Two articles caught my eye today, one notionally light-hearted, the other definitely not.  One was overtly about sex equality and prejudice, the other was not.  And yet...  

Equality and prejudice are big topics, so I’d just like to limit myself to comparing these two articles.

First up we have this article on why Hermione outshines all the boys in Harry Potter, in every aspect, yet gets no recognition.  (Originally posted by Joy Engel  (

Witty, smart, well-reasoned and with an interesting subtextual conclusion that even in fiction the girls have to work harder, achieve more, look better, and make bigger sacrifices.  All just to get to second – or third - fiddle.  So what’s going on with JKR?   Was this a deliberate decision or a subconscious assumption?  Writer Gaie Sebold says it all in a private forum:

“I do wonder if she just picked up on the cultural mores that I picked up as a young girl reading fantasy fiction (at least in the era when I was first reading it) where the heroes are all young boys.  There just weren't any 12-year-old heroines, at least not that I remember, and not in fantasy. Hell, I had a young adolescent male hero in my first novel.  I just went to what I'd internalised as the default state, I think.  These days if I choose a male MC for a story I'm doing it very consciously.

"Or maybe she very clearly saw the market, and made her hero a young boy, because of the perception (and I have no idea how true it is, I just know marketing departments think it's true) that girls will read things with both male and female MCs, but boys will only read boy MC's. So she went for the more widely saleable version, and sneaked in a strong interesting female character under the wire?”

On the other hand, we have this from the BBC about an extradition to Peru to faces massacre charges.

Take a look at the article – do you see it?  Maybe you missed it, but it’s definitely there. 

Wikipedia regularly gets criticised for accuracy and bias, yet here they get it right.  Compare the BBC’s

“Hurtado is accused of commanding a patrol that killed the civilians, who included women and children.”

With Wikipedia’s 

“The number of unarmed men, women and children killed has been variously reported …”

Reading these two articles I wondered which is worse, being perpetually side-lined and ignored, whatever your achievements, or being regarded as so unimportant your violent death doesn’t warrant a mention?

OK, you could argue that the men are there by implication, but this swings both ways.  When would writing:

“… a patrol that killed the civilians, who included men and children.” 

ever be considered acceptable.

Realistically you can’t compare these two articles.  In this context they’re both illustrations of the culture they belong to.  My point is this - Prejudice isn’t a river that flows in one direction, it’s a creeping pool that spreads everywhere.  Beating it isn’t a win for me over you, it’s a victory for us, and until we really understand that as a culture it won’t happen.    

Or, if you want to be controversial: 

JK Rowling - Telling it Like It Is, or, Traitor to Her Own Sex?  Discuss.

I've been following the thoughtful posts and commentary following Niall Harrison's article in Strange Horizons on the various inequalities women writers endure in genre fiction from  Juliet McKenna, Kari Sperring  and Aliette de Bodard,  It's all interesting, puzzling, irritating, and necessary to know and try to understand.  It's made me wonder what do those statistics actually mean beyond the obvious, and what is the impact on sales?  I think it's pretty safe to say there will be a big impact on these female writer's careers - reviews are important for reputation and word of mouth.

One thing Aliette wrote about was "the pervasive notion that the things men do are Important; and the things women do are not" and it brought me up cold because it reminded me about a BBC report  I read recently about the fighting in Libya.    The full article is here but it's quite long so to avoid wading here's the salient bit:-

" An old woman, in her late 70s at least, I'm told, entered the bank (in Tripoli) to collect her 500 Libyan dollars ($410; £253) in state aid announced a couple of weeks ago. There were two long queues - one for men and one for women. She stood in the men's queue.

The men urged her to move to the women's section. "Why?" she challenged.

A man told her: "Ya haja [a term of respect for an elderly woman] this line is for men, women is the other one".

She loudly replied: "No. All the men are in Benghazi."

Whether or not this particular event really happened it's powerful stuff, it means something and it resonates deep inside.  There's a bit of me that cheered her on, another bit that appreciated the sanguine humour, the acidity of her attitude and the resultant humiliation of the men.  

So, I laughed a painful laugh, she was putting the men in their place, calling them out.   This is exactly the kind of real-world moment that would transpose almost unchanged into fiction.  It's powerful stuff, it means something.  After a while I started to wonder what IS that exactly? 

Layers on layers.

She didn't call the women out.  Why was that, exactly?  Why do I feel that would not work in any culture anywhere in the world?
Why is it inconceivable for a man to stand in the woman's queue and say the equivalent thing and get the same effect?

Swings and roundabouts.

I think there is something very deep-rooted going on here, under personal attitudes, under culture, possibly all the way down to instinct and reflex.  In times of trouble, in times of chaos, men form themselves into bands and women do not.  Why is that?  In terms of physicality and biological role it's obvious, but like so many 'natural' things like infant mortality, disease and hunger we have overcome them. 

Rational intellect is perhaps our greatest ability because that is what helps us transcend our natural heritage - not ignore it or trample it, but accept it, and then make a decision to do, or be, something else.   We need to do things for each other, do new things, stop doing others, give things up and start doing others.  This includes the need to give up the idea that death in one group of people is somehow more or less shocking than another irrespective of when or how that happens, accidental or otherwise, whether they pick up a gun or blow themselves up on a bus.  And that it is in certain circumstances it is the duty of part of the population to put themselves in harm's way whether they like it or not.

I wonder do we really not want that?  Or is it a case that we cannot help think these things about each other?  How do we ever get real equality if this is the layer upon which everything else floats?

So, does all this mean I'd never use an encounter like that in my writing?  Are you joking?  It's powerful stuff.  It means something. 

It resonates deep inside.
The truly gigantic amount of press and internet coverage surrounding Monica Gaudio's allegation that Cook's Source magazine copied her work, and the response from Judith Griggs, the magazine's editor, is truly astonishing.  As the word spreads, and evidence of more plagiarism emerges, and advertisers withdraw from the magazine it looks now that the magazine is doomed, Griggs' reputation destroyed,and the internet has scored a triumphant goal in the interests of truth, justice and copyright enforcement on behalf of everyone everywhere.

On the other hand there have been some commentaries on all this are expressing distaste at the internet equivalent of a baying mob cornering a thief and slinging ropes over a lamppost.  Even in cases that appear as clear cut as this it's interesting - and alarming - to see how fast and furious a reaction can be.  I do wonder how it is that the internet somehow gives people permission to behave in ways they wouldn't otherwise.  I suspect it's a combination of access, relative anonymity, and no doubt a few other things too.  

A good thing?  A bad thing?  Either way these sort of responses are here to stay.  In this particular case I feel most sorry for the innocent advertisers of the magazine now being bombarded with and endless stream of emails and comments demanding they break with Cook's Source.

For once I'm wondering if there's a chance something properly good and useful will emerge from this explosion of ire.  Part of Griggs' self-defence was her assertion that the ' the web is considered “public domain”' and so everything on it is therefore free to use.  After today there have to be a vast number of people who have discovered, or been reminded, that original words, images and other items posted on web sites are in fact copyright to the owner or creator, using them without permission is wrong, and if you do it habitually there's a good chance you will get caught.

That can't be a bad thing.

A recent conversation got me thinking about all the different things that go into being a writer: motivation, passions and interests.  Big topic, short blog, here goes: 

I came up with the idea there are three types, two pretty obvious and one, to my mind, much less so.  Probably the most obvious are the ‘selfish’ – they’re wrapped up with you own opinion of yourself.  Others are more to do with your imagination and intellect – what fascinates you, and finally there are also things that concern how you relate to other people.

It’s a great idea, obviously it must be, I thought of it!  Exactly.  You need an ego to be a writer, not only to take the rejections and cope with your own mistakes and failings but simply to believe other people will be interested in what you write.  As has been said many times writing is not necessarily an easy life but to be good at anything you need to work hard, no different from any other self-appointed task nobody asked you to do.  You need an ego with a marathon runner’s stamina to keep going and you’ll also need the self confidence to manipulate words and shape them to your will.  And you’ll need to believe you’re good enough, or at least have something that strangers will like, people who might very well wish to be informed or entertained, or make a living from words, but not necessarily by yours.  These inner urges I’ll call reasons of the self.

Then there are the things that drive you to put finger to keyboard: your sheer love of writing, the pleasure of spinning a story, weaving characters, new worlds and places, the sheer joy of invention.  You might also have a burning urge to write about certain things, urgencies that drive you from personal experience, ideology, discovery of obscure events and people you find vital and fascinating.  Or it might simply be a desire to entertain, the only thing you thought you were any good at, the only thing you ever wanted to do.  You could call these reasons of the mind.

Personally, it’s hard to say which of these two come first, it seems to me one begets and informs the other, ego and intellect.  You need something from both of these sets (though to shoot the whole thing in the head I know at least one person who loves to write but isn’t worried about being published).  Then there’s that third thing, and this was the one that really interested me because it’s not something I’ve heard talked about anywhere near as much as the others. 

When you write you write for two groups of people– yourself and your audience.  Obviously you’re deeply interested in yourself, your condition and ideas – it’s a given.  Back in that conversation I came to realise that you have to be interested – even fascinated – in other people: what they do, why they do it and most importantly how they feel about it.  This all needs to go beyond simply developing observational skills, you need to not so much get under as get behind their skins to look out at the world through their eyes and see it and feel it from their point of view, understand why they did what they did and what drove them.  Then you’ll understand how you might feel about it too.   

Why should you want to do this?  So you can do the same for your characters, make them real, make them bleed and weep, cry out in rage and ecstasy.  If you don’t care that much about other people, if your basic nature is solipsistic, if you lack any real urge to know why they are who they are, you won’t be as good a writer as you could be.  Obvious, really.

Conclusion:  Must try harder.

I thought Ray Tallis's recent New Scientist article was interesting, and reminded me of Julian Jaynes comments on consciousness in his 'Origins of Consciosuness' book - that it is not a continuous event, that we are only 'self-aware' when we are conscious and so don't notice the gaps.  

Some time ago there was an NS article about vision, concluding with the idea that everything we see is an internal construct that we then externalise and map onto the real world.  Maybe consciousness is similar - a construct - and so Tallis is right that you will never see it in the neurons because the activity is all about maintaining the construct rather then consciousness directly manifesting in neural activity.   

I don't like using techno analogies, a big flaw in that way of thinking being we map our current beliefs onto reality, hence Newtonian clockwork universes and computer technologies 'Reality is a Simulation', and so on.  However, I think a reasonable comparison might be that consciousness is a virtual instance running on hardware, and so therefore it would be interesting to compare the activity of a brain when there is no consciousness to when there is, and see what the differences are.  No doubt this has already been done many times!  

This also made me wonder, bearing in mind the contingent nature of memory, if memory is more to do with remembering the pattern of a construct (i.e. the memory), rather than  explicitly remembering the memory itself.  Would it be easier to remember the instructions to order the words in a book than the book itself? Plans and blueprints take up less room and resource than the objects they describe.
I have just sold my short story Installation 72 to Modernist Press for their 'Art for Art's Sake' anthology, due to be published later this year.

I'm really looking forwards to how Modernist present this antho.  With plans for illustrations to compliment each story from a commissioned artist it sounds like it will look very nice.

It's great to see some other UK writers in this too: Andrew Hook and Stephen Gaskell (who I met through Aliette de Bodard at Eastercon 2009).
At the beginning of the year I set myself two targets:

  1. Write 3,000 words a week for 48 weeks of the year.  (A total of 144,000 words.)
  2. Finish the first draft of ‘the Shopping Trip’
That was the ambition.  Did I succeed?  No. 

These are my stats:
-         Words written: 97, 391
-         Average words/week : 2,209  (for 48 weeks)
-         % target:  67.6%
-         Weeks over 3,000 words:12
-         Weeks with 0 words: 9
-         Least words in a week: 97
-         Most words in a week: 5,499
-         Draft finished?:  No

So I didn’t do it, not even very close, but I’m not too disappointed.  All things I considered I think I did pretty well in what turned out to be an unexpectedly tough year.  I nearly made 100,000 words.

From January to mid September I was looking after my increasingly frail father and running his home.  From that point there was his funeral to organise and his affairs to wind up.  Yes, I had my sister to help, and she was fantastic, but she was living in Australia until November, and also coping with the accidental death of her husband at the beginning of the year and her emigration back to England.  Some weeks it really wasn’t very easy.

In writing terms I have some good things to look forwards to.  The first draft of The Shopping Trip will be complete very soon, (new target end of January).  I am excited about this book and can’t wait to get it test read, final drafted and submitted.  I have one agent who said he wants to see it, and an editor who may well want to.

There is also the launch of PS Publishing’s Catastrophia anthology  at Fantasycon  on 18th September.  This includes a short story of mine, is a great sale and my first ever launch.

Elsewhere in writing Million Monkeys goes from strength to strength.  My writing group, the T Party now has at least half a dozen writers with agents, authors with books just, or soon to be, published and others being regularly published and talked about.  My own feeling is that for the group 2010 could be a nice year.  In the family my daughter has written, and started submitting her first novel and started on her second, and one of my sons has good ideas for a non-fiction book of his own.  Good stuff all round.

Personally, if the door slams on the arse of 2009 on its way out I shall cheer.  Here’s looking forwards to 2010.  I certainly am.  Peace on Earth.  Have a good one, everybody.
James Cameron’s latest film is a marvellous visual adventure, by turns awe inspiring, joyful, exciting, heart-wrenching, and ultimately leaving you with that wonderful feeling so often strived for so seldom achieved: true sensawunda.

Visually it is a complete triumph, a beautiful dream that contains the implausible and nightmarish elements of any dream, truly extravagant and wonderful rendering of an imaginary forest world.  This botanist was very satisfied and took great delight in the superb attention to detail in the creation of this fantastic place, animals, plants and geography.

Yes, there are flaws, the plot is light, the key turning points and encounters are by and large predictable.  Jake, (Sam Worthington) the main character and main avatar of the film is not very convincing as a marine, his moral revolution is not an apocalyptic personal epiphany and feels more like the moment he has been waiting to arrive all through the film.  The bad guys are bad, the good guys are enlightened, wise and happy to kick your arse if you act like a moron.  Tough love.

Does this detract from the film?  Hardly.  You know what you are going to get in this sort of film and it makes all the right gestures in all the right places.  It’s more than enough to keep you in the moment, and even satisfying when these archetypes conform to expectations in their drives, their loves and hates, their greed and fears.

Cameron doesn’t pull his punches either. Beauty is destroyed in painful and ugly ways.  It’s not a bloody film but there is horror and a lust in battle when it comes.  Many characters developed during the film do not make it to the end, which is all the more bittersweet for that.

In a recent edition of the Culture Show, Mark Kermode made the point that 3D was best suited to the low-brow hacker/slash end of the movie spectrum – genres he said he himself loved.  His point being that 3D does not add significantly to the cinematic toolkit in the way that colour did, for example.  After seeing Avatar I’m not so sure.  There are some clever tricks, mostly subtle ones, the 3D is seldom to the fore, but boy does it add to the immersive experience of this film.  For the future, I’ll wait and see.  For this particular film it works beautifully because Cameron uses it as a tool, not a gimmick.

I went to see this with my son.  ‘Pesky humans,’ he said as we came out of the cinema into the monochrome light of a winter evening.  He knew which side he was on, and so did I.

I had high hopes of the Copenhagen summit on climate change.  It seems those hopes were forlorn.  Roger Harrabin's report for the BBC is critical and disheartening. 
I'm not a political animal, I think party politics and ideologies, national egos and the such are morally repllent and intelectually irrational.  Once again the politicians have let us down, but now I'm thinking less in terms of being simply let down in the usual round of optimism and broken promises.  Now I'm thinking of being betrayed.  Our hopes and powers were in the hands of these people and collectively they have betrayed that trust.
Underneath it all seems to be a complete failure to understand the scope of this coming crisis, its depth and its breadth, and the need for collective, global, fundamental change right now, this very minute, absolutely right now before it is too late.
And they didn't.
The fuckers.
So OK, what am I doing?  Well, maybe like everyone I'm doing a bit, I'm personally trying to do what I can but I know I could do more, and I'm thinking how.
Maybe that's how it's going to play.  Perhaps that is the real message of the RATM Christmas #1.  We don't have to listen to the Man, we can do it for ourselves.  At the moment it feels like we're going to have to.
The question is - how?
I'm starting to wonder if 2010 will be the 'Year of the E-Book' especially as it seems that Apple is near to launching its own dedicated product, alongside increasing grumbles about Amazon's attempts at exclusivity and pricing.

Whatever happens, something is going to happen soon, for good or bad publishing is going to go down a parallel path to the one the music industry took a while back.  Hopefully it will be a good thing, and - even more hopefully- maybe it will break the apparent strangle hold Marketting and Sales seem to have on fiction publishing.

Meanwhile here's an interesting commentary on publishing...