Gollancz/Rivers of London BAME SFF Award Shorlist

It’s been a while since I posted here. I’ve been pretty rubbish at writing blog posts. This return hopefully means that I will rectify that. We’ll see.

When you try to be a professional writer and start sending things out in the world, one of the best ways to cope with rejections is to send things out and forget about them – because let’s face it, rejections outnumber acceptances in the publishing industry, especially when you are not an established author.

In January, I submitted the first few chapters of my novel, Kali’s Call to Gollancz’s contest for BAME SFF writers, which is supported by Ben Aaronovitch and NaNoWriMo. I didn’t exactly forget about it, but I didn’t obsess about it either.

Then in May, I first received an email saying the short-list date was pushed back due to current situations. So then the shortlist and the nervous anticipation was back in my mind. And about a week later, I received another email that included words “I’m thrilled…” and I just stared at it for a few moments.

BAME AWard

Gollancz is a pretty solid name in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and so is Ben Aaronovitch. So the fact that my novel, Kali’s Call, was included in the shortlist is nothing short of astounding.

The first few chapters of Kali’s Call were actually workshopped at my first Milford in 2017, and the feedback I received from everyone there was immensely useful. My intention to finish that novel soon after Milford didn’t work out, and the book has actually progressed a lot slower than I’d planned. In fact, I ended up not touching it for over a year. Lots of reasons behind it, including non-writing reasons. But sometimes books just take you on a weird journey. I wrote other things in between, but this book just sat there.

When I first started writing this book, it was with a complete pantser approach, because I just wanted to see where the story would take me. Shivani, one of the main characters in the story, came to me first when I wrote a short story for Fight Like a Girl anthology. In this book, Shivani’s journey continues. But it was Avantika, who came to me solid as a character, and it was her story I started to write.

The pantser approach was great, until the story took me to the middle, and just left me there. So when I returned to it, I wanted to be a little more methodical. I have plotted novels before, and this was an experiment in just going with the flow. If there is anything I should have known about my general personality is that I am totally not the sort who goes with the flow. People telling me to relax stresses me out more than whatever actual stress I might be experiencing. The same thing happened with this book. There is a room for free form exploring the story, but I think for something as big as a novel, I have now learned my lesson that I like to know where I am going.

As Isaac Asimov said, “Knowing the beginning and the end of the story before you start writing it.” So I figured out my exact end, and got bit of a handle on how the characters were going to get there. I don’t have all the details yet, and some parts are still really frustrating, but I have a general direction.

The final results of the Gollancz contest will be out any time now. Of course, I am nervous. I have no doubt that other shortlisted writers are very talented, and I know one of them personally from a London writing group. But I am certainly keeping my fingers crossed for me.

However, one good thing that has already come out of this, is it’s given me my writing mojo back. I was struggling to write when the lockdown started. Like a lot of us have been. There is an illusion of more time, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a sudden creative outburst. But once this result came out, it really inspired me. I thought if others can see the potential of this book, then I owe it to myself to finish it. So I promised myself that I will finish the first draft of this story by the time the results come out in July, and since then I’ve been sticking to it.

It’s certainly not easy, and sometimes it is like pulling teeth. I am also currently doing a very busy day job, so that means I am writing in the evenings, trying to meet my daily quota. I know, there are people who write under far more challenging circumstances, but like anything, it’s relative. But getting back into daily writing, meeting my self-imposed word counts, and seeing that progress bar is giving me all sorts of productive feel. But more importantly, I am finally seeing this story shape take on paper (or screen) as I had seen it in my head, and that is the most important thing.

I don’t like leaving stories incomplete. Whatever ends up on the page never quite measures up to what is in one’s head, but you can’t edit the blank page.

So I’m really thankful to Milford for seeing the potential of this story in the first place, and to Gollancz for seeing that now. Now I better get back to that word count.

 

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.