Today I am interviewing Roz White, author of The Sisterhood series and Lady Ghast, A Steam Punk Phantasy. I enjoyed the first book in the Sisterhood series, see my review on Good Reads: shorturl.at/brtxD
Hello Roz. I loved Sisterhood and will read more in this series however, it was the first novel I have read about transgender women. What was your journey in getting published and having your voice heard?
I had previously written a few books (under a different name) and self-published on Lulu; actually, to be totally precise, my very first book (a non-fiction dealing with certain aspects of local history that ought to have been my PhD thesis had I ever taken it) was taken on by a local publisher, now sadly long defunct. So, when I started The Sisterhood, I expected to be putting it up on Lulu as well – it was a fairly straightforward process and if I made any sales, then great! However, I stumbled across a small start-up publisher on Facebook, and to my great surprise they took me on! Wow – I was going to be properly published! Then, just as my book was the next on the list for putting out there – yep, they folded. So initially it went back on Lulu; then Amazon seemingly simplified their own KDP process (or Create as I think it was called then) and were pushing it on social media. Given how much greater a reach I was going to get on Amazon as compared to Lulu, it was a bit of a no-brainer to migrate everything over, really, although since I’m still writing new stuff at an alarming rate (no, really, it is! Potentially three books a year…) there are still some of the early books only on Lulu. It’s a work in progress, so to speak.
The five women in Sisterhood have very different needs, wants and, experiences as transgender people, what were you aiming to achieve in telling their stories?
The story behind writing the thing in the first place is one I find I’ve succumbed to over and over – I go looking for something suitable to read in a given genre, and can’t find anything. So, I write it. The local history book I referred to earlier was the result of another book by an “enthusiast” rather than a “historian” (and since I did my BA in History, I rather grandly consider myself as such) and I rashly said in front of a whole room of people, “he’s got so much of this wrong – it’s rubbish!” To which they replied, “well write something better then,” – so I did. Which was precisely the starting-point for The Sisterhood: as a transwoman myself, I wanted to read about the realities of the condition.
There are plenty of textbooks out there, most of which regard gender dysphoria in a strictly medical / academic manner; there is plenty of thinly-disguised porn, in which the trans element is a mere device for either forced cross-dressing for sexual gratification or for the (usually male) protagonist to discover a whole new universe of sexual experience. I wanted stories that told of being laughed at in shops, of how to overcome the crushing worry about even stepping outside, about worrying if you’re perverted or sick or whatever for having these urges… etc. So, the initial intention was to write something that my trans friends would read and relate to as we negotiated our own varied and diverse corners of the world; then I discovered that, through online book groups, a good number of cis-women (and cis-men, come to that) were reading them and empathising with the characters as well! Now that’s a result and a half as far as I’m concerned: I couldn’t be more delighted with the reception the books have had, as can be judged from the reviews for them on Amazon.
That leads nicely into my next question. What impact has your writing had in raising awareness and challenging stereotypical beliefs?
I’d like to think it’s had quite a bit, to be honest – there are other books of a similar style out there now (a trilogy by my good friend Debbie, who writes under the name of Iain Benson, takes a very similar idea and sets it firmly in and around Manchester, UK), and I’d like to think that I had something to do with the idea that transwomen can write mainstream fiction and have it well-received. It remains a fact that, had I found anything I considered worth reading in terms of trans fiction when I started, The Sisterhood would probably never have seen the light of day. I could say the same of my alter-ego H.A. Douglas’ Viking-Age novels, and indeed of my Lady Ghast steampunk series; perhaps I set high standards for the fiction I choose to read, I don’t know. I grew up on H.G. Wells, E.E. Smith, Arthur C. Clarke, Asimov, etc, for what it’s worth…
You give a candid account of your personal situation as a transgender woman, in the back of the book? How much of the characters’ lives reflect some of your own experiences?
That’s an interesting one. There are five main characters because a single character could not possibly have fitted every potential experience into that one life; I’ve not experienced everything my five girls have, but people I know, have. There’s nothing in there that somebody with this condition hasn’t had to face and deal with, from Naomi’s tolerant wife to Cathy’s supremely hostile one; we’ve all faced going into a shop for the first time and being terrified of the reception we’ll get (most of us have experienced the difficulty of finding affordable shoes in a wearable size, too!), we’ve all worried if we’re too tall, too hairy, too deep in the voice, if we look ridiculous… there’s a photo somewhere of me in a shop with one of the sales assistants, and I tower over her! It’s awful!
I’m not proud to say I’ve concealed things, I’ve hidden stuff and sneaked outings where I could; I’ve also said more than once that had I been able to keep all this a secret, I would have taken that secret to the grave, gladly. But it wasn’t to be. So, in short, there is nothing in there that somebody, somewhere, hasn’t done; it’s been tricky as the series has grown and continued (I originally thought it would be just the one book, and I’ve just finished writing novel eight!), but the girls are still, hopefully, reflecting real life sufficiently to keep it all relevant and readable.
Can you tell us a little about the other books in this series?
A friend once described the series as “Dickensian” – I think she was trying to be kind, but I’ve never been much of a fan of Dickens! I think what she meant was that it ploughed on and on, and it does raise the question of “where does it actually end?” The books simply follow the girls as they live their lives and continue to face what it throws at them, both collectively and individually. Much of what happens in Book one goes on in the next one; how much should I give away?
I try to put just enough in the back-cover blurb to give an idea of the contents; I’ve tried to address one major and widespread issue in each book. So here goes: Book two presents Jo with a major trauma – well, two, actually, but also exposes her to her toxic family once more. Book three deals with how families deal with the sudden revelation that “coming out” so often is, and all the questions, doubts and uncertainties that such an admission leads to. Book four addresses things like divorce and the way being trans can sometimes be used as a weapon in such situations, and also with discrimination and hostility in the workplace. Book five considers how romance and relationships work (or sometimes not), and whether compromise can be a viable way forward for families and partners of trans people; Book six is where I put all the dark and nasty stuff, such as rejection, mental health issues, stress-related trauma and the crushing, crippling terror of potentially losing everything to this condition. That’s where we’re up to now – oh, and there are novellas as well!
Thank you Roz. I hope that has tempted visitors to this site to seek out your books. Next week’s blog will be about finding time to do the things that matter to us, when there are so many competing demands on our time.