The British Short Fiction Scene, Autumn 2006


(AKA “Homework”. Top to bottom: Interzone, PostScripts, Triquorum, Pulp Idol and Farthing, continuing its run of lovely covers.)

(EDIT: 37 pieces of fiction, five women authors, of whom four are in Farthing. Just sayin’.)

17 thoughts on “The British Short Fiction Scene, Autumn 2006

  1. I remember looking at the first four issues of PostScripts with Jed in Glasgow. Joyce Carol Oates piece in issue #1 was the only story by a woman they’d published up to that point. What’s their TOC looked like since then?

  2. Issue 5: 7 stories, 1 by a woman.
    Issue 6: 7 stories, 1 by a woman.
    Issue 7 (pictured): 9 stories, none by women.

    Interzone doesn’t do much better, mind:

    Issue 203: 7 stories, 2 by women.
    Issue 204: 6 stories, 1 by a woman, 1 by “C.A.L.”
    Issue 205: 5 stories, none by women.

    Farthing has consistently come in around the 50/50 mark. (They also publish almost no British writers.)

  3. On a related subject, any comments on Jim Burns’ cover for the latest Interzone? I am a big admirer of Jim’s work (I have one original on my wall) but isn’t the busty alien in the skimpy garb a little dated…?

  4. On a related subject, any comments on Jim Burns’ cover for the latest Interzone? I am a big admirer of Jim’s work (I have one original on my wall) but isn’t the busty alien in the skimpy garb a little dated…?

    Now, I know all the marketing arguments for covers of that sort, and I understand that in a market as fragile as the one that Interzone inhabits, having an eyecatching cover is an important sales tool…

    …but I must say that’s the first one so far that I’ve made an effort to keep against my legs while reading it in public. Every outsider’s perception of genre cliche is *right there*. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a superb piece of work, I’m not knocking the artist or his skill. But that’s not a cover that does the content many favours, IMHO.

    (If Andy C sacks me, it’s been nice working with you, BTW…)

    ((PS Does a body need to sign up for the monthly BSFA meets in advance, or simply turn up out of the blue?))

  5. Does a body need to sign up for the monthly BSFA meets in advance, or simply turn up out of the blue?

    Turning up out of the blue is more than okay, BSFA meetings are free and open to anyone and everyone, non-members included.

  6. Isn’t the name of that Burns painting ‘Planet in Peril’? Reminds me of the perilous place in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “I like peril!”

  7. The gender breakdown got me thinking, so I grabbed the three UK small press magazines I knew were edited by women, to see if there was a significantly diferent weighting.

    The results:

    Ed. Sarah Dobbs

    Issue 1: 11 stories, 6 men, 4 women, 1 uncertain
    Issue 2: 10 stories, 10 men, 0 women
    Issue 3: 11 stories, 9 men, 2 women
    Issue 4: 9 stories, 8 men, 1 woman
    17% stories by women (10% if issue one excluded)

    Ed. Elizabeth Counihan

    Issue 28: 11 stories, 9 men, 2 women
    Issue 27: 7 stories, 5 men, 2 women
    Issue 26: 7 stories, 4 men, 3 women
    Issue 25: 6 stories, 3 men, 3 women
    Issue 24: 6 stories, 3 men, 3 women
    30% stories by women

    Here and Now
    Ed. Jenny Barber

    Issue 1: 6 stories, 5 men, 1 woman
    Issue 2: 8 stories, 8 men, 0 women
    Issue 3: 11 stories, 10 men, 1 woman
    Issue 4: 13 stories, 11 men, 2 women
    Issue 5/6: 26 stories, 22 men, 4 women
    Issue 7: 17 stories, 16 men, 1 woman
    11% of stories by women

    Compared to Postscripts (9% stories by women), Interzone (17% by women)

    Only Scheherazade shows a significantly larger percentage of female writers.

    I was then thinking about how you might geta a “control” in circumstances like this – and, handily, Des Lewis’s Nemonymous exists – a magazine that accepts submissions anonymously and for the first five issues the editor didn’t know the name of the author until it had been selected for the issue.

    Nemonymous breaks down as follows:

    Ed. Des Lewis

    Issue 1: 16 stories, 13 men, 3 women
    Issue 2: 17 stories, 11 men, 5 women, 1 unknown
    Issue 3: 21 stories, 16 men, 5 women
    Issue 4: 17 stories, 16 men, 1 woman
    Issue 5: 12 stories, 9 men, 3 women
    20.5% stories by women.

    Which, without doing a tedious statistical analysis, seems higher than almost every magazine where editors have an idea of the gender of the author.

    I’m not drawing conclusions. That’s a minefield. But it’s interesting.

  8. And because I’m a compulsive listmaker – here’s how some of the other UK (and Ireland) small press magazines compare – this is not a scientific sample, just the issues I had on the shelf closest to me.

    Ed. Ian Redman

    Issue 6: 6 stories, 6 men, 0 women
    Issue 7: 5 stories, 5 men, 0 women
    Issue 8: 7 stories, 4 men, 2 women, 1 unknown
    Issue 9: 5 stories, 5 men, 0 women
    Issue 10: 6 stories, 6 men, 0 women
    Issue 11: 7 stories, 6 men, 1 woman
    Issue 12: 6 stories, 3 men, 3 women
    14% stories by women

    Whispers of Wickedness
    Ed. D.

    Issue 13: 7 stories, 5 men, 2 women
    Issue 12: 6 stories, 6 men, 0 women
    Issue 11: 6 stories, 4 men, 2 women
    27% stories by women

    Midnight Street
    Ed. Trevor Denyer

    Issue 5: 8 stories, 7 men, 1 woman
    Issue 6: 9 stories, 8 men, 1 woman
    Issue 7: 7 Stories, 7 men, 1 woman
    12.5% stories by women

    Albedo One
    Ed. Albedo collective

    Issue 31: 7 stories, 7 men, 0 women
    Issue 30: 9 stories, 9 men, 1 woman
    Issue 29: 7 stories, 6 men, 1 woman
    Issue 28: 7 stories, 6 men, 1 woman
    10% stories by women

    Forgotten Worlds
    Ed. John Cooper

    Issue 1: 8 stories, 5 men, 3 women
    Issue 2: 11 stories, 7 men, 3 women, 1 unknown
    Issue 3: 8 stories, 6 men, 2 women
    30% stories by women

  9. And finally – because I was making the list for this year’s Interzone readers vote, anyway, over the whole year (six issues 201-206), Interzone published 32 stories, 6 by women. At 19% that’s not far behind the rating for Nemonymous’s anonymous sample.

  10. Impressive listing Martin, now how about dividing them into genre? Oh, and I’m sure you wouldn’t mind doing some research on the percentage of submissions based on gender?

    Failing that it is a little difficult to draw conclusions (I don’t blame you for not doing so!). Hypothetically, these numbers could represent positive discrimination in favour of women!

    Yes, I know, I doubt it too.

  11. Paul… like you say, I’m not drawing any conclusions.

    It’s interesting that two of the three magazines that publish the most women writers are edited by women (Scheherazade and Whispers of Wickedness), but then so is one of the three lowest (Here & Now).

    I also think I see a relationship between the tendency to publish “dark” stories and a lower percentage of women – certainly Albedo One and Midnight Street tend to publish stuff that can edge towards grim (not a criticism, just a comment) horror while Scheherazade and Forgotten Worlds are somewhat lighter in tone. Perhaps there’s something in that.

    The more I think about it, the more significant the Nemonymous figure seems to be because that’s as close as you can get to a “double-blind” control – the editor had no idea who’d written the story so couldn’t possibly be biased because of gender – though if there is a difference in the subject matter favoured by men and women writers, that might still be reflected in the choice of stories.

    Of all 416 stories published, 17.5% were by women – which isn’t miles away from Nemonymous’s anonymous 20.5% figure. To me – without, as you note, conducting a far more complex piece of research this suggests that if there is bias against women getting published in British spec fic mags it probably isn’t as crude as male editors looking at the name of the author and deciding that they don’t want to publish a story because it is by a woman.

    That doesn’t, of course, rule out other forms of unconscious or cultural bias nor, as you note, do these numbers prove that there isn’t positive discrimination towards women, unlikely as it may seem.

  12. On the American side, very notable is the online ‘zine Strange Horizons: 35 stories so far this year, 23 by women. Nearly 2/3.

    F&SF: 13/67 — just short of 20%. Very similar to the UK magazines.

    If I’m not mistaken, only 3 of 50 stories in Analog this year (6%) are by women. (Leaving the serials (all by men anyway) out.) (This is actually four stories — 2 of which are collaborations between a man and a woman.)

    18 of 79 stories in Asimov’s this year are by women. (22.8%)

    But 22 of the 29 stories in the two issues so far this year of the new Fantasy Magazine are by women (as far as I know — I might be wrong about a couple of ambiguous names). That’s over 3/4.

    The primary fiction editors at both Strange Horizons and Fantasy Magazine are men, by the way. It is noticeable that both those venues publish a lot of rather slipstreamish fantasy.

    And finally, at Realm of Fantasy (edited by a woman of course), either 15.5 or 16.5 of the 32 stories through the October issue are by women, right about 50%.

    (I hope it’s not bad form to have introduced US magazines into this discussion!)

  13. One stat that’s relevant but hard to include, for obvious reasons, is how much does the percentage of stories by women PUBLISHED in a given market correspond to the percentage of stories SUBMITTED to that market? The only people who will have that data are the editors.

    And since I have edted an anthology open to submissions which were read anonymously – Extended Play: The Elastic Book of Music, to be published in November by Elastic Press, plug plug – I can produce such data. Posting here pre-empts an “editor’s report” I was going to post on the TTA and Elastic boards which I have not had the time to do. I hope my publisher Andrew Hook has no objections to my posting some data here. He may well do a similar thing as he publishes short-story collections which are initially open submissions.

    The anthology is mixed-genre and was looking for stories in the range of 8000 to 15000 words. (In the event, one story is slightly over the top limit and one is a little under the lower limit.) All stories were forwarded to me anonymously by Andrew and I didn’t know who had written them until I had accepted or rejected them.

    I had fifty-four submissions, of which 39 were by men and 15 by women. (I’m assuming no-one is “in disguise”.) Four stories were collaborations, in all cases male/male. So that’s 72% men and 28% women (figures rounded). The final lineup has five stories by male writers and four stories by female writers. If you include the three stories that made the final shortlist of twelve as “reserves”, then the ratio is 50:50 – six stories by men and six by women. (By comparison, in 1990 I judged a competition for Roadworks magazine, also anonymously, and the ten stories I selected made up most of the contents of issue 10 – six by men, four by women – the top four had two by each.)

    What conclusions can you draw from this? A high proportion of stories by women were and are to my taste, clearly – but I didn’t know they were by women until I’d accepted them. (I’ll admit I did guess in a few cases, but some of them I was completely wrong about.) On the other hand, women were perfectly capable of writing stories I liked but didn’t take for the anthology – as were men, including some quite big names – and also stories that missed completely.

    The other question is why did so few women writers submit in the first place? Maybe people were busy on other writing projects such as novels, or that 8-15k wasn’t a congenial writing length for them, but that would apply just as equally to male writers as well. Also, we’re not in a position to pay contributors except in copies, but then that applies to other markets too.

    As for the length restrictions, that was deliberate on mine and Andrew’s part – most markets don’t have space for novelettes/novellas, so we wanted to create an opportunity for writers who do naturally run to such lengths. After all, the Ian MacLeods, Elizabeth Hands and Lucius Shepards -to name just three writers who tend to longer short fiction – have to start somewhere. I don’t believe there’s any difference between the sexes as to writing length, just differences with individual writers. Also, I don’t think music in all its aspects is intrinsically “male” subject matter. Also, women do not necessarily write about women, likewise male writers do not always write about men.

    Anyway, I’ll finish with listing the stories, lengths and genres (in view of Rich’s comments about “slipstreamish fantasy”) and viewpoints:

    Marion Arnott – “The Little Drummer Boy” (9200) – horror with fantasy premise (third person from POV of a young boy)

    Andrew Humphrey – “Last Song” (12,000) – mainstream, but dark enough to border on horror (first person male)

    Becky Done, “Tremolando” (10,600) (mainstream, written 3rd person from four viewpoints, two male and two female)

    Nels Stanley – “Some Obscure Lesion of the Heart” (11,000) (mainstream, first person male)

    Tim Nickels, “fight Music” (14,900) (SF/fantasy/slipstream, first person female)

    Emma Lee, “First and Last and Always” (9200) (mainstream, first person female)

    Tony Richards, “A Night in Tunisia” (9100) (mainstream with an ending that makes it fantasy, first person male)

    Rosanne Rabinowitz, “In the Pines” (15,600) (slipstream with fantasy & SF elements, female POV alternating between first and third person)

    Philip Raines & Harvey Welles, “The Barrowlands’ Last Night” (5200) (slipstream, third person male)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s