Wednesday, 29 October 2014


My books are not very diverse. In all my published work and in my trunk novels, I have never written a black character. I've never written an openly gay character, or one who is not cisgendered. I briefly approached disability as a topic with Dora in the first season of The Second Realm, but fell into at least one common failing of mainstream disability narratives - the disability-that-is-also-a-superpower (think Daredevil).

I could give narrative reasons for at least some of this, but that would be to paper over a genuine personal and creative blind spot. It's a problem I've been growing aware of for some time, but I think it's finally reaching the point of jumping from 'aware of' to 'actually not giving myself a free pass anymore'. (Even the fact that I could be aware of my problem without feeling motivated to deal with it is a symptom of the problem).

#Weneeddiversebooks has appeared prominently on my Twitter feed recently, with the launch of a new Indiegogo campaign, raising money to fund grants for authors, classroom campaigns and other activism in support of diverse authors and books. I've just donated, because part of the problem is that I very seldom encountered diversity in the books I read growing up.

But throwing money at other people won't fix my books or my writing. That would be Medici thinking - buying my way out of past sins. I need to learn how to write outside my own demographic.

For that, I need diverse books. There are no black characters in my books because I have carelessly, lazily imitated patterns established by the books I have read, which in my genre are overwhelmingly about white people, with other races either sensationalised or rendered as primitive savages (sometimes both at the same time). The same goes for disabled and LGBTQIA people.

It's not enough for me to contribute to the funding of diverse literature. I need to seek out whatever diverse literature exists and read it. I have (ballpark) twenty million words of epic fantasy on my bookcase, in which I can think, off the top of my head, of perhaps two well-written, non-stereotyped, non-sensationalised characters outside the straight, white, able, privileged norm. That's a big imbalance to redress.

And, of course, I need to fix the imbalance in my own work. That doesn't necessarily mean meeting some arbitrary quota of 'diverse characters', nor does it mean centering my storytelling on people whose lives I do not know from the inside - it's not my place to tell other people's stories, and doing so runs the risks of appropriation and misrepresentation. But I've got to stop writing worlds where the only race is white, the only sexuality is straight, and no character is disabled.

Fantasy novels present a reality that is not necessarily our own, but they are inescapably part of our reality - not necessarily presentations of it, but always representations of it. Diversity exists in our reality, so it must be represented in fantasy (the question of how is complex, interesting and difficult, but a topic for another time).

I don't know if I can fix The Second Realm, which I'm in the process of re-editing for a collected edition at the moment, and I'm not willing to abandon it outright (either by unpublishing it or leaving it in its current state), but I'll be choosing my next project very carefully. And, of course, following #weneeddiversebooks intently for everything I can learn.

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