Thursday, 23 February 2017

IS BAREFOOT ON THE WIND #OWNVOICES?

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers!

Today, as you might guess from the blog title, is a piece with some thinky thoughts. These are the thinky thoughts I've been having, on and off, about BAREFOOT ON THE WIND since it came out and since and I began to see reviews of various aspects of the story.

It's by no means a definitive Voice of God type of thing - I've no wish to lay down the law about the book or how anyone else should interpret it. I just thought that it might add value for some readers to know some things about the book and how it relates to my own experience and identity.

So, really this post came into being at this point because of the urging of some lovely folks on Twitter. One person DM'ed me to ask if I had meant for Hana to read as an asexual or greysexual character. I told her that I had written Hana very deliberately as greysexual, because I was a greysexual teenager once - although sadly I didn't even know that term existed at the time! I now identify as asexual, however.

Another tweep listed the book as a piece of respectful representation on the grounds that it portrayed mental illness in the form of Hana's apparent depression, but said she was unsure if she should call it #Ownvoices or not. I told her that I, too, have suffered with depression since being a teenager. What's more, after the death of my Father I also went through a period of what is known as Complex or Complicated Grief in which I was unable cope with my bereavement, suffered with overwhelming feelings of guilt and responsibility for what had happened, and wished fervently that I had died in my Father's place. I based Hana's mental state on these experiences.

It suddenly occurred to me that because I had written this book in a secondary world in which terms such as greysexual/asexual and depression simply did not exist, that some readers who might be eager to find representation of those marginalised identities might completely miss it. I'd already read several reviews which expressed disappointment that Hana's relationship with Itsuki in the book wasn't more 'passionate', or mentioned that it seemed more like a friendship than a romance. Those choices were deliberate - they charted the progression of a greysexual person's developing feelings as I experienced them - but how could readers know that when I'd been unable to put the correct label on Hana's identity without being unforgivably anachronistic? Should I be tweeting about this book and calling it #Ownvoices in order to help ace/greysexual and non-neurotypical readers know that stuff was in there?

I looked on the website of the writer who coined the #Ownvoices hashtag - Corrine Duyvis (Hi Corrine!) - and she said she didn't really want to try regulate the term: she just wanted others to be able to use it in whichever way seemed valid. But she felt as long as the author and the protagonist shared a specific marginalised identity, it pretty much counted as far as she was concerned.

This all led an animated discussion on Twitter. Many people chimed in to say they DID feel the story counted as #Ownvoices. But then the author and We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh (Hi Ellen!) chimed in to say that you can't really call a book #Ownvoices if the author doesn't share the protagonist's ethnicity. And I don't. Although Hana's secondary world is a fantasy one, and her ethnicity doesn't really exist in this world, her culture is BASED on Feudal Japan, which means her ethnicity is, too. And, as Ellen pointed out, for a white author to put the hashtag #Ownvoices into play to promote a book in which the main character does not share her ethnicity feels perilously close to a form of cultural appropriation.

At this point it became clear that this was all way too complex to really sort out on Twitter. So I thanked everyone and went off and continued to think about it for a while more before deciding: yes, I should address this on my blog. Because that way people have the relevant information - a more nuanced and complex version of the information than I can possibly offer up in 140 characters - and they can make their own minds up.

Tl;dr - BAREFOOT ON THE WIND features a greysexual, mentally ill protagonist, and those parts of her marginalised identity were based on the author's own experiences as a greysexual, mentally ill teenager (and on later experiences of bereavement). But the author does not share the character's ethnicity, in so far as that ethnicity is based on Japanese culture.

Phew! I hope that all makes sense! Any questions or comments, muffins - toss them in the comments :)

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

ARE FAIRYTALES FEMINIST?

(Originally posted on PewterWolf's blog - revised 15/2/2017)

When the title of this post was suggested to me, I found myself a little conflicted. Can fairytales be Feminist, I asked? Or is this an unanswerable joke question, like whether Grumpy Cat has a Communist agenda?

Let’s just take a moment to remind ourselves what Feminism actually is – untainted by any of the wonky ideas that society may have about it, or any of the behaviour of individual people who reject or embrace the concept. It’s pretty easy:
Feminism
noun
“The advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”
Basically, Feminism is the struggle to ensure that all sexes (there are more than two, FYI, but that’s a whole ‘nother blogpost) have equal rights. A Feminist individual is someone who believes in equality regardless of gender and hopefully works in whatever way they can to bring that about.

So... are fairytales Feminist? Maybe that's the wrong question. Maybe a better way to phrase it would be: Can fairytales be Feminist? Do they have the potential to embody Feminism? Or is that impossible?

Because the thing is, folklore and mythology from pretty much any society you care to name certainly seems to depict a lot of highly sexist attitudes, not to mention celebrationg the Patriarchal societies that spawn those attitudes. And this makes sense. Though initially fairytales were contemporary, evolving narratives, they began to be written down - and considered ‘finalised’ - in Western Europe throughout the 18th and 19th century. They reflect those historical modes of living which were prevalent during that time – when men wore trousers and girls wore skirts, and if they swapped at all it was for reasons of comedy or in order to preserve female virtue.

They haven't really been allowed to evolve since then. We consider those versions the 'originals' or the 'classics' rather than just one of many different possible iterations of archetypal tales. As such they’re filled with a lot of ideals that woman are still fighting against - hello, diametrically opposed innocent damsels (virgins) and wicked ambitious older woman (whores) all desperately hoping to snag a man! And there are an awful lot of young, aggressively heterosexual males rushing in to save the day... and the depictions of people of colour or non-Christian people is pretty awful. The depiction of non-straight people is nonexistent.

But fairytales – the ever changing, oral stories to which our current, sanitised, Disney incarnations are only distantly related – stretch right back to the time when humans were still figuring out what humans even were. When firelight was all that stood between us and the howl of creatures in the dark, and for all we knew a fairy, dragon or young God might be lurking around the next tree trunk any time we went out to cut wood. They contain archetypes, larger than life, fundamentally human characters and quandaries which, while they MAY be warped and stretched and manipulated to reflect the politics of whichever person or society promotes them, are still able to rise above – or sink below – cultural mores in order to share essential truths.

What are fairytales about after all? What questions do THEY ask US?

What is love? What is good – and what is evil? What does it mean to be brave? How should we react to injustice? How can we better our own lives, and what are the risks if we try? What makes a monster? What is a hero?

These questions are ultimately ageless. And a-political.

Our individual interpretation of fairytales, the prejudices and perspectives we ourselves bring to these archetypal stories, are what make them either positive or negative. And individual interpretations can vary, at last count... preeeetty much to infinity.

For instance, Cinderella may be a dutiful and obedient girl who never takes any steps to better her own life because her highest goal is the proper, 'feminine' one of attending a ball in a pretty dress – whose beauty is rewarded when she happens to be young and lovely enough to catch the Prince’s eye (marrying up in society being any woman's dream, of course).

OR... she might be a resolute and morally ambiguous young woman, who cunningly uses the ball to leverage her youth and beauty in order to gain the prince’s power for her own ends.

Beauty might be a dutiful and obedient girl who allows herself to be sacrificed in place of her father, and who, after being bullied or emotionally blackmailed into marrying the monstrous being who imprisoned her, is rewarded when he turns out not to be physically repulsive anymore (though his personality may still be in question).

OR... she could be a ferocious young hunter who goes after the Beast of her own free will in order to destroy him and the curse, and who chooses instead to save him, in the end, because he has proven to her that despite his beastly exterior, he is truly worthy of love.

But these Feminist ways of re-imagining our familiar fairytales – taken from my books Shadows on the Moon (Cinderella) and Barefoot on the Wind (Beauty and the Beast) – can be very controversial. Not just among Mans Right's Activists! Even from a Feminist viewpoint.

The recent Disney live-action Cinderella promoted itself with the motto ‘Have courage... and be kind’. You’d think this was a mild enough statement that no one would get cross about it, but you’d be wrong.

Online, many people rose up against the idea that a young woman suffering under injustice and abuse from her family ought to care about being kind – surely survival would be the order of the day? ‘They’re encouraging young women to be weak!’ was the battle cry. ‘Don’t tell them to be kind, tell them to fight!’

But before anyone could blink, an equally strong counter-argument blew up, stating that kindness was a Feminist virtue, that striving for some kind of unrealistic butt-kicking ideal of femininity that eschewed goodness and kindness for macho ideals of ‘strength’ was ignoring the real struggles of real women who had survived – and might still be living with – abuse. ‘Living in a bad situation you can’t get out of isn’t weakness!’ these people declared.

Who’s right? Who knows! Both, most probably.

The fact is that, just as with magic itself, fairytales can be used for good or evil. They have the potential to be both damagingly misogynistic AND empoweringly Feminist. Like most questions of story, the final interpretation is down to the reader themself to make.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

KINDLE HALF TERM PROMOTIONS!

Hello, lovely readers - no, your eyes do not deceive you, this is the second post in one week. *Le Gasp!*

Not a long one today, unfortunately, as in real time I'm actually on my way to a meeting at my prospective university for my Royal Literary Fellowship, which is both super exciting and super intimidating. But I have other good news!

As of today The Swan Kingdom and Shadows on the Moon are both in the Kindle half-term promotion, which means they're on sale for 99p and £1.09 respectively! Pretty good deal, especially when that's the new version of Shadows on the Moon with exclusive new content, which retails for £7.99 for a paperback.

I'm hoping that being included in such a high profile promotion aimed at young readers over their February half-term will give the books a chance to find a new audience (since, depressingly, many of my young readers have basically grown up now and are adults whose achievements both stun and humble me).

So if you want to share details of these rather spiffy deals on your Twitter feed or Facebook (or Instagram or any other newfangled thingie) for your friends or relatives to peruse, then do feel free - or just grab a copy of one or both of these books for yourself if you've been wanting one.

Have a lovely Wednesday, muffins. Here some new picspam of Ruskin for good measure:



Why does he always appear to be half asleep in these photos, you ask? Because it's literally impossible to get him to stay still without lunging for and attempting to consume the camera at any other time, I reply with a faintly unabalanced laugh! Puppies, folks. They be trippin'.

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