I’m so sorry, Emily Bronte

I’m terrible at dealing with jetlag. I’ve been exceptionally lucky this year and managed not to contract any sort of flu-like symptoms while in Los Angeles, and yet I’m still busy splashing around in a lovingly built pit of self-pity because, omg, the bloody jetlag.

I’m tired, dammit! I’m tired and I can’t sleep cause I’ve already slept and then I wake up at 1am and am still tired and then can’t sleep and it’s all just awful, why won’t it go away? (I’m okay now – I wrote most of this on Saturday, and it’s now Tuesday and, yay, I’m over this and back to whinging about the cold, w00t!)

But, on the bright side, it’s been a little bit good for a bunch of writers since in my late night tired-but-can’t-sleep-arg-what-do-I-do?! state there’s been a fair bit of accidental book buying.

It’s mostly Tansy Rayner Roberts’ fault. She’s got a lovely post talking about all these authors who’ve influenced her work and I was reading it frowning and thinking, “Yeah I know who these people are, but I haven’t read them…why not? I should do that.” And then there was a bit of a splurge, completely forgetting the tottering To Read pile stacked up by the bookshelves and that wee promise I made to self about Buying More Books, and how it wasn’t going to happen until I could prove capable of reading more than thirty novels a year.

(“But,” reasoned my Ungodly Early Morning Unsleepy Tired Self, in anticipation of such annoyance from Future Morning After Coffee Self, “that was about *physical* books, these are the magic ones on the Kindle thingie! They don’t count!” “Yes,” replied Future Self, “and I suppose you’re paying for them with MAGIC MONEY TOO.  And going to find some MAGIC TIME to read them all in?” “Shusht, I am very emo and tired,” …this bit didn’t happen, I’m making it up, I did buy a bunch of books though.)

These books are all by women. It’s a sad state of affairs that in my teenage years I read very little fiction written by women. This wasn’t deliberate, it was what happened after I discovered the wonders of the Golden Age of Sci-fi and started reading everything I could by Asimov and Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Philip K Dick, Poul Anderson and Frederik Pohl, and the two marvels that are still amongst my favourite authors, John Wyndam and Frank Herbert…the list goes on, the list is almost all men. Good ol’ Le Guin got a look in, thank goodness. And Kate Wilhelm. But offhand I can’t recall any other woman I read during that period.

It’s a bit embarrassing really. I can’t remember when I noticed, but I do remember thinking, “Fucking hell, that’s awful,” and then going and getting every Best Hugo Novel that’d been written by a woman.

Since then, I choose to read more women than men. I’ll pick up an SFF book by a woman for any old reason; if it’s by a guy, he’s got to work a lot harder. It’s only fair, since I spent a bloody decade basically ignoring SFF by women.

And even with these efforts, I look at posts reccing works of women SFF writers and they’re still filled with stuff I’ve never read. Then I look at Waterstone’s charming guide to science fiction and fantasy… and I wince, for they’re almost all by men (113 men, 9 women) and there’s not much there I haven’t at least tried.

Tansy also talks a bit about  how she wanted to see more discussion of female authors who’ve influenced writers today. She talks about the immediate results of that on Twitter and Facebook here.

I spent a bit of time thinking about this and particularly about what writers had influenced my writing. Which is quite difficult, because it’s such a nebulous and twisty thing, influence. So I thought about some very specific things, and these aren’t particularly early influences, but they are writers whose work I adore and I understand exactly why it’s mattered so much to me, and I will always be incredibly grateful that I read them when I did:

Elizabeth Bear  – I’ve read a fair amount of Bear’s short fiction, but I only recently started a novel – Range of Ghosts – and so far it’s wonderful. Normally I give a novel 50-100 pages to settle me into the story, especially if it’s set in a secondary world, so there’s something marvellous when the writer’s skilful enough that you feel quite immersed in the first dozen or so pages.

Anyway, the reason I consider Bear’s work so important to me is that after reading Tideline, I felt like I had something to say about the theme there, something different. I can’t remember my exact thought process connecting what I wrote to what I’d read, or how it mattered so much at the time, but I do remember a feeling of “Yes, I see this, and there’s something I have to say about it too!” which was awfully exciting, and I felt extra validated when what I wrote ended up being the first piece of original fiction I got paid for. I had had thoughts, and made them into fiction, and they were exchanged for lucre! All thanks to being inspired by Bear’s work.

Philippa Ballantine – There’re a plethora of character types that I enjoy very much and will happily read about, especially when combined with other lovely things like spaceships or magic swords, but it’s quite rare for me to come across a character and be able to point to them and say, “Yes, them, that is what I love and adore and, omg, I think they may just have been written with *me* in mind.”

It is a gorgeous feeling. And it’s what happened when I read Geist for the first time. The protagonist is a marvel, one of my favourite characters, and it gave me so much more confidence in writing about the sort of characters that I wanted to write about, and not being so worried about whether or not they were the *right* sort of character. I’ve an abundance of self-doubt and paranoia, and spearing a bit that made me afraid to put the people in my head on the page was more than a smidgen liberating.

Kate Elliot – Aha. Basically, this is how I want to write when I grow up. Crown of Stars is a wonderful series (epic fantasy, yo, possibly you might like it if you also like GRRM, I did) but reading Cold Magic… I wasn’t terribly ill, I was a bit ill, and it provided some relief from the delights of depression, and I remember that, and how much I loved the world, and the characters, and I don’t know what it was but there was something else in it that made me want to write, very, very much. That made me think I want to write, and I want to be able to write as well as this. I want a career in writing fiction. Even now, it feels weird and awkward saying that’s what I want to do, but I blame Cold Magic for the fact that I can at all.

And should there ever be a small accident in time travel and my eleven year old self pops through to read this, you may, young me, also care to check out the following authors who will, in the years to come, provide you with many a cheery reading hour: Hilary Mantel, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Jane Austen, George Elliot, Charlotte Bronte, CJ Cherryh, Joanna Russ, Sheri S Tepper,  Connie Willis, Lois McMaster Bujold, E Nesbit, Doris Lessing, Diane Duane, RJ Anderson, Lisa Tuttle, Angela Carter, Jo Graham, Philippa Gregory (for pity’s sake, skip The Other Boleyn Girl), Mary Robinette Kowal, Rachel Swirsky, PD James (maybe skip Death Comes To Pemberley, yeah?),  Helen Fielding, Angela Slatter, NK Jemisin, Karen Lord, Daphne du Maurier, Mary Shelley, Aliette de Bodard, Susanna Clarke, Suzanne Collins. And JK Rowling. There’re going to be a lot of people who like JK Rowling. Get there first and be really hipster-y to one and all when it explodes across the globe, yeah!

Don’t keep trying to read Wuthering Heights though. You’re never going to get through it. Never. Just stop. (I’m so sorry, Emily Bronte, but I know lots of people who judge me for hating it…the same way I judge them for hating Jane Eyre…is there a book about a war between fans of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights? Cause I would be pretty keen on reading that.)

Till next time, delicious readers!

Other posts of Thematic Relevance

Emma Newman, A Level Playing Field.

Juliet E. McKenna, Links to some gender in genre thoughts.

5 thoughts on “I’m so sorry, Emily Bronte

  1. Loved this blog post. My own shift to female authors was mostly subconscious, but started w/ CJ Cherryh. Oh, how I loved Cherryh! ‘The Book of Morgaine’ *and* ‘Downbelow Station’, both wonderful fantasy and hard SF from the same author! I was hooked 🙂 It wasn’t until much later that I realized she was a woman (although I had my suspicions at the time). She wasn’t the only one though! I’ve since realized most of my favorite authors are women. Some like McCaffrey and Willis were obvious from their names, but others were more obscure either because of their use of initials or pseudonyms. I’ve read and loved tons of Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, Farmer, Zelazny, and Tolkien too, but I can’t imagine SFF without thinking of Russ, Le Guin, Kress, Bujold, Cadigan, and Tiptree. My library would be devastated without them.

  2. I think the trick with Emily Bronte is to read it when you’re twelve. Though it might scar you and your love life for life. 🙂 It’s a great book for when you’re twelve, though.

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