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Messages - Anna Smith-Spark

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Reading and writing are for me completely synonymous. Reading and thinking about what you're writing is inescapable; thinking about the style and technique and trickery and flaws in another's work equally so. And one if the great joys of 'genre' writing is knowing and referencing and playing on and refuting the tropes, phrases, traditions we all know and love.

Can you be a great writer without being a great writer? Now that's a more interesting question.... I'm really not a fan of either Michael J Sullivan or Brandon Sanderson as 'writers'. I hope I'm not going to get pilloried too hard for saying neither of them are master wordsmiths. But - I am kind of in awe of the way they keep you turning the pages as fast as you can, staying up late and contemplating missing your train stop. It's not good writing but it keeps you reading. And as that's the basic point of a book.... Plenty of others are technically better in literary terms but don't seem to have that spark that grabs people. In this genre, it's easy for critics to sneer and say it's just bad -taste populism, but there are a lot of people plugging away at sword and sorcery indie stuff that's never going to get picked up and noticed the way Sullivan's books did. Writing something that really grabs people is an art in itself, and quite possibly one it's very hard to learn or teach or even identify.

The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass both made me weep; I had to go outside and stare up at the sky for a while to recover from the end of The Amber Spyglass. The Once and Future King, similarly. Le Guin's Farthest Shore sort of reconciles me to my own mortality.

Hope Hodgson's The House in the Borderland is one of the few books that scared me so much I couldn't sleep properly for several days.

I'm completely paralysed waiting to hear back from publishers. Broken Knives is currently Schrödinger's cat: I haven't opened the box yet, so it's not actually dead. It's so hard writing number two whilst waiting for number one to be officially put down. And my husband insisted on watching the original Star Wars trilogy, so that was distracting.

But what I have written seems pretty good, if several hundred obscenities strung together with the odd innuendo thrown in technically counts as writing...

Daniel Polansky's latest, Those Above, is profoundly Gramscian in its analysis of class hegemony and why people don't actually tend to resist authority, even authority hostile to them. There's social and class commentary in all his work, but Those Above really stands out for me. It's also damn good, of course, beautifully written and a good story.

Le Guin's Tehanu, the last Earthsea novel, is really profoundly good on gender politics and notions of gender identity and power. The character of Tenar and the way she is a part of, but also distanced from, the society she lives in is beautifully drawn and very moving. Again, it's also just an absolutely superb book.

And some historians have seriously argued that ASoIaF better captures the experience of the peasantry in pre-modern conflict societies than any actual social history.


Definitely like and appreciate your points, though I can't remember the depictions of Auri in the Kingkiller Chronicles and I haven't read The Slow Regard For Silent Things so I can't really comment on that. The only thing I will say is in regards to the "Am I Sexist?" title for the thread, because I think it's caused a slight amount of confusion. I meant it more as a title and to start the conversation and then point out my feelings in regards to the book and its content in the initial post. I feel I was a bit vague or perhaps too general in my question about "how do you feel with this book and female authored books?". I don't write on forums a lot.

In either case, thank you for saying I am not sexist and for your awesome response :)

That you - I got in a bit of trouble on Reddit for saying I find Rothfuss' attitude to women difficult. Was actually worrying a bit I'd get a bit of criticism here too.

The whole 'women and violence' in fantasy is something I think about a lot. The stuff I write can certainly be described as grimdark and I do agonise over the way I present some of my characters  (deleated a rape joke after much thought....) Ultimately, I feel strongly that it's not glamourising it but exploring it, showing it as futile and cruel but perhaps as a product of society and environment rather than innate '(some) men are bad'. But there's a fine line. The point, I guess, is that it has to be addressed in fantasy - these are usually very masculine worlds that women are having to survive in, and sometimes I suspect that's part of their appeal as a female reader.

Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: Your favorite book titles
« on: March 28, 2015, 06:41:29 PM »
This is all I can sodding think about now...

Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising is on of those titles that had haunted me for years.

The Saga of Noggin the Nog is just awesome. And, again not fantasy, but great fun, you probably can't beat the author/title combination Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock.

Going slightly off-topic, as a result of plugging my novel The Court of Broken Knives, I'm being followed on twitter on a cutlery shop.

Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: Your favorite book titles
« on: March 28, 2015, 05:56:38 PM »
On a serious level, I love Vandermeer's City of Saints and Madmen, and The Worm of Oruborous. And Kevin Crossley-Holland's retelling of Norse mythology Axe Age, Wolf Age is pretty hard to beat.

It's not fantasy really, but I have a book on my shelf called The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, which is pretty superb.

Fantasy Book & Author Discussion / Re: Grimdark Magazine
« on: March 25, 2015, 08:58:02 PM »
Does anyone know how/if you can get this without it being an e-book download? Cause I'm a total Luddite who'd ideally communicate via talking raven.....

Ah, damn, here we go...

I really don't think it's sexist to dislike a book on those grounds because the author is female. If you dislike rape and eternal gloom, you um, sound like quite a nice chap really.  But, as many others have pointed out, part of what the book is doing is making a political statement that these things are uncomfortable, that the world, especial the female part of it, can be a thoroughly painful and uncomfortable place and we should realise that and try to confront it. Reading a nice safe book where those kind of questions aren't raised is arguably more sexist, to be extreme about it - it's a failure to confront the world as it is, a reluctance to engage with the reality of a lot of people's lives.

Most of my favourite female fantasy authors do engage with issues around male violence towards women to an extent - Le Guin in The Tombs of Atuan and Tehanu, Elizabeth Moon in Sheepherder's Daughter - and the overly violent, stylised world of fantasy allows for this in a way genres like chick lit just don't. Female crime fiction, too, is heavily preoccupied with these issues. And there are fairly obvious reasons for that in both cases. The fact that it's fiction allows us to ask these questions in a safer way, and play with possibilities and outcomes. 

Personally, I found The Kingkiller Chronicle, and especially The Slow Regard of Silent Things, far more problematic and uncomfortable to read as a feminist than a lot of 'rape and ultraviolence' grimdark novels. The character of Auri, in particular, I find profoundly voyeuristic - here's this damaged, clearly mentally ill young woman, and we're supposed to find her, what, kookie and appealing and romantic. The descriptions of her in Silent Things are clearly highly sexualised and objectified, yet somehow we're asked to assume it's fine to read lengthy descriptions of her naked because she's a child of nature. Not because she a vulnerable hotty in a very short dress, oh no. 

All writing cannot help but be political - writing interpolates the world, so it cannot not be ideologically charged. And all writing will on some level be about gender politics, because we're all trying to navigate gender identity and interpolate that too. And then the reader interpolates that interpolation, with their own ideological framework and gender identity.....

But no, disliking a book and its author being female doesn't make you sexist.

Daniel Polansky's Those Above was superb. Very beautiful, sad, lovely, and maybe a little bit bitter. Clear and cool as fresh water, but full of filth and body fluids to remind us life is nasty and brutal as well. It's sparse in the right places, rich and heavy and almost baroque elsewhere to make you revel in the wold it's creating. There's a wonderful mix of Polansky's hard boiled Low Town language, and the strange, ethereal world of Those Above themselves. And some good battle scenes. And some very, very good politics.

I wanted to post a picture of its rather gorgeous cover, but the computer won't let me. It's a big, shiny sword. You can't really go wrong there either, can you?

Hello all, my name is Anna Smith-Spark, I can be found on facebook on facebook and reddit as, um, Anna Smith-Spark. My all time favourite fantasy novels are M. John Harrison's Viriconium, which I will probably bore everyone witless going on about (someone has to), the Earthsea Quartet and T.H. White's The Once and Future King. I'm currently a big fan of Daniel Polansky and Rjurik Davidson, and have a , probably deeply unfashionable fondness for Elizabeth Moon.

I have recently completed my first fantasy novel, a possibly feminist piece of grimdark called The Court of Broken Knives. It's already had an incredibly positive reception, been bookblogged by Leonora's Book of Shadows as the next big thing in the genre and described as a masterpiece on redditt.... It will be published in one form or another, so watch this space.....

I wrote maybe five hundred words today (on the train!). Hard to write at six thirty am when the person in front of you is watching Poldark on a tablet. More than hard, in fact.

I did, however, repeatedly facebook the fact  that my unpublished novel was described as a masterpiece on reddit yesterday. That took up quite a bit of my day.

I read the whole of Gardens of the Moon and kind of loved and hated it at the same time. I found it relentless and rather one-note, and I really didn't care about any of the characters apart from Anamanda Rake. But I've been told the series gets better, so I may return to it. Can anyone confirm or deny this before I invest a substantial portion of my life on Deadhouse Gates?

Also, has anyone managed The Worm Orouboros by Eddington? The title is so superb it makes me shiver, then I have a look inside - it appears to be an unholy alliance of Dune and Ivanhoe
... Scares me witless.

Writers' Corner / Re: The Absurdity of English in Other Worlds Fantasy
« on: March 13, 2015, 04:39:37 PM »
[Bree is the portal. A place that is still familiar, but exist on the border between the familiar world and the unknown world.
That's lovely. Really lovely. Made me happier than anything else I've read all day.

I struggled through Gardens of the Moon, hated it as I didn't care about any of the characters, found the whole 'root races' thing really difficult to cope, found it humourless and grim, dark without being grimdark [sorry, seems vaguely witty to me] and kept resolving to give up.

But.... it now haunts me, I find myself thinking about it constantly and am seriously considering reading the rest of the Marazan books.

This is irritating. But I suppose it probably means it's a good book.

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