In a recent post on his blog, Alistair Reynolds quoted yours truly as being the only female British SF writer with an ongoing book contract. I suspect his criteria were very strict – there are many excellent female writers in the wider genre active in this country, just not native Brits writing SF (as opposed to, say fantasy) who are currently in contract – and I’m also glad to say that this situation has now improved, with Harper Collins taking on debut author Janet Edwards. But even so, that there should be a period when just one woman fulfils all his criteria while (I’d estimate) a couple of dozen men tick the same boxes simply isn’t good enough.
There has been a fair amount of coverage of this state of affairs recently. One recent article on the Guardian blog drew a wide variety of responses, some more helpful than others. At least a couple of those who commented said that the reason women SF writers take a back seat is that most of us aren’t much cop. I didn’t take offence at this, not just because I’m a wet liberal softie, but because those respondents might actually have a point. I work hard to make my stories the best they can be. I believe I’m improving all the time, but I’m also aware that I’ve got a long way to go and that as things stand many of my influences are still showing. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I don’t think I’m anywhere near my potential – yet. And here we have the first problem: if you want good SF, you need to give the people writing it – regardless of gender – the chance to develop and flourish.
The second problem is more controversial. Al Reynolds’ blog post is largely about a writer called Linda Nagata who, if her work is half as good as he says (and I respect his opinion) I really need to read. But though I’ve heard her name, I knew nothing about her before reading the blog post. And I get the impression she is one of a number of female SF writers who produce original, powerful books which never reach the audience they deserve. Now, why is that? Could it be a lack of promotion?
For the record, I’m very happy with the job my publishers do on my behalf. But that doesn’t stop me wondering: do female SF writers get the same level of commitment, the same depth of attention, the same budgets, as their male counterparts? I strongly suspect there is a perception in certain marketing departments that women in SF are also-rans, not worth giving 100% for.
So, at the risk of speaking for other female writers in my genre, this is what we want: the opportunity to develop and bit of belief. I hope, given we’re living in the 21st century, that’s not too much to ask.