Tag Archives: Holly Kench

Defying Doomsday – Holly Kench on writing disabled characters

It’s my pleasure to welcome Holly Kench to my blog today. Holly is one of my fave spec fic people, and the Defying Doomsday anthology looks like it will not only be an incredible read (as you would imagine from a Twelfth Planet Press book!), but a very important book. I have already backed it, and I would encourage you to think about it, too.

As an author, it can be a little intimidating trying to write characters who have different experiences and lives to you, but in this excellent post Holly gives us some very handy hints–lessons that I think have applications beyond the remit of this anthology, and helpful for writing any character that is different in anyway to ourselves, whether through gender, orientation, creed or race.

Thanks, Holly!

Tips for Writing Disabled Characters

Apocalypse fiction rarely includes characters with disability, chronic illness and other impairments. When these characters do appear, they usually die early on, or are secondary characters undeveloped into anything more than a burden to the protagonist. Defying Doomsday will be an anthology showing that disabled characters have far more interesting stories to tell in post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction.

Defying Doomsday will be edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench, and published by Twelfth Planet Press in mid 2016. Defying Doomsday is currently crowdfunding via Pozible. To support the project visit: http://pozi.be/defyingdoomsday

When writing, stepping outside your comfort zone can be pretty intimidating and I think, for most people, writing disabled* characters seems to fit in the “out of my comfort zone” category.  So I’m here to give a few tips on how to tackle disabled characters in your writing.

  1.      Avoid stereotypes and clichés

A lot of disabled characters currently available to us fit into problematic stereotypes and clichés. Because they are so ubiquitous in our culture, it’s easy to fall into the trap of writing stereotyped characters. Stereotypes are never helpful in general, and they are certainly never interesting in stories, but when it comes to disabled characters, stereotypes can be, arguably, even more damaging than usual, since the views they perpetuate can be so negative and harmful. Some of these stereotypes include (but are not limited to) general disability clichés such as: the disabled character is a burden or inspiration, and the character’s impairment is something that needs to be fixed; and impairment specific clichés such as: albino characters are evil, and blind characters can use echolocation.

A good way to avoid stereotypes is to ask yourself why you are portraying your character in a certain way. Is it because you associate a certain character trait or storyline with disability? Or is it just part of the development of your story and characterisation? For example, while “evil disabled character” is a common cliché, it’s still possible to have a disabled character who is ‘evil’ without it becoming a stereotype. The question is, does the character have a reason for behaving badly? Or was the character written as disabled to seem more frightening?

  1.      Do your research

Try not to make assumptions about life with disability, especially if those assumptions are based on common things you’ve seen in the media or other works of fiction. Do research to find out how your character’s life might be affected by disability. Research the medical realities of your character’s impairment/s, but also realise that disability is about external factors, and research how life might be made difficult for your character by different situations and expectations.

There are a couple of good ways to do your research. Of course talking to a person who has experienced disability is one possibility. It’s great to get information based on real life experiences from disabled people. But remember that people with disability don’t exist to be your human encyclopaedia. It’s not their responsibility to educate you. Always ask politely and understand if this isn’t something they want to talk about. If they are happy to discuss the topic, listen and trust their experiences, even (especially) if they aren’t what you expect. Also remember that everyone is different, so one person’s experience of disability, or even a particular impairment, will not necessarily be the same as the next.

So what if you can’t talk to someone? Use the internet. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to do some research on the internet as well, anyway. There are a multitude of sites available that talk about different types of impairments, from the medical realities, to the day to day implications, as well as sites that talk more broadly about life with disability. There are also quite a few pieces available about how to write disabled characters. My strongest recommendation is to especially read sites and pieces which are written by disabled people, rather than sites that talk about disabled people and their experiences from an outside perspective.

  1.      Make sure your character has depth

While you want to make sure you research the ways disability affects your character’s life, you also need to remember that there is more to any person’s life than disability, and the same should be the case for your character. Just as you want to avoid stereotypes, you want to make sure your character is multidimensional. Interesting characters have identities informed by a range of experiences, their own histories and all those little intangible factors that make people whole and fascinating. This is the same for disabled characters. Disabled people aren’t synonymous with disability. They have identities, personalities and experiences beyond how they are affected by their impairments or how the world treats them because of those impairments. Of course, disability is going to affect your characterisation, because it’s an important part of your character’s history and experience, but it’s not everything. Disabled people have full lives and complex identities, so try to ensure your disabled characters have full characterisations.

  1. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose

The last point to remember is not to be afraid to try to write disabled characters. Disabled people are just like anyone else–complex, interesting, deserving of a place in your storytelling. Stepping outside your comfort zone is good. It’s good for you, your writing, and the genre. But, if you think about it, writing disabled characters might not be as far outside your comfort zone as you think, anyway. After all, disabled people are just people. Disabled characters are just characters, but they might have a story that hasn’t been told just yet.

CDefying Doomsday

Tsana Dolichva and I are currently editing an anthology of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories, featuring disabled, chronically ill, mentally ill and/or neurodiverse protagonists. We are currently holding a crowdfunding campaign through Pozible to fund the anthology. To support the campaign or to preorder a copy of Defying Doomsday, visit: http://pozi.be/defyingdoomsday. Your support is greatly appreciated!

We will also be holding an open submissions period once the campaign is over, so keep an eye out for more information and submission guidelines on our website. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

*For the sake of ease, I’m just using the word disabled, but everything I’ve talked about counts for people who identify as disabled, chronically ill, neuro-diverse, mentally-ill etc; and the characters that might represent these identities.

The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2014 – Holly Kench

Holly Kench is a writer and a feminist, with a classics degree and a fear of spiders. She lives in Tasmania, Australia, where a lack of sun provides ample opportunity for hiding indoors and writing off-kilter stories. Holly writes about her life as a stuffed olive on her blog Confessions of a Stuffed Olive and manages the website Visibility Fiction, promoting and publishing inclusive young adult fiction.

I am a huge fan of your cartoons! When did you first start creating them, and can you tell us a bit about the process involved?

Thank you, David!

I started creating my cartoons nearly three years ago when I first decided to start taking my writing seriously (more than writing only for myself and friends). I wrote a few stories and put them on my blog, but they seemed really boring without pictures (because I have the maturity of a 3 year old and the attention span of a dead goldfish) so I decided to illustrate them with stick figures, and it snowballed from there. At some point the illustrations kind of took over…

My process? You make it sound like these things are the result of some kind of forethought. Typically each comic or story begins with me experiencing some socially awkward event, or remembering some mortifying childhood experience. Then I write. All my posts begin as text – usually long rambles written at 3am. Often by the time I finish writing, I realise I can say the same thing with more punch if I delete all the words and just draw a few sad looking stick figures. Of course, words are my enduring love, so a lot of the time the fun for me comes from crafting those rambles. The luxury of my Olive cartoons is that I can pick and choose whether I want to create a short comic or a short story, and can use supplementary stick figures to give my stories another dimension.

astronautI create all my Olive pictures in MS Paint and maintain that it is the best graphics program since, well, MacPaint. Once I’ve added in the pictures, I hit ‘publish’ before I can think about it too long and chicken out.

You have a story in the upcoming YA anthology from Twelfth Planet Press, Kaleidoscope, alongside an amazing range of YA authors. What inspired you to write your story, and why did that anthology in particular appeal?

I was so excited when I first heard about Kaleidoscope. I’ve been a fan of Julia Rios, via The Outer Alliance Podcast, and Alisa Krasnostein, via the Galactic Suburbia Podcast and Twelfth Planet Press, for quite a while. Both their podcasts are on my must-listen list. So when I heard they had teamed up to create an anthology with a theme that basically summarised everything I was dying to see in fiction… well, I happy-freaked out.

I didn’t have to read the planned table of contents to know this was going to be a fantastic anthology. Then when I did discover the amazing authors they had included… I mean, what can I say? I just feel so lucky to be involved.

Kaleidoscope-Cover-706x1024My fan-girling for Alisa, Julia and the rest of the Kaleidoscope authors aside, the theme of Kaleidoscope is something I feel very passionately about. I’ve written quite a bit in the past about the need for more diversity in fiction and it was clear from Alisa and Julia’s initial posts about the anthology that they were coming from a very similar perspective to my reasons behind starting Visibility Fiction.

My story “Every Little Thing” was loosely inspired by a novel I wrote (but never quite finished) a few years ago. Even though I eventually put that novel in the drawer-of-doomed-manuscripts, one of the secondary characters really stuck with me. When I read the submission call for Kaleidoscope, that character came straight to mind and I knew I had to tell a story from her perspective – though Mandy ended up being significantly modified from her original being. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have her story included in Kaleidoscope. I hope people like it.

You manage the site visibilityfiction.com. What is the site’s mission, and where do you see it going in the future?

As I mentioned, Visibility Fiction’s mission coincides a lot with that of the Kaleidoscope anthology. We publish and promote young adult fiction with protagonists from diverse backgrounds. Our aim is to create a space where people can access free, positive stories about diverse characters, and to address the imbalance of representation in fiction, which tends to focus on straight, white, cis, able (etc) characters.

When I first started the site, I had just finished some university work focusing on LGBT representations in teen culture (comparing the representation of the closet in Buffy and Pretty Little Liars – heh), but I soon realised that the lack of LGBT characters in TV, film and fiction was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to missing representations.

Visibility Fiction CoverI also realised that no matter how much I wrote about the current imbalances in character representations, if I wanted to really commit to seeing change, I needed to actively address the problem from within fiction. I began writing more diverse stories, but I also realised there were so many experiences that I could not even fathom. I decided there needed to be more spaces where people could access diverse stories from diverse voices, and spaces that promoted inclusive fiction in all its forms. So I made one.

My dream for the future is to be able to offer pro-payments to authors. I want to see more stories and a wider range of authors on the site. I’m very fussy about the stories we publish, in terms of the writing and the nature of the diversity presented. We have some fantastic stories up there and I’d like to see more. A pro-payment would help with this, but I also think it’s only fair for authors to receive that kind of compensation for their work. We run on donations, though, so our budget is fairly restricted.

Looking even further down the track than that, I’d love for the site to eventually become obsolete. I want to get to the point where diversity in fiction isn’t something we have to search for and actively promote, but where diversity in fiction goes hand in hand with fiction itself. I think that would be amazing.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

I fell into a steampunk spiral a little while ago and haven’t quite managed to pull myself out. There’s a lot more of it out there this year than in the past, both adult and YA, and this is both good and bad – good because it feeds my obsession, and bad because it’s beginning to get to that point where finding the good stuff amongst the rubbish can be a bit of a chore. That said, Australian author Bec McMaster totally brings the good stuff. I’m currently reading My Lady Quicksilver, which is the third in her London Steampunk series. These are some of the most addictive books I’ve read in a while, but a word of warning, they are VERY high on the steam scale of romance, so not for those who squirm at a bit of sexy times in their fiction. There’s a great overarching intrigue plot as well, and some of the best steampunk world building I’ve read.

Getting away from steampunk for a bit, I’ve also just started Nina D’Aleo’s The Whitelist. Last year I really enjoyed Nina D’Aleo’s The Last City, which was all fabulous characters and an amazing world. She has a very unique way of writing that really appeals to me and is very captivating, so I’m excited to be starting another of her novels.

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I only read digital content these days, so the increase in the availability of digital content has hugely influenced my access to reading material. I love ebooks and I’m also a complete audiobook addict. I don’t remember how I functioned before audiobooks. I don’t even want to think about it. I’m also a big fan of libraries, and despite what some of the end-is-nigh paper book fanatics might say, the wonderful thing about libraries these days is the way they are adapting to provide more and more digital content (including audiobooks). Libraries are a good example of how previous models of book consumption can be adapted to make the most of the digital world, while still providing spaces that are all about book love. Seriously, guys, hug your librarian!

I think outlets for digital publications have also made it possible for more diverse and interesting fiction to be published. Stories that previously might have failed to find a path to publication through traditional models now have more opportunity to find an audience, not only via self-publishing, but also through digital first publishers which seem to be more willing to take risks with less mainstream content. For example, I’ve been reading a few female superhero novels lately (The Masked Songbird by Emmie Mears, Sidekick by Auralee Wallace and Scorched by Erica Hayes), all of which were released by digital first publishers, and I honestly have my doubts about whether some of these novels would have seen the light of day in the past.

As you can tell, I’m pretty positive about the way things are moving. There are definitely scary factors, but that’s the nature of transition, and I can see more good results from the new world of publishing than bad.

I have no idea what I’ll be publishing/writing/reading five years from now. Probably fiction, maybe some non-fiction. I can’t really say more than that.

This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to the World Science Fiction Convention in London, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2014 conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

To read the interviews hot off the press, check out these blogs daily from July 28 to August 10, 2014, or look for the round up on SF Signal when it’s all done. You can find the past Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007,  2010 and 2012.

Wednesday Writers: Holly Kench

I came across Holly’s blog rather randomly, but was immediately captivated by her sense of fun and hilarious illustrations and I’ve made it one of my regular reads. Don’t be misled by her comedic talents, it is not just another funny blog but has something truly important to say. Sometimes comedy is just a disguise for lack of substance, and a social conscience can be at the expense of the ability to laugh at oneself, but Holly is that rare combination of someone who can make you laugh out loud on one hand, but really make you think on the other.

How to write good and stuff.

I have always loved words. I don’t mean stories, reading, or writing, though I love those too. I mean words. According to my mother, when I was very little I would sit alone in the back seat of the car, convinced that no one could hear me. There, I would repeat certain words I’d discovered over and over again, like some mystical mantra, or, more likely, like someone who’d just escaped from Arkham Asylum.

Once I could read, it wasn’t long before I became that weird kid at school, who sat alone in the playground reading instead of playing on the monkey bars. I was banned from bringing my own reading material to school because it was “inappropriate”, but, luckily for me, there was always a dictionary available. The dictionary soon became one of my favourite books, which is how I became the seriously weird kid, who sat alone in the playground reading the dictionary. 

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the day my grandfather gave me a copy of the Shorter Oxford was one of the happiest in my life.

Of course, words are amazing in and of themselves, but it is how we use them that really gives them power. How we use words is how we give them context and, ultimately, how we imbue them with meaning. It is easy to understand this in terms of words which have multiple meanings. The word ‘run’, for example, could mean anything from an uncomfortable physical activity to an unfortunate hosiery situation, until it is used and given context. Yet, I don’t think this is a concept I truly understood until I studied Latin. 

When we translate texts from another language, the multiplicity of word meanings and the potentialities that this creates become apparent. We make decisions in translation that might be a correct translation of the words, but which affect the meaning of the text. We decide, for example, whether to use particular four letter words when translating Catullus, and in doing so, we affect how a reader understands that poem.

This is what writers do every day. They create meaning by collecting words and curating them in such a way that a story develops from the profusion of possibilities. 

In order to create meaning from words, writers need to know and understand the rules of writing. This knowledge helps us to select and use words in a way that creates new worlds and enriches the texture of those imaginings.

There are many things a writer can do to improve their knowledge of language and the intricacies of grammar. Without a doubt, the best way to improve such knowledge is to read. Read all the books you can, then find more, and read those too. Just keep reading. Keep a grammar guide handy if you’re unsure about your technique, but, if you’re really serious about your writing, learn a second language, then learn a third and a fourth. Once you understand how to put words together in another language, writing within the rules of English will come naturally (except, of course, in those cases when English is totally nonsensical). 

There are also a lot of “how to” guides for writing all over the Internet. If you are unsure about a grammar form, you can Google it. If you are uneasy about the definition of a word you’re using, hello dictionary.com (though please, do double check with your Oxford). There are also a lot of people telling you what you must and absolutely must not do in your writing. Sometimes I feel bombarded by articles telling writers how to write. You know, like this one.

I see article after article alleging that the passive shouldn’t be used, and articles claiming that to occasionally split an infinitive is the worst crime a writer can commit. Microsoft Word constantly harassing me about fragmented sentences. 

Yet, I have to wonder, are they missing the point?

It’s important for writers to know and understand the rules of writing if they want their work to be meaningful. However, it’s also important for writers to know that it is okay to break the rules. Sometimes it’s best not to take these things too seriously. Sometimes it’s best to realise that the rules really are there to be broken.

Given the option of frolicking in the sunshine with the other children, reading “appropriate” texts such as The Baby-sitters Club, or settling down with the dictionary, I would choose the dictionary every time. However, even the most avid lover of words occasionally needs more than a dictionary to entertain her. When banned from my desired reading material, I didn’t simply give up. The teachers never knew of my secret stash of novels, which I carefully accessed whenever they were out of sight. They also failed to realise that behind the pages of my dictionary was plenty of space to hide more illicit reading material. I was such a rebel.

Of course, as any good rebel will know, you have to know the rules to break them, and then breaking them is half the fun. I’m not suggesting that writers should feel free to throw the rules completely out the window. They should not, for example, stop worrying about whether a verb agrees with its subject. 

Seriously, don’t. That would really hurt me, deep in my soul.

What I am suggesting is that you should use the rules to your advantage. Follow the rules to ensure that your meaning is clear. Then break the rules to create new meanings. 

Words are the real playground for writers. They are our sites for fun, play, discovery, exploration, and creativity. Enhance your use of words by understanding and respecting their correct usages. Just don’t allow the rules to restrain your relationship with words.  The ever expanding content of the dictionary should tell us that the possibilities are endless. Therefore, the way we use words should be about anything other than restraint. We should use words and create with freedom. 

Because, the thing is, sometimes the best way to write well is to write wrong.

Holly Kench is a writer and feminist, with a classics degree and a fear of spiders. She enjoys writing fantasy and humour, for adults, young adults, and children. Holly seeks stories that contemplate the world as much as books that provide escape, but doesn’t think the two are mutually exclusive. These are the sort of stories Holly tries to write. She is convinced we can change the world through popular culture. Holly writes about her life as a stuffed olive at www.stuffedolive.com.au and has recently started a new project for the promotion and publication of inclusive young adult fiction at www.visibilityfiction.com.