April 2013

Reading women

by Suw on April 29, 2013

Last month, when I wrote that we need a female Dr Who, I was struck by the fact that, in the discussion on Twitter, quite a few people were mentioning female writers that I hadn’t heard of. I realised that my own knowledge of women writing in my favourite genres of science fiction and fantasy was lacking. I have vowed to remedy this through the simple expediency of reading the same number of books by women as by men. I couldn’t easily remember how many books I’ve read this year, though, so decided to list them (series are listed on a per book basis). I’ll keep this list up-to-date as the year wears on.


  1. Anne McCaffrey, Crystal Line (in progress)
  2. JF Penn, Pentecost (in progress)
  3. Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth
  4. Rosemary Sutcliff, The Sliver Branch
  5. Rosemary Sutcliff, The Lantern Bearers
  6. Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games
  7. Helen FitzGerald, The Duplicate (novella)


  1. James Henry, The Cabinet of Curiosities (in progress)
  2. James Everington, First Time Buyers (short story)
  3. Nick Spalding, Love, From Both Sides
  4. Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair
  5. James Oswald, Natural Causes
  6. John Scalzi, Old Man’s War
  7. F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  8. F Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and the Damned (abandoned)
  9. Lloyd Shepherd, The English Monster
  10. Danny Rubin, How to Write Groundhog Day (non-fiction)

To reach a nice state of equilibrium, I need to read three books by women next. Already on my Nook I have Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City, Kelly Link’s Strange Things Happen and Magic for Beginners, Mercedes Lackey’s Secret World Chronicles, and Mimi Johnson’s Gathering String, and I do want to finish the Hunger Games trilogy so that’s another couple of books.

On my list of books to buy are Jo Walton’s Among Other, Sarah Pinborough’s A Matter of Blood, Jane Margolis’ Unlocking the Clubhouse (non-fiction), Cate Gardner’s Theatre of Curious Acts, and Molly Tanzer’s A Pretty Mouth. Who else should I add?

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Bye bye ovary, ovary bye bye

by Suw on April 19, 2013

As regular readers will know, I’ve had two ovarian cysts over the last year. The first one was removed August 2012 but within five months a second one had grown on the left ovary again. The cysts are endometriomas, which means that a little bit of uterine lining has made its way into my ovary and started filling a cyst with blood.

I finally had my appointment with my new consultant this week and learnt some new information about my cyst. Apparently the last cyst, which I thought had just been drained, had actually been mostly removed although it burst during the procedure and thus complete removal wasn’t possible. The new cyst hasn’t grown much since the last ultrasound four months ago and is 7.2 x 5.5cm in size. That’s a fair bit smaller than my first cyst, which was 8.0 x 8.5 x 9.5cm in size when diagnosed two months before removal.

The smaller size of the cyst probably explains why it has not given me as much trouble on a day-to-day basis as the first one did. Although it’s sometimes uncomfortable, particularly when I lie on my front or when a cat sits on me with paws in the wrong place, it’s rarely painful. I’m most grateful for that, as it means that I’m not needing the painkillers I required last year which made me so fuzzy-headed.

So my choices are:

  1. Wait and see. Not really my favourite option.
  2. Have another cystectomy. The normal risk of recurrence is 10%, but given that I’ve already had one recurrence it seems likely that for me that risk might be higher. Can’t say that I’m overly impressed with this option either.
  3. Partial oophorectomy. Rather than just remove the cyst they will remove my lefthand ovary as well. This will prevent recurrence. There’s no reason to believe that my righthand ovary will start producing cysts and it should be capable of picking up the slack with regard to hormone production.

So, partial oophorectomy it is, then. I should get an appointment within the next eight weeks and it should again be an outpatient appointment, done and dusted in one day.

I was expecting this outcome, though it was still quite odd when it became clear that this was the best option. For a moment on Wednesday I felt that there was something almost symbolic about it, losing an ovary, that I’ll always know that there’s a tiny almond-sized bit of me missing. But it’s really no more symbolic than losing a wisdom tooth or four, or an appendix or tonsils.

I’m not fussed about fertility. Kevin and I jointly decided years ago that children weren’t our thing and that we’d prefer not to have them. Some people find that an odd decision, but it’s very definitely the right one for us. Indeed, the rightness of that decision was strongly reinforced shortly after we got married when we had bit of a pregnancy scare – when the test came up negative we both heaved a sigh of relief, rather than disappointment.

I’m looking forward to being on the other side of the operation. Although the staff last time were fantastic and I’m not worried about the op, it’ll be nice to have it out of the way. I will, of course, keep the blog updated as things progress.

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A while ago I stumbled on this post from Eric Hellman exploring the question of what sort of front- and endmatter makes sense for ebooks, given that many of the pages that we see in the front of paper books have a purpose related to the printing process. Says Hellman:

A good example is the bastard title (or half title) page. This a page, usually printed with only the book’s title, that precedes the title page in the book. When dinosaurs roamed the earth, the function of the bastard title was to identify and physically protect the paper text block until it was bound. Sort of like the tissue paper they still put in fancy wedding invitations. I daresay that ebooks do not require any such protection. It is utterly without use in an ebook. Begone!

Next, consider the title page. It typically displays the books title, author, and the publisher.

In a print book, the title page is a declaration of bookiness. You don’t have title pages in magazines or newspapers. The title page says “get, ready, here comes a book, so go find a comfy chair.”

But a digital book needs something different. It needs a start page. Think about the start screen of a DVD. (You DO remember those, don’t you?) Now think a bit more generally. Modern ebooks share their underlying technology with websites, so why not convert the title page of a book into a home page for the book, with the sort of utilities you expect on a home page?

frontmatter graph

Frontmatter choices (click to embiggen)

That got me to thinking, which then got me to asking questions on Twitter, and finally, to setting up a wee questionnaire. Rather than try to guess what people might want, I thought it was easier to just ask them, and 137 people gave me their opinions. The results were in some ways surprising. But first, the not so surprising bits.

For the front matter, people mainly want to see the cover, dedication and table of contents. Several people on Twitter made the point that the Kindle dumps you in at the first page of text, meaning that you then miss out on seeing the cover, so a link to it in the table of contents to the cover is actually rather useful.

Although people aren’t massively keen on seeing a copyright notice, I think it’s only fair to tell people what they’re getting up front, so I personally think that should be retained. And the title page, which Hellman suggests could be replaced by a ‘start’ page, got a pretty good response despite the fact that it serves no real purpose in an ebook.

Perhaps it’s just that a title page is for many people a key part of the visual language of the book, it’s comforting and expected. That ‘declaration of bookiness’ is still important, so whilst removing it might make logical sense, does it make emotional sense?


Endmatter choices (click to embiggen)

For endmatter, people wanted to know about the author, find other books by the same author, see acknowledgements and other credits, get information about the author’s mailings list, blog etc., as well as get sample chapters of other books.

Interestingly, some of the stuff that an author’s ego might be tempted to include scored very badly, such as the blurb and quotes from reviews, and there was little interest in offers and discounts. I’m surprised by the latter, to be honest. Who doesn’t like a bargain? Book readers, apparently.

After some really vehement reactions about ‘share this’ links on Twitter, I asked specifically for people’s reaction to them. What did they think of them? What I got was, well, interesting and, again, a bit surprising.

Yes, some people said that they appreciated ‘share this’ links, and a lot of people said they were non-plussed by them or ignored them, but others were quite vocal in their objections. Here are some of the positive responses:

“I think they’re fine. I like to share things I like with friends.”

“I like the idea of sharing what I’m reading with my friends/followers.”

“Just seems natural to me.”

And some of the, erm, less positive responses:

“I’m trying to read. Leave me alone!”

“Really irritates me. Naked attempt at marketing, very offputting. If a book is good I wont need reminding to word of mouth it.”

“I find them annoying”

“an irritating page to be clicked past – I have no desire to share my reading habits with others”


“I don’t getting social points for what I’m reading, but I don’t want to be seen as *seeking* social points for what I’m reading. So screw you, “Share this” links.”

“Don’t use them – I find them intrusive.”

“Get annoyed and ignore it.”

“I think ‘not fucking likely’.”

“HATE, HATE, HATE them. I don’t “share” every minute of my time on FB or twitter, and resent the assumption that I might want to.”

“I find it extremely irritating – I have no desire nor need to ‘share’ everything I buy with everyone I know or might know!”


“If I like a book I’m more than capable of typing the title and author name in myself to recommend it to others- and if you use the “share this” button people can always tell when its a prewritten message.”

“Basically, these links are a bad thing, probably the worst thing about ebooks from a reader’s point of view, and I am against them.”

Although many were entirely unbothered by ‘share this’ links, the intensity of emotion amongst those who disliked them was so fierce that I think it’s just not worth risking antagonising readers by including them. If someone’s taken the trouble to read my book, the last thing I want to do is accidentally leave them with a sour taste in their mouth. If they want to share it, then they will, and they’ll do it however they wish, whenever they wish.

Finally, I asked people whether they actually read front- and endmatter, with 1 being ‘never’ and 5 being ‘always’:

Frontmatter frequency

Endmatter frequency

I’m actually quite surprised that people mostly do read front- and endmatter, so the question of what to include really is worth carefully considering.

I think I’m starting to get a standard set of front- and endmatter that ticks the right boxes for me and hopefully for my readers too. But the nice thing about ebooks is that they are easy to change and I’m still interested in people’s opinions, so please do leave a comment!

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New short story: The Lacemaker

by Suw on April 9, 2013

The LacemakerRight at the end of last year, I wrote the first draft of a short story, The Lacemaker. It’s had a good ol’ polish and now it’s an ebook – in mobi, epub and pdf format. It’s now available for 99p from my ebookstore or, if you fancy getting it for free, you can join my mailing list and you’ll get a special link in the welcome email that will give you a 100% discount.

Here’s a taster:

All the threads looked the same to the innocent eye, but Maude could see the black heart running up through one strand as it wove its way through the lace roundel. 

“How on earth do you manage it?” the woman asked, as she looked at the mats on the craft fair stall. Maude chose to treat the question as a rhetorical one and busied herself with tidying her bobbins as the woman browsed.

“I’ll take this one,” the woman said, holding up a square piece, twelve inches across. Maude winced, picked up the piece she had just completed and held it out to the woman for her consideration.

I hope you’ll like it, and if you do, please tell your friends!

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