August 7, 2009

Colouring over the whitewash

Filed under: covers,publishing news — Tags: , , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 9:22 am


So, who’s been following the recent debacle about a Bloomsbury book with the cover image of a white girl to illustrate the story of a black girl? Liar by Justine Larbalestier was due to hit shelves in November with the cover image of a white teenage girl (left). One problem: the protagonist is black.

The news appeared in July on industry blog Editorial Anonymous where commenters were outraged by the decision. One commenter pointed out that this sort of whitewash is nothing new: “Reminds me of the old-school sci-fi covers I’ve seen. On Octavia Butler’s (whose protagonist’s are always black women) book ‘Dawn’, the original cover was a pale woman with long, blond hair. They corrected it in the next edition (or printing), but still. Completely incongruous with the actual story.”

Larbalestier made a post on her blog and told her readers the sad truth already known to those of us in the trade: “Authors do not get final say on covers. Often they get no say at all.”

Publishers Weekly picked up the story on the same day (Justine Larbalestier’s Cover Girl) where Melanie Cecka, publishing director of Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA and Walker Books for Young Readers did not cover herself in glory with the following comment: “The entire premise of this book is about a compulsive liar. Of all the things you’re going to choose to believe of her, you’re going to choose to believe she was telling the truth about race?” The suggestion that this decision was made deliberately is even more alarming than the idea it was unintentional.

Boing Boing also posted an article about the story. Cory Doctorow wrote Race and book covers: why is there a white girl on the cover of this book about a black girl? pointing out that this cover choice was not made in isolation and that all over the publishing industry authors are protesting against the same thing happening to their own books. White children are mainstream. Black children are urban fiction.

There’s supposedly a happy ending to this modern fairytale. Bloomsbury have decided to postpone publication until October and create a new cover. (Reported in Publishers Weekly: A New Look for ‘Liar’.) But the statement the company has issued is not exactly an apology:
“We regret that our original creative direction for Liar—which was intended to symbolically reflect the narrator’s complex psychological makeup—has been interpreted by some as a calculated decision to mask the character’s ethnicity. In response to this concern, and in support of the author’s vision for the novel, Bloomsbury has decided to re-jacket the hardcover edition with a new look in time for its publication in October. It is our hope that the important discussions about race and its representation in teen literature continue…”

Does anyone believe the part about the whitewash being a symbolic reflection of the character’s psychology? Well done to whatever marketing bod thought that up but it sounds profoundly unlikely doesn’t it? Can you envisage a cover meeting where someone said: “You know, I think it would be a really good idea to show this child as white even though she’s black, that would really convey the psychological aspect of her being a liar.” Surely any modern children’s publishing person would respond with cries of “dear lord no!” or at the very least “that could be problematic”.

So while there is cause for celebration in this cover change, those who should be celebrated are the internet bloggers (amateur and professional) who didn’t allow this story to go away, who demanded a response from the publishing company and who stated publicly that this is not okay. I’d like to be able to praise Bloomsbury too but I don’t think you get cookies for backing off from a racist act, not unless you issue a full and heartfelt apology and a promise to do better.

And we can do better. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to a vision of the future in which white people are not the default, the mainstream and the uncontested image of everyman. We can ‘be the change’. The only thing stopping us is not seeing it as important.

July 26, 2009

Red-headed Rhi

Filed under: life,photos — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 10:44 am
Rhi with red hair
Rhi with red hair

I had my hair cut a couple of weeks ago and have now finally completed the second-half of the process. Here’s a picture that should show the detail of the cut and colour.

It’s multiple layers, with a base colour of auburn red and some streaks of vibrant red and copper in it. It’s what I think of as ‘tiger stripy hair’ and is the second time I’ve had this style and colour.

This time it was cut by Anne Veck of Anne Veck Hair in Oxford and Bicester. I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out.

May 7, 2009

Reissue of Borderland

Filed under: news,Rights of Passage — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 4:53 pm



Borderland has been reissued by OUP with a new jacket.

If you missed it the first time around, now’s your chance. Two of the sequels, Shadowland and Outland will also be reissued later in the year.

Making friends doesn’t come easily to newcomer Zoë. She’s always been the outsider, watching the ‘in’ crowd from afar and longing to be part of it. So when beautiful, popular Laura Harrell notices her, Zoë is desperate to impress. Soon Laura lets Zoë into a secret. In the woods behind her house there is a hidden doorway to another world; a world Laura and her brother Alex treat as their playground. But Zoë quickly realizes that what’s going on in the city of Shattershard is no game. War is about to break out-and it appears that Alex is supplying weaponry from their own world. After a chilling warning to away from Laura, Zoë is forced to question Laura’s true reasons for bringing her to Shattershard. Caught between the opposing sides, Zoë no longer knows where her loyalties lie or who to trust. As her old life slips further away, she is starting to see that getting into Shattershard was easy . . . but getting out may not be possible.

Diverse Voices Children's Book Award

Filed under: awards — Tags: — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 8:12 am

Cristy Burne is the winner of the first Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award.
(story from the Times Online)

The inaugural Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award is for an unpublished book for eight to 12-year-olds that reflects cultural diversity either through the story content or the ethnic origins of the author. The first award went to Cristy Burne for Takeshita Demons, in which a Japanese girl whose family has moved from Osaka to London takes on the yokai (demons) of her grandmother’s stories. Takeshita Demons will be published by Frances Lincoln in summer 2010. Meanwhile, any author over 16 who has not previously published fiction for children can enter for the 2010 award (closing date 26 February 2010) . For more details contact or telephone Helena McConnell on 0845 271 0777.

April 30, 2009

Judging the Clarke Award

Filed under: Arthur C. Clarke award,awards,events — Tags: , , , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 1:57 pm

Yesterday, the 29th of April, was the final judging meeting and the ceremony for the Arthur C. Clarke award. The judging meeting took all afternoon and although all details are confidential I cna confirm the chair of the judges comment that “it was a particularly intense and long shortlist meeting”. In the end the winner, chosen from the shortlist of six, was Song of Time by Ian R. MacLeod.

There are two write-ups of the ceremony on the Guardian site here and here. (I’m not the judge mentioned in story two, by the way.) There’s also a write-up on Torque Control.

For me the evening was a great experience, it’s a huge honour to have been chosen as a judge and I am so grateful to the SF Foundation for having asked me to represent them. I’ve really enjoyed reading the books and re-reading the shortlist and it’s been great to discuss the titles with my fellow judges. I look forward to continuing in the role next year.

Highlights of the ceremony were getting to meet people whose names I know but who I’d not previously had the opportunity to meet including: Niall Harrison (Vector editor), Roz Kaveney (critic and author) and Cory Doctorow (SF author and technology guru). Exciting stuff!

April 16, 2009

Ghost of a Chance

Filed under: Ghost of a Chance,news,Rhiannon's books — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 8:30 am

Yesterday I submitted the first completed draft of my latest novel, Ghost of a Chance, to my publishers (OUP). It comes in at just over 100,000 words but this will be reduced in the edit. I am (tentatively) pleased with it.

I have been looking back through my notes and see that I was at the same stage with Bad Blood on September 19th 2006. That seems like a long time ago, although interestingly my feelings on completion were very similar. It is a relief and a loss at once. It’s over… now on to the next book.

April 9, 2009

Judging the Clarke award

Filed under: Arthur C. Clarke award,awards,events — Tags: — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 11:49 am
Clarke award judges

Clarke award judges

If there’s anyone left in the world who doesn’t know that I have the great honour to be a judge for the Arthur C. Clarke award in 2009, here’s a timely reminder. The judges (shown here and listed from left to right) are:

  • Pauline Morgan (for SF
  • Ruth O’Reilly (for the British Science Fiction Association)
  • Robert Hanks (for the Science Fiction Foundation)
  • Chris Hill (for the British Science Fiction Association)
  • Rhiannon Lassiter (for the Science Fiction Foundation)

The long list (which is technically a submission list) was announced in advance for the first time on the Torque Control blog.

Clarke award books

Clarke award books

From forty-six books, the judges agreed a shortlist of six. This was also announced (on the 17th of March) on the Torque Control blog. The shortlist is:

  • Anathem: Neal Stephenson – Atlantic
  • House of Suns: Alastair Reynolds – Gollancz
  • Martin Martin’s on the Other Side: Mark Wernham – Jonathan Cape
  • Song of Time: Ian R. MacLeod – PS Publishing
  • The Margarets: Sheri S. Tepper – Gollancz
  • The Quiet War: Paul McAuley – Gollancz

Paul Billinger, Chair of the judges, said: “It was a long and intense meeting to decide this year’s shortlist, with passionate debate from all of the judges. Although at times it seemed almost impossible, they eventually concluded that these six books were the ones that demonstrated to them what was best about the science fiction novels published in 2008.”

That’s an accurate summary of the shortlisting meeting. I’m not allowed to talk about any details but I will say that I have found judging the Clarke award an incredibly rewarding and exciting experience. Discussing, debating and deciding with the other judges has been intellectually rigorous and genuinely enjoyable. I feel very honoured to have been asked to be a judge and to contribute to choosing the next Clarke winner. Wikipedia lists the previous winnersfrom 1987 when the award began.

The award ceremony will be on April 29th at the Apollo cinema in London.

April 1, 2009

Suffolk, Bologna and Place and Space conference, oh my!

Filed under: events,Ghost of a Chance,news,photos — Tags: , , , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 6:46 pm

If you were wondering why I haven’t updated recently, it’s not because I’ve been slacking off! I’ve been jetsetting (and train- and car-setting) around the place doing various events.

Suffolk Book Mastermind

Suffolk Book Mastermind

On Friday the 27th of March I was a guest at the Suffolk Schools Library Service Book Mastermind Competition where I watched local students compete to be chosen book mastermind. The winner was a 14-year-old named Leanne from Sudbury Upper School. In the afternoon I and Natalie Haynes (another author and comedian) both gave talks and workshops to the attendees.

While in Suffolk I visited my friends Mo and Tracy who kindly hosted me and gavce me a chance to relax before my next event…

Because on Sunday the 29th of March I set off for Italy and the Bologna Book Fair. Bologna really deserves a whole post of its own so for now I’ll concentrate on the highlights. I went with my mother, author Mary Hoffman, who has just started a new blog and posted about the event there. (Check out The Book Maven for her Bologna post.)

Bologna Book Fair

Bologna Book Fair

Together we had an excellent time prowling around the four halls dedicated to publishing companies from across the word, checking out new titles and popular themes. I also met my German editor Antje Keil (from Fischer Verlag) and my Japanese editor Kyoko Kiire (from Shogakukan) and said hello to other publishing folks at the stands for my other UK and oversees publishers. I was taken out to dinner by the people at Frances Lincoln and met up with others for drinks.

After the fair my father came to join us and we went by train to Florence where we spent three days in an apartment with a glorious view of classic florentine roofs and terraces. I visited the Uffizi, roamed the city and bought gifts for colleagues at the San Lorenzo market.

San Lorenzo market

San Lorenzo market

Then on Saturday the 28th of March I flew back to the UK and came racing back to Oxford to join in on the final plenary panel for the Place and Space conference with Philip Pullman, Claire Squires, Peter Hunt and Farah Mendlesohn. Our panel was on working in children’s fiction and was (at least to me) extremely interesting. Although we all had different approaches, we are more similar than we are different in our passion for books. I could say a lot more about the conference too so I will plan to say more once I can track down some pictures of the event. I know lots were taken but none with my camera.

So, now I’m back and writing away since the current book Ghost of a Chance is within a hairsbreath of completeing. The trouble is for every thousand words I write I throw half of them away! But even so I am nearing the end and able to say (cautiusly) that I think this will be a good book. I am (warily) pleased with how it’s worked out.

March 17, 2009

Blogging Sisterhood Award

Filed under: awards,links,news — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 4:24 pm

I have been given a Blogging Sisterhood Award by Scribble City Central. Lucy Coats writes: “Rhiannon has directed me to all sorts of wonderful places I never would have discovered without her. And she really (no, I mean REALLY) knows her stuff on the book front. A goldmine of interesting information. At least it is for me.”

Thank you, Lucy, for your generous critique!

The Blogging Sisterhood Award was created by Diana of Diana Rambles and is designed to be passed on. When you are gifted with it, you should pass it on. Scribble City Central suggested listing ten names of other bloggers but I’m not actively following enough blogs to nominate that many.

Instead I shall list three blogs, to which I am passing the award on:

  • Hijab Style, a fashion blog for Muslim women
  • Farah Mendlesohn’s Inter-Galactic Playground, a children’s science fiction review blog; the blog is officially defunct now the book has been published but has lots of really interesting recommendations in the field of YA SF
  • Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose, a feminist blog

Thank you to all three blogs for having informed and entertained me.

Note: Some readers of this blog may be wondering about what connection my blog choices have to my life choices. I am a feminist and I believe in the gospel of size-acceptance. I am not a Muslim and I do not wear hijab, but I am interested in Islamic culture and dress. I am a YA SF writer and have been reviewed at the Inter-Galactic Playground but it’s for the recommendations of books other than my own that I am recommending it. I’m assuming that people reading my blog already know about my books!

February 19, 2009

Categories problem

Filed under: news,website and internet — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 2:34 pm

I’ve just discovered that a category search takes you to every blog with that category, not just mine. This is rather irritating. I have a support enquiry in with wordpress but if you’re getting surprising search results, that’s why.

ETA: Apparently I needed to turn on the categories widget. Have now done this and all is fine. ::heaves sigh of relief::

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