Naming the Bones at Edge-Lit 2017

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My debut novella ‘Naming the Bones’ is being released at Edge-Lit in Derby on 15th July, and I am lucky enough to be sharing a book launch with the excellent Mark West, whose superb collection ‘Things We Leave Behind’ is also being released at Edge-Lit. Both books are published by Dark Minds Press.

If you’re there, please consider popping along and saying hello – and maybe even picking up a book or two.

Shadows and Tall Trees 7

The new edition of Shadows and Tall Trees is now shipping, and you can order it at Amazon.co.uk in both paperback and hardback (as well as eBook). It boasts an absolutely killer lineup of writers including V.H. Leslie, Robert Shearman, Steve Rasnic Tem, Alison Moore, Conrad Williams and a host of other top-notch authors.

And then there’s my story, ‘Sun Dogs’, which is as close to a love story as I have ever written, and which I hope people will enjoy as much as I enjoyed writing it. Sometimes a story comes to you fully formed, and you find yourself opening the conduit between your brain and your keyboard in order to shape that story, and I hope I’ve done it justice.

The cover art for both the hardback and paperback editions is stunning:

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Both covers are courtesy of the superb Vince Haig

it’s the doing that kills you

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I have a motivation problem.

This could apply solely to writing, and it undoubtedly does apply to writing in some ways – it’s coming up for four weeks since I last wrote anything. But largely, this applies to Life In General. I have a problem with motivation. Specifically, I have a problem with maintaining it: oh, I’ll gladly take on all number of hobbies, challenges, pastimes etc. I’ll take them on with great enthusiasm and pour myself into the task. I’ll watch myself improve and I’ll take pride in that. I’ll probably show off a bit, too, because I do that.

And then it just….fizzles out.

I’m not sure why this happens, but it happens with almost everything I do. Japanese lessons – I studied for almost two years, and then lost the will (in my defence, I was struggling to afford the classes, but…) Sewing plushies – I made a couple, bought a load of sewing kit, and then found myself utterly unmotivated to continue. My personal history is awash with abandoned, half-finished things: the Good News twitter which I rarely update anymore, weightlifting progress which comes in fits and starts. I promised myself at the start of 2017 I would keep a basic daily diary – I did great until about mid-March and now empty pages abound. I promised myself I’d relearn how to read Tarot cards. I promised myself I’d update this blog regularly.

I can’t put my finger on why this happens. Sometimes, it’s because something becomes very challenging and I give up. (I admit to having a problem with this: if I’m not instantly good at something, I get incredibly discouraged and find my motivation crushed.) Sometimes something new comes along and grabs my attention – inevitably another ten-minute wonder. My brain seems incapable of maintaining a level of enthusiasm for anything for very long.

Writing is the only thing I have stuck with – I’ve been writing (mostly) consistently for about five years now. And even that’s a struggle sometimes. I try to form a ‘writing habit’ – writing at lunchtimes, in the evenings, early mornings, take your pick. It never sticks. Sometimes I can go weeks without writing a word. I always think about writing – I’m forever planning stories and scenes in my head. But when it comes to actual motivation, there are a great many times when I find it completely absent. (Says the Imposter Syndrome: clearly you’re not a real writer then.)

I toy with the idea of writing myself a schedule – allocating myself time outside of work to write, exercise, practice Japanese, time on the internet as well as time to relax. I toy with it, and never do it, because oops, it turns out that involves a degree of motivation as well.  It’s frustrating, especially since I can’t work out why I’m like this. Why I dive into something with unbridled enthusiasm only to find it dwindling weeks or months later. And the worst part is, I am incapable of enjoying doing ‘nothing’. I hate it. I can’t stand just sitting around, watching telly – I feel at my best when I am ‘doing’, but sometimes the ‘doing’ is so difficult.

Cover reveal for Naming The Bones

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Is there anything more exciting than the moment your book becomes Really Real? Peter Frain has done an incredible job on the cover, which draws heavily on motifs from the story. And Ray Cluley has very kindly provided a highly complimentary cover quote.

“Naming The Bones” is due to be published in July by Dark Minds Press, and will be available in both paperback and ebook format.

The Motherhood of the Monstrous

Ginger Nuts of Horror have been running an excellent feature throughout Women in Horror Month and I’m delighted that Jim McLeod and co have decided to make it a permanent feature. ‘The Motherhood of the Monstrous’ has thus far showcased a bevy of talented female horror writers, past and present, and I have no doubt that GNOH will continue to curate excellent content the rest of the year as well.

I participated in the feature during February and discussed my hero Tove Jansson, as well as Cate Gardner, whom I fervently believe is a star in the making (and, in fact, a star already made in some corners of the horror community). I was also fortunate enough to have been picked out for discussion by both V.H. Leslie and Thana Niveau, two individuals of immense talent, who have been very generous with their kind words. They also discuss Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson, two absolutely vital authors whose work I love and admire.

 

Thoughts On ‘Women in Horror Month’

Women in Horror Month is a complicated subject for me.

I have several threads of thought on this subject, which exist simultaneously, but also separately; they necessarily intersect, but may also contradict. They can be best summarised as below (in no particular order):

1) It’s a great opportunity to shout loudly about my favourite fellow women horror-scribes, which I love doing anyway. But here, I am able to draw more attention to this shouting than perhaps I might be able to at other times.

2) It shouldn’t be necessary to have a month dedicated to Women in Horror, because we shouldn’t have to be classified as a separate, gendered category – we should be considered ‘horror writers’ along with our male colleagues. However, given the clear and obvious issues re: gender representation among genre fiction writers (and there are, in my view, undeniable issues – I will touch on some of these further along) I understand the necessity of the above.

3) Related to this: it shouldn’t be necessary to have a ‘month’ for Women in Horror because people should be talking about female horror writers all year round, as they do with our male colleagues. There are websites – Ginger Nuts of Horror springs to mind – who make a concerted effort to represent female horror writers equally and regularly. There are others who treat Women in Horror month as a somewhat lazy tick-box exercise – there, I’ve met my ‘women writers’ quota, I can go back to ignoring them for the rest of the year.

4) It’s a time of year when several contentious opinions are inevitably parroted:

– “I just don’t enjoy horror stories written by women as much!” – because of course, the lack of a Y chromosome means we all write exactly the same thing in exactly the same way. There’s a related opinion, which is not quite as contentious, but bear some examination: ‘my favourite authors just happen to be male. It’s not a conscious choice!’. I’ve seen this from female authors as a means of downplaying why WIHM matters. And honestly, there’s nothing objectively wrong with your top 5 authors being male, for example, or if the five books you’re most excited about in the coming year happen to be by male authors – though if it’s the same scenario year in, year out, I might, very politely, suggest broadening your reading horizons. It’s only when this is used as an excuse, or a reason that gender representation doesn’t matter that I take offence – because then implication, unspoken, is no longer ‘this is just what I’m into this year’, but that male authors are consistently in this position because they are simply better.

– “But [increasingly famous female author] has made it big!” – which is amazing and well-deserved and I’m very, very pleased about this. But equally, that we can pick this author’s name out as the sole example is sort of proving my point.

– “Why segregate male & female writers? Surely we should all be here on merit, regardless of gender!” – I agree, and that would be a lovely thing. It’s my ideal scenario, in fact. But right now we’re seeing anthologies and ‘best ofs’ frequently dominated by male writers, and I struggle to believe that this is because the best stories are, invariably, more frequently written by men. For a far better and more insightful breakdown of this issue, I refer you to Nina Allan’s excellent blogpost over at Strange Horizons, where she dissects the above argument in a fair and rational manner:

“…But if a general bias in one direction persists and persists and persists, then a responsible editor, I suggest, will ask themselves why this should be. The photo above is enough to show that the hoary old chestnut that women writers aren’t out there, that black writers aren’t out there, that Asian writers aren’t out there, is tiring, repetitive, self-sustaining bollocks. So editors should ask themselves: are they looking far enough outside their usual comfort zone? Are they keeping up with who the new writers are—and are they looking for them in places other than their usual stomping grounds? Are they aware of changes in the zeitgeist, in literary trends, in sources for discussion? Are they paying enough attention to the “new” in Best New Horror? Are they stretching themselves, in other words—because surely editors as well as writers need to stretch themselves.”

– “I’m an editor and I put together an anthology. I hoped to be equal in my representation but women just didn’t submit!” – firstly, thank you, editor, for considering the issue of gender representation at all. It’s honestly heartening when editors are willing to even think about this issue, which is thorny and complicated and comes with no ‘one size fits all’ answer. I think what statements like this reveal is that even with good intentions – and I have no doubt in my mind that editors who strive for inclusion do absolutely have laudable intentions – it’s all too simple for us to dismiss the problem out of hand once we hit a roadblock. If women aren’t submitting, shouldn’t we be asking why? We know that there are plenty of female horror writers out there – we are the minority, but not by a huge margin. We exist in quantity.

Whenever WIHM rolls around, there’s always someone whose idea of contribution is to simply put together a list of female horror writers – again, well-intentioned – and at a glance, it’s possible to see just how numerous we are. And we are diverse in our approach to the genre. Cate Gardner writes surreal, dreamlike horror peppered with wry humour (‘The Coyote Corporation’s Misplaced Song’ has an almost cartoonish bent to it, which only enhances the narrative in its strangeness); Helen Marshall’s fiction is unsettling and off-kilter (‘In The Year of Omens’ is set in a world just like ours, but where everything is a little bit sideways) whereas Thana Niveau brings an unflinching, ink-black darkness (if you don’t think women can write brutality, read ‘The Guinea Pig Girl’) and the strange magic of Priya Sharma’s stories is rooted firmly in the recognisable (‘Fabulous Beasts’ interweaves weird horror with scenes of more earthly, everyday horror – both mundane and shocking in how recognisable it is to us.) Georgina Bruce’s ‘White Rabbit’ broke my heart, and Nina Allan’s ‘The Race’ put it back together again. V.H. Leslie’s ‘Bodies of Water’ is searingly political beneath the chilling paranoia, while Carole Johnstone’s ‘Equilibrium’ is quiet and intimate and personal.

So, if we are to believe that women aren’t submitting – and this may well be the case – we ought to ask why women aren’t submitting, and how can we change this? I’m not personally a fan of ‘quotas’, and in an ideal world we could take each anthology on its own merit, regardless of its inclusivity of gender (and, to touch on another important issue which I am not remotely qualified to discuss, its inclusivity of ethnicity.) But we don’t live in that world yet, and therefore it would be negligent of us to assume that each time we see an anthology or ‘best of’ in which, say, only three out of nineteen stories are written by women, that this is a true and accurate reflection of the best horror fiction, or of the current state of the horror scene. And what’s more, we can actually prove this by looking at anthologies like ‘Year’s Best Weird Fiction’ from Undertow Publications, to give one example, or in the pages of ‘Black Static‘, where female writers appear with regularity, and without fuss. It is absolutely possible, if editors are willing to be open to possibilities, and perhaps to do a little extra legwork at times. Fortunately, some are, and it’s thanks to them that we’re seeing this small but significant shift.

Quotas are not the answer, in my view, because forcing people to include female writers to make up the numbers is not actually to change attitudes or the state of play. It’s a little like when WIHM rolls around and the aforementioned laundry list of names are laid out: we can all name female writers, but can we discuss stories they’ve written? What have they contributed that stands out? What makes them interesting to us, what makes us want to read their fiction? WIHM is a chance to spotlight writers we love and enjoy, not just name names, and if we are unable to do that then we should consider what that actually means.

If not quotas, then what? There is no perfect solution here. As far as I know there has been no real research into why female writers may submit on a lesser scale than male writers, or if this is in fact the case at all. Perhaps it’s something I may choose to look into myself. And since what we’re all hoping for is essentially a kind of meritocracy – a world in which writers of all genders and races are genuinely represented solely on the basis of the work they produce – I wonder if ‘blind submissions’ might be an experiment worth trying? Submissions that identify neither the name nor gender of the writer. Assuming that men and women submit in equal or near-equal quantity, I wonder what kind of ratio a well-organised and repeated experiment like this might produce?

Mostly, though, I believe the answer lies in a slow, sustained change in attitudes: promoting the works of female writers we enjoy, approaching them to contribute not because they are female, but because we love their work. Making a conscious effort to listen to and lift their voices in an environment where they sometimes go unheard. And if people consider this unfair to men, consider: the success of women does not have to come at the expense of male success, in the same way that one author’s success does not come at the expense of another’s. Success and respect are not finite resources. When we lift each other up, we lift the genre up. When we amplify the voices of writers we love, we make the genre louder and harder to ignore. And when we work to include those who have been overlooked, actively seeking out hidden gems and sharing them, we make the genre richer. Because ultimately, aren’t we all looking for new and interesting stories to read?

One day, I look forward to being noted as a horror writer, who happens also to be female. Until then, I’ll wear the ‘Woman in Horror’ hat, and I’ll work hard to change the status quo with it firmly atop my head.