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Stewart Hotston

Writing, Editing, Watching and Reading

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Publishing

Why identity matters to us all but may stop you selling your stuff to others

My last three long works have, or are going to feature a multiplicity of genders, races and that’s by design. On the completed side, there’s a hard science fiction novella featuring an all female cast and a novel with multiple sexual identities across the main characters. My current WIP is a long work – which is based in a society where gender fluidity is the norm and slaves are identified because they’re non-gendered.

I’m happy with these stories, love what they’ve allowed me to explore and I’ve deliberately chosen to construct them in this manner.

I’ve adopted this approach because I want to tell stories with these characters at the heart of what I’m writing – to explore their challenges and, in no small part, to allow me to work through the issues such ideas bring up. I’m not preaching to anyone about it and, to be honest, I’ve worked pretty hard to make these characters meaningful in their own sense – so that it’s not a side show that all the characters are female, or that there are people of every skin colour present. They’re there because they are – not to make a point, not to fulfil a stereotype or satisfy an agenda.

Yet this week, as I prepared for a number of panels in the upcoming FCon, I was reminded by one of the panel members as they discussed their experience of the world of publishing, just how hard it is to get from the word on the page to the audience. Furthermore, just how much hostility there is for all of the ideas I’m loving writing about. Homophobia, transphobia, plain old racism and deeply rooted sexism and misogyny appear to be present at almost every gate to getting stories out there (except self-publishing, because then you can just get on with it).

There’s a reason why non-white people are voted off Strictly and it’s the same reason why marketing people are wary of stories that are going to exclude possible audiences – because it hurts sales. It’s collusion with those forms of oppression – collusion with those ignorant hateful attitudes for sure, but it’s something else too.

Poor sales mean businesses stop making money and then people lose their jobs and whatever progressive hopes and ideas they had lose their channel into the public debate.

You can hate gatekeepers because they are the unwilling (I hope) face of society’s wider nastiness – they’re the people we see – the casting agents wanting young beautiful (by their standards) women to portray having sex with maverick older white men as the dominant picture of success. Literary agents who only want fantasy stories about the orphaned wunderkind who comes along to ‘magic/assassin/mythical’ school and beats everyone at their own game and changes the world within a context of hetero-normative relationships and maintaining the status quo of those in power…again.

Yet they are just that – gatekeepers – they understand the calculus and often, regardless of their personal preferences, are completely powerless to affect any change.

Do I wish they were braver? Of course I do (and the completed works of my own I’ve listed above have found homes), but when being brave gets your head chopped off does that have any point? Sometimes I think yes – better to resist fascists than capitulate. However, other times I think better to make small compromises on the promise of making the other side move at the same time. Sometimes not ceding the floor is the right thing to do just as much as sometimes you have to rip the other side’s face off or die trying (metaphorically of course, although I’m a sword fighter…so…I think it’s probably ok to punch nazis since they want to stuff me in a gas chamber).

I’m not going to stop writing stories with themes that I’m passionate about – with characters that I deliberately want to see from all edges of society who aren’t secretly super powered divinely ordained kings of old (which is why, incidentally The Last Jedi is brave enough to kick your faces in – who the hell wants to discover the galaxy’s fate is actually in the hands of a divinely chosen single fricking family??? I thought we were done with divine right…right?)

However, I think I need to acknowledge that many people out there aren’t going to want to read them – because I don’t judge my cis or trans characters. I don’t tell you that there’s a moral choice between hetero, homosexual or other identity. I’m interested in what those perspectives tell us about who we are for their own sake.

I wish I knew how to say this better. Sometimes people want to be homemakers. Sometimes they want to be part of a team and sometimes they want to self destruct. It’s these nuances that make writing (and living) so interesting. They don’t always fit in with the dominant narratives our society feeds us as ‘natural’ but screw that – shouldn’t we be questioning what we believe is natural, shouldn’t we approach our comfort zones and disrupt them? Isn’t that part of the point of fiction?

I hear the ‘I just want to be entertained’ argument a lot. Generally that’s code for ‘I want to escape to a fantasy that suits my prejudices’, which is of course why so many people hated TLJ – because it punctured the idea that maverick men can save the universe alone.

I’ve had this discussion with my kids – that films should make us FEEL something. That we should be wary of being manipulated by how other people tell stories but we should remain open to being moved to wonder, sadness, joy, despair and rage. Stories that deliver us out the other side having only confirmed our unspoken prejudices are, generally, unrepresentative and regressive (and I’ll debate that with you all day long) – stories that leave us washed out, excited, exhilarated, worried, scared, hungry and angry – those are the ones worth something.

I hope to write those stories. Sometimes I think I manage it. Regardless of that, I hope you can be brave enough to buy stories that aren’t obviously about people like you, that aren’t showing you nothing but a blurred out mirror with only the bits you like reflecting back.

Why? because then my friends who write together with those buy, market and publish those stories will be able to justify changing the world – because you’ll have done it first.

Slavery and economics

Today I bought myself a couple of books on slavery – not novels or histories on different slave systems through the millennia but actual books on how people who kept slaves went about keeping slaves.

The most interesting one is by Jerry Toner although attributed to the Roman cipher of Marcus Sidonius Falx. It’s called How To Manage Your Slaves and considers subjects such as

  • when they should be allowed to have sex
  • how to be a slave master
  • when to buy
  • what makes for a good slave
  • why they shouldn’t all speak the same language and,
  • why freedmen are a problem

It’s tongue in cheek but also solid history (as Toner is a fellow of Classics at Churchill College, Cambridge).

I’ve bought this not because I’m about to go out and re-enact the plot of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout but because I’m developing a pitch about a society whose economy and culture relies on slavery. It’s not enough when world building to know you’re against slavery. I want it to feel authentic. I want you to know, when you read it, what slaves deal with beyond simply being someone else’s property.

Having said that, the subjects covered by Toner are ones you’ll find discussed by economists lamenting people not doing as they’re supposed to right across the world. When people try to design our societies, the language and categories they use for ordinary people are, frighteningly, close to those slave owners use for their slaves. Where capitalism is more unfettered this is often especially the case – where workers are resources like light, space and licenses they are also worryingly open to being treated as if they were just that – inanimate resources. In this light, the best worker is the one who doesn’t get pregnant, doesn’t need lunch, doesn’t want to unionise and certainly doesn’t get sick. I’m reminded we should always be careful of ‘liberalisation of employment legislation’ because it’s really just code for ‘being able to treat workers as commodities’ and that is the very definition of being a slave – being someone else’s property.

My pitch, a fantasy novel with gods and magic, is obviously fiction – but it’s going to have economics, politics and people desperate to find their way to being human and not someone else’s commodity. Part of me hopes that when the book’s written and assuming the pitch is successful, you’ll imbibe my warnings about those who would make us slaves and hold in your minds the actions you might be called on to make if you want to remain free.

 

 

Reflections from a noob on the conservation of information

This weekend I went to Fantasy Con here in the UK and it was brilliant. This is the second convention I’ve been to, after Nineworlds a little earlier in the year. It was a little smaller than I was expecting but filled with people from across the industry – writers, readers, editors, publishers and even an agent or two. I was supposed to be at a LARP (but a broken tarsal put paid to that) but requests that I do a couple of panels sold me on going because, hey, I quite like talking about stuff when asked and in this case they were topics I felt I could at least contribute to without looking silly.

I also went to a bunch of panels and worked hard on BarCon (which as you can imagine included alcohol). There was a sinister room of which Allen Stroud kindly took a few of us on a tour – only to regret it almost instantly.

 

In terms of personal goals I wanted to meet people in the industry, get to know them, explore current trends and figure out where I go next. Talking to someone about pitches (I think it was Jon Oliver from Solaris/Abaddon) reminded me that I hate being sold to and although as an author I need to find a way to communicate what I’m passionate about writing, I was committed to actually having a good time, laughing and making some new friends (if that last isn’t too bold).

I was delightfully entertained by Nate Crowley every time we crossed paths and I hope we get to crew together at Empire next year because I think we’d make a frightening double act.

I have lots of people to thank, not least David Moore and Jon Oliver for always being around to chat to, Adrian Tchaikovsky (and Annie), Phil Sloman, Simon Bestwick, Allen Stroud, Jeanette Ng, Anna Smith Spark, Theresa Derwin and David Tallerman for all being sparkling company and having interesting stuff to say.

The highlight though was that after my comment last week that I wasn’t quite sure what to do next and entirely different option as presented as the most obvious answer. Roped into a discussion about cosmology (in the theoretical physics sense) I got a bit fanboy about information theory and how there’s a great first contact story in it and someone said – ‘don’t just talk about it, write it because I want to read that story.’

I was pleased to hear it but then it was pointed out that they were a commissioning editor. So guess what…I’m now writing out and planning that very novella. Which involves me reading information theory thermodynamics papers from Arxiv.org…oh, and the stages of grief as it’s that kind of story.

At the same time I got an open invite to pitch to another publisher whose work I love. I’m now also frantically editing that piece because it’s in need of it but there you go. I’m not sure it’s for them but everyone who’s read the alpha version thinks it’s the most compelling piece I’ve written so you never know…

Nineworlds – observations from my first con

I went to #Nineworlds this weekend just gone in Hammersmith (which is in London, UK for those of you who may be unfamiliar). It’s a fan led conference that’s deeply concerned with the stories we tell ourselves and how those help (or hinder) us when we try to construct our identities (whatever those might be). This could be dry, pretentious, domineering or just plain pedantic but #Nineworlds manages to engage with all of the things it cares about successfully – being witty, passionate, respectful and intelligent.

It was also very welcoming, compassionate and wonderfully cool.

I was lucky enough to be speaking on two panels; the first on how we might deal with historic texts which present us now with themes and subject matter that are difficult to reconcile with what we think of as acceptable – be that explicit/implicit racism, sexism or views on what gender identities are acceptable (or even normative). It was a really fun/deep panel and my co-panellists were interesting, from very different backgrounds to me and together I hope we managed to discuss some interesting angles on this subject – I’ve got a post on this theme coming soon and I’ll use that to re-present some of my thinking on this.

What was most wonderful about that panel though was that during the questions, one of the audience members was brave enough to challenge us on something we had been blind to – the trope of the disabled person being morally deficient and how villains were often disabled in some manner as if they deserved it and specifically because the physical circumstance tagged them as evil. That contribution meant the world to me because I was worried about the discussion being didactic and that someone could contribute as they did meant we succeeded in not speaking at the room but in talking among a community.

The other panel was on AI, Robots and the future of work – and was really an excuse to talk about all those subjects we read about weekly where another advance creates something for us to scratch our heads over – be it machine learning running data centres more efficiently, Amazon warehouses being in the dark because the robots don’t need lights or medical diagnoses being done through automated pattern spotting. And yes, we did also talk about socialist utopias, work, the price of labour and the impact of class, race and location on how we live that experience.

My favourite moments being twofold – a story that made people gasp with shock and seeing David Thomas Moore turn into Citizen Smith.

Aside from that I bundled along to a number of panels – my favourite ones being Dr Magnethands, which is a game I shall be inflicting on friends at parties and one on writing from different points of view. That latter one was the writer in me wanting to learn, wanting to see if how I approach my work makes sense and how I could be smarter about it.

Anyway, I’m now knackered, but home. So adieu to #Nineworlds and thanks again.

Oh, and particular thanks to people who shared drinks and panels with me like David Thomas Moore, Jon Oliver, Joseph Adetifa, Sasha Garwood Lloyd, Dolly Garland, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Peter Smallridge, D Franklin, Ed Boff, Sarah Groenwegen, Matthew Blakstad, Peter Ray Allison and Jeannette Ng to mention just a few. (And obvious apologies if I’ve missed you off this list – the fault is mine, not yours!)

Bookbub and Instafreebie – or how to get more free books

I don’t care what you read or how you read or when you read. I don’t care if you collect 1st edition hardbacks or are exclusively reading papyrus. However, I do care if you read.

For me it’s not about the quality of the material (although some of you know there are certain authors that will cause me to give you a look of pity or resignation but that’s only for discussion in person).

I wanted to talk about a couple of sites that I’ve used both as an author and a reader. They’re called Bookbub and Instafreebie. You probably know about them already, and if you do – apologies – I’m a recent convert/discoverer and they’re changing the way I read books.

I’ll grant you that there’s a decent amount of stuff you probably don’t want to read on each site BUT this is what I like about both sites – their potential for author discovery. By that I mean that the sites take your preferences and try to find authors that you’ll like. They’ll feed you offers for people you know and have read but they’ll also find you authors you haven’t read. It’s this last bit that works for me because I know the authors I like but, as with new music and film, it can be tremendously hard to figure out new authors who I might not have come across before. Combine that with the fact that these platforms typically showcase books at special offer rates (either discounted or completely free) and I find that I’m typically not taking much risk in trying out new authors.

It may not be for you. But hey, if you like reading, like new discovering new authors and can say what your preferences are these sites might be good for your totally under control crack reading habit.

Also, as someone pointed out, there are other sites like this, but these are the ones I’ve settled with – both as author and reader.

 

Monthly round up

It’s been a busy month. I thought it would be useful to round up – even if only for myself.

First up, a long awaited anthology called Aliens: The truth is coming from Tickety Boo Press. It’s got some superb stories in it but I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to my own in this – it’s one that I hope will take you from left field and stay with you after you’re done.

Second is that I’ve actually sold a novel to the same publishing company. It’s called Dreams of Darkness and is the first in the The Fox’s Hope series. It’s a dark and twisted view of myths. I described it to my editor as Steven Erikson meets Grimm.

towl-ebook-coverThird is that I finally got my assorted stuff together and put a collection of my favourite shorts out. It’s called Tales of Wild Light.

I’ve done a couple of posts about this recently, so not a lot more to say here. Well…except that I can’t stop talking about the cover which was done by a friend of mine, John Haynes.

The original is now framed and on display in my library. stewart-hotston-a-peoples-war-titles

Next up is A People’s War, the sequel to A Family War and the second in The Oligarchy Trilogy. It was due out today but we’re still going through proofing for typos – it’ll be this month and before Christmas but watch this space.

There’s another anthology coming for subscribers to my mail list – sometime in January. It’s called Human Machines and will feature stories set in the world of the Oligarchy in which you’ll learn a little more about some of the most important characters in the trilogy whose backgrounds and motivations are their own and deserve some more attention outside of Helena Woolf’s story.

Just in case

Tales of Wild Light is now available on Amazon. There’s also the ebook – but hey, if you’ve gone here, then you should have it already! If you’ve taken the free version from the offer – good on you. If you fancy having a real version of John’s cover then I’d suggest getting yourself a physical copy of this one. It’s pretty amazing and with a matt finish looks even more imposing.

Also, if you’d like to do me a massive favour – please leave a review of the collection once you’re done with it.

ta

Stewart

Dreams of Darkness

This is Maela. She’s the daughter of the High King of the Parade, the combined courts of the Seelie and Unseelie Fae, although not all Fae are members of the Parade, not by a long shot. She’s also in exile, having had ideas considered too dangerous to leave her unharmed. She is of House Dark, one of the elder Fae Houses.

When I was developing my ideas for DoD (as I call it), one of the central themes I wanted to explore was difference. Not diversity for its own sake, but how different peoples and cultures may never see eye to eye simply because their foundations rest on entirely different premises.

Having said that, I explicitly wanted to write a female protagonist whose colour (and Maela isn’t locked into being the same as this picture shows her) was starkly different to that of the other main characters.

I’ll show those characters in other posts – we have a Kitsune called Shaal, an ancient fox spirit and we have Chris, a schlubby white male student from the Great Britain.

For this story, whose ideas impact the entire world, it seemed fitting that the characters we access the tale through represent its very different elements.

I’m writing this now because the novel is done and I’m talking about it with a publisher I’ve admired for a while. I hope to have more news that I can properly share soon but in the meantime, I thought I better start talking about a book that I love, that stands on its own as a proper story but whose world is built for a properly epic cycle to be told within.

 

The Fox’s Hope

I can finally come with some awesome news. As of this weekend I sold my novel, Dreams of Darkness to Ticketyboo Press. I can’t tell you just how jump around the room happy I am with this news.

Ticketyboo are a great outfit with some great authors on their lists.

What’s more amazing is that they’ve also taken the 2nd and 3rd books in the series as well. Dreams of Darkness is a standalone novel but it builds a world in which there is a much greater tale to tell and I’m delighted to get the chance to write that larger story and see it come into print. The series, in case you haven’t guessed from the title of the post, is called The Fox’s Hope.

I’ll be posting some pieces about the main characters, the world and the ideas over the next few weeks but this post is just to say….YIPEEEE!

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Damyanti Biswas is an author, blogger, animal-lover, spiritualist. Her work is represented by Ed Wilson from the Johnson & Alcock agency. When not pottering about with her plants or her aquariums, you can find her nose deep in a book, or baking up a storm.

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