Awards and Such Things

I meant to write this post before I left for my holiday but having two kids who’d rather video game than pack meant all my days blurred. But now it’s time to have a little chat about awards and such things most writers say they care little about but secretly (and sometimes not-so secretly) want. Sure, we write because we love it, because we’re driven to create words and worlds, because we’d go crazy if we didn’t, but recognition, be it via a sale, a kick-arse review, an award or recommended read is something every writer craves – that external validation that tells us we’re better than that little voice inside telling us we’re shit.

The first six months of the year are filled with awards (too many to list here), and the Australian Shadows Awards are the latest to hit my shores. Run through the Australian Horror Writers Association, it’s the premier awards for Australian and New Zealand horror that always presents really cool trophies – a different one each year, so you never know what you’re going to get.

AHWA

I had a pony in this race under the ‘edited works’ banner as co-editor (with Geoff Brown) for SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror. It was a strong field, up against Simon Dewar’s Suspended in Dusk anthology, and SQ Mag (issue 14) edited by Sophie Yorkston, and with just a week to wait from finalist announcements to the reveal of the winner, it was Sophie Yorkston and SQ Mag who took out the win.

Was I bummed? Sure – who doesn’t want to win an award for the work they’ve put in? Did I edit the anthology with the hopes of winning an award? No. I edited the antho because I got to work with some amazing authors with equally amazing stories. Of that I’m proud. An award win would have been a nice shiny cherry atop a kick-arse cake.

SNAFU cover art

There were four other categories: short fiction, long fiction, novel, and collected works – all with diverse and strong entries, and I was crossing my fingers and toes that two of my buddies (and fellow Sydney SHADOWS boozers) would take out a win.

Huzzahs happened when Andrew J McKeirnan won for his amazing collection Last Year When We Were Young. This is a fantastic collection of shorts that I reviewed here. If you haven’t read it, get off your bum and seek it out – you won’t be disappointed. Andrew’s been a Shadows Award finalist… well, heaps, so it was about time he took out the win. I’m sure he felt the same.

True to form, Alan Baxter took out the win for the short story category with Shadows of the Lonely Dead. He had two nominated works in this category, so that just shows you how much of a damn fine writer he is. Head over to his website and check out his work then buy it. Go on. What are you waiting for?

The novel category was taken out by Aaron Sterns and Greg McLean for Wolf Creek Origins (yes, of the Wolf Creek cinematic fame). Nightmare-inducing fun this! Fun? Okay, so maybe my idea of fun is a little different from yours…

Shane Jiraiya Cummings won the recently renamed Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction with Dreams of Destruction. While I haven’t read this story, I’ve read Shane’s work and I’m not at all surprised he took out this category.

So I didn’t win an award this year – that’s okay. I’ve been a finalist for the Australian Shadows Award, had SNAFU listed as a recommended read on the Bram Stokers’ ballot list, and the reviews for SNAFU have been incredible. I call that a win. I’d be lying if I said it was the ‘win’ I was looking for; you see, I’ve won a Shadows Award for my short fiction, and that’s an addictive high. I want to win another. Hell, I want a win a slew of awards. When I get hit with that writer-imposteritis, the trophy that sits atop my desk tells me I can do this writing thing; that I’m good enough to win an award, no matter what that inner voice says.

011

The big winner here, though, is Aussie horror fiction, which is going from strength to strength, with recognition and appreciation for the power of Australian storytelling making those around the world sit up and take notice. And well they should.

 

Review: Innocence by Dean Koontz

Aah, smell that? That’s the intoxicating scent of another book finished and the percolating of a review… Mmmmm, percolating… just hold that thought – coffee run; be right back. <insert Muzak here>

All right, that other tantalising scent is a triple-shot long black (don’t judge me), but back to why we’re here: it’s review time! This is the ninth book I’ve read this year, which means I’m averaging two novels a month – not bad, considering the amount of work-related reading I do. Now, I know I have a couple of other reviews to get to, but I’m writing this one while it’s still very fresh in my mind.

Right then, onto Innocence. I was an avid reader of Dean Koontz as a teenager and through my twenties, but I hadn’t picked up a book of his for a long time. I’d bought this copy about six months ago – it was an impulse purchase; I’d gone looking for two specific books but couldn’t find them, and grabbed Innocence as, like I said, it had been a while since I’d read his stories.

The last four books I’d read had been fantasy and grimdark, so while Innocence wasn’t the next on my ‘to read’ mountain, I grabbed it for some straight out horror. Koontz’s work has always been a little hit and miss – there have been stories of his that I’ve loved (Watchers, Strangers) and some I’ve been most disappointed in (The Mask, Phantoms), so I was a little unsure what to expect.

Oh, incoming spoiler alert:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. BIG SPOILERS. LITTLE SPOILERS. SPOILERS THAT MAY NOT APPEAR TO BE SPOILERS BUT MOST CERTAINLY ARE… ‘CAUSE I SAID SO, ‘KAY? READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Innocence

Innocence is the story of Addison Goodheart, a monster whose visage evokes terror and incites violence against him. From birth, others have wished to destroy Addison. His mother had saved him from the midwives but even she found it difficult to look at and be around her son – five times she’d tried to kill him as a child, but hadn’t followed through. At eight years, she packed him a bag and sent him on his way in the world – a child with no experience but that of the remote bushland in which he’d spent his early years.

The story is told from the tight point of view of Addison, and the reader is immediately transported in the “under” world of the city the now man (at 26) has found a haven. Addison had made his way here as a child and was saved by another man – who Addison refers to as Father – with the same affliction. Alone now, after the murder of Father, Addison’s is a life lived at night and away from the prying eyes of those who live and suffer above. For Addison, despite a life lived in darkness and without human contact, is happy, content. His is an outlook that really is out of place when taking into account the horrors with which he’s been saddled. Lonely, though he is, his quiet acceptance of his affliction and his understanding of not wanting to upset others by his face, eyes and hands, is one of a gentle soul.

Addison finds escape in books (which only endeared me to him), and it’s on a post-midnight trip to the library that he encounters the socially-phobic Gwyneth. While Addison doesn’t wish to be looked upon, for Gwyneth it is touch that brokers fear. The scene in the library where they set their boundaries has some beautiful prose, and one of the best lines in the book: ‘We hold each other hostage to our eccentricities.’

And that’s the thing with this book; there’s beautiful prose all the way through, evocative imagery set within a tale of woe and hope. Addison is the star here; his childlike wonder at the world and his easy manner despite all he’s endured means you can’t help but root for him.

innocence quote

I will say that at times I wanted to shake Koontz for not giving me a better description of Addison and Father – when Addison sees his reflection he can’t see the affliction that creates the horror in those who do see his face. It was frustrating, but I kept on because it had to be at the end of the book… and if it wasn’t… grr!

The storytelling moves from past to present and does so seamlessly – each trip into the past tells of Addison’s road to where he is now, of Father and how the two (and now him alone) survived and continue to survive. Little pieces of the puzzle, and puzzle-pieces they were.

Gwyneth is an enigma; a wealthy enigma who is bent on exposing her father’s killer – Ryan Telford (and what a nasty piece of work he is). She introduces Addison to her world, one of which he could never envision. He falls hard and fast for her, and it’s not until the end that we realise she’s also fallen for him – but as Addison says, with their respective ‘issues’, theirs can be a love only of the mind and heart.

There’s a lot going on in this book, many different players that while, when reading, seem characters set to only move the plot forward. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fleshed out well, but it’s not until the end that we see how everything’s connected. Not just the main and secondary characters, but the worlds that all the players live.

There’s supernatural here, too, and the ‘Clears’ and ‘Fogs’ (as Addison calls them), are interesting in the sudden appearances throughout the story. Again, it’s all tied up in the end, but I’d figured out what they were a little earlier than when it was explained.

quote innocence

Koontz does well in leading the reader through the story, leaving breadcrumbs here and there – snatches of news broadcasts; a character knowing of Addison’s ‘rules’ regarding his affliction when they shouldn’t; Gwyneth’s social-phobia not always present. And yes, while reading I was frustrated by the author’s holding back, but the denouement was well worth it.  When the revelation comes, it all falls nicely into place.

There’s a lot going on in this story, but the threads are woven very well by Koontz. It’s also a difficult book to shove into one particular genre: there are religious overtones, apocalyptic tones, supernatural, horror… there’s even creepy marionettes (don’t like puppets) a whole lot of different sub-genres, but I don’t think any of that matters. What you have here is a great story that holds you hostage as it drip feeds you what you need to flesh-out the story a little more, to give that little extra insight into Addison and Gwyneth, and makes you wonder how it’s all going to work out. If you’re struggling a little with this read, stick it out to the end, it’ll be well worth it.

While reading a book, I tend to have a star rating in my head, and while reading Innocence, I was looking at a three-star rating, but that denouement bumped it up to a four… or maybe four-and-a-half.  Yeah, four-and-half, because even a day on, I’m still making the small connections within the book, and that’s good storytelling right there.

 

Four and half stars

 

Art of the Tattoo

This post is about art. There are some who’ll believe this isn’t the case, but tattoos just have a different canvass, is all. I’ve heard all the arguments against putting ink into your skin: it’s stupid, a desecration, it labels you, is the latest fashion statement, you’ll regret it… I could go on but I don’t want to. For me and a whole lot of other people, tattoos are little (or big) pieces of art we wear that have special meaning and mark a particular time of our lives. It’s a choice we’ve made, and to have those choices derided by others (and it oft is), is not only rude and offensive – as most commentary is definitely not asked for – it’s also none of your damn business.

Am I angry? Damn straight I am. Tattoos were always going to be a part of my ‘art series’ posts (with a special shout out to my tattoo artist), but I’ve brought this forward because of some mainstream media coverage that specifically and unfairly targeted women and tattoos. This was brought to my attention by the lovely Maria Lewis via a Facebook post, and yes, she was just as pissed as I am about the gender disparity when it came to the reports. You can read Maria’s article here – I’ll wait why you do that….

Are you riled up yet? If not, you should be. As Maria rightly points out, at no stage did the mainstream media mention any stats with regard to men and their tattoos; at no stage was there a follow-up piece regarding men regretting their ink. But hey, that’s cool, right? Women and tattoos are a society no-no, aren’t they? Wrong, on both counts and on so many levels.

tattoo art

As much as I’d like to put on my ranty-pants, I think Maria has covered this issue really well, and my thoughts are pretty much going to be a mirror of her words, but I will add this: I’m under no illusions that I’m sometimes judged on my tattoos, but that speaks more to the person making those judgements than to me. What I find amusing (and yes, frustrating) is other’s belief that their opinion and words are going to make an impact on any decision I make with regard to MY body. When I’m asked ‘How will my tattoos look when I’m eighty?’ Awesome, is my answer. My tattoos will bring with them memories of that time and what they represent. They’ll grow older with me, my pieces of art.

So, now onto the art of tattooing, because it is an art-form; anyone who tells you different is kidding themselves. I currently have five tattoos – three very visible and two not. And yes, I said ‘currently’, I will be adding to my collection. Like the art I hang on my walls, I like art on my skin, too. Each has meaning to me; they’re a representation of who I am.

I’m extraordinarily lucky to have found an amazingly-talented artist in Ben O’Grady from Lighthouse Tattoo in Sydney (he’s inked my last three). When I went to see him with my last design idea he sat me down and said no, we’re not doing that – he was seeing too much of a particular section of the design around. So out comes the pencil and within moments, he’s sketched out something so outrageously good, and so very much me, I could have kissed him. It’s that kind of skill and understanding of your client that makes a tattoo artist, and why I wouldn’t go to anyone else except Ben.

tattoo 1

I’ve often heard it said that tattoos are the latest fashion trend, that ‘everyone has them’, but while there is a growing amount of society sporting ink, there’s nothing ‘universal’ about them – this generalisation never rings true. Tattoos are a personal thing, each with its own special meaning to the wearer, each tells a story. Each is as individual as the person who’s inked.

Ben’s artwork appears on my forearms, and I’ve had more people tell me they’re beautiful than I’ve had people mock, and I will pimp Ben anytime someone asks. You see, my tattoos have opened conversations with complete strangers who’ve appreciated the skill and artistry of my ink and me theirs. There’s a community within the tattooed that a lot of people don’t see; we appreciate good art, we understand there’s an addictiveness to them, and we discuss old tattoos and the ones to come. We share an experience, we share the unfair scorn and derision oft thrown our way, and we understand that no matter what others think or believe, more art will come.

So the next time you’re out and see someone walking around with artwork on their skin, don’t judge, appreciate the thought, time and skill that’s gone into producing something they’re proud to wear for all to see. And maybe, just maybe, strike up a conversation and discover the story behind the art.

 wing tattoo

 

Note: the featured image, designed by David Schembri, is another piece of art Ben has inked on my skin. 

Guest Post: The Gender Binary

My previous post about living as a woman in a world without fear garnered much conversation – always a good thing, as opening dialogue on matters that are detrimental to any members of society can only be a step in the right direction to a world filled with acceptance and kindness. The discussions I’ve had with my crazy-amazing friend, Elizabeth Wayne, are times I truly treasure; she has a unique view on the world, and I often wish she had a greater platform to reveal a mind that looks at the world and those in it on a truly global scale. So I’d like to provide a platform here, to offer another view of how the world ‘works’ through the eyes of one of the smartest people I know. As individuals, we can only look at the world through our own eyes; our experiences are subjective because we are individuals – that isn’t a negative by any means, but by reading views and experiences of others, we, as individuals and a society, have the opportunity to become more empathetic to those around us. So without further ado, I hand the floor, and the mic, over to Elizabeth Wayne…

The Ritualised Dehumanisation of Civilisation Through Labelling.

~ Elizabeth Wayne

**For this discussion, the use of the term gender is regarding the culturally dominant binary of male and female. I do not believe that gender identity starts and stops with the genitalia we happen to be born with.

Labels are a contentious thing. Stick one on a milk carton and you have all the essential information we need to know about what is inside the container (we hope). When it comes to labelling people, they, unlike the milk, might have other ideas about the labels you use. The convention of applying labels to people (a species that has managed to extend its average lifespan decades longer than our great-grandparents, giving us the prolonged opportunity to evolve our understanding of human nature as individuals within the greater community) undermines our ability to form a cohesive society built on equality, especially if you stop and consider how long we wear some of those labels.

label maker

The debate regarding gender inequality has generated heated discourse around labels such as feminist, masculinist, equalist and humanist. Everyone pointing fingers at the patriarchy, looking for someone to pin the injustice on — battlelines drawn, “Who’s side are you on?” While all this goes on, more research comes out speaking to the gender inequality against females in pay, media representation, sexual and domestic abuse, etc. The masculinists* go on the defensive, pointing out that they too are exploited in the work place (many of the people fleeing to western countries are male looking for work so they can support their family at home and are often abused by systems that exploits their vulnerability), they are also the victims of sexual and domestic abuse (one third of domestic abuse victims are male), and society is falling back on a new default position that if you are white and male you are ‘the problem’ in spite of any efforts to be part of the solution. The more the debates rage, the less room there is for intersections and the sense of ‘other’ is maintained.

All of the aforementioned issues are important. Any issue where inequality and prejudice exists should be addressed compassionately as a society. But that means pulling things apart. Things get messy. We often have to face hard truths — sometimes, we have to admit we aren’t just part of the problem, we are the problem. It starts with a baby.

Everyone on the planet knows a parent. Some of you may be parents yourselves. Did you find out the gender in-utero, or did you wait until the arrival? Either way, it usually goes a little something like this: “It’s a _______! <insert boy/girl here>.” Some of you may think ‘so what?’ That simple declaration makes gender the initial focal point of a person’s existence. This has a domino effect that will last a lifetime.

girlboy

Take a minute here and think about that. If a person’s gender shouldn’t matter on a CV, then why does it matter when they are born?

The moment those words leave your mouth, a chain reaction starts. Chances are the child has a gender-based name. The cards, balloons and gifts arrive, reaffirming the gender of the child in both proclamations and colour association. Well-meaning friends and family will buy clothes, shoes, toys, linen, nightlights, pictures and cot mobiles with the gender in mind either consciously or unconsciously. Some parents may opt for a unisex name and their child’s room is gender-neutral with colours other than blue and pink (the current cultural association of genders), not wanting to define their child. But it’s only a matter of time before the dominant gender binary asserts itself.

Somewhere in those early years, the language used to describe your child will change. All babies are born beautiful, but at some point, young boys start getting called handsome. In the blink of an eye, the adoration makes room for the start of the dehumanisation process and young children are taught that emotions are a bad thing. ‘Don’t be a cry baby.’ ‘I thought you were a big boy/girl.’ ‘Big boys/girls don’t wet the bed/cry/misbehave.’ For many children, they hear such things before they walk into a school yard. We lie to them as though adults have got their shit together and we tell them that all the feelings that they experience are the domain for very young children. These barbs are often laced with gender bias against the so-called ‘feminine’ aspects; ‘Don’t be a sooky la la.’ ‘Don’t be a sissy.’ ‘Stop crying like a girl.’ Even if their parent isn’t the person saying it directly to the child, someone else might be, perhaps a friend, relative or another child parroting what they are told. Overt displays of emotions — negative or positive — are not to be done in public, and are often suppressed at home. If your child seems to be too much of anything, someone may recommend a trip to the doctor for a diagnosis and a new label (and possibly a prescription).

For those parents that fight to keep their child’s early years gender-neutral, by the time they get to school, the gender binary asserts itself for six hours a day. It could be as blatant as boys in one line, girls in the other, or something less obvious such as discouragement from things deemed to be associated with the opposite sex (girls playing with trucks, boys playing with dolls etc). If your child tries to move across the divide, the dichotomy is so ingrained even at this early age, the ridicule and shaming from young children, parents, care givers etc is enough to cause serious damage to your child. By this stage, terms like ‘boys will be boys’, ‘man up’, ‘that’s girl stuff’ and ‘drama queen’ are readily used. Naturally, as the children get older, the terms get more vitriolic. If a child attends every year of school, a child starting school this year in Australia will spend 13 years in this pressure cooker of an environment.

Somewhere in those 13 years, hormones kick in, amplifying every aspect of their lives. Any early natural gender identity association they felt goes into overdrive and they struggle to be true to those instincts. By high school most kids have some level of autonomy about their identity and they literally start to wear their heart on their sleeve. Those that cross gender assumptions are subjected to ridicule and physical assault. It could be as simplistic as long hair on a male and short hair on a female. Parents call it rebelling when their child starts to act and dress outside their perception of who they are — a perception developed in the gender dichotomy of male and female. The adolescent calls it being authentic. Unfortunately, authenticity isn’t valued as a character trait prior to adulthood. The early, formative years are reserved for conformity, and when it comes to gender identity, being authentic or even experimenting with things attributed to one sex or the other isn’t always a safe option. The suicide rates among teens that are facing gender identity issues and/or a sexuality that falls outside the heteronormative are staggering.

lifeline

Many opinions, social structures, identities etc. have solidified into absolutes for many teenagers by the time they finish high school. From there, we throw them into the deep end — get a job, go to university, start drinking, vote and help decide your country’s fate, have sex as god intended, but don’t do drugs. Each year a new wave of teenagers are tasked with fixing the patriarchy, racism, economic disparity etc. Once upon a time, it was us. All of us raised under clearly defined ideas of masculine and feminine. All of us born to a fucked up version of society full of inequity, bias and hatred. All of us wanting to do our part to fix it. So we call ourselves feminists, buy dolphin-safe tuna and recycle, not realising just how much of the system we unconsciously perpetuate. We tell our children to treat everyone equally, but we set them up in a dichotomy the moment we tell the world what genitalia they were born with before we even utter their name. How do we expect society to dismiss gender as a barrier when everything we teach our children exists around a dichotomy that tells them gender identity is everything. If we don’t want gender to matter in the board room, then gender shouldn’t be an issue from the womb.

Add to this the other labels that often get applied at birth — ethnicity, religion, nationalism, in some cases political (the family that votes together, stays together)—  and you’ve got multiple ways to define people as ‘other’. I implore you to take some time and ponder who those labels serve and why. If those labels (and their inherent narratives grounded in fear) don’t serve us, then why do we still use them? If we are going to live in a global village, it’s time to break the label maker.

I say all of this with the gift of hindsight. My children were labelled by their gender when they were born, one with a semi-gender neutral name, the other gender-specific, both names reflect their grandfather’s heritage, they have their father’s surname even though they were born before we were married, they were christened in their father’s religion in spite of my own reluctance to christen them at all, the list goes on. Now they are young adults learning the hard way how it all works. I try to lead by example whenever I can and that means I spend a lot of time catching myself in all the little things I do and say that reinforce the gender binary. I encourage them to be smarter than me, to fight the good fight of equality with compassion, and to pay close attention for it’s the little things that keep us blind to the big picture.

Disclaimer: I am a Humanist. I do not refer to myself as a feminist because I believe that such a term only furthers the gender bias and conforms to the concept of a binary gender association when it isn’t a true representation of society. I stand for equality and compassion on all fronts. I think the time for grouping people by their differences must end. For kindness to win out, all it takes is a willingness to see ourselves in everyone around us.

I’d like to thank my dear friend and soul-sibling, AJ, for giving me the opportunity to share this.

*The use of the term here is to illustrate those that speak up for men’s rights.

*** If you or anyone you know needs support, reach out to friends and family, or contact crisis-support organisations in your area. You are not alone. ***  

Art of the beautiful monster

“Good and evil and beauty and ugliness are only ornamental fruits of perspective…” ~ HP Lovecraft

The above quote resonates with me on a number of levels. As a horror writer, I often encounter attitudes of incredulity and confusion when it comes to my choice of genre. Why would I want to write horror when there are “nicer” things to write about? It’s all about perspective. To me, there’s an authenticity to horror I find beautiful. When we’re at our most vulnerable, fighting to survive, to make it to the next moment then the next – it’s gut-wrenchingly honest. How is that not beautiful?

Like I said, it’s all about perspective. What I find intriguing, beautiful and resonant, others may find ugly, disturbing and frightening.  Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. And art is the epitome of perspective, of subjectivity.

As I’ve said in a previous post, I don’t actively seek out art, it tends to find me, and this time it was via my Facebook newsfeed. It’s where I came across the artwork of Damon Hellandbrand. He’d re-envisioned the twelve Zodiac signs – all with a monster spin. They were gorgeous, and after wallowing in the artistry of each, I knew I had to at least inquire as to whether I could own some.

Pisces
Pisces

You know that awful moment when you fall in love with a piece of art and you pray to whatever deities will listen that you can afford it? Yeah. That. So I searched and found contact details (it wasn’t stalking, I swear), and sent a rather awkward-sounding email to Damon. With him being in the States and me in Australia, there’s that crappy time-difference thing that meant he was asleep while I was awake and vice versa – it makes all emailing a waiting game.

Damon, of course, was lovely and totally ignored the artlessness of my email (see what I did there?). Not only was his work beautiful, it – if I can say this – is under-priced considering the man’s talent. I promptly bought three pieces: my star sign, and those of my daughter and son (there’s a whole ‘fat octopus’ joke in our home re my husband’s sign).

Scorpio
Scorpio

More art. That’s right. More art, and something that resonates with me and fits perfectly into the pieces that adorn our walls – a little different to most, but art that evokes thought and contemplation. It stirs the imagination, and as a writer, that’s what I want surrounding me.

There was much excitement when the art arrived, and Damon, gracious and generous, had included some postcard-sized prints as well. It was like Christmas, only better…’cause, you know, it wasn’t Christmas… and art.

I’d never heard of Damon before his art hit my newsfeed, but that’s something I hope I can change with this post. His work should be sitting on the walls of more than just my home. Go take a look at his work. Go on. I do know he’s working on another series that’s currently under embargo, and if his Zodiac set is anything to by, I know it’s going to be kick-arse work.

What are you still doing here? Go. Click that link. Dare ya.

 Capricorn

Capricorn

A World Without Fear

Last week I wrote a post about some of the issues faced by female horror writers – it’s something close to my dark little heart, what with horror being what claws its way out me. While there is a lot of support for female writers within the horror community, there’ll always be those naysayers who believe we shouldn’t tarnish their ‘man-cave’ with our cooties.

But today I’m going to take the ‘horror writer’ out of the equation and talk about living in society as a female – yep, I’m poking that bear again. Sad, really, that the idea of me speaking out about feminism means I’m ‘poking a bear’. I’m not being over-dramatic; there’s a lot of hatred directed toward the word ‘feminism’ – wrongfully directed. And my last post on feminism had a man telling me I was ‘doing feminism wrong.’

So… cards on the table. I’m a feminist. I’m not a ‘humanist’ or an ‘equalist’ – I’m a feminist. I believe in equal rights and equal pay for women (because the gender pay-gap exists); I believe that while steps have been taken in the right direction, equality still eludes us. Does this make me an ‘equalist’? No, that would mean I’d be fighting for the equal rights of women and men, of which there is surely a current imbalance. So I’m an unapologetic feminist.

feminism 1

Right, now I’ve got that out of the way, let’s head into some pretty awful territory. Two days ago I woke to the news of a young Australian woman murdered in Melbourne. Seventeen this girl was, and viciously murdered so very close to her home. At this stage, investigative police believe it a random, sexually-motivated attack (they have a suspect in custody). My daughter watched this with me and said: “This is why you worry, isn’t it?” A seemingly innocent question, but there was an undertone I had to address. I don’t want my daughter to go through life frightened or hyper-vigilant, believing the onus is on her to remain safe – why should she have to?  To stay alive? To go through life not being a victim of violence because she was born female?

I told my daughter the truth. Yes, it is why I worry. You see, this young woman who was murdered the other evening was the twenty-third woman this year in Australia to die from a violent attack. That’s right, twenty-three women to date this year – that’s almost eight women a month; two a week.

I’ve seen the questions being asked already: what was she doing out at that time alone? And while that might seem like an innocent enough question, that’s victim-blaming right there. Why not the question: what monster thought it well within his right to do that to her?

It’s that type of seemingly innocuous question that shifts rightful blame from the perpetrator. It’s that type of question that should never be asked. Just as the questions about what the victim was wearing, if the victim had been drinking, if the victim made the right decision by walking home alone, should not be part of the conversation. It. Does. Not. Matter. Apportion blame where it’s due. (Just so we’re clear — that’s the perpetrator.)

The minute these questions make it into any news report, any conversation, any online ‘debate’, then it’s nothing more than excusing the perpetrator. The blame always lays squarely on the offender.

Rape-culture-pic

But that’s not always the case. When there are instances of schools telling their female students not to wear certain articles of clothing because it’s ‘distracting boys’ – that’s reinforcing a belief that girls must be responsible for not only themselves, but take into account ‘male thinking’ and act accordingly. That doesn’t just insult women, it insults males as well. I also remember the case where a young girl was kicked out of prom because some fathers were having “impure thoughts”. When is it ever okay to place the onus of another’s behaviour or thought process on the person on the receiving end of such idiocy? Why are they responsible for another’s actions or thoughts? It’s this type of thinking, this type of victim-blaming that is prevalent in society that often makes women who are victims of assault not come forward.

The online world is particularly guilty of rampant misogyny in certain circles, as seen by GamerGate and the subsequent doxing of those women who spoke up about death threats, threats of sexual assault, and ongoing harassment by ‘men’ who felt vilified. Just this month Ashely Judd was subject to such threats for a twitter comment she made re a basketball team during March Madness. Judd, is rightly pressing charges against those who threatened her.

This is the world I live in, the world my daughter lives in. Even walking down the street I’m subjected to whistles or men yelling out things they’d like to do to me. Just last week some jerk smiled and leered “niiiice arse” at me while I was out getting groceries. When I told him to fuck off, he was offended. How dare I speak to him this way when he’d paid me a ‘compliment’. How dare I? How dare you. I’m not here for your amusement, your will, your words, I told him. He then said he wouldn’t fuck me anyway.

When I gave a ‘whistler’ the finger, I was called a lesbian. This is the world I live in. One where I have to be vigilant, one where I have to be aware of my surroundings and who’s in them. It’s a world that has me fear for my daughter – we both deserve better than that. As does every woman.

It’s my right to live in a world without fear, a world without blame, and a world where exercising opinions, ideas and thoughts don’t result in threats against your person. It’s every woman’s right.

 

 

 

Review: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Without incurring the wrath of the Jinx Faerie *invokes sign*, my reading for pleasure is going well this year, and it really has been pleasurable reading. While I have a few other reviews to write, I’m jumping ahead here with Prince of Thorns as the book is still very fresh in my mind.

This is the first of Mark Lawrence’s work that I’ve read, and I want to thank my pal, Tracy, for nudging me toward it. Prince of Thorns is the first book in the Broken Empire Trilogy and sits well within the ‘grim-dark’ of fantasy, and it’s a sub-genre in which I’m happy to spend a lot of time. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, ‘grim-dark’ is, as it sounds, a story that is grim and dark in tone and doesn’t shy away from the realities and brutality of such themes. Lawrence hits the ‘grim-dark’ mark with Prince of Thorns.

prince-of-thorns

Now before we get into this, it’s spoiler-alert time, now while I haven’t gone into too great detail with the plot (this really is something you need to experience in all its awful glory), I’m warning you all the same:

SPOILER ALERT: *clanging of bells; blaring of sirens* READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK. REPRISALS WILL OCCUR TO ANYONE BITCHING OR COMPLAINING ABOUT READING SPOILERS. (I have an angry cat and I’m not afraid to use him. Grim is his name, and he lives up to his moniker.)

Prince of Thorns is told from the first-person point-of-view of main character, Prince Jorg Ancrath, heir to the kingdom of Ancrath, we begin in the aftermath of a village plunder. Right from the outset the reader is plunged into the blood and death that surrounds Jorg, and it’s unapologetic in its telling – as it should be. The first surprise for me, which came at the end of the first chapter, was Jorg’s age – just shy of his fourteenth birthday, his savagery is something a reader would expect in one much older.

Jorg has been on the road with his outlaw ‘brothers’ since he fled from his father after an ambush that killed his mother and younger brother. Jorg, held firm within the thorns of a hook-briar, could do nothing to help his mother and brother, nothing except watch. The betrayal by his father to not seek vengeance on the man who orchestrated the ambush, pushes Jorg to seek vengeance on the mastermind on his own.

Slowly, the story unravels, but just when you think you have a hand on what’s at play, Lawrence manages to turn it on its head, and does so adeptly. There are connections with everything, foreshadowing done so well that it’s not until a revelation appears that those connections shine through.

The cast of support characters, especially Jorg’s band of brothers, are a motley crew, and by ‘standard’ fantasy tropes, not a good one amongst them (apart from Sir Makin and the Nuban – both favourites of mine), but in keeping with the grim-darkness of the book, they’re a perfect fit for not only Jorg, but the story as well. These are interesting, quirky, yet disturbing characters that I was more than happy to get to know better.

But it’s Jorg who commands the story here, and while he embraces the doing of evil deeds with much gusto and little-to-no conscience, there’s an honesty about him I liked. Hell, I was rooting for the kid the whole way. With Jorg, there’s no half-measures, and in a story such as Lawrence’s, there can be no half-measures, for those who lack commitment live very short lives and tend to die horribly.

bloody handprint

Jorg is driven by the murders of his mother and brother, but there’s more at play in Jorg’s choices and ‘non-choices’ than meets the eye – another revelation that sat well with me. Magic – there is much of it – and yes, dark magic it is. You expected different? And the monsters, aaah, the monsters, they’re plentiful and unique – the scenes that take beneath Castle Red are some of my favourite. Gog, you scamp!

There’s a revelation in this section (no spoilers – it’s well worth the wait) that puts a lot of Jorg’s… learning into perspective – at times I was pulled toward the alternate-universe theory, but this revelation was punched right out of me and I was glad for it.

Right from the beginning you know, Jorg is bound for home, for a confrontation with his remarried father. Another queen sits on the throne, one who bears the king’s preferred heir. Jorg, torn between present and past, finds himself vulnerable in ways he hasn’t been for four years – a dangerous place for him. He’s a wily fellow, Jorg, resourceful and ruthless, and the more I read the more I liked this ‘wholly unlikeable’ character. That’s the thing, I can see why some would find him unsympathetic, soulless, reaping of all that befalls him, but for me… well I liked him. Is he a sociopath? Odds kinda head that way. Is he a monster? To those who get in the way of his goals, yes. Or, is he a product of his environment and history? Aren’t we all. And it’s that honesty, the not shying away from the darkness that lives inside Jorg that makes him wholly likeable for me.

The structure of the storytelling took a little getting used to as Lawrence jumps from present to past and back again often during the storytelling – but this is clearly marked by the different fonts (and the fact it’s signposted: Four years earlier). It’s also how Lawrence gives you the breadcrumbs to Jorg’s story, his history, and the why of his nature.

I have the next instalment of The Broken Empire Trilogy – King of Thorns, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing where Lawrence takes Jorg and his ever-dwindling band of brothers.

For those who are looking for more standard fantasy fare, this might not be for you. And for those who don’t like the blood, gore, death and torture that comes with war, then this probably isn’t the book for you either. But if you’re looking for a story that doesn’t shy from the vulgarities of conquering lands and kingdoms, that is as dark as it is twisted, and has characters who have less redeeming qualities than those you find in most fantasy epics, then this is definitely the book for you.

On a goodreads scale, I give it 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars

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