Cranky Ladies of History guest post: Lise Meitner

I’m cranky on behalf of Lise Meitner, a brilliant physicist.

Guest post by Deidre Tronson

meitnerWas Lise Meitner cranky?

Although she and her nephew, Otto Robert Frisch,  had done the theoretical physics calculations and first proposed that a uranium nucleus had split into smaller pieces (later named nuclear fission),  she did not win the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for that discovery. The only recipient was  her long-time colleague Otto Hahn, who had performed the chemistry experiments  to prove that fission had actually occurred.

I would have been cranky. Very cranky. Continue reading “Cranky Ladies of History guest post: Lise Meitner”

Cranky Ladies guest post: Helen Leonard

Guest post by Gillian Polack

Helen Leonard always said to me that the best way to enter a meeting was late and with a camera around your neck, because it meant that one instantly defeated the biggest problem women have in meetings: being seen. She then explained her theory that women should be stroppy. I was one of many women to whom she said these things, but for me it was a pivotal moment in our relationship. It defined Helen for me.

I had arrived late to a meeting, and she had saved me a place next to her. It was a rare chance for representatives for women’s groups to talk to the Attorney-General about a range of things. There weren’t many of us, and the AG actually turned up, and Helen was right – because I’d come a bit late, the staffers noticed me when my hand went up. That was the thing about Helen, she had a tendency to be right.

She was just two years older than I am now when she died. I took her death to heart and thought about what I really wanted to do with my life. Helen was trying to turn me into a stroppy woman, someone who could fight where others would give up. I’m good on committees and get big events arranged without too much fuss, but I needed my inner stroppiness brought out. Helen did that. Her death taught me to fight harder and to pick my battles and to leave idiots to stew with other idiots and I rather suspect that these days I don’t look as gentle as I really am. I now carry a camera, too. I don’t do the things Helen wanted me to, for she taught me another lesson: all lives are important. I had been a ‘yes-person’, doing things for others because I was good at it and because they asked me. Helen’s particular sweet crankiness taught me that it’s possible to change the world without sacrificing yourself.

Helen had a knack: she dragged women from little lives and showed them the bigger world. She reminded us that we were entitled to walk in this bigger world. Under Helen’s tutelage, I had so many remarkable experiences. I’ve talked about the experiences elsewhere. I’ve even fictionalised some of them. Their common element was Helen.

Helen had a little black book. When we were working out the program for Australia’s first Women’s History Month, I said, “We can’t get attention without big names. I can ask my writer-friends and some of my friends from various committees, but that’s not nearly enough people.” My friends helped out in three different countries and have helped me celebrate Women’s History Month ever since. Several of them will appear on my blog throughout March. Their enthusiasm and support didn’t magically turn them into enough people for a national celebration. “This is impossible,” I said. “How can we get Women’s History Month started with such a small committee and just a half dozen guests?” We had a webhost and a complete technical support team already – my US publisher had volunteered all of this. We just needed a programme.

We were sitting on rickety chairs at the National Women’s Media Centre. Around us the air was hazy with cigarette smoke, and every now and then Helen’s partner would hazard a comment from her desk across the room. She didn’t add anything at this point. She knew about the black book.

Helen and I spent two hours working through that book. At one stage it disintegrated entirely. It did the job, though. It peopled our programme. We’d put together ideal panels from the names in it – my favourite never eventuated,  ‘women who Helen went to school with who are now mothers of internationally famous women’ – and Helen would ring them up and leave messages or talk them instantly into joining us. Some were travelling. Some had computer fear. Some got back to Helen later. In that one session, though, we developed a schedule of chats and panels for the following March. Anne Summers joined us, and Dale Spender, and many others.

What struck me just then was that the big world Helen was introducing me to was already there. It is for most of us, but it’s perhaps obscured by our small sense of self. We’re shy, or submissive, or polite, or reticent, or don’t want to bother people. That’s why Helen was my choice for the Cranky Women of History column. She taught me that it didn’t matter if I were all those things, I should ask my friends and acquaintances, “Would you like join me in celebrating Women’s History Month?”

I live a small life now. I live in a small flat and don’t get out much. Most people don’t even know about my strange past life. My current existence is really not so tiny, though, when you stop to look.  My inner world and my friendships give me a much vaster existence than the size of my flat. Being stroppy means asking people, listening to people, paying attention to them and to oneself.  And then those people become your friends. This is how Helen grew our lives. It’s hard to shrink into nothing after having known her.

This is what Helen Leonard taught me. That women’s issues are about all of us. They’re for all of us.  We need to find our personal equivalent of walking into major meetings late, carrying cameras. We need to all become Cranky Women of History.

Cranky Ladies logoThis post is written as part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If  you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support our Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the world.

Cranky Ladies of History guest post: Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen, breaking the bounds

Guest post by Juliet Marillier

Hildegard of Bingen, from the Rupertsberger Codex
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Your name is Hildegard. You’re in Germany, it’s the year 1106, and your parents – aristocratic, well-off, devout – have decided that you’ll be a nun. You say goodbye to your nine older siblings and are passed into the care of an anchoress, Jutta, who lives enclosed in a cell within a Benedictine monastery at Disibodenberg. Anchorite cells are often built within the walls of churches, and their inhabitants never leave them. One small window allows supplies to be passed in, and another lets you hear the Holy Office. You are eight years old.

Jutta teaches you to read, write and pray. You also learn music and various practical skills. Ten years pass, and at eighteen you become a nun. Twenty more years pass. There’s now a small community of women at the monastery – fortunately Jutta’s cell is a spacious one, with several rooms.

Then Jutta dies. She’s been your teacher, companion and substitute mother for almost your whole life, so this is a turning point for you. You’ve been thirty years shut away from the outside world. What kind of woman have you become? Obedient, scholarly, shy? Devout, conservative, a follower? Maybe you’re difficult, eccentric, even unhinged.

Jutta’s death marks the beginning of the second half of your life, and a pretty extraordinary life it proves to be. You are chosen by unanimous vote as the new leader of the female community at Disibodenberg. You take control capably. And you have another new focus. Since early childhood, before you entered the monastery, you have experienced intense and powerful spiritual visions. You start to record these in writing, with the help of a young monk who acts as secretary. Illuminated pictures to accompany the text are created under your instruction. In time you will write nine books, ranging over theology, physiology, botany, biology, religious commentary and more. Your writings are given papal approval.

As well as your books, you write many letters. You urge senior clerics to do more about corruption in the church; you even tell the pope to work harder on church reform.

More women join your community and the quarters get impossibly cramped. You make a decision to move your sisters to a new establishment near Bingen, standing firm against the objections of the Abbot and monks at Disibodenberg. Once you move, your convent is not attached to a monastery, but stands alone. You become Abbess. When numbers continue to increase, you establish a second convent.

You compose a body of remarkable religious music, using a free-wheeling, often ecstatic style that is radical for your time.

You continue to experience powerful visions. Your descriptions of these, in both words and images, are vivid and sometimes stretch the boundaries of orthodox theology. In your later years you undertake various preaching tours, during which you speak out publicly against corruption in the church.

When you are 80, you anger your archbishop by allowing an excommunicated man to be buried in your cemetery. You are told to disinter the body and you refuse. Since the dead man confessed and took communion before he died, you reason, the archbishop is in error. You head out to the cemetery and remove every trace of the burial, so nobody else can find the body and dig it up. This is the act of a woman with a strong sense of social justice, a sound knowledge of religious law and a fearless preparedness to take on the authorities. The archbishop slaps an interdict on your convent, meaning the divine office cannot be sung there. You write to him, letting him know that the interdict has silenced the most wonderful music on the Rhine, and that those who silence music will, after death, go to a place where they cannot hear the angelic chorus. Subtle, no. Effective, yes. The interdict is lifted.

You die the following year. In the centuries that follow you are often called a saint, but it is not until 2012 that you are officially canonised.

Hildegard of Bingen, your life and works were indeed remarkable. At the turning point, when your mentor died, you could have become just one nun among many. Instead you stepped forward, all fierce intelligence, and used the rest of your life to magnificent creative purpose. You were a leader. Your influence is still felt all these years later. Your work has been studied and respected by figures as different as the ultra-conservative Pope Benedict XVI and the controversial Episcopalian writer and teacher Matthew Fox. Your music is appreciated by musicologists and New Age meditators alike.

Despite your extensive body of writing, you remain curiously elusive. Even in your letters, you always presented yourself as an unworthy, inadequately educated mouthpiece for the divine wisdom of the visions (which effectively placed you above criticism by the church authorities.) We get a sense of Hildegard the scholar, Hildegard the devout Christian, Hildegard the practical leader, Hildegard the passionate advocate for justice. But Hildegard the woman remains a mystery.

I imagine you were sometimes difficult. Saints do tend to be stirrers. You were most likely a little eccentric, as highly intelligent people often are. You were also creative, imaginative, brave, clever and wise. You must have been a formidable presence. I bet you made the bishops shake in their clerical shoes. You surely made people sit up and listen.

Odd, isn’t it, how that decision your parents made when you were eight years old, a decision that on the surface seems heartless, gave you the best opportunity your time and culture could allow for using your remarkable abilities. The religious life allowed you to exercise your intellect and your formidable energy to the full. Perhaps your parents saw the spark of greatness in you from the first.

Cranky Ladies logoThis post is written as part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If  you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support our Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the world.

New reviews and more guest posts

OneSmallStepCoverdraftA few days ago, DK Mok (whose excellent story “Morning Star” closes out the One Small Step anthology), wrote a guest post for SF Signal. We have such knowledgeable and talented authors here at FableCroft! DK’s post looks at humour in fantasy, and why it is so tricky to do well but why it’s good to do!

Humour can be a tough sell. It might take a reader several chapters to realise that a dramatic novel isn’t to their taste, but in a light-hearted novel, the first pun can be a dealbreaker. It’s the exquisitely subjective nature of humour that makes it such a tricky element to handle. A reader who loves Hogfather might loathe Red Dwarf. Someone might find Douglas Adams thigh-slappingly hilarious, but Piers Anthony leaves them cringing. Reading a mediocre drama might be boring, but reading a mediocre comedy can be excruciating.

In other news, Dave Versace gave One Small Step a great review on Goodreads – among other things, he says: Smart, heartfelt and a little bit otherworldly. Thanks Dave!

Thoraiya Dyer guest posts at SF Signal!

Thoraiya is the only author to appear in every one of FableCroft’s anthologies, and I had the privilege of publishing her very first story with Andromeda Spaceways, and another early one in New Ceres Nights. You might say I like her work 🙂 Thoraiya has guest blogged at SF Signal on the topic of “Animals in Fantasy” – as a vet, she knows what she’s on about, and it’s an interesting topic!

From the post:

Prevailing wisdom is that fantastic secondary worlds are generic when they contain ravens, horses and hounds, but as soon as you insert a kangaroo, you jolt the reader out of their suspension of disbelief and rudely bring them crashing back to reality.

Read more at SF Signal!

Faith Mudge on Feminism in Fairytales

TsaDScoverA little while ago, FableCroft author Faith Mudge guest posted at SF Signal on the topic “Feminism in Fairytales”. Faith’s excellent story “Oracle’s Tower” (in To Spin a Darker Stair) is a very clever reworking of a traditional tale, and her beautiful piece in One Small Step also subverts fairytale tropes. Faith blogs frequently on fairytales at her own blog, and she really knows her stuff! From the article:

I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but I’m pretty sure 2012 was the Year of the Fairy Tale. There wasn’t an official announcement or anything, but the nod was clearly given in secret circles and the retellings spread outwards like ripples on the waters of speculative fiction. Novels such as Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, Sophie Masson’s Moonlight and Ashes and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder were released, there were big movie adaptations Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, there was even a TV series. Hell, there were two TV series! I’m a fiend for fairy tales; I was in paradise. And I was seriously impressed by the ingenuity of all these storytellers for finding something new to say about stories that have been retold over so many years.

But there was also a bitter aftertaste that’s been bothering me for some time. It was so subtle, and so pervasive, that it is difficult to pin down when exactly I first noticed it – in the reviews? The promotional interviews? The posts I read afterwards? What I noticed was this: that when people spoke about a fairy tale adaptation, the assumption was that it would be better than the original. Specifically, that the women would be better.

I highly recommend the post to you, if you’re at all interested in the resurgence of fairytale retellings in all media, and particularly the portrayal of women in these.

Guest Blog: Rabia Gale

FableCroft welcomes author Rabia Gale to the blog! I discovered Rabia’s amazing writing via a recommendation from Joanne Anderton, and have since devoured as much of her work as I can get my hands on. Rabia breaks fairy tales and fuses fantasy and science fiction. She loves to write about flawed heroes who never give up, transformation and redemption, and things from outer space. Rabia grew up in Karachi, Pakistan and now lives in Northern Virginia. Visit her online at See the end of the post for a teaser from Rabia’s latest work, Rainbird, (which I’ll be reviewing soon!).

Today, Rabia shares her thoughts on balancing family with writing, something which resonates with me strongly.

Balancing Act: On Raising Both a Family and a Writing Career

Juggling parenting, homeschooling, writing, and publishing is a tricky act—and one that often involves dropped balls, shattered plates, and knives falling all over the place. I can’t claim to be an expert at this, and it doesn’t help that as soon as I have one stage figured out, I’m confronted by something new and unexpected. (I can see the parents out there nodding their heads!)

However, a few attitude adjustments have made it possible for me to fit writing and family life together.

Everything comes in seasons. 

I might actually be able to have it all–only not at the same time. Raising my children is my top priority at this season of life. However, in fourteen years they’ll all be adults. I’ll be able channel more of my time and energy into writing and publishing then. Right now, I’m content to fit it into an hour or two a day.

There are also cycles in the shorter-term. There are weeks that I’m going to be busy with family activities, and weeks when I have to put more hours into my writing to meet deadlines. There are days I have to devote to housecleaning, and days that I set aside to deal with administrivia. Understanding these cycles keeps me from getting agitated or down on myself for not being productive in all areas every single day.

My routines are flexible

I always get a lot more writing done during the school year than in the summer because we have a routine. I know when we’re doing math and when we’re studying history, when the kids have gymnastics or taekwondo, what we’re having for dinner, and when I can write. Routines prepare my brain for each activity as it comes up, and free me from having to constantly make decisions about what I’m going to do next.

But we all know that Life Happens. So routines have to be flexible. As I write this, Hurricane Sandy is barreling up the east coast of the United States. Today I took stock of the pantry, filled up bottles (and bathtub) with water, did laundry, and mentally prepared myself for the storm.

I haven’t done a lick of fiction writing. But that’s okay. I know I’ll come back to it.

I’m going for the slow build

I want writing fiction to be my fulltime career when my children leave home.

But I’m laying the groundwork for that now.

Earlier this year, I self-published a collection of short stories. I followed that up with another collection, a short story, and a novella. I plan to release more work at a steady rate that fits my current lifestyle. I’m also submitting short stories to anthologies and ’zines.

I don’t expect to make a living wage from writing anytime soon. Instead, I’m working on developing good habits, learning from my mistakes, improving my craft, creating relationships with other people in the industry, and building my readership and my backlist.

I’m focusing on shorter formats

Before this year, I would have told you that I was a novelist to the core. Short stories were only flings; novels were my serious passion. As my life has gotten busier, shorter fiction has become more appealing to me as a reader. This has made me more receptive to writing it.

I’ve especially come to love the novella form. In a print-based world, novellas didn’t make much sense — too slim to stand alone on a bookstore shelf, too long to be part of an anthology (unless written by a Big Name). Now, because of digital publishing, we’re seeing a resurgence of the novella form, which is great for me.

Novellas allow me to develop my characters, setting, and plot while writing fewer words in less time. Much as I’d love to write an epic urban gothic science fantasy with wide-ranging scope, multiple points-of-views and encompassing several volumes, that’s my Someday Project. Considering my limited time right now, short stories, novellas, and short novels make more sense for me.

Thanks, Tehani, for having me as your guest!

Rainbird Blurb

She’s a halfbreed in hiding.

Rainbird never belonged. To one race, she’s chattel. To the other, she’s an abomination that should never have existed.

She lives on the sunway.

High above the ground, Rainbird is safe, as long as she does her job, keeps her head down, and never ever draws attention to herself.

But one act of sabotage is about to change everything.

For Rainbird. And for her world.

Rainbird is a fantasy novella of about 31,000 words.

Now available at Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Excerpts at Rabia’s site