Writing and Motherhood

For the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to be able to dedicate myself to writing full time, and a great time it’s been too. Now, however, I’ve moved on from the full-time writer phase of my life to a new phase: full-time mummy. My beautiful baby boy is six months old, and, at the time when many new mums are returning to the office after maternity leave, I’m about to do my own version of going back to work: I’m teaching some courses on creative writing at Quad Derby. One has now sold out; tickets for the other are available here.

I’ve been squeezing the preparation for these courses in whenever I can, making the most of baby naps and willing grandparents to provide time for my own projects. In some ways this is difficult: never knowing exactly how long I have until my bundle of joy wakes up and demands my attention, never quite feeling like I can just kick back and relax because I know that book isn’t going to write itself.

But in other ways it’s a luxury, and one I’m very lucky to have. I don’t have to make stark choices about my career and child care options in a world which still isn’t really set up to accommodate mothers with jobs outside the home, and which can feel judgemental either way. As for the writing itself, having limited time can focus the mind. You don’t procrastinate when you know the next chorus of The Wheels on the Bus is just around the corner. Much.

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Fandom or Fan Dumb?

First up, Happy New Year everyone! May 2018 make all your dreams come true. Except for the weird naked ones. (Unless you want them to…)

Second up, in February I’m teaching my first courses since I became a mama. I’ll be teaching folks at Quad in Derby how to write SF, horror, and fantasy, and how to create fantastic plots and characters. Tell your friends!

Third up, I’d like to share with y’all a few thoughts I’ve had lately about the topic of fandom. There has been a lot of discussion in the last few years about fan entitlement, and fans’ attempts to change things they don’t like. The latest iteration of this is the petition by some Star Wars fans to try and get The Last Jedi movie excommunicated from the canon of the Star Wars universe because they didn’t like what the film did with Luke Skywalker. Meanwhile, many Harry Potter fans were vocally annoyed about the failure of Magic in North America to address crucial aspects of American history, and – more recently – about the continued presence of Johnny Depp in the Fantastic Beasts franchise.

These attempts to change things about beloved franchises can sometimes seem misguided – the originator of the Star Wars petition has now backtracked on the idea. But they show the depth of passion people feel about their favourite things, and if that’s sometimes uncomfortable for the creator, so be it.

Independently of all this, I was recently involved in a discussion on the Fantasy Faction Facebook group on the topic of fanfiction. Some people were pro, some anti, but what struck me most was the number of people who said something like ‘fanfic is fine so long as you don’t make the characters gay. If I wanted Character X to be gay, I’d have written him like that in the first place’. Which, well, anyone who knows anything about fanfic will tell you that making the characters gay is frequently the entire point of the exercise (see my own previous comments on the topic). And also, I feel these authors are deluded if they think they can control what fans do with their characters.

Once a book, or a movie, or whatever, is out in the world, then you as the creator to some extent lose control of it. We have copyright laws which mean people can’t just rip it off, but you can’t really predict or govern fans’ reactions. They might love it, they might hate it so much they start a petition to have it wiped from the face of the earth, they might decide it’s great but would be that *little* bit better if Harry ended up with Draco instead.
Various authors have tried in the past to exert a greater measure of control over their works’ reception, probably most famously Anne Rice, who has expended a great deal of effort trying to put a stop to fanfic of her Vampire Chronicles series (incidentally, there are currently 757 VC fanworks on Archive of Our Own, most of them gay). She also responded to poor reviews of one her books by posting a long rant on Amazon. Needless to say, this didn’t endear her to many.

My take on all this is simple: I would love it if people felt passionately about something I’d written. Maybe I wouldn’t agree with the direction of their passion, but hey, it’s their passion. Creators can start the fire – they can’t stop it spreading.

A belated welcome to my 2017

*coughs* um, hi. Yes, it’s me. Happy new year! Hope the first eight weeks of 2017 have been treating you well.

So I’ve been a bit absent from this blog for the last couple of months. But hey, I have my reasons. For one, I’ve been teaching a four-part course on how to write fantasy, science fiction and horror, entitled ‘Fantastic Tales and How to Write Them’ (see what I did there?). It was an enjoyable if exhausting experience, and I’m pleased to report that the venue (the Quad cinema and art gallery in Derby) has asked me back to repeat the course later in the year.

2017-02-02-18-51-07

Yep, this is me, in teacher mode.

I’ve also now got stuck into writing another novel, provisionally entitled The Land New Risen From the Sea. This one is about dragons and magic and volcanoes and not-quite-pirates. One person, when given this description of it, said ‘oh so you’re writing for children now?’ so I feel the need to add that it’s also about torture and slavery and themes of free will and redemption. I’ve been making decent progress so far, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that 2017 might turn out to be the breakthrough year I’ve been waiting for.

Another reason for my online absence has been health-related: my dominant feeling of 2017 so far has been ‘under the weather’ – both figuratively and literally. I’ve been suffering a combination of general exhaustion, picking up every cough and cold going (I’m sitting here regularly snotting into a paper hanky as I write these words) and what is laughably known as ‘morning sickness’ (actually, in my experience, ‘all-bloody-day sickness’ would be a more apt name). Oh yeah, and that’s my other Big News of 2017: come August, there’s going to be a new human being in the world who will know me as Mummy. So I’m going to try my best to get that new novel finished before I have all the fun of sleepless nights spent in the company of a screaming, pooping bundle of, um, joy.

Wish me luck, and while I expect my 2017 blog update schedule will be more than a touch erratic, I’ll try to keep you posted.

Crazy Crazy Golf

Today, caught out in the rain at the Quad cinema in Derby, I played a round of crazy golf with a difference. It was indoors for starters – inside the art gallery space at the back of the cinema. And each hole was designed as an interactive work of art, enabling you to putt your ball around the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg, into the mouth of a kneeling man (who then pooped it out again) or through a maze of walls and barbed wire representing an armed border crossing. It was a diverting enough way to spend half an hour on a rainy afternoon, but the intention wasn’t just to be fun, but to make you think about the issues each hole presented – about police brutality, the environmental impact of cruise ships, and so forth.

The problem I found was that the accompanying labels for each hole were just a little bit too didactic, a little bit too telling me what to think rather than just telling me to think. Do football games between African and European teams represent the nexus of colonial exploitation and post-colonial struggle? Well, maybe, but while I’m nudging my golf ball around a mushroom-cloud shaped heap of miniature footballs covered in batik fabric, perhaps I’d prefer to make up my own mind about the symbolism.

Not your usual view from the tee

Not your usual view from the tee

I’ve argued before on this blog that all constructed narratives, even supposedly escapist fantasy novels, are inherently political. Visual art arguably has the prerogative to be apolitical if it wants to, to be pretty pictures and nothing more, and yet I’ve frequently found that, as today, art galleries are keen to spoon-feed us the Political Messages behind their displays, usually some variant on post-Marxism. Now I’m an incorrigible old leftie but I find these messages irritating, and I doubt anyone with differing views is going to be persuaded. Books with a similar lack of subtlety – the one I’ve read most recently being Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, a piece of right-wing militaristic propaganda thinly disguised as science fiction – leave me similarly unimpressed.

Better, I think, simply to present a compelling story, or an interesting piece of art, and let people explore it in their own ways and come to their own conclusions. The problem with this approach, of course, is that they might come to the wrong conclusions. They might decide that, for example, your supposedly anti-war film actually makes war look really awesome, and where’s the nearest recruiting station? (Director François Truffaut famously observed that it’s impossible to make a truly anti-war film.)

Well, maybe they will get hold of the wrong end of the proverbial. But that’s the risk you take when you put your art into the world. Death of the author and all that – just because you’re the creator, you don’t get to decide what your work means. And, if my reaction today is in any way typical, if you try to tell people what to think about it, they’ll just get annoyed.

Still, the crazy golf was fun.