Gender & Me

I’m probably going to make a video about this because that’s where most people asking the questions will be, but for now I’ll talk about gender here so I can respond to any tweets and comments about it with a link instead of an irritated regurgitation when the question may be wholly innocent.

I am female. I wrote a book in which all three protagonists are male and, as an author, I used gender neutral initials instead of my name. WHY, WHY DID I DO THIS, AM I THE PATRIARCHY?! No, and there isn’t always a fight to eagerly masturbate over whilst using flimsy rhetoric spewed out from behind your anonymous online handle. I am a feminist but I am also disgusted with outrage culture. There are many valid battles to be had, but I see a plethora of smug, ill-considered attacks littering my online landscape every day (not against myself, but against other people), and I believe they undermine the real issues. They give something for the extremists on the other side of feminism (or racism, or LGBTQ+ rights, or classism, or, or, or…) to cite as an example of how absurd these social justice warriors are and, in doing so, they get to side step the real argument and dismiss ALL feminists as shrill man-haters.

If someone genuinely makes a mistake, or says something quickly and without thought which clearly isn’t meant to encompass their entire political or social beliefs, then sure, if you want to highlight that to them, do.

I made a video a few years ago which provides a great example. It’s a response to another video I saw which requested women make better content online. I saw the video and thought, hey, I’ll respond to this with something that’s a bit fun but also acknowledges that it was poorly worded. I’m smiling in it, I’m being theatrical. It’s not an angry attack nor is it something I spent much time on. But that’s not my point. In the video I say something like, ‘Just because I have a vagina doesn’t mean I can’t be funny,‘ or something, I can’t recall, but whatever I said I equate having a vagina with being a woman. It was never meant to represent my stance on gender vs sex, or the trans community. It was something ignorant that slipped out whilst I was trying to support another kind of equality. This was before there had been so much online discussion about what it means to be trans, so I wasn’t overtly aware of how offensive that might seem, whether I meant it that way or not. These days I’d never make such a comment by accident because I have an increased awareness due to proud, educational, and brave online voices. I’m aware of always being inclusive because I know a trans woman is a woman, to me there shouldn’t even be an argument. But when I made that video and someone highlighted my offensive statement, I was genuinely apologetic. I was trying to make a positive point and accidentally hurt a group of people. It wasn’t a snide attack hidden within a video, it was ignorance. And not the wilful kind.

I still remember receiving a lovely private message from someone quoting what I’d said and explaining the issue, and I replied apologising and discussing how it didn’t represent my views in any way. I also got some comments on the video along the same lines, and I replied to those too. But then there were angry comments, how dare you comments, and I had no time for those. And that’s my example. There’s a difference between someone who hasn’t had any experience with something, who accidentally alienates a group of people with an inadvertent lack of inclusivity, and someone who hatefully and wilfully discriminates. And maybe look, too. Maybe look to see if they’ve already been told ten times, if they’ve already apologised or explained they made a mistake.

Then there are the other breed. There are those who scour the internet, rubbing their hands together, analysing every tweet, looking for something to be loudly self-righteous about. Something to garner positive attention from those who blindly retweet any ‘injustice’ without research. These people are doing it because they love to hate, to be angry, to be loudly aggrieved by the perceived marginalisation of a group they don’t belong to. And they’re not helping anyone.

Educate someone who missteps, but battle against hate.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to turn this into an essay on the issues of uncoordinated groups of people arguing online. I meant to address the simple questions listed above. So I will.

– Three male protagonists??
Yep. Three male protagonists. Why? Because I wanted them all to be the same gender, for style and a cohesive theme, and women weren’t allowed to go to war. The novel spans from the 1930s to 2012. The first chapter with Bobby as a kid contrasts him with his father, who was in WWI. Later, as a teenager, Bobby has to negotiate his own feelings about WWII and the possibility of fighting. It’s that simple.

– Gender neutral initials?? (and other thoughts)
Yep. When I was writing When We Were Alive I didn’t think, ‘How would a man react?’ I just thought, ‘How would that character react?’ This is because I don’t personally associate with being female. I don’t associate with being male, either. I’m not confessing anything, there’s nothing to confess. The only strong associations I have with being female are based around my sexuality, e.g. I wear make up, but that’s part of my sexuality, and I don’t inherently feel that I’m in the wrong body. I know I am a female because I am lucky enough to feel right in my body. That’s it. If I was in a male body I would still be 90% me and I’d be gay. I just don’t know what being female is meant to mean, I don’t think it should immediately indicate anything specific, and neither should being male. I don’t understand gender themed interests. If someone said, ‘I like knitting, cooking, and flower arranging,’ there would probably be an assumption they were female. I don’t like any of those things. I don’t like football or cars or hunting, either. I like writing, art, comedy, video games, reading, and movies. The same as everyone else.

In the book I am currently writing, I have another three protagonists: two men and one woman. One of those characters originally had a name indicating they were a different gender. I changed the name, but changed nothing else. This is because their gender had no bearing on the thoughts they were having or their reactions to the situations they had been in so far. If I was writing a feminine character, or a character from a different time, of course I’d perhaps add nuances to their thoughts. I have supporting characters who are more stereotypically male or female, but the people I’m writing about in this new novel (so far) aren’t defined by gender, and therefore their name was arbitrary. If I’m writing a scene about two people having a conversation about time travel at a pub, whether or not they tick male or female when applying for jobs should be irrelevant.  Gender only comes into play when there is a situation, social or otherwise, that distinguishes them. E.g. walking down an alley at night, when being flirted with, needing to pee in a public place.  I guess the best way I can describe it is that inwardly I am just me, outwardly I am female. Alone I am me, in public I am female.

When I originally sent my MS to my publisher, before I signed with them, I used initials. This is my personal preference. Not because I think it matters, but because when I read a book I don’t want to know anything about the author. I want no preconceived notions. Black, white, male, female, poor, homophobic, I just want to read a book. If I love it, then I’m interested. Ultimately I could hate the author and love their writing, or love the author and hate their writing. To me it’s irrelevant. My personality, or how I present myself online, is not meant to represent what I write. There will always be crossovers, but online I’m this squeaky creature who acts like a tit but litters inane rambles with allusions to depression. When We Were Alive isn’t funny. It’s not my personality. It’s me exploring themes I care about. It frustrates me that an author bio was necessary to include on the back cover of my book as it goes against everything I would want as a reader. I also asked for my photo, the one at the top of this post, to be removed from the cover because I don’t want how old I look, or my hair style, or my clothes, or even my expression, to have any relation to whether or not someone reads the book or how they respond to it. I am not one person. None of us are a single person. We are all different people depending on the situation, who we are with, and a multitude of other influences that change over time. I was not trying to hide my gender, I was trying to be nothing more than a perfunctory, unobtrusive label affixed to a story.

When We Were Alive, Cover Reveal

Okay, lads. Here it is. Here’s the cover. My previous post detailed the process of working with my publisher to decide on a cover we were both happy with, so have a click there if that’s of any interest to you.

When We Were Alive

I’m really pleased to have a cover that is (hopefully) neutral, whilst still being relevant to the story. I think it avoids being masculine or feminine, it could be picked up by a reader of any age, and it doesn’t presuppose the type of person who might enjoy the story. When asked ‘Who is the target audience of your book?’ I always think, can ‘people like me’ be the answer? And by that I don’t mean a white female in her 20s, I mean someone who has a crippling fear of death, only likes simple coffee, loves dogs and hates cats, doesn’t want to grow up in some ways but grew up too fast in others, feels most alive when scared, cracks their knuckles, feels trapped by routine, is super into the idea of sea-monkeys, feels guilt from others’ sadness, loves pulling fluff out of their eyelashes, dropped their snack biscuits in a puddle at age four and is still haunted by it, doesn’t believe in ghosts, gets freaked out by them anyway, and at the same time desperately wants to see one so that life and death still have mystery. Just someone human, really.

Whilst I adore pretty books, and I obviously understand the necessity of commercial design, I think reading is so personal, that it seems absurd to subtly suggest a book should be read by a certain ‘type’ of person. If some guy who works in finance and plays rugby at weekends loves Twilight, that’s his prerogative. If there’s some twelve year old girl sitting in a room plastered with One Direction posters, staying up into the middle of the night reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, fine, that’s what she’s into. People are complex, let’s not insult them by telling them what they should read. How the hell am I meant to know who will like my book? If anyone will like my book? I’m going to be grateful to every single person who takes the time to sit down and read it.

Of course, assuming that a pink glittery book cover would be aimed at young girls, or a stark, black minimalist cover at adult males, is a problem in itself. But right now I’m just showing you the cover of a book I wrote that will be available on real shelves in physical shops. Or you can pre-order it, which I think you can do here (or at least there will be a link to Amazon there, I don’t know, I just do the writing).

Please buy, read, and then pretend you like my book. Thank you.

Book Cover Design

A big part in the publishing journey of any novel is settling on a cover. I’ll admit this is what I was most apprehensive of when signing with my publisher. A novel is a lot like a baby, I imagine, I haven’t got a baby and I don’t want one. But I do have a novel and I don’t want people to look at it, squint, and ask if it’s a boy or a girl, only for me to explain that it’ll let me know it’s preferred gender when it’s good and ready.

Cover Design

I had no idea how much input an author would have in the cover of their novel, but I assumed it was minimal/none. Regardless, I made the above design and sent it to my publisher to sort of hint at what sort of style I might like, hoping to influence the style somewhat.

My book was originally to be published earlier this month (1/9/2015), but when I received the cover proposals I was slightly disheartened. The designs were definitely attentive to my story, and I really appreciated what I was shown, it just didn’t fit in with something I’d pick up in a book shop. And obviously I’d read the novel I wrote, so there was a slight disconnect there. I told my publisher this, and they were so very accommodating in altering one of the designs to something we both thought would work. I was worried it looked too YA for a novel which wasn’t YA, and they obviously wanted it to be commercial. They knew what would work on a shelf much better than I did, and all I knew was that I wanted my novel to look like something I’d own. We eventually settled on a design I didn’t love, but could live with. However, this back and forth meant the release date of When We Were Alive was delayed, and had to be re-shuffled into their catalogue at an appropriate time.

I want to point out that whilst I didn’t like the cover, I felt incredibly lucky to be working with people who were willing to listen to my criticisms when they really didn’t have to. Over the past few months I came to terms with the cover, and was just excited to one day see it in a bookshop.

Because of the new six month delay, I asked if I could make some small edits to the original MS. Four years had passed since I had first written it, and I like to think my writing has improved, so I wanted to tidy some areas up stylistically before a professional got their hands on it. My publisher said of course, and gave me an October deadline.

I finished editing a couple of weeks ago and sent it back to them. Yesterday I received an email with some new cover designs. This was a complete surprise. I didn’t expect any, and they certainly didn’t have to do them, but the email said they wanted us both to be happy. I was very grateful. And luckily there was a design which we both loved. It’s very different from anything we had discussed before. It’s ugly. In fact, it’s almost boring. But I really like it. I like how ugly and boring it is, because it’s somewhat different from everything else. It’s adult. It’s simple. It’s gender neutral. And it allows the story to speak for itself. Most importantly, it’s something I can be proud of without a ‘but’. I fully expect some people to dislike it, and I don’t care. I think it will reach the right audience and, most importantly, my publisher and I both love it.

I can’t show it yet, as I’m not in charge of the reveal. But I’m really pleased.