Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Gaie Sebold

Today we’re joined by the author of the British Fantasy Award nominated Wicked Women story ‘A Change of Heart’ – Gaie Sebold, take it away!

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write:

Gaie Collodion B&W

Photo credit: Gordon Fraser

I love walking (not hiking. Gentle, civilised walking that ends in tea and cake, not in fighting to pitch a tent on a mountain in a howling storm). I love gardening, I grow quite a lot of fruit and veg. I like to cook. All very ordinary. The only out-of-the-ordinary things I’ve done, outside fiction, have been live action role play – which is practically mainstream these days – and learning swordfighting (well, I say learning… I only did it for a couple of years. Up against anyone who actually knew what they were doing, I’d be entirely hopeless). I’ve worked in the theatre and done various office jobs, mainly for charities, but now I write full time and run writing workshops, which I adore.

In writing, I’ve largely been concentrating on fantasy the last few years. I still have occasional excursions into poetry, which was my first love. I have a number of projects on the go, one of which probably falls under historical crime – no supernatural elements in that one. I like having fun, with characters, with language, with descriptions. But even when I’m having the most fun, I’m usually dealing, or trying to, with issues that I think are important, like compassion and fairness and the responsibilities of power.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I started writing almost as soon as I could read – at about four. Fortunately I don’t think any of my early work has survived! I think I started by imitating what I was reading. Looking back, some of it could be called proto-fanfic – if I really enjoyed a story I didn’t want it to end, so I’d carry it on in my head. I do remember one early original effort involved unicorns, landing on the roof like Santa’s reindeer. That may have been the entire plot – there were unicorns, what else do you need? I wrote a lot of poetry and some short stories. I didn’t attempt a novel until I was in college, where the First Great Fantasy Tome started its long but inevitable progress towards the trunk.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

Jane Austen and earlier Fay Weldon for scalpel sharpness and dry humour. Stephen King for characterisation and sweaty-palmed I-can’t-stop-reading drama. Angela Carter for brilliance and sheer imaginative force. Terry Pratchett for being amazingly funny about stuff that matters – and for wonderful heroines. Tolkien – for all his problematic aspects – because Lord of the Rings swept me away.  Neil Gaiman for mythic power.  And lots and lots of other writers.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

Hah! It hasn’t actually taken much for a woman to ‘misbehave’ throughout history. Do something considered unsuitable for ladies – which at some points has been anything at all other than ‘look pretty and produce babies’ – and you’re classed as misbehaving! More seriously – it’s often hard to find out about the influential women of history, there are still many whose contributions are completely ignored, they aren’t being taught in schools, and it’s a disgrace. But yes, I have a soft spot for Anne Bonny and Ching Shih (because who doesn’t love pirates), the Suffragettes, of course, Rosa Parks and Aphra Behn – because not only was she earning a living as a writer when that was almost unknown for women, she had a huge influence on the development of the novel, and many of her plays were considered very naughty – which takes some doing, in the Restoration period. Fictional wicked women? Pratchett’s Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax, definitely. Fevvers, from Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. Lady Joanna Constantine from Gaiman’s Sandman. Oh, was I only supposed to mention one? Sorry…

Rumour has it you’re collaborating with partner David Gullen on a project- what can you tell us about that, and how are you finding the collaboration process?

Dave and I tend to talk a lot about writing. Sometimes wine is involved. Often ideas happen. Most of them are simply us going off on a wild mental spree, but just occasionally something seems to grab both of us as a real possibility for a project. This one did. It’s a sort of steampunky romp, involving fine wine, nefarious doings, the Crowned Heads of Europe, and Neanderthals.

The collaboration process is something we’re still working out. Dave is much more of a planner than I am – though I’m becoming more of one – but this we needed to plan in quite a lot of detail. So I’ll look at the plan and write a bit, and he’ll write a bit, and then we’ll argue about the direction it’s going in, and then something comes up and it goes on the back burner for a month or two because we both have to do other things, and then we come back to it – I have no idea when we’ll get it finished, but eventually, I hope!

You’ve got the second book in your Sparrow series – Sparrow Falling – coming out from Solaris Books in 2016, what can readers look forward to from it?

sparrow-falling-9781781083826_hrThis one involves my heroine, Evvie, finding herself in financial difficulties yet again as she tries to keep her rather unusual school for young ladies going. Looking for lucrative work brings her into contact with a man who is having some dangerous and unpleasant dealings with the Folk (my version of the Fey), and both Evvie and her fox-spirit friend Liu find themselves caught up in the rivalry between the English and Chinese Crepuscular Courts, while trying to prevent a war between Great Britain and Russia. Drama! Intrigue! Magic! Strangeness! Flying Machines! Extreme Peril!

What’s the appeal of the steampunk genre for you?

Since I have the engineering knowledge of a flea, it’s nice to write about fun machines that don’t exist without having to explain how they work. And the clothes are cool. And I am fascinated by the Victorian period – it was such a combination of huge advancement and reform alongside appalling brutality and exploitation, both at home and abroad.

How has being a member of the T Party Writers group helped you?

The T Party was hugely helpful to me. I regret I haven’t been very involved the last couple of years – but it was a great source of critique, encouragement, and information. And I made some very good and long-term friends. I think a well-run writing group can provide you with so much. I would always suggest people try them out, because writing can be a very isolating endeavour and it’s important to have people you can talk to about it. But it’s also extremely important to find a group that suits your particular temperament and areas of interest.

Tell us about your involvement with Plot Medics and has it given you new insights into your own writing?

I started Plot Medics with Sarah Ellender (also of T Party Writers) with the idea of providing writers with general help with their plots. It’s morphed into the platform for the workshops, which I run with Sarah when we can organise it or by myself otherwise. Running the workshops has really made me think about my own process, about what inspires me and keeps me going, and about the frameworks you can use to construct a story, explore characters, and so on. I love the enthusiasm and energy of the participants, and always come away from them completely knackered but inspired.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

How long have you got? Actually, female characters who have nothing to do but be motivation or reward for male characters, that’s a major one. And it applies to many genres, not just fantasy.

What are you up to next?

Sparrow Falling is out next year as you mentioned – I don’t have a definite date yet. I’m signed up for Nine Worlds Geekfest, and hoping to do a workshop there. I’ll be at Eurocon in Barcelona, which I’m hugely looking forward to – I’m planning to take a few days around the con for exploring. I’ve got one workshop planned for a local writing group and I’m looking to do more. I’m partway through a new fantasy novel, set in a different world from either the Babylon Steel or Gears of Empire series, and have a few short stories and other projects at various stages of completion. Oh, and I’ll be going on a course to make my own bronze sword, so that should be fun. And research. But mainly fun.

Thanks for joining us Gaie!

Gaie Sebold was born rather longer ago than seems reasonable.  She has written several novels, a number of short stories, and has been known to perform poetry.  Her debut novel introduced brothel-owning ex-avatar of sex and war, Babylon Steel (Solaris, 2012); the sequel, Dangerous Gifts, came out in 2013. Shanghai Sparrow, a steampunk fantasy, came out in 2014 and the sequel, Sparrow Falling, is due in 2016. Her jobs have ranged from till-extension to bottle-washer and theatre-tour-manager to charity administrator.  She lives with writer David Gullen and a paranoid cat in leafy suburbia, runs writing workshops, grows vegetables, and cooks a pretty good borscht.

Her website is http://www.gaiesebold.com and you can find her on twitter @GaieSebold.

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Zen Cho

Today we’re joined by the author of Wicked Women story ‘The First Witch of Damansara’ – Zen Cho, take it away!

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write:

Zen-iDJ-Photography-Final-5

Photo credit: Darren Johnson / IDJ Photography

I’m a lawyer and writer who was born and raised in Malaysia. I’m currently based in London. I write fantasy novels and short fiction, generally with a sprinkling of romance and a dose of history.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’ve been scribbling bits of stories since I was all of six years old, but it took me a long time to figure out how to finish things! I got into fanfic in my teens and that got me used to sharing my writing with other people, as well as giving me an online community with whom I could talk about reading, writing and ideas. I started writing original short fiction for publication five years ago, and my first novel Sorcerer to the Crown came out in September 2015.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

The authors that have left the most lasting marks on me are those I read as a kid and teenager. Terry Pratchett, P. G. Wodehouse, Diana Wynne Jones and L. M. Montgomery are up there. I also really admire the work of Karen Lord, Amitav Ghosh and Geoff Ryman, who I read a bit later on.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

Not actually wicked, but Sybil Kathigasu was a Malayan WW2 heroine who wrote a memoir of her experiences supporting the resistance against the Japanese occupation, No Dram of Mercy. I suppose she misbehaved from the occupiers’ point of view! It’s a short book but fascinating because you can tell what a strong character she was, perhaps to the point of being overbearing – you get the impression she ruled the roost in her household. She was also very much aware of writing for the historical record – no false modesty in that regard.

For a “wicked” example, I’ve always been fond of the Chinese female pirate Ching Shih.

Your most recent book – Sorcerer to the Crown – is set in Regency England, what drew you to that era and how did you put your own twist on Regency style fiction?

zen SorcerertotheCrownUKcoverlargeI’ve always been fond of Regency England as a setting and several of my favourite authors used it to great effect – Susanna Clarke, Patrick O’Brian and Naomi Novik among them. My version has magic, of course, and centres on England’s first African Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias Wythe, and the incorrigible female magical prodigy Prunella Gentleman. I think of it as Georgette Heyer with dragons and politics.

You’ve also edited the Buku Fixi anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia – has your experience as an editor changed how you approach your own fiction?

Not really – I’m focusing on writing a novel at the moment, and I find writing novels such a different beast from writing short fiction that I can’t say I’ve been able to apply any lessons from the experience of editing Cyberpunk: Malaysia to my own writing so far. That said, it did bring home to me how much an editor is on the writer’s side – I was really invested in the short stories I worked on – and I hope I remember that when my next set of editorial notes come in!

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?

As a reader it’s nice to be able to explore a story and world without the time commitment you need for a whole novel. A short story is capable of making a point more efficiently and powerfully than a novel – it’s a particularly good vehicle for science fiction for that reason. Besides Cyberpunk: Malaysia, two books of short stories I’d recommend to SFF readers are the collection of James Tiptree Jr’s short fiction Her Smoke Rose Up Forever and Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

Movies suffer from this more than books – at least the kind of books I read – but I really hate the trope of the badass female character who you’re set up to think might be the chosen one, but actually the chosen one is the totally mediocre male lead.

What are you up to next?

I’m hard at work on the sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown. The only con I’ve got in the diary at the moment is Åcon 8 in Finland in May 2016 – I’m Guest of Honour and I’m really looking forward to it!

 

Thank you for joining us Zen Cho!

Zen Cho was born and raised in Malaysia. She is the author of Crawford Award-winning short story collection Spirits Abroad, and editor of anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia, both published by Buku Fixi. She has also been nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the Pushcart Prize, and honour-listed for the Carl Brandon Society Awards, for her short fiction. Her debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, is the first in a historical fantasy trilogy published by Ace/Roc Books (US) and Pan Macmillan (UK). She lives in London with her partner and practises law in her copious free time.

 

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Jaine Fenn

Today we’re joined by the author of Wicked Women story ‘Down at the Lake’ – Jaine Fenn, take it away!

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write:

jaine Novacon 2012 - credit to Al Johnston

Photo credit: Al Johnston 2012

In my writing I’ve dabbled across the SFF spectrum but gravitated towards space opera, because I love the grand scale and possibilities it provides. When I was younger I read fantasy in preference to SF and that’s coming back to me now, as I have a growing fondness for that most unfashionable hybrid, science fantasy.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’ve been writing forever, or at least it sometimes feels like it. I’ve wanted to write stories  since my early teens, though thanks to letting myself get distracted by other stuff (earning a living, role-playing games, having a social life) this took a little longer than intended. I cut my teeth on short stories while working on the-novel-which-became-Principles-of-Angels; thanks to having had a few stories published I was on a panel with Jo Fletcher, who accepted Principles of Angels for publication by Gollancz. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Which authors have influenced you and why?

Ursula le Guin was my gateway to the SFF world: when I was nine I picked up a copy of A Wizard of Earthsea by chance; up until then I’d only read media tie-ins as my family didn’t keep books in the house so I had no idea what was out there.

I wish I could write like Geoff Ryman; he’s a real writers’ writer.

Mary Gentle is a much underrated writer: she’s shown my how to cross boundaries and mix it up.

Cyberpunk came along as I was getting into SF, and I can’t quite shake its influence, especially William Gibson.

And Iain M Banks got me into space opera.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

Ooo, tricky question. Sadly, I think many of the real women who’ve been labelled ‘wicked’ by history have been done so pejoratively, as a way of belittling and disempowering them. One exception would be Boudicca. Though the full facts are lost to time and obscured by later myth-makers, for me she’s a great example of a woman who decided enough was enough and fought back, big time. If we’re talking about pure myth, it would have to be Queen Mab; she’s the essence of capricious, powerful femininity.

Tell us about the Hidden Empire series and what stories we can expect to see next from it?

The series is space opera, though with influences from other parts of the genre too (notably fantasy and cyberpunk, as noted above). There are five books to date, starting with Principles of Angels, and each book is meant to stand alone whilst adding to the overall story. The premise is that humanity was originally elevated to the stars by a not-quite-alien race who wanted to control human destiny – a race of archetypical wicked women, by the way – and though humans overthrew their rulers their attempts to rebuild independent human culture have been fragmentary, and the old oppressors are not entirely gone; plus, there are greater threats lurking out there which most people have no idea of.

The most recent Hidden Empire novel, Queen of Nowhere, tied up a number of loose ends, but there is more to tell. I’m currently working on other novel-length projects, but am still playing in that world; in fact I’ve just finished a short story set immediately after the human rebellion, exploring what happens to a culture when it goes from tyranny to (sort of) democracy.

You were recently a guest of honour at BristolCon, and have been GoH at Novacon as well as being a long time convention goer – what’s your favourite convention to go to, and what benefits have you found at conventions as an author?

I think my favourite con is BristolCon – which was why I was so delighted to be a guest. It’s only one day long but has excellent programming and a lovely chilled and friendly vibe. Cons are a fantastic way to connect with readers, and a chance to talk shop with other authors.

As someone who has been both traditionally published and ventured into self-publishing, what are the benefits of being a hybrid author for you?

It pays to diversify – these days more than ever. The big publishers are increasingly risk-averse, and most writers will produce work which won’t suit traditional publishing models, like novellas, which have always been hard to place. Self-publishing lets you get work like that out there alongside novels.

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?

Short fiction is great if, like me, you have a hectic lifestyle and short attention span. More seriously, the short story is an art form which doesn’t get as much credit and coverage as it should; creating and develop compelling characters in a believable world whilst getting across your central idea in, say, five thousand words is quite an art. As for recommendations … there are some excellent short story writers out there, too many to mention, though I think short stories particularly suit hard SF ideas, and two recommendations for hard SF shorts would be Alasdair Reynolds and a newer writer, Vaughan Stanger.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

There’s a whole steaming pile of gender-related stuff we could do without, although that is changing, slowly. I think the cliché which annoys me most is not from SFF, but about it, and that’s the common view of those who don’t read in our genre that those of us who do are infantile, anti-social, incapable of functioning effectively in the real world – and male.

What are you up to next?

I’m currently working on a science fantasy duology called Shadowlands, though I don’t have a publication date for that yet. Next May I’ll be Guest of Honour at Satellite 5, up in Glasgow, and I’m looking forward to that. And one of my intentions for next year, which your earlier question reminded me of, is to revise some of the many not-quite-there-yet short stories I have around.

Thank you for joining us Jaine!

Jaine Fenn studied Linguistics and Astronomy at college before spending a decade and a half developing a healthy distrust of technology whilst working in computing. She lives in Hampshire with her husband and her books.

As well as numerous short stories she is the author of the Hidden Empire series which started in 2008 with Principles of Angels. Since then, she has published a further 4 novels in the Hidden Empire series and a short story collection, Downside Girls set in the Hidden Empire universe. In her spare time, Jaine includes wild, green places, dancing like nobody’s watching and serious chocolate in her list of things to ease the trials of everyday life.

Her website can be found at http://www.jainefenn.com

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Jonathan Ward

Today we’re joined by the author of Wicked Women story ‘A Change in Leadership’ – Jonathan Ward, take it away!

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write:

jonathan Bio PicI’m 32 years old, and have been writing science fiction, fantasy and horror for many years now. It’s not how I make a living as yet, but I aim for it to be that some day. In my spare time I read relentlessly, battle a long-running addiction to tea, garlic bread and Jack Daniels (in no particular order) and occasionally throw myself off high platforms or out of planes. Standard stuff.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I started when I was eight, or around that time. Back then I had a lot of notebooks and used to fill every page, front and back, with stories that were, I have to be honest, poorly-written and total rip-offs of things I had seen and already read. I had a recurring villainous wizard called Ommadon, and I’m sure many of the people reading will know that name well! Luckily I got better, and more original, fairly quickly!

Which authors have influenced you and why?

It took me a while to trim down the list of authors so I could answer this! Arthur C Clarke was a massive influence; I read most of his books from my local library when I was younger and he probably got me hooked on sci-fi. More recently: Neal Asher, Peter F Hamilton, Iain M Banks and Stephen Baxter have been big influences. I can’t forget Ursula Le Guin; I loved Earthsea when I was a child and really need to read her works again. Finally, this list wouldn’t be complete without Terry Pratchett. I own dozens of his books and love the imagination and charm in each and every one of them.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

The first woman I thought of was Sharrow, from Iain M Banks’s Against A Dark Background. She kicked arse and got things done, all with an acerbic wit and flair that helped make up for her not being exactly the most moral or sympathetic of characters. Writing this has made me want to read the novel again, actually!

You started out a science fiction writer but moved onto horror and fantasy – do you have a current favourite genre to work in and why?

It has to be science fiction I think; it was my first genre-love and still is! I love the scope of it; there’s so much room to play with new and interesting concepts, or put your own spin on familiar tropes. I’m growing to love fantasy more though as time goes by, particularly as I come across novels that aren’t all the familiar “sword and sorcery” theme.

What can you tell us about the Outliers project?

Outliers is a collaborative project between myself and four other authors. We’re aiming for ten books of linked anthologies set in a shared universe, divided into two five-book arcs. As to what it’s about… well. What would you call a superhero, in a world that doesn’t permit heroes? A world where everyone is down in the moral mud, and those with abilities are either feared, hunted or expected to change everything? Could that world live with people with powers, and if it could, would they want to be part of such a place?

Short stories set in the Outliers universe have already been released, and our first novella anthology should be published early next year. I’m extremely excited about it, and hope people will enjoy reading it as much as I have working on it!

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?

As a reader I enjoy it because you can read a whole story in one sitting, so it’s very accessible and a good introduction to new authors. As a writer I enjoy the challenge of creating new worlds and telling decent stories within a tight word-count.

I always recommend Lovecraft: regardless of his personal views, the man knew how to write compelling, horrifying stories. China Mieville always finds ways to tell interesting tales; he’s one of my favourites.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

I’d have to say the idea that AI will try and exterminate us. It’s been done so many times that the concept has got a little old, though there are authors out there that still manage a fresh approach to it.

What are you up to next?

At time of writing I’m close to finishing the first draft of a fantasy novel set in the same world as ‘A Change of Leadership’, and featuring some of the same characters.  After that comes the holiday period and a well-deserved rest before the writing bug gets me back to work on something new!

Thank you for joining us Jonathan!

Jonathan Ward is a science-fiction, horror and fantasy writer hailing from the sprawling urban metropolis of Bedford. He has wanted to be an author since the age of eight, though it’s questionable whether his writing talents have improved since then. When not writing he can be found reading a good book, out exploring new places, or in the pub being sarcastic to his closest friends.

Jonathan’s Author Central page containing links to all of his published work: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jonathan-Ward/e/B002BLQ8HA/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Jonathan’s Facebook writing page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Written-Ward/339336243357

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: https://twitter.com/WrittenWard

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Stephanie Burgis

Today we’re joined by the author of Wicked Women story ‘Red Ribbons’ – Stephanie Burgis, take it away!

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write:

Stephanie burgis picI’m a total history geek and a former musician. I grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, and I spent a couple of years living in Vienna, Austria, but nowadays I live in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops, with my husband, Patrick Samphire (whom I met at the Clarion West science fiction & fantasy writing workshop!), our two kids, and our sweet old border collie mix. I write wildly romantic historical fantasy novels for adults, fun, funny adventure fantasy novels for kids (my first MG trilogy was set in Regency England, with balls, highwaymen and magic), and short stories that leap all over the fantasy and science fiction field.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I decided when I was seven years old that I wanted to be a professional writer, because writing was the only thing that was more fun than reading – and that’s been my career goal ever since!

Which authors have influenced you and why?

So many! Jane Austen, JRR Tolkien, Georgette Heyer, Robin McKinley, Emma Bull, Judith Tarr, Patricia McKillip, Terry Pratchett, Terri Windling…and that’s only the authors I’d really imprinted on by the end of my teens! I love humour, I love romance, I love banter, I love beautiful writing, I love feeling a true sense of wonder as I read, and I love stories that are full of genuine emotion.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

Just at the moment, Agent Carter – I looooove seeing her on TV!

Your first adult historical fantasy novel – Masks and Shadows – will be coming out next year, what can you tell us about it?

It’s a wildly romantic novel set at the palace of Eszterháza, in Hungary, in the late 18th century, full of dark alchemy, forbidden love, blackmail, and dangerous opera.

How useful do you find making collages and music playlists when writing your books, and do you have a playlist or collage for Masks and Shadows?

stephanie masks-and-shadows-coverI make collages and music playlists for every book! I used to make them on paper, but nowadays I tend to make them as Pinterest boards (and you can see my Pinterest board for Masks & Shadows: https://www.pinterest.com/stephanieburgis/masks-and-shadows/

In Masks and Shadows, a lot of the story revolves around the opera house where Haydn worked as the court composer, so of course I listened to a lot of Haydn’s operas as I wrote, along with the fabulous soundtrack to the movie Farinelli (because the romantic hero in Masks & Shadows is a superstar castrato singer).

Are there any differences in your approach to writing middle grade fiction versus adult fiction, and are there particular things you can or can’t do in each?

My MG novels are shorter, faster-paced and more streamlined than my adult novels. My adult novels are more romantic; my MG novels are funnier. I love writing them both!

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?

Going to the Clarion West science fiction & fantasy writing workshop in 2001 taught me to love good short stories. Some of my favorite short story writers are Sarah Monette (her collection The Bone Key is my favorite short story collection ever! ), Zen Cho, and Aliette de Bodard, and I also really adore Kij Johnson’s story ‘At the Mouth of the River of Bees.’

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

Over-usage of sexual violence on the page (or screen) as an easy way to establish villainy – and especially sexual violence against women that’s used, narratively, to motivate male characters into action.

What are you up to next?

I have a new MG fantasy series starting in 2017 with The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. It’ll be published by Bloomsbury in both the US and UK.

Thanks for joining us Stephanie!

Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Wales with her husband and two sons, surrounded by mountains, castles and coffeeshops. Her trilogy of Regency fantasy novels was published in the UK as The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson and in the US as the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy. Her first historical fantasy novel for adults, Masks and Shadows, will be published by Pyr Books in 2016, and her next MG fantasy series will be published by Bloomsbury Books, beginning with The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart in 2017.  Find out more on her website – http://www.stephanieburgis.com/

Wicked Women: Jan’s Fab Five

Today we’re joined by Wicked Women co-editor Jan Edwards who’s here to tell us about her five (ish) favourite fictional wicked women…

Jan in Hat 001Finding five wicked women that I truly admired was trickier than I first thought. First problem is to define wicked. The OED quotes 1/ vile or morally wrong or 2/ Playfully mischievous. It is a broad canvas but it does cut out most of the obvious choices when it comes to famous women of note. Sappho (c 570 BC) one of the first published female writers. Ada Lovelace (1815–1852) mathematician widely considered to have written the first computer programme. Lillian Bland (1878–1971) Journalist and aviator who in 1910 built her own plane. Murasaki Shikibu said to have written the first novel The Tale of Genji somewhere around 990. Boudicca, (1st Century AD) famed leader of the Britons. Anne Frank, Sojourney Truth, Cleopatra, Mary Wollstonecraft, Emmeline Pankhurst, Marie Stopes, Apra Behn – the list goes on. Most could hardly be termed wicked by either definition. Because of that I chose favourite fictional characters from the many that inhabit my bookshelves and DVD racks.

1/Willow-Rosenberg-Buffy-Vampire-SlayerWillow Rosenthal: Willow is perhaps the most obvious wicked woman in regard to fantasy fiction. She is funny, quirky, geeky and eager to investigate, though she also has a very healthy regard for her own safety; something frequently missing with fictional fighters of evil. When Willow turned to the dark side she ticked both boxes in the wicked definitions. She sashays around Sunnydale safe in the knowledge that there was not a lot out there that could beat her in a showdown. She is truly mad, bad and very dangerous to know, yet her ‘evil’ side comes from wanting to be a part of Buffy’s supernatural team. Vamp Willow is another matter. ‘Bored now!’ is one of those wicked women catch phrases loaded with connotations that comes right up there with ‘come up and see me’. The Buffyverse is awash with strong female characters: Buffy, Faith, Drusilla, Anya, Cordelia and Dawn to name but a few, and they went on to spawn a million more wicked women in countless fantasy books and TV series’ but I shall let Willow represent them all. For my money Willow Rosenthal in her various guises will always be in the top ten wicked women.

series5riversong2/ River Song: River is a very different proposition and one of my top Who girls of all time. A character who provokes strong emotions but then she is a very strong woman. River sails along the very edges of legality, frequently dipping onto the wicked side with great relish and style. She is both wicked in the sense of big bad and also wicked in her gamine personality. To attempt to analyse all of her quirks and contradictions would be an essay all of its own. She has many guises. Steampunk hero; Noir gumshoe; Femme fatale spy; criminal mistress-mind. River Song is a true wicked woman.

3/ The Bene Gesserit: Okay I am cheating by including an entire political/religious order but within the confines of Herbert’s Dune world the Bene Gesserit ruled. Defined as ‘an exclusive sisterhood whose members train their bodies and minds through years of physical and mental conditioning to obtain superhuman powers and abilities that can seem magical to outsiders.’ The sisters were (to lapse into Labyrinth-speak) the babes with the power. They use anything at their disposal to attain their goals; sex, blackmail, fear, magic, drugs; whatever it takes to bend people to their will. The whole of the Dune saga revolves around them. From House Atreides to House Harkonnen; the Fremen to the Space Guild, these woman play the long game as they shift pawns in every major house in that world. They are about as wicked as it comes.

4/ Emma Woodhouse: Jane Austen’s eponymous heroine was controversial character in her day. Her existence is limited to the village by her monstrously selfish father, yet still does her own thing; no mean feat for any woman negotiating the male dominated society of Georgian England. She is young, rich, intelligent and as mind bogglingly arrogant as her parent. Yet she IS trapped within that small pool, so she contents herself with playing with her neighbours as a child plays with dolls, sending ripples through every layer of society. As with Willow and River her rise to infamy is unintentional. She arranges the lives of people she views as her inferiors because, as she sees it, she is superior and thus has the right. Like Willow and more especially, River, she is just a girl who wants to have fun, and like them she truly believes she is doing it for her victims’ good; whether they want it or not.

5/ Rebecca de Winter: Feisty is an overused word these days but Rebecca de Winter was that if nothing else. She is portrayed through various other characters as a renowned beauty, perfect hostess and compulsive liar. She torments her husband Maxim with non-stop affairs, and when she discovers she is dying of cancer, goads him into killing her. The second Mrs de Winter calls her mentally unstable and sadistic and that could be a fair assessment. We learn about Rebecca through the memories of others, yet she is there throughout, lurking on every page. Daphne Du Maurier’s skill in bringing to life a gloriously wicked woman whom the reader never meets is superb. For me at least Rebecca de Winter as one of the greatest wicked women (in the ‘mad and bad’ sense) ever to stalk the shelves of fiction.

6/ Captain Nancy Blackett: Yes I am going to cheat again and add a sixth name, because this list really would not be complete without her. Ruth Blackett, aka Captain Nancy, appeared in nine of the twelve Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome. Like Emma Woodhouse, Nancy is a controversial figure of her time. Unlike most female characters of middle class roots she is a headstrong tomboy and lacks the usual (for the time) dominant male influences beyond the mischievous ‘Uncle (Captain Flint) Jim’. Captain Nancy defers to no one and drags the more traditional Walker into her make-believe world of pirates and explorers, supremely confident in her right to lead. Out of all my wicked women of fiction, Captain Nancy is my first and favourite. As a child I wanted to be her – as a writer I strive to create a character with such appeal.

So there they are. My (6) wicked women. Given the space I could list a top 100!

Thank you for joining us Jan!

Jan Edwards was born in Sussex and now lives in the Staffs Moorlands with 3 cats and husband Peter Coleborn.  Jan is a writer of fiction, freelance editor, Master Practitioner in both Usui and Celtic Reiki and Meditational Healer and founder member of the Renegade Writers group.  You can find her at her website https://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com or on twitter at: @jancoledwards.

Leinster Gardens and Other Subtleties can be found in paperback or ebook editions from Amazon.

Wicked Women Anniversary Interview: Chloë Yates

Gooood morning funky peeps.  Today we’re kicking off the new year with the author of Wicked Women story ‘How to be the Perfect Housewife’ – Chloë Yates, take it away!

Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write

chloeThis is one of my first interviews so I should apologise in advance because I’m made almost entirely from nonsense. I’m an English immigrant who’s been living in the middle of Switzerland for nearly a decade (no, my husband’s not a banker). It’s an incredible place to live, I’m very lucky, but I miss dear old Blighty. No kids, lots of books, and one elderly dog, Miss Maudie, who thinks she’s the Supreme Being. She’s probably right.

What do I like to write? At the moment WORDS WOULD BE GOOD! Damn it. I digress. My husband once called my work ‘charming anarchic oddness’, I told him to sod off. I’ve been told it’s ‘sinister’ (hat tip to KT Davies) but I tend to think I’m writing things that are quite jolly, a bit grim maybe but usually jolly (perhaps it was too much Enid Blyton as a kid). Take Kitty Darling in ‘How To Be The Perfect Housewife’, she’s pretty upbeat… isn’t she?

Frankly, I’ll have a bash at anything. Defining one’s work by genre is only useful for marketing and libraries. The work itself shouldn’t be constrained to fit into preconceived definitions, that’s the antithesis of speculative fiction, surely? Possibility is everything. There’s comfort in tradition and tropes, I can’t and won’t deny that, but I say mix it, mash it, spin it, wear it your own way. Ain’t no party like an interstitial party, son.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I’ve been impotently scribbling stuff for years but only really started to send my work out about three years ago. I sent a very short story, called ‘Don’t Do It Salvador!’ to the fabulous Kate Laity’s inaugural Postcard Fiction Contest in 2012 and won.  That gave me the confidence to enter Fox Spirit’s International Talk Like A Pirate Day competition the same year and, along with two other writers, I won that as well. ‘Leave the Pistol Behind’ was then published in Fox Spirit’s Piracy Fox Pocket. Those two women – Kate and Adele (the Prof and the Cap) – are my spark plugs. I can’t begin to explain how supportive they’ve been of both my work and of me. I will never be able to thank them enough. They’re phenomenal women and I’m bloody lucky to know them. Without them, I’d likely still be fiddling with myself in the dark. So to speak…

Which authors have influenced you and why?

All of them! I’ve always been a reader – my mum still proudly tells people how I read Jane Eyre when I was only five and a half. There were always books in our house and I wasn’t censored, so I pretty much read anything. I was obsessed with Enid Blyton books as a kid and the shelf I kept them on got so loaded it fell down. Imagine nearly being crushed to death by Blyton! That affects a person. As a teenager, I devoured Stephen King and Dean Koontz, wrote a million Terry Pratchett pastiches, read Hammett and Chandler, the Pern books (because Mum’s a fan), Cherryh, Atwood, Ellison, Clarke, the list goes on and on. I even remember reading a Philip José Farmer story about zombies having sex with prostitutes and their willies breaking off or some such business… these are the things that scar a kid, no?

As an adult, Caitlin Kiernan and Poppy Z Brite have influenced me. Not in terms of style, perhaps, but definitely in terms of telling the story you need or want to tell in the way you want to tell it. That’s an important lesson for any writer.
Art influences me a great deal too; my dad’s an artist, so I grew up surrounded by the smell of Swarfega and ink, but it was Mr Y who really ignited my love for it. I’m rather partial to Surrealism, especially that by women. When I discovered Leonora Carrington’s work, I was blown away. Then I found her written work and it changed me. It loosened my girdle, if you will, made me more inclined to go with the pictures in my head and not tame them into something more ‘acceptable’. Read her novel The Hearing Trumpet or the short story ‘White Rabbits’ in the Vandermeers’ Weird anthology. In fact, do both.

Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?

The Wicked Witch of the West. I was obsessed with the 1939 The Wizard of Oz as a kid, and was genuinely upset every time that little cow chucked water on her beautiful wickedness. I don’t blame her for being pissed off – they were her shoes! We’ve only got Glinda, the desperate ‘Wizard’ and those whiny bloody Munchkins’ word that she’s up to no good. She wants to take control over a country currently controlled by an information withholding, passive aggressive bubble-driver and a snivelling impostor. More power to her. Also, I’ve always thought she looks like my Mum. In a good way…

You recently narrated a story for the Cast of Wonders podcast – how did you find the experience and is this something you would like to do more of?

I’ve done two or three now, and it’s fun to do something different. It can be a little taxing, hearing myself drone on for ages, but other people seem to like it so that’s a Brucie. Finding the right time to do it can be a challenge because the kids in the apartment upstairs were born with lead feet. I can go through about a million takes because of their sudden hippopotomatic incursions. I want to get it as right as I feel I can, so it can be more time-consuming than I originally thought, but that’s something I need to get better at. I’d happily do more.

What’s the appeal of short fiction for you?  And do you have any plans for longer works?

For me, certainly at the moment, short stories are the exploration level of writing. I’m trying things out, looking at different styles, working out my kinks, finding my way, and so on. I love flash fiction, things less than 2000 words. It’s like being a prose ninja. You run in with an idea, smack your audience upside the head with it, and then run off, leaving them to wonder, with any luck, what the hell happened, if there’ll be more, and how lucky they are to be alive (maybe not that). There are plans for longer works – I’m writing a collection for Fox Spirit at the moment, and after that I’ve got to crack on with the novel I’ve discussed with Adele. A woman gets mixed up in some nasty business and, after trying to go on the run, ends up in another world. It isn’t steampunk, it isn’t high fantasy, I’m not sure what it is, but it should be fun. I’ve also got an idea involving Primordial Gods in an unlikely setting, as well as some thoughts about an Elizabethan adventuress. So I’d best crack on!

Much of your fiction and poetry combines the comedic and macabre, and this seems to be a popular genre combination across multiple storytelling mediums, from the big screen to the printed word – why do you think these elements mesh so well?

The whole comedic/macabre mash up is appealing because laughing in the face of evil gives us a sense of control or at least the semblance of it. Evil can only truly win when you can’t turn around and laugh in its face. It’s defiance, the good old two-finger salute, that keeps us going in the face of so much darkness. There’s an old cliché that’s goes along the lines of ‘wherever there’s darkness, you should shine a light’ – or is that a Katrina and the Waves song? Anyway, for me that light is laughter.

Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?

Dong covers. You know the ones? High fantasy books with a big arsed penis-replacement sword on them. Puh-lease.

What are you up to next?

It seems a long way off, but next year I should be attending Edge-Lit and redcloaking at Fantasycon again. Maybe even another con, we’ll see. It’s invigorating to be around likeminded souls. I’m at home alone most of the time, so I think it’s essential to my sanity to consort with cohorts at least once a year. Also, redcloaking at Fantasycon means that I can attend without hanging around like a bad smell. I’m not always entirely sure what to do with myself, so it’s a good way to go but not lurk. You know what I mean?

Workwise, I have more stories coming out in the remaining Fox Pockets series plus, at some point, another in an anthology called Eve of War, which sort of follows on from their BFS award nominated Tales of Eve. Next year should see my instalment in the Feral Tales series from FS come out. Adele keeps on at me to branch out and write for other people and to get myself an agent. I’m still learning though, still pretty inchoate as a writer, so I’m not rushing but I do need to let fly, to take myself seriously. I’m working on it.

Thank you for joining us Chloë!

Chloë Yates is a writer of odd stories. English born, she currently lives in the middle of Switzerland with her bearded paramour, Mr Y, and their disapproving dog, Miss Maudie, surrounded by books, effigies of owls and the great god Ganesh. Chloë got her first taste of success in May 2012 with her very short prose piece ‘Don’t Do it, Salvador’, which won the inaugural Postcard Fiction Contest, published at: http://kalaity.com/2012/05/23/writer-wednesday-post-card-fiction-prizes.

Her story ‘Leave the Pistol Behind’ was one of the winners of Fox Spirit Books’ International Talk Like a Pirate Day in 2012, and her noirish chops have slathered into the Noir series, edited by Kate Laity – Weird Noir (2012) Noir Carnival (2013) and Drag Noir (2014). More of her work features in several anthologies, including all but the second volume of Fox Spirit’s Fox Pocket series.

Occasional ranting occurs in her blog at http://www.chloe-yates.blogspot.com and she wanders through twitter under the sobriquet @shloobee. She’s currently working on a big idea or two and writing more short stories.