Today’s guest is bestselling fantasy author and Aurealis Award winner Trudi Canavan! Her books include The Black Magician Trilogy, Age of the Five Trilogy, The Traitor Spy trilogy, and her upcoming novel Thief’s Magic, to be released in May (which I’m really interested in reading after taking a look at the beginning of it!). I’m thrilled she is here today to discuss Australian women writing fantasy—and to have one copy of Thief’s Magic to give away!
Doing What Comes Naturally: Aussie Women Writers of Fantasy
A few years ago, thanks to Twitter, I heard a strange thing. People were noting that the ‘most anticipated books’ lists for the next year were dominated by books by male writers. ‘How can this be?’ I asked myself. ‘Most fantasy is written by women.’
So I went in search of ‘Most Anticipated’ and ‘Best Of’ lists, examined Amazon, Goodreads and Wikipedia, and was utterly flabbergasted to find long lists of books written mostly by men, and of those written by women a huge proportion was urban fantasy.
Though my belief that most fantasy is written by women was wrong, the impression these lists gave was also far out of kilter with the true proportion of books written by women. When I expressed my dismay on Twitter, the responses were well-meaning but disappointing. They ran along the lines of:
“But women don’t write/read fantasy.”
“Why don’t you read urban fantasy instead?”
“This is how it naturally is.”
Well, the first response was so clearly wrong, since I both write and read fantasy, that I ignored it. The second I bristled at. I like alternate world fantasy – fantasy set somewhere other than our world. (Some call it epic, some call it quest. I find ‘alternate world’ includes both as well as books that don’t quite qualify as either but are clearly fantasy.) Sure, I’ve read and enjoyed urban fantasy, but it’s not what rocks my boat. Telling me to read urban fantasy is akin to telling me to read crime, or romance, or contemporary fiction – it’s telling me that I shouldn’t read what I like, and it’s not far from telling me I shouldn’t be writing it, just ‘cause of my gender. The third response amused me greatly. I’m sure the tweeter couldn’t possibly know they were suggesting we Australians are unnatural freaks.
You see, roughly two thirds of Australian alternate world fantasy written for adults and published by middle to large publishers is by women.
At the time I didn’t know the ratio, though I knew it was nothing like the 10% or less I was seeing on those lists. I worked it out later after doing a pile of research, online and off, and feeding the information I’d gathered into a big spread sheet. And then worked out how to make charts.
(click graph to enlarge)
I suspect if I included small press and self-published writers, the ratio of women would be higher, but the next book had the bigger claim on my time. I also wanted to take into account the influence of publishers on the gender balance. When it came to young adult books, I only included the few authors whose books had clearly made a big mark in the adult market and/or had been nominated for adult fantasy categories of awards. I also expanded the selection to include New Zealand writers, because it made it easier than trying to decide the nationality of authors who had emigrated. Since I’ve created the spread sheet more new writers have been published, or I’ve been alerted to names I’d missed. It hasn’t changed the ratio.
So are we Aussies unnatural freaks, or is everyone else? Why do us gals Down Under have it so good? I have a theory. It has two sides:
First, there are cultural attitudes. When I was a teenager girls read fantasy and boys read science fiction. Boys wouldn’t be seen dead reading ‘stuff about unicorns and fairies’. This was in the 80s. (Yes, I’m old.) I’ve asked friends around Australia if this was their experience, too, and many agree. It’s also interesting to note that not all overseas books make it into the Australian bookshops – only the most successful fantasy reaches us – and I remember reading plenty of female authors along with the male.
Second, there’s the youthfulness of our local market. A quick history follows: Prior to 1990 there were no big fantasy imprints in Australia. Pan Macmillan took a stab at it by publishing Martin Middleton. His first book sold out in weeks, so they knew they were onto something. This got the attention of other publishers, and a few started imprints in the mid-90s, the most active being HarperCollins Voyager, which launched with the very successful Sara Douglass. The growth in the industry peaked in the early 00s, levelled out in the mid 00s and started to grow again in the 10s.
(click graph to enlarge)
I’ve noticed, when watching and reading interviews with other fantasy authors, that they are nearly always influenced by their predecessors. Readers, too, crave more of what they’ve already enjoyed, seeking writers similar to those whose works they already like. Publishers take note of this, and try to cater to that demand along with providing something new.
Sure, Australians read and love writers like Tolkien, Moorcock and Feist, too, but they had less influence on us as actual people because they were far away. Could it be that not having a lot of famous men as our SFF predecessors meant we didn’t get the impression that everything they are amounts to the best and only formula for success?
Perhaps this meant we were free to do what came naturally, and which brought about an explosion of talented writers taking fantasy in new and exciting directions – two thirds of them women. Women who, along with the men, produced fantasy that is immensely varied, from whimsical to bloodthirsty, lyrical to fast-paced, political, dynastic, swashbuckling, laced with magic, confronting realism or delightful escapism.
Anybody complaining that fantasy is just the same old thing repeated over and over ought to try some Australian fantasy.
Because, naturally, when you broaden your horizons when it comes to writers, whether from Down Under or not, you broaden your horizons when it comes to the stories you read, too.
For those who might want to sample some Australian and New Zealand fantasy during Women in SF & F Month, here’s a list of authors you could try. The full list including the guys is on my website.
Trudi Canavan lives in Melbourne, Australia. She has been making up stories about people and places that don’t exist for as long as she can remember. While working as a freelance illustrator and designer she wrote the bestselling Black Magician Trilogy, which was published in 2001-3 and was named an ‘Evergreen’ by The Bookseller in 2010. The Magician’s Apprentice, a prequel to the trilogy, won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2009 and the final of the sequel trilogy, The Traitor Queen, reached #1 on the UK Times Hardback bestseller list in 2011. For more info, visit www.trudicanavan.com.
Thief’s Magic Giveaway
Courtesy of Orbit, I have a copy of Thief’s Magic to give away! This giveaway is open to those with a mailing address in the US, UK, Canada, or Australia.
Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “Thief’s Magic Giveaway.” One entry per person and one winner will be randomly selected. Those from the the US, UK, Canada, or Australia are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Friday, May 2. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).
Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.
Update: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.