Thursday, 29 September 2011

Fanfiction, slash, and the Female Gaze

I'm taking a pause in the middle of Mazecheat edits, which are slow, boring work (mainly adding in technical/plot points so that the end actually works - which is complicated, requires close reading and is highly unrewarding). And it's lunchtime and there's nothing on BBC iPlayer I feel like watching, so... I thought I would write this.

I've been meaning to write about fanfiction/slash fiction for a while - ever since, in fact, I read one of the first ever online reviews of The Traitor Game, which said: "the one thing I'm curious about is whether B R Collins cut her writing teeth online, as there are elements in it which are closer to fanfiction than to professional fiction - and this is in no way a criticism!" Later she added that it was "something to do with the quality of the emotions. Like I said - definitely NOT a crit!"

Ri-ight, I thought.

I didn't get it at all. I knew nothing about fanfic at that point - and when I looked at some it still didn't make sense. Fanfic, I thought, is when a writer takes SOMEONE ELSE'S CHARACTERS and SOMEONE ELSE'S WORLD and writes their own story about them and it. (Those caps aren't emotional, by the way, they're supposed to imply a kind of slightly bemused emphasis. Imagine me talking to myself in a very slow and confused sort of way.) So if you're writing with your OWN characters and your OWN world... er... well - fic possibly, but where does the fan bit come in? (Unless you're your own fan, of course, which I suppose, in my case, possibly... but that's presumably not quite what she was driving at. She'd never met me, after all.)

It bugged me. Because deep down - and the more I read fanfic, the stronger it was - I had a conviction that she was on to something. And that felt... weird. As if I'd revealed more of myself than I meant to.

And I kept reading. I read lots and lots of fanfiction, most of it slash fiction. And slowly, slowly it started to dawn on me. She wasn't really talking about fanfiction in general. No, she was talking about slash. Slash is - and I'm mainly talking about M/M slash, just so you know - a form, or let's say a subspecies, or maybe a kind of daughter-species, of fanfiction. But here's the crucial thing: 'original' slash can (and does) exist, when 'original' fanfic (presumably) doesn't.

For anyone who isn't familiar with slash, let me give you the basic rundown. Slash fiction is (generally, see above) fanfiction which involves a non-canonical pairing of two (generally) male characters. It is (generally*) written by women for women. And most of them (generally**) are straight or bi. I.e., they find their male characters sexually attractive.

(For more details, plus endless, endlessly enticing links - this time I got distracted through here and here to, er, here - go to TVTropes. Actually The Traitor Game has its own TVTropes entry, where the troper has obligingly joined in on this debate...)

So what's the difference between slash fiction and gay fiction? Surely gay men (for example) writing about gay men will have the same basic approach? And they don't get labelled slash, do they? (And whether or not you think "slashy" is pejorative, it's certainly more marginalising and easily dismissible than "gay".) I'm happy to acknowledge slash as a genre, but I'm not prepared to define it simply by the gender of the author (M/M fiction by woman = slash, by man = gay). No. So what is it about? The believability of the Ms as Ms? The transparency (or otherwise) of the convention that these are, actually, Fs, rewritten and encoded in order to explore something about them in the real world?

Anthony McGowan (great YA writer and altogether Good Thing) once said to me that he was astonished at how male he thought the characters in The Traitor Game were. And it was one of the nicest compliments I've ever had. (My mother, on the other hand, told me they were far too female. I like to think that Tony knows more about male experience than my mother... but you never know.) I really wanted TTG to be authentic; I didn't want the characters to be some female fantasy of adolescent boys. (There's a place for that... but possibly only in my head.) And I do think, truly, that I succeeded. "Gay", then, rather than "slash"?

And yet... it is a bit slashy. I mean... What was it the review said? "Something in the quality of the emotion"? Well. There's a lot of sexual attraction. There's a lot of boys looking at each other. There's a fair amount of sublimated eroticism which focuses on eyes and hands and voice, rather than - well, breasts or arses or cocks or... Maybe there really is something in the quality of the gaze, not just its object, which can imply or subvert the gender of the gazer. Maybe there's something female in how you look, not just who you're looking at. Maybe the implied gender of the gazer is more important, in the end, than the gender of the gazee.

But no. I don't like that conclusion, and I don't trust it, either. My gut tells me that fancying someone is fancying someone. Sexual attraction is sexual attraction. Men don't automatically fall for big tits, any more than women fall for a lovely personality. The Female Gaze, as Our Friend TVTropes says, 'may overlap with Homosexual Male Gaze'. Think we're back where we started.

And yet... and yet...

I am playing around at the moment with a slash novel. Yes, deliberately slashy, deliberately self-indulgent - not one for the publishers, more to remind myself of the onanistic pleasure of writing, to drive away the I-must-make-a-living-demons that prey on creativity. I started it yesterday. It's from a male character's POV, and on the first page I reread the sentence: "Behind him there was a young man - his own age, but taller, with a clear, cold look in his eyes, as though the mountain air had got between his irises and the outside world."

Bingo, I thought. That is so slashy.

And I don't even know why.

*OK, I'm going to stop doing this now. You get the idea.
** No, I'm sorry, I can't.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

UKLA Longlisting for Tyme's End!

Er. Well. The title says it all, really...

So, I had a vague idea that the UKLA longlisting was coming up, but I didn't know exactly when. And this morning one of my friends had linked to the list on facebook, but since no one had told me about it I assumed that Tyme's End hadn't made it.

So I wasn't going to look (I mean, honestly, why would I be interested in other people getting accolades? You must be mad) but then I told myself I was being a little bit pathetic, and I should gird my loins and grit my teeth (or possibly vice versa) and see who the lucky people were who'd managed to be SO MUCH BETTER THAN ME even though I DIDN'T WANT TO BE LONGLISTED ANYWAY-

(- I hope you're getting the tone of this - )

- only to find that in fact I was on it.

Cue big grins and sheepish laughter. And this blog post, naturally.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

At Last

So. It's finished.

I wanted to find a picture of a limp rag - wrung-out and dripping - to express exactly how I feel, but I couldn't muster the energy to look for one.

That said, if you can imagine a limp rag with a quiet feeling of inner triumph, that would be even closer to what I'm trying to evoke.

It's been a long hard slog. But on Sunday - after a weekend when I wrote frantically, because it felt like if I didn't finish soon I'd go mad - I finally did it. The last sentence is - no, wait, I don't want to give too much away... the last word is "rain". It's a good last word, I think. And I was very, very glad to write it.

Now I'm going to take a (short) holiday. I've got books reserved for me at the library, a room to clean, laundry to do, lines to learn for King Lear, sleep to catch up on, and errands to run. I've got a new book to think about - and I can think about it now, without feeling guilty, like I'm peeking at the bottom tray of a box of chocolates before I've eaten the last couple of toffees on the top layer... Paradise.

And then - oh, did I mention the edits? I've got a whole page of them already, so many that there are major continuity issues in the book where I changed my mind half way through and didn't go back to update the beginning. It's going to be quite a lot of work, I think - although right now, in my haze of fatigue and euphoria, I'm sure that once I've done it Mazecheat's going to be brilliant... But it can wait, at least for a few days. 

I might even start that next book, if I'm feeling self-indulgent.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Stranger Things at Raindance

Stranger Things is my first feature-length film. It's a touching study of a young woman touched by grief (played by me - see fig. 1, left, I am the one who doesn't have a beard) who strikes up an unusual friendship with a vagrant who breaks into her dead mother's house. It's beautifully shot and scripted, and the film is a subtle and poignant story about loss, vulnerability and healing.

And if that doesn't grab you, and you're more of an action-movie fan, let me just say that although there aren't any car chases, there is a section where I flail around uselessly in a field with a stick.

I worked on it a long time ago, so it feels weird (and nostalgic) that it's only just having its London premiere (although it's done the rounds in the US and South America, picking up lots of awards on the way, including Best Narrative Feature at Slamdance and Woodstock). But it is!

At 9 pm on the 7th of October, Stranger Things will be shown at the Apollo Cinema, Piccadilly, as part of the Raindance festival. Everyone is more than welcome...