Writing social values in historical fantasy fiction

(By David Craig)

One of the potential pitfalls of writing fiction in certain periods is how to acknowledge social values no longer compatible with contemporary values. With fiction set in the 19th century, there runs the risk of glorifying imperialism/colonialism. Does the writer give their protagonists modern social values with regards to issues like racism/sexism/feminism etc? To do so runs the risk of losing the reader’s sense of immersion. To ignore these issues altogether risks ‘whitewashing’ history or hand-waving over certain demographics being second-class citizens. Homosexuality was a crime, and certain ethnic groups faced persecution and even genocide. But to give the protagonists period values risks alienating them from the reader. Or attracting an unsavoury reader-base.

These were concerns I had when writing Resurrection Men http://bit.ly/ResurrectionMen , a gothic/historical urban fantasy/supernatural mystery set in 1893 Glasgow. Glasgow’s location on the west coast, served by a large river, led to it being heavily involved in trade (such as tobacco) with the American colonies pre-revolution. In the following century it was heavily involved in industries such as shipbuilding and the textile industry, and was known as the 2nd City of the British Empire. The Irish potato famine and the Highland Clearances led to a large influx of immigrants desperate for homes and work.

There are streets today still named after people involved in the slave trade, or plantation locations (Glassford Street, Jamaica Street, Virginia Street).
(On the flip side, James McCune Smith, the first African American to hold a medical degree earned it at Glasgow University in 1837. And in 1986, Glasgow demonstrated its support for ending South African apartheid by naming a street after then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela – ‘coincidently’ the same street the South African Consulate was located on, to their considerable ire. I’m sure they loved having his name in their address.)

Including active, interesting female characters in a time and place where women had little agency was challenging, but doable. A powerful undead female character isn’t an issue, as giving her disrespect is pretty much suicide-by-vampire. My solution for mortal female characters not capable of separating a misogynist’s head from his shoulders with their bare hands was Lady Delaney. Independently wealthy, she has spent a couple of decades quietly fighting the undead and their servants, driven by vengeance. In part sexism aids her, as a woman would not be thought a likely insurgent in the eyes of the (mostly male) secret society running the city on behalf of the undead. Indeed, she takes a leadership role later in the novel, overriding her male companions’ objections by pointing out she’s the most experienced, and the one with the resources to carry out their mission; if they don’t like it, they can walk to their destination.

A minor female protagonist (Kerry) is introduced to the supernatural world and plays a much larger role in the in-progress sequel. In Resurrection Men she’s forbidden to take part in a mission due to her inexperience, but the reader should be able to discern the double-standards in that a male protagonist takes part despite having little fighting experience either.

Which takes us to toxic masculinity. I didn’t consciously set out to address this but found myself indirectly referencing it. As a man, the above mentioned inexperienced male protagonist (Hunt) is expected to fight, despite being untrained. Several times in the novel I use this character to highlight the effect danger can have on people new to dangerous situations; fear and adrenalin can affect the mind and decision-making. But he’s a man, so he’s expected to fight and would lose face in declining.

Male toxicity is further explored in the friendship between the above protagonist, Hunt, and his friend Foley. Hunt knows Foley has issues (what we would recognise now as depression, including suicidal thoughts) but they never discuss it. Foley self-medicates with alcohol and laudanum, which Hunt knows but again lets continue unremarked. Later, Hunt suffers through traumatic events, but this is never addressed by the characters. Again, alcohol is seen as the cure. Both Hunt and Foley are aware of the other’s issues, but the notion that men should be strong and not discuss their problems is prevalent, leading to substance misuse.

Homosexuality. Sexuality isn’t explored to any great extent in the novel, but homosexuality is slightly referenced through two characters. The first is a fairly minor character, rumoured to be gay, largely due to being unmarried, active and owning a big house. He’s quite big in the social scene, sociable, assumed to be very wealthy, so the natural assumption at that time would be that if he’s not married then he doesn’t like women. The character’s sexuality is never confirmed; he may or may not be gay, but regardless, there are a couple of explanations for him being unmarried (spoilers, so I won’t go into them but feel free to privately message me if interested). A secondary protagonist is also indirectly inferred to be gay (or perhaps bisexual), but this is not explored or confirmed in Resurrection Men. It is something that may resurface in the sequels, if it serves the plot or character development. Most of the other characters are too busy for romance, so their own orientations are unknown.

Prejudice. At that time there was a lot of prejudice against Irish immigrants and Catholicism (a sectarian divide which still troubles the west of Scotland today). These prejudices are mentioned in the book, and if not challenged by any of the characters, the reader can make their own judgements. A character displays prejudice towards ‘gypsies’ (Irish travellers) which while not directly challenged, leads to this character being blinded to the real threat.

While many of the characters live a relatively comfortable life, some enjoying a very privileged life, I made sure to highlight the vast divide between the rich and poor of Glasgow, describing in some detail the awful conditions endured by most of the people at that time. The minor female protagonist (Kerry) referenced above is from a poor background, and in the sequel we see the social inequality through her eyes. The sequel also explores the exploitation of child labour that was endemic in Victorian Glasgow. A consequence of the failed 18th century Jacobite uprisings was the persecution/destruction of Highland communities, and this is also explored in the sequel. How successful I’ve been is for each reader to decide.

For any writers reading this, did you find yourself with a similar problem writing characters in a time with different values, wanting to keep them true to the time but still sympathetic? For the readers, what books do you feel did this well, or perhaps not so well?

 

-David Craig

International Women’s Day 2018

Despite much prejudice over the years, it is undeniable that female authors have been a strong and significant force in Science Fiction and Fantasy since the earliest days. One only has to think of Margaret Cavendish, Mary Shelley, Jane Webb Loudon, Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, Julian May, Marion Bradley, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, J.K. Rowling. Even so, it is generally harder for female authors to be published, and many readers still say they are less likely to pick up a book if the author is obviously female.

Elsewhen Press, which was established in 2011, applies no constraints of age, race, gender or sexual orientation, on the authors whose work we consider or publish – our only criterion is quality. We now have a roll-call of female, male and non-binary authors, from various continents, writing in many different sub-genres of speculative fiction. To mark International Women’s Day 2018, we would like to highlight some of the female authors that have enabled Elsewhen Press to live up to its mission of delivering outstanding new talents in speculative fiction. They are all great writers and awesome people; we are honoured to have them as our authors and friends.


Zoë Sumra

Zoë Sumra

Zoë was born in London, but spent her later childhood living in Lancashire, where she started writing novels at the age of twelve due to extreme boredom. After completing the obligatory epic fantasy trilogy in her teens, she spent four years at the University of St Andrews, where she learnt to fence both foil and sabre and cemented her passion for space opera. She now lives in London with her husband, their daughter and a collection of swords. Zoë writes when she’s not fencing, looking after her daughters, or working as a print controller for an advertising company.

The Underside series
(Sailor to a Siren; The Wages of Sin)

The Underside series, space opera with a significant nod to gangland thrillers, introduced us to Zoë Sumra’s universe and established her as a name to watch in epic space opera. The depth of her characters, the breadth of her world-building, the ambition and longevity of her story-arcs spanning multiple generations of families, all made this a first series in what is going to be a fascinating and enthralling universe.


Tanya Reimer

Tanya Reimer

Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Tanya enjoys using the tranquil prairies as a setting to her not-so-peaceful speculative fiction.

She is married with two children which means among her accomplishments are the necessary magical abilities to find a lost tooth in a park of sand and whisper away monsters from under the bed.

As director of a non-profit Francophone community center, Tanya offers programming and services in French for all ages to ensure the lasting imprint and growth of the Francophone community in which she was raised. What she enjoys the most about her job is teaching social media safety for teens and offering one-on-one technology classes for seniors.

Tanya was fifteen when she wrote her first column. She has a diploma in Journalism/Short Story Writing. Today, she actively submits to various newspapers, writes and publishes the local Francophone newsletter for her community, and maintains a blog at Life’s Like That.

Sacred Land Stories
(Legends on the Prairies; Ghosts on the Prairies; Cursed on the Prairies)

The Sacred Land Stories trilogy follows a trans-generational timeline that starts in Legends on the Prairies, continues in Ghosts on the Prairies and culminates in Cursed on the Prairies. Alternate history suspense incorporating the paranormal and magical realism, and infused with romance, these are stories that concern the Sacred Lands of the Ghost tribes in the prairies of Saskatchewan, stretching from 1882 to 1936. But they also touch on the interwoven loves, hopes, dreams and tragedies of lives lived on those prairies by both the tribes and the settlers.


Sanem Ozdural

Sanem Ozdural

Sanem Ozdural was born in Ankara, Turkey in the 70s, and spent her childhood from age seven onwards in England. Happy days at a quintessentially British boarding school in Surrey helped forge her character and tastes, not to mention lasting friendships. Making her way to the U.S. she studied economics at Princeton University. After graduating from Boston University School of Law, she moved to New Orleans where she practiced as a prosecutor and civil litigator, and spent seven wonderful years living in the French Quarter.

In 2004 she migrated from New Orleans via Washington, D.C., reaching New York City in 2006, where she lived and practiced law until 2013. After teaching business law at Koç University in Istanbul for a few semesters, she is now back in New Orleans once again working as a lawyer. Sanem was an avid bridge player until the tenth round of revisions to her debut novel. She is now thoroughly enjoying an indefinite bridge sabbatical, and imagining all sorts of stories that feature absolutely no bridge or chess.

LiGa series
(LiGa™; the Dark shall do what Light cannot)

The LiGa series is a thought-provoking series of books in an essentially contemporary setting, with elements of both science fiction and fantasy. The LiGa of the series title is a contraction of Life Game, a game in which contestants are gambling with their lives to win what is essentially indefinite life expectancy. In the first book we meet the players of a LiGa™ Bridge tournament who are competing against each other to join the ranks of the ‘Immortal’ members of LiGa. In the second book, we find out more about the secretive organisation behind the game as we travel with some of them to a fantastic place beyond the Light Veil.


Rebecca Hall

Rebecca Hall

Rebecca started writing when she was supposed to be studying for her exams at Otago University but somehow passed anyway, eventually graduating with a decorative piece of paper. She moved to the UK to pursue a career in publishing and after a couple of mishaps ended up in Edinburgh and sold Instrument of Peace to Elsewhen Press, which is not quite the career she had in mind. The career she did have in mind was along more editorial lines which is why she is now a volunteer at Inspired Quill and a freelance copy-editor for everyone else. She also has a blog which she infrequently remembers to update, where those mysterious things known as short stories can be found.

Even after three years in the UK, she is baffled by the fact that the British use miles, pints and 1p coins but things like pineapple lumps, black forest chocolate and L&P have not caught on. Rebecca would like to make it very clear that she is a Kiwi and absolutely NOT an Australian (or South African) and she will do almost anything for chocolate.

Symphony of the Cursed trilogy
(Instrument of Peace; Instrument of War; Instrument of Chaos)

The Symphony of the Cursed trilogy, is a YA fantasy that begins with Instrument of Peace, which Rebecca describes as a magic school setting combined with the reality of the mundane world and horror of the Dresden Files, without any characters named Harry. Her trilogy sees the main protagonist, Mitch, move from high school to university while he strives to break The Twisted Curse that threatens those around him.

The location for the story may be surprising to some readers, especially those in the Northern hemisphere. The Academy, where Mitch is being educated in magic, is in a semi-mythical land populated by magical beings and legendary creatures, not to mention awe-inspiring natural features such as volcanoes, that has in recent years been discovered to be the location for Middle Earth. We know it, of course, as New Zealand.


Katrina Mountfort

Katrina Mountfort

Katrina was born in Leeds. After a degree in Biochemistry and a PhD in Food Science, she started work as a scientist. Since then, she’s had a varied career. Her philosophy of life is that we only regret the things we don’t try, and she’s been a homeopath, performed forensic science research and currently works as a freelance medical writer. She now lives in Saffron Walden with her husband and two dogs. When she hit forty, she decided it was time to fulfil her childhood dream of writing a novel. Future Perfect was her debut novel and the first book in the Blueprint trilogy. Forbidden Alliance and Freedom’s Prisoners completed the trilogy. Her latest novel is The Ghost in You.

Blueprint trilogy
(Future Perfect; Forbidden Alliance; Freedom’s Prisoners)

The Blueprint trilogy takes us to a future in which men and women are almost identical, and personal relationships are forbidden. Following a bio-terrorist attack, the population now lives within comfortable Citidomes. MindValues advocate acceptance and non-attachment. The BodyPerfect cult encourages a tall thin androgynous appearance, and looks are everything.

A dark undercurrent runs through the trilogy: the enforcement of conformity through fear, the fostering of distorted and damaging attitudes towards forbidden love, manipulation of appearance and even the definition of beauty. Despite seeming to be set in a distant and dystopian future, it is clear that many of the disturbing aspects of Katrina’s future world can be seen here and now; this should be a warning to us all. The books appeal to both an adult and young adult audience.


J.A. Christy aka Jacqueline Ward

J A Christy

J.A. Christy’s writing career began in infant school at the age of seven when she won best poetry prize with her poem ‘Winter’. Since then she has been writing short stories and has had several published in magazines and anthologies.

She holds a PhD in which she explores the stories we use in everyday life to construct our identities. Working in high hazard safety, she is a Chartered Psychologist and Scientist and writes to apply her knowledge to cross the boundaries between science and art, in particular in the crime, speculative and science-fiction genres.

She lives in Oldham with her partner and their dog. J.A. Christy also writes under the name Jacqueline Ward.

SmartYellow™

SmartYellow™ explores themes of social inequity and scientific responsibility. J.A. Christy’s first speculative fiction novel leads her heroine Katrina to understand how probability, hope and empathy play a huge part in the flow of life and are absent in the stagnation of mere survival. As readers we also start to question how we would know if the power of the State to support and care for the weak had become corrupted into the oppression of all those who do not fit society’s norms.

SmartYellow™ offers a worryingly plausible and chilling glimpse into an alternate Britain. For the sake of order and for the benefit of more fortunate members of society, those seen as socially undesirable are marked with SmartYellow™, making it easier for them to be controlled and maintained in a state of fruitless inactivity. Writer, J.A. Christy, turns an understanding and honest eye not only onto the weak, who have failed to cope with life, but also onto those who ruthlessly exploit them for their own ends. At times tense and threatening, at times tender and insightful, SmartYellow™ is a rewarding and thought-provoking read.


Alison Buck

Alison Buck

Like all of us, Alison Buck has led many lives.

One as a sensible, hard-working type, employed in financial systems, graphic design and web site development.  Another as a writer, scribbling away, committing her stories to disc and eventually publishing several to reasonable acclaim.  Throughout all of them, the mother of two and wife of one.

Skilled at exploring the psychology and interior lives of her characters, Alison delivers stories that range from chilling tales of horror through insightful contemporary drama to thought-provoking science fiction.  Her empathy with her protagonists, her rich descriptive prose and her use of gentle humour serve to ensure that, whatever the setting, her stories are always a rewarding read.

Abiding Evil

Abiding Evil, Alison’s second published novel, was a bestselling psychological horror story. A sleeping menace is roused deep in the darkness of a forest. For decades it grows, biding its time, reaching out to tug at the ordinary lives of those living beyond the shadow of the trees. Their children begin to disappear.

Unaware and unsuspecting of the danger, a group of families, friends for many years, journey to a newly re-opened hotel. It stands alone in a clearing a mile or more within the forest boundary. For some this will be their last reunion.

The long-awaited sequel will be published this year by Elsewhen Press.

Alison is also a talented artist who has designed many of the covers for our books. She is one of the co-founders of Elsewhen Press.


Launch party for Dinnusos Rises – Tej Turner talks in a tent

Well, actually, it was a yurt but that wouldn’t have been alliterative.

Artwork: Alison Buck
Artwork: Alison Buck

Saturday the 8th July saw a vibrant and excited group of people from far and wide descend on the Milgi restaurant in Cardiff. Secreted at the back of the restaurant in an unexpected outdoor space is a yurt full of comfy sofas. Once Tej and friends had been let loose on it there were vines hanging down from the central opening and draped across tables, along with grapes too. But more importantly there was wine, I mean books. We were all there for the launch party for Dinnusos Rises by Tej Turner. It was a good turnout and a fantastic time was had by all. Before proceedings really got underway Tej was interviewed on camera, giving some thoughtful insight into his influences and motivation. Then, for some reason, it was decided to interview yours truly (fame at last!). What’s even more surprising is that any of my interview actually made it through the final edit.

If you were there you know what a great time we all had. If you weren’t there, you should now be kicking yourself at a missed opportunity. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and met some really lovely people. Thanks Tej.

Behind the scenes (literally) - Tej being interviewed on camera
Behind the scenes (literally) – Tej being interviewed on camera
A Tej talk - not be confused with a TED talk
A Tej talk – not be confused with a TED talk

If you want to watch the interview it’s on Youtube:

Here’s Tej reading:

Tej Turner interviewed on RisingShadow

Tej TurnerOn the RisingShadow website, Seregil of Rhiminee has posted an interview with Tej Turner author of The Janus Cycle and Dinnusos Rises.

Tej talks about some of his experiences and influences when he was growing up, that have left their mark on him and his fiction; he illuminates some of the motivation behind his latest book Dinnusos Rises; he talks about his deliberate structuring of both books to enable him to encompass diversity more effectively; and he tells us a little bit about what else he is planning to do.

The Janus Cycle cover imageArtwork: Alison BuckIf you enjoyed The Janus Cycle, then this interview should make you even more keen to read Dinnusos Rises, which is already available for pre-order on most eBook platforms (see here for details). If you haven’t read any of Tej’s work yet, but are a fan of classic urban fantasy or magical realism then this interview should convince you to give Tej’s books a place on your bookshelf (real or digital).

Either way, you should read the interview (click here to read it on RisingShadow) for an enriching experience!

 

Zoë Sumra at Sci Fi Bromley on 24th September

Artwork: Alison Buck
Artwork: Alison Buck

Zoë SumraThe 2nd Sci Fi Convention in Bromley (Kent) is celebrating the 150th anniversary of H.G. Wells (born 150 years ago today in Bromley High Street!) with free entry to loads of events in the Town Centre on Saturday 24th September. With replica props, cosplay, authors, special guest actors & signers, exhibitions, workshops and a traders market, there’s plenty for everyone. Even better, Zoë Sumra, author of Sailor to a Siren, will be on an author panel and signing copies of her book afterwards.

You can find out more about Sci Fi Bromley from their website here.

 

Ira Nayman to feature on The Speculative Fiction Cantina Friday 16 September 6pm ET

Artwork: Hannah B. Farrell Photograph of Dingle Dell: Jose Manuel Revuelta Luna/shutterstock.com
Artwork: Hannah B. Farrell
Photograph of Dingle Dell: Jose Manuel Revuelta Luna/shutterstock.com
Ira Nayman

On Friday 16th September (2016) our favourite Canadian satirist Ira Nayman, author of the Transdimensional Authority series, will be a guest on the Speculative Fiction Cantina on Blog Talk Radio. No doubt he’ll mention the latest book in the series It’s Just the Chronosphere Unfolding as it Should.

You can hear Ira this Friday at 6:00 PM Eastern Time, which is 3:00 PM Pacific Time, and 11:00 PM here in the UK. Just click here for more details.

 

The Speculative Fiction Cantina: your weekly hypodermic injection of science fiction, fantasy, horror, alternate history, steampunk, cyberpunk, and things weird and wonderful in the world of books and writers. We ask authors the hard questions. You’ll hear from writers who bend the rules and drive the narrative. Join S. Evan Townsend on this journey over the rainbow and through the looking glass. And remember to take the red pill. Today’s Guests are Raymond Burke and Ira Nayman

 

Mancunicon, Easter 2016

Really looking forward to Mancunicon – the 67th British National Science Fiction Convention. 67? It’s older than me!

If you don’t have tickets, already – too late! Remember to book early for 2017’s Con!

To everyone else… I’m always happy to chat over a beer or a coffee. Say “Hi” if you see me there. And I will see you at the Elsewhen book launches – Saturday 18:30 and Sunday 14:30, Presidential Suite.

 

Tej Turner interviewed on AuthorsInterviews

Tej TurnerTej Turner was recently interviewed by Fiona McVie for her AuthorsInterviews blog. She asks Tej about his influences, earliest reading, why he’s a writer and persuades him to reveal a little of his next novel (a sequel to The Janus Cycle). It’s an interesting interview, well worth reading.

You can read the interview on Fiona’s blog here.

 

Mike French interviewed on Alternative Magazine Online

Mike FrenchFollowing his recent review (which you can read here) of An Android Awakes by Mike French and Karl Brown, Marty Mulrooney invited Mike in for an entertaining interview on his Alternative Magazine Online blog. Apart from talking about the inspiration behind An Android Awakes, they discuss the creative process, how Mike and Karl worked together to produce An Android Awakes, how Android PD121928’s experience of publishers reflects Mike’s (!), why science fiction is popular, and Mike’s next project.

You can read the interview on Alternative Magazine Online here.

 

Mike French interviewed for Exeposé

mfavatar

In an interesting interview on Exeposé, the University of Exeter’s student newspaper website, online editor Harry Shepherd talked to Mike French when An Android Awakes was released. They chatted about readers’ attention spans, the problems for writers trying to get published and the way too many people in the publishing world are caught up with defining the art rather than getting on with producing it. Of course, the publication of An Android Awakes and the underlying story, result in the inevitable comparisons between today’s publishers and the Android Publishing Program that Android Writer PD121928 has to satisfy if he’s not to be deactivated. It’s an interview not to be missed by any aspiring writer!

You can read Harry’s interview of Mike on Exeposé here.