room on the first floor of the Plas (the main house). From my window, I can see the grounds of Trigonos centre, the lake, and the mountains. It’s both “A room of my own” and “A room with a view.” 

One of the best things about being here is not having to worry about mundane life stuff. Food is served at fixed times. 8 am is breakfast, 1 pm is lunch,  4 pm is cake’o clock and 7 pm is dinner. You can have tea and coffee all day long, and there is also a fruit bowl if you do somehow manage to be hungry despite all those meal times. You turn up, and you eat what’s there. Major dietary restrictions have already been noted and catered for in advance. 

From 2 to 6, or rather for however long it takes to get through the day’s schedule, we critique each other’s work. This is why we are here. To have other writers critique our work, and to offer our opinions for their work. Submissions are all high quality. I have now attended critique sessions for 3 days, and together we have critiqued 16 stories – and not counting 2 of my own – all 14 have been worthy contenders. There are great ideas, great executions, great characters. Of course, all of our stories need work. That is also why we are here. But no one’s work is utterly basic, or terrible. It is a group of professional, supportive people. Critiques are done very professionally and in a very encouraging manner. 

Liz Williams and Jacey Bedford who organise everything take great care to ensure that Milford remains supportive and inclusive environment. Trigonos is a beautiful venue that helps soothe the spirit and offer a recharge of creative energy. It is just the perfect place for this retreat. 

Many of my fellow attendees are returnees to Milford. They too are extremely supportive and encouraging. They also share their wisdom and experience both about the work itself, as well as the local area. At meal times discussions around the table range across the spectrum of humanity from serious to totally hilarious. When we are at meals, there is suddenly this loud hubbub, where everyone is talking, and the excitement and enthusiasm are being shared. We are all happy to be here. We are all pleased and appreciate that we are fortunate to be in this position to take our writing seriously enough that we can do this. 

The range of writing experience is also extremely diverse, and it’s a great thing because we all learn different things from one another. Listening to other people’s critiques is a valuable experience because it teaches me many different perspectives, and many different ways of doing a thing – not just writing, but also critiquing. It expands my mind about ideas and makes me interested in topics that I may never have thought about before. 

Outside of writing, as I get to speak to my fellow attendees more and more, I learn things about them that brings out even more of their interesting personalities. They are a curious mix, and each in their own way, uniquely interesting. 

All four days here have been interesting, but today has been my favourite so far. First because today I finally got to visit Mordor. Seriously! It’s been raining pretty much whole week, which does make going out and about in the country a bit tricky. All day’s incessant rain stopped just for a bit to let me tour Mordor with the expert human ranger, Vaughan Stanger. (Elves were busy.) Mordor is a slate quarry, which was christened thus by this lunatic bunch of SFF writers who attended Milford in 2005. Apparently for its often gloomy, ominous feel. What’s fun is how casually this reference is now made, not just by returnees to Milford, but also us newbies. It was muddy, and a lot of puddles to navigate, but I really enjoyed it. Great views from the top, and just nice to stretch my legs a bit and explore the area.

Writing retreat is great, but I do spend most of my time reading, critiquing, writing or eating. So the body needed some movement. The morning hike woke me up and made me feel great. 

Today, we had a more intensive critique session, as we did six critiques. Again, the quality was amazing and made me feel glad to be in this company.

 

Work was followed by fabulous dinner, where I did end up taking food from Val Nolan’s plate. But hey, a girl’s gotta eat onion rings. Then the post-dinner conversation which led me to put Tiffani Angus and Liz Williams in my “Kick-ass women I admire” category. 

I may have temporarily crushed Philip Suggars’ spirits by implying I was calling him boring – which wasn’t true – I was calling other people boring, while I happened to be looking at him. He, on the other hand, is really quite good fun.

And Matt Colborn has agreed to lead a workout session tomorrow morning – so I am really looking forward to that (though during the session I expect to swear at him because he has plans for Planks and Burpees). 

So after yet another full and fun day, I have retired to my room to write this blog post, and do more readings for critique and also hopefully some writing. Time is flying too fast, and I know already that this is a place I would like to return to. I know why these people come back. It’s not just the place. It’s not just the people. It’s the perfect combination of both that makes this productive and enjoyable for all of us. And it gives us that spirit of community, which as writers is nice to feel. Not just for camaraderie, but also on a professional level. To know that there are many of us who take this seriously, want to do as well as we can, and are willing to learn and grow. It is this atmosphere of growth that Milford fosters well. 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Post Event Write-Up: Great Writing Conference – Imperial College, London

 

No automatic alt text available.

Last weekend, on July 1st and 2nd, I attended my first ever Great Writing conference at the Imperial College in London. This was the 20th anniversary of this event, and I found out about it late last year, so I am a tad behind. But better late than never.

The fact that it was in London was a massive plus point for me. Conferences, especially due to hotel bills, can become very expensive. Especially as I don’t have a university behind me, footing the bill. So it was great to just attend the full conference, but still be able to go home in the evenings without much hassle.

So about the conference:

In a nutshell, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Arrived at 8:30 am on Saturday morning to register, and then after the 9 am introduction, the conference was in a full flow, with multiple streams of panels running at the same time. As is always the case with these events, it’s difficult to choose because there is so much interesting material. 

It’s also about the people. Sometimes you go to panels because you are familiar with someone’s work, or they are your friends or good acquaintance. Sometimes you just happen to get chatting to people at the conference and go to their sessions to support, as well as learn more about  them. 

My panel selections were a combination of all of the above. 

On Saturday, I attended panels that included topics as wide ranging as a permaculture travel memoir, finding authentic voice, writing and performing identity, transmedia storytelling, a paper on interplay of text and images in contemporary essay, as well as exploration of real-world choices in the movie Arrival. 

I chaired a session of three panels, which were:

The Teacher-Effect: Poets who took, borrowed and stole from teachers of influence by Jen Webb

Articulate Walls: Writer’s Block and the Academic Creative Practitioner by Marshall Moore

Teaching the Wisdom of Uncertainty by Karen Stevens.

My three presenters were from different countries, bringing in different perspectives. That’s one of the most fascinating things about an international conference, that you do get a true mix of people, and a range of perspectives. There were people there from the UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Northern Ireland…and these are just the people I spoke to. But even that covers a considerable geographical ground. 

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting

On Sunday, I took advantage of living in London and made my leisurely way, joining from 10:30 onward. One of the first sessions of panels I attended was one that created a bit of a discussion, because it included a paper on Writing about Sex, by Malachi O’ Doherty, a journalist and a writer from Belfast. 

After lunch, I presented my paper, “Miss You’ve A White Name” which was well received, and also got me into some wonderful discussions, including an issue of cultural appropriation and I ended up making new acquaintances. 

Image may contain: text

After more chats, and more thoughtful presentations, and closing brief by Professor Graeme Harper who organises the conference, the 20th Great Writing Conference officially came to an end. Some people would stay on to go to the pub. I chose to make my way home, talking to one of the other attendees at the conference, as we made our way to the tube station by walking through the gorgeous Kensington Palace Gardens on a beautiful, sunny day in London. 

It was the perfect end to what had been a quite stimulating weekend. 

I am already looking forward to attending the Great Writing Conference next year.

 

1 Comment

Upcoming events

My apologies for the lack of frequent updates. It’s been a hell of a year already. Every month has brought about changes and challenges, and even half-way through the year, anything is barely settled. It’s not all bad. Challenges are tough, but usually they result in changes for the better.

My writing progress ebbs and flows right now, but here are some updates on various events I am going to be attending this summer:

July 1, 2 – Great Writing International Creative Writing Conference

I will be presenting a paper, “Miss You’ve A White Name” at the conference taking place at the Imperial College, London.

July 7 – BFS Social

British Fantasy Society has a social in London, so if you are there come say hi.

July 29, 30 – Creative Bridges Conference, Bristol

Creative Bridges is a conference about Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. I will be running my Meet Your Muse workshop there.

August 4, 5, 6 – Nine Worlds

I am excited about attending my very first Nine Worlds. Final schedule is yet to be confirmed, but I should be moderating two panels there.

August 21 – BristolConFringe

I will be reading a story at BristolConFringe in August, so if you are in the area, join us for this fantastic, free event.

 

Leave a comment

Feeling Like a Writer

It’s a strange thing, being a writer. On the one hand, you just are. I’m always writing something. It’s who I am. I can’t not write. It’s as simple as breathing. 

But you know how sometimes even breathing isn’t simple? You get a cold, and a blocked nose. Or the pollution is so high that your nose gets full of gunk and you can’t breathe properly. Well, sometimes that happens with writing too. You know it’s simple. You know it’s who you are. But sometimes, it just feels complicated.

I’ve been feeling that lately. But more specifically, towards “professional” writing. I can still write. I can still fill pages of my journal, or write beautiful letters and what-not. I can still write stuff that doesn’t need to be finished, or stuff that doesn’t need to judged. But what about all the things that have to be finished, and have to be judged? What about stories that must meet a certain criteria, or pass through individual judgement? What about a novel that needs to meet my vision of what it should be? On that side, there have been stumbling blocks. 

And that led me to conclusion that I need to do more things that make me feel like a writer. 

Life gets in the way. There are jobs to be done for money. There are hobbies and interests. Crazy challenges that take over my life (I’m walking London to Brighton non-stop, 100km/62.5 miles in May). Personal relationships. And after all that if there is actually any time left, my energy level or mental reserves are too low for me to be as productive as I would like with my writing. 

A part of me resists this. A part of me thinks of all the writers who had full lives, woke up at crazy hour every morning and wrote before going to work. A part of me wants to be able to do that no matter what. Another, more realistic part of me is becoming aware that it is not sustainable. I’ve ups and downs with writing, as with most things in life. Sometimes words just flow. Sometimes it’s bloody hard work. Sometimes it fills you with elation. Sometimes it depresses you. That is the inevitable nature of creative endeavor. But it is also the inevitable nature of pursuing dreams. 

However, there are ways to feel like a writer. I’ve joined a local critique group, a writer’s group, and may even do more of those depending on suitability and availability. That gives me people and accountability, so that writing comes with a deadline rather than just something hovering in the background. I like deadlines. I like having something specific to aim for. It also feels more professional somehow. And more “doing” rather than “wishing.”

So today, I had to remind myself again that it’s okay. Sometimes you feel down in the dumps, and question everything. It’s okay. Feel it in the moment. Then get back up, dust off your pants, and start again. Because that’s all it is. One word after another. Sometimes it’s crappy words. Sometimes it’s torturous words. But they come. Because they are in me. Patiently waiting. When I stop obsessing and worrying about being a writer, underneath it, I already am. When I remember why I wanted to do this – for the pleasure of creating my own stories – it suddenly becomes such an achievable thing. It is there, waiting to be unearthed, to be moulded in my voice. Because I am a writer. 

 

Leave a comment

The Seashell Contract: An Interview with Rhys Hughes

In this article, I interview Rhys Hughes about his new anthology, The Seashell Contract. All proceeds of this book are for charity. Rhys is also on a mission to write 1000 short-stories (and almost nearing the end). I hope you enjoy this interview, and please do check out his book.

The Seashell Contract is a new collection of short-stories by Rhys Hughes. It includes only previously unpublished work, all written in the past two years. The author’s profits will go to The Mariposa Trust, a charity that supports mothers and families who have lost babies. The book is available both as a paperback and an ebook. It features 22 stories that are fantastical in style and are typical of the work of this writer. The book was issued under his own imprint, Gloomy Seahorse Press, in order to maximize donations to the charity.

DG: This is quite an eclectic collection of stories. Do you believe they share a common theme or subject matter?

RH: No common theme, other than that all my stories probably share subconscious images that help to form connections between them. I am sure that the underlying motives that compel me to write fiction can be quantified and defined, but at the moment I am far too unsure of what they actually are to make a guess as to their nature. So this book isn’t a collection of a certain type of story. Having said that, my style is quite distinctive. On a basic technical level, I have an affection for the story told in the first-person, but I’m aware that with a collection it’s necessary to vary the manner of the telling as well as the subject matter, so this book features third-person narratives too. I tried to make it as varied as possible but I like to think that my writing is already varied and that the things that do crop up more than once are universals the individual pieces can’t exist without. I try to be entertaining but the stories aren’t just entertainments; there is humour but they aren’t comedies; there is also melancholy but they aren’t sentimental tales.

DG: What do you think speculative fiction in particular gives to the reader, as opposed to say mainstream, or pure SFF? 

RH: All types of fiction have something to offer. Speculative Fiction offers more freedom to experiment with ideas than most other kinds of fiction, and to experiment in a more unrestrained way while at the same time preserving a sense of logic. A speculative fiction writer can conduct thought experiments just to see what happens and if the results are wondrous, unique, enthralling, there is no need to worry too much that the mechanics of the process that gave rise to the results are impossible in empirical terms. For example, if I write a story about an interplanetary space giraffe that has a neck so long it can stand on one planet and browse the forest canopies of a different planet, that story is going to be essentially speculative fiction rather than science fiction. A science fiction writer would be too concerned with the fact that such a scenario is against the laws of physics and biology to just go along with the conceit and see where it might lead. It’s true that such a story might also be called fantasy or whimsy, but I think there is an essential difference. If the subsequent adventures of the space giraffe are governed by rules that are as rigorous as those of science fiction, even though the scenario is impossible, what we have isn’t pure fantasy but something else. That something else is speculative fiction. I just find it a useful label. It would be better if we didn’t need labels at all, but while we do still have labels, it seems one of the better ones.

DG: Several of your stories include chess as a theme, is there a particular reason for that?

RH: I have always been fascinated by chess, by its possibilities and variants. I played it from a young age. My very first publications of any sort were chess problems for The Independent newspaper back in the 1980s. I have utilized the game of chess in several stories since, as a technique of controlling a text, to greater or lesser degrees of complexity. For example, I once wrote a story that hinged on a ‘knight’s tour’ which is a puzzle that involves a chess knight visiting every square on a chess board once and only once. The solution to this puzzle provided the solution to a riddle in the story itself, which in turn tied up all the loose ends in the plot. I also wrote a novella with a crucial sequence based about the ‘Babson task’, the most challenging problem to construct in chess. Without going into too much detail, this problem involves the fact that a pawn when promoted doesn’t have to become a queen but can also turn into a knight, bishop or rook, and that in a very small number of cases these lesser promotions will be more beneficial. I used to regard myself as rather a good chess player. I beat a Spanish grandmaster during one feverish night in a log cabin in Cantabria, but I learned humility when a 17 year old girl completely destroyed me in a cafe game the following week. Little moments like this can be important. In the wake of that disaster, I have been careful not to be overconfident about anything.

DG: You’ve quite a unique writing style. The closest comparison I can make through my limited experience is Douglas Adams meets Paulo Coelho. Do you think humour and magic realism blend well?

RH: I think that humour can blend with anything if it is done well. I think the same is probably true of tragedy, pathos, bathos and anything else you might care to name. I am, however, largely unfamiliar with Douglas Adams. I have read two of his books. And I am totally unfamiliar with Paulo Coelho. The writers who are my favourites and who have inspired me the most for the majority of my writing career are Italo Calvino, Donald Barthelme, Boris Vian, Flann O’Brien, Jorge Luis Borges and Stanislaw Lem. In more recent times I have also discovered the work of Mia Couto, who has been a revelation to me. But I guess I can say that Calvino and Barthelme are the two writers who have affected me the most deeply. I love the endless flow of ideas, the playful prose in which those ideas are conveyed to the reader, the fact that their work can appeal simultaneously to the head and heart. My writing style is often called ‘unique’ but it isn’t really. It is distinctive, yes, but not unique. It’s just that I read more fiction from non-Anglophone countries than most other writers I know who write in English and I have picked up an approach that seems unusual. There is so much great literature out there and it’s always worthwhile expanding our reading horizons. I discover incredible writers who are new to me all the time, but I haven’t really changed my favourites for the past thirty years. It is undoubtedly a good thing to have one foot planted in the familiar, while the other foot strides off on the end of its leg into territories unknown.

DG: Short stories as a genre is considered to be a tough sell for anthologies, yet we see so many markets online and offline for short stories. Some pay, some don’t pay, but it’s clear that readers are reading short stories. How do you find them different as a writer, as opposed to a novel? What freedom short stories allow that a novel does not? Or what limitations?

RH: Short stories really are becoming less popular in commercial terms. Collections of short stories tend not to sell very well. I have heard several proffered reasons for why this might be so. One highly respected editor I know told me that the attention spans of readers are getting shorter and shorter, but that it’s a mistake to assume this means that short stories are ideally suited to them, because they don’t want to have to engage with a brand new set of characters and situations every few pages of a book. They want a familiar group of protagonists. Therefore novels are actually more suited to the modern reading public. This might be true. I just don’t know. Many of my own stories have shared characters that pop up from time to time. Maybe this helps to break the isolation that is a standard feature of the short story and maybe it doesn’t. But none of this really answers your question, because it could be simply that short stories continue to be read in great numbers but that it’s the willingness to pay for them that has changed. Also let’s not be too Anglo-centric about this. There is a science fiction magazine in China that features primarily short stories that has a circulation of a quarter of a million. I know that my agent always used to tell me to stop writing short stories and concentrate on novels instead, but although I have written novels and have more planned, I think my heart and mind are those of an irrepressible short story writer! My imagination is too restless to focus on only one work for too long.

DG: You are giving all proceeds from the sale of this book to charity. Tell us more about it. What made you decide to support it? 

RH: It was an impulse decision. A friend of mine was raising money for The Mariposa Trust and she was promoting the charity on social media. To raise money she was doing some remarkable things, such as a 100 KM walk non-stop over the mountains of central Wales. I wanted to help in some way. I could have made a simple donation, of course, but then it occurred to me that if I put together a new book of stories and donated the author’s profits to the charity, that would be an action I could promote much more widely and effectively. Of course there is a bonus in it for me, as it helps to expose more readers to my work. That’s the hope anyway. So it’s not pure altruism in that sense. But if more money is raised for the charity this way than I could reasonably expect to donate to them myself, the project will definitely be worthwhile. And the book will help to promote the charity too, so anyone who doesn’t want to buy the book might still make a donation to the charity. I have donated the profits from a book to charity on a previous occasion. That time I chose Animal Aid as the recipient. Gestures like this are only a drop in the ocean but while there is an ocean and we have extra drops, why not shake them in? Just so long as we don’t get the impression we are better than we really are, there is certainly no harm in it.

Rhys Hughes was born in Wales but has lived in many different countries. He graduated as an engineer and currently works as a tutor of mathematics. He began writing fiction at an early age and his first book, Worming the Harpy, was published in 1995. Since that time he has published more than thirty other books. His short stories have been translated into ten languages. He is nearing the end of an ambitious project to complete a cycle of exactly 1000 linked tales. His most recent book is the collection The Seashell Contract and he is hard at work on an experimental novel called Comfy Rascals. Fantasy, humour, satire, science fiction, adventure, irony, paradoxes and philosophy are combined in his work to create a distinctive style.

Leave a comment

Book Launch Report – The Dark Half of the Year

 

Image may contain: 1 person, standingTime does run away when you are being busy, which all of January, I’ve been. So it’s taken me 8 days to report back on the book launch that took place on January 28th in Bristol.

We launched this gorgeous book, The Dark Half the Year, which is an anthology of ghost stories set on particular winter days. It’s a collective effort from the North Bristol Writers. I’m thrilled to be in it. My story, The Ancestors, is set on Diwali when Asha has to confront her ghosts. 

The launch was great, very well organised, and in a great venue. Thomas David Parker, found us an event room in the Royal Navy Volunteer pub. A cosy little venue with the right amount of charm, and of course drinks. Thomas, who is also one of the authors in the book, acted as our host for the afternoon.  He interviewed the editors, Ian Milstead and Pete Sutton on how the book came to be. We also had some readings. Then myself and three others were interviewed about our stories. (You can watch mini-clips of my interview on my YouTube channel) This followed by more readings, and then a panel about ghosts. So it was a very ghostly, but fun afternoon. 

At book signings, we are happy to report, we sold out. Books were signed. Fun was had. I had a chance to catch up with all my lovely friends and colleagues in Bristol. All in all, a good day out. 

And if you haven’t got a copy of Dark Half of the Year yet, it’s now available on Amazon

Leave a comment

Problem Daughters Anthology: An Interview with the Editor

 

 

I interviewed Rivqa Rafael, one of the editors of the upcoming Problem Daughters anthology. It’s an amazing, worthy project. I hope you will find this interview both interesting and useful. Please do spread the word about this anthology.

Problem Daughters will amplify the voices of women who are sometimes excluded from mainstream feminism. It will be an anthology of beautiful, thoughtful, unconventional speculative fiction and poetry around the theme of intersectional feminism, focusing on the lives and experiences of marginalized women, such as those who are of color, QUILTBAG, disabled, sex workers, and all intersections of these. Edited by Nicolette Barischoff, Rivqa Rafael and Djibril al-Ayad, the anthology will be published by Futurefire.net Publishing and is currently being crowdfunded.

 

DG: Problem Daughters. Let’s talk about the name first.  Why this title? And why “Daughters” specifically, as opposed to women, mothers, sisters etc.

RR: We put  a lot of thought into our title; of course we wanted something that would make people curious about what we had to say, as well as something that accurately reflected our aims. So it’s “problem” in the sense of not being accepted by mainstream feminism, and that could be for any number of reasons. Mainstream feminism doesn’t respond well to difference; it expects all other concerns to be put on hold for the cause. Race, ethnicity, religion, ability, choice of profession (most notably sex work); these and other intersections can make feminism a less accepting space. We’re a problem to feminism; feminism is a problem to us. The anthology is both of these aspects.

“Daughters” felt like another interesting way to engage with our topic. “Women” would fit, sure, but having a different word in there makes our descriptions less repetitive, so there was a practical angle there. Not all women are, or can be, mothers; the concept of a feminist “sisterhood” and the shared experience it implies is part of what we’re critiquing. But we’re all daughters, in one way or another, and responding to the past is another key element here.

DG: Why do you think this anthology is needed? Why not just standard BAME submission as many publishers tend to do these days?

RR: Anthologies can be anything from a completely open call to a most narrow, almost bizarrely specific theme, and I think this range is a great thing. I’ve written some of my best work (in my opinion) in response to calls for submission to anthologies; something about a theme can spark something I might not have considered. Problem Daughters falls somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of specificity. Hopefully, this keeps the topic broad enough that authors can play with it in interesting ways, but specific enough to be inviting to the marginalised authors we’re hoping to attract. Of course, this anthology doesn’t stand in isolation, and I hope it complements past and future diverse works.

DG: As a woman from ethnic minority, and as a writer, this idea excites me. You see in fiction, Indian women often depicted a certain way – exotic beauties, or sari wearing domestic goddesses, or whatever. I have a problem with that. I am sure this happens to other cultures, and other voices too. So I love this idea that you’re trying to find voices that are even more ignored than “minorities” in general, because let’s face it, minorities can be snobby too about inclusions and representation. My question is – how do you define these women? How do you define “feminism” in this selective context?

RR: I’m so glad it excites you! That’s definitely part of what we’re trying to address. Even just the tiresome concept that a single white woman can be a stand-in for diversity (Star Wars, again? Really?). What you say about inclusion is such an important point; this has been my almost constant experience, being at turns “not Jewish enough”, “too Jewish” or my personal favourite, “Jewish in the wrong way”.

But in terms of the anthology, we don’t want to define these women too closely; they will be marginalised in some way, and we’ve given examples, but mostly we want the reaction you’ve given – an individual interpretation, written as a story or poem. Likewise, our definition of feminism is as broad as possible; our stories might come from womanists, or authors who don’t self-identify with any such movement at all. Mostly, we want to see how our potential authors choose to engage with the topic, rather than define it for them.

DG: I believe three of you are editing this anthology, Djibril al-Ayad, Nicolette Barischoff and you. Would you say your experiences in fringes, or perhaps outside of mainstream voices helps you be more sympathetic or empathetic to the voices you seek to represent?

RR: I hope so. I can only speak for myself specifically, of course, but I really hope so. I’m white, able-bodied, queer and Jewish; I have a lot of privilege, and more passing privilege now that I’m no longer religious. But I also had a very different upbringing from the average white Australian, which stands out very starkly in certain circumstances. And within that very insular community, that “not Jewish enough” I mentioned before was often at play. There’s a bitter advantage to always being an outsider, but yes, I think it does force one to develop empathy. It’s much more pronounced for people with more prominent marginalisations, but hopefully it’s a starting point.

DG: You have created an Indigogo crowdfunding campaign to support this anthology. Tell us more about this, and how would this help the anthology, as well as usually unheard voices?

RR: Our campaign can be found at http://igg.me/at/problem-daughters, and runs until 14 February. We’re running a flexible funding campaign; once we reach our halfway point of $4,500, we’ll be able to guarantee professional payment rates to our authors. Our second goal of $9,000 will allow us to publish a longer anthology, including essays and internal artwork; we very much hope that we can make this more beautiful, substantive version. If we’re funded beyond that, we have other ideas of how to make Problem Daughters even more special.

We’ve fixated on pro payment because it’s all too common for labour, particularly in the form of art or writing, to be demanded of marginalised people for little or no pay. We want to pay our authors what they deserve (or as close as we can reasonably get).

DG: For the writers interested in submitting to this anthology, what is the one advice you would give?

Don’t self-reject. If you’re not sure if your work fits the brief – submit. If you’re not sure if it’s good enough – submit. If this is your first potential submission, your first in English, your first in the genre – you get the idea. We’re a team of three experienced editors, and we want to read your story.

 

Displaying 2016-07-19 21.35.26-5.jpg

Rivqa Rafael is a queer Jewish writer and editor based in Sydney. She started writing speculative fiction well before earning degrees in science and writing, although they have probably helped. Her previous gig as subeditor and reviews editor for Cosmos magazine likewise fueled her imagination. Her short stories have appeared in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications), The Never Never Land (CSFG Publishing), and Defying Doomsday (Twelfth Planet Press). In 2016, she won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. When she’s not working, she’s most likely child-wrangling, playing video games, or practising her Brazilian Jiujitsu moves. She can be found at rivqa.net and on Twitter as @enoughsnark.

 

 

Leave a comment

Book Launch: The Dark Half of the Year (You are Invited!)

 

 

We need something to do during the cold, dreary winter days. What better than to read? Even more importantly, read stories that are set during specific winter days around the world, focusing on what lies in the shadows. 

The Dark Half of the Year is an anthology by North Bristol Writers. Since I used to live in Bristol at one point, apparently, I still count. That’s a good thing for me, as the anthology also includes one of my short stories, The Ancestors.

We’re having a book launch on January 28th in Bristol, and you are invited. It’s going to be fun few hours, with interviews, reading, and a panel. And of course mingling, talking about ghosts and fantasy over pints – because as it happens writers and alcohol aren’t too far apart. I don’t count, because I’m a bit strange (even for a writer), and pretty convinced that there is coffee in my blood. 

The launch event will start at 4 pm at The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer pub. You can join in the event on Facebook if you are interested in attending.

Please do spread the word. 

Look forward to see you in Bristol.

Leave a comment

V. S. Naipaul on How to Be A Good Student of English Literature

 

V. S. Naipaul is a winner of Nobel Prize in Literature, the Booker Prize. He’s the author of House of Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, and numerous other books. Between Father and Son: Family Letters is a poignant collection of letters he exchanged mostly with his father and elder sister while studying at University of Oxford. In one of these letters, he gives advice to one of his younger sisters, Sati, on how to be a good student of English Literature.

It’s a spot-on advice, as valid today as it was then. For everyone who’s interested in not just getting degrees in English, but to really participate in literature, these few words of wisdom could open up a path of great immersion. 

 

English lit. demands more than a mere knowledge of the texts, and a familiarity with the criticism of your text editor. You must do your own thinking about the books you read. Learned criticism is what you need. In other words, if you are studying Milton, get to know something of his life, the temper of the times he lived in, the literary conventions.” 

– Between Father and Son: Family Letters, Pg 186

 

 

In other words, thought is indispensable. You must realise in the first place what the writer set out to do…Having found out the aim of the writer, ponder on the difficulties of the achievement, and then see where he has failed.

– Between Father and Son: Family Letters, Pg 187

 

Leave a comment