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Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction

Five questions with Francesca T Barbini

In niche genres, independent publishers are more important than ever before. And one of the best speculative fiction presses currently out there is Luna Press. If you’ve never had the opportunity to speak to Francesca, I can’t recommend it highly enough – she knows her stuff and is overflowing with enthusiasm!

Luna Press won the BFSA for their feminist non-fiction anthology, Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction, this year. Given just how perfect this collection aligns to our interests here at Breaking the Glass Slipper,

Why are independent presses so necessary?

Luna Press Publishing began in January 2015, and that is also when I started to pay closer attention to the world of small presses. Looking back now, I can see how small presses in general have evolved in the last few years, in terms of people’s perception and in function. It took a while to be seen as legitimate businesses, and not just a personal vanity publishing enterprise. I would say that is true of most indie publishers. Today the professional standards are high and there is a lot of passion and hardship that go into maintaining a viable trade.

As for function, it is now two-fold. On the one hand, we are still often the first step on the ladder, as it were, for first-time writers or writers who have only self-published, for example. We can provide a platform to showcase their talents. Our size and experience can directly influence how far their work will reach.

On the other hand, and I’ve seen this with Luna Press in the last couple of years, we are now a legitimate avenue for smaller or different works of more established writers. Publishing is a business, and large corporations have a lot on their plates when it comes to returns: if they can’t fit a smaller piece into their busy schedule, even from one of their established writers, then they won’t mind if it goes to a smaller company – we are no threat to them, that’s for sure!

Ultimately, the freedom we have to follow projects, big or small, quirky or unique, is what sets us apart. We fill in the gaps and, day after day, a nudge here and a nudge there, we are making our own space wider and more comfortable, finding our own voice and place. We are a necessary link in the modern publishing chain.

Do you find any challenges in balancing being a writer, editor, and publisher?

I wish that was all I had to balance! I am also the Head of Department in a Scottish secondary school, Managing Editor of the Scifi Fantasy Network and Booking Officer of the Tolkien Society. I do manage to live and relax though, never fear!

The way I see it, one life is not enough for me, but I have to make do. I have dreams and interests and nothing can stop me fulfilling them. So I find the time by being organised, and I find the money to run Luna properly by working other jobs that I also love.

How do publications of cultural and genre academic criticism support and dovetail with Luna Press’ other output?

I suppose it reflects me and my personality – Luna is my ‘baby’ after all. My father has instilled a love of academia in me, and the search for knowledge, of wanting to understand things at a deeper level. To this I added my passion for Fantasy and Science Fiction. So I find myself wanting to explore SFF in more than one way. I want to go beyond the story, beyond the glossy covers and pretty fonts. I want to know where, why and how we are where we are, and how we can move forward.

Academia Lunare is the non-fiction branch of Luna Press: it’s one of our ways of exploring SFF, together with our graphic novels, anthologies and novels. They all fit together nicely.

How did the award-winning collection, Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction, come about? Why do you think it has struck such a chord with readers?

Gender Identity was Academia Lunare’s first Call for Papers. At the time I had primarily worked with official conference proceedings, and two non-fiction submissions, and I wanted to create something that was ours, that came from within. A CfP is familiar territory for me, so I decided to try something new. When it came to the topic, it was an easy decision, really. I’ve always been keen to promote inclusion over division. Sexuality and gender identity should be a natural part of being human, yet they still seem to cause societal schisms. I wanted to know how other people felt about the changes/improvements, if any, that had happened in this area, and effectively, if we had a problem.

This CfP had to revolve around SFF, naturally, and I gave many suggestions for the focus of the papers, but also left the writers free to explore an angle of their choice. Overall, the writers presented a varied and fascinating overview, touching on books, the publishing industry, TV, movies, cosplay and even board games. I was delighted.

The unfortunate reality is that the book illustrated that yes, there is a problem. Marginalisation and inequality are still major issues.

At the same time, the fact that we are not sweeping it under the carpet, that we are talking openly and challenging the status quo, is also empowering and a step in the right direction.

The readers and those who voted for this book must have felt the same. Ultimately, it is a bittersweet victory.

What changes in gender representation within genre fiction would you most like to see?

I would like for every writer to use their full name – no hiding behind initials for fear of being overlooked if female, for example. My inexperienced self used to write as FT Barbini, just in case a publisher felt that SF wasn’t a woman’s place. It took me a few years before I embraced my identity in both writing and the publishing industry.

I would also love to see more submissions representing the diversity of our population. Our open submission windows are still overwhelmed by white male authors. As a publisher, I naturally favour a great story over all other considerations.

When I look at the Luna Family Page, I am dead proud to see that we do indeed have diversity in our family: different countries, gender identities and languages. So yes, I’d say that Luna is on the right track to being an agent for the kind of change I want to see.

Francesca T Barbini

Francesca T Barbini was born and raised in Rome, Italy. After years of volunteer work around the world, she completed an MA Honour in Religious Studies at New College, Edinburgh, focusing on the Ancient Near East and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In 2011, she began self-publishing her YA SF series Tijaran Tales, subsequently receiving a publication contract by American Oloris Publishing. In January 2015 she officially started Luna Press Publishing, home of speculative fiction and academia. In 2018 she won the British Fantasy Award for Non-Fiction, as Editor of “Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction”.

Francesca is the Managing Editor of The Sci-fi & Fantasy Network – @thesffn – and the Booking Officer of the Tolkien Society.

Official Website 

Twitter: @FTBarbini

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