A Splash of Silver in the Wild Wood

I’m not sure I really have a norm in my reading any more. I do prefer fantasy or science fiction but I’ve been reading more mainstream fiction and recently rediscovered my love of historical novels through Philippa Gregory’s The Cousins War series. While I might find it hard to articulate my comfort zone, however, I definitely have one and I know when I’m stepping outside it. That’s happened a few times this year, to mixed results.

In 2015, my third year signed up to the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I committed to reading and reviewing at least twelve books written by Australian women. I ended up reading fifteen, with a leaning towards historical fiction. Goddess, The First Man in Rome and Just a Girl are all based on the lives of real – and extraordinary – people, while Currawong Manor is a mystery set half in the 1940’s and half in the 1990s. Wild Wood has a similar mix (1300s and 1980s) with a fantasy element. Genre fantasy reads for this year were Splashdance Silver, Sourdough and Other Stories, A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, Dreamer’s Pool and its sequel Tower of Thorns. Representing science fiction were the first two books in the Starbound series, These Broken Stars and This Shattered World, though I also finished reading Tansy Rayner Roberts’ delightful blog serial Musketeer Space, which started last year and concluded in July. Under the name Livia Day, she also wrote the cosy mysteries A Trifle Dead and Drowned Vanilla, both set in contemporary Hobart. The one and only mainstream Australian fiction novel for this year is Kate Forsyth’s Dancing on Knives.

It’s actually interesting, looking back, to see only a third of these books were set in Australia. Six had Australian characters. From Tudor England to ancient Rome, to fantasy realms and other planets, the settings could hardly be more varied.

Though I can’t review them, thanks to a rather obvious bias, I’m honoured to be a part of several anthologies edited and published this year by Australian women. Tehani Wessely and Tansy Rayner Roberts produced Cranky Ladies of History, about female rebels and rulers. Tehani also edited Focus 2014: highlights of Australian short fiction. Liz Grzyb pulled together a collection of stories about powerful fictional women for Hear Me Roar and, together with Talie Helene, released Ticonderoga Publications’ 2014 edition of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror. It is always a delight and a privilege to work with so many talented women and in such a vibrant corner of the Australian publishing scene!

Not all the books I’ve read for the Challenge this year worked for me. It’s also how I found three of my favourite books of 2015. The point of this project has never been to read only Australian women, and I certainly haven’t – the point, for me, has always been to be more mindful of what I’m reading. Since I started participating in the Challenge, I’ve noticed the works of Australian writers more and have made space for them on my reading list. That’s something I intend to continue. Australian women have fantastic stories to share. And I have so much reading to do.

Queensland Literary Awards 2015

The Queensland Literary Awards for 2015 were announced late last week and I am very honoured to have been selected as runner-up for the Young Writers Award, in the 18-25 category. My story ‘January Days’ can be read for free on the State Library of Queensland website, as can the winning entry ‘Surface’ by Grace McCarter, the Young Writers Award winners in the 15-17 category and all the commended entries. You can also see the full list of winners for the Queensland Literary Awards here.

For once it was an event I could actually end up getting to and it was a fantastic evening! There’s always a particular vibe when a large number of writers occupy the same space, like they might start bending reality any minute. (Also the after party happened at the State Library on the Queensland Terrace, which has walls decorated in teacups like something straight out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.) I had the chance to meet the lovely Kathleen Jennings and Angela Slatter, and acquired several new titles for my to read list. I’d like to offer a big thank you to the State Library and everyone involved in putting on the event!

In other writerly news, FableCroft have released the gorgeous hardcover editions of Cranky Ladies of History for general purchase and are running a Goodreads giveaway for two copies of the book. It’s open until November 15th.

All the May news

chewbiccasMay the Fourth be with you! Because I’m really that cheesy, I celebrated Star Wars Day with Chewbiccas. It is something akin to autumn in Queensland right now, which mostly means chilly mornings and warm days and never knowing quite what to wear, but it’s bringing out my baking instincts.

I’m doing an author talk at Beenleigh Library on the 23rd of this month – you can check out the details here – discussing fairy tales, fiction writing and publishing with small press. Obviously if anyone wants to bring along any of my work, I’m more than happy to sign it! Speaking of which, FableCroft is running a Mother’s Day special offer up until the 10th, including a limited run of Cranky Ladies hardcovers. As someone who owns one, I can confirm they are gorgeous, and that mothers like them. Well, mine did! She is admittedly biased. Also, the Lethe Press anthology Daughters of Frankenstein, which was due to be published in June, has been pushed back to early August. I’ll post more information about that when I get it.

An Update of Crowns and Clocks

In a somewhat belated announcement, because of late my relationship with clocks and calendars is not the best it has ever been, Ticonderoga has released the table of contents for their new anthology Hear Me Roar and my story ‘Blueblood’ has made it in! The theme is female heroism, a subject that is not only one of my favourite things to read about but is also wonderfully broad as a starting point. For me it meant a fairy tale retelling I’ve been thinking about for a long time, about lies and love and the unique dysfunctionality of a crumbling royal family.

Now that Cranky Ladies of History is abroad in the world, FableCroft is running a series of articles to accompany the stories. Mine is of course about Elizabeth I, and my post is shameless fangirling over one my all-time favourite monarchs, plus history in general.

Actually it feels like my life has been rather taken over by royalty lately, both historical and fictional, because over the past month I’ve been working through all five seasons of the BBC TV show Merlin. I never thought I’d like it much – the Arthurian legend is not my go-to epic – but for a show that never decided on the age of its target audience, veering between childish slapstick and dark maneuvering, it’s surprisingly addictive and has far better actors than many of the storylines deserve. As I recently watched the last episode and am currently wallowing in fanfiction, it’s probably only a matter of time before I post some proper thoughts about it.

Cranky Ladies Are Marching In

100_5800Women’s History Month has begun and on Sunday, International Women’s Day, FableCroft’s fabulous new anthology Cranky Ladies of History will be officially launched in Canberra. It’s now possible to order on their website, and as I received my own contributor copies earlier this week, I can confirm that Kathleen Jennings cover is every bit as gorgeous as it looks. I can’t wait to read about the lady pirates!

It’s currently awards season and I’m thrilled that ‘Signature’, published last year in the Twelfth Planet Press anthology Kaleidoscope, has been nominated for both a Ditmar and an Aurealis Award. I’m also very proud to be a part of several of the anthologies nominated in both ballots. The Australian small press scene is fantastic in its d100_5801iversity of projects and encouragement of new writers, so it’s wonderful to see that recognition.

As you can see, I’m having to reshuffle some books to make space for my new literary acquisitions. This is the BEST PROBLEM EVER.

January

aww-badge-2015-200x300I like New Year’s resolutions. I like feeling there’s a plan in place, even if I veer wildly from it and start writing about spaceships when I should be focusing on sorcery. As I’m starting the year a little wrong-footed after a badly timed cold and too much computer drama, getting things done feels particularly important.

If this year goes according to plan, I will be very tired at the end of it.

I have stories confirmed to appear in FableCroft’s Cranky Ladies of History and Lethe Press’s Daughters of Frankenstein in the first half of 2015. Blogwise, I’ve signed up for a third year of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, intending to read and review at least twelve books by female Australian writers in a range of genres. Reviews will now be un-numbered, as keeping track has become too unwieldy. January will see me kick off the Sharazad Project plus a series of monthly posts about fairy tale adaptations called Disney Reflections. I’ll also be collating a master page for Fairy Tale Tuesdays, so if you’re looking for a specific post from the back catalogue, have hope!

And I have a new blog header. You may have noticed. Leaves: my favourite form of interior decoration.

Into the woods now, people, there’s witches to write.

 

An Update of November Squee

Cranky Ladies logoEarlier this year I participated in the blog tour for Cranky Ladies of History, a FableCroft anthology themed around historical women who lived memorably unconventional lives, and now I’m thrilled to confirm I’ll be part of the book! – or more accurately, Queen Elizabeth I of England will, via my story ‘Glorious’.

As my first historical fiction, this is particularly exciting for me! I have always admired Elizabeth enormously, as a woman who not only survived to adulthood in the misogynistic powder-keg of Henry VIII’s court but rose to the highest position of power in the land and held onto it until the day she died. She will be appearing with a superb company of monarchs and pirates, poets and warriors. Some I already know amazing things about – others I can’t wait to meet. Updates on the anthology will appear on the FableCroft website, while all the posts of the blog tour are collected here. Cranky Ladies of History is set for publication in March next year.

An Update from the Shadow of the Witch

The past couple of weeks have been quite full on for me, for a lot of reasons, but any month that includes seeing a 1920s animated fairy tale must be a good one.

The Gallery of Modern Art has recently been running a series of fairy tale themed films and on the 16th it screened ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed‘, an animated fantasy from 1926 that could easily be retitled ‘The Fire Witch Saves Everybody, Always’. It was written, directed and co-animated by Lotte Reiniger, a pioneer of the industry and probably qualifiable as a Cranky Lady. Based on two different stories from the Arabian Nights, it’s like watching exquisitely intricate shadow puppets, and this particular performance was accompanied by gorgeous live music. While there are instances of the racism and sexism you might expect from a creation of the period, there are pleasantly surprising twists too. I’ll say it again: Fire. Witch. Is. Awesome. The princes are there largely to be tricked by sorcery and lament about their unlucky love lives.

In other March news:

Let’s Have A Rousing Discussion About Truth, Dragons and Historically Authentic Sexism

For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.

– Virginia WoolfCranky Ladies logo

Tomorrow is the first day of Women’s History Month. Throughout March FableCroft Publishing are running a Pozible campaign for their new anthology, Cranky Ladies of History, and co-editor Tehani Wessely has organised a blog tour to explore the legacy of women who were unconventional, rebellious, or outright revolutionary. Which means we get to talk about HISTORY!

Most girls grow up surrounded by storybook princesses. The ones I liked best were Elizabeth, Victoria and Cleopatra, thanks to a series of fictional autobiographies in my local library’s children’s section. Having been consuming period dramas and documentaries from a very young age, my brain houses a disordered archive of historical detail, from the failed strategies of the Battle of Hastings to what wealthy Tudors used for toothpaste (sugar, if you really want to know. Don’t try this at home!)

History is, after all, one long, unpredictable story with countless fan fiction spin-offs, and I am easily hooked into a good story. All my life I’ve been fascinated by the past, but I have never had the slightest desire to actually go there. It is, as they say, a foreign country, and not a particularly pleasant one if you happen to be female. That we need a dedicated month tells you everything you need to know about the way women have been treated by humanity’s (mostly male) record-keepers.

There was some debate online in late 2012 about ‘historically authentic sexism’ in fantasy and science fiction, kicking off with this article on the Mary Sue and continuing with glorious sarcasm from Tansy Rayner Roberts and Foz Meadows. To summarise, if you find giant fire-breathing lizards more credible than women as active participants in a narrative, you may have problems. The best narratives, naturally, have both, but I digress.

History is a vast mosaic of human experience and for a very long time the pieces about women have been treated as insignificant. The very word woman, derived from Old English, is an amalgamation of wīf (wife) and man (person). According to the actual language, if you weren’t male, you were not really a person; you could only be married to one. Over the course of generations, women’s experiences and achievements have been belittled, forgotten and ignored, sometimes out of deliberate malice but more often from a pervasively misogynistic mindset. The wives of Henry VIII are still forced into the boxes they were given during their lifetimes, their contributions to the Tudor dynasty dismissed, while the nine days queen Jane Grey is held up as a martyr to the ambition of others instead of the intelligent and politically aware young woman she was. The dispute between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots becomes a beauty contest. Cleopatra is treated as a seductress, not a politician. Nuance, automatically granted to male contemporaries, is something women have had to win.

Which is incredibly frustrating, because there are SO MANY amazing women throughout history. If you want leaders, there’s the Iceni queen Boudicca, who struck fear into the heart of the Roman Empire. Cleopatra, the only Ptolemaic monarch who bothered to learn the Egyptian language. The African warrior Amina Sarauniya Zazzua, who led military campaigns while her mother governed then inherited power for a thirty four year reign. Not to forget Elizabeth, the ultimate politician and devastatingly brilliant academic, or Queen Victoria, who ruled over an empire so vast it was said the sun never set on her lands. Then there are the revolutionaries: Harriet Tubman, who escaped a savagely abusive plantation owner and went on to rescue more than three hundred slaves. Joan of Arc, the teenage girl who led a French army with force of conviction alone. Constance Markievicz, an Irish activist and the first woman to be elected to the British House of Commons. When asked to give fashion advice, her reply was “Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank, and buy a revolver.”

In the sciences, there was Hypatia, inventor of the astrolabe and hydroscope; Maria Agnesi, so committed to mathematics she wrote solutions in her sleep; Marie Curie, who won a Nobel Prize for her investigation of radioactivity. In literature, well, take your pick. Aphra Behn was one of the first female playwrights in Restoration England and part-time spy for Charles II. The Brontë sisters created heroines fuelled by incontrovertible self-respect. Mary Shelley arguably invented the science fiction genre; Murasaki Shikibu arguably invented the novel.

I don’t require my favourite ladies of history to have been nice, or even on the paler side of moral grey. All it takes to get on my radar is to be interesting. Ching Shih, for instance, a former prostitute who became a pirate queen so unstoppable that the only way to end her marauding was to offer her a comfortable retirement – just knowing she existed makes me happy. But she wasn’t the only female pirate in history, not by a long shot. Every time someone says, ‘women never did that!’, I guarantee you there was a woman who did.

Writers of historical fiction incur an immediate responsibility, because the stories we hear are the realities we believe. Writing about real people from history is an even greater challenge. However detailed the account of their life, there are gaps where fiction can only conjecture – but it can also breathe life and soul into the names of people who died centuries ago. I’m glad those ‘autobiographies’ were waiting for me, and all the other stories from history I have read since. They are an important part of reclaiming women’s lives, so long belittled and dismissed. They remind us of the remarkable achievements of the past, and the limitless potential of the future.

And that being ‘cranky’ isn’t always such a bad thing.