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.
One of the really useful thing about social networks is they can be used to put people together from across the planet who are in very specific minority groups; such as women writing SF. In the old days one would use usenet but I suppose these days you’d have to use F***book.
There is definitely a fresh perspective in your books. I’d love to see more women writing SF, I’m waiting for SF novels from Dr Sue Black and Dr Lucy Rogers, they should get you to run a writing seminar at some of these blogging or astronomy conferences.