Is it a steal? The questions to ask about paid-for publishing – by Juliet E McKenna

The Society of Authors and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain have published a joint report looking into companies that charge writers for publication. You will not be surprised to learn there are a lot of shady goings-on in this area of the book business. For one thing, the sharks and charlatans like to muddy the waters with terms like ‘hybrid’ and ‘indie’ publishing. They’re able to do this because these terms mean different things to different people.

‘Hybrid’ originally meant authors self-publishing alongside working with a mainstream publisher. ‘Indie’ used to mean small independent presses not owned by one of the multinational conglomerates. These days, ‘indie’ has been co-opted by self-publishers (not with any underhand intent), while what used to be called ‘vanity’ presses would have you believe that ‘hybrid’ now means the author putting in money up front for a project, as well as the (alleged) publisher.

Now, there are currently a whole lot of different ways to work with a publisher. At the moment, I have five separate agreements on the go, and the details of each contract are different. For one, I have chosen to commission and pay for editorial input and artwork myself and to then supply the complete package to the publisher rather than have them undertake this part of the publishing process. These choices I have made are reflected in the royalty rate I receive. All of this information is readily available to me, the whole process is transparent, and at no point am I paying the publisher for anything. This is a legitimate way to do business.

Compare and contrast the sharks and charlatans. When I’ve been judging genre prizes and books come in from a publisher I don’t know, I go and check who I’m dealing with. Legitimate small presses I just haven’t come across before are easy to identify , but when it comes to vanity presses, the tell-tale info is often very deliberately and well hidden on websites. There are weasel words like ‘contributory’ and ‘partnership’ as well as hideous rights grabs buried under layers of obfuscation, just in case they are handed some real gem.

Though that is unlikely. When it comes to the books, vanity presses are almost always horribly, wretchedly obvious. I mean 99.99% of the time at least! I recall one first person narrative which included the detailed description of a knife that had just stabbed our heroine in the back where she couldn’t reach it. So… how could she see it then? The whole book – okay, the 65 pages I read before I quit – was full of these basic creative writing errors. There had been no meaningful editorial input at all – though I bet the author had paid well above the going rate for that, from what I read on the website. Things like this might be funny, except these authors sometimes contact prize judges, wondering why they haven’t been short-listed (yes, really) and it’s painfully clear they’ve been fed wholly unreal expectations by, well, con-artists. It’s awful to be the person trying to explain what’s happened to them.

So it comes as absolutely no surprise to me at all to see from this report –

• 94% of respondents lost money, typically in the thousands.
• The average loss was £1,861 with some writers reporting losses as high as £9,900.
• The median cost of publication was £2,000.
• A median of only 67 books were sold per deal, resulting in royalties of only £68.
• 59% of writers said their book was not available to buy in retail outlets

You can read the Society of Authors’ article here, and download the full report.

Do spread the word, and bookmark the info, in case you come across another writer in danger of being bamboozled.

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels so far. Her debut, The Thief’s Gamble, began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. The Green Man’s Heir was her first modern fantasy rooted in British folklore in 2018, followed by The Green Man’s Foe, The Green Man’s Silence, and The Green Man’s Challenge. She writes and comments on book trade issues, has served as a judge for major genre awards, and reviews online and for magazines. She writes diverse short stories and novellas enjoying forays into alternate history, darker fantasy, steampunk and SF. As J M Alvey, she has also written murder mysteries set in ancient Greece. As well as the next Green Man book, she’s currently working on The Cleaving, a feminist retelling of Arthurian myth, to be published in May 2023. Visit or follow @JulietEMcKenna on Twitter to keep up to date.

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Milford at Fifty: Milford One -1972 and Beyond – A Retrospective by David Redd

From David Redd’s Milford retrospective (website) and comments from his 2019 interview in SF Magazines.

Milford 1972 attendees
Mark Adlard * Brian Aldiss * James Blish * John Brunner * Kenneth Bulmer * Richard Cowper * Judith Anne Lawrence (Judy Blish) * George Locke (Gordon Walters) * Anne McCaffrey * John Phillifent * Christopher Priest * David Redd * Josephine Saxton * Andrew Stephenson * Peter Tate.

1972 saw the first Milford Science Fiction Writers Conference in the UK, set up by a small dedicated team of James Blish (a co-founder of the original USA Milford); Anne McCaffrey (Chair); Judy Blish (legwork); and Ken Bulmer (“Liaison Officer between the Americans and the inscrutable British.”)

Judy Blish dug up addresses and wrote to folk, including me. (She was short of candidates.)

That initial Milford was my first-ever story workshop experience: new, exciting, crowded, exhausting, sometimes frightening, enlightening and valuable. Most attendees were published novelists, while I had only a few magazine stories to my name. With the initial demand unknown, the committee had limited Milford One to a single weekend. We workshopped fifteen stories in three days!

I remember little about the hotel; probably it was the Lydgate, sold soon after. Subsequently, Milford resided happily for many years at the Compton House, with some very understanding mine hosts in Pat & Don Emberson, along with their joint proprietors Joy and Tony Tillett in the earlier years. Milfordites kept many interesting and incriminating documents of that time in the notorious “Milford Box,” (now apparently lost.)

The stories? A blur, inevitably, although I think Chris Priest brought a promising novelette called “The Inverted World,” which became an excellent novel due to his own efforts, not ours, and I brought one called “Morning” which did at least make it into F&SF. Mark Adlard offered an alien-zoo short story and received great admiration in some quarters for his vigorous description of a harpoon “whanging home.” Mark was so encouraged by this enthusiasm that he went home and wrote an entire novel about harpoons whanging home, for which Penguin paid him £30,000. (“I do hope this story is true,” I wrote, and so far nobody has contradicted me.)

A note on costs: registration £1.50, hotel daily full board, £3.50. Ah, 1972! So that was Milford One. A whirlwind of meeting friends old and new, of professionals showing great kindness, of frantic reading and frantic critting – one member did not last the weekend. 1972 must have been a success; the next year Milford UK extended to a full week, and has been running ever since.

Random Recollections
Early Milford conferences were dominated by the frantic rush to read manuscripts – no emailed pre-circulation then – which left us only limited time for socialising. We managed some. By 1974 James Blish was obviously frail and concentrating with a fixed determination, but back in 1972 he was still relaxed enough to chat non-adversarially about, for example, the Star Trek novelisations coming from the author of A Case of Conscience. They weren’t incompatible with his fearsome literary integrity, I learned over breakfast. He told me they were useful “bridge material” (his phrase) enticing newcomers into other SF.

I hope Blish wouldn’t mind me saying that in story critiques he was a ruthless perfectionist (as he was of his own serious work, which I suspect could get over-revised) and I suffered this when he dismissed my story Morning as, if I may precis, derivative and inadequate. Nothing personal, he took pains to assure me afterwards. “At least So-and-so liked it,” I muttered. “So-and-so has a tin ear!” said Blish, reverting to workshop mode for an instant. Then he was human again.

I should point out that some of the Biggest Names there such as Blish and Brunner were surprisingly considerate to their juniors. Ditto Brian Aldiss, exiting early in some vexation, yet pausing to apologise to me for leaving without commenting on my story. A lot of people took the Milford ethic of mutual help very seriously.

Highlights of the first and subsequent Milfords
Meeting so many good people, e.g. Richard Cowper, Pam Boal, Rob Holdstock (to name some of the sadly missed) through to the 21st century and, oh, Vaughan Stanger, Ian Creasey, Colin P. Davies among too many to mention. (If you’re a Milford person reading this and thinking your name should be there, yes it should.)

Lowlights also came: those lapses of judgement which dog my life, of course, but worse still, the shock of attendee Paul Tabori being suddenly rushed to hospital (1974) and dying weeks later—to my shame I’d known of him better for The Green Rain than for The Art of Folly and the rest.

One last highlight? I was at a Milford wrap party when Chip Delany met (Lady) Naomi Mitchison; what a nice meeting of different cultures. Now, the amazing Naomi Mitchison: what a life, yet the internet this decade can say “Today, she has largely been forgotten”. Another one. She never attended a Milford workshop (that I know of) but was a Saturday-evening guest in 1974. Delany was quick to smile and mention Memoirs of a Spacewoman; Mitchison had the air of one enjoying herself greatly. They should have found much to discuss.

Those Milford end-of-week parties quickly became a tradition. In 1978 our guests included Nick Webb of Pan Books, a huge and genial man, confiding hopes that an untried author he’d commissioned to novelise a radio series could deliver. The author’s name was Douglas Adams. His book—you’ll know the title—came out almost exactly a year after that party, and in a couple of months sold 200,000 copies. Nick must have been delighted. And relieved.

David Redd sold his first stories to Michael Moorcock at New Worlds SF and later appeared in many other magazines, including F&SF, If, Amazing, Fantastic, Asimov’s SF, and Interzone.

One of his other claims to fame is that he appeared on the television quiz program Who Wants to be a Millionaire with his wife Meriel in 2001: they won £16,000.

He was a civil engineer by profession but is now retired. He has a son and a daughter.

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Milford Writers’ Retreat by Jacey Bedford

I’m at Trigonos for the Milford Writers’ Retreat, a full week of being closeted with my laptop in a quiet room (with a good view) and the company of nine other writers at meal times and in the library after dinner (for those of us who are not immediately dashing off to add more wordcount.

The day goes like this.

  • 7.30 a.m. my alarm goes off
  • 8.00 a.m. breakfast (continental – help yourself)
  • 11.00 a.m. coffee and biscuits ( together in the dining room, though not everyone shows up if they are on a roll)
  • 1.00 p.m. lunch (soup and salads – vegetarian)
  • 4.00 p.m. cake o’clock (in the dining room again)
  • 6.00 p.m. some people start to gather in the library
  • 7.00 p.m. dinner (special diets catered for)
  • 8.00 p.m. onward – most people gather in the library for general socialising until driven back to their rooms by guilt at not writing, or extreme tiredness.

My task this week is to edit my work in progress, a YA romance with elements of urban fantasy and faerie. I had a great skype call with my agent (Donald Maass) before I left home and he left me with a lot to think about and act upon. It’s Wednesday morning. I’ve done the first pass, deleting some stuff I don’t need, and now I’m on the second pass, adding in some deeper thoughts about characters, and occasional new scenes.

This week is not about adding word-count for me, rather it’s about getting under the skin of my characters. A few years ago (pre-lockdown) Catie Murphy managed to write 33,000 words in a week. That set the standard. We decided to measure output in ‘murphys.’ This year Mike Lewis has reached 30,000 words and it’s only Wednesday morning. He’ll have written a murphy before the end of today. At this rate he’ll manage at least one and a half murphys by Friday.

Am I jealous? Possibly. I used to be able to do 10,000 words a day for three or four days in a row, but then I needed a little lie down in a darkened room. I’m not sure I could do it now, and certainly not at home, where there are many calls on my time. The phone rings, emails come in for the day job (I’m a music booking agent in my other life); my 97 year old mother wanders into my office for no particular reason and then forgets why she thought it was so important to see me; my husband comes though from the studio and says he’s expecting a delivery, so I tell him not to worry, I have no plans to be anywhere other than my office, therefore I’ll be close to the front door all day. (Of course the delivery always arrives when I’m in the bathroom because that’s life.)

I have an office at home, so theoretically I should be able to write, but I can’t always, and that’s why the Milford writers’ retreat is so precious to me. It resets my writerly brain.

Trigonos, just nine miles south of Caernarfon, is tucked away in a Welsh valley on the edge of Snowdonia in the tiny village of Nantlle. It’s not a hotel, rather it’s a community business that caters for groups like ours, or groups who do yoga, or painting courses. It has a strong health and wellbeing ethos. On Sunday I watched a day group doing yoga on the back lawn. And Trigonos has 18 acres of land and a lake frontage on to Llyn Nantlle, where hardy folks can swim (at their own risk).

The viw from my window. Mount Snowdon is the peak in the far distance.

We all have our own en-suite rooms either in the main house or in one of the cottages in the grounds. Rooms vary in size. I’m in Room 4 this time which is a generously proportioned, twin-bedded room. I can (just) see the a tiny bit of lake through the branches of the burgeoning trees, but I can see up the Nantlle Valley to Mount Snowdon. At least, I can see the mountain when it’s not obscured by mist. (Today is damp and the mountain is hidden behind low clouds.)

I’ve just taken half an hour of my writing time to tap this out on my laptop, so I’m going to finish now and get back to my editing. I will just say, before I go, that there are few places more conducive to writing than Trigonos. There’s our usual critique-week-Milford here in September (which is now fully booked for 2022), but there are still places available on our Milford writers’ retreat in mid-May 2023. If you are thinking of joining us, you’ll have space and time to write in the congenial company of fellow writers. There are only 12 places available in total, so don’t leave it too late to book.

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Milford at Fifty by David Gullen

Like many people I came to my first Milford with feelings of excitement and fear. I was not disappointed. My novel opening, which I had worked on so hard, was critiqued with attention to detail and the eye of experience. To my relief I had made no horrific mistakes. Nevertheless, as I expected in my secret heart but still hoped was not going to be the case, the overall judgement was that it was not as good as I thought it was. At the extremes, one person liked it just as it was, another disliked it intensely. I exited the critique session feeling somewhat crushed but not devastated. I felt energised too, because now I could see how my story could be improved. I had some work to do. I felt no need to jump into the lake.

Milford 2007: David’s first year. Left to right: Liz Williams, Heather Lindsley (back), Alys Sterling, Tina Anghelatos (very back), Jacey Bedford (front), Jim Anderson, Jaine Fenn (front), Dave Clements, Dave Gullen (back), Sandra Unerman (front), Vaughan Stanger (back), Terry Edge (front), Karen Williams, Kari Sperring

By the end of the week I had met people who would become my writerly friends. I would see them again at various conventions through the years, and some of them at future Milfords. They would tell me about their writing ups and downs, and other events in their lives, and I would tell them mine. Experiences shared.

I had also learned much about critiquing in both what to look for and how to deliver it. And equally importantly, how to listen.

I like to go to Milford every three or four years. Over time it has come feel like a place where some of my tribe now gathers. My writing still gets the same due consideration, and each time I come to Milford I still arrive with that mix of excitement and fear. These are all good things.

Over the years Milford became more international, and with the introduction of the bursary scheme, even more so. I think this is more than essential, and as an attendee, and as former Chair of the committee, I am more than grateful to the generosity of the people and organisations who have funded the bursary so that this can happen.

I doubt my SF novel, Shopocalypse  would ever have been published if I had not gone to that first Milford. I met someone who knew someone, they made a brief introduction at a convention and we had an initial exploratory  conversation leaning on the bar that led to good things.

Many years have passed since that first Milford. Have I become a better writer? I think yes, and my times spent at Milford have played their part. Although I still struggle to find homes for my novels, I’ve now placed over sixty short stories to various magazines, anthologies, podcasts, and spoken word events.  

Readers, writers, whoever we are, I think we all have a few places we think of as ‘home’. For me Milford is one of them. Milford weeks are times to immerse yourself thoroughly in the writerly life. It is a place to learn and to share, to read and to write, to think and talk and meet new people and old friends. It is a place to have ideas, and to have your mind changed. To laugh like drains in the evening. It is a place to eat cake. You should go.



David Gullen was born in Africa and baptised by King Neptune He has lived in England most of his life and been telling stories for as long as he can remember. He currently lives behind several tree ferns in South London with his wife, the fantasy writer Gaie Sebold. Find out more at

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Milford at Fifty: Milford is… by Sue Oke

That’s an interesting start to a statement and one that has multiple possible endings. I discovered those endings over the years that I attended Milford, at the wonderful venue at Trigonos in Wales, and I’m very grateful that I did.

Not as Scary as I Thought

The first time I attended it felt like quite a challenge. I’d met the criteria for applying: one actual story published (which felt like a milestone in itself). But some of the other attendees had multiple books deals, taught Creative Writing at prestigious universities or were just generally amazing writers. What was I doing there, really? Well, it turns out that writers are (at least the ones that make it to Milford) friendly, generous, supportive people. When it came to my turn to be critiqued, my chapters emerged slightly pummelled, but were so much better for it. I remember feeling a little overwhelmed, but also immensely grateful. Proof of the pudding: I signed up on the spot for the following year.

Hard Work

The first couple of times I attended, the wordcount limit for submissions was 15 thousand words (it has since been reduced to 12 thousand words). Now times that by 15 attendees. That is a fair bit of reading and critiquing (well, times by 14 really, as you only fret over your own submission). I got most of the work done in the August, to reduce the load once I arrived at Trigonos. I had other plans for my morning—yes, you guessed it: writing a chapter or two of my current book. Working through all the submissions was challenging and time consuming, but also interesting and useful. I learned so much by critiquing other writers’ work, and even more by delivering those critiques. More importantly, listening to the critiques given by other members of the group was illuminating. Perspectives! That whole process is an invaluable lesson and one that stays with you when you’re writing.

The lake at Nantlle

A Lot of Fun


As I said, the mornings are effectively free time (all the critiquing happens between 2pm – 6pm). You are in a beautiful part of Wales, with Mount Snowdon in sight (depending on the weather, of course)—there is always a handful of writers who want to explore the area (walking, running, even climbing). The local slate quarry (known amongst Milfordites as ‘Mordor’) is well worth a visit. Trigonos has a lake. Lake related activities include, but are not restricted to: sitting in the stillness on the slate bench overlooking the lake; listening to sheep mumbling away to themselves on the steep fields on the opposite side of the lake; exploring the narrow, sometimes overgrown path that follows the contours of the lake. A bit of alone time resets the spirit. Then its back to writing. Evenings are a time to gather together in the Library: comfy sofas if you’re quick, more functional chairs if you’re not, or sit on the floor by the fire. It’s all good. Time to relax and unwind in good company.

Milford is fuel for the creative spirit, inspiration for your current or next project, an opportunity to meet a bunch of great people. Why wouldn’t you go?

Sue Oke

Susan writes mostly science fiction. She has had quite a few short stories published over the years and is busy polishing drafts of her YA and adult novels. When she’s not writing, Susan enjoys teaching English and Creative Writing to GCSE and A-level students, amongst other things. Currently engaged in an epic story-telling project with her granddaughter: The Ongoing Adventures of Vincent, Lexi and Andrew.

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Milford at Fifty presents My Milford by Wenonah Lyon

Milford group 2008. Left to right: Jaine Fenn, Wenonah Lyon, Sue Thomason, Mike Lewis, Al Robertson, Jacey Bedford (in front), Mark Harding, Liz Williams, Anna Feruglio Dal Dan, Chris Butler, Nick Moulton

I will be eighty in July. In 1960, in my first year literature class in Atlanta, Georgia, I sat in a class of about thirty – almost all females. Dutifully, we took notes. The lecturer said, “Women cannot write fiction. There have been two good woman writers – Jane Austin and Virginia Woolf.”

My best friend, Ellen Abrams, raised her hand. “What about the Brontes? Mary Shelley? Margaret Atwood?”

The lecturer was offended.  “How dare you challenge me! Do you think you know more than I do?”

“Yep,” Ellen said and walked out.

 After class, I joined her. She’d already dropped the class. She advised me to do the same thing.

“You’re transferring to Duke. I can’t afford any place but here.”

“Take it next term, get a different teacher. You won’t learn anything from this jerk.”

He was an extreme example of a general disparagement of women and their ability. In addition, there was a class problem. I was the first person in my father’s family to finish high school – much less go to university.

I ended up going the University of Texas in Austin, majoring in anthropology.  Luck, a Pell Grant, a Fulbright Hayes and I ended up with a BA, MA, and PhD. I did fieldwork in Lahore, Pakistan. In addition to employment possibilities, it was fascinating to read fiction in a different language, and to read fiction written in English from a South Asian perspective.

I tried writing fiction during the summer, when I had no teaching obligations. I wrote and re-wrote the entire first page – the first paragraph, over and over.

Then I read something Hemingway (I think it was Hemingway) said;  “all first drafts are shit.’ Write it, then re-write it. I did. I was encouraged, and decided to write the same story using every person, every tense and see how it changed things.

Then Milford came up. I applied, paid, and went. I was terrified. It went OK. I was encouraged.

I took early retirement when I was sixty, and started writing fiction seriously, eight or ten hours a day. I wrote short stories and poetry, some were accepted and published, online and in print. In 2004, my short story took first place in an independently judged contest at the Yosemite Writers Conference. Other short fiction was re-printed in anthologies. Most recently, DREAM NEXUS, a YA novel, was published by Dreaming Big Publications.

Miker Lewis, Mark Harding, Anna feruglio dal Dan, Chris Butler and Wenonah Lyon in a crit session

My trip to Milford was important in all this because of the encouragement it offered. There were people there who could write, who had been published, and they didn’t laugh me out of the room. If the writing had been appallingly bad, they still wouldn’t have laughed me out of the room. Milford combines criticism with kindness. I remember Milford with gratitude. Criticism with kindness: and you can see what you do wrong and be equally kind to yourself.

Wenonah Lyon is a retired anthropologist.. In addition to academic publications, she has published short fiction in In Posse, Dead Mule, Quantum Muse, Maps, flashquake, Unlikely 2.0 and other online and print journals. (The essay in Unlikely 2.0 has been included in cityLit Berlin.) Dream Nexus, YA fiction, will be published by Dreaming Big Publications.

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Some Thoughts on Pronouns by Nancy Jane Moore

About a dozen years back, after I had moved to Texas to keep an eye on my aging father, I signed up for a writers workshop, not, I hasten to add, Milford. I had to write a couple of stories for it and travel to get there, so I expected it to give me the kind of energy boost I needed to work on my own stuff around parent care and my day job.

It turned out to be the wrong workshop for that. In the end, it may have done more harm than good. But that’s the chance you take with workshops.

I’ve let go of most of my bad feelings about it, but there was one thing that got said in the workshop that I completely rejected at the time and feel even more strongly about today. I hope that the person who said it has changed the way they think about it, but having heard several other writers in the same general age range make similar comments, it is possible they are still stuck in this rut.

The thing they said was, “The first question we ask about a baby is ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’”

This was in criticism of a story I wrote in which I named a character Jade and didn’t indicate gender on first reference. The instructor said firmly that the gender of the character should be established immediately.

Now it happens that in the story as then written, Jade was male and that became clear. That is, I wasn’t even writing a story in which a character was non-binary or their gender unknown. I just had two people meet and, given the differences in their backgrounds, their genders weren’t immediately obvious to each other.

I bristled at the idea that one must always label the gender of a character. Once I heard that, I decided that the instructor in question had nothing to teach me and gave up listening to them.

(BTW, I am using they/them/their pronouns because the gender of the instructor is not relevant and not important to my experience. I suspect the person in question might resent that, but that’s their problem.)

They/them pronouns have become common usage lately. Non-binary people use them and they are common in situations where the gender of a person is unknown. Using they is an easier shift in language than creating a new gender-neutral singular pronoun.

And of course, as has been pointed out many times, use of they in the singular isn’t even new. It dates back to the 14th century.

(I think the prohibition on singular they is one of those “rules” set out in The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I happen to detest Strunk and White.)

But there are some people who take pride in their inability to shift with the language, including some people who write fantasy and science fiction and should know better. We make up words and use other ones differently all the time in SF/F; why not change the way we use pronouns?

A few of these people are the same ones who still bleat that “he” can be gender-neutral and that “man” includes all humans.

I knew that was a lie when I first heard it as a teenager and my dislike of that approach was magnified in law school where we were told that “he” in reference to lawyers included us women (who made up 10 percent of the class back in those days) because it was gender-neutral. And then we’d read a passage that said “the lawyer he” and “the secretary she.”

Those in the past who used man in phrases like “the common man” or “man’s search for meaning” weren’t really using man as a gender-neutral term. They didn’t consider women to be part of the discourse.

Yes, you can go back and interpret what they said as referring to all humans, because in many cases it does, but don’t assume that those who wrote those things considered women to be real people.

Nothing I’m saying here is new. I’ve been thinking about pronouns for a long time. I used to always end up on the pronoun panels at cons because I found the subject fascinating.

But I was moved to write on the subject because I saw a lot of discourse about the negative attitude that Mercedes Lackey, who was named as a SFWA Damon Knight Grand Master for 2022, had expressed in the past toward the use of they in the singular. Her opinion drew criticism, with some concern about her attitude toward trans and non-binary persons.

According to this report on File 770, the SFWA Board asked her to clarify her position. She has since posted an apology on Facebook and Twitter (links in the File 770 article) that makes a point of her support of trans and non-binary folks and expresses her regret of not fighting about the pronoun issue with editors. That response appears to have satisfied everyone involved.

At about the same time that I heard about the Lackey dispute, I was reading A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers. One of the main characters in that book is non-binary. Their title as a monk is “Sibling” to go along with those who are called “Brother” or “Sister.” It seems a reasonable choice. And, of course, they use they/them/their.

The other main character is a robot. It uses it.

This is a new book, but it’s far from the first thing I’ve read that used such pronouns. And I have noticed any number of established publications using they/them pronouns for non-binary people. New Scientist magazine does, just as an example.

I’m glad Lackey apologized. It is one thing if you do not want to adjust your ideas of the rules of grammar in your own writing; it is quite another to keep asserting that your way is the only way when things have clearly changed elsewhere.

Also, really, stop pretending that “he” or “man” includes everybody. Even saying “he or she” or “ladies and gentlemen” doesn’t include everybody. It never did and these days it can be insulting.

It’s past time to up our gender game.

Adopting the use of they is far from the last change we’re going to make in the language and none of what’s being said right now is going to be the last word on gender. Pay attention.

And no, you don’t get an exemption on account of age. Getting old doesn’t mean getting stuck in your rut. If you’re still writing or working or dealing with people in the world, you’re not too old to pay attention to the important changes around you.

Trust me on this one.

A version of this post previously appeared on the Treehouse Writers blog.

Nancy Jane Moore is the author of For the Good of the Realm and The Weave, both published by Seattle’s Aqueduct Press. Her other books include the novella Changeling and the collection Conscientious Inconsistencies. Her short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and in magazines ranging from the National Law Journal to Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. A native Texan who spent many years in Washington, D.C., she now lives in Oakland, California, with her sweetheart, two cats, and an ever-growing murder of crows.

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Hulk is Tired by Philip A. Suggars

I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but I think I might be a bit bored with speculative fiction. Or perhaps, speculative fiction is a bit bored with me.

Could it be that we’ve just been seeing too much of each other during lockdowns one through three?

“It’s not you, it’s me,” spec-fic might say on our regular date night held in the corner of a friendly tavern (built beneath the shadow of towering rocket-ship).

Certainly, I seem to have read a lot of speculative fiction lately that simply moves the genre furniture around the house rather than adding a new wing (or preferably) trap-door to it.

It’s a thought that reminds me a little of what Robert Eaglestone thinks is genre’s birth defect. For him, literary fiction is really where it’s at.

“It says everything,” he says. (Which is the whole point apparently.)

From his perspective, genre fiction, too-often, is only ever talking to and about itself.

And while I think this observation does articulate some of my own weariness, how to square this with his rather contradictory special pleading for lit-fic itself, which he regards as a non-generic type of writing whose tendency to be in conversation with its own history is validation of its uniqueness rather than a flaw.

As an aside, I wonder if beneath some of the slightly sniffy attitudes expressed towards spec-fic in literary circles lies the fact that it often sells a lot better than literary fiction.

Having all that filthy lucre smeared over your tentacles means that genre cannot be art at all, rather it is something commercial, hybridised and degraded. That said, Dickens and Cervantes both turned out contemporary best-sellers and you can’t get much more canon than little Davey Copperfield or the Madman of La Mancha. (It’s possible then, that perhaps critics will even regard Stephen King a little more kindly in a hundred year’s time.)

So, I’m not entirely sure where this slightly circular and self-indulgent post has got me.

Perhaps, I should start seeing other genres?

I’ll be honest about it with speculative fiction. We’ll go to the usual place on date night, drink half a bottle of chianti and work out some ground rules. Without them, in this sort of situation, someone will always get hurt. (Most probably be me.)

Or perhaps, after all, it really is just as the picture below says: Hulk is tired and Hulk should have a nap.

Hulk is really tired

Philip A. Suggars is a British writer with a single yellow eye in the middle of his forehead and a collection of vintage binoculars. His work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Persistent Visions, Interzone, MIROnline and The Best of British Science Fiction anthology series as well as being performed by Starship Sofa, Far Fetched Fables and Liars’ League. He’s won the Ilkley Short Story award, been runner up for the James White Award and longlisted for the BSFA short story prize. He lives with three hairless primates and an imaginary cat called Schrödinger. Visit him at  or @felipeazucares on Twitter.

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War! What Is It Good For? Remix 2022 – by Juliet E McKenna

Like many other authors, I have been thinking what a hard time a writer would have with an editor, if they presented a fictional character to equal the very real Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, voice of Paddington Bear, comedian, dancer and more besides, as he leads his country’s incredible resistance. Online, some people have gone further, pencilling in Jeremy Renner for the bio-pic, portraying Zelenskyy as a new superhero Captain Ukraine, and playing out various plot lines for his ultimate victory.

I’ve also seen pushback from people appalled by this, particularly those who are close to or engulfed in the fighting and the humanitarian crisis that’s unfolding in Ukraine and neighbouring countries. This is not some Netflix mini-series or a new Marvel blockbuster. Those exploding buildings on your screen are not clever special effects. This is a war of merciless aggression with all its brutality, ugliness and death. If the Russian military under Putin’s orders can possibly manage it, they will murder Zelenskyy and his family. Thousands are already dead. Tens of thousands are injured. Hundreds of thousands have been trapped for weeks in cities being mercilessly starved and shelled. Ten million people have had to leave their homes, their lives, their friends and family members who are unable to flee.

As an epic fantasy writer, I hear echoes of Maximus Decimus Meridius bellowing ‘Are you not entertained?’ amid the slaughter of a Roman arena. I have to ask myself some very hard questions about the place of warfare in our genre, and this is not the first time I’ve thought about this. I considered rewriting the blog post that follows here, but I have decided to let my words stand as originally posted. I am also making donations to organisations bringing aid and relief to the Ukrainian people, and I urge you to check out the many, many fundraising initiatives.

War! What Is It Good For? January 2016

Absolutely nothing, according to those song lyrics. Yet so much of fantasy fiction is built around warfare. Arguably the defining text of our genre, The Lord of the Rings is, according to one of Bilbo Baggins’ proposed titles ‘What we did in the War of the Ring.’ Ask any fantasy fan to list seminal titles and I bet they’ll include David Gemmell’s ‘Legend’ and George RR Martin’s ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’, both epic tales inextricably bound to warfare. There are countless other examples.

Ask someone who doesn’t read fantasy fiction what the genre’s all about and the chances are they will cite battles and bloodshed, often with disapproval. When real blood is being spilled in Afghanistan and Iraq, before that in Kosovo and Bosnia, warfare in fantasy fiction trivialises such bravery and loss. Well, that response definitely proves you’re talking to someone who doesn’t read contemporary fantasy fiction.

Though if they did once read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ at school, you can remind them of Denethor’s grief at Boromir’s death, of Faramir’s desperate heroism, of Frodo and Sam’s journey through the Dead Marshes, the despoliation of Isengard and the scouring of the Shire. After serving on the Western Front in the Great War, Tolkien was very well aware of the costs of warfare, on personal and wider levels.

But such mistaken impressions of the genre don’t negate that crucial question. How does a fantasy writer use warfare as a backdrop or a central theme without trivialising the destruction of innocent lives, the tears in mothers’ eyes? There’s a reason why that song ‘War’ has been re-released and re-recorded ever since Edwin Starr took it to the top of the pop charts in 1970. Every decade’s news in print and on the screen has shown us conflict’s legacy of young men and women’s shattered dreams and broken bodies, among both service veterans and the non-combatants they are supposedly fighting to help.

On the other hand, we must acknowledge the ‘just’ war. The evils of Nazism could only be defeated through force of arms. It’s all very well to cite the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles and the failures of the Weimar Republic but the fact remains that once Hitler launched a war of aggression, armed conflict was not merely inevitable but essential. Even now, when dramatic interpretations have moved so far from the stiff upper lips of 40s and 50s war movies, black and white in every sense, to the complex nuances and merciless full-colour visuals of TV series like ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘The Pacific’.

Setting out to write a trilogy dealing explicitly with a civil war, I had a lot of thinking to do. In ‘Irons in the Fire’, I had to show why these characters concluded they could only fight fire with fire. How thoroughly their rulers were betraying the feudal compact by casually using battle as an extension of diplomacy for the sake of empty, selfish ambitions. In ‘Blood in the Water’, I needed to show the personal cost of set-piece battles, mental and physical, as well as the impact of such upheavals on the non-combatant populace. I wanted to show how wars are fought by far more people than sword-wielding heroes on horseback. How guilty complicity can reach far beyond those actually shedding blood. How such travail can reveal an individual’s essential character and their flaws, for good and ill.

In ‘Banners in the Wind’, I had to address the consequences of warfare. Even the most solidly justified war leaves a painful legacy lasting generations. The Second World War’s impact on Eastern Europe is still bound up with today’s politics while Rommel and Montgomery’s mines are still blowing up innocents in the North African desert. Even a short, apparently clear-cut war like the UK’s retaking of the Falkland Islands in 1982 won’t necessarily settle a question. Argentina still claims sovereignty of Las Malvinas.

So in ‘Banners in the Wind’, I’ve considered how much remains to be won or lost after the battles are over. How different priorities can shatter previous unity of purpose. How anarchy gives opportunity to humanity’s basest instincts. How a peace settlement will hold or fail depending on who is truly dedicated to it. How the personal toll can leave people once committed to a cause wondering if this price is truly worth paying. How individual responsibility means playing an active part in a society.

Most important of all, I wanted to do all this while telling an exciting, entertaining story. This seems central to this disapproval of fantasy warfare. War is not entertainment, the critics growl. Sorry, but conflict is the essence of drama. Just because that’s a cliché doesn’t make it any less true. Warfare has been a means for writers of fiction to explore the human condition ever since The Iliad. That’s important. While I’m happy to read heavyweight academic tomes on various wars as well as searing first-hand accounts of soldiering, not everyone is. Where is it written they must?

Non-fiction books are not always the best way to explore those broader questions about war, its necessity and its obscenity and to consider what these questions mean in time of peace. Specific incidents or individuals can hideously complicate matters, making it all too easy to lose sight of the wood for the trees. Reading about an imaginary world, about individuals facing perils so wholly different to our own, can actually facilitate a far better understanding of contemporary life and current events.

Tales of fictional wars can focus on the essentials, the bad and the good. While contemporary fantasy writers have a responsibility not to gloss over the ugliness of warfare, the conventions of our genre also allow us to celebrate heroism and valour. Let’s not forget the very best of humanity can be found amid such regrettable evils. We can reflect the medal ceremonies as well as the flag draped coffins without devaluing either. And as becomes apparent in ‘Banners in the Wind,’ true heroism might not be at all what you expect.

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels so far. Her debut, The Thief’s Gamble, began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. The Green Man’s Heir was her first modern fantasy rooted in British folklore in 2018, followed by The Green Man’s Foe, The Green Man’s Silence, and The Green Man’s Challenge. She writes and comments on book trade issues, has served as a judge for major genre awards, and reviews online and for magazines. She writes diverse short stories and novellas enjoying forays into alternate history, darker fantasy, steampunk and SF. As J M Alvey, she has also written murder mysteries set in ancient Greece. As well as the next Green Man book, she’s currently working on The Cleaving, a feminist retelling of Arthurian myth, to be published in May 2023. Visit or follow @JulietEMcKenna on Twitter to keep up to date.

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Wyldblood Press by Mark Bilsborough

So I’m eighteen months in to my foolish and time-sucking venture, Wyldblood Press, and I’m still sane (or at least as sane as I was before). During that time we’ve published 58 stories in seven issue of Wyldblood Magazine, 82 flash fiction stories on the website, another 25 stories in two anthologies and seven classic reprints.  That’s a lot of stories! We’ve published online, in paperback and (for our werewolf collection, the Call of the Wyld, even in hardback).

And it’s exhausting.

We had plans to publish original novels, and we still do. But no-one told me how long it would take to read all this stuff so, sadly, the novels are on a back burner. That said, we’re catching up, and I’ve now got a team of enthusiastic slush readers filtering out large chunks of the submissions pile. So, a couple of novels this year for sure, more magazines, more flash on the website and two more anthologies on the horizon. Our next venture will be an anthology entitled Other Earths and we’ll open for submission for that soon. Plus we’ll be doing a ‘first year’ anthology collecting the pick of the bunch so far.

We’re getting submissions from across the globe, in large numbers. The quality is high, too, and we’ve had to make some very tough selection choices. We’re published science fiction, fantasy and anything in between, though we’re not fans of anything too bloodthirsty. Our stories tend towards the wistful and the thought provoking, but we like a good narrative, strong characters and an engaging storytelling style.

Our most recent publication is a steampunk anthology, Runs Like Clockwork. Why steampunk? It’s edgy enough to be intriguing, it’s different (at least from most of the stuff I read) and it’s got a tone to it that I find fascinating: all sepia tinged with a whiff of engine oil and a devilish glint in its mechanical eye. It’s got blurred edges and I love the fact that its writers play around with its definitions and conventions.  I came into the genre via Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker (set in the Old West – hardly peasouper London) and Jeanette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun (alt-history with fey and magic, but it has that feel) and impressive TV like the adaptation of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone (set in an imagined Tzarist Russia) and Carnival Row, which at least has the authenticity to be set in Victorian London,, and I love all that nostalgia for a time that never was. Writers responded enthusiastically to the challenge and we’ve found stories with airships, sea monsters, clockwork men and all the usual Victorian inspired mad scientist weirdness. We’ve also published the ultimate in proper Victorian steampunk, H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. If only he knew.

There’s a strong Milford connection in everything we do.  Clearly my writing and tastes have been influenced by all the contacts I’ve had with this fantastic writing community over the years, whether at Milford itself, conventions, workshops or the excellent writing groups I’m only part of because I met you all at Milford. Plus we’ve run interviews with Tiffani Angus and Jacey Bedford and a couple of Milward stalwarts, Vaughan Stanger and Mike Lewis, help wade through the short story slush (they’re very good at unearthing gems). You’ll recognise some Milford names amongst our storytellers too, and hopefully there’ll be lots more to come. If you want to submit, or help out in any way please get in touch at (or just talk about us and review us wherever you can – we love reviews) – we close for submissions from time to time but if you put ‘Milford’ in the subject line I’ll ignore that – and we always need flash fiction, because we get through an awful lot of it and for some reason most people prefer to send us longer pieces.

We charge for the magazine but we’ve put together a free PDF sampler and you can access all our flash fiction here. Everything’s available through Amazon or via our website.

Mark Bilsborough mainly writes science fiction and links to his publications can be found here. He learned what to do at Odyssey and what not to do at Milford. He lives just outside London surrounded by National Trust land, which keeps his dog very happy. One day he decided to run a magazine, and now he no longer has any time to write.

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