Writing science fiction? Australia’s the place to be.


Writing science fiction? Australia’s the place to be.

by Nicole Murphy

If you’re lucky, you’ve not been caught up in the troubles that have been plaguing the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) over the past few weeks.

In a nutshell, however – SFWA has been making moves over the past few years to be more inclusive, so sexist and racist attitudes aren’t being let go as they used to be. Some people see this as political correctness gone mad and they’re fighting it. Let me assure you, it’s not political correctness – it’s simply an attempt for women, people of colour, the disabled, etc to have the same voice as those who have always been in control.

Really, you don’t need to know more than that. Some of the comments made have been shameful. If you really want to, then you can read the basis of it here: http://www.dailydot.com/lifestyle/sfwa-sexism-sci-fi-nebulas-mary-kowal/

I can’t speak too much to exactly what is happening in SFWA – I’m not a member of SFWA (I qualify, but I’ve never bothered to join) and I’ve had very little interaction with any of the people involved in this fight, except to say that I support any attempts anyone makes to ensure everyone has a free run at what they want to do with their life.

But this article(http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=1246) by Julie E McKenna, along with a request from Kate, has me writing this article for the Escapades. It worries me that people might think all science fiction writers are like this, that if you dared to set foot in the Australian industry, you’d be treated like chump as well. I want you all to know – that isn’t the case.

Now, I need to state upfront that things aren’t perfect here in Australia. There have been issues with sexual harassment at some science fiction conventions (my own group, Conflux, have recently brought in an anti-harassment policy to help combat this – you can read it here: http://conflux.org.au/anti-harassment-policy/).

As a writer of primarily romance-based stories, I have issues in terms of being accepted as a ‘real writer’ by some people. I was told once that I’m known as the ‘queen of the eight-page sex scenes’. Now, I happen to think it’s important to get good representation of women’s sexuality in fantasy and science fiction (that’s a whole other rant for me to have), but it’s disappointing that no one says anything about my world building, or my characterisation, or my pacy plots, which are the things my publishers and readers rave about. No, it’s about the sex scenes. And because of that, there are people around the place that will NEVER take me seriously as a writer, and not all of them are men.

But all in all, if there’s one country in the world where being a woman who writes science fiction or fantasy doesn’t put you behind the men, it’s Australia.

The numbers back it up. HarperVoyager (the science fiction/fantasy imprint of HarperCollins) is Australia’s largest publisher of science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. Of the Australian authors on the books (including me), 19 are women, 13 are men. The Aurealis Awards are Australia’s premier speculative fiction awards (I’m running them this year – eep!). Of the 49 authors and editors nominated, 28 are women, 21 are men. The Ditmar Awards are the fan-voted awards associated with the National Convention (I ran them last year – yeah, I kinda like awards). 17 authors and editors were nominated – only four were men, the rest were women.

There’s many reasons why this is the case. For example, Voyager has, for the nearly 19 years of its existence, been run only by women. A lot of the small press in Australia (where some of the best writing is coming from) is run by women.

Then there’s the fact that all the men who are at the top of the field are genuinely nice, welcoming guys who don’t really care what your genitalia is. As long as you’re writing interesting, entertaining work, then they’re on your side. At least, that’s been my experience. It isn’t any of the big names who have made me feel I write anything lesser than them because I have more sex scenes than they do. Often, their stories are just as romantic as mine, but you know, they’re guys so they’re allowed to do that…

Of course, it can be argued that for the past 15 or more years, the men haven’t had the chance to push the women down. The first writer to break out in Australian fantasy in this period was a woman – Sara Douglass. The first writer to take on the world and become one of the biggest names in fantasy full stop? Trudi Canavan. The only Australian author who got a fabulous hard-cover edition of their book as part of HarperVoyager’s 15 birthday celebrations in 2010? Kylie Chan.

But women getting their just rewards in the Australian speculative fiction industry isn’t just about their talents, as can be seen overseas where there are loads of talented women being kept down by the men who were there first.

So Australia has talented women, and men who don’t mind that. When we all get together in Canberra on April 5 to hand out the Aurealis Awards, the gender of the winner isn’t going to matter. We’re there to celebrate everyone’s success, because we know that every person that makes it, makes it easier for the next person.

I’m really proud to be a member of the Australian speculative fiction industry. There’s lots of interesting, imaginative things being done. People are embracing new opportunities. Sure, there’s still work to be done – inclusion of people of colour (particularly Indigenous Australians) and the disabled is where the conversation needs to occur here. But the thing is, I don’t doubt that MOST of the Australian industry is capable of having this conversation, and the ones that aren’t won’t get their voice heard.

Whereas if you look at what’s happening in some areas overseas, you have to wonder if anyone will ever be heard.

Nicole Murphy is the author of the Dream of Asarlai trilogy, published by HarperCollins (and to be re-launched as an electronic omnibus in April), and a couple dozen speculative fiction shorts. As Elizabeth Dunk she’s published contemporary romance with Escape Publishing and in June will be releasing a collection of paranormal erotic novellas, also with Escape.

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