I am very excited to bring you this afternoon as my guest blogger Sarah Cawkwell, author of The Gildar Rift (published by Black Library in December 2011). I think I will always remember when I first met Sarah - and scared her silly by knowing who she was and what her book was about! I am therefore thrilled to bits to present you with her words about being a female Black Library author.
Right. Scratch that, reverse it. Let’s start again.
For those of you who don’t know who the hell this particular interloper might be, my name is Sarah Cawkwell. I am a part-time freelance genre fiction writer, a full-time NHS minion and an all-time mother. There are two parts of that paragraph that will give rise to the bulk of this article:-
‘Genre fiction writer’ and ‘mother’.
Not so strange, I hear you cry (or at least whisper amongst yourselves). After all, there are plenty of female authors in genre fiction. However, there are considerably less of us out there who are writing military science fiction. I’m one of them. I am waving my hand over here, do you see? Hello! I feel like I’m admitting something shameful. “My name is Sarah and I like to write visceral sci-fi military fiction.”
Amanda asked me if I could make the focus of my guest article about the challenges I face being a female writer for the Black Library and how I get around them. For some people this might come across as a ‘change the record’ kind of thing; because any of you who follow my own blog (http://pyroriffic.wordpress.com) will know that I periodically mention the subject. This time, though, I’m putting a different slant on it. This time, I’m going to consider the positives of the situation and talk about how I got into writing about Space Marines.
First of all (after checking I’m right about this with the Marketing guys at the Black Library), it is sort of staggering to say that I am the first female writer for them who has published a full length novel. That’s quite an achievement, particularly given that some of the other 40K gals are of the ilk of Nik Vincent and Juliet McKenna. Proud isn’t the word. I have moments when I feel a little bit like a trailblazer for those of the fairer sex who have a hankering to write about supersoldiers in power armour.
I shan’t pretend that it never worried me, because it did. Back in the early days, when I was first shyly dipping my toes in the grimdark waters of the 40K Ocean, I contacted some of the existing BL authors to ask for their guidance. ‘My worry,’ I bleated, ‘is that people will dismiss me out of hand for having the temerity to be born with the wrong pairing of chromosomes’.
In summary, the combined response was ‘yes… it will probably put you unfairly in the spotlight, but on the other hand, could be a very positive thing. Don’t let it stop you. And don’t necessarily believe that Graham McNeill isn’t actually a lingerie model called Susan.’
I may have paraphrased the last bit. It was from Graham’s email though, so I think that’s OK.
So I grit my teeth, rolled up my metaphorical sleeves and carried on working away at my Space Marines story. In time, the opportunity to submit this to the Black Library presented itself and I was contacted by THE NICEST EDITOR IN THE WORLD, Christian Dunn. (I take cash only).
‘It’s good,’ he said in best Roy Walker style, ‘but it’s not right.’ He gave me a few pointers and invited me to re-submit it. When I did, he was really pleased and thus, Primary Instinct, my first W40K short story was on its journey. Invitations to pitch for other short stories followed and then an innocuous conversation about a paragraph in the Space Marines codex lead to me writing a novel submission.
Then came the next girl-related crisis. Did I publish as myself, or did I adopt some sort of nom de plume? Use my initials? Use a generic Christian name? Once again I turned to other writers, my editor and friends for advice and what they said was… well, right, actually.
‘You wrote it, didn’t you? Be proud of it.’
And oh, I’m proud.
I wrote The Gildar Rift in the space of four and a half months. I will honestly state that it was the hardest – and yet one of the most rewarding – things I’ve ever done. Watching the word count going upwards was satisfying beyond belief, and handing it well ahead of its deadline was even more so
I’m back to square one in many ways now. The evidence is that I have what it takes to write in the Warhammer universe, regardless of my gender. What I have to deal with now is waiting to see how it’s received. I’ve had three short stories published so far and the feedback has mostly been positive. That’s encouraging.
But I am a minor commodity attempting to make my mark in a male-dominated environment. It’s only in the past year or so that the natives in my local GW store have been able to stop panicking when I walk in. But the message to any amongst you who may be a Doubting Thomas (or Thomasina, let’s be fair) is this. I love Space Marines. I love the way they’re written about. Why would I want to change that? Don’t worry. Enjoy the story for what it is.
Stay calm. Speak softly - and carry a chainsword.