Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Yellow maple leaf over blue sky

Writing weather

I’ve always been the kind of person whose mood is influenced by the weather. Not in some New Age in-touch-with-nature sort of a way, I just notice things. Rainy days make me melancholy. Strong winds give me the fidgets. And sometimes I notice the seasons change.

Ever since I was small, too young to feel the relentless march of the calendar pages turning the way an adult would, I’ve associated autumn with crows. I say crows, but really I mean all the corvids we got where I grew up: rooks, jackdaws and carrion crows (no ravens or hoodies in the north east of England). In early September, they got restless, swirling across the sky in great raucous flocks before settling back into the tall trees next to my parents’ house. It always meant summer was ending for another year.

I went into the garden this morning and the first thing I heard was the rooks. The sky was still blue and patterned with housemartins, the air still warm, but that dolorous cawing made me feel change was afoot.

Now the clouds are blowing in. A fretful wind is tossing the jackdaws around, and the trees are hissing like surf over shingle beaches. It feels like autumn. That means it’s writing weather.

Featured image © Illreality | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Photo of straw bales in a field

Season’s End

Tomato seedlings in pots

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was very small, my favourite place in the world was Dad’s greenhouse. It was an old-fashioned, timber-framed Alton, and I remember it as a place of endless dry warmth, with the cat asleep under the cucumber plants, and air that smelled of paraffin and Jeyes Fluid and long drowsy days.

In the greenhouse were rattling canes and balls of twine, a resident spider, dusty jam-jars full of plant labels and pencils that did double-duty as makeshift dibbers. Thompson & Morgan seed packets, sacks of John Innes No. 3, stacks of seed trays that it was my job to rinse out with the hose at the end of each season so they could be used again next year.

Under the potting bench lived big clay pots that were too heavy for me to lift but if Dad turned one upside-down for me, made a perfect stool from which to watch, with that grave solemnity possessed of four year old girls, the gardener at work.

It’s from Dad that I get my love of growing things. I was helping him plant seed potatoes, onion sets and runner beans before I went to school. He taught me the difference between male and female flowers on the cucumbers, how to remove the side-shoots from tomato plants, and, when I was old enough to be trusted with the small, rusty but still very sharp greenhouse scissors, how to tie the plants in to the canes.

Afterwards we’d troop back to the house for tea with my fingers all yellow and smelling of tom-cats (if you’ve ever grown tomatoes, you’ll know exactly what I mean). That tea often included home-grown new potatoes, carrots, peas or string beans from the vegetable patch: plant to pan in maybe 10 minutes – take that, Bird’s Eye! On the table would be a vase containing sweetpeas, or heady roses, and after dinner the peelings and spent flowers would be taken to the compost heap at the bottom of the garden to start the cycle all over again. Dad was an organic gardener long before it became fashionable.

Tomatoes on the vine

Image courtesy of zdiviv at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I got a bit bigger he’d sit me on the tall stool at the potting bench and get me to prick out seedlings to pot up. In those days he grew everything except the cucumbers from seed: tomatoes, bedding plants, trays and trays of them that I’d water and patiently inspect each day for the first green shoots. Alyssum and marigolds for the borders, salvias, lobelia and petunias for the hanging baskets and planters.

Looking back, I can understand why he got me to do it: my Dad has hands like two pounds of butcher’s finest sausages – you’d never think he was quite a pianist when he was younger – so my small, nimble fingers were able to handle the tiniest plants with ease, and I had a strong young back and patience to spare.

In the autumn I’d help to harvest the apples – old English varieties, like James Grieve and Cox’s Improved – and then Mum and I would make batches of apple sauce, and crumbles and Eve’s pudding. Autumn was also the time of the chrysanthemums; whenever I smell that woody, spicy scent, I know that summer is over for another year.

Every child should get earth under their fingernails from time to time, and understand where their food comes from. Not out of a packet, or a cellophane-wrapped tray from Sainsbury’s, but out of the ground, off a plant. Some of my favourite memories are from Dad’s garden: leaning on the handle of a fork to lever up a potato plant and seeing the earth crumble around the pale pink-eyed King Edwards underneath; picking raspberries off the cane and cramming them into my mouth, warm and unwashed, with the taste of summer bursting on my tongue.

Apple blossom photo

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The apple and plum trees are long gone now, as are the roses. Dad’s getting on in years as well, and can’t manage the heavy digging for potatoes and the like, but he’s on his third greenhouse, and still carpets his garden with colour every year – though these days he buys micro-plants in vast trays and grows them on, rather than nurturing them from seed. He still grows his beloved chrysanthemums, and every other year or so sends me onto the internet to source just the right kind of greaseproof paper bags he needs to tie over the developing buds on the outdoor varieties to protect them from the rain.

I’ve never had the time or the land to have a vegetable patch or a greenhouse of my own, and lately my poor health has made it unlikely that I ever will. I can’t express how much I regret that. I miss those quiet hours of just me and Dad and the simple pleasure of things that grow. I miss them with a sharp sad pain that they’re gone and will never come again.

Or maybe I just miss being a kid, when we had proper summers that lasted forever and I had all the time in the world to enjoy them.

Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore — Virgil

Featured image © Daniel Gilbey | Dreamstime Stock Photos

(Mis)direct marketing

Picture of mailboxYou’re probably going to think I’m making something out of nothing, but this bugged me enough to write a post, so . . .

I get quite a few emails from strangers – readers asking when the next book’s out (I’m working on it, I promise!), moms who want to know if my stories are an age-appropriate gift for their 12-year-old’s birthday, and even a few from schoolkids who have to write to an author for their class project.

So far, so unremarkable.

The one that inspired this post was different. It was a message was from a new author, independently published by a digital-only small press, wanting me to do her a favour and tweet some links to her first book. Perfectly pleasant, with a short, well-polished pitch for her work.

BUT.

This author is a complete stranger to me, someone I’ve never interacted with, who doesn’t follow me on social media (as far as I have been able to determine) and doesn’t appear to know anything about me or my books.

Our audiences don’t overlap much, if at all. She writes contemporary romance; I write epic fantasy.

She is asking me to asking me to take time away from my own work and write a tweet just for her. The effort is minor, but it’s still an interruption, an imposition on my day.

She gave me no reason why I might be moved to help her out, and no incentive to do so. Twitter works best when users network and interact, not when they just scream into the void “BUY MY BOOK!”. Yes, I know Sam Sykes likes to do just that, but he makes it amusing; others, with less imagination, become just noise.

So why pick me? It’s not like I’m John Scalzi or Neil Gaiman who command an audience of tens of thousands – or, in Gaiman’s case, 2.26 million – for their every utterance. And this isn’t even a one-click RT request for a worthy cause, which those authors field with grace on a daily basis. I’ve got less than 1,800 followers, and as already noted, write in a totally different genre, so she’s not only expecting effort on her behalf from a stranger, it’s likely to be a waste of time in any case.

“But it’s just a quick tweet; what harm could it do?”

Am I supposed to be flattered by the attention? That I’ve been noticed? I’d like to think she’s seen me on the Twitters and thinks I’m approachable. What I actually think is that I’m just one more entry on a list of people who got a scattergun form email from an author who thinks they’re entitled to someone else’s time and effort.

Which does not make me inclined to want to help them out.

Now I’m sure there’s people saying “But it’s just a quick tweet; what harm could it do?” and the answer is “None”. But that’s the thing with these types of requests. Once you’ve agreed to do it for one random stranger, it becomes very hard to say no to the next one who asks. And the one after that. And . . . you get the picture.

I’m also sure there’s going to be people saying “Typical trad-pub snob, thinks she’s too good to help out a fellow author!” To which I say, “Clearly you don’t know me any better than Ms Contemporary Romance does”. Yes, I’m traditionally published. No, I’m not a snob; I’m probably going to go hybrid at some point in the future, when I try my hand at some not-quite-so-long-form fiction, so I’m hardly likely to sneer at authors who’ve chosen to go the self/indie route from the start.

But here’s the other thing that I am.

I am so far behind on my fourth book it’s not even funny. I’m so far behind that I jealously guard every single minute I have that could possibly be spent finishing it. In fact, I’m so far behind that this blog post has actually taken me a couple of months to put together because I felt so guilty about taking any time away from my WIP. So the chances of me sparing a couple of minutes to Tweet – and by so doing, tacitly endorse – some unknown-to-me author’s unknown-to-me book, are nil.

I’m sorry, Ms Contemporary Romance. I wish you well; you’ve got a nice pitch and your book sounds like it might be a fun summer read, but I am not your market, nor your marketing department.

 

Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Thinking stones

Stone eggs

A dozen eggs

I’ve always been the sort of person who cannot resist picking up small, interesting objects. Conkers, for instance. Shells on the beach, sea glass, striped or colourful pebbles. Last year, we had some shingle delivered for a landscaping project in the garden, and straight away I was poking through it for pieces that begged to be picked up and examined more closely. Round blackish stones that resembled musket balls, or fragments of golden flint like splintered toffee.

Sometimes it’s the colour that attracts me, or just a shape that fits my hand. Smooth and sun-warmed, with a pleasing curve; some objects practically ask to be stroked, cradled, their outline traced with a fingertip whilst my imagination runs riot. I’ve been like this since I was a kid, and the compulsion to touch these things is very similar to the grasping reflex of a small child. It’s purely instinctive.

A piece of carnelian

Tumbled carnelian

When I was growing up, a family friend was into rock tumbling as a hobby, and gave me a bag of mixed stones: amethyst, jasper, carnelian, agate and the like. I was fascinated by the shapes and colours; I saw landscapes in them, archipelagos and forests, sunset clouds and deep, silent pools. I knew the names of the different types of stones, and could tell anyone who asked that Apache Tears were actually volcanic glass, you know.

Thirty-five or so years on, long after the original tumbled stones were “put away” (parent-speak for “thrown out”), just writing about them has got me looking up the prices of rock tumblers and grit online. The appeal of cool, smooth stones in my hands, with patterns that tell stories, is as strong as ever.

Anyway, as I got a bit older, I discovered marble eggs. They were, at the time, A Thing in home décor, usually displayed in a bowl turned from the same kind of stone. To me, they were just bigger, heavier versions of the tumblestones of my youth, so naturally I started collecting. Not indiscriminately; I only selected those specimens whose patterns spoke to me, for want of a better description. They resonated with me in a way I could never adequately describe, without sounding like some kind of New Age harnessing-the-power-of-gems fruitloop.

While visiting an old schoolfriend in Plymouth, I ended up in a fascinating little shop in the Barbican, called Odd ‘n’ Interesting. They had a whole bunch of worked stones, semi-precious and mineral eggs, geodes and so forth, though I couldn’t tell you a thing about the rest of their stock. All I remember is the stones. That was where I found this solid tiger’s eye egg, and I knew the instant I saw it that I had to have it. Had to – never mind the price. This stone wasn’t just resonating, it was ringing like a damn tuning fork, in a manner of speaking. So home with me it came.

Tiger-eye egg

Seriously, this photo does not do it justice.

Tiger’s eye is what’s called a chatoyant stone, because the bands of lustre caused by inclusions in the material resemble the shimmer in a cat’s eye. Even its flaws are endlessly fascinating. The egg-shape is also pleasing to hold, to roll around in your palm like baoding balls: not too small, not too large. I kept it on my desk because it was beautiful to look at and I couldn’t stop picking it up, and gradually it became a kind of meditation object. Something to keep my hands busy whilst I was thinking (it also stopped me biting my nails). And lo, the thinking stone was born.

For the record, I don’t subscribe to all that healing-with-crystals malarkey. I don’t believe there is anything mystical about this stone that will grant me deeper insight or bring balance and harmony to my life. I just know that it’s beautiful, and that handling it is soothing, especially when it’s warm – it has some interesting thermal properties, I have to say: even in winter, it’s never completely ice-cold. Make of that what you will.

So that’s my thinking stones, and another peek into what passes for my mind. I never promised it was going to make sense.

 

Women writing fantasy, round 2

After I posted my first list of women writing fantasy, I thought of a whole bunch of other writers I should have included. Then I saw my friend and fellow fantasy writer Teresa Frohock had a similar list on her blog, and there were quite a few names in common, but also quite a lot that weren’t.

I thought it would be cool to smoosh the two lists together, and this is what happened:

AC Crispin; AC Voss; Alaya Dawn Johnson; Aliette de Bodard; Alis Rasmussen; Alison Croggon; Amanda Downum; AM Dellamonica; Andre Norton; Andrea Hairston; Angela Carter; Anna Bradley; Anne Bishop; Anne Leonard; Anne Lyle; Anne McCaffery; Anne Rice; April Taylor

Barbara Friend Ish; Barbara Hambly; Beth Bernobich; Beth Cato; Betsy Dornbusch

CT Adams; Caitlin Kiernan; Carol Berg; Carole Nelson Douglas; Caroline Stevermer; Carrie Cuinn; Carrie Ryan; Carrie Vaughn; Cat Hellisen; Catherine Asaro; Catherine Cooke; Catherine Webb; Catherynne M Valente; Cathy Clamp; CE Murphy; Charlaine Harris; Charlie N Holmberg; Chelsea Quinn-Yarbro; Cherie Priest; Chloe Neill; Cindy Pon; CJ Cherryh; CL Moore; Claire North*; Clea Simon; Cornelia Funke; Courtney Schafer; CS Friedman

Damien A Walters; Danie Ware; Dawn Kurtagich; Deborah Harkness; Debra Doyle; Diana Paxson; Diana Rowland; Diana Wynne Jones; Diane Duane; Doranna Durgin; Doris Egan

E Catherine Tobler; EJ Swift; Ekaterina Sedia; Elaine Cunningham; Elizabeth A Lynn; Elizabeth Ann Scarborough; Elizabeth Bear; Elizabeth Hand; Elizabeth Haydon; Elizabeth Knox; Elizabeth Lynn; Elizabeth May; Elizabeth Moon; Elizabeth Wein; Elizabeth Willey; Ellen Kushner; Elspeth Cooper; Emily Carroll; Emily Gee; Emma Bull; Erica Hayes; Erika Johansen; Erin Hoffman; Esther Friesner; Evangeline Walton; Evie Manieri

Felicia Dale; Fiona McIntosh; Fiona Miller; Francis Knight; Freda Warrington; Freya Robertson; G Willow Wilson; Gail Carriger; Gail Z Martin; Genevieve Valentine; Gill Alderman; Glenda Larke; Gwenda Bond

Heather Brewer; Heather Gladney; Heather Tomlinson; Helen Lowe; Helen Oyeyemi; Helene Wecker; Holly Black; Holly Lisle; Hope Mirrlees

Ilona Andrews; Ilsa J Bick

J Kathleen Cheney; Jacey Bedford; Jackie Kessler; Jacqueline Carey; Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett; Jaime Lee Moyar; Jane Emerson*; Jane Lindskold; Jane Yolen; Janet Berliner; Janny Wurts; Jaye Wells; Jen Williams; Jennifer Estep; Jennifer Fallon; Jennifer Roberson; Jennifer Robinson; Jenny Jones; Jess Haines; JK Rowling; JL Murray; Jo Clayton; Jo Thomas; Jo Walton; Joan Aiken; Jo Anderton; Joan D Vinge; Joanne Hall; Joanne Harris; Josepha Sherman; Joyce Ballou Gregorian; Joyce Chng; Jude Fisher; Judith Tarr; Julian May; Julie Czernada; Julie Hutchings; Juliet E McKenna; Juliet Marillier; JV Jones

Kage Baker; Kameron Hurley; Karen Fowler; Karen Lord; Karen Miller; Kari Sperring; Karin Lowachee; Kate Elliott*; Kate Griffin*; Kate Jonez; Katherine Addison*; Katherine Kerr; Katherine Kurtz; Kathleen M Massie-Ferch; Kathleen Sky; Kelley Armstrong; Kelley Grant; Kelly Link; Kiera Cass; Kit Berry; Kristen Britten; Kristin Cashore; Kristine Kathryn Rusch; KT Davies; KV Johansen; Kylie Chan

LA Gilman / Laura Anne Gilman; Laini Taylor; Larissa Lai; Laura Bickle; Laura Lam; Laura Liddell Nolan; Laure Eve; Laurell K Hamilton; Lauren Beukes; Leigh Bardugo; Leigh Brackett; Lian Hearn; Liane Merciel; Libba Bray; Liesel Schwartz; Lilith Saintcrow; Lindsay Barraclough; Lisa Goldstein; Lisa Mannetti; Lisa Sheradin; Lisa Tuttle; Lish McBride; Liz de Jager; Liz Williams; Lois McMaster Bujold; Lorna Freeman; Lou Morgan; Louise Cooper; Lucy Hounsom; Lynn Abbey; Lynn Flewelling; Lynn Kurland

Madeleine L’Engle; Madeline Ashby; Maggie Stiefvater; Malinda Lo; Marcia Bennett; Margaret Atwood; Margaret Weis; Margo Lanagan; Maria Dahvana Headley; Maria Snyder; Marie Brennan; Marina Warner; Marion Zimmer Bradley; Marta Randall; Martha Wells; Mary Doria Russell; Mary Gentle; Mary Renault; Mary Robinette Kowal; Mary Shelley; Mary Stewart; Mary Victoria; Mazarkis Williams; Megan Lindholm*; Megan Whalen Turner; Mel Salisbury; Melanie Rawn; Melissa Scott; Mercedes Lackey; Meredith Ann Pierce; Michaela Roessner; Michelle Paver; Michelle Sagara; Mickey Zucker Reichert; Midori Snyder; Mishell Baker; ML Brennan; Morgan Llywelyn

Nalo Hopkinson; Nancy Asire; Nancy Springer; Naomi Novik; NK Jemisin; Nnedi Okorafor

Octavia Butler

Pamela Dean; Pat Murphy; Patricia Briggs; Patricia C Wrede; Patricia Geary; Patricia McKillip; Paula Brandon*; Paula Volsky; PC Hodgell; Phyllis Ann Karr; PL Travers

RA MacAvoy; Rachel Aaron; Rachel Caine; Rachel Hartman; Rae Carson; Rebecca Levene; RJ Anderson; Roberta Trahan; Robin D Owens; Robin Hobb; Robin McKinley; Rosemary Kirstein; Rowena Cory Daniels

Sabaa Tahir; Sabrina Vourvoulias; Samantha Shannon; Sarah Ash; Sarah Beth Durst; Sarah Douglass; Sarah Hoyt; Sarah J Maas; Sarah Monette; Sarah Pinborough; Sarah Remy; Sarah Silverwood; Sharon Shinn; Sheri S Tepper; Sherwood Smith; Silvia Moreno-Garcia; SL Huang; Sofia Samatar; Sophia McDougall; Stacia Kane; Steph Swainston; Stephenie Meyer; Stina Leicht; Storm Constantine; Susan Cooper; Susan Ee; Susan Palwick; Susan Shwartz; Susanna Clarke; Suzanne Collins; Suzanne Johnson; Suzanne McLeod; Suzanne Palmieri; Suzette Haden Elgin

Tamora Pierce; Tanith Lee; Tanya Huff; Tara Harper; Teresa Edgerton; Teresa Frohock; Terri Windling; TL Morganfield; Tove Jansson; Tricia Sullivan; Trudi Canavan

Ursula K LeGuin

VE Schwab; Veronica Roth; Vicki Ann Heydron; Viola Carr; Violette Malan; Vivian French; Vonda McIntyre

Wen Spencer

Yangtze Choo; Ysabeau S Wilce

Zoe Marriott; Zohra Greenhalgh

Note: entries with * are pen-names; entries in italics have been added since the list was last published

That’s now 336 names, and I’m sure there’s more. Feel free to suggest them in the comments, and I’ll update the list. Please don’t blame me if your to-be-read list expands dramatically.

Feel free not to use the comments to tell me I’m being sexist, or that I shouldn’t have included [X] because they’re self-published, or quibble about the precise definitions of what constitutes fantasy. They identify as women, they write, and the readers who helped crowdsource this list identify at least one of their books as fantasy. That’s good enough for me.

 

Edited To Add: Please note this list is not intended to be exhaustive. For some other excellent resources on this topic, check out the following:

which include some suggested titles for each author. Happy reading!

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