Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Invasion Day: Indigenous Australian women you should be reading

On this island continent, the 26th of January is usually known as Australia Day, a celebration of the country’s colonial formation. To put it relative to US holidays, it’s a combined Independence Day and Columbus Day. But for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (and a growing contingent of more recent Australians), it’s less a celebration and more a day of mourning, and commonly referred to as Invasion Day or Survival Day. There are plenty of resources about Invasion Day (not least A.B. Original’s Reclaim Australia album), but for now, I’d like to recommend just a few Aboriginal women writers, across platforms and genres, for those not yet familiar with their excellent work.

Twitter is often a great place to start, and there’s no shortage of passionate, insightful voices. IndigenousX, a rotation curation account, doesn’t only feature women, but the account and associated Guardian Australia channel is always good value.

One writer I discovered through IndigenousX is Celeste Liddle. Liddle is Arrernte, active on Twitter and is published regularly in Australian media on racism, police brutality, domestic violence and how the mainstream ignores Indigenous women’s voices.

Siv Parker, from the Yuwallaraay nation, writes achingly beautiful memoirs on Twitter as TweetYarns and her blog; a book is also forthcoming. Parker’s use of language and the medium she’s working on are masterful and moving; previous TweetYarns are also available via her blog.

Where to begin with Dr Anita Heiss? Heiss is from the Wiradjuri nation and has written children’s books, contemporary and historical novels, a memoir, poetry, and more. She’s an engaging orator (hearing her read children’s books is a special delight), and she’s fun and educational on Twitter.

Alexis Wright is an award-winning author from the Waanji people. Thus far, I have only read her 2007 novel, Carpentaria, but all these years later, the aftershocks of her lush description and exquisite characterisation still resonate with me.

Lastly, Ambelin Kwaymullina, from the Palyku people, is a writer, illustrator, and educator. Perhaps best known for her dystopian young adult series The Tribe (which is excellent and I wish teenage me had been able to read it!), she also writes and speaks about writing as it relates to Indigenous people. Many essays are available on her website or elsewhere.

These are just a few of my favourites, and I’m sure I’m missing many wonderful voices. Hit me up with your suggestions of other Indigenous Australian women writers.

Rivqa Rafael is a queer Jewish writer and editor based in Sydney, currently working on’s Problem Daughters anthology. Her short stories have appeared in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications), The Never Never Land (CSFG Publishing), and Defying Doomsday (Twelfth Planet Press). In 2016, she won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. She can be found at and on Twitter as @enoughsnark.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Guest post: Representation not Objectification

Representation, Not Objectification
By Cheryl Morgan

We hear a lot about the need for better representation of minority groups in fiction these days. Problem Daughters, the new anthology from, should provide exactly what we’ve been asking for. However, all too often, when that representation happens, members of the minority groups in question are unhappy. Aside from the obvious problem of lack of proper research, one of the main reasons for this is that authors—particularly cis straight white authors—confuse representation with objectification.

What do I mean by that? Well, when an author puts a minority character into a book, the first thing they often think about is how to weave that character’s minority status into the plot. That is, the author tries to make the book, at least in part, about that character being a member of a minority group. The thing that makes that character “other” in some way becomes by far the most important thing about them.

Let me illustrate this with an example dear to me: trans characters in fiction. We are much more common that we used to be. However, it is still the case that many books with trans characters focus closely on the process of gender transition for that character. To some extent that was a necessary stage that we had to go through. At some point readers needed to be educated about trans issues. But fiction has to move on from that. Trans people can’t forever only be included in books in order to talk about transition.

To see why this is a problem, consider that classic bad review in which the reviewer complains, “There was no reason for this character to be xxxx”. The reviewer is saying that the character should only be a member of the minority group if there is a compelling plot reason for them to be so. Otherwise, the character should just be an “ordinary person”, by which the reviewer generally means a straight cis able-bodied white man. If you, as an author, only put a trans character into a book to talk about the process of gender transition, then you are buying into that philosophy.

What trans readers want, and I’m sure the same holds true for members of other minority groups, is for characters like us to be treated as “ordinary people”. There’s no reason why a trans person can’t be a wizard, or a starship pilot, or a pirate queen, or a vampire hunter. We’d like to have adventures too, please, not just be relegated to the sad person who does weird things with their life and is discriminated against because of it.

Here’s a recent example. In the recent Detective Comics #948 we meet Victoria October, a top scientist in Gotham City. We learn that she’s trans because of a casual mention of her new name, and that the fact that Batman sent her a card to congratulate an old friend on her transition. There’s no transition drama. Dr. October is getting on with her life just fine. She’s not in the story so it can talk about transition; she’s just representing the diversity of life in Gotham City.

Of course this brings us up against another common anti-diversity argument, the idea that it is “unrealistic” for members of minority groups to have adventures, or hold important positions, because that would “never happen in the real world.” There are, of course, many trans women who are top scientists in the real world, but no actual superheroes.

Hopefully I don’t have to point out that the entire point of speculative fiction is the make worlds up, and that those worlds should be different in some way from ours. That difference might be that Africa is the world leader in space flight, or that single-gender communities are commonplace, or that people don’t actually care what gender you were assigned at birth.

However, as someone who studies trans history, I’d also like to point out that what most people today believe to be true about the “real world” is simply an aberrant bubble. For most of human history the idea of people transitioning gender was deemed thoroughly plausible. People might not have understood why it happened, or wholly approved, but they knew it did happen. Ideas such as homosexuality and heterosexuality, or the immutability of the gender you are assigned at birth, are products of 19th century science and philosophy, and are now looking rather simplistic and inaccurate. One of the reasons why countries like India, Pakistan and Nepal have given legal recognition to people of a third gender is that such people have lived openly in those countries for centuries.

What I’d like to see from Problem Daughters, therefore, are stories in which diversity of characters genuinely means diversity of representation, not just a bunch of stories in which members of different minority groups are objectified in some way. Given that I have lots of faith in the editorial team, I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m going to get. Although, of course, you folks have to write those stories. Get to it, please.

Cheryl Morgan is a writer, editor and publisher based in the UK. She is the owner of Wizard’s Tower Press. You can find her online at her blog, or on Twitter (@CherylMorgan).

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Making your own toys: an unrecognised feminist education

I told my mom that I’m going to make dolls of intersectional women of all times as perks for the Problem Daughters’ fundraiser. So, when we meet, she hands me a large bag full of odd scraps of fabrics. “I thought I’d contribute” she says, making it seem like she just wanted to get rid of useless stuff. But I know that she actually likes the idea. I open the bag and empty its content on the table. “Look!” my mom says, “this is a piece of the lace of your first communion dress”. I grin. I really hope I will use it for the dress of some influential courtesan. I also spot some fur. Awesome! Fur coats were all the rage among rioters in the 70s. And I’m pretty sure a Mata Hari doll would require some luxurious accessory...
“I don’t know if you can have any use for it?” my mom asks, and casually singles out a piece of soft brown fabric. I recognise it immediately. It is a leftover from a teddy bear she made me when I was maybe four. It had buttons for eyes.

I smile and I remember.

I see myself desperate because my favourite doll has broken. A cheap plastic incarnation of Candy Candy in her nurse outfit. It’s cut in half at the waistline, like the old stage magician sawing trick went horribly wrong. I am in tears and I give the pieces to my mom asking to please, please fix it. “I don’t think I can” she says after a quick assessment. “Can’t you stick it back together?” I try to suggest. “No, you can’t just glue plastic together” The notion is lost on me. What is wrong with the idea of gluing plastic? Then my mom starts looking all around the house. She doesn’t have a solution, but she’s looking for inspiration. Suddenly a “Eureka!” expression appears on her face when she opens the cutlery drawer. She takes a bunch of toothpicks and fills one of the hollow halves of my doll with them. Then it slides it into the other half. Last, she adds a little tape around it. I am in awe. It’s not perfect, but I can play with it again.

Like many other women, I have spent my adult life thinking that I was nothing like my mother. Because while the world was on fire with political activism she chose a quiet life. She got married, had four children. She never explicitly challenged the patriarchy. She never sprayed anarchist slogans on a wall. She never listened to Janis Joplin. My sisters and I had to discover feminism by ourselves. Sometimes I had to struggle to have my life choices accepted by her. Because our society teaches us to be unforgiving to our mothers and overly critical to our daughters. And yet, here I am, with my own bag of scraps of fabric and yarn, accumulated over the years, making dolls and toys for the people I love. To amuse them, to show them that they are worth my time, and my patience. You need a lot of both, as a toymaker.

I see myself bored on a summer afternoon. I bet was getting extremely annoying. Out of the blue my mom says “today we make a rag doll”. We didn’t do a lot of things together, I am curious… She takes an old cloth and folds it into half. “You first draw your doll on paper” she explains “it’s easier than drawing on the fabric. Then you cut it out and place it on the cloth. Like this. Now we pin the paper to the fabric, so it doesn’t move while we’re tracing it. Done. Give me the scissors. That’s where you cut, not on the line. You want to leave some room. You’ll see why. Now that we have the two halves, we sew them together. Not completely though! We leave a little hole for stuffing the doll”. When she’s done sewing, she takes some plastic bags, cut them in pieces and uses them as filling. Then, she draws a cute face on it. Big eyes, long eyelashes, freckles. Last she makes the hair with yarn leftovers. She always had leftovers and scraps.

I take all the new pieces that my mom has brought me, and I realise, clearer than ever, that you don’t need to be a rebel to be a feminist. It works for some of us, but it is not the only way. I now understand better that raising three girls teaching them to be strong and smart before pretty is more important and impactful than all my talking. To teach them to be serious and competent about what you do, but do it with love. That perfect things are way less interesting than those that you’ve done by yourself. My mom’s take on feminism took subtler routes than those I was ready to recognise. They sometimes passed through knitted stitches.

That’s one of the reasons I decided to offer my dolls for the Problem Daughters fundraiser. First, I was very excited at the idea of making dolls with the features of inspiring women. Women that faced different kind of marginalizations, often at the same time, and nonetheless were strong enough to became an example to others. Reproducing their look in the highest detail, finding the right fabric and accessories for their outfit is my way to express my love and admiration for what they achieved. Second, I really look forward to reading the stories that will be published in Problem Daughters and I wanted to help raising enough money to pay pro rates to the authors and artists. But, it’s also my way to honour the women in my family, and what they taught me.

So, if you’ve always wanted your personal doll of Phillis Wheatley, or Carrie Fisher, or Josephine Baker, or whichever great woman inspired you… I will make it for you! We’ll decide together how to dress her and how she will look like. I promise, it will be funny and adorable! If you actually make me use my first communion dress lace for the doll of a kick ass feminist, you also get my eternal gratitude.

“Why don’t we make another doll?!”
“No, this time you make one”
“I don’t know how to do it…”
“Yes you do. What do you need?”
“A cloth. Some paper. A pen. Pins. Scissors. Plastic bags…”
“Do you see? You know it! Show me how you make it”
And I do. With her help, of course. But I do know all the steps.
At the end, the most difficult part is to draw the doll’s face. I bite my lips in concentration, trying very hard to copy the pretty face that my mom drew on the first one.
When I finish I’m delighted. I have done it! I can make my own toys! It is the first very strong feeling of empowerment that I remember.
The face of my doll is not even near my mom’s one. The nose is just a large “L” and the mouth is not a cute pouting one but a big, smiling “U”. I show it to my mom.
“It’s not very beautiful…”
“No” she agrees. “But it’s your first one. If you make more, you’ll get better”.
I grab both my dolls and go to play.
Yes. I’ll make more.

You can buy your custom crocheted doll of an intersectional feminist of your choice on the Problem Daughtersfundraising page. There are only two left, so hurry up! You can also just preorder your copy of the upcoming anthology and help make it happen.

* The crocheted and knitted toys in the pictures are my executions and customisations of patterns by: Beth Doherty, Marjorie Jones and Alan Dart

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Interview with Margrét Helgadóttir

Today, Problem Daughters editor Rivqa Rafael talks to Margrét Helgadóttir about her latest work with Fox Spirit Books, Asian Monsters.

Margrét Helgadóttir is Norwegian-Icelandic and lives in Oslo, Norway. Margrét’s stories have appeared in several literary magazines and print anthologies. She was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Awards 2016 as writer with the debut book The Stars Seem So Far Away, and as editor for African Monsters, both published by Fox Spirit Books. She is editor for the Fox Spirit Book of Monsters, seven annual anthologies published between 2014 and 2020, and the anthology Winter Tales (2016). Find out more about Margrét on her blog or Twitter.

World of Monsters seems like a hugely ambitious project, with each book aiming to cover a huge range of folklore and mythology. How did you go about trying to get a representative sample?
Well, it is ambitious. Not only do we want a broad range of monsters, but we also wish to show the world authors and artists in the different regions, many largely ignored in the western popular culture. So from volume two (Africa), I have searched for authors with a strong connection to the continent or region who can either tell a tale of monsters based on local folklore or create a new monster. This means that I need both information about the background of the writer plus knowledge of their writing style. I spend lots of time in the beginning of each book project researching and building up the table of contents. I want writers from every corner of the continent. It is a goal but I can't succeed hundred percent with this. It has something to do with language, if there exist writers at all, and if I can reach them and they want to participate. It is always sad when a writer backs out of the project at some point because he/she is carefully selected and is not only a good writer, but also a representative for this part of the continent in the book.

This is of course not a guarantee that the writers will write about their country or a monster from the local folklore. I am always talking with the writers early in the project to make sure they don't select a monster which is already picked by other contributors. We can't have a book with fifteen stories about vampires for instance. There are always one or two monsters which are more popular than others so I try to challenge the writers to think broader. As the book slowly builds and I know a little bit about what monsters will be featured, I can usually see what direction the book is leaning. I might then give hints and directions to the authors who haven't made up their mind yet, about what kind of monsters that are neglected. Also it is a balance. At the same time as I want a representative range of monsters I must respect that each region often has a folklore dominated by this or this kind of monsters. In Asia it was clear that demons, ghosts and spirits was the thing. In the Pacific Ocean it seems to be (of course) monsters in the water.

So it is an unusual and time-consuming anthology method since I am slowly building it up and taking lots of risks since I never know how the stories will turn out. Great fun!

Any illustrations in books (at least, outside of children's books) are enough of a rarity these days. What made you decide to go all the way in the other direction, with such a gorgeously and comprehensively illustrated book?
It has been our mission to give the monsters a renaissance as real monsters, a comeback of sorts with gorgeous art and in the style of a coffee table book, with short stories, art, and graphic stories. We really felt they deserved to be put on the coffee tables in the glamorous style right there the middle of the humans' homes. I am very lucky that the publisher Fox Spirit Books shares this vision as these books are quite expensive to make.

I'd never expect you to choose a favourite story or illustration, but is there something unique about the Asian monsters that you can share with us?
Oh I do have favourites but I would never share them! In the continent of Asia you find same monsters as in other parts of the world but what has struck me while editing this volume is all the spirits and ghosts who exist in much of the Asian folklore. Also, I would say that home is an underlying theme in Asian Monsters, but it’s not so much about the place but about the family itself and the strong relationships between loved ones, dead, living or not there.

American monsters seem timely, but Australian monsters are pretty cool. Which will be next?
We discussed the order quite long but Pacific Monsters is next volume up, covering Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii. The next two volumes after Pacific region will cover South, Mid and North America, including the Caribbean Islands, while the last volume in the series will take us to Eurasia, including Russia, much of Eastern Europe and the Balkan. So, four more volumes to go!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Problem Daughters blog carnival

As part of our campaign to fund the Problem Daughters speculative anthology of marginalized voices (see IGG fundraiser) the three editors (Nicolette Barischoff, Rivqa Rafael & Djibril al-Ayad) are undertaking a furious but glamorous tour of blogs, interviews, and other posts hosted by friends and colleagues in the science fiction and fantasy worlds, and beyond. We'll keep a running link round-up of posts on this page as we go on for the next few weeks. (If you'd like for us to visit your blog too, or you'd like to offer to write a guest post for us here, get in touch!)

More links to come. Please check back for daily updates on the Problem Daughters Blog Carnival!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

#ProblemDaughters Book Club

The editors of the Problem Daughters anthology invite you to join us in a Twitter chat to discuss the project, and to ask the community for recommendations of books, stories, films, or other speculative works that successfully amplify the voices, lives and experiences of marginalized women, such as those who are of color, QUILTBAG, disabled, sex workers, and especially the intersections of these.

The chat will take place on Friday Jan 6, at 2100 UTC (1300 PST; 1600 EST; 0800 Jan 7 AEST). It will run for about an hour, and will be moderated by Elizabeth Fitzgerald of Earl Grey Editing. To find the chat, point your Twitter client or search at the hashtag #ProblemDaughters; to join in, simply make sure that hashtag is included in each tweet you want to share with the rest of the participants.

Please join us!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Problem Daughters: the next anthology

Today we kick off a fundraiser for a new anthology, Problem Daughters, showcasing speculative fiction by and about marginalized women, to be co-edited by Nicolette Barischoff, Rivqa Rafael and Djibril al-Ayad. You can find our Indiegogo campaign, all our goals and rewards, at

Like many good ideas, this began when a few people who didn’t know each other very well found a light-hearted chat veering into a deeper discussion of how we judge the feminist credentials of a story or film. The idea grew in the telling, as these things do, until we reached our brief:

Problem Daughters will amplify the voices of women who are sometimes excluded from mainstream feminism. It will be an anthology of beautiful, thoughtful, unconventional speculative fiction and poetry around the theme of intersectional feminism, with a specific focus on the lives and experiences of women of colour, QUILTBAG women, disabled women, sex workers, and any intersection of these.

We’d love your support for this project, either by backing the fundraiser yourself (you can pick up some great perks, including pre-ordering the paperback or ebook, bundles of previous FFN anthologies, story crits, historical feminist dolls, or tuckerizations), by spreading the word to all your friends on- and offline, or by offering rewards or perks to add to the bounty!

This fundraiser will run for six weeks, and we’ll be adding further perks and stretch goals to our IndieGoGo campaign as we go. We’ll also be visiting various blogs and social media platforms to talk more about the project, and inviting guests to talk with us about intersectional feminism in spec fic more generally. We hope very soon to have exciting news about cover art, and all being well we’ll be able to share some initial images with you in the near future.

We’ll open our Call for Submissions as soon as we have raised enough contributions to guarantee pro rates, or when the fundraiser ends on February 14, 2017, whichever is the sooner. The anthology will then officially be published in October 2017, but perks will be delivered as soon as possible, and you can find us showing off ARCs at WorldCon in Helsinki this August.

We are:
  • Nicolette is a pirate queen, ruling her empire from her levitating Professor X chair. She writes stuff. Find her on Twitter @NBarischoff, or check out some of said stuff at
  • Rivqa is a queer Jewish cyborg who lives in the future (ie, Australia), where she writes speculative fiction and edits science literature. She tweets as @enoughsnark.
  • Djibril is by night the dashing general editor of The Future Fire and Publishing, by day a mild-mannered, bespectacled historian and educational futurist.