Companion Piece

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Companion-Piece-cover-web-200x300 I may have squee’d when the request to write for Companion Piece, the latest in the Chicks… range, arrived. Could I possibly write an essay on Barbara Wright?

Could I? I snapped it up, then squee’d even more when one of the editors, Liz Myles, asked if I could actually cover Barbara and Ian Chesterton. Only my favourite ever companions, the ones I love more and more each year. The ones I admire for all kinds of reasons.

The essay I turned in may be one of the most personal I’ve written. It’s about being a fan who came to the show in the pre-video era. It’s about how fans experienced Hartnell before you could download Marco Polo off iTunes. And it’s about how the fan narratives developed between 1989 and 2005 have broken down the walls of canon/non-canon.

Companion Piece: Women Celebrate the Humans, Aliens and Tin Dogs of Doctor Who is edited by LM Myles and Liz Barr, and published by Mad Norwegian Press on 7 April.

You can read the full table of contents over on the publisher’s site.

You can also pre-order through the usual channels: print amazon | kindle | kobo.

Feel free to go off and order it now, as I’m about to get all political, in a post first drafted in late 2013 and therefore not mentioning a hate campaign targeting geek women that blew up in 2014…

ian and babs

My essay in Companion Piece is also about being a female fan when we were invisible. When a male fan could denigrate me in a convention bar as “not a real fan” because I didn’t care precisely how many episodes were in a Pertwee story. When I could literally name every fem fan in UK fandom (and most of the Australian ones). When I buried my romantic textual reading of Who because it made me too fem for fandom.

I’d love to say all that has changed. But there is still a culture in fandom that would prefer female fans to either not be fans, or not be fem in their fannishness. This manifested in 2013 with an element of fandom saying “good riddance to fangirls” when a subset of female fans said they’d stop watching as Capaldi was not a hot young man. As I pointed out at the time, if fem fans treated the response of a minority of male fandom as representative of all male fans, they’d rightly complain of stereotyping. Yet using “fangirl” as a derogatory term is still seen by some male fans as acceptable.

There’s a more subtle form of gender bias at work too. Paul Cornell has experienced this when he began his campaign for panel parity. There is a pretence that women as capable of discussing comics/books/films as men don’t exist. That if only there were more women to chose from then of course editors and con programmers would pick women. And you still get articles that think Jenny Colgan is the first woman to write a Who novel, over 20 years after Kate Orman became the first original novelist to be female.

There’s a risk that fem fans self-ghetto-ise. We did it in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I still laugh at my wikipedia entry and its claim about the Who fangrrl movement. Which was me, a Tav’zine and a yahoo group. There remains an understandable urge to create a space where we feel comfortable to respond to Who with our whole self, including the more fem elements we used to hide. A virtual room of one’s own where fanfic and going “Paul McGann! It’s Paul McGann! Squee!” to Night of the Doctor doesn’t attract sneers.

But that room of our own risks creating an echo chamber. It’s the problem of “women in [x]” panels at conventions, where the presumption is our gender alone is a worthwhile topic. This risk, that we end up being sidelined, would mean we fail to challenge the old patriarchal fandom culture. Our room of our own would keep up hidden, invisible and safely out of the way of “real” fandom. We mustn’t end up in a room with no doors. This was one of my concerns when first asked to write for the Chicks… series of books.

Like many fandoms that unite people who felt “other”, our fan culture has degrees of otherness. Go to some comic conventions and you see the same: women, cosplay or – the horror – cosplaying women are not as “real” as Grayson Perry’s (white, straight, middle class) default man. It’s this cultural problem that leads a convention like the World Fantasy Con 2013 to treat victims of sexual harassment as the problem, rather than the harassers.

I’m not prepared to accept those fan cultures. Comics conventions like Thought Bubble are inclusive. They don’t reinforce the old hierarchies. They understand that fan cultures can evolve to embrace all the fans, not just those in traditional positions of authority. And it’s important that those of us who want to have those more inclusive fan cultures support it.

In the end, I decided the Chicks… range is not a room with no doors. We don’t get endlessly poured over by fans on Gallifrey Base like some non-fiction books but no – no – non-fiction editor or con programme organiser can ever claim there are no women experts any more. There’s three books with dozens of fem fans writing about Who to chose from. We’re here, and we’re not going to be invisible.

When people began to complain there were disproportionately few female subject matter experts on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, the initial defence was that there weren’t any female experts willing to appear. In response, The Women’s Room, a database of female subject matter experts was set up. In the last two years, as a listener, I’ve noticed a shift towards proportionality. Over breakfast I’m now as likely to be muttering “nonsense” about a woman as a man. The Today programme is, in effect, moving towards current affairs panel parity.

Consider the Chicks… books to be the Who version.

Hello.

We are fangrrl: hear us roar.

babs and ian and dr

Since I first wrote that in late 2013, things have improved. Women fans are more visible, and not confined to talking about traditionally fem interests like the emotional intelligence (or otherwise) of the Doctor. But we mustn’t stop creating rooms where everyone is welcome, irrespective of gender, colour, age or sexuality.

Chicks Dig… Gaming

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

I’ve a new essay due out.

Professor Layton and the Passive Princess will appear in Chicks Dig Gaming on 11 November 2014.

Chicks-Dig-Gaming-cover-MNP2-192x300

In Chicks Dig Gaming, editors Jennifer Brozek (Apocalypse Ink Productions), Robert Smith? (Who is the Doctor?) and Lars Pearson (editor-in-chief, the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig series) bring together essays by nearly three dozen female writers to celebrate the gaming medium and its creators, and to examine the characters and series that they love.

Catherynne M. Valente (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, Indistinguishable from Magic) examines Super Mario Bros. through the lens of Samsara, the Wheel of Birth and Rebirth; Seanan McGuire (the October Daye series) details how gaming taught her math; G. Willow Wilson (Alif the Unseen) comes to terms with World of Warcraft; and Rosemary Jones (Forgotten Realms) celebrates world traveler Nellie Bly and the board game she inspired. Other contributors include Emily Care Boss (Gaming as Women), Jen J. Dixon (The Walking Eye), Racheline Maltese (The Book of Harry Potter Trifles), Mary Anne Mohanraj (Bodies in Motion), L.M. Myles (Chicks Unravel Time), Jody Lynn Nye (the MythAdventures series), and E. Lily Yu (“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”).

Also featured: exclusive interviews with Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens and Dragonlance writer Margaret Weis.

What I like about this collection is that it has women of all ages talking about every kind of gaming. So there’s triple-A computer games, LARPing and chess. Gaming covers every kind of game, and gamers come in every gender, age and race.

The OED defines games as “A form of competitive activity or sport played according to rules”. [1]

There is no right or wrong way to be a gamer. Unless you follow that weird auction rule in Monopoly (yes, it’s in the rules but seriously, who does that?).

Where is the girl pig?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

I tell my girl a handful of fairy stories from memory, embellishing the tale to suit. For example, Red Riding Hood uses her own axe to free Grandma from the Big Bad Wolf’s stomach. Last week, she asked for “the three bad pigs”. After explaining it was the three little pigs. I started the set-up. I described each pig and their houses.

“..and he built his house from concrete and bricks, with a lovely big fireplace-”
“Where is the girl pig?” GJ asked.

I was, I admit, stunned into silence. Then I praised her for her question, and restarted the story with

“…and she built her house from concrete and bricks, with a lovely big fireplace-”

Given in my version, the first two pigs are eaten (“OMPH!”), this meant only the girl pig survived the horrors.

Sometimes, like with Red Riding Hood, it’s easy to gender-switch a story. You might question whether I should, but I see fairy stories as folk stories. They were designed to be spoken from memory, adjusted by the teller to suit circumstances or audiences. The underlying narrative remains the same. I’ve heard versions of the three little pigs in which:

  • all the pigs live
  • the wolf is turned into wolf soup

So my version, where the first two pigs are eaten and the wolf escapes with a burnt tail, is just another variation. There’s also endless plays on it, such as the gorgeous Wolf Won’t Bite by Emily Gravett.

I admit having a pig say “no, by the hairs on my chinny chin chin!” when the pig is female threw up another moment of uncertainty. The rhyme is ingrained in the story and gives a great rhythm to it. Pigs do have hairy chins, even the female ones. But hairy chins are not considered acceptable in female humans. Luckily, Laurie Pink suggested a solution on twitter, for the day my mini-Dworkin asks me why the girl pig has a hairy chin.

@magslhalliday And why not. Kudos to her for being comfortable growing them out. I imagine pigs have less facial hair bias

laurie pink’s solution

@lauriepink or she’s too busy building her modernist concrete and brick house to get the tweezers out…

my response

@magslhalliday Good point. You never saw Frank Lloyd Wright pause for depilating, did you?

January 26, 2013

So there we are, a timebomb of a conversation about women and hair that we’ll be having in a few years time. However I am so stupidly proud that, at 2½ years, my girl is challenging gender bias. From now on, my question to myself when writing, or thinking a story is failing the Bechdel test, will be “where is the girl pig?”

Holmes and the Indelicate Widow – new fiction

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

I still squeak with delight about this: I’ve written a Sherlock Holmes short story.

Holmes and the Indelicate Widow, will be published in The Encounters of Sherlock Holmes, edited by George Mann and published by Titan Books in February 2013. Other authors in the collection include Paul Magrs, James Lovegrove, Mark Hodder and Kelly Hale.

 

 

 
I’ve always been a fan of Sherlockian fiction. I find it delightful that there is so much of it, and that it is a whole world where people – fans – play with the tropes of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Sherlock is the most extreme example, with dizzingly fast nods to the canon that swirl around as fast as Dave Arnold’s eastern-European inspired score. And within the web of references, any genre, style and viewpoint is permitted. I’ve read books of the stuff – there’s some reviews on here.

So when George Mann asked me if I had any ideas for a Sherlock short story the main issue was not just blurting out a dozen pitches in a big excited mess. Instead I pitched three, and Holmes and the Indelicate Widow was the one I was asked to write. Holmes investigates strange goings-on with the Necropolis Railway, bringing both him and Watson face-to-face with the Victorian way of death.

I used to go past the Brookwood Cemetery when I used the Waterloo line into south London. I’d walk past the remaining facade of the Necropolis Railway’s buildings hard by Waterloo station. The idea – that bodies would be transported to their final resting places by train – is so wonderfully Victorian. It combines that period’s ability to apply industrial concepts to human needs, along with the fetishised middle-class ideas about respectability and conspicuous displays of status.

I read several books for research, especially ones around how London dealt – or didn’t deal – with its dead. I suspect I get quick service in a Pizza Express near the British Museum now due to sitting there reading such grim material when staying in London for work. I also read a proper railway history book, of the kind that my father would be proud to see me going through. There were three classes of funeral service available, matching the three classes of railway travel.

For some reason, the Necropolis Railway never flourished, never made the returns it had promised the London and South West Railway it would make and, when its London station was bombed in World World 2, it never ran again. All that is left is the facade on the street and its faded promise of a discrete service.

To find out what Holmes – the rational scientist – and Watson – the emotive doctor – make of the Necropolis, you can buy The Encounters of Sherlock Holmes from all sorts of places.

Chicks Unravel Time announced

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

I’m delighted to say I have an essay in Chicks Unravel Time, the follow-up from the Hugo-winning* Chicks Dig Time Lords team.

The editors set themselves the challenging task of finding female fans to write an essay on every season. And then juggling the logistics of who would do what and editing it all.  But look at all the women they got!

In Chicks Unravel Time, Deborah Stanish (Whedonistas) and L.M. Myles bring together a host of award-winning female writers, media professionals and scientists to examine each season of new and classic Doctor Who from their unique perspectives.

Diana Gabaldon discusses how Jamie McCrimmon inspired her best-selling Outlander series, and Barbara Hambly (Benjamin January Mysteries) examines the delicate balance of rebooting a TV show. Seanan McGuire (Toby Daye series) reveals the power and pain of waiting in Series 5, and Una McCormack (The King’s Dragon) argues that Sylvester McCoy’s final year of Doctor Who is the show’s best season ever.

I’ve written about season 7, which might come as a surprise to people who know my opinion of Pertwee. It will surprise those of you all the more to know I pitched for that season.  I wanted to critically examine a period I’m not fond of: would my ingrained views hold up when I rewatched it. My essay is called ‘Seven to Doomsday: the Non-Domestication of Doctor Who’.

The hardest bit was finding the time to watch 25 episodes. I couldn’t do it with GJ running about as she’d distract me.  Or scrawl over my notes. So I’d get through a couple of episodes per nap at weekends, or one whilst Mark was on bedtime duties. 

One of the ironies of it is I couldn’t have written the essay – which touches on the politics of the time, including gender politics – without Mark’s DVD stash and Jim Smith for bouncing ideas around with and production note nerdism. These guys know their stuff. 

While I was editing the essay Caroline John, the actor who played Liz Shaw, died. Miss Shaw had been the reason I asked for season 7 over, say, season 11. Like Barbara Wright and Tegan Jovanka, she is a woman rather than a girl. And she’s a career woman too: like Babs, Liz works because she loves it. She’s not in a dead-end job, like Rose or Donna. And she’s not floating about with mysterious independent means like Polly, Nyssa or Romana. Or a schoolgirl. 

I think this matters. This essay on The Jetsons puts forward the idea that the visions of the future we absorb as children has an impact on the world we accept/build as adults. Doctor Who needs to show futures, even nominal futures as season 7 was, where women have independent lives. Where intelligence and drive are lauded, and being a woman with a career is accepted. 

To read how well that opinion fits with season 7, you’ll need to buy the book. ;)

*might be my only chance to write that

#amwriting

Sunday, 16 September 2012

I may have broken my ‘on sabbatical until GJ graduates or I get some free time’ rule. That is my response to most invites to pitch/contribute to things: I have very limited time, and priorities that mean I’ve decided writing is a luxury for a while yet. Then I got asked to contribute to two things:

  • a non-fiction Doctor Who collection
  • a Victoriana short story collection

My work on them is now done, pending last minute notes from the editors, but my name hasn’t been announced for either yet. When it is, you can be sure I’ll be providing some background and pimping here.

What I did discover, with the fiction piece, was the Pomodoro technique. My word count per day isn’t the best. I’m not entirely convinced word counts per day are the best indicator of progress anyway, given half of them might be dreadful. Or all of them. But…faced with a 5000 word story and a week off the day job to write it in, I needed to work fast. The husband finds the pomodoro works for him* so I gave it a go.

Wowser.

My typical nightly word count on History 101 and Warring States was 700-800 words, dripped out over several hours. On this short story, I was producing 500 words in each 25 minute session. I did between 1 and 3 sessions a day, so got the first draft down in that week. A couple more sessions dealt with revisions.

Would it work if I was crazy enough to be writing a novel in my spare time? Maybe, but that time is still a long way off. Will I use it if any more short commissions come in that I can’t refuse? Probably. I’ve tried it at work too, but there’s not enough control in my work environs for it to be truly applied.

All the same, my new top tip to anyone wanting to write? Buy a timer.

*our timer is actually a pear, so it’s the Pyrus technique.


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