Section of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (Ellesmere manuscript)

Grammar, politics, and sexism – how do you choose a generic pronoun?

If other writers are anything like me, I’m sure they get frustrated by prescriptive articles on grammatical “rules” and “mistakes” (never use adverbs/second person/passive voice!). In general, I will argue passionately for any writer’s right to experiment with and use whatever grammatical structures best suit their voice and the voices of their characters (within the bounds of readability and not promoting racist stereotypes).

But at the same time, language is a powerful tool. As storytellers, we help inform how other people see the world. So when questions of grammar intersect with deeper issues (such as the aforementioned problem of writing dialogue that promotes stereotypes), then it’s time to think harder about the grammatical choices we make.

And that’s why I find myself writing a blog post about generic pronouns (that is, what do you use to describe a person of unknown or irrelevant gender?). Hang on to your hats – it may be grammar, but it’s also a ride through history, politics, and sexism that’s likely to upturn a few things you thought you knew about the English language.

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Freshwater otter perches on a log

This week I learned: the Babylonian swindler and the juggling otters

Just a short one this week, because once again one of my topics of choice has ballooned out into an entire post of its own (tune in next week). For now: this week I learned about the oldest recorded dodgy businessman, and the baffling hobby of certain otters.

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Colourful space-scape

Taking inspiration from Continuum 14

Something a little bit different this week. The weekend just gone was Continuum 14: Conjugation – the 14th iteration of Melbourne’s annual fan-run speculative fiction convention. I attend Continuum for many reasons – to see friends, to dance the night away at the Maskobalo, to sing bad karaoke… but most especially for the program of talks and panels.

Like all of Australia’s fan-run conventions (and probably those of other countries, but I can’t speak for them), many of Continuum’s attendees are in the literary way – whether as writers or aspiring writers, editors, publishers, reviewers, or any combination of the above, not to mention readers who think deeply and critically about the fiction they consume.

Listening to them examine the structures and tropes of fantasy, science-fiction, and horror introduces me to new concepts or new aspects of concepts I thought I understood; it challenges me to think beyond my assumptions and explore new ways to write, and new subjects to explore in my writing. There is nothing in my life that broadens my writerly horizons the way a convention like Continuum does.

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Mother of Invention Australian launch party this Sunday!

In case you’re at a loose end in Melbourne this weekend, a reminder that 2pm this Sunday at Continuum Speculative Fiction Convention is the launch party for Mother of Invention, the anthology that includes my first professionally-published short story: ‘Arguing With People on the Internet’.

There will be cupcakes! There will be authors (including me)! There will be pre-orders available for both the paperback and ebook formats of the book!

Alas, you won’t be able to buy a copy of the book at the party; such is the nature of crowdfunded projects that the backer copies of the book are still in the process of being shipped (as well as the author copies – I can’t wait to get my hands on mine!), and the editors felt it would be inappropriate to be selling the books at the launch when the people who first supported the project don’t have them yet. I entirely support their decision on this – crowdfunded projects live or die by their backers, and it’s only fair to reward them for putting their faith in the anthology before it even existed.

The good news is that the book will go on general sale via the Twelfth Planet Press website on 1st September – and, as I said, you can pre-order at the launch party this Sunday to make sure you don’t miss out on the first print run.

Hope to see you there!

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Pair of World War II posters warning about gremlins

This week I learned: gremlins, smart walls, and the secret life of the Korowai

This week I learned about the surprisingly short history of gremlins, how new technology could give your walls eyes, and about what happened when an isolated Papuan tribe met Western society’s fascination with the “primitive”.

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Scene from Steven Universe: Steven and Lapis Lazuli sit contemplating the stars Lapis wants to reach

How much realism should you demand from your writing?

I have developed a bad habit of getting too hung up on the realism of the fiction I consume.

I don’t mean that it has to portray the real world – I’m a fantasy and sci-fi fan, after all – but I find myself nitpicking anything that looks like a logical flaw in a story.

“That’s stupid,” I say of some character choice or plot point. “Why did this character pal around with that one for half the plot if she was planning to turn on him all along? Why not just kill him at the start and get on with her evil scheme?”

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Mother of Invention Australian launch date/time announced

Exciting news! The Australian book launch for Mother of Invention – which includes, you may recall, my first professionally-published short story, ‘Arguing with People on the Internet’ – has been scheduled for 2pm on Sunday 10th June at Continuum Speculative Fiction Convention in Melbourne.

If you want to attend, you will need to have at least a Continuum day membership (they offer a discount if this is your first time attending), but I highly recommend it – Continuum has been a mainstay of the Australian fantasy/sci-fi/horror community for over a decade, and it’s a great experience for writers, readers, media makers and consumers, and any spec fic fan looking to connect further with Melbourne/Australian fandom.

If you’re in the US, of course, you don’t have to wait until June – Mother of Invention is being launched there this very weekend at WisCon. But since I’m not in the US, I guess I’ll have to make do with attending the launch in my very own hometown, at a convention that had been close to my heart for a very long time.

Hope to see you at the launch of my first pro-published work!

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18th Century portrait of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette

This week I learned – the coital quandary of Louis XVI

This started out as an entertaining tidbit that arose from my recent tour of Versailles (“hee hee, royal sex ed”), which I was originally going to tack on to the end of my last TWIL post. But, as sometimes happens when I try to turn “this cool thing I heard” into “this well-researched and hopefully accurate information I’m willing to share publicly”, the real story turned out to be much more complicated – and, in this case, of much more personal interest – than I had expected.

So today I delve into the historical mystery of: why did it take Louis XVI and his queen Marie-Antoinette seven years to consummate their marriage?

N.B. the following, as well as several of the links included, discusses sex and may be considered NSFW.

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Tattoo in the asexuality pride flag colours, on a background of the actual ace pride flag

The Talk

I know, I know, I said I was going to post about Louis XVI. He can wait a week.

Last night we had dinner with Ben’s Hungarian relative (we call her that because “mother’s cousins’s ex-wife” is too much of a mouthful) and her Dutch partner. Both of them speak excellent English – they have to, since she doesn’t speak Dutch and he doesn’t speak Hungarian – and before and over dinner the conversation roamed through all sorts of interesting subjects, from personal to political.

And, at one point, we had what I’ve come to think of as The Talk.

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Reception of the Grand Condé at Versailles following his victory at Seneffe. Condé advances towards Louis XIV in a respectful manner with laurel wreaths on his path, while captured enemy flags are displayed on both sides of the stairs.

This week I learned – Kings Louis XIV-XV special edition

I know I normally make these about three different interesting things, but this week I visited Versailles, France, and learned enough things about the eccentricities of Kings Louis XIV-XVI (a.k.a. the last three kings before the French revolution) and their nearest and dearest to fill pages of blog. Here are two stories of Louis XIV and one of Louis XV (or rather, of his most prominent lover) that especially caught my fancy. As for Louis XVI, my favourite story about him has turned intriguing enough to receive its own post next week…

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