A Broad with a Sword Strikes Back

Yes folks that’s me; a woman who owns swords. Heck, I even use them from time to time*.

“Write about what you know” they say, so upon occasion I write about women who use swords, like in my debut novel The Red Knight.

But that isn’t all. Oh my no. I also write about women who don’t use swords, likewise men, and the odd half human half-lizard type individuals.  In fact I write about all manner of beasties who do and don’t get their shiv on from time to time.

I’m all about equality me. So when ‘broads with swords’ is even mooted as a ‘thing’, I get a little…Ohmyfuckingodswhat?! about it.

I mean seriously? How othering is that for Grud’s sake? Would Guys with Swords be an issue for debate? Noperoonie. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that question posed any where or when. So why, in the 21st century, is Broads with Swords even a topic, other than to make it seem weird and wrong and other?

It forces the point that there are men things and there are women things, and broads with swords is just plain wrong, EVEN IN GENRE LITERATURE. Dragons? Fine. Magic? Go for your life. Rape and pillage? Oh, yeah we love the grimdark. Women with swords? OH MY GOD! HOW MAD IS THAT!?

That this was even up for debate I find disappointing. That women writers engaged with it, likewise.  NB: I strongly believe that everyone has a right to their opinion.

That one panellist said that female characters who use swords was a cliché was…odd.

I’m (clearly;) not the grand high Wizard of Words, so I thought I’d check that cliché meant what I thought it meant, which it did:



1. a trite, stereotyped expression, sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wiser,  or strong as an ox.

2. (in art, literature, drama, etc.) a trite or hackneyed plot, character development, use of colour, musical expression, etc.

3. anything that has become trite or commonplace through overuse.

Now, I certainly haven’t read ALL THE BOOKS, but I’m pretty sure a handful of sword wielding female characters do not a cliché make.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that people saying women with swords is a cliché is in fact the cliche because I’ve heard it a fair bit of late.  And surely, since we’re slinging cliché grenades around, aren’t there more male characters wielding swords than female? Which brings us back to the 1950’s ideology that there are men things and there are women things. That people advocate this viewpoint (or seem to) is pretty sad given that it’s 2013 not 1320.

And in the real world, I don’t think of myself as a cliché, or those women I know who engage in pointy shenanigins. But this isn’t the real issue that I have with this…thing.

It is primarily that it is regarded as a thing at all, and thereby worthy of serious debate that I have trouble with.

I, as well as everyone with eyes and ears and a brain in between, know that women in the real world do pretty much the same stuff as men. Y’all know that, right? In fantasy and SF we accept a whole boatload of weird and wonderful shit that simply doesn’t happen in the real world. So why single-out women who get stabby as something other and unnatural?

If you want your women characters to save the world with the power of tea, great, go for your life, enjoy! If your protag is an arch diplomancer, I’m happy for you; go in peace. If your heroine heals the universe with the power of love and cupcakes, fine. It’s all good in my book. The more variety,  the merrier.

And that’s the thing. It’s all good… isn’t it? Or perhaps I missed the memo where it said only certain character and gender roles are acceptable for men and women in genre literature. If so, could someone please point me at the Proscribed list? That would be doubleplus good.

Not only are women with swords not a cliché, but like an onions and Shrek, good, stabby fem-chars have layers. Whatever. At the very least, they should be no more worthy of note for merely existing than men with swords. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

I would therefore ask that, rather than engage with othering perfectly valid characters (and real, living people;) That folks of all flavours channel their energies into the quest for equality rather than alienation.


*My swordy CV

I practiced Kendo for about eight years off and on. I’ve done oodles of re-enactment, sometimes with a musket, occasionally with cannon, sometimes with a bow, and much to the detriment of music, a drum. I also study European martial arts and have even dabbled in mounted combat which I suppose makes me a broad with a horse and spear as well.

I also do other things, ‘cos like all good characters, I like to think of myself as well rounded 😉

Can’t blog, writing.

Well, not just writing, a fair amount of everyday living is also being done and hurray for that as the alternative (not living) would totes* be a drag.

At the moment, the Devourer of All the Time in the Universe  is our project to renovate and make our house eco-friendly with a teeny-tiny carbon footprint. Soooo, combine quite a bit of DIY with job and family  and a wee bit of proper, writing, writing and there aint much time to tell you the colour of my belly button fluff or how difficult the Difficult Second Book is (s’difficult, FYI).


The rather fab Victoria Hooper http://vickyhooper.blogspot.co.uk/ @VickyThinks on the Twitters and blogger extraordinaire  has tagged me in a meme thing. So, just to prove that I haven’t been abducted by aliens or buried in the dining room foundations** I thought, why not? let’s do this thing! So here goes.


1) What quality/talent do you admire most in a writer?

Bull leaping. Actually, that’s a talent I admire in anyone. Specifically writers? The ability to drag me into a book with their prose and keep me there to the end. I’m an airhead and must be gripped lest I float away.


2) If you could pick any character from a film, TV series, book, or game to give a piece of your mind to, who would it be?

It would have to be FitzChivalry from Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Hobb). Seriously, I could shake him. Well, not literally — he’s as hard as ten bastards in a sack, and might very well rip my arms off should I accost him. But yes, it would have to be Fitz for being a great character, so terribly human and (IMO), annoyingly wet.


3) What’s your favourite sandwich filling?

Why, that would have to be smoked salmon, the bright orange queen of sandwich fillings.


4) Mary Sues… just misunderstood or really annoying?

Marty Stu and Mary Sue can go in peace as far as I’m concerned. I’m not bovved by either.


5) If you could live in any country besides your own, where would you live?

Italy, the Eternal City specifically. Don’t get me wrong, I love La Serenissima, but I love not wet feet unless I’m in the bath. Although…now that I think about it… I do love Crete in Greece. Running around Gortys, Knossos, and Phaistos, walking in the footsteps of goddesses and heroines…does it get any better? Ah, but then there’s the lure of the brownstones in Brooklyn in vibrant, loud, all-you-can-eat, great coffee land. I think what I’m trying to say is that anywhere you can feel the Genius Loci of a place —its living, beating heart— gets me all excited and I want to find out its secrets and could happily spend several lifetimes doing so, dragging my children and much put-upon spouse behind me.


6) What’s the most meaningful thing that’s ever happened to you?

Define meaningful really, innit? It could be getting married, having sprogs, falling down a mountain(TF); any number of BIG things. So I’m gonna pick a ‘wow’ moment at random and that is…Star Wars. Yes, really. It blew my tiny, underdeveloped, child mind. I cried after watching it. I desperately wanted to live in a galaxy far, far away. Growing up in Shipley, I could relate to a farm boy who lived on the furthest point from the centre of the universe. It was a real Milan Kundera, Life is Elsewhere moment: an existential smack in the chops that left me bereft and changed forever.

From that moment on, I was a nerd.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried (and I did try), I never manifested any Jedi powers.


7) Present tense in fiction… like it or loathe it?

It would depend  on the story and the l33t (or not) skillz of the scribbler.


8) An author is going to write the story of your life. Who would you like it to be?

If it please you, I would like it to be a collaboration between Monsieur Voltaire and Miss Jane Austen. The material might only suffice for a slight work, a novella at most, but I am satisfied it would, at least, be amusing.


9) Think of your favourite book. Got one? Now, what would that book be if it were an animal?

Do I have to say what it is? Is this a magic trick…? I don’t have one book to rule them all I’m afraid, so it’s gonna have to be a ‘one of’ my favourite books (there are many). And so, in this case, it would be a Peregrine Falcon.


10) Flame powers or water powers?

Flame on, baby!


11) Recommend me a favourite song! 🙂

One of my current favourites is Linkin Park’s I’ll Be Gone from their album Living Things http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5d3MRcy-aM


*Totes ironical usage, innit?

**Never do DIY/building work with your nearests and dearests, not when you’re tired and there are sledgehammers around. It can get…tense.


The Myth of the Strong Woman

This post has been brewing for a long time but all that kept coming out was:

“Gahngh! I’m gonna cut you, motherfokkers!” So as you can imagine the pot stayed on the stove.

But if I see “It’s a great story with a strong female character blah,blah…” one more time without writing this post, I swear I’m gonna…well, you know the rest.

Let us begin with the sliming couplet itself:  STRONG WOMAN or strong women if you’re really pushing the boat out.

By stating that the female character in a novel, film or TV programme is ‘strong’ does that mean that all other female characters are weak? Also, strong how? Is she emotionally strong or does it mean she can bench a baby elephant?  What in the name of Marie Curie does it mean?

I read a lot of reviews of films, books, and occasionally TV (It saves watching the pixel-shit that gets pumped through the old colon ray tube.) I cannot recall ever reading, “It’s good, it has a strong male character…” Why is this?

Seriously, I could shake you all. Lemme ask you, is the surgeon who made your grandpa’s ticker work a strong female surgeon or just a surgeon? Is the inspirational teacher who you will never forget (Maggie Reay) a strong female teacher, or just a teacher — she was good, but I don’t recall her picking up cars or standing up against a gang of hoodlums. I don’t go see a strong dentist, I go to the dentist.

D’you see? *shakes you* Sorry…I get carried away sometimes. I swear I will break your face if you make any cracks about hormones or ‘that time of the month’.

C’mon chaps, why do female protagonists need to be strong in order to be valid? It’s like people are justifying having a female helming a story or film, etc. How would this sound…

“The book has a very westernised African male lead.”

“The protagonist is a non-predatory, gay male.”

The above are extra unpleasant examples just to illustrate how crap it is that ‘Strong’ has to be applied to female in order to explain why anyone other than members of the WI might want to read or watch something with a  female lead. And you know what? I’ve done it myself (Oi, the shame). But I’m going to stop, already have in fact, been clean for a few months.

I will not justify the existence of females in places other than the kitchen or bedroom any more and neither should you.

I got news for you. Women have existed throughout history. Take a moment, let that sink in. You okay? Good. Not only that, but they haven’t just been knitting casseroles and popping out the next generation of menfolk.

Women, ordinary women, have been right there along side men, doing… much the same shit. Mining? Yup, stripped to the waist covered in shit, just like men.  Fighting on warships? You betcha, battle of Trafalgar and everything. Mountaineering, chemistry…all of that and more. I know! It’s mad isn’t it?

Just about everything and anything men have done to build the world we live in, ordinary women have been there as well.  And you know it; we all do if we think about it, if we open our eyes. Don’t believe me? If you can’t see examples of regular women, doing regular work (rather than Strong women rising above the tide of weak willed ninnies) where you live, check out the developing world.

Women (the ordinary variety) are doing, in many cases and places, exactly the same grindingly tough work that the menfolk do as well as being doctors, teachers, architects, farmers, soldiers. Not one of whom would (I imagine), describe herself as strong, just, you know as Parveen or Maria or…

Historians and the media do not help (I won’t even start on business culture or politics). They mostly ignore women or if they really have to acknowledge their presence or achievements, speak in terms that highlight that any woman of note is an exception: a rarity amongst her kind.

This is crap. It is crap when compared to the terms used to describe men who achieve equally. Male leads in stories/films/TV are not referred to as ‘strong men’  unless of course you’re talking about superheroes. Jack Bauer isn’t a ‘strong male character’ he’s just a guy, fighting against the odds etc…

When you next take a tumble and the paramedic who comes to treat you happens to be a woman, I promise it won’t enter your head to check if she’s a strong woman. You will just be a grateful slob begging for morphine (that may just be me). Her gender won’t matter, how strong (whatever that means!) won’t be an issue… because it isn’t. Now, let’s have a practice, repeat after me.

“The story has a female protagonist.”

“There are a lot of good female characters in the play/book/film/show.”

“The hero of the novel/film/book/show is flawed and troubled.”

Okay, I admit the last one is a big step. Just take your time, don’t rush, it’ll come. Practice the first two for a bit and, you know, ease your way into being conscious of the equality of spirit we were born to, but were somehow convinced isn’t real.


The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I got tagged for this by the inestimable Ren Warom.

What is the working title of your book? Not telling. That’s a good start isn’t it? Not sure I’ve got the hang of these meme things. Having had a name clash with The Red Knight, which is the novel I’ve just had published, the title of the current project is staying under wraps for now.  It also doesn’t have a working title. It’s got a fully fledged, like-Athena-sprung-from-the-head-of-Zeus, final, final title, which was very nice as it’s one less thing to think about. It’s a rilly cracking title too.


Where did the idea for the book come from? Hmm. Again, I can’t talk about the current project as it’s super sekrit.

The idea for The Red Knight came from seeing an article on the news about a brilliant, young rugby player who had an accident and wham — just like that, his career was over. It got me thinking about what would happen if you were talented, had everything, bright future ahead etc, and then it was all taken away from you. What would you do? That was the seed that took root.

What genre does your book fall under? It’s fantasy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? No idea.  So I suppose unknown actors.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? It’s like Aliens with armour and magic, but no aliens.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? You forgot independent/small publishers, tsk, tsk. The Red Knight has been published by Anachron Press, a small, but perfectly formed publishing house.

As for the current, super-sekrit project, I’ll cross that publishing chasm when I come to it, I don’t rule anything out.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The first draft for The Red Knight took about two years, off and on. And that was only the first draft. However, I knew the second I’d finished it that it would not take as long to write the next. BY finished I mean finally stopped re-writing it. I don’t think I’ll ever ‘finish’ anything I write, there’s always something more I could do.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I wouldn’t, not only would that be presumptuous, but as far as the current, Sekrit project goes I don’t think there’s anything like it in genre land.

The Red Knight is pretty grim, low fantasy. I’ve been told it’s a bit like A Game of Thrones, but I haven’t read that book beyond the prologue so I can’t say.  I’ve also been told it’s a bit like something Robin Hobb would write only more violent and sweary. Accurate or not, I’ll take the comparisons as complimentary.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  The Red Knight was inspired by a story on the news ( see above). But it’s actually not the story I wanted to write. The Red Knight is the back story of the novel I wanted to write, but it was just too darn big and had to have a novel of its own. This quite vexed me as I lack patience and wanted to crack on with the other story.  The best laid plans, and all that.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? I don’t know, I never know, not with anything I write. The Red Knight is about people, war, life, love, death, betrayal, redemption, and magic…there is also a dragon…sort of.  There are some reviews around on Amazon and various places, like here in fact. They might be worth reading to see what other people think as I’m biased. I’ve written a blog post about why you won’t like The Red Knight as I’m helpful like that.


Nominate five people to roll this onto

Ah. Now this is tricky, because I think everyone I know who writes has now been tagged. *sighs, rolls eyes* Yes, yes, I am a lonely shut-in who will probably be eaten by my dogs when I die, and your point is?

Oh, found one! E M Edwards AKA @E_M_Edwards on Twitter  and here’s his blog http://talesfromtheinvisiblecity.blogspot.com/

Why You Won’t Like The Red Knight (or how not to sell a book)

The Red Knight is like the film Aliens with swords and a dragon… but no aliens. It’s fantasy, but it’s not all, ‘thee and thou’, and maidens with silly headgear being rescued by intellectually challenged meatheads. It’s different, it’s good.

I could go on and probably will in other posts, but that’s not what this post is about. This is a public service post, because I’m nice like that.

As we all know, there’s a lot of guesswork involved in choosing what books to read, some might say too much. Sometimes you can’t judge a book by its cover, not unless every story is about soft core pr0n, people with hood fetishes, tattoos and/or improbable weapons.

You can’t trust reviews these days because, not only do ‘plebs’ write them, but it is said that some contain ancient Japanese curses that will kill you if you so much as glance at the page they’re scribed upon, let alone trust them to be an account of an individual’s taste in books.

So, I thought, rather than add to the noise and shout about how great my book is (it is, but I’m not shouting about it any more after the police bound me over),  I thought  I’d give you a clear signal; the SP, the low-down, the inside track, at least as far as my own novel is concerned. So put down the opium pipe, stop throwing cats at the postman, and grab a pencil.

You will not like The Red Knight if…

  1. You like your heroes to be Conan clones with mighty thews, tiny brains, and a penchant for rescuing (or indeed ravishing) maidens. Unfortunately, Garian Tain is a grubby little spy, and Knight-Captain Alyda Stenna isn’t a man at all! Neither of the protagonists are your typical ‘hero’ type, sorry.
  2. Your idea of a good female character runs more towards Bella than Boudicca. I forgive you… if you are under 15.
  3. You have a problem with same sex relationships.
  4. You don’t read small press/indie press stuff. You tar everyone with the same ‘badly produced’ brush without checking their shit out. Well, we don’t do ‘tudes like that round here. Now scat! Go on, git off ma blog and take yer narrow mind with ya!
  5. You don’t like sub-text or great plots or three-dimensional characters. You just want improbable stunts performed by nimdars from Japania and maybe some boobies and a bit of girly screaming. In which case, pass by old woman, this book isn’t for you.
  6. You want to read a book that is like the game of AD&D you played when you were 13. Again, sorry. I can’t help you there. This is epic shit, man, for growed ups; it’s got depth and everything.
  7. You only read books by famous authors. Why? Why do you do that?  Live a little, you won’t get ‘new author cooties’ if you read my book, I promise… I had my shots last week.
  8. You like reading the same old, same old. You don’t want the genre shaking up, you don’t want anything different to rock your lil’ old world.  *sigh* M’kay, have it your own way, but you’ll be sorry.
  9. You hate great dialogue and witty banter, and the kind of stories that leave you wanting more. (Tick this box and you are off the Christmas card list, theres only so much I can take.)
  10. You love descriptions of food. In fact you like nothing better than long, elaborate details of meals, from banquets to road snacks. Where’s your head at? Okay there is food in The Red Knight, but it’s referenced in passing. The story is about life, war, death, betrayal, love, and magic. You want food? Go watch Come Dine with Me.
  11. You don’t like fantasy. Silly as this may seem, some people read genres they absolutely do not like and then…don’t like what they read. Weird huh?