Ideas and where to find them – by Jaine Fenn

Earlier this week I was asked a question which may evoke a wry smile amongst fellow writers: ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ I will be honest: my usual response to this old chestnut of a question tends towards glibness.

Sometimes I quote a response attributed to Asimov: ‘I just leave out milk and cookies overnight, and in the morning the milk and cookies are gone and there’s an idea there.’ Or, to put it another way, buggered if I know.

Sometimes I quote the late great Sir Terry Pratchett: ‘I don’t know where ideas come from but I know there they go: they go to my desk, and if I’m not there, they go away again.’ Or, to put it another way: what appears to have happened by magic to you, dear reader, is actually the product of a lot of hard work.

But this question was asked with the earnestness of someone beginning their ‘writer’s journey’ (naff phrase, but accurate). It was one of my students, arriving a few minutes early for class and brimming with enthusiasm. Unfortunately the Creative Writing sessions I teach are somewhat time-limited and focused as they’re run over the lunch hour at Creative Assembly, and as this current batch of students haven’t been the most talkative, I was a little thrown by the question. My answer was ‘Everywhere!’ which he didn’t find that helpful, understandably enough, so I expended it to say that the real trick isn’t coming up with ideas, it’s knowing which ones might form the basis for a story. But he wanted to go back to the seed, the germ. He wanted to know what Step Zero is in the magical process of making stories.

It is something the course covers later, though thanks to the aforementioned time constraints, we only touch on it. The proper, thought out answer – for me anyway – is another question. I use questions a lot in developing stories: who, what, where, when and most importantly WHY? But before we get to any of that, we need a starting point, and that is a two-word question, so obvious – to writers – that we often forget how miraculous it can be to people who don’t live for and through their stories.

The question to ask, the starting point for every story is simply : What If?’

  • Principles-of-Angels-300x360What if I woke up one morning unable to understand human speech?
  • What if a great and evil galactic empire existed in a galaxy far, far away … but so did a plucky rebellion?
  • What if benevolent aliens have always lived among us, but we only find out when the evil aliens who are their nemesis turn up here?
  • What if an assassin is put in a position where she has to kill the person she cares about most in the world?

Of the above questions two are ideas that came to me this week – no idea if they’re viable yet, that comes later – one is an idea that came to me nearly three decades ago and became my first novel and the other … well, you know what the other one is.

But regardless of where they ended up – or in the case of the two new What Ifs, where they might end up – every story starts like this. As writers, asking this question is second nature to us. But we forget that not everyone thinks this way. We’d be wise to remember how the genuine interest non-writers have in what we do. And we shouldn’t be afraid to tell them that every story starts with a simple, two-word question.


Jaine Novacon 2012 - credit to Al JohnstonJaine Fenn is the author of the Hidden Empire series, published by Gollancz, as well as numerous short stories, one of which won the 2016 BSFA Short Fiction award. To fund her fiction she writes content for video-games and teaches creative writing to games developers. Her most recent novella is The Martian Job, which is just what it sounds like: The Italian Job, on Mars.

Posted in fantasy, Milford, reading, science fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Albedo One by Bob Neilson

AlbedoOne45-Cover-300x480I have said before that there are no friendly divorces, but I am currently observing one with no rancour (and very little expense). Unfortunately this is not mine. Mine is painful, expensive and hate-filled. It may sound like an exaggeration, and six years ago I would not have believed it possible, but it is the one sad fact of my life today. For the past five years the reality of divorce (or separation which comes first) has occupied a large part of my brain (there wasn’t all that much space in there to begin with) to the extent that I have written only two short stories in the past three years. If this is some weird sort of writers’ block I’ll accept that, but it also extends through my entire life stopping me from doing all sorts of stuff.

About the only productive/writing/SF thing that I’ve been able to keep together is Albedo One, which some of you may know. This has only been possible with the help of some generous souls in the broader SF community – some of whom are past attendees of Milford and who are still contributing their services. I have to say a heartfelt thank-you to them and the others around the world who have helped by generously donating their time and skills. I will be forever grateful.

On a more cheerful note, the magazine is approaching its fiftieth issue and we find ourselves with a few quid in the kitty, enough to make some sort of splash with a landmark issue. So I thought I would give a heads-up to Milford alumni: we’re looking for short stories and we’re prepared to pay you professional rates. Big deal, I hear you say. Well, it is a big deal for us. We will have struggled through 25 years at an average two issues per year (as of 2018) and we would love to mark the half-century of issues and the quarter-century of years with an outstanding collection of fiction.

Obviously we would love to see submissions for our anniversary issue from anyone who attended Milford. We would be grateful if those reading the blog could pass on the news to past attendees and suggest that they submit. I would really love to feature a story that was workshopped at Milford. If any one of you has a friend who attended Milford that you feel might be worthy of being interviewed for issue fifty, we’d be pleased to hear your proposal. We have featured interviews previously with Anne McCaffrey, Colin Harvey, Charles Stross, Robert Holdstock and Alastair Reynolds to name but a few. So, if your mate matches up to that lot give us a shout (even if they never attended), as we’d accept an interview conducted by a Milfordite.

Can you see a theme here? We really want to hear from you. We’ve also featured fiction from the likes of Anne McCaffrey, Liz Williams, Colin Harvey, Guy Martland and Dave Gullen. Funnily enough, only three of the names checked above were at Milford with me, and one of those had been published in Albedo One long before that. I would be honoured to add to that list. We will be annoying everyone whose email is in our possession and encouraging them to make this the best issue of the magazine ever. The way to do that is to send us your best work. There are at least six slots available at present. Submit early and submit often. Send submissions to and mark them Fiction Submission Milford in the subject line or Milford Enquiry for interview ideas or anything else you think we might be interested in.


Bob NeilsonBob Neilson has lived in his native Dublin, with a couple of short exceptions, for his entire life. His short fiction has appeared extensively in professional and small press markets and has had three radio plays performed in Ireland. He also presented a SF radio show for a year. He has had two short story collections published, Without Honour (1997, Aeon Press) and That’s Entertainment (2007, Elastic Press) as well as comics and a graphic novel. His non-fiction book on the properties of crystals is a best-seller in the UK and Ireland. He is the editor of Albedo One magazine. Visit his site at for more information.

Posted in fantasy, Milford, reading, science fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Let no one else’s work evade your eyes by Ben Jeapes

There are writers, would-be writers and wannabe writers. (There are also don’t-wannabe writers, which is fine and a perfectly valid lifestyle choice and they play no further part in this post.)

Even though neither party has actually been published yet, the would-bes and wannabes are quite easy to distinguish. The would-bes put in the hours, learn, self-criticise and improve. Oh, and they write. Success can never be guaranteed but they’re in with as good a chance as any. The wannabes, on the other hand, just wannabe.

The strange thing is that the wannabes are much more precious about what little writing they get done than the would-bes. Another mark of the would-bes is professionalism, making the effort to learn the biz. The wannabes just wanna see their name in print, even if they have to pay for it themselves.

Lack of professionalism is just one of the many flaws revealed in this sad tale of sort-of-accidental plagiarism. In summary: archetypal fantasy writer wannabe, hereafter AFWW, actually hires a ghost writer to write her novel for her. To be fair, she seems to have a serious physical disability that makes it very hard to write coherently. She probably hired the ghost writer to tidy her drafts up. But also to be fair, cruelly and clinically, she doesn’t seem to have bothered reading what the ghost writer wrote for her. She doesn’t have to realise that he has simply copied out the first chapter of David Gemmell‘s Dark Prince, changing only the names. She should at least have just realised it wasn’t her writing.

Compare and contrast the two here.

11-00 thin iceIt gets worse. AFWW then gets the book, which she has clearly not bothered reading, self-published and then has the gall to announce proudly on her web site that “I feel each person has something unique to share with the world and writing is my gift to share”. She also goes on record that every word of her novel is entirely her own.

What is baffling to clearer minds is that she’s probably 100% genuine about this. She totally believes it. Writing is her gift to share, even if she has to hire someone else to do it. There’s no meaningful difference between this and any celebrity “novel” or “autobiography” you care to name, except that in the latter case we know the game. Does anyone really think Jade Goody wrote her autobiography? But this lady, by trying to break into a world that actually takes writing seriously and hold herself up as an equal there, just opens herself up to public crucifixion, which service the public is happy to provide.

Have I ever plagiarised? You could probably say I have. Technically. If for whatever reason I find myself writing something that reminds me of what someone else has done then I assume that other people will also spot the similarity, and try to make it clear that I see it too. Thus as just one example I can without trying too hard think of references to 2001 in His Majesty’s Starship (when someone is trying to coax a recalcitrant artificial intelligence) and The New World Order (the last few lines of part 1 are a pretty direct quote). The second vampire plagues novel is set in Paris, 1850, and is replete with references to The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Les Miserables (book, not musical, please) simply because I didn’t see how you could write a novel set in Paris in this period and not mention them.

Thieves steal, artists borrow, which a fancy bit of sophistry meaning that the above examples were to add layers of secondary detail to a primary narrative that was already good enough to stand on its own, and anyone else in the biz will know exactly what I did and why. And I doubt they made a penny’s difference to the money I received for this writing.

Professionalism, dear, professionalism.

bjeapes01Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 7 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His first Milford was at Margate in 1991, which shows (a) how far Milford has come in the past 26 years and (b) qualifies him as a Great Old One, in Milford terms at least.

Posted in fantasy, Milford, reading, science fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Imposter Syndrome – Embrace the Experience by David Gullen

Writers all over the world talk about Imposter Syndrome*, that feeling your success is undeserved and that one day the world will collectively blink, take a good long look at you and realise you are some kind of fraud.

pexels-photo-278312It’s something that affects people in many walks of life, creative or not. You would think it should be a simple thing to look at your own achievements and accept the success that years of experience, hard work, and learning, have brought. For many people it’s not always so. I’ll admit to being one of them. I don’t think my writing is good enough, I try with every piece I write to be a better writer. It’s the same with my leather-craft and, even though I can see the results and know I’m getting better, on some days I still feel like I’m an amateur.

I love our garden and creating the right conditions for helping things grow – to eat or for the pure pleasure of seeing them there. Gardening is also great for letting the mind wander where it will.  This morning I was sweeping up leaves, cutting dead fronds off the Dicksonias, and getting the grass out around the bulbs that are just starting to show. As I was working it occurred to me that maybe this Imposter Experience* is not such a bad thing.

One thing I find useful during my ruminations is to turn things around: What if up was down, black was white, happy was sad? How does that make me feel about things? What, I wondered, if there was no such thing as Imposter Experience?

If I was content with everything I’d achieved wouldn’t I run the risk of becoming complacent, sit on my laurels, and stop trying to get better? Nobody knows everything. The experience of writing each story is different, long form or short. I’d be a real fool if I thought there was nothing left for me to learn, and that would be far worse.

I think this feeling of being some kind of imposter, while not being a very nice experience, is actually one of the things we should take strength from. That doubt shows that, while we might not be as good as we want to be, we acknowledge that fact and are trying to be better. And so we will be.


* We shouldn’t think of it as an illness or a syndrome. Pauline Clance, one of the clinical Psychologists who first wrote about it now thinks it should be called Imposter Experience.

gullen-dkg1-2012David Gullen was born in South Africa and baptised by King Neptune at the equator. His short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including New Scientist’s ARC, Albedo 1, and the Sensorama anthology from Eibonvale. He is a winner of the Aeon Award and been shortlisted for the James White Award. His novel, Shopocalypse, was published by Clarion (2013) and will be re-issued by NewCon Press. He is also one of the judges for the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award. David lives in Surrey, England, with the fantasy writer Gaie Sebold and too many tree ferns.

Posted in fantasy, Milford, reading, science fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Four things I learned from going to Milford by Al Robertson

Over the years, I’ve had a wonderful run of Milfords; I was lucky enough to read and critique some excellent stories, and to have my own stories deftly critiqued by a wide range of knowledgeable, thoughtful readers. I learned some very important things while doing that. Oh, and I’ve (mostly) illustrated this post with pictures taken in the countryside around the Trigonos Centre, where Milford talks place.

Pic 1

Company matters more than you’d think

I once took a week to go and write in Devon, in a house where I’d be completely alone in a quiet little village where I didn’t need to see anyone. I thought it would be an insanely productive week; instead, I just nearly went insane. Of course, everyone works differently – but I found out that, for me, if I’m going to be writing I also need to be not-writing. I need to be feeding the part of my mind that makes stories with all the stuff that goes into stories. If I don’t, everything grinds to a halt.

Milford is where I realised that. On the one hand, it can be a very solitary place. There’s beautiful empty countryside to go walking in, a quiet little village to wander through, an abandoned slate mind that’s like every Dr Who location ever rolled into one uncanny whole. You can be as alone as you want to be.

But on the other hand, there’s company. Wonderful, crazy, stimulating company, as people writing every sort of imaginative fiction you can possibly imagine collide and spark off each other. I’ve done some very useful imaginative work up at Trigonos, over the years – but only because of all the fantastic conversations that triggered it.

Crashing HeavenMultiple viewpoints rock

Over the years, I’ve had Milford stories critiqued by *deep breath* hard SF writers, space opera writers, planetary romancers, cyberpunks, occultists, urban fantasists, mythic fantasists, epic fantasists, cosmic horror writers, alternate historians, classic English ghost writers, magic realists, zen fabulists, Gothic romancers and so on. I’ve learned different things from every single one of them.

Every different writer in every different genre brings a slightly different understanding of what story is and Waking Hellhow it works to their critiquing. And so, you get a slightly different view of what you’ve written, what makes it work and where it falls down. Sometimes the differences are minor, sometimes they’re pretty major, but they all bring useful perceptions to bear.

That’s worked really well for both books, too. I took the opening chapters of ‘Crashing Heaven’ to Milford in 2010, and of ‘Waking Hell’ in 2014. The 2010 critique of CH gave me invaluable guidance as I polished it up ready to submit to agents – in fact, I was signed by Susan Armstrong of C+W shortly afterwards. And the 2014 one of WH helped sharpen its opening ready for publication the next year.

15289558010_4deb0dd72d_zThe chocolate of doom is actually your friend

There’s a very particular Milford tradition that it’s easy to dread. If someone really doesn’t get on with your story, then they’ll slide some chocolate across the table towards you, while uttering the dread incantation: ‘I AM NOT THE TARGET AUDIENCE FOR THIS STORY.’ Then they’ll talk in some depth about why it really doesn’t work for them, and because they’re smart, critically engaged people, widely read in genre and well-practised in critiquing, they’ll usually do a pretty good job of it. This should be pretty depressing. Actually, I’ve always found it rather liberating.

It helped me understand that, on one level, there’s no such thing as a final reading of any story; and there’s certainly not any such thing as a fully successful story. Brilliant people, who I like, respect and admire hugely, have been left entirely cold by stuff I’ve written. And that’s great, that’s how it should be; it’s a very useful reminder that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and you’d be a little unhinged even to try. Rather, you should tell the stories that excite you, then let them find their own place in the world.


Learning how to read is learning how to write

I’ve learned a lot from having my stories critiqued. But I’ve learned more from learning how to critique other people’s. Reading something entirely fresh, working out what you like about it and what you think isn’t quite working, then finding a way of expressing that in helpful, objective terms, is a profoundly useful exercise. It trains your inner critic, which trains your inner editor. And the more you train your inner editor, the more effectively it can go to work on your own writing.

So, in effect, whenever I’ve been close reading a story for Milford, and trying to come up with helpful ways of making it better, I’ve actually been doing something selfish too. I’ve been finding new ways to critique my own work, so I can make it that much better when I get stuck back into editing it.

So those are the things that I don’t think I’d have realised without Milford. It’s had a huge impact on my writing life. If you’ve already been there, I’m sure you’ve got your own thoughts to add to the list (why not drop them into the comments below?) – and if you haven’t, then hopefully that’s given you a sense of why it can be such a great way to spend a week.

web-square-20170315160947-EditAl Robertson is the author of Crashing Heaven and Waking Hell, as well as award-nominated SF, fantasy and horror short stories. He’s also a poet and occasional musician. When he’s not working on his own projects, he helps companies communicate more clearly. He was born in London, brought up in France and is now based in Brighton.

You can find out more at his website He’s also on Twitter as @al_robertson and on Facebook at

Posted in fantasy, Milford, reading, science fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Robert Louis Stevenson by Ben Jeapes

Robert_Louis_Stevenson_Knox_SeriesI read a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson by Claire Harman. Hmm. Interesting man, interesting life.

It’s also interesting to compare the life of a writer then and now – the similarities and the differences. The similarities: you can work for 10 or 20 years to be an overnight success. Stevenson was made famous by Treasure Island, and then went stellar with Jekyll & Hyde, but he had been writing for over 10 years when Treasure Island was written for serialisation in a magazine, earning a decent wage for a while but not creating much of a splash. It then sat in a drawer for two years until a friend had the idea of pushing it as a book to a publisher. Yup, I can sympathise with that.

The differences: the fact that Jekyll & Hyde could sell 40,000 copies in the UK, which Stevenson knew about, and 250,000 in the US (some legal, some pirated) which he didn’t. Copyright and IP wasn’t quite as vigorous then as now. And the whole publishing world was so much smaller. You get the feeling that it was like science fiction used to be in, say, the 50s – small enough that, in principle, you could read everything that was written.

Treasure IslandAnother difference, though: any successful author that I know today is organised, plans their plots, pays their tax and national insurance on time, and above all is disciplined in the writing. Stevenson was certainly a disciplined writer, but as for everything else he was vague, woolly minded, useless with money, constantly overflowing with noble dreams and projects which withered on the vine before he had got the first paragraph down. But for a few lucky breaks and an undeniable talent once he actually got writing, he would have been forgotten as yet another wealthy dilettante. This is probably why I would want to slap him if I had ever met him – except that I wouldn’t, because I’m nice and because one good blow would probably have killed him.

I frankly find it amazing that heroes such as Jim Hawkins and David Balfour – steadfast, brave, reliable, exemplary role models of integrity – could be created by someone like Robert Louis Stevenson, who wasn’t any of the above. It shows he was at least aware of the desirability of these virtues. Stevenson was the only son of a successful Scottish engineer, who was the wealthy head of a family firm that specialised in building lighthouses. His general uselessness at related subjects like maths made it clear to everyone, even eventually his reluctant father, that he wouldn’t be following the family trade, so instead he trained as a lawyer, in which after qualifying as an advocate he handled precisely one case, which didn’t even require him to speak and yet he still managed to bungle. The only interest he ever had was in being as writer and that was what he stuck at, living off his parents until eventually he got lucky.

Note that I do not criticise him for being useless at maths and physics, or not being a good lawyer, or even not following in his father’s trade. I do however get immensely fed up with the sense of entitlement shared by Stevenson and far too many wannabe writers that because they are clearly meant to be a writer, the world owes them a favour until such time as the fame kicks in. Like ‘eck it does. Get a job, you sponger. There is a poetic justice in that just as he got rich, he started having to support his own generation of parasites – mad wife, lazy stepson, not much less lazy stepdaughter and alcoholic stepson-in-law. Still, at his death he was probably the best known and best selling writer in the world, and to many was considered the best writer, period. That’s quite a hat trick.

To be fair, one thing against his ever settling down and earning a living – had he been so inclined – was that he had to travel constantly to stay alive. He was never well; in fact it’s astonishing that he made it through childhood, where received wisdom was to make a child’s room as hermetically airless as possible, and his mad Scottish nurse filled his head with Wee Free guilt and terrors, and then when this already highly strung child couldn’t sleep would dose him with strong coffee.

By the time he reached adulthood the cold and damp of Edinburgh was killing him. A pattern for over thirty years was that he would leave for a dryer climate, get better, return to Edinburgh and have a relapse. He was only ever really healthy when he settled in the South Pacific in the last ten years of his life, and that is when his life really gets interesting. I find it fascinating that he lived at a time when the world was mostly at peace and a well-off Victorian gentleman could go pretty well anywhere he liked. It is also amazing that in the 1880s and 90s there was already enough of a global communications network that a man could settle in Samoa and conduct a successful literary life, living off the earnings he was making in Europe and America. However, it was a one-way process as he lagged a long way behind what other writers were doing. It meant he was writing into a vacuum and it probably wouldn’t have worked at all if he didn’t have a loyal contingent of friends back home seeing that his stuff got into print. He could fire off manuscripts of all shapes and sizes and subjects with a reasonable expectation that they would still get into print regardless. (Another difference with today’s writers …) Inevitably he became more and more isolated from the contemporary writing scene and it is interesting to speculate whether he could have stayed quite so successful without suddenly dying at the age of 44 and making the matter academic. By the time he was my age, he had been dead for two years.

Weir of HermistonI must read Weir of Hermiston, which apparently ends mid-sentence because that’s where he put his pen down to take a break on the day he died.

The character I find most admirable in his story is his mother, Margaret. After her husband died when she was in her late fifties, this respectable Edinburgh widow decided to take an extended holiday with her son and his family across the US and then on a yachting cruise around the Pacific. In fact, she liked it so much that she then decided to move fulltime to Samoa. With her piano. Still a respectable widow throughout, photographs show her dressed and looking a bit like Queen Victoria, complete with starched widow’s cap. Go girl!


bjeapes01Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 7 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His first Milford was at Margate in 1991, which shows (a) how far Milford has come in the past 26 years and (b) qualifies him as a Great Old One, in Milford terms at least.

Posted in fantasy, reading, science fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reading “Winter’s King” by Nancy Jane Moore

An earlier version of this post appeared on the Book View Cafe blog

Winters KingThe Library of America, a nonprofit that champions what it considers to be great U.S. literature, has published a two-volume edition of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish Novels & Stories.  The edition, which includes everything she has written tied to the Hainish universe, is available on Amazon UK.

I have read most of these works, but some I got from the library and others are tattered mass-market paperbacks (I’m a reader, not a collector). I knew I wanted to have all of them at hand for reference and re-reading, so I got a copy when I first heard about it.

Being one who likes to start from the beginning, I read Ursula’s introduction to Volume I, and immediately came to her discussion of The Left Hand of Darkness and the short story, “Winter’s King,” which is set in the same world.

She writes that some feminists criticized the novel because she used male pronouns for her characters, who are, of course, not male or female. So, when she published the short story in The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, she decided to make a small change:

“It occurred to me that I might make some amends for all the hes in Left Hand by using shes in a revised version of “Winter’s King.”

She goes on to observe:
“Yet if anybody noticed, nothing was said. Nobody got angry and nobody sighed, “Ah, now that’s better.” The experiment seemed to have no result at all. I still find it odd.”

I noticed.

My noticing didn’t make any difference in the SF lit crit world, because I read both The Left Hand of Darkness and “Winter’s King” in the late 70s and early 80s – some years after they both came out. And I wasn’t doing any critical writing about what I read at the time – I was just reading.

While I liked The Left Hand of Darkness very much, it did not affect me in a feminist way. I noted that the characters were neither (or both) male or female, which I found interesting, but I was mostly captivated by the story and the clash of cultures. It did not affect me nearly as much as The Dispossessed, which nailed my experiences in co-ops and leftist politics, and made me think hard about the way things could be.

But the use of male honorifics (“king” “Mr.”) and female pronouns in “Winter’s King” stunned me. It was in reading that story that I truly realized the Gethenians were not men who happened to be able to reproduce, but something very different. The default view of them could as easily be female as male, and a more sophisticated reading made it clear that neither binary was an appropriate short-cut.

That’s a lot of power from changing a few pronouns.

Ursula goes on to say:
I wish I could write a third version that truly represents the character’s lack of gender.

I’d like to see that, too, but I agree with her that the English language is still deficient in ungendered pronouns. Singular “they” works in some contexts, but it can cause confusion and may require info dumps in some stories. I find “they” works well in essays in place of the more cumbersome “he or she,” especially since it leaves open the possibility of “neither he nor she.” It’s also the pronoun of choice for some folks, and I find that effective.

But what I’d really like to see are gender-neutral pronouns and honorifics that can be used for anyone, regardless of their gender, and regardless of whether we’re dealing with specific people or talking generally. That way we wouldn’t need to pay attention to gender when it isn’t relevant, which is most of the time.

I have done my own experiments with such things. I wrote “Walking Contradiction,” my story about ambigender people, in first person and avoided pronouns in speaking of any ambigendered characters. The story runs some 13,000 words, and it took time and the modern advantage of search and replace to do it. (It’s in my collection of the same name.)

In The Weave,  I used “it” for my aliens when I was in their point of view. I wasn’t completely happy with that choice, but it seemed like the best fit. My humans were making guesses about alien gender for a good section of the book, so I had them use “he” and “she” until they discovered they had made a bad call. Perhaps if my humans had started out with a good gender-neutral term they wouldn’t have made that mistake.

I’m still hoping we’ll eventually get good all purpose gender-neutral pronouns and honorifics. Widespread acceptance of singular “they” is a start, and “Mx” may work on formal letters, but we can do better.

Given my reaction to “Winter’s King,” I’m sure changing gender terms is going to change how people think and respond to each other. A good thing.

By the way, The Hainish Novels and Stories is the second Le Guin project from the Library of America. They have also done The Complete Orsinia. Noted science fiction scholar Brian Attebery is the editor for the LOA Le Guin series.


nan300Nancy Jane Moore is the author of the science fiction novel The Weave, published by Aqueduct Press. Her other books include Conscientious Inconsistencies from PS Publishing, Changeling from Aqueduct, and Walking Contradiction and Other Futures from Book View Café. She is a founding member of Book View Café. In 2002 she made it to Milford and she’s been trying to get back ever since. A native Texan who spent many years in Washington, D.C., she now lives in Oakland, California.

Posted in writing | Leave a comment