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THE PANDEMIC TRIGGERS INCREASE IN DYSTOPIAN FICTION AUDIENCES

THE PANDEMIC TRIGGERS INCREASE IN DYSTOPIAN FICTION AUDIENCES

Before 2020 arrived, when we all felt secure and content in the knowledge life would go on as normal, dystopian fiction had taken a nosedive on the world’s bookshelves. As the year draws to a close, and any positive indications regarding the pandemic prefer to stay hidden, dystopian fiction has become popular once again. Perhaps it’s a consequence of people wanting to know how others cope in challenging times, or it’s a case of misery needing company. The fact is, people’s reading habits are reflecting the world in which we now live.


According to the Washington Post, the most popular reads during the summer were:

· The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

· The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

· Station Eleven by Emily St.John Mandel

· A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

· The Plague by Albert Camus

· Wanderers by Chuck Wendig


In the Guardian, Caroline Zielinski said, “In many cases, dystopian stories are cautionary tales that force us to re-examine and ponder our own actions and place in the wider world. Now, though, I reach for them because I want to see how characters behave when their freedoms are taken away from them.” She cites research from the University of Toronto that shows how the pandemic got people reaching for information on contagious diseases and how to deal with them. She highlights The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison as a particularly disturbing example. She does point out at the end of her article one positive takeaway; “dystopian fiction does not offer readers a prophetic look into the future. It exists, we should remember, to show us a way out.”


Authors who write in the genre of speculative fiction are likely to have a field day in the environment in which we now live, the New Normal. Margaret Atwood called this genre, “not science fiction with Martians and spaceships, but a dystopia a few years and parallel universes along.” It’s worth noting that her MaddAddam trilogy contains, sexual violence, the subjugation of women, and unchecked power pervade in this world, as well as the coherence offered by religion. The author herself says about the books, “Although MaddAddam is a work of fiction, it does not include any technologies or biobeings that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory.” In other words, everything we need to create such a place is already here. What a depressing thought, eh?


You’ve only got to look at the combination of images from newspapers around the world, as they react to the American elections, that perhaps Atwood wasn’t wrong. In which case, speculative fiction writers, what are you waiting for? The inspiration for your next book is already out there and waiting for you!


Looking for some classic dystopian fiction? Check out this list.

FRANKFURT BOOK FAIR 2020

FRANKFURT BOOK FAIR 2020

News from the Frankfurt Book Fair

A major global publishing event, the FBF went virtual this year, like everything else. Nonetheless, there have been some interesting developments to come out of it which impact on writers.

Juergen Boos, the fair’s director, is certain that a virtual fair will not entirely replace an in-person event in future years — pandemic allowing. Yet organizers hope that they can learn from this year's digital version, test out what works and what doesn’t, and present a hybrid form of the fair in future years, with some components online — a version with the potential to reach a large audience. In a live-stream event he said how new platforms bring more people together — albeit digitally — than in previous years. 4,400 exhibitors and visitors from 120 countries had registered which included speakers and digital participants who had never attended before.

"As we look towards the future of the Frankfurt Book Fair, we see a mix of digital and physical elements that will become the new normal," says Boos. "I am hopeful for the future of the book business — and for the fair."


The issue of the significant lack of diversity in the industry dominated the first day’s events.


Dr Anamik Saha—co-author of the Rethinking ‘Diversity’ in Publishing report – used a panel on improving diversity and addressing inequalities to point out publishing is too used to centring whiteness and must concentrate on actively seeking new talent, nurturing it and promoting it outside of the mainstream. She emphasised the importance of seeking out and publishing new voices where there is lack of representation. “For me it is really about finding that new talent and nurturing it,” she said. "Don’t chase after the big names—they’ve already made it, they’re there, they can get a deal anywhere else. Find talent to nurture and allow them the possibility to dream of a writing career.”She went further, “As a publisher one of your biggest jobs is to watch the trends, so why are they not? Why do they need to be told? Because it is difficult for them to uncentre themselves.”


I doubt there’s a writer anywhere that would argue with that statement. (You can read my post about how small, independent digital publishers are doing this very thing here.)


Back in June of this year, the newly formed Black Writers Guild wrote an open letter to the Big Five of publishers in the UK (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster) stating, “We are deeply concerned that British publishers are raising awareness of racial inequality without significantly addressing their own.”


Tom Wheldon at Penguin Random House replied, “We have been working on our inclusivity strategy for a number of years and we have made some important achievements along the way. But the truth is that change is not happening fast enough and we need to address that with urgency and intent. I want Penguin Random House UK to be better so we can make genuine meaningful and long-lasting change that tackles the systemic inequality currently existing in our industry.” His CEO colleagues said much the same thing.


By September, HarperCollins and Simon and Schuster appointed people of colour into senior management positions in their company. Amanda Armstrong-Frank became director of workplace culture and diversity initiatives in Simon & Schuster while at HarperCollins Gisselda Nuñez became vice-president for diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Notice how the roles are aimed specifically at diversity, rather than opening up opportunities to broader strategic parts of the companies. Is these token appointments?


Creativity and the Author

Also at Frankfurt Book Fair, Chris Lewis, whose book, Too Fast to Think, was published this month by Kogan Page, offered his thoughts about creativity. His centred his seminar around this: Where are you, and what are you doing when you get your best ideas? You know, the epiphanies. The ones that inspire you to change things.

To inform his research for the book he interviewed a range of people beyond the creative industries, business people, military leaders and even the clergy. The result was consistent, they didn’t have time to be creative, they were too busy doing everything else. It led him to two conclusions about where creativity is best developed, I doubt you’ll find them surprising.

  1. Solitude is important. A lot of people reported that being in the shower or bath (alone), or walking or running was a point of provenance. Big ideas can’t be forced. Some of the most profound creatives develop a pact with themselves. They trust that ideas will come.

  2. Seeking enlightenment is key. It may be a fundamental human condition, one that make us us, but it’s something we don’t teach, we don’t teach people how to maximise their creativity. Perhaps this is because it doesn’t conform to the Western (reductive) analytical model, he says. If we want to reach our creative potential, we must give ourselves more time. Even if it means we do a little less. We need time to think.

I doubt many of us would argue with this. Look at how many writers on social media tell us how much better they feel for taking a walk to clear their heads and how distractions (from family, the pet dog or social media) can affect the creative juices. All the same, it's worth reminding ourselves of the importance of these two things. They can get easily overlooked.

SOCIETY OF AUTHORS FESTIVAL TO HELP WRITERS

SOCIETY OF AUTHORS FESTIVAL TO HELP WRITERS

In May, at the height of lockdown, the Society of Authors launched an  ambitious programme of free online events to help guide, inspire and  entertain authors through the health crisis. They welcomed 5,100 attendees  to sessions with Philip Pullman, Joanne Harris, Lemn Sissay, Sarah  Waters, and others. Its success prompted a repeat performance.


Running from 6 October to early December, the programme includes  practical guidance on research skills, podcasting and marketing; panel  discussions on imposter syndrome and author earnings; practical sessions  focused on creativity and wellbeing; and in-conversations with Ian Rankin, Roger Robinson, Deborah Moggach, Daljit Nagra, Antonia Fraser, Dean Atta, Amrou Al-Kadhi and more.


All events are free for SoA members and most are free for everyone though they request that anyone attending a free event makes a small donation to the Authors’ Contingency Fund, if they can afford it.


There are great online workshops available, with big names involved. For instance, author and journalist Adam LeBor leads a session on making the most of cyberspace as a research tool. There's a panel session (Oct 13th) on how to make money where people share what's working for them, the panel will include Candy Gourlay (Chair), Steve Antony and Shoo Rayner. 


More details are available at https://www2.societyofauthors.org/events/category/soa-home/

SCIENCE FICTION CAN BUILD MENTAL RESILIENCE IN YOUNG PEOPLE

SCIENCE FICTION CAN BUILD MENTAL RESILIENCE IN YOUNG PEOPLE

I found this article by Esther Jones, Associate Professor of English, affiliate with Africana Studies and Women's & Gender Studies at Clark University which suggests what many speculative fiction fans already believed. Speculative fiction, particularly science fiction, enhances the resilience of young people's minds. 


In her book Medicine and Ethics in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction this premise is explored in depth. A 2016 article in  Social and Personality Psychology Compass, a scholarly journal, argues  that “connecting to story worlds involves a process of ‘dual empathy,‘  simultaneously engaging in intense personal processing of challenging  issues, while ‘feeling through’ characters, both of which produce  benefits.” This ongoing ambivalence towards the genre contributes to the stereotype  that such works are of little value because they presumably don’t  engage real human dilemmas.  In actuality, they do. Such stereotypes assume that young people can  only learn to cope with human dilemmas by engaging in mirror-image  reflections of reality including what they read or watch.


Ms Jones found in her research how young readers welcomed the chance to escape the reality of everyday life via such stories - but that escape wasn't permanent. It gave them a breather, a chance to review and evaluate what was happening to them in the safety of fiction. She concludes by saying, "Young people can see themselves – coping, surviving and learning  lessons – that may enable them to create their own strategies for  resilience. In this time of COVID-19 and physical distancing, we may be  reluctant for kids to embrace creative forms that seem to separate them  psychologically from reality. But the critical thinking and agile habits of mind prompted by this  type of literature may actually produce resilience and creativity that  everyday life and reality typically do not."


It's an article well worth reading. As writers we know how stories can resonate with readers' minds, the outcomes that occur, you hear such stories in reviews quite often. But there are more links in the article which provide a detailed context of the argument too. 

'BLOODTHIRSTY UNICORNS’ BRINGS DEBUT AUTHOR RECORD PUBLISHING DEAL

'BLOODTHIRSTY UNICORNS’ BRINGS DEBUT AUTHOR RECORD PUBLISHING DEAL

The world of children's fantasy has got that little bit darker now that debut author, Annabel Steadman has a new book deal. The reason? Her fantasy series, Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, centres around the mythical equines which are anything but the stuff of rainbows.  Annabel says, "Unicorns don’t belong in fairytales; they belong in nightmares." They are bloodthirsty creatures that can only be tamed by the riders who hatched them. My Little Pony they are not!


Annabel's stories prompted a bidding war at auction, resulting in a seven figure sum being paid by Simon & Schuster. It includes a deal with Sony Pictures for it to be turned into a film. (We're guessing it won't be an 18!). 


The 28 year old writer from Canterbury is believed to have landed the biggest advance for any debut writer in the childrens' fiction. It shows how things have changed in this genre over the last 50 years, I mean, Enid Blyton must be horrified! 


Item courtesy of The Guardian, link below.

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