YA, Cussing, and Me

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A few people have asked if I’ve seen the latest round of “should-YA-books-have-cussing-and-if-they-do-should-there-be-warning-labels”, possibly because they anticipate I will be profane in my rejection of the idea. And they would be correct!

This round of “let’s officially censor teen novels” comes about after a recent BYU study published in peer-reviewed journal Mass Communications and Society that analyzed 40 YA books on bestseller list and discovered that on average they “contain 38 instances of profanity between the covers.”

Gosh, that’s a really high level! Way higher than I would expect!

Could it be because one of the books had over 500 usages, that being a memoir by Nick Sheff called Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines? I wonder if that altered the sample average in any significant way?

Of the other 39 books, 35 had “at least one instance of profanity” and four were presumably devoid of naughty words. I’m not positive what counts as “profanity” – can anyone with the latest issue of Mass Communications and Society tell me what words are considered profane for the purposes of this study? I’d like to know if swearing and blasphemy have been conflated, or considered separate categories. Is “oh my God” considered as profane as “fuck this shit”?

Andy Woodworth, who does have access to the study, writes in This YA Title Is Not Yet Rated (Yet) that the study selected bestseller lists from June 22nd to July 6th, 2008 to study, and asks how this period was chosen.

And Meghan Miller of Forever YA points out the weirdness of claiming that YA books have swearing rates twice as high as video games when there are so many more words in YA books in “Get the F*ck Out! YA Books Have Cussing?!?”.

My own books have swears, on account of I swear, swore as a teenager, and am happy for my teenage characters (all 16 to 18) to swear when I think it is appropriate. “Appropriate” differs from character to character. Ellie from Guardian of the Dead says “fuck” a lot. In The Shattering Keri and Janna do too, particularly in times of anger, pain, or high stress. Sione never does. When he confronts the person he believes is responsible for the death of his brother, this happens:

“You sick old bitch,” Sione said, the last word sitting awkwardly in his mouth. It was the first time I’d heard him swear.

And in fact, I think it’s the only time he swears in the book. Swearing is not a Sione thing to do; he was raised to strict standards of appropriate behaviour and follows them even when the people who enforce those standards aren’t around. Keri and Janna are both more casual and more rebellious in their speech.

The first time Tegan says “fuck” in When We Wake is [SPOILER!!!] just after she’s possibly attracted the negative interest of the government/military by hacking into secret files. She’s using a friend’s computer and she doesn’t know how to disconnect it from the internet in a future where every device is connected as a matter of course:

“Fuckity fuck fuck fuck,” I said calmly. Then I grabbed my rusty iron statue of the lady in the sea and beat the crap out of Bethari’s computer.

After that, Tegan says fuck twice more. Bethari says “fuck” once, when they discover just what the military has been up to, and that it is not very nice. The other two major teen characters, Joph and Abdi, don’t.

None of these characters swear around or at their parents, because that is a situation where teenagers tend to be more circumspect unless they are really hurt or angry. As a teenager I once told my mother to fuck off. She slapped me so hard my teeth hurt. (Now that I am a grown-up I regularly swear in front of my mother, and she in front of me, but we don’t swear at each other because we get along pretty well. This is one of the many bonuses of adulthood).

Secret Secret Shush Shush*, the book I’m working on now, doesn’t contain any swearing so far. It hasn’t felt natural to include it for these characters, even though they’ve so far survived a mass murder, several attempts at dangerous sabotage, and multiple Betrayals of Their Souls. Since one is a tightly restrained military lady under a lot of pressure, and the other is an enthusiastic and not entirely neurotypical guy who is more prone to liking things than not, it didn’t really fit. There was one point where the military lady says “shit” and a friend pointed out that this would keep Secret Secret Shush Shush out of book fairs. So I nixed it. That single “shit” is not that important to me, and thus I’m happy to go, you know what, commercial success, probably quite nice. But I would have fought like a tasmanian devil to keep “Fuckity fuck fuck fuck”. (I didn’t have to. My editors are great).

Obviously, I think swearing in YA is fine. I think swearing itself is fine. But I am totally okay with readers who disagree putting down my books when they hit the first swear word, because I am not in charge of what they do and do not find acceptable. This is the same reason I don’t swear in classroom workshops, because teenagers who don’t want to hear swearing aren’t able to leave in those circumstances. It’s better to assume some teenagers there might be unhappy with swearing than not to, and hurt them.

Anyway, the study itself concludes:

We are not advocating that book covers be required to contain content warnings regarding profanity. We understand that providing content warnings on books represents a very hot debate, and that inclusion of such warnings is extremely controversial.

However, one of the authors, Dr Sarah Coyne, in an interview: “Unlike almost every other type of media, there are no content warnings or any indication if there is [sic] extremely high levels of profanity in adolescent novels.”

My response to this is two-fold:

1) What exactly is an “extremely high level”? Who gets to decide? Governments? Publishers? Teachers? Librarians? Did anyone think of asking readers?

2) Content warnings are stupid.

Or rather, not the warnings themselves, but the bodies that spring up to decide upon and enforce them, and the commercial structures that inevitably alter under the strain, and the mindset that uses content warnings as an excuse to forbid readers access to books without engaging with the specific reader or the actual content.

Media have often adopted “voluntary” guidelines that are effectively compulsory for commercial success. Historically, this has been incredibly restrictive upon the creative process and often appallingly -ist. The Hays Code screwed any depiction of healthy sexual activity outside marriage in film. Have an affair? TIME TO DIE. The Comics Code Authority killed horror comics (no comics allowed with “terror” or “horror” in the title!) and refused to approve any depiction of “sex perversion”, “sexual abnormalities”, and “illicit sex relations” – i.e., rape, and also queerness or anything not enforcing the “sanctity of marriage”. Famously, comics with the CCA seal were not allowed to portray drug use or drug paraphernalia – leading to the famous Spider-Man comic where, despite the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare actually asking Stan Lee to write a comic depicting drug use as unglamorous and dangerous, the CCA refused to approve it. (Marvel published anyway, in what is seen as an important point of the CCA beginning to lose its power.)

Moreover the rules are often almost amusingly short-sighted. Although the MPAA doesn’t say how it goes about giving ratings (which is in itself suspect), general received wisdom is that you get to say “fuck” once in a PG-13 movie. The Avengers is PG-13. It includes Loki calling the Black Widow a “mewling quim”, which means I was watching a PG-13 movie when the major female character was described as a “whiny cunt”, and involuntarily said, in the crowded theatre, “EW!”. (I don’t think that was gross because it was swearing, btw. I think it was gross because that particular gendered slur pisses me off).

Said Dr Coyne, in the same interview: “Parents should talk with their children about the books they are reading.”

I super agree that parents should talk to their children about the books they are reading. I’m less certain that they should talk to their teenagers, particularly their older teenagers, particularly with a view to forbidding them certain texts. I have a lot of respect for the ability of teenagers to make their own choices about what they do and don’t want to read, and I think that as they grow older their parents should be exerting less control over those choices. But, while I’ve been a teenager, I’ve never been a parent, and I acknowledge my personal knowledge is limited in this respect.

Relatedly, I am totally au fait with content review websites that point out things like “swearing!” or “blasphemy!” or “sex!” in books. If you’re a young reader, or a parent to a young reader, who doesn’t want to read those things, then these are valuable resources. I myself make use of various resources, including reviews, blogs, and word of mouth, so that I can get a heads-up on works that contain “retarded” or “faggot” as derogatory terms without any indication in the text that this is disgusting behavior. Or works where the female characters exist only to advance the stories of the male ones. Or works set in places and times where people of color ought not be invisible and yet somehow they are. I don’t tend to like those stories.

I’d also venture, and not timidly, that those stories are far more damaging to society than stories where teenagers say “fuck”, but I do respect the wish of these anti-swearing readers and their parents for them to be informed readers, aware in advance that they may bounce off the content of a work. I just don’t think that content warnings are the best way to be an informed reader.

However, you know what? If I can get official content warnings on books for “blatant homophobia” or “in this book the character with a physical disability is a beautiful angel of compassion”, then people who want official content warnings for “There are some swears!” can have those also**.

But until that happy day, I think we can all suck it up and proceed.

* Not its real name.

** I am not actually advocating this. For one thing, “there is fuck in this book” is way easier to quantify than “blatant homophobia”. And for another, I think content warnings are stupid. I’m just saying that when it comes to the ills of society, I know which I’d rather not have uncritically reflected in my reading material.

TV Behind the Times

Cougar Town:

Pros: Holy crap, Abed was right, it’s really good. And, except for the first ten episodes, not about “cougars” (WORST WORD EVER). Instead it is grown-ups being silly and loyal and smart and having in-jokes in a way I recognise from my own friends, although these people are generally in much nicer housing. And drink even more wine. Also it’s lovely to see Courtney Cox playing someone kind and warm and yes controlling but also generally hilarious, instead of having to do one neurotic character note for four seasons YES FRIENDS I AM STILL BITTER SHE WAS MY FAVOURITE. But my favorite is actually Lori Keller, who is a lower-class, loud-mouthed, brightly dressing young lady fully in charge of her own sexy times. Bangin’.

Cons: Uh I guess it’s not really about big events? If you watch TV for explosions or post-modern explorations of dramatic form and genre (hi, Community!) then this may not be your kind of thing. But it is very genuinely about love and found families. And I suspect you can skip the first ten episodes with very few repercussions.

Freaks and Geeks:

Pros: There are ugly people! WHich is shorthand for the show’s whole thing about feeling very real, right down to no, you probably aren’t going to be a rock star from playing in your garage. It does some interesting things with class and John Francis Daley is wandering around being like FOUR YEARS OLD and adorable. I kept squinting at the mean blonde girl going, “who IS that” and then I realised IT WAS LORI KELLER. Also, James Franco plays a character that I’m not sure if I want to punch or make out with more, which is exactly how I feel about the persona of James Franco. I find this symmetry pleasing.

Cons: It’s super white. And I got bored and stopped watching after episode… four, I think? Yes, I know, you can no longer be my friend, it happens. If I don’t continue to use my limited TV time on other things I might get back to it.

Game of Thrones:

Pros: Pretty people and beautiful dresses and awesome set dressings! Tyrion being a bamf! Dany being a bamf! Sansa being a bamf! Lots of bamfs actually. Also, hot Gendry, and Jon has lovely hair.

Cons: My same problem as with the books, really, which is that everyone is kind of a bad person and terrible things keep happening because This! World! Is! Grim! And Joffrey exists. Then the TV show has some extra problems, where the complex Dothraki culture is reduced to “dark barbarians” (somehow they are *more* barbaric than the sibling-sexing warmongering misogynists to the west, presumably because those guys are mostly pretty pale) and the genuinely touching first time sex scene in Game of Thrones (where Dany still has very limited consent as regards the marriage, but Khal Drogo really doesn’t proceed with intercourse until she indicates that’s okay with her) becomes a flat-out rape scene of a small pale young woman by a big “savage” dark man. Which is a horrible mush of racist stereotypes WITH a disturbing rape scene, thanks a bunch, HBO.


Joan of Arcadia:

Pros: I LOVE THIS SHOW. Here is a young woman struggling through Big Questions and also her friends and love life and who says to the mean girls at school that she doesn’t have TIME to care about who’s gay or not, she has better things to do and even though it took godly intervention to prompt that action and it came after she had in fact betrayed a friend as regards sexuality I still really liked it. Also Adam, Joan. KISS HIM. (Don’t tell me if she kisses him, I want surprises).

Cons: Also pretty damn white, although a kind reporter lady just turned up. As I recall, she is so far the only Black character who hasn’t been God in disguise, which bothers me. I suspect some of the endless horror (at least in the episodes I’ve watched so far) about Joan’s brother Being An Athlete Who Now Uses A Wheelchair might be more than a little wearing on watchers with physical disabilities, and some of the plot stuff is too conveniently wrapped up because! Divine Plan! But I’m really still in the honeymoon phase. I want to hug this show and all its actors to me.

Why I Write Diversity (With Bonus Poop Metaphor)

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Yesterday, John Scalzi wrote a post on Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.

The post garnered much comment and many responses. (For ex: one great post on how John’s metaphor could do with some expansion). A lot of people made horrendously stupid remarks on that post that John promptly deleted, but there’s a lot of 101 level stuff going on in the comments of the kind that I get way too weary to engage with after a while.

But something that I think is worth my time is a number of straight white dudes saying, well, okay, I’m playing life on Easy Mode. I recognise that. Now what should I do? Sometimes the question came across as disingenuous, but often I read it as sincere. Because after all, working out what you can do can be overwhelming. As a lady with a lot of (straight, white, cisgendered, able-bodied, middle-class, educated) advantages myself, I often worry about what I can do to make life better for players who don’t share my lucky breaks.

Many good suggestions were made as a response to this: vote for politicians who want change for good; donate to groups that help (such as QUILTBAG support groups and the like); spread awareness of the issues (awareness itself, a very good thing to raise!). My favorite response along these lines was a comment by Mary Anne Mohanraj, upon whose brain I have a massive crush.

I thought about one thing I do, and one argument against it from people much like me that’s been bugging me lately for years.

So, hi, my name is Karen and I’m a novelist. I write young adult fantasy and science fiction, and I deliberately include people of various ethnicities, sexualities, cultural backgrounds, wealth levels, religious beliefs and ability levels in my work. I deliberately address things I think are wrong with the world in my fiction. My shorthand for this is “writing diversity”.

Writing diversity was a choice I made, because it would have been hella easier not to, and if I weren’t friends with certain people or didn’t read certain blogs or didn’t watch certain media products or a number of other things, I probably would have done just that. I’ve read the work I wrote as a teenager. It is a White European Fantasyland spectacular! And it probably goes without saying that in attempting to write diversity, I have occasionally made spectacularly bad choices that have really hurt and offended some readers.

Occasionally, other similarly privileged writers or would-be writers who don’t write diversity, encountering the notion that they could attempt to, like, try, will get upset. “But it doesn’t matter what I do!” they argue. “If I write diversity wrong, or write it in a way that you people don’t like, you will yell at me! And if I don’t write diversity, you will yell at me! I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t!”

This argument, to me, smacks of a lack of understanding about the intention behind the action. Let me be clear, why you write diversity has little impact on how what you write affects your readers. They’re not able to see inside your secret soul. You can presumably be a festering bigot and still write diversity really well and inspire people to improve the world. Or you can be a really great person who has fucked up and written something horrible and hurt people badly. The wider effects of your work don’t depend upon your intentions.

But your intentions may alter your expectations, and I think that’s where the “damned if I do, damned if I don’t!” argument misses a crucial point. So I want to talk about intent for a second.

Speaking of my own intentions, I’m not attempting representation of characters who help display the actual diversity of the world so that people will be nice to me. I’m not including discussions of -isms because I expect my readers to respond, “Oh, she has successfully ticked off the -ism list and is therefore shielded from all criticism upon those grounds!”

Because one, lolno, and two, that isn’t the point. If you’re writing diversity because your intent is to be awarded cookies or brownie points or whatever the hell people imagine they’ll be collecting, ur doin it rong. If you’re writing diversity because your intent is to do what you think is the right thing, but you also expect you’ll get to munch on delicious praise cookies and never ever have to deal with people pointing out that you’ve made some offensive mistakes along the way, ur ALSO doin it rong.

The intent behind my writing diversity isn’t that I want credit for trying to be a good person. It’s that I am trying to be a good person.

Wait, okay, time for some SEMANTICAL DISCUSSION! I know, are you on the edge of your seat? For extra fun, I am going to use a metaphor employing poop, because that is how I roll.

I think that “be a good person” is a deceptive phrase. To me “goodness” is not about being, but doing. Goodness is not a destination, where once I get there I can sit down, cross my legs and say, “Hey, I’m good forever. I WILL NEVER LEAVE GOODNESS TOWN.” Goodness is a journey, where sometimes I travel happy and have a great time – and then sometimes I walk right into a pile of cowshit.

Goodness is a continual process of action where I strive, and often fail, to do the most ethical thing or things in a given situation as often as possible. I don’t think I can achieve a state of goodness and then stop. I believe that it is my obligation as a human being who wants to make life better for other human beings to do good.

Oh, and what is “doing good” in my perspective? A big part of it doing my best to fight inequalities of power and to increase the general lot of humanity – politically, socially, medically, environmentally, and any other -lys that come to mind.

I want to do good things, and I assume you (you-as-writer) do too.

(If you don’t, then I don’t really care about anything you have to say on this topic. Citing “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” as a reason not to write diversity is particularly unlikely to elicit my sympathy, because it implies that you would do it, if only you were rewarded appropriately. Ignoring the stunning power imbalances and incredible diversity of our world is not a good thing – in fact it contributes to endorsing those power imbalances and dismissing that diversity in favor of an entirely fictional and harmful construction of “reality”. I am not going to waste my time listening to people who want me to excuse their contributing to the badness of the world, especially when I have most likely heard and decided against every argument they would make multiple times before. Oh, and this is the point where I note that comments on this post will be screened.)

Anyway, you, writer you, have decided that instead of ignoring the badness, you are going to include diversity in your writing. Yay for you! And yes, when you get it wrong for some readers – spectacularly, harmfully wrong – they may point that out to you and you may feel bad. You may feel that you have been kicked out of Goodness Town! But you were never actually there, because Goodness Town doesn’t exist.

Instead, what has happened is that while traveling along Goodness Road, you have encountered some cowshit. Some people are now avoiding you because you smell atrocious and are making their lives more unpleasant. Some people have been avoiding you all along, because past experience has taught them that people who carry your brand of backpack are way more likely to stink of cowshit. And eventually someone else points out, kindly or otherwise, that, hey, you smell atrocious*! You should probably do something about that stench!

And no, it’s not fun to realise you are coated in cowshit. As someone who has frequently dived into a big pool of it, I honestly empathise with your sadness and shame. If you want to sit down and cry because you got cowshit all over yourself and made other people suffer your stink, that’s okay. Just make sure that you sit at the side of the road, out of smelling distance, so you’re not blocking the way for other travelers. And under no circumstances should you insist that others should halt their journey and listen to your Tragic Story About That Time With The Cowshit, It Even Got In Your Hair. They’ve got better things to do than listen to your sobbing. Cry, and then go and find a hose.

It’s important that you continue along Goodness Road, even if you are going to be forever more known to some people as “That Cowshit Traveller”. Because you’re not traveling Goodness Road so that you can avoid people pointing out the times you step in cowshit. You’re traveling Goodness Road because you want to do good.

tl;dr, without poop metaphor: It is important to me to write diversity because that is the good thing to do, not because I am trying to collect praise or ward off criticism. Sometimes I screw it up and people point that out. When this happens, I generally have a (mild) anxiety attack, which sucks. After I recover, I work harder at getting it right.

Because I may be damned by others if I do. But I’ll damn myself if I don’t.

* Some people have no sense of smell, and will tell you that you don’t stink at all. It is generally a better idea to take the advice of the people who are waving their hands in front of their noses.

My thanks to Willow, Jen, and Betty for pre-reading this sucker. Jen, I promise I am done with that paragraph now. No! Wait! Now.

The Bronte Project: THE PROFESSOR

Internets, what is up?

What is up with me is that I finished The Professor, by Charlotte Bronte, which is the first Project Bronte book that I actively hated.

Oh my god. Okay, I expected the Brontes to be racist, even if I choke at it every time. I mean, I read Wide Sargasso Sea like a billion (eight) years ago, and the way that book takes down Mr Rochester’s filthy and shameless treatment of his first wife is both awesome and guaranteed that I would never ever ever like Mr Rochester ever. Reader, I would have strangled him.

So, racism, I knew, would turn up. Sexism, I also expected, because hey also Rochester. But I wasn’t anticipating religious intolerance, nor a nationalism so virulent and horrible that almost anyone not English or part-English – even if they are white and European – is constantly derided as immoral on the basis of their non-Englishness.

I could take it in Villette, because in that story the narrator is clearly marked as unreliable in a number of ways. Lucy constantly lies to the reader; she has what we might now call untreated depression and social anxiety disorder which may skew her perceptions; and her distaste for Catholicism and Belgium/France is marked with a hint of strong fascination.

When Lucy says “God is not with Rome” and goes on and on about how awful Catholicism is, it is easy to read that as her shrinking away from her very real attraction to the beautiful pageantry of the High Mass. When she denounces the horrible Frenchness of her fellow teachers, it’s easy to see that as jealousy and oversensitivity. After all, Lucy falls in love with and becomes engaged to a French man so staunchly Catholic that he is constantly described as a lay Jesuit, so it’s hard to take her distaste at face value.

But in The Professor, which was an earlier work than Villette, and sort of functions as a practice for it, the narrator is supposed to be both reliable and virtuous, when actually he is a smug bigot.

William Crimsworth goes on and on about how awful the girls in the Belgian school he teaches at are. Sure, they might be pretty, but they are so slutty! They keep making eyes at him! And if they are not pretty, then they are sooooooo fat and stupid. They are lazy! Super lazy! The only decent scholar in the class is a tiny ugly girl who has – this is the best bit – been poisoned by Catholicism. She is bound for the convent, poor thing, and must be pitied in a particularly patronizing manner because of it.

The director of the boys’ school is a filthy liar, the directress of the girls’ school is a shameless harlot who keeps coming on to him even when she is engaged to the boys’ school director. These Europeans! They are such disgusting, immoral devils of deception!

Enter a Protestant half-Swiss, half-English girl, who is thin and sort of pretty but not in a whoreish showy way! He falls in love with her, he reads the poetry she writes even when she tells him not to, he’s happy that she’s so demure and subservient she constantly calls him “master”, even when they are married, and his favourite thing to do when she argues with him is to hold her captive on his knee until she becomes sweet and pliant again.

I HATE WILLIAM CRIMSWORTH. And I hate The Professor.

But I love Hunsden. He’s gay, right? That picture of the opera singer is totally the Victorian equivalent of a girlfriend in Canada.

Then I started Wuthering Heights, and I hate everyone in it so much (except for Nelly!) that I began reading Daniel Deronda in self defence, and I like that muuuuuch better. Gwendolen is my kinda gal.

Tansy Rayner Roberts: Classics Nerdery.

So my excellent friend Tansy was like, Karen, I am doing a blog tour, do you want me to write a post for you?

Well, as you know, Tansy, I said, I am super lazy. Please, please, leaven the bright chatter of my ridiculous blog with your sensical sense.

Okay, Karen, she said. What shall I write about?

Well, I thought about that (not very hard [because lazy]). Internets, you might remember that I wrote this book called Guardian of the Dead, and the heroine loves Classics. That’s because my second favorite subject at school was Classics (after English), and it was my other major when I did my BA. Actually, much as I loved the English parts of my undergrad years I probably enjoyed my Classics courses more overall.

(Also there was a SUPER SMART AND GORGEOUS guy in a lot of my Classics classes. Hello Mark Nolan is that you? Yes, a bit, although I barely managed to speak to this dude in the real lifes because he was so cute that forming complete sentences was a bit of a chore for me. So I am not actually sure what his personality was like, although I have the impression that he was very nice. Probably he would be unlikely to use his magic powers to cause massive migraines in girls who were asking too many questions, so you can see Mark is an original character really.

I wonder what that dude’s up to now? Oh, excellent, according to Google he is doing very well. Yay for you, cute classics guy!)

Anyway! TANSY, as it happens, is also a big ol’ Classics nerd, and this has had even more influence upon her (extremely good) work than mine. So I said to her, Tansy, please write about Classics nerdery!

And she said, sure, Karen, I can do that.

And here it is!

by Tansy Rayner Roberts

We all have favourite historical characters, right? You hear about them in some book, or see a great TV show or movie and start getting interested in the real person, and somehow they take hold of your brain, and you start shipping them with other historical characters, and maybe there’s fanfic, and you have Opinions about, for instance, that person who killed them, or divorced them, or whatever.

I know it’s not just me. My friend Random Alex and I had known each other long distance for years, and when we met for the first time at a convention, we had an awkward thirty seconds before we got into a delightful bickeration about whether Julius Caesar was more awesome than Marc Antony. It lasted hours!

And sure, she’s WRONG, but the fact that she is the sort of person who will have that argument with me and really care about the outcome means that we will be friends forever.

For three glorious years, once upon a time, I was paid to study the women of Imperial Rome, to write arguments about whether they were unfairly represented, and quite crucially, about the political significance of their hairstyles. Best job ever. Which is a good thing, because once my scholarship ran out, I had to continue my work unpaid for another coughseveral years.

Now of course, I really do have the best job ever, because I get to Steal Things From History and write about them.

Like that time I wrote a short story collection about how the family of Caesars were all basically vampires, werewolves or lamia, and doesn’t that make so much more sense? Or the time I wrote a fantasy trilogy set in a city that revolves around the Roman calendar, thereby justifying the semester when I translated Ovid’s Fasti and ended up doing my Honours Thesis on weird lady religious traditions of Ancient Rome.

There’s one ritual celebrating the Venus Verticordia, where women form a flashmob to invade the men’s baths while carrying a statue of the goddess, which they then wash. And then there’s the Bona Dea with her snakes and her honey, and don’t get me started on the Vestal Virgins…

But the best thing in recent days about being a classics geek was when I found a cool book about Romans to give to my seven year old daughter. I placed it discreetly with a stack of new novels – Five Children and It, Beezus and Ramona, a fairy novel with my name in the title, and Romans (Henry’s House) by Phillip Ardagh, which won her attention because despite being a Book About Facts it is basically a comic with lots of funny dog bits.

We lay next to each other, reading, and she kept interrupting me to read out amusing facts about gladiators, or Roman toilets, or MY BELOVED JULIUS CAESAR.

And I would smile and nod, and add an extra fact or two, to show her I was paying attention. I worked very hard not to stop and turn the relaxing reading session into a full-blown lecture.

“But yes, actually Julius Caesar was also the head priest of Rome for a while and reorganised the whole calendar. The month of July is named after him. And yes, he was good friends with some bloke called Antony, but don’t worry too much about him, he’s not very interesting. And yes, he was very good friends with Cleopatra, too.

And by the way, you’re named after his mother Aurelia.”

Not that I’m obsessed at all.

To her credit, Raeli has finished the book and showed every indication of enjoying it all the way through. I’m doing my best not to squee too loudly, and to demand that she starts on I, Claudius or Virgil.


Maybe when she’s eight.

This post was written by Tansy Rayner Roberts for her Flappers with Swords Blog Tour.

Tansy’s award-winning Creature Court trilogy: Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts, featuring flappers with swords, shape changers, half-naked men and bloodthirsty court politics, have been released worldwide on the Kindle, and should be available soon across other e-book platforms. If you prefer your books solid and papery, they can also be found in all good Australian and New Zealand bookshops.

You can also check out Tansy’s work through the Hugo-nominated crunchy feminist science fiction podcast Galactic Suburbia, Tansy’s short story collection Love and Romanpunk (Twelfth Planet Press). You can find her on the internet at her blog, or on Twitter as @tansyrr.