You are an editor, chair of BristolCon, a bestselling writer and very active on social media in all those functions – how do you manage to combine so many activities?
I am a wearer of many hats, and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure (other than by avoiding housework wherever possible). I’m lucky that I really enjoy everything I do, so it doesn’t feel like work, and if I get tired of, say, editing I’ll go and work on a novel for a couple of hours. It is hard work, though – anyone who tells you that full time writers spend their afternoons sipping gin in the garden has never been one! I work every day, including weekends and holidays, and often on into the evening if I can.
You became a full-time writer in 2003. What made you take this decision and are you happy with how it is working for you so far? What would you do differently if you knew everything you know now?
I was in a job I hated and I could feel it sapping my creativity every time I walked in through the doors, so I saved up a bunch of money and told everyone I was taking six months off to write. Then I kind of accidently on purpose never went back to work… I would say I’m very happy with it – there are times when it’s been financially very tough, and I’ve felt like a terrible person for putting myself and my long-suffering partner through what was essentially a decade of fairly dire poverty, but we’re coming out of that a bit now. It’s not something that I would recommend everyone to do – if you’ve got children or you need the security of a regular wage I’d absolutely recommend NOT giving up your day job. But I wouldn’t change it – I think it’s helped me to become a better writer, more confident, and it’s also made me aware of just how far a person can stretch very little money, which is a useful life skill!
It was only a few days before I sent you this interview that your novel The Art Of Forgetting: Rider is now an Amazon bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic. Many congratulations! Did you eat cake to celebrate? Oh, and, do you have a theory about how you managed this achievement? (Bragging is allowed.)
We didn’t have any cake but I did have a big bar of Dairy Milk and a little boogie around the lounge. The number one on Amazon came off the back of a big Bookbub promotion organised by my publishers, Kristell Ink, who have to take most of the credit because they work incredibly hard. It’s nice that it managed to stay at number one for a few days, and it’s had a knock-on effect of driving sales of my other books, so that’s all awesome.
You are one of the editors of the recently published anthology Fight like a Girl, a collection of short fantasy and sci-fi stories featuring female fighters. What is your personal opinion about the representation and characterisation of different genders in SFF? Does this opinion impact your own writing and if so, in what way?
I confess, it wasn’t something I paid much attention to until I started looking for it, but now I’m thinking more about the representation of genders in my own work, it stands out like a sore thumb for me when I read a book that has no female characters, or a book where all the women are relegated to roles as tavern wenches or prostitutes, or exist only as a prize for the hero. What I want to see when I read fantasy and SF is women with agency, doing stuff and making their own decisions, and when I read a book where that doesn’t happen, it annoys me. It’s lazy writing, to relegate an entire sex to bystanders in your story, and it’s not hard to include Women Doing Stuff. Even if you’re writing about a strict patriarchal society, it doesn’t mean that women don’t exist, or that they don’t have opinions to be expressed.
Luckily there aren’t as many books like that published now as there were, say, in the 1970s, which makes the odd book that has no active women in it stand out even more.
It’s made me more conscious than ever, not only of trying to make sure I include a variety of women in a variety of roles, but also making sure that some of the more traditionally ‘female’ roles are occasionally taken by men. Because why not?
Continuing the women in SFF topic: as a female fantasy author, what are your thoughts about the position of women authors in the fantasy and sci-fi genres?
This might get long, sorry in advance…
We have come a long way, again, since the 70s. I don’t know why I tend to default to the 70s, probably because I was born then and it seems like a long time ago. 😉 But we still haven’t come quite far enough. Just this morning there was yet another ‘List of Essential SFF’ going around on Twitter that comprised of seventeen men and one woman, and this happens on a pretty-much monthly basis. We KNOW there are heaps of incredible women writing heaps of incredible SFF, but they’re not getting on these lists; they’re not getting onto the display tables in big high street booksellers; they’re not getting on awards shortlists (or not nearly as much as they should). And when I speak to male friends (predominantly) and ask them to scrutinise their own reading, even those that are passionate supporters of women in SFF have come back to me and confessed that they tend to read far more men than women. So my two big issues are – why is this happening, and what can we do about it?
It’s my belief, based on no scientific basis whatsoever beyond observing the industry from all sides for a very long time, that in the first place women don’t put themselves forward as much. They don’t submit as many novels and short stories, they don’t put themselves forward for panels or readings as much as men do. And this might go right back to ‘little girls should be seen and not heard, and little girls certainly shouldn’t show off’. It might not. Whatever the reason, there appears to be an intrinsic reluctance for women to put themselves forward, which leads to less women on panels, less women being published, less female best sellers, less female award nominees – it just goes on and on.
In the last ten to fifteen years it’s got better, and more people have made a conscious effort to promote women’s SFF writing, but still, when you see lists every month telling you that all the important, cutting edge SFF has been written and continues to be written almost exclusively by men, it’s disheartening and demoralising to women as a group. That’s why representation is so vital – to demonstrate that there ARE women out there at the cutting edge of SFF writing brilliant things and saying brilliant things on panels and winning awards and selling millions of books.
Which brings me in an extremely roundabout and rambly way to the second question of ‘What can we do about it?’ And the answer to that one is a bit simpler. Read women. Review books by women. Talk about female writers you have enjoyed. Encourage women to submit stories, and then publish them. Make sure women are represented; in your reviews, in your anthologies, in your awards shortlists, in your reading. It’s really not hard. I’ve been running a Discoverability Challenge on my blog (www.hierath.co.uk) for about three years, challenging people to read 12 new-to-them female authors per year and review the ones they have enjoyed. If you love reading and you read loads of books, it’s not hard to read twelve new female authors a year. And it gets people talking and making recommendations, which is great.
Can you tell us about how the anthology Fight Like a Girl was conceived and put together?
Fight like A Girl was born on Twitter and instigated by Danie Ware. It was born out of frustration with those issues addressed at length in the previous answer, and Danie said how great it would be to have an anthology on the subject of fighting women that was entirely written by women. And it kind of snowballed from there – it’s not only a collection that’s entirely written by women, it’s also edited by women (myself and Roz Clarke), the cover is by Sarah Anne Langton, and it’s published by Kristell Ink, who are a publisher owned and run by two women (Sammy HK Smith and Zoe Harris). So it’s like a stick of rock – there’s women all the way through!
About your most recent novel Spark and Carousel – the old cliché questions: what was your inspiration for this story?
Well I’d recently finished writing The Art of Forgetting and I wanted to write something that was a bit lighter and more of a romp, with more magic in, and I knew I wanted to set it in a city because I hadn’t really done that before. Every book is about looking to see if I can stretch myself in a slightly new direction and try things I haven’t done before.
I have read this book, and my favourite character was Allorise. Without giving too many spoilers, can you tell us how she was developed? I love her name, too, did you make it up?
Yes, I made it up. It just sounded right in my mouth for a frilly, flouncy, spoiled posh girl who wants her own way – though the way she went about getting her own way was obviously pretty dark and nasty! I didn’t want her to be out-and-out bad, she needed to have some motivation for the way she acted, and just because she’s well-off doesn’t mean that she has that many more options in life than a street kid like Carousel. So they had that similarity between them, of being shut in and deprived of agency, but Allorise obviously handled her situation in a much more extreme and dangerous way. It was fun to see how far she would actually take things. I think that’s what’s entertaining about her, is that nothing is too far for her, there’s not a point where she’ll take a breath and go, ‘hey, maybe this is a bad thing I’m doing’! She’s a very extreme character, which makes her tremendously fun to write. I enjoy writing characters who aren’t overburdened with morals…
And finally, are you working on or do you have plans for a new novel or novel series at the moment? If you are, can you give us a teaser?
I’m working on a few things at the moment, but the next thing I have coming out is The Summer Goddess, which is due out this winter from Kristell Ink. It’s kind of a stand-alone sequel to The Art of Forgetting and it’s set in the same world.
When Asta’s nephew is taken by slavers, she pledges to her brother that she will find him, or die trying. Her search takes her from the fading islands of the Scattering, a nation in thrall to a powerful enemy, to the port city of Abonnae. There she finds a people dominated by a sinister cult, thirsty for blood to feed their hungry god.
Haunted by the spirit of her brother, forced into an uncertain alliance with a pair of assassins, Asta faces a deadly choice – save the people of two nations, or save her brother’s only son.
Thank you for having me!