Ask the readers: which writers intrigue you?

Sometimes, I get curious about certain writers through random means. It could be by reading one of their books, as in the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but at other times it’s because of what I learn about them or about their work from other sources.

For example, I didn’t really become interested in Virginia Woolf after reading Mrs. Dalloway. To be honest, it didn’t appeal to me all that much. But once I read Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer, which includes considerable commentary on Woolf’s work, I had a fresh interest in Woolf. The interest has only doubled after I read her Writer’s Diary. 

So today, I would like to know which authors intrigue you at the moment? Does this curiosity make you want to explore their works further, or do you want to know more about the author as a person? 

How did you become interested in them?

Share your answers in the comments below, and who knows, perhaps your list will inspire others. 

 

Harry Potter exhibition and inspiration from J.K.Rowling

Yesterday, I went to the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library. As a massive fan of the books, I was immensely looking forward to it.

No photos, as photography wasn’t permitted, but if you are a Harry Potter fan and able to go then I would recommend it.

The exhibition is beautifully curated, and as one would expect from the British Library, very well done. It’s called A History of Magic, and you can see on display, many original manuscripts that relate to the concepts discussed within the Harry Potter books, such as the Philosopher’s stone, a bezoar, potions, and even broomsticks and cauldrons.

Several interactive elements allow the visitor to brew a potion (mine failed, so the Night Goblins are going to continue attacking), read your fortune through Tarot cards, and look into the crystal ball.

There are beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay who designed some of the artwork for the book covers. There was, in short, considerable interesting material.

But my favourites – and the reason I booked this exhibition – was to see J. K. Rowling’s original manuscripts. There was the first page of the synopsis of her first book that she submitted to publishers. There were annotated drafts of printed manuscripts at the editing stage, including some scenes and earlier versions of stories that never made it to the final cut.

There were plot sheets, basically hand-written spreadsheets where Rowling planned out her stories. One page of it from Order of the Phoenix has been well-circulated over the years on the internet. But to see that, and a few others in person was incredible.

There was an annotated copy of the first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which Rowling annotated with her thoughts on why she wrote etc. to raise money for charity. Only the first page is visible on the display, but I would love to read her annotations in their entirety.

As I went through that exhibit, it became more clear how many years of work went into making this Wizarding World as real as it is, and how much effort and planning and thinking and edits it took to make the stories as rich as they are.

As I looked at the edit notes, I was comforted to see that Rowling also did all the “menial” work as I am doing right now, and which sometimes frustrates me. Having to edit and re-edit, and rethink. Knowing the richness and depth of a story in your own head, but wanting to make it come alive on the page when it just isn’t living up to your standards.

It was a relief, to be honest. It was a feeling of kinship, and of hope. That it’s okay. That while some people may just write pretty perfect first drafts (very few I think), most people don’t, and that it’s okay. It doesn’t mean you suck as a writer. It just means that’s how you work, that’s how you mine ideas, and that’s how you polish.

I wish I had been able to take photos of some of that stuff, just to remind me when I am having doubts. But that’s what this blog post is for. To remember. And to remind the rest of you who may also struggle with that from time to time, when the book you want to write is just isn’t coming together, and when you question whether you are good enough.

Keep writing that story. Keep working at it. Finish.

You can do it.

Whether or not you like Harry Potter is irrelevant. Rowling’s story is that of hard work and grit. And as writers, we can all take inspiration from that.

 

Book launch report – The Dark Half of the Year

Time 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

 

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 colour, 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 for 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 an 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.

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.

 

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.

 

Fight like a girl – join the anthology launch party!

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This is an open invitation to all of you for a kick-ass launch party. After all, what else can you expect from an anthology with the name as kick-ass as Fight Like A Girl?

So what is Fight Like A Girl?

It’s a fantasy/sci-fi anthology being published by Grimbold Books. The book will include stories from some of the best kick-ass females of British Science Fiction and Fantasy writing, and a short story from yours truly. 

This is the blurb from Grimbold Publishing:

What do you get when some of the best women writers of genre fiction come together to tell tales of female strength? A powerful collection of science fiction and fantasy ranging from space operas and near-future factional conflict to medieval warfare and urban fantasy. These are not pinup girls fighting in heels; these warriors mean business. Whether keen combatants or reluctant fighters, each and every one of these characters was born and bred to Fight Like A Girl.

Featuring stories by Roz Clarke, Kelda Crich, K T Davies, Dolly Garland, K R Green, Joanne Hall, Julia Knight, Kim Lakin-Smith, Juliet McKenna, Lou Morgan, Gaie Sebold, Sophie E Tallis, Fran Terminiello Danie Ware, Nadine West

The launch will take place on April 2 at The Hatchet Inn, Frogmore Street, Bristol from 13:00 to 17:30. There will be a buffet, fighting demonstrations (obviously), a whole bunch of geekery and fun! 

You can buy the tickets for the event through Eventbrite.

I hope you will join us, and please spread the word. 

 

BristolCon 2015 – the one-day convention

BristolCon is Bristol’s leading (and only) Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. On the 27th of September, I attended it after a year’s break. It’s my “regular” convention, and it has been growing from strength to strength since it first started in 2009. One of the unusual things about BristolCon is that it is an only a one-day event. If you are at all familiar with SFF conventions, you would know that most of them are weekend-long affairs. That means a lot of time and money. BristolCon offers the con experience without the hefty price tag. Even better, it offers the intimacy of a relatively small convention, which makes it perfect for newbies.

I’ve been to BristolCon as a newbie, I have been on panels, and these days I do some minion duties (helping out on the day as per instructions of the Head Minion), but mostly, I just go to BristolCon to mingle. It’s incredible how quickly people bond, and how this once-a-year event can form lasting friendships. There are people, who I now consider my friends, whom I used to see only once a year at BristolCon. Somehow, in that limited time and space, friendships grew. The same goes for networking with writers, and other people in the industry. These relationships are built, one smile and one handshake at a time. Some will last, others will not.

I was looking forward to going to BristolCon 2015 for several reasons. For one, it was after I missed a year and almost two years since I’d moved away from Bristol (where I lived for nearly 10 years). Another reason was my friend and organiser of BristolCon, Joanne Hall’s book launch. And lastly, I just wanted to be at BristolCon, and hang out with people I hadn’t seen for a while.

It did not disappoint.

Just out of the train station, I ran into G R Matthews, an author I’d met at last year’s Fantasy Faction’s Grim Gathering. We wandered down together to Double Tree Hotel, and from then on, it was meeting and greeting. Having had a glimpse of the number of emails, meetings, and planning it takes to organise conventions (and realising, I really don’t want to do it) I have a special regard for people who do the job. It’s mostly a thankless job, and you are really only noticed if you screw up. So well done to Joanne and the rest of the committee that I didn’t see anyone shouting loudly for organisers.

I attended only three panels this year and they were all good fun. The censorship panel was way more fun than I had expected. Ian Millstead moderated it well, and the panellists – Dev Agarwal (writer, and editor for BSFA’s Focus Magazine as well as Albeido One), Joanne, Juliet E. McKenna (a fantasy writer), and Tony Cooper (a fantasy writer) offered their opinions, well-researched insights, and entertainment.

I met new people but especially got to have a bit more of a chat with people I’d only briefly met before, or seen at previous cons (or kept in touch through Facebook). I hope that next time I see them, at least some of them will remember me.

Joanne’s new book, Spark and Carousel, launched officially at BristolCon today, with disco-lights and cake and wine!

It was a successful launch and included absolutely sweet speeches by Roz Clarke (editor) and Sammy H. K. Smith (publisher). It’s so nice to see all the love shared in the community. Because SFF is a community, and the regulars who attend BristolCon are a community of their own. 

Both the Art Room and the Book Room were full of great wares. Artist, Jennie Gyllblad was resplendent in her costume!

Not really having paid much attention to book covers before (shame on me!) I was excited when Dev pointed out that the Guest of Honour, Chris Moore had designed several well-known covers, including that of The Stars My Destination. 

It was fun to catch up with people and listen in on panels, but I also learned a lot. It does not matter at what stage you are in whatever you choose to do, there are opportunities to learn. This time, as I wasn’t on any panels, I paid more attention to people who were – who does what, and how. I saw how different moderators work, and what was more effective. It’s not an easy task keeping a room full of an audience engaged, and it’s a good skill to have.

All in all, despite earlier reluctance to travel to Bristol (it’s weird going back to the place the first time after you move away), I am glad I went. It was a very good day spent with very good, interesting people. So good in fact that I already booked my next year’s ticket – and I don’t even know the date! 

 

A writer’s diary: Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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4 June 1831

I wonder if I shall burn this sheet of paper like most others I have begun in the same way. To write a diary, I have thought of very often at far & near  distances of time: but how could I write a diary without throwing upon paper my thoughts, all my thoughts – the thoughts of my heart as well as of my head? – and then how could I bear to look on them after they were written? Adam made fig leaves necessary for the mind, as well as for the body. And such a mind I have! So very exacting & exclusive & eager & headlong – & strong & so very very often wrong! Well! But I will write: I must write – & the oftener wrong I know myself to be, the less wrong I shall be in one thing – the less vain I shall be!

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

A writer’s diary: John Steinbeck on comfortable space for writing

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12 February 1951

Lincoln’s Birthday. My first day of work in my new room. It is a very pleasant room and I have a drafting table to work on which I have always wanted – also a comfortable chair given me by Elaine. In fact I have never had it so good and so comfortable. I have known such things to happen – the perfect pointed pencil – the paper persuasive – the fantastic chair and a good light and no writing. Surely a man is most treacherous animal full of his treasured contradictions. He may not admit it but he loves his paradoxes.

Now that I have everything, we shall see whether I have anything. It is exactly that simple. Mark Twain used to write in bed – so did our greatest poet. But I wonder how often they wrote in bed – or whether they did it twice and the story took hold. Such things happen. Also I would like to know what things they wrote in bed and what things they wrote sitting up. All of this has to do with comfort in writing and what its value is. I should think that a comfortable body would let the mind go freely to its gathering. But such is the human that he might react in an opposite way. Remember my father’s story about the man who did not dare be comfortable because he went to sleep. That might be true of me too. Now I am perfectly comfortable in body. I think my house is in order. Elaine, my beloved, is taking care of all the outside details to allow me the amount of free untroubled time every day to do my work. I can’t think of anything else necessary to write except a story and the will to tell it.

– John Steinbeck 

 

221B Baker Street – the home of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s most celebrated character, exists in his own right. He’s a fictional character who’s taken on a life of his own. So much so that there is a museum dedicated to him on Baker Street (his fictional address) in London. 

It’s a cute little museum showcasing what Holmes and Watson’s rooms may have looked like. Entirely touristy yes, but still worth a trip for any Sherlock Holmes fan. 

221B Baker Street

Holmes’ Violin

Watson’s Desk

I visited the museum years ago, but Holmes has an increased significance for me now, as I am doing my MA dissertation on Conan Doyle. The author and his hero were both incredibly fascinating, and the fact that Sherlock Holmes continues to be one of the most reincarnated and celebrated character is a testament to Conan Doyle’s writing and imagination.