This week a theme has emerged over my conversations and interactions, almost organically. That theme is about communities and how they can give a voice and strength to the individuals within it. I’m a member of a range of writing communities. Some, such as Women Aloud and the SFFchronicles, I’m pretty central to. Some, less so:
Despite having a reputation for writing some dark scenes, my work isn’t dark enough to be classed as grimdark*. And I don’t read a whole heap of Grimdark books (the odd one slips through my eclectic book-selection part of my brain, but so does the odd macho-man romance.) But I like the Grimdark community grimdark fiction readers & writers – they’re funny and warm (I know, I know, they really need to up their grim credentials) and very welcoming. And moderated as tightly as a group needs to be. So, I hang around and post the odd comment and chat with the odd member – not that they’re all odd, of course – and that’s as far as it needs to go. The group have my support, their writers have my support, and I seem to have theirs, and that’s great. Similarly, the Space Opera community and, by extension, their writing communityhttps://www.facebook.com/groups/7568774341/.
In both those communities, my interactions are limited. But there are others that I either post in or check into a couple of times a day. What do I get from them? And, crucially, what do they get from me?
I want to go back almost exactly a year, to when I was contacted by Jane Talbot, a writer I’d met as we’d released debut books around the same time. She was proposing a series of events in Northern Ireland to celebrate International Women’s Day and raise the profile of the women’s writing scene in NI and wondered if I’d be interested in being involved.
Work was light last year (good thing I’m not getting that first call this year!) and I said yes. We had a great day – somehow, Jane got me to run an event, talk on the radio, and read at another event, all on the same day – and I thought that was that, maybe we’ll do it all again next year, and ho-hum.
Women Aloud now has something like 300 members. Women Aloud NI It’s a vibrant community with great energy and focus (driven, I have to say, by Jane who keeps coming up with more and more new things to build on what the group does). This March, the events are bigger, bolder - and we're on our way to Dublin to meet the wider Irish writing community - and, most importantly, carry a cohesive voice: we are writers, we have something to say, and we’re saying it through whatever means we have. Self published, international best seller, scribbling notes on the kitchen table, we're all writers.
Before Women Aloud I had no community in Northern Ireland. Sff was woefully sidetracked in terms of visibility, funding and acceptance by the wider writing community. (This is, of course, not unique to Ireland).
Women Aloud allowed me to meet the other writers. It allowed me, a genre writer, to become central to the community and have a voice. Through it, I accessed the John Hewitt society and found their bursary scheme – and had a great week living the writing dream and meeting loads of other writers (many poets!) as a writer, just as they were. I discovered there might be funding available for my writing – and got some, easing some of the financial hit of squeezing out time to write!
Suddenly, I have a voice and a purpose beyond what I had on my own. And what am I using some of that voice for? To try to give places where sff voices can come together and get support. To challenge the perception of speculative writing as something outside the writing norm, full of weird little stories, not serious writing.
That’s the point of communities. They’re not about trying to gain sales – that will always be a drop in the ocean – but in having visibility. Outlets for quirky voices are challenging at the moment. Amazon want to promote bestsellers (and, hey, I get that – they’re a business, not a community initiative). I’ve talked about bookstores before and their changing dynamics in terms of stock list and local buying power. Communities have become more important than ever for bringing voices together – and for giving much-needed support when none can be found.**
I suppose I might leave this blog on a question. What community supports your voice? And what have you done to strengthen it today?
*for those unfamiliar with the term, grimdark books tend to be unflinching in their portrayal of the darker sides of life – think Game of Thrones-style books.
**When I first started writing, I found my way to the internet and lucked out by joining the sffchronicles community. https://www.sffchronicles.com/ They remain, still, my integral sff community, not just because of those on the site, but those who have left, those who’ve been introduced to me via members, those who’ve found me from the site. I met my editors there, my first publisher (and my second, indirectly, whose open window was mentioned to me by a member), my writing group, the backbone of who I became a writer with.