We broke off yesterday with the conclusion that Rod Rees was either clueless or deliberately trolling. But what about his publisher, Jo Fletcher Books?
It is important, I think, that we absolve JFB of malice. When a publisher gives a writer access to a platform to promote said writer’s newest novel, whether or not that publisher agrees with their writer’s opinions, I believe the general assumption is that the writer will do their best avoid doing something that will bring the publisher’s platform into disrepute. Busy editors and PR persons should be forgiven for cursorily glancing at the first paragraph or not even reading it at all before cuing it up.
(I’m not saying this is best practice. But it’s an imperfect world, and I sincerely doubt any publishing imprint is over-provided with available staff-hours.)
In fact, Jo Fletcher Books is an imprint I’ve been watching with interest. They’ve published two debut SF novels by women just this year – Stephanie Saulter’s Gemsigns and Naomi Foyle’s Seoul Survivors – along with Karen Lord’s second novel, The Best of All Possible Worlds. Looking into Waterstones in Liverpool yesterday brought home to me just how much UK shelfspace in SFF – particularly in SF and in epic fantasy – is dominated by male names, and I confess to nursing a small, quiet hope that JFB’s decision to bring SF debuts by women on board this year might help to start evening things out.
That’s partly why I’m so disappointed by their response to criticism of the Rod Rees article, and their choice to run said article on their imprint’s official blog.
Let me take a minute here to articulate my own feelings about that article. Foz Meadows, I think, put it best: “my entire brain explode[d] in a symphony of What The Actual Fuck in D Minor.” It is remarkably – remarkably! – alienating and off-putting to read that how to write successful female characters is, instead, how to write a caricature of a male-gaze-constructed, gender-essentialist, Mirror Universe image of a woman. My anger was vast. My disgust was vaster. My weariness at Not More Of This Bullshit Haven’t We Had Enough? reached gargantuan proportions and turned after contemplation to even more rage.
What is published on an organisation’s website is assumed, rightly or wrongly, to have the imprimatur of that organisation. Someone approved this as appropriate, or failed to disapprove of it enough to discourage its publication there. I thought to myself that if Jo Fletcher Books was willing to accept this on their public face, they mustn’t want my money.
They must want me to go away weary and disgusted, to patronise publishers whose blogs show forth less extreme alienating gender-essentialist male-gaze nonsense.
Despite my warm fuzzy feelings towards them for debuting Saulter and Foyle. Despite my warm fuzzy feelings about Karen Lord’s work. Despite my hopes that maybe they’d bring Tricia Sullivan’s next SF book out, or the next brilliant debut SFF novel by a woman I’d never heard of.
So I reached out to the publisher to ask if they had any comment on the matter, because it would be unfair to not ask.
In email, Jo Fletcher disclaimed any right to censor her authors. She went on to say that she fully believed that women were just as suited writing fiction for adults as anyone else. “[A]ctually, I don’t for a moment think Rod Rees believes this either; as I said, he’s putting forward a theory for discussion.
“It’s also very true that in the UK at least there has been a lot of criticism of the lack of female SF writers – SF as opposed to fantasy – and obviously, I’m doing my own bit to help fill that void, with three new female SF writers already on the list: Stephanie Saulter, Naomi Foyle and Karen Lord. Personally, I’ve never let the sex of an author influence my publishing decisions – a good book is a good book – but it does depress me to see so few female writers of SF in my submission pile. I could suggest some reasons fewer are drawn to SF than to fantasy, but that would be purely my own opinion, not actual fact.”
The article, she reaffirms, is purely Rod Rees’ own opinion. But she does see one upside: “[A]t least it’s got people talking.”*
That was Jo Fletcher Books’ response to me by email. It was a much better response than I’d hoped to receive.
But “On the right to freedom of speech,” JFB’s response to the public, posted on their blog, is much worse. A bizarre tactical error in the ongoing conversation, it appears to try to make the issue into one of freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism, and this is the “systemic failure” I’ve had in the title from the start. That’s what I’ll be talking about in the next post.
*I uphold Jo Fletcher’s right to view this as an upside. Me, I’m a little tired of needing to push back against opinions such as Rees’.